Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on September 26th, 2013
“My name is Oliver Queen. For five years I was stranded on an island with only one goal: survive. Now, I will fulfill my father’s dying wish to use the list of names he left me and bring down those who are poisoning my city. To do this I must become someone else. I must become something else.”
That someone…that something else is the DC Comics character Green Arrow. Not to be confused by the same-colored Hornet or Lantern.
The comics industry in films and television has been having somewhat of a modern-day renaissance in recent years. The Dark Knight Trilogy and Smallville have been huge hits for DC, and Marvel is basically printing their own money with The Avengers and each hero’s own franchise. Smallville is gone, and DC is not about to surrender that niche to Marvel, who has their Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. arriving soon. Enter Arrow and another origin story of a young hero before he became the icon that appeared in the world of comic books.
Arrow follows the same basic idea that Smallville did for Superman. The character has just begun his new identity, and like Clark Kent in Smallville is not even known by his popular name yet. In Smallville Kent was known as The Blur or The Blue Blur. In Arrow, Queen is pretty much known as The Hood, The Archer or The Vigilante. There are only a couple of times you’ll hear the name The Green Arrow, and they’re basically throw-away lines meant merely to tease the comic fans. Fans will also recognize the Queen mansion as once belonging to a certain bald-headed arch-nemesis of Clark Kent. Yes, it’s the same location. It’s a famous castle in Vancouver where both shows were/are shot.
But this is not Smallville. Similarities aside, the new series has set out to deliberately distance itself from the earlier series. The first point is pretty obvious. The Oliver Queen/Green Arrow character became a significant player in Smallville, particularly in its last years. On that show he was played by Justin Hartley for 72 episodes. The obvious move would be to allow that actor to spin off and do his own thing. The crew for Arrow wanted to set a different tone and tell their own story from the beginning. Now Stephen Amell. This show is much darker from the beginning. It’s also far more violent and action-packed.
The story: Oliver (Amell), his father (Sheridan) and his girlfriend’s sister are on the Queen family yacht The Queen’s Gambit. The ship is rocked by an explosion and sinks. Only Oliver his father and another crewman make it to the life raft. With not enough supplies for the three, Robert Queen kills the crewman and himself to give Oliver a chance to survive. Before he died he gave him a book, later discovered to contain a list of names. Apparently Queen was a part of a conspiracy to harm their home of Starling City, and the book contains the names of bad guys that Oliver must use to set his father’s deeds right. But first he has to survive. After five years he is rescued.
Each episode has two very separate but related parts. It’s a complicated acting challenge for Amell, but it gives the series a unique look and formula. One part of the episode happens as Oliver tackles the bad guys as The Hood. He eventually forms a team that consists of bodyguard and ex-military man John Diggle (Ramsey) and computer nerd Felicity Smoak (Rickards) (pronounced smoke). As a cover Queen opens a nightclub with an old abandoned factory the family owns. Underneath is the Arrow Cave where they base their operations.
The second part of each episode involves Oliver’s five years on the island. There he first encounters Chinese ex-prisoner Yao Fei (Mann), who teaches him how to survive on the island. But there is more to this place. It was once used as a penal colony and has since been abandoned. But now it’s used by a militant group who plan some pretty bad things. Oliver must continually hide from these bad guys and also try to thwart their plans. He also encounters Slade Wilson (Bennett) who also attempts to teach him to fight. It doesn’t help that we’re talking Crixus from the Starz Spartacus series, and this character happens to like to use…what else…swords.
These island portions really take me back to Lost. There’s even a crashed plane. It’s also that there is so much mystery here that you just know there’s no way you’ll ever have all the answers. The militant group reminds me of The Others even if they’re a bit more cut-and-dried bad guys. It’s this whole idea particularly in the beginning that there are “others” on the island who are dangerous. Most of this comes in short encounters at first, and Yao Fei’s cryptic warnings.
That’s the short synopsis for this series and its first season. It doesn’t do it justice. To reveal all of the twists and turns would be doing you a grave injustice if you haven’t yet seen the show. And these Blu-rays are the perfect way to catch it all. I hadn’t seen the original broadcasts and found myself consuming all 23 episodes in the span of about four days. It’s also the perfect way to get yourself caught up before the second season airs.
The players: This is a complicated collection of characters. Their stories interweave in the most unexpected places. Ramifications for one character spill, sometimes unexpectedly, into others. The relationships are complicated and twist about themselves. You have to be paying close attention or it’s easy to lose where who is in the game. Consider this your program.
Oliver Queen is, of course, the main character here. He’s two very different people. The Oliver from the island is very different from the Oliver who comes home after five years on the island. He has become single-minded in his task and finds it hard to reestablish his relationships because of all the lies he tells.
Kate Cassidy is Laurel Lance. She was Oliver’s girl before he left. Now she blames him for the death of her sister, not to mention the betrayal of sleeping with her sister. She’s now a layer who runs a legal clinic to fight for people who don’t have the resources. Some cast sheets refer to her as Dinah Laurel Lance, who is, of course, Black Canary. That character is slated to arrive on Arrow in the second season. There is reason to believe it won’t be Laurel. She and Oliver now have a rather complicated relationship.
Colin Donnell is Tommy Merlyn. He’s also a guy brought up in a billionaire family. He was Oliver’s best friend before the island. Now they are torn over Laurel and The Hood’s actions.
Susanna Thompson is Oliver’s mother Moira. She’s been keeping some terrible secrets both about the boat explosion and something called The Undertaking. She’s trying to keep her family safe while being embroiled in this great conspiracy.
Colin Salmon is Walter Steele. He was the Queen Corporation’s right hand man. Now he’s married to Moira. It’s a weird feeling for Oliver to see his dad’s best friend now his stepfather. Walter is digging into Moira’s secrets, and it ends up getting him kidnapped for half the season.
David Ramsey is Frank Diggle. He’s Oliver’s partner and sometimes conscience. He’s not part of Green Arrow canon and is obviously named after one of the two creators of the Green Arrow Year One comic series.
Emily Bett Rickards is Felicity Smoak. She’s the tech wizard that Oliver goes to for help time and again. At first he’s feeding her lame excuses for his requests, but circumstances force him to let her in on the big secret. She goes from recurring character to series regular next season.
John Barrowman is best known to genre fans as Captain Jack. No, not that Captain Jack. We’re talking the immortal agent of Torchwood from the new Doctor Who series and spin-off Torchwood. Here he plays Malcolm Merlyn and the number one nemesis for Oliver in the season. The whole Undertaking is his idea, and it’s one of those maniacal plans that is just as suited for a James Bond film. He makes a pretty cool bad guy, and the show exposes a father and son relationship not unlike the Luthors in Smallville.
Paul Blacthorne is Detective Lance. He’s Laurel’s father and has a serious grudge against both Oliver and The Hood. He’s constantly trying to trap or trick him into revealing himself. He’s a rather tortured character who lost his family, to Oliver’s actions, in his mind. One daughter dead another often at odds. His wife up and left when the daughter died. He’s pretty much the Captain Ahab of the series. Sure, he has two targets. What he doesn’t know is that there’s really only one.
Colton Haynes is Roy Harper. Comic fans will recognize him as one of Green Arrow’s sidekicks in the comics. The comic ran a pretty bold story arc where Green Arrow discovers his partner is a drug addict. Here he is a petty thief living in The Glades. He steals Thea’s (Oliver’s sister) purse, and she tracks him down and the two begin a relationship. Roy begins to look up to The Hood, and his life is saved by Oliver in one episode. Now he wants to follow in his footsteps and try to be somewhat of a hero himself. For Teen Wolf fans who have wondered where Jackson went after a pretty dramatic reveal at the end of season two, here he is.
The series is flush with colorful and interesting characters. While the series does not hold any closer to comic canon than Smallville did, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a lot here from the comics. It’s a veritable Easter egg hunt in every episode. You’ll see allusions and references to plenty of comic lore. Many characters are named after the artists and writers who have worked on the comic over the decades. If you notice a large use of the number 52, it refers to DC’s controversial reboot of their comic universe a few years ago. Even with so much homage paid to the comic incarnations, this is a stand-alone universe and often drifts from the characters and kinds of events portrayed over the decades in its four-color splendor. Purists are often bothered by that sort of loose playing with canon, but this needs to establish itself as its own thing with its own history and dynamic. Go with it, and you’ll likely find it an intriguing idea with superior writing and production values.
Production values is another place this series shines. They’ve done a tremendous job of creating an atmosphere that immerses you into this particular corner of the DC universe. The city is often rainy, and most of the action happens in the night. There’s a gritty underbelly to this place that’s mostly found in the city’s poor area known as The Glades. It’s this economically challenged location where Oliver puts his nightclub and lair. It’s also the focus of the ongoing diabolical plan known as The Undertaking. The action is filmed almost in a documentary style. All of this lives in a stark contrast to the glitzy world many of our characters live in during the daylight.
The island is another completely different environment and atmosphere. Here lighting is harsh, and colors are bleached away to an almost mono-chrome that sets it apart from the “present-day” action of Oliver on his quest.
I’m a bit disappointed that the arrows are pretty much CG even as he grabs them to put in his bow. There’s obviously a lot of computer-generated f/x here and plenty for stunt men. As I said there is far more action here than in Smallville. The locations really help tie it all together, and the show does look pretty darn good.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. Black levels are absolutely vital in this high-definition image presentation. So much of the action happens on rainy nights and in the shadows. Fortunately, there’s solid shadow definition here, or this could well be a bloody mess to try and make out. When colors need to stand out, they do. Keep in mind it’s not really as colorful or bright a show as Smallville was. Look more for contrast and textures to replace shiny surfaces.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is pretty sweet for a television production. You can imagine that with so many arrows and such flying around the surrounds would go a long way to immersing you into all of the action. The dialog is fine. The score gets quite rousing at times, and your subs often get plenty to do. It’s a dynamic audio presentation that should be setting the standard for television productions, at least on network television.
Arrow Comes Alive: (29:35) From the comic to the new series, the cast and crew explore this particular version of the character and the events surrounding him. It features profiles on the main characters and actors.
Arrow Fight/Stunt School: (18:53) You know what you’re going to find here. It’s behind the scenes for some key season stunts.
Gag Reel: (2:28)
Cast And Crew At The 2013 PaleyFest: (27:36) Typical cast and crew convention panel.
Next season Black Canary and The Flash will be showing up. The Flash is looking to get his own series, for the second time. I’m really looking forward to that, although it might be this time next year before I see it all for myself. You see, I deliberately stayed away from the broadcasts. I knew the chances were good I would get to review this on Blu-ray. It makes such a difference when you can watch this kind of season in short order. It took about four days to polish off the entire season. It went by swiftly, and it was always hard to turn it off. Of course, even I have to get some sleep every now and then. It’s the best way to watch a story with so much mythology and story arc. Now you can do what I did. Don’t neglect the upcoming season, of course. “He’s only just beginning.”