Kindred: The Embraced - Complete Series (Includes Book of Nod)

Format: Box set, Color, Full Screen, NTSC
Language: English
Dubbed: English
Region: 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Number of discs: 3
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Paramount
DVD Release Date: October 22, 2013
Run Time: 381 minutes




Once upon a time, there was a little company called White Wolf. They produced tabletop role-playing games in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons – the kind that used to thrive before video games crushed them flat – and one day came up with a doozy. Based heavily on the works of Anne Rice, it posited a new way of thinking about the hobby.

Suddenly, character and story trumped hacking and slashing. What you said was as important as the results of the dice you rolled. Wrapped up in the tragic package of Ricean bloodsuckers, it proved an irresistible package. They called it Vampire: The Masquerade and in the role-playing world, it created a phenomenon. It was so big, in fact, that it earned the attention of Hollywood. The game’s creators, flush with their success, entered boldly into discussions to turn their hit game into a TV show . . . only to find out the hard way what the phrase “big fish in a small pond” means.

Kindred: The Embraced was the misbegotten TV fruit of their well-intentioned labors: a vampire soap opera that completely missed the novelty and atmosphere of its source material. Instead of supernatural romance, spooky shadows and angst-filled meditations on the nature of evil, it delivers a Melrose Place-style suds-a-thon, sprinkled with bits of Godfather-esque crime sagas and a bit of actual vampirism lest we forget where it all started.

In other words, it was a god-awful mess: unsure about what it wanted to be, willfully obtuse for newcomers unfamiliar with the game, and a slap in the face to Vampire: The Masquerade fans eager to see their beloved property on the TV screen. It was canceled a quick five weeks after it premiered, leaving eight misbegotten episodes behind to limp towards whatever threadbare cult status it could find.

It actually found some success on that front, driven largely by Masquerade fans who now view this 1996 TV show as a curious novelty more than an actual affront. The game survived, so they could forgive the show its shortcomings once the initial pain had subsided. Now it returns for a new DVD set: rising from the grave like the so-called vampires at its heart and inducing the kind of confused-dog look that befits its desiccated pop culture status.

It lifts the bare bones basics from the game, positing a secret world ruled by feuding clans of the undead. Five, to be exact (down from seven in the game), holding court in San Francisco under the quasi-benevolence of Prince Julian (Mark Frankel). Machiavellian plotting and one-upmanship are the order of the day, with a human cop (C. Thomas Howell) thrown in for good measure.

It could have worked . . . had the show stuck more resolutely to anything resembling actual bloodsuckers. The producers felt it would be a good idea to "shake up" our preconceived notions, which pretty much meant throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It is one thing to say that vamps can survive in the daylight, but to use that as an excuse to shoot an inordinate number of scenes outside in the sun destroys most of the atmosphere the audience presumably tuned in to see. (The Underworld film franchise came a lot closer to Vampire's sensibilities; so close, in fact, that its producers got sued.)

The game's rich Gothic tone is completely lost as well, replaced by a bland visual look that reduces every aspect of the show to generic pretty people doing generic pretty things. Even the "hideous" Nosferatu clan consists merely of bald, slightly less gorgeous specimens than the remainder of the runway models in the cast. The various plots don't do much better, touching on the apocalyptic horrors and ruthless backstabbing of the game, but lacking that playing-for-keeps seriousness that made it such a smash.

The result is another aimless WB/CW mess that can't escape the formula the showrunners shackled it to so needlessly. The waste involved is positively staggering. Great character actors like Brain Thompson and Ed O'Ross flail about with nothing to do, while the dreary machinations of the rest of the cast add up to absolutely nothing.

It didn't have to be that way. The Canadian Forever Knight, released a few years earlier, did far better in creating the requisite mood, while the WB's bloodsucking follow-up - a little number called Buffy the Vampire Slayer - trumped it so thoroughly as to erase the memory from our collective minds.

Kindred: The Embraced claims to have a cult following, which isn't quite true. The game is as popular as ever, and its adherents can be protective of the show as an extension of their beloved universe. It doesn't deserve their attention. Fans of the genre have too many other options to rely on such thin soup, and the eight episodes that comprise the set leave no impression that better things were on the way. Stake it in the heart and leave it for the crows. That, at least, would be more in keeping with the supposed purpose of the exercise.

THE DISC: The new set is fairly nice, though it blatantly reveals its status as an extension of the game. The box itself is quite handsome and contains a copy of the Book of Nod, covering Vampire: The Masquerade's background and history with all the flair that the TV show missed. The discs divide the episodes evenly among them, with a trio of special features that acquit themselves admirably. Besides a standard-issue behind-the-scenes doc, it includes an illuminating portrait of the game and its dedicated fans, plus a coda with one of the show's central characters that hints at the monstrosities sadly absent from the remainder of the series.

WORTH IT? If you're looking for an inexpensive copy and want an alternative to the out-of-stock original DVD release, this makes a very attractive buy. If you're just casting about for a vampire show and want something different, best to leave it on the shelf.

RECOMMENDATION: Kindred: The Embraced remains a mild embarrassment, suitable for a few guilty pleasures or as an appendix to the game for completionists who can't live without it. If you want to see this kind of material done right, try to find a copy of Forever Knight somewhere. (The Sunnydale gang isn't going anywhere either.)

- Rob Vaux



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