Friday, December 19, 2014

The Strain: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
Experience the first season of TV’s hottest, most blood-curdling sci-fi series – from Executive Producers-Writers Guillermo Del Toro, Carlton Cuse and Chuck Hogan – along with behind-the-scenes special features that explore the story’s journey from bestselling novel to hit show. When a freak virus kills all but four passengers on an airplane at JFK, Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), head of the Center for Disease Control’s “Canary Team,” is immediately called to the scene. With help from a mysterious Holocaust survivor (David Bradley), “Eph” and his colleague (Mía Maestro) uncover the outbreak’s ties to vampirism. Now, the only way to stop the terrifying disease from wiping out mankind is to face its source – a sinister supernatural creature known as “The Master” – whose evil intent seems more powerful than any other force on Earth!

Show (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The Strain’s cover art depicts a worm and an eyeball, two things that really shouldn’t mix. The fact the show airs on cable television, should not lead you to believe that it isn’t going to be a disturbing experience. In the pilot episode, a flight has landed at JFK Airport, but its sits on the tarmac. The power is off and all but one window shade is closed. Soon air traffic controllers and emergency response personnel surround the plane. Doctors from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) enter the plane to investigate. At first everyone appears dead, having succumbed to an unknown contagion. 

Before leaving the plane, four passengers regain consciousness and are rushed to quarantine. Ephraim can’t explain what caused the deaths of over 200 passengers, and he can’t explain why the four were spared. Families of the victims demand answers and soon the survivors are on the street while Ephraim and his team are still tracking down clues. Soon it’s clear that this is not just a simple outbreak of a virus. Something supernatural is at work, and the people of New York City are in grave danger.

There is so much more to tell, but I’ll leave the plot summary brief so that you can watch and discover it for yourself. The Strain has a lot of interesting plot points, and a lot going on. There is an entire back-story about Ephraim and his estranged wife. They share a young son and are dealing with mom’s new boyfriend moving in. As if that weren’t enough drama we head all the way back to the holocaust when we meet a survivor named Abraham Setrakian(David Bradley) who seems to be the only person who knows what’s really going on. 

At Setrakian’s pawn shop we are introduced to a thief and his entire family in yet another story arch. It’s clear that all these paths will become intertwined and the supernatural aspects just make it all that much more complicated. Any one of the back-stories seems like it could be a television show in itself. The Strain is not the show that you jump into half way through the season. If possible, it’s also a show that should unfold naturally over the 13 episodes. If you can avoid spoilers, you’ll have the best experience.

"The Strain" comes from the minds of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, and is based on their novels. The first season features 13 episodes, and FX ordered a second season which should have recently started production. That leaves plenty of time to watch the show, and be ready for season two if you missed "The Strain" on television, as I did. The pilot episode was written by del Toro and Hogan and directed by del Toro. Knowing del Toro’s propensity for darkness, I had high hopes for the series. 

The show is dark, and not exactly what you think. It’s well written, well acted and worth the time. Some will be disappointed when the show takes its supernatural turns. If all you want is a straight forward virus, go watch Outbreak. "The Strain" doesn’t fit into any one category. It’s at times a very touching drama (especially tugging at my parental heart strings when children are infected). It is also a supernatural thriller with a sci-fi twist. Thirteen episodes are just not enough time to cram in all the details they did and I wish season one could have had a full 20 episodes. A lot was established in season one and I hope the show paces itself a bit better for season two.
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
Whether or not you got overwhelmed by the story, you will admit that it all looks very good on Blu- ray. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment provides an AVC encoded 1080p transfer with a 1.78:1 ratio. The show takes you underground, in abandoned subway tunnel and in plenty of shadows and the details fair well under these conditions. The infection comes with worms crawling under and out of people’s skin and these aspects are done very well with CGI. When the bad guy is revealed, it’s a shame they opted for traditional effects. They managed so well to bring the creepy feeling alive with their CGI, yet the rubber mask look just comes off as cheesy. Despite the bad choice in a Halloween mask for their villain, the show is sharp with accurate skin tones and no major issues to speak of.
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
"The Strain's" DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix presents clear and intelligible dialogue and makes use of all channels. I usually notice how you can hear the weight of a crowd, but in this show it’s more noticeable that you hear the confinement of a still airplane or the bustling of a government office. When it comes to creatures nesting, or the infected rising you’ll notice their breathing and wheezing like they are standing next to you.
Extras (2 out of 5 stars) 
For a show with so much detail, I expected a larger quantity of features. The three Blu-ray discs each contain one special feature.
  • In the Beginning (14:09, Disc One) - A look at the plot and characters with interviews from cast and crew. 
  • A Novel Approach (9:36, Disc Two) - Guillermo del Toro discusses The Strain novel. 
  • Setrakian's Lair (9:46, Disc Three) Actor David Bradley offers a tour of his character’s lair. 
Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
"The Strain" offers a complicated set of stories, but real dramatic moments. It’s trying to be different and I’m unsure if it’s trying too hard yet. Season one held my interest and I flew through the 13 episodes in a weekend. By the end of season one, the hard work of establishing all the characters and their back-stories is hopefully done and I’m really interested to see where they go with season two, and to find out how far the infection will spread.

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