If you’re digging through our site in an effort to find a review for the high-def release of ‘Prison Break: Season 2,’ you can save yourself a trip to Google -- it was never released on Blu-ray. In fact, Fox currently hasn’t announced any plans to make it happen. Instead, 'Season 1' fans who didn’t catch the second season on television will have to live with a rather jarring and disjointed jump to ‘Season 3.’ Not that it matters much. After a compelling opening volley that followed brothers Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) and Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) in a daring escape from prison, the series shrugged off its title and devolved into an unwieldy extended chase sequence that abandoned the first season’s intellect, intensity, and intrigue.
Cut from twenty-two episodes to a mere thirteen as a result of 2007’s infamous WGA Strike, a truncated ‘Season 3’ finds Michael locked away in a Panamanian prison and Lincoln reluctantly helping an at-times faceless antagonist known as “The Company.” It seems the organization has kidnapped Lincoln’s son, LJ (Marshall Allman), and the recent love of Michael’s life, Dr. Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies), and wants Scofield to break a fellow inmate named James Whistler (Chris Vance) out of prison. As his brother struggles with the plan, Lincoln must contend with the deadly Gretchen Morgan (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe), an unbalanced Company operative with a penchant for decapitation who holds the proverbial gun to their heads. As Michael and Lincoln rush to meet the Company’s deadline and secretly gain the upper hand, their loyalty is tested and their loved ones are placed in immediate danger.
I have to admit, I was really surprised that I enjoyed ‘Prison Break’s first season. What I thought would be an episodic gimmick had a great hook and kept me coming back week after week. However, when ‘Season 2’ took quite a few ill-advised left turns into uninspired mediocrity, I became more skeptical. Sadly, ‘Season 3’ did little more than offer a contrived excuse to toss yet another daring prison break into the mix. The series’ creators were obviously trying to return to the first season’s roots after mixed reactions to their second outing, but Michael’s newest prison is plagued by laughably improbable circumstances, the latest escape plan disappointingly requires less brains and more brawn, and the central kidnapping storyline feels like it belongs in a show like ’24’ rather than ‘Prison Break.’ More distressingly, the characters have become flat, predictable caricatures of the engaging heroes and villains that littered the first season.
Worse still, the third season’s main villain is an eye-rolling cliché straight out of a ‘Bond’ film or a ‘Charlie’s Angels’ flick, the inner-workings of the Panamanian prison robs each episode of any serious drama, and the series’ writers continue to make every female cast member feel completely expendable. I also couldn’t get past the fact that Michael magically knows everything he needs to know about the Panamanian prison. Such knowledge was plausible in the first season since he was intimately familiar with that prison’s grounds and buildings, but the third season offers very few explanations to justify his expertise in an obscure, foreign prison. Last and certainly least, several characters make bizarre decisions that frankly don’t make any sense considering their history and personalities. One forehead-slapping alteration (you’ll know it when you see it) involves the relationship between Michael and Lincoln and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
As it stands, ‘Prison Break’ has a lot of work to do to ensure I’ll stick with it for a fourth season. After a thrilling first season, I’ve gradually fallen out of love with the series as it’s transformed into exactly what I feared it would be -- a show based on a gimmick that had already run its course. My advice? Watch ‘Prison Break: Season 1’ and leave Lincoln and Michael’s future to your imagination. ‘Season 3’ is little more than a tired excuse to retread old ground.
If you haven’t seen ‘Prison Break’ before, prepare yourself for sun-drenched skintones, cruel contrast, and hot white levels that limit image depth. Aesthetic criticism aside, Fox’s 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer faithfully renders the intentionally stylized visuals and still delivers plenty of technical eye candy for fans of the series.
The desolate palette features healthy oranges, browns, and blues, filling the screen with rich colors and stable tones. Blacks are generally inky (aside from a few unresolved sequences), noise is kept to a minimum, and delineation is quite good, especially considering how oppressive the show’s shadows can be. Detail is above average most of the time and painfully revealing in some sequences -- almost every drop of sweat, out of place hair, and stump of stubble is clearly visible in the foregrounds and backgrounds of the best-looking scenes. Of course, like any television season, a few shots are softer than the rest, but these moments can be attributed to the original source rather than the transfer itself. To top it all off, I only caught a few, minor bursts of artifacting that thankfully didn’t interfere with the overall quality of the image. As it stands, ‘Prison Break: Season 3’ delivers a striking presentation that should please fans and newcomers alike.
Each episode of ’Prison Break: Season 3’ features impressive DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks that, by my estimation, outclass the first season’s lossless experience, the HD television broadcast audio, and the standard DVD mix. Dialogue is crisp and clean, low-end tones are strong and aggressive, and the rear speakers support the soundfield with a decent amount of ambient effects and acoustic support. Voices get a bit heavy at times and the LFE channel pipes up at inopportune times, but these prioritization mishaps don’t cause any serious headaches or distractions. Immersion is a relative cinch, with smooth pans and precise directionality, and the soundscape itself is stable and balanced across the soundfield. While action effects like explosions and gunfire don’t sound as authentic or powerful as they do in high-budget feature films, ‘Prison Break’ holds its own against other Blu-ray television releases.
The audio may not boast perfect, reference level sonics, but it faithfully represents its source and legitimately enhances the series’ on-screen action. Whether viewers love the actual episodes or not, the lossless audio adds a substantial amount of value to an otherwise mediocre release.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Prison Break: Season 3’ includes all of the special features that appear on the standard DVD version. Unfortunately, that doesn’t amount to much. Forget the first season’s nine commentaries and additional bonuses -- this season arrives with zero commentaries, 80 minutes of bland featurettes, and an inconsistent video presentation. As it stands, this supplemental package is terribly underwhelming and entirely forgettable.
Even as a fan of the series’ first season, I didn’t enjoy much of anything in ‘Prison Break: Season 3.’ The plot is contrived, the characters have been completely neutered, and the show’s writers seem to have thrown logic out the window. Thankfully, Fox’s Blu-ray release isn’t undone by any significant problems. While it has a bland, limited supplemental package, it features an excellent video transfer and an impressive DTS HD Master Audio surround track. In the end, if you enjoyed ‘Season 3,’ don’t hesitate to pick this one up, but if you haven’t watched it yet, give it a rent and see if you’re still in love with the series before you buy this one.