True Blood: Season One Blu-ray Review

Vampire novels are all the rage these days. Walk into any store’s book department and a dedicated section full of bloodsucking tales will stare you in the face. HBO did not need to tap into this pop culture phenomenon to replace The Sopranos and Sex and the City. Then again, ratings watchers were mighty pleased when they did.

True Blood: Season One is based on one of these novels, “Dead Until Dark” of the ongoing Southern Vampire Mysterious series by author Charlaine Harris. The book name is misleading when translated to the show; True Blood deals not so much with vampires directly but the affect their emergence and attempted integration into society has on the small southern backwoods Louisiana town of Bon Temps.

You see, until two years prior to the first episode, vampires’ existence was a closely guarded secret. The invention of a synthetic blood, “True Blood,” in which vampires can feed off to replace human blood has brought them “out of the closet.” This is one of many parallels the show draws upon between vampire existence and their rights and gay advocacy. A suitable comparison would be the parallel’s Battlestar Galactica’s pilot deliberately shared with the events of 9/11.

Bon Temps’ first taste of vampires occurs when Bill (rugged yet gaunt Stephen Moyer), a vampire since he “died” as a human during the Civil War, walks into a bar where Sookie Stackhouse is waitressing. If Bill was anyone else Sookie would have been able to read his mind with her special “gift” and figure out his arrival is simply to claim an old property in town owned by his family who the last owner never identified an heir. For some reason Sookie cannot read Bill’s mind which draws her to the mysterious vampire like a bee to honey.

As season one progresses a series of murders take place in which almost all of the victims are female, were bitten by vampires and had sex with Sookie’s grammatically and intellectually challenged redneck brother Jason. Not just any sex… full nudity, graphic and ratings-pushing sex. The vampires are sexual champions of the world which does not make a whole lot of sense since they are dead, emotionless and should not have a desire to partake in sexual activity. But they do, and it works within the framework of the show if you do not over think it.

Brain cells will be put to work in True Blood but not for the obvious reasons. Murders loom over Bon Temps and a mysterious killer is sought but racking one’s mind to figure out whodunit is never an urge. The eclectic inhabitants of Bon Temps and their bizarre lives which never seem to be in the right place are what make jumping to the next episode nearly irresistible. Even the sanest and most “normal” of the bunch has demons in their closet. One is even convinced she has a demon within her.

Maybe she does, maybe she does not. That is the beauty of True Blood. The world is an open book where anything is possible. I never would have thought X-Men’s little naive Anna Paquin could carry a television show on her shoulders. She does not look the part of a leading lady, but she does look the part of Sookie Stackhouse which makes her the perfect leading lady. Anything is possible, indeed.

I had high hopes for True Blood’s debut on Blu-ray Disc after being floored by the high definition transfers found on HBO’s Band of Brothers and Showtime’s Dexter. Those expectations were mostly met, but not quite. The 1.78:1 AVC encoded transfer is exceptionally strong with detail, maybe even so to a fault when it comes to over-revealing the sparse use of make-up and special effects. Where the transfer takes a step back are in some of the dimly lit scenes where the image becomes either soft or overrun with inconsistent levels of excessive grain.

True Blood’s audio presentation, on the other hand, is without fault. 5.1 channels of DTS-HD Master Audio are powerful, enveloping and perfectly mixed. Clarity is sharp as a razor in the score, dialogue and subtle ambient noises, and surround use is beyond exceptional when Sookie’s “gift” is opened up for the audience to experience. True Blood: Season One joins Band of Brothers as another reference quality lossless audio mix on Blu-ray.

True Blood: Season One on Blu-ray spans five total discs housed in foldout sleeve stashed inside a hardcover outer case. The outer cover is great, but flipping open several feet of packaging on your lap to find a disc is so “DVD.” The menus, though, are fantastic with preview information for all 12 episodes offered on every disc.

HBO has opted to present all of True Blood’s supplemental footage in “Enhanced Viewing” mode, another term for Blu-ray’s Profile 1.1 Picture-in-Picture functionality. That is a fancy way of saying if you want to see all of True Blood’s extras you will have to re-watch the entire series or spend several hours meticulously scanning through each episode for only a handful of “bonus” occurrences.

Though there is not near enough new footage available, there are some real neat things to be found such as Lafayette dishing on his Bon Temps patrons, pop-up trivia facts, historical vampire information and even mock True Blood commercials and PSAs. It is a shame HBO did not offer a more direct means to access the information like the good old fashioned DVD does.

Also available scattered across the discs are Commentaries on six of the twelve episodes with cast and crew including executive producer and creator Alan Ball, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer. These are recommended before enduring Enhanced Viewing mode’s long stretches of no new material.

At the time of this review, True Blood’s second season premiere drew more new HBO subscriptions than any other show on the cable channel other than The Sopranos. Its sexiness, quirky characters and engrossing network of storylines are worth your time to explore in high definition on Blu-ray Disc over DVD, disappointing bonus features or not.

– Dan Bradley

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