As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Mill Creek Entertainment has picked up the license to the 1983 Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, one of my favorite mainstays from Saturday Mornings as a kid. The series was originally released by BCI Eclipse back in January of 2007, but has since gone out of print due to Navarre shuttering the BCI Ink & Paint imprint. I was a huge fan of that original set as it was one of the first bright examples of an 80s cartoon property handled with love and care, and one that wouldn’t make a permanent dent in your pocketbook. As much as I hate seeing all the BCI titles starting to drop off into OOP obscurity, I was really glad to hear that Mill Creek was picking up some of the pieces.
That being said, I was a little skeptical of what this would mean for the series being kept alive on DVD. Mill Creek is most known for distributing public domain material in via large box sets like those 50 movie packs (featuring horror and westerns to name a couple) as well as the 150 packs of old public domain cartoons. The quality of these public domain titles ranges from medium to poor for the most part and the sets are geared more towards introducing one to obscure nostalgic fare than being a source for nice copies of these movies and cartoons. From time to time Mill Creek will also take on a licensed property like their releases of the Teddy Ruxpin series. I picked up one of the TR sets in a dump bin for about $5 and that’s pretty much all it was worth. The video and audio quality of the show left a lot to be desired, but the price was right and honestly that’s what Mill Creek is all about. So how would the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon fare?
Well, I just received an advance copy of the Complete series set, which will hit store shelves on August 25th, and should be retailing for between $13 to $24 depending on where you find it. They’re also releasing an entry level disc which features only the first nine episodes of the cartoon in tandem which should retail for around $10. After cracking open the set I was both pleasantly surprised and a little bit let down with some quality issues that should have been expected…
First off, the bad. The main issue I have with this set is the packaging. It’s cheap, really cheap and it’s sort of a shame. I guess I was spoiled by the nice embossed sturdy box that the BCI release came in, the beautiful fold out digi-pak that housed the discs, and the included episode guide. Compared to that the Mill Creek release is about as bare bones as you can get…
This set features all 27 episodes spread over 3 single sided discs which are housed in black paper sleeves that sort of snap into the plastic case. Granted it keeps the DVDs sturdy enough, but I can imagine over time these paper sleeves are going to get worn and torn up. Besides this, it’s just an annoying to have to pull out the sleeves like this and fish out the disc. DVD packaging companies are doing wondrous things with minimal packaging these days, and a case like the ones used for the Family Ties releases (that has spindles on either side of the inner case and a flap with a DVD spindle in the middle) would have been a vast improvement at very little increase in cost…
As for the DVDs themselves, they’re not bad. First off, all of the special features from the BCI edition have been stripped. There is nothing extra on this set, it’s just the episodes. Like I mentioned above, there are a total of 27 episodes, 9 to a disc, and the DVDs default into the episode selection screen for each disc…
The most surprising aspect of this set is how well the quality of the actual video and audio held up. The BCI discs had up to 7 episodes per disc, so there wasn’t a ton of added compression to fit a couple more on, especially considering that all the fancy frills were discarded. To my eyes, the quality is almost a direct transfer. As far as the audio goes, it’s a little bit quieter on the Mill Creek DVDs, with the background music suffering the most, but it’s certainly not to a level that it’s ever distracting. With the video, the Mill Creek version isn’t quite as rich, but the difference is really subtle. Here are some screen to screen comparisons. The Mill Creek version is on the left, and the BCI on the right…
Mill Creek BCI
Mill Creek BCI
All in all, if you’re more interested in just getting a decente copy of all the episodes, I’d highly suggest picking up a copy of the new Mill Creek set. It’s a little shoddy on the packaging side, but for $13 on Amazon right now it’s one hell of a deal. If you’re more concerned with a nicer presentation and a great set of special features, than I suggest picking up one of the remaining BCI sets before they fall into seriously over-priced out of print obscurity. Amazon still has copies available for around $40.
As far as the cartoon itself, I still love it as much as ever and I’m glad to see it staying in print for a new generation. If you’re interested, you can find my original review of the BCI set, as well as my expanded look at the first 13 episodes from my Cartoon Commentary! column by following these links:
Dungeons and Dragons Overview