"You know we belong together. You and I forever and ever!" Given that every single episode of Home And Away since the very first one has begun with that line, it's fair to say, like most soap operas, there has been so very much more than a smattering of romance in it. Unfortunately, with an ever-changing cast list - only Kate Ritchie and Ray Meagher have been there from the very beginning - the producers would have us believe that the course of true love never runs smoothly. Granted that this may have something to do with the need to keep ratings high but it would appear that the meeting of boy and girl in Summer Bay is but the first step to stalking, adultery, death, car accidents, paralysis and madness. And some very uncomfortable looks across a windblown bit of scrubland outside of Sydney. If this was real life, we'd have given up on love a long time ago, leaving the Earth to be ruled by meerkats. Which might not have been such a bad thing, all told.
Hosted by Beau Brady - apparently he plays Noah but I was rather hoping for a guest appearance by Alex Papps, Sharyn Hodgson or Nicolle Dickson - this show looks back at some of the romances to have featured in Home And Away. If one can summarise the show, it's that in the early days, the romances were relatively straightforward affairs in which a reasonably attractive cast hung about the beach and met actors and actresses on short-term contracts. But then Frank - father was a career criminal, mother an alcoholic - met Roo and all that changed. Roo was pregnant with Brett's baby, which Frank thought was his. But on their wedding day, Roo interrupted the ceremony to tell Frank the truth who then stormed out and, avoiding Bobby in the road, crashed his car. And it's a good thing he did too as he would later marry Bobby...who had planned on marrying Greg...who then didn't want to marry Frank.
And then there's poor little Sally. Arriving in Summer Bay with an imaginary friend called Milko, Home And Away has seen her have a hard time in love, including being kidnapped, an attempted rape and an obsessed boyfriend. Then there was also Zoe McAllister, who became better known as the Summer Bay Stalker during her short time on the show, who we see here being perfectly normal before a late-night picnic ends with her self-harming and looking wild-eyed. Zoe has, like any ratings winner, refused to remain quiet and pops up so frequently that it's a wonder that all the men in Summer Bay aren't cross-legged in anticipation. And Angel...you could write much more than I'm planning to here on Angel (Melissa Gilbert) and still not adequately describe the cycles of misfortune and happiness that that girl went through. She arrived as a teenage runaway and met Shane Parrish after selling him fake concert tickets. A brief spell in hospital led to her moving in with the Fishers and fell in love with Shane. But then the truth about the child she abandoned came out. Still, Shane stuck with her. Then she was run over by Alf and required a wheelchair. She thought about cancelling the wedding but, as Shane refused, she did indeed walk up the aisle, leaving her wheelchair outside of the church. Happiness followed! Until Shane cheated with Shannon (Isla Fisher) and Angel flew off in a plane...which crashed. But she lived! But then Shane died! And then she fell in love with the investigator who arrived in Summer Bay to look into Shane's death. Happiness once again followed!
But such is the way in Summer Bay with all manner of misfortune befalling young lovers before it all seems to right itself with a happy ending. If you can forgive what might be interpreted as sneering, there's actually a lot to enjoy with this release, even for one who stopped watching Home And Away during the Angel/Shannon/Shane era of the show. All soap operas have their moments when logic and reason deserts them - none more so than Brookside, the passing of which was mourned only by the two or three left watching it at the end - but Home And Away coats all of the nonsense with some bright sunlight, the beach and a helping of twentysomethings wearing very little. In that, this hour-and-a-quarter passes quickly by, with various members of the cast popping up to laugh at the situations their characters found themselves in and not dwelling on any particular era, choosing instead to leap across the years at who it finds there. Of course, this feature does have its favourite characters - Sally, Angel, Gypsy, Leah and Hayley all feature heavily - but it gives a good overview of life in Summer Bay over the past twenty years or so. Much like the unlamented Blind Date, it doesn't have very much interest in the older population, who get a mention but only a cursory one, but, then again, even its most ardent fans must admit that Fisher, Morag, Irene and Alf are not Home And Away's main attraction. In that sense, Romances reflects the kind of show that Home And Away is, being as light as a souffle but never taking itself very seriously. But best of all, this doesn't require anyone to sit through every single episode - there have been 4,340 to date - but offers the viewer the highlights of the last eighteen years, including the drama and the heartbreak, without having to devote any more time to it than the 76 minutes it takes to watch.
Presented in 1.78:1, this obviously gives the show a problem in dealing with the earlier episodes of Home And Away that were produced in 1.33:1. What they've done is to, in the manner of a few plasma screens, add in some fixed sidebars to the picture that show a blurred version of what's on the screen. It actually works very well, much better than my Pioneer plasma does with the same idea, so much so that one doesn't notice it after a short time. Otherwise, this isn't a particularly consistent release. The later clips look much, much better than the earlier ones, which would suggest that success brought a bigger budget to the production, and though none of it is unwatchable, the footage that includes Bobby, Frank and Carly would be much better suited to a 19" fishbowl television of twenty years ago than a modern flatscreen. However, things do pick up later in the show and given that most of the clips seem to have been picked out of the last ten years of Home And Away, it is, overall, not a bad transfer.
Similarly, the stereo soundtrack is good but without using the rear channels, all it's called upon to do is to keep the dialogue clear of the mix and to make sure that there's some separation between the channels. As with the picture, the more recent footage sounds much better than that from the show's early days - many of the very early clips sound curiously empty - but it's fine. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles on this release.
Original Pilot Episode (92m52s): In any long-running show, such as a soap like this one, it's easy to forget that it once had a beginning. For long-time members of its audience or, like me, those who were students in the late-eighties, Home And Away actually began with foster parents Tom and Pippa Fletcher moving out to Summer Bay with their children Frank, Carly, Steven, Lynne and Sally to take over the caravan park. There, they tangled with Bobby Simpson, met Alf and Ailsa, bumped heads with Fisher and had one of their caravans torched by a mate of Lance and Martin. Remember them? Or, indeed, any of this? Well, I did and enjoyed it more than I ever thought I would, particularly at seeing Bobby, Carly and, pretending to have some knowledge of karate, Steven. It's far more dramatic than the show would get in later years - containing, therefore, as much drama as a mild bout of indigestion - but it reveals its origins in cheap television with Bobby's, "Rack off!", the beach scenes that appear to have been shot in a force nine gale and hairstyles - on both the boys and the girls! - that might would be celebrated were this the land of '86. It is great fun and, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit, I remember vast amounts of it.
As we will find out later on, romance doesn't end with a plane crash, an attempted rape nor disappearing into Wandin Valley but, more often than not, a wedding. Or two in many cases, given the amount of women in Summer Bay who see off one husband only to meet another one shortly after. Come back later and discover how the people of Summer Bay celebrate a marriage in Home And Away - Weddings.