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Fox Home Entertainment presents
"What happens next is on you, Jack! It's on you!"
DVD ReviewAfter the phenomenal success of 24's first season, critics and public alike wondered whether the show's novel real-time approach would become stale, and if the writers could concoct an equally riveting and surprising plotline for the series' sophomore season. Those concerns were quickly allayed after the first few episodes aired, and despite an idiotic, damsel-in-distress story arc for the impossibly dim-witted Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), the second year of 24 wound up outshining the first. Who knew the escapades of the Los Angeles arm of the nation's Counter Terrorist Unit (or CTU) would become so topical, but after 9/11, the show's race-against-time, protect-the-public-at-all-costs premise struck a chord with a paranoid populace ever mindful of violent threats. The rest, they say, is history, and 24 has deliciously exploited our collective fears ever since to the tune of high ratings, critical acclaim, and a Golden Globe Award as Best Dramatic TV Series.
Although the plots possess plenty of overblown elements to keep viewers entertained, the potent kernels of truth upon which the stories are built stick in our craw. And it's that uneasiness combined with smart writing and thrill-a-minute storytelling that makes 24 so addictive. In Season Two, agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) bravely thwarted a band of international extremists and their plan to detonate a nuclear bomb in downtown L.A., but in Season Three, he and his CTU colleagues must combat a more insidious (and even scarier) threat—bioterrorism. And in so doing, the cast and writers make the third season of 24 the best yet.
Three years have passed since the final hour of Season Two, and for a large chunk of that time, Jack has been undercover in Mexico, seeking to ensnare and incarcerate notorious drug kingpin Ramon Salazar (Joaquim de Almeida). As Season Three opens, Salazar sits in a maximum security L.A. prison while Jack struggles to kick the heroin habit he picked up to preserve his cover. Soon, Salazar's brother, Hector (Vincent Laresca), demands Ramon's release, and if the authorities don't quickly comply, he vows to unleash a potent, incurable virus that could kill millions in a matter of days.
Meanwhile, President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) is campaigning for re-election, and just happens to be in Los Angeles for a high-profile debate with his challenger. But when a scandal involving Palmer's brother and chief advisor, Wayne (D.B. Woodside), threatens to tarnish his presidency, David enlists the Machiavellian services of his duplicitous ex-wife Sherry (Penny Johnson Jerald)—the woman we love to hate—to clean up the mess. And Sherry follows orders to the nth degree in a marvelous homage to Bette Davis in The Little Foxes that cements her reputation as TV's ballsiest bitch.
But, wait. What of bimbo Kim, Jack's ditzy daughter who spent what seemed like endless hours in Season Two running away from a mountain lion? Well, believe it or not, she now works for CTU (can you say nepotism?) and has fallen in love with her father's hunky new partner, Chase Edmunds (James Badge Dale). Jack, for a number of good reasons, doesn't approve of the union, which causes friction between him and Chase (and Chase and Kim) as the day's events unfold.
Speaking of friction, CTU colleagues Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) and Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth)—now married—repeatedly clash over a couple of key procedural issues, causing their relations to become strained as well. And as icing on the cake, Jack's sexy nemesis, Nina Meyers (Sarah Clarke), returns once again to lock horns (and maybe even lock lips) with Agent Bauer as she continues to imperil the free world. Gotta love it.
24 seamlessly weaves its secondary storylines into the main plot thread, yet never at the expense of action. The series' greatest strength is the masterful way it sustains tension, engineering a host of mini-cliffhangers throughout each season to keep viewers breathlessly perched on the edge of their seats. And in Season Three, the writers have perfected the formula. The jaw-dropping twists and turns we've come to expect seem more plausible (if also predictable), and the characters possess more dimension and depth. At one point, Jack even breaks down emotionally to relieve his suffocating stress. (It's about time!) In a world where people still rarely eat and never go the bathroom, that's progress.
Lest you worry, however, that 24 is becoming too touchy-feely, rest assured Season Three's body count remains in the stratosphere. An equal opportunity killer, 24 indiscriminately bumps off extras and leads with dizzying efficiency. As a result, even mild confrontations crackle with suspense, and an air of impending doom hangs over almost every character. Anything can happen on 24, and much to our surprise and delight, it usually does.
A successful series, however, rarely subsists on story alone, and 24 is no exception. Fine acting by Sutherland (whose rock-solid presence anchors the show), Haysbert, Johnson Jerald, and the rest of the ensemble cast lends a sobering reality to even the most outlandish events. Better still, the polished direction possesses a cinematic edge that draws us into Jack Bauer's world and keeps us there over the course of one very long and exhausting day. Few other shows can compete with 24's pace and narrative drive, and even Hollywood's best action films struggle to top this unique, gripping, and highly entertaining series.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Anyone not fortunate enough to view 24 in Enhanced Definition during its original broadcast will be delighted with Fox's impressive anamorphic widescreen presentation. Even those, like myself, who did watch 24 in ED will notice increased sharpness and depth in the DVD transfer. Rich, deep colors and solid, inky blacks enhance the image, and clarity remains outstanding throughout. Almost half of 24 transpires at night, yet darkness never consumes details in nocturnal scenes. Slight grain lends the show a welcome film-like feel, and one would be hard-pressed to find more than a couple of nicks or specks in any of the two dozen episodes.
Now that Fox has embraced true HD (thank you!) it will be interesting to see the visual improvements during Season Four, but I can't imagine the series looking much better than it does here.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track offers some nice accents to many scenes, but it's not quite as potent as a standard movie track. The front-heavy mix is always clean and clear, but ambient effects are a bit thin and bass frequencies remain dormant too much of the time. The music score, however, sounds great, maximizing all five channels and sporting top-notch fidelity, crisp detail, and fine tonal depth. Dialogue, too, is exceptionally well rendered, and always takes precedence over other effects. For a TV track, this is really good stuff, but since 24 so often resembles a feature film, it's tough not to evaluate it in those terms.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 288 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mr. and Mrs. Smith
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Multiple Angles with remote access
45 Deleted Scenes
6 Feature/Episode commentaries by actors Kiefer Sutherland, Riley Smith, Sarah Clarke, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Reiko Aylesworth, Carlos Bernard, and James Badge Dale; writers Howard Gordon and Evan Katz; creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran; and producer Tim Iacofano
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Season Four takes place 15 months after Season Three, and finds Jack in a serious relationship with a beautiful woman. A year earlier, he also got unceremoniously shafted by the new female head of CTU, Erin Driscoll (Alberta Watson), who couldn't "look past" his prior drug use and renegade behavior. But a dire event inspires Jack to muscle his way back into the agency and, undoubtedly, save the world again. Judging by this brief preview, the new season of 24 looks darker, more sinister, and more intense than anything we've previously seen—and that's saying something.
But back to Season Three. Six audio commentaries on six different episodes, featuring actors, writers, producers, and directors, offer interesting insights into the production process, character development, casting, location shooting, and a multitude of other topics. All the participants possess tremendous enthusiasm for the show, which makes the tracks lively and involving. In addition, 45 deleted scenes can be integrated into their appropriate spot in each hour by activating a notification system that flashes an icon in the screen's bottom right-hand corner when excised material relates to the current scene. By clicking on the icon with your remote, you'll be taken immediately to the deleted sequence, then automatically returned to the regular episode upon its completion. Most of the cut scenes are quite brief, yet add subtle character shadings or emphasize plot points. If you'd rather not disrupt the purity or flow of each episode, all the deleted material can be viewed separately on Disc 7 with optional audio commentary by either director Jon Cassar, writer Howard Gordon, or writer Michael Loceff.
And Disc 7 is where the rest of the special supplements are housed. The aforementioned Season Four preview resides there, as well as two documentaries and a featurette. 24: On the Loose examines the organized chaos (and occasional boredom) that characterize day-to-day life on the set, and takes an in-depth look at how two complicated sequences were filmed—the massive prison riot during which Jack springs Salazar from captivity, and the landing of a helicopter on a city street in downtown L.A.. The former required the services of dozens of extras executing complicated fight choreography, while the latter was a logistical nightmare that the director almost couldn't pull off. The 32-minute film shows us just how much blood and sweat go into the production of each episode, and makes us appreciate the creative efforts of cast and crew all the more.
Equally interesting, Boys and Their Toys chronicles how the Second Unit production team manipulated the busy airspace above Los Angeles to facilitate a flyover by military F-18s. Although the sequence only lasts a few seconds, it took a weeks to coordinate and had to be perfectly synchronized with a helicopter explosion on the ground. The 11-minute featurette also shows how the special effects unit, dissatisfied with the first copter demolition, puts the bird back together—piece by crumpled piece ("just like the NTSC," says one crew member)—so it can be blown up all over again.
Biothreat: Beyond the Series runs a long 25 minutes and discusses the very real possibility of a biological attack in the U.S. Interviews with the series' creative personnel reveal the evolution of the show's fictional virus and the vast amount of research that went into its development. We also hear from authorities with the Centers for Disease Control and a noted virologist about the insidious and deadly nature of these types of illnesses. Some grisly images of a raccoon's brain may disgust the squeamish, but add a much-needed jolt to this interesting but dry and plodding documentary.
A multi-angle study of the midnight shootout in Episode 12 and an Inside Look at the action-comedy Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and slated for release next summer, complete the extras package.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsTaut, tense, surprising, and often ingenious, 24: Season Three keeps us glued to the screen hour after explosive hour. Though it's tough to top the first two seasons, Kiefer Sutherland and company do just that, with a riveting story that superbly combines topical reality with action fantasy. The handsome seven-disc set from Fox features a terrific transfer, excellent audio, and lots of supplemental goodies to satisfy fans and entice those still unfamiliar with one of television's finest shows. Highly recommended.
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