Cleopatra 2525 (Season 1) Review
Ah, where to start on this piece of recent sci-fi frippery from the same people that brought us Hercules and Xena? Well, first, the concept – it's the year 2525, mankind has been mostly forced underground by an alien race called the Baileys (cue all sorts of thoughts of nice creamy alcoholic beverages taking over the world – or is that just me?). A mysterious voice controls teams dedicated to the attempt to win back the topside for humanity, and the Baileys counter-attack involves androids called Betrayers. The underground world is a series of shafts, levels, mutants and low-lifes – all of whom wear as little as possible and many of whom are obscenely pretty. Our tale follows Hel (Gina Torres) and Sarge (Vicky Pratt), one of the Voice's teams, through their attempts to thwart the Baileys and make a better life for humanity. On the way, they pick up Cleopatra (Jennifer Sky), a stripper from the 21st century who was cryogenically frozen following a breast enhancement operation which apparently had complications (though no visible ones), and who awakes to find herself in a whole new situation altogether.
With me so far? It's pappy sci-fi – although I'm sure there are fans out there who would deride me for saying this – and it really just doesn't gel well, at least not in this first series. Part of the problem is the half-hour episode length (strictly 21-22 minutes), which doesn't leave time to really elaborate on the characters much, if they're still going to tell a story each episode. Then, there's the three beautiful women acting out the instructions of a hidden Voice, wearing skimpy outfits completely unsuited to their line of work. It's obviously been made to appeal to a very obvious demographic. That said, the concept as a whole isn't too bad, and – apart from their name – the Baileys are pretty neat adversaries. And though this first series doesn't touch on why they decided to take over the Earth, or how mankind built such an elaborate underground network – I was prepared to believe in that part of the plot. Hel and Sarge are a good team too – they work well together, know their duty, and carry it out.
The plots are sometimes enjoyable, sometimes less so, but that's really the same of any television series, so I don't want to deride it for that. I do have to say, however, that I have this niggling feeling that it would really have been a better show without Cleopatra. She's an obvious plot device that isn't needed. She isn't used for exposition particularly, where things are explained to her, they probably could have been anyway. She spends the entire series simpering, saying 'cool', and screaming. A lot. And I mean a lot. She does produce a few funny moments, referencing such 20th century icons as X-Files, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but I think I still could have done without her. Or, I would like to see what they could have made of the central plot without having the stripper from the 21st century whose only role was comedic, but not very funny.
This review looks at the two DVDs that make up the first series of Cleopatra 2525. Because each episode is less than half an hour, there's quite a few of them on these two discs. A brief synopsis of each episode follows, to give you some idea of the plot of the show.
Quest for Firepower
Hel, Sarge and a male companion (Horst) emerge onto the surface of the planet and fight off a Bailey that attacks, mainly to test their new weapons. During the fight they capture part of the Bailey and discover Horst is a Betrayer. Sarge is wounded in the fighting and needs a new kidney fast. Stopping at a surgeon's, they are able to purchase a kidney from the doctor, who is using a supply of cryogenically frozen humans as spare parts. In the process, Cleopatra awakes and Hel and Sarge decide to rescue her rather that leave her to her fate.
Creegan is a very cool adversary, responsible for the death of Hel's father. He really wants to find out more about Voice and where she comes from. He looks a bit like the Joker and I warmed to him immediately. Creegan captures Mauser – the team's scientific back-up, and the girls head out to rescue what's theirs.
Cleopatra struggles to learn how to fly through the shafts, and during her lessons the team stumble across a girl about to be sold as a slave. They undertake to get her back safely, which leads to a trader bar where Cleo gets to show off her stripper credentials while Hel gambles for the slaves.
This episode introduces us to Raina, a woman with extremely powerful telepathic abilities. She escapes her thought inhibitor and meets Hel, Sarge and Cleo in a bar in the lower levels that Voice has told them to go to. Raina messes with their minds, but they eventually capture her again.
Home and Rescue
Strictly two episodes, the DVD meshes them into one, as they were a two-parter in the original airing. We learn that Betrayers are made by taking villagers from the surface who believe the Baileys are their friends, and by turning them into mad, psycho, killer robots. Our heroic trio mark the next villager to be taken in the hope of following her abduction to the Betrayer factory and destroying it. Turns out this villager is none other that Sarge's sister. Cleo actually gets some fun lines in this episode as she has to bullshit the villagers into falling in with the team's plans. Anyway, chaos ensues after the plan goes awry and the mission turns into a rescue one.
Run Cleo Run
Obviously an homage to Run Lola Run, this episode sees Cleo attempt to rescue Sarge from an undercover mission (which includes an exotic dance, of course). When the first failed attempt turns out to be a simulation, we get to see another simulation before the actual rescue attempt is made, each run-through partially improving on the previous one.
We get to see an Artificial Surface Environment (ASE) level, made to look like a snowy Christmas from the 21st century. One of Voice's teams is being attacked by a Betrayer, and our team are sent in to rescue their leader. Eventually Hel and Sarge have a showdown with the Betrayer, who turns out to be a little different from Betrayers they have fought in the past.
During a search and rescue mission to aid researchers in a hidden resistance facility, Hel sees an image of her dead father. Creegan is behind it and captures Hel, during which time he hints all kinds of things about Voice and reminds Hel how little she knows about the 'person' guiding her. Aided by what appears to be the actual ghost of her father, Hel, Sarge and Cleo are reunited to finish their quest.
Trial and Error
Another Raina episode. When the super-telepath is almost captured by Betrayers, Hel, Sarge and Cleo turn up just in time to re-capture her. They speculate that she may be able to control a Bailey and want to test their theory. Cleo stays below ground as the others head to the surface, in control of a destruct switch which will kill Raina if she tries anything funny…
Two Cleopatras? Surely not – but when another Cleo turns up, claiming to have spent the past few weeks escaping from the Betrayer factory, Hel and Sarge have to work out which Cleo is for real and what to do about it.
Hel and Cleo follow Sarge on a mission to assist Jake Lawson, a famous Protector. They discover him and a man called Jerbo under heavy fire, protecting barrels of plutonium – the forcefield protecting them has worn away over the years and now Jake and Jerbo are all that stand between the plutonium and underworld mercenaries. When the remote control switch for the new forcefield is broken, someone needs to stay behind to turn it on manually.
Hel and Highwater (Parts 1 & 2)
Season finale time here. Following a distress call beneath the ocean's surface, our trio discover an underwater city, whose inhabitants are ancestors of environmentalists. While not especially welcomed, the girls are tolerated and allowed to enter until their craft is fixed. Cleo keeps hearing her mother's voice and is drawn to it. In the ensuing action and drama, the team are forced to consider that there may be more to the Baileys than they originally thought.
The first thing one notices about the picture is just how obvious the CGI and blue screening is. This is always a shame, because it pulls you out of the show by making you just so aware of the special effects. The video quality itself is generally fine if a little on the soft side, the backgrounds unable to dampen down some of the bright colours in the foreground, so the contrast looks a little strange. There were a few tiny pixelation or grain issues, but you really have to be looking out for them to see them. I thought that the outside shots (when the team go to fight Baileys) were a little more crisp than those of the underground area – which is unfortunate, since the majority of the show takes place underground.
The sound is unremarkable stereo, with lots of background incidental music which somewhat lacks the punch of a decent bass. There's also a lot of screaming to contend with – I know not strictly a sound issue, but it was very, very shrill screaming and happens every time Cleopatra does the 'fall/jump down shaft thing'.
Ok, first of all, there are no extras here. So, once that's said - one of my major quibbles with these discs is that each time you select an episode it takes you into the scene access for that episode. This is not in itself bad, but as they have named each sequence (each episode is broken down into only 4 sections), some of these names give away small spoilers. Not much of a quibble, but as I'd never seen the show before, I found myself wishing they'd left the names out. I'm sure on a second viewing, they wouldn't bother me at all.
First of all, it's worth stressing that this review is of two DVDs. One contains episodes 1-6, the other episodes 7-12, and as far as I know they aren't being sold in a box set currently. [Edit: Many thanks to Nadim Jasani for letting me know that HMV is offering an exclusive of the entire series as a box set, complete with blue cardboard digipack]. For fans of the show, it's a must-buy – there is no other region edition currently available. As for others, what can I say? It's neither great nor awful – there are definite redeeming features, though it is certainly silly in the extreme.