Last year, the Discovery Channel had a series called "One Way Out", where escape artist Jonathan Goodwin crafted various stunts with his assistants. The series was a straightforward and rather low-budget look at the process of crafting the challenges and Goodwin's attempts (some would fail, some not) to push the envelope. "One" wasn't slick, but it was interesting and enjoyable. The series was canceled - in fact, it first went on a long hiatus, then got canceled.
However, other shows by magic/escape artists, such as David Blane's specials and Criss Angel's "Mindfreak", continue to be successes. "Mindfreak" features Angel, who looks like he could be a Crue roadie in the '80's, performing various magic tricks. This set of specials, called "The Five Lives of Criss Angel: Mindfreak", sees Angel taking on some of his biggest stunts (levitate a group of audience members, teleportation and more) ever.
Still, there's a lot of build-up in each special to get to that point. The episodes lead up to the stunt by providing a lengthy mixture of "making of" (discussion of the creation/inspiration for the stunt, the dangers of the stunt, the preparation for the stunt and other "behind-the-scenes" elements) and skits (Angel entertaining random people on the street and elsewhere.)
The show as a whole is mostly entertaining, if a little overly dramatic. However, maybe "showmanship" is a big part of the show's success - the series is definitely theatrical, from Angel's over-the-top persona to the over-the-top tricks. A few moments do become a bit much, such as the magician's statement that "We are not in a Hollywood studio!" as he's ready to do a trick on the top of a snowy mountain. During one stunt, someone asks how long Angel has been in the stunt, and no one seems to have remembered to have kept track ("D'Oh!").
Additionally, having every moment where the camera is doing a continuous shot of the trick have a big graphic in the corner reminding us of the fact takes away from the enjoyment of the trick (a disclaimer regarding continuous shots on the front or back end of the episode would be better.) Also, although not really a fixable problem, some of the spectators during the Vegas scenes are a little goofy.
Still, many of the tricks are pretty remarkable, such as Angel taking a dollar that is marked and putting it in a vending machine, then making the dollar appear within a water in the machine. In another scene, Angel levitates a snowball and tosses it to someone. There's also more than a few good card tricks. Overall, there are a few tricks that don't dazzle quite as much and a few tweaks that could improve the series, but these specials are otherwise quite entertaining.
Episodes: White Death, Death Field, Mass Levitation, Terminal Velocity & Death Crash.
VIDEO: A & E presents the five episodes in 1.33:1 full-frame. Picture quality is equivalent to digital cable broadcast quality, with sharpness and detail that - while not remarkable - was perfectly satisfactory. A few instances of slight shimmer were spotted, but the picture was otherwise smooth and clean, with no edge enhancement or other concerns. Colors looked bright and bold, with nice saturation and no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: Crisp, clear stereo soundtrack with well-recorded dialogue.
EXTRAS: 4 deleted clips. Maybe a brief tutorial on a card trick or other smaller trick would have been a fun bonus feature.
Final Thoughts: "Five Lives of Criss Angel" offers some terrific stunts and tricks, although the series could be improved with a few tweaks. The DVD offers very good audio/video quality. Recommended.