Black Sails S1 - S4 Collection
Toby Stephens, Hannah New, Luke Arnold, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Tom Hopper
Drama Blu-ray Discs
Starz / Anchor Bay
Late to the party on this amazing series, but it's among one of my favorites now. I binged all four seasons from the library then had to have my own copy, and of course I couldn't resist something as shiny as the steelbook edition blu-ray set. The show itself is wonderful, full of complicated characters, minorities of all kinds (racial, gender, and sexual), and the kind of rage specific to those minorities when oppressed by mainstream society as they would have been at the time. It's a fantastic "what if" look at history, of what happens to stories when they are shaped and told by the victors, and weaves together historical figures (Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, Woodes Rogers, etc) with characters from Treasure Island and original characters created for the series, all revolving around the true (and exaggerated/sensationalized) accounts of piracy based in Nassau while also serving as a prequel for the novel. There's plenty here for the pirate and/or history buff to enjoy, and for those who are familiar with Treasure Island, but more than enough for any viewers not well acquainted with either of those things as well.
The first season is the weakest, with a slow setup and enough gratuitous sex scenes to rival Game of Thrones as well as a disappointing rape plotline, but once everything gets going it only gets better and better with each season. The whole cast is excellent and well lead by Toby Stephens as James Flint, one of the best characters I've ever seen on television. Each character is complex and carries their own backstories and motivations - no one is ever simply a hero or a villain, with good people doing horrible things and bad people doing good things along the way as everyone fights for survival. Each revelation about a character will shed light on something that happened earlier in the series, and every character grows and changes throughout the show. Try not to be spoiled for this one if you can!
Production values start high and keep rising higher with each season. Battles start small then progress to full scale invasions of Spanish fleets. The series was filmed in and around Cape Town, South Africa, and really showcases the natural beauty of the region alongside the detailed setpieces. The underwater sequences are particularly impressive, as well as the storm in season 3.
As for the steelbook set, for the most part it's very impressive. Each "book" contains two seasons, with the front and back artwork on each lining up to form one larger image on each side. The downside to the design is that multiple discs are stored on one "peg", making it difficult to just grab the disc you want from the pile. One of the pegs has 4 discs crammed onto it, so the top one doesn't always stay put properly. Season 1 is spread over three discs, while seasons 2 and 3 are on four discs, then season 4 only gets 2 discs. The extras are all over the place - they don't seem to be anything new that wasn't on other DVD releases, mostly one long behind-the-scenes interview with cast and crew that's chopped up into smaller "episodes" so that they tie in to each ep as you watch them, but they're nice to have. The little plastic sleeve is fine to keep the set together, but it's very easily scratched and smudged. The set in general seems to attract fingerprints, really.
There's a different menu style for each season, with season 1 being the odd one out. It looks like it's the only season with subtitles and language options - there's a screen at the beginning where you choose the language, then the menu will come up. It's very minimalist, with only icons to select. The anchor is for "play all", the parchment page lets you select an episode, the ship's wheel has the setup options, and the arrow sends you back to the first language selection screen if you accidentally click the wrong one. All the other seasons have a more standard text-based menu screen (see pics, some of them are rather beautiful too look at).
I just finished rewatching to test the discs, and every one played fine. Be aware that this is a region 2 blu-ray, so will only play on region-free/unlocked players in the US. There were two moments where the sound dropped out for a split second (and did so every time if rewound and played again), but that seems to happen randomly to some blu-rays and it wasn't during any dialogue, just background sounds, so it doesn't bother me that much. The picture is excellent, the colors are crisp and bright, and the sound is adequate on my system. Very happy to have this set in my collection!