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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz


A Little Background     Openers     


    Modus Operandi     The Scorecard:     

Emotive Connection      Audio     Operations    Extras     The Movie     Equipment





Mad Men (Season 1) (Complete Season One (13 Episodes) on 3 discs) [Blu-ray]


(Created by Matthew Weiner, 2007)






Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: AMC

Blu-ray: Lionsgate



Region: A

Runtime: 616 min


Size: 50 GB

Case: Expanded Amaray Blu-ray case

Release date: July 1, 2008



Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC MPEG-4



English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio



English & Spanish



• Audio Commentaries on all 13 Episodes

• Featurette: Establishing Mad Men

• Featurette: Advertising the American Dream

• Featurette: Scoring Mad Men – A Discussion with Composer David Carbonara

• Mad Men Music Sampler

• Mad Men Season 2 Preview

• Photo Gallery




The Film: 8
Nominated for a staggering 16 Emmys, and priced the same as the SD DVD, this 3-disc Blu-ray edition should become a real winner for Lionsgate.

It took me a while to put my finger on what Mad Men reminded me of, but when I nailed it, I was frankly surprised: it wasn't The Sopranos, which involved Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner, and key people from his crew, it was
Twin Peaks. Like the David Lynch series of nearly twenty years ago, Weiner's dark and dirty soap, set against the advertising business of the early 1960s, shares Lynch's feeling for something vaguely monstrous lurking behind the façade – in this case, a carefully constructed social structure that ensures an enmity of biblical proportions between the sexes and a cutthroat competitive battleground at the office. Phil Abraham's camerawork that often comes up to people from behind, David Carbonera's music, and the art and makeup direction that exaggerates a kind of luxury at the expense of basic human needs, echoes Twin Peaks' restlessness.

People like Mad Men for all sorts of reasons: the characters and the casting and acting that brings them to life; the storyline, which kind of sneaks up on us (like Robert Morse, who appears to have succeeded quite nicely); and the – thank the gods - pre-PC writing (one of my favorites: "Of course I love you," Pete Campbell reassures his fiancée over the phone. "I'm giving up my life to be with you, aren't I?") From the start, the re-creation of period leaps off the screen. I was reminded of a time when we thought filet of sole with a choice of creamed spinach or creamed corn, fried potatoes or au gratin, made for an honorable dinner at a classy restaurant. On the other hand, the protagonist, Don Draper, a hot shot advertising accounts manager, is only vaguely aware that the times and tastes they are a changin' - and he's unable to see it for what it portends. He tells his long-lost brother "I have a life, and it only goes in one direction - forward." Talk about irony.


It should go without saying that 1960 was also a time when most adults drink – a lot, and at midday, no less – and smoke – perhaps not to the extent as on this show – but it helps establish Mad Men as a no holds barred soap opera. The setting and social structure is realistic enough – but it is clear that we are not watching a documentary, but a work of mannered fiction designed to titillate and entertain, while showing almost nothing under the sheets – just like how we imagine 1960. Then, as always, there's my favorite period movie smile: every classic car is spotless, just like the suits and the underwear.

Image: 7.5/9
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVDs, including SD 480i.

The default photography for this show tends to somewhat boosted contrast and warm color saturation. Blacks are deep, sometimes lacking shadow detail, as would be consistent with boosted saturation. I don't watch broadcast TV, but I gather from friends that the HD broadcast was not so good. One friend joined me for a couple of episodes on Blu-ray and was duly impressed, feeling a vibrancy and immediacy he said was lacking in the broadcast. I imagine that Blu-ray's megacolor and contrast palette is much to preferred over what is possible on SD, though I admit to not having made the comparison either. The image here is fairly sharp and defect-free, though there remained a vague fuzziness throughout. One strange thing that I wasn't able to demonstrate this to my satisfaction with screen captures, but I had the feeling that disc 2 had less of this effect than the first. If there were other artifacts, they were not bothersome.














Audio & Music: 6/8
Despite its uncompressed audio track, Mad Men does not get high points for clarity or design, which feels decidedly canned, especially in the first episode - the pilot, which was shot a year earlier than the remainder of the season. Dialogue lacks focus – so if you found it so on broadcast, don't expect the problem to be entirely resolved on Blu-ray – though, again, my friend thought the Blu-ray was much improved over the broadcast.


The fact that there is little scoring to each episode makes the dialogue stand out in sharp relief, especially in that the surrounds are given little to do, as is consistent with the subject matter. We sometimes hear music played in the background, as in Episode 5 where Don meets up with his brother in the café. That 1960-ish music (unidentified in the credits), which struck me as decidedly out of place for the venue, is lifted sweetly out of the mix even though it remained in the foreground. On the other hand, I liked Carbonera's jazzy touches here and there that added a kind of counterpoint to the drama. Curiously, these cues were more clearly recorded than the main theme under opening credits.

(As to verisimilitude, I very much appreciated that the LP spinning on the office portable record player was not only the mono version of Bob Newhart's "Button Down Mind", but that it was playing the correct cut on the correct side. How often do we see that!)


Operations: 8
There are five 45-minute episodes per disc, but the bit rate doesn't seem to suffer, hanging in there around the mid to upper 20's. An unusual menu design in a number of respects: the first is that the episode pauses and disappears from view when the menu is activated (and returns to that position, provided all you did was activate one of the commentaries.) The other is a very interesting travel path from any point in the menu to another. You need only click on the appropriate direction arrow on your remote to explore further or return to from whence you came. Once I got the hang of it, I liked. The third is the option to display the menu with or without music. The music is engaging – but that's sort of the problem at this point; so do we really want to interrupt both video and audio every time we access the menu? Nice of Lionsgate to give us the choice. The menu does not list episode chapters, nor previews of the present or coming episode. One point off for a case design that will likely generate frustration as you attempt to place your disc over the wrong center hole.


Extras: 9
This set is just loaded with commentaries, sometimes two to an episode. These are guided by various personnel as the mood strikes: actors, director, creator, actors, production crew, actors. As expected, they are not of consistent quality or interest, but the change in perspective can be illuminating. I found the one with Maggie Siff, Darby Stanchfield and Jon Hamm on Episode 3 "The Marriage of Figaro" to be a good case in point, especially as the women discuss their characters' lives vis-à-vis one another and their men. A flimsy Episode Guide is included in the case. The guide identifies episode number, title, writer and director, plus a brief synopsis. I would have liked to see the names of the commentators, but no biggie.

While the Bonus Features are off and on in HD, there are none that are exclusive to the Blu-ray edition.



Bottom line: 9
One of the best series on television from 2007, Mad Men, and especially this Blu-ray set, offers an engaging trip down memory lane – sometimes in a dream, sometimes a nightmare – always (save the audio) in a beautifully rendered faux-reality that grabs the attention without smothering us in bare skin, bloody violence or Carlin's words. Not to mention the price... which can't be beat with a bad ad.

Leonard Norwitz
August 3rd, 2008