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Vampire Diaries: Season 5, The

Warner Bros. // Unrated // September 9, 2014
List Price: $69.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted September 16, 2014 | E-mail the Author
The Vampire Diaries - Season 5 - Blu-ray Review

Based on book series written by L.J. Smith, The Vampire Diaries is known for its big plot twists, turns, romantic subplots, and an abundance of largely supernatural elements (involving vampires, werewolves, hybrid vampire/werewolves, witches, warlocks, curses, vampire hunters, ghosts, doppelgangers, and more). Season 5 continues the love triangle between Elena (Nina Dobrev), Damon (Ian Somerhalder), and Stefan (Paul Wesley) while exploring a brand new setting in the college years, and a frightening new enemy - the doppleganger of Stefan. The Vampire Diaries is easily one of the most successful shows on WB's CW network and it's viewership and fan-base seems to be consistently strong from season to season with a big viewership totaling 2.2 million on average.

The writing is both one of the high points and low points of the series. When the writing for the series is exceptional, it's exactly that - and it manages to bring in amazing plot twists, turns, or character moments that make the show feel as if it's running on its A-game. When the show is capable of reaching said moments it's better than a huge portion of the other fare on television.  Season 5 brings frequently second-in-command writer Caroline Dries to the forefront, with a writing credit for 1/3 of the season, as she has stepped up her role in the show, as creator Julie Plec has spent much more time in the past season trying to handle the spin-off, The Originals. The Vampire Diaries Season 5 does manage to feel like a transition season at times as a result. However, the writing is still in good hands, and even a former staff writer from Lost, Melinda Hsu Taylor, gets to join in on the fun this season.

Even so, the show also has a tendency to become a bit repetitive at times, with certain ideas it creates being over-done or undercooked. Yet I love the series when it's excelling at telling the stories of these characters with a more human and emotional perspective. When the stories are about characters, about people, and offering metaphorical concepts within the framework of the supernatural elements it's a series that dramatically excels and manages to impress. This is why the series ultimately works for me even when it is sometimes frustrating with some of the story sub-plots and ongoing arcs being too over-the-top.

The writing for the characters is so uniformly excellent, which is a large reason why the series is easier to enjoy. The character's are believably written within the framework of the show and the actors bring the characters to life in ways that make it easy to see why so many of the main cast members have garnered their own fan-bases because of The Vampire Diaries. There's a lot to appreciate in the exploration of Elena's kindness and bravery, Stefan's quest for peace and to show compassion, Damon's mutually-explored selfishness and selflessness, Jeremy's love for family and for friends, Bonnie's quest for understanding between her knowledge of magic and the supernatural elements conflicting with her powers, and Caroline's journey from a silly and self-absorbed person to a more confident and caring individual who really comes into her own.  These are the kind of character-based storytelling aspects which make the show one that viewers keep coming back to eagerly - even if the ideas are explored in a bizarre supernatural setting that differs from the more realistic undertones. That, and viewers seem to come back in droves for the love-triangle, of course.

The best example of the series writing veering away from quality writing is found in how many times the characters on this show manage to end up dead only to come back alive in some other form. Character's that were once human could find themselves dying only to come back to life from a magic ring (sometimes several times on this show), or are brought back as ghosts, or die and disappear only to be brought back by a spell later on. Then there's the whole vampire and immortality thing: even there the writer's find a way, with certain stakes that can kill vampires (but only certain ones), and stakes that can kill original vampires (but only as long as the stake is left in them for forever), so in other words a very, very long slumber from which the characters could be written back into the show at any time if the writers wanted to.

Unlike something like Lost, where the overarching life and death stakes of the characters felt grounded by the writers, The Vampire Diaries has a sort of special "bring back from the dead" card where virtually every character has died on the show at one point or another -- and can be brought back just as easily. Things like that take away from the series and make things feel a lot more preposterous than it otherwise would have felt. Even for a show with so many supernatural elements on it, this is a area where the writers could really strive to improve, but unfortunately it's been the course the entire series. It's only become more and more noticeable the more times the characters die and end up being brought back.  The first several times it was surprising and intense, but after a bit there's really only the feeling of "Geez, I wonder when they will make a cameo appearance or become part of the main cast again" and that's not a good thing.

The writing does manage to keep things twisty and turny in a way that is compelling. This is a aspect of the show that keeps it easily entertaining. The new plot-line in Season 5 around the doppelganger of Stefan (or is it the other way around?), or "shadow self" in the form of Silas certainly keeps things interesting. Silas is one of the more intense bad guys of the show and while Silas appears as if Stefan (as is performed by the same actor), the differences between characters is huge. The same can be said for the continuing story-line of the other double, the seemingly identical look-alike Katherine (who continues to look the same as Elena, but also is nothing like her). In Season 5, Katherine turns from a vampire to a human (as the sole recipient of the long-sought vampire cure), and things are complicated because of it. Seeing the way that actors Nina Dobrev and Paul Wesley handle these scenes is part of the fun, and it's an amazingly procifient example of the benefits of quality film editing to see the scenes where characters have interactions with one another as played by the same actor. (Apparently, dual-scene filming from one actor for multiple parts is all in a day's work at The Vampire Diaries!)

The production values of The Vampire Diaries are surprisingly strong for such a modest budget television production. The special effects are always minimally utilized so that when there are effects on the show they can count as something extra special. The efforts from the team that works on this show really impresses. The cinematography remains a constant things; always showcasing both the bright and dark elements of the storylines. The costumes fit with these performers well. The make-up department has their work cut out for them at times, and are capably bringing forth the supernatural elements to the show. The locations and sets are all noteworthy, from the home of the Salvatore brothers to the Mystic Grill (which somehow manages to keep finding its way into the show as everyone's favorite eatery).

Considering relatively lower production costs compared to other network television series, it's a very well produced creation that continues to impress with what the creator and producers have to work with. If I have a major complaint about the production budget affecting the series in a more negative way, it's in the way the series becomes dark and unnecessarily gross/disturbing at times. This aspect seems heightened (especially in the later seasons) and it seems like too much for a network TV-14 series at times. Hopefully the writer's and director's can learn to tone this down as it's one of the major drawbacks of the show at times.

Where will The Vampire Diaries head to next? That question seems like a constant one amid everything that happens on the series. One could call it a "page-turner", though the fact it's a television series (and not a book... well, in this instance), makes it more akin to the kind of production one would want to marathon-view to get to the next episode and chapter of the storyline. The series remains as entertaining as always but it 's time for the writers to look towards wrapping up the story. At this point, The Vampire Diaries needs an end in sight to continue to be the well-made show it is and hopefully some Mystic Falls magic can happen between the network and writers so things can wrap up successfully and the show can try it's hand at immortality through syndication (rather than eventually end up cancelled after twelve seasons and with a lackluster conclusion that (pardon the impending pun) lacks 'bite').

The Blu-ray:


Video:

The Vampire Diaries arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded image by WB. The series remains as impressive visually as it has been from the first season of the show. It fluctuates in cinematography between having intensely dark visuals and more bright, colorful, and clean high definition imagery that shows all the signs of being a slick, well produced show. The series presentation remains a strong constant and offers good detail throughout. This series looks impressive during most every scene of its run and it continues to look stellar here: this is a series that absolutely should be seen in HD and on Blu-ray as it comes from a HD filming source with a 2K digital intermediate. Minor issues can be found with series black levels during some of the nighttime scenes (which is almost assuredly source related as such issues can be found with HD production equipment) but this doesn't detract much from an otherwise fantastic high def presentation.

Audio:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is almost as good as the visual quality. The show manages to impress with a dynamic and well designed surround sound mix. Every time there happens to be an action sequence or party scene (and other settings/scenes in which one can expect bombastic audio) it delves into good separation between the channels, and has a nice, refined presentation quality that is not always found on television productions. As to what is most important - dialogue - the series dialogue is easy to understand and generally crisp and clean. Music also sounds pretty good for the most part. It's hard to imagine most fans finding Vampire Diaries lossless sound quality as being less than impressive.


Extras:

The Vampire Diaries: Season 5 Blu-ray + DVD + HD Digital Copy Combo Pack includes the following supplements:

2013 Comic Con Panel (30 min.) is easily a highlight of the set. Creator/showrunner Julie Plec, staff writer Caroline Dries, and the cast members Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder, Candice Accola, and Kat Graham share in some comic-con fun with the audience and answer questions prior to the premiere of Season 5. The information given to audiences attending was a bit vague or brief (concerning the plot-lines and character related questions tossed to the writers) but it was clear everyone attending was having a good time and the humor was the highlight with a lot of silly jokes made by cast members.

I Know What You Did... in the Last 100 Episodes (10 min.) is a short featurette celebration with the cast and crew over the milestone achieved of reaching the series 100th episode. As with any television production, this is one of the largest milestones that can be reached. Once a series is capable of hitting 100 episodes it usually means larger syndication worldwide, a higher long term viewership, and that a series was a successful 'long-running' hit.

To The Other Side and Back (11 min.) covers some of the mythological ideas behind 'the other side', a mystical writer's lingo for the in-between ghost land where many of the characters that depart find themselves.  

A Day in the Afterlife (7 min.) is actually a brief behind-the-scenes rundown of filming with actress Kat Graham taking viewers on a filming tour.

Deleted Scenes are provided for seven episodes of the season. As per the norm, these are cut scenes edited out for time or for story reasons.

Second Bite: Gag Reel (5 min.) is a short comedic clip-show of goofed moments with the cast from during filming.

Final Thoughts:

The Vampire Diaries remains one of the most popular series on The CW network: the ratings show it as having the highest 18-49 demo (which garners higher advertising revenues), and it places second as the most watched show (just behind Arrow). So will the series end up being produced for as long as fellow-CW series Supernatural (or longer)? Or will it look towards a end-game which can wrap up many of the storylines for these characters?

I personally hope the series writers seek an ending. The series is a entertaining and edge-of-your-seat show during many episodes. However, the series also needs to bring some closure to many of the ongoing story-arcs its telling. Regardless of whether or not one hopes for the show to continue for several more seasons or just one (or two) more, the show is certainly one that viewers who have going along for the weekly ride will continue embracing and enjoying. Generally speaking, The Vampire Diaries is well-made television and there's a lot of it to recommend.

As to the quality of the Blu-ray release, the PQ/AQ presentation impresses and there is a decent (albeit small) selection of supplements to help tide fans over until the new season of the show premieres October 2nd. This release is absolutely worth a purchase for fans of The Vampire Diaries.

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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C O N T E N T

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A U D I O

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A D V I C E
Highly Recommended

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