Blu-ray Review: Once Upon a Time: The Complete Sixth Season

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Now available on Blu-ray and DVD, Once Upon a Time: The Complete Sixth Season continues ABC's popular fantasy drama. Throughout its sixth year, Once experienced some shaky, declining ratings. The network will be retooling the series as it soldiers onward. If you're new to the series, proceed directly to the first season. The labyrinth plot incorporates an army of classic fairy tale characters and their alter egos—largely unfolding in the present-day Storybrooke, Maine, but shuffling endlessly between that and various fantasy realms. Even if you're familiar with the series but simply not up-to-date, go back to wherever you left off before diving into the Sixth Season. This is highly difficult show to latch onto midstream

This past season continued the series' creeping trend of de-emphasizing the core cast in favor of extraneous subplot involving new characters (designed to come and go). Chief among those distraction this year are Aladdin (Deniz Akdeniz) and Princess Jasmine (Karen David) in a multi-episode run, and even Jafar (Oded Fehr) in a few episodes. Be it the Frozen sisters (in season four) or King Arthur and Merlin (in season five), the revolving door of Disney-related characters often feels like mere fan service. There are other folks who drop by throughout season six (including an admittedly welcome Faran Tahir as Captain Nemo), and while the performances are generally fine it feels distracting.

But then again, Once has always been something of a guilty pleasure almost since its inception. The very first season benefited from a sharp focus and novel conceit. But almost immediately thereafter (and increasingly so over the years) the storytelling got messy and the producers seemed unsure of the show's purpose. The cast grew unwieldy. And the writing varied up and down in quality. But the core cast has remained committed and endearing, particularly Lana Parrilla as Regina, whose Evil Queen dark side continues to battle her despite the events of season five. Also a consistent scene-stealing delight is Robert Carlyle as Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin, whose complex relationship with Belle (Emilie de Ravin) always at the very heart of the series. The abduction of their son by the Black Fairy (Jaime Murray) forms one of the season's more compelling multi-episode arcs. 
rsz_1once_upon_a_time_s6_bd.jpg Disney/Buena Vista once again deliver an attractive visual presentation of Once Upon a Time with the sixth season. If I'm not mistaken, ABC is among the networks that still continue to broadcast in 720p rather than full HD. Therefore seeing Once in 1080p is always a treat since the series boasts impressive production values. Sometimes the CG appears a bit dodgy with the increased resolution, but that's down to the effects budget for a weekly effects-driven, large ensemble show. Above all Once—colorful, atmospheric, and richly detailed—is always a fun show to simply look at, with the Sixth Season set being no exception.

Audio presentation remains strong as well, with each episode outfitted with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix. Though essentially dialogue-centric, Once has always flaunted a cinematic approach to sound design—effects and music are placed with care. The popular musical episode, "The Song In Your Heart," is certainly an episode that benefits from the surround mix.

Speaking of "The Song In Your Heart," the best of the supplements is "The Storybrooke Songbook: Inside the Musical Episode," a featurette detailing the episode's creation. At ten minutes, it's really not an in-depth examination, but the cast and crew's enthusiasm is pretty infectious. While previous Once season sets haven't contained truly notable amounts of special features, it seems like the Sixth Season has taken a downturn. There is but one audio commentary: episode three, "The Other Shoe." Director Steve Pearlman is joined by writers Jane Espenson & Jerome Schwartz for an episode-length chat about the Cinderella (Jessy Schram)-themed episode.
rsz_once_upon_a_time_the_song_in_your_heart.jpg Nearly a half-hour of deleted scenes (spanning six episodes from throughout the season) are also present, along with "The Fairest Bloopers of Them All" (self-explanatory title; runs about eight minutes). It's mildly disappointing that Disney didn't come up with a couple of additional featurettes or maybe some cast interview segments—especially since the Sixth Season marks the end of an era for the series as we will not be seeing so many of its cast regulars again.

Once Upon a Time returns on October 6, 2017 with the premiere of its seventh season. Lana Parrilla, Robert Carlyle, and Colin O'Donoghue will be back in their familiar roles. But there are big changes afoot, with the departure of the rest of the regular cast and the addition of numerous new faces. And honestly the show needed a makeover. While it might be hard letting go of favorite characters, Once fans have a lot to look forward to next season.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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