Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Walking Dead: Season 1 - Blu-Ray Review



The Walking Dead: Season One [Blu-ray]
Amazon price: $22.99

Release Date: March 8, 2011

This is what all those zombie movies and stories had been working to all these years. The culmination of all their efforts have finally given us the zombie apocalypse epic we have been waiting for and it is glorious. But you most likely already know that. How about the disc though...come on in after the jump and find out.


Review Vital Stats:
Format: Blu-ray
Player: LG Model 370 
Monitor: Samsung 40' LCD Series 5
Picture Quality: 1080p
Sound Quality: TrueHD

Biases:
Loves: Anything zombie related, Frank Darabont, epic stories
Likes: The entire cast and characters
Neutral: Only 6 episodes?!?
Hates: Having to wait until next October for the next season
Shocked: All the gore they were allowed to show on TV



This is not going to be like all my other typical reviews because I have never tackled talking about a television show before. So please excuse how chaotic this might all be. I absolutely adore the hell out of this show, it was the first show in over a decade that got me in that seat each week to see what would happen next ( I normally wait for a show to hit DVD or a streaming service to watch it all in one chunk per season). There are a few reasons for this, first and foremost is that the show is simply an amazing achievement in both story telling and what they were able to get away with on a normal cable channel. Then you have the outstanding makeup effects provided by Greg Nicotero and his crew in addition to the man responsible for getting this project off the ground, Mr. Frank Darabont whose last film made my top horror films of all time list.

I can't neglect the shows roots though, it being based off a graphic novel series was also instrumental in making sure that there was some sort of direction for it all. Many times shows start off with a great idea and they never knew where it was going until they were forced to end it, badly most of the time, *cough*...Lost...*cough*. So knowing that there is some type of end game to everything gives me a lot of confidence in how the show will progress over the years. Man....over the years...just saying that about a zombie related show gives me the chills. The possibilities are literally endless, they have the chance to do so many other things that other zombie related media could only touch on. But that is all expectation, let's talk about what we have right in front of us.

Frank has made a new friend it seems.

The first season is sadly comprised of a very small number of episodes. While each and every episode serves up the goods it still isn't fair that we only got six of them, fantastic as they may be that still isn't a whole lot. In fact it only helps convey the feeling that you are watching an extremely long zombie movie or mini series by it being so short. The way each episode leads into the next isn't so much a series of cliffhangers but more like the best possible place to cut it into pieces. I never felt like I was left hanging on any moment or was given those revelatory story arcs at the very end of any particular episode. As a matter of fact just about each episode, save for one or two, ends after a climatic situation is done and over. That is not to say you won't want to start the next episode immediately because if there is one thing the show does well it is make you want to see what happens next.

Once again a lot of that praise has to go to the material it is derived from but more notably the characters that we start to get attached to. If there is one common thread to all the great and memorable zombie movies it is that they all involved characters that you either empathize with or just want to see eaten because of how much of a bastard they are. The Walking Dead has great characters in spades, from our lead character Frank Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) to the fragile Andrea (Laurie Holden) and finally to the loose cannon Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker). These are not your standard character types though, they all have multiple issues and don't always act in one certain way. When they encounter a situation that deeply effects them in any way they are no longer the person we knew them as. It all serves the purpose of making you identify with each and every one of them as they work together to survive the zombie hordes that are out in force to eat every single one of them.

Not everyone in the group likes to take orders.

And that brings us to the real draw, the zombies. The fantastic makeup aside, these zombies don't have anything particularly amazing about them. They don't run (thank god!) and they don't start to learn tricks or start to talk (thank god once again!) but they do serve their purpose. They are a constant threat to our small band of survivors and not just when they are in immediate danger from them either. The great thing the makes zombies such a terrifying foe is that when you see them and know they are coming you feel in control and can deflect or out maneuver them. But when they are off screen their presence is even more frightening because they could pop out at any time and wreck your day. I love that this show gets that, that the zombies are shown just enough so that we remember what our characters are up against but not so much that they overtake the show from our main characters. They are secondary to the overall story and are an ever present menace even when they are not present.

Now, I know I said that having so few episodes was kind of a let down but I must emphasize that this first season feels complete none the less. When that final episode ends you don't feel cheated, there was a complete arc that was completely satisfying for me. But like every other episode you just want to be able to start the next one up and see where we go from there. I felt as though they covered just about everything they needed to for the shows first season. I am even more excited for future seasons because anybody that watches a lot of television will tell you that a great show only gets better after the first season when they are roaring full steam ahead. I eagerly await the next season and will be watching this one as often as I can in the meantime. I suggest you do the same.

Frank and Glenn take a nice stroll through the zombie infested streets of Atlanta.

As for the Blu-ray disc itself...well I am no expert when it comes to picture or sound quality but I can tell you that even I noticed that something wasn't off while watching it. Granted, I have only gotten three episodes in so far but from those episodes alone I noticed some very inconsistent images. There would be a fairly clean series of shots and then all of a sudden there would be an abundance of noise all over the screen. It seemed to happen more during darker scenes but even in daylight sequences there was a lot of grain that could be seen. I am not sure if this was done on purpose but I would have say probably not otherwise it would be more consistent. Other problems were some shots that just looked blurry, there is one shot in particular after Glenn gets a hold of that red Mustang and comes ripping around a corner when it was more than noticeable that the image just went to shit. The sound fared much better but even then there didn't seem to be a whole lot going on with all the channels. Even the more bombastic scenes failed to deliver any punch which made me a little sad. I have to say that both the audio and picture quality here was below average for such a huge release and I can only hope that the future seasons get a little better treatment.


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What's on the disc?

This seems to be a recurring theme with many recent releases, the abusive reuse of footage is getting to be very annoying. There is a good amount of features here but just about all of them take (or should I say feed) from each other. After watching the full "Making Of" documentary I was feeling fairly optimistic but then as I started watching all the other features I noticed that they were all just pieces of what I saw before. There are some things that are not regurgitated for sure but most of everything on this disc is material reused over and over again, what a shame. And not one audio commentary from anyone involved. The strange thing about all these features is how everyone keeps either plugging the show (as if these were more for promos than being informative) or talks about it like they are just getting started. No retrospective here at all about the shows success which is baffling. Did nobody think to actually make a feature for this disc that wasn't cobbled from some old promo footage from the shows premiere?

The shows quieter moments are often more powerful than the bigger events.

Bonus Features:

Making Of "The Walking Dead" (29:53 min) HD - This is the meat of the extras where it lightly covers many aspects of the shows creation. Be forewarned however that once you have watched this you many of the other features will be duplicates.

Inside "The Walking Dead": Episodes 1-6 (30:00 min) HD - These are 5 minute long stitched together interviews (most of which are from the main documentary) for each episode. I suppose these were meant to replace the audio commentary but their redundancy from other features makes them ultimately pointless.

A Sneak Peek With Robert Kirkman (4:51 min) HD - Don't let the title fool you, Robert Kirkman is in this feature for no more than 5 to 10 seconds while he introduces it and ends it. As for the contents, most of this is from the main doc once again.

Behind the Scenes Zombie Make-Up Tips (6:45 min) HD - This was a fun little tutorial on how to make someone into a zombie but it is just a drop in a already extremely empty bucket.

Convention Panel with Producers (11:32 min) HD - Not sure why this feature isn't called "Comic-con Panel with Producers and Actors" but oh well. This was a frustrating feature because it was so heavily edited, you can tell that they cherry picked only aspects they wanted to highlight. And yes, the actors are there too but because of the horrible editing they appear and disappear randomly during the panel, very strange.

The Walking Dead Trailer HD - Promo trailer for the show.

Glenn returns with a new car and a new member to the group.

Extra Footage:

Zombie School  (3:00 min) HD - People learning how to become zombies and that's it. I have seen this feature on many other zombie movie special features so it was nothing new to me.

Bicycle Girl  (5:06 min) HD - This feature is proof positive that who ever put this disc together was asleep at the wheel. This is supposed to be a feature on the main zombie from the first episode that is nothing more than a torso that Grimes finds in the park by the bicycle. The strange thing is that this focuses mainly on the makeup effects but I got a much better idea of what they did to make it work in the show from the main documentary instead of this. Which once again made this feel empty and pointless to me.

On Set with Robert Kirkman (3:06 min) HD - Robert Kirkman was given a camera man on one specific day of shooting as he walks around the set and marvels at all the things they are doing to make his story into a TV show. A severe waste of time.

Hanging With Steven Yeun (3:52 min) HD - We get a few glimpses of the actor that plays Glenn while on set. Not nearly as entertaining as it should have been.

Inside Dale's RV (3:25 min) HD - This time we get a tour of the group's main vehicle by the actor George DeMunn that plays Dale. Fun but by this time I was done with these little promo snippets that would feel more at place on a TV special to promote the show.

On Set With Andrew Lincoln (3:46 min) HD - yet another promo piece with the actor that plays Frank Grimes giving us a little insight on his perspective of filming the show.

Atlanta, Georgia...population - Dead.

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Final Verdict:

This is without a doubt my favorite television show to come around in a very long time. The characters are fantastic, the world that was created is completely believable and best of all we finally get our serialized zombie apocalypse epic that we zombie fans have been waiting for all our lives. This is a time to rejoice and stop wondering how or why and just get involved with it. The only true let downs for this release are the middle of the road audio and picture quality combined with the lackluster collection of extra features. But if you love the show you must own this regardless which is why in the end I have to say...

CHECK IT OUT IMMEDIATELY

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