The Sopranos: Season Six, Part One
- Street Date:
- December 19th, 2006
- Reviewed by:
- High-Def Digest staff
- Review Date: 1
- March 2nd, 2007
- Movie Release Year:
- Warner Home Video
- 720 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
Non format-specific portions of this review also appear in our HD DVD review of 'The Sopranos: Season Six, Part One.'
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Tony Soprano was the sole reason I finally succumbed to the persistent call of HBO. For years, movie channels were just that -- a constant barrage of cinematic fare that rarely justified their cost. But with the revelation that is 'The Sopranos,' HBO jump-started a reawakening in television drama that's only become more appealing as it has spread from network to network.
As the sixth season of 'The Sopranos' opens, an accidental bullet wound has left Tony (James Gandolfini) unconscious and at the mercy of infection and probable brain damage. His family and fellow gangsters wander about the hospital trying to retain hope, while opening themselves to the idea of life without Tony. Of course, it only takes a few episodes for things to return to normal and the plot quickly re-focuses on a brewing mob war, infighting amongst Soprano loyalists, and the spiritual awakening of a family that has narrowly averted tragedy.
It's this last point that really adds meat to this first half of the sixth season. The Soprano family has always been a fascinating social specimen, but this season brings a new complexity to these beloved characters, as we briefly see them make attempts to change for the better, only to slowly slip back into old routines. It's maddening to watch, often forcing us, as viewers, to shake our heads at this showcase of human ignorance and blindness. But by the end, however, we can't help but see ourselves in a group of characters unable to rid themselves of their core flaws.
Layered within this overriding theme are excellent subplots involving Carmella (Edie Falco) and her reinvigorated compassion for her husband; Meadow (Jamie Lynn Sigler) and her life beyond Jersey; Anthony (Robert Iler) and his desperate attempts to make his comatose father proud; Paulie (Tony Sirico) and his straining obedience; and Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) and his ascent toward leading a rival family. Most noteworthy is the storyline revolving around Vito (Joseph Gannascoli), a homosexual member of Tony's crew that disappears after everyone discovers his secret lifestyle. This particular subplot is heart wrenching on quite a few levels, and Gannascoli plays Vito's many emotions (confusion, fear, remorse, denial and more) with such authenticity that his may be one of the best and multifaceted performances on all of television last year.
The sixth season is spread across four discs. Disc One includes "Members Only," "Join the Club," and "Mayhem." Disc Two includes "The Fleshy Part of the Thigh," "Mr. and Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request," and "Live Free or Die." Disc Three includes "Luxury Lounge," "Johnny Cakes," and "The Ride." And Disc Four includes "Moe and Joe," "Cold Stones," and "Kaisha." I personally loved all twelve episodes.
The fifth season of 'The Sopranos' was so hit-or-miss for me -- nearly devoid of the intriguing psychological complexities that littered the previous four seasons -- that I really believed the show was as doomed as the aging mob family it portrayed. Luckily, the first part of the sixth season is a wonderful (and more subtle) return to form that left me desperate to see what will befall the mafia families in New Jersey when the series returns for its final bow on HBO this April.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Presented in a surprisingly vibrant 1080p VC-1 transfer that puts any television season on standard-def DVD to shame, 'The Sopranos' is a virtual tour of its cinematic influences. The Blu-ray and HD DVD editions are visually identical and I didn't perceive any differences when comparing the two. Aside from the obvious boost in sharpness and resolution, this transfer improves upon the the standard-def picture with more natural colors, deep shadow visibility, heavy blacks, and a lack of blemishes. The outdoor scenes and forest settings of Vito's escape from the mob life never trip up the video quality and the sudden bursts of violence are soaked in deep reds that bleed onto your TV stand.
Hospital shots are quickly becoming my go-to scenes when evaluating brightness, contrast, and stability on any high definition disc, and 'The Sopranos' never fails to impress in this category. The white walls clash perfectly with the dark suited goons that hover around Tony's floor and I never caught any hint of halos or flickering. On the flipside, darker locales like Tony's "Bada Bing" strip club flounder on a few occasions, where I caught small hazes of pixilation in the shadowy corners at least once on each disc. It's certainly not distracting, but it does keep the video presentation from being all that it could be. Since there are only three episodes on each disc and hardly any special features, these hiccups seem odd and hopefully will become less frequent as more television shows appear on high definition disc.
When compared to the video quality of the high-def broadcast on HBO HD, the image displays more stable colors, contrast, and source clarity. While 'The Sopranos' isn't exactly full of car chases and gun fights, the speedier scenes certainly don't stutter across the screen in a shower of Legos like they did with DirecTV. Once upon a time, I naively assumed high definition broadcasts would be presented with the same quality as a high definition film transfer, but I quickly came to understand that HD broadcasts are presented at a much lower bit rate and suffer accordingly. All in all, considering the fact that smart shoppers can find this high-def edition online for a measly fifteen dollars more than the standard DVDs, I can't think of a reason anyone could go wrong with the extra expenditure.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The uncompressed PCM 5.1 track on this Blu-ray release is the only discernable difference between the two high definition releases. While the HD DVD only utilizes an improved Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix, the show finds its true home in the audio universe of Blu-ray. Gun shots ring across the channels, the music pulses throughout your home, and dialogue is spread along the entire soundfield rather than solely within the center speaker. The rich vocal tones are lovely and the only thing that spoils the proceedings is the heavy, asthmatic breathing Gandolfini seems to wedge in the middle of every line. Aside from clocking in two steps short of Vader, this annoyance was more audible and, at times, all encompassing.
The improvements over the standard DVD edition are evident at every turn, even in quieter scenes. The first four episodes and the hushed environment of the hospital are excellent examples of the rounded dimension of the soundscape. Machines beep and whir, noises echo through the halls, and the dull click-clack of the tile floor stirs up a welcome intricacy in the subwoofer. Bass tones are solid and resonant, and sound effects and whispers are never buried beneath sudden explosions of noise. If you're a dual-format next-gen disc supporter, Blu-ray is definitely the way to go on this release.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Unfortunately there isn't much to point to in terms of supplemental feature volume, and the few extras that are included in this release are shockingly dry and uninteresting. First up is a commentary track accompanying the disc one episode "Join the Club" that includes the extended Soprano clan -- Edie Falco, Jamie Lynn Sigler, and Robert Iler. Disappointing and uninformative, this actors-only track gave me the most hope and resulted in the biggest let down. None of the cast members shine and the entire conversation devolves into banter about personal lives and on-set anecdotes. Character, story, and series development is almost entirely left on the back burner and I couldn't believe these three huge talents were unable to hold my attention.
Next up are two commentary tracks on the third disc -- one featuring the writer of "Luxury Lounge" and another with the writer of "The Ride" talking with actors Michael Imperioli and Tony Sirico. Again, nothing stands out on either track and none of the participants seem particuarly excited to be talking about the show.
Finally, a fourth commentary appears along with disc four's "Kaisha" and features 'The Sopranos' creator, David Chase. As a fan who has picked up every season of 'The Sopranos,' I've been increasingly disappointed by Chase and his seeming unwillingness or inability to speak at length about his creation. He often appears to be dwarfed by the popularity of the show and never strikes me as evocative of the genius that I ascribe to 'The Sopranos' as a whole. I get the sense that he'll be happy when the series comes to an end, if for no other reason than so he can take a break from justifying his creative decisions.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Obviously, if you've never seen 'The Sopranos,' this isn't the place to start. However, if you've followed the story from the beginning or fell by the wayside in the middle of series' disappointing fifth season, make sure to grab a copy of Season Six. Audiophiles should particularly appreciate this Blu-ray edition for its beautifully uncompressed PCM soundtrack, but regardless of your format preference, 'The Sopranos' on high definition disc is leaps and bounds beyond anything you've seen on broadcast HDTV or on standard DVD and easily justifies the increase in price.
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs
- Four-Disc Set
- Uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround
- English SDH
- English Subtitles
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- 4 Audio Commentaries
Exclusive HD Content
- 52" Sony Bravia XBR3 1080p Flat-Panel LCD
- Sony Blu-ray (BDP-S1) Player
- Yamaha 7.1 (840w) with Klipsch Synergy series 7.1 speakers
- HDMI and optical audio connections
Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.