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    Under the Dome

    Blu-ray Paramount TV Reviews

    Nov 11 2013 06:27 PM | Neil Middlemiss in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    You could not call me a fan of Stephen King’s written work, though there is no denying his creative spark in conjuring great storytelling ideas is compelling. I find that besides the root idea in his novels and short stories, the delivery and exploration of those ideas is often wanting. However, when placed in the right hands with the right talent involved both on and off the screen, the potential and power of King’s ideas can be something to behold. Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile certainly was able to capture the essence of the ideas and mold superb movie storytelling. Similarly, Stanley Kubrick was able to dig out the core idea from The Shining and, despite protestations from King over the changes, craft a mesmerizing piece of cinema. Not all who try are so fortunate. For every Shawshank Redemption, there are a slew of Graveyard Shift, Lawnmower Man, Children of the Corn-types that diminish the value of his product. On the small screen, besides The Stand and the highly adapted Dead Zone, King’s work has found even less success. Under the Dome, then, becomes a little bit of an odd man out. A commercial success beyond expectations, with a hooked audience and potency remaining in the idea onscreen, but with notable quality issues in the scripting and narrative thrust for most characters.

    This Season One set is attractively packaged and features very good audio and video quality – along with a reasonable set of special features – making Under the Dome hard to ignore.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Paramount
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
    • Audio: English 2.0 DD, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
    • Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
    • Rating: TV-14
    • Run Time: 9 Hr. 1 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray
    • Case Type: Flip case inside Special Packaging
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 11/5/2013
    • MSRP: $76.99

    The Production Rating: 3/5

    “I'm scared. What if the dome lasts forever?”


    The quiet rural town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, a sleepy enclave, is thrust into chaos when a barrier mysteriously, and violently, falls around the town. Later determined to be a dome shape that stretches high into the sky, surrounding the town in a ten mile radius, the dome has cut Chester’s Mill off from the entire world. Impervious to sound, electromagnetic in nature but beyond the technology known to man, the dome’s appearance slowly begins to reveal the dirty secrets of the town, and the destiny of several key members of the community.

    The town of Chester’s Mill is effectively run by James ‘Big Jim’ Rennie (Dean Norris), councilman and powerful business owner. His unstable son, Junior (Alexander Koch), is a disaster waiting to happen though the young man does not know just how powerful, and corrupt, his father is. The town’s sheriff, Duke (Jeff Fahey), and his deputy friend Linda Esquivel (Natalie Martinez), along with two other members of the Sheriff’s department, find themselves woefully unprepared for the breakdown of order the dome thrusts upon them. Julie Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre) is the local reporter, looking to uncover the secrets of the dome while searching for her missing husband. But she finds herself drawn to a mysterious man, Dale ‘Barbie’ Barbara (Mike Vogel), who claims to have been passing through the town when the event struck. Barbie has secrets as well, and a darker past than he is willing to reveal. Angie (Britt Robertson) and Joe McAlister (Colin Ford) are brother and sister, who find they are alone when the dome cuts them off from their parents. Angie is the fixation of the unsettled Junior, and Joe is both affected and curious by the nature of the dome. Among the others trapped in the town town are three strangers who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time – apparently. Same sex couple Carolyn Hill (Aisha Hinds) and Alice Calvert (Samantha Mathis), along with their mildly miscreant daughter, Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz), are trapped and scared by the unexplained events, though Norrie finds some comfort in her budding friendship with Joe McAlister.

    Nothing is quite as it seems and more terrifying than the dome is the people who are trapped inside.

    It’s hard to deny that the premise of Under the Dome (though humorously similar to The Simpson’s Movie), is compelling. Stephen King, author of the book upon which this limited series is based, has always had a knack for distilling intriguing ideas down into consumable entertainment. King’s works have more often than not suffered in translation to other mediums. Of his plethora of books and short stories, it can be counted on one hand the adaptations that have found pride of place in the filmed medium (the list may be different for most, but for me that list is The Shawshank Redemption, The Stand, The Green Mile, The Shining and Stand by Me). And so the odds were largely against Under the Dome striking a chord with viewers on CBS as the highly-promoted series was set to air. However, Under the Dome proved to be an enormous success in the ratings though with regard to quality, it came with some issues.

    Besides the differences between the written story and the adapted version for television (of which there are a number of changes, most crucially the expected change in the origin and purpose of the dome), there are several fundamental flaws that become quite apparent once the intrigue and high-production value pilot gives way to the series proper. The most damaging is script expediency, the short line the writer’s frequently drawn between characters actions and the need to progress the plot. Fine dramas will understand the end state but manage the actions and dialogue of the characters in such a way that we get where we need to go but don’t have cause to question the sanity or reasonableness of the characters in getting there. Poor drama will shoot for the plot progression at the expense of the written character, forgoing common sense and believability.

    In this way, Under the Dome will allow characters to drift in and out of themselves for the sake of the moment. The role of Sheriff Esquivel is a prime example. A reasonable woman who will see first-hand the skill and will of Barbie, and who will uncover dark things about Big Jim, but will believe Big Jim at the drop of a hat when the plot requires Barbie to be on the wrong side of the law. Or Junior, who is written as a dangerous, obsessed young man who is curiously deputized, who then disregards his duty on multiple occasions, but is not stripped of his badge and gun by the new sheriff. Characters acting out of poor writing, and not as we might perhaps want to believe under the influence of the dome, are common, particularly in the first several episodes following the pilot. Additionally, the show frustratingly dips its toes into solid story ideas – an illness outbreak, a water shortage, and a budding crime underground – but magically resolves or forgets about these things quickly.

    Another CBS show, the short-lived Jericho from several years ago, has a surprising amount in common with Under the Dome, but succeeded in creating consistent characters and taking its time feeling out the challenges that would be faced in its ‘end of the world’ style premise. Under the Dome has some work to do in order to find the right footing for its characters so that the consistency of character and compelling complexity of the unique challenges faced by Chester’s Mill fulfill rather than frustrate. Having said that, the mystery of Under the Dome remains compelling; enough of a draw to suffer through bouts of melodrama and soap writing to catch up to that next clue revealed to us at the close of most episodes. Enough to keep us tuned in.

    Performances throughout the series are adequate, and though extending the originally planned short-run series into perhaps as many as three seasons (as has been reported) may exhaust our patience before the full-reveal is upon us, Under the Dome could become something quite good with more time taken in fleshing out the characters and ideas, and placing as much effort on these elements as there has been in fashioning some terrific visual effects work. But with compelling numbers of viewers who tuned in week after week, CBS and the producers (including LOST alum Brian K Vaughan who takes the creator credit here) may be loath to tinker with what appears to be a working formula.


    The Episodes

    Disc One:
    Pilot
    The Fire
    Manhunt

    Disc Two:
    Outbreak
    Blue on Blue
    The Endless Thirst
    Imperfect Circles

    Disc Three:
    Thicker Than Water
    The Fourth Hand
    Let The Games Begin

    Disc Four:
    Speak of the Devil
    Exigent Circumstances
    Manhunt

    Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA

    Filmed in HD, using the Arri Alexa Plus camera, Under the Dome is a great looking show with a nice, clean image, particularly during daytime scenes. Detail is strong, colors also strong with natural flesh tones across the board. The visual effect of the cow being split in two, as gruesome as it is, shows off the strength of the detail (though it’s a bit much to see it as part of each episodes opening recap).

    Audio Rating: 4/5

    The primary audio option for the series is a crisp English 5.1 DTS-HD master audio (with a secondary English Stereo Surround option for those so inclined). Dialogue is well-balanced in the center channel and a good representation of W.G. Snuffy Walden’s well-suited score. Gunshots and other moderately frequent action sequence sounds are handled well, and appropriately, across the channels. Good, deep bass when called for round out the good stuff.

    Special Features: 3/5

    The selection of special features is broad but not particularly deep. Notably absent are any audio commentaries. The deleted scenes are all quite short but the two tent pole extras, Under the Dome: The First Season and Under the Dome: Filming the Pilot are enjoyably strong, covering a good deal of ground and perspectives from those in front of and behind the camera.

    Additional special features are available to those who purchase the special collector’s edition (featuring a Dome collectible) not reviewed here.


    Disc One:
    Under the Dome: Filming the Pilot
    CBS Launch Promos

    Disc Two:
    Deleted Scene

    Disc Three:
    Deleted Scenes

    Disc Four:
    Deleted Scene
    Stephen King and Under the Dome
    Under the Dome: From Novel to Series
    The World of Under the Dome
    Under the Dome: The First Season
    Joe’s Blog
    Gag Reel

    Overall Rating: 3.5/5

    With a list of producers that includes Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, Brian K. Vaughan, and Jack Bender, it’s a little easier to understand why Under the Dome is compelling television despite some silly scripts and great subplots that come and go without serious or worthy examination. With an intriguing concept (particularly for those unfamiliar with the works upon which the series is based), CBS’s hit summer series surprised everyone with its audience figures (averaging 13.5 million viewers an episode), but quality issues persist, delivering a show that settles into an odd hybrid of strong production values saddled with surface-level, careless scripting. Season two, scheduled to debut in 2014, has the chance to right these issues. Fingers crossed.

    Reviewed by: Neil Middlemiss
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    7 Comments

    I share some of your same frustrations with the writing, but I'm still watching.  I ended up buying the book which was fantastic until the ending....

    Thanks for the thorough review Neil. I will just say, slightly tangential I know, that being a King fan, it's interesting that the two examples you cite as successful adaptations, Shawshank and Green Mile, are two of the most true-to-the-book adaptations made of King stories. I was lucky enough to chat with Mr. Darabont in Burbank when he signed for the Green Mile DVD at Dave's Laser Place which is sadly no more, and he said that the problem with King movies was that people changed the stories too much when all that you needed was already there on the written page. Carrie (original) was also fairly close to the source material.

     

    Graveyard Shift, Lawnmower Man, Children of the Corn (and The Running Man) all stray very far away from the source material.

     

    The Shining is interesting because as fine as the movie was, the book was infinitely more dense and IMO satisfying because of its depth and complexity in exploring alcoholism and its effects on a human (King himself was battling alcoholism at the time of its writing).

     

    The problem with adapting King's work is that he was pigeonholed as a "horror" writer, which equates to low-brow, unsophisticated writing which should of course lend itself easily to a big screen adaptation.

     

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Though he doesn't mine the human psyche as much as some of the most revered authors in American fiction, he tends to go more than skin-deep, and that makes his work notoriously hard to film. The most successful adaptations tend to be his shorter works (Shawshank, Green Mile, Carrie) which stay true to the original story.

    I think you're being particularly kind to this one in your review. The main problem is the writing is hack and old fashioned.Shows like "The Wire", "The Walking Dead", "The Newsroom", pretty much anything on cable, has shown that you can tell epic stories over a series of episodes. "Under the Dome" sadly has a gimmick of the week, some epic even that has to get wrapped up before the show ends. It makes the whole thing largely stupid. And some of the plot points are so insanely dumb, introducing an underground bare-knuckles fighting ring being just one example, that it's pretty hard to take it seriously. It's an episodic device that just doesn't work on a show like this (especially when you're accustomed to the better series) and shows just how old fashioned the big networks are when it comes to television these days.

     

    Of course, this terrible dumbness will have me checking out season 2 when it airs. :S

    Interesting perspective, Carlo. One of the film adaptations that I did not mention in my review, The Mist, I have been torn over since watching. I enjoyed it but felt something was off that I have not been able to put my finger on. I'm wondering what your thoughts on that film are (since you are a fan of his writing)?

     

     

    Thanks for the thorough review Neil. I will just say, slightly tangential I know, that being a King fan, it's interesting that the two examples you cite as successful adaptations, Shawshank and Green Mile, are two of the most true-to-the-book adaptations made of King stories. I was lucky enough to chat with Mr. Darabont in Burbank when he signed for the Green Mile DVD at Dave's Laser Place which is sadly no more, and he said that the problem with King movies was that people changed the stories too much when all that you needed was already there on the written page. Carrie (original) was also fairly close to the source material.

     

    Graveyard Shift, Lawnmower Man, Children of the Corn (and The Running Man) all stray very far away from the source material.

     

    The Shining is interesting because as fine as the movie was, the book was infinitely more dense and IMO satisfying because of its depth and complexity in exploring alcoholism and its effects on a human (King himself was battling alcoholism at the time of its writing).

     

    The problem with adapting King's work is that he was pigeonholed as a "horror" writer, which equates to low-brow, unsophisticated writing which should of course lend itself easily to a big screen adaptation.

     

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Though he doesn't mine the human psyche as much as some of the most revered authors in American fiction, he tends to go more than skin-deep, and that makes his work notoriously hard to film. The most successful adaptations tend to be his shorter works (Shawshank, Green Mile, Carrie) which stay true to the original story.

    I debated the score for this and settled on the 3 out of 5 because, as I was telling my parents back in England over the weekend, it's a poorly written show that should know better (especially given the higher quality of scripted drama on cable and the wealth of producing talent), but somehow you can't stop coming back for more :)

     

    And like you, I will be lined up to see what happens when it's back on the air next year...rolling my eyes at the silly scripts no doubt.

     

    I think you're being particularly kind to this one in your review. The main problem is the writing is hack and old fashioned.Shows like "The Wire", "The Walking Dead", "The Newsroom", pretty much anything on cable, has shown that you can tell epic stories over a series of episodes. "Under the Dome" sadly has a gimmick of the week, some epic even that has to get wrapped up before the show ends. It makes the whole thing largely stupid. And some of the plot points are so insanely dumb, introducing an underground bare-knuckles fighting ring being just one example, that it's pretty hard to take it seriously. It's an episodic device that just doesn't work on a show like this (especially when you're accustomed to the better series) and shows just how old fashioned the big networks are when it comes to television these days.

     

    Of course, this terrible dumbness will have me checking out season 2 when it airs. :S

    ...the wealth of producing talent...

    Brian K. Vaughan is arguably the best writer in comic books today so my hope is that this season was hampered by budget or network concerns or just trying to find its legs and that with the ratings success that the show has had, Vaughan will have more freedom and be the great storyteller that he normally is.

    Interesting perspective, Carlo. One of the film adaptations that I did not mention in my review, The Mist, I have been torn over since watching. I enjoyed it but felt something was off that I have not been able to put my finger on. I'm wondering what your thoughts on that film are (since you are a fan of his writing)?

    I'm torn on The Mist as well. It's fairly faithful, except the very end (the book leaves the end unresolved, with the surviving character choosing to go into the mist on the belief that in a certain direction--Hartford--it may be lightening and survival might be possible, they leave a note in the last hotel room they stay at before the story ends).

     

    Darabont's ending actually has King's blessing - I've read him say somewhere that he wished he would have thought of it. But the story isn't about whether or not people survive the mist. It's a complete character study on what would happen if you had people of widely varying beliefs (not just in religion/faith but in all practical matters) trapped in a room with very little chance of survival. Would they turn on each other? Would they come together to try and overcome the horror? That's the strength of King's writing and why it's often hard to film his works. I think Darabont absolutely nails the character study part in the supermarket, and while the ending is definitely un-Hollywood, and trust me I don't always want a happy ending, I think the characters had gone through enough not to be subjected to that final scene. I think if he kept the original King ending and left us with uncertainty...but a faint bit of hope...it may have been more effective.