For its first two seasons, ABC’s Once Upon a Time made the protagonists’ main adversary the Evil Queen from Snow White. With that motif more than played out, it was time to find a new villain for the series’ heroes to combat in season three, and the producers came up with two this season, one each for two eleven-episode arcs. Truth to tell, while there is always great imagination at work fashioning these scenarios (which have long since left the domains of the original fairy tales and are now plowing new ground with every fresh episode), there is something dangerously formulaic settling into the confines of Storybrooke which makes viewing these extended dramatic arcs sometimes something of a chore.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 15 Hr. 46 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case with leaves
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 08/19/2014
For the first half of season three, a quite malevolent Peter Pan (Robbie Kay) is the adversary having kidnapped Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) for some unknown purpose (his motivation becomes clear a little more than halfway through this first half of the season) and headed back to Never Land. Hot on his trail are Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), Captain Hook (Colin O'Donoghue), Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), and Henry’s two rival mothers Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Emma (Jennifer Morrison). Never Land is a treacherous place even without the continual harassment of Peter Pan who plays irritating mind games with the adults that they continually fall victim to. The staff writers, however, seem to dream up magic spells, potions, and abilities at the drop of a hat which make such a long, drawn-out arc something of a puzzle; for example, if Peter has the ability to switch souls with Henry (which is his last resort once he’s finally seemingly defeated), why didn’t he do that earlier once he realized his family had gotten to Never Land and then proceeded to pick them off one by one?
The Production Rating: 3/5
Once the problem of Pan is settled, it’s time for another reboot for the second half of the season leading to the revelation of the season’s second Big Bad: the Wicked Witch of the West aka Zelena (Rebecca Mader). As in the earlier arc, the Wicked Witch is all-powerful and thwarts every attempt by the denizens of Storybrooke to overthrow her power. Also as is now the custom on the series, Zelena is actually related to one of the characters (as Pan was) with this revelation leading to her motivation to cause such havoc with these people who have seemingly never done her any harm. The formula narrative of struggle with the heroes being constantly battered about by her powers is really hard to endure for a long succession of episodes, and one wishes the writers would spend more time developing the many interpersonal relationships present in the show with such a wealth of characters in complicated relationships and less on these repetitious action sequences that show off the special effects to a wonderful degree but leave those yearning for something more than mindless magic spells feeling unsatisfied. Or have shorter story arcs. The two-episode time travel arc that closes the season was the perfect length and very effective.
As in the previous two seasons, almost every episode contains narratives in more than one sphere of storytelling. The flashbacks sometimes take us to the Enchanted Forest, sometimes to Oz, sometimes Sherwood Forest, sometimes to New York (where Emma and Henry live for a year between the first half of the season and the second half), sometimes to Never Land but always tell stories related to the current timeline in some way. And in doing this, they continually add to the continuing cast of characters established during the show’s first two years. This year, two important additions pop up in quite a few episodes: The Little Mermaid’s Ariel (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) and Robin Hood (Sean Maguire). (Some of his merry men are around, too, but have little impact in the show.) There are also episodic glimpses of Lumiere, Rapunzel, the Darling children Wendy, Michael, and John, even Medusa (yes, the writers are also raiding Greek mythology for plots and characters). And Disney has not been silent about the upcoming season next time concentrating on characters from their recent smash hit Frozen.
Here are the twenty-two episodes contained on five Blu-ray discs in this set. The names in parentheses refer to the participants in that episode’s audio commentary.
1 – The Heart of the Truest Believer (writers Andrew Chambliss, Kalinda Vasquez)
2 – Lost Girl
3 – Quite a Common Fairy
4 – Nasty Habits
5 – Good Form
6 – Ariel
7 – Dark Hollow
8 – Think Lovely Thoughts (writers David Goodman, Robert Hull, actor Robert Carlyle)
9 – Save Henry
10 – The New Never Land
11 – Going Home
12 – New York City Serenade
13 – Witch Hunt
14 – The Tower
15 – Quiet Minds
16 – It’s Not Easy Being Green
17 – The Jolly Roger (writer David Goodman, actor Colin O’Donoghue)
18 – Bleeding Through
19 – A Curious Thing
20 – Kansas
21 – Snow Drifts
22 – There’s No Place Like Home (creators Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz)
The program is broadcast on ABC at 720p, and these 1080p 1.78:1 transfers (AVC codec) look much sharper and more solid than the network broadcasts. The show has a very cinematic look, and the transfers capture the lush darkness of the fairy tale world as well as the brighter everyday look of the small town or Never Land. Colors are rich and beautifully saturated, and flesh tones are true to life (except when they’re not meant to be). The Storybrooke scenes are always sharp, but the heavy use of green screen in the various fantasy world segments results in images that are sometimes a bit softer, likely done deliberately to mesh more smoothly with the computer-generated backgrounds. Black levels are nicely rendered even if contrast occasionally varies from shot to shot. Each episode has been divided into 8 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is a sophisticated one for network television. Like its video counterpart, the sound design often seems more movie-like with sophisticated split effects in most episodes and a gorgeous use of lush Mark Isham music themes in every episode which make the most of the extended surround channels. Dialogue is always very well recorded and has been placed in the center channel. There’s more for the LFE channel to do in this series than in many other television shows. The discs also offer a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround track that’s quite effective on its own if possibly a bit too loud.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Commentaries: See the episode list above for participants. The best of the four this year is the one for “The Jolly Roger.”
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Wicked Villains (12:06, HD): creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, various staff writers, and stars Jared S. Gilmore, Jennifer Morrison, Josh Dallas, Colin O’Donoghue, Ginnifer Goodwin, Lana Parrilla, Lee Arenberg (who plays Grumpy), Rebecca Mader, and Robert Carlyle discuss the necessity of delicious villains for the show to work and then briefly dissect Rumplestiltskin, Regina, Zelena, and Hook (who this season is anything but a villain). Oddly, there’s no discussion of Peter Pan who drove the entire first half of the season.
The Tale of Ariel (7:35, HD): creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz discuss the casting of JoAnna Garcia Swisher (despite the fact she doesn’t like swimming) and then discuss issues with costuming and hair. Swisher is interviewed on set and on location in the freezing Canadian water.
Inside the Writers’ Room (3:07, HD): a spoof of a behind-the-scenes look at important decisions being made in the writers’ room for the series.
Blooper Reel (1:46, HD)
Deleted Scenes (12:47, HD): nine deleted scenes may be viewed in montage or individually.
Ariel at Comic-Con 2013 (1:25, HD): the brief film clip shown at Comic-Con suggesting Ariel as one the show’s upcoming guests for season three.
Promo Trailers (HD): Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty, Frozen: Sing Along Edition, Disneynature: Bears.
While still able to deliver emotionally diverting episodes when the emphasis is on character rather than action, Once Upon a Time in its third season made its extended and heavily serialized storytelling something of a trial for viewers. The Blu-rays look and sound incredible, much more engaging than the network broadcasts, but the show’s staff needs to shuck its formula approach to the series and try something a bit fresher if the show is continue and not lose more audience members.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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