If you are a fan of the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker, you were more than likely disappointed in the remake a couple of years ago on ABC. Your hope is now once again restored. Supernatural is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to The Night Stalker. Like Kolchak, the Winchester brothers are faced with weekly incarnations of evil. They’re forced to research these legends and figure out a way to stop them. As Kolchak discovered, it’s a thankless job. Sure, Supernatural is populated with all sorts of beasties and nasties, but it also manages to hold on to a sense of humor that rounds out these adventures to make this one of the most entertaining shows around. When UPN and WB merged, I was a little worried about Supernatural. You do the math (that was another review). Two networks worth of shows, one network worth of programming time. Half of the shows needed to vanish, and I was concerned Supernatural would be one, if history of respect for genre shows was any indication. Fortunately for us, the show has not only survived, but it has thrived, looking to be around for quite a while yet.
In season 1 Sam Winchester (Padalecki) was in college. His fiancée was attacked by a creature that had once also taken his mother. Enter brother Dean (Ackles) who arrives to take the mourning Sam on a cross-country search for their missing father. It turns out that Daddy Winchester has been on a self-imposed crusade to find the monster that took his wife and any other demon or creature he might be able to hunt along the way. We also find out he’s trained the boys to be quite capable monster hunters themselves. Most of the first year dealt with the brothers fighting their way to their dad. It ended in a hell of a cliffhanger. Season 2 didn’t waste anytime picking up the action. The action picks up the moment we were left waiting last May. If the first year gave the boys their mission, the second is about consequences. All of the expected monsters are there for the hunt, and year two turned out twice as good as the first. In year three the theme was redemption. Dean had made this deal that would send him to Hell.
What amazes me most about Supernatural is the incredible balance the show manages to keep up week after week. Of course, there is that creature of the week idea, but without taking anything away from each episode, there is an overall story arc that ties these creatures and moments together in such an intricate yet easy to follow fashion. Each episode blends just the right mix of darkness, comedy, and series mythology. Even The X-Files wasn’t able to spin this flawless a tapestry. I also can’t say enough about the leads. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles have a wonderfully complicated chemistry that gives us an element even Kolchak never had. This is not a one trick pony relationship. Under all of the brotherly love and shared tragedy there are far more emotional themes that surface from week to week. There are resentments and rivalries that can suddenly dominate their intercourse. Unlike most shows, these conflicts are real and remain a part of the fabric of this relationship not to be brought out and then quickly overcome never to be seen again. Each of these events leaves a visible mark on their personalities. This kind of continuity is almost unheard of. It requires discipline and dedication by everyone involved; from the actors, writers, and production staff. And again, the season finale will leave you counting the hours until the next episode.
The fact is this. If you are even remotely a genre fan and have not checked out Supernatural, get your butt down to the store and get the early seasons now. I promise you won’t be able to stop watching. Now that the show has been coming out on high definition Blu-ray, it only gets better. This is exactly the kind of series that Blu-ray was meant for. Detail is important on a show of this nature. There’s a lot of nuance to the series, and now you’ll be able to catch it like never before.
There are some changes in store for fans as Supernatural enters its 4th season. The season begins with Dean waking up in a coffin in his grave. He has no memory of the last four months or how he broke out of Hell. We learn that God has decided to get involved in the Winchester’s fight against all things evil. He’s sent His angel Castiel (Collins) to assist the brothers in their fight but he’s not always going to look like he’s on the side of good. The actress playing friendly demon Ruby has changed as a consequence of the season three finale. Genevieve Cortese takes over the part. There is Anna (McNiven) an angel who gave up her grace to fall to earth and become a human. We get to see some politics of Heaven with the addition of the angel realm in this season. Dean and Sam begin their mission from God, along with The Blues Brothers, but there is some question as to who is giving Heaven’s orders these days. There are some truly memorable moments as this series just continues to get better. There is an homage to the old Universal monsters with a black and white episode that features some familiar creatures. Dean time travels to 1973 and ala Back To The Future he meets his parents. In a rather good episode called Are You There God, It’s Dean Winchester the ghosts of Supernaturals past haunt the boys. That means a few guest stars from episodes going back to the first season make unruly appearances.
Now it’s out on Blu-ray and in high definition. Fortunately Warner has decided to spend the money on the extra disc and provide the full season on 4 discs instead of their previous 2. There are still some problems. Warner insists on putting about 6 minutes of inescapable FBI warnings in 40 different languages after the episode run. They also continue to offer the episodes as one long title. Combine this with an uncompressed Dolby Digital sound presentation and Warner ranks at the bottom for how they are presenting television shows on Blu-ray. It’s a shame, really, because they have so many superior titles that deserve a much better presentation than this.
It bears mentioning that the season was dedicated to Kim Manners. He was one of the creative driving forces of not only this show but other shows, most notably, the X-Files. He died in Jan. of 2009 of lung cancer and is a tragic loss to the genre. His work goes all the way back to the original Charlie’s Angels, where he directed several key episodes. Other shows he worked on included 21 Jump Street, Automan, Simon And Simon, and The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. He will be remembered most however as a producer and creative muse for both The X-Files and Supernatural. Television just won’t be the same without you, Kim.
Each episode of Supernatural is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p image is brought to you through a VC-1 codec. As you might expect, this show is dark in more than just its nature. Much of the action occurs at night, so black levels need to be spot on, or any detail can be quickly washed away like blood pools in a hurricane. Supernatural delivers with great shadow definition and deep levels of black. I’ve seen the broadcast HD versions, and these even better. What is remarkable about the colors is that they manage to hold on to such fine definition even under intense low light filming conditions. There is nothing about this transfer that will keep you from enjoying the best horror series since Kolchak.
Supernatural’s audio is presented in a disappointing standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 track. It’s likely identical to the DVD release. I’m not sure why there was no uncompressed audio provided, but the series certainly would have benefited from the inclusion. Instead we have a very mundane presentation which has to depict some rather incredible images. It falls flat for a Blu-ray release. Certainly dialog comes through just fine. There is some rather aggressive use of surrounds on rare occasions. What really suffers here is your sub. Very disappointing, indeed.
There are some select Audio Commentaries.
Gag Reel: (10:21) Like the first DVD set, there’s a short and entertaining gag reel on this set. I’m happy to see this is becoming a rather standard extra on many shows. This thing has a very produced look complete with music. I rather enjoy the more spontaneous stuff more.
Deleted Scenes: Many of the episodes offer some extra footage. Nothing to scream about here, but nice to have.
From Heaven To Hell: The feature is found on disc 4. This is a rather convoluted menu system. You first have three sub menus, which then break down into another menu set. Each of these segments feature show crew, theologists, paranormal experts, and writers to take in the featured subject matter. They follow the subjects through various religious beliefs and through history, mythology and art. Here’s a breakdown of the collection:
Angels And Archangels: (8:16)
Angels And Miracles: (6:59)
The Ageless Unseen War: (9:04)
The Bonds Of Limbo: (8:26)
The Destroyer Of Children: (11:08) (Lilith)
The Sweet Song Of Death: 9:20) (sirens)
The Price Of Free Will: (6:25) (fallen angels)
There has been a rather unsettling trend of late. More and more religious groups have been attacking shows like Supernatural, mostly for its incantations and demonic content. I was watching a Simpsons episode for another review and there was a scene where Flanders is reading a bedtime story to his children. He ends it with a remark about Harry Potter and all of his friends burning in Hell for eternity for casting evil spells. There was a wave of this stuff during the Buffy years as well. Now, I have all the respect in the world for a person’s faith and belief system. But this is simply entertainment, folks. No one is trying to recruit your kids into Satanic rituals or witch covens. If you don’t think it’s appropriate, just don’t watch it. I even respect your right to shelter your own children from it. Leave the rest of us be. I can watch slasher films without turning into a killer. I can watch Satanic cults without looking for a place to sign up. I can even watch films like Boy’s Town without getting an overwhelming desire to join the priesthood. Consider us warned. Now let me get back to my Harry Potter movie. And, “thanks for the angelic assistance”.