Alcatraz: The Complete Series DVD Review: Lost on The Rock

Bogged down in a confusing sea of pretension.
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Is Alcatraz "Lost on The Rock?" Well, sort of. J.J. Abrams is the mastermind of both shows, and he brought Jorge Garcia along to Alcatraz as sort of a chubby, pony-tailed talisman. It didn’t work though, as Alcatraz was canceled after 13 episodes. Those shows plus a couple of bonus features make up the new triple-DVD set Alcatraz: The Complete Series, which has just been released by Warner Home Video.

alcatraz complete

The basic premise of Alcatraz is that the 256 prisoners and 46 guards at the prison disappeared into thin air in 1963. A cover story was created for the public that the government had decided to close the prison, and transfer the inmates to other maximum-security facilities. Within a few years, all would be pronounced dead of various causes. Meanwhile, a cabal of spooks led by Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) set up shop at Alcatraz, preparing for the return of the missing men, dubbed the “63’s.”

In the pilot episode we meet San Francisco Police Department Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) who has just lost her partner in a violent standoff. When she discovers a connection between a killer and the Alcatraz prisoners, she brings in Dr. Diego "Doc" Soto (Jorge Garcia) who has written books on the jail, and runs a comic-book shop.

The series quickly settled into a “villain of the week” format, focusing on a 63er who has returned, and is resuming his criminal activities in present day San Francisco. These include bad guys who specialize in placing landmines in public parks, poisoning random “bullies” they run in to, a knife-wielding chef, and a violinist whose bow is made out of female human hair. When he has used all of the woman’s hair up, this Alcatraz Paganini kills her.

There is an element of another show utilized here also, that of the time-shifting Flash Forward. This is actually what I like the best about Alcatraz, as it sheds the most light on the big mystery of how and why everyone disappeared. The flashback sequences generally go back to 1960, and often feature the Warden (Jonny Coyne) and the prison’s Dr. Milton Beauregard (Leon Rippy) involved in nefarious activities. These include blood transfusions of the prisoners, the discovery of a huge hoard of gold underneath the jail, and a number of other weird situations.

Wherever it was that the prisoners and guards were “stored” for nearly 50 years is a mystery that is never solved in the series. It remains unexplained how none of them has aged a day since they vanished either. Presumably, these were plot points to be gradually doled out over the course of a long and successful run. But that didn’t happen, so everything about Alcatraz that we will ever know is contained here in these 13 shows.

It is one of the great mysteries as to what the public will warm up to, and one Alcatraz never solved. The show lost over half of its audience in three months, and that was the end of that. The death of Sarah at the series finale seems to seal the program’s fate, although with all the supernatural business the show was filled with, I am sure they would have found a way to bring her back. If FOX had relented and brought Alcatraz back that is.

The main bonus feature of the set is a 10-minute piece titled “Alcatraz: Island of Intrigue.” It is one of those typical DVD extras where the cast talk about what an “amazing experience it was to be involved with such a ground-breaking show,” blah, blah, blah. The other extra is a three-minute gag reel.

For fans of J.J. Abrams’ unique supernatural/mystery/drama/whatever type of television, Alcatraz seemed to hold promise. I think it would have benefited from more action though. The hilly setting of San Francisco was only utilized once for a car chase, and it was the most exciting scene of the entire series for me. Unfortunately, this came after the show had already been canceled, in the series finale. Sam Neill as the FBI agent (and former Alcatraz guard) is excellent, as is Garcia. In the end though, the series never really seemed to find the right balance, and was often bogged-down in a confusing sea of pretension.

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