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Series
‘24’ is revolutionary in so many ways. The first “real-time” programme, the first season-by-season immediate DVD release, and clever use of split-screen techniques to remind the viewer of what each of the other characters are up to, essential to the real-time format.

The series concludes on BBC on the 18th August 2002, with the full season release on DVD (and VHS) the very next morning! This wouldn’t be the first time that region two has seen a release of a major US series before region one, however Fox should be commended for giving us a release of this set straight after it’s US airing. Kudos.

Y'see? S'true!
I received this set in the post, and immediately started watching it, having only watched the first episode on BBC2. I have to say that the programme is everything it’s written up to be, and certainly takes my vote as favourite season of any of the mainstream US shows from last year. The plot revolves around Federal Agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), of the Counterterrorism Unit. Jack is assigned to foil a plot to assassinate a US Senator (Dennis Haysbert), and potential Presidential candidate, completely unaware of the part he is to play in the process. With his wife (Leslie Hope) and daughter (Elisha Cuthbert) facing fatal threats, and the potential for any of his friends and colleagues to be enemies in disguise, this will prove to be the longest day of his life...

If you do intend to go into the programme unspoiled, please note that two places to avoid because of their spoilers for ‘24’ are its pages at the IMDB.com, and the various ‘24’ news items at aintitcoolnews.com, particularly the talkbacks. From a different point of view, if you are not bothered about spoilers, then those two sites are perfect if you are looking for titbits of information on upcoming episodes.

The fist impression I got from opening this package is one of quality. I myself opted for the HMV exclusive packaging, with a plain black cover featuring the logo (and Jack in a Tarantino-esque pose on one edge of the spine), which I personally prefer to the mainstream release, especially given that they don’t charge more than the normal price for it (NUS discount, in fact).

The format of the box is the same as that of ‘The X-Files’ releases, with the six discs held in a foldout digipack, which is nicely styled with images and publicity shots from the show. Even the disc’s images themselves are tasteful, each featuring a different main character, and a clock emblem indicating the included episodes. There is also a booklet featuring summaries of the episodes, and some credits.

Split-screen techniques allow more than one character to be represented on screen, such as here with Senator Palmer and Jack Bauer. Sounds confusing, but works well.
Video
Various other reviews have given unfavourable reviews to the video quality on this release, lamenting the fact that four episodes to a disc results in over-compression. It should be noted however, that this is the same number of episodes that Fox has fit onto the episode-primary discs on their similarly-formatted ‘The X-Files’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ releases.

In fact, given its young age and anamorphic 1.78:1 format, Fox have given us a most pleasing release. I’d be interested to see how it compares with the NTSC edition. Taking ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s’ Season Four release, which is also anamorphic and mostly dark, I would personally say that Buffy would win out slightly, due to the occasional grain that ‘24’ seems to suffer from in the darker episodes. However, in the daylight episodes, there is very little to fault it with.

However, this is the price we pay for such a prompt release, and if I’m honest, it’s certainly not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the programme; certainly an exchange that I approve of. It certainly looks better than the BBC2 broadcast, which is unfortunately my only reference point. I don’t know whether or not it was broadcast in widescreen in the States. Maybe subsequent seasons will be even better, but even if not, things are satisfactory.

The situation concerning the compression is not as dire as might be imagined. It should be noted that while there are four episodes to each disc, they total up to, in fact, a little under three hours. The hour-long programme is of course shortened by about 18 minutes due to the commercial breaks necessary on the American networks, and due to the difference in PAL and NTSC video format, each episode ends up at 40-42 minutes long. So the real-time label is somewhat of a misnomer, but this is as close as we are going to get in the near future.

Jack's wife and daughter, the safety of whom is his primary motivation.
Sound
Despite early press releases claiming Dolby Digital 5.1, the sound is in fact in Dolby Surround 2.0, and I’m reliably informed that the US set does in fact feature the same. ‘24’ is an incredibly action-packed show, with very creative use of sound effects and background music, so a full 5.1 soundtrack could have been used most efficiently. However, what is here is good. The dialogue is mostly centred, so that the surround can be dedicated to the often noticeable music, and the various explosions, gunfights and vehicle sounds.

Again, hopefully subsequent seasons can be released with a 5.1 soundtrack.

Extras
Unfortunately, we can’t have everything. The prompt release of this set meant that there wasn’t enough time to create any special material, so all that’s here is an alternate ending and a preview of the second season. With such a revolutionary show, some insight into the planning might have been nice.

Hopefully season two will hit the shelves in twelve months with a better selection of extras, and maybe some material dealing with the first season would be a thoughtful inclusion.

The intrepid Nina Myers.
Overall
I honestly have no complaints with this set; I’m just annoyed that there isn’t a ‘play all’ feature on the discs. After each episode the user is returned to the episode’s submenu, which kind of breaks the mood that makes this show great. Also the two-minute recaps aren’t exactly skippable using the chapter controls, which is a little inconvenient.

A bare package, yes, but with such a decent programme out so promptly – and at such a reasonable price, when compared to the equivalent ‘The X-Files’ and ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ releases – it’s certainly no reason to complain. I love this box set, and it’s taking pride of place in my collection, alongside the X-Files set and my Monty Python collection.

The show’s creators have announced that they are keeping the DVD release in mind as they produce the second season of the programme, so hopefully we’ll have some special behind-the-scenes material on next year’s set, and perhaps a full 5.1 soundtrack. But even if not, Fox have proved with this set and the similar releases that it values its TV properties as much as it does its movies.


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