British combat nurse Claire Randall is reunited with her husband after returning from the battlefields of World War II. While on their second honeymoon, she walks through one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles and is suddenly transported to 1743 Scotland, torn by war and rogue Highland clans. Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigue and danger when she is accused of being a spy. Forced by circumstance to marry an outlawed Highlander, she finds herself falling in love and torn by her loyalties to two men in vastly different times, all of which may threaten her life and shatter her heart. Diana Gabaldon's best-selling book series is stunningly realized by Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore in Season One's first eight episodes.
I'll confess to never having heard of the 'Outlander' series of books written by Diana Gabaldon before the creation of this Starz series, but I guess it has a pretty rabid fan base, particularly among the fairer sex. However, I love historical dramas and anything involving time travel, so when you add that to the fact that the creator and Executive Producer of 'Outlander' is none other than Battlestar Galactica's Ronald D. Moore, I knew this show would at least be worth checking out.
Not having read any of Gabaldon's work, I don't know how closely each episode of the series follows the written word, but I will say the first half of the first episode is hard to work one's way through, as the show sets up both its premise and drops a lot of important exposition on the viewer in a way that isn't exactly riveting. Once all the pieces are in place however, the series started to grow on me and while it's far from the best series currently on the air (not necessarily an insult, as there's a lot of great TV to be watched these days), the first eight episodes – Starz divided up both the airing of Season 1 and this Blu-ray release into two parts- contained enough to make me want to see what happens next.
'Outlander' begins in 1945, where nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) and husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) decide to take a second honeymoon to the Scottish Highlands after both serving for England in World War II. While exploring the countryside and visiting a number of old ruins, they come upon an old Druid shrine and watch one evening as some of the town's women dance around the large vertical stones of the shrine in some type of religious ceremony. The next day Claire goes to explore the stones on her own and is somehow magically transported from 1945 to the year 1743.
Claire soon encounters a number of British soldiers in the area, including the notorious 'Black Jack' Randall, an apparent forefather of her husband (and also played by Tobias Menzies). But unlike her beloved Frank, this Randall seems to be pure evil, and tries to rape Claire upon their first meeting. Fortunately, she's rescued by members of the local clan MacKenzie and, in particular, by Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a handsome highlander who almost immediately starts making goo-goo eyes (or whatever the term for such activity would be in the 1700's) at young Claire, and she at him in return.
Claire returns to the clan's Scottish castle, where she's basically made a prisoner (albeit one with the freedom to move around the grounds while being watched/escorted by clan members) once they learn of her medical knowledge. The fact that she can't leave is, of course, a plot contrivance to keep Claire from returning to the shrine, and it also gives the character a chance to become more romantically attached to Jamie.
After a slow start (again, this series doesn't have the most riveting of opening episodes), I'll confess to growing to like 'Outlander', but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how much this series manipulates viewers. First, before Claire travels back in time, there's a scene with hubby Frank in which he confesses he wouldn't have held it against Claire had she found comfort in the arms of another man during the war. Gee, what a nice excuse for infidelity. Then, when she travels back in time, the primary villain just happens to look exactly like Frank – making it easier for the audience to accept the fact that this series primarily revolves around a hero who is cheating on her husband. The fact that Frank is presented as such a straight-laced arrow back in 1945 and Jamie is presented as such a brave and noble hero in 1743 only adds to the viewer manipulation. Again, I'm not sure if this presentation matches the novels (if it does, blame should go toward writer Diana Gabaldon and not the showrunners), but there's little doubt in my mind that 'Outlander' could have been a much stronger series if its lead character were a little more noble. It seems that she's in the past barely a few weeks before she's in the arms of another man (although, once again, the writers manipuate the situation so Claire seems less like she's betraying her husband and more like she's being to loyal to her new Scottish friends).
I do think 'Outlander' is worth a look, and I'm interested enough in these characters to see what happens next. Still, I believe the show could be a lot stronger if it was a little less black and white and a little more complex when it came to its heroes and villains and the way it is dealing with its featured romance…it all feels a little too 'soap opera-y' for a production like this one. Of course, this set only allows me to judge the show on part of a season. I'll be anxious to see if the second part addresses some of my concerns with the first half.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
This special Collector's Edition release of 'Outlander: Season One Volume One' arrives on Blu-ray with a sturdy cardboard slipcase, the cover of which is cut out so one can see the attractive (and suitable for framing) 7"x5 ½" lenticular that is part of this set. Underneath the lenticular, the box contains a digibook whose cover matches that of the lenticular image (at least the version showing actor Sam Heughan, as the lenticular changes images to show actor Tobias Menzies when moved). The digibook contains a 36-page full color booklet with photos and quotes from the eight episodes contained on this set. Do yourself a favor and don't look at the booklet before watching the episodes, as spoilers are contained. The two 50GB discs are placed on a plastic hub on the back inside cover and slightly overlap, with the bottom half of the first disc overlapping the top half of the second disc on the dual hub. However, when placed on the hubs, the top hub is slightly raised so the two discs never actually touch each other.
There are no front-loaded trailers on either disc, whose main menus match the image of the digibook cover, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen and opening up to the left side of the screen for further options when selected. Like many (most) Sony releases of TV series, each disc shows all the episodes and extras, instead of just listing what is on that particular disc.
Also included in the set is an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the first eight episodes, along with a second, single-fold insert that advertises the 'Outlander' book series, the soundtrack, some additional merchandise, and an ad for the return of the series on Starz. The remainder of the cardboard case contains a placeholder for the Collector's Edition release of the second half of this season, so two digibooks will fit in this single slipcase should one purchase both special editions.
Note: In addition to this Collector's Edition, Sony has also released a more affordable standard edition, where the same discs and UltraViolet code are packaged inside a standard keepcase with a slipcover.
The Blu-rays in this release are Region A-locked.
Each episode of 'Outlander' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa Plus cameras and is presented on Blu-ray in its television aspect ratio of 1.78:1. As with most TV shows shot on the digital format and, in particular, most TV shows which Sony handles the home video release of, 'Outlander' looks pretty great in HD. Viewers will note that the scenes set in 1945 have a 'cooler' look to them than the ones set in 1743, which have a more lush, color-intense appearance.
Details here are wonderful, with natural-looking facial features and consistent contrast throughout (although, again, there is a visible difference between the 1945 and 1743 scenes). Black levels are pretty strong, although it's hard not for some crush to creep in, considering half the scenes in this series are shot in dark, candle-lit rooms. For the most part, however, viewers should have no problem making out and distinguishing backgrounds.
I didn't see any noticeable issues with aliasing, banding, or any other frequent video glitches that sometimes occur on Blu-ray releases. These are really nice transfers of the episodes, and fans of the series should be quite pleased with what they get here.
The only available audio option for each of the eight episodes on these two discs are English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, that match the video quality in terms of impressiveness. While there is some action sprinkled across these entries, for the most part, 'Outlander' is primarily a character-driven drama, which means it relies more on characters talking to each other than engaging in various forms of fisticuffs, swordplay, or gunfire.
The audio provides distinct, crisp sound without ever being overbearing or improperly mixed. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and there's a nice feeling of immersion to each track, although use of directionality and/or noticeable LFE is rare. The bottom line here is that this is nicely rendered lossless audio, with no hint of muddiness or other glitches.
In addition to the lossless track, subtitles are available in English SDH, English, and French.
Note: In addition to the extras listed below, each episode in this set (with the exception of the first one) contains the option to watch with a recap of the previous episode before the opening credits.
Since so many series with storylines similar to 'Outlander' are aimed toward a male audience, I suppose it's only fitting that female viewers get one geared toward them. Romance is at the heart of this show, but this is by no means only a sappy love story. There's plenty of grit and realism here (and more bloodshed than one might expect) and despite the fact that it took me a few episodes to 'get into' the storyline, and while I still have a few problems with the plotting, I'll confess there's still a lot to like about 'Outlander'. It's certainly worth a look.