Monday, July 21, 2008

Teen Titans: The Complete Fifth Season

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

I approached Season Five of Teen Titans as an informed novice. I have watched Season One of the show. I'm familiar with the core group of Titans from the show - Robin, Beast Boy, Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. That first season was an extended story line about essentially Robin's greatest foe, Slade. Most of the episodes revolved around Robin and his need to face this powerful enemy. The other characters were established with their powers and teenage quirks. There was not the usual exploration of origins, nor was there mention of their "secret identities." Each character is essentially always in super-hero mode.

Four seasons later, I was able to drop right in with the characters. Little had changed from the established traits put forth in the first season. What had changed was the level of storytelling. Season One's story arc concentrated on a very generic "evil" villain for the "mythology" episodes and even more generic villains for the single story episodes. Robin's conflict with Slade was more teen angst at wanting to beat a powerful foe than it was battling more personal demons.

Season Five starts with a two-part episode, "Homecoming." In a flashback, we are introduced to two classic DC Comics teams. Our hero team for the flashback is The Doom Patrol. This team was a huge favorite of mine in the DC Universe. The Doom Patrol here is Beast Boy's original team before joining the Teen Titans. There's a classic collection of members here - Steve, Rita, Robot Man, and even the mummy-encased Negative Man. This version of Doom Patrol is battling another classic group of DC bad guys, The Brotherhood Of Evil. The Brotherhood are led by The Brain, a clever villain who looks like a Dalek from Dr. Who and actually sounds like one too! The Brain's other co-leader in the Brotherhood is the super-strong ape, Monsieur Mallah, with a high IQ and the ability to speak.

There is little actual plot development through the first two episodes (in fact, that will become a pattern throughout the season). What we're seeing is essentially an older version of the Titans. Steve is a much older version of Robin as leader. He's very serious. Robot Man is an older version of Cyborg. We are able to draw some conclusions by comparing the older team to the younger team. We can see what the Titans "could" become.

Back in current time, the Brotherhood Of Evil have made themselves known again, trying to acquire something generically called "The Quantum Generator." Faced with saving the world and more importantly, his old team, Beast Boy chooses to head off to fight the Brotherhood. It is obvious by the end of episode two that this is distinctly Beast Boy's story. He sees this as a time to grow up, to leave his troubled past with the Doom Patrol behind, and to help create a better, smarter team.

Once this initial plot is set-up, many of the following episodes fall into a similar category. In "Trust" we meet other teenage heroes - Wildebeast and Hotspot. They win over the Titans' trust and are given Titan Communicators as a way to keep in touch. In "Snowblind", it's Red Star who becomes an honorary Titan. In "Kole", it's the great character Gnaark that receives a communicator. These episodes feel like single-issue comics. The stories are rather simple and the eventual endings are telegraphed. Importantly, the writers made a choice to move the series out past the usual home of the Titans. The team travels the globe meeting these characters. It allows for creativity of set design (I love the Journey To The Center Of The Earth feel to "Kole") but too much time is spent setting up these new characters.

One unique quality to the show is its two theme songs. The US version typically denotes a serious story in continuity. If the Japanese lyric version is played, it means a less serious, usually stand-alone episode. This season has three and they're the stand-out episodes of the season. "For Real" introduces us to Titans East who take over for the Titans when they're out of town meeting other heroes. The group is fun and lends a new take to the "subbing in for the heroes" story. They upset the villain, Control Freak, by not knowing him (But "I'm a recurring villain!") and they're upset when they're mistaken for the original Titans and nobody knows them. "Revved Up" is essentially a set-up for one episode-long car chase.

The best episode of the season is "Hide and Seek." This Japanese-lyric show puts together a fun plot, great design, and makes a point to come back to the ongoing story. The serious character, Raven, is assigned the protection of some very young super-heroes (some Tiny Titans, if you will). The evil Mallah puts the kids at serious risk, turning this funny episode into a bit of a drama. They are saved by a huge "invisible" friend of one of the girls. The "invisible" friend turns out to be Bobby, a really big, strong teddy bear that looks like he was designed for a Miyazaki film. Plus, we have more honorary Titans added at the end of the episode to tie it back into the arc for the season.

The season ends with the two-part story - "Calling All Titans" and "Titans Together." In the first episode, the team is finally done on their journey and headed back home. But Robin needs to split up the team to each make one more delivery of Titan Communicators. Once the Titans are split up, the Brotherhood Of Evil starts their all-out attack. By the end of the episode, all the world is in chaos and the Brain feels that by capturing Robin he has captured the King in this game of chess.

"Titans Together" is the end of the storyline started in the initial episode. Here, Beast Boy grows up and becomes a leader. He becomes the hero that he thought he could be. The episode doesn't dwell on his transformation. Instead it gets bogged down by solving all the fights that were being lost in the previous episode. And in finding a way to defeat the Brotherhood Of Evil. This would have been a wonderful point to revisit Beast Boy's conflict with the Doom Patrol and bring closure to his "first family."

Oddly, for a canceled series, the actual last episode is called "Things Change." As an epilogue to the previous episodes, this one just doesn't fit. The team has arrived back home to find their city changed. The video store and pizza place and shops are closed down. A character from earlier in the series, Terra, is brought back but she doesn't remember Beast Boy who had a crush on her. Little is solved and the episode ends with the return of Slade. After such a solid ending with the previous two episodes, it seems odd to hint at further stories (whether they're coming direct to DVD or not in the future). I would've liked to see a true "change." That this season's episodes have caused our Titans to grow. To see their future. To become less a collection of teenagers and more of a family from their experiences.

The show is aimed at a younger audience than say The Batman which ran concurrently with this show. The biggest difference between the two is the level of plot development. Almost always, this series sets up the plot and then fills the time with long, extended fights. That leaves little time for introspection. That doesn't detract from the entertainment of the series, it just leaves you feeling that there could be so much more. I look forward to possible movies in the future for this group. Things do change and I'd like to follow this team into their next adventures.

The DVD includes limited special features - including a short feature "The Teen Titans: Friends and Foes" and some trailers.


Written by Hombre Divertido

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) Is Barely Worth The Trip

If you have ninety-three minutes to kill, and some money for popcorn and a soda, you could find a lot worse at the theatre this summer. Yes, the 1959 version of Jules Verne’s classic tale is a far superior film, but the story is completely different here, and thus squelches specific comparisons. Yes, the plot lacks depth and the quick wit normally associated with a summer action film, the situations are preposterous, and the 3-D effects are actually somewhat disappointing. With all that said, this film is still worth seeing.

New Line Cinema and Walden Media have created a fun summer movie for the whole family reminiscent of the classic Disney films of the sixties. The pacing is smooth, the soundtrack is excellent, and though Brendan Frasier lacks the energy he throws in to the Mummy films, he still manages to make it enjoyable to watch him deal with the situations. Luckily the supporting cast adds the energy Mr. Frasier is lacking. Josh Hutcherson channels a young Michael J. Fox, and Anita Briem displays a screen presence that we will hopefully see much more of.

Frasier plays scientist Trevor Anderson who is saddled with his nephew Sean (Hutcherson) for two weeks. When signs point to volcanic activity being identical to those that lead to the disappearance of Trevor’s fellow scientist brother and Sean’s dad, they head off to Iceland. After hiring Hannah (Briem) as their guide they inadvertently trek downward to the center of the earth.

Writers Michael D. Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin have created more of a sequel to the 1959 film, that could have used a more intricate telling and certainly more humor, but director Eric Brevig does well with what he has, and certainly provides enough of the standard and gratuitous 3-D effects.

Recommendation: Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) is an amusement park rollercoaster that is not worth a long wait. It is fun for a few minutes but you will immediately be ready for whatever else the park has to offer.

You must leave your brain in the car for this, and it certainly longs to be part of a double feature, but the performances and simplicity of the story still manage to draw you in. Many theatres are not showing this in 3-D, and that would be the straw that would break the back of the oversized flying fang-toothed fish that attack our heroes, and make this journey not worth taking.

Dallas: The Complete Ninth Season

Written by Senora Bicho

The ninth season of Dallas is one of the most controversial in soap opera history. Even if you never watched the show, you more than likely have heard about one of television’s most infamous cliffhangers, and I don't mean “Who shot J.R.?”

Dallas is the story of the Ewing family and all of those who are lucky or unlucky enough to come into contact with them. Ellie Ewing (Barbara Bel Geddes) is the matriarch and her sons John Ross “J.R.” Jr. (Larry Hagman) and Bobby (Patrick Duffy) managed their oil empire. J.R. and Bobby were always battling with J.R. being the ruthless businessman who only cared about success at the expense of everyone else’s failures.

Season Nine starts with the Ewing family mourning the death of Bobby who, after reuniting with his ex-wife Pamela (Victoria Principal), was run down at the end of season eight. There is instant scheming to take over Bobby’s position at Ewing Oil that carries on for several episodes, and a rival oil company looks to take over the business.

In addition to the aftermath of Bobby’s death, there are other interesting storylines throughout the season. J.R. becomes the target by a mysterious and beautiful femme fatale and an excursion to Colombia results in a kidnapping. Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) is J.R.’s wife and their relationship is one heck of a rollercoaster ride. In addition to battling J.R., she battles a serious drinking problem. Pam finds a new romance and weds. Jenna (Priscilla Beaulieu Presley) who had an on-and-off relationship with Bobby tries to move on with a new beau. Ray and Donna Krebbs (played by Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard) have to make a decision about their unborn baby and suffer a tragedy.

While this season involves lots of drama, scheming, and mayhem, in the end what happens to the characters really doesn’t matter. Why? Because it was all a dream. In the last episode of the season Pam wakes up and finds Bobby in the shower, which startled all of its viewers. The following season opener revealed Pam had been having a bad dream.

In addition to the 31 complete episodes, there is also one special feature “Seasons of Change.” This featurette discusses the departure and return of Bel Geddes, the changes that were needed in order to compete with Dynasty, and the reason behind making the season a dream. The show had lost its central conflict with the loss of the good brother Bobby battling the bad J.R., so they needed a way to bring him back after killing him.

Even though this season’s storylines aren’t part of the series’ continuity, the episodes are still entertaining and worth watching if you are a soap fan. J.R. is fun to watch and can always be counted on for good one-liners. Since soap operas are always so over the top and mostly ridiculous, it all being a dream doesn’t make this season any worse than other shows. It can just be viewed as a standalone season and enjoyed for what it is.