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Featured TV on DVD Review: Under the Dome

November 5th, 2013

Under the Dome - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray, or Blu-ray: Limited Collector's Edition

Under the Dome is a book written by Stephen King in 2009. Reviews for the book were really good and it wasn't long before talk of an adaptation was in work. Since the book was so massive, it was clearly going to have to be a mini-series, but that's where things get a little complicated.

The Show

Actually, now that I think of it, "Complicated" is probably the best word to describe this show. There is a metric boatload of characters and you literally can't even get to the end of the first episode before it becomes impossible to talk about the plot without running into spoilers. The best I can do is give the set-up and talk about the characters as we are introduced to them.

The series takes place in a small town in Maine, but anyone who has read any books by Stephen King could have guessed that. The first person we meet is Dale "Barbie" Barbara, who is in the woods digging a shallow grave, in which he buries the body of a man. Next up we meet Deputy Linda as she wakes up Duke, the police chief. At Rose's diner, we meet Big Jim Rennie, who is a used car salesman and a politician, so that's a double-cliché of slimy. His son, Junior (Alexander Koch), is love with Angie, but Angie doesn't feel the same way. (She thinks their relationship is just a summer fling.) He doesn't handle rejection well. Julia Shumway is an investigative journalist who gets a tip from Andrea Grinnell, who has been seeing a lot of propane delivery trucks making deliveries, so she first called the sheriff, but he brushed it off. However, she thinks Duke sounded nervous, so she called the newspaper to get someone to look into it. Mrs. Grinnell thinks it could be related to terrorists. Julie agrees to look into it, and to leave Mrs. Grinnell's name out of it.

At this point, we get back to Barbie, who is trying to get out of town and is talking to someone on the phone. When the cops pass him, he gets really nervous and because he's distracted, he doesn't see the cows in the road till its too late. One accident later, and he's stuck. He doesn't have long to ponder his next move when he hears a low rumble and the ground starts to shake and, well, not to spoil anything, but a giant invisible dome descends over the town. (On a side note, as soon as I saw the cows, I knew the dome was about to come down and it was going to split a cow down the middle, lengthwise because that would look cooler. I was right.) Joe, who turns out to be Angie's brother, sees the accident and goes to help. The pair are among many in the town who try and figure out what's going on. We learn that all of the land lines are dead, sound can't travel through the dome, no radio signals can make it, much to the liking of the DJ on the town's only radio station, Phil Bushey (Nicholas Strong), although his engineer, Dodee (Jolene Purdy), is much more concerned with what's going on than she is concerned about ratings. The final people we meet are a lesbian couple, Carolyn Hill and Dr. Alice Calvert, who are just driving through on their way to drop their daughter, Elinore "Norrie" Calvert-Hill, to a special camp for delinquent children of rich parents when the dome dropped. They nearly run into it, but while they are in shock, Norrie has a seizure and repeats the phrase, "The Pink stars are falling in lines." This is a line we later hear Joe saying while he's having a seizure.

I'm going to stop there, because we are getting into some serious spoilers beyond this point.

Under the Dome started out as a TV mini-series; however, the ratings were so strong that partway through its run, CBS decided to expand the show into a full series. I think this might have been a mistake. While the series has a great setup, the pilot is excellent, it became clear quite quickly that the quality level wasn't going to stay that strong very long. As more and more secrets are revealed and more twists are introduced, the show gets more confusing than compelling. Worse still, because the show had to be stretched out to two or more seasons instead of wrapped up in a set time frame, the pacing had to be slowed down. This resulted in more than a few episodes where the plot didn't seem to be advanced significantly. Without a clear story they could follow, it became clear that the writers no longer had a clear idea where the story would go and how it would get here. There have been too many shows, like Lost, where we had an implicit promise that the writers had a plan, but we later found out they were mostly winging it. I don't know if I can't watch another series and put that much time into trying to keep up with all of these plot threads, only to be disappointed in the end. The season finale certainly doesn't give me much hope.

The Extras

The first disc has a 29-minute long making of featurette, plus some launch promos. Discs two and three have deleted scenes. Disc four has the bulk of the extras, starting with a 12-minute look at Stephen King and the process it took to write the novel, while there is also a 15-minute featurette on how the novel was turned into a TV series. The World of "Under the Dome" is a 12-minute look at filming the series. There is a 30-minute recap of the first season and the themes that played out over the first 13 episodes. Up next are about a dozen by Joe. Finally, there's five minutes of outtakes.

The video and audio are good, for a TV show. It can't compare to a $100 million theatrical release, but the details and colors are mostly great. However, there are issues in darker scenes, as the shadows tend to swallow up details. The audio is likewise good for TV, but uncomplicated compared to most theatrical releases.

The Blu-ray only costs $5 or 17 % more than the DVD, which is a great deal for a TV on DVD release. You could also go wild and spend $80 on a collector's edition with a snow globe case.

The Verdict

Under the Dome starts out great, but the quality fluctuated throughout the first season and ends on a bit of a low note. If you liked the whole season, then the four-disc set is worth picking up. The DVD and the Blu-ray are worth the money for fans, but the Blu-ray: Limited Collector's Edition is just too much.

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Filed under: Video Review, Beth Broderick, Jeff Fahey, Stephen King, Rachelle Lefevre, Natalie Martinez, Samantha Mathis, Dean Norris, Mike Vogel, Britt Robertson, Colin Ford, Mackenzie Lintz, Aisha Hinds