Dollhouse: Season One
- Street Date:
- July 28th, 2009
- Reviewed by:
- Drew Taylor
- Review Date: 1
- August 14th, 2009
- Movie Release Year:
- 20th Century Fox
- 694 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
'Dollhouse' really is a one of a kind show.
That is to say, when it started airing this year on Fox, nobody had seen anything like it, really. Even though it was created by Joss Whedon, the genre genius behind the classic series 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' 'Angel' and the tragically short-lived 'Firefly' (later resurrected as the rip-snorting 'Serenity' motion picture), this was an entirely different beast and, while still centering around the time-tested Joss Whedon themes of feminism, technology, and morality, it was just a whole lot weirder.
'Dollhouse' takes place in modern day Los Angeles, and centers around the titular house, a secret, below-ground complex that uses cutting-edge technology to erase the minds of its agents or "dolls." For every "engagement," these dolls can have their minds retrofitted from the ground up for whatever the Dollhouse is hired for. In the pilot, our lead Echo (played by 'Buffy' hottie Eliza Dushku) is hired to be a hostage negotiator when a small child is abducted. In another episode, she's the bodyguard for a famous pop star. In yet another, she's programmed with the personality of a dead woman and forced to solve her own murder, and so on, and so on.
Of course, there are those that think the Dollhouse is maybe not such a good thing. Echo's handler, Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix from the 'Matrix' sequels) expresses his concerns about the Dollhouse infrastructure to the Los Angeles Dollhouse's head, Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams, forever Ms. Cross from 'Rushmore'), the head of security Laurence Dominic (Reed Diamond), and Topher Brink (Franz Kranz), the young techno-wizard behind the implanting technology. There's also the Dollhouse's doctor Claire Saunders (Amy Acker, from 'Angel'), who occasionally protests. And on the outside, there's FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett, from 'Battlestar Galactica') whose goal in season one is to concretely identify the Dollhouse as an actual place and then, of course, bring it down.
There's also a former doll on the loose, named Alpha, who is up to some very bad things…
This first season of 'Dollhouse' starts off shaky (but it's still intriguing), before finally hitting its stride on the sixth episode. That episode, entitled "Man on the Street," really explored the moral depths of the Dollhouse conundrum, while simultaneously pushing the mythology of the show forward in bold new directions. From there on out, things were just non-stop brilliance. You would be hard pressed to find a more challenging, interesting, strange, gutsy, complicated series on network television.
With so many shows on television having so few ideas, it's nice to watch one that almost seems to have too many.
There were some behind-the-scenes battles that happened on 'Dollhouse.' The pilot had to be reshot and re-edited several times, and the show was shut down for three weeks while everyone (Joss, the writers, the studio) got on the same page as to what, exactly, it was all about. Even rarer still is the fact that a show can be born from such chaos and actually be amazing. But like I said, this is a one of a kind show.
Everything works well here - from the uniformly excellent cast, to the power of the show's ideas - and once you reach the end, with the bonus unaired thirteenth episode (I'll get to that in a minute), well, you'll probably want to watch the whole thing again.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Dollhouse' comes equipped with a lovely 1080p AVC MPEG-4 (1.78:1 aspect ratio) transfer, with the first season spread across three 50GB discs.
Overall, I found this to be a really great-looking Blu-ray set. In HD, 'Dollhouse' really shines, and it's a marked improvement across the board from its television debut - skin tones look good, details are fine, shadows and blacks are deep and dark, and depth is amazing. The intricately sophisticated Dollhouse set, a kind of spa-as-designed-by-Philip K. Dick, really comes to life here in a truly impressive way. Contrast is solid, and there are no bothersome technical issues to worry about (nary an artifact was found).
While some are complaining that detail is somewhat soft, a concession of the artificial sharpening that went into the high definition release, I didn't find that to be bothersome or even noteworthy.
This is one of the best TV-on-Blu-ray presentations, and certainly a step up from both the show's broadcast and standard-DVD forms. Really great stuff.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
We get another stellar audio engagement with the 'Dollhouse's' wonderful DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track.
Anyone who has watched a Joss Whedon show knows that he favors rapidfire, pop culture-enriched dialogue. He's like a nerd version of Aaron Sorkin. So it's nice to have the dialogue on this track sounding clean and crisp, no matter if people are walking up and down stairs, fighting, or talking over the telephone. It's just great. The dialogue is up front, and thanks to the lossless track, it truly sparkles.
Elsewhere, the surround gets quite the workout. There's a lot of rear-speaker activity, particularly during more action-centered scenes, and there is a lot of atmospheric activity, with great pans that add a lot to the immersive aspect of the show's world.
In short, the audio is just as good as the video, another plus when considering this pricey Blu-ray upgrade.
The disc also comes with English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
The discs are beautifully designed for the most part, but aside from the commentary for the much ballyhooed thirteenth episode, "Epitaph One," the commentaries are incredibly hard to navigate to. There isn't a special features option on the menus for the first two discs, so you pop in disc two, select "Man on the Street" (the aforementioned, game-changing sixth episode), and if you don't notice the two tiny arrows on either side of the episode title, then you won't get access to the Commentary with Joss Whedon. (And really, why would you even pay attention to those two little arrows? If I wasn't looking for it, I never would have found it. It's a terrible design flaw and Fox should have known better when putting this thing together.
- Audio Commentaries There are three audio commentaries spread across the three discs. While it would have been nice to have commentaries on every episode, the episodes they chose are worthwhile. The first, on "Ghosts," is from series mastermind Joss Whedon and star Eliza Dushku. This isn't a great track, as the two seem to be in a goofy, early-morning mood, but it's fun to listen to nonetheless. The second track is probably the best, with Joss going solo on episode six, "Man on the Street;" really informative and great. The third track is by staff writers Jed Whedon (Joss' little brother) and Maurissa Tancharoen (Jed's wife) on the thirteenth episode "Epitaph One." They seem nervous about recording the commentary (and about the series in general - at one point they make reference to the fact that they don't know if the series is coming back at the time they recorded the track), but it is still a worthwhile listen. Just remember - no matter how hard it is to find them, those first two tracks are there!
- Unaired Pilot - "Echoes" (HD, 45:47) As we'll be getting to in a minute, 'Dollhouse' didn't have the smoothest production history, and this unaired pilot, completely different than the one aired ("Ghost"), is part of that messy history. This is a really interesting episode, with all those simmering philosophical debates on the surface, with our characters getting into long, drawn out conversations about morality etc. There's also a lot of crazy stuff that happens that's too good to spoil. If anything, watching this episode just enriches the 'Dollhouse' universe without rewriting its history.
- Unaired 13th Episode - "Epitaph One" (HD, 49:51) This is going to be the big draw on the season one box set, and as it should be. A post-apocalyptic yarn following a group of survivors 30 years after the events of the "real" season finale, we get flashbacks (really flash-forwards to us) to what happens when the Dollhouse's technology gets unleashed on the world. It's a crazy, shot-on-HD rollercoaster ride, and after you're done watching it, you'll want to rewatch the entire season and see if there were any clues that led to this conclusion.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 29:46) This is a nice collection of deleted scenes, but won't really make the world anymore whole (like watching the two unaired episodes). A lot of this stuff was from when the show was following the path of the original pilot, so it can be confusing. Still, there are some gems, like big bad Alpha yelling (in a British accent no less) the "kills witch" command to an unsuspected doll. There are a whole lot of them, so this is really only for the curious or super-desperate (thankfully I fit into both categories).
- Making Dollhouse (HD, 20:48) This is a really wonderful and, surprisingly, honest documentary about the long road to the 'Dollhouse's' completion. Various cast and crew members talk about the many bumps encountered along the way, and how ultimately satisfying it was to work on such a creatively strong endeavor. Really great stuff.
- Coming Home (HD, 7:11) A brief feature on the returning cast and crew members from Joss Whedon's previous shows, most notably writers Tim Minear and Jane Espenson and actors Dushku, Amy Acker, and a mystery cast member from another series who shows up (I really can't spoil this). This is a cute little feature and worth your time.
- Finding Echo (HD, 5:59) Another mini-feature about how the show came about, through a fateful lunch Eliza was having with Joss, and what it was like bringing her considerable skill set to the table for 'Dollhouse' (surely a challenging gig for any actor, no matter how talented).
- Designing the Perfect Dollhouse (HD, 5;59) This is a guided tour through the main Dollhouse set. Guided by who, you ask? Well, by Joss Whedon, of course!
- A Private Engagement (HD, 5:47) I can't decide whether this feature is dopey or cute, but what it is someone asking the 'Dollhouse' cast and crew what they would do if the Dollhouse technology actually existed. Make of that what you will.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
'Dollhouse' is one of the best shows on television. With its heady mix of philosophical and moral quandaries, kick-ass action thriller elements, and superb acting, episode after episode will leave you dazzled. With strong video and audio and a wonderful collection of special features, this is highly recommended. If you watched and loved the show when it originally aired this year, then it's a straight-up must own.
- 3 BD-50 Blu-ray Discs
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
- Audio commentary on Selected Episodes
- Unaired Pilot - "Echoes"
- Unaired 13th Episode - "Epitaph One"
- Deleted Scenes
- Making 'Dollhouse'
- Coming Home
- Finding Echo
- Designing the Perfect Dollhouse
- A Private Engagement
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