24: Season 5

24: Season 5 (2006)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Kim Raver, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Gregory Itzin, Jean Smart
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Promotional Material, Stills

Few prime-time television dramas provide as much action and gripping suspense as Fox's "24." Each season of this political thriller follows Federal Agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) as he shoots, maims, and manipulates his way through dire obstacles to keep his country safe, all in a fiercely intense 24 hours. With enough conspiracies and covert operations to put the United States in perpetual red alert, the show keeps viewers constantly guessing and leaves no character above suspicion, never failing to surprise or shock us with a new twist. The multi-Emmy-nominated fifth season (or "Day 5") is now available on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment, and it's a doozie of a set.

Season Four ended with Jack Bauer staging his own death in compliance with political matters beyond his control, forcing him to give up his motherless daughter (Elisha Cuthbert). Day 5 begins 18 months later with the assassination of former President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert). Three other government workers, all linked by the fact that they know Jack is still alive, are targeted by the same assassins. The events coincide with a treaty between current President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) and the President of Russia that is to be signed that morning. Jack, who is now living with a divorcee and her teenage son, daringly comes out of hiding to personally get to the bottom of the catastrophic events. Once he is revealed to the world again, he is linked to the assassination and targeted by the government. With the aid of CTU agent Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), Jack manages to keep track of the terrorists as they threaten to murder innocent civilians across Los Angeles, only to uncover a scheme more horrifying than anyone ever anticipated.

Starting off with a bang, this season is electrifying and remains compulsively watchable through to its final episode. The high production values are a vital factor in the series' success, lending it the slick ferocity of a cinematic blockbuster. Filmed in real time with nary a steady camera shot, each episode brims with tension and a sense of unending peril. Sean Callery's thundering music score contributes a lot to this feeling. The show's trademark split-screen and window effects also go a long way in keeping the action and multiple scenarios believably intertwined.

The performances are a major plus as well, led by the energetic Kiefer Sutherland in his Emmy-winning year. Fellow nominees Gregory Itzin (as the endlessly unlikable President) and particularly Jean Smart (as his emotionally unstable wife) are also in fine form. A stellar ensemble of guest appearances from the likes of Sean Astin, Peter Weller, Julian Sands, JoBeth Williams, and C. Thomas Howell compliments the already great cast.

Of course, the contrivances of the ever-twisting storyline do start to show through, especially toward the end of the season, and it cannot avoid gaping plot holes. But really, when you have something as taut and exciting as this, who really cares? "24" has more to offer in one episode than most action movies do in two hours and infinitely more substance than most of the dreck we see on TV today. This is immense entertainment of the highest caliber that simply demands your attention.

Presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen, Season Five looks fantastic on DVD. A crisp, sharp image is highlighted by natural skin tones, deep black levels, and excellent contrast. Colors are rendered beautifully throughout. Not a hint of edge enhancement or compression was detected. I noticed a little filmic grain in some of the night scenes, but nothing to bring down the overall excellence of quality.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is outstanding, pulling you into the action with fine surround distribution. Sound effects and ambience pound from every direction with good clarity. Voices are natural and smooth, and the music sounds incredible. You can literally feel the vibrations of each explosion. Also available are a Spanish 2.0 surround track and English and Spanish subtitles.

All 24 episodes are spread evenly over six discs. Eleven episodes are accompanied by audio commentaries with various members of the cast and crew, including Kiefer Sutherland, Julian Sands, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and director Jon Cassar. Especially fun is the commentary on episode "4:00 pm – 5:00 pm" on disc 3 with Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart. Each track has something different to offer and is worthwhile in its own right.

Disc 7 contains the rest of the bonus features, beginning with a "prequel" to Season Six. Continuing right where the last episode of Season Five ended, this gives us a look at the events that will start off the new season. There is also a Season Six trailer.

Up next are a series of featurettes. First is "Supporting Players," a 20-minute look at the recurring actors who appear throughout the season, boasting interviews with them and with casting directors Peggy Kennedy and Debi Manwiller. "Unsung Heroes: 24 Camera Department" is a 40-minute feature on the cinematographers who work their magic on each episode to make it as real as possible. This is a surprisingly deep and thorough examination of the technical skill that goes into each scene, dramatic- or action-oriented. The series' composer takes the spotlight in "Music by Sean Callery" (10 min.), giving us a demonstration of his method. The six-minute "Logan's Retreat" focuses on the set design and decoration for President Logan's ranch.

Twenty-three extended and deleted scenes follow, with optional commentary by co-executive producer Stephen Kronish and editor Scott Powell. These can also be accessed, sans commentary, during their respective episodes on the previous six discs.

Wrapping up this disc are a 100th episode reel and a sample of still photos featured in the book "24: Behind the Scenes," with an introduction by Jon Cassar.

If you have not yet discovered the phenomenon that is "24," climb out from under your rock and jump on for the ride. This is about as action-packed as it gets, and once you get into it you just can't get out. Tense drama, believable characters, and unpredictable storylines carry this unique series well. Season Five has received a terrific DVD release that belongs in every fan's collection. Great extras for a great program guarantee excellent viewing and the perfect slide into the new season.