Movie: Television on DVD is probably the fastest growing genre on the market today since so many of us want to see unedited, commercial free shows that we either really liked or might have missed during their first run. I could rattle off a dozen such series for you (my favorite being Firefly) and never scratch the surface of the variety of shows I'd like to see given the premium treatment on DVD but that's just one more reason why we read reviews (to see how well, or poorly, such series get treated). Today's review is on a show I missed when it first came out on Showtime (and later on the Sci-Fi Channel), The Outer Limits: New Series Collection, a science fiction anthology using the talents of numerous talented actors, directors and writers, all in the spirit of the original show that aired decades ago. Like other recent revivals of popular shows from the past, most notable being The New Twilight Zone from the mid-1980's, the idea was to update the concept but remain true to the original, sometimes campy, show. Starting in 1995, the show aired on premium cable until it was cancelled in 2001, when the Sci-Fi Channel picked it up for a short time to finish the season out. Most of the episodes aired in syndication after that (and still do) although there were a lot of edits in the material. This is the primary reason why I liked seeing these apparently uncut episodes, with all the adult themes, language, and yes, even regular nudity with sexual themes, that I never saw before.
Unlike its second cousin, The Twilight Zone, both the original and later series of The Outer Limits stuck to science more rather than utilize the fantasy elements Rod Serling's show seemed to favor. The show would start off with the familiar "Control Voice" (voice by Kevin Conway) reading the opening bit about not adjusting your TV set, followed by the opening prologue before getting to the show and ending with the usual moral conclusion of sorts, typically a negative one although not always, and the main point of most episodes was about human nature more than anything else. Greed, avarice, lust (I personally favor lust, but that's just me), and all the other things that make us human were the focal point of the better episodes. I'm not going to write an individual review on each disc (which are now available separately at a low price) but here's a few comments on the individual volumes as food for thought.
In the first volume of the set, Aliens Among Us, the emphasis was on comparing "us" to "them, regardless of who "they" might be. This is an established thematic device used to show the viewer that we aren't all that different from one another (this is typically used to portray a thinning veiled reference to race relations). Actors like Clancy Brown, Melissa Gilbert, Robert Patrick, and Marina Sirtis were all present in an episode that alternately showed our own motivations being very similar to those of the "aliens" they met, or became, with some admittedly heavy handed morals as a result.
The second volume, Death & Beyond, took a look at six episodes where the viewer is made to think about our viewpoints on life (as a culture, we have some decidedly interesting ideas on this subject) using well known actors like Daniel Baldwin, Jason Gedrick, Ralph Macchio, Ron Perlman, and Jason Priestley, to showcase and offer up for analysis, a host of stories designed to make us think about our beliefs and even question some of them within the constructs of the stories.
The third volume, Fantastic Androids & Robots, was conceptually much like the Aliens Among Us set since the driving themes were so much alike, with the robots/androids in question being technological substitutes for those we hold different from ourselves. This was full of a particularly rich set of actors from mainstream movies and television, using Leonard Nimoy, Ralph Waite, Tate Donovan, and the lovely Heather Graham in stories that ranged from a remake of the classic I, Robot (using Leonard Nimoy who was in the original show decades before) to a chilling reminder of the Nazi concentration camps of WWII in The Camp.
The fourth volume, and last of the new releases (the other two came out a couple years ago), Mutations & Transformations, seemed as much a set of allegories involving personal growth and change (can a leopard really change its spots or is it doomed to live out its existence following its genetic preprogramming we all have?) using talented actors like C. Thomas Howell, Richard Thomas, and Star Trek: TNG's John de Lancie to make the points that we are who we are but can change if we truly want to do so.
The fifth volume, Sex & Science Fiction, had been previously released about three years ago but had exactly what many of us wanted to see; a science fiction anthology allowed to handle topics dealing with sexuality in an open manner, complete with nudity. From cute Alyssa Milano, sexy Natasha Henstridge, seductive Sofia Shinas, and fan favorite Rebecca Reichert, the shows were not the best of the entire series overall but handled the sexuality present with more maturity than one would've expected. These episodes were probably the most edited on their subsequent airing in syndication as well as on Sci-Fi, so they are among the most valuable on DVD (edits are my #1 irritant with syndication television).
Last up, alphabetically at least, was volume six, the previously released Time Travel & Infinity set, was one where I thought the writing truly stood out compared to the original series. In the forty years since the original series aired, science has evolved a long way to understanding the complexities of time travel (with all the paradoxes it encompasses) and writers have embraced the ensuing advances. Each of the characters is given the opportunity to change the past, knowing full well that doing so will alter the timeline for everyone else; not necessarily in positive ways. Particularly interesting was the episode Tribunal, part of a larger arc of shows involving a character that provides the means for others to reevaluate the course of history (which should've been a more recurring theme/character).
My biggest complaint about the set was the lack of season sets for the show. I know that a lot of weaker shows were produced during the run of the series but as a fan that never got to see them on Showtime; I was left with a sense of dread that I'll never see such sets now. Don't get me wrong, I liked the thematic concept of the volumes above but they'll never replace season sets as the true goal (they'd be nice as supplements for those interested only in the themes but only as a backup to season sets). That said, the episodes on this boxed set were, on average, better than the original series; not just in terms of better special effects, but in terms of acting, production values, and writing too. In terms of value, you can find this 36 episode set brand new for under $2/episode or closer to a buck an episode used so while I take exception to the method of release, there was enough value for me to rate it as Highly Recommended.
Picture: The Outer Limits: New Series Collection was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in for television. The majority of episodes looked much better than they did in syndication or on the Sci-Fi Channel, and the handful I saw on Showtime never looked as good as they do on the DVD too. There was some grain on some of them; a bit more video noise than a network show from the same time period these were made, and I saw a total of 1 compression artifact that I couldn't get any of my players to repeat so I was happy with the overall look of the shows here. I was pleased that the DVDs looked better than the network show, The New Twilight Zone, although to be fair, that show was ten or more years older. The colors were accurate, the majority of special effect shots looked good (except for a couple of the matt shots that is), and if you were a fan of the show on cable, you'll probably appreciate that MGM did a decent job on the mastering of the set.
Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital English with closed captions for the hearing impaired. The episodes from the earlier seasons sounded much better (it was in the last season that the budget was drastically cut when it moved to the Sci-Fi Channel) with some decent separation between the tracks and good dynamic range but it never worked out my home theatre system so you'll just have to accept that it sounded at least as good, if not better, than the initial release on premium cable.
Extras: Unlike far too many television shows on DVD, The Outer Limits: New Series Collection provided a lot of decent extras. Since each disc was designed to be sold as both a package and as an individual release, there was some duplication in the generic "The Outer Limits Story" documentary or the "Origins of The Outer Limits", depending on which disc you're referring to (the older discs had the first and the recent discs had the latter) but there was a number of interviews, behind the scenes featurettes, and individual disc features that discussed the thematic volumes that varied from one another substantially. I would've liked to see more stuff like commentary tracks by the directors, producers, writers and actors, but perhaps when MGM decides to release those full season sets I prefer so much, they'll add an extra disc or two to allow for such tracks to be included.
Final Thoughts: The Outer Limits: New Series Collection was worth a rating of Highly Recommended by me for the technical matters, the quality of the episodes, and the substantial improvement to the original series (too bad the same can't be said about other shows, yes?). I was long a fan of the original and this update had plenty of talent behind it but networks (of all kinds) live by the ratings so a modestly successful show is rarely given the amount of exposure this one was over the years and I have to give Showtime credit for continuing it so long on their network (the original series was far less successful in fact). While I have yet to meet a single fan that prefers the thematic sets over the possibility of season sets, it should be noted that there are still numerous themes to be explored by the remaining episodes, many of which are top notch too. I just hope MGM sees the light and offers the series in a variety of ways for fans to fully enjoy in the future.
Here's a look at the theme sets in alphabetical order, with the episode number, title, and date for those of you interested in getting one or more of them.
Disc One: Aliens Among Us:
1) Quality of Mercy: #1.13 (June 16, 1995):
2) Afterlife: #2.15 (May 19, 1996):
3) The Grell: #5.4 (February 12, 1999):
4) Relativity Theory: #4.6 (February 27, 1998):
5) Alien Shop: #7.9 (June 22, 2001):
6) Beyond The Veil: #2.6 (February 9, 1996):
Disc Two: Death & Beyond:
1) The Second Soul: #1.4 (April 14, 1995):
2) The Other Side: #5.5 (February 19, 1999):
3) New Lease: #3.11 (March 21, 1997):
4) Essence of Life: #5.18 (July 23, 1999):
5) Human Trials: #7.22 (January 18, 2002):
6) Black Box: #4.25 (December 11, 1998):
Disc Three: Fantastic Androids & Robots:
1) I, Robot: #1.18 (July 23, 1995):
2) The Hunt: #4.2 (September 28, 1998):
3) Resurrection: #2.2 (January 14, 1996):
4) The Camp: #3.7 (February 21, 1997):
5) Glitch: #6.12 (May 5, 2000):
6) Small Friends: #5.3 (February 5, 1999):
Disc Four: Mutations & Transformations:
1) The New Breed: #1.14 (June 23, 1995):
2) Descent: #5.14 (June 25, 1999):
3) The Joining: #4.13 (April 17, 1998):
4) Double Helix: #3.12 (March 28, 1997):
5) The Gun: #6.2 (January 28, 2000):
6) The Inheritors: #5.17 (July 16, 1999):
Disc Five: Sex & Science Fiction:
1) Caught In The Act: #1.16 (July 1, 1995):
2) Bits Of Love: #3.1 (January 19, 1997):
3) Valerie 23: #1.2 (March 31, 1995):
4) The Human Operators: #5.7 (March 12, 1999):
5) Skin Deep: #6.3 (February 4, 2000):
6) Flower Child: #7.12 (July 21, 2001):
Disc Six: Time Travel & Infinity:
1) A Stitch In Time: #2.1 (January 14, 1996):
2) Tribunal: #5.12 (May 14, 1999):
3) Gettysburg: #6.17 (July 28, 2000):
4) Time To Time: #7.15 (August 11, 2001):
5) Deja Vu: #5.16 (July 9, 1999):
6) Patient Zero: #7.2 (March 23, 2001):