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BUENA VISTA

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Various
Cast:
Jennifer Garner, Ron Rifkin, Michael Vartan, Bradley Cooper, Victor Garber, Merrin Dungey, Carl Lumbly, Lena Olin
Writing Credits:
Various

Tagline:
Spying. Stealing. Murder. And You Think Your Family Has Issues.

Synopsis:
Golden Globe Award-winning actress Jennifer Garner is Sydney Bristow. Syd's not exactly your average grad student. Her life might appear normal, but she's hiding a secret life working as a spy for the CIA.

Sydney's world is turned upside down when she learns she may work for the very enemy she thought she was fighting. Now she's entangled in a covert lifestyle where she is forced to question the allegiances of everyone, including those closest to her.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 917 min.
Price: $69.99
Release Date: 12/2/2003

Bonus:
• Four Audio Commentaries for selected episodes
• The Making of “The Telling”
• The Look of Alias
• Deleted Scenes
• Season Two Blooper Reel
• Trailers
• KROQ Kevin & Bean Radio Show Interviews
• TV Spots
• The Making of the Video Game
• DVD-ROM


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TV - Mitsubishi CS-32310 32"; Subwoofer - JBL PB12; DVD Player - Toshiba SD-4700; Receiver - Sony STR-DE845; Center - Polk Audio CS175i; Front Channels - Polk Audio; Rear Channels - Polk Audio.

RELATED REVIEWS


Alias: The Complete Second Season (2002)

Reviewed by David Williams (January 13, 2004)

Buena Vista did an incredible job with their Alias: The Complete First Season set and I was fortunate enough to review it for DVDMG.COM. Imagine my elated surprise when the studio rolled out season two a mere three months afterwards. Pure bliss for those of us who have found out that the only way to watch TV these days is via our favorite medium, DVD; no annoying commercials, no waiting seven days or more for new episodes, the ability to pause the show when nature calls and rewind when you miss some important dialogue (which TIVO will do for me when I move into my new home next month), and so on. If there are any disadvantages to watching your favorite TV shows on DVD, I have yet to find one and Buena Vista only makes this habit harder to break by releasing their hit series, Alias, so quickly and professionally.

The second season of Alias failed to suffer from the sophomore slump that many shows do and so far, seems to be on track for an incredible third season (airing now on ABC) as well. While the show definitely had a few missteps during its second season, it never veered too far off course and managed to stick to its bread-and-butter for the vast majority of season two (i.e., Sydney’s various and sundry costume changes, the beleaguered search for the McGuffin, “The Rambaldi Manuscripts/Artifacts”). In a somewhat bold move, bit characters and big name guest stars showed up more frequently the second time around and some of the supporting actors even took away somewhat from Garner’s usual spotlight. While these developments made for a nice change of pace, don’t be fooled, this is still Jennifer Garner’s show and we aren’t allowed to forget that for very long. However, series creator JJ Abrams really kept fans on their toes after the 2003 Super Bowl when he turned the Alias universe upside down in an episode entitled “Phase One”; essentially an hour-long episode that made everything we thought we knew about the Alias world irrelevant … down became up and up became down … and Abrams deserves a lot of credit for tweaking an already proven, winning formula with such delicious results.

When we last left Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) in season one, she had just learned that the mother (Lena Olin) she assumed was dead was not only alive, but was in charge of one of the international espionage organizations that Sydney was, and still is, working to bring down. (I’m not gonna brush up too much on characters and backstory here … if you need a quick refresher, just check out my season one review from late 2003.) Sydney and her father, Jack (Victor Garber), are still working undercover for SD-6, a black agency that does all sorts of dirty work around the world under the auspices of the CIA. However, as double-agents working for the CIA, Sydney and her dad are subversively trying to bring down SD-6 and its leader, Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin). However, when we pick up season two, Sydney is a prisoner and her handler, Vaughn (Michael Vartan), is MIA and presumably dead. Soon thereafter, Sydney has quite a reunion with her mother, Irina (Lena Olin) - who we learn is responsible for the deaths of quite a few CIA agents in her day - and in the ensuing gunfight, Sydney is shot and injured by dear old mom. Sydney eventually escapes and makes it home in order to recount her story to a CIA psychiatrist … and then the fun really begins!

The second season of Alias simply picks up where the first left off, as there are plenty more sexy costume and wig changes, exotic locales, double crosses, near misses, great escapes, and thrilling cliffhangers. Playing more like an hour-long feature film than a weekly television series, Alias continues to command our attention with its top-notch production values, intelligent writing, strong supporting cast, incredible soundtrack, and quite simply, a fun, action-packed show to boot.

By reading on, you’ll get a very spoiler rich breakdown of season two and many of its developments. If you’re not interested and don’t want to spoil the second season for yourself, cruise on down to the Audio/Video/Extras portion of my review and simply skip over the next few paragraphs. You’ve been warned …

- Disc One -

The Enemy Walks In (Original Air Date: September 29, 2002)
In an incredible season-opener, JJ Abrams and crew deliver big time. After season one’s incredible cliff-hanger, we learn more about the Bristow’s and their rather perverse family tree. After it’s learned that Sydney’s (Jennifer Garner) supposedly dead mother, Irina Derevko (Leno Olin), is alive and working as a Russian agent in international espionage, there’s quite a little showdown between mother and daughter. Sydney is injured (shot in the shoulder by dear old mom) and her mother is now on the run. Sydney also attempts to find out what happened to Vaughn (Michael Vartan) and she attempts to explain to Will that she and her father both are CIA double-agents. However, after Will’s expose on SD-6 hits the stands, Jack (Victor Garber) does his best to protect Will from assassination and discredit his story at the same time.

Trust Me (Original Air Date: October 6, 2002)
Many more of this season’s subplots are fleshed out and touched on here, as we find Irina, aka Laura Bristow, surrendering herself to the CIA. However, she refuses to deal with anyone there except her daughter and Sydney wants nothing to do with her whatsoever. But when an important mission goes awry and a diskette containing some crucial photos falls into the wrong hands, Sydney turns to her mother for help … against her father’s wishes. Meanwhile, Will is found guilty of drug addiction and Sloane (Ron Rifkin) runs into a familiar face while looking for Irina.

Cipher (Original Air Date: October 13, 2002)
Sydney’s old nemesis Sark (David Anders) returns in this episode and he’s trying a launch a satellite for the Russians with some powerful spying potential and it’s up to Sydney to put a stop to it. Sydney once again turns to her mother for help and opens up a new can of worms while questioning her. Meanwhile, Will (Bradley Cooper) and Vaughn meet for the very first time.

Dead Drop (Original Air Date: October 20, 2002)
Sloane deals with some information that leads him to believe that his wife may have never died. Being somewhat rattled by the events, the SD-6 sends Dixon (Carl Lumbly) down to figure out just what’s going on. Meanwhile, Will meets a woman (Marisol Nichols) who claims to know the truth about SD-6 and Vaughn meets the person who killed his father, Irina. Jack tries to convince Sydney that her mother is supplying her with bad information and he goes to extreme measures to make sure she believes him.

- Disc Two -

The Indicator (Original Air Date: November 3, 2002)
By sabotaging Sydney’s mission and placing the blame on Irina, Jack gets his daughter’s undivided attention – and it places his ex-wife on death row. However, Vaughn finds out about what Jack did and it leaves him slightly mortified. While on a mission, Sydney learns some startling information about her family and her childhood when her father tells her that she has been a spy-in-training since she was 6-years old.

Salvation (Original Air Date: November 10, 2002)
Sydney is obviously furious at her father when she learns that he attempted to sabotage one of her missions and Jack makes a desperate attempt to prove his love for his daughter. Sydney is torn between making her mother pay and ratting out her father for his untrustworthy actions. Meanwhile, Will is given a seemingly routine CIA assignment and Vaughn contracts a serious virus after the investigation of Khasinau’s “red ball” from last season. Sloane learns more about his missing wife while at her burial site.

The Counteragent (Original Air Date: November 17, 2002)
Vaughn is close to death because of the contracted virus and Sydney must turn to Sark to secure the antidote. In return, Sark wants Sydney to kill SD-6’s Arvin Sloane! But in true Alias fashion, a couple of turns and betrayals change everything. Will meets with the author of some standardized IQ tests while investigating them.

Passage: Part One (Original Air Date: December 1, 2002)
In part one of this somewhat silly two-part episode, Sark’s new association with SD-6 puts Sydney’s double-agent status in danger. Irina is very suspicious of Sark’s motives and when he provides some rebels with the activation code for some nuclear weapons, she uses her intel on Sark as a bargaining tool in order to be released from CIA custody. While released, she goes on a mission with Jack and Sydney to Kashmir, posing as a vacationing family. Meanwhile, Will learns a bit more about “Project Christmas” and fills Vaughn in on his findings.

- Disc Three -

Passage: Part Two (Original Air Date: December 8, 2002)
While Sydney spends a lot of time keeping her squabbling parents separated, their mission to steal some nuclear warheads from a group of Pakistani rebels starts falling apart. However, the mission progresses and the Bristow’s infiltrate a military compound out in the desert that contains some shocking Rambaldi discoveries. Irina then proceeds to rat her family out to a former collaborator (Derek DeLint). Back at home, Sloane lets the Alliance members in on Emily’s kidnapping after he gets a call for a ransom to return her to him alive.

The Abduction (Original Air Date: December 15, 2002)
The Alliance has Ariana Kane (a guest starring Faye Dunaway) to investigate the plot against Sloane. Unfortunately for Jack, he’s the one who raises Kane’s suspicions. Sark cuts a deal with Sloane in order to recover a surveillance system and SD-6 sends Marshall (Kevin Weisman) and Sydney on a mission that requires the CIA stepping in to protect their assets. A really great episode …

A Higher Echelon (Original Air Date: January 5, 2003)
Sydney and Dixon have to team up to find Marshall after his kidnapping and Sydney must work against Sloane to make sure he comes back. With her investigation firmly underway, Kane links Jack to a murder and the finding raises Sloane’s suspicions. Meanwhile, the CIA is attempting to block SD-6’s access to a top-secret system and Irina proves her loyalty by filling the CIA in on what SD-6 is looking for. Will learns more about the psychological exam.

The Getaway (Original Air Date: January 12, 2003)
Sydney and Vaughn hook up while on a mission in France and it threatens to blow both of their respective covers, as they’re almost spotted by some SD-6 agents working for Kane. Meanwhile, Jack tries to pull a fast one on Ariana Kane as she continues to suspect him of blackmailing Sloane. Also, more is learned about the abduction of Sloane’s wife.

- Disc Four -

Phase One (Original Air Date: January 26, 2003)
Commentary with JJ Abrams, Jennifer Garner, Jack Bender, Greg Grunberg, Michael Vartan & Victor Garber
This is the episode that turned the Aliasworld on its ear, as Sloane mysteriously disappears and SD-6 is taken over by an agent named Geiger (a guest starring Rutger Hauer) – someone who doesn’t know or care about Sydney or Jack like Sloane did. This keeps the Bristow’s on their toes, as they try to keep their secret lives as double agents out of Geiger’s watchful and suspicious eye. Vaughn receives some information on members of the Alliance and Sydney plans to act on it and bring them down, along with SD-6 – but not before she tells Dixon the truth. Will and Francie (Merrin Dungey) make some rather startling discoveries.

Double Agent (Original Air Date: February 2, 2003)
CIA agent Jim Lennox (a guest starring Ethan Hawke) comes under suspicion when his partner, and fellow agent, dies. Sydney is on the case and immediately, she and Lennox strike up a relationship as they find they both have a lot in common … in life, as well as work. However, when Vaughn and Jack learn that Lennox was in hot pursuit of a technology that allows people to change their physical appearance, Sydney wonders if she’s dealing with the “real” Jim Lennox. Meanwhile, Francie falls for an unlikely partner.

A Free Agent (Original Air Date: February 9, 2003)
With the Alliance all but dismantled and Sloane on the run, Sydney feels that maybe the time is right for her to hang up her spy hat. However, a brilliant mathematician (a guest starring Christian Slater) kidnapping – and a strange phone call from Sloane – convince Sydney that maybe it’s best she stick around, as it looks like SD-6 is back in business. Sydney once again teams up with Vaughn, as they work together to find the mathematician, who holds they key to transcribing an ancient document into a very dangerous weapon.

Firebomb (Original Air Date: February 23, 2003)
Sloane has had hands on a very dangerous weapon – the finished Rimbaldi device - and the one person who can help Sydney – a very betrayed and hurt Dixon – refuses to help. Without Dixon’s help, Sydney decides to go it alone. Meanwhile, Vaughn learns of an enemy with close ties to Sydney.

- Disc Five -

A Dark Turn (Original Air Date: March 2, 2003)
Commentary with Ken Olin, John Eisendrath, Jesse Alexander, & Jeff Pinkner
Sydney learns that Vaughn is under investigation for being a double agent. This turn causes the unlikely and uncomfortable partnering of Jack and Irina as they work to get Sloane out of hiding, as well as get their daughter out of the CIA for good.

Truth Takes Time (Original Air Date: March 16, 2003)
After her mother’s betrayal, Sydney promises herself that things will go down much differently the next time they meet. Also, Sydney gets help from an unexpected ally to bring down Sloane and his cronies, Sark and Irina, before they can get their hands on some serious genetic-coding technology.

Endgame (Original Air Date: March 30, 2003)
When the CIA intercepts a covert message, Sydney learns that Neil Caplan (Christian Slater), the mathematician forced into servitude by Sloane and Irina, is in danger … and from a very dubious source. Caplan’s wife makes a statement that sends Sydney off to Russia and once again, against her father’s orders. Sloane goes after the person responsible for Emily’s death and it causes some major repercussions for a particular agent.

Countdown (Original Air Date: April 27, 2003)
The CIA learns more information concerning the Rambaldi prophecy and Dixon is focused on revenge after the murder of his wife and refuses to stop working until Sloane is brought to justice. At the same time, Sydney and Dixon are working to find Sloane and Sydney is afraid that Dixon, hell-bent on revenge, will jeopardize the mission. Marshall has someone with her eye on him and Sloane receives from disturbing news about his wife from a reclusive monk (a guest starring David Carradine).

- Disc Six -

Second Double (Original Air Date: May 4, 2003)
Commentary with Ken Olin, Bradley Cooper, Carl Lumbly, & Terry O’Quinn
Sydney attempts to clear Will’s name after Francie names him as the CIA leak … a treasonous crime. Sloane makes Jack an offer that will allow them to work together again to acquire more of the Rambaldi artifacts and Irina and Sark lure Sydney and Vaughn into a trap that could prove to be a bigger problem that she could ever imagine.

The Telling (Original Air Date: May 4, 2003)
Commentary with JJ Abrams, Merrin Dungey, Ron Rifkin, Ken Olin, & Kevin Weisman
In the second part of the two-hour season finale, Sydney gets her chance to bring Sloane down and go after her mother at the same time. Her confrontation with her mother leads to a shocking revelation that she, Sydney, is the fulfillment of the Rambaldi prophecy. Will learns who set him up for treason and it meets with disastrous results and after a deadly confrontation with the “fake” Francie, Sydney wakes up to find that she has been missing for over two years!

A bit more inconsistent than its first season, Alias still shines. Sure, there were some slightly ridiculous episodes and moments, but taken as a whole, Alias on a bad night still rates better than most TV shows on their best night. While Alias avoids the sophomore slump, I fully expect them to ramp up the action a bit more in season three.


The DVD Grades: Picture A/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Buena Vista’s Alias: The Complete Second Season is once again presented in its televised aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in an anamorphically enhanced transfer that like the first season, looks great.

Detail is quite strong in the second season and the image remained consistently vivid and strong throughout. Grain didn’t phase the image too much at all, as Buena Vista’s picture is impressively sturdy at all times. Colors in the series can be quite bold, as Sydney’s wigs and outfits come across very vivid and natural in Buena Vista’s transfer. Bleeding and smearing are not an issue, as balance and contrast are right on the money at all times. Black levels are strong and at times, almost overpowering, and while fine shadow detail and delineation suffer somewhat, in the grand scheme of things, it’s really no big deal.

The show does exhibit some slight grain from time to time and while that’s to be expected in a long-running series such as this (22 episodes), you can’t deny its presence. It’s very non-distracting and light in most instances and rest assured, it never detracts from the show itself. Edge enhancement was present in small amounts, as was some haloing; but again, it was very miniscule and hardly a diversion. Buena Vista has improved upon the occurrence and severity of anomalies from the season one set and is to be commended for their fine efforts here.

As a whole, my complaints about the transfer are rather nit-picky, as Alias: The Complete Second Season looks grandiose and Buena Vista deserves some major kudos for such fine work. Fans will be more than happy with the studio’s effort and it will be hard for Buena Vista to improve on this transfer for the eventual season three release.

Alias comes with an impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that improves slightly upon what was heard in the boxed set for season one. In the show’s sophomore effort, we get a much more consistent presentation, as the individual episodes are seem more evenly balanced across the entire season.

Front surrounds contain the vast majority of the activity, as Alias doesn’t let you forget that it’s still a TV show. However, rear surrounds do get a decent workout from time to time and they add some welcome reinforcement to many of the more active scenes found throughout Alias. The rears are never really fully engaged, but there’s enough there that you can appreciate Buena Vista’s efforts.

As I said earlier, the front surrounds see the most action, as the effects (cars, gunfire, explosions, etc) really strut their stuff. Discrete directional cues and pans are fairly abundant for a TV show and sound quite natural and full in the audio transfer for season two. Everything beings and ends from its natural place within the soundstage and while the mix is slightly front-heavy, it’s an improvement over the first season. Dialogue was crisp and clean at all times and never displayed any harshness or edginess, while the score for the show was appropriately balanced and mixed, displaying excellent dynamics and fidelity. LFE usage was impressive at times, but when taken as a whole, it wasn’t much more than average; which is fine, considering the televised origins of the show.

Buena Vista has also included English closed captioning, as well as subtitles available in Spanish.

As is usually the case in boxed TV seasons, the bonus material tends to give away some plot points from the showcased season and Alias is no different. As always, I suggest checking out the shows first before checking out Buena Vista’s adequate selection of supplemental material for season two.

The supplements for the set are spread out across the individual DVDs, with the first disc containing Trailers for Hidalgo and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. There’s also a couple of Commercials; a spoiler-rich one for Alias: Season Three, as well as one for Alias: The Game.

The set also contains four audio commentaries for the same number of episodes. The episodes that contain commentaries, as well as their participants, are listed in my review under the corresponding episode synopsis and things get off to a good start on disc four as series creator J.J. Abrams joins director Jack Bender and stars Jennifer Garner, Greg Grunberg, Michael Vartan, and Victor Garber for the episode “Phase One”. This was a really fun track and it’s very obvious from the atmosphere that the group had a really good time together – making the episode, as well as the commentary itself. They share a lot of good information about the show, as well as the shoot for the episode, and there’s even an alternate take of a scene that we branch to at one point during the commentary. There’s a good balance of fun and useful information divvied out in this commentary and fans will definitely want to check it out.

The next commentary is found on disc five and features director Ken Olin, writer Jesse Alexander and writer/producer Jeff Pinker. The disc listing includes John Eisendrath as a participant, but we surprisingly never hear from him during the commentary for “A Dark Turn”. It’s a somewhat technical commentary that dishes out a lot of information in a little amount of time. There’s some good behind-the-camera info to be gleaned here and again, it’s worth the effort to check out.

Disc six contains the last two commentaries starting with director Ken Olin again and he’s joined by stars Bradley Cooper, Carl Lumbly, and Terry O'Quinn for “Second Double”. This one has the distinct feel of a true “actor’s commentary” where everyone sits around, pats each other on the back, and talks about how much fun it is to work on the show. For what it is, this commentary is fine, but don’t expect a lot of deep information to be divulged here.

The fourth and final commentary is for the season finale, “The Telling”, and it features J.J. Abrams again, with director Ken Olin and actors Merrin Dungey, Ron Rifkin, and Kevin Weisman. Featuring another branching take, we get another really good commentary that goes through the motions of shooting a huge finale for a very popular, action-packed show. Once again, it’s an entertaining and light-hearted track, but it does manage to let you in on some good information as well. Another great commentary, as Buena Vista makes it 4-for-4.

As expected, the vast majority of the extras reside on the last disc, disc six, and things start off with The Making of “The Telling” (45:14) and here, we get much more than just the usual supplement of EPK material. We get a very intense look behind-the-scenes at just what it takes to put together a show as involved as Alias. We get interviews with the principals as they discuss all that went in to making season two’s incredible finale. Via interviews, hand-held cameras, and clips from the show and behind-the-scenes, we see the crew scout locations, set up preliminary shots and sequences, plan stunts and fights, and even meet and discuss the final script. We then see it all come together as they shoot the episode and then go into post-production and edit it, score it, mix the sound and special effects, and so on. While there are many supplements these days that supply this type of material, Buena Vista’s folks do it right and make this a very interesting and engaging supplement to watch. Very good stuff and well worth your valuable time to check it out. (Very spoiler rich too! Make sure you’ve watched season two before you view this!)

The Look of Alias (11:58) is next and in a nutshell, this supplement covers the make-up, costumes, and wigs that Jennifer Garner fills out quite nicely during the various episodes. There is a quite amusing story that follows Sydney’s very memorable red wig from the pilot episode and we learn about it here. Next, there’s some rather drab discussions on how the wigs are prepared, colors are matched, and so on. There’s some decent info divvied out here and while not the most interesting supplement, it’s well worth checking out.

Buena Vista has added some Deleted Scenes to the set and after a quick 37-second intro from JJ Abrams, we get a detailed menu of accessible, albeit deleted scenes from season two. They are as follows: “The Indicator”, The One Constant (0:53); “Double Agent”, Growing Old Together (1:19), Jack’s Warning (1:21); “A Free Agent”, The Kiss (0:53); “A Dark Turn”, A New Identity (0:49); “The Telling”, Sloane’s Advice (0:52), Irina Is Gone (0:37). Since there are only about seven-minutes of deleted scenes spread out across 22 hour-long episodes, it’s really hard to say how these would have worked had they been included. (I also find it hard to believe that there weren’t more to choose from.) Either way, it’s really a moot point and while the scenes are nice to have, they’re pretty average and unassuming when taken as a whole. All are presented in finished quality widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Next up is the Season Two Blooper Reel (4:21) that offers up some light-hearted moments from the set. Some snippets are good, some not so good, but all in all, a very enjoyable feature.

The KROQ Kevin & Bean Radio Show Interviews are some audio snippets of cast members of Alias being interviewed by the DJs. There are four clips from four different participants which include JJ Abrams, Victor Garber, Kevin Weisman, and Jennifer Garner. These clips are audio only and in-total, they run for slightly under 37-minutes. There’s some actual meat in these interviews and surprisingly, all four were very intelligent and fun. Make sure you check ‘em out.

There are seven TV Spots for your viewing pleasure, as well as The Making of the Video Game (4:24); a quickie featurette on the making of the Alias video game that’s currently available from Acclaim for the PS2 and XBox. Pretty interesting, but too short to be completely engrossing.

There are a few DVD-ROM supplements on the disc, as the Script Scanner shows back up for the season finale, “The Telling”. It’s a really cool feature that let’s you browse the working script, in-sync with the show itself, while watching the actual episode in a window to the side. There’s also an option to view Production Schedules inside of this feature and it gives us a quick glimpse at the hurried and harried pace that the cast and crew are required to keep up day in and day out on a weekly series. These features prove that DVD-ROM content is good for something, although I’d rather have them implemented where they could be accessed through the player as well.

The Register Your DVD feature also shows back up and it allows you to register the set directly with Buena Vista and there’s even a Rebate Form that allows for a $10 rebate from Buena Vista simply by mailing in the completed form along with a proof-of-purchase from both seasons and the receipt for your purchase of season two.

Buena Vista has turned out two absolutely incredible Alias boxed sets within three months of each other and have made a believer out of me. I absolutely cannot wait for season three to hit my doorstep and if you’re having trouble reading between the lines … Alias: The Complete Second Season comes with my highest recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4358 Stars Number of Votes: 39
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