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For three years one television show has swept worldwide airwaves, snatched countless awards and has been regularly considered a classic phenomenon in the eyes and minds of its viewers, critics and even analysts. I am of course making reference to the superb 24. A show you should have heard of and most likely know of somebody that watches it even if you yourself do not. The premise is simple yet so elegant and compelling that one cannot tear away attention even for a second. The redolence doesn’t stop there either as the writers/producers/directors constantly serve up heart stopping plot twists, split-screen glory and some of the industry’s best technical qualities. Season one and two have come and gone but did they raise the bar slightly too high for this year’s effort to pole-vault into success?

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Series
Previously on 24: Jack Bauer, agent of CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) infamous for its efforts in aiding President David Palmer avoid assassination and the prevention of a nuclear bomb detonation in downtown L.A. is once having a bad day. Having returned from a lengthy mission which messed up his life and even his health, Jack’s anguish only worsens when the imminent threat of a chemical/biological attack is confirmed. Not looking too rosy, he and his fellow co-workers set out to uncover the threat before it’s too late. Sound familiar? It should do if you were one of the lucky viewers to sit through last year’s epic second season.

Season three kicks off with a reminder of the last major event in season two; President David Palmer’s life seemingly slipping away after an attempt made to assassinate him. It was an intriguing cliff-hanger to say the least, to leaving the good president’s life in the balance and leaving us all choking for a new season. Just like in previous years, the writer’s don’t laze around with the early episodes and practically lay down the foundations for the entire season in the very first hour alone.

Its three years later, and an ominous prison visit by Jack and his new partner Chase doesn’t exactly go to plan when the man Bauer put behind the bars murders his prison officer. Things go from bad to worse just moments later when a disease-infected body is found disposed outside a medical facility and a mysterious Mexican family appears to be at the heart of all the coercion. Jack himself appears out of character, sweating uncontrollably and generally expressing his icy side whenever he has the opportunity. The next few hours sees some truly alarming twists and turns (as you’d expect) all of which are too revealing to unveil here. You’ll have to watch it to find out!

As in previous seasons, 24 season three can be entrusted to make one cringe, sit on the edge of one’s seat and subsequently chew one’s fingernails into dust. Being based on real-life events and threats was both a daring and rampant excuse for unnerving filmmaking tactics. Does it work to full measure? You bet! For it doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure out how such a threat could scare people on a mass scale as seen here. This formula worked in last year’s show and it certainly works here, only surprisingly to a lesser, more lax degree of greatness.

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Of course, due to the nature of the show I cannot really elaborate on the more specific plot points, as even the tiniest slip of the tongue could spoil the radiance of the show for those who have not seen it. Unfortunate, as I would love nothing more than to expand on certain criteria. However, certain matters must be addressed so I will try my best to keep things as neutral as possible.

I personally found this season to entail some rather off-key pacing in some areas. While it takes it’s time to actually motion itself, things really begin to get good around about the half way mark. I do confess that my interest did wander slightly during those slower parts but it never became boring, that much can be said. The same problem can also be attributed to the last act. One moment the storytelling is superior, totally engaging and the next moment things begin to slow down to a snail pace that really doesn’t suit the show one bit. Villains can often appear slightly undercooked and more than the occasional plot and logic hole sprouts up here and there.

This almost unstable nature sometimes makes for aggravating watching, it certainly made me question exactly how far in advance these stories were penned. Regardless of those niggles, season three is a great success and some of the best episodes in the entire show can be found here. It’s just unfortunate that it couldn’t hold true to them for its entirety.

Video
Presented in the lovely television aspect ratio of 1.78:1, season three has never looked better. Though you can expect tonnes of grain (as in previous sets) and the occasional image blunder, there is no denying the print looks amazing. With images crystal clear and as sharp as a Hattori Hanzo sword, you simply couldn’t ask for better in this instance. As for comparisons with the television broadcasts, well, to say that this is the best the show has looked would be something of an understatement. There are lots of green tones in this season, washed out and often diluted looking, but it all looks great. Black levels are surprisingly strong and the solidity of the whole print, colour wise, is very cinematic.  

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Audio
Once again Fox pulls out all the stops for this show offering a great Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. As you might expect, the majority of audio is centre-bound, but that shouldn’t suggest that louder, more aggressive action isn’t handled well. Quite the contrary, directional audio (rather a lot of the stuff during the climax) erupts throughout the sound range with a cinematic merit to be reckoned with. I also found great pleasure in the surround speakers. Bullets whiz round the room so realistically that is bound to cause more than the occasional jolt of the heart. Overall, this is a very nice audio experience that is bound to please those who appreciate the finer things in the audio world.

Extras
Being an enormous seven disc set, Fox have wisely bundled most of the special features onto the last disc. Probably a good job, as the selection is once again rather large. The first thing that took me by surprise with the second season box set was the sheer abundance of audio commentaries loaded with the package. Season three certainly won’t disappoint, offering a hefty six in total.

They can be found on the following episodes with the relevant cast/crew members: '3pm - 4pm' by Howard Gordon and Kiefer Sutherland, '5pm - 6pm' by Jon Cassar, Evan Katz and Riley Smith (Kyle Singer), '10pm - 11pm' by Howard Gordon and Sarah Clarke, '1am - 2am' by Joel Surnow and Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian), '5am - 6am' by Robert Cochran, Reiko Aylesworth (Michelle Dessler) and Carlos Bernard (Tony Almeida), '10am - 11am' by Carlos Bernard (Tony Almeida), James Badge Dale (Chase Edmunds), and Tim Lacofano.

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My favourite of these would probably have to be 3pm-4pm commentary. It offers some nice production information and you really get a feeling of confidence from the team. Kiefer is always a joy to listen to; I only wish he had more presence throughout the other commentaries. That said, they are all a delight to listen to and will make for essential listening for hardcore fans. Casual fans might not see the finer side to them but for what it’s worth the 24 team offer some of television’s finest commentaries and bonus material currently available. The whole team constantly fuel them with energy often only ever found in high-profile film releases.

Next up are the masses of deleted scenes. A great little feature you will find here (as well as the optional audio commentary) is the ability to view these scenes independently or actually included within the relevant episodes. Nice. Personally I found it a better experience to watch them independently as some of them do tend to get a bit liberal and occasionally flabby. It’s personal preference but the very ability to ‘choose’ is a great addition made by the DVD team.

‘24: On the Loose’ and ‘Boys and their Toys’ serve up more juicy goods about all aspects 24 giving you a real insight of the behind the scenes atmosphere.

Finally and perhaps most important of all ‘Bio-threat: Beyond the Series’ offers up some truly disturbing facts about the reality of terrorism, specifically to the biological events of the series. Very good stuff if you appreciate some unflinching scientific facts.

Overall
Though the most problematic of the three, there is no greater compliment I could bestow upon season three than to say that it in no way discriminates either of the first two seasons. Yes, the suspense is tamer and there is a general deficiency here and there, but its pure formula and if you lapped up its predecessors then there really isn’t any reason not to like this offering. Make no mistake; 24 it is still collectively one of the best pieces of material currently being produced for TV.

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The picture and sound here are very solid. It’s possibly one of the better looking and sounding television box sets this year and the features are not to be overlooked either. Once again Fox have reached into their deeply lined pockets and delivered a brilliantly presented package. Fans will be thrilled!

At the price these sets retail for and the sheer heart pounding entertainment they offer, I won’t hesitate to give them my highest recommendation possible. People who have yet to experience 24; get out there and buy them this instant! Forgive the pun but the clock is ticking…


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