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DVD Review: The 4400 – The Complete Series

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People have been disappearing throughout time, abducted by a strange light from the sky. Then one night in the Pacific Northwest, 4400 people are returned to Earth in a ball of light, not having aged a bit. After spending some time in government sanctioned quarantine the returnees are set free to resume their lives.

A special task force is created to look after the 4400, as they are aptly named by the media. It isn’t long until the returnees begin to exhibit powers like telepathy, healing, and superhuman strength. The question is who took these people, and why have they returned with these powers?

The Show

As the seasons unfold these questions begin to get answered, but more questions are piled on top. The 4400 started out as a mini-series, and after its successful run it was renewed to become a USA network series. It was widely successful as a summer program on cable television. It ran for four seasons with each season digging deeper into the truths about the 4400. But then it was canceled. The network axe was swift and unrelenting, which caused a great show to be finished before its time was up. This cancellation frustrated loyal fans who wanted resolution to the stories and characters they loved.

So, it almost seems a shame to bring out a complete DVD set for a series that had no real end. Why should anyone waste their time watching something they know won’t be fully resolved? I guess my answer to that is because the four seasons that The 4400 did run comprised some of the best sci-fi television ever.

The 4400 was an engaging human drama. It had rich characters, and involving storylines. It didn’t rely solely on the special powers the returnees had; rather it tried to uncover their reason and importance.

To some degree it is explained within the first few episodes that the 4400 were sent back to change the world. As the plot evolves, agents Tom Baldwin and Diana Skouris begin to understand who and why these people were taken. Tom’s son Kyle and nephew Shawn are at the center of the plot, while Diana adopts Mia, a young girl who can predict the future. The two agents find themselves connected to the 4400 more than they ever thought would happen.

The DVDs

Fifteen discs make up this complete series set, seasons one through four. There’s a bonus disc full of new special features that we’ll talk about in the special features section. None of the menus or features have been redone from the previous individual season sets.

The Quality

Each episode is presented in widescreen 16:9 format. There have also been no digital enhancements or remastering of the individual seasons, so if you owned the previous seasons you know what to expect when it comes to sound and video quality.

For those who haven’t ever owned or even watched a season of The 4400 you’re in for a treat. The colors are muted, but not too much. There are some shots, like in the pilot episode when the ball of light is coming down to earth like a comet, which are shot at twilight, giving it an eerie sci-fi effect. The DVDs' video quality conveys that eerie sci-fi tone with lots of muted blues, grays, and blacks.

The Packaging

The packaging is pretty standard fare as far as complete series sets go. It will save you some shelf space, but the hubs inside are awkward. There are seven swinging hubs that contain two overlapping discs each. There is also a special individual hub at the back for the bonus disc.

The plastic hubs are only held together with a strong piece of adhesive tape down the back making them turn like pages in a book. But it’s awkward to flip the hubs over, and when you reach the last hub you can’t just close it. Each of the hubs has to be lifted up and placed back where it was in order for the cover to close correctly.

It also comes with an extremely underwhelming insert that simply states the names of each episode, and its synopsis. Other complete series try to make their inserts worthwhile, adding something new to the experience, whether it be new information, pictures, or interviews. But this insert lacks all of that.

The Special Features

The First Season: There are no special features on this season. It would’ve been nice to see something added to the discs for this set, but there wasn’t.

The Second Season: DVD commentary tracks with actors Jacqueline McKenzie and Joel Gretsch, producer/writer Craig Sweeney and executive producer/writer Ira Steven Behr are contained on the following episodes: "As Fate Would Have It," "The Fifth Page," and "Mommy's Bosses."

These commentaries are very lighthearted and fun to listen to. McKenzie and Gretsch continually ask the writers why they wrote what they wrote, which spawns some very interesting answers.

Three featurettes are included:

"Creating the Ball of Light" is a short documentary that seems like it was made to make up for the fact that there are no special features included with the first season. It talks all about how The 4400 came to be a TV show.

"A Stitch in Time" is a collection of interviews with showrunners and scientists from different universities talking about theories of time travel, and other sci-fi fun. While The 4400 contains some science, it is basically based in a sci-fi world and is just for fun.

"Return of the 4400" talks in depth about how the show could continue running even though they had essentially figured out the “secret” at the end of the first season. A major spoiler alert with this featurette has to be announced. Do not watch this special feature until you are done watching the first and second seasons.

The Third Season: DVD commentary tracks are provided for the following episodes:

  • "The New World" – this is a one man commentary by executive producer Ira Steven Behr
  • "Gone (Part 2)" – this is a commentary by actors Jacqueline McKenzie and Joel Gretsch and co-creator/executive producer Scott Peters
  • "The Ballad of Kevin and Tess" – same people as “Gone (Part 2)” return to provide commentary
  • "Terrible Swift Sword" & "Fifty-Fifty"  – both Behr commentaries

The actors have a tendency to veer off the subject matter of the episode and give thanks to everyone that worked on that particular episode. Behr’s comments are much more insightful about the show.

One interesting little feature that is included with these commentaries in this season is the ability to turn on subtitles for the commentary. This is a great feature, because a lot of the time I find myself straining to hear what the commentators are saying when they are all talking over each other.

Other features include:

  • "Character Tree" where you can click on any given character and hear the actor talk about his/her character
  • "The Architecture of Series Storytelling" is a short documentary about the season.
  • "Powers Grid" is a very short featurette about which characters have powers and why.
  • "TVFX" is another extremely short featurette on the special effects of the show.

Season Four: Only one actual episode commentary is provided here, "Till We Have Built Jerusalem" with co-creator Scott Peters.

There is a director’s cut provided of the season finale which comes with a commentary from Peters.

Other features include:

  • "Season IV: Factions at War" – The standard about-this-season documentary. Though it’s no different from the other documentaries included on other seasons, it is full of cast interviews, and runs a good 30 minutes. It’s a special feature for the fans.
  • "Jordan Collier: The Grey Man" is an interesting, but far too short, featurette about Jordan Collier who becomes the main focus in the later seasons. It poses the question of whether he is a good guy or a bad guy, but leaves the viewer in limbo on whether or not he is.
  • A gag reel and a few deleted scenes are included.

Bonus Disc

This disc had to be made to make this set worth buying. If you’re a fan of this show, and have been from the beginning, then this disc needs to be seen.

There is a brief introduction by co-creator Scott Peters, who you’ve heard on numerous commentaries already. He mentions the cancellation of the show, which came way too soon. He also thanks the fans for their support of the show.

Peters and Gretsch finally give some much needed love in the form of commentary to the first season by providing a commentary track for the pilot episode. This is one of the most insightful commentaries in the entire series. It is partly due to the fact that they can use hindsight and look at the series as a whole. They comment on how the first season had no special features because it was technically a “mini-series” so they didn’t know if they’d be coming back for another season. They gives some interesting information about the sets and they give high praise to other actors they worked with. They both have a very sarcastic sense of humor and are extremely fun to listen to.

"The 4400: The Ghost Season" is a new featurette on how the series was born. There’s an interesting little piece of information that Peters spills about the show’s title that I will not reveal here, but it’s pretty funny.

"Promicin: The Moral Choice" reminds me of the fake commercials Lost has for the Hanso Foundation. It’s a fictional advertisement for Promicin. It doesn’t really add much to the series as a whole, and seems oddly out of place.

The last special feature is a conglomeration of deleted scenes from the first three seasons. You’ll want to watch these deleted scenes with each season that they are associated to. I think it would’ve been better had these scenes been added onto the actual season discs, but that seems like too much to ask. You’ll have no idea where to fit in these scenes unless you watch them in order as you watch the season.

Ending Thoughts

The 4400 is one of the best sci-fi shows to ever grace our television screens. But, this set doesn’t really add anything new for the fans of the show. It offers us a bonus disc, but that’s hardly worth justifying the money you spent on the series set. But that’s not to say this set isn’t worth buying. If you’re like me you like to show the networks what a huge mistake they made in canceling certain shows. By buying a set like this, fans can truly get behind their show.

It’s still hard to believe this show is gone, and without a clear ending. The new special features don’t add much about where the show would’ve gone or how many more episodes were needed to finish it correctly. I guess we’ll never know.

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