It’s been fifteen years since Dark Skies aired on NBC, but the period sci-fi thriller starring Eric Close (the upcoming Chaos for CBS), Megan Ward (General Hospital), and Jeri Ryan (recently seen on Leverage) has finally come to DVD – and thanks to Shout! Factory, this isn’t just any old DVD set, but a six-disc collection containing the complete series and a ton of extras. Is it worth the wait?
I had high expectations for Dark Skies, having wanted to see it ever since I became a fan of Eric Close’s work on Without A Trace. (It cracks me up that Conor O’Farrell, who so perfectly played a pedophile in two episodes of Trace, co-stars with Close in Dark Skies.) I’d heard a lot of great things about it – so in retrospect I may have set my standards a little too high.
For those of you not familiar, this show was developed as a competitor for The X-Files in 1996, centering on Congressional aide John Loengard (Close) and his girlfriend Kimberly Sayers (Ward) as they’re drawn into a longtime conspiracy regarding alien life on Earth, which is predictably trying to take over the human race. X-Files, this is not, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. In my opinion, it’s honestly not as good a series as X-Files was, which would explain why it only lasted the one season; it just isn’t as suspenseful or compelling. On the other hand, the show is not eaten by its own mythology; while there’s an intricate mythology that exists, it doesn’t become bigger than the show itself. There’s not necessarily a standout actor here, but that actually works in the show’s favor as it allows us to pay more attention to the plot. Knowing what all these actors would do later on, it’s also fun to see them earlier in their careers; since I’ve seen a lot of Eric Close’s work, I can see some inexperience but also tell how he grew into the actor I loved watching a decade later.
Dark Skies is set in the 1960’s, with a voice-over from a future Loengard at the beginning of the pilot telling us that we’re watching events presented as fiction to protect those involved. As a result, the series has a very throwback look and feel, sometimes too much. I never saw it in original broadcast, so I can’t say if the softer look of the show was intentional or because of the DVD transfer, but it looks less sharp than many I’ve seen. The titles have an interestingly retro look, which is different. Yet the most annoying thing is the score. I really hope it was meant to be a throwback to 60’s scores, because that’s the only reason I could think of to have one that’s so obvious; in the pilot, there’s a scene where Loengard is being pursued by a black helicopter, and the score is so intrusive that it ruins the suspense. It’s obvious the creative team really went for the retro feel with this show, and that works for and against it throughout the series.
That’s something I can’t help but admire about the show, though, even in the times it doesn’t work. Many science-fiction series have come and gone before they get the chance to develop their worlds, if they intended to develop anything at all. So to see Dark Skies have this very detailed, ambitious story to tell from moment one is pretty cool, even if I know it’ll never reach its intended conclusion. I’m just impressed that they tried at all.
I’m glad that this show is finally out on DVD, so I can have a chance to see it. It wasn’t the great science-fiction opus I was hoping for, and it has its flaws, but I am very impressed by how creative it was and how committed it was to the world it created. They really don’t make shows like this anymore, for better and for worse.
Shout! Factory has put together a simple set here, and it works. They’ve decorated the six-disc set to keep up with the show’s conspiracy theme, and on the inside of each of the three cases (that’s two discs per case) there’s a timeline of events in the Dark Skies universe, going back to B.C. There’s no episode guide, but all that information is found on the back of the cases. With there only being two discs per case, all the discs are easy to locate, remove and replace. It’s simple, it’s efficient and I like it.
As with all Shout! titles, there’s a forced collection of trailers once you put in the discs themselves, but those can be bypassed by hitting the “menu” button on your remote. The Dark Skies menus are a collection of magazine clippings with some ominous music, which take you to a simple title menu that gives you two choices: “play all” or “episodes.” There’s no audio menu, and likewise, there’s no scene selection. I can only assume this means there’s no additional language support or foreign-language subtitles; most Shout! releases have English closed-captioning that you can activate with your remote.
As I stated in the above section, it’s hard to judge the video of this release because I don’t know if it’s an intentional decision to make it look older or not. I don’t want to penalize the set if it’s a creative decision, so I’ll just say that Dark Skies reflects its age. There’s some grain and some softer shots that make this far from a perfect release. It looks exactly like I’d expect it to if I’d taped it off my VCR in 1996, which isn’t bad but I was hoping for a bit more. It is, of course, a full-screen presentation (again, this is 1996). There are no problems with the audio, and while it’s not an outstanding video transfer, I’m happy with it, whether it’s supposed to be that way or not.
The Special Features
Anyone who’s bought a Shout! Factory set knows that they never skimp on the special features if they can help it, and Dark Skies is no exception. You get pretty much everything that’s out there for this show; if there’s anything left I’d be surprised. Here’s the list:
- International version of the pilot, “The Awakening.”
- Four cast and creator commentaries. I listened to the one on the pilot with the two creators, Eric Close, and Megan Ward, and enjoyed it. It’s hard enough getting commentary tracks on recent shows; it’s great to see that the cast and crew were willing to come back and record them for a show they did so long ago, and you can tell that they honestly loved the experience. It’d have been even better if they could have snagged Jeri Ryan, but since the show was about Close and Ward’s characters I’ll forgive the omission.
- Uncovering Dark Skies: This is a three-part retrospective featurette with the creators, Eric Close and Megan Ward. Again, given that the show is fifteen years old, I’m surprised and impressed that they could dig up this much to talk about. Obviously, this is not one you want to watch if you haven’t seen the entire series.
- The Dark Skies Glossary: For those of you who have no idea what people are talking about. It’s much appreciated to have as a reference. There’s a sense of real effort here to help new viewers understand everything that they intended for this show.
- Season Two proposal: There’s nothing more frustrating than having a show cancelled knowing there was a lot more coming you’ll never see. The creators of Dark Skies had several seasons in their grand plan, and at least we can see what they wanted to do for the second one.
- Network promos
- Electronic press kit
- The original sales presentation for the show
There’s also a booklet containing a special message from Bryce Zabel.
Basically, you get it all here. There’s plenty of new stuff for die-hard fans of the show, and for those of us who haven’t seen the show before, you get a few things that will help immerse you in the Dark Skies experience. I appreciate how the set works for both those groups – even though I had never seen it before, I could watch these and not worry about things going over my head. I actually started to feel like I was really understanding what Zabel and Friedman wanted to do, and that’s pretty cool.
The Bottom Line
Dark Skies is one of those cult classic TV shows, and it’s easy to see why it has such a devoted following. At the very least, it’s a fun fifteen hours of escapism. It also comes in a great set loaded with bonus features. You get a good show in a good set for (as of this writing) only $23. I wouldn’t miss it if I were you.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved.