Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Journey Beyond Sodor: How It Should Have Been

I've talked about this thing three times already. The first time, I was parroting reviews from other detractors which wasn't really fair, in hindsight. The second was via my live tweets while watching it, which was less of a review and more a genuine reaction when watching in real time. The third was the last blog post highlighting the discriminatory behaviour of some manchildren solely because the opinions of disabled gay man didn't affirm their opinions on it. So now I thought why not dive back into this one final time for a proper review?

I'm going to be fair and start with the positives. First off, I do really like that there was a more solid reason as to why Hurricane and Frankie have stuck together throughout the Steelworks' hardships, and I like that they ended up finding somewhere new to work. I don't think it was as the real thing, but it's a different interpretation that I can appreciate.

Second, I like that they linked the experimental engines into the story more than the real thing did. You get a real sense of the animosity during the third act. And it's admirable they'd risk themselves to save the others.

Third, the banter between Henry, Donald and Douglas was fantastic. Seriously, if they ever decide to do another project, make those three the stars. I genuinely think they could create gold with those three.

And finally, there's the visual design which is... fine. There are a lot of issues, which I'll address, but the lighting, general cinematography and modelling work is passable. To those saying it should skirt on by because of that though, Michael Bay movies have great cinematography. Does that make them any better? Anyone with enough artistic talent can make a decent/good looking movie. But it takes someone with writing talent to make a good film.

And that is where the problems lie: the writing is atrocious.

First of all, this is how the film starts:
This is the worst way to start any project, let alone one that wants to seem professional. It makes the whole thing feel like more of a cynical product than anything Mattel has ever produced. The criticisms they brought up were nitpicky at best and petty at worst. They're literally acting like a show for toddlers should pacify them as well.

Not only that, but the last two paragraphs are incredibly narcissistic. I watch WhatCulture Wrestling, which has two series: "How WWE Should've Booked" and "How WWE Should Book", going through major storylines - past and present - and seeing how they'd do it. Here's the difference: the WhatCulture host was hamming up his arrogant personality, whereas the arrogance here feels genuine. Turns out, however, the fans who thought they could do better than Andrew Brenner and co fell victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The way to fix this is simple: don't bother putting that stuff into the video itself. Put it in the video description or something. Oh wait, they did:

My second point is that the narrative is terrible. There are constant contradictions throughout (James saying that he didn't think BoCo was that bad mere seconds after insulting him and Flying Scotsman running on BR when it's said that only diesels run there being large examples).

What's worse, though, is that the whole thing falls apart 5 minutes in. James did something similar to what Thomas did in the real thing... and no one bothered to check whether he was being truthful. Not even James' crew. Which, considering the whole pull of this is "wanting to respect Thomas' universe" (I'll focus on that more later), goes against it a bit. If this was the case, the driver would've stopped him and taken him home so he and the fireman could be with their families.

I get it: it's really disappointing that the roles of engine crews have been diminished over the years, But considering all the stories we've been given, it should really be considered a "necessary evil" at this point. Including them in stories like this makes them look really stupid since they didn't take any initiative.

And then there's the pacing. The whole conflict reveals itself in around 7 minutes, which is rather quick when the whole thing is an hour and a half, the rest plods along and adds plot points randomly and there are forced in conflicts to keep things going for that run time. Heck, Hurricane and Frankie inexplicably reach Vicarstown Bridge before everyone else because... reasons!

The characters aren't much better. As much as his dynamic with Donald and Douglas was great, Henry was a real wuss, Gordon was fine until he became a discount James, Donald and Douglas themselves could only be described as "Scottish" at one point - stereotyping that country to the nth degree once they get there. Oliver's only purpose is to constantly remind everyone that Escape! had happened and James... was the worst portrayal of the character I've ever seen.

If there was any example as to why proofreading a script is important, James' characterisation is it. Well, the whole thing is, but James' character suffered the most. The narrative treated him like the most egotistical, racist character to ever exist, which is a preschooler's understanding of who James is and bumped up a billion notches. Sure, Thomas was a bit selfish in the official version, but at least you ended up caring when things went wrong for him, and his turnaround was genuine. Here, James didn't develop whatsoever. Emotionally, he was in the place as when he started, making the story even more pointless.

And then there's the themes. I don't know what they were going for, but the main one I gathered was "you're flawed, we'll accept that", which is an incredibly damaging moral. Let me put it this way, if I didn't surround myself with so many amazing people at my lowest point, eventually overcoming my flaws and problems, I would have become more self destructive and more mentally unstable. That was me as a guy in his 20s. Imagine if that's what a child took from this!

Oh, by the way. If you want to create a project that's a massive "screw you" to a certain company, don't use their tropes for your story. They handwave this by saying "we had to use them to keep the feel of the current era". But... isn't that what this thing is fighting against? It's a huge contradiction. If you're wanting to make a spiteful point, make your own adaptation your own way.

There are other problems like the annoying fan pandering (maybe if less effort had been put into that and more gone onto the story problems..!), but the one that annoys me the most is the "respecting Thomas' universe". Thomas' universe is primarily British, but there are so many American influences here that you don't believe that's the case. American terms are used and the engines constantly wrong road. None of these things I'd care about if the creators themselves didn't make them such a big deal. If this was simply their own interpretation of Thomas' universe (rather than thinking they know all about it), I'd be much more lenient.

And then there's the visual design. While I've pointed out the positives, the negatives are huge. First off, continuity errors. Engines swapping lines, engines travelling on actual roads and tracking shots poorly green screened. The latter can be excused, but the first two can't. Shot consistency is one of the first things you need to learn as an amateur filmmaker. And while, yes, even professionals make mistakes, they aren't this frequent or this obvious. It's honestly really sloppy, and maybe spending more time on filming and editing to ensure it was polished would've ironed these issues out.

Finally, there's the songs, which are just as bad as the rest. The first one just hammers in the point that "Sodor good, BR bad!", giving the film a feeling that it was written to be Sudrian propaganda. The second one tries to make you feel bad that the experimental engines have never been given any opportunities, even though they started out working at the Steelworks! Also, the song ends at a random point right at the end of the scene. It's incredibly jarring. Sure, Who's Thomas? ended a scene in the real thing, but the final verse of the song actually felt like a natural stopping point for the song, and the scene. The third one's rather forgettable.

Final Thoughts
I appreciate that this was a fan project and that a lot of effort went into it. And I really do like a couple of scenes and character moments. But I still maintain that this is the most narcissistic, fan pandering project I've ever seen. The characters are bad (and most are pointless), the theme is awful and the story itself is terrible. Honestly, a lot of the problems narrow down to contradictions and too much telling, not enough showing. Although it doesn't help that the film starts with a 45 second message that makes you want to turn it off. But even if you take that out, it really doesn't add much to Journey Beyond Sodor at all.

Overall, I'd rather watch the original. No, it's not perfect. But at least it tries to tell an engaging story with fun characters and a superb message. Also, it has precious cinnamon roll Theo that has so much character due to the bouncing and his voice acting.

Final Rating: Atrocious


  1. I'm pretty sure the producers completely forgot about the messages in the beginning and in the description and just said "Ah, f**k it. Let's just do whatever. We're just trying to make a big 'f**k you' to Mattel because we're narcissistic assholes who think we know everything."

    If this is the kind of narcissism that the fandom is going to stoop down to, then I'll gladly stick with looking for to BWBA and Season 22. The Thomas fandom has officially reached Sonic fandom levels of immaturity. I don't know how they pulled it off, but somehow, they did.

    If people are gonna make fun of you because you're disabled and you speak the truth, they can go f**k themselves. I like to think BWBA as good karma for the ungrateful fanbase despite everything the current writing team has done for the series. It's basically Mattel saying "If you're not gonna appreciate the work we do, then why should we do what you want?"

    Also, if you ever see Nichole Willaims or one of those racist, anti-sjw little bitches, tell them to get a f**king life.

    1. I’ve got a bad feeling that this is just going to be the start of it. I can guarantee that, by this time next year, we’ll see something similar for BWBA, regardless of how good it is. And if fans see it as worse than it actually is, it’ll be far more narcissistic than this is.

      As far as the discrimination goes, they’re just proving how ridiculous they are. I’m just going to call them out, block and report them. Seems to be working out so far.

      Nicole Williams is just... ridiculous. Saying she’s not racist when she definitely is.

    2. I honestly don’t care what fans might say about JBS. I loved the movie when it was released and nothing is going to change my opinion.

      Also, looking back on The Great Race, I’ve never actually hated that special. It still has its flaws, but I’d rather have my own opinion on the special, than be like everyone else and copy Unlucky Tug’s opinion on it.

      Speaking of the guy, he’s become quite a prick ever since the trailer for JBS. Coupled with his God-awful “review”’of the special and seeing some of the things he’s posted on Twitter, I’m officially done with him. Let him bitch and whine like the man-child he clearly is.

      Other people I could mention are TurtlesandThomas, the clinically depressed founder of Sudrian Conflict. While I like his series, his cynical attitude is just f**king grating. Especially seeing what’s coming up in 2018, he’s just gonna be a whiny little bitch about it.

      And finally, the big one: Nichole Williams. I hate this woman. I really hate this woman. Why do I hate this woman? It’s like you said; she tries to feign that she’s not racist when she clearly is. I mean, she called Nia a “black-skinned stereotype.” Nia’s face is gray, just like all the other f**king engines! Also, her “theories” about Edward and Henry vanishing from the series, just because they’re being reallocated from the Steam Team, are so f**king grating. Did I also mention that she thinks that everyone else besides the Steam Team is going to be removed from the series?

      If she and her little gang of conspiracy theorists could just f**k off, that’d be great.

    3. You can thank 2016 and The Great Race for jump starting the fandom's newfound bad attitude.

      Unfortunately, if BWBA turns out to be a surprising success, it's only gonna make things more worse than ever before.

    4. Honestly, I think the problems go back further than that.

      Fans are happy when the producers insert things that make them happy. King of the Railway added lore. Series 17 and 18 added classic characters. All three are fairly well liked by the fanbase.

      But that got worse when 2015 rolled around. With The Adventure Begins’ mere existence, Lost Treasure introducing Railway Series characters (and bringing back more classic ones than they knew what to do with) and series 20 going so far as to adapt stories from the books, fans went from being happy to being entitled.

      Further proof of this? Tale of the Brave and Series 19. Fan reaction to these should have been a red flag to the behaviour we’re seeing now. TOTB had a really great story with fantastic characters, yet most fans hated it for really nitpicky reasons. The root cause of which possibly being a lack of returnees. And while Series 19 was mediocre, a lot of fans don’t care about it solely because there was no new characters and it’s just... there (which is hypocritical since, now they are trying to use a series to move things on, they’re hating it).

      The most popular parts of series 21 were when they were being pandered to. The inclusion of Big Mickey, the returns of Terence and Bulgy. The least popular were the new things (dream sequences and hallucinations, character development, characters moving).

      Too much fan service up to this point has destroyed fan expectation. Rather than expecting a good story and characters, they expect to see characters that they recognise and nothing else. And if BWBA drives those people away, I’m good with that. Because the hostility that that attitude brings should never be acceptable in any fanbase, this one included.

    5. Everything else I can agree with, but TOTB? I've always thought that it was very well received by the fanbase when it first came out.

      But, again, I highly doubt BWBA-onward will be cooling off many parts of the fandom anytime soon... unless they get what they want.

      Again, that's what I think, anyway

    6. The people in the Thomas fandom just want to be spoon-fed so they can be happy. They want Mattel to treat them like spoiled children who think that they can get anything they want. It doesn’t work like that in real life, folks.

      But no, the manchildren in this fandom are all “F**k you, Mattel. We’re the fans so they know bettter than you.” Unless I receive some proper evidence that Edward, Henry, Toby and the rest of the cast are going to be removed from the series, they can take their bulls**t “theories” and shove them up their asses.

  2. Please do a rant on Nichole Williams. I have had it up to HERE with her bulls**t and I want to see you tear her rants down to shreds.

    1. I’m not sure what I can say; I haven’t seen her rants since we blocked each other. But it’s clear that she’s a mentally unstable racist. That’s the only thing I can feel confident saying about her.