Sapphire And Steel Proves To Be One Of TV’s Most Underrated Sci-Fi Dramas

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/itv

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/itv

Shout! Factory has made quite the name for itself in recent years by releasing some of the twentieth century’s greatest TV shows and movies.  Partnerships with variety of companies have resulted in the release of classic 90s Nicktoons and some equally beloved older movies including: The Producers, Swamp Thing, and They Live just to name a few.  While many of Shout! Factory’s releases in recent years have been relatively well known to American audiences, there have been those releases that are far more obscure.  Earlier this year, Shout! Factory partnered up with an Australian company to release the Dr. Who spinoff, -9: The Complete Series.  Now as the year winds down, Shout! Factory has partnered with British network itv to release another more obscure classic series in the form of Sapphire and SteelSapphire and Steel was a show well ahead of its time.  An examination of its writing and production values proves this.  A side-by-side comparison with the likes of Fox’s hit sci-fi series The X-Files and Fringe shows just how far ahead of time Sapphire and Steel was in its original run from the late 70s into the 80s.    That comparison will prove in the grand scheme of things just how important Sapphire and Steel is today, despite its original short, roughly four-year run.

Sapphire and Steel was in its original run, one of very serials on the air at its time.  Other than soap operas, most networks during the 70s ran very few primetime serials.  This applies even with British television.  That aspect alone puts Sapphire and Steel far ahead of its time.  Putting it even far more ahead of its time is that despite audiences’ desire to compare the two, this series is nothing like its fellow British sci-fi series, Dr. Who.  The only concrete similarity that the two share is the fact that Sapphire and Steel are able to travel through time with ease as they investigate various cases.  Other than that, there are no similarities between the pair.  If anything Sapphire and Steel can be more easily compared to Fox’s The X-Files and Fringe.  All three shows see their main characters investigating experiences that defy any logical explanation.  In the case of Sapphire and Steel, audiences see its two main characters investigating most notable the case of a man who had the ability to trap people in photographs in one episode.  Another saw them investigating a haunted train station that was already being investigated by a self-proclaimed ghost hunter.  And in one of the most interesting of the short-lived series’ episodes, Sapphire and Steel have to deal with a pair of time travelers from the future.  The dialogue between the characters is simple enough for any viewer to follow.  And the music written in as a bed for each scene helps make each one even more gripping.  One must not forget the manner in which each episode ends, too.  The show’s writing staff made no bones about the fact that this show was a serial.  The semi-cliffhanger episode endings were expertly written.  They kept viewers really wanting to know what will happen next.  This is a tribute to the work put into each episode by the show’s writers even with each episode being split into so many episodes.  That writing made having so many episodes per story enjoyable, rather than annoying as some critics would like to believe.

The writing behind Sapphire and Steel is the series’ key point of success.  The show’s writers crafted stories that were largely unlike anything that other British, and even American dramas of the time were doing.  Also to be factored into the show’s importance is its production values.  The general production values of Sapphire and Steel are by today’s standards rather low grade.  However, when one looks at the production values in a larger picture, those behind the show used what they had at the time.  The result is that it led the show to rely on its writing and acting for its success.  That’s not to say that in hindsight the special effects are low budget.  There is something about the show’s production values that in comparison to so many of today’s TV shows and movies that makes one appreciate them.  Today’s movies and TV shows are so over the top in terms of their production values that it makes them feel boring.  Classics such as this show though, have more substance.  It uses the production values as a companion tool to the writing, thus giving audiences a truly full viewing experience.  Whether one is familiar with Sapphire and Steel or not, it proves with its combination of solid writing and its production values that it’s a show that any sci-fi fan should see at least once.  Perhaps in doing so, said viewers will gain a new appreciation for not just the one show, but classic science fiction television and film making as a whole.  Sapphire and Steel is available now on DVD in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct from the Shout! Factory online store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/catalog/search/?uc_search_word=Sapphire%20and%20Steel.  More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.

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New Steve Martin Box Set Is One Wild And Crazy Retrospective

Courtesy: Shout! Factory

Shout! Factory has proven time and again throughout 2012 why it is one of the leaders in home entertainment.  With releases of so many classic Nicktoons and even the entire original G.I. Joe series alongside the release of the horror classic, They Live, and so many great music releases, one can only wonder what Shout! Factory will do next to top itself.  What to do?  What to do?  How about a triple disc DVD box set profiling the early career of entertainment legend Steve Martin?  Bingo!

“Steve Martin:  The TV Stuff” is the latest release from Shout! Factory’s stable of top notch releases.  Anyone who is a fan of this veteran comedian/actor/musician/author (heck, just call him a jack of all trades), will find this to be an invaluable addition to their own home library.  The triple-disc set follows Martin’s career from 1978 – 2005.  While audiences won’t find much in the way of his work on Saturday Night Live, they will love seeing his 1978 stand-up act taken from HBO archives.  This nearly hour-long performance is funny.  There’s no arguing that.  But audiences should also know that it isn’t meant for younger audiences due to language and other content.  That aside, it’s still a great piece of nostalgia for any comedy fan or fan of Martin himself.  Some of the best moments in this performance include his banjo playing and his magic (yes, magic) act.  On a similar note, audiences will really enjoy the commentary included on each disc. 

The commentary included on this first disc of the set includes some history from Martin himself.  He explains how he eventually came to work in front of the camera versus behind it.  He explains that he originally wanted to be a magician when he was growing up.  That would account for the addition of the little magic act in his original 1978 stand up set.  He also adds some interesting other tidbits such as how he started his early television career writing for very famous television shows including:  The Smothers Brothers, Sonny & Cher, and The Cher Show.  There’s even mention of where is now famed bit with the fake arrow through the head came from.  Each disc contains its own commentary from Martin.  This is just a tiny sample of what audiences can expect.  And as this reviewer has pointed out so many times before, factors such as this are more proof of the importance of bonus features on DVD’s and blu-rays.  This is one of those cases where the bonus commentary adds so much more to the entire viewing experience.  So kudos once more to Shout! Factory for this inclusion.

His 1978 HBO stand-up act and the commentary are just a couple elements that make this box set enjoyable for any Steve Martin fan.  Also included in the set are his NBC television specials.  Those specials include many of the skits from throughout the years that he’s done.  Fans will love the likes of “Turtle Boy.”  And hearing country legend Johnny cash discussing astrophysics with Steve in his Steve Martin Variety Show skit is hilarious.  There are even appearances by Martin’s SNL cast mates in one of his later TV specials. 

“Steve Martin:  The TV Stuff” may only be comprised of three discs.  But in those three discs, Shout! Factory has managed to compile so much footage from Martin’s career.  Whether it be the skits, the interviews, the standup material, or even the bonus commentary by Martin, this triple-disc set is a wonderful retrospective on his career on the small screen.  The new set will be available in stores and online tomorrow.  It can be ordered direct via Shout! Factory’s website at http://www.shoutfactorystore.com.

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