Some of us strongly suspect that "Judge Joel Pearce" is actually a mole planted by Roger Ebert as part of some... um... biologial weapons stuff, or something...
Our reviews of Alias: The Complete First Season (published January 5th, 2004), Alias: The Complete Fourth Season (published March 21st, 2007), and Alias: The Complete Fifth Season (published March 28th, 2007) are also available.
Disclaimer: If you have not seen Alias, this review would not be a good thing to read. There are many twists and turns in the series, some of which will be spoiled for you here. If you have seen the second two seasons, simply skip the episode synopses—I will try to keep the rest of the review spoiler-free.
Now that's out of the way, we can get down to business. Alias was the first show that I started watching on DVD. About a year ago, I bought the first season after hearing excellent things about the show, and I was immediately hooked. I have watched a lot of other shows on DVD since then, but Alias is still my favorite. For my money, it's the most consistently entertaining show that I have ever seen, and even though it seems straightforward at first, there is enough depth here to warrant repeat viewings. Basically, it's a combination of the best elements of James Bond and Indiana Jones that keeps on going, week after glorious week. The third season is just as good as the first two, and like many others, I am looking forward to the fourth season. This set will certainly tide us over, though, with another beautiful transfer and some worthwhile special features.
Facts of the Case
This collection includes each of the 22 episodes from the third season. Although it often makes sense to give each episode a rating, I find that Alias has enough plot continuity that it would be hard to judge it that way.
• "The Two"
• "A Missing Link"
• "Breaking Point"
• "Full Disclosure"
• "After Six"
• "The Frame"
• "Blood Ties"
By the end of the second season, the creators of Alias seemed to be reaching the end of the plot arc that encompassed the first two seasons. The Rambaldi side plot was starting to get a little tired, SD6 was gone, and matters with Irina and Sloane seemed to have reached their logical conclusions. The choice to skip ahead two years and force Sydney to recover her past was brilliant, because it once again creates that feeling of uncertainty that made the beginning of the series so awesome. Who can Sydney trust? Who are the Covenant? Who has she been working for? The fact that Michael is married adds some tension to their situation, and it allows the Rambaldi stuff to be pushed off until the second half of the season.
Although the first season of the show was remarkable, there was some silly sappy stuff that you had to fight through to get to the spy fun. Sometimes the series felt a lot more like Felicity than Mission: Impossible, and it took quite a bit of the season in order to balance those elements. The second season saw the inclusion of Will and Francie into the dark world of international espionage, so quite a few of those awkward moments started to disappear. They are all gone by the third season, which doesn't show Sydney trying to juggle her friends, job and double-agenting. This results in a leaner, meaner Alias that I am quite enjoying.
Somehow, though, the show still manages to have the same fun feel of the first two seasons. The spy missions are every bit as far-fetched, and I still find myself with a huge grin on my face as yet another bomb counts down to 00:01. Although these action scenes could easily become tiresome, the writers are consistently creative, which keeps the action feeling fresh and new. The action scenes themselves have gotten far stronger now, and the hand-to-hand fights aren't quite as persistent or cheesy.
I have no idea how they have managed to make the plot and action so ridiculous, and yet keep the characters so believable and compelling. As fun as the action is, the real appeal and success of Alias is in the network of characters that inhabit this crazy world. I genuinely believe that the show would have crashed and burned if it didn't have an actress as strong as Jennifer Garner in the title role. It's a deceivingly complex role, and it's never been enough for her to just show up and look pretty. Sydney has a new persona to pick up each week, and the accents, bits of languages, movements and appearances that she adopts need to be believable in order to work for the audience. Garner is an incredibly physical actor, and each one of her aliases are memorable and dead-on. She also does an exceptional job at giving Sydney Bristow a strong core role, as she gradually grows and develops through the series. Sydney is always at the center of the action, and I have come to care about her more than I should care about any fictional character.
Garner isn't on her own here, though. She has the aid of a strong supporting cast, who help make the rest of the show come alive as well. Jack Bristow is one of the coolest characters in the history of television, and I still don't feel like I have a firm handle on who he is after three seasons. He's the ultimate retired field agent—we keep discovering more about him as the layers of his character are gradually peeled away. Sloane is just as interesting, and although it remains clear most of the time that he is evil, we can never quite be sure. Marshall remains one of the funniest characters ever, riffing off all of the spy nerd/gadget guys in spy serial history. This season sees the arrival of Melissa George as Lauren Reed, who is a fascinating addition to the show. In addition to being another good reason for the young male demographic to watch the series, she is the true wildcard of the season. She could become either a powerful ally or a dangerous enemy, and it doesn't take too long to find out which.
The bit players are wonderful too, including countless bizarre and memorable characters who only show up for an episode or two. The celebrity cameos are always fun as well. This season sees brief appearances from Quentin Tarantino, Richard Roundtree (Shaft!), Isabella Rossellini, Vivica A. Fox, David Cronenberg, and David Carradine. Notice that three of these people were involved with Kill Bill. Coincidence??? At any rate, this is only a sampling of the people who appear on the show, and it makes for better celebrity spotting than a star map in Hollywood.
The other strengths of the show have existed since the beginning. I can't imagine the challenge of creating a weekly globetrotting adventure show—each hour of footage contains several major set pieces, and to date, every single one of them has been impressive and believable. In fact, it's handled far better than a lot of big-budget films.
The technical transfer is just as strong as on the first two seasons. The video transfer is as nice as any television show transfer I have seen, and it never has that flat look that so many shows seem to have. There's a bit of grain at times, but it looks like a production choice, rather than a compression problem. The colors are awesome, the filters that separate the locations work really well, the black level is right on, and there is awesome detail. If it wasn't for the credit sequences and episode recaps, it could be mistaken for a Hollywood film production. The sound isn't quite as good, but I don't have any serious complaints. The series does have a full 5.1 track, but the track seems to be mostly trapped in the front channels a lot of the time. I'm sure that's still necessary for television broadcast reasons and because of the short amount of time they have to put together the show, but I would still like to be immersed a little more in the action sequences.
Buena Vista hasn't skimped on the special features, either. The first disc houses a fan commentary on the first episode. The commentators don't really know any more than we do about the series, but they seem to have a good time and it's a pretty cool extra to have. For the record, I would be happy to help record a commentary on the season 4 set when it comes out. The only other extras on the first disc are some previews, including one for season 4 that doesn't say anything at all.
The fourth disc includes a commentary track on "façade" with J.J. Abrams, Jack Bender and Greg Grunberg. It has quite a bit of value, and they clearly work together really well. They talk a lot about the direction the series has reached to this point, and a bit about where they hope to take the series in the future. It takes a passionate group to get something like Alias pulled off, and these guys are obviously the core of a seriously committed crew.
On the fifth disc is a segment from Creating Characters; it's a seminar with J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Garner and some others, who talk about the character design process. It's an interesting clip, and fits the show well.
The bulk of the extras are on the sixth disc. There is an animated mini-episode, undoubtedly inspired by The Animatrix. The big difference is that this doesn't appear to have been handled by one of the best anime studios in the world, and the story basically sucks, too. It doesn't add anything to the show, which is too bad. Next up is "Alias Up Close," which explores the creation of the show. We get to see interviews with the guest stars, as well as the stunt crew and the other people behind the scenes who do far more work than we normally acknowledge. The whole featurette is nicely broken up into segments, and it's entertaining to watch. The second featurette is called "Burbank to Barcelona," and it covers how they do all of the location sequences. It's pretty cool, and it answers the question of how they manage to pull of the international feel of the show.
The disc also houses an ever popular blooper reel, which is pretty funny. There are also some deleted scenes. None of them seem to be valuable additions to the season, but it's interesting to see what kinds of things get cut out. There's also a Team Alias section, with some interviews dealing with the promotion of the show. Obviously, there are a lot of things to dig into on the discs even after you are done with the series and are impatiently waiting for the fourth season.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I do have one complaint about the series. I didn't notice it in the first two seasons, but this time around there's quite a bit of product placement. The worst of these is a car chase, when two bad guys charge off in a Ford Mustang (with several good close-ups) and Sydney actually says something along the lines of "get into the Ford F-150." Almost every episode features some product prominently, which began to distract me more as the season continued. This is a double-edged sword, as I realize this is one of the ways that the show maintains such high production values. Still, it's distracting and annoying.
Alias rocks. The third season is every bit as good as the first two, and it shows no sign of slowing down. If you have not yet experienced the show at all, go grab the first season on DVD and start watching. When you emerge after a week, bleary-eyed and wanting more, you will thank me. If you have already seen this series, you don't have to worry about the DVD set being a good way to have a permanent copy. It looks and sounds great.
Not at all guilty. Wish they would hurry up the next season, though, because these season-end cliffhangers are a bit cruel to the fans.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
• Fan Commentary
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