"Birds of Prey: The Complete Series"
by James Harvey
With the runaway success of Smallville, TheWB was quick to come up with a Batman spin-off, Birds of Prey. After a highly successful premiere, the series quickly hit the skids and the ratings fell. Hard. So hard, in-fact, the series lost nearly 75% of its audience and the series was cancelled after a mere thirteen episodes. Still, a core fanbase for this series remained and clamored for this release. And now, on the eve of the theatrical release of The Dark Knight, Warner Home Video is giving this series another shot at life with the long-awaited release of Birds of Prey: The Complete Series. Is this a series that should have fostered, or one that deserved to have its wings clipped?
Who will stand up to villains now that a heartbroken Dark Knight has mysteriously vanished? Never fear, New Gothamites, a trio of champions is ready to take wing – and Helena, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, is among them. She calls herself Huntress and crime is her prey. Teenaged Dinah is the youngest of the group, learning as she goes and gifted in clairvoyance. And overseeing the awesome threesome’s high-tech nerve center is Batgirl. Left wheelchair-bound by The Joker, she has reinvented herself as Oracle, the team’s cyber expert. Huntress, Dinah, Oracle: They are the Birds of Prey. Fighting together. Living together. And soaring into adventure together in 13 breathtaking live-action episodes.
Before I go any further, I feel I should warn Birds of Prey fans that this won't be an overly, blindingly positive review. Now, to let you know, yes, I am Recommending this set, and I'll explain why later, but, I also won't be sugar-coating my thoughts on this series. So, just, be prepared.
I'm going to go right out there and say it: this show just isn't very good. Now, I know "true Batman fans" will get upset with that comment, as many of them rushed to the shows aid when it was initially plastered with negative reviews when it premiered, calling those who didn't like it "not true Batman fans." Well, let me say this. A true fan is someone who can distinguish when a character is being treated properly, not someone who turns a blind eye when a horrible interpretation of said character is bandied about. That's solely my opinion, however. I'm sorry, but this is not a good interpretation of the Batman mythos. It has Harley in it? Big deal. It has Oracle in it? Big de…well, she was the best part of this show, which I'll get to later. "New Gotham?" Please.
And true, the show did get better toward the end of the run, as it seemed to finally find some stable footing, but that doesn't count for the overall mediocrity of the series. I know, people will defend this series until the bitter end, but, again, that's my own opinion. I'm not viewing the shows through binders or with a bias on my shoulder. These are just my honest thoughts on a series that is just dripping in missed opportunities. Look at the pilot, especially the original unaired one, and tell me that this show could have been much better than what it ended up being? We'll never know, and I applaud the show for gaining such a rabid fanbase, but I can see how it came crashing down toward the end of its run.
The major misstep with the characters of Dinah and Huntress were probably the two fatal bullets that killed this show, though their iffy portrayal of Harley Quinn likely added to the fatal blow, as well. These two characters, both of whom are supposed to be strong and identifiable, turn out to be mostly off-putting and annoying. Whether it was Dinah's incessant complaining or the off-putting attitude of Huntress, these two characters, two of the main characters of the series I might add, sink more than they swim. Of course, the villains they fought weren't really the best, either, most of whom coming off as leftovers from Smallville. Like I said, potential was ramping up toward the end, but they squandered it.
Sadly, the show ends with the longest and one of the most painfully boring fight scenes ever, all set to a horrible song by one-hit wonder "t.A.T.u." (the song was, naturally, replaced in this DVD release). It's just bad. Plain ol' bad. Still, the series down manage to wrap up most of its storylines in the final episode, a rarity for a cancelled series, even with the overly long fight scene. And I could really go on and on, but I'll spare everyone. However, I am going to get to something I mentioned earlier - my rating for this series (and DVD release).
So, why am I stamping this set as Recommended. Well, even though I don't think this really is a great show, I still enjoyed it. It is one of the most outrageous guilty-pleasures around. It's has three girls kicking butt, ridiculous stories, even more ridiculous villains, and more than its fair share of laughable moments, both intentional and not. At the end of the day, it's not a good series, and even though I know that as I watch it, I still manage to somehow get that "guilty pleasure" enjoyment out of it. It's like eating too much candy; you know you shouldn't but you do anyways. Well, that's what it's like to watch this show.
And I feel that the Dina Meyers deserves a huge amount of credit for arguably giving us the best rendition of Barbara Gordon outside of the comics. Personally, I prefer Gordon's animated adventures in Batman: The Animated Series, but here, she's given a lot of room to grow and really become her own character, and she does. Sure, it leads into a somewhat predictable story-arc with her, the climax involving her debating whether or not to kill, but still, Meyer is just flat-out excellent as Barbara Gordon and is perfectly cast. I also want to point out the inspired casting of Ian Abercrombie as Alfred Pennyworth. He really does bring a warmth and intelligence to the role, something this show sorely needed, as the main characters tend to lack both intelligence and warmth (save for Gordon). And yes, the constant comic book references are sorta cool, but that doesn't make up for the actual quality of the series.
So, like I said, I'm still giving Birds of Prey a Recommended rating, almost solely on Dina Meyer, Ian Abercrombie, and the "guilty pleasure" vibe it has going on. I mean, come on! Three attractive women kicking butt? Hit tunes in the background (well, "hit" tunes at the time)? Some moderately okay special effects? You definitely need to shut off your brain for this to enjoy. Did the series deserve to be cancelled? I think if it was given a full 22-episode order, it may have improved in quality to become something more than a guilty pleasure. But, given the quality of what's there, maybe it was the right move to put this series down. This isn't a good Batman-inspired series, no matter how you spin it. You can kid yourself or whatever but there's a reason this show flopped. Even if it was recovering toward the end, that still doesn't make this a good show. It's not. Birds of Prey isn't good, but, remarkably, it works as a guilty pleasure. So, if you wish to drop a bit of money on a series such as this, then go for it.
Well, this is interesting. Warner Home Video has released Birds of Prey: The Complete Series in a special Amaray case with inserts and a cardboard slipcase. Now, the cardboard slipcase makes the set look more impressive than it is. Under it, it's a regular transparent Amaray case modified to fit four discs. In-fact, I actually like what Warner Home Video has done here, especially with all the gimmicky packaging for TV programs as of late, it's nice to see a scaled down package for this series. A detailed insert for the series is included in the packaging.
The content itself is a bit of a mixed bag. The audio and video is big letdown for this release. The show is roughly six years old, and there's no 5.1 (at least) audio mix? Just a Stereo Surround mix? Weak. The transfer is also surprisingly average, as well. The biggest disappointment is arguably the non-anamorphic widescreen, which is astonishing to see on a major release these days. This series obviously isn't given the same attention that Smallville receives. However, this release is tied to the theatrical release of The Dark Knight and Warner Home Video needs to get some product out there for those with disposable income. And, hey, this DVD is long overdue for the actual fans of Birds of Prey, but I still feel that the should have at least put a bit more effort into giving the release a solid video and audio transfer. It's serviceable, don’t get me wrong, but it won't impress anyone at the end of the day.
I want to note that some music, including the show's original theme song, have been replaced. And it's not done well. So brace yourself for some jarring changes to each episode.
And the same can be said for the extras, which is nothing more than the original unaired pilot, in anamorphic widescreen oddly enough, and the entire Gotham Girls online cartoon series. The unaired plot is a nice addition to the set, especially with the changes, admittedly minor but still interesting. The complete run of Gotham Girls is a great and fun addition that fan of DC's Animated Universe should enjoy. They're spread over three discs, with each disc housing a ten-episode season of this enjoyable web-series. The series is a fun distraction, nothing more, though the third season is actually a bit ambitious. It's a small collection of extras, but extras that should give fans a good way to spend a couple of hours. This collection is seriously lacking a good "making-of" featurette, but I suppose the insert does help fill-in with some interesting production information.
Overall, like I said, I'm going to give this release a Recommended rating, but with some reservations. It’s a complete guilty pleasure for Batman fans. It's not that good of a show, but it manages to somehow be enjoyable, even amidst the bad special effects, acting, and lame-duck storylines. The DVD itself is nothing special, with an average audio/video transfer, maybe a bit below average, and a small collection of extras. Regardless, this release is something that should give both Batman-fans with some extra income something to plunk down some cash on and Birds of Prey fans something to finally enjoy.
Birds of Prey: The Complete Series hits DVD on July 15th, 2008.