Friday, September 20, 2013
Blu-ray Review: ‘Arrow: The Complete First Season’
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Arrow: The Complete First Season’ on Blogcritics.
For those who think that comic book movies center too much on action, they should start tuning into the CW’s Arrow. Armed with plenty of drama and the daily routine of the superhero life, you couldn’t ask for anything more. Considering movie theaters are jam packed with a superhero movie at every turn, you’d think there would be more of this programming on TV. But Arrow was the only TV show on, and the first since Smallville went off the air.
Sure, Marvel has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. starting next week with the return of the beloved Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). Arrow showrunners Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg, will have to at least keep things at the same level as the first season, but I can’t see them wanting to do anything but step up their game, especially considering the season ending cliffhanger literally leaves viewers right in the middle of the action.
Arrow opens with young billionaire Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) being rescued off a deserted island. Oliver has been castaway for five years and declared dead after the yacht he was on sank. Now, Oliver returns home to the family and friends he left behind, to pick up the pieces. While stranded on the island, he makes a few new friends along the way. First, he’s saved by the mysterious Yao Fei (Byron Mann), who may or may not be a good guy, and runs across Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) and Fei’s daughter, Shado (Celina Jade), who will teach him everything he needs to keep himself alive. Back on the mainland, Oliver begins to cross names out of a book he discovered from his father Robert (Jamey Sheridan), who are all evildoers of Sterling City.
Turning himself into a hooded vigilante, armed with bow and arrows, and enough physical prowess to make Batman blush, Oliver must become the savior of his beloved city. What Oliver doesn’t know is that a few people who aren’t on the list will turn into his biggest enemies: his mother Moira (Susanna Thompson) and his best friend Tommy Merlyn’s (Colin Donnell) father Malcolm (John Barrowman). Oliver must also contend with the brokenhearted Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), while keeping the city safe — with the help of his righthand man John Diggle (David Ramsey) and his computer expert/double entendre extraordinaire Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) — from the likes of a swirling pool of bad guys, with Laurel’s father, Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), vowing to take him down.
The best thing going for Arrow is its grounding in reality. Berlanti, Guggenheim, and Kreisberg continually mention their inspiration being Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films and it certainly shows. Instead of maniacal super villains with over-the-top superpowers, we get characters such as Deathstroke (Jeffrey C. Robinson), Deadshot (Michael Rowe), China White (Kelly Hu), The Huntress (Jessica De Gouw), The Count (Seth Gabel), and Firefly (Andrew Dunbar), who are all killers with vendettas. The biggest baddie turns out to be Dark Arrow, whose identity I would never spoil, even though viewers are never left guessing. They also never refer to Oliver as “Green Arrow,” always using terms like “The Vigilante,” “The Hood,” or “Hoodguy.”
Arrow: The Complete First Season’s 23 episodes are brought to us from Warner Bros. in a combo pack, spread across four BD50 discs and five DVDs, along with a code to download via Ultraviolet. The first three Blu-ray discs hold six episodes each, with only a few unaired scenes keeping every episode looking as crisp as they should. Filmed with Arri ALEXA digital cameras and framed in a screen-filling 1.78:1 aspect ratio, aside from some inherent noise, this is one of the best looking TV transfers out there. Sure, skin tones sometimes range a tad on the pink side, but with all the nighttime sequences, and neon lit club scenes, you’d be hard pressed to find anything wrong with most of the transfer.
The island scenes fare the “worst” with prevalent noise that is until a particular plot point rears its head, and from then on, the transfer is pretty impeccable. Unfortunately, that noise creeps in almost every episode, and is typically confined solely to the island flashbacks, but it always shows up at some point. With how much of the series takes place in darkened areas, the transfer could look way worse than it does, but thankfully, crush is never an issue. You can clearly see the lining of Arrow’s hood with his eyes (even though he’s wearing heavy eye makeup as the character’s “mask”) clearly visible. The lack of extras and the disc size also makes sure there are no real compression issues with aliasing happening twice in the whole series, while banding is non-existent.
The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track is one for the books as well. TV shows never fare well in the sound department when watching it over the air, but on Blu-ray, Arrow really packs a punch. The club and action scenes have spectacular space, directionality, and LFE, with dialogue never getting lost in the mix. You never question what a character said no matter how loud the music or the action gets. Warner Bros. used to release their TV series with Dolby Digital tracks that still sounded better than they ever could during broadcast, but lossless audio is expected these days, and they certainly deliver. It’s definitely on par with the best TV mixes, even if AMC’s Breaking Bad is still as good as it gets. But Arrow certainly has plenty of tricks up its sleeve in the sound department with plenty of shattering glass, breaking wood, or slinging arrows.
The real special features — except for the unaired scenes which are the disc of the episode they were cut from and run a collected 24 minutes — are all confined to the fourth Blu-ray and in HD. Arrow Comes Alive! is a 30-minute behind the scenes look at what it took to bring Arrow to the small screen. Talk of a five season arc is mentioned and how the show’s creators wanted to make sure this wasn’t the happy, sunny Green Arrow that people may have expected and again talk about how much they were influenced by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and their decision to adapt Andy Diggle and Jock’s “Green Arrow: Year One.”
“Arrow: Fight School/Stunt School” is a really fun 19-minute behind the scenes peek at Simon Burnett (Amell’s stunt double), JJ Makaro, and James Bamford’s fight choreography. They all talk about how nice it is to have Amell able to perform a lot of his own fights; something that also surely helps with filming them. “Arrow: Cast and Creative Team at the 2013 PaleyFest” is a 27-minute panel with the cast and crew at what they consider to be an upscale Comic Con, mediated by DC Comics Chief Creative Officer, and one of the show’s writers, Geoff Johns. Things are rounded out with a quick 2-minute “Gag Reel.”
While I didn’t catch Arrow in its initial run, I am going to make sure I set my DVR to record the second season. Everyone should be tuning in to one of the most fun shows on TV, even if some of the acting isn’t the greatest (Laurel being the worst offender here), and if the show can’t keep away from its CW roots (the song choices are pretty horrific at times). The show’s creators have promised they still have lots of surprises up their sleeves, and the first season features plenty of “holy crap I can’t believe they just did that” moments, including the season finale. It’s one of the biggest surprises of the entire series. Arrow: The Complete First Season features fantastic video and audio and fans, or anyone interested, is sound in picking up this set to catch up or refresh themselves before season two begins airing on October 9.
Cover art and photos courtesy Warner Bros.