Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Video review: "House of Cards"

The line between film and television -– or, at least, the one between movies and cable TV -- continues to dissipate. Cable channels like HBO are creating their own shows with budgets and production values equal to anything seen in your local cinema. Now other entities are getting into the game.

Consider “House of Cards,” an original series produced by Netflix. An ambitious political drama with a $100 million budget, it stars Kevin Spacey as a deeply amoral member of Congress deviously working the levers of power to his own end.

Rather than making the audience wait week by week to catch each new show, Netflix made the show’s entire 13-episode first season available for online streaming in one fell swoop this spring. (A second season is planned.) Those inclined could gorge themselves on the whole run in a single sitting.

“Cards” is essentially a showcase for Spacey (who is also an executive producer) at his reptilian best. As House Minority Whip Francis Underwood, Spacey is alternatingly silky smooth and slimy, charming his enemies and dominating his underlings and allies like a benevolent dictator as a climbs the ladder toward the White House.

“House of Cards” can best be seen as a sort of darkling twin to “The West Wing,” depicting a venal Washington D.C. that’s probably closer to reality than our idealized imagination. Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Michael Kelly and Corey Stoll also shine as supporting characters caught in Underwood’s web.

Now that the show is being released on video, however, it raises interesting questions about the shifting relationship between film, television and home video.

Why, exactly, would anyone shell out to buy “House of Cards” on DVD or Blu-ray (suggested retail price of $55.99 and $65.99, respectively) when the show is available to be seen with an $8 monthly streaming Netflix membership? Especially when, other than some special collectible packaging, it’s coming out without any video extras?

Those familiar with Netflix’s streaming library of movies and TV shows know that what’s available today might not be tomorrow. So it’s possible “House of Cards” might go away from streaming Netflix at some point.

And no matter how fast your Internet connection, the quality of DVD/Blu-ray will not be matched by streaming video anytime soon.



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