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Da Vinci’s Demons – The Complete First Season (Blu-ray Review)

Da-Vincis-DemonsFrom the mind of David S. Goyer (Dark Knight Trilogy, Blade Trilogy) comes the Starz original series Da Vinci’s Demons.  I knew nothing of the show other than seeing the show’s title when scrolling on my tv channel guide between AMC and Showtime and thinking that was an interesting title.  I don’t watch any shows on Starz as I was turned off by their production of Torchwood: Miracle Day and the other shows have kinda looked very “wannabe” to me (I have heard good things about Spartacus though, just never got to it).  So when tasked with reviewing Da Vinci’s Demons, my expectations were set a bit lower.  Little did I know, I had nothing really to worry about here.  The show is a surprisingly engaging historical fantasy telling a fictionalized tale of Leonardo da Vinci during what is considered the “lost” years of his life (records and journals from this time in his life apparently have not survived).

Da Vinci's Demons Season 1 E

 Season 

In Florence, Italy resides one of the greatest minds of all time, Leonardo da Vinci.  Da Vinci is an exceptionally gifted artist and idealist.  He is in search of learning the truth of his mother and unlocking the secrets of the world and its past.  In his way are those who want to use history, religion and politics to suppress any sort of free thinking and truth to further evolve humanity.  Da Vinci is armed only with his supernatural-like power of his mind and uses his inventiveness to make the impossible possible and to escape from inescapable situations.

In this first season, da Vinci aligns himself with Florence’s leader, Lorenzo Medici while also beginning an affair with his mistress, Lucrezia.  A war between Rome and Florence seems imminent and Leonardo is commissioned as a weapons creator.  During this time Leonardo is also commissioned by a mysterious group to seek out the Book of Leaves which will enlighten, unlock questions he has about the world and also reunite him with the keeper of the book, his estranged mother.

I’m not really sure why this series isn’t more “buzzed” about.  Not just in its content (it’s quite good), but the fact that there are a lot of controversial efforts being done in each episode.  One thing I may have learned from this show is the Catholic Church must not pay for premium cable.  They are painted as vile, ruthless scum appearing not only to be the enemies of Florence, but of the world.  Pope Sixtus is almost Emperor Palpatine-like in his nature, but believe it or not, he’s far far worse than that guy.  They are displayed as hypocrites, sodomites, murderers, thieves, bigots and…should I keep going down the checklist?  How are we not reading of protests or petitions from the Catholic league and other religious powerhouses (who usually can’t just let entertainment be entertainment) trying to get the show off the air or banned?  Its head scratching that Da Vinci’s Demons isn’t getting this sort of free press for its controversial nature.

I ask that you don’t put your finger on this show until finishing episode 2.  The launch episode for the show is a massive info dump.  I had to watch it twice and felt much more comfortable with the remainder after that.  “The Hanged Man” not only invites us to learn every character, but there’s also many alliances, rivalries, motivations, mythology and season arc setups that bloat the 58 minutes.  After that premiere episode, its smooth sailing, though.  While featuring an overarching serialized storyline, every episode is very much with its own agenda and self contained.  The show also manages to touch on different styles and genres.  Luckily, nothing ever feels very formulaic or procedural.  They manage to make each new adventure just that, “new”.  There are serialized turns and twists that do take place throughout most of the episodes too and connect to the main plot, but it surprisingly does take the “Monster of the week” kind of format.

The cast here is quite colorful and fun.  I equate this to Game of Thrones meets Doctor Who.  The period dramatics and setting pull for a more serious and dramatic tone to the series.  Characters, however, are very colorful and comic-like.  The character of Leonardo da Vinci is VERY Matt Smith-Doctor Who.  He’s a very ambiguous fellow and eccentric with his demeanor.  There are times when he goes off on a tangent and you can almost hear that adventurous part of the Doctor Who score playing in your head.  His friends are all a fun lot.  The real scene stealer here is Blake Ritson as Girolamo Riario.  He is a slimy rat bastard and you just want to club the guy in the face.  That’s the tell sign of a guy playing his part well, when he gets under your skin with every frame he touches.  You also get a very striking bobo-Angelina Jolie in Laura Haddock’s Lucrezia.   She’s absolutely stunning and through her performance you can totally make why two men would be torn about her.  The character work is so likeable and genuine that I actually found myself shocked and emotionally invested in some of their fates and plot turns.

I started off with this series with the mentality that if it was at least decent I’d be ok with doing this review.  By the time I finished I was a fan and I’m definitely setting my DVR for season 2.  Like I said, I actually found myself genuinely shocked at times (a feat much of TV doesn’t do for me anymore) and really rooting for these characters.  I really enjoy the rich world building and mythology they’ve put forth here.  There are a lot of questions in the air that I’m actually interested in seeing getting answered.  It’s a show that may take place in the past but does find relevance with modern issues.  Is it the best show on television?  No.  Is it the best show that for some reason, nobody is really even talking about?  Definitely!

Disc 1:
1. “The Hanged Man”

2. “The Serpent”

3. “The Prisoner

Disc 2:

4. “The Magician”

5. “The Tower”

6. “The Devil”

Disc 3:

7. “The Hierophant”

8. “The Lovers”

Da Vinci's Demons Season 1 C

Video 

Da Vinci’s crafty handywork scores in at a perfect 1080p MPEG-4 encoding.  The 1:78.1 shot series is extremely sharp and clear.  The motion of it resembles that of a BBC series, but its no bother.  Detail is extremely strong as many relics in this series look very touchable and some scenes as if you’re peering through a window.  As this is a modern series I was expecting it to look good, but even this surpassed those expectations.  Skin tones and textures prove quite incredible.  Rugged faces, makeup covered acne and well defined facial hair highlight an impressive picture.  Dirt and paint on characters’ skin in the episodes allow you to see every brush stroke an speck of mud or dirt.  This picture does make some CGI establishing shots appear a little more obvious, but at the same time, shots of Florence, Rome and the Italian countryside still manage to appear in breathtaking fashion.

Da Vinci's Demons Season 1 B

Audio 

Coming in just as strong as Da Vinci’s war devices, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track has got bite.  It is loud and involved.  The 5 speakers give a full and very theatrical experience as you take a trip to Florence.  The score proves rock concert worthy and can devour you right in your seat.  Its not distracting either, it just works.  There’s plenty of boom from your subwoofer as Da Vinci’s guns and bombs pack a mean punch when fired.  Dialogue is nice, clear and concise.  The show features a boat load of ambiance which is delivered nicely in the track.  The sounds of empty caverns, prisons, torches, lamps, feet scuffling and such all have their nice distinct place in the mix.  The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track really adds and enhances your experience watching the show.  It gets one even more involved than they already are with the show’s content in itself.

DA VINCI'S DEMONS Series 1

Extras 

Da Vinci’s Demons is light and generic on the extras.  All of them come in a 1080p MPEG-4 encoding with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track.  All of the featurettes are basically short Starz promotional pieces that looked like they could’ve aired as commercials on the network between movies/shows.  It’s better than nothing, but none of it was created for this release and there’s no insight as to what to expect or anything to get one hyped for season 2.  I must give them credit though, the packaging for this set is quite fancy and very impressive.

Audio Commentaries – There are a total of 4 audio commentaries which can be found on the following episodes.

  • 1: “The Hanged Man” (Disc 1) – Writer/Creator/Executive Producer/Director David S. Goyer and Actors Tom Riley, Laura Haddock and Black Ritson
  • 2: “The Serpent” (Disc 1) – Writer/Creator/Executive Producer/Director David S. Goyer and Actors Tom Riley, Laura Haddock and Black Ritson
  • 5: “The Tower” (Disc 2) – Creative/Executive Producer David S. Goyer and Actors Tom Riley and David Schofield
  • 8: “The Lovers” (Disc 3) – Creator/Executive Producer David S. Goyer and Actors Tom Riley and Tom Bateman

Featurettes – There are six individual feaurettes that appear on Disc 3 of the set.

  • Mastering Da Vinci (HD, 3:22) – Composer Bear McCreary takes us through his journey to score the show while taking cues from David Goyer and doing his best to give a theatrical sound to a television show.
  • Constructing Da Vinci (HD, 2:47) – A look at building the sets for the show with the set designer and also having David Goyer and some of the cast marvel at the craft going into it.
  • Dressing Da Vinci (HD, 3:10) – The costume designer takes us through coming up with designs and color schemes for the main characters.
  • Worldwide Fanfare (HD, 2:42) – This follows David Goyer and the cast as they do promotion work at New York Comic Con and then attend the premiere in Florence, Italy.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 10:42) – Excised moments from each episode.  The only ones of any interest come in the two minutes deleted from the season finale featuring Nico and Zo. Definitely check those out.
  • Second Screen Promo (HD, 0:32) – A commercial for the show’s mobile app that you can use to follow along with the show and unlock secret content.

 DaVinci's Demons, 2013

Summary 

Anchor Bay releases Da Vinci’s Demons with the best presentation imaginable.  The audio and picture quality are captivating storytelling proponents as you watch this tale unfold on your flat screen.  The deliciously beautiful scenery eats up every pixel of your 1080p/720p television.  The extras are light, but you’re given commentary on half the episodes to make up for the lack of meaty featurettes.  It’d be nice to have at least one of those short featurettes be based upon the content of the show instead of its flash, but there’s at least some commentary for that.  Season 2 doesn’t start until next year, until then you’ll have ample time to pick this release up and dissect every nook and cranny preparing yourself.  David Goyer on his own has been rather hit and miss.  Da Vinci’s Demons falls into the hit category.  And the deeper the show goes, the better Goyer is going to get with delving into its mythology and flushing out his characters.  This is actually a quality program.  People (myself included) need to get on board with it.  The less CBS people watch, the better!


Da-Vinci's-Demons-Season 1-Blu-ray

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

4 Responses to “Da Vinci’s Demons – The Complete First Season (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Brian White

    Interesting. Might have to check this one out after all!

    Not really a fan of Dr. Who, but who knows.

  2. Gregg

    Leonardo Da Vinci was a pure genius. The fact that he used symbolism in his work and the fact that his work was far ahead of its time are two things that intrigue me about the man. I heard about this show a few months back and will definitely give it a go. Looking forward to seeing this one.

  3. Brian White

    I wonder if Aaron saw this show? He knows my tastes pretty well and could probably pinpoint whether I would like this or not.

  4. Aaron Neuwirth

    I didn’t watch it.