September 2006

 
 

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DVDs I bought or received in the month of September

  • Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace: The Complete Series (R2 UK, SD DVD)
  • Land of the Dead: Unrated Director’s Cut (R0 USA, HD DVD/SD DVD combo)
  • The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition (R1 USA, SD DVD)
  • The Omen (remake) (R2 UK, SD DVD)
  • Red Dragon (R0 USA, HD DVD)

Pretty lean pickings all around this month. Luckily, things should heat up in the run-up to Christmas as the studios committed to HD DVD start to crank out the big guns.

 
Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 9:52 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | TV
 

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a Garth Marenghi production (inassociationwithDeanLearner)

DVD

Constantly delayed and long overdue, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace: The Complete Series (R2 UK) finally showed up today courtesy of a review copy from DVD Times.

Darkplace, for those who haven’t heard of it, is in my opinion one of the best TV shows in recent years. Originally aired on Channel 4 in January to February of 2004, it’s basically a parody of all sorts of bad horror and sci-fi movies and TV shows from the 80s. The framing device, however, is a series of interviews and introductions by its “creator”, the enigmatic Garth Marenghi (played by the show’s co-writer, Matthew Holness), which are intended to give the impression that Darkplace really is a show from the 1980s written by, directed by and starring a megalomaniac by the name of Garth Marenghi (who happens to sound a lot like film critic Mark Kermode). Of course, it’s all an elaborate scam, but it’s a jaw-droppingly convincing one, and contains more laugh out loud moments than any other TV show I’ve seen in the last few years. It’s aim, I suppose, is somewhat similar to that of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the difference being that Darkplace is actually funny, and instead of making fun of actual films, those responsible have created their own material.

Expect a review of this witty little number in the next week or so. I’m holding the check disc in my hand as we speak, so I can confirm that it’s actually coming out this time (it’s scheduled for release on October 16th).

 
Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 6:59 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: DVD | TV
 

New Sarah McLachlan in October

CD

One of my favourite musicians has two new CD releases due out in October. The 3rd sees the debut of Mirrorball: The Complete Concert, a 2-disc set featuring a complete, unabridged recording of the closing show of her 1998 Mirrorball tour. I already own the shorter single-disc release (and it’s probably my favourite Sarah McLachlan CD), so, although I feel like I’m being taken to the cleaner’s, I’ll be picking up a copy.

The second CD, Wintersong, is due out on the 17th, and is something a little different, in that it’s comprised almost entirely of cover versions of popular Christmas songs such as Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Happy Xmas (War is Over). I’m not sure that this is going to be quite my thing (and October seems a little early to be releasing a Christmas album!), but I’ve been starved for good music recently, and it does include a new original song, Wintersong, so I suspect I’ll probably be buying this too.

Update, October 19, 2006 12:16 AM: I’m disabling commenting on this entry because it seems to be attracting an inordinate amount of spam.

Update #2, December 19, 2006 10:39 AM: Comments have been re-enabled due to the improved anti-spam features of Movable Type 3.32.

 
Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 6:52 PM
Categories: Music
 

The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition

DVD
As one of Disney’s most beloved animated features ever, fans of all ages are sure to be queuing up to pick up this 2-disc edition of The Little Mermaid before it is placed back in the notorious Disney Vault. Still, while the extras are plentiful and largely informative, the transfer is a real disappointment and one that betrays a lack of understanding or regard for the medium of film-sourced, hand-drawn animation. The sad thing is that, for the foreseeable future, these flaws are likely to be here to stay, so holding out for a later release (e.g. a high definition version) is unlikely to improve matters substantially. One thing’s for sure: Disney should definitely never again commission Technicolor to undertake a restoration of one of their films.

One of Disney’s most popular animated classics has finally been given a re-release on DVD, getting the deluxe 2-disc Platinum Edition treatment. I’ve reviewed the R1 US release of The Little Mermaid, due out on October 3rd, which unfortunately features a decidedly substandard restoration.

 
Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 6:21 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 5: Selfless

DVD

Written by Drew Goddard; Directed by David Solomon

The crazy new costume designer strikes again! In Beneath You, it was Spike and his horrifying blue shirt; this week, it’s Streetwalker Willow in her wacky red tights.

Anyway, a lot of people are crazy about this episode, but I consider it rather overrated. It’s worth watching, though, because it’s the last time Anya gets any meaningful character development. Trouble is, it seems to exist for no reason other than to cap off the “return to vengeange” plot that was introduced late in Season 6. What was the point? Was it because they realised the plot wasn’t a very good idea after all? Buffy does, of course, have a moral obligation, and indeed duty, to kill demons, especially those who are themselves making a habit of slaughtering people wholesale. How on earth could they justify keeping Anya alive after what she’s done? Buffy does, after all, stake random vampires as they rise from their graves before they’ve had any chance to kill anyone. If she’s not going to give them the benefit of the doubt, what’s so special about Anya?

Answer: Emma Caulfield. She was originally going to be a one-shot villain, but Joss Whedon liked her so much that he kept her around until the show ended (although he did give her a crappy pointless death in the final few minutes because he was pissed off that she’d decided to quit whether or not the show was renewed). It’s the same with Spike and, I suspect, a number of other characters who Buffy, for no tangible reason, allows to live, simply because people like the characters and their actors. In all honesty, Buffy might as well have killed Anya in this episode, as was her intention, because Emma gets precious little to do from hereon in, other than get drunk with Andrew and have a surprise bout of kitchen-floor sex with Xander just before the final battle.

This was the first episode written by a new writer, Drew Goddard, as his first ever gig in the industry. A number of people have commented that, had he run the final season, it would have been a whole lot better and actually lived up to the promises of “going right back to the beginning”. I can sort of see why: he does well with the continuity in this episode, referring all the way back to Xander’s “kick his ass” lie at the end of Season 2, and also throwing in a fun musical number set at the time of Once More With Feeling (although it’s vastly inferior to anything in that episode). These are just window-dressing, though. The “kick his ass” line is promptly buried without ever being exploited (if the writers wanted to drive the gang apart, surely dirty secrets from the past such as that should have been the perfect tools with which to do so), and the song is nice for what it is but ultimately empty. I’m not saying the season wouldn’t have been better with Goddard in the driving seat, because at least then someone would have been steering it, but, based on his contributions to the Buffyverse, I don’t think he’s the wunderkind some people have made him out to be.

Overall rating: 7/10.

Next time: Him.

 
Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 12:43 AM
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Music | Reviews | TV
 

Land of the Dead

HD DVD

My copy of the HD DVD/SD DVD combo release of George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead Unrated Director’s Cut (R0 USA) arrived this morning, and I’m happy to report that it’s another strong release from Universal. No, it’s not “perfect” in the manner of Serenity and Unleashed, but it is very, very good and a step up from Red Dragon, released shortly before it, also by Universal.

Like many of the more recent films getting the upgrade to high definition, such as Serenity and Constantine, Land of the Dead is sourced from a digital intermediate, and as such has a “cleaner” and more static look than titles sourced from film elements, such as Red Dragon and Sleepy Hollow. The level of detail is, for the most part, excellent, although the darker scenes, of which there are a fair number, are obviously not as crisply defined as the day scenes or the brightly lit interiors. This is, of course, a result of the original photography. Unlike Red Dragon, edge enhancement is also pleasingly absent, apart from a handful of close-ups of Big Daddy at around the 33 minute mark. In these shots, there is some prominent ringing around his head, but the fact that, out of the entire film, only these shots are affected, suggests that some digital tomfoolery went on during the post production process, rather than any tampering with the transfer. In any event, the shots are gone after around 30 seconds, and the problem never crops up again.

Land of the Dead

The compression is also well handled, barring some blocking on a single explosion towards the end of the film - once again, impressive results for an HD15/DVD9 flipper release. Overall, therefore, this is another stellar effort from Universal. It’s not their best, but it’s not far behind my personal “Big Three” (Serenity, Unleashed and The Bourne Supremacy). Of course, flip it over and take a look at the standard definition side, and it’s another story entirely. I know the R1 DVD release of Land of the Dead was a particularly weak effort, but yikes! Softness and thick blurry edge enhancement halos galore! This is Fellowship of the Ring bad (i.e. really bad, especially for a big budget release of a digitally sourced modern film).

Land of the Dead

So far, my overall rankings for the various HD DVD releases that I’ve seen now look like this (from best to worst):

10/10:
Serenity
Unleashed

9/10:
The Bourne Supremacy
Land of the Dead

8/10:
Red Dragon
Constantine
Sleepy Hollow
Million Dollar Baby

7/10:
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Before the year is out, I hope to be able to add Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, An American Werewolf in London, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride and Miami Vice to the list (the latter three are review copies that I’ve put my name down for), as well as the Japanese release of The Machinist and the UK release of Gangs of New York… provided the latter (a) actually comes out and (b) actually plays in the HD-A1. And who knows what other titles will be announced before Christmas?

 
Posted: Friday, September 29, 2006 at 9:32 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

New FAQ and more

Over the past week or so, eagle-eyed visitors might have noticed that I’ve been gradually transitioning the many pages of this site over to the new version 9 layout. There’s a long way to go yet, but a handful of pages have now been reformatted, and this evening I redid the Frequently Asked Questions section. This time, I have a brand new set of questions and answers, courtesy of the Simple Surveys Blog Survey System (one of these things that asks you a generic set of questions and you try to show everyone how witty you are by providing wacky and unexpected answers). Generally speaking, the previous FAQ was way too bloated, filled with all sorts of pointless questions that no-one would ever actually ask in reality. There are a few things missing from the new one, like what computer I have and stuff like that, but I’ll add that sort of thing as separate entries at a later date.

Anyway, we’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re making progress.

Update, September 30, 2006 02:23 AM: I’ve now added some of the more important questions from the old FAQ, with a little rewording here and there to make them a little less verbose. There’s even a picture of me now, so what are you waiting for?

 
Posted: Friday, September 29, 2006 at 6:18 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: General | Web
 

Close But No Cigar

Listen up, all you crazy people who think Shrek and Family Guy are the height of sophistication! Here’s proof that you don’t require a billion dollars to create good cartoony fun - you just need actual talent.

John Kricfalusi, creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show (the show to which just about every modern cartoon owes its existence), has recently been working on a couple of freelance projects. One is an animated introduction to the upcoming film Tenacious D in “The Pick of Destiny”, while the other is a music video for the new Weird Al Yankovic song, Close But No Cigar. John K posted about the completed video recently in his blog, along with a brief clip, and the full-length piece has appeared on YouTube. The music isn’t really my thing, but watch it now and marvel at the fluid, expressive, and most importantly well-drawn animation. This thing was made on a micro-budget, and in Macromedia Flash of all things. Normally the bane of any animator’s existence, with its generic rotating shapes and “tweening”, John K was the first person to truly harness the format’s potential back in the 1990s when he created the world’s first web cartoons, and now he seems to have done it again, cranking out near feature-quality animation using a format that its creators originally thought could be used for nothing except annoying ad banners.

The animation, by the way, was done by a Canadian firm called Copernicus Studios. They are also doing the animation for the Tenacious D piece.

 
Posted: Friday, September 29, 2006 at 11:16 AM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | Music | Technology | Web
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 4: Help

DVD

Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner; Directed by Rick Rosenthal

As I write this review, it occurs to me that, despite being one of the weakest seasons of Buffy ever, Season 7 actually has the longest run of solid episodes at its start. Looking at these early episodes, it seems clear that the writers at least were earnest in their intent to move away from the depression of Season 6 and go back to a more light-hearted style of show. It also seems fairly certain that, at this stage, they really weren’t sure whether or not this would be their last season, because it’s probably fair to say that, had they known for certain they were on their way out, they wouldn’t have done so many filler episodes. In that regard, I suspect that at least some of the blame for Season 7’s overall suckage should be laid at Sarah Michelle Gellar’s feet, since she took so long to decide she wasn’t coming back that the writers ended up with very little time to wrap things up.

Anyway, good things about this episode: Willow and Xander visit Tara’s grave. This is one of something like three episodes in which Tara is directly referenced (although her name isn’t actually spoken here), and the scene manages to be quite touching. Also, the main plot, involving a young girl called Cassie who can see into the future and predicts that she’s going to die on Friday, is a little different from usual and is dealt with well. It’s not the most uplifting of episodes, but it is poignant, and probably Rebecca Kirshner’s best writing effort. The actress playing Cassie, Azura Skye, is also excellent. I know that the episode is filled with all sorts of timeframe errors, but I can overlook these. Interestingly, too, this short-lived mini Scoobie gang of Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Xander is quite effective, getting away from the sometimes overcrowded nature of of the last couple of seasons in favour of a more concentrated approach. Where’s Anya, though? She’s not in this episode at all, which is pretty indicative of the way her character ends up being treated throughout the rest of the season.

On the downside, the writing may have got better, but the directing certainly hasn’t. If anything, it’s got worse. So far, every episode of this season has looked bland, flat and anonymous, with drab lighting and very uninteresting camerawork - and, as far as I can remember, this doesn’t change. It’s serviceable, that’s for sure, but when I look back to something like Bad Girls in Season 3 and think how good the lighting, staging and stunts were, it becomes really obvious how much the show’s technical standards have slipped.

Overall rating: 8/10.

Next time: Selfless.

 
Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 9:14 PM
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 3: Same Time, Same Place

DVD

Written by Jane Espenson; Directed by James A. Contner

As I’m watching these early Season 7 episodes, I’m finding it amazing just how much better they are than the second half of Season 6, or indeed the second half of Season 7. They’re not perfect, and there’s a distinct lack of proper narrative follow-through, but at least they’re acknowledging certain issues, such as Willow’s previous homidical tendencies, even if they’re doing their best to brush them off.

This episode is good in most respects: it has a cool monster (Gnarl is one creepy mofo), decent character moments and even an effective metaphor (Willow can’t see the gang, and they can’t see her, because of their failure to communicate). There are also some very nice comedy moments, my favourite being posable Dawn (she gets paralysed by Gnarl). That said, some of the problems that will affect the rest of the season are already becoming apparent. Chiefly, we learn that Anya has had her right to teleport revoked - presumably because the writers realised it would make things a little too easy if she could travel anywhere she wanted in the blink of an eye. The same is true later in the season with Willow’s magic ability, which varies on an episode by episode basis as they struggle to rationalise why someone with enough power to literally destroy the whole world isn’t getting out the big guns for the showdown against the First and his minions.

Overall rating: 8/10.

Next time: Help.

 
Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 8:12 PM
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

The Omen: how to make exactly the same movie twice and ruin it

DVD

A review copy of the 2006 remake of The Omen (R2 UK) arrived this morning. I can’t exactly claim that I had high hopes for this latest Hollywood cash-in (a movie made entirely because of the marketing possibilities of a 6/6/06 release date, it would seem), but jeez Louise! Even I wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it turned out. I mean, it uses almost exactly the same script as the original (a writer called Dan McDermott was brought in to “update” it, but the changes he made were so minor that the Writers’ Guild of America didn’t even give him credit), and the original is one of my favourite films of all time. I figured that it would at least be competent, if unremarkable. Sadly, I was wrong. The new Omen is not merely bad, it’s a shit film.

I’ll have a full review up before too long (probably October 16th, when reviews of the new UK releases of the first four Omen films will also be going up at DVD Times), so I’ll be brief. Crap acting, crap music, crap “scares”, crap direction (seriously, this is the one horror remake I’ve seen that actually looks less slick than the original), and Jesus Christ, the kid playing Damien is the worst of the lot. Scowling at the camera and wearing pasty make-up does not a scary child make, people. A couple of intriguing dream sequences nonewithstanding, this film is a worthless waste of celluloid. I didn’t think it was possible to take a classic film and screw it up this badly, but sadly I was mistaken. 3/10

 
Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 1:31 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

The Little Mermaid: Technicolor Digital curls out another one

DVD

This morning I received a copy of Disney’s upcoming 2-disc Platinum Edition of The Little Mermaid (R1 USA), courtesy of DVD Pacific. Unfortunately, it’s not good news. Yes, the extras are numerous; yes, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s songs sound punchy; no, there’s no crappy inserted “all-new animation”… but the transfer leaves a lot to be desired.

Disney have always had a rather spotty history with their Platinum Editions, especially those for films not shot in the digital realm. Previously, their “restorations” were handled by Lowry Digital Images, the same company responsible for ruining the Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogies with their overly aggressive digital noise reduction techniques. I first became aware of their destructive influence with Bambi, whose transfer was so horribly mangled that parts of the image that had been subjected to “clean-up” literally warped and swam around before my very eyes, while incompetently handled DVNR eroded the pencil lines of the original animation in much the same manner as the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 cartoons that we were all getting so worked up about last summer.

The Little Mermaid

With Cinderella and Lady and the Tramp, Lowry continued their campaign of mass destruction, this time seeming to get the line mangling under control, but filtering and noise reducing the images so much that any hint of film grain was completely eradicated.

With The Little Mermaid, however, Disney have sunk to a new low. The restoration this time was carried out not by Lowry but by Technicolor Digital Services, who have subjected the film to a series of harmful and inconsistently applied algorithms. Heavy temporal noise reduction is visible on a number of occasions, causing the pencil outlines of the animation to ghost and leave trails, giving a look much like that of an LCD screen with a very low response time. On other occasions, the lines become eroded in the same manner as Bambi and the Looney Tunes cartoons. Perhaps most distracting, though, is that the level grain and detail erosion varies on a shot by shot basis. Some shots look fine, showing a reasonable level of grain and detail, but others will suddenly look oily and smudged, especially shots with a lot of pale hues (presumably because they would be more likely to be affected by grain).

The Little Mermaid

The end result is very disappointing, and it’s clear that these so-called restoration “experts” should be kept away from films such as these, because they obviously have no understanding of how to deal with animation. These transfers are certainly watchable, but are far from pleasant, and in my opinion constitute artistic vandalism, given that these are likely to serve as the masters for several subsequent generations of releases of these highly-regarded films.

It’s also worth mentioning that this transfer is cropped. Compared with the 1.66:1 transfer of the Limited Issue release from 2000, sourced from a LaserDisc master, this 1.78:1 transfer is missing information at both the top and bottom of the frame. Obviously, the film would have been intended to be exhibited in a variety of ratios from 1.66:1 to 1.85:1, depending on the specific dimensions of the cinema screen on which it was being projected, but the use of 1.66:1 transfers for just about every other Disney film from The Rescuers onwards suggests, to me, that those responsible prefer to have the full image visible for their DVD releases. Either way, cropping or not, this is a disappointing transfer, especially given the film’s historical value.

 
Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 4:54 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

Two gialli from Neo Publishing in October

Source: DeVil Dead

Neo Publishing, a French DVD distributor who put out special editions of Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper and Seven Notes in Black last year, are releasing another two gialli on October 9th: Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? and Umberto Lenzi’s Seven Bloodstained Orchids. I already own both these films, and, in the case of the former, am extremely happy with 01 Distribution’s Italian release (beyond any doubt the best transfer I’ve ever seen for a giallo), but the menu screen captures have caught my eye. Seven Bloodstained Orchids doesn’t have anything much on offer, but Solange promises a new documentary, “Whatever Happened to Solange?”, interviewing producer Fulvio Lucisano and star Fabio Testi, as well as a stand-alone interview with Testi.

Now, the thing is that Neo Publishing’s releases have been variable at best. Both of their Fulci releases were loaded with exhaustive extras, but The New York Ripper’s transfer was a poor-quality standards conversion of the NTSC release from Anchor Bay, while Seven Notes in Black lacked an English audio track. In the case of Solange, provided Neo license 01’s stellar transfer and remember to include an English track, then I’ll probably pick it up for the extras. Otherwise, forget it. Either way, I won’t be bothering with Seven Bloodstained Orchids: it’s not a very good film, and I don’t really feel like buying another copy of it, even if it improves on Media Blasters’ botch job.

 
Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 1:23 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Technology
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 2: Beneath You

DVD

Written by Douglas Petrie; Directed by Nick Marck (England sequence written and directed by Joss Whedon)

More monster of the week whimsies, but clearly a bit of an afterthought. I mean, a penis monster (well, that’s what it looks like at any rate) who comes out of the ground and chases a helpless lady is hardly original. The main focus, it would seem, is on Spike and his newly acquired soul, as well as his newly acquired state of insanity. Initially, I assumed that the two were connected, but, of course, later on it turns out that the insanity is just the First messing with him.

What really bugs me is the fact that the gang pretty much just accept Spike back. Okay, so Xander can at least remember that he tried to rape Buffy last time he was in town, and Dawn warns him that if he lays a finger on her sister, he’ll “wake up on fire” (gotta love the new got-together Dawn), but everyone seems fairly blasé about it. Oh, and if everyone knows that Anya, now a practicing Vengeance Demon again, is killing people as a career, why in the hell aren’t they doing anything about it? Still, Spike’s blue shirt is by far the most offensive part of the episode. I’m not exactly a fashion-conscious sort of fellow, but yeesh!

As with last week’s episode, the scene between Willow and Giles in England is its best moment. I find it interesting that this damaged, vulnerable Willow, having realised just how out of control she was, has reverted back to her Season 1-3 speech patterns. It’s moments like these that make me realise what an immensely talented actor Alyson Hannigan is, and, not for the first time, I find myself shaking my head when I think that she’s stuck appearing in crap like Date Movie. Someone give the girl a decent dramatic role, for god’s sake!

Savour these moments, by the way, because, barring the Buffy scenes in Conversations with Dead People, they’re the only Joss Whedon material we’ll get until the finale. And, as a point of useless trivia, they were actually shot in Anthony Head’s own house and garden.

Overall rating: 7/10.

Next time: Same Time, Same Place.

 
Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 12:21 AM
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Family Fucking Guy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8dIQyj9sXw

It seems that a recent episode of Family Guy (a butt-ugly, badly-written, unfunny rip-off of The Simpsons) somehow made it to air with the word “fuck” in it, clear as day. As you may or may not know, such naughty words are expressly verboten on American network television, with hefty fines for any network that fails to conform to the rules. Someone at Fox is going to have their head on the chopping block for this!

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 26, 2006 at 6:50 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | TV | Web
 

Heroes of Annihilated Empires

Heroes of Annihilated Empires

While browsing Gamespot yesterday evening, my eye was drawn to a rather fetching screenshot for an RTS called Heroes of Annihilated Empires. This morning, I decided to seek out the playable demo and give it a whirl myself.

Essentially, the game is Warcraft III in reverse. Both are strategy games that include noticeable role-playing elements, but whereas Warcraft III emphasized the notion of developing singular heroes rather than masses of minions by considerably restricting the number of units you could build, Heroes of Annihilated Empires goes all-out with massive armies (read hundreds, if not thousands, of individual soldiers), with the scale of the resulting battles capturing the sense of global conflict that was all but impossible with Warcraft III’s piteous little groups of 20-30 units.

So far, it appears to be a fairly generic fantasy setting, pitting Elves against the Undead, with the requisite dryads, goblins, fairies and enchanted trees, but the pre-rendered movie which played at the start did offer a glimpse of what looked like modern aircraft, which suggests that the game may have a few more tricks up its sleeve than initially meets the eye. A glance at the official web site, meanwhile, implies that these events take place in an alternative past (or future?) of the real world. Oh, and the learning curve is hard. I gave up on the sample mission after three attempts, and have since been dabbling (rather unsuccessfully) with the skirmish mode. I get the impression that this is a game that requires one to read the manual thoroughly - something which unfortunately isn’t offered with the demo.

The full version is due out on October 6th, according to Gamespot. I’m not sure I’d buy the full version, but the demo seems interesting enough for me to want to continue poking around with it. Who knows - if it seems like a keeper, maybe I will pick up the retail copy.

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 26, 2006 at 2:40 PM
Categories: Games | Technology | Web
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 1: Lessons

DVD

Written by Joss Whedon; Directed by David Solomon (England sequences directed by Joss Whedon)

It’s always difficult to know precisely what went on behind closed doors during the break between Seasons 6 and 7, but it seems fairly safe to say that there would have been some heated discussions to say the least. What is known is that Joss Whedon and his writers were more than a little put out to discover that, as it happens, people don’t generally like being depressed and seeing characters they’ve grown to love pushed into the mud and trampled on. Whedon likes to say that he “gives people what they need, not what they want”, but it’s pretty clear that, in more than a few areas, he realised he was going to have to listen to the fans.

And it wasn’t just the fans. James Marsters threatened to quit because he was sick of having to stand around in a jock-strap for hours on end all day. Sarah Michelle Gellar went to Whedon and told him she was sick of playing a manic depressive and wanted a return to the light-hearted fun and fancy free of the first three seasons. Emma Caulfield said that, no matter what happened, she’d be gone after the season ended. Amber Benson was busy becoming a martyr for a sizeable portion of the audience. Michelle Trachtenberg wanted to wear high heels. Oh, and there was the slight problem of the advertisers saying they’d pull out if the Doublemeat Palace ever reared its ugly head again.

So, prior to the new season starting, a whole lot of grand promises were made. Season 7 would be more light-hearted and fun (a natural progression, Whedon claimed, to the doom and gloom of Season 6 - although frankly I have my doubts), heading back to high school and dealing more with monster of the week cases. Giles would appear in more episodes and be put to better use. Buffy would stop being depressed. Amber Benson, Eliza Dushku and a bunch of others would be back. Oh, and the “magic as drugs” metaphor would be dumped.

The first episode comes around, and it’s a competent but completely unremarkable season premiere. Basically, it’s a monster of the week episode that introduces the new Sunnydale High and begins to hint at the Big Bad of the season, the First. It also serves as something of a pilot for a “Dawn the Vampire Slayer” spin-off that never came to fruition: by the end of Season 7, there was no way Michelle Trachtenberg was going to agree to ever play Dawn again, and I doubt many people would have objected to this decision. The funny thing, though, is that the development of Dawn is one of the few things I like about this season. Okay, “development” probably isn’t the right word, as she doesn’t really progress in a meaningful way, but she does become considerably less annoying (then again, maybe that’s because she gets considerably less screen time). Anyway, it involves Dawn hooking up with a couple of kids who can only be described as Willow Lite and Xander Lite, although some people have nicknamed them the Scrappies (to the original gang’s Scoobies). They never appear again, and Dawn the Vampire Slayer is pretty much buried in the episode Potential, but it does show that, mindful of the fact that this could well be their last season, Whedon and co were busy executing various contingency plans so they’d have something to fall back on. Of course, none of them ever panned out, but that’s another story.

What bugs me about this episode is the inability to address any of the events that took place during the previous season. Yes, it’s good that the episode is largely upbeat, but the fact that everyone seems to have had a memory wipe does not bode well. Tara is never mentioned - actually, it takes till the seventh episode for her name to be spoken, for the first of something like three occasions in the whole season - and Willow’s murder spree has been conveniently forgotten. Actually, Buffy, Xander and Dawn never even mention Willow in this episode (she’s off in England with Giles, learning how to not kill people, as Anya puts it in a later episode). I’m sorry, but for people who went to Hell and back the previous year, everyone’s just too cheerful. If the writers went through the five stages of acceptance regarding Tara’s death, this would have to be Denial - ignore the angry lesbians and maybe they’ll go away. (Trouble is, judging by the drop in viewing figures, that’s exactly what they did.)

The final scene, which features the dead Big Bads of every previous season, is definitely the highlight of the episode. It’s too bad only a handful of them ever ended up showing up for subsequent episodes - yet another example of the unfulfilled potential of the season.

Overall rating: 6/10.

Next time: Beneath You.

 
Posted: Monday, September 25, 2006 at 10:52 PM
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

eBay extravaganza

It’s time for yet another eBay pimping spree, and this is the biggest sale I’ve ever done. Everything must go! So bid, bid, bid, and give me money!

https://search.ebay.co.uk/_W0QQfgtpZ1QQfrppZ25QQsassZlyrisQ5f1

 
Posted: Monday, September 25, 2006 at 4:25 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | TV | Web
 

The Machinist

HD DVD

I’ve just ordered my first ever non-US HD DVD: the Japanese release of Brad Anderson’s The Machinist. It was a somewhat pricy £23.36 from YesAsia, but I’m keen to see a Japanese HD DVD, and, of the Japanese titles not currently also available in the US, it’s the one that most appealed to me (although The Machinist is a Paramount title in the Americas, so they could release it at a later date).

Something that should be pointed out is that, unlike the American studios, who have been using VC1 almost exclusively as their codec of choice (although Paramount, for some reason, released U2: Rattle and Hum as an MPEG4 title), all of the Japanese titles so far have used MPEG4. This, I believe, is because most of the titles have been put out by Toshiba, who own patents in MPEG4 (a bit like Sony does with MPEG2). Anyway, I’d like to see what it looks like as a compression format (I’ve heard decidedly mixed reports), so I’m looking forward to seeing a slightly different HD DVD release.

 
Posted: Monday, September 25, 2006 at 2:14 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6 (2001-2002)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6

Season 6 reviews:

There’s really not much for me to say that hasn’t been covered in the individual episode reviews. To put it bluntly, I am not a fan of Season 6. It’s the worst so far, bagging an average rating of only 4.95 out of 10, which even Season 1, with its 5.67, was easily able to beat. The sad news is that I have another 22 episodes ahead of me, and, despite what minimal pleasures the first few might hold, none of it seems to matter, because I know that all the mistakes made in Season 6 are not going to be undone, and indeed very few of the issues raised are even going to be broached.

I’ll be honest right now and say that the only thing motivation me to make my way through the final official season is the knowledge that there is an unofficial continuation waiting for me, written by a group of dedicated fans, that is of a higher calibre than anything the “real” Buffy writers were able to come up with in Season 7. I don’t normally read fan fiction, but The Chosen does the seemingly impossible task of salvaging the wreck of a show that Buffy had become by the end of its seven-year run, making the central characters likeable again and righting countless other wrongs. Pretty sad when a bunch of fans, in their free time, can put together a better season and a half (and counting) than fully-paid professionals, but there you go: that should give you some idea of how bad Buffy got before the end.

Anyway, I’m done for now. You can probably expect my viewing of Season 7 to begin in a few days, but right now I feel like a break. And a cold shower.

Update, December 19, 2006 05:35 PM: Fixed a bunch of dead links.

 
Posted: Monday, September 25, 2006 at 1:30 AM
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 
 

 
 
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