Search DVDBeaver

S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

 

L  e  n  s  V  i  e  w  s

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

True Blood: The Complete Second Season [Blu-ray]

 

(Created by Alan Ball, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: HBO

Blu-ray: HBO

 

Disc:

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

Episode Runtime: 0:53:24.242

Disc One Size: 41,094,908,362 bytes

Episode One Size: 11,492,640,768 bytes

Video Bitrate: 19.99 Mbps

Chapters: 8 per episode

Case: Expanded Gatefold Blu-ray case w/ slipcover

Release date: May 27th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 4436 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4436 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 Spanish 256 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 256 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Express English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / 24-bit

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), Dutch, French, Portuguese, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• 7 Audio Commentaries by Alan Ball, Anna Paquin & Stephen Moyer, Cast & Crew

• Enhanced Viewing for all 12 Episodes

• Character Perspectives – in HD (2:02:10)

• Foundation of the Sun: Reflections of Light – in HD (12:10)

• The Vampire Report Special Edition – in HD (23:50)

 

 

The Film: 8
Buffy for Adults continues with a second season of HBO's True Blood, based on the Sookie Stackhouse series of Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris. Created by Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under), the series is another successful attempt at re-inventing the vampire mythology.

Just about everything in the first season was fresh and unexpected. We wouldn't expect that same level of surprise in the follow up, nor do we get it. Instead, Alan Ball and company flesh out themes from the first season against a background of new threats to the human and vampire community of Bon Temps and beyond. That beyond happens to be Dallas in this case, though there is precious little to identify it as such. While obviously not rural Louisiana, the setting for the scenes in Texas could have been most any big city.

The season begins with the leavings of a ruthless murder. The body of a woman, known to Tara (Rutina Wesley) if not to others around Merlotte's diner, is being examined by the local police – the always straight and sober Sheriff Dearborn (William Sanderson) and the rarely sharp or sober Detective Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer) – who can't help but notice that the victim's heart has been torn from her body. Not the sort of dispatch offered by vampires.

While Sam worries about his less than secret identity as a shape shifter, more dead bodies materialize on or about his premises. The identity and purpose of the murderer becomes one of several interweaving stories, two of which pick up on characters introduced at the end of the previous season: There is the engaging and oh-so supportive "social worker" Maryann Forrester (Michelle Forbes) who, we soon learn, has a talent for promoting primal feelings and behaviors in others which leads to a number of orgies that dot Bon Temps' landscape. Maryann has taken Tara under her wing (probably not the appropriate metaphor), for what purpose is far from evident.

Given my taste for Buffy it is no surprise that my favorite new plot strand involves the girl that Bill Compton was required to turn into a vampire at the end of the previous season. As a condition for Sookie's transgression, Eric (Alexander Skarsgård, son of Stellan) requires that Bill not only had to destroy the girl's human future, but become her master and teach her the ways of the vampire. It is clear to Sookie (Anna Paquin) that Bill knows next to nothing about adolescence as Sookie so deliciously points out to him. Bill describes Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) as "a new vampire with no humanity, in the grip of overwhelming transformations, unable to control even a single impulse" which Sookie hastens to point out is the very definition of an adolescent girl.

Two other storylines vie with the Maryann adventure for center stage: one involves the disappearance of Godric, the oldest of the region's vampires, and Eric's maker. Godric (Allan Hyde) is the sheriff of Area 9 (at least it's not "District 9") and has tremendous power, so it is bewildering to say the least that he could have been taken. All the same, the finger of guilt points to a militant, Christian anti-vampire group known as "The Fellowship of the Sun."

The Fellowship is a paramilitary organization fronted by the Light of Day Institute run by a husband and wife team, the glib and glad-handing Reverend Steve (Michael McMillan, channeling Richard Benjamin's Major Danby) and Sarah Newlin (Anna Camp), the quintessential southern blonde homecoming queen. Sookie's brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten), forever confused about morality and guilt, falls in with the militant wing of the militant Fellowship, just as he bewilderingly falls for Sarah. About everything that takes place at the Light of Day/Fellowship is brilliantly written and falling over your chair funny, from the over the top evangelism of Reverend Steve, to the competition amongst the fledgling Soldiers for Jesus for the good graces of the Newlins, to their eroticized women that play - or, is that, prey? or pray? - on the emotions of just about anybody that can see and hear them.

The most important thread followed in Season Two is the relationship between Loyalty and Love. It is not by accident that the Christian group is portrayed as more two-faced in this respect than the Vampires, not that the latter aren't rife with emotional sickness. I don't remember if Season One made use of flashbacks, but in the new season, flashbacks become a visible part of the narrative, depicting Eric's first days as a vampire and his and Bill's relationship to their respective makers. I thought these to be the weakest parts of the season and, even though they set up what is manifest in this season, I felt the drama would have been better served in some other fashion.

With Eric, there is always hidden agenda. He is more center stage in the second season, working to free his maker while working whatever secret plans he has on the stove. His scenes with Godric toward the end of the season prepare us for the climactic conversation between Godric and Sookie in Episode 10 where they discuss Forgiveness, Punishment and God. It's one of the memorable moments in the series.

And, if I remember correctly, there's a good deal more skin in the second season, much of it Paquin's. Some of the choices about whom to reveal or not, I thought a little peculiar, especially given the circumstances.

The cast is, with one exception, excellent and very much in character. Kudos to Nelsan Ellis as Tara's cousin, Lafayette: a gay prostitute, cook and con artist, held prisoner at so many levels. When he's on camera he comes close to stealing the series from Paquin. Easy to overlook is Jim Parrack as Hoyt, Jason's best friend and new boyfriend to Jessica. Parrick has a charm that breathes a soul into a part that could have gone camp. (We get to see much more of him in the Special Features.) Speaking of charm and soul, Anna Camp as the evangelist's wife - a character that the Sarah of northern latitudes wouldn't be able to make heads nor tails of - nails the heart and soul of the self-righteous, always-ready-to-rationalize Christian (Come to think of it – what ever happened to an expression so common back in my day: "Jesus freak"?) Anna's Sarah Newlin is the perfect model.

Allan Hyde, at just 18 or 19, is a peculiar, if understandable choice for Godric, who is, outside of Jessica, the youngest to have been turned, though he is a couple thousand years old. Godric still looks young, but not very wise for his years. Hyde, as Godric, looks weary, which makes sense at a number of levels, and we might be able to sense where his character is going with all this, but the actor lacks the chops to compel much interest. In short, and most unlike vampires we know from here and elsewhere, he lacks charisma.

While not nearly as consistently written or inspired, nor as thought-provoking as Mad Men or Dexter, True Blood is an engaging entertainment, more erotic than chilling, alternately sly, funny and erotic. The hour goes by before you know it, and you may have to fight the impulse to watch both seasons again from the beginning. True Blood is your Maker, and you know it, and you will comply.

 


 

Image: 8/9    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken 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 of Season One, with its occasional noisy YouTube look gives way to a much greater level consistency. Season Two pretty much lets go of the Blair Witch look, except for the title sequence. In its place, while there are a few brief soft and grainy stretches, most of the imagework is crisp and fairly sharp, noiseless, with a haze of fine grain. Skin tones are surprisingly natural even when the lighting leaves the subject shadowed. The image is, once again, blemish-free and, unless otherwise intended, unmanipulated.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/9
The palette of True Blood is deliciously diverse – from the dynamic "I Want to Do Bad Things to You" of the opening credits, to the noisy commotion in Merlotte's with it layered conversations, phone rings, jukebox music, and the fine sizzle of meat. Subtle effects, like the sounds attendant to Maryann's kitchen cuisine, the gentle splashing in a still lake, or the ambiance inside a high vaulted church are just well handled. The dialogue is absolutely clear. No need for subtitles even when voices are hushed, which they often are. When a vampire lunges for an attack, the bass kicks in with a dull roar and things go whoosh with whacking menace. And when they bite, there is a delicious ripping sound that makes the skin crawl. When things get supernatural, the sizzle of burning flesh might put you off bar-b-q for a year. Each episode ends with an appropriate song chosen from western civilization's vast library of rock and blues.

 

Operations: 6
As with HBO's first season on Blu-ray, subtitles are only accessible from the Main Menu, and not directly from our remote. The menu is, for the most part, easy enough to navigate, though the "Enhanced Viewing Mode" is a bit problematic in that you can't access the separate functions individually.

There are "Play Alls'" everywhere, and we applaud HOB for the option, but once inside the Bonus Features on disc five, things get a little messy. I think the Newlins' intro for each segment on Play All should have been bypassed for "Foundation of the Sun - Reflections of Light." Also, when you bring up the Play All for "Character Perspectives" it may not be intuitive what is meant by "By Episode" if you hadn't already visited the feature in the Enhanced Viewing Mode on the previous discs. In any case the idea is simpler than it might seem: If you want to listen only to comments for a particular episode, click on that number.

There are some 228 fades to black across the two hour Character Perspectives in Play All – I kid thee not. Clearly, there should have been no more than one fade to black "per episode" in Play All mode (that would have totaled 48). The other pain in the neck is the recurring blood splatter that flashes into each fade to black between paragraphs. These outlive their welcome quickly.

 

 

Extras: 8
For the First Season Blu-ray set, HBO offered no featurettes as such but did include an "Enhanced Viewing Mode" option which worked quite well as far as it went. That option has returned for Season Two but, for the times I checked out how it was going, I thought it not nearly as interesting as last season, with too few interesting bits, too far between. This season's EVM includes several features that pop up helter skelter. I kept count for one episode: a mere 28 pop-ups. That's about one every two minutes – not often enough to make it interesting and too often for us to not feel interrupted. In any case, you can't listen to the Character Perspectives, interesting and entertaining as they are, and the episode dialogue simultaneously. The "Hints" are juvenile. The "Flashbacks" and "Flash Forwards" interrupt the episode and aren't substantial enough to make you want to watch the episode a second time just for them or the combined EVM features. The Pro/Anti-Vampire Feeds are a good touch but might have been better placed at the end of each episode.

HBO should have found a way to blend the Character Perspectives with far fewer fades to black (there are some 55 per character!)

Skipping over the variously hosted and variously engaging commentaries (seven in all) to the Bonus Features on Disc 5: These include some original ideas for a change. There are three: First up is the most subtle of the bunch: "Character Perspectives" are roughly half-hour talks by four of the supporting characters (Hoyt, Pam, Karl and Steve), not so much about themselves, which is the usual way to go, but how they see others and how they see them fitting into the themes of the story. If you hadn't caught these in the Enhanced Viewing Mode where they appear as PIPs, you might think this arrangement was a unique feature, specific to this disc. The character looks directly into the camera, with no cutaways to clips from the movie (often evidence of lazy approach to the problem) with comments that are alternately brilliant, insightful, subtly funny and often twisted. Be warned: these are not for people who require action, action, action. Because there isn't any. None. Zero. Nada. One talking head at a time. The scenario makes sense once we understand that these are just compilations from EVM, strung together end to end. But, once you've watched the season, I kinda think they work perfectly well just as they sit, except for the relentless fades to black.

Next up is one of most slyly satirical bonus feature I've ever come across. "Foundation of the Sun - Reflections of Light" is hosted by Steve and Sarah Newlin in a deadpan series of lectures on matters of profound concern to their church: "Who Needs Marriage" Do You Want To Live Forever?" "Detoxify Your Marriage" and "It's Hip To Be Alive." About which I can only say: if the Newlins were Muslim, they'd be dead by now. (One photographic aside: I wonder how someone missed noticing the incorrect shadowing on either side of Anna's nose?)

True Blood's Bonus Features close with an extended newmagazine show titled "The Vampire Report." Hosted by Victoria Davis (whose work can also be seen HERE), "The Perspective" looks at important current vampire stories such as the first TV series featuring a vampire in a principle role, a vampire murderer imprisoned for "life," and other matters concerning human/vampire co-existence. The Perspective, which made its first appearances as part of the aired episodes, has been posted on various Internet blogs and can now be viewed in this "Special Edition", as can all the bonus features for True Blood, in crisp, clear HD.

 

 

Bottom line: 8
As much as I like HBO's True Blood I was still surprised to learn from Wikipedia that the second season premiere was watched by 3.7 million viewers, making it the most watched program on HBO since the series finale of The Sopranos, with an even greater attendance for Episode 10.

The image may not always be as polished or highly resolved as a big-budget sci-fi thriller, though more consistent than Season One, but it certainly captures the soul and soulessness of the subject. The audio is dynamic, even when as subtle as the wind. The commentaries are variously interesting, some intrigue, some entertain. 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. Keep a little V-Juice on hand for your guests, and don't forget to check the blood type. Highly Recommended.

Leonard Norwitz
April 28th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

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.


The LensView Home Theatre:

 

BLU-RAY STORE        ALL OUR NEW FORMAT DVD REVIEWS

 




Hit Counter

 

DONATIONS Keep DVDBeaver alive:

Mail cheques, money orders, cash to:    or CLICK PayPal logo to donate!

Gary Tooze

Thank You!