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Warner Home Video presents
Without a Trace: The Complete First Season (2002-2003)

"We've got to work from the inside out. Once we find out who she is, odds are we'll find out where she is."
- Jack Malone (Anthony LaPaglia)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: September 07, 2004

Stars: Anthony LaPaglia, Poppy Montgomery, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Enrique Murciano, Eric Close
Other Stars: Arija Barekis, David Paymer, Kyle Secor, Charles S. Dutton, Jared Hillman, Philip Baker Hall, Alex Fatovich, Dempsey Pappion, Dariush Kashani, Eric Scott Gould, Landry Allbright, Nicole DeHuff, Rosalind Chao, Amy Chaffee, Lawrence Pressman, Amber Tamblyn, Ernie Hudson, James DiStefano, Ashleigh Ann Wood, Davis Henry, Frank John Hughes, Tom Irwin
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, adult themes, some language)
Run Time: 16h:32m:00s
Release Date: September 07, 2004
UPC: 085393370329
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+AB+ B

DVD Review

Crime dramas are a dime a dozen. What does it take for one to standout? Today, the style of choice is the fast-paced, Bruckheimer-produced veneer that features sassy, witty casts, gruesome cases and edgy plots. This approach has certainly been successful, spawning such rating hits as CSI (and two spinoffs so far), Cold Case and the best of the three, Without a Trace. Paired with the aforementioned crime science drama on Thursday nights, Without a Trace has ridden the coattails of success to become another highly rated program, giving NBC's "Must-See TV" a run for its Friends-drenched money. Style aside, substance must reside, along with a cast of likable characters. This is where Without a Trace has an edge up, proving its standalone value.

Forty-eight hours; it is the critical time in which missing persons are most likely to be found after their disappearance. Once this deadline expires, the person is all but lost. Jack Malone (Emmy winner Anthony LaPaglia) leads a crack team of FBI specialists trained to track down these ghosts. Their strategy is simple: Learn about the person, and you'll learn where they can be found. To prove this precept time and time again, Malone's team delves deep into the lives of those missing, unearthing every detail about their public and private lives. Even the most minute detail could mean the difference between success and failure; they know it's usually a losing battle, but their commitment and dedication is absolute.

Malone (Anthony LaPaglia) is the steadfast leader, exuding the right level of authoritative tension to keep his team members in line; he is also a dedicated family man, making some cases more personal than he may like. Samantha Spade (the attractive Poppy Montgomery) is a young, rambunctious agent who has some experience, but is still learning. Vivan Johnson (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is an expert at sniffing out clues with a take-no-prisoners attitude. Danny Taylor (Enrique Murciano) is a somewhat cocky, intelligent agent whose street-wise background allows him to communicate more readily with certain suspects. Finally, Martin Fitzgerald (Eric Close) is the rookie—a white collar son of a government official who looks only to prove himself without the aid of special treatment. This is a talented, varied cast that is clearly anchored to LaPaglia, enhanced by talented supporting characters such as Philip Baker Hall and Charles S. Dutton.

Unlike CSI, a program with cocky, periodically unlikable characters and plots that grow more and more sensational as the budget increases, Without a Trace manages to stay relatively down to earth. Its first season was quite impressive for a debut run; since then it has faltered a bit, but this initial outing is impressive, featuring cases that engage, entertain and even shock with twists that do not feel far fetched. Plot elements are built around the lives of those missing, details of which are revealed through flashbacks, accessed through some very impressive CGI-enhanced transitions, and 'ghost' shots, depicting the victim disappearing before our very eyes; the slick Bruckheimer visual requirements have all been met here. The streets of New York look appropriately gritty and bleached, showcased in some impressive overhead helicopter shots that frequently begin new scenes. Each case is tracked on a whiteboard that details the timeline leading up to the disappearance and superimpositions remind us of the constantly ticking clock, raising the tension.

Having intelligent plots and a slick style is only part of the battle. Though not to the impressive extent as the sadly canceled, yet highly respected Boomtown, Without a Trace manages to develop the lives of its characters. The team here is not merely a tool to extrapolate the intricacies of the week's story. Instead, each episode adds a bit to each characters' persona, further enhancing the events on screen—the case is not necessarily the whole story. When the lives and relationships of those investigating are examined in conjunction, we begin to care for them as human beings—there is far more reason to tune in.

Cases are varied and unique, but some are better than others. The pilot still bears growing pains; the actors are just beginning to find their bearings, and it shows. Pilot is relatively straightforward (all missing person cases may seem so on the surface), providing a solid start, but this show has no threat of burning out early: A young marketing executive is the picture os success. Beneath the surface, however, the woman is faced with family troubles, depression and drug addiction. When she suddenly goes missing, agent Fitzgerald takes it upon himself to prove his worth, endangering his life and the life of the victim. Later episodes would feature a meticulously detailed FBI headquarters set and a dazzling credit sequence with a strong opening theme.

Comparing Pilot to the stunning season finale, presented here in a previously unaired "Creator's Cut," the evolution of quality is apparent. In Fallout, the owner of an employment service, whose offices were destroyed in the attack on the World Trade Center, is abducted. During the course of the investigation, Samantha is captured, held under the barrel of a grief-stricken man who has yet to accept the death of his wife on 9/11. Powerful overtones concerning that tragic day are sharply captured. The quality of today's TV is generally depressing; here is an effort that proves there is still something worth watching.

This four-disc set features all 22 episodes of season one, presented on three dual sided, single layered discs (four episodes per side max):

Disc 1: Pilot, Birthday Boy, He Saw She Saw, Between the Cracks, Suspect, Silent Partner, Snatch Back, Little Big Man
Disc 2: In Extremis, Midnight Sun, Maple Street, Underground Railroad, Hang on to Me, The Friendly Skies, There Goes the Bride, Clare De Lune
Disc 3: Kam Li, The Source, Victory for Humanity, No Mas, Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?, Fallout
Disc 4: Special Features

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Warner’s 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer maintains the original aspect ratio of the show's HD broadcast. The initial press release stated the transfers would be 1.33:1, but thankfully, the widescreen compositions are maintained. The image looks fantastic, showing great detail, color saturation and contrast. Despite some fine grain, this is a very clean, impressive image that greatly surpasses any snowy 1.33:1 presentation I originally experienced. Well done.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Surround track has a very spacious soundstage. Dialogue is clear and crisp and the soundtrack is well detailed. Monaural fill from the surrounds is surprisingly strong, almost overly so. There is no 5.1, but this dialogue-heavy program would benefit little from the enhancement. Still, this is an immersive, functional mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 132 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by creator Hank Steinberg and executive producer Ed Redlich on Pilot; Hank Steinberg on Fallout
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. "Creator's Cut" of Fallout
  2. Insert booklet with detailed episode guide
Extras Review: The first thing that I noticed about this set is its attractive packaging. Similar to some of MGM's special edition releases, the set's cardboard digipak is encased by a thin plastic slipcase that has small transparent windows around the shots of the main characters, allowing the artwork on the digipak to show through. It looks great, but once the plastic wrap is off, the plastic's lack of rigidity causes the slipcase to become misshapen.

Two commentaries are included. Pilot features comments from creator Hank Steinberg and executive producer Ed Redlich, and Fallout features only Steinberg. The comments contributed are lively and anecdotal, benefitting from hindsight. Discussions include changes over the course of the shows run, casting, scene revisions and visual effects. The style is pleasantly laid back and conversational.

Missing Evidence denotes deleted scenes, accessed through a fingerprint icon beside the corresponding episode. Entries that contain these missing bits include Pilot, Between the Cracks, Suspect, In Extremes, Midnight Sun, Underground Railroad, Hang on to Me, The Friendly Skies, No Mas, Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? These scenes are presented in 1.33:1. As previously mentioned, the season finale, Fallout is presented in a new "Creator's Cut," bringing its runtime to 01h:30m:17s. This is a nice bonus, but I do wish the broadcast cut was also included.

Disc 4 contains two short EPK pieces on the series. The Motive (15m:04s) is an intro, exploring the origins and format of the series with comments from Jerry Bruckheimer, among others. Fingerprints (10m:08s) is an especially interesting bit on the look of the show, which had to recreate the feel of New York through careful use of the streets of LA. We are also treated to a tour of the FBI set, which allows for amazing camera freedom due to its wide spaces, connectivity and built-in lighting. A massive translight out the windows can be changed to a nighttime skyline with the flick of a switch.

There is also an insert booklet with a detailed episode guide with summaries, cast, airdate, and chapter listings.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Without a Trace the best of the slick, Bruckheimer-produced dramas of recent years. A strong cast, sharp writing, and details that go beyond the case make it memorable. Warner's boxed set is impressive, containing the original 16x9 transfers and some worthwhile extras. Don't wait 48 hours to investigate.


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