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BATTLE OF THE PLANETS
The Ultimate DVD Boxed Set

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Alan Young, Casey Kasem, Janet Waldo, Ronnie Schell
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Rhino Home Video
Features:  See Review
Length:  600 Minutes
Release Date:  September 23, 2003

ďTRANSMUTE!Ē

Shows **

There is an inherent danger in going back to the entertainment of your childhood and revisiting it with the eyes of an adult.  Things that enthralled you as a kid sometimes make you wince once youíre old enough to know better.  I was particularly keen on taking a nostalgic journey with one of my favorite childhood shows Battle of the Planets, but unfortunately, it turned out to be one of the latter.

Like many American kids, I was introduced to Japanese animation via the Westernized versions of Battle of the Planets and Speed Racer.  As a boy, these shows were the best of all cartoons; they were fast, furious, and filled with action, adventure and imagination.  Now that some time has passed, neither looks the same to me as before.  I find Speed Racer still has a certain cheeky charm.  Battle of the Planets is largely off-putting.

Originating in Japan as Gatchaman, itís enjoyed at least a couple of attempts at being Americanized.  In fact, I remember seeing the more recent one on the Cartoon Network and wondering why none of the characters had the same voices or names I once remembered!

Thankfully, the Battle of the Planets Ultimate DVD Boxed Set from Rhino takes you back not once, but twice.  The original Battle of the Planets that you remembered is here, with Mark, Jason, Princess, Tiny, Keyop and the faithful 7-Zark-7.  But in addition to the 12 American episodes, you can also watch the uncut Japanese episodes that correspond.  Thatís the best treat of this set.

In Japan, they were a little less disturbed by violenceÖnot that youíll see blood flowing and limbs flying, but scenes suggesting bad things can or are happening were often excised for American TV.  Another of the more amusing aspects is that the American producers largely seemed to not know or not care what the original Japanese storylines wereÖa lot of times you see the same images, but with different plots developing!

And 7-Zark-7, the faithful robot sentinel, was an American addition as well.  He provided the narrative to help make the jagged stories a little smoother, while serving as a kind of chorus to reflect on the mood and actions.  Of course, I canít help but wonder now whether 7 leagues below sea level is the best place to put a station for monitoring deep space, but there it is.

The stories (in the American version) centered around a team of youngsters known as G-Force, who guarded the earth against alien invasion by their arch nemesis Zoltar.  With their birdlike costumes, sleek and graceful weaponry, and their mighty ship Phoenix, these five brave souls were ready to do battle on land, over water or in the air.

For reasons I donít fully understand, the set runs the complete gamut of episodes from 14-27.  I donít know why they didnít start earlier, but thatís not a major complaint; the first entry (14) sets things up fairly nicely for newcomers.  You may or may not chuckle at aspects such as a ďpleasure cruiseĒ with people clad in swimwear sailing in the Northern Pacific(?), or the inconsistencies like how an automated rail-car suddenly becomes free and pilotable when our heroes need it, but these bits donít come across with the kind of cheesy fun that invites laughter.  The tone, though absurd, is still way too sober and serious.

Maybe thatís why my trip back and time wasnít as rewarding as I hoped.  I couldnít get into the very broad adventures, the oversimplified concepts, or even the mostly limited animation (despite great source drawings) as I did in my youth, but in my adulthood, I couldnít even really giggle at the aspects of the show that just seemed bizarre.

Others may disagree.  The original show has maintained a loyal following over the decades, and for those who still find that the Battle lights their fire, this set is bound to be an agreeable collection.  I had just hoped for something I could find more immediately entertaining than merely entertaining in retrospect.

Video *1/2

This program went on the air in the late 70s, and unfortunately, thatís exactly what it looks like here: a program that went on the air in the late 70s.  Rhino is a company known for remastering excellence and quality preservations of classics, but here, it looks like they were just happy to put out the product in any form.  The age is apparent because the episodes are all dirty looking, with apparent pops and scratches and softness.  Itís watchable, but a little clean-up effort would have gone a long way; this one wonít win any prizes.

By comparison, the Japanese versions are cleaner and brighter, with sharper lines, but with colors that are a bit more drabÖI donít know if thatís because of age or if the colors were merely heightened for American viewing.

Audio **

In addition to the original broadcast audio, there are curious 5.1 soundtracks that donít sound so much remastered as enhanced.  By that I mean theyíre considerably louder and with stronger bass (the .1 signal is fairly constant), but the audio is still marred by age:  scratchiness, minor distortions, etc.  These arenít cleaned up, and in fact, are only louder and more noticeable than before.  Even more puzzling is the way the voices play; each has a kind of chorus effect that makes them sound doubled.  This is an effort short on satisfactory results.  Still, that theme music is great, and will play in your head for days.

Features ***

The features arenít bad, but theyíre spread out over the four discs with nothing to indicate what can be found where, so happy hunting.  They include talent files, separate interviews with Casey Kasem (a treat, because he demonstrates a little Shaggy for you), Janet Waldo, Alan Young and Ronnie Schell, plus one with producer Jameson Brewer.  One episode features Waldo, Young and Schell on a commentary track, which is an affable but not overly informative listen.  There is also a memorabilia gallery and a television promotional trailer, along with a booklet containing episode guides and trivia.  The animated menus are a nice touch, too.  And, of course, thereís the collectible figure of Jason, which has to be worth at least an extra star.

Summary:

Battle of the Planets Ultimate DVD Collection will be a treat to some, more of a curiosity piece to others.  The biggest treat by far is the ability to compare the Japanese and American broadcasts versions; thereís a lot of fun to be had there.  Those who really love the show will enjoy it more; for the rest of us, the brief nostalgic trip will be the setís best offering.