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Case Number 14116

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Witchblade: The Complete Series

Warner Bros. // 2001 // 1122 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // July 23rd, 2008

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All Rise...

Sure, the Witchblade is cool, but does it have as many uses as Judge Paul Pritchard's Swiss army knife? I think not.

The Charge

The Weapon of the Ages is Hers.

Opening Statement

Top Cow Productions, home to the likes of Rising Stars, Tomb Raider: Lara Croft, and The Darkness, has managed to carve itself a place in a comic book industry dominated by Marvel and DC.

The most famous title in the Top Cow canon, Witchblade has not only proved successful since its inception in 1995, but has also made the move into other media. With an anime series proving reasonably popular and a movie adaptation due in theatres next year, Warner Bros. decided it's time to release Witchblade: The Complete Series; the live-action series ran on TNT for two seasons.

Facts of the Case

During the investigation into her childhood friends' murder, Detective Sara Pezzini of the NYPD comes into contact with the Witchblade. An ancient weapon that has existed for thousands of years, the Witchblade forms a symbiotic relationship with the wearer, instilling her with formidable power. One woman in every generation is destined to wear the Witchblade; previous wearers have included Cleopatra and Joan of Arc. In an unexpected turn of events, Det. Pezzini finds she is next in line.

Taking the form of a bracelet while inactive, the Witchblade transforms into a gauntlet, complete with sword, when the time comes for action. The supernatural powers contained within the blade make Pezzini a fearsome foe, but the greatest struggle may be that between Pezzini and the Witchblade itself. Since the Witchblade has a mind of its own and the ability to take control of her actions, Pezzini must master it before it masters her.

Witchblade: The Complete Series contains all 23 episodes of the show, along with the 90-minute pilot episode, spread over seven discs.

Disc 1
• "Witchblade"—A supernatural Witchblade becomes part of cop Sara "Pez" Pezzini's arsenal—if she can master it.

• "Parallax"—Arrival of the fittest: Soldiers from a specially empowered top-secret unit bring their death match to the streets.

• "Conundrum"—A new fashion in murder: Pez sleuths a model's death…and uncovers secrets about the legacy of the Witchblade.

Disc 2
• "Diplopia"—Seeing double—or more! Murderous clones surface in the SoHo art community.

• "Sacrifice"—A musician's song may foreshadow a string of ritual killings, but that's not the only reason Sara is drawn to the balladeer.

• "Legion"—Sara probes a case involving possible demonic possession…and a deadly bid to gain the Witchblade.

• "Maelstrom"—Love is priceless. In a desperate attempt to save her kidnapped boyfriend, Sara relinquishes the Witchblade.

Disc 3
• "Periculum"—Is the wielder worthy of the blade? Det. Pezzini is put to a severe mystical test.

• "Thanatopsis"—Dead men do tell tales: The valise of a sniper's victim mysteriously contains information about Irons, Nottingham…and Pez.

• "Apprehension"—Trust no one. The rogue cops who brought down Sara's father close in on a new target: Det. Sara Pezzini.

Disc 4
• "Convergence"—As the White Bull's net tightens, a key agent reveals his true identity. Irons needs blood—Sara's.

• "Transcendence"—Secrets unravel—and so does time—as Sara relies on the Witchblade both to avenge and defend herself.

• "Emergence"—As the second season begins, a wiser Sara retakes the Witchblade—but has her partner Danny been rescued from one fate for another that's worse?

• "Destiny"—It's a battle of the talismanic weaponry as Irons obtains the Longinus Lance and hopes to overwhelm the Witchblade's power.

Disc 5
• "Agape"—Jake is drugged and set up for a fall by a crooked narcotics cop, but there's one person—and one weapon—the narc didn't count on.

• "Consectatio"—Killers for hire: Nottingham contracts hush-hush militarists—Black Dragons—to end his Sara problems.

• "Static"—Enough's enough: Pez decides it's time to sell the Witchblade, but parting with it may not be so easy.

• "Nailed"—Gotcha. Sara learns how the Witchblade can help end a murderous child molester's terror spree.

Disc 6
• "Lagrimas"—Love at first sight, consequences to follow. Sara's sudden inamorato may not be all her appears to be.

• "Hierophant"—Mysterious crimes are linked to Sara's father. One problem: Her dad has been dead for years.

• "Veritas"—Ask not…Visits from a dead U.S. president overlap a case involving a powerful political cabal.

• "Parabolic"—Who is the killer of killers? An elusive vigilante targets the actions of a sinister hate-crime brotherhood.

Disc 7
• "Palindrome"—A fight-club investigation leads to a contact with Conchobar…and a showdown with Sara's malevolent doppelganger.

• "Ubique"—Clash of the titans: Sara vs. a time walker who's stolen the Witchblade and is using it for evil.

The Evidence

Having only a limited knowledge of the comic series that spawned it, I can't say with much authority how closely Witchblade: The Complete Series mirrors the books. What does appear apparent, however, is that the series ditches some of the more fantastical elements of the comics, in favor of an N.Y.P.D. Blue meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer approach that never quite gels. Indeed, it's impossible to watch Witchblade: The Complete Series without referring to the works of Joss Whedon, specifically Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With its empowered female lead, Witchblade draws inevitable comparisons to Whedon's shows, comparisons that do Witchblade no favors at all.

Whereas Whedon was smart enough to slowly build up the Buffy-verse, adding small details and intriguing characters in nearly every episode, Witchblade really does nothing to establish a compelling mythos, frequently reverting to a villain of the week formula that wears thinner even quicker here than it did in Smallville.

The character of Sara "Pez" Pezzini (Yancy Butler, Doomsday Man), though lacking the complexities of Buffy Summers, at least gets to develop throughout the series, which is more than can be said for anyone else in the show. Beginning Season 1 pretty much at rock bottom, Sara makes a journey, as she learns to embrace the power of the Witchblade, that proves to be one of the shows few strong points.

Any hero or heroine is only as good as their rogues' gallery, and Sara's nemeses just don't pass muster. The show's "big bad," Kenneth Irons (Anthony Castro), is an admittedly interesting proposition. Fully aware of the capabilities of the Witchblade, Irons uses those in his employ to gain possession of the weapon and control its awesome power. In a clever ploy, he also acts as a mentor, of sorts, to Sara, to help increase her understanding of the Witchblade, while gaining her trust, even as he plots against her. That the character lacks the charisma of a great screen villain is down more to the poor writing than any particular failings on Castro's part. One of the show's biggest letdowns is Irons' right-hand man, Ian Nottingham (Eric Etebari). Sure he looks cool with his menacing stares and poses, but he's given very little of consequence to actually do. What this means is, with little exception, Sara is given too little a challenge to ever place the outcome of this power struggle in doubt.

Note: The following paragraph contains a pretty big spoiler. For those wishing to remain pure and spoiler free, feel free to jump ahead.

Season 1 is undoubtedly the stronger of the two seasons. Beginning with a 90-minute pilot episode that borders on tedium, the show begins to find its feet when it reverts to a less butt-numbing 45-minute running time. Hardly groundbreaking, and still prone to offering up more than its fair share of turkeys, the first season at least has some purpose. As it progresses, a season-long story arc is defined as Sara learns the power of the Witchblade. With the series' villains quickly established, along with Sara's allies, Witchblade throws in soldiers gone rogue, and demonic priests, in an attempt to flesh out the series before the inevitable good-versus-evil confrontation in the Season 1 finale. Sadly, though some might argue bravely, the creative team behind Witchblade took the decision to reverse time at the end of Season 1, undoing all the preceding events. Taking the show into Dallas territory, by making an entire season null and void, Witchblade, as Brian from Family Guy so eloquently put it, gives "a giant middle finger" to the audience. As a result of the Deus Ex Machina that brought an end to Season 1, Season 2 suffers greatly. Effectively rebooting the show, Season 2 quickly loses focus and fails to add anything new (bar the fate of Sara's partner Danny), retreading the same ground and quickly succumbing to a monster-of-the-week formula that is both lazy and tiresome.

Spoilers Over

Lacking the stylish visuals provided by Marc Silvestri and the late Michael Turner in the comic series, Witchblade: The Complete Series is an often uninspiring proposition, aesthetically at least. Though there are rare exceptions, for the most part action sequences are found wanting. For every smartly choreographed fight sequence that more often than not includes a Matrix-style bullet-time effect, there are several more that just feel like by-the-numbers efforts, making me painfully aware of their made-for-TV status. While the show's cheap-looking special effects can be forgiven, the total absence of a defining style, in regards to the shooting of the series, is really quite inexcusable. With such a potent franchise, blessed with a great central concept to play with, Witchblade: The Complete Series feels quite mundane and could, and perhaps should, have been so much more.

Extras for Witchblade: The Complete Series are limited, in terms of both quantity and depth. The "Gabriel's Philosophical Insights," available on ten episodes, discuss specific onscreen events. The "Wielding the Blade" and "Bringing the Blade to Life" featurettes are both too short to contain much more than a quick overview of the design of Witchblade, and the transferring of the comic to the small screen. Both contain moments of interest, but are hardly essential viewing.

The disc's 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer has a somewhat drained look to it. A soft image, with colors looking washed out, makes for a transfer that, while perhaps as good as the show can possibly look, is still disappointing. The discs audio is only slightly more impressive. Though only sporting a 2.0 stereo soundtrack, it at least lacks any real flaws and is a nice clean mix, with the only real highlights being when the likes of U2's "Mysterious Ways" kicks in.

Closing Statement

As my review hopefully made clear, I was hardly converted into a dribbling fanboy after viewing of Witchblade: The Complete Series. It certainly offers a twist on the cop show genre, but that isn't enough to overcome its many shortcomings. There are probably just enough good episodes to make this worthy of a recommendation for the curious; just don't expect to be enjoying a Witchblade marathon, like you would with Buffy.

Meanwhile, a half-decent set of extras, in an attractively laid out box set; means that fans of the show will most likely be delighted with Warner Bros. for releasing Witchblade: The Complete Series in one definitive package.

The Verdict

For fans this is indispensable, but judged on its own merits, Witchblade: The Complete Series is found guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 75
Audio: 80
Extras: 65
Acting: 78
Story: 70
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 1122 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Action
• Crime
• Fantasy
• Science Fiction
• Superheroes
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Witchblade: Gabriel's Philosophical Insights on Selected Episodes
• Wielding the Blade
• Bringing the Blade to Life
• Original Casting Sessions for Series Leads

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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