I had no idea about this series before I received the screener offer and to be honest I was drawn to it because it was produced by Universal TV and Amblin Entertainment who you will no doubt recognise as Steven Spielberg's production company, also the concept sounded interesting, and I'm a sucker for a good science fiction series.
The television series was first released in America in November 1994 and was shown in Australia, UK, Germany, Finland, France, Sweden, Italy, Portugal, Malaysia, Switzerland and Hungary, however it’s taken all this time to receive a DVD release.
It is quite surprising that the twenty one episode series did so well and made it to all those countries without receiving a further release before now, especially as the details I have say that it received a lot of critical and fan praise.
The series is set in the future as Earth is a planet laid barren by the human race who are now living on space stations orbiting the planet. Those who have been born on the space stations are starting to show signs of a debilitating disease and the son of the extremely rich Devon Adair is suffering terribly from the disease so she sets her fortune to one task, leading her son and a group of colonists, many who have children who are also suffering from the disease, on a journey across the universe to a planet that has been discovered to be almost identical to Earth.
The authorities are far from keen to let them go and attempt to stop them but the group head out into open space and begin their long journey.
Adair leads a small team ahead of the colonists who are set to land in the pre-designated area along with plenty of equipment to ready the area for colonisation and ensure the arriving colonists have somewhere to begin living in almost immediately.
However things have been going wrong from the moment they were set to leave and as the advance team enter the planet's atmosphere there's a problem aboard the ship and the crew and the equipment board escape pods and scatter across the planet, far from the expected landing zone.
From the opening moments they have to fight to survive, struggling to understand the creatures that inhabit the planet and the strange mysteries it holds for them.
I know it says film to the left but I do need to make it clear that Earth 2 is a full television series and that means there are five discs in the Earth 2 package covering twenty-two episodes each running for approximately forty-five minutes in length, and that's a fair bit of content. Add in deleted and extended scenes and some outtakes and you're looking at a lot of series to get through, but it's not a struggle I can tell you that.
There are a number of things that make Earth 2 work so well, the first is that despite the big scope it never allows the episode's story or what's on screen to become too grandiose. In that way it's in the tradition of many of the great science fiction series that have managed to gain wider appeal than that of a hardcore science fiction audience, series like the Star Treks, Babylon 5, and so on. The key to this is that the stories are about the people at the centre of the series, developing them as the episodes roll on and devoting time to their relationships, all of which are really about us, real people.
Another aspect of Earth 2 that works so well are the characters themselves, they're a diverse bunch that cover all the standard types of characters you would expect but with a little more. Some of them have surprising twists that seem a little edgier and riskier than others you might have seen. While it's not leaping towards something like Babylon 5 where the writing is much deeper and more political, it's a decent stance between the episodic good-bad-good story arcs of early Star Trek and the series wide epic story lines of others.
Looking at the credits for the writers and directors who have worked on the series it's not a surprise that there is this stronger focus on the story and the characters, for they all carry a strong television pedigree working on some notable shows and some recognisable films as well. There's certainly a decent amount of talent that's been pushed towards the series.
Of course the thing about Earth 2 that the studio no doubt liked so much is the fact that the story allows them to film just about anywhere because the planet is, after all, identical to Earth. The costs are kept low because of this and the minimal need for effects. However it's great to see that the production hasn't fallen short when it has come to effects, and while some of the early space CG looks a little dated the strength is in the practical effects of the two races of creatures we see on the planet and they seem more Henson than B-movie allowing you to believe in them that little bit more.
Saying all this though I have to point out some of the negatives, the main one being that the production values are low and the show does look a little dated. As much as I can praise it for being clever with the idea of Earth 2 and keeping the stories focussed on a smaller more personal scale it also means you can see that the budget is low especially against some of the newer science fiction series. Saying that though there are many newer shows that have better visuals but much less quality in the writing and characters.
There are some cheesy moments ranging from the standard character post advert catch-up speeches to cheddar infused lines and stilton-esque delivery, but saying that there are some recognisable faces and some good performances from names such as Clancy Brown, Rebecca Gayheart, Debrah Farentino, Jessica Steen, Terry O'Quinn and Tim Curry.
While the overall story is strong and the self-contained episodic stories can be good, in the final three or four episodes it does feel a little disjointed and the story does take rather a few leaps. It feels as though it is racing to a conclusion, one that would satisfy both an end of series and end of show. Still it does find an interesting solution that leaves you wanting more, leaving the show story arc incomplete but a good end to the series.
The picture, as with the audio, hasn't undergone any digital work for the release on DVD. The aspect ratio is clearly for television and the picture reflects this and the age, still the transfer is good.
Dolby Digital Stereo
As I said for the picture there's been no work done to increase the audio track to at least 5.1, however this is just to be expected as this was never going to get a huge release on DVD. The stereo audio track is just fine considering when the show was made and that it was made for television.
Deleted & Extended Scenes - 8 scenes from 5 episodes; Outtakes
Deleted & Extended Scenes
The deleted and extended scenes aren't anything hugely exciting but they do give a little bit more to some scenes, the question is do you remember where they were once you get through to them, after all you've probably watched all the episodes at this point.
There are a few funny moments here, and it feels rather nice to share some off the cuff moments with a cast you've been following through the series.
Earth 2 is an enjoyable series that while it does show its age in places the story still holds up well and for fans of science fiction and more imaginative series will easily find a place in their collection.
It's not just for science fiction fans though as there's more here than that. Amongst the self-contained stories there is a strong series story arc that builds throughout and the series develops the characters well, holding back some revelations as well as changing them during the series.
The writing is the key to how surprisingly good the series is and the promise of the story arc that unfortunately doesn't get to develop through a second series, however what we do get is a strong first series that holds well up against other similar series and to this day.
Unfortunately the DVD release is rather lacking and considering it isn’t even twenty years old I would have expected to see more on the extras of the DVD. I can understand why the picture and audio haven’t had a lot of investment, but there are the original stars of the series, the writers and directors, and the producers, never mind the fans.