Reminiscence 4K UHD (2021)

rem1Lisa Joy’s tech-noir thriller Reminiscence is a film which, like a few this year, I unfortunately missed at the cinema, which annoyed me as it seemed right up my street – someone went and made an adult, intelligent sci-fi thriller and I didn’t get to see it, and like BR2049 it bombed spectacularly. So I was really looking forward to seeing it when it came to home video, and naturally I went the full 4K UHD route (with hindsight its a pleasant surprise it has turned up on the format at all), but it proved rather disappointing.  It turns out that, for all it does well -and it does indeed do some things very well- its badly flawed, unfortunately. It’s not bad, exactly- it just doesn’t tie together somehow, it doesn’t really work, overall, which is frustrating because some elements are very good indeed. Its a case of being clumsy where it really needed to soar, and perhaps being overly familiar.

So many films and tv shows one sees these days, if they aren’t actually remakes or reboots, they still often seem to be a combination of the ‘greatest hits’ of someone’s DVD collection. Maybe its the entertainment industry’s sincerest form of flattery, or a reminder that there really is nothing new under the sun.

Reminiscence is hitched upon the central conceit that an invention enables people to re-live some of their past experiences which can be visualised for others to see and record, and this also enables access to forgotten memories or the ability to vividly recall things otherwise only dimly remembered. The law enforcement agencies use this machine to interrogate suspects who can be prosecuted by the evidence their memories reveal – an inversion of the ‘future crime’ of Memory Report, then, but similarly projecting crimes for others to see and record for evidence, criminals being betrayed by their own memories or those of witnesses.   

The seductive aspect of reliving good memories, especially in the distinctly dystopian world which Reminiscence proposes, reminds one of another tech-noir thriller, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, and its device which enabled the recording of events for others to experience, itself similar to Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm of some years before. Some characters in Reminiscence are doomed to endlessly  return to and re-experience good times in just the same way as Ralph Fiennes’ Lenny in Strange Days, and indeed this is something mirrored by the ultimate fate of this film’s main character, Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), who can’t let go of his muse, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) any more than Lenny can shake off his obsession over his own lost love. So Reminiscence seems to come to us now third-hand, almost, rather than be anything actually new, ironically leaking reminiscences of other films-  I don’t really mind that if its done in some new and interesting way, but this is where the film slips up.  While there is some political subtext and a crime to solve, Lisa Joy treats that as secondary to its romance woven through the narrative, and its that which doesn’t entirely convince. Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson are very good actors but they just seem a little too ‘perfect’ to convince as the flawed, haunted characters that Joy wants them to be. There is a feeling that we are always watching beautiful people merely approximating what desperate, hungry and haunted characters might be like were they a little more, well, ordinary like the rest of us. Perhaps this is always true of Hollywood product. 

There is, to be sure, a really great film in here, somewhere. Considering recent world attention on Climate Change and rising sea levels, seeing a film portraying a possible nightmare scenario spun off of that -in this case a half-submerged Miami and days so hot that everyone sleeps in the day and spend the majority of their waking hours during the night-as vividly as this film does is something timely and fascinating. And the reliance of the survivors upon the new technology to re-experience memories and experiences of better times as an avenue of escape is very interesting, and similar to how people during the pandemic have eulogised old pre-COVID traditions and pursuits like, hey, going to the cinema like we used to, or perhaps re-watching films that remind us of better times. There is perhaps a subtext there upon fantasy and escape and what catharsis films themselves provide us, and what a dead-end that may be. 

So what goes wrong exactly? I think its partly the romance that doesn’t wholly convince, and as that’s the central interest for Lisa Joy that’s a pretty fundamental failing. The crime that hangs in the background concerning a wealthy family, an illegitimate child, a bent cop and resultant murders just doesn’t interest either, really. Maybe its just too many balls to juggle in the air; I rather suspect that Lisa Joy has more success with so many narrative threads when she’s spacing them over an eight or ten-episode series on HBO rather than a two-hour movie, and films always tend to need cohesive, satisfying endings, not more mystery boxes. 

As someone who has watched quite a few film noir lately, I also think that Reminiscence could have possibly done without its narration, a noir device that doesn’t, to be honest, really work for me here. I always prefer film-makers to show me, don’t tell me, and the best noir, no matter how complex they may be, can often manage just fine without a voice explaining it all. Maybe I’m wrong and don’t appreciate that post-millennials are lazier. 

Maybe Reminiscence is just another victim of dystopian films just not appealing to audiences right now- maybe we’re swerving back to the days of post-Vietnam 1977 and audiences just want escapist fun. We’re living in a dystopian world as it is, and we know the future increasingly looks bleak; we don’t necessarily need films to remind us, or show us how bad it might get. Or maybe we just want better movies.

The future of Disc packaging is nerfed

My copy of the third season of Westworld on 4K UHD arrived today- and its never been clearer how physical product of films and television shows on disc is becoming less and less of an interest to studios and distributors. Remember the glory days of any HBO series on disc? The ill-fated series Rome on Blu-ray actually came in ornate wooden boxes (so fancy they still take a pride of place on my shelf all these years later), the first few series of Game of Thrones came in fancy sets embellished with clear plastic slips with printed sections and embossed cases… over the years with each season those GOT sets became less fancy, but nowhere is the decline of disc packaging more obvious than with Westworld

The first season came in a fancy tin. The second season in a less-impressive, but still fairly quality, embossed slipcase with a sturdy digipack. The third season? A standard 4K Amaray case inside a very slightly laminated, suspiciously thin cardboard slipcase. Over in the States, fans are moaning about the packaging but at least their case seems to be lenticular and embossed, indicating some limited effort which is more than our cheapo edition (well, I say ‘cheapo’ but I note the price of the set hasn’t been reduced compared to earlier seasons when they came out). 

There was a time when physical product was something of a premium product, certainly compared to digital downloads, but I’m afraid some kind of parity is coming, although again I note that parity does not extend to the price. Oh well, sign of the times, I suppose, but all the same, poor show HBO/Warner.

Mind, I suppose I should just be thankful I get the series on a physical 4K set at all (we never got a 4K Watchmen series or 4K Chernobyl), so hey, I’m not going to complain too hard, for fear that season four when it eventually comes in a few years turns out to be digital-only, but I’ll just close my eyes a moment and remember the good old days of 2010 – 2015. Some may cast their memories further back than that, there have been some lovely imaginative examples of disc packaging over the years, especially during the DVD glory days, but I guess those days are long gone now. You just have to look at my three seasons of Westworld in my shelf. They actually look like they come from three entirely different tv shows. 

Watching Watchmen: Episode Three

watch3“Hello. Hello? I can’t hear you, but I know you’re there. I have a joke for you. I know what you’re thinking, but this is a funny one. Damon Lindelof, you remember him? The guy who ruined Prometheus and co-wrote that horrible Star Trek Into Darkness, and was show runner of Lost who dragged that thing out to THAT ending. Well, he’s making a new show now, based on Alan Moore’s Watchmen comic book/graphic novel… the damn thing’s almost an actual sacred thing to comic book fans. You may have seen the movie. I KNOW you’ve seen the movie. You’re keeping quiet but I know you’re a big fan of that Snyder fella, well anyway, this show is kind of like that film but its not. Its really more to do with the Moore book, but it feels like the film and borrows its title font and how it throws episode titles up on the screen and it visually owes something to it…

“Well a lot of the third episode, it centres on a phone booth, and Laurie Blake is on the phone to Dr Manhattan, who’s on Mars ignoring everybody. Or he’s SUPPOSED to be on Mars but who knows for sure, Dr Manhattan is like God, he could be Everywhere. So Laurie -yes, she’s the Silk Spectre in the original book, but she’s 30-odd years older now and spandex costumes aren’t her thing anymore- well, she’s sold out to The Man, and she’s working for the Feds like her dad the Comedian did, or was that the CIA? Anyway, she’s hunting costumed heroes now, instead of being one. Set a thief to catch a thief, something like that. 

“Well, where was I? No, the question was rhetorical, I don’t expect you to say anything, but I know you’re listening. So Laurie is cracking a joke to her ex-lover, ex-costumed team-mate who’s maybe on Mars on the other end of the phone. Yeah, people can phone God in this show. I guess it cuts out the Middle-man, all that clergy nonsense. God is listening, they say, but they say it as ‘Dr Manhattan is listening’ but of course its all a matter of faith, the phone call just like prayer- maybe prayer for the 21st Century. I wonder if they charge Laurie’s credit card? Is it free, like reverse-charges or something? I guess God/Dr Manhattan would be good for it. Anyway, I reckon Dr Manhattan IS listening ‘cos he damn near drops a car on Laurie’s head at the end of the episode. No, that’s not the joke. Not this joke.

“No, this joke… hasn’t exactly got its punchline yet. Well, you see, this series so far, and this episode especially… its got all sorts of Easter Eggs for fans. There’s Laurie of course, and there’s mention of her boyfriend -her other boyfriend, this gal got around in her day- who was the Nite Owl II, who’s in prison now, apparently, and if Laurie does this job for this Presidential hopeful who hires her, well, he may be able to get her old beau Dan out of jail. So off she goes to Tulsa, where eps 1 & 2 took place. 

“I know, you’re waiting for the joke. I’ll get to it, honestly. Did I say it was funny? Well, maybe its more ‘funny peculiar’ you know how it is. See, the weird thing is, this show is deliberately arch and off-centre but in the Real World we got Trump with his thumb on the Nuclear Button and Boris over here in charge of Old Blighty, and Putin flexing his fishing muscles over in Russia, its kinda hard for film-makers and show-runners to trump reality, pardon the pun. We’re living in a Strange World so a show has to be VERY strange to seem strange, you know? Jeremy Irons, he actually gets into his Ozymandias costume in this episode, yeah, like in the comic, not the film version, and it kinda comes off like that 1960s Batman show, you know?I think that may have been deliberate, but yeah, Jeremy Irons in a superhero costume, how strange is that? As strange as Laurie carrying a giant Dr Manhattan dildo in her briefcase? I know, what kind of show is this?

watch4“So the episode returns to the main storyline with the Seventh Cavalry possibly being responsible for the death of the chief of the Tulsa Police and Laurie is investigating it and attends the funeral, and yeah, it continues the ‘Chief Judd Crawford shadowing the Comedian’s murder mystery’ thing by the funeral being very like the Comedians, except there’s a suicide bomber and it all gets messy. And Laurie knows something was in Judd’s closet but it seems Angela took it away. The two ladies don’t get along its like an Alpha Males thing, sorry, Alpha Females thing, very 21st Century. 

“Is this going somewhere I hear you ask? Well, no, I don’t hear you really, obviously, as you’re not talking and no, I’m not sure. You see, while this is a very (surprisingly) good show, it has our boy Lindelof behind it and he doesn’t end things well. Frankly he’s a bloody joke at endings. Oh no, did I drop the punchline already? Well you see the jokes still possibly on us. This is episode three and there is still six left and I’m fairly certain Jeremy Irons is being held captive on Mars or somewhere in space and fairly certain Dr Manhattan is behind it, and if Jeremy -sorry Adrian Veidt- gets out then humanity could be in trouble, but really there’s six episodes left and we’re all searching for clues and hints and wondering What It Means and Whats Going On and the irony is, when we get to the end we might have custard on our faces, this is Lindelof we’re talking about here. The joke might be on us, as we get carried away actually enjoying this thing until he pulls the rug from under us.

“I mean maybe the punchline is that there is no punchline and its all a big tease with a cliffhanger ending to leave us gagging for a second season. That would be cruel, almost as cruel as how GOT ended, but its a cruel world, you know? Disney owns Fox so the Mouse owns the Alien, I don’t know what Walt would have thought of THAT. But there’s something wrong about that, and yeah just how twisted do you think HBO could be, after what they pulled with GOT? 

“Goodness I’m babbling now and this call must be costing a fortune. Did I mention I’ve done this on reverse charge? No? Ha, well, maybe that’s a good enough joke. Possibly not really but maybe its good enough for now. We’ll see how funny things are after episode nine. I’m really enjoying this show right now though, so maybe I’ll give you another call next week…. 

 

Watching Watchmen: Episode Two

watch2.jpgHey, now. Hang on a minute. This was great. I mean, really, I thought the first episode was good but “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” , despite its absurdly extravagant title (originating from the painting hanging on Crawford’s wall that the camera finally lingers over), was a much better episode, cementing this series as a must-watch. I’m really excited by this series now and can I admit to being keen on an eventual 4K set on disc someday next year? The danger remains that the series will alienate and bore mainstream viewers unfamiliar with the comic or film, but for fans such as me, this is an early Christmas present, much better than I had expected.

Some of the parallels to the original comic are clearer to see- it would seem the narrative arc of the series will be the central mystery of who killed Police Chief Judd Crawford, mirroring the ‘who killed the Comedian?’ arc of the comic, the mystery no doubt unravelling into a much bigger conspiracy than one murder, just as what happened in the comic. I enjoyed the nods to the comic during Angela Abar’s search of Crawford’s home, with the secret compartment in the closet holding the Ku Klux Klan uniform (revealing Crawfords ‘true’ secret identity in just the same way Rorschach discovered the Comedian uniform hidden behind Edward Blake’s closet). Its clear the teasing hints at Adrian Veidt’s new scheme to ‘save the world’ parallel the slow reveal of that of the comic, and I’m pretty sure this will prove to be as deadly and horrible as his original effort that killed three million.

The glimpses of the American Hero Story television programme will function in a similar way to Tales of the Black Freighter in the comic and Watchmen movie, it seems (the background disclaimers and warnings from the ultra-liberal network airing the show were hilarious).

Indeed, its clear that Damon Lindelof has created a show that is really a Watchmen Remix. A labour of love, evidently but I suppose if it does leave the show open to criticism, in regards originality and perhaps at worst of being a disguised reboot. I suppose we need to see more episodes (possibly all nine if it builds to some great reveal) to see the ‘big picture’, so to speak, in just the same way as the Watchmen comic really works best when considered over its twelve chapters. Definitely looking very good so far though.

I’m not surprised, I’m actually shocked how good this is. Hope it keeps it up, but with Lindelof involved, a note of caution is required, even in the wake of The Leftovers.

Watching Watchmen: Episode One

watch1Casting aside my misgivings regards yet another IP being rebooted, HBO’s Watchmen series certainly seems promising on the evidence of its first episode (“It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”). Set 34 years after the climactic events of the original comic (and the movie adaptation, to a degree) the world of Watchmen 2019 is quite different from what we might have been expecting, but also uncomfortably familiar.

Watchmen in all its guises takes place in an alternative reality- in a similar way to the ‘future’ of Blade Runner, or the 1960s America of The Man in the High Castle, the depicted reality is one altered by alternate historic events. The comic’s 1985 is an America that won the Vietnam War and in which Watergate never happened so still has Nixon as President . HBO’s 2019 has Robert Redford as President since 1992, pushing racial reforms at odds with white supremacists who are running amok (in the form of a terrorist group who call themselves the Seventh Cavalry and model themselves after the masked vigilante Rorschach, who died in 1985). A few years prior, masked members of the Seventh Cavalry attacked off-duty police officers and their families, so now the police keep their identities secret too, wearing masks whilst on duty. The law has adopted the manners of the once-outlawed masked vigilantes of old. Masked heroes. Masked villains.

watch2One of the biggest doubts about this new Watchmen is the fact that the show-runner is Damon Lindelof of Prometheus and Lost infamy. I’m prepared to cut him some slack mostly due to his earlier HBO show, The Leftovers, which was quite brilliant and a critical darling even if it failed to connect with a sizeable audience. The Leftovers was a poetic slow-burn and on the evidence of this first episode, Watchmen may follow suit. While it sets the mythology up of this alternate 2019 it does so slowly and doesn’t hand-hold the audience at all, which may intimidate some. It also seems to require some familiarity with either the 2009 Watchmen film (can’t believe its ten years already) or perhaps even more so, the original comic/graphic novel, which in particular may be a stretch. Jeremy Irons, for instance, turns up towards the end of the first episode and is clearly an aged Adrian Veidt, the man who masterminded a fake alien invasion that averted World War Three in the original Watchmen comic, but Joe Public unfamiliar with comic or film will be quite in the dark. Likewise lots of Watchmen Easter eggs are spread about for fans to note and feel clever about, but which will possibly leave many viewers bemused by some of the visuals.

Hopefully the mythology and premise will entice viewers to remain and stick with it. It seems very confident in being its own thing which does remind me of the sheer bloody-mindedness of the classic series The Prisoner. Its either a brave move or a reckless one, we’ll have to wait and see. Season One lasts nine episodes, and all being well I’ll be writing weekly reviews of each one.

 

Watch This

watchAh dammit looks like they got me again. I know the reviews for the American release a year or more ago were mixed, but 4K Watchmen… I don’t know how many times I have this film (in its various incarnations) on disc already, it must be heading towards Blade Runner levels of indulgence/stupidity. This disc is out in just a month or so, too (no doubt on the back of HBOs new spin-off series) so not only a surprise but an imminent one too.  Mind, that Ugliest Cover Art Ever nominee really isn’t helping.

Funny thing is, I was only musing this morning about how nostalgia can be a really negative thing, a trap that for film fans in particular keeps us going back to old films, old favourites (I’d watched the 4K disc of Angel Heart the night before which was probably why such thoughts were on my mind) over and over, as if trying to recapture the original thrill/experience, or the old times we originally saw the films. So several hours later I see this come up for pre-order, completely out of the blue. It looks like my musings have been answered: Nostalgia is a virus.

Maybe ugly cover art is the cure.

Last Week: Battlestar’s coming back

bsgThe relentless shift towards streaming and the rush for new content has seen providers looking at their IP portfolios. News broke last week that NBC Universal, launching a streaming service (titled Peacock) in April 2020, has decided to reboot Battlestar Galactica for what will be a second time. Glen Larson’s original was a pretty blatant Star Wars knock-off in 1978, that is most interesting today for indicating what was the wall of what television could manage back then, and Moore’s 2003 – 2008 reboot was an indication of how sophisticated tv sci-fi had become. Maybe a 2020 reboot will indicate how creatively bereft everything has become, or how general quality has to be diluted by so much content being made now for so many networks/streams- how is anybody in Hollywood out of work anymore?

I must confess I was pretty horrified at the news- I love Ron Moore’s incarnation of BSG, its possibly my favourite sci-fi show. The idea of someone (apparently the guy behind the new show is Mr Robot‘s creator Sam Esmail) going back  to Battlestar and relaunching it in some way is depressing but not surprising. Everyone seems averse to new properties and sees obvious advantages to going back to old stuff, either for nostalgia’s sake or ease of marketing something already familiar or established. I can’t really highlight the creative apathy in this because Moore’s BSG was itself a reboot, and it was great, so I’m sort of championing the very thing I find so disheartening.

But why BSG? Alas, its simply because its something that NBC Universal owns, simple as that. A property that would probably actually benefit from a modern reboot would be something like Babylon 5, but as that is a Warner property, that is only likely to come if the WarnerMedia streaming platform (itself launching next year) deems it a IP worthy of a second try. The caveat I have about B5 is replacing any of its cast, most of whom were pretty amazing- it’s akin to trying to find someone to fill Leonard Nimoy’s shoes casting Spock, which has been troublesome indeed for Paramount and CBS in various later Treks- and of course that’s also a sticking point for any ‘new’ BSG.  Sam Esmail has actually tweeted to disgruntled fans that his project is not a reboot of the Moore series and possibly sounds like something in the BSG ‘universe’ in a similar way to HBO’s upcoming Watchmen series is a spin-off from both graphic novel and movie.

Its really not so much creatively cannibalising an old property but using its IP, and its mythology, as a shortcut- and of course being able to use its title as a recognisable marketing tool. Its still a fairly lousy way of making ostensibly ‘new’ content, but its something we are pretty used to, as Hollywood has been doing it for years, decades, in all manner of movies.  I would much prefer something genuinely new, something none of us have ever seen before, but as the streaming giants bring us ‘new’ shows like Westworld, Watchmen, Star Trek: Discovery, Lost in Space, Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Lord of the Rings etc, I guess I should just appreciate shows like The Expanse, Altered Carbon, The Man in the High Castle, Outlander, Carnival Row, The Boys, Umbrella Academy etc all the more. It clearly isn’t all about reboots and remakes and sequels.

God knows there is such a lot of content out there. Time is the one thing these streaming channels seem to be ignoring- just how much time do they think Joe Public has to actually watch all this stuff? I cannot keep up with it as it is, and the idea that I’m somehow expected to subscribe to more in order to watch more… well, surely everyone has a limit. Especially for those of us who would appreciate the time just to rewatch some of our old faves; I tried a few years ago to rewatch Moore’s BSG throughout and gave up somewhere in season two, and have other Blu-ray box-sets (Chuck, Fringe etc) that I would love to go back to but haven’t even tried.

It will be interesting to see how the various television platforms, new and old, fair in the coming years. I’m sure some will be lost along the way, and its pretty hard to see Disney+ floundering so I suppose it may be a case of the old networks and satellite/cable platforms going the way of the dodo. Along the way we will be getting so much to watch, including a new Battlestar Galactica, as long, I assume, that we will be willing to pay extra for it, and that’s the big question. Its not enough to read that new shows are coming- alongside the news of everything coming I have to keep an eye out for where its coming from, to know if I will even be able to watch it. I’ve ‘missed’ so many shows not because I’m not interested or haven’t the time- rather just because I either haven’t access to it or am not willing to pay for it. The cynic in me assumes that the various torrents will all be busy next year. Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

From the Earth to a HD Moon

e2mbluThe new blu-ray edition of HBOs classic From the Earth to the Moon arrived today, and eager to see how good/bad it looks I gave it a quick spin. Specifically, I loaded up the two episodes I’d watched on DVD late last year– episode five; Spider,  and episode six; Mare Tranquilitas. 

I’ll get the negative out the way (and while its a biggie for some, it is pretty much the only negative I can see), and as widely expected, it’s the aspect ratio. Originally filmed in the 1990s when most everyone had a 4.3 television, and a cathode ray tube one at that, the show was filmed for a 4.3 (square) ratio (although thankfully on 35mm film I believe, certainly not on video). So purists baying at losing visual information on the top and bottom of the screen (HBO having expanded the whole image to fill a 16.9 widescreen ratio panel in the majority of homes today) will no doubt carry on their baying. The ideal solution would have been to preserve that original ratio as did HD remasters/presentations of the original Star Trek series and shows like The Prisoner and Space: 1999, but HBO no doubt had their eyes on HD presentations on HBO and worldwide sales to foreign networks, where Joe Public likely switches off aghast at black bars on the left and right of the image on their shiny big televisions. Die-hard fans buying shows on disc or download are the minority audience for shows like this, unfortunately (physical sales very much the minority, it’s the world we are living in, and I feel lucky to have the show on disc at all).

This aspect ratio issue was also true of the last DVD edition of the show, but at least this edition has a saving grace, of a sorts, and that’s the newly-executed visual effects, something I really hadn’t expected when news of this HD edition broke.

Possibly one of the deciding factors against preserving a 4.3 ratio is that the majority of the visual effects (and all of the original CGI shots) have been redone, in full HD to replace the original SD effects, and these have been formatted specifically for the wider frame, so couldn’t have been placed in the 4.3 original. I suppose they could have retained those old original effects shots for the 4.3 presentation but that would have negated any benefit from remastering the original negatives of the live-action material as the effects would have stuck out like a sore thumb (we are fortunate to have the option to keep the original effects shots for the 1960s Star Trek Blu-rays – it’s likely we wouldn’t even have that option were they released today, I doubt the studios would make the effort).

I’ve only seen sections of the episodes but on the whole the new effects shots, while certainly not typical of a modern blockbuster movie due to a no doubt limited budget, look very fine indeed. Much better, anyway, than the original effects shots looked, and definitely succeeding in HBOS intentions of giving the show a fresh update and leaving it more like what viewers expect today. They definitely look more cinematic in composition thanks to them being designed for a  widescreen image. When I watched that DVD last year, the visual effects looked horribly dated, particularly on my unforgiving OLED panel- they looked horrible, almost unwatchable, so I commend HBO making that effort. I appreciate some would have liked better CGI but you can hardly expect a remaster of an old tv show to be afforded hugely expensive and time-consuming effects. As it is, what I have seen looks pretty fine and certainly makes the show easier to watch.

The rest of the image has been remastered very well indeed. Colour, contrast etc have been boosted and adjusted brilliantly, and there is plenty of grain for the film purists- likely a result of the image being slightly ‘blown up’ to fill the widescreen frame. Regards this, I’ll have to reserve judgement until I can compare scenes from my DVD but I suspect some care has been given to the framing, I don’t expect it is a simple hack job. A remastering featurette on disc three suggests that considerable care has been given. Skin textures, clothing textures, lighting and colour range are all improved, certainly to my eye (albeit I guess my panel is upgrading the HD image to pseudo-4K anyway). There definitely is a great deal of added detail on the screen, and it definitely looks much better than that horrible DVD did last year- it’s a pretty great HD picture overall; the only real downside I suppose is for those fans who prefer the original 4.3 ratio image. I suppose they can keep (and rewatch) the original DVD edition that was in 4.3 but really, the new remaster is leaps and bounds superior in image quality and they’d be missing out on something here.

So anyway, on the basis of this quick spin I’m very happy and looking forward to really putting HBO to the test with a full rewatch of the series.

Now, if only La La Land can have some really good news for me tomorrow…

 

The Umbrella Academy (2019)

umb2Okay, I admit it, I am beyond surprised. I won’t tempt fate by titling this post with ‘Season One’ because we have yet to see if Netflix will greenlight a second season, but surely it’s inevitable, because this series is great- it’s possibly the best comic book show on television I have seen, and lord knows there have been so many over recent years.

Much of my praise is because I am such a huge fan of Watchmen and the movie based on that graphic novel, and the fact that The Umbrella Academy is so close in tone and approach, putting messed-up superheroes in a real-world situation contesting with a looming apocalypse. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but as a Watchmen fan, its right up my street, and may actually have stolen some of the thunder from HBO’s own genuine Watchmen spin-off which is due later (?) this year (on the other hand, I really had my doubts that anyone could pull off something like Watchmen on television, but The Umbrella Academy patently proves otherwise so it’s actually gotten more excited for what Damon Lindelof and HBO might come up with).

The Umbrella Academy is based on a comic book from Dark Horse that I am utterly unfamiliar with so I cannot judge how faithful it is or how many liberties have been taken with the source material. I certainly would not suggest the series is perfect-  it’s a little overlong (eight episodes would have paced it better than the ten we are given) and while most of the cast are great there are a few weak spots, but on the whole its great, with some genuinely interesting characters, some surprising diversions and real scope (it’s an endless surprise to me just how cinematic HBO and Netflix stuff is). The allusions to Watchmen do keep popping up (one characters experiences in Vietnam, another suggestion about the JFK assassination, the apocalyptic denouement at season end, a character’s ability to shift through time offering him an almost Dr Manhattan perspective on things) but I suspect they are in the original comics? If not it’s clear that the shadow of the Watchmen movie looms large (in a good way) with  the series real-world setting (emphasis less on silly costumes and gadgets than on consequences of the powers), the clever use of source music, lots of moody rain, the realistic art direction- and yet at the same time there are sometimes hints of an irreverent, almost Pythonesque tone that is very unlike Watchmen’s very dour, serious approach to deconstructing its genre so I’d say the show maintains a fairly unique identity.

umb1Some of the twists can be seen a mile off but I don’t think it detracts from the show at all- there are some genuine surprises and some intriguing mysteries that are not explained which I hope augurs well for them being delved into in a second season. There are at least three plot points mentioned in the series that I had expected to be developed but weren’t – and indeed one major tease thrown in at the start of the final episode that really wound me up (in a good way).

On the whole this was a really promising series and I was both surprised by it and left excited for what may follow. Maybe the comic book future is not wholly in the hands of Marvel Studios despite the best efforts of DC to screw things up.

HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon > First Man

fe2m2It shouldn’t come as any surprise, really. In some respects, any comparison between a high-quality twelve-part mini series and a two hour-plus Hollywood movie is going to be rather unfair, if only because a twelve-hour series is going to have much wider scope to give the Space Program its proper due. In First Man‘s case, it is perhaps doubly unfair because, contrary to some of the marketing, in many ways the Space Program and moon landing are almost incidental to the main focus of that movie.

Having watched, and enjoyed  First Man (albeit with some reservations that I may come to later in another post), I went home and was unable to resist finding out my DVD of HBO’s glorious mini-series from 1998 (has it been so long?). I cued up my favourite episode, the wonderful ‘Spider’ (episode 5) and its subsequent episode ‘Mare Tranquilitatis’ which covers much of what First Man does. What a fantastic two hours it was- First Man paled by comparison, frankly.

The music. The cast. The sheer joy. Mind, it was a sobering experience- a 55″ OLED does no favours for DVD. The show looks quite utterly horrible. Here starts the campaign to get somebody at HBO to remaster the series for a HD release on Blu-ray (and okay the campaign probably ends here too, but I can dream). Some of the model-work holds up (just) but the CGI effects have aged as badly as a Babylon 5 episode, and could do with a fresh rework. It would be a shame to let the rest of the series suffer for this poor image quality and dated effects, because it could likely hold the series back from gaining a new appreciative audience. Strangely overlooked over the years since it first aired (its a series largely lost under the shadow of HBOs bigger hits like The Sopranos, Band of Brothers etc)  I still think it is a remarkable project and a largely definitive account of the Apollo program. Maybe HBO plan to so something with the show next year, as a freshly remastered broadcast to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing would seem a marketing man’s daydream.