Walking Dead: Season One
It's pretty cool to have known about Walking Dead since the beginning. Well, kind of. I remember hearing about the comic back in 2003 or 2004, shortly after its release. I didn't pay too much attention to it but when I moved to a new apartment back in 2007 and found a local comic shop nearby, I decided to take advantage of a 20% off sale and picked up the first two hardcover volumes. The rest is history. I read through the first two volumes and then started picking up the trade paperbacks until I was caught up with the current release around issue #42. I then switched over to the monthlies and have been hooked ever since. The comic continues to be a great read today but that's for another review, or really the review I already did of the comic back in 2007 (Hint: It can be found under Other Reviews).
Since the comic I have geeked out to the point of bringing my son to a few conventions to meet the comic's creator, Robert Kirkman. It's nice to have that excuse of 'I'm doing it for my son...', but I'll gladly admit I have just as much fun at the conventions as they do. And it was a pleasure meeting Kirkman. He was gracious, answered our questions, signed stacks of stuff that we brought without complaint, and lets us snap a few pictures. Very cool. When we hit Baltimore comic-con in 2009 it was the 'hot news' at the time: AMC had optioned Kirkman's Walking Dead. Nothing had been greenlit at the time; just optioned. Still, everyone was pretty excited about the possibilities. As Kirkman himself said about the comic: The problem with zombie movies is they end. He wanted something that could go on and on, explore the characters and the challenges of surviving in a world overrun by zombies. The same could theoritcally be done in a TV series, too.
Fast forward to 2010 and we all know what happened, right? AMC green lit the show, Frank Darabont (of Shawshank Redemption and The Mist, just to name a few) was heavily involved with the creation of the show, including writing credits, creator credits, and directing the pilot episode as well. So here we are in 2011 with the blu-ray release and news that Season Two will premiere in October with a full season (for AMC, anyway) 13-episode order. Life is good but as a fan of the comic I was worried from day one that the show would not be true to the comic. I didn't expect an exact retelling of the comic; I just don't see the point. I expected deviation but was concerned they would deviate too much. Lets take a look at Season One of The Walking Dead and see if my suspicions were correct, or if I'm shamed into ever having doubted the magic of Frank Darabont.
1x01: Days Gone Bye: The series begins with officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and partner Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) involved in a high speed chase. A gunfight ensues and Rick is shot and close to the point of death.
Rick awakens that night only to realize it wasn't all just a bad dream and this is all actually happening. Morgan begins to fill Rick in on 'The Walkers' - those dead creatures filling the streets and attacking anything still living. The next day Rick gets a taste on how to take down a walker - by bashing their head in or blowing their brains out. Rick brings Morgan and Duane to his home and claims that his wife and son are still alive, with photos taken down from the walls and pictures albums missing as proof. Rick brings the two to the local police station where he stocks up on weapons and ammo. Rick's hope is the city is being protected by the military and that his wife and son have taken shelter there. The group part ways but Rick promises he will update Duane on his findings in the city over walkie talkie.
Rick arrives in the city on horseback only to discover that the military lost the battle and the streets are filled with the living dead. His horse is torn apart by several zombies and he only manages to escape by locking himself in a tank. With no way out, the pilot ends with a mysterious call on the tank's radio asking, "Hey you! Dumbass! Yeah, you in the tank. Cozy in there?"
1x02: Guts: Rick discovers the voice on the radio belongs to a young Asian man named Glenn (Steven Yeun). Glen helps Rick escape the tank but Rick is unable to retrieve his bag of guns and ammo from the street. Rick learns that Glenn is part a larger group of people that banded together on the outskirts of the city. Glen is in the city with a smaller group that came back in for supplies. Glen brings Rick to the group at a nearby building but none of them are particularly happy to meet Rick. They tell Rick that thanks to his gunshots being fired about in the city, the dead are now surrounding them to try and find the source of all the noise. They head to the roof where Dixon (Michael Rooker), one of the crazier of the group, is wasting ammo by shooting at zombies down on the street. Dixon gets into a spat with black man named T-Dog (IronE Singleton); when the racial slurs begin, followed by some flying fists, Rick intervenes and handcuffs Dixon to a nearby pipe.
Rick and company devise a plan to try escape through the streets. Thanks to some clever use of guts by Rick and Glenn, the group is able to escape in two separate vehicles. They leave Dixon cuffed to the roof but agree to go back for him once they reach safety at the camp.
1x03: Tell It to the Frogs: Rick and crew arrive back at Glenn's camp where he is happily and surprisingly reunited with his family. His wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) were under the impression Rick had died back in the city during a zombie attack. Rick's also reunited with Shane and then introduced to the rest of the group. As Rick gets settled in, Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) warns Shane of Dixon's brother, Daryl (Norman Reedus), who will soon return to camp and discover they abandoned his brother on the rooftop. As expected, Daryl returns and a fight quickly breaks out. Rick and Shane restrain Daryl and when he calms down, they devise a plan to return to the city and rescue Dixon. While the rest of the group at camp tends to some daily chores, Lori confronts Shane and tells him that the relationship they forged while Rick was in the city, and seemingly dead as Shane claimed, is now over. Shane is left speechless and outraged by Lori's abandonment. In the city, the group of rescuers arrive at the rooftop only to find a bloody handcuff and a single piece of Dixon left behind.
1x04: Vatos: Nearby the camp site, Dale confronts Jim (Andrew Rothenberg) when he discovers him digging shallow graves in the middle of a hot day. Jim doesn't respond to Dale's questions and it's not until Shane gets involved that he finally stops digging after being restrained. In the city, Rick, Glenn, Daryl, and T-Dog devise a plan to recover Rick's bag of guns that he dropped on his first day in the city. Along the way they run into some gang members who steal the bag of guns. Rick and crew confront the gang and just before a full blown firefight is about to begin, they learn the gang is actually taking care of several sick, older citizens that were left behind. The two groups part on good terms and Rick leaves behind some guns. As night approaches at camp, they soon discover Jim's nightmare, and reason for digging the graves, is about to become a reality when they are brutally attacked by a horde of zombies.
1x05: Wildfire: The remainder of the group begin to bury their dead and ponder what the next step is. Rick and Shane begin to argue, with Shane they could have fought off the zombies had Rick not ventured off into the city with their weapons. After much discussion, Rick decides it's time to leave the city outskirts and move on. They pack up and head to the Center for Disease Control. Along the way Jim develops a severe fever after being bitten during the zombie attack. His condition worsens and he finally tells the group to leave him behind to die on his own. The group arrives at a seemingly abandoned C.D.C. When Rick sees a camera move, he's convinced someone is inside and starts slamming on the door, demanding to be let inside. The episode closes with the door opening and revealing a brightly lit entryway.
1x06: TS-19: Inside the C.D.C., Rick and grew meet Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich). Dr. Jenner tells them they must submit to blood tests if they want to stay, to which they quickly agree. Later at dinner, the doctor explains how he came to be the last man standing at the center. With everyone beginning to get settled in, Shane confronts Lori and explains why he truly believed Rick was dead back at the hospital. Shane starts to make advances on Lori to which she fights off and leaves three scratches on the side of his face. The next morning, Dr. Jenner shows them TS-19, a test subject that is shown dying and then the process in which they return from the dead. He has know real answers to why the dead return to life but offers a few theories. Dale is first to notice a clock counting down and asks what happens when it reach zero. The countdown is when the facility will run out of power, which is in approximately one hour. When that happens, the facility will self destruct. As Rick and company prepare to flee, the doctor whispers a few final words to Rick. The season closes with the group slowly driving away with a fiery inferno burning in the background.
I'm still torn on my thoughts on Walking Dead Season One. The zombies themselves are phenomenal, from acting to the top quality makeup effects provided by genre great Greg Nicotero. I could live without some of the weak computer effects but I can accept some cheap effects on a TV show. It's some of the stories and characters that I'm struggling with. Kirkman and Darabont said from the beginning they want to follow the path of the comic but that there would be lots of side trips along the way. I'm okay with that; I do not want an exact retelling of the comic and frankly I think some filler (i.e. side trips) are necessary. Some of the stories are enjoyable, such as the conflict with Dixon and his brother, and some are not, such as the C.D.C. or the run in with the city gang. The story pieces and characters from the comic were all enjoyable, in particular the phenomenal pilot and the introduction of Morgan and his son Duane. The most disappointing deviation was that involving a major plot point regarding Shane, which fans of the comic know exactly what I'm referring to. I was disappointed but I'm hoping the shortened Season One simply means they were going to unfold that piece of the story in Season Two.
While the actors are all quality actors, the jury's still out on Andrew Lincoln as Rick and Chandler Riggs as Carl. This is no doubt another result of me being a reader of the comic, but I'm just not convinced of Andrew Lincoln portrayal of Rick Grimes. He's a quality actor but something about it just doesn't fit for me. Rick is a person constantly struggling internally yet is still tough as steel; I don't see or feel that from Andrew. There's some toughness but at times he just seems like a pushover. Of course, this is more likely an issue with the writing than of Andrew's portrayal. As for Chandler Riggs, there's never been a more obvious flaw in the writing of a character. Read the comic and then watch the show - two completely different characters. Yes they can develop Carl more in Season Two but I think they wasted an opportunity in early character development. I simply don't care about the Carl in the TV show, whereas you love the kid in the comic. Poor writing, indeed.
The Walking Dead is Kirkman's baby. As a longtime reader of the comic, I know it's near and dear to his heart and that he hopes to continue the comic for many years to come. I'm cautiously optimistic that with his continued involvement, Season Two is going to continue to improve and that they will continue to work on producing some better stories and characters. Perhaps it's because I'm a reader of the comic I'm bound to be disappointed by some of the deviations. Even so, there's enough guts and mayhem in Season One to entertain zombie fans. And really, it's a zombie show on TV! There's just a coolness factor there and it makes some of the flaws forgivable and forgettable.
Walking Dead is presented in a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The show was filmed in 16mm and as such there's some roughness and grain present. Colors are reasonably solid with nice, deep blacks present. Detail is soft at times, likely due to the 16mm, but overall the image remains reasonably sharp. There's no compression artifacts present or other print blemishes that I could see.
Given the comic is B&W, the 16mm offers a way to add some grittiness to the show without going full on black and white. I'm sure most people would have despised that and while I'm a fan of the comic being b&w, I tend to believe it wouldn't have worked too well with the show.
A Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is present and it doesn't disappoint. There's a good amount of action in the show and the soundtrack delivers with active surrounds and LFE booming away. Music and dialogue are clean and bold throughout and no distortion was present.
There are several bonus features present on the blu-ray, though I was disappointed by the lack of any commentary tracks from Kirkman or Darabont. Lets start off with the main feature, the making of featurette, as it's the main supplement present. Coming in at just under 30 minutes in length and presented in beautiful 16x9 HD, it features interviews with nearly everyone in the cast and crew. Darabont explains his reasons for becoming involved in the creation of the show. It was extremely cool finding out he discovered the book simply browsing in a comic shop and that he had never heard of Kirkman prior to that. Besides the interviews there's plenty of behind-the-scenes footage as well. It's wonderful look into the creation and production of the show; fans will love it.
Next up is inside The Walking Dead: Episodes 1-6. It's broken up into six segments that each run roughly 4-5 minutes in length. It's basically the cast and crew giving a recap of each show with various clips playing throughout.
A Sneak Peek with Robert Kirkman consists of more cast and crew giving their thoughts on the show. Closing out the main supplements are behind-the-scenes zombie make-up tips, convention panel with producers, and The Walking Dead trailer.
The last supplement on the disc is under an Extra Footage section that features: zombie school, bicycle girl, on set with Robert Kirkman, hanging with Steven Yeun, inside Dale's RV, and on set with Andrew Lincoln. There are fairly short clocking in at 5 minutes or less and I believe nearly all of this footage was available online during the production of the show.
I'm disappointed by the lack of commentaries but really that is my only complaint on the supplements except maybe some deleted scenes would have been nice. Commentaries aside, the supplements on the disc are top notch and enjoyable. Well done, Anchor Bay and AMC.
The show has its flaws but most can be overlooked for the amazing zombies. They truly are the highlight of the show. Fans of the comic know the highlight of the comic is the characters and stories, so I hope both continue to by developed and improved upon in future seasons. If you like the show, be certain to pickup the amazing comic to see the magic that started it all and which continues on to this day. As for the bluray, the image and sound are top notch here and there are lots of enjoyable supplements on the disc. Highly recommended for fans.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Forgive the unfinished review. Rhett gave me the idea so at the same time I'm crediting him for this but also blaming him for this.
I have long wanted to review some TV series on the site, most notably X-Files. But I like to give a breakdown of each episode and that can be overwhelming for a 20+ episode season. Rhett gave me the idea of breaking the review up into several days or whatever and posting chunks at a time. While WD S1 is only 6 episodes, I thought it would be a good time to start. Since I already have written some outlines for the first several episodes to X-Files S1, I plan to do the same for that.
I expect to have this review finished on Monday, 3/14/2011.
P.S. While I will spell check the review as I update, I have not proofed it so if you find a few goofs, please wait until Monday night before calling me out on it! :)
Looking good so far, can't wait to see the rest, considering my copy is comng some time this week.
Could not finish before my vacation but I get back sun morning and will finish up over a few days.
Just a heads up to those who own the blu-ray. I bought this on release day and just took it off of the shelf to watch and noticed that disc 2 of the blu-ray set was a dvd, not blu-ray! I took it back to Best Buy and they switched it out with a new copy no problem. Not sure if this is an isolated thing or not, just thought I give a heads up.
I just checked my BD copy and its both BD's.Thanks for the heads up Mikey.
Almost there. Pass #2 is done. Pass #3 will complete it. I would have been done on Pass #2 if I didn't struggle getting these screen shots done.
Great review Dave, thank you. Well worth the wait.
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