Angel: Season 4

Angel: Season 4 (2002)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter
Extras: Commentary Track, Outtakes, Featurettes, Cast & Crew Interviews, Overview

Many fans of the series would agree that during Angel’s five-year run, season four was it’s strongest. It was the first, and only, time that the series made a drastic change in format. Nearly all episodes, 22 in total, ran along a single continuous plot. Not that different compared to Fox’s other hit series "24." Beginning at around the episode "The House Always Wins", each episode essentially hangs with a major cliffhanger and immediately continues at the beginning of the next. This was much more engaging than the standard "monster of the week" formula that was used prior.

If you’ve never watched season four when it aired on television than be prepared to have your social life vanish as you can’t help but watch every episode as quickly as possible. With a show that involves one major cliffhanger after another, you can’t help but be drawn to watching just "one" more episode. Next thing you know 3 hours have passed and you’ve watched 4 episodes back to back. This is the drawback that I see with television being released on DVD. If the series or season is written based around one long continuous plot, it can be difficult to stop watching, even when we have to get up early for work the next morning. Let’s just say I’ve had little sleep these past few days.

Season four picks off where season three ended. Angel (David Boreanaz) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) are still missing. Wes (Alexis Denisof) is still an outcast from the tragic turn of events that happened in season three. Gunn (J. August Richards) and Fred (Amy Acker) are left running Angel Investigations and Lorne (Andy Hallett) seems to have high tailed it to Las Vegas. And what about Angel’s son Connor (Vincent Kartheiser)? You’ll have to watch to find out.

This year evil is at an all time high and the big bad this season is bigger and badder than anything before. The stories are really strong this year and we get to see a lot of great guest appearances. On a side note, this season had an increase in graphic content. The amount of one screen violence is at an all time high. One scene very early on involves someone getting decapitated on screen (similar to the decapitation in Resident Evil). Nothing is cut. Back track 5 years ago and you’d never see things like this during prime time. Now that’s entertainment!

Season four is the 2nd year that Joss Whedon decided to shoot the series in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Fox maintains this and brings a nice <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer to the 6-disc DVD set. Similar to season three, the image quality is top notch – considering the limitations Angel hadn’t been shot using High Definition cameras. The screen is devoid of any type of noise and any type of artifacts such as Edge Enhancement or Haloing. Because the series is predominately shot to take place during the night, black levels are important to be consistent. The films dark look is brought over flawlessly and for those of you who have calibrated televisions, you’ll want to watch this in as dark a room as possible. It helps bring an added amount of depth to the image. Colors are very nice, especially with characters such as Lorne. There is little saturation in his neon green skin, bright red lips & eyes and extremely loud taste in suits. They’re a nice contrast to the predominate blacks, browns and other warm darker shades used in the show. Unfortunately nothing in the season looks as good as the last few episodes of season two. They we some of the only episodes shot completely in the daytime and in wooded areas and basically they looked stunning. This is not a fault with the transfer, but more with the content of the video.

Just like in my review of Buffy season six, the audio in Angel essentially stays the same from box set to box set. Because Angel began after Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s growth in popularity, the show has always had strong sound production qualities. Dialog is always easy to hear and crystal clear but because this is <$DS,Dolby Surround> mix the dialog is a matrix of the left and right speaker. Hence it’s not discreet. Surrounds are used minimally and there really isn’t much in the way of bass response. But that doesn’t mean that the audio on the discs is poor. They do as best a job they can with the material they’re left to work with. Overall this is a satisfactory effort. It’s a shame that Joss Whedon never had the opportunity to bring this series into the 5.1 Digital realm. I guess I can always hope for a feature film.

First off we get seven Commentaries spread out through all 6 discs. Just like past sets, these commentaries on recorded mainly for key episodes. Next up is "Prophecies: Season 4 Overview." This is your typical breakdown of all the events that take place throughout the season. Snippets of footage are tied together with cast members describing what their characters are going through throughout the season. Major spoilers are present, so make sure you don’t watch this before you finish watching the season. In fact there really is no reason to watch this, unless only to recap or refresh your memory before watching the next season. Following the overview we get a short outtakes montage called "Unplugged: Season Four Outtakes." It’s just your run of the mill on set blooper reel.

What rounds out the rest of the extras are the Featurettes. The first is "Last Looks: The Hyperion Hotel," a guided tour through the set of the Hyperion Hotel, which has been the base of operations since season two. They mention details such as how most bedrooms in the hotel are reused over and over to save money. They also cover areas like Jasmine’s suite that was created further into the season. It’s short but nice. "Fatal Beauty and the Beast" covers the two main villains in the seasons. Vladimir Kulich who plays "The Beast" and was awesome in "The 13th Warrior" and Gina Torres who plays "Jasmine" and stared in Joss Whedon’s other series, "Firefly" as well as had a small role in "The Matrix Reloaded" talk about their roles as the main villains (or are they?). With all the incredible makeup off Vladimir, I didn’t recognize him at all. "Malice in Wonderland: Wolfram & Hart" covers the law firm that has been Angel’s main nemesis since season one. Interview’s with Stephanie Romanov, who plays Lilah, is interesting to watch. Because her character is more involved with the story they focus more on her than other members of W & H. The last feature is actually not on disc 6 but on disc 2. "Angel & The Apocalypse" covers one of the biggest episodes of the series involving the introduction of "The Beast" and the reign of fire he brings to LA. It focuses on the stunts that were involved in creating one of the best action pieces of the series.

It’s sad that Angel only lasted 5 seasons. To think that one more box set and that’s it. Shows like these are rare on television and I wish more were like them. In a world where we have numerous hit shows based around reality (CSI, 24, Law & Order), Angel is a show that allows us to escape. It brings wonderful tales of vampires, monsters & demons to screen, but never once forgets about the human side of the show. Love, friendship, betrayal, sadness, lust and every other human trait are never forgotten and that’s why many people relate to and love his characters. For those who aren’t familiar with Angel, I recommend picking up the first season and giving it a try.