"The Walking Dead - Season 1" Blu-ray Review
March 07, 2011 by Zach Demeter
In a time when vampires reign supreme it’s nice to see that other horror staples are seeing a revival in interest as well. While zombies have been around in film and TV (though mostly film) since Romero brought them to life (so to speak) so many years ago, they’ve recently seen a resurgence. Whether it’s Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake or Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, there are plenty of modern day interpretations of the undead and The Walking Dead is just another such portrayal of what will happen when the undead walk the Earth. I say “when” because we all know it’s inevitable, so stock up on those shotgun shells!
After waking from a coma in an abandoned hospital, police officer Rick Grimes finds the world he knew gone - ravaged by a zombie epidemic of apocalyptic proportions. Nearby, on the outskirts of Atlanta, a small encampment struggles to survive as 'the dead' stalk them at every turn. Can Rick and the others hold onto their humanity as they fight to live in this terrifying new world? And, amidst dire conditions and personal rivalries, will they ultimately survive one another? AMC’s The Walking Dead is an epic, survival adventure series from the director of The Shawshank Redemption and the producer of The Terminator and Aliens.
What has grounded the zombie mythos in reality (somewhat) is the idea that it’s just a disease or infection that spreads rapidly from person to person. While zombies have a varied history that compares with vampires in terms of how much they differ from writer to writer, they all seem to share a love of brains and moaning/shuffling about. Such is the case with AMC’s The Walking Dead, a show I was jazzed about since I originally heard it was going into production. My favorite kind of zombie stories are those that focus on the earliest stages of an outbreak, where there’s confusion and the gradual reveal of what and why the zombies get there. My least favorite part of such films are often the endings as with films you have to wrap it up in a bow otherwise the studio and audience is disgusted at the lack of pay off. With a TV show, however, there isn’t necessarily an ending you need to have in place immediately; you can dwell on certain characters or stories without concern that they’re going to take up too much time.
Within minutes of the series opening you have to wonder how much of 28 Days Later they were trying to rip off. I was initially let down because it seemed so identical to that film, but that disappointment was quickly alleviated by the transition between characters and stories. While we focused almost exclusively on the character of Rick Grimes for the first few episodes, we eventually branch off into other areas. It’s here we really get into the meat (pardon me) of the series as our characters are deciphered more and we get deeper and deeper into the plague that is taking over entire cities, states, and continents. There aren’t a lot of scary moments in the series so much as grotesque and gruesome ones; zombies are slow by their very nature so it isn’t until you get trapped in a group of them does it become an issue.
Really this series is kind of just an amalgam of past zombie movies best moments that are tweaked and filled with original characters. There are some of the usual stereotypes here, but what helps is the caliber of acting we get out of this cast; there are some TV veterans you will remember, but for the most part these are fresh faces to American audiences so we aren’t forced to have to overlook a massive mount of star power to dive into believable characters. When we don’t know who the actors are or the roles they most often play then we aren’t given pre-conceived notions about who the characters are. It’s essentially making it impossible for us to “judge a book by its cover,” as these books (actors) have no covers.
Moving on past that though the real reason most people watch this series is for the zombie carnage and…I gotta say, I didn’t think a series rated TV-14 could pack this much violence into it. I am truly astonished by the gore and zombie dismemberment that is on the screen at any given time. Some of it truly gruesome, some of it (most of it) a welcome return for those thirsty for zombies being decapitated. Plus there’s a fun bit with a Dodge Challenger…but it is quickly put on blocks for its tires and fuel, which I don’t totally understand the wheel part. I mean what did that Challenger ever do to anyone but look awesome?
In any case this is a series that is Highly Recommended to zombie aficionados. I hesitate to recommend it to anyone else because it is so terribly and truly invested in the zombie genre that if you don’t already like it then you probably won’t like the series (unless you’re attracted to the whole apocalypse notion as well). Still for those of us that do this is a real gold mine of a series…and I absolutely cannot wait for more of it.
Anchor Bay/Starz toss out The Walking Dead in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with the two discs housed inside. A cardboard slipcover adorns the outside, but the coolest bit of packaging I saw for this set will sadly go unseen by many. When the set was delivered to my front door I observed what I thought was a dirty boot print by the Fed Ex driver (we’ve all seen the packages with black smudges on them, this is what it looked like at first). I didn’t pay much attention to it and just opened it up to see what had arrived. Inside I saw the Blu-ray set as well as a very nicely done foldout booklet of information and images from the series. I then returned to the envelope itself and saw the boot print was red and that it was slightly tacky—the press house handling the review copies actually stamped a bloody bootprint on the outside of the bubble mailer. How awesome was that? At least I hope that’s what it was, otherwise I may have some evidence that someone was murdered…
Moving onto the video we get an AVC encoded 1.78:1 transfer that looks pretty damn nice. There are moments of softness in the picture, but for the most part there is just tons of detail to take in at any given time. Whether it’s zombies blowing/falling apart or dirt on characters faces or their town clothes, there is a lot of great looking detail to be gleaned from this transfer. Add on top of that a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that reverbs and bounces around the room like a bullet inside of a tank (an awesome sounding scene, by the way) and you have a very formidable A/V package for a zombie apocalypse series.
• The Making of The Walking Dead (29:53, 1080p)
• Inside The Walking Dead (1-2 minutes each, 1080p)
• A Sneak Peek with Robert Kirkman (4:51, 1080p)
• Behind the Scenes Zombie Make-Up Tips (6:45, 1080p)
• Convention Panel with Producers (11:32, 1080p)
• The Walking Dead Trailer (1:04, 1080p)
• Zombie School (2:59, 1080p)
• Bicycle Girl (5:06, 1080p)
• On Set with Robert Kirkman (3:07, 1080p)
• Hanging with Steven Yeun (3:52, 1080p)
• Inside Dale's RV (3:25, 1080p)
• On Set with Andrew Lincoln (3:46, 1080p)
You may look at that list and go “wow that’s a lot of extras!,” but that’s only because they split it up so much. In reality we barely get over an hours worth of extras out of that long list, which still isn’t bad but when there aren’t any commentaries to add to the mix it becomes a rather lonely bunch of extras, many (or all) of which you’ll probably watch once and never again. I would’ve loved to at least get some commentaries out of Darabont, but I guess that will have to wait until the season two set (hopefully).
In the end this is still a Recommended set, not only because of how great the series and A/V are, but also because it’s pretty damn cheap—only $22.99 on Amazon as of this writing.
The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on March 8th.