M*A*S*H, Season 3 24 Episodes over 3 DVDs Full-frame (1.33:1) Released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment M*A*S*H, the classic drama/comedy loosely based on real-life MASH unit 8055 during the Korean War, stands as one of the few series that is as popular today as it was when it was still originally shown. First aired in 1972, M*A*S*H has consistently been one of the most popular TV shows in recent decades. For the past few months, many people have been eagerly waiting for Fox to release the third season of M*A*S*H on DVD. The wait is over. Was it worth it? Completely Remastered As one who has watched M*A*S*H religiously since childhood, I can very clearly remember how the show used to look. The prints that were used for syndication in the 1980s and early 1990s were of none-too-great quality. Not too many years ago, Fox completely remastered the entire series in preparation for a large presence on the FX network as well as being released on home video. The differences that they used in their advertising between the pre-mastered and re-mastered versions were astounding. Most of the effort on remastering was for the video quality, although the audio was definitely cleaned up as well. The quality of the remastering comes across very clearly on the DVDs. The video quality of the DVDs is quite good. Even on the 13” TV in my computer room, the image is sharper than it ever has been. I watch M*A*S*H (which is shown daily on not one, but two TV stations that I get) any time that I can and I have done so for years. I can say with a clear conscience that the video quality is better than I’ve ever seen it; however, it is not without its flaws. I noticed instances where the brightness seemed to fade in and out, similar to the results of Macrovision encoding except that this was happening right on my PC and it was only happening during specific scenes. Additionally, there were other scenes, including the very powerful scene of Radar’s tragic announcement in the final scene of “Abyssinia, Henry”, where the film grain and other visual abnormalities were very prevalent. Considering that this particular scene is one of the most powerful of the entire series, I was disappointed to see that visually it was not given better treatment. The instances of dust and other film damage during such scenes were very noticeable. Overall, the color quality of these remastered episodes is phenomenal. Pierce’s deep red robe and McIntyre’s bright yellow robe come out in striking brilliance. The gorgeous colors can be seen throughout episodes like “Springtime” where the bright blue skies are nothing less than brilliant, genuine eye candy. I remember seeing a thread here on HTF asking about the audio for the season 3 DVDs. Here’s the scoop: the audio contains four different formats, all of which are in monaural Dolby Digital 2.0: - English with laugh track - English without the laugh track - Spanish - French As with seasons 1 and 2, the audio is nothing spectacular, particularly since the audio tracks are monaural. I would have liked to have the audio remastered to at least a stereo format if, for anything, environment. There are several instances throughout the series of aircraft flying overhead and artillery fire that would sound great in stereo or surround. What makes the DVD set better than watching the series on FX is that these episodes are uncut. The annoying “must cut scenes to add more commercials” butcher jobs on the currently syndicated TV episodes – suddenly-broken laugh tracks being the most tell-tale sign – are gone with each episode lasting roughly 26 minutes. If you have the syndicated episodes memorized like my wife and I do, you will probably catch yourself saying, as I did, “Hey, I never saw that scene!” several times while watching these episodes. Surprisingly, I actually saw episodes in the season 3 DVD set that I’ve never seen in syndication. Go figure. What’s Included As with previous seasons, there are no special features, behind-the-scenes featurettes, or anything like that. There are also no commentaries or any kind of insight from those who worked on M*A*S*H. This is a very sad oversight on Fox’s part. I would love to hear some of the thoughts and ideas from those involved with M*A*S*H; unfortunately, Fox appears to be totally disinterested even though many who worked on the set have offered to do commentaries at no charge. The included 8-page booklet starts with a description of the series, which for the most part I would expect just about any M*A*S*H fan to already know, but it’s nice reading. The vast majority of the booklet is dedicated to all of the episodes that are in the set. Included is also a flyer stating that the third season is due out in July 2003. That’s too long to wait, in my opinion. I realize that Fox is releasing many of their other series to DVD, but at their current rate of two seasons per year, the series won’t be finished until roughly 2008. That is way too long. This Silver Lining Too Has A Grey Cloud It is with great regret, a huge amount of frustration, and desire to knock heads together that I announce that Fox has continued with one of the most annoying and infuriating concepts of any DVD manufacturer. For whatever reason, Fox is once again aggravating its consumer base with what it started with the season one set – there is no function for playing all episodes continuously. Each episode needs to be selected and started individually from its own individual menu. This means that for every episode, you need to make two separate selections. This is a major inconvenience, particularly for those like me who enjoy having a DVD playing in the background while doing something else. To have to individually select each episode is ridiculous. Even my Monty Python series DVDs have a function on the main menu to play all of the episodes, one right after the other. The fact that each episode has its own menu is a further annoyance. You have to actually make two selections to start each episode, and you then have to select “Home” after each episode to get back to the main menu so that you can select the next menu to start the next episode. This is a completely unnecessary burden on the viewer and it absolutely needs to be addressed in future releases. The five-month wait between each season is an added frustration, particularly since it’s clear that Fox is not doing anything to really enhance the DVD releases with any kind of extras. If Paramount can release TNG and DS9 every two months with loads of extras, Dolby Digital 5.1, and so forth, I see no reason why Fox, even with the other series that it is releasing, can’t accelerate the M*A*S*H releases. If they’re going to make us wait five months, they could at least integrate a “Play All Episodes” option, which is probably the easiest thing to implement of all of the additions that M*A*S*H DVD fans want. Conclusion Even with the need to select each episode individually and the total lack of any extras, the unedited, beautifully remastered prints and the low price ($39.98 MSRP) more than make up for the shortcomings. If you are a M*A*S*H fan, you have no reason to not buy this set.