Friday, May 30, 2014

Sherlock vs Elementary

Quite a while ago (January 2013) I wrote a post about the two modern interpretations of Sherlock Holmes, British series “Sherlock” and American series “Elementary.” I was undecided then, but I certainly am not undecided now.

To be honest, “Elementary” couldn’t really hold my interest past the first two or three episodes. I just didn’t feel comfortable with the series, I just didn’t feel that ‘I must absolutely watch the next episode’ feeling that defines a good series for me. And I think I’m not alone, considering the airing in Germany switched from a very major station (SAT1) to the much less major station Kabel1 (which normally mostly does reruns of series and movies).
What did I miss in “Elementary?” Perhaps the spot-on casting of BBCs “Sherlock.” Perhaps the nice and well-done renewal of Doyle’s own stories (from “Study in Scarlet” new-interpretation “Study in Pink” to the “The Empty Hearse” interpretation of “The Empty House” so far, still watching my way through season 3). Perhaps I like my Sherlock much more in London. I can’t really say. What I can say is I watched “The Empty Hearse” yesterday in German, because I stumbled over it and, despite the fact that I hate the German voices, I was caught. In three seasons of three movies each, two were weak (“The Blind Banker” in season 1 and “A Scandal in Belgravia” in season 2 - for me, that one dragged terribly). And even those were nice enough to watch, they just weren’t ‘must watch again in a hurry’ material.
Maybe the Sherlock Holmes in “Elementary” was just too ‘American’ for my taste. Perhaps he strayed too far from the original. Or, perhaps, the fact that the BBC version keeps to the old stories, even while redoing them, is what makes it more interesting for me. I started reading Sherlock Holmes stories at the age of 12 - and I never stopped completely. But no, I’ve read my share of ‘new’ cases written by other authors. It’s not Doyle himself I miss in the American version. I can’t say what it is, I only can say “Elementary” has vanished from my radar for good. Not watching the episodes, even though they’re running at the moment.

For many people, Jeremy Brett was the ultimate Holmes, at least before Benedict Cumberbatch. Not for me, but I recognize he shaped the role to a certain degree, even so far that the Sherlock Holmes in Frogware’s adventure games seems to be modelled after him. For me, Cumberbatch was the ultimate Holmes the moment I saw him in the role first. The whole setup of the series, the whole style it was made in (with the facts rotating over the screen, for instance), the casting, it all worked together so well. Sherlock’s remark that he steals Lestrade’s badge when he’s annoyed at the Inspector in “Study in Pink” made me laugh, not because it was from the source material (it’s not), but because it seemed to fit this Sherlock Holmes so well. I can imagine him swiping Lestrade’s badge when he gets annoyed or bored, just for the fun of it. He admits to being a sociopath, after all. (The whole ‘consulting detective/consulting criminal’ thing with Holmes and Moriarty in season 1/2 only works because, if you really, really look at it, both are sociopaths. So much for the old theory that they’re two sides of a coin.)

It’s been a terrible drag to only get three 1 1/2 hour movies per season with “Sherlock” - and having to wait so long for season 3, with both Cumberbatch and Freeman occupied with “The Hobbit” and other stuff. The next season will also take its time, but at least there will be one.
On the other hand, I haven’t missed “Elementary” since I stopped watching. I haven’t even thought about checking the series again, now that it’s running once more (whereas I would most likely stay up until 2 am in order to catch the rest of “Sleepy Hollow” - just saying). That says it clearly, I think.

In the long run, “Sherlock” has won the battle. Not that I thought there would be one, but evidently there was. Some people might love “Elementary,” but I’ll keep to the British variety.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Goodbye Warehouse 13

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for TV series that were somewhere beside the norm, the little gems that might never get major screen time on the big stations, but that make you turn in again and again - or spend whole days on a weekend or a vacation watching the DVDs. Several years ago, I picked up the first season of a little series I’d never had heard about before … it was the first season of “Warehouse 13.” And I was hooked, by the stories, by the characters, by the looks.

I didn’t expect all that much from the DVD set, to be honest. I know most TV series from the US have around 20 episodes for a full season, so I was sure this one with its 13 episodes was a mid-season replacement (and, statistically, only very few of those ever make it to a second season). But I didn’t really mind that, I’ve never had the majority’s taste in my life. I started watching and pulled through with all episodes on the same day. I was hooked, I was researching, and I was seeing talk of one more season online. I got the second DVD set and watched those as well.
The third season I bought from iTunes later on, also going through it at high speed. There was a little break afterwards, from my point of view, season three might just be the weakest (but weakest in a great series still is good, mind you). Yesterday, I got my hands on Season 4, buying another DVD set. It was one of the best seasons of any TV series I have ever watched. The only season with full 20 episodes (Season 1 to 3 have 13 episodes) reminded me of why I loved the other seasons so much. The twists, the turns, the great stories. The character development and the relationships between the characters. The many amazing artefacts stored in the warehouse. Mrs. Frederic. Mrs. Frederic alone is worth watching the whole series, believe me. She’s amazing.
So today I got myself an iTunes prepaid card (filling my iTunes account with enough money for the season pass for season 5, which only has 6 episodes) and bought the last few episodes as well. I bought them in the late afternoon and now, at quarter to eleven pm, I’ve finished watching all of the episodes. I loved every one of them.

So, what do I like about the series? I’ve already listed it above, but now have a little look at the details, shall we?
I was first pulled in by the basic premise of the series, by the principle of the artefacts and hunting them down. It was a nice twist, combining fantasy and science-fiction elements very well. The idea that many people over time have created artefacts in times of extreme circumstances left an open field for stories. I also liked the idea that every artefact would also have a dark side, a price to pay for the powers it could give you. You can’t just take, you also have to give so there’s a balance. It might sometimes be worth it, but in the end it make clear why those artefacts were taken into custody and hidden from the world. They were dangerous, they needed to be kept from those who might use them for their own purposes, sharing the price with the rest of the world. What that might mean shows clearly, especially in the final episodes of the seasons, when the writers were preparing for a possible end every time and pulled out the really good stuff to play with and create a possible end of the world - or at least the warehouse.
But the artefacts, as amazing as they were, weren’t the only reason for watching. With the artefacts alone, “Warehouse 13” could easily have been one of those ‘monster of the week’ series, which present you stories that have nothing or little to do with each other. Great artefacts and nice effects (especially for a TV series, we’re not talking about a Hollywood movie budget here, after all), but no substance underneath. Without the characters, that might have happened, but the writers knew that, too, obviously. So they presented the viewers with a host of interesting and layered characters. Characters that clearly had a life before they came to the warehouse (or the warehouse caught them, depending on how you want to see it), characters that had their weak spots, their strengths, their history. Relationships between the characters were important to the writers as well. The agents of the warehouse became a family over time, with Artie and, to a certain degree, Mrs. Frederic as the parents and the rest as the children. The family grew from season to season. The pasts of the characters had an impact on their present, they triggered events, they became important in the stories. It wasn’t just the typical ‘that’s your new case’ series, it was a series in which, sometimes, the cool artefacts even seemed to take the back seat and let the other parts play out.
Another thing that caught me from the first episode was the look of the series. At the time I watched the first season, I knew little to nothing about Steampunk (although I was reading “Girl Genius” already). That is precisely the style of the warehouse, though. The perfect mix between modern (in some cases hyper-modern) technology and an old, comfortable look. I liked the style from the very beginning, it was something that touched me in a way.

On one hand, I’m sorry “Warehouse 13” has ended. On the other hand, I have seen too many promising series go down after a while, because sooner or later there’s a decline in quality. Those 65 episodes overall are good, more than good. The series has a wonderful, touching, perfect ending. It spends the entire last season tying up the loose threads, the writers didn’t just say ‘what the heck, it’s over anyway,’ they rather decided ‘if we’re going, then let’s make it great, let’s go out in style.’ I also liked actors that I knew before and that turned up as guest stars, in some cases as recurring guest stars. (I especially liked both James Marsters and Anthony Head making an appearance in Season 4 - not together, but overlapping with Brent Spinner.)

If you like science-fiction, fantasy, Steampunk, or just good TV entertainment, take a look at “Warehouse 13.” Enjoy good stories, interesting people, and a not-so-common style.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Gaming Binge

I’ve actually been doing some binge playing lately … I finished a couple of old TMs I had in my ‘games’ folder. Especially, I finished “Viking Saga 2” after “Viking Saga 3” came out, figuring I shouldn’t finish part 3 before finishing part 2. Then I went on with other TMs, which is quite a good feeling overall, let me tell you. And now, I’ve gone on binge playing adventures with Nancy Drew.

I’ve gotten my email and download link for “Nancy Drew - The Shattered Medallion” (game #30) on Wednesday, since I had pre-ordered it in April. Then I realized I’m way behind with my Nancy Drew games, so I figured I should play some of the older ones before I tackle the newest. I started with “Nancy Drew - Ghost of Thornton Hall” (#28) since it was a) on my HD already and b) a scary one (I love those). I went through it in one feverish afternoon, as it were. And I will definitely play it again in a little while. Actually, right now it ranks up right beside my other two ND favourites: “Nancy Drew - Shadow at Water’s Edge” (#23 and set in Japan) and “Nancy Drew - The Captive Curse” (#24 and the only one set in Germany). All of them, as you can see from the titles, are on the scary side. I continue with the next one in the series, “Nancy Drew - The Silent Spy” (#29), which is not scary, but was very interesting to play, so I played most right after finishing #28 and only had about 1/3 to play today. I will definitely play that one again in a while, too.
“Nancy Drew - The Shattered Medallion” is next on my list, then I will go back with “Nancy Drew - The Deadly Device” (#27) and “Nancy Drew - Tomb of the Lost Queen” (#26). Afterwards? Believe me, if I combine the ND games I have from Steam, from HerInteractive, and from BFG, I have most of the series still to play. I have only finished a very few ND games so far (another I finished is “Nancy Drew - The Haunting of Castle Malloy”). I have a great many of the newer games (engine 2) and all of the newest (engine 3). I’m quite sure I will also buy the next in the series, once it comes out at HerInteractive.

It might surprise you, if you haven’t grown up in Germany, that Nancy Drew as a such is next to unknown over here. A couple of the novels have been translated over the last few years, but while I was still a teen (and would have loved a female detective who was not just part of a bigger group), there was no Nancy Drew book to be found over here. My first real contact with the character therefore was the first ND game I ever bought (which was, I think, “The Secret of the Old Clock” which is still on my to-do list). Over the next few years (yes, it’s actually been that long), I bought a couple of the games, either because the title sounded interesting, because there were sales during which I got them for a good price, or just because others recommended them to me. I hardly managed to finish them, however, since I’m possessed by a terrible ‘oh, shiny!’ reflex that cuts in whenever I find another game to play.
Lately, though, my urge to get new games has settled down considerably. I have ended my memberships at BFG and GH (those that cost, that is, I’m still a registered user at both sides) and instead started to buy games from the developers directly (in my case, as I prefer TM games, mostly from Alawar, Playrix, or Realore). It might now be the right time to actually play all those games I have bought and not finished so far. As if that is ever going to happen…

Adventures are among the first games I really played after discovering computer gaming. I remember fondly spending a lot of time with classics like “Zak McCracken and the Alien Mindblenders” or “Manic Mansion.” I even remember fondly - today, that is - playing old Sierra Games and dying regularly. It’s no surprise I was far more fond of LucasArts (Lucasfilm Games, as they were still called at that time), since you couldn’t die in those. I enjoyed “Day of the Tentacle” and played it until I could play the game in under two hours, since I knew precisely what to do next. Unfortunately, YouTube was not up and about then and I had no internet, so there is no proof of that.
I strayed to other genres over time, I had my brush with FTS games, I played strategy games, I discovered the joy of playing RPGs. I plunged head-first into the casual market and got caught by HOGs and TMs. I like the occasional Match-3 game. I became much better at simulations, especially at business and life simulations (patience comes with age, it’s true).
But all the time, I’ve never completely lost sight of the genre which I’ve always loved most, the adventure, the novel you can play. And, luckily, I live in a place where there’s still quite some being produced (German developers like Deck 13 still do a lot of 2.5D games).

I think I will continue to binge-play Nancy Drew a bit longer … I could also finally do “Nancy Drew - Legend of the Crystal Skull” (#17), which I always wanted to finish, but somehow never did finish. Not to mention all the ND games I have from BFG … I will be well-entertained (and probably dying from bad choices) for quite a while.