Wednesday, February 19, 2014

TV on DVD Review: American Gladiators - The Battle Begins

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Real contests featuring fun athletic events
Cons: Repetitive with same games in every episode; how rewatchable is it?
The Bottom Line:
Extreme sports contest
Root for favorites to win
Strong Gladiators

Gladiator Fans, Ready?

I was never a die hard fan of the original American Gladiators, and I’m not completely sure why.  After all, I watched the remake regularly and it could be argued that American Ninja Warrior is a more extreme descendent of the show, and I love that.  Anyway, I do remember watching some episodes and enjoying them, so when I stumbled on American Gladiators - The Battle Begins for a cheap price, I grabbed it.

Right from the start, the name of the set is rather misleading.  It sounds like it has the very first episodes ever, but that’s not true.  The first season consisted of two 13 episode halves, and only the second half episodes are here.  The recap episode of the first half does start things off, so we get 14 hour long episodes in this three disc set.

Each episode finds four contestants, two men and two women, facing off in a series of challenges.  There’s The Wall (a rock wall climb), Joust, Assault (contestants shooting at a target while avoiding balls shot from a Gladiator), Breakthrough and Conquer (football followed by wrestling), Power Ball (dropping balls in containers while avoiding Gladiators), and Human Cannonball (swinging to knock a Gladiator off a platform).  The contestants can win points along the way, but ultimately it all comes down to the Eliminator, in which the contestants race head to head through an obstacle course.  The points earned earlier give one of the contestants a time advantage as they try to make it through to the next round.

Yes, this is an on going contest with preliminaries, quarter finals, semi-finals, and then the winner of the half season being crowned in the finals.  But wait, for the season finale, they bring back the winners from the first half of the season and pit them against the second half’s winners in a battle of champions.

That’s the only reason to watch the recap episode – to see who those two contestants are.  Well, and to laugh at how low budget that first half season was.  Want proof?  Just look at the assault set then versus the one we are used to seeing.  They also really changed the configuration for Power Ball for the better.

Of course, the show was still a product of the late 80’s with a very dated style set and hair on the Gladiators and contestants.  Why did anyone ever think that was cool?

What is fun is watching the contestants fighting these super fit gladiators.  I may be the oddball since I know the Gladiators had their fans, but I was always rooting for the contestant to score points and defeat the Gladiators they were facing.  It doesn’t usually happen, so maybe it’s my desire to root for the underdog coming through.

In later seasons, additional events were added and a rotation of games was instituted.  Boy did this show need it.  In the 13 full episodes here, we get the same games over and over again.  It might have helped if I’d spaced them out more, but I got tired of seeing the same things and longed for a little variety.  Not to say I didn’t enjoy some of them.  Joust is always fun (at least to watch) and Assault is a great game.  The rock climb is interesting, and the Eliminator is thrilling.  For pure mayhem, you can’t pass up Power Ball as five people are on the field with competing purposes.  It’s just fun to watch.

My other issue with the set is a question of just how rewatchable it is.  With a competition show, where’s the fun in watching it again?  I can’t see myself wanting to pull out these discs like I do others in my DVD collection.  Then again, in a year or two when the details are fuzzy, I might enjoy them again, just spread out more than I did this time around.  Really, I don’t recommend binge watching.

The episodes are presented in their native full frame and stereo sound.  They look and sound good considering how old they are and how they were recorded, but this isn’t anything that will blow your sound system away.  In the way of extras, there are commentaries on four of the episodes by gladiators Zap, Nitro, and Laser.  These are interesting at times, although they tend to ramble about their lives during the era the show was on and talk about what some of the other Gladiators are up to now.  Then again, how much can they really say about the action on the screen without being repetitive especially if they aren't the Gladiators on screen at the time?  You can certainly hear the camaraderie that formed between them when they were working on the show together.  And in an extra that makes little sense, there is a 10 minute interview with Billy Worth, an actor who was also a contestant on the show.  Why doesn’t it make sense?  Because he was in the first half of the season – the part that is only presented in the recap.  However, it does make me wonder what a commentary track by contestants or an interview with more of the contestants would have sounded like.  I would have really enjoyed that.  Finally, there’s a booklet with mini-biographies of all the Gladiators.

This set was certainly worth the $5 I paid for it, although I’m glad I didn’t pay more than that for it.  Even if I don’t wind up watching it again, I enjoyed my time spent with American Gladiators - The Battle Begins.  I just should have spaced them out more so I didn’t get so tired of the same elements.

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