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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: True Blood - The Complete First Season

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#1 of 8 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted May 20 2009 - 07:09 PM

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MAIN FEATURESPECIAL FEATURESVideo1080p high definition 16x9 1.78:1VariableAudioDTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / DTS: French 5.1, Spanish 2.0VariableSubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, English SDHNone

The Series: 4/5

Synopsis
There are vampires among us. Up to now their commonplace existence has been obscured by mystery and legend, mostly of their own making, but now they've "come out the coffin" and want to be both seen and heard. They also want the same basic legal rights as humans and, with a powerful lobby behind them, those rights appear more than assured. There's still the issue of their drinking blood, but with the invention of the "Tru Blood" synthetic blood beverage (available in all types from A-negative to O-positive), they can abandon their predatory ways and painlessly integrate into mainstream society.

Centuries of habits die hard though. There are some who prefer to feed the old fashioned way and remain separate from the living, though with humanity's growing fascination for their kind, there are more willing participants (offering both blood and sex) than ever before. Vampire fever even comes to the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps, which gets its first undead resident when Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), a town citizen until he was turned in the 1860s, comes back to reclaim his family home. By all appearances he just wants to be part of the town again, but with a decidedly mixed reception by the living residents, it's easier said than done.

Making the town's vampire-human relations more tense is a string of gruesome murders. Though most are quick to blame Bill and his kind, none of the killings bear a vampiric signature. Though a mob bearing torches and pitchforks doesn't seem likely, a confrontation of some sort seems inevitable.

Finally there's Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a waitress at the local watering hole. She's instantly drawn to Bill - at first for the usual, vampire groupie reasons, but then because of something quite remarkable. Sookie can read minds (most of the time uncontrollably), but she hears nothing from Bill's; it's that uncommon silence that gives her both a respite and a sense of normalcy in an otherwise abnormal relationship. Despite warnings from family and friends about getting involved with a vampire, and her own initial misgivings, Bill seems to be true - an undead creature of the night, certainly, but apparently more honest and faithful than some of Bon Temps's living citizens. In fact one of the living appears to be the culprit behind the unsolved murders, each one more personally connected to Sookie than the last.

My Impressions
Though the "True Blood" cover art foreshadows some firm placement of the tongue in cheek, the HBO series (based on a series of "Sookie Stackhouse" novels by Charlaine Harris) also features ample measures of romantic melodrama and the Southern Gothic. Out of context the former may have some viewers rolling their eyes (see Sookie, clad in virgin white, sprinting through the forest into the arms of her vampire beau) but that moment, in all its glorious sap, is completely earned, showing the redemptive power of good plot and character development. The explicit consummation scene that follows also shows the actors' faith in the material, a prime example of the often-speculated-upon, non-gratuitous nudity scenario. Likewise the series' Southern Gothic tones could have seemed overly familiar in relation to the vampire subject (Anne Rice, anyone?), but it turns out most of that flavoring is sprinkled about for the character interaction than the outright horror pieces, giving the show a classic rather than campy quality. The tongue-in-cheek elements tied to the vampire subculture may be the most difficult to warm to for some. "Buffy" and "Angel" fans, however, will find familiar the horror that never takes itself too seriously (but still manages to frighten) as "True Blood" follows in that fine tradition.

Typical of many shows these days, the series features a supporting cast and series of subplots that are often more compelling than the main characters and their central story. This includes Sookie's brittle best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley) looking to resolve her mother issues; Sookie's charming but recklessly self-destructive brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), who is at once repulsed by and drawn to the vampire culture; and Tara's flamboyant but admirably forthright cousin Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) who provides levity but also a self-assurance that's found in few of the characters besides Bill and Sookie's grandmother (Lois Smith).

Though filled with some near-disparate characters, influences, and plot elements, the overarching murder mystery, acting as a kind of binding agent, keeps them all together. It makes for at once a fully formed and confidently executed series worthy of viewers' time.

"True Blood - The Complete First Season" on Blu-Ray includes all 12 episodes that aired on HBO between September 7, 2008 and November 23, 2008. The second season will begin on June 14, 2009.


Video Quality: 4.5/5
The series is accurately framed at 1.78:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. Black levels can be inconsistent, at times looking appropriately inky but at others a touch too gray, which in turn affects apparent contrast, making the image look flat. Fine object detail and sharpness are impeccable, however, and are the obvious strengths of the transfer. Visible skin texture - sometimes to a fault - precludes any use of noise reduction; likewise grain structure appears appropriately preserved with no signs of artificial sharpening or edge enhancement. Color, though at times manipulated for effect, also appears nicely saturated and deep.


Audio Quality: 4.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio track offers an immersive and enveloping mix that includes an effective blend of atmopheric, environmental and dramatic surround effects with consistently clear and intelligible dialogue. Though perhaps not as surrounds-intense or laden with LFE as a top-shelf theatrical release, it's an impressive mix for a "mere" TV program. Scenes often have the sounds of crickets, wind or other environmental noises giving things a subtle sense of place. In contrast, more dynamic measures are taken to enhance Sookie's mind reading episodes. LFE is infrequent, but deep and clean when it appears, and bass activity in general is deep and rich.


Special Features: 3/5
The special features package offers a thorough supply of background information - if only it were easier to consume! The worst offender is an "enhanced viewing" feature that provides a picture-in-picture presentation of material like Lafayette dishing about the show's characters, biographical narratives on the vampire characters, and animated maps showing the location of various settings. Unfortunately, none of it is accessible through a separate menu interface!

Audio Commentaries: Six audio commentaries that include Creator and Executive Producer Alan Ball, Paquin, Moyer, and other members of the cast and crew. Though the tracks featuring Ball and the lead actors will likely be the first to be sampled, and seem to be reasonably informational, there are likely some good nuggets to be found in the other tracks too.

Enhanced Viewing: Picture-in-picture presentation of a variety of material, the most interesting being the bios of the vampire characters and how they were turned. If only you could get to them independent of watching each episode.

Previews and Recaps: Each episode includes the "Next On" and "Previously On" segments that were attached at the time of broadcast.


Recap

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

An effective and well-executed television drama with horror, Southern Gothic and romantic melodrama influences gets a very good technical presentation and a thorough - but poorly accessed - special features package.
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#2 of 8 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted May 20 2009 - 10:09 PM

Don't have cable/sat. Plan to give this a rent. Maybe I'll like the series enough to own it at some point.

_Man_
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#3 of 8 OFFLINE   mikedeceased

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Posted May 20 2009 - 11:11 PM

After watching the first episode, I honestly didn't get it, and decided not to continue with the show. Luckily, my tivo kept on recording each episode, because I gave it another shot, and WOW! I would urge anyone starting this show to keep watching, because it really clicked for me around episode 3, and just got better and better. Can't wait for season two in a couple of weeks!

#4 of 8 OFFLINE   Sean Laughter

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Posted May 21 2009 - 01:00 AM

This and Lost are the only TV I watch anymore.

In any case, my system seems to have some issues with the sound mix in this. I'm playing it via a PS3 into a Denon AVR-789, so the AVR is obviously getting Multi-ch PCM from the PS3. If I turn the Audyssey Dynamic EQ on alot of sound that should be in the front soundstage appears in the rear.

This is mainly noticeable if you just go to the title sequence and the vocals from the song are coming from the rear. What's odd though is if I turn off Dyanmic EQ and turn it back on it seems somewhat less pronounced. This is the only set I've had this issue with so it's somewhat odd. I'll just have to watch it with Dynamic EQ off I guess.

Otherwise, the show looks really nice to me. Anyone know how this was filmed? Some of the night shots are pretty noisy/grainy, but I'm wondering if it's grain or some kind of digital chroma noise or something. Not objectionable to me though.

#5 of 8 OFFLINE   JustinCleveland

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Posted May 21 2009 - 02:22 AM

During every episode the melodrama grew so thick that I wanted to drop the series--and then every episode would end with such a powerful cliffhanger that I couldn't wait for the next week's installment.

Plus it has the girl from Cloverfield, who I have been crushing on since Freaks and Geeks.

#6 of 8 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted May 21 2009 - 02:27 AM

Yeah...Lizzy Caplan...maybe you should make a contribution to the Brunettes thread. Posted Image
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#7 of 8 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted May 21 2009 - 03:01 AM

Added this to my Netflix Queue, thanks for the review!

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#8 of 8 OFFLINE   Jesse Blacklow

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Posted May 21 2009 - 03:35 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cameron Yee
Yeah...Lizzy Caplan...maybe you should make a contribution to the Brunettes thread. Posted Image
She's been fantastic in the Starz series Party Down, although in a completely different type of role. It's done by the creative team behind Veronica Mars, and shares a lot of their supporting cast, plus the always hilarious Jane Lynch (Best in Show) and Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks), and has had some fantastic guest stars.

Okay, enough with the tangent. This was one of my favorite new series last year, and I've already watched the first episode again. Looks good on Blu-ray!
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