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Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season(TV) (2011-2012)
Fringe revolves around three unlikely colleagues – a beautiful, young and determined FBI agent (Anna Torv), a brilliant but off-the-wall scientist (John Noble), and his sardonic, roguish son (Joshua Jackson) – who team up to investigate a series of peculiar deaths and disasters known as “The Pattern.” The trio suspects that someone is using the world as a laboratory. And many of the clues lead them to Massive Dynamic, a shadowy global corporation that may be more powerful than any nation.
For more about Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season and the Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray release, see Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on September 4, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Directors: Norberto Barba, Joe Chappelle, Brad Anderson, Jeannot Szwarc, Akiva Goldsman, David Straiton
Writers: J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Zack Whedon, Jason Cahill, Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown
» See full cast & crew
Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray Review
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Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, September 4, 2012
Spoiler alert. Spoilers ahead. Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. Even in a world of early warnings and spoiler-free tags, we are inundated with spoilers. Theatrical trailers are two-and-a-half minute spoilers. Cracking opening a magazine, even just flipping through the pages, amounts to 97-pages of spoilers. Posters, print ads, comic books, merchandising, online advertising... reviews, if you aren't careful... ours is a multimedia culture drowning, gasping for creative breath, in a sea of spoilers. They're unavoidable. And God help you if you don't catch a movie on opening weekend or an episode of your favorite show the night -- and hour! -- it first airs. We try so hard to make it to a film's official release, to avoid commercials and social network chatter the day after a season or series finale, to overlook that one poorly placed, foolishly posted, all too visible spoiler that ruins everything. Avoiding spoilers is a grueling, exhausting process; a process a perfect world would be rid of, granting filmfans and television junkies the blank slate viewing experience they so desperately seek.
A season of Fringe is a twenty-two episode spoiler minefield. Take one wrong step and boom! Plot twist revealed. Surprise shot. Ending undone. And the series' fourth season is no different. It might just be the spoileriest, spoilery spoiler-fest the beloved, ratings troubled Fox sci-fi extravaganza has ever given us. Scratch that. I'm sure of it. I can't even start with a "when last we left Olivia, Walter and Peter" without first warning someone to skip this review altogether. So please, while I'll certainly refrain from spoiling major events in Season Four, if you have any desire to go into Fringe's latest blind and gloriously free of expectation, just glance at the Video and Audio scores at the top of the page, don't skim through the images accompanying this review, skip over the Supplements section, avoid my Final Words, and make your decision, never to return until you've watched the entirety of the series' excellent, wholly satisfying Complete Fourth Season.
Is it just us? The faithful Fringe fold? Good. Onward then. When last we left special agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), the wonderfully eccentric Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his son, man of two universes Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), Peter had stepped into the doomsday machine constructed at a crucial point in both his worlds, engaged the device, went time-hopping for a few days, returned to the present, saved both universes by tearing a hole between the two and creating a Bridge, and, upon leaving the machine and trying to explain all that he accomplished, vanished without a trace. Not just vanished from the room, though. Vanished from both realities. When Season Four begins some months later, Olivia has no recollection of Peter, or even any knowledge or evidence that he ever existed. Walter believes Peter died as a boy, muddling his feud with Walternate even further. Walternate, the U.S. Secretary of Defense in the alternate universe, doesn't remember the adult Peter either, nor does he hold quite the same rancor he did before his timeline, and apparently all of reality, were overwritten. And Fauxlivia, left without any memory of her lover, is robbed of her memories and a child, who was never even conceived. Now an unlikely truce unites the two universes as a greater danger comes to light. Cue intense music.
When I reviewed Fringe's third season in early September of last year, I was still in a tailspin over dear, dear Peter's disappearance. I had little hope for the series' fourth season, much less for what I considered to be the tattered plot threads showrunners Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman had left dangling when Peter suddenly was no more. Imagine my surprise when Pinkner and Wyman not only put Humpty Dumpty back together again in the Fall but began cranking out fantastically gruesome tales and grand story arcs the likes of which hadn't been seen since the middle of the series' superb second season. Within just a few smartly scripted episodes, Season Four began to emerge as one of Fringe's finest, absentee Bishops be damned. More importantly, having watched all twenty-two episodes now, it remains one of the show's finest seasons, even if it tapers off in later episodes and ends with another dizzying finale that leaves fans with far more questions than answers, chief among them: whatever are our bald, eyebrow-less friends, the emotionless but oft-mischievous Observers, up to? Ah, but let's not get too far ahead of things.
In the wake of Season Three's control-alt-delete, Season Four doesn't waste a single moment or take a single step backwards, much as Peter's eradication from the fabric of time and space requires something of a full mythos and ensemble reboot. The Fringe formula is naturally still intact -- the bizarre cases, the body-hijacking parasites, the creepy crawly beasties, the temporal portals, the multiverses, the unexplained phenomena, the world-ending threats and disastrous acts of scientific hubris -- but the characters are fundamentally altered, their worlds changed, and their motivations nudged to the right or left of their amended memories. And trust me, if competing universes tweaked your brain, wait till you get a load of two universes filtered through two different realities, skewed to two different extremes, with slight echoes reverberating from one to the next to the next. It's a whole new show, and yet it isn't. It's a whole new cast of mainstays, and yet it isn't. It's a whole new pair of parallel universes, and yet it isn't. But it doesn't stop there. The rules shift again with the inevitable reappearance of Peter (which the showrunners neither rush nor draw out for too long), now a detached-from-reality free agent and untrustworthy stranger in both worlds.
Head-spinning as the twisting and turning can be, the fourth season is anchored by another pair of Emmy-worthy performances from the likes of Noble and Jackson, as well as the terrific work of Torv, Lance Reddick (Colonel Broyles), Jasika Nicole (Astrid), Michael Cerveris (September), Jared Harris (returning, more menacing than ever, as devilishly demented baddie David Robert Jones) and Seth Gabel (as scene-stealer Lincoln Lee, in quite the expanded role). Kevin Corrigan's Sam Weiss is nowhere to be found (boo!) and the shapeshifters, though still a threat, take a somewhat less-than-interesting turn, sure. But everyone else, particularly Noble and his dueling dual-Walters, seem invigorated by Pinkner and Wyman's bold new direction, sizzling new storylines, fascinating new heroes and villains, and, perhaps above all, the promise of a set ending. While it represents something of a dead man's walk, knowing precisely when and where the series will come to a close -- Season Five's thirteenth episode -- gives Pinkner, Wyman and the Fringe writers' room the freedom of a stricter structure within which to write (a luxury Lost was granted as early as its fourth season). Without having to guess how many episodes or seasons remain, or whether cancellation is lurking around the bend, Pinkner and Wyman are able to focus on delivering a thrilling conclusion to their saga rather than dragging it on toward what could inadvertently become a cliffhanger with no resolution.
It all comes down to one thing, though: Pinkner and Wyman get it right. Short, sweet and to the point. Pinkner and Wyman get it so very right. They not only managed to silence naysayers like myself (circa summer 2011) and rabid fans like... myself (circa 2010 and 2012), they built upon and stayed true to everything that continues to make Fringe one of Fox's best and most under-appreciated shows. I have no idea where Season Five's thirteen episodes will take us, but I'm more than willing to give the series the benefit of the doubt. Not that the fourth season left me with much doubt. Here's hoping Fringe goes out with a big, mind-blowing bang.
Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
Like Fringe's previous Blu-ray releases, The Complete Fourth Season makes the most of its four-disc high definition caseload with an impressive 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation. Colors are warm and quite lovely, with striking primaries, natural skintones, and deep, inky blacks aplenty; a welcome change of pace from the usual sci-fi palette, even if icy hues, sterilized blues and greens, and dull dystopian tones still tend to dominate the proceedings. But it's the image's fine detail that stands out. Closeups are veritable wonderlands of remarkably refined textures and revealing clarity, edge definition is both crisp and clean (without any pesky halos or ringing), delineation is excellent, depth is quite good for a network television show, and the series' ever-so-slight graininess is fairly consistent and unobtrusive (barring a few spikes and shivers per episode). Moreover, there aren't many unidentified encoding objects to contend with. There is a bit of artifacting here and there (typically in dark or muted backgrounds that frame FX elements), some limited banding (generally apparent whenever the agents whip out their flashlights) and numerous instances of minor (albeit rather prevalent) crush, but none of it becomes a dire concern; certainly nothing that would completely detract from Warner's otherwise proficient presentation. No, it isn't perfect. Even so, fans will be more than happy, videophiles will be pleased, and no one will be left dissatisfied.
Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Complete Fourth Season continues to distance the series from the lossy Dolby Digital mixes of yesteryear with an arresting DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track; the series' second. Between the assertiveness of the rear speakers and the aggression of the LFE channel, the Fringe Division cases -- whether frightening or just plan weird -- are backed by an involving, altogether immersive experience that's every bit as pulse-pounding and intense as the plot-twisting episodes themselves. Low-end output is robust, weighty and omnipresent, with deep thooms, resonant booms and the unburdened downbeats of Michael Giacchino and Chris Tilton's driving score. Rear speaker activity isn't overzealous but it isn't timid either, providing just enough directional movement and spatial precision to open up the series' worlds and locations and make them that much more enveloping. Dialogue is clear, intelligible and neatly prioritized too, without sacrificing any lines, hushed or shouted, to the dual-universe drama, action and chaos that ensues. Voices drift a bit too far outside of the bounds of the center channel when they shouldn't, but only on rare occasion and without establishing anything that comes close to a full-fledged issue. Ultimately, Fringe's DTS-HD MA track only strengthens its fourth season AV presentation, and that shouldn't be taken lightly.
Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Fringe's penultimate season somehow returns to the series' laser-focused basics while splintering its fractured universes into worlds of even further intrigue and imagination. It falls just shy of the show's best, but it points to a mind-bending fifth and final season full of promise and, perhaps more importantly, answers. Warner's Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray release delivers too, with a strong video presentation, a first rate DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and an engaging batch of extras that, while inadequate on the whole, offer an hour of revealing glimpses behind the scenes. So don't quit now. If Season Four is any indication, Fringe is gearing up for something big this Fall on Fox.
Fringe: Other Seasons
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