It wasn't that J.J. Abrams and company hadn't thought up an intriguing idea. It wasn't that the show's underlying mystery that was bubbling just below the surface wasn't interesting enough to keep watching. I think the reason 'Alcatraz' declined in viewership and ultimately got canned after 13 first-season episodes was that people, myself included, were still suffering from 'Lost' fatigue. Personally, I wasn't ready to spend another eight or nine seasons of television trying to unravel a complicated plot, hidden within a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma and set on yet another mysterious island.
Sam Neill's voiceover at the beginning of each episode accurately describes the dilemma:
"On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz officially closed. All the prisoners were transferred off the island. Only that's not what happened. Not at all."
Random prisoners from The Rock are suddenly popping up in the present. They haven't aged a bit. Yet, most of them are still as angry and as bloodthirsty as they were back in the 60s. Someone or something is sending them to our time and we have no idea why, how, or who. It's a perplexing mystery, and one that I found mildly intriguing, but once the show's formula was introduced it became less and less important to me.
Along with all the 'Lost'-esque storytelling – flashbacks, cliffhangers punctuated by Michael Giacchino shrieking crescendos, and shadowy characters knowing more than they let on – 'Alcatraz' tried to establish a procedural part to the show. An inmate-of-the-week storyline. In 'Lost' we became acquainted with various characters through flashbacks. These are characters who were deeply flawed, but many of them were worth caring about. We all picked our favorites and hoped that we'd see more about their story somewhere down the line. Abrams took this same idea and flipped it around. Instead of knowing the backstory about the main characters, we'd learn the mystery of the island piece by piece through flashbacks of whichever inmate that was highlighted for that particular episode. The main problem here is that you can only take so many flashbacks focusing on cold-blooded murderers and child killers. It's hard to care about the mysterious elements displayed in the flashbacks when a majority of them are spent delving into the minds of psychopaths. In 'Lost' we cared about the subjects of the flashbacks, in 'Alcatraz,' not so much.
Another drawback to the show was its choice of lead. TV veteran Sarah Jones ('Justified') plays Detective Rebecca Madsen as wooden as she possibly can. Her emotional range is extremely limited. Following her as the main character in each episode was an exhausting task. Neither her acting nor the character she played commanded any sort of screen presence. She's routinely outshined by a dastardly sneering Sam Neill ('Jurassic Park') and a geeky Jorge Garcia ('Lost') as the three of them form a group to hunt down the returning prisoners.
'Alcatraz' wasn't that bad of an idea. Abrams knows how to tell an intricately woven story, peppering it with fun science fiction and brain-bending puzzles. 'Alcatraz' had all of that, but I think it's timing was poor. In a rush to create a new high-concept serialized TV show like 'Lost,' 'Alcatraz' was conceived. The problem was it felt too similar to 'Lost.' From the construction of its storytelling to the way it strung along its audience with morsels of answers which in turn brought up many more questions. I wasn't ready to get involved with another show like that, and I think a lot of people felt the same way.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Warner Bros. release. 'Alcatraz' comes in a 2-disc Blu-ray set. The complete series has 13 episodes which have been housed on two 50-GB discs. They're packaged in a standard keepcase which slides nicely into an outer cardboard sleeve with the same art as the cover. Inside there is a small pamphlet which lists the episodes, some of the main characters and the special features.
'Alcatraz' looks exactly how you'd expect a brand-new television show to look in 1080p. Warner has provided a smooth, clear transfer free from any of the pesky artifacts one probably encountered watching the show on cable with compressed signals.
Detail is quite striking here. In the present day we get a wonderful looking picture with nice depth, dark shadows, and as much fine detail as you can ask for. Faces exhibit pores and age lines with ease. The rusted textures of the cell bars can easily be seen even when the camera backs off from an ultra-close zoom. Long-shots feature some great detail, too. The skyline shots of the prison, along with the San Francisco skyline, showcase clearly discernible edges.
Flashbacks have a decidedly gauzier look to them. An intentional filter has been used to make them seem more dreamlike and representative of the time period as it relates to what it looked like on film. Lights and objects are surrounded by soft halos, which are created from the diffused look. Colors are a bit more muted in the flashbacks, but that's purposeful, too. Even with the added filtering, blacks remain constantly strong. There's one scene where the warden interrogates an inmate in a pitch-black solitary cell by match-light. The shadows contained in this scene are very strong, featuring quite a bit of depth without crushing out any of the detail on screen.
I thought I noticed banding at one moment, when Rebecca is waking up from a gas-induced sleep and everything she sees in front of her eyes is a fuzzy mess. Other than that, though, this is a clear looking video transfer that will certainly please fans with its vibrant colors and problem-free video presentation.
'Alcatraz' has been given a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that does its job well. The sound effect that really hits home in just about every episode is cell doors slamming shut. This sound effect is always picked up and echoed through every channel in the mix, giving you the feeling that a cell door just slammed shut on you.
Echoes are routinely carried into the rear speakers as inmates hoot and holler in cavernous cell blocks. Their voices can be heard distinctly even though much of it is ambient sound. Dialogue is clear up front, as well. Giacchino's familiar sounding score booms with low-end sonics and fills the soundfield - his shrieking strings bearing a striking resemblance to 'Lost's soundtrack.
I thought the show sounded great from all accounts. There weren't any terrible problems to report. It isn't overly amazing in any way, but it is a very solid presentation.
'Alcatraz' felt like too much of a 'Lost' rehash missing too many of the pieces that made that show so popular. While the story was intriguing in its own right, the procedural aspect of the show dragged. Since the show got cancelled in its first season there's really little reason of owning it. If you found yourself somewhat interested in Abrams' latest venture, but never had time to watch it when it aired, then give it a rent.