Monday, August 5, 2013

DVD Review: Midsomer Murders Series 1

Midsomer Murders: Series 1 DVD 3-Discs (529 minutes)
Released by Acorn Media on July 30, 2013. SRP $59.99 (DVD)
Subtitles: English SDH Letterbox

One thing I am really happy about is that Acorn Media has re-released the first 5 Series of Midsomer Murders. Since I started to review this series, I have become enamored with it. I originally started much later on the series. I found it to be pretty incredible when I started to watch it but I was curious to see how the series started. I wanted to know more. This was my chance to do so.
This re-release of Series One may be one of the first times that the episodes had been released in UK broadcast order. I am not quite sure how they had been released before but I am a big fan of things being released the way they are intended to be seen. This is how it always should be in my opinion.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the beginning.  I wasn’t sure if this was a proper first episode (like a beginning to a story line) or if we were dipping into their lives. As it happens, we enter the lives of Barnaby and Troy as they begin to investigate….murder.
Just as I would have expected, there is no “beginning” story line to Barnaby; there is no introduction. We get “introduced” to Tom Barnaby the way we would see him n any episode of Midsomer Murders. I appreciated that. Tom Barnaby is such an underplayed character that I feel if any big deal was made of his introduction would have undermined the character. We get introduced to his wife and his daughter Cally. These are the same characters we see in the final Tom Barnaby episode, meaning that these actors nailed these characters right from the start. We also get introduced to Troy. Troy is Barnaby’s Detective Sergeant and although he is the original of Barnaby’s partners, he is new to me.

Right from the start, Barnaby is fairly rude to Troy. It is clear Barnaby loves to give his partner a hard time. Troy is like Jones (from when I started to watch the series) in a lot of ways because he is a nice guy but likes to use his “muscle” when he can to achieve results. For some reason, Troy also appears to be unable to drive very well. One of the ongoing gags of this series is that while Troy is driving, he almost nearly runs into or cuts off somebody much to Barnaby’s annoyance.
Series 1 consists of 5 stories. All of which achieve that level of darkness and quirkiness that sets Midsomer Murders apart all the while being set in gorgeous English villages and countryside. The crimes are never mundane. They center around something unique like art or the theatre. I think that’s what I like about it, they are not gritty crimes. There are other TV series around that do that very well and I do enjoy it but I also love watching people of high standing in Midsomer commit these crimes. I think that is what is some of the appeal to this series. The breakdown of the stories is as follows:

The Killings at Badger’s Drift: The first episode starts out with the murder of the elderly. The tone of the crimes and the reasons for them are very dark. I think of the quirkiness and humor of the series but in reality Midsomer Murders are very dark. A special guest in the first episode is Jessica Hynes but she goes by Jessica Stevenson in the credits of this episode. Speaking of names, neither Jane Wymark nor Laura Howard is listed in the opening credits as they are in later series.  I really enjoyed this first episode mainly as I said above, after watching only the later series after nearly a year this shows that the same quality has always been in this series. This is really enjoyable.
Written in Blood: This is a unique story about Barnaby and Troy investigating the murder of a writer after what is essentially a book club meeting.  The episode starts off with some amazing shots of a farm land in Ireland. This is what I love about this series is that so much of it is shot on location and is just beautiful. In this episode even more so than the first is remembering how wonderful and important the incidental music is to the entire production. Jim Parker does an amazing job with the music. It is haunting and dare I say it, quirky. I apologize as I have already used that word multiple times in this review but I feel it sticks.

In this episode we have David Troughton, Una Stubbs and Joanna David who was also in Lillie. There is a fun side plot that involves Cully leaving town and forcing Tom and Joyce to take care of her cat named Killmouseki. Cute! Once again to prove my point, murder in this series doesn’t come from everyday criminals but people who are thought to be more refined. There is snobbery amongst writers and it eventually turns deadly. I did find that the ending wasn’t great as it got a little convoluted but I will let you decide.
Death of a Hollow Man: This is a episode that actually is written by the woman who the series is based from Caroline Graham.  Once again we find the Barnabys taking part in the community. This is something I have noticed about Tom & Joyce. They always took part in the Midsomer community. This is more so than I have seen of John Barnaby in the episodes I have seen of him so far.

As mentioned other places and I will, I’m sure mention it again, I really like how these plots take place around modes of art but this also features something else I find as an interesting topic, religious artifacts like statues. One is stolen at the beginning of the episode. Someone is also murdered at the beginning of the episode too and I was hugely mistaken because it looked like Sir Derek Jacobi. Wow! They got Sir Derek Jacobi to be in an episode of Midsomer Murders. No, it was a woman and I need glasses!
As we have established, Sir Derek Jacobi is not in this but Bernard Hepton playing a great role of the great director Harold Winstanley who is more of a prima donna and a bully than a director.  Although I felt the episode sometimes was a little long-winded and oddly paced, the plot seemed to take forever to get going, I thought the ending was a nice surprise and very graphic. Not visually graphic but mentally so. Not done in a way to show they could do gore but done to victims in a sad way. This episode is one of the highlights of the set.

Faithful Unto Death: I love these titles. I can really see this title plastered onto a book cover. Once again as Tom & Joyce Barnaby take part in the splendor of a local fete, a problem breaks out. Some residents of Morton Fendle are going to lose money in the local mill that they have invested in for some time. Suddenly the wife of the mill owner Alan Hollingsworth is kidnapped. There isn’t murder to start with but it comes. There are some great twists in this episode. In fact, it may be one of my favourite episodes of this set.
To start with you get the voice of the book from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Peter Jones plus Tessa Peake-Jones who played Raquel in Only Fools and Horses.

Death in Disguise: This is the first of the commune episodes. They always seem a little out of touch to me. Like all of the people are off-versions of hippies. There are a couple of nice comedy moments with Barnaby. In the beginning of the episode he is in the kitchen cleaning a fish when May Cuttle comes to the house to tell him about a murder. She is always bothering him so he hides in the living room taking the fish with him. Then when he was talking to Ian Craigie, Tom mentions his wife had therapy sessions with Ian. Twelve sessions at 20 quid a pop. He mentions this a couple of times almost under his breathe which is even funnier! It’s a fun final episode to a wonderful first series!

This set has some of the usual types of Acorn Media extras such as Production Notes and Midsomer Map. It does say on the packaging “Now with SDH subtitles” so apparently it wasn’t there before? As I mentioned elsewhere I like extras but for a series like Midsomer Murders, I am happy with just having the episodes to watch.
Quality and Packaging:

Although I haven’t seen it, I would assume that the picture quality is the same as it has been since its first release on DVD. Each episode has an A&E ident at the end of it which I appreciate. Now, I am not trying to say the quality is bad. It is perfectly acceptable. I am just saying that I am pretty sure this is the same quality as it always has been.
As for the packaging. All 5 episodes are on 3 discs so it is compacted together. It is housed in a single sized Amary DVD case that can hold 3 discs. Seeing that they have re-released in this wave the first 5 episodes, it would be easy to assume that the others will be coming out this way. I love the cover for this. There is a design on the cover. The inset is the Midsomer Murders logo and on top of the design is a silhouette of a country village but on the bottom side is a noose, an axe and other sharp objects. Very clever and striking. I like the look of it.

Disc Breakdown:
Disc 1: The Killings at Badger’s Drift, Written in Blood
Disc 2: Death of a Hollow Man, Faithful Unto Death
Disc 3: Death in Disguise

I love this series. I was hoping to be allowed to review Series 2-5 too since they have also been released but was not given the opportunity but I was greedy. There was no need for me to review them other than to watch the episodes I have not seen. I plan on buying the other sets as I enjoy this series too much not too. If you haven’t seen it, this Series 1 set is the perfect excuse to give it a try.
Next review: So many reviews, so little time! I am suspending regular articles on British television until I get caught up with my reviews which includes: Midsomer Murders Set 22 and Smiley’s People Blu Ray. Plus some Doctor Who titles: The Green Death, the animated episodes to The Ice Warriors and Spearhead from Space on Blu Ray. Incidentally, I have 3 copies of that I will be giving away soon!

Have a great week!

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