Fringe: The Complete Third Season

(2011) *** 1/2 Unrated
962 min. FOX. Directors: Brad Anderson, Chuck Russell. Cast: Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Blair Brown, Lance Reddick, Kirk Acevedo, Christopher Lloyd, Joan Chen, Alan Ruck, Shawn Ashmore, Amy Madigan.

/content/films/4188/1.jpgThe makers of the science-fiction series Fringe obviously have good taste. Genre enthusiasts themselves, Fringe's creative staff has paid regular tribute to Star Trek, not least by casting Leonard Nimoy as genius level scientist-entrepeneur William Bell. Along the same lines, Fringe opened a creative door by positing an alternate universe to the one inhabited by the show's lead characters and allowing them to go there in the show's second season. In its third year, Fringe continues to "go there" with a groundbreaking season that gives pretty much equal time to "our universe" (color-coded blue) and the "parallel universe" (color-coded red).

What seems to have started out as an homage to Star Trek's infamous "Mirror, Mirror" episode has become integral to the weekly fabric of Fringe. Our world's FBI "Fringe Division"—addled genius and pudding enthusiast Walter Bishop (John Noble), his wry son Peter (Joshua Jackson), extra-special agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and patient-as-a-saint junior agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), working under Homeland Security honcho Philip Broyles (Lance Reddick)—continues to investigate paranormal phenomena, but the stakes have heightened to end-of-days proportions. It becomes apparent that our universe is at war with its parallel equivalent (with its own "Fauxlivia" (Torv), Broyles (Reddick), Astrid (Nicole) and others answering to Secretary of Defense Walter Bishop (Noble), a.k.a. "Walternate." Seemingly, only one universe can survive, and, worse, the battle for dominance could result in mutually assured destruction.

Inverting previous seasons, Season Three effectively subsumes the "freak of the week" to subplot status, while boldly playing up series mythology. Though ratings were touch and go, the gambit seems to have paid off, hooking in Fringe's smallish but loyal core audience and winning a last-minute reprieve for a fourth season Friday nights on FOX. The show's production values are second-to-none on TV, with handsome photography and outstanding special effects and makeup bringing to life the alternate-universe skylines and shocking gross-outs that up the ante from FOX forerunner The X-Files—which brings us back to the show's good taste. The alternate universe allows for cheeky pop-culture references, from the recast Casablanca to Berkeley Breathed cartoons to The West Wing, which continues to air new episodes in the parallel universe. (Other easter eggs include a nod to The Prisoner and an overt reference to Twin Peaks, a groundbreakingly violent paranormal show with its own terrifying dopplegangers).

By fearlessly plunging into the alternate universe, Fringe ups the ante for its stalwart cast, allowing the entirely capable Torv and Noble to play multiple past and present and alternate versions of their characters (not unlike the dual-timeline structure of executive producer J.J. Abrams' other sci-fi show, Lost). Season Three includes semi-sequel episodes to the most memorable outings from Season Two: instead of a musical episode, we get a largely animated one (the solution to getting back "retired" Nimoy), and we once more go totally '80s for a flashback episode revisiting pivotal moments for Walter, Olivia and Peter.

Doubling the characters allows the writers to bring back once-dead characters (Kirk Acevedo's Charlie Francis) and to kill off others while retaining an actor's services. The mirror universe also brings with it important new characters, like "Fauxlivia"'s mother Marilyn (Amy Madigan) and alt-Fringe agent Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel). (Guest stars include The Wire's Andre Royo, Christopher Lloyd, David Lynch fave Brad Dourif, Twin Peaks star Joan Chen, Kevin Corrigan, Alan Ruck, Shawn Ashmore & Aaron Ashmore, Sebastian Roché, Ulrich Thomsen, and Abrams alums Jorge Garcia and Kevin Weisman.) And as ever, on the fringe of Fringe are the bald, black-hatted Observers, most notably the one played by Michael Cerveris. If the show can hang on to its remote-control-wielding observers in our universe, the show may go on for some time.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 4

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 9/6/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

/content/films/4188/2.jpgFringe: The Complete Third Season on Blu-ray maintains a level of A/V quality consistent with the earlier sets. The twenty-two transfers here are crisp (with one intentional exception) and detailed, with accurate, pleasing color and palpable textures and film grain. Contrast and black level are excellent, and compression artifacts are kept handily to a bare minimum. "Subject 13," the season's 1985-set episode, apes a washed-out '80s feel with heavy, gauzy filtering that, though intentional, results in a couple of blatantly, excessively out-of-focus shots that should have been caught at the production stage and now stick out like sore thumbs in hi-def. Even that minor complaint can't be laid at the feet of these fine transfers, which also come with quite extraordinary lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixes that can stand next to any being produced for television in terms of discrete separation, total immersion, sound effects mixing, fullness of music, and clarity of dialogue.

Bonus features include audio commentary for "The Plateau" with executive producer Jeff Pinkner, writer/co-executive producer Monica Owusu-Breen and editor Timothy A. Good and audio commentary for "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide" with producer Tanya Swerling, editor Luyen Vu and visual effects supervisor Jay Worth. Both offer well-paced commentary with insights from behind-the-scenes staffers; the latter goes into detail about the production and design of the animated episode, as well as the skills of the actors and technicians involved.

"Maximum Episode Mode: 'Glimmer to the Other Side'" (46:02, HD) nearly packs a season's worth of extras into one bonus feature. This total deconstruction of one episode—hosted by Pinkner and Wyman—features cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Much of the feature unfolds in PiP, but sometimes the final episode goes into the PiP space while behind-the-scenes footage takes the fore (including a guided tour of the Fringe lab set led by John Noble). The MEM also branches out several times to bonus video pods detailing story and/or production points. Interviewees include director Brad Anderson, Noble, Blair Brown, Joshua Jackson, Jorge Garcia, special effects coordinator Bob Comer, first assistant director Brian Giddens, production designer Ian Thomas, story editors Glen Whitman and Robert Chiapetta, executive story editor/writer Graham Roland, makeup effects coordinator Nicholas Podbrey, Tom Stevens, set designer Jenny Sakamoto, paint coordinator John Wilcox, on set props man Matthew Wilson, and Greyston Holt.

The Duality of Worlds section holds four featurettes. "The Other You" (9:04, HD) deals with alternate-universe selves, with comments from Lance Reddick, Pinkner, Wyman, Noble, Anna Torv, Owusu-Breen, key hairstylist Ian Ballard, Roland, Jasika Nicole, and Podbrey. "Visualizing an Alternate World" (8:23, HD) delves into the design of the alternate universe with Pinkner, Wyman, Noble, Jackson, Brown, Chiapetta, story editor Ethan Gross, Thomas, assistant property master Gavin De West, co-executive producer Josh Singer, Worth, and makeup effects supervisor Todd Masters. "A Machine of Destiny" (4:16, HD) discusses a pivotal third-season plot point with Noble, Wyman, Pinkner, property master Rob Smith, Torv, Whitman, staff writer Matt Pitts, Jackson and Roland, while "The Psychology of Duality" (8:31, HD) enlists Noble, Pinkner, Wyman, co-executive producer David Wilcox, Torv, Jackson, Whitman, Reddick, and Owusu-Breen to talk about Fringe's doubling from a character-driven perspective.

"Constructing an Extra-Sensory Soundscape" (7:08, HD) deals with sound effects and music with supervising sound editor Thomas A. Harris, Wyman, Pinkner, composer Chris Tilton, Brown, music editor Paul Apelgren, Torv, Owusu-Breen, and Pitts.

"Secrets of Fringe: The First People" (2:04, SD) is a brief mythology-teasing promo with Pinkner and Wyman.

Also here are a "Gag Reel" (3;13, HD); featurette "Animating the 'Lysergic Acid Diethylamide' Episode" (7:33, SD) with Noble, Wyman, Pinkner, Worth, Nimoy, Torv, executive producer Joe Chappelle, Brown, Jackson and a host of animators including lead animator Jacob Bergman, lead compositor Rodrigo Dorsch, vfx supervisor Andrew Orloff, and 3D lead Sallyanne Massimini; Network Promos including "The Journey Home" (1:27, SD), "Entrada" (2:02, SD) and "The Day We Died" (2:02, SD); and BD-Live functionality.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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