US Rating: Not Rated
Film Length: 1938 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0
The Show - out of
Great science fiction always has a premise that appeals to a sense of wonder and possibility or just boggles the mind; it has a root idea that in and of itself piques interest and raises eyebrows of curiosity, conjuring conversations of one sort or another. The perennial discussions of time-travel, artificial intelligence, beings from beyond the earth and more inwardly focused material all become supreme ingredients for the greatest sci-fi of the last 100 years. The greatest sci-fi is incredibly rare while good sci-fi, though more common, is rarely found on television. But quality sci-fi does come along, usually in bursts, and can whip up a fan base in no time. The best examples in the last 10 years being LOST and the outstanding Battlestar Galactica.
The 4400 stars with an appealing premise; a sci-fi mystery that arouses curiosity in the mind with the possibilities of the questions it poses. It begins as a comet, headed towards the earth, slows down; the nations of the world assault it with a bevy of missiles fearing a cataclysm, but to no effect. However, this is no comet and the world is quickly stunned when the comet appears as a ball of light hovering over Highland Beach, in the Cascade Range foothills near Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. As soon as it arrives, however, it disappears leaving behind 4400 strangers; people who have gone missing over the past 60 years, beginning in 1946. These returnees haven’t aged a day and for them no time has passed. They are quarantined, studied but eventually released after six weeks as there is no legal right to hold them, and they enter back into society. But the mystery has only just begun.
We follow the National Threat Assessment Command (NTAC), a regional Homeland Security unit charged with watching and investigating the returnees who have settled in the Washington area, over 1000 of them, an unusually high concentration. Lead investigators, the driven Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch), who’s son Kyle (Chad Faust) was found in a coma the night Tom’s nephew, one of the 4400, disappeared and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie), a skeptical, scientific minded agent begin to piece together the deep mystery of the 4400 when several of them begin to exhibit curious abilities. The show posits appealing notions but doesn’t make the mistake of confirming them too quickly. The idea of the future saving the past to save it all, the ripple effect of the 4400’s purpose for being taken and being brought back; the creation of factions, the lines being drawn and sides forming to inch up the pressure and the laying of a groundwork of twists and turns keep the us, the viewer on our toes. In the third and fourth season, the storytelling becomes bolder still, ostentatious ideas, nefarious government plots, large-scale implications and somewhat familiar ideas of opposing influences that the forces behind the 4400 present become central, but always with an air of ambiguity.
The 4400 expertly weaves together a broad and interesting cast with dramatic pursuits among storylines that unfold the deepening mystery, revealing enticing elements with expert pacing and holding back enough not to scare off audiences less open to more fantastical idea in storytelling. Shows that trickle out answers while hooking us with episodes that promise answers (but only give a piece toward an answer while posing even more questions) are typically the most interesting and certainly the most involving to follow. The X-Files survived a healthy seven years with that technique (and two more without), LOST is enjoying a wave of intense interest and popularity with that authoritative modus operandi and the 4400 set itself up to do just that with its clever first season. Surprising, though, is that this show manages to give the audience a major revelation at the end of the first season/mini-series and yet still is able to spin mysteries that tantalize through the rest of the series. In this regard, it takes a bolder step than the aforementioned series – a greater risk – but one that creatively paid off.
Created by Scott Peters and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine writer/producer René Echevarria, The 4400 develops into a clever web of sci-fi concepts and human drama. It leans on talents honed on Star Trek series, such as Ira Steven Behr behind the scenes and guest stars Robert Picardo, Jeffrey Combs and others onscreen. It premiered on the USA Network on July 11, 2004 and ran for four seasons before the writers strike and a dip in the ratings sealed its untimely fate in 2007.
4400 is in many ways a precursor to NBC’s Heroes, without the comic book appreciation and energy and that show’s cinematic budget. It prides itself on character stories brimming within the grander concepts at play and succeeds in sewing intriguing seeds and nurturing them slowly. But there are imperfections. The first season trips over itself a few times, clumsily introducing characters and setting scenes with disagreeable haste, eagerly rushing so that it can dive quickly into the plots that clearly excite the writers. Even some of the cast members are uneven at times and it isn’t until the second season that everyone truly settles in. But once they do, they quickly become a very good ensemble cast, working well together.
The characters are well defined and their stories good. The show focuses on key members of the 4400, who disappeared at different times in the last 60 years. Shawn (Patrick Flueger), agent Baldwin’s nephew can heal. His reentry yields a troubled high-school existence until he joins a commune of returnees under the suspicious philanthropic ownership of Jordan Collier (Bill Campbell), a multi-millionaire returnee with questionable aims that are exposed and evolve as the series progresses. Richard (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a pilot in the Korean War taken in 1951 and Lily Tyler (Laura Allen), granddaughter of his once love interest, discover they have a connection and through unexpected circumstances find themselves on the run with their baby, Isabel, somehow conceived when Lily was taken. And Maia (Conchita Campbell), the first taken of the 4400, has precognitive abilities and is adopted by agent Skouris.
4400 works because of its layers and by its dedication to holding its cards close to its chest and by taking time to tell relationship stories and building characters that matter and can exist in their own compelling plots that support the larger narrative. Constantly interesting, frequently absorbing and occasionally flawless, the show grows quickly and rarely looses its footing. Cut short unfairly after its fourth season in yet another reprehensible act by networks that fight hard to reel in audiences and then seem all too willing to casually cast them asunder if the ratings aren’t exactly where they want them.
2: The New and Improved Carl Morrissey
4: Trial By Fire
5: White Light
6: Wake-Up Call
7: Voices Carry
8: Weight of the World
9: Suffer the Children
10: As Fate Would Have It
11: Life Interrupted
16: The Fifth Page
17: Mommy’s Bosses
18: The New World
19: Being Tom Baldwin
20: Gone (Part 1)
21: Gone (Part 2)
22: Graduation Day
23: The Home Front
25: The Ballad of Kevin and Tess
26: The Starzl Mutation
27: The Gospel According to Collier
28: Terrible Swift Sword
30: The Wrath of Graham
31: Fear Itself
32: Audrey Parker’s Come and Gone
33: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth
34: Try the Pie
35: The Marked
36: Till We Have Built Jerusalem
37: No Exit
38: Daddy’s Little Girl
39: One of Us
40: Ghost in the Machine
41: Tiny Machines
42: The Great Leap Forward
Bonus disc with brand new special features.
The 4400 is framed at 1.78:1 and the quality is surprisingly consistent throughout the four seasons and its 42 episodes. Shot in HD, the show has an interesting visual style, employing the sci-fi favorite color palette of steely blues and rich blacks quite often. The flesh tones are natural throughout, lines are well defined and the image is sharp. Shot in Vancouver, as are many shows (X-Files, Millennium, Kyle XY, and Battlestar Galactica, included), it makes good use of the locations, using them to support the mood of the show. And it translates very well on this DVD set.
A good balance of colors, with light and dark contrasts presented well. Greens are often vibrant, blues quite rich and the gray, rainy environments strong. The complete series of The 4400 looks very good in this DVD presentation of a television show and one that remains of good quality through 15 discs.
The 4400 comes with two audio options, a Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 surround sound track. There are times when there is great energy in the audio, some life in the sub-woofer and even some pleasing surround sound, especially during the songs that help give the show an interesting and unusual vibe for a science fiction show. But it is merely a good and not great 5.1 surround track that misses opportunities to deliver a better ambience, a more involving aural experience. It is strong in the front channels and the center channel is clear and free of distortions or any problems at all, but it is found lacking in other areas.
George S. Clinton provides a first-rate score for the TV series, a delightfully mysterious central theme filled with curiosity and a generally high quality set of themes for the characters.
Overall, the audio could have been stronger and is about average even though it does manage to shine on occasion.
Creating the Ball of Light – (8:48) – Interesting special feature discussing the idea behind the show, shopping the idea around and developing it into the show that made it to air. Good interviews that reveal the process of getting the show going. Hearing how Ira Steven Behr got involved and thrown into the mix is quite funny and the angst over when to and how to reveal where the 4400 came from is enlightening.
Return of the 4400 – (11:26) – Conversations with series producers and writers on the challenges of moving from a mini-series to a series after having revealed a major element of what would ordinarily have been revealed toward the end of the series. Actors discuss their characters and their appreciation of the show.
A Stitch in Time – (9:40) – Time travel is discussed here by series creator and experts in the science of such possibilities (people you can see often on the History and Discover Channels). The science of it is fascinating, not just because it is so appealing a concept, but because it seems so theoretically possible (and already in practice, albeit fractionally). This kind of special feature is most welcome!
Audio Commentary – Audio commentaries available for the following episodes:
- ‘As Fate Would Have It’
- ‘The Fifth Page’
- ‘Mommy’s Bosses’
The Architecture of Series Storytelling – (21:06) – The process of crafting directions for the show, when and how to let the natural flow of the storytelling lead it but remain faithful to the characters and the overall aim of the show is discussed in interviews with writers and show producers.
POWERs GRID – (4:39) – A look at the powers exhibited and used for good and bad by the characters and how the show tried and moved away from the ‘power of the week’ storytelling. Who gets what power and how they choose to use them to best serve the story arcs and the show at large.
TVFX – (12:50) – A quick look at creating high quality visual effects for a television series and how shooting The 4400 on HD helped the FX team create more effective effects.
Character Tree – An interactive feature that lets you browse through the characters and access video pods with actors giving commentary on their characters and other interesting elements (such as the ripple effect).
The 4400 Gag Reel – (8:21) – A typical gag reel with actor cut ups and screw ups, longer than most.
Being Tom Baldwin – A DVD-ROM special feature for your PC to view the first draft of ‘Being Tom Baldwin’.
Audio Commentary – Audio commentaries available for the following episodes:
- ‘The New World’
- ‘Gone (Part 2)’
- ‘The Ballad of Kevin and Tess’
- ‘Terrible Swift Sword’
’The Great Leap Forward’ – Director’s Cut with optional audio commentary – An extended version of what became the final episode of the series.
Season IV: Factions at War – (27:04) – The series creators, writers and actors take stock of where the show is and what it has accomplished. They also look at what the plans for the fourth season and what the stakes are.
Jordan Collier: The Grey Man – (7:48) – A look at the critical figure of The 4400, Jordan Collier played by Billy Campbell. Characters whose motive’s are not always as obvious as they initially seem and who agitate between the side of good and bad, selflessness and selfishness, always add intelligent challenges to TV series and Campbell, often melodramatic, achieves that here.
Season IV: Blooper Reel – (3:31)
Audio Commentary – Audio commentaries available for the following episodes:
- ‘Til We Have Built Jerusalem’
Video Introduction by Series Creator Scott Peters – (1:16)
Pilot Episode – Audio Commentary by Scott Peters and Joel Gretsch – Not available on the first season DVD release – this commentary with series creator and actor Joel Gretsch who played Tom Baldwin, is reflective, appreciative and detailed at times. Scott especially shares good anecdotes from the production and shooting the extended pilot (which was initially supposed to be just an hour, but USA network requested a 2 hour pilot to kick off the mini-series). A nice bonus feature for this complete series set to have a commentary on the all important first splash for the series.
The 4400: The Ghost Season – (14:36) – Scott Peters reflects on the show, picking the critical number (4400) that became the shows title and influences on the shows premise and direction. Peters divulges a good many facts and is detailed about producing and writing the show and the arduous task of casting the ensemble set of characters. A good introspection on the series as a whole.
Promicin: The Moral Choice – Three segments on the opinions and effects of the prominent drug, Promicin, which dominates much of the shows storylines beyond season two.
- Viral/Grassroots – (9:04) – Faux news reports on the effects of Promicin as well as documentary style footage of arrests of those related to is production and spread and addicts.
- Political – (5:39) – A war for the human race – faux footage on the political and legal ripples of the spread of Promicin.
- Show Specific – (5:56) – YouTube like footage of Jordan Collier’s propaganda on Promicin and the threat of government interference.
Deleted Scenes – Seasons 1, 2 & 3 – (31:11) – Choose a season or all via the ‘play all’ feature to watch 38 deleted scenes from the first three seasons.
The 4400 was a great hybrid of science-fiction ideas and concepts with character and family drama, cut short from being able to go out on its own terms. Imperfect, but solid in ideas and effort, this show is quickly absorbing and easily addictive. The show may have been helped by following an abbreviated season model, similar to the British method, creating tightly focused and intense episodes that developed multiple hooks and ‘tree bending’ moments to keep audiences coming back. The 4400 presents a stimulating sci-fi concept, takes a bold risk in solving a key question early on but layers in plenty of twists and turns to keep the mysteries alive and never leaves the audience wanting for a mind-bender..
This complete series set comes with a number of bonus special features not available with the individual season sets and is a fine way to get to know the show if you thirst for decent science fiction or for those completists out there looking for a new The 4400 fix. An excellent show to discover or rediscover. Recommended.