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THE WALKING DEAD
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Steven Yeun, Chandlre Riggs, Norman Reedus, Emma Bell
Creator: Frank Darabont
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: See Review
Length: 292 Minutes
Release Date: March 8, 2011
 

Show ****

Would anyone have guessed just a few years back that AMC, the network known for showing classic movies on basic cable, would be at the forefront of original television programming?

First came a little show called Mad Men that quietly became one of the most talked about series of the new millennium. Well acted, superbly crafted, and intelligently scripted, it snuck up on bigger networks like HBO and started showing television fans that you didn't necessarily have to spring for the pay channels to get quality shows.

Breaking Bad also came and established itself as one of the most acclaimed, awarded and talked-about shows on the air. Between the two, AMC has earned a permanent spotlight at every end-of-year awards ceremony.

Now, this past year brought us an entirely new experiment in TV drama. The Walking Dead would be based on a series of comics that I would bet most network executives would never dream of turning into a weekly show, but hand it to the forward-thinking people at AMC mixed with the incredible talent of Oscar-nominated director Frank Darabont. The dead would indeed come to prime time, and in the most shocking, frightening and emotionally moving ways imaginable.

I've long been a fan of George Romero and his early films that established the zombie lexicon, but I haven't found any project since his early ones that had really taken it to the next level. Not even Romero's modern efforts have come across better than pale imitations of his glory days. The Walking Dead, however, gave zombie fans the first real new chapter in the lexicon in a long time. The gruesomeness and the gore are definitely ratcheted up (surprisingly so for basic cable), but even more so is the sheer emotional and dramatic intensity of the unfolding events.

You can be forgiven if you think that it begins in a very similar way to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. It doesn't seem that one copied the other, though...apparently both Boyle and the creator of this comic book series came up with their ideas in the same year. Sometimes great minds simply think alike.

The Walking Dead opens with two cops in their car having a discussion while in the middle of a mission. This Quentin Tarantino-like touch is the perfect beginning, because it lets you focus on the characters of officers Rick Grimes (Lincoln) and Shane Walsh (Bernthal) before unleashing the inevitable horror.

Rick is badly wounded during the takedown. The next thing he knows, he awakes alone in a hospital. How much time has passed? What has happened? And where is everybody?

Rick stumbles out into a world of silence and emptiness that masks a horrible truth...an epidemic has swept across the land while he was comatose. The dead are indeed walking the earth, seeking human flesh, and spreading their horrible disease one bite at a time. As Rick begins to piece the horrifying truth together, he realizes he's in a world where humanity has already all but lost the war. The military was defeated. Now, only small numbers of humans remain.

His first order of business is to try and get back to his family. They're still alive, but he doesn't know that for sure, and in the interim, his wife Lori (Callies) has taken up with his old friend Shane, both believing Rick is dead.

This is the kind of show where the less you know going in, the more affected you will be. In only six episodes, Frank Darabont and AMC have redefined a well-established genre and opened up new possibilities for what it could be. In most zombie fare, the humans exist mainly for food. I don't remember a story where I was so deeply engrossed in the fates of the characters. Maybe having a weekly series instead of a two hour movie allows for that, but having great writers and actors doesn't hurt, either.

The images in this...I actually almost wrote “movie”, because the production values are so much higher than I'm used to with television...series are stark, bold, and unforgettable. Not only are the zombies as scary as can be, and so imaginatively brought to life that I imagine Tom Savini standing and applauding, but the feel it brings of a world that is all but lost is truly harrowing. The image on the box cover has to be one of the greatest examples of this, and I remember it taking my breath away the first time I saw it broadcast.

You will be scared, horrified and repulsed in equal measures...there are no apologies for any of that...but what's surprising about the show is not how far it goes in terms of graphic depictions, but how far it goes in terms of real emotional connection. For every time the series shocked me, it also had a moment where I was moved to near tears. This is horror taken to a whole new level of potential by a bold creative force with a true vision.

It's almost hard to imagine looking back that the first season was only six episodes. It felt like something even more epic than that. Originally, I wasn't sure if AMC was planning this to be a seasonal series or if this run was just a contained miniseries of sorts, but I was very glad to hear that there will be more of this show coming in the fall. I can't wait.

Video ****

This is a well-produced series, and it looks it, thanks to this solid Blu-ray offering from Anchor Bay. The imagery plays well in high definition, with lots of detail (especially in a few startling wide shots), good colors, and integrity even during lower lit sequences.

Audio ****

Sound in horror is quite crucial, and this TrueHD audio delivers terrific dynamic range, particularly on the quiet end, which is where things are usually at their most unnerving. Dialogue is well rendered, and when the action kicks in, the subwoofer and surrounds keep you firmly centered in it.

Features ***

The extras include a making-of featurette as well as four looks at production. There is extra unused footage and the trailer used to promote the series.

Summary:

The Walking Dead continues AMC's strong reputation as the channel with the best original programming on cable. Definitely not for the squeamish, but an absolute must-see for fans who like their horror delivered with intelligence and honest human drama.

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