Anchor Bay // 2011 // 292 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 4th, 2011
The sun ain't gonna shine anymore...
Based on Robert Kirkman's celebrated graphic novel series (for the uninitiated: comic books), The Walking Dead had a laborious and lengthy trek to the small screen. After many attempts, writer/director Frank Darabont was able to finally convince cable network AMC to take a chance on his little zombie series that could. To AMC's delight they discovered they had a surprise hit on their hands when the premiere episode aired on Halloween night in 2010 and immediately green lit a second season of the horror series. Anchor Bay has finally dug up The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray.
Hide your brains.
When peace officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is wounded in the line of duty, he awakens from a coma to find the world he once knew now long gone -- during Rick's absence the planet has been decimated by newly revived cannibalistic zombies. Without any knowledge of how this happened or what has happened to his family, Rick stumbles out into a brave new world to find danger and death lurking in every street corner. As Rick makes his way into the light of day he meets a scared but kind father (Lennie James) who explains to Rick what has happened. Clues at Rick's home lead him to suspect that his family may still be alive somewhere. Thus begins Rick's journey to Atlanta to find his wife and son among the living dead.
The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season was my favorite thing this past year. Not my favorite show, but my favorite thing. It surpassed any of the movies I saw and became must see TV for almost two months. For whatever reason my Tivo would not tape the show, forcing me to show up every Sunday evening to catch what would happen after the previous week's cliffhanger ending. I was that dedicated to this program. I couldn't have imagined a better way for Halloween 2010 to have ended than with the start of something I never realized I wanted: a television series about a zombie apocalypse.
Let us give thanks where thanks is due: writer/director Frank Darabont has crafted a series that is not only engrossing and weighty but also caters to the desires of the discerning horror fan. For those wanting deep characterization along with their grizzle and gore, The Walking Dead is a perfect match (Darabont's credentials also include movies like 1988's remake of The Blob and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors). Darabont championed this series from the very beginning and brings a deft touch (the same one that turned The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile into more than just 'prison movies') to a genre not known for gravitas and emotional depth.
For the first time in the cinematic zombie genre we get to follow characters through the struggles of staying two steps ahead of brain munching reanimated cannibals. Along the way we actually care about these people and their fates; in one episode a major character finally succumbs to a nasty bite and the way this moment is handled with another grieving character shows that this is not your run-of-the-mill horror series. That's the thing The Walking Dead gets right more often than not: the writers see this situation not as an opportunity for mindless video game violence, but as personal reflection and a rumination on our own morality. For instance, just try not to get slightly misty eyed when Rick kneels over a reanimated, crawling half-corpse and empathetically notes without a tinge of cynicism, "I'm sorry that this happened to you."
This is a uniformly strong cast that feels far more like an ensemble than a one man show (Rick is the main protagonist, but it's the surrounding characters that give the show it's lifeblood). Overseas thespian Andrew Lincoln is solemn and focused as Rick, a man determined to find his family at any cost. Lincoln's Rick is a well rounded character whose only fault is that he may be a bit too heroic for his own good. Other notable standouts in the cast include Darabont regular Jeffrey DeMunn (The Mist) as a crusty but amusingly lovable old man; Steven Yeun (in one of his first major roles) as a fellow survivalist whose trust is limited due to his fears of being killed by incompetence; and Norman Reedus (The Boondock Saints) as a shifty backwoods hick who's racist brother (cameo by Michael Rooker, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) has caused much strife within one of the survivors' camps. The truth is that while The Walking Dead has a few standouts, this is a really an ensemble-driven cast and there isn't a bum wheel in the group. One of the joys of a show like The Walking Dead is that it allows the viewer time to get to know its characters in a way a two hour film does not.
At its core the zombie genre isn't really about the living dead; zombie stories are always about the living and the choices they make when faced with a new set of rules and situations straight out of your darkest dreams. When humanity is faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, does it fold like a cheap origami swan or keep its values and ethics in tact? Do the strong still take care of the weak? And is a baseball bat better than a chainsaw when taking down a rotting corpse? The zombies are usually a catalyst for change that allows the viewer to witness good people (and sometimes bad ones) under pressure to stay alive, take care of their loved ones and find shelter. I'm not sure why stories like this hold such resonance for viewers: it could be we find it fascinating to imagine what kind of choices we'd make if saddled with the same unfathomable circumstances. (For the record, I live near a Medieval Times theme restaurant and always thought that would be a good shelter: no windows, lots of space and more chicken than you can shake a stick at.)
Look around the internet and you'll see all kinds of articles about how bad movies are. Sequels. Remakes. Rehashes. There's a lot of redundancy happening on the silver screen. Conversely, television is finding ways to tell great stories that don't pander to the 16-25 year old market. The Walking Dead is a worthy addition to the already jam packed zombie market and shows that there's still life left on TV for interesting characters and dangling intestines. Recommended.
The Walking Dead is presented on two Blu-ray discs in 1.78:1 widescreen in a 1080p anamorphic transfer. This is a solid looking TV series that doesn't look perfect, and most likely was never meant to. The images are supposed to look slightly worn and washed out, giving the series a slightly realistic and dirty feel. The image is sharp and clear with a hint of grain at times. Much like George A. Romero's original Night of the Living Dead, The Walking Dead benefits from a transfer that at times can feel slightly rough.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround in English. This is a cinema quality track that features a lot of surround effects (moaning zombies shuffling through the streets) and a lot of erie music and effects that envelop the viewers in the struggles of the cast. This is a very good sound mix that doesn't disappoint. Also included on these discs are English and Spanish subtitles.
The special features on this disc aren't groundbreaking but should provide viewers with a glimpse into the making of this successful series. "The Making of The Walking Dead" is a thirty minute promo piece that features Frank Darabont plus the cast and crew talking about what it was like to shoot the film, the make-up effects and the experience of taking a comic book and turning it into a television series. "Inside the Walking Dead" includes six short featurettes that discuss aspects about each of the six episodes. A few other short featurettes ("A Sneak Peek with Robert Kirkman," "Behind the Scenes Zombie Make-Up Tips") focuses on various aspects of the production. A "Convention Panel with Producers" is just the producers performing an informative if derivative Q&A with the Comic-Con fans. Finally there is a short piece on training people how to act like a zombie ("Zombie School"), one focusing on some of the main zombies ("Bicycle Girl"), short featurettes on actor Steven Yeun, Andrew Lincoln and Dale's RV prop and a trailer for the series.
I truly believe that The Walking Dead is a show that will intrigue not only die hard horror and zombie fans, but also casual viewers who are fans of good, solid drama. Anchor Bay has done a great job on this disc. I'm stoked to see where 2011 takes Rick and his band of survivors as they journey onward into the land of the dead.
Walk don't run to see The Walking Dead. Run don't walk if you are being chased by the walking dead. Make sure not to mix these two instructions up.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 292 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Comic-Con Panel
* Sneak Peak
* Official Site