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Prison Break: Season 1 DVD Review

Prison Break: Season 1

August 7, 2006

Director: Brett Ratner, Kevin Hooks, Fred Gerber, Robert Mandel,
Starring: Wentworth Miller, Dominic Purcell, Robin Tunney, Amaury Nolasco, Marshall Allman, Peter Stormare, Wade Williams, Sarah Wayne Callies, Stacy Keach, Robert Knepper, Paul Adelstein,

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DVD Review

The opening of the Prison Break television show is something right out of a Sam Fuller movie. A non-descript man gets an extensive tattoo on his body and then proceeds to rob a bank with the sole purpose of getting arrested. He pleads no contest and is sent to Fox River State Penitentiary for five years. Why? It turns out to be part of an elaborate plan devised by Michael Scofield (Miller) so that he can hook up with his brother Lincoln (Purcell) who is in the same prison, sentenced to die for a crime he did not commit: killing the Vice-President’s brother.

However, only a few minutes in his cell and Michael sees an inmate getting stabbed by another and one wonders if maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. His cellmate gives him the grand tour and shows him the lay of the land, but he isn’t really all that interested. Michael wants to find his brother and scope out the place in order to find a way out. The brothers finally meet and Lincoln is convinced he was set up and claims he’s innocent – that’s good enough for Michael.

Michael’s attractive defense lawyer Veronica Donovan (Tunney) knows that something is going on and, as it turns out, has a past with Lincoln – they were romantically involved and now she is going to marry someone else. After talking to the two brothers in prison she decides to look into the case and this attracts the attention of two men from the Secret Service who are very interested in Lincoln’s case and are using every power at their disposal to make sure that the anything involving the murder is covered up and that Lincoln is executed.

Michael’s plan also involves allying himself with John Abruzzi (played to scuzzy perfection by Stormare) who is a powerful mob boss with lots of connections in prison. Besides planning an elaborate escape, Michael also has to worry about rising tensions between black and white inmates, a mean prison guard (Williams) who has it in for him and, most pressing, a deadline: his brother is going to be executed in a month. However, Michael has an edge. He is a structural engineer who designed the prison. In an audacious punchline to the Pilot episode, it is revealed that he has the prison blueprints tattooed all over his body (reminiscent of the clues to a murder tattooed all over the protagonist’s body in Memento).

Dominic Purcell plays Lincoln as a fiercely proud man who is not above giving his pot-selling son some heartfelt fatherly advice. The actor conveys the sensitivity and intense determination of his character in his very expressive eyes. Wentworth Miller brings the same kind of intensity he had on the second season of Joan of Arcadia. He is able to convey an unwavering determination and a cunning intelligence as he scopes out every inch of the prison. He always has a knowing smirk on his face because there is so much more to his character than the other inmates could possibly imagine. It’s in his eyes. You can tell there is always something going on behind them and that is what makes Miller so interesting to watch.

It’s also great to see Peter Stormare on a network television show. After he was cast delightfully cast against type on the short-lived Watching Ellie sitcom, he plays a frightening heavy but not in a stereotypical way. It’s a juicy role for the veteran actor to sink his teeth into. He has a captivating presence and demonstrates that Abruzzi is more than a one-dimensional baddie. He has problems of his own and becomes a pivotal figure in Michael’s escape plan.

There is a lot more going on in Prison Break than just its intriguing premise. The show cuts between Michael and Lincoln’s exploits in prison and the elaborate conspiracy that exists in the outside world that may have resulted in Lincoln’s unjust incarceration. There is a sparseness, an economy to the prison dialogue that is refreshing and gives it a B-movie feel with its loads of tough guy speak. The series has the same kind of edgy, pulpy feel but with a polished sheen reminiscent of 24 and Lost and it should be interesting to see if it can maintain the same level of quality and tension in the second season.

Special Features:

There are ten audio commentaries for several episodes.

The first disc features an audio commentary on the “Pilot” episode by creator Paul Scheuring and actor Dominic Purcell. They shot 16 hour days for the Pilot which was very tiring for all concerned. They praise the show’s production design and how it contributes to the cinematic look. Scheuring talks about the challenge of casting the roles of Michael and Lincoln but tends to start most comments with “This is the guy…” or “In this scene…” which gets tiresome pretty fast.

The second commentary for this episode is by its director Brett Ratner and editor Mark Helfrich. Ratner agreed to shoot the episode only if he could use his crew that works on his movies. When working on the Superman movie he tested Wentworth Miller and liked him. They both didn’t end up making that movie but Ratner remembered him when they cast for the Pilot. The director is surprisingly engaging and informative: everything that the first one with Scheuring should have been.

There is a commentary on “Cute Poison” by Scheuring and cast members Purcell and Wade Williams. Scheuring continues his self-congratulatory comments while Purcell cracks jokes and Williams is barely there.

The second commentary on this track is by its writer Matt Olmstead and actor Silas Weir Mitchell. They provide plenty of interesting and amusing anecdotes filming this episode. Some highlights include a story about Stormare and enduring Chicago’s crazy weather.

The second disc features a commentary on “Riots, Drills and The Devil (Part I)” by Scheuring and cast members Purcell, Amaury Nolasco, Williams, Robert Knepper and Sarah Wayne Callies. Scheuring talks about some of the censorship he faced. For example, the studio made him change a tattoo of Jesus on Michael’s arm to the Devil so they wouldn’t offend religious folks.

The second commentary for this episode is with its director Robert Mandell and writer Nick Santora who talks about the various script changes and addresses the tattoo controversy. Both are well-spoken and provide good observations on this episode.

Also included is a commentary for “Riots, Drills and The Devil (Part II)” by Scheuring and cast members Purcell, Nolasco, Williams and Peter Stormare who talks about growing his hair for the role and not playing his character like a traditional Italian mob boss. He is a very funny guy and great to listen to. One wishes that he spoke up more as his comments, including a story about John Heard, are very entertaining.

The third disc includes a commentary on “Odd Man Out” by producer Garry Brown, director Bobby Roth and writer Karyn Usher. They talk about the challenges of incorporating the tattoos into the story and using them as a device to provide clues to Michael’s plan. They also talk about shooting in an actual prison and the authenticity (and challenges) it brings.

The fourth disc has a commentary on “Brother’s Keeper” by Scheuring and cast members Purcell, Nolasco, Williams, Knepper and Callies. This was a flashback episode to show the dramatic arc of the relationship between Michael and his brother. The actors talk about the cold weather they had to endure while shooting this episode.

There is a second commentary by director Greg Yaitanes and writer Zack Estrin. This was a nice change of pace for the actors because it got them out of the prison. Estrin talks about some of the script changes and they both end up discussing character development in some detail.

The sixth disc contains the rest of the extras, including “Making of Prison Break” with Scheuring and Ratner talking about the origins of the show.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 92%

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