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During the last 10 years or so, television and film producers have increasing jumped onto the re-making bandwagon, and it's beginning to get a little tiresome. A lack of original ideas is also probably part of this, but when classic movies or shows are re-imagined, it's really just to grab the large existing audience of the original, whilst coaxing others in with the reputation said show had, all to cash in to the maximum. A lot of these new-but-old shows can be very well done, and some....well, not so much. Recent television series re-makes or re-boots include sci-fi alien classic 'V', rich-kid teen drama Beverly Hills 90210, new space age wars in Battlestar Galactica and eighties action/fantasy hit Knight Rider, which was brought back to our screens in 2008. As a big fan of the original series, I was very keen on watching this, just like the producers had hoped for. Here are my thoughts on the complete DVD box set of the new, modern day Knight Rider, Season 1.
--A Hardcore Mustang!--
If you have read my previous review of classic Knight Rider series, you will be aware that one of the things that draw me into the show was the car used for the character of KITT, the most advanced car on Earth. Strangely, it's no different with the new series. For many years I have had a fondness of the Ford Mustang, and to hear that the new KITT would be this car further interested me. The Mustang, as many car enthusiasts know is an American icon in motoring, and since that legendary car chase in the Steve McQueen flick 'Bullitt', has been one of my all-time favourite cars. The version used in Knight Rider is the Shelby GT500KR, an ultra-high performance model that was released the same year as this series' pilot TV film. It's a wonderful vehicle to look at, and works well as the new Knight Industries Three Thousand as a realistic choice for a new version, but it seems it lacks the elegance and grace of the original 1982 Trans-Am, as eye-popping as it's looks are.
Back in the eighties, the Knight Industries Two Thousand had an extensive dashboard packed with LED's, screens, switches, chunky colourful buttons and so on. Coming bang up to date, the Knight Industries Three Thousand again takes what is possible with current technology in reality, and exaggerates it to the extreme. Gone are the day-glow buttons and mini monitor screens, firstly replaced with a complex centre console in the pilot episode, and then upgraded in the series. The whole inside of the windscreen functions as the cars controls, a wild but impressive touch screen system that Bill Gates could only dream off. Gone also is KITT's voice modulator, which was a memorable aspect of the old show. It's replaced with first a waveform bar for the pilot episode and than a pulsing orb that can 'look' at the cars occupants, both set into the middle of the dashboard. It's all nicely done indeed, just crazy enough to be fiction, but is believable for the shows requirements and fits with real life in the same way the old show did. The new KITT does take retro styling cues from the old car however, it's again jet black in colour, it can become a convertible and of course the iconic red scanner bar located at the front of the bonnet. It's even has the correct sound effect too!
25 years after the events of the original series, (excluding the events in the movie Knight Rider 2000), we are introduced to Charles Graiman, creator of the original KITT who has built a new version in secret for the US Government. The Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG) is now defunct, and the only remnants that remain are with Charles and the FBI. His daughter Sarah is also heavily involved with the new KITT Project, and soon Mike Traceur, and ex-military Iraq vet and Michael Knight's estranged son is chosen to be the new driver for KITT. After a first tragic but successful mission, Charles, Sarah, Mike and the FBI resurrect Knight Industries to continue under-cover missions and other black operations. After the series pilot where we see a prototype version of the new KITT, the further episodes have a finished re-worked KITT, a full team of operatives working for KI/FLAG and a secret base. The first part of the series focus's on the primary story arc of Michael's past and the FBI's true intentions for Knight Industries, featuring Michael and KITT in various missions and undercover infiltrations. Remaining episodes after this are one-off missions in a similar vein to the original series.
--Cast and Performances--
After the cult status the original Knight Rider achieved, filling 'the Hoff's' cowboy boots was going to be a tough call with the hardcore fans. Relatively new actor Justin Bruening takes the part of Michael's son, Mike Traceur, later assuming his fathers moniker. For today's audiences, looking pretty is a big thing, and from a male point of view Bruening is not a bad looker, and fits the part of an ex-army grunt nicely. Gone are the skinny jeans, replaced by combats and a T-shirt, but to suggest he is Hasselhoff's son is a little way out however, any similarities portrayed are at a minimum. Bruening is clearing having a good time playing the part though, and does put effort into it, even though in many scenes he can appear hollow and cold. He does the stereotypical action justice however, with well done fight scenes and comedy dialogue with the others. His chemistry with KITT doesn't match 'the Hoff's' by any stretch of the imagination unfortunately, but we can glimpse now and then at a well acted moment. Of course, this is also the responsibility of the new voice of KITT. Batman and The Doors actor Val Kilmer steps into William Daniels tyres as the supercar, and surprisingly does a very good job. Not as camp or as human as Daniels, Kilmer does a fine job, with a sullen, logical but also emotional voice, it's a more realistic perception of what a talking car would sound like. Although not matching the connectivity and banter like the original, he and Bruening have their moments, and KITT does again become 'Alive'. Elevated to a primary character, KITT's mechanic and Mike's love interest is performed very nicely by Deanna Russo. Taking cues from Patrica McPherson as Bonnie in the original, her character of Sarah Graiman is full of strength, sarcasm and wisdom, but is more equal to Mike with impulsiveness. She's is also a stunner, but unlike Rebecca Holden as April, makes it more believable that she can be a genius grease-monkey as well. Other members of the new team are Battlestar Galactica actor Paul Campbell as Billy, who puts in a good comedy shift as the awkward but brave computer geek. The gorgeously cute Smith Cho is his female equivalent Zoe Chae, and is fun and quirky. They both fit into their roles, maybe Cho not quite so. Far, far to attractive for a computer boffin. Veteran American actor Bruce Davidson plays Charles Graiman, and is one of the most disappointing performances. He seems wooden and delivers lines with a flat tone for the most part, which is shame, as this tends to bounce off the other younger actors in the cast. His character would have much more soul and heart given the circumstances he is in. Both Yancay Arias and Sydney Poiter (daughter of Sidney Poiter) put in lower-key showings as Agent Torres and Agent Rivai respectively. Arias' performance being the weaker and sometimes just irritating, and does not convince me of the hardened FBI agent he plays.
Michael Knight/Mike Traceur - Justin Bruening
Voice of KITT - Val Kilmer
Dr. Sarah Graiman - Deanna Russo
Billy Morgan - Paul Campbell
Zoe Chae - Smith Cho
Dr. Charles Graiman - Bruce Davison
FBI Agent Carrie Rivai - Sydney Tamiia Poiter
NSA Agent Alex Torres - Yancey Arias
The first thing that stuck me about this new series was the difference in filming. Going along the predictable lines of the way of '24', 'Prison Break' and 'CSI' are filmed, we have a slightly soft focus, blue tint to the show, with plenty of steady-cam shots and quick movement set pieces. This is fine of course, and helps for the action sequences but at the same time hampering the plot, and does take a while to get used to in the world of Knight Rider. Thankfully, the plot lines are not all that complicated, basic but enjoyable, and do link together in a way the old show never did. Special effect shots like this are well done to today's standards, with lot's of copycat 'Matrix' bullet-time set-pieces, mainly of KITT's abilities and furious skidding and chasing around.
It doesn't detach totally from the original however, something which the producers were keen to maintain. The level of action is good and intense occasionally, but any hints of blood, heavy violence or gore are kept to the guidelines of the 80's. At one point a man get's his thumb cut off, and we see nothing but the severed thumb in a jar, Bruening making light of it as it happens too. Deaths are portrayed however, so we are not in the A-Team scheme of things, but normally the deaths are either off-screen or due to an explosion, hiding any blood and guts that may ensue.
There are many references to the old show too, and this is good as it keeps and continuity to a degree. Whilst the storyline may ret-con and create things we were not aware of, back references to old missions, the old KITT and FLAG are made. I like this, as the show doesn't want to be something it isn't and be a real part of the Knight Rider culture. Segments of the old KITT and flashbacks are seen, and it all works rather well with the new vision of the show. Unfortunately, no reference is made to Devon Miles, a significant figure in Knight Rider folklore, even though FLAG, Michael Knight, Wilton Knight and KARR are used frequently, the latter becoming a fresh storyline too, which does create another anomaly, but you have to watch otherwise I would give away the plot.
The stunts and special effects from the original were something that made it stand out, but I'm sorry to say this show is not quite as groundbreaking as that. CGI is used heavily for KITT, some parts are done very well, the bullets bouncing off him are a particular highlight as is his voice 'talking orb' modulator. However, as we have seen with many shows and films before, too much poorly done CGI is used. The transformation sequences of KITT (eg: Battle Mode, equivalent to Super Pursuit Mode) vary from looking brilliant to clearly computer graphic rubbish, and very transformer-ish too. The jumps and car chases are well shot, in that high octane way we come to expect of today, but little 'turbo boost' jumps are seen, and KITT's features are mainly focused on non-driving abilities. This is something which takes a lot away from the show, as we would expect to see more of cars jumping and speeding around from Knight Rider. On the whole, the special effects are plentiful, but do lack in quality from time to time, but still remain somewhat entertaining all the same.
Of the whole cast, the acting is average to good to be honest. No really excellent performances are given, but as previously said, Russo, Bruening and Kilmar are trying hard given the pressure to follow a legendary series, and I tip my hat to them. Much more comedy is used too. The whole concept from the outset has never been fully serious, and lots of banter between the characters is played out to good effect, if sometimes a tad frustrating. Not taking itself too seriously, that is a good thing because it keeps the family fun aspect of the show, and doesn't make it a hard lined action drama for the more critical of us.
Finally, a comment must go to the theme and intro sequence. The new theme music runs off the lines of the classic theme, rocking it up with guitars and heavy drums. It's not the most easy on the ears, but that little hint of the original electronic riffs do make you smile, and gets the mood set correctly. A rather complex intro sequence accompanies this, with a mixture and new style shots and computer schematics done the CGI with KITT whizzing around, some shots paying homage to the original with KITT driving down the desert in low-light and turbo boosting over obstacles. It's a good intro, which matches the style if not matching the eye-catching original.
--Presentation and Production--
After far too many disclaimers, the menu screen follows that of the DVD box set fo the original series. KITT's scanner light runs arcross as cutscenes from the show play ing the back ground. Titles and selections are clear, highlighted with yellow and in a silver font that is the same as the new title Knight Rider logo. All neat, tidy, suited to the show and works without problem. Strangely though, each episode selection is missing a scene selection part, and so you will have to jump scenes manually and the start to return to a specific part of an episode.
Year of Series Release - 2008 - 2009
Year of DVD Release - 2009
Region - 2, 4 and 5
Picture - 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Age Rated - 15
Discs - 4
Number of Episodes - 17 plus 1 TV Pilot Movie
Languages available - English
Sound - Dolby Digital
Total Feature runtime - 12 Hours 46 Mins
Series release by Universal
DVD release by Universal Playback
Produced by Glen A. Larson and Dutch Oven Productions
Directed by Various
--Price and Packaging--
This DVD set comes to you in a surrounding cover box containing 3 individual cases holding four discs. The cover design wouldn't look out of place in a computer games shop, with the title large and proud in a metal silver font, with Mustang KITT bursting out of a fireball as other cars get smashed out of his way. It's a cover that could be on a 'Burnout' or 'Need for Speed' computer games, and if a Xbox or PS3 logo was placed on it, you wouldn't think any different. This sadly makes it blend in a lot to other DVD's and games, and can be hard to spot unlike the uniqueness of the original. The design is copied on all containing cases too, but is neatly presented and a fun design.
Due to the fact that Fox decided to drop the show, unfairly in my view, this DVD bos set can be picked up very cheaply for a fairly new release. You can find it on Amazon for a bargain £7.99, and around £10 in the high street shops, but it is not common so best stick to buying online in the usual places.
All included on the first disc, the extras are limited but good to watch. Three short featurettes from being the scenes of filming the pilot episode are here. Some good interviews with the new cast and producers make for a interesting watch for the fan. Apart from this, audio commentary is available for the pilot show too, all presented in a sharp and clear picture with high quality sound.
Although many critics have given this a bad press, the new Knight Rider is not a bad show in the slightest. Of course, it doesn't compare to the original, but how could it? All the basic elements of the program are included, a great new version of KITT which looks great onscreen, lots of hinted continuity and a hero who looks and acts the part too. Weak in places on the effects and acting stakes, yes, and some aspects can seen a little rushed and not thought out fully, but the older show suffered from this too. This is a fair attempt to bring an eighties hit back to our screens, and could have been good couple of series' long. It's a shame that Fox didn't agree, as they dropped it after 17 episodes. Ratings were good in Europe, but were falling in the US, so as always they panicked and pulled the show. This is a shame, as I think that the new vision of Knight Rider would have grown and ultimately been a success, and doesn't get the praise it should. It's not brilliant, but it's not poor either, far better than a lot of American tosh that's thrown our way and is entertaining for newcomers and fans of the old show alike. I know, I am one! It will not become the cult hit it's preprocessor did, but it didn't even have the chance too, and I fear it maybe forgotten when it deserved better.
Thanks For Reading. © Novabug