Back when Smallville first exploded on the WB! Network and became a big hit, it seemed only fitting that Warner explore their other superhero franchises and see which ones might make a solid outing. While there’s been attempted spin-off’s from heroes that have appeared on Smallville, Birds of Prey is the only one that was completely disconnected from the original Superman effort that started so strong on the network. Unfortunately for the network, and fans, Birds of Prey was such a wildly different effort than what fans were hoping for from a Dark Knight inspired series; indeed, Batman himself was rarely present aside from a flashback in the pilot and the series instead focused on three women of Gotham that had never before seen live-action components: Oracle, Huntress and Dinah.
Loosely based off of the same graphic novel of the same title, Birds of Prey stars Ashley Scott, Dina Meyer and Rachel Skarsten as the title leads of Huntress, Oracle and Dinah, the crime-fighting trio of Gotham City. After the love of his life dies, Batman disappears from city he swore to protect and as a result the city is plunged into chaos. Headed by ex-Batgirl Barbara Gordon, now in her new role as Oracle, Oracle begins to work with Huntress exclusively until young Dinah Lance shows up at their doorstep, sporting all kinds of meta-human powers to help bolster their team. Together the three clean the streets of Gotham, all the while looking for answers as to who’s behind the majority of the crime waves and villainous meta-humans that are flooding the streets.
Even when the show was on and I was fifteen, I found the show to be an incredible waste of time, much like Smallville. Like Smallville, however, I continued to watch the show in its entirety and while I could definitely see improvement in the series by the end of its first season, it was still such an incredible mess of a show. Never mind the fact that Batman leaving simply because the woman he fathered a child with died (Batman was founded on the death of his parents…I don’t think someone else dying would drive the man away so easily), that was easy enough to overlook in an attempt to enjoy the series a bit more. The main issue with the series is that it borrowed far too heavily from Smallville in storytelling efforts, right down to the “freak of the week” formula that infested nearly every episode of the series. A shame, as I really feel they could have explored the characters a bit more than they were in the series.
There are enjoyable elements; the pilot especially has quite a few flashbacks with Batman in it and an appearance by Joker, but that is about all of the “classic” Batman lore we see in the series. The main villain of the series is Harley Quinn, a creation of the animated series from the 90s, who fills the role of big baddy quite well, even if it’s entirely out of character for her. Harley’s has always been a partner with someone else, whether Joker or Ivy, and she’s not entirely believable as a stand-a-lone. I will say Mia Sara did a heck of a job in the role, but it was about as easy to swallow as the dialogue in the film.
Another positive point of the series was Dina Meyer, who was absolutely fantastic as Oracle. Should they ever work Oracle into a live action film one of these days, she would be an absolutely fantastic choice as she was the peak of the series. She had a believability about her that just made her role as commander completely believable; on top of that her characterization was closer to the comics than anyone else in the series, so the writers definitely did some positive things with her character.
As the series progressed, we saw the characters grow a bit, but not enough to really get any real idea of what they were completely capable of. Dinah’s character grew immensely when her mother showed up, the original Black Canary (played by Lori Loughlin—also brilliant casting), and as the identities of some of the other Birds members are discovered by their significant others, we get a sense of what a second season of the series would have been like…which, honestly, could have been interesting but the declining ratings just proved there wasn’t an audience for this show.
Another thing I did like about the series was the theme song, “Revolution” by Aimee Allen. I remember attempting to find her CD when it was supposed to come out (it never did), but to this day I still have the MP3 of the Birds of Prey theme song on my hard drive. So imagine my disgust when I popped in this series set and found that it was replaced with something less rock sounding and more whiney; not only that, it was horribly merged into elements of the series and just creates an entirely different mood than what the original theme set up. I understand that it was cheaper to do it this way, but it’s kind of a bummer; I really liked that theme. Oh well, I’ll just have to stick with the MP3 I guess.
Overall there are elements of the show to enjoy, but the plots are so nonsensical and absolutely annoying at times (not to mention Huntress’s early sound effects of a tiger roar become incredibly annoying; thankfully they peter out during the course of the season) that it makes you roll your eyes in disgust. Still, the actresses in the show did their jobs admirably with the material and it was really only the writing that stood out as the weak points; some of the show felt really…boxed in, in terms of set locations and almost fan-made at times, but other than that it was a decent production. If you’re a fan of Batman, and only if you’re a fan of Batman, then this series comes Recommended simply for that. Anyone else who hasn’t heard of it or are looking for something entertaining to watch should spend their money on something that actually has some substance and quality to it. Birds of Prey is pure fluff and is only something a die-hard fan wanting to see his comic book fantasies come to life in.
Despite what the full image of the cover shows, this set doesn’t come in a massive digi-pak set. In fact, it comes in a standard single disc width amaray DVD case with four discs packed inside. A reflective foil/embossed slipcover is included inside the clear amaray case with a double sided insert. A booklet with an intro from Paul Levitz (who boasts about this series way more than he should have; I remember full well the fan comments about the series, how he could call this show “fondly remembered by…comics fans” with a straight face is beyond me. Still the intro is nice, even if it is a bit horn-tooting (it starts out “In 1977, I created The Huntress”). The rest of the booklet has cast information as well as episode descriptions and original airdates. It becomes evident from the look of the packaging that this show was inspired, visually, by Schumacher’s live-action efforts, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Big, silvery object covered in blue LEDs may look cool but…really? Blue LED’s on something you’re going to throw at someone? Regardless of that, the shows packaging presentation is admirable and is one of the best things about this set.
So how about the video and audio? Well the show was shot in widescreen and is presented here as such but…unfortunately not only is it interlaced but it’s also a 16×9 image boxed into a 4×3 frame. It would have been so easy to create anamorphic transfers for this set; it’s not like they haven’t had years to do it and it was rushed to market, so the half-assed transfers are incredibly disappointing. On top of that the unaired pilot on the set, located on the fourth disc, is in anamorphic widescreen. Granted it’s still interlaced, but if the unaired pilot can be in anamorphic widescreen, why the hell can’t the rest of the series? The video quality of the series is what you’d expect from a six year old show; a bit grainy and on the more compressed side than it should be, but still not half bad. It definitely could look better, but I suppose for those who wanted the series on DVD this is better than nothing. Audio is a standard Dolby Surround Stereo mix and the aforementioned theme song change may not be the only change in music for the series, as the packaging denotes that “some music differs from original television version”; I don’t know the series well enough to pick out what songs were replaced and what ones weren’t, so I can’t comment on the specifics on that front too much.
The extras on this set consist of the aforementioned unaired pilot (relatively the same, only with at different [and brunette] actress in the role of Harley Quinn’s role). Sadly enough they removed the original music from the unaired pilot, which leaked out online months before the series premiere and contained clips from Mask of the Phantasm and Return of the Joker. Warner instead replaced them with what sounds like music from other episodes. Not entirely sure why they went through the effort of that…anything to avoid turning the video transfers into anamorphic copies, I guess.
A big plus for those looking to get this set are the digital copies of the Gotham Girls online web series. This has been long asked for by fans who wanted to see these clips on their TV rather than streaming them online. Unfortunately for fans they still look a hell of a lot better in their original Flash file format, as the compressed ugly transfers that the episodes receive here look rather atrocious at times. That and there’s something about the primitive animation that just really doesn’t work well on DVD. Funnily enough, however, these extras upstage the series itself, much like Sub-Zero did with Batman & Robin. Although I think a clogged toilet could upstage Batman & Robin, so perhaps that not the best compliment.
Overall it’s a solid DVD set for those who have wanted the series on DVD, but for those of us who really didn’t like it that much to begin with, it’s worth a Rental to get in the mood for the next Bat flick, so you can really appreciate what Batman in the hands of the proper writers can do.
Birds of Prey: The Complete Series is now available on DVD.