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Zadzooks: Falling Skies: The Complete First Season review (Blu-ray)

- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2012

An extraterrestrial attack left the human race fighting for its survival and television viewers caught up in an overtly dramatic series on TNT last year.

The arrival of Falling Skies: The Complete First Season (Warner Home Video, not rated, $49.99) on the Blu-ray format presents the series' first 10 episodes and a chance to appreciate the sci-fi-twinged soap opera that never delivers enough firefights for my taste, but offers plenty of intriguing possibilities.

Starring Noah Wyle as Tom Mason, a history professor turned second-in-charge of the 2nd Massachusetts militia and a father to three boys, the action finds the humans in constant retreat in the Boston area as aliens look to enslave and exterminate the population.

"Falling Skies" won't be confused with AMC's much grittier survival series "The Walking Dead" (zombies trump aliens here), nor does the show take any of the stunning thematic twists or risks often seen in the first season of "Battlestar Galactica."

That's surprising since series executive producer and occasional writer Mark Verheiden is a pop-culture creative force known for his work on the reimagined "Galactica," "Smallville," "Heroes" and comic books based on the Aliens and Predators mythologies.

Instead, viewers get a more bland, prime-time, episodic dose of "War of the Worlds" with the constant struggle of military types trying to understand the foibles of a group of scared civilians.

Still, three areas of the show are promising and make me look forward to the return for the show on June 17.

First, we get the occasional appearance of ex-convict and ammunitions expert John Pope, played by Colin Cunningham. He's a bona fide skitter (the nickname for the aliens) hater and a lovable nutcase. He loves to cook, disregard commands and kill the pests and offers a level of unpredictability that drives commanders nuts.

Second, there's the finely crafted aliens that come in three varieties: a bipedal droid (call them Super Battledroids), a six-legged insectoid, and an extra-tall, spindly group. It's easy to see the influence of executive producer Steven Spielberg on the show.

Finally, aliens abduct human children and attach biotech devices to their spines. Take the harness off incorrectly and the child dies. Keep it on and they become slaves to the creatures and (suspenseful pause) so much more.

The most important part of the high-definition experience allows viewers to appreciate the finer points of the extraterrestrials and especially the "Close Encounters"-like conclusion to the first season.

Overall, "Falling Skies" is a comfortable fit in the "aliens attack Earth" genre, but is yet to prove itself brilliant.

Best extras: Besides a gaggle of audio commentaries on the majority of the episodes with contributions from Mr. Wyle, Mr. Verheiden, co-executive producer and director Greg Beeman, viewers get the 16-minute featurette "Falling Skies from Pencils to Print: The Comic Book Revealed." That mouthful offers interviews with the Dark Horse Comics staff, including writer of the Falling Skies comics series, Paul Tobin, editor Scott Allie and president and publisher Mike Richardson.

Both Mr. Tobin and Mr. Allie explain the difference in mediums down to pacing and panels versus shots and explain the freedom the comics offer to explore subplots (such as the budding relationship between Tom and Ann and the origin of the militia's weapons) that would become part of the TV series.

Starring art by Juan Ferreyra throughout, it's a welcome plug for the sequential art industry and the innovative Dark Horse.

I'll mention a second extra just for its sheer irrelevance in today's digital world. The package contains a collectible trading card featuring a mediocre illustration of the cast from artist Steve Morris.

It's simply a glossy piece of cardboard with a description of the show on the back. No code for access to an online comic, no augmented reality potential and not even a QR (quick response) code to download the Falling Skies mobile app or Resistance Scan app.

That's a silly throwaway to market a sci-fi show considering the wealth of interactive content that can be found on the series website, including an episode guide, a personalized resistance story and the first-person shooter game Last Defense.

Read all about it: Dark Horse Comics' 2011 trade paperback Falling Skies ($9.99) offers a prequel to the television series. Or, find the free 48 page digital comic online covering the hard copy story that also adds the earlier adventures of Tom Mason and the 2nd Massachusetts.

Additionally, read the more recent set of digital comics on TNT's official "Falling Skies" website tied to the Battle of Fitchburg and the action between the first and second season.

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