...the lesbian eroticism is amped up greatly...


Note: "Xena: Warrior Princess", like "Highlander: The Series" and "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys", is being released jointly by the Davis-Anderson Merchandising Corporation and Anchor Bay. Unlike "Highlander", which was released in a bewildering number of package variations, the "Xena" and "Hercules" box sets are basically the same regardless of how you buy them ("official" releases from www.davis-panzer.com or commercial releases from Anchor Bay). Best Buy carries limited editions that include bonus discs with additional extras.

"Xena: Warrior Princess", now considered a pop-culture success that championed "close bonds" between women, was born under trying circumstances. Universal had a syndicated hit with the campy "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" (starring Kevin Sorbo and executive-produced by Sam Raimi, eventually the helmer of the big-screen "Spider-man" franchise). However, the studio had a bomb with "Vanishing Son" (starring Russell Wong). Therefore, in order to keep TV stations buying its wares, Universal decided to see if a "female Hercules" could maintain viewer interest better than a chop-socky show.

Xena (Lucy Lawless) was originally envisioned as a villain. However, the character was very popular with fans of "Hercules", so writers gave her a journey of redemption for her own show. While "Hercules" is now a mostly-forgotten affair due to its disposable assemblage of laughable stunts and lame, goofy stories, "Xena" is recognized as a pioneering effort that portrayed an "are they or aren't they?" woman-woman relationship right under the public's nose. Sure, there were lesbian characters before "Xena", but the most important contribution that "Xena" made to lesbian cinema may be that it treated the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor)--lesbian or not--as nothing that warranted fuss. By keeping the characters' private relationship private, viewers were told to keep their noses out of others' personal lives. In time, as viewers got used to the idea of Xena and Gabrielle being very close, it really didn't matter whether or not the heroines were lesbians, so long as their friendship was depicted with warmth and conviction. (Still, there are people who whoop and holler when they see Xena and Gabrielle together in various states of undress. I, for one, don't condemn them as Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor are both very attractive ladies.)

In Season Two, Xena and Gabrielle continue to fight Callisto (Hudson Leick). Karl Urban (Eomer in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" and Kirill in "The Bourne Supremacy") appears several times as different characters after making one appearance in Season One. Meanwhile, the lesbian eroticism is amped up greatly in episodes like "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun", in which a vampired Gabrielle gets to wear sexy clothes and look at Xena with hungry eyes.

Disc 1--"Orphan of War", "Remember Nothing", "The Giant Killer", "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun".

Disc 2--"Return of Callisto", "Warrior...Princess...Tramp", "Intimate Stranger", "Ten Little Warlords".

Disc 3--"A Solstice Carol", "The Xena Scrolls", "Here She Comes...Miss Amphipolis", "Destiny".

Disc 4--"The Quest", "A Necessary Evil", "A Day in the Life", "For Him the Bell Tolls".

Disc 5--"The Execution", "Blind Faith", "Ulysses", "The Price".

Disc 6--"Lost Mariner", "A Comedy of Eros".

The 1.33:1 (full frame on 4:3 monitors) image looks better than what we saw with Season One, though the picture is a tad soft most of the time. Like most TV shows prior to the 21st Century, "Xena" was probably shot with 16mm film. 16mm film is grainier than 35mm film, so the picture can be a bit "rough" sometimes.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 English tracks are very robust. They were rejigged from what were presumably stereo or stereo surround stems. There's a lot of bass presence, and the tracks are very good at dispersing the Emmy-winning music. Dialogue gets buried sometimes due to action effects or due to careless engineering, but this doesn't happen frequently.

Alas, there aren't any subtitle or closed-captions streams to help viewers understand dialogue when needed.

There is a Photo Gallery as well as a weblink on Disc 1. There are audio and video commentaries for "Return of Callisto", "Destiny", and "A Day in the Life". The commentaries feature different combinations of Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, and Robert G. Tapert (one of the key behind-the-scenes people). The video commentaries are abridged versions of the audio commentaries. All of the other extras are on a seventh disc--a CD-ROM, to be exact. On that seventh disc, you'll find bios for directors and actors, a trivia game, and "Xena Chronicles" (information about various minutiae).

A DigiPak foldout package houses the discs. There are various pieces of information regarding collectible "Xena" coins. Everything fits inside a cardboard slipcase.

Film Value:
I have to admit that "Xena", like "Highlander: The Series", is something of a guilty pleasure for me. "Xena" isn't a commendable artistic achievement in the conventional sense. At least a third of the episodes are boring or lame. Yet, there are a lot of charming performances, heartfelt moments, and exciting fights to enjoy. If you're in the right frame of mind, then "Xena" can give you a couple of big grins.


Film Value