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Saturday, August 24, 2013

THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON -- DVD review by porfle


Sometimes it seems as though the TV people make a show just for me, and AMC's "The Walking Dead" is one of those shows.  So the release of the 5-disc DVD set THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON means one thing--another marathon viewing session that doesn't end until my bloodshot eyes have watched every last episode. 

This is the good stuff as far as I'm  concerned--a continuing zombie apocalypse series that follows a particular group of disparate characters as they struggle to survive in a world  increasingly overrun by reanimated corpses hungry for human flesh.  Writer-director George Romero created this world in 1968 with his notorious classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and, with wildly varying degrees of success, filmmakers have been riffing on the same premise ever since. 

But it was filmmaker Frank Darabont (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE) who gave us the first zombie serial and made it one of the most riveting and addictive shows on television.  Even with his unfortunate departure (due mainly to budget disputes with AMC, he told TV Guide) the show continues to keep me helplessly hooked.  It's as though that first group of people in Romero's seminal film managed to survive and attempt to carve out a life for themselves in the world of the dead.

Here, it's former Georgia state trooper Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) reluctantly leading a ragtag assortment of weary survivors including his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), pregnant with a child whose father might be either Rick or his late partner Shane (Jon Bernthal ), and his son Carl (Chandler Riggs), a mixed-up kid for whom blowing away zombies on a daily basis might not be conducive to a healthy mental attitude.

Last season found our heroes seeking shelter in a pastoral setting that seemed deceptively zombie-free--the isolated farm of aged veterinarian Hershel (Scott Wilson, IN COLD BLOOD) and his daughters Maggie and Beth (Lauren Cohan, Emily Kinney).  When a herd of zombies showed up to end their idyll in a flesh-eating free-for-all,  they were forced to flee once again. 

Season three finds them setting up housekeeping within the walls of an abandoned prison, giving us a situation not unlike DAWN OF THE DEAD with its fortified shopping mall.  But there are still zombies roaming the vast network of corridors, along with a hidden gang of live convicts who will themselves pose a danger to the main group. 

This lends the show a constant air of sustained tension that frequently erupts into the usual gore-drenched action setpieces.  It also causes Rick to display an increasingly coldblooded and ruthless attitude in dealing with any threats to his family and friends, with sometimes shocking results. 

The ever-present irony of the series,  of course,  is that the biggest threat against them often comes not from the walking dead,  but from the living.  In season three,  this is demonstrated in no uncertain terms when we discover a nearby community of survivors led by a charismatic Pied Piper known as "The Governor" (David Morrissey). 

Their small but well-fortified town seems a haven of peace and security, but beneath that fascade is an endless wealth of corruption and madness that I found wonderfully entertaining as each layer of The Governor's outward sanity gets peeled away for our viewing pleasure. 

Needless to say, he'll eventually declare war on our heroes who are holed up behind the walls of the prison and,  with his superior  firepower and military-trained soldiers, it won't be pretty--especially with the living dead waiting to close in on every side.  Complicating things is the reappearance of last season's gun-toting alpha babe, Andrea (Laurie Holden), currently under The Governor's seductive spell, and her warrior-woman friend Michonne (Danai Gurira), who wields a samurai sword and leads two defanged zombie pets on chain-leashes. 

The dramatic possibilities inherent in all of this are nicely fleshed out,  so to speak, especially when we find out what kind of scientific experiments The Governor's mild-mannered toady Milton (Dallas Roberts, THE SHADOW PEOPLE, THE RIVER WHY) is conducting on the living dead and why (with shades of Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD).  The romance between Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Hershel's headstrong daughter Maggie continues and is surely one of television's most blood-drenched courtships.  Other soap-opera-type aspects of the group's intimate interactions pick up where they left off last season and keep things percolating between "walker" attacks.

Perhaps best of all, however, is the return of one of season one's most vivid and frightening characters--none other than the great Michael Rooker (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) as the ever-popular uber-redneck, Merle.  What he gets up to in dealing with both sides of the upcoming war and how his return affects his little brother Darryl (Norman Reedus, BLADE II,  MESKADA)--who has been acting more and more human while removed from Merle's evil influence--will give this season some of its most scintillating moments. 

But with it all,  there's always the threat of being attacked and overrun by those ever-present ambulatory corpses who are determined to eat anything with a heartbeat.  THE WALKING DEAD doesn't shy away from the buckets of gore that we've come to expect, whether done with good old-fashioned practical effects or, more and more lately, passable but not always convincing CGI.  Thankfully, the writing and SPFX teams keep coming up with new ways to gross us out, which gives those scenes in which familiar characters meet a gruesome demise even greater impact.

The DVD set from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French Dolby Surround 2.0 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include eight featurettes,  audio commentaries for five episodes, and deleted scenes. 

While there isn't a single killer moment to match last season's "Sophia reveal", season three of "The Walking Dead" nevertheless gives us a mind-numbing succession of powerful,  disturbing, and often emotionally devastating situations and images that can only be possible when a premise this outlandish is convincingly realized.  Although it doesn't come to a relatively satisfying conclusion the way the previous season did, THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON hits the highway running and never allows the drama and suspense to let up until the last skull is splattered. 


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