Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: The Dresden Files

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, February 7, 2010

Putting “Wizard” on your door is like putting up a sign that says “Lunatics Welcome”.

Special features

Commentary Track7
Deleted Scenes3
Making Of5

A fun TV show about a wizard named Harry who carries a sports stick with him at all times?

RecommendationPossible Purchase
Movie Rating6
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating6
Formats
  • Enhanced Widescreen
Sorcerous formula

A little light reading for Bob of Bainbridge.

I had heard of The Dresden Files when it came out, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. Mainly because I don’t get cable, but also because I had no desire to learn any more about the bombing of Dresden than I already know. In fact, the television series had nothing to do with Dresden, Germany, or World War II. It’s a noir detective wizard series set in Chicago in modern times.

The show only lasted one season, which is unfortunate. It was a good series, and had a lot of room for growth. It was sort of a cross between The Night Stalker and The Rockford Files. I enjoyed both of those series, so it isn’t surprising that I really enjoyed watching the Dresden Files on DVD over the last few weeks.

The strangest part watching it, and seeing those references, was the age difference. When I watched these shows in the seventies, the starring roles were all “really old people”. Carl Kolchack was fifty. Jim Rockford was forty-six! Today, I’m older—Jim Rockford would be my contemporary, and Kolchak not too far off; and starring roles tend to go to younger actors than they did then. So these hard-boiled detectives and police officers seem to be wet-behind-the-ears rookies at first. But they’re not: both Paul Blackthorne (Harry Dresden) and Valerie Cruz (Lieutenant Connie Murphy) were in their thirties.

Hard Boiled Detective

Lieutenant Murphy, Harry’s contact and friend in the Chicago Police Department.

There’s a strong sense of “monster-of-the-week” here; each episode brings in a new bit of supernatural lore. That probably would have changed if they’d gotten a second season, but it works fine. In fact, while I would have loved to see another season or two, the Dresden Files series ended well. With the exception of the crammed-together off-kilter semi-pilot, the show presented a nice arc, electrical and otherwise, between Harry Dresden and Lieutenant Murphy.

One really nice thing about the show is the near-lack of an opening title sequence. Rather than waste the minute or more that over shows do, they did a couple of quick anchoring shots of Chicago and went right back into the story.

I also can’t help but think of role-playing games watching this show. Partly that’s because I was turned on to it by some gamers I know, but also because the series just screams for a role-playing game. To go completely geeky, the “Things that go bump in the night” episode shows Dresden’s Chaotic Good up against Ancient Mai’s Ordered Good.

Storm Front is the oddest episode. When I got to that episode, it seemed out of place; Harry did a lot more overt wizard stuff; he was tossing furniture around, blasting people magically, and shooting blue flames like a superhero. Turns out that episode is cut from the pilot, which was never aired. The concept went through more changes after the pilot was shot. So as not to waste the footage, they took the two-hour Storm Front pilot and recut it to a one-hour episode, with one or two new scenes and voice work to fit the newer concept. It’s a good episode, it’s just a little odd comparatively.

Harry Dresden Met Sally

“When Harry Met Sally” this ain’t.

The special features are all on discs 1 and 3. There’s a nice little making-of on disc 3. It’s nothing special, but it is interesting to watch once. As I watch more and more DVD special features, I’ve come to really enjoy well-made audio commentaries. This set contains two, one on the Rules of Engagement episode on the first disc, and one on the “bottle show”, Things That Go Bump, on the third disc. They’re well-made, with the commentators watching the show while they talk and talking about what went into the scenes and why they did things one way and not another.

One funny bit from the commentaries and making-of is that Harry and Bob’s accents shift. Paul Blackthorne, who plays Harry the Chicago Wizard, is from Shropshire, England. Terence Mann, who places Bob the Bainbridge Ghost, is from Kentucky.

There are also deleted scenes on disc 1, from Rules of Engagement and Hair of the Dog. The former, while funny, trivializes Bob’s situation too much, and the latter gives away too much that neither Harry nor Murphy knows.

I can (and do) strongly recommend the DVD of the series even though it “never ends”; in fact, it does end. If it were a movie, it couldn’t have ended better. It’s nothing like, say, Firefly, which just left us hanging. Murphy’s last line, in a season finale devoted to her, is a perfect last line for the season and series.

Recommendation: Possible Purchase

ActorsPaul Blackthorne, Valerie Cruz, Terence Mann
Length8 hours, 50 minutes
Spoken languageEnglish
SubtitleEnglish (CC)
Special FeaturesCommentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Making Of
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