Universal // 1989 // 428 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // August 10th, 2004
Sam Beckett has a date with destiny...where will he end up next?
Quantum Leap hit the television airwaves in 1989, at a time when science fiction fans didn't have a lot to choose from -- what sci-fi shows there were leaned more toward the fantasy side of the equation or were only "sci" in that they took place in space, or on a spacecraft, but dealt very little with scientific details. When Quantum Leap premiered, it was an oasis in the desert. It was also a smart show that was made for the everday Joe, with personable characters and a killer hook (who doesn't like time travel/body-swap stories?). The audience response was instant and overwhelming, and they were in front of the TV every week, no matter what else they had going on.
Dr. Samuel Beckett (Scott Bakula, American Beauty) is a man with a theory: Consider time like a string -- the beginning of your life is at one end, and the end of your life is at the other. Put the two ends together, then ball the string in your hand so that it overlaps and touches at different points. Now, imagine you could travel in time to any point within your lifetime...
He gets to test his theory, albeit prematurely, at the headquarters for Project Quantum Leap. Pressured by the threat of discontinued funding, Dr. Beckett pushes up the schedule, steps into the Quantum Leap accelerator...and vanishes. He wakes up in another time, but the shock of the leap has left him with partial amnesia, and he doesn't know anything about the project or even what his last name is. He has assumed the identity of another man, and he even sees a reflection that is not his own when he looks in the mirror. Everyone he meets sees him as the other man, too.
Just when he thinks he's losing his mind, Al (Dean Stockwell, Blue Velvet) appears to explain what is going on. Al works with Sam on the Quantum Leap project and is linked to Sam across time as a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. He explains that Sam must intervene to correct mistakes from the past, and if he is successful, he will leap into another point in time, eventually returning to his original starting point and his own body. In the meantime, he is put into a new situation with every leap and must call on his vast intelligence (he has at least six doctorates and speaks several languages) and the resourcefulness of Al to help him adjust and to find out what he needs to do.
This set includes all eight episodes from the first season:
* "Genesis" (two-hour pilot movie)
* "The Right Hand of God"
* "How the Tess Was Won"
* "Double Identity"
* "The Color of Truth"
* "Camikazi Kid"
* "Play It Again, Seymour"
Quantum Leap started as a midseason replacement but came out of the gate strong with eight excellent episodes. Bakula and Stockwell had a chemistry that worked well for them on screen and helped to sell the show's premise to viewers. As virtually the only steady characters in the entire series, the two bore the weight of the show -- good or bad -- on their shoulders. Stockwell, a veteran with a long movie career, and Bakula, who had worked in TV a bit and had extensive stage experience, were up to the task, often managing virtuoso performances even after grueling days.
As series creator Don Bellasario notes in the featurette that is included with this set, he felt extremely fortunate to have Stockwell sign on for the show. Having just completed Married to the Mob, Stockwell had appeal for both a contemporary audience and those who had enjoyed his work over the years. The curiosity factor of his move to television was enough to prompt many to tune in to the pilot episode, and they were not disappointed. Stockwell was given a fun character and a lot of latitude. He gave Al heart and personality, providing comic relief and a stable friendship that Sam (and the audience) could rely on.
Bakula, to his credit, allowed Stockwell to steal scenes right out from under him, and even had fun with it. Very quickly, the two became a foil for each other when it came to Al's persistent lechery. "Al, so help me, if you start with one of your sleazy sex stories -- hologram or no hologram -- I'll slug ya!" blurts Sam at one point. Bakula could afford to be generous; he's a kind of modern-day Cary Grant -- charming, suave, yet willing to be goofy and vulnerable. It makes him extremely appealing to the average Joe or Jane, and a magnet whenever he is on screen. The casting could not have been more perfect -- Bellasario points out in the featurette that when Bakula came in for the audition, he played it very cool, but as soon as Bakula left, Bellasario said, "I don't care what you gotta do -- that guy is Sam!"
On top of a good foundation of acting talent, the show was also blessed with quality writing. Shows in the first season dealt with issues such as spousal abuse, racial discrimination, and the morality of accepting bribes. While sometimes given to heavy-handedness in its view of the morals and ethics of the recent past, the episodes pushed the envelope in many ways. For instance, when Sam leaps into the body of a black man in 1955, he soon finds himself in the middle of racial conflict when he innocently sits down at a lunch counter for some food. The unflinching look at antiquated views on race relations (from both sides) resonated with viewers.
Quantum Leap was clearly a show you could sink your teeth into, and an immediate fan base (who called themselves "Leapers") formed around it. Word of mouth would come to be very important to the success of this show, since even though it earned respectable ratings and won five Emmys (among other awards), it was always in danger of being cancelled.
And now, it's finally on DVD, with the deluxe treatment. The packaging for this release isn't groundbreaking, but it is appropriately dazzling, with a reflective silvery cover that has a radial rainbow effect when held up to the light just right, as if Sam is stepping out of a time warp. The inside fold-out holds the three discs securely in their plastic molding, and the animated DVD menus are attractive as well. Bakula and Stockwell have stepped up to the plate once again to participate in an hour-long retrospective featurette that also includes Bellasario. Bakula also recorded episode introductions, and both stars recorded "secret messages" that can be found by visiting various menus and arrowing around with the DVD remote. There are three such segments: Bakula asks fans not to watch the episode intros if they haven't seen the series before, Stockwell reminisces about fans' purchasing a star for him on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and Bakula talks about his affection for the fans, who were so supportive of the show and helped to keep it alive.
The video transfer is about as good as can be expected for a late-'80s show. Presented in original fullscreen format, the picture shows some softness, and there is some age-related scuffing on the print, but otherwise these are clear transfers that retain much of their rich color and texture. Sound quality actually fares very well. The mono track has been piped into a stereo feed, and the separation is quite good for a mono source, with enough clarity and depth to pick up echo and sound changes in different locations, such as moving from an outside scene to a large room to a small office. There are scenes that have obvious sound changes due to looped dialogue, but this is mostly a problem with the source material, not the transfer. All in all, this is the best way to experience Quantum Leap short of having seeing it during the original broadcast.
A note for fans about the episodes themselves: They are preserved as they originally were broadcast, with full original credits and opening scenarios, narrated by Bakula, that recapped previous episode threads. The extended episode lead-ins are usually dropped in syndication, since they were originally there in order to pick up new viewers who might have come into the series late or started watching after hearing about it through word of mouth. In episode eight ("Play it Again, Seymour") the credits start to morph toward the shorter, more recognizable credit sequence that was kept for later seasons and eventually enhanced with the "Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime..." narration.
Two words: episode commentaries. Although I think this is a solid set with a great featurette, commentaries (even just one commentary on the pilot episode, perhaps) would have been the cherry on top that completed the set perfectly. Perhaps there will be more time for this with the Season Two release, which is planned for October 2004. Still, complaining about a lack of commentary on a Quantum Leap DVD set is sort of like getting a shiny new Mustang and complaining that the interior is red, not white, so keep that in mind.
Quantum Leap is a show that is held back somewhat by the time of its birth. Part of the reason sci-fi wasn't terribly popular in the '80s was that it was very difficult for a show with a restricted budget to have a decent special effects arsenal. Even at the time, the hologram effects for Al were a bit cheesy, and there are too many plot holes for even the most devoted fan to explain away, but the whole point is that Quantum Leap, despite being a smart show, never pretends to be anything other than good, solid entertainment. The cheese factor, at least for fans, is part of the charm. Those into hardcore science may want to steer clear of the more loosely applied physics of this show, however.
For fans of the series, seeing Quantum Leap on DVD is a long-awaited bounty. For those just getting to know the series, this is a great introduction. Both principal actors invested a lot of themselves in the show and helped to ground it in a tangible reality that the circumstances didn't always allow. What mattered were the human relationships, and this is really the heart of the show.
Ziggy says there's a 99.9% chance that Quantum Leap will be declared not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2004 Nominee
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 428 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "A Kiss With History" Featurette
* "Quantum Knowledge" Episode Introductions
* Hidden Messages
* TV Tome Reference