They figured out a way to make Seagal thin! Squash the image!
Wow, I really never thought it would get to this stage but the big guy has been particularly... erm... big recently, so much so that it appears the producers on his TV show True Justice have decided that, rather than ask the guy to lose some weight – or get in shape – they’ll just squash the image to make him look thinner. Funnily enough it actually works. Well, for all of about six seconds, and then you wonder: “What’s wrong with this picture?” A few seconds later and you realise: “Ah, they squashed it”. Then, upon realising that it doesn’t happen in every scene, you might ask: “Is it a mistake?” A few minutes later and it will dawn on you – there’s one common denominator to every single scene which has been horizontally squashed: Seagal.
It’s an all-time low in terms of this TV show and, more than any other I’ve come across, this show has had some truly bad treatment already. First, it was released – before it was aired – as a series of straight to DVD movies. Each two separate episodes were spliced together into one ninety-minute ‘feature’. The ‘movies’ were then released in the wrong order, so there was absolutely no chance of continuity to the character and story arcs. Somehow, unfathomably, and despite this terrible treatment, the show received a second season (indeed there are rumours about a third too!) which was – surprise surprise – treated even worse. The first episode of the second season was released before the penultimate episode of the first season. The first episode of the second season was also given about four different names, just to add confusion to the chaos.
Now we get to Blood Alley, promoted as the second double-episode in the second season. This will be the first time in the entire history of the show that an instalment has been released in the correct chronological order. If Violence of Action – next month’s release – follows suit then it may be that finally this show is being released correctly (after the calamity with last season).
All of this is by the by though, to be honest, you can forgive next to anything they do to this TV show if you’re a fan of it, or of Seagal. It’s alright. The story is decent enough, the villain is better than most (at least for the first episode), the sex trade theme is always both tragic and compelling, and the action – whilst atypically involving plenty of long-range sniping – is fairly good. It wouldn’t really compare to anything else on TV – or straight to DVD – but it’s watchable and even engaging for those who’ve been following True Justice for the past season-and-a-bit. No, there’s nothing about the incorrect chronology of the preceding releases that ruins this instalment – the only fatal flaw comes from the presentation. I mean, how did the producers not realise that this show was going to look cheap? When was the last time you watched a film or TV show where the image had been squashed to make the lead actor look thinner??
Attempting to get past this cheap visual trickery, the tortured, ever-forgiving followers of the True Justice TV show will find this to be quite an engaging little tale, with Seagal’s new team on the trail of a group of sex traffickers-with-a-twist. Yes, it appears that the bodies of these women aren’t just destined for the sex trade, but actually illegal human organ trafficking. With a contact on the inside, the race is on to stop the next ‘operation’, but can Seagal’s new and old team-mates put aside their differences to get the job done?
There are a number of things that Seagal’s Blood Alley does right. Firstly, it manages to add a welcome twist to the standard sex-trade tales – compelling as they might be on their own, they are further enhanced here but the organ-trading twist. Secondly, it establishes quite a creepy-looking, menacingly understated villain in the surgeon who conducts the organ-cultivating procedures. Thirdly, it adds an extra quality to the standard shoot-out finale, with Seagal taking a long-range stance and sending gun-toting enemies flying across the screen with the impact of his shots.
Unfortunately, even though these are nice ideas, they are not wholly effective – the villain is brilliant for the first episode, but then, as soon as he opens his mouth and starts whimpering his way through the second episode, he becomes such a cowardly weasel that it ruins any chance of a satisfying face-off with Seagal; and the sniping shoot-out is nice, but it does rob the finale of the usual bone-crunching conclusion Seagal has become known for.
Still, there are a couple of nice little fights strewn over the runtime, both of which showcase Seagal’s new and more brutal attitude towards fight scenes, even if they don’t impress as much as the second season premiere stand-off against the villain from the first season (though Seagal does use that same odd skull-cracker weapon he had there). Seagal is on reasonable form – obviously visually benefitting from having been artificially ‘thinned’ although, in one hilarious scenes, his stagnant pose makes him look like nothing more than a head which has been cut-and-pasted into a scene (it’s the bit where he’s sitting in his car, his body not moving an inch, and his head simply rotating slightly back and forth). I just don’t get why he couldn’t have lost a little weight, as opposed to requiring visual trickery to make him seem slimmer... hell, if you look at the comparison shots opposite (the top head-shot has been vertically stretched, the second one is the correct shape), you may be of the opinion that he doesn’t even look bad enough to warrant squishing in the first place. Sure, he’s big, but why go to all that trouble, distort the image and confuse viewers, just to make him look a little thinner, healthier?
Character development? Well, if you’ve been following these characters then you know that development comes in baby steps across the season. Unfortunately we appear to have missed a step, finding ourselves some way down the line, with the new guys established and now vying for position alongside Sarah, the girl Seagal’s Elijah Kane brought with him to join his new team. One other old member pops up to provide an interesting twist in the overall arc, but unfortunately the tragic revelation never has all that much impact; Seagal’s slow-burning quest to find the people who killed his team-members in last season’s finale is likely not going to resolve itself until the end of this season.
I always thought True Justice would be more of a stop-gap between bigger projects, but it appears that this is just about as high-profile as Seagal is going to get at the moment. Sure, he’s done a new movie, Maximum Conviction – cleverly making the decision to partner up with WWE wrestler-turned-action-hero Steve Austin (The Expendables, Recoil) – but it’s still going straight-to-DVD, and, until he signs on for an Expendables sequel, we’re unlikely to see Seagal back on the screen again anytime soon (if ever). True Justice at least gives his fans regular viewing material, but it’s just a shame that – in spite of the fact that it just keeps getting renewed (a third season is rumoured to have been commissioned) – they can’t seem to treat it with any semblance of respect when it comes to releasing it on home formats. I know this isn’t A-grade material but, come on, show some respect for the fans that still pay good money for these titles.
Fans of True Justice will definitely want to add this chapter to their collection. I’m sure many will be more forgiving about the image-squashing that has been applied to shrink Seagal’s ever-burgeoning girth, but I’m just worried that it won’t only be these episodes that are so afflicted, and that the rest of the entire season will have been shrunk in order to make Seagal look thinner. Could they screw up this TV series any worse?
For those who want a clearer list of the episodes and their confusing release schedule (don’t ask me what happened to Season One, episode 13), then this is the order in which they have been released on Blu-ray, complete with the relevant review links to my earlier reviews:
1. Deadly Crossing (Season One, episodes 1 and 2)
2. Street Wars (Season One, episodes 5 and 6)
3. Dark Vengeance (Season One, episodes 3 and 4)
4. Lethal Justice (Season One, episodes 7 and 8)
5. Urban Warfare (Season One, episodes 11 and 12)
6. Soldier of Vengeance (Season Two, episodes 1 and 2)
7. Death Riders (Season One, episodes 9 and 10)
8. Blood Alley (Season Two, episodes 3 and 4)
9. Violence of Action (Season Two, episodes 5 and 6)
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