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When it comes to iconic toys of the 1980s most people immediately think of Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, Transformers and, quite possibly, Action Force. Action Force was the European name for G.I. Joe, an American line of military toys that spawned a popular cartoon series. As with both Transformers and My Little Pony (I kid you not), a full length G.I. Joe movie was commissioned. Although it went straight to video it remains a fan favourite, and has earned a Special Edition DVD release courtesy of Maverick Home Entertainment.

G.I. Joe: The Movie
G.I. Joe: The Movie finds evil terrorist organisation Cobra in search of an experimental energy device known as the Broadcast Energy Transmitter. In his pursuit of the B.E.T., Cobra Emperor Serpentor leads his troops to the Himalayas where the heroic men and women of G.I. Joe are testing the device. After a ferocious battle the Joes successfully repel the Cobra attack, apprehending Serpentor in the process. With Serpentor gone and the Joes in hot pursuit, Cobra Commander leads his former troops through a hidden valley into the mysterious realm of Cobra La.

Unknown to the rest of Cobra, their Commander is really a member of a forty thousand year old race of snake people who were all but destroyed during the last ice age! Upon his arrival Cobra Commander is imprisoned while the head of Cobra La, the maniacal Golobulus, outlines his plan to conquer the planet using the power of the B.E.T. to mutate every living creature on Earth. Obviously the Joes can’t allow this to happen and, with the help of a rag-tag group of raw recruits and the impossibly hard Sgt. Slaughter, they set about ridding the world of this new menace.

G.I. Joe: The Movie was actually completed before Transformers: The Movie, but after the disastrous box office showing of that film the Joe’s straight to video fate was sealed. This was probably a wise move, as the Joe’s outing isn’t a patch on their robotic counterpart’s big screen debut. It suffers from poor characterisation, a number of ridiculous plot devices – such as the B.E.T.’s ability to ‘pump’ internally generated power through the air to any destination on the planet – and Cobra Commander’s sudden transformation from a human into a deformed, blue-skinned snake man! To think, I actually enjoyed this as a kid; it has not aged well at all.

On a slightly more interesting note, another change that was made as a direct result of the Transformers’ movie was that of the fate of Duke. In the original script Duke was all set to die saving the life of half brother Lt. Falcon, but after fan outrage over the death of Optimus Prime the script was changed so that Duke merely slipped into a coma. Not bad considering he had a snake rammed through his heart!

G.I. Joe: The Movie
Because G.I. Joe: The Movie never received a theatrical release we’ll never really know what the intended ratio was (although I suspect that it was most probably going to be 1.85:1). What we get here is a 1.33:1 presentation, which is how the movie was originally released on home formats back in the 80s. Video quality is pretty much what you’d expect from a twenty-year-old cartoon, and the image suffers from film artefacts throughout (mostly in the form of distracting white and black flecks). The contrast is prone to wild fluctuation on occasion, and colours often look ‘muddy’, but this is still likely be the best looking version of the movie you will ever have seen (or see).

The disc includes an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono soundtrack, which is best described as serviceable. Clearly G.I. Joe: The Movie was created long before 5.1 surround sound was the norm, and you would be right in thinking that this is actually a faithful representation of the source material. It does its job well enough, but I found the overall volume to quiet for my liking and had to crank the volume up way past normal levels in order to hear things clearly. The quality of the voice acting is good throughout, and all the sound effects from the show are there. Oddly the soundtrack also features music from the Transformers film, not to mention sound effects ripped directly from Star Wars (you can even hear Darth Vader breathing at one point)!

Unfortunately Maverick made one unforgivable blunder when putting this disc together. Around half way through the film the soundtrack suddenly switches from the original soundtrack to the European dub, complete with indescribably poor looping for the characters and cries of “Full Force” instead of “Yo Joe”! The buffoon that missed this at the quality control stage needs to be soundly thrashed, and it cost the disc points.

Surprisingly Maverick have included a few extras on the disc, the best of which is the first episode of the cartoon series. The episode, entitled Cobra’s Creatures, runs for around twenty minutes and acts as an introduction to a few of the main characters. Unfortunately it’s not the best episode, and the quality of the video and audio is severely lacking. The only other features on the disc are a G.I. Joe Toy Advert and some animated Storyboards, both of which are particularly uninspiring. In fact, the video quality during the advertisement is so bad I could barely stand to watch.

G.I. Joe: The Movie
While not up to the standard of Transformers: The Movie, the Joe effort is enjoyable enough for the most part (providing you can overlook some of the more ridiculous elements). Sure they took the coward’s way out when it came to Duke’s death, but the rest of the film has a surprisingly adult tone to it. Unfortunately, while this is probably the best the film has ever looked, the huge audio blunder really is inexcusable. The extras are also sadly lacking, but then perhaps I’m expecting too much from such an old and relatively anonymous animated feature. It’s tough to recommend this to anyone other than fans of the series, or indeed the movie itself, and even then the above problems really work against the disc. Still, the relatively low asking price of five pounds might just be enough to convince a few people to take that trip down memory lane.

*Update* - Since beginning this review it has come to my attention that Maverick no longer hold the rights to G.I. Joe. The film is now available as a budget title from Prism Direct, and although that disc contains no extra features it reportedly includes the original soundtrack in its entirety.