Justice League: The Complete Series DVD Review

In 1992 Bruce Timm set the standard for small screen animation when he helped create Batman: The Animated Series, perhaps the greatest animated series of all time. Timm followed that landmark series with a his own take on the last son of Krypton that sadly failed to make the same kind of impact as it’s predecessor despite being of the same high standard. Once both those shows wrapped up Timm and his team set their sight on expanding the DC Animated universe they had created beyond just the adventures of Batman and Superman. Justice League was the end result. And once again Timm struck gold and gave us another one of the finest animated series ever produced.

Like the comic it was based on Justice League centred on a super-team that was comprised of some of DC Comic’s biggest icons; Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern (John Stewart not Hal Jordan), Martian Manhunter and…err, Hawkgirl (?). After two seasons the show was give a major shake up and morphed into Justice League Unlimited and against all odds actually got better instead of worse as is usually the case when executives mess with something that was already working. The scope of the show was expanded to include almost every single DC hero ever created. This was great because it meant less well known characters like Green Arrow, Booster Gold, Mr Miracle, Black Canary, Captain Marvel, Dr Fate, Huntress, Hawk and Dove, The Atom and the Question got to have their time in spotlight along with all the A-listers.

While Justice League was a great show on its own Unlimited is by far the superior series. It’s a more inventive and entertaining series with better story arcs and character development. Plus it’s obvious that the creators had a real love and passion for the entire DC Universe. It was also surprisingly mature for a kid’s series with the creators wisely deciding not to treat their audience like imbeciles. But when all is said and done this was still an action show. Being a kids series the violence is never overdone but still remains fast and exciting. Superman’s numerous smack downs with Darkseid are a personal highlight.

Another great feature of the series is the fantastic voice work done by the entire cast. In fact, the sheer number of celebrity vocals (many Joss Whedon alumni) that pop up throughout the series is staggering. Okay, deep breath, here goes; Nathan Fillion, Eric Roberts, Michael Ironside, CCH Pounder, Alexis Deninof, Adam Baldwin, Juliet Landau, Mark Hamil, Robert Picardo, John C. McGinly and Clancy Brown to name but a few I could remember without checking IMDB. Special mentions must go, though, to Amy Acker as Huntress and Jeffery Combs as the Question. In fact The Question is the breakout character of the series, a ridiculously paranoid conspiracy theorist who believes that the little plastic things at the end of shoe laces have a sinister purpose and is not above murder if it serves the greater good.

Like I said, this show was surprisingly mature.

Rating: * * * * *

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 2 DVD Review

Much as I adore Elisabeth Sladen and love her as the iconic Sarah Jane Smith I have to say that the second season of The Sarah Jane Adventures is sadly not as good as the first. While Torchwood has gone from strength to strength over the years, culminating in the exceptional Children of Earth, the more family friendly Doctor Who spin-off has become stuck in something of a rut.

Watching these six two-part adventures there’s a constant nagging sense that the series is simple going through the motions. The writers have found a way of doing things, a way that worked well last series, and they’ve decided to rigidly stick to it. This has left series two feeling safe, predictable and stagnant. They could do better, we know they can do better, but they don’t seem to want to try.

On the bright side at least there are no Slitheen around to ruin things this time around so we should all be thankful for small favours. Instead this series sees Sarah Jane and the kids face off against such galactic terrors as a vengeful Sontaran, Miss Moneypenny, Bradley Walsh trying (and failing) to do a Pennywise, that meddlesome Trickster again and Russ Abbot. Yes, Russ bleedin’ Abbot!

Now that’s positively terrifying.

In the opening story ‘The Last Sontaran’, a semi-sequel to the Doctor Who two-parter 'The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky', Sarah Jane’s faithful sidekick Maria Jackson departs for America with her dad. She's swiftly replaced in the next adventure by new girl Rani Chandra. Granted I use the word ‘new’ lightly. Rani and Maria, plus their respective parents, are so similar that part of me suspects they simply went through all the scripts and just changed all the names.

Once Rani has settled in and the new dynamic is established it’s back to business as usually. ‘Day of the Clown’ plays like a school play version of ‘It’ but the only thing scary here is Bradley Walsh’s American accent. Not to be outdone Russ Abbot hams it into the stratosphere in ‘Secret of the Stars’. Our semi-famous four battle the twin evils of has been light entertainment comedians and astrology. The Sarah Jane-lite 'Mark of the Berserker' is actually very good and the best story of the series. The same can't be said for ‘The Temptation of Sarah Jane’ which tries to recapture the highs of last series finest tale ‘Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?’ but manages to fall short.

The final story ‘Enemy of the Bane’ see Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart makes a long overdue comeback but disappointingly he has little to do, no doubt due to Nicholas Country’s age forcing him to spend the majority of his screen time sitting down. Nevertheless, it’s still great to see him again after all these years.

One thing that this series does have over its predecessor is the quality of the acting. Sladen is as wonderful ever but it’s the younger cast members that impress the most. Both Daniel Anthony (Clyde) and Tommy Knight (Luke) have grown into their roles immensely this year. And despite her character initially being nothing more than a Maria clone Anjli Mohindra is fantastic as Rani.

Rating: * * *

DVD Extras
- Series 1 synopsis recap
- Character, Tools & Alien profiles
- Blue Peter interview with cast
- Audio clip from the Time Capsule
- Me & my movie with Tommy Knight
- Photo Galleries
- Trailers
- Quiz

Supernatural: Season 4 DVD Review

"The X-Files is a TV show. This is real"

You know what’s really great about being a Supernatural fan? Every year, regardless of the established laws of diminishing returns, the show just keeps getting better and better all the time. The first season was good but not great. The second was much better. And season three, despite being curtailed by the writer’s strike, was simply fantastic with a really dark and shocking twist at the end.

But season four has to be the show’s best season so far. This is no longer simply a show about two brothers roaming America, fighting monsters and ripping off crappy horror movies. The ante has been upped to Biblical levels as Sam and Dean are now at the centre of a epic celestial battle between demons and angels.

Don’t expect any Highway to Heaven-scale schmaltz from Castiel and co. These angels are, as Sam and Dean constantly reminded us all season, dicks. Yet they were the kind of dicks that could also smite a whole town off the map, fiddle about with the time space continuum, pluck the dead out of hell and turn demons to dust. These guys are Old Testament bastards to be sure.

While the central arc story goes from strength to strength this year the standalone episodes don’t suffer as a result. ‘Monster Movie’ is a great tribute and pastiche of classic horror movies complete with a scooter riding Dracula. The brothers find themselves against a suicidal giant teddy bear in the brilliant demented ‘Wishful Thinking’. Even the questionable nature of ‘Jump the Shark’ where a third, long-lost Winchester brother is introduced manages to defy preconception and be quite good.

It’s staggering to believe but there’s isn’t a single naff or rubbish episode all season. There are a couple of simply average and okay ones but that’s about as negative as it gets. ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘Family Remains’ are perhaps the most average and okay, feeling more like leftovers from a much weaker season.

Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

Rating: * * * * *

DVD Extras
- Audio Commentaries
- Making of
- Deleted Scenes