An absolutely terrific example of how to flush a fine idea absolutely down the toilet, "Iron Chef USA" is an insult to the outstanding original series, now appearing in a dubbed version on cable's Food TV network. To explain the original series: Chairman Kaga has created an enormous set ("Kitchen Stadium") in which some of the world's finest chefs can do battle against one of the chairman's masterful "Iron Chefs". Both must use the same food item that the chairman has chosen for the battle: some days it might be squid or stingray, while some days it might be an item as simple as carrots. Play-by-play commentators offer their thoughts throughout the show and, at the end, various stars judge the dishes.
What makes the series so different is its over-the-top style, which, while some may find it unintentionally hilarious, is deeply - deeply - respectful of food and the art of cooking. The show is also wonderfully photographed, using excellent hand-held camerawork and moves (although the amount of commerical breaks that Food TV ads in is ridiculous at times) at a superb pace. The tone may be ridiculous and over-the-top, but the show hits the right mark with its humor and the dishes that are created by the various chefs are often downright stunning. The original "Iron Chef" is terrific television and a ton of fun - those who have cable and haven't seen it absolutely should.
And that brings us to the remake, a badly misconcieved project that aired on UPN all of once, as far as I know. None of those involved with the remake seem to have seen the original show, which takes the over-the-top tone of the original and sends it into previously unseen levels of ridiculousness. The new American version simply goes for silliness without realizing any of the sincere respect that the original version had for the meals that it created. Instead of casually dressed commentators, we get two guys who dress like rejects for the "Monday Night Football" announcing gig and seem to know little about the subject. Leading this parade of weak humor is William Shatner, an actor who can be particularly funny while goofing on himself, but remains painfully unfunny here, acting sillier than I ever thought he possibly could. The original series is classic, but the remake is simply an embarassment.
There are two episodes included here: a showdown in Las Vegas and a Holiday special. While I do know that "Vegas" aired, I'm not sure if the Holiday special ever did.
VIDEO: Both episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratios by Lion's Gate Home Video. While the show is horrendous, Lion's Gate actually does a fine job of presenting it in quality that looks about as good as broadcast and maybe even slightly better. Sharpness and detail are fairly solid; while some moments can appear a bit on the softer side, the picture usually appears crisp and well-defined. Some very slight artifacts appear, but they aren't particularly bothersome. The show's bright color palette is well-rendered, with no flaws.
SOUND: The stereo soundtrack is adequate, dialogue and the background music coming through clearly.
MENUS: Animated (although somewhat cheesy) background for the main menu, with basic sub-menus.
EXTRAS: Trailers for "Iron Chef", "Rose Red" and "Cat's Meow".
Final Thoughts: Someone at UPN obviously thought that the original show's following could continue in a new version, but just about everything is lost in the translation, which is a disaster. Hopefully, Food TV will begin releasing the original show on DVD in the future.