Music Box Films // 2009 // 1170 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 20th, 2012
From the producers of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
No one likes a perfect detective. There must be something about the idea of someone whose job it is to pry into our lives being perfect that sets peoples' teeth on edge. Sherlock Holmes, for all his genius, can be insufferable and is a drug addict. Pretty much all hardboiled detectives are alcoholics and/or have rage issues, and we've seen detectives with everything from a bad leg to a missing eye fill our screens and pages. Measured against the backdrop of flawed detectives over the last century and a half, Sweden's Kurt Wallander is far from the worst case. He's a man who's suffered more than his fair share. In response, he drinks a bit more than he should and doesn't take care of himself. Swedish audiences have been following his adventures for over two decades now, and this Henning Mankell's Wallander set emphases the later career of the great detective. It's a ride that fans of Swedish crime drama are going to want to take, but the moody pace might be too slow for those weaned on slam-bang American detective stories.
As the first episode of this set ("The Revenge") opens, Kurt Wallander (Krister Hendricksson, Superintendent Winter) is readying to retire from the police force of Ystad. Then, of course, some murders, along with a bomb that blows a town's power station, pull him back in. The rest of the thirteen episodes (presented on seven discs) follow his further adventures.
First, let's talk about what this set is and is not. This is not a set of the Wallander films from 1994-2007 that adapted Henning Mankell's original novels. This is not the British adaptation of the Wallander stories starring Kenneth Branagh the BBC aired to great acclaim. This is also not the first thirteen episodes of the Wallander series Krister Henricksson made in 2005-2006. This is the second series of thirteen episodes aired in 2009-2010. They're all new stories (not based on Mankell's writing), and the creators stated their intention to take the series in a more political direction.
They succeed mightily, starting with the first episode, "The Revenge." Wallander is essentially called out of retirement because someone doesn't like the fact that a local museum is showing art featuring Mohammed, leading to a murder. Released only a few years after the Mohammed cartoon-bomb kerfuffle in nearby Denmark, "The Revenge" definitely highlights the show's commitment to political commentary wrapped in mystery packaging. While the rest of the episodes aren't quite as hard-hitting, they all do a similarly excellent job of mixing Wallander's personal life (like his retirement) with cases.
The cast, especially Krister Hendricksson as Wallander, is excellent. The performances are generally subdued and lacking in the overt histrionics of some American crime television.
On DVD, these standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers look good but not great. The show has a dark, bluish tinge to much of it, and that comes through on these transfers. Colors are generally muted, but the all-important black levels are consistent and deep. Detail is fine but not stunning for standard def. The Swedish audio comes in with a Dolby 5.1 surround mix. Clear dialogue and relatively frequent surround use dominate the tracks, with a good balance between music, dialogue, and effects.
The popularity of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the book, the Swedish film, and David Fincher's adaptation) has clearly demonstrated that there's a hunger for Swedish crime drama. In the case of the Millennium Trilogy, that's an understandable hunger: the books and films offer something that feels very different from other fictional detecting series out there. In contrast, Wallander feels like a Swedish adaptation of an American detective, or perhaps it would be better to say a Swedish twist on a typically American (or even British) detective. That means the show is a little dark, a little moodier than the typical American detective. Wallander feels like a human being, and we watch him change and grow over these thirteen episodes (as I'm sure we've seen him grow over the novels, movies, and other series).
This is not necessarily a bad thing; fans of Swedish crime will surely delight at this series. However, for those who prefer a bit more action and a quicker pace, Wallander can feel a bit too moody, a bit too dark, sacrificing narrative movement for atmosphere and character development. Some of this problem may have been created by the fact that I watched all thirteen episodes in a short time. Spread out, they wouldn't feel quite so oppressive.
I should also note that familiarity with Wallander helps (though it isn't a necessity). I was unfamiliar with "The Godfather of Swedish Crime" as one writer puts it, so the first half of "The Revenge" took some adjustment because it doesn't go out of its way to introduce Wallander. Watching the first thirteen episodes of this series first isn't absolutely necessary, but it wouldn't hurt.
Also, where are the extras? The "16 page collector's booklet" is fine, with a few short essays on Wallander and his author along with a bunch of photos, but that's not nearly enough. Since Wallander is apparently so central to Swedish crime, it would be nice to see a featurette or two on his impact. Similarly, these are new stories about a character created by Henning Mankell. Where is the interview with him talking about what it's like to let go of a character he's been writing for decades? Sadly, not on this disc.
Finally, this set was made with a really poor packaging decision. Unlike most sets that feature a piece of foldable cardboard inside a slipcase, this set does not use center posts to secure the discs in place. Instead, small "pockets" are notched at the bottom of the plastic; they stop the discs from falling down, but the discs are completely free to move up. This means that in transit, it is very likely that they'll move around and possibly get scratched. It's not bad enough to suggest not buying the set (after all, once it's on a shelf, the discs will be secure), but I would check each disc carefully when it arrives in your hands.
Henning Mankell's Wallander is thirteen episodes of solid Swedish crime. Interesting mysteries, a bit of political relevance, and lots of personal drama combine to make a detective show that will appeal to fans of things like Branagh's turn as Wallander or the Millennium Trilogy of Steig Larsson. Though fans could wish for more in the way of extras, the solid audiovisual presentation makes this an easy set to recommend for rental or purchase.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Music Box Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Swedish)
Running Time: 1170 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated