Dark Angel: Volume 1 Review

The late Nineties seem to have ushered in a new 'genre' of TV series - the ones where the girls do all the hard work! Most of these were probably down to the success of series such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer that proved that it doesn't always have to be men taking the role of the hero. Dark Angel is another challenger to the crown that Buffy has held onto for the last five years - this time it's got something a little more going for it, namely James Cameron (he of Terminator II and Titanic fame). However, has Cameron's big screen success transferred to the confines of a weekly TV series, or should he stick to his day job?

Dark Angel is set in the not-too-distant future - 2019 to be precise. America has been crippled by terrorists who have detonated an electronic pulse that has wiped out most of the countries infrastructure and relegated the superpower to little more than a struggling, money-free waste of space. People are just about getting by, but the pulse knocked out most of the countries backbone - all the money supposedly held by computers was little more than numbers and the 'Pulse' wiped out the whole lot.

Jessica Alba plays Max. One of a number of genetically engineered humans (Chimera) who managed to escape a laboratory - she doesn't know if any of her friends survived the escape and has settled into as routine a life as possible working for a courier. To get by and to fund her investigation into her past, she also has a bit of a sideline in breaking and entering that unfortunately leads her into trouble.

It is during a seemingly routine burglary in a posh high-rise that Max stumbles across Logan Cale, aka "Eyes Only," an underground cyber journalist who is the only voice of truth left in the corrupt city of Seattle. Logan is using his fortified apartment to keep a source, Lauren Smith, and her daughter, Sophy, out of harm's way. Lauren is a former employee of 'evil' entrepreneur Edgar Sonrisa, and she has testimony that can put Sonrisa away for life. Obviously, Sonrisa would like nothing more than to silence Eyes Only and kill Lauren. When Sophy is kidnapped and Logan is shot, Max is the only person able to rescue the girl and put an end to Sonrisa's plans. She reluctantly sets out to infiltrate Sonrisa's house and turn his own men against him.

Dark Angel has the potential to make itself in the increasing crowded niche of teen/twenty-something conspiracy/paranormal TV series currently occupied by the likes of Buffy, Angel and Roswell. Jessica Alba is certainly strong enough in the lead role and there's certainly enough back story to keep the series developing as Max searches for the other 'Chimera' that escaped when she did. However, it would be all too easy for the series to carry on with little in the way of development. As long as it lives up to it's potential there will be something here to keep fans of this sort of thing coming back for more.

This Japanese disc features the pilot episode from the first series. The rest are due for release in a box set in Japan soon. If you're interested it's probably good idea to bear in mind that the price of Japanese discs is quite high and when you add shipping into the equation you'll be looking at spending a pretty hefty amount of money to get hold of the whole set. Whether or not we can expect to see a Western release of the series is open to speculation - Fox have certainly shown that they're willing to release their big series on to DVD with The X Files and Buffy, but is there enough interest in the series to make Dark Angel a viable proposition in the UK or US? I certainly hope so.

The picture is presented in non-anamorphic 4:3 - as it was originally shot. As this is a Japanese disc, the format is NTSC so there's no risk of any artefacts from conversion to PAL. The picture is very good - no sign of any digital artefacting or smearing and the detail levels are ample to make even the darkest scenes easily viewable. There is plenty of shadow detail and the black levels are good. It's a pretty nice transfer which, while not pushing the DVD format to its limits, is easily on par with any broadcast version - and is probably better.

The main soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded for surround playback. The front sound field is good, while not really sounding entirely impressive with nice clear dialogue and enough bass to keep all but the most demanding sub-woofer fanatic happy. The rear surround action is a little subdued - it was never going to match up to a discrete 5.1 channel soundtrack, but there's just something a little disappointing with what we have. This isn't the fault of the DVD that is a faithful reproduction of the original source.

The disc doesn't feature anything in the way of extra material. The menus are static with just a Fox logo and Japanese text - it's a good job that there isn't any more on the disc otherwise things could get confusing! There are 15 chapter stops which is a little on the low side for a 90-minute feature but they are well spaced across the disc.

All in all, this DVD release of Dark Angel is technically competent, but unfortunately nothing more. The series itself shows potential and I'll certainly be looking into watching more of it, but the lack of additional material here makes this disc more expensive for what you actually get. 90 minutes of a TV series really doesn't impress even on a comparatively more reasonably priced UK or US disc, and for a disc that will set you back in the region of £26 it's down right poor. We're so used to extras by the dozen on releases like Farscape and Buffy that Dark Angel really feels like a bit of a let down. Fans of the series would be well advised to hold on to see if a US or UK release is planned before contemplating investing in this disc and the forthcoming box set.

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