Many Americans are already familiar with Life On Mars as a network series in the States. But this DVD collection from Acorn Media, Life On Mars: The Complete Collection, is the superior, original British version, which aired on BBC America. The premise is the same in both. A modern-day detective, Sam Tyler (John Simm, Doctor Who, Mad Dogs), is somehow mysteriously transported to 1973, where he works on the same police squad he serves on in his own time. Sam is a by-the-book type of cop, but this clashes poorly with his new boss, Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister, Ashes to Ashes, Cranford). While Sam solves the retro crimes and tries to adapt, he also is tempted back to the 21st century by strange voices.
This version is one episode shorter than the American remake, but the two are quite similar, though the original handles the complicated plots better. The biggest difference between the two is that the UK version builds towards a planned ending, while the American remake had to quickly and unexpectedly wrap things up.
It’s smart to add the time travel aspect to the concept, as it sets Life On Mars apart from other police procedurals, as well as period shows. Instead, Life On Mars doesn’t choose a genre, but bounces between reality and the supernatural in a wholly original way. Add to that a fish-out-of-water element as Sam tries to go with the days of solving cases without technology, as well as a love story, and there’s a lot going on. Not to mention, Sam isn’t sure if he is dreaming, has gone crazy, or has actually traveled in time. This series is both great fun, and intriguing drama.
As if all of that was not enough, Sam begins to wonder if he even wants to go back, should that option present itself. Many people in this premise would spend all of their energy searching for a way to get back to their own time. But Sam is tempted to stay by the beautiful Annie (Liz White, The Fixer), and isn’t sure he’s better off in the future. After all, once he makes the necessary changes to the way he does his job, life isn’t so bad in the 1970’s, and his old life wasn’t that fantastic anyway. This is a really interesting question, and a bold approach at handling the central story.
Life On Mars is full of references and allusions, beginning with the title, which points to a David Bowie song. Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is surely an influence, with the word Hyde appearing in the 1970s world. The Wizard of Oz also pops up frequently, not surprising, as the themes of being thrust into a different, hard to understand environment are the same for Dorothy and Sam. Plus, the final episode features the song “Over the Rainbow,” and there is a character named Frank Morgan, the same name as the actor who played the Wizard in the film.
The eight-disc DVD set features all sixteen episodes of Life On Mars, as well as audio commentaries for season one, a featurette on the music in the series, a look at production design, and a half hour focusing on the series ending. Also included are a forty-five minute documentary about the show, an hour look at the lawman, an interview with director Bharat Nalluri, a set tour, and outtakes. In short, this may by the richest collection of extras on any Acorn Media release, and definitely make the value of the collection rise. It is a must buy.
Both series of Life On Mars are also available packaged individually on Blu-ray.
Check out Life On Mars: The Complete Collection, currently available on DVD.