Dr. Toon gives a mortality check in DVD time. What should we choose to watch, or bet yet, buy?
Okay, lets see got my Acme solar calculator right here, Im ready to rock. Now 60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day, thats, um, 1,440 minutes times 365 days per year got it, thats 525,600 minutes times hunnh an average life expectancy of roughly 76 years, so thats 39,945,600. Lets agree to call it 40 million minutes. Yep, thats it. Thats all we get. Hmm, dont we spend about a third of that time snuggled up with Mr. Sandman? All right, divide by three that comes to about 27 million sentient minutes. Of course, if youre reading this column, youve just spent another minute and youre not exactly fresh on the clock in the first place. So, my rapidly aging amigos, what exactly do you DO with all those free minutes the Great Timekeeper put on your card? Good deeds/great works? Contemplation? Sex, drugs and rock n roll? Chucking the ol pixels around on Maya 6.5? Maybe youd like to spend some of it watching cartoons. Hey, you just drained two more minutes! Quick what do you watch?
Doc, you ask, whats with this minutes riff? Fair nuff. I chose this chronological unit because it happens to be the standard measurement of time in estimating the contents of a DVD. DVD listings typically dont express time in terms of three hours, one eighth of a day, or the entire childhood and adolescence of a fruit fly. Nope. They say, 180 minutes. What I am doing here is converting your lives to DVD time. Why? To show you a) How said commodity life could be spent, and b) more importantly, how it could be misspent. When we examine things in terms of those precious minutes (there goes another one) that we actually do have, a completely new perspective is possible. Hey, stick with me; this is an important public service, and Im a journalist who truly cares.
With the advent of the DVD came, as Robin Williams put it, Phenomenal cosmic powers itty bitty living space. It became possible to put hours of material on a disc, and, more importantly, package several of them together for what amounts to eons of digital time. Thus was born the DVD boxed set. Entire seasons of animated shows are now available for viewing in any episodic order for a one-time fee. For some series, this is rather good idea.
Aficionados can relive favorite episodes and the times that went with them. Critics can study the evolution of style (both verbal and visual) within a given show. Animation collectors get another kewl artifact to pursue. Problem is, for many series on DVD, all of the above isnt exactly true. Companies put them out there anyway. This is where your good judgment and deep appreciation of those precious minutes (and your skinny wallet) comes to the fore.
Let us consider the following example. Recently a passel of Hanna-Barbera classics was released on multiple DVD sets. Many of them are classics in the sense that they are older than you are, but the quality quotient is a wee bit under par. Exhibit A One can now purchase the entire series of The Dastardly and Muttley Show (Suggested retail price: $34.98).
This set would make a deadly tool in the hands of the military. Repeated showings of this dross-filled DVD at the Guatanamo Bay detention camp would make the staunchest scion of the Taliban cough up the exact location of Osama Bin Laden. Our forces could also use the DVD as a component of Navy SEALS training. Any prospective member of that elite force who can endure three consecutive episodes without screaming, Stop That Pigeon! Please, I beg you! should be put into uniform and deployed immediately. Oh, yes, before I forget the DVDs will consume 459 minutes of your allotted days on Earth. Whats your life worth, chum?
There are examples even funnier than that, and they involve DVD sets of series that were abysmal failures. One can hear the studios and companies pleading to recoup their losses by releasing these putrid plastic pancakes. Please! they cry, Well give you the entire series of God, the Devil, and Bob for only $26.99! (Thats 338 minutes, O mortal ones). Wait! Dont go away! How about the entire manifest of Father of the Pride? Only $29.99! (In addition, 228 minutes of this fleeting existence.) Oh, hold on, this just in another Hanna-Barbera classic The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. Yep, you can own the complete series for just under 35 bucks. If youve seen one episode of this poorly animated, repetitious bushwhack youve seen everything, but you could give up 355 minutes on this vale of tears to find out for yourself.
Ehh, heh, heh! saith the Grim Reaper, Take thee this gift and move ever closer to me. The Cowled One is undoubtedly referring to Seasons One and Two of Family Guy, readily available on DVD. I am still trying to figure out how this unappealing show ever got to season two, but then, many are the mysteries of life (and the judgment of corporate networks). Filling out advance directives may be advisable if one is to drink deep of this feast as irreversible brain damage may result.
The best idea tell the Reaper of Souls that you have decided to put 1,132 minutes of your existence to better use, along with roughly $100 to help you smell the roses along the way. Another shoddy series that has managed to immortalize itself by dint of reaching a second season is Home Movies; if you wish to pay 35 bucks a pop for two crummy DVDs that will consume some 600 minutes of your precious existence, do so, but are those liver spots on your hands, old-timer?
Dont get me wrong. Some of these boxed sets have interesting stuff; they just take it too far. Sixty minutes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force is not a terrible idea. But 493 minutes spread over three sets at a cost of $90 surely is. An hour of Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse might be stretching it; 720 minutes of time on this mortal coil at a cost of 80 bucks would test the limits of Elastigirl.
Watching a few nostalgic episodes of G.I. Joe is no crime, but Season One Part One (!) of this bellicose series will set you back 60 smackers (and, of course, 705 minutes on your march to the afterlife). Your young daughter might put aside her Bratz dolls for an episode or two of Jem, but exposing those tender young neurons to 645 minutes of this fatuous foolishness will do more damage than dunking the little dearie into a sensory deprivation tank for an equal amount of time. It will also nick her (or, most likely, your) piggy bank for six 10-spots.
But wait all these series are just warm-ups. The heavy hitters and master thieves of time await us still. Let us swallow hard, steel ourselves against our darkest fears, and face The Best of the New Scooby-Doo Movies. Had Wes Craven, David Cronenberg and George Romero collaborated on a project, it could not possibly have matched the contents of these DVDs for sheer horror. This collection is a morbid monument representing the ultimate confluence of expired minutes, wasted cash and lamentable product. For those who recall their traumas with clarity, the series ran from 1972-74. Yes, this was the show teaming the Scooby Gang with a real (or fictional) celebrity.
Mysteries abounded, none greater than how this series made it to TV in the first place. Don Knotts, Jonathan Winters, Phyllis Diller, Don Adams, the Harlem Globetrotters, Tim Conway and Davy Jones had their caricatures embarrassed by bad scripts, humorless dialogue and substandard animation (as did Laurel and Hardy; they were spared the sight of their indignity as their minutes had long since expired). There were 24 episodes in all, and I defy anyone to identify an episode of any interest whatsoever.
My personal candidate for a bath in Judge Dooms dip would be The Phantom of the Country Music Hall, which features Jerry Reed performing the same 12 bars of the same twangy song, ad nauseum. Pick your own fave The New Scooby-Doo Movies can be yours for a mere $5 and 660 minutes off the inflexible Clock of Mortality. Tick, tick, tick.
The most monumental of the boxed sets are not American in origin. In Japan, successful anime can spawn lengthy series, countless movie sequels and perfect collections. The boxed sets can reach warehouse proportions. In fact, one may need several sets in order to make ones viewing experience complete. Not that this is inherently a bad thing; there are undoubtedly some shows that are worth the time and money, since long-running anime series tend to carry cohesive narratives over time. Five seasons of Ranma ½, as an example, sustain more complex continuity than five seasons of The Flintstones. Still, there are enormous time and money pits that await the unwary. Case in point Dragon Ball Z.
I have to admit it. I dont get this show. Not one bit. A knowledgeable friend once informed me that Dragon Ball Z is a variant on the legendary tale of Monkey, written between 1350-80 by Wu Chêng-ên. I have read several translations of this timeless story. Monkey may well provide the underpinnings for Dragon Ball Z, perhaps in the way that Achilles provided the underpinnings for Brad Pitt in Troy. I have not seen one stand-alone episode of this series that makes a lick of sense, and tuning in to two or three consecutive episodes simply deepens the confusion. Its difficult to find the maturity here that is present in most anime, and I assume that Dragon Ball Z exists for the younger set. They are indeed welcome to it.
I recall one random episode where a Good and an Evil character squared off to fight; they spent what seemed like ten solid minutes staring at each other, their eyes narrow slits of hate. Both of them gritted their teeth and exhaled loudly through countless alternating headshots while X-shaped veins throbbed on their foreheads. I figured that I had either stumbled upon a defining moment in the series or homage to the Worldwide Wrestling Federation. I dont know if they actually fought at all, since I channel-surfed elsewhere looking for better stuff.
At any rate, these bizarre little characters, their eternal wanderings and their many scraps now exist on no less than 19 multiple DVD sets. It took some time, but I managed to estimate that one could purchase them all at a total suggested retail price of $990. You simultaneously purchase a remittance of 5,800 minutes from your one and only lifetime. That should put pulsing, X-shaped veins on anyones forehead.
I dont know how long the juvenile series Yu-Gi-Oh! will endure, but its off to a great start. At least I understand this show; it has something to do with supernatural forces that exist on supernatural trading cards that, um well, this boy with a hairdo resembling an enormous artichoke, he, uh anyhow, the first collection is now available for $119. Bonus features include the subtraction of 1,100 minutes from the only inhaling and exhaling you will ever do.
I am, and always will be at a loss to understand why supersized portions of such shows line the shelves. I have wondered whether this practice may represent some unconscious resonance with the junk food industry that is blowing us up into obese caricatures of ourselves. Why not release one DVD of Ms. Pitstops less-than-thrilling adventures and see how they sell first, or let some novice sample a few episodes of Wacky Races and then decide on purchasing future episodes rather than putting the whole sordid timewaster into one costly package.
This would help to cull the losers from the winners and bring the best collections to the fore. Certainly, even the most wretched animated programs have their cult following (and boy, are they going to let me have it!), but when the single DVD doesnt sell, they too shall pass. The people and the market should ultimately decide what truly classic series goes into multiple-DVD sets. After all, life is short and every minute precious. Tick.
Martin Dr. Toon Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.