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Birds of Prey: The Complete Series (2002-2003)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 7/15/2008

All Ratings out of
Show: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/30/2008

Wow, just look at the record earnings of The Dark Knight. That is one franchise which appears to have the Midas Touch. Looking back over the years, many Batman properties have been successful. Even the much-maligned Batman & Robin eventually turned a profit. Between the feature films and the various animated series, Batman has remained very popular. (And this isn't taking comic books and merchandise into account.) However, there was one entry from the Batman universe which went under the radar. Birds of Prey was a television show which debuted in 2002 on The WB and went nowhere. Now, as Bat-mania is bigger than ever, Warner Home Video has brought Birds of Prey: The Complete Series to DVD.

Birds of Prey is set in New Gotham. (Is that different from Gotham City? I have no idea.) The opening narration tells us that Batman and Batgirl had an epic battle with The Joker at the city's waterfront. Following this, The Joker had Catwoman killed and he tracked down and shot Batgirl. These events were so traumatic for Batman, he left the city. The story then leaps ahead seven years later. Batgirl, who in reality is Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer) (daughter of police commissioner Gordon), is now confined to a wheelchair and goes by the name Oracle. She has become a computer whiz and monitors the city’s crime from her lair in a clock tower. Following the death of Catwoman, Barbara became the legal guardian of Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott), the daughter of Catwoman and Batman (who knew that they got together?). Helena now calls herself Huntress and she patrols the city streets while Barbara guides her. Huntress has super agility and is a deadly fighter. Dinah (Rachel Skarsten), a teenage girl with psychic powers, comes to New Gotham seeking Barbara and Helena, as she has dreamt about them. They take Dinah in and help her learn to control her powers. Together, the trio work together to fight crime in New Gotham. Along the way, Helena finds an ally in police detective Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore), while Barbara attempts to have a romantic relationship with co-worker Wade Brixton (Shawn Christian).

Batman and Catwoman had a daughter and she got her own TV show? How was this not a hit? And, Birds of Prey came from the same creative team behind Smallville, so you would think that someone there knows a thing or two about making a successful show. While the fact that Batman and Catwoman were parents had eluded me, I know enough about DC Comics to be dangerous, and the show does a fairly good job of sticking with comic lore and occasionally incorporating some familiar characters, so the fanboys should have been happy with it. The show has fairly good production values, and unlike Smallville, which actively avoided looking like the comics, Birds of Prey actually shows Batman and Batgirl in their costumes (although, this is usually only in flashbacks).

It sounds as if Birds of Prey has a lot going for it, doesn’t it? And in the beginning, it does. We see the flashbacks with Batman, and we are introduced to the characters and everything seems very promising. So, what happened that caused the show to be cancelled before all 13 shows had been aired? (The last 2 would eventually air.) Well, the biggest problem with the show is the writing. The stories become incredibly redundant and the series becomes the epitome of episodic television. Every episode brings a new threat, Huntress investigates, she and Barbara argue about how to approach it, Dinah whines because they won’t let her get involved, and on and on. Following all of this, Huntress contacts Reese, they do the whole “flirt and then debate about why he shouldn’t arrest her” thing. (Their relationship reminded me a lot of the first season of Angel, where Angel worked with Detective Lockley.) The only story arc, beside the relationship between Huntress and Reese, involves The Joker’s former protégée Harlee Quinn, who is posing as Dr. Harlene Quinzel (Mia Sara), a psychiatrist. She is always in the background attempting to take over the city.

In the past, animated super hero stories were always better than live-action ones. That thinking has changed and it’s great to see that Hollywood is open to adapting comics to movies and TV shows. However, viewers still demand quality and Birds of Prey falls short. The show has some good moments, but overall, it is repetitive and almost seems afraid to grow. And one can’t blame the shows demise on the fact that it focuses on women, because that fact never effected Buffy. Long-time DC Comics fans will find something to like in Birds of Prey, as again, it often references the comics, but any show that features the character Black Canary, but doesn’t have her in costume, doesn’t get my vote.

Birds of Prey: The Complete Series lands on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The four-disc DVD set features all 13 episodes of the series. The shows are letterboxed at 1.85:1 (not 1.78:1 as one would expect), but they are not enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. In this day and age, it felt very weird to watch something which wasn’t anamorphic. The image is fairly sharp and clear, but there is some mild grain in some shots. The picture is slightly dark at times, but the action is never obscured. The colors are good, and as the show rarely features bright tones, the occasional reds really stand out. The DVD offers a Dolby stereo surround soundtrack which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are fine, and for a track which isn’t officially 5.1, it offers some nice surround sound. However, the dynamic range is off, and the action scenes are far louder than the dialogue moments. I found that I was constantly adjusting the volume.

The Birds of Prey: The Complete Series DVD set contains only two extras. The Unaired Pilot Episode is included here and it’s a very interesting inclusion. For one thing, this episode is 16 x 9...so why weren’t the others. The truly interesting thing to note here is that this pilot is almost identical to the one that aired, save for two differences; 1) Barbara has a different profession, and 2) Dr. Harlene Quinzel is played by Sherilyn Fenn. We don’t get any information to accompany this pilot, so we’re left to wonder if Fenn wasn’t available or if executives didn’t like her. Personally, I thought that she was more effective than Sara. The other extra is the web-based Flash animation series “Gotham Girls”. The 30 episodes (which average about 3 minutes in length) feature the adventures of Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harlee Quinn. Some of these are interesting, but it’s impossible to watch more than a few at a time.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long