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Shout Factory presents
World Poker Tour: Season 2 (2004)

"This guy is my idol. I wanna party with this guy. Then I wanna get a restraining order."
- Vince Van Patten, describing Phil "The Unabomber" Laak

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: March 29, 2005

Stars: Shana Hiatt, Mel Sexton, Vince Van Patten
Other Stars: Lou Diamond Phillips, T.J. Cloutier, Paul Philips, Mel Judah, Gus Hansen, Hoyt Corkins, Erick Lindgren, Antonio Esfandari, David Benyamine, Paul "Eskimo" Clark
Director: Steven Lipscomb

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 19h:58m:09s
Release Date: March 29, 2005
UPC: 826663185690
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B+B A-

DVD Review

It's no secret that No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em has become the biggest card game fad in years. It's popularity has been fueled by the televised tournaments that have proliferated on nearly every cable channel. But the biggest and the best of them is the World Poker Tour, which combines huge prize pots with high production values and a great sense of fun. This second season just keeps upping the ante.

Each of the fourteen episodes takes place in a different casino around the globe, including Paris, Aruba, and in the Caribbean aboard a cruise ship, though most of the sites are in the western United States. The action begins with the final table, with the last six players left in the tournament playing until only one is left standing. A few brief snippets in each episode are dedicated to the locale, mostly as a nod to the fact the program airs on The Travel Channel, where it's by far the highest-rated series. Most of the program is devoted to the play of the game, however, as professionals and amateurs show down and bluff their way into gigantic pots, at times several million dollars in size. Things don't always work out as planned, though, since the Celebrity Invitational ends up just having pros at the final table; all the celebrities were knocked out of the tournament long before. The otherwise high proportion of amateurs in the final tables is quite surprising, no doubt the result of the impact of the easy ability to get into an online game. Certainly some of the show's appeal must be attributed to the presence of students, construction workers, hairdressers, and other ordinary people pitted against top professionals and frequently holding their own.

One of the biggest innovations in televised poker was the World Poker Tour's adoption of a lipstick camera at each player's hand so we can see their cards. It's long been understood in cinema that one of the most effective ways of inducing suspense is when the audience knows something that the characters don't know. The WPT-Cam allows a similar sensation, as we in the audience know more than the participants as they players walk on the edge of disaster.

The other major advantage that this series has is a fun group of hosts. The hands are discussed as they're being played by Mel Sexton and actor Vince Van Patten. Sexton's breathless hype would be right at home in the roller derby, and Van Patten comes up with a non-stop torrent of goofy remarks and cringe-inducing puns. They're more than happy to go way over the top, referring to the players as "fearless warriors" and the game as "phenomenal action." But they're also not afraid to be critical of poor or questionable play, and at times will thoroughly lambaste a bad move. It's very enjoyable high camp; when compared to other poker programs the personalities here come out way ahead. Also in the mix is host Shana Hiatt, who is cute and perky but not annoyingly so; she has a sweet down-to-earth Sandra Bullock quality that makes her very endearing. And of course her donning bikinis in several episodes, as a nod to her days as an Hawaiian Tropic model, doesn't hurt. Think Britney Spears' smarter sister.

Since this is an eight-disc set that runs nearly 20 hours, plus bonuses, I had not intended to watch every episode for this review. But this series sucks the viewer in completely, and I ended up thoroughly enjoying each and every program. Novices can get right into the swing, since every episode includes a short explanation of the game, the odds are frequently displayed, popups explain the lingo, and the running commentary keeps the play in context. Poker players can hardly help but learn quite a bit from a close viewing of these shows, with a particular emphasis on playing winning poker even when you have bad cards. There's plenty of attention given to strategy as it differs in six-handed vs. two-handed play as well. It's quite fascinating and very well done.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The full-frame picture looks quite good, with plenty of detail, bright colors and nice thick black levels. The exception is video segments, especially on transitions, which often display crude aliasing and don't look nearly as good as the main program. On occasion digital sharpening is apparent, but it's reasonably controlled thanks to the dark backgrounds.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 audio sounds fine. The voiceovers are vivid and sound fine, without hiss or noise. Some other poker shows have mikes too close to the chips but that's not the case here so the annoying clinking is kept to a minimum.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 145 cues and remote access
1 Documentaries
20 Featurette(s)
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by Erick Lindgren, Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandari, Phil Laak
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
8 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: As if the commentary from Sexton and Van Patten wasn't enough, four of the episodes have commentaries from some of the players who appear more than once during this season. They're paired off, with Daniel Negreanu and Erick Lindgren the most informative and analytical of the two pairs. All four commentaries are worth checking out, though. The eighth disc is packed full of extras. The most important of these is an entire 44-minute program devoted to analysis of the final episode, with Negreanu and Sexton joined by players Phil Hellmuth Jr. and Annie Duke. They don't always agree on their analysis, and there's a fascinating discussion of tells and reverse tells that should be required viewing for any poker player. The Poker Corner excerpts from each episode are also collected on this disc, with a set of tips and information all in one handy place. A 4m:03 featurette on poker in Hollywood is mostly fluff, though you get to see quite a few stars playing and losing. Finally, there are profiles of five of the players, each running 3-4 minutes.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Even if you're only casually interested in poker, the presentation on this set is alluring and the content is quite fascinating. Recommended.

 


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