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Fringe: The Complete First Season(TV) (2008-2009)
Fringe revolves around three unlikely colleagues – a beautiful, young and determined FBI agent (Anna Torv), a brilliant but off-the-wall scientist (John Noble), and his sardonic, roguish son (Joshua Jackson) – who team up to investigate a series of peculiar deaths and disasters known as “The Pattern.” The trio suspects that someone is using the world as a laboratory. And many of the clues lead them to Massive Dynamic, a shadowy global corporation that may be more powerful than any nation.
For more about Fringe: The Complete First Season and the Fringe: The Complete First Season Blu-ray release, see Fringe: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 31, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Directors: Norberto Barba, Joe Chappelle, Brad Anderson, Jeannot Szwarc, Akiva Goldsman, David Straiton
Writers: J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Zack Whedon, Jason Cahill, Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown
» See full cast & crew
Fringe: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review
Don't miss the opportunity to discover an excellent new series...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, August 31, 2009
I didn't realize how much I missed The X-Files -- or, for that matter, having more episodes of Lost to dig through -- until I sank into Fringe, a spiritual successor to both series from wunderkind J.J. Abrams that follows a ragtag team of specialists investigating a slew of bizarre events linked to something ominously referred to as "The Pattern." With a talented ensemble comprised of relative newcomers, television veterans, and temperamental Gondorian Stewards, and a writing team boasting an Oscar winner and several WGA and Emmy nominees, the series quickly earned a sizable fanbase and a second season, no easy feat for a new show struggling to stand out in the rocky, ratings-starved 2008 TV landscape. But me? I nearly missed it all. After four decent but formulaic episodes, I was ready to cash out and move on to other Tuesday night fodder. I'm not even sure why I stuck around for another week... I usually don't give fledgling series second chances. But for whatever reason, I came back, and I'm glad I did. Fringe not only became one of my must-see Fall shows, it steadily drew me deeper and deeper into its absorbing mythos. By the time its riveting season finale landed three well-placed sucker punches on my chin, I knew J.J. Abrams had done it again. I knew I would be back for more. I knew Fringe would satiate my TV appetites long after Lost was off the air. I knew I was in for the long haul.
When a fiery FBI special agent named Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is tasked with investigating a suspected bioterrorist attack responsible for killing every passenger on board an international flight -- an attack she believes is connected to a later explosion that injured her partner, John Scott (Boston Legal's Mark Valley) -- she enlists the help of a mentally unstable scientist named Walter Bishop (John Noble), his brilliant enigma of a son, Peter (Joshua Jackson), and fellow agents Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) and Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo). Assigned to unravel the mystery of the strange toxin discovered on the plane and save her dying partner, agent Dunham soon becomes a mainstay in the Department of Homeland Security's Fringe Division, a top secret government organization tracking unexplained phenomena dubbed "The Pattern." With the guidance of her superior, agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), Olivia begins to make connections between the Pattern and Massive Dynamic, a shady global conglomerate owned and operated by Bishop's former lab partner, William Bell (I'll keep his identity a surprise). Over the course of the series' twenty first season episodes, Dunham gets the opportunity to question Massive Dynamic's CEO, Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), Peter and Walter work to overcome their deep-seated family issues, and the Fringe Division attempts to observe and contain a steady stream of vicious attacks, inexplicable oddities, and grotesque events that often leave the frazzled team with more questions than answers.
Fringe nails a coveted television trifecta, offering viewers a fantastic ensemble cast, an endless supply of engrossing episodes, and some of the sharpest sci-fi dialogue to grace the small screen in some time. Australian upstart Anna Torv injects vulnerability and strength into her slender frame and piercing eyes, transforming Dunham into something far more intriguing than she first appears to be. Jackson dips into the same rapid-fire wit that made Pacey such a keystone in Dawson's Creek (watched it, absolutely loved it, will fight anyone who says a bad word about it), brazenly and valiantly stepping into the difficult role of series everyman, in addition to serving as the voice of the audience at least five times an episode. And then there's Noble -- Denethor himself -- an actor's actor who simply steals the show, crafting one of the most unforgettable mad scientists you'll ever have the pleasure to watch; a genius whose penchant for holding a human heart in one hand and a burrito in the other is the source of constant amusement. But it's the series' writers and creators who really deserve most of the praise. The cast does fine leg work, sure, but it's the folks behind the camera who make Fringe such an addictive treat. It only takes them a few episodes to establish the series' ongoing tone (trust me, push through the first four episodes before deciding if the show is for you), after which they unleash hell, literal and otherwise, map a startling interdimensional conspiracy, subject the world to some truly disgusting dangers, and maintain a careful balance between their multi-faceted storylines and their captivating characters.
What doesn't work? Honestly, not much. After watching the entire first season last fall, I've come to realize the only thing that originally made the series' first four episodes such a challenge was my own short-sightedness. I had a hard time identifying the show's intended tone, bobbling between its drama, science fiction, and comedy, and understanding where everything was headed. However, having recently revisited those opening episodes, I can see how much seeding and tilling the writers were actually doing. I previously assumed they were feeling everything out as they went, but it's clear to me now that they had a tight grasp on exactly where they were going, what they wanted to do, and how they were going to do it. And, to their great credit, I have to say they succeeded on every level. The series' formula is fairly predictable -- a problem is presented, Bishop works the lab for answers, Dunham hits the street for intel, shocking solutions are discovered, dozens of phone calls are made, and everyone rushes to beat the clock and save the city -- but the relationships and interpersonal conflicts between the characters, as well as the overarching Pattern mythos, tend to keep everything fresh, fun, and riveting. Each episode is intense; each episode has palpable momentum; and few scenes are wasted.
Like any series of its ilk, Fringe will enslave some, entertain others, and bore anyone who doesn't connect with its heroes or isn't intrigued by its mysteries. I probably enjoyed it more than most, but I'm a sucker for the dynamic between the characters (particularly the Bishops), the chemistry between the actors, the ambiguity of the Pattern, and the inevitable plot threads that promise to make its second season more twisted and turbulent than its first. I, for one, can't wait for it to pop up in my TiVo queue this September so I can finally get more of my latest television fix. Give it a try, endure any initial episode doubts you might have, and plow through to the end. I have a feeling most sci-fi junkies will be totally and utterly entranced by what they find.
Fringe: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
Fringe: The Complete First Season arrives with a striking, at-times top tier 1080p/VC-1 transfer that pays its creators' intentions and its series' ever-evolving aesthetics tremendous respect. Tom Yatsko's palette is gorgeous -- whether dealing with the steel-toned offices of Dunham's Department of Homeland Security digs, the grimy brickwork of Bishop's Harvard lab, the sickly yellow hue of a stasis tank, or the blazing splash of red that accompanies every eruption of violence and gore, colors are bold, blacks are deep, and contrast is impeccable. More importantly, while a moderate veneer of grain and some minor contrast boosting is apparent throughout the episodes, fine detail is rarely compromised. Textures are crisp (particularly when it comes to faces, outdoor locales, and the series' most prickly beasties) and object definition is clean, natural, and sharp. Yes, softness creeps in from time to time (a shot here, a shot there), but it's always the result of the original source, not the technical transfer. It helps that the image is polished and faithful. I didn't detect any significant artifacting, digital noise reduction, aliasing, distracting crush, unintended source noise, or delineation discrepancies, and edge enhancement, while used to some extent, never becomes a problem. In fact, compared to the standard DVD edition, the Blu-ray presentation is a revelation in every way.
All things considered, Fringe looks wonderful. Stunning even. Fans will be overjoyed to see how well the series has made the transition to high definition, newcomers will find it's incredibly easy to sink into the disturbing beauty of each episode, and videophiles will be pleased with the care Warner has obviously invested in the series' video presentation.
Fringe: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Sigh. Fringe: The Complete First Season, like other recent Warner Brothers television releases (Pushing Daisies, Smallville, and Supernatural among them), underwhelms with a bland, albeit admittedly decent Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track (640kbps). The studio, it seems, is rapidly backpedaling on previous promises that every new Blu-ray release would sport a lossless audio option. As a result, Fringe's high definition debut is sure to disappoint series fans and ward off audiophiles who might otherwise bump this release to the top of their list. It's a sad state of affairs when direct-to-video drivel like Mr. Troop Mom earns a TrueHD track while Fringe, a hit series readying the launch of its highly anticipated second season, is saddled with a lossy letdown. Ah well, at least it all sounds good for a standard DD mix. Dialogue is fairly clear and intelligible, LFE output is quite strong (if not a tad pudgy), and rear speaker activity is aggressive enough to create a moderately convincing soundfield. Capped explosions and muffled creature effects are a frequent disappointment, and the entire experience is forced to contend with the usual compression-related limitations, but accurate directionality and solid dynamics keep each episode pulsing along.
I can only imagine how amazing the series' plane crashes, imploding vortexes, chase sequences, and screeching beasties would have sounded if they were backed by a top tier TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio track. Alas, we may never know for sure. Here's hoping the eventual Blu-ray release of The Complete Second Season boasts a beefier mix; one that gives Fringe regulars and newcomers something to get excited about.
Fringe: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Fringe: The Complete First Season materializes on Blu-ray with all of the standard DVD's special features intact. It's a shame most of the video content isn't presented in high definition, but there's plenty of material to dig through. Eagle-eyed viewers will also find a couple of exclusives on hand, including a BD-Live writers' commentary for the finale episode and a six-part "Pattern Analysis" feature. Yes, repetition and redundancy occasionally threaten to undermine the proceedings, but it's a solid supplemental package nonetheless.
Fringe: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If the Blu-ray edition of Fringe: The Complete First Season included a TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio track, I wouldn't have a single reservation about recommending it to everyone. However, regardless of how marvelous the series looks, no matter how engrossing its twenty-episode run might be, and in spite of its generous collection of special features, buyers should be aware of this 5-disc set's biggest shortcoming. I certainly wouldn't avoid buying Fringe for that reason alone -- after all, the Dolby Digital mix on hand is a good one -- but it is a notable disappointment that will send some consumers into a tizzy. Hopefully, Warner will start giving television releases the audio power they deserve. In the meantime, enjoy Fringe for what it does offer: a riveting series, a gorgeous video transfer, and a solid supplemental package. You won't regret it.
Fringe: Other Seasons
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