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Paramount Home Video presents
Threshold: The Complete Series (2005)

"Congratulations, gentlemen, you've just experienced the first task of Threshold—confirmation of extraterrestrial life."
- Molly Anne Caffrey (Carla Gugino)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 23, 2006

Stars: Carla Gugino
Other Stars: Brent Spiner, Peter Dinklage, Charles S. Dutton, Rob Benedict, Brian Van Holt, Scott MacDonald, Mark Berry, William Mapother, Diane Venora, Seamus Deever, Joe Penny, Jon Polito, Kevin Kilner, Elizabeth Berkley, Amanda Fuller, David Hornsby, Catherine Bell, Rebecca Marshall, Stephanie Erb
Director: David S. Goyer, Peter Hyams, Bill Eagles, John F. Showalter, Tim Matheson, Bill L. Norton, Norberto Barba, Thomas J. Wright, David Jackson, Paul Shapiro, Felix Enriquez Alcala, Oz Scott

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some violence)
Run Time: 09h:15m:00s
Release Date: August 22, 2006
UPC: 097361180243
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B-B-B B

DVD Review

The fall of 2005 introduced three new television series on the big three networks with an alien menace theme: Invasion, Surface and Threshold. That was potentially good news for a sci-fi nut like myself, and what made things even more interesting was that the three shows were all fairly different, as opposed to being outright clones of one another.

Before watching any of them, I had kind of ranked them in mind as to which ones I thought would come out on top, and I learned that sometimes my intuition is way off the mark. Initially, I had the most hope for ABC's Invasion, which made the fact that I bailed on it after a few slow-moving episodes a little disappointing, while the corny, B-movie-as-a-series man-eating sea creatures of NBC's Surface (which I pegged as an early cancellation casualty) ended up holding my interest all season, and it became one of those guilty pleasures shows I secretly looked forward to each week.

Then there was the CBS entry Threshold. It was eventually canceled after only eight episodes aired, but it was certainly the dark horse of the bunch, despite a healthy pedigree of production talent like Brannon Braga (Enterprise, Star Trek: Voyager) and David Goyer (the Blade series, Batman Begins) behind the scenes. It seemed to carry an episodic-television-friendly flexible plot about the efforts to quell an ongoing alien invasion that is fought and studied by a highly specialized top-secret government team, led by Carla Gugino as contingency analyst Molly Anne Caffrey, a woman whose speciality is "dealing with worst-case scenarios".

This new four-disc set has all 12 episodes of the run, including the final four that never aired, and it presents a hastily scrawled modicum of plot closure on a series that clearly was gearing up for bigger and deeper things. That's a good thing, but there is a small notation on the cases that reads "some music has been replaced for this home entertainment version," which means there is an abundance of really, really bad sounding generic rock that takes the place of the popular tunes used when the show aired.

And it wasn't just the presence of Gugino (I would gladly watch her sort socks) that made the concept appealing, but it was her character Caffrey's handpicked crew of requisite colorful eccentric "experts" for what was dubbed The Red Team that includes NASA microbiologist Dr. Nigel Fenway (Brent Spiner), mathematics and linguist master Dr. Arthur Ramsey (Peter Dinklage) and brilliant young physicist Lucas Pegg (Rob Benedict), all of whom have their own little personality peccadilloes. Fenway is a former 60s radical who questions authority, Ramsey likes booze, gambling and strippers, while Lucas is the obligatory juice-box-sipping tech nerd about to be married. Charles S. Dutton, looking like he's ready to explode out of his suit at any moment, plays Deputy National Security Advisor J.T. Blaylock in one of those roles that requires him to issue stern, furrowed-brow reprimands and directives to Caffrey's team, which also features Brian Van Holt as the gun-for-hire special agent Sean Cavannaugh.

The show didn't fiddle around with introducing the particulars, and the two-part debut ep Trees of Glass (directed by Goyer and The Relic's Peter Hyams) jumped right in with a weird geometric alien probe that appeared before the crew of a freighter in the middle of the ocean, mutating and killing some outright, while infecting others with a mysterious "bio-forming" signal that has the ability to restructure human DNA into the dreaded triple helix. Add to that superhuman strength and an alien fractal pattern, kind of a swirly trident kind of thing, as a recurring alien calling card throughout the series, formed randomly by anything from dripping blood, crazed fish or even electronic disturbances.

The government quickly calls in Gugino's character to implement her Threshold contingency plan about an alien invasion, which gets a nifty wrinkle when Caffrey, Lucas and Cavannaugh are exposed to a low-level dose of the alien bio-forming signal in episode one. The threat of what that exposure means lingers throughout all twelve episodes, causing them to not only have identical dreams about a creepy forest of glass trees (the alien homeland?), but to posit the risk of a fullblown alien transformation at any time.

The series follows The Red Team as they hunt for the surviving crew members of the infected freighter (who all want to pass on the bio-forming signal in one way or another to as many humans as possible), in addition to studying the how's and why's of what the aliens want, and more importantly, how to stop them. This is television, so there is a convenient, eye-rolling reliance on goofy computer hacking skills to propel a plot along, where a few clickety-clack keystrokes can grant instant access to any database anywhere ("I'm in!") that can pull up exactly the information needed, as well as some sloppy gunfight/chase/fistfight moments that threaten to give Threshold the look of a bad cop show. But to its credit, the writing does string along a steady stream of references and characters from past eps as the constantly evolving mythology unfolds, which does give the overall series a sense of cohesion, so that when something strange like the alien-grown lettuce-with-human-teeth appears in Revelations, it isn't just forgotten, in this case showing up again a few episodes later.

So what's with the four unaired episodes?

There's a fair amount of new twists introduced, including one key character nearly losing his mind (done exceptionally well over a couple of eps), a payoff of sorts to the bio-forming exposure subplot of Caffrey/Lucas/Cavannaugh presented in episode one, the downward slide of Ramsey into alcohol and gambling, the pregnant infectee from the Progeny ep gives birth, we meet Lucas' fiancee, and in one of the sloppiest moments (there are two, actually), a new member of the Red Team is introduced, only to never be seen again.

And what makes that doubly sloppy is that it's Catherine Bell, here playing Daphne, the extremely-tight-sweater-wearing but brilliant agricultural scientist for just one episode (Outbreak), who in the remaining two eps only merits one casual mention by another character ("Daphne's working on it."). The other catastrophically sloppy bit also occurs in the fairly significant Outbreak, in which the true purpose of the alien invasion is revealed. This revelation is an unexpectedly strange one, almost negating the entire concept of the show, and like Bell's character, is all but ignored for the final two episodes.

The announcement of the series' cancellation came during production of episode 12 (Alienville), and in a hasty move to try and wrap things up the writers developed a tacked on final scene involving Caffrey having a dream/vision that attempted to paint an open-ended but finite conclusion to the main story arc. It isn't really fair to expect writers to suddenly try and satisfactorily encapsulate an entire season of a global alien invasion down to a couple of minutes, but they tried, and the payoff is more suitable than if things simply ended with a cliffhanger that would never be resolved.

There are still unanswered questions—ain't that always the way—especially concerning the aliens real purpose, but at least it's something.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Not terribly impressed with the transfers, even though all 12 eps have been issued in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors are natural, though not overly bright, giving the series an X-Files-ish noir palette. Daylight sequences look strong, and is really where the series looks best. Black levels, however, are very questionable, sometimes melding the edges of dark objects together, and in certain dimly lit scenes some characters simply look like a suit with no head. The prints also exhibit a fair amount of grain.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio choices are English language Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 surround tracks. Stick with the 5.1, though it's not a particularly overly aggressive presentation. Voice quality is clear, and some directional movement across the front channels opens things up a bit. The most pronounced surround cues seem to happen in the pilot and the final ep for some odd reason.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 72 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The 4400: Season One
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by David S. Goyer, Brannon Braga
Packaging: Thinpak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
4-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The four discs come in two thinpak-style cases (two discs each), inside of a slipcase. The cases have one sentence plot summaries and original airdate info on them as well.

Disc 1 carries the sole commentary, from executive producer/writers David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga on the double ep Trees Made of Glass pilot. Goyer and Braga are pretty honest about the rigors of developing a pilot, even down to the test meter analysis done during preliminary screenings ("scary stuff—down, Carla in a nightgown—up"). They discuss the arguments over whether or not to show the alien probe, complain about some effects, joke about a flatulent dog, and point out which character gets killed off later in the season.

The first disc also has a pair of deleted scenes from Trees Made of Glass, presented in timecode format. Molly and Cal Pickup Scene (01m:00s) offers a set of funny dating contingency plans, and Molly Discusses Her Father (01m:59s) has Caffrey telling Cavannaugh about her own worst-case scenario, and indicates the importance of her dad's watch, which is only hinted at in the final version. There is also a trailer for The 4400: Season One.

Other main extras show up on Disc 4, with a trio of behind-the-scenes pieces. The Threshold Brain Trust (32m:58s) is split into four sections (Origins, Assembling the Red Team, The Scary Details, The Possibilities) and is viewable either section-by-section or as one big doc. The first three cover the typical areas, with Origins being the most insightful. The Possibilities, however, is the selling point, as we learn what was planned for Season Two and beyond, including a major plot point involving Peter Dinklage's Ramsey.

Threshold: Visual Effects (10m:01s) is split into three parts (The Alien Object, Cockroaches, Glass Forest) and offers a quick overview of how the titular effects of that segment were put together. Behind the Fractal (04m:45s) provides analysis of the series' recurring "alien calling card," and an easy-to-find easter egg (01m:02s) has a collection of fractal pattern appearances from the twelve episodes.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Yet another show I watched faithfully that was canceled just past mid-season before the developing principle storylines could brought to some sort of proper closure. This four-disc set carries all twelve episodes of the series, including the final four that never aired, and even though the writers made a valiant attempt to slap a coda on the final ep to satisfy a few loose ends, too many unanswered questions were left, well, unanswered or just plain ignored.

I'm all about alien invasions and Carla Gugino, so I can forgive the contrived television moments—though I'm still confused by the treatment of Catherine Bell's character and the reveal of the alien purpose—and this is just another series that was killed off before it could reach maturity.

 


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