Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Series 19 and Viacom

(Yes, I said "Viacom", not Channel 5. I'll get to that)

In a previous blog post, I said that fans often get uppity over things that aren't worth complaining about, especially when they're the ones taking advantage of SI3D enough without one person releasing reskinned models. However, that's not to say that fans shouldn't complain about anything, because there are a few things, especially for UK fans, to find fault with. Case in point, Viacom meddling with Channel 5 and milkshake!, their dedicated block for children's TV.

It's safe to say that, while the 70th anniversary of the show has been pretty big in the US, which has filtered over to the online Thomas fans, the UK has had a real struggle gaining any celebratory atmosphere. Sure there was The Adventure Begins, but that came out 4 months after it did across the pond. Sure, there was a huge campaign for Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, but the DVD was still released last over here. Sure, Hornby revived their range for 2015... but the models are only just being released.

The point is, every time there's been something to celebrate in the UK, there's always been a "but" immediately after. And if you want a prime example of this ridiculousness, look no further than series 19.

So far, 20 episodes have been revealed to the public. 12 have been released on US DVDs already, 6 have aired in Japan, while Australia is beginning their circulation very soon (next week, at the time of writing, if I'm not mistaken). And the UK? Four. And The Afternoon Tea Express (a series 17 episode) which had aired for the first time at the end of "Thomas Week" because... why not.

Now, I know you're probably thinking "But how can they air episodes they don't have yet?" To that, I answer you with this tweet by SIF:
So, in basic terms, Channel 5 have been intentionally holding these episodes back for no apparent reason.

"But if they have the episodes, surely they'll air some at Christmas, right?" Well... no. Despite initially saying they'd do so in an email received by SteamTeam:
...their actual Christmas schedule is this:
So they've either changed their minds over the past few months, the adviser was fed false information so that those who actually give a damn about what they air have a tiny sense of hope or they were intentionally lying about things to try and get people off their back. Considering 5 is owned by Viacom these days, neither option is off the table.

After all, this is the company that owns Nickelodeon, a channel that's been (potentially) forced to keep SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly OddParents going way past their prime solely because they're too scared to create something new and interesting, even though the TMNT reboot they have and Harvey Beaks are some of the best shows to come out of Nick in the past few years.

This is the company who thinks that healthy competition between new Thomas episodes and new Bob the Builder episodes... isn't healthy and could damage either brand. Now, I could understand this dilemma if it was similar to Strictly Come Dancing vs The X Factor but... it's not. Both Bob and Thomas are owned by channel 5. Heck, Bob airs at 7:20am (slightly earlier during Christmas) and Thomas airs straight after!

Would Bob have fared better had new Thomas episodes been aired at the same time? Maybe, maybe not. The sad fact is that we'll never know now, because those behind the scenes didn't have the balls to even try and pair new Bob with new Thomas.

Now in fairness to Viacom, that excuse kind of holds up the first time around. It's a new incarnation of a show and they want to ensure that it gets as much exposure as possible. However, there were more new episodes that aired for four weeks which wrapped up last week (at the time of writing). By this point, the audience for Bob was there, so there's absolutely no excuse to, at the very least, try airing new episodes from both shows. It's not particularly a "ratings war", it's friendly competition.

In conclusion, this is all Viacom's doing. Why? Well, although Channel 5's scheduling (when it wasn't owned by them) was weird at the worst of times (anyone remember them holding only The Christmas Tree Express back in series 16? Or series 17's random scheduling?), they did, at least, get every episode out by the time the year ended. Heck, they aired series 13 and 14 in 2010!

With Viacom in charge though, it's been an absolute mess. Even though Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure is airing on New Year's Day as per normal, which is something I guess, they're counting Dinos and Discoveries as part of series 19 - which it isn't - while only airing four episodes of the actual series 19, leaving the others to gather dust. There is absolutely no need for it whatsoever, and it's just another fine example of the UK getting the short end of the stick just because "big business" would rather mess with its audience than give them what they want and deserve.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Worst to Best: 2015 DVD Releases

With the final DVD of the year being released, it's time to look back over the year and rank them from the worst to the best.

The only criteria is that the DVD has to have been released in stores in the United Kingdom. There was a huge DVD set revealed by Sam Wilkinson over Facebook, but that won't be featured as it wasn't in any stores.

Anyway, let's begin!

This was an absolutely disgraceful release. You got Percy's New Friends, Up, Up and Away! and a few bonus features. That's it. And Smyths Toys was selling it for five pounds! Sure, you could get it for free if you spent over £10 on Thomas merchandise, but this was redundant in every sense of the word.

The sad part is that HiT have actually sold a 2 episode DVD really well in the past. Woolworths and the Daily Mirror gave away two Pack episodes (Jack Owns Up and Percy's Scary Tale), as well as three music videos, on separate occasions, and that was brilliant as the content had never been seen before on British shores. Had they done that with this DVD, it might have actually had a purpose.

Thankfully, it's not available any more, but it doesn't take away the fact that this release was the epitome of a cash grab.
Rating: 0/10

...you've got to be kidding me.

Truth time: this blog post was completed on Halloween afternoon. Every entry on this list was decided, and my thoughts were written out. I completed it that early because I didn't think that any other DVDs would be released, and I've waited until now to release the post in case HiT released something on the fly. So imagine my surprise when this came along on November 2nd.

The UK is no stranger to re-releases. The Classic/Complete Series DVDs (series 1-7 at least) have been repackaged multiple times; the last of which included remastered episodes of the first three series. But no re-release has ever taken away content... until this one came along.

As you'll recall (or not; I highly doubt anyone looks back on series 16 fondly, especially now that series 19 is slowly surfacing), Merry Christmas, Thomas! was released at a time where the DVDs were being criticised for not having enough content on them and festive episodes were criticised for replacing Christmas with "winter holidays". In response, this release had six episodes, all of which were re-dubbed to mention Christmas, and there was an extra DVD bundled in called Big Bang Surprise which had five extra episodes.

For this "new" release though? Big Bang Surprise has been completely removed, yet the price is exactly the same price as the original. No, wait, the original is slightly cheaper, yet this offers half the content!

It's pretty obvious to me that this is a blatant Christmas cash grab. But considering they released The Christmas Engines a mere week before, and it has much better value and episodes, there's no need to get this. You can get the original for £5 or series 16 on one DVD for the same price. If you want a Christmas DVD, get Holiday Express from B&M Bargains, which is £3.99. Sure, it won't have CG episodes, but it's still better value than this!

Stay well away from this.
Rating: 0/10

If I could describe every 3 DVD set that's been released here over the years in one word, it'd be this: pointless. All they do is fill up space on retailers' shelves and online stores' warehouses. It didn't particularly help that The Adventure Begins was released on the same day as this. I wonder which one they'd be more drawn towards..?

The kids that this set is targeted towards probably already have the DVDs, and even if they don't, they could get complete series DVDs for around the same price as this set is being sold for, if not cheaper.

Do they have their place? They must do if more are being produced. But I'd rather HiT spend more time and effort trying to get more current US releases over here faster.
Rating: 1/10

Yep, I really think this little of this release. Even at £5, I wouldn't buy this if you gave me the money for it. Because out of all of the releases this year, this was by far the biggest disappointment.

I've heard all of the excuses as to why there's a CG heavy focus on this DVD, and I don't buy any of them. If they really want to make a 20 episode release with a mix of CG episodes, I'd be perfectly fine with that. Just don't market it as a "celebration of Thomas from 1984 to the present" when you're barely going to focus on the era from 1984-2008!

This may be called "1st Class Stories" but, for me, it barely registers as third class.
Rating: 2/10

So if I slated series 16 as the worst of the show, why is this higher than 1st Class Stories?

Because you know exactly what to expect. You know which episodes will be on this release, it's just a case of how much it's sold for, and I think it was sold at a very good price.

That said, I think my review of it was too kind rating-wise, and I really wouldn't recommend it to anyone whatsoever. But if you really want a series 16 release, don't bother with the individual four-six episode releases, just get this. It has much better value.
Rating: 2/10

Out of all the box sets over the years, the best ones are the Smyths exclusives. Released around October for Christmas, this features the two specials from 2013 and 14 as well as the themed 6 episode releases that were, formally, never seen on TV.

At £20, the value is there, and you can get it free if you spend 40 quid on Thomas merchandise. But, sadly, it has the exact same problem as the previous box set: the kids this is targeted at probably have the DVDs separately already. Also, the DVDs are probably around £5 each anyway, so parents don't need to go to Smyths to get the set.

That said, it is the easiest way to get them if you don't have them, so yeah, I'd recommend it. But only if you don't have any of the releases in the set.
Rating: 5/10

Series 17's DVD releases finally concluded... two years after it aired on TV. Seriously, you could easily watch these episodes on milkshake!'s site very soon after it aired, yet it took two years for them to reach a DVD?!

Sure, they added two episodes compared to the US, which added value, but the fact remains that this took two years to get here. But I can't really hate it as it's still a good DVD.
Rating: 7/10

Dinos and Discoveries produced... a mixed bag as far as episodes go, but I appreciated it a lot - and still do - because the episodes that were on it were, at the time, only on that DVD. Sure, they may have made it on to TV screens now, but I still think it's held up well throughout the year. And, since my review, the price has dropped to as low as £4.50, so the value is very strong.

I like this release, even now. Even if some of the content isn't as strong as the rest of series 18, it's not unwatchable in any way, shape or form.
Rating: 7/10

The second most recent release on the list has some of the best festive episodes in the show's history. But it's been a year between the US and UK release which, in all honesty, I've really been getting sick of. In an era where information is more readily available, HiT needs to really think about doing more to make sure that both the US and UK markets are well catered for with releases like this, because all the waiting does is boost piracy and moaning fans begging those who have the new shiny shiny to share it with the world due to the combination of impatience and the inability to get the same thing that others have. It's also, for this reason, that so many people import new US DVD releases.

Regardless of that, I still think this is OK. Like I've said, the episodes are brilliant and the bonus features aren't that bad either.
Rating: 7.5/10

I'd like to apologise for my mistake. In the first draft of this post, I thought there was a 12 day gap between the UK and US version. But nope, there was a year and two day gap between the two...

That has no effect how much I like this release as there were two extra episodes, and they were all really good, but it strengthens my grievances; the UK gets screwed royally with all but one of the episodic releases. I would much prefer them putting more effort into getting new releases over here faster than constant box sets and, yes, even the complete collection releases.
Rating: 8/10

For the last four years, the specials have been the highlight as far as DVD releases go, but this was hyped to oblivion. With weeks of cinema screenings, four performances at Cadogan Hall to music from the Royal Philharmonic and a lot of press coverage, it may have been one of the most hyped yet.

In the end though, I think it deserved it as, well, it really was special. With an action packed, dramatic story, tense drama, brilliant characters and a hilarious sub-plot featuring three little engines who, had someone said five years ago that they'd be returning, I'd have laughed at them and called them delusional as I never thought it would happen for multiple reasons (that and I was a real jerk back then).

Sure, it was released a tad later here compared to the US, but can we really complain when it was shown in cinemas in July? The bonus features are also a bit thin, but the special in itself was worth the cost.
Rating: 9.5/10

If this was a "last minute project", as Sam Wilkinson says (I don't disbelieve him, by the way), I'd have loved to have seen how amazing it would've been had they put more time into it.

In all seriousness, this isn't just the best DVD this year, but one of HiT Entertainment's best Thomas & Friends DVDs ever. It literally has everything: a strong story with a lot of heart and character moments. It was a nice touch adding Old Reliable Edward, too.

The only two drawbacks is that it was an Asda exclusive that fans had a bit of trouble finding when it launched (although demand outstripping supplies is a really good thing) and Brits had to wait four months due to red tape, meaning that some had seen it all by the time it released here.

Even so, I loved it then, I love it now and I'll probably love it until I stop being a fan or I pass away (whichever comes first)
Rating: 10/10

So which was your favourite and least favourite release this year? Leave me a comment below, tweet me (@ChrisTomson2013) or reply to the journal that this post will be included in on DeviantART!

Top 10 Incarnations of Thomas

That's the best title I could think of. Sorry.

The Thomas & Friends franchise has been alive for 70 years, and you better believe that the little blue engine has been immortalised by many different companies for merchandising purposes. Some have been good, some bad, but here are my top 10 favourites. I don't own all of them, nor would I really want to own all of them, but they're the 10 that I like the look of the most.

There are a couple of rules to this list:
  1. The merchandise has to have been sold and endorsed by HiT Entertainment. So, despite the fact that they're are many excellent variations of Thomas for train simulators, they're made by fans for fans as a hobby, so they're omitted.
  2. One per brand. Many different companies have made different variations of Thomas, so only one will be featured from each.
I won't be including honourable mentions, so let's just head straight into it!

10. Trackmaster Green Thomas
It's fair to say that Trackmaster has received some very harsh criticism recently, and I can understand why; in their (what seems like) desperation to keep kids of this generation interested, Fisher Price have tried to make the brand more "exciting" by making their sets and track more and more gimmicky. As for the engines? Well... saying they're "hit and miss" could be considered a huge understatement.

To be honest, I think the one that doesn't look too bad is Thomas. Sure, the wheel arch is really small and is much too far forward, but the shape, proportions and number (and positioning) of the wheels is pretty spot on. And, on the 70th anniversary, they produced a Walmart/Asda exclusive to coincide with The Adventure Begins, and it looks lovely. It feels special, and that is great.

9. Turbo Flip Thomas
Speaking of gimmicky toys..!

Out of all the merchandise on this list, this probably has the least detailing. However, its gimmick is actually really fun and that metallic blue paint is rather appealing, making it look unique compared to other bog standard Thomas merchandise on the market.

Also, that face looks really devious. It's brilliant.

8. Tomix
Out of all of the variations on the list, this is probably the best detailed, especially for the model's size. Sadly, though, it never really made it outside of Japan. And when foreign retailers did get a hold of them, they were very expensive. A shame, too, as I'd love to have owned one of these sets.

On a slightly unrelated note, it's also one of the only ranges to actually depict Clarabel's guard compartment, which is brilliant. And also kinda sad...

7. Wooden Railway Thomas
A classic toy that, even to this day, looks really good. Not one that I'd want to buy, but it still looks as good now as it did then.

6. Thomas Christmas Ornament
It's a real shame that these have never made it to the UK, at least from what I've seen. There's always a new design every year, but this year's is probably the most adorable. Based on Santa's Little Engine, the detailing is brilliant and it just looks fantastically festive.

Like I said though, it's a shame they aren't sold in more countries. And even if you can find one on eBay, they cost quite a bit.

5. Bachmann Large Scale Thomas
While I think the HO version is alright, it feels rather dated now, although that could be because Bachmann improves constantly year on year. That and the fact that they aren't sold in the UK is rather disappointing.

The large scale model, however, looks spot on compared to the TV series version. The face is far superior to the HO version, as is the lamp, as is the addition of the front coupling.

If money, and room space, was no option, I'd love to own one of these. But alas, they're huge and rather expensive...

4. Minis Classic Thomas
On the opposite end of the scale..!

It's truly amazing how popular the Minis range has become in such a short space of time, and it's easy to see why. They're really cheap. it gives you an urge to collect them all and they look amazing despite being so small. The amount of detail applied to these puts many of the other ranges to shame.

Even though all of the variations look brilliant as well, my favourite is probably the classic one as... well it's just looking even though it looks "plain".

3. Hornby Thomas
This is gonna be fun!

I've always said that, given the choice, I would choose Hornby's models over Bachmann's (for the most part). While I have a lot of respect for Bachmann's TV series approach (and I much prefer their Edward, Emily, Annie, Clarabel and Troublesome Trucks), Hornby's feel like miniature versions of what you'd see in real life, And Thomas is one of their best examples - even though no E2s were preserved. And while I do like the original versions from 1985-2011, their recent re-release looks even better.

I originally had my reservations about the CG style face, but it actually looks really cute, and I'm really growing to like it. And yes, I love that, at least, the front of the running board has been painted. It lifts the look of the model greatly.

So yeah. Hornby > Bachmann. At least when models of the number 1 engine are being compared.

2. Fisher Price Collector's Edition Thomas
This thing is absolutely gorgeous.

Sure, there are a few details that aren't painted or missing, and the side tanks look a bit short (there's quite a lot of boiler showing), but for me, it has tons of charm. And it actually does feel like a special Thomas as Fisher Price don't make merchandise like this, unlike Bachmann and Hornby who think that applying metallic paint is enough to make their contributions feel "special", when so many ranges have done that for special releases long before they did.

Oh yeah, and it's £15 from Asda in the UK. That, for me, is great value for this, especially when you can take it off the gold coloured plastic plinth and roll it around wherever you want with moving side rods.

Oh, and despite what anyone says, it's die-cast metal and plastic, not wood. I have one, and have been gushing over it since I bought it a few days ago (at the time of writing).

1. ERTL Thomas (2003)
Who didn't see this coming?

I grew up with ERTLs, so my choice may seem to be based on nostalgia or bias, but even as a 25 year old adult, I can see this as the wonderfully crafted, utterly charming toys that Take Along and Take-n-Plays have never been able to replicate (although the 2013 TnP is really good)

Anyway, the only real issues the ERTLs had when I was young was the coupling system, which was really... fragile and restrictive. If the stalk attached to the rolling stock broke, you'd be pretty screwed. And you couldn't couple the engines up to anything; you had to couple the rolling stock.

That's why my favourite is the one from 2003, as ERTL changed the coupling system to a U-hook. While the first toys to use them had really thin "U"s, meaning they were really fragile, from '03 until they stopped production, ERTL thickened them, making them a lot more sturdy. They also didn't uncouple if they were rolled along a carpet which, let's be honest, most kids would probably do with them, meaning they were less frustrating to play with.

Whichever bog standard ERTL Thomas you got throughout the years though, you would always get a quality toy, and it's one that I'll love until the day I die.

Agree or disagree with this list? Leave me a comment below, tweet me (@ChrisTomson2013) or reply to the journal that this post will be included in on DeviantART!

Friday, 4 December 2015

The SI3D "Debacle"

I don't usually talk about the goings on within the fanbase all that much as there's so much unnecessary drama on a daily basis that it's hard to keep track of and the majority is best off ignoring anyway. But this is a bit harder to ignore, as a Trainz Simulator player myself, and one that uses fan-made Thomas & Friends models and routes regularly.

Now, for the most part, the Thomas fanbase is really good. There are some hugely talented people out there that have even gotten the attention of HiT Entertainment to such an extent that there's been a huge fan project that's been uploaded to their official channel over the span of a few weeks, and there's another one planned for Christmas, which will begin as I'm writing this post. There are also some brilliant people who are friendly, generous and I've gained some lasting friendships within it.

Unfortunately, there's another part of the fanbase, in the same way there's another side to every fanbase, who either constantly moan about the series (even when they get what they want from it), make petitions about some of the most pointless things or they are just straight up mean spirited for no other reason than "because they can be" (and yes, I fit into that last category at times, before anyone says anything).

But this latest drama is where the negative part of the fanbase is really reaching its nadir:

Yep, SI3D has been taken down by the site's owner (see here for further details; requires an account for the forums to see it). And you better believe that some fans are treating this like it's a life-or-death situation:

Some are going so far as to stalk and harass the person who caused the situation which, to be frank, is spectacularly pathetic and uncool. And this is coming from a guy who's had his issues with the culprit long before this happened. I blocked him for asking a friend to say he'd died solely so he could get sympathy and he retaliated by making Facebook pages to abuse me behind my back (which I ignore as it's not worth my time).

I don't give two iotas of a crap about what he did, the fact that people are getting this worked up over pixels on a screen is ridiculous. If you have a problem with SI3D being pulled (and rightly so; they make the rules, and it's an easy one to abide by), then maybe you should re-evaluate your social situation rather than put so much value into something as benign as models for a video game!

SI3D were not the first group of people to make 3D models for Trainz - they replaced UK Branch Lines when they took their models down. And I can tell you, right now, that they sure as hell won't be the last. Heck, we have so many people making great Trainz models in SI3D's absence as it is! For example, WildNorWester:

Camscott (requires an SI3D account):

So rather than declaring a witch hunt against someone, whining like a baby for SI3D to reverse their decision or make stupid videos like this:

Why don't you actually keep your noses out, mouths shut, fingers off keyboards and let those involved sort things out?! It's not that bloody difficult! Support those who actually make content rather than bemoan about "lost" content that wasn't even there in the first place.

Fans keep wondering why certain fanbases are targeted by bullies. Apart from the obvious lack of understanding that people are different, things like this don't help our case. Every. single. time there's a small dispute between one or two people, it has to blown out of all proportion just so they can turn one person's mistake into a huge manhunt and constant abuse. It has to stop. Now.

Grow up.