When Joss Whedon’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ met its demise in 2003, I wondered when the next paranormal guilty pleasure would step in to take its place. Apparently the CW, recognizing Buffy’s newly-untapped audience, decided to take advantage and fill the void. While light on camp and significantly different in tone, ‘Supernatural’ has attracted a similar crowd, providing its viewers with sharp dialogue, tense stories, and an unholy parade of intriguing baddies that have kept fans, new and old, coming back week after week.
Over the course of its first two seasons, ’Supernatural’ introduced troubled monster-hunters Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki), a search for their father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), their hunt for a nasty demon named Azazel (Fredric Lehne), and the opening of a Hell Gate that released a variety of creatures into the world. However, the most shocking development came when Dean sold his soul to save Sam’s life. In the show’s third season, the Winchester brothers work to negate the devil’s sinister deal, contend with some of the best creatures the series has seen, and seek the aid of a renegade demon (Katie Cassidy) and an artifact dealer named Bela (Lauren Cohan). It all leads to a climactic conclusion that will leave most people salivating for a fourth season.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend anyone tackle ‘Supernatural’s third outing without taking in its first two seasons, but I can tell you it’s an unexpectedly accessible show regardless of where you hop on. The series' strengths can be attributed first and foremost to its protagonists, both of whom deftly walk a fine line between brooding ferocity and relaxed humanity. Despite their tragic pasts, neither Winchester brother is annoyingly morose and, thankfully, neither one falls into the emo or goth subcultures. Instead, the heroes are composite everymen thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Fear is a central element to the series and their challenge is to face and overcome that fear to save themselves and their world.
More importantly, while series like ‘Smallville’ have suffered from lame villain-of-the-week storylines, ‘Supernatural’ does it right. The bad guys have legitimate bite, even those who only appear in a handful of episodes. The central demons are completely unpredictable, their allegiance is always in question and their mere existence is a constant thorn in the Winchesters’ sides. Sure, possessions abound and can become a bit formulaic in light of other developments in the series, but ‘Supernatural’ is the kind of show where any main character could die at any moment without leaving the series in trouble. The heroes and villains are wonderfully devised, but I never get the sense that any one character is safe. As such, the series offers viewers a palpable sense of tension and dread that keeps every episode feeling fresh and dangerous.
Unfortunately, the lack of any down-to-earth female leads, a few rather cliché developments in key subplots, and some uneven episode pacing gives ‘Supernatural’s truncated third season (cut short by the now-infamous writer’s strike) its fair share of headaches. Thankfully, these are minor problems in the grand scheme of things and the series continues to exceed my expectations and keep me invested in its story and characters. I still consider myself a casual fan, but the show grows on me more and more with each passing season.
(Note ’Supernatural: The Complete Third Season’ includes all sixteen third-season episodes: “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Kids Are Alright,” “Bad Day at Black Rock,” “Sin City,” “Bedtime Stories,” “Red Sky at Morning,” “Fresh Blood,” “A Very Supernatural Christmas,” “Maleus Maleficarum,” “Dream a Little Dream,” “Mystery Spot,” “Just in Bello,” “Ghostfacers,” “Long Distance Call,” “Time is on My Side,” and “No Rest for the Wicked.”)
’Supernatural: The Complete Third Season’ features a surprisingly strong 1080p/VC-1 transfer that sidesteps any crippling issues and renders the series’ pervasive shadows and occasionally bleak palette with ease. Colors are rich and stable (despite their intentionally dreary appearance at times), contrast is bold and lively, skintones are relatively natural, and black levels are deep and inky. Compared to its standard DVD counterpart, the Blu-ray edition is far more revealing as well. Well-defined textures pop, fine details and facial features are sharp, and delineation prevents even the heaviest shadows from obscuring the set dressing and locations. A bit of edge enhancement hinders image integrity here and there throughout the sixteen third-season episodes, but it’s rarely a distraction. As it stands, the picture is quite clean. Aside from some occasional crush, I didn’t catch any significant artifacting, banding, or digital noise.
The only other nitpick I would level at the transfer is that a few soft shots litter each episode, but they’re clearly the result of the original source rather than the technical transfer. Regardless, ‘Supernatural’ makes an impressive Blu-ray debut that should excite fans and attract newcomers to the fold.
’Supernatural: The Complete Third Season’ includes a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track that does a decent job handling the show’s action scenes and blazing special effects. Granted, the fact that Warner has once again decided to forego lossless audio is a disappointment (one that will probably send series fans into message board seizures), but I suspect the upgrade wouldn’t have made a substantial difference in this particular case.
Dialogue is clean and nicely prioritized in the mix, the occasionally overcrowded soundscape is crisp and fairly convincing, and a few scenes offer some decidedly brawny low-end support. Unfortunately, the LFE channel doesn’t deliver the chest-thumping resonance I expect from BD audio, leaving some sequences feeling weak and underwhelming. Likewise, the rear speakers are a bit too subdued considering the intensity of the on-screen madness. Don’t misunderstand, LFE and rear speaker support is still decidedly above average, I just think the track would have been more immersive and engaging had every speaker been used to its full potential. It’s also worth noting that both shortcomings can be traced back to the series somewhat limited sound design and shouldn’t be attributed to the DD track itself.
Overall, ‘Supernatural: The Complete Third Season’ holds its ground and boasts a solid audio presentation. It won’t drop jaws or slap faces, but it also won’t distract or detract from the series itself.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Supernatural: The Complete Third Season’ includes all of the special features that appear on the previously-released DVD. Sadly, the discs don’t include a single audio commentary, it only takes an hour or so to dig through the entire supplemental package, and the video content is presented in standard definition.
’Supernatural: The Complete Third Season’ arrives on Blu-ray with an excellent collection of episodes, a striking video transfer, and a decent audio presentation. The lack of extensive special features will be a letdown for series fans, but it certainly doesn’t ruin the remaining attributes of the release. Anyone who hasn’t experienced the first two seasons may want to take advantage of their Netflix queue before digging into the show’s BD debut, but I’m confident those who regularly follow the series will be quite pleased with this one.