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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Alias, Season Four

Discussion in 'DVD' started by DaViD Boulet, Oct 24, 2005.

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  1. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    [​IMG]

    Alias
    Season4
    Studio:Touchstone Television Year:2005 RunTime:22 Episodes (about 931 minutes)Rating:TV-14 Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 1.78:1 (OAR) Audio:5.1 DD English SpecialFeatures:Deleted Scenes, Commentary, Blooper Reel, multiple documentaries, more… ReleaseDate:October 25, 2005








    The Feature...



    If you’re interested in reading the review of Season Four of a series I’m assuming you’re already a fan of the show, and don’t need a lengthy essay to convince you that the program is worth your attention. Suffice to say that Alias is a well-written show (by many of the same team responsible for LOST) that has a great cast of characters and special effects artists combining some very compelling storylines with first-class action sequences. While many of the plot’s twists and turns do demand that the viewer participate in the willing suspension of disbelief from to time, the show always manages to reward the viewer for their sacrifice by some of the best entertainment contemporary television has to offer.

    You can’t just drop-in to Alias—you really need to spend some time with it (like LOST) and watch if from the ground-up, starting with the first series—otherwise you’ll lose the impact of many of the storylines as they fold together unexpectedly from past episodes. While some are critical of the show and various stylistic turns that the writers have taken with their approach to the storyline, I personally find each “flavor” of Alias equally engaging…and for me the variety keeps the show from growing too stale and predictable.



    As always, healthy and respectful discussion is encouraged. Share your thoughts.



    Picture...



    Alias looks stunning on DVD, which is to say very close to the quality of the native hi-def as it appears on my Comcast Cable transmission (the same comparison with LOST in DVD to HD would apply here). The native HD image has more fine detail and renders motion with a more graceful smoothness, but the DVD looks so good that it often could fool you into thinking you’re watching the HD original until you start to focus on the details. The show is shot natively on film so even in HD it lacks that ultimate “snap” and sharpness of live-cam HD, so perhaps it’s not as far a leap from the current DVD as it would be for programs that make more use of HD’s potential.

    Film film-grain is apparent much of the time and is expertly compressed so that it maintains its natural appearance (unlike Season One which had too much EE applied which made a noisy mess out of the film grain). Much of the series is filmed very dark, and perhaps this artistic choice may not appeal to all viewers. But, the DVD does a great job being faithful to the source and I didn’t notice any distracting MPEG noise or blockiness in dark areas of the image (often a very challenging spot for MPEG encoders and digital displays) and the contrast gradients feel “smooth” and don’t crush either extreme (black or bright). I notice no edge haloing and all in all the image just has a wonderfully film-like, sumptuous character that is pleasing to look at even projected at 106 inches.



    Picture Quality: 4.5 / 5

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]


    Rating Rationale...

    In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):

    Rating Key:

    SCORE Description 1-2 An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid. 2-3 Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain. 3-4 Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos. 4-5 A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE) or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition.



    Viewing Equipment:
    Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.






    Sound...



    Sound quality is generally well done and I didn’t notice any aberrant problems that would cause distraction. However, as with previous editions of Alias, I can’t help but feel that the 5.1 mix tends to sound a bit front-heavy. There are times with the full 5.1 matrix is employed nicely during action scenes so you know the mixers are aware…but even so the rear channel always sounds a tad “thin” in comparison to the front “mains”, and it’s my opinion that even in non-action sequences that the rear channel could be used more atmospherically to help create the context of the space of the scene and to help dissolve the barrier of a show “in front” of the listener. However, these criticisms are directed towards the artistic mixing decisions behind the audio, and given the choices that were made, this DVD does an excellent, and faithful, job of replicating it.

    The audio is reasonably dynamic with a comfortably wide frequency response, and dialogue is easily interpreted without becoming distractingly bright or glaring. Most listeners will be well satisfied as long as they don’t expect Alias to be the DVD that merits that new center-rear channel in their 6.1 audio system.


    Sound Quality: 4 / 5

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    Special Features...



    All bonus material is housed on the last disc (number six) except for some of the audio commentaries which are obviously included with their particular episodes. All are 4x3 encoded (bummer…a 16x9 program deserves special features that are also 16x9). There is a printed booklet that comes with the set which clarifies which episodes are contained on each disc as well as the variety of special feature options on disc 6. Just like with LOST, I’ll say it clearly: If you are a first-time viewer of Season Four, do NOT look at the bonus material until AFTER you’ve finished all 22 episodes…spoilers lie in wait at every turn!!!

    You’ve been warned…


    [*]Commentary:Four episodes have commentary: The first two, Episode Four (Ice) and Episode Six (Nocturn) which is on the second disc. Just as with ALL bonus features, I advise you to wait to check out the commentary until after viewing all 22 episodes. Abrams, Garner, and others will lead you comfortably down the path of trust while they talk about things episode-specific and just when you feel safe, Jennifer will say something about “the shock when in episode blah blah so and so gets shot and dies”…you’re better off just waiting. Commentary is interesting and varies a bit as the cast/crew vary between the four offerings here. Much of the commentary is the “we had a great time” party-style dialogue but there are some nuggets in here worth listening for if you’re a fan of the show.

    [*]Chat with Jennifer GarnerAbout 6 minutes. Shot on “video” this is a mostly a conversation between Jennifer and Executive Producer Ken Olin. It was quite interesting to listen to and Jennifer talks a bit about the time she spent directing some of the episodes herself. Take a look.

    [*]Director’s Diary, Marhall’s World, Agent Weiss’ Spy Camera: 14 minutes, 17 minutes, and 6 minutes. These features were filmed during the making of season for to be included on the DVD. Despite this “shot with DVD in mind” agenda, they don’t feel uncomfortably forced. In fact, I found moments particularly entertaining, and Marshall’s World has a marvelous comedic edge that I really enjoyed. Fans and casual viewers will enjoy these.

    [*]Blooper Reel:Starts out cute with the kids of some of the cast/crew getting a hold of the Blooper tape. But at it’s heart it’s the typical Disney-style Blooper montage that I personally find a bit lackluster (though your mileage may vary).


    [*]Anatomy of a Scene:Two scenes in the film are detailed in terms of the action, stunt work, and special effects used to generate the final image. One of these scenes is the “Train sequence” from the very first episode. I encourage everyone to watch these…I found them very interesting and well worth taking the time.

    [*]Guest Stars of Season 4, Meet Mia: Syd’s Little Sister:The are what they sound like. Fans of the show or of the various character actors will enjoy these interviews.

    [/list]



    All Together...


    It’s a great show, and those who’ve been faithfully collecting the DVD sets have yet another easily recommended edition to add to their library. Being a fan of the show about the only reason I can come up with for not buying this set is if you’re holding out for the eventual Blu-ray release in 1080P HD (whenever that may come). Season Four continues the Alias DVD tradition of outstanding image quality (on par if not a tad better than Season 3), good audio, and a nice plethora of bonus features that add genuine value to your purchase.




    EASILY RECOMMENDED
     
  2. ElijahS

    ElijahS Supporting Actor

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    Great to hear a review! Thanks, DaViD!
     
  3. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    Can't wait to pick this one up!
     
  4. pitchman

    pitchman Screenwriter

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    David, you are killing me, guy![​IMG]

    Just yesterday I finally convinced myself that I would pass on this release despite the fact that I already own the first 3 sets on DVD and I think that the first two seasons of Alias contain some of the best episodic drama ever produced for television. I reminded myself how much I disliked the self-contained episodes that make up much of season 4; the way they chose to handle the Rambaldi story arc; not to mention the loopy Vaughn sub-plot, etc., etc.

    So, here I am all checked out and then I go and read your review and I get sucked right back in... It is pure evil I tell you. Thanks![​IMG]
     
  5. Vincent L

    Vincent L Auditioning

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    Does the episodes have any english subtitles (others than the closed-captionned) ?
    Thank You
     
  6. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

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    Great review DaVid. I just read the image and audio part.

    I didn't watch but a few of the early season 4 episodes on TV so I have waited a long time for this season to arrive on dvd. This weekend I plan on getting alot of my Alias (and Sydney) fix taken care of. [​IMG]
     
  7. Rob T

    Rob T Screenwriter

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    It arrived today. I hope to get to it by this weekend.
    Thanks for the review. [​IMG]
     
  8. Bill>Moore

    Bill>Moore Second Unit

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    Thanks for the review! Can't wait to pick it up. Season 4 wasn't my favorite by any stretch, but it was enjoyable enough.
     
  9. Richard Michael Clark

    Richard Michael Clark Second Unit

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    Does anyone else think it odd that the menus are 4:3 this time and not 16:9 like season 3, or is it just me?
     
  10. ElijahS

    ElijahS Supporting Actor

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    My laptop is showing it at 4:3, and if there's a 16:9 option, my laptop will always choose that one (even for, for example, Seasons 1 & 2, which both had menus for both sizes). I'm assuming, then, that there isn't a 16:9 menu.
     
  11. Christian Preischl

    Christian Preischl Screenwriter

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    Funny, I was just going to post about this, too. [​IMG]
    Ultimately it's not a big deal, but still quite puzzling. Even Scrubs (a 4:3 TV show) has 16:9 menus.

    Chris
     
  12. ElijahS

    ElijahS Supporting Actor

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    I am glad that they chose to show the original cut of "Nocturne" for the set, but I can see why they cut out the Russian Roulette
    scene for the original broadcast. That was a little disturbing, even for Alias.
     
  13. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    I'll have to check it out tonight but I think it has subs for Spanish.

    Odd that the menu is 4x3...I leave my player in 16x9 mode so sometimes I don't notice bcs it gets scaled to 16x9 on my screen.
     
  14. ElijahS

    ElijahS Supporting Actor

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    It does - English "Closed Captioning" and Spanish subtitles.
     

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