Warner Bros. // 2005 // 936 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // June 24th, 2010
The creepy. The demented. The unexplained. The unearthly.
The first season of the WB's cult horror hit gets an HD upgrade, but is it worth trading in your old DVD sets?
Brothers Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles, My Bloody Valentine 3D) and Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki, Gilmore Girls) have a score to settle with the forces of evil. As kids (Sam was a baby), they watched their mother murdered by some kind of demonic spirit. Their father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Watchmen) devoted his life to hunting down ghosts, monsters and other things that go bump in the night. When dad goes missing, though, it's up to Dean and Sam to pick up the mantle and take over the family business.
The idea for the television series Supernatural, now entering its sixth season, is a terrific one: two brothers spend their lives hunting down and killing monsters, ghosts and demons not just to keep the world safe, but because they hate them. That, I believe, is the show's masterstroke. The mission is personal for Sam and Dean, and I like that the characters are driven not by a sense of responsibility (like on, say, Buffy or Smallville) but out of darkness and anger. That's gutsy for a network series (even a network like the WB), and likely a large part of the reason that Supernatural has gained such a fervent cult following. It's the kind of show that isn't for everyone, but it's really made for the people it's made for.
Judge Cythnia Boris reviewed the DVD set of Supernatural: The Complete First Season when it was originally released, and those looking for an in-depth analysis or even a show-by-show recap would do well to check out her original review. She's a huge fan of the show, ranking it in her top ten of all time, and has a great deal to say about what it is that works about the show. I, on the other hand, am totally uninitiated (though I've always been interested in checking it out), and after watching The Complete First Season can't say that I'm totally on board as of yet. It's an uneven start to what I'm told is a very good show, and the fact that so many people whose opinions I respect are such big fans of the series is what allowed me to reserve judgment too early on. Had I been watching Supernatural back when it debuted in 2005, I might have given up after a few weeks. There just isn't enough for me to hold on to in those early episodes.
Some investigation into Supernatural tells me that the series got better as it went along in years, evolving from a monster-of-the-week show into one that focused more on the characters and delved much deeper into the overall mythology. That's a show I would love to watch, but that's not really the first season of Supernatural, which plays a lot more like The X-Files for younger audiences who have no idea what The X-Files is. Like a whole lot of TV series (including many on the WB like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel andSmallville), the first season of Supernatural has been made for everyone, while subsequent seasons would appear to be made for the fans who stuck with the show. I get that on paper; you don't want to alienate new viewers entering after two episodes with loads of backstory and mythology. If the monster-of-the-week shows in this first season of Supernatural were stronger, or if the little throughline that's attempted had been integrated more smoothly, I might not have minded. As it stands, many of the shows feature generic stories (albeit moody, well-directed ones) and at the end of each one the boys say "We have to find Dad!" or "We have to find my girlfriend's killer!"
The season, as is so often the case, does improve as it goes along, finding its voice more clearly and becoming more willing to explore relationships and characters over just plot. By about the mid-point of Season One -- in episodes like "Home" and (especially) "Scarecrow," you finally get an idea of the kind of show Supernatural will become. The characters begin to find their own internally-driven motivations (including some newfound psychic abilities) that work better than the shoehorned "let's find that guy/thing" trap that the early episodes fall into. The shows actually lead into one another and become less self-contained, making the viewer more willing to watch two or three in a chunk instead of being able to walk away from the monster-of-the-week episodes too easily. It never fully became the show I was hoping it would be -- it doesn't quite reach the heights of The X-Files' first season -- but I have to appreciate a show that embraces darkness and horror the way this one does. I suspect Supernatural was first marketed at the WB's teen audience, but it's the geeks that have made it last.
Supernatural: The Complete First Season arrives on Blu-ray with dark, moody HD transfer that should undoubtedly please fans of the show. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the 1080p transfer showcases terrific fine detail (particularly when it comes to faces and skin textures) and solid color reproduction. The series has a deliberately bleak, washed-out look, making the occasional splashes of bold color all the more effective. Some shots carry a lot of grainy noise, but I suspect that's all part of the series' gritty aesthetic and not the fault of the HD transfer. Shadows and blacks stand out the best here, remaining deep and consistent and always benefiting the show's dark, evocative atmosphere. Unfortunately, the audio track hasn't received any kind of lossless upgrade, and the Blu-ray carries the same standard 5.1 surround track found on the original DVD release. It's not a bad audio track -- dialogue is clean and clear and it uses the rear channels effectively from time to time -- but it's hardly what we've come to expect from Blu-ray. If Warner Bros. is looking for Supernatural fans to upgrade their current DVD copies of the show, they've got to offer more than what's already out there.
This goes for the bonus features, as well, which are primarily the same as the original DVD set with only two new additions. The first is an "interactive map" that branches off into options including information about each episode, journal entries or trivia about the different haunted locations and urban legends the brothers encounter. For devoted fans of the show, I can imagine this is a great way to spend several hours. I tired out on it pretty quickly, but at least it's pretty exhaustive and offers something new to those who have upgraded from their DVDs. The other bonus feature new to this Blu-ray edition is more satisfying: it's an hour-long panel discussion on Supernatural recorded at the 2006 Paley Festival. While it's pretty dated now -- there's obviously no discussion on what happened in most subsequent seasons -- but it's an interesting talk on how the series came to be and what went into producing this first season.
The remainder of the supplemental features have all been carried over from the previous DVD release, and they include a featurette on the show ("Supernatural: Tales from the Edge of Darkness") that features a lot of redundant information if you've already sat through the new Blu-ray features; a collection of deleted and alternate scenes; a gag reel; a behind-the-scenes piece called "A Day in the Life of Jared and Jensen" and a pair of commentary tracks on two episodes, one featuring the creative team and the other featuring the two stars.
I didn't dislike this first season of Supernatural, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't a little disappointed with it. Maybe it's just a case of inflated expectations; I've been hearing such good things about Supernatural for so long that I was expecting to fall in love with it pretty quickly. That never happened. I instead found a show with a lot of potential that was still in the process of finding itself in the first season, and if I'm judging Supernatural solely on these initial 22 episodes I wouldn't say it's must-see television. There's enough of a good thing here, though, and enough evidence that it's all headed in the right direction that I'll give Season Two a chance. I want nothing more than to fall in love with it.
Based on the testimony of others, I'm willing to find Supernatural not guilty for now.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* All-Time Most Popular: #10
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 936 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Gag Reel
* Panel Discussion
* Interactive Map
* Official Website
* Supernatural Fan Site