Another great 1080i presentation? You’ve got to be kidding?! Having covered a fair few average-looking 1080p releases, I’m becoming more and more amazed by the results we’re getting from top quality TV releases given top quality HD presentation using only 1080i. The HBO productions Boardwalk Empire and Lady Gaga: The Monster Ball Tour – Madison Square Garden looked fantastic on Blu-ray in just 1080i High Definition. Both looked demo quality. And here we have the BBC’s Sherlock: Season 2 looking just as good; just like the first season.
Detail is great throughout, with resounding clarity that brings us fantastic fine object detail, strong definition and no signs of any overt edge enhancement or excessive DNR usage. Digital defects are non-existent, but for a hint of banding, and the colour schemes is well rendered with some beautiful vivid tones and strong, bright colour in amidst the more sombre London backgrounds. Skin tones are realistic, albeit perfected in a slightly saturated fashion; black levels are strong and allow for fantastic shadow detail.
It’s a modern, high-tech, bells-and-whistles kind of show which has a strong, almost Tony Scott-esque visual flair, all of which comes across in a stunning fashion with this surprisingly good HD presentation.
It’s a shame because, as strong as the 1080i video presentation is, despite its inherent technical limitations, the accompanying, also limited, standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track just does not have the potency required to deliver a fully immersive experience. That said, it works reasonably well, only invoking mild disappointment over the lack of a lossless tracks, rather than utter outrage. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, largely dominating the frontal array and standing head and shoulders above the rest of the elements – as is only appropriate for this kind of drama. The effects run from the whizzing tech sounds of Sherlock’s thought patterns to the occasional gunshot, body blow or howling beast, with a few more atmospheric moments standing out in terms of sound design and surround input. For the most part, however, it’s left to the boisterous, playful and frequently urgent score to maintain momentum – and thankfully that’s exactly what it does – throwing in both some welcome bass and some further surround and rear action to enhance your enjoyment of the piece. Not demo quality but not bad either, this is a good lossy track for material which had the potential to offer an excellent lossless experience.
Although not packed-to-the-brim with extra features, a couple of full-length Audio Commentaries and a Behind the Scenes Featurette still make for reasonably comprehensive background material. It’s just a bit of a mixed-opportunity because a cool high-tech Sherlock-style Picture-in-Picture track (even just a Trivia one) would have been perfectly in-line with the style of the series itself.
Audio Commentary on Episode 1: A Scandal in Belgravia comes with participation from Producer Sue Vertue, Co-creators / Co-writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, Actor Benedict Cumberbatch and Actress Lara Pulver (who plays Irene Adler). It’s at once great and immensely frustrating to hear from quite so many people because, whilst they are all – individually – welcome additions, as a group they offer little more than a gabbling cacophony. There are some interesting anecdotes, chat about Adler being embarrassingly naked on set, reflections on the locations used, the cast experiences, the difficulty in returning to the drama and the unexpected massive success of the show. They note several of the numerous references to other Conan Doyle tales (Watson’s blog, The Geek Interpreter, for example, being a reference to the story The Greek Interpreter), discussing their ideas and inspiration, and the intentions they had, whilst frequently digressing into meaningless but generally jovial chatter. This is probably a must-listen-track for fans, it’s just a shame that it feels so disjointed.
Audio Commentary on Episode 2: The Hounds of Baskerville features the participation of the same three contributors as the last Commentary – Vertue, Gatiss and Moffat, this time joined by guest actor Russell Toby. This is a much better effort because Toby largely takes it upon himself to quiz the two creators to get them to answer the kind of questions that fans would have loved to have asked. This offers up a huge amount of background into the original stories by Conan Doyle – the writer’s penchant for elaborate beginnings and contrived endings, and the sheer volume of work (56 novels and 4 short stories), as well as the ideas that they sourced for the series, as well as the numerous references and tiny moments that they pulled in too. Worth checking out first.
Sherlock Uncovered offers up a 20-minute Behind the Scenes look at the show, with plenty of interview snippets from the cast and crew reflecting on the popularity of the show, the direction they were taking it in, the difficulties they encountered adapting some of the stories and the fun they had returning to the show. It’s nice to have the majority of the Commentary contributors on board here so you can better identify them, and perhaps that leaves this being the first port of call on the extras front, although you will find a lot of crossover between this and the Commentaries, with lots of talk about the sources of inspiration, the original novels, the main characters like Moriarty and Irene Adler, and the cliffhanger climax.
The BBC’s modern day reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic master detective, Sherlock, remains some of the best viewing available on TV, a sharply-written, furiously stylish adaptation which is as playful and witty as it is tense and dramatic. This second season comes complete with no less than three psychopaths vying for your attention – including Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes himself, of course – and, just like the first season, wavers only in its middle episode, and is bookended by two standout offerings. Indeed the season premiere, A Scandal in Belgravia is possibly the best episode that we have had yet. If you love the character, don’t dismiss this as just another interpretation riding the coattails of Guy Ritchie’s successful theatrical reimagining of the classic super-sleuth – Sherlock stands apart as an equally respectful and equally imaginative variation on the material, and one which is just as good (or perhaps, as in the case of Ritchie’s marginally underwhelming second movie, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, actually better).
On Region B-locked UK Blu-ray we get excellent video presentation, in spite of the 1080i technical limitations, as well as solid audio and a few good extras – two Commentaries and a Featurette. Fans should definitely add this to their collection. In fact, anybody who likes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character, who enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s movie(s), or who basically just likes a good eccentric anti-social genius psychopath lead character (from House to Hannibal) should definitely pick this up. Indeed, those who are totally new to Sherlock should find the Season 1 and 2 boxset a competitively-priced way to get up-to-date with this excellent series.
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