Saturday, January 31, 2015

redvsblue Season 1 Remastered

It is hard to believe how fast time flies. Can you believe it has been nearly 12 years since the debut of the web series, redvsblue? In case you are not familiar with the series, it is from the folks at Rooster Teeth Productions and was one of the first online series made entirely out of a videogame engine and helped kick off the genre that came to be known as ‘machinima.’ Part of the reason they exploded with popularity was because they filmed the game capturing footage from the most popular game at the time on the original Xbox, Halo. They quickly caught the eye of Halo’s publisher, Microsoft, and instead of facing a cease and desist order they were surprisingly able to collaborate and have been pumping out new episodes and seasons of content ever since.

Every year Rooster Teeth assembles a season’s worth of episodes and releases them on DVD. I owned the first several seasons on DVD, as I initially was a big fan of the show and did a yearly sponsorship for Rooster Teeth where you would get first access to HD videos online before everyone else and at the end of the season they would mail me the annual DVD for free. After a couple seasons they stopped that nice perk of the free DVD, and the story kept getting more convoluted and harder for me to follow as the years went on. By season four I was not rushing to watch the newest video they put out on the day of release and I dropped my sponsorship and instead would bank several episodes at a time to the point they were getting to be a chore to watch. I believe I stepped away from the show a few episodes into season five if I remember correctly.

A couple years ago Rooster Teeth remastered all the early seasons of redvsblue in HD and released the first 10 seasons as a big compilation on BluRay for their 10 year anniversary in 2013. The set went for a pretty high amount, but a few months ago Amazon had a cannot miss lightning deal on it and I could not help but snatch it up. I traded in all my old DVDs of the first few seasons upon getting the prettier BluRay release, and am going to try and watch a season a month and update on it here. Hopefully going back into this with a fresh set of eyes all these years later will reinvigorate my interest for the show and I will finally see what transpired where I left off around season five.

It is worth noting here you can catch most individual episodes of redvsblue for free on their website or YouTube channel. I recommend the home video releases because it features smooth transitions between the three to five minute episodes and a whole season plays out like a seamless hour and a half movie instead of having to deal with opening and closing musical interludes on each episode.

The subtitle for the first few seasons of redvsblue is The Blood Gulch Chronicles, and that is because it takes place on the insanely popular map of the first Halo, Blood Gulch (season one trailer). I do remember one of the classic opening lines of the very first episode being, “Why are we here?” as two red soldiers, Grif (Geoff Ramsey)and Simmons (Gustavo Sorola) ponder their existence in what appears to be a random meaningless canyon defending their base from a squad of blue soldiers on the other end. The scene is a well crafted preview of the series being mostly dialogue driven, and more focused on the day-to-day shenanigans and unique soldiers that populate Blood Gulch.

That is not to say there is no action, because whenever a melee does erupt, there usually is some kind of storyline reason behind it. For example, based on a hazing ritual fluke, new red recruit Donut (Dan Godwin) winds up with the blue base flag. The blue soldiers make haste in pursuit, with Caboose (Joel Heyman) having all sorts of trouble providing back up in their Scorpion tank that has a lovely voice providing not-so-helpful tutorials who Caboose refers to as Sheila (Yomary Cruz), aka “The lady inside the tank.” Things only get bonkers for the blue team going forwards with an undesirable fate for Church (Burnie Burns), who is quickly replaced by freelancer, Tex (Kathleen Zuelch), who has her own unique set of circumstances and back story she brings to the table.

The red team also has a very interesting set of characters besides Grif, Donut and Simmons. They are headed up by a soldier simply going by Sarge (Matt Hullum) who loves to raise hell and is my pick for most entertaining character of the series, and also have an assistant android going by Lopez who is voiceless for a majority of the season. My good memories of the first season still hold up upon this repeat viewing because of how self contained it is taking place almost entirely on the Blood Gulch map, and it had a simple story of mostly another day in the life of the reds and blues going at it over the most trivial of things. Things open up far more in the coming seasons, especially with Tex’s back story being a huge impetus on the grander story at large in the following seasons that are hinted at as we learn bits and pieces of her origin story in this season. But for this first season it is just a bunch of good old fashioned craziness on Blood Gulch, and I understand they could not do that for every season, and am looking forward on giving the series a second chance all these years later to see where they go after I left off.

The first season of redvsblue was initially shot in standard definition with the first Halo on original Xbox. For this BluRay remaster, they used the PC edition that came out a couple years later and features a higher definition of resolution, and more options for camera angles that are less restrictive than the ones available in the initial Xbox release. For example, Halo multiplayer on Xbox required at least two players so Rooster Teeth had to always crop one half of the split screen and presented it in a super narrow letterbox format, and there was no way to hide the mildly distracting target reticule. I threw in the DVD of the first season for the first few scenes to show to a friend before trading it in last year, and it does not hold up when played back on a HD television and looks rather fuzzy on modern sets. This new remastered BluRay looks smashing in comparison, and it was cool to see Rooster Teeth implement some more subtle camera tricks they learned in later seasons to provide for some more dynamic looking shots that made the first season pop out a little more than before.

This BluRay contains all the previously released extra features, as well as one new bonus. There are several minutes of outtakes of blown shots and cuts that were a hoot to relive. There are also six Public Service Announcement (PSA) videos, where the reds and blues attempt to shed some wisdom on matters like getting tattoos and movie piracy affecting their DVD sales of which none existed at the time. I remember the DVDs were originally loaded with hidden easter eggs, and I tried hunting for some on the BluRay by mindlessly flapping away at my BluRay remote on every option choice, but did not run across one. I guess I got out of the habit of looking for easter eggs in the transition to BluRay and streaming video several years ago, but hopefully they are tucked away somewhere on here. There are two commentary tracks, one with the cast and crew’s original recording in 2003, and a new one for this HD remaster. I listened to the new commentary, and it was actually entertaining all the way through since it features around five or six of the Rooster Teeth crew almost nonstop chatting away reliving their favorite scenes and providing a lot of technical details on how they went about capturing footage with the PC version of Halo. Being a fan of the game, it was fascinating to see them go in depth about the various camera options available and the ordeals they persevered through in order to set up and capture an ambitious shot.

I had a feeling this initial blog for the first redvsblue season was going to be a doozy, but I had no idea it would approach a 1,600 word count. I apologize for providing probably too much background on the origins of Rooster Teeth and redvsblue, but it felt like a necessary evil and I promise all future installments will (probably) be much shorter comparison. I remember talking to a few other friends and colleagues in recent years who at one point watched the show, and a lot of them only stuck around for the first season before dropping off, so the show is not for everybody. I threw in the season one DVD for a friend last year for about the first 15 minutes and he thought it felt a bit too slow-paced for him to get into. Before dropping any money on the DVDs or BluRays, if you have not experienced the show definitely get a taste by checking out individual episodes for free on the Rooster Teeth website or YouTube channel.

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