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Angel: Season 1 Box Set DVD Review

Angel: Season 1 Box Set

August 29, 2003

Director: David Greenwalt,
Starring: David Boreanaz, Glenn Quinn, Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof, Stephanie Romanov, Julie Benz, J. August Richards, Christian Kane, Sam Anderson, Juliet Landau, James Marsters, Seth Green, Eliza Dushku, Sarah Michelle Gellar,

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DVD Review

Angel, the spin off from Buffy The Vampire Slayer gets its first DVD release in a feature packed six DVD box-set. How does it compare to its parent series, and what sort of treatment has the DVD received from the good people at Fox?

The first series of Angel is very reminiscent of the Highlander TV series. A lone immortal, afraid of making a connection as he’s seen so many mortal friends die, battles for redemption on the dark lonely streets.

Both the Highlander and Angel series have Watchers, sword fights, long coats, a black street kid who acts as a vigilante and constant flashbacks throughout time. The similarities between the two series are such, if you liked Highlander you’ll love Angel.

For those of you that only know Highlander as a film, the Highlander series maintained its credibility long after its film franchise had fallen into B-movie farce.
The episode ‘Somnambulist’ is a direct Highlander copy. A vampire that Angel sired has returned to commit murders and challenge his former friend. The same as the Highlander Duncan Mcleod has to deal with old immortal friends who have strayed from the straight and narrow by disregarding mortal lives. Flashbacks of their time together centuries before, arguments over morality and the inevitable final duel are scenes from both series.

But Highlander aside, how does Angel compare to Buffy The Vampire Slayer?
Angel differs from Buffy in one very apparent way. It is not for kids. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a kids’ show with kids’ themes, Angel is an adult show with adult themes.

Don’t watch Angel expecting to see teenagers at school dances, school parents evenings and youth filled nightclubs. Angel has gang wars, police station massacres and Nazi style race purification cults.

It is NOT for kids.

The best thing about Angel is without doubt its star, David Boreanaz. The man has so much screen presence it can only be a matter of time before he follows the likes of George Clooney and makes the step up from TV to successful film carreer. He stole the show in Buffy and it was his departure at the end of season three that many people blame as the main weakness of season four. Without Angel, Buffy just wasn’t the same.

For the most part however, Angel’s character has become more of a comic figure in the first series. He is attempting to make a connection with the living world, the theme of the second episode ‘Lonely Hearts’ and of much of this first series. His attempts at this are played to comic effect, thus turning an eternally tragic figure into one of comic relief.

This does grate a little for me, as Angel’s appearances in the first three seasons of Buffy were never played for laughs. His character was brooding with good reason. It seems that the lack of a ‘Xander’ comic figure in Angel has lead to Angel’s character having to lighten up and occasionally play the fool. This is something that the series could probably have done without. Angel is at his best when he is brooding, and he’s better still when he is evil.

I felt that Boreanaz’ performances as Angelus in the second series of Buffy were somewhat lacking in power, as if he were a child playing at something he didn’t fully understand. In season three of Buffy his one ‘evil’ moment was played with far more conviction and understanding, as clearly he is maturing as an actor. The one moment of pure evil he produces in this first season of Angel, in the episode ‘Eternity’, shows his best performance yet. He is truly terrifying, and I look forward with an almost perverted glee to any future displays of Angelus resurfacing in our soulful vampire.

Angel’s character isn’t reduced completely to comic entertainer, so dark brooding Angel lovers need fear not as there are plenty of moments of sheer torment for Angel to go through. The first person whom he reaches out and connects with, tries to help, ends up with her throat torn out. This personal set back doesn’t stop Angel however, he reaches out again further and makes a connection with a young woman named Kate. An obvious physical attraction between them forces Angel to keep his distance as his soul is not something he wants to lose for a third time.

He gets the excuse to see Kate on a regular basis however as she is a police detective and can help Angel with his attempts to redeem himself.
Highlights within this first season include the episodes ‘Five by Five’ and ‘Sanctuary’ where Angel succeeds in reaching out to rogue slayer Faith, the theme on making a connection is once again prevalent.

‘I will remember you’ is also a powerful piece of drama, and represents one of the Angel/Buffy crossovers. Whenever Buffy appears in Angel she seems harsher, more distant that she ever has in her own series. In ‘I will always remember you’ Angel and Buffy fight a demon that has regenerative powers, so much so that it regenerates Angel’s life making him mortal. Only the tragic ending and terrible burden that Angel has to carry match the ensuing joyous romance that follows between the two estranged lovers.

It seems that this moment of happiness with Buffy, just like his previous moment, has dire consequences for Angel.

‘I’m Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, rogue demon hunter’ I couldn’t talk about this series without also mentioning its black leather clad, mysterious demon hunting stranger. No, I don’t mean Angel. I’m talking about Buffy’s deposed watcher – Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Wesley turns up in the episode ‘Parting Gifts’ and doesn’t really want to leave. His own brand of comedy gives Angel the chance to be more sullen, somewhat taking the weight of comic expectation off his shoulders.

Throw in cameos from Oz (Seth Greene), Spike (James Marsters) and Darla (Julie Benze) to go with those already mentioned from Buffy (Sarah-Michelle Gellar), Faith (Eliza Dushku) and Wesley (Alexis Denisof) and you’ve pretty much got the whole Buffy styled experience. This series should appeal to Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans just as much as to those who like a good, dark crime series. With Angel in its third season now in the U.S. and running parallel with Buffy’s sixth season, both getting rave reviews I can predict that there is a lot more to come from our favourite vampire with a soul.

So long as Hollywood doesn’t grab David Boreanaz first.

Special Features:
The featurettes included on this disc are pretty standard as featurettes go. There are interviews with the cast and crew, explaining the reasons behind the creation of the series and why certain characters are introduced. The most interesting aspect of these documentaries for me is seeing Alexis Denisof speak with an American accent, much the same as hearing James Masters in the Buffy season two DVD set speak in his native tongue.

The featurette on Cordelia is much like Cordy herself, pretty shallow. Once you’ve dug down below the surface, there isn’t much there. There is a distinct lack of information on the character of Doyle, considering he is a mysterious Demon that guides Angel to find his purpose in the first half of the series, it would have been nice to find out something about his background.

The one gripe I’d have with this DVD collection is the lack of effort that has been put into the menu system. The previous two Buffy releases, seasons two and three had elaborate animated intro sequences that interacted with your selections. The menu for Angel is simply a static image. It’s as if Fox didn’t consider Angel to be as important as the Buffy franchise, which in my view is a shame as this first series is equally as enjoyable as Buffy. Plus considering Angel: season one runs parallel with Buffy: season four, widely regarded as Buffy’s weakest season, it could be considered superior.

The other possible niggle, although not strictly a criticism of this DVD, is the fact that Buffy: season four isn’t released at the same time. In order to get the full effect you need to watch Buffy: season four and Angel: season one simultaneously. There are a few important crossovers where stories begin in Buffy, and conclude in Angel.
Watching one and not the other is missing half the drama. Maybe Fox thought that releasing Buffy: season four at the same time would have hampered sales of Angel: season one. A pity, but they may be right.

It’s not the features that are going to sell this DVD though, it’s the series itself. You can be sure that Angel season one is a great series and a valuable addition to anyone’s collection. I can’t wait for Buffy season four to complete this viewing experience.

Darren has enjoyed an interest in film for many years, studying the subject at Newport Film School where he worked on the film ‘Cop on the Edge IX: Prelude to Justice‘ in a directing and acting capacity. The official site can be enjoyed here. Darren setup WhatDVD.Net in 2003 to further his love of films and to write passionately about the movies he enjoys, and about those that he doesn’t.

Although his day-to-day activities mean that he now has less time to review movies than he would ideally prefer, he still tries to review new releases, and DVDs from his extensive collection, whenever possible.
view all DVD reviews by Darren Jamieson

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Rating: 88%

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