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DVD Review: Life On Mars, Series 1 – The Original U.K. Series

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Well, here’s something we don’t see often — a really cool British television series that wowed audiences so much that a couple of fatheaded American TV execs decided to remake it. Okay, so that’s something we do see often. Quite often, in fact. So often that it’s making me sick to my stomach just thinking about it. So let’s just move on, shall we?

Life On Mars is a thrilling and ingenious series from Britain that has already earned itself several remakes (including Life On Mars in America and La Chica De Ayer in Spain), a spin-off (Ashes To Ashes), and a huge fan base worldwide. Normally, that isn’t something that one would expect from a show that first hit the telly screens of the U.K. in early 2006. But, after seeing the premiere episode of Life On Mars, it’s easy to see why.

It’s 2006, and Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler (John Simm) is on the move to get the deranged serial killer who has abducted a fellow police officer (who also happens to be his girlfriend). Struck by a passing car, Sam wakes up to find himself in 1973. He’s still the same age as he was before. His name is still the same. As is his job (although he is now a Detective Inspector). But nothing else is familiar to him.

Believing him to be a transferee from Hyde, Tyler’s new colleagues (Marshall Lancaster and Dean Andrews) see him as something of a psychotic joke and often ignore his orders, favoring their own hard drinking, two-fisted, and completely uncouth DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). Hunt’s police investigative procedures consist of assaulting suspects and victims, driving his prized Ford Mark III Cortina GXL 2000E, getting pissed on the job, and doing everything wrong in general as opposed to Tyler’s by-the-book(-of-2006) methods. Meanwhile, the possibility of romance opens up as Woman Police Constable Annie Cartwright (Liz White) finds him a refreshing change from the sexist coppers she’s used to.

Trapped in an era without any of the modern technology he is used to, Sam Tyler begins to hear voices from radios. Voices of his friends and family back in 2006. People on the television start talking directly to him. “Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?” the character asks repeatedly in the series’ opening credits narration. Well, you’ll just have to watch and find out for yourself.

Life On Mars: Series 1 makes its American DVD debut courtesy of the fine folks at Acorn Media in a four-disc set housing all eight uncut episodes. The video quality here is quite rewarding 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with strong contrast and vibrant colors (BBC standards have come a long way in the last ten years). The sound is offered up in your choice of English 2.0 Stereo or 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. Both tracks are quite strong, but should you have any difficulty with any of the accents (some people do, you know), the English subtitles (SDH) will come in handy.

A great show like this deserves a few special features. Thankfully, this set does not disappoint. There are audio commentaries with cast and crew for all eight episodes (something I haven’t seen done since Daybreak); an hour-long documentary “Take A Look At The Lawman” (also with cast and crew); an interview with director Bharat Nalluri; a couple of featurettes and, finally, an outtakes reel. As best I can tell, these features were also on the original U.K. DVD release of the series. Some of these bonus ditties look like they were filmed with a camcorder, so the quality is often less than what you’d expect, but there’s no use in complaining, gov.

The bottom line here: get it. Life On Mars: Series 1 is a well-acted, well-written trip with some fabulous chemistry between the actors (Simm and Glenister are the tops together). Fans of David Bowie will especially enjoy all of the references to the musician’s many songs. And, if you’re going to watch any of the remakes (especially the American one), by all means see this one first (it’s the decent thing to do).

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.