Judge Ryan Keefer wonders just how someone could get away with 22 episodes focusing on one event and do it decently, but it's crazy enough that it might just work.
Our reviews of Prison Break: Season One (published August 21st, 2006), Prison Break: Season 2 (published October 3rd, 2007), Prison Break: Season Three (published September 8th, 2008), Prison Break: Season Three (Blu-Ray) (published August 22nd, 2008), and Prison Break: Season Four (published June 18th, 2009) are also available.
Most men would do anything to get out of prison…but Michael Scofield would do anything he can to get in.
Like a water skier who hits a ramp and loses control, hitting water at a high rate of speed, Prison Break dropped onto the collective consciousness viewing public in 2005 and it caught on like wildfire. The first season has been around on standard definition for over a year now, but this is the first Fox television show to come out on Blu-ray. So what are the results?
Facts of the Case
Created by Paul Scheuring (A Man Apart) and under the watchful eye of Executive Producer Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), the show's 22 episodes are spread out over six discs, with four episodes on each of the first five discs. The episodes are:
As far as network television goes, Fox must have really been sold on the idea of Prison Break. I mean, at the end of the day, the concept of the show is in the title, right? To the credit of Scheuring, the way that the show's storylines are executed is the reason why people stuck around, combined with a cunning knack for maintaining the dark, gritty edge of prison dramas that you don't get a chance to see on network television.
The main cast of characters is varied and complex, but for those who aren't familiar with the show, the focus of it is Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller, The Human Stain), a highly intelligent structural engineer whose brother Lincoln (Dominic Purcell, Primeval), is in jail for the murder of the brother of the Vice President of the United States. Lincoln tells Michael that it's a frame-up, and eventually Michael commits a crime in order to be sent to the same jail of his brother, Fox River, located in Illinois. Unbeknownst to Lincoln, Michael has tattooed the prison's blueprints on his body, underneath a larger design, all of which contain information vital to the escape. Michael uses the help of his cellmate Sucre (Amaury Nolasco, Transformers), along with another inmate, a man with mob ties named Abruzzi (Peter Stormare, Fargo) who has the ability to get the men on a plane and out of the country to safety. They pick up some additional passengers in their journey to freedom, including a discharged Iraq war vet in C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and a southern fried murderer affectionately named T-Bag (Robert Knepper, Hostage).
Sounds interesting, right? Well, that's it, that's the show. And while the concept is unique and the performances are sincere to say the least, Miller, the guy who carries the show, is quite the enigma, but in a good way. He doesn't divulge a whole lot to friends or other people, and the way he manages to exploit the weaknesses of the prison and the people who work or live there is quite impressive. Besides, he does things in a rather MacGyver-like way that admittedly is cool.
Unfortunately, though, the concept of the show and the serious buy-in that Fox invested in a full season's worth of 22 episodes makes the pacing drag from time to time, and also makes the characters painfully predictable in other times. There's the stereotypical crooked prison guard Bellick (Wade Williams, Erin Brockovich), the prison doctor who's heart is in conflict with her job (Sarah Wayne Callies, The Celestine Prophecy), and a bunch of smaller storylines that always seem to work themselves out in the end, because the show wouldn't be called what it's called. They serve as the truest examples of time filler in a show that doesn't really need it, or maybe it doesn't need 15 hours for what could have been done in 12.
The show's 1.78:1 presentation from its presumable original HD broadcast is reproduced here with the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The detail in the show is pretty good, though there's not a lot of color to be found in the film and blacks waver from time to time; the image detail isn't consistent throughout all episodes. The PCM soundtrack works about the same, with dialogue sounding focused and clear. There's not a lot of panning or surround effects to be had from watching this, and considering that we're talking about a TV show, there's not too much to gain from the production values.
The extras on this set are the same as those on the standard definition set. There are no less than nine commentaries with a mix and match of people included in them. Scheuring, Purcell, Nolasco, Callies, Williams, Ratner and many, many more, spread out over various episodes in the season. By and large, many of these commentaries don't add much to the overall product, though Scheuring seems to have an acute idea of what and how to work on episodic television. The larger commentaries are fun and have a wide variety of joking around to them, but no one other than Scheuring contributes that much of note. Deleted scenes are peppered throughout some of the episodes, but the only thing that's worth checking out on any of this footage is an alternate ending to the episode "Tunnel." When watching the regular episode, you'll notice that the ending is a little bit shorter than what actually aired, and each episode does effectively leave a cliffhanger, so you're more than willing to jump into the next episode. Disc Six houses most of the other extras on the set, starting with a half hour look at the production that is very Ratner-intensive, but also includes interviews with the cast as they discuss their characters and the show itself, along with some minor teasing as to what Season Two has to offer. A look at Joliet prison follows and includes quite a bit of interesting historical trivia on the location, while "Behind the Ink" discusses the tattoos and their application with a consultant/tattoo artist for the show, and a Fox Movie Channel examination on a particular scene (where Scofield meets "Haywire") is next. A short look at Season Two and seven TV spots for Season One completes the set.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Now, there is some actual work being done on the outside while Michael and Lincoln try to figure out how to break out of Fox River, and that's being done by Veronica (Robin Tunney, Empire Records), who plays Michael and Lincoln's lawyer. She's thrown from one predictable distraction to the next, and it's less than believable to discover that she would know who's really responsible for the murder of the Vice President's brother. When you plug the Vice President's role into the season's larger story arc, along with a flashback episode determining the origins of C-Note, things just tend to get a little annoying, and those distractions are the reasons why the show seemed to sour on me as the days go on.
Prison Break starts out strong and seems to peter out as things go on with smaller plots and characters that take you away from what you want to see, which is to see Michael and Lincoln getting out of jail. Everything else is window dressing. Subsequent seasons apparently seem to reflect the lost steam that the show has experienced, but when done in smaller doses, can be quite effective and engrossing. The Blu-ray discs are certainly nice to look at and worth upgrading if you really like the show and have the money to blow on the double-dip.
The court finds the filmmakers guilty but sentences them to time served, and instructs them to watch The Shawshank Redemption again if they want to try and make a compelling and extended project about a jailbreak.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Cast and Crew Commentaries on Select Episodes
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.