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  • American Gladiators (The Original Series) — The Battle Begins

    Posted in: Disc Reviews by David Annandale on August 5th, 2009

    (out of 5)

    I, of all people, should know that one person’s cultural detritus is another’s fond nostalgia, and what better example of that can there be than this release. A strange mix of athletic contest, pro-wrestling posturing and silly gimmick game show, this series (which has recently been reborn) pitted hard-bodied contestants against the even-more-hard-bodied (at least in appearance) Gladiators of the title. Some contests involve knocking each off a beam, or dodging tennis balls fired from a gun while trying to get in a shot of one’s own. Or then there’s swinging in on a rope in the attempt to knock the Gladiator off a pedestal. It’s all pretty silly, made even more so by the straight-faced colour commentary. If the intent was to satirize sports broadcast generally, then this is quite brilliantly funny, at least at first, but the joke can’t sustain itself over multiple seasons. Basically, it is what it is. If you enjoyed the show when it first ran, then perhaps you’ll enjoy it again (but is there anything less intended for multiple viewings than a game show?). If you are unfamiliar with the concept, probably best to stay that way. For the benefit of the completists out there, it should be noted that this set begins halfway through Season 1.


    Not exactly a feast for the eyes, but that isn’t the fault of the transfer. It is true to the broadcast quality of the original. So there is some grain, and there’s the cheap look of the shot-on-video, circa 1989. The colours are strong, however, and the transfer hasn’t added any new flaws. It does the best with what it has.


    The sound is the original mono, and more of the show’s budgetary limitations are apparent here. It’s a mono that manages to be both thin and harsh at the same time, and is one of the primary ways in which the show has dated. Especially played on today’s equipment, the show sounds cheap, in a way that much older television productions don’t (perhaps because movies of the same vintage as this show sound so much better).

    Commentary tracks: Three Gladiators (Dan “Nitro” Clark, Raye “Zap” Hollitt and Jim “Laser” Starr) reunite to comment on the First Half Highlight Show, Round 1 of the Preliminaries, Round 4 of the Quarterfinals, and the Finals. There are so many releases out there that don’t have commentary tracks and should, and while I won’t say that none is wanted here, there are limits to how much useful behind-the-scenes information the cast can provide. Therefore, we get to hear a lot of catching up and reports about what the family is up to. They are a very jovial bunch, however.

    Special Features

    Booklets: Featuring biographies of the main Gladiators.

    Gladiator Days: (9:52) Contestant and writer/actor Billy Wirth looks back at his stint on the show. He has fond memories of the time, and the piece provides a look at who the people were who were going up against the Gladiators.

    Final Thoughts

    About as 80s as you can get, for better or worse. For the converted only.

    Posted In: 1.33:1 Fullscreen, Box Set, Disc Reviews, DVD, English Mono, Shout Factory, Sports, Television

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