Knight Rider: The Complete Collection (Blu-ray Boxset Review)

Release Date: November 7th 2016
Running Time: 4327 mins / Discs: 20 BDs
Certification: 12 / RRP (UK): £149.99
Label: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media

MITCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE K.I.T.T.

“Knight Rider, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist.”

As the creator of such iconic American television series as Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rodgers, The Fall Guy and Magnum P.I., the late producer and writer Glen A. Larson really deserves to be more of a household name. Working for Universal Television in 1982 he devised yet another slice of episodic gold in the form of Knight Rider, an action/adventure/crime series with strong sci-fi leanings which made a heartthrob out of its lead actor, David “The Hoff” Hasselhoff.

Yet, even the man who would go on to don those famous red trucks as Mitch Buchannon cannot deny he was merely the straight guy to the real star of the show: K.I.T.T. (or Knight Industries Two Thousand to give him his full title), a high speed, futuristic weapon-outfitted Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with artificial intelligence and a personality all his own (I say he because William Daniels provided the talking car’s voice). With a Cylon-esque “heartbeat” on his bumper and a dashboard that “looks like Darth Vader’s bathroom,” K.I.T.T. surely rivals Optimus Prime and ECTO 1 as the most iconic four wheeled start of the eighties.

The Hoff plays Michael Knight, a detective thought to be killed but resurrected with a new face and a new identity. He is “the Knight behind [K.I.T.T’s] wheel,” and together pilot and ride set out across America working for the Foundation of Law and Government (F.L.A.G.) “on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless in a world of criminals who operate above the law” (to quote from the opening titles).

CONTENT:

To call this remastered boxset The Complete Collection could be considered something of a fallacy, as the Knight Rider franchise far outlived its initial four year, 90 episode run. Still far from sparse, this 20 disc set amasses seasons one to four (1982-1986) of the original iteration, but does not complete the story with the 1991 or 1994 sequel movies, nor the various spin-off series or reboots.

Defeating criminal lowlifes on a weekly basis with the assistance of a talking car meant Knight Rider’s tone did veer wildly from episode to episode. This is also to be expected when writers, producers and directors are regularly juggled. Overall, however, I would say the series generates an adventurous, hopeful tone, with the plot sometimes descending to darker depths (murder, solicitation) and other times being balanced out by cheesy, broad characterisation (goofy cops, bungling thieves, stereotypical rednecks). Regardless, you are always guaranteed a stunt heavy, race-packed, explosive hour of heroics and humour.

Despite occasional two part stories (usually to kick-start a new season), and sporadic call-backs to earlier plots, returning characters and the catalytic arc of Michael’s former life impacting his new start,Knight Rider otherwise tended to stick to independent and insular single stories, making it easy to jump in and out of the series and still know the score. For this reason, the season finales always underwhelmed, and delivered no sense of game-changing elevation or hint of a cliff-hanger. They could just have easily been shuffled to mid-season.

F.L.A.G.’s chief engineer, Bonnie Barstow (Patricia McPherson) being absent for Season Two (due to the actress being fired, before fan – and Hoff – pressure saw the producers relent and rehire her), and replaced, without reference, by April Curtis (Rebecca Holden), is the largest alteration to continuity. Additionally, “Street Avenger” RC3 (Peter Parros) joined the regular cast as another engineer at the start of the final season.

While I won’t go so far as to review all 90 episodes, I have picked out my favourite from each of the four seasons, to give you a flavour for the show:

“Trust Doesn’t Rust” (1.9) is significant for its introduction of K.I.T.T.’s arch-nemesis, the equally-indestructible but self-serving K.A.R.R. (Knight Automated Roving Robot), voiced by Peter “Optimus Prime” Cullen. With the petty thieves who find the evil vehicle in storage portrayed as bumbling buffoons, this is a rather light and fun episode, but Cullen’s delivery brings gravitas, and it’s a real pity he didn’t return for K.A.R.R.’s sequel episode two season’s later.

“Knightmares” (2.12) may not be as epic as the second season opening double-bill “Goliath” (which brings us the Hoff in a dual role with an “eeeevil” glue-on ‘tache!), but it plays in excellently to the show’s mythology, with Michael knocked unconscious and losing his recent memory. Waking up with no knowledge of F.L.A.G. or K.I.T.T., he returns to his old precinct, only to told he has been dead for two years…

“Halloween Knight” (3.5) stands out due to its season-specific wackiness, with Bonnie afraid she’s going mad after witnessing a murder when she keeps seeing spooky phenomena that no-one else can. Is she being haunted, or – spoiler alert – is she being fooled by holographic projection?

With ratings dwindling by year four, “The Scent of Roses” (4.12) was devised as the perfect series finale. Almost killed in the line of duty, Michael goes through an emotional crisis and comes to the conclusion he should leave the Foundation. F.L.A.G. director Devon Miles (Edward Mulhare) contacts Michael’s former fiancé, Stevie (played by the Hoff’s real-life wife, Catherine Hickland, who previously appeared in Season One’s “White Bird” and Season Two’s “Let It Be Me”) and the two get married, only for tragedy to strike on the wedding day when Stevie takes a bullet meant for her new husband.

“I’m not sure I like this Michael Knight anymore…”

Intense, vicious, heartbreaking and resounding, this was by some distance the greatest episode of all 90, yet the studio (ridiculously) divined that it was best moved forward to a mid-season slot (replaced as the finale by the frankly unspectacular “Voo Doo Knight”), making Michael’s eventual decision to return “home” to his F.L.A.G. “family” less courageous and totally predictable.

PRESENTATION:

It’s hard for me to comment on the aesthetic appeal of the packaging, as I was (very generously, I might add) sent non-retail review copies. However, from the pictures I have seen, the set looks suitably flashy, gleeming with futuristic gloss, and would certainly stand out amidst a shelf of DVD spines.

As a TV series from the 1980s, this remaster retains Knight Rider’s original 4:3 aspect ratio, meaning you do have black bars on either side of your widescreen television. This initially surprised me, but quickly became the norm as I made my way through the episodes.

No edits have been made to the content, so each episode runs as broadcast, with advert bumpers and cuts all still in place. What initially threw me was the stylistic choice of preceding each episode (excluding multiparters) with a highlight reel of what you are about to see. I first mistook this for a “Previously on…” tag, but is, in essence, a trailer, so you get a feel for each episode before it even begins.

As is the case with all old shows being remastered for a more quality-conscious high-def. market, there are occasional instances where grain and lines implicate the age of the original footage. I can forgive this, however, as it is extremely rare (most noticeable on season one’s “Trust Doesn’t Rust”) and the restoration job is altogether decent, with the colours looking suitably rich. Indeed, particularly in two-part opener “Knight of the Phoenix”, the colours are so dark the Hoff’s fair hair looks almost red!

While I have no major complaints about the audio, it was slightly out of sync at the very start of Season One episode “Knight Moves”. Thankfully, this quickly corrected itself and the problem never reoccurred.

SET-UP:

Each season is split over five discs, with four or five 45-48 minute episodes on each Blu-ray. While the menu screens – clips from the show playing on K.I.T.T.’s dashboard monitor as the synthesiser theme tune loops underneath – look good, I was a little disappointed that they are the same on every season, with even the same clips repeating despite the actors aging and the car granted numerous modifications over the show’s lifetime.
“Play All” and “Episodes” are the only two options you are granted on all but the first and last disc (see BONUS MATERIAL), with no possibility to access scene selections (despite the episodes themselves being split up into skippable chapters).

Most disappointing of all, however, is the lack of a set up menu. There are no language or subtitle options available here, which on a 2016 Blu-ray release is nigh-on outrageous.

BONUS MATERIAL:

For such a lavish looking release, the special features are a frankly poor afterthought which won’t tempt any owners of the DVD sets to upgrade. This is because they are simply ported over from earlier DVD sets! Disc one raises your hopes by featuring audio commentaries from the Hoff and creator Glen A. Larson on the two-part pilot (“This is going to be a lively album, isn’t it?” Larson jokes after the Hoff makes an early insinuation of affairs on set), but then each of the subsequent 38 discs contains only episodes.

Grouped onto the final disc are a group of three mini-features (ranging from 6-15 mins) with clips from the show intermingled with behind the scenes footage and talking heads with the Hoff, Larson, composer Stu Philips, stunt co-ordinator Jack Gill and Knight Rider Legacy author Joe Huth. These are all copyrighted as 2004 and, rather poorly, presented in standard definition.

A Photo Gallery flashing up behind the scenes snaps over an almost 3-minute loop of the title music isn’t a bad addition but doesn’t warrant repeated plays. All the photos are presented in black and white. A Blueprints Gallery piqued my interest but merely incorporates pictures of set and vehicle illustrations over 3 minutes of sound and show clips.

Finally, The Great 80s TV Flashback is a non-Knight Rider specific 29-minute retrospective clip show compiled by Universal Home Video to promote their collection of decade specific boxset releases (Miami Vice, The A Team, etcetera). Again, it is in standard definition, dated 2005, but looks distinctly older. Easily skippable.

IN CONCLUSION:

Even 34 years after its premiere, there’s no denying Knight Rider’s endurance, which its star attributes to three integral ingredients: “Heart, humour and action.” Spin-off series (Code of Vengeance, Team Knight Rider), feature-length sequel adventures (Knight Rider 2000 and 2010), merchandise, conventions (KnightCon) and a noughties revival (2008-9) have all helped cement Larson’s series as an iconic cult classic.

I had a lot of fun revisiting and rediscovering a series I had only intermittently dipped into on repeat runs as a child, and there are undoubtedly diehard fans dying to K.I.T.T. their collection out with a high definition remaster of the series which revved their engines and drove away with their admiration three decades ago.

Ultimately, Knight Rider: The Complete Collection is a decent paint job by Fabulous Films, no question, but a lack of finesse and a dearth of new hardware under the hood – not to mention a mind-bogglingly steep retail price – make this bulky Blu box a hard sell to anyone but the most devoted (and deep-pocketed!) F.L.A.G. wavers.

CR@B’s Claw Score: ***

The Complete Collection of Knight Rider is released on November 21st through Fabulous Films and available at all good retailers.
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With thanks to Thom and Tina for putting my name out for review copies, and to Isabel in the PR department at Fabulous Films, for kindly supplying me with promotional discs.