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DVDs I bought or received in the month of June
- King Kong (R0 UK, HD DVD)
- The Kingdom (R0 UK, HD DVD)
- Phenomena (R1 USA, DVD)
- Stardust (R0 UK, HD DVD)
- Strictly Ballroom (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
- Tenebre (R1 USA, DVD)
…well, not very good, at any rate.
In the UK, last week, ITV released its first batch of Blu-ray titles, among them classics like Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus and David Lean’s Great Expectations - something of a departure, as I’m sure you’ll agree, from the usual slew of third-rate action spectacles that invariably end up being released in high definition. Eager to see what ITV was capable of, I picked up a copy of their release of Baz Luhrmann’s first film Strictly Ballroom.
It arrived this morning, and I’m disappointed to have to tell you that the results are considerably less than stellar. It appears that an old master has been used - a rather grimy one, and one that has been subjected to an alarming amount of grain reduction, sucking most of the fine detail out in the process. While it constitutes a noticeable improvement on the frankly pretty shocking American DVD from Miramax, that’s hardly the greatest advertisement for the Blu-ray format, and ultimately I can only really recommend this release to absolute die-hard fans, or at least those with less than discerning tastes.
(ITV, UK, VC-1, 18.2 GB)
This morning, I blew the dust off my Diablo and Diablo II CDs (remember when games came on CDs?) and went for a spin with both of them. Watching the Diablo III gameplay movie got me thinking about the ways in which the gameplay mechanics have changed since the original Diablo in 1996, and what this might mean for the third instalment.
The first game in the series is a pretty basic game on the surface. One of the hallmarks of the Diablo series as a whole has been its straightforward gameplay mechanics, stripping away a lot of the daunting complexity of a traditional role-playing game and combining what remains with fun, satisfying action elements, but this first outing is the most simplistic of the lot. The multiple act, multi-dungeon structure of the second and, it would seem, third games is nowhere to be found; nor are the weird and wonderful character classes like the Necromancer and Witch Doctor. Instead, players get to choose from one of three broad fantasy archetypes - a Warrior, a Rogue or a Sorcerer - and do battle in a single, multi-level dungeon, descending gradually deeper into the earth.
In many ways, though, simplicity is its greatest strength. This is a game that knows exactly what it’s meant to do, and more importantly, so does the player. Right from the beginning, you know that your mission is to make your way deeper and deeper underground until you ultimately face and defeat the Lord of Terror himself, Diablo. The tone is remarkably consistent: everything is dank and murky, swathed in shadow, and the atmosphere is incredibly foreboding. This feeling of dread is achieved in many ways, and it’s not just the gloomy visuals and highly evocative sound design. Movement in Diablo is rather slow-paced, meaning that, should you be overwhelmed by insurmountable odds, running away is rarely an option. And it’s easy to be overwhelmed, particularly if you play the rather frail Rogue and Sorcerer classes. If you aren’t looking where you’re going, chances are you’ll find yourself slap bang in the middle of a pack of angry monsters, in which case it’s often game over. This ensures that you’re constantly on your toes, gingerly creeping down each corridor and round each bend, mindful of the fact that you could, at any moment, be signing your own death warrant.
Superficially, Diablo II is a direct continuation in every way. It retains the same basic premise and gameplay mechanics as its predecessor, but I can’t help feeling that the developers changed the tone in a subtle way. With the first Diablo, it quickly became clear that people liked doing two things: killing monsters and collecting loot. So, thought the designers, let’s give the players more of what they want. Let’s throw in more monsters and more loot, and let’s have people get to the monsters and loot quicker. To lessen the wait between dispatching one group of enemies and the next, players were given the ability to run, which had the immediate result of doubling (at least) the speed at which the game was played.
Unfortunately, this had the effect of stripping away a lot of the tension. The ability to run made it possible to stage a hasty retreat should you stumble into the middle of a gaggle of bloodthirsty monsters. In other words, you could afford to be more reckless, which in turn made the game more of a clickfest than ever before. Add to this a reduced emphasis on dungeon crawling with the addition of wide open outdoor maps, and the game not only lost a lot of its tension, it more or less completely removed the feeling of claustrophobia. Likewise, much of the atmosphere created by the first game’s moody locales and limited colour palette fell by the wayside thanks to the sun-scorched deserts and lush green jungles which players found themselves exploring. Put simply, Diablo II was a lighter, brisker, less tactically-oriented game than its predecessor.
Now, I love Diablo II. I consider it one of the greatest games ever created, and despite being eight years old, it remains permanently installed on my hard drive, and I continue to sink countless hours into frying skeletons to a crisp and beating zombies to a bloody pulp. When I want to whittle away a few minutes, or indeed a few hours, without having to tax my brain too much, chances are I’ll be reaching for the Diablo II CD. But, if I want a deeper, more immersive, more mentally taxing experience, it’s the original Diablo for me.
Flash forward to the present day, and Diablo III has just been announced. Now, without any hands-on experience with the game, and with numerous changes no doubt due to take place between now and the release date, it’s impossible to be sure of anything, but, with the help of the screenshots and particularly the gameplay trailer that have been released, it’s possible to speculate as to how Diablo III will compare to its predecessors in terms of atmosphere and gameplay style.
While watching the gameplay trailer, it’s abundantly clear, right from the get go, that the designers are intent on stressing the quantity factor, throwing massive hordes of monsters at the player, to be dispatched in a highly visceral show of splattering blood and squelching sound effects. So far, so Diablo II, and it’s also clear that we’re once again going to find ourselves playing in a combination of tight indoor and crowded outdoor environments. The official list of features states that players will explore the world of Sanctuary (with an emphasis on world) “in gorgeous 3D”, which suggests another globe-trotting yarn. No tightly-controlled Diablo I-style focus this time round, then.
That said, much of what has been stated and demonstrated in the gameplay trailer suggests that the developers are intent on pushing for a return to tactics rather than simply wading in and popping potions while spamming one or two spells. There appears to be a commendable emphasis on enemies working together to bring the player down, using their skills in conjunction and therefore requiring the player to use all the abilities at his or her disposal in order to survive. That gets my heartfelt approval, given the extent to which Diablo II is populated by cookie cutter builds relying on only a couple of overpowered abilities.
Likewise, I commented yesterday that the new game seemed to herald a return to the gloomy, foreboding atmosphere of the first Diablo. This is a particularly impressive achievement given that the colour palette is more saturated then ever before (something which has, rather predictably, already drawn its fair share of professional whiners who hate the notion of the game coming in colours other than black, grey and brown). Perhaps not surprisingly, this is only really evident in the interior levels, with the outdoor areas seeming lighter and breezier, but, provided there is plenty of dungeon crawling, I have no complaints about that. Particularly impressive is the sense of scale: at any given time, it’s hard not to be impressed by the high walls and expansive nature of the maps. This is especially evident when traversing higher ground, given that the truly 3D nature of the new engine allows the player do look down at areas below him or her, shrouded in fog and shadow. Sound design will, I suspect, once again play a key role in maintaining a dark mood, and I’m crossing my fingers that Blizzard are able to get Matt Uelmen, composer for the first two games, to once again provide the music.
Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 7 and 8: Thin Air
Written by Ed Whitmore; Directed by Edward Bennett
In 1989, 18-year-old Joanna Gold (Sophie Winkleman) vanished without a trace while walking on Hampstead Heath with her parents, brother and sister. Flash forward to the present day, and the striking red dress Joanna was last seen wearing is discovered, in immaculate condition, in a storage facility. It turns out that the facility is being rented by an Alec Garvey (Justin Salinger), a man with a track record for stalking girls. Being leaned on by the Commissioner to get a result, any result, Boyd charges Garvey, resulting in his attempted suicide. Faced with the horrible prospect that he fingered the wrong man, Boyd reopens the case and goes back to the fateful day of Joanna’s disappearance, digging up disturbing family secrets and discovering that Joanna Gold was not as squeaky-clean as the public have been led to believe.
This is one of my all-time favourite episodes of Waking the Dead, and I think one of the reasons why it works so well is that it’s unusually creepy. At its heart we have a striking and frankly baffling image - a girl in a red dress simply vanishing into thin air on a clear day in an open space - and, as the investigation intensifies, all sorts of guilty secrets come to the fore. The Golds put up a front of being model members of society, but it’s clear from the outset that they are all as guilty as sin and each have something the hide. It helps that we have a superb array of actors playing the key members of the family: Roger Allam, as the father, can’t help but look suspicious, and everything about his demeanour screams “hostile” from the second Boyd encounters him, while Cherie Lunghi works wonders as his brittle wife. However, the best performance comes from Sophie Winkleman (whom you might know as Big Suze in Peep Show - a very different role), who plays both Joanna Gold and the present-day incarnation of her younger sister Clara. The resemblance is intended to be uncanny, but it’s not until the final fifteen minutes that we realise just how disturbing this actually is.
This was the first episode to be written by Ed Whitmore, who would become Waking the Dead’s key writer until the regime change at the end of Series 5, penning a total of six two-parters. Whitmore’s scripts are drier than those written by Stephen Davis, but I think he tends to do better at connecting the A-to-B plot elements, gradually teasing out information and taking the investigative team down unexpected avenues. Particularly well-handled is a plot development that I accused of being tacked-on when I wrote my review of the Series 2 DVD set for DVD Times, but which in retrospect I now see is actually foreshadowed quite brilliantly, particularly in the curious relationship that develops between Boyd and Clara. It’s one of these moments that leaves you screaming “No! No!” at the screen as Boyd digs his own grave, and the actions that he commits in order to get to the bottom of the mystery are reckless in the extreme, culminating in him going for a midnight jaunt on Hampstead Heath with Clara wearing Joanna’s red dress. However, when you consider the extent to which his own child’s disappearance (mentioned briefly but, thankfully, not flogged to death), it’s possible to find reason in his obsessive behaviour.
On a side note, this episode indirectly reveals more about our core cast of characters than all of the previous ones put together. In addition to the revelation that Grace was at one point married with two sons (the marriage didn’t last), and that Mel lives alone but has “lots of friends”, we discover that Spence previously considered jacking in his career as a policeman and going into business with his entrepreneur friend, and that, in 1989, Frankie spent the summer in Cyprus having a wild affair with a tattoo artist named Andreas (Grace’s response of “Ooooh, Andreas!” being the one time in the series that Sue Johnston’s performance reminds me of her part in The Royle Family). She too, it seems, was sorely tempted to abandon her career, but decided that, although the sex was great, she wasn’t in love. This focus is, as ever, on Boyd, but it’s these little moments that help build up a bigger picture of the rest of the cast without rubbing our faces in their personal lives.
Series 2 is, on the whole, not as consistent as Series 1. While this means that we do get a slightly weaker episode than we’ve been used to seeing up until now, Deathwatch, it does also provide us with the best episode so far, Thin Air. In the next instalment, we’ll be venturing into Series 3, which, to tell the truth, I can recall little of, before heading towards, in my opinion, the best series, Series 4.
And the heavens shall tremble
Who was right? ;)
During my lunch break today, a booking on one of the library’s computers and several incessant clicks on the Refresh button told me that Blizzard Entertainment, as predicted, did indeed unveil Diablo III at the WWI in Paris.
And good golly, does this game look impressive or what? I was very worried during the run-up to the announcement that either the game wouldn’t live up to its predecessors, or else it would be something else entirely, like a World of Warcraft style MMO. Rest assured, however, Diablo III retains the series’ trademark top-down perspective and emphasis on action/role-playing hybrid gameplay. Best of all, we have confirmation that it will be playable in single player mode, jettisoning any concerns that this was the “next-gen MMO” that has been mentioned several times on the company’s Employment Opportunities page in the last couple of years.
For me, it was watching the 20-minute gameplay trailer when I got home that hammered home how amazing this game is going to be. The trailer, complete with commentary by lead designer Jay Wilson (who, MobyGames informs me, previously worked on Company of Heroes and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, among others), shows the amazingly fluid gameplay mechanics, beautiful graphics and, of course, the tried and tested formula of mowing down thousands of monsters in a row. It’s not rocket science, but it’s what made the first two games so much fun. What impresses me most is that, at least in the interior areas, some of the foreboding atmosphere from the original Diablo, somewhat absent in the second game, has made a welcome return, while at the same time making the most of the 3D engine to deliver environments which are more than just a flat plain.
There is, of course, a slight caveat in all of this, and that is that virtually none of the developers of the first two Diablo games are still at Blizzard (many of them, including the key designers and project leads, went on to dubious acclaim with Flagship Studios and Hellgate: London). Not that this necessarily spells doom and gloom - Blizzard employee turnover has been constant for years, and the one thing that has remained more or less consistent has been the quality of the company’s output - but it does suggest that we may get a dramatically different Diablo. This is the first game in the series to be developed solely under the Blizzard Entertainment label (Blizzard North having been disbanded in 2005), and aesthetically, things look to be rather different. The familiar logo is gone, and the screenshots and gameplay movie that have been released hint towards a subtly different art style, one with richer hues, a grander scale and, at least in the demo build shown at the WWI, a tendency towards a rather self-deprecating sense of humour that seems out of place in the series (I hope what they’ve done with the character of Cain is not representative of the final product). It might seem a little mean to say this, but given the completely new talent behind the scenes, this will in some ways be more of a Diablo clone (à la Dungeon Siege or Titan Quest) than a true continuation.
One thing’s for sure, the new team will have their work cut out living up to the legacy left by their predecessors. I wish them the very best of luck and have considerable faith in them, but am aware that I should probably expect something subtly different… which is not necessarily a problem, since Diablo and Diablo II, which have resided on my hard drive for twelve and eight years respectively, aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
Seriously, Starcraft II and Diablo III in the pipeline? It’s every PC gamer’s dream come true.
A well-earned break
As of 5 PM tomorrow, I’m on holiday. My birthday is on Friday, July 4th, and I’ve decided to take a week’s break to coincide. I have the Wednesday and Saturday of the week off work, and I’m stuffing my PhD work into a dark cupboard. I haven’t had a real break from either of my two forms of work since Christmas, so it’ll be nice to put my feet up for a while.
Not long to go now
Blizzard Entertainment’s 2008 Worldwide Invitational begins tomorrow in Paris, and all signs point to them announcing a new game. With Starcraft II in the pipeline and World of Warcraft’s second expansion set, Wrath of the Lich King, already common knowledge, that essentially leaves two viable options: either they’re about to announce an entirely new franchise, their first since 1998, or Diablo III is on the way.
Over at DiabloII.net, which was essentially the Diablo II news site back in the day, one of the editors, Rushster, has made the bold claim that, as per “reliable inside industry sources”, Diablo III will be announced on Saturday. Of course, every man and his dog can trot out the “I’ve been told by an insider” line, but something about the guy’s certainty, along with DiabloII.net’s long-standing reputation as one of the most reliable and accurate fan sites out there, makes me think that this could well be for real. Put it this way: it’s an awful lot of credibility to lay on the line if you’re not reasonably certain of your claims.
One thing’s for sure, Blizzard’s ever-cryptic splash page isn’t shedding any light on the subject. Over the last few days, they have continually updated their rather baffling piece of art, the most latest image showing two demonic-looking eyes superimposed against a night sky. These could well be Diablo’s eyes… but, as others have pointed out, they could just as well belong to the Protoss from Starcraft, or Arthas from World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. All well and good, but, as I already stated, both Starcraft II and Wrath of the Lich King have been announced, and it would strike me as very strange for Blizzard to create this amount of hoopla over something that is already common knowledge. Needless to say, they’re not making this at all easy to guess, and you just have to do a quick Google search to see some of the weird and wonderful theories that people are coming up with.
One things for sure, I’m going to have ants in my pants at work tomorrow.
Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 5 and 6: Special Relationships
Written by Stephen Davis; Directed by David Thacker
Around a year ago, the body of Home Office Advisor Katherine Reed (Francesca Ryan) was discovered by burglar Ricky Taft (Del Synnott) during a routine break-in. Flash forward to the present, and Taft has just been acquitted of killing her. With the investigation closed, it becomes a cold case and is immediately sent the way of Boyd and company… along with a humourless Home Office auditor (the two are completely unconnected, naturally). The team’s investigations reveal a maze of conspiracies and cover-ups, and the more digging that is done into Katherine Reed’s private life, the less it makes sense.
This is probably the most convoluted Waking the Dead story so far, and one that firmly establishes the series’ penchant for outlandish explanations. It appears that almost everyone is/was screwing everyone else, both literally and figuratively. In order to delve into this and show just how mixed up everything is, I’m afraid I’m going to have to enter into spoiler territory.
Highlight below to reveal spoiler text:
Katherine Reed was what Grace describes as a “professional feminist”. Convinced that men are an “evolutionary mistake” and are pre-programmed with violent tendencies, she wrote several books on the subject and was a prominent campaigner against the male-dominated social hierarchy before, for no clear reason, abandoning her principles and joining the very establishment she previously attacked as an advisor to the Home Office. This apparent abandoning of her principles is never adequately explained and is, I feel, the episode’s major oversight, but what does become clear is that Katherine was if not a lesbian then at least bisexual, and that her marriage to Professor Ray Levin (Anton Lesser) was a sham.
Initially, I thought the episode was going down that well-trodden television route of portraying all bisexuals as unable to keep their pants on and willing to sleep with anyone and anything, and initially the evidence does seem to point in this direction, but there is a quite intriguing twist in it all which shows that the writer of the episode, Stephen Davis, is above such simplicities. A key piece of evidence which emerges is the fact that, on or close to the night of her death, Katherine had sex with a man (semen is found inside the body). In one of his trademark “rule-breaking to get results” moments, Boyd pilfers the razor of a key suspect, Sir James Beatty (Corin Redgrave), allowing Frankie to match his DNA to the semen found inside Katherine. Add to this the fact that Katherine was involved in a secret (albeit seemingly very loving) relationship with her husband’s colleague, Lorna Gyles (Amanda Root), and was at one point discovered in bed with another woman by the aforementioned husband, and Katherine is really shaping up to be a bit of a slapper.
The rather brilliant twist, however, is that Sir James Beatty did not in fact have sex with Katherine, either on the night of her death or at any other time. He was having an affair, but not with Katherine: rather, he was engaged in an illicit tryst with his secretary, Ann Hardingham (Kika Markham). His wife, a deeply deranged former GP by the name of Lady Alice Beatty (Patricia Hodge), killed Katherine, believing such an affair between her and her husband to be taking place, and planted her husband’s semen inside the body. Alice, whose status and money all came from her husband, therefore now had a perfect means of preventing him from leaving her: if he did, she could, without much effort, set in motion the events which would lead to him being convicted of Katherine’s murder.
See what I mean about complexity? And I haven’t even got into Boyd’s past relationship with the investigating DI in Katherine’s murder, Jess Worrall (Ruth Gemmell), his signing and flouting of the Official Secrets Act, an interview with an extremely uncooperative CIA operative and a grand conspiracy involving Boyd suspecting either MI5 or the CIA of assassinating Katherine. There’s a massive amount of stuff going on here, and I’m not convinced that it all comes together in an entirely satisfying way (the Home Office auditor, in particular, feels somewhat tacked on and is brushed aside just over 20 minutes into the second part, when Boyd sends her packing), but it does strike me as quite clever in its own way. It also helps that, as with the previous episode, also penned by Stephen Davis, this one is rather witty, poking fun at the Boyd character and his thinly-veiled fear (or perhaps misunderstanding) of tough women. The angry, over the top Boyd of later years is definitely beginning to take shape here, by the way, culminating in him bawling out Grace, to the best of my recollection the first time this has happened. (Oddly enough, it would take Grace a further four years to declare “enough is enough”.)
Universal’s House of Horrors: Part 3 of 3
Eventually, all good things must come to an end. This is the third and final part of my exposé into the seedier side of high definition transfers, concentrating on the less than savoury excretions steamrolled by Universal on to HD DVD. (See here and here for the previous instalments.) As I approached the end of the alphabet (I went through the discs alphabetically), I discovered something quite shocking: there are actually a couple of discs in this line-up which look pretty good! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
Lost in Translation
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 14.6 GB)
More indistinct, middle-of-the-road bla that doesn’t make me want to kill myself, but at the same time is the sort of disc I’d immediately hide if someone asked me to show them what the HD formats were capable of.
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 19.9 GB)
What happened here? By some bizarre twist of fate, they actually managed to mint a pretty decent-looking copy of this film. The flaws on display here - ringing, mainly - probably came from the optical printing process rather than from any external meddling. I’ve thrown in some extra images this time round because it’s actually reasonably pleasant to look at.
Seed of Chucky
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 14.5 GB)
“Inconsistent” is the order of the day here. This one alternates between really looking pretty close to excellent and smelling like last week’s milk. Again, I’ve thrown in a few more pictures for this one, so you can get some idea of just how radically different the quality can be from one shot to the next.
Universal’s House of Horrors: Part 2 of 3
Yesterday, we plumbed the depths of the depressingly underwhelming Being John Malkovich, the improbably soft Brokeback Mountain, and Cat People, one of the worst-looking discs released on either of the HD formats. Incidentally, yesterday, I told Blu-ray users that they had transfers like these to look forward to once Universal started rolling out its catalogue titles on the format, but it turns out I spoke too soon. Blu-ray already has a Cat People of its own: The Longest Day, from 20th Century Fox. Click here to see what happens when John Wayne has a nasty encounter with the grain-sucking machine.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 17.3 GB)
Another big steaming lump of cack from Universal. What are they actually thinking?
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 19.7 GB)
This one is actually quite a bit better than the others, but still falls short of acceptable standards. Ample evidence of filtering is present at all times. Really, you need to compare this with the horrendous standard definition DVDs from Criterion and Universal before it even begins to look halfway passable.
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 23.6 GB)
Actually, you know what? I’ve seen a lot worse. At least this one still looks like film, albeit film of the rather murky, ill-defined variety. I could be wrong, but maybe this is just what the movie looks like? Either way, it’s a hell of a lot more pleasant watch than Cat People.
Something is a-coming
A mysterious image has appeared on Blizzard Entertainment’s web site, presumably serving as a teaser for the next new game they announce. The image itself offers no clues as to what that game will be, but what we do know is that the company’s 2008 Worldwide Invitational event kicks off in Paris in Saturday June 28th, so the chances are that it will be used as the venue for the announcement, much as the currently in development Starcraft II was announced at the Worldwide Invitational in Seoul in 2007.
It’s a fairly safe bet that, with World of Warcraft continuing to rake in billions of dollars and Starcraft II still in the oven, the new title will not take place in either of those game worlds. This leaves us with two alternatives: a new Diablo game, or an entirely new franchise. Given that the fact that Blizzard was, at one point, working on a Diablo III (postponed or cancelled outright due to the departure of the original creators from Blizzard North and the eventual shuttering of that satellite studio) is one of the company’s worst-kept secrets, I’d hazard a guess that this is most likely what will end up being announced, but, if that was the case, I’d have expected a more “hellfire and brimstone” image than the rather cold, icy one currently on display.
One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be an agonising five days waiting for the secret to be revealed.
Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 3 and 4: Deathwatch
Written by Stephen Davis; Directed by Maurice Phillips
Also known as “The One With David Hemmings In It”. The man himself doesn’t look at all well (his appearance was filmed just over a year before he suffered a fatal heart attack), but it’s a pleasure to see such a legend in the series, and he gives a good performance. It’s one that initially seems to be that of a grumpy ex-cop, disparaging of the newfangled investigative methods and reminiscing about a time when there was no paperwork and the police went by their instincts, but one that, in the second hour, reveals considerable complexities and twists things in a different direction. It’s not exactly surprising that Hemmings’ character has something to hide - he’s the major guest star, after all - but everyone in this episode is keeping a secret of some sort, so that’s not giving much away.
Anyway, the plot focuses on the death, under suspicious circumstances, of Harold Newman (Howard Goorney), an elderly man living in a nursing home. It becomes clear that he died with a guilty conscience, leaving a list of twelve people whose deaths he claims to have caused. The mysterious twelve turn out to have comprised the jury who condemned East End gangster Frank Sutton (Toby Mace) to death in 1963. Working with the assumption that Newman was a contract killer, Boyd and the CCS set out to find out for whom he was working, and who would now want him dead.
So follows a rather convoluted tale that, to be perfectly honest, doesn’t really play fair with the audience, by giving us a killer who, prior to being identified, only appears in a single throwaway scene and has a single line of dialogue. Of course, he’s ultimately only a means to an end, as the real thrust of the plot takes place nearly 40 years in the past, but it’s somewhat frustrating nonetheless. What makes up for this is, as is often the case in the early episodes, the interaction between the team. The explosive, absurd side of Boyd is now firmly established, but there is still degree of warmth between him and his colleagues that is almost completely absent in the most recent episodes. There is a dizzying array of genuinely amusing dialogue in this episode, much of it involving Grace’s birthday celebrations. (My favourite is Boyds “All right, all right, the shopping channel’s closed down. Now it’s time for the news.”)
Holby connections: David Ashton, who plays Father Cameron in this episode, wrote several episodes of Casualty during Series 2 and 3, while Ronald Pickup, who plays Charles Sutton, had a recurring role in Holby City about a year back as Lord Byrne.
Universal’s House of Horrors: Part 1 of 3
All right, you’re thinking, I’ve seen it all. I’ve marvelled at the exceptional level of detail in Spider-man 3, I’ve been wowed by the fantastic grain reproduction in Silent Hill, and I just can’t imagine an image that looks more all-round perfect than Ratatouille. Well, gentle readers, I present tonight, for the viewing pleasure of the hardened technophile, an inside look at the other end of the spectrum: the transfers so repulsive that you’d actually go out of your way to make sure people didn’t accidentally see them and somehow “get the wrong idea” about high definition. Over the course of the next three posts, I’ll be delving into Universal’s swamp of catalogue releases, and we’ll be asking ourselves how some of these travesties actually made it out the front (or back) door in the first place.
Attention, BD fans: don’t go celebrating the assimilation of Universal into the Blu-ray umbrella just yet. This is what you have to look forward to.
Being John Malkovich
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 18.9 GB)
To be fair, this is already a really dingy, unappealing film to look at, but it shouldn’t look this bad.
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 21.1 GB)
This one isn’t even a catalogue title, so why in the name of all that is pleasant does it look like this? Nincompoop reviewers talk about the amazing landscapes on display as if that somehow means the transfer is any good.
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 19 GB)
This one looks like someone took a giant dump on the disc stamper and then had it pressed. People won’t actually believe an HD transfer can look this awful until you show it to them. This is pretty much as bad as it gets.
Look what arrived this afternoon
Straight from our friends in the People’s Republic of China, we have the first check discs for the upcoming release of Andrzej Zulawski’s La Femme Publique. This will be the first commercially released DVD for which my brother did the video transfer (as well as other assorted tasks), and we hope to be able to give you a release date soon.
Some screenshots to whet your appetite:
More information about the project is available here, or visit Mondo-Vision.com for a sneak peek at what else is in the pipeline.
Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 1 and 2: Life Sentence
Written by John Milne; Directed by Edward Bennett
A playing card, the Queen of Hearts, is left on the windscreen of Dr. Claire Delaney (Susannah Harker), who, several years ago, was the first of six women to be abducted by Thomas Rice (Samuel West), and the only one to survive. All the others were raped and murdered, and, on each occasion, a pack of playing cards was delivered to the investigating officer, with the instructions that he gamble for the victim’s life by picking a card. Now, working under the assumption that Rice in fact had an accomplice, Boyd and his team set out to re-interview the notoriously slippery killer, now serving a life sentence.
It strikes me that this plot is rather similar to that of Dario Argento’s The Card Player, albeit without the Internet factor. This episode initially aired on September 2nd 2002, and The Card Player premiered in Italy in January 2004. Now, I’m not for a minute going to suggest that Dario Argento spends his time watching British television to get ideas for his film plots, but the likeness is nonetheless striking. The other point of reference, of course, is The Silence of the Lambs, the parallels being virtually impossible to ignore when you consider Rice’s “quid pro quo” attitude and Boyd’s use of Mel as a honey trap of sorts. Of course, Samuel West is no Anthony Hopkins and Claire Goose, good as she is, is no Jodie Foster, but the encounters between them (and Grace) are well-written and result in one of Waking the Dead’s truly tense scenes, as Rice systematically blocks his cell’s security cameras with various paintings, circling around Mel as he moves in for the kill.
Otherwise, this turns out to be a fairly conventional, albeit nasty, tale of kidnapping and murder. Certainly, after tales of bodies being found in churches and photojournalists burning to death in Series 1, this one seems a bit more like “real life”, while certain aspects of this case do bear a passing resemblance to the abduction storyline of the pilot. It’s an assured start to the second series, however, and one with a set of suspects that is manageable and at the same time not so limited as to make the culprit seem obvious. Actually, several people are hiding something, and the various allegiances are not all what you would expect.
Incidentally, from this episode onwards, the team have moved into their permanent location - the rather snazzy-looking headquarters with the transparent evidence boards and a lack of sufficient lighting. The episode also contains what is, to the best of my recollection, the first time Boyd uses his favourite interview technique of leaning forward and asking a suspect a question, then asking it again ONLY THIS TIME SHOUTING IT SO LOUD THE SPIT FLIES OUT OF HIS MOUTH. Truly, a man of tact and subtlety.
Holby connections: Paterson Joseph, who plays Dermot Sullivan in this episode, starred in Casualty as nurse Mark Grace from Series 12 to mid-Series 13. Nowadays, though, he is probably best known as Johnson in Peep Show.
30 Days of Shite
We watched the Blu-ray release of 30 Days of Night this evening.
Seriously, if you’re considering giving it a go, my advice would be “don’t bother”. The premise is interesting, but the whole thing is botched on just about every possible level. Josh Hartnett makes for a dreadful, inexpressive lead, and the director, David Slade, seems to possess absolutely no sense of pacing, nor does he appear to have the first clue about generating tension. Scene after scene is botched by clumsy choreography and camerawork, and a general sense that he’s working with a script which simply doesn’t have enough material to withstand the running time. Whole days seem to pass in which nothing happens, and the situation becomes so tedious that the script resorts to having the characters arbitrarily say things like “We can’t stay here” (despite them having been perfectly safe in their current location for several days) and staging foolhardy escape missions that you just know are going to get someone killed. I’m normally the last person to bring out the “logic” card in what is ultimately a brainless splatter movie, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could be as stupid as this film’s troop of hapless dolts.
Every “bump in the night” cliché is routinely trotted out, and, despite characters dropping like flies in the most brutal manner imaginable, it’s impossible to care about any of them, as they are simply too bland and unlikeable. Most of them are completely interchangeable, to the extent that, every time a character said “Where’s [insert name here]?” or “What about [insert name here]?”, my immediate response would be “Search me! I don’t even know what [insert name here] looks like!”
After hearing good things about this film, I felt utterly robbed by it. Thats 113 minutes of my life that are gone forever.
Anyone want a new computer?
Before I go to the trouble of listing it on eBay (and incurring their usual fee), would anyone like to make me an offer on my previous computer system? The components are as follows:
- Shuttle SD32G2 Socket 775 case/motherboard/power supply/proprietary cooling system
- Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz) dual core CPU
- 2GB Kingston 667 MHz DDR2 RAM (two sticks of 1 GB)
- Asus DVD Burner DRW-1814BLT
- Sapphire Radeon X1950 Pro video card (512 MB)
Now, obviously you’ll need to add your own external peripherals (monitor, keyboard, etc.), and it doesn’t come with a hard drive, so you’ll need to add that too, but otherwise this is a fully functional system, and one that is surprisingly quiet and powerful, despite its small size and tightly packed components. If you’re interested in making me an offer I can’t refuse, email me at whiggles[at]ntlworld[dot][com].
Any excuse to press PrintScreen
Attention, readers: here’s your eye candy for the evening. These screen captures come from the DirectX 10 version of the Devil May Cry 4 demo for the PC, the full retail version of which is due out on July 11th.
I’m considering picking up a copy, although I suspect I’ll need to get my hands on a compatible gamepad beforehand, as the keyboard controls in the PC version are counter-intuitive to say the least. Case in point: you can control both the character’s movement and the camera position. In most PC games played from a third person perspective, you’ll use the W-A-S-D keys to move the character and the mouse to move the camera. Not so in Devil May Cry 4, which has no mouse support. Instead, you use the cursor keys to move the camera, which, when you’re trying to move the character (using the W-A-S-D keys) and perform attacks (using the I-J-K-L keys) at the same time, is about as absurd and infuriating as things can get.
Waking the Dead: Series 1, Episodes 7 and 8: Every Breath You Take
Written by Barbara Machin; Directed by Gary Love
“You know when you put a fork in a sausage and it bursts? Well, it’s the same with brain matter.” - Dr. Frankie Wharton
A body is fished out of the Thames, and is identified as that of missing police sergeant Debbie Britten (Joanne Farrell). Given that Debbie was something of a poster child for the police force, DAC Christie orders Boyd to drop everything and spare no expense in bringing her killer to justice. Prior to her disappearance, Debbie attracted a number of stalkers, among them Michael Skinner (Andrew Buckley) and Christopher Redford (Lee Ross), both of whom emerge as prime suspects. However, Boyd’s old friend Steven Maitland (Thomas Lockyer), who worked on the hunt for Debbie at the time of her disappearance, knows more than he is letting on, and an illicit check on the police DNA database reveals that his relationship with her was far from strictly professional.
Series 1, as a whole, is comprised of four very good self-contained stories, and I’m of the opinion that this one is, overall, the best of the bunch. Actually, it’s a shame this was the last episode Barbara Machin wrote of her own show. One thing I appreciate about her scripts is her attention to procedural detail. Whereas I tend to find that most writers working within the confines of so-called precinct dramas tend to use the basic formula (cop show, medical drama, etc.) as a framework upon which to hang a storyline about relationships (not necessarily of the romantic variety) between various characters, Machin is every bit as interested in the nitty-gritty of what the various professionals do, and will spend a lot of time recreating procedure simply because it can be compelling in and of itself. In this storyline, a considerable amount of time is spent showing how Frankie locates some bullets that have been concealed at the scene of the crime. It’s fascinating to watch and, given Machin’s track record for comprehensive research, no doubt completely accurate. I’ve always been more interested in the psychological than the scientific side of things, however, so the most interesting part of the episode, for me, is the way in which it constructs two distinct profiles for Debbie’s two obsessive stalkers. Likewise, there’s a twist at the end that comes slightly out of left field, but in retrospect it does make a great deal of sense.
Elsewhere, the more compulsive, aggressive side of Boyd’s personality begins to emerge. This is certainly the first time we see him literally bawling at his subordinates and suspects, and on the whole the level of dysfunction between members of the team is much higher here than it has been until now. There are still some nicely touching moments, though, including Boyd telling Grace about his own past stalker-like behaviour towards a woman about whom he became obsessed (“But you see, ultimately, you knew when no meant no,” Grace points out; “No, I married her,” replies Boyd), and Boyd’s apology to Frankie after putting her job on the line (“I love you, Frankie” - I suspect you have to see it for yourself to get it).
Holby connections: Gary Love directed a number of episodes of Casualty between Series 12 and 14, among them my second-favourite episode of all time, Love Me Tender, which contains what can reasonably considered to be Claire Goose’s finest performance to date. This episode has a considerably more ambitious look than that of the rest of the first series as a whole.
Update, June 16th, 2008 12:05 PM: Incidentally, something I forgot to mention last night is that, in this episode, Grace states that she has a thesis to work on and “kids I never see”. Later episodes, in which it is stated that Grace never married or had children, directly contradict this.
Pointless study wastes money; common sense loses out
Gamespot reports that a team of scientists have conducted a study of the PC game Unreal Tournament 2004 and have come to the conclusion that, in team games, players who end up in the Red team are more likely to win than those on the Blue team.
Um, excuse me? People actually sanction the funding of “studies” like this? I could have saved them a whole lot of time and money by pointing out to them that, in the Unreal Tournament series, in multiplayer games with an even number of players, new players who join mid-game will default to the Red team, thereby weighting the game in its favour. That’s why Red is more likely to win than Blue. Not because
the reason behind this was that the colour red acts as a “psychological distractor” to men.
Monthly Post Index
- DVDs I bought or received in the month of June
- "She's terrible!"
- Softly, softly
- Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 7 and 8: Thin Air
- And the heavens shall tremble
- A well-earned break
- Not long to go now
- Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 5 and 6: Special Relationships
- Universal's House of Horrors: Part 3 of 3
- Universal's House of Horrors: Part 2 of 3
- Something is a-coming
- Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 3 and 4: Deathwatch
- Universal's House of Horrors: Part 1 of 3
- Look what arrived this afternoon
- Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 1 and 2: Life Sentence
- 30 Days of Shite
- Anyone want a new computer?
- Any excuse to press PrintScreen
- Waking the Dead: Series 1, Episodes 7 and 8: Every Breath You Take
- Pointless study wastes money; common sense loses out
- Waking the Dead: Series 1, Episodes 5 and 6: A Simple Sacrifice
- I can't see a goddamn thing, Jim!
- HD Image Quality Rankings updated
- To Hellgate and back
- Waking the Dead: Series 1, Episodes 3 and 4: The Blind Beggar
- Get 'em while they're still lukewarm
- Stair-stepping ahoy!
- Waking the Dead: Series 1, Episodes 1 and 2: Burn Out
- My compass is pointing to DVNR
- A bit of good news on the sound front
- How to make a DVD on the cheap
- Snow, sand, softness and sharpness
- Waking the Dead: Pilot
- The Waking the Dead Project
- The best pics in London
- Why I hate sound cards