Showing posts with label Wild Wild West. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wild Wild West. Show all posts

Dec 8, 2013

Great Deals On Spy TV

When Paramount first released The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series back in 2008, many fans were upset because it included the two reunion movies Wild Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild Wild West (1980). The problem was that neither of those had been included with any of the individual season releases, and the disc they were on was never released on its own, so their inclusion on the pricey complete series was seen as a slap in the face to fans who had diligently bought each season as it was released. But now as part of their Cyber Monday Deals Week (yes, they made up a day and then they made that made-up day a week), Amazon is offering the all-inclusive box set for a truly affordable price. What originally retailed for $100 is now just $29.99 for this week only! For that money, it's worth finally making the upgrade for fans who bought all the seasons but always wanted the reunion movies as well. I'm sure you can make back thirty bucks by selling off your single-season sets and break even. And if you never bought any of the individual sets, this bargain is a no-brainer. The Wild Wild West is one of the best spy series of the Sixties, and The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series is an essential part of any spy library.

Speaking of essential parts of spy libraries, there's another must-have complete series set on sale today (and this one is today only at this price): Foyle's War: The Home Front Files Sets. The Homefront Files collects seasons 1-6 (that's all but this year's post-war seventh series) of Anthony (Alex Rider) Horowitz's espionage-heavy and completely fantastic WWII mystery series starring Pierce Brosnan's Bill Tanner, Michael Kitchen, and today the set which regularly retails for $150 is just $39.99! Buy it for yourself or give someone an awesome Christmas gift... or send a strong hint to someone who's buying you a Christmas gift. Foyle's War is great stuff.

Nov 10, 2010

Tradecraft: CBS Developing Wild Wild West Remake Series

Wow.  Even in this age of remakes and reboots in which we live, this I did not see coming.  In fact, it's the most out of left field spy remake news since the story broke that Guillermo del Toro was making a Champions movie.  (I suppose that project, which was set up at United Artists, is stuck in the whole MGM quagmire.)  Anyway, Deadline reports that CBS, presumably high on the success of their Hawaii Five-O redo, are resurrecting another Sixties staple: the awesome Spy/Western hybrid The Wild Wild West.  This is just... wow.  I don't know what to say.  I'm not against it, because I love The Wild Wild West (review here) and done right, a new version could be awesome.  But I will remain cautiously optimistic about this endeavor, given that we've already witnessed what can happen when this franchise is done poorly in the excreble 1999 Will Smith movie version.  (Which, in my opinion, managed the momentous feat of being the worst movie based on a Sixties spy show out of a whole heap of strong candidates.)  However, that bad revival attempt actually leaves me rooting for this new one more.  That can't be the final word on James West and Artemus Gordon!  I want something even just a little bit better to erase its wretched memory. 

Guiding this new CBS version, according to the trade blog, are former CSI executive producer/co-showrunner Naren Shankar and Battlestar Galactica developer/executive producer Ron Moore.  I'm not familiar with Shankar's work, but Moore is an interesting choice.  He's already masterminded a very successful TV remake (to my mind the best TV remake we've yet seen), but he did so by dramatically altering the established formula.  Is that what we can expect from his Wild Wild West as well?  The Avengers-y tone of the original, which I adore, is so of-its-time that it would be very tough to nail today.  (I  know first-hand that most development executives today simply don't get that tone.  Whether or not this accurately reflects audience sensibilities, I can't say.)  Furthermore, Battlestar Galactica offered no indication to me that Moore has the comedic sensibility to replicate that tone.  So unless the guy's got a hitherto unrevealed funny bone, it seems it would be reasonable to guess that his version of The Wild Wild West might be as different from the original as his Battlestar Galactica.  And, honestly, a serious dramatic approach to the premise of two Secret Service agents traveling the Old West might be really cool.  (Just as long as we still get some version of Dr. Miguelito Loveless!)  So would a comedic one, though, if these creators can pull that off.  I'm excited.  Shocked, but excited.  Original series star Richard Hatch ended up being a big part of the new Battlestar (despite his initial reaction to it), so is it possible that Robert Conrad, who famously demonstrated his disgust with the movie version of The Wild Wild West by gleefully accepting its Razzies, could be a part of the new Wild Wild West?  I hope so. That would be awesome! 

I'm surprised that we're seeing The Wild Wild West revisited before other spy series that would seem to lend themselves better to today's marketplace, like I Spy or Danger Man or even The Avengers.  (I'd actually totally be on board with a third TV take on The Avengers–especially if Brian Clemens were somehow involved.)  But I think that the Sixties spy show that would by far and away work the best on today's television screens is Mission: Impossible.  And that's another CBS show!  Really, CBS, as long as you're so into remaking past hits, take a serious look at that one.  I'm sure that the movie rights-holders are probably resistant to a move that they might see as dilluting their brand, but I don't see any reason why a TV series and film series couldn't run concurrently.  They could take place in the same world and the movies could continue to focus on big, stunt-heavy adventures, while the TV show (with different leads, of course, but perhaps a few familiar supporting cast members) could explore smaller stories more akin to the original TV version, focusing on heists and cons.  It would be similar to cable hits like Leverage or even Burn Notice, but with cooler theme music!  Finally, the Mission: Impossible concept, always team-based, is not as tied to a star as The Wild Wild West or even Hawaii Five-O.  (That remake would be great if they'd only managed to find a lead with half the charisma of Jack Lord.)  Obviously the great Peter Graves is deservedly most associated with it, but he didn't even come aboard until the second season, and obviously he hasn't been a part of the movies.  (Grumble, grumble.)  Mission: Impossible makes perfect sense to revisit on TV. 

If you've never seen the original Wild Wild West, take some time to get acquainted with it on DVD before this new one happens.  If you like Sixties spies, you'll be well rewarded! 

Read my review of The Wild Wild West - The Second Season

Aug 25, 2010

New Spy CDs: Assignment: Vienna

Well, this is an obscure one!  Film Score Monthly has announced their latest Silver Age Classics soundtrack CD release, and it's a box set of rare TV music from the Sixties and Seventies, including the score music to a few made-for-television spy movies and an eight episode Robert Conrad spy series so obscure it's not available on DVD.  I've never seen Assignment: Vienna, although I've wanted to ever since I got into The Wild Wild West (if anyone has it, please shoot me an email!), so I can't really speak to its music, but I certainly never expected to see a soundtrack released.  Assignment: Vienna music by Dave Grusin (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and John Parker (CHiPs) takes up the better part of two CDs out of the five that comprise the box set TV Omnibus Volume One (1962-1976).  Among the tracks included are some vocal tracks (available for the first time in their entirety) performed in the bar that Conrad's chracter runs as a cover. A George Romanis track from the TV pilot movie that spawned the series, Assignment: Munich (not only was the city different, but so was the star; Roy Scheider played American spy Jake Webster instead of Conrad) is also included. 

But that's not the only spy music in this collection!  There's also the soundtrack by Billy Goldenberg to a possibly even more obscure TV movie called High Risk.  This was a failed pilot for a Mission: Impossible-style show about a group of former circus performers recruited to pull off daring heists for the U.S. government.  Victor Buono and Don Stroud starred.  The composer of the actual Mission: Impossible, Lalo Schifrin, is also represented, via his score for the sci-fi pilot Earth II.  Other composers featured on TV Omnibus Volume One inlcude John Williams, Gil Mellé, George Duning, Jerry Fielding and Leonard Rosenman on such short-lived series and TV movies as Then Came Bronson, The Deadly Tower, The Phantom of Hollywood and The Eleventh Hour.  The set comes with a 32-page booklet including "extensive background notes by film and TV music historian Jon Burlingame, plus stills and artwork."  And because even a booklet that generous couldn't contain all the liner notes they wanted to include, FSM has also made additional notes available online!  These detailed notes are well worth reading for some further background information on these shows and to better guage if this is a release you'd be interested in getting. 

TV Omnibus Volume One (1962-1976) is available from Screen Archives Entertainment for $59.95.  The edition is strictly limited to 2000 units.  You can listen to clips from many of these shows (including Assignment: Vienna) on SAE's website.

Apr 15, 2010

Paramount Spies On Sale At Deep Discount

Deep Discount is having a 50% off sale on Paramount TV DVDs, which includes all the seasons of Mission: Impossible and Wild Wild West, as well some borderline spy stuff like Hawaii Five-0 and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. It's a great opportunity to fill in any gaps in your spy TV collection! The sale runs through April 29. 

Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Sixth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fifth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fourth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Third TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Second TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The First TV Season here.
Read my review of The Wild Wild West - The Fourth Season here.
Read my review of The Wild Wild West - The Third Season here
Read my review of The Wild Wild West - The Second Season here
Read my review of Hawaii Five-O: Season 6 here.
Read my review of Hawaii Five-O: Season Three here.
Read my mini-review of Hawaii Five-O: Season Two here.
Read my review of Hawaii Five-O: Season One here.

Feb 8, 2010

REMINDER: LAST DAY TO ENTER CONTEST TO WIN THE WILD WILD WEST: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON!

Today is the last day to get your entries in to win a copy of one of the best seasons of a seminal American spy series of the Sixties, The Wild Wild West: The Complete First Season.  If you haven't entered yet, get your entry in by midnight tonight!  Click here for full details on how to do that.  The Complete First Season came out before I started this blog, so I never reviewed it here (guess I need to revisit that!), but you can still...
Read my review of The Wild Wild West - The Second Season

Feb 1, 2010

CONTEST: WIN THE WILD WILD WEST: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON!

Hm, I've given away all sorts of Wild Wild West DVDs before, but never Season 1.  How about now?  While all fans probably have their own preference as to favorite season, there's not really much debate that this is the best DVD release of the lot.  It's the only one with special features!  And they're pretty great features, including audio introductions to every episode (a whopping twenty-eight of them!) from star Robert Conrad, audio interviews with cast and crew, network promos and bumpers, artwork, a commercial and more.  Personally, I'm torn between Season 1 and Season 2 for my favorite, but the black and white episodes in Season 1 of this very Avengersy spy Western are almost uniformly fantastic. All you have to do to enter to win this brand new, sealed copy of the Paramount DVD set is send an email with the subject heading "WWW Season 1" including your name and mailing address to the Double O Section by midnight, Pacific Time on Monday, February 8, 2010. The winner will be announced next Tuesday, February 9. Good luck!
The Complete First Season came out before I started this blog, so I never reviewed it here (guess I need to revisit that!), but you can still...
Read my review of The Wild Wild West - The Second Season

*The Fine Print: One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One winner will be drawn at random and announced on Tuesday, February 8, 2010. The winner's name will be posted here and he or she will be notified via email. All entries will be deleted immediately after the contest’s close, and no personal information will be retained or transmitted to any third parties. The contest is open to anyone, in any country, but foreign readers should note that this is a Region 1 NTSC release and be sure they have the proper equipment for playback. Unfortunately, the Double O Section cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.

Jun 7, 2009

Men Versus Steam-Powered Machines: Technology In The Wild Wild West

One of the many traits that separates The Wild Wild West from the TV Western genre at large is its love of gadgetry. Jim West’s spy gadgets (courtesy of Q-like inventor sidekick Artemus Gordon) go a long way towards keeping at least one spur-heeled foot distinctly in the realm of espionage. He’s always outfitted with a quick-loading rig up his sleeve that surreptitiously delivers a Derringer into his hand at a twist of the wrist. The tiny pistol can even be modified to accommodate a Batman-like piton trailing some lightweight rope strong enough to hold Jim. That apparatus comes in handy time after time, as does Jim’s "Rosa Klebb" boot, which springs a knife from its toe. Furthermore, Jim and Arte ride around in a 19th Century version of 007's Aston Martin–a customized train car equipped with all sorts of useful spring-loaded gizmos.

The the gadgetry and gimmickry aren't limited to the heroes of the program, though. The villains are also fond of all the steampunk apparatuses they can dream up (no matter how anachronistic). Most fond of such toys is the diminutive diabolical mastermind Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn). Loveless's love of technology results in all sorts of sinister mechanisms, from hot air balloons designed to deliver a payload of nerve gas over a city to mechanical suits of armor (shades of The Avengers' Cybernauts there) that allow the dwarf to fight Jim on roughly equal footing to things so utterly outlandish that they leave the realm of "machine" altogether and enter that of outright fantasy, like cigars that shrink a man down to the size of a mouse.

Some of Loveless's greatest machinery comes in his final appearance, "Night of Miguelito's Revenge." Perhaps taking a page from the Joker’s playbook, the short-statured supervillain is kidnapping various people he wants revenge on in order to put them on trial before a jury of clown puppets. As you do if you’re a supervillain, even a diminutive one. He’s also created a steam-powered robo-man who wears a judge's wig that Loveless (dressed as a ringmaster, naturally) controls by playing a pipe organ. The steambot never actually passes judgement on anyone, though; all its creator really uses it for is fighting Jim. That makes sense, but as remarkable as the technology is, the robo-judge proves a somewhat limited fighter owing to its short range steamhose connecting it to the pipe organ.

Loveless's love of steampunk technology was carried even further when he was played by Kenneth Brannagh (legless rather than loveless) in the disastrous 1999 film version of the Sixties series. Brannagh's Loveless had a particular proclivity towards mechanical spiders (borrowed, according to Kevin Smith, at least, from the film's producer Jon Peters). He uses robotic spider legs to augment his own legless torso and skitter about his lab, and he echoes that design on a much larger scale with a giant, steam-powered robotic spider for... I honestly have no recollection at all of what it was for and also no desire to rewatch the film to find out. If the film even bothered to explain it at all, which isn't a given.

Loveless isn't the only villain on the series who employs futuristic technology to carry out his evil deeds. Other villains create mechanical krakens to terrorize the coastline from their Stromberg-like underwater lairs, or "cars" seemingly inspired by Dr. No's dragon tank. "Night of the Juggernaut" is a familiar story from TV Westerns of homesteaders being chased off their land because some tycoon wants it all for himself. Instead of being chased off by standard-issue gunmen in black hats and bandannas, however, they’re chased off by a fantastic tank-like vehicle concocted by an evil would-be oil baron ahead of his time. Although it shares a similar design to Dr. No’s dragon and a similar destructive capacity, this vehicle is painted bright orange. It’s a story we’ve seen before, yes, but the futuristic technology combined with a great villain lifts this telling well above average. This was a feat the show pulled off again and again thanks to its fantastical mechanical inventions.

Metallic robo-men return in the series finale. The Wild Wild West wraps up, appropriately, in the vein in which it began: with a very Avengers-ish plot about board members of a large corporation being bumped off one by one. In addition to a monkey assassin dressed in a Civil War uniform, we're treated to a freaky group of mannequins who suddenly open their eyes revealing themselves to be people, looking like Fantomas in their mannequin get-ups. That’s a good shock moment, and a good bit of Prisoner-like imagery. It doesn't matter if they don't turn out to be actual robots; the iconography is what's important to the scene. And The Wild Wild West exploits steampunk, "Man vs. Machine" iconography again and again throughout its run, probably moreso than any other spy show save for maybe The Avengers. If you like your spies fighting machines, be sure to give this series a look.

Read my full review of The Wild Wild West - The Second Season

Read my full review of The Wild Wild West - The Third Season

Read my full review of The Wild Wild West - The Fourth Season

May 14, 2009

Deep Deep Discounts On Wild Wild West

Deepdiscount has The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series on sale for just $54.97. That's nearly half price. In addition to all four seasons of the spy Western, The Complete Series also includes the two Wild Wild West TV reunion movies, so if you don't have any of the seasons yet, this is an excellent bargain. (Despite the crappy packaging.) If you do have some and want to fill in the rest cheaply, the site is also offering individual seasons for just $21.97 each. (You can also get the movie for six dollars, but who'd want that?) Read more about The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series and the TV reunion movies here.

Feb 10, 2009

VALENTINE'S DAY CONTEST: Win The Wild Wild West Season 3 On DVD

No holiday says "spy" like Valentine's Day, so what better way to celebrate than to run a contest? This one feels kind of like déjà vu... A little over a year ago I ran a contest to win a copy of The Wild Wild West - The Third Season (review here). And now... I've got another copy to give away! So presuming you didn't win the last one, here's your chance! To enter, simply send an email with the subject heading "WILD WILD WEST" including your name and mailing address to the Double O Section by midnight, Pacific Time on Monday, February 16, 2009. Winners will be announced in one week's time, next Tuesday. Good luck!

One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One winner will be drawn at random and announced on Tuesday, February 17, 2009. The winner's name will be posted here and they will be notified via email. All entries will be deleted immediately after the contest’s close, and no personal information will be retained or transmitted to any third parties. The contest is open to anyone, in any country, although this DVD is NTSC Region 1, so make sure that you have a compatible player. Unfortunately, the Double O Section cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.

Nov 4, 2008

New Spy DVDs Out This Week

The fall trend continues. Once again, there are tons of new spy DVDs out this week! Seriously, today is a very expensive day for spy completists. On the other hand, a lot of these are gift sets or repackaging of (mostly) previously available material, but they're still appealing. Today's column actually makes a great gift guide for the discriminating spy fan on your Christmas list!
Get Smart (2008)

First up, from Warner Bros. we have the DVD debut of last summer's bigscreen remake of Get Smart, starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. Despite its impressive star power, the movie itself failed to impress me too much. Surprisingly, it turned out to largely be a rehash of a previous underwhelming Sixties TV remake, I Spy (really, it's amazing how similar the two movies are, right down to The Rock playing the Gary Cole role)... with a few dollops of Rowan Atkinson's superior spy comedy Johnny English tossed in, and just a tad of the original Get Smart. It does have its moments, though, and I would have liked to see it get a better DVD. Read my review to find out what I didn't like about this so-called "Special Edition," but it's one of the more disappointing spy DVD releases of late. However, it still might be worth picking up in the exclusive Best Buy version (pictured), which reader Delmo alerted me to below. This one comes in limited edition shoe phone packaging!

Get Smart: The Complete Series

If you're more of a Get Smart purist, however, you'll be thrilled to know that the complete original series starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon hits stores today on DVD! The set (neatly housed in cool phone booth packaging) has been available for almost two years exclusively from TimeLife's website. The retail version will still cost $199.95 (but for 138 episodes and over nine hours of bonus material on twenty-five discs, you get your money's worth), but consumers will now be able to benefit from the deep discounts frequently applied by popular online retailers like Amazon or DeepDiscount.

The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series

This one's pretty divisive among fans so far. If you don't have any Wild Wild West yet, then it's a no brainer: you get every episode of this enormously entertaining Sixties Spy/Western hybrid series, all the extras included on Season One, and the two made-for-TV reunion movies, Wild Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild Wild West (1980), both available on DVD for the first time with this set. If you've already bought all four seasons individually, then that's the sticking point. It's a little bit annoying that Paramount is asking the show's fans to buy everything twice if they want the complete collection. Hopefully, they'll eventually release the bonus disc on its own, but there's been no such announcement so far. The packaging is a bit odd, with all the discs separated only by thin pieces of cardboard. You can't tell which disc it is without pulling it out. I'm not sure why they didn't just bundle the original slim packs, but I guess they wanted people to feel like they were getting something special... and big.

Despite the set's flaws, the bonus disc is certainly a treat. The first movie finds James West pulled out of retirement, where he's been living the Flint lifestyle with four women. His old partner Artemus Gordon quickly whips him back into shape (in one of the movie's better moments, Jim actually shaves his mustache off with a straight razor while doing sit-ups!), and the two of them hit the trail once again. (Actually, the track... and this time their train can actually be seen in aerial shots travelling through real wilderness!) The enemy is the son of their old foe Dr. Miguelito Loveless. Paul Williams steps into the shoes of the late Michael Dunn. His plot involves creating bionic people (including a "$600 man") and replacing world leaders like Queen Victoria and President Cleveland with his own doubles, Dr. Noah-style. The second reunion movie (for which Jim actually retains his mustache the whole time) features Jonathan Winters as the diabolical mastermind.
The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series is certainly something every Sixties spy fan (and particularly Avengers fan) should check out if they haven't already.
The Bourne Trilogy

This is simply yet another new repackaging from Universal of the three Bourne movies. It's a convenient way to buy them all together if you don't own them yet, but the new set does not include the fantastic bonus disc, The Ludlum Files, which was included with previous box sets, nor the Ultimatum bonus disc included with Best Buy's exclusive version.

Flashbacks of a Fool

Finally, from Anchor Bay we have the Daniel Craig passion project which got wide theatrical release in Britain last spring, and a very limited, completely unadvertised run here in the U.S. a few weeks ago. I've wanted to see this for quite a while (owing both to Craig and the Roxy Music-heavy glam soundtrack) and I'm glad that Anchor Bay is capitalizing on Quantum of Solace by finally giving it a decent American release.

Aug 13, 2008

Wild Wild West: The Complete Series DVD Art

Amazon has posted the package art for CBS/Paramount's The Wild Wild West: The Complete TV Series, and TVShowsOnDVD points the way. As previously reported, the best thing (or possibly most frustrating, to fans who already shelled out for all four individual seasons) about this release is the inclusion of the two never-before-released TV reunion movies, Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West. I wouldn't be surprised if that fancy packaging turns out to house the four individual sets, two by two, plus an additional DVD containing the bonus attractions. (Remember the first set was thicker than the later ones, so there would definitely be space...)

Jul 16, 2008

More Wild Wild West This Fall

Well, CBS/Paramount may have wrapped up the series with their recent release of The Wild Wild West - The Fourth Season, but they're still milking the franchise. TVShowsOnDVD reports that they'll release The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series on November 4. The good news is that, in addition to all four previously released seasons, this release will also include the two much-hoped-for TV reunion movies, Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West on an exclusive bonus disc! The bad news is that there are no plans to release this disc on its own. So if you've already bought all four seasons (which most fans probably have) and you want to have everything (as most do, I'd imagine), Paramount's got you in a stranglehold. Annoying, but at least those movies are coming out! Package Artwork isn't available yet, but I sure hope it's cool enough to justify that forced re-buying...

Jul 5, 2008

DVD Review: The Wild Wild West - The Fourth Season

After the surreal, mod genius of its incredible second season, The Wild Wild West reigned itself in with Season 3, and perhaps wisely so. The fantastic, over-the-top scenarios of Season 2 were great while they lasted, but may not have been able to sustain the show much longer. Still, even if a return to more realistic (and more standard Western) stories was a good move in the long term, it did make the third season a bit of a disappointment after the way-out second season. I’m happy to report that Season Four (the final one, sadly) is something of a return to form for the show. This time around, the producers strike a compromise similar to that of the black and white first season: a good mixture of believable secret service exploits, traditional Western plots and fantastic Jules Verne-style sci-fi. It doesn’t go overboard with the fantasy like Season Two may have, but it does offer enough of those episodes to make the series stand out from the glut of other Westerns that still clung to life in 1969.

Unfortunately, the Fourth Season suffers one flaw beyond anyone’s control: the loss of co-star Ross Martin from about a quarter of the episodes. Martin had a serious heart attack during this season, and had to take it easy, sitting out a number of shows. I’ll admit that Martin’s Artemus Gordon took a while to grow on me (during the first season I kept wishing West had a female partner), but he and Robert Conrad clicked so well that ultimately their chemistry was a key ingredient in the series’ success. A parade of able guest stars including Alan Hale, Jr., Steve Carlson and, most often, Charles Aidman as Jeremy Pike, take on the unenviable task of attempting to fill Martin’s shoes. All acquit themselves admirably, but none of them kept me from wishing Arte were there instead. Sadly, Martin even had to skip his show’s finale.

Arte is around and well, however, for the season premiere, "Night of the Big Blackmail." This fantastic episode eschews the Western setting altogether for intrigue in Washington D.C. instead. It’s an homage to/parody of Mission: Impossible, on which Wild Wild West star Robert Conrad guest-starred several times. When a Slavic ambassador (par for the M:I course) plots to discredit President Grant by exhibiting a kinotype of him (really a double) signing a treaty with an unpopular foreign power, Jim (sporting a new haircut that takes some getting used to) and Arte get the opportunity to engage in all the same sort of Impossible hijinks Jim Phelps and his team usually get up to. This Mission requires disguises, quick changes, blackmail, infiltration of an enemy embassy, an elaborate heist and manipulation of media (as well as the usual fisticuffs), all to the ends of discrediting the episode’s villain in front of his boss. Even without the usual Western scenery, it’s as fine a season premiere as an audience could hope for, and things are off to a good start. A terrific, unusually jazzy and Schiffrin-esque score solidifies the whole M:I tone.







Subsequent episodes find the Secret Service’s finest agents back in their more familiar environment, but forced to contend with the unusual, anachronistic technology and eccentric villains fans of the series have come to love. (As well as the occasional sea monster or erupting volcano!) As with Season 3, these elements are often injected into the sorts of standard Western plotlines featured on other cowboy shows. In "Night of the Juggernaut," for example, it’s the story we’ve seen dozens of times before of home-steaders being chased off their land because some tycoon wants it all for himself. Instead of being chased off by standard-issue gunmen in black hats and bandannas, however, they’re chased off by a fantastic tank-like vehicle concocted by an evil would-be oil baron ahead of his time. The tank itself looks like he got ahold of Dr. No’s "dragon" and painted it orange, and has the same destructive capacity. It’s a story we’ve seen before, yes, but the futuristic technology combined with a great villain lifts this telling well above average. Plus, we get one of Arte’s most flamboyant disguises!

Another superlative techno-heavy outing, the intriguingly-titled "Night of the Kraken," begins like Jules Verne and ends like James Bond. Jim and Arte investigate an eerie waterfront (a set that gets a lot of use this season) where Portugese fishermen have been disappearing–supposedly the work of a giant, tentacled kraken! It isn’t long before Jim is fighting the beastie, and its true mechanical nature is revealed. But what’s its connection to the local Naval station? Before the episode’s conclusion, we’re treated to a very Ken Adam-ish underwater base (a sort of proto-Atlantis from The Spy Who Loved Me, presided over by the impressive Branjalina of the supervillain set) and lots of shirtless Jim for the ladies. (He spends a lot of time underwater, including testing a prototype diving helmet.)

"Night of the Gruesome Games" deserves mention as a decidedly Avengersy affair. An eccentric millionaire hosts a fancy dress party for the rich and famous where the entertainment is a series of deadly parlor games. As each guest tires of putting his or her life on the line for amusement, the host keeps them going by appealing to their greed, dangling exactly the sort of precious trinket that would appeal most to that individual. The winner (that is, survivor) stands to become very rich, and most of these guests are ready to shed their dignity at a moment’s notice to achieve that prospect. Into this hedonistic backdrop come Jim and Arte, hot on the trail of a deadly disease stolen by a nefarious doctor. One of the guests is clearly his accomplice, and it’s up to them to divine who before the host’s unique brand of entertainment kills them all!
The season hits its high point in "Night of the Egyptian Queen," an all-around classic. This episode has it all: a great villain (in the person of the memorable Mr. Jason), a great girl (who spends the duration in her skimpy belly-dancing attire), secret societies, cool fights, waterfront settings, Arte in disguise as an Australian sailor, and an Indiana Jones-ish treasure plot complete with an ancient mechanism that depends on moonlight hitting a gem at the perfect angle. A highlight finds Jim and the girl trapped inside an icehouse and slowly freezing to death. It’s pure adventure, with Robert Conrad at his very best.

"Night of the Pelican" is a terrific quasi-serious spy episode. Largely set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, it’s got enough murder, disguises and conspiracy to pass for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Charles Aidman ably fills in as frequent Arte surrogate Jeremy Pike. Aidman is good at disguises (more convincing than Martin at times) and makes the most of a losing situation in filling in for the much-missed regular. He also makes a surprisingly convincing "Chinaman!" The plot is basically that of The Rock: a great Chinese villain played by Steve McGarrett’s Hawaii Five-O nemesis Khigh Dheigh (who sadly spends too much time in disguise) teams up with a much less memorable French baddie to take over Alcatraz (then a prison fort for reprobate soldiers) to use as a platform from which to launch rockets! They’re not aimed at San Fran this time, but at the American fleet preparing to make port there. Jim goes undercover as a prisoner at Alcatraz in order to expose the scheme, and once again spends a lot of time shirtless.



Arte sits out Dr. Loveless’s final scheme as well, the aptly-titled "Night of Miguelito’s Revenge." Pike fills in again. Jim goes in for a shave from a barber named Delilah, but refuses a haircut. (Maybe he shouldn’t have, considering his ‘do this season!) As you set yourself up for when frequenting a barber named Delilah, he finds himself drugged by Loveless and stuck in a funhouse full of scary clowns. Yes, we’ve seen it before on the show, but it still works... and it’s nice to see again!

Perhaps taking a page from the Joker’s playbook, Loveless is kidnapping various people he wants revenge on in order to put them on trial before a jury of clown puppets. As you do if you’re a supervillain, even a diminutive one. He’s also created a steam-powered robo-man that he controls by playing a pipe organ, but he doesn’t really use his steambot for anything other than fighting Jim. As usual, Dr. Loveless manages to escape at the end, shooting himself out of a cannon. Sadly, that means there’s no real conclusion for the villain (Michael Dunn had sadly passed on by the time of the first reunion movie, leaving Loveless’s son to carry on his legacy of lunacy), but at least we’re treated to an episode that not only works on its own, but serves as a good tribute to the mad genius’s past plots as well. And, dependably, Dr. Loveless brings the weird, making sure that the final season isn’t altogether without its share of steam-powered robots and the like!

Speaking of disappointing character conclusions, poor Arte (as I mentioned) even misses the show’s series finale! He makes his own swan song in "Night of the Plague," but sits out the season capper, "Night of the Tycoons."

"Night of the Plague" is one of the most conventional Westerns in the series, but still off-kilter enough to make it fun. Jim and even Arte may wear regular cowboy duds in this episode, but they still pack gadgets in their leather chaps! (Wow, that sentence came out sounding way dirtier than I intended.) Jim uses one such device to rappel down a steep cliff, giving him the edge over other TV cowboys. Furthermore, the villains aren’t your standard Old West badmen; they’re a band of Shakespearean actors who mix treading the stage with robbing the stage (as in coach).

It’s a perfect opportunity for Arte to flex his Acting muscles once again (recalling Season 1's "Night of the Casual Killer") in order in infiltrate the gang, giving Ross Martin an appropriate curtain call for the series (even if it comes an episode too soon). As an added plus for spy fans, Lana Wood turns up as another treacherous child of entitlement (similar to her role in "Night of the Firebrand"). And rounding out the appropriate Wild Wild West weirdness, there’s the little matter of the deadly plague the gang have unknowingly contracted, a pressing enough matter to eclipse the stage robberies.

The series wraps up, appropriately, in the vein in which it began: with a very Avengers-ish plot about board members of a large corporation being bumped off one by one. Unfortunately, "Night of the Tycoons" lacks the originality of the best Avengers, or, worse yet, the best Wild Wild West. The rather mundane story isn’t very spy and isn’t very Western either, but it does, however, have a monkey assassin dressed in a Civil War uniform, so that counts for something!

Jim has no Secret Service partner on his final regular mission, just young corporate brat Lionel, played by Deadlier Than the Male’s Steve Carlson. Carlson and Conrad do manage to form a good rapport by the episode’s conclusion, though, and along the way we’re treated to a circus-themed nightclub with trained killer animals and a freaky group of mannequins who suddenly open their eyes revealing themselves to be people, looking like Fantomas in their mannequin get-ups. That’s a good shock moment, and a good bit of Prisoner-like imagery. Jim and Lionel face an old-fashioned "candle-burning-through-leather-thong" type deathtrap, and on the gadget front, Jim gets a lot of use out of his phony shoe heel. Disappointingly, the final tag scene doesn’t even mention Arte this time (some of the Ross Martin-less episodes did), and instead the series ends forever on an uncharacteristic and unpleasantly sexist note, with Jim advising Lionel’s new fiancé to "get some practical experience... in the kitchen" before adding to his newfound protégé, "Lionel, we’ve got to break these women in right."
As has become the practice with these seasons following the fantastic, feature-laden first one (which boasted introductions by Robert Conrad with every episode!), there are no extras. That’s too bad, because I had really hoped that the two TV reunion movies would be included with the final set. Hopefully their absence just means that Paramount wants to squeeze one last DVD release out of The Wild Wild West, and we’ll see them sometime down the road (if Paramount even owns the rights). The video quality is also not quite as good on Season 4 as it was on previous releases. It’s a little darker and grainier. (Not enough so to make any substantial difference, though.) And, as long as I’m nitpicking, Arte’s name is consistently misspelled ("Artie") on the packaging! Overall, I would rank the final season as my third favorite, after 1 and 2. If you’ve already got the others, then by all means get this one too; there are plenty of great episodes. If you haven’t yet plunged into the wild, wild world of The Wild Wild West, though, definitely start at the beginning.

Read my review of The Wild Wild West - The Second Season

Mar 18, 2008

New Spy DVDs Out Today

Today CBS/Paramount releases the fourth and final season of the fantastic spy Western The Wild Wild West. After taking a dip with the (still quite enjoyable) third season, the series finishes with a bang. Season 4 boasts a lot of really great episodes, even if many of them are sadly missing Arte (whose name is consistently misspelled on this season's packaging). Series co-star Ross Martin suffered a serious heart attack necessitating a parade of guest partners for Robert Conrad's secret service agent Jim West. Highlights of Season 4 include the Mission: Impossible-ish opener, "Night of the Big Blackmail," the Jules Verne-inspired tentacled undersea madness of "Night of the Kraken" and Dr. Loveless' last appearance, "The Night of Miguelito's Revenge." Unfortunately not included are the two TV movie reunions, so your Wild Wild West collection still won't be quite complete, but hopefully Paramount will release those on their own down the line. I hope to have my full review posted later today.

Also out today, from Universal, is Bionic Woman - Volume One. This is not the classic Lindsay Wagner sci-fi series, but the first (pre-strike) half of the single season of the all-new, Alias-inspired, Michelle Ryan version. While the show had a great advertising campaign and generated a lot of excitement, I found the pilot severely underwhelming, and didn't end up tuning in again, though I did hear it got better. Whatever the case, it hasn't been renewed for a second season.

Finally, there's one I missed last week because I thought it was coming out this week. Last week
Fox unleashed single and double-disc versions of rated and unrated cuts of last fall's neo-Eurospy, videogame-inspired actioner Hitman. Since its release, the movie has garnered new interest from Bond fans eager to see Quantum of Solace's Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko in action. She doesn't get too much to do in Hitman, but she does look good doing (or not doing) it.