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Sons of Anarchy: Season One(TV) (2008)
Sons of Anarchy, a dark drama set in Charming, a sheltered community watched over by a renegade motorcycle club intent on protecting the town from the newcomers that threaten it. Jackson "Jax" Teller is one member of the brotherhood, who finds his own loyalty to the group tested when he experiences its increasing lawlessness and notoriety, while at the same time adjusting to life as a father. But confusing matters are Jax's mother and stepfather, two ruthless individuals who happen to be the masterminds behind the club.
For more about Sons of Anarchy: Season One and the Sons of Anarchy: Season One Blu-ray release, see Sons of Anarchy: Season One Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 30, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ron Perlman, Katey Sagal, Kim Coates, Mark Boone Junior, Charlie Hunnam, Maggie Siff
» See full cast & crew
Sons of Anarchy: Season One Blu-ray Review
Gimmick? Almost. Good enough to draw me back for a second season? Just.
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, August 30, 2009
Adapting a Shakespearean masterpiece for a modern audience is a perilous prospect; a prospect typically associated with pretentious ideas, misguided execution, and unwarranted alterations to the adaptation's source. So, as you might imagine, when I first learned that FX's latest hyper-violent, boundary-pushing television series, Sons of Anarchy, was loosely based on Shakespeare's "Hamlet" (with a pinch of "Macbeth" tossed in for good measure) I was quite skeptical. Mortified even. Name-dropping a literature classic can be relatively harmless, but when a creator attempts to weave their own plot and characters into the fabric of that same classic, the results tend to either be utterly brilliant or, as is most often the case, completely foolish. To my relief, Anarchy merely samples Shakespeare's Elizabethan heavyweight, drawing upon its betrayals and family sins, but forging a path all its own; a path soaked in blood, oil, and the rough-n-tumble law of the open road.
Over the last seven years, FX has earned a reputation for straddling the line between over-the-top lunacy and gritty drama. The Shield (which, in this humble writer's opinion, is one of the finest shows of the decade), Rescue Me, Damages and Nip/Tuck may have split audiences, but they've also built respectable and passionate fanbases that have given each series the opportunity to both push the envelope and challenge expectations. Sons of Anarchy follows in its acclaimed predecessors' footsteps, relying on disturbing violence, harsh language, and extreme situations, not just to shock its audience, but to dissect the various characters populating its seedy Californian underworld. The story itself focuses on a rather vicious motorcycle gang that runs a criminal operation in a small town called Charming. The Sons of Anarchy bikers -- original member and current president, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), Morrow's stepson and second-in-command, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), scraggly-haired explosives expert, Elvis (Mark Boone Junior), hot tempered muscle, Tig (Kim Coates), original chapter co-founder, Piney Winston (William Lucking), and Jax's close friend, Opie (Ryan Hurst), among others -- are forced to contend with several rival gangs, a straight-laced Deputy Police Chief (Tayler Sheridan), a sharp ATF agent (Ally Walker), and a second, more aggressive ATF agent (The Shield's Jay Karnes) with an agenda of his own.
Pouring through his late father's recently discovered manuscript, the bluntly titled The Life and Death of Sam Crow: How the Sons of Anarchy Lost Their Way, Jax begins having doubts about Morrow's goals and methods, as well as concerns about Morrow's relationship with Jax's mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal). The resulting unease becomes the main source of conflict in Anarchy; one that eventually supersedes the Sons' scuffles with other gangs and their encounters with law enforcement agents. As Jax questions everything he knows and has come to believe, the gang splinters, if ever so slightly, and Morrow takes notice. As the life of his newborn child hangs in the balance, Jax reevaluates his priorities, tries to decide what sort of future he wants for his son, and confronts his ex-wife, a former meth-head named Wendy (Drea de Matteo). By the time the series' first season reaches its gut-wrenching conclusion, death has wormed its way into the Sons' ranks, war has begun brewing on the horizon, and certainty and stability have become luxuries none of the gang members can afford.
I have a strong suspicion Sons of Anarchy's second season will be much tighter than its first. The groundwork is certainly in place -- a well-cast ensemble, the actors' stirring performances and, most importantly, the show's crystallizing identity (something Season One struggles to establish over the course of its first seven episodes) -- and the finale left me itching for more, but several things hold this opening outing back from greatness. While Hunnam, Perlman, and Segal are on point, and while their supporting cast frequently steals entire scenes out from under them, many of the subplots, particularly those involving Charming's corrupt Police Chief and the Sons' rivals, are somewhat contrived and overwrought. Without a clearly defined antagonist, it's also difficult to wade through such unlikeable waters. At times, it seems as if every character who struts onto screen isn't worthy of our investment or sympathies; they're often the worst of the worst, deserving little pity, empathy or, for that matter, respect. It can be next to impossible to put up with so much greed and corruption (even Tony Soprano had a family of innocents in his life), and I constantly balked at the notion that a secret manuscript and a newborn child were the sole sources of Jax's wake-up call. Where were morality, justice, and the promise of redemption before his father re-entered his life? Where was his conscience before his son came to be? His sudden attraction to the light seems convenient and abrupt; a point of manufactured conflict rather than a natural development of the narrative.
Still, anyone who has the patience to push through Sons of Anarchy's early grim-n-gory aren't-I-shocking shenanigans will be treated to as rousing a road epic as a would-be biker could hope for. As the Sons begin to breathe legitimate Charming air rather than react to the nightmarish consequences of their lifestyles, as they're transformed from comicbook caricatures into believable human beings, and as they reveal more of their souls than their leather-clad machismo, the series takes on a life of its own, briefly brushing against the sort of harrowing drama that graced each and every episode of The Shield. More to the point, as its identity crisis finally fades and its characters take their place amongst FX's finer creations (especially during Season One's parting episodes), the series offers a startling glimpse into the place Sutter has apparently planned to take his viewers all along. It isn't pretty, it isn't tranquil, but it is a place I'm looking forward to exploring this fall.
Sons of Anarchy: Season One Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sons of Anarchy: Season One features a faithful 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that renders the sun-bleached streets and shadowy bars of Charming with meticulous care. Colors are rich and lively (gorgeous reds ooze off the screen), blacks are deep and well resolved, and contrast is bright and bold. While a fine veneer of grain spikes and lulls as it sees fit, detail remains sharp and refined, offering an endless assortment of crisp textures, clean edges, and wonderfully delineated backgrounds. Likewise, even though noise permeates the darkest skies, the technical transfer isn't plagued by significant artifacting, aliasing, noise reduction, or distracting edge enhancement. Minor halos still pop up from time to time, but crush is one of the only lingering issues that detract from the overall presentation. My only other major complaint? Skintones, while frequently warm and natural, are sometimes flushed, leaving a few actors looking as if they've come in from a jog when, in actuality, they're doing little more than sitting pretty in the shade of Morrow's shop. Thankfully, it isn't a persistent problem, and only caught my attention on a handful of occasions.
All things considered, Sons of Anarchy looks great, bests the DVD version by leaps and bounds, and should satisfy everyone but the most stringent grainophobes.
Sons of Anarchy: Season One Blu-ray, Audio Quality
With a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that drops a legion of full-throttled Harleys into your home theater, Sons of Anarchy stands apart from the usual television fare, delivering powerful, at-times stunning effects, crystal clear dialogue, and an immersive soundfield. LFE output is quite staggering, boasting enough low-frequency oomph to challenge a Hollywood blockbuster, all while adding subtle weight to voices and other more subdued elements of the soundscape. Likewise, the rear speaker are lively and aggressive, yet still take every opportunity to enhance the acoustics of a tiny office or the wet splatter of blood against a nearby wall. Prioritization is spot on as well, directionality is accurate, and pans -- whether transporting a speeding bullet across the soundfield, hurling a table across a bar, or simply allowing the Sons' bikes to roar by the listener -- are smooth and believable. Some lines of dialogue occasionally get lost in the shuffle during action-oriented scenes, but I suspect the buried bits of conversation are meant to intentionally increase the tension of such sequences, and aren't the result of some nefarious technical issue. All in all, fans, newcomers, and audiophiles alike will sit up and take notice when Sons of Anarchy's convincing sonics graces their ears.
Sons of Anarchy: Season One Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Sons of Anarchy: Season One mirrors its DVD counterpart, offering three audio commentaries, a decent helping of deleted scenes, and an assortment of solid production featurettes. The material isn't mind-blowing, and certainly won't make you reevaluate the series, but it's fun to watch the actors, particularly those who play the show's less savory killers, wax poetic about their characters and the various storylines that populate the first season.
Sons of Anarchy: Season One Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
What begins as a contrived, somewhat unwieldy gimmick quickly becomes a taut, suspenseful ensemble drama that delivers the goods (particularly in its last five or six episodes), and promises to deliver even more over the course of its upcoming second season. While it doesn't boast the nuanced intricacies of The Sopranos or the riveting characters and gut-check intensity of The Shield (at least not yet), TV junkies and FX fans will feel right at home in the not-so-charming town of Charming, California. Luckily, anyone who picks up the Blu-ray edition of Season One is in for an excellent release. With a faithful video transfer, a rousing DTS-HD Master Audio track, and a generous collection of special features, this 3-disc set is worth some serious consideration. I wouldn't recommend a blind buy -- not without sampling a few episodes first -- but I have a feeling most people, at least those armed with appropriate expectations, will thoroughly enjoy this sick-n-slick television release.
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