Hell on Wheels-Season Two (2011)

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Released 20-Mar-2013

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category TV Drama Series Featurette-(3:00) Where Season 1 Left Off
Featurette-(3:56) The Cast on Season 2
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-(5:04) On Set with Anson Mount (Enjoyable)
Featurette-Making Of-(20:24) Making-of (Excellent)
Featurette-(59:17) Episode Featurettes - precis of each episode.
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2011
Running Time 413:16
RSDL / Flipper No/No
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By David Von Ancken
Studio
Distributor
Entertainment One
Entertainment One
Starring Anson Mount
Colm Meaney
Common
Dominique McElligott
Christopher Hyerdahl
Virginia Madsen
Robin McLeary
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Kevin Kiner


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes, Period appropriate.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Each episode has precredit action.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Hell on Wheels is yet another TV series that is produced with an incredibly high standard, and Season Two is now available locally. Actually filmed in Canada, this is a western, or rather an eastern that morphs into a western, created and produced by Joe and Tony Gayton, brothers who have previous connections to John Milius and the movie Faster. The series premiered in the US in November 2011 on cable channel AMC and at present is preparing for its third season. Set in 1865, just after the American Civil War, the human drama is played out against the setting of the construction of the first US transcontinental railroad.

     In Season One, we met Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount of Urban Legend : Final Cut), a confederate soldier who had his family murdered by a rogue group of Union soldiers in the final days of the war. The finale of Season One had Cullen killing the individual whom he thought was responsible, only to find that he has killed an innocent man. Now, in Season Two, Cullen moves out west seeking vengeance for the murder of his family. He hires out his services to Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney of The Damned United), the man in charge of bringing the Union Pacific Railroad across the country.

     The ten episodes of Season Two are spread across three discs.

Disc One

Disc Two

Disc Three

     Each episode is just over forty minutes of fast paced character conflict and action, thanks to the writing of the Gayton brothers and the direction of David Von Ancken. The setting of the railroad construction town, the Hell on Wheels of the title, is colourfully realised. At first it all looks a little too new, but then that is exactly what it was, an aggressive freshly cut timbered push into unclaimed territory. The set construction is excellent - take a look at the featurettes on Disc Three. There are trains, and as far as I'm concerned widescreen was invented for a reclining Marilyn Monroe and trains. Everything looks grittily real, rather like Deadwood, but definitely without that series grubby language. In the midst of all this realism, it was rather odd to see Cullen's torso, front and back, revealed to be hairless and very metrosexual, while his face is the epitome of hirsute.

     Like all good drama, the action has to come honestly from the characters, and Hell on Wheels certainly has a colourful bunch with which to work. Their drama frequently involves sex and violence, and much of the series is quite black, with sinister, threatening undertones. Cullen began as a sort of anti-hero, but through this season he becomes more the traditional loner hero, in the mould of Shane and Clint Eastwood. Anson Mount is a handsome, physically imposing leading man, sexily striding the rails in his tight pants and heeled boots. Colm Meaney is a predictable villain of sorts, but I could do with less of this actor's grimacing. As Lily, Dominique McElligott is blonde and lovely, her looks in opposition to the stereotypical representation of a whore who works her way from the bed to the boardroom, as it were. Common, that's all the name this actor has, represents the entire Afro-American experience as Elam, and he is mighty impressive as we see this man rise in stature, in his own eyes, as the railroad forges across the continent. Then there's "The Swede", an evil character if ever there was one, but extremely interestingly played by Christopher Hyerdahl. There is more than a hint of Ingmar Bergman's depiction of The Grim Reaper in The Seventh Seal in this extravagant and entertaining performance. There are many other characters, some rather clichéd, but all in all it is a colourful and interesting bunch and their conflicts are not fabricated, but arise naturally once their characters are established. In the last couple of episodes Durant's wife appears in the rather portly, but still facially gorgeous, form of Virginia Madsen. Her character promises more high powered drama in Season Three.

     The action of the season moves very quickly, with a highlight being the construction of the trestle bridge. There are a couple of sequences set there that would sit very nicely in a Carl Foreman epic. The season's climactic action, the attack on Hell on Wheels by the native Americans, is impeccably handled, one of the best action sequences I've ever seen in a TV series. Told in a flashback technique, I had my doubts as the unfolding began, but then it all fell beautifully into place and was a tension filled recounting of the horrific attack. There is at least one big shock at the end of the season, and we are left eagerly wanting to get into Season Three to see what eventually happens to the handsome, solitary Cullen.

     Hell on Wheels does not reach the heights of the very best of TV, but there is never a dull moment. It is a well-made, well-paced, and well-acted passionate drama that is well worth catching.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Hell on Wheels is made with the expertise and technical excellence that has become almost commonplace in the best of American TV.

     The aspect ratio is 1.78:1, the original aspect ratio.

     The general quality of the image is first rate, making it easy to forget that we are watching standard DVD and not Blu-ray. This is no doubt contributed to by the high number of close-ups in TV productions, which here are extremely highly detailed. Beyond these close-ups there is also great sharpness of detail in almost every frame, particularly the exteriors in the streets - or is it street? - of Hell on Wheels. Instances of MPEG artefacts are few and far between, with the only one obvious to the eye a small amount of aliasing on the timbered panelling of the railroad coach interiors. Shadow detail is excellent, with deep dark blacks, with great detail lurking in the darker scenes. Colours are on the subdued side, particularly in the interiors, and there is the occasional case of the orange skin plague. Exteriors though are beautifully vivid, using a subtle saturation of colour. Skin tones are generally excellent.

     Apart from the aliasing mentioned above, the transfer is artefact free.

     There are English Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired (white only and centred at the foot of the screen). These were sampled and found to be excellent.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There are two audio streams : English Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Encoded.

     This is a lively exciting soundtrack that adds greatly to the enjoyment of the series.

     Dialogue is front and centred and is crystal clear, without any sync problems.

     The front soundstage and the rears are alive with the sounds of the bustling life of Hell on Wheels. A multitude of sounds emanates from all speakers, the sounds of the growing town and its inhabitants. Add to that the gunfire and the sounds of the trains and there is aural activity that is virtually non-stop. The subwoofer also contributes to the dynamism of the train, and also thumps in at every opportunity. There is an explosion in Episode Eight that is quite outstanding. Also worth mentioning is the music of the series composed by Kevin Kiner, who has a huge list of TV credits including CSI Miami and Stars Wars : The Clone Wars. The music is all very impressive, but particularly evocative of the setting and period are the many musical passages which employ just a solo string instrument, such as a banjo or a guitar.

     This is an excellent soundtrack and deserves to be wound up so you can get the maximum impact.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     There is an impressive collection of extras which are considerably better than usual.

Menu

     The menu is the same for each of the three discs, the only changes being in the episode details. The menu is presented over a montage of scenes from the film, with the still of Anson Mount from the slick overlayed on the right hand side. The main title music is used throughout.

Featurettes

     All on Disc 3, everything here is excellent quality, both the interview footage and the clips from the various episodes.

Where Season 1 Left Off (3:00)

     The five principal actors - Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Dominique McElligott, Common and Christopher Hyerdahl - give an on camera and voiceover recap of where their characters were at the end of Season One. The actors are all on set, and in costume.

The Cast on Season 2 (3:56)

     The same actors here give a hint as to what we can expect from their characters in Season Two, without giving away any specific plot point. This again has a mix of on-camera commentary and clips from the show.

On Set with Anson Mount (5:04)

     The tone for these delightful and informative five minutes is set in the first seconds when Anson Mount walks through the door of one of the set buildings and gives us a friendly "hello". He is a natural and likeable host as he takes us on a "walking tour" of the set for Hell on Wheels. He begins with the horses used in the show and then moves down the street of the town commenting on buildings as we progress. While there is at least one building which is merely a facade, others are obviously functional. The actor takes us into one which serves as the prop shop and his favourite, the Railway Office where we look at the enormous detail of the props used in the film. We see the shuttle wagon used to move the train, the train not being self-propelled, and made of wood, but for the undercarriage and wheels. This little featurette is informative - and extremely well hosted by Anson Mount.

Making-of (20:24)

     This is terrific. Rather than the customary collection of back-slapping self-congratulatory interviews, this quite substantial featurette looks at the work that goes into the design and construction of specific set pieces. Production Designer John Blackie recounts the realisation that there would have to be growth in the town for Season Two, calling for more substantial buildings. However the two big projects came from the script, these were The Trestle Bridge and The New Train. An array of creative individuals from producers, art directors and set decorators describe the process of working from an idea in the script to the final image on the screen. Every single person contributing is articulate and personable, offering information that gives us a real insight into their creative process. This really is an excellent featurette.

Episode Featurettes (Total 59:17)

     Warning! Do not watch this before watching the show itself. Each is basically a recap of the episode, ranging in length from 5:20 to 6:50. The principal actors comment on episodes on camera and in voice over, with extensive use of footage from the episode. There is some added comment on plot and character from the actors. It all seemed pretty pointless to go over what you had just seen.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Season Two has not yet been released in the United States.

Summary

     Hell on Wheels is an entertaining, colourful series that offers non-stop drama and action - with plenty of violence and a little sex. Set just after the U.S. Civil War, this western of sorts has a very well executed set, recreating the burgeoning frontier town and the construction of the railroad. The script is sensible, the characters diverse and interesting and the performances are uniformly fine. This is ten episodes of really solid entertainment - with the action that constitutes the season climax probably the best I've seen in a TV series. There are some terrific featurettes, and the transfer is excellent.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Thursday, April 04, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDSONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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