True Blood-Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) (2010)

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Released 18-May-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary
Featurette-Post Mortem
Music Video-Snoop Dogg: Oh Sookie
Production Notes-True Blood Lines
Featurette-Anatomy Of A Scene
Featurette-Character Perspectives
Active Subtitle Track-Picture-In-Picture
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 2010
Running Time 659:45 (Case: 658)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Michael Lehmann
Scott Winant
David Petrarca
John Dahl
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Anna Paquin
Stephen Moyer
Sam Trammell
Ryan Kwanten
Kevin Alejandro
Marshall Allman
Chris Bauer
Kristen Bauer van Straten
Nelsan Ellis
Mariana Klaveno
Todd Lowe
Denis O'Hare
Jim Parrack
Case Amaray Variant
RPI $54.95 Music Nathan Barr


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
French dts 5.1
Spanish dts 5.1
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 for the Hearing Impaired
French
Spanish
Portuguese
Dutch
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Swedish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     In this world, there are a number of things one can rely on. When the nearest retail outlet puts stock of the latest release of True Blood on the shelf, one can rely on me to turn up on the same day and buy it. True Blood is a TV serial adaptation of the Southern Vampire Mysteries novels by Charlaine Harris. Many authors online have likened it to an analogy for the struggle for gay civil rights, but oh is it so much more than that. Like similarly-themed shows from To Kill A Mockingbird to X2, True Blood is literally analogous to the struggle faced by every group that circumstance did not drop-kick through the proverbial goalposts of life from birth.

     Season Three of True Blood is the darkest and most gripping of the three available on Blu-ray Disc to date, and that is saying a lot when you add the previous season to the mix. Surprisingly, anti-Vampire prejudice has been scaled back in prominence, and now the main theme is the relationships that the characters have to each other. When last we left her, Sookie (Anna Paquin) was running out to accept her Vampire boyfriend's proposal of marriage. Unfortunately, in the time she spent on her own, contemplating the decision, persons unknown came and kidnapped Bill (Stephen Moyer). After reporting this to the less-than-sympathetic police, Sookie goes to the local vampire sheriff, Eric (Alexander Skarsgård), and reports Bill's disappearance. This presents problems for Eric, as he is selling Vampire blood on the behalf of Queen Sophie-Anne Leclerq (Evan Rachel Wood), and Bill happens to be the only person who knows about the arrangement. Sophie-Anne has been having tax problems lately as a result of the Vampire collective's efforts to reintegrate themselves with mainstream society. She needs to move a lot of Vampire blood for money, and yesterday.

     This brings us to Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) and Tara (Rutina Wesley). The latter is more than a little upset after seeing the man she fell in love with last season die, and tries to kill herself in the former's bathroom. So the former takes her to see why he is up to his neck in debt in spite of selling Vampire blood and working two jobs. In the process of doing so, however, he meets a nurse by the name of Jesus Velasquez (Kevin Alejando) who he ends up dating. And then there is the little matter of Jessica Hamby (Deborah Ann Woll), her puzzling relationship with Hoyt Fortenberry (Jim Parrack), and the little matter of the trucker she killed, about whom she turns to Pam (Kristin Bauer) for advice.

     Now, if you have seen any struggle on the part of a disenfranchised groups (or previous seasons), you will know that there are Vampires and Vampires. For the purposes of this summary, I will say the latter are out and out evil people who have plans that sound vaguely like deleting most of the Human race and regressing the world to an age they remember through rose-coloured glasses. In this, they are led by a very old Vampire called Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare). Not coincidentally, the American government is considering a Vampire Rights Amendment. All of these plot threads, including expanded interest in Sookie on the part of Sophie-Anne and Russell, build up to something that is quite an experience to watch.

     Harris’ novels are not Heinlein-like epics. In fact, you could probably fit each novel into a two hundred minute film without making any real cuts. The longest of them is only slightly above three hundred pages. But the actual content would never fly with the MPAA and their refusal to acknowledge that adults respond differently to visual material from four year olds. So with the addition or alteration of substantial elements*, they seem perfectly at home as eleven hours of programming on HBO, a channel where you are more likely to find material written for people who understand what Pip Hinman meant when he said that resistance is duty when injustice is law. Once again, Alan Ball and company have provided us with a reason why diversity in entertainment needs to be protected.

     * By alteration, I mean things like the mere existence of the Jessica Hamby character. In the novels, we are introduced to and given updates on a minor character who is called Bubba by other Vampires. If you wonder why he never appears in True Blood, let's just say that the Presley estate would be able to rip money out of HBO's proverbials if he did. Jessica's stated purpose is to fill the void left by this character, but she also expands the storytelling opportunities relative to the storytelling problems she presents at a far greater rate.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     True Blood Season Three is presented on five discs with all episodes presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 within a 1920 by 1080 progressive window.

     The transfers are sharp, with two exceptions. Flashbacks are sometimes deliberately blurred and smeared, especially around the edges, and the opening credits montage contains footage culled from a number of sources that vary in quality, but have been treated to look like something you might find in a cheap theatre. These exceptions aside, the image is extremely sharp and detailed, befitting having been shot in Super 35 before being converted to digital. Shadow detail… hey, look, it is a Vampire show and it was shot last year. What would you expect in terms of shadow detail? No low-level noise was in evidence. Grain is frequently visible in flashbacks, but on purpose.

     Colours are used interestingly in this season. Most of the season is represented normally in terms of colour. When Sookie finds herself in literally another world, however, the colours are very harshly tweaked to emphasise yellows and light. Bleed and flare is very frequent in these scenes, but again, this was on purpose. No accidental bleeds or other colour artefacts were noted.

     The transfers are encoded in the AVCHD codec, and with the abundance of space available on the discs, no compression artefacts are in evidence. No film to video artefacts are evident, but shaky-cam is seen in the ninth episode, and quite frankly, if your only methodology in terms of getting the audience into the fight consists of this, you suck as a director (or buck-stop person). That is all there is to it. Film artefacts are visible in the credits sequence, but outside of that, not a single speck was noticed. This does not discount the possibility that I blinked and missed one.

     Subtitles are offered in English for the Hearing Impaired. These vary from the spoken dialogue a bit, but not enough to be a major distraction, with one exception. The phrase you were looking for, subtitle conformers, at 42:23 in episode seven is "rites of alignment", not rights etc. Seriously, disc producers, get someone who is more attentive to details like this (such as me).

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

Audio

     A total of four soundtracks are offered on these discs. The fourth appears only on certain episodes. The first, and default, is the original English dialogue in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, and I still lack the capability to determine the exact bitrate. Dubs are offered in French DTS 5.1 and Spanish DTS 2.0, with the fourth soundtrack on six episodes being a DTS 2.0 surround-encoded audio commentary. I listened to the first and last of these soundtracks.

     If you have been reading enough of my reviews, you know what comes next by heart. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand, at least within the limits of the characters' enunciations, at all times. The separation between dialogue, music, and sound effects is incredible. This season features the characters speaking more clearly for the most part, the heaviest accent of the lot being the one put on by Joe Manganiello, and that is cake to understand compared to what we heard in the previous season. But then, I hear Billy Connolly speeches like they are being spoken by The Monotones, so make of that what you will.

     The music in the series consists of a string of pre-existing numbers (the episodes are all named after songs that appear in the end credits) and a score by Nathan Barr. Barr’s score is impeccable and ranks up there among the greats. The other numbers, I can take or leave.

     The surround channels are used pervasively in order to separate music and environmental effects from the dialogue. In every episode, in every scene, you can hear something dancing around the rears. The rare occasions when the sound field reverts to the fronts are important dialogues where characters sit together and explain what is going on and why it is important to the plot. Even then, there is the occasional peep out of the surrounds in order to remind you that they are still there. While I am still disappointed that we are not treated to 7.1 channels, the consistency with other seasons is appreciated and the fact that more titles are starting to appear (still not enough, but hey) with 7.1 channel soundtracks makes it hurt less.

     The subwoofer is used a little less than the surrounds, but aggressively in order to support a lot of bass-heavy effects or music. There are fewer calls for these than was the case in the previous two seasons, but the channel is integrated well with the soundtrack and does not call undue attention to itself.

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

Extras

Menu

     The menu is heavily animated with composited video themed around the content of the season. It is presented with DTS 2.0 surround-encoded audio (which my receiver is treating as DTS Neo:6 if that means anything to anyone). Again, whilst my eyesight has deteriorated in the last few years, that I have to complain that the menu text is barely legible on a fifty-inch screen yet again just makes me shake my head.

Audio Commentaries

     Audio commentaries are offered on six of the episodes in the season. In order, these are:

     Sadly, one big problem exists in how this feature is implemented. On my Panasonic BD-45, selecting the audio commentary from the Top Menu results in the default soundtrack (the original dialogue) being played with the corresponding episode. Fortunately, the soundtrack can be selected manually on said player. This, among other things, suggests changes have been made to the process by which the menus are authored, and sadly not for the better.

     Of the commentaries, the one I would never listen to again would have to be Kristen Bauer van Straten’s fawn over everything that appears on the screen. She starts out reasonably well, touching on the inability of people in the Southern states to believe the show was not shot there (apparently most of what we see is on a studio lot this season), but the constant praise of the support cast, the writers, and cinematographers gets grating very fast. 9 Crimes marks the first occasion on which I have turned off a True Blood audio commentary without getting to the end of the episode. Those who have read my reviews of previous seasons already know which commentary is my favourite, so let us just leave it at that.

Featurettes - Post Mortem

     An interesting idea, each episode is accompanied by featurettes totalling exactly twenty-three minutes in length. Each featurette expands upon a theme in the corresponding episode or explains aspects of the production. An example of the former would be the dodged-up Allied Propaganda film explaining how Adolf Hitler has attempted to use wolves in the last desperate stages to resist and push back the Allied onslaught. Each featurette is presented in 1.78:1 within a 1920 by 1080 window with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Some use differing aspect ratios. Apparently, Episode 7's Post Mortem got a lot of laughs if you believe one audio commentary. But for my money, I was grinding my teeth to bloody stumps waiting to see Lorena being entirely removed from the series, and that Post Mortem expresses perfectly why.

Music Video - Snoop Dogg: Oh Sookie

     Running for a total of two minutes and fifty-eight seconds, this music video is presented in an approximate 1.96:1 aspect ratio (this is a guess based on the size of the unused areas top and bottom) with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. I cannot fault the video presentation or the sentiment, but if I could tell Cordozar Calvin Broadus one thing, it would be that if Sookie were a real person, she would not look on an angle at him. I know the whole coming from a different world thing from a very peculiar angle, and I know how it tends to work out in that unpleasant thing we call reality, so I am not just disparaging the performer. (Lest you think I am being unfair to the genre, a point of reference is that comparisons between him and say, Public Enemy, go along similar lines in my mind to comparisons between Poison and Pungent Stench).

Notes: True Blood Lines

     Selecting this option from disc five takes the user to a submenu consisting of the different alignments characters have in the series (Human, Vampire, Werewolf, et cetera) and allows one to select various characters of that type and see bits of information about them or how they relate to others in the series. That is the theory, anyway. In practice, these submenus respond so slowly to remote input that they are practically unusable.

Featurette - Preview/Recap

     As with the previous season, featurettes are offered with each episode that recap what happened in the previous episode or preview what will happen in the next. Depending on your view, this is either moderately helpful (i.e. you do not watch the whole season over a twelve-plus-hour period) or completely pointless (i.e. you do).

Featurette - Anatomy Of A Scene

     For ten minutes and thirty-two seconds we are shown how the scene that closes the first episode and opens the second, in which Bill kills a number of Werewolves, was filmed. The featurette is presented in 1.78:1 within a 1920 by 1080 window, with DTS 2.0 audio.

Featurette - Character Perspectives

     As in the last two seasons, one picture in picture track is provided in which actors, in character, discuss what they think of what is going on in the scene the video track accompanies. As in the previous season, these tracks are duplicated in featurettes that are grouped in the menu by character. This season, the characters we hear from are Jessica, Andy, Tommy, and Alcide. The downside of this feature is that even the best actors have trouble with simply sitting in front of a camera and talking to it without anything to react to, much less making their performance seem natural. Even Kristen Bauer van Straten had trouble with it last season, and she had some of the best material to work with. I think the real problem lies with the fact that these video tracks were not intended to be viewed except using the picture-in-picture feature, which presents a problem in itself.

R4 vs R1

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

    This close to initial release time, it is difficult to find reviews of the American release. The American release has a truly ridiculous list price of $79.99, and is currently listed on Amazon for $49.99, which as of May 18 works out to 47.0444 Australian dollars. Once the cost of shipping is factored in, the likelihood of saving any money by importing the Region A product is extremely small. The decision as to which product is the better choice rests with the purchaser.

Summary

     Once I read an interview with Michael Moore in which he states that the bosses of the studio system may have been b******s, but they at least cared about making a good product. He also stated, in the same interview, that when you respect the intelligence of the audience, they will generally rise to the challenge. True Blood shows that Alan Ball et al heard these things, even if it is likely from another source.

     Someone I know watched this season with me and, in conversation with another gentleman, stated that season two is to season three as an AC/DC record is to a Black Sabbath or My DyING BRIDE record. I can only agree. From episode one to episode twelve, it has been like a terrible journey at the end of which only a glimmer of sun has been sighted. With writing like this, and the acting to capitalise on it, I cannot wait to see what happens in season four.

     The video transfer is reference quality.

    The audio transfer is reference quality.

    The extras represent some interesting and enjoyable content, but the manner in which the discs have apparently been authored seriously interferes with their value. I am seriously hoping this was an authoring error and not deliberate, because I know I would not deliberately release a disc where accessing commentary tracks is this much effort.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DMP-BD45, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic TH-P50U20A. 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

Other Reviews NONE
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Enhanced Viewing Option? - Anonymous REPLY POSTED
Commetary issue - Sean Brady
True Blood Season 4 review? - John (Bio drained) REPLY POSTED