THE SLAYER COLLECTION

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 As we wait with bated breath for the upcoming Season Seven DVD boxset, here? a handy selection of four discs – aimed, I imagine, at the casual BUFFY admirer – showcasing the show? supporting players in four of their finest, most important episodes. It? a curious idea for a series of DVD releases but one which might well pay dividends for those not inclined to fork out the sixty or so quid required to buy each of the season boxsets. These discs present little thumbnail sketches of the characters, supported by well put-together mini-featurettes filling in the blanks and providing observations as to why the episodes are so representative of key moments in each of the characters?arcs.

THE WILLOW COLLECTION revolves largely around wicca Willow Rosenberg? relationship with wereboy Oz. In Season Two? ?hases?Willow? friendship with the taciturn guitarist looks like it may be doomed before it can really blossom when Oz? dreadful secret causes chaos in Sunnydale. Season Three? ?oppelgangland?sees the return of the alterantive-Eath vampire Willow, all sneers and leather and dubious sexuality. Hannigan clearly relishes her dual roles and the script cleverly hints at Willow? change in sexuality yet to come. Two years on and Willow and Oz are a successful item – until a fellow werewolf named Veruca turns up on the scene and leads Oz stray. ?ild at Heart?is tearful stuff as Oz leaves Sunnydale on a quest to tame his inner wolf, returning later in the season in ?ew Moon Rising?when he is aghast to find that Willow has moved on and found a new love. It? a warm and touching episode, poignantly ending the saga of Willow and her werewolf boyfriend.

Faith is one of the great enigmas of the so-called Buffyverse. The off-the-rails Slayer turned up in Season Three, drifted over to the Dark Side, fell into a coma, woke up and swapped bodies with Buffy before finally reappearing and making good at the end of season seven. THE FAITH COLLECTION presents four of her finest hours. ?ad Girls?and ?onsequences?sees Faith, superbly played by the sassy Eliza Dushku, tempting Buffy from the straight and narrow. Only when Faith? escapades go badly wrong and she accidentally kills a human does Buffy pull herself back from the brink and they become deadly enemies, a battle which reaches its climax in ?raduation day Part 1? Faith reappeared in Season Five? bodyswap two-parter, the second part of which, ?ho Are You?is presented here.

So to the two great vampire loves of Buffy? life. The exploits of the dark, brooding Angel are legend – his own show goes from strength to strength. THE ANGEL COLLECTION gathers up essential moments from the Buffy/Angel dynamic. Season One? classic ?ngel?contains on of the whole series?memorable moments – Buffy? discovery that her older boyfriend is actually a lot older and deader than she realised. In Season Two? ?nnocence?both Buffy and Angel suffer the appalling consequences of Angel? ?oment of perfect bliss? Season Two? drastically underrated ghost story ? Only Have Eyes For You?is a welcome inclusion and Season Three? Christmas story, ?mends?not only gives Angel a sort of peace but also sets up one or two pointers towards the very end of the series.

Finally to THE SPIKE COLLECTION. Spike, brilliantly played by James Marsters, is the vampire who just won? play dead, no matter how many times he? battered and bruised and vaporised. Here we see his debut appearance alongside the lunatic Drusilla in Season two? action-packed ?chool Hard? Buffy? reunion with an old boyfriend in ?ie to Me? ?over? Walk? surprisingly Spike? only appearance in Season three when he returns to Sunnydale sans Drusilla and with a few old scores still to settle. The incredible Season Five episode ?ool for Love?rounds out the set; it? very much Spike? origin episode as Buffy tries to find out more about the Slayer line by grilling Spike about his experiences in murdering two of her kind. The script here is a thing of wonder and the visuals on the screen – the Boxer Rebellion in particular – bely the episode? TV budget.

Reasonably-priced, these discs deserve to do well. It? difficult to pick off episodes of BUFFY due to the complex nature of the show in itslater years but Joss Whedon, who apparently made the selections on these disc, has done a sturdy job in presenting a batch of yarns which will please casual viewers and delight the hardcore fans who?l probably already have these instalments on both VHS and DVD.

THE DISCS; BUFFY on DVD has often been a bit grainy.Most of these episodes are from the show? early years so the grain remains. But the picture is generally colourful and atmospheric and the brief featurettes are welcome extras.

The Slayer Collection is released on 1st March 2004 in the UK only.

FUTURAMA SEASON 3

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5

Ok, so FUTURAMA was never going to scale the giddy height of Matt Groening’s other animated series ?a little yellow-skinned family you may have heard of known as THE SIMPSONS. But the warped and wicked adventures of the crew of the Planet Express delivery service deserved far better treatment than it received at the hands of Fox who clearly didn’t quite understand where this off-the-wall sci-fi stuff was coming from. Pah. Their stupidity is our loss so let’s savour these glorious episodes while we can.

Season three sees FUTURAMA cooking on gas. This is THE SIMPSONS on some mind-altering substance. For the uninitiated pizza delivery boy Fry has awoken from cryogenic suspension and finds himself in the year 3000. here he teams up with the girl of his dreams, one-eyed space captain Leela, the hard-drinking, wallet-lifting robot Bender (he bends things for a living), the frankly barmy Professor Farnsworth and an assorted bunch of geeks and aliens who tag along for the ride. The reason FUTURAMA is an acquired taste is because, as its creators intended, it uses every opportunity to parody and poke fun at the conventions of practically every science-fiction show and film ever made. By season three the writers are in full flow and watching these episodes is an exhausting experience. They’re hilarious and exhilarating but so packed with visual gags and sparky one-liners by the time you’ve guffawed at the hypno frog you’ve missed a dozen other quips and in-jokes. These episodes are FUTURAMA at its barmiest; you have to wonder for the sanity of the genius who came up with ‘I Dated a Robot’ which ends with the city under siege by an army of Lucy Lui’s downloaded from the internet. Or ‘The Day the World Turned Stupid’ where space brains turn the entire population of the Earth into mindless vegetables (actually, I think that one’s based on a true story), ‘Amazon Women in the Mood’ featuring the amazing Captain Brannigan and the dangers of death by snoo-snoo and ‘That’s Lobstertainment’ which focuses on my personal favourite character, Dr Zoidberg. Then there’s ‘A Tale of Two Santas’ where the world is endangered by the machbine-gun toting insane Santa robot, the penguin antics of ‘The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz’ and?ell, I could go on. Just treat yourself to this tasty boxset and marvel yet again at how much better American TV is than British.

THE DISCS: Four discs bulging with extras. As if the episodes, crisp, colourful transfers, weren’t enough, there are witty commentaries for every episode, deleted scenes (yes, even cartoons can have them), stills galleries and, as they say, much much more.

SPIDER-MAN

Review By Paul Mount, 3.5 out of 5

Was it really only five months ago that this long-awaited superhero flick was redefining the term ?ox office smash? Apparently so and here it is on shiny DVD just in time for Christmas stockings everywhere. I became a Spidey fan when Marvel UK opened its doors for business ion the early 1970? so whilst I haven? been waiting for this film as long as the fans who were around at the beginning, back in 1962, the film? been a long time coming. False start after false start has dogged the project for years and we?e had to make do with TV cartoons and the laughable short-lived TV series starring Nicholas Hammond. Fans were baffled when Sam Raimi was announced as the director of the SPIDER-MAN film when all those tedious legal difficulties were finally overcome and I was personally affronted when BUFFY? Nicholas Brendan didn? get the starring role he was surely born to play. The superhero super-role finally went to intense indie actor Tobey Maguire. And so the problems beginzp>

The trouble with superhero films is that, with the notable exception of X-MEN, they?e almost always origin stories. By the time the film? over and the hero? come to terms with his special powers and won his first battle, we just want more. We want the next one. We don? want to wait two years to see our hero in action again. So it is with SPIDER-MAN. The film? storyline is pretty flimsy, the villain (Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin) pretty weak and ineffectual and when the bad guy finally breathes his last, we?e into Spider-Man as a character enough to want to roll straight into his next adventure. This apart, there? a lot going on here but I still can? come to terms with mopey Tobey Macguire as the web-slinger and I just can? see this famous chemistry between him as top girl Kirtsen Dunst as Mary Jane Watson. The scripts is iffy in places, the pace is all wrong, some of the CGI is distinctly iffy. But it? an engaging, enjoyable film, if only because we?e waited so long for it. Just tell yourself, as I have, that the next one will be a lot betterzp>

THE DISC: A lavish 2 disc set which actually isn? as lavish as you might think. The film itself looks and sounds awesome, of course. Extras include commentaries and dozens of trailers and TV sports whilst disc 2 issplit into 2 segments concentrating on Spidey in the comics and Spidey in the movies. Much of the former is static text-based stuff and highlights from the comic book but there? an interesting half-hour documentary featuring creator Stan lee and some of the other luminaries who have worked on the comic book over the years. The film segment is made up of three puff promotional documentaries which gush and enthuse and tell you very little about the complexities of making a film starring a largely CGI character. Screen tests are interesting and there? a chuckle-free gag reel. A nice set, but the new STAR WARS and LORD OF THE RINGS sets will raise our expectations of special edition DVDs far above this standard.

LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS

Review By Liam O Brien, 4 out of 5 If your are planning on going to see a happy, festive film over the holidays, perhaps it would be best to avoid LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. Instead, go and see THE POLAR EXPRESS or something less unhappy and tragic. Indeed, the story of the Baudelaire children is not a happy tale by any stretch of the imagination….

Worry not dear readers, despite the sound of the opening of my review I am not panning the movie by any stretch of the imagination (its actually very good) instead, in my own way, aping the deliciously downbeat opening of this superior fantasy. The initial voiceover from narrator Snicket (Jude Law, shrouded in shadow) starts the movie off as it means to go on- this is not a place for happy endings, only brief escapes from misery. The story concerns the Baudelaire children- inventor Violet, book worm Klaus and little nipper (or biter) Sunny. Following the mysterious ]]>

PLANET OF THE APES

Review By Paul Mount, 3 out of 5

US science-fiction TV in the 1970s was a very strange beast indeed. There were none of the hallmarks of today’s better fantasy shows ?no multi-layered story arcs, no intriguing conspiracy theories, no well-rounded characters. No, back in the 1970s US SF TV was just runaround stuff, variations on a men-on-the-run theme or else shows about groups of people stranded on some strange new world. Think FANTASTIC JOURNEY, LOGAN’S RUN and many more I’m far too chillded-out to remember. PLANET OF THE APES falls squarely into this curious group. With the film series having come full circle and run right out of steam, it was time for the ape masks and the stock footage to make the inevitable leap into weekly television. Remember that this show, screened prime-time Sunday nights in the UK, pulled in around 16 million before feeble ratings Stateside pulled the plug on the whole dirty stinking ape phenomenon until Tim Burton’s witless revision of the theme a couple of years ago.

It’s not hard to see why the PLANET OF THE APES series bit the dust after fourteen episodes. It just doesn’t have any of the wit and wisdom of the film series. It’s also stultifyingly unimaginative ?although it starts off fairly promisingly. Echoing the first movie, astronauts Virdon (Harper) and Burke (Naughton) find themselves on a familiar-yet-unfamiliar world when their spaceship tumbles through a handy spacewarp. They quickly discover that ?gasp! ?this is a future Earth where ?gulp! ?Man has become the slave and talking apes the masters. Yikes! V and B quickly team up with friendly chimp Galen (McDowell adding some simian savvy to the proceedings) and they’re forced to go on the run from nasty gorilla General Urko (Lenard) and his brutish thugs who are desperate to stop our heroes revealing the truth about the planet’s heritage to all and sundry. The three fugitives wander around the Los Angeles countryside encountering the human inhabitants of disparate settlements and, in the space of forty-five or so minutes, help sort out some local crisis or dreary domestic difference.

PLANET OF THE APES was really never going to work long-term as a TV show, at least not with this limited format and the limited imaginations of those working on it. The series either blithely contradicts the film series or else pointedly ignores it ?here the humans aren’t mute as they are in the film and it’s never made clear, despite references to other visitors, exactly where in Ape chronology all this takes place. Fans of the films may enjoy revisiting familiar concepts but the rest of us will soon be bored witless by antics involving hang-gliders, pregnant cows and badly-choreographed gladiatorial combat. Cancellation at fourteen episodes was a mercy killing.

THE DISCS: Not much in the way of remastering going on here but American film series generally look good in any format and these episodes are bright and colourful, despite the odd fleck and scratch. Extras? Trailers for the film set and that recent filmzp>

The PLANET OF THE APES TV series boxset is available now in the US and is released on 18th August 2003 in the UK.

DARK ANGEL ?SEASON ONE BOXSET

Review By Paul Mount, 3.5 out of 5

“Sometimes it seems like it happened to someone else. Like maybe it was a story I heard?The hardest part is not knowing?f any of them made it. If I knew for sure I was the only one left, it would be worse. The truth is they’d be like me?iving on the run, always lookinging over your shoulder.”

It’s so difficult to second-guess what’s likely to capture the zeitgeist. Who would ever have dreamed, for example, that a mid-season replacement horror series inspired by a flop feature film from 5 years earlier would turn into a worldwide pop culture phenomenon, redefining genre television and setting new benchmarks of quality for the entire industry? But that’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER for you. Who would realistically bet against James “King of the World”Cameron’s first TV series, DARK ANGEL doing much the same thing? Who then, for that matter, could have predicted the absolute viewer indifference which met the show (after impressive ratings for the pilot) and cancellation at the end of season two? Oblivion notwithstanding, Fox have decided to give DARK ANGEL the lavish boxset treatment usually reserved for its big hitters. And why not? DARK ANGEL may now be just a footnote in the history of genre TV but it’s a damned good one and if you can track it down (either here or on its Channel Five screenings in the UK) you’ll find it a lot more satisfying that many of the thrown-together BUFFY/X FILES rip-off shows which still come and go year after year.

In the year 2009, a bunch of genetically-engineered children break out of a top secret research complex in the snowy wastes of Gillette, Wyoming. Security forces capture most of them but twelve escape. Fast-forward to 2020 and one of these escapees has grown into Max (Jessica Alba), a mean’n’moody brooding superbabe struggling to stay alive in a future Seattle after the US economy has been devastated by a lethal electromagnetic pulse detonated by terrorists. In the powerful pilot episode Max meets up with Logan (Michael Weatherly), an idealistic underground cyberjournalist campaigning against Government corruption and, with Max’s help, the Manticore project which spawned her and the other would-be supersoldiers. When Logan is crippled Max becomes his arms and legs, his eyes and ears in the fight against the oppressive Government whilst pursuing her own agenda of finding her own roots and the rest of her kind.

DARK ANGEL is funky, kick-ass stuff. Max is very much Buffy with added attitude; there’s a hint of danger about her which Buffy, for all her stakes and high-kicks, can’t quite muster. But then these are very different shows, despite any passing similarities. BUFFY, despite its sometimes surprisingly adult themes, is generally a lighter show. DARK ANGEL is dark and uncompromising, depicting a grimy, almost cyberpunk world where technology looks as if it’s constantly at the edge of collapse, ready to plunge Mankind (or at least America) back into the Dark Ages. Max exudes a brooding sexuality which fresh-faced Buffy is often blissfully unaware of and Max isn’t afraid to use herohemomple charms to get what she wants. And what she wants, as the series progresses, is some answers. She quickly tracks down her birth-mother and finally makes contact with one of her own kind. As the series progresses the stories get a little darker and Max becomes a little more desperate. Eventually she has little option but to infiltrate Operation Manticore itself and comes face-to-face with her creatorsond her would-be destroyers.

It’s hard to fathom out why DARK ANGEL didn’t catch on. In theory it’s all here; an attractive hero, out-there production values, slick scripts and lots of whiz-bang action. But Max is maybe a bit too cold to be likeable, a bit too self-absorbed and detached to become a role model or even a sex symbol. Perhaps DARK ANGEL’s dislocated future is just too much to take, particularly in these troubled times. Whatever the reason for its ultimate failure, it really is worth your time here on the digital format. The series picks up a nice momentum as it rolls along and its cliffhanger ending will leave you crying out for more. Not long to wait; Season two arrives on DVD/VHS in April.

THE DISCS: Spread across six discs, these episodes look beautiful, pristine quality prints bursting with vibrant colours when required and handling darker, gloomier sequences with little or no grain. Extras disappoint, though. Disc six boasts a few dull interviews clearly filmed on the set of the pilot where the actors and the producers excitedly tell the audience what the show is all about and who’s in it. Er?uys, we’ve just watched 22 episodes, we know all this! DARK ANGEL may have met a premature end on TV (ironically canned to make way for Joss Whedon’s spaceship show FIREFLY which has itself now been snuffed out) but here’s hoping that the boxset of Season Two is a bit more generous with the extras.

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MATINEE

Review By Paul Mount, 3.5 out of 5Handy budget-priced release for Joe Dante’s fondly-remembered but oft-forgotten 1993 homage to 1950s B-movie and the age of nuclear paranoia. Goodman plays Lawrence Woolsey, a cheesy director of cheap and cheerful horror films. He brings his circus to town for the premier of his latest film – Mant: half-man, half-ant – at a US naval base in the Florida Keys just as the Cuban missile crisis is reaching its peak.

MATINEE can best be described as charming. Plenty of period detail and loads of nice in-jokes happily evoke the era and Goodman is classy as the larger-than-life shlock director, clearly inspired by William Castle. The ‘Mant’ sequences are worth the price of admission alone and even the corny teen romance subplots can’t detract from the joyous enjoyment of this unassuming, delightful little comedy. As the news of the passing of the missile crisis brings the film to an end, there’s a genuine sense of hope and elation in the air, a beautiful sense of optimism which stays with you long after you’ve watched the film.

THE DISC: The transfer is a bit bright and washed-out but otherwise perfectly serviceable. No extras apart from a trailer but for around five quid it would be foolish to expect much more.