Sunday, July 01, 2007

Mini-Reviews: Doctor Who on TV/The O.C. Season 4 DVD Set/The Hitcher HD-DVD

This was supposed to be the weekend that I returned from Ireland solely to attend the Microsoft developer community event Developer! Developer! Developer!.

Alas, a delayed flight (again!) followed by an hour long queue for the privilege of being able to pay £70 for a black cab home because the tube was no longer running meant that I got to bed shortly before 3am. When the alarm went off at 6.30am to advise it was time I caught the train to Reading I decided sleep was more important, especially with a 3.30am start ahead of me again on Monday. Of course if I'd known the flights would be such a mess I'd have stayed in Ireland for the weekend instead of rushing home, but...

I haven't posted much about Ireland, and probably won't until my contract's over in mid-September and I get a chance to breathe again (the time schedules are crazy). What I can say is that circumstances on the flat front are not great - I seem to be paying twice what everybody else is paying for a flat that's an hour instead of 5 minutes away from work, with not so much as an iron, bedside table or chair in the place and circumstances mean that I don't get to watch the TV I'm being charged 25 Euro's a month for on top of the basic rent when I'm over there.

So Saturday in the UK was a chance to play catch up on the 'relax in front of the telly' front and watch the Doctor Who season finale, as well as the first part of a repeat of The 100 Greatest War Movies which I missed the first time round (but which was so good I wish I could catch the second part next week).

I didn't think Who could get much worse after the last couple of episodes, which admittedly suffered badly by being scheduled after the superb Blink episode written by Stephen Moffat. But I was proved wrong and even die-hard fans are blogging about how dire it was. It's hard to remember the last time I saw such a bad example of television writing: Appalling narrative structure, dreadful dialogue and 'hit the reset button to resolve the cliff-hangers you keep introducing' nonsense were featured throughout in an episode that was a great steaming turd of incompetence in the writing department. It leaves me wondering if the franchise can ever recover from 'the Billy Bunter effect' that has plagued the new series (and Torchwood too) since it started. At least I won't have to worry about trying to watch the Christmas episode, as there is absolutely no reason why anybody would want to watch such infantile drivel unless paid great wads of cash for doing so. Billy Bunter, who insists on writing the Christmas episode himself every year, has shown that any writing skills he may have shown with his excellent Queer as Folk and Casanova series disappeared a long time ago. The man is way past his 'sell by' date on the creative front. It can surely only be a matter of time before all the fawning 'But it's a British institution and a national treasure' newspaper critics and David Tennant fangirls finally wake up and realise the emperor really has got no clothes. I'd rant more, but really it's not good for my blood pressure and there seem to be a lot of very good out-of-work professional writers doing a much better job on their blogs of explaining why Davies should have been fired for gross incompetence a long time ago.

Over in Ireland the main source of 'out of hours' entertainment, a team bowling match and meals out aside, has been watching DVDs on the laptop. The small 'ultra-portable screen' has meant my avoiding 'big screen' blockbusters better seen on the plasma at home, and concentrating on the numerous TV box sets that have been piling up.

The O.C. is a bit of a guilty pleasure, although I've always thought that this particular 'teen soap' was somewhat over-rated by the critics, and wasn't surprised that this fourth season, just issued on DVD after finishing its run on American TV in February, was cancelled prematurely and short of its normal full season run. When the show started the critics were all over it for its 'cool' factor, invariably pointing out how much better it was than what had apparently suddenly become an embarrassment - Dawson's Creek. It's amazing what a marriage to Tom Cruise will do for an actress's previously highly-lauded TV show! I've never understood this constant 'rewriting of history' from the critics, and sure enough The O.C. itself suddenly became victim of this trait when actress Mischa Burton left at the end of the third series, just as Dawson's Creek before it had done. In truth Dawson's Creek was a far better show, if only because the writing, albeit featuring teens speaking deep, meaningful lines that only adults over the age of 30 would be likely to use in the real world, was so much better. The O.C. stole all the best bits, including most of the plot lines, from Creek and recycled them in an inferior way, trying to add a dose of Desperate Housewives over-the-topness to the mix which only served to show how inferior it really was.

So it's somewhat ironic that the show should get cancelled just as it seemed to be getting into its stride, after a particularly poor third season. If you're a fan of the show then the Season 4 DVD features some of the best episodes of the entire run, although the extra's are appallingly thin and certainly don't warrant a disk of their own as presented here. For a show that went out on a bang you'd expect at least a retrospective rather than a few 10 minute 'making of' featurettes on a couple of the show's central themes.

The OC. Series 4 DVD and The Hitcher DVD

The Hitcher only entered UK cinemas two or three weeks ago, so its availability on High Definition DVD disc on import, for about the cost of a West End cinema ticket, seemed too good an opportunity to resist, despite the universally bad reviews. Sean Bean is a fine actor so surely the film couldn't be as bad as most critics were insisting?

Unfortunately this remake of a film that's apparently a late 80's classic (I haven't seen the original) is even worse than most of the reviewers have indicated, and even with a short running time of around 88 minutes it seems way too long. Somewhat surprisingly the problem here is not with the direction (which is slick) or even the acting (which is more than OK, especially from Bean - who plays a character very different from his Boromir role in The Lord of the Rings films), but with the totally unsympathetic central characters. I suspect most viewers will just wish the irritating American brat couple at the centre of this piece had been killed within minutes of their first appearance.

A much bigger problem than the annoying 'American brat' leads though is, yet again, a truly dreadful script. How on earth did this get green lit?!! It's become an expected norm in the horror genre that the central characters lose any of the basic vestiges of common sense, but here we're asked to follow a film that has as its basic premise the assumption that police would automatically assume any innocents anywhere near the scene of a murder were the people who committed the murder, no matter what the evidence around them might indicate to the contrary. At one point, barely two minutes after arresting our two 'heroes' on a road trip a long way from home, the police have miraculously got hold of professionally taken colour photographic prints of the couple, complete with potted versions of their life histories! I could go on with more examples of the silliness on display here, but suffice to say the plot is unbelievable and downright laughable it's hard to understand what on earth the producers were thinking of. Actually scratch that - Michael Bay is a co-producer - enough said!

Despite an interesting turn from Sean Bean I found myself continually wanting to just hit the stop button and go do something more interesting. The Hitcher is 88 minutes of my life that I'll never get back, and although the high definition transfer is exemplary, featuring some frankly stunning pictures of the Californian countryside that are at times almost 3D-like in quality, overall this is a disc to be avoided by anybody other than HD-DVD collector completists.

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