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HTF DVD Review: NCIS - The Fourth Season

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#1 of 4 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted October 15 2007 - 09:22 AM

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NCIS - The Fourth Season
Directed by James Whitmore, Jr. et al

Studio: Paramount
Year: 2006-2007
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 1054 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0 English
Subtitles: CC
MSRP: $64.99

Release Date: October 23, 2007
Review Date: October 15, 2007


The Series

3/5

CBS’ NCIS is one of the most puzzling successes on television. Not brilliantly written, acted, or produced, it nevertheless decimates its competition season after season and has such a strong fan base that it’s the only series on broadcast television that can face up to the mighty behemoth American Idol every season and not cave in.

The Naval Criminal Investigation Service is a branch of the military investigating crimes committed against military personnel. Though most of the crimes involve murder, there are occasionally kidnappings to solve and missing persons to find. The series doesn’t rely heavily on forensics like the CSI shows do (though forensics naturally do play a role in the solutions of the crimes), but there is less police investigative work done than in CBS’ other procedural successes like Without a Trace or Cold Case. The one thing that NCIS has going for it that all of those other shows lack is the playful and loving camaraderie among the members of this unit. True, Mark Harmon’s Jethro Gibbs is mostly taciturn, a man of few words, and NCIS director Jennifer Shepard (Lauren Holly) is also stolid and lacking a sense of fun. But all of the other members of the team are playful with each other and bond in a way than none of the other procedural teams on television quite do. We have office lothario Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), his usual teammate and verbal sparring partner Ziva David (Cote de Pablo), computer whiz (and secret best selling author) Timothy McGee (Sean Murray), forensics specialist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette), and medical examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky
The scripts aren’t great. The guilty parties in the various crimes are usually rather obvious (and a lack of genuine red herrings is one of weaknesses of the writing staff), and the show’s reliance on gimmicky last minute chases and captures becomes clichéd after a few episodes. Furthermore, during the season, the usually horn dog DiNozzo was given a serious romantic interest (Scottie Thompson) which necessitated his taking extended leaves from the office during work hours which in reality would have garnered him an instant dismissal. And Abby’s Goth look and attire is certainly eccentric and fun, but would a military operation really allow someone to dress this way at work no matter how superb she was at her job? It stretches credibility. In the acting arena, I don’t find any of the women particularly adept (Lauren Holly particularly lacks distinction as a commander), but the men do better jobs of establishing personalities that are playful yet professionally believable.

A few episodes did stand out during the season. McGee’s sister gets herself drugged and possibly date raped yet becomes the primary suspect in a murder of the sailor in question. A several episode story arc involving a terrorist named Sharif held some tension, and director Shepherd chases a French terrorist code-named “The Frog” through the season to a startling revelation. Ziva falls for a man poisoned by radiation in a moving story that was my favorite of the season.

Here’s the roster of the season’s twenty-four episodes. An asterisk (*) indicates an accompanying commentary with the participants in parentheses.

1 - Shalom
2 - Escaped
3 - Singled Out
4 - Faking It
5 - Dead and Unburied
6 - Witch Hunt
7 - Sandblast
8 - Once a Hero
*9 - Twisted Sister (Sean Murray, Terrence O’Hara)
10 - Smoked
11 - Driven
12 - Suspicion
13 - Sharif Returns
14 - Blowback
15 - Friends & Lovers
*16 - Dead Man Walking (Sean Murray, Cote de Pablo)
*17 - Skeletons (Brian Dietzen and David McCallum)
18 - Iceman
*19 - Grace Period (Michael Weatherly)
*20 - Cover Story (Michael Weatherly and Pauley Perrette)
21 - Brothers in Arms
22 - In the Dark
23 - Trojan Horse
*24 - Angel of Death (Donald Bellisario)

Video Quality

2.5/5

The program is presented on CBS in 1080i, and the 480p down conversion transfers of those episodes make up this set. Of all of the Paramount programs I’ve reviewed in the past month (Criminal Minds, CSI: NY, Medium), this is by far the worst looking and most frustrating to watch. The image is alternately soft or nondescript with sharpness never better than slightly above average. Grain is a huge problem with only a few episodes (“Witch Hunt” comes to mind) which aren’t grainy messes. Color is thoroughly saturated but with the grain and sharpness issues, it looks plugged up with frequent unnatural skin tones. There is a haze that seems to settle over many scenes, enough that I began to suspect my equipment was malfunctioning. It wasn’t. Each episode has been divided into 6 chapters.

Audio Quality

4.5/5

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very strong with superb use of the surrounds for music and ambient sounds. Sometimes panning possibilities from side to side or front to back are missed, but overall, the audio side of these transfers measures up beautifully.

Special Features

4.5/5

There are six audio commentaries offered with this set (see above episode listing for details). The two with Sean Murray and the season finale with series creator/producer Donald Bellisario are the least interesting with large gaps between comments. The David McCallum/Brian Dietzen commentary is the best with constant amiable chatter and some good information offered. Michael Weatherly’s two gag filled, rambling commentaries are silly fun but don’t offer much insight into the making of the show.

All of the featurettes are presented in nonanamorphic letterbox with clips from the show sometimes in 4:3 and sometimes in nonanamorphic letterbox. With the series itself being presented in anamorphic transfers, there doesn’t seem to be a good reason why the featurettes aren’t also.

There are two cast roundtable discussions where the cast eats dinner together and answers questions sent in by fans. Lasting a total of 35 minutes and presented in nonanamorphic letterbox, it shows the stars of the show outside of their characters and is interesting for that if not the nondescript answers they give to most of the questions.

“Ducky’s World" presents star David McCallum giving a 5-minute guided tour of his autopsy room on the set.

“Behind the Set: The Production Design of NCIS” focuses on the artistic personnel who give the series its look and feel, including interviews with the production designer, the art director, the set decorator, the costume designer, and the head of props. This featurette runs 9½ minutes.

“Dressed to Kill” repeats much of the information from the previous feature as the show’s set decorator discusses her work in dressing the sets. She also takes the viewer on a 6-minute tour of the warehouse where all the furnishings are stored.

“Prop Master” also takes the viewer on a 7-minute tour of his prop shop in a rambling, scarcely illuminating feature.

“Picture Perfect: The Looks of NCIS” is the best of the featurettes as the show’s director of photography shows his seven man team in action using traditional photography and the Steadicam to give the series its very unique look. This documentary lasts 9½ minutes.

“Season of Secrets” is a throwaway 2½ minute summary by producer Donald Bellisario on how successful he thought the season turned out.

The disc also features the usual previews of other Paramount series including Mission Impossible, Criminal Minds, Ghost Whisperer, and Dexter.


In Conclusion

3/5 (not an average)

Fans of the show, of course, will want this box set to go with the previous three, but the video quality this time out is really atrocious, and even though the series can be an innocuous, light action series, its DVD presentation doesn’t do it justice.


Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

#2 of 4 OFFLINE   Pete Battista

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Posted October 15 2007 - 09:27 PM

Is one of my favorites... will have to pick it up despite the video quality problems.

#3 of 4 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted October 16 2007 - 03:30 PM

I had never watched the show in high definition until tonight. I was curious as to why these DVDs looked so poor. I got my answers. The show is filmed with diffusion filters which soften even a high def picture. Down convert that soft image, and you're going to get a soft, grainy, hazy-looking picture with color that's too intense for such a mediocre image.

#4 of 4 OFFLINE   Katherine_K

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Posted October 16 2007 - 10:00 PM

That's been a problem with that show from day one. Whoever the DP is ... I'd never hire him to film a six year olds birthday party.