The impulse DVD purchase sure ain't what it used to be, now that video-on-demand is so very accessible. Throw in the chastening effect of considerable personal experience and it's a wonder I buy DVDs at all. How many times have I dropped $25 or more on some “special edition” of a movie I remembered oh-so-fondly, only to take it home, pop it in the player and realize within 20 minutes that I was reheating a turkey? Even if the movie is my personal Citizen Kane the fact is I'm still getting older, time is moving faster, and the list of yet-to-be-seen “Don't You Miss It!” material is growing exponentially by the day.
So how is it my weekly visits to Costco keep rocking me on my heels, despite this jaded state of mind? It's Christmas, of course: the season for boxed sets. I rifle through the display the way I once rifled through hockey cards. “Got 'im, got 'im, need 'im, got 'im . . . uh . . . mm, future rental . . . got 'im,” etc. Springsteen & Co. enticed me last week. This week I saw Costco selling the complete Man From U.N.C.L.E. for the exact same price ($78).
Yowsa, what kitschy packaging! Time-Warner-HBO certainly knows how to appeal to the boy inside the man (and really: how many women get excited by DVD packaging?). If they had Saran-Wrapped the AMT model to the “briefcase” there's no earthly way I could have resisted the lure, even if I'd fasted for 40 days and 40 nights.
But resist I did — just barely. It helped to keep several recent and relatively inexpensive disappointments top-of-mind. I couldn't pass up The Prisoner for $30 — the classic Patrick McGoohan vehicle, of course, not the recent reheat. When I sat the family down and played the first disc, the reaction I received was . . . well, let's just say that my reciprocal reaction to Glee is more ebullient. And even I had to admit this recent exposure was a mixed bag of tricks. As with Star Trek: TOS, much of The Prisoner's enduring charm lies in its period-piece curiosity factor. If the viewer isn't braced for trippy-hippie hijinx and scenery-chewing histrionics, it is difficult to make much of a case for the show's intellectual content. (I had to wonder which acid flashback was the greater torment: The Village or The Banana Splits?)
More pertinently, this summer I picked up the first season of I Spy (five bucks!) a series often touted as the most superior of the Bond spin-offs, what with its interracial duo and international location shoots. Watching it for the first time, some forty years after it first aired, I can certainly acknowledge the innovation and risks that Culp & Cosby took. The first episode sends the two off to China to intercept an athlete intent on defecting to the Reds. The athlete is obviously modeled on Muhammad Ali, and Cosby's character stifles a very convincing impatience with the man's ego and political naiveté. But this is a 90-second scene in an episode that swings a heavy moral hammer to considerably less effect than Roddenberry did, and concludes with a merry little chase-on-foot through the slums of Hong Kong. Family Verdict? “Dad, please. We'd rather watch The Prisoner.”
Also on sale (same price as Boxes Boss & U.N.C.L.E.) is the complete Get Smart, which remains far and away the best DVD investment I've made — one increasingly unlikely to ever be usurped. Get Smart has the period-piece curiosity factor in spades, of course. But more than that, it's remarkable how much better this series was at conveying the same social commentary as the material it was spoofing, while retaining a capacity to entertain through nearly five decades. In fact, now that I think of it, the case could be made that time has only added to the series' already formidable entertainment cache.
And so the U.N.C.L.E. briefcase was returned to its place. And I returned to mine, where I could settle for the better value of another go-round with Agents 86 and 99, while gently nudging the imagination through remembered projections of fevered deprivation.
Links: DVD sets: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (A), I Spy (A), The Prisoner (A). Note the on-line cost difference. And it's increasingly difficult for me to maintain my resistance after reading this guy. Thankfully, there is also this guy.