Sons of Anarchy: Season One (Blu-ray)
Directed by Allen Coulter et al
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 594 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 3.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 59.99
Release Date: August 18, 2009
Review Date: August 20, 2009
If you’re looking for vestiges of Marlon Brando’s The Wild One or Tom Laughlin’s Born Losers (to name just two biker gang flicks that spring to mind) within the confines of FX’s new series Sons of Anarchy, you’ll be looking pretty much in vain. Created by Kurt Sutter (who executive produced The Shield so he has some firsthand knowledge of giving audiences a genre series very much different from what they might expect), Sons of Anarchy presents its motorcycle club as a tight-knit autocracy with its major interest not in drugs or prostitution as many gangs have notoriety in the headlines for trading in but rather in gun running and weapons supplying for any groups with the cash to make it worth their while. The show features a strong cast of reliable character actors, but solely on the basis of season one’s scripts, it is still looking to generate some genuine heat, some innovative approaches to storytelling, and focus on some electrifying personas that will make it must-see event programming. There is a good foundation here in the first thirteen episodes, and a few story arcs certainly build well over the course of the season, but the series hasn’t yet soared. Perhaps its second season will find the series flying just a bit higher.
The Sons of Anarchy, Samcro chapter is located in the fictional town of Charming, California. It’s led by longtime number one "Clay" Morrow (Ron Perlman). Stepson "Jax" Teller (Charlie Hunnam) is the club’s number two man, Teller being the son of the club’s founder. Other main men in the chapter’s mix are sergeant at arms "Tig" Trager (Kim Coates), Clay’s right hand man "Bobby" Munson (Mark Boone Jr.), and prospective member "Half-Sack" Epps (Johnny Lewis). Clay’s wife and Jax’s mother, an all purpose den mother/troubleshooter for the gang, is Gemma Morrow (Katey Sagal), by far the one person connected to the gang that one would not want to cross paths with.
Several story arcs unfold vividly during the course of the show’s first season. Jax’s soon-to-be-ex-wife Wendy (Drea De Matteo) overdoses in the pilot and gives premature birth to their son Abel whose life or death struggle works out over the course of several episodes as does the wife’s drug rehabilitation and return in the hopes of reuniting with her family. Jax, meanwhile, still has feelings for high school sweetheart-now local doctor Tara Knowles (Maggie Siff) who has her own problems with an unbalanced stalking ATF agent (Jay Karnes) who has tracked her from her internship in Chicago back to Charming. The ATF is anxious to get the goods on the gang and their gunrunning activities, and many of the episodes revolve around elaborate schemes to trap one or more members of the club so they can be used to bring down the entire gang. And, as with all gang related stories, rival gangs always pose a major stumbling block to the success and safety of any club, and these first season episodes feature plenty of gangland warfare for those who are into that sort of thing.
During an early episode in the season, Jax finds the journals of his late father, and in reading them, it’s clear that his father was eager for the club to legitimize its activities and escape from the outlaw biker lifestyle. You’ll look long and hard to find a similar biker gang scenario that drops names like Emma Goldman and Albert Einstein in attempting to bring some sense out of the chaos of the biker existence. These flights of literary fancy don’t happen in every episode, but it certainly adds a thoughtful extra note or two to the symphony of violence and betrayal that many of the episodes cue up to play. Jax’s struggle to reconcile his own peace-loving spirit with the needs of the club makes for a fascinating season-long story arc.
Some may find the bikers in the focal gang a bit too clean-cut compared to the grizzled images of bikers that often get splashed across the police blotter pages of local newspapers, but the tattoo work on the members here and their mug shots framed and under a spotlight in their clubhouse give a kind of fictionalized legitimacy to these guys being approximate television representations of the real McCoys. Certainly, one can’t fault the acting of the principal performers who, to a person, create vivid and believable people living in this violent, topsy-turvy world where one’s life or the life of a loved one can be snuffed out in an instant.
These are the thirteen episodes of the show’s first season contained on three discs in the set. Names in parentheses refer to those participating in that episode’s commentary track:
1 – Pilot (Kurt Sutter, Katey Sagal, Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman)
2 – Seeds
3 – Fun Town
4 – Patch Over
5 – Giving Back
6 – AK-51
7 – Old Bones
8 – The Pull (Kurt Sutter, Maggie Siff, Charlie Hunnam, director Guy Ferland )
9 – Hell Followed
10 – Better Half
11 – Copybara
12 – The Sleep of Babies
13 – The Revelator (Kurt Sutter, Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Kim Coates, Mark Boone Jr., Theo Rossi, Ryan Hurst, William Lucking, Johnny Lewis, Tommy Flanagan)
The show is framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Though colors are played down in the bleak scenarios that mark most of the episodes, what color there is is well rendered with excellent flesh tones. Sharpness is usually outstanding with a very good sense of depth to the image, though there are occasional moments where shots for whatever reason are soft and lacking in detail. Blacks are rich and shadow detail really fine. Episodes vary in length and are usually divided into either 12 or 13 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix does a better than average job for a television series in making sure that the soundstage is filled with rock music and occasional ambient effects (bike engines driving away) that traverse the soundfield. Obviously, there is room for greater expansion of sound possibilities, but one suspects the budget of a basic cable series is being stretched to the max delivering the very good audio that is presented here.
The three audio commentaries all feature quite a bit of talking though with so many participants (especially in the season finale, a real boys’ night out), not everyone gets an equal chance to be heard, and much of what is going on involves laughing at what they’re watching with little information imparted. Creator/head writer Kurt Sutter serves as point man for all of the commentaries.
“The Making of Sons of Anarchy” is a 9-minute series of interviews with the series’ creator, stars, production designer, and costume designer describing their approach to putting on the show. It’s in 1080p.
“The Ink” is a 4 ¾-minute interview with the production designer and the show’s two tattoo artists as they go over each individual look for the various tattoos each man sports. Several of the actors also describe their ink and why they decided on those specific patterns. It’s presented in 1080p.
“The Bikes” is a fascinating interview with the show’s chief mechanic who goes into detail on each of the individual bikes belonging to the members of the club. Several of the actors also express their love of their machines in this 1080p featurette that runs 7 ¼ minutes.
“Casting Sons of Anarchy” features an interview with the program’s casting director who describes what qualities she was looking for in each role. Portions of the actors’ audition tapes are also shown. We also find out who was pre-cast making an audition unnecessary. This 1080p feature runs 14 ¾ minutes.
There are twenty-eight deleted/extended scenes which may be viewed individually or in one 35 ¼-minute grouping. They’re in 480i.
The season one gag reel titled “Anarchy on the Set” runs for 7 minutes in 480i.
The first disc contains 1080p trailers for ’24,’ Lie to Me, and The Marine II.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Sons of Anarchy had a better than average first season of episodes. Strong, interesting characters have now been established, and with some riveting plot developments, the second season promises to deliver even more fireworks than the first season offered. Recommended!