The first season of Hulu’s original series based inside Stephen King’s vast universe, Castle Rock, arrives on 4K Ultra HD and blu-ray this week with bonus features to help you dive further into the twisted mystery. Come inside to check out my full review of the new home entertainment release.
Being a fairly big Stephen King fan I was kind of bummed to have missed out on Castle Rock when it first launched last year. Since it released exclusively on Hulu (and I didn’t have an account at the time) I totally missed out on it, so was more than eager to dive in when Warner Bros. was kind enough to send the 4K release my direction.
The show is set within the multi-verse of Stephen King’s many works, meaning characters/locations from his various novels pop up. Sometimes they play a direct role in the events of the show (Shawshank Prison is a primary location) while others are neat nods and Easter eggs for fans to track down. More than just the setting and characters, however, the overall feel of the series is classic Stephen King storytelling...sometimes to a fault.
There’s something strange about the (fictional) town of Castle Rock where bad luck and curses seem to be the norm. When the retired Warden of Shawshank prison commits suicide in grisly fashion, a dark secret is uncovered. The Warden had been keeping an unknown person locked in a cage, literally down a hole, in an unused part of the prison. Upon his discovery, “the kid” only utters a name; Matthew Deaver.
Once his hometown, Deaver fled Castle Rock some time ago, working as a criminal defense attorney (mostly Death Row cases) in Texas. The strange appearance of the unknown inmate pulls Deaver back to the small town where he’ll have to unravel new mysteries that hold the key to both his past and future. As he deals with a town that still considers him a troublemaker, having gone missing and implicated in the death of his adoptive father, he must also cope with his mother’s increasing dementia.
There’s a LOT going on with this series and this is the most threadbare of summaries I can provide. There are other characters thrown in from Deaver’s past along with a handful of minor mysteries to solve. If you, like me, didn’t have Hulu and haven’t seen Castle Rock yet I’m not going to spoil it all here. It’s a series that rewards paying careful attention and has enough “holy shit” moments to make those reveals worth keeping underwraps in this review.
The acting throughout the series is top notch, with Sissy Spacek stealing the scene every time she’s on the screen. They all manage to craft believable characters (even in the midst of unbelievable circumstances) and they keep you sucked into the story throughout. I honestly can’t think of a performance that threw me out of the experience. From Bill Skarsgård haunting portrayal of ‘The Kid,’ André Holland’s tortured and skeptical Henry Deaver, and Melanie Lynskey’s downtrodden (but optimistic) Molly Strand, impressive performances abound throughout this series.
As I mentioned, Castle Rock sticks to the Stephen King storytelling structure/formula pretty religious. Unfortunately, this means some of the problems transfer over as well. Much as I love Stephen King and am a sucker for his books, there are plenty of frustrating things about them as well.
Just about all of his books follow a similar pattern: a strong opening that hooks you instantly, a ridiculously engaging middle-section that leaves you on the edge of your seat, and an ending that can’t live up to either of those and is ultimately unsatisfying. Sadly, Castle Rock feels much the same. Couple that with King's penchant for throwing in new characters/ideas near the apex of the story arc, and you're left with an overall great series that doesn't quite stick the landing.
It's frustrating but not necessarily a deal-breaker either. Overall, I still think the series was well worth watching, and I find myself thinking back on the shows themes and enduring mysteries often, despite the less that stellar ending. The season is filled with "what the fuck" moments that make it more than worthwhile and ultimately leaves you wanting more. For all the frustration, there's still a lot to enjoy about Castle Rock.
More so, it really seems like a show that rewards multiple viewings. So if you already caught the series on Hulu when it first hit, there's more than enough reason to come back. It's nearly impossible to catch all the Easter eggs and setups littered throughout the episodes the first time around. Whether you're watching it for the first time or just coming back for more (before season 2 arrives at some point), picking this collection up doesn't feel like a waste of time/money.
Sight and Sound
Castle Rock’s 4K presentation is pretty stunning, offering crisp picture clarity throughout all ten episodes. The image is sharp, making it easier than ever to spot those minute details in the background (some of which provide fun Easter eggs and clues) while also ensuring all of the character work shines through.
The blacks are deep and throughout the series there was no crushing that I noticed. This is especially great considering a bulk of the season utilizes very dark/dimly lit settings. Even when things grew dark, the picture never suffered and remained super clear. Several scenes stand out, but there are a few with Bill Skarsgård where he’s watching from the shadows, with only the barest hint of his pale face visible, along with the dark gleam in his eyes. It’s VERY creepy and excellent visual storytelling that could easily be lost if the picture transfer had been fuzzy.
The same care is put into the soundtrack for the 4K release. Castle Rock uses audio cues to give viewers hints about what’s going on and keeps you sucked in. The surround sound is great, immersing you deep into the town’s setting while still ensuring the dialog is given proper priority. All around, from the technical side of things, Castle Rock on 4K absolutely delivers the goods.
The Bonus Features
On top of the full ten episodes of the first season, Castle Rock’s 4K/blu-ray also includes these special features:
· Blood on the Page (New Featurette)
· A Clockwork of Horror: Merging the styles of Stephen King & J.J. Abrams (New Featurette)
· Inside the Episode: Severance
· Inside the Episode: Habeas Corpus
· Inside the Episode Local Color
· Inside the Episode: The Box
· Inside the Episode: Harvest
· Inside the Episode: Filter
· Inside the Episode: The Queen
· Inside the Episode: Past Perfect
· Inside the Episode: Henry Dever
· Inside the Episode: Romans
The bulk of the special features are the “Inside the Episode” featurettes that Hulu aired during the show’s initial release (and can still be found there). These quick 2-3 minute videos bring some behind the scenes insight for each episode but don’t delve too deeply. The disc does include two new featurettes specifically for this release.
These provide a much deeper insight into the filmmaking behind the series and the efforts put into evoking the style and tone of a Stephen King thriller, while still doing something new. They’re pretty fun, but mostly feel like one-and-done viewing.