Zombie movies are pretty commonplace now. Most of them serve as a way for protagonists to vent frustrations on slow-moving targets. Every once and a while, though, a zombie movie comes along and reinvigorates the franchise. 'Shaun of the Dead' poked fun at the zombies themselves. How dumb and slow they were. 'Zombieland' took a deep look at the situation of being some of the last people on earth all the while adding a good bit of humor to the mix. '28 Days Later' created anger-filled zombies who were frightening and fast. When you have flesh-eating sprinters chasing after you things have completely changed. When I heard that AMC was doing a TV show based on of the graphic novel 'The Walking Dead' I had faith that they'd be able to successfully reinvent the zombie franchise once again. I'm happy to announce that they did.
'The Walking Dead' didn't retool the zombies themselves. They're still slow, lethargic creatures that shuffle around, waiting to get hit by a shovel to the head. They didn't go a completely different route and look at the situation through comedic goggles. They did something no one else has done yet. They actually made the zombies themselves secondary to a dramatic story about people just trying to survive. Even though the hordes of undead are featured as the show's main draw, you keep coming back for the drama that follows each one of the characters on screen. 'The Walking Dead' focuses more on what it would realistically be like trying to survive the end of the world rather than just showing how many grotesque ways zombies can be dispatched.
It all starts when Sherriff's Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is shot in the line of duty during a standoff with some very unsavory characters. He slips into a coma and is out for days. Unbeknownst to him, the world has been infected with a zombie plague while he's been lying there on his hospital bed. He went to sleep and the world was normal, he wakes up and the people he once knew are now trying to eat him.
The show follows Grimes as he searches for his wife and son who he believes are alive. He meets survivors on the way and learns a bit more about what happened to the world's inhabitants.
'The Walking Dead' packs a visceral punch. It's directed by 'Shawshank Redemption' director Frank Darabont. Darabont masterfully guides the camera and the characters. He makes this TV show look more like it should be shown in the local cinema. His characters are rich and ripe with realistic drama. Even the background characters are well-rounded and garner our attention right away.
Where Darabont truly succeeds is when he doesn't focus specifically on the killing of zombies, but rather the interaction between his characters. He crafts the story in such a way that you can't help but think, “What would I do in that situation?” He makes it easy to connect with these characters and feel what they're feeling. Above all though, 'The Walking Dead' seeps suspense. It's intense, frightening, and at times I wonder how they get away with some of the gore they show on screen. Especially for a basic cable channel. Still, this is an amazing show. While it's fun to have a series centered around the zombie apocalypse it's even better to have one populated with interesting, and thought-provoking characters.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Walking Dead' comes to Blu-ray on with six episodes spread over 2 50GB Blu-ray Discs. All the special features are contained on the second disc. The set comes in a standard keepcase with disc hubs on the front and back covers. Sadly, there is no insert listing the episodes, titles, and episode information. There is a kind of funny insert included on how to tell if people around you are infected. Seems like they should have foregone that insert and included an episode list, but oh well.
I'm not sure what everyone else's cable/satellite signals are like, but I have Comcast and AMC is by far the worst station on there. I watched the entire season of 'The Walking Dead' as it aired on TV, but there were times I almost stopped and waited for the Blu-ray release. The entire broadcast picture was constantly riddled with blocking, banding, and any other form of artifacting you can imagine. Thank goodness for this Blu-ray!
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is leaps and bounds better than the television broadcast. 'The Walking Dead' was filmed with 16mm film, but it still looks tremendous transferred over to Blu-ray. It certainly looks much better than other 16mm TV shows out there (I'm looking at you 'Burn Notice'). It is a bit rough around the edges due to the nature of the source, but overall this is a magnificent step up to the nigh unwatchable broadcast.
Details is marvelous. I noticed details that I never could see on the blocked up broadcast mess. Some details aren't even all that wanted, as you can see just how extensive and amazing some of the zombie makeup really is. When Grimes meets the half-lady zombie crawling around on the grass and you see her leathered skin wrinkle as she crawls it's stomach churning. The only part of the production that looks a little underdone and is made to look worse in this close to pristine HD transfer is the CG blood effects. When bullets blow their way through a zombie's skull and come out the other side the blood spatter looks decidedly fake and processed, but that's really the only complaint I can find.
Being filmed on 16mm film the show does sport a constant grain structure, but instead of hindering detail or becoming overbearing, instead it adds to the overall feel of the show. It gives it a gritty, sometimes grimy texture which is fitting for a show littered with zombies. Colors are bold and solid throughout. Blacks are deep and help delineate the shadows with accuracy. Overall, people who watched this show on TV need to rewatch it again on Blu-ray. It's like an entirely different experience. Especially if you had the same types of chronic blocking problems I had with the TV broadcast.
Going along with the wonderful video presentation is a 5.1 lossless True HD audio mix that will, at times, give your sound system quite the workout. As zombies surround Grimes and he crawls under the tank, groans, roars, and coughs can be heard happening all around the soundfield as the zombies close in on their next meal. This mix truly places you in the middle of the frantic, frightening action. The rears are constantly being used to create an ambience of dread and down right horror. Gun shots are given realistic bangs as they ring out through the air. The sequence in the first episode where the car flips end over end, is a sonic force using smooth pans to accurately portray such a violent wreck. Dialogue is given ample room to breath as everyone's voice is heard clearly. Finally, Bear McCreary's foreboding score is right at home bleeding into the surrounds, and adding just a bit more unsettling fear.
Another great TV show has come to Blu-ray sans commentaries. What a shame. All the special features can be found on the second disc. Under the special features category there are two separate sections. “Featurettes” and “Extra Footate”. All the special features can be found under those two headings.
The beauty of 'The Walking Dead' is that you don't have to be a hardcore zombie fan to get into it. It's a show that anyone can connect with because the characters are so rich and the story is so well done. It's a zombie show for the masses, which is quite a feat in itself. The video is a huge upgrade to the problematic TV broadcast and the audio is near perfect by any measure. The special features are a complete bummer. While the making-of is nice, the rest of the extras seem a little thrown together. Add to that the fact that there are absolutely no commentaries to help enrich our understanding of the show, and it makes the features damn near skippable all together. Still, this one is highly recommended because, simply put, it's a great show.