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4.5 Stars out of 5
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Release Date: November 23rd, 2010
Movie Release Year: 2004
Release Country: United States
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Deadwood: The Complete Series

Review Date November 29th, 2010 by
Overview -

In an age of plunder and greed, the richest gold strike in American History draws a throng of restless misfits to an outlaw settlement where everything--and everyone--has a price. Welcome to Deadwood...a hell of a place to make your fortune.

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  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: 13-Disc Box Set,BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs,Region A Locked
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
    Length:2140
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):1.78:1
    English Descriptive Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround,French DTS 2.0 Surround,Spanish DTS 2.0 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions: English SDH,French,Spanish
    Special Features: Audio Commentaries
    Featurettes
    Documentaries
    Q&A with Cast and Creative Team
    Still Galleries
    Movie Studio: HBO
    Release Date: November 23rd, 2010

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

4.5 Stars out of 5

Admittedly, I'm not much of a television watcher. Meaning, I don't really watch much of it. Something about committing more than a few hours to one particular storyline seems not only daunting, but requires more effort than I can seem to afford. However, to remove any suggestion that I may have a fear of commitment, I confess to enjoying a series when the word of mouth feels justified. For example, I love everything 'Lost.' Granted, I didn't discover the show until the fifth season, but once I watched the first episode I was hooked. (My latest addiction is 'True Blood.') For me, the program must offer something extraordinarily unique and surprisingly original to peak curiosity. Otherwise, what's the point of asking viewers to invest a great deal of their time.

With HBO's 'Deadwood,' this is exactly what attracted me. Strong word of mouth aroused my interest because many made it sound unusual and novel, a vastly different alternative to anything else on the boob tube. Much of this talk was, of course, related to the lack of censorship and graphic violence within the series due to it being on a paid cable station. With a pre-existing affinity for the American West, my curiosity intensified while already in the middle of the second season. But once I finally watched the first episode with historical figures like Wild Bill Hickok, Seth Bullock, Calamity Jane and Al Swearengen used as major characters, I wanted more. Set during the height of the Black Hills Gold Rush, I was not only enthusiastic, but I instantly became a devoted fan.

For the series opener, the first episodes commence with the three prominent names often associated with the town of Deadwood: Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), Hickok (Keith Carradine), and Swearengen (Ian McShane). The first two are on their way to the small mining camp in search of their fortunes while the latter is already settled there as the feared and powerful proprietor of the Gem Saloon. With Custer's Last Stand, aka Battle of Little Bighorn and part of the Black Hills War, still a recent memory, the booming settlement is less than a year old and not officially recognized as part of the United States. Because of this, the lawless and disorderly town is ripe with greed and corruption, a place governed and controlled by those who will fear and intimidation like it was second nature.

In this immoral place of sleaze and self-indulgence, tensions almost immediately grow when the murder of a family incites mob violence towards Native Americans. After rescuing the only survivor of the massacre, the former lawmen and gunslingers Hickok and Bullock soon become friends, which makes Swearengen nervous for some reason. When a new saloon offering gambling and run by the shrewd Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe) suddenly shows up in town, the foul-mouthed cutthroat shows he doesn't much care for competition. As the first season continues and with the shocking death of a legend, hostilities between these men build and escalate. During these final years of the Reconstruction era, civilizations and towns were formed out of violence, greed and power.

Once word of possible annexation reaches the camp, prompting business owners to form a local government, the direction of the series becomes all too clear. With each episode and every scuffle — a day in the life of Deadwood before becoming part of the Dakota Territory — what we are watching is the inevitable encroachment of civil progress, a small mining camp slowly transforms into an organized township. The whole of the second season focuses mostly on this aspect of the storyline as faceless Yankton officials try to make their move to take over the settlement by sending Commissioner Jarry (Stephen Tobolowsky). While Cy attempts to somehow profit from this, Swearengen and Bullock are forced to set their differences aside and see the town grow the way they want it.

Making matters worse — and also introducing another thematic element into the series — is psychopath Francis Wolcott (Garret Dillahunt), who stirs up a frenzy with rumors of land claims being questioned. Turns out, the geologist is a representative of a man so powerful that his name alone brings fear and apprehension: George Hearst (Gerald McRaney). As we move into season three, 'Deadwood' becomes a series not only about the creation of a city, but also on the power struggle which works beneath the formation of a town. With the introduction of a theater troupe, led by the flamboyant Jack Langrishe (Brian Cox), the town shows promise at becoming a civilized town. But the tension between Bullock (the law), Swearengen (small business) and Hearst (corporate business) is undeniable, and their hostility threatens certain hopes in people.

In the episode "I Am Not the Fine Man You Take Me For" (Season 3, Episode 2), we see election campaigns being introduced into Deadwood. And as the candidates make their speeches, viewers spend more time listening to the conversation between Swearengen and Hearst instead of the other. The constant going back and forth (the conversation and the speeches) makes a very astute insinuation of how the political process and government truly function. Behind closed doors, civilization is built on the manipulation of politics and business, a place where greedy entrepreneurial bosses have the upper hand. Corruption tends to writhe underneath corporate capitalism — the laissez-faire of the free market system — that's intent on usurping individual freedoms and small business.

Unfortunately, this is how the series ends, and fans are left to imagine where the show would have gone to next in the fourth season. The sudden cancellation was a bit of a shock to say the least, and the intense build up of the last episodes have left devoted followers deeply hurt and disappointed. For years, we've been promised two follow-up films so as to bring the entire storyline to a satisfying conclusion. But over four years later since the last episode aired, it doesn't look like this will ever happen, especially when Ian McShane himself reported in an interview that the original set has been destroyed. The reasons behind its unexpected demise are unclear, but one can easily guess cost and ratings to be a contributing factor. Interest in the American West isn't as high as it once was.

Based on true historical events and people, 'Deadwood' was — and still is — a marvelous show with an intriguing and greatly fascinating look of a unique period in American history. Granted, series creators and writers took copious amounts of liberties with the facts, but it was all done for some wonderfully impressive and engaging drama. For example, the idea that Bullock and Hickok were friends is highly doubtful since the legendary gunfighter was murdered on the second day of Bullock's arrival in Deadwood. Nonetheless, the idea is powerfully effective for intensifying the hostility between Bullock and Swearengen, which really did happen. Much of the series relies on this careful balance of mixing fact with fiction, of providing a historical account with a highly entertaining bent. And it does so in immensely compelling and riveting fashion.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'Deadwood: The Complete Series' comes to Blu-ray courtesy of HBO Home Video. The sturdy 13-disc box set comes with an attractive and textured cardboard slipcover that's made to look aged and rough with a small portrait window showing the main cast of characters.

Inside, we find the Region A locked, BD50 discs housed within the pages of a 16-page hardcover book, similar to that seen in the 'Rome and 'Alien Anthology' release. Each page features beautiful, glossy pictures of the cast, various scenes from the series, and several smaller pics of the actual town and the people of Deadwood. It's a striking and lovely package to say the least, but I imagine some won't care too much for slipping the discs in between pages.

At startup, the first disc is the only one to start with a promotional preview of HBO programs. Then viewers are greeted with the usual selection of menu options while full motion clips play in the background.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    13-Disc Box Set,BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs,Region A Locked
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/AVC MPEG-4
    Length:2140
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.78:1
    Audio Formats:
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround,French DTS 2.0 Surround,Spanish DTS 2.0 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH,French,Spanish
    Special Features:
    Audio Commentaries
    Featurettes
    Documentaries
    Q&A with Cast and Creative Team
    Still Galleries
    Movie Studio: HBO
    Release Date: November 23rd, 2010

Video Review

4 Stars out of 5

'Deadwood' arrives with an excellent and often gorgeous 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.78:1) that sometimes reaches reference quality. The picture is razor-sharp and revealing for a majority of the show, except for a very few instances of poor resolution. Architectural details are distinct and well-defined where viewers can clearly see every line and grain on exposed wood and wallpaper. The stitching, texture and intricate designs of post-Civil War clothing are remarkable and precise. Facial complexions appear healthy and stunning, exposing every wrinkle, pore and defect on the faces of actors, while individual hairs are plainly and discretely discernible.

Filmed with a deliberate look which imitates a classic and antiquated appearance, the transfer displays a beautiful and cinematic palette. The intentional photography is saturated in golden browns and sepia tones. While primary colors are vivid and boldly rendered, the video places greater emphasis on secondary hues. With a push on yellow and orange, nighttime sequences lit by natural firelight are bathed with a rich warmth and pleasant glow. The one drawback is some oppressive, murky shadows which obscure and hide background info so as to keep a sense of authenticity and realism.

Contrast is comfortably bright and pitch-perfect, giving daylight scene terrific pop and clarity. The smallest details in the distance are exposed and made clearly visible. Black levels are inky and deeply profound, providing the image with nice depth and dimensionality. Occasionally, some sequences tend to be a tad oversaturated and suffer considerable crush. But much of this could be a result of the cinematography. There are also moments of slight banding, which may or may not distract the most discernible viewer. Aside from that, 'Deadwood: The Complete Series' makes camp on Blu-ray with a splendid and striking video presentation.

Audio Review

4 Stars out of 5

The popular HBO series comes with an equally attractive DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Being a TV program, episodes are understandably front-heavy with little activity in the surrounds. Then again, there are a few good moments of atmospherics, creating an enjoyable and convincing soundfield. For example, the echoes of Bullock's and Swearengen's demanding voices ring and spread into the background during indoor confrontations. Birds and crickets can be heard in the distance for a persuasive and satisfying ambiance. It's not an overwhelmingly immersive experience, but it does provide the design with a great sense of space.

Imaging is quite welcoming and spacious with a majority of the action balanced beautifully in the soundstage. Mid-range is expansive with crystal-clear clarity, exhibiting excellent warmth and fidelity across the three channels. Low-frequency effects are not impressive or all that powerful, but bass is present throughout to give certain scenes some weight. Dialogue reproduction is well-prioritized and precise, allowing for every word and syllable to be plainly heard and moving the drama forward. The music also fills the entire front soundscape and lightly bleeds into the back with splendid depth and presence. In the end, the show about the legendary western town sounds terrific on Blu-ray.

Special Features

5 Stars out of 5

For this Blu-ray edition of 'Deadwood: The Complete Series,' HBO Home Video ports over the same collection of supplemental material spanning all 13 discs. They come with at least one audio commentary, and each season is followed by a fourth disc containing special features.

    • Audio CommentariesDisc One: Creator and co-producer David Milch starts things off in "Deadwood" with an affable conversation on his personal interest in the show and a few thoughts on historical sources. In "Here Was a Man," Molly Parker talks with Keith Carradine about their characters, the series, and several scene-specific comments on the other actors.

      Disc Two: Brad Dourif and Robin Weigert offer a commentary for the episode "The Trial of Jack McCall." While much of the discussion is individual thoughts of specific scenes with Dourif leading the charge, a very good deal of their conversation is on characterization and motivation.

      Disc Three: For the season finale, "Sold Under Sin," Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant provide this highly entertaining commentary track. The men obviously enjoy each other's company as they have a complete blast cracking jokes and making fun about specific moments and scenes. This is a great listen and recommended for any fan looking for quick laugh.

      Disc Five: The second season opener, "A Lie Agreed Upon, Part I," comes with two commentary tracks. The first reunites Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane once again for another very funny conversation about random thoughts and characters of the show. The second features Molly Parker and Anna Gunn discussing certain plot elements being introduced and even make a few jokes about behind-the-scenes anecdotes. In the third episode, "New Money," creator and co-producer David Milch provides another solemn track about the production and some scene-specific comments that aren't all that amusing.

      Disc Six: For "Complications," executive producer and director Gregg Fienberg takes a stab at talking about the episode he directed. It's a very informative commentary, primarily focused on the technical aspects of the production. Kim Dickens, William Sanderson and Dayton Callie provide the next track for the episode "E.B. Was Left Out" where the actors discuss affably about their fellow cast members and the characters of the show. A second track is offered on the same episode, this time featuring Powers Boothe and Garret Dillahunt. The two men are a pleasant listen, laughing at certain scenes, though there are many moments of silence.

      Disc Seven: John Hawkes talks with Paula Malcomson about working on the production and with other actors for the episode "Advances, None Miraculous." They are very talkative on character motivations and the difficulties of acting with such fancy dialogue. Timothy Olyphant is joined by Anna Gunn on "The Whores Can Come," conversing mostly on behind-the-scenes anecdotes and about filming the funeral scene. Ian McShane is finally given a chance to chat with Paula Malcomson on the same episode, and the two have a great time cracking jokes about certain scenes as well as about the production.

      Disc Nine: Executive producers Gregg Feinberg and Mark Tinker have some fun with their commentary track on "Tell Your God to Ready for Blood." The conversation is mostly a technical one, but it's quite informative nonetheless and interesting for fans wanting to learn more about the production.

      Disc Ten: Jim Beaver, Sean Bridges and W. Earl Brown participate in this next track for the episode "A Two-Headed Beast." As with every discussion, the men always point out the naked scene of the opening credits as their favorite. This is another entertaining talk with plenty of good background info.

      Disc Eleven: On "Amateur Night," Robin Weigert rides solo for this pleasant commentary as she possesses a soothing voice, unlike her performance as Calamity Jane. She was originally set to talk with Powers Boothe and Kim Dickens, but it didn't happened and she does decently well alone. And finally bringing everything to a close is David Milch for the last episode of the entire series, "Tell Him Something Pretty." Probably the most interesting aspect of the track is in listening to Milch's gloomy and downtrodden voice as he tries to be as informative as possible.


Disc Four: Season One

    • Making 'Deadwood': The Show Behind the Show (HD, 14 min) — This short piece with cast and crew interviews discusses the character and historical accuracies of the series. In the second half, the talk switches over to the production, script writing, production design and the costuming.

    • The Real Deadwood (HD, 26 min) — With interviews of various historians and experts on the history of the Black Hills, this is a fascinating and amusing synopsis about the birth of and the events which led to Deadwood. The best part of the featurette is the discussion on the real-life people who lived in the town and how they dealt with the absolute lawlessness of the area.

    • The new Language of the Old West (HD, 30 min) — With some minor appearances and comments from the crew, this conversation between creator David Milch and actor Keith Carradine is mainly focused on the language and writing of 'Deadwood.' Other topics are also on the origins of the series, themes covered in the episodes and developing an original western atmosphere.

    • An Imaginative Reality (HD, 28 min) — This is essentially the second half of the previous featurette where Carradine and Milch continue their conversation about the series. Only, the focus here is on the melding of historical facts, events and people with a fictional world meant purely for entertainment.


Disc Eight: Season Two

    • The Real Deadwood: 1877 (HD, 21 min) — With interviews of the same historians and experts of the previous featurette, this segment is another historical overview of the real Deadwood. The difference is this looks specifically at the events explored in the second season of the show, such as the telegraph and the beginnings of civilized order. Like its predecessor, the piece is a highly entertaining and fascinating look of a camp turning into a city and self-sustained miners transforming into wage laborers for people like George Hearst.

    • Making of Episode Twelve (HD, 71 min) — This three-part documentary starts with an insightful and revealing piece on David Milch's creative process and the amusing dialogue he creates. Titled "Trusting the Process," the cast is also allowed generous time to praise and talk about working with the creator and the challenges of speaking with such an eloquent prose mixed with profanity. The second piece, "Mr. Wu Proves Out," focuses on the subplot in the season finale of the rivalry within Chinatown alley. Milch, Keone Young, Phillip Moon and other cast members talk extensively about Mr. Wu and his personality as it pertains to certain developments leading up to the episode. Also interesting is the discussion in how this storyline adds to the power struggle between Swearengen and Hearst. "The Wedding Celebration" is the final segment which takes a closer look at the production and stage setting of the town's wedding. Cast and crew interviews provide insights into character motivations while behind-the-scenes footage reveals the process and difficulties of creating the closing scene. In the end, this is a terrific doc about a much beloved series and bringing closure to a season.

    • Deadwood Daguerreotypes (HD) — This is a still gallery featuring a very cool mix of photos from the real Deadwood and promotional stills of the cast while in character.


Disc Twelve: Season Three

    • Deadwood Matures (HD, 20 min) — Like the previous featurettes and with some of the same historians, this third piece discusses the events explored in the third season, particularly Deadwood's move towards becoming a township. Aside from possible corrupted elections and campaigning tactics, talks also include the creation of a school and Langrishe's theater.

    • The Education of Swearengen and Bullock (HD, 20 min) — Featuring interviews with cast and crew while clips of the show play throughout, the focal point is on the relationship and mild friendship between Swearengen and Bullock. The comments are quite insightful and perceptive of the show's two main characters and how they eventually come to terms with one another and work together.

    • Deadwood Daguerreotypes (HD) — This is another cool and awesome collection of antique photographs of the real-life Deadwood.


Disc Thirteen: Bonus Disc

    • The Meaning of Endings (HD, 23 min) — Creator and co-producer David Milch talks extensively about the conclusion of Deadwood and how it was not renowned for another season or the two promised films. A cheerless Milch speaks quite honestly about where he had hoped to take the show and his future plans for the characters and storylines. Surely, this is the most intriguing and interesting piece of the entire package for devoted fans. It's cool to learn and imagine what the series could have developed into.

    • The Real Deadwood: Out of the Ashes (HD, 29 min) — One final segment on Deadwood, South Dakota with the same faces as the previous short docs. The discussion here is primarily on the fact and true history concerning the mining camp as it transformed itself into a township. There is particular attention paid to the formation of a fire department due to a common and reasonable fear.

    • Q&A with Cast and Creative Team (SD, 64 min) — Originally recorded in 2005 during the William S. Paley Television Festival at the Paley Center for Media, this question and answer panel with various members of cast and crew. Moderated by respected reviewer for Variety Brian Lowry, the session makes for an interesting watch as a large range of topics are covered.

    • Deadwood 360° Tour (HD, 8 min) — While several cast and crew members comment about the set, viewers are given a detailed tour of the town and its architectural as David Milch talks to a fellow writer. Production designer Maria Caso is also allowed a few insights into designing the town.

    • Al Swearengen Audition Reel (HD, 10 min) — Rounding out the package are a few minutes of comedy with Titus Welliver, who plays Silas Adams on the show. He sorta badly, but still comically performs impersonations of David Milch, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Robert Duvall, and Robert De Niro talking about the character Al Swearengen.

Final Thoughts

'Deadwood' is the beloved, short-lived TV show about the small mining town in South Dakota soon after Custer's Last Stand. The series commences when the area was ripe with greed, lawlessness, and violence, and examines how it slowly transforms into the civilized city but never truly foregoes corruption and corporate greed. With such great characters as Al Swearengen and Seth Bullock in the lead, the show was marvelous and dramatically riveting. It's a real shame it was cancelled so soon, but HBO gives it new life on home video. The Blu-ray edition arrives with an attractive package, beautiful picture quality and a terrific audio presentation. The bonus features are the same as the DVD release, but the material is incredibly extensive and exhaustive, sure to keep fans busy for many hours during the holiday break. Fans will continue to lament the show's early demise — I know I will — but this package will suffice and worth the purchase. For everyone else, 'Deadwood: The Complete Series' is highly recommended.

Sale Price $78.89
List Price $78.89
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3rd Party $78.89
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  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    13-Disc Box Set,BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs,Region A Locked
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/AVC MPEG-4
    Length:2140
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.78:1
    Audio Formats:
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround,French DTS 2.0 Surround,Spanish DTS 2.0 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH,French,Spanish
    Special Features:
    Audio Commentaries
    Featurettes
    Documentaries
    Q&A with Cast and Creative Team
    Still Galleries
    Movie Studio: HBO
    Release Date: November 23rd, 2010