Genre: Adventure | Drama | Fantasy
Creator: David S. Goyer
Run time: 466 minutes
Release date: September 3, 2013
Da Vinci’s Demons: The Complete First Season is a portrait of a young man tortured by the gift of superhuman genius. Da Vinci is a man in the midst of a storm that has been brewing for centuries. A conflict between truth and lies; religion and reason; past and future. His aspirations are used against him by the opposing forces of the time – luring him into a game of seduction where those who despise his intellect need him most.
Leonardo must take up the fight against those who use history, religion and politics to suppress the truth. A hero armed only with genius, da Vinci stands alone against the darkness within and the darkness without.
Facing an uncertain future, his quest for knowledge nearly becomes his undoing as he explores the fringes of his own sanity. He throws himself into his genius and emerges as an unstoppable force that lifts an entire era out of darkness and into the light of understanding.
Da Vinci’s Demons: The Complete First Season features Tom Riley (Monroe) in the role of Leonardo da Vinci, Laura Haddock (The Inbetweeners Movie) as Lucrezia Donati, Blake Ritson (The Crimson Petal and the White) as Lord Girolamo Riario, Elliot Cowan (Sinbad) as Lorenzo Medici, Gregg Chillin (Being Human) as Zoroaster and Lara Pulver (Sherlock) as Clarice Orsini.
An “historical fantasy” is how creator/showrunner David S. Goyer describes Da Vinci’s Demons; it is that and so much more. He has taken historical figures and events and not only dramatized them, but blended them with large doses of gothic punk and Sherlock Holmes and a dash of mysticism – thank goodness, since that’s why SciFiMafia.com covers the show – and then shaped and molded it all into the best eye candy, audio treat, and mystery meal that we have been served all year.
It. Is. Delicious.
If you know your Renaissance Florence, you’ll recognize many specific people and events and might even have guessed how the first season was going to end. If you know nothing about Renaissance Florence, learned only a little, or learned a lot but have since forgotten it, you may presume that almost all of it is fabricated, and that’s okay. The season offers something for everyone.
In fact, one of the most interesting things we are told in the commentaries – Goyer is on all of them – is who and what are real, “representative,” or fabricated in the series. Here’s a tip, though – most of the major events and characters are historically accurate. Even Leonardo’s friends, Zoroaster and Nico, are actually known to have been Leonardo’s friends, though Nico – that’s Niccolo Machiavelli, by the way – has been made to be younger than he actually was, and friends with Leonardo earlier in both their lives than he actually was.
Likewise some of the sets are real, some are fabricated, and some are “enhanced”. Some bits of CG look like CG, with that gray cast that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, and once or twice this is acknowledged by Goyer in the commentaries. Much of the shoot was done in a vast warehouse-turned-soundstage, and some of the “exteriors” just miss looking like exteriors. On the other hand, real castles, fields, and cliffs are also employed, and the overall look of the sets is simply gorgeous.
The costumes are definitely not historically accurate, but they absolutely knock your socks off. It’s Leo the Rockstar, Clarice Orsini as couture-laden First Lady, Riario in The Matrix. If you’re a fan of costumes, you’ll want this DVD set, trust me.
I reviewed the Bear McCreary soundtrack for this series earlier this year, so make sure to read that, (and pay no attention to the music in the trailer above, the haunting score is not included) but here’s a summary. It’s Bear McCreary. Influenced by the Renaissance. Of course it’s amazing.
The cast is outstanding, and the performances easily match the outrageously beautiful sights and sounds. Tom Riley as Leo inhabits the character as fully as Benedict Cumberbatch is Sherlock, and although so much of the success of the show revolves around him, the exceptional work of Elliot Cowan as commanding yet not immovable Lorenzo Medici, Laura Haddock as the exquisite and conflicted Lucrezia Donati, Blake Ritson as the absolutely focused and chilling Riario, Gregg Chillin as the charmer Zoroaster, Lara Pulver as the insightful and regal Clarice Orsini, Tom Bateman as the increasingly maturing and likeable Giuliano de Medici, Hera Hilmar as free-hearted and brave Vanessa, plus veteran actors David Schofield, James Faulkner, and Allan Corduner, make up one of the best, most talented and powerful ensembles I’ve seen in recent years.
But wait, that’s not all! The stories! The episode-long mysteries and the longer mythologies are meticulous, dense, dramatic, brutal, twisty – everything you’d hope for from David S. Goyer, who co-wrote The Dark Knight trilogy and the mythology-heavy series FlashForward. As you can see in the trailer above, just because it’s Leonardo da Vinci doesn’t mean it’s all inventions and writing with both hands. There’s plenty of swordplay and blood and creepiness and a fair amount of skin – it is a subscription cable show – but it’s the mysteries that keep me glued. And there are clues, clues everywhere. I learned how much I missed, even on multiple views, when I heard the commentaries. Speaking of which…
The commentaries for this set are required listening for fans of the series. As I’ve referenced repeatedly now, Goyer is full of information about the production details, historical bases, and hints about future episodes and seasons, and he does not hold back. As with any commentary, you of course shouldn’t listen until you’ve watched the entire season at least once, but after that, head for these gems. He is joined in each commentary by Tom Riley, and by at least one other actor in each of the four commentaries included.
Here is the full list of bonus features:
• Audio Commentaries with Writer/Creator/Executive Producer/Director David S. Goyer
and Actors Tom Riley, Laura Haddock, Blake Ritson, David Schofield and Tom Bateman
• Mastering Da Vinci
• Constructing Da Vinci
• Dressing Da Vinci
• Worldwide Fanfare
• Deleted Scenes
• Second Screen Promo
We’re also given an onscreen option I’ve not seen before; the choice of whether to include the “previously on” recap for episodes 2-8. I can see how they could interrupt a marathon viewing, and it shows an appreciation for the viewing experience that is slightly higher than we’ve come to expect for series sets.
If you watched the “making of”-type featurettes posted here on SciFiMafia.com during the broadcast of the series and/or heading into this set release, you will have seen all of that type of featurette which are included in this set. They are nevertheless welcome, and a great reminder of all the effort that has gone into this production.
A couple of the deleted scenes included as bonus features were also released early and posted here, but not all. Some have interesting insights, some are somewhat confusing, some are mentioned in the commentaries. They’re all great. The “Worldwide Fanfare” featurette is also new, and includes some brief interviews. The “Second Screen Promo” makes me want an iPad, since that’s the only way to take advantage of the Second Screen app. No iPad? No Second Screen for you. Or me. It’s the only disappointing thing about the series and this set.
On to the packaging. This set comes in a lovely trifold cover with slipcase, with indices. If you read my recent review of The Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season, you may recall my fury about the lack of indices. With that set, viewers are left to guess where any particular episodes and bonus features are located. Happily, Anchor Bay has almost completely redeemed itself for me with the Da Vinci’s Demons set. Disc numbers and episode numbers, titles, and even writer and director are identified on the third trifold of the cover, and disc numbers and titles are also listed below each disc spindle on the interior.
Unfortunately we still don’t know which episodes have commentaries until we click onto them, so here you go: they are on the first two episodes, “The Hanged Man” and “The Serpent” (disc 1), episode 5 “The Tower” (disc 2), and episode 8 “The Lovers” (season finale) (disc 3). As I noted above, David S. Goyer and Tom Riley are on all of the commentaries. Blake Ritson and Laura Haddock are on commentaries for episodes 1 and 2, David Schofield (Pietro da Vinci) on episode 5, and Tom Bateman (Giuliano de Medici) on episode 8. Again, do not miss these.
That stunningly beautiful screenshot is a shining example of why you need to own this set. If you loved the series when it was broadcast, wait until you see it on DVD. I can only imagine how much better it is on Blu-ray. The production values for this series will sweep you away. Combine the transporting visuals with the mesmerizing soundtrack, stellar acting, and intricate, intriguing, absorbing storylines and you have one of the best series of the year, and one that clearly belongs on your shelf, or better yet, on your DVD player right now.
I give Da Vinci’s Demons: The Complete First Season, Five out of Five Stars.
Da Vinci’s Demons: The Complete First Season is available now from Amazon; here’s the link: