24: Redemption (2008)

Extended Edition

2008 #86
Jon Cassar | 98 mins | DVD | 15

24: RedemptionRemember the ubiquitous Writer’s Strike in the US? It must be about a year ago now, but its effects are still being felt — Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon’s rule-breaing internet musical, made during the strike, is about to hit region-free DVD in the US (albeit on DVD-R and only from Amazon.com); plenty of second-year shows are getting canned, probably because their truncated first years didn’t allow time to get decent audiences (that’s one excuse anyway); and 24’s seventh season, kicking off in January 2009, is a year late. Which allowed them to make this in the meantime.

The setup is simple: Jack Bauer’s trekking round the world, currently holed up with an ex-army buddy (played by the ever-excellent Robert Carlyle) in the African nation of Sangal where said buddy has set up a school. Yes, Jack Bauer is living a life of peace. But then Bad Men turn up wanting the kids for child soldiers, and within the hour they’re attempting a military coup — this is still 24 remember, the action all takes place “in real time”. What’s Jack to do? Why, return to his old One Man Army self, of course — if he can’t stop the coup, he sure as hell can save those kids! Meanwhile, it’s inauguration day for America’s new female (black? 24’s been there and done that — twice) President…

For a Fox action series, off screens for almost 18 months and undoubtedly designed as a starting point for new viewers, Redemption (not that that title’s seen on screen) has a surprisingly slow build up. That’s no bad thing — this is a story after all, not a 90-minute shoot-out — but there are times when one feels it should get a wriggle on. This is likely where most, if not all, of this extended version’s new material was added. There’s almost 15 minutes added to the running time here, though some is surely due to a 5-minute credit crawl that must be much longer than the TV version’s. Having not seen the broadcast edit I can’t comment on what new scenes, shots or lines are added, but there’s no greater violence or thematic density than 24 usually produces so I imagine what was cut was cut for time alone.

That said, Redemption certainly tackles its fair share of issues — primarily, the use of child soldiers, and the US involvement (or lack of) in African genocides. It’s certainly admirable and worthwhile for such a popular series to bring these important issues to the attention of a mass audience who might otherwise ignore, or at least not be aware, of them, but they’re still included in a “mainstream American action series” way — that’s to say, they’re ultimately a reason for a shoot-out. There’s also some subtle political commentary, such as the UN Peacekeeper stationed at the school being a coward who runs away at the first sign of violence… and then betrays them to boot! Of course, just because it’s unsubtle doesn’t make it wrong, but Blood Diamond this is not. Whatever the politics, the action sequences — and, once things get going, there are a few — are all carried out with 24’s usual panache.

Is this a suitable jumping-on point for newcomers? Yes, quite simply. It’s several years since the last season and Jack’s in a very new part of this life. Some old faces crop up and there are some backstory references, but these are more nods for returning fans than anything important. Everything you need to know for this story is contained herein, and fortunately that doesn’t involve great slabs of exposition about previous seasons. On the other hand, it fails as a standalone movie. While the main plot — Jack defends school — is kicked off and wrapped up in the space between the title and the credits, there are several US-based plot threads that aren’t even close to being resolved. These are clearly designed to flow on into season seven — presumably they’re either elements bumped from the early episodes up into the movie, or a fleshing out of information that would’ve just been exposition before.

It’s hard not to conclude that Redemption would’ve been better without the US scenes. They add nothing to the main action in Africa and they’re all quite flatly directed, forcibly reminding you that this is just a TV movie by being worse than most TV these days. Their one true benefit is an ending that juxtaposes the new President’s inauguration speech with the civil war beginning in Sangal, which, consciously or not, underlines the hypocrisy at the heart of America.

As a standard season-opening episode of 24, coming on the back of the weakest-yet sixth season, it may well have earned itself an extra star. Judged as a standalone film, however, I fear it has to be just

3 out of 5

Thinking “but that’s not a film”? Then please have a read of this.

What makes a film a film?

What makes a film a film? I don’t mean “as opposed to a book”, or “as opposed to a pile of rubbish”; but rather, “as opposed to a TV special”, or different to a direct-to-DVD movie — indeed, is there a difference?

This is the sort of thing that’s bothered me for a while, mainly thanks to the Radio Times. The Radio Times’ film section frequently features reviews for things they label as “US TVM” — translation: an American TV Movie. Not everything falls into this category. The 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie (the clue’s in the title) was just listed as a TV special, as was the recent one-off episode of 24, Redemption. Why are these different to other feature-length made-for-TV one-off dramas? The former was a British co-production, perhaps, but the latter wasn’t. The latter is part of an on-going series, made between seasons, however. But then, one-off editions of other (older) series have been reviewed as “US TVM”s, so why are they different? It’s not even a hard rule in that instance, as some old series have their feature-length episodes screened as a matter of course among other repeats.

On a different tack, what about Paul Greengrass’ excellent Bloody Sunday, simultaneously screened on Channel 4 and released in cinemas? Or more recently, Ballet Shoes — just part of last year’s Christmas schedule in the UK, but it received a limited late-summer theatrical release in the US. So is that a film, or ‘just’ a TV special? Is a cinema release the key? Well, no — at least as far as the Radio Times are concerned — because Ballet Shoes wouldn’t now feature in their film review section were it repeated, while those other “US TVM”s will continue their circulation. [2015 note: A few years after I wrote this, Ballet Shoes was indeed repeated, and not listed as a film. Whenever Bloody Sunday is on, the Radio Times list it as a film.]

Is length the issue? Clearly not — look at the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmeses, some of which struggle to make the hour mark, a running time that Midsomer Murders or Poirot tops with every new episode.

And all this without even considering direct-to-DVD movies!

Perhaps it’s not a scientific rule-driven process, but just a “feel”? But that’s rubbish too — I’d wager 24: Redemption is at least twice as cinematic as most of the ’80s “US TVM”s awarded a proper film section review. Maybe it’s production method, then? But Redemption was produced as an individual piece, outside of the series’ production — much as a ‘proper’ 24 movie would’ve been, though surely with a smaller budget. So too was the Doctor Who TV movie, and obviously all one-off UK productions are made in a similar vein. And many of them, like Ballet Shoes, are surely just a theatrical release away from being a ‘film’ rather than a one-off TV drama, aren’t they? Perhaps it’s stylistic conventions — production company logos at the start, for example. But that seems a tad arbitrary to me, and plenty of independent films dispense with such.

Or perhaps, in this modern world, IMDb is the decider — whether it has that little “(TV)” after the title or not (it does for Ballet Shoes and 24, but not for Bloody Sunday). But then, why are the people at IMDb — and, we should remember, most of their content is user-generated anyway — any more qualified to decide than you or I?

It’s all down to the individual then, is it? Perhaps. If I declare 24: Redemption a film and review it as a numbered entry in 2008, would anyone care? But would it mean that, ‘morally’, I should go back and review Ballet Shoes as part of 2007? Or last month’s Einstein and Eddington as part of 2008? Or afford any of the countless other feature-length TV specials I’ve seen in the past two years the same treatment?

I don’t have any answers here, just more questions. I’m not going to go back and review Ballet Shoes though. Nor am I going to add Einstein and Eddington, or this Christmas’ The 39 Steps when it comes around. I may well count 24: Redemption, though [I did]. I don’t have Sky, so as far as I’m concerned it may as well be direct-to-DVD, especially in its extended DVD-exclusive form.

And direct-to-DVD movies definitely still count… don’t they?