True Blood-Complete First Season (Blu-ray) (2008)

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Released 29-Jun-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Audio Commentary
Menu Animation & Audio
Active Subtitle Track-Enhanced Viewing Mode
Featurette-Previously On...
Featurette-Next On...
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 643:23 (Case: 640)
RSDL / Flipper No/No
Multi Disc Set (5)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Alan Ball
Scott Winant
Michael Lehmann
John Dahl
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Anna Paquin
Stephen Moyer
Sam Trammell
Ryan Kwanten
Rutina Wesley
Case Gatefold
RPI $79.95 Music Nathan Barr


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
French dts 5.1
Spanish dts 2.0
English Audio Commentary dts 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Audio Commentary
French
Spanish
Portuguese
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    The speed at which the variety of material available on BD-Video is expanding at a rate that surprises even me, and True Blood is a very good example of such. I forget how long it took for television shows to start appearing on DVD-Video, but if you go by the benchmark of television shows that bear an R18+ rating on the cover art, then BD-Video has beaten DVD-Video by a multiple of the years it has been in existence for. It is worth mentioning this rating, by the way, because in spite of being produced by a North American cable television concern, True Blood earns it. One of the first things that stands out is the profanity-laden manner in which the staff at Merlotte's speak to one another. Then there are the reasonably frequent sex scenes which, while being strictly low-level in nature, do not fit into the category of things I would feel comfortable explaining to the fourteen year old me. But where True Blood really pushes itself out of consideration for suitability for all but perhaps the more intelligent teenage audiences would be in the underlying concept (which I will explain shortly), and its graphic violence.

    True Blood is based upon a series of novels by Catherine Harris entitled The Southern Vampire Mysteries. Quite frankly, if the unrestricted content and ongoing nature of the stories shown in the television series properly reflect the source, then the television series format far better suits the material. The main difference I have been able to discern between novel and television show is that the television series only features interactions between Human society and Vampires. The novels, on the other hand, describes Vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and other supernatural beings living alongside Humans in a society that resembles the real one. I suspect the reason we only see a single shapeshifter in this season of the television series is the same reason we only ever saw mobile plastic crates or shaggy carpet suits as monsters in Doctor Who (the real Doctor Who, I mean): money. It is certainly not that HBO have been stingy with True Blood, either. Whilst most of the special effects are cheap and simple, the photography and direction are first-rate. But trying to incorporate too many of those other supernatural entities would blow out the budget considerably whilst only accomplishing a dilution of focus.

    Like all good television shows, True Blood has a basic concept that drives a series of stories. In this case, the concept revolves around days in the lives of residents in the town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. A group of scientists have recently developed a kind of synthetic blood. Subsequently, Vampires have come "out of the coffin" and made their existence known to mainstream society. This has resulted in the usual combinations of prejudices and curiosities that occur when any unknown collection of individuals attempts to peacefully integrate itself with the rest of the world. One evening in Merlotte's, we are introduced to a waitress named Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin). Sookie is able to hear the thoughts of all the Humans that patronise Merlotte's, and true to the stereotypical view of the American Southern States, a more ugly bunch one would not be sorry to see dying of the plague one cannot find. Things become more interesting when Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) drops into Merlotte's. Bill is a Vampire, and Sookie cannot help but enjoy his company, not least because she cannot hear his thoughts.

    Other denizens of Bon Temps include:

    Truthfully, only two things led me to purchase True Blood on BD-Video. One was a recommendation by an friend I speak to online, whose opinions in the matter I trust (this same person told me about No Country For Old Men). The other, and those who know me know how this sentence ends, was the presence of Anna Paquin in the cast. This role, while bearing some similarities to her work in the X-Men series, could also not be more different. Watching her in this series reminds one that she is easily the most deserving well-publicised Oscar winner of the last thirty or so years. Sam Trammell and Ryan Kwanten, unlike certain far better-known actors I could mention, also prove they are no slouches in the acting department when sharing the frame with Paquin. In point of fact, there is nary a performance in this series that I can honestly fault. Quite a contrast, indeed, to dreck like the Underworld series (if you want an example from a vaguely similar genre), in which multiple actors seem to be competing to see how unnaturally they can spit their lines.

    Overall, if stories about Vampires or people with unusual abilities appeal, if you happen to like stories in which ignorant jackasses get their just desserts, or if you happen to be a rabid fan of one of the cast members (or all three like myself), then True Blood is well worth checking out on BD.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    True Blood was shot in Super 35 before being converted down to HDTV for broadcast. Simply put, that means there is a master out there with roughly three or four times the resolution of this BD-Video. Considering how good said BD looks, that is a pretty sobering thought. Oh, do not get me wrong, this is not the best video transfer I have seen, but it is well above average.

    The transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 within a 1920 by 1080 progressive window. The packaging states that the transfer is in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which is not the case.

    The sharpness of the transfer is a little variable. One medium shot in which we see Alexander Skarsgård, as an example, is so sharp one could perform brain surgery with it. Details like bloodshot eyes, iris patterns, and beard stubble are all very visible. However, there also seems to be a variable haze in the picture. Most of the time, the backgrounds are a little more blurred than I would normally expect of something shot in the Super 35 process. Sometimes, there is also a slight haze in the foreground and middle ground that gives the whole thing a bit of a soft feel. Whether this was a deliberate choice on the part of the photography crew or introduced in the transfer process is an interesting question. Grain is also occasionally more present than should be the case in some outdoor nighttime shots, but not enough so to form a distraction. Shadow detail is excellent, and there is no low-level noise.

    The colours in the show are generally rather mute and drab, which definitely appears to have been a deliberate artistic decision. Daytime shots are generally a little brighter, although still drab, and there is certainly plenty of bright red on display. No bleeding or misregistration was in evidence.

    Compression artefacts were not noted in the transfer. The transfer has been encoded in the AVCHD codec and generally varies between 10 and 26 megabits per second. Often, the bitrate has a tendency to hang around the lower edges of this range. What makes this noteworthy is that the discs generally only contain two or three episodes, each of which averages about 55 minutes. The packaging claims that each disc is dual-layered, but I have suspicions otherwise. That is all I will say on the matter, however, until I obtain a BD-ROM or BD-RW drive and load the discs into that in order to confirm the disc size. Film-to-video artefacts were generally absent. Occasionally, there was a hint of wobble, but it is difficult to tell if this was introduced at the photography or telecine stage. Aliasing was never so much as hinted at, so this does appear to be a true progressive transfer. Film artefacts were not evident at any point, reflecting the recent vintage of the programme.

    Subtitles are offered in English and English for the Hearing Impaired. The latter are generally accurate to the spoken word and well-timed. However, there are numerous shots in which they disappear into the visuals behind them due to a lack of contrast. Many shots in the programme feature backgrounds with white sheets or white clothing in them, and there is not enough outlining around the white text to separate them from such elements. Hearing Impaired viewers are therefore advised to tread carefully.

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

Audio

    Three soundtrack options are offered on True Blood. The first, and default, is the original English dialogue in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, and this is what I listened to. Also on offer is a French DTS 5.1  dub and a Spanish DTS 2.0 dub. Select episodes, half of them in fact, have audio commentary in DTS 2.0 that sounds like stereo.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times. Most of the actors put on a Bible Belt accent that, whilst sounding surprisingly authentic, also sounds like the dialogue coach erred on the side of intelligibility. Separation between the dialogue, sound effects, and music, by far the most important element of any audio transfer in my opinion now, is quite pronounced. Of course, it helps that this series is dialogue-driven to the extent that the latter two elements are often unheard or so minimal as to make no odds. There are also times when the music or sound effects seem to have been deliberately mixed at a lower volume, although that could just simply be my funny sense of hearing. Audio sync was not a noticeable issue at any point.

    The music in the series consists of some existing numbers from various artists, and a score by Nathan Barr. The latter, when it does pop up, sets quite a mood that complements the on-screen happenings. If you are familiar with the folk music that is associated with the Bible Belt, then you have an idea of what to expect in terms of a main theme. Indeed, the music supervisor for the series, Gary Calamar, has been cited as saying that his goal here was to create something "swampy, bluesy, and spooky". The bluesy part, I find somewhat debatable, but the other parts are certainly a success.

    Now, while the lossless compression in this soundtrack is very much appreciated, the 5.1 channel format does tend to come across as slightly wasted. The surround channels are used frequently, but somewhat lightly, for ambient sounds like the twitter of birds or the chirp of insects. As hinted earlier, this series is a very dialogue-driven affair, so those coming in to True Blood after one of the feature films that constitute ninety percent of what is available on Blu-ray will need to do some adjusting. After mixing together soundtrack elements on my own copy of Final Cut Express, I can say with confidence that True Blood seems to have required three, maybe four sets of channels in the mixing stage at the most. Most of the soundtrack seems to come from the front channels, with plenty of space between the left, centre, and right. It just seems a little too subtle for its own good a lot of the time.

    The subwoofer is called into use from time to time to support the music and the odd bass-heavy sound effect, such as a door slamming or punches and kicks. It is not worked especially hard.

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

Extras

    A small assortment of extras grace this boxed set. Their quality is not the greatest I have seen to date, but they do complement the main feature nicely. What does raise my hackles is that the packaging refers to extras such as featurettes showing how each Vampire was "made", "helpful hints and FYI's that pop up to unravel mysteries", animated maps, a Vampire "documentary", commercials for the Tru Blood product referred to in the series, and mock PSAs concerning Vampire rights. None of these are present in the sense of being separate video streams, instead being mixed in with the Picture In Picture content, and therefore difficult to access at will. In the packaging, there is also a slip of paper that, aside from listing episodes, also promises these things, but refers to them as "DVD Bonus Features". Assuming these are available in resolutions other than 480I or 576I (and the very recent vintage of the main programme would suggest this much), their restriction to a tiny window in the lower right of the screen comes as a hard slap in the face to purchasers of the BD version.

Menu

    The Top Menu is animated and accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Navigation is fairly straightforward, but the text is so small that even I find it near to illegible a lot of the time. So too is the text shown in the Picture In Picture stream.

Audio Commentaries

    Each audio commentary is presented in DTS 2.0, and accompany the following episodes:

    Each commentary is quite informative, and reveals a lot about the artistic and technical processes that went into the episodes covered. Interestingly, Anna Paquin's commentary on The First Taste is literally phoned in - she is in London whilst Scott Winant is in Los Angeles. The marvels of modern technology. Although the Paquin/Winant commentary is my favourite (and the latter seems to go out of his way to kiss up to the former), there certainly is no commentary offered that I would listen to last.

Enhanced Viewing Mode

    When activated, this option will occasionally interrupt the main dialogue of the feature with a 1.78:1 picture-in-picture window in which, in addition to the features described previously, Nelsan Ellis in character as Layafette tells little bits of a stories about whichever denizen of Bon Temps happens to be on the screen at that point. I have derided picture-in-picture extras before in the past for their failure to add anything to the viewing experience. This, as a contrast, is one such extra that does add something to the viewing experience. The downside is that these pieces of added video only appear for seconds at a time, and are spread fairly thin across some episodes, so one may get a little tired of watching the episodes in search of them.

Featurette - Previously On / Next On

    Each episode is accompanied by a pair of featurettes that are essentially a collection of select highlights from the previous episode, or teasers from the next episode. Or both in the case of episodes two through eleven. Each of these featurettes is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio that really gives one a good idea of how vast an improvement the DTS lossless option that is offered with the main programme really is. Their average running time is about a minute and forty seconds.

R4 vs R1

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

    The two versions of this boxed set appear to be fairly similar, if not identical. The main difference I could discern was that the Region A disc appears to be solely distributed by HBO, whereas Warner Brothers has picked it up for distribution in Australia and New Zealand. It is worth noting that the Region A disc has a price point of 79.98 USD, so I would have to be convinced of an absolutely Earth-shattering difference before I would consider importing it. Anyone who knows of such a difference is free to contact me about it, of course.

Summary

    True Blood is a riveting, compelling television that surprised the hell out of me on several levels. The true test of any television series is my anxiousness to see what will happen in the next episode once the end credits start to roll. True Blood had me watching episodes into the wee hours of the morning, worried about whether I was disturbing the neighbours. I can honestly say that no other television series I have watched has accomplished that. Now I cannot wait for the second season to make its way to BD. Highly recommended.

    The video transfer is very good.

    The audio transfer is good.

    The extras are few in number, but a bit above the expected norm in quality.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic Viera TH-42PZ700A. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR606
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Wharfedale Xarus 1000 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, Wharfedale Diamond SW150 Subwoofer

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