Thousands of fans (myself included) considered the premise of the hour-long sci-fi/drama television series, Quantum Leap (1989-1994), to be one of the more original and inventive to ever see the light of day. Dissecting and scrutinizing it's formula, one can see why:
The central protagonist is involved in a continuing series of highly dramatic scenarios. Said scenarios are time-sensitive, so protagonist is constantly rushing to beat the ever-ticking clock - but there's a twist: each secenario is completely and drastically different than the previous ones. And the twist? Just as the problems are radically differenteach week, so are the environments, supporting characters - and even the character of the protagonist.
This formula created a show that is every television producer/executive's dream: one that transcends genre, thus covering all the bases demographically. Do you like sports stories? One episode the hero is a ballplayer. Or murder mysteries? The next episode, he's a homicide detective. Medical dramas your particular cup of tea? This week, he's a doctor. Etc., etc.,.....you get the picture.
Quantum Leap is the story of Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), a quantum physicist (one of his titles, for Beckett is a man-of-action Einstein, holding no less than six doctorates. Eat that, MacGyver!) whose top secret government project has gone a little..."ka ka", a snafu caused by the over-confident scientist deciding to take his time machine, the "Quantum Leap Accelerator" for a little joy-ride before the testing phase was complete. This causes Sam to be thrust into the timestream, never knowing where or when he'll end up next. But, because of this situation, time has stopped being an absolute, things can be changed...and it seems to resemble a pinball game, with the good doctor bouncing to and fro from period to period, forced to correct something wrong in one stop before he can be shot off, or perform a "Quantum Leap", to the next.
It all sounds pretty haphazard, but there are some loose rules. Sam can only travel to periods within his own lifetime, according to the theory that fuels Project: Quantum Leap- Beckett's "String Theory". Envision your life as a single strand of string, one end being your birth, and the opposite being your death. Connect the two ends, and you have a loop. Then crumple the string into a ball, and you'll notice that all points along the string begin touching one another simultaneously....thus allowing one to move around or "leap" from one point to any other within one's lifetime. Saves a little on production design costs.
But there's a catch: Doc Beckett seems to be doing this on an astral level, meaning that his consciousness and memories make the jump, and not his physical body. So, whenever he leaps to a new scenario and time period, he inhabits a different physical host, making it a very confusing journey, constantly forced into getting his bearings trying to figure out where he is, coupled with the trouble of having to assume a new identity each time, thus constantly trying to figure out exactly who he is. Not helping matters is a slight matter of Sam not really being sure of anything himself about his own identity...a side effect of the leaping process is that his own memories are swiss-cheesed and full of holes. This is an ingenious invention of the show's creator, Donald (Magnum P.I.) Bellsario, adding suspense to each episode, because this forces the audience to learn all the clues to solving the problem of the week at the same pace as Sam. Hardly ever is there a telegraphed shock or chain of events, because even the central character has no clue what's going to happen next, or in his case, if it should happen at all.
Guiding Beckett through this disorienting mess, and sometimes adding to it, is Al (Dean Stockwell), and observer from the Quantum Leap Project who provides info and moral support on Sam's journey's. Sam is in the unique position of being the only one who can see Al...because Al's a "neurological hologram" attuned to Sam's senses and perception...'course, this means that Al's state of intangibility makes it impossible to physically help the good doctor...but he does tend to add loads of comedy relief with his wild dress and salty sense of humor. Together, the two help kick start the career of Buddy Holly, show a small Mikey Jackson a few moves, and put right the obligatory weekly wrong.
Mono sound track is still in great shape, though one wonders why some digital touch-up hasn't been instigated (seems to be the industry standard these days to take all pre- 5.0 recording and upgrade it whenever possible).
Full frame 1.33:1 picture displays some fading and muting of color, but this is probably due to the stock used during the period (late 1980s) for filming.
Kiss With History- Great retrospective documentary featurette with interview pieces of the two principles, Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell, and series creator Bellisario, focussing on the first season.
Quantum Knowledge- Each episode has a nice little Bakula interview piece where he gives viewers a a short tale of personal memory specific to said episode. Mostly fluff stuff, but nice to see the star has fond memories of his work there.
All said and done, a decent package for Leapers like myself, and a nice primer for those new to the series.
Anthony Conn, aka The Hong Kong Cavalier, 3/16/2005