The Year in Review
2006 - the year of HD
Note: I’m not going to cover worldwide hot topics like the execution of Saddam Hussein or the continued botch-job that is the situation in Iraq. This is simply a set of personal musings about my own experiences this year.
On a technological front, by far the biggest development on the HMS Whimsy this year was the arrival of an HD DVD player - a late change from our original intention to pick up a Blu-ray player. Originally, I had expected to perhaps have half a dozen titles in high definition by the end of the year, but have in fact ended up with 21 (plus another two that Lyris bought). Certainly a number of these are films that I probably wouldn’t have bought had their been a better selection available, but still, if you’d told me that, a mere six months after its launch, the format would included crystal-clear copies of Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood, not to mention more obscure cult titles like An American Werewolf in London and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I wouldn’t have believed you. All in all, HD DVD got off to a great start in 2006, with I only hope will continue to be bettered in 2007.
Including both standard definition and high definition, I bought or received for review a total of 107 DVDs. I wrote 66 reviews for DVD Times (two down from last year’s record of 68), and went to the cinema a whopping two times. I watched 216 films (including those watched more than once), 99 of which I had never seen before. These tended to be of the more obscure variety, although I did see a number of “major” (both in the sense of being “important” and of being blockbusters that just about everyone ended up seeing) titles that had, for one reason or another, passed me by until last year, including Trains, Planes & Automobiles, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Blade Runner, Tout Va Bien, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Collateral, Corpse Bride, The Piano Teacher, Theatre of Blood, A History of Violence, V for Vendetta, 5x2, Bitter Moon, Walkabout, Fritz the Cat, Vertigo, Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Descent, The Constant Gardener, Serenity, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, Duck Soup, Strictly Ballroom, The Fifth Element, Ghost World, Cars, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Being John Malkovich, Black Sunday, The Omen (remake), Witchfinder General, Topaz, Torn Curtain, Casino Royale, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Miami Vice, Basic Instinct and The Adventures of Robin Hood. Quite clearly, this list features some real gems and some absolute garbage, including gems that I thought would be garbage and garbage that I thought would be gems.
In terms of television, meanwhile, I watched the first two seasons of Veronica Mars and the final season of Alias. I also went through the entire seven-season run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with its steadily diminishing returns post-Season 5 gradually driving me towards the brink of suicide (I exaggerate). The long-running medical drama Casualty also celebrated its 20th anniversary, with the launch of the first three series on DVD - it’s anyone’s guess how long they will continue this, given that each series becomes progressively longer, until they eventually run for more or less the entire year. Speaking of Casualty, that particular show shocked me in delivering perhaps the best two hours of television I’d seen all year, with the much-heralded return of former writer (and Waking the Dead creator) Barbara Machin for a one-off guest writing gig. Much to my delight, the magnificent Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was finally released on DVD, although the same team’s follow-up, the satirical chat-show Man to Man with Dean Learner, turned out to be a huge disappointment. The fifth season of Spooks also aired, and, while it was suitably engaging, it sacrificed some of the subtlety of previous years in favour of increasingly unbelievable conspiracies and hostile takeovers. Oh, and on the TV/film front, Channel 4’s dedicated film channel, FilmFour, became free in July, providing the UK with its first free-to-air channel dedicated to movies.
After over a year’s worth of procrastination, I finally recorded a new fan commentary, this time for Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso. Once again, feedback for this seems to have been largely positive, although it’s anyone’s guess what I’ll think of it myself when I finally brave listening to it again.
The Third Mother, the long-awaited conclusion to Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy (started with Suspiria and Inferno in 1977 and 1980 respectively), finally went into production, wrapping at some point in late November/early December, with a projected May 2007 release date. Argento also helmed another episode in the American Masters of Horror television series: Pelts turned out to be less shameful than 2005’s Jenifer, but a far cry from his home-grown exploits nonetheless. Meanwhile, the much-feared Hollywood remake of Suspiria was finally axed.
After much talk of the two companies going their separate ways, Disney bought Pixar and instated John Lasseter as the joint president of feature animation for both studios. Shortly before the end of the year, it was announced that, following the release of Meet the Robinsons, Disney would be abandoning CG animation entirely and returning to the hand-drawn realm in which it made its name.
Once more in the animated world, John Kricfalusi, the creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show and the industry’s last great hope, started up an excellent blog in February. July also saw the release on DVD of Ren & Stimpy: The Lost Episodes, containing six new installments featuring everyone’s favourite dog and cat duo, three of which had never even aired on TV. Sadly, there seems to be no indication that sales of the DVD have persuaded Paramount to order more episodes.
I got into computer games this year to a far greater extent than I had for some time, picking up Guild Wars: Factions, Guild Wars: Nightfall, The Movies: Stunts and Effects, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: Legend, as well as replaying Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Icewind Dale II, Starcraft: Brood War and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. Lyris also picked up the new Nintendo Wii console in November, resulting in much enjoyment as all on sundry made asses of themselves waving its newfangled controller about. Oh, and Blizzard Entertainment “postponed indefinitely” (read “cancelled”) its troubled console action game Starcraft: Ghost, much to the disappointment of the three or four people that still cared about it.
I also bought rather more technological gadgets than is normal for me: I picked up a digital camera in February, and a swish new widescreen LCD monitor in June. I also replaced my Creative Zen Micro MP3 player with a Sony NW-HD5 in November, and made the mistake of buying an nVidia-based video card for my computer in December (the replacement ATI model will hopefully arrive soon after business returns to normal after the New Year holiday).
In September, I finally finished my MLitt, handed in my dissertation, and, much to my shock, was awared a Distinction. Unable to find a job, I went on unemployment benefit - what fun.
Oh, and on the web site front, September saw a new site design and a return to Movable Type as a publishing platform after slightly over a year with Blogger. In November, meanwhile, I finally got sick of my useless host, Fuitadnet, constantly screwing up and making life difficult, and moved to Donym, where the rent is cheaper and everything runs much more smoothly to boot.