One of the perks of getting a full series all in one package is the added bonus features -- usually added in the form of an extra disc (or even multiple discs). The other major perk is the fancier, and usually space-saving, packaging. The 4400: The Complete Series definitely benefits from the added bonus features, though the packaging is pretty standard material. The packaging is slick enough to make four seasons take up a lot less space in your DVD collection, but the liner notes leave something to be desired. They're a one-fold design, and the only information about the set is on the inside (the front and back cover are both decorative). So the writing is tiny, and all it tells us is the names of the episodes, a short description of each (including "With commentary" for those that have commentary), and then "Special Features," with no description of what special features are included on each disc until the final bonus disc. Well, guess we'll have to go digging...
Season 1: Absolutely no special features on this two-disc, six-episode set. Major disappointment.
Season 2: The three audio commentaries (with actors Jacqueline McKenzie and Joel Gretsch, producer/writer Craig Sweeny and executive producer/writer Ira Steven Behr) on episodes "As Fate Would Have It," "The Fifth Page" and "Mommy's Bosses" are not particularly enlightening, but it's fun to listen to cast and crew talk about the finished product -- especially when it leads to spontaneous thoughts and discussions about the series. This really works here, so much better than if they'd come at it from the position of trying to explain things to the viewers. It's so much fun to listen to them sit around and talk like friends. And they really do sound like friends. It's very jovial and fun to listen to. You'll find yourself wishing you'd been there with them -- although with four people talking over each other, it sometimes makes you feel like you're happy not to be there. The best part about having the actors participate is that they ask the writers very good questions about why they wrote what they did when they did, etc. -- the type of questions you might have wondered as a viewer of this series. (And, come on, if you watched this series, you likely had plenty of questions.)
The second season also included three short featurettes (around ten minutes each). "Creating the Ball of Light" is a short documentary featuring interviews from a handful of crew members about how the series started. Because it's about the series' beginning, it feels out of place on the second-season disc, and rightfully belongs on Season One. It's always interesting to get the backstory on a series you love, so if you love the show, you'll enjoy this one. It covers how the show came to be, from concept to getting it on the air. (Several networks were in talks to take on the show, but either wouldn't commit or wanted bigger changes than the producers were willing to make, before the producers found USA.) "A Stitch in Time" features spacey mysterious music as a background to interviews with series executives and scientists from various universities or other institutions discussing time travel and other far-fetched science concepts the show uses. It's interesting, but the ultimate result -- much like a similar feature on the Journey to the Center of the Earth DVD -- is to tell us that this show is not totally based on science, and is mostly just for fun. But they clearly did pay attention to the science enough to care that it can (sort of) be explained. The third featurette, "Return of the 4400," was about the show's return for a second season. This one is interesting because they talk about how to keep the show going after solving the mystery at the end of Season One. But then they keep going and talk all about Season Two. It's literally filled with spoilers for someone who hasn't watched all of Season Two, so don't watch it until you've completed the season. It also features a lot more interviews than the other featurettes, with most of the major actors in addition to the producers of the series.
Season 3: The special features for The 4400 seasons peaked with the third season, which included five audio commentaries with various cast and crew. And these commentaries even allow you to turn on subtitles of the actual commentary (usually you can turn on episode subtitles while the commentary runs), a real boon for subtitle addicts or anyone who has a difficult time following the conversation of a chatty commentary team. Executive producer Behr provides the commentary track for the season premiere, "The New World." Behr is pretty funny, even on his own (he even makes a joke about being alone "in the hot tub" this time). He makes a conscious effort to be less complimentary of the series than the three Season Two commentaries were, but this is his baby, so he's not exactly a harsh critic (even though by this point, the show kind of needed one). The commentary on "Gone (Part 2)" is with co-creator/executive producer Scott Peters along with actors Gretsch and McKenzie again. This one goes back to the Season Two standard of being overly complimentary. These three literally compliment everyone who ever worked on this episode ever. They're all "We love her," and "He's so great," and "You guys have great chemistry," and "They do an amazing job with little time and money." They do give us a few tidbits about stuff that takes place behind the scenes (a painting in one scene was stolen from the set later), but it's mostly everyone in love with each other, which gets a little tiring. Peters, Gretsch and McKenzie return to provide commentary on "The Ballad of Kevin and Tess," and it's pretty much more of the same: compliments and smiles, with a few fun tidbits sprinkled in here and there. The last two episodes of the season, "Terrible Swift Sword" and "Fifty-Fifty," also have commentary tracks with Behr. Because he tries to provide us with something other than compliments and because he knows the show so very well, his tracks tend to be more insightful than the others'.
Coupled with those last two commentaries, the fourth disc of this season is loaded with special features, since all of the extras (except the commentaries) are included there. There are a few more featurettes this season, in addition to an interactive "Character Tree" that lets you click on a character and hear conversation about that character from the actor who plays him or her, in addition to some episode footage. It's all focused on how the characters are connected to each other and ends up lending some pretty thoughtful and interesting dialogue about the series. The three featurettes, "The Architecture of Series Storytelling" (the basic, about-this-season mini-doc), "Powers Grid" (about which characters have powers and why) and "TVFX" (about the special effects) are okay, but nothing spectacular. A lot of it will feel like a repeat of what you've heard in the commentaries anyway, but if you prefer featurettes, this is a quicker way to get some of the same information. "Storytelling" is about 20 minutes long, but the other two are significantly shorter, at around five minutes each. This season finally includes a gag reel, too. I know these are always throw-away, but since we know everyone messes up, these should be standard on any DVD. They provide a few moments of laughter that will endear the actors to most viewers. They go all out with this one, even adding opening credits and theme music, and providing eight minutes of laughs (mostly all from season three, too; I'd like to see past season's gag reels, too). Finally, there's a pdf file of the episode "Being Tom Baldwin" that you can read using your computer. It's the first draft, so isn't exactly what you'll see in the episode, and might be interesting to huge fans of the show or people who'd like to see how much a screenplay might change from first draft to air.
Season 4: They cut back on the commentaries this time around, providing only one for an actual episode, in fact, on "Till We Have Built Jerusalem," with creator/producer/episode director Peters. Again, he's more informative and less complimentary on his own, revealing such highlights as his inability to do the previouslies himself because he couldn't wrap up the show in such a short time on his own, and revealing information about the cast and how they work together that he might not have felt comfortable talking about when sitting there with two actors. (Bad news: no subtitles for the commentary this time around, for some reason.) Beyond the commentary, there are only two featurettes, a director's cut and another gag reel. They did also add deleted scenes, but it still feels like a situation where they were holding back in preparation for this complete series release, which they must have known was coming up.
The deleted scenes -- peppered throughout the discs, and organized by episode -- are good stuff, but leave me wishing they'd given us their earlier seasons deleted scenes. They cut some amazing acting by Summer Glau having a breakdown out, in addition to intimate family moments and characters struggling with the possibility of having to leave and "give all of this up." These scenes add depth to what happened in the series, and are well worth watching.
Disc four includes the director's cut of the series finale (with or without commentary from Peters, who directed and is clearly thrilled to share the director's cut and to be able to provide commentary on it), plus the two featurettes and gag reel. The featurettes feel more valuable in this season than in the third, probably at least in part because we only got those two commentaries, so you don't go into these featurettes feeling like you've already been informed about all of the season's secrets. "Season IV: Factions at War" is the show's usual "about-this-season" featurette. Nothing ground-breaking, but still interesting for fans of the show, as it's full of interviews with all of the cast and crew, and is close to 30 minutes long. "Jordan Collier: The Grey Man" asks -- but doesn't answer; it's only four minutes long -- the question: Is he a good guy or a bad guy? It's still a great featurette, because Billy Cambpell (who plays Jordan) makes it clear how truly passionate he was about this character and this show -- which has to be why his character was such a blast to watch. There's a Season Four gag reel, too, and it makes me really, really like Joel Gretsch, who is featured a lot but seems really hilarious. I'd love to see him do comedy. It's only three minutes long, but that means they focused on the truly funny mess-ups instead of throwing everything in. The biggest disappointment for me, as a fan of the show, about this season's extras was that there was nothing about the cancellation. It had been such a huge deal, with creator/producer Peters announcing it online, in agony, that it would have been nice for it to get some play here.
Bonus Disc: This disc is the reason hard-core fans will be selling their season sets and snatching this up, and it actually is worth it. I can't help but feel like we were cheated out of extras in earlier seasons to make this complete series worth buying, but it worked, because if you're a fan of the show, you need this set for this disc.
It starts with a brief video introduction from creator/producer Peters, who thanks the fans for loving the show, mentioning the cancellation (finally!) and that he and other producers were always on the "web boards" (could they mean TWoP's forum?)
The show finally brings some Season One special features, in the form of a commentary track with Peters and Gretsch on the pilot episode. They talk about why they never did commentary or other extras for Season One -- because they were a miniseries, not a series, so didn't know if they were coming back; which makes very little sense, but whatever. We also learn interesting tidbits such as: the first season's sets are the old sets from Jake 2.0, which had recently been canceled, but that they had to rebuild everything when the show became an actual series. And that there's no blooper reel in Season One because nobody messed up back then; they were too afraid to, unlike in Seasons Three and Four, when no one cared anymore. Which is a likely story, guys. I'm not buying it, but it's a good excuse. Oh, and Peters plays an extra in the pilot, which he has to interrupt Gretsch to show us. It's very cute. They both have high praise for other actors, especially Peter Coyote and McKenzie, but they also are a lot more snarky and funny about the show than any of the previous commentary tracks had been. This is the best commentary of the entire series, and the complete set would be worth buying for this commentary alone.
The bonus disc also features a couple of featurettes. The first one, "The 4400: The Ghost Season" is about how the series came to be, including why Peters chose "4400" as the titular number: Honestly? It just sounded better as a title than any other number. Hey, at least he's honest. Some of it -- how the show came to be, etc. -- is exactly like "Creating the Ball of Light," the featurette about Season One that's on the Season Two set. However, this one goes on and talks about all of the future additions to the cast, changes to the show (Jordan had a beard because Campbell wouldn't shave his), and other interesting stuff. It's actually just a long (about 13 minutes) interview/essay with Peters, though that's probably for the best. He is the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the series, so it's sort of cool for him -- the ultimate geeky fan -- to get to just sit and talk to us all about the entire course of the show. The other featurette, "Promicin: The Moral Choice," is actually a false advertising and media campaign about Promicin. It's mostly uninteresting, because it's just more acting and fiction, and reveals nothing new about the show. It's sort of amusing (especially the Blair Witch-style interview with Campbell's Jordan), but definitely the low point of this bonus disc.
Finally, the bonus disc contains deleted scenes for Seasons One, Two, and Three. These are nice to finally get, though you'll want to watch each season with the season they belong with (luckily, they're organized by season -- and episode and even scene number, which is extremely helpful), because otherwise, you'll have a hard time figuring out where they belong in the scheme of things. There are only about three minutes of deleted scenes from season one (probably because the season was so short), but about 10 minutes from season two and almost 20 minutes from season three. A lot of great acting was left on the cutting-room floor for this show, particularly from Gretsch and McKenzie, who are featured in probably three-quarters -- or more -- of the deleted scenes. And all of it is top-notch stuff, clearly just cut for space. It's nice to finally get to see all of this footage.
Once you finish unloading your season sets on eBay, pick up the complete series here!