The Dresden Files: Season 1 Review
I doubt if Friday The 13th: The Series will ever make it to DVD. A little like The Hunger but without the overt sexuality, Friday The 13th: The Series was a horror compendium in which a pair of cousins, having inherited an antiques shop, set about recovering all the haunted antiques sold by their devil-worshipping uncle, it had a nice, dreamy atmosphere that sat well with its late-night/early-morning slot on ITV. Although, frankly, it might have been awful - I have had a brief glimpse of the copyright-busting material on Youtube that didn't confirm anything, one way or t'other - and look instead to the memories of the show, which are wholly positive.
Happily, The Dresden Files has come along and effectively brought everything that I liked about Friday The 13th: The Series back to the small screen, even down to its slightly otherworldly atmosphere, which probably owes much to Harry Dresden (Paul Blackthorne) being a wizard. A real wizard, mind. Dresden is a magical consultant who assists the police in various cases they have trouble closing. However, the police officers, though they can clearly read WIZARD off the front window to his building, don't see Dresden as much more than a crank who, in the words of one sceptic, kills chickens and looks into the entrails. Actually, no one knows what Dresden does or how he gets results but he does and all at a rate of $500/day with a minimum two-day contract.
The powders and bits of twigs that he presents to the police are as nothing to Dresden's real power. Dresden inherited his abilities from his mother, who died when he was a young boy. Touring the country with his father, who was a hopeless stage magician, Dresden aided his father's failing tricks from his seat in the theatres. After his father died, he lived with his uncle, the black magician Justin Morningway, who he would later kill in a duel. Arriving back in Chicago, he opens his professional wizarding agency and gratefully takes whatever scraps the police offer him, filling in his hours listening out for ghosts, looking into teacups and making love potions. But what the police don't know is that his magical powers are very real and that Dresden is the link between their world and that of the High Council of the supernatural.
The overriding tone of The Dresden Files is that of detective noir. Dresden offers a voiceover, sounds less hardbitten than soft-centred and passes on the trenchcoat in favour of a beat-up jacket. In place of a gun, he carries a hockey stick, which acts as a sceptre, and a drumstick does for his wand but in all other respects, this is gumshoe fiction in the world of the supernatural. That it's such a snug fit is testament to how easily noir fits into other genres and how surely Harry Dresden stays to type.
However, The Dresden Files, given its place in the worlds of magic and mystery, ushers in the undead, the very dead and those with a taste for kohl eyeliner. Aiding Harry is Hrothbert of Bainbridge (Terrence Mann) who is also known as Bob and who, as a spirit, lives within a skull owned by Dresden. Acting as something of an advisor, Bob strays away from his knowledge of magic and into Dresden's personal life always with a demeanour that suggests some discomfort with Harry's line of work. Warden Donald Morgan (Conrad Coates) is a member of the High Council, the body that governs witches and wizards and is often uncomfortable with the manner in which Dresden rides roughshod over the rules and regulations that are held so dearly by the High Council. Finally, there's cop Lieutenant Connie Murphy (Valerie Cruz), who, as well as having a romantic interest in Dresden, often requests his help in spite of knowing nothing about his unique methods. He simply gets results.
The kind of cases that Dresden covers are unusual ones even for a supernatural thriller. Season opener Birds Of A Feather tells the story of a young boy who hires Dresden to protect him from the monsters that he believes are hiding in his closest. Unfortunately, these monsters are very real but have a more benevolent interest in the boy than he first realises. Two of the better episodes follow with The Boone Identity seeing Dresden aiding a grieving father and the restless spirit of his daughter while, in Hair Of The Dog Dresden comes up against both a werewolf and the FBI, neither of whom have much of a liking for him. Later, he is asked by Bianca, Chicago's most renowned vampire, for protection from parties who seem intent on assassination while in Soul Beneficiary a prospective client dies in Dresden's office. Then he dies again and again before his wife calls on Dresden, only for her to die as well. Bob goes missing in What About Bob?, Dresden becomes a suspect in a double-murder, thieves conjure the spirit of a dead robber in Walls, Dresden and Morgan are trapped in Things That Go Bump while, in the show's final episode, Dresden and Murphy kiss but the arrival of her father causes problems for the pair of them.
With its wintry tone, the shades of magic and horror that run through it and a pleasing sense of humour, The Dresden Files is fairly entertaining throughout. There is the problem that comes with supernatural thrillers - one that I first read regarding Phil Rickman's border-country exorcism novels - in that if the hero can call on the supernatural to work a way out of a bind, is there any thrill to be had? Certainly, Dresden has a unique way of resolving situations and there is rarely the sense that he's in any danger. When arrested and imprisoned by the FBI, he simply opens the prison door, leaves a ghost of himself in the cell and walks out. Elsewhere, his hockey stick proves itself capable of dealing with the undead as well as gunfire while Dresden usually has a way of dealing with all manner of ghosts and ghouls. Not even the vampires will touch Dresden, other than for a bit of slap'n'tickle, which suggests he leads a very charmed life indeed.
Then again, Dracula rose from the dead for Hammer many, many times and Van Helsing killed him by means just as numerous, each one almost as entertaining as the time before. In arriving without any fanfare whatsoever, The Dresden Files is entertaining, funny and will be quite the tonic for those unhappy at the lack of a decent horror series on television. Certainly, my liking of it comes from my remembering Friday The 13th: The Series so fondly but the audiences that so enjoyed Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel and The Hunger will also find much to like here. Unfortunately, though, such a liking for The Dresden Files might be short-lived.
Anamorphically presented in 1.78:1, The Dresden Files doesn't look particularly bad but falls some way short of the clarity of the image in the boxset releases of CSI and The Shield. Colour is certainly fine and while the show looks a little dark, that's really only to be expected from one that dwells in the supernatural and the mysterious. However, it's the softness of the picture that is more of a problem with there being very little detail in the backgrounds of The Dresden Files, which does a fine job of disguising the sometimes very poor CG effects but which is more troubling in the everyday action of the series. I suspect, though, that the reason for this was the Sci-Fi Channel's lack of investment in The Dresden Files, which led to its producers being unable to invest as much as they would have liked in its making.
The DD5.1 audio track is a little better with some clear use of the rear channels and with the dialogue unmissable against the background effects and ambient noise. The special effects used in the show, though not much more than a swish across the screen, are well-placed within the soundstage and while there is a little background noise, it's nothing to be particularly concerned about. Finally, there are English subtitles throughout although I did notice a couple of misspellings.
The Dresden Files has done reasonably well for a show that clearly didn't have the full attention of the Sci-Fi Channel. The main extra is a Making Of (18m13s) that hosts the main cast and crew for a look back at the production of The Dresden Files, its background in the novels of Jim Butcher and how it came to be shown on the Sci-Fi Channel. Unfortunately, given the use of special effects in The Dresden Files, there's far too much of CG shots in various stages of construction and far too little about the horror in the show but with a running time of less than half an hour, it's a brisk introduction and is certainly likeable. There are also two Commentaries, one on Rules Of Engagement and another on Things That Go Bump, both of which feature actor Paul Blackthorne, director Michael Grossman and writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe. In spite of the period of mourning that the three of them could have been in, these are actually good-humoured tracks that are largely without focus but in a good way. The three contributors tend to talk over one another, jump wildly from one topic to another and take only a passing interest at what they're watching but, really, they're all the better for that and are certainly an enjoyable listen. Finally, there is a set of Deleted Scenes, including those from Rules Of Engagement (2m48s) and one scene from Hair Of The Dog (27s).
And that's it. No really, that is it. After this run of twelve episodes, the Sci-Fi Channel decided not to renew The Dresden Files. That's a shame as this was really enjoyable throughout. Though perhaps not for everybody, at least The Dresden Files wasn't only a cop drama or a forensics science show or straight sci-fi and had some new ideas, all of which were dealt with nicely in a show that didn't take itself very seriously. Granted, I have something of a liking for the rather safe horror that appears on television but The Dresden Files is a much better show than it might cancelled after one season might suggest. It's certainly worth watching and probably never more so than on this DVD set.