The Series (4/5)
I have always asserted that the best genre fiction is a reflection of the social concerns and styles from the time of its creation. This varies from the social, and political down to the fashion of the era, and no genre is more deeply rooted in the era of its creation than science fiction. From films ranging from Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis to BBC Sci-Fi staple Doctor Who, science fiction has always been a reflection of the era from which it was created. Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange for example looks like a vision of a dystopian future through the filter of late 1960’s early 1970’s sensibilities.
Max Headroom presents the dystopian future as seen through the filter of the 80’s. Max Headroom was a computer animated character that was all over the TV on both sides of the ocean (the character originated in England), and was seen as the host of a variety show, had his own made for TV movie (20 Minutes Into the Future) and was also as a spokesman for the quite unpopular New Coke, before finally getting his own series as a mid-season replacement on ABC.
The Max Headroom TV show predicts a dystopian future (soft of like TV’s Videodrome) in which TV is the glue that bonds society, everyone from the very rich to the homeless spends pretty much all their free time watching TV. The most popular program on TV is Edison Carter’s news program. Edison is a sort of a mix of Hunter Thompson mixed with Woodward and Bernstein, he is a renegade journalist who will do anything to get a story, even if it about the network that he works for.
The first episode establishes the tone for the 14 episode series. There isn’t much in the way of continuing story here. Each episode pretty much features Edison Carter trying to put a new story together, and getting involved in the various issues he is reporting on. The first episode shows how Edison while trying to get to the bottom a story involving Blipverts (commercial advertising in fast motion) gets chased down by a street gang, and he hits his head in the process nearly killing him. While he is in his deathlike unconscious state local Network 23 (the station Edison works for) computer geek Bryce scans the contents of his brain into the Network 23 computer, and creates the first interactive TV host Max Headroom (his name came from the sign above the ramp that Edison hit his head on). Max has the ability to see the people who see him, and communicate with them from the TV screen.
Much like their recent release of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose Season 2, Shout has not done much in the way of restoration work for Max Headroom: The Complete Series. The series is presented in the 1:33:1 full frame transfer of its original broadcast presentation. It is a serviceable transfer, that is pretty clear and clean for the most part, but there are some soft spots and age related print damage throughout.
The audio is presented in a fairly standard Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack. The track has optional English subtitles. The audio, effects, and music are clear, no real hissing, distortion, or noise to report. There is nothing to complain about here, but nothing to really praise either.
Now here is an area that is totally worthy of praise. The extras Shout Factory have included with this set are really fantastic. The set kicks off with an hour long documentary Live on Network 23: The Story of Max Headroom. It assembles most of the creative staff from the show, and discusses the history of the show, its production design, and more.
This is followed up with Looking Back at the Future a roundtable discussion with the reunited cast of the show (minus Matt Frewer), the set is wrapped up with three short featurettes the first is called The Science Behind The Fiction who discusses his thoughts on the technology that influence the program. The second is Producing Dystopia where the show’s producer talks about the difficulties in making the show from his perspective, and the third and final extra is The Writers Remember in which the head writers for the show discuss their contributions to the series.
Max Headroom is a great science fiction series, and also works well as a social and political satire for the 80’s. The audio/video is good, but decidedly average. This, however, does not take away from the fact that MAX HEADROOM IS FINALLY ON DVD!
The extras are fairly substantial, and give a good overview of the series. I would liked to have seen the original British TV movie, and some of the various adverts that Max was involved with, but as far as an overview of the series the extras were greatly detailed, and interesting. Max Headroom: The Complete Series is highly recommended for fans of great science fiction, and 80’s television.
Finally, does anyone else thing Edison Carter was an influence on Transmetropolitan’s Spider Jerusalem? Discuss this and Max Headroom in our discussion forum!