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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Once Upon a Time: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
OnceUponATimeSeasonTwoBlurayViewers are invited to relive every thrilling moment of the fairy tale-inspired series when ‘Once Upon a Time: The Complete Second Season’ casts its tantalizing spell onto Blu-ray/DVD. The curse is broken, magic has arrived, and there’s no telling what — or who — will be unleashed! Now the exiled fairy tale characters must grapple with a flood of awakened memories as they come to grips with their new ‘reality.’ Old loyalties will be tested, new heroes will emerge, and vengeful villains will wreak havoc. Amidst the backdrop of previously unexplored lands and a newly magical Storybrooke, love and sacrifice will set the stage for the ultimate battle between good and evil.

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Show (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

After the game changing finale from the first season (which I’m going to assume you’ve seen if you’re interested in the second season), the Evil Queen’s curse on Storybrooke is broken by Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and magic is available once again.  And that Evil Queen known as Regina (Lana Parilla) isn’t too happy about it but she also takes the good with the bad since it means that her magic abilities have returned too.  Emma’s parents Snow White (Gennifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) have also been reunited and everyone’s memories of which fairy tale character they were in the Enchanted Forest have also been returned to them.  Emma’ biological son and Regina’s adopted son Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) has been saved from certain death from one of Regina’s plots that accidentally ensnared him and the two continue to battle each other for his affection throughout this season.
With this second season, we get a lot more of the same stories that we got during the first season but they’re done a lot better and there’s some twists this season too.  I’m going to lay my cards on the table and just say flat out that I’m tired of the tug of war between Regina and Emma over Henry and also of the quantity of cast members for this season.  I also hate every story that takes place in Storybrooke (the real town) and wish that there were more episodes that took place in the Enchanted Forest which would be so much more interesting and exciting.  By the end of this season, it looked like Storybrooke itself might be destroyed and I was cheering for that outcome because for me the show could be so much better if it would just let that bit go.  By this point, they have magic and everyone knows what fairytale character they are, so why keep one foot in the real world in a crappy little town?  I’m sure they do it because the fantasy elements cost a lot more and it’s a lot cheaper to keep filming the show in the town but it really drags the show down in my opinion.
What I do really like is that the show is finally embracing its fantasy roots and the whole bit of no one knowing who they were is thankfully over.  After the first season I was about to give up on the show but I’m glad I stuck around for the second season since it’s a lot better than the first one. The storylines are better, the effects look better, and there was a lot better guest stars who added a lot to the show this season.  My favorite new addition to the show is Colin O’Donoghue’s performance as Captain Hook because he’s like a bolt of electricity to this sedate show and he steals every scene he’s in. While the other characters moan and whine and revel in angst (especially Snow White), Hook just comes in with a plan and does whatever he wants.  His allegiance goes to whoever can help him the most and his antagonism towards Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) really brings some heat and an element of danger to the show as the two are mortal enemies.

In fact, the show positions Rumple as the “crocodile” that Hook both fears and hates instead of an actual crocodile that follows him around.  If it wasn’t for Hook, much of the rest of this season would just be pure melodrama involving Snow, Charming, and Regina which I couldn’t take another season.  This show feels like two different shows, one that’s basically a soap opera and another that’s a fantasy adventure show. I’m sure the writers have been having a hard time balancing that trip wire act, but I really wish they would dump the melodrama.  The good news is that by the end of the season, it appears that they are all going to Never Neverland which I’m super excited about. While Storybrooke escape its much needed destruction, I really hope we never see it again.  

I also like most of the new characters that were added this season including the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk played by Jorge Garcia, Michael Raymond-James as  Baelfire, Regina’s even more evil mother played by Barbara Hershey, Lee Arenberg as Grumpy, and David Anders as Dr. Frankenstein.  Two other additions to the show, Greg and Tamara played by Ethan Embry and Sonequa Martin-Green however are not welcome.  Their whole storyline of being part of some group that’s determined to end all magic really brought the show down and was fairly pointless.  The one last complaint I have about this season is their portrayal of Peter Pan as some kind of malicious kidnapper of children.  Considering that this show is produced by Disney, you’d think that they wouldn’t want that character maligned like that.  I’m hoping that this will change for the third season or at least be explained.  If you sympathize more with Hook than Pan, then there’s something wrong there.  

Despite my issues with the show, I have to say that with every season it’s gotten better and better. I am genuinely excited for what will happen next in Neverland and how things will play out between Hook and Peter Pan.  After the events of the second season finale, I can also only hope that the main characters fare better next season than they have the last two.When the lead characters of the show are the least interesting and the most tedious to watch, then you’ve got a problem.  I still enjoy seeing the show pull characters from various fairy tales and stories and putting them all together.  Most of the time, it really works and they’re fun to watch but then they disappear.  That revolving door keeps things interesting but if you aren’t a regular watcher of the show it could get really confusing.  I hope that they show continues to do better and keeps building on what worked this season and jettisons the unwanted melodrama that held it back this season.
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Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The show’s 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks fantastic on Blu-ray and much better than what I’m used to seeing on television. If I was smart, I would just wait and watch the show on Blu-ray.  Of course, that sharpness and improved detail also reveal the show’s special effects’ limited television sized budget too.  Colors jump off the screen with all of their multi-hued intensity and the picture’s detail is excellent.  Black levels are solid and inky and the contrast levels are spot on.  There really isn’t anything to complain about for this transfer other than when CG shots are present which brings its own issues of banding which is noticeable.  Overall, this is a fantastic transfer that delivers the goods despite some minor issues.
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Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

Once Upon a TimeDTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix sounds much better on Blu-ray than it does on television or on the first season’s Blu-ray release.  This release isn’t as front heavy as the previous one as there’s a lot more surround activity this season.  The dialogue is clear throughout and there’s a lot of rear speaker activity that really brings the show to life. Whether it’s Storybrooke’s city environments or the Enchanted Forests’s wildlife, the ambience is nicely delivered across the rear channels with a lot of cross channel accuracy.   This is a great mix that isn’t perfect but very good for a television show.
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Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

There’s a decent mix of extras included and I’m happy to report the Season Play mode is back which keeps your place while watching the show as well as some various behind the scenes looks at the show.
  • Six Audio Commentaries: There’s six episode commentaries with a rotating group of people depending on the episode.  For “Broken” it includes Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas; “Queen of Hearts” includes actor Lana Parrilla and co-creators/executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz; “Manhattan” has Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, and actor Robert Carlyle; “The Miller’s Daughter” includes writer extraordinaire Jane Espenson; “Welcome to Storybrooke” offers writers Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss; and lastly “And Straight on ‘Til Morning” includes co-executive producer David H. Goodman and Colin O’Donoghue.  Most of these commentaries are interesting and entertaining but I’m not sure why they only did six out of twenty-two episodes.
  • A Fractured Family Tree - “Modern Family’s” Sarah Hyland narrates an overview the overly complicated family tree and relationships that this show has set up.  It’s good to see that the show is the first to acknowledge how convoluted and ridiculous it has become that even the actors on the show can’t keep it all straight.  This extra does a good job trying to unravel it all and it will be welcome to those people who want a refresher before starting this season.
  • Deleted Scenes - There’s eight deleted scenes included including: “Young Confidence,” “A New Day,” “A Chamber of Hearts,” “Hallucinations,” “Town Issues,” “Smooth Sailing,” “Storybooks” and “Aligned Interests.”  None of them are really that great but it was interesting to see “A Chamber of Hearts” turn into a deathtrap straight out of The Temple of Doom.
  • Girl Power  -  The show has long sought to make the females of the show to be the main heroes while the men largely sit on the sidelines which kind of flips the stories of old.  We get an overview of all of the central females and see how they’ve kicked butt this season.
  • Sincerely, Hook - In a smart move, this extra is devoted to actor Colin O’Donoghue who plays Captain Hook.  He single-handedly saved this season so it’s appropriate that he gets his own extra.  He talks about how he views the character and what he tried to bring to the role.  He’s also shocked and amused by the reception he gets from his fans who call themselves “hookers.”
  • Good Morning Storybrooke - I didn’t expect this.  This extra is basically a fake morning show that’s set in a memory restored Storybrooke and it features several of the cast members of the show in the segments.  It’s kind of amusing and kind of terrible at the same time since it’s a parody but at the same time part of the show itself.  It even has commercials for local businesses like Grannies’ Diner and Gold’s Shop in between the segments.  Guests from the show include Amy Acker,Lee Arenberg, Meghan Ory, David Anders, Robert Carlyle, and Emilie de Ravin all playing their roles.  The show itself is hosted by Paul Scheer and “Community’s” Yvette Nicole Brown.  It’s an original idea and a lot of work went into it, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it.
  • Fairest Bloopers of Them All - We see the cast mess up their lines and have some fun on the set.  Some of these shots are pretty good.
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Summary (4 out of 5 stars)

If you liked the first season of this show then you will like the second season even more.  And just like the show got better, the Blu-ray for the show also improved with better video and audio quality and the extras aren’t too bad either.  If this show could dump the melodrama and focus on the fantasy/adventure aspects, it would be a fantastic show.  I’m going to keep watching to see if that happens and also because I want to see what happens in Neverland.
Order your copy today!
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