Friday, April 6, 2007

SEX AND THE CITY (HBO 1998-2004) HBO Home Video

In 1998, four frisky females from Manhattan’s Upper East Side caught the vapors of our collective fascination with Sex and The City (1998-2004). This frank and fun-loving, often horny little romp through the steel and concrete jungle of New York City followed the exploits of newspaper sex-pert/columnist, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker).

Carrie is an enigma – a girl who wants love, but settles for sex when the former is woefully unavailable. She is surrounded by an entourage of flighty gal-pals, including idealist Park Avenue ‘good girl’ and ‘wannabe plaything’, Charlotte York (Kristin Davis), career and angst driven attorney at law, Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), and sultry vixen with a ravenous libido, Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall).

Using her friends as fodder, Carrie embarks on a never-ending quest for true love amongst the postmodern ruins. During the series' 6 year/94 episode run, many an amiable male swinger passed through the girl’s meat grinder; Chris Noth (Mr. Big), John Corbett (Aiden), Kyle MacLachlan (Trey MacDougall) and David Eigenberg (Steve) to name but a few.

From the start, the premise for this half hour HBO Presentation seemed strained at best – four babes of varying attractiveness and sexual prowess dishing the dirt on everything from toxic bachelors to homemade lubricants and pseudo-lesbian affairs. But by Season Six it was clear to all that Carrie and company had done much more than wax openly about the morays and peccadilloes of a basic biological function - they had, in fact, lost none of their potency for making the rest of us blush in total agreement over all the preposterousness women and men attach to the basic act of procreation.

Based on Candice Bushnell’s equally frank novel, the series is far more engaging than most, and certainly, more naughty than many that attempt to tell-all, rather than show all. Not that there’s no graphic shortage of ‘T’ and ‘A’ to be had – most provided by Ms. Cattrall as steamy eye candy that raises the heartbeat – yet, on the whole, Sex and The City delivers a fairly buoyant comedy gem with equal portions of sadomasochist charm and no nonsense brevity. Its sexy good fun, tongue-in-cheek and beckoning the viewer to indulge in a box of Kleenex – not just for tears!

Now HBO Home Video has released Sex and The City: The Complete Series – a rather flashy 20 disc compendium in pinky-purple faux embossed velvet and with a host of extra goodies included on a bonus disc. The problem is that nothing has been done to rectify shortcomings in the DVD transfers that were inherent from the original single season releases put out in 1999, 2000 and so on.

Season One is by far one of the extreme WORST examples of DVD mastering on record for any major television series. The pilot episode is so garishly flawed with digital compression artifacts, edge enhancement, pixelization and grain - that registers as digital grit - it is practically unwatchable.

What is problematic about the entire box set, is that certain episodes appear relatively unscathed by any of these digital anomalies, while other episodes contained on the same side of the same disc are virtually a mess of artifacts.
The word for the mastering effort put forth herein, then, is inconsistent. Colors can be bright and vibrant one minute, then dull, unnatural and muted the next. Contrast levels are either nicely realized or hopelessly low, with a loss of fine detail adding to an already abysmally poor visual presentation.

Season’s Two through Six fair a bit better in overall image quality, but none of the discs in this box will be winning any awards for impeccable DVD mastering. At best then, you’re buying this box for its content – not its quality. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and far superior to the visual presentation.

Extras include the ‘En-sex-lopedia’ – a look back at the best and most crass moments in the series; ‘Sex Essentials’ – a video jukebox peppered in advice to the lovelorn; a ‘quote-me’ game feature; a guide to all the pop-spots in New York City; and ‘The Guest List’ - a who’s who of the celebrities that appeared in cameos.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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