Created By JJ Abrams
Starring Ana Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m an unabashed JJ Abrams fan. If his name is on it I’ll give it a look. I might not always love the project but whatever he does will always get a look see from me. Alias, LOST, Mission Impossible III, Cloverfield, and Star Trek all good reasons to check out what Abrams is up too. So when I heard that he was planning a new television series that would be his take on something like The X-Files I was ecstatic to say the least.
As much as I love Abrams I’m still grounded when it comes to his work, unlike many Whedon fans (of which I also am). Fringe premiered on shaky ground. The pilot and first couple of episodes were honestly a little weak. It felt like the creators were still finding their way with these characters and the overall mythology. As the season progressed the show continued to get better by deepening the characters and adding just the right bits of quirky humor to keep the show from going just too dark. With the improvements come shifts in focus from one part of the mythology to another. The whole thing started “the pattern” a group of “fringe” science related events that are supposed to lead to something big and important. Fringe science involves things from extreme medical experiments to time travel. This idea of the pattern was fascinating but by the middle of the season it was barely mentioned. The focused changed to this idea of a terrorist group that makes their decisions based on some mix of ancient and fringe science text. This too is interesting but I found myself wishing for a return to the pattern that just never happened.
The great thing about Abrams’ previous series, LOST, is that the creators managed to wedge strong elements of science fiction (even time travel!) and horror (ghosts and monsters) into a dramatic series that appeals to the mainstream as well as us geeks making the show a huge hit. With Fringe it appears that Abrams and FOX believe that the mainstream now has a taste for sci-fi because they aren’t pulling punches with Fringe. It gets right to the weird wild world science fiction, fantasy, and yes even horror. At first the show seemed that it would be a modern day revamp of The X-Files. It featured a male and female team of dark characters with questionable pasts and some connection to the subject that they are tasked to investigate. Fringe is that, but it also features an ensemble cast, and it draws from The Twilight Zone, and most interestingly from the classic film Altered States. There are episodes that are “monster of the week” types of installments and other episodes deal with the mythology directly which are back to the X-Files formula.
Even with its weak sort of start by the end of the season the characters are deep and complex and the mythology is also multifaceted and intriguing. The addition of Leonard Nimoy also gets major geek cred. While all of the actors are great in the series the standouts are Joshua Jackson and John Noble for completely different reasons. Noble is a fantastic actor and while I expected him to be good in the role he isn’t just good, he’s a scene stealer. I expected Joshua Jackson to be horrible in this series and I expected that based on Dawson’s Creek rather than his actual talent which wasn’t fair to him. He ends up being quite good and he has great chemistry with the lead in the series played by Ana Torv.
Fringe wavers a bit with its weighty mythology but all of the necessary elements for a fascinating television series are in place and season one sets the bar in just the right place for success. The show was the most successful new series of last season and it deserves that award by being the best executed and most unique of all the new shows that year.
This 1080p presentation ends up being one of the best TV to Blu-Ray transfers I’ve seen to date. With that said the transfer isn’t perfect but it’s darn close. The biggest problem, an inconsistency in detail levels appears to be more related to the source material than the transfer but whatever the issue there’ll often be stunning deep detail and the next scene will be noticeably softer. Most often though video detail is fantastic. Black levels are deep without sacrificing detail in the darker scenes. Skin tones look great both the natural ones and the color shifted ones. This series ahs a forceful color pallet that’s get treated well by this HD presentation. Contrast also looks amazing most of the time with only a few exceptions. The thin layer of grain that coats the entire season requires mentioning as well. Overall though this Blu-Ray presentation is solid through and through and it looks better than the show did when it was originally broadcast.
Why do such a good job with the HD video presentation only to drop compressed basic Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks on the discs? Where’s the HD audio presentation? What we get sounds good enough. There’s a solid amount of surround usage and aggressive subwoofer use too. The limitations of this compressed audio presentation come into play the most during explosions and big events because they just don’t pop. Dynamic range for the episodes seems very middle of the road. The good news is that dialogue, score, and sound fx are all well mixed and clean leaving the dialogue in the center and easy to hear. It’s not a terrible audio presentation by any means but it just doesn’t hold up to the video that’s here or to the HD format in general.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The discs are all packed in a very slim Blu-Ray amaray case with holographic art featuring that familiar bluish hue that’s used so often in the series.
First up for extras is a set of audio commentaries. There are a total of four commentaries if you include the BDLive exclusive downloadable commentary with writers from the series. The crown jewel of the commentaries is easily the one that’s included with the pilot that features show creators Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci, and Mr. elusive himself JJ Abrams. I call Abrams elusive because he’s often a bit too absent in special features for his projects. This commentary offers up tons of information on the process behind creating the show and its inspirations. You really get an idea of how these guys work together on Fringe and on other projects too. The other commentaries are also extremely informative if slightly less conversational. They feature a mix of writers, directors, and producers. The big question is where is the commentary from the cast?
Each and every episode of the season comes with a brief featurette called “Deciphering the Scene” that focuses on a particular scene from the episode going behind the scenes of special fx, stunts and more. These featurettes are extremely short (usually only 2 or 3 minutes) but all together they offer up tons of information. Another group of brief featuettes for a few of the episodes called “The Massive Undertaking” cover the same information but in a slightly slicker and more marketing speak style. These two series of shorts cover a lot of the same ground. These are all really short and annoyingly spread across the discs instead of just planted on one disc with a “Play All” option.
There’s another group of short featurettes spread across discs 4 and 5 called “Spoilerific Production featurettes”. Again, these featurettes are all too short but they offer tons of additional information especially considering their running time. They cover everything from casting, to more interviews with the creators discussing what makes the series stand out, the special fx, and even a brief discussion of the show’s science compared to the real thing. All of this might have been better had it been assembled into one complete and lengthier documentary. It would have been easier to dig into as well because again there wouldn’t be any disc swapping.
There’s a set of deleted scenes, a blooper reel, a production diary with Robert Orci taking us on a tour of some of the sets of the show, a humorous short about Gene the Cow, and an additional Blu-Ray exclusive called “”Pattern Analysis” where experts analyze various scenes from the season. The last featurette is the only one in HD on the set.
The organization of the bonus features is incredibly irritating being spread across all of the discs and broken down into such small pieces but the information is solid and interesting.
Overall (Not an Average) 8.5/10
The Season 8/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 7.5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8.5/10