ALIAS Studio:Touchstone TelevisionYear:2003Film*Length:22 episodes (1 hour each) Aspect*Ratio:16X9 encoded 1.78:1Audio:5.1 DD English, 2.0 SpanishExtras:Commentary (4 select episodes), Deleted Scenes, Stunt-action short, Gag Reel, TV Spots, DVD-ROM material.Release*Date:Sept. 2, 2003 Story... I haven’t had a chance to watch the entire series yet and I don’t want to tell you more than you need to know. But I don’t need to say much, this is an excellent series and one that far too few people have seen according to my informal sampling among friends and coworkers. Jennifer Garner (Daredevil) plays “Sydney Bristow” who works for the CIA. Things get complicated quickly as alliances become suspect and we’re left not always certain who’s the good guy and who’s the bad. Couple this sense of off-balance with good writing, great acting, and awesome fight sequences and you’ve got a series worth getting to know. The particular thing that has struck me most impressive in my admittedly cursory overview (trying to get this review out at least a few minutes before it actually reaches your door!) are the action sequences and fight-scenes. In the spirit of the very best Bruce Lee Karate films, the action here is spot-on, gripping, and makes you duck for cover. And all without $$$ digital special effects. Hmmmm. Hollywood should take note… Jennifer Garner is one great actress and really posseses a sense of power and strength of a great marvel-comic heroine. She’s both a strong character actress who communicates feeling and with whom you empathize, and at the same time she manages to pull off fighting scenes that give you whip-lash sitting on the sofa (reminds me of Sara Connor from the Terminator flicks). Did I mention that for those of you thus-inclined, I’m certain you’ll find her rather easy on the eyes. Open invitation: If you’ve seen the series and care to share your perspective with the rest of us please post your thoughts to help elaborate beyond what I’ve mentioned here. Picture... The series looks to have been shot on film (as opposed to digital video) and varies wildly in color-pallet and style. Some scenes are dark and gritty and filled with grain and make you feel like you’re watching the Matrix. Others are brightly lit with richly saturated colors (mostly outdoor sequences) and silky-smooth. The creative team responsible for the look/feel of the image clearly are exploring a broad range of expressive styles and to good effect. My TV has a non-defeatable digital-noise-reduction circuit that sometimes introduces artifacts into noise/grainy images that aren’t really on the disc so it’s often difficult for me to be sure what’s compression artifacting from poor compression or DNR at the studio when I’m watching challenging source material. I’ll go out on a limb and say that some of the more noisy scenes appear to have some minor artifacting in some of the more grainy scenes because I see occasional mosquito noise around some hard-edges. However, I’m prepared to discover that the grainy images look much more natural on displays superior to my own. And to be sure the more brightly-lit scenes are rendered beautifully with excellent clarity and naturalness. No edge-enhancement or haloing/ringing anywhere that I can detect and detail and sharpness are there in full-force. All in all, from about 2-3 screen widths away from my 16x9 display, the image is extremely impressive—gritty when it wants to be and clean when it wants to be—a very well delivered DVD image and one that seems to faithfully serve the intentions by its artistic creators. Picture Rating: So subtracting just a notch for what looks to be some occasional compression artifacting (and if I can determine that it’s not I’ll alter my score) and given that the grain/gritty image is part of the intended look for various scenes: Picture: 4.5 / 5 Sound... English is in 5.1 and is a nice mix—very clear and well defined soundstage but definitely front-heavy. Surround use is sporadic and only really appears on the scene to augment the occasional effect or ambient cue. Naturally the 5.1 mix is a reflection of the desires of those who created it, but I can’t help but feel that the overall presentation would have been better served with a little more activity and “fill” from the surrounds to help pull the front soundstage into the listener’s space. Due to the natural matrix processing inaccuracies of ProLogic, the Spanish 2.0 ProLogic encoded soundtrack actually provides a more active surround field and actually sounds on-par with the 5.1 mix in terms of overall fidelity (which surprised me). Dialogue is clear and effects are rendered dynamically and with good fidelity. Bass extension is adequate but I expected to hear more low-frequency information that what the 5.1 has to offer. Let us know how this mix sounds on your audio system. and if your impressions are similar. BTW, I should add that the audio mixing/sound quality seems to improve as the series evolves. Particularly starting with episode 3, you'll actually *notice* surround activity which seems to be virtually absent for the first 2 episodes. Still not quite what I would have hoped for...but at least taking advantage of them to some degree for key shots (especially when entering a new city locale you'll hear the surround of street-noise etc.). So considering the overall good sound that (my subjective opinion) doesn’t quite make enough use of the surround field: Sound: 4/ 5 Extras... I’m sure that the fans will be pleased. We get commentary for about 4 episodes (didn’t check each one…but checked at random): the first two and the last episode. For the first episode we have the director and Jennifer (lead actress) pair up and this commentary is entertaining but not exactly revelatory. Mostly the two of them talking about behind-the-scene stories they remember from filming. Fun but it won’t suffice to support an essay for your film class. The commentary for the final episode consists of virtually the entire cast all hanging out together talking at random. IMO, this commentary may be enjoyable for those curious what the actors sound like off-stage, but nary a “film-content related” tidbit to be found. Commentary is in 1.0 DD mono (center speaker only). We get some great deleted scenes in 16x9 WS (no commentary) which fans should enjoy. I also enjoyed the “inside stunts” short (4x3) which goes into detail about how many of the action-fight scenes were shot. That Jennifer is one bitchin’ babe and if you didn’t know it before you’ll certainly agree after learning about how she stages so many of her own action scenes. There’s also a video-game sneak peek which looks almost like the actual series due to it’s high-resolution (things have come along way since the Atari 2600 Pac Man game I used to play). A few TV spots and some DVD ROM content that I can’t look at because I don’t have a DVD-ROM drive on my PC. Overall seems to be a nice supply of extra material to satisfy most enthusiasts. Packaging… Since this is a series you may be wondering how all those discs are bound together. You get a box that houses 3 clam-shell DVD packages…and each normal-sized DVD clamshell case holds two DVDs. That’s six DVDs in a very nice set. Discs are easy to remove as there is none of that brittle-type plastic to easily snap/break like with some of the paper/plastic “fold out” style multi-disc sets you sometimes see. Conclusion... If you already like the series or are looking for a new series to pick up and you’re in the mood for a film-noir suspense/action drama, Touchstone has delivered a DVD with great picture and sound sure to please the most ardent fans. Check it out! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.