True Blood: Season 1
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True Blood: Season 1

DVD

Blu-ray

Movies and television have the tendency of falling into trends. When I was a kid many decades ago you couldn’t turn the dial without coming across a medical show and spies abounded in the movie theaters. Now it certainly appears that the hot commodity is vampires. While they have been a fairly consistent plot device in popular entertainment since the days of silent movie recently these deadly creatures of the night have undergone a makeover that borders on a Renaissance. At one time the vampire was a hideous, misshapen monster roaming the night searching for hapless victims, draining their life’s blood to perpetuate the undead existence of the creature. Slowly over the last couple of decades the vampire has been transformed changing from villain to a romantic leading man. They have become the undisputed sex symbol for the millennium. On the surface this may seem strange but there are elements of the classic vampire that are conducive to being ‘sexy’. They can move about only at night making them dark, mysterious and exotic. Added to this there is that whole drinking blood thing. In almost every human culture there is some form of vampire myth. Just as universal is how blood is held as equivalent to life. This just reinforces the contrast of danger and allure held by vampires in storytelling. Most recently the trend of romantic vampires has taken on the most lucrative and explosive markets in entertainment; the tweens. These not quite teenaged youngsters control billions in revenue and the studios have noticed. In the venue of premium cable networks the latest entry is also one of the best, HBO’s ‘True Blood’. Once again there tagline ‘it’s not television, it’s HBO’ is proven true. This turned out to be one of the most imaginative and well presented new series to come around in a very long time.

When I first heard about this show I have to admit I was intrigued but I figured it would be a standard fantasy thriller or at worse a sappy romance, I am extremely glad to report I was wrong. This series transcends the confines of a single genre, effortlessly combining contemporary fantasy, gothic horror and romance with just the right touch of mystery. The basis of the story comes from the popular Southern vampire mystery novels by Charlaine Harris. The first season roughly follows the events and characters in the book titled ‘Dead until Dark’. The novels had sufficient popularity that several production companies were busy wooing Ms Harris. Ultimately the rights went to a creative mind with a proven track record with the dead; Alan Ball. For five years his previous series, ‘Six feet under’ was one of the most lauded shows on HBO. In it Ball refined his trademark style that bends unusual situations with novel, quirky characters the result is a level of quality that we have come to expect from HBO. The stories are much more textured then typical for television. The character development starts off slowly allowing the audience to acclimate to the bayou setting and Cajun affectations of the characters. This provides a rich backdrop for Ball and his talented writing staff to weave a complex, rich tapestry. A small town in Louisiana is just right for a vampire based romantic mystery

The story has a fascinating premise. Two years prior to the start of the series the Japanese invented a perfect substitute for human blood. The marketing implications were much broader than they could have envisioned. This substance, ‘Tru Blood’ allowed the underground vampire community to reveal their existence and come out of the coffin as it would be called. This permits the series to take on the much deeper and socially significant issue such as equal rights, defining marriage and prejudice. This is done by relating the vampire rights legislation to the civil rights movement of the sixties and the current battle for gay rights. They even show a reactionary, evangelical faction who proclaim ‘God hates fangs’. There is a memorable line where a human tells a vampire there is a reason things are the way they are. The vampire simply states ‘yes, it’s called injustice. Despite the gravitas of the underlying social commentary Ball never loses sight of what is most important; telling an engrossing story.

Bon Temp, Louisiana is a small town like hundreds of others in the American south. For most people the revelation that vampires exist in our communities was just an item on the news and a topic for idyll discussion, at least until a couple of events forced the issue to the top of every conversation. A couple of local young women are found strangled to death. The only thing that ties them together is the fact they recently had sex with the local lothario, Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) and they all had fresh vampire bite marks. The women were ‘fang bangers’; humans into sex with vampires. Jason is ready to jump in bed with any young woman around but he is not the killer type and even his best friends would describe him as dumber than a sack of hammers. Most of the series centers on Jason’s sister Sookie (Anna Paquin) who works as a waitress at the local bar and grill, Merlotte’s with her best friend Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley). Life for everybody changes when s vampire, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), comes to town. He is trying to ‘mainstream’, live like a regular person but that is made exceedingly difficult by both the humans and other vampires. Naturally, speaks fly immediately as soon as he and Sookie meet. Just a word of warning to the guys out there; this show will raise the romantic bar considerably with your wife or girlfriend. In one scene Bill goes out in the sunlight to save Sookie, his flesh burning off as he struggles to reach her. Now that is love and commitment.

Typical of a production Alan Bell this show attracted an incredible cast. Anna Paquin is the second youngest actress ever to take home an Academy Award. She is well known for her role in the first three ‘X-men flicks and commands every scene she is in. Here, one of the main attractions Sookie has for Bill is unusual and requires the skill level Paquin brings to bar. Sookie can read minds; something that made it impossible to form a romantic relationship. She is not able to hear Bill’s thoughts m on another level, making him mysterious on another level. Moyer’s portrayal of Bill is simply spot on. He is a man out of place in time with the manners and breeding of an old school Southern gentleman. This also gives the feel of ‘Beauty and the Beast’; a perennial favorite romantic theme.

Watching the series each week during its original was a whole lot of fun but the home theater release kicks the experience up to a whole new level. For high end cable the best you can hope for is 1080i and Dolby 5.1. With the Blu-ray release the upgrade to 1080p and DTS-HD MA 5.1 is staggering. There is a level of realism is something that will make showing off your system a joy. The new extras are among the most imaginative I have ever seen adding a new degree of understanding and enjoyment. One of the best are little side video comments made by Nelsan Ellis in his flamboyant series persona of Lafayette Reynolds. This is one of the best things to come along in a very long while and resets the bar for vampire fiction.

Get the dirt on everyone in town when Lafayette lets loose with secrets about Tara's unrequited crush on Jason, they history of the Stackhouse of Bon Temps and more! - Take a bite out of True Blood history and find out how your favorite vampires were "made"

- Read helpful hints and FYI's that pop up to unravel mysteries

- Explore the colorful locations of Bon Temps with animated maps

- Watch a vampire documentary, Tru Blood commercials and vampire rights public service announcements

- Six audio commentaries with the cast and crew, including Executive Producer and Creator Alan Ball, Anna Paquin (Sookie) and Stephen Moyer (Bill)

Posted 06/23/09

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