Though it would run for four seasons, Airwolf only truly survived for two of those. With a rising cost thanks to the impressive aerial photography, CBS dropped the show after season two and it ended up on the USA Network. This DVD set contains some of the series best in its second CBS run.
Airwolf is a different show than many others in that while the focus is on the top secret helicopter, it's still a human drama. Jan Michael Vincent plays Stringfellow Hawke along with partner Ernest Borgnine playing Dominic Santini. Together they work for the Firm, a government agency that created Airwolf while also maintaining a small helicopter company. Hawke has personal involvement, and vows to hold Airwolf in exchange for the Firm continually trying to find his missing brother lost during the Vietnam war.
The set up creates interesting arcs in the plotline. With the high-end helicopter in hand, Hawke takes on missions both on his own accord and when asked. While Hawke is more than willing to give his life for the safety of others, he's hardly willing to cooperate when he feels the Firm is doing something unjust.
Season 2 adds a female character to the group, introduced in the premiere. Jean Bruce Scott portrays the feisty and tough Caitlin O'Shaughnessy. Her role is an excellent one, both in terms of acting and the ability for the writers to keep her strong in the face of an otherwise all-male cast.
Action is prevalent for this 22 episode run. While it still can falter due to the excessive use of poorly edited stock footage, it's no less exciting when Sylvester Levy's theme begins to role and Airwolf begins the hunt. There are few special effects shots, and only one is noticeable during a take off reused a few times in the season. All views of the helicopter in action are real, leading to the excessive cost per episode.
"HX1" pits the crew against a new helicopter, one with more firepower than even Airwolf. The inevitable clash is superb, giving the crew a target that can pose a threat to the super machine. Other highlights include "Once a Hero" that provides an excellent look at Hawke's life during Vietnam as he acts on a lead that could help him find his brother.
"Condemned" houses a classic 1980s tale, as the untrustworthy Russians are forced to team up with the American crew to search for the source of a deadly virus. "Severance Pay" contains numerous possibilities for its main villain as an inside man begins divulging information that could destroy the Firm.
It's rather obvious though it does require mention that Airwolf is a '80s TV show. Director style choices, dated Cold War drama, and cheesy moments (including some forced comedy) do tend to appear more often than not. Reused footage is constant, and they're not always scenes that involve the helicopter. Stock scenes of the actors are re-dubbed rather obviously, lessening the overall quality of the show.
Still, compared to many other vehicle-based outings of the era (including Knight Rider), Airwolf has a lot going for it. The action is thrilling, the stunts impressive, and music catchy. Rarely do plots feel overlong in anticipation for more action as many fights or shootouts take place on the ground as well. This is a show that was ahead of its time.
Looking at the first season DVD set and making the comparison to season two shows an impressive level of improvement. Though problems do exists, this no longer looks like a slightly enhanced VHS tape. Grain and dirt can be heavy (at times making some nighttime shots unidentifiable), though there is definitely a level of clarity not found previously.
Print quality varies wildly as stock footage rarely matches new shots. Compression is controlled thanks to brilliant transfers that showcase a wide range of detail. The problems mentioned are unavoidable without extensive clean up (and the stock footage is forever lost), and Universal deserves credit for this presentation.
Audio is slightly flat. While you can't expect a lot from a basic mono presentation, there's quite a bit of hissing. The soundtrack sounds tinny and faded. Stock sound effects used for the explosions have a hard time rising above the other audio and leads to a lack of impact. Up against the video presentation, the audio truly seems dated.
A couple of trailers on the first of five discs are the only extras. The menus nicely push the Airwolf theme song. (No stars)
Once sold to USA, the series quickly dropped off in quality from the start of the third season. Jan Michael Vincent sadly faced an alcohol addiction which made him difficult to work with. USA didn't have the funds to produce the show like CBS, which led to cheaper episodes with extensive footage lifted from prior episodes. The network would re-dub the show Airwolf II in 1987, replace all the actors (rather poorly in terms of storyline explanations), and use nothing but stock footage for every episode. Airwolf II lasted only one season.Powered by Sidelines