Now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection, Shazam! The Complete Live-Action Series collects all 28 episodes of the Filmation program, which initially aired from 1974 to 1976. After airing under its own title for the first season, Shazam! was paired with The Secrets of Isis to create The Shazam!/Isis Hour. The set contains three Isis (Joanna Cameron) crossover episodes, “The Odd Couple,” “Finders” and “Out of Focus.”
Captain Marvel was an extremely popular comic book superhero of the ‘40s and ‘50s. In those years, Captain Marvel even had enough muscle to occasionally outsell Superman. In the original comic book, main character Billy Batson was a 12-year-old boy, who by yelling out the word “SHAZAM”, would be “struck” by a lightning bolt, and transformed into the world’s mightiest mortal, “Captain Marvel”. For the television series, several changes were made, including making Billy slightly older, probably 16 or 17.
Billy (Michael Gray) travels across the country in a RV driven by the elderly Mentor (Les Tremayne). Instead of saving the world (as he did in the comics), Billy becomes Captain Marvel (Jackson Bostwick for the first season and two episodes into the second, then John Davey took over the role) to keep kids from getting in trouble. He was given these powers by the Greek Elders—Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. The series had a very limited budget, so the idea of having Captain Marvel keep kids out of trouble was probably a smart fiscal choice. Watch just a couple episodes of Shazam! and it becomes obvious that the special effect shots of Billy talking to the Gods, turning into Captain Marvel, and Captain Marvel flying were reused in every episode. Teaching kids a moral lesson doesn’t have to cost much.
Each episode plays out similarly to an After School Special of the period. In “Joy Riders” a teenager must decide whether to give in, or stand up to his friends when they decide to steal cars. “The Athlete” has a boy sabotaging a girl’s academic record in an effort to keep her off his team. “The Doom Buggy” warns against dropping out of school. You get the point, moral lessons abound. Each episode concluded with “moral sequences” where Captain Marvel or Billy would explain the lesson for anyone who didn’t understand what they just saw.
While some might see Shazam! as a total cheese, it’s tough to deny producer Lou Scheimer had his heart in the right place. Trying to create programming that can both educate and entertain younger children is no easy task. Shazam! is a fun, mid ’70s effort, fondly remembered by early generation X’ers. For others, it’s a real nostalgia piece. I enjoyed picking out some of the notable guest stars: Barry Miller (Saturday Night Fever), Lance Kerwin, Pamelyn Ferdin, John Karlen (Cagney & Lacey), Butch Patrick (The Munsters), Lisa Elibacher, Jackie Earle Haley, Dabs Greer, Jimmy McNichol, Danny Bonaduce, Patrick Labyorteaux, Maury Wills, Eric Laneuville (St. Elsewhere) and Andrew Stevens.
As an “extra” here, you can view the episodes here with their second-or-third generations “Morals” bumpers properly inserted into the program.
Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, this is a new 1080p transfer from the original camera negative. The result is an image that looks noticeably improved over the 2012 DVD release. Colors that previous had a washed-out look are now bright, almost lush. Image softness is no longer an issue and various instances of dirt and scratches have been removed. For fans of the series, a Blu-ray upgrade is a must.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is standard issue, but dialogue is clean, clear and concise. I noticed none of the occasional, if slight, dropouts that were on the previous DVD release. Once again, this is one of those titles where I highly recommend the Blu-ray upgrade!
English SDH subtitles are available.
Shazam! The Complete Live-Action Series (1974-76)
Movie title: Shazam! The Complete Live-Action Series
Director(s): Hollingsworth Morse, Robert Chenault, Robert Douglas
Actor(s): Michael Gray, Les Tremayne , Jackson Bostwick , John Davey , JoAnna Cameron
Genre: Comic Book, Adventure, Fantasy, Action