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Anchor Bay Entertainment presents
Highlander: The Raven (1998-1999)

"You know, I'm not 'the girl.' I'm an Immortal. I get shot, I get back up. You get shot, you get dead."
- Amanda Montrose (Elizabeth Gracen)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 14, 2005

Stars: Elizabeth Gracen, Paul Johansson
Other Stars: Patricia Gage, Michael Copeman, Hannes Jaenicke, Valentine Pelka, Jim Byrnes, Charlotte Lewis
Director: Ian Toynton, Peter Ellis, Dennis Berry, Rene Bonniere, George Mendeluk, Rene Manzor, Donald Paonessa, Gerard Hameline, Brian Grant

Manufacturer: B1 Media, Inc.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, sensuality)
Run Time: 16h:51m:32s
Release Date: June 14, 2005
UPC: 013131284591
Genre: television


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

DVD Review

Even after Adrian Paul had had enough of the Highlander television series, there was still a demand for more of the Immortal mythos. After trying out several possibilities for a female Immortal in Season Six, the producers ended up going with the established character of Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen), who had proven to be a fan favorite over six years of the original series. This nine-disc set collects the entire single-season run of Highlander: The Raven, which ultimately didn't quite gell enough to satisfy the audience for the original.

Amanda has set up in New York City, where Nick Wolfe (Paul Johansson) is a cop. After his partner is killed as a result of corruption, Nick quits the force, and learns about Amanda's immortality. Together, they take on work as security, in an uneasy partnership as Nick attempts to provide a moral center for Amanda, who having been a carefree thief for 1200 years, is less than excited about the prospect. Being a French co-production, the second half of the series moves to Paris, as was the case with the original series.

The intention of the series has been described as Moonlighting meets Highlander. On the occasion where it actually taps into that same vibe, it's pretty successful; one of the highlights of the series is a sequence where the odd couple is having a stakeout and keep getting on each others' nerves. There are a few other moments like this, with an edge of people who are attracted to one another but can't stand one another either. Unfortunately, many of the scripts are lacking in the necessary wit and charm to make the situation work on a consistent basis.

Of course, as the extras make painfully clear, there were serious issues with the two leads actually in fact not being able to stand each other. That puts things beyond edginess into the relationship at times feeling a bit forced. The body language just doesn't quite ring true, and although they're both very talented actors, that's a pretty significant hurdle to overcome. It doesn't help that it takes about five episodes to get the general story arc, such as it is, under way. The producers seem to have been strugging to get the characters into a position where they could actually do something interesting with them.

Part of the problem is the character of Amanda was conceived as a supporting character and was never really meant to carry a series; the light and frothy nature of the character as established before doesn't mesh terribly well with the Mythos of decapitations and sword fights. It helps that Nick's story is essentially a police procedural, which provides a grounding for Amanda to play off of. There are some supporting characters, but none of them are very well-developed. When Watcher Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes) makes a guest appearance in the two-parter that moves the action to Paris, he's very welcome in comparison to the nonentities that populate the background of this series.

While Amanda's character does for the most start stay light, there are a couple of episodes that flesh out her past and bring home the enormity of the consequences of certain of her actions; most notable is the episode The Unknown Soldier, that provides Gracen with an opportunity for some tour de force acting. She's also particularly good in The Frame, where she gets to play off Charlotte Lewis, with whom she does have an excellent chemistry. Perhaps that was the teaming that the producers really were looking for to make this series. The controversial finale has quite a few problems, not the least of which is an exceedingly lame villain who does cheap party tricks and misuses holograms.

As usual, the production values are quite good, especially once the setting moves to Paris, even though the budgets were significantly reduced. There's not quite as much sword fighting, and in some instances the stunt people are obviously pulling their sloppy punches against Gracen. It seems as if there was a little money left in the budget for the last couple episodes, since the last few Quickenings are pretty spectacular. The trademark flashbacks work fine and help provide a good link to the Highlander feel, even though they sometimes feel a bit padded. These are generally the extended European versions of the series, although two episodes, Full Disclosure and The Rogue seem to be the US versions, since they run about three minutes shorter. No explanation is offered for the use of the shorter cuts on these episodes.

The bleak finale opens up some interesting possibilities for a second season, had there been one. But there wasn't and its grim conclusion, foreshadowed throughout the season, makes for a fitting conclusion to a problematic series.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The image is presented in widescreen, but surprisingly enough it's not anamorphically enhanced. There's quite a lot of grain but it's very well-rendered, avoiding any sparkly or distracting effect. Detail is quite good, considering the lack of enhancement, and color and black levels are excellent. The source materials don't have any issues whatsoever. It's watchable, but it could have looked so much better with enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Both a 5.1 remix and the original Dolby Surround tracks are included. Both have a wide range and plenty of oomph, though the 5.1 track as one would expect has more substance and immediacy. It has a big, cinematic sound to it, far beyond what one expects from a television series. Those looking for lots of bass will be quite satisfied with the mix. Dialogue is clear and hiss and noise are nonexistent.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 164 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English (closed captioning only)`
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Documentaries
Storyboard
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by Elizabeth Gracen, Paul Johansson, editor/director Donald Paonessa, director Glen Mendeluk
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
9 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
  2. Blooper reel
  3. Scripts
  4. Trivia game
Extras Review: The Highlander boxed sets had a huge quantity of extras, and this set carries on in that tradition to a slightly lesser extent. There isn't quite the elaborate backstory of Watchers and villains that was developed in the text materials on those sets, but the extras are certainly high quality. One of the merits of those other sets is the often brutal frankness with which the principals assessed their work and that continues here, despite being obviously painful to all concerned. Instead of a five-minute featurette on each episode, there's one massive documentary running about two hours, split up over eight DVDs. Subtitled The Unraveling of a Series, it brings all the main participants back to relive some severely unhappy moments. There's some finger-pointing, but there's also a lot of acceptance of responsibility: Gracen and Johansson both blame themselves substantially for the problems, and producer Bill Panzer and creative consultant David Abramowitz do the same. With all the mea culpas and negativity floating around in this documentary, it really started to badly impact my enjoyment of the series. I'd strongly suggest first-timers watch the entire series and then go back to the documentary (especially since two segments give away the conclusion of the finale). There's a sense that most of those involved in the series think worse of it than it really turned out.

Four episodes contain commentaries, both in audio form full-length, and as an abridged video commentary. Perhaps in an indication things are still problematic between them, Gracen and Johansson were taped separately and edited together on the commentary for the finale. Disc 1 contains a still gallery of about 45 shots, presented in slideshow fashion. Disc 8 features a lengthy blooper reel over 26 minutes in length, which at least shows there were some laughs on the set, which you'd never guess from the documentary. The ninth disc is a CD-ROM that contains scripts for the entire series. A set of bios is actually just the IMDB filmographies for about 40 cast members and selected writers and directors. A short trivia game consists of 10 multiple choice questions. The Production Notes section contains a quantity of original material, such as shooting schedules for the finale and the like. A set of storyboards includes a look at an effects sequence, a sword fight and an action sequence as examples, but there's nothing to give them context. The commentaries make reference to an alternate ending to the finale having been shot, but it doesn't seem to have been included, which is a pity.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Although there are serious problems with this spinoff series, it does have its moments. The transfer is acceptable but could have looked much better with anamorphic enhancement. Primarily for Highlander devotees and those interested in just how badly things can go wrong with producing a television series.

 


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