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Region 4 DVD Reviews: Two Dysfunctional Families

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, Apr/May 2002, v.33/2

The Simpsons The Simpsons--The Complete First Season (Collector's Edition)
Created by: Matt Groening
Starring: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer
The Sopranos The Sopranos--The Complete First-Season
Created by: David Chase
Starring: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese and Nancy Marchand
Movie: A, Picture: A, Sound: B, Extras: B Movie: A, Picture: A, Sound: A, Extras: B
This is (nearly) where it all began. Actually, this package of the first 13 episodes of The Simpsons includes some nice special extras, including one of the shorts from the Tracey Ullman show, which is where it really did begin (presumably the other shorts will appear in the packages of the second and subsequent Seasons).

Not all of these episodes are the finest of the show, but anyone who enjoys the Simpsons simply must have the package because of the insight it gives into the development of this fictional, all too real family. There is, for example, Smithers' first appearance in which he was an African American (with his race abandoned, I conjecture, because the demands of the story made him a snivelling sycophant), and hints of the celebrity voices and pop-cultural references that later became regular features. Each episode is accompanied by an audio commentary from various show participants, and four original scripts are shown. These often bear only passing resemblance to their final results, suggesting the whole thing was a work in progress at the time.

The picture quality is excellent, presented in its original 4:3 ratio (not in the 1.85:1 claimed on the box). The conversion from NTSC to PAL is very good, although it does result in somewhat jerky horizontal pans from time to time thanks to odd interlacing sequence involved in the conversion. The audio is presented, somewhat surprisingly, in Dolby Digital 5.1 given that this Season was prior to the adoption of Dolby Surround encoding. Consequently only a small amount of use is made of the surround channels, although Bart's cherry bomb is fed to the LFE channel.

This is a classic set of episodes from a classic series which will satisfy all viewers who have even a passing interest in The Simpsons, and will excite those who love it.

Take Analyze This and mix it in with The Godfather parts I and II and what you don't have is The Sopranos. Such a simple formula can't do it justice, even though it concerns a New York* crime family, the head of which is receiving treatment from a psychiatrist for panic attacks.

Instead you get a twelve hour saga that takes both its humour and drama from situations rather than dialogue or over-the-top action. At one moment you are chuckling, at the next the characters are engaging you in their believable difficulties, and a moment later you are sitting there frozen with the power of a moment.

The thread of continuity is provided Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) who is juggling his panic attacks, a turbulent relationship with his wife, running a crime organisation, managing his police mole, finding a college for his daughter, attempting to deal with sexual fantasies, dealing with his own Mother From Hell, and facing betrayal. This is not a relaxed series. The first episode was a pilot and is very good, but it pales in comparison to the following dozen.

Don't you just love boilerplate text? So often it appears where completely unwarranted. Thus this box is labelled that its contents are in '"letterbox" format' as per its 'original theatrical exhibition'. Not bad for a TV show which is actually presented in standard 4:3 aspect ratio. The picture seems to be film sourced rather than video, and seems to have been telecined directly into PAL, so there is no degradation of the image from an NTSC to PAL conversion. The audio is clear and attractive, presented in Dolby Pro Logic encoded two channels.

This is a masterly work, well presented in this package.

* Actually, it's New Jersey.

Running time: Approx 286 minutes
Aspect: 1.33:1 (original aspect ratio)
Sound track: English: Dolby Digital 5.1, 384kb/s
Subtitles: Danish, English, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Features: Four original scripts; Outtakes; Animatic; Featurette (The Making of the Simpsons); Foreign language clips (French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese); Tracey Ullman Short; Audio Outtakes; 'Art of the The Simpsons'
Running time: Approx 600 minutes
Aspect: 1.33:1 (original aspect ratio)
Sound track: English, French, German, Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 (with Dolby Pro Logic encoding), 192kb/s
Subtitles: English, German, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Polish, Greek, Czech, Turkish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Croatian, French, Arabic, Romanian, Bulgarian, English (Hearing impaired), German (Hearing impaired)
Features: Music video; Five part documentary 'The Sopranos: Behind the Hit'

© 2002-2006, Stephen Dawson