Just south of Long Island in New York lies a popular vacation spot called Fire Island. Though it's not an exclusive resort, it's popular getaway for members of the gay and lesbian communities (though certainly not exclusive). It's about as close to paradise as one can imagine, and a virtual safe haven for individuals that may not always be accepted by society. Much like gathering areas for other groups with similar interests and backgrounds, Fire Island provides a very unique atmosphere that brings in thousands of guests each year.
Shot on location, the aptly named Fire Island was a reality-based documentary/reality show created by John Cadwell and Tim Curran. Originally appearing on the Bravo Network, four episodes of the show aired back in 1999. Basically, the show follows several groups of gay and lesbian "tourists" during their stays at the popular vacation spot---including all the ups and downs that occur in every relationship. In the spirit of earlier shows like MTV's The Real World, it tries hard to capture these relationships through a unique vantage point, and largely succeeds. These are real people, who go through both wonderful and painful experiences, and the viewer is invited along for the ride. While love and respect are shown prominently, many terrible aspects of life are also present: the threat of HIV and AIDS, the fear of being rejected by family, and the occasional fight with a significant other. At its very core, Fire Island shows that relationships have their ups and downs, no matter who you're in love with. For that, it's a unique and interesting viewing experience.
Still, this show has its faults, the most obvious being that it shows its age more than you'd think. That's not to say that Fire Island no longer has impact, but the primary intent of the show was to shed light on homosexual lifestyles and relationships. Any way you look at it, that's simply not as "new" as it once was, even since 1999. While I still think America has a long way to go before gays and lesbians are given equal rights, this show is no longer as unique as it once was.
Moving on, there's another problem here that has absoloutely nothing to do with political hot buttons: the style in which the story is told. On occasion, it ventures into "travel brochure" territory, and seems more like a commercial for Fire Island itself than a look at it's visitors (even though some of the situations are more terrifying than enticing). Additionally, I would have liked to see more variety to the stories: although we get a good mix of couples and groups, it could have shown a much wider range of people and scenarios. There are thousands of visitors to Fire Island every year, so there have got to be many more stories.
Although I didn't want to make this a prominent point of the review, I'm not gay. However, this is not meant as a homophobic declaration, but rather an assurance that anyone can enjoy the show, regardless of your sexual preference. Sure, Fire Island is no masterpiece of modern television, but it's a well-intentioned look at an extremely significant part of our culture.
This DVD comes to us from Win Media, and collects all four episodes of Fire Island in their entirety. Although the techincal presentation isn't anything to write home about (and the extras are quite scarce), it's surprising that this show made it to DVD at all. Let's see how this one stacks up:
Quality Control Department
Fire Island is presented in its original 4:3 fullscreen format. In general, most of the outdoor scenes looked good, and exhibited a sharp image and strong colors. However, a portion of the footage wasn't up to the same level; specifically, some of the colors and textures looked a little muddy overall. While I'm sure this presentation was identical to (or slightly above) the original broadcast quality, Fire Island could have looked a little better.
The audio is presented in Dolby Surround 2.0, and was acceptable for the most part. Compared to most modern TV-on-DVD presentations, though, the overall audio experience was a little on the flat side. Taking the vacation-like atmosphere into account, I expected a little more ambience in general, but most (if any) of the surround presence was from frequent musical cues. Still, this is most likely a better audio presentation from the original broadcast, so it's not terribly disappointing.
Menu Design & Packaging:
The menus were pretty much what I expected from this release, and they captured the mood of the series well (if not overly glamorized). The episodes were presented without chapter stops, although their 25-minute running time didn't necessarily make that a real problem. Unfortunately, the actual packaging itself was even more glamorized, and really doesn't capture the essence of a show that occasionally provided such a harrowing series of real events and problems. Judging a book by its cover, Fire Island looks more like a cheesy romance novel, in my opinion.
Bonus features are fairly slim. Pertaining to the feature itself are two additional Interviews with some of the ladies featured in the show. Essentially, these are deleted scenes, as the show itself follows the same style and format. Needless to say, these are very informal in nature, and they each run for roughly 4-5 minutes. Also present are two additional Previews of related films: the first features a cruise ship populated by drag queens (!), while the second focuses on gay marriage. Overall, there's not much to choose from, and I would have liked to see much more effort in this department. While I wasn't expecting full-blown Audio Commentaries for each episode, it would have been nice to hear from the show's creators, or even more recent "catch up" interviews with cast members. Plenty of TV shows on DVD have included really interesting extras, so this release could have at least attempted to bring something else to the table.
Typically, not being in a show's target market can have a significant impact on your viewing enjoyment, but I found Fire Island to be a reasonably interesting look into a very unique environment. Unfortunately, the show occasionally plays out more like a travel brochure than an honest look at these couples, and this can really take the viewer out of the story. Still, if Fire Island sounds like your scene---or if you enjoyed the show on the Bravo Network---this show might be worth a look on DVD. Unfortunately, this release features an average technical presentation and minimal bonus features, so it's not really worth a blind buy. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is a part-time cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.