Sunday, October 4, 2015

Running to Embrace "The Walking Dead"

With October upon us, one naturally thinks of Zombies… 
Or at least I do.
And I ended up seeing a Zombie theme throughout Doug Pratt’s latest newsletter… whether he intended it or not. The Complete Review Excerpt from the October issue of THE DVD LASER DISC NEWSLETTER is actually about a certain zombie themed TV show. But before I get to that review I want to point out a couple of other reviews in Mr. Pratt's newsletter that I believe have an “undead” theme.
For instance, Pratt writes about the extraordinary documentary, THE JINX,  now available on DVD/Blu-Ray. The mini-series  (originally premiered on HBO). is essentially a compelling story of a killer who can’t seem to keep his victims from haunting his life. That’s what I would call a zombie themed production. Faithful readers of this blog will know that my take on the HBO series focused on how the director found his creative footing making the documentary version of a story he had previously fictionalized in a terribly flawed feature film. Mr. Pratt concentrates his evaluation on the documentary mini-series but comes up with the same verdict — “The final episode (in the HBO mini-series) raises the quality of the documentary to a stellar level.”

I cringe whenever I read about someone I know (and even when it is someone I don’t know) who is involved in a film production that has fallen apart prior to production. However, there're also films that fall apart, or rather never come together, after the shooting is over. THE AMERICAN DREAMER is a documentary film released in 1971 focusing on the actor/filmmaker Dennis Hopper as he labors on the editing of a feature film he directed, The Last Movie. And things are not going well.
Pratt uses AMERICAN DREAMER as a counterpoint to his review of  entourage, the feature film based on the popular HBO series. I love how he not only reviews the two projects separately, but also interlaces his thoughts on both movies in his review of AMERICAN DREAMER. And yes, I saw a zombie theme with his review. As Pratt points out, The Last Movie, stopped Hopper’s “career dead in the tracks… Ironically, it took another potential Hollywood disaster, Apocalypse Now, to resurrect Hopper’s subsequent career as a successful character actor.”
DeadResurrect… Both zombie terms right?

As promised, Pratt reviews an actual zombie project in our monthly excerpt - THE WALKING DEAD The Complete Fifth Season
If I was being completely honest, I went with this review as the excerpt because Pratt makes a reference to a particular episode of the TV Series. Since the broadcast of that particular episode I had been trying to work my reaction into several posts but failed. So I use Mr. Pratt’s newsletter review as the excuse to declare my thoughts on this post — the best of horror movies or TV shows should be disturbing in a way that haunts you while you watch, and long after the closing credits. This is just one reason why Episode 14, Season 4 of THE WALKING DEAD will go down as one of the greatest 43 minutes (without commercials) of horror ever broadcast on TV. It is a masterpiece that everyone involved in the production will be able to point to as a high-water mark in their entertainment careers. And as I wrote above, Pratt more than mentions the episode before he dissects Season 5, (and the series) in a way only he can.

Keep Walking

We’ve been telling anybody who will listen that if they want to sample THE WALKING DEAD and understand its brilliance, they should watch— and there is no need to see anything else

beforehand—the fourteenth episode in the Fourth Season, The Grove.  There is no episode in the new Anchor Bay Entertainment AMC Blu-ray release, The WALKING DEAD The Complete Fifth Season (UPC#013132629001, $80), that comes close to equaling the impact that episode has, but that is setting an unrealistic standard.

The Fifth Season is as terrific as the previous seasons have been.  The show plateaus slightly, but it never really repeats itself.  While it is the drama that holds the focus of one’s memories after an episode or a season is concluded, you forget a little bit, until you get caught up again in actually watching the show, how fantastically exciting it is.  You never know when the action is going to explode or what horrific image is going to appear next.  But it is because the drama is so good that these excitements and horrors are worth indulging.  They always mean something, because you care about the characters and their inner conflicts as much as you care about how they will get out of whatever predicament they find themselves in. 

The season has fifteen 43-minute episodes and a final sixteenth episode, which runs 64 minutes, although the ‘mid season break,’ which occurs at the end of the eighth episode, effectively splits the season plot into two distinctive stories.  In the first half, having survived the cliffhanger at the end of Fourth Season, the heroes come upon a church where a single survivor has sustained himself, and they use the building for their own protection as they make
forays to gather supplies and regain their strength. Then some less accommodating individuals show up.  Obviously, there is an exploration of morality and faith that builds up as the episodes advance, but it is so organic to the setting that it never feels forced or overindulged.  That is one of the reasons the show remains so satisfying—because the gore is abundant and the premise is so absurd, the philosophical  contemplations are magnified on their own and do not need to be unduly emphasized.  In the second half,
the heroes come across a community that has managed to create the semblance of a normal life behind its gates, and unlike communities the heroes have encountered in the past, there is no dark secret underlying its existence.  The residents, however, are somewhat naive about the nature of the world outside of their walls, and conflicts arise when they are confronted with the heroes’ pragmatism. 

The season is spread to four platters and each platter has a ‘Play All’ option.  Beware, incidentally—some episodes have little codas after their end credit scrolls, so don’t turn things off or jump to the next episode too quickly.  The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 1.78:1.  The color transfer is flawless, and the special effects are seamless.  The 7.1 DTS sound isn’t quite as energetic as the sound mix on a blockbuster film, but it comes awfully close, with many terrific directional effects that get your heart rate pumping.  There is also a French audio track in 5.1 Dolby and English and Spanish subtitles.

A fifth platter has 16 minutes of deleted scenes that fill some plot details here and there, and 186 minutes of good production featurettes, most built around what is being staged in each individual episode.  One of the things we hate is when disc producers feel they must repeat a bad design flaw for the sake of consistency from one season of a TV show to the next, and that is what happens here.  Like Fourth Season, the brief collection of deleted scenes has a ‘Play All’ option, but you have to access every one of the #$!$@! forty featurettes individually.  And also, like Fourth Season, you have to guess which episodes are accompanied by the commentary tracks, since the only way to access the commentary indicator is to choose an individual episode for play.  Either the episode starts playing, which means there is no commentary, or a commentary option appears.  For the record, the first episode on the first platter has two commentaries, the first episode on the second platter has one, the first, second and fourth episodes on the third platter each have one, and the fourth episode on the fourth platter has one.  Most of the commentaries feature various members of the cast—and often the cast member who gets killed in that episode—as they share general reminiscences about the shoot and working on the show, with the first and last commentaries geared more to production personnel.  The talks are lighthearted (“It got so hot, I couldn’t remember my lines.”  “I thought you just couldn’t remember your lines.”) and mildly informative. 
Anchor’s DVD release (UPC#013132628998, $70) is also spread to five platters.  The fifth platter has the same special features, and the same lack of a ‘Play All’ for them.  The picture is only subliminally less compelling, as it has very strong colors and crisp details.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound, however, does not have quite the same command of atmosphere that the BD has.