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Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 5 [DVD] [1998]
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 5 [DVD] [1998]
Dvd ~ Sarah Michelle Gellar
Offered by NO_LIMITS
Price: 19.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unlike anything that came before, 25 Aug 2005
Season 5 of BtVS is different from any of the show's earlier offerings. It's much darker in tone than previous seasons: for the first time, we get the sense that there are some evils that not even a Slayer can fight. This is the season in which Buffy's confidence and moral security are stripped away. From the beginning of the season, she begins to explore the consequences of being a Slayer, the fear that the gap between Slayer and killer is not as great as she once thought. As the people closest to her are also taken away, her sense of isolation and confusion increases. Asked at the end of season 2 what she had left when everything was stripped away from her, Buffy replied: "me". In season 5, she is no longer sure that it's enough.
The season actually doesn't start especially well. 'Buffy vs Dracula' is a disappointment. The writers tried to import Dracula directly from Bram Stoker's novel, but the show has taken its vampires in different directions and he simply doesn't fit. Dracula is the aristocratic predator who visits beautiful maidens in their rooms at night; Buffy, however, slept with a vampire three seasons ago, so the sexual corruption motif really doesn't work here.
The season doesn't hit it's stride until 'Out of My Mind', and things don't get really good until 'The Body'. This is probably Sarah Michelle Gellar's best performance and features some exceptional camerawork (Joss Whedon's commentary is worth listening to). This is the first time that the show deals with the death of a major character, and it's handled superbly.
The key story arc, of course, concerns Glory and the search for the Key, disguised as Buffy's younger sister Dawn. This introduces two new actresses: Clare Kramer, good on the spoiled brat side of Glory but somewhat limited, and Michelle Trachtenberg, very strong as Dawn. Special mention too goes to Troy Blendell, who gives one of the best comic performances of the series as Jinx. I was also impressed by Amber Benson's performance in the last three episodes: we haven't seen the best of this good actress until now.
The main story arc is strong: Buffy is presented with a seemingly unbeatable enemy who wants nothing more than to kill Dawn. This yields some good, sustained drama and sharp writing. By the end of 'Spiral', Buffy has been driven to the point of absolute despair. We haven't seen this before, and it's makes for compulsive viewing. By the penultimate episode, season 5 is up to the best standards of BtVS.
Then we come to 'The Gift'. In my humble opinion, this is not only the best episode of BtVS, but the best episode of anything that I've ever seen. The writing and performances are extraordinary. The conversation between Giles and Buffy in the training room is incredibly moving, as is a brief moment between Buffy and Spike at the Summers' house. Like all the best drama, the episode can make you laugh when you least expect it: see Spike's take on the 'Band of Brothers' speech, for example. I won't give away the ending, except to say that it is the most powerful piece of television I've ever seen.
In some ways, I wish that BtVS hadn't returned for season 6. Not because it was out of ideas - this was far from the case - but simply because 'The Gift' was perfect. The show never quite hit these heights again (I'm not sure that many shows have hit them at all). This would have been the ideal finale and, although there were still a lot of good things to come, part of me still wishes that it had been.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 2 [DVD] [1998]
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 2 [DVD] [1998]
Dvd ~ Sarah Michelle Gellar
Offered by WorldCinema
Price: 19.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good show becomes great, 1 Aug 2005
The first season of BtVS did what first seasons have to do: it introduced characters, established the fantasy world and set the tone of the show. The second season took these foundations and produced one of the best story arcs of the series. Characters were given room to develop and it became less necessary to give each episode a "happy ending". This season has a sense of tragedy that was absent from most of season 1.
There are, of course, some episodes that still follow the standard format of the first season. 'Some Assembly Required', 'Inca Mummy Girl' and 'Reptile Boy' are all good, entertaining romps, but are essentially disposable and contribute little to the story arc. There is also some terrific comedy, especially in 'Halloween' and 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered'. It is, however, the willingness to tackle tougher questions that elevates this season from the good to the great. In 'Lie to Me', we see the once-clear certainties of right and wrong broken down. The Buffy-Angel relationship walks a tightrope between happiness and tragedy that creates much of the season's drama and sets up a classic finale.
The cast are generally terrific, though I personally find David Boreanaz as Angel a little limited. This season introduced two of the series' best actors: James Marsters as Spike (originally intended as a disposable villain until Joss Whedon decided to give him a permanent role in season 4) and Seth Green as Oz. The other regulars show that they can combine comedy and pathos, often within the same scene.
BtVS season 2 really is fantastic television. It is, at times, funny ('Halloween'), disturbing ('Lie to Me'), tragic ('Passion') and genuinely frightening ('I Only Have Eyes For You'). The show is intelligent, literate and, crucially for a series like this, able to laugh at itself without ever descending into farce. It is well-served by the transfer to DVD: Joss Whedon's commetaries are always worth a listen. This season is a great addition to any collection.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 1 [DVD] [1998]
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 1 [DVD] [1998]
Dvd ~ Sarah Michelle Gellar
Offered by WorldCinema
Price: 19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where it all began..., 20 July 2005
In the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer we see a show with plenty of original ideas that hasn't yet really hit its stride. The season explores creator Joss Whedon's original premise for the series: the blonde girl who is usually the helpless victim in horror movies is given the power to fight back. Unlike in later seasons, however, these episodes lack a linking story. The central villain, the Master, is kept largely in the background between the first two episodes and the last (with the exception of 'Never Kill a Boy on the First Date'), and the rest of the season is made up of stand-alone episodes.
Many of the strengths of the series can be seen in the first season. The dialogue is sharp and the acting is generally strong. The show intelligently modernises some of the conventions of the Gothic genre: possession, invisibility, nightmares coming to life, etc. Here, however, they are used to tackle 1990s issues including the dangers of internet chatrooms, domineering parents and child abuse. This latter theme is central to the season. The show is about schoolchildren forced to deal with dangers caused not only by the supernatural but also by the everyday world around them (see 'Out of Mind, Out of Sight' and 'Nightmares', for example). Buffy is both the protector of the innocent and an innocent in need of protection, a tension that creates much of the show's dramatic effect.
The season is visually impressive. From season 2 onwards, the graveyard scenes were shot in a studio carpark, but here they are filmed on location and are effective enough to make the move to a set seem like a mistake. The special effects aren't bad, though do seem dated: at this time, vampires turning to dust was still the big dramatic effect.
There are weaknesses in the season. The friendship between Buffy, Willow and Xander is never developed: they meet in the first episode and by episode 3 are lifelong friends. Compare this with the later introduction of characters such as Oz, Anya and Tara and we can see the ways in which the writing matured as the season progressed. The action sequences seem a little tame, particularly in the first two episodes; again, this improved in later seasons.
Despite its faults, however, this season comes alive in the final episode, 'Prophecy Girl'. This is beautifully acted and gives a clear glimpse of what the show would become. It captures the reality of death in a way that few episodes would: only 'Passion' and 'The Body' (seasons 2 and 5 respectively) really match it. Alyson Hannigan conveys the real horror of murder, while SMG hits the perfect balance between acceptance of fate and the struggle to resist it.
BtVS season 1 is a good start to a great series. It's a good introduction to the characters and to the themes of the show and sets things up nicely for the better seasons that followed.

The Dark Elf Trilogy: "Homeland", "Exile", "Sojourn" (Forgotten Realms)
The Dark Elf Trilogy: "Homeland", "Exile", "Sojourn" (Forgotten Realms)
by R. A. Salvatore
Edition: Paperback

23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not perfect, but still very good, 10 Aug 2004
I read the Icewind Dale and Dark Elf trilogies back in the early 90s and bought the collected editions of both series because my well-thumbed originals are rapidly falling apart. They are among the best of AD&D-based fiction and thoroughly deserve these re-releases.
Although the Icewind Dale trilogy was written first, the Dark Elf series is the place to start. It tells the story of Drizzt Do'Urden's birth and early life in the Drow city of Menzoberranzan, his escape from the city and journey to the surface and, finally, his first meeting with the main characters of the Icewind Dale trilogy. The story is gripping and fast-moving, with some though-provoking reflections upon identity and morality alongside the action.
That said, the book is far from perfect. Salvatore is a fine storyteller but not a great writer. Too many of his characters descend into cliche: every individual befriended by Drizzt has some inner pain that the Drow must help them to face; every surviving enemy is left with 'no desire to face that one again'. Realism is also sadly lacking: are we really supposed to believe that Drizzt can spend weeks almost freezing to death in a cave and emerge with his fitness and fighting skills unaffected?
Sadly, this collected edition is also let down by some poor editing. In the original books, for instance, the Drow goddess was Lloth - this has been corrected to Llolth in this version, presumably to standardise it with other Forgotten Realms works. Fair enough, except that we are now left with a passage explaining that Llolth is a regional variation of Llolth. This is simply shoddy, and these books deserved better.
Despite its faults, this book is an essential purchase for fans of sword & sorcery fantasy. Salvatore is not quite in the league of Weis and Hickman, but the Dark Elf and Icewind Dale trilogies would always be my choices for books to read after the Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends. Drizzt is one of the most popular characters in the AD&D novels with good reason, and these books should be part of any collection.

Annotated Legends (Dragonlance: Legends)
Annotated Legends (Dragonlance: Legends)
by Margaret Weis
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prequel and sequel rolled into one, 1 Aug 2004
The classic dilemna for any writer is how to follow a masterpiece. After the 'Chronicles', Weis and Hickman could probably have got away with recycling the same material for a few years until the readership finally lost interest. Thankfully, they didn't. 'Legends' is what a good sequel should be: it takes established characters and themes and does something new and original with them.
In fact, 'Legends' is really both sequel and prequel to 'Chronicles'. It focuses on a smaller group of characters than the first trilogy (Caramon, Raistlin and Tas) and spends a lot of time establishing the "backstory" - the history of Krynn that was hinted at but never fully explained in 'Chronicles'. If the theme of the first trilogy was the balance between good and evil, in this one it is the difference between destructive and ennobling love. For all the intricate plot, the real story is that of the relationship between the twins, Caramon and Raistlin.
As with the annotated 'Chronicles', this edition is excellent - better, in fact, as it contains more bonus artwork than the first book. The annotations often repay reading, although for the sake of continuity I often tended to skip them while reading the story and come back to them later. Once again, though, they contain plot spoilers - be warned if you are reading 'Legends' for the first time.
I can't recommend this trilogy highly enough. It helps to read the 'Chronicles' first, but both of these books are essential reading for fans of sword and sorcery fiction.

The Earthsea Quartet: "A Wizard Of Earthsea"; "The Tombs of Atuan"; "The Farthest Shore"; "Tehanu" (Puffin Books)
The Earthsea Quartet: "A Wizard Of Earthsea"; "The Tombs of Atuan"; "The Farthest Shore"; "Tehanu" (Puffin Books)
by Ursula Le Guin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.69

126 of 132 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic trilogy that didn't need a fourth book, 14 Jun 2004
'The Earthsea Quartet' is really an original trilogy from the early 1970s with a sequal, 'Tehanu', published in 1990. Unfortunately, Le Guin's philosophical interests had shifted quite dramatically in the meantime, and the fourth book doesn't sit too well alongside the others.
The world of the original trilogy is based around the relationship between language and reality (anyone with an interest in literary theory will soon see why Fredric Jameson became interested in Le Guin's work). Everything and everyone has a true name, hidden from all but the most trusted because the possession of the individual's name brings power over them. The language of true names is that of creation and is the source of magical power.
The first novel, 'A Wizard of Earthsea', is a satisfying adventure that focuses upon the youthful career of Ged, the future Archmage of Earthsea. It's a fairly conventional doppleganger story in the tradition of 'Faust' and 'Jekyll & Hyde', though it has enough battles, magic and dragons to keep the story moving along.
The trilogy really takes off in 'The Tombs of Atuan'. Much darker than the first book, this is an adventure of Ged's adult life seen through the eyes of Arha, a young priestess of dark powers. The philosophy starts to become more complex here as Le Guin explores the relationship between faith and power.
'The Farthest Shore' is, for me, the high point of the series. Magic is disappearing from Earthsea and Ged, now Archmage, must find out why. The story explores the longing for immortality and the need for death in order to bring meaning to life. There is still plenty of action, but this is Le Guin at her thought-provoking best.
'Tehanu', unfortunately, abandons most of the earlier themes as Le Guin moves into a story of feminist resistance against patriarchy. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but here it feels imposed upon a world that wasn't built to take that agenda. These issues of female oppression have not been flagged up in previous books and seem to appear from nowhere in the fourth. Characterisation is also a problem: I had difficulty in seeing consistency with the Ged and Tenar of the earlier novels. 'Tehanu' is not a bad novel by any means, but it should really be treated as a stand-alone text rather than as the fourth part of a quartet.
That aside, however, this volume is worth buying for the original trilogy, which remains a high point of fantasy writing.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 7, 2013 11:30 AM BST

Nosferatu (1922) - Two-disc set [DVD]
Nosferatu (1922) - Two-disc set [DVD]
Dvd ~ Max Schreck
Offered by Just4-U-Media
Price: 14.69

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vampires should be seen and not heard, 20 May 2004
Murnau's film is a fairly free adaptation of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula', made without the consent of the Stoker estate and almost lost as a result of the legal action that followed. Fortunately a few prints survived, allowing 'Nosferatu' to be released in several VHS editions and finally on a 2-disc DVD.
Murnau creates a Gothic landscape that is as much a part of the film's horror as any of the events. Nature itself becomes increasingly threatening as Hutter (the renamed Harker character) approaches Castle Orlok (we have a 'Count Orlok' here instead of Dracula) - a key part of Murnau's vision, for his vampire is an extension of the natural world. Consumption is the natural order of existence: the vampire feeds upon humans just as they in turn consume the lower animals. The silence of the film, though a necessity at the time, is crucial to its success: the vampire has no voice, offers no explanations and no motives. He is a force of nature, needing no more justification than a spider preying upon flies.
Max Schreck's performance has become part of film legend, prompting suggestions that he was a real vampire (an idea explored in the 2000 film, 'Shadow of the Vampire'). Schreck's is possibly the most disturbing vampire ever to appear on screen. His fixed gaze and almost unnatural thinness make him seem ever-so-slightly inhuman. He is both a pathetic, lonely figure and a relentless killer, a blend that makes him doubly eerie.
It is a shame that Gustav von Wangenheim was not in the same class as Schreck: even by the standards of Expressionism, his performance seems ludicrous. Greta Schroeder is better as his dissatisfied bride. The triangle created between the three leads is the heart of the film: the vampire begins to represent the unfulfilled desires within the marriage, most explicitly in the famous final scene in which Orlok approaches Ellen on her bed while Hutter sleeps in a chair.
Though 'Nosferatu' is set in the mid-19th century, its inter-war German context is inescapable. The scene in which a seemingly unending line of coffins is carried in procession through the streets of Bremen is powerful now: to a German audience still reeling from defeat in the First World War and the economic depression following the Treaty of Versailles, it must have hit all too close to home. The film's bleak picture of a world in which destruction and consumption are the order of nature speaks volumes of the depression, in every sense of the word, that followed the Great War.
'Dracula' remains one of the most-filmed books of all time, but 'Nosferatu' has never been bettered. Bela Lugosi's aristocratic Count is more famous, but Murnau's vampire is more complex and more frightening. Films and TV series in recent years have tended to portray vampires as tortured souls or as underground subcultures, but watching this film reminded me that they were much more frightening before they started trying to explain themselves.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 9, 2008 7:45 AM BST

Dragonlance Chronicles: Annotated
Dragonlance Chronicles: Annotated
by Margaret Weis
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sword and sorcery at its best, 1 May 2004
I first read the Chronicles in the 80s aged about 11, and I've come back to them at regular intervals since. As my old copy of the Collector's Edition has finally fallen apart, I was delighted to come across this new annotated version.
The first thing to say is that this edition is stunning. The paper is high quality and it features both new cover art and some colour archive material showing the evolution of the characters. The annotations can be intrusive (they're printed in the outside columns of the pages), but I guess that if you want an annotated edition, then they have to go somewhere. As the last reviewer said, the notes do relate mostly to the links between the novels and the AD&D game, so will naturally be of more interest to those who are familiar with this.
On to the novels themselves. The first book is the most obviously rooted in the AD&D gameworld and is essentially a classic 'dungeon crawl' adventure, though a very good one. The story really takes off with the division of the characters into separate parties in 'Dragons of Winter Night'. The narrative impressively handles political intrigue as well as action.
It is, though, the characterisation that really sets the Chronicles apart. The heroes are well-rounded characters with enough flaws, contradictions and tensions to keep them recognisably human (or elven, dwarven, etc, but you get the point!). The narrative sets their inner struggles within the context of the wider crisis, showing the ways in which events of global importance may be shaped by personal choices.
If you've read any AD&D-based fantasy before then you probably already know whether you like it or not. If you do, then the Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends, along with R. A. Salvatore's Icewind Dale Trilogy, rank among the best.
Just one final point: this edition seems to be aimed at existing fans, and the annotations contain plot spoilers. If you're reading it for the first time, it may be better to start with the Collector's Edition instead.

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