Thursday, December 19, 2013

Breaking Bad: The Final Season DVD Set Review

With very few exceptions, I have always found gangster shows to be very ugly because what people do is often more monstrous than most movie and TV monsters. However there are exceptions and while I would not call Breaking Bad a gangster TV show, it is a show that deals with criminal elements, but what makes Breaking Bad unique among just about every other TV show regardless of the genre that I can think of is that Breaking Bad is truly one of the most well thought out and satisfying dramas to ever air on television. Nothing is left to chance. Everything ties together like the best literary novels and yet this is not Jane Austin or Mark Twain. This is not Masterpiece on PBS. Yet this  is a masterpiece of television that will be studied by film and television students and professors alike for decades to come. 

Credit must go to everyone involved with this show because never has there been such a well oiled machine at work for a common good. Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Anna Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, R.J. Mitte and just about everyone that has appeared on this show is stellar. Show Runner and Series Creator Vince Gilligan and his entire crew in front of and behind the cameras and on the production departments through to the writers created a series that ends more satisfying than many other shows whether it is scifi favorites like the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, LOST, Babylon 5, and Deep Space Nine, all of which are science fiction or space opera shows that I loved, but Breaking Bad went completely against my usual TV viewing habits and won me over watching the first four seasons on Netflix and subsequently watching both halves of season five on demand and via season pass. It may not be science fiction, but it has it's fair share of science and some genuine humor. Breaking Bad is entertaining from start to finish and is a classic we will not see anything quite like again for a long time.

While some executive producers and TV writer/producers might ego out after creating and maintaining such an acclaimed TV series, God bless Vince Gilligan because he maintains his humility throughout all of the extra value materials in this three-disc set and after listening to him on the episode length audio commentaries included for every episode, all I can state is I hope I can emulate his humility and genuine soft spoken demeanor in all of my endeavors. So let me just state for the record, if you still have not watched Breaking Bad then you owe it to yourself to watch it now that the entire series is available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD as well as digital download from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. I received the DVD set to review and I still plan on being the complete series on Blu-ray hopefully in the new year, but I would prefer is something like six Blue BD cases together than the limited edition complete series set available now from Sony that comes with a ton of physical extra features like collectible money barrel packaging, a booklet, a commemorative challenge coin designed by Vince Gilligan and even a Los Pollos Hermanos apron. While all of that sounds neat, I would rather have traditional Blue BD cases that protect the discs while making them easy to access and matches my Blu-ray library so I hope Sony will release a more traditional complete series set in the coming year. For those of you who are interested in the limited edition set, there is an insert within the slipcase detailing that collection when you buy the final season on DVD and presumably Blu-ray Disc as well.

The three DVDs within the final season set come house in two slim plastic cases within a glossy cardboard board slipcase with beautiful photograph art on both sides of the packaging and each disc is chock full of extras too.

All eight final season episodes of Breaking Bad are presented on DVD in 16 by 9 enhanced (1.78:1) aspect ratios that preserve the way the series was broadcast on AMC. Since Breaking Bad is one of the last TV shows to shoot 35mm film negative, even when upconverted to 1080p/60hz the series looks fantastic. In one of the audio commentaries Gilligan mentions how fantastic the show looks exhibited in a theater and he mentions if the viewers are impressed by the 2K Blu-ray Masters, they will be even more amazed by the 4K Masters Sony is producing now. So for all you Sony 4K Ultra High Definition Television early adopters, you have something extra special to look forward to.

The DVD features an excellent English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Soundtrack that delivers an amazing three dimensional listening experience. A French Dubbed Dolby Surround Soundtrack along with English Closed Captions for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired and French and Spanish Language Subtitles are encoded as options too. I do wish English Subtitles for the Dead and Hearing Impaired were encoded onto the DVD discs just as they are on Blu-ray Discs since odds are even if you have not upgraded to a Blu-ray player, if you have an HDTV then you are probably using an HDMI connection and unlike standard definition televisions, most HDTVs do not decode Closed Captions via HDMI. So I think at this point if any distributor is going to produce DVDs, they should include English SDH as a standard. Outside of that though I have nothing but positive things to state about this DVD set.

First off the main menu on all three discs features full motion scenes from the season while the subsequent menus are all well rendered standard interactive still frames that are easy to navigate. In addition to cast members Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bob Ondenkirk, Laura Fraser and R.J. Mitte participating in the audio commentaries, which were recorded around the time of the series grand premiere, other participants include Guest Star Robert Forster as well as Peter Gould, Diane Mercer, Nick Forshager, Michelle MacLaren Melissa Bernstein, Stewart Lyons, Gennifer Hutchison, Sam Catlin, George Mastras, Dave Porter, Moira Walley-Becket and Vince Gilligan of course. Gilligan and Cranston participate in all eight episode commentaries. Sadly Dean Norris is not present because he was already working on Stephen King's Under The Dome for CBS while the commentaries were being recorded. At times the audio commentaries are being recorded when actors involved are actually seeing the episodes for the first time ever. It also should be noted that episode 6 Ozymandias is uncensored, episode 7 Granite State is uncensored and extended and episode 8 entitled Felina is extended too. 

At times I could not tell exactly what is extended and did not appear in the AMC broadcast version, but I have not watched the final season on VUDU in a few months so sharper eyes and ears more versed in the show than I will probably notice the changes right away. Please note as well that the digital season pass might have been different from the original AMC broadcasts and that could be why I did not notice what was extended in the select episodes. 

Among topics touched upon on the eight feature length audio commentaries are the amazing continuity kept throughout the entire series from the mention of characters in the second season for example that did not appear into the final season, returning actors, including extras, the use of color in the costumes to illustrate character, such as Walter and Skyler's neutral matching colors that echo each other while working in the car wash to one scene where Hank's wife is not wearing purple, but Hank is. There was terrible accident when film sent from New Mexico to California and the case containing the film to be processed fell off the truck and was run over by another plane. Though some of the footage was destroyed, some was salvaged, but Cranston had to redo an emotional scene he felt relieved to have finished a year earlier over again. The editing between the saved footage and reshot footage was so spot on that no one watching could tell what footage was from the reshoot and what was shot a year earlier. Sound mixing is discussed a lot and there is a feature among the bonus content that illustrates a three track mix with the same take showing the dialogue track, the sound effects track, the music track where applicable and the completed scene (5:40).

Cranston reveals a little trick he used to do early in his career where he would purposely cough lightly or clear his throat just enough so he would be called back to loop the dialogue and earn extra day's pay while not calling too much attention so that he would get a good recommendation and or be welcomed back. 

Vince Gilligan got dehydrated shooting on location in a wealthy house so nice no one was allowed to eat or drink during the production. The problem was while people did eat and drink outside of the house, Gilligan did not even drink water that day and ended up having to have an IV put into him to rehydrate the next morning. Gilligan remarks that his favorite episode of the entire season was Ozymandias and perhaps even the entire story though he is proud the the series finale he directed that ended the show on a satisfying note. 

Other tidbits shared include the best bacon on location came from a place they shot in called The Grove and that they always had Robert Forster in mind to play the character of Ed going back all the way to the second season and the character does not even appear on screen until the penultimate episode of the entire series. The opening scene flashback in Ozymondias was the last part filmed for the show before the series wrapped and KNB effects built up Bryan Cranston's makeup for the finale. There is a great deal more to listen to and learn on these discs, but I can't give it all away. You will have to listen to them yourself.

The other features outside of the commentaries are spread across all three discs as they relate to the episodes included and where applicable viewers are given a choice to view things individually or in succession via a "Play All" option.

Disc one includes five deleted/extended scenes, which run between 24 seconds to a minute and 18 seconds. Walt's Confession Tape is presented in it's entirety (6:13) and the Ozymandias trailer with Cranston narrating the poem (1:23) is also included along with all of the Inside Breaking Bad featurettes put online spread across all three discs.

Two more deleted and extended scenes are included on disc two along with Jesse Pinkman's Evidence Tape in it's entirety (4:58), a gag reel and a featurette about the shootout scene on location too (14:23).

One more extended scene (2:41), M60 test footage (1:02), a featurette about the Final Showdown in the series (10:01), a look at Vince Gilligan on the job as the Show Runner (9:37) and a hilarious alternate ending (3:40) and short about the making of it (5:07) wrap up the extra value features on disc three not including all the Inside Breaking Bad videos I noted earlier spread across all three discs according to their relevance when matched with the episodes presented on the associated disc.

Collectively and even on DVD, this is one of the best TV sets I have had the pleasure to review in 2013 and it makes a great gift for all you last minute holiday shoppers. Breaking Bad: The Final Season on DVD is available now at retailers on and offline courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 

Big thanks to Kerry and everyone at Sony for providing me with the set to review.

(C) 2013 By Mark Rivera
All Rights Reserved.