This review is sponsored by
|Category||Mob Drama/Comedy||Main Menu Audio
Featurette - The Sopranos: Behind The Hit (5 parts)
Music Video - Woke Up This Morning (The Alabama 3)
|Running Time||649:23 minutes|
|RSDL/Flipper||Discs 1-5: Dual Layer
Disc 6: RSDL (23:11)
Tim Van Patten
Warner Home Video
Steven Van Zandt
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||?Pan and Scan||English (Dolby Digital 2.0 ,
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.78:1||
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
As you may have gathered from some of the comments passed in other reviews I have done, my general opinion of the current state of television programming is not exactly great. Part of the rather substantial reason for the opinion is the fact that originality is not exactly the forte it seems of television programmers. So when someone does come out with something fresh and original, you can practically guarantee that all sorts of similar rip-offs will very shortly follow. And so it was into the plethora of seemingly indistinguishable medical/legal drama and sit-com clones that populated television programming throughout much of the mid to late 1990s was thrust The Sopranos. Now apart from the fact that this was something a little bit different to the boring parade of the aforementioned indistinguishable programmes, the show garnered attention because of its overall quality and in many respects its uniqueness. Whilst there have been plenty of mob films and shows over the years, this one even steered clear of those clichés by not really being a mob show. For when all is said and done, this is in essence a show about a family. Mind you, if you thought The Simpsons were a dysfunctional family, then check out The Sopranos!
In something akin to The Simpsons meet The Godfather, with a serious dose of Goodfellas thrown in for good measure, we are taken inside the Soprano family - who happen to be in the "waste management" business. Nothing unusual really is there? Nothing apart from the fact that Uncle Junior wants to kill nephew Tony, mother Livia wants to kill son Tony, Tony is seeing a shrink and is in love with her, Tony is also having an extramarital affair with a Russian girl, wife Carmela probably wants to have an extramarital affair with her priest, amongst others in a collection of rather unusual characters that comprise the extended family Soprano.
This six DVD set includes all thirteen episodes from the first series of this highly acclaimed series. The actual episodes themselves are:
Pilot (Episode 1, 57:36) - Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) is a good family man, to his two families: his immediate family of wife Carmela (Edie Falco), daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and son Anthony Jr. (Robert Iler) and his extended family being the New Jersey mob for which he is capo. Unfortunately balancing up his two families as well as his other activities creates pressures, so when he starts getting anxiety attacks he resorts to seeing psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). The only problem is that going to see a shrink is the sort of thing that could get him killed, so this has to be kept to himself. But the pressures will not go away without a struggle. His mother Livia (Nancy Marchand) is politely losing her marbles and needs to be placed into a retirement community. His uncle Corrado a.k.a. Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) wants to conduct a hit in the restaurant of a good friend and a solution needs to be found to stop the hit. A Czech mob wants to move in on the waste management business so Tony's nephew Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) deals with the matter by independently doing away with a representative of that mob. Tony really has problems coming to terms with where things are going - who would not need a shrink?
46 Long (Episode 2, 47:43) - Christopher and his drugged-up friend Brendan Filone decide to earn some extra cash by going outside of the family and start hijacking trucks. No problem except the trucks are under the protection of Uncle Junior, who naturally wants the stolen goods back with tribute, such demand being enforced by Tony. Brendan decides to ignore the stern warnings of Tony and pulls another truck hijacking - with serious consequences. Meanwhile Anthony Jr.'s science teacher has had his car stolen and Tony ensures that it is found. On the domestic scene, Livia has managed to set her kitchen on fire before deciding to play dodgem cars with her best friend's hip - and she sees no reason why Tony is insisting on her moving her residence to the Green Grove retirement community. And through it all Tony is seeing his shrink - do you blame him?
Denial, Anger, Acceptance (Episode 3, 43:01) - Uncle Junior is not a happy man at all. Whilst Brendan has returned most of the stolen goods from his latest hijack, Uncle Junior has lost face as the owner of the trucking firm has thanked Tony for it. Uncle Junior wants to save face and so when his offsider Mikey Palmice (Al Sapienza) starts suggesting that if Tony does not do something about Brendan and Christopher, then someone should, Uncle Junior starts responding positively. But this is the Soprano family and so there are plenty of other things going on to drive a man to see his shrink. Interim boss Jackie Aprile (Michael Rispoli) is in hospital dying of cancer. Tony's friend is undergoing a second arson investigation over the restaurant fire. Carmela has opened the house for a benefit bash, which makes Tony somewhat uncomfortable. And a new business opportunity with a Jew is proving a little difficult to bring to reality due to the stubbornness of the man's son-in-law. Oh and Meadow is seeking some crack to help her and a friend endure the long hours of study for their SATs, and enlists Christopher's aid. And to top it all off Uncle Junior sounds out Livia about dealing with Christopher and Brendan, with the result that the old woman virtually signs Brendan's death certificate.
Meadowlands (Episode 4, 50:58) - Whoa, are things not going well for Tony: his dreams have taken on another dimension as his infatuation over Dr Melfi takes on a naked bent. So Tony decides to use his police connections, namely one gambling, alcoholic detective named Vin Makazian (John Heard), to obtain information on the lust of his dreams - with some rather undesirable consequences for Dr Melfi's current male acquaintance. Meantime, having survived the mock execution organized by Uncle Junior, Christopher has panics of his own as he is not sure who organized the mock execution. These panics came to a conclusion when he finds Brendan and everyone comes to the conclusion that it was the work of Mikey Palmice (and thus by Uncle Junior). Now Tony is really upset and heads to Uncle Junior's haunt to have his say - and make a point to Mikey. There are signs of trouble brewing within both the family and the family - and Uncle Junior sure makes certain that Tony knows it. However, Tony has an ace to play - Jackie Aprile is dying and the capos agree to his plan to make Uncle Junior the next boss. Sort of the Clayton's boss. Home life does not get forgotten either as his decision to quit therapy is not acceptable to Carmela, Anthony Jr. is getting into fights and Meadow educates her brother on what the waste management business is all about!
College (Episode 5, 54:24) - Meadow is going to college and Tony is taking her around the prospective campuses in the Northeast (ignoring the fact that Meadow really wants to go to Berkeley to get as far away from her family as possible - like Tony's sisters). Some serious bonding takes place as Tony comes (almost) clean to Meadow's questions about the waste management business. However, not even doing the rounds of the colleges can stop the other family intruding in this family time and events are set into motion when Tony espies an old "friend" at a gas station along the way. The friend is a rat and the only way you deal with rats is to exterminate them - which naturally enough Tony proceeds to do (without letting on to Meadow). Back in Jersey, Carmela is suffering the after effects of the flu and is laid up in bed - at least until her priest turns up at the door. She might well have designs on her priest but when Dr Melfi phones up looking for Tony, Carmela's mind races in the wrong direction faster than a speeding bullet (which she might actually like to see heading towards Tony) since she had not been told that Tony's therapist is a women. She starts pouring out her her confession to her priest and they end up on the floor together.
Pax Soprano (Episode 6, 47:54) - The big day arrives: Uncle Junior finally becomes the Boss of New Jersey. However, Tony's great plan starts looking less than great as Uncle Junior is not in the mood to be anyone's stooge and starts refusing to honour deals made during Jackie Aprile's reign and starts to ensure that there is no trickle of funds to his capos. People like Hesh, who had previously operated with impunity, now find themselves having to pay "tax". Now Hesh Rabkin (Jerry Adler) does not mind paying "tax" but thinks that Junior is being more than unreasonable and goes to see Tony. Tony is not happy and arranges a meeting with the guys from over the river (get your map out!) in order to broker an "arranged" deal that sees everyone save face - except perhaps Junior who does not know what has gone on. Mind you, Tony probably wishes everything went quite so smoothly at his anniversary dinner with Carmela... whose irrational ideas about Dr Melfi may not be so irrational! However, all the family would be feeling a lot better if the celebration dinner for Uncle Junior's elevation to the position of Boss were not being recorded by the FBI.
Down Neck (Episode 7, 49:29) - Like father, like son. But did even Tony go as far as Anthony Jr. did in nicking some sacramental wine and showing up to phys-ed class drunk? The pathetic do-gooder school psychologist thinks that Anthony Jr. may have ADD and so the poor kid is subjected to all sorts of tests. This gets Tony reminiscing about his own childhood during his sessions with Dr Melfi, including how he found out his old man was not like other fathers. She does her best to assure Tony that there is no reason that Anthony Jr. will end up being a mob man like his father and grandfather. Grounded for his behaviour at school, Anthony Jr. is forced to visit his grandmother every day, during which he confesses that he is seeing a shrink. Livia thinks this is not a good thing at all but it pales into comparison when she is informed that there is no big deal - Tony's seeing one too. Uncle Junior sure was not so happy to have this gem passed onto him by the conniving Livia.
Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti (Episode 8, 46:57) - How to strike terror into the hearts and minds of the mob? Indictments. Rumours start floating around during the wedding reception of one of the family's brethren and quicker than you can a one way fare to Boca, half the family have hit the road for Florida. Tony and the rest of his immediate family decide to stay put but agree to do a little housecleaning. Now mob housecleaning is not like everyone else's housecleaning! It even makes the television as various members of the family are named as possible subjects of investigation - all except for Christopher that is, and he is pissed off about it. Pissed off enough to do some stupid things in a local bakery after picking up some pastries! But he is soon appeased when he is named in a newspaper article as a member of the mob! Uncle Junior meantime is sure not so happy to find out that Tony is seeing a shrink when this gem is passed onto him by the conniving Livia. The FBI and indictments could be the least of Tony's problems.
Boca (Episode 9, 49:36) - Nobody has yet seen an indictment but Junior decides he needs a change of pace and heads off to Boca with his lady of 16 years standing, Roberta. Tony may have a secret but so too does Junior - he has a passion for beavering, at which he is apparently very good. However, this too is the sort of thing that the rest of the family would not take well too and so Roberta knows that she is to say nothing. Oops, too late. Meanwhile, the enthusiastic fathers three are ecstatic over the progress of their daughters soccer team under Coach Hauser - at least until they find out the reason the girls are not upset by his leaving to go to Rhode Island is due to the fact that he has had sex with one of the star players, and friend of Meadow. The attempts to persuade the coach to stay are soon replaced by plans to have him liquidated - at least until conscience gets the better of Tony and the hit does not take place. Instead the law will prevail and the coach is arrested after a complaint is lodged. And exactly why are all the mothers of Tony's associates ending up in Green Grove????
A Hit Is A Hit (Episode 10, 50:45) - Another week in the life of the Sopranos. Tony (and thus Carmela) starts to socialize a little more at the insistence of Dr Melfi, with some interesting results. After a barbecue with his family doctor, Dr Cusamano, Tony plays a round of golf with he and a couple of his friends. Trouble was, all they wanted to do was find out about the mob and an increasingly frustrated Tony was not too willing to oblige. Outside of the country club set, Tony has had a windfall and the effects have trickled down to Christopher and his girl Adriana, with the result that they have the opportunity to start Adriana in the music business - with a band fronted by an old friend of hers and their new acquaintance, gangster rap star, Massive Genius. However, there are two prices: Massive Genius wants to shake down Hesh for $400,000 of royalties from records made by an artist, Little Jimmy Willis, on Hesh's old record label, F Note Records, to be paid to the artist's mother and Massive has eyes for Adriana big time. Now Christopher is not so stable at the best of times and so when Massive starts eyeing off the lovely Adriana, the result may not be pretty. Tony, meanwhile, gets his own back at Cusamano and his friends by presenting him with a box to look after for a while.
Nobody Knows Anything (Episode 11, 47:30) - Well the indictments are in and the arrests have started. And Pussy Bompensiero (Vincent Pastore) and Jimmy Altieri (Joseph Baddolucco Jr.) are amongst the arrested, both being associates of Tony. Pussy is soon out but Vin Makazian has some rather disturbing news: Pussy is wearing a wire. If it is true then there is but one thing to do, but Tony's got to be sure first. So Paulie Gaultieri (Tony Sirico) is assigned the task but only after verifying the wire by actual sighting - which turns out to be a bit difficult. Things really go awry though when Vin is arrested at the local whorehouse and is suspended from the force. He overcomes that though by jumping off a convenient bridge. So the informant has gone with no way of verifying the allegation. What to do? Sit around and wait for Jimmy Altieri who turns up blabbering away about all sorts of stuff. Motor mouth he usually ain't so it is clear - Vin named the wrong fat guy with black hair. And if that ain't enough to worry about, Pussy has disappeared and Junior has put a contract out on Tony - to the delight of Mikey Palmice. Things are getting a bit whacko even for the shrink.
Isabella (Episode 12, 45:28) - Things really are not going well for Tony Soprano and like all grown men in that position, he stays in bed. And even when he drags himself out to make the visit to his favourite newspaper stand, on the way to his shrink, he runs the gauntlet of the contract. Things are so bad at therapy that the Prozac and Lithium intake is off the scale, yet nothing seems to be drawing Tony out of his lethargy. Well, nothing that is apart from Isabella, the voluptuous goddess of a dental student looking after the Cusamano's place. Such was the impression made by Isabella that it almost roused Tony out of the funk he was in. It might just have worked too but the assassination attempt sort of did the job first. But then again having a gun fired at you will do that. In the immediate reaction time that followed, one assassin died and the other got dumped heavy. So Tony ends up in hospital with minor wounds and is visited by the FBI with an offer - sign up for the Witness Protection Program and testify against the mob figures they were really after, namely those over the river. But Tony is not one to do that having just survived an assassination attempt. Which is pretty bad news for Livia and Junior who know Tony will be out to find out who was behind the attempt. Even worse news is that Isabella never existed. Mamma mia, does this guy need a shrink or what?
I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano (Episode 13,
58:02) - the season finale ties up a couple of loose ends. Jimmy Altieri
finally serves no useful purpose and when Junior finally agrees with Tony,
the deed is done and the rat is left with a rat. But the FBI have other
things to do too, like let Tony in on some tape recordings they made at
Green Grove. Junior and Livia better watch out, especially as the whole
world seems to know that Tony sees a shrink. Since that is the state of
affairs, he warns Dr Melfi to go away on holiday for a while whilst the
matter is sorted out - no mean feat since she is scared stiff of Tony after
their last session. He tells his closest associates the news of him seeing
a shrink and the reactions are a little mixed to say the least. He also
tells them who was behind the attempted assassination. But Junior is spared
the wrath of Tony as he is arrested by the FBI (and offered an obvious
deal that he will not make since he refuses to admit that he is not the
real boss). Livia connives her escape by feigning a stroke. Just to tie
up a few other loose ends: Arthur finds out that Tony set the restaurant
fire and tries to kill him, whilst Carmela finds her priest cheating on
her so dumps him big time. Let us await what delights Season Two has for
us, 'cos you really do have to love families!
This really is serious quality television programming, based not just upon some great writing and character development but also some terrific performances. Whilst most attention is on James Gandolfini in the lead role, the fact is that he may not be the best performer here. My vote goes to Nancy Marchand as the matriarch of the family, who does a terrific job as the conniving/manipulating Livia. What makes her performance so good is the fact that it is completely and utterly believable - it so captures exactly the way certain people I know do indeed manipulate others in this manner. But certainly as good as her performance is, there is no denying that the entire show does revolve around the performance of James Gandolfini and he is well up to the task. In an intoxicating mix of hard-nosed brutality, impish humour and almost sensitivity, there is no doubt that this is one of the finest performances that you are likely to see on television nowadays. And he is effectively complemented by the slightly vulnerable performance of Lorraine Bracco as the shrink who perhaps does not quite understand what she agreed to when she took Tony on as a patient! And as Tony more than implied on a regular basis, the vulnerability adds enormously to what is at times a very coquettishly sexy performance. Across the board there is hardly any drop in quality amongst the wonderful performances here. Indeed, I have to go back to the magnificent Hill Street Blues to recall an ensemble cast as fine as this.
This really is superb television with a wonderful mix of violence, humour, drama, nudity and more. If you have never seen The Sopranos, then really you should be joining the queue to get this six DVD set. Those of you familiar with the show will have, of course, ordered the set, right? Television programming does not get much better than this and this is the sort of quality programming that I shall certainly be indulging frequently. Now if only the good news would continue...
Firstly, the transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. As fans will no doubt know, the series was filmed (according to the Internet Movie Database) in 35mm and was intended for broadcast at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. So is this Pan and Scan or merely Full Frame with the matte opened up? To be honest I do not know, but the framing of the shots at times would indicate to me that it is indeed Pan and Scan: however, anyone with the definitive answer is welcome to let us know. What is not denied is that it was intended for widescreen broadcast and therefore we have the first serious problem with the package. Of course, the transfer is not 16x9 enhanced - contrasting greatly with the 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfers available on the Region 1 equivalent set. Major, major disappointments indeed.
Whilst not expecting anything close to feature film standards, I was sort of expecting a little better here in the sharpness stakes. Whilst there is nothing really bad about the transfer and overall it is a reasonably effort that is occasionally on the soft side, I just felt that the sharpness could have been a little better. Detail is not exceptional as a result with shadow detail just occasionally being a little on the average side. This however is partly the result of the way the series was shot and is not really a transfer problem per se. This is not a particularly clear transfer and the entire blame for that can be put down to the varying degrees of grain present throughout the episodes. At times it gets very distracting and at no time is it absent, further compounding the slightly softish picture: Episode 9 however is probably the worst for grain and may need to be avoided on some display devices. There is no real indication of any significant low level noise in the transfers.
The slightly softish picture carries over into the colour department and this really is not a vibrant transfer at all. At times quite restrained in the colour department, the result is nonetheless quite a believable palette. However, you sure will not be finding any bright, vibrant colours here. At times, and close to the end of the first episode is a good example, the colours seem to go noticeably off and look a little unnatural as well as being at odds with the rest of the transfer. There is a distinct lack of depth to the darker colours at times, but nothing that seriously detracts from the overall palette. There is nothing in the way of oversaturation problems here at all and similarly colour bleed does not appear to be an issue.
There did not appear to be any MPEG artefacts in the transfer. However there is a consistent and quite noticeable problem with film-to-video artefacts throughout the transfer, and this is the second major disappointment. There are consistent problems with aliasing in the transfer and at times it can be very, very distracting. Just about every episode has problems with aliasing and it almost gets to the stage that I start to think that this may be an electronic NTSC to PAL conversion. Compounding the aliasing at times is some rather obvious cross-colouration, which becomes quite noticeable as there is a preponderance of striped shirts in use in the series. However, if you can live with the aliasing and the cross-colouration, any other problems here are quite minor and inconsequential. There are few film artefacts in the transfers here.
The first five DVDs in the set are all presumed to be Dual Layer efforts since no layer change was noted during the episodes themselves (two per DVD). The sixth DVD in the set is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 23:11 in episode 12 (there are three episodes on this DVD). This is very well-handled as it comes during a black scene change.
Overall, I have to say that for such a recent series
filmed with HDTV in mind, the transfers are on the whole disappointing.
The dialogue comes up very well in the transfer and there is no trouble understanding what is being said. There is no problem with audio sync in the transfer.
The original music for the series is uncredited in the episodes, which seems a bit unusual nowadays when they seem to credit everyone down to the teaperson. Nonetheless, the music for the series is quite effective and some nice songs manage to get a run here too.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is nothing to write home
about at all. The lack of punch at times is quite obvious, and even the
purported surround encoding does not amount to a whole lot. Whilst appreciating
that the show is dialogue-based, and that aspect of the sound is well-handled,
there are plenty of opportunities here for some serious punch. That lack
of punch really is noticed in gun shots (which sound more like pop gun
shots) and the odd explosion. Whilst the sound is not quite front-and-center,
having a bit more range than that, it barely needed much more than that.
I would just love to hear what a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack could do
for the series. At least the sound is free from any serious distortions
and dropouts and is quite open-sounding. I just wish it gave us more to
|Surround Channel Use|
In broad terms the only thing working in favour of the Region 4 release is the price - $100 which is effectively half the price of the admittedly vastly superior Region 1 release. Since the available reviews would indicate that the Region 1 release is far from flawless and seems to suffer many of the problems highlighted above, the fact is that on four DVDs they pack a whole lot better extras package and it is thus the version of choice.
And you really thought that I would finish without
a rant about the packaging here? Not a chance. Now I know that some are
enamoured with these sorts of gatefold packages but frankly I find them
infuriating. The fact that they are relatively flimsy cardboard and start
to degrade badly immediately you start using them is the main area of complaint
(this review copy is now starting to look very dog-eared already after
only inserting and removing the gatefold portion from the slipcase about
a dozen times). Another is the fact that if you break the plastic disc
holder, you are stuffed - unless Warners guarantee a free replacement in
such circumstances - as this is not as simple to replace as a superior
Amaray, where you can simply remove the slick and insert it in a new case.
Guess what? One of my plastic disc holders is broken, so don't tell me
it is an unlikely event. And because it is relatively flimsy cardboard,
the overall presentation does not look as classy, especially as the box
printing has been done in matte rather than a nice glossy finish. Overall,
this looks cheap and that it is not good when you are shelling out a hundred
bucks for the set. The pricing may be exceptional for six DVDs but there
is no need to look this cheap. Really and truly, this should have been
issued in three dual Amarays in a nice glossy (and classy) slipcase made
from sturdier cardboard. If you want a good indication of how this should
have been presented just check out the Buffy Season 1 Box Set from Fox
- now that is the way it should be done.
© Ian Morris (have
a laugh, check out the bio)
18th May, 2001.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515; S-video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in|
|Amplification||Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|