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It’s here… It’s finally here; the epic fourth season of television's greatest action show lands on a superb seven disc DVD set at last. I am very excited by the arrival of this season, more so than with the previous sets. Season four is, in my humble opinion, the best the show has yet offered. It has more action, more style, more raunchy undertones and it just about improves upon everything that has made 24 one of the modern classics we know it as today.

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Series
For reasons that are pretty obvious, I cannot really make much comment on the story of this season, because even the slightest slip of the tongue (or in this case, keyboard) could reveal some pretty important stuff. The fact is, everything integral to the story in season four is highly sensitive to those who have yet to see it. But what I will say of the story is that it is the best yet, and has so much more to offer in the way of the concept that in part makes 24 so special. Once again, the plot naturally focuses on terrorism, which seems to have become the embodiment of the action and suspense, but here it is both the most over the top and the most focussed. This immoderate plotting in fact makes the show slightly more entertaining, and in turn seems to raise the thrill factor to all new heights.

The focus I spoke of is the consistency of the plot in question. Everything seems perfectly placed and timed, with not a misstep in sight. Sure, the terrorism we see during the story, and the devices that are used in its execution are wielded in such a way that has to make the show fun, but at the same time there is enough realism and enough brutality to ground it in reality. That reality might be illusive of a few things, but the show definitely has enough believability at its core to pass off as being realistic in nature.

24 Has always been about high octane thrills and suspense, while also adding the all important stylized action to the mix. It has also been about interpersonal drama too. Season four nails the drama even better than previously seen. This is drama with more weight and complexity that seasons one through three offered, putting Jack and his new romance with Audrey Raines right at the very centre of the emotional turmoil. Without saying too much, their dramatization is moulded with exceptional precision and meticulous passion that it is hard, if not nearly impossible to not care about them.

I think I speak for many when I say that we’ve all gotten used to the real-time element now. It’s nothing new anymore, and frankly we may even sort of take it for granted. We have also adapted to the overly cool split screen. While I am not about to tell you this fourth season refreshes the concept, I am about to tell you this is 24 at its most creative. It really toys with the concept in ways that the prior seasons never really did, and it would seem that three years of experience from the staff has made them slightly more adventurous.

You know, I scout around forums from time to time and read what others have to say about this and that. While the praise for this season seems to be as pronounced as mine, I cannot ignore what one or two say regarding the concept. Some seem to think the whole idea of time has been chucked out of the window in favour of more dramatic storytelling. Stop. Where are these people seeing this, exactly? I’ll admit that the characters do seem to arrive at their destinations a little too sharply from time to time – I am no resident of Los Angeles but surely there must be nightmarish gridlocks – but other than that the concept seems in tact. Perhaps, and as I said above, it is more the viewer who is adapting to the concept. But that is only my opinion. When you look at how talented these writers, producers and directors are, not to mention the whole production staff, I refuse to believe they would cast aside the real-time aspects so easily. Other than some rapid destination arrivals, I cannot see any support for this argument. But please feel free to use the comments box below this review if you feel I am mistaken. If you are someone who feels the real-time elements of 24 are ridiculous, then tell me why and, if possible, provide some examples.

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Writing about the story for a show like this is hard – trust me. I’d love to be able to say more where the story is concerned, but as a responsible critic I have to ensure I don’t spoil it for others. I could stick up spoiler notices everywhere, but I happen to think some people would want to read the review having not yet seen season four. I know I am supposed to rabbit on about this and that so as to entice those who have not seen it to want to watch it, or avoid it if it is bad. So I hope you will forgive me for being evasive of the finer points. There is a knavish way for me to get around this, and it is simply by saying that for those of you to yet experience 24, start all the way back at the beginning – the fantastic first season. While it is true you can watch this season without any foreknowledge, it would be so much more beneficial to start at the roots where it all began. For the price the 24 sets retail at, you can’t afford to miss out.

One thing that 24 does so well is the constant development of its characters. At the end of each season the surviving characters are completely different from how they were at the start. Season one ended in such a way that it would dramatically affect certain elements in the second season. Similarly, the second season ended on an even bigger note, which again ruffled the characters and their unique situations. The same happened a year later in the third, and it happened again here in the fourth. Each time this happens, it evolves the show and its nature into something wildly different and, in doing this, sets up near endless possibilities for more quality storytelling to come. How on earth the writers are going to worm their way out of the events of the fourth season are bewildering to me, but that’s part of the greatness of this show. Only those who have sat and experienced all four seasons know of what I speak. But I will say no more on this subject.

As of writing this review, I have just found out that this season of the show has been nominated for a record number of Emmys – for a 24 season at least. Great news indeed, and congratulations to all involved; you’ve certainly earned your accolades this year. I truly feel that this year was the crème de la crème and perhaps even quintessential 24 to date. And, in trying to choose my favourite season of 24, it’s basically a tossup between the second season and this recent fourth one. There are just so many aspects to both of these that made them special. Yes, the first season was perhaps most intimate and most refreshing, and the third was more compulsive with it changing direction like the wind, but the second and fourth are my cherry pickings. Ultimately though, I would have to say this season gets my vote – it’s that good. To end this section of the review, all I am going to say is this: go; watch this season, or all four of them if you are a 24 amateur, and I’ll hopefully see you again when season five comes out.

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Video
As usual, the 24 episodes are presented in television widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) and carry the usual gritty hallmarks seen in previous sets. Ask yourself this: would 24 really be the same without both the shaky, vomit inducing cam, and grain aplenty? I think not. Season four trumps up all the usual signs that this show is on the forefront of modern hi-tech viewing. All the trademarks are present, and 24 wouldn’t be the same without them.

Present is the intended grain that can be spotted in all seasons of the show, along with the slight re-colouring of outdoor locales. I would say the variation of scenery isn’t quite as wide as season three, but the images here do look exceptional. The overall quality of this image is also sharper and a good deal better looking that any of the pervious 24 sets.

Images are very highly detailed with close-ups of the characters looking better than ever. Every wrinkle on someone’s forehead and every bead of sweat can be made out perfectly. Black levels are also very strong, and the overall cinematic presentation of the image cannot be denied. Few shows on television look this good, and the DVD has preserved all of the greatness and then some.

Audio
Once again, Fox have provided a great Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is the bee’s knees. Bass is stronger than ever (probably because there is more of it), and I often found the overall subwoofer performance and quality was pretty much on par with some movie releases. Moreover, dialogue was a tad crisper and brighter than usual. Even the sometimes unused rear speakers were put to good use on the season four DVD. You can clearly hear bullets whip by, and the subtle cracking of fire when an explosion calms down. The best use of the surround channel is probably from CTU itself. Every once in a while the ringing of the phones can clearly be heard in the rear speakers. More than once I arched my head round to see if it was my phone or just the speaker emitting the noise.

As previously mentioned, season four is probably the most action packed of all four years of the show. When action scenes explode onto the screen, you actually feel very much a part of the chaos. Every single sound can be heard and all of them are deadly accurate. I found that this Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack works well at all times, both when it is quiet and when it is loud and explosive. I’d have to say this is hands down the best audio performance from any television show DVD I have ever reviewed. I hope to see this level of quality on all television show DVDs in the future.

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Extras
The main thing I noticed about the set, upon unravelling the cellophane, was that the box itself has changed to a different design. Before all the alarms go off on those who are obsessed about their collection looking mismatched, the dimensions of the box are more or less identical. The only thing that has changed is the way the discs are held, and the way you access the discs themselves. Instead of the annoying slip over design of the other sets – which sometimes results in the case slipping though your fingers – Fox have decided to go with a pull out design. It is basically a larger version of the traditional slipcase that often accompany 2-disc releases from Fox, only it has a lovely satin-smooth surface with the usual embossed 24 logo.

Most of the features are presented on the seventh disc this season, but there are two audio commentaries to select from on discs three and four. On disc three, the episode ‘4PM – 5PM’ has an audio commentary provided by Nestor Serrano and Stephen Kronish. And over on the fourth disc the episode ‘8PM – 9PM’ has its commentary provided by Tim Iacofano and Shohreh Aghdashloo. It is a little disappointing that there weren’t more commentaries available on this set, but the ones here do add some much needed analytical discussion on a myriad of topics.  

The menu on the seventh disc presents you with three menu headings: ‘Featurettes’, ‘The Longest Day: Music Video’ and ‘Deleted and Extended Scenes’. The music video is nothing special, but still pretty cool. It is a danced-up version of the 24 theme tune; good if you like that sort of music, but nothing that will leap out at you if you aren’t.

There are quite a lot of featurettes to explore upon entering the next menu, the first of which is titled ‘Breaking Ground: Building the New CTU’. As you might have guessed, it is a feature regarding the building process of the CTU headquarters. It runs for around eighteen minutes and has interview segments with the people in charge of building this important set. It shows how they also implemented such inventive methods of construction so as to allow for huge camera swivels and pans. I’d never actually put much thought into the complexity of this set, but I was surprised by just how much time and effort it took to design and create. I shouldn’t have been surprised really, this is a beautifully created piece of work and as you know, looks brilliant onscreen when lit properly.

‘Blood on the Tracks’ is a lengthy feature on the opening scene of the fourth season – the train crash scene. We spend a lot of time with the director of this episode, Jon Cassar who walks us though many of the technicalities involved with filming such a daunting scene for television. Special visual effects, makeup effects, camera tricks, skilful cinematography and so much more were used in the making of this one short scene. I love features like this, ones that are really able to capture your attention and make you realise and appreciate just how much elbow grease can go into just one scene such as this.

Next up we have a feature called ‘Lock and Load’ which is another lengthy exploit of one scene that was filmed at some point this season. This particular scene was clearly a huge and very complex one to shoot, having choppers, marines, guns, explosions and just about every other destructive element you can think of. The feature shows how the filmmakers bring in true-to-life marines for certain shots and actions, and how they have to cast the fictional ones too. At twenty minutes long, this is a really great and informative feature on the making of one of 24’s best action scenes.

‘Nisan Shift: Original Drama’ is the short film entitled Exit directed by Patrick Bergh, and a film that can’t go five shots without having a Nissan car in full view. It’s quite amusing actually (even though it isn’t meant to be) because everyone in this film drives a Nissan vehicle of some sort. I am sure they are popular cars to own, but come on! It often reminded me of one of those spoofs that portray everyone driving the exact same car. Yes, this film is that bad. The film is actually about a depressed guy going from place to place and meeting some strange people along the way. He eventually finds the place to scatter the ashes of someone he has recently lost. The acting is okay for the most part, and the writing is quite good, if a little low-key. This short would actually have been a lot better if the blatant Nissan promotions had been kept a little more discrete and not so obvious. I know the whole point to this short was to combine filmmaking with promotion of product, but it was a little too over the top for my liking. Still, it makes for a noteworthy feature on the season four set.

The ’24: The Game – Behind the Scenes’ feature is a short but sweet look at the forthcoming PlayStation 2 videogame based on the television show. What separates this videogame sneak peak from others like it is the presentation. Here, Kiefer Sutherland himself talks us though some of the game’s features and some of the cool background information on its making. I am quite looking forward to this game actually, I just hope the guys at Sony and Fox get it right or they’ll be hell to pay!

Lastly, we have all the many, many deleted and extended scenes section to round out the thoroughly enjoyable forth season of special features. The deleted scenes have always proven to be a popular feature on these sets, and the forty on offer here will not disappoint. Once again, optional audio commentary has been provided, along with a useful ‘play all’ function. Jon Cassar heads up the commentary on these deleted scenes and most of them are actually quite good, some are excellent. Again, I don’t really want to talk too much about specifics, but these deleted scenes are very good to watch – just so long as the show is fresh in your head of course.

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Overall
For better or worse, 24 still reigns over practically every other television show out there and somehow it makes its job look easy. This is great entertainment, glued together with real characters, over the top terrorist plots, human drama, cool action sequences and some hardcore militaristic techno-babble. Don’t get me wrong, and like anything – especially something as dense and complex as this – not everything is perfect here, but in all honesty I cannot think of any outward complaint to be made.

Though perhaps the most jam-packed of all four outings, with its near endless plot arcs and diversions, I found the fourth to be as gripping, energetic and just downright entertaining as the prior seasons. Word has it a fifth season is in the works, and the last images that flicker before your eyes in this season will no doubt inspire wonder and awe as to what lies in store for us. Indeed, for the life of me I cannot even begin to think what these multi-talented storytellers have in store for us – something just as good I hope! For now though, enjoy this marvellous season of 24, it is everything you could possibly have hoped for, maybe more.


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