Merry Hogswatch (Mania.com)

By:Matt Kamen
Date: Friday, December 22, 2006

With your holiday of choosing mere days away, if not already begun, I'd just like to take a brief moment to thank you all for reading and wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Season's Greetings all around!

Hogswatching

 

After 20 years and roughly three-dozen books, Terry Pratchett's Discworld finally leapt to a visual medium with this weekend's adaptation of The Hogfather, seen on satellite channel Sky One. Hogfather was a particularly apt choice for a mainstream viewers' first exposure to the Discworld as the similarities between Hogswatch and Christmas grounded the offbeat nature of Pratchett's world and makes for a great Christmas special, wherein The Hogfather (read: Santa) is kidnapped and Death must take his place. Meanwhile, his granddaughter Susan tries to uncover what exactly has happened to the missing porcine-like one.  

Pratchett, who is notoriously possessive of his works, going so far as to buy back the rights to any properties that have languished in development hell, had a keen hand in the production of the series, overseeing the script and cast choices. As such, the adaptation was remarkably close to his original novel, with only a few concessions made to explain pieces of back-story to newcomers. That would be a bad thing for most cases of a long running franchise being converted to film but it's testament to the quality of Hogfather that it still felt accessible through its large cast of characters. Devotees of the novels may be disappointed that some fringe characters are omitted for time and relevance's sakes but the feel and spirit of the source material is more than present. 

To get the negatives out of the way, I felt the special would have flowed better if it had been screened in one sitting instead of two. The first part dragged a little as it introduced the myriad characters and set events in motion, while the resolution on part two felt a little rushed. Yes, it would have been a butt-numbing four hours but the extended cuts of Lord of the Rings haven't exactly suffered. Secondly, the prosthetic for Death could have been better – in some scenes it looked little better than papier mache. Finally, some of the CGI was a bit jarring – either poorly rendered models or bad composition. That's about it; I had very few qualms with Hogfather, especially factoring in the 'made for TV' budgetary restrictions. In particular, the Tooth Fairy's castle was fantastically well realised. 

The highlights of the cast were far and away the performances of Michelle Dockery and Marc Warren as Susan, Death's granddaughter, and the assassin Teatime, respectively. Dockery effortlessly conveyed the prim, sensible and forthright nature of Susan, while Warren's portrayal of Teatime is startlingly creepy. The rest of the cast also turned in solid showings, not unexpected from the likes of David Jason, David Warner and Tony Robinson though. 

While it's early days, the successful ratings – 2.48m viewers according to Outpost Gallifrey – will hopefully lead to further Discworld novels moving to the screen. Until then, Hogfather is repeated on Sky One on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and the DVDs are due at Easter time.

Well Disguised

 

I'm really stretching this as being a UK 'event', since it's already all over the internet, but it is being hosted on the UK branch of Yahoo… Here is the first full trailer for Michael Bay's Bionicle movie. Oops, I mean Transformers. They really must be in disguise, then. Do I sound bitter?

Extended DVD Picks for 26/12/2006

 

Of the 247 new DVDs out on Boxing Day, around 100 are keep fit, diet or exercise guides. These video companies sure know their target audience, post-holiday lunch… Wading through what's left leaves us with these shiny offerings. 

Snakes on a Plane 

How can anyone not love this movie? The epitome of brain candy, this B-movie throwback starring Samuel L. Jackson at his badass best demands nothing more from its audience than enough suspension of disbelief to buy into the premise of a serpentine invasion of an LA-bound night flight. Fast paced and tongue in cheek, with knowingly clichéd characters and laughable dialogue – it's refreshing to see a movie that does exactly what it says in the title. DVD extras are festively bountiful, including audio commentary with cast and crew, deleted scenes with optional commentary, bloopers, two documentaries, music videos and trailers.

Quantum Leap Season Five

 

A sad farewell to one of the finest science fiction shows to grace television screens, one carried by the overall strength of its writing and excellent performances from it's tiny regular cast of Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell. This boxed set contains all 22 episodes of season five but is decidedly lacking on extras but makes up for that with a comparatively low retail price of £27.99. While network mandate necessitated more encounters with real-world historical figures for their name value, there are still some outstanding episodes here. A fitting farewell to Sam and Al.

Torchwood: Series 1, Part 1

 

Given that the Doctor Who Christmas Special will have aired the day before this is released, this collection of the first 5 episodes of Who's spin-off series hits shelves at just the right time to attract the six viewers left who've not caught any of the show's near daily screenings. While the early episodes were comparatively weak, childishly revelling in the post-watershed timeslot and the ability to use bad language and sex with near-impunity, the series has improved as it has progressed and could warrant a second glance at its early episodes.

Naruto Unleashed: Season 1, Box 2

 

The trials of trainee ninja Naruto Uzumaki continue with Manga Entertainment's second batch of 13 episodes, bringing the series to the halfway point of its first year and the popular Chuunin Exam story arc. On-disc extras are light, merely clean opening and ending animation but a booklet of storyboard artwork is included, as with the first volume.

Transformers Victory: Complete Series

 

To spin a cliché, these are definitely not your father's Transformers. After the laughably short 'season 4' of the US Transformers cartoon of the '80s (a three parter introducing the Headmaster characters), the Japanese series continued for three more seasons; Headmasters (ignoring the American episodes), Masterforce and finally Victory. Featuring almost entirely Japanese original Transformers, the cast will be unrecognisable to all but the most fervent of Transformers fans but if you disregard the franchise name, this is still a great value boxed set of an enjoyable mecha anime series. 

That’s it for this week. Thoughts? Comments? Hatemail? Contact me at mattkamen@gmail.com