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M*A*S*H: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

The 11-season run of CBS's "M*A*S*H," still TV's most watched and lauded comedy-drama, has been available on DVD in at least two forms for a while now. After gradually releasing it as individual season sets, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in 2006 packaged the entire TV series (and Robert Altman's original 1970 movie) with two discs of recent and archival bonuses — featurettes and other addenda chronicling the show's production history, influence, and viewer following — in a single value-priced shelf-breaker boxed set, the "M*A*S*H Martinis and Medicine Complete Collection." The "Martinis and Medicine" box was a bonanza for fans who had not purchased the previous season-by-season discs. However, loyal buyers who had patiently collected the individual sets could get those bonuses only by repurchasing the entire 11-season span again with "Martinis and Medicine." Cries of we're-getting-screwed rang out from here to Uijeongbu. Fox heard the call (or spotted an opportunity) and the two bonus discs from "Martinis and Medicine" are now available in a standalone three-disc set, the third disc holding the celebrated finale episode, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen." Although this is now the third identical edition of "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" co-existing in the "M*A*S*H" DVD aisle, casual watchers who wish to revisit this moving and powerful feature-length wrap-up can do so, with the bonuses, separate from the 11th season set or the "Martinis and Medicine" megabox.

Originally airing on Feb. 28, 1983 as the 251st episode, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" remains the most-watched series episode in American TV history. Two well-made hours long, without a laugh track, and directed by actor Alan Alda, it pulled back on the comedy to emphasize the humanitarian drama of a war's traumatic effects even on the day that "the sound of peace" replaces the crash of bombs. As had become the norm in the series, Alda's Hawkeye Pierce is the story's keystone, recovering from a mental breakdown brought on by a horrifying roadside incident. The other regulars — by '83 some of the most beloved in American households — must face their own crucibles among the mixture of elation and chaos brought on by the war's conclusion. Major Winchester's solace in classical music is devastated after he fosters a troupe of Chinese POW musicians. Max Klinger chooses to upend his long-running "get me outta here" strategies for the sake of his new bride, Soon Lee. Father Mulcahy questions God when an explosion renders the priest deaf. Margaret Houlihan, Col. Potter, and the rest likewise confront the possibilities of a suddenly open future. The goodbyes are hard and clearly heartfelt, culminating in a final helicopter shot that, 24 years after that original broadcast, remains one of those indelible TV memories.

For the bonus material, three affectionate retrospective TV documentaries take lead position. A ratings hit when Fox aired it in May 2002, the best item here is the "30th Anniversary Reunion" special (86 mins.), hosted by Mike Farrell. It gathers together onstage the surviving cast members (with archival footage of the late McLean Stevenson and Larry Linville) for reminiscences, funny anecdotes from the years of production, and general misty-eyed pleasantry. A 2002 A&E Biography episode, "M*A*S*H: Television's Serious Sit-com" (43 mins.), is a solid and entertaining backgrounder on the pathbreaking show's often troubled development, its changes in cast and tone over eleven years, and its worldwide popularity. And Shelley Long hosts "Memories of M*A*S*H" (68 mins.) from 1991.

Several shorter items here originally played on CBS during the build-up to the finale in '83. "My Favorite M*A*S*H" (10 mins.) brings us Alan Alda, Mike Farrell, Loretta Swit, William Christopher, Harry Morgan, and Jamie Farr introducing individual episodes they select as personal favorites. Similarly, cast members warmly reminisce on-set as their goodbye approaches in "Archival Interviews" (15 mins.). "Jocularity" (25 mins.) compiles further cast interviews, clips, and input from fans to thumbnail eleven years of highlight memories. Fans know that "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" was not in fact the final episode filmed. That was its immediate predecessor, and "Last Day of Filming" gives us seven minutes of backstage footage recording the rehearsal of the show's actual final moments of shooting. Appropriately, it's the memento time-capsule scene.

"PSAs" strings together public service announcements Farrell and Alda shot on-set to support charity groups. Another daisy chain is "Selected Episode Promos" (10 mins.), back-to-back "coming soon" network bumpers for individual episodes. We also get an unproduced script, "Hawkeye on the Double" as an easy-to-read click-through extra. The lesser menu items round off with a "Bloopers" reel that's pleasant but way too brief at under four minutes. "Fan Base" (25 mins.) is a 2006 featurette proving that "Star Trek" doesn't corner the market on fannish enthusiasm. And "Just the FAQs," a poorly produced click-through trivia game, is just skippable.

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Fox's 2007 three-disc M*A*S*H: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen set offers a feature film (full-frame 1.33:1) that's in fine shape. It's nothing extraordinary by today's TV-to-DVD standards, just a good-looking presentation with fine original monaural audio. Discs One and Two are the same bonus discs from the "Martinis and Medicine" collection, and the "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" disc is simply a stripped-down version of the previously released Season 11 discs. It's labeled "TV Season Eleven" and its main menu touts "Season 11 in broadcast order" even though "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" is its only remaining menu item. All three come in two slimline cases within a paperboard slipcover.

—Mark Bourne

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