Joss Whedon’s dollhouse – Season One (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
August 3, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“Joss Whedon is back with another awesome TV series with tremendous potential. Creative, unique, sexy and action-packed. Eliza Dushku shines once again! The Blu-ray release offers plenty of bells and whistles and definitely makes this series on Blu-ray worth recommending!”
TITLE: Joss Whedon’s dollhouse – Season One
DURATION: 13 Episodes/540 minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Widescreen 1:78:1, Subtitled in English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese
COMPANY: Twentieth Century Fox
Release Date: July 28, 2009
Directed by Joss Whedon, David Solomon
Written by Joss Whedon, Tracy Bellomo, Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon, Andrew Chambliss, Elizabeth Craft, Sarah Fain, Tim Minear, Jane Espenson
Executive Produced by Joss Whedon, Elizabeth Craft, Sarah Fain, David Solomon
Produced by Eliza Dushku, Kelly A. Manners,
Consulting Producer: Tim Minear, Jane Espenson, Steven S. DeKnight
Music by Mychael Danna, Rob Simonsen
Director of Photography: Ross Berryman
Edited by Harry B. Miller III, Peter Basinski, Paul Trejo, Harry Miller
Casting by Anya Colloff, Amy McIntyre Britt, Michael V. Nicolo, Garrett McGuire
Series Production Design by Stuart Blatt
Series Art Direction by Leonard Harman
Series Set Decoration by David A. Koneff
Series Costume Design by Shawn Trpcic
Eliza Dushku as Echo
Harry Lennix as Boyd Langton
Fran Kranz as Topher Brink
Tahmon Penikett as Paul Ballard
Enver Gjokaj as Viktor
Dichen Lachman as Sierra
Olivia Williams as Adelle DeWitt
Amy Acker as Dr. Claire Saunders
Reed Diamond as Laurence Dominic
Miracle Laurie as Mellie
Liz Lapira as Ivy
Aisha Hinds as Loomis
From Joss Whedon, creative mastermind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel comes the provocative Dollhouse, a sexy, suspenseful thriller starring the stunningly talented Eliza Dushku.
As an “Active”, the mysterious Echo (Dushku) serves as an unwitting agent of Dollhouse, an illegal underground organization that provides its elite clientele with programmable human beings. Actives receive personality imprints, allowing them to temporarily become anyone or anything-the perfect burglar, lover, spy or assassin. Now, with the FBI and her own shadowy past closing in, Echo must face a rogue Active who will stop at nothing to bring Dollhouse down – forever.
Intriguing, original and cool! Joss Whedon’s “dollhouse” Season 1 is an enjoyable series that manages to captivates your attention form beginning to end.
In 2009, Joss Whedon returned to television with his fourth television show (since “Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Angel” and “Firefly”) known as “dollhouse”.
The series received quite a bit of promotion for FOX and also became a series that featured less commercials (television spots were sold at a premium) and generated hype among many fans online who preferred to watch the series on hulu.com.
Needless to say, it was a series that didn’t have the greatest of ratings but as of right now, FOX has greenlighted a second season.
“dollhouse” for the most part is a simple program but it has intricacies that are quite deep and can be complex. The series revolves around a premise of a powerful corporation that operates dollhouse factories in which people (typically people who are troubled) have signed away five years of their life in order to take part in a project.
The project involves the erasing of the mind, with their original memories backed up on to a hard drive but new memories are downloaded into their brains. Because the brain operates under electric impulses, the brain has been hacked and in this case, the Dollhouse makes their money by being imprinted and then rented out “actives” (or “dolls”) to the wealthy. When they return back to the corporation, their minds of that day are wiped clean.
In most cases, the actives are used primarily for romantic/sexual purposes when rented out. But they are also used by the corporation to program the dolls for purposes of spying on government or politicians to covert operations. Monitoring of each active is done by a “handler”.
The series focuses on one of the dollhouse ran by Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams) and primary focus on the character “Echo” (Eliza Dushku) who was once a person named Caroline. We see how “Echo” takes part in a number of jobs where she has been imprinted and is rented out for romance or sexual favors but where most actives have been completely taken over, Echo seems to have memories of her past. Although she has no idea why she’s having these memories.
Meanwhile, FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahomo Penikett) is currently finding out what the “dollhouse” is and looking for Caroline. His goal is to uncover “dollhouse” and close it down.
Here are the main cast of “dollhouse”:
- Echo (Eliza Dushku, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Angel” and “Tru Calling) – The main “active” focused on “Dollhouse” who joined the Dollhouse after an incident (which is seen on episode 7 titled “Echoes”). Her real name is Caroline and is being sought by FBI Agent Ballard. Unlike other active’s, Echo seems to have residual memories that have not been wiped out during imprinting.
- Boyd Langton (Harry J. Lennix, “24”, “Commander in Chief” and “Across the Universe”) – Echo’s handler who watches over her and later becomes chief of security for the Los Angeles based Dollhouse. He tends to have emotional conflicts about services provided by the Dollhouse.
- Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams, “X-Men: The Last Stand”, “Peter Pan” and “Broken Lines”) – The highest person in rank in charge of the Los Angeles “Dollhouse” and believes in the services provided.
- Topher Brink (Fran Kraz, “The Village”, “Homeland”) – The intelligent scientist of the Los Angeles-based Dollhouse responsible for imprinting the actives.
- Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Smallville) – An FBI special agent who is working on the “Dollhouse” case and trying to find Caroline. No one at the FBI believes his theories and thus works on the case despite being suspended by the FBI. An inside spy at the Dollhouse tries to send actives to give Ballard inside information. Has an early relationship with his neighbor Mellie (who is actually an active named “November”).
- Victor (Enver Gjokaj, “Eagle Eye”, “The Express”) – A Russian informant named Lubov who gives information to Agent Ballard but is actually an active named Victor. Has romantic chemistry with an active named Sierra.
- Sierra (Dichen Lachman, “Neighbours”) – Her name is Priya Tsetsang and an active known as Sierra. Similar to Echo, she has residual memories of her being raped by her handler.
- Whiskey (Amy Acker, “Drive”, “Alias” and “Angel”) – Known as Dr. Saunders, she is the high ranking doctor at the Doll House and also has reservations about the Dollhouse like Boyd but like DeWitt, believes they are doing a good service.
- November (Miracle Laurie) – Known as Mellie, a neighbor and romantic interest for Agent Ballard but is also a sleeper active known as November. Her real name is Madeline Costley.
- Alpha (Alan Tudyk, “3:10 to Yuma”, “Knocked Up”) – A rogue active who escaped the facility and unlike other actives, he has a total of 48 people imprinted in him and it makes him a bit psychotic. He is responsible for tipping of Agent Ballard to the world of the Dollhouse.
Here is a spoiler-free synopsis of what to find on “dollhouse” season 1:
- Episode 1 – Ghost – We are introduced to “Echo” who is imprinted as a hostage negotiator and must save a child who has been kidnapped. We are introduced to Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) who is the intelligent hacker responsible for imprinting the dolls and other key players who work for dollhouse and the various dolls that Echo interacts with.
- Episode 2 – The Target – Echo has been imprinted as a date for a wealthy businessman. What she doesn’t know is that the businessman is a killer. Meanwhile, an active named Alpha has somehow gone crazy and murdered many staff and dolls inside the facility. Also, Echo meets her new handler Body Langton (Harry J. Lennix).
- Episode 3 – Stage Fright – Echo has been imprinted as a backup singer for a pop diva who has been having problems with an obsessed fan.
- Episode 4 – Gray Hour – Echo has been imprinted as a high tech thief.
- Episode 5 -True Believer – Echo has been imprinted as a member of a religious cult but her goal is to infiltrate the area.
- Episode 6 – Man on the Street – Something has gone wrong with active Sierra (Dichen Lachman) which leads Boyd to do an investigation. Meanwhile, Echo comes into contact with Agent Ballard.
- Episode 7 – Echoes – A psychotropic drug is released in a college research lab and all actives must work together to find out who stole the drug.
- Episode 8 – Needs – Actives Echo, Sierra, Victor and November are somehow freed from their pods and try to escape the Dollhouse.
- Episode 9 – Spy in the House of Love – DeWitt is away on business travel and Topher finds a chip and alerts Head of Security, Lawrence Dominic that there is a spy within the Dollhouse.
- Episode 10 – Haunted – A wealthy woman named Margaret has been uploading her personality to the dollhouse every month because she feels that she may be murdered one day. When that day comes, Echo is imprinted with her memories and now must find the person who is responsible Margaret’s death.
- Episode 11 – Briar Rose – Agent Ballard and a hacker named Stephen Kepler sneak into the Dollhouse to free Echo.
- Episode 12 – Omega – Stephen Kepler turns out to be Alpha and has kidnapped Echo. Now Agent Ballard has no choice but to team up DeWitt and Boyd in order to find Echo.
Also, included on Disc 3 are two episodes. The first is a pilot which was created and not aired on television. The pilot features storyline elements that were featured as flashbacks in other episodes and thus was not aired on television. As for episode 13, the following was created in order for Joss Whedon to meet the 13-episode on a DVD release quota and was not aired on television (but was aired at San Diego Comic-Con 2009). Also, in case if the series was canceled, episode 13 offered insight to the future of the Dollhouse and an ending for fans. If not, then the episode would tease of a future to come.
- Pilot Episode – Echo – The introduction to Echo and her joining the Dollhouse.
- Episode 13 – Epitaph One – In 2019, something terrible has happened and it seems the technology from the Dollhouse has been misused by the Rossum Corporation and used by another country on its citizens and eventually leading to an apocalyptic storyline where mankind and those who have been imprinted are at war.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“Dollhouse” receives its High Definition transfer and is featured in 1080p (Widescreen 1:78:1). As with many television series on DVD or Blu-ray, one thing that becomes evident is digital artifacting due to compression. Some series on Blu-ray have been quite exceptional but those series are typically highly popular series with a tremendous budget. The good news is that “Dollhouse” does look very good compared to how it looked on television and even on HD via online. Outdoor scenes are quite vibrant, detail can be seen onscreen quite easily from closeups of the talents faces, wounds and even the Dollhouse living area. Blacks are solid and skin tones are natural.
The bad news is that for a television series, there is a sign of softness (which probably comes from use of DNR – digital noise reduction). There is also compression artifacts that show up on video with red backgrounds and for a Blu-ray release, while it does look very good, it doesn’t look great. But its hard to tell if this was because there are five episodes on one disc (other series on Blu-ray try to have four episodes and utilize the entire disc for picture and audio quality). Granted, I may be a bit nitpicky when it comes to this but by the series does look very good, but somehow I felt it could have been much better and less soft and waxy at times.
As for audio, the series is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The series is dialogue and musical driven, thus the majority of the series is mostly utilized on front and center channels. Surround channels are utilized in certain action scenes with gunshots or even the sound made at the end of the episode, really sound good on HD. But for the most part, although there are action sequences when it comes to people fighting, this is not a series that utilizes many explosions or intense action sequences.
Also, its important to let people know that for a series that does utilize quite a bit of music, especially in the first episode, the music from the series is kept and not changed for the Blu-ray or DVD release. Dialogue and music are crystal clear and understandable.
Subtitles are presented in English SDH, Spanish, French and Portuguese.
“dollhouse” features quite a few special features. Included are:
- Audio Commentaries – Certain episodes on each disc contain audio commentary. Personally, I didn’t like how the audio commentary section was prepared on the menus because you have to select an individual episode and by a click of the button, it will either start the episode or give you an option of audio commentary. So, it would have been nice if there was a way to find out which episode had audio commentary via an insert or even on back of the cover. With that being said, the following episodes have commentary: “Ghost” features director Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku, “Man on the Street” and “Epitaph One” featuring Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. First, let me say that the commentary for each of these are hilarious and enjoyable to listen to. For “Ghost”, Joss and Eliza tend to have fun and really do not get to technical on how scenes were created and are more like buddies. On the other hand, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen are quite interesting. The two real-life married couple discuss certain scenes and informative behind-the-scenes information but also tell a lot of jokes. And for a first in commentary, it’s the first time I have ever heard a couple ask for sex for later in the night. For the most part, the commentary is just fun to listen to and for a episode like “Epitaph One”, you hear how that episode had to be made on a short budget and who knows where it would lead to in the second season.
- Making Dollhouse – (20:47) Featured in High Definition. Although the commentary is not technical, Joss Whedon definitely gets technical with this featurette. You learn everything in regards tot he creation of “dollhouse”. From pre-production, casting, disagreements with the studio and the whole mess with the pilot episode. Very informative featurette!
- Deleted Scenes – (29:46) A total of 23 deleted scenes that can be watched via “play all” or separately. Featured in HD.
- Coming Home – (7:10) Director Joss Whedon talks about working with his staff of writers. People he has worked with from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Angel” and “Firefly”. The writers talk about how they love working with Joss and Eliza Dushku enjoying the company of people she worked with before. Featured in HD.
- Finding Echo – (5:07) A featurette in High Definition featuring Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku. Both talk about what they enjoy about working with each other and both compliment each other.
- Designing the Perfect Dollhouse – (5:59) Featured in HD, director Joss Whedon takes us on a tour of the Dollhouse. Showing us the creation of the set and comparing the concept art to the finalized set.
- A Private Engagement – (5:44) Featured in HD is a humorous featurette in which the crew and talent discuss what they feel about the concept of Dollhouse and would they take advantage of it if it was real and what would they do if they came across the technology.
- Original Unaired Pilot Episode – Echo – The introduction to Echo and her joining the Dollhouse. Featured in HD.
- Episode 13 (Bonus Episode) – Epitaph One – In 2019, something terrible has happened and it seems the technology of the Dollhouse has led to an apocalyptic storyline where mankind and those who have been imprinted are at war. Featured in HD.
“dollhouse” is an enjoyable series. As a fan of Joss Whedon’s work (television, film and comic books), you literally know that you’re in for a treat. I’ve always thought that how his mind works, many of us who enjoy his work know that these storylines that can look incredible on television but also on film. His utilization of characters and character development is just quality.
“dollhouse” is a series that eventually gets better and better with each episode. In a way, I think it works that there are 12-episodes as opposed to the Buffy and Angel years that had nearly two dozen. This allows for less filler episodes and getting to the focal point of the storyline of “dollhouse” about Echo being a special kind of active, Agent Ballard trying to bring down the Dollhouse and of course, a rogue active named Alpha who wants to go further and destroy those who work at the Dollhouse and use the technology for other means.
There are many characters in the series but with each episode, they are carefully integrated to each episode and amongst the development for each character, you get to know enough backstory to have interest in them.
Also, Whedon’s future apocalyptic storyline definitely was intriguing. I will say that the bonus 13th episode “Epitaph One” definitely has exciting plans for the future and although the episode may have been created just in case the series is canceled, nevertheless it opens a potential of a future that is quite exciting and not sure if that storyline will be part of season two.
Overall, I really enjoyed Joss Whedon’s “dollhouse”. Each episode is well-written and enjoyable, especially as the series progresses. I really hope the series makes it through its five year plan.
As for the Blu-ray release, the Blu-ray features a good number of bells and whistles to make this season worth owning. Granted, this is not the most beautiful looking television series on High Definition but the series looks great and you definitely get your money’s worth with this release.
Overall, Joss Whedon’s “dollhouse” Season One is a wonderful series to own. Definitely recommended!
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