Movie: I know a lot of you out there have been fans of the "television on DVD" releases for some time now, especially given the explosion of titles in the last year or two. Without listing the hundreds of such titles now on the market, I've found the process by which companies seem to mystically decide what gets put on DVD to be somewhat interesting given the numerous possibilities. After all, why does series "A" get released before much more popular series "B", why does one get better treatment in terms of extras, and why do some get extreme edits to the material and/or songs? That said, the variety of television shows on DVD has been getting amazingly good for fans of obscure shows that few seemed to catch when they originally aired, like the excellent Firefly; a DVD release good enough that it fueled a coming theatrical release, providing fans like myself hope for more to come. Other shows released on DVD have a less substantial following, such as the subject of today's review, Cleopatra 2525: The Complete Series.
The show was released in 2000 by the same folks who made Hercules and Xena; a couple of action packed shows that were big on entertainment value if a little light on deeper meaning. Filmed in New Zealand, the show detailed a dystopian future like that in Rock & Rule where mutations were common and the result of some ecological disaster hundreds of years prior. The series followed the exploits of three attractive rebels, Cleopatra (the lovely Jennifer Sky), "Hel" (the talented Gina Torres), and "Sarge" (Victoria Pratt, a gal that looked very much like porn star Jessica Drake), in their quest to retake Earth from numerous machines called Baileys.
The show opened each week with a revamped, upbeat version of the song In the Year 2525, starting with the episode Quest For Firepower, where Hel and Sarge have come under fire from enemy infiltration units called Betrayers (they look like humans but soon morph into weapon toking terminators that go on rampages to accomplish their goals). Sarge is hurt and in need of a vital organ transplant, stumbling across a mutant medical clinic that has just thawed an attractive young blonde, Cleopatra, from a deep sleep (500 years worth). Essentially an organ harvesting operation, the mutants make a deal and soon enough, the gals are teaming up in one of the most illogical, silly partnerships of television history. I found it interesting that Cleo(patra) was originally frozen in order to have breast augmentation (she was a stripper) and stood around doing little but screaming as various enemies attacked her but over time her role expanded (and she gave a couple of nice stripteases during the run of the series).
The series made a lot of how mankind has been forced into a series of underground tunnels due to the threat of the Baileys that hover about with heavy firepower above ground; each level of the subterranean world looking much like your average generic set from a science fiction show. The origins of the enemy don't come about until the end of the series (I'm not going to spoil it for you) and the initial season was mostly fluff science fiction with the gals wearing power gauntlets to fire energy beams and provide shielding from the numerous threats they encounter. The gals are part of a "Voice" team, guided by an unseen voice (played by Elizabeth Hawthorne), that uses rebel cells comprised of three warriors in an effort to fight battles needed to reclaim mankind's heritage. They encounter other groups that all have their own agendas, sometimes forming loose knit alliances in the pursuit of uniting the people to pursue the fight as well as establish some form of justice lost long ago.
The chief human enemy, Creegan (Joel Tobeck), was a clown faced man with superior knowledge of the dynamics of the age, who is found to have worked closely with Voice in the past. His primary goal is to locate Voice and kill her (or "it" since the series doesn't clarify whether Voice is a woman or machine until the end of the series) at all costs, using whatever means necessary to achieve his goals. Rounding out the Voice team is a betrayer turned helpful android, Mauser (Patrick Kake), who provides support to the team and is riddled with a few mysteries of his own.
Okay, the show was originally part of the "Back to Back Action Pack" with the silly Bruce Campbell series Jack of All Trades, a story about a Revolutionary War spy (Campbell's fans clamor for that one big time!), with each show lasting the usual 30 minutes. After Campbell's series flopped out of existence, Cleopatra 2525 was boosted to a full hour, although this was only for the short second season (the entire series lasted only 28 episodes), and pretty much all the episodes followed the generic formula of something happening to get the team in trouble, the team goes to rescue their friend only to get in trouble themselves, and they triumph in the end. The show started out as a light bit of fluff (look at the costumes on the front of the DVD cover showcasing Pratt, Torres, and Sky, in that order, half dressed) where the gals would use acrobatic jumping and shooting to blast their way out of whatever situation they got into but eventually seemed to address some of the themes in a pretty decent manner (the later, hour long, episodes provided enough time to develop characters AND plot elements as well as most shows on the air, though still abusing the various continuity and plot holes like crazy.
I wish there could have been better closure since the cliffhanger ending of The Voice made me want that one last episode to tie things up but I'd be lying if I said the show didn't have some appeal to me on an LCD (lowest common denominator) level. Watching hot women prance around in skimpy outfits in a futuristic setting must be ingrained in my genetic code given the teeth clenchingly bad writing many (okay, most) episodes had. Contrary to popular belief, the later shows really did manage to get a lot better but they were too little, too late to revive the series from cancellation (the later shows aired in Houston sometime before 6 AM IIRC, not exactly a great time slot to keep a show going, yes?). In all though, the campy fun of the series, the over the top action, and the top notch production values all contributed enough to make me suggest this is worth a rating of Recommended or even better as long as you don't take it too seriously. The humor was much like the other series by executive producers Sam Raimi and Robert Talpert although more openly sexual this time with plenty to enjoy if you open yourself up to the show.
Picture: Cleopatra 2525: The Complete Series was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in when it aired in syndication in 2000 and 2001. With so many episodes crammed onto the three disc set, I was initially worried about the compression rate and how that might affect the picture. Having seen numerous episodes when they first aired, I felt like I'd be subjected to a lot of video noise and compression artifacts but my fears were allayed when I sat down and actually watched the episodes. The double sided, double layered discs looked good with accurate fleshtones, limited grain, barely any pattern noise and no compression artifacts in sight. This was a colorful series with a lot of darker sequences but the set handled them well in most cases and I thought the picture looked substantially better than it did when it originally aired.
Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital English with optional Spanish subtitles (as well as English subtitles for the hard of hearing). There wasn't a great deal of separation between the channels and the dynamic range wasn't all that special but it did sound better than when it aired and the original music seemed to be intact (including the cheesy title song).
Extras: There weren't a lot of extras this time but with the entire series included on the DVD set (uncut and unedited), I didn't expect there to be either. The primary extras were some deleted scenes, some bloopers, and a short feature on the special effects and stunts (watching the gals hung up in the wires was kind of interesting given their costumes). There was also an episode from the release of Earth 2, a series that might appeal to science fiction buffs more than this one did.
Final Thoughts: Cleopatra 2525: The Complete Series was hardly the type of show you brag about watching but it was fun, had plenty of interesting elements and themes, and managed to have a kind of sly sense of camp so often missing in modern day syndicated television shows. Some have said it was a lame show, others delighted in the cheese it offered, and still others have commented that it was the kind of fluff destined to bring about the end of western civilization but whatever your opinion on the release of television series on DVD, I thought the bang for the buck was sufficient to give those of you willing to accept it's limitations a worthwhile bit of entertainment. With the production values of your usual Sam Raimi release, the entire series on three discs, and some keen fun, Cleopatra 2525: The Complete Series isn't going to cause you to lose sleep over it's premature demise but it provided a lot of low brow laughs for those of you willing to embrace a show made for fun, not the critics.
Disc One: Side One
1) Quest For Firepower: #1.1 (January 17, 2000):
2) Creegan: #1.2 (January 24, 2000):
3) Flying Lessons: #1.3 (January 31, 2000):
4) Mind Games: #1.4 (February 7, 2000):
5) Home: #1.5 (February 14, 2000):
6) Rescue: #1.6 (February 21, 2000):
7) Run Cleo Run: #1.7 (February 28, 2000):
8) Choices: #1.8 (March 6, 2000):
Disc One: Side Two
1) Perceptions: #1.9 (April 10, 2000):
2) Trial and Error: #1.10 (April 17, 2000):
3) Double: #1.11 (April 24, 2000):
4) The Last Stand: #1.12 (May 1, 2000):
5) Hel and High Water Part 1: #1.13 (May 8, 2000):
6) Hel and High Water Part 2: #1.14 (May 15, 2000):
Disc Two: Side One:
1) The Watch: #2.1 (October 10, 2000):
2) Baby Boom: #2.2 (October 9, 2000):
3) Brain Drain: #2.3 (October 16, 2000):
4) Mauser's Day Out: #2.4 (October 30, 2000):
5) Reality Check: #2.5 (November 6, 2000):
6) The Pod Whisperer: #2.6 (November 13, 2000):
7) Out Of Body: #2.7 (November 20, 2000):
8) Juggernaut Down: #2.8 (November 27, 2000):
Disc Two: Side Two:
1) Truth Be Told: #2.9 (January 29. 2001):
2) In Your Boots: #2.10 (February 5, 2001):
3) The Soldier Who Fell From Grace: #2.11 (February 12, 2001):
4) No Thanks For The Memories: #2.12 (February 19, 2001):
Disc Three: Side One:
1) Noir Or Never: #2.13 (February 26, 2001):
2) The Voice: #2.14 (March 5, 2001):