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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » MI-5, Volume 2
MI-5, Volume 2
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // January 11, 2005
List Price: $79.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted January 13, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

Perhaps I went into MI-5: Season 2 with expectations that were too high. I'd heard that it was a gripping, intelligent series that told great spy-thriller stories with gritty realism. Plus, it's a British show (originally titled Spooks but renamed for its US release), and the British seem to have a strong grip on making great television drama. Well, it seems MI-5 and I are not meant to be together; I bounced off the show on the very first episode and never succeeded afterwards in bringing myself to like it any better.

The opening of the first episode gets the season off to a very poor start. Since I hadn't seen Season 1, I knew that I'd probably be jumping into the middle of things, and that's fine. In fact, there was a "previously on MI-5" clip that helped bring a few things into perspective... one of them being that the first season had ended on a massive cliffhanger, with a bomb about to explode and kill off the family of a main character (and possibly him as well). It's not too much of a spoiler (since all this happens almost immediately) to say that the resolution of Season 1's cliffhanger is utterly, completely lame. It's a total cop-out. If it made me, a new viewer, roll my eyes at the pathetic way the writers handled it, how annoyed will returning fans be? And how much credibility is left for the cliffhanger at the end of Season 2? (Not much, in my book.)

Once that rocky start is out of the way, how does MI-5 fare over the course of its full, 10-episode run in Season 2? Perhaps the fans of the show see something in it that I don't (I certainly hope so), but I'm not impressed. The stories combine a loose ongoing story arc with the various MI-5 members and their relationships with individual missions, but in both cases the same problems crop up.

First and foremost, MI-5 is really poorly acted; or, to be more charitable to the cast, it's probably a mixture of mediocre acting and a lousy script. The dialogue sounds fake and forced, and the actors' delivery is fairly wooden across the board. We do get many instances of the camera lingering in someone's face for a long reaction shot, but it just serves to hammer home the point that these are not convincing characters.

I suspect that the makers of MI-5 think that they are delving into matters of deep moral and ethical complexity, but I have news for them. There's nothing new or significant here, nothing that goes beyond the standard spy angst of "Who can I trust?" and "Are my pals involved in something nasty?" The individual stories that focus on MI-5's missions seem determined to use villains cast in black and white; I suppose there might be some shades of gray in the behind-the-scenes working, but overall there's still a distinct sense that it's the Good Guys vs. the Sneaky Terrorist Bad Guys.

Even the attempts at complexity are painful. Take Episode 2, in which MI-5 is concerned that a local mosque is being used as a school for suicide bombers. The big controversial element here is the use of a "good Muslim" character. That's it. The "bad Muslims" hate America and the West and want to kill us all, going to Paradise in the process. The "good Muslim" knows that that's all wrong, and the West is all good. There's not so much as a glance at the subject from the extremists' point of view, no exploration of why they feel as they do, no appreciation for radically different cultural beliefs; they're just nasty religious maniacs who hate Westerners and want to blow stuff up.

With cheesy dialogue and wooden acting to contend with, MI-5 seems to heap on the technical tricks to make the show seem more entertaining than it really is. The editing is frantic, with rapid cuts, rapid delivery of the dialogue, and often brief speeding-up of camera footage... all trying desperately to impart a sense of action and urgency to the episode. It doesn't work, and the whole thing just feels like it's trying too hard. In the same way, the characters' constant use of gadgets, constantly whipping out a cell phone or fiddling with something, seems to cry "Look! This is a spy show!" without actually making it exciting.

On the positive side, MI-5 does have a modern-day setting that lends it some interest, and if you can get past the acting and the scripts, the stories themselves have the potential to be reasonably entertaining. That is, however, a fairly big "if."

The DVD

Unfortunately, I can't comment on the packaging, since I only got check discs to review. There are five discs, with two 60-minute episodes on each disc.

Video

MI-5: Season 2 appears in its original widescreen aspect ratio (1.85:1) and looks acceptable, though not as good as I'd expect from a modern show. The image is quite soft, and outdoor scenes tend to look rather grainy. Moderate to heavy edge enhancement also appears. Colors and contrast are handled well.

Audio

Viewers have the choice of a Dolby 5.1 or a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack. The 5.1 offers slightly more depth, and overall is a respectable track that gives viewers a clean and reasonably immersive audio experience.

Extras

If there were an award for Worst Menus Ever, MI-5 would be a prime contender. The menus are simply horrible. The main menu is simply a photograph of someone's desk, with no labels or any other indication of what to click to access anything; if you wait a second, a voiceover plays that tells you what to click to access which feature. Sorry, but having to listen for someone to tell me "Click on the telephone to select audio options" and so on is just unacceptable. Then, when you finally do figure out what to click on (for instance, the stack of discs to select an episode), there are tedious animated sequences between each action.

Once you get past the frustration inherent in dealing with the menus, there are a few special features that will probably interest fans. Commentary tracks are supplied for episodes 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10; these commentaries feature various actors and other people involved with the making of the series, such as the writers. Nowhere on the menus does it actually list the names of the contributors, though.

Each disc has several short featurettes about the episodes on that disc, some of the characters, or other topics. On Disc 1, we get "The Martyr's Shroud" (8 minutes), focusing on Episode 2; "Controversy" (11 minutes), which is more general, talking about the show's use of controversial topics; "Creating Season 2" (10 minutes); "Episode 1" (3 minutes), which just touches on some information about making that episode; "Cliffhanging," (3 minutes), about the Season 1-2 cliffhanger; and "Sam Buxton," (4 minutes), which has interview footage with the actor who plays that character.

Disc 2 has deleted scenes for Episode 4, as well as featurettes on Episode 3 (10 minutes) and 4 (5 minutes) and one on Ruth Evershed (6 minutes). Disc 3 has featurettes on Episodes 5 and 6 (5 and 4 minutes, respectively). Disc 4 has a 2-minute featurette for Episode 7, a seven-minute one for Episode 8, and three character/interview featurettes for Rory McGregor, Megan Dodds, and Colin Wells (totaling 7 minutes). There's also a 2-minute clip on "Story Conferences." Disc 5 wraps up with a total of 10 minutes on Episodes 9 and 10, and 13 minutes of interview footage divided among pieces on Shauna MacDonald, Christine Dodd, and Nichola Walker. A seven-minute piece called "What we did on our holidays" fills viewers in on some of the film projects the cast were involved with between seasons.

Each disc also has a photo gallery and "secret credits," which is just a text listing of the cast.

Final thoughts

Based on my experience with MI-5, if you haven't seen this show before, I wouldn't bother. However, if you've enjoyed Season 1, I see no reason why you wouldn't also like Season 2, since presumably you can put up with the wooden acting and cheesy scripts to find something that you like underneath. I'll generously give this set a "rent it" for viewers who liked the first season.

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