Friday, December 3, 2010

Film Yap: Deadwood the Complete Series

The city of Deadwood is a horrifying and fascinating concept. It’s a city without law during the 1870s. It’s not legally part of the United States because it was territory that was given to Native Americans. They were driven out and the city has been taken over by prospectors and men wanting to make their fortune. Or die trying.

David Milch mixed in historical accuracy with new characters to make one of the most beloved shows on HBO. It ran for three seasons before abruptly being canceled. A few years ago there were rumors that there would be two movies to finish the storylines, but it seems like it is officially dead. Especially considering that HBO is releasing this incredible complete series collection on Blu-Ray.

This is one of the best television transfers to Blu-Ray I’ve ever seen. The city looks so crisp and striking, which somehow makes the grime even more fascinating. The show begins with Seth Bullock (Justified’s Timothy Olyphant) leaving Montana to go to Deadwood. He left his life as a lawman to run a hardware store. Deadwood doesn’t have any system of justice, but there is Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). Swearengen own the Gem Saloon and is the man in charge of the city. All of the corruption and greed stems back to him. He is the king of the sandbox.

Conflicts arise immediately as Seth and his partner Sol Star (Winter’s Bone’s John Hawkes) refuse to give in to Al’s ways. The same goes for Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine) who is at the end of his career. All he wants to do is gamble and avoid all of the annoying publicity. In the first season another saloon opens, The Bella Union, which is run by Cy Tolliver (Powers Booth) and Eddie Sawyer (Ricky Jay).

The plotting of the show is rather incredible as it always moves forward in all of its storylines. There is never a weak thread, which is very rare in a show like this. Part of that can be congratulated towards the writing staff, which also includes LOST’s Elizabeth Sarnoff. The rest of the praise can be directed towards one of the most impressive set of character actors. In addition to the ones mentioned, the show also features Molly Parker, William Sanderson, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, Paula Malcomson, Robin Weigert, Anna Gunn, Jeffrey Jones, Titus Wlliver, and Stephen Tobolowsky.

The show plays with the artificial creation of order in a very organic way. Most of them fear the idea of annexation because that means playtime is over. The beginning of the series has a very high body count per episode, which is shocking even for an ensemble show. Having these men compose their own world makes for an amazing narrative that can be examined several times to catch all of the nuances.

There is so much to talk about from its characterization, themes on civilization, and even its use of profanity. (One word is used so often it’s almost comical.) One surmising article doesn’t seem to give this series justice. This is a great set to check out for any fans of serialized television and those who enjoy using genre fiction to achieve impressive goals.

The Blu-Ray set has every episode as well as a lot of bonus features. There are plenty of commentaries from Milch and the cast for several key episodes. The best time spent is the small documentaries about the making of the show. There is over an hour devoted to Carradine and Milch having a conversation about the show’s themes and how it blended historical reality. It’s really fascating. In addition to what has already been released with the stand-alone seasons, there is also another disc of bonus features that includes talking about the ending and looking back on the show. All of the discs are in a very cool case that looks and feels like an old book. Its rough content makes this something that won’t appeal to everyone, but if you can tolerate the roughest part of the Old West, this is the set for you.

Show: 4.5 Yaps

Extras: 5 Yaps

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