DVD Review: Night Stalker - The Complete Series
Release Date: May 30, 2006
Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
· Stuart Townsend
· Gabrielle Union
by Rachel Jaffe
Published: July 18, 2006
DVD has been a boon for popular TV shows. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer can get the full run of the series. Devotees of classic shows such as I Love Lucy can have fondly remembered episodes available whenever they wish. But DVD can be even more of a boon for less popular TV shows. Night Stalker was cancelled after only six episodes were aired, but thanks to an excellent DVD treatment, fans of the show can not only revisit those episodes but see additional episodes that were never aired, and receive at least some answers to questions left dangling.
Night Stalker is based on the cult favorite movies in the 1970s about Carl Kolchak, a bumbling reporter who consistently found himself in odd situations, such as confronting vampires. (Technically speaking, Night Stalker was not a remake of the series Kolchak because ABC only had the rights to the TV movies, not the series.) Thirty years later, the character of Carl Kolchak is still a reporter, but the series looks and feels entirely different. For one thing, Kolchak is played by the studly Stuart Townsend, as opposed to the everyman Darren McGavin. Similarly, Kolchak's co-workers are more attractive, especially his most frequent collaborator, crime reporter Perri Reed (played by the gorgeous Gabrielle Union). An even more telling difference, though, is that this Kolchak has a backstory. Kolchak's wife was killed under mysterious circustances, and rather than just happening upon strange stories Kolchak is seeking them out, trying to get answers about what happened to his wife ... and what might happen to him.
The main creative force shaping this new Kolchak was Frank Spotnitz, who worked extensively on The X-Files, as well as Harsh Realm, Millenium, and Robbery Homicide Division. It's tempting to see the new Night Stalker as a redux of The X-Files, with Kolchak as Fox Mulder and Reed as Dana Scully. And yet the characters are quite distinct. The archetype that actually came more to mind for me was Superman -- Night Stalker even had a young photographer a la Jimmy Olson. And Perri Reed was every bit as spunky, intelligent, charming and tenacious as Lois Lane should be (more so than Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane in the current Superman.)
I had seen a couple of episodes of this series when it was originally broadcast. In looking at it on DVD, I am flummoxed as to why it was cancelled. In terms of storytelling, the plots are inventive, and genuinely creepy -- far scarier than the original. The design of the show is beautiful. The lighting is breathtaking; Spotnitz worked with Michael Mann on Robbery Homicide Division, and some of his techniques echo Mann's use of surrealistic tints in the movie Collateral. Most of the shooting was on location, as opposed to a set, and the genius stroke was being able to set the newsroom in high-rise building overlooking the freeway. Even the most static talking head shots are enlivened by the movement of the cars, and the night-time sequences showcase gorgeous, jewel-like lights.
This two-disc DVD set includes six episodes that were broadcast, and four episodes that were shot but never aired. These additional episodes are welcome not only for their intrinsic entertainment value, but also because one of them, "What's the Frequency, Kolchak?" provides an excellent showcase for Townsend. I considered his acting adequate but unimpressive as the tightly controlled Kolchak in the aired episodes; however, in "What's the Frequency" Townsend lets loose with a strong emotional performance which simultaneously reveals how much he'd brought to the quieter performances. (And, being a Lost fan, I also got a kick out of seeing Mira Furlan, who plays Danielle Rousseau, in the episode "Timeless.")
There are also two scripts of shows that were written but still in development. Those were interesting to read, but lacked the punch of a fully produced episode, and I wondered how much they would have changed in development. One caveat: I had a difficult time accessing the scripts on my computer, and finally had to resort to bypassing the interface on the disc and using Windows Explorer to pull up the PDF files.
Neither of the unproduced scripts addressed the "mythology" of the show -- the backstory of what happened to Kolchak's wife, the beasties that killed her and left him untouched, and what was the meaning of the mysterious mark that had appeared on her wrists and the wrists of others who died strange deaths -- and which Kolchak himself had born on his own wrist since birth. While season arcs can be a way of engaging the viewer, it makes it all the more frustrating when a show is cancelled early. This DVD set addresses that problem. There are two episodes with commentaries by Spotnitz and other producers that provide information about where plot points were going. Additionally, there is a seven-minute interview with Spotnitz providing more of his thoughts on the series. The DVD also provides three deleted scenes, but those do not provide much additional insight (two of them were deleted only because the order of the episodes was rearranged and so the scenes had to be reshot and inserted into different episodes).
It's not fair when a smart, stylish, enaging show that provides a style and sensibility not seen elsewhere on TV is cancelled. (For crying out loud, the theme music was written by Philip Glass! That should be enough to have kept the show on the air.) But an excellent DVD treatment such as this does help to ease the pain. This is a series I am going to enjoy revisiting, and one I will enjoy recomending.
The Complete Series
01. Pilot (commentary by Frank Spotnitz, Daniel Sackheim, Michelle MacLaren)
02. The Five People You Meet In Hell
04. Burning Man
06. The Source - Part 1 of 2
07. The Sea - Part 2 of 2 (commentary by Frank Spotnitz, Daniel Sackheim, and John Peter Kousakis)
08. Into Night
10. What's the Frequency, Kolchak?
- A Conversation with Frank Spotnitz (6:48)
- Deleted Scenes