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A Promised Upgrade Falls Short: New Edition Won't Satisfy Existing Fans, But Show Is Still Worth A Look For New Viewers
on October 7, 2011
5 Stars: Series
2 Stars: Presentation
In 1986, Michael Mann (with creators Chuck Adamson and Gustave Reininger) brought a very unusual cop show to primetime network television. A period piece set in 1963, "Crime Story" was an ambitious and lavishly produced spectacle about mobster era Chicago. At its heart, it was a tale of an obsessive police lieutenant Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) and his dogged pursuit of rising crime lord Ray Luca (Anthony Denison). Torello and his team tracked the ruthless criminal exploits of the ever more dangerous and influential Luca in one of TV's most satisfying games of cat and mouse. While never a particular ratings blockbuster, the show maintained a small but faithful audience who followed the action to Las Vegas for a second season. In my opinion, neither Farina or Denison would be so perfectly cast again--both really excelled. The show itself was very impressive on the technical side (costumes, sets, props, cinematography, lighting) and really felt different than anything else on the air. The show has probably received more respect as a cult legend in the years since as those who worked on it went on to different and more visible projects. I firmly maintain that if the show had been created in today's marketplace, it would have found its home on HBO or AMC and been fostered with love.
Previous DVD releases have been unkind to "Crime Story," and there seems to be two major issues in question for this release. First of all, as the 25 year anniversary edition, this set includes the 21 episodes of Season One (including the two hour pilot) and the 22 episodes of Season Two sold together for the first time. For those unfamiliar with the show and a new generation who might appreciate it, this is an excellent way to check out a really special show. For others who have purchased or viewed previous DVD incarnations, this release will not address all of your woes.
MUSIC LICENSING: One of the biggest criticisms of the previous DVD release is that it did not contain all of the original music. This has been a recurrent problem as television programming has expanded on the DVD market. Why? It's expensive to pay for the music rights. This has resulted in (1) higher priced releases that are largely intact, (2) popular shows altered (Northern Exposure was a huge controversy), or (3) notable shows being delayed or never being released (still waiting for China Beach). This new release of "Crime Story" will NOT have the original soundtrack and, at this point, it is unlikely from a financial standpoint that anyone will ever attempt to rectify this situation. The show is too much of a niche market to make such a move cost effective. While purists may say that this renders the show worthless (and, indeed, it is a tragedy), I still think the show deserves a new audience.
PRINT QUALITY: I, like many, was extremely disappointed in the quality of the previous releases. Season Two, especially, was terrible! When I started to hear news of this planned version, I was curious about any upgrades. Upon seeing a copy, I can't say that there is an appreciable difference in video quality. A real shame and a missed opportunity. This does not qualify as an upgrade worthy of a repurchase. But it is still a chance for new viewers to see a show they might not otherwise have a chance of seeing. Is it what I would want? No! But that doesn't make it worthless if this is the best anyone is ever going to do! Once again, I think "Crime Story" is a special show. It'll probably never get the glossy deluxe treatment it deserves (once again, not cost effective), but I'll settle for watchable! This, unfortuantely, is barely there. Warning, though, due to cancellation--the show missed the opportunity to have a tidy resolution, so you will be left hanging!
To wrap up, I love "Crime Story." I was as dismayed by previous releases as any other fan. This bargain repackaging is affordable, yet ultimately disappointing to existing fans. My primary goal is to help new viewers discover the program. Even with issues, it is still a great show and has historical significance. The guest stars alone are a veritable who's who of top Hollywood talent. The supporting cast is rounded out with Stephen Lang, Billy Campbell, Ted Levine, and Joseph Wiseman. Notable guest appearances include Julia Roberts, Pam Grier, Kevin Spacey, Debbie Harry, and Gary Sinise among so many more. But again, the primary draw has got to be the eternal struggle between a great Farina and a thrilling Denison. A perfect pair in a show ahead of its time! KGHarris, 10/11.