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Walking Dead, The (Blu-ray)

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Anchor Bay
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Directed by: 
Andrew Lincoln
Jon Bernthal
Sarah Wayne Callies
Laurie Holden
Norman Reedus
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That’s the number of inhabitants in the city of Atlanta, GA in 2010. 

That’s a lot of zombies...and that’s the exact danger presented to Officer Rick Grimes at the launch of AMC’s new series, “The Walking Dead.”  Rick(Andrew Lincoln (Love,Actually)), a former sheriff, wakes up from a coma, to find himself alone in the middle of a hospital, while outside the sanctuary, order has succumbed to chaos, life has surrendered to the living dead, and hell has made its way to Earth.

Rick fights through this incredible new change, hoping to find his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies (The Celestine Prophecy)), and his son, Carl (Get Low actor Chandler Riggs) alive despite incredible odds.  He is focused, determined, and against all probability, he is eventually reunited with his family, and his former partner, Shane (Jon Bernthal (seen recently as Al Capone in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian)).  Lori, Carl, Shane and several others are among the members of a moving caravan that is maintaining radio transmissions, and watching the traffic in and out of Atlanta. (Rick’s venture into the city limits creates one particularly gripping moment during the series pilot.) 

Also on the roster are the charismatic tunnel rat, Glen (Steven Yeun), father figure Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn (The Shawshank Redemption)), lone wolf Daryl (Boondock Saints veteran Norman  Reedus) and twins Amy (Emma Bell (Frozen)) and Andrea (Laurie Holden (The Fantastic Four)). The group is dynamic, and ever-changing, with conflicting loyalties, plans, and hopes for survival.

The six-episode season one follows the characters through many conflicts. Surprisingly, more are internal than external as the walkers (aka zombies) merely serve as a scenario through which to investigate the levels of desperation, apathy, or community that a dozen human beings will endure when faced with the absolute worst. (This review will not cover how closely the show follows the graphic novels written by Robert Kirkman, and penciled by Tony Moore. Take that up elsewhere.)

The Walking Dead season one follows the group as it struggles to survive both in and outside Atlanta. Some survive.  Some don’t.  The six episodes cover plenty of horrors. Think about it.  When it happens, who do you leave behind? Who do you save? What lengths will you go to for answers?

The season one blu-ray features two discs.  The first includes the entire six-episode first season, from Rick’s startling awakening to the group’s only hope for survival finding its near-elimination at the season’s finale’. The disc includes previews for films like “I Spit on your Grave” and “Frozen”. Also included are some zombie make-up tips, the original trailer, and a convention panel with the producers.

Disk two is the real treasure in this blu-ray offering.  This disc contains all of the bonus features, and there are plenty.  Deleted scenes include zombie school, bicycle girl, on set with (series creator) Robert Kirkman, hanging with Steven Yeun (Glen), inside Dale’s RV, and on set with Andrew Lincoln (Rick). Viewers are treated to input from contributors like Matt Kent (zombie choreographer), and consulting producer Greg Nicotero.  These interviews really align the series with Kirkman’s graphic novel, specifically the piece on the signature-visual bicycle girl (actress Melissa Cowhan).

Kirkman leads a cameraman as he tours the set in rural Georgia, explaining how the real-life filming of the zombie apocalypse is extremely different from two guys talking on the phone and drawing on cards. Yeun (a fan of the graphic novels) leads cameras on a behind-the-scenes tour that speaks more about the acting logistics and on-set experience than Kirkman offers.  Though, in his own words, “it’s chaos.  That’s a good welcome to the Walking Dead.” DeMunn then hosts a tour of the 1977 Winnebago, also known as Dale’s RV.

Andrew Lincoln provides an on-set behind-the-scenes tour, with several belly laughs and a revealing look at his decidly British accent.  During his time on-screen, he describes his dedication to Rick’s role as the core hero; every victory comes with a cost, and nothing the “hero” accomplishes is without a toll.  He really gets Kirkman’s feel for Rick’s forced role as a leader, and fans should be excited to embrace an actor willing to go to every length he can imagine for their satisfaction.

Equally exciting are the “Behind the Scenes” features on disk two.  Lincoln and series creator Frank Darabont openly proclaim their willingness to drive extremes of the zombie apocalypse.  The Walking Dead isn’t those who are already beyond death’s touch.  They’re the living who are still hoping to survive.  How long do they have?  The human prey alive during the zombie outbreak; aren’t these people really the walking dead?

Darabont gets it.  He’s a horror enthusiast who always hoped for the right opportunity to film the shear desperation and challenge of mankind’s hope to survive the outbreak of hell on earth. His co-writers and fellow filmmakers get it, and they devoured it with the same hunger that he discovered the first time he read Kirkman’s first installment.

The Walking Dead is the culmination of brilliant source material, driven filmmakers and solid casting. Kirkman’s graphic novels tear at the very core of the human survival instinct. This provides Darabont and his crew with the exact material they hope for to portray humanity’s desire to persevere.  Finally, Lincoln, Bernthal, Callies, and the rest of the cast bring to life the struggles of Kirkman’s colony; brought together by their mutual struggles against the persistent threat of the undead.

The blu-ray set runs 292 minutes, in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. English and Spanish subtitles are available.

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