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A little over a year ago I was introduced to Supernatural via a surprise appearance of the season three Blu-ray collection, which I proceeded to review. My review was pretty negative, as being introduced to the program in the middle of the story led me to focus on the unoriginal aspects of the concept. I still think it was fair of me to compare the series to more indelible and archetypal properties like The Nightstalker, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Hellblazer comic series, but now that I’ve taken the time to get to know Supernatural’s mythology and characters, I regret dismissing the show’s greater goals. The third season wasn’t the strongest in the series’ history, but I’d like to give it another chance sometime soon. The last two seasons (what I’ve seen of them) have totally turned me around, making this final completion of the first season an entirely different reviewing experience.

Supernatural: Season One
Season one shows signs of upcoming greatness, sets up the mythology (even though the creators retconned some of it), and features some solid and scary standalone episodes (‘The Benders’ is among the most intense in the series history), but it has its share of the usual rough patches, and stinging growing pains. Sometimes things get rough enough it’s hard to believe CW gave the series a second season chance to set it right, though I suspect the fact that the male leads are pretty easy on the eyes didn’t hurt anything ( Supernatural is really nothing like anything else on the CW). The super-plot elements are hard to fully embrace at this point in the show, mostly because the tone is so much more melodramatic than it would become in later seasons. It’s also kind of obnoxious and cheap the way Papa Winchester is teased at the end of so many standalone episodes. The fourth and fifth seasons both used melodrama without too many cheap clichés, and earn some solid throat lumps and glossy eyeballs, but minus three dozen episodes of steadily improving character development season one’s teary moments are a bit silly. Really, Supernatural set out to be a show about monsters and standalone scares, so the first dozen episodes feel like they’ve come out of an altogether different series.

Another issue that overarches the early episodes is something I like to call the ‘Kim Manners Effect’. Manners, who died of lung cancer in early 2009, worked as producer and director on many similar television properties, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and most telling, The X-Files. Manners’ presence brought the show’s visuals to a strikingly theatrical level, but also (through no real fault of his own) prevented Supernatural from developing its own voice for a little while. The concept of two characters investigating the paranormal leads pretty obviously to comparisons between the series (I should know, I made them), but the basic flavours are very different following Supernatural’s second season. The Manners directed episodes (which he did not write, by the way) have especially X-Files-tinted styles. These include ‘Dead in the Water’ (episode three), ‘Bugs’ (episode eight), ‘Scarecrow’ (episode eleven) and ‘Shadow’ (episode sixteen). Manners bucks the trend by directing the season finale ‘Devil’s Trap’ (episode twenty-two), which is bogged down with necessary exposition and super-plot. According to information from behind the scenes Manners was instrumental in developing the show’s later, and more indelible style, so he deserves just as much credit for pulling Supernatural away from The X-Files.

Supernatural: Season One
The show’s referential nature is much more fun this second go around, mostly because I get that I’m supposed to be in on the joke, rather than misunderstanding and assuming creator Eric Kripke and Co. were ripping-off my old favourites. There are too many references to rattle them all off, but naming the future ‘Ghostfacers’ Zeddmore and Spengler is certainly among the most amusing. The comedic elements miss more than they hit at this early stage, but Ackles and Padalecki begin developing a more playful rapport about halfway through this collection, though it’s still pretty clear that the creators didn’t have much interest in comedy beyond the occasional levity at the time. ‘Hell House’ (episode seventeen) is the first time series writers really embrace the possibility of a majority comedic episode, a concept that would really be revisited with any regularity until Tick creator Ben Edlund became a regular series writer. Following that, ‘Provenance’ (episode nineteen) starts feeling out the horror/melodrama/comedy mix that has worked so well for the series since (this latest season has been a close to perfect balance of these elements).

Video


Supernatural went through some visual growing pains its first season. The producers and directors had a vision, and they stuck to it, but eventually realized they were wrong, and rectified the situation. This vision was one of desaturated colours, high contrast lighting, and an excess of blackness (taken to its extreme for episode three, ‘Dead in the Water’, and episode twelve, ‘Faith’). This look makes for a very different high definition experience compared to the other season releases. This transfer features more prevalent grain, harsher blooming whites, and generally muddier details. All these ‘issues’ are part of the design aesthetic, so excepting perhaps the grain, which can be a little extreme, they probably shouldn’t be seen as shortcomings. Having semi-recently watched several first season episodes on DVD I can definitely say this Blu-ray release is an upgrade, it’s just not as impressive an upgrade as the other season collections. The big differences are in the details, and the hues that escape the desaturation process. The lack of lighting makes for some pretty soft wide angle details, but the big close-ups are very sharp and hyperactive with facial pours, hairs and thread counts. The poppy primary colours bloom a bit, but don’t feature the pixilation and blocking that plagues the DVD transfer. The opening titles/previously on sequences are still pretty blocky, but the episodes themselves are clear as we can expect based on the show’s design.

Supernatural: Season One

Audio


So far none of the Supernatural Blu-ray releases have featured uncompressed audio, and this one is no different. The compressed, standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track is slightly louder and punchier than the DVD release’s Dolby Surround 2.0 track, but doesn’t compare to Disney’s DTS-HD TV on Blu-ray releases in terms of volume levels or clarity. As the series budget increased so did the intricacy of its sound design, so season one is a mostly frontal aural affair, with little spikes of surround and directional support. Usually these brief surround moments are of the ‘oh my god did you hear that creepy thing behind you’ variety, but there are a few aggressive episodes, like ‘Route 666’, which features some pretty loud car crash stuff. The series music has definitely improved over time, especially the dramatic mood music, which is downright dopey this first season. It gets to the point that you kind of hope someone will murder the piano player. The scary music, which is still pretty cliché ridden (not to mention very schizophrenic this season), works much better, and is probably the soundtrack’s most aggressive element, assuming we’re including the general creepy noise in this equation. There’s also the matter of ‘70s rock classics, which fit so very well into this universe. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard ‘Paranoid’, ‘Carry on My Wayward Son’ or ‘I’m Burning for You’ sound any better than they do here.

Extras


The people at the WB have put the effort into including a couple of new features for this Blu-ray release. The most substantial of the new extras is found on the fourth disc, and is called ‘The Devil’s Road Map’. This is an interactive map of the locations visited by the characters during the first season. The info on the map can be toggled using the Blu-ray remote’s colour buttons. The green button turns the icons into cars and reveals information on the making-of each episode, including interviews with creator David Kripke, director David Nutter, producers McG, Peter Johnson, Robert Singer, Philip Sgriccia,  and series writers/producers Sera Gamble and John Shiban. These occasionally feature a little bit of behind the scenes effects footage, most of these run about 02:30 to 03:00 (the first and last run closer to 05:00), and all are presented in HD video. The yellow button accesses the six ‘Dad’s Journal’ featurettes, which include and introduction, an origin, a look at design, and some of the content. Each section features interviews with the same crew members, and run about a minute a piece. The blue button switches on a series of text based guides to the places Sam and Dean stop throughout the season, along with information about the local legends. The section also features a sort of game, where the viewer clicks all three selections that feature a skull face. The reward is a featurette on the casting of Ackles and Padalecki.

Supernatural: Season One
Disc three features another Blu-ray exclusive (though I hear it was released as part of a Target exclusive DVD set in some territories) ‘Supernatural at the Museum of Television and Radio’s Paley Television Festival’ (72:10, HD). This is a rather dry panel discussion with Kripke, Peter Johnson, Kim Manners, John Shiban, Robert Singer, Ackles, and Padalecki. Screaming girls make the actor’s introduction take forever, but once questions are actually asked things are pretty informative.

The rest of the extras match what was already made available with the original DVD release, starting with two episode commentaries. The first commentary, on the pilot episode, features creator Eric Kripke, producer Peter Johnson and episode director David Nutter. The track features enough information to fill in some of the questions fans will likely have concerning the season as a whole, but mostly pertains to the pre-production, and the creation of this specific episode. The track runs out of steam pretty early, but the participants have a great rapport. The second track, which is conveniently enough, also located on the first disc (episode ‘The Phantom Traveler’), features series stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. Ackles and Padalecki also cover the genesis of the project more than the content of the specific episode, and tend to spend more time patting the rest of the cast and crew on the back than filling us in on the ins and outs of the series. The track is also quite dated, so the guys have chemistry, but aren’t quite the team they are these days. Still a fun track overall, including some amusing anecdotes from the Toronto set.

Supernatural: Season One
Disc four features two more original DVD featurettes. ‘Supernatural: Tales from the Edge of Darkness’ (22:50, SD) is a behind the scenes mini-doc featuring interviews with the cast and crew, much of it, but not all of it covered in the new ‘Devils Road Map’ section. Between the two extras and the commentaries you’ll get pretty much all the show’s pre-release history. ‘A Day in the Life of Jared and Jenson’ (10:40, SD) follows the two stars on a tour of a day on the set, including footage of them recording their commentary track. The collection ends with a gag reel (07:40, SD), and a series of deleted/extended scenes across the first three discs (‘Pilot’, ‘Wendigo’, ‘Phantom Traveler’, ‘Hook Man’, ‘Home’, ‘Scarecrow’, ‘Faith’ and ‘Nightmare’).

Overall


I’ve come around entirely on Supernatural, just like everyone said I would. This first season follows the lead set by just about every show in television history, and goes through some difficult spots. There’s nothing here I’d call genuinely bad (even ‘Bugs’), but there’s a sizable collection of mediocrity. Still, prospective viewers have to start somewhere, and about halfway through season one starts really coming together. Fans should be happy with this Blu-ray collection, though they might be surprised at the look of many episodes, which are much different from later seasons. The harsh contrasts and desaturated hues are a bit jarring, but perfectly represented in this new 1080p transfer. Sound is compressed, and not as impressive as later season releases, but works fine, assuming you’re willing to turn up the system a bit. The new extras are fun and informative, but don’t fill a lot of time, and repeat a lot of the same information already available on the DVD’s commentary and behind the scenes featurettes (which are available here in SD). Overall this is a solid upgrade and a suggested rental for those unfamiliar with the series. I’m even willing to go out on a limb and say that the first and last discs in the collection are the only two that need to be seen to understand the later seasons, just in case some readers find the task too daunting.

Supernatural: Season One
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release. I'm also not responsible for them making any male viewers question their sexuality.


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