TV Reviews

Knight Rider – Limited 40th Anniversary Edition – Blu-ray Review

In the same way that you are apparently never more than 6ft away from a rat in London, it appears on social media you are never more than a brief scroll away from somebody waxing lyrical about the corned beef of their childhood, or enquiring whether anyone remembers Spangles, rickets, or the repeal of the Corn Laws. In some cases, it seems that nostalgia – as the hoary old joke goes – is not what it used to be.

However, despite the Biblical quote that talks about putting away childish things, there are still things which attract that Proustian rush through one’s adulthood when remembering things past. For kids who grew up in the 1980s, for example, there is an undeniable warm, fuzzy glow which accompanies the recall of what felt like a golden age of TV, especially when it came to glossy, high-octane, gimmick or gadget-laden US action-adventure programming. Those import shows all felt more exciting and high-budget than more homegrown fare, and tended to stay far longer in one’s memory than they ever did on screen.

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For a while, it felt as though the schedules were chock full of wall-to-wall American series in primetime, and not always in a bad way. You could hardly move for shows about doctors who could transform into animals (because, well, reasons), Vietnam veterans on the run from the authorities, souped-up cutting edge high-tech helicopters and motorbikes, and digitally-created crimefighters. Some of these were ‘one and done’ creations, burning brightly for a single season before being canned, whereas others had legs and stuck around for a while longer before finally going to that great TV archive in the sky.

Thankfully, the decade saw an explosion in VCR sales, home taping meaning that you no longer had to rely on just fading memories of pre-adolescent viewing, but could enjoy your favourites over and over again. One of those imports which perhaps stood up rather better than some contemporaries was the programme which launched David Hasselhoff into international (including – significantly – German) stardom: Knight Rider. The story of a young loner with a talking car, who was on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless and the powerless, in a world of criminals who operated above the law.

© Universal Home Entertainment.

For four years, Hasselhoff’s Michael Knight – with his leather jacket and tight perm – was a mainstay of the listings before finally being unceremoniously cancelled, reaching the end of the road in 1986. Knight Rider seems to have attained more pop culture staying power than some other programming of the era, having in recent years generated merchandise from Playmobil, LEGO DIMENSIONS and Scalextric, all of which is surely being pitched at a mix of Gen X and Millennials, rather than any actual contemporary children, for whom the series’ name brand awareness must be relatively low. Time now for adults to put away all of the childish things which they have blown their hard-earned wages on, apparently.

Despite the surge in streaming services lately, content like Knight Rider and its ilk seems strangely absent, tending to crop up only in repeat runs on niche channels like Legend or HorrorXtra. Thank goodness, then, for physical media still hanging on in there by the skin of its teeth, and providing an outlet for these shows. Despite having been previously put out on VHS, DVD and latterly Blu-ray, Knight Rider has got a new release in a limited edition Blu-ray set, courtesy of the German company Turbine Media. Hasselhoff’s popularity in Deutschland– which included him singing on top of the Berlin Wall mere weeks after its fall – has not only endured, but also left his fans well served.

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Real credit, then, must go to Turbine Media for putting such great effort into this new Blu-ray release for Knight Rider’s 40th anniversary, limited to just 3,939 copies. It manages to gather together all 90 episodes of the original, along with all of the increasingly shonky spin-offs and sequels (barring the 2008 continuation show, apparently for rights reasons): the two TV movies, Knight Rider 2000 and Knight Rider 2010, as well as short-lived follow-up series, 1997’s Team Knight Rider (getting its first ever home media outing). Without a doubt, the set really is the most comprehensive collection of the series and (the majority of) its progeny that we are likely to see brought out.

Where this set immediately wins out over its predecessors is in terms of the remastering carried out on the original series, using original film elements from the Universal vaults. With all of Knight Rider’s four seasons spread out across 20 discs, there is no compression needed to fit all of the episodes into the set, meaning the picture and sound quality is as good as it is likely ever going to be (barring any potential – and very unlikely – future 4K outing). For the first time ever, all of the original music tracks are intact (some having been removed or replaced on earlier releases, due to relevant permissions not having been obtained), and all 90 episodes are also full length and complete, as previous Knight Rider sets had seen some of them being trimmed by several minutes.

Similar extensive restoration was not able to be carried out on Knight Rider 2000, Knight Rider 2010 or Team Knight Rider, as all of these were shot on film but then edited and composited on videotape, and Universal was sadly unable to locate their original film elements, presumably having been lost during the 2008 fire on the studio lot, which destroyed a host of TV and film archive material. However, in order to give them the best possible presentation, each of these have been upscaled as fully as could be achieved, giving them the best picture and sound quality we are likely to ever get. As for the actual subjective quality of these offshoots, no amount of remastering can ever improve that, alas.

© Universal Home Entertainment.

Turbine Media’s bonus features disc really has gone to town, not only gathering some legacy features from earlier Knight Rider DVD and Blu-ray releases, but also compiling new and exclusive extras. There are interviews with the composer Stu Phillips, stunt coordinator Jack Gill, actress Rebecca Holden, and members of the series’ production team Deborah Davis, Tom Greene and Steven E de Souza (with the latter probably best known for writing Die Hard and Commando). Taking far more of a ‘local interest’ angle is a featurette about Andreas Winkler, owner of the German website, who built a replica of KITT, images of which have been used by Turbine in the packaging of the set.

The box itself is hefty enough in both size and weight to stop a speeding Pontiac Trans Am firmly in its tracks, due to all of the remarkable contents. Each of the four seasons of Knight Rider when placed together in a row form different pictures of KITT – one across the front covers, and another along the spines – with Andreas Winkler’s reproduction vehicle having been used as the basis. The loving care and attention which has been devoted by Turbine to the presentation of this set continues in the inclusion of a pair of double-sided posters (finally giving you a chance to pin David Hasselhoff against your wall, should you wish), card printed publicity photos of the cast, some stickers, an art print, and – quite amazingly – recreations of some screen used props, like Michael Knight’s driving licence and various fake ID cards.

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One of the main highlights amongst the myriad of this value added material comes in the form of Knight Guide, which is a 332-page book all about Knight Rider and its successors, full of episodes guides, interviews, and behind-the-scenes features. Perhaps the only minor drawback with this is that – understandably – the entire book is in the native tongue, so you will either need to try and drag up all your memories of GCSE German from back in the day, or use an app in order to translate it into English. However, on the discs themselves – all of which are region-free – Turbine has ensured that there are English and German language soundtrack options, along with subtitles in both languages.

This 40th anniversary set is certainly not cheap, but then if you look at all the incredible contents contained within, and the limited numbers being produced, you would expect this exclusivity to come at a cost. In overall quality terms, it does put some homegrown box sets to shame, and any reticence in relation to the price tag is quickly overcome when you tear open the cellophane and crack open that box. To misquote a catchphrase from the series, one set can make a difference, and Turbine’s 40th anniversary Knight Rider collection has the whole KITT and caboodle for sure.

Knight Rider – Limited 40th Anniversary Edition is out now on Blu-ray in Germany.

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