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DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
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House of Cards The Complete First Season Vol. 1 Blu-ray ReviewBlu-ray Sony Pictures TV Reviews
Jun 16 2013 02:20 AM | Richard Gallagher in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
- Studio: Sony
- Distributed By: N/A
- Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
- Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1
- Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
- Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese
- Rating: Not Rated
- Run Time: 11 Hr. 14 Min.
- Package Includes: Blu-ray, UltraViolet
- Case Type: Cardboard Gatefold Case in Slipcover
- Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
- Region: A
- Release Date: 06/11/2013
- MSRP: $65.99
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Such a waste of talent. He chose money over power. - U.S. Congressman Frank Underwood
House of Cards is a fascinating and compelling series about political intrigue in Washington, D.C. I was going to say that it is a fascinating and compelling television series, but in fact not a single episode has appeared in that medium (nevertheless, the series has been deemed to be eligible for Emmy Awards). The thirteen episodes in this set were released simultaneously on Netflix, and on Netflix only. Viewers who are not Netflix customers or are not fond of streaming now have the opportunity to see this excellent show at home on Blu-ray. This set is labeled as "The Complete First Season Volume One, Chapters 1-13." I presume that this means that the next Blu-ray release will be Season One, Volume Two.
Congressman Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is a Democrat from South Carolina who also is the Majority Whip in the House of Representatives. As the series opens it is New Year's Eve and partygoers are celebrating the recent election of Garrett Walker to the office of President of the United States. Frank is present, but he is not one of the celebrants. "Do I like him?" asks Frank. "No. Do I believe in him? That's beside the point." Whatever his personal misgivings about the President-elect, Frank pegged Walker as a winner and played an important role in the campaign. As his reward, Frank has been assured that Walker will nominate him to be Secretary of State. When Walker reneges on his promise, Frank vows that he will get his pound of flesh.
Frank Underwood is a brilliant self-made man who rose up from poverty in a small town in South Carolina to become one of the most powerful politicians in Washington. He is cunning, manipulative and relentless. He is married to Claire (Robin Wright), who runs a non-profit organization which is sponsoring clean water initiatives around the world. When necessary, Claire can be as ruthless as her husband. The one man who seems to be completely trusted by Frank is his Chief of Staff, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly). When Frank and Doug decide that they need a Congressman to do some dirty work for them, they turn to Representative Peter Russo (Corey Stall) of Pennsylvania. Russo has been abusing alcohol and cocaine, and when he is arrested for driving under the influence with a prostitute in his car Frank arranges to have the charges dropped. Frank knows how to exploit weaknesses in others, and he now owns Russo.
Meanwhile, an ambitious young reporter at the Washington Herald named Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) is chafing at the bit to get some meaningful assignments, but she is getting nowhere. She manages to finagle her way into a meeting with Frank at his home and makes an intriguing proposal to him. If he will give her scoops on what is happening behind the scenes, Zoe will print whatever he gives her and she will never question his motives. Frank is impressed by her intelligence and her looks, and he approvingly recognizes that she is not particularly constrained by ethics.
It is unclear what Frank's political end game is, but he immediately gets to work in order the scuttle the nomination of the man President Walker nominates to be Secretary of State. One interesting and unusual aspect of the series is that Frank makes occasional asides to the audience to reveal his true feelings and motivation. This technique is known in the theatrical world as "breaking the fourth wall" and it is effectively used by Kevin Spacey, who is perfectly cast as Congressman Underwood. Even though Frank is duplicitous and appears to be motivated only by a desire to wield power, it is impossible to not appreciate his cleverness and ruthlessness. Robin Wright is suitably cool and calculating as Claire, and Kate Mara is wonderful as the talented, resourceful and scheming reporter who may prove to be one person Frank cannot control.
House of Cards is a show about politics, but it is not ideological. The series is based upon novels by Michael Dobbs which were transformed into a successful miniseries by the BBC in 1990. The people involved in making the new version have done an excellent job of updating the story and adapting it for American audiences. David Fincher is one of the executive producers and he also directed the first two episodes. Other directors of House of Cards episodes include Joel Schumacher, James Foley, Allen Coulter, Carl Franklin and Charles McDougall. In addition to a sterling cast, the show has high production values. I recently read that some filmmakers are turning away from feature films because they are often given more artistic freedom by such outlets as HBO, Showtime, and American Movie Classics. I suppose that we should now add Netflix to that list.
Video Rating: 4/5 / 3D Rating: NA
The 2.00:1 1080p image is generally sharp and highly detailed. From a visual standpoint House of Cards is not a particularly colorful series, and yellow and green tints are common. Flesh tones have an unusual look - everyone's skin appears to be a bit darker than one would expect, but this may be a deliberate but subtle way to reflect that nearly every character in the film has a shady side. Overall it seems that all of the colors faithfully replicate the intent of the filmmakers. Black levels are solid, but I observed that shadow detail is lacking at times. House of Cards was shot with a Red Epic in 5K, so grain is not an issue because none is present. Overall, Sony has done its usual fine work in delivering a very nice Blu-ray release. The montage of time lapse photography over the opening credits is very impressive. Exterior scenes were shot on location in Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5The 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio is exceptional. The series is largely dialogue-driven and every word is crystal clear. The surround channels are effectively used to convey ambient sounds and provide the musical soundtrack with an expansive soundstage. Those who need subtitles will find that they are easy to read and usually placed at the bottom of the picture.
Special Features: 1/5The only extra is a code for downloading an UltraViolet version of the series.
Some people are going to be unhappy about the packaging. Instead of a typical Blu-ray amaray case, Sony has opted to put the four discs into a sturdy cardboard gatefold case. The problem is that the discs have to be slipped in and out of sleeves, which makes them vulnerable to scratching and fingerprints. I was able to slide my discs in and out without scratching them (likely thanks to the fact that a shiny coating of some kind has been applied to the inside of the sleeves), but surgical gloves are necessary to avoid fingerprints. The gatefold case is stored inside a fairly strong cardboard slipcase.