View from the Couch
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Date: 6 December, 2007
Steve Couch reviews Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and 300 as well as other pre-Christmas DVD releases
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Sam Raimi’s first two Spidy films are the high water mark of recent comic-book superhero adaptations. Many a franchise comes unstuck with volume 3.
In most cases the quality control starts to dip with volume 2. Sometimes (I’m talking about you, Fantastic Four) the rot sets in all the way back with the first film. With so much to live up to, would Spidy 3 fall foul of the curse of the 'threequal'?
It has to be said that Spider-Man 3 isn’t as good as its predecessors. There are three (count ‘em!) supervillains, two love interests, and even two of Spidy himself. It could have been an overblown, rambling mess, but director Sam Raimi manages to keep his balance and avoid tottering over the edge into the abyss of unwatchability.
There’s lots to like about Spider-Man 3. The action scenes are everything that we’ve come to expect. There are the quirky funny bits as per the previous films, along with the customary Stan Lee cameo.
Best of all, the Peter / MJ / Harry storyline is given a fitting finale. This film has the feel of the tying up of loose ends, so don’t be surprised if this is the last time that Raimi takes the reins, or Tobey Maguire dons the lycra.
This is a good film, well worth watching if superhero blockbusters are your thing. But a good film isn’t a great film, and we’ve come to expect that from Spidy. As a wise man once said, 'with great power comes great responsibility'.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
More sea-faring supernatural shenanigans in another threequal. Better than the second Pirates film, not as good as the first. Great fun in places, but too long at over two and a half hours. Long film, short review. Nuff said.
Gritty, intense blood-letting action as 300 men in loin cloths (sorry, that should read ancient Spartan warriors) take on the might of the Persian army.
This is a curious mixture of battling valour, driving rock music, portentous speechifying, wry modern humour and, yes, finely honed bods with the minimum of protective body armour (which might be historically accurate, or might be just for homoerotic effect).
The battle scenes struck me as being the soft porn of violence. This is warfare shot with genuine love and affection, and the gushing and splattering is clearly meant to entertain rather than horrify. That may sound like a disturbing concept, but it’s also one that is entirely in keeping with the Spartan worldview, so maybe that’s fair enough.
Christmas Round up
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without distributors repackaging old films and TV shows and trying to sell them to you. It fair warms the heart, doesn’t it?
Starting with home-grown television offerings, the most exciting release is Father Ted: The Definitive Collection. All three series of the funniest priests in telly history (fact).
If the Christmas Day Doctor Who special on BBC1 isn’t enough to satisfy your craving for Time Lord tomfoolery, look out for Doctor Who Complete Series 3.
For my money, this is the strongest set of stories since Russell T. Davies brought the eponymous hero back to our screens in 2005. John Simm (Sam Tyler from Life On Mars – see below) in particular provides a worthy opponent to David Tennant’s Doctor. If you missed it first time round and you have a pulse, put this right at the top of your Christmas wish-list.
It seems that it’s OK to relive the sexist, violent, foul-mouthed days of the 1970s, as long as you do it ironically. BBC television’s Life On Mars was one of the treats of the last two years, and both series are available on DVD in one glorious package.
The writers manage to finesse a finale that ties up all the loose ends, answers the ‘is it real or in Sam’s head?’ dilemma at the heart of the show and deliver an emotionally satisfying punch without copping out. Well played!
Louis Theroux Collection takes the best bits from the amiable interrogator’s series Weird Weekends, When Louis Met…, and Louis And… Theroux completists will probably be delighted by the inclusion of some of Louis’ segments from Michael Moore’s TV Nation, which have never previously been available on DVD.
Was The Young Ones the moment where alternative comedy leapt from the sidelines and laid claim to the mainstream? Who cares – both series of the show that established Rik Mayall, Ade Edmonson, Nigel Planer and, er, the other one as household names is now available in one glorious package.
Newer comedy shows now available include That Mitchell and Webb Look, the second series of The IT Crowd, Flight of the Conchords, and Peep Show series 4.
America, as ever, is offering sleek, shiny, whole-series box sets aplenty. Lost and House each reach season 3, while Smallville and The Sopranos have both notched up season 6. In the case of the Sopranos, it’s six and out.
Naturally, the end of such a well-loved long running series has prompted the release of a retrospective boxed set. The complete 86 episode saga is now available, with Amazon offering 30% off - an offer they are hoping you won’t be able to refuse.
The new kid in town as far as American blockbuster shows is Heroes. Season 1 is available in complete form from December (the first half came out in October).
Creator Tim Kring and his cronies claim to have planned out storylines for the first five seasons, so you can expect this one to run and run.
For kids, they don’t come much better than Disney’s Jungle Book 40th Anniversary Special Edition. For the less discerning, you could always buy the Jungle Book / Jungle Book 2 twin pack, for a lesson in the law of diminishing returns.
Shaun the Sheep has successfully gone solo from Wallace and Gromit, and you can get both discs of his CBBC show in one package on Shaun the Sheep: The Box Set.
But if Christmas is about anything, it’s about glamorous movies with huge budgets (or am I missing something?) They don’t get much more glamorous than the George Clooney / Brad Pitt / all of their mates vehicle that is the Ocean’s… franchise.
Ocean’s Trilogy Box Set includes the excellent Ocean’s Eleven, and the unimaginatively named sequels Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen. Eleven is immaculate, Twelve is risible, and Thirteen somewhere between the two. All three are easily watchable (Twelve may be twaddle, but it’s entertaining twaddle), but only Eleven is a classic.
Harry Potter’s latest cinematic offering, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (5 down, just two more to go) is more of the same – not as good as the books, but good fun for the already converted.
If you haven’t already splashed out on the individual films or the previous box sets, you can now buy Harry Potter Years 1-5 Box Set. But if you do, you know it will be out of date when Halfblood Prince comes out on DVD in a couple of years.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is better than its predecessor (how to damn with faint praise…), but if you want both films they are available as a twin pack from Amazon, with a free Frisbee thrown in (which is, surely, the whole point of a Frisbee).
Mike Myers debut outing as Austin Powers gets a 10th anniversary special edition, and Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer notches up a remarkable 80th anniversary (and it doesn’t look a day over 75).
Less blockbustery, but more influential than just about everything I’ve mentioned so far (Shaun the Sheep excepted, natch) is Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal: 50th Anniversary Special Edition. Give the existential film buff in your life a reason for living this Christmas.
Steve Couch is a writer for Damaris Trust