Life on Mars: The Complete Collection
by Jef Burnham
Available July 6, 2010 in an 8-disc DVD box set from Acorn Media.
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John Simm (Doctor Who, State of Play) stars in this brilliant UK series as Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler of the Greater Manchester Police, who is hit by a car in 2006 and wakes up in 1973, assigned to work as a DI in the very same police station. Unsure whether he’s “mad, in a coma, or back in time,” Sam must uncover the truth of his predicament, while attempting to live his new life in 1973. But can he reconcile his modern policing methods with the rough-and-tumble Sweeney-style policing of DCI Gene Hunt’s (Philip Glenister, State of Play) Criminal Investigation Department (CID)? This is the setup for one of the most unique and thrilling police dramas you’ll ever encounter.
In truth, Life on Mars is as episodic as any other police procedural in that the majority of each episode is dedicated to following the CID’s line of inquiry into a particular case, which is invariably wrapped-up by the episode’s conclusion. But more so than perhaps any other such episodic series, it feels absolutely necessary to watch each and every episode of Life on Mars without fail. The two main reasons for this are: 1.) Each episode promises additional clues building toward the solution of Sam’s mysterious presence in 1973, and but a taste of the answer is enough to propel you through the series at breakneck speed. 2.) The series’ five principle characters are perfectly developed and endlessly engaging. They are complicated, diverse personalities who evolve naturally not only as individuals throughout the series, but in relation to one another. Moreover, the talent behind them is immense. Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt is a powerhouse— all whiskey and fists— while the internality in John Simm’s portrayal of Sam is beautiful and palpable. And the chemistry between these two is not only the backbone of the series, but it makes for one of the most dynamic buddy-cop relationships in television history.
Life on Mars is absolutely indispensable television. And the box set from Acorn includes loads of special features, which are hardly necessary given that the series would be a must-own with no features whatsoever. However, the hours of special features do provide us with a more complete context in which the series may be viewed, both in terms of the series’ production and British history (including the country’s social and cinematic history that inspired it). And the interviews with cast and crew both on set and in post-production give us a solid of where the characters came from and how the show was viewed internally. Acorn has put together a marvelous set here.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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