Blu-ray TV reviews: ‘The Looming Tower’ and ‘X-Files: The Complete Season 11’
Here’s a pair of recently released, episodic shows available on Blu-ray that highlight FBI agents trying to stop horrendous attacks.
The Looming Tower (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated TV-MA, 550 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $39.99) The Hulu streaming service offered a historical drama based on Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book earlier this year exploring the uncooperative animosity between the CIA and FBI leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attack in New York City.
The 10-episode series now arrives on two Blu-ray discs and offers a high-definition chronicle of not only the dysfunctionality of the law enforcement agencies but the rise of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
The stellar cast includes Jeff Daniels as John O’Neill, the head of the New York FBI’s Counterterrorism Center nicknamed “I-49”; Tahar Rahim as Ali Soufan, a Muslim Lebanese-American FBI agent who is part of I-49; Peter Sarsgaard as Martin Schmidt (based on Michael Scheuer), the head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center nicknamed “Alec Station”; and Michael Stuhlbarg as Richard Clarke, the national coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism for the U.S.
Also, Alec Baldwin stops by to once again resurrect his predictable, gruff guy character as the clueless CIA Director George Tenet.
Throughout, viewers are privy to some of the inner workings of the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies with plenty of emotional moments. All is set against a crystal clear, high-definition presentation highlighting agents and terrorists working on the streets of London, Yemen, Kenya, D.C., New York and the wilds of Afghanistan.
I’ll note that the smattering of sex scenes that were oddly inserted were completely unnecessary. They only took away from appreciating the realistically portrayed, flawed but heroic, humans trying to stop the horrific events.
What I will never forget about the series is the abhorrent pettiness between the agencies.
Not only will viewers shake their heads in disbelief over and over again as the events unfold but will be shocked and infuriated at the levels of government stupidity, considering the high stakes and potential loss of human life involved.
Best extras: Leading the way is a pair of optional commentary tracks on the first episode “Now it Begins ” with writer and co-creator Dan Futterman and co-creator and director Alex Gibney, and the final episode “9/11″ with Mr. Futterman and director Craig Zis.
Each track offers detailed explanations about the production, praises the great cast and includes discussions comparing the authenticity of the characters and narrative to the actual events.
Next, spend 10 minutes with the real Ali Soufan as he discusses his work in the FBI and offers an appreciation of his former boss John O’Neill.
Another trio of featurettes rounds out the extras offering a too-brief overview of the series led by Mr. Wright (7 minutes), insight into the main characters supplemented by actor interviews (11 minutes) and a look at the series shooting locations with production designer Lester Cohen (10 minutes).
X-Files: The Complete Season 11 (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated TV-14, 438 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $26.99) The hopeful return of two of the most popular investigators of unexplained phenomena in the history of television led to yet another mini-series on the Fox Network earlier this year.
This trio of Blu-ray discs offers binge watchers looking for the “truth” about alien conspiracies and unsolved murders a chance to follow the adventure of FBI agents Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) via an entire 10-episode season.
I’ll cautiously tiptoe through the season’s intriguing narrative that may ultimately conclude the “X-Files” televised franchise.
Specifically, the well-nicknamed and mysterious Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) has concocted a diabolical plan, with help from extraterrestrials, that could kill millions of humans and would make Marvel Entertainment’s evil villain Thanos very happy.
As his scheme unfolds, viewers are also privy to the pair of famed agents encountering their possible son William (Miles Robbins) and friends such as their grumpy but helpful boss Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) and a creepy version of one of the Lone Gunman (Dean Hagland).
And, villains also return including Mr. Y (A.C. Peterson) and Erika Price (Barbara Hershey).
Overall, I really enjoyed the episodes “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” featuring a forgotten X-File’s agent named Reginald Murgatroid; “Familiar” highlighting the occult happenings in a small town; and “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” exploring what happens when technology run ramparts in Foxs and Dana’s lives.
Suffice it to report, not only was the chemistry between Miss Anderson and Mr. Duchovny better than ever, but horror, humor and pathos blended beautifully throughout the season.
Best extras: 20th Century Fox unloads a deep collection of bonus content for fans.
Start with optional commentary tracks for “My Struggle IV” with cinematographer Craig Wrobkeski and editor Eleanor Infante; and “Kitten” with writer Gabe Rotter and director Carol Banker. Although good, I could have used some insight from show writer Chris Carter on the final episode.
Next, a 50-minute, spoiler-loaded overview of the entire season practically dissects every episode with plenty of actor interviews, introspection from Mr. Carter and minutiae down to how technicians used lighting tricks to reveal a long lapse of time.
Equally important, viewers get an insightful, 45-minute overview of the “X-Files” memorable stories, spotlighting episodes, the evolution of the popular show, its success over the past 25 years and even a look at how they built show scenes using notes on index cards.
The segment features vintage and current interviews with Mr. Carter, Miss Anderson, Mr. Duchovny, Mr. Haglund, writers James Wong, Glen Morgan and Frank Spotnitz, Mr. Davis, Steven Williams (X), and even Robert Patrick (Special Agent John Doggett).
Next, a 17-minute retrospective on the Dana Scully character covers her impact on current and future generations of women interested in science, medicine and law enforcement (actually dubbed the “Scully Effect”). Of course, Miss Anderson gets the majority of interview time, but professors, authors and even a stunt man comment on how she empowered females over the series run.
Rounding out the extras, Miss Anderson and Mr. Duchovny spend a breezy 14 minutes interviewing one another on the 20th Century Fox studio. It’s mostly silly even mentioning Mr. Duchovny’s dog Brick and its Twitter account but reveals, once again, the chemistry between these two veteran actors.