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Dollhouse: Season One Blu-ray Review

dollhouseone

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24
  • Audio Codec: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit)
  • Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
  • Region: A
  • Discs: 3
  • Studio: Fox
  • Release Date: July 28, 2009
  • List Price: $69.99
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Overall
rating4
The Series
rating3-5
Video Quality
rating4
Audio Quality
rating4
Supplemental Materials
rating4

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

More Screen Captures (14 Total)

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG and thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Series

rating3-5

Fox has a long tradition of interfering with television shows, pulling them before they can blossom into something strong and develop a strong audience.  Even series that were perfectly fine and critically acclaimed have suffered this fate, as anyone who was a fan of the sitcom Arrested Development can attest to.  Joss Whedon has certainly had his fair share of success, but if anyone knows about how a network can derail a series, it is Whedon. Whedon’s Firefly series, a sort of sci-fi western with his usual mix of humour and drama, was derailed by heavy-handed oversight from network executives. The series was run out of order, certain episodes were left unaired, it was given incredibly long hiatuses, and subsequently Fox dropped the series after it failed to pick up a significant audience on its Friday night timeslot.

At Dollhouse’s onset, it was looking like the show might suffer a similar fate. Stumbling out of the gate in its pilot, which didn’t please the network, Whedon scrapped the first pilot and did another one. Although Fox liked the new pilot, the series would still be feeling its way along six-episodes in, trying to find a balance between what the network wanted and Joss Whedon’s vision.

Eliza Dushku, alumna of Whedon’s now classic television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel, plays Echo, a woman who has signed over her rights  for five years to a clandestine organization known as “the Dollhouse.” They wipe people’s personalities clean and imprint them with whole new personas. Depending on the “actives'” or “doll’s” current mission, they can be imprinted with any number of skill sets, such as muscle memory, language skills, they can even be made to believe they are blind.

BDDefinitiondollhouseone-h1080

Although the story focuses mainly on Dushku’s character of Echo, there is a main core of characters that Dollhouse is centered around, that being Echo’s “handler,” Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix), her group of friends in the Dollhouse, Sierra (Dichen Lachman), Victor (Enver Gjokaj), and the people who run the Dollhouse — including the head of the Dollhouse Adelle DeWiit (Olivia Williams). There is also an FBI agent hot on their trail, hunting down the missing girl Caroline/Echo, Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett).

Dollhouse gets off to a slow start over the course of its first five or six episodes, and the show’s producers admit to that readily. It begins as a series of stand-alone episodes, where each week you just see Echo imprinted with a different persona being sent out on various missions. This gets tiresome quite quickly. Although some of the stand-alone episodes are good, some are only average. Suddenly, around episode six or seven, things become much more intriguing  as the stories delve further into the Dollhouse itself and the people who have signed their lives over. From there, some of the philosophical and political questions that are screaming out in a storyline like this are raised. Does a person have the right to consent to virtual slavery? Is a technology like imprinting morally right?

The series switches from simple stand-alone episodes with Dushku playing dress up and a feel not unlike Alias, to something darker and deeper in tone. A mythology begins to develop, and some surprising turns are made, which offer an interesting glimpse for future seasons. The unaired thirteenth episode “Epitaph One,” created to both fulfill a contractual agreement and as a fail-safe in case the series was not renewed for second season (it was) takes place ten years into the future and opens a Pandora’s box of questions that can take the series into marvelous directions for the future. So, although Season One of Dollhouse was certainly not the best television had to offer, it was an interesting beginning and I am glad that Fox did not give it the axe like they have done with so many other shows.

Video Quality

rating4

BDDefinitiondollhouseone-l1080

Dollhouse is a stylishly shot television show with lots of dramatic shadings and elaborate sets that can really take advantage of high definition. Thankfully, Dollhouse’s original 35mm source has been transferred to Blu-ray in an AVC/MPEG-4 encoding that looks clean, sharp, and detailed. Film grain is consistent throughout the series’ main episodes, only looking grittier in the unaired “Epitaph One” and original pilot “Echo,” probably due to slightly different production budgets. There is a strong sense of three-dimensionality, with extended background detail. Flesh tones are accurate and black levels are deep and stable, with nice delineation of detail in dark sequences. There are some “flashback”-type sequences that purposely have their white levels blown out, so that is not a consequence of this transfer. I did notice in some places, however, that even in the normal scenes some lighter areas showed a little bit of clipping and noise, but not enough to detract from overall detail and enjoyment of this solid transfer.

No detrimental compression or processing artifacts were noticed either, such as macroblocking, posterization, or edge enhancement. I was quite happy to see how good Dollhouse looked on Blu-ray from Fox after the disappointment that was Burn Notice: Season Two from the same studio.

Audio Quality

rating4

BDDefinitiondollhouseone-e1080

Dollhouse’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) is rather aggressively mixed for a television series. The series’ techno soundtrack is often mixed into all five main channels and special effects ranging from cut scene sound effects to gunshots discretely fill the surround channels. Bass extends down to the upper-low frequency range and offers a nice, full sound for explosions, punches, and falls. Dialogue is also clean in the center channel and well balanced into the mix.

Supplemental Materials

rating4

BDDefinitiondollhouseone-a1080

Dollhouse is provided with a strong value of supplemental materials, including two unaired episodes that will be of great interest to fans of the series.

He supplements available on this release are:

  • Commentary for “Man on the Street” and “Epitaph One”
  • Original Unaired Pilot “Echo”
  • Unaired Episode “Epitaph One”
  • Deleted Scenes (1.78:1; 1080p/24):
    • Pilot —
      • Hospital Room
      • Echo at Club
      • Club Continued
      • Club Conversation
      • Adelle and Travis
      • Topher and Saunders
    • Ghost —
      • Echo and Crestejo
    • Stage Fright —
      • Rayna and Echo
    • Gray Hour —
      • Sierra Watches Victor
      • Boyd and Cyril
    • True Believer —
      • Loomis and Paul
      • Echo Gets Sisters
      • Joyful Cult Dinner
    • Man on the Street —
      • Street Interview Outtake
    • Needs —
      • Actives Plan Escape
    • Haunted —
      • Echo at Funeral
      • Paul Gauthers Evidence
    • Briar Rose —
      • Mellie Gets Dressed
      • Victor Gets Dressed
    • Omega —
      • Alpha Imprinted Echo
      • Actives Ride Away
      • Actives Handle Paul
      • Alpha Escapes
  • Making Dollhouse (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:20.48) — This making-of featurette provides detailed information on Dollhouse’s rocky beginnings and early-season struggles to find a balance between Joss Whedon’s creative vision and something that pleased the network executives.
  • Coming Home (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:07.11) — Joss Whedon’s longtime collaborator’s discuss coming back to work together with him on the Dollhouse television show.
  • Finding Echo (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:05.07) — Whedon and Eliza Dushku discuss the psychological aspects of the Echo character.
  • Designing the Perfect Dollhouse (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:05.59) — Joss Whedon gives a tour of the Dollhouse set while discussing the inspiration on its design.
  • A Private Engagement (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:05.47) — Members of the cast and crew discuss the prospect of using the Dollhouse technology in real life.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

rating4

BDDefinitiondollhouseone-j1080

Watching the first half of Dollhouse: Season One, it’s clear that the series was imploding under the weight of expectations. With the names Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku attached, perhaps people were expecting far too much from the word, “go.” Television series need time to develop and to grow; characters need to be worked out, mythologies need to built slowly and chemistry needs to develop between actors who are new to their roles.

Dollhouse is an interesting premise that asks a lot of thought provoking questions and after a disappointing beginning with far too much meddling on the part of network executives, it finally began to hit its stride, offering glimpses of the strengths it can offer moving forward.

This Blu-ray release from Fox offers up the beginnings of what will hopefully be another of Whedon’s long-running classic series in a strong high definition transfer with an abundance of value-added extras making it well worth the price of admission.

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