Background: TV on DVD is one of the most popular ways to keep up with shows these days as well as check out shows from years gone by. One of the best features some of these sets have to offer fans is additional episodes that weren't originally aired on network TV, especially when the syndicated version is heavily edited. Fox is one of the networks best known for truncating series before their time (they were the knuckleheads that cancelled Firefly after all) and they have made numerous shows trying to immediately capture the eye of the fickle public in the past, as with today's review. Long before Heath Ledger became infamous for his man on man action in Brokeback Mountain, he was just a struggling Australian actor trying to break into the business. In his first real starring role in a Fox summer filler show called Roar, he played a young tribal leader seeking to unite the Celtic tribes to fight off the Roman occupation of 400 AD. Here's a quick look at the DVD release that contains all of the episodes, even those never before airing uncut:
Movie: Roar: The Complete Series originally aired in the summer of 1997 after having been shot in Queensland Australia some time before. It was heavily advertised on the Fox Network and as a result, enjoyed some decent ratings against the nominal competition of summer reruns but ultimately the numbers didn't pan out and it was cut short, leaving 5 episodes in the can that weren't aired until the Sci-Fi Channel bought it for the occasional run. The success of Hercules and Xena spawned off numerous shows like Roar and Conan; cashing in on the public desire for weekly fighting shows that played a bit fast and loose with history in favor of entertaining with sweaty, half dressed cast members. Roar was one of the more serious shows out with less of the tongue in cheek humor more successful shows displayed. I saw several episodes when it aired and a few more on cable awhile back but this was my first chance to see them all and in the order they were supposed to be aired, making it a better experience as a fan of the sword & sorcery genre.
The cast starred Heath Ledger as Conor, the youthful warrior who saw his entire family killed by a rival tribe. Together with his protector Fergus (John Saint Ryan from Crusade), followed a path to unite the many clans and tribes of their northern island in 400 AD. The Roman Empire had a garrison of legionnaires led by Queen Diana (Lisa Zane) whose advisor was Longinus (Sebastian Roche); the infamous soldier who killed Jesus on the cross and was compelled to live forever to atone for his sins. He displayed a variety of magical abilities but would appear to look like an attractive man in his mid 30's unless upset or wanting to scare someone for effect. As Conor set out to establish an alliance, he picked up a slave girl, Caitlin (Vera Farmiga) that was handy with a bow & arrow; Tully (Alonzo Greer), a black guy handy in a fight, and a revolving selection of others as written in by former actor, series creator Shaun Cassidy.
The dynamic of each show was similar; a problem would arise that was generally solved by the end of the hour long episode, typically initiated by the Queen or Longinus to fulfill their personal goals. Longinus dreamed of his own death, wanting release after 400 years of walking the Earth while Diana wanted power and position in Rome where she had started out as a whore, using her charms to acquire her current position. For their part, the good guys (Conor and friends) only wanted the Romans off their island and peace amongst the tribes. Following the formula so closely in most cases was probably a big part of why the series failed though the low budgets and wooden acting certainly didn't help. It was about as historically accurate as the aforementioned Hercules and Xena but as a mindless piece of fluff, it wasn't a bad show by any means. Here's a quick look at the episode order with date of airing, noting that the last five only aired in syndication:
1) Pilot (July 14, 1997)
2) Projector (July 21, 1997)
3) The Chosen (July 28, 1997)
4) Banshee (August 4, 1997)
5) Doyle's Solution (August 11, 1997)
6) Red Boot (August 18, 1997)
7) The Spear of Destiny (August 25, 1997)
8) The Eternal (September 1, 1997)
9) Tash (aired in syndication only)
10) Traps (aired in syndication only)
11) Daybreak (aired in syndication only)
12) The Cage (aired in syndication only)
13) Sweet Brigit (aired in syndication only)
Okay, for those of you interested in pop culture versions of druids, Celtic history, and other anachronisms as found in those yearly Renaissance festivals many of us enjoy, the show will be decent fun and worth a rating of at least a Rent It or better though for those of you wanting something with more depth then a shallow puddle, you'll do better to keep looking. For all the faults of Fox cancelling good shows like Firefly far too early, the piecemeal approach Roar took to the writing was the biggest obstacle to the show's success from what I've seen.
Picture: Roar: The Complete Series was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in years ago (about ten years, man does time fly) for broadcast on the Fox Network during their summer season. There was grain and some light video noise with the lower budgets being evident on most of the episodes. The special effects were woefully weak and the DVD mastering seemed to introduce some compression artifacts, especially on the third disc. There were numerous moments of colors looking somewhat washed out too, with minor moiré and rainbows noticed by a friend watching the show with me.
Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo English as originally shot for TV. There was very little headroom or directionality in terms of cast placement on their vocals but the musical score was actually a notch or two above what I remembered it having. There has been some speculation about the Loreena McKennitt songs being cut for copyright issues but I clearly heard at least three of them in various episodes so you can rest assured that no obvious cuts have been made in this regard. The score was decent enough to either win or be nominated for a few awards too; showing that some areas were not skimped on when the budget was written up.
Extras: Okay, this was another area circulating in the rumor mill and sadly enough, there were no extras. I recall a Making of Roar feature being aired years ago and it may have appeared on cable too but it didn't make the cut. Further, there were no interviews, audio commentaries, or anything else related to the show with even the back of the three thinpak DVD cases showing the episodes out of order.
Final Thoughts: Roar: The Complete Series definitely has a loyal follow of fans and while they might be happy that the DVD set has finally been released, it was done so in a haphazard manner with no extras, no real attention being given to the DVD mastering process, and amounting to barely better than snagging the episodes off cable in many ways. The best thing I can say about the DVD box set is that the episodes all appeared to be lengthy enough that they did not appear to be cut. They included the full credits too, unlike cable airings that shrink the credits in order to gain advertising or promotional space for other, unrelated, shows. In general then, Roar has come to DVD with more of a whimper but it should at least satisfy the hardcore devotees of the show to have the episodes uncut and unedited in the DVD format. Perhaps an HD version of the show will someday be released chalk full of spiffy extras, though given his success in Hollywood, I doubt Heath Ledger will be up to assisting with the project, even for nostalgic purposes.