The Vampire Diaries’ spin-off becomes a web of shifting alliances

Spin-offs from hit shows are never guaranteed successes. They often go in a wildly different direction than what made the original series such a success, either due to a lesser cast or changed premise. The Originals descends from the CW’s most successful program of the past five years, The Vampire Diaries. That show built its brand off tight writing and sexy characters. Bringing over the first vampire family from The Vampire Diaries, including notorious bad boy Klaus (Joseph Morgan), The Originals starts out a bit slow in this first season before finding its footing as a successful show in its own right. Introducing new characters into their lore like the vampire Marcel and super-witch Davina proves to be a masterstroke, injecting new life into the familiar villains we’ve all grown to love from The Vampire Diaries.

The Original vampire/werewolf hybrid Klaus ends up in the French Quarter of New Orleans, having left the comfortable familiarity of Mystic Falls. He comes to find that his former protege Marcus rules the city that Klaus once controlled in its dark past. Marcus rules with an iron fist, having kicked out the werewolves and blocked witches from using their magic with a secret weapon of his own. It feels like familiar terrain story-wise for those Vampire Diaries’ watchers which have followed the Originals since their first appearances. Marcel’s rule becomes a problem when Klaus discovers that werewolf Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin), another former cast member of The Vampire Diaries, is pregnant with his baby. It becomes a web of shifting alliances as Marcel and Klaus battle for control of New Orleans, catching humans, vampires and witches in the struggle. If you are familiar with the Vampire Diaries’ compulsive arcs and surprise twists, The Originals provides much of the same formula in a perfectly executed package over its first season. This is highly watchable serialized storytelling.

If The Originals has done anything as a series, it allows for far more nuanced development of Klaus and his vampire siblings, Rebekah (Claire Holt) and Elijah (Daniel Gillies). If Klaus is the nasty, misunderstood villain with a temperament, his brother Elijah is the smooth, polished polar opposite. Daniel Gillies adds an impeccable touch of class to the show as Elijah, the sharply-dressed vampire holding the first vampire family together with his machinations. Rebekah is the baby sister of the family and Klaus fiercely protects her, often leading to huge conflicts between them which threaten to ruin all of his carefully plotted plans. There is an interesting layer added to Rebekah’s backstory about her relationship with Marcel in the far past. They share an interesting history that drives some of the more critical events in season one.

The Originals needed more depth than just a few returning vamps as anchors and its entirely new characters help add to the story. Hayley was a minor character before this series but becomes fully fleshed out as Klaus’ baby momma. The pregnancy storyline adds more to the series than I would have imagined, helping to make Klaus a more developed character beyond his nasty persona. Davina (Danielle Campbell) is the most intriguing new character, the powerful teen witch is quite memorable and plays an important role for Marcel’s plans. Cami is one of the few normal humans, a necessity to provide grounding for all the crazy supernatural shenanigans going on at times.

I’ll admit The Vampire Diaries has grown long in the tooth and I worried The Originals would not be able to stand on its own. That fear never came true in this excellent start to their own tale. This first season revels in the history of New Orleans to full effect, adding a new element to this fictional universe’s mythos in a startling effective manner. Expect a sexy combination of vampire mayhem and sharp serialized plotting.

Movie ★★★★☆

The Orginals Blu-ray screen shot 13

The 22 episodes of season one fit on four separate BD-50s. Compared to the initial broadcast in HD, this Blu-ray presentation duplicates it to an uncanny degree. The Originals is framed in an eye-pleasing 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio in 1080P resolution. It has always been a good-looking show with sharp definition and excellent clarity. Once you move past the hastily-shot pilot, the palette opens up into bright, saturated imagery. This is fine video quality, expected from most network television shows these days. The digital transfer has no serious problems regarding filtering or halos.

Warner Bros. does make some curious choices slotting the episodes between the four BDs, cramming as many episodes as possible on the first three discs. That leads to an adequate but not extraordinary AVC video encode, usually averaging 15 Mbps per episode.

Exterior shots are so cleanly-filmed that artifacts are not a worry, but one might question the occasionally limited shadow delineation due to starved compression parameters. Much of The Originals take place in crypts and cemeteries at night, so solid black levels are a necessity. There is the occasional shot when detail and overall definition drop, this is a television production after all with a limited production schedule.

Video ★★★★☆

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is a real treat, one of the more immersive and powerful mixes heard from a television series on home video. The regular bouts of surround activity and convincing sound effects help to set a menacing mood in the darker scenes. The fidelity is perfect, rendering crystal-clear dialogue and the sweeping instrumental score in beautiful fashion.

Warner has loaded this set up with a plethora of subs and dubs. The optional subtitles display in a white font: English SDH, French, Spanish, Dutch, Latin American Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish. French, Spanish, and Portuguese dubs are included in 2.0 Dolby Digital at 192 kbps.

Audio ★★★★☆

This Blu-ray combo set is a great value, including the entire season on five DVDs as well as an UltraViolet digital copy that redeems on either VUDU or Flixster. Coming in a hard, oversized Amaray case holding all the discs, a cardboard slipbox holds it together. One of its best features is a lavish episode guide that covers each episode and provides a hefty chunk of details.

The two cast panels are fun to watch. I always think they help engage the cast when an audience is there to hear them. I wish they had arranged the deleted scenes in a better arrangement, you have to manually go to each disc to access them. By my count, 13 episodes feature brief deleted scenes, nearly adding up to forty minutes.

For whatever reason, the backdoor pilot filmed for The Originals as part of The Vampire Diaries is not included. It’s not a huge loss, as the eventual pilot seen here is largely a re-working of that episode.

Pilot Commentary – Creator Julie Plec and Director Chris Grismer discuss shooting this pilot and the genesis of The Originals. Plec is the real driving force behind this series and it is interesting to hear her thoughts on its development.

The Originals: Origins (13:24 in HD) – A fairly typical featurette with the cast and crew commenting on their characters, including brief audition tests and some behind-the-scenes footage.

The Original Vampires: A Bite-sized Backstory (05:33 in HD) – A concise montage of the Mikaelson family history, using scenes strewn throughout the season.

The Originals: Re-mixing History (09:32 in HD) – The writers cover the rich history of New Orleans and how they blended it with vampire mythology, such as Prohibition.

The Originals Panel at PaleyFest 2014 (29:49 in HD) – The entire cast shows up and interacts with each other in this lively, fun discussion. I consider it the highlight of these bonus features since you get unfiltered access to the actors in a less structured environment than formal interviews. They are very popular with fans.

2013 Comic-Con Panel (29:21 in HD) – This was shot before The Originals had made it to air, so the actors are a little more unsure of themselves and the series. It’s a decent watch but there are audio problems, some of the time it’s very difficult to make out what the actors are saying over the crowd.

Extras ★★★★☆

Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.