Miami Vice (The Complete Series) – Blu-Ray/DVD Review
Miami Vice is the most influential show of the 1980’s. Creator Anthony Yerkovich and Producer Michael Mann created a TV series off of a simple memo that read “MTV Cops”. Yerkovich and Mann took this simple two word premise and changed TV Landscape forever.
Until that fateful Friday Night in 1984 there were was a distinct separation between TV and Movies. They never commingled. Movies were visually astute, told stories that TV wouldn’t touch, bad guys would win, good guys could be dirty. TV was visually static, vanilla stories, bad guys would always loose, good guys would always be sterling paradigms. TV had a plastic sheen to it. Teflon, nothing stuck. Nothing changed. Bad guys died. Good guys won.
This changed with Miami Vice.
Michael Mann who wrote, and directed the pilot was a culmination of years as a journalist, years of meticulous screenwriter and directing a few films. It would be TV that would give Mann his shot a credibility. Until that point, Mann was another working director with a few critical accolades on his side. He was not the titan of cinema he would eventually become in the 90’s. What are troupes and cliches now, are story conventions that Miami Vice and Michael Mann showcased.
Over the course of the five seasons James “Sonny” Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Phillip Michael Thomas) would fight the never-ending “war on drugs”. Crockett and Tubbs were different than unwavering heroes of police procedurals like Hawaii Five-O or SWAT or Starsky & Hutch or CHiPs. They felt the collateral damage, their jobs took a toll on them and by default they were more human faults and all. Wins are always bittersweet, knowing full well nothing has changed.
Without the sort of honesty that Miami Vice was told with, we do not see the progression of the procedurals. It does not lead into the 90’s grit and grime of NYPD Blue or Homicide: Life on the Streets. Many want to think of the stylized “flash and bang” Art Deco aesthetic of Miami Vice, not considering the show within that candy coated visual style had more on its mind. Mann understood the visual style was a pleasing delivery system for the harsher story beats played out over the course of the five seasons. The “spoon full of sugar to make the medicine go down” is fully applicable to the show, though Mann, made sure it was a few spoon’s full of sugar to chase down some of the more tricky plots played out.
Where many series became progressively silly and inane Miami Vice went the complete opposite direction. The series’ first season and half was filled with moments of broad, almost slapstick humor. Much of that humor derived from the CIs (confidential informants) who play things like they were the second coming of Huggy Bear. Thankfully as season 2 progressed and moved away from that broad tone. By the end of Season 2 the show had taken an almost nihilistic tone as it seemed as though Crockett, Tubbs and the vice squad team were continually confronted by corruption, political abuse of power, nothing was left on the table through the 112 episodes. Though by season five much of the original series team was gone and replaced by the man who would go on to create the Law & Order franchise.
Much can be said about the cast and guest stars who range from musicians turned actors Glenn Fry, Sheena Easton to B-Movie stars Pam Grier, Terry O’Quinn, John Turturro to future super stars like Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts and Liam Neeson. One of the joys of watching the show thirty years later is the surprise of seeing someone not yet famous.
At the show’s core is the relationship between Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas. Both men like the show never faltered in their performances always seeming like friends, partners, co-works and ultimately family. One of the shows pleasures is watching how slowly these men come to rely on one another as the show goes to some dark territory. To this day it is baffling that both Johnson and Thomas never rose higher than TV grandstands as they exhibit the kind of gravitas and star power that would have dovetailed perfectly into features. Johnson at least in recent years has had a career resurgence thanks in large part to filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Jim Mickle. One can hope that someone will find a role for Thomas as he was just as good as Johnson. B-Movie Geeks will go crazy for the original Adama performance by Edward James Olmos as Captain Martin Castillo. Olmos brings his cool collected demeanor to Captain Castillo. Olmos was so good as Castillo the man won the Emmy for best supporting actor two years in a row! Anyone that has even a partial love of the actor should see Miami Vice for his work alone.
The transfers on the discs are stellar keeping the 1.33:1 aspect ratio the show was shot in. Mann and Yerkovich were involved with the transfers initially when they came to DVD, and it appears that these are the same transfers though they’ve been remastered for 2016. They look gorgeous. The show was one of the few shows filmed and finished on 35mm and it shows in the way that the transfers look. Miami Vice will never look better than it does now.
Better than the transfer is the audio. The remixing to 5.1 is beautiful. The sound field created in this new mix is shockingly open for a show created some thirty plus years ago. After some research on my part I found that Miami Vice was the first to be finished in Stereo. Mann always pushing technology and its boundaries had fought for the stereo mix during production. Though during its broadcast the mix wasn’t available for another season. That stereo mix is also included.
The set comes with no special features, it’s just the series.
HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS, get in your’84 Testarossa or Speed Boat to purchase as quickly as possible.
NOTE: there was audio issues on a few episodes with the early releases of the Blu-Ray box set, this has been corrected. The DVD release was not affected. If you find you have a faulty discs (they’re Season 1 disc 1 and 4) you can email firstname.lastname@example.org