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Saturday, November 8, 2008

"PROJECT RUNWAY 4" -- DVD review by porfle

I detest the concept of "fashion", and skinny supermodels clomping around on a runway in freaky clothes don't do much for me. So why did I enjoy PROJECT RUNWAY 4 so much? Maybe it's because I'm a science-fiction fan, and watching these people and what they do holds the same giddy fascination as watching a STAR WARS prequel, with the added bonus that it's all strangely real.

In this fourth season DVD set of the popular reality show, fifteen aspiring fashion designers assemble to compete in a series of assignments that test their creativity, skill, and speed. Their tasks can be anything from designing a new look for some guest celebrity (such as Sara Jessica Parker or football star Tiki Barber) to fabricating a wearable ensemble out of candy wrappers, to outfitting a bunch of nitpicky teenage girls for their prom. In one outlandish segment, they even get to design costumes for a group of WWE Divas. Their ultimate goal? To outlast the competition during the elimination rounds and break into the fashion industry.

With each episode comes a new fashion challenge. First, there's a mad dash to buy fabric on a limited budget and then, using all the resourcefulness and improvisational skills they can muster, construct whatever they've dreamed up and stick it onto a model. When their time's up, they have to present whatever they've come up with to the judges, ready or not, and face their painfully blunt criticism. Each episode's winner gets immunity in the next challenge, while the person with the worst design gets an "auf wiedersehen" from host Heidi Klum.

Here, unlike a lot of other reality shows, you don't have to worry about who's voting who off and who has alliances or whatever. And the challenges aren't a bunch of made-up playground games as on SURVIVOR--it's all directly related to who the contestants are and what they want to do with their lives. Thus, the drama and the intense feelings are all real, and the tension level is almost nonstop.

Big-time fashion guru Tim Gunn serves as "mentor" to the contestants, wandering through their workroom and offering observations such as "Ricky doesn't look good...Ricky looks a little panicky" and "This worries me." Tim comes off as impenetrable drollness on wheels at first but reveals himself as a big teddy bear later on. The judges, various well-known designers and fashion critics along with Heidi herself, watch what's presented to them on the runway with either measured approval or naked disdain. After a while we begin to get used to such straightfaced assessments as "Where's the 'wow'?" and "This looks so sad. You made us very sad." During one judges' conference, Heidi brandishes the shears: "I guess they all thought they were better than they really are."

What really makes PROJECT RUNWAY 4 fun to watch, though, is the odd assortment of contestants. They're a great mix of personalities and it doesn't take long to become familiar with them all and start to choose favorites. My favorite didn't win, but did make it into the final four. In the last episode, the three remaining designers each get to present their line of clothing in an honest-to-goodness big-time fashion show during the Super Bowl of fashion in New York. It's a tough choice for the judges and the viewer, but I agreed with the final winner.

The 4-disc, 14-episode DVD set is presented in standard format with Dolby Digital sound. Picture and sound for this well-produced show are both good. Extras include a brief featurette on the winner's post-show activities, including a photo shoot for Elle magazine (don't look at the extras menu first because it gives away the winner), and "From the Runway to Your Way", which offers some makeup tips. Episode 12 feels like a bonus feature because it's a reunion/recap episode in which both the contestants and judges get to loosen up and reflect on the show.

Even after watching PROJECT RUNWAY 4, I still don't give a hoot in hell about fashion. But I do have a better understanding of the artistic and creative elements that go into it, and an empathy for the people who dream of fashion design as a way of life. So whether or not you get the whole "fashion" thing, I can strongly recommend this DVD set simply for its irresistible entertainment value.

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