L.J. Smith's book The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening predates Stephenie Meyer's Twilight by fourteen years. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, we can all agree that the CW's series The Vampire Diaries, launched in 2009, is a clear attempt to cash in on the current wave of vampire fandom caused by Twilight, its movie adaptations, and HBO's True Blood (itself adapted from Charlaine Harris' The Southern Vampire Mysteries series). The CW's gambit has paid off, with a demographically desirable young audience succumbing to the series' blend of swoony romance and horror-styled action.
True to its title, The Vampire Diaries begins with dual "Dear Diary" narration from 161-year-old vampire Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley, no doubt chosen for his hairdresser-assisted resemblance to Robert Pattinson) and orphaned teen Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev). It turns out that smalltown Mystic Falls, Virginia has a complicated history of supernatural phenomena, particularly when it comes to vampires and witches. Stefan and brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder of Lost) were "turned" in 1864, when both were in love with the same girl. Mysteriously, Elena is a dead ringer for the Salvatore brothers' object of affection, one Katherine Pierce (Dobrev, natch). Long absent, uncontrollable troublemaker Damon has returned to Mystic Falls with a secret plan in mind; unlike Stefan, Damon feeds on human blood and has no compunction about killing humans.
The vampire storyline weaves into what would ordinarily be typical high-school drama involving family, friends and significant others. Elena lives with her brother Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen)—whose poor method of handling his grief over their parents' death is to abuse drugs and alcohol—and their aunt and legal guardian Jenna (Sara Canning). Elena's ex-boyfriend Matt Donovan (Zach Roerig) also has a troubled sibling in Vicki (Kayla Ewell), who shares a co-dependent on-again, off-again relationship with Jeremy. Elena's friends include Bonnie Bennett (Katerina Graham), who discovers she's a witch, and Caroline Forbes (Candice Accola), a superficial social butterfly who longs to be taken seriously. Bad boy Tyler Lockwood (Michael Trevino) prowls around the edges; like the rest, he experiences growing pains in his journey of self-discovery. Recurring actors and guest stars include James Remar (Dexter), Jasmine Guy (A Different World), Sean Faris (Never Back Down), and Gina Torres (Firefly).
At least in its early-going, The Vampire Diaries will seem pretty familiar to anyone who's ever watched a CW show; in particular, the genre theatrics follow the formula established by Smallville. The triangle of Stefan, Elena, and Damon allows pretty much the same dramatic beats as that of Clark, Lana, and Lex in the early years of Smallville: a couple threatened by the secrets of a supernatural male afraid to reveal himself and a brotherly bad boy who occasionally surprises by showing a sensitive soul, all to the tune of marketable teen pop (plus, in "vervain," the vampires have their own kryptonite, a convenient plot device).
A few things set The Vampire Diaries apart. One is the storytelling pace over the course of the first season. Though there is some requisite water-treading, executive producers Kevin Williamson (Scream, Dawson's Creek) and Julie Plec aren't shy about detonating plot twists. Characters get offed with shocking regularity, and it doesn't take long for secrets to emerge. Also key to the series' appeal is Damon, whose sexy snark has made him a breakout character and reminded us of Somerhalder's versatility; the actor was rewarded when Damon recently won Entertainment Weekly's "Sexiest Beast" month-long bracket tournament of sixty-four pop culture creatures (over 1.5 million votes were cast). Now that's a zeitgeisty bragging right The Vampire Diaries can take to the (blood) bank.
Warner has delivered another solid TV on Blu-ray package with its four-disc set for The Vampire Diaries: The Complete First Season. By design, the hi-def image is dark, but to my eye, the image is well-resolved, and we're seeing what we're meant to see. In the light, the image is certainly brighter, but less consistent in the areas of color, contrast, texture and detail. On the whole, it's a solid hi-def experience that stands head and shoulders over its standard-def equivalent, but either the series had some cinematographic growing pains or the picture has lost a bit of its consistency in translation from its source. WB isn't making any new friends with its audio here: offered are lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mixes that are certainly adequate but add no value over the DVDs.
The Vampire Diaries: The Complete First Season gains back some ground in the area of bonus features. Disc one includes "Pilot" commentary by executive producers Kevin Williamson & Julie Plec and director Marcos Siega and four "Deleted Scenes": one for "The Night of the Comet" (:55, SD), one for "You're Undead to Me" (:37, SD), and two for "Lost Girls" (3:10, SD). The commentary comes with a spolier alert as the threesome's wide-ranging chat on the first season gets into late-breaking plot points.
Disc two includes four "Deleted Scenes": one for "Haunted" (:48, SD), and three for "The Turning Point" (2:34, SD).
Disc three offers six "Deleted Scenes": two for "Fool Me Once" (:48, SD), one for "A Few Good Men" (:23, SD), two for "There Goes the Neighborhood" (2:33, SD), and one for "Let the Right One In" (:13, SD).
Disc four holds the lion's share of extras. "Into Mystic Falls" (25:03, HD), subtitled "Bringing Vampire Lore and the High School Experience from Page to Screen," puts Williamson and Plec front and center (along with other cast and crew) for a look at the series' development and production.
"When Vampires Don’t Suck!" (18:49, HD), subtitled "The Popularity of Vampires and the Fans Who Love Them," examines the pop culture phenomenon du jour.
"A Darker Truth - Webisodes" (7:44, HD) compiles parts of a supplementary online miniseries.
Gag reel "A Second Bite" (3:57, HD) depicts the cast flubbing, cracking up and cutting up.
"A New Breed of Vampires" (12:43, HD) focuses on casting, with glimpses of audition footage and the creators' perspectives on the cast.
"Vampires 101" (6:44, HD) details the series' rulebook for depicting vampires.
The disc is BD-Live enabled, of course, and also includes download access for L.J. Smith's bestselling The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening - Audiobook.
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