Friday, 15 January 2016

DVD Reviews: Signals Crossed

From episodes that took their sweet time to get here to a DVD that took its sweet time getting here. Anyway, here are my thoughts on Signals Crossed!

And with this release, every series 18 episode has been released on DVD here in the UK!
  1. Signals Crossed
  2. Marion & the Pipe
  3. Duncan & the Grumpy Passenger
  4. No Steam Without Coal
  5. Thomas & the Emergency Cable
  6. Spencer's VIP
  7. Toad's Bright Idea
I really like the episodes on this DVD (except Signals Crossed, which I'm lukewarm towards). However, that doesn't change the fact that it's been over a year between the US and UK releases. And, considering only two DVDs were released at a similar time last year in both territories, this is getting beyond a joke. Yes, the UK gets extra content compared to the US version, but that's really not enough any more, especially since milkshake's website has every episode on there and you can watch them for free! Also, adding extra content on the UK version feels unfair on the US as well as they're missing out on it, or getting it on a later release.

Bonus Features
The bonus segments are nothing new, really.

Mr Perkins' Postcard focused on Sodor's bridges this time around. It was a very good segment showing how important they are, and it showcased a couple that I wouldn't mind seeing again, including the steel one and the main viaduct.

The Story Time segment featured Thomas Goes Fishing. There's not much to say about it, really. The illustrations are good, the story is well told and Perkins is pretty fun.

Who's That Engine? featured Spencer this time around. I've always really liked how Arc have shown off each engine in these segments. The main camera angles are still a bit same-y, but that doesn't detract from the work that went into them.

That being said, it was this segment on the US release that inspired me to vent my frustrations with coach designs in a previous post, and it's an opinion I stand by. I like that they're pushing the idea of Pullman coaches for Spencer, but it would be nice if they had the shapes and proportions of actual Pullmans rather than just using a skin deep design.

Anyway, the episode that was talked about after the reveal was Spencer's VIP which was still a great episode that got the idea of a series 9-16 episode right in a more natural way, as Spencer only screwed up once, got a chance to think about his actions and was given a chance to redeem himself. It feels like an Awdry-esque concept, which is excellent.

There were two Really Useful Engines segments featured: one for James and one for Duck. There's not really much to say about them; they both described the characters well and there was a nice range of footage, although Arc's stuck out quite a bit from Nitrogen's. It also felt weird that they described Duck as a "steam engine". Yes, I know that he is one, but considering how much the show is progressing, I'd have thought that he'd be described as a tank engine, at the very least.

The Earl's Quiz was pretty standard, only this release has two quizzes. Questions this time around focused on Emily Saves the World, Express Coming Through!, Thomas & the Emergency Cable and James to the Rescue. The questions are a mix between relatively easy and a tad more difficult, but they can't all be too difficult; they are primarily aimed at children.

At the start of the DVD was the same trailer for Start Your Engines! (click the title for my initial thoughts) that was on The Christmas Engines. This release, for series 19, is coming to the UK in mid-March. It still feels funny that they're advertising a series 19 release when they've only aired seven of the 25 episodes over here (at the time of writing. Seriously, Viacom and Channel 5, get those episodes on the air if you have them!)

The presentation is the standard fare for Thomas and Friends; high quality animation and a crisp, widescreen picture. If you've seen Sodor's Legend of the Lost TreasureThe Adventure Begins or any episode from series 19, you'd probably think the colours and lighting aren't as natural here, but it's still brilliantly crafted.

The prices are pretty standard: £7.99 RRP, but the cheapest place is Asda for £6. However, if you have an iTunes account, you can get the episodes in HD for £8.99. Although, with the iTunes release, you don't get the bonus features.

Final Thoughts
This is another rather tough one to rate. The episode quality is great, and if that's what matters to you, then I'd recommend it. To everyone else though? Even if you can get it for the cheapest price you can, there are Thomas DVDs out there that have much better value. You can also watch them for free on the milkshake! website if you're not too bothered about missing out on the bonus features.

This, however, is more of a call to HiT's marketing team to pull their fingers out and get newer releases out in the UK quicker. I really don't care which country your market data says has the "biggest support" as it will always be skewed by the fact that North America has one of the largest land masses of any continent in the world. And considering how dedicated Nintendo are getting Pokken Tournament, as well as Red, Blue and Yellow released for the US and Europe at the same time as Japan, should there really be an excuse for any company to try worldwide releases any more?

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Series 19: The Beast of Sodor

And thus, the final scheduled series 19 episode of this block has aired (because Viacom is Viacom and doesn't know how to broadcast properly, to paraphrase a certain phrase I know). So, here's my review of The Beast of Sodor!

You know, I'm kind of at my limit here. While I was perfectly fine defending Henry Spots Trouble by saying "it's for kids", I cannot do the same here. Yes, the fears like the ones on display in series 19 thus far are relatable for children, there's no denying that. But give or take a few characters, this episode has the exact same cast as Henry Spots Trouble. This is where I draw the line; there is no excuse for laziness, especially when the episode you're re-hashing came from the exact same series!

Writing this episode off completely though would be a bit foolish as, in execution, there are moments here that I prefer. For example, adding Spencer to the mix really helps to push Henry's fear well, and it was good that he got his comeuppance. It does feel similar to James and Percy's dynamic in Tale of the Brave, which felt a bit more natural, but it was still rather well handled here, too.

This episode also felt more entertaining than Henry Spots Trouble. The incident with the bull was a real highlight, as was Dowager Hatt. I'm glad that they're using her in Sir Topham's episodes a bit more; their dynamic is brilliant.

Roads were incorporated into the episode as well, which is excellent. It's great to see the team actually take some of the focus away from the railway a bit. It's something I've been wishing for the series to do for a while and this was a good starting point.

And even though, yes, it's another plot where Henry is scared, the end was actually well done, as it feels like he may start to develop from this point onwards. At least, I hope that's what the meaning of the ending is..!

Fan Reaction

The Mad Controller's Corner

Final Thoughts
There's very little more I can add to this one. It just feels lazy as the conflict feels much too similar to Henry Spots Trouble. The cast of characters is also pretty similar, and it's really disappointing that the team would create an episode that feels this lazy. Yes, it's more entertaining, but for me, there needs to be a good balance between the two. I may appreciate it a bit more, though, if the ending actually leads to some much needed development for Henry, if not this series, the next few.

Episode Ratings

Series Rating (so far)

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Series 19: Snow Place Like Home

There's been a heavy focus on the Steam Team so far this series, but this episode puts the focus on Victor and Kevin, which is not only a nice change of pace, but also a very interesting dynamic to focus on. But how did it play out?

As it turns out, it's probably the most sweet, genuine episode so far this series, and it gives us more of an understanding as to why Victor keeps Kevin around: they both care a lot about each other, in a similar way as a father and son care about each other.

The plot itself is fairly humdrum: a character does something they shouldn't and gets into trouble. It's one that's been done a lot, by this show especially, but it works brilliantly here as it's reliant on the strength of the characters.

And the characters are written really well. It's nice that they acknowledged Victor's old home again as it gave his hatred for snow more of a reason in the same way Donald and Douglas' liking of the stuff was back in the day. And, as a childlike character, it made a lot of sense that Kevin would like snow, and be carefree as far as not taking the threat of the conditions seriously.

Victor's hatred for the snow also made his actions when Kevin disappeared all the more brave and admirable as you knew that he didn't want to be out there, but he knew he had to be as he didn't know what had happened or where Kevin really was.

The only real problem is that Emily feels more like a plot device than a character here. I feel that, if Victor had been a bit more anxious to head out and Emily reminded him how much Kevin meant to him, she would've played her own part rather than just being there waiting for her piston rods.

Also, Thomas' role could be called into question here. For one, why isn't he on his branch line? But beyond that, wouldn't Thomas have a bit of a rough journey trying to clear those drifts from hills? Wouldn't it have made more sense to send a bigger engine in snowy conditions similar to those depicted here?

Fan Reaction

The Mad Controller's Corner

Final Thoughts
After a small blip, this episode is a return to form for the series. It's an excellent character driven episode that shows both Victor and Kevin at their best. Sure, it has its problems and, if I had to be nitpicky, it would've been nice to see a narrow gauge engine or two at the depot either as a cameo or saying a line or two about how strange it was seeing Victor out in the snowy weather, but they're all minor quibbles with a real heart-warmer.

Episode Ratings
Who's Geoffrey?: 8/10
The Truth About Toby: 7/10
Lost Property: 9/10
Henry Spots Trouble: 8/10
A Cranky Christmas: 4/10
Snow Place Like Home: 8/10

Series Rating (so far)

Monday, 4 January 2016

Series 19: A Cranky Christmas

So Viacom have finally had the decency to allow Channel 5 to air some series 19 episodes! Yep, they're celebrating Christmas with Thomas... one month late (they did air series 13-18 festive episodes during the period, but don't you think new episodes would, or should, take priority?). So here's my review (finally) of A Cranky Christmas!

So, this episode is... rather dull in all honesty. It feels as though it was elongated solely to fit the allotted time.

The plot itself seems to feel similar to Who's Geoffrey? as well. In that episode, Thomas causes an accident and tries to cover his tracks, and Cranky does the exact same here, only he doesn't make up a different crane causing the problem, solely saying "it wasn't delivered", so at least Cranky can say he can create the better excuses, although he'd have to work on his poker face.

As for the crate itself, how did it survive? With the height it fell from, wouldn't it have shown some sign of damage? If not the crate, the wooden pellet it was on! Also, how was Cranky scared of a ship's horn going off? He's been there for years; you'd think he'd be used to those sounds by now!

Also, the job was kept intentionally vague just so they could have the big reveal at the end. even though it felt like it was being foreshadowed that ice would be involved with all the slipping (whether it was intentional or not I don't know, but that's the feeling I got after seeing this a couple of times for the review).

But those are the really memorable moments. Well, except for a couple more things, both of which are positive. First, Thomas and Edward's friendship is still wonderfully genuine and heart-warming. Even if they don't have Edward as the star that much in the future, continually having him on screen with Thomas will always be gold.

Also, even though the episode was rather dull and mundane for the most part, there were a few scenes that were pretty funny. Cranky's reactions were pretty entertaining, as were the Fat Controller's shenanigans. There was also a slow motion "No!" similar to the one from Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, which was great.

Fan Reaction

The Mad Controller's Corner

Final Thoughts
So... yeah, I'm not much for this one. It's not a particularly bad plot, but it does still feel similar to Who's Geoffrey? making it pretty forgettable.

That said, it does have its moments if you do see it. Also, the voice acting was great, especially John Hasler as Thomas and David Bedella who (hopefully) has taken over as the mayor in the UK permanently. He's a great actor who's brilliant as Victor (and should've voiced him in the UK and US from the get go) and he's really good as the mayor as well.

Episode Ratings
Who's Geoffrey?: 8/10
The Truth About Toby: 7/10
Lost Property: 9/10
Henry Spots Trouble: 8/10
A Cranky Christmas: 4/10

Series Rating (so far)