The 4400

The 4400

Basic cable network, USA has entered into
the fray of science fiction with The 4400

The 4400

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One of the age old staples of science fiction has been the alien abduction, unsuspecting people snatched out of their ordinary lives and spirited away to who knows where.

The apex of this sub-genre is considered by most to be Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Now, basic cable network, USA has entered into the fray with "The 4400". The story gets right into things, a ball of light is moving close to the earth, about to strike us with potentially cataclysmic effects. We send missiles to destroy it to no avail; the light ball strikes the state of Washington leaving behind not a huge crater but 4400 dazed and confused people. The thing is these people have been missing from between a few years to about a century. No matter when they disappeared they are still the exact age now. Since this story takes place in 2004 the department of Homeland Security is called in, represented by Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie). It is their job to examine the "returnees" and determine where they where and more importantly, why are they back. Again, since this is a contemporary tale the Civil Liberties Union sues on their behalf on the grounds that their quarantine is tantamount to unlawful incarceration. The 4400, has the media has named them, are released back into a society most of them find strange and overwhelming. As an added twist many of the 4400 have come back a little different, they now posses abilities beyond what is normal for human beings. Talents like healing, psycho kinesis and ultra honed reflexes.

While the basic premise is interesting the series falls short of its potential. First there are some unrealistic aspects like considering the current state of heighten alerts it is doubtful that any court would be able to free so many unknowns into the world with little to no monitoring. In order to driver the drama this plot point had to be expressed but it could have been done in a more realistic manner. On the positive side having each installment focus on the individual people and their reintegration into society, this gave the series a feel of a classic sci-fi anthology series and opens the potential for the upcoming second season due in 2005. This also serves to humanize the overall story allowing the audience better identify with the ancillary characters. For example there is an African-American solider taken from service in the Korean War, 1951. He was abducted during a time when racial prejudice was far more openly conducted. He was chastised for having a white girl friend and is amazed that when he helps a young, white female fellow returnee find a place the owner assumes they are married. The variety of time periods represented allows the writers to examine the social changes that created our current society.

There is also the examination of how the current society deals with the 4400. At first they are a curiosity, the darlings of the media. Soon, however, public opinion reverses and they are the victims of fire bombings after a reporter discloses their current address on the internet. Sadly, this aspect of society was not explored as fully as it might have been. There was great potential for more on how the internet has made so much information available that it has the potential for harmful effects. It is this uneven treatment of subject matter that prevented this series from fulfilling its true potential. Hopeful some of this will be address when the series returns.

I won’t spoil the ending of The 4400 for those that have not seen the series but needless to say it was disappointing. What they tried to make a major plot twist only acted to make the conclusion of The 4400 mini series muddled and even more unrealistic. The 4400 also slows down considerably when the focus is turned to the Homeland Security agents. While the character Baldwin is linked to the returnees, his nephew was one of them, there is a lack of momentum in these segments. It completely throws off the pacing of The 4400 episode. At least they didn’t make the agents the bad guys that would have been a cheap plot device. Instead the pair becomes a poor man’s Sculley and Muldur.

The 4400 casting is for the most part excellent. Given its some what anthology approach we are afforded the opportunity to witness some really good acting. Michael Moriarty gives a solid performance as a rich man that returns to find his wife in a nursing home and his business now out of his control. Left with his accustomed wealth ad influence he finds his new powers to be a means to revenge. David Eigenberg gives a notable presentation of his character, a more recent abductee that has always felt ineffectual. Now, he has super human reflexes and becomes a neighborhood vigilante, trying in vain to return his now broken down neighborhood to its former family friendly status.

While most of the short comings of The 4400 series are in the big picture the individual episodes are rather well done. The specific performances hold together and display a collection of talent not often seen on broadcast television or basic cable. It is a sort of reverse synergy; the parts are greater than the sum. In the previously mentioned tale of the vigilante the episode was directed by actress Helen Shaver. She is no stranger to this format having directed several brilliant episodes of the new Outer Limits. Hopefully she will lend her talents to the next season of The 4400.

The 4400 disc itself is up to contemporary standards. The Dolby stereo audio does its job without any spectacular effects. There is a reasonably solid sound field created but little to set The 4400 apart from other television shows set to DVD. The video was presented in anamorphic 1.78:1. The color balance is good, flesh tones realistic but again, nothing really stood out. This may not be the best treatment of the subject matter around but it does come across as interesting with some worth while moments to be had. The 4400 is far better that the constant stream of so called reality television so it is worth a look and is generally entertaining.

Movie Review of The 4400 by Doug MacLean of

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