Let’s face the facts: if you can provide a basic definition for the filmmaking technique known as machinima, chances are, you’re a nerd. You needn’t be worried or ashamed of this, though. By that very same logic, thanks to the creators of Red vs. Blue, the number of certifiable “nerds” has increased exponentially worldwide. Since the web-series turned web-phenomenon’s first season in 2003, people who wouldn’t be caught dead playing Settlers of Catan (don’t knock it until you try it) are able to fulfill the modest “geek requirement” established here. Be proud, Rooster Teeth Productions, you’ve helped insert nerdy tendencies into the mainstream’s sub-conscious. While the “dudes” (that’s right, we have a name for you guys to) who lack the type of versatility required to enjoy both the Ultimate Fighting Championship and things that don’t involve beating the hell out of other dudes may hate you for it, I couldn’t thank you enough. My review of Red vs. Blue Seasons 1-5 on DVD after the jump.
SEASON 1 – Why Are There Six Pedals If There Are Only Four Directions
The first season opens with a touch of existentialism and a ton of laughs. Beginning with the question, “Why are we here?,” the show introduces main characters Church, Tucker, and Caboose (the Blue Team); Simmons, Grif, Sarge, and Donut (the Red Team); everyone’s favorite talking tank Sheila, and Sarge’s right-hand robot soldier Lopez. While other characters certainly appear and help drive future stories, these are the main players and the series wastes no time introducing and establishing their unique personalities. The arc at play in the first season mainly revolves around introducing the characters and how they interact, displaying the parallels between the two eternal enemies (Red and Blue), and stopping Church’s mercenary ex-girlfriend Tex (armed with the violent computer virus O’Malley) from killing the entire population of Blood Gulch (never mind that the canyon includes only the characters already mentioned plus a couple of super important flags whose importance no one can explain). Please don’t be confused by the fact that we’re talking about a web-series that typically runs in four to five minute episodes. When edited together to form a feature length film, the season is ripe with continuity. With that in mind, perhaps the greatest achievement of season one (and future seasons for that matter) is that, overarching narrative in tact, individual episodes remain enjoyable as stand-alone shorts.
As for the disc’s bonus features, the season (along with Seasons 2-4) has been completely remastered from high-definition source files, features 2 audio commentaries (2003 and a revisited 2010 commentary), outtakes, PSA’s, and a special edition first episode that is re-shot within Halo 3 and begins with a nice intro about the show’s history. Of these, notables include the special edition first episode as well as a great point/counter-point PSA which weighs the cost-benefit ratio of getting a tattoo.
SEASON 2 – I’ve Never Heard a Grown Man Ask for So Many Piggy-Back Rides
The second season begins right where one left off while introducing a new character by the name of Doc (don’t let the name fool you, he’s really a medic). Story wise, the season follows both teams as they attempt to stop O’Malley which has now infected Caboose. In terms of writing and overall quality, season two is on par with season one. Highlights include an explanation of why CPR for a bullet wound to the head is the proper medical approach and coming to grips with the fact that your face versus hundreds of armor-piercing bullets isn’t exactly a fair fight.
The bonus section of the disc has many of the same features of season one with the addition of deleted scenes and recommended titles made up of the characters’ previous work. While the deleted scenes are nice to have, the real gem here are the recommended titles. With teasers for such films as Sheila’s Sexy Adventure: A Tank’s Erotic Journey, they are definitely worth checking out.
SEASON 3 – We’re Planting a VolleyBomb
If RvB ever hits a proverbial sophomore slump, it takes place in the show’s junior year. That’s not to say its unenjoyable or poorly executed, the narrative just becomes a little weighed down with time travel continuity issues as multiple-timeline Church’s attempt to reverse a deadly event from occurring. At times the season feels more focused on sending its characters backwards and forwards through time than providing the sharp dialogue and linear storytelling approach that made seasons one and two such resounding successes. Moreover, clocking in at around two hours and fifteen minutes, season three is the longest season in the box set. All of this said, the season still features some very solid material including the episode “We Must Rebuild” in which Grif astutely deconstructs zombie/disaster movie conventions in the wake of a disaster. Even when it loses its way, this type of incisive commentary makes the show worthy of every praise it receives.
Featuring a nearly identical set of bonus materials as season two, the always entertaining PSA’s have now been renamed “Special Videos” and the “Recommended Titles” have been replaced with “Coming Soon” titles. In my opinion, the class of the extras is a special video entitled “Real Life vs. the Internet,” in which the characters compare/contrast the difference between real-life interactions and their digital world counterparts.
SEASON 4 – I’m Just Glad I Brought My Mittens
The series returns to its spectacular form in its fourth season. Tucker gives birth to an alien, Grif is forced to compete in a competition he is ineligible for, Andy the talking bomb delightfully insults most everyone, and Caboose is well…Caboose (Note: this means he’s funny). From episode to episode, the show’s clever writing and linear narrative reasserts itself and flow as well as overall enjoyability benefits as a result. Speaking of clever writing, political undertones permeate the episode “The Hard Stop” as characters attempt to teach Tucker’s alien baby how to speak the sovereignly created English language. Such critiques constantly give the series depth and, though I doubt fans look to RvB for political advice, they are a huge part of the sharp writing that is integral to its success.
Save for an “Intermission” section consisting of peaceful audio/visual work, the bonus section returns the same features present in season three. Highlights here include an interesting commentary discussion in which the show’s director’s discuss each other’s achilles heel in regards to their work on the series. A special video entitled “Custom Videos” also stands out as characters create messages for fans to use (Note: you probably shouldn’t really use them) in their everyday lives.
SEASON 5 – If I Want God to Forgive Me, I Need to Be As Miserable As Possible
In its fifth and final season, Red vs Blue’s Blood Gulch Chronicles concludes in strong fashion. The season’s premiere episode “You Can’t Park Here” is one of the show’s best and the rest of the season follows suit. The appearance of Grif’s, shall we say, friendly sister provides plenty of laughs especially when an O’Malley-free Doc is forced to give her a basic physical exam. Other highlights from the season include a great critique of anti-drug messages in “Where Credit is Due” as well as a solid season finale which ties together the collection nicely while referring back to the show’s first episode. In case you haven’t noticed, my favorite part of the show (outside of seeing a ridiculous amount of creativity at work) is its awareness both internally and externally. While overarching themes of social and political commentary are not prerequisites for success, when delivered with a hilarious precision that lacks any sort of pretentiousness, it is always a welcomed addition to any creative output.
The disc’s bonus content includes many returning features while adding the six episode miniseries “Out of Mind” which follows Tex’s solo travels. Six alternate endings to the finale are available here as well. Highlights from the disc include the finale’s commentary in which the creators discuss the pressure of ending a series on a high-note and a hilarious movie theater etiquette special video.
There is enough elbow grease and headlight fluid here to keep you searching for the store for hours. More simply put (for those not familiar with my shameless show references), there are a ton of extras, with each disc containing its fair share and an entire sixth disc solely consisting of bonus content. Speaking of the sixth disc, it features a really cool year-by-year video diary of the show including a video of the very first dialog recording session. All in all, I feel comfortable saying that anything you’ve ever wanted to know about the series and its creators’ seemingly overnight success (according to the always reliable Wikipedia, the show garnered 20,000 downloads within its first day) is covered somewhere, at some point. My only complaint with the vast amount of materials is that some extras show up twice (i.e. once on a season disc and again on the bonus disc). Though, while inefficient, this is hardly a deal breaker. Overall, your potential knowledge of the series is limited only by what you feel like searching out within the six enclosed discs.
First and foremost, the show’s first 100 episodes are solid by most any criterion we humans like to judge. The writing is funny, smart, and doesn’t shy away from social and political subtext. The editing is consistent, well timed, and does a great job of unifying 100 little pieces into five feature films. The direction takes the story and action to the right place at the right time almost without exception (I’m looking at you season three). The sound design is above and beyond what should be expected of a “homemade web series,” and the music cues are always spot-on. Moreover, the fact that the first four seasons have been remastered makes even older episodes sparkle with pristine and clarity.
Finally, while those who already own the individually released seasons may not find the remastered first 77 episodes as well as a few extras worthy of a re-buy, if you’re a fan of the show, the Halo video game series, a well-executed comedy series in general, or (heaven forbid) machinima, you will not be disappointed. From beginning to end, it really is a nerd’s dream. And by our previous logic, this means the six-disc box set will make a lot of people really happy. Whether or not they want to admit it is another story.