"...the main purpose of criticism...is not to make its readers agree, nice as that is, but to make them, by whatever orthodox or unorthodox method, think." - John Simon

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." - George Orwell

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

DVD of the Week: The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season

In the past few years, vampire-themed programs have surfaced on television with True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and, recently, Being Human (both U.K. and the U.S. remake). Sure, there have been more across the board, supernatural fare with shows like Haven and, well, Supernatural, but up until now no one has attempted a zombie-themed program. Due to the graphic nature of most post-George Romero zombie films, it would be impossible to do a decent show (if you were going to have gore) outside of HBO or Showtime. However, thanks to channels like AMC and FX producing more challenging fare like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Shield, there is more leeway on what you can show.

The time was right for The Walking Dead, an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel series of the same name, about a small group of people trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. Director Frank Darabont and producer Gale Anne Hurd, no strangers to the horror genre, are the driving forces behind this show and wisely enlisted legendary makeup artist Greg Nicotero to create the gruesome carnage. His presence also gives the show additional credibility among horror fans. This isn’t going to be cheap, slapped-together gore effects, but realistically rendered stuff that nightmares are made of. The end result is an engaging tale of survival that isn’t just a bunch of gory set pieces but also about humanity on the brink of extinction.

After being seriously wounded by a gunshot, police officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) wakes up from a coma in a hospital to find it in complete disarray and populated with the living dead. Driven to find out if his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and his little boy are still alive, Rick arms himself and heads for the nearest large city – Atlanta – and quickly discovers that the world has been devastated by a zombie apocalypse. While the hospital scene recalls a similar one in 28 Days Later (2002), The Walking Dead quickly settles into a familiar Romero-esque tale of survival as Rick is reunited with his family and a small group of people that include his partner and best friend Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal). The Darabont-directed pilot episode sets the tone for the rest of the series as our group of survivors encounters plenty of zombies and also living people who are just as dangerous as the undead.

The Walking Dead has the look and feel of a feature film as it starts off on an intimate level but by the end of the first season its scope has expanded considerably so that we get an idea of just how bad the epidemic has gotten. There are some powerful images throughout the six-episode season, like the parking lot full of dead bodies all tied up and bagged in the pilot, or Rick and another survivor covering themselves in blood and gore so that they can make their way through city streets populated by zombies in the appropriately titled, “Guts.” All of this horrific eye candy is juxtaposed with the interpersonal relationships between the group of survivors, in particular, the love triangle between Rick, Lori and Shane. Andrew Lincoln (previously known mostly for his role in Love, Actually) anchors the show with his portrayal of Rick Grimes. He’s a strong, stand-up guy that cares but over the course of the season, Lincoln shows the cracks that occasionally form on Rick's fa├žade as he fears for the safety of his family and doubts his own leadership skills. It is also great to see Darabont regulars Jeffrey DeMunn and Laurie Holden as regular cast members who get some fantastic moments here and there that help define their characters.

It is the humanity the cast injects into their respective characters that makes The Walking Dead more than a simple gore fest and is perhaps the most Romero-esque aspect. However, where his stories were served in feature-length chunks, Darabont and his writers have the time to develop multi-episode story arcs and introduce characters that don’t make a significant impact until later on, possibly even in season two. This is one of the most interesting things about the show as we see what happens to these characters over time and how more of the nightmarish world they inhabit is revealed.

Special Features:

“The Making of The Walking Dead” is a 30-minute featurette on how the show came together. Darabont was drawn to the characters in Kirkman’s comic book and also the notion of a serialized zombie story. This extra takes us through the show’s genesis with the cast and crew talking about it with plenty of behind-the-scenes clips. Highlights include seeing Greg Nicotero applying zombie makeup.

“Inside The Walking Dead: Episodes 1-6” consist of five minute featurettes about each episode from the first season with cast and crew talking about their intentions for them.

“A Sneak Peek with Robert Kirkman” features the writer introducing more behind-the-scenes with clips from the show and the cast talking about it. There is some overlap from the Making Of featurette.

“Behind the Scenes Zombie Make-Up Tests” sees Greg Nicotero giving some insight into how they transform a person into a zombie. This is a fascinating extra as we see the process broken down for you to try if so inclined.

“Convention Panel with Producers” features highlights from the San Diego Comic Con with Kirkman, Darabont, Nicotero and others. They talk about how the show differs from its source material. The cast also join the panel and talk about their characters.

Also included is a trailer.

“Zombie School” shows how the extras are taught to act like zombies.

“Bicycle Girl” takes us through the genesis of a memorable zombie in the pilot episode.

“On Set with Robert Kirkman” features another location shoot from the pilot episode.

“Hanging with Steven Yeun” features the actor giving us a tour of another location and speaking fondly of his love for the comic book, which he was into even before the show was made.

“Inside Dave’s RV” features Jeffrey DeMunn taking us on a whimsical tour of his character’s Winnebago.

Finally, there is “On Set with Andrew Lincoln,” yet another tour of a location shoot as the actor takes a breather from filming.


  1. I must stop at Target!

    Honestly. I don't think I've been more excited about a series since your mention of series like Breaking Bad and The Shield. Great point about FX and AMC! HBO is generating some amazing stuff as always. Dexter is right there at the top as well.

    But since Dexter and Breaking Bad I'm really stoked to see this series.

    It sounds extremely short unfortunately, but thank you for your review J.D..

    I can't wait to pop it in!

  2. By the way, I was really pleased to see Frank Darabont's involvement. I love his work. The Mist is a personal favorite and I loved the other three big films by this man! Wonderful work.

  3. This show was pretty good; at the very least it shows promise. I am a BIG fan of the Robert Kirkman comic on which it's based. The most interesting aspect of the comic, which you bring up here, was the ability to tell lengthy stories, to examine the slow evolution of characters over time along with their varying responses to the situation in the world. The comic is amazing at this, really delving into these characters and maintaining a sense of dread and terror that's been remarkably sustained for something like 70+ issues now.

    I'm less sold on the show at this point, even though it has the same potential to tell long-form, slowly evolving stories. It diverts from the comic in some potentially interesting ways, and the zombies and the gore are well-rendered and appropriately brutal, but thus far I'm not entirely convinced by the acting or the characterization. There's been too much reliance on stock types, and some unevenness in the performances, but also enough promising stuff to keep me watching and curious about where it's all heading.

    The episode that was actually written by Kirkman (the one that ends with that GREAT action scene in the camp) was a noticeable step up in quality from the rest of the season, too. I remember noting that it was especially great and then learning afterward that he wrote it, which made sense.

  4. Wish I could add more than 'I can't wait to see this' but having not seen the programme yet; thank you Sky for not being able to put a satellite dish on my roof, I simply don't have the knowledge.

    However, along with Ed here, I'm a massive fan of the comics and wonder how the programme will fair alongside, especially as Ed points out when it comes to pace and story structure. Well, with the box set not released in UK until mid-May I'm going to have to wait a little longer as you've certainly whet my appetite.

    Whilst I'm at it, could I ask you change my blog link from Film for the Soul to By Kubrick's Beard? I need the traffic :) I forget how hard it is starting out from the beginning again.

  5. THis sounds awesome....thanks for the reminder, I need to go rent it right now! I loved the first few issues of this comic, I only bought the first five I believe, but I love what I read! I hope it translates well on this series.

  6. The Sci-Fi Fanatic:

    Yeah, I think people are hungry for shows that think a little outside the box and that are a little different as the major 3 networks seem simply content to crank out the same stuff. And anything different that does get out there doesn't last long. At least with a channel like AMC, a show like THE WALKING DEAD doesn't have to get huge numbers - alto, it does seem to be doing very well.

    And I also love THE MIST - thought it was a great film. Darabont attaching himself to THE WALKING DEAD was a smart move and really gives the show additional style and that something special.
    The Sci-Fi Fanatic:

    Ed Howard:

    I certainly agree that there is room for improvement. At times, like the season finale, there isn't enough interaction or encounters with the zombies but that is a minor quibble.

    I got into the comic book after the show and am working my way through the first 20+ issues and am enjoying it very much. It is interesting to see where the show has diverged and what they have incorporated.

    I agree that the Kirkman ep. was very strong. I also liked the "Guts" (same one?) one as well.

    It should be interesting to see where they take the show in the next season.


    Thanks for the comments. I think you will dig the show.

    Oh, and thanks for reminding me about adding your new blog to my Blog Roll. Consider it done!

    The Film Connoisseur:

    The show is quite good, I think and I think Darabont and co. have really captured the spirit of Kirkman's comic book. I think it helps that they've kept him in the loop in regards to the show.

  7. This one is definitely in my shopping cart. I've heard so many good things about this. Fine review, J.D. Thanks.

  8. Great post J.D. I've been a fan of the comic since day one and was skeptical when I heard the TV treatment was coming, but I must say the show has been amazingly solid. True to the comic it's a people story in a zombie world which makes it work for many non zombie fans that I've talked to.

    BTW, you won my last free movie contest. Go here for the details. http://criminalmovies.blogspot.com/2011/02/criminal-movies-free-movies-contest.html

  9. le0pard13:

    Thanks, my friend! Yeah, this is a really nice DVD set - good extras and the transfers of the episodes is very nice indeed.


    Having started to read the comic books, I think that Darabont and co. have done an admirable job adapting it. I can't wait for the next season.

    Thanks for letting me know about the contest! I've emailed ya.