DVD REVIEW: Homicide: Life on the Street

Movie •••• Picture ••• Sound ••• Extras ••••
One reason to shell out $300 for this 35-disc set is that the scripts and acting in its 122 episodes (plus the wrap-up feature movie) raised network TV cop drama to new levels of maturity, complexity, and creativity. Another reason is a squad room full of substantial extras, highlighted by a feature-length documentary that gives insight into the process of making an episode from the perspective of the suffering writer. It also examines the politics of a network dealing with a controversial series that earns amazing reviews but fails to beat Nash Bridges in the ratings.

Images in the seven-season series have fairly rich colors with no smearing at all, despite the hyperactive camera's constant whip-panning from one actor to another. Skin tones, however, lack any gradation. In fact, the picture could use better contrast. Blacks are rich, but whites are a bit dull, and darker images are a bit murky.

Characters and relationships are more important than the action, and this is reflected in the sound mix's focus on having the witty banter and harsh words be clear and comprehensible up front. The surround channels are reserved solely for the odd punctuating note of music.

Other extras include a panel discussion between director/executive producer Barry Levinson, writer/co-executive producer Tom Fontana (Oz), and writers Henry Bromell, David Simon, and James Yoshimura. They're all smart and interesting, but they can't compete with the gripping clips that intersperse the talk. Six commentaries by various combinations of the same suspects delve into the stories and the production in depth, with lots of wise-ass background on team members' personal experiences. Three crossover Law & Order episodes & which just emphasize how good Homicide is & appear on a separate disc, so you'll have to weave them into the storyline yourself. [NR] English, Dolby Digital stereo; full frame (1.33:1); 35 dual-layer discs.

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