The Complete First Season box set

"For Your Consideration" Emmy promotional disc, containing four episodes: the "Pilot", "Blowback", "Pay in Pain" and "Psyche".

Promotional disc, containing the last six episodes of the first season.

THE SHIELD 

Directors: Clark Johnson, D.J.Caruso, Guy Ferland

Starring: Michael Chiklis, CCH Pounder, Jay Karnes

Fox has released the whole of the first season of The Shield, as a four-disc box set.

Before it was released, though, there were at least three other promotional DVDs issued by FX during the first season's original run: an Emmy "For Your Consideration" promotional disc containing the Pilot, Blowback, Pay in Pain and Cupid and Psycho (pictured, left); a disc containing episodes 5,6 and 7 (Blowback, Cherrypoppers and Pay in Pain); and a two-disc set which contained the last six episodes of the season (pictured, left). None of these discs is available commercially, although copies of all of them have turned up on auction sites like Ebay, and, since the Complete First Season box set was released, prices have dropped significantly. A disc containing the first two episodes from the second series has also been released. 

The Emmy "For Your Consideration" disc has straightforward animated menus, featuring a slideshow-type display of the nominations the series was hoping  for. The picture is full-frame, and the audio is 2.0 stereo (at 192kbps). The transfer is very good, with minimal MPEG artefacts. The episodes occasionally have a "REVIEW SCREENING COPY ONLY - PROPERTY OF FX" subtitle pop up for a few seconds, but this is rarely intrusive (being a subtitle, it may be possible to turn this off with some players, anyway).

The Emmy disc originally came in a swanky gift box, which included the Shield disc, a DVD of the TV movie Sins of the Father, and VHS copies of the two discs. The box was fitted with an "Television in a New Light" panel which lit up when the box was opened (or, at least it was supposed to, but apparently the battery usually came loose in transit!)

The series was nominated for three Emmy awards: Homicide: Life on the Street star Clark Johnson was nominated for his direction of the Pilot; creator Shawn Ryan was nominated for writing the Pilot; and Michael Chiklis as was nominated for - and won - the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series award.

The Shield - The Complete First Season box set is one of the best TV collections available, putting similar offerings  from series like The X-Files and Buffy The Vampire Slayer to shame. Each episode comes with a commentary track, often featuring one or more of the show's key cast members, and a combination of writers, producers and directors. Some of the commentary tracks are themed (there's one with members of the Strike Team, and another with post-production crewmembers, for example), giving a broad overview of the show's production. The commentary tracks are expertly handled. Often series creator Shawn Ryan is on hand, frequently asking intelligent questions (and, even better, he seems well attuned to asking questions that the audience might be interested in hearing the answers to). This is a rare skill - all too often people doing commentary tracks focus on the specifics, and rarely touch on subjects that people inside the industry simply take for granted. Once in a while this means that something interesting that's happening on-screen passes without comment, but this is more than outweighed by the quality of discourse on offer (they keep the ass-kissing to a minimum, too, savvy to the traps that many commentary tracks fall prey to). There's a lot of fun had by all, and yet the audience never ends up scratching their heads at in-jokes they're not privy to (on one of the episodes, he reveals to one of the actors how close his character came to being written out after the Pilot, at the suggestion of the network suits!)  

There are also two featurettes, offering interesting behind the scenes material and on-set interviews: Making of The Shield  (21m), and The Shield FX Featurette (a 2'30" season two teaser). The original Pilot script is also offered, as are short clips from all the lead actor's audition tapes. There are also seventeen deleted scenes, spread right across the season. Many of these are extensions to scenes that ended up in the finished episode, mostly cut for time restrictions (a couple were dropped for other reasons, such as episodes being switched around in the running order). There are several nice character moments on offer, as well as nice scenes like the payoff to the scenes in the pilot lamenting the lack of toilet facilities). The most interesting is the complete version of a pivotal scene from the end of the last episode, which is presented just as it was filmed, in a single emotionally-shattering shot. Each scene is introduced by Shawn Ryan, who explains why they were discarded, and puts them into the context of the episode. 

The deleted scenes are all presented in non-anamorphic widescreen format, suggesting that the entire series was shot protected for 16:9 presentation (there's a moment on the commentary track where the cinematographer is invited to reveal what the show's technical spec's are, but the conversation moves on before he says what the intended ratio is - the show is shot in Super 16 format). To my knowledge the series has only ever been aired in 4:3 (cropped) format, even here in the UK where there's a general acceptance for 16:9 presentation on digital broadcast platforms. No doubt this will be the cause of some controversy, but in truth the widescreen clips, while making the show look a bit more cinematic, generally have nothing of any significance at the sides of the frame. The full-frame presentation makes the series a more intimate experience.  

Picture quality on the episodes is comparable to the Emmy promotional discs: not as good as you'd expect from an A-grade feature film, but is certainly better than most TV series (like many TV series transfers, the colours are generally too "hot", but at least The Shield transfers don't suffer as much from the horrendous grain that plagues sets like Malcolm in the Middle and Sex and the City).

It's worth noting that the version of the Pilot contained on the Emmy promo' disc is apparently the episode as it originally aired on the FX channel. The version on the Complete First Season box set (which, incidentally, is the same as the version screened by Channel 5 when it premiered in the UK) is slightly re-edited.

There are two differences to the scene where Detective Wyms (C.C.H.Pounder) and 'Dutch' (Jay Karnes) are investigating the murder of a woman. The Complete First Season box set version has a single establishing shot of the woman's naked body (see screen-grabs, below). From then on you only see her feet, or her head (in the background of a shot where the camera is focused on her daughter's photograph). The establishing shot is longer on the Emmy DVD version, which cuts straight to a rather startling overhead shot of the body. Technically there's nothing missing in the Complete First Season box set version - the dialogue is the same, and part of the establishing shot, and all of the overhead shot have simply been replaced by extra shots of the detectives instead.



This establishing shot is in both versions of the Pilot, although it's substantially shorter on the version on the Complete First Season box set.

 

 

 

 

 

This shot is missing from the version of the Pilot in the Complete First Season box set, replaced by shots of the two detectives which aren't in the Emmy DVD version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unless explicitly stated, DVD screen captures used in the reviews are for illustrative purposes only, and are not intended to be accurate representations of the DVD image.   While screen captures are generally in their correct aspect ratio, there will often have been changes made to the resolution, contrast, hue and sharpness, to optimise them for web display.

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