It’s a smaller week this week, but we do get the return of a beloved science fiction franchise as well as a surprising amount of animated releases. Check out the full slate below!
Babylon 5: The Road Home
The Movie: Babylon 5 is back, baby! And I could not be more excited about it! Okay, to be fair, it’s just one new animated movie and not a new series, but I’m hoping that it will be successful enough to warrant more. Back in the 1990s, we were lucky enough to get not one, but two of the best science fiction shows ever on TV at the same time. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 aired at the same time, and while a lot of fans chose one camp or another, I like to think that most of us eventually figured out that they were both simply amazing storytelling unlike anything else on TV at the time. After a five year run, Babylon 5 came to an end, and while there have been a few follow up TV movies in the years since, the last time we had a new B5 product was 2007. So now, 16 years later, we get an all-new animated movie called Babylon 5: The Road Home. Starring original cast members Bruce Boxleitner, Bill Mumy, Claudia Christian, Peter Jurasik, Patricia Tallman, and Tracy Scoggins, the film sees John Sheridan taking on a new role as President of the Alliance, only to find himself coming unstuck in time. He begins to ping-pong around time and space, finding himself in the past, in alternate timelines, and in trouble. Now, a surprising number of Babylon 5 cast members have passed away since the show was on the air, but in animated form, they can live again, so we not only see characters like Sheridan, Ivonava, Lennier, Londo, and Lyta, but also fan favorites like G’Kar, Garibaldi, Delenn, Dr. Franklin, and many others, who live again thanks to some uncanny voice actors who pay tribute to the characters and the late actors who portrayed them. Honestly, I loved the film. It felt like classic B5, with a grand space/time adventure but also themes of love and unity, which is always what the show was about. If you’re a Babylon 5 fan, trust me when I tell you that you will really enjoy this trip back to the B5 universe!
The 4K Audio/Video: Babylon 5: The Road Home is available on 4K Ultra HD (as well as Blu-ray and DVD.) I’ll admit I was a little underwhelmed by the video quality. The colors don’t pop as much as I expected for a 4K release, and imagery seems a little softer than I expected. I did a comparison to the Blu-ray (which is included with the 4K) and the 4K is definitely superior, I just expected a little more impressive of a transfer. The surround soundtrack does step up, however, offering an immersive soundfield that takes advantage of all of the satellite speakers to bring the action home.
The Special Features: There’s a really nice 17-minute featurette that packs in some making-of material, interviews with the cast as well as show creator J. Michael Straczynski, and a nice tribute to the cast members who have passed on. There’s also a commentary track with Straczynski and Bruce Boxleitner (as well as the film’s producer.)
The Wrap-Up: I really hope this film does well enough to warrant more. Sure, I’d love a new Babylon 5 TV series as much as the next fan, but even if I can get a new animated movie once a year that brings back all my favorite characters, I’m in. Do yourself a favor and track down Babylon 5: The Road Home today!
Ender’s Game: Steelbook 4K Ultra HD
The Movie: I wish Ender’s Game had done better in theaters. I mean, it was definitely one of the bigger flops of 2013, and I don’t quite get why. Okay, yes, the movie has flaws, but overall, I enjoy it quite a bit. I’ve read the original novel that the book is based on, but never any of the sequels, so I’m not what you would consider a die-hard fan. And while the movie wisely excises a number of story points from the book (all good ones to lose, in my opinion), it’s actually pretty damn faithful to the source material in terms of tone and characters. But even if you haven’t read the book, the film is a pretty good sci-fi epic. It isn’t an action film per se, but it has action in it and is never slow or dull. Asa Butterfield is very good in the lead role, and Harrison Ford — while doing his trademark gruff thing — is terrific as well. Ender’s Game is one of those films that may not become your next favorite, but I bet you’ll find that you like it more than you expect to. Now, to celebrate the film’s 10th anniversary, there’s a brand new Steelbook 4K Ultra HD edition that’s exclusively available through Best Buy.
The 4K Audio/Video: I love me some space operas on 4K! Ender’s Game looks and sounds terrific in 4K, featuring bright and vivid colors, impeccably sharp imagery, and deep, rich black levels. The print, of course, is devoid of any blemishes or debris. The surround soundtrack has a lot to work with and it doesn’t waste any opportunities to fill your living room with activity. There’s also a nice low end bass channel that gives some of the climactic scenes an effective rumble that you’ll feel in your chest. This is the kind of movie I love to watch in 4K.
The Special Features: There are two making-of features on the film, as well as an audio commentary and a collection of deleted and/or extended scenes (that also offer optional commentary tracks.) Plus, of course, the beautiful Steelbook case is kind of like an extra on its own.
The Wrap-Up: Ender’s Game isn’t a classic but I wish it had done better so we could have gotten adaptations of the remaining books in the series. Still, the film is worth a revisit and this gorgeous Steelbook 4K UHD release is a great way to do it.
You Hurt My Feelings
The Movie: Writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said, Friends With Money) returns with a new film starring her semi-regular star, Julia Louis Dreyfus, this time partnered with Outlander’s Tobias Menzies. I can be very hit or miss with Holofcener’s films, but You Hurt My Feelings manages to be both a hit and a miss in one film. Seriously, it’s the tale of two halves for me with this movie; I really hated the first half, but the second half actually kind of won me over. The film focuses on Beth, a semi-successful writer, and her husband, Don, a burnt out psychiatrist. Along with Beth’s sister, Sarah (a frustrated interior decorator) and her husband, struggling actor Mark, we get a foursome of mostly unhappy, unlikable people complaining about things and going through the motions in their daily lives. And frankly, I found the first half of the film annoying and tedious because I really didn’t like the characters. But when Beth overhears Don telling Mark that he really doesn’t like her new book, things start to unravel. That’s also where the film starts to get interesting, as the characters finally have something interesting to say and start to actually work towards becoming people worthy of my sympathy and investment of time. While I can’t say I loved the film, by the end of it, I at least felt lukewarm towards it.
The Special Features: There is a making-of featurette, but the real attraction here is the audio commentary with Nicole Holofcener and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
The Wrap-Up: Despite my misgivings, I’ve seen enough of Holofcener’s films to say that if you like them, you’ll probably like You Hurt My Feelings. It’s very in line with her other works. For me, while I ultimately came around on the movie, it certainly won’t be considered a favorite anytime soon.
NCIS: The 20th Season
The Show: At 20 seasons in, NCIS has to be encroaching on the territory of shows like Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and The Simpsons as one of the longest running series in television history. And at this point, trying to “review” the show seems a little futile, as you either already like it or you don’t. I’ve always found NCIS to be a solid enough distraction. Like, I never got fully invested in it and watched it regularly, but by the same token, I do enjoy popping in the DVD sets when I get them and powering through a handful of the more exciting episodes. Season 20 largely delivers more of what we’re used to from the show – the Naval Criminal Investigative Services’ Major Case Response Team solving crimes involving the U.S. Navy – and for the most part, the episode-by-episode formula remains true to form. This season does, however, seem to take a little more of a focus on the team’s personal lives, with three of the first four episodes alone giving serious screen time to events in the personal lives of Parker, McGee, and Knight. This latest DVD collection comprises all 22 episodes of Season 20 on six DVDs in the usual amaray case format.
The Special Features: You get over an hour of bonus features (but really more), including a making-of featurette on the crossover episodes, four featurettes looking at 20 years of NCIS, a making-of featurette on the 20th season, and a handful of audio commentaries. On top of that, you get two crossover episodes of NCIS Hawaii and one crossover episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, so that’s a lot of extra bang for your buck.
The Wrap-Up: NCIS is formulaic, sure, but there’s a reason it’s lasted for literally two full decades: the formula works. It does what it does well, and if you’re in the mood for some mysteries and a likable cast, with characters who occasionally take the spotlight, NCIS: The 20th Season is for you.
The Movie: This week’s requisite direct-to-video action thriller is Confidential Informant, starring Kate Bosworth, Dominic Purcell, Nick Stahl, and Mel Gibson. The film sees Purcell’s police officer Moran facing terminal cancer, so he and his partner scheme for him to die on the job so his family gets the generous death benefits that come when a cop dies in the line of duty. However, the scheme goes wrong, Internal Affairs gets involved, and things get messy from there. Now, that’s a solid set-up for a film, but unfortunately it falls apart in the execution. The script is murky and goes in strange directions, the dialogue isn’t going to win any awards, and things just never quite gel. There is some very likable talent in the cast, especially Gibson, Purcell, and Bosworth, and they do give a good effort, but frankly, that’s all that makes the film worth watching. It’s not, however, enough to elevate the source material. Unfortunately, Confidential Informant falls into the all-too-tired category of direct-to-video action movies that are mediocre at best.
The Special Features: Just an audio commentary with the director, composer, and director of photography, as well as a trailer. Still, I can’t complain, as any bonus features are welcome these days.
The Wrap-Up: A solid line-up of talent can’t save Confidential Informant from behind-the-scenes issues. It’s a subpar film that might have been interesting at one point but sadly isn’t in its final form.
Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar
The Movie: It’s quite the week for animated sequels to projects that have been off the air for several years. Metalocalypse was a Cartoon Network animated series from 2006 to 2013, but it’s been largely absent in pop culture since then. Now, it’s back in an all-new animated feature film called Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar. The show was a comedy series about Dethklok, the world’s most popular death metal band. After the series ended, there was an animated movie, and then Metalocalypse was pretty much over. Until now, when we get a new movie, this one relegating the comedy to the backseat and instead turning it into an epic that involves fate, the apocalypse, music, and friendship. This time around, Dethklok accidentally trigger the apocalypse, and they have to create a long-prophesied song to help save the world. Now, I was never a regular viewer of Metalocalypse, only checking it out when I was reviewing it, and I haven’t watched any of it in a decade, so I was coming at this movie kind of like a new viewer. I will say that it does work narratively well enough that you can watch it as a new fan or as a returning viewer, although returning viewers might be surprised by the more serious tone. I was quite impressed by the animation, however, which is much more stylized and advanced than it was the last time I watched the show.
The Special Features: There’s a making-of feature called Behind the Metal Curtain, plus you get a mini-poster in the case.
The Wrap-Up: Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar is a fitting finale to the Metalocalypse saga if this is, indeed, the last we’ll get of the show. While it’s a little different tonally, I think most fans will appreciate the epic nature of the film.
The Movie: There’s a lot to explain about Junk Head, so bear with me. It’s a stop-motion animated movie — a science fiction epic — that originally came out in 2017 (after starting as a short film in 2013). At first I assumed this was just a case of a foreign film taking a long time to make it to domestic home video, but it turns out it’s a new edit of the film, because the creator of the movie, Takahide Hori, wanted to make it even more streamlined and effective. Here’s the thing, though: Hori made this film almost entirely by himself. Seriously, everything from writing and directing to actually creating the stop motion to voicing characters, it’s Hori. So if he wants to tweak it for a new home video release, who am I to argue? The film takes place in a far-flung future, where mankind has become sterile but the subterranean clones that mankind created are still fertile. When a lone adventurer sets out to gain genetic information from the clones down below… well, that’s when things get weird. Honestly, I can’t really explain this film to you. There were parts of the story that lost me and parts I could follow easily. That said, it’s such an interesting visual journey – made even more so by the fact that it’s all the vision of one man – that it’s hard not to recommend at least checking it out.
The Special Features: I’m going to say there’s “just” a making-of featurette, but at over 40 minutes and incredibly in-depth, this is actually a really terrific bonus.
The Wrap-Up: Junk Head is a weird film, there’s no other way to put it. I wish it were more narratively cohesive, but it’s still the kind of thing that you just sit back and go along for the ride. If nothing else, your eyes will be amazed at what’s on screen.
What’s New on Home Video – August 22nd, 2023 – Babylon 5, NCIS, Ender’s Game, Metalocalypse, & More!
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