Monday, October 31, 2016

Miami Vice on Blu-Ray

When Miami Vice started its run in 1984, I was 11 years old and more interested in the likes of Knight Rider. I was certainly aware of the new cop show, though — a person couldn't not be aware of it — and my folks were among the millions tuning in on Friday nights during its initial breakout. Even if I wasn't ready for its adult plots, I was ready for Jan Hammer's synthesizer masterpiece backing the flashy title sequence. I remember later buying the soundtrack on cassette in a Record Bar for about $4.99 (I now own Jan Hammer's Miami Vice: The Complete Collection).

All these years later, I became interested in actually watching the show, perhaps partly inspired by watching Magnum P.I. repeats on the Encore Classic channel and catching a few Vice airings on El Rey and Esquire (in grainy SD, though, thanks to DirecTV). Did the show match its ample style with substance? I wanted to know. I had watched the first season on DVD and about half of the second when I learned the show was finally getting a Blu-Ray release (there are also new DVD editions, if anyone cares).

So, the Blu-Ray set, released by Mill Creek, reached my hands a day or two after the Oct. 11 release date. There was scant information about its contents ahead of its release as far as audio specs and special features, which had me thinking it might be a disappointing low-rent effort, and, in some respects, it arguably is. The documentaries from the prior DVDs are excluded, so all you get here is the full five seasons, including the "lost" episodes (three aired by NBC after the show was axed and one aired in 1990 by USA). The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, and it sounds quite good, but there is no discernible use of the surround channels. I am no expert, but the transfer to Blu-Ray appears to be somewhat disappointing — it is crisp but largely lacking the "pop" you'd expect from a series set in Miami. I was particularly surprised by the flatness of the iconic title sequence. In comparison, I've been watching The X-Files, which is stunningly vivid in its new Blu-Ray presentation. The menus are fairly unimpressive, as well, lacking the episode synopses and factoids about guest stars and such found on the earlier DVDs.

As for that style vs. substance question, the jury is still out for me. I love trying to identify the songs and artists as they come up, and it's great fun to rediscover good tunes I'd completely forgotten about, like Godley & Creme's "Cry" in a mid-season 2 episode. I also find the art deco / pastels / urban decay motif visually interesting. One thing I appreciate in the storytelling style is the device of ending nearly every episode on the climax of a dramatic moment with no exposition or cleansing of the palate to follow. But, having just watched the episodes "Florence Italy" and "French Twist" and heading into the closing stretch of season two, I am feeling some fatigue with the show's recurring formulas involving prostitutes, pushers and the privileged. We'll see if I make it all the way to "Freefall," the series closer.

UPDATE (5/21/17)    Now that I'm into season three, the picture quality seems markedly improved with impressive detail and more of that "pop." And, after a slump in interest on my part in the latter stretch of season two, I've really enjoyed the last few episodes I've watched, particularly "Walk-Alone" and "The Good Collar."

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