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"Fringe: The Complete Second Season" {Blu-ray}
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: Warner Brothers
Genre:
TV - Series
Release Date:
9/14/10
Special Features:

Featurettes, four commentary tracks, short documentary, gag reel, deleted scenes, BD-Live

Review:

I Hardly a show on the fringe of popularity, J.J. Abrams’ “Fringe” managed to seduce fans of “The X-Files” that were looking for a complex, layered narrative with the fantastic elements of that show while maintaining quirky, weird plots and characters. The only show that consistently beats “Fringe” at its own game (and it is strictly a horror/fantasy series with elements of science fiction thrown in from time-to-time) is Eric Kripke’s “Supernatural”. Some older fans couldn’t relate to the twenty-something characters of “Supernatural” so “Fringe” became a perfect escape from fans looking for the same mystery/science fiction/suspense elements with characters that skew from the young to the old. “Fringe” Co-creator and executive producer J.J. Abrams learned the lesson of carrying on a convoluted story arc too long and making up the story as they went along with Chris Carter’s “The X-Files” unsatisfying conclusion after 9 seasons. Abrams sets up season long b-story arcs that are usually resolved within the season and has (so far) given answers to the A story elements over the course of a season as well (something that began with “Lost” even though that show also had for me an unsatisfying and somewhat predictable conclusion). ***

The second season built on the momentum of the first—the outbreaks related to “fringe” science continue such as a virus that causes the skin to cover all orifices smothering the victim or buildings from an alternate universe colliding with those of our own. We discovered during season two (SPOILERS FOLLOW) ***

that the war between the our universe and the alternate universe was spurred by Walter going to the other side to save Walternate’s son after Walter’s son had died. Walter brought back Peter from the other dimension and raised him as his own. Walternate who became the scientific thought leader in his universe began the war with us and also the Secretary (of Defense one can only assume) allowing him to develop and sent shape shifting terrorists to our side to wreck havoc. Walter also wants Peter back for his own insidious purposes outside of the fact that Peter is his son. ***

Although there are often lapses of logic (and really very little “real” science not that it matters since “Fringe” is really a horror/science fiction hybrid much as “The X-Files” was)in the story telling department (most viewers don’t notice simply because they get caught up in the action of the episode), “Fringe” is to be applauded for its strong performances, direction, production values and, yes, writing taking chances that few other TV shows will do (the only other series that is better than “Fringe” in that department is the horror TV show “Supernatural” where creator/producer Eric Kripke rarely leaves illogical ideas left dangling) and does it well. ***

As with the first season the performances are uniformly strong (although I did miss the character of Charlie who was sacrificed as a series regular due to budget/narrative issues—the writers didn’t really know what to do with his character after the first season (fear not Charlie fans he “returns” sort of). The season cliffhanger for “Fringe” was a dozy (and if you haven’t seen it avoid reading any spoilers) although it might have been predictable it was executed fairly well even if, again, there was a gaping plot hole in the final episode that wasn’t adequately addressed but, again, the show managed to slide past it due to deft direction, action and performances. Like “The X-Files” the stand-alone episodes are usually as strong as the alternate universe war driven episodes and while it helps to have seen the first season most viewers could comfortably watch the second season episodes without missing too much. ---

Image & Sound:

As with the first season Warner has done an exceptionally good job of translating “Fringe” to Blu-ray. Blacks are nice throughout—inky, deep and rich and the Blu-ray doesn’t suffer from the crushed blacks that plague other TV shows that are transferred to DVD or Blu-ray. Detail is remarkably crisp throughout and the slightly bleached color scheme that is a hallmark of the series arrives intact without anyone boosting the color or contrast. ***

There are a few drawbacks however due to a lower bit rate for each episode due to “crowding”, i.e. there are five episodes per disc here as a cost cutting/saving move spread over four discs whereas season one had the same amount of episodes spread over five discs. While I can appreciate wanting to maximize profits and keep costs down, a show like “Fringe” benefits best from having a higher bit rate and LESS episodes per disc. This is something I would expect Universal to do NOT Warner. ***

As a result there is occasional noticeable video noise that appears which does muddy up the episodes scenes that might consume a higher bit rate due to the darkness, action, grain etc. It’s not a huge issue but given how great season one looked and was delivered, it is a little bit of a letdown marring what otherwise is a good looking show. It’s particularly noticeable on larger monitors but those watching it on their computer or a plasma (or LCD) smaller than 35 inches probably won’t notice it all that much. ***

Audio sounds remarkably good throughout with a nice sounding presentation in 5.1 although it ISN’T presented in the lossless format. Although surround speakers aren’t quite as active as, say, a theatrical action movie they are darn close with plenty of detail measured out among speakers particularly during action sequences but there is still subtle elements you can hear in the surround channels even during the quieter, dialog driven scenes of the show. ---

Special Features:

The first Blu-ray and DVD set was loaded with special features including mini-featurettes focusing on visual effects and other elements that were important to key episodes. The second season carries that over.”Analyzing the Scene” provides us with good, brief insights into the production of six key episodes from the second season. “A New Day in the Old Town”, “Momentum Deferred”, “Of Human Action”, “What Lies Below”, “Brown Better” and “Over There” are highlighted. ***

We also get four audio commentaries all of which are pretty informative even if the heavy hitting stars are absent for most of them. It is nice though to get a different practical perspective on the production of the episodes so kudos to Warner for trying something a bit different. ***

Actors John Noble and Blair Brown appear on one commentary track and they are engaging, entertaining and have lots of trivia about shooting the episode. “Over There, Part 2” which features the producers/writers Jeff Pinkner, Akiva Goldsman and J.H. Wyman clearly are having a good time watching the episode but it doesn’t result in a very informative commentary track. ***

We also get the “Unearthed Episode” that was originally from season one but was curiously aired during season two. This stand alone episode was deemed to be somewhat pedestrian compare to other episodes during season one and was held back for that reason. When it ran it was during the middle of the second season luckily here it is presented out of the aired order as a special feature on disc four. ***

We also get six deleted scenes from six key episodes. We also get a gag reel. ***

“Beyond the Pattern” is nearly a half hour and gives us background on the developing mythology of the series and “In the Lab” lets us see a number of the props onset with actor John Noble and prop master Rob Smith acting as our guides. ***

While this is BD-Live enable there wasn’t any content when I went there. ---

Final Words:

The second season of “Fringe” was even more engaging than the first and while there were still some episodes that weren’t quite up to snuff the quality is consistently high for the most part. The extras are quite good for the show although I do lament Warner taking the cheap route and putting the entire season run and extras on four discs instead five like the first season. It would also be nice to see Warner give the audio on this series the lossless audio presentation they deserve but, I suspect, they think most folks are going to watch this on their PC using a smaller audio system that wouldn’t benefit from it. Despite some minor flaws, I’d recommend the second season of “Fringe”.

 

 
 
 
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