I think there is something that is important to address in regards to this web series and the person involved in its creation – Jon M. Chu. I am a fan of this writer/producer/director. The name may not be familiar as of now to many, but I think he is quite talented when it comes to filming action, which could lead down an entertaining path for him in the future. The twisted part of this statement is that all of his action direction has so far come in the form of dance related films. Chu is responsible for Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D. Regardless of the opinions that some have of those films, the one thing I can stand behind is that the filmmaking involved in capturing the dance sequences is damn solid, which is why I was willing to embrace Chu’s personal project – The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers.
The LXD is a web series that Jon Chu created himself. It is available for free online and currently stands as most viewed original web series on Hulu. Chu serves as writer, producer, and director on the project, with additional support from a few other directors and choreographers. The idea behind the series is essentially a new spin on the superhero genre. Seemingly ordinary people discover that their superior dance abilities can actually be channeled into superpowers, referred to as “the ra.” The series mainly focuses on a select cast of characters just discovering these abilities, but expands as it goes on. As with many superhero stories, the balance between good and evil is what is at stake in this series.
The disc contains every episode from the first two seasons. Season 1’s 10 episodes are neatly woven together into an 85 minute story. This initial season, The Uprising Begins, is an origin story, focusing on introducing all of the main characters of the series, each having their own segment. Each of these episodes has their own identity to them in terms of the way each segment is filmed, the dance style used by the characters involved, and the overall tone of the episode. Episodes in this first season tend to last around 10 minutes and feature a few recognizable faces for those familiar with the Step Up films and Glee, among other dance-themed media. There are a lot of highlights in this season, but I think the best segment revolves around a character known as “Sp3cimen,” who specializes in a robot-like dance style.
The second season, The Secrets of the Ra, contains all 10 episodes, which are again neatly woven together into a 100 minute story. The second season is much more focused on introducing the villains, providing backstory and context for the series as a whole, and forwarding the plot. Each episode is again defined by the style in which it is filmed, as well as the style of dance exhibited, but also finds much more time for dialogue and story beats. The episodes average closer to 15 minutes this time around. This season is also more focused on explaining and developing the use of the superpower known as “the ra.” That comes into major play during the two-part season finale, which ultimately leads to a cliffhanger for Season 3.
Between the two seasons, I enjoyed Season 1 more overall, as it delivered a much more streamlined experience, with less focus on story and more on the wonderfully filmed dance sequences. More accurately, as strong as this whole group is in regards to their dancing, when it comes time for acting and delivering dialogue, that is where the series stumbles a bit. Many of the characters are incredibly charismatic, which is enough for them to get by, but some of the more serious characters have a bit of trouble creating the pathos needed for their roles. Still, for a series that is about taking incredibly talented dancers and putting them into a unique dance experience, this is the only real quibble I have.
What I find important to note, is that this series has been filmed on location, without the aid of wire work, green screens, or special effects. All of the stunts are real and this really helps sell the idea of the series. Jon Chu was apparently inspired by the music videos of Michael Jackson (or short films, as he referred to them), which seems quite evident in the way the dance is incorporated into each episode. It was also interesting in the way that this series embraced multiple types of genres and time periods, whether it be modern, noir, horror, slapstick, comic book, or even as a western. I can imagine this sounding bizarre in its description, but the idea that a story bursts into elaborate dance sequences that represent superpowers is kind of awesome if you embrace it.
As far as the dancing goes, there are some pretty phenomenal sequences that bring together the talents of many differently skilled dancers. The varying styles, which include hip-hop, krumping, contemporary, tricking, popping, b-boying, jazz, tap, and ballet, all work their way well into each episode, providing more and more reasons to make those who are impressed enough to want to become dancers themselves. If there was ever a series to see that focused on dancing, without having to resort to the flashiness of having B-or-lower-list celebrities as a way to entice more viewers, The LXD is it.
Getting back to the person I was praising from the start, Jon Chu has created something that is wholly unique. The LXD is a very well handled, designed, and accomplished series. Knowing nothing about it going in, I was happy to have been so immersed in the series to be able to finish watching it so quickly. Granted it is a web series, comprised of short-length episodes, but it was a series that I was very intrigued by and enjoyed very much. Regardless of how quality the overall story is, or how solid the actors are, when it comes time for them to show off how fly their dance moves are, this series delivers some pretty fantastic and elaborate sequences. Regardless of how late to the game I am in getting into this series (which only actually started summer, 2010), I am very much anticipating the future episodes of The LXD, which is probably more than I can say about the devoted fans that have made it so popular among certain circles already.
Given that this is a DVD, I was surprised at how solid the quality of the picture was. With the stylized nature of the series, there are a number of different film techniques at play, which includes varying aspect ratios, but the whole thing came across quite clear throughout. Of course a Blu-ray picture presentation would be far superior, but the way the colors all came across here, which includes both the usage of shadows and nighttime imagery as well as day time and lens flare work, was all solid throughout. The disc managed to also show off enough of the smaller details on screen, such as dust during a tap dancing sequence, or the atmospheric layers involved in a horror sequence. Fine work all around here.
The disc features a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound audio track, which does enough justice to the series; however, it did seem that I had to really turn up the volume in order to have the audio feel like it was playing appropriately enough. I did not necessarily find a mixing problem in terms of the sound effects versus the background music versus the dialogue, but I was distracted. This could be more of a fault in being so inferior to the crisp sound of a Blu-ray disc, which had me noticing the lesser quality of the sound on this DVD disc, however I still had to deal with an audio track that felt like an average quality audio track being delivered.
Unfortunately, there is only one, brief 12 minute featurette on the disc, which only gives some superficial information about the series. The making-of is titled, “The LXD: Building The Legion,” which has interviews with Chu and some of the other members of the cast and crew discussing what this series is about and what they are trying to accomplish with it. It is a bit sad that there is not more content, like commentaries by the dancers specific to each episode, for example. I would like to think that because this is a free web series, there probably was not much budget for a stronger set of extras, but maybe, if this disc becomes a popular seller, a more thorough set down the line will feature more additional content and goodies for fans to enjoy.
It is basically the fact that this is a DVD disc and not a Blu-ray that makes the score seem low, but really, I enjoyed watching this series a lot. As little into dance as I am, I cannot deny how fantastically talented the people involved are when it comes to showing off impressive skills in elaborately designed dance numbers. The series as a whole is something that is quite intriguing and original, while taking specific cues from the superhero genre, only replacing full blown action with dance related action instead. As a huge comic book geek who also admires quality filmmaking, this series certainly knew how to draw me in. The disc containing this series is decent enough, although the picture quality is quite solid. I can only hope that a complete set may be in store down the line, as the series wraps up more seasons and becomes more popular over time. Regardless of this future, however, The LXD, is certainly a series worth checking out, regardless of one’s interests in dance, due to just how unique of an experience it is.
So order your copy of The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers: Season 1 & 2 here: