Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Warner, fullscreen, languages: English PCM Stereo [CC], subtitles: none, single side-single layer, 14 chapters, rated NR, 67 min., $24.99, street date 11/9/99.
The Video Collection 93:99
1. 1993 > Bad Girl
Despite the many negative thoughts aimed her way over the years, Madonna isn't going anywhere. No, I didn't predict fifteen years ago that she'd still be knocking out hits at the turn of the century, but that's what happened, and I'm certainly not going to complain; after a brief period of resistance, I gave in to the power of Maddy many years ago.
You know someone's been churning out singles for quite some time when they actually merit a second retrospective collection. Madonna's first batch of videos appeared at the end of 1990 in the form of The Immaculate Collection, a program that gathered twelve of her biggest hits from 1983 to 1990. (There are actually thirteen clips on the video; "Vogue" appears twice.)
It's likely that when most people think of Madonna, it's the Madonna on display in The Immaculate Collection that comes to mind. From "Like a Virgin" and "Material Girl" to "Papa Don't Preach" and "Like A Prayer" and "Vogue", these are unquestionably her most successful songs, the ones that - like it or not - will be with her forever.
The new collection of videos - The Video Collection 93:99 - shows Madonna at a continued high level of success, but not at the peak she maintained during the Eighties. These songs were hits but lack the immediately recognizable and universal qualities of the tracks found on The Immaculate Collection.
That doesn't mean that Maddy-philes such as myself aren't darned excited to have them collected together, though. Actually, I'm more interested in this set just because these clips weren't as ubiquitous as those found on the 1990 package. I'd actually never seen a number of them, partly because these songs weren't as successful but also due to the fact it's often hard to actually find music videos on TV these days. You turn on MTV and it's always extreme sports ("Like, I'm gonna skateboard into a wall, and then I'll bleed! It'll rock!!") and The Real World. VH1's better but they seem dominated by specials like Behind the Music so videos aren't terribly accessible there, either.
Anyway, I'm just happy I can check these clips out, all unedited and with high quality picture and sound. Although these are less well-known videos, they're uniformly very good, all boasting the strong production values and high level of effort one would expect from Madonna. Of course, some of the clips are more compelling than others. In general, I preferred the videos from 1998's Ray of Light to the older productions. There's not a whole lot that clearly differentiates the different eras - most of the videos stick to a general formula of Madonna lip-synching the songs in different settings, most of which are distinctive just because of backgrounds and lighting - but for some reason this method seems to fit the newer songs best.
Madonna attempts a vague storyline for a few of the videos. "Bad Girl" and "Take A Bow" both feature an apparent narrative. As is usually the case with music videos, the storyline is pretty slight and ill-defined, but the clips are good nonetheless. I rather liked "Bad Girl" but found the proto-Evita stylings of "Take A Bow" to be less compelling.
"Human Nature" (from 1994's Bedtime Stories) is probably the most provocative video just because it's the most provocative song. In it, Madonna confronts the critics who dogged her after the Sex debacle of 1992, and she does so effectively as she points out the hypocrisy and inconsistency of most of her detractors. It's a fun video, as Madonna and her dancers clad themselves in leather bondage outfits so she can essentially tell people to screw themselves. (Gotta love the S&M chihuahua!)
"Bedtime Story" (from the album of almost the same name) presents easily the trippiest video of the bunch, though the freaky time-lapse videography of "Ray of Light" also makes it a contender. Still, "Bedtime Story" takes a very loose song and makes it into something of a bad acid experience; I may have nightmares about the image of Madonna with her eyes and mouth stuck in the wrong places! Definitely an interesting clip, though.
Aside from "Human Nature", probably the most fun clip on this DVD is "Beautiful Stranger," a song from the soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. This clip features Mike Myers as Austin himself and happily includes no actual film segments; all of the Austin material was shot especially for the video. It's not the most creative clip I've seen - most of it consists of Madonna dancing on stage and lip-synching as Austin watches her and fantasizes - but it's still pretty entertaining. Note that the same video appears on the AP:TSWSM DVD, but the quality is higher here; the audio definitely sounds better on this DVD.
My greatest problem with this collection is not in the quality of the videos it includes - they're mainly very good - but in what it omits. When one examines the work Madonna's done since the release of The Immaculate Collection at the end of 1990, there's a few videos that are mysteriously missing. "Deeper and Deeper" from 1992's Erotica, plus "You'll See" and "I Want You" from 1996's ballad compilation Something to Remember - these clips are absent for no apparent reason; there definitely is enough space for them on DVD or videotape.
Possibly more easily explained - but still annoying and disappointing - is the absence of some other videos. "This Used to Be My Playground" and "I'll Remember" both came from films (1992's A League of Their Own and 1994's With Honors, respectively) and my guess would be that the videos included significant amounts of movie footage which then may have made rights questions more difficult.
Two of Madonna's most notorious videos do not appear here, and I believe it's their raciness that kept them off the collection. 1990's "Justify My Love" and 1992's "Erotica" didn't make the cut. I wasn't surprised at the absence of "JML", especially since I think you can still buy it on an individual videotape (don't want to cut into that revenue!) but the lack of "Erotica" is more bothersome, especially since I believe this collection originally was supposed to include it. When first announced, this package was titled as The Video Collection 92:99, and it's the lack of "Erotica" that prompted the name change. (Of course, the three songs from the Erotica album that appear here came out in 1992, but obviously they're going by the video release dates.) It appears that Warner Home Video dropped "Erotica" to avoid a parental warning label. Why? Who cares? I don't know, maybe that label would have kept it out of Wal-Mart. In such a case, they could have made two versions available - the Erotica album came in both "clean" and "dirty" editions - but the omission of a famous video is not a good thing.
While that deletion bothers me and I find the omission of the other videos bothersome, The Video Collection 93:99 is nonetheless a solid package of good videos. The DVD presents these clips in their original aspect ratios, most of which are fullscreen 1.33:1, but occasionally we see some that are entirely letterboxed. "Bad Girl", "Bedtime Story" and "Beautiful Stranger" stick to a ratio of approximately 1.85:1, and "The Power of Good-bye" seems to be in a 1.66:1 ratio.
While I suppose the three 1.85:1 clips could have been enhanced for 16X9 televisions, I don't think it would have been appropriate; after all, these clips were intentionally shot in that ratio for display on 4X3 screens. They aren't being adapted from another format for use on regular TVs - they were meant to be seen with the bars. Of course, since one could argue that the only reason the bars are used is because video producers often add letterboxing to create a cinematic presentation, then maybe anamorphic enhancement would make sense, but this is all getting confusing so I'll stop now. Ultimately, you're seeing the videos as originally intended, so the lack of 16X9 enhancement in the three instances where it would have been possible is not a problem.
It certainly seems like even less of an issue when you see how great this package looks. Video collections are sometimes problematic because of the wide variety of methods used and the disparity of different elements. Nonetheless, this sucker looks great almost from start to finish. The folks at Warner Home Video did a terrific job of transferring this clips to DVD and each one seems to accurately represent the intention of the directors.
Sharpness is always crisp and distinct, except when the film technique requires a different look, which isn't infrequent. Many of these clips are almost monochromatic - the directors seemed to find a tone they wanted to cast it across the entire proceedings - but the colors - whatever colors they may be - appear very strong and vivid. I detected no source flaws from the videos themselves and saw no digital artifacts. Black levels are often quite spectacular - check out "Bad Girl", for example, with the rich tones of some of the clothes - and shadow detail seems excellent. It's hard to find a hodgepodge such as seven years worth of videos that maintains such a consistently high standard of quality, but this package does so.
The only possible exception to this rule was the video for "Human Nature." It presented an image that at turns seemed vaguely soft and other times appeared to have excessive edge enhancement. Chances are good that these "flaws" were intentional, but since this was the only clip for which the image problems didn't clearly seem planned, I wanted to mention it. Whatever the case, these issues shouldn't detract from what's otherwise a fantastic-looking set of videos.
As one would expect, the sound quality is nearly as strong. Happily, no one attempted to bastardize the mixes with any form of pseudo-surround encoding; the program is presented as a PCM stereo mix. My only fault with this mix is that the bass response seemed less strong that it perhaps should have; many of these songs bring a strong lower end to the table, and that didn't appear evident. However, I'm more than willing to consider the possibility that my system was at fault here and not the tracks themselves; I always listen to music on my subwoofer-powered car stereo, and my home system doesn't boast bass that compares with that, so that may make the tracks sound less responsive than I'd expect.
Otherwise, the music sounded excellent. Strong stereo separation was present and the image seemed very crisp and clean. I've listened to these songs quite a lot through their compact disc releases, and I didn't note any distinct problems other than the apparent relative lack of bass. The music seems well-reproduced and works quite nicely.
Unsurprisingly, no supplements are present on this DVD. Actually, one area did surprise me; the DVD doesn't even include subtitles for the lyrics! While I didn't expect much in the area of extras, I thought that omission was pretty weak. Hmm... when one considers the five videos that didn't appear here, I'm tempted to actually give this set an "F-" for supplements; not only does it lack extras, but it doesn't even include everything that one could reasonably expect! Still, I'll stick with the "F" to communicate the complete lack of supplements.
While I'm a huge fan of supplements - their inclusion or lack thereof often affects my purchasing decisions - their absence here in no way alters my opinion of Madonna's Video Collection 93:99. While this set lacks the headlining qualities of The Immaculate Collection - which is the DVD to purchase if you're a more casual fan - it's an absolute must-have for serious Maddy fans such as myself. I liked the clips, and I found the picture and audio quality to be more than satisfactory. This package is strongly recommended to folks who continue to like Madonna and offers a nice avenue for less serious fans to experience some of her not as well known hits.
Current as of 12/26/99
ICON Official Madonna Fan Club--"The idea of my Fan Club is to keep you updated on my career, and to supply you with the kind of information fans like you have been asking for."--Madonna.
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