Saturday, 29 December 2012

Merlin (Series Five)

The fifth series of Merlin begins with the two-parter episode Arthur's Bane, which takes place three years after the events of the series four finale The Sword in the Stone. Morgana hasn't been seen or heard of during this time and King Arthur, with his wife Guinevere at his side, has been reigning over Camelot. The kingdom has entered into a golden age of peace and prosperity. The characters have developed too. Merlin seems more confident and, as series five progresses, we see that he's certainly become more ruthless. Arthur may not be a perfect king but he's clearly a great one. Gwen has matured a lot too and has become a strong and confident woman and queen. She's had a badass makeover too! Now that she's no longer a maid, Gwen finally gets a wardrobe to rival Morgana's from the first three series of the show. Gwen gets some fabulous dresses in this series - which I'm sure Angel Coulby enjoyed wearing.






However, trouble is now brewing in the Frozen Lands of the North. Gwaine, Percival and several of Camelot's finest knights are on patrol there when they're captured by Saxons. Can you guess who the Saxons are working for? Yep, Morgana's back! Still looking fabulous in black, still determined to kill Arthur and reign over Camelot, and still looking for any old excuse to get Gwaine's shirt off. Morgana is a lot more mentally unhinged than she was in series four though and this seems to be because she was imprisoned and chained up in a pit for two years with only the dragon Aithusa for company. Morgana then forces the knights of Camelot to dig in the mines beneath the fortress of Ismere. This is because she's searching for a key which she believes is Arthur's "bane". When he finds out what's happened to the knights, Arthur rides out to rescue them with Merlin and a handful of remaining knights. Morgana isn't the only villain of series five though. On the way to Ismere, Merlin meets a dying druid who terrifies him with a vision of Arthur's death at the hands of Mordred. And sure enough, Merlin and Arthur encounter Mordred again. Mordred helps Arthur to defeat Morgana and is rewarded for his efforts by being knighted at Camelot. Merlin is greatly troubled by this and doesn't trust Mordred, despite Mordred's continual acts of kindness towards both himself and Arthur.

Now that I've seen every series of Merlin, series four and series five are tied as my favourites of the show's run. Series four is probably the best series overall because it's the most consistently enjoyable and there aren't really any bad episodes; whereas series five starts off brilliantly and ends brilliantly but takes a dip in quality during the middle episodes because of the "Evil Gwen" storyline.

I don't want to go into too much depth with the best episodes of the series because at least two of them, probably more, will feature in "My Top 10 Merlin Episodes" list. I have to say though that series five gets off to the best start of any of the other series of the show. As it's become tradition, the show kicks off with the epic two-parter episode Arthur's Bane and wastes no time in getting back into the action. I was hugely impressed by these episodes. The scenes in the Frozen Lands of the North looked fantastic! Usually when Arthur, Merlin and the knights go off on a quest it looks like they're just riding around in the same Welsh countryside they're always riding around in. But not this time. It really felt like the characters had gone to a different land this time and like they'd gone on a proper quest. I particularly approve of the decision to use real wolves and not CGI ones. CGI wolves never look good! I loved seeing Gwen's growth in character in these episodes as well. She's clearly the character who has developed the most in the gap between series four and five and I loved it when she worked out that Sefa was the traitor. It took Arthur the whole of series three to work out that Morgana was a traitor and then the whole of series four to work out that his shifty uncle Agravaine was up to no good. But not Gwen. It took her less than 45 minutes to work out what Sefa was up to! Gwen's crafty too. Her decision to hang Sefa was really just a means of luring Ruadon to Camelot and it paid off. There's so much that I loved about these episodes actually. Liam Cunningham was great as Ruadan. There are some nice homages: there's a scene where Arthur and Merlin are hiding from Morgana which is very reminiscent of a scene in The Fellowship of the Ring when the Hobbits hiding from the Nazgul. There's also another scene where Merlin and Arthur get caught in a trap which reminded me of a scene from Return of the Jedi. There are some hilariously gratuitous scenes of half-naked men too! It seems Morgana used the quest for Arthur's bane as an excuse to open up Albion's first strip club! Also, these episodes may hint that series five is going to have the darkest tone yet but there's still humour in them. The scene where Merlin juggles in front of Arthur is funny and the incredulous look on Arthur's face while he does so is priceless. Trivia: Colin Morgan spent four months learning how to juggle in preparation for that scene. The only really bad thing about these episodes is that the Euchdag looked awful. It looked like a cross between the blue aliens from those Argos adverts and the "alien" Mr Burns from that Simpsons/X Files crossover episode! Seriously, what the hell was that?!

After these two opening episodes we then get The Death Song of Uther Pendragon. This is an awesome episode. It has a genuinely creepy and eerie atmosphere and is all the better for not featuring Morgana. Strangely enough though this episode is probably the funniest of the series as well. There are some hilarious Merlin/Arthur scenes that still don't lessen the impact of the ghost scenes. Other quality episodes in the first half of the series include The Disir and The Dark TowerThe Disir is a frustrating but brilliant episode. In this episode Mordred risks his life for Arthur and gets badly wounded. Arthur feels guilty so he asks the Disir, the highest court of the Old Religion, to persuade them to spare Mordred's life. But the Disir say they'll only grant Arthur's request if he accepts magic in Camelot. Arthur then seeks Merlin's advice about this and Merlin advises against accepting magic because he fears Mordred's part in Arthur's downfall... and in doing so Merlin ends up setting the future events in place. The scene where Arthur asks for Merlin's advice at the campfire is really powerful. You can just see the internal conflict and tension that's going on within Merlin. Does he reveal his magical powers to Arthur, convince Arthur to embrace magic, and bring all of his dreams of freedom and acceptance to reality? Or does he protect his friend? It's a beautifully acted scene by Colin Morgan. Ultimately Merlin decides that Arthur's life is more important to him than magical liberation. This episode was quite frustrating to me when I first saw it because it pretty much killed my hopes that we'd get an early magic reveal in the series, but when I reflected about the episode afterwards I realised how good it was. It's tragic that Merlin ends up making a terrible decision out of love for his friend. The Dark Tower is an excellent episode as well. In this episode Morgana kidnaps Gwen and psychologically tortures her. Gwen's brother Elyan is then killed when the knights show up to rescue Gwen. I loved the dark, fairy tale vibe of this episode. We get a damsel in distress locked away in a tower, an impenetrable forest of thorns, a fairy guide, an enchanted sword and an evil witch. Angel Coulby is outstanding in this episode too. She gives one of her best performances in the show and really sells Gwen's anguish and emotional torment.

Series five of Merlin certainly gets off to a great start and for the first six episodes or so I was really pleased with where it was going. But then there's a drop in quality because we get the "Evil Gwen" storyline. At the end of The Dark Tower it turns out that Gwen has been enchanted by Morgana and is now helping her to overthrow Camelot. Initially I thought this storyline had great potential but I quickly got frustrated with it. The Evil Gwen episodes are by no means BAD. They're just... meh. They're essentially filler episodes and don't do enough to drive the main story arc of the series forward. The show pretty much reverted back to its series three form with these episodes. We had a "Traitor in Camelot" again and the storyline felt like a retread of Morgana and Morgause's plotting back in series three. The writers even seemed to be deliberately evoking this. This was especially frustrating because by then it had been confirmed that series five was going to be the last series of the show. You really want a show to be moving forward in its last series instead of taking two steps back. I was very disappointed with the reveal of Morgana and Aithusa's captor as well. Considering how powerful Morgana is supposed to be I wanted her captor to be more that just some random warlord. Yes, he was a very nasty and sadistic warlord and he thoroughly deserved his death but I was still disappointed. We never found out how Morgana eventually escaped from the pit either. These Evil Gwen episodes did have their moments. It was hilarious to see Colin Morgan camping it up as a sassy old woman in With All My Heart. Merlin's anguish when he thought he'd failed to save Arthur in A Lesson in Vengeance was a great bit of acting by Morgan too. But I still wanted more from the episodes themselves.


My main issue with series five in general is that Mordred is very badly underused for most of it. This is baffling when you consider how important Mordred's character is to the show's endgame! It's also frustrating that Mordred is underused because Alexander Vlahos is clearly a very talented actor. Asa Butterfield is an exceptional child actor and he gave a brilliant performance as Young Mordred in series one and two. He somehow managed to be cute and creepy at the same time. Any actor who replaced him was going to have some very big shoes to fill. Finding Alexander Vlahos was a fantastic bit of casting then. Vlahos has clearly borrowed some of Butterfield's mannerisms but he still gives his own take on the character. Vlahos doesn't quite have Butterfield's amazingly piercing blue eyes but he really does look like he could be an older version of Butterfield's Mordred. Vlahos gives a brilliant performance as Mordred too (particularly so when you consider that he hasn't really been given that much to work with). His scenes with Colin Morgan are especially great. They get progressively more tense as the series goes along. I loved Mordred's character too. I liked that they actually made him quite sympathetic for the majority of the series.

I really wish that those episodes which dealt with the Evil Gwen episodes had been used to focus on Mordred more instead. Vlahos does a brilliant job with what he's been given to work with but the character could have still done with more development. I'd have loved it if Mordred's character and his relationships with Arthur and Merlin could have been explored in more depth throughout the series. I loved Mordred's scene with Merlin in The Disir for example, the one where Mordred catches Merlin making a marked grave for the sorcerer. It's a lovely scene and I wish we'd gotten more moments like that in the show. You get the sense that Merlin and Mordred would have probably been great friends had it not been for the prophecy about Mordred killing Arthur. It would have been really cool if we'd seen Mordred using magic more too. Also, I'd have loved it if the knights had gotten more to do in the series. Their characters have been very underdeveloped throughout the whole show and we never really learnt all that much about them apart from Lancelot and Gwaine. A standalone episode that focused on the knights and fleshed them out more would have been so much fun to see. I was really hoping that the producers would decide to give their own spin on the "Gawain and the Green Knight" story in this series and that would have been a good way of giving the knights more to do. Morgana's relationship with Aithusa could have done with some more fleshing out in this series as well.

Thankfully though the Evil Gwen storyline is resolved and we get the brilliant final episodes, the two-parter episode The Diamond of the Day. I have to talk about these episodes. In the first of these two episodes, Morgana has now allied herself up with Mordred and has finally found out who Emrys is. Morgana then decides to rob Merlin of his powers so he'll be helpless to save Arthur when Morgana's allies, the Saxons, fight against Camelot at the Battle of Camlann. Morgana succeeds in stripping Merlin of his powers so Merlin goes on a quest to the Crystal Cave in the Valley of the Fallen Kings in the hope of regaining his magic. Morgana finds out what Merlin is attempting to do though, and after a tense conversation with Merlin she traps him in the cave. However, Merlin has a vision of his dead father Balinor and his magic is restored. Merlin is then able to warn Arthur about Morgana's plans through a dream and escapes from the cave in his Emrys disguise. I really enjoyed this episode. I really loved that Merlin and Gwaine finally got some time together again. Merlin and Gwaine's friendship was one of my favourite things about series three but after that we barely see them together again. Arthur's speech before the battle was great too. It's not exactly Henry V but it's still pretty rousing and was very well delivered by Bradley James. The scene where Merlin talks to Arthur in his sleep is great. Balinor's reappearance was great to see too but I wish John Lynch's name hadn't been put in the opening credits. I think the scene would have had so much more of an impact if we hadn't known that Balinor was going to appear again. Merlin and Morgana's confrontation was also a lot of fun and Merlin's anguish when he realised that there was no way out of the cave was very well acted by Colin Morgan. How stupid was Morgana though for trapping Merlin in the cave instead of trying to kill him right there and then! She's like the worst sort of Bond villain! Morgana, you've been searching for Emrys for so long and he's right there! Powerless! Don't go for the slow and agonising death! Don't trap him in the cave that he went to so he could get his powers back in the first place! OK, I'm very glad that Morgana didn't kill Merlin on the spot but still... it annoys me when characters do stupid things just because it's convenient to the plot.

The second part of The Diamond of the Day is even better though. I was not expecting Merlin to be to be a total BAMF by creating a lightning storm that stopped the battle within minutes! And I certainly wasn't expecting Arthur to get stabbed and Mordred to be killed barely six minutes in! I was literally thinking "Flipping Heck! What are they going to do now?!" It turned out though that having Arthur stabbed so quickly was a brilliant decision because it allowed the episode to be very much focused on Merlin and Arthur's relationship. Merlin takes Arthur on a quest to heal in the waters of Avalon and we get plenty of Merlin/Arthur scenes on the way, which is just what the fans would have wanted. Arthur's reaction to Merlin's magic reveal is PERFECT, absolutely perfect. He acts exactly the way you'd expect. He's disbelieving at first, then he's angry and confused, and then he slowly moves towards acceptance throughout the episode. I really loved that Arthur was obviously more angry that Merlin had been lying to him for years rather than the fact that Merlin had magic. Arthur's eventual acceptance towards Merlin's was extremely well-handled and it didn't feel rushed or forced at all. I was very much relieved by this because I was beginning to think that they'd hold the magic reveal off until the final scene! Instead it was wonderful to watch Arthur coming to terms with Merlin's powers throughout the episode. By the time it got to Arthur's final scene you could tell that if Arthur had lived that he would have been just as close to Merlin, probably more so, and that they would have had fun fooling around with Merlin's magical powers. It wasn't to be though. Arthur died : ( But as sad as it was I thought that was all for the best. There are one or two funny scenes in the final episode but I loved how dark and emotional it was on the whole. I loved how they stuck to traditional mythology by having Arthur die. Even though Merlin has taken liberties with the traditional Arthurian mythology it has incorporated the key elements. I know the finale didn't please everyone though. I browsed Tumblr and Twitter after watching the finale and there were loads of teenagers bitching and whining about it: that it was "crap" and that they didn't understand it. Well you should know your ancient legends, kids! That's how it was written! Merlin and Arthur's final scenes are deeply moving and really quite beautiful. I can't be the only one who got teary-eyed when Arthur said to Merlin "I don't want you to change. I want you to be always you". And if I'd been told beforehand that Arthur's last request to Merlin would be "just hold me" and that he'd then die in Merlin's arms I'd have found that pretty funny. But I didn't. I was actually moved. Gwaine being tortured to death off-screen by Morgana was a heartbreaking moment as well.

Speaking of Morgana, her death was the only thing I'd change about this episode. She died far too quickly and I really wish Merlin and Morgana had had a proper magical battle. I'd have liked lightning bolts raining down from the sky, Darth Vader style death choking, fireballs being thrown, daggers being thrown telekinetically, even a few non-magical punches and slaps. Instead we just get Morgana knocking Merlin backwards with magic and then Merlin getting up and stabbing her with Excalibur. I was like "Wait! What?! Is that it?!" I am really glad that the episode mostly focused on Merlin and Arthur of course but Morgana deserved a much better send off than this! I think the final episode could have really done with being 60 minutes in length rather than 45. It would have given them time for a proper magical battle between Merlin and Morgana whilst still giving us plenty of Merlin and Arthur scenes. I'm glad that Morgana didn't take Arthur to Avalon though. In most of the traditional Arthurian tales, Morgana, now feeling guilt and remorse over her evil deeds, redeems herself by taking Arthur's dead body to Avalon. I was glad that this didn't happen in Merlin. Her character was too far gone in my opinion and a moral turnaround would have been far too unbelievable. Another thing that I really liked about this episode is that Gwen had obviously worked out that Merlin had magical powers by the end. Although in fairness Gaius did give her some fairly big hints! Hey! Gaius didn't actually die in this! I was convinced that either he or Merlin's mother would die in this series. I really loved the final episode of Merlin and I believe it did the show justice. It may not be 100% flawless but it came very close. I was disappointed that we never got a Merlin-Morgana showdown and I'm still not sure how I feel about the modern-day epilogue but I loved it overall.

Merlin has come to a definitive end now but I guess there's still room for a potential follow-up spin-off with Merlin and Arthur that's set in the modern-day. I think that's unlikely though. The producers of the show have always been pretty open about the fact that they had a five-year plan for the show but there were rumours at the beginning of series five that they might do a sixth series and/or a film. Apparently this didn't happen because the actors wanted to do other things. Some newspapers reported that the show had got cancelled but that's not true. It just wasn't recommissioned. I'm glad that Merlin ended when it did too. Don't get me wrong, I love the show and there would have been enough of Arthurian lore for them to have drawn from and made a sixth series. They could have had Morgana getting killed off at the end of series five with Mordred replacing her as the main villain for series six. He could have been out to kill Arthur and avenge Morgana's death before the show ended with the finale that we got for series five. However it's far better for a show to go out on a high and leave you wanting than for it to drag out for years, get steadily worse, lose its actors, and stay past its welcome date (a la The Simpsons). I will really miss Merlin though and the BBC really need to follow it up with something great. It would be nice if it was of a similar genre and geared towards the same audience too. How about a pirate show?

Again, I really love Merlin. It really has become one of my favourite TV shows. I might have been embarrassed to admit that around series one but I'm not now. Sure Merlin was never historically accurate and was more inspired by than directly based on traditional Arthurian mythology. Sure the show had its flaws. The special effects were sometimes laughable. The storylines in series one were often formulaic and predictable. Morgana's turning to the dark side was rather poorly handled although Katie McGrath did a great job playing her. There are many things about the show that you can mock: the legendary incompetence of Camelot's guards, Morgana's evil smirks in series three, etc. But I can very easily forgive Merlin's flaws because it had just had so much going for it.  Merlin was hugely entertaining and so much fun. It had loads of humour and never took itself too seriously but it could still be very emotional when it needed to be. It had enormous heart and genuinely loveable characters. It had two beautiful settings in Chateau de Pierrefonds and the Welsh countryside. It had plenty of eye candy. The show improved with each series too. The storylines became better and started to incorporate more from the traditional legends - but the show also had the imagination to meddle with the mythology in an interesting and creative way. Having Merlin as a contemporary of Arthur who lives in a world where magic is banned is pretty darn inventive!

The show had an excellent regular cast of actors and managed to get some very impressive guest stars. We got Charles Dance, Warwick Davis, Pauline Collins, Miriam Margoyles, Gemma Jones, Liam Cunningham, Emilia Fox, Santiago Cabrera, Asa Butterfield, John Lynch, Lindsay Duncan and many more. The show was exceptionally blessed with its leading actors though. How fortunate we were that we got to see Colin Morgan and Bradley James as its leading actors! Both are excellent actors, especially Morgan. He has such a range as an actor. He can be hilariously funny but it's his acting in the dramatic, emotional scenes that really showcases just how great an actor he is. If I had my way he'd have got a BAFTA nomination. Morgan and James had an amazing chemistry between them and it was obvious that the two of them got on really well and that they genuinely loved working with each other. The show would have really struggled if that hadn't been the case because Merlin is essentially a platonic love story. The Merlin-Arthur bromance is usually the thing that fans love most about the show.

I'll be following the careers of the Merlin actors with great interest now. I'll be checking out the other things they've done and I hope they all go on to have brilliant careers. So far I've only seen Asa Butterfield's Hugo (which is brilliant BTW). I know that Eoin Macken (who played Gwaine in Merlin) has landed a role in a US pilot. Angel Coulby is going to be acting (and singing!) in a BBC2 drama called Dancing on the Edge. The new Doctor Who companion Jenna Louise Coleman and Janet Montgomery (who played Princess Mithian in Merlin) are both going to be in it as well. The trailer looks quite good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcqnCz5chXs. Alexander Vlahos has been in a Big Finish radio drama series called The Confessions of Dorian Gray which sounds very interesting. Bradley James was in the film Fast Girls and that got quite good reviews. And now I think I'll close my review with this lovely picture I found : )


Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey (2012)

I saw The Hobbit! Well, The Hobbit Part One anyway. I saw it on Thursday and even took the day off work to see it. I've been a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings ever since I was a kid and I loved Peter Jackson's film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. It was a book that many believed to be unfilmable until Jackson proved everyone wrong. I've been looking forward to the screen adaptation of The Hobbit for years and this is no exaggeration! And I loved this first film! It's fantastic! I'd read mixed reviews before going into the film. Some of the critical reviews had argued that it was slow-paced and too long, that it would only please Tolkien fans, and that the 48-frames-per-second-thing made the film look cheap and like a BBC mini-series. I was disappointed to read these criticisms and even I was beginning to have doubts about the quality of the film. I was a bit afraid when I found out that The Hobbit, which isn't a very long book by any means, would be made into three films. Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro was originally supposed to direct The Hobbit at one point (with Peter Jackson producing) and it was supposed to be a two-picture project. But then del Toro pulled out, Jackson stepped in, and an extra film was announced. I was afraid that these Hobbit films would be padded out to death; and even in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy some of the battle scenes went on for too long and became boring. To me a third film seemed like a cynical cash-in from a greedy Hollywood studio. Yet I still wasn't put off seeing the film despite my growing doubts. Boy, am I glad that I still saw this film!

I didn't find the film overly long at all. Even though the film is almost three hours long it really didn't feel like it. The time just flew by! Yes, the film gets off to a slow start but that wasn't a bad thing in my eyes. I loved that they actually devoted quite a bit of time to the Shire scenes. I think they spent exactly as long there as they needed to to introduce the characters, explain what their quest is, and give Bilbo the chance to decide he would quite like to go on a adventure after all. But after Bilbo leaves the Shire the pace really picks up and you get plenty of action. And as for the criticism that it will only appeal to Tolkien fans, well, I am a long-time fan of the book so of course I'm biased. And the most positive reviews I've read of the film have been from Tolkien fans. Yet I actually think that this film is likely to be more accessible to people who haven't read The Hobbit then the LOTR films were to people who had never read that book. The Hobbit is fast-paced and there's more humour than there was in the LOTR films. And as for the criticism that the 48 frame rate looks cheap and like a BBC production... well, I saw the film in 2D not 3D so I didn't see the 48 frames per second version. I saw it in the standard 24 frames. I can't comment on whether the film looks cheap or not in 3D then but I thought it looked fantastic in 2D. It's full of spectacle and looks great. Yes, some of the CGI is a bit ropey (I'll get on to that later) but overall the film is stunning.

The film doesn't start in the same way as the book. It begins with a prologue - narrated by Older Bilbo - where we learn the backstory of the Dwarves. We see their homeland in all its glory and then see how it was destroyed by Smaug. This prologue is awesome! We see Erebor, Young Thorin, and a brief glimpse of Smaug. We see Thranduil (Legolas's father) who is played by Lee Pace. We even get a glimpse of the Arkenstone which becomes important later on in the story. After this prologue we then get another scene that isn't featured in the book. We get a scene of Older Bilbo (played by Ian Holm) at the Shire as he writes The Hobbit. We then see him interacting with Frodo (played by Elijah Wood) as they're getting ready for the birthday party that we see at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. It's a lovely scene and it was even poignant to see how innocent Frodo still is. The scene then transitions to Younger Bilbo (now played by Martin Freeman) meeting Gandalf.

The film does take detours from the book. The book is focused purely on Bilbo and the Dwarves' quest but the film includes things that are mentioned in the appendices in LOTR. We see things that happen off-page in Tolkien's book like Gandalf's concerns about the Necromancer. These additions didn't bother me at all because they did actually happen in the background of Tolkien's book. Jackson hasn't made them up. And I bet if Jackson hadn't put these additions in there would have been critics moaning about Gandalf's absences never being explained! We also get a new enemy called Azog in this film. He's an Orc that killed Thorin's father at Khazud-Dum and is out to kill Thorin on a personal vendetta because Thorin chopped his arm off. I don't remember Azog but apparently his character is mentioned in the appendices and was killed off by Dain Ironfoot. I could take or leave this addition myself.

One aspect of the film that I really loved was that it definitely got the humour and the light-hearted tone right. The Bag End scenes are very funny. I especially loved Bilbo's horrified reaction at possibly being incinerated by a dragon and Bofur's response that a dragon is basically a furnace with wings : D And I LOVED that they kept the lines from the book about Bilbo hooting like an owl and that one of Bilbo's ancestors invented the game of golf. Oh and I loved that they kept Gandalf's "Good Morning" lines too; they were oh so brilliantly delivered by Ian McKellen.

There are so many things that I loved about The Hobbit. We even got songs! I laughed out loud when the Dwarves sang "Blunt the Knives" and the "Misty Mountains Cold" song is very haunting and powerful. It helps that Richard Armitage has a great baritone voice. Howard Shore's music is fantastic yet again. I loved all of the breathtaking location shots of New Zealand. I liked Gandalf explaining why he chose Bilbo for the quest by mentioning the exploits of Bilbo's ancestors. I thought that was a very nice touch. I especially loved the "Riddles in the Dark" scene. This has always been my favourite part of the book and it was my favourite part of the film. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis were just brilliant and these scenes are funny, chilling and tense. It was wonderful to see old settings again - the Shire and Rivendell - and to see old characters return too. In addition to Frodo and Older Bilbo, we get Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond and even Saruman again. All of the actors get right back into character again and I loved their appearances.

The White Council
We do get a lot of new characters and actors in this film of course. Martin Freeman was excellent as Bilbo. Originally Freeman had to turn the role down because it clashed with filming Sherlock; but Jackson liked Freeman so much that he changed the dates of the production just to accommodate him. You can see why. Freeman gives a lovely, engaging performance. Even thought this film has a wider scope and isn't as focused on his character as the book is he still gives an excellent performance. He's funny and brings real heart to the role. He shines especially in the Bag End scenes, the Stone Trolls scene, and the Riddles in the Dark scenes. Richard Armitage is also outstanding as Thorin Oakenshield. When I first read that he'd been cast as Thorin I was quite surprised. I think Armitage is a great actor. I've loved him ever since I saw him as John Thornton in the BBC's North and South; but I thought the Bard's role would be a more obvious choice for him. But Armitage gives a superb performance. They tone down his good looks and he gives a real sense of nobility and gravitas. Thorin is obviously flawed but he still comes across as sympathetic and honourable. I loved Sylvester McCoy - a former Doctor! - as Radagast the Brown too. I really don't get that some critics have compared him to Jar Jar Binks. McCoy gives a delightful performance and is a ton of fun to watch! I really enjoyed his performance.

Bilbo Baggins

Thorin Oakenshield

Gandalf and Radagast the Brown

Then of course there are the other Dwarves. Balin gets quite a bit of screentime in this film which I was pleased about. Now people who haven't read Tolkien's book will know who he is when the Fellowship stumbles into his tomb in The Fellowship of the Ring. They might find that scene a lot more poignant. I also really enjoyed Dwalin, Ori, Bofur, Kili and Fili; especially Bofur and Kili. Bofur is played by James Nesbitt and he gets some great lines. Kili is played by Aidan Turner of Being Human fame and is the "sexy Dwarf". He also seems to be the Legolas of the group (because he's an archer) and he gets an especially badass moment. There's this scene where the Dwarves are crouched behind a rock hiding from a Warg. Thorin gives Kili a silent nod and this dude then stands up, turns 180 and bangs it in the throat with an arrow. Awesome! We didn't learn very much about the other Dwarves, which I suppose is a bit of a shame, but then again most of them aren't very well fleshed-out in Tolkien's book either. I'm looking forward to getting to know them better in the subsequent films and I'm sure they'll all have their moments. I'd especially like Bombur to get more screentime in the other films. He's used as comic relief in Tolkien's book but I don't think he got a single line in this film. I'd like Gloin to get some more screentime in the other films too since he's Gimli's father. I also can't wait to hear Benedict Cumberbatch's voice as Smaug and the Necromancer (aka Sauron) in the other films! We only see brief glimpses of Smaug and the Necromancer in this film.

Balin
Bofur
Kili

Is The Hobbit a flaweless film? Is every scene exactly what I imagined in my head when I read the book? No and no. The Hobbit isn't perfect. I was a bit annoyed that the Dwarves called Khazud-Dum "Moria" in the film. No! They would NEVER use the Elvish word for it! Also some, but not all, of the CGI looks a bit ropey. I loved the eagles and I thought Gollum looked great but I wasn't that keen on the Wargs and the Orcs. In the LOTR films the Orcs were played by actors who were made up to look like Orcs. But in this film it seems they mostly used CGI. This was a mistake in my opinion because the Orcs looked great in the LOTR films. I wasn't very keen on the glimpse of the Necromancer that you see in the Dol Guldur scene either. The effect wasn't great and the scene was far too brightly lit. I'd have liked a much more sinister and darker-looking scene. Bilbo was a bit too eager and excited to leave the Shire too I thought. He leaves on his own and I'd have preferred it if Gandalf had gone back to fetch him like he does in the book. I could have also done without Bilbo being covered with Troll snot and Radagast the Brown having bird crap on his hair. No just... no.

These are only small complaints and my feelings on this film are mostly very, very positive. It was a great Christmas present! : ) It is absolutely fantastic fun, the actors are great and very well-cast, and it's just an extremely entertaining film. I've loved the book since childhood and I thought this film was brilliant. I know I will watch it again and again and it deserves a lot of awards. Ignore the negative reviews! Go see it for yourself and make up your own mind! An extra incentive if you're a Les Miserables fan is that you get to see the trailer for the upcoming film! I'm only disappointed that The Desolation of Smaug won't come out until this time next year and There and Back Again comes out - I think - in the summer of 2014. 

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The King's Speech (2010)

I saw The King's Speech at the cinema for my 22nd birthday and I absolutely loved it. It was a great birthday! I was so happy that it did really well at the BAFTAS and Oscars, and I was even happier when it was announced that the film's director Tom Hooper would be directing the Les Miserables movie musical adaptation! I'll be seeing Les Miserables for my 25th birthday : )

The King's Speech is set during the years from 1925 up until the start of WWII in 1939. It tells the story of Prince Albert ("Bertie"), the Duke of York; the man who would eventually become King George VI and is the father of our current Queen. Bertie has a crippling stammer which seems to stem from problems in his childhood (i.e. a sadistic nanny, an overbearing father, a younger brother who died and an older brother who everyone preferred). Because of his stammer this makes public speaking (or more accurately public reading) a humiliating nightmare for Bertie. He has sought many speech therapists in the past in the hope of a cure but has given up hope. However, at the insistence of his devoted wife, Bertie hires an Australian speech therapist called Lionel Logue; whose methods are unusual and controversial. Bertie and Lionel's relationship goes through many ups and downs over the years, and Bertie becomes increasingly anxious that he may eventually have to become King due to his brother shirking his duties and responsibilities. This pressure intensifies even further when his brother abdicates the throne in order to marry his mistress and Britain declares war on Germany. The nation and the British empire needs a man who can speak for them and their cause; especially since the other side has a very effective public speaker in Adolf Hitler. Bertie doesn't want the throne at all but it's being forced on him and he has to do his duty. The King's Speech is a fascinating and compelling story. It's about an under-appreciated prince, who is an embarrassment to his family, becoming King and the events that lead up to it. But it's also a moving story about a man learning to overcome his fears through the help of a friend. Over the course of the film Bertie and Lionel end up developing a very warm and sincere friendship; with Lionel helping Bertie to deal with his stammer, his low self-esteem and his fears that he'll let his country down.

The King's Speech was a big Box Office hit (which surprised some) and won much critical acclaim. It won four Oscars (for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor and Best Original Screenplay) and seven BAFTAS: for Best Film, Outstanding British Film, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Music. The film completely deserved all of these awards! Sometimes films get hyped up as something special and turn out to be not so great *cough Black Swan cough * The King's Speech isn't one of those films and it has so much going for it. The whole film is beautifully lit and shot and it has amazing cinematography. According to Wikipedia, the cinematographer Danny Cohen is also doing the cinematography for Les Mis. Yay!

Colin Firth as Bertie
Another major factor that makes The King's Speech so great is its acting. It has a superb cast of actors who are all brilliant in their roles. I'll start with Colin Firth since he's the leading actor in the film. Colin Firth got his big break when he played Mr Darcy in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice back in 1995. He gave a great performance in that but it seems that for the next 10 years or so afterwards he pretty much coasted along on his sexy Mr Darcy image (i.e. the Bridget Jones films) and didn't really take on roles that challenged him as an actor. But that's changed in recent years and he gives a brilliant performance in this film. He shows vulnerability, anger, embarrassment, desperation, courage, strength, dignity... he completely deserved his Oscar and BAFTA wins! His stammer is completely believable too and you can really sympathise with Bertie's character, even when he snaps at Logue.

The supporting cast is outstanding too. Helena Bonham Carter gives a wonderful performance as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. She's lovely as Bertie's witty, devoted and caring but also steely-willed and strong wife. I loved her in this film. She gives the best performance I've yet seen from her and I really wanted her to win an Oscar for it. She's a great actress and it's a shame that she's mostly famous for playing psychos and loonys these days (i.e. Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter films, The Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd). Geoffrey Rush was... OK I know I've moaned about how much I didn't like his Javert in the 1998 Les Miserables film but he really is a great actor and he's brilliant in this film as Lionel Logue. He has great comic timing and is one of, no, he's the funniest character in the film. Yet at the same time he shows the character's common sense, his supportive side and his sensitivity. He has great chemistry with Firth too (as does Helena Bonham Carter). I was torn between wanting Geoffrey Rush or Christian Bale to win the Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars that year. Now for the rest of the cast. Guy Pearce is excellent as the arrogant, brattish but ultimately weak Edward VIII. Michael Gambon has a small role as George V and is great. You get the sense that the character is an overbearing father and a bit of a bully but you still feel sorry for him when he's ill and dying. Ooh, fans of the BBC's Pride and Prejudice should definitely see The King's Speech because not only is Darcy in it, Elizabeth Bennett is in it too! Jennifer Ehle has a role in this film as Lionel's wife Myrtle. She pulls off a great Australian accent and even has a brief, heart-warming scene with Colin Firth's Bertie. We also get David Bamber in this film. He played the pompous Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice and in this he plays a.... pompous theatre director. Other famous names in this film include Derek Jacobi (as the Archbishop of Canterbury), Timothy Spall (as Winston Churchill) and Anthony Andrews (as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin). We even get to see Ramona Marquez making her big-screen film debut as Princess Margaret. She plays Karen in the BBC's Outnumbered. I really liked the child actors who played Lionel and Myrtle's children as well.

Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth the Queen Mother

Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue

Guy Pearce as Edward VIII

Michael Gambon as George V

Jennifer Ehle as Myrtle

Ramona Marquez as Princess Margaret

I also have to mention that the music in this film is excellent: both the original music by Alexandre Desplat and the pieces of classical music that we hear (from the composers Mozart and Beethoven). The script is brilliant too and is full of drama and witty humour. I was really surprised at just how funny a lot of this film was when I first saw it. The King's Speech is a beautiful, emotional film that's full of heart and is highly uplifting. It has my seal of approval : )

Rating: 5/5

Monday, 19 November 2012

Phantom of the Opera (Mystery Legends Game)


This is a review of the Mystery Legends: Phantom of the Opera game, which I downloaded from Big Fish.com. I'm not really a huge gamer at all. I used to play Crash Bandicoot and Pokemon in my early teens but that's about it. I only got this game because I saw some beautiful images from it on Tumblr and because I saw a funny review from the Phantom Reviewer. This game isn't free and I did have to pay for this game but it only cost me £2 so it's good value for money. Also, I get to play it as many times as I want afterwards. So what's this game actually like?

The Story
Christine, Evelina and Raoul
The character you play in this game is called Evelina and she's Raoul and Christine's naive daughter. She looks more like Christine's younger sister than her daughter though! The game starts with Evelina walking through Paris with her parents as you can see from this picture. Sorry book fans, there's no blonde Christine in this. She's a brunette like she is in most adaptations. And Raoul's hair is long which seems like an influence from the 2004 film but at least it's in a tidy ponytail this time around. I must say I did quite like the fact that Christine and Raoul's marriage is shown to be happy. Raoul actually celebrates his wife's accomplishments as a singer and is proud of her; unlike Love Never Dies Raoul who breaks out into a headache and complains that he wants a drink every time Christine's singing is mentioned.

Evelina then gets approached by a young urchin boy who hands her a letter from the Phantom.




After reading the letter Evelina then gets magically transported to the abandoned ruins of the Paris opera house. She then encounters the Phantom who looks seriously badass! The Phantom has obviously mistaken Evelina for Christine. Well I can't say I blame him! He's kidnapped her and taken her to the opera house in order for her to recreate the events of the past and stay with him forever. Evelina must then navigate her way around the opera house, solve puzzles set to her by the Phantom and find useful objects in order to defeat the Phantom by... proving her love to him and giving him what he wants? Yeah, the plot of the game isn't great. I'm also conflicted by Erik's actions. On the one hand, Erik's unselfishly letting Christine go at the expense of his own happiness is really moving and a big reason why I love Phantom of the Opera. So it's annoying for me when I come across a sequel that ignores that and has Erik going "You know what, screw it, I'm still going to pursue Christine anyway" (see Love Never Dies). It ruins his character arc from the original story. But on the other hand, you really can't have a Phantom of the Opera adaptation if the Phantom isn't even a little bit frightening. He has to be dangerous and menacing otherwise he just isn't the Phantom. He's just some emo wussy who can't get over being ditched (again see Love Never Dies!) So although this game's story is lame it's still better than Love Never Dies' lame story.

As for the rest of the story, the game touches on most of the major events from Gaston Leroux's book and there are a few nice musical references as well, but I'll get to those later. One of the major reasons why I did actually like this game was because it actually has a really great gothic atmosphere. The plot may be lame but the atmosphere is genuinely eerie and creepy. At times I think they go a bit overboard with the creepiness though. There's this one bit in the game where Evelina goes into some creepy chapel where there are cloaked skeletons. She then has to put daggers in their arms and make the skeletons cut themselves. Blood then comes gushing out of the skeleton's arms. That's really twisted! The stupid cliffhanger ending is easily my least favourite thing about the game though because it's very disappointing. At the start of the game Evelina is trapped in the Phantom's clutches, and at the end of the game she's still in the Phantom's clutches! It's very frustrating and it really doesn't offer much in the way of closure. I think they were trying to leave room for a sequel but that's still no excuse for such a poor ending. You don't even get to see the Phantom's lair for example. At least I didn't because I bought the standard version. I understand that in the complete version there's a short bonus game where you do get to see the lair. You don't get an unmasking scene in the game either and you don't find out whether Erik gets redeemed or not.

The Gameplay
In the game you walk around the opera house and solve puzzles. These include "hidden object" puzzles where you're given a list of items to find in a messy room, bookshelf, etc. I thought the puzzles were really good fun at first but they do get a bit tedious after a while because you often have to go back to the same pile of junk and find different objects in order to progress through the game. There's no risk of dying in the game but if you keep clicking on the wrong objects too many times there's an annoying sound - which made me jump EVERY time - and your accuracy rating goes down.

As I've already mentioned I'm a novice gamer. It took me about 5 1/2 hours to complete the game. Depending on how fast a gamer you are you could potentially do it in a lot less because the game isn't that difficult. Well, most of the time it's not. The objects/puzzles ranged from being maddeningly difficult for me to find and solve; or I was thinking "Argh, how did I not spot that?! Now I've wasted my hint mirror!" Oh yeah, you get a "Hint Mirror" in the game that you can break in order to get helpful clues. This is very good to use when there's that one last pesky item in your list that you can't find. It does take a few minutes to regenerate itself though. Here's a tip: don't wait around for it. It will drive you insane. Get yourself a cup of tea in that time or make a trip to the toilet or something. In addition to the Hint Mirror; you also get a Map, a Journal and a Guide to help you with the quest. It also helps that things which need your attention will often sparkle and your cursor will change if you wave it over a puzzle or an object you need.

If I could have made changes to the gameplay I'd have liked some characters for Evelina to have interacted with and talked to. You're by yourself the whole time in the game and it would have been nice if the Persian or Madame Giry or Meg or some other character could have turned up. Also I would have liked it if I hadn't had to go through the entire opera house on those occasions when I needed to go back to a room and get an object.  I really wish that they'd put in some trapdoors and secret passages. Also, this is Phantom of the Opera! There should be trapdoors and secret passages everywhere!

The Graphics
This was without doubt my favourite thing about the game. The graphics and the artwork in the game is just BEAUTIFUL. It has seriously stunning visuals and I loved all the attention to detail. I especially loved that it was all hand-drawn and that there wasn't any CGI. You can really tell that a lot of work had gone into the game because the opera house looked so gorgeous and it really helped to make the atmosphere nice and ghostly; which is what every Phantom of the Opera adaptation worth its salt needs to have. The opera house in the game really did look haunted. Just look at these gorgeous images:





Hmm... I've stood outside the Opera Garnier (I didn't get to go inside unfortunately). That opera house is in the middle of Paris and I certainly didn't see any spooky-looking woods nearby! But since this image looks so cool I'll let them off.



Another hallmark of a great Phantom adaptation is that, even when you see relatively little of the Phantom himself, there's still a ghostly atmosphere and his presence is still very much in the story. This game captured that very well. Finally, I LOVED how the Phantom looked in this version. He has an awesome, creepy mask!

The Music/Voice Acting
The music in the game is good and eerie and helps to build the atmosphere. There's lots of pipe organ music and some effective sound effects. There's wind whistling through the corridors, rats squeaking, creaky floorboards and footsteps but there's nothing that's overpowering or distracting. However, there's a brief flashback where you hear Christine singing to the opera house and now I come to think of it I'd liked some more singing and opera music in the game. I guess there must be rights issues with that but if they could have managed it it would have been nice.

The voice actors were good and they sounded like professionals. Erik sounded arrogant, menacing and possessive and I really liked that.

The References
Another big thing that I liked about this game were the references to other Phantom works. There were quite a few direct quotes from Gaston Leroux's book in it for example. There's a bit where the Phantom says "I am Erik!" and another bit where he says "Know that I am built up of death head to foot". There was another direct quote from the book too when Erik sarcastically says "I am a kind of Don Juan, you know". Yay for book quotes! There were even a few musical references as well which I really enjoyed. There's a bit where the Phantom says to Evelina "I am your Angel of Music! Come to me" and another bit where the Phantom says "I gave you music". These are obvious references to the original Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. There's even a Love Never Dies reference at one point when the Phantom says to Evelina "our love will never die!"

We also get lots of other visual Phantom references in this game. There are stone angels, skulls, roses, mirrors, masks, scorpions, nooses, a gothic cemetery and a chapel/church (a Perros reference), a monkey music box and Box Five. We even get references to non-Phantom things! There's a library in the opera house and on one bookshelf there are the books Les Miserables, The Woman in White, The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. In one puzzle there's a poster of the Broadway/West End musical Wicked. There are also references to Hamlet and Greek and Egyptian mythology.

Conclusion 
Overall playing this game was a fun and interesting experience. I wouldn't play it again because I'm not a person who's obsessed with beating high scores but I did enjoy the game. I think I'd quite like to play the Mystery Legends: Beauty and the Beast and Sleepy Hollow games now.

Erik made for a good antagonist in the game. Forcing someone to sift through piles of junk strikes me as the sort of sadistic, eccentric thing he'd like to do! Yes, this game has its faults. The story leaves much to be desired and the ending is very disappointing. Nevertheless the genuinely eerie atmosphere, beautiful imagery and fun references to Phantom things and non-Phantom things made up for it. I think it would be really cool if someone made another Phantom game. You could play as Raoul and/or the Persian and go through the opera house and the catacombs, solving death traps and trying to find Christine. That would be fun!


My favourite scene in the whole game was the one you can see on the left. Evelina walks into a ballroom and sees some creepy puppets dangling from the ceiling. There are puppets of a dancing Christine and the Phantom; which are next to a puppet of Raoul bound, gagged, hanging from a chandelier and watching on helplessly. The Phantom also says "Raoul will die" when you look at the puppets. I love this scene! I loved how deliciously dark and creepy it is! This crazy revenge fantasy really shows the extent of Erik's love/obsession with Christine. As Evelina you then have to cut Puppet Raoul down so you can grab a sword from it. I was a bit confused by that. Erik, if you want to depict your love rival as helpless and impotent then why would you give him a sword? But no matter, no matter. This part of the game is still awesome! Another part that I really loved in the game was a line that the Phantom said to Evelina (thinking that she's Christine): "Do you remember how you sang for me? I was always watching". On the one hand, it's kind of romantic. On the other hand, it's sinister and disturbing. It's the perfect Erik line!

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, 17 November 2012

10,000 Blog Views!

Wow I've gotten 10,000 page views on my Blog! 10,103 blog views to be precise. That sounds like quite a lot to me but since I've had this Blog for 2 years and there are Blogs that get well over 10,000 page views a DAY this is still a small amount. I don't mind though. I'm happy with that. I've never set out to make a Blog with a massive following. I just wanted to start a Blog because I liked the idea of writing and thought a Blog would be a nice way of expressing my interests. But if you've read my Blog before - or even if this is your first time - then thank you for reading because I really do appreciate it. I hope you like my writing style and please feel free to leave comments. I enjoy talking to people online and reading comments. I don't get as many of them on this Blog as I'd like. Even if you disagree with one of my reviews then let me know because I'm happy to debate with you, just as long as you're friendly!

My most popular posts of all time are:

1. Merlin (Series Four)
2. Hitchcock (2013): a Rant
3. Merlin (Series Two)
4. Mamma Mia! (2008)
5. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
6. Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo
7. Love Never Dies (Australian Cast DVD)
8. Phantom of the Opera (2004)
9. Pride and Prejudice (1995)
10. The Lion King (Musical)

I've got two Merlin reviews in this top 10. My Merlin reviews have obviously boosted traffic to my Blog quite a bit and I'm glad that people have read them. I'm not really sure why series two is so popular on the Blog though. I'd have have thought series one would be more popular (since it's the first series) or maybe series three (as it's one of the more recent). I think one of the reasons why Merlin series four is my most popular blog post though is because I've put up pictures of Morgana. I get a lot of people searching for "katie mcgrath morgana" on my Blog! I can see why though. Katie McGrath is stunning. I see my complaint about Andrew Garfield not getting cast as Anthony Perkins in the upcoming Hitchcock is one of my most viewed posts as well. Why on earth they didn't cast Garfield I don't know because they really do look so, so, so alike! It would have been perfect casting! Mamma Mia! is a popular post. I hope it's because people are looking for a rant about the film because if they love the film and they're looking for a glowing review then they'll be cruelly disappointed. My book reviews of the Lord of the Rings and Notre Dame de Paris is in the top 10 which I'm happy about. I do wish that my book reviews were more popular on my Blog I must admit. My reviews of the Love Never Dies DVD and the 2004 Phantom of the Opera film are in the top 10. I'm glad that two Phantom related posts are in the top 10 even if Love Never Dies and the 2004 film are two of my least favourite Phantom things. I've got decent viewings for most of my Phantom of the Opera posts but I can't wishing my Charles Dance review would get more views. That's probably my favourite Phantom film so if you love Phantom of the Opera then check it out! Rounding off the top 10 are my reviews of the BBC's Pride and Prejudice and The Lion King stage musical. The Lion King is currently touring the UK so I think that might be the reason why I've had a lot of viewings for it. The BBC's Pride and Prejudice is still the most popular adaptation of Jane Austen's book. I get much more viewings for that than the 1940 and 2005 films.

My biggest audience viewings of all time come from these countries:

1. The United States of America
2. The United Kingdom
3. Russia
4. The Netherlands
5. Canada
6. Australia
7. Germany
8. France
9. Brazil
10. The Philippines

I'm not surprised that most of these countries have English as the official language (USA, UK, Canada, Australia and the Phippines) or are countries where a lot of people speak it (Holland) because I do write in English. I've recently started learning French though so I might write the odd post in French every now and again.

Again, thanks for reading and I hope you like my Blog : )


The In-Between (Concept Album)

This post is my review of a concept album for a yet-to-be-produced musical. There are seven songs on the album and it features some very talented, big-name West End stars, which is how I first heard about it. The lyrics are great and the music is quite modern and tinged with rock, as opposed to the more classical musical theatre sound that you can hear in Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. The In-Between has been written by Laura Tisdale. She's come up with the story herself, has written all of the music and the lyrics, and is clearly very talented. Recently I discovered that I have a very, very loose connection to her! She's the sister-in-law of a friend of a friend. Yeah I know it's not much to boast about but I did say it was loose!

I love the story of The In-Between. It's about a 19 year old sarcastic misfit and underachiever called Flick Wimple who lives with her caring, well-meaning but neurotic older sister called Alice. Flick has been brought up by Alice ever since their parents were killed in a car crash, and Alice has had to be both an older sister and mother to Flick. Both Alice and Flick resent this responsibility and have a very strained relationship although they do love each other. One day, Flick goes through a wrong doorway and finds herself trapped between two parallel worlds; this place is known as the In-Between. There she is met by a mysterious if slightly geeky young man called Guide Calicus; who has spent his entire life leading people between the two worlds. Calicus then offers Flick the chance to leave her old life behind and journey with him to another world and, as Calicus leads Flick through the In-Between, the two of them form a close bond. However, not all is right in the In-Between. Other Guides are starting to go missing and tears are appearing in the walls...

The In-Between has a really interesting story and it's very different to anything that's currently on the West End. Firstly, because it's really not very often that you get musicals with fantasy/sci-fi themes. The only other examples that I can think of off the top of my head are The Wizard of Oz and Wicked. Secondly, because it's completely original. Musicals always seem to be adapted from other source material. For example: there are musicals that are based from events in the Bible (GodspellJoseph and the Amazing Technicolour DreamcoatJesus Christ Superstar). Les Mis, Phantom, Wicked and Oliver! are based on novels. My Fair Lady and Sweeney Todd are based on plays. Miss Saigon and Rent are based on operas. The Lion King, Billy Elliot, Hairspray and Spamalot are based on films. There's also the current trend for jukebox musicals (Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia!, Rock of Ages, Dreamboats and Petticoats, We Will Rock You and the upcoming Spice Girls musical). Anyway, I don't actually think there's anything wrong with adapting other works and I really love many of the musicals that I've mentioned. It's just really nice and refreshing to listen to something completely original for once.

I really, really hope that this musical makes it to the West End because it's original, it really deserves to and it has a huge amount of potential. I'd be very interested in seeing it should it make it to the West End, even more so if Hadley Fraser ends up starring in it! (he sings on one of the songs on the album) The songs on the album are all excellent too. There are three songs that I especially love. She's My Sister is a duet between Flick and Alice's characters and is a really fun, upbeat song with some very funny lyrics. It reminds me a little bit of the "What is this Feeling?" song from Wicked but it doesn't feel like a rip-off. Funnily enough the two singers on this song have actually been in Wicked. Alice's character is sung by Dianne Pilkington who played Glinda in that musical (she was in Wicked when I saw the show live two years ago and she was great). Flick's character is sung by Cassandra Compton who has played Nessarose in the show.

She's My Sister


Then there's When I Was Nineteen which has Alice looking back on her past. It's the most moving song on the album and is sung by Avenue Q star Julie Atherton. It's a beautiful song and Atherton puts so much emotion and feeling into it.

When I Was Nineteen


Beyond the Door is probably my favourite song on the album. It reminds me a bit of Danny Elfman in places and it's very dramatic and epic. Hadley Fraser gives a stunning performance too. He puts so much passion into it and it really shows off his vocal range. For a Baritone he can hit some really high notes! I love Hadley Fraser. He's become one of my favourite West End stars and I really hope that he gets to play Calicus if The In-Between makes it to the West End.

Beyond the Door


You can listen to the songs on YouTube, download the album for just over £5 on iTunes (as I did) and I believe you can get the album from Amazon as well. You can go on www.theinbetweenmusical.com or www.facebook.com/theinbetweenmusical too if you want more information about it. Come on people! Let's spread the word so some big West End backer puts this show on!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Doctor Who (Series One)


I'll start with a quick history of Doctor Who for the uninitiated. Doctor Who is a British family-friendly sci-fi show that's been around since 1963 and is approaching its 50th anniversary. In terms of longevity then it's kind of like the British equivalent of Star Trek, although those shows couldn't be any more different in terms of style. Doctor Who is about a humanoid alien (a Time Lord) who comes from a planet called Gallifrey and calls himself "The Doctor". We're never told what his real name which is why the show is called "Doctor Who". The Doctor travels through space and time in his spaceship called the TARDIS (which stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space). The TARDIS looks like a 1960s' police box, is much bigger on the inside, and the Doctor doesn't have complete control over it. The Doctor has adventures, defeats evil, and is assisted by a sonic screwdriver and a number of travelling companions. These travelling companions are usually human females. The Doctor's most famous and iconic enemies are the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master but he's fought many different foes over the years. The Doctor also has a certain amount of lives or "regenerations". Instead of dying the cells in his body can regenerate, which alters his appearance in order to eradicate the damage to his body. He still retains all of the memories of his previous self but he has a new face and - to a great extent - a new personality.

The TARDIS

From 1963 to 1989 seven different actors played the Doctor: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Doctor Who was eventually cancelled in 1989. This was partly due to the fact that viewer ratings had fallen and partly due to the BBC's unsupportive attitude. They had always regarded Doctor Who as a bit of a joke and had always been baffled and bemused by the success of their own show. Despite Doctor Who being hugely popular they had always insisted on keeping the production costs as low as possible and had never allowed the producers a big budget. Nevertheless the Whovians (Doctor Who fans) did everything possible to convince the BBC to make another series, so they did make an attempt to revive the show again in 1996 with a made-for-TV movie. The BBC co-produced this with 20th Century Fox and the movie starred Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor. It was made with the intention of tapping into the US market and had it been successful it would have led to a revived TV series. But it didn't work out. McGann's performance won much praise from fans but since the movie was poorly-received in the USA the show was left in limbo. This eventually changed in 2005 when Russell T Davies was asked to revive the series.

Russell T Davies had previously written the TV show Queer as Folk and the BBC miniseries Casanova. Davies wanted to update Doctor Who for the 21st century and borrowed ideas from modern dramas, most especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville. Episodes of Doctor Who would now be about 45 minutes long, would be mostly standalone, and would be part of a 13 episode series. Updating Doctor Who was a massive challenge for Davies, his team of producers and writers, and the show's two main actors (Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper). This was because the responsibility on them was huge. There was an enormous amount of expectation and it was a project that many thought was doomed to failure. This was because Doctor Who had become open to ridicule in the nine years since it had been taken off-air. This was due to the classic series' cheap-looking cardboard sets, rubbish special effects and occasionally questionable acting. Many wondered whether a new series could work. Would the acting be better? Would the production values be higher? Could Doctor Who still appeal to a new generation that hadn't been brought up on the show? The answer to all of these questions was a resounding "Yes". Despite some weak episodes it became a massive hit. It became one of the most popular and talked-about shows on TV, won a stack of awards and critical acclaim, and even launched two spin-off shows (Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures). It proved that there was still a big market for fantasy/sci-fi shows and the BBC and ITV would produce several other shows in an attempt to cash in on Doctor Who's success, the BBC's Merlin being by far the best of these. Doctor Who is still going strong seven years later but the head writer/producer is now Steven Moffat, who has also written and produced the shows Jekyll and Sherlock. However, this post is going to be a review of the first revived series of Doctor Who only and will contain spoilers from the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who.

Before I get onto the actors and the episodes in this first revived series I'll make one thing clear. Doctor Who was a very hit-and-miss show when Russell T Davies was still in charge. You could see an episode that was absolutely amazing one week and then the next week you could see an episode that was absolutely abysmal. I'll always be grateful to RTD for bringing the show back but in my honest opinion he just isn't that good a writer. In his five year stint on the show as Head Writer/Executive Producer he only wrote two episodes that I really, truly enjoyed (Midnight and The Waters of Mars). The best episodes of his era were actually written by other writers (e.g. Steven Moffat and Paul Cornell). However, that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy the RTD era of Doctor Who. Overall it was still brilliant television.

The Doctor
Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor
The actor who was cast to play the 9th Doctor in this first revived series of Doctor Who, after much speculation, was Christopher Eccleston. As I'd never seen the classic series before 2005, Eccleston was my first Doctor. I have to be honest here, Eccleston is my least favourite out of the three actors who have played the Doctor since 2005. Apparently your favourite Doctor is always supposed to be the first one that you watched but that's not the case with me. That's not to say that I don't love Eccleston though! He brought something new and different to the character and he had many great moments during his time on the show. He made for quite a dark and brooding Doctor, he brought a lot of gravitas and intensity to the role, and he had a genuine edge to him. You would never want to cross with this Doctor! This particular Doctor was the one that the show needed to have at the time. This is because the Doctor is now the last of his kind. At some point in between the 1996 movie and the revived TV series, the Doctor's own people the Time Lords waged a vicious war against the Daleks. This was called The Time War. As a result of this war, Gallifrey was destroyed and all of the other Time Lords were killed. As you'd naturally expect then, the Doctor is suffering from a pretty big case of survivor's guilt and is struggling with depression - and Eccleston played this brilliantly. That's not to say that Eccleston's Doctor couldn't be funny though. Although comedy acting doesn't seem to come as naturally to Eccleston as it does with David Tennant and Matt Smith, Eccleston did have some funny moments on the show. There's his first meeting with Charles Dickens in The Unquiet Dead for example, and his dinner table scene with Margaret the Slitheen in Boom Town. I also liked that Eccleston got to keep his Mancunian accent for the part and his shaved-head-and-black-leather-jacket look really suited him. Eccleston had a very nice chemistry with Billie Piper as well. So why is Eccleston my least favourite of the New Who Doctors then? Well, I think the main reason is simply that he was only around for one series. We just never got the chance to see that much of him. I feel like the 9th Doctor was this really cool guy that moved away and now I really wish that I'd gotten to know him better. I don't feel that I "know" the 9th Doctor as well as I know the 10th and 11th Doctors.

The Companion
Billie Piper as Rose Tyler
Back in 2005 there was almost as much speculation on who would play the Doctor's companion as there was on who would play the Doctor. When it was announced that Billie Piper would be playing the companion many eyebrows were raised. At the time Billie Piper was still better known for her short singing career and her marriage to Chris Evans than her acting, so many questioned her casting and wondered if she'd be any good in the role. However, after putting in some very impressive performances, Piper was able to turn the critics and fans around. She won several awards during her two-year stint on the show and proved that she could act. I have no problems with Billie Piper and I think she did an excellent job playing her character Rose Tyler. But Rose Tyler on the other hand... I can't stand her! I know a lot of people love her but I'm not one of them! My dislike of Rose was never so strong that it stopped me from enjoying Doctor Who but I'm certainly happy that she's no longer on the show. I dislike Rose's character for several reasons. In series one though, the main reason why I dislike her is because I absolutely hate the way that she treats her mother Jackie and her boyfriend Mickey Smith. In the opening episode, Rose doesn't even notice that Mickey has been kidnapped and replaced with an Auton but once she does she's understandably worried that he might be dead. But once Rose realises that Mickey is actually OK she just ditches him and runs off with an (almost) complete stranger! She doesn't even reassure him by saying that she'll be fine and that he shouldn't worry about her! She gives no indication of when he should expect to see her again either. And in the very same episode Jackie calls Rose up on the telephone to see if she's alright after the Auton attack. Rose actually laughs and hangs up! How insensitive is that?! And then there's the Aliens of London/World War Three two-parter. At the beginning of this two-parter, Rose arrives back in modern-day London to find that it's been exactly 12 months since she left with the Doctor instead of 12 hours. Unsurprisingly Jackie has been beside herself with grief and anxiety during this time because she naturally thought that Rose is dead. Mickey has suffered too. He was accused of killing Rose when she vanished, was shunned by everyone, and was subjected to hate mail and abuse. Given that this is Britain, he was probably the victim of a vicious smear campaign by the tabloids in order to discredit him and make him look guilty. However, Rose shows absolutely no guilt or remorse for what she's put Jackie and Mickey through! Rose doesn't even go over to Mickey's house to check on him and see if he's OK! Mickey is the one who checks up on her! Rose then goes off to travel with the Doctor again and proceeds to flirt with him, Adam Mitchell and Captain Jack Harkness. When Rose is reunited with Mickey in Boom Town she allows the Doctor and Jack to make fun of Mickey and put him down without a murmur of complaint. And yet in that very same episode, when Rose finds out that Mickey has cheated on her while she's been away, she's actually hurt and angry! It's obvious that RTD wants the audience to sympathise with her! Well, how can anyone feel sorry for her when Rose has only got what she deserves! She has absolutely no right to complain when she treated her boyfriend this badly! This is the main reason why Rose bugs me so much in this series although I also hate how Rose whines and sulks whenever she doesn't get her own way. But, to be fair, Rose does have some good moments in series one and she did work well with the 9th Doctor. In fact I much prefer Rose's relationship with the 9th Doctor over Rose's relationship with the 10th. Rose was specifically created to be a bright and bubbly girl companion in order to counter Eccleston's dark and brooding Doctor. On the whole it worked and made for a good dynamic. However, because Ten was so much more exuberant and cheerful than Nine, the dynamic between Rose and the Doctor wasn't the same. Also, series two has Rose and the Doctor falling for each other and I'm not a Rose/Doctor shipper at all.

Favourite Episodes: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (by Steven Moffat), The Unquiet Dead (by Mark Gatiss) and Father's Day (by Paul Cornell).

Least Favourite Episodes: Aliens of London/World War Three (by Russell T Davies), The Long Game (by Russell T Davies) and Boom Town (by Russell T Davies).

Favourite Guest Stars: Simon Callow and Eve Myles (in The Unquiet Dead), Penelope Wilton (in Aliens of London/World War Three), Simon Pegg (in The Long Game), Shaun Dingwell (in Father's Day) and Richard Wilson (in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances).