Defiance: Season One [Blu-ray] (2013)

Actors: Grant Bowler, Julie Benz
Format: Blu-ray, Box set, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 3
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Universal Studios
DVD Release Date: October 15, 2013
Run Time: 559 minutes




Syfy makes an easy punching bag sometimes, with their ridiculous name, questionable programming decisions and inane made-for-cable movies that start and end with the titles. Yet below the derisive pro wrestling and insipid Sharknado variations, they've actually managed to put together some very respectable original series. BSG and SG-1 go without saying, but smaller shows like Warehouse 13 do quite well too. Defiance makes a modest addition to that list, a show of incredible ambitions that doesn't suffer for failing to achieve them. The effort itself carries merit in this case, and if it isn't always brilliant, it rarely fails to entertain.

Its biggest success comes in revealing just what you can achieve with CG these days, delivering an epic universe on a surprisingly modest budget. It places us in a future St. Louis, renamed Defiance in the wake of an alien invasion. In one of the series' better conceits, said invasion occurs not through extraterrestrial aggression, but from plain old-fashioned misunderstandings that quickly get out of hand.

Fifteen years later, we're looking at a different world. The terraforming weapons used (perhaps accidentally) in the war have drastically altered the landscape, and with a fragile peace, humans now live in guarded harmony with the inhumans among us. The heartland of America is now a new frontier, with isolated townships existing more or less autonomously from the rest of the world. Defiance exists as a neo-Western town complete with a reluctant sheriff (Grant Butler) keeping the peace between mixed bands of humans and aliens.

Syfy likes to tout the show's "groundbreaking" nature, with plot developments moving concurrently with a companion videogame and similar elements that sound better in concept than they behave in execution. In point of fact, we've seen a lot of it before: the sci-fi western notions go back to Buster Crabbe's Buck Rogers and even earlier. The plot threads often stem from the standard sci-fi playbook (the man from the past in suspended animation is particularly egregious), and the worst moments reflect the tired nature of those conceits.

More often than not, however, Defiance rises above such issues. The characters are well developed and interesting, and the scenarios find enough twists and turns to hold our attention. Defiance does best by conveying a strong sense of the larger universe without losing the humanity (even among the aliens) at its core. Like all of the best science fiction, it looks at contemporary issues through a slightly distorted lens. Credit the show runners for focusing on that instead of succumbing to the copious details of this alien Earth that might have swallowed it whole otherwise.

It's hard to see fans developing the fervor for this show that they've shown for other sci-fi television. But it doesn't need to be great. It just needs to be consistently good, delivering on its ideas often enough to justify our attention without insulting us in the bargain. That's harder than it looks, but the station has done a quietly good job of it lately, and Defiance reaps the rewards. The new Blu-ray gives newcomers a chance to discover its joys. In this case, the fact that such joys exist proves more than enough to justify a purchase.

THE DISC: The Blu-ray collection is modest but serviceable, with the 12-epsiode first season delivered in good-looking HD. Special features are modest, reflecting the set's affordable price: a handful of audio commentaries, a few behind-the-scenes docs and not a whole lot else. Frankly, the show doesn't merit much more than that. (At least at this stage; we'll see what happens as the show goes on.) The good news that show itself is more than enough to stand on its own.

WORTH IT? The bang for your buck is solid, both in terms of the sticker price and in the show's engaging storylines. Don't expect it to replace Game of Thrones on your all-time favorites list, but if you're looking for something a little different, Defiance rewards multiple viewings.

RECOMMENDATION: The Defiance Blu-ray set is priced right and makes good on its promises: a great way to catch up on missed episodes or start from scratch if it passed you by the first time.

- Rob Vaux



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