Saturday, July 30, 2011

DYNASTY Season 5 (Spelling 1985) Paramount Home Video

Contemptible alliances, devious mistresses, borderline psychotic villains and even a palace coup, these are just some of the deliciously deviant back stories that made Season Five of Aaron Spelling's Dynasty the most watched primetime soap opera of 1985. It even beat out the grand-daddy of them all - Dallas in the Nielsen ratings! With a weekly costume budget provided to Nolan Miller that was roughly the cost of an entire episode of Dallas, Dynasty's fan base was primarily women, perhaps even less surprising when one stops to consider just how many of the story lines centered on the show’s female characters. Instructed by the studio to find a ‘J.R.’ in shoulder pads, co-writers Richard and Esther Shapiro cast glamorous Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington-Colby-Dexter in Season Two forever altering Dynasty’s chemistry to the good. By season five, Dynasty had become Alexis’ show; all subplots and intrigue revolving around the uber-bitch queen bee. Top marks must be given to Collins – for creating this towering figure of the schemer/seductress who kept everyone on their toes, frantically scrambling to do their own damage control in the wake of her destructive nature.
But in retrospect it's amazing how long the series took to 'find itself' and its audience. With the advent of DVD one can scrutinize the glaring loopholes in plot and character development more easily. There are, in fact, too many in Dynasty. But that did not stop the series from becoming one of the most fondly recalled and revived syndicated soaps in television history. At the end of season four alumni Pamela Sue Martin (Fallon) decided she would not be returning to the series, leaving creators Richard and Esther Shapiro with a dilemma. Do they kill off this much beloved feisty daughter of Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) or recast her with another actress? Ultimately and regrettably, in season five both paths are explored.
Season Five begins with Jeff Colby (John James) conducting a valiant search for Fallon who left him at the altar during Season Four's cliff hanger. His search leads him first to a youth hostel, then a college and finally a monastery in California where Jeff is informed by a monk that the woman he knew as Fallon Carrington is dead. But wait...where's the body? Where's the proof? Enter Nicole Simpson (Susan Scannell) the ex-wife of Peter DeVilbis (Helmut Berger in Season Three) whom Fallon briefly dated. Nicole seduces Jeff, marries him, then realizes he will always love Fallon - even if it's only her ghost. Nicole attempts to lure Jeff on an expedition after a gold statue in Guatemala. They go, never find the statue or Fallon and return home bitter enemies.
Unable to paint themselves out of a narrative corner the producers abandon this thread entirely and turn their attentions instead to the other hold over from Season Four's cliff hanger; Alexis (Joan Collins) charged with the murder of her former bodyguard, Mark Jennings (Geoffrey Scott). Son, Steven (Jack Coleman) alleges in court that he saw a shadowy figure push Mark from Alexis' balcony wearing the same dark cape Alexis wore to Fallon's wedding that was not to be. One problem; at the end of Season Four Alexis was arrested for Mark's murder at Fallon's wedding reception wearing a stunning red dress! Somehow continuity seems to have overlooked this glaring recalibration of Alexis' wardrobe.
Infidelity proves a major theme throughout Season Five as well. Alexis' husband Dex (Michael Nader) is having an affair with her daughter, Amanda Bedford (Catherine Oxenberg) whom Alexis gave up to her sister to rear in Britain. Blake discovers that Amanda is his child and welcomes her into the family. At the same time Steven and Claudia's (Pamela Bellwood) marriage begins to crumble, thanks to Adam's (Gordon Thompson) meddling and a series of well-timed innocuous outings Steven has with his male social secretary, Luke Fuller (Billy Campbell).
The ambiguity surrounding Steven's sexuality is one of the most regrettable misfires in the entire series. In Season One Steven is a homosexual whose lover, Ted Dinard is accidentally murdered by Blake. In Season Two Steven marries Krystal's niece, Samantha 'Sammy-Jo' (Heather Locklear), then divorces her and declares his sexual orientation as being 'gay'. But in Season Three Steven divorces Sammy-Jo and then marries Claudia Blaisdel whom he manages to stay married to until Season Five and Luke Fuller. Meanwhile, Krystal (Linda Evans) begins to doubt Blake's marital fidelity after receiving mysterious photographs of him in the company of Lady Ashley Mitchell (Ali McGraw); a fashion photographer who is shooting a spread on Denver's oil baron but has begun to entertain romantic ideas toward Jeff - not Blake.
At approximately the same time Krystal's heart is stirred by the prospect of a new romance with old flame Daniel Reese (Rock Hudson); a horse breeder and sometime mercenary who indulges his spare time in rescuing political dissidents from obscure prisons in third world countries. Daniel and Krystal's innocent rendezvous are also photographed and sent to Blake to further stir their pot of marital discourse. In another part of Denver Dominique Devereaux (Diahann Carroll) reveals to Blake that she is his half-sister. She loses her husband, Brady Lloyd (Billy Dee Williams) in the process but gains the power and wealth of Denver's most affluent family in the trade. Stricken with a heart ailment that nearly costs her life, Dominique is rushed to the hospital and gradually restored to health.
While on a conference with Alexis and Dex in South America Amanda is introduced to Prince Michael of Moldavia (Michael Praed) with whom she begins a tempestuous affair. Michael is a playboy. But Amanda's heart is still tethered to Dex. Spurned by Dex, Amanda bitterly agrees to marry the prince in name only, a vow made even more complicated when it is revealed that Alexis once had a passionate affair with Michael's father, King Galen (Joel Fabiani). Alexis convinces Galen that Michael should break his betrothed engagement to Elena, the Duchess of Branagh (Kerry Armstrong) and marry Amanda with all speed. Alexis sweetens the deal by suggesting to Galen that Colby Co. will invest heavily in his country's ailing economy after the marriage takes place. But the Captain of the Guard (Michael Gregory) has other plans for a bloody palace coup.
With so much going on in Season Five it's easy to see how these narrative threads could get sloppy...and they do. Whether revealing Congressman Neil McVane (Paul Burke) as Mark's killer, wearing a wig and clothes to look like Alexis (utterly laughable and entirely implausible) or suggesting that Sammy-Jo is responsible for sending Blake and Kyrstal the fake photographs to break up their marriage (even though she is in New York for most of the season) or recasting Fallon as Emma Samms (who does not even remotely resemble Pamela Sue Martin) and then changing the portrait of Fallon above the fireplace in the Carrington's living room midway through the season to look like Samms instead, Season Five is awash in misfires and missteps. Curiously enough, none of these oversights sank Dynasty's popularity in the Nielsen ratings. In fact, they soared.
Season Five is the only time Dynasty would ever scale such heights. By the end of Season Six it had slipped from #1 to #7, clearly indicating that the end of the night time soap opera cycle had begun. The Shapiro's debuted Dynasty II: The Colbys that same year - designed as a spin-off would only last two seasons. One year later Dynasty fell in the ratings to #24.
Paramount Home Video has once again chosen to issue this much beloved soap opera by splitting the season up in two competing DVD sets. Unlike previous seasons (where the interim between volumes could, and was often longer than six months) Season Five: Parts 1 and 2 are debuting together. One can either buy them separately or as a packaged set. Image quality continues to impress, especially when one compares Dynasty's transfers to similar vintage soap operas Dallas and Falcon Crest put out by Warner Brothers. Honestly, Falcon Crest's transfers are pathetically bad. Dallas looks as though the original elements have been fed through a meat grinder. I wouldn't expect this sort of shoddy workmanship from a third rate bootleg operation like Madacy Entertainment, much less a big lumbering outfit like Warner Brothers!
But Dynasty, on the other hand, exhibits a very crisp and reasonably clean transfer. Colors are bright and bold. Fine detail is rather startlingly realized. The one problem this reviewer has with Season Five - like other seasons issued thus far is that there is sporadic edge enhancement present in the transfer. While some episodes are virtually free of its distraction others are plagued by a lot of background shimmering of fine details in glassware, artwork, window dressings, etc. Otherwise, there's nothing to complain about. The audio is mono as originally recorded but very solidly represented. The one extra included herein is a vintage Entertainment Tonight interview with Rock Hudson. It’s short and pointless, in very poor condition, and frankly does nothing to enhance your viewing experience.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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