Sony // 2008 // 346 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // March 17th, 2010
He's a good man doing bad things.
As the third season of AMC's Emmy-winning drama hits the airwaves, we return to the start of this thrilling, thoughtful series in high definition with Breaking Bad: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray). I've read about the much-praised show but hadn't watched episodes until now. The pre-credits tease captured my attention immediately and I was hooked by the end of the pilot episode. One benefit of discovering a show late is the instant gratification that comes from having plenty of content ready for viewing.
Walt White (Bryan Cranston, Malcolm in the Middle) is a high school chemistry teacher whose life has met disappointment after disappointment. Struggling to make ends meet for his wife and cerebral palsy-affected son -- Walt works a second job at a car wash -- he is diagnosed with lung cancer. With limited time left to provide for his family, he decides to build up the family fortune by cooking crystal meth. Former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, The Last House on the Left ) becomes Walt's reluctant partner in crime after his associate is arrested. When a down-on-his-luck, dying teacher and a young junkie team up to sell drugs, what could go wrong?
On the surface, the series sounds like Weeds for dads, but Breaking Bad quickly establishes itself as its own unique brand of genius. Front and center is Bryan Cranston as the desperate family man and he deservedly won an Emmy Award for his work here. Walt is easy to identify with but he's also volatile. His transformation from a straight-laced wimp to a man determined to get his share is convincing and exciting. Seeing Walt put bullies in their place or outwitting seasoned criminals is highly cathartic viewing. Witnessing Walt and Jesse negotiating the troubles they encounter is sometimes tense drama and other times devilishly dark comedy.
The two-disc Blu-Ray set is a decent HD reproduction of the DVD set released last year. The 1080p picture is a solid transfer that looks about average compared with other recent HD television shows. My only reservation is that the visual tone set by the pilot episode is not maintained in the subsequent six episodes. Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll lensed the pilot and it is gorgeous. The rich colors of the sky and sun-baked New Mexico landscape are beautifully rendered. Fine facial details can be seen and skin tones are natural. Black levels are also deep, creating a sharp contrast at times but still maintaining a hint of detail in the shadows. The presence of fine grain contributes to a pleasing "film" look.
There are bound to be differences between a show's pilot and its episodic production. Accordingly, there is a subtle change in the look of Breaking Bad when regular director of photography Rey Villalobos takes charge. Under the new visual scheme, colors are a touch desaturated and there is a tendency to stage scenes in the shade or light actors from behind. The overall image detailing is smoother in these episodes compared to the sharp and grainy quality of the pilot. Regardless of personal preferences for how the show should look, the added resolution and sharpness makes for a consistently good looking show.
The sound mix in DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio is quite strong. Dialogue is clear and well balanced against the music and sound effects. The mix is mostly concentrated in the front but at least a couple times each episode all the speakers get a workout from louder, action-packed moments. Precise audio details are also nicely represented in the soundscape and I especially appreciate the little burning effect that accompanies the puff of smoke in the opening titles.
Audio commentaries with creator Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston and other cast members are supplied for two episodes: the pilot and episode 6, "Crazy Handful of Nothin'." The commentary for the pilot is quite raucous at times which makes for a very entertaining listen. Deleted scenes can be activated through the options available from each specific episode. The other supplemental materials from the DVD set are reproduced on the second Blu-Ray disc of this set. They include the actors' screen tests (8 minutes); "Inside Breaking Bad," 31 clip-heavy minutes of promos for amctv.com; a segment of AMC Shootout featuring interviews with Gilligan and Cranston; a photo gallery; and "Making of Breaking Bad" (11 minutes) which is the only extra presented in HD. Disc 1 is BD Live enabled, connecting you to a site to view more promos courtesy of Sony Home Entertainment. When I visited the BD Live area in preparation for writing this review, there wasn't any content related to Breaking Bad.
The first season of Breaking Bad is an excellent television drama and it's worth picking up on either format. As there's no advantage in the extras department, which format to purchase comes down to a matter of the HD resolution and what it's worth to you. The improvement in the image quality is an attractive feature but it's not significant enough (through no technical fault of the transfer) to dismiss the standard def release.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 346 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Gallery