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FlashForward: Season One, Pt.1

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG-13 // February 23, 2010
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted March 5, 2010 | E-mail the Author
"Even if this future stuff is real, maybe it's a blessing in disguise ... Ghost of Christmas future crap." -- FlashForward

For the past several years, the creators of LOST have been giving a timeline as to when the show would be closing up shop -- a reality that's rapidly approaching. It begs the question: what's going to take its place as the crowning mind-numb, science-fiction based series? Several others shows have been vying for that spot, such as Fringe and Heroes, measuring up to mixed successes in both storytelling and maintaining their audience. ABC, eager to keep this audience inclusive, have cooked up FlashForward, another disaster-with-consequences story arc with a network of theoretical conjectures interwoven under the hood. By concept alone, the idea of a global prophecy that causes despair, happiness, fear, and violence alike is thoroughly compelling; however, if David S. Goyer and his crew want to continue, they've got to dig deeper into its elaborate speculation and veer away from the current rhythm of underexposure and exaggerated drama. With the level of construction present within its origin premiere, it certainly has the potential.

The (Half) Season:

Much like LOST, it begins with an awakening. FBI agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) jolts alive in the overturned cab of a car, with broken glass and oranges spilled about. Chaos echoes all around him as he groggily exits, while the camera pulls out to reveal a cold visualization of destruction in Los Angeles: smoke billowing from all directions, automobile wrecks in troves, and nary a person that doesn't look shook up. In the moments before, each and every person was knocked unconscious for roughly two minutes and, in that span, was given a glimpse of their future in roughly six months. Demons and blessings alike are unearthed, such as Mark's surgeon wife Olivia (Sonya Walger of LOST) seeing herself with another man, a suicidal medical intern (Zachary Knighton) who sees himself alive and halts his attempt, and FBI agent Demetri Noh (John Cho of Star Trek) who sees ... nothing but blackness. Some see soldiers alive that have been declared dead in war, others see pregnancies when they don't even have a partner. Mark, most importantly, sees a vision of a corkboard chock full of clues about the blackout, as well as seeing that his alcoholism returns. He also sees a random kangaroo prancing through the streets afterwards. Yeah, I know, polar bears come to mind.

What has to be remembered about this blackout is that everyone wasn't conveniently standing, sitting, or sleeping, but also driving cars, flying airplanes, and even conducting surgeries. As a result, this mass visionary shutdown -- which occurs all across the globe -- has also caused a great number of casualties, adding an even bleaker spin on the whole scenario. Naturally, thoughts begin to spin around the implications of these "flashforwards"; are they really glimpses into what's going to happen, or are they cautionary signs of scenarios to avoid? Are they a gift or a punishment, and who's responsible? Is this a terrorist act, as assumed by the FBI's investigation on a "Suspect Zero" spotted awake on a security camera during the blackout, or is it a divine delivery?

FlashForward, loosely based on a novel by Robert J. Sawyer, bolsters forward with an intriguing and thrilling premiere, one that makes ample usage of these concepts. Under David S. Goyer's direction, the content fluctuates with the right blend of emotionality, excitement, and mystery to light a spark of curiosity. Starting with a riveting car chase with the FBI trailing a terrorist, the assumed good vs. evil dynamic shifts when they're forced to pull a gun on their target following this event that's affected all of humanity. The rush to discover the cause, a mad scramble involving the FBI and establishing a website to connect visions into a "mosaic", becomes a riveting catalyst for a story arc. And, plain and simple, the core concept nails down a thought-provoking idea that will develop throughout the season: how certainty of one's future will change their reactions.

This human impact is what carries FlashForward -- a series about individuals wrestling with their inner demons -- and the cast powers it ahead with impressive poise. Joseph Fiennes comes out of the woodwork as a charming everyman with Mark, dropping the leotards and fluffy collars of his period calls-to-fame for an edgy, domineering FBI agent. Sonya Walger loses her charming "Penny" accent and throws on a smock, rubber gloves and a face mask, matching Fiennes' sharpness with proper gravity as his equally-sardonic wife Olivia, while John Cho offers a nice blend of straight-faced delivery and subtle humor as Mark's partner. Also highly enjoyable is the blossoming personality within Christine Woods' snappy, vivacious (mild spoiler: and "super gay") FBI agent Janis Hawk, as well as an itching draw to like Zachary Knighton as the shaky, suicidal-turned-hopeful medical intern Bryce. All of the characters dig into their personalities and reveal how their visions are intrinsically affecting them (in most cases), which turns into a swirl of potent performances that push the implausibly fascinating concept forward with a human edge. Plus, seeing Dominic Monaghan take on a more sinister role is very, very refreshing.

The characters' energy and the thematic intrigue carry over into the second follow-up episode and onward, but FlashForward slowly reveals a few glaring weaknesses that weaken the rest of this series' first half. Instead of directly hinging on the obvious mystery and offering much in the way of plot twists and turns, it instead drags down the momentum by focusing on extravagant dramatic sequences and drawn-out, strained plot revelation. Each episode incrementally inches towards shifts, reveals, and dominoes falling into place, all while filled with huffy regurgitation of familiar arguments and posturing between characters as the mystery advances. Oftentimes, this results in swift, hard-to-believe flips in manner, as well as some easy coincidences locking together very quickly and very easily around the six-month-out prophecies. Some of the material grabs our interest anyway, such as Russian roulette matches in dark sadist bars and the hunt for blue-handed "ghosts", but it's under the blanket of a stretched-out narrative that's gasping for air. On top of that, the story persistently shows us dramatizations of both the flashbacks -- though slickly edited -- and the blackout in general that we've seen several times over, rehashing visions as if we're watching the series for the first time (which might have been the intent). I understand placing emphasis on their relevance to each person involved, but it almost seems like indulgent filler when scattered this liberally within the boisterous drama.

With that said, all hasn't gone astray with FlashForward, as the instinctive performances, random splashes of action, and immensely gripping premise -- especially once it really begins playing with the fabric of predestination vs. shaping one's own fate -- are enough to still grab us by the bootstraps and carry us through these storytelling hiccups. It's well-produced science-fiction television with a wealth of strong characters, but it's got to find that right balance between unspooling developments in the arc and tempered, effortless drama that would give it an addictive edge. With the weekly mindbender throne opening up soon, David S. Goyer and his crew have a chance to discover this at just the right time; with some of the thoughts that it's rustled up in my head about what I'd do with a vision of my future, as well as the momentum it picks up once the interconnected country hopping begins, here's hoping that it irons out the wrinkles.

The DVD:

ABC's presentation of FlashForward: Season One, Pt. 1 comes in a standard two-disc keepcase with a glossy slipcover adorning the outside that replicates the cover artwork. No chapter listing or inner materials have been included, aside from a promo sheet. This two-disc presentation includes all ten (10) episodes of the show's first-half, each one lasting roughly 40-45 minutes.

Video and Audio:

Considering the fact that we're working with about three hours of material on each of these discs, these ten episodes of FlashForward look surprisingly decent in their 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen images. The HD-shot cinematography veers in many different directions, sometimes acidic during the flashbacks and others, like Middle-Eastern war sequences, are gritty as can be. Most of the cinematography leans towards a stylish high-contrast look and, oftentimes, very cold with lots of emphasis on shades of blue, and the discs' replication of color offers strong palette saturation. Some scattered edge halos and a bit of excessive grain enter into the picture, along with some arguably overblown coloring, but the sharpness and pleasing contrast are satisfying considering the cramped nature of the discs.

Audio comes in an equally satisfying array of Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks that support the varied elements of the show. Various sound effects into the picture, from car crashes, gun shots, the violent thrashing of someone drowning, and explosions. Most of them pound with a decent leve of bass effects, while the higher-ranged effects come through distortion free -- if a bit pushed down. Dialogue remains crystal clear and very audible, balancing against the persistently harsh, eerie music just fine. Optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles are available to match with the sole English 5.1 track for each episode.

Special Features:

Creating Catastrophe: The Effects Behind a Global Blackout (7:06, 16x9):
The initial sequence that depicts Los Angeles in upheavel during the black looks extremely seamless, which becomes the focus in this behind-the-scenes piece. Interviews on-the-fly while on the set feature David S. Goyer and his crew, emphasizing all of the intricate pieces at play during the sequence. Practical CG effects mix with pyrotechnics and real crunched cars for a splendid effect, which are all discussed. They compare what's real and not, how they sketched out the sequence, and how much of a relief it is for Shakespeare-centered Joseph Fiennes to get in the action-fueled mix.

Also included are a pairing of preview features -- FlashForward: A Look Ahead (4:48, 16x9) and Could (1:32, 16x9) -- that give us glimpses of what's to come with the rest of the first season.

Final Thoughts:

As it approaches the end of this half-season set, FlashForward begins to pick up the momentum that it created with its stellar premiere episode. FBI agents are hopping from country to country on the whims of visions in their heads, running on leads that could be mere musings in people minds -- though everybody who had one of these visions feels like a greater power's at work. David S. Goyer and crew have something that could blossom into breakneck television, if it's given a chance to dig its developments deeper and allow its characters to breathe. What that boils down to is that this first half of FlashForward could be the captured growing pains of a potentially great show, a period where it's learning exactly what it does well and what they need to work on. It's still Recommended because of this construct they've erected, one that just needs a bit more plot exposition and naturalness between its characters that often comes with time.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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