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It seems, in recent times at least, the quality of television shows has somewhat surpassed that of mainstream film. Sure, you can’t compare an episode of The Bill to Starsky & Hutch, but on the whole there is a lot more creativity coming out of your weekly TV dramas than ever before. Blockbusters aside, audiences have now found their staple entertainment diet has shifted from a typical (and expensive) night out at the cinema, to a quiet night in with their favourite characters.

24, along with gems such as The Sopranos and Six Feet Under (and the underrated, recently axed Ed, in my humble and biased opinion) was one of the examples of TV taking the creative reins and running with them all the way to massive ratings. The quality of scripts was markedly improved and inevitably overshadowed the kind of tripe that saw Catwoman and My Boss’s Daughter hit the big screen, while the calibre of actors attracted to the small screen roles was greater than ever before. Kiefer Sutherland and his buddies have been doing it for three seasons now, with a fourth season just about to kick off. But do the creative juices come in a two-litre bottle, rather than three?

24: Season Three
The Series
Most of you should be familiar with the whole 24 concept by now; television drama spanning a practically real-time 24 hour period, dealing with terrorist threats, government agencies and Kiefer Sutherland’s eternally furrowed brow. The first series saw an assassination attempt on a presidential candidate, the second a nuclear bomb threat which threatened to devastate an entire city. This third series, however, deals with something even larger.

We pick up some time after the second series ended, almost like there’s a “lost” season we never saw which slotted in between. Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer (Sutherland) is naturally still around, having spent a large chunk of the past few years chasing drug lord and major terrorist threat Ramon Salazar. Bauer’s unquestionable dedication to his job meant that his relationships suffered and, worse still, he became drug-dependant after using various substances while trying to gain the confidence of the powerful Salazar. Jack’s daughter, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), who is possibly the most kidnapped person on television, now works in the relative safety of the CTU offices as an (get this) IT expert, proving that nepotism is alive and kicking even in TV land.

Early on CTU learns of a bio-terrorist threat from Salazar’s brother, who is adamant he will unleash a deadly virus into the open air unless Ramon is freed from prison. Naturally he doesn’t get things his own way, which allows for another 24 hours of complete madness and mayhem.

24: Season Three
While series one was groundbreaking in so many ways, possibly the main reason it worked is because most of the events taking place actually made sense. The second series followed suit with only a few minor hairpins along the way forcing you to suspend your disbelief just enough to remain involved in the story. This season, however, gives us so many cliff-hangers and ridiculous plot twists that it’s extremely difficult to stay engaged in the narrative as a whole. Logic seems to fly out the window at times when the writers struggle for another edge-of-your-seat finale to almost every episode, while some of the characters’ motivations defy the events preceding them. The story becomes even more frustrating at times when everything, and I mean everything, is decided with seconds remaining, the characters acting too late or just in the nick of time. Sure, there’s an obvious emphasis on the real-time element which has become a nifty little hook for the series, but when it is used with laughable regularity the effect tends to really wear off.

That said, this is definitely still a top notch television show. It can become a bit of a commitment if you decide to catch it once a week on TV, but our favourite home video format comes to the rescue, allowing the full effect of the show to wash over you as you watch each episode at your leisure. Sutherland is again entirely convincing as Bauer, though even he himself admits the character might have to die for the series to progress with any credibility in the future. He’s just had too many narrow escapes and freakish strokes of luck to defy his inevitable death any longer. And besides, there’s plenty of death to be had on behalf of the other characters, anyway.

The support cast, most of which return from the previous series’, turn in solid performances once again. Cuthbert’s Kim Bauer has finally been given some development and is less of a helpless-but-determined little kid and more a headstrong young woman. Carlos Bernard and Reiko Aylesworth again shine as CTU’s top brass, while Dennis Haysbert is strong as President Palmer (even though he’s still Major League’s Pedro Cerrano to me). And of course there are a few newcomers and other old faces who appear over the twenty-four episodes, but I won’t spoil the fun and reveal them all to you.

While the real-time gimmick might have worn off and the constant twists and turns of the plot become more of a side-show than a pattern of logic, there’s no doubting the entertainment value of a series like this one. Espionage and terrorism undoubtedly make for great suspense TV, and in this area 24 is top notch. Suspend your disbelief for long enough and the show will reel you in hook, line and sinker, but there may be many of you out there who can’t get past the fact that some of the events are too contrived to keep you engaged. Definitely one to watch, just don’t go in with a logical mindset.

Video
Like the other series’, the show is presented in its broadcast ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16:9 enhanced. One must assume that the series was again shot on 35mm film, which makes the transfer quite a disappointment on the whole. Grain is incredibly prevalent and inconsistent through the series, at times becoming more of an eyesore than a filmic effect. One doesn’t expect the visuals to be anything outstanding when they’re almost purely constructed for a television audience, but the level of grain in this transfer is nothing short of astounding. Check out President Palmer’s conversation with his brother during the third episode and notice how the head show of Palmer differs with that of his brother.

The other aspects of the transfer fare much better. Colours are quite vibrant and are highlighted by a decent level of sharpness throughout. There are no real instances of aliasing or print problems, so it really becomes a matter of whether you notice the grain or not which will determine how you view the visuals on this release.

24: Season Three
Audio
The soundtrack of choice for this set is a pumping Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that tries so valiantly to mix it with the big boys but comes up short due to sheer lack of material. There has been a distinct effort made to shoot sound around the rear speakers at every opportunity, be it simple, ambient effects or the gunshots and explosions, which are admittedly much more fun. The orchestral score kicks in on occasion, but it’s hard to notice it when there’s often four storylines going on at the one time. In all there’s little to dislike about the audio mix, and given a few more chances to shine this could have been one of the better television series soundtracks of recent times.

Extras
Slowly but surely the DVD phenomenon has ensure that most releases these days are given some extra material for the home video release. Thankfully fans of the series aren’t let down with this box set, hosting a dedicated disc full of supplements to keep you company once the intense final episode has run its race.

First up is a series of commentaries, equating to approximately one per disc (which contains four episodes). Producer Howard Gordon, director Jon Cassar and stars Sutherland, Aylesworth, Bernard and one other cast member (who will remain a mystery until you choose to find out for yourself), comment on select episodes throughout the series, adding a few insights into the production overall. If anything it’s great to hear Sutherland in a much more jovial mood, after getting used to him being angry or distressed for the whole series on screen.

The release also contains over forty extended, deleted or alternate scenes. These are dotted throughout the discs in the relevant places and are worth a look, even though a fair few just cover old or familiar ground. A show such as this wouldn’t naturally turn up many scenes that made the cutting room floor, so to have this kind of selection is a welcome surprise.

Disc seven houses several featurettes to do with the production. There’s 24 On The Loose, Big Boys And Their Toys and a multi-angle study of the scene from the midnight episode. Each of them has a little bit more to offer about the show, with the multi-angle extra adding the most value to the release. The other featurette is a piece on bio-terrorist threats entitled Bio Threat, and really does delve headlong into the scientific facts behind the chemical warfare raged in the series. One warning, given by Kiefer himself, is to refrain from watching this right after dinner; you might just find it comes straight back up if you do.

In all it might look like a pretty light-on selection of extras but any addition to the series is a welcome one. It’s tough coming up with any material that isn’t your usual fluff piece that gives away the whole story in ten minutes, so thankfully the commentaries and deleted scenes add some traditional weight to the set.

24: Season Three
Overall
Forget about the often ridiculous plot twists and bizarre character motivations and dive headlong into the action-packed drama that is 24, a perfect advertisement for the value of DVDs. No ad breaks, no seven day wait between episodes and no forgetting what the hell was going on from week to week. Sutherland and friends turn it on for the third instalment, with only a few cracks appearing which might suggest the show’s time is almost up. Check out the first two, then give this one a go and you shouldn’t be disappointed. The set itself might come with a disappointing transfer but the audio and extras lift it back up a notch, making this well worth the reasonably affordable purchase price.


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