Before I begin, I wanted to give a big shout out to my main man, Gregg Senko, who is recovering from some pretty invasive shoulder surgery last week. Gregg was originally supposed to review this title, but due to his current status of not being able to operate heavy machinery, the torch was passed onto me. I hope I make you proud Gregg. You see, in many ways, I hold Gregg personally responsible for discovering The Walking Dead, in my life. During Comic-Con 2010, he excitedly texted me that he had just met Robert Kirkman and that he gave our original screenplay to him. The first question out of my mouth, regrettably, was who is Robert Kirkman? Well, little did I know that Mr. Kirkman would become an intricate part of my weekly living room viewings as I sat down for six straight weeks to watch the AMC original series, The Walking Dead. And the rest, as they call it, is history…
Well, it’s no secret; we all know why we are here reading this. But for the many fans that are just now discovering what The Walking Dead is all about, I thought I would start this review off with a little history lesson. The AMC television series is based upon the Image Comics’ comic book written by none other than Robert Kirkman. The series premiered on AMC’s Fearfest, the network’s annual blockbuster marathon of thriller and horror films, Halloween night and immediately became the most watched drama series in cable’s history among adults, ages 18-49, with 5.3 million viewers. That’s quite an accomplishment, isn’t it? It also gained a following among the most hard-to-please critics. Many have hailed it as one of the best new series of the year. But don’t take my word for it. I thought it would be really cool to share some of the critics’ comments. I have never done this before, so here goes nothing…
- “#1 on the Must-List.” – ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
- “The Walking Dead is the best new television show the year.” – VANITY FAIR.COM
- “CREEPY from the first frame.” – VARIETY
- “…surprisingly scary and remarkably good.” – THE NEW YORK TIMES
- “This isn’t for the TV timid.” – TV GUIDE
- “Taken as a fright fest, pure and simple, Dead succeeds admirably well, capturing the terror and confusion of waking up in a world where you’ve gone from person to endangered-species zombie food overnight.” – USA TODAY
- “It’s authentically disgusting, a real achievement for a horror show on a basic-cable network.” – ROLLING STONE
- “What makes The Walking Dead so much more than a horror show is that it plays with theatrical grandeur, on a canvas that feels real, looks cinematic and has an orchestral score to match.” – WALL STREET JOURNAL
- “AMC’s series (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Rubicon) are gorgeously shot for basic cable, and Walking Dead, rotting flesh and all, is no exception.” – TIME
The first season of the series was written, executive produced and directed by three-time Academy Award nominee Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile). The show is also executive produced by Gale Ann Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens) and Robert Kirkman. The drama is led by a cast that includes Andrew Lincoln (Love Actually), Jon Bernthal (The Ghost Writer), Sarah Wayne Callies (Prison Break), Laurie Holden (The Shield), Jeffery DeMunn (The Green Mile), Steven Yeun (The Big Bang Theory), Emma Bell (Frozen) and Chandler Riggs (Get Low).
So now that you know a little bit about the series’ history, let’s start talking about the actual meat and potatoes here…the show itself. Obviously, if the pictures contained within this Blu-ray and the show’s title itself did not give it away, the series is literally about “the walking dead,” or zombies as they are affectionately known throughout the world. And you should probably already know that zombies eat flesh. And you should probably also know that I’m a sucker for anything zombie or vampire related. You throw a vampire or a zombie into a film or television series and there’s likely a 90% chance that I will give it a watch. I’m pathetic, huh? LOL. I guess its just the horror hound and affectionate within me that never ceases to die and nor will I ever let it. But in the case of The Walking Dead, I did not need to be sold. All it took was reading Aaron Neuwirth’s review of the pilot show and the comments left on that page to know that when I came back from vacation that week, The Walking Dead would be getting some play time off my trusty Time Warner Cable DVR. And no, I did not get any commission for mentioning Time Warner Cable. I just like to be precise like that.
So anyway, the six-part first season starts off with a bang, much like that of 28 Days Later. County Sheriff Rick Grimes (Lincoln) awakens from a coma alone in a post apocalyptic zombie world. The world he once known is gone forever. Sounds like a bad dream, huh? But even more importantly, where are his wife and son? I’m telling you, never underestimate a father’s plight to do anything in his power and live through even the most unfortunate of circumstances when it comes to reuniting with his offspring. It does not look like I will ever experience this immersive bond in nature, but if my love for my dog is any indication of how strong this compulsion is, then I can relate to exactly what Sheriff Grimes is going through. And I’m sure, in our own little way, we all can. That’s the beauty of The Walking Dead. Sure there’s your heaping doses of zombie gore and violence, but underneath it all, it’s the human spirit and emotion that’s really on display in this series. It’s how people of all walks of life come together, for better or worse, and work towards achieving a common goal, the continuation of life.
So truly, you can even say that “there’s more than meets the eye” when you talk about The Walking Dead. The promotional package I received with the 2-disc Blu-ray set reads “The Walking Dead is a layered and groundbreaking drama, where personal struggles are magnified against a backdrop of moment-to-moment survival.” That’s pretty deep, huh? But wait! It gets better. “A post-apocalypse story at its core, the series explores how the living are changed by the overwhelming realization that the survivors can be far more dangerous than the mindless walking dead.” And when you watch the television series, you will realize how true both these statements are. It all goes back to what I said in the preceding paragraph, The Walking Dead is so much more than just your everyday horror serial, it’s about exploring the human bonds of nature and stripping away all the facets of life, as we know it today. There are no new movies to go to, comics to read or video games to play. It doesn’t get anymore fundamental than this. This is a tale of how to coexist with everyone’s differences and somehow find that common ground and unite for survival. This is the tale of The Walking Dead.
It’s kind of hard to go into any specific plot details without spoiling things for the folks who have not seen the show. And with that being said there are also probably too many different concurrent plot lines to discuss here within the constraints of this review. I’m already long winded enough. LOL. But probably, one of the most interesting story arcs for me is Sheriff Grime’s plight to find his wife (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son (Chandler Riggs), while we the audience get a glimpse of what’s really going on in their lives, believing their father/husband has perished and their coexistence (or should I say cohabitation) with Rick’s best friend, Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal). Interesting, huh?
So I think I built a pretty solid case to prove that this show is so much more than just zombies. But don’t get me wrong; the zombies do get their fair share of screen time. And I’m happy to report that the gore and effects are truly stellar in this series. Kudos to AMC for doing the series justice! They really impressed me. Now with all this being said, there’s still that internal struggle to deal with that’s going on inside each one of you right now. I can honestly see where pure horror hounds might be turned off by this show. There may come a time when the slow human interaction scenes may cause many an early slumber. Heck, even I’m guilty of that. But I think it had more to do with the series’ late runtime, than anything else. If I had to give an opinionated rank of the first season I would go on record by stating that I was enthralled at the first two episodes, less than enamored by the third and fourth ones and reeled back in as a diehard fan for the final two. That’s just how I roll. I think the lateness of the hour (when it originally aired on Sunday nights last year at 10 PM) coupled with the lull in action sequences in the middle of the series just got the best of me. But you know what, I was able to appreciate them for what they were. No, there’s really nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking about the zombie genre, but rest assured, The Walking Dead provides a breath of fresh air as we really get to care and learn about each of the individual characters and understand what truly makes each of them tick. That ladies and gentlemen, in my opinion, is effective storytelling and a recipe for success anyway you slice it.
Wow! That was a mouthful above. So the real reason we are all gathered here today is to celebrate the show’s debut on the Blu-ray format, right? The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season rises again on March 8th when Anchor Bay Entertainment unleashes the 1080p zombie invasion and onslaught in your living room. The 2-disc Blu-ray set contains all 6 episodes of the first season along with special behind-the-scenes featurettes and more. And now…finally…without further ado…I’m very excited to start talking about the Blu-ray disc vitals. Are you ready? Of course you are!
Anchor Bay Entertainment brings the AMC original series to the Blu-ray format with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer presented in a gorgeous widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1. There’s nothing like taking full advantage of your HDTV screen real estate, right? So where should we begin, with the good or the bad? Let’s tackle the bad first. And believe me, I’m just being nitpicky here because that’s my job as a reviewer. The canvas of The Walking Dead is a dullish earthy one. But that’s intentional. It has that gritty look and feel, which almost makes this transfer perfect for the subject matter. The video quality is very cinematic looking with a small thin veil of grain to hind behind. The grain ultimately causes slight problems here and there, most notably with the sharpness. It’s inconsistent at times, but beautiful all the others. There are times when you can count every gray strand in Rick Grime’s hair and facial stubble and then there are times when the grain momentarily takes over. If it were not for the fact that we are going for the post-apocalyptic feel here, then I would complain some more, but I like my zombies gritty, and like Zombie Strippers, I can put up with the grain here. Black levels and skin tones are pretty spot on. While this is never going to be your reference quality Blu-ray demo track to show off to all your friends, you have to admit one thing…damn those zombie makeup effects look pretty sweet. I also love the use of bright light employed when Rick’s eyes adjust to the sunlight for the very first time after leaving the hospital. So I can go on and on with my nitpicking, but I think you get the point here. Everything is adequate and in check here. Now let’s move onto the audio section.
The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season rises on Blu-ray with an a$$-kicking Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mix. There are way too many good things to praise here so let’s throw caution to the wind, start with the most obvious and forget about any minor imperfections for the time being. The surround track is very expansive and spacious as footsteps wander from one side to the other. The bass and rear channels feverishly come to life during the intense action scenes such as the opening car chase. All the gunshots roar with a bang and ring with authenticity. Heck, even the musical compositions and intro score sound hauntingly beautiful. Dialog is pinnacle here. It’s always loud, clear and intelligible. And best of all…the sound effects and ambient noises are spot on. When you think of zombies and the horror genre, do you ever think of birds chirping and crickets? Honestly, I never gave it much thought before, but what we are really talking about here is realism…and this track nevertheless delivers that.
Before I begin this section, I just need to make mention of one quick thing. I have been writing online Blu-ray reviews now for almost three years, but not once has a screener ever arrived that made me take instant notice, like The Walking Dead did. You see, the 2-disc Blu-ray screener set arrived in a large sealed legal envelope with a huge bloody red footprint on it. At first, my imagination ran wild and got the best of me. Is this a hoax? Is this real? Should I touch it? LOL. Rest assured, it was all A-okay. I carefully opened the envelope, as to not destroy it, and within it I found the Blu-ray set and a rich full colored folder full of press releases materials and expansive photos/artwork. To say I was impressed would undoubtedly be mislabeled an understatement. At that very moment in time, I felt a great sense of honor and pride rush over me to be selected to review this Blu-ray series.
The Special Features are all found on Disc #2 of the Blu-ray set. They consist of two different categories: featurettes and extra footage. Obviously, I go into more detail below. The season’s first four episodes are contained on Disc #1 as well as trailers for two highly recommended Anchor Bay Entertainment films, Frozen (see our Blu-ray review here) and 2010’s I Spit on Your Grave (see our Blu-ray review here). Although it would have been nice to see an audio commentary or two, you can relish in the fact that ALL Special Features are presented in glorious High-Definition. That’s the way Blu-ray should be done! So without further ado, check out the quantity of extras below that you will be hard pressed to pass up on.
- The Making of The Walking Dead (HD, 29:53) – Frank Darabont, cast and crew gives us an all access and uncanny look at the behind-the-scenes making of the series. They talk about how important it was to do this right and how these are some of the best onscreen zombies you ever seen. Quite honestly, this is the kind of special features that I eat up. I love to see the behind-the-scenes filming of projects and hear how everything originated. Guess what? You have it all here! It was really cool to learn how Frank became involved with Kirkman’s work. It’s also interesting to hear how the executive producers refer to the ‘walking dead’ as the human survivors. You see, I have been telling you this all along up above. They also discuss the budget and rare opportunity they had to tell the tale with a 90-minute pilot episode. They took the approach and treated the production like they were filming a feature movie and it shows in the stunt work, preparation and makeup effects involved. You can clearly see after watching this that Frank Darabont was definitely the right man to take on Kirkman’s vision. And for all of you who want zombies…look no further than here!
- Inside The Walking Dead: Episode 1 (HD, 5:22) – Episode 101: “Days Gone By” takes a quick look at the new world of Sheriff Rick Grimes.
- Inside The Walking Dead: Episode 2 (HD, 5:04) – Episode 102: “Guts” takes us deeper into the action this time around where Rick meets the ensemble of characters we will interact with for the rest of the season.
- Inside The Walking Dead: Episode 3 (HD, 4:51) – Episode 103: “Tell it to the Frogs” is where we develop the characters and Rick finds something he was longing to find. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but I think you can put two-and-two together. There’s a certain triangle that is now formed.
- Inside The Walking Dead: Episode 4 (HD, 5:03) – Episode 104: “Vatos” deals with a surprise Frank pulls out of the hat and continues to explore character relationships.
- Inside The Walking Dead: Episode 5 (HD, 5:31) – Episode 105: “Wildfire” is the aftermath of the camp’s zombie attack. I remembered this one. It’s a pretty emotional one, especially during the zombie resurrection scene.
- Inside The Walking Dead: Episode 6 (HD, 5:15) – Episode 106: “TS-19” is a radical departure from the first 5 episodes. They go to the one place where they think they might find an answer. Although I originally wanted to hate this game changer, I found myself really liking and looking forward to Season 2 upon its conclusion. Humanity is really explored here.
- A Sneak Peak with Robert Kirkman (HD, 4:51) – This one starts with a quick trailer proceeded by Robert Kirkman buried underneath dead soldiers. In all honesty, this one kind of feels familiar with “The Making Of” featurette above. Once again, the cast and crew talk about the production of the show.
- Behind the Scenes Zombie Makeup Tips for Halloween (HD, 6:45) – The show’s special effects makeup artists show how to transform an ordinary guy into a zombie using only products you would find at a Halloween or grocery store.
- Convention Panel with Producers (HD, 11:32) – This is the one panel I missed at Comic-Con 2010. You can bet I won’t be making the same mistake this year. Robert Kirkman and producers talk about the creation of the show. For the fans, this is a MUST-SEE.
- The Walking Dead Trailer (HD, 1:03) – This is basically a best of reel you would see on television to advertise the show. It’s short, sweet and simple.
- Zombie School (HD, 2:59) – Here we have a quick look at how the zombie extras were all briefed and know the rules of being a zombie. As you know, to make an effective zombie, these are must-know skills. I want to go to zombie school!
- Bicycle Girl (HD, 5:06) – This refers to one of the first zombies we see in the show after Rick escapes from the hospital. You remember the one, right? Remember when he picks up the bicycle? Alrighty! Now we’re on the same page! They show a time-lapse photography clip of how they transformed the actress. It was a 3.5 hour process rolled up into 3 minutes here. It’s a pretty interesting piece!
- On Set with Robert Kirkman (HD, 3:07) – Take a stroll with Robert Kirkman as he pokes around and tours the set.
- Hanging with Steven Yeun (HD, 3:52) – Steven gives us a brief look behind the scenes as he interjects little quips of humor here and there and other unknown facts on the set.
- Inside Dale’s RV (HD, 3:25) – Jeffrey Demunn gives us a little tour of the show’s 1977 Winnebago. Trust me, you can skip this one!
- On Set With Andrew Lincoln (HD, 3:46) – Here we are on set with the man of the hour, Andrew Lincoln. He talks to us from the camp quarry location and shows us around where filming is taking place. He talks to us brutally raw here. Fans of Lincoln should stop here.
So I guess you can say I spent my entire Sunday reliving and dissecting Season 1 of the hit AMC series. That’s a whole lot of zombies for one day. Don’t you think? And to top it all off, I’m feeling much like a zombie myself with the second cold I’m enduring this long winter season. But maybe…just maybe…my condition put me in the right state of mind to tackle this highly anticipated Blu-ray release. You think?
In recap, The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season arrives on the Blu-ray format March 8th with a plot to die for, a video transfer worthy of the undead, an audio score to immerse oneself in all things living and dead and a special features department that will make you giddy and smile as you go behind the scenes of one of 2010’s most heralded television shows. This is the Blu-ray release you have been waiting for this year and guess what? The price is so right! So what are you waiting for? Death? Dismemberment? Decapitation? A gunshot to the head? The longer you wait, the more of them that will come after you. Get your arms ready. Pack some heat! Plan a picnic. But most importantly, pre-order The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season today!