New releases this week:
Don Lane - Best Of The Don Lane Show (Sony, 242 mins, $AU25)
Here at CNET.com.au we pride ourselves on bringing you local Australian content, and so today we thought we'd excite the locals by letting you know that you can finally get your hands on all the highlights from that late night TV staple from 1975 to 1983, The Don Lane Show . It's doubtful anyone outside of OZ will have heard of the former Morton Donald Isaacson (a tidbit for Trivia Night), so this one is for the fans only.
The promo blurb calls it 'the standard for variety television in Australia', which may explain why such shows are now extinct. This tribute DVD throws in everything from Don's original 1964 audition tape to his emotional farewell on the final show in late 1983. Lots of big guest stars appear and of course, Bert Newton. 'Hereeeee's Don.'
The Rage In Placid Lake (Fox, 90 mins, AU$35)
After finishing high school, Placid Lake (Aussie musician-cum-actor Ben Lee) finds himself struggling to find some normality in his life. Rebelling against his over-the-top hippie parents (Miranda Richardson and Garry McDonald), Placid lands himself a job in an insurance company, much to the dismay of his new age parents and platonic girlfriend Gemma (Rose Byrne). Written and directed by Tony McNamara, we recommend getting this DVD if you want to see a witty film that doesn't conform to stereotypical Australian comedies.
Firefly Season One (Fox, 625 minutes, AU$60)
(OK, this came out last week. We got busy. So sue us.)
Firefly is a creation of Joss Whedon, responsible for the massively successful Buffy The Vampire Slayer (and its spinoff, Angel), and like those series, it was produced by a company with arguably the second-best closing credit ever -- call us crazy, but the Mutant Enemy Zombie still ranks in behind the lovable charm of Ubu and his crazy sitting antics.
Anyway, unlike those series, Firefly never made it past its first season -- in fact, calling this a season box set is a bit of a misnomer, because only 14 episodes were in fact made, and not all of them made it to air in the US -- and, of course, none of them saw light of day on Australian TV at all.
The easiest way to describe Firefly would be to describe it as a space western, mixing in visuals of most science fiction shows with plots that could have fallen out of any given cowboy epic. While it boasts an ensemble cast, the bulk of the show's appeal rests on the core character of Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion, who also offers commentary on some episodes. Malcolm's the captain of a Firefly-class spaceship called Serenity which makes its way through space through mostly illicit means -- predominantly smuggling. It's while engaged in some seemingly innocent public transport duties that the rest of the core characters come together, but as the series itself never resolves, it's left with far more dangling questions than answers.
Like the rest of his TV offerings, the quality of Firefly's episodes varies quite widely; the double episode that starts off disc 1, "Serenity" (which aired much later in the series abortive US run) starts things off in a rather shaky manner, and it's only once you've watched a few episodes that it all starts to slot into place. There are some gems here -- "Our Mrs. Reynolds", "Jaynestown" and "War Stories" in particular. "Ariel" is also quite watchable, but as it's a key episode that would have presumably been used to build to a series finale, it's a touch annoying as well.
If you're familiar with Whedon's works, you'll quickly find yourself seeing all sorts of familiar character archetypes within Serenity's motley crew. We're rather fond of Jayne, the onboard heavy played exceptionally well by Adam Baldwin, presumably under the rule that a given number of American productions must have a Baldwin brother somewhere, just as any given Australian production's likely to have a Daddo lurking somewhere. It doesn't hurt that most of the best lines are shared between Fillion's and Baldwin's characters, either.
As a whole work, Firefly is a tad unfulfilling -- because the series never made it even to the end of a single US season run, there's plenty of story material left dangling. It's also unfulfilling precisely because the core concepts are quite solid -- once you get past the rather interesting juxtaposition of characters moving swiftly from spaceships to horseback, of course. As a study in how US TV production is made, it's a fascinating piece of work to watch, and especially to listen to, with commentaries on quite a few episodes from just about every cast member, not to mention Joss Whedon himself. There's also a smattering of extra features, including a rather sombre post-mortem on the series featuring most of the cast and Whedon again, as well as Whedon's rather unique attempt to sing the series' catchy theme tune. Fans of science fiction and fans of Whedon's other work will enjoy this, and it'd make a good present for such folk, but anyone interested in seeing how a series lives and dies in the brutal US TV market should also give Firefly a try. For what it's worth, a feature film is in production, and presumably if DVD sales were good enough, Firefly could pull a Family Guy-style trick and resume production -- although we wouldn't be holding our breath waiting.