Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Boxed Set, Continued: Resistance Is ... Futile?

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.


DarkoV said...

I'm with you on the Get Smart set (althought the fam has yet to get the ehavy hints from yours truly as to it being the best gift ever!). The Prisoner? Hmmm, never thought of getting that set as the series always struck me as one where if I were just abel to get some buddies together on Saturday afternoon, we could have re-created the entire series at oen of our houses as those cheap cheesy sets and wavy "special features" all seemed so DYI-ish. Plus...it's good to have a series where clothes change from show to show is non-existent. Goodwill Industries here we come!

Man from U.N.C.L.E.? It isn't avialable free on Hulu or somehwere?

So what with all these lame series all being introduced to your kiddies by you (Except for Get Smart), your Cool Index must be taking some major hits. Have you tried any boxed sets of "The Jetsons"? You know, along the lines of, "Well, let me show you what Saturday morning really was like when I was young!!". And then slide into the advanced wordplay and philosophy of Moose & Squirrel

(BTW...catch the commentary of some true fans as regards the release of the complete Bullwinkle series. I would not want to be around these folks if they have any sharp instruments.)

Whisky Prajer said...

Hey, those Bullwinkle fans sound like Prisoner fans!

Whisky Prajer said...

My first and, until now, only viewing of The Prisoner occurred through a stretch of weeks one summer in the mid-90s. CBC aired an episode every Sunday morning at 10:00, just before Coronation Street. I was in my 20s then, extremely single, and more often than not recovering from Saturday night's activities -- pretty much the ideal condition for viewing the show, really.

*Sigh* Yes, my Cool Index is indeed plummeting -- thank you for noticing. Buying this set could damage it irreparably (although I daresay the girls would have eaten it up if I'd brought it home alongside the Get Smart set. But then they were still in the single-digit age range -- the ideal condition for viewing U.N.C.L.E., I believe).

No, the only way I could possibly recover any cool factor at all now is if I stumble across a similarly affordable Complete Twilight Zone. Wish me luck.

Cowtown Pattie said...

One banana, two banana....

Just save me from the disc set of HR Pufnstuf.

Now Dark Shadows....I would find THAT hard to resist...

Whisky Prajer said...

Dark Shadows, eh? How best to package that, I wonder? With a lace kerchief and a wooden stake?

Cowtown Pattie said...

No, silly, with a music box that plays Quentin's theme and a glossy autographed portrait of a young David Selby.