Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Big Love: The Complete Collection DVD Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
Big Love: The Complete Collection brings together the series’ uniquely crafted story arc about modern day polygamists Bill Henrickson, his three wives (Barb, Nicki and Margene), and nine children as they struggle to overcome the myriad of challenges brought about by their beliefs, lifestyle and Bill’s entrepreneurial and political ambitions.  The complete collection includes all 53 episodes from all five seasons, plus all of the extra features from the individual releases that offer additional insight into the Henrickson family dynamics.  Big Love features an all-star ensemble cast which is lead by Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, ChloĆ« Sevigny (Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actress for the series) and Ginnifer Goodwin.  Other cast members include Amanda Seyfried, Robert Patrick, Harry Dean Stanton,  Bruce Dern, Anne Dudek, and Ellen Burstyn.  Features include “Inside the Episodes,” “Their Stories So Far,” “Big Love: A Balancing Act on Ice,” “Big Love: End of Days,” three pre-quels, three mini-episodes and audio commentaries.

Film (3 out of 5 stars) 

Big Love is the story of the Henrickson family which centers on Patriarch Bill (Bill Paxton) and his first Wife Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn).  Barb is the mother of Sarah (Amanda Seyfried), Ben and Teeny.  Living next door is Bill’s second wife Nicki (Chloe Sevigny), mother to Wayne and Raymond.  A third home next to that houses Bill’s third wife Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) and her young children.  As the show begins, Bill is opening a second home improvement store while attempting to get out from underneath the thumb of Nicki’s father Roman, who helped finance the first store.  Roman, the prophet of the Juniper Compound, had evicted Bill from it years earlier and tensions increase when history repeats itself when Roman also banishes Bill’s father and his wives along with Bill’s brother and sister-in-law.  Bill’s three houses are soon overflowing with his family and it doesn’t make it any easier to live together when Bill’s father starts peeing in the sink while the wives try to prepare an Easter dinner.
It’s unclear if Barb is truly accepting of the polygamist lifestyle or if she was just trying to keep Bill happy, and doing what had to be done as a result of her cancer.  The family is trying to hide their secret and Margene is trying to figure out where she fits in.  A friendly and somewhat pushy neighbor causes problems inviting Margene to church services and drops by the house unexpectedly.  Pressures build when Nicki’s big secret is revealed and the family learns that she has racked up almost $60,000 in debt that Bill knew nothing about and the creditors are calling to collect.  Nicki even makes a deal with her father  against her family in exchange for a payment.
Now that Bill has a new business plan that he hopes will create financial security for his family.  Barb has left home and returned.  The ongoing drama at Juniper Creek continues which includes a raid on the compound.  Roman’s 16 year old wife-to-be Rhonda leaves the compound to live with the Henricksons.  While they are trying to help Rhonda she turns out to have psychological issues beyond being a child bride.  Margene, who is pregnant, again, pushes for a fourth wife as she is looking for an ally in her dealings with the other wives.  Barb stands firm as the first wife and threatens that she will leave if a fourth wife is brought into the family.  Barb and Ben’s daughter Sarah’s seeks help in dealing with polygamy and meets a man ten years older than her who she loses her virginity to.  Following in his father’s footsteps, Ben starts dating twin girls from Juniper Creek which leads Barb to consider sending him to live with her mother to get him away from the polygamist lifestyle.
Ana, the Serbian waitress from season two returns which causes a lot of trouble for the family.  Even though Barb had threatened to leave if Bill brought in a fourth wife into the family, she agrees to let Bill marry Ana.  Seeing that her presence is making things worse for the family and realizing that Bill isn’t everything Ana thought he would be, makes her decide to divorce the family.  Now that Roman Grant is on trial, that turns into a mini soap opera of its own.  Speaking of soap operas, while getting ready to leave for college, Sarah learns that she is pregnant.  It is also discovered that Nicki has been taking birth control pills for years and is not actually trying to have more children, as she had been claiming.  Meanwhile, Bill hopes to partner with a Native American tribe on a Mormon friendly casino, adding more stress to his already crazy life.
As if he didn’t have enough complications in his life already, Bill decides to run for the Utah State Senate, hoping to legitimize and publicize the polygamist lifestyle, which Barb actively attempts to sabotage.  This whole story-line takes place over the course of only nine episodes which makes it the shortest season for this show but despite that limitation, it still has some big surprises involving Roman Grant.  When the final season begins, we see the fallout from Bill’s decision from revealing that he is a polygamist on election night and many would like to see him impeached.  With their lifestyle finally in the open, the Henrickson family is not embraced as they had hoped.  They are feeling hostility from all directions which will lead to arguments and even gunfire.
I enjoyed all of the seasons of Big Love, but they did go a bit overboard with their story-lines and turned it into a soap opera.  The show would have been interesting enough if it had just focused on Bill Henrickson and his many wives.  When you throw in the Juniper Creek story-lines and all that goes with that, it adds up to a lot of unneeded fluff that takes the focus away from Bill’s family, which is where it should have remained.  When you add Bill’s political career and the additional wives, it just gets a little nuts.  The episodes I liked the most were just about Bill, Barb, Nicki and Margene which told the story of how one man juggles the needs of three wives, which I think is interesting enough.  Even more compelling to me was the dynamics of how they learned to work and live with each other and tried to get over their own jealousies.  I enjoyed the show a lot, but I would have enjoyed it even more if it had focused less on the melodramatic elements and more on the family.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Big Love is presented on DVD with a 16×9 aspect ratio.  It’s a shame it’s not on Blu ray, but it looks pretty good as DVDs go.  Skin tones appear accurate throughout and the show looks good in natural light, indoors and in darkly lit scenes.  Colors look look distinct and varied and the black levels are suitably dark.  Some shots look a little soft but overall this is a pretty decent transfer for a television show on DVD.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Big Love is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.  The dialogue is even and at a consistent level.  This is a dialogue driven show that primarily uses the front channels to deliver the lines.  The rear speakers don’t get as much attention but the Beach Boys’ song “God Only Knows” sounds great.  This mix adequately does  what it needs to do but don’t expect any fireworks.

Special Features (4 out of 5 stars) 

I’m pleased with the quantity and quality of the special features overall.  The commentaries are a little random and you could easily skip some of them, but I enjoyed the prequels despite their short length and the mini-dramas as well.
  • Big Love – A Balancing Act on Ice – A behind the scenes look at making the title sequence, where the main characters are seen ice skating.  This was a lot more about the show in general than I expected and less about the actors skating.  No falling down bloopers here.
  • Audio Commentary – Principal actors participate in audio commentary throughout the series.
  • Big Love Prequels – Post Partum, Meet the Baby Sitter and Moving Day – Three short scenes that can be selected individually or with the play all feature.  All three explain a lot about what life was like in the beginning.
  • Their Stories So Far – Four direct to camera videos from Bill, Barb, Nicki and Margene.  These are basically commercials for Big Love from the perspective of each of the main characters.
  • Three Past Midnight – Three minidramas (basically the length of an extended scene) as characters deal with the national crackdown on polygamy.  The first focus on Bill and Barb, the second is about Margene and Nicki and the third deals with Sarah and Ben.
  • Inside the Episodes (Fourth and Fifth Seasons) – Creators and Executive Producers Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer give the inside perspective on each episode.  Can be selected individually or with the play all feature.
  • Big Love – The End of Days – The actors and filmmakers discuss the end of the show, where it began, and the characters they leave behind.

Final Thoughts (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The writers of Big Love definitely know their stuff when it comes to polygamy and Mormons.  I was surprised to find more details in Big Love about the lifestyle an in the reality show Sister Wives about why polygamy exists, and to learn that it’s not all about just having lots of wives.  For a large set, the discs were well marked and the features were easy to find.  Recently I’ve reviewed some larger sets where it was impossible to just go back and find a special feature later, but Big Love does a good job of keeping this labeled and organized and labeled and I like that.
Order your copy today!

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