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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Unit: Season 4 - The Final Season

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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted October 01 2009 - 02:16 PM

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The Unit: Season 4 - The Final Season (Blu-ray)

Directed by David Mamet et al

Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Year: 2008-2009
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1   1080p   AVC codec
Running Time: 968 minutes
Rating: TV-13
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
Region: A
MSRP: $ 69.99

Release Date: September 29, 2009
Review Date: October 1, 2009
 
 
The Series
3/5
 
Based on the novel Inside Delta Force, The Unit was adapted for television by masterful playwright David Mamet who during the show’s four seasons on the air contributed an occasional script and directed an occasional episode. As something of a hybrid mixture of a modern military Mission: Impossible crossed with a daytime soap, The Unit has elements that can cross gender lines and appeal to all. Sadly, the action sequences far overshadow the domestic ones with those latter sequences often interrupting tense combat situations to continue soapy, sometimes syrupy storylines of melodramatic simplicity.
 
The combat unit is made up of four ace soldiers: the field leader Sergeant Major Jonas Blane (Dennis Haysbert), the experienced, no-nonsense Master Sergeant Mack Gerhardt (Max Martini), demolitions expert Staff Sergeant Charles Gray (Michael Irby), and sharpshooter Staff Sergeant Bob Brown (Scott Foley). Their commander running the ops back home is Colonel Tom Ryan (Robert Patrick). Also back home are the wives of three of the men: Molly Blane (Regina Taylor) who takes a den mother-type interest in the wives, cheating spouse Tiffy Gerhardt (Abby Brammell), and young mother of three Kim Brown (Audrey Marie Anderson).
 
The missions the men embark on take them all around the country and the world, from Colombia and Mexico to Las Vegas and Boston. Missions sometimes involve terrorism (the Vice President and the Vice President-elect are assassinated in the season premiere which necessitates the unit members’ wives and children to be herded off under witness protection to a faraway place; this story arc continues on and off through the season finale), drug smuggling, hijackers, kidnappers, and bio-warfare. Meanwhile, under the guise of their witness protection covers, Tiffy becomes a high school history teacher, Kim begins working as a nanny, while Molly mans the fictional custom aerodynamics corporation as a figurehead. All of these jobs lead to domestic adventures for the various ladies, sometimes with direct or indirect participation of one of more of the unit’s members but always in counterpoint to one or more field missions being carried on by the unit itself.
 
With the constant back-and-forth between domestic and combat scenarios, tension is often sacrificed in one arena to the detriment of the show. Occasionally, the domestic scenes can have exciting payoffs (Kim’s nanny job begins a story arc which culminates to her life being on the line), but those sequences are almost never as riveting or as compactly written and paced as the team’s weekly mission, and there are times when the missions could use the extra time for development. Without it, they sometimes seem dramatically underdeveloped and intermittently wrapped up too quickly and neatly due to time constraints.
 
All of the men in the cast register strongly being offered many macho moments (of course) in addition to an infrequent moment for sentiment and reflection. Their acting to a person is the glue that holds the show together (though Michael Irby is given fewer chances to shine than the other men on the team. An intermittent story arc introducing him to a Southern mystery woman and having him fall long and hard for her is very unsatisfying). In comparison, the program’s actresses are less interesting and, apart from Regina King on occasion, much less talented than their male counterparts. One new addition this season to the ranks of the female cast, Nicole Steinwedell playing Bridget Sullivan, the lone female member of the unit, is heads and shoulders above the other distaff members of the cast. Late in the season, Wes Chatham joins the unit as Sam McBride who goes rogue and becomes another focus for the team amid other more pressing concerns.
 
Here is the list of the twenty-two episodes which constitute the fourth (and final) season of the show.
 
1 – Sacrifice
2 – Sudden Flight
3 – Sex Trade
4 – The Conduit
5 – Dancing Lessons
6 – Inquisition
7 – Into Hell: Part One
8 – Into Hell: Part Two
9 – Shadow Riders
10 – Misled, Misguided
11 – Switchblade
12 – Bad Beat
13 – The Spear of Destiny
14 – The Last Nazi
15 – Hero
16 – Hill 60
17 – Flesh and Blood
18 – Best Laid Plans
19 – Whiplash
20 – Chaos Theory
21 – Endgame
22 – Unknown Soldier
 
 
Video Quality
4/5
 
The program is framed at 1.78:1 and is presented here in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness and color delineation are usually quite outstanding with a wonderful sense of dimensionality added to most of the filmed scenes. Flesh tones are exquisite and very lifelike. However, there are soft shots on occasion, and in lower light, grain levels become increased and picture quality reduced. Blacks can be very deep but are sometimes undefined. Each episode has been divided into 12 chapters. [A note on quality control: discs two and three in my review set had technical glitches which caused image freezing and pixel breakup into blocks with several of the episodes. This was not machine specific as I tried the discs on both a Panasonic 80 and a PS3 and both machines sputtered in the same places.]
 
 
Audio Quality
4.5/5
 
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard for a television series. The heavy artillery requirements for the series give the sound mixers superb opportunities for all manner of fired bullets and exploding grenades to be placed all around the soundstage in wonderfully alive, graphic uses of each of the available channels. The LFE channel is also well utilized. Only an occasionally infrequent action scene that doesn’t exploit the entire range of speakers prevents this from earning a perfect audio score.
 
 
Special Features
3/5
 
There are six deleted scenes, all for the episode “Shadow Riders.” They are not available in a separate list but rather as a single 5-minute sequence. They are chaptered, however, so the user can chapter skip through them to get to the next if he so desires. It is presented in 480i.
 
Three behind-the-scenes featurettes on individual episodes are available for selection. All are presented in 1080i:
 
“‘Into Hell’: A Brotherhood Divided” finds the episode’s director, executive producers, make-up artist, and selected actors discussing the making of this two-part episode. We’re taken to two different locations in California simulating Syria for the filming of the program. It runs for 11 ¼ minutes.
 
“‘Shadow Riders’: A Western Come Undone” is an 8-minute featurette on the western-themed episode of the season featuring comments from the director, the assistant director, the stunt coordinator, and the special effects coordinator discussing the difficulties of shooting episodes involving horses.
 
“Snake Doctor: A Leader Among Us” has star Dennis Haysbert narrating this 4 ¾-minute featurette about the episode “Flesh and Blood” which was his first time as a director and recognizing his director of photography as his most trusted compatriot in the production of this episode.

There are 1080p trailers for Sons of Anarchy and Lie to Me.
 
 
In Conclusion
3/5 (not an average)
 
It’s clear that neither the actors nor the producers knew at the time of filming that their series was going to be canceled (it was one of the shows on the infamous “bubble” at the end of its fourth season). There is nothing in any of the bonus material nor in the last episode about bringing the show to a logical, satisfying end. Thus, fans, while likely to be very pleased with the video and audio quality of the programs in this set, are going to be very disappointed about the lack of any sense of closure for the series offered in this box.
 
 
Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

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#2 of 3 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted October 02 2009 - 07:30 AM

Thanks for the great review.  I have the first three seasons on DVD and am glad they are releasing season 4 on Blu-ray.  Hopefully Fox will eventually go back and release the previous three seasons on this and My Name is Earl on BD too, like Disney did with Lost.  While I enjoyed Season 4, I thought it was one of the weaker seasons and agree with your plot assessments.  Overall it was a good show and for anyone who hasn't seen the show I would recommend that they start with season one.

#3 of 3 OFFLINE   Vegas 1

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Posted October 03 2009 - 03:20 PM

Nice review Matt, I agree about the way they ended this series, just not satisfying at all.