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Alias: Season 1

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // Unrated // September 2, 2003
List Price: $69.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Blake Kunisch | posted August 25, 2003 | E-mail the Author

The Series:

Minor Spoilers for Season 1 follow...

A highly complex and intricate show, Alias was able to deftly blend together multiple storylines dealing with everything from neutron bombs to arms dealers to soviet spies along with a touching, lighter side that showed the humanity of the characters and the true depth each one of the characters brought to the show.  In season one, it all starts off with Sydney working at SD-6, a highly secretive branch of the CIA involved in shady dealings and a search for a mysterious device by an even more mysterious man, Rambaldi.  At the end of the first episode, Sydney realizes that SD-6 is not actually a branch of the CIA, but instead, a part of a much larger "alliance" and she becomes a double, working for the CIA to bring down SD-6.  As the show progresses, the plots become much more complex as we jump around the globe from one location to another as Sydney works as an agent for SD-6, but then has to juggle the responsibility to the CIA as she either has to sabotage the SD-6 missions or provide intel for the CIA.

Season one, in my opinion featured some of the best episodes to date and was an incredibly fun season to watch.  As we watched Sydney try and juggle all of her different covers, deftly switching between SD-6 agent and CIA agent, a high level of tension crept into the series and from episode to episode, you just couldn't wait to see what would happen next.  The first season featured such gems as The Box, guest starring Quentin Tarantino, and great characters, including, but not limited to, Anna Espinosa, Alexander Khasinau and Milo Rambaldi.

If you're new to Alias or missed a few episodes from season one, here's your chance to catch up with what is easily one of the best shows on television from the past decade.

The Picture:

The picture quality is the crown jewel of this DVD collection.  When the box set was originally announced, it was revealed that the episodes would only be presented in a 1.33:1 ratio (your standard 4:3 TV ratio).  Those of us with widescreen TVs cried foul and, luckily, ABC changed its mind.  These episodes are simply beautiful.  I did not have a widescreen TV when season one aired, but now that I do, I enjoy watching Alias each week in high-definition and what I enjoy even more is the extra picture you get with widescreen.  Presented in an anamorphic widescreen ratio, these DVDs look gorgeous and watching season one over again with such great clarity is a real treat.

The quality of the picture is top-notch.  I only noticed minor artifacts at times during extremely dark sequences and there are miniscule flaws that pop up from time to time, but they do not distract from a normal viewing and are, for the most part, invisible to the regular viewer.  Each episode, all 22 of them, is presented in a widescreen format with exceptional clarity and a good balance of colors as there are many scenes at night in almost pitch black darkness and they are all easily watchable.  Overall, a magnificent presentation.

The Sound:

Each episode is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and is a welcome addition to the DVD.  Like the widescreen option, I missed watching the episodes when they aired on TV with surround sound.  Watching them again with surround is a treat.  Dialogue is easy to understand and not washed out by music or special effects.  A great transfer with exceptional sound quality.

Also included on the DVD is a Spanish language track for anyone interested.  For the hearing impaired, both Spanish and English subtitles are provided.

The Insert:

There's just something about a DVD not having an insert that upsets me.  I don't know why, and I know not everyone feels the same way, but I just have come to expect a booklet or something else included that gives a brief overview of the series, some credits, and perhaps some behind-the-scenes information.  Unfortunately, there is no insert, per se, included with the Alias box set.  There are two one page inserts that are inside disc one, but they are just advertisements - one for season two and one for the video game.

Special Features:

Since not everyone will buy the DVDs just for the episodes (though the episodes alone are worth the price), ABC has included the following extras (each described in-depth below):

Pilot Production Diary, "Inside Stunts," Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, Audio Commentaries, Special Season 2 Preview, Video Game Sneak Peek, DVD-ROM ScriptScanner, TV Spots.


Audio Commentaries:

Episode 1: Truth Be Told:  Narrated by Jennifer Garner and J.J. Abrams, the pilot features a quick intro with both of them as we learn neither has seen the pilot since its original airing which makes it interesting as they watch the episode.  It's interesting to learn the origin of the title sequence and just the origin of the show.  What's interesting is that they really didn't know the direction the show was going in at this time, so they talk about that for a lot of the commentary.  Interesting side-note: J.J. Abrams and Greg Grunberg went to kindergarten together.  Best part of the commentary: Jennifer talking about her favorite scene from Alias - Danny calling Jack and asking for permission to marry Sydney.

Episode 2: So It Begins:  Narrated by Ken Olin, Sarah Caplan and Michael Bonvillain, this is another interesting commentary with the producers rather than the writers or the cast.  All three of them complement each other nicely, and you can tell they've been working together for a while and really love doing the show.  They mainly talk about different filming techniques - wide shots, close-ups, etc. and they also give a nice nod to the fans at the end of the commentary, saying, "[we] love our fans, they keep us going," which is always nice to hear.  Like the other three commentaries, this one should definitely be listened to and provides some interesting looks into the making of the show.  Best part of the commentary: the beginning of their "love of hallways."

Episode 17: Q & A:  Narrated by John Eisendrath, Alex-Kurtzman-Counter and Roberto Orci, this commentary is an interesting change of pace after listening to the other three commentaries.  Q & A was a clip show to get the audiences caught up with the show again right in the middle (plus, they had gone over budget and needed to save some money).  This is a great choice for the three writers/producers to commentate as they can talk about various episodes without having to commentate each individual episode.  The three men here really work well together and are able to expound upon topics touched upon by the other men.  You kind of lose track of who is who as the three frequently talk over each other, but it doesn't really matter.  Best part of the commentary: "Did you guys know Sydney was supposed to be a student in this show?"

Episode 22: Almost Thirty Years:  Starts off with a short intro by the cast and then cuts quickly to the episode.  This is by far the best audio commentary of the four and is great fun to listen to as all of the actors talk over each other and just interact so well with each other.  It's probably best to listen to the commentary for this episode right after the commentary for episode one, Truth Be Told.  Whatever order you listen to them in, you'll find yourself laughing out loud at a few points.  Great commentary - just wish they had a full cast commentary for more episodes (hopefully we'll get this for Season 2).  Best part of the commentary: blueberry girl.

Alias Pilot Production Diary:  Quite possibly one of the coolest special features on the disc.  The production dairy runs for just under 30 minutes and gives you a great behind-the-scenes look at the making of the pilot episode.  It just looks like such a fun set to work on - they've got behind the scenes before fight scenes with Jennifer just having some fun and there's also some added bloopers (very few though).  The only slight detraction is that it is narrated by J.J. Abrams, so if you've watched his commentary for the pilot episode, you'll hear a lot of the same stuff in the production diary.  Not a huge problem though, it's still a good featurette.

Script Scanner:  This is a pretty cool little feature.  It works alongside the pilot as you watch the script scroll by on the right as the video plays on the left.  You can see the actual script from the pilot, in its entirety as the episode unfolds beside it.  There are two modes - synchronized and clickable.  With synchronized, the script follows along with the video automatically.  With clickable, you can choose the part of the script you want to see the video for and just jump around the episode.  The Script Scanner, though, is only playable on a computer with a DVD-ROM - it will not work in your standard DVD player.

Which is all fine and well - a lot of DVDs have DVD-ROM content, but the problem I had, was that you had to install the InterActual DVD player that is included on the DVD to use the feature - and when you install it, if you're not careful, you might end up being spied on (sort of ironic, isn't it?).  The casual viewer may not see the box that you need to uncheck if you don't want InterActual "to anonymously upload system information to InterActual's automated support system," or the box allowing InterActual to "locally and anonymously collect and upload product usage and viewing behavior permission," in other words, monitor what you watch and do and then upload it to them.  Not only that, but the first screen that pops up is a "registration" screen that asks for zip code, age and gender.  While not too incriminating, most people will fill that out, forget to uncheck the privacy boxes, and go about their tasks - when all you really need to do is click "Cancel" and you can continue viewing the DVD without any sort of restrictions (conveniently left out off the registration screen).

Inside Stunts:  This short featurette has interviews with John Eisendrath (Writer/Exectutive Producer) and Alex Kurtzman-Counter (Writer/Supervising Producer) to lead it off and then goes behind the scenes of practicing for the fight in the pilot episode.  It then goes on to interview Jennifer Garner and others involved in the fight sequences - David Morizot (Assistant Fight Coordinator), Jesse Alexander (Writer/Producer), Jeff Pinkner (Writer/Producer).  There are even some outtakes from stunts included which add a bit of humor to this serious discussion.  After discussing the setup of the fight sequences, it switches to the choreography of the stunts which includes fight rehearsals and then switches to a rehearsal of The Solution (episode 20) and talks about the work involved in using the archaic weapons involved in the episode.  After that, we go to Q & A (episode 17) which talks about the stunt of the car driving into the water because Jennifer has a fear of drowning and the fact that she panicked a lot and they also talk about how she actually took a breath of air from the car tire.  Time Will Tell (episode 8) is the next stunt examined as Jennifer goes off the side of the building with a crane set-up.  But we find out that Jennifer actually didn't do the stunt and was quite upset.

Next up is Mea Culpa (episode 9) and the stunt where Jennifer parachutes onto the top of a building - short, but informative.  The Coup (episode 14) is the next episode and one of the most memorable stunts as Jennifer has to cross over a line about 100 feet up and then use a winch to get to the side of the building.  As with most of the other "inside stunts," this one is short, but it's quite interesting to see how they pulled it off and the fact that Jennifer actually did the stunt here.  As we jump from stunt to stunt, next up is from The Prophecy (episode 16) which has Jennifer run off the edge of a cliff and activate a parachute.  This was interesting to see how they set this one up and how they executed it with two different jumps.  The Snowman (episode 19) is up next and they talk about how they are lifted off the ground as their inflatable balloon or whatever it was catches on the wing of an aircraft.  While I thought it was absurd watching it the first time, according to the stunt coordinators, it is actually done in the military.  After the episode by episode deconstruction, there's a sort of wrap-up with some of the producers and Jennifer being interviewed talking about the stunt work.  In all, this featurette is ten and a half minutes long.

Deleted Scenes:  Features the following deleted scenes:  "Doppleganger" - Shipping off Kevin, "Color-Blind" - Christopher Threatens Sloane, "Color-Blind" - Remembering Danny, "The Confession" - Drowning His Sorrows, "The Confession" - Discussing Sydney, and "Rendezvous" - A New Look.

Quite simply, deleted scenes are usually my favorite part of any bonus section of a DVD, but the problem with deleted scenes at time is they just make no sense.  The ones here are just played in order and you really don't know where they go in the episode or why they were cut.  Basically, with any deleted scene, you need to have a commentary by someone.  You need to know the backstory.  There's obviously a reason it was cut - either time constraints, or it just didn't fit into the flow of the episode - but if we don't know why it was cut or where it should have gone in the episode, deleted scenes are pretty pointless.  Perhaps an option with each individual episode to include the deleted scenes would have worked, or just simply a short introduction to each scene by J.J. Abrams as to why the scene was cut.  With only six deleted scenes, that's not really too much to ask, is it?

Gag Reel:  Easily one of the better parts of the DVD, these scenes are laugh-out-loud funny and feature some great interaction between the actors that you don't really get to see anywhere else.  You get to see them talking to each other off camera and you get to see them having some fun with some practical jokes.  A fun feature, but just a bit too short in my opinion - just two and a half minutes long - there's gotta be more bloopers out there.

Alias TV Spots:  This section features TV spots for: Truth Be Told, Reckoning, The Confession, Rendezvous, and Almost 30 Years.  You can play them one at a time or all in one.  The all-in-one option is probably the best, but there's really no reason to watch these other than the "Truth Be Told" spot since it does a great job of previewing the first ever episode.

Alias Video Game Preview:  The game looks pretty darn cool and I can't wait to see how it actually performs.  The whole preview is just short cuts between live action and video game action, and unfortunately, you really don't get a look at how the game will actually play, but rather just some eye candy.  It looks pretty nice, but until I can see how you control Sydney, how you fight, and how you solve puzzles, I'm not sure I'm convinced it'll be a good one.

Season Two Sneak Peak:  Starts off with the lingerie clip and then just cuts to other clips from Season 2.  Nothing here at all really - no idea what's going to be included as far as special features go or anything else.  Chances are, with Season 1 and 2 being released so closely together on DVD, they will feature very similar bonus features.


ABC has done a great job with Alias: Season 1 on DVD.  The picture and audio quality is magnificent and the inclusion of an anamorphic transfer is the icing on the cake.  Season one was (in my opinion) much better than season two and it's great to be able to go back and watch these episodes again.  The special features only add to the great episodes included on each disc and, all in all, this is a great box set for an amazing price.  There were some minor exclusions that I would have liked to see in the set, but when all is said and done, this set is top-notch.

If you are just a casual viewer of Alias and missed a few episodes from season one or if you just started watching after the Superbowl, this DVD set is a must own.  As an Alias fan, you need to watch season one as it features some of the best episodes from the series along with some of the best guest stars.  This box set is a great package with special features that really shine.

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Highly Recommended

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