Saturday, October 31, 2009

DALLAS (Lorimar Telepictures 1978-91) Warner Home Video

The term 'cliffhanger' might very well have been invented for David Jacob's Dallas (1978-1991). Overnight this pop-opera became a sensation, then an American institution for 13 years on primetime television, and finally - in retrospect - a reflective relic for all that was good, gaudy, yet flawed about the American perspective on life, love and success throughout the 1980s. Dallas may not have invented the soap opera format, but it honed and mined its time honored traditions, centralizing fundamental human frailties and fanning the ratings flames with desire, lust, greed, deception, steamy sex and violent death; lurid, powerful fodder for the masses.

From today's jaded perspective of ultra-raunch it all seems so utterly quaint. The iconic world that J.R., Bobby, Pam, Miss Ellie and their like inhabit now plays like a prologue to another forgotten time completely removed from our own. The sexual mores, the vices, the corruption don't seem to hold up under closer scrutiny, posing the question;
'as a society...have we evolved, or simply become too cynical to recognize the strength of artistic sentiment?'

Beginning as a five episode miniseries shot entirely on location, Dallas quickly escalated in the network ratings to become the quintessential zeitgeist in pop entertainment. Series creator Jacobs was initially hampered by a production deal with Lorimar Telepictures that kept a tight rein on where the monies were being spent. Although all interiors would be shot at the old MGM studios in Culver City after the first season, the South Fork Ranch remained popular for exteriors until escalating production costs forced the entire series to California from 1989 to 1991.

Viewing the miniseries today it really does have a low budget look and feel. The trademark Southfork Ranch, located in Parker Texas, does not appear in the miniseries and neither does Ted Shackelford as the Ewing's wayward middle son, Gary (Gary Ackroyd, as originally cast).

Initially, Jacobs had pitched the idea of Knots Landing first to CBS, who encouraged him to develop a more 'glitzy' saga-like show. Dallas was the recipient of Jacob's creative genius. Ironing out many kinks along the way, Dallas proved indestructible by the mid-1980s, its devil-may-care approach to corporate business and private scandal perfectly in tune with the 'steal little/steal big' public mindset of that decade.

As the series developed, the focus gradually shifted from the marital concerns of younger brother Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) and his wife, Pam (Victoria Principal), to heir apparent, J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) - a devious and scheming oil baron whose wily sexual appetite afforded him the luxury to play fast and loose with both his big business wheeling and dealing and the many women who ran through his bedroom while wife, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) digressed into becoming a drunk.

Technically, Southfork was presided over by staunchly proud and resiliently Texan, Jock Ewing (Jim Davis) and his ever-devoted Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes). But the ranch also contained a rather lecherous relationship between hired hand, Ray Krebbes (Steve Kanaly) and pint size minor, Lucy (Charlene Tilton). As for Pam; she was the daughter of Digger Barnes (David Wayne and later, Keenan Wynn) - the destroyed shell of a man, so the story went, by the power hungry hands of Jock and later J.R. Pam's brother, Cliff (Ken Kercheval) fairly took his father's side, but also found time to be sympathetic to Pam - primarily after she split from Bobby at the end of Season Four.

In between these tempestuous relationships, someone shot J.R. (who survived), Southfork burned in an epic house fire (but not to the ground) and Bobby was murdered by Pam's half nutty sister in 1985; then unceremoniously resurrected in a shower sequence that attempted to illustrate for the viewing audience that the entire previous season had been just a dream in Pam's mind (groan!).

Contractually speaking, Patrick Duffy had believed that his fame on Dallas would allow him to find lucrative work elsewhere in television and the movies. He was quickly disillusioned. Meanwhile, Dallas' ratings tanked and the producers invited Duffy back into the fold.

In 2004, Dallas' arrival on DVD heralded an age of experimentalism for the format. After all, would anyone collect all 13 seasons? Apparently so. But the results from Warner Home Video are hardly stellar; beginning with their marketing choice to brand the miniseries and Season One as Season One and Two respectively - thereby throwing off the count of Dallas' seasons by one.
More disheartenment follows as most of the series is housed on flipper discs. The remastering efforts are remedial at best. Colors are extremely dated.

The image contains a barrage of age related nicks, chips and scratches. Dubs for the opening credit montages are woefully out of focus. Occasional edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details also present their own litany of problems. Finally, the audio on some of these episodes is strident and occasionally crackling.

Truly, there's not much to recommend the effort put forth here except to say that the show looks about as crisp as it did on my old 21" television purchased during the late 70s. On a small screen, Dallas still looks adequate. However, blow up to my current 65" dimensions, there's nothing to write home about.

To some degree, the Seasons tend to fair slightly better in overall video and audio fidelity as the seasons grow and get younger (Season 8 looks particularly sharp), but the improvements from season to season are marginal at best. It's difficult for me to recommend these discs to anyone but die hard Dallas fans of which I know there are many around the planet. For you, dear hearts - I suppose these discs are a treasure. For this reviewer, however, more was and should have been expected in the transfers.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5

EXTRAS
Season One 1
Season Two 1
Season Three 1
Season Four 1

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