As a series The West Wing had proven extremely popular world-wide. Iím quite sure that the reason for this is not the fascination with American politics, for me an Amendment to a bill is when the electricity company charges you too much and a Filibuster sounds like a cocktail you would drink from a test tube. Iím sure Iím not alone.
So what makes The West Wing a hit among the huddled masses? I would have to plant the blame squarely on the shoulders of the writing staff and the extremely strong ensemble cast. Particularly Aaron Sorkin who is credited with making the show a success and his departure after Season 4 being blamed for the drop off in ratings in subsequent seasons.
In a nut shell, Season 3 is all about the re-election campaign with some side trips into big tobacco, the revelation of The Presidents MS and how the country and his staff deal with it, a coup in Haiti and the illegal assassination of a naughty Arab (I told you I was a political neophyte).
I know nobody wants to read long tirades into the shows history and episode by episode analysis of the plot so Iíll save you some mouse scrolling and get on with the real reason youíre here.
The original aspect ratio of all episodes from this series is 1.77:1 and while the season 1 set was 4:3 the season 2 set was 1.77 with an anamorphic picture so it would make sense for this trend to continue.
However, this season is mysteriously lacking an anamorphic transfer. While the ratio is preserved, the picture is not anamorphic which means that on widescreen displays you will have to zoom the image to avoid gigantic black bars on all sides, and even when you do the aspect ratio seems a little off. Viewers with a 4:3 display will not notice any difference but given the longevity of the DVD format and that eventually most households will have a 16:9 TV, this will ultimately be a problem for all West Wing fans.
Ignoring this major concern, the video quality of this set is excellent. For a television series the amount of grain is surprisingly minimal and the majority of the image is spotless and sharp. The only minor complaint would be that the shadow can tend to be too dark at times, details melt into the blackness and disappear all too often.
In a mostly dialog driven drama the centre channel would be the most important element of the audio track. Luckily, despite only getting a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio option the dialog is crisp and audible at all times. The minimal use of environmental sounds, mostly for background office noise is never overbearing and suitably subtle (say that three times fast).
There are no extras at all in this set.
The West Wing is currently about half way through its sixth season in the U.S. and Channel 9 in their infinite wisdom have only seen fit to broadcast to the end of Season 4 for local audiences. The release of sub-standard DVD box sets like this season of The West Wing will do nothing to placate the masses.
Comparison between Region 1 and Region 4 DVD releases isnít really the norm for DVD.net but the Region 1 version of this Season is definitely anamorphic with quite a good selection of extras. I feel rather strongly about this and I'm not sure how many of our readers would care as much as I do, but this sort of mistreatment or incompetence (call it what you will) would be enough for me to import the alternative rather than buy local.
I recommend if you can, to vote with your wallet (or purse) and donít buy this particular season in Region 4 until they fix the mastering problems and bring the extras up to par with the U.S. releases.