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Dollhouse - The Complete First Season (2009) Print E-mail
Monday, 03 August 2009
Image"Dollhouse" is a highly original television show.  I know that is how it is touted in the promos, but it is true.  It is refreshing programming.  However, not all is well and good in its world.  Creator Joss Whedon might have the chance to pull off another one of his miracles if given the chance by Fox.

Whedon is responsible for some of the most thrilling television programming.  However, Whedon has been cursed ever since "Buff the Vampire Slayer."  "Buffy" was his ultimate creation.  In fact, after he was let down by his story when it was turned into a feature film starring Kristy Swanson, Whedon took a script and pilot to Fox, aired by Warner Bros.  He was granted a 12-episode deal and that was all he needed to turn Buffy into a cult phenomenon that lasted for seven seasons.

"Firefly" also had a cult following, but was not given an opportunity to blossom by Fox.  Fans were outraged by its cancelation.  After enough protest, Whedon was able to turn the series into a feature film, "Serenity."

"Angel," another thriving series by Whedon was tragically cut short while it was still going nice and strong.  And that leads us to "Dollhouse."  The show had been in preparations since before the writers' strike in 2007.  Actress Eliza Dushku and creator Joss Whedon met on several occasions to discuss the unnamed show.  Both were enthusiastic about the originality of the show.  The WGA strike put a hampered on the creation of "Dollhouse," but alas it was put into production.

Like with "Firefly," Fox did not put together the best promotion package for the show.  They relied on Whedon's credentials and not on the basis of the show.  Many people tuned out as they had no idea what the show was about, only that Whedon created it.  As a loyal Joss Whedon fan I had no choice but to tune in.  Sadly, it didn't grab me.  I stopped watching after the third episode.  Time is valuable and the show just wasn't cutting it.

However, now that it is on Blu-ray I was able to resume watching the show.  I guess that I stopped watching too early.  Starting with the fourth episode the show really took off.  The writer became more stable and the storylines changed focus.  When the show first started I had got tired of the "villain-of-the-week" storyline.  Each week it was just another storyline based on the main character.  Eventually, the season changes its focus to the company, persons in charge and ensuing investigations.

The main character of "Dollhouse" is Echo (Eliza Dushku).  She is a doll or active, who is programmed by the company to become whatever the buyer demands.  If they need a thief, then she is programmed with those specifications.  Her behavior, thoughts, actions, everything changes to the profile of a thief.  The same goes for if she is required to be a prostitute, banker, assassin, etc.

There are a fair amount of problems with "Dollhouse."  I have to be honest, it isn't my favorite of Whedon's creations, but Dushku does work well with the creator's visions.  In fact, the largely unknown cast is rather excellent. While the season one finale is a bit of a let down, this package includes a bonus, unaried 13th episode.  This should have been the season finale.  It has all the elements that will make viewers come back for a second season.  It may be one of Whedon's finest writing credits.  So, everyone keep your fingers crossed, and perhaps Fox will bring this show back for a second season.  It is already rumored that they are approved for another 12 episodes.

I had high expectations for this show on Blu-ray in terms of its video quality.  While it is substantially improved upon from the high-definition broadcast of the show, it is still not as good as the "Lost" transfers or some of the other televisions series on Blu-ray.  The video quality has its good and its bad.  Some may be more forgiving of the bad, but if you are looking for the ultimate best in quality then you are not going to be satisfied by this transfer.  On the plus side, the colors are bold and vibrant.  The palette is rich and leap off the screen.  They are supported by great black levels and a stable contrast/brightness ratio.  Shadows delineate nicely and evenly.  On the negative side, the details are very much smeared, although there are moments in which they are impressive.  The textures are flat.  While there is virtually no noise in the image, it appears that some digital noise reduction has been applied.  The faces of the actors are blotchy.  Edges have been enhanced and reach distracting levels at times.  While the quality is improved upon the pixilated HD broadcast and the lackluster standard DVD, the Blu-ray version of the season just doesn't live up to the standards set by the format.

The audio quality of this show on Blu-ray is also not as expected.  It is certainly better than the Dolby broadcast audio track.  The major problem with the audio is not so much the transfer, but rather the production and post-production mixing.  Dialogue is generally intelligible.  However, throughout the season the dialogue is unbalanced.  The tonality of the dialogue goes back and forth between muddy and crystal clear.  This becomes very annoying.  Still, this has to do with the production more than the transfer.  However, the problem could be fixed with some time and attention.  The LFE channel is very prominent, at times a bit overbearing.  The LFE channel eats up a lot of the upper-mid frequencies.  The surround channels are constantly engaged.  During Echo's action sequences the surrounds really take off.  The ambient support in the surrounds is also admirable.  Panning and localization is nearly seamless.  Dynamics are good, but frequency response is unbalanced.  The audio is good but could definitely be improved.

Surprisingly, the Blu-ray package doesn't comes with a bunch of special features.  However, what is present is quite interesting for fans.  First and foremost, there are two unaired episodes in the bundle.  There is the unaired pilot episode, as is the case with most television shows.  It is definitely interesting for lovers of the show, but could be skipped by the more general audience.  What is substantial is the bonus episode, "Epitaph One."  This episode is a must watch for anyone even slightly interested in this show.

There are three discs, and each one has an audio commentary.  Whedon fans will be slightly disappointed, but certainly you should give them a listen.  There are three commentaries in total.  There is a commentary with Eliza Dushku and Whedon on the episode "Ghost."  There is also a Whedon and writer Maurissa Tanchareon commentary for both "Man on the Street" and "Epitaph One."  All the of commentaries are a bit more of a narration than insightful.

To make up for the lack of insightful audio commentaries, Whedon includes a "Making of 'Dollhouse'" featurette.  It includes interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.  This featurette is very informative and should also be watched.  There are about 30 minutes of deleted scenes.  There is some worthwhile information in these scenes for fans.  "A Private Engagement" brief segment that explores the possibilities of "Dollhouse" ideas in reality.  "Coming Home" is a Whedon appreciation segment.  "Designing the Perfect Dollhouse" goes on location with Whedon.  And finally, "Finding Echo" covers the Dushku-Whedon relationship.

While the special features are not extensive, they contain all the relevant information, particularly the bonus episode.  The video and audio qualities are not as good as they could have been with a little bit more attention to detail.  Despite the rocky beginnings for "Dollhouse" hopefully Fox will grant it a second season that will continue the excellent writing set forth in the "Epitaph One" episode.

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