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Sopranos: The Complete Series, The

HBO // Unrated // November 4, 2014
List Price: $279.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted October 29, 2014 | E-mail the Author
The Sopranos - Complete Series - Blu-ray Review Few television series have had the level of impact that The Sopranos had. Not only did it help to make HBO an even larger success (with original programming becoming one of its staples of its entertainment), this was clearly a show that almost singlehandedly helped to change the television landscape into what it has become today. Modern shows like Lost, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, and countless others would not even exist in their capacity without the overwhelming critical and pop-culture success of The Sopranos. It changed the way audiences viewed television and the possibilities long-form storytelling had. The saying on the sleeve of the outer box says the tagline "Family. Redefined." It's more like "Television. Redefined." Television has never been the same as ambitious, long-form, and serialized storytelling has shifted into being one of the norms of quality television. Now a modern audience member can more likely consider the possibility of a TV series being as compelling and intelligent as a well-written novel or film.  

The story of the series largely focused on Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and the family, such as his wife Carmela (Edie Falco) and his two kids. At the beginning of the series, the basic setup within the premise becomes established as Tony is attending a therapy session with psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi. Tony learned from his doctor that going to therapy might help him after he had dangerous panic attacks and bouts of depression which left him unconscious. Though he thinks the idea is "absurd" he goes and starts to pour forth his emotions and the baggage that accompanies his feelings. Over the course of the show, one of the focal ideals is to focus on character-development and character-study as one continues to learn more about Tony, his parental issues,  marital problems faced, and "job" related issues.

The Sopranos would expand over the seasons and introduce new characters and parts with each passing season and would grow to include numerous guest stars throughout its run as the show continually gained popularity and raised its reputation as being the "best series on television". Many critics and audiences alike regard it as the best series ever made for its exploration of surprising familial relations, the Italian mobster world, and for its deeper character studies.  Exploring the show also led to some controversies amidst the immense acclaim as viewers debated the characters and storylines with a fervor rarely seen. Some viewers loved Tony Soprano, others hated him. All were fascinated by the complex character and the strong storytelling.

Creator David Chase has insisted that a lot of the show's ideas come from the influence of his own history growing up -- just without all of the gangster stuff. The family concept that this series holds is something he wanted to explore, and he added all the extra mob stuff as his youthful days were often spent watching classics like Goodfellas (which even featured a enormous number of the same actors, including three of the leads of The Sopranos).

The writing and directing of the show played a huge part in the reason why it was entertaining, thoughtful, and complex. Viewers were surprised by the craft of the series. Undoubtedly, the production merits are strong enough to match that of a modern film. It's something that has affected the series and the way television gets produced now. Without the great behind-the-scenes elements the show would have just been another gangster show or movie and not an incredibly successful and groundbreaking production. The music also added a nice layer of production to the show that outclasses most other series. Both soundtrack albums would be featured as best-sellers on the Billboard Top 100. The songs were mostly hand-picked from creator David Chase.  

The Sopranos took home 92 wins between award shows such as the Golden Globes and Emmys. (Not to mention 222 nominations). Only a handful of series ever win the best drama award after the final season aired and it was no longer airing when it had some of its best success, including a win for the prestigious Best Drama award. The series was also the first cable network show to ever win that award. The series finale is one of the most debated and discussed of all series film and TV creations and even after seven years there is no greater indication of the lasting success, impact, and legacy built by the show.

The Blu-ray:


The Sopranos finally arrives on Blu-ray disc from HBO. The release of the critically acclaimed series on Blu-ray has been one that diehard fans have been clamoring for since the inception of the format. HBO has a great track-record with releasing quality releases of their programming onto Blu-ray and The Sopranos is (generally speaking) no exception. The show is presented in 1080p HD in the original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen. Each episode is encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and has a stable, healthy bit-rate around 30mbps. This is certainly far and away significantly better encoding than the norm encountered from other studio Blu-ray sets. HBO continues to maintain a record of releasing series on Blu-ray with a greater degree of quality control. Each 50 GB disc only contains around 2 or 3 episodes so the presentation manages to have plenty of healthy space for a fine encoding of each given episode. All told, there are 28 discs for this quite comprehensive release.

Fans of the series who have purchased previous seasons on Blu-ray should know that there is at least some degree of encoding improvements as the previous Season 6 Part 1 and Part 2 sets of The Sopranos were in VC1 encoding, which was an early method more commonly used when Blu-ray was just starting out as a physical media format. While the differences may not be so substantial, know that there should at least be moderate compression improvements from the increase to the newer (and better) MPEG-4 AVC method of encoding.  For those fans who consider A/V very important to their enjoyment, this detail seemed worth pointing out.  

It's probably unlikely that HBO will re-release these seasons as standalone sets now regardless, because most of their Blu-ray presentations for finished series have (so far) become limited to purchases of a complete series release, so any viewers who purchased previous seasons on the Blu-ray format will have to decide if the upgrades for the entire series is important to them for purchasing this collection. I would guess most fans would give a resounding 'Yes!', especially given the more moderate pricing for a complete series release of an HBO show on Blu-ray.

Viewers who aren't "too picky" about their high definition presentations are likely to consider the sets a resoundingly huge upgrade in every department. The colors are superb and there is a level of detail and clarity that has never been seen before for the series. Without a doubt, fans will be purchasing the best presentation of The Sopranos available to date and it's unlikely to ever get any better than this. The image is generally pleasing, smooth, and detailed enough for a large majority of viewers to be enormously pleased.

On the flip-side, it's worth noting that this is definitely not a perfect or pristine presentation. The show seems to be almost entirely devoid of real grain structure and it's obvious that there is an element of DNR application on the image. Edge enhancement is also found on the episodes. Occasional ringing and other distracting imperfections will be noticed by ardent PQ buffs. Despite these unfortunate drawbacks I'm willing to bet (though I cannot confirm) that the negative aspects of the PQ is related to how the series was created in post-production for broadcast on HBO originally. It's quite possible given the age of the program that this is something unavoidable. Even the previous DVD releases have been noted for having some similar problems.

I will say it is uncommon for HBO to release any products that dramatically show signs of video-imperfections like these. Releases like Treme, True Blood, Entourage, and others have shown the company's great determination to release the highest quality product possible for their television catalog. I imagine that what is found on these releases is the best that it will ever be... take it or leave it. HBO likely did the best they could with the source material available.

Even with some technical imperfections in the picture quality it's clear the series hasn't received better releases before and that this represents the best option to date for fans to experience The Sopranos. The release is still going to please fans and it provides enough of an improvement over previous DVD releases and streaming options (such as Amazon Prime) to make it worth purchasing for anyone hoping to experience The Sopranos in High Definition.


The Sopranos audio presentation fares mostly well with a solid and dynamic use of the surround speakers. HBO produces excellent surround sound presentations for their series and it's great to realize that this holds true even for one of their earliest productions. The use of sound is a very important element of appreciating the series and it's impressive how the hustle and bustle of a city environment can be more convincing with the added ambiance, scenes with action have a intensity to them in depth of sound, and moments with rain or other environmental aspects are immersive.  

Dialogue is mostly clean, clear, and easy to understand as well. If there is any real drawback to this release it's that the entire series has only received a 16 bit audio presentation, which may be a result of when the show was produced for HBO. (As the norm for HBO releases is to included 24 bit audio, which offers the best presentation). This means the sound isn't quite as smooth or refined as it could be but for the most part this is still a generally pleasing soundstage. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio gets the job done and fans will be left feeling pleased by the results.

Lossy French DTS 2.0, Latin Spanish DTS 2.0, German DTS 2.0, Castilian Spanish DTS 2.0 dub options are provided. Subtitles are included in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing), French, Latin Spanish, German, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norweigan, and Swedish.



Fans will be glad to know that almost all of the pre-existing extras from the previously released DVD season sets are included again for the Blu-ray release of the Complete Series. This means that several of the featurettes have been included as well as all 25 of the episodes commentary tracks featured spread across the separate seasons. Unfortunately, a handful of supplemental features were dropped from this set (such as a featurette on some of the "whacked" characters during the course of the show and a handful of pop-culture spoofs). Fans hoping for a complete release in the supplemental department may want to consider that (even if the amount of dropped content is small).


There is also a bonus disc with a new 46 minute featurette and some (new-ish) old extras that were previously exclusive to the complete series DVD collection. (So if all you had owned before was the standalone season sets you would actually be getting about 3 hours of new content).  Take of that what you will as far as the value of these materials goes for the set. The new Blu-ray set also adds a digital copy code for the entire series.


Season 1 Supplements:

Interview with David Chase by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (77 Min.)

Behind the Scenes Featurettes: "Family Life" (4 min.) and "Meet Tony Soprano" (4 min.)

Audio Commentary: "Pilot" with creator/writer/director David Chase and Peter Bogdanovich


Season 2 Supplements:

Behind the Scenes Featurettes: "The Real Deal" (5 min.) and "A Sit-Down with The Sopranos" (14 min.) which features James Gandolfini and other cast members of the series discussing the show and the storyline up to this point in its run.

Audio Commentaries: "Commendatori" "From Where to Eternity" "The Knight in White Satin Armor" and "Funhouse". Featuring commentary guests like directors Tim Van Allen, Henry J. Bronchtein, Allen Coulter and John Patterson, and producer Ilene Landress.


Season 3 Supplements:

"Behind the Scenes Featurette"  (4 Min.) is an entirely brief overview of the making of the show.

Audio Commentaries:  "The Telltale Moozadell" "Pine Barrens" " and "Amour Fou" featuring commentary guests like writer/actor Michael Imperioli, director Steve Buscemi, and creator David Chase.


Season 4 Supplements:

Audio Commentaries: "The Weight" "Everybody Hurts" "Whoever Did This" and "Whitecaps" featuring commentary guests writers Terence Winter, Michael Imperioli, Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess, and series creator David Chase.


Season 5 Supplements:

Audio Commentaries:  "All Happy Families..." "Sentimental Education" "In Camelot" "Cold Cuts" and "Long Term Parking" with directors Peter Bogdanovich, Steven Buscemi, Mike Figgis, and Rodrigo Garcia. Also with actress Drea de Matteo.


Season 6 Part 1 Supplements:  "Join the Club" "Luxury Lounge" "The Ride" "Kaisha" with creator David Chase, writers Terence Winter and Matthew Weiner, and cast members Edie Falco, Robert Iler, Michael Imperioli, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Tony Sirico.


Season 6 Part 2 Supplements:

Behind the Scenes Featurettes:

"Making Cleaver" (8 min.) is a pseudo making-of behind the scenes look at Christopher's horror film (as this is a fake in-character featurette).  

"The Music of The Sopranos" (17 min.) features creator David Chase and cast and crew as they discuss the songs from the show and the impact of the music.

Audio Commentaries:  "Soprano Home Movies" "Remember When" "The Second Coming" and "The Blue Comet" with commentary guests like cast members Dominic Chianese, Robert Iler, Arthur Nascarella, Steven R. Schirripa, and Stevie Van Zandt.


Bonus Features (Standalone Disc):


Defining a Television Landmark (HD, 46 min.) is an extensive retrospective documentary with Sopranos creator David Chase and many of the series writers, directors, producers, and actors discussing the legacy of the program and its impact on the television landscape. It's the only brand new supplemental feature on the entire complete series set. Would the fans enjoy it? Probably, but that not that much in the way of new content. (If your main priority in buying something like this was to get new bonus materials keep in mind how little new content you ultimately will be getting). If, however, you plan on buying this set regardless it's nice to see additional content accompanying the HD PQ/AQ upgrade (even if it amounts to less than one hour of content).


Supper with The Sopranos: Part 1 and Part II (HD, 75 min. total) is a roundtable feature which includes a wide array of writers, directors, and cast members discussing the show with David Chase while talking about the biggest moments of the series, it's creation, impact, and more.


Lost Scenes (22 min.) highlights deleted scenes from the entire run of The Sopranos with a few moments excised from each season.


Two-Part Interview with David Chase (43 min.)  is conducted by actor Alec Baldwin and can be viewed in two parts: Cut to the Chase (Part 1) and Anatomy of the Mob: Part 2.


Final Thoughts:


The Sopranos is one of the most significant programs in the history of television.  It helped to dramatically change the entire landscape of serialized storytelling on television and what the medium was capable of accomplishing. HBO has finally released the complete series on Blu-ray and the generally pleasing results should satisfy fans enough for this set to be worth a purchase for adding into a high-def collection. There are some imperfections but the sum of its parts do ultimately make the collection a worthwhile release (especially for anyone who considers themselves a diehard fan of the show). Bada-bing?

Highly Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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