Battlestar Galactica: The Plan DVD Review

“We had our foot on the throat of humanity and we failed to step down hard enough”

Written by Jane Espenson and directed by Edward James Olmos, The Plan chronicles events from the early days of Battlestar Galactica, the original mini-series right up to the finale of season two, all seen from the perspective of the Cylons, in particular John Cavil. This is essentially Cavil’s story. He was the mastermind behind the attacks on the Twelve Colonies and the chief architect of the Cylon’s infamous plan. The actually plan itself was rather straightforward; kill all humans. That’s it. Blunt, clear and to the point. A plan so simple and fundamentally robotic Bender constantly mutters it in his sleep. But like all well laid plans it eventually all fell apart.

Back in the mini the attack on the colonies was mostly depicted off-screen or only glimpsed from a distance. In The Plan we see the attack in full, up close and personal. And it is a truly awesome and horrifying sight as entire fleets of Basestars rain down devastation on the Colonies. For the first time we see glimpses of all of the Twelve Colonies as one by one they fall to the Cylon onslaught. It is by far the best part of the whole thing and here in lies the key fault with The Plan, it peaks too early. After such a spectacular opening everything that follows feels rather inconsequential.

Boiled down to it the rest of The Plan is basically a game of fill in the blanks. So much archive footage is used that you begin to think that you’re watching nothing more than a glorified clip show. Many of the loose ends left dangling from the first two seasons are finally tied up. Admittedly, some of this is interesting but at the same hardly essential to our understanding and enjoyment of the series.

It goes with out saying that Dean Stockwell is exceptional as always, relishing every Machiavellian witticism Espenson gives him. He’s at his best as the Galactica Cavil, a villain dedicated to the cause but consumed by frustration and disappointment as one by one his plans to destroy the fleet fail and his fellow Cylons continue to let him down. Special mention must also go to Rick Worthy who finally gets his chance to shine as the most neglected Cylon, Simon.

Fans hoping to see their old favourites one last time may come away disappointed, The Plan is strictly a showcase for the show’s supporting cast. Lee, Kara, Helo and Baltar only appear in stock footage, Laura is absent altogether and Adama and Tigh only have bit parts. But fans of Tyrol, Six, Sharon, Anders and Leoben will be happy to know they all get their moment in the spotlight.

Rating: * * *

DVD Extras
- Commentary by Jane Espenson and Edward James Olmos
- From Admiral to Director: Edward James Olmos and The Plan
- The Cylons of The Plan
- The Cylon Attack
- Visual Effects: The Magic Behind The Plan
- Deleted Scenes

Lost: Season Five DVD Review

“What lies in the shadow of the statue?”

Confusing, frustrating, thrilling, exciting, epic, intimate, funny, tedious, Lost is all these things and more. And perhaps nothing summed up the show’s good and bad points quite so much as the fifth season. Although not as good as the blistering fourth season season five is still more enjoyable than two and three and marks the penultimate chapter of one of television’s most addictive dramas.

It’s clear now that the writers no longer feel bound by the need to attract new viewers to the show (which might explain the ratings dip). Liberated from studio constraints they’ve indulged themselves with every single mad idea they might’ve previously held back on for being too out there, man. That means a butt load of time travel, a case of resurrection, some temporal paradoxes and Hurley writing the script to The Empire Strikes Back three years in advance. With improvements, of course.

The first half of the season is split into two separate storylines. The first follows those who escaped the island in the finale of season four, the so-called Oceanic Six, and deals with Jack and Ben’s attempts to persuade them to return to the island. The second, and my favourite, chronicles the events back on island and the struggles of those characters who were left behind. As a result of the Ben Linus turning that frozen donkey wheel the island has become unstuck in time, randomly yanking this helpless group of Billy Pilgrims back and forth through untold chapters in the shows back-story. This was a great way to delve into areas of the show’s history without having long, boring scenes of character talking. For example, instead of telling us what happened to Danielle and her crew we actually get to see it play out live.

The actual return of the Oceanic Six to the island is a rather muted and anti-climatic affair, almost as if the writers couldn’t be bothered to work it all out properly and just wanted everyone back on the island without delay. After a duo of fantastic episodes, “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” and “LaFleur” the momentum then grinds to a sudden halt as our heroes become trapped in 1977 and start hanging out with the Dharma Initiative. Initially this storyline seemed slow and directionless, enlivened only by Sayid shooting someone unexpected, until Daniel comes up with a bonkers plan to upend history, “Hi…err…guys…ahhh…we need to…Mmmm…nuke the…err…island”. Great plan, Dan.

The various plot strands finally come to a head in season finale “The Incident” an episode that is both stunning and infuriating in equal measure. Once again questions were answered only to lead to even more questions. After years of hints and clues we get to meet the mysterious Jacob only for him to be… oh, you’ll see. A new key player was introduced, although given the character’s nature it’s likely he was there all along we just didn’t know it. The season ends on the type of cliff-hanger that leaves everyone’s fate, and the entire fabric of the show’s reality, in some serious doubt.

Despites the many ups and downs this season the cast continues to remain strong. Michael Emerson earned his Emmy on more than one occasion. Looking back it’s hard to believe that he was originally only supposed to do five or six episodes. Ben Linus has become an indispensable part of this show’s mythology. On the other hand, Elizabeth Mitchell and Josh Holloway were both unforgivably snubbed this year. If anything this was the season that Sawyer and Juliet took centre stage and pushed Jack and Kate into the sidelines. Their touching, affectionate and ultimately tragic tale dominated the season and this particular viewer’s heart.

Rating: * * * *

DVD Extras
- Audio Commentaries
- LOST On Location
- Building 23 & Beyond
- An Epic Day With Richard Alpert
- Making Up For LOST Time
- Mysteries Of The Universe: The DHARMA Initiative
- LOST Bloopers - Deleted Scenes

Jonathan Creek: The Grinning Man DVD Review

After a five year hiatus Alan Davis finally returned to TV screens last year as that duffle coated solver of impossible crimes, Jonathan Creek. Creator David Renwick admitted that he stopped writing the series because he simply ran out of good ideas. The only reason he bothered to drum up a new script was to hold off retirement.

However, there is very little that is actually new about Creek’s encore. Certainly “The Grinning Man” bares similarities to the show’s previous Christmas specials, “Black Canary” and “Satan’s Chimney” including a gothic setting and tone, the dark secrets of a former magician and a classic locked room mystery. Revealing more would give too much away so I’ll stop there.

The central mystery at the heart of “The Grinning Man” is certainly a gripping and intriguing one but hamstrung by too many lousy sub-plots and narrative cheats. The solution to one mystery is far too convoluted even for Jonathan Creek. And the storyline involving Jonathan’s boss, sleazy magician Adam Klaus, borders on the farcical as Klaus become involved in the porn industry.

Davis slips back into the role with ease. Jonathon is older, bit out of shape, no wiser but still just as fiendishly cleaver as he’s always been. Joining him is Sheridan Smith as Creek’s latest sidekick. Sadly, despite a strong performance, Smith fails to offer anything new to the mix. Her character is reminiscent of Creek’s last partner, Carla. The two character are virtually identical. Seems Renwick has a type and he’s sticking to it.

After such a long absence, especially with so much pedestrian murder mysteries like Midsummer Murders clogging up the airwaves, it is great to see Jonathan Creek back on the box. “The Grinning Man” maybe far from the glorious comeback some might of hoped for but nor is it the bitter disappointment others feared. Despite it’s flaws this is simply a good old fashioned mystery tale and a welcome return from one of TV’s finest sleuths.

* * *

DVD Extras
-Behind the Scenes
-Deleted Scenes

Sanctuary: Season 1 DVD Review

Originally starting life as an eight-part internet series in 2007 Sanctuary managed to impress the higher ups at the Sci-Fi Channel (as it was known at the time) who soon commissioned a full series which debut last year. Stripped down Sanctuary is pure, unadulterated pulp entertainment. It’s highly unoriginal yet at the same time truly innovative and groundbreaking.

The original web series was pretty much a side project for a trio of Stargate alumni, writer Damian Kindler, director Martin Wood and actress Amanda Tapping, something fun and new for them to do after nearly 15 years of gate travel. The two-hour pilot ‘Sanctuary For All’ effectively re-works the original web series into a stylish and engrossing story that manages to introduce the characters and set up all the relevant story arcs with ease. The following episode ‘Fata Morgana’ is also adapted from the web series but feels lightweight in comparison with the pilot.

Tapping stars as Helen Magnus, a woman 157 years old who leads the Sanctuary, a secret international organization that seeks out non-human intelligent creatures or Abnormals, as they are known on the show, and tries to help and learn from them, while also having to contain the more dangerous creatures. She is assisted by her daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), a butt-kicking monster hunter, former police forensic profiler Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), a Bigfoot and Henry Floss (Ryan Robbins), their resident tech geek.

In many ways Sanctuary actually feels like a live-action comic book series and a less smutty (and Welsh) version Torchwood. The basic premise has shades of titles such as Men in Black, Planetary, B.P.R.D. The Middleman and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen only the tone is more overtly serious and Kindler and his writers lack the widescreen imaginations of Warren Ellis, Mike Mignola, Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Alan Moore. And while the overall quality of the series is consistently good most episodes are very routine and predictable while some are downright bad, the Fight Club wannabe ‘Warriors’ and Tribble tribute 'Nubblins' for instance. The central characters, despite being well played by the cast, all conform to established archetypes with Magnus as the wise and ancient leader, Ashley the action babe Henry the nervous geek and Will as the wide-eyed novice.

On a story front Sanctuary might be shamelessly derivative but on a technical front the series is ahead of it’s time. Making extensive use of CGI environments Sanctuary is able to transport viewers to another world, one like ours but different, a purely comic book world that looks absolutely nowt like Vancouver. Sometimes the effects are obvious but other times, as you’ll learn from the many commentaries, they are so subtle you’ll hardly notice. But while CGI sets are often impressive they do tend jar whenever the cast leave the studio and go out on location. Plus the creature effects and monster make-up for the Abnormals tend to let the side down on more than one occasion.

The series is also blessed with a strong cast lead by the wonderful Amanda Taping, although it does take a while to get used to the dark hair and British accent (she’ll always been Sam Carter to me). Christopher Heyerdahl, another Stargate semi-regular, is obviously having fun as John Duritt, Magnus’ former lover, Ashley’s father and, oh yeah, Jack the freakin’ Ripper. Dunne and Ullerup can both be rather bland most of the time but Robbins manages to compensate as Henry.

Rating: * * * *

DVD Extras
Commentaries on all episodes
3 Making-of Featurettes
Sanctuary: Original Webisodes
Season Two Sneak Peek
Photo Gallery

Heroes: Season 3 DVD Review

Not since the decline of Twin Peaks has a television series fallen from grace quite as quickly as Heroes has done. At least Peaks had the benefit of being cancelled before it could get any worse than it already was. Heroes has had no such luck.

Hard to think now but only a few years ago Heroes was a global phenomenon. It had everything; critical acclaim, high ratings, the cast splattered on numerous magazine covers, everyone was repeating the catchphrase “save the cheerleader, save the world”, overnight it had achieved near universal success. Then season two happened. “Meh” was the general response to this lukewarm season, mercifully cut short by that infamous writer’s strike. Creator Tim Kring promised that next season would be better. The writers had seen where they went wrong and wouldn’t make the same mistakes with season three.

I wasn’t there when Kring said all this but I’m willing to bet his pants were starting to overheat at the time. While season three is not as bad as season two that’s simple because it is much, much worse. This season is so bad you’d almost think Kring and his team were deliberately trying to scuttle the ship. Maybe they were. Must’ve come as a shock to them when NBC renewed the show for a forth season. Some might see this as a sign of network faith in the series. I see it as further evidence that 30 Rock is actually a documentary about how inept things really are at NBC.

The season is divided into two volumes; ‘Villains’ and ‘Fugitives’. The first volume had the potential to be brilliant and for a brief time it did seem as if the show was returning to previous form. But all our good faith was misplaced as one by one the episodes get increasingly worse. The characters we once loved and adored had all been replaced by pod people. They might look and sound the same but their thoughts and actions were radically differently from the people we knew in season one.

‘Villains’ was meant to make us loves Heroes all over again but instead turned everyone off even more. The second volume ‘Fugitives’ is a slight improvement featuring a much better adversary in the form of Zeljko Ivanek. Bryan Fuller briefly returns to the writing staff, injecting so much need fun back into the mix. But by this point the lasting damage has already been done and not even the mighty Fuller could salvage this shipwreck.

Throughout the season you struggle to care what happens to these characters anymore. That original sense of excitement and wonder that enticed everyone during the first season has been completely lost. The show’s fall from grace has been equally tragic and infuriating for those of us who were willing enough to stay with the show up to this point. As the season came to a close once again Tim Kring promised that the fourth season would be better. They’d learned all their mistakes from season three and wouldn’t make them again.

Tell it to someone who cares, mate.

Rating: * *

DVD Extras
-The Super Powers of Heroes
-Genetics of a Scene
-The Prop Box
-Tim Sale Galleries of Screen Art
-Alternate Stories
-Completing the Scene
-The Writer's Forum
-Deleted Scenes

Green Lantern: First Flight DVD Review

Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of sector 2814 and one of my favourite comic book characters, has always been considered one of DC Comics b-list superheroes, a bridesmaid forever doomed to be overshadowed by the holy trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. But all that could be about to change.

A big budget live action film version starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by Martin Campbell (Edge of Darkness, Casino Royale) is already in production and should start shooting next year. Thanks to The Sinestro Corp War and Blackest Night the Green Lanterns and Jordan in particular are now major players in the comic world regularly topping the sales charts. And then we have this animated DVD movie, the latest in the DC Universe Original Animated Movies range following Superman: Doomsday, Batman: Gotham Knight, Justice League: The New Frontier and Wonder Woman.

As the title suggests Green Lantern: First Flight chronicles the early days of Hal Jordan’s career as a Green Lantern. The origin story is rushed through in the first few minutes as Hal is given his power ring by a dying Green Lantern who has crashed landed on Earth. First Flight contains many of the things I love about the Green Lantern comics but at the same time is a rather underwhelming experience that never fully satisfies.

Considering the source material the scope is suitable epic. The plot takes us from Earth to Oa, home of the Green Lantern Corp, to other alien planets, space ports and back again. The action sequences are fast and exciting with the animators taking full advantage of the endless uses of the power ring. But the main plot is hopelessly predictable. You can easily guess every single twist and turn it takes before reaching the inevitable action pack climax. Hal Jordan’s origin is rushed through in the first five minutes robbing the narrative of anything resembling character development. You never get to know Hal or understand why he would want to be a Lantern. He’s just a generic do-gooder while Sinestro is telegraphed as the big bad from the second he appears.

Perhaps the main area where First Flight fails the most is the one where Bruce Timm productions often always excel; the voice acting. The vocals performances are mostly flat and uninspired with few exceptions. Worst of all, Christopher Meloni is lacklustre as Hal Jordan. David Boreanaz did a much better job in Justice League: The New Frontier and it’s a shame they didn’t ask him to come back. The other characters are just as underdeveloped. Victor Garber does his best as Sinestro but Tricia Helfer phones it in as Boodikka while Michael Madsen just mumbles his way through the whole thing as Kilowog.

First Flight is a perfectly entertaining action adventure story for all the family. As an introduction to the colourful mythology of the Green Lanterns its functional. But as a character piece for Hal Jordan it is definitely lacking. Frankly, if you want a really great animated movie featuring Hal Jordan I’d recommend watching Justice League: The New Frontier instead.

Rating: * * *

The Avengers: Series 2 DVD Review

Is there any television series that is more quintessentially 1960s than The Avengers? Okay, granted there’s The Prisoner but was Number Six ever as much fun as John Steed? Did he have such iconic partners as Emma Peel or Cathy Gale? Thought not. No, all due respect to Patrick McGoohan but The Avengers remains the ultimate ‘60s TV series. But looking back on this collection of episodes from the show’s early days its shocking to see just how different The Avengers was when it first started out from the show it would eventually become.

The Avengers started life back in 1961 as a vehicle for Ian Hendry, star of the short lived series Police Surgeon. Hendry’s character, Dr. David Keel, teamed up with government agent John Steed (Patrick Macnee) to avenger the murder of his fiancĂ©e (hence the title) and fight crime on a regular basis. Back when the show started it was a far more tough and gritty affair than the flamboyant spy series we all know and love. Originally Hendry’s David Keel was the star with Steed as his rough and tumble, trench coat wearing sidekick, a far cry from the quintessential Englishman of legend. Only two and a half episodes still exist from the David Keel years and all have been collected in this set include a surviving episode of Police Surgeon.

After one series Hendry bailed to pursue a film career. Macnee was promoted to star status and saddled with a selection of rotating sidekicks only one of which was ever any good. Dr. Martin King (Jon Rollason) was a transparent David Keel clone which is no big surprise since all the episodes he appeared in were originally written for Ian Hendry. Meanwhile Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith was a night club singer, amateur spy and all round waste of space. The episodes that featured Venus were often more about showing off Stevens’ singing voice than her acting talent.

It was only when Steed was partnered up with Honor Blackman’s alluring Cathy Gale that the series really started to come alive. Gale was a revolutionary female character at the time; smart, confident, independent, quick-witted, capable of defending herself and had a fondness for wearing leather. British television audiences had never seen a woman like Cathy Gale before and were eager for more of her. By now Steed had ditched the trench coat, pick up his suits from Savile Row and pop on his bowler. Steed and Cathy sizzled on screen together even if their relationship never went far beyond some first-class flirting.

With the lead characters virtually established the series also began to slowly move away from being a gritty crime show and into more fantastical territories. Pop art sets, Cybernauts, diabolical masterminds and primary colours were still a few years away but by this point The Avengers was already well on its way to becoming one of the defining programs of the ‘60s and a classic of British television.

Shame the theme music was so crap. Someone get Laurie Johnson on the phone, pronto!

* * * *