Wednesday, 29 January 2014

DVD Review: The Thomas Way

For this year, I decided to start reviewing regular DVD releases as well as the specials. Yes, I know this is similar to what other people are doing, but I feel that it's much better to read different views from different fans as consumers would have a more informed decision as to whether they should get a DVD for their child or not. With that said, let's begin with my first review: The Thomas Way!

If you follow my blog regularly, you will know that I've reviewed all the episodes on this DVD, so I shall simply say that this is an excellent selection. They are:
  1. The Thomas Way (obviously!)
  2. The Switch
  3. Percy's Lucky Day
  4. Calm Down Caitlin
  5. The Lost Puff
  6. Luke's New Friend
One thing I'm really glad about is that there are six episodes on the disc rather than four, so parents will feel that they have more value for money. Especially if you shop around, but I'll get to that later.

Bonus Features
While the episodes are the DVD's core, the extras finish it off wonderfully.

I wasn't really much of a fan of the old Mr Perkins skits. That's not to say I thought they were bad, but I personally think they would have been better as their own side series rather than split into parts and edited between episodes. Plus, I felt that they didn't really teach kids anything. That said, they were pretty entertaining to watch.

The segments on this DVD though are simply fantastic. They're informative, educational and entertaining - three things that I feel these segments should always be. The Blue Mountain Quarry postcard was excellent, but my definite favourite was Perkins reading a Railway Series story with illustrations inspired by the original work of John T Kenney, only the narrow gauge engines were given a TV series paint job.

THANK YOU, ANDREW BRENNER! I don't know about other fans, but I've been longing for some Railway Series integration in the modern TV series, and we finally have it! I wouldn't mind a new episode that is adapted from a Railway Series story, but this suits me fine, especially if kids become interested in the books and want to read them. With the Railway Stories audiobook series seemingly hitting a dead end, this could be the best, and only, chance for kids to learn where Thomas' roots really lie.

The Earl's memory game is OK. It's not necessarily my cup of tea, but then it is aimed at children, so I shouldn't be too critical. It gets kids involved, and I like that. I also really like the Earl as a character, so to see him as the lead for these segments is a nice change of pace. I wasn't a fan of the episodes chosen, but that's another story!

The "Really Useful Engines" segment was really nice as well. They're far better than the "Thomas' Favourite Friends" and "Fun Times" segments that used to air on Nick Junior's half hour blocks. They're short, sweet and to the point, exactly how they should be, especially when describing a Steam Team member; kids should know those eight engines off by heart by now. They are, however, just two segments from the Fisher Price website glued together, so I'd seen them beforehand. I don't have a problem with including them on a DVD though, as they're good segments and kids may not have seen them before.

The final segment was excellent as well. "Who's That Engine?" is sort of like the Guess the Engine segments featured on series 8 Nick Jr. broadcasts and DVDs. The only differences are that colours aren't revealed slowly (instead, the camera focuses on the parts being described) and the animation is done by Arc themselves, so they're far better visually compared to the series 8 counterparts. Following the reveal, a Nitrogen era CGI episode is recapped (thankfully, Thomas' was Express Coming Through, one of the better episodes of that era).

I think my favourite part of the segment was that the animation was specially produced and rendered for this segment. While Nitrogen's animation was fantastic, they never produced any additional footage for any side projects. Whether this was to do with time constraints, contractual obligations or simply because they had no extra staff to work on producing extra shots I don't know, but it's nice that Arc have been given the freedom to do that.

There were a couple of segments that were omitted from the UK DVD, yet featured on the US version, including two music videos. But I won't go into detail about them as the features that WERE on the disc more than make up for those that weren't, especially considering the price I paid, which I'll get to later.

Unlike its American counterpart, the British release is in widescreen (as have the majority of UK DVDs since the series 6 release, "Brave Little Engines". The only ones that haven't were the complete series 1-5, as they weren't filmed in widescreen, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, which is in a letterbox format, and a DVD from a newspaper featuring two Pack episodes and three series 7 music videos). However, there has been a change from the format of other CGI DVDs.

First off, the intro, which used to be at the start of EVERY episode, is now only seen at the start of the first one, which allows the content to progress more smoothly. Likewise, the Roll Call and end credits are only featured at the end of the final episode. Also, the bonus features on the DVD are played between episodes to break things up a bit. It feels like the format used for series 8 and 9 releases, which I'm perfectly happy with. However, there is an issue: a pretty important one.

When playing the DVD through the "Play All" option the visual quality decreases a bit. When playing the disc on my laptop, the visuals didn't feel as sharp as when I played each episode and segment through the "Episode Selection" and "Bonus Features" menus respectively. However, doing this is far more tedious, so if you're not that interested in the sharpness being decreased it's better to just hit "Play All". To be honest, I doubt your child would care: regardless of the quality, all that matters to them is that it's a Thomas DVD.

The recommended retail price for this DVD is £12.99. This sounds a lot, because it is, but if you shop around, you're more than likely going to find it for less than £10. However, the cheapest rates - and my recommendations - come from Amazon UK, and Asda Entertainment, with all three selling this release for only £5!

Final Thoughts
Despite the issues when watching the DVD in full, this release is definitely value for money, especially if you get it from the retailers I've recommended. There's so much on the disc to keep your child occupied, and with the improved quality of the content included this could be the beginning of a whole new era for Thomas and Friends DVDs.

DVD Rating: 8.5/10

Special Thanks to the TTTE Wikia for the Mr Perkins and Trucks! images