Baa Baa Black Sheep: The Complete Series (aka Les Têtes Brulées) (French All Region – Blu-ray Review)
DirectorVarious, created by Stephen J. Cannell
Release Date(s)1976-78 (September 25, 2018)
Studio(s)NBC Universal (Elephant Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
[Editor’s Note: This is an ALL REGION French Blu-ray release with SD bonus content in PAL format.]
“We are poor little lambs, who have lost our way, baa baa baa…”
Now here’s a classic Stephen J. Cannell TV series from the 1970s that I’m particularly fond of. Baa Baa Black Sheep (rebranded as Black Sheep Squadron for later syndication) first appeared on NBC in 1976, and ran for two seasons. The series chronicles the missions of one of the most celebrated Marine fighter squadrons of World War II, the infamous Black Sheep of VMF-214. In fact, Baa Baa Black Sheep is loosely based on an autobiography of the same name by the squadron’s actual commander, Major Greg “Pappy” Boyington, who served as a consultant on the production before his death in 1988. The pilots are portrayed—somewhat inaccurately, I might add—as a band of drunks and misfits who pulled together under Boyington to become the terrors of the Pacific. This portrayal qualifies as artistic license; while Boyington himself had a reputation as a drunken trouble-maker with authority issues, this wasn’t true of his men. And all of them were actually exceptional pilots, many of whom became decorated aces (Boyington included).
Issues of accuracy aside, however, the short-lived series—part WWII action drama and part comedy—is a great deal of fun and it’s certainly different that most TV fare of the 70s. The series runs 36 hour-long episodes in all. Its story is simple: Boyington and his Black Sheep are fighting the air war against the Japanese in the Pacific… when they aren’t fighting each other, drinking and carousing with the local nurses, and disobeying orders. In addition to Robert Conrad, who played Boyington (and the real Boyington, who appeared in three episodes as a Marine general), the series is notable for its full roster of supporting players, many of whom would go on to have much larger roles in TV and film. These include the likes of John Larroquette, James Whitmore Jr., Sharon Gless, Charles Napier, Dana Elcar, and Red West (legendary member of Elvis Presley’s Memphis Mafia). Notable guest stars on the series include Anne Francis, Rene Auberjonois, Peter Donat, Kent McCord, James Darren, James Hong, Tim Matheson, George Takei, James Keach, Ernie Hudson, and Peter Frampton. Yes, that Peter Frampton. Hell, Jackie Cooper even directed five episodes.
As many fans of this series will know, Universal released Season One on DVD in the States in two volumes back in 2005 and 2007 respectively. But the studio never got around to releasing Season Two on disc domestically. I ended up having to import a French DVD set of Season Two, which was released there in 2006 (it turns out the series is hugely popular in France). Our friends at Shout! Factory finally released Season Two on DVD in the States in 2016. But there’s never been a Complete Series DVD set in the States, nor has the series been released on Blu-ray here. But I’m thrilled to say that Elephant Films has released Baa Baa Black Sheep: The Complete Series on Blu-ray in France; it came out in September of last year under the title Les Têtes Brulées. And here’s the even better news: I’ve personally checked every disc and the entire set is ALL REGION! Read on for details…
Elephant Films’ Blu-ray release includes both seasons—all 36 episodes—in full 1080p HD, scanned from the original negatives by Universal and presented in the original 1.33:1 TV broadcast aspect ratio. These episodes look fantastic, with crisp detail, good contrast, and richer and more accurate color than I’ve ever experienced for this show. In fact, it’s safe to say that I’ve never seen the series looking better than it does here. Now, some of you will know that the series occasionally uses vintage WWII newsreel footage, stock footage from other films, and actual combat footage. This is typically many generations down from the original negative, so it’s soft, grainy, and shows its age. As for the rest of the series, occasional shots are a bit more grainy or optically soft than others, and the episode previews (which start each episode) are sometimes of a little lower quality. But the live action footage is gorgeous, very pleasing indeed. Note that all on-screen titles and credits are in English. Season One uses the opening title Baa Baa Black Sheep, while Season Two is titled Black Sheep Squadron.
In terms of audio, every episode includes both English and French 2.0 stereo in DTS-HD Master Audio format. Obviously, this is not a modern sound mix and the original audio elements have that warm/analog 1970s tone. But the audio has been cleaned up nicely, and it’s presented here in better clarity and fidelity than ever before. The episodes sound better than you’ve ever heard them, and that’s what matters most. One note however: There are no English subtitles or captions, only optional French subtitles. So buyer beware if you’re hearing impaired.
Elephant Films’ package includes 8 Blu-rays in two plastic keep cases, one for each season. Season One includes 5 discs, while Season Two includes 3. The set also includes a few special features, found on Season One, Disc Five and Season Two, Disc Three specifically (ignore the disc labeling and included booklet in this regard). Among them are:
- Interview with Marjolaine Boutet (HD 16x9 – 16:38 – French audio only)
- September 1976 NBC Today Show interview with Robert Conrad and Greg Boyington (SD 4x3 – 4:57 – English only with PAL 50i speedup and optional French subtitles)
- April 1959 NBC Interview with Greg Boyington (SD 4x3 – 1:46 – English only with PAL 50i speedup and optional French subtitles)
- Les Têtes Brulées: D’Apres une Histoire Vraie? (Interview with Pierre Grumberg) (HD 16x9 – 22:28 – French audio only)
- Bandes-Announces (HD & SD – 8 trailers for other Elephant Films Blu-ray and DVD releases)
- Photo Gallery (HD – 16 images)
The two HD featurettes are all new, but of course they’re in French only and they have no English subtitles. For the record, Marjolaine Boutet is a film historian who talks at length about the series and the history of its production. Pierre Grumberg, on the other hand, is a World War II historian who talks about the real Black Sheep and the historical accuracy of the series compared to the reality. The gallery is new as well, which offers HD quality images. The two SD interviews are actually carried over from Universal’s Volume One DVD set, though obviously now with PAL speed-up due to the conversion for French viewers. So the Blu-ray set contains every extra Universal released and then some. But Elephant Films also adds one more nice bonus, a high quality 60-page booklet of liner notes (in French only, by Didier Liardet). It also includes an episode guide, episode trivia, rare photos, and even some cool vintage product tie-in images. Obviously, for English only speakers, this is of limited value. But Google makes translation pretty easy these days and you’re obviously not losing anything from the US DVD release. So call it a win-win.
Speaking personally, I’ve wanted Baa Baa Black Sheep: The Complete Series on disc for many years. I’d have been happy with a US DVD box set. Getting a Blu-ray box set was a dream I didn’t expect ever to see come true. And yet here it is. This set currently sells on Amazon.fr for about 70 Euros, which works out to about $77 US Dollars. So it’s a little pricey. But again, the discs are All Region and should play on any US Blu-ray player. It’s certainly possible that Shout! Factory or Mill Creek could pick up the US Blu-ray rights to this series, but at this point I wouldn’t hold my breath for it. In the meantime, this French Blu-ray release from Elephant Films has made this Black Sheep fan very happy indeed. Baa baa baa…!
- Bill Hunt