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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: Mad Men Season One



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#1 of 3 Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted July 11 2008 - 02:37 PM

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Release Date: Available now (original release date July 1, 2008)
Studio: Lionsgate
Packaging/Materials: Zippo lighter-styled metal case with brochure
Year: 2007
Rating: NA
Running Time: 10h16m
Video: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Audio: English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioning: English
MSRP: $49.98

Portions of this review are from MattH.'s review of the Blu-Ray release and are in italics. You can read the entirety of his review here.

The Series: 4.5/5
AMC’s Mad Men burst onto the scene in the summer of 2007 taking critics and public alike by total surprise. It’s a literate, penetrating look back at a nearly impossible-to-imagine era featuring a fascinating cast of characters and focusing on one of the most enigmatic central characters in recent television history. Already the recipient of the Golden Globe Award as the Best Drama Series and the prestigious Peabody Award for its outstanding freshman season, the series seems a sure bet for handfuls of Emmy nominations when they're announced in mid-July.

It’s 1960, and we’re in New York City, specifically in the Madison Avenue offices of the leading advertising agency of Sterling Cooper where the golden boy of the ad game is midlevel executive Donald Draper (Jon Hamm). In the very first episode, we see only a few of the multitude of facets that go together to make Draper one of the most sparkling gems in the ad game, but as the series progresses, we learn more and more about this mystery man. Who is Donald Draper? The first 13 episodes certainly offer up many of the pieces of the puzzle, but there is still much to learn. (Fortunately, despite lackluster ratings, AMC has greenlit a second season of the show.)

And Draper isn’t the only diamond in this tiara. The series is filled with engaging personalities: some quixotic, some infuriating, some duplicitous. There is the eager to please new secretary Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), the oily office weasel Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Don’s idea and art team who represent a cross section of the single and married male population of Madison Avenue (Michael Gladis, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Bryan Batt), head of the steno pool Joan (Christina Hendricks), Don’s jovial boss (John Slattery), and occasional visits from the eccentric company owner (Robert Morse). And there are two other important women: Don’s fluttery wife Betty (January Jones) and Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff), the owner of a department store, a woman Don seriously falls for.

The characters who inhabit this world are certainly captivating personalities, but the times themselves are even more eye-opening. The constant smoking and drinking even during working hours, the misogynistic attitudes toward women exhibited by every man in sight, the arcane ideas about the dress and behavior of working women and the role of a housewife as an appendage of her husband, even down to the elevator operators and food cart vendors with their thirty cent sandwiches: Mad Men intrigues us with its sights (print ads for everything from Lucky Strikes to Volkswagens) and sounds (the popular music of the day) of the period but leaves us always wanting more.

Jon Hamm delivers a star-making turn as Don Draper, the enigmatic charmer carrying with him memories of a tortured past and yet living in an angst-filled present. We see pert Elisabeth Moss’ Peggy grow in confidence as the season progresses (though the writers stick her with an absurd storyline near the conclusion of the season which for me was the one misstep in an otherwise sparkling run of episodes). And we see the lovely January Jones’ Betty slink uncomfortably into an abyss of uncertainty and unhappiness. Each of the other principal performers is given one or more showcase episodes to strut his or her stuff, and they always deliver with particularly pleasing and on-point performances.

Here is the listing of the first season of episodes contained on this three disc Blu-ray set:

1 - Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
2 - Ladies Room
3 - The Marriage of Figaro
4 - New Amsterdam
5 - 5G (my favorite episode of season one)
6 - Babylon
7 - Red in the Face
8 - The Hobo Code
9 - Shoot
10 - Long Weekend
11 - Indian Summer
12 - Nixon vs. Kennedy
13 - The Wheel



Video Quality: 4/5
The series is framed at 1.78:1 and generally free of physical defects - viewers may notice an occasional white speck but nothing more. Sharpness is overall very good in both wide shots and close ups - there's an occasional softness, but nothing serious. Black levels are deep and stable, but can sometimes be clipped, resulting in missing shadow detail even in the bright office environments. Colors and flesh tones are accurate, however, though overall color tone may change depending on the settings. There is noticeable noise - more severe in the pilot episode - though it doesn't prove to be a great distraction. While a decent transfer overall, it doesn't quite do justice to the beautiful cinematography; you wind up wondering what a better transfer might do for the visuals. Given the comparable pricing of the Blu-Ray release, I would opt for the high definition version based on image quality alone.


Audio Quality: 3/5
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is a straightforward one - dialogue drives much of the series while surround activity consists of environmental effects in bars and restaurants and some support for the soundtrack. While dialogue is mostly clear and intelligible, there were a handful of times when I had to engage the subtitles to catch muttered words.


Special Features: 5/5

Packaging: The Zippo lighter-style metal case is cute, but vulnerable to denting so pick your copy carefully. The foam insert does a nice job of holding in the discs.

Audio Commentaries: Every episode contains at least one audio commentary and many contain two. Many of these conversations have actually been edited together from separate interviews with the actors, writers, and directors who participate into a unified single commentary, but it’s obvious when the speakers are alone in the room or are with other parties. The actors mainly talk about how brilliant the material is and how fortunate they feel to be working on the show. The writers and directors have more cogent things to say about making the series. Here’s the rundown of who’s featured on each episode’s commentary. Names separated by a "/" symbol indicate a second commentary.

1 - Matt Weiner / Alan Taylor
2 - January Jones, Rosemarie DeWitt / Michael Gladis, Elisabeth Moss
3 - Jon Hamm, Maggie Siff, Darby Starchfield
4 - Vincent Kartheiser, Allison Brie, Lisa Albert
5 - Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Aaron Staton / Lesli Linka Glatter
6 - Christina Hendricks, Maria & Andre Jacquemetton / Andrew Bernstein
7 - January Jones, John Slattery, Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser / Tim Hunter
8 - Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss, Bryan Batt / Phil Abraham
9 - Jamie Bryant, Matt Weiner / Dan Bishop
10 - Christina Hendricks, Matt Weiner / Tim Hunter, David Carbonara
11 - Elisabeth Moss, Matt Weiner
12 - Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser, Rich Sommer / Alan Taylor, Matt Weiner
13 - Jon Hamm, January Jones, Elisabeth Moss / Matt Weiner, Robin Veith, Malcolm Jamieson


Scoring Mad Men (7m30s): Composer David Carbonara describes the various character themes. Located on Disc One.

Mad Men Music Sampler: Sample the CD soundtrack that includes various period songs along with some of Carbonara's instrumentals. Located on Disc One.

Mad Men Season 2 Preview: A brief look at the upcoming season. Located on Disc One.

Advertising the American Dream (19m01s): A look at the advertising business, during the 1960s in particular, featuring interviews of industry experts and academics. The featurette mostly serves to authenticate the series' stories and themes. Located on Disc Two.

Pictures of Elegance: Interactive gallery covering costumes, hair and production design, with commentary from the lead designers. Located on Disc Two.

Establishing Mad Men (61m30s): Exhaustive documentary covers everything from writer Matthew Weiner's mindseye concept for the series to the efforts of the cast and crew in bringing the world to life. The effusive praise from everyone gets to be a bit much, so be prepared if you're not head-over-heels in love with the show. Located on Disc Three.


Recap

The Feature: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5

A compelling and authentic period series gets a decent video transfer, acceptable audio and an incredibly dense special features package. Those with DVD as their only format option should be quite happy. However, for anyone with Blu-Ray playback the high definition release is the obvious choice, especially given the comparable pricing of the two releases. All Blu-Ray buyers are losing in the decision is the cute packaging, which I doubt will keep anyone up at night.
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#2 of 3 Tina_H_V

Tina_H_V

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Posted July 13 2008 - 05:26 AM

Good call, Cameron!!!!!

I added the Blu-ray edition of this one yesterday and I am already impressed. I enjoy this actual time period and look forward to going over the episodes once more which, to me, look much better on BD than they did on television last summer--and I watched them all in HD as well!!!!!!!

I concur your recommendation. Posted Image
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#3 of 3 Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted July 13 2008 - 05:31 AM

Thanks Tina. I'm tempted to pick up the BD as well. When I looked into it on Amazon I was surprised at the low price.
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