24: Season 4 Review
Please Note: I have attempted to avoid major spoilers during this review - hence the decision not to include an episode guide. There may be some minor spoilers in the main text, but rest-assured these are not key to the plot.
24 returns for another season of anti-terrorist shenanigans and the fourth awful day in Jack Bauer's (Kiefer Sutherland) life has a lot to live up to if it's going to keep us as entertained as the previous three. As a brief recap, Bauer has so far saved the world from terrorists who first wanted to kill Senator David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) - the first black man destined for the White House, then wanted to launch a nuclear strike on the US and finally attempted a biological attack in LA; he's lost his wife at the hands of an evil ex-colleague; been forced to hack off his daughter's boyfriend's hand and seen his friends and workmates killed by the dozen. The season opens with Bauer no longer working for CTU - instead he's taken up a role with Secretary of Defense, James Heller (William Devane). He's also secretly shacked up with Heller's daughter Audrey Raines (Kim Raver) who just so happens to be slightly married. Bauer's life is not an uncomplicated one.
When Heller and Raines are captured by terrorists, Bauer is temporarily reassigned to CTU to help track down their captors before they execute his boss and his lover live on the internet. Of course it's not as simple as that and with the help of his old employers Bauer quickly uncovers a bigger plot to cause widespread death and destruction in the US. Over the course of the day, Bauer is reinstated to CTU, turns vigilante and holds up a petrol station and ends up pissing off the Chinese. He also ends up causing the death of multiple innocents, but can he still manage to save the day?
24's principle cast continues to form a strong ensemble. Despite a number of new faces, the characters gel in a way rarely seen and all are perfectly chosen for their parts. At first, characters such as Edgar and Erin may not appear to fit the usual CTU mould, but once you get to know them it's hard to imagine anyone else in the part.
Unfortunately one weakness is the casting of some of the terrorists - for example Arnold Vosloo, whilst being a reasonable presence and seemingly right for the role, is so synonymous with being a villain it becomes a cliché. That said, the usual twists and turns are all in place and there are plenty of character moments that are obviously there to please the fans; a highlight being Chloe's session with a machine gun - one of those cheer out loud moments that make the show so good. Chloe, who manages to pull all sorts of faces from the sulky teenager, through the bulldog chewing on a wasp and on to full on Antichrist (and sometimes all three), surprises us all in this one scene and her constant bickering with the other CTU staffers, in particular Edgar, is surprisingly entertaining.
Of course it's Sutherland that keeps the whole lot together - without his strong central performance, the others may prove too fracturing to keep 24 as cohesive as it is. Bauer is a powerful character, and Sutherland is perfectly cast.
One thing that did stand out on second viewing is the sometimes supremely irritating camera work - whilst hiding the camera behind the set and wobbling it about a bit may give the impression that you're seeing something you shouldn't be, it also distracts and I found myself sometimes concentrating on this more than what was going on in the scene. It's not always a problem, but if we're going to have Bauer verbally rip into a colleague it'd be far more effective if that colleague was half blocked out by a desk. Not a particular show-stopper, and the first time I watched the series I didn't really notice it, but distracting all-the-same.
24: Season 4 consists of 7 discs in the usual digipack/slipcase packaging. The first six discs contain the 24 episodes of the season while the seventh contains a selection of extra features.
It should be noted that Fox continue to plaster the 'Piracy is Theft' advert at the start of every single disc in the set. This is becoming a real pain in the arse - the only people who are going to be seeing this are those that actually spent the money and bought the set rather than those who have bought or downloaded a dodgy copy. It’s unskippable on standard players and is really quite irritating.
24 is made for HDTV broadcast in the US so benefits from a high-resolution master with great detail and no discernable damage. The DVD transfer is as expected anamorphic at the usual made-for-TV 1.77:1 aspect ratio.
The picture has undergone various manipulations from camera-to-screen - some scenes are grainy, others sharp, some dark and some brighter than would be expected. All of these things could present a challenge for MPEG2 compression, but I couldn't notice any issues on my equipment. I did notice when readying some screen grabs for this review that there was quite significant blocking on areas of dark colour, but under normal viewing conditions this isn't noticeable. It's not a perfect transfer but to the naked eye on both a 32" LCD TV and 7 foot projection there wasn't anything distracting.
As with previous seasons, the DVD has been treated to a 5.1 soundtrack. This is a step up from the UK broadcast and is once again pretty good for a TV show with nice surround action and a reasonably wide sound stage. The TV origins do mean that the sound isn't quite as impressive as you'd get on a release of a blockbuster film, but it's certainly a noticeable improvement over the pro-logic surround provided by Sky.
Only two commentary tracks appear this season - this is quite a step down from previous sets, but I'm of the view that their omission isn't a great loss. There is only so much that can be said about a TV show and by providing half a dozen commentaries you run a real risk of going a bit over the top. It's better to have two good commentaries rather than six disappointing ones. However, the fact that none of the major cast members provided their voices to a commentary does not bode well and instead Fox rely on secondary characters and crew to give us the run down.
4pm-5pm: actor Nestor Serrano (Navi Araz) and writer Stephen Kronish
Bad dad, Nestor Serrano, seems to be the more comfortable of the two contributors talking about 24 and this episode specifically. It's definitely more of a plot discussion rather than anything technical - worth a listen but not an outstanding track
8pm-9pm: director Tim Iacofano & actress Shohreh Aghdashloo (Dina Araz)
This time it's Evil Mom's (Shohreh Aghdashloo) turn to provide the plot talk while Tim Iacofano gives this commentary a little bit more of a behind-the-scenes edge than the previous one. Aghdashloo gives us some good insights in to Dina Araz's motivations and particularly her loyalty to her son.
Breaking Ground - Building the New CTU
This is a 17-minute featurette describing the design and construction of the new CTU offices - a huge set that has been constructed from scratch for the fourth season. The featurette is reasonably detailed with some nice snippets on how the set was designed to aid filming as well as to provide a believable working environment.
Blood on the Tracks
The train crash that opens the action on the fourth season was a technical challenge and this 15-minute featurette covers the filming of that scene -which involves using an actual train rather than resorting to the cheapy CGI/model option. At the very least, the feature demonstrates the high production values in place for 24.
Lock and Load
Lock and Load is 20 minutes focusing on the hostage rescue scene. Featuring real Marines, this scene is logistically very challenging - yet the end result is well worth it. Yet again we get to see the use of real military aircraft rather than the CGI equivalents that are beginning to appear in shows such as Alias.
Nissan Shift Original Drama
A 20-minute drama, directed by Patrik Bergh, that is more an extended advert for the Nissan 350Z than anything else. It features a Jack Bauer look-alike (the "weepy" Bauer from the end of season 3 rather than the "hard bastard" Bauer that everyone actually tunes in to watch) driving across the US (obviously one in a parallel universe where only Nissan cars exist) with a mystery bag. It's stylish enough, but is really a bit of a snooze-fest.
24: The Game - Behind the Scenes
Kiefer Sutherland has been roped in to provide this extended ad for the Playstation 2 game based on the show. It's a bit of fluff featuring various sequence of in-game footage and a few tiny snippets of voice recording to justify the 'behind-the-scenes' tag.
'The Longest Day' music video
Dance music fans may enjoy the music video for 'The Longest Day' - lots of clips from the show with a thumping dance track might be someone’s cup of tea, but sadly it's not mine.
Extended and Deleted Scenes
The highlight is the director's cut of the Season Four prequel - this was originally included on the Region 1 Season 3 set, but now we can see it in the UK in its full uncut glory. The highlight is Bauer finally breaking and swearing at his new boss as she gives him his marching orders from CTU. It's an interesting snippet of what's to come over the course of the season and is a nice scene setter.
There are an addition 38 deleted and extended scenes included but I'll spare you the boredom of running through each and every one. Suffice to say they're everything any self-respecting 24 completist could want! You can even watch them all a second time with a commentary provided by Jon Cassar.
24: Season 4 is a bit of a mixed bag. The producers have abandoned the real-time approach in all but name - in Season 4 is possible to take a helicopter flight and still be overtaken by people in a car who have no idea where you're going. That said, for a show of 24's nature you have to suspend disbelief and if real-time gets in the way of a good story then it's time to make a compromise. The plot also flits about quite a lot - in some ways 24 is a series of smaller stories that all tie together; this again isn't really a problem and avoids the unnecessary filler that we had in the 'Kim' years. Other than that, this is 24 as you'd expect and provides all the thrills and excitement that it should - you won't be disappointed.
The DVD release is again good, not outstanding, but very solid with a nice transfer and a reasonable selection of extras.