Dresden Files: Season One, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe doesn't believe in magic, not enough to recommend this series...
Based on the fantasy/mystery novel series by Jim Butcher, this tale follows the life and times Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, the only professional wizard in modern-day Chicago. Though content to live a simple life, Dresden often finds himself in life or death situations with various witches, wizards, and creatures of legendary origin.
Sometimes when I'm watching a film or television series I can actually see the studio pitch in my mind. This is one of those cases.
Producer: "I've got the perfect show for you."
Executive: "Tell me about it."
Producer: "Well, you know how those Harry Potter books and movies keep raking in the dough? And how the major stations keep making different versions of Law and Order and CSI? And how television has desperately been looking for something to fill the voids left by the cancellations of X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer for years now?"
Producer: "I've just purchased the rights to a relatively popular series of books that taps all these markets!"
Executive: "Perfect. Production starts tomorrow."
And that's pretty much what you get, an uninspired mish-mash of popular media. At least it's a well-made uninspired mish-mash. It's not like The Dresden Files even tries to cover the fact that it tears elements from other sources, it pretty much wears the fact on its sleeves, with little blinking lights. I mean, come on, the guy's even named Harry.
When it's not busy acting like a grown-up form of the Harry Potter series (which we all know wasn't very original to begin with), or trying to fill the cult and occult holes left by shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and X-Files, which spent seasons building an original universe, the series borrows liberally from theatrical releases like Blade, Constantine (and its source comic, Hellblazer), and An American Werewolf in London.
The characters take a while to get to the point that I cared about them, and had I not had the entire first season at my disposal I probably would've given up after the second week of original airings. Good acting and some legitimately amusing moments insured my eventual affections, but the back-stories are just as antiquated as the arcs of each episode. To infuse the series with this back-story the producers depend on awkward plot breaks. The characters have this strange, almost mawkish habit of asking Dresden entirely out of context questions in early episodes. This is often followed by a long silence on Dresden's part, a brief but entirely mysterious statement, sometimes even a flashback. The flashback structure runs for several episodes, as if telling an unoriginal story out of order somehow makes it original.
Each episode looks pretty good; the production designs and values are sharp top notch, and the camera work and cinematography is somewhat dynamic. The special effects budget is obviously lacking, as there really isn't a convincing digital effect in the entire season, but I won't hold that against it. I have no quarrels with the visuals or acting.
My problems are with the consistently dull plot lines. Every time it looked like an episode was going somewhere unexpected my hopes backfired, and I ended up guessing the twist before it was revealed. The attempts at composing a series universe are clumsy and obvious too. There's no build or intrigue to the lexicon, just factoids. The writers want an instant following, they don't want to earn it. I also have a problem with the dependence on voiceover, but that's a smaller problem because sometimes the jokes are actually funny.
The show looks wonderful on DVD, in the form of a crisp, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen presentation. The grain is very fine, and compression artefacts are nearly absent. Occasionally backgrounds exhibit some minor low-level noise. The contrast levels are very high at some times and I'm not positive they're always meant to be. This is probably because the show is so dark overall that sometimes it's a little tricky to tell what's going on. The blacks are deep and flat, and highlight colours pop nicely.
I do love the fact that television comes in 5.1 surround these days. This show is particularly audibly aggressive, and ends up using all six channels rather effectively. Magic and monsters are apparently loud things. If the noise of casting spells and hissing vampires isn't quite loud enough for you, the pre-commercial flash-outs will probably satisfy. The music is pretty solid as well, with the exception of the theme, which sounds like something from a 1980s Steven Bochco cop series.
These three discs are mostly filled with relatively uncompressed A/V, so there aren't many special features here for fans. Discs one and three each feature a solitary episode commentary with director Michael Grossman, star Paul Blackthorne (side note: Blackthorne is a Brit in real life and Terrence Mann, who plays the British accented ghost Bob, is from Kentucky), and writer/producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe. The commentary is a little whiny, but informative, and there aren't a lot of blank spots (though Blackthorn doesn't talk much at all).
Disc one also features three deleted scenes. The first is all about the ghost named Bob, which is too bad because he's pretty much the best character in the series. The second is a throwaway, entirely unnecessary to the episode it was deleted from. The final deleted scene is even more a throwaway, and lasts all of twenty seconds.
The behind the scenes featurette on disc three is a sales pitch, but a pretty good one. The problem is the repetitive nature of the interviews, and the fact that they don't acknowledge how unoriginal the series is. In fact, one producer has the gall to claim that Constantine just barely beat them to the punch for a theatrical release in the whole 'magical detective' realm, and claims that television was their second choice. Constantine is based on the comic series Hellblazer, which was around for more than a decade before The Dresden Files books were ever written.
I can't really recommend The Dresden Files to most readers. It's good looking and features mostly good performances, but it'll probably remind you of other things you'd prefer spending 530 minutes with. There's enough talent on display that perhaps the writers will end up growing into the series in later seasons, because it got better as it progressed, but until then I say skip it.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 7th August 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Commentary, Making-of, Deleted Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Paul Blackthorne, Valerie Cruz
Genre: Film-Noir and Sci-Fi
Length: 530 minutes
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