True Detective: Season One (Target Exclusive Steelbook)
HBO // Unrated // $44.99 // June 2, 2015
Review by Randy Miller III | posted June 7, 2015
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version

Unfolding during the winter months of 2014, this first season of HBO's True Detective turned out to be a critical and commercial smash. Cumulatively titled "The Long Bright Dark", this collection of eight hour-long episodes follows Detectives Rustin "Rust" Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) as they piece together the puzzle of a bizarre 1995 murder with strong occult undertones that may be linked with several missing persons and murder cases from years earlier. The links don't stop there: we're almost immediately reunited with Cohle, Hart, and Hart's wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) in the present day, where a recent murder bears a strong resemblance to the one almost two decades earlier. But somewhere along the way---2002, to be exact---the former partners became enemies, and those circumstances are given almost as much attention as the actual murders. We get to know Rust, Marty, and Maggie on an intensely personal level as the mystery deepens...but don't get too comfortable: the season finale closes the book on all of them, as future installments of True Detective (beginning with Season 2's premiere later this month) will be assembled as separate anthology-style productions.

For now, the first season of True Detective remains a gripping, suspenseful, and entertaining slice of television that, like the bulk of current dramas on network and premium channels, aims for a big-screen mentality. Lead and supporting performances are uniformly strong, but it's no surprise that Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson carry most of the weight: they seem completely committed to their roles, for better or for worse, and perform well as both unlikely partners and occasional arch rivals. McConaughey toes the line well as the disturbed loner Rustin "Rust" Cohle, keeping first-time viewers unsure of his real intentions or, in some cases, assumed guilt. In contrast, Harrelson's Martin Hart feels more like a brutish, stoic anchor for Cohle to orbit around. Both men make occasionally terrible choices in regards to their personal and professional lives, but their bravery in the presence of pure evil is what ultimately makes them impossible to resist. Michelle Monaghan turns in a strong performance as Marty's wife Maggie; she makes a few terrible choices of her own (one, in particular, almost sends her character completely over the falls), but there's an undercurrent of honor and love that offsets other weaknesses.

As a whole, this eight-episode season feels like one long and perilous journey. It flows nicely but sometimes seems reluctant to do what it does best: explore the relationship between our three leads at those different points in their lives. Other sub-plots, including Cohle's reunion with an old friend that leads to a botched robbery, feel more like temporary diversions than genuine "parts of the whole". These prove frustrating as the season progresses: it takes a few episodes really get into a groove, and only the last two seem completely devoted to the case at hand: they almost feel rushed as a result, making us wish that we didn't waste so much time earlier watching Hart's adulterous escapades or Cohle's beer can origami and Interstellar warm-up speeches. But as a whole, the eight-episode format feels like a good fit for the material, and True Detective does so much well---the soundtrack, memorable characters, and crippling suspense---that it's hard to nitpick about a few roadblocks along the way.

Originally released on Blu-ray and DVD roughly a year ago, HBO presents the first season of True Detective yet again: this Blu-ray only package arrives in a Target exclusive Steelbook case and, as of this writing, is still available in-store and online for a limited time. Read on for more details about the packaging...but that's all that's new about this release, because the disc content is exactly the same as before. If you have yet to own this season on Blu-ray (or you're just a sucker for Steelbooks and/or have $40 to burn), this one may be right up your alley.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

True Detective's terrific attention to detail pairs nicely with these 1.78:1, 1080p transfers that showcases its crisp but disturbing cinematography. The colors are often muted and lean towards earth tones; flashbacks showcase a much warmer overall appearance, while more recent interview-style footage (shot almost entirely indoors under fluorescent light) looks much less appealing by design, and some portions of these "interrogations" are purposefully shot on consumer-grade equipment. Image detail and textures are quite strong, especially during close-ups. Digital imperfections are largely absent during the viewing experience, though trace amounts of banding are present during a few unusually lit scenes. Overall, True Detective looks great on Blu-ray and fans will be pleased.


DISCLAIMER: This review's compressed screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p resolution.

Not to be outdone, the terrific DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mixes generate an effective atmosphere. Though True Detective is a dialogue-driven series, it has no shortage of suspenseful, music-driven segments and occasional bursts of action along the way. Channel separation is strong and surrounds are reserved for subtle background ambiance and dramatic punches. The low end also gets time to shine during several music cues and other creepy moments. True Detective is a small-screen production for sure, but one with a suitable dynamic range that won't have you reaching for your volume control every few minutes. It's mixed a bit loudly overall, although this could just be in comparison to the rather flat and subdued menu interface. French and Spanish DTS 5.1 and/or 2.0 dubs are also included, as well as English (SDH), French, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish subtitles.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

This appears to be the same interface as the original Blu-ray package, and I'm still not a big fan of it. The material is organized nicely for the most part, but the overall layout is a little cumbersome and much more should've been left out in the open. The big exclusive here, of course, is the slimmed-down new Steelbook packaging (seen below) that's either a welcome sidestep or a modest improvement over the original Blu-ray's digipak casing. This new artwork comes from a series of limited edition posters by Phantom City Creative and Jay Shaw and looks terrific, and the text is printed separately on a clear outer slipcover. Worth a double dip? Nope, but it looks cool.

Bonus Features

Everything from the original Blu-ray; nothing more, nothing less. These (mostly) great supplements include two Audio Commentaries with Nic Pizzolatto, T. Bone Burnett, and producer Scott Stephens; separate Recaps, Previews and "Inside the Episode" snippets for each episode; two Deleted Scenes, the "Making True Detective" featurette, an additional Interview with Pizzolatto and Burnett, and a Digital Copy redemption code for the entire season.

Final Thoughts

True Detective is a well-acted, suspenseful, and extremely confident series that, with just one eight-episode season to its name (and another coming later this month), has already left a deep footprint with critics and audiences alike. Season 1 most definitely moves at its own speed, shifting gears between time periods and introducing us to plenty of memorable characters and their ever-changing relationships with one another. There are a few bumps along the way: a few dangling subplots and diversions appear to serve little purpose other than shock value, and it's a lot to take in on first viewing. But multiple trips through the world of True Detective may very well be more refined, and the show's fantastic atmosphere and terrific soundtrack make it easy to get lost in. This double-dip of the first season (again, timed to drum up interest for the next batch of episodes) only serves up new collectible packaging; otherwise, we get the same terrific A/V presentation and decent extras as the original Blu-ray release. New fans may want to get this if they can find it, but it's mostly for die-hard collectors only. Recommended.


Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.


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