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HTF REVIEW: The Sopranos - The Complete Fourth Season (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).



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#1 of 37 Herb Kane

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Posted November 10 2003 - 08:40 AM

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The Sopranos: The Complete Fourth Season





Studio: HBO
Year: 2002
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 800 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Enhanced Widescreen
Audio: DD 5.1
Color/B&W: Color
Subtitles: English
MSRP: $99.98
Package: 5 panel Gatefold Digipak with hinged cover case






The Feature:
Given the content of what’s on television nowadays, I find myself watching less and less of it. Not to say that it’s bad per se (well, some of it is), it’s just not necessarily to my liking. And this may seem rather bizarre, I just don’t like the idea of “committing” to a show (or a time slot, for that matter) and feel like I’m having to keep up with something…

It seems as though the costs of producing reality shows have made them dominant at least during the prime time slots and whatever is left is either poorly written or seemingly of little interest to me. Generally, if I do watch the tube, it’ll be an A&E or a PBS show that will pique my curiosity. My wife watches a few of the popular prime time TV shows such as ER, The West Wing and Friends and occasionally I’ll sit and watch something that she wants to watch.

Now, let’s go back in time - say three of four years... Everybody in the office was talking about this new show called The Sopranos. People were ordering digital cable just so they could see it, switching their shifts so they wouldn’t miss it, those who did miss it were posting office emails to see if anyone had taped it… and I’m thinking to myself… huh??? That is, till I watched it. Prior to this set arriving, I had never seen five minutes of The Sopranos although I had wanted to. As a huge fan of gangster movies such as The Godfather trilogy, GoodFellas, Casino, The Untouchables etc., it was a show I knew I would enjoy but feared watching it, not wanting to get sucked in knowing that addiction would be inevitable.

From what I’ve heard and read about The Sopranos, it’s one of the best shows to have come to television for many years. Extremely well written and acted, and cast to perfection, what I find appealing about the show is it simplistic approach. There doesn’t seem to be much that’s flashy about it and it seems to arrive on it own merits. Even the video presentation is seemingly accurate with its somewhat muted and gritty feel.

The following episodes are included in the set:


Disc One:

Episode 1 – For All Debts Public And Private
Episode 2 – No-Show
Episode 3 – Christopher


Disc Two:

Episode 4 – The Weight
Episode 5 – Pie O My
Episode 6 – Everybody Hurts
Episode 7 – Watching Too Much Television


Disc Three:

Episode 8 – Mergers & Acquisitions
Episode 9 – Whoever Did This
Episode 10 – The Strong, Silent Type


Disc Four:

Episode 11 – Calling All Cars
Episode 12 – Eloise
Episode 13 – Whitecaps


HBO has presented The Sopranos: The Complete Fourth Season in an extremely attractive multi-panel gatefold Digipak on silver sleeves. The gatefold pack slips into an attractive looking silver box with a hinged cover – complete with a fabric tab to help lift the set out of the box. It’s a great looking set.

For the purpose of the review, I watched episodes #1, #6 and #13 in their entirety and skimmed through many of the other episodes although I plan on spending some serious time with this set (and the other sets) real soon.



Video:
Again, never having seen this on television, it’s tough to make any comparisons as to the DVD quality but I can only imagine the DVD is a superior presentation of the show itself with a regular broadcast. Obviously one in HD is another story.

Don’t look for colors that are eye poppingly vibrant, ain’t gonna happen. Colors are deliberately muted to give the show a gritty North Eastern feel… not to say the North East isn’t necessarily colorful, but hey – you know what I mean…

Obviously, like most “sets”, each individual episode has its own flavor – both good and bad. I found the episodes to be all rather consistent and for the most part, satisfying. The image was relatively sharp and detailed and black levels were deep. I was able to detect some artifacting but it was never overly bothersome. I was able to find a slight amount of EE and admittedly, I had to look for it.

All in all, a pretty solid offering.



Audio:
Typical of most TV shows to disc (and this is no exception), don’t expect an overly aggressive soundtrack. While it is a 5.1 track, much of its presentation is up-front although it is clear and crisp. I’d venture a guess that you’ll never hear expletives this clear on a TV offering… ever!

And while much of the presentation is up-front, it’s a rather narrow soundfield. The use of surrounds are minimal but effective. I’m not a fan of surrounds being used in an attempt to be “gimmick like” and this is a good example of them being deployed tactfully.

As I said earlier, this show is not flashy or flamboyant and similar is the soundtrack but it is very solid. I have many motion pictures among my library with 5.1 tracks that don’t hold a candle to this one. Very nice, very solid.



Special Features:
Although, not a lot of extras in terms of quantity, I like what has been included here in terms of quality.


Disc One:
[*] All of the episodes have a Next On and Previously On feature showing mini trailers of past and future episodes. And if that weren’t enough, there is a two page text listing describing the specific episode. A very nice touch.
[*] On disc one located in the Special Features area is a listing of Season Recaps – 1, 2 & 3. For someone like myself who is unfamiliar with previous seasons, this is a great feature. Each recap shows a minute of two worth of clips from the season selected. Very nice.
[*] Series Index is merely a text listing of all 13 episodes.
[*] Cast & Filmmakers is a text listing of all the major players linking you to a mini bio.
[*] Awards & Nominations is another text listing of the awards and nomination the show has garnered.
[*] Last up on disc one is a DVD-ROM Web Link. The bottom four features appear on each of the four discs for some strange reason, all of which appear to be identical.


Disc Two:
[*] On disc two there are Commentaries for “The Weight” (#4) and “Everybody Hurts” (#6). Both feature writer/actor Michael Imperioli


Disc Three:
[*] Disc three features a Commentary for episode #9, “Whoever Did This” featuring writers Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess.


Disc Four:
[*] The final feature is a Commentary for season finale, episode #13, “Whitecaps” which features David Chase who is the series creator and writer.

All of the commentaries were rather interesting and offered up a lot of information as to the intended direction they wanted to go with each specific episode. Also discussed is the larger role that Steve Buscemi will have in Season Five.

I stumbled upon a couple of Easter Eggs located in the Special Features menu which weren’t particularly hard to find and the clips offered up as a result weren’t particularly worth the effort… did I mention I really dislike Easter Eggs…?

While this might not be the largest buffet of offerings, I was pleased with what was there… no fluff and information that was pertinent and practical.



Final Thoughts:
Simply put, The Sopranos is an outstanding show. Besides the obvious, it has a lot of other qualities going for it, most notably is its “down to earth” characteristic nature. It doesn’t try to do or be anything it isn’t. I find that rather appealing and refreshing.

Remember I said that I had never seen five minutes of The Sopranos prior to receiving this set…? Well, after watching the episodes for the review… I’m… well, you guessed it… hooked! I’ve already put Seasons One, Two and Three on my Christmas “wish list”.

HBO has delivered a solid season set with a few special features and a presentation that’s sure to please fans of the show. Hey, Bada Bing…!

Highly Recommended…!!




Released: October 28th, 2003
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 37 Scott_F_S

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Posted November 10 2003 - 09:05 AM

Nice review, Herb. I'm sure you'll love the first three seasons, too.

That said, I'm going to pass on this set. In the intervening year between Seasons 3 and 4, I've gotten spoiled buying TV sets of excellent TV shows (Buffy, Angel, Alias) that are about half the price for almost twice the number of episodes ... with at least a couple of decent features to boot.

The Sopranos may be a higher-quality TV show than those others. I would probably take that side in a debate. But I don't think the quality gap comes anywhere close to justifying such an outrageous price.

#3 of 37 CraigF

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Posted November 10 2003 - 09:18 AM

This is definitely on my "to buy" list, but I'm getting miffed by the pricing scheme. I always have a bit of a backup of stuff to watch, and I have been admittedly quite anxious to get this set, but I'm going to control my impulse this time. These are *very* expensive sets compared to most other TV series sets, almost twice as expensive (except compared to Six Feet Under). And they always seem to give you a price break if you wait, or buy 2 or more sets together. Since I already have seasons 1-3, I'm thinking of waiting for season 5 and saving $10 on each...sometimes Best Buy has an unadvertised (here) sale on them too.

For Herb: seasons 1 and 2 are great, and though you don't have to watch seasons in order, I do recommend it if possible.

#4 of 37 Ronald Epstein

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Posted November 10 2003 - 09:31 AM

I bought this set -- but let's face it -- The
Sopranos has been steadily going downhill.

I am an avid fan of the show, however Season 4
was the absolute worst the show has ever seen.
In fact, it got so bad, I just stopped watching
it shortly after
Ralphie is whacked
.

Ronald J Epstein
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#5 of 37 Adrian P

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Posted November 10 2003 - 10:04 AM

Quote:
Again, never having seen this on television, it’s tough to make any comparisons as to the DVD quality but I can only imagine the DVD is a superior presentation of the show itself.


Herb,

FYI, the show is broadcast in HD so actually all the episodes look much better than the DVD sets...

#6 of 37 Paul_Stachniak

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Posted November 10 2003 - 11:38 AM

Quote:
I am an avid fan of the show, however Season 4

I hear ya Ron. I was tempted to buy this set for continuity, but I ran through how pointless the season was in my headed, and ended up saving my money for something else. However, I'm still hopeful for Season 5.
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#7 of 37 Herb Kane

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Posted November 10 2003 - 11:45 AM

I've never actually sat and figured these sets out on a price per episode basis... although they do seem pricy. Even at some of the B&M's that sell used sets, they want $60-70.00 CAN. for them and they are typically $85.00 CAN. here at our local Costco.

Adrian... very true if your watching them on an HD broadcast > gear. However, good point and I'll reflect that.

Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#8 of 37 Seth--L

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Posted November 10 2003 - 04:27 PM

This is definitely on my "to buy" list, but I'm getting miffed by the pricing scheme.


I've never paid more than $65 (plus free shipping) for any of the seasons. I consider this to be quite reasonable considering how much HBO costs for three months and that I think it's one of the few TV shows where the episodes have tremendous replay value. I've probably watched my DVD copies of seasons 1-3 about three or four times since first buying them. You can really sit down and watch a whole season over the course of a weekend and get drawn into it like the first time you saw it.

FYI, the show is broadcast in HD so actually all the episodes look much better than the DVD sets...


I don't have an HD TV, so the DVDs are better, often revealing just how good a job they do photography the show.
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#9 of 37 Seth--L

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Posted November 10 2003 - 04:49 PM

I bought this set -- but let's face it -- The
Sopranos has been steadily going downhill.


I'm not so sure about this. For better or for worse, the series as become more episodic. Episodes work much better when viewed back-to-back instead of individually with a week long break in between.

My biggest problems with season 4 were:

The whole conflict over the money. In season 3 Tony was laundering hundreds of thousands of his own personal money. Suddenly it all dried up?

The finale was anti-climatic since obviously they are going to get back together -- there are still two more seasons. Her dumping him also didn't work for me because the show is so much more sympathetic to Tony. While he's a horrible husband, he's the better parent.

I didn't like how they introduced all new characters for the sake of setting up plots. Like we finally meet Bobby's wife only so that she can be killed off minutes later. And suddenly Bobby lives next door to Janice? Similarly, Ralph has a kid only so that he too can be killed.

The writers have clearly run out of things to do with A.J. They made him such a screw up they backed themselves into a corner with him and now are desperately trying to make him more normal.

Both Meadow and Jr. were under used in the season.

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#10 of 37 CraigF

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Posted November 10 2003 - 04:53 PM

Yeah, that's about the same effective price as they cost here, as Herb mentioned. Obviously it's not the price in itself that bugs me, since I've got the other seasons, but it's the price compared to other TV series, but I have to admit very few are as well presented. But then, a 2 disc set of a Canadian series can be even (much) more expensive on a per-episode basis, due to the much smaller market, and the presentation doesn't even compare to The Sopranos...I'm sure I'll get sucked in soon... And yes, The Sopranos are quite rewatchable IMO, especially the first two seasons.

#11 of 37 Paul_Stachniak

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Posted November 10 2003 - 06:04 PM

Quote:
My biggest problems with season 4 were:

I doubt they will get back together, at least they shouldn't to keep things fresh. My problem with the series is that still gonna go on for two more season. Chase is essentially falling into the same trap as Chris Carter did with the X-Files. Chase originally was supposed to have the show end at the end of season 4, but I guess money talks, and he thought he could squeeze more out of the show. To be honest, I've read that Tony was actually supposed to kill his mom at the end of season one with that pillow. Think of how much more interesting season two could have been, or not. Who knows.

Essentially what I'm getting at is that they don't know where they're going with the show anymore. And I have a bad feeling Tony will be abducted by Aliens at the end of the upcoming season, only to have his role filled by Robert Patrick until he is found.

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#12 of 37 David_Kosovec

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Posted November 11 2003 - 02:36 AM

Quote:
I bought this set -- but let's face it -- The
Sopranos has been steadily going downhill.

I am an avid fan of the show, however Season 4
was the absolute worst the show has ever seen.

BLASPHEMY!!

#13 of 37 Ronald Epstein

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Posted November 11 2003 - 02:58 AM

David,

Tough to hear, I know.

Understand, I am a BIG fan. Have watched every
episode on its original HBO airdate for years.

My problem is that since Season Three, the show
sets up all kinds of new characters, situations
and relationships and rarely resolves anything
from one episode to the other.

Stories begin, characters appear. By the following
week, you hear nothing more. There is little
continuity in this show that makes you feel that
these are the ongoing lives of a family.

Still, on the positive side, the show keeps people
coming back for more because of its characters.

Ronald J Epstein
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#14 of 37 Seth--L

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Posted November 11 2003 - 04:57 AM

My problem is that since Season Three, the show
sets up all kinds of new characters, situations
and relationships and rarely resolves anything
from one episode to the other.

Stories begin, characters appear. By the following
week, you hear nothing more. There is little
continuity in this show that makes you feel that
these are the ongoing lives of a family.


That's the point! The show is purposely breaking narrative conventions, and that's why it's so great. The makers aren't afraid to end an episode without neatly tieing everything up.
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#15 of 37 Blu

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Posted November 11 2003 - 05:08 AM

No buy here on my list unless it is in a bargain bin somewhere. S4 WAS the worst this show has been.

Ron is right on, there is little to no continuity left and they leave so many plot lines open that I think a lot of people are fed up with it.

I have high hopes for S5 but will be tempering my expectations and hold the show to a bar that is about as high as S4 in terms of storytelling and continuity.

Standalone episodes are fine for a series with 22 episodes but in a series with 13 episodes they have to move a story along and make it HAVE A POINT. S4 just kind of meandered along, content in its built in audience would watch and apparently happy with itself not to break any new ground.

#16 of 37 Ronald Epstein

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Posted November 11 2003 - 05:52 AM

Quote:
hat's the point! The show is purposely breaking narrative conventions, and that's why it's so great. The makers aren't afraid to end an episode without neatly tieing everything up.

But what's the point in that?

This is a story about a crime family. It's a
family, while horribly crooked, is one we care about.

I think most of us want to watch this family go
through various trials and tribulations. Continuity
and realism ceases when the writers bring up dilemnas
and characters that are forgotten the following week.

This has been the whole problem with THE SOPRANOS
as of late. It has become a sloppily-conceived
week-to-week show where there are no longer
foundation built relationships or storylines.
The show no longer represents the real continuing
lives of these individuals, but rather, confusing
fragmented stories that give them simply something
to do for for that day.

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#17 of 37 Blu

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Posted November 11 2003 - 07:00 AM

Exactly, you believe there might be a storyline that might go somewhere and then WHAM, it gets dropped and another storyline that goes nowhere begins!

Wash, rinse, repeat!

#18 of 37 EdwardKarlinski

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Posted November 11 2003 - 07:04 AM

Quote:
That's the point! The show is purposely breaking narrative conventions, and that's why it's so great. The makers aren't afraid to end an episode without neatly tieing everything up.


Narrative conventions exist for a reason. The fourth season was bad because it broke those conventions. Also, the first rule of exploitation is to deliver the goods. Ask Roger Corman about that. The fourth seaon kept promising and only delivered once. Further, things must be neatly tied up in a drama. I don't pay money to watch real life and be frustrated. Chase isn't clever with this, he is an idiot.

#19 of 37 Justin Bauer

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Posted November 11 2003 - 11:19 AM

Thanks for the review Herb.

Now, about the show.

When season 4 first aired, I was disappointed. Since then, I had not watched the Sopranos (to not get sick of it, because I have all the sets) until the season 4 DVDs came out. However, upon watching the season again, I absolutely LOVE it now. I do not know what it is, but I could not stop watching it and finished the set in a couple of days. I am having to restrain myself from watching it again because I want to rewatch all four seasons leading up to when season 5 airs in March.

I think alot of people were upset because the show focused alot more on the family problems and not mafia related stuff. I know that my roommate did not like the season because of 1) it is post 9/11 and he felt that the mood created on that day hurts the sopranos and 2) that everything is "going to shit" with the family and Tony's life. He just did not like the dark mood of the show that season 4 is littered with.

I am all amped up for season 5 and

I do not think that Carmela is going back with Tony at all. I think Season 4's finale was awesome and cannot wait to see what happens with Carmine and the New York Family since Johnny was upset with Tony for not going through on the hit.


My ONE gripe with the show after the first 4 seasons is:

The Russians. What the hell? The Pine Barrens episode was awesome, but the whole crap storm that would have been created in that episode just disappeared and never happened. I am upset that they would have an episode like that and not follow through on it.

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#20 of 37 Seth--L

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Posted November 11 2003 - 01:07 PM

Continuity
and realism ceases when the writers bring up dilemnas
and characters that are forgotten the following week.


Does life really neatly wrap itself up like the end of a TV show?

Further, things must be neatly tied up in a drama. I don't pay money to watch real life and be frustrated.


What's the point in watching a TV show or movie where all you care about is being able to know that your expectations will be fulfilled.

I guess no one likes Godard...

The way conventional narratives work is that the status- quo of daily life is interrupted in act I, in act II characters deal with this, and by the end of act III the status-quo is restored. The genius of "The Sopranos" is that they're not afraid to not restore the status-quo because that's how real life works. The show is not afraid to recognize how messy our real lives are. Similarly, "The Simpsons" too mocks this convention in the exadurated way in which everything goes back to normal in the last two minutes of an episode despite how wild the events of an episode are (one which comes to mind is when the real Skinner comes back to town, and in the end of the episode the Judge declares that no one will ever talk about the events of episode ever).
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