"Fringe - The Complete First Season" DVD Review

September 02, 2009 by Zach Demeter

Anyone who is a fan of sci-fi or fantasy films has no doubt heard of J.J. Abrams. Starting out with the ABC series Alias, Abrams branched out with the mind bending Lost and went onto direct the Star Trek reboot that brought in scores of new fans to the series and genre. But before the latest season of Lost started and Star Trek debuted in theaters, fans of Abrams got to take a look at his latest project: the Fox network’s Fringe. Merging reality together with science that we can only dream of, Fringe made for a fantastic addition to the Fox lineup, bringing a genre back to Fox that it hadn’t seen since the 90s. Judging by the series quick pick-up, nearly commercial free broadcasting and rampant number of fans, it’s clear that Fox (and Abrams) once again have a series with a rabid fan base that won’t easily let go.

Synopsis
Teleportation. Mind control. Invisibility. Astral projection. Mutation. Reanimation. Phenomena that exist on the Fringe of science unleash their strange powers in this thrilling series, co-created by J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias), combining the grit of the police procedural with the excitement of the unknown. The story revolves around three unlikely colleagues – a beautiful young FBI agent, a brilliant scientist who’s spent the last 17 years in a mental institution and the scientist’s sardonic son – who investigate a series of bizarre deaths and disasters known as “the pattern.” Someone is using our world as an experimental lab. And all clues lead to Massive Dynamic, a shadowy global corporation that may be more powerful than any nation.

When the pilot first debuted I was suffering through a two week long power outage at my mouse (damn hurricanes) and when I would get near an internet connection for my laptop, I would eagerly lap up whatever information and news I could glean before my battery went dead. At one point, however, I sacrificed precious battery life to watch the pilot of Fringe, which I’d heard nothing but good things about and being a huge Abrams fan didn’t hurt either. I settled in to watch the double long episode and…well, needless to say I’d wished I’d done something else with the battery life on my computer.

No doubt I would’ve enjoyed it more if I wasn’t in a situation where watching the pilot was all I could do for a day until I found another power source, but as everyone around me continued to watch the series I couldn’t understand why they found it to be so fascinating. I would repeatedly say things like “I liked this show better when it was called X-Files,” which worked around the people who didn't know me, but those who did were quick to quip back "You never watched X-Files!” and my argument went to pot. Truth is I don’t know why I was so reluctant to watch Fringe, but my plate of shows to watch last season was so hefty that I was looking for any excuse to drop a few from it.

But…cue this home video release of the series and I once again give it another chance. I re-watched the pilot and enjoyed it a bit better but three or four episodes into the season and I still wasn’t completely convinced that this was some remarkable new show that I had to watch. It didn’t grip you in any real way in terms of the characters presented on it; they all had their own unique flaws which made for an interesting show, but it wasn’t enough in that it brought you back each week, eager for more.

No, what makes this show so addictive becomes evident when the overall season arc unfolds. While I’m still not sure what the pattern is (if it exists at all) or what everyone’s true intentions and motivations are, it’s these questions that keep you coming back. Even if the eventual answers end up being unsatisfying (ala Lost) the ride to get to them is nothing short of fantastic. The series delivers the questions and other stories each week with fantastic reliability, never really falter and always leaving you with more and more questions. In one way this can be aggravating and in another it doesn’t really matter; you know you’re watching this show for more of the unknown and that’s what really makes the show so fascinating to watch…you just never know what you’re going to get.

Well that’s not entirely true. The show does have some predictability about it and after the first couple discs in this set I wondered if the shows only intention was to make me queasy due to the amount of gore and nasty visuals that grace the screen. Occasionally we get a bad looking CGI additive to the series, but for the most part it’s decapitated, exploding, and bloody bodies all around. The exploding head in the diner still sticks out in my head as one of the most gruesome elements of the series and by the time the chest-burster full of larvae happened, I was almost inoculated against any other gruesome attacks this series might have for my eyeballs.

Some of the characters in the series are also slightly predictable. While questions still surround Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and her past, the other two primary characters of the show are where most of the mystery lies. At the same time, however, these two characters are the slowest to progress; Walter Bishop (John Noble) is repetitiously insane and making off color jokes that make you snort out a burst of laughter as it often comes at unpredictable or improper moments. Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) seems to be wanted by some people, yet we rarely see much of them and the glimpses into his past that we do receive are brief. I’m sure they’ll turn out to be some major consequence in a future season (especially with the slight bombshell at the end of the season that we receive regarding the Bishop’s), but for now their characters are pretty by the books and have predictable attitudes in each episode and situation.

Still, if this show didn’t have some kind of anchor to grab onto each episode we’d be lost and never really understand what’s going to happen. That repetition is good for a series like this, as the occurrences of the world they inhabit is strange enough as is, so it gives us something to always look forward to in each episode, lest we be bored by whatever freak of the week type scenario we’re painted. That is really the only other complaint I have about the show—it tends to deviate from the central plot for two or three episodes at a time before returning to the overall season-wide arc. The Jones character had a particular habit of appearing and disappearing for stretches of time in the show, which obviously gave his character time to prepare things but when the series suddenly snapped back to the man’s escape from a German prison, I was a bit confused as that escape had happened two or three episodes prior (I literally watched this series in the span of two days, so it all runs together a bit).

There’s a lot to enjoy about this series and if you’re a fan of sci-fi then it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s a bit of a slow start but the characters and stories are highly entertaining and, most importantly, the show also has a sense of humor about it all so while it’s like a mash up between X-Files and CSI, it’s also got enough originality going for it that it remains something you can watch each week with great interest. Plus the limited commercials and extended episode runtimes is a plus. Overall a series that comes Highly Recommended--it just has a bit of a slow start there at the beginning, but once you become acclimated with the way of storytelling and the cast, it becomes a very enjoyable series.

The DVD
Fringe’s first season arrives on DVD and Blu-ray in a respectable way: loaded with extras and packaged in a fancy lenticular package that has a shot of the “pattern” and a three column shot of the main actors of the show as the alternate image. Inside the slipcase is a case that houses the discs for the set, all housed in the Viva Multi-Pak style housing. Disc art is that of the symbols and image bumpers seen during the show and also included is a full size booklet that lists disc contents and episode descriptions. Menu’s are simple and easy to navigate and video and audio for the DVD release is as expected: a solid transfer with great colors and detail and a 5.1 sound mix that makes use of the shows unique sound effects. Dialogue is clean and clear and center channel focused, while surrounds get pushed around with the action sequences.

Extras…hoo wee, there is a huge crop here. Included are:

Evolution: The Genesis of Fringe featurette - The creators of the show discuss how the series unfolded and the qualities that make it so unique
Behind the Real Science of Fringe featurette - From teleportation to re-animation, Fringe incorporates recent discoveries in science. Consulting experts and scientists who are the authorities in their field address the areas of science which are the inspiration for the show.
A Massive Undertaking: The Making of Fringe (on select episodes) - An in-depth exploration of how select episodes came to be made: from the frozen far reaches of shooting the pilot in Toronto, to the weekly challenges of bringing episodes to air
The Casting of Fringe - The story, as told by producers and cast, of how Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble and others came to be cast in the series.
Fringe Visual Effects featurette - Goes deep into the creation of the shared dream state with some of the biggest VFX shots of the show.
Dissected Files: Unaired Scenes
Unusual Side Effects: Gag Reel
Fringe: Deciphering the Scene
Roberto Orci Production Diary
Gene the Cow montage
Three Full-Length Commentaries from writers/producers, including J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtman, J.R. Orci, David Goodman, Bryan Burk, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner

There is so much to check out here, but the highlights are definitely the healthy dosage of featurettes (that are actually worth watching and not just fluffy EPK pieces) as well as the episode specific “Massive Undertaking” pieces that accompany specific episodes. There are only three commentaries (“Pilot,” “The Ghost Network,” “Bad Dreams”) but they’re well worth listening to as they not only discuss the episodes themselves but also the overall ideas of the season/show in general. Really solid listens all around. The other extras, ranging from deleted/unaired scenes to a good ol’ gag reel, are predictable but still a lot of fun to check out.

Overall a fantastic set of extras for a fantastic series. While it’s not Mad Men exhaustive, the extras do delve into the season quite well (and the extras are even marked with Spoiler Warnings for those who haven’t watched the entire season yet…nice of them to do, as I almost watched some of the disc one extras before I proceeded with the rest of the season) and as a result this set comes Highly Recommended.

Fringe – The Complete First Season arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on September 8th.

 

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