Last year HBO Home Entertainment shook up its annual True Blood season release by offering a Blu-ray combo pack which consists of a full physical set of the season on Blu-ray with all of the extras, two DVD discs containing the full season, and a voucher for a digital copy from a provider of your choice; Ultraviolet, iTunes, or Vudu. True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season continued this trend which I embrace wholeheartedly because it appeals to Truebies who watched the season as it aired and those who like to watch the show season by season. It’s also the best way to curb the True Blood withdrawal that hits us all this time of year!
This year’s release is a five disc set in a white and red color scheme. The outside slipcover features Sookie (Anna Paquin) on the front from her Everything is at Stake poster. On the back is in the infamous vial of Lillith’s (Jessica Clark) Blood. The exterior of the Blu-ray set is much the same with Bill (Stephen Moyer) on the front, Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Russell (Denis O’Hare) on the inner flaps as you open the set, and Christopher Meloni (Roman) on the back of it. When the set is fully extended with all five discs, you’re treated to a photo of the main Authority set in the same red and white tone in the background. Full photos can be seen in the gallery at the end of the review.
Watching True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season might seem familiar to those who have watched it on HBO GO. After the tremendous success of the streaming service during True Blood season 4, HBO added interactive viewing to every episode of True Blood season 5 featuring cast and crew interviews, behind the scenes tidbits, and extra character information.
The True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season Blu-Ray features a similar technique with enhanced viewing. But by adding in the Authority Confessionals featuring Nora (Lucy Griffiths), Kibwe (Peter Mensah), Roslyn Harris (Carolyn Hennessy), Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian), Salome (Valentina Cervi), and Russell, we’re given a whole new view on the Authority. I thought this was a nice touch.
Having short character POV videos is nothing new for True Blood’s Blu-ray releases because they’ve been a standard feature in the past. But I like this year’s focus on the Authority particularly because it allows the audience to get to know these characters better including motivations behind their actions, their pasts, and more. Since three of these characters ultimately meet the true death in the course of the season, it is a great feature which also allows more cast members to be involved. Other enhanced viewing features include FYI’s about the characters and flashback and flash forward to moments in other episodes, all of which are standard features.
In True Blood: The Complete Fourth Season, we were introduced to a 30 minute featurette entitled True Blood: The Final Touches whereupon show creator and executive producer Alan Ball and some of the post-production team on True Blood had a round table discussion about how various parts of the show were achieved, the themes involved and more.
True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season continues on that path with an in depth look at the making of episode six Hopeless. It combines the interactive viewing we saw on HBO Go last season with video commentary by actors and members of the production staff such as production designer Suzuki Ingerslev and costume designer Audrey Fisher throughout the entire episode. This is one of the best features of this year’s release by far. We get to see and hear what goes into the making of an episode and in so doing gain a real appreciation for the hard work that goes into making the show. Remember the bricks in the main room of the authority? They were all laid by hand just for the show! Whether you are a lover of behind the scenes features like I am or just like the show, True Blood: Episode Six: Autopsy will fascinate you.
True Blood Lines also makes an appearance in True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season. A staple since the first season blu-ray, the feature allows fans to look up characters by species and learn who they are as well as who they’ve interacted with. An archive is also included so that you can look up past characters from other seasons without leaving the disc.
The inside the episode featurettes posted online after each episode are also included.
Last but not least, we have the audio commentaries also known as my favorite part of any blu-ray. In episode order we have:
Episode 4: We’ll Meet Again with Chris Bauer (Andy Bellefleur), writer Alexander Woo, and director Romeo Tirone
Episode 8: Someone I Used to Know with director Stephen Moyer and writer Mark Hudis.
Episode 9: Everyone Wants to Rule the World with Carrie Preston (Arlene Fowler), Denis O’Hare, and director Dan Attias.
Episode 11: Sunset with writer Angela Robinson and director Leslie Linka Glatter
Episode 12: Save Yourself with Anna Paquin, writer Alan Ball, and director Michael Lehmann
The audio commentaries are always my favorite feature of the True Blood season releases because you’re listening to the actors, writers, and directors watch and comment on this episode they filmed and that is really where you get the sense of how everyone works together, that they all do like each other and get along, and that so much goes into every episode.
My favorite one is a toss-up between episode 8 and episode 12. Having directed Someone I Used to Know, listening to Stephen Moyer discuss it was fascinating! It is clear that he has a passion for directing. The thought he put into directing it shows in the quality of the episode but hearing him talk about his reasoning behind some of the choices in the episode was something every fan of the show should enjoy.
There would be no True Blood without Alan Ball and although it was bittersweet hearing him comment on episode 12, Save Yourself, it was also a lot of fun. Ball has a dark and twisted sense of humor which is part of what makes him such a great writer and why he is so successful. Combined that with Anna Paquin’s sense of humor and you’ve got a great commentary!
However, the audio commentaries are also where True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season fell short. The existing commentaries are
wonderful and again serve to integrate members of the cast and crew who have not yet had a chance to participate in a commentary or on a season release. Practically speaking, not every actor or crew member can participate on the release because depending on when something is shot or recorded, people are off doing different projects. But because the cast and production staff appreciates each other’s work, hearing them mention certain people repeatedly, Sam Trammell (Sam Merlotte) in episode 8 for example and Audrey Fisher in several episodes makes me wish that they were included too.
The absence of any special features or commentary in the first three episodes is also quite surprising considering the significance of them for several characters. Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) and Eric’s backstory and Tara’s (Rutina Wesley) first few hours as a vampire are in those episodes. They turned in truly fantastic performances as did Sam in episode 8. Not having commentary from those actors in episodes 1, 2, 3, or 8 is a tremendous oversight. Also skipping Hoyt’s (Jim Parrack) departure in episode 10 without more acknowledgement is a little disappointing. Granted, we did have interviews from all of them on HBO GO. But that isn’t enough especially for those who do not have HBO and watch the series with each season release.
If True Blood was the type of series that depended heavily on Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer, input from other cast members would not be missed as much. But True Blood is an ensemble series with a set of highly talented actors and production staff. It is one of HBO’s flagship series because it is a true group effort. And while True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season illustrates this in nearly every other aspect of the blu-ray, it is not present here.
A commentary on one of the first three episodes is needed from Bauer van Straten, Skarsgard, or Wesley. Having Sam Trammell discuss the episode with Stephen on Someone I Used to Know would have made the commentary even better.
Despite the commentary oversight, True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season is a must for any fan of True Blood. The rich HD quality of the video, multiple ways to watch the season and in depth behind the scenes features make it the best season release for the series to date.
True Blood Season 6 begins June 16, 2013 on HBO at 9PM.
Thank you to HBO Home Entertainment for the opportunity to review True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season
Image Credits: True Blood Fan Source and HBO, Inc.