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The Shelf: ENDER’S GAME, SHERLOCK, DOCTOR WHO

Shelf-wise this week, we’ve got a sci-fi book’s long-awaited screen adaptation, a literary character’s long-awaited third season, a black & white show’s long-awaited half-animated DVD release, and a bunch of other bits, as well as bobs. Fewer bobs than bits, though, it has to be said. Maybe like 70% bit, 20% bob, and 10% what-have-you. That’s what a good Shelf is made of.

Ender’s Game

The seminal science fiction novel for young adults was in the pipeline for a cinematic adaptation pretty much since it was first out, nearly 30 years ago. It finally went into production in 2011 under the direction of Gavin Hood. In the interim, the novel’s author, Orson Scott Card, came out with some very strong statements about some beliefs he had, from which the film’s producers were quick to distance themselves. The film boasted a very strong cast of veteran and fresh actors alike, namely Harrison Ford, Sir Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, and Asa Butterfield as the titular whiz kid, but it didn’t seem to translate to box office gold the way everyone probably hoped.

Nerdist’s Lauren Herstick had this to say about the movie when it was released in November:

Ender’s Game, based on Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel of the same name, no doubt has an army of devout fans amassed from the legions of readers who saw themselves in Ender Wiggin when they picked up the chapter book in middle school. But whether they’ll be satisfied with Writer/Director Gavin Hood’s interpretation of the beloved sci-fi military parable is less than certain.

Set in a not-so-distant future, the people of a verdant earth ready themselves for an inevitable second War of the Worlds against the alien insect Formics. Since the devastating first attack years ago, humans have been hand-selecting children to be placed in Battle School, where the leadership is on the lookout for the next great military mind. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) thinks he’s found just that in preternaturally intuitive Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a lanky pre-teen outsider who rapidly grows into his apparent military prowess. Only Major Anderson (the always heartbreaking Viola Davis) wonders what all this battle hardening might do to the kid in the end.

Ender’s Game vacillates between grand, sweeping space vistas and tight, penetrating close ups, mostly on Butterfield’s steely gaze. If you’re into meticulously rendered computer generated space, well then, a good 60% of Ender’s Game is for you. And if you’re by chance also into moral grey areas concerning the mental manipulation of children in war, then a minute percentage of screen time will work for you as well.

If you’d like to read Lauren’s full review, click here.

Sherlock Series 3

It seems like it just ended and it’s already here on Blu-ray! That’s pretty amazing. This season is certainly atypical, given how the show has been in its first six feature-length episodes, but it ended up being the most focused and largely the most rewarding to attentive viewers. Unlike the previous two series, in 2010 and 2012 respectively, this year had a definite through-line and, even though the episodes themselves span several months, they all continue character relationships, themes, and references. It’s more of a mystery itself than it is a show about mysteries.

The main focus of this season is, of course, the introduction of Mary Morstan, the woman who John Watson is dating, engaged to, married to, and impregnates, and how she fits into the overall Sherlock and Watson dynamic. It turns out, she fits in quite well! It helps that Mary is played by Amanda Abbington, who is Martin Freeman’s real life domestic partner, and therefore they have a very relaxed but palpable chemistry. And the best part about her in this is that she likes Sherlock right away, even though he’s a jerk who didn’t tell his best friend that he’d faked his death for two years. That’s what we like to call a “dick move.”

Series 2′s big draw was that it adapted three of Conan Doyle’s most famous and beloved Sherlock Holmes stories (A Scandal in Bohemia, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Final Problem), and were variations on those quite well-established mysteries; With this season, writers Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Steve Thompson used a hodgepodge of pieces from different, smaller mysteries to make the episodes about the characters instead of the literature, which is a valid way to do it. It’s different at first, but ultimately it’s a really smart way to handle the type of series they’ve created and not ignore the way fans have taken to the various characters who’ve become so indelible. Excellent work, I say.

The Blu-ray set has about 30 minutes of making-of material, which is really fun, and it features interviews with just about all of the cast and both Moffat and Gatiss. It doesn’t have commentaries as the first two sets did, which is my only complaint, but otherwise it’s a really excellent addition to your Sherlock collection.

If you’d like to read my in-depth, spoilery reviews of all three episodes you can do so here: “The Empty Hearse,” “The Sign of Three,” “His Last Vow.”

Doctor Who: “The Moonbase”

Nobody fought the Cybermen more often than the Second Doctor. In Patrick Troughton’s three seasons, he faced the perpetual upgraders four times, and he was “created” at the end of their first appearance, “The Tenth Planet,” when Hartnell’s body wore a bit thin. Here in “The Moonbase,” we get to see their second time darkening hallways and their first battle with the Second Doctor. The story sees the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and brand new addition Jamie McCrimmon land on the moon. With a base.

Base-under-siege stories became a staple of Patrick Troughton’s time in the TARDIS, but as this was only his fourth story, this paradigm hadn’t yet been established, which it would do a lot the following year. What made this story interesting then, and makes it engaging now, is that the Cybermen are already inside the base and the people just don’t know it. They’re infecting people with their disease and doing what they like in the corridors but being silent enough not to be noticed, until they are, and then it’s terrifying. The base here isn’t so much under siege as it is already taken.

Written by Cybermen creator Kit Pedler and directed by Morris Barry, who’d go on to direct the much-loved “Tomb of the Cybermen,” “The Moonbase” has a lot of really good and interesting elements and some excellent and creepy visuals. It also, however, has a lot of downtime and a lot of talking in the same room, which was a recurring issue with a lot of Troughton stories. Pedler wasn’t keen on changing his script to reflect the new companion of Jamie, an 18th Century Scotsman, and so has the poor kilt-wearer lying in a state of hysteria for most of the story, crying out about the “phantom piper” which haunts his family, but really it’s just the Cybermen.

Episodes 1 and 3 of “The Moonbase” are missing from the archives, and so the main feature of this DVD is that both episodes have been animated in a style similar to what the episodes probably looked like in 1967. More or less. It’s always lovely to see moving episodes as opposed to just listening to the off-air audio accompanied by telesnaps. And since the range has all but wound down, any new classic Doctor Who, and especially Patrick Troughton, is more than welcome.

ALSO AVAILABLE

The Jungle Book – Disney’s animated classic, the final to feature input from Walt himself, gets a big nice Blu-ray release. Now you can look for the bare necessities in HD.

All Is Lost – Robert Redford nearly received an Oscar nomination for his performance in this largely-silent film about survival.

The Counselor – Ridley Scott directing a Cormac McCarthy script starring Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, and Penelope Cruz should have been a grand slam. But, it wasn’t. At all. Read my full review here.

Festival Express – The excellent 2003 documentary about the 1970 train tour of musical acts The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Band, and others. The Blu-ray features a making-of and lots of extra performances. It’s pretty great, you guys.

The Americans Season 1 – FX’s cold war spy show about KGB operatives posing as the typical American family.

Newhart: Season Two – The second year of Dr. Bob Hartley’s very vivid dream about owning and running a B&B in the mountains. Darryls are involved.

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1 comment

  • Ooo I feel that you deserve a prize of some kind as you are the first pesorn to comment over since since I transferred all my entries over to my Blog. Thank you!I’m glad it’s not just me that dislikes Phantom. How on earth did it do so well in the West End? Emperor’s New Clothes I suppose.