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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » House of Cards: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
House of Cards: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // Unrated // June 11, 2013 // Region A
List Price: $65.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted June 17, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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House of Cards - Season 1 Blu-ray Review


House of Cards
debuted entirely on February 1st, 2013 via the Netflix streaming service. It is one of the first shows to ever be featured on a subscription streaming service and to be a big-budget, critically acclaimed creation. It premiered alongside the much-anticipated return of comedy-favorite Arrested Development. The show is an adaptation of both a novel (by the author Michael Dobbs) and a previously created BBC miniseries. The first season had had thirteen episodes of curvy, dark politics within our nation's fictionally-portrayed House of Representatives.

This incarnation was an interesting launch-show attempt by Netflix to branch out into original programming, and programming wizards at Netflix were probably pleased with the high ratings, surely a delight with the involvement of high-profile director David Fincher, and an unexpected success with the contributing involvement of another high-profile (but often critically maligned) filmmaker, Joel Schumacher, who directed many of the best episodes (including one of the few moments of actual humor on the show).

The series has several central characters that it focuses on throughout the first season. The main character is Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), who is a mean-spirited, cruel, and manipulative individual who wants to take down his enemies and do anything he can to become a member residing within the white house cabinet. He often speaks directly to the audience, going over fourth-wall storytelling, and his character is the least likeable of the entire cast. However, it definitely is a well-written character that is impeccably performed by Kevin Spacey, who is relentlessly scary in the part. Frank is aided by a crony of a character with Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly)  doing his bidding and working with him on his various political plans.

 

Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), who is married to Frank, is the director of the Clean Water Initiative non-profit organization which often involves itself in the same political world which Frank is involved within. She is a similarly interesting character, someone who almost seems level in coldness to Frank, but who has moments in which she seems much more humane in small ways. Nonetheless, her coldness and uncaring attitude towards her employees and her actual organization's success beyond publicity and prestige makes the character another one within a ruthless demeanor.

Frank becomes involved with insider trading during the series, and relays information about the political world to a ambitious (if misguided) reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), who begins with writing for the Washington Herald before leaving the paper as she reaches for higher and higher successes through her connection to Frank and the stories she has been able to write because the two have paired together. It creates more and more commotion and drama throughout the season, with escalating results in both Frank and Zoe's lives.

Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) is a congressional representative who begins to work with Frank after an attempt is made to expose his alcohol, drug, and sex addictions. Over the course of the first season, Russo attempts to reform himself and begins a campaign to become the governor of Pennsylvania. Yet trouble arises, and problems continue to exist for Russo, his girlfriend Christina Gallagher (Kristen Connolly), and his children from a previous marriage. The downward spiral continues.

 

The series is one of the darkest, bleakest, and most horrifying series ever made about the U.S. political machine and the (albeit fictional) characters which it portrays as being a part of our everyday political process through representatives and the like. Most of the characters seem shockingly cold, dispassionate, and manipulative. The show is dark, gritty, and without the means to make more characters be a part of the show that the viewer can wholly root for in significant ways it becomes a difficult series to completely get behind with full enthusiasm.

Nonetheless, the writing, directing, and cinematography are excellent examples of growing creativity in television and the way in which the lines are becoming blurred between seeing television and theatrical film productions. This show is more convincing (from a production standpoint, at least) as a high-caliber undertaking than many bid-budget films are in today's landscape of film and television. TV series are becoming more like novelized films, while a standard film is starting to feel more and more like a serialized television episode, as almost every popular production these days seems to indicate to studio executives a "need" for some sequel "magic" to take place.

This isn't one of the best show's around. It's too bleak and depressing to fully become absorbed within it. Yet the performances and production values are undeniably first-rate, and will keep a number of viewers intrigued enough to keep tuning in to see how the political landscape of the House of Representatives can be explored in fictional-form. This isn't a show for everyone, but viewers with a keen sense of politics and who enjoy dark dramatic works might find it to be an interesting television creation the most. 


The Blu-ray:


Video:

House of Cards is one of the sleekest looking series to ever air exclusively on Netflix. Perhaps, this might actually be THE "to-watch" show based on cinematography that Netflix airs as an exclusive production. All kidding aside, this is a phenomenally filmed series with an unusual 2.00.1 widescreen scope ratio, hardly ever utilized, but clearly chosen to help create a more cinematic feeling for the entire production. The approach seems to have worked quite well. House of Cards has all the appearance of a beautifully filmed High Definition digital video presentation.

Audio:

The audio is also quite notable. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track presents the show with an immersive lossless audio presentation. While the surrounds are not utilized as cinematically as filming succeeded at becoming, the depth, clarity, and bass reproduction was still impressive. Dialogue (which was featured prominently during the series) was easy to understand and to follow throughout, which is  an important element for a political drama.


Additional Screenshots:




Extras:

There are no supplemental materials included on this Blu-ray release of Season One of House of Cards.

Final Thoughts:

House of Cards is dark, dark, and... um, really dark? If you enjoy, ahem, dark political dramas with an expansive cast of characters performed by high-caliber actors delivering fantastic performance it certainly might be a show you'll find intriguing, at least on some level. Yet the series is so gloomy and so frequently that you might not want to fully invest in the show or its characters, and that can be a major and disappointing element to have within a high-production undertaking such as this one, especially when the creators want you back for another season.

This television series has great directing, writing, cinematography, and direction -- but will you become absorbed with the characters, or will you feel devastated from the show? Some of the greatest of all films have been sad ones, but who really wants a television series with so many unlikeable characters? House of Cards has already been renewed for a second season. As well made as it has managed to be from every technical standpoint, it's not something that I am really looking forward to.

The majority of audiences will probably want to rent this first because it's unlikely to inspire that many repeated viewings. Established fans who wanted a nice quality Blu-ray release to own will find it worth picking up though, as the PQ/AQ is fantastic throughout.

Rent It.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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