Friday, September 26, 2008

Review: Merlin, Episode 1.1, "The Dragon's Call"

BBC Wales, the production company responsible for Doctor Who and Torchwood, moves from science fiction to fantasy with Merlin, a new television series about the legendary wizard's teenaged years as he meets the future King Arthur for the first time.

The cast includes Colin Morgan (Jethro Cane in the Doctor Who episode "Midnight") as Merlin, Bradley James as Prince Arthur, Anthony Stewart Head as King Uther Pendragon, Richard Wilson (Doctor Who: "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances") as court physician Gaius, Angel Coulby (Doctor Who: "The Girl in the Fireplace") as Guinevere, Katie McGrath as Morgana, and John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon.

Merlin is the creation of Hex co-creator Julian Jones, Hex producers Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps, and Jake Michie. Doctor Who and Torchwood executive producer Julie Gardner serves in the same capacity here, as the show is co-produced by BBC Wales and Shine Entertainment (Hex). It's filmed on location in Wales and France.

This first episode is crisply directed by James Hawes (Doctor Who: "The Empty Child," "The Doctor Dances," and "School Reunion"), and the teleplay by co-creator/showrunner Julian Jones quickly introduces the main characters, while setting up both the series arc and this episode's entertaining story. Visual effect company The Firm (Doctor Who, Torchwood) once again does some remarkable work on a television budget with the CGI Great Dragon and some other effects. Torchwood's Eve Myles guest stars as the enchanting Lady Helen.

In some ways, it can be described as the Smallville of the Arthurian mythos. It has a photogenic cast, it explores the younger years of a well-known character with some revision of canon, and there's sure to be some occasional angst. On the level it's intended, it's ripping good fun.

Serious admirers of the Arthurian mythos might howl in protest, but this is about entertainment, and it does what it's supposed to do extremely well. It's well-made, well-acted, and a fun way to spend forty-five minutes. I like Merlin.

For those in the US without access to torrents, NBC will broadcast the first season beginning in early 2009, albeit in a slightly edited form.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

This Week's Comics

Samurai: Legend #1, Hellboy: The Crooked Man #3, Jack of Fables #26, Fables #76, Superman #680, Wolverine: Origins #28, Wolverine Annual #2, X-Force #7, X-Men: Legacy #216, Runaways #2, Powers #30, Fantastic Four #560, Captain America #42, Angel: Revelations #5, Trinity #17, Superman/Batman #52, Madame Xanadu #4.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Review: Heroes, Episodes 3.1/3.2, "The Second Coming"/"The Butterfly Effect"

The third season of Heroes debuted yesterday with the broadcast of back-to-back episodes, both written by creator/showrunner Tim Kring. If the first two seasons seemed deliberately paced, this one begins like a runaway freight train.

Picking up right where the second season ended, with Nathan Petrelli getting shot at a press conference just as he was about to reveal his superpowers to the world, we quickly learn the surprising identity of the shooter and why Nathan was targeted. That's only the first of several twists presented over the course of the two episodes, as we catch up with most of the other characters. There are some apparent plot holes, but more likely the audience is being set up for more surprises.

The third season will have twenty-five episodes, with the first thirteen forming a story arc called "Villains." These two episodes quickly lay the groundwork for what's to come, presenting choices between good and evil that some characters will have to make.

Although I enjoyed the second season, there were times when the show seemed to be spinning its wheels. Kring acknowledged that mistakes were made and vowed to fix them. He did. Big time. Welcome back, Heroes.