Starts with a bang and continues on the same footing
Black Sails Review
Black Sails does for pirates what Spartacus did for Gladiators!Not that they needed it; pirates have always been cool. Tonight’s feature is billed as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island, being that it's set some twenty years before the events of the book; but other than containing some of the characters (Flint, Silver, Billy Bones etc.) and is about pirates, that's where the similarity ends. The first season saw Cap’n Flint ruthlessly searching for the Spanish treasure galleon Urca de Lima, costing lives, his reputation and eventually his ship in the process. Season two picks up immediately after these events and goes further into Flint’s psyche, his drive for power and the burgeoning relationship between him and (Long-John) Silver. There's also the island of Nassau, the pirate stronghold, and it’s quest for independence or ‘war against the world’.Not content with landing these fictional characters in real events, there are also a plethora of real life historical pirates in the show; the likes of Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Charles Vane and, introduced in the second season, Ned Low. It is the skill of the writers that interweaves the fiction with the truth, something that is becoming a staple for TV shows nowadays, to create a powerful and engrossing story. Of course, coming from the same studio that brought us the mighty Spartacus, you can expect gratuitous nudity and gore – and you won’t be disappointed. But without identifiable characters or a plot to hang them to the show would fail; and whilst the first season did flounder slightly, the second season starts with a bang and continues on the same footing.
Blu-ray Picture QualityThe discs present a broadcast correct aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with a 1080p/24 transfer using the AVC codec and are Region Free.
Shot digitally and in gaudy colour, the image quality is stunning in its replication. Detail is, in places, remarkable to behold. Facial textures, whiskers, wrinkles, dirt and grime, scars, pores; everything is absolutely pristine. Check out the opening shot of episode two, Billy tied to the beach, look at the resolution of the sand grains on his feet and hands – now that is some of the best 3D pop I’ve ever seen! Checkout how worn and tattered the clothing can be, but detail is not limited to close ups, check out the vistas over the island of Nassau, how the trees and buildings stand out from the sky line. The decks of the ships have ingrained dirt in the wood, whilst maps and book coverings look aged; truly incredible detail throughout.
Some of the best 3D pop I’ve ever seen
Contrast and brightness are set to give stunning, deep blacks that create incredible depth within the frame and really add a punch to the picture. Night time or, more often than not, below decks show some incredibly rich blacks, that hold shadow detail when called for, but are also not afraid to be completely impenetrable and never clip nor descent into noise. Digitally there are no compression issues, no edge enhancement and aside from the blink and you miss it banding nothing to spoil the view. Original print, being digital, is pristine. A stunning picture.
Blu-ray Sound QualityChoose from English dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround or LPCM 2.0; I opted for the surround – and I’m glad I did. Much like Master and Commander, there is every effort made to add a surround ambience when on ship; wood creaking, wind blowing through the rigging, waves slapping the side, men about their duties, each and every nuance can be discernible within the mix – it’s like being there. And I’ve seldom heard such tight and well controlled bass unless in big budget blockbusters – indeed there were moments of pure ‘Skadoosh’ bass, normally between battling/sinking/grappling ships, though cannon shots come a close second threatening to take the roof off. Truly awesome stuff. The score from the awesome Bear McCreary (making full use of period instruments), again, makes full use of the surround environment and is extremely well layered into the mix. Dialogue is clear and precise, given directionality when needed and sounds perfectly natural. In fact there is nothing to fault here!
Blu-ray ExtrasUnfortunately none.
Black Sails Blu-ray VerdictSeason two of Black Sails continues on immediately after the climatic end of the first - necessitating a viewing of that first season to fully understand and appreciate the characters, their arcs and where the story is heading towards. But whereas the first season took time to find its sea legs, the second has no such worries. Flint (Toby Stephens) is the star of the show, and runs his ship and crew like no other. Unlike the usual myths about pirates, the show goes to great pains to show their real life and the hard working, democratic nature aboard ship. However, with the introduction of (real life character) Ned Low, a totally ruthless and brutal captain, the show takes a sharp left turn and becomes all the better for the fictional tales it weaves into the historical events it portrays.
Being wonderfully shot with incredible looking scenery and purpose built ships there is a great deal of authenticity to the show, the real life characters and events add tremendously towards that; and the use of flashbacks to further fill in the gaps of character motivations, plus the added bonus of blood and boobs makes this a show to be reckoned with. It hits hard. Perhaps the only issue is that of history, or more precisely Treasure Island, in that we ‘know’ where these characters are going to end up and that can, at times, remove some of the jeopardy to the skilfully crafted situations; doesn’t remove the fact that it is still one balls to the wall drama though; doesn’t quite have the weight or power of Spartacus (whom it is clearly trying to emulate) but its damn close!
This is one balls to the wall drama
As a Blu-ray package Black Sails both succeeds and fails, with a bare bones release that has a reference picture and sound. The picture is simply stunning in terms of detail, colour reproduction and black level; whist the sound is utterly awesome having an absorbing surround experience and a bass level the rival the very best demo discs around. Unfortunately the set does not contain any extras, which is a shame, but with a series this enjoyable and picture and with sound this good, who needs ‘em?
You can buy Season 2 of Black Sails on Blu-ray here
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