Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Deadwood: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review

HBO has usually treated their shows with great care when transferring to Blu-ray. However, the studio has taken it to the next level with the release of Deadwood: The Complete Series. This thirteen-disc collection is an all-encompassing, borderline perfect set and is the definitive HBO Blu-ray release.

The series has always been regarded as one of HBO's best ever, which is quite a compliment when you consider the company it keeps (The Sopranos and The Wire to name just a few). Deadwood is one of my personal favorites and is, in my opinion, the definitive Western experience of the last few decades and possibly of all time. The blending of real characters (Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, the Earp brothers), authentic historical plot-lines and unmatched production values make the show one of the best. The actors are ALL perfectly cast with standouts like Ian McShane as the constantly scheming Al Swearengen, Powers Boothe as the conniving Cy Tolliver and Gerald McRaney as the brutal George Hearst. The myriad of supporting characters that inhabit the treacherous old western town help to make the world as fully realized as it possibly could be. However, what truly makes Deadwood stand out is the writing by David Milch. Never before, or after Deadwood for that matter, have I heard such fascinating dialogue being delivered with such precision. Sometimes the prose is so complex that it requires a second listen just to decipher what is exactly being said. This is definitely a show that you have to pay attention to, one should expect no less from an HBO/Milch collaboration. The series, throughout it's three methodically paced twelve-episode seasons, just gets better and better. Each season features more complex dramatic plots and subplots and each seems to hit a climax at the seemingly perfect point. The only downside is that there is no real satisfying conclusion. After the third season wrapped in 2006 to much critical and commercial success, and hot off the heels of The Sopranos conclusion, it seemed Deadwood was poised to finally receive the spotlight it deserved. And then HBO just pulled the plug, rather unexpectedly. They claimed set costs were too high, Milch wanted to branch out with another series and the huge cast eventually split up to do other things. The circumstances are unfortunate and it is perhaps the greatest show to never have been completed. But, what there is of it represents the pinnacle of not just television but story-telling in general.

Video: 10/10
The transfer is excellent in every regard. The video quality especially is so pristine that I often missed crucial plot elements just because I was marveling at the insane amount of detail present in every shot. The black levels are spot-on and the colors are accurate and vibrant when allowed to shine despite being purposefully muted by design at almost every turn. There were a few instances of flickering that occurred on things like Al Swearengen's fancy jacket and the like but nothing too severe. In all I would say that the very minor video discrepancies amount to only about one minute of show time in a total of well over two thousand minutes! It is as close to perfection as anyone could hope for.

Audio: 10/10
The audio is handled equally well and I noticed no problems whatsoever in any regard. Dialogue is very crisp which is a huge deal because Deadwood revolves around the intricate conversations of it's characters. Sound effects like gunshots and bar brawls are all represented accurately. The ambient background noise in every episode is at times so life-like that you feel like you are walking down the muddy streets of the old town. This is definitely HBO's best Blu-ray transfer to date and easily one of the best on the Blu-ray format in general.

Extras: 10/10
The extras are very comprehensive and HBO provides more for Deadwood than they usually do with their other releases and it is well warranted. The documentaries are great and informative and the commentaries that are provided for some for the episodes are entertaining and worth listening to. The best part about most of the extras is that HBO has converted them to HD and they look better than they ever have. This set boasts over 20 hours of extra content!

Overall: 10/10
All in all, this is an excellent Blu-ray release. When you consider the amount of content you get for the price it truly is a must-own for HBO fans, Western fans and just fans of great TV. Of course, it's much more than TV, it's HBO and it's Deadwood!


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1 comment:

  1. Phil, nice review, but you are a year late!!! In all seriousness---I hope to continue to see many more great reviews from you. Very informative indeed.