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"The Walking Dead" The Complete First Season DVD Review

The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com The Walking Dead: Season One (2010)
Show & DVD Details

Developer: Frank Darabont / Creators: Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard (series of graphic novels) / Executive Producers: Robert Kirkman, David Alpert, Charles H. Eglee, Gale Anne Hurd, Frank Darabont

Directors: Frank Darabont, Michelle MacLaren, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Johan Renck, Ernest Dickerson, Guy Ferland / Writers: Frank Darabont, Charles H. Eglee, Jack LoGiudice, Robert Kirkman, Glen Mazzara, Adam Fierro

Regular Cast: Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes), Jon Bernthal (Shane Walsh), Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori Grimes), Laurie Holden (Andrea), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale Horwath), Steven Yeun (Glenn), Chandler Riggs (Carl Grimes) / Recurring Characters: Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon), IronE Singleton (T-Dog), Emma Bell (Amy), Andrew Rothenberg (Jim), Juan Pareja (Morales), Jeryl Prescott Sales (Jacqui), Melissa McBride (Carol Peletier), Noah Emmerich (Dr. Edwin Jenner), Michael Rooker (Merle Dixon), Adam Minarovich (Ed Peletier), Madison Lintz (Sophia Peletier), Viviana Chavez-Vega (Miranda), Maddie Lomax (Eliza)

Notable Guest Stars: Lennie James (Morgan Jones), Adrian Kali Turner (Duane Jones), Keisha Tillis (Morgan's Wife), Noel G. (Felipe), Neil Brown, Jr. (Guillermo), Anthony Guajardo (Miguel)

Running Time: 292 Minutes (6 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-14 on air)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Not Closed Captioned
Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned / Season 1 Airdates: October 31, 2010 - December 5, 2010
DVD Release Date: March 8, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.98
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($49.99 SRP)

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AMC has won many accolades for its first two original series of the 21st century. Critics consider "Mad Men" (about life in a 1960s advertising agency) and "Breaking Bad" (about a chemistry teacher whose terminal cancer has turned him into an unlikely meth dealer) two of the best shows on television today.
It is no wonder then that the basic cable channel would continue to create original programming. Last year saw two new shows introduced.

The one that has been renewed and that we look at here is "The Walking Dead". Anyone who knows this drama would tell you that it's about life in a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies. In fact, the creatures are referred to as "the dead", "walkers", and "geeks", but the z-word is never uttered. Still, they are zombies and adhere to the rules of lore they've accumulated over the years.

"The Walking Dead" was developed by Frank Darabont, a man best known for writing and directing three Stephen King adaptations, the adored prison tales The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile plus 2007's The Mist. Here, Darabont taps not King but Robert Kirkman, whose comic book series has been running monthly since October 2003. Darabont brings with him a few actors you'd most recognize from his films.

Unlike many of today's TV dramas, AMC's "The Walking Dead" gives us more of an opening sequence than just this title card. Sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) finds himself pursued by many Atlanta walkers in the series' premiere episode.

The series' point of entry is sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln). The opening moments of the first episode reveals a bit of Grimes while showing us the lawman in action.
His southern jurisdiction has already been hit with some scenes of abandoned vehicles and bloodied, mildly animated undead. While pursuing a car of joy riders, Grimes gets shot and hospitalized. When he wakes up, some time later, the hospital seems to have been vacated. Outside lay hundreds of dead bodies and some that look dead but cling to zombie existence.

It would be easy for "The Walking Dead" to open with these powerful, unsettling images and then fail to sustain our interest, succumbing to the pressures of open-ended serialized storytelling. Fortunately, that isn't the case. It might help that the first season runs six episodes and was designed that way from the start, with AMC not even waiting for a pilot to place that order. Six episodes is considered failure in the US but for many a British show, it is a full season. It is the perfect number for this American show, which has no trouble whatsoever giving us a distinctive storyline in each installment all the while developing its cast and universe.

Grimes narrowly escapes certain death on the streets of Atlanta, the city rumored inaccurately to be a safe haven from the violent flesh-eaters. He teams up with a few individuals who have banded together: Glenn (Steven Yeun), a resourceful Korean; irritable blonde Andrea (The Mist's Laurie Holden); and rational black man T-Dog (IronE Singleton). This group is on a mission from their new home base, a remote campground where relatives and strangers have gathered to form a commune.

As luck would have it, Grimes has family and a friend among the camp community: his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), their young son Carl (Chandler Riggs), and his partner Shane (Jon Bernthal), who has secretly filled the opening left by the presumed dead father/deputy. Also in the ranks are Andrea's younger sister Amy (Emma Bell); Daryl (The Boondock Saints' Norman Reedus), a short-tempered woodsman whose brother is missing; and wise older man Dale (Darabont fixture Jeffrey DeMunn).

The stability of this camp setup is ever threatened and the supplies are dwindling. Both facts ensure that "The Walking Dead" doesn't lay down deep roots or slip into complacency in betrayal of its harrowing, hope-trouncing new world order.

Southern survivors of the ongoing zombie apocalypse stick together in a secured campground community. Rick's son Carl (Chandler Riggs) and wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) are among the lucky living.

Though it can be classified as horror and, in turns, action, you needn't have any predilection for those genres to appreciate "The Walking Dead." The atmosphere and characters developed are magnetic enough that anyone tuning in should not want to look away, even if they haven't started at the very beginning. AMC's success has been founded on questioning and avoiding tenets of network television. They're not alone; the channel's programming has been compared to the original content on FX and premium networks like HBO and Showtime. All have been heralded for breaking conventions and bravely going where others haven't and wouldn't.

Although there is some built-in appeal both to zombies and graphic novels, "The Walking Dead" was no obvious choice for episodic television treatment. But the show works and in ways similar to how the aforementioned competitors' output and AMC's other decorated series do. It doesn't pile on dramatic score, hold viewers' hands to ensure they're understanding everything, slip them closing twists to keep them tuning in, or only include content that would find most satisfaction dials turned up in focus group screenings.

The series plays by its own rules, giving its drama a cinematic look and feel but seizing the opportunities for nice character moments that a large ensemble cast and 45 minutes of weekly airtime supply. It is gorier than it needs to be and it might lose viewers for that, but aiming bullets, arrows, and bats directly at the walkers' brains (the only way to kill zombies) underscores the severity of the situation, as do the deaths and abandonments faced by seemingly regular characters.

Judging from just these six episodes and none of the 81 and counting issues created by Kirkman, I see no reason why AMC couldn't enjoy a long run on this show, perhaps comparable to "Lost", whose survivor design this echoes without the lingering questions and limitations.

Cable guy?! Despite his history with Frank Darabont, that is not Jim Carrey making a zombie cameo in the first episode of "The Walking Dead." Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn, veterans of multiple Frank Darabont films, portray two of the lead survivors, Andrea and Dale.

Two facets of "The Walking Dead" that must be singled out and praised are the design and effects. Practically every TV show I've ever seen has been challenged by visual effects, whether it's phony-looking sitcom sets or the more glaring use of subpar CGI in actiony hour-long dramas. Admittedly, I haven't seen too much of the latter, but I can't think of a single show where effects have been pulled off in such a way as to not remind me of the medium's financial limitations. "The Walking Dead" may be the exception to the rule.

The series benefits from relying on very little computer imagery, preferring stunningly realized practical and make-up effects. There are many things you still can't convincingly fake, at least on television. Recognizing this, the series hires and transforms hundreds of zombie extras where needed. It doesn't shoot on some sound stage, but in real Atlanta locations, which are deserted to potent effect.
You never for a second doubt this world or see something that reminds you of its fictionality. That does wonders for a show that hedges on sustaining a compelling believable universe.

While most TV shows' seasons come to home video right before the new season begins, Anchor Bay Entertainment brings The Complete First Season of "The Walking Dead" to DVD and Blu-ray this week, just three months after the season finale's debut and over seven months before the 13-episode Season 2's scheduled on-air arrival.

The days of television being uniformly free of what anyone could construe as indecency are long gone. How does "The Walking Dead" compare in content to other shows? Squarely in between network shows and premium cable fare. There are a few bad words (the s-word and, perhaps more surprisingly, the n-word) and a little bit of non-nude sex, but it is really the bloody violence that would be far most objectionable. It's not as gruesome as some of today's R-rated horror, but still gruesome enough to deserve a TV-MA over the TV-14 that AMC assigns the show.

Widowed father Morgan Jones (Lennie James) becomes Rick's first post-zombie apocalypse ally in "Days Gone Bye." Andrea (Laurie Holden), Rick (Andrew Lincoln), and Morales (Juan Pareja) prepare to defend themselves against department store zombies.

Disc 1

1. Days Gone Bye (1:07:00) (Originally aired October 31, 2010)
Rick Grimes awakens from a coma to find the world gone mad. He teams up with a father and son (Lennie James and Adrian Kali Turner) who fill him on the situation and prepare him for dealing with the walkers.

2. Guts (44:39) (Originally aired November 7, 2010)
Rick is saved by Glenn (the 21st century Short Round) and teams up with his fellow survivors including racist troublemaker Merle (Michael Rooker) in and atop a department store where they try to stave off (and, later, blend in with) the undead.

3. Tell It to the Frogs (45:07) (Originally aired November 14, 2010)
Rick reunites with his family, but the comfort of camp is short-lived as, against others' judgment, he volunteers to team with Daryl and two others to retrieve Merle from confinement.

Having overcome sunstroke, Jim (Andrew Rothenberg) wrestles something new in "Wildfire." CDC doctor Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) extends some hospitality to his guests, but disaster looms, as the ominous red countdown clock suggests.

4. Vatos (44:50) (Originally aired November 21, 2010)
In the city, Rick and company run into a Latino gang of survivors, who take a hostage. Back at camp, Jim (Andrew Rothenberg) begins acting erratically.

Disc 2

5. Wildfire (45:11) (Originally aired November 28, 2010)
The camp deals with the aftermath of an attack and considers how best to proceed, deciding on a trip to the CDC.

6. TS-19 (45:18) (Originally aired December 5, 2010)
The entire gang enjoys such delights as wine and hot showers aboard the CDC's secure facility, but not for long.

Covering themselves in the blood of the dead, Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) try to blend in with the walkers in "Guts."

VIDEO and AUDIO

"The Walking Dead" has the look of a feature film and like nearly all modern television, it's treated to a DVD with 1.78:1 widescreen picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Picture quality is quite a bit less stunning than what has come to be the norm. At times, it is very grainy, a look I can only assume is deliberate. On occasion, it's immaculately clean. Throughout, the element offers good sharpness and excellent detail. It's tough to think that a filmmaker of Darabont's caliber would settle for unsatisfactory picture or use subpar cameras and Anchor Bay has a practically perfect track record, so it's tough to know why the video has such a low-grade appearance. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is also a little less enveloping than you'd expect. Sound elements are crisp and consistent and with score used sparingly, ambient noises are noticed and appreciated. But there is less depth and directionality than desired from this front-heavy mix.

Actor Jon Bernthal is compared to the comic book version of his character Shane Walsh in "The Making of 'The Walking Dead.'" Developer/writer/executive producer/director Frank Darabont is among those taking us "Inside 'The Walking Dead'" in episode-specific shorts.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

All major bonus features appear on Disc 2 and are divided between Featurettes and Extra Footage.

The former class begins with "The Making of 'The Walking Dead'" (29:52), an all-purpose documentary that covers practically every angle of the series, including origins, conception, design, make-up, characters, and location filming.
Delivering behind-the-scenes footage and comments from all major cast and crew members, it stands strongly as the set's longest and most significant extra.

Next up comes an "Inside 'The Walking Dead'" installment for every episode. Each segment runs about 5 minutes (31:03 in total) and is comprised of clips and cast/crew comments recapping the episode. No substitution for commentaries (of which there are none), these are unextraordinary and would have been more enjoyed being placed alongside the episodes themselves.

"A Sneak Peek with Robert Kirkman" (4:51) gathers general remarks about the series' undertakings not only from the comics writer but also cast members and his fellow producers.

Wound-sculpting gelatin is the fourth of twelve steps to your Halloween zombie makeover. The Walking Dead and Comic-Con go together like spaghetti and meatballs.

"Zombie Make-Up Tips for Halloween" (6:45) finds special EFX makeup artist Andy Schoneberg walking us through a fairly basic 12-step zombie makeover he gives a relative. You may be just a few ingredients away from being able to prepare an eye-catching holiday look for yourself.

"Comic-Con Panel Highlights" (11:30) is exactly what it sounds like, with Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman, producers Gale Anne Hurd and Greg Nicotero, and AMC Senior VP of Original Programming Joel Stillerman eventually being joined by five of their leading cast members. Naturally, they all discuss their show for the annual San Diego geek gathering that is eager to hear about it.

The final item under Featurettes is a 1-minute trailer for the show which promotes the new season but entirely with Season 1 clips (unsurprisingly, since Season 2 won't begin shooting until the summer).

"Zombie School" is now in session. Author Robert Kirkman takes a look around a world adapted from his graphic novel series.

Shorter and less serious extras are housed under Extra Footage.

First up, "Zombie School" (2:58) shows us a bit of the extras' movement training. "Bicycle Girl" (5:06) describes the importance placed on the first zombie depicted on the show (technically, second), wrapping with a couple of minutes of time-lapse photography illustrating the female extra's startling transformation.

"On Set with Robert Kirkman" (3:07) tours the series-opening gas station set with the comic book author. "Hanging with Steven Yeun" (3:52) lets us tag along with Glenn's good-natured actor.

Come aboard Dale's RV, you old fishermen! They don't do much walking on the main menu, but they are dead. As for the Bonus Features, they are alive...but only on Disc 2.

"Inside Dale's RV" (3:25) has actor Jeffrey DeMunn show off his character's well-stocked Winnebago. Finally, "On Set with Andrew Lincoln" (3:46) confirms the English accent you hear traces of in the series' leading man (whom you may remember from Love Actually) as the star speaks about the series optimistically.

Disc One opens with promos for "Breaking Bad", "Dead Space: Aftermath", The Bleeding, I Spit on Your Grave (2010), and Frozen.

On both discs, the main menu pans across four of the dead (only one of whom is walking), who appear in front of an ominous skyline. In what is a first, to access the bonus features menus, you must first pass a screen advertising the show's forthcoming second season (delaying you mere seconds).

Holding Disc 1 on a swinging tray, the standard black Eco-Box keepcase is topped by a sleek and embossed cardboard slipcover. Inside are ads promoting Season 2, Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead and other comic books, and a nifty public safety info card to identifying sufferers of Walker syndrome.

T-Dog (IronE Singleton), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Rick (Andrew Lincoln), and Daryl (Norman Reedus) return to Atlanta to retrieve their racist redneck. A light at the end of the tunnel? A door opens for the gang in "Wildfire."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I don't hesitate to call "The Walking Dead" one of the best television shows in production today. Whether treated comedically as in Zombieland or dramatically as here, there is something rich and rewarding about modern zombie apocalypse fiction. Of course, the subject matter is only a launch pad; this show succeeds on complex characters, arresting atmosphere, expert storytelling, and first-rate filmmaking. I wish the wait for Season 2 wasn't so long.

Anchor Bay's DVD is easy to recommend. Picture and sound quality fell below my expectations, but must be true to the producers' intentions. As for special features, while some fans may be sad not to find any deleted scenes or audio commentaries here, the nearly two hours of substantive making-of material hardly disappoint.

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Reviewed March 8, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010 Circle of Confusion, Valhalla Entertainment, Darkwoods Productions, AMC Studios and 2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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