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Following a particularly explosive shootout, small town sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is hospitalized with a gunshot wound on his side. Rick sits in a coma for an untold period of time, and awakens to a nightmare world where the dead walk in an effort to eat the flesh of the living. Rick shakes off the horror of the situation, saddles up (literally), and heads out into the zombie wilderness in search of his missing family.

Walking Dead: Season One, The
We now live in a world where a weekly television series about a living dead apocalypse doesn’t only exist, but is popular and has garnered huge critical praise. If this is what a decade of saturating the horror genre with George Romero inspired zombie holocausts leads, I’m happy to have weathered the worst of them. As many probably know, Dawn of the Dead (1978) is my single favourite motion picture of all time, mostly because the story is such a perfect mix of horror, satire and melodrama. Romero’s original script was reportedly as thick as a phonebook, and frankly I could watch a version with every scene and stitch of dialogue left in tact, even if it was 10 hours long. The subgenre lends itself spectacularly to the serial format, and it’s a good thing writer Robert Kirkman, author of other derivative but enjoyable properties like Invincible, saw fit to adapt it to a weekly comic book. It’s a better thing that Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd saw fit to adapt that comic to television, and an even better thing that AMC, the studio behind Mad Men and Breaking Bad, saw fit to take the project on.

I’m not a massive fan of Robert Kirkman’s comic. Though it’s probably the best zombie comic I’ve ever read, the dialogue often tilts towards the corny and the plot can be maddeningly listless (I often confuse its repetitive story arcs in my mind with those of Brian K. Vaughn’s superior end of the world epic Y: The Last Man). There is plenty of room for improvement, and following the near perfection that was The Mist, I could think of much worse candidates for adaptation than Darabont. The pilot episode follows the first couple issues of the comic pretty closely, but there are some solid and important changes made, and the majority of these changes are for the better. Discussing the changes in too much detail would constitute major spoilers, but I can cover some of them in relatively vague terms. The most important change is the deepening of Shane Walsh (as played by Jon Bernthal), Rick’s best friend and the man who takes his place as husband and father in his absence. In the comic Shane is a pretty thinly drawn (excuse the pun) antagonist, and following some general villainy he’s (spoiler) done away with pretty quickly, and in a pretty ridiculous manner (/spoiler). The flashback at the beginning of the sixth episode in particular opens the character up to more interesting momentum, and his survival to the second season gives hope for an even broader scope of grey areas.

Walking Dead: Season One, The
On the other hand, one of the biggest changes, the inclusion of the Dixon brothers, Merle (Michael Rooker) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) is a touch and go situation. The characters widen the scope of the story, and add quite a bit of drama, but as people they’re a bit thinly written, and depend too much on the actors to fill in the cracks. More upsetting is the fact that Merle’s arc is cut short (pun!), and ends so vaguely I’m not sure he served any purpose beyond that of a MacGuffin. His fate is arguable, but there’s really nothing to say he was needed, especially since the comic, minus both characters, arrives at the same basic plot conclusions. The season’s sixth and last episode is another problematic near failure for its changes. Besides the writing being a little too ‘on the nose’ following five episodes of rather natural character reactions and plot points (again, I’ll avoid spoilers, but assume most readers that have seen the series know generally what I’m talking about), the inclusion of a silly action movie countdown, and the introduction of scientific explanations is a slippery slope deftly avoided by the likes of Romero, Fulci and even Dan O’Bannon. This new material could lead later seasons to exciting and smart places, but also threatens to turn the series into something entirely too akin to Lost. I don’t really like the episode, but don’t want to consider it a sign of bad things to come just yet.

The Walking Dead pays subtle homage to zombie classics throughout, or at least I think it does. Perhaps I was just seeing things that weren’t intended, but in the first episode alone we see a very Fulci-esque series of almost mummified dead (which were in the comic), a random cricket bat in the Grimes house ( Shaun of the Dead?), and a man in black that wonders towards Rick in a very similar manner to the first zombie in the original Night of the Living Dead. I like the zombie rules used for the series, which basically match the Romero-verse, though these living dead maintain a little more motor skill than the stiffened morons of George’s Dead series. They don’t run, but they do tend to move a little more quickly when meat is within grabbing distance, and in this universe humans aren’t the only meat. More importantly, the zombies are both threatening and pathetic in equal measures. The constant humanization of the zombies worked for me, but I can see how this moral streak could bother the more hardcore members of the audience. I’m assuming the show’s insistence on focusing on the more emotional aspects of a zombie apocalypse that is what got the series so much fervent critical praise. Not that modern critics don’t 'get' horror, but frankly, they kind of don’t.

Walking Dead: Season One, The

Video


The Walking Dead is a black and white comic, and Frank Darabont has made it clear that he enjoys pulpy mono-coloured horror dramas, so it’s not surprising that this series is relatively desaturated, especially when compared to the vast majority of Blu-ray television series I’ve reviewed, which tend to be higher in contrast like Lost, or particularly vibrant like Weeds. There’s a nice layer of fine grain over the entire series, and it does increase with lack of light. Details are sharp in close-up, but tend to blur out a bit in wider shots. All these signs point to one not so surprising answer – this series is shot on 16mm film. In this day and age of digital HD cameras this choice is actually kind of daring, but certainly doesn’t lead to the most impressive HD transfer. Sometimes the image quality drops sharply from shot to shot, featuring more grain, and/or detail loss. Occasionally these not-so-hot shots also feature a thick force-field of white edge enhancement. The scenes shot on the roof during the second episode are oddly among the most consistently bad looking on the entire disc, possibly because they weren’t actually filmed on a rooftop and the effects budget requires a bit of smudging. Sometimes, a particularly vibrant hue will pop out of the relative desaturation, especially the green of plants. The juxtaposition of the lush, living landscape and grey, dirty humanity is pretty common actually (including a generally dull human wardrobe), and the reds and oranges of the living world do pop regularly even against the leafy greens (with some minor bleeding in some cases), despite the general dishwater look.

Walking Dead: Season One, The

Audio


Though not as aggressive as some big budget major studio shows, The Walking Dead does have its action flick moments, and they do sound sweet on this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. Good examples start with the plot inducing car crash and shootout, and include the big zombie raid on the camp and a number of other scuffles featuring guns and zombies. Often the loudest elements outside the dialogue are the gooey, chunky splats of violence. In this particular universe a gun a zombie biting into a throat creates a sound roughly the same volume as a gun shot to the head. The more subtle effects are ultimately more satisfying, including rolling thunder, pattering rain, chattering cicadas, and of course, creepy, moaning zombies. There are also some unfortunate effects, like the opening of doors or the switching on of radio receivers, which are too obviously taken from some kind of library source, and these do stand out as artificial among the otherwise naturalistic sounds.

Walking Dead: Season One, The

Extras


The first disc in this two disc set features no extra features. Disc two extras start with a series of featurettes, many of which were available from iTunes when the show premiered. ‘The Making of The Walking Dead’ (29:50, HD) is a decent behind the scenes discussion with Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman, Gale Ann Hurd, FX man Greg Nicotero, and other cast and crew. It’s a fluffy sales piece at its base, but there are some cool facts, such as AMC’s insistence that the show’s narrative be slowed down. The actors discussing their characters, and Kirkman discussing the changes made to his story are also pluses. Next up are a series of ‘Inside The Walking Dead’ featurettes, one for each episode (each in HD, and each running between 5:00 and 5:30). These are similar to other ‘Inside’ featurettes AMC makes available with their other series, like Mad Men. None of these are spectacular, but it’s cool to hear what the actors have to say about their characters, especially since there aren’t any audio commentaries. ‘A Sneak Peek with Robert Kirkman’ (4:50, HD) is an unneeded bit of fluff that practically matches the ‘Making of’ featurette. ‘Behind the Scenes Make-up Tips’ (6:50, HD) is a fun, brief ‘how-to’ video, which is especially valuable because everything the make-up artist uses is available to the general public. The featurettes area is wrapped up with the San Diego Comic Con panel discussion with the producers (11:30, HD), and a series trailer.

The second disc also features a collection of ‘Extra Footage’ (that’s code for website downloadables), a series of short behind the scenes snippets including ‘Zombie School’ (3:00, HD), ‘Bicycle Girl’ (5:00, HD), ‘On Set with Robert Kirkman’ (3:10, HD), ‘Hanging with Steven Yeun’ (3:50, HD), ‘Inside Dale’s RV’ (3:30, HD) and ‘On Set with Andrew Lincoln’ (3:50, HD).

Walking Dead: Season One, The

Overall


As an utter nerd, I find the most exciting possible outcome following the success of The Walking Dead isn’t the possibility of more well produced horror television (I’m sure those would come around some day without), but the possibility of more television adaptations of adult aimed comic books. There’s been talk of adapting Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man and Garth Ennis’ Preacher to television for years now, but both keep failing in the production phases, and standalone feature film adaptations have been threatened. Last word also established that the rights to Bill Willingham’s Fables had been snatched up by ABC, and FX had greenlit a pilot of Brian Michael Bendis’ Powers. If The Walking Dead leads to just one solid TV version of any of these properties, I don’t even care if the next season is any good. But I’m assuming it will be, as long as the writers keep it away from Lost territory. Fans should be aware that the show was mostly shot on 16mm film, so this Blu-ray transfer isn’t particularly impressive, and expectations should be tempered. The extras aren’t the best either, but feature some solid info and entertainment value.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.


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