If you want the "bare bones basics" on a world-famous celebrity, two of the more convenient resources are Wikipedia.com and A&E's long-running "Biography" series. And while the Wiki might give you some of the "grittier" material, "Biography" is still a pretty classy series that does a fine job on their research. Since it debuted in 1987, Biography has covered everyone from U.S. Presidents to flavor-of-the-week celebrities, but this new 9-disc compilation set focuses squarely on one of the most popular professions out there: The Movie Star.
"Biography Presents: Legends of the Silver Screen" delivers eight favorite episodes (and one bonus special) in one handsome (albeit unnecessarily bulky) collection. The episodes offered are as follows:
(*A normal episode of Biography runs about 45 minutes, but the ones marked with a star are actually double-length episodes.)
The ninth disc is an excellent feature-length episode called "Hollywood: An Empire of Their Own," which gives us a nifty little history lesson on Tinseltown's earliest years. I'm not sure I'd classify this as an "extra feature," but it's an excellent inclusion just the same -- especially when you consider the $40 sticker price.
Basically, Biography is a show that will appeal to everyone from 9 to 90. The only thing that matters is who the episode is covering and whether or not you actually care about that person's life story. (Then again, there's something to be said for studying a subject that doesn't necessarily fascinate you, cuz you just might learn something new.) Logically, if you're a huge fan of the actors covered in these episodes then you'll find a lot to enjoy in this box set: The episodes include everything from movie clips to archival materials and (relatively) new interview segments in an effort to remind us why Shirley Temple (for example) is still so well-regarded these days. Production value is typically strong; a notch above your local PBS station, that's for sure.
One minor complaint is something I noticed during the 95-minute Clint Eastwood episode. The producers did an excellent job of starting from the beginning and then moving forward through the filmmaker's celebrated career -- movie by movie. But a few of Clint's lesser flicks (City Heat, for example) are omitted entirely. What's the point there? Is it not as important to learn from the mistakes as it is to celebrate the successes? It might be a silly thing to complain about, but a "biography" should be a little more 'warts and all' than what's generally offered in this series. A minor gripe, but a notable one.
Video: The episodes are presented in their original full-frame format, although you'll see some widescreen material from time to time. Picture quality is TV-level, nothing stellar.
Audio: Basic DD 2.0. No problems.
Extras: Aside from the bonus documentary, nothing.
It's like reviewing Wheel of Fortune or 60 Minutes. You've seen more than a few episodes of Biography by now, I'm sure, and if you get a lot of re-watch value out of these well-crafted bio-documentaries, then this box set comes fairly well-recommended. Had A&E opted to throw multiple episodes onto one disc and give you a little extra value for your money, I'd be a little more impressed.