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Since the explosion of TV shows on DVD over the last few years, one of the shows which fans have been frantically crying for is the teen drama/sci-fi series Roswell. 20th Century Fox has now released the entire first season on six discs, with the plan to release the remaining two seasons before the years end.

The Series
What do you get when you take the X-Files and mix in a little of Dawson's Creek? The answer is Roswell. It is set in the town of Roswell, New Mexico, where legend has it that an unidentified flying object crashed in 1947, a crash that the US Government knows about and has been covering up ever since. Based on a set of young adult books, the series is basically the story of 7 high school students. Three of them just happen to be from another planet. Max Evans has always had an eye for Liz Parker. One day when Max happens to be eating in the cafe where Liz works (appropriately called the Crashdown Café), Liz is accidentally shot during a fight between two patrons. As she lay on the floor of the restaurant, Max approaches her and uses his alien powers to heal her from the bullet wound. In the process, the two become linked in a way that no others possibly could be. Most importantly, Max reveals he is not just any high school student, and Liz corners him and he admits his alien nature. From that point, nothing is ever the same for Max, his sister Isabel and their friend Michael Guerin, who all crawled out of their pod together after being in stasis until 1989, at the age of six. They had sworn an oath of secrecy to each other, and now Michael and Isabel feel betrayed by Max's action. Liz has a difficult time keeping the secret to herself and so she ends up telling her friend Maria DeLuca.

Roswell - the Complete First Season
As you can imagine, with most secrets, the more people who know, the more dangerous it becomes and the less likely it is to remain hidden. Throw into the mix the Sheriff of Roswell, Sheriff Valenti, whose father (who also happened to be the Sheriff of Roswell) spent his career trying to prove the existence of extra-terrestrials, and eventually ended up leaving the office in disgrace. He now suspects something is up after Liz's bullet-holed dress is believed to have blood stains on it and no bullets are found at the scene. Add the son of the Sheriff, Kyle, who just happens to have an on again/off again relationship with Liz. Finally, put in Alex Whitman, Maria's and Liz's best friend who knows something is going on with the two and starts to resent the fact they haven't told him. All this makes for a recipe for adventure and romance in this small but very close southwestern town.

Clues to the trio's origin begin to unfold over the course of the first season (the three have no idea where they are really from). A picture indicates that they may not be alone, or may not have been alone, and they set out to try and find any hints as to who they really are and where they come from. Around every corner lies danger for them, and they have to wonder if everyone is who they truly claim to be, or is anyone sent by the government to try and capture them for study (their biggest fear). They begin to doubt new teachers in the school, new students, and new friends. Nothing and no one is above suspicion.

Three basic ongoing storylines occupy the first season: the quest for identity on the part of the trio, the pursuit by the government to find and capture them, and the requisite teen drama romances (the most prolific being the budding relationship between Max and Liz). There are some side stories, such as Michael's emancipation from his abusive foster father, and Liz's visiting grandmother playing a role in one particular poignant episode, but for the most part, these are the three main tracks the stories follow. And there are some truly good episodes in the mix. The series seems to be at its best when it concentrates on one of the three during an episode, as opposed to trying to somehow jam all three into a single episode. One episode I found most engaging involves Max's capture by the government and their attempts to get information from him through interrogation in the "white room". It has some of the finest acting in the series. Jason Behr (Max) does a good job of displaying Max's anguish and fear at the situation he is in. All of the actors do a decent enough job, but it is obvious as the season progresses that the writers toned down some of the extremes displayed by the trio, Michael becomes less of an explosive personality and hothead, Isabel "comes down to Earth" (for lack of a better term), and Max becomes somewhat less brooding and a little less "safe".

Roswell - the Complete First Season
Video
One of the surprises about this set is that many of both the specifications and extras listed in the initial announcement for the series have turned out not to be true. The surprises have been both good and bad. One of the good surprises is although it was listed that the series would be released in 1.33:1 full-frame, it actually sports a 1.78:1 widescreen video presentation. And the video transfer itself is a good one. Colors and flesh tones are all done nicely, and black levels are good as well. There are a lot of nighttime scenes in the series, as you might imagine, and none of the actors or scenery is lost in the darkness. There is little or no grain to speak of and edge enhancement is virtually non-existent. One thing I did notice, at times there seemed to be some lag in some of the signal being de-interlaced, resulting in some quick jagged edges on some of the actors, especially when there were some quick movements. This was not constant, and I only noticed it a few times, but I thought it worth mentioning. It was not so bad as to effect my enjoyment of the material, but it was there. This could be a product of either the disc or the player, so I make no judgments, but don't be surprised if you see some.

Audio
The set contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround transfer and it serves the material just fine. The audio is clear at all times, and dialogue is easy to understand and never drowned out. Music is a big part of the series, and as explained on an insert in the set, also was one of the reasons it took this long for the series to be released on DVD. Roswell was always including cutting edge music from some of the day's most popular artists…artists who have gone on to much fame and whose record labels now demand a huge fee for the producers to include their songs in the set. Faced with the choice of either not releasing the set or having the cost be so prohibitive that it likely would not sell well, the creator and producer took the bold step to actually replace much of the music, only including those songs  which were most associated with the show. Dido’s outstanding rendition of “Here With You”, which serves as the show’s theme, is intact as are other songs, but much of the other music is new to the series. Purists may say that this cheapens the set as what we now have on the DVD is not as the show was broadcast, and that may be true. However, I didn’t find the change in music to be at all distracting or a point of contention, and I applaud the producers for taking this step so as to bring the fans what they have been clamoring for, albeit in a slightly different manner. The change in the music does not detract from the story or overall enjoyment of the set. Finally, I welcome the inclusion of the insert by the producers. To my recollection, this is not the first time that music has been changed in a TV series DVD set, but this is the first time anyone has actually come forward and acknowledged it, explained the reasons, and finally, feels as though they actually are leaving a better series for it.

Roswell - the Complete First Season
Extras
One of the bad surprises was that some of the extras that were listed in the initial announcement of the set were not actually included in the discs. I can only surmise that since FOX seems to have set a rather aggressive schedule for the release of all three seasons (current plans seem to call for all of the seasons to be released before the end of the year), they have had to move some of the extras planned for season 1 to either the season 2 or season 3 set. For instance, a gag reel which had been listed as an extra for this set is nowhere to be found. Hopefully it will see the light of day in a future season release.

For the extras that are here, they are quite good.  There are two featurettes on the making of the series. One, entitled "Area 51 – Behind the Scenes of Roswell", is named for the place in New Mexico where the aliens who purportedly crashed were taken along with their craft. Clocking in at 30 minutes, it is filled with interviews (filmed both at the time of the show’s airing and done more recently) of the creators, the stars, the writers, etc. It does a good job of showing how the show came to be, where it was filmed, etc. A very good background piece for those interested.

A second 10 minute featurette is called “Roswell High-the story behind Roswell” and is the tale behind the series of young adult books which was the genesis for the series. Interestingly, the rights to the book had been purchased and developed as a series before the first book even hit the store shelves. Melinda Metz (the author of the initial set of 10 books) relates how she basically morphed the books to reflect the show after it became so successful.

Roswell - the Complete First Season
There is one deleted scene in the entire set, a rather short scene which was cut from the pilot episode. Only 26 seconds long, it takes place immediately after the shooting in the Crashdown Café, which is the set-up for the entire series. One inclusion of an extra is a rather forgettable music video of “Save Yourself” by Sense Field. The Los Angeles based group did provide much music for the series and the actress who portrayed Liz, Shiri Appleby, does appear in the video.

Finally, there are audio commentaries on six episodes (one on each disc). These range from either the director/writer or producer of the episode (as with David Nutter and Jason Katims on the pilot, plus other creative people on other episodes), to two of the actresses in the series (Appleby and Majandra Delfino, who plays Maria, do commentary on two episodes). As one would expect, the focus of the two types of commentaries are radically different. On the pilot, Katims and Nutter speak to how the series came to be, how they specifically were brought onto the project, and how the pilot served as the model for lighting, set construction, and the overall theme and look of the series. They deconstruct certain scenes and talk about much of the technical aspects of making the series. In contrast, the commentaries of Appleby and Delfino delve more into the relationships between the actors and actresses, what was going on in the heads as they were filming the scenes, and do the requisite making fun of other actors in the series. The commentaries are both interesting and fun to listen to.

Overall
The blending of sci-fi and teen drama series is an interesting combination, and all the creative people behind Roswell pull it off well.  As these type of series go, Roswell is several notches above the usual fare. Through strong acting, solid writing, the inclusion of great music (which is as much a part of the show as the sets and the locations), the series Roswell and this DVD set are…dare I say it… out of this world.


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