Saturday, December 8, 2012

DVD Review: The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season.

The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season.

(Released 2011 by Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

After the events of 2010, I solemnly vowed to never again become involved with one of today’s ongoing, continuity- heavy, fantasy/ sci-fi/ adventure TV series. The unexpectedly abrupt ending of HEROES, the non-ending of FLASH FORWARD, and the short (un-happy?) run of HAPPY TOWN very likely cured me for life.

Alas, poor HEROES!
The only way I would ever take the plunge again would be if a series became a proven winner, and would “stick around” long enough to make any involvement on my part worth my while.

The already dim (if not outright forgotten) impressions of such series as THE CAPE, THE EVENT, TERRA NOVA (not even worth the effort of doing LINKS!), and more cancelled carrion continue to prove the wisdom of such a course.

If such a series emerged that delivered both the “goods” and reasonable longevity, thought I, DVD could “catch me up” and then become the medium through which I would follow it to its conclusion. FRINGE has proved to be such a series – and I will follow and enjoy it to its end, which will come in just one more DVD set.

Another such series, into which I’ve just taken the plunge, is AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD!

The AMC brand has already firmly established a reputation for quality, thanks to MAD MEN (a series I very much enjoy) and others, and said quality is fully realized in THE WALKING DEAD.
Did someone mention MAD MEN?
THE WALKING DEAD began life as a comic series by a creator named Robert Kirkman. I can’t say I gave it a spin, simply because of my general disenchantment with the state of the comics industry – and, for reasons best discussed in other forums, its publisher Image Comics in particular.

But, Kirkman clearly produced something special with his flesh-eating zombie tale, that caught the eye of producer Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) and the studios of cable giant AMC.

And, so… On Black Friday 2012, for the palrty sum of EIGHT DOLLARS (!), I ventured into the world of THE WALKING DEAD with this DVD set – and am I ever glad I did!

The set contains all six episodes of the inaugural season – a 90 minute pilot and five 60 minute episodes – with loads of Extra Features, for what would be the smallest fraction of the price of actually watching them on cable. (If it weren’t for my spouse and sports, I wouldn’t even have cable – but that, too, is best discussed in other forums).

THE WALKING DEAD is the story of King County, GA Sheriff’s Deputy “Rick Grimes” (played by Andrew Lincoln), who is hospitalized and in a coma after a car chase shoot out, and wakes up to find the world has changed.

Meet Rick Grimes
 The hospital is abandoned and is in complete disarray, as is the rest of the outside world – which just happens to be overrun with walking zombies and dead bodies all over! …Eeeek!

What was left of the Hospital!
Rick heads for his home, and finds that his wife “Lori” and young son “Carl” appear to have escaped whatever has happened. Along the way he takes refuge in a boarded-up house occupied by Morgan Jones and his young son Duane. Morgan tends to Rick’s wounds as best he can, fills him in on what little is known about the “Zombie Apocalypse” (very little), and the two part company.
See Rick walk!  Walk, Rick, walk!
On Morgan’s (inaccurate) advice of a safe haven, Rick heads for Atlanta – on horseback (!) after his automobile fuel runs out – only to find the city is completely taken over by the “flesh-eating fellas” that have come to be referred to as “walkers”. There is clear evidence that even the military has been overcome and run out of downtown Atlanta. Rick hides himself in an abandoned Army tank, as the “walkers” savagely devour his horse – leaving him in an episode-ending cliffhanger of classic proportions!

Visit Beautiful Atlanta with Rick Grimes!
The “walkers” appear to only eat living flesh (the Living SMELL differently from the Dead – so the “walkers’ get olfactory-alerts as to their quarry). But, if the Living are in such short supply, what DO the Dead EAT to keep themselves alive… OH, WAIT! Check that! They’re DEAD! Perhaps food is not required for sustenance – but is more like a physical addiction.

Also, as incongruous as this may sound, the “walking dead” can be “killed” by a gunshot (or other blunt or piercing blow) to the head.  If you are attacked by a “walker” just forcibly shove a screwdriver through their eye-socket (or sumpthin’) to get free! 
Oh, and a BITE from a "walker" will not only kill you -- but, eventually, cause you to become one of them, too! 
Rick and Friend.   Pass the screwdriver!
 Over the course of the next five episodes, Rick meets up with other “Living” survivors, joins a small survivor camp outside Atlanta – led by his former cop-partner “Shane”, who has temporarily taken up with Rick’s wife and son (Can you say “awkward?!”), and leads a band of survivors to The Center for Disease Control for one heck of a season finale!

Each episode ends with that same type of gut-kicking, “Gotta-See-The-Next-Episode-NOW!” type of moment that one routinely experienced when watching LOST!

Indeed, THE WALKING DEAD gives me that same overall feeling I got from LOST. The struggle for survival, the shifting character dynamics and interactions. There are even near-exact character parallels with LOST and THE WALKING DEAD:

Do those guys down there seem familiar?

Do those guys up there seem familiar?
Jack = Rick. Kate = Lori. Sawyer = Shane. (Forming something of a replication of LOST’s famous Jack/Kate/Sawyer Triangle). Locke = Dale or Daryl. Juliet = Andrea. Claire = Amy.
There’s even a correspondence with LOST’s “Desmond and The Hatch” in the CDC episode. Apologies to those reading this who have not seen LOST, or are unfamiliar with the characters of one or both shows – but, trust me, there ARE parallels aplenty. I can't wait until THE WALKING DEAD unleashes its version of Ben Linus!

Oddly, I get ANOTHER classic-TV vibe while watching THE WALKING DEAD… and that would be that it is also strangely akin to Irwin Allen’s LAND OF THE GIANTS!

Marooned and isolated survivors in a hidden camp, that could be attacked and invaded at any moment by an enemy that surrounds them – and occupies all of the rest of the known world. The ever-oppressing knowledge that you are NEVER TRULY SAFE! And, the intrepid human spirit that keeps them alive, despite the perils. That ability to have brief moments of joy before the next surprise danger leaps out at you -- be it a zombie or a giant. THE WALKING DEAD actually gives us an indication of how a property like LAND OF THE GIANTS could be reimagined for today’s audience. I hope someone gives it a try someday.

Make no mistake, THE WALKING DEAD features lots of explicitly graphic (and, frankly, GROSS) zombie action! That’s WHY most of us are here, after all. But it also offers a surprising amount of compelling, character-driven story to go along with it.

The iconic "Bicycle Girl" - You'll never forget her!

And, like LOST before it, we are left with many more questions than answers – not the least of which is the story of the “Zombie Apocalypse”. NO SPOILERS, PLEASE! I’m enjoying this well “behind the curve” and want to remain surprised at whatever may follow!

As a DVD package “THE WALKING DEAD The Complete First Season” offers many Extra Features. Among them:

“The Making of THE WALKING DEAD”. (Runs 29:53) includes contributions from Producers Frank Darabont, Gale Anne Hurd, and Greg Nicotero (who is also responsible for the show’s incredible make-up work), Creator Robert Kirkman, and Andrew Lincoln (Rick), Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori), Jon Bernthal (Shane), Laurie Holden (Andrea), Steven Yeun (Glenn), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), Lennie James (Morgan), and other cast members.

The cast!
 Darabont describes the classic film Night of the Living Dead by George Romero as “The Book of Genesis” for the whole idea.
Nicotero calls it “The TWILIGHT ZONE of our generation!”
There are 5-6 minute featurettes dedicated to looking behind each of the six episodes, with participation from producers and cast.

No episode commentaries are included in the particular set I discuss here – but there has been a subsequent, more deluxe version that does include commentaries.

Other features and a commercial trailer round out the set.

There's even an eleven and a half minute distillation of a 2010 Comic-Con International San Diego "Walking Dead" panel with creators, producers, and cast members, that took place during the shooting of Episode 4. 

The familiar sights, sounds, and overall feel of those huge packed San Diego Convention Center meeting halls brings back memories of my being at similar panels for things like the Batman and Superman Animated Series!  Ah... Those were the days!  Needless to say, creator Robert Kirkman is loved by all of the fans of his comic that make up the crowd. 

One major “CON”:  There is NO LISTING OF EPISODES on or inside the package.  You can only get this information off of the disc menus!   With only SIX episodes contained herein, why should this be the case?

 THE WALKING DEAD has been very enjoyable (…indeed, unexpectedly so!) thus far, and I look forward to Seasons Two and beyond.

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