DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Dexter: The First Season

Discussion in 'DVD' started by JustinCleveland, Aug 21, 2007.

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  1. JustinCleveland

    JustinCleveland Cinematographer

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    Dexter: The First Season

    Studio: Showtime Entertainment
    Year: 2006
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    Running Time: 10 HRS., 50 MINS
    Rating: NR
    Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Stereo, Spanish Mono
    Subtitles: English, Spanish
    MSRP: $39.98

    Release Date: August 21, 2007
    Review Date: August 15, 2007

    Based on a novel premise, one that combines equal parts “Monk” and “American Psycho,” “Dexter” manages to provide original entertainment and a new twist to a format that has turned desperately routine. Staring Michael C. Hall as the titular sociopath, “Dexter” follows a forensic pathologist who acts in equal parts police officer and vigilante, taking the lives of villains who are just outside the reach of the long arm of the law.

    Whereas the aforementioned “Monk” takes on OCD with alternating hilarious-and-poignant results, “Dexter” addresses the condition that spawns mass murders and how a man with a proper, moral upbringing under the tutelage of a police officer is able to cope in ordinary society. Asking larger questions about nature and nurture, “Dexter” is a fascinating exploration of the darker side of the human psyche and how it can be tamed--or at least temporarily caged.

    Translating a pair of novels about Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, this Showtime series is an excellent example of what can be done in serializing literature or graphic novels to create an enjoyable season-long experience for a dedicated viewer. Peppered with nudity, profanity, and gore “Dexter” takes advantage of its location on pay cable. Each episode is part of a larger narrative involving a serial killer and his dance with our protagonist. The individual episodes also show Dexter dealing with dangers to the community, killers who the police cannot apprehend for one reason or another. His methods are trained and refined, designed to leave no trace and unleashing his dark side in a socially-productive manner. The program asks more questions about the nature of Dexters victims: they undoubtedly deserve punishment, but is Dexter right in meting it?

    Well-filmed, interesting, and tense, “Dexter” is waylaid only by a marginal regular cast. Outside Hall, the cast is lackluster, chewing scenery (Erik King as Sgt. Doakes) or completely out-of-place (Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter’s foster sister, Debra Morgan). The notable exceptions are the exceptionally-sweet Julie Benz who plays Dexter’s girlfriend and David Zayas as Detective Angel Batista. While I may not think much of the actors, the story itself can be called anything but decompressed: Each episode rockets forward the through narrative while following characters who go through tangible growth. By the end of the series every character is in a new place, and the motives for their actions are exposed, fleshing out the motivations for even the most basic member of the ensemble.

    “Dexter” is original. If nothing else, it has that going for it. In the end, it is a neat story and a set of episodes that present a fantastic product. “Dexter” proves that multi-part adaptations can and should be done in this format, and can be done to great success.

    Video:
    Sadly I have little positive to say about the video transfer on this first season. Culled from an HD master, most daylight scenes look fantastic with good color balance and fine detail. Unfortunately that is where the praise halts; dark scenes are littered with compression artifacts and mosquito noise. Black crush wipes out almost everything in dark scenes, and there are other times that the image becomes oversaturated or washed out with too much light. Inconsistent is the best way to describe this Anamorphic, 1.85:1 transfer.

    Audio:
    If inconsistent is the best way to describe the video, the single word that comes to mind to describe the audio is “unremarkable.” I listened primarily to the default 2.0 audio, switching occasionally to the 5.1 track, which became immersive only during the hot, Miami-esque music cues. Dialogue comes through clear; effects and music are balanced nicely, but the track is nothing special.

    Extras:
    For a Showtime program, this set has a surprising amount of extra features including a pair of commentary tracks from the shows producers who talk about everything from acting to directing, ratings to planning the season arc. Informative and insightful, the commentaries do add something to the viewer’s experience.

    “Witness in Blood” is a documentary on a blood spatter expert, much like the fictional Dexter’s career. Following a case in Anaheim, this featurette shows how forensics can help solve a crime. The featurette “The Academy of Blood – A Killer Course” is a DVD-Rom extra, and requires a computer to access. Strike one. If you advertise something on a DVD set, make sure it is on the DVD set. Strike two: I could not get it to play on my computer.

    There are a lot of promotional bonuses found on this DVD set, including a pair of episodes from the show “Brotherhood,” and a DVD-Rom feature that allows the user to download an episode of “The Tudors” and the first two chapters of the forthcoming novel “Dexter in the Dark,” the newest book in the Dexter series. There are also brief promo segments on the first disc, plugging new Fall season offerings on Showtime.

    There are also text-based biographies of the primary actors in this series, including Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz, and Erik King.

    Overall:
    “Dexter” is a fantastic new product. Despite its shortcomings, the program is a lot of gory fun. A well-made program with a good story, “Dexter” is definitely worth a viewing for fans of serial television. Pun intended. The problems with the transfer and the horrible DVD-Rom design should not dissuade you from at least checking out this set.
     
  2. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    i agree with everything you said in this review.

    my biggest gripe is the actore who is the scenory chewing detective.
    he couldnt be more of a typical cop in a bad cop movie type.

    with all his yelling and cyrsing and contantly telling dexter he has his eye on him.

    i think the series takes about 3 eps to get you to stay with it.
    the first 2 were not well written or acted with the exception of any scene
    with dexter, young or old.

    i'm 8 eps in and now i cant wait to see the rest.
     
  3. JustinCleveland

    JustinCleveland Cinematographer

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    Tony,

    The actor mellows as the series progresses, or at least his behavior seems justified.

    I am still bummed about the video quality.
     
  4. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    ....
     
  5. Chris Tedesco

    Chris Tedesco Second Unit

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    I'm sorry but...Doakes rules!! He was one of the best characters in this quirky show. Suprised you didn't like him. Hope he's in season two.
     
  6. Jeff#

    Jeff# Screenwriter

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    The torrent site free downloads of Dexter were originally recorded off-air from Showtime last year, and they look great! No complaints on the video quality there. [​IMG]

    Just one question, since I'm only 3 episodes in: Does he and Julie Benz' character ever have sex??
     
  7. cafink

    cafink Producer

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    Downloading copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder is piracy/copyright infringement. Why not support the show you apparently enjoy so much by purchasing a legitimate copy?
     
  8. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    you know HTF doesnt blink at suspending those who say they use illegal
    downloads
     
  9. Qrusher14242

    Qrusher14242 Stunt Coordinator

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    man that sucks about the video quality, guess i'll spend my money elsewhere. It looked great when i saw it on showtime. What a great show though, cant wait for the next season.
     
  10. Jeff#

    Jeff# Screenwriter

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    Selling them is illegal, and I'm opposed to that. SHARING them is just fine. "Want to borrow my DVD?" [​IMG]

    HTF forbids only the links to torrent sites though, so I won't be sharing those (tried once and got a warning).
     
  11. cafink

    cafink Producer

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    You're mistaken.

    Distributing copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder is illegal (and certainly against HTF policy). Whether or not money trades hands is irrelevant.

    Downloading videos (or offering them to others for download) from the Internet is not "sharing" in the same sense as lending a DVD to your buddy. When you lend out a DVD, you are lending out (and will therefore have to do without until its return) a legitimate copy for which the copyright-holder has already been reimbursed.

    Using your computer to burn copies of the disc and giving them out to your friends would be "sharing" by your definition, but it would also be copyright infringement.

    Downloading Dexter from a torrent site is an act of copyright infringement.
     
  12. cafink

    cafink Producer

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    I notice that Justin's review erroneously lists the running time as 3:40, which is probably just the running time for the first disc of this set.
     
  13. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    bet you get another.
     
  14. Jeff#

    Jeff# Screenwriter

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    I'm not distributing any shows, because my computer doesn't have a DVD burner. I wouldn't do that even if I could. I don't even upload anything, because it never worked when I tried. When I said "sharing" I meant with 1 or 2 people I personally know and letting them borrow DVDs I bought in the store only. I've spent thousands on DVDs in the past few years. I don't buy bootlegs though...only original copies.

    But there's no way in hell I'm going to pay $100 (retail) for a 12 episode per season series from much of what's put out by HBO or Showtime or even half that. For them to charge that much for so little is the crime.

    Like most people, all I do is watch what I download in the privacy of my own home off of my hard drive. [​IMG]

    But if downloading them were a crime then everybody would be in trouble. I know a few of those sites were shut down over the years, but it's all fear tactics orchestrated by the studios. I haven't seen any cases of anyone being prosecuted though. The way it works from what I've been reading is on rare occasions ISPs will send out warning notices, and that seems to be the extent of it.
     
  15. JustinCleveland

    JustinCleveland Cinematographer

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    Downloading them is a crime. Just because you haven't gotten caught doesn't make it any less illegal. That is the last I want anything on this topic within this thread.

    As for Doakes: You can't tell me that you didn't cringe when he first came on screen, flexing his jaw muscles and acting like an alpha dog. I like that he's the only one who is suspicious of Dexter, it's just the actor who portrays him is so over-the-top.

    And I took the run time from Amazon instead of the back of the box. Fixed!
     
  16. Jeff#

    Jeff# Screenwriter

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    Back to the topic at hand:

    I don't feel this show can be compared to Monk at all for 2 reasons:

    First, Dexter Morgan was raised and trained to be the way he is by his late adoptive father.

    Adrian Monk, meanwhile, became obsessive-compulsive in recent years as a direct result of his wife Trudy's murder. That's a HUGE difference.

    Second.... Monk is a light crime drama, suitable for all audiences.
    Dexter is dark and serious in tone.
     
  17. MarkMel

    MarkMel Screenwriter

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    Dexter is dark but there are moments of black comedy.
     
  18. Dustin James

    Dustin James Stunt Coordinator

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    I don't know what series you are referring to, but it certainly is not Dexter. Rounding up, the MSRP is $40 and Target is selling it right now for $28 (with an exclusive bonus disc, if you're in to that, but I'm sure that is being 'shared' already too).

    Rhetorical question: How much is your time worth? Considering the amount of time spent finding the shows online and then eating up bandwidth waiting for them to download? Just a simple rhetorical question. I know, for most people, there are other factors such as "is it a show I've already sampled or seen and I know I'm going to like" (i.e. not a blind buy) or am I going to only watch it once, which leads to, re-watch-ability, do I think I'm going to watch it more than X number of times; if it were purchased, potential re-sale value, etc.

    Now, maybe you were thinking about Rome whose MSRP is $100, but can be found at most warehouse clubs for $48 (sorry, I know that is still too close to your "even half that" price point). Relatively speaking, Rome has more overhead - bigger cast, higher production costs - thus a higher price on DVD; I've read the production costs are why HBO chose to do only two seasons.

    Hell, what was The X-files per season when it was first released, $120 to $140? Die-hards paid it, casual fans got it other ways (used, on sale, etc.) and some people just caught it in syndication and then picked up the DVDs when they hit Costco for under $30.

    Regarding Doakes "over-the-top" performance... well... in a show whose premise is an 'ethical' serial killer who goes after other serial killers, his performance did not bother me since the premise of the series is already way out there.
     
  19. Jeff#

    Jeff# Screenwriter

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    I kind of like Sgt. Doakes. He's a hard-ass for sure, but the character reminds me of Captain Trunk from "Sledge Hammer" combined with Captain Dobey from "Starsky & Hutch".
    Of course, the captain in Dex's Miami precinct is played by Geoff Pierson of "Unhappily Ever After" fame. [​IMG]
     
  20. Bryan^H

    Bryan^H Producer

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    Dexter is an absorbing series. I'm loving all the twists, and turns.

    About the video quality:

    I was watching it on my 27" Sony, and just like the reviewer said, the day scenes looked fine, and the night scenes were truly horrible.

    I watched an episode on my 22" Samsung widescreen monitor(through Xbox 360 vga hook up), and I was almost floored by the difference. The night scenes represented solid blacks, with no compression issues, and looked just fine, and the daytime scenes were comprable to my best HD disc. I'm not exaggerating, the comparison I made was truly night, and day.
     

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