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Supernatural - The Complete Third Season

Warner Bros. // Unrated // November 11, 2008
List Price: $79.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 8, 2008 | E-mail the Author
"It's not philosophy. It's not a metaphor. There's real fire in the pit....agonies you can't even imagine."
"No, I saw Hellraiser. I get the gist."
"Actually, they got that pretty close...except for all the custom leather."

Dean Winchester is going to Hell.

His brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) had
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been fatally stabbed in the back, but the demon hunters in the Winchester family know how to weasel out of death...for a little while, anyway. As season two drew to a close, Dean (Jensen Ackles) offered up his soul to drag Sam back to this mortal coil. Hell has Dean's soul on layaway, though, and he gets one full year to spend with his brother before being dragged down to the fiery pit below. Dean doesn't mind so much -- hell, it's even a leap year, so he gets 366 days to wolf down bacon cheeseburgers and screw anyone who's ready, willing, and able without having to fret about any consequences. If Dean decides to welch on the deal, Sam keels over, so...yeah. He's come to terms.

Sam, meanwhile, is hellbent on finding some sort of loophole. I mean, fix up that century-old Colt pistol that can knock off any demon, point it in the right direction, and Dean gets off scot-free, right? 'Course, it's not as if Sam can just thumb through a stack of musty old books to figure out who's sitting on the contract for Dean's soul: the Winchesters opened the gateway to Hell last season, and hundreds of demons -- creatures whose power and malevolence eclipse anything they've encountered before -- flooded out. It's not just a matter of piling into that jet-black '67 Impala and tearing down the highway, gunning down a few stray badniks who go bump in the night anymore. This is war, and the Winchesters are outmanned, outgunned, and staring down at a ticking clock.

The brothers aren't going at it completely on their own, though. There's Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver), natch, a seasoned demon hunter and the boys' surrogate father now that their folks are both gone for good. Sam and Dean pick up a new ally this season too. Ruby -- played by Katie Cassidy, the best thing to come out of David Cassidy since "I Think I Love You" -- is a feisty demon slayer in her own right. She's packing an arsenal that tops what the Winchester boys are lugging around these days, and Ruby knows enough about the sticky underbelly of the supernatural that she may be able to help Dean sidestep the whole condemnation-to-Hell thing. Still, as much as
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Ruby conveniently keeps turning up just when she's needed the most, the boys quickly clue in that she's not doing this out of the goodness of her black, shriveled little heart. She's chasing down her own agenda and can't be blindly trusted.

Ditto for one of the other new characters to pop up this season. At least Sam and Dean know where they stand with Bela Talbot (Lauren Cohan) 'cause she's only in it for the money. Bela's raked in millions swiping priceless mystical artifacts, talismans, and weaponry for her worldwide network of clients. Sure, she'll lend a hand when it suits her, but...y'know, you've gotta check your pockets afterwards. Bela's the best there is at what she does, and what she does ain't all that nice.

So, what else do Sam and Dean have to fret about this time around? Well, less than they would've if not for the writers' strike: there are just sixteen episodes of monsters and mayhem, down from the usual twenty-two. They still have the FBI on their tail. Vengeful hunter Gordon may kick off the season under lock and key, but he's convinced that Sam is the Antichrist, and he's not going to twiddle his thumbs in prison when
Warning: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear
he believes the ultimate evil is prowling the earth. Then there's that whole army of hundreds of unleashed demons, not to mention changelings, fractured fairy tales racking up a hell of a body count, a bunch of vamps, an evil Santy Claus way more interested in scarfing down human flesh than milk-'n-cookies, a second-rate Freddy Krueger, a coven of witches, a parade of ghosts, that damned trickster, a zombified surgeon,, even a crocotta.

Okay, I'll admit it: I'm a terrible, terrible person, and I hadn't tuned into Supernatural before this boxed set of season three turned up in the mail. It's not that painful to dive into even without any context, though; this is a series with a definite mythology, but it's not impenetrably dense or anything. By the time the season premiere -- "The Magnificent Seven", which pits Sam and Dean against demonic embodiments of the seven deadly sins -- came to a close, I felt like I had a pretty solid grasp of what was going on, who these characters were, and how all the puzzle pieces kinda-sorta snap into place. The only thing I feel like I'm
"Do these tacos taste funny to you?" ::dead::
really missing out on is the relationship between Sam and Dean. I get it, but this is kind of a transitional season -- Dean on one hand is trying to go on with life as if the spectre of Hell isn't looming over him while trying to steel his younger, meeker brother into a hunter who can fend for himself -- and I think that evolution might've carried even more of an impact if I'd known these characters better up-front.

Still, I was hooked pretty much from word one. This is a horror series in the truest sense of the word, and creator Eric Kripke and his staff of writers and directors know how to eke out a hell of a lot of tension and suspense. Supernatural is also pretty damn gruesome: a basement full of dismembered, half-eaten corpses, a body tumbling down on a table saw, a fingernail being yanked off with a pair of pliers, teeth and mouthfuls of the red stuff spewing into a bathroom sink, an eyeball nearly gouged out with a melon baller, a slo-o-o-ow decapitation by razor wire, and barrel drums of blood slathered across every square inch of the screen... Really, Supernatural outclasses a hell of a lot of horror flicks I've seen.

Supernatural also brings the genre nerd in me bubbling up to the surface. Buffy
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and Angel alum Mercedes McNab turns up as...hey, a vampire! Not only does this season chuck out references to everything from Se7en to A Nightmare on Elm St. to Superman III to the Twilight Zone ep "It's a Good Life", but it has an episode that's virtually nothing but a straight-up homage to Assault on Precinct 13. As squirmingly effective as Supernatural's stabs at horror can be, it has a hell of a sense of humor too...kinda helps having Ben Edlund on the payroll. Really, my three favorite episodes of the season are all practically slapstick comedies. "Bad Day at Black Rock" follows Sam as a cursed rabbit's foot gives him a run of impossibly good luck: he's invincible, with point-blank gunshots ping-ponging harmlessly around the room, he rakes in tens of thousands of bucks with a few dollars' worth of scratch-off tickets,! That waitress in the diner who's giving him the eye is a stone cold fox. Oh, but when he loses the foot, that run of luck is followed by...well, the polar opposite. He can't walk straight, even twiddling his thumbs in a tacky motel room nearly costs him his life, and that curse makes it a hell of a lot easier for the religious fanatics on his tail to catch up. The Groundhog Day homage "Mystery Spot" kept me laughing pretty hysterically throughout as Sam's trapped in a time loop, stuck watching his brother as he dies one grisly death after another. You can't go wrong with a cacklingly twisted death montage or hearing Asia's "Heat of the Moment" again and again and again and again. Oh, but the episode that really changed my life...? "Ghostfacers!", a seemingly-half-improvised jab at reality TV as Sam and Dean get ensnared in the pilot of a low-rent ghost hunting show. Gimmicky...? Sure, but it's hysterical from start to finish, and like Supernatural's other lighter episodes, it has a knack for transitioning from
"I lost my shoe."
that goofy comedy to wincingly brutal horror on a dime.

Out of the entire season, only one episode really misfires: the bland, plodding "Long Distance Call". There are glimmers of brilliance scattered around in that one -- a direct channel with a lost loved one who may hold the answer to the season's most burning question coupled with an increased sense of urgency about Dean's imminent death -- but the story it's framed around is pretty forgettable. Oh well. Maybe I'm just biased. The writers' strike stomped on the pacing of the season arc, and the leaner episode count leaves Supernatural frantically trying to cram in as many plot points into the last few eps. The Big Bad doesn't show up till the season's almost over, and even then, she's seen so infrequently that she really doesn't come across as much of a threat at all. I don't get that strong a sense of just how quickly the clock is ticking either: it seems like it's a year to go, a year to go, a year to go, a year to...oh, sorry, Dean. You've got three months left. Bela's story comes to an awfully rushed close as well. This season of Supernatural probably would've benefitted from having another few episodes to stretch its arms, but the writers' strike doesn't seem to have tripped it up too much, and the devastating finale it builds up to packs a hell of a wallop.

Despite not having caught the series up till now, I really dug the third season of Supernatural: its mix of eerie, unsettling horror with a spastic sense of humor, demon-slaying action that's sopping with barrel drums of stage blood, and probably the most impossibly gorgeous set of twentysomething women on television week in and week out. Highly Recommended.

Video: This Blu-ray
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set serves up a 1.78:1, 1080p24 image that's clearer, better defined, and more detailed than pretty much anything I've caught over-the-air. I've read that earlier seasons of Supernatural tended to look dark, gritty, and desaturated -- a cross between a low-budget horror flick and a black-and-white Western -- but that's not so much the case this time around. Most of the scares are still set against moody backdrops that are dark, dank, and blanketed in shadow, but the photography can be surprisingly bright and colorful too. Those soul-crushingly gaudy colors in the motel rooms the Winchesters hit along the way really pop on Blu-ray. I've gotta give a big, cartoonishly over-the-top thumbs-up to the production design crew there for that sort of authenticity.

Supernatural's visuals can be kinda stylized. F'r instance, "Dream a Little Dream of Me" drains away most of the color in one nightmare but then segues into a hypersaturated, squintingly sunny sequence in the front yard. Most of the season was shot on film, but the reality spoof "Ghostfacers!" tosses in a mix of high-def video and chintzy DV for the whole verité thing. There's a gritty texture to the season, but the film grain is generally tight enough not to distract all that much, and the VC-1 encoding doesn't buckle under the weight of the grain enough for me to rant about here. A couple of tiny flecks of dust creep in every once in a while, but I'm sure that dates back to the original broadcasts.

It's kind of a drag that this Blu-ray set lagged behind the DVDs by a couple of months, but it's worth the wait: Supernatural looks great in high-def.

Audio: With most TV
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shows, the surrounds feel like kind of an afterthought, but Supernatural sounds like it was mixed expressly with 5.1 in mind: these six-channel Dolby Digital tracks (640Kbps) are extremely aggressive. Like the horror flicks it takes its cues from, Supernatural's sound design maintains an unsettling mood and atmosphere, and it roars to life when the blood-spattered action kicks in: blasts of energy swirling around the room, demonic snarls, bullets ping-ponging around from every direction... Hell, there's such a strong sense of directionality that I could follow the sound of a head thumping against the ground after being lopped off. Another standout sequence is a vamp reeling after being turned -- honed to hear heartbeats from a block away, everything is deafening, from the squeak of a tire iron to the thunderous ticks of a pocket watch. The sound design here stands out as some of the best on television. Supernatural is also bolstered by a meaty low-end, with the score in particular packing a hell of a wallop.

Warner has been pretty hit or miss about tacking lossless audio onto their feature films, and they're showing even less interest in lossless for their TV boxed sets. It's a disappointment that Supernatural's saddled with a traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and I wonder if a TrueHD track might've knocked off some of my gripes. The dialogue in this Dolby Digital track sounds kind of flat, and the distinctness and clarity so many other Blu-ray sets have spoiled me with -- that sense where I can clearly pick out each and every element in the mix -- has been chucked out the window, instead sounding kinda muddled together. I dig the really aggressive sound design, but I can't help but wonder if Supernatural would've sounded even better if Warner had gone the lossless route. These discs aren't even close to being filled to capacity, so it's not as if they ran out of space. Oh well. The short version, though...? Very good. Could be better.

Each episode serves up subtitles in English (SDH), French, Spanish, Danish, and Portuguese.

Extras: Supernatural carries over the same batch of extras as the DVD set from a couple months back. There's really not all that much here, though, and there aren't any additional bells and whistles or even any high-def features on this Blu-ray set.
  • A Closer Look (22 min.): This set of mini-featurettes highlights some of the standout moments in seven of the season's episodes. Director Kim Manners chats about how he tried to ramp up the tension during the sieges in "The Magnificent Seven", writer Ben
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    Edlund talks about introducing Bela and squeezing an emotional undercurrent in with "Bad Day at Black Rock"'s screwball comedy, writer Sera Gamble notes how the concept for the season's Big Bad evolved in "Jus in Bello" along with how irresistable a toilet full of holy water really is, and visual effects supervisor Ivan Hayden runs through the extensive CG in "Red Sky at Morning", including a moment in the climax shot at a thousand frames per second (!). Creator-slash-executive producer Eric Kripke tackles a few episodes too, including his three favorite scenes from this season's cacklingly depraved holiday episode, losing Jason Voorhees and swapping out characters for another nightmarish confrontation in "Dream a Little Dream of Me", and the dark imagery that inspired "The Kids Are Alright" along with some of the additional color between Dean and Lil' Dean that wasn't in the script.
  • From Legends to Reality: Supernatural effects (23 min.): The best of the set's extras runs through Supernatural's mix of visual, special, and make-up effects, serving up rigs spewing geysers of blood, the design and execution behind creatures like the changelings and the vamps with their retractable teeth, and the extensive digital work that goes into each episode. "From Legends to Reality" shows off the different layers and stages of the CGI and spends a good bit of time on the snakelike smoke effects of Supernatural's demons.
  • Ghostfacers! confessionals (16 min.): This reel piles on longer versions of the off-the-cuff riffs the Ghostfacers crew belted out during the shoot for their pilot, from a way-hetero A-Team love child to a Judeo-Cherokee prayer for a fallen homie.
  • Supernatural Impala featurette (5 min.): I guess the producers gave up on hammering out clever titles for the extras by this point. A couple of the guys on Supernatural's crew show off the series' stack of '67 Impalas, highlighting some of the bells and whistles in the stunt car, another Impala that can be completely disassembled for shooting interiors, and a run through the arsenal Sam and Dean lug around in the trunk.
  • Gag reel (8 min.): C'mon,
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
    it's a gag if you need a long, rambling write-up here.
The third season of Supernatural is spread across three discs in a package the width of a traditional DVD case. Supernatural also sports a glossy cardboard slipcase, a booklet with plot summaries and production info for each of the sixteen episodes, and a code for downloading digital copies of the entire season.

Oh, and all of the episodes on each disc start playing one after another automatically. There's an option to pick specific episodes through the popup menu if you're not all that interested in the whole marathon thing. The "previously on..." recaps are disabled by default, and although the switch for them can be flipped on, I don't think there's a way to watch the recaps without selecting the episodes one by one.

Conclusion: I hadn't caught Supernatural before shoving this boxed set in my PS3, but I really dug it: a cacklingly depraved sense of humor, some really intense action, a whole helluva lot more gore than I thought you could really slink away with on network TV, and...awwww!...a couple of really engaging leads. I kinda wish the first two seasons were on Blu-ray too, but this looks to be a pretty solid jumping-on point for the uninitiated. The sticker price does seem kind of bloated for a shortened season, and the limited extras and lack of lossless audio are a drag, but...yeah, I got hooked enough on Supernatural to close this review with an emboldened, italicized Highly Recommended anyway.
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Highly Recommended

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