FALCON CREST (Lorimar 1981-82) Warner Home Video

The world of a prime time soap opera is riddled in cliché and hyperbole. That said, few of any vintage can compete with Earl Hammer's Falcon Crest (1981-1990); a richly distilled vintage featuring hallmark characters and ongoing familial strife, centered on a gripping struggle of wills to possess some of the most fertile land in California's Napa Valley winery country.

Throughout its 9 season run on CBS, this thrilling television series stirred with a creative sparkle that saw Falcon Crest's matriarch, Angela Channing (Jane Wyman) conduct the daily business of her empire on her own ruthless terms - much to the chagrin of serious man of integrity and rival owner, Chase Gioberti (Robert Foxworth) and Angela's long lost prodigal son and newspaper magnet, Richard (David Selby).

As he had done for television's Dynasty (and would later do for Dynasty II: The Colbys), maestro Bill Conti sets the musical tone for this fondly remembered soap with a stirring orchestral accompaniment; a flourish and fanfare of strings and drum roll that seem to idyllically frame the drama with great pomp and circumstance. Still, what is remembered most, and perhaps best, from the series is it's intriguing plots and diabolical twists along the road. While TV's Dallas was a soap hinged on building a groundswell of anticipation for each season's 'cliff hanger', Falcon Crest derived its strength and audience popularity from an ever tumultuous unravelling of its central narrative - producing episodes that tended to become their own cliff hangers by the end of each hour long broadcast.

Season One of Falcon Crest begins with a murder; that of Chase's drunken father (and Angela's brother) Jason, bent of thwarting a romantic rendezvous between his niece Emma (Margaret Ladd) and an oversexed farm hand. After accidentally pushing Jason to his death, a shell-shocked Emma fetches Angela who, in order to protect Emma from incrimination and arrest commands her manservant Chao Li Chi (same name as the actor who played him) to dump Jason's body off a cliff.

The news of Jason's death is relayed to Chase by phone . Although a successful pilot living in New York with his family, Chase is stirred to rethink his career after Jason's funeral. At the reading of Jason's will, Angela and Chase both learn that he has been bequeathed 50 acres of Falcon Crest's prime acreage - thereby setting up a bitter rivalry between Angela and Chase almost from the word go.

Chase leaves his career and moves to the valley with wife Maggie (Susan Sullivan) and their two adult children, Cole (Billy Moses) and Victoria (Jamie Rose); the latter having broken from a bittersweet relationship with a much older man back home.

Angela first tries to buy the land back from Chase at the market value price, but to no avail. Next, she attempts to ruin Chase's opportunities to advance the quality of his stake in the vineyard by threatening every bank in the Bay area to refuse Chase a much needed loan to make improvements.

Meanwhile, Angela's playboy grandson, Lance Cumson (Lorenzo Lamas) has become increasingly difficult to manage. He even blows up one of Chase's wells to further hasten the threat of defeat. To tame her young charge, Angela brokers a loveless marriage between Lance and Melissa Agretti (Ana Alicia); the daughter of a profitable rival vineyard landowner. It is Angela's hope that the marriage will translate into an alliance between Falcon Crest and the Agretti Wineries to effectively squeeze Chase and his family out of their fair share once and for all. Instead, it only serves as another source of friction between Angela and Lance - the latter increasingly distancing himself from Angela's control and his new bride with a series of casual sexual liaisons. Unfortunately for Angela - her time is running out in Jason's murder/accident cover up. Emma has increasingly been prone to nervous outbursts that threaten to spill the secret to Chase.

As though to prove itself the valiant successor to Dallas, its preceding soap opera on CBS, Falcon Crest: Season One wastes no time in delving into its various intriguing narratives focused on wily deceptions and marital infidelities. Season One is a superlative maelstrom of good writing; deviously delicious from its debut episode to its first of many climactic grand finales.

The same cannot be said for Warner Home Video's utterly lacklustre transfer quality. The image is hopelessly marred by extremely faded colors and a barrage of color bleeding that renders all long shots an utterly hopeless mess of distracting visual noise. The image literally breaks apart during establishing shots. Contrast levels are much too weak with blacks more a dusty gray and fine detail all but disappearing beneath a patina of pasty hues.

Truly, this is one of the worst mastering efforts of a beloved television series yet to debut in the format - and so undeserving of a show as richly written and luminously acted as Falcon Crest. Warner Home Video ought to be ashamed of the 'effort' put forth herein! The audio is mono as original broadcast and adequate for this presentation. Warner Home Video delivers one final blow to fans of this show - virtually NO extra features! Not recommended!

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