Regrettably, this isn't so much a review as it is a consumer report. As a nostalgic fan of classic game shows like What's My Line?, You Bet Your Life, and To Tell the Truth, I was really, really looking forward to Classic Game Shows & More, a four disc set with more than 23 hours of programming, mostly public domain material from the 1950s. The set is a Mill Creek Entertainment release, a label specializing almost exclusively in public domain titles, but I've been really enjoying some of their recent releases, such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, an interesting and fun British TV series.
Unfortunately, the DVDs I received were beyond unplayable - they actually seemed capable of permanently damaging the DVD player, something this reviewer has never encountered before. And though the company was quick to send us replacement discs, these had the same issues as the first batch. (And it gets more complicated then that; see below.) In short, we can't recommend these discs.
The first set arrived about six weeks ago. Unfortunately, as soon as I put it in the player, my machine starting revving up like the engine and propellers on a Cessna aircraft. Concerned about the safety of my player, I immediately ejected the disc, and tried another less valuable player. But the problem persisted, with every disc in every player I tried, and the same thing happened when I tried playing the discs on my computer's DVD drive.
Curious, I checked the reviews section over at Amazon and found comments like this: "[Mill Creek] seems to have a problem at the manufacturing plant, [as] the holes for the DVD are cut off-center, leaving the DVD to either not play, or cause your player to shake like a washing machine with an unbalanced load of clothes." That precisely describes what I experienced, as does this: "The good news is that this set has a lot of wonderful material, and for the price it seems like a terrific deal. The bad news is that the price is low for a reason: The actual DVDs don't work well at all. Technologically, it's a nightmare, in fact. You can't access certain shows on the menu; some stop in the middle, skip, or pause indefinitely. Often you can't even access the menus, and the discs make odd whirring sounds in the DVD player." Again, that's what happened to me, too. Some discs would play only Mill Creek's logo, others would play the vintage game shows okay, but all the while I sat there wondering if my DVD player was going to implode like a mini-volcano from all the whirring and grinding going on inside it.
Ironically, not long before this and independent of my reviews here at DVD Talk I had ordered a copy of another Mill Creek title, Classic Sci-Fi TV, largely on the basis of colleague John Sinnott's glowing review. That arrived at about the same time as Classic Game Shows & More - and guess what? Yep, it had exactly the same playability issues.
Our editorial staff contacted Mill Creek directly, and to their credit they were quick to offer replacement discs for both titles. I shipped everything back to them so that they could inspect the defective discs. They did insist that my "copy and the mention on Amazon [were] the only complaints [they've] gotten about the disc," but I wonder. About the replacement, the Mill Creek representative told us that "he checked it to make sure it worked correctly," and it did arrive here unwrapped and presumably inspected. (The replacement copy of Classic Sci-Fi TV was shrink-wrapped and sealed like a normal retail unit, however.)
Sadly, both replacement sets had the same "washing machine" effect as the original ones. While I've had the occasional damaged or defective discs, in the thousands of DVDs I've watched through the years I've never experienced anything like this. The whirring/vibrating effect only happens on these Mill Creek DVDs and no others I've played before or since. For the record, I tried these discs on the following machines: a Pioneer DVD-310, a Cyberhome CH-DVD 500, a Magnavox MWD 2205, a Toshiba HD DVD (HD FX2), and a Panasonic Blu-ray DMR-B100. I also tried playing the discs in my computer, a Prius. In each machine - the same effect.
I can't say I played every single disc in every machine, mainly because I was so concerned that the longer I left it grinding away in there the more likely it was to damage the player permanently, that one or two discs on the pricier machines was enough. But between the Cyberhome and the Magnavox (the cheapie players) I checked everything at least once.
Just as Universal never acknowledged their defective DVD-18s manufactured in Mexico some years back (frustratingly impacting classic TV titles like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Dragnet, and their Universal Horror boxed sets, among other things), Mill Creek seems loathe to admit to the problem, but I think that's a mistake.
Particularly with PD labels, for many consumers it's once bitten, forever shy. If this problem is as widespread as I suspect it is, the damage to Mill Creek's reputation could be ruinous. I dearly wanted to give this a glowing review, much like John's review of Classic Sci-Fi TV. But I can't. I can't recommend discs that, with extended play, might actually damage your player - at least it certainly sounds like it's doing just that. Skip It.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, Japanese Cinema, is due in stores this June, and on sale now.