Region 2 (UK) Edition

Directors:  Walter Hill, Davis Guggenheim, Alan Taylor, Ed Bianchi, etc.

Featuring:  Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Robin Weigert


Deadwood is about the formative years of a legendary gold-rush frontier town: Deadwood, South Dakota. It's a series with first class production values. It's beautifully-written, performed and shot. It features an array of terrific characters, whose dialogue ranges from the profane to the profound, often vacillating between the two at lightning speed.

The series is made by HBO, the subscription channel that has done so much to enrich and enliven American television in the last decade. They are not subject to the tight censorship of the main network channels, and have used this artistic freedom to create some outstanding television series, including The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and The Wire.

It's July 1876, and Deadwood is barely more than a ramshackle huddle of tents and makeshift buildings. It's a lawless place, where a deal can be sealed with a handshake, but you could have your throat cut for an ill-advised word, and people would barely bat an eyelid. Few of the prospectors have aspirations to earning their fortunes: they simply aim to make enough money each day to fuel their nocturnal addictions, to alcohol and whores. Both are in plentiful supply at the Gem Saloon.

Recent gritty big screen Westerns like Unforgiven and Wyatt Earp have hinted at the rough-and-readiness of what it really might have been like to live in that era, but Deadwood has taken it to a new level. The series has drawn a great deal of comment for it's earthly (but, we're assured, more-or-less authentic) language, which takes a little getting used to. Eventually, even the most foul-mouthed utterances seem to take on an almost Shakespearean rhythm. Look beyond the strong language and the brutal violence and you'll also find a rich vein of humour.

The series has a fine ensemble cast. Timothy Olyphant is nominally the lead, as idealistic settler Seth Bullock. He's ably supported by John Hawkes as his Austrian Jew business partner, Sol Star.

The great Keith Carradine appears as gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok, whose reputation makes him a target for every braggadocio barfly. No-one except Hickok's friend and travelling companion, Charlie Utter, realises that Hickok's nerves are flaky. Utter is played by Dayton Callie, who has dozens of TV credits and movies in his résumé, and a wonderful face that you'll not forget in a hurry.

Robin Weigert plays the tough, fiercely-loyal Calamity Jane (many of the series' characters are based on real people). Banish thoughts of Doris Day from your mind, though: this Calamity Jane is as strong and foul-mouthed as any of the men.

William Sanderson, who's possibly best known as the android maker, J.F.Sebastian, in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, is E.B. Farnham, the seedy owner of the local cockroach-infested hotel. Fine character actor Brad Dourif (Exorcist III, and the voice of Chucky in the Child's Play series) play's the town sawbones, Doc Cochran. Brit Ian McShane gives a mesmerising performance as Machiavellian saloon owner Al Swearengen, a terrific role that's already landed him a Golden Globe award. If there's a crooked deal being made, the chances are that Al Swearengen has a part of it.

The Gem Saloon is the heart of Deadwood, and home to many of the other fine characters in the show. The crippled "gimp", Jewel, played by Geri Jewell, is the Saloon's cleaner, who, more often than not, will be mopping up the blood of some unfortunate patron. Trixie (Paula Malcomson) is the series' "tart with a heart", except that she's closely tied to Al Swearengen, and knows all too well that he could snuff her out without a second thought.

Let's see. Who else? Oh, there's Alma Garret (indie fave Molly Parker), a classy woman brought to the town by her foolish optimistic husband. She dulls her senses with laudanum. Before long Swearengen has a new nemesis, in the shape of Chicago riverboat gambler Cy Tolliver (a great career-resurrecting role for Powers Boothe). Tolliver sets up a rival to the Gem Saloon, the Bella Union. The Bella Union's a classier joint, but it's still a brothel, bar and casino. The girls of the Bella Union are run by a Madame, Joannie Stubbs (Kim Dickens), who has an uneasy alliance with Tolliver. Beetlejuice's Jeffrey Jones plays the obsequious newspaper proprietor A.W. Merrick. Expert magician Ricky Jay plays Tolliver's right hand man, card sharp Eddie Sawyer. Swearengen's henchman, Dan Dority, is played by W. Earl Brown, who recently appeared in The Alamo. That's more than a dozen memorable characters, and there are many more.

If you haven't heard of the series, it's probably because Sky One has been rather selfishly keeping it to itself. They've already aired the first season, and have recently begun showing the second (which has just finished in the US).

The series was created by David Milch. That in itself should be all you need to know in order to convince you of its worth. Milch wrote several Emmy and Writer's Guild Award-winning episodes of Hill Street Blues, before co-creating NYPD Blue, in 1992. More awards followed, including two more Emmys. Milch later acted as Creative Consultant on Stephen Bochco's excellent Murder One, and created another very successful cop show, Brooklyn South. The first season of Deadwood received eleven Emmy nominations, winning one for Walter Hill's direction of the series' first episode.


Paramount's UK DVD release offers the entire first season (twelve episodes, each about fifty minutes long), spread across four discs.

The episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (at 448kbps). Each disc features three episodes, with an average bitrate of about 6.6Mb/s. The encoding seems to be very adaptive, rarely dipping below 5Mb/s, and often peaking above 9Mb/s.

The episodes look great, perfectly capturing the show's chiaroscuro cinematography. It must have been a difficult series to encode. Many scenes are (apparently) shot with available light sources, so there are plenty of shadows. Where there's light, it's often harsh, creating intense pools of light. The picture often exhibits a touch of edge-enhancement, but this shouldn't be too problematic in an ordinary domestic viewing environment. Some scenes are a little grainy, but it seems to well under control most of the time. The series certainly looks better than it did when it was transmitted by Sky.

The 5.1 mix is not especially elaborate, but it is well-used. There are plenty of directional effects, and even some directional dialogue. There's not much music in the show, but when it does appear, it's rich and has good dynamic range. The audio quality is significantly better than the audio on Sky's transmissions (which are compressed for broadcast).

The UK edition does not include the "Last time on Deadwood..." recaps, which are present on the US edition. There are a few time-and-location-establishing captions in the pilot episode, (a.k.a. Deadwood), and these are presented burnt into the picture (they're not player-generated).


Unless you're one of those weird people who never watches bonus material, you should avoid the UK edition. All of the bonus material that's on the US version has been dropped for the UK edition. This set carries a premium price point (its RRP is £49.99), so the omission is inexcusable.

The US set is presented on six discs, which includes a whole disc of extras (including four very nice featurettes). The US set also features commentary tracks on four episodes (by David Milch on the pilot episode; stars Molly Parker and Keith Carradine on the pivotal Here Was A Man; stars Brad Dourif and Robin Weigart on The Trial of Jack McCall; and stars Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane on series finale Sold Under Sin).


A wonderful series, with great scripts, acting and characters. The DVD transfer is excellent, offering much better picture quality than the broadcast version. Sadly, if you're in the UK, all this is for nought: if you want the commentary tracks and featurettes, you'll have to buy the Region 1 edition.












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