True Detective DVD & Blu-ray Review

It always strikes me as funny when something considered high brow clearly has roots in things once, or still, considered low brow. Take HBO’s Southern Gothic crime drama True Crime, which is now being released on DVD and Blu-ray. While critics rightfully applauded its direction, writing, acting, and cinematography, the show is firmly rooted in the kind of pulpy, noir-ish crime novels that were once dismissed as junk. Which is why True Crime will appeal to those who enjoy quality television dramas as well as dark crime stories, especially if they watch it on this collection, which presents it with the picture and sound quality it deserves.

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photo courtesy of HBO Home Entertainment

Created, written, and co-executive produced by Nic Pizzolatto (Galveston) and directed and co-executive produced by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre), True Crime follows two Louisiana cops — played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson — as they’re questioned individually about a ritualistic murder of a prostitute they had investigated seventeen years earlier. Though while it’s largely a murder mystery, it’s also a character study about these two cops, two deeply flawed men who, in many ways, are as messed up as the crime they’re investigating.

Which is why it’s not surprising that True Detective has roots in pulp crime novels, especially such Jim Thompson ones as 1952’s The Killer Inside Me, 1964’s Pop. 1280, and 1965’s Texas By The Tail. Though it also takes influence from such more recent pulp-inspired movies as1991’s The Silence Of The Lambs, 1995’s Se7en, and especially 1987’s Angel Heart.

The thing about pulp, especially modern day pulp, is that it can very easily slip into self parody. But True Detective avoids that trap by taking itself, and its creation, seriously. Not only is it well-written and directed, but it’s also served well by the solid, expressive acting of McConaughey and Harrelson. All of which is augmented by beautifully shot, stark, sometimes artsy visuals and equally moody, evocative music that perfectly blends roots, blues, and noisy soundscapes that may remind you what Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross did for the movies The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, or what Akira Yamaoka did for the early Silent Hill games.

As impactful and evocative as True Detective may be, though, it’s clearly not for everyone. Its story isn’t just dark, it’s bleak; the whole show looks like it was shot on an overcast day. It also doesn’t pull punches, both visually and in its ideas. If you find C.S.I. or Law & Order: S.V.U. to be too disturbing, this isn’t for you. There’s even times when things get a little weird and trippy, with dialog that borders on the pretentious. And if you’re the kind of person who needs the good guys to be really good, and the bad guys to be really bad, the ambiguity in True Detective will annoy you to no end.

This is not a show for the meek.

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photo courtesy of HBO Home Entertainment

But if these are things that don’t irk you, and if you’re in the right frame of mind for something like this, True Detective will prove to be an evocative and engaging series. Though you might not want to marathon this one. It might be a bit too much to watch in one eight-hour stretch. Personally, I found one episode a day to be just enough, thank you. Though mostly because, at times, I felt it was slow, plodding, and lugubrious.

As for the physical version of True Crime, both versions present this show as it was meant to be seen: with no digital glitches or corporate logos in the corner. And this is doubly true of the Blu-ray, which looks exceptionally crisp. The same can be said for the sound and the score, which uses the side speakers to great effect, something you won’t get if you watch this on your phone.

Along with the eight episodes, the True Detective DVD and Blu-ray also come with a number of informative extras that go into how the show was made and the people who made it. Most of which — save for the episode-specific ones — are smartly found on the third and final disc, so you can watch them after you’ve seen the show.

For starters, two episodes feature commentaries by Pizzolatto, who’s joined by composer T. Bone Burnett on one, and Burnett and executive producer Scott Stephens on the other. Fittingly, they’re rather quiet affairs, informative and insightful, but also full of long moments of silence. Though, as I often do with commentaries, I can’t help but think they might’ve been more entertaining and informative had Harrelson, McConaughey, or Michelle Monaghan (who plays Harrelson’s wife) been involved.

Thankfully, Harrelson and McConaughey — both of whom were also executive producers on True Detective — are involved in the other extras, and not just the “Up Close: With Woody Harrelson And Matthew McConaughey” featurette where they talk to the stars about the show and specific scenes.

They also, thankfully, take part in the short but still informative “Making True Crime” featurette, as does Monaghan, Pizzolatto, Fukunaga, and other members of the cast and crew. Equally interesting is “A Conversation With Nic Pizzolatto And T. Bone Burnett,” which doesn’t just talk about the show’s music, but also about some of the criticism of the music (which wasn’t considerable but was still interesting), and the show as a whole.

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photo courtesy of HBO Home Entertainment

Aside from the show overview featurettes, every episode also gets its own “Inside The Episode” featurette, a four, five minute long look at that episode with Pizzolatto and Fukunaga providing analysis of what happens and why. Though while they are interesting in a college poetry class kind of way — in that there’s a lot of “this is what this means” stuff — again, they could use some input from Harrelson and McConaughey.

Both versions of True Detective also have some special features that aren’t all that special. Along with the episode previews and recaps, which seem extraneous in this context (well, unless you’re going to watch one episode a week), this also includes a couple of deleted scenes that don’t add much: a long version of a preacher’s sermon, and some moody aerial footage. Though what is nice about the cut scenes is that they’re included in the menu of the episodes they were cut from, instead of lumped together into a clump at the end, devoid of any context.

But perhaps the most irritating thing about watching True Crime on DVD or Blu-ray — at least for me — is that there’s no acknowledgement of the show’s pulp influences. I would’ve loved to know more about the show’s literary inspirations. Or, at the very least, something on Robert W. Chambers’ The King In Yellow, a collection of supernatural/occult short stories from 1895 that plays an important role in the story.

True Detective cover

Had it been made seventy years ago, True Detective would’ve been dismissed as puerile rubbish, the stuff of dime store magazines. Nowadays, though, it’s ranked alongside Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, and Breaking Bad as a shining example of how far television has evolved. And deservedly so. Funny how that works.

SCORE: 8.0

 

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