Thursday, November 11, 2010

Venturing into the Supernatural in "Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal:" A Television Series Review

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Fans of the Canadian produced series, "Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal" can rejoice. The complete series is available on DVD from Alliance Home Entertainment. Each season can be bought individually or all in one full scoop.

Originally airing from 1996 to 2000, this fictional drama focused on a group of scientists working for the Office of Scientific Investigation and Research (O.S.I.R.), trying to validate claims of encounters with the unknown and dealing with government conspiracies. While "X-files" took off, "Psi Factor" fell behind due to scheduling conflicts and moderate ratings.

One problem stemmed from Dan Aykroyd's claims that these case files were based on actual case logs. There was no validity despite the well-known fact that Aykryod is enamored with the world of the supernatural. But his contribution is not just limited to himself. His father, Peter H. Ackroyd, published a book about the family's preoccupation with the spirit world, A History of Ghosts.

But the subject is just one of many things the team of scientists explores in the television show. In season one, the episodes are one-offs speculating on some aspect of the paranormal world, from cryptozoology to UFOs. But in season two, emphasis is put into the growing conspiracies that would make "X-Files" creator, Chris Carter, proud. By third season, the conspiracy deepens to include someone manipulating the O.S.I.R., but by next season, the result is a huge disappointment. It doesn't really answer anything. Part of the problem was an ever-changing cast season-by-season.

While this show gained a cult reputation out of North America, its success was built on the fact that it featured talent from the likes of Barclay Hope ("Stargate SG-1"), Nancy Anne Sakovich ("Destiny Ridge"), Matt Frewer ("Max Headroom") and Nigel Bennett ("Forever Knight"). As beloved as this series was, the DVD release isn't a product developed for the hard-core fan.

Interestingly, the company opted for a streamlined design that's great to display and very sacrificial to anyone hoping to find a mint DVD out of the box. The flimsy claws that hold the discs together groups three DVDs to each side of the case. And retrieving them is precarious. One is hoping the disc doesn't snap or one of the claws holding the discs fly off. Sadly, this trend is starting to show on multi-disc Blu-ray releases, like the Back to the Future 25th Anniversary Set.

It's heavily recommended that owners of these discs move the DVDs to either regular DVD cases or put them in a DVD binder.

The transfer is reasonable for a product originally filmed in the late 90's. On a 42" Toshiba REGZA HDTV, the quality wavers where upscaling DVD players will make the low light scenes tough to watch because of the overall graininess. There are aliasing and interlacing problems as scenes cut from one to other.

This evidence suggests no remastering was done for any of the DVD set. Newer televisions need to be adjusted to view interlaced video content properly. The option is available on some DVD players.

These problems can get annoying after prolonged viewing and switching to an older CRT television relieves the problem.

The standard stereo mix is good when considering it's age. The levels are balanced and there's no spillage on the surround tracks for home theatre owners.

Final Words
Unless producers want to make a special where there is a cast reunion, the likelihood of any bonus material in any of Alliance Home Entertainment's TV to DVD releases is minimal. Out of all the sets that I've bought, and others that I've looked up on catalogue websites, there isn't a hint of some video extras being included in Alliance's releases. Curiously enough, the German Region 2 (PAL) release by Clear Vision Ltd has some bonus material, but it isn't much. And these 2001 releases are not as widely available as they once were.

For Alliance, they're simply clearing their backlog of TV shows at a rate where quality doesn't matter. There are more releases coming and despite numerous complaints from many people, there's no visible signs of them indicating that they'll change their packaging.

Word to the wise, buy the product locally so the discs can be exchanged, if not swapped, for undamaged pieces. Mail ordering any of these products is an exercise in futility because discs will become dislodged during shipping and they can scrape. One can't fully blame the postman.

This problem also exists with the Universal Monsters Legacy Collection. Thankfully, those cases have a hub that clasps onto the discs and they're less prone to scratch. Perhaps the best release to date is "Friday the 13th," the series, by Paramount Home Video--they know how to make a keepsake case that archivists will appreciate. These particular sets cost a little more, but at least video enthusiasts will not cringe in fear when trying to separate the disc from the case.

Check out Ed Sum's other Blog Two Hungry Blokes, where Sum visits the 17 Mile Pub:

Two Hungry Blokes Blog

The series reviewed here is only available season by season, instead of the entire series in one box set. Thus, quality and style will be different:

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