Xena, Warrior Princess: Season One
Picture * 1/2
People either love or hate Xena, Warrior Princess. It was the first feminist fantasy series with a heroine who fought her own battles. It also featured plagiaristic plundering of Greek and Roman mythology, painfully bad acting, tacky special effects, and downright silly plot lines. Xena embraces a Cheese-Whiz pulp-fiction world of fractured fables and flawed heroes with super-sized forearms. Hardcore fans gleefully acknowledge the show's flaws, and adore it because of them.
Choosing Lucy Lawless to play Xena was perhaps the most important of producer Sam Raimi's carefully considered creative decisions. She has one of the great stone faces. Lawless' stoic expression changes only as she delivers blows to her enemies' private parts. In contrast, her sidekick, Renee O'Connor, overacts at every opportunity. Purposely pedestrian dialogue permeates the screenplays with triteness, making it impossible for Xena to rise above the level of a cartoon.
But Raimi's specialty is translating comic books into film, so banality should be expected. Despite the attempts of 16 different directors to add their own creative stamps to the series, the first season of Xena remains remarkably Velveeta-like in consistency. Even the music is hackneyed, as it pilfers from almost as many musical traditions as do the plot lines. But despite their lack of originality, these pseudo–Nino Rota tunes are embarrassingly catchy. Just try not to hum them in public.
The production values hover halfway between Star Trek: The Next Generation and Dr. Who. As the special effects veer from the convincing to the laughable, you'll see everything from carefully art-directed scenes with realistic, spider-covered skulls to large, green, phony-looking rubber eggs. Re-creating reality was not Xena's strong suit.
As for the quality of the DVD transfer, the show deserves better. Video noise and grain reminiscent of an average VHS tape degrade every scene. Sharpness also suffers, to the point where watching through a front projector quickly becomes painful. For maximum enjoyment, Xena should not be viewed on anything larger than a 36-inch-diagonal 4:3 monitor.
The sound fares better than the picture, but its shoddy original ADR and Foley effects are excruciatingly obvious. At times the sound resembles a mid-1960s Japanese creature feature, complete with badly synced dialogue and ridiculously overblown effects. I wonder what was used on the soundstage to create the sounds of Xena's fists striking her enemies—a freshly caught flounder slapped onto sheet metal?
In addition to 24 episodes on six discs, the seventh disc of this "Collector's Edition" contains a screen-saver, trivia game, actor and director bios, and a synopsis of each episode. A free Xena coin is included along with a mail-in offer for the rest of the coin collection, and there's a mail-in trivia-game sweepstakes card. A word of warning: A certain amount of care must be taken each time you open and close this boxed set. It folds up correctly only one way, and can be difficult to figure out after several hours of watching Xena.
Despite the flaws of the original production, as well as those added by the DVD transfer, hardcore Xena fans will relish the opportunity to have a complete library of her first season. Hopefully, Anchor Bay Entertainment will deliver a better transfer for Season Two. After all, given what happens to Xena's enemies, she's not the kind of super-heroine you want to piss off.—SS