More sexy, soapy vampire fun with Elena Gilbert and friends

The Vampire Diaries is the best kept secret on television. A soapy vampire drama with an attractive cast, it has been the best plotted series since its debut. Stuck on the CW, it remains more of a cult favorite than receiving the recognition it truly deserves. Major changes to the status quo occur in season five, as hybrid baddie Klaus and the other Originals have moved on to their own series. Season five continues much of the same winning formula, though it staggers at times with tired villains and some trite storylines involving the show’s overused doppelgangers. It is to the show’s great credit that the cast is such a charismatic bunch, because leads Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder have to carry much of the burden with their smoldering chemistry. A lesser cast might have turned this season boring.

Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) opens the season having left Mystic Falls for Whitmore College, leaving behind a passionate summer of fun with her vampire boyfriend, Damon (Ian Somerhalder). Caroline (Candice Accola) and Elena attempt to fit in at the college despite being immortal vampires. Bonnie (Kat Graham) is stuck on the other side of the veil as a ghost, which only Elena’s brother Jeremy knows. Throwing a wrench into everyone’s plans is the return of Silas, the 2000-year-old immortal bearing a striking resemblance to Stefan (Paul Wesley). Silas acts as a functional replacement for Klaus’ role on the show as unpredictable villain, though his act grows tiresome as we learn more about him.

The first half of season five attempts to build a convincing college setting, revealing a secret Whitmore Society that studies vampires and once imprisoned Damon for five years in the past. Enzo is a new character, introduced as Damon’s friend from long ago. Honestly, the show worked better in Mystic Falls and its high school setting. Serialized shows occasionally need a new injection of talent from the outside, but the Vampire Diaries already had a sprawling cast before adding more characters this season. Elena’s friend Matt seems to gain more development this season, including a brief romance with Rebekah. We also get the return – in ghost form – of previously dead characters, including fan favorites like Alaric. The Vampire Diaries has always had a tight continuity and loves including nods to its past history.

Passing 100 episodes is no small feat in today’s television climate. This has been the CW’s best show since it premiered and there is still a lot to like about The Vampire Diaries. Katherine’s impersonation of her doppelganger Elena leads to a somewhat predictable arc but remains entertaining. I think some of its focus was missing with the Originals having been spun off. The series attempted to find a replacement in Silas and the Travelers, but they grow boring over 22 episodes. The same basic formula of soapy vampire fun is still present and the cast remains one of the most dynamic on air today.

Movie ★★★★☆

The Vampire Diaries Season Five Blu-ray screen shot 12

The fifth season of The Vampire Diaries runs 22 episodes, included here on four BD-50s. I would love to tell you this is a flawless Blu-ray presentation but Vampire Diaries has always had relatively dense, heavy cinematography for a glossy teen soap. The satisfactory AVC video encode, usually averaging around 17 Mbps per episode, handles the brighter exteriors and well-lit interiors with no artifacts.

Warner Bros. has made a business decision to include as many as six episodes on one BD, which does lead to minor problems in the darkest scenes. Black levels get crushed in the muted color palette, which looks worse than it really happens to be when up against the more pristine exterior shots. Shadow delineation is weakened by the AVC video encode, occasionally struggling to cope with the shadowy interiors and limited light. Some small hints of aliasing creep into the video, as a result of its FX and green screen work.

The 1.78:1 widescreen video looks relatively perfect at times however. It contains excellent high-frequency detail in close-ups and retains a razor-sharp clarity. The show is darkly lit at times, though it rarely goes overboard unless called for by the script. The 1080P resolution transfer slightly improves on the CW’s HD broadcast, adding no serious video processing.

Video ★★★☆☆

The Vampire Diaries is one of the more sonically atmospheric shows on television. This 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is almost on par with theatrical productions in terms of bass and surround usage. Cleanly recorded dialogue and crisp audio fidelity make for comprehensive audio. You will get to hear a number of localized surround cues and a great deal of subtle ambient music, producing an effective and spacious soundstage. My only criticism would be a couple of poorly mixed songs placed into the show, throwing off its balance.

French, Spanish, Portuguese, and a hidden Japanese dub are included as secondary audio offerings. The first three are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 kbps. The following optional subs display in a white font: English SDH, Japanese, French, Spanish, Dutch, Spanish (Latin American), Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish.

Audio ★★★★☆

Warner Bros. has been providing better special features in their latest wave of television releases on Blu-ray. The Vampire Diaries is popular enough to merit a full combo pack, which includes the entire season on both Blu-ray and five DVDs. The complete season is also provided in the included UltraViolet digital copy, redeemable on VUDU or Flixster. It comes inside a cardboard slipbox with a thick Amaray case, holding all nine discs and a fairly extensive episode guide. It’s a handsome package that should fit neatly along your other Blu-ray sets of Vampire Diaries.

This season doesn’t include any audio commentaries but has four new featurettes, including the ever-popular Comic-Con panel.

2013 Comic-Con Panel (30:36 in HD) – The main cast and showrunner Julie Plec answer questions from fans. This is a lively, fun discussion, intended for diehard fans. It was filmed before the season aired, so it makes sense to view before watching the entire season. Ian Somerhalder is the most outgoing, having fun with his other castmates and the crowd.

Unaired Scenes (HD) – Seven different episodes feature brief scenes that didn’t make the final cut. They can’t be viewed within the context of the actual episode, which makes them less vital. Nothing in them is very essential.

I Know What You Did…In The Last 100 Episodes (10:15 in HD) – This is a funny featurette using a quiz format with the cast and crew. It’s funny when Nina Dobrev can’t remember all the trivia and past continuity from the show’s history.

To The Other Side and Back (10:35 in HD) – Season Five explored Bonnie’s role as the Anchor to the other side. This featurette includes interviews with Kat Graham and others, commenting on the role of ghosts in the show.

A Day In The Afterlife With Kat Graham (07:02 in HD) – A crew follows Kat Graham behind the scenes as she prepares for a shoot later that day. If you look closely, there is a copy of the Blu-ray set in her dressing room. This featurette actually made me a bigger fan of the actress, she seems like a very down-to-Earth person.

Second Bite: Gag Reel (05:03 in HD) – Some funny outtakes with Ian Somerhalder and Nina Dobrev, among others.

Extras ★★★☆☆

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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.