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Les Choristes

The French confection Les Choristes is now available on a skimpy, movie-only DVD —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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Alias: The Complete Third Season is preposterously watchable. It’s a season of espionage, intrigue, and double-crossing that keeps trading in the proverbial kitchen sink for models with flashier faucets; it’s a pulpy page-turner and a hum-dinger of a roller coaster.

The Forgotten Years

Garner wins a hat trick with Alias Season 3
Garner wins a hat trick with Alias Season 3

Where to begin?

That’s precisely the dilemma faced by Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner, 13 Going on 30), who at the start of Episode 1 is told she has been thought dead for the past two years, the amount of time that elapsed between Seasons 2 and 3.

In her quest to retrieve her lost memories, Sydney embarks on one amazing adventure after another and the pot keeps boiling to the point of overflow. One of the best parts of Season 3 is that it finally puts to rest an ugly Season 2 subplot involving genetic doubling of a couple key characters. Also, Sydney’s complicated romance with Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan, One Hour Photo) becomes even more intricate since he took on a wife, Lauren, during Sydney’s absence.

And what a wife she is. Melissa George (Dark City) turns out to be a great addition to the cast and her character provides more than her share of twists and turns in the weaving and bobbing storyline. At one point Sydney and Lauren are on the brink of a catfight until they discover there’s nothing like a car chase through the backstreets of Mexico City to generate female bonding. There are some gloriously exhilarating and funny twists and turns indeed.

It’s this perpetual tap dance that keeps Season 3 so engaging and that’s thanks in large part to better writing that crackles more than in Season 2. It’s terrific storytelling when events intertwine as multiple characters go off in different directions at the same time. An excellent example of that is when Sydney, off on yet another mission, urgently seeks tech guru Marshall Flinkman’s long distance assistance even as he’s in the middle of getting married to his girlfriend, who also happens to be going into labor. It’s the ultimate shotgun wedding.

As for Marshall (Kevin Weisman, The Terminal), he gets in on the action once again, this time going on a mission under the pretense he’s a high stakes Texas gambler. He’s still the most magnificent dork around.

Network of Stars

There’s no point in giving anything near a play-by-play; part of the fun is the show’s significant ability to maintain the element of surprise. Suffice it say there are tanker trucks full of juicy drama and the storyline turns into more and more of a doozey as an amazing network of alliances are formed and betrayed. Situations unfold in which the good guys find themselves needing to break more and more rules, but that’s life and, after all, rules are meant to be broken.

Coming along for the ride this time around is a stunning collection of top shelf talent; to rattle off some of the names is to give a small nibble about what goes on during the season.

  • At the top of the over-the-top is Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet) as Katya Derevko, the sister of Sydney’s mother. She’s a tough broad who makes The Terminator look like a girlie man.
  • David Cronenberg (director of offbeat flicks such as Videodrome and Naked Lunch) comes to Sydney’s aid as a spaced out professor who happens to be an expert in memory retrieval. He also has quite an appetite for facon (something not quite bacon) and bar-b-q potato chips.
  • Richard Roundtree (yes, the original Shaft!) comes to the aid of Sydney’s father, Jack Bristow (Victor Garber, Legally Blonde).
  • Ricky Gervais, the dunderheaded boss of BBC’s The Office, waxes dramatic as an all-too-smart bomber in search of vengeance for his brother’s murder by The Covenant, the latest spy network to confront our unflappable CIA heroes.
  • Vivica A. Fox makes an appearance as a high-priced security systems genius and her Kill Bill director, Quentin Tarantino, makes a return appearance.
  • Oh yes, and Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator) takes on the role of a heavy as a Covenant kingpin.

These quality names bring to life a wonderful assembly of characters in the world of Alias; these aren’t cheesy the “Special Guest Star” appearances of standard TV fare that uses the names merely as a device to bolster ratings.

After three immensely enjoyable seasons, it’s anyone’s guess where Alias will go next. The conclusion of Episode 22 provides a sinister tease, offering plenty of food for thought during the off season.

DVD Extras

The third season’s six-disc DVD set offers a wealth of new bonus materials.

Alias Up Close is a series of six featurettes that cover just about everything, from interviews with some of the guest stars to production minutiae.

The Animated Alias: Tribunal is a nifty short animated segment that tells of one of Sydney’s adventures during her “lost” years. It’s a nice animation style that feels ripped from the pages of a graphic novel. Well worth a look.

Burbank to Barcelona is a very informative piece on how the TV show manages to capture the feel and look of world travel while nary leaving the back lots of Los Angeles.

Four episodes feature running commentaries. Of those, three are worthwhile chats with a range of production personnel, but the one recorded for Episode 1 should be avoided like the plague. The track is provided by two fans, one who won the opportunity via a Chicago radio station, the other a TV critic/fan. Both are terribly annoying and neither has anything valuable to say. Their shtick grows old almost from “Hello.”

In addition to a running commentary, Episode 9 also includes a recurring feature for the Alias DVDs, the Alias Scriptscanner, a DVD-ROM option that allows viewers to watch the episode alongside the screenplay.

The inclusion of seven deleted scenes is nice, but there’s no setup associated with them and it’s a little difficult to put the scenes in the context of an entire season. They’re watchable, but they were cut for a reason. Walk on.

There’s also a Blooper Reel, featuring the usual behind-the-scenes shenanigans, and a silly little segment about Michael Vartan and how he got so nervous doing a TV spot with the Stanley Cup.

A somewhat shameless inclusion, but nonetheless entertaining, is another Monday Night Football teaser starring Jennifer Garner that once again capitalizes on the incestuous relationship between Disney and ABC (Disney produces Alias and owns ABC, which broadcasts Monday Night Football). Professionally speaking, it’s referred to as “cross promotion.”

Finally, a segment entitled Museum of Television & Radio: Creating Characters is an interesting excerpt from a seminar featuring series creator J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Garner, and Keri Russell (star of Abrams’ Felicity TV series)

Picture and Sound

The widescreen (1.78:1) 16x9 enhanced presentation with 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound is a solid reproduction of the original TV experience.

Also included are English subtitles.