DEFIANCE: Season 1 Blu-Ray Synopsis
It’s 2046 and over 30 years have passed since aliens arrived, changing life on Earth forever. In the frontier town of Defiance, a drifter-turned-lawkeeper, Nolan (Grant Bowler, “True Blood”) and Mayor Rosewater (Julie Benz, “Dexter”) attempt to lead the human and alien residents through the prejudices and politics that threaten the fragile peace they’ve fought for.
The Sci-Fi/SyFy channel has, over the past decade or so, been the bastion of some great original science fiction programming; Battlestar Galactica, Stargate SG1, Caprica, and Farscape to name some of the more illustrious offerings. The latest to join the roster is Defiance. The show has a solid pedigree, Scott Stewart (Legion, Priest) directed the pilot and Michael Taylor (Battlestar Galactica) is showrunner along with Rockne O’Bannon, the man behind one of my favorite TV shows, Farscape.
Defiance occurs in our near future, where an alien coalition attack Earth, destroying all major cities and most of the populace. They attempt to terraform the planet to their needs before mankind fights back, destroying their ships and stranding them on the planet. The show is set 30+ years after the invasion, in the independent frontier town of Defiance, located amongst the remnants of St. Louis. Here, a peace accord was struck between the warring races and now they live together in a tentative alliance. The show deals with the inner turmoil and political maneuvering of different factions as well as threats from outside including raiders, alien attack and the attempts of the new Earth government to seize control of Defiance and its valuable mineral deposits that resulted from the partial terraforming of the planet.
The setup for the series is a interesting one and offers huge scope for characters, cultures and conflicts. The town of Defiance itself marks a spot where the races all set aside their differences and realized they needed to work together in this new world. Obviously it’s not as smooth sailing as that and the show juggles the setup quite well. The original alien invaders were made up of six different races so there is internal strife amongst the aliens as well as conflict between the human residents too. Old cultural traditions, formerly subjugated races becoming free, caste systems… these all come to the fore. There is a merging of high-tech storylines and more simple frontier tales. We have plots dealing with mayoral elections, an alien gangster seeking legitimacy and power, a Romeo and Juliet-esque scenario between the kids of two rival families, reformed world Governments seeking to gain control, a young alien starting to experience prophetic visions, and an ongoing plot arc with buried alien tech underneath Defiance itself.
The show is reminiscent of Firefly or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. We have a hodgepodge of cultures, creatures, technology and aesthetics. The breadth of characters and backstories allow the show to feel huge in scope. The cast will be familiar to many, Grant Bowler (True Blood, Ugly Betty) takes the lead as Lawkeeper Joshua Nolan with Tony Curran (Doctor Who, Underworld: Evolution) as an alien businessman/criminal type Datak Tarr and Julie Benz (Desperate Housewives, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Mayor Rosewater rounding off the main cast. Supporting players include Jaime Murray (Dexter), Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves, Northern Exposure) and the rather impressive Stephanie Leonidas, one of the younger stars on the show playing the alien Irisa who has a lot of the ongoing plot thrust upon her and copes with it admirably. The whole cast is pretty solid. However, at times some clunky dialogue bogs down performances. There is a lot of backstory for all the characters and with only a 12 episode season, some development and breathing room is lacking at times.
Where else does the show falter? As mentioned, the writing sometimes lacks any real finesse. It is unsurprising given the complexity of the world we are in but still should be handled and delivered better. There is a lot of exposition and I have to use the word ‘clunky’ again to drive it home. The realization of this world varies, the opening credits and some CGI work is beautiful, however at times the sleek futuristic tech looks overly fake. There are times when alien technology has more of a gritty/steampunk look and this is far more successful. Having never been to St. Louis I cannot comment on the authenticity of some of the buildings/locations appropriated and used but we have an effective future view of the city, resembling more shanty town/frontier outpost than what it is today.
The show exudes a sense of comfortable familiarity, in both plots and characters, which is both a good and bad thing. With its depth, it needed to be made accessible but that familiarity may not grip people who feel they have seen it all before. The show takes some time to move from the conventional sci-fi plots and develop the people and universe they created. This is when it really works: the fallout from the invasion, how the world has responded, and so on.There is enough substance and potential there to develop something fascinating and I hope they do rather than rely on old tropes. Defiance can surprise with ongoing plot arcs that take interesting turns. Unexpected interactions and deaths are used successfully but then a lazy piece of writing can undo the good faith and investment garnered from the moments which go against convention.
Defiance needs to push the envelope and take more risks. It is a rich world and they shouldn’t be afraid to explore it. If the showrunners and writers figure out how to ‘stick the landing’, they may be able to craft something special here rather than just a solid yet unspectacular show.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the show, and what is being heavily pushed in promotional material, is that it is the “first-ever convergence of television and a multi-platform video game”. That is, an online game is available where missions/quests allow the player to be involved in events occurring within the show “as they evolve together into one overall story”. I have not played the game so can only comment on how I feel it has impacted the show itself.
In the digital age all our devices are becoming more and more interconnected so one day this may be more commonplace and is perhaps something that should probably be applauded for its effort, just not necessarily for its implementation. I’ve been greatly irritated in the past when some shows (I’m looking at you Battlestar) create webisodes/mini episodes for online viewers. If you’re going to tell a story, I want focus, I don’t want some hazy marketing ploy to try and drag in a few extra dollars. I concede there are times when people need to tell more of a story. In an online gaming world, you are limited by some of the stories you can tell purely from a gaming mechanics point of view in order to maintain the immersive experience. Some of the episodes of the show clearly felt like they were generic storylines seen in science fiction previously or were limited or very abruptly introduced. Had I not been aware of this ongoing digital adventure I would have put it down to clunky derivative writing but the real truth may be a compromise over the direction and integrity of the show to support it’s online sibling. It will be interesting to see how this approach pans out in the future, I suspect the character development, essential to a show and one of Defiance’s strongest points will have to take precedence at some point.
With regards to the Blu-ray itself, the transfer is very nice, with crisp visuals. Filming newer shows in HD seems to benefit this rapid turnaround and release. The sound quality is nothing spectacular but dialogue is clear. The actual music on the show is very nicely done, handled by the talented Bear McCreary who has previously worked on Battlestar Galactica (spectacularly so) and currently contributes to the ongoing The Walking Dead. Extras feature the usual deleted scenes and gag reel. There is a short ‘making of’ documentary showing some interesting aspects of the show, notably the CGI/green screen work and how it’s interwoven with old St. Louis. We also have a fairly banal ‘behind the scenes/day in the life of’ with one of the young stars of the show, Jesse Rath. Glimpses at practices for a fight scene, ADR sessions, chats with cast, and makeup sessions are included but are pretty unspectacular. The Blu-Ray offers plenty of content show-wise but the extras are a little lacking.
In a time where crappy reality TV is both cheap and dominates the ratings, it is commendable for any channel to pursue original and challenging programming. This Blu-ray set offers a solid package for fans and those interested in checking out the show alike. Defiance is ambitious at times and stumbles occasionally, but offers enough to fans of science fiction to entertain. And the first season suggests there is potential for the future to win over more critical viewers. I hope this fairly solid beginning creates a basis for them to build on and they have the courage to push things with the future seasons rather than go down the more well-trodden paths these shows can sometimes take.
The Blu-Ray set is available on October 15th, 2013. Amazon links to this and related sets are below.
From the Press Release:
FROM THE PRODUCERS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, CAPRICA AND FARSCAPE COMES
“DEFIANCE”: SEASON ONE
AVAILABLE OCTOBER 15, 2013 ON BLU-RAY™ AND DVD EACH WITH DIGITAL INCLUDING ULTRAVIOLET™ WITH NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN BONUS CONTENT FROM UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOME ENTERTAINMENT
Universal City, California, July 23, 2013 — Combining epic scope with the intrigue of a small-town drama comes “Defiance”: Season One, the critically acclaimed action-packed tale of courage and survival. “Defiance”: Season One will be available to own on Blu-ray™ and DVD, each with Digital including Ultraviolet™ with collectible lenticular packaging for a limited time only on October 15, 2013 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
“Defiance”: Season One is the first-ever convergence of television and a multi-platform video game, featuring an interconnected world between the two mediums as they evolve together into one overall story. It’s 2046 and over 30 years have passed since aliens arrived, changing life on Earth forever. In the frontier town of Defiance, a drifter-turned-lawkeeper, Nolan (Grant Bowler, “True Blood”) and Mayor Rosewater (Julie Benz, “Dexter”) attempt to lead the human and alien residents through the prejudices and politics that threaten the fragile peace they’ve fought for. Watch every riveting episode back to back and uninterrupted, with exclusive bonus content including deleted scenes and exclusive featurettes that delve inside this incredible new world.
Also starring Stephanie Leonidas (MirrorMask), Tony Curran (Gladiator), Jaime Murray (“Warehouse 13”), Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves), and Mia Kirshner (“The L Word”), “Defiance”: Season One will introduce you to “a vibrant new world” (Meredith Woerner, iO9.com).
“Defiance”: Season One is executive produced by Kevin Murphy (“Desperate Housewives,” “Caprica,” “Hellcats”), who also serves as showrunner, Michael Taylor (“Battlestar Galactica”) and Rockne O’Bannon (“Farscape”). Scott Stewart (“Legion,” “Priest”) directed the pilot; Michael Nankin (“Battlestar Galactica”) will serve as supervising producer/director on the series. “Defiance”: Season One is produced by Universal Cable Productions.
Blu-ray™ disc unleashes the power of your HDTV and is the best way to watch movies at home, featuring perfect hi-def picture and hi-def sound. Digital including UltraViolet™ is a revolutionary new way for fans to collect their movies and TV shows in the cloud. UltraViolet™ lets consumers instantly stream and download to tablets, smartphones, computers and TVs.
EXCLUSIVE BONUS FEATURES (BLU-RAY™ and DVD): DELETED SCENES GAG REEL DEFIANCE: A Transmedia Revolution — Bring the worlds of TV and gaming together MAKING DEFIANCE
BEHIND THE SCENES WITH JESSE RATH — An inside look on the set of “Defiance”
TECHNICAL INFORMATION — BLU-RAY™: Street Date: October 15, 2013 Copyright: 2013 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved. Selection Number: 61127281 (U.S.), 61127282 (CAN) Running time: 9 Hours 32 Minutes Layers: BD-50 Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen Rating: N/A Languages/Subtitles: English SDH
Sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
TECHNICAL INFORMATION — DVD: Street Date: October 15, 2013 Copyright: 2013 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved. Selection Number: 61124788 (U.S.), 61126099 (CAN) Running time: 9 Hours 32 Minutes Layers: Dual Layer Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen Rating: N/A Languages/Subtitles: English SDH
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1