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Deadwood: The Complete Series(TV) (2004-2006)
In an age of plunder and greed, the richest gold strike in American history draws a mob of restless misfits to an outlaw settlement where everything - and everyone - has a price. The settlers, ranging from an ex-lawman to a scheming saloon owner to the legendary Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, share a constant restlessness of spirit, and survive by any means necessary. Welcome to Deadwood...a hell of a place to make your fortune.
For more about Deadwood: The Complete Series and the Deadwood: The Complete Series Blu-ray release, see Deadwood: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on November 15, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Molly Parker, Brad Dourif, W. Earl Brown, John Hawkes
» See full cast & crew
Deadwood: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review
Another high-quality release from HBO that's sure to appear on many a holiday wish list...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, November 15, 2010
The TV Western rode off into the sunset long ago -- its shoulders slumped stoically atop a weary horse, its best years at its back -- leaving its duly devoted wondering whether the once-spry genre was dead or still kicking. It took with it well over a hundred popular series, among them classics like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rawhide, Little House on the Prairie, The Virginian, Maverick, The Rifleman, Have Gun Will Travel, Wagon Train, Big Valley and the oft-forgot High Chaparral; iconic '50s and '60s television old men treasure and young men fondly remember sampling while spending time with their grandparents. Since then, a few valiant stragglers have appeared on the horizon -- the short-lived Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Walker, Texas Ranger and Firefly (I'll fight any man who suggests Joss Whedon's space Western shouldn't be included) -- but none have signaled the return of the TV Western as a viable genre. Even Deadwood, HBO and creator David Milch's sharply penned, beautifully shot, critically hailed, grim and gritty premium cable series, only survived three seasons before joining its forbearers in the hereafter.
Untimely as its death may have been though, Deadwood carved out an unforgettable place for itself among the genre greats, shedding the rosy romanticism that previously dominated TV Westerns, serving up a colorful cast of nefarious ne'er-do-wells and flawed gunslingers, and delivering what HBO has become known for since David Chase's Sopranos first took viewers by storm: bold, cinematic, captivating television.
Entrenched in real history and teeming with notable men and women who lived in the late 19th century, Deadwood tells the unsavory, at-times explicit tale of a crime-infested South Dakota boom town that experienced a rapid economic and cultural expansion during the Black Hills Gold Rush of the mid-1870s. The town, of course, is Deadwood (a settlement deemed illegal by the U.S. government because it was established on land promised to Native Americans in a 1868 treaty), and its diverse denizens come from all walks of life. Amidst the greed and madness rise two men -- Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), a former lawman who finds himself wearing a Sheriff's badge once again, and Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), a temperamental entrepreneur, crime lord and pimp who holds enormous sway in the community -- stubborn adversaries struggling to bring very different brands of law and order to Deadwood. But Bullock isn't just a true-blue do-gooder, nor is Swearengen the inhuman monster he first appears to be. Both men are far more complex creatures of habit whose destinies are intertwined.
Between them stands a string of opportunists, killers, immigrants, prospectors, vagrants, thieves, gamblers, Old West icons and honest family folk, each one vying for a piece of the Black Hills' riches. People like Sol Star (John Hawkes), Bullock's business partner and faithful friend; Trixie (Paula Malcomson), a prostitute fighting to survive; Cy Tolliver (Powers Booth), a Swearengen rival; E. B. Farnum (William Sanderson), Deadwood's mayor; Alma Garret (Molly Parker), widow and available bachelorette; Whitney Ellsworth (Supernatural's Jim Beaver), kindly prospector and all around good fellow; Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine), legendary gunman and feared quick-draw; Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert), compassionate scout and frontierswoman; Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif), Deadwood's physician; Mr. Wu (Keone Young), a foul-mouthed Chinese power player; and a slew of others (played to perfection by Garret Dillahunt, W. Earl Brown, Anna Gunn, Titus Welliver, Jeffrey Jones, Ricky Jay, Kim Dickens, Dayton Callie, Leon Rippy and other talented character actors), some loyal to Swearengen, some desperate to see Bullock prevail, some simply hoping to stay above the fray.
And oh, what performances Milch's impeccably cast actors deliver. Olyphant draws strength from stillness, and his icy stare and unshakable stance lends his presence tangible authority (with or without a badge tucked beneath his jacket). McShane is as vile a devil as television has known, but the fragility and humanity that beats within the Deadwood demon's heart is as deftly developed as it is masterfully portrayed. Malcomson's fearless resolve demands respect even when her character's decisions demand otherwise; Parker's reserved demeanor and genteel spirit masks the conflict and addiction coming to bear on Alma's soul; Boothe is arguably more vicious than McShane, bringing with him suitable menace and gravitas; Beaver is a breath of well-intentioned air in a dank and dangerous world; Carradine infuses his episodes with a sense of no-nonsense wisdom and nobility, even if his time in Deadwood is woefully brief; Douriff is a delightful jumble of nerves and expertise; Weigert's initially bullish masculinity soon softens and reveals something far more substantial; and the whole of the ensemble, regardless of the size or breadth of the individual actors' roles, exudes calculated charisma and slow-brew intensity. Each one grabs hold of Milch and his writers' material as if it were Shakespeare's finest, and their classically honed, meticulously refined performances are akin to those of a sprawling stage play born out of a bygone age.
Shakespeare's name is haphazardly invoked in many a critical analysis nowadays, but other comparisons between Deadwood and the Bard's work hold tremendous weight. Milch's dialogue, while laced with near-gratuitous levels of modern profanity, is confidently constructed and absolutely crucial to whatever blessings or curses befall Deadwood, and its Midwest rhythms, dense diction and gold-rush colloquialisms are as poetic and lyrical as they are gruff and unseemly. (Don't misunderstand: it isn't difficult to keep up with the characters' conversations, but the sheer complexity of the language employed makes second and third viewings rewarding experiences.) His characters, bristling with violent tempers and brutal dispositions, are an unlikable band of strangely endearing riff-raff; intriguing human beings defined and warped by the volatility of their environment and the lawlessness of the era. Moreover, Milch's exploration of the politics, socioeconomics and cultural realities of the late 19th century are inexhaustible; his team's attention to detail is overwhelming and the series' ever-evolving production design is breathtaking and authentic; the themes he tackles and the questions he poses have no easy answers; the misfortune that unfolds and the victims that are discarded along the way elicit genuine emotion; and the stories that emerge are as mesmerizing and engrossing as they are unsettling. From beginning to end, through thirty-six episodes, Milch's mind concocts a maze of moral ambiguity that turns the traditions of the genre on their ear, weaves a fascinating tapestry of bleak history and smart fiction, and suggests the once-stalwart TV Western could still one day make its triumphant return.
As for Deadwood's three-season lifespan, have no fear. While Milch certainly didn't have the opportunity to go as far with the show as I'm sure he would have liked, the story is still a satisfying one, many of the various character arcs come to some manner of fruition, and the series' conclusion, despite a number of loose ends, wraps things up nicely. Whether by foresight or design, Milch's tendency to focus on more singular aspects of Deadwood life -- be it business, politics or the changing tides of power -- makes each season feel complete unto itself, and each successive season a welcome extension of an already full and generous tale. Rome and Carnivāle (an unexpected surprise I would love to see released on Blu-ray) weren't so lucky, mind you, and the ramifications of their early cancellations are more readily felt in their final seasons. In other words, there's little reason to avoid Deadwood: The Complete Series. It may not have been able to sustain itself in the cutthroat world of ratings, but it deserves as many chances as newcomers are willing to give it.
Deadwood: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Video Quality
Deadwood's three seasons saunter onto Blu-ray with a striking 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation; the latest in a long line of magnificent HBO high definition television releases that are, without a doubt, worth every penny of their asking prices. James Glennon and Joseph Gallagher's dusty series palette and fire-cast photography have never looked better, and not an episode goes by that doesn't leave a lasting impression. Evocative, smartly saturated, sepia-toned colors lend warmth and opulence to each scene, black levels are deep and absorbing, skintones are beautiful and contrast rarely falters. Candle light dances across game tables and bar tops, torches push back the night and the South Dakota sun bathes the sleepy morning streets of Deadwood. Yet no amount of light or shadow, stark or sultry, hinders the proceedings, granting each season a rich, filmic appearance that often transcends its episodic nature and broadcast roots.
Detail is revealing and rewarding as well, and fine textures are as crisp and refined as they are revealing and convincing. The gnarled wood of a rotting shack, the grimy stubble of a weathered gambler, the careful stitching of a luxurious big-city bustle dress, the rough-hewn steel of a six-shooter, the frayed flesh of a gunshot wound, the tiniest hair falling across a young child's face, the newsprint on the pages of "The Pioneer," the unkempt weave of a rope, the bristling hairs on a horse's neck, the underbrush tangled along a dirt road... all preserved and presented with the utmost care. Edges are sharp, natural and largely free of ringing, overall clarity is outstanding, and depth and dimensionality are excellent. Granted, more than a few soft shots appear over the course of the series' thirty-six episodes, but each inconsistency traces back to the show's original source, not HBO or its high definition encode.
Better still, HBO's faithfulness to creator David Milch's intentions and the integrity of the series' gritty aesthetics is readily apparent. I didn't see signs of any significant artifacting or macroblocking, aliasing is nowhere to be found, noise reduction and smearing aren't at play, crush is kept to a bare minimum and banding, faint as its rare appearances are, only creeps into a handful of scenes (so few, in fact, that I considered not mentioning it at all). As it stands, there's only one slight issue of note: spiking noise. Far more often than not, the show's grainy disposition is easy on the eyes, entirely unobtrusive and lends legitimacy to Deadwood's cinematic flare. However, a small militia of problematic nighttime shots produce brief bursts of distracting noise. To be clear, each individual instance is a negligible one, but together, they do amount to a minor annoyance. Even then, the series' source, not the proficiency of HBO's presentation, is to blame.
I have no doubt many will award Deadwood's gorgeous encode a perfect score, and I have no desire to argue with such well-deserved accolades. HBO's presentation -- whether evaluating the first, second or third seasons -- looks fantastic, thoroughly trounces the series' standard DVD releases in every conceivable way, and is sure to leave longtime fans and soon-to-be-blown-away newcomers singing its praises for years to come.
Deadwood: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Audio Quality
From the moment I heard David Schwartz's twangy, Black Hills title song skitter out of my speakers, I knew I was in for something special. HBO has long provided TV connoisseurs with the very best in lossless television mixes, and Deadwood's enveloping, altogether gripping DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track may very well be the studio's finest to date. LFE output is weighty and robust -- latching onto raging storms, hurried horse carriages and ear-shattering shootouts with equal aplomb -- and every episode in the series' three seasons thunders into town, guns blazing. Rear speaker activity is even more exhilarating, filling the soundfield with the harsh hustle and brash bustle of a booming den of iniquity like Deadwood. Quieter scenes don't offer the aggressive free-for-all that Swearengen's seedier exploits do, but subtle ambience and believable acoustics keep things from growing too front-heavy. Directional effects boast deadly aim, pans are faster to the draw than Wild Bill Hickok and dynamics, no matter how unruly or unpredictable Bullock's boom town becomes, remain taut and tenacious.
And dialogue? Milch's profane poetry is as crass, voracious and spiteful as it's ever been, but it's never sounded better. Bright, crystal clear and realistically grounded in the grim, grimy streets of Deadwood, it's as flawless as it could be. Yes, a handful of lines are buried beneath surges of sudden violence. And yes, the occasional ADR voice is a bit shallow compared to the alternative. But the fleeting mishaps that do occur are easy to overlook and well within reason, particularly in the course of a thirty-six episode television series. I'd be hard pressed to ask for much more.
Deadwood: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Deadwood: The Complete Series may only tout "four hours of bonus content" in print ads and on the set's back cover, but the truth is far more enticing. Armed with seventeen audio commentaries and more than six hours of high definition documentaries and featurettes, HBO's 13-disc release actually boasts twenty hours of bonus content. Simply put: anyone who takes the plunge will find enough supplemental goodness to keep them busy for weeks. All in all, I was thoroughly impressed with the entirety of the box set, its design and its contents.
Deadwood: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
In an alternate universe -- where quality, not viewership, dictates programming -- David Milch's Deadwood just closed out a successful seven-season run, won a record number of awards and single-handedly resurrected the television Western. Sadly, in our neck of reality, the series only thrived for three brilliant seasons before meeting its untimely end. Still, that shouldn't prevent anyone from digging into Deadwood and enjoying every crude but captivating minute of its increasingly addictive thirty-six episodes. HBO's Blu-ray release is just as worthwhile. With all three seasons of the show in one convenient, smartly designed box set, a stunning video presentation, a quick-draw DTS-HD Master Audio track and twenty hours of special features (including seventeen audio commentaries and more than six hours of high definition documentaries and featurettes), it justifies its admittedly wince-inducing pricepoint. So crack open your wallets, update your holiday wish lists, elevate your expectations and prepare yourselves accordingly. You won't regret it.
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Deadwood: The Complete Series Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Deadwood Blu-ray Officially Announced - August 10, 2010
HBO Home Entertainment, in conjunction with Warner Home Video, has officially announced the Blu-ray release of one of its most eagerly awaited titles: Deadwood: The Complete Series, with a street date of November 23. The three seasons that comprise this award-winning ...
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