Law & Order-Year 1 (1990)

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Released 14-Apr-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Featurette-The Creation of Law & Order with Dick Wolf
Rating ?
Year Of Production 1990
Running Time 998:02
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (6)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Gwen Arner
Don Scardino
Fred Gerber
Daniel Sackheim
Studio
Distributor
Wolf Films
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Chris Noth
George Dzundza
Dann Florek
Michael Moriarty
Richard Brooks
Steven Hill
Case ?
RPI $119.95 Music Mike Post


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Telemarketing person: "How much television do you watch in a week?"
Me: "Since The Weakest Link was cancelled, one hour."
Telemarketing person: "No, not how much do you watch in a day, how much do you watch in a week?"
Me: "Okay, I will go slow for you... One... hour..."

And what was that one hour of television that I actually sat down and paid any attention to? A strange little American series called Law And Order, although I will admit that it ballooned to two hours when Special Victims Unit was rolled out the door. It even briefly rose to three when Criminal Intent started, but that was a rare example of Law And Order done badly, so now it is back to the occasional one or two hours. However, now that the original and best Law And Order series is on DVD, the amount of time I spend watching broadcast television could soon fall off into nothing.

And what is the reason why Law & Order was just about the last semblance of television that I felt was worthy of viewing? Well, I think this is best explained by Bowling For Columbine director Michael Moore, who in a recent interview with Empire magazine has told us that much of the Top Ten television programs in the USA are actually news programs such as Dateline or 60 Minutes. He further postulates that one would think Hollywood moguls would look at that and realise that a significant portion of the public wants intelligent entertainment. This is the exact challenge that Universal Television and Wolf Films meet in Law & Order.

Indeed, as one IMDB user puts it - "Quality TV - what a concept...". While the series doesn't dumb everything down into words of one syllable, it also manages to tread the fine line between being intelligent and being too technical. Occasions where one has to look up something that is mentioned during a chat with the forensic examiner or the lawyers may occur once or twice each show, but such is the incredible storytelling that one won't miss anything if they go and look it up later as opposed to right now. Series creator Dick Wolf actually deserves a medal for being able to keep this series of interest to people other than popcorn munchers and beer drinkers without completely alienating those with a less than University-level command of the English language.

Every story in the series follows a fairly basic structure, more or less, with the details being what makes the show such a compelling view. Almost all of the episodes begin with a crime being witnessed or the aftermath of a crime being discovered. We then follow two detectives along their twisty path as they collect evidence, interview the witnesses and suspects, as well as exchange witticisms. In this season, the two detectives are Sergeant Max Greevey (George Dzundza) and Detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth), who answer to a Captain by the name of Donald Cragen (Dann Florek). Once the detectives are done, and enough of a case has been built to drag a suspect into court, we follow an Executive Assistant District Attorney named Benjamin Stone (Michael Moriarty), his assistant, Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks), and their boss, a crusty old District Attorney called Adam Schiff (Steven Hill), as they try to jump through the legal hoops. Far from always offering us a happy ending, however, each episode leaves us questioning whether the system really works or whether we really are getting better as a society.

The episodes that make up Season One are as follows:

Disc One

Disc Two

Disc Three

Disc Four

Disc Five

Disc Six

One thing that is worth mentioning is that it doesn't appear that these episodes were broadcast (or encoded on these DVDs) in the actual order they were shot. Everybody's Favourite Bagman suggests this the most heavily, with slightly softer focus and some variations in the cast, as well as the style of how the story is concluded. Another slight anomaly in this season is that the opening credits are noticeably longer than has been the case in the last half-dozen seasons. The fine details are a bit raw, yes, but the delivery is all here and running.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

Unlike a lot of popular, long-running television series, Law & Order was shot entirely on film, using real locations. While the quality of the film stock used here was somewhat lower than is the case with the current season, the difference this makes to the overall look and feel of the series in general is obvious from Frame One. This is, in fact, prima facie evidence that all television shows from day one should have been shot using film, regardless of budget or time constraints.

The transfer is presented in its intended aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and not 16x9 Enhanced.

To reiterate, this transfer is so sharp that it will make the average viewer rue the day someone came up with the idea of shooting on video or lesser-quality film stock. I was expecting something that looked slightly faded or dull, but aside from the colours and the occasional film artefacts, you could honestly be forgiven for thinking this season was shot yesterday, not nearly thirteen years ago. The shadow detail is the only other clue to the episodes' age, but it is also excellent by the standards of thirteen year old television shows, striking just that right mix between enough detail and enough of a gritty feel to keep the theme of the series feeling authentic.

If you're looking for bright splashes of vibrant colour, then forget about these discs. You aren't going to find vibrant colours here - even the daylight shots in the middle of Central Park (and yes, that is the real Central Park, apparently) are quite subdued. Not subdued in a bad way, mind you, but subdued in a realistic way that anyone who has lived in a city of any size, especially near the more industrial sectors of said city, can appreciate. No composite artefacts or smearing are evident in the transfer.

MPEG artefacts were not a problem in this transfer. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some wobble in all four directions that, in nine out of ten cases, could be blamed upon the camera rather than the telecine. These happened once or twice every episode, and were easily ignored. Aliasing is one point where the transfer comes unstuck, however, with the desks and benches in the courtroom particularly affected by this artefact. The judge's bench at 26:22 during Indifference was a particularly irritating example. Film artefacts consisted of marks on the picture in black and white every few minutes, most of which were fairly sizeable but easily overlooked, given the age of the source material. Their frequency rather than their size, particularly in episodes like Everybody's Favourite Bagman, are more bothersome. Still, given that this is a television show (and even if it is one of the best since Doctor Who), it is still better than what I'd normally expect.

English subtitles are available on these discs. They are as accurate to the spoken dialogue as can be expected with the limitations of this feature, especially given that the nature of the stories often necessitates talking in paragraphs. They also contain the occasional cue to indicate who is speaking.

The bottom line here? If you have a DVD-ROM drive or a display unit that supports some form of de-interlacing, then this is as good as it is going to get before a 24-frame-per-second, high-definition (or progressive) format becomes available. If not, it's still pretty damned good, even if it could get a little better.

All six DVDs in this set are dual-layered. The layer change appears to have been sensibly placed in between episodes.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

One of the drawbacks of shooting on film is that it has to be converted into either television standard (NTSC or PAL) before being broadcast, with both standards introducing artefacts of their own. That said, I still prefer the PAL representation for its smoother motion, despite the slight rise in pitch that is particularly apparent in the voices of the men who portray the detectives. George Dzundza, who is best remembered for his role as Gus Moran in Basic Instinct, is probably the most noticeably affected by this pitch rise.

There is a singular soundtrack on this DVD - the original English dialogue, rendered in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround encoding at 192 kilobits per second. Given that the series was originally broadcast in a similar fashion, and that it is an extremely dialogue-heavy affair to say the least, this is more than adequate.

The dialogue is somewhat variable - the series is set around various parts of New York, and the makers decided to cast the actors in a realistic fashion, so some bit actors will be harder to understand for most people. Thankfully, the really important stuff, which mostly comes from our Detectives, the District Attorneys, or people they work with, is always clear and easy to understand. Some of the sound effects, particularly gunshots, have a very obvious dubbed feel to them - the gunshot at 1:36 during Happily Ever After sounding like it came from a stock sound effect library to name one good example. However, when all is said and done, the fine line between being realistic and incomprehensible is tread with a ballet-like precision here.

No problems with audio sync were noticed.

The music in Law & Order is very basic, mainly consisting of an opening theme, a closing theme, and a two-beat, punctuation-like thud that occurs at scene changes. The music in this case is amazingly effective in spite of the fact that it appears in the show for about five minutes at the very most. At other times, when music is heard from the cars or homes of characters, contemporary music from what I assume to be Universal's library is used, and again, it is extremely effective in spite of not being used too often. The only thing that struck me about the music in this season is that the opening theme is noticeably longer here than in the most recent (and therefore most easily remembered) seasons.

The surround channels are not used very aggressively in this soundtrack. They merely seem to provide some wrap-around ambience for the sounds of people talking in crowded scenes or the environmental effects of such places as Central Park. Again, the whole series is very focused upon dialogue, and the sound effects that were dubbed in post-production sound extremely artificial to say the least, so it is unrealistic to expect big things of this audio transfer.

The subwoofer was not specifically encoded into this soundtrack. Aside from the very occasional gunshot or the sound of cars hitting things, it was not really missed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

While I am thinking of it, it should be noted that this six-disc set came to me as a set of test discs with no cover of any kind. I am hoping against hope that Universal Home Video do the right thing and put this set in packaging that is actually durable (three double Amarays in a slip case or six singular Amarays in a slip case would be really nice).

Menu

The menus feature an animated introduction, some minor animation, and Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded audio. They are not 16x9 enhanced. Oddly enough, the Universal logo that is played when the disc is put into the player is 16x9 Enhanced, and it is in Dolby Digital 5.1 to boot. It is worth mentioning that the menu audio is a semitone lower in pitch than the programme proper, suggesting that the menu itself may have been converted from NTSC. Another aspect of the menus that I must complain about is that they kick the user out into the programme in less than thirty seconds, something I find highly irritating to say the very least.

Featurette - The Creation Of Law & Order With Dick Wolf

The sole extra in this set, which can be found on the first disc, is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. With a running time of fourteen minutes and fifteen seconds, I have to say that I found it seriously disappointing, especially considering the level of curiosity surrounding the series, that this is the only extra to be found here, and that it reveals very little about the guts of the series (so to speak).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

Reliable reviews of the Region 1 equivalent of this DVD are not easy to find, so I am trusting the say-so of customers from online retailers in some respects here. The Region 1 version of these discs is more or less identical, except that it is NTSC formatted, which means less resolution and the addition of 3:2-pulldown artefacts, which could be a bit too much to take in some episodes. The Region 1 version's list price is US $80, which makes it quite expensive indeed once the price of shipment is taken into account.

Yes, the 4% speed-up and pitch rise is a little annoying, but far less so than jerkier motion and less resolution, and those who have been watching this series as long as I have will know which of those is the greater sin. For the relative prices, I'd prefer a sharper picture with less noticeable conversion artefacts from the film source, so Region 4 is a marginal winner here. Your mileage may vary, however.

Summary

Law & Order is a rare thing from America - a good television show. It is so good, in fact, that I would almost put it in the same class as Doctor Who in spite of the fact that they are aimed at two very different kinds of audience, and have or had very different production values. Once you own this boxed set, amongst other television series of similar quality, there is no reason whatsoever to bother with free-to-air broadcasting again, unless it is high definition. I cannot recommend the series itself highly enough, and even though these early episodes are a little rough around the edges, they still come highly recommended. This boxed set is six of the most essential DVDs you'll ever get.

The video transfer is excellent considering the age of the source material. It's just a pity about the aliasing.

The audio transfer is very good considering the limitations that the show's style brings.

The extra is pretty ordinary.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Wednesday, April 09, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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