Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (Special Edition)

(2015) *** Unrated
291 min. AMC. Directors: Adam Davidson, Kari Skogland, Stefan Schwartz. Cast: Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Frank Dillane, Michelle Ang, Brendan Meyer, Kathleen Gati, Ruben Blades.

/content/films/4899/1.jpgIn a Hollywood redefined by franchise extension, I suppose it should come as no surprise to find The Walking Dead doubled up by AMC in the form of prequel series Fear the Walking Dead. As per Star Trek, Law & Order, CSI, NCIS, Chicago Whatever, et al, big audiences signify a big hunger, but there's a danger of oversaturation. For now, The Walking Dead doesn't appear to be threatened by its slight prequel, which has drawn a healthy audience of its own.

In its conception, Fear the Walking Dead keeps it pretty simple: start a little earlier, at the beginning of the undead apocalypse, shift the setting to Los Angeles, introduce a new set of characters and let 'er rip. The key players are in place to ensure fans don't view this as a cheap knockoff: The Walking Dead comic creator Robert Kirkman (listed as this show's creator with Dave Erickson); executive producers Kirkman,
David Alpert, Greg Nicotero, Gale Anne Hurd, and Erickson; and a couple of marquee stars (by TV standards, anyway) in Kim Dickens (Treme) and Cliff Curtis (Whale Rider). The first season offers up a pithy six episodes, which introduce a core family that gets extended as it goes on the run. Dickens plays high school guidance counselor Madison Clark, mother to teen daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and nineteen-year-old heroin addict Nick (Frank Dillane). Brady Bunching this zombie adventure is Madison's boyfriend Travis Manawa (Curtis), a high-school English teacher who comes with one teen of his own (Lorenzo James Henrie's Christopher Manawa) and an ex-wife named Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez).

Fear the Walking Dead doesn't break the mold in any significant way. The "Pilot" has the most novelty, as we see regular life slowly encroached upon by the zombie apocalypse, and the dawning realizations that ensue. Once we're past that, ths show is The Walking Dead, just with different characters and slightly different situations. The themes remain the same: the pressures put on the family unit, an expanded definition of family, questions of personal trust and acceptable risk, Darwinian survival, overreach by a well-armed governmental authority, and, in general, the environmental and social and emotional devastation that come with the breakdown of society. As the six episodes tick past, the Clarks and Manawas warily join forces with a third family, the Salazars, with Salvadorian-refugee patriarch Daniel (Rubén Blades), his wife Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola), and their daughter Ofelia (Mercedes Mason). Late in the season, we meet mysterious businessman Victor Strand (Colman Domingo), who offers not entirely trusty hope.

And so, to the bottom line: is Fear the Walking Dead worth your time? For fans of The Walking Dead in particular and zombie entertainment in general, I'd say an unqualified yes, given the reasonable quality control relative to the mothership and as demonstrated in the gruesome makeup effects that are The Walking Dead's (and Nicotero's) hallmark. Mileage will vary for the more casual consumers of genre entertainment, but even they will have to acknowledge the significant added value of Dickens and Curtis, with fine character-actor support from the likes of Blades. There's nothing to take this show over the top, and in a crowded marketplace of quality TV storytelling, that's a troubing knock, but the show does a good job of wedding weekly genre thrills to creeping plot and character developments. As the show heads into a fifteen-episode second season, there's reason to hope that, like most shows, Fear the Walking Dead will...hit its stride.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround

Street date: 3/22/2016

Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment

After releasing an initial, close to bare-bones First Season release, Anchor Bay comes back around with Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete First Season—Special Edition. This is what's otherwise known as milking the golden calf, but this release deserves to be called the definitive one in its significant expansion of bonus features. A/V specs remain the same, with the series delivered in faithful, clean HD transfers with little in the way of compression artifacts (just a touch of noise here or there). Likewise, the audio faithfully delivers the original mixes in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, and if the LFE is not as punchy as one might hope, immersion is good and dialogue always clear and above the fray.

The complement of audio commentaries includes Episodes 101 & 102 (co-creator/executive producer Dave Erickson, co-executive producer/director Adam Davidson and actor Kim Dickens); Episode 103 (co-executive producer David Wiener and actor Alycia Debnam-Carey); Episode 104 (executive producer David Alpert and Wiener); Episode 105 (Alpert and Wiener); Episode 106 (Erickson, Dickens, and actor Elizabeth Rodriguez). These are best suited to die-hard fans, and not the casually interested or even the industry professional looking for tips: there's some production trivia and a sense of personality from the participants, but otherwise not much to write home about.

"Pilot Episode: The Widescreen Version" (1:04:24, HD) gives us the opportunity to see the full frame of the series as shot, with anamorphic lenses in 2.35:1 widescreen. The broadcast versions and those found in all other releases of the show are actually intended to be cropped on the sides to produce the definitive image.

In addition to five "Deleted Scenes" (6:35, HD), we get six "Inside Fear The Walking Dead" installments, one for each episode: "Episode 101: Pilot" (5:54, HD), "Episode 102: So Close, Yet So Far" (4:58, HD), "Episode 103: The Dog" (5:03, HD), "Episode 104: Not Fade Away" (4:48, HD), "Episode 105: Cobalt" (5:32, HD) and "Episode 106: The Good Man" (4:46, HD). Each featurette includes clips from the episode and cast and crew talking heads analyzing the plot and character development.

"Fear: The Beginning" (10:13, HD) takes a similar tack, offering many clips, as well as actors' perspectives on the outbreak and the characters' reactions to it.

"Five Things You Need to Survive" (2:17, HD), also with clips, polls the cast on the titular intellectual challenge.

"Locations: LA & Vancouver"
(6:56, HD) asks the cast and crew to comment on the differences between shooting in Los Angeles and Vancouver, and which city proves more conducive to zombie-apocalypse survival.

"Quarantined" (6:36, HD) covers the titular subject, while being one of only three featurettes to offer even a glimpse of on-set footage.

Another is "Stunts and Anarchy" (6:59, HD), which turns out to be one of themost interesting featurettes in its focus on production specifics, specifically Frank Dillane pedestrian-meets-car accident in the first scene of the pilot and the filming of the riot scene.

In "The Faces of Fear" (5:15, HD), the actors profile their characters, illustrated by yet more clips.

Lastly, "The Infected" (4:48, HD) finds Nicotero and others briefly addressing the zombies, their wounds, and the magic of makeup, along with some nice B-roll of zombie shoots and makeup touch-ups.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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