Monday, 4 May 2015

Jack and the Pack Mini-Series

It's a post that I've been procrastinating for the last few years. Why? I don't really know, but in hindsight, I'm glad it's taken so long as I'm now a lot more confident in my opinions than I would have been in 2011 when I started reviewing the main series. So, without any further delays, here are my thoughts on the Jack and the Pack mini-series!

Before I begin, I'm going to say that the titles of each episode will not factor into my final ranking. Yes, I know most have nothing to do with the stories that were told, but I'm more interested in said stories rather than the titles, at least for now.

I think this episode is... OK. It sets the purpose of the building site up well and it was really interesting that they'd find something on site. What was also interesting was Oliver's interchangeable tools. It made him stand out a bit more from Alfie, if his size and colour didn't do that already.

Unfortunately though, it does have a pretty big problem: the build is pretty much abandoned as soon as they find the dinosaur skeleton, which makes everything feel pretty pointless, especially since the skeleton is never mentioned again after this (unless the one mentioned in Rheneas and the Dinosaur was the same one from this episode. It's really difficult to tell).

Like I said though, it's alright. It would have been better if they'd actually followed through as far as the school build was concerned, but seeing Oliver prove that's it's better to be careful at times was a pretty good moral.
Rating: 7/10

This one is brilliant. It just feels like a very natural story that works brilliantly for Jack. The other character choices were brilliant as well and Jack actually gets punished for his actions! Although him owning up to his mistake was a great character moment in itself.

If I had to pick out a problem, it's that Ned's banksman didn't warn him about the slates for... some reason. Perhaps he couldn't see them? Speaking of which, Jack's banksman must be very incompetent. If he'd have done his job, or if Jack had just not listened to what he'd said, things may have played out a bit better. Also, were they really trying to tell me that Thomas had nothing else to do while The Pack were working? Yeah, I could understand that they need him there to save time and effort, but it just feels... off from a railway perspective.

What's really odd though is that this and Percy's Scary Tale were the only episodes released in the UK that a) weren't on the Thomas' Trusty Friends DVD (why, I don't know) and b) weren't in widescreen. I only bring this up because, on Virgin Media's on demand service here in the UK, they do show the widescreen version. I'm really not sure why they cropped it, but it would have been nice if they'd release all these episodes, unaltered, on one disc. And don't say they can't, because by this point, the first five series (which comes to 144 minutes total runtime) were relased on DVD, so the disc would have probably had the capacity for the extra episodes, especially since Thomas' Trusty Friends had no bonus features!

Anyway, with that rant (that won't factor into my rating, but it's something I did want to mention) out of the way, this episode was great, and probably wouldn't have felt out of place in the main series (as it was when the spin-off was filmed).
Rating: 9/10

The conflict here is pretty good, and it played out nicely as well. I quite like that it showcased each character's personalities rather well: Oliver's honesty, Patrick's arrogance (side note: it's a shame he was only seen here), Nelson's boasting and Max and Monty's competitive streaks. Ned's mention of banksmen was great as well; it shows how much he cares about the man who keeps him -and everyone around him - safe.

That said, it was a bit weird for Thomas to care so much about his paint. Then again, it was probably because cement (yes, I know it's called concrete in the episode, but Patrick's a cement mixer so that's what I'm going with) went all over him and he was worried about how it would come off. What was also strange was the "no such thing as 'most important'" line. I know why it was said, but a lot of team do assign leaders, so sometimes there can be someone who is more important, but it is better for them all to work together.

Overall, I like it. It did seem a bit silly that Patrick landing in the pool of cement didn't break anything, but that's a slight nitpick in what was otherwise a great watch.
Rating: 8.5/10

I'm really not much for this one. The conflict seems far too similar to Ghost Train, only there it was slightly more believable that Thomas would be scared. Yes, the setting does feel rather... spooky, but I highly doubt that Max and Monty would not know what Thomas' whistle sounds like. Also, how did they not know that trucks (or lorries if you're British, like me) don't whistle? It just makes them look stupid rather than frightened Whether that was the intention or not I don't know, but that's how it comes across.

Overall, it's pretty meh. It's very atmospheric, and it was really nice that Percy and Alfie started to build a bond, but the lack of original conflict and rather silly climax turns me off slightly.
Rating; 5/10

This episode seems intent on breaking the laws of physics. No, I'm not talking about Kelly being blown over; I can buy that, sort of. I'm talking about Isobella hanging over the edge of the road like that, especially when the piano (by the way, how did they get the piano hooked up safely when Isobella was like that?) was lifted off. Considering the majority of her weight comes from her cabin, how did she hang on like that?

That being said, I do like the plot that Kelly goes through. It's not particularly original as far as media goes, but it's still really relatable. And it's feels very in character for him to worry more about anyone else being hurt than himself.

On the whole, I'd probably rate it the same as the previous episode. It's not an original plot and it really pushes a person's suspension of disbelief, but it's still watchable with a bit of drama and a relatable scenario.
Rating: 5/10

Out of all the episodes in the mini-series, this feels like the only one where the main character feels... off. Yes, Byron has always been proud of what he does, but I couldn't really imagine him feeling conscious of others caring about what he thinks. Then again, maybe that was the intent; to try and give him a bit more depth.

Also, while the scene Alfie started sinking was tense, why didn't he try moving when he had the chance? Yeah, if he had, there wouldn't have been a climax, but it does make him seem weak. Also, and this could be considered nitpicky, but transporting Jack and Alfie in they way they were here was rather dangerous.
Rating: 6/10

Why would you want to save a tree that needs felling? How can you save a tree that needs felling? In hindsight, that was probably the biggest problem I had with Henry Gets it Wrong, especially when you consider what was said in Henry's Forest. Regardless of what I think of it, at least that episode realised that you couldn't save a tree that had fallen. Yeah, it sets up a dramatic climax, but it just makes... no sense.

That said, there are some things I iked. Again, Max and Monty get punished for their actions and, despite how silly the setup is, the determination from the machines to keep the tree upright was pretty admirable.

Overall though, it's typical Paul Larson: really inconsistent. I wouldn't say this was his worst episode, but it is really flawed.
Rating; 3.5/10

This one is rather entertaining, but also rather relatable. Putting characters in a conflict where they have nothing to do is rather interesting as there are many different ways they could take the plot. And here, it worked very well.

You feel rather sad for Buster because he has nothing to do, then you feel happy for him when he gets to flatten the molehills. Thomas' characterisation was great as well; his role as a concerned friend ,ake him feel like a great character, given more depth than him simply being cheeky.

Also, those moles were really funny. As was Buster's line delivery after discovering the football pitch. It felt like Michael Angelis had a lot of fun narrating a lot of these episodes and, in turn, I had a lot of fun watching.

That said, it does feel odd that Buster doesn't have anything to do. Who knows, maybe building work had dried up that day due to the clean up operation? And, again, it was pretty dangerous to have Alfie travel that way.

But on the whole, I liked it. It was a pretty simple story, but it was well executed.
Rating: 7.5/10

Hmm. This episode is alright. It's not particularly flawed (although how Thomas' wheel could break off while his coupling rod was unaffected is baffling), but it's not a brilliant story either.

It was nice to see Nelson live out his dream, and it was great that he was properly rewarded for doing a good job. But other than that, the story is extremely simplistic. There's no real stand out moment, or anything really entertaining. That's all I can really say. It's not good or bad, it's just... there/
Rating: 6/10

On the other end of things..!

Seriously though, although this is an adaptation of the classic fable (as if the title didn't give it away), this is an excellent re-telling, and pretty funny at times as well. Most of that can be attributed directly to Michael Angelis' excellent line delivery.

It did feel rather contrived that Max and Monty could only get themselves free after Buster past, but all in all, this was an excellent episode that worked brilliantly well with the characters that were chosen.
Rating: 9.5/10

Another really entertaining episode. Sure, the chimney probably would have fallen on Ned and Thomas in reality and that wall was... well, what was it made of to be so solid? And it seemed weird that Thomas' trucks weren't smashed to bits by the falling debris.

That said, the humour here was fantastic, whether it be visual thanks to Oliver's facial expressions or where the workmen hide, or the brilliantly funny narration. Everything just worked, and it showed that accidents can sometimes be a good thing. Compared to the "morals" further down the road, I can tolerate this one.

Overall, this is probably one of the most entertaining episodes of the franchise, let alone this mini-series. That said, it did continue Paul Larson's inconsistent trend that continues to this day
Rating: 9/10

If there's any episode from this mini-series I'm glad I didn't review four years ago, it'd definitely be this one.

Back then, I didn't think much of it, possibly because I'd seen all of Abi's Grant's episodes from the main series and I let them cloud my judgement. Now though, this is one of my favourite episodes ever, and it's in a similar vein as to why Edward's Exploit is my all-time favourite: it tackles a relatively serious issue and pulls it off beautifully. It's also one of the few episodes that involve animals that are extremely well written.

What makes it episode truly great though is Thomas. Seriously, he has very little screen time, yet his role is pivotal, and handled fantastically. It's when he features in episodes like this that I don't mind the contrivance of him not being on his branch line. If the role is well done, fair enough.

One interesting tidbit is that Ned would have had a bigger role in the original draft. Personally, while I can understand why he would get a bigger role (to make up for his comments), I don't mind that he wasn't utilised more as the episode, as it is, is fine.

Overall, this is a must watch if you meed a pick-me-up. The character development was brilliant, individual character moments worked extremely well and the moral is fantastic.
Rating: 10/10

Out of all the members of The Pack, Isobella was the only one that never really stood out. Apart from her colouring, she doesn't feel very original. Her model is pretty much a larger Elizabeth and her personality was similar to James'.

That being said, this episode feels a lot like Muddy Matters from series 16, only it was done years earlier and much better. It also gives her some really good character development that I'd actually completely forgotten about before watching this for reviewing purposes. Yes, she still cares about her paint at the end, which some could see as a slap in the face, but it was great to see that she'd do anything if it meant helping the other machines, which is pretty admirable.

One odd observation was seeing a large scale model of Trevor in the little shed. It's actually a shame that nothing was done with him. Maybe he'd have been involved in one of the planned episodes? Who knows? It does seem a waste for them to not do anything with that model. Then again, considering he's going through the exact same thing with his CG model, this was no surprise, in hindsight...

If I had to issue a complaint, it's that it felt far too convenient that all the machines broke down at the exact same time. I know they wanted it to feel like a serious issue, but they would've conveyed it a lot better, in my opinion, had only one or two failed while Isobella was there and the rest break down while she was gone. It would've felt a bit more believable had they done this.

As it is though, it's still a really good episode. Not perfect, but it pushed Isobella's character in the right direction, which was great.
Rating: 8/10

Models and Sets
I've been saying on Twitter recently that I respect what the models did more than I like them these days. And, out of all of the projects that used the models, there are two I respect the most: series 4 for trying to fit the narrow gauge models around the existing standard gauge ones and this one. On its own, it may not seem impressive. But think of it like this: while these episodes were being filmed, so was series 7 (which would kind of explain why so much stock footage was used for that series). All of the models looked fantastic, and I think everyone's glad that Thomas' faces were worked on by the model makers after the ones seen in series 6. Although it was odd that Ned's "Packard and Co." was changed to "Sodor Construction Company". The sets were also very appealing. They felt like real construction sites, which is great.

One disappointing model though was Percy's. With the green dome and red stepladder, it just makes it stand out, and makes it more obvious that it is a different model to his normal scaled version. Yeah, Thomas' different scaled models can be told apart, but the changes are a bit more subtle. It isn't as distracting here since the only time we see Percy's original model is in the Engine Roll Call at the end of the DVD, but it's incredibly jarring in The Great Discovery and Percy and the Bandstand, where both models are seen.

New Characters

I quite like Buster. Sure, he's not the best character, but he always want to keep busy, which is a nice trait for kids to relate to or learn from. I think the most interesting thing is that he's the polar opposite of George. Heck, I know that everyone wants to see the two Olivers together, or Ned and Marion. But I'd like to see Buster and George together. It would be very interesting to see how well they play off each other.

Speaking of playing off someone else..!

I have to admit, Max and Monty's competitive dynamic isn't anything new, but it still works brilliantly well. In all honesty, Monty is probably the best thing that could have happened to Max. Without him, Max could have been a generic antagonist to the smaller Pack members. And while both of them together can slip into that trap, they balanced it out with humorously delivered lines and both get punished for their actions.

There's not really much I can say about him, really. The only thing we learned about him is that he's quite proud of what he does. Yeah, there was the dream he had, but that was fulfilled, so it took him back to square one, really. I'm rather hoping he does make it into the CG series; it'd be interesting to see what the current team can do with him.

It's a real shame that Patrick was a one off (unless he was planned for the cancelled stories). He had a really strong personality that was really interesting. Again, it'd be nice if they added him in the CG era, although they'll probably only focus on the main members at first (if they're even featured after Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure).

As for the cancelled character, Nigel, it's a shame he didn't make it. But considering how tight budget and resources would havbe been, him being cut doesn't surprise me too much. Considering his illustrations though, he certainly would have looked great, and it would be nice if the team looked at the illustration and gave him a chance.

It's fair to say that Ed Welch's themes were never really welcomed by fans. Even if you take out the fact that he had big shoes to fill, they just didn't feel as memorable. Here though, I personally believe, are some of Ed Welch's best efforts. They just seemed to fit really well, and The Pack's theme is great.

This was definitely Michael Angelis' highest point after series 6. There was just so much enthusiasm in his voice with every story, Some of his lines were delivered so well that I found myself laughing on a few occasions. Yeah, his voices for a couple of the characters change often, and his voice for Miss Jenny is completely different to the one in series 6, but I can let it slide.

Final Thoughts
Out of all the projects that HiT produced with the models, this is, by far, my favourite. I'll admit that some of the episodes weren't as good as I remembered, but the ones they got right, they completely nailed. And besides, even the bad ones kept me interested throughout. I do still think it's a shame that the UK only got 11 on the retail DVD release, while the final two were exclusives at Woolworths and, later, in the Daily Mirror.

As for the length of the mini-series itself? I really don't mind. I can't be mad or upset at the knowledge of 13 extra episodes being written as that information wasn't revealed until fairly recently. Besides, I'm still surprised, and glad, they managed to churn out 13 episodes while filming a regular series for the main show. I'd rather that than nothing. Besides, if TUGS has taught us anything, it's to accept quality over quantity.

And the episode titles? Yeah, I'll agree that it's really annoying how misleading most of them are. I can understand why they changed them - to make the episodes easier to sell - but it doesn't mean I agree with it. If anything, the American terms being used annoyed me more. Calling cement concrete, trucks freight cars, lorries trucks, banksmen operators. It did get pretty testing after a while.

I think the biggest problem the series has though is that it was treated like a spin-off, meaning that none of the construction projects were seen on the main show. Again, considering the differing model scales, I can understand why they weren't featured, but it still takes the shine away, sadly.

And finally, what would I want the future to hold for The Pack? Apart from their appearance in Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure (well, only Jack, Alfie, Oliver, Max and Monty have been confirmed so far), I'd love to see them episodes with other engines. We already saw James with Jack in King of the Railway, but it would be brilliant to see Max and Monty at either of the quarries, Oliver with... well, Oliver, Ned with Marion, the possibilities are endless now. Heck, if they had the resources, it'd be fantastic if they did a second series of this spin-off! I'd love to see that!
Series Rating: 8/10

No comments:

Post a Comment