Oh, zombies and comic books — two of my favorite things, and what's more: I am an enthusiastic expert on both!
OK, so I'm totally lying. I have never read The Walking Dead graphic novels, didn't really care enough to even turn the TV set on when the show debuted with season 1 on AMC. However, I heard Season 2 of The Walking Dead was much improved in regard to character development, mythology, and a more suspenseful serialization of the story. I was intrigued, and so it was with genuine anticipation I clicked the play button…
And anticipation turned to apathy. To me, it's quite a static and talky series, filled with expository angst. Still, I can't really fault The Walking Dead; I guess it's just not my thing. In my attempt to review it as objectively as possible, and trying to think as a fan of this genre might do, I will say it's quite well-made and well-acted. The casting is fantastic — especially Andrew Lincoln as Sheriff Rick Grimes. While I never did see Season 1, I had no trouble getting up to speed with the story. Grimes is our central character, and from him stems all. He, along with his wife and young son, is leading a band of disparate zombie apocalypse survivors to what he hopes is safety after last season's nirvana, the CDC, was reduced to a pile of smoking ash. Safety is found in the unlikely form of a concentration camp, but "safety" is certainly relative in a world turned upside down, inside out, and oozing with treachery.
When it comes to the goo and gore, the legendary KNB Studios shows their stuff in spades — even seasoned horror fans might be a bit shocked at what this TV series gets away with, week and in and week out. The attacks are unrelenting and unflinching, and even the moments of aftermath (for example, there's a zombie autopsy scene… you can only imagine the stomach contents on that one) are mighty grisly.
The lo-fi choice to shoot The Walking Dead on 16mm film certainly helps add to its gritty, visceral quality. It looks and feels more like an old 1970s independent horror film (Wes Craven's Last House on the Left comes to mind) than it does a 21st century tv series. Interestingly enough, the hi-def Blu-ray, sans the digital artifacting one would expect to see on cable, actually makes the thing look even more organic. Shadowy blacks are deep and dark, while blood and gore shuns Argento'esque reds in favor of de-saturated ruby. In short: it looks amazing on Blu-ray. Sound is excellent as well, and there are optional subtitles for the hearing impaired (or earless zombies).
When it comes to extras, there are extras on top of extras — and if you are lucky enough to get your mitts on a special limited edition boxed set, you will be in undead heaven. It's a real showpiece for your discs, packaged inside a McFarlane Toys zombie head, complete with a screwdriver sticking out of its eviscerated eyeball.
No matter which edition you opt for, you shan't be disappointed by the additional release material. A lot of thought and TLC went into each and every one. Although I do confess I didn't watch each and every one of them, I did enough spot checking to know they're a cut above the rest.
I really liked the interview with Robert Kirkman, the original creator of the whole shebang. He's in a piece called "The Ink Is Alive" and as a novice, I learned a lot. He still has fingers in the pie as far as the series goes, and he says it's vitally important to him — and to the fans — that the look of the book is continued onto the moving picture. There are even some interesting side-by-side comparisons showing the drawings and the actions. He said season 1 was more faithful to the comics, at least as far as following all the same beats; but in season 2, they took a few more liberties and he cites Shane's arcs, as well as mentioning how some characters in the books died while they did not on the series, and vice versa. Season 2, says Kirkman, is still about being faithful, but adding even more layers to the existing comic book story lines. He calls it "adaptation perfection."
Another terrific featurette is called "All the Guts Inside" and in only 6 minutes they manage to not only seriously gross-out, but educate. Greg Niccoterro of KNB shows how much care and concern to detail — not to mention downright ghoulish morbidity — is involved when it comes to staging an impromptu a zombie autopsy (in this case, Grimes and his companions are looking for a lost little girl, and hoping not to find parts of her inside the truly-dead body of a rampaging zombie… what they find instead is, um… rather heady stuff). As those below the line, including the KNB guys, the show's producer, cameraman and so on, talk about working with blood, goo, and even raw sausage, no one ever mentions the smell. In sultry Atlanta, it can't be good!
Also on the extras slate…
Deleted Scenes (29 min.)
Webisodes (20 min.) - Bicycle Zombie's back-story.
Live or Let Die (7 min.) - the decisions behind who lives and who dies and how those might deviate from the source material.
The Meat of the Music (8 min.) About composer Bear McCreary's approach to scoring a show which actually has very little music.
The Sound of the Effects (5 min.)
Fire on Set (6 min.)
In the Dead Water (5 min.) Another spotlight featurette (ala All The Guts Inside) focusing on a certain episode of the show. This one's about a water-logged brain-muncher.
You Could Make a Killing (6 min.): Greg Nicotero talks about the episode he directed.
Extras Wardrobe (3 min.): Deconstructing clothing, how to give it that distressed look.
The Cast on Season 2 (5 min.) The cast loves Season 2. Shocking, but true!
Audio Commentaries: 5 of this season's 13 episodes are accompanied by commentary tracks, with show-runner Glen Mazzara on all of them, moderating Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert, Scott M. Gimple, Michelle Maclaren, Julius Ramsay, Scott Wilson, Steven Yeun, Greg Nicotero, Angela King, Laurie Holden, Ernest Dickerson and Norman Reedus.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson