NOTE: Videos and DVD's are continuing to proliferate: for fans who wish to review any episode of the Monkees television shows, both seasons are available for viewing; want to see them live in concert from the comfort of your living room? There are two versions of their superiour 2002 concert in Anaheim, California; want to investigate their trippy big screen debut HEAD? Rhino has it out on DVD as well; or maybe you just want to know the story of the Monkees - there is a fine documentary as well as a ficitionalized TV movie which are both fine introductions to the band. Here's hoping that even more Monkeeshines make their way to the screen.
The Monkees Season One
Rhino Home Video R2-976076 [DVD]; Eagle Rock [DVD]
Released May 13, 2003; 2011
REVIEW: Here's where the whole thing started. Four young guys, long hair, living in a beachhouse, struggling to become a successful band, but instead are pulled into one crazy situation after another. With humor, manic energy, and a dash of some of the catchiest songs you've ever heard, plus a certain almost undefinable chemistry, The Monkees premiered September 12, 1966 to immediate success and some critical acclaim and the rest, as they say... Well, from my perspective, I rarely watched the Monkees as a child. I was born in '67, so the only chance I would've had was with the Saturday Morning syndicated re-runs that ran through the years. I first got into the Monkees through their music, and was enough into them by the time that Rhino released these DVD's sets that I knew I had to watch them. So, I saw these shows for the first time as an adult, which I'm sure has colored my perspective of them. They're fun, formulaic, and slight shows, no big messages or heavy emotional drama. It's clear that these shows were aimed at young, pre-teen children. The editing is probably the most remarkable thing about the series - attention span-deficit children will have no problem in the short, quick scenes that bounce around here, and the "romps" which feature the Monkees pretty much thwarting their enemies/solving problems, etc, to the sounds of their latest single. No wonder the guys got tired of doing the same old format after a couple of years! This is broad, slapstick comedy with cute little sidebars of social commentary, or a wink-wink breaking down of the fourth wall, and letting the audience know just how silly this all is. I would love to show this to some 10-year olds and see what their reaction is today compared with what they see every day on the tube. Anyway - good, clean fun, with lots of energy, some truly funny stuff, and lots of good music that you remember. I wish Rhino had included alternate music tracks for each show, since during the re-runs they would substitute the original song for a different one, and here, sometimes you hear the same song over and over and over again. It would've been nice to have the option to change it. Sound is pretty basic, just Dolby 2.0 and 5.0 (not surround), and the picture is generally sharp, but there are episodes that have heavy clutter, and it's obvious that little in the way of restoration was done. Overall some good family fun here.
The Monkees Season Two
Rhino Home Video R2 970128 [DVD]; Eagle Rock [DVD]
Released November 18, 2003; 2011
REVIEW: Season two is where the Monkees came into their own as performers and artists; although echoes of season one's formulaic scripts and situations remained, now the Monkees inserted more off-the cuff humor; more zany references, and more looseness into each episode, sometimes to the point of implosion. High points for me include the on-location filming of "Hitting the High Seas," the sensitive "The Christmas Show," which features an on-screen look at all of the staff who made the Monkees; the hilarous Mike Nesmith in drag as a princess in "Fairy Tale;" and the mad-scientist vibe of "Monstrous Monkee Mash." There are several laugh-out-loud scenes and I can only wonder what would have happened if the Monkees had gotten their wish to change the format for season three, instead of being unceremoniously dumped at the conclusion of their second season. You can see the Monkees start to lose their enthusiasm for the show right around "The Monkees Race Again" when it's pretty obvious that they are just phoning their performances in, and even more so on the next episode, the 26-minute romp of "The Monkees in Paris" (which looks very washed out and faded - the original print must have degraded while in storage.) where they actually complain about the scripts on camera! The format of season two follows closely it's predecessor, with lots of trivia for each episode, hidden easter eggs on individual episode menu screens, (featuring inteviews with guest actors) and commentary by all four Monkees on different episodes. Also included, much to the delight of fans, is the final Monkee TV special before Peter Tork left the group, "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee" which is rumored to be the sketch comedy/guest artist format that the Monkees wished to evolve into for their third season. Not a great show by any means, and it bombed when placed against the 1969 Academy Awards show, but it's still great nostalgia, and I applaud Rhino for putting it here. If anything, an even better package than the first box, with lots to enjoy for entire families.
The Monkees: Our Favorite Episodes (June 12, 2000)
Rhino Home Video 110 min.
REVIEW: This DVD has been entirely surpassed by the excellent season sets above, but for awhile, this was the only "extra features" available for Monkees fans who wished to hear Peter, Davy, Mike and Micky discuss their seminal 1966-67 television show. Taking the conceit that these are each of the Monkees favorite episodes, the viewer immediately comes upon a huge flaw: Davy's favorite episode "Royal Flush" is not the episode included here; instead the producers of the DVD put in a second-season show "Hitting The High Seas" - a 'on the high seas' pirate episode which has nice outdoor scenery, but defeats the purpose of this being a "favorite" episode of Davy's. It's also a strange choice, since Mike hardly appears in the show, since he reportedly got severely seasick while filming. Peter's choice is the first season ep "Monkees Vs. Machine" which nicely establishes his character as an innocent, befuddled man-child, as well as showing how the Monkees were able to subvert 'the system' and come out on top, with nice moments from each of the four Monkees. Mike's favorite episode is the second-season "Fairy Tale" which is a wacky take-off on story conventions, but with Mike in drag as the princess in distress, keeping his deep Texan drawl amidst the veils and high heels. Micky's favorite episode is the one he directed, and perhaps the 'spaciest' (pun fully intended) of all the series, "The Frodis Caper" which has aliens from outer space being foiled by the madcap Monkees. Each segment has brief opening commentary by the appropriate Monkee, and is thoughtfully chapter indexed for songs featured during each episode. But the season sets above contain much more commentary for these same episodes, and Davy even gets to comment on "Royal Flush" - so this DVD is only for completists or those who need just a little taste of Monkees Mania in their lives.
The Monkees: Heart & Soul (1988)
Rhino Home Video R3 1601 [VHS]
REVIEW: This 40-minute promotional video released by Rhino in conjuction with Pool It! is an entertaining way to remember the Monkess as they were in 1987. New Wave fashion is shown (and lampooned during the live show), two brand-new videos were shot (although they never got airplay on MTV; this was during the infamous spat between the cable network and the Monkees, therefore the videos were only available on Nickolodeon), and the Monkees sat down and gave a brief interview in which they recall their involvement with the show, personal memories, and various bits of ephemera: (Peter Tork's favorite color? Orange and Turquoise next to each other... ok, just orange!) The videos are in general well-done, especially the first, which shows the three Monkees in cold storage for the past twenty years, and trying to get a job in a heavy-metal club. There are some great visuals (the automatic hair-driers which dethaw them; the 'make your own music video' booth on the streets of L.A.) and the song "Heart And Soul" is good, though dated in that late-80's way that marred so many records of the time. The second video, "Every Step Of The Way" is a more slip-shod affair, showing the Monkees thrashing it out in a back alley. The song is horrible, but the video at least makes it palatable, with lots of humor thrown in, to good effect (Davy singing using a carrot for a microphone, and Peter taking a bite out of it). But the Monkees seem tired: Micky especially has none of the manic energy in the interview segments that I expect from him, and Peter often gets shuffled off to the side with Davy's constant chatter. The interview segments with the people on the street is disingenuous as well: when asked which is their favorite Monkee, no one even mentions Mike (coincidence? ...I don't think so.) and several people can't even remember which Monkee is which! There's also fairly shameless fan club extras, with an extended sequence of The Monkees taking a 10-year-old contest winner to a diner, only to be shown up by the camera-hogging waiters & waitresses! Still, it's an essential video for Monkees fans, since it's the only official document of this time in their careers, with several minutes of footage unavailable elsewhere, including several "Rice Krispies" commercials which didn't make it onto the recent DVDs.
Hey, Hey We're The Monkees (c.1998, 2002)
Immortal IMM940026 [DVD], WEA Rhino 2327 [VHS]
REVIEW: Yep, there are two versions of this video on the market, the one on the right is the original Rhino VHS which runs for 101 minutes, and the one on the left is a truncated DVD version trimmed down to 60 min. I'm not sure why Rhino hasn't released the full length documentary on DVD itself, since it's by far the best introduction to the band yet, with clips from the television show, behind the scenes looks at the Monkees, interviews with all four band members, the creators of the show, and much more. Created during the heyday of Rhino's CD reissue program of the entire Monkees catalog, it's obviously a labor of love; there's no narration, as such, but just the words of the Monkees and other involved with the show all telling their sides of the story, and it's all very tasteful and well done. The DVD version for some reason has been severely edited, with over 40 minutes excised, including some one-on-one interviews with the band; it's also very pricey as am import, so unless you just have to have the DVD, I would recommend either buying the VHS on the right, or petitioning Rhino to release it on their own DVD format.
The Monkees: HEAD (1968, 1994)
Rhino Home Video R2 4460 [DVD]
I saw the movie HEAD before I saw any of the Monkees television shows, which probably wasn't a good thing. If you aren't familiar with the Monkees formulaic scripts from the tube, you won't understand how the Monkees (along with Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson) were trying to completely shatter the scripted format, along with the image that the show had created of the Monkees. HEAD was supposed to be a bold new direction for the band, finally freeing themselves from the contraints and silliness of the show (in fact, it was during the filming of HEAD that the Monkees were informed that their series had been cancelled.) Viewing the film with that eye, it's quite refreshing to see the carefully-crafted dismantling of all the conventions the Monkees had been playing over the past two years. What they created was essentially an plotless film, and anytime a well-worn convention showed up, the movie veers away in another direction. At the same time however, the Monkees apparently didn't realize that you don't tamper with success; with HEAD, they were effectively stepping away from the very formula which had brought them fame and fortune, and while they may have succeeded artistically, HEAD was a momentous commercial failure, and the beginning of the end for the Monkees as a group. Viewing it now, it's a minor masterpiece, with great music, surreal comedy pieces that completely break down the barriers between what is real and what is not; and the list of guest artists is intriguing, from a young Teri Garr to Annette Funucello; from Victor Mature to Sonny Liston. The DVD is unfortunately a fairly cheap affair, with lots of clutter in the picture, and only a movie trailer as an extra feature. Still worth viewing for the 'head' trip that HEAD is.
The Monkees: Justus (June 17, 1997)
Rhino Home Video R3 2352 [VHS]
REVIEW: Another promotional video meant to push The Monkees 1997 album Justus, this short film teases the watcher at first into thinking that perhaps they'll see footage taken from The Monkees only performance together as a four-piece band since 1968, but instead, just as Micky counts off the drum beat, the music changes to the studio version of "Regional Girl" and the film jumps between several staged performances of the song intercut with shots from The Monkees 1966-67 television show. In fact, all of the musicals numbers are cut in pretty much the same way, on a television stage, which has been "dressed up" for each number, and the video cameras jumping about from one shot to another, interspersed with scenes from backstage, the live concert, and old film clips of the TV show. Of the Monkees, Davy and Peter seem the most emotionally involved, with Davy talking about their 30th anniversary in the United States and Europe, and Peter acting fairly loopy no matter what's going on. Mike and Micky are more laconic, improvising a comedy routine involving different "magic glasses" which Mike pulls out of his pocket, and devolves into cheap laughs over "X-RAY" specs which Micky tries out on various girls and porno magazines. Davy gets a few laughs in a backstage bit playing a diva who wants a cameraman to get more close-up shots of him during the songs, and Peter has a short interplay with Davy about his not eating cheese. In the course of the 30-minute program, its revealed that Mike was the impetus for creating the album Justus, and the songs themselves come across stronger on screen than they do on the record, thanks to the performing chops of the Monkees, and the small amounts of humor they throw into everything. The dark elements found in the music are leavened by the gaffs, raised eyebrows and bugged eyes of Mike, Peter, Davy, and Micky. The show ends on a nice note, with Mike saying "The miracle is when the four of us get together... The Monkees come alive." Too bad it was a short-lived reunion. This is a nice addition to the Monkees catalog, and I wish Rhino would release it (along with the full Billboard concert) on DVD.
Daydream Believers: The Monkees' Story (March 25, 2003)
New Concord NH20787 D [DVD]
REVIEW: Trying to encapsulate the Monkees story in a made-for-tv movie was pretty risky, but "Daydream Believers" is actually a good, fictionalized retelling of the basic facts of how the Monkees were created, rose, and then fell again in the good graces of the public. Utilizing the actual music of the Monkees and with their full cooperation helps, making this project a step above some other, more sensational biopics. Recreating some of the look and feel of the original series is very well done, and the actors chosen to play each of the different 'roles' of the Monkees are remarkably realized. As with any fictionalized event, some things have been condensed, events have been moved, and the ending is hopelessly cheery and upbeat in the worst tradition of Hollywood. But still, I found this eminently watchable, and the DVD has some incredible extras, with both audio commentaries from Micky Dolenz (which he mocks the entire film in hilarous fashion), Davy Jones (who seems to like grinding his axes against the other three, especially Mike), and Peter (who just seems to be in wonder of the whole thing, occasionally popping in with his version of the truth), and the director Neill Fearnley. PLUS there are video interviews with all three Monkees - making the extras essential stuff for Monkee fans. So while the film has it's faults, it also stays remarkably close to the facts, the actors acquit themselves well in their roles, the music is the Monkees' own, and the extras alone make this DVD essential viewing.
The Monkees Video Hits (2003)
Colgems Home Video (Not Really) 36572 [DVD-R]
REVIEW: Another interesting bootleg release, The Monkees Video Hits collects every single romp from the original television series and expertly overlays the original mono recordings with stereo remixes from Rhino's CD re-releases. The sound is very good, with clear, CD-quality stereo mixed perhaps a bit too loud for my speakers, but still very fun. Everything from the first and second season is included, with additional music highlights from the Monkees feature film Head. Nothing from 33-1/3 Monkees per Revolution or Justus made the cut, however. The video quality is taken from VHS sources, which are usually very good, but some tracks look dark and murky compared to the recent DVD releases - but it's still good, with only minor video artifacts creeping in. The various commericals and promotional spots are, for the most part, much dodgier, obviously taken from several generations removed fan tapes - but, again, this is about the only place to get them all in one place. The general sequencing of the DVDs are nice, with introductions to each song preceded by a title page of the album or single the song appears on, leading smoothly into each romp. There are some curious flubs, or additions as well: "Let's Dance On" on the first DVD was never a full romp; it was included in the pilot episode only as background music, but here the producer decides to include the full song in stereo, using footage from the pilot which was never meant to be cut into a romp; so you have characters speaking to each other, but no sound coming from their mouths, just the song blaring out over the picture! And "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" is erroneously credited to the Headquarters album. Oops! The track listing on Disc Two is a bit screwed up as well, with two uncredited tracks making an appearance: track three is actually "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" and track nine is a different appearance of "Cuddly Toy" making 44 tracks on disc two, not 42 as listed. The commercials are fun, with some later ones pairing Micky, Davy, and Mike with Bugs Bunny in order to sell Kool-Aid, and a later romp cut together to promote "Steam Engine" from Changes, which has Mike, Davy, and Micky shown seperately - Micky on Roller Skates amid a crowd of children, Mike hanging out in an apartment store, and Davy briefly riding on a motorcycle. A good release, and a nice way to hear and watch the Monkees romps with great stereo fidelity.
The Monkees Live Summer Tour 2002 (Nov. 12 2002)
REVIEW: Hard to believe, but this DVD marks the first time ever that the Monkees have been professionally captured on film live in concert. Micky, Peter and Davy play in Anaheim, California and here are 18 songs from that concert, played with a crack backup band and the three Monkees all getting their chance to shine in individual segments. Fans complained loudly when this set was released with almost half of the running time of the concert trimmed out (more about that later), but for casual fans wanting to catch up on what the Monkees sounded like in 2002, this DVD is a prime reminder of how talented and amiable they still are. Mickey still sounds great (although he looks like Marlon Brando in "The Godfather"); Davy is tanned and fit, giving a distinctive broadway belt to each of his numbers; and Peter is as fun-loving as ever, sort of like a crazy uncle that everyone loves. The band consists of drums, three keyboards, a horn section that doubles as "Monkee Dancers," a guitarist, bass player, and a multi-instrumentalist who plays saxaphone, flute and other instruments. The Monkees themselves also switch off on instruments, with Mickey alternating on drums, guitar and timpani; Peter switching from banjo, keyboard and guitar; and Davy mostly shaking it with maracas, guitar and tamborine (of course!) It's a fast, high-energy concert, and the Monkees stay in high gear the entire time. Also included on the DVD is brief backstage interviews with all three Monkees, and "Karioke" versions of "Last Train To Clarksville" and "I'm A Believer." Now, Monkee fans were disappointed when much of the concert was edited for purchase, and so a petition was started by fans, which led to the release of:
The Monkees Live Summer Tour Limited Collector's Edition (Jan. 12, 2004)
REVIEW: King Biscuit, who released the first DVD above, relented after enough interest was shown by fans and produced a limited run (500) of the complete 2002 Anaheim, California concert, uncut and containing nearly an hour's worth of additional material. Now fans can hear songs that were left off (Bach's 2-part invention #8 in F, Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?, Since I Fell For You, Lucille, It's Nice To Be With You, Porpoise Song, Listen To the Band, I Wanna Be Free, No Time, Your Auntie Grizelda), and see all of the between song chatter and skits that are part and parcel of the Monkees live show. For fans, this is the whole enchilada. Most interesting for me are the inclusion of the underappreciated "Porpoise Song," Peter's self-depricating banter before "Your Auntie Grizelda," (plus his tour de force playing on the Bach Invention), and Davy's tender dedication of "(I'll) Love You Forever" to his daughters. Also worht seeing are two of the band members' acting out a scene from "All In The Family" at Davy's insistance. Available for a limited time only from King Biscuit for a heart-stopping price of $49.95 (single disc). But fans won't want to throw away the cut version either, since the bonus interview footage is NOT included on the extended collector's edition. For fanatics only, the rest stick with the fine 60-minute edition above.
The Monkees: The Complete Series
Rhino [Limited Edition Blu-Ray]
Released January 2016
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