This Week in Geek (24/02-02/03/14)


Just got Gravity on DVD so I could watch it before the Oscars ceremony (and did, see below).


DVDs: With an eye towards Oscar predictions, I at first put Gravity in the Captain Phillips camp, i.e. too much of a procedural to have the richness and fullness a true contender needs. But I was soon disabused of that notion. Despite serving as a realistic and exciting accident in space (I'd put it in a The Right Stuff/From the Earth to the Moon/Apollo 13 marathon easily), it's also lyrical and poetic, exploring themes of isolation and connecting to the rest of humanity, and is visually and thematically a story of death and rebirth. It's an incredibly sensual film that puts you in the protagonist's head space all the way through, even the score is from her point of view. Visual and auditory details aplenty, though a certain tactile element as well. Obviously, it looks like it was made for an IMAX experience, but it was no slouch on my TV. I'm a big fan. The DVD has some very nice stuff as well, including a short film showing the other side of Ryan's conversation with a Greenland trapper, as well as a couple hours' worth of making of material, and a short documentary on the very real problem facing astronauts as depicted in the film. The making of is rather fascinating because the production had to invent quite a lot of stuff to make the shots work, so there was a lot of novelty even for this veteran DVD extras watcher.

Also connected to the Oscars experience is His Majesty the Scarecrow of Oz, not because this 1915 silent film is in any way Oscar-worthy, but because I won it in last year's Oscar pool. Now, if I win an Oscar pool, I promise to watch every damn DVD I won, which means my friends are keen to dump some terrifyingly awful stuff in the pile. And I've won twice in the last three years; you've seen the results here. I did NOT win last year, so I consider myself exempt from my usual rules even though, as runner-up, I did get a pretty large stack (stuff the winner had put in there or simply didn't want - obviously, she's not as strict about the rules as I am). I'm putting the worst of the worst back in the pile (sorry, Fat Albert), but did make an effort to watch at least one of the prize DVDs this week. This strange tale of Oz, written and produced by L. Frank Baum himself might play better for someone who's read the original stories. For me, it was a strange experience filled with characters I didn't know (plus a truly creepy Scarecrow). However, it was worth my time if only for the primitive special effects, which were quite clever at times, working from simple dissolves, costuming and camera angles. The print is in dire need of restoration, though the action never becomes confused because of it, and the music added much later is terrible. Where's Dark Side of the Moon when you need it? The DVD comes with a Little Rascals short, which is always a welcome bonus.

Finished Breaking Bad with the DVD set called "The Final Season", i.e. the last 8 episodes of Season 5, after the first 8 left us with a cracking cliffhanger. The final set isn't, as one might have expected, an 8-chapter conflict between Hank and Walt, though that's a big part of it. We've done that kind of chess match (in Season 4) and so events take a darker turn. It's all falling apart, and none of the characters are expected to live to see the end of the series. I'm not going to go into spoilers, but I will say that the end is satisfying by being both a victory and a cathartic tragedy. Vince Gilligan has produced a textured and morally ambiguous 5-season series that's just about perfect, and which was far less about cancer than I thought it would be. The melodrama implied by the initial premise is what initially kept me away; I'm glad I took the plunge anyway. The DVD package is just as strong as every set that came before - this is actually rare, because by the time they make the extras, the production has usually lost access to cast and crew - with fun commentary tracks on each episode, plenty of making of featurettes, an amusing alternate ending/sketch, a gag reel, and more.

Books: I've been nursing About Time 7 for months, but when I stopped reading while walking to work, it just slowed things down. The latest volume in a series of critical (and unauthorized) guides to Doctor Who, it covers Series 1 and 2 of the new series in some 460 dense pages. The first six volumes were often dismissive of the new series, so there was some concern volume 7 would have too strong a bias to be useful, but Lawrence Miles' absence, letting Tat Wood author it alone, has produced a more balanced approach. There are differences with the previous books, of course, including a sort of glossary of British terms and references explained for international audiences, and production notes that - thanks to the way information has been disseminated about the new series through Confidential, etc. - are much more or a play-by-play of shooting schedules than pure anecdote. Perhaps too many of the essays are about the outside world (as opposed to continuity) - fandom, public opinion, Wales, the making of programs, and so on - which aren't my favorites, but still some strong one on the implications of the Bad Wolf, making sense of the in-story political landscape, how TARDIS translation works and the Cyber-races. I'm ready for the next one, Norwegian Press!

Audio: The very first of Big Finish's Lost Stories Doctor Who audios is The Nightmare Fair, a 6th Doctor adventure that should have started Colin Baker's second season, the one that was turned into an 18-month hiatus instead. It was turned into a book I didn't read, so the audio seems a bit redundant to those who have. Even to fresh ears, I can't say it did much for me. The Doctor and Peri are as good as ever, no problems there, but I'm afraid I just can't get into the Celestial Toymaker as an antagonist (even when played by cool actors). I didn't like the original Hartnell story, and I don't like this one either. The Toymaker is just too dependent on silly game-inspired set pieces, and in fact, Graham Williams' original story flails about with no direction despite John Ainsworth's efforts to adapt it. On screen, I would probably have jeered at the video game element, which on audio, just doesn't make much of a splash. I was really more interested in the included interviews, which discuss how the Lost Stories came about and how the cast feels about finally being able to do this old script. Sorry.

In The Curse of Davros, the 6th Doctor gets a new companion, Flip (as played by Lisa Greenwood), someone we've met before, in The Crimes of Thomas Brewster (also by writer Jonathan Morris), but who didn't really register with me. But she's good, even if not entirely original. Am I the only one who thinks she both sounds and acts like 8th Doctor companion Lucy Miller? And again, that's not a bad thing, and certainly brings some comedy to the proceedings. The story itself is an odd duck, with the Doctor acting quite a bit out of character (it's part of the plot, not a problem) and both Flip and Jared from that previous story finding themselves facing Daleks during the Napoleonic Wars. Plenty of that Whovian brand of jarring imagery, temporal shenanigans and the Doctor's greatest enemies as well. Plus, is there any companion Colin Baker doesn't generate instant chemistry with?

And is there any type of story John Dorney can't write? The Fourth Wall is an extremely amusing comedy (but still with high stakes) about a cheesy SF television program made real by super-technology. It taps into Doctor Who's own clichés and comments on them lovingly, and also features the Porcians, pig-like aliens who have failed at every invasion they've ever attempted. They are HILARIOUS. Again the 6th Doctor and Flip shine, though separately instead of as a duo (being separated is just par for the course in the Whoniverse), and the guest cast is good. It seems like Big Finish's comedies always feature among my favorites in any given year's output, even if the "best ofs" (mine included) usually go for the momentous, epic tragedies and puzzle scenarios. For all the Spare Parts and The Chimes of Midnight BF has produced, it's still comedies like this I most look forward to revisiting.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes completion: 91.5% (I'm now convinced I won't make it to 100% on account of some glitches the makers need to patch up)

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Zeffirelli '90


F. Douglas Wall said...

Baum was definitely better with books than he was with movies. I found The Scarecrow of Oz (the novel that traces the rough story of the film) to be a delightful read.

Just be glad you didn't get this version: It's more recent, but probably deserves to be a few places below Fat Albert.

Siskoid said...

Duly warned.

Anonymous said...

I heard the original name for "Breaking Bad" was going to be "How Jesse Got His El Camino". I'm glad they stuck with that theme and finally brought it to its conclusion.

Zundian said...

Fat Albert was much, much better than it had any right to be.

Siskoid said...

I'll never get to find out.


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