Why Do Critics Have A Reputation For Being Cynical ? – A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d do something a bit different and talk about critics. This is mostly because I’ve had something of a slight insight into being a critic due to the occasional reviews that I write on here. When I first started writing reviews on here about 4-5 years ago, I was determined not to be like those critics. You know the ones I mean, the snooty ones who never seem to like anything.

In other words, I often only reviewed things that I really, really liked and could give positive reviews to. Of course, this has changed over the years.

In fact, this article was prompted by the fact that this review of mine ended up containing a lot more criticism than I originally expected. Yet, I don’t consider it to be a “bad” review (seriously, it’s a good show!). But, in a sudden moment of clarity, I realised that I’d turned into the type of critic I once wanted to avoid becoming.

So, why do critics have a reputation for being cynical?

There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that they’ve had more experience with reviewing things, not to mention that if someone is even vaguely interested in criticism then they’ve probably seen/watched/read/played quite a lot of stuff (or they will in the course of finding things to review). What this all means is that critics often have a larger frame of reference when making comparisons and judgements.

For example, one of my regular review features on here is reviewing fan-made levels for “Doom II“. When I started doing this, I hadn’t really played that many of these levels – so, I was amazed by what people could do with this classic game. But, once I’d played a lot more levels, I started spotting things like commonly re-used graphics, common changes to the game, common level design techniques etc.. So, I was less amazed by these things than I used to be. This has probably led to mildly less awe-struck reviews, even though I still consider “Doom II” to be one of my favourite games.

Another reason is because I’m not a professional critic (nor would I really want to be). Whilst professional critics getting free advance review copies from film studios, game developers etc… is a good thing for a whole host of reasons, there’s also a place for critics (like me) who don’t get these – and don’t want them. But, both professional and amateur criticsm can result in more cynical-sounding reviews for different reasons.

Since I’m not a professional critic, I mostly review things that are older, second-hand, discounted, free (for everyone) etc.. Although this means that I get to review more interesting/random stuff and can look at things that are overlooked by professional critics who have to review the latest things, this has also forced me to pay more attention to whether something is worth the time and/or money that the audience needs to invest in it. And, as such, this can sometimes result in more cynical-sounding reviews.

Professional critics, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about the cost of the things they review. In theory, this ideally means that all products are on a level playing field and can be considered purely on their artistic merits. Likewise, advance copies given to professional critics mean that they can inform consumers on the day that something is released.

All of this stuff is a necessary counterbalance to things like manufactured hype and advertising (and it’s why you should be very, very wary if a film studio or a game developer refuses to give professional critics advance access). But, seeing the contrast between a more formal professional evaluation of something new and the idealised, rose-tinted portrayal of it in advertising can make a more “realistic” review look cynical by comparison.

Finally, one reason that critics can sound cynical is because reviews often serve a dual function these days. As well as being a guide for consumers, they’re also often a type of entertainment too. This often means that reviews include humour more regularly than they used to a few decades ago. Of course, one of the best sources of humour is joking about the thing that you’re reviewing, which can include everything from occasional affectionate humour to constant merciless ridicule.

But, when this isn’t done in the right way, it can often make it look like the reviewer is some kind of bitter cynic who can do nothing more than point and laugh at things other people make (and some reviewers can actually make this genuinely entertaining, but some can’t). Likewise, if you’re a fan of something, then you might not appreciate critics ridiculing it. So, humour can sometimes explain why critics appear to be more cynical than they actually are.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Mini Review: “Brown And Red” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/”ZDoom”/”Boom”)

Well, although I’d planned to finish and review a classic computer game called “Riven“, I seem to have drifted away from that game a bit. So, instead, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a level for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” called “Brown And Red” because it’s been about a month or so since I last played any new fan-made levels for these awesome games.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD and encountered no technical problems with it. However, it was apparently designed for “Boom-compatible” source ports (and I’m not sure if ZDoom falls under this category). As usual, I also used the medium difficulty setting [the “Hurt Me Plenty” setting].

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Brown And Red”:

“Brown And Red” is a short, single-level “slaughtermap” WAD. If you’ve never heard of this type of level before, it’s a level that contains many more monsters than you can actually fight. What this means is that, contrary to the macabre name, the emphasis of the game shifts from mindless combat to something more like fast-paced puzzle-solving.

In a good “slaughtermap” level, knowing when to run or hide instead of fight is part of the challenge. Having a dogged sense of perseverence and trying to avoid too much combat are essential elements of winning. It’s a type of level that rewards experienced players who have an intuitive understanding of the “rules” of “Doom” and can turn them to their advantage. And, when done well, it is one of the most thrilling FPS gaming experiences it is possible to have.

Unfortunately, this isn’t really the case in “Brown And Red”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really fun level – but, as a “slaughtermap” level, it fails for the simple reason that it’s far too easy. And, before anyone says anything, I almost always use medium difficulty – so I’m saying that it’s easy compared to other slaughtermaps I’ve played on medium.

The level starts off in a small claustophobic series of corridors where you’ll have to fight a few mid-low level monsters. The lighting and shadows in this part of the level are really excellent and they help to add a bit of atmosphere to the level.

Although it’s not particularly scary, it certainly fits into the classic ‘Scary, dark and fast’ quote about the original “Doom”.

After this, you find yourself somewhere that will be familiar to anyone who has played a “slaughtermap” level before – a large arena-like area that is suspiciously empty…

Filled with gigantic hordes of monsters? Ha! What would give you that idea?

Of course, after you’ve explored a bit and thought about picking up the rocket launcher, the monsters start appearing. Although I expected this to happen, this moment was spectacularly dramatic enough to actually take me by surprise.

With an inhuman roar, a swarm of cacodemons and a small crowd of pinkie demons is violently disgorged from the building at the other end of the arena. Whilst this is going on, the air is filled with the distinctive screeching of multiple Revenants teleporting in. It’s a really cool moment:

Seriously, this screenshot really doesn’t do it justice.

But, since you’ve got a fully-loaded rocket launcher, since the monsters you’re fighting are slow and relatively weak, since the arena is fairly large and since the most dangerous monsters in the arena (the Revenants) are contained within alcoves that have pillars right next to them that you can hide behind, it really isn’t anywhere near as challenging as it should be. Add to that the surprising abundance of health items in the area, and it really isn’t a proper “slaughtermap”.

After you’ve wiped out literally all of the monsters at a fairly leisurely pace, it might take you a couple of minutes to work out how to open the door at the other end of the arena. Once you’ve opened it, you find yourself in a medium-sized rectangular room with a button in the middle of it.

Hmm… Should I press this button? Maybe something nice will happen?

Needless to say, once you press the button – the room locks itself and monsters start teleporting in. This part of the level is, at least, moderately challenging. Thanks to the size and shape of the room and the fact that some parts of the floor will damage you if you stand on them for too long, there’s a bit of a challenge here.

I’m still puzzled by the random face in the background though.

Yet, like earlier in the level, this part of the level is let down by a couple of poor design choices. The first is that this area contains enough plasma rifle ammunition for you to fight literally all of the monsters (especially when you take monster infighting into account) and still have some power cells left over afterwards. Given that this is one of the most powerful weapons in the game, there’s a good reason why ammunition for it is usually fairly scarce in most challenging “Doom II” levels.

Secondly, there aren’t any seriously threatening monsters. This area would be vastly improved by the inclusion of even a single arch-vile. Having a monster with an extremely powerful attack and the ability to resurrect other monsters forces the player to think fast and to play more tactically. Without an arch-vile or two, the main strategy for this area is just “run around and hold down the fire button”.

After this area, you walk down a rather cool-looking series of corridors and then…. the level’s over.

Which is a shame, because this part of the level makes it seem like the rest of the level has been lulling you into a false sense of security.

One thing that helps to make this level a bit more interesting is the music. Even though the gameplay is a bit on the easy side of things, the gloomy and vaguely “Resident Evil”-like instrumental music in the background helps to add a sense of ominous dread to the level.

All in all, despite my criticisms, this isn’t exactly a “bad” level. It’s a fun way to spend twenty minutes or so. But, I guess that this is one of the few “slaughtermap” levels that probably should be played on higher difficulty settings. Still, if you’re new to the genre or are less experienced with “Doom II”, then it’s probably a fairly gentle way to introduce yourself to this type of level.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just about get a three.

Review: “Jack Hunter And The Star Of Heaven” (Film)

Well, after reviewing the first and second films in the “Jack Hunter” trilogy, I thought that I’d take a look at the third (and final) one – “Jack Hunter And The Star Of Heaven”.

This film, like the other two films, is not a self-contained film and it should be watched in the correct order. This is because the trilogy was apparently originally a TV mini series that aired in America in 2008-9. Like with the other two films, I got it as part of the “Jack Hunter Trilogy” DVD boxset that I found cheaply second-hand on Amazon.

So, if you’re going to get this film, get it as part of this.

So, is the ending to the trilogy any good? Let’s take a look. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS for this film and the previous two films.

The film begins with the NSA tracking Albert Litmann to Bulgaria, where they plan to assassinate him. However, Jack Hunter has also tracked him there as part of his investigation into the Star of Heaven. Needless to say, a gunfight ensues and Litmann gets away.

Either that, or the command centre’s screensaver needs changing…

Although Liz is furious at Jack for messing up the NSA’s mission, she agrees to keep him on side since she needs him to get in touch with Nadia again because Nadia’s ex-partner (Fuad) is the son of an antiques dealer who once sold the Star Of Heaven to an undisclosed buyer.

I was at a British university in 2009. I’m pretty sure that our university web pages were in colour back then…

Whilst all of this is going on Litmann is threatened by his superiors in the Russian mafia and told that he has two days to find the Star Of Heaven or they will kill him. So, with the stakes high on both sides, the chase is on….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s somewhere between the slightly slower-paced first film and the action-packed second film. This film is probably the most “serious” of the three and it contains a fairly good mix of detective work, thrilling action, spy drama and emotional drama. Yet, this also means that it doesn’t really set itself apart as it’s own thing in quite the same way that the previous two films did.

Still, there are some good moments here, such as a suitably dramatic car chase through a Turkish city, a gloriously epic final battle and lots of cool night-time city locations. Not to mention that the return of Nadia’s ex-partner leaves her feeling somewhat conflicted. Likewise, Fuad’s feelings about her also play a large role in the story too.

But, as cool as this car chase is, the editing seems a little bit too quick and abrupt in some parts.

The best way to describe this film is that it’s less “Indiana Jones” and more “low-budget Dan Brown”, albeit without the cryptic puzzles. The tone of the film (both stylistically and visually) is slightly more on the “modern” side of things, and the few old church buildings shown in the film don’t really compare visually to the dramatic ancient temples in the previous two films.

Some parts of the film are, as you would expect, a little bit on the predictable side of things too. Still, there are some surprises…

Oh, Tariq! You loveable rogue!

Surprisingly, Albert Litmann is one of the best characters in this film. He may be a heartless villain, but he gets a few really cool moments here- such as demonstrating his linguistic expertise by, amongst other things, delivering a Russian (?) insult in a suitably badass manner. Likewise, he also gets to use one of the coolest weapons in the series:

Well, this ancient super-weapon has been mentioned in all three films. It’s not so much Chekhov’s gun as it is Chekhov’s BFG.

Likewise, whilst Tariq doesn’t get quite as many funny moments as he does in the previous film, he’s still a much-needed source of comedy in this film. This is especially true given the amount of heavy emotional drama in the rest of the film – especially in many of the scenes involving Fuad, who often comes across as something of a tragic figure.

The special effects in this film are, naturally, the best in the trilogy. Although the CGI is still a bit obvious, the final battle between Jack, Nadia and Litmann more than makes up for this by the epic nature of the confrontation. Likewise, this film also manages to cram in more explosions than either of the previous two films.

Plus, if you look closely, Tariq is giving the explosion the finger. LOL!

All in all, this isn’t a bad film. But, it is a little bit predictable and – barring one or two spectacular scenes – isn’t quite as gripping or distinctive as the previous two films.

Despite combining the slower-paced thriller elements of the first film and the action movie elements of the second film, it somehow ends up being slightly less than the sum of it’s parts. Even so, it’s still a reasonably decent send-off to a film trilogy that was a lot better than I expected.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about maybe almost get a four.

Review: “Jack Hunter And The Quest For Akhenaten’s Tomb” (Film)

Well, a while back, I reviewed the first film in the “Jack Hunter” trilogy. So, for today, I thought that I’d take a look at the second one – “Jack Hunter And The Quest For Akhenaten’s Tomb”.

Like with the previous film, this film is part of a series from 2008-9 and it isn’t entirely self-contained. So, it’s probably best to watch this film after the first one. And, like with the first film, this film is part of the “Jack Hunter Trilogy” DVD boxset that I found fairly cheaply second-hand on Amazon last year:

So, if you’re going to get this film, get it as part of this.

But, is the second film in the trilogy better than the first one? Let’s take a look. But, first, I should warn you that this review may contain some mild SPOILERS for both this film and the previous one. This review might also be a little bit silly too.

“Jack Hunter And The Quest For Akhenaten’s Tomb” begins with archaeologist Lena Halstrom discovering a mysterious small obelisk buried in Egypt. However, shortly after finding the obelisk, their camp is seemingly attacked by ancient Egyptians…

And Eddie The Head from Iron Maiden! Seriously, this needs to go on their next album cover πŸ™‚

Yet, despite this violent visitation, not only are both Lena and the Egyptian official she is working with left completely unharmed, but the obelisk hasn’t even been stolen.

A while after this, Jack Hunter has been recruited by the NSA and sent to Egypt to meet up with both Nadia (from the first film) and Lena in order to prevent the villainous Albert Litmann from getting his hands on the Star Of Heaven, by finding the lost tomb of Pharoah Akhenaten before he does.

..after they’ve spent a while admiring the obelisk, of course. What? It’s a nice obelisk.

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s a lot more fast-paced than the previous film in the trilogy. In addition to there being many more explosions and/or gunfights, a lot of the film revolves around Jack, Nadia, Lena and Tariq (yes, he’s back!) being chased by multiple groups of people…. who are sometimes chasing each other too.

Like this charming fellow, who is the leader of Pharoah Akhtenaten’s fan club.

Or this promotion-hungry member of the Egyptian military.

And don’t forget good old Albert Littman too.

And, surprisingly, it really works. Although I liked the fact that the first film was a slightly more subtle and “realistic” action movie, where the main characters rarely used guns and were a little bit more like archaeologists than action heroes, the second film is still surprisingly gripping and enjoyable.

This is mostly because, unlike a lot of more “serious” modern action films, this one is an old-school silly action movie.

And, yes, Tariq even gets two “badass action hero” scenes. Both of which are hilariously awesome!

There’s a lot more comedy and general silliness in this film that really helps to keep it enjoyable. There are ludicrous car chases (including at least one car exploding after a relatively minor crash), a few funny moments involving Tariq, an assortment of eccentric villains and at least a couple of scenes that almost seem like something from “The A-Team” (eg: part of the fight on the boat springs to mind for starters). Yes, it’s more “action movie” than “thriller” – but it’s a fun, old-school action movie.

Yes, there are a couple of “serious” moments, but these don’t really carry that much dramatic weight for the simple reason that they revolve around obvious plot twists or other such things that are obvious to fans of the action genre. Yet, this is part of the charm of the film. It isn’t meant to be a serious drama, it’s meant to be an enjoyably thrilling and light-hearted way to spend 94 minutes.

Hmmm… it turns out that they DO still make films like they used to.

In terms of the characters and acting, the main cast puts in a fairly good performance as usual. There isn’t really much bad acting in this film and what little there is just tends to add to the amusing silliness of the film. Plus, the (slightly one-sided) rivalry between Nadia and Lena helps to add a little bit of drama to the film.

Yes, despite the early parts of the film, they really don’t get on that well with each other.

In terms of the special effects, they’re somewhat better than in the first film. This is mostly because, apart from a couple of magic-based scenes, the CGI effects are a bit more low-key than in the previous film and there aren’t really any hugely noticeable (to the untrained eye at least) examples of “clunky CGI” here.

As for the sound design, it’s reasonably good. The stand-out moments include the wonderfully cinematic “ancient Egypt” music at the very beginning of the film and the fact that the gunshots in many scenes actually sound a little bit more realistic than in many large-budget action movies (eg: they have more of a “popping/cracking” sound).

All in all, this is a fun and enjoyable caper. Although it’s a lot more of an “action movie” than the first film in the trilogy is, it’s still a gripping and enjoyable film. The best way to describe this film is probably to liken it to an enjoyable paperback thriller novel. It’s a little over-the-top and a little bit silly, but it’s reassuringly fun at the same time. It’s an old-school “silly” action movie of the type that really don’t seem to be as common these days. And it’s brilliant!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

PREVIEWS: What To Expect Here In 2018

First of all, happy New Year everyone πŸ™‚ Since I prepare the articles, art, comics, reviews etc.. for this blog ridiculously far in advance, I thought that I’d give you a summary (with previews) of what you can expect to see here this year.

Comics! Although you probably know this already if you’ve read the comics index page, there will still be groups of comics appearing here every month or so.

The highlights will include a series of highly-detailed “Wordless Comics” during the spring, a vampire-themed Halloween comic, a slightly more ‘intellectual’ series of “Damania” comics later this month and a series of remakes of “classic” comics from 2012/13 in late November.

In fact, it’s probably easier if I show you. So, here are a few previews from this year’s upcoming comics:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] (And, yes, I know that the first two are already on DeviantArt).

I’ll also be moving back to the “traditional” square format for my comics from April onwards. So, if you don’t like the current A4-size format, then it won’t be around for too much longer. However, this year’s Halloween comic will have A4-size pages because, well, it’s a Halloween comic.

Art! When I’m not making comics, I make daily art and the main improvements that you can expect to see later in 2018 are slightly more realistic shadows/shading.

Although this has occasionally turned up in the title graphics of unplanned articles from 2017 (and in this article), it will become a regular feature of my art later this year. I learnt this technique from making a study of this 19th century Gustave Courbet painting. Here’s a preview of my study:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 6th May.

Some artistic highlights that you can look forward to include a series of gothic paintings, set in Aberystwyth, that will appear here in June. In addition to this, there will be a series of about seven paintings, set in abandoned 1990s-style American shopping centres, that will appear here in early-mid August. In fact, it’s probably easier if I show you what kind of art to expect here this year:

CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE.

In addition to this, I also went through a brief phase of experimenting with some new digital effects too (eg: pattern fill effects, digital lighting effects etc..) but although this will appear in a couple of paintings/drawings in early June, it won’t be a major feature. This is mostly because I was worried that I’d get out of practice with certain drawing, painting etc… techniques if I relied on these effects too heavily.

Articles! As usual, there will be lots of articles too πŸ™‚ In addition to the usual art/writing advice and reviews, there will also be a few more “critic”-like articles, where I’ll be examining various things in order to see what they can teach us about creativity.

Some highlights will include an article in May (?) that will compare two 1990s TV shows called “Sliders” and “Lois & Clark” in order to discover what they can teach us about 1990s-style storytelling. And, yes, 1990s nostalgia will be a little bit more of a theme this year.

In addition to this, there will be an article in late April (?) looking at how the film “Blade Runner” presents fictional violence in a somewhat different way, and what this can teach us about writing/comics. I’ll also be looking at things like music, animated sitcoms etc.. in other articles too.

Film Reviews! Although there were a few film reviews posted here in 2017, there will be a lot more of them here later this year.

In particular, there will be a “1990s films” review series which will appear every 2-4 days during parts of June and early July. This will include reviews of films like “Practical Magic”, “Mallrats”, the 1999 remake of “House On Haunted Hill”, “Gremlins 2” etc…

In addition to this, I’ll also be reviewing a few other random films (such as the 2017 remake of “Ghost In The Shell”) and – later in the year – the first four “Resident Evil” films too.

Game Reviews! But, this doesn’t mean that I’ve neglected computer games though. In addition to my usual reviews of fan-made levels for classic games (eg: At least one “Doom II” WAD review each month, a “Heretic” WAD review in October and a review of a set of “Quake” levels in July), I’ll also be reviewing a fair number of classic games and a couple of more modern indie games too.

Although there were at least a few games I’d planned to review, but didn’t for one reason or another – there will still be a few full and/or partial (eg: “first impressions”) reviews of games, such as: “SiN” (and the expansion for it), both official expansions for “Quake”, “Killing Time”, “Silent Hill 3”, “XCOM: Enforcer”, “Legend Of Kyrandia – Hand Of Fate”, “Hotline Miami”, “Enclave”, “Kathy Rain”, “Clive Barker’s Undying”, “Deux Ex: Invisible War” etc…

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Anyway, I hope that you have as much fun reading this stuff as I have writing it πŸ™‚

Review: “Doctor Who – Twice Upon A Time” (TV Show Episode)

Well, although it’s a little on the late side of things, I thought that I’d review this year’s Christmas episode of “Doctor Who”.

So, let’s take a look at “Twice Upon A Time”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

“Twice Upon A Time” begins with a recap… of an old episode from the 1960s starring William Hartnell as the first Doctor.

Yes, if you were expecting a recap of the ending of the series from earlier this year, you’re in for a surprise…

Dying, he stumbles out of the TARDIS into the South Pole whilst displaying a Churchillian level of determination to stay alive. However, much to his surprise, he meets the current Doctor (who is also dying) – but doesn’t recognise him.

As they begin to talk, the falling snow around them suddenly freezes in the air. A rather confused WW1 officer then interrupts their conversation. It quickly becomes obvious that something is wrong with time itself..

Don’t worry, I’m sure that Baldrick has a cunning plan…

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it is classic “Doctor Who”. It is able to be serious without being miserable. It is able to be poignant without being depressing. It is able to be profound and deep, but is still able to be intriguingly mysterious. It is able to be morally complex without being too morally ambiguous. As send-offs go, this is one of the best ones that I’ve seen.

As you would expect, this is an episode about memory and death. A lot of the episode’s story revolves around whether our memories make us who we are. Not only is this shown in the many humourous and dramatic interactions between the two Doctors, but the premise of the episode also allows for a few appearances from familiar characters from earlier in the show (eg: Bill, Clara, Nardole etc..). And, in a lot of ways, the episode’s theme of memories also reminded me a little bit of both “Blade Runner” films. Which is never a bad thing πŸ™‚

Of course, “Blade Runner” isn’t the only thing this episode reminded me of. This scene contains a brilliant parody of and/or homage to “Alien” too πŸ™‚

Another cool thing about this episode is that time travel is a really central part of it. Although the entire show revolves around time travel, it is often more of a background detail or an excuse for the characters to be somewhere interesting. This episode, on the other hand, is all about how time affects people. A lot of the episode’s story revolves around the complex interactions between the past, the modern age and the distant future – and this is handled really well.

Such as this brilliant little moment when a man from the 1910s finds a piece of 1980s/90s technology whilst standing inside a time machine from the distant future.

The episode also approaches the topic of death with the high level of maturity, complexity, compassion and humanity that you would expect. The episode is also something of an exploration of the fear of death too (albeit in a somewhat stoical and understated way). Seriously, I cannot praise the writing in this episode highly enough.

Although some of the episode’s poignancy and emotional resonance will only “work” if you’ve seen Peter Capaldi’s other episodes on the show, the episode packs one hell of an emotional punch if you have. However if, like me, you haven’t really seen any of the pre-2005 episodes of the show, then some of the episode’s references may seem a little bit confusing.

For example, whilst these two characters are obviously the first Doctor’s companions, I have no clue what their names are etc….

The characters in this episode are absolutely brilliant. Although William Hartnell’s version of the Doctor is obviously played by another actor, he certainly seems like a character from an old TV show.

He’s a grumpy, patronising and stubborn old man – who somehow manages to be both steely and Churchillian, yet hilariously old-fashioned, at the same time. He could have easily turned into a caricature, but he comes across as a character who is both set in his ways and yet highly inexperienced at the same time. It’s a really difficult balance to get right, and the episode nails it perfectly.

Plus, he even wears a monocle at one point too.

Likewise, the WW1 officer in the episode is also a more nuanced character than he appears to be. Although he is something of a typical “stiff upper lip”-style character, he doesn’t really stray too much into the realm of Blackadder-esque caricature most of the time, and he comes across as a surprisingly nuanced and complex character.

The Doctor and Bill are, as you would expect, the same excellent characters as they have been for the past couple of series of the show too. And it is great to see them getting a proper ending to their story (as opposed to the “deus ex machina” ending of series ten):

Yay! There’s some proper resolution to this chapter of “Doctor Who” πŸ™‚

Jodie Whittaker’s much-anticipated appearance as the next Doctor is also a really cool moment. The scene in question is dramatic, funny (eg: the Doctor’s amazed reaction when she looks in a mirror) and is quintessentially “Doctor Who”. But, it is literally just a moment. This awesome scene is over within the space of about a minute… and with a cliffhanger ending too!

And, in contrast to Capaldi’s gloomy portrayal of the Doctor, Whittaker’s Doctor seems to be more of the eccentric and/or cheerful David Tennant/Matt Smith school of Doctoring. Well, this is what I guessed from the few seconds she actually appeared for…

As you would expect, the dialogue in this episode is absolutely brilliant. Although there are lots of serious lines (such as the Doctor’s brilliant soliloquy before he regenerates), the episode is also filled with lots of amusing and witty dialogue segments too. Again, as a send-off for this era of the show, it is absolutely brilliant!

Seriously, this is the best “ending” episode that I’ve seen πŸ™‚

The set design and lighting in this episode are brilliant too. Not only does the episode sometimes use lighting to create atmospheric colour schemes (eg: red and blue, blue and orange etc..) but there’s also lots of beautiful chiaroscuro/ tenebrist lighting here too. Seriously, the lighting in some scenes looks like something from a Caravaggio painting πŸ™‚

Yes! THIS is how to use lighting πŸ™‚

Seriously, this scene could almost be a Caravaggio painting!

However, this episode does have the annoying modern habit of using lots of lens flare sometimes….

This is also complemented by some brilliant set design too, with many of the episode’s locations evoking a theme of oldness, bleakness and/or decay.

Including a segment set on a post-apocalyptic planet that looks like something from an old horror movie πŸ™‚

And check out this location that manages to look ancient and futuristic at the same time πŸ™‚

The episode’s special effects are also reasonably ok too. Although the CGI effects are sometimes a little bit obvious, this doesn’t really matter as much as you might think since the story of the episode is so gripping that you’ll probably be willing to overlook any minor flaws with the effects. I mean, it could have 1980s special effects and it would still be a compelling episode.

Yes, some of the CGI effects look like something from at least a decade ago. But, the story is so compelling that this doesn’t matter.

All in all, this is a brilliant way to end this era of the show. This episode is poignant, funny, dramatic, spectacular, intelligent and visually brilliant. My only real complaint about it is that the scene introducing the new Doctor was far too short.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Jack Hunter And The Lost Treasure Of Ugarit” (Film)


“Jack Hunter And The Lost Treasure Of Ugarit” is the first film in the “Jack Hunter” trilogy. Although I’m not sure how many of these films I’ll actually review, I thought that it was best to start this review off by pointing out that it is the first film in a trilogy (which was originally a TV mini-series in America in 2008-9). In other words, it’s not quite a stand-alone film (although it’s mostly self-contained).

So, if you’re watching this film, it’s probably best to get the “Jack Hunter Trilogy” DVD boxset instead of buying it individually. Thankfully, this can be picked up fairly cheaply second-hand on sites like Amazon (I waited until the price had dropped to under Β£3). And it can probably also be found in miscellaneous bargain bins too.

If you’re going to get this film, get it as part of this. And, yes, I really need to clean my scanner.

That said, let’s take a look at “Jack Hunter And The Lost Treasure Of Ugarit”:

As you may have guessed from the DVD cover, “Jack Hunter And The Lost Treasure Of Ugarit” is *ahem* inspired by Indiana Jones. This isn’t a bad thing though – given that there really aren’t that many things in this wonderfully fun genre out there these days.

The only other one I can think of is an absolutely awesome Canadian TV series from the late 1990s/early 2000s called “Relic Hunter” (and maybe some parts of “Stargate SG-1″/ The original “Stargate” movie).

And, yes, the film is somewhat open about it’s inspirations…

The story of “Jack Hunter And The Lost Treasure Of Ugarit” revolves around an archaeologist called Jack Hunter who, following various events in Paris and California, must travel to (pre-war) Syria in order to find the lost city of Ugarit and stop Albert Littman, a member of the Russian Mafia, from getting there first.

Along the way, Jack is joined by Nadia Ramadan, an official with the Syrian government who wants to protect the country’s treasures from thieves. Needless to say, she and Jack don’t get along well at first, but soon find themselves pursued by mysterious masked henchmen….

Plus, the scene with the henchmen takes place in this really cool-looking indoor market too.

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s actually surprisingly good, if you go into it with the right expectations. In other words, don’t expect it to be a major Hollywood movie with big name stars and millions of dollars worth of CGI.

But, saying that, I actually found that I preferred it to some modern movies. I don’t know, the low-budget nature of the film makes it slightly less “modern” in terms of style. So, it’s kind of a bit like a modern version of something from the 80s or 90s – back when mid-budget films were a thing, films were 90 minutes long and Hollywood produced more than just “ultra-serious” superhero-style action films that focus more on spectacle than story. Yes, this is a action/thriller film, but it’s a slightly understated and mildly “realistic” old-school one (most of the time..).

For example, this is literally the only scene in the film where Jack uses a gun. And he only uses it because someone else gives it to him. Because, why would archaeologists – of all people – carry guns everywhere?

Still, saying that, this film isn’t exactly groundbreaking. It’s a fun, fast-paced action movie (with lots of car chases, fist fights etc..) about lost treasure that is very much in the mould of the old Indiana Jones films. There’s a good mixture of humour, thrills and mysteries here which is suitably entertaining. Because that’s what this film is, it’s a fun adventure film. And, yes, it’s probably better than the fourth “Indiana Jones” movie too.

Ivan Sergei puts in a fairly good performance as Jack Hunter, the film’s rugged and handsome adventurer. Although he’s an “Indiana Jones”-style archaeologist, he isn’t a carbon copy of Indy. He’s more like a marginally more “realistic” version of the character. He’s slightly sarcastic and understated, and occasionally seems more like he’s the main character in an old “point and click” game. Surprisingly, this actually works fairly well since it lends a tiny bit of realism to what would otherwise be a fairly generic character.

Likewise, I was surprised to see that Nadia was played by Joanne Kelly (who also played Myka in “Warehouse 13”) and she comes across as a fairly realistic character who, refreshingly, isn’t really a “love interest” character for Jack. She’s just another character who ends up in the middle of a series of strange events.

Oh, I also forgot to mention Mario Naim Bassil’s hilarious performance as Tariq – the pair’s driver – who is the film’s main comedic character.

Thure Riefenstein also puts in a good performance as the suave and ruthless Albert Littman. Who, in true villainous fashion, will be perfectly polite and charming before doing something fiendishly evil.

And, yes, he’s also ruggedly handsome too. Seriously, it seems to be a rule with archaeologists in movies.

The location filming and set design here is reasonably good too. Although “Jack Hunter And The Lost Treasure Of Ugarit” was apparently filmed in Turkey, the pre-war version of Syria depicted in the film is somewhat poignant when seen these days.

Even though there’s the occasional ominous portrait of Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian locations are fun, fascinating and vibrant places filled with friendly people and beautiful architecture. It’s about a billion miles away from what we see on the news these days.

Seriously, at times, this film almost seems like an old holiday advert for Syria.

Likewise, apart from some clunky CGI scorpions, the “ancient temple” locations in this film look reasonably good too. Or, rather, they look like something that you might expect to see in a TV show from the late 1990s/early 2000s. To me, this is part of the charm of the film, but it might be disappointing if you prefer more modern Hollywood films.

And, yes, there are secret passages and deadly traps too. Because, well, it’s an Ind.. *cough* Jack Hunter film

All in all, this is actually a better movie than I expected. It’s a fun, entertaining old-school “Indiana Jones”-like action adventure movie, but with a slightly more understated and realistic tone that you would probably never see in a major Hollywood film. Although it’s nothing too groundbreaking, it’s still fairly enjoyable.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably just about get a four.