Xena: Warrior Princess-Season 1 Volume 1 (1995)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 4-Feb-2002

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Menu Animation & Audio
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1995
Running Time 510:13
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (87:00)
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Jace Alexander
Bruce Seth Green
Michael Levine
T.J. Scott
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Lucy Lawless
Renee O'Connor
Case Slip Case
RPI $69.95 Music Joseph Lo Duca


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Xena: The Warrior Princess and the show that gave it birth, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, are really television landmarks. While usually overlooked and often disparaged by many who never took the time to investigate the series, both are quite amazing technical achievements. The shows are a good mix of comedy, action, and drama (although Xena tends more to the dramatic than Hercules), and on a technical side feature some ambitious photography as well as many a pitched battle. In almost every episode, at least one fight scene involving more than five people will be presented. Often, the battles have in excess of twenty participants - large scale by any stretch of the imagination.

    Certainly, Xena was never going to win any awards for its artistic merit, but even that had a far wider ranging impact than any would have suspected when the series first started. For many, the proud, independent Xena (Lucy Lawless) who travels with the woman she loves (although never explicitly in that way) became a symbol of expressive freedom for lesbian relationships. This is not so obvious during the first series (in fact, during this series, Gabrielle - Reneé O'Connor - falls in love with at least three different men, and Xena declares her love for, and even sleeps with, a man), but became a larger component of later series. For now what we have is the first series, and it contains the following episodes:

    As Xena was a spin-off series that very closely followed the formula set out by its older sibling, it hit its straps very early on, and produced a cracking first series that was plagued with a lot less of the "feet-finding" that many first series exhibit. The actors were well-and-truly falling into their characters by about half way through this first volume, and becoming ever more comfortable with them. While the second volume contains the stronger episodes of this series, there are still some very good episodes in this half. It should also be mentioned that this series is now a monument to Kevin Smith, who sadly passed away following an accident in China only a few weeks ago - he was certainly the best recurring character in this series, and gave good strong performances whenever he appeared.

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

Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer presented for this first series of Xena is really indicative of the source material. While I cannot confirm the technical details, it appears that this series was shot on 16mm film, leading to all the problems that entails, such as general lack of detail and high levels of grain. Given those restrictions, the transfer is of a reasonably high quality.

    As this is a 1995 low budget television show, it is no surprise to find it presented in 1.33:1 (and hence not 16x9 enhanced).

    The level of sharpness in the transfer varies greatly, not only between episodes, but within episodes as well. When the image is free of grain, and free of any other source likely to cause problems (such as smoke), it can appear very sharp and extremely clear. For the vast majority of the episodes, however, there is a very high level of grain that is barely kept under control, and results in many shots that are extremely soft. To make matters worse, there are numerous occasions when the grain level becomes so high as to almost blur the image (such as at 33:05 during Episode 8 - Prometheus). Shadow detail is, conversely, quite good. During dark scenes, the grain often becomes more of a problem than during well-lit scenes, however when grain is not causing too many problems, the detail present is surprisingly good. This has comparatively little effect either way, as few scenes play out in anything resembling darkness.

    Colours are rendered very well throughout the series. From Gabrielle's oft-changing outfit, to the lush greens of the New Zealand forest, the colours always present a consistent and believable image.

    Probably the most common artefact in this set is pixelization. This is not particularly surprising given the high level of grain present, and that is usually the cause, although effect smoke is also a common culprit (such as at 0:17-0:35 during the first episode). Throughout Volume 1, at least a small amount of pixelization occurred during most episodes, and many had quite noticeable instances. Due to the overall softness of the image, aliasing did not make an appearance during the first half of the series. At 18:28 during Episode 2, there was an instance of quite severe wobble, however whether or not this was a deliberate move I could not ascertain - regardless, it was certainly not easy to watch. Relatively few film artefacts appeared during the first volume of the series, with only a small fleck during the opening credits of the first Episode, and another during Episode 6. Additionally, two vertical lines appear down the image throughout the entire shot at 25:19-25:42.

    There were no subtitles present on these discs.

    Discs 1 and 2 did not exhibit any visible layer changes, which suggests that the change was placed between episodes, however disc three is RSDL formatted with the layer change occurring at 1:52 into Episode 11 (The Black Wolf). The change is not well placed, being right as Xena is riding across a field, and hence disrupts the flow of her movement. It is also questionable as to why the third disc was arranged in this manner. It was likely in order to fit on the photo gallery extra, however it would have been nice if that static extra had been broken across layers (or not included at all), such that no episode was afflicted with a layer change.

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

Audio

    While the video transfer certainly reveals the low-budget source of the series, the audio transfer on the other hand completely belies that source. We are provided with a very good soundtrack that goes well beyond the call of duty for such a series.

    There is only a single audio track present on this disc, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track recorded at 224 Kbps that is not surround encoded - although there is considerable benefit to be had from enabling surround decoding on the track.

    Dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times. All war cries, all effects noises, and all music come through without a problem. One source never muffles the other, even during the most heated battles. There are a two instances of "pops" in the soundtrack. There are a series of minor pops around 30:00 during Episode 7, and a loud, sharp pop from the right channel at 21:13 during Episode 12.

    Audio sync is generally good, although there are a few instances where it slips out momentarily, such as at 28:31 of the first episode, and at 0:38 during Episode 9.

    The music is provided by Joseph Lo Duca, and is extremely well suited to the genre. From the stirring opening theme (which I now have embedded in my head after watching all 24 episodes in quick succession), to the more subtle themes worked throughout each episode, the music is far more engrossing and interesting than what is typical for most television shows. This is not all that surprising, as Joseph Lo Duca has scored for executive producer Sam Raimi on many occasions, including the entire Evil Dead series.

    While the soundtrack present on this disc is not actually recorded in Dolby ProLogic, turning on surround decoding works to very good effect. Even as a straight stereo soundtrack, the level of separation and locality across the front soundstage is brilliant. When surround decoding is turned on, an extremely active surround mix is presented, with the surround carrying not only score, but ambient noise, and even some semi-directional surround effects. It is most impressive during battle scenes, when the soundscape places the listener right in the middle of the battle.

    While there is not a specific track for the subwoofer, the re-directed sound from the main channels is quite impressive, and backs up both the score, and the bigger effects noises very adequately.

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

Extras

    There is only a single extra present on these discs, and that caused a layer change during an episode on the third disc. It certainly was not worth it.

Menu

    The menu is animated, themed around the series, and features a Dolby Digital 2.0 rendition of the theme song. The design is quite functional, although as the theme song simply loops, it can become annoying quite quickly. There is a lot to be said for silence.

Photo Gallery

    This is it. This is the only extra on these discs. A collection of photos, or more precisely, cropped stills from episodes of the series. As you can quite easily hit the "pause" button during an episode, this gallery is entirely pointless and should never have been considered in the first place.

R4 vs R1

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

    This set is not available in Region 1, however there is a Region 2 release. The only differences between the box sets are the packaging and the episode order. While the R2 gets fold-out cardboard casing, a mastering error lead to the episodes appearing out of order, such that Volume 1 contained episodes 1, 10-19, and then 2 (Volume 2 contained the remaining episodes). As our set contains the episodes in correct, broadcast order, I would have to say that our set is the clear winner.

Summary

    This first volume of Xena hits its straps rather quickly, although the episodes are not as strong as those in the second volume. Regardless, it is good to finally have Xena presented on DVD as it always should have been.

    The video quality is average, although severely hampered by the source material.

    The audio quality is extremely good, and very much belies the low-budget TV origins of the material.

    The extras are, well, pathetic. Not only that, but they cause the final disc to have a layer change. They are not even a token effort, and should have been left off.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Monday, March 04, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-535, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos 5381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS787, THX Select
SpeakersAll matching Vifa Drivers: centre 2x6.5" + 1" tweeter (d'appolito); fronts and rears 6.5" + 1" tweeter; centre rear 5" + 1" tweeter; sub 10" (150WRMS)

Other Reviews
The DVD Bits - David E
DVD Net - Adrian T

Comments (Add)
Humorous Credits - Chris W (read my bio)