Monday, 6 July 2015

The Adventure Begins UK Release: Part 2

The last time I posted my thoughts on The Adventure Begins, we were reaching the halfway point as far as the waiting game was concerned. Now that we're in the home stretch, it's time for a quick re-visit of the long awaited special to see what's going on marketing-wise.

I said in my previous post on the subject that the reason why The Adventure Begins was delayed by four months was due to poor communication between Asda and HiT's marketing teams. Now that we're three weeks away, I'm thoroughly convinced that its launch is doomed to fail.

Remember when I said that Dinos and Discoveries had a trailer for it at the start of the DVD? Yeah, it turns out that's the only advertising there's ever been for the special, so unless fans or kids play that DVD constantly, they'll have absolutely no idea that this release is coming. But even that won't help as the trailer simply says "coming soon"!

And guess what? The only two toys available to celebrate the DVD are exclusive to Asda too, which means that you won't know that this special's coming unless you see the toys there.

But the biggest reason I think this is doomed to fail is Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure. The Adventure Begins will be released on the last week of SLOTLT's nationwide cinema run. And, as you can imagine, there are trailers all over the place, and the toys are also all over the place.

I get it: it makes more sense to market a special that has a broader release than one released in one chain of stores. But does that really mean they have to forget about the isolated release completely? TAB was made specifically for Thomas' 70th anniversary, which is something that, you'd think, HiT would be proud of. And it's definitely something you'd think Asda would be proud of since they were specially chosen to sell the thing in the first place!

Now before anyone says anything, I'm not going to look negatively on SLOTLT because it overshadowed TAB as it was just an unfortunate coincidence that both releases coincided with each other. However, I will look negatively on both Asda and HiT's marketing teams for not doing more to raise awareness that this special is indeed coming and, more importantly, when it's coming.

Instead, it seems like both have left it up to the fans that are aware to do their work for them, in the exact same way that we had to when the first four Railway Series eBooks were released or when they reintroduced the hardback books for 2015.

I truly believe that this whole thing has been a complete and utter shambles, and if this release does as poorly as I fear it will do, then HiT and Asda's marketing teams only have themselves to blame.

Sodor's Bogie Coaches

It's something that fans don't really talk about; more than likely because they don't really care. But I, for one, do. And that's why this blog post exists. So, let's talk about Sodor's express coaches (and, by extension, Spencer's, Connor's and Caitlin's).

I'm not sure how many fans will agree, or even care, but I really don't like the designs for pretty much any of the bogie coaches seen in the CG era.

Now I know that the express coaches have been around since the Nitrogen era, but I didn't really care too much as the show was going through a rough enough time as it was. Plus, considering they didn't care too much about proper railway operations too much, we never really saw what else they could produce when it came to coaches (except the narrow gauge ones, and they have the same problem). But now though, the problem has pretty much become really distracting thanks to these:

Yep, Arc's fantastic renders of the slip coaches made me realise that the other bogie coaches just don't look right. They look too tall and thin, and the design is the exact same thing on both sides. They just look really stupid for the coaches they're based on, and I'm rather hoping they are replaced sometime in the future. Will they? I don't know, but one can hope. But the big question is which designs would I wish to see?

Let's begin with series 1. While yes, these coaches are a similar size to the ones currently used, these ones present a bit more... class, in my opinion. Glossy, stylish and, possibly, exquisite to ride in, these coaches may be the first port of call. It might not be beyond the realms of possibility either; the series 1 brake vans are pretty common in the series these days.

While these aren't as glossy as the ones previously, they do get the length bang on. That being said, they're not particularly realistic; there's no braking gear under the chassis. But it's still a really good design and one that could be worth considering.

While I'm on the subject, does anyone miss the red bogie coaches? I didn't really get why Nitrogen didn't make them; it would have been easy enough. They could still have the green coaches for Gordon's express, but bring the red ones in for the fast trains or normal main line passenger trains while keeping the 4 wheel red ones on the branch lines.

Nothing really changed with the green coaches, apart from the added braking gear, so I'd prefer them looking like these ones; the perfect balance of practicality and realism.

Yep, this is a series 3 shot, and these are the red versions of the coaches used now. In all honesty, I have absolutely no qualms with them sticking to this design, but they would really need to make them a bit fatter and shorter, like they were from series 3 to series 12. Oh yeah, and include red variations, too.

But what if they didn't want to stick with the designs from the series? Well, why not make some BR Mk 1s? A classic British design that, I believe, Arc could replicate brilliantly. Why would I not have belief; they created slip coaches beautifully. As for livery? While I don't really mind the normal brown livery (they stuck to a Great Western livery for the slips and Nitrogen used the Talyllyn livery for the narrow gauge coaches), but maybe a Railway Series inspired brown would be pretty good too? Then you could keep the other bogie coaches for the fast trains (with a design tweak).

As for Spencer's coach... what the heck happened? Not only do they have the exact same problems as the express coaches, but they completely changed the design from the model coach! Actually, that's not fair; the design is really good; possibly better than the model. But they just don't suit the shape of the coach. So how to fix it?

Well, there are two ways. The first is to emulate the original coach's design, which was fantastic. It's simple, but it just has that posh look. And I like that an extra coach was added in series 10, even though it was a bit illogical to have two (unless the composite was a dining car).

The second? Simple. The writers have been pushing the idea that Spencer pulls Pullman coaches, so design a proper Pullman. Seriously, the Pullman design is there already, all they need to do is build one and just copy the design over. That way, it'd feel much more authentic.

And for anyone wondering, I'd probably have the same design suggestions for Connor and Caitlin's coaches, although I'd probably lean more to the VIP coach (series 5-11) designs for them. That said, considering the Pullman inspired design, they'd be pretty good too.

And Now for Something Completely Different
Am I the only one who misses these? I know they were designed to be really old, but that's what made them classy, and it's rather saddening that they were only used for one series. Maybe they could be put to use on Edward's branch as a heritage train or something? Or maybe just use them on his line for normal passenger traffic? A lot of thought went into making these as classy as possible, and it's a crying shame they were only used a few times in one series...

Sunday, 5 July 2015

DVD Review: Railway Mischief

It's been two years in the making, but the series 17 episodic releases have finally come to a close in the UK with the release of Railway Mischief!

This release goes back to the seventeenth series with the inclusion of the final seven episodes from that particular year:
  1. Gordon Runs Dry
  2. Kevin's Cranky Friend
  3. Scruff's Makeover
  4. Wayward Winston
  5. Steamie Stafford
  6. Not Now, Charlie!
  7. Bill or Ben?
So... where do I start with this? Well, I'm really glad that all 26 episodes have been released on episodic releases; it means we in the UK don't have to rely on the complete series releases to get all the episodes on discs. Yeah, it's about four times more expensive than getting the complete release, but still.

Second, it feels really weird that the first series 17 release in America was the last one released here. I'm not sure why that happened, but... better late than never? Maybe?

And finally, the episodes on this release are a pretty mixed bag. Watching them back for the purposes of this review, it was actually fascinating how far the series has come now. And this was from a two year old series! That said, my opinions on the episodes haven't changed: Bill or Ben?, Gordon Runs Dry and Kevin's Cranky Friend were good, Scruff's Makeover and Wayward Winston were OK and the final two episodes were bad (Steamie Stafford was the worst of this era, and here's hoping that, with the current improvements, it stays that way).

Bonus Features
The segments here were nothing new, apart from the subject matter.

Mr Perkins' Postcard focused on Brendam Docks. Even though he mentioned there were a lot of ports on the island, the only one referenced was Brendam since, when it was made, it was the only port to be seen in the CG era. But since Arlesburgh Harbour will be featured in Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure and there was, like I said, mention of many ports on Sodor, that may soon change (hopefully).

The Story Time segment featured Thomas' Train, which may be a subtle advertisement for The Adventure Begins before its release next month (on a slight tangent, I've another blog post on that before its release, so keep your eyes peeled).

I really enjoyed seeing Loraine Marshall's illustrations for this story. I'd go as far to say these were some of her best as they fit extremely well. I also liked her homage to the illustration from Thomas and the Trucks, which was used as the front cover image for Thomas the Tank Engine.

I said in an earlier DVD review (Trouble on the Tracks) that her illustrations felt "out of place" in Toby's Tightrope because her style is different to Gunvor and Peter Edwards'. But it feels like hers and C. Reginald Dalby's are pretty similar: bright, eye catching and colourful, so they blend together a lot better.

And now we come to Henry being green. Everyone's shocked by this, but I'm more shocked by the old shape! In all seriousness though, I really don't care. He was never painted blue on TV and he was only blue between the final illustration of The Three Railway Engines to Troublesome Engines, where the foreword stated he'd been painted green again (because of how confused the artists were trying to differentiate between him and Gordon). Besides, this isn't the first time engines have been altered from the books in illustrations. That said, it was weird to see him green in the wide shot and blue in the close up of Thomas. Maybe Loraine was as confused as the others? Or maybe she forgot? We'll probably never know.

Who's That Engine? featured Edward this time around, and Arc did a great job showing him off (although I may be biased since he's my favourite character). It's a bit of a shame they used his series 18 render (notice his hand rails are black, not silver), but at least it has the head and tail lamps, so it's not too bad. The story shown off was Edward the Hero which, while nothing too special, was one of the few episodes from the Barlow era to get his character right (at least, from the halfway point onwards).

There were four Really Useful Engines segments featured: Stafford, Spencer, Hiro and Flynn. While the final two were good and described the characters well, the first two intrigued me the most. Stafford's since they put great emphasis on him being a shunter (which I'm grateful for), but because it it felt really weird knowing they put it on the exact same release where he was the main focus of a story which had nothing to do with him being a shunter. Spencer's, on the other hand, intrigued me because of the word choices used. I don't think we've heard him be called a "snob" before, but it was really amusing and fitting. But the one that got me was them mentioning he pulled Pullman coaches. While I'm glad of the reference and I can understand why they called them that (the style is there), they just don't have the look of Pullmans overall, but I may do a blog post of that in the future.

The Earl's Quiz was pretty standard, with questions this time on Scruff's Makeover and Luke's New Friend. It's nice that the questions are getting slightly tougher and the episodes more recent, but they're still relatively simple for some kids. Then again, they could be difficult for others. Regardless though, they're a good teaching tool, so no qualms from me.

At the start of the DVD was, again, the trailer for Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, coming to cinemas nationwide from July 17th for two weeks and DVD (in the UK) September 28th. And there'll be performances at Cadogan Hall in London on the 26th and 27th of August. Oh, and there's an advert for Thomas Land, which doesn't seem to have been updated to include the newest attractions.

The presentation is the standard fare for Thomas and Friends; high quality animation and a crisp, widescreen picture. Like I said, this was featuring the first episodes of Arc Productions' tenure, so compared to Trouble on the Tracks or Dinos and Discoveries, some may say it's not as good, but it was still an excellent starting point on which to build.

The prices are pretty standard: £12.99 RRP, but the cheapest places are HMV and The Entertainment Store on eBay (both places priced at £5.99)

Final Thoughts
I'll be honest: this is probably the toughest DVD I've had to rate. Like I said at the start, it took two years for this to get here! Personally, I'm not too bothered as the episodes aired here shortly after this was released in the US, and the British version does have a few differences from the version across the pond. But will parents in the know really be happy with being snuffed like this for so long?

The big question is: would I recommend it? Well, yes and no. If you're still one for collecting DVDs, then you should get it for the cheapest price you can. However, if you're more into the digital age - and don't care about missing out on the bonus features - Channel 5's website streams every episode from series 8-18 for free.