Warner Bros. // 2004 // 725 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Gutierrez (Retired) // July 28th, 2004
"Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman.
All the world is waiting for you,
and the power you possess.
In your satin tights,
Fighting for your rights
And the old Red, White and Blue."
-The Wonder Woman opening theme
Is it really hard to strike television gold with one of the most beautiful women on the planet fighting the Axis powers in a star-spangled swimsuit? Oh, Lynda Carter. Oh, Wonder Woman, how I praise thee. Wonder Woman is one of those rare shows that has firmly entrenched itself in the social conscience of the American television public. For over a dozen hours, one can watch Lynda Carter give the Nazis what for in Wonder Woman: The Complete First Season. This DVD set provides a helping of good stuff for fans of cheese and cheesecake.
Making her first appearance in All-Star Comics in 1941, Wonder Woman was the brainchild of Dr. William Moulton Marston (using the penname Charles Moulton). Dr. Marston was out to create an inspirational icon for little girls, dreaming up an island of Amazons living in an island paradise hidden away from men. These Amazons thrived and became the pinnacle of mental and physical perfection. When American pilot Colonel Steve Trevor crash lands on Paradise Island, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, decides to send a representative to Man's World. A contest is held, and much to the Queen's chagrin, her daughter disguises herself and wins the tournament. Princess Diana becomes Wonder Woman and decides to stay on Man's World. Of course, being in love with ace pilot Steve Trevor doesn't hurt either. Wonder Woman fights crime with the aid of her Lasso of Truth and her Invisible Plane (later, Invisible Jet). Wonder Woman even adopts the third identity of Yeoman First Class, Diana Prince, working directly with Colonel Trevor.
After a dismal television movie starring a tracksuit wearing Cathy Lee Crosby (That's Incredible!) and the short pilot Wonder Woman: Who's Afraid of Diana Prince? starring Kim Novak (Planet of the Apes), television finally got it right. The bulk of Wonder Woman's adventures Wonder Woman: The Complete First Season involve her thwarting a variety of Nazi threats and assisting Colonel Trevor.
The set includes the following episodes (some spoilers may follow):
Out of the gate, the show stays very close to the source material. Wounded Colonel Trevor (Lyle Waggoner, The Carol Burnett Show) washes up on the shores of Paradise Island. After winning the right to take him back to Man's World, Princess Diana returns with Colonel Trevor to Washington DC. Wonder Woman gets an agent, foils a plot by undercover Nazi Stella Stevens and establishes her cover identity of Diana Prince. We are introduced to Wonder Woman's nifty invisible plane, bulletproof bracelets, ventriloquist skills, and an early version of her famous spinning transformation sequence. Lots of Amazons running and jumping in lingerie-like dresses and white swimsuits increase the cheesecake factor. Look for the guest appearance by Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein) as the first of three actresses to play Queen Hippolyta. Grade: 90
"Wonder Woman Meets Baroness Von Gunther"
Like the title denotes, Wonder Woman meets strategic genius and captured Nazi, Paula Von Gunther. True to her comic book counterpart, Von Gunther's got it in for Wonder Woman. In an effort to lower the morale of the American people, Nazi spies conspire to implicate Colonel Trevor as saboteur. Despite her imprisonment, Von Gunther sways the warden's son to her side and gets him to steal Wonder Woman's lasso. So many things are wrong about this episode, not the least of which is a child walking around a women's' prison.
"Fausta: The Nazi Wonder Woman"
Nazi Olympian Fausta is intrigued with Wonder Woman and decides to capture her. We learn Wonder Woman is susceptible to chloroform and are treated to fight between the two.
"Beauty on Parade"
Colonel Trevor and Yeoman Prince suspect foul play, when a string of military installations are attacked. Wonder Woman goes undercover as a beauty contestant to discover the link between a goodwill tour of good-looking ladies and an attempt on General Eisenhower's life. Wonder Woman pulls off a dance number. It looks like she's getting used to living in Man's World. This episode also introduces the definitive version of Woman Woman's transformation sequence.
"The Feminum Mystique (Part 1)"
Wonder Woman's kid sister, Drusilla (Debra Winger, An Officer and a Gentleman), arrives in Washington, to persuade Diana to return to Paradise Island. In the process, she falls for the ways of Man's World and an undercover Nazi. The Nazi's are interested in discovering how Wonder Woman's bracelets deflect bullets. Now that they have Drusilla, they decide to make their way to Paradise Island and get their hands on some Feminum. Drusilla acquires a version of the Wonder Woman outfit, after learning how to execute a spin transformation. This time around, Hippolyta is played by Carolyn Jones (The Addams Family). Comic book fans will notice the substitution of the name Feminum for the precious Amazon metal Amazonium and how Donna Troy is now called Drusilla.
"The Feminum Mystique (Part 2)"
Nazis have taken over Paradise Island! Wonder Woman and Drusilla mastermind a plan to win the island back. I found it odd how Wonder Woman and Drusilla walked around the island in their red, white and blues. Other than that, not a bad episode.
"Wonder Woman vs. Gargantua!"
Colonel Trevor tries to hide and protect a recently defected Nazi agent. A gorilla and possible missing link has been trained to attack Wonder Woman and retrieve the Nazi agent. Look for a young Robert Loggia trying out a German accent as a Nazi heavy. The guy in the gorilla suit looks just like a guy in a gorilla suit. Ignore the obvious costume and you have a nice, little episode with a lesson in animal cruelty. I liked that this outing employed light forensic work and animal behavioral science.
"The Pluto File"
Gentleman superspy, the Falcon (Robert Reed, The Brady Bunch) is contracted to steal a machine that can control and induce tectonic activity. To worsen matters, the Falcon is an unwitting carrier of the Bubonic Plague. I have to admit, it's strange watching Robert Reed play a man carrying a deadly virus and doesn't know it. Wonder Woman gets the chance to show off her math skills. Who knew, she was a mathematical genius?
"Last of the $2 Bills"
Counterfeiting and plastic surgery are the major components in Nazi Wotan's scheme to destroy the United States economy. Comic book fans will appreciate the tiara toss Wonder Woman performs to stop a Nazi escape.
"Judgment from Outer Space (Part 1)"
Andros (Tim O'Connor, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) is dispatched from the alien Council of Planets to survey Earth and determine if it should be destroyed or spared. After landing on Earth, Andros is captured by Nazis. They believe he is an American scientist specializing in atomic power. Fans of Wonder Woman's wardrobe take note -- she's back in her skirt and cape.
"Judgment from Outer Space (Part 2)"
Andros and Wonder Woman are Nazi captives. Colonel Trevor kung fu's his way through Germany, when an attempt to sneak in goes awry. Andros offers Wonder Woman a chance to see the stars with him. Lots of action, the best writing of the season, and philosophical debate make this the standout episode of the set.
An Argentine scientist develops a chemical that will make rubber as hard as steel! In the pre-Viagra days of World War II, both the Americans and the Nazis are jonesing to make the soft hard. A strong two-fisted Steve episode, sprinkled with some great moments between Wonder Woman and her main man. For the third time this season, watch Wonder Woman fall victim to chloroform.
Steve and Wonder Woman get a much needed break from the Nazis, when JP (Roy Rogers, The Roy Rogers Show) calls in a favor. It seems some cattle rustlers have been stealing JP's livestock -- livestock used for military consumption. Steve is dispatched to Texas, to put an end to a mobbed up cattle ring. Wonder Woman follows and meets JP's international band of war orphans. Some may wonder why Wonder Woman wears a red shirt and riding pants for the bulk of this episode. Rumor has it Roy Rogers was uncomfortable with the Wonder Woman outfit, so it was changed. It's a nice break from the Nazi saboteur formula, but a bit too sappy.
"Wonder Woman Goes to Hollywood"
Oh, sweet synergy. A movie producer convinces Colonel Trevor and three other war heroes to appear in a movie based on their wartime experiences. As it turns out, it's a Nazi plot. Queen Hippolyta recruits Drusilla to convince Wonder Woman to return to Paradise Island for their Two Hundred Thousand-Year anniversary. Drusilla (AKA Wonder Girl) makes her final series appearance -- a shame, really, as Debra Winger and Lynda Carter are a good onscreen duo. Look for Robert Hays (Airplane) as one of the military heroes. The Hollywood episode makes a decent series finale, an end to the World War II era Wonder Woman.
In all honesty, this show probably shouldn't work. One key figure pulls this whole thing together: Lynda Carter. Lynda Carter truly is Wonder Woman. Somehow, despite men in monkey suits, stilted acting, and some terrible special effects, Carter rises above it all to make it work. I'm convinced she is the reason why the show has lasted in our collective memory as long as it has.
The producers made a good choice in setting the show in 1942. No logical reason exists as to why a woman from a Greek civilization would fight against the Nazis, base herself in the United States, and wear a U.S. flag swimsuit. Maybe it's the cynic within all Americans woken up during the Nixon administration, but I can't see any other era where the character of Wonder Woman works as strongly. Everyone can get behind a tough lady kicking in Nazi teeth.
When the special effects are good, they're terrific. The bullet deflecting bracelets are convincing. The transformation sequence design is perfect in its simplicity. Much like Clark Kent tearing open his shirt and tie to reveal the "S" crest, Diana Prince spinning into her other self has become a character trademark. When in close-up only, the Invisible Plane is realistic. It really helps the show, when Lynda Carter is allowed to perform her own stunts. It's Wonder Woman out there, leaping, tearing down doors and bending gun barrels. When it's not Carter, it's either a larger woman or -- I'm almost sure of it -- a man in a black wig.
The acting, by all the principles, is spot on. Lynda Carter has the right blend of naïveté, smarts, and beauty to convince the planet she is the person to fill the bathing suit red, white and blues. Lyle Waggoner is perfect as Steve Trevor. He is very much the high school quarterback turned war hero Colonel Steven Trevor. Carter and Waggoner play off each other very well, creating the necessary romantic tension. Guest star Debra Winger compliments Carter perfectly and the interplay between the two is something not to be missed. Maybe it's me, but there's something to seeing Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl running through Hollywood together. Beatrice Colen (High Anxiety), as Etta Candy, adds some levity to the show as Diana's goofy and cherubic friend.
I suppose the show's charm lies in its simplicity. Americans are good and Germans are bad Nazis that deserve to have their heads caved in. Only once does the show venture into the gray area that is humanity. Still, any questioning of American ideals is quickly turned on its head and it's back to the status quo. With the exceptions of cliffhangers, every episode ends on a close-up of a smiling Wonder Woman in one of her three personas. Everything is wrapped up nicely in Princess Diana's world, without any lasting consequences or ongoing storylines. I understand this was standard fare for television in the '70s. Unfortunately, it's easy to feel that if you've seen one Wonder Woman episode you've more or less seen them all.
How about that theme song? I can't seem to get it out of my head.
The show is presented in its original full frame format. The majority of it holds up today, with little wear. The show employs some badly aged stock footage (and not always in color), but it's used minimally and is forgivable. The Dolby 1.0 audio mix works, but it's not anything spectacular.
The set skimps on special features. The pilot features an interesting commentary by the delightful Lynda Carter and the show's executive producer, Douglas E. Cramer. Also included is the documentary "Beauty, Brawn, and Bulletproof Bracelets: A Wonder Woman Retrospective" containing interviews with the eternally beautiful Lynda Carter, Douglas E. Cramer, the author of Wonder Woman: The Complete History Les Daniels, and comic artist extraordinaire, Alex Ross. The package promises the documentary will include Lyle Waggoner and Wonder Woman creator Dr. William Moulton Marston, but both are noticeably absent. I suppose the producers of the DVD could neither sway Waggoner to participate nor raise Marston back from the dead. Watch the documentary for production trivia and for Wonder Woman's influence on television. Without this show I doubt we'd have that other warrior princess, Buffy, Sidney Bristow, or any other show led by a strong female character.
I liked the DVD packaging. It's alive with color and even showcases some art from the DC Comics library. Even the discs have a red, white, or blue ring around the center.
Not all is perfect in the Wonder Woman universe. I don't quite understand how a Greek civilization that lives so long and so far from the rest of the cultures on Earth can read and speak English and Spanish fluently and know how to operate a firearm. Why would Paradise Island send their representative out in red, white, and blue? How would Amazons know what an airplane is and not know what a Nazi is? I don't understand how Wonder Woman's power comes from her girdle, yet girdleless Amazons display superhuman strength. Where does she keep the Invisible Plane? It's best not to try to interrupt the suspension of disbelief when watching these DVDs.
When the special effects are ugly, they're downright horrible. What leaps to mind is any footage of the Invisible Plane. In a longshot, the Invisible Plane is really a suspended plastic prop with a Barbie inside, photographed against a motionless blue backdrop.
Guest actors and day players can almost kill an episode. If I'm watching a Nazi, I expect him to look and sound German, not like former Green Bay Packers Coach Mike Holmgren. Something's very wrong when I see a man in jackboots refer to the citizens of Paradise Amazons as "'da ladies."
Some more commentaries would have made a nice addition to the special features. I suppose given the age of the show, not a lot of archival footage exists.
In the end, Wonder Woman will always be one of those shows everyone remembers loving. It's worth checking out again. Die-hard Wonder Woman fans will get a kick out of the first and strongest season of the series. Even for those with a passing interest, it's worth a rental. The show's second and third seasons set Wonder Woman and company in the present day (the late '70s), teaming up with Intelligence Office Steve Trevor, Jr.
Fans of the Golden Age Wonder Woman ought to check out DC Comics' Wonder Woman Archives chronicling her first appearances, All-Star Comics Archives spotlighting Wonder Woman's adventures with the Justice Society of America during World War II, and Les Daniels' Wonder Woman: The Complete History.
She looks damn good for a lady over sixty, doesn't she?
Wonder Woman: The Complete First Season is cleared of all charges and free to go. Let's hope the star-spangled warrior princess makes a repeat visit to this courtroom.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Gutierrez; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 725 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary on pilot episode by Lynda Carter and Douglas E. Cramer
* "Beauty, Brawn and Bulletproof Bracelets: A Wonder Woman Retrospective" featurette
* DC Comics