One of the longest-running shows in American television history, Unsolved Mysteries is both a guilty pleasure and a staple of suspense fanatics. Airing for over thirteen consecutive seasons (starting in 1986 with a series of specials on NBC) with an impressive array of over 250 episodes, it's pretty safe to say it had a lot of fans. It was a true original as television's first "suspense reality" series, presenting a re-enacted series of real-life events that could not be explained by conventional means. As an added bonus, the show's producers often asked viewers for help in solving the cases by calling a toll-free number (reportedly, more than 40% of the 1,200 cases have been solved this way). Regardless of your personal opinion of the show's authenticity, you can't deny that it wasn't interesting stuff...and that's what makes good TV, doesn't it?
Even for the casual viewer, Unsolved Mysteries was an easy show to get hooked on. While there was no advancing plot from week to week and no season-ending cliffhanger, the appeal of the show was rooted in its "predictable unpredictability". You knew exactly what you were going to get from each episode---a series of virtually random suspense stories, backed up by multiple witnesses---but the stories themselves were creepy enough to hold the attention of the viewer. The simple presentation of seemingly unexplainable stories was ground in reality, but helped to pave the way for purely fictional---but equally provocative---mystery shows like The X-Files and its many followers.
Although the show was first hosted by Raymond Burr during the earlier days, most viewers will associate Unsolved Mysteries with the incomparable Robert Stack (seen above), who unfortunately passed away in 2003. Stack served as the dark, foreboding host of the evening's events, and his presence was as much a part of the show as the stories themselves. In all regards, he was but one part of many that made Unsolved Mysteries work so well, and it's quite possible that his failing health was a factor in the show's end in 2002.
Since then, the show has remained in syndication (airing primarily on The Lifetime Network), although many fans have clamored for its release on DVD. Thankfully, First Look Home Entertainment has answered the call, although not in typical TV-on-DVD fashion. For a show with so many episodes under its belt, a season-by-season release would be incredibly expensive (and minor overkill, in this reviewer's opinion). Instead, a series of "Best Of" volumes, presented in 4-disc sets, have been released with a variety of themes (forthcoming volumes include Legends and Bizarre Murders). This volume, Miracles, contains 33 segments hand-picked by creators John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer.
Disc One: Lucky School, Miracles of Lourdes, Fertility Statues, Shroud of Turin, Ice Woman, Lucky Choir, Coma Healer, and Angels.
Disc Two: Miracle of Fatima, Baby's Breath, Healing from the Grave, Powers of Prayer, Candy and Roxy, Trish's Miracle, Father Solanus Casey, and Christmas Miracle.
Disc Three: Medjugorje Miracles, Policewoman Savior, Healing Touch, Miracle Staircase, Miracle Child, Kentucky Visions, Life Saving Pets, Miracle Buffalo, and Coma Recovery.
Disc Four: Image of Guadalupe, Car Crash Lazarus, M.S. Miracle, Padre Pio, Christmas Miracle Baby, Miracle Cross, Signs from Heaven, and Money from Heaven.
Miracles can be identified and interpreted in many different ways. From a near-death experience to the face of the Virgin Mary in your breakfast cereal, the most common definition of a miracle is "an event that breaks laws of science or nature, which may be attributed to a higher power". Of course, like the bulk of material in Unsolved Mysteries, miracles aren't always easily explained. They're as provocative as anything else life throws our way, firmly rooted in spirituality and easy to dismiss...unless you see one for yourself, that is. While it'd be a real exercise in patience to watch all 33 segments in one sitting, this 4-disc set is best experienced like other Unsolved Mysteries releases: in small doses. For fans of the show, this themed collection represents some of the better material that the long-running series had to offer. Of course, it might not make a believer out of you. Then again, maybe it will.
As with most classic TV shows, Unsolved Mysteries plays a little differently on DVD. It's not the episodes themselves: while the stories are firmly rooted in their respective time periods, they have a timeless quality that keeps things interesting. Like the other volumes in the series (including Ghosts and UFOs, which I've also reviewed and are linked below), these segments seemed a bit more urgent during their original broadcasts. While they don't deal with immediate justice the way some Unsolved Mysteries episodes tend to, they still lose a bit of impact in the 10+ years that have gone by since they were first shown. They're still as watchable as ever, but it's definitely worth noting. The DVD treatment by First Look is surprisingly good, offering a decent technical presentation and a few helpful bonus materials. With that said, let's see how this set stacks up, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
The technical presentation of Unsolved Mysteries was never its strong point, but First Look has still managed to score decent marks in the video department. While the bulk of these episodes still has a mild coat of grain, the overall detail and color levels in this 4:3 full frame presentation aren't bad at all. Additionally, the black levels are relatively solid with only a minimal amount of dirt and scratches, making this presentation equal to or better than the original broadcast counterparts. While this footage does contains elements of rough home movie footage, the overall score can't be faulted for the source material. In all regards, this is the best that fans can really ask for.
Likewise, the show's soundtrack has also undergone a bit of restoration. Although it's technically mixed in 5.1 Surround Sound (according to the packaging), the majority of the audio mix is anchored in the front channels. Still, I was pleasantly surprised at the high quality of this audio mix, as dialogue and sound effects came through with much clarity. It's not a gimmicky remix in the least, providing a subtle ambience that should really please fans of the show (although I have to knock down the score a bit for not including the original mix as well). The only major flaw I found with with the audio presentation was the lack of English subtitles. These should always be included.
Presentation, Packaging, and Menu Design:
Another pleasant surprise is the quality packaging and presentation job, highlighted by terrific animated menus. The eerie score and subtle imagery really add a lot to the overall presentation...and hey, the Unsolved Mysteries theme never gets old in my book. Each of the four discs contains roughly 90 minutes worth of stories---with chapter divisions for each one---and no layer change was detected during playback. Bonus materials, like the show itself, are presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The packaging was also really cool, as each disc is housed in a clear slim plastic case (similar to Futurama) with spooky cover art and an episode listing on the back. The four cases rest in a black sleeve, which really looks sharp overall. Like the other volumes, this was a fantastic presentation indeed.
Thanfully, the episodes weren't the only things to discover on this four-disc set, as a few bonus features have been thrown in for good measure. First up are a series of Audio Commentaries with creators John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer, as well as a few miscellaneous episode directors. These are nice extras to have on board, as the participants provide an extra layer of "testimony" to these spiritual stories. Additionally, the creators have included a short Video Introduction (7 minutes) where they give a nice overview of this particular volume.
Moving on, we're also given another nice inclusion: a Tribute to Robert Stack (15 minutes), which provides a nice overview of the long-running host's life and career. Seen above with his wife of nearly 50 years, Rose Marie, Stack seemed to be a genuinely nice guy and a truly devoted husband (NOTE: This is the same featurette that appears in other DVD volumes of Unsolved Mysteries). Rounding out the extras are a few Previews for other First Look releases. If you own either Ghosts or UFOs, though, you'll probably be a little disappointed with the bonus materials here. Although the commentaries and interview with the creators are nice to have, I was hoping for a little more meat in this department. Still, the quality of the show itself makes this release worth looking into.
Although the show has lost a little of its magic over time, there's no argument that Unsolved Mysteries was one of the most influential shows of the last few decades. Thankfully, this DVD presentation by First Look is a solid effort, easily on par with the other two volumes in the series so far. From a decent technical presentation to a nice little assortment of bonus features, Miracles is a release that will satisfy casual and hard-core fans of Unsolved Mysteries alike. If you're new to the show, a rental should be in order...anyone else can consider this one Recommended.
Other Unsolved Mysteries DVD Reviews
Randy Miller III is a mysterious art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.