- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
- Rating: Not Rated
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Discs: 2
- Studio: BBC/Warner
- Blu-ray Release Date: August 2, 2011
- List Price: $39.98
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
To most North Americans this BBC series of 90-minute crime dramas, which ran here on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery!, might seem like an odd mixture of Euro-Cultures. Zen takes a cast of mostly British actors and places them on location in Rome in a series of stories about Italy and an Italian Police detective. This may seem like a familiar premise, as it was done by the BBC with Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh, a mystery series about a Swedish detective set in Sweden. What makes Zen slightly different is that it is based on a series of novels by British author Michael Dibdin, who himself actually lived in Italy for a while. So, it is truly a blend of Euro-culture, right from its source material.
The series is four feature-length dramas starring Rufus Sewell (The Tourist; The Pillars of the Earth) as the Venetian detective Aurelius Zen, an honest, forthright detective working int eh often corrupt criminal system in Rome. Known for his uncanny ability to stumble into solving crimes while maintaining his integrity over seeking advancement, Zen isn’t always liked by his peers, but he’s tolerated by his superiors, especially the higher-ups who task him to take some sensitive investigations in these three episodes. Zen is also quite attractive to the ladies, but for this recently separated bachelor who now lives with his momma, there’s just one woman for him, the sexy new assistant to the Chief of Police Tania (Caterina Murino), who is herself trying to get out of a rocky marriage.
Vendetta: In this episode, the detective is sent to a remote village to re-open a murder investigation by politicians frightened it could spark a political scandal, meanwhile he’s being stalked by a gangster looking to take revenge for being sent to prison.
Cabal: The death of a high-profile aristocrat is ruled a suicide, but Detective Zen’s investigation says otherwise. It’s a case that leads to the shady world of underground crime, call girls, and possibly stolen diamonds. Meanwhile, his relationship with Tania is looking up.
Ratking: Finally, Zen must work to recover a wealthy kidnapped industrialist without compromising his integrity by breaking the law with a payout to the kidnappers. Things are complicated by the involvement of the family and a beautiful widow. Meanwhile, he faces the threat of Tania’s husband who tries every way he can to get Zen out of the picture.
Zen is captured in high definition and comes to Blu-ray in a 1080i/60 AVC/MPEG-4 encodement. Despite a rather high-bitrate encoding that averages around ~36Mbps, the image looks a bit soft and often shows some color banding in darker portions of the image, perhaps due to the cameras used and the production values. There is often an odd look to the motion, maybe from a 50Hz-to-60Hz conversion. Still, the imagery of the series comes across relatively well. It’s a slick looking production with beautiful Roman backdrops. Blacks aren’t quite as inky as they could be, but shadow detail is quite good despite issues with banding and some video noise.
I have wonder why this far into the life of Blu-ray any release would come out with DVD-era quality audio such as this disc with its lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix. This title from the BBC doesn’t even have the high-bitrate lossy DTS-HD High Resolution codec more common to these BBC Blu-ray releases. As a consequence of both the lack of a surround mix and the old lossy codec, the mix sounds claustrophobic, with sort of muffled dialogue and not too realistic sound effects.
There’s a half-hour-long making entitled Zen: An Italian Adventure (1.78:1; 00:31:27) with loads of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.
The Definitive Word
Zen is a beautifully photographed and intriguing series of crime thrillers from the same people that brought us Wallander. It works just a bit better than Wallander, perhaps helped by the picturesque backdrops of Rome and the seething chemistry between Rufus Sewell and the beautiful Italian actress Caterina Murino.
Additional Screen Captures