Archive for May, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon 3D Review

Dragons and films don’t tend to go together very well. Just look at the evidence – Dragonheart, Reign of Fire, Dungeons and Dragons and Eragon – all rubbish and mostly featuring Jeremy Irons. It seems that up until now, cinema and dragon-based adventures are incompatible. Luckily, How to Train Your Dragon is here to make a case for the defence.

Hiccup is a young, accident-prone Viking, living among his people on a remote island that suffers from a dragon problem. In order to prove himself a man, Hiccup must slay a dragon, but he doesn’t want just any old beast, he wants to bring down the Night Fury, the most legendary lizard of them all.

However, in his attempts to capture the Night Fury, Hiccup accidentally wounds it, leading to an unlikely friendship and a shocking discovery – that the entire Viking way of life is totally wrong.

What starts out as an affable kids’ film about a buffoon and his loveable dragon companion, there’s a hell of a lot to like here. For one, the animation is superb throughout. How to Train You Dragon might not be the most visually stunning animated film ever, but what’s on offer is great – visual expressions, dragon design, the Viking’s fur coats – all topped off with some of the best animated action in any movie.

The film’s real strength is that the characters within it are really good, with just enough depth in them to get by. Hiccup’s journey is totally believable and the way his changing attitude towards dragons alters the minds of those around him is also convincing. There’s just enough time between big aerial flight scenes and friendship montages to squeeze all this in, creating a film that can sometimes feel too crowded and ambitious for what it’s trying to do.

While most of the characters are pretty good and the visual look of each dragon is staggeringly varied, the dialogue can be horrendously clunky. There’s too much of a tendency for characters to say what they’re feeling, which leaves the rest of the story disappointingly predictable.

While it’s not as funny as it could be, there are a few laughs here and there to be had, but most of the time you’ll be busy marvelling at the excellent action scenes, an effect that is magnified with the use of 3D technology. It creates a great illusion of being close to the combat – quite an achievement for a kids’ film about a buffoon and his dragon.

Kids will love the fantasy, adults will like the animation. If the characters were slightly deeper and the laughs were more frequent, this would be one for everyone. As it is, it’s just going to have to settle for being a crowd-pleaser.

3 stars

508: The Hungry Earth

Another episode that really could be far better than it is. Unfortunately, it’s held back by both budget and imagination.

Attempting to arrive in Rio, the Doctor has completely missed and instead winds up in the Welsh countryside in 2020. Happily for him, while he might have missed a festival, he’s arrived just in time to find the world’s most ambitious drilling project and it’s just passed twenty one kilometres. As you might have already guessed, success comes at a price – there’s something living beneath the earth and it’s really pissed off to be underneath the drill…

It starts off so promisingly with a really creepy idea – that the earth could open up and swallow you whole. Unfortunately, it goes downhill after that with a few clunky characters, some hokey horror elements and a really crap monster.

There are a few really good bits in here like the preparation for the attack, the way the monsters close off the village with a shield bubble, the villagers’ conversation with the captured monster-thing and the final, totally unexpected, cliffhanger.

It’s a shame that the rest of it is just so average. The characters don’t really have anything to do, Amy’s time on screen is spent channelling the spirit of Catherine Tate and Rory lacks any of the early charisma that made his interactions with the Doctor so enjoyable.

On the whole, while this isn’t a terrible episode, it’s definitely not a great one. It’s enjoyable, but you’ll have to completely switch off to make the most of it.

6/10

507: Amy’s Choice

This week sees the Doctor caught between a rock and a hard place – between Amy and Rory. Luckily, the three characters are on hand to deliver another good episode in a crafty and quirky story designed to mess with the viewers’ heads as much as the Doctor’s.

Five years have passed since the Doctor bid Amy farewell and she’s now married to – and pregnant with the child of – local doctor Rory. The two are living in a quiet, cosy village in the countryside where the only interesting thing going on are the couple’s walks. Suddenly the three fall asleep and find themselves on board the TARDIS with the power rapidly failing and are given a choice by a man calling himself the Dream Lord – they need to choose which reality is the real world and they need to find out by dying in the one they believe to be a dream. With the Doctor choosing his beloved TARDIS and Rory opting for the idyllic life he imagines his future to be, the final decision is Amy’s. Will she choose the right life and the right man with it?

Don’t be distracted by the show’s gentle spookiness or the creepy idea of a middle-aged man screwing with your head – the episode’s real purpose is to try and resolve the sexual tension between the three cast members and move on. Unlike the Mickey-Rose saga of previous series, the whole point of this one is to move past that sexual quandary before it becomes stale (again). Mercifully, this task is handled beautifully and the episode’s feel is one of satisfaction.

There are a few bones to pick, though – it doesn’t really make the most of the idea, the situation is slightly too obvious in its ‘which man will Amy choose?’ setup, the scene where the postman rides in and gets killed is unintentionally hilarious, the explanation for what’s really going on is pure bollocks and why are all the enemies in this series so far really slow-moving?

Having said that, the episode is still pretty good, managing to move the story along, keep the characters consistent and provide a few good sci-fi scares along the way. And the bit where the Doctor shoves an old lady out of a window with a table lamp is brilliant.

7/10

506: The Vampires of Venice

If that incredibly cheesy title sets your teeth on edge and has your buttocks clenching in preparation for another duff episode, fear not – it’s actually quite good.

After Amy threw herself at the Doctor last week, he’s decided that spending some time with her fiancé Rory will do her good, taking the two of them to Venice in 1580. Unfortunately, there’s sinister vibes in the air as women are being sent to a very private, exclusive school run by a reclusive lady and are coming out with a peculiar aversion to sunlight…

The easiest and best way to summarise this episode is to say that the monsters are a bit crap but the chemistry between the cast is excellent.

Adding Rory into the mix is a genuine stroke of genius – he brings a refreshing viewpoint to cast, highlighting the Doctor’s many flaws and giving Amy something new to fret over. He’s actually a much more interesting cast member than, say, Mickey was in the second series because he does a lot more than just whine about the relationship he’s not part of, and it’s this wonderful tension that crackles and sparks throughout the episode. Alongside this is the lovely sense of playful humour that now gets to ride over the trio during their adventure.

The plot itself is actually lacking a lot – aliens want to sink Venice, Doctor intervenes, credits roll. What makes the episode at least fairly tolerable is that the aliens aren’t on screen for a huge chunk of it. It’s a merciful and crafty idea that keeps a silly sci-fi story grounded in reality and although it’s a massive shame that the ‘vampires’ are just crappy CGI monsters, it’s good step that they were used.

Another downside is the fact that the alien’s diabolical contraption – and they have around four, all of which suddenly appear in the final act, a confusing idea – has a bastarding ‘Plot Undo Button’ built right into it. It’s such an offensive and hateful idea that the episode looses an entire mark simply for including it.

Still, it’s not a terrible episode by any means. Lifted out of mediocrity by a clever sense of humour and some really very funny scenes, it’s a wobbly step, but not a crippling one.

6/10

Right, so, basically, I’ve been working pretty solidly and getting a lot done (go me), which has seen my work pile finally diminishing. I thought I might be able to even clear through some of it and get onto stuff for this blog thing – I’ve got a fair few reviews and whatnot to go up here, but I’ve been prioritising.

Then I hooked up XBox Live. No idea why, just wondered if it would work.

A week later I realised that I hadn’t moved from the spot. I’d been laying on a not-as-comfortable-as-it-sounds pile of pillows, staring into a screen, ignoring the verbal abuse of Americans for a whole week.

My workpile has doubled. Now I’m on top of it.

Anyway, most of this is the usual collection of reviews, but there is a preview for XBLA game Space Ark. I travelled up to Derby to see that and I’m looking forward to seeing its release. That’s all for now. I should be back again soon with the next batch of links – containing an interview I’m hugely excited about.

The Cleveland Show: Episode Fourteen
World Exclusive Preview: Space Ark
Ashes to Ashes: 303
The Cleveland Show: Episode Fifteen
The Cleveland Show: Episode Sixteen
The Cleveland Show: Episode Seventeen
Ashes to Ashes: 304
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger

505: Flesh and Stone

Take note, people: for the first time since Doctor Who came back, we have a ‘part two’ episode that isn’t totally underwhelming.

After finding themselves trapped in a cavern, surrounded by an army of incredibly powerful, reawakened Weeping Angels, the Doctor manages to save himself, Amy, River Song, Father Octavian and the team with a crafty gravity flip. Unfortunately, this puts them on board the crashed ship, which is still leaking its energy source – the one place the Angels are desperate to go…

This is one of those rare episodes that doesn’t have much of a plot. Instead, we’re treated to scene after scene of those menacing Angels closing in on the helpless soldiers as the Doctor panics, realising that there is no way to defeat them.

It’s a testament to Moffat’s writing prowess that he manages to get so much mileage out of an enemy that doesn’t actually do anything on screen. While part one took a single Angel and evolved it to terrifying new heights, this second half is all about the regular Angels and Moffat packs it full of skin-crawling moments.

The first half of the episode is British sci-fi horror at its finest – the Doctor backs further and further into a corner as the Angels grow ever nearer and it’s pulse-pounding stuff. Then, just as the episode wanders dangerously close to becoming repetitive, Moffat pulls a brand new idea out of the bag and flips the Angels on their heads completely.

The only real complaint is that Amy doesn’t get to do that much in the episode and when she is on screen she can act a little bit like Catherine Tate. Indeed, the final scene is so far removed from the Amy we knew and were growing to love that it’s horribly jarring, almost to the point of breaking her character.

All in all, it’s a well-structured, satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable episode that packs a hell of a lot of surprises into it, be it the Angels, some revelations about River Song or the discovery of the crack in time. It’s also good to see the episodes linking on to each other again – although, whether this is just a trick Moffat inserts into his own scripts or something that’s catching on is as yet unknown. For the time being, Doctor Who is back on track. Hooray!

8/10