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R. McDonald "rossmcdonald2" (Southampton)

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Babylon 5: Season 4 [DVD]
Babylon 5: Season 4 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jerry Doyle
Offered by movielovers786
Price: £23.29

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is how the world ends.., 4 Oct. 2006
This review is from: Babylon 5: Season 4 [DVD] (DVD)
Season 4 is my personal favourite B5 season. Having been informed that the show was unlikely to be renewed for a fifth season on its current network, Joe Michael Straczynski opted to rewrite his five year story in such a way that it could end satisfactorily after either four or five seasons. The result is that season 4 is the most intense, dark and dramatic of all B5, and wraps up virtually all of the major story threads. There's very little space in here for standalones, and barring a brief lull in the middle almost every episode follows on from the last one. This was a pretty revolutionary format at the time, though it works perfectly on DVD and has since become pretty much ubiquitous in US television.

The show also continued to push the envelope in other ways, with experimental episodes like the Illusion of Truth, which deals with a biased news report, Intersections in Real Time, which takes place entirely in an enclosed prison cell, and the `night club' scene in the Exercise of Vital Powers.

The series opens controversially by wrapping up B5's defining plotline in a single six episode arc. Although these are six of the best B5 episodes ever, the ending does leave you wondering how the story can regain the lost momentum. Fortunately it rallies brilliantly, and remains tense and gripping right through to end. The very final episode of B5, Sleeping in Light, was filmed at the end of Season 4 but ultimately moved to the end of Season 5. In its place we get the Deconstruction of Falling Stars, an anthology episode filmed at the beginning of Season 5 that tracks the history of B5 far into the future. Sadly it comes across as a bit stagy and static, and is probably the weakest of the season enders. Otherwise, though, this season is a satisfying and breathtaking continuation of the B5 story. Watch out for the brilliant `Babylon 5 suite' music video on the extras disc, but don't watch it until you've seen the whole of season 4!

Babylon 5: Season 3 [DVD]
Babylon 5: Season 3 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jerry Doyle
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: £18.20

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shockingly good, 4 Oct. 2006
This review is from: Babylon 5: Season 3 [DVD] (DVD)
Season 3 is a strong contender for being the best season of B5 (although it doesn't quite match Season 4 for intensity, it's more accessible). It picks up exactly where Season 2 finished, and immediately throws two new elements to the mix: the White Star, a prototype Minbari / Vorlon hybrid warship designed for service in the coming war, and Marcus Cole, a ranger with an English accent who very quickly established himself as one of the most popular characters among fans.

Initially you get much the same mix of arc stories and strong standalones that characterised later season 2, further building on the same story threads that have been going since Season 1. Then, somewhere about the midway point, all hell breaks loose, the universe of B5 falls apart, and the series essentially never looks back. By the time you get to the amazing finale, you've been through the wringer emotionally and seen some of the most surprising and amazing episodes that B5 has to offer. Back in 1996 we hadn't seen anything like it, and this is what turned many a casual viewer (myself included) into rabid, foaming at the mouth fans. Granted Firefly and Galactica have raised the bar considerably higher since then, but in terms of grand, epic plotting and coherent narrative B5 really hasn't yet been beat, and this is the season that shows it off best. If you've enjoyed watching up to this point, you won't be disappointed..

Kingdom Hearts Platinum (PS2)
Kingdom Hearts Platinum (PS2)
Offered by imart Store
Price: £20.45

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic game, though showing its age a bit, 2 Oct. 2006
On paper the idea of combining the universes of Disney and Final Fantasy looks completely insane, but in practice it made a great basis for a magical and memorable game, recently graced with a proper PS2 sequel. Kingdom Hearts is technically an action RPG, combining some traditional roleplaying mechanics with frenetic button-pounding combat. The game tells the story of Sora, a boy voiced by Haley Joel Osment (the psychic kid from the Sixth Sense) who lives on Outset Island with his friends Riku and Kairi and dreams of visiting other worlds. After briefly introducing us to this setting the game then heads off at a major tangent, as Sora gets sucked into Donald and Goofy's quest to visit a large number of Disney-themed worlds that are being invaded by evil creatures known as the Heartless.

The game feels truly vast, not only because it is physically very big (which it is) but because of the extraordinary variety of worlds and environments that you get to visit, and the cast of literally hundreds of recognisable and memorable characters, from Winnie the Pooh to Jiminy Cricket to Tarzan to Captain Hook. The worlds that you visit range in size from a couple of rooms to some pretty large environments, and most but not all are based on famous Disney franchises, and they all have secret nooks and corners that you'll want to revisit several times in the course of the adventure.

It has to be said that the game is a few years old now, and some of the gameplay mechanics haven't aged so well. The camera is a constant pain, and Sora can often feel like a bit of a klutz when it comes to jumping and interacting with his environment. The gameplay definitely does improve and become more fluid as you advance and gain new abilities, which does negate some of these problems, but early on it can be frustrating.

The voice acting is great, especially considering how many speaking parts there are - the Disney characters in particular are all pretty close to spot on. The music is one of the best all round soundtracks to appear in any game ever. It's stirring and evocative stuff, and over the course of the whole adventure it has a real epic feel that eclipses the more recent Final Fantasy games. This game may place slightly more emphasis on style than substance, but it still comes highly recommended..

Battlestar Galactica: Season 2 [2005] [DVD]
Battlestar Galactica: Season 2 [2005] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jamie Bamber
Price: £7.99

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A spoiler-free review, 10 Sept. 2006
Somehow I managed to stay unspoiled on season 2 of BSG for the whole 18 months that have elapsed since the region 2 release of season 1, so I'm going to try to write a review that's as spoiler free as possible. If you're just coming to season 2 after season 1, all that you really want and need to know is that yes, it does continue at exactly that same level: the same blistering pace, the same eye-watering detail, the same wonderful characterisation and tight plotting, the same uncanny ability to throw you curveballs and to completely pull the rug out from under your expectations, this time for a full 20 episodes. It's genuinely shocking for those of us who grew up on a diet of 80s and 90s television to see this show so completely redefine what genre TV is about and what it can do, and with future seasons and a spin-off series already in the works, long may it continue.

Unlike its region 1 equivalent, this boxed set actually does comprise the full 20 episodes of season 2, and given that 2 of the episodes are actually special editions that have been extended by a considerable amount it actually represents pretty good value for money. For this season we also get fully animated menus for the first time, including the only episode select screen I've seen that is actually dependent on timing (the only reason I mention this is because at one point I watched the first 5 minutes of the wrong episode by mistake). Special features consist of deleted scenes and Ronald D. Moore's `podcast' commentaries for seven of the first eight episodes - these are extremely informative and provide real insight into the complex creative choices that go on behind the scenes.

This is still a one-of-a-kind, amazing series. Let's hope season 3 reaches similar heights..

24: Season Four DVD Collection [DVD]
24: Season Four DVD Collection [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kiefer Sutherland
Offered by That's Entertainment - CDs & DVDs
Price: £6.73

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slick and engaging as always, 21 Aug. 2006
I think series 4 might just turn out to be the high point of 24 - not only does it represent a serious return to form after a slightly iffy series 3, it also proves that this format is never going to get tired as long as it's done this well.

In case there is anyone out there who doesn't yet know, 24 is a series that takes place in a hyper-realistic alternate reality where all technology works flawlessly and integrates seamlessly, major events always happen on the hour, everybody in the world uses exactly the same make and model cellphone, and it is actually illegal to have a sense of humour.

In keeping with the series' previous attempts to disorient regular viewers, this season opens with nearly all the major characters having left CTU and moved on with their lives. As a major (and topical) terrorist conspiracy unfolds, Jack Bauer soon gets dragged back into the world that he thought he'd left behind. The writers do a great job of upping the stakes relentlessly without ever quite sacrificing credibility, always a danger with this particular format. The new cast members and those who play the many peripheral characters are uniformly excellent, and include probably the canniest and most ruthless enemies Jack has ever faced. The tension never really dips, and as always the production values are on a par with a major feature film.

This is a mature series now at the height of its powers, and it's very hard to see how they're going to better this. I'm on tenterhooks now for series 5..

Civilization IV (PC DVD)
Civilization IV (PC DVD)
Offered by Gameseek
Price: £4.10

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still absorbing, 26 July 2006
If you want to know whether your computer will run Civ4, or are at all hesitant over making the purchase, I recommend downloading the free demo from the official site first. My laptop didn't meet the minimum requirements in terms of hardware T&L support, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it actually runs the game without a hitch - just as well, as I'm a huge fan of this series.

On to the game: the aim of Civ4 is, as always, to lead your civilisation through from its earliest beginnings to global domination. You can choose to play as any of 18 empires, each with its own distinct leader, attributes and special units. The game is based around a fairly simple rule set in terms of city management and unit control, but it's surprisingly deep and never fails to impress in the way it transitions seamlessly and gradually from the stone age, where you're living in thatched huts and your warriors are armed with clubs, all the way through to missile defence, modern warfare, nuclear weapons and the space race. You can't win the game at the harder difficulty levels without making trade agreements and diplomatic alliances, and generally playing your opponents off against one another, which adds further layers of intrigue and fun to the mix.

The developers wisely haven't tinkered too much with a winning formula, and most of the changes in this version, aside from the very pretty 3D graphics and the many online multiplayer modes, are based around simplifying and streamlining the game to make combat easier and cut down on the micro-management. You can now order units to explore, which speeds up the early game immensely, and you can stack military units and move them together, so engaging in warfare doesn't bog the game down so terminally and conquest becomes a more attractive option. Cities have wider influence, so it's quite possible to run a large empire now with only six or seven. Military units no longer have separate attack and defence stats, you have less direct control over the economy, and towns no longer slip into unrest when citizens are unhappy. Purists might complain about some of these changes, but the overall effect is to make the game smoother and much easier to play. Unfortunately the one thing they haven't changed is the `just one more turn' super-absorbing gameplay which can make hours pass like minutes if you're not careful. It takes a special kind of willpower to save a game midway through and tear yourself away from it, since you very quickly become hopelessly attached to your pixellated empire. Consider yourself warned..

The Last Unicorn [DVD]
The Last Unicorn [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jeff Bridges
Offered by HalfpriceDVDS_FBA
Price: £14.98

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still eerie and evocative, 13 July 2006
This review is from: The Last Unicorn [DVD] (DVD)
I hadn't watched this film for 20 years, but it must have left a big impression on me when I was seven, because I still found myself remembering the songs and completing some of the characters' lines. On the surface it's a straightforward fable about a unicorn who realises she is the last of her kind and embarks on a quest to find out what happened to the others, along the way teaming up with the inept wizard Schmendrick and a histrionic outlaw named Molly. Underneath it has a rueful, melancholy, slightly unsettling darker edge that occasionally emerges in throwaway lines of dialogue and can catch you off balance.

The animation looks great for the pre-digital era. The colours are still bright and the film doesn't seem to have aged at all. The voice cast is pretty stellar all round, with the actors bringing life to a host of weird and memorable creatures, and Mia Farrow's exceptional performance in the title role is almost worth the asking price alone. Musically it's no slouch either, with the opening theme being especially memorable. It's true that cold-hearted cynics may take issue with some of the song lyrics, or with Jeff Bridges' singing voice, but this really isn't a film for them. If you were a certain impressionable age when you first saw this, and you still haven't managed to get that tune out of your head, it's well worth revisiting.

Pirates Of The Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl (The Lost Disc Special Edition 3 Disc Gift Set) [DVD]
Pirates Of The Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl (The Lost Disc Special Edition 3 Disc Gift Set) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Johnny Depp
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £1.26

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Garrghh, shiver me timbers..., 10 July 2006
I love this film, easily the best ever based on a theme park ride, and probably up there with the finest swashbuckling adventures ever made. Somehow it manages to take all the old pirate clichés, mix them together and reinvigorate them to create something that's both fresh and fun, yet still endearingly innocent. The story (involving a chest full of cursed Inca gold) is a suitable backdrop to the mostly light-hearted action, the pirate world is convincing and solid-looking, and the effects are memorably grizzly. Anyone lucky enough to have experienced the Disney ride will appreciate the many references and in-jokes, among them the dog with the keys to the gaol and the attack on Port Royal.

It's well known that Johnny Depp steals this film with his outlandish improvised performance, and that Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are really nothing more than pretty window dressing, but Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa is more than equal to the hapless Jack Sparrow and chews the scenery with gusto. The final swordfight, in which these two dance in and out of shafts of moonlight whilst battling through a pirate treasure trove, is one of those all-time great movie moments.

This 3 disk edition certainly gives you a wealth of extras, although the `Lost Disc' is a really a gimmick and a bit superfluous. It doesn't matter, though. This is a fine addition to any DVD shelf.

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PS2)
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PS2)
Offered by APE-GAMES
Price: £11.49

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lightweight, but still fun, 10 July 2006
This is a straight conversion of the first ever GTA game to appear on Playstation Portable. The first thing to say is that if you haven't yet sampled the neon excess of Vice City, or the mindbending scale of San Andreas, there is absolutely no reason to buy this as you can now easily pick up either of those games at a budget price. If, however, you're a diehard GTA vet looking for the next fix, this may just fit the bill, provided you don't come at it with expectations raised too high.

Surprisingly, this doesn't really feel like a scaled up hand-held game, more a scaled down console game. Everything looks and controls in more or less exactly the way that you expect. The series has always benefited from an amazing core game engine, and fundamentally it's no different here. Yes the compromises are certainly there if you go looking for them - the scale is pretty restricted, the radio stations loop more frequently, the colours are muddier, the effects more basic and the streets less populated, but actually the whole thing stands up pretty well alongside the other games in the series.

Liberty City is less interesting as an environment than Vice City or San Andreas, but it does have a certain mafioso charm. The story and missions are pretty basic, but there are plenty of them and you still get the same tingle of satisfaction as you complete them - the game is pleasantly addictive. The bottom line is, if you haven't played GTA in a while, and are just itching to cruise the streets blowing things up, stealing cars and shooting things in a familiar ironic postmodern setting, then you may just enjoy this.

Firefly - The Complete Series [DVD] [2003]
Firefly - The Complete Series [DVD] [2003]
Dvd ~ Nathan Fillion
Price: £9.89

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than everything else.., 9 July 2006
Firefly isn't at all what I expected, and I imagine it isn't the show Fox thought they were paying for either, which may be why they got cold feet and cancelled it so quickly. Whereas Joss Whedon's other shows have been irreverent action fantasies with a dark comic streak, Firefly seems like a vastly more mature and very different animal. The premise is space-western, and that's a pretty straightforward way to describe the backdrop, which manages to depict a detailed, functional, generally jaw-dropping and seemingly endless universe in a manner that reminds me a little of the very first Star Wars film. The show never plays to any sci-fi conventions, however, even when it comes to plotting - instead it's part western, part heist series, part character drama, with the fact that the characters just happen to live aboard a spaceship serving as more of a convenience than anything.

What really sets Firefly above almost everything else and makes it such compulsive viewing is the absolutely brilliantly mismatched crew of Serenity, and the sizzling, funny and sparkling way they interact. The show is extremely well served by both the quality of the writing and of the cast, and whereas Joss Whedon's trademark wit can occasionally come across as stagy or forced in Buffy or Angel, in the mouths of these actors it's endearing and self-effacing. There are also some great whimsical touches, like the fact that the characters will frequently switch to Chinese to cuss and swear.

It's a joy to watch and a crime that it was cancelled so early, although the existence of `Serenity' (the movie that completes the story) goes some way towards making up for it. You've got to wonder, though, if the fact that the series went through most of its run with an axe hanging over its head actually spurred the cast and crew to push harder, and to hit such a consistently high standard throughout. Even the brilliant new Battlestar Galactica series starts to look derivative, simplistic and humourless in comparison. Highly recommended.

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