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20th Century Fox presents
Prison Break: Season One (2005-2006)

Michael: I'm breaking you out of here.
Lincoln: That's impossible.
Michael: Not if you designed the place it isn't.

- Wentworth Miller, Dominic Purcell

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: August 07, 2006

Stars: Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller, Robin Tunney, Peter Stormare, Amaury Nolasco, Marshall Allman, Sarah Wayne Callies
Other Stars: Robert Knepper, Stacy Keach, Wade Williams, Paul Adelstein, Frank Grillo
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 16h:00m:00s
Release Date: August 08, 2006
UPC: 024543260820
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AB+B+ A-

DVD Review

Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) is an intense, driven individual who is far too bright to stroll into a modern bank and pull out a gun. But that's exactly what he does at the beginning of the Fox series Prison Break. Even the bank teller is giving him strong hints that it might be time to leave before the cops arrive. Has Michael lost his marbles and turned into a thrill-seeking doofus? Not exactly. His complex endgame is both a clever and idiotic risk—Michael plans to break his brother out of a maximum security prison.

Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) has been sentenced to death for the apparent murder of the vice president's brother. Is he the victim of a corrupt system? That possibility seems likely, and his brother Michael completely believes that Lincoln is innocent. Manipulating the courts to ensure that he faces jail time at the Fox River State Penitentiary in Joliet near Chicago, Michael has developed a complex plan that must work perfectly. The gigantic tatoo spread across the top half of his body plays a pivotal role. He also focuses on several key participants at the prison who will offer assistance. The plan is ingenious and appears full-proof, but it is impossible to predict the human behavior in this brutal environment.

Directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X Men: The Last Stand), the Pilot episode wastes little time and drops Michael into the prison with all types of nefarious individuals. His film career has been less than stellar, but Ratner delivers a tight opening story that rarely gives you a chance to breathe. Also serving as the series' executive producer, Ratner deserves credit for avoiding the pratfalls of excessive character development. As the season progresses, the writers will have plenty of time to reveal greater background on the primary individuals. Originally airing as a two-hour block with the second episode Allen, the premiere raises many compelling questions beyond the obvious one ("Will they escape?") and promises a thrilling serial reminiscent of the best moments of shows like 24 and Alias.

The first season's early episodes are solid, but the series really takes off with the crazy two-part story Riots, Drills, and the Devil. Acting as the show's sixth and seventh episodes, this intense tale involves a nasty prison riot that places everyone's lives in jeopardy. Michael's attempt to create a lockdown situation backfires and nearly causes an end to his escape plans. The episode feels like a theatrical film, and this atmosphere exists throughout the season. A pivotal element of this story is Michael's burgeoning friendship with Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies)—the prison's doctor—who faces a possibly violent end during the riot. He can't be truthful without jeopardizing his plans, which becomes more difficult as their bond grows.

The Fox River State Penitentiary includes a diverse collection of interesting prisoners and employees that could make or break Michael's plan. In addition, other key characters are working outside the prison walls for and against him. Avoiding major spoilers, here are brief descriptions of some important figures not previously mentioned:

The Prisoners
Fernando Sucre (Amaury Nolasco)
Michael's cellmate and more genuine than most prisoners, his primary goal is to serve his time and marry his sweetheart. However, events beyond his control could place that relationship into serious jeopardy, and he may have to expedite the timeline.

John Abruzzi (Peter Stormare)
Once a high-ranking gangster, John's main interest is the location of a snitch that could place his entire world into jeopardy. He controls the work allotment on the grounds, and Michael needs to ally with him to move freely through several key areas. But John is not someone that he wants to cross, so he must tread extremely carefully.

Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell (Robert Knepper)
Perhaps the scariest opponent for Michael, T-Bag only cares about himself and is always on the lookout for new prisoners to dominate. His involvement could only jeopardize the escape, but T-Bag's growing suspicions could make him difficult to avoid.

Charles Westmoreland (Muse Watson)
Serving a 60-to-life sentence, this mild-mannered elder minds his own business and seems content at the prison. He has a cat grandfathered in due to past rules, and isn't bothered by the other guys. Michael believes there's more to Charles than meets the eye, though, and hopes that he'll provide some essential help with the escape.

Prison Employees
Captain Brad Billick (Wade Williams)
Another self-centered and brutal guy, Billick does not like Michael and is on the lookout to prove that he's causing problems. He's possibly even worse than the prisoners he guards, and loyalty is not important to him.

Warden Henry Pope (Stacy Keach)
Playing against type, the Pope looks like a nasty figure but actually has a good heart. He immediately recognizes that Michael is different and tries to help him out. However, his assistance cannot include the escape itself, which would quickly change things between them.

On the Outside
Veronica Donovan (Robin Tunney)
Lincoln's former girlfriend serves as Michael's attorney, but his willingness to face jail time is confusing. Although she is initially skeptical about Lincoln's innocence, some strange events could change her mind and pull her into a deadly conspiracy.

Nick Savrinn (Frank Grillo)
This attorney for Project Justice also takes a personal interest in Lincoln's case, and past experiences with his father drive him forward. Nick works with Veronica to connect the dots that could lead to a surprising source, if they live to tell the tale.

LJ Burrows (Marshall Allmann)
Shortly after Michael's arrest, his nephew LJ (Lincoln's son) is nabbed while attempting to distribute marijuana. Once a promising student, he's also lost his way following the arrests of his father and uncle. But other forces out there could be much more dangerous to his survival.

Special Agent Paul Kellerman (Paul Adelstein)
Working with his partner Agent Danny Hale, Kellerman works for the Secret Service but may not be contributing to the national interest. Taking orders from a mysterious and powerful source, he must succeed in protecting the information by any means necessary.

The season's first half builds strongly towards the escape attempt, culminating in the mid-season finale End of the Tunnel. Functioning on the surface as a team, the prisoners work behind each other's backs to protect their own interests. The writing gets better with each subsequent episode, and several acting performances are a revelation. Relative unknown Wentworth Miller is remarkable as Michael Scofield and makes his intelligence completely believable. Peter Stormare, Amaury Nolasco, and Wade Williams are all solid, and Dominic Purcell gives a strong, understated performance as Lincoln Burrows. Standout work also comes from Robert Knepper in the meaty villainous role as the crazy T-Bag. Robin Tunney feels a bit slight as Veronica, but this tentative nature works for her character. Sarah Wayne Callies lights up the screen as Dr. Tancredi, and her scenes with Miller are always effective.

Prison Break challenges the viewer to watch each week and builds on the primary story throughout the entire season. The final nine episodes make things even more difficult for Michael and increase the obstacles facing the escape. In the intriguing Brother's Keeper, the story rewinds three years and enhances the prisoners' back stories. Several key revelations appear and dramatically alter our perceptions of the main characters. The final episodes are tense, action-packed entries that lead effectively into the upcoming second season. Even matching the success of the first year would be a tremendous achievement.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This collection provides a consistent 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that effectively presents the intense, action-packed series. The prison scenes are shot in metallic blues and grays, which enhance the grain levels on the screen. However, they fail to distract much from the gripping stories. Considering their television origins, the episode transfers are successful and rank among the better DVD releases of this type.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Prior to its commercial breaks, this series includes a quick music queue as the camera careens through the prison hallways. This energetic device provides one of many examples where the audio plays a key role in Prision Break. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer offers powerful sound that adds considerably to each viewing. The complexity falls short of the best movie transfers, but this track still deserves credit for an impressive listening experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 264 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
0 TV Spots/Teasers
5 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
10 Feature/Episode commentaries by Series creator, cast, and crew
Packaging: Boxed Set
6 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Prison Break: Season One includes an impressive selection of commentaries and featurettes that should please the show's many fans. The individual extras are provided in the following sections:

In a practice rarely seen with television releases, this set includes multiple commentaries for several episodes. For example, the pilot episode includes tracks from both Creator Paul Scheuring with Actor Dominic Purcell and a second duo of Director Brett Ratner and Editor Mark Helfrich. The first discussion offers plenty of material from Scheuring, while Purcell grunts out a few lines here and there. New viewers be weary, however, as this track does contain spoilers. Ratner brings his usual enthusiasm to the second commentary, but his statements mostly fall into the "praising everyone" mode. Numerous contributors appear to provide their input, and the complete list is provided here:

Pilot #1: Creator Paul Scheuring & Actor Dominic Purcell
Pilot #2: Director Brett Ratner & Editor Mark Helfrich
Cute Poison #1: Paul Scheuring, Dominic Purcell, and Actor Wade Williams
Cute Poison #2: Writer Matt Olmstead and Silas Weir Mitchell
Riots, Drills, and the Devil (Part 1) #1: Paul Scheuring, Dominic Purcell, Actor Robert Knepper, Actor Sarah Wayne Callies, Actor Amaury Nolasco, and Wade Williams
Riots, Drills and the Devil (Part 1) #2: Producer Nick Santora & Bob Mandel
Riots, Drills and the Devil (Part 2): Paul Scheuring, Dominic Purcell, Wade Williams, Amaury Nolasco, and Actor Peter Stormare
Odd Man Out: Producer Garry Brown, Wrtier Karyn Usher, and Bobby Roth
Brother's Keeper #1: Paul Scheuring, Robert Knepper, Sarah Wayne Callies, Amaury Nolasco, and Wade Williams
Brother's Keeper #2: Greg Yaitenes & Zach Estrin

Deleted/Alternate Scenes (5)
Five brief extra scenes are available and run for about a minute each. The best moments involve Michael going crazy in J-Cat and Sucre meeting Maricruz in the courtroom during Brother's Keeper. There's also an alternate ending for End of the Tunnel that offers an interesting variation on the finished version.

Making of Prison Break (30:33)
This half-hour documentary includes interviews with Brett Ratner and Paul Scheuring, who discuss the show's origins and the basic ideas. A majority of the running time covers the cast, who each describe the character and some background. Robert Knepper provides some good insight into his approach to the role, but some of the actors simply give basic plot summary. This feature concludes with a look at the Joliet prison, which will be discussed further in another extra.

If These Walls Could Speak: Profile of the Joliet Correctional Center (9:18)
This interesting featurette offers some brief history on the filmed prison, which closed in February of 2002. Several experts delve into the early days and utilize photographs to describe this rough location.

Beyond the Ink: Tattoo Featurette (16:17)
One of the series' pivotal elements is the large tattoo on Michael's upper body, and this section offers details on its origins and the process used to create it. It's a bit too long for this type of feature, but it does offer worthy information.

Making a Scene (8:00)
This promotional featurette aired on the Fox Movie Channel and offers little insight into creation process. It focuses on the closing scene from Allen, which introduces Haywire as Michael's new cellmate. The claustrophiobc nature of the set is notable, but everything else is pretty straightforward.

The remaining supplements include a Season 2 Promo, six television spots, and a preview for the new Fox series Vanished. This show will air immediately after Prison Break when it premieres on August 21st and might be a good companion piece for its fans.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Viewers who enjoyed the serial formats of intelligent dramas like 24 and Lost should definitely check out Prison Break. This surprising, action-packed series moves well beyond its central plot and generates a compelling look at a large group of complex characters. Each episode offers a gripping story and makes it extremely difficult not to watch another entry, which leads to a strong recommendation.


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