Review By Paul Mount, 3.5 out of 5

“Sometimes it seems like it happened to someone else. Like maybe it was a story I heard?The hardest part is not knowing?f any of them made it. If I knew for sure I was the only one left, it would be worse. The truth is they’d be like me?iving on the run, always lookinging over your shoulder.”

It’s so difficult to second-guess what’s likely to capture the zeitgeist. Who would ever have dreamed, for example, that a mid-season replacement horror series inspired by a flop feature film from 5 years earlier would turn into a worldwide pop culture phenomenon, redefining genre television and setting new benchmarks of quality for the entire industry? But that’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER for you. Who would realistically bet against James “King of the World”Cameron’s first TV series, DARK ANGEL doing much the same thing? Who then, for that matter, could have predicted the absolute viewer indifference which met the show (after impressive ratings for the pilot) and cancellation at the end of season two? Oblivion notwithstanding, Fox have decided to give DARK ANGEL the lavish boxset treatment usually reserved for its big hitters. And why not? DARK ANGEL may now be just a footnote in the history of genre TV but it’s a damned good one and if you can track it down (either here or on its Channel Five screenings in the UK) you’ll find it a lot more satisfying that many of the thrown-together BUFFY/X FILES rip-off shows which still come and go year after year.

In the year 2009, a bunch of genetically-engineered children break out of a top secret research complex in the snowy wastes of Gillette, Wyoming. Security forces capture most of them but twelve escape. Fast-forward to 2020 and one of these escapees has grown into Max (Jessica Alba), a mean’n’moody brooding superbabe struggling to stay alive in a future Seattle after the US economy has been devastated by a lethal electromagnetic pulse detonated by terrorists. In the powerful pilot episode Max meets up with Logan (Michael Weatherly), an idealistic underground cyberjournalist campaigning against Government corruption and, with Max’s help, the Manticore project which spawned her and the other would-be supersoldiers. When Logan is crippled Max becomes his arms and legs, his eyes and ears in the fight against the oppressive Government whilst pursuing her own agenda of finding her own roots and the rest of her kind.

DARK ANGEL is funky, kick-ass stuff. Max is very much Buffy with added attitude; there’s a hint of danger about her which Buffy, for all her stakes and high-kicks, can’t quite muster. But then these are very different shows, despite any passing similarities. BUFFY, despite its sometimes surprisingly adult themes, is generally a lighter show. DARK ANGEL is dark and uncompromising, depicting a grimy, almost cyberpunk world where technology looks as if it’s constantly at the edge of collapse, ready to plunge Mankind (or at least America) back into the Dark Ages. Max exudes a brooding sexuality which fresh-faced Buffy is often blissfully unaware of and Max isn’t afraid to use herohemomple charms to get what she wants. And what she wants, as the series progresses, is some answers. She quickly tracks down her birth-mother and finally makes contact with one of her own kind. As the series progresses the stories get a little darker and Max becomes a little more desperate. Eventually she has little option but to infiltrate Operation Manticore itself and comes face-to-face with her creatorsond her would-be destroyers.

It’s hard to fathom out why DARK ANGEL didn’t catch on. In theory it’s all here; an attractive hero, out-there production values, slick scripts and lots of whiz-bang action. But Max is maybe a bit too cold to be likeable, a bit too self-absorbed and detached to become a role model or even a sex symbol. Perhaps DARK ANGEL’s dislocated future is just too much to take, particularly in these troubled times. Whatever the reason for its ultimate failure, it really is worth your time here on the digital format. The series picks up a nice momentum as it rolls along and its cliffhanger ending will leave you crying out for more. Not long to wait; Season two arrives on DVD/VHS in April.

THE DISCS: Spread across six discs, these episodes look beautiful, pristine quality prints bursting with vibrant colours when required and handling darker, gloomier sequences with little or no grain. Extras disappoint, though. Disc six boasts a few dull interviews clearly filmed on the set of the pilot where the actors and the producers excitedly tell the audience what the show is all about and who’s in it. Er?uys, we’ve just watched 22 episodes, we know all this! DARK ANGEL may have met a premature end on TV (ironically canned to make way for Joss Whedon’s spaceship show FIREFLY which has itself now been snuffed out) but here’s hoping that the boxset of Season Two is a bit more generous with the extras.


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