Filmation (1975), BCI (July 24, 2007), 3 discs, 484 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital Mono, Not Rated, Retail: $29.98
Schoolteacher Andrea Thomas transforms into a superheroine with the powers of an Egyptian goddess, using her abilities to help the students at her school.
The Sweatbox Review:
Filmation was one of the biggest animation studios in the 1970s, and in 1974 they branched out into live action television production with a Shazam! series featuring comic book character Captain Marvel. This set them apart from such competitors as DePatie-Freleng and Hanna-Barbera, and although it was CBS that had insisted on the live action production, it paid off well for Filmation. Shazam! was a huge success, and led to several more live action series from the studio. The next year saw the creation of The Ghost Busters, as well as a companion piece to Shazam!— The Secrets Of Isis. And thus was born the combined series The Shazam!/Isis Hour.
Based on the success of Shazam!, the idea was obviously to create a new character that the female audience could identify with, while making the show appealing enough still for the young male audience that loved Shazam!. The producers and writers conceived of a superheroine who gained the powers of an Egyptian goddess from a mystical amulet. The amulet was discovered on an archaeological dig by schoolteacher Andrea Thomas, played by Joanna Cameron. When she returned to the high school she taught at in America, she used her newfound powers to intervene in the lives of her students whenever they got into trouble. Typically, she assisted them when they got themselves into dangerous or morally tricky situations of a non-violent variety. After all, Standards & Practices kept a pretty tight lid on what could be shown in a kids’ show back then. Anyone looking for fights against foreign agents was going to have to wait until Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman debuted in 1976. As with any superhero show, the audience had to suspend disbelief when seeing that Andrea’s students and co-workers never recognized her and Isis as being one and the same. This was aided by the fact that Andrea wore HUMUNGOUS glasses that obscured most of her facial features, 1970s-style!
Joining Cameron in the cast was Isis’s crow, Tut, who she used as an errand bird at times. No explanation is offered as to why Miss Thomas has a pet crow, but you’ve just got to go with it, right? The human cast included Brian Cutler, who portrayed straight arrow fellow teacher Rick Mason. The first season of Isis also starred Joanna Pang as teaching assistant Cindy Lee. Actually, her role in the episodes seemed to vary, as she sometimes seemed more like a student, and at other times closer to the teachers, according to the needs of the plot. The Cindy Lee character was replaced in the second season by Rennie Carroll, as played by Ronalda Douglas. Aside from casting minority actresses in these parts, the show also strived to include diversity among the students, correctly reflecting the makeup of a typical California school, not to mention the television viewing audience. This generally comes off as admirable, until it is uncomfortably pointed out, such as in Dreams Of Flight, where a Caucasian student makes comments to a Hispanic classmate about what Mexicans are good at. In general, however, race is not made an issue in this multicultural program.
Stories were generally pretty down to earth, aside from the flying woman. The first season began promisingly with a story about a UFO (The Lights Of Mystery Mountain), even if the UFO explanation turned out to be a rehashed Scooby Doo plot. From there, Isis tackled car thieves, lying students, a depressed boy whose dog had died, peer pressure, and kids looking for attention. There’s no stunning rogues gallery of foes here, but except for the odd tale about an escaped gorilla or Bigfoot the stories are relatable. Captain Marvel (John Davey) does make one appearance in the first season, in the episode Funny Girl.
The second season saw one other change besides the teaching assistant, as the show stood alone as The Secrets Of Isis. Season Two gave the audience repeats from the first season, as well as seven new episodes, as Isis took on a practical joker, a cheating cheerleader, and the dangers of hitchhiking. The season ended with a bang— a double-length story that co-starred Captain Marvel (Now You See It…/…And Now You Don’t!), who helped Isis capture the crooks that had framed Mr. Mason for stealing an experimental weather-control device. It’s too bad that the writers waited until then to give the series more of a real “superhero show” feel. Unfortunately, while The Shazam!/Isis Hour had been a smash hit, Isis did not perform well in its second season, where it went up against The Krofft Supershow on ABC, which included the campy adventures of superheroines Electra Woman and Dynagirl. (Meanwhile, NBC had yet another live action show, Monster Squad, which also had more and sillier action than Isis.) Though The Secrets Of Isis ended with its second season, the character would return in the Tarzan And The Super 7 segment The Freedom Force in 1978, teamed with other historical heroes. And, much to the delight and amazement of those that produced in and starred on the show, The Secrets Of Isis has enjoyed a cult following for decades.
One reason for this is likely the positive messages instilled in the show. Like Shazam!, Isis provided morals in its stories, always neatly summarized by a 30-second tag at the end of an episode. In these, Isis spoke directly to the camera to address the audience. Her messages were always positive and instructive, and easily relatable for children who dealt with similar issues in their own schools. Sure, cheating cheerleaders and bullies did not make for the most exciting stories, but they were certainly more real to kids than costumed supervillains. At the same time, it has to be admitted that the stories in Isis were very tame. I don’t think Isis threw one punch the entire series, only using her powers to do such non-threatening things as fly, create wind, or stop time. Sure, she had the speed of a gazelle, but she sure never used it to beat any crook senseless. At least she could deliver a sharp rhyme whenever using her powers, such as her common “O zephyr winds that blow on high, lift me now so I can fly.”
It is easy, however, to see why the show was such a success. It was unique for its time, at least until Jamie Summers and Diana Prince came along the following year, giving young girls a hero of their own to idolize. Saturday morning TV was criticized often in those days for being too filled with violence or bland cartoons, but shows like Isis demonstrate that Filmation was interested in doing more than attracting cereal advertisers for the network. The Secrets Of Isis had its heart in the right place, and that has endeared it to its many fans now for over thirty years.
Is This Thing Loaded?
The fully animated menus look totally classy (if a bit tricky to navigate), especially considering the anaemic effort Warner gave with their Filmation Batman and Superman sets. Likewise, the extras on the discs are something special.
The audio supplements include Isolated Music And Effects Tracks on three episodes. Plus, an Audio Commentary appears with Dreams Of Flight, hosted by Andy Mangels and featuring Filmation producer Lou Scheimer and a host of other show participants. It’s a good track to goes over the history of the show and what Filmation was trying to achieve with it. The third disc on the set has more features to enhance one’s appreciation of the show, particularly the letterboxed Interviews with ten people involved with the show’s production, including two producers, three actors (Cutler, Pang, and Douglas), three writers, a designer, and an assistant director. The actor interviews alone comprise almost an hour, while the other interviews run 5-10 minutes, making for about two hours’ worth of interviews! After hearing from all those people, one has a pretty good understanding of what producing the show was like. The first thing that takes away from the interviews, however, is the bizarrely small windows that the interviewees appear in; and more important is the stark absence of star Joanna Cameron, which brings the whole set down. Apparently, there was a scheduling conflict that prevented her from participating, keeping this set from becoming the ultimate Isis collectible.
The Rare Footage presented here is really essential. While it is great to see the commercial bumpers, “Next Week” tags, and Shazam/Isis Hour credits, it is even better to see that they managed to track down quite a number of the moral tags, which were removed from the film masters in the 1990s. A nice inclusion here is the Bonus Episode Of Freedom Force (10:39), entitled The Plant Soldiers. It is certainly fun to see the animated Isis after watching the live action version, and the cartoon definitely has more action in it! Lastly, there is an Image Gallery that includes sections for Promotional Material, Behind The Scenes (including special effects shots), Memorabilia (including comic book covers, toys, and costumes), and Bluewater’s current Legend Of Isis comic book.
Naturally, there is also the usual collection of Ink & Paint Trailers/Show Openings.
DVD ROM: BCI once again provides consumers with ALL 22 scripts for the show, as well as the Bluewater comic book once again.
This is one beautiful package. Whoever designs these cases for BCI deserves a raise. The Egypt-styled design of the slipcase is simply striking, and the photo-studded artwork on the two inner slimcases is just as attractive. The first slimcase holds two single-sided discs, while the second slimcase holds the third disc. I was only disappointed that there was no insert included, as these have been a nice staple of these Ink & Paint releases in the past. Each case has different hubs, but each makes it easy to free the disc.
Ink And Paint:
Like other Filmation live action shows, Isis was filmed on 16mm film, so you’re automatically going to be looking at a higher contrast, lower resolution image. Fine detail is not to be found, though blacks are certainly deep even if they obscure everything in their path. That said, the elements are in fairly good shape, with minimal scratches or dust seen. Some scenes look grainy and blurry enough that it may seem like they were shot on home video, with the effects shots appearing especially muddy, but generally the series likely looked little better when it originally aired. As usual, BCI had good compression work done, making the most of the elements they were given.
The English and Spanish tracks perform their function adequately but certainly not spectacularly. The show sounds pretty much like you would expect, given its low-budget 1970s origins. Range is limited, low end is absent, and forget about any directional effects; but on the other hand, there are no problems. The show sounds as good as ever, with no significant distortion or audio defects.
I know that a lot of you will be picking this up out of innocent nostalgia or simply out of curiosity. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the show, you may have forgotten how little action is in it, or how quaint the stories are, not unlike after-school specials with a flying woman in a mini-dress. The acting is sometimes painful to watch (though Cameron and the teaching assistants are good), and the special effects are barely passable; yet the whole enterprise is oddly enjoyable. A show this earnest defies too much criticism, and I do applaud its attempts to teach kids moral lessons while portraying a multicultural environment. The video and sound are only as good as the original elements, so do remember that the show was made on the cheap. The extras are very nice except for the unfortunate absence of the show’s star, and with its beautiful packaging it’s another winner from BCI.