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"Da Vinci's Demons" The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review

Da Vinci's Demons: The Complete First Season Blu-ray cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Da Vinci's Demons: Season One (2013)
Show and Blu-ray Details

Creator: David S. Goyer / Producers: Corey Reed (co-producer), Brian Nelson (consulting), Lee Morris (producer), Courtney B. Conte (co-executive); Jane Tranter, Julie Gardner, David S. Goyer (executive)

Writers: David S. Goyer, Scott M. Gimple, Brian Nelson, Corey Reed, Joe Ahearne, Jami O'Brien, Marco Ramirez, Sarah Goldfinger / Directors: David S. Goyer, Jamie Payne, Paul Wilmshurst, Michael J. Bassett

Regular Cast: Tom Riley (Leonardo da Vinci), Laura Haddock (Lucrezia Donati), Blake Ritson (Count Girolamo Riario), Elliot Cowan (Lorenzo de Medici), Lara Pulver (Clarice Orsini), Gregg Chillin (Zoroaster), Tom Bateman (Giuliano de Medici), Eros Vlahos (Nico), Hera Hilmar (Vanessa), David Schofield (Piero da Vinci), James Faulkner (Pope Sixtus IV), Allan Corduner (Andrea del Verrocchio), Nick Dunning (Lupo Mercuri), Elliot Levey (Francesco Pazzi)

Recurring Cast Members: Alexander Siddig (Aslan Al-Rahim/"The Turk"), Michael Elwyn (Gentile Becchi), Vincent Riotta (Federico da Montefeltro), Michael Culkin (Jacopo Pazzi), Shaun Parkes (Solomon Ogbai/"The Abyssinian"), Ian Pirie (Captain Nazzareno Dragonetti), Christopher Elson (Jacopo Saltarelli), Nicholas Rowe (Cardinal Orsini), Ross O'Hennessey (Commander Quattrone), Ken Bones (Avraham ben Yosef/"The Jew"), Paul Westwood (Niccolo Ardinghelli), Stephen Marzella (Antonio Maffei da Volterra)

Notable Guest Stars: Paul Rhys (Vlad III), Fiona Dolman (Anna Donati)

Running Time: 460 Minutes (8 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-MA on air)

1.78:1 Widescreen / Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Mono 2.0 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled in English
Season 1 Airdates: April 12, 2013 - June 7, 2013
Blu-ray Release Date: September 3, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $54.99 SRP
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50s) / Digipak in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($44.98 SRP)

Buy Da Vinci's Demons: The Complete First Season from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD

Screenwriter David S. Goyer has experienced a lifetime's worth of ups and downs in just a little over two decades. Goyer began at the bottom, penning genre B-movies like Kickboxer 2: The Road Back and The Crow: City of Angels over the bulk of the '90s. Then, in 1998, Goyer had a hand in Alex Proyas' esteemed sci-fi indie Dark City and was the sole credited writer of Blade. Though the former won raves, it was the latter that did strong business and established a comfort zone for the rising 32-year-old.

Goyer would follow the Wesley Snipes vampire action franchise through, picking up his first theatrical directing credit on 2004's threequel Blade: Trinity. Though not a great or successful movie by any measure, by then Goyer was already looking ahead to bigger and better gigs. He received story and, with director Christopher Nolan, screenplay credit for Batman Begins (2005), a reboot that slowly revealed itself to be the start of something special. Goyer would take story credit on both of that superhero film's blockbuster sequels and recently reteamed with Nolan for the Zack Snyder-directed Superman reboot Man of Steel.

You'd think that involvement in revivals of cinema's two oldest and most iconic superheroes would be occupation enough for Goyer over these past few years or that it would escalate him to a position of immovable power and security. But in between those landmark contributions, Goyer has dabbled in smaller venues and repeatedly struck out. He was attributed with the story and screenplay of a rare Marvel Studios misfire, 2012's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Goyer also wrote Jumper and The Unborn, and directed The Invisible, all of them critical duds. His first two tries at creating and show-running television series -- Spike's "Blade: The Series" and ABC's "FlashForward" (envisioned as a spiritual successor to "Lost") -- were each canceled after just one season.

Goyer's third TV show has already avoided such a fate. As a Starz original, "Da Vinci's Demons" didn't have the demands or restrictions of network television or basic cable. The record 2.14 million viewers reached in the show's first weekend was enough to get the growing premium cable channel to renew this hour-long drama for a second season. That will give Goyer something to do when he's not working on one of the most anticipated movies of 2015, Man of Steel's crossover sequel tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman.

The Starz drama "Da Vinci's Demons" portrays Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) as a dreamy and irreverent young genius/fighter/lover.

Unaffiliated with Dan Brown's similarly-titled series of bestselling novels, "Da Vinci's Demons" centers on the real Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance artist best known for painting the Mona Lisa. "Demons" does for da Vinci what Guy Ritchie's movies do for Sherlock Holmes, turning the famed figure into a 21st century-accessible action hero with both brains and brawn.

Set in 15th century Italy, the series shows us da Vinci (Tom Riley, a lightly seasoned Brit unknown to American audiences) as a young, free-thinking, self-described heretic full of ideas and arrogance. He is not just a respected artist, but also a genius inventor with the know-how to build unimaginable weapons of warcraft, a lover of beautiful women (and the occasional young man), a bastard who remains haunted by a Batman-like past, a recreational drug user, an ambidextrous swordsman, and a dreamer who's jarred by visions of the future.

Even though the material and the Renaissance setting do not at all seem to lend to it, the show lives up to expectations for Starz original programming, regularly supplying sex, violence, and profanity. There is also plentiful use of cheap CGI and green screen effects to artificially present domes and other opulent settings. The local cast of this U.S.-funded U.K. production use British accents to portray these mostly historical Mediterranean figures. The show repeatedly resorts to animation to depict the workings of da Vinci's brilliant mind.

Pope's nephew and guard Count Girolamo Riario (Blake Ritson) is devoted to protecting Rome from Florence. Da Vinci is one of three men who get to bed the duplicitous Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock).

"Da Vinci's Demons" is historical fiction, with the emphasis on the "fiction." Goyer and his collaborators have done research, not to enlighten us, but to fuel, in typical Starz fashion, a pulp alternative to stately costume dramas. Bared breasts, penises, and severed limbs abound. Graphic gore is dispensed casually, seemingly under the assumption that viewers have been desensitized by the various incarnations of "Spartacus" whose Friday night 9 PM timeslot "Demons" inherits.

The bloody, steamy depictions are enough to inspire a future Dan Brown mystery. The Roman Catholic Church is portrayed as barbaric and ruthless, led by a pedophiliac pope (James Faulkner) and defended by his detestable nephew (Blake Ritson). Da Vinci sets his eyes on Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock),
the duplicitous mistress of Lorenzo de'Medici (Elliot Cowan), the powerful Florentine statesman who employs both da Vinci and his nasty illegitimate father (David Schofield). There's also the threat of war emerging from da Vinci's development of weapons for Florence. And then there's da Vinci's personal hunt; approached by the enigmatic face of the secret society Sons of Mithras, the visionary ventures to locate the Book of Leaves, a fabled collection of all the world's secrets.

The show is easy to watch, but not easy to get hooked on. You quickly familiarize yourself with an interesting cast of characters, but do not particularly care for their well-being, motivations, or schemes. Lacking a great deal of substance beyond the "mature" content, this appears to be the very model of a lesser Starz drama, something that's just a smidge better than single season casualty "Camelot."

A few months after airing and nineteen days before competing for only minor Emmy Awards, The Complete First Season of "Da Vinci's Demons" hits DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday.

Lorenzo de Medici (Elliot Cowan) accepts Leonardo's warcraft pitch with skepticism. Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) has a scientific explanation for the hysteria displayed by convent nuns in "The Prisoner."

Disc 1

1. The Hanged Man (58:55) (Originally aired April 12, 2013)
Da Vinci uses his interest in Lucrezia Donati to ask to be made a military engineer for the House of Medici.

2. The Serpent (58:08) (Originally aired April 19, 2013)
Young sidekick Nico (Eros Vlahos) is questioned about his involvement in da Vinci's grave robbing of a Jew hanged for unproven theft. After his pipe organ musket fails a test, da Vinci is given one week to fix its problems.

3. The Prisoner (58:10) (Originally aired April 26, 2013)
The House of Medici tries to weed out the spy leaking information to Rome. As da Vinci searches for alternate explanations, an exorcist is called to a convent believed to be a site for demonic possessions.

Piero da Vinci (David Schofield) reluctantly defends his illegitimate son on sodomy charges in "The Tower." The frightening Vlad III (Paul Rhys), a.k.a. Count Dracula, finds da Vinci and friends in his castle in "The Devil."

Disc 2

4. The Magician (58:06) (Originally aired May 3, 2013)
The Pope declares war on Florence if the Medicis don't cooperate, prompting a daring response from da Vinci.

5. The Tower (57:14) (Originally aired May 10, 2013)
Da Vinci sits on trial for sodomy charges, begrudgingly represented by his father. Meanwhile, Medici's brother (Tom Bateman) oversees the staging of the bawdy play The Decameron.

6. The Devil (53:59) (Originally aired May 17, 2013)
In his continuing search for the Book of Leaves, da Vinci winds up at the castle of immortal, soulless, Turk-hating, Lucifer-worshipping Vlad III (the real-life Count Dracula) with his teenaged page Nico and charlatan friend Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin). Meanwhile, preoccupied with finding the Medicis' true spy, Giuliano turns down an invite to attend a social function with his brother's wife.

Pope Sixtus IV (James Faulkner) welcomes Leonardo to his secret archive in "The Hierophant." Stuff gets real in the first Da Vinci's Demons season finale when violence breaks out in the middle of a religious ceremony.

7. The Hierophant (57:53) (Originally aired May 31, 2013)
Da Vinci tries to infiltrate the Pope's secret archive. Others plan an attack on the Medici brothers.

8. The Lovers (57:28) (Originally aired June 7, 2013)
With both keys for the Vault of Heaven in tow,
da Vinci, Nico and Zoroaster go looking for the Book of Leaves. A Medici wedding is targeted by foes of Florence.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray sports extremely sharp and clean 1.78:1 widescreen picture and lively Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound. Between the stunning video and potent, expansive audio (whose very slight lip-synching issues may or may not be reproducible), I was highly satisfied by this, my overdue first taste of a Starz original series on Blu-ray. Apart from the show's inevitably lacking visual effects, this fine presentation leaves nothing to be desired.

Composer Bear McCreary explains his palindromic theme score. Creator David S. Goyer addresses the camera from a prison set in "Constructing Da Vinci."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

All but the first episode give you the choice to be watched prefaced by a short recap of relevant storylines from previous episodes.

The real extras begin with audio commentaries, which are easily missed if you aren't selecting episodes individually. Four of the eight episodes are equipped with tracks recorded by creator David S. Goyer and his leading cast members. Goyer and actors
Tom Riley, Laura Haddock, and Blake Ritson speak on the first two episodes. Their screen-specific discussions address the opening titles, characters, casting and the series' overall design with a few lulls, some playful sarcasm, and a bit of unneeded narration.

Goyer, Riley, and David Schofield tackle the sodomy trial episode "The Tower", which they see as connecting to current debates on gay marriage. They also talk historical composites, while finding cause for laughter. On the season finale, Goyer is joined by Riley and Tom Bateman. They defend anachronisms, point out visual effects, and comment upon ending the season on a cliffhanger.

The remaining video extras, most of them promotional topical shorts, are housed on Disc Three, which kindly presents them all in high definition.

"Mastering Da Vinci" (3:22) lets composer Bear McCreary weigh in on his duties for the series, explaining how he wrote a palindromic main theme in honor of da Vinci's mirror writing.

"Constructing Da Vinci" (2:47) collects cast, crew, and creator comments on the film's sets and production design.

Wearing her most ornate dress of the season, Lara Pulver discusses costumes in "Dressing Da Vinci." The cast and crew of "Da Vinci's Demons" premiere the show in -- where else? -- Florence, Italy.

"Dressing Da Vinci" (3:10), of course, turns to costume design with the same mix of show clips, talking heads, and behind-the-scenes views.

"Worldwide Fanfare: Road to Premiere" (2:42) documents the show's presence at New York Comic Con and then tags along with the cast and crew around Florence, Italy, where they are in town for the show's world premiere.

Deleted Scenes are provided for six episodes. Running just 10 minutes and 42 seconds with the "Play All" option, these eight short cuts do not include much of note, besides a long moment of da Vinci being counseled by a minor character (Allan Corduner).

Finally, a Second Screen Promo (0:32) advertises a Citizens of Florence app you can synch to the show for enhanced playback. As the free app doesn't require the Blu-ray, there's no reason for me to review it here.

Andrea del Verrocchio (Allan Corduner) advises Leonardo in this, the Blu-ray's longest deleted scene. An animated bird takes flight on the Da Vinci's Demons Blu-ray's main menu montage.

Disc One opens with trailers for "Spartacus: War of the Damned" and History Channel's "Vikings."

The creative menus complement clips with artistic backdrops and animated graphics from da Vinci's mind. Though the Blu-rays do not allow you to set bookmarks or resume individual episode playback, they do resume "Play All" playback across the entire season,
even after discs are ejected. That makes this the rare Anchor Bay BD to extend such a valuable feature, which eases the complete season viewing process. Pop Up menus are implemented to some degree over playback of the show, but not extras.

The Season 1 Blu-ray of "Da Vinci's Demons" occupies a six-sided Digipak, whose front, back, and spine are reproduced in the glossy, embossed slipcover that tops it. The only insert advertises the aforementioned Citizens of Florence app that's also mentioned on a shrinkwrap sticker and Starz subscriptions in general. The three discs are given identical label artwork save for the disc numbers. Episode titles and writing/directing credits take a side of the Digipak, which utilizes Renaissance artwork rather than show imagery.

Sidekicks Nico (Eros Vlahos) and Zoroaster (Greg Chillin) want in on Da Vinci's (Tom Riley) quest for the Book of Leaves.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Lazily applying the smutty standards of Starz original programming to the Renaissance, "Da Vinci's Demons" failed to win me over. The treatment held my attention, but never truly engaged. Nonetheless, it should be obvious that fans of other Starz shows would be wise to give this one a chance.

Anchor Bay's Blu-ray deserves high marks for its sensational picture and sound as well as the easily resumed "Play All" viewing mode that gives it a significant advantage over the DVD. If the show has won your approval, so too should this release, with its adequate extras and okay list price.

Buy Da Vinci's Demons: Season 1 from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD

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Reviewed August 27, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2013 Tonto Films and Television Limited, Phantom Four Films, Adjacent, Starz Originals, and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.