When it comes to comic books there are generally few faithful renditions of the source material in popular media. Marvel and DC properties arguably suck up most of the airtime and there are very few other published goods given the chance to take their shot. In the case of Top Cow's Witchblade franchise I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that there is a movie coming out in 2009. This series has become something of a mainstay in the comic world and with the tales of the Witchblade just about as popular now as when it was released in 1995 I suppose it seems timely for a film version. In the mean time what's a fan to do? Check out the short-lived 2001 TV series, that's what.
It has been a long time coming and fans of the Witchblade franchise were probably beginning to think that this program was never going to get released on DVD. After all the show didn't exactly end on a positive note (more on that later) and though it enjoyed decent ratings it seemed that Sara Pezzini's adventures were simply swept under the carpet. Well, it's time to put down the comics and pick up the DVD because Warner has finally released the 24 episode series with a seven disc boxed set.
In case you're new to the franchise you should know some of the basics. The Witchblade itself is a powerful weapon that chooses women of destiny to be its bearer. Men can never (or should never) wear the gauntlet for the simple fact that it's compatible only with females. It's a sentient being of sorts that transcends time in some ways and gifts the bearer with supernatural powers and abilities. These women who wield the weapon are often viewed favorably upon from the historical perspective with the likes of Joan of Arc and Cleopatra being just a couple of names to drop. Imagine NYC cop Sara Pezzini's reaction when the Witchblade picks her to be its next user.
When the television series starts up we meet Sara (Yancy Butler) in rather a rough state. With the murder of her father and an old friend she feels as though the walls are closing in on her. She lives in a drab apartment and walks with a chip on her shoulder. A lot of that attitude has to do with the fact that she knows a reputed criminal was involved with both murders somehow. It's this intuition that leads Sara and her partner Danny to a face off of sorts with the gangster. During a brief gunfight in a museum Sara unwittingly has the Witchblade latch itself onto her wrist in the process. Queue up a massive explosion which she survives mostly unscathed and some memory loss and you have the beginning of the show.
The Witchblade haunts Sara and she occasionally has visions that she passes off as being the byproduct of too much work and the fact that she's going crazy. Whatever the case she and Danny follow the gangster to a local theater where a supposed deal is supposed to be going down. This leads to Danny being shot before Sara's eyes and it triggers the Witchblade to react much stronger than a simple hallucination. The bracelet turns into a gauntlet with sword attachment and gives Sara the ability to not only deflect bullets but also impale with ease. Too bad they don't sell one of these on the home shopping channel! Naturally Sara has some questions about what's going on and while she doesn't necessarily know how to communicate with the Witchblade yet a gentleman named Kenneth Irons is more than willing to help it seems.
If you're a devoted follower of the comic book then you'll immediately recognize Irons as the main villain though he does seem more than willing to "appear" to be a good guy. Really he just wants the Witchblade for himself and he wants to dominate the power due to the fact he attempted to wear it many years ago and thus is connected to it. In Irons' employ is a man named Ian Nottingham who was a brilliant character in the comic but falls short of expectations in the TV show. Nottingham is portrayed as a brooding puppy with very few worthwhile lines and a very limited role in what happens during the show. There are some moments where he and Sara have some decent development but he's basically Irons' lapdog for the majority of his time on screen.
Witchblade the TV show's first season was arguably the better of the two. It starts off slowly with Sara learning about the Witchblade but as time passes and she feels more comfortable with it the show explores that relationship further. For the most part the weapon is relegated to simply being a gauntlet that deflects bullets and sword she can use to stab people with. The Witchblade also gives Sara the ability to see what transpired at crime scenes which definitely comes in handy as a homicide detective.
With the weapon in hand and characters in place the first season gets underway and delves into the world it has crafted. This version of New York is filled with supernatural things, murders, and much that remains unexplained. The plot thickens as it moves forward and there's quite a bit of continuity mixed in with standalone stories and crimes. A big part of this focus is on Sara's life and development both as a police officer, woman, and wearer of the blade. Without giving any details away it climaxes in some unexpected ways and in the end I was satisfied as a fan of the comic book and viewer of the show. Then the second season happened.
When the first season of Witchblade came to a close the production team seemed to think it was over so they basically wrote the final episode with that in mind. At that point TNT said they wanted another season so the creative team had to hit the drawing board again and come back with more episodes. What did they do? They hit the reset button and copped out. That's right; the first season you just watched basically never happened.
In an effort to make things right with the world Sara uses the Witchblade to control time and send the show back to the opening moments before she even found the weapon. She remembers very little about events that transpired due to the time shift but she does act on instinct and manages to save Danny's life this time around. The second season follows an alternate timeline with some familiar events and faces but things are just different this time around. Rather than really building on the Witchblade mythos like in the first year the second seems content to throw a monster of the week at Sara for a good amount of episodes. That's a shame really because there was plenty of material to explore; they just didn't have the time to do so.
Another thing worth noting with regards to the decline felt in the second season was the fact that the acting just wasn't quite as good. Butler was reported to have been hitting the sauce pretty hard around this point and her time in front of the camera simply wasn't as strong as it was earlier in the show. With the abrupt ending of the show it would seem that this was a factor in its cancellation. It's a shame really but in all fairness Witchblade probably should have ended with the first season since it felt like it was meant to.
The faulted second year aside, Witchblade was a very entertaining take on a cop drama TV series. It felt a little more like NYPD Blue with supernatural elements rather than a truly faithful representation of the comic book but I suppose you take what you can get when you're a comic lover. For the majority of the series Butler churns out a fantastic performance as Sara Pezzini and some of the support cast such as Will Yun Lee as Danny and John Hensley as Gabriel stand out as well. The writing in the first season holds up and some of the second year stands on equal footing though let's just not talk about Sara's evil twin Aras. As far as the action is concerned the show's budget didn't really allow for anything too flashy but what's here is decent TV fair.
In the end Witchblade is a worthwhile purchase for fans of the comic book. Sure there are several differences along the way and Butler doesn't run around half naked but there's still plenty here to make it a legit representation of the franchise. The first season is decidedly better than the second in my opinion though all around this is a decently entertaining show for what it is.
Witchblade is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks pretty good. I don't have a copy of the original airing of the program to compare it to but it's probably safe to say that this presentation looks much better than the original broadcast. The image is quite sharp at times with some very clean moments throughout but there are some flaws that keep it from truly impressing.
The majority of this show looks very soft with a rather high level of film grain that adds a certain amount of grit to the picture. This may have been intentional on the part of the producers but for what it's worth it does keep the show from looking as good as it could have. In addition to this the palette for the series is quite diverse with a very sparse amount of warm colors. You're mostly going to be looking at a washed out representation of the comic that just isn't as vibrant as it should have been. All around this DVD looks fine with some moments that look better than others but it's not going to blow your socks off or anything.
The audio presentation for Witchblade comes in the form of a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track. It's a shame that Warner didn't go back in and retool the program for a 5.1 selection but for what it's worth the 2.0 offering does its job well. The sound quality is mostly clean with only a few muted moments throughout the season and the show maintains a nice balance between dialogue and sound effects. I will say that the music is sometimes a tad overpowering during the course of the show but there are times when it's used very well. The front channels offer some diversification in the audio but the lack of immersion makes some of the flashier moments feel lackluster. Overall this isn't a bad sounding show but it's not going to leave you with much of an impression either.
Despite the fact that Witchblade died an early death and took forever to come to DVD there are actually some supplemental materials to talk about here. The majority of special features are included on the seventh disc in the set but there are snippets scattered throughout the show in the form of "Gabriel's Philosophical Insights". These are included on ten episodes and can be selected through the episode menu. Basically these are short deleted clips that feature Gabriel talking to a camera about different topics that pertain to events in the show or particular episode. If you enjoyed the character then you'll find this bits interesting and mildly entertaining.
The original casting sessions for Yancy Butler, Anthony Cistaro, David Chokachi, Eric Etebari, and Will Yun Lee are available here. These are interesting to watch but not very entertaining in all honesty. There's not much in the way of context or commentary put in here so the content is very dry. "Wielding the Blade" (7:18) features Butler and some of the creative minds such as Marc Silvestri and the late Michael Turner talking about the weapon. It's a rather interesting discussion about the blade and they actually touch upon why they went with the design in the show versus in the comic book.
The final feature here is "Bringing the Blade to Life" (11:42) and like the previous look at the creation of the show this one features some commentators discussing various aspects. Most of the conversation here is about how the comic made its way onto the screen and how characters were designed and written. It's informative to newcomers of the franchise as it gives a bit of history but fans will probably appreciate the comic tie-in a little more.
For fans of the Witchblade comic book the TV series was an entertaining diversion that was a decent portrayal of the characters and world. There were many differences in this version with a change in tone and the fact that Yancy didn't run around half naked but throughout its two year run it remained a fun show to watch. Sadly the quality of writing does fluctuate, the acting is spotty at times, and the action isn't quite as exciting as it should have been. Despite those flaws Witchblade The Complete Series is more or less a success.
Having both seasons together displays just how badly conceived the second season was compared to the first but taken in pieces there are still some fine moments. If you're looking for some good live action comic book fare then Warner's DVD release is worth the price of admission. Consider the show recommended to both fans of the comic and newcomers alike.