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Dexter: The First Season (2006)
DVD Released: 8/21/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/16/2007
For years, I've been telling anyone who would listen that people who make movies based on comic books and video games are working too hard. (Honestly, not many people will listen...) For most comic books and video games, a complete story has already been written (in the case of comics, there may be thousands of stories), and it should be very easy for a writer to adapt it. Instead, they insist on creating a new story which may or may not capture the spirit of the original source material. But, finally, somehow has gotten it right. The Showtime series Dexter is based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. The show doesn't simply life the story or characters from the novel, but the show is an adaptation of the book! The show comes to DVD with the release of Dexter: The First Season.
Michael C. Hall stars as the titular character in Dexter, who works in the Miami Police Department's forensic's lab as a blood splatter analysis expert. Dexter is very good as his job, and he's easily able to identify what has happened at a crime scene. This may be due to the fact that he is a serial killer. As a child, Dexter was rescued from a crime scene by policeman named Harry Morgan, who adopted Dexter. Harry immediately realized that Dexter was different and that he had the markings of a killer. So, Harry taught Dexter a code of morality and trained him to only kill those who truly deserve it. Dexter uses his job with the police to learn of killers who have escaped the legal system and he dishes out his own brand of justice. Dexter's sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) is in the vice squad and she often turns to Dexter for help in cases. Despite the fact that Dexter is hollow inside and doesn't feel emotion, he also wants to appear normal, so he dates a woman named Rita (Julie Benz).
Miami has been experiencing a series of murders where the victims are prostitutes. The killer drains the blood from the victims and then chops up the bodies. Dexter is fascinated by this, and unlike his colleagues, he doesn't so much want to catch the killer as he wants to study him. Dexter's curiosity is piqued even further when the killer begins to leave message for Dexter. Soon, Dexter finds himself juggling his relationship with Rita, his work, pressure from his sister, and his admiration of this new killer. Life can often be dull and boring for Dexter, but that's all about to change.
Going into Dexter, I had mixed expectations. I had heard good things about the show, but I wasn't excited by the serial killer hunting serial killers angle, as this idea has been kicked around for years. (Before Hannibal was published, there were rumors that Clarice Starling was going to save Hannibal Lecter from a serial killer who hunts serial killers.) And I wasn't very enthused by the first few episodes. The characters were interesting, but the show gave the impression that each week, Dexter was going to pursue and kill a new killer. This didn't show much promise.
And then, the story arc with the so-called "Ice Truck Killer" kicked in and everything changed. The introduction of this idea transformed Dexter into a 3-dimensional character. Before, Dexter had seemed like a one-trick pony -- the soulless serial killer vigilante. But, once the series became less episodic and turned into a true serial (if you will), Dexter blossomed into someone who had many things on his plate, and despite the fact that he claims that he doesn't feel or understand human emotions, he suddenly found himself immersed in several human crises. With shows like The X-Files and Supernatural, I typically prefer the stand-alone episodes more than the story arc shows, but with Dexter, it's the story arc which makes it special.
There are some other things which make Dexter enjoyable. You may not have noticed, but there are a few other police forensics procedural shows on TV. The fact that a serial killer is working on crime scenes definitely sets Dexter apart from these other shows. Unlike some of those other shows, this one doesn't get bogged down in the technical aspects of the crime scenes, and we don't get a new mystery with each episodes. When we see Dexter at work, we see him judging the handiwork of other killers, much like an art critic.
The series also has a great cast. Michael C. Hall carries the show and he appears in at least 95% of the scenes. Despite the fact that Dexter refers to himself as a monster, Hall infuses him with a great deal of playfulness, and he has some very funny lines in the show. But, he's also very believable in the scenes where he releases that inner monster. Hall is surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast, with James Remar being a standout as Dexter's very understanding foster father (who's seen in flashbacks).
I have a history of being sucked into TV-on-DVD boxed sets (and losing a weekend), but it's been a while since that has happened. Dexter: The First Season was a breath of fresh air, as it stole a great amount of my time. The show isn't perfect, as some of the subplots with the peripheral characters aren't very interesting (I didn't care about Lieutenant Laguerta's political problems), but when it focuses on Dexter, it really hums. Ostensibly, boxed sets such as this one are released so that those who didn't see the show can experience it. But, they can also work as a marketing tool, inviting the viewer to watch subsequent seasons of the show. Well, that worked on me, twofold. I'm now looking forward to checking out season two of Dexter and I want to read the books.
Dexter: The First Season slices its way onto DVD courtesy of Showtime Entertainment. The four-disc boxed set contains all 12 episodes of the show's first season. The shows how been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and are 16 x 9 enhanced. The image looks fairly good, as it's sharp and clear for the most part. However, there were some scenes which were somewhat blurry and lacked great detail. I also noted some mild pixellation at times. But, the colors really pop here, especially the pastel of the Miami locales. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, although the 2.0 surround track is the default track. The 5.1 track is OK, but the dialogue is somewhat low at times. Anytime someone on this show whispered, I was forced to rewind and increase the volume. The surround sound effects aren't constant, but they do sound fine when they are present. The salsa music on the track shows off some nice stereo effects.
Despite a long list of extras on the DVD box, there are only three actual extras with Dexter: The First Season. Disc 4 contains "Witnessed in Blood: A True Murder Investigation" (12 minutes), which is a Dateline-like documentary which focuses on a real-life murder in Anaheim in which blood splatter forensics was used to solve the case. The box lists "The Academy of Blood: A Killer Course" as being an extra, but I couldn't find it anywhere on the four discs. Disc 4 also has an AUDIO COMMENTARY for the episode "Born Free", featuring producers Sara Colleton, Clyde Phillips, and Daniel Cerone. This is an OK talk, as the trio share some details about the making of the show, while also giving their opinions about the program. The episode "Return to Sender" on Disc 2 has a COMMENTARY with actors Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, Lauren Velez, and Erik King. This is a typical cast commentary, where there is more joking around than actual info about what they are watching.
On January 6, 2009, Paramount Home Entertainment also brought Dexter: The First Season to Blu-ray Disc. The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The show features many pastel colors, and they look great here. Despite the fact that the action either takes place in the bright Miami sunshine or at night, the image is never too dark or too bright. The image is nicely detailed and there is very good separation between the foreground and background. There is no haloing around the actors, but skin tones do appear a bit waxy at times. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a great track which makes me wish that I had initially viewed this season on Blu-ray. The stereo effects are constant and very prominent. From crowd scenes to moments on the water, we hear every murmur and buzzing insect. The stereo separation is impressive and the way that the sound moves from the front to the rear is good as well. The surround sound effects are nicely done and enhance many scenes. Subwoofer is somewhat limited, but during some action scenes, it certainly comes to life. If you have the means, definitely replace your DVD with this Blu-ray.
The only two extras on the Dexter: The First Season Blu-ray Disc are the AUDIO COMMENTARIES for the episodes "Born Free" and "Return to Sender". Any other extras, including some which were present on the DVD release, are only accessible through BD-Live. So, if your Blu-ray Disc player is not internet-capable, you won't be able to see these features.
Review Copyright 2007/2009 by Mike Long