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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Additional footage - alternate ending
  • Featurette - season 2 "preview"
  • Animated menus

24 - Season One

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 1006 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

(Note: the following review contains no critical plot spoilers, though it does outline the basic premise of the first season of 24. Those who have not yet watched the series may read on safely - we will NOT be revealing any of the series’ many surprises!)

If you spend any time at all watching commercial television, you’ll be very aware of the phenomenal success of the espionage thriller series 24 - success which caught the Australian network that purchased it, Seven, completely by surprise. Holding off broadcast of the show until late in the year, the network then rushed two episodes to air each week, and seemed genuinely surprised when the show’s US success was repeated in this country. We have only one word for the programming people involved: “duh”.

Marketed as an “innovative concept in TV drama”, 24 is actually a series-length reworking of the ideas behind the 1995 John Badham movie Nick of Time, in which a mild-mannered accountant’s daughter is kidnapped and he’s told to assassinate a state Governor within a certain time frame, or she will be killed. Events then unfold on the screen in real time, something that a big fuss was made about in theatrical trailers for the film. 24 takes the same real time concept (and some key plot points), but takes advantage of the series format to extend the action across an entire 24 hour day, from midnight to midnight, one hour per episode. Events are played out in real time - though naturally things get interrupted for commercial breaks, which vary in length depending on where you’re watching. Each section of the show begins and ends with a running clock, which serves to realign the viewer with the current “show time” at the end of each commercial break; those sitting with stopwatches will notice some playing around with time on the part of the editors, but essentially the drama plays out at real time speed.

This would be fraught with problems, you’d think - after all, even the day of a counter-terrorism agent with a kidnapped daughter is bound to have some slow spots. But the writers and producers of 24 have thought of the possible pitfalls of the format ahead of time, and developed some neat ways around them. Make no mistake, there are very, very few slow points in this 24-hour roller coaster ride, and the sharp, visceral direction of Stephen Hopkins helps immeasurably. An Australian music video director turned Hollywood director, Hopkins co-executive produces 24 and directed the lion’s share of the episodes. The consistency of this hands-on approach serves the show well, and Hopkins really knows how to bump the adrenalin level up a notch or two when needed. There’s similar consistency in the writing team, too, which serves the show especially well during its first 13 episodes.

Here’s where we come to one of the only faults of this first season. Conceived as a 24-episode story, the show had to be written with a “safety net” at the end of episode 13, as the initial commitment from the US network was only for that many episodes. As a result, the story moves along at a cracking pace and with superb integration of all the disparate story elements, until it reaches the end of the 13th episode. At this point, viewers could be forgiven for thinking it’s the end of the season - this was intentional, as it could easily have been a season finale at that point if the show hadn’t been a ratings success. After episode 13, though, a lot of momentum is lost - and it takes several episodes before the writers rustle up enough plot devices to get things properly going again; in the process of doing so, there are way too many lame contrivances. The natural energy and flow of the first half of the season never quite returns, but as the finale looms closer and the tension picks up again it’s easy to forgive the odd bit of lazy writing.

The casting is perfect, with Kiefer Sutherland finding himself a whole new generation of fans thanks to a typically commanding and controlled performance as Counter-Terrorism Unit agent Jack Bauer. Canadian actor Leslie Hope (best known here, believe it or not, for a retitled-and-bumped-straight-to-video movie called My New Car back in 1988!) plays Jack’s wife Teri with a lot more depth than might have been expected from the role, while Elisha Cuthbert does similar justice to the role of daughter Kim. A terrific supporting cast keeps the unbelievable believable, with particular special mention due to Dennis Haysbert, who is superb as presidential candidate David Palmer. Late in the season the producers, enjoying their new-found success, start pulling in a few big-name guests - but it’s Kiefer Sutherland that provides the pulse of this show, and he takes control of every scene he’s in.

DVD is the ideal medium for a TV series, particularly one as more-ish as 24. Having all 24 episodes of this year’s season in the one neat six-disc package is elegant in itself, but you also get to watch each episode commercial-free, to schedule them at your own pace, and most importantly, you won’t have to make a six-month commitment to watch or tape the show at the same hour every Monday night. That’s why we think the day will eventually come when a big-budget series makes its debut on DVD and then goes to television; imagine being able to have a choice between watching for free every week on TV or buying the series on disc. It’d be the ultimate in viewer choice, and the very thought of it probably terrifies the commercial networks.

At any rate, don’t think for a second that 24 is all hype and no action. With high production values and a unique way of keeping things at fever pitch for almost every minute of the entire series, this one’s got something for everyone who likes thrillers, cop shows, spy movies and conspiracy theories - or who just like fast-paced, high-gear entertainment that doesn’t treat the audience like a collective imbecile. Sure, it has cracks in parts of its dramatic structure, but let’s put it into perspective. This is a stand-alone movie in 24 parts that runs for a whopping 1006 minutes (including “recaps”). That’s between eight and ten feature films’ worth of running time, and they made the whole thing inside a year. Looking at it that way, the fact that it all comes together so well as a coherent story is remarkable indeed.

Oh, and before we get on to the video quality, a quick note about the widely-reported “cuts” to several episodes (for time) that were restored for UK broadcast but which didn’t appear on the UK DVD release (but did on the UK VHS version). This region 4 release - quite clearly mastered specifically for Australia, and region-coded solely for R4 - contains the longer versions of those episodes, with all reported cut scenes present and accounted for in the appropriate episodes (we won’t talk about exactly what they are here, because that would be Spoiler Central!) Fox’s Australian division is to be commended for making sure we, in this 24-mad country, get the best available version.

  Video
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If you’ve been watching 24 on the Seven network this year, you’ll no doubt have noticed that it’s been presented in 4:3 format and has had a particularly dark’n’murky look about it. Prepare to be gobsmacked.

This DVD set offers the entire season in the format in which it was originally filmed - full 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Obviously the series was shot with 4:3 displays firmly in mind - it’s clear that a “safe area” was used in the frame while shooting and occasionally some unwanted objects (or in one case, a crew member!) intrude into the extreme sides of the frame. But most of the shot compositions here look a lot more natural and far less cramped and crowded with the entire wide frame visible.

The many split-screen sequences that help give the show its unique character are, perhaps not surprisingly, all done inside the 4:3 safe area, meaning that instead of filling the screen, the various “boxes” sit in the middle of it with black space on the sides. This does lessen the impact of some of these sequences (particularly the various stylishly-designed presentations of the opening credits) but it’s not critical; it’s surprising, though, that the producers didn’t take 16:9 into account when designing these sequences.

The fact that we were supplied with a review copy of this set while the series was still on air allowed a real-time A-B comparison between the DVD and the on-air broadcast. And as well as an immediate sense of the frame opening up and better capturing the action, there were also some other key differences. Compared to what was shown on TV, this DVD version is substantially brighter (restoring correct contrast and shadow detail to the many night and dark indoor sequences), massively more detailed and, best of all, completely removes the strange fuzzy, blurry cast that seemed to have been placed over the broadcast image. There is a shot in one of the final episodes that is lit almost entirely with green light. On TV, the green in that shot looked anaemic, a kind of dark bottle green with the vague grey details of a character’s face poking through the murk. On DVD, that same shot is a vibrantly rich green with clearly defined details in the midst of the wash of unnatural light. If you have an episode of the broadcast version on tape, try the comparison for yourself; you’ll be impressed.

If there’s any criticism to be made of the picture quality, it’s minor. Telecine transfers for a TV series tend to be done quite quickly, and often grain can be a problem; not so here, as this very modern digital transfer work was done to an extremely high standard. There’s grain visible, but it’s not intrusive and comes from the film itself, not the telecine process (the “gauze” days seem to be over). Video quality as a whole varies from very good (in the earlier episodes) to absolutely superb (in the later ones). For a TV show, this looks stunning and easily eclipses the already-fine film transfer advances made on shows like The X-Files, Buffy and Angel.

Sticking out like a sore thumb is the first episode, which was shot as a pilot some time before the rest of the series. It’s done with a different crew (including a one-off contribution by acclaimed Australian cinematographer Peter Levy) with the film transferred to video by a different facility from the rest of the season. That last factor really shows on DVD, too - compared to the rest, the film transfer on this first episode is decidedly sub-standard, particularly in the areas of contrast and colour timing.

The 24 episodes are stored on six dual-layered DVDs, two episodes per layer. The video compression is extremely well handled, and there are no compression problems visible at all.

  Audio
Contract

The original two-channel matrixed surround soundtrack that was presented on TV is what you get here, and it sounds very nice indeed when played through a good Dolby Pro-Logic surround decoder (or, for that matter, in normal stereo). The audio here has noticeably more dynamic range and frequency extension compared to the TV broadcast (not surprising, as TV networks usually apply heavy dynamic compression to everything by default), and fidelity is excellent throughout. Dialogue is recorded at a slightly higher level than it would be in a feature film (normal for a TV series) and the soundtrack as a whole has been mastered on the DVD at a fairly high level as well.

It may not be 5.1, but with a good decoder you won’t notice the difference; use of the front channels is excellent throughout, and in common with most surround-encoded TV shows there’s little more than atmospheric support from the rears. It’s a well mixed, involving soundtrack that focuses clearly on the two things that drive the show - the dialogue and the music.

As usual with Fox titles, the Dolby Surround flag has been correctly set, and decoders with auto-switching will drop into Pro-Logic mode without you having to adjust a thing.

  Extras
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There’s not much at all here in the extras department, which isn’t as disappointing as you’d expect (the series itself runs two episodes longer than most current US shows, so call the last two episodes a bonus if you’re feeling ripped off!) All six discs are equipped with extremely well-done fully animated menus with elaborate intros, and those who have not seen the series before are advised to avoid watching the video material in these menus, as minor spoilers are everywhere. Menu transitions are animated, but are mercifully fast.

The only extras across the set are on the sixth and final disc, accessed from the last episode’s menu. Here you get two things:

Alternate Ending: No, we’re not going to tell you what it is, unlike the unspeakably rotten person who contributed the info to the IMDB and gave the ending of the entire series away in the process! This was one of two alternative endings shot for the series, and the US disc set offers a commentary by producer Joel Surnow explaining why multiple outcomes were shot. That commentary isn’t included on this version, but we’ll guess that the reason was either that they wanted to keep the ending a secret even from the cast, or simply that the other two they did were rather crap. This one certainly is, compared to what finally made it to air. It’s presented in anamorphic 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital 1.0 audio.

Preview Season 2: Don’t get excited. It’s Kiefer doing a promo (which looks like it’s actually intended to run at the start of the series on home video) explaining what’s so good about 24 and offering a few vague comments about how much bigger and better season two will be. There’s no preview footage. This is the only thing on the entire disc set that’s in 4:3, incidentally, probably because its original destination was VHS.

  Overall  
Contract

If you haven’t watched 24 this year - and you’ve managed to avoid all the spoilers that have been posted in Internet newsgroups and mentioned in Channel Seven’s advertising - then here’s your chance to see it properly. It’s one of those rare times when all the hype about a TV series is actually justified, and while it’s got a great big black hole threatening to swallow the show’s energy and its plot mid-season, the writers manage to bring it home in style. It’s the best roller coaster ride of over-the-top drama currently playing; the second season promises to be a cracker.

Fox’s DVD set is up to their usual high standards, offering the series in full widescreen with a stunningly vibrant and crisp picture and with excellent surround audio. But best of all, it contains the longer versions of episodes that US customers didn’t get at all and UK customers had to get via a disc replacement. That makes this region 4 version the 24 of choice.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2126
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      And I quote...
    "The best roller coaster ride of over-the-top drama currently playing... Contains the longer versions of the episodes, making this region 4 version the 24 of choice."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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