The Discovery Channel's Mythbusters is easily one of the most entertaining shows on television, and also one of the most surprisingly educational. Premiering in January of 2003 as a three-episode "tryout series", Mythbusters became popular enough to continue later that fall. Since then, it's enjoyed a modest level of success, and remains one of the most unique 60 minutes of television around.
The premise is simple: Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman are two guys determined to prove (or disprove) everyone's favorite urban legends. For example: could a penny dropped from the top of the Empire State building break through concrete (or a human skull)? Can metal tooth fillings really pick up radio transmissions? Do Pop Rocks and soda really cause you to…well, you get the idea. The trick is, Savage and Hyneman don't just want to tell you the answers…they want to actually back them up through a series of scientific experiments. Having previously worked in the world of special effects and animatronics, these two have contributed to films such as Terminator 3, Star Wars: Episode I and II, The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, and even Naked Lunch. Needless to say, Mythbusters is a refreshing dose of creativity, success and failure that makes for a consistently great viewing experience.
Of course, the show would fall flat if the hosts weren't entertaining, and these two do a good job of keeping things rolling. Whether these experiments prove to be successes or failures, Savage and Hyneman obviously enjoy their work (probably because it's the coolest job in the world!), and their enthusiasm helps keep the show afloat. Although it still remains along the lines of a cult show, I wouldn't be surprised if it gains momentum in the coming years. Long story short, if you're curious about urban legends---or you just love cool science experiments---you might want to give Mythbusters a shot.
The Discovery Channel has released a sampling of the first season on a series of five DVDs, available individually or in a convenient 5-disc set. Unfortunately, the discs themselves are a little slim on content, and the fact that these haven't been released in a complete season set is all the more disappointing. In short, each disc includes one 50-minute episode from the first season, each of which includes two or three experiments. In chronological order, the episode descriptions are as follows:
Penny Drop (aired October 17, 2003)
Experiment #1: Will a penny dropped from a high place break concrete?
Experiment #2: Are tanning bed customers being baked from the inside out?
Experiment #3: Can the filling in your tooth pick up radio signals?
Buried Alive (aired October 24, 2003)
Experiment #1: Can a hammer really save you from falling into water?
Experiment #2: So you're buried alive. How much oxygen is in the coffin?
Experiment #3: Just how many uses are there for cola? You'd be surprised!
Lightning Strikes (aired November 7, 2003)
Experiment #1: Can a working cannon be made entirely out of wood?
Experiment #2: What happens if lightning strikes a tongue piercing?
Experiment #3: What do breathalyzers really tell the police about you?
Stinky Car (aired December 5, 2003)
Experiment #1: The worst smell imaginable is in your car. Can it be cleaned?
Experiment #2: Can your drainpipe be used as a raccoon rocket launcher?
Chicken Gun (aired January 18, 2004)
Experiment #1: The chicken vs. the windshield. Who will emerge victorious?
Experiment #2: Did a woman once give birth after swallowing an octopus egg?
Experiment #3: Any truth to the legend of the "killer washing machine?"
As you can see, there are a nice assortment of interesting experiments to entertain the most jaded viewer. If anything else, they're a testament to the sheer fun factor and entertainment value of the series as a whole, although this DVD set barely scratches the surface. There are ten other episodes unaccounted for from the first season, in addition to the original three shows that premiered earlier in 2004. At least two or three episodes could have been put on each disc, as a more complete season set would have made a much more practical release. In short, while Mythbusters makes for a nice viewing experience, only the wealthiest of DVD buyers will want to throw down the cash for these babies…the rest should just stick to watching the show on TV. In any case, this 5-disc set is now available via The Discovery Channel store, and here's how it stacks up:
Quality Control Department
Although the video presentation itself looks good (and preserves the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio of the show), this transfer is non-anamorphic. It's a shame Discovery couldn't have gone the extra mile to add the anamorphic enhancement, but the image quality itself is still very nice. Colors remain bold and accurate, and black levels are also strong. In short, it's at (or slightly better than) the level of the original broadcast presentation, and that's the best we can hope for in this case.
Like the video, the audio provides a faithful translation of the original broadcast presentation---in short, it's presented in 2.0 Stereo and sounds clean and clear. Dialogue and music come through with no problems, and make for a fine (if not terribly immersive) audio experience. Overall, this is about the best the show is supposed to sound, and that's not bad at all.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Unfortunately, the presentation for this DVD set is about as straightforward as it gets. Navigation isn't really an issue, since menus are limited to only one screen per disc (chapter selection). Additionally, the chapter stops are only listed by time-code and not subject, so it's a little hard to get a grasp of the chapter's contents. The packaging is also fairly bland, and doesn't do a great job of advertising the details of each disc. This would be fine if there were a more decorative box to keep these in, but they're packaged in loose keepcases. Overall, the presentation could have been much better.
Another disappointment of these discs are the complete lack of bonus materials. The discs are already sparse enough as it is (with under an hour of content on each), so it's safe to say you don't get a lot of bang for your buck. This show seemed like fun to produce, so it's a real shame we couldn't have gotten more in this department. Interviews, behind-the-scenes, commentaries...anything would have been welcome. As it stands, this is as bare-bones as it gets.
The show itself is great, but there's really not much to like about this DVD set. The contents are slim (about four hours total!), the presentation is only average (non-anamorphic!), and the price is very high ($65.00!). Even though these five discs are available separately, at $21.95 each they're still far too expensive for what you get in return. For casual and long-time fans alike, there are much more practical alternatives to get your Mythbusters fix: watch it or tape it. The strength of the show itself is enough to make this DVD set worth a look---just barely---but only for completists or those who don't subscribe to The Discovery Channel. Rent It.
Other Links of Interest
Mythbusters Complete Season Guide at TV Tome
Snopes.com – Urban Legend Reference Pages
Randy Miller III is a mysterious cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, and also works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.