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Airwolf: Season 1
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Keep your eyes to the skies for non-stop action as the complete Season One of Airwolf soars on to DVD for the first time ever! Jan-Michael Vincent stars as Stringfellow Hawke, a reclusive renegade pilot who's assigned to top-secret missions for the CIA by the mysterious "Archangel" (Alex Cord). Hawke's weapon of choice is the high-tech battle helicopter of the future, Airwolf. Loaded with cutting-edge surveillance equipment and unbelievable firepower, Airwolf takes Hawke and his friend Dominic (Ernest Borgnine) around the globe in search of dangerous international spies and criminals. Ride along with guest stars Lance LeGault, James Whitmore Jr., Shannen Doherty and David Carradine on all 11 episodes, including the thrilling two-hour pilot, of this amazing action-adventure series.
Hip spy shows with covert agencies within agencies--like Alias and 24--are missing only one thing: A super-duper armor-plated helicopter with "nuclear-tipped shrike missiles." In the action series Airwolf, a mysterious national security agency called the Firm constructs a "Mach-one-plus chopper that can kick butt," only to have it stolen by the nefarious scientist who designed it (David Hemmings, Blowup, Barbarella). Desperate, the Firm turns to Stringfellow Hawke (Jan Michael Vincent), a soulful, cello-playing, art-loving, eagle-watching, guilt-ridden master pilot. Hawke refuses to help unless the Firm searches for his brother, who went MIA in 'Nam. Of course, he succeeds in his mission, but until the Firm fulfills its side of the bargain, he keeps the chopper--but also agrees to fly covert missions in exchange for tips about government efforts to retrieve Airwolf.
This elaborate setup proves surprisingly durable. The combat scenes in Airwolf are clumsily edited, but the scripts--though firmly in the cheesy techno-thriller vein of Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy--are pleasantly zippy. While Vincent may have gone on to a straight-to-video career (appearing in such sterling titles as Hidden Obsession, Indecent Behavior, and Animal Instincts), hes a persuasive and sexy pilot; he's got the same kind of rangy, athletic physicality that makes Kevin Costner convincing as an athlete. Add to this mix the ever-zesty Ernest Borgnine (Marty, The Wild Bunch) and it's clear why Airwolf outlived the similar series Blue Thunder. Most episodes feature international skullduggery with foreign agents trying to steal Airwolf and sell it to the Soviets or Libya, but there are enough clever details to keep you from objecting to the larger absurdity of the all-powerful helicopter. Guest stars include Shannen Doherty (Beverly Hills 90210) and David Carradine (Kill Bill). It's too bad Hemmings didn't become a regular; his sadistic, lecherous traitor gave the two-hour pilot some real juice. --Bret Fetzer
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The Series and Its Premise:
Airwolf's first season (eleven episodes from 1984) cleverly developed the series' dark (and sometimes heavy-handed) perspective on Cold War espionage in which the Libyans and Russians were portrayed as the scheming, black-hatted villains, while U.S. covert intelligence (known as "the Firm" in this series) was viewed as heroic, white-hatted cowboys, despite having its own ambiguous motives.
Caught in the middle are brooding ace pilot & reluctant hero Stringfellow Hawke (Jan-Michael Vincent) and his loyal co-pilot, Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine), who have hidden away the most awesome aerial assault weapon on earth: Airwolf. The enigmatic fate of Hawke's long-lost brother, St. John, who disappeared years before in Vietnam, motivates Hawke to strike a thieves' bargain with the Firm's director, Archangel (Alex Cord): Hawke & Santini will keep Airwolf stashed and fly it on secret missions for Archangel until the Firm can conclusively prove St. John's fate.
With this bold premise, and backed by Sylvester Levay's memorably techno-styled score, the series kicked off the first season with its best episode ever: the movie-length "Shadow of the Hawke," featuring Hawke's fiery showdown with Airwolf's psychotic creator, Charles Henry Moffett (David Hemmings) in the Libyan desert. Flashbacks to scenes from this particular episode would hauntingly reverberate throughout the series.
Also featured in Season One are some relatively superb (if sometimes implausible) entries such as: "Echoes of the Past," "Mind of the Machine," "And They Are Us," and "To Snare a Wolf," in which Hawke must fly Airwolf through a B-52 bombing run to elude a renegade U.S. government operative intent on obtaining or destroying Airwolf at any cost.
At the same time, some of the other episodes from Season One remain merely OK, if not forgettable. For instance, the second episode, "Daddy's Gone a Huntin'," comes to mind, as the intriguing idea of Hawke discovering a long-lost son from Vietnam is toyed with before being ultimately dropped. Further, due in part to an unconvincing make-up job, the young actor (Chad Allen) portraying Hawke's possible son was simply a ludicrous casting choice given the circumstances of the episode.
Nonetheless, despite its occasional flaws, "Airwolf" was far more sophisicated and intelligently written than any other program in the action-adventure genre for that era.
Disc 1 (Side A):
1. "Shadow of the Hawke" (pilot episode): 5 *****
2. "Daddy's Gone a Huntin'": 3 ***
3. "Bite of the Jackal": 4 ****
4. "Proof Through the Night": 4 1/2 ****
5. "One Way Express": 3 1/2 ***
Disc 2 (Side A):
1. "Echoes from the Past": 4 1/2 ****
2. "Fight Like a Dove": 4 ****
3. "Mad Over Miami": 3 1/2 ***
4. "And They Are Us": 4 ****
10. "Mind of the Machine": 4 1/2 ****
11. "To Snare a Wolf": 4 1/2 ****
Rating of Season One episodes: 4 1/2 **** (overall)
The DVD Edition:
Universal Studios, unfortunately, chose to pursue the absolute "bare bones" approach with this release by:
1. With the exception of choosing from three standard languages, there are not any special features. The DVD is completely devoid of cast and crew interviews, commentaries, documentaries, an Airwolf blueprint, or even a snazzy main menu screen. Considering how deliberately "techno" this series was, the potential special features available could have been awesome. Instead, this is a major disappointment.
2. The episodes are not re-mastered, nor were the audio tracks noticeably upgraded. Very ordinary.
3. The few promo photos inexplicably include cast pictures from the dreaded fourth season (without Vincent or Borgnine).
Rating of DVD Packaging & Extras (overall): 1 *
If you choose to purchase "Airwolf: Season One," beware you are getting a half-season's worth of mostly terrific episodes (but little else). Still, we believe this DVD set is well worth the investment at its current price.
Next, the acting and writing is not as bad as many shows of the time--or today--but there is certainly far, far better. Related to this was the drift away from the moodiness of the first season in subsequent seasons--like Keanu Reeves, Jan-Michael Vincent is probably best left to act to his strengths, such as they are, which appears to be what he was doing in the first season to good effect. I always thought, and still do, that the perfect accompaniment to a super-helicopter built by a secret government agency is a moody pilot extraordinaire who lives in a remote cabin in the mountains. Far-fetched though it is.
OK, so is this DVD worth getting? I never questioned buying it myself, but even so, I was a little concerned whether it would be as enjoyable to watch now as when I was younger. The answer is, not quite, but close enough. And it's all about the helicopter, so I'd say not to bother getting this if you weren't a fan of Airwolf to begin with, or don't like helicopters. This show is about Airwolf, a completely impossible helicopter that is still way cool. The switches flip, the buttons are pressed, the eerie howling noise begins with the muted whop-whop of the rotors, and off goes this gorgeous, dangerous, awesome machine to do good deeds around the world.
My father taped all the Airwolf shows when they first ran...I eventually made a tape of all the first season 'finales'--the end sequences where Airwolf kicked flying butt. That's how much I liked that helicopter, and I still do. So, although I now wince a bit at the clothes, the writing, and some of the acting--I never liked Borgnine anyway--I still get a thrill watching that helicopter. Yes, they re-use flying sequences too much, but so do many shows. The bottom line is...If you were an Airwolf fan back then, I think it's safe to go ahead and get this DVD.
You know, someone should redo this series, along the lines of Battlestar Galactica. Throw out the hokiness, and keep the good stuff--in this case, keep the helicopter, most of the conceptual background, and little else.
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