REVIEW: Prime Suspect: Complete Collection (Blu-ray)

8:53 AM, Oct 9, 2013   |    comments
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Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection (Blu-ray)

Acorn Media / 1991 - 2006 / 1566 mins / NR

THE SERIES:

In the television world of police dramas, private eyes and detectives from the 20th century, there aren't very many strong female characters that exist outside the fantasy realm. Sure, Emma Peel is a watershed character being just as tough, resourceful and intelligent (often times moreso) than her fellow "Avengers" John Steed, but she exists firmly in the realm of the not-at-all-based-in-reality. Jill and Kris Monroe, Kelly Garrett, Sabrina Duncan and the rest of the Angels working for Charles Townsend may have had to fight more reality based bad guys, but they themselves definitely exist only on an ethereal plane. Sgt. Suzanne "Pepper" Anderson was actually a pretty realistic and down to earth "Police Woman," but her stories so frequently required her to dress up (or dress less) to go undercover to catch the weeks villain that she might as well have lived in a fantasy land. The only female television crime fighters in America that were close to reality were Cagney & Lacey.

In 1991, Granada Television hit a nerve in the UK and then on PBS in America with a truly down to earth 100% realistic female crime fighter: Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. Helen Mirren won her first Emmy Award as Tennison (in the fourth series) and set a standard of excellence that has influenced female characters on television ever since (THE CLOSER has been called the unofficial Americanized version of PRIME SUSPECT for example.)

At the time PRIME SUSPECT was being created, there were only four women DCI's (advisor to the series Jackie Malton was one of them.) Crime fighting was very much a male dominated career and the first series of PRIME SUSPECT clearly shows the problems a woman had making a name for herself in that field. DCI Tennison doggedly works to solve the rape-murder of a young woman, which turns into a hunt for a serial killer. Not only does she struggle with gaining any respect from her colleagues, but the sacrifices she makes in her personal life are devastating.

In PRIME SUSPECT 2, Tennison is given a highly volatile case when the corpse of a young woman is found in a very racially tense African Caribbean neighborhood. But what seems like a case worthy of a strong detective may have been a case given to her to end her rising star.

PRIME SUSPECT 3 finds Tennison working in the vice squad. The death of a young male prostitute is the start of a dark journey that leads our DCI into the world of child prostitution.

PRIME SUSPECT 4 is the only season of the entire series to focus on more than one case. Broken into three parts, this season includes "The Lost Child" (about a child molester), "Inner Circles" (the murder of a country club manager leads to a political scandal) and "The Scent of Darkness" (which reopens the original serial murder case from PRIME SUSPECT 1).

PRIME SUSPECT 5: "Errors of Judgement" has Tennison doggedly pursuing the leader of a local gang for the murder of a drug dealer, but is she after the right suspect?

PRIME SUSPECT 6: "The Last Witness" finds our detective digging into the war crimes of recent immigrants to solve a murder.

PRIME SUSPECT 7: "The Final Act" keeps the series closer to home as Tennison deals with her ongoing alcohol addiction and the death of her father while trying to solve one final case before retiring.

THE DISC:

Every disc in this set opens with the following disclaimer:

This Blu-ray was created from a high-definition transfer and restoration of the original program elements. While it represents a vast improvement in picture quality and level of detail over previous releases or transmissions, viewers may notice variable quality due to the inherent limitations and age of the original elements.

This is very accurate. This IS the best PRIME SUSPECT has EVER looked, but there are some elements that simply could not be brought up to the technical level of the rest. For this restoration, the original Super 16mm negatives were not available for all episodes and a variety of sources were used to create the final product.

For the first time, the original five series are available in anamorphic 1.78 (series 6 and 7 were always shown in that ratio). Before die-hard fans get up in arms about this not being correct aspect ratio for these series, note that the picture was NOT cropped to create this aspect ratio, rather much more of the original Super 16mm frame is shown giving significant more picture information on the sides. The only exception here is episode one of "The Lost Child," which is presented in 1.33 because elements could not be located to upgrade it to 1.78.

The soundtracks for all have been given very nice DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono facelifts. While there is only so much that can be done due to audio recording technology used at the time, what is here represents probably the best PRIME SUSPECT will ever sound. Dialogue is clear and ambience is acceptable. While it isn't the extremely noticeable upgrade the picture is, the sound mix is equally impressive given its age.

No, the picture quality isn't going to rival anything shot on 35mm or high def and the sound isn't going to tax your surround system. Yes, quality does vary (particularly in series 4 and 5), but what we have here is almost night and day compared to the VHS and DVDs that have come before. For PRIME SUSPECT fans, this is truly the best presentation of the series available. Period.

THE EXTRAS:

Unfortunately, the supplement package leaves a lot to be desired. A LOT. This landmark series (all seven seasons of it) deserves a lot more than two featurettes and a Photo Gallery. But that's what we get. And BE WARNED: They are VERY spoiler heavy.

"Behind the Scenes Feature" was made for Series Six and basically brings new audience members up to speed with the characters and world of PRIME SUSPECT as Tennison had been off the air for a whopping seven years when it was made.

"PRIME SUSPECT: Behind the Scenes" runs about 45 minutes and was made for the series' last season, "The Final Act." This documentary spans the entire run of PRIME SUSPECT and shows a LOT of surprises and twists, so I highly recommend avoiding this until after you have watched all seven seasons. Mirren and many of the series' cast and crew (including Malton) appear.

The "Photo Gallery" does not cover the entire run, sadly, and is only production stills from series seven.

OUR SAY:

One of the best and most important television detective series of all time, PRIME SUSPECT finally gets a proper restoration for its blu-ray debut. The supplements may be lacking but the series itself and its glorious technical upgrade warrants my Highest Recommendation!

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