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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

True Blood - Season One [Blu-ray]

 

(Alan Ball - creator, 2008)

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Your Face Goes Here Entertainment

Video: Home Box Office

 

Disc:

Region: ALL (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

First Episode Runtime: 58:32.550

Disc One Size: 28,416,027,812 bytes

Episode Size: 12,622,436,352 bytes

Average Bitrate: 28.75 Mbps

Chapters: 8 per episode

Case: Expanded Gatefold Blu-ray case w/ slipcover

Release date: May 19th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Sample Episode Bitrate:

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 4418 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4418 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS Audio French 1509 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio English 320 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 320 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 320 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 320 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Express English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / 24-bit

 

Subtitles:

English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• 6 Audio Commentaries by Alan Ball, Anna Paquin & Stephen Moyer, et al

• Enhanced Viewing for all 12 Episodes

• Previews (Next On & Previously On) Spots - in HD

 

 

 

Comment:

HBO's True Blood is based on the Sookie Stackhouse series of Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris (which first saw the light of night in 2001, now at book #10.)  Directed by Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under), the series is another and very successful attempt at re-inventing the vampire mythology – something like Buffy for adults, with a little X-Men thrown in for good measure.

 

True Blood has more in common with Buffy the Vampire Slayer than might be obvious from a casual summary of the setup: both feature a young blonde heroine with special powers who have a bi-polar thing for vampires.  They are disturbingly attracted to and are properly repulsed by them.  They feel that only the vampire understands them and, in a very special way, can only be at peace in their presence – at least as far as males are concerned.

 

"Buffy" "Sookie" – names that seem more appropriate for a pet rottweiler than to an actual person, let alone a hero or a protagonist hoping to hold our interest.  Buffy is recruited by a mythology and an agency to rid the world of evil.  She has the guidance of a "Watcher" who mentors her in the lore of the demons she will face and in the arts of offense and defense.  Buffy is instructed into the ways of the vampire not only by her Watcher, but by Angel, a vampire that appears to have good intentions.  Angel is also her protector, at least at first, showing up in moments of peril.  Ditto: Bill for Sookie.

 

 

 

Pulling the girls in a contrary direction is sex, something that Buffy resists acknowledging (which makes sense considering her mission is to kill them, not to sleep with them) but which Sookie is drawn to from the start.  Buffy learns only too late that sex reveals the monster underneath – every girl's and every woman's nightmare.  Sookie understands this possibility only too clearly, yet she finds herself unable to resist the pull that Bill Compton has for her. 

 

Buffy resists not only her calling, but the consequences of what it will necessarily do to her social life.  She confides in very few friends, confessing her new life to her mother more than a year after she takes it on.  Sookie, on the other hand, while a likeable enough young woman, has always been seen as a little odd.  Her telepathic abilities become known to others gradually. She talks openly to her grandmother and close friends about her interest in Bill, but only up to a point.

 

Of course, there are big differences between the two stories: The demons in Buffy do not try to pass except momentarily pretending to be human so as to put their prey off guard.  In True Blood, the vampires have "come out" of their coffins (a deliberately worded concept) in a desire to mingle with mainstream society.  As in X-Men, they have their spokespeople and lobbyists.  Still, there are humans who seek out vampires for a sado-masochistic thrill and a good deal of money.  More than that, vampire blood, known as "V-Juice," is sold in the black market to offer enhanced perception and sexual power – a kind of Super LSD+Viagra, with both of their dangers in tow. 

 

Then there's the locale: In Buffy: a Southern California suburb so white that even the black folks come without shading.  The fact that Sunnydale sits on top of the Hellmouth is meant to be both paradoxical and telling: that evil lurks below the most apparently benign surface.  True Blood, on the other hand, takes place in rural Louisiana, where primal process is the surface; where drugs, sex, blood, church and violence co-mingle with ease.  It's where Louis met Lestat.

 

What grabs our attention in both of these series is not so much the plot, but the characters and their interactions, their language and a memorable episode here and there that can be revisited out of context.  Both series are very much about sex. Buffy is a high schooler who lives with her single mom.  She and her friends talk about sex for two entire seasons but don't do it.  Sookie is already 25 when we first meet her. She lives with her grandmother, and she has never even been kissed, though everyone around her is indulging themselves whenever and wherever possible.  Well, almost everyone.  True Blood is damn near pornographic at times – not just because it can be or because the show's on cable, but because it nails the preoccupation of most of its characters.

 

A few words about the peculiarly un-American cast: the awesome Anna Paquin (whose experience as "Rogue" has made her ready for prime time), a New Zealander since the age of four, she plays Sookie: vulnerable, sassy, curious, proud, and sexy. Stephen Moyer: another bloody Brit sent to steal the hearts and minds of American television audiences, completely convincing as a weary Southern rebel vampire – in every sense.  Ryan Kwanten, a Brad Pittish Aussie, as Sookie's sex-crazed, not very bright brother, who steals every scene he's in.  Sam Trammell, on the other hand, is the only major character actually from this part of the woods.  He brings to Sookie's boss and human pursuer of her affections a dark and mysterious edge.

Tasty music and brilliant editing.  Love those opening credits.

 

The Score Card

The Series : 8~9

 

Image : 8/8  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.  The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

 

The visual style is deliberately inconsistent, sometimes a kind of low-fi, almost Blair Witch, noisy YouTube look.  More often than not, however, the image is quite sharp, if a touch grainy.  Very likely what we see is what came directly out of post-production.  In keeping with the subject matter, color is desaturated and lurid by turns.  Then again, skin tones can look quite natural, as can be seen in Gary's screencaps.  The image is, as expected, blemish-free and unmanipulated, aside from what can be presumed to be intended. 

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music : 9/9

A high definition audio mix doesn't have to contain bombast or zipping vehicular traffic to prove itself.  The palette of True Blood is deliciously diverse – from it's dynamic "I Want to Do Bad Things to You" of the opening credits to the whisper of blood spray to the engulfing Tuva throat singing.  The dialogue is absolutely clear, no need for subtitles even when voices are hushed, which they often are.  When things get supernatural, the bass kicks in with a dull roar, and the sizzle of burning flesh might put you off bar-b-q for a year.

 

Operations : 5

The navigation through the episodes is a clumsy, but the real problem is that the subtitles are only accessible from the Main Menu. They can't be accessed directly from our remote. I can't imagine why they did this.

 

 

 

Extras : 7

HBO offer's no featurettes as such but, except for a missing interview with Charlaine Harris, I can't say that I miss them.  On the other hand, the Enhanced Viewing modem which gets off to a promising start, what with maps of the area that pop up for each location, the various bits are not coordinated into an organic whole – they just move from appetizing blood-sucking trivia to fictional factoid, with frustrating spaces in between.  The Cast & Crew Commentaries on the other hand, are much more intriguing, each pairing offering a different perspective on the approach to the subject at hand.  While this may seem obvious, there is a subtle point here, which is that each episode has a different feel to it, not explained by the story arc, and you might want to know why that is.

 

 

Recommendation : 8

The image quality may not have that neat highly resolved look of your big-budget sci-fi thriller, but it certainly captures the soul and soulessness of the subject.  The audio is dynamic, even when as subtle as the wind.  The commentaries intrigue.  But it is the story, the characters, performances, editing, music – in short – the series itself will have you on the edge of your seat – or covering your eyes.  Highly recommended.  Bravo HBO.

Leonard Norwitz
May 12th, 2009

 


 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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