Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Penny Dreadful: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
From three-time Oscar nominee John Logan (Skyfall, Hugo, Gladiator) and Oscar winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall), "Penny Dreadful" is a frightening psychosexual drama that weaves together classic horror origin stories into a gripping series that is "moody, mystical and wonderfully twisted" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). "Penny Dreadful," starring Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down), Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights) and Eva Green (Casino Royale), completely reinvents literature's most famous characters. Icons of terror such as Victor Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and timeless figures from Dracula join a core of original characters in a dark and brutal quest to save a soul - even as they grapple with their own monstrous temptations.
Show (4 out of 5 stars)
"Penny Dreadful" takes place in 19th Century England. Eva Green is the main character, Vanessa Ives, not Penny as I'm sure many who haven’t watched the show probably assume. Vanessa works with a man named Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) who is in search of a supernatural creature that has taken his daughter Mina. Vanessa enlists the help of Ethan Chandler, and American soldier who happens to work as a sharpshooter/performer in a traveling show.  

When the show begins, it appears as though Vanessa is nothing more than an employee to Malcolm, but their complex history is soon revealed. Vanessa and Mina were childhood friends and neighbors and their families have been connected for years.  As they search the darkest parts of London for poor Mina, the darkness finds its way back to Vanessa. In his quest, Malcolm has enliststed the assistance of a young doctor named Victor (Harry Treadaway).  While Victor is skilled in anatomy, he's also prone to being easily frightened away by the unbelievable sights which puts him at a disadvantage with their work.  

As the story progresses, we learn that Victor is more than just a simple doctor and that he has quite a past of his own. As much as the characters are chasing down evil, that same evil is also chasing them. They all have a rich history with demons to bear.  For some of the characters these demons are internal, and for some they are very much literal monsters they must face.  This is one of those shows that's difficult to review as there is so much going on in this show that I can't reveal in this review without spoiling the show for new viewers.

The actors are perfectly cast, even Josh Hartnett, a man I’m not usually a fan of. Eva Green specifically creates a significant amount of mystery in the motives and actions of Vanessa Ives. Writer/Creator John Logan has done an amazing job of slowly revealing bits of information while keeping you interested in what’s happening in the moment so that your mind isn’t jumping ahead to figure out what’s going to happen next. My only complaint is that there are spiders, lots of them and very realistic ones.  I hate spiders but I will admit that they help dial up the creepiness, as intended. "Penny Dreadful" is as dark and mysterious and reminds me of the best parts of Sleepy Hollow or Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  If you’re in the mood for some foggy and bleak atmosphere, this is the show for you. 
Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p high definition Blu-ray provides the dark, gloomy and murky atmosphere you’d expect from the time period and the subject matter.  The film is intentionally hazy while maintaining a good level of fine detail.  The color palette is richly saturated with the hues of death, and there is plenty take note of in costumes, architecture and the landscape of Victorian England.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
"Penny Dreadful’s" True HD 5.1 is impressive and extremely important to creating the show’s atmosphere.  Besides the all important dialogue, which Eva Green almost whispers, you feel surrounded by the hustle and bustle of all that is going on in London.  The gunfire echoes naturally and the variety of supernatural noises makes you feel like you’re in the center of the action.
Extras (3 out of 5 stars)
The third Blu-ray disc contains the special features, but unfortunately no commentaries and you’ll find not all the extras relate to "Penny Dreadful." 
  • What is a Penny Dreadful - The Penny Dreadful publication is explained in this roughly two minute feature.
  • Literary Roots – Creator/Writer John Logan discusses his supernatural inspiration.
  • Coming Together – Just over two minutes focused on pre-production.
  • The Artisans Pt.1 and 2 – Each part, lasting just over two minutes explores the show’s production design.
  • The Grand Guignol – A look at Victorian entertainment.
  • Sex and Prostitution in the Victorian age - Author and Historian Matthew Sweet, Reeve Carney and Dorian Gray explore the issues.
  • British Exploration & The Search for the Nile – A look at the explorers of the age, including the character Sir Malcolm Murray.
  • The Science of Medicine – Matthew Sweet discusses pathology and biology with curator Carla Valentine.
  • Ray Donovan: Season One, Episodes one and two.
     Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
Showtime has put together a great show that looks and sounds great on Blu-ray. "Penny Dreadful" is all the right kinds of dark and gloomy and that wonderful atmosphere will transport you back in time. The special features are interesting, but are broken up into two minute segments. I think the show warranted some better special features such a commentary track or a behind the scenes featurette instead of a couple of episodes of "Ray Donovan." The back cover of the Blu-ray promises an “erotically charged, profoundly unsettling” saga and it definitely delivers.  With only eight episodes in season one, you could easily spend a weekend binge watching "Penny Dreadful" and you'll have the time to do it before the show returns in 2015.

Order your copy today!

No comments:

Post a Comment