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Angel - The Complete Fifith Season Print E-mail
Tuesday, 15 February 2005

Angel - Season Five
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: Unrated
starring: David Boreanaz, Alexis Denisof, James Marsters, J. August Richards, Amy Acker, Andy Hallett, Mercedes McNab, Sarah Thompson, Christian Kane, Adam Baldwin
TV broadcast year: 2003-2004
DVD release year: 2005
film rating: Four-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

Isn’t this the way it always goes? A TV series gets better and better, finally hits its stride so that practically every episode rocks, it show flashes of genuine genius – and it gets cancelled. In the case of “Angel,” this is particularly bewildering, as in its fifth season (2003-2004), the show was enjoying its best ratings ever, was doing great for the WB in its Wednesday night berth, had cut its budget (which makes its increased quality that much more notable) and had a slew of killer episodes.

Ah, well, such are the mysteries of television. At least the episodes are now available on DVD, a good thing as just about all of “Angel” Season Five is worth repeat viewing, most of it improves and deepens with a second (or even third) look. It must also be said up front that the episode “Smile Time” ranks up there as some of the funniest stuff ever done on episodic TV – the fact that it shows up in the middle of the overall dark “Angel” just makes it that much more delirious (actually, it’s hard to think of a context where “Smile Time” wouldn’t be delirious, but more about all that in a bit).

As most people with a passing familiarity with contemporary pop culture may know, “Angel” began life as a spinoff of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which was the brainchild of producer/writer Joss Whedon. Whedon and David Greenwalt collaborated on “Angel,” whose title hero is a vampire who was turned in the 18th century and spent a hundred or so years terrorizing everybody as the vicious Angelus before being cursed by gypsies with the return of his soul. After hooking up with true love Buffy for awhile to fight the good fight, Angel came to Los Angeles, where he started up a private detective agency to help the helpless.

One of the principal sources of both narrative and dark humor in “Angel” is that L.A., as it turns out, is just as full of literal demons and monsters as it is of generally sleazy humans, so Angel has had a busy four years by the start of Season Five. It’s not absolutely necessary to have seen the previous seasons, but it’s probably worth mentioning that Seasons Two through Four were heavily arced, with a storyline that included Angel’s astonishment at learning he’s impregnated fellow vampire Darla (Julie Benz) – vamps aren’t supposed to be able to procreate in the normal way. The son, super-powered but human Connor (Vincent Kartheiser), was kidnapped, grew up in an alternate dimension and is returned to our world so screwed up that eventually, Angel must make a deal with the devil – or rather, the devilish law firm Wolfram & Hart – to save the boy. Connor gets a happy life with a new family and no memory of Angel; Angel’s friends and the rest of the world, except Angel, have no memory of Connor. And all Angel has to do is accept the reins of the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram & Hart, which he is allowed to run as he pleases – he can even use the corporation’s formidable powers to do good, or so he’s been told.

The WB – the network that broadcast “Angel” for its five-year run – rather famously gave showrunner Whedon an edict for Season Five – more standalone episodes. This frankly clashed with the show’s makeup – “Angel” loves to tell long, complicated stories and it’s one of the great pleasures of this set to see how the series delicately weaves together little narrative threads in the early episodes, before abandoning all pretense of single episodes and just going for one huge and hugely satisfying novel-sized throughline from Episodes 15 through 22.

Season Five’s first episode, “Conviction,” directed and written by Whedon, brings us up to speed on all of the above with surprising speed while launching into a highly entertaining episode as Angel and Co. try to come to grips with the tiger they’ve got by the tail. All of Angel’s friends from his detective days (except for Charisma Carpenter’s Cordelia, who begins the season as she ended the last one – in a mystical coma) have been given their own departments at W&H. Magically knowledgeable Wesley (Alexis Denisof) is now running Research, math genius Fred (Amy Acker) is in charge of science and amiable green demon Lorne (Andy Hallett) heads up the entertainment division. Gunn (J. August Richards) incurs the suspicions of the others when he allows his head to be filled with a legal upgrade that may or may not contain evil elements. More immediate problems include the firm’s well-armed SWAT squad deciding they don’t want to take orders from a do-gooder vampire and a guilty client who threatens to contaminate California with germ warfare if he’s not exonerated.

The original broadcast widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1 – relatively rare for series TV – gives all of the episodes a fairly filmic look, which Whedon makes the most of in some wonderful spinning tracking shots. Chapter 1 has good, non-bleeding photo flashes and camera whirrs as Angel is ambushed by his own publicity department and there are especially good, fleshy impact sounds in Chapter 13’s fistfight. Whedon supplies informative commentary for the episode on a track in the center channel, praising series cinematographer Ross Berryman and noting camera tricks used to conceal the fact that one cast member was suffering from an odd, movement-limiting illness for the season’s first few episodes.

“Just Rewards” brings the character of Spike (James Marsters) into the mix. As “Buffy” fans know, Spike is an old vampire cohort/nemesis of Angel. During “Buffy’s” run, Spike went from soulless villain to voluntarily souled hero, who burned away at the end of “Buffy’s” run in the course of saving the world. To the mutual dismay of Spike and Angel, he appears at Wolfram & Hart as a specter, not quite a ghost but not corporeal. Angel, meanwhile, is having lots of problems with an irate ex-client (Victor Raider-Wexler) who has power over the dead. As Whedon notes in the interview supplements, Marsters as Spike is the best foil that “Angel” ever provided for leading man Boreanaz – the chemistry between the two is terrific and the irate banter between their characters is consistently, immediately engaging throughout the season. As for “Just Rewards,” there’s a quadruple plot twist that runs through the last act that’s quite ingenious. Chapter 6 boasts some especially vivid colors and sharp imagery.

In “Unleashed,” Angel becomes involved with trying to protect Nina (Jenny Mollen), a young woman who’s just been bitten by a werewolf. This would lead to all sorts of problems in any event, but again, Wolfram & Hart – despite Angel’s edicts – is there to make things that much worse for everyone it touches. For all its peril to the guest character, “Unleashed” is a bit of a light effort, though the homages to “An American Werewolf in London” replicate that seminal film’s moments of shock in Chapters Four and Five work well here and hearing guest actor John Billingsley (whose day job is playing Dr. Phlox on “Enterprise”) belting out “Jesse’s Girl” is quite amusing.

“Hellbound” gets off to a Clive Barker-esque start, as Spike encounters some self-mutilating ghosts in the W&H basement. Spike, who has spent the last several episodes fearing he’s being sucked into Hell, finds that he’s got good reason to worry. The episode achieves some moments of true horror, as well as having a very funny and oddly touching conversation between Spike and Angel, who is sure they’re both damned. Chapter 1 has especially good visual definition in shadowy scenes and Chapter 5 has a really nifty audio effect as a spectral finger squeaks across glass in a shower, followed by an aural shock.

Disc Two starts with “Life of the Party.” Angel is unenthused about socializing with Wolfram and Hart’s evil clients at the firm’s annual Halloween bash. In charge of making the event a success, Lorne talks Angel into it, not realizing he’s become uncommonly persuasive due to the fact that he’s had his sleep removed and is magically causing everyone to follow his suggestions. The episode has some wonderfully off-the-wall humor and lets the always on-target Hallett show snappish and serious sides to the usually buoyant Lorne. Chapter 1 has some fun music cues, starting with a low instrumental overture of the disco tune “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” which throbs unobtrusively through some of the action and stops abruptly when Lorne is alone in his office. Shortly thereafter, Lorne’s hallucinates that his mirror reflection is crooning the first few lines a cappella – and then emerges from his office, wailing on it as the song’s music kicks back in full volume, segueing into the show’s title theme. There’s also a good sound effect of a very different sort in Chapter 8, when blood hits a wall with an evocative splat.

“The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco” introduces Angel and Co. to the world of Mexican wrestling as they track down an Aztec demon that eats the hearts of heroes. While the premise provides Angel a chance for some legitimate introspection – already wracked with doubt about the whole running Wolfram and Hart thing, he’s perturbed when the demon doesn’t try to eat his heart – but the irony-free world of Mexican wrestling makes an uneasy fit with “Angel’s” trademark self-awareness. Sound highlights include a huge glass crash as Angel is thrown through a glass wall in Chapter 1, nice foley on sword swings and shotgun pumps in Chapter 3 and a good blend of flamenco guitar and voiceover in Chapter 7.

The subject of Wesley’s catastrophic relationship with his father has surfaced periodically throughout “Angel,” and in “Lineage,” we finally meet the formidable old man (Roy Dotrice), who has a truly surprising agenda in visiting Los Angeles as the Wolfram and Hart offices are besieged by cyborgs. The episode provides an excellent showcase for Denisof as the quietly tense Wesley, and has some moments of real shock. However, people waiting for some narrative shoes to drop later in the season should be warned that (possibly due to cancellation) the episode’s primary mystery is never resolved. Chapter 1 has a bit of vibration at the very beginning, as quiet dialogue is mixed with ominous scoring. Fortunately, this clears up quickly and there’s strong foley on an ensuing gun battle. In Chapters 8 and 9, when the power goes out at Wolfram and Hart, there’s a very nice emergency lighting effect that is persuasive, yet still allows us to clearly see the action.

Spike finally gets his body back in “Destiny,” through a perplexing bit of magic that seems to be driving half the people at Wolfram and Hart crazy. With a bit of goading (they don’t need much), Angel and Spike are soon at each other’s throats over which of the souled vampires is destined to fulfill a prophecy that promises salvation. There are some suitably humorous, telling flashbacks to then-newly-vamped Spike’s initial encounter with the then-soulless Angel (aka Angelus) and there’s a cool electrical squeal effect that accompanies the beginning of the supernatural events in Chapter 1. Chapter 6 has a really swell cinematic shot of a car driving across a desert highway at twilight, accompanied by a fun, full-bodied blast of Talking Heads on a car radio. Chapter 11 has superb fight foley to go with a suitably epic brawl between the two enraged vamps. The episode also features commentary by its director Skip Schoolnik, writers David Fury and Steven S. DeKnight and guest actress Juliet Landau, who appears in the flashbacks as Spike’s vampire love Drusilla. The discussion is reasonably informative about both the development and production of the episode, although unlike other commentaries in this set, the volume on the main soundtrack does not rise when the commentators fall silent (which happens here occasionally).

Disc Three opens with the comedic episode “Harm’s Way.” Angel’s essentially evil but profoundly perky vampire secretary Harmony (Mercedes McNab) can’t remember if she killed her human date (bad news if she did, since Angel won’t tolerate his employees committing murder) and tries to play detective. McNab has great comedic chops, but the best bit comes at the beginning of Chapter 1, with an inspired “recruiting reel” for the Wolfram and Hart firm that mixes brilliantly glowing shots of contemporary L.A. with ‘50s-style footage. Chapter 2 provides a nice blast of power pop from Harmony’s radio and there are some impressively otherworldly demon shrieks in Chapter 12.

In “Soul Purpose,” Angel has a series of nightmares, due to a parasite planted on his chest. Meanwhile, Spike is approached by a fellow (Christian Kane) who longtime viewers will recognize as ex-Wolfram and Hart employee Lindsey and who viewers of this box set will recognize as the secret boyfriend of duplicitous Wolfram and Hart rep Eve (Sarah Thompson). Lindsey starts grooming Spike to be a “champion” who helps the helpless the way Angel did in the past – which plays a bit differently because Spike is very vocal about his irritation with people who behave like horror movie victims. Chapter 2 shows off a pink and blue lighting effect very well and Chapter 4 has a good cross-fade, with dialogue lowering and music rising to indicate Angel’s unsettled state of mind. Boreanaz, who skillfully makes his directorial debut with this episode, writer Brent Fletcher and guest actor Kane provide a friendly commentary track; Boreanaz explains his character is sitting or lying down throughout most of the action because in real life, he’d just had knee surgery.

“Damage,” one of the darker and more compelling episodes of the season, finds Angel and Spike trying to locate and subdue a disturbed young woman, who manifested superpowers several months earlier and has violently escaped from an asylum. This tie-in with the series finale of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” boasts a witty guest turn from Tom Lenk as a knowledgeable nerd, some especially sharp writing by DeKnight and Drew Goddard and a telling final scene, played with nuanced restraint by Boreanaz and Marsters.

Disc 4 begins with “You’re Welcome,” “Angel’s” 100th episode. Former regular Charisma Carpenter reprises her role as Cordelia Chase, who rises from her season-long coma to help Angel deal with a crisis of confidence and a potentially fatal lockdown at Wolfram and Hart, courtesy of old foe Lindsey. Written and directed by Fury, the episode bittersweetly wraps up some long-lingering plot threads while introducing new ones that will play out for the rest of the series. Carpenter easily fits in with the rhythms of the new season. Chapters 12 and 13 have plenty of impact in the fist blows and sword clangs during an almighty battle between Angel and Lindsey and there’s a very cool optical with tattoos that fly off skin into the air. Fury, Kane and Thompson supply decent commentary, including fond discussion of the late Glenn Quinn, an “Angel” regular in Season One, who shows up here in an affecting video clip.

“Why We Fight” is pretty much the last of the standalone episodes. It looks and feels a bit like an old “Twilight Zone,” playing out largely in flashback in 1943, when a reluctant Angel was forced by the U.S. military to rescue a submarine under siege by its erstwhile cargo: a trio of vamps. Guest actor Eyal Podell brings the right note of creepy melancholy to a young man who figures in both present and past, and there’s an intriguing wistfulness to the segment. Chapter 6 has a strong Klaxon effect (yes, that’s your sound system, not a neighborhood emergency) and Chapter 11 has decent-for-TV-soundtrack underwater torpedo hits.

“Smile Time” is the highlight of this box set, a highlight of “Angel” and, heck, a highlight of one-hour TV episodes throughout history. “Angel” doesn’t have the best record at trying to be flat-out funny – its humor consistently works gangbusters within its serious framework, but the show often tries a little too hard when it loses sight of its grimness. Not so here – possibly because the showmakers know the B story, about Gunn making a deal to retain his mental acumen, is about to get grim indeed, but more likely because all parties concerned have hit upon something so flat-out insane and perfectly executed as to qualify as an instant classic. Angel and his friends deduce that a morning “edutainment” kiddy show, “Smile Time” (think “Sesame Street”), is causing some children to lapse into comas. When Angel goes to the TV studio to investigate, he is transformed into a Muppet version of himself – who still has to run Wolfram and Hart while trying to figure out how to thwart the evil “Smile Time” puppets. Boreanaz supplies the voice for the puppet, which looks hilariously like him. Watching the other characters trying heroically not to burst out laughing at their fearless (if currently small and overly excitable) leader, seeing the Angel puppet duke it out with Spike, the great puppet battle at the end and even the other puppets, all of whom seem perfectly ready to show up on PBS tomorrow morning, is an indelible experience. Written and directed by Ben Edlund, “Smile Time” even has some songs that sound as though they were really written for children’s television – the “Self Esteem” song that crops up in Chapter 5 and reprises in Chapter 15 is actually pretty catchy and comes over the system with a nice folk guitar sound. Kudos to all parties concerned.

After making us laugh, “Angel” sets out to make us cry with “A Hole in the World,” as “Angel’s” series-ending arc picks up steam. Fred becomes infected by dust from a mysterious sarcophagus, and as all of her friends try to save her, it becomes clear that she’s dying. Acker as Fred and Denisof as the devoted Wesley are superb and the emotions generated are surprisingly powerful. Most movies dealing with terminal illness don’t achieve this sort of depth (albeit we haven’t had almost three years to get to know their characters, as we have with Fred). Commentary by episode writer/director Whedon and the two performers is fairly entertaining, though they keep getting engrossed by what they’re watching and forgetting to talk. There’s a fine sound contrast in Chapter 1 as we cut from a flashback of Fred at home in Texas with her parents to demon bug shrieks in the present. Chapter 2 has Richards showing off a very pleasant singing voice on an a cappella snatch of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Three Little Maids” and there’s a pretty credible optical of the title effect – a hole running straight through the center of the planet – in Chapter 12.

Disc Five starts with “Shells,” which begins right where “Hole” ended – with Fred’s death and the resurrection of ancient demon god Illyria in Fred’s body. As Angel and Spike, two relative experts on bringing back the dead, learn that it’s just not possible in this case, Wesley tries at first to dispatch and then to comprehend the entity occupying his dead beloved’s body. Richards shines as the devastated Gunn, who realizes too late the cost of maintaining his lawyer persona. There are several cool opticals in Chapter 6 as Illyria changes her clothes in a novel way and visibly slows time. Chapter 15 makes beautiful use of Kim Richey’s song “A Place Called Home” (which also turned up last season on “Alias”) over a wrenching climactic montage of the various characters dealing with their grief and a flashback powerfully contrasts its sunny cheer with what we know will happen.

In “Underneath,” Angel, Spike and Gunn – reluctantly – go to rescue Lindsey from an alternate dimension that looks like a cheerily bland suburb, but one that harbors a very nasty secret or two, while Lorne and Harmony attempt to protect Eve from a large, well-dressed menace (Adam Baldwin). There is extremely good stuttering machine gun fire in Chapter 10, along with an uncommonly bloody for broadcast TV impact. Episode director Schoolnik, writing team Elizabeth Craft and Saran Fain and guest actor Baldwin provide group commentary. The episode is of particular interest, as Schoolnik reveals that the cancellation was announced during filming (not inappropriately, of a scene in a torture chamber) – his comments reveal that the producers were classy and sympathetic to the predicament of their employees.

“Origin” brings back Season Four regular Vincent Kartheiser as Angel’s teenaged son Connor – who, thanks to the famous memory wipe, has no idea he’s not the child of the nice, normal Reilly family. However, the warlock (a twinkly, deft Dennis Christopher) who gave Connor his happy new memories now needs a demon slain and, as it turns out, Connor is the only one for the job. The episode works wonderfully on its own terms, with Boreanaz handily depicting Angel’s conflicting joy and rage at having Connor turn up again and Kartheiser giving us both Connor’s likable new persona and the darkness beneath; it also wraps up plot elements that began two seasons ago.

“Time Bomb” finds Angel and Company very worried about what the increasingly unstable Illyria may do. For her part, Illyria sees conspiracies against her everywhere – partly because she’s become unstuck in time. The episode is intriguing but rather confusing, with short-term time travel rules that whiz by quicker than this viewer could track. Nice audio effects include creepy lullaby music mixed with a loud crash in Chapter 1.

Disc Six contains “The Girl in Question,” with Angel and Spike traveling to Rome to rescue Buffy (who does not actually appear) from an ambiguous figure called the Immortal, as it becomes increasingly clear that jealousy rather than legitimate fear is behind their quest. Boreanaz and Marsters banter entertainingly, but the bickering gets to be a bit much after awhile – the characters don’t seem quite this petty elsewhere. By contrast, the B story is jolting, as Wesley is appalled to find out that Illyria can transform herself to look and act like Fred at will; Acker’s turn-on-a-dime performance here is truly noteworthy. The episode, directed by series co-creator David Greenwalt, plays with a lot of different looks – there’s a fun flash of black-and-white Fellini in Chapter 2, fairytale glowing colors in a speeded-up vision of Rome by night in Chapter 5 and a slow-motion fistfight to a well-reproduced Dean Martin tune in Chapter 8.

“Power Play” and “Not Fade Away” are a two-parter, with Angel taking drastic steps to bring down the evil powers behind Wolfram and Hart, even if it kills him. “Power Play” is truly suspenseful and “Not Fade Away” has peaks of unexpected, tremendous humor, along with some twists that are genuinely surprising yet wholly appropriate. The entire cast does tremendous work here, with Denisof and Hallett particularly affecting in their respective final scenes. “Power Play” has especially good fight foley and an atmospheric power whoosh in Chapter 14. “Not Fade Away” has a lovely, mellow piece of Hallett-as-Lorne’s rendition of “If I Ruled the World,” moving into a punk-western ballad as background for an inventive bit with Marsters’ Spike. Chapter 15 has a really admirable mix, with dialogue very clear over a background of pouring rain and approaching roars. Episode director Jeff Bell, who co-wrote the script with series co-creator Whedon, provides an appealing commentary track, self-effacing when it comes to his shooting style (he makes fun of the push-in shots he uses to emphasize emotions).

The box set is equipped with a satisfying batch of extras. Disc One has “Hey Kids It’s Smile Time!”, which focuses on the exceptional puppet episode, with director Edlund, stunt coordinator Mike Massa, puppeteers Victor Yerrid, Tim Blaney, Drew Mossey, Julianne Buesher and Boreanaz – in both his real and puppet personas – all weighing in. The featurette has fun behind-the-scenes footage – a bit more of this (rather than the many clips from the actual episode, which is after all included in its entirety) would have been welcome.

Disc Four contains “Angel 100,” featuring footage from the on-set party commemorating the hundredth episode and short but lively interviews with Whedon, Boreanaz, Denisof, Acker, Richard, Marsters and Carpenter. Disc Five has “Choreography of a Stunt,” which shows in detail stunt coordinator/Boreanaz double Mike Massa setting up and executing a daunting two-part stunt in which he gets pitched out a window and takes a huge drop off the side of a building in the “Shells” episode.

Disc Six has an authentically laugh-winning outtake reel, “Angel Unbound.” “To Live and Die in L.A.” is a featurette in which Joss Whedon discusses his favorite episodes of the first four seasons. “Halos and Horns” features interviews with Kane, Landau, Julie Benz (who shows up in flashbacks in “The Girl in Question” as Angel’s vampire lover/sire Darla) and Stephanie Romanov (whose Lilah character does not appear in Season Five) providing insights into playing the show’s complex continuing antagonists. “Angel: The Final Season” has a good montage that sums up series highlights. Whedon names his choices for key episodes and moments within Season Five and there are interviews with Bell, DeKnight, Acker, Boreanaz, Denisof, Marsters, Richards, Hallett, McNab and Thompson.

“Angel” Season Five represents an uncommonly compelling season of series television that leaves you wanting more. The only bad part about it is that its complicated storyline and layered, unpredictable characters left us not because it was time and not (by any stretch) because its creative team had run out of ideas, but due to forces beyond their control. There’s a metaphor for the whole show in there somewhere – both in narrative and production terms, we certainly see all parties concerned fighting the good fight up to the last moment.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital Surround; French Dolby Digital Surround; Spanish Dolby Digital Surround
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Audio Commentaries by Series Creator Joss Whedon, Writers/Producers/Directors Jeffrey Bell, David Fury and Steven S. DeKnight, Director Skip Schoolnik, Writers Brent Fletcher, Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain, Actor/Director David Boreanaz and Actors Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Sarah Thompson, Christian Kane, Juliet Landau and Adam Baldwin; “Hey Kids It’s Smile Time” Featurette With Interviews With Writer/Director Ben Edlund, Boreanaz and Puppeteers Victor Yerrid, Tim Blaney, Drew Mossey and Julianne Buesher and Stunt Coordinator Mike Massa; “Angel 100”: Interviews With Whedon and Actors Boreanaz, Denisof, Acker, J. August Richards, James Marsters and Charisma Carpenter; “Angel: The Final Season” Making-Of Featurette, with Interviews With Whedon, Bell, DeKnight, Boreanaz, Denisof, Acker, Thompson, Marsters, Richards and Actors Andy Hallett and Mercedes McNab; “Choreography of a Stunt” Featurette: Interviews with DeKnight, Boreanaz, Bell and Massa; “To Live and Die in L.A.” – Whedon on Best Episodes of “Angel”; “Halos and Horns”: Interviews With Landau, Kane and Actors Stephanie Romanov and Julie Benz; Gag Reels; English and Spanish Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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