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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Maigret Collection
The Maigret Collection
Wellspring // Unrated // December 3, 2002
List Price: $99.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted January 13, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

Ranking alongside Agatha Christie as one of the all-time great writers of detective fiction, the French author Georges Simenon wrote no fewer than 84 novels and 18 short stories featuring Chief Inspector Maigret of the Paris police. His work has seen a number of film and television treatments in several languages, not least of which was a British television series by Granada Productions in 1992-1993 starring Michael Gambon as Maigret.

The twelve episodes of The Maigret Collection have their own distinctive flavor in plot, characterization, and overall tone. It's interesting to compare Maigret to, for instance, other famous detectives like Poirot, Peter Wimsey, or Sherlock Holmes, in which the private detective is very much an independent operator, whereas Maigret is very much part of a team, albeit a senior member; his fellow police officers make definite contributions to solving the case and are far more than Hastings or Watson figures. The stories develop quite differently as well in terms of narrative; in the Poirot stories, we know that he's putting the pieces together but we don't see the process until the very end, when he lays all the cards on the table and reveals the solution to the mystery, but with Maigret, we observe as the case is put together bit by bit, so while the ending might hold a surprising reversal or unexpected revelation, we can see immediately how it fits into the story as it's developed so far.

Characterization and tone is also quite distinctive in the Maigret stories. Chief Inspector Maigret has clearly chosen to work on the side of the law, and he clearly feels a great responsibility to carry out his work to the best of his ability, but there's never a sense that he's judging the criminals whom he works so diligently to catch. Maigret realizes that in order for society to run smoothly for the benefit of most, those who break the laws must be punished, but that doesn't make them necessarily evil. In all the stories, Maigret shows a great insight into the human psyche that gives the series additional depth and substance. 

Maigret is presented realistically, but without the "rub the viewer's face in the violence and degradation of the street" approach that can be seen in some U.S. crime dramas. The various characters, both criminals and non-criminals, who make their way through the stories are presented as fully-rounded individuals. Not all those who are innocent are likeable; some of the criminals are seemingly decent people. Here we can see Simenon's own background and attitude expressed in the stories he chose to tell: he himself nearly drifted into a life of crime, and he recognized that between the criminal and the police officer there's far less of a divide than one might think.

The Maigret episodes are set in an almost-timeless early- to mid-20th century setting. The episodes are set primarily in Paris, with some taking place in other locales of France; to my very great pleasure, none of the actors attempt to fake French accents. In a production like this, the unstated assumption is that we are hearing a "translation" of dialogue that would really have been in French, and so there would be no "foreign" accents involved; the actors' normal British accents are completely natural in this context, and accurately represent the ordinary, non-exotic setting of Simenon's stories in the original.

The series doesn't draw attention to itself as a period setting, which is fairly appropriate, given that the Maigret stories and novels were written over the course of many years, from the 1920s to the 1970s. The majority of the episodes are based on novels written in the 1950s, though some are taken from novels as early as 1932 or as late as 1970. The series' writers have done an excellent job of adapting the novels, so the filmed versions feel very well-paced.

The Maigret Collection offers all twelve episodes of the series: "The Patience of Maigret," "Maigret and the Burglar's Wife," "Maigret Goes to School," "Maigret and the Mad Woman," "Maigret on Home Ground," "Maigret Sets a Trap," "Maigret and the Nightclub Dancer," "Maigret on the Defensive," "Maigret and the Minister," "Maigret and the Hotel Majestic," "Maigret's Boyhood Friend," and "Maigret and the Maid." All are based on novels; all are fifty minutes long except for the first one, "The Patience of Maigret."

The DVD

Video

The Maigret Collection is presented on DVD in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It has a satisfactory image quality, with a some noise and a little bit of edge enhancement being the only real detractors. Colors and contrast are acceptable; colors are slightly muted but not excessively so, and contrast is not as good as it could be, but again, it's quite reasonable. I noticed a slight blurring effect at times, such as in the credits, that's most likely attributable to the PAL to NTSC conversion of this British series. On the whole, the Maigret episodes are quite watchable, with natural-looking skin tones, good detail in the image, and a clean print.

Audio

The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack for The Maigret Collection is quite good, sounding clean and natural throughout. The sound is well-balanced between the dialogue and other elements of the track, and the actor's voices are always nicely clear. The theme music is quite charming and is woven unobtrusively into the episodes.

Extras

The four DVDs of The Maigret Collection are packaged in a single four-disc case. At about an inch and a half wide, it could have been a bit slimmer, but in any case it takes up less shelf space than a boxed set of four individual keepcases would have, and is quite sturdy.

The set is short on special features. There's a set of cast biographies, and some web links; also touted as a "special feature" are episode synopses. These appear in the menu page when the viewer is selecting to play the chosen episode, and are really an "anti-special feature": I don't want to read a summary of an episode I haven't seen yet! At least it's easier to avoid reading text spoilers than it is to avoid seeing spoiler images, but in any case it's a rather odd thing to do.

The only other extra is an insert with information about Georges Simenon and Michael Gambon; I'm not normally an enthusiast of inserts-as-special-features, but in this case it provides a very interesting overview of Simenon's life that gives us some insight into the Maigret stories, and it's well worth reading.

Final thoughts

The Maigret Collection is a fairly sure bet for any fan of mysteries: the twelve episodes in this set are very enjoyable, with interesting plots and three-dimensional characters. The non-judgmental Maigret makes for a very interesting protagonist, and the overall tone of the series, with its focus on the human side of the mysteries he investigates, makes for a pleasingly distinctive tone for the series. The DVD transfer could have been better, but it's satisfactory and doesn't detract from the overall experience. It's recommended.

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