SFFWorld Review of the Year, 2010: part 3

So here we are again: our usual review of the year. (This is something like our eighth, I think!)  The snow’s deep around Hobbit Towers but you’re welcome to pull up a chair near the fire while we chat.

For the uninitiated, this is where Rob Bedford and I try to pull together what we see as key genre movies and TV series from the previous twelve months. I should really point out that, like the books, there is always some slippage here, as TV and films get shown in different places around the world at different times.

This seems to be a ‘US first, UK later’ thing, but by no means always.

Right: with that over, let’s get started.

Part 3: Genre Film and TV

a)      Film

Mark: The beginning of the year had that Avatar phenomenon dominating the box-office way beyond Christmas 2009.

After that, 2010 continued that trend of sequels. We had Shrek 4, Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2, Eclipse (Twilght 3), Tron: Legacy….

Often the sequel leads to diminishing interest and, more importantly to some perhaps, diminishing returns. I thought that this was rather a mixed bunch, but on the whole there were more plusses than minuses. I enjoyed Iron Man 2, more than many it seems, but that seemed to be due to the continued bravura performance of Robert Downey Jr., rather than the so-so villains.

Rob: Iron Man 2 caught a lot of flak for not living up to the promise of the first film. Which, I suppose it isn’t, but the original Iron Man set the bar extremely high.  I thought Iron Man 2 was a lot of fun and a very enjoyable film. Regarding the villains, Sam Rockwell chewed up the scenery as Justin Hammer.

Mark: Tron:Legacy I enjoyed more than I thought I would, though this was mainly for the music and the visuals rather than the plot. Well done Bruce Boxleitner and Jeff Bridges, in particular. Olivia Wilde came out of it better than I thought she would, Michael Sheen just wasn’t in it long enough, whereas the main young lead… meh.

Of the animated movies, How to Train Your Dragon was very good, the fourth Shrek was seen as better than the third, but still not as good as the series’ earlier movies. Toy Story 3 for me was probably the best of the bunch. Great script, cracking characters, a script for all ages and at the end I felt that the story actually meant something. Another unqualified success for Pixar. It was hard to think that, like Harry Potter, the end of this film was the end of an era for some cinema-goers.

And to the Potter film itself. Lots of hoo-ha about the book being split into two, and the film being in 3D (and then not.) Generally well received, though, and like Toy Story 3, the beginning of the end of an era.

Rob: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part the first), was a vast improvement over its filmic predecessor. Though not perfect, David Yates seemed to have learned a great deal as he took over the reins of the franchise at its close.

Mark: The best film of the year for me was Inception. Startling, imaginative, provocative, a film that you had to see again. Perhaps a little guilty of being overhyped and being a little too clever for the sake of being clever, it was my most unexpected like of the year.

Rob: I’ve been a Nolan fanboy ever since Batman Begins (and actually since Memento), so I was predisposed to liking this one.  In the end, it exceeded even my expectations and showed that smart science fiction can appeal to the masses.

Mark: There were a number of smaller budget films that pleasingly seemed to get a positive response this year. Duncan Jones’ Moon won a BAFTA and a Hugo and surprised many. Splice was quite well received, and Predators was felt by some to be a reboot for the franchise, though still a little disappointing.Let Me In gained some fans in its new non-subtitled version.

Rob: Moon was terrific (which I had finally caught on DVD after a very limited US release), Sam Rockwell’s performance was absolutely brilliant and at times, heart-breaking.  Another small film I thought was terrific was Monsters.  Small budget road movie that follows an unlikely couple across a Mexican landscape ravaged by giant aliens that, when fully revealed towards the film’s conclusion, had a Lovecraftian/Chthulu feel.

Mark: To the movies that failed to really wow – the fourth Shrek has already been mentioned, Resident Evil continued to underwhelm and Tim Burton’sAlice in Wonderland got a mixed response, with some liking his interpretation and others bemoaning the film as a missed opportunity. Well, that, and the fact that the part of the Mad Hatter, performed by Johnny Depp, was much added to. Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief was seen as a brave but disappointing flop. The Book of Eli’s post-apocalyptic vision gained some comparison with the bleak The Road (on DVD this year) but seemed to pass by relatively quickly in this age of austerity.

b)      TV

Mark: Here we have a bit of a split between the US and UK viewing, though it was noticeable that there was quite a lot of trans-Atlantic swapping going on.

The biggest hit in the UK (and I believe doing very nicely in the US as well) continued to be Doctor Who. Reformatted with Matthew Smith replacing David Tennant and a new ‘sexy sidekick’, Karen Gillan, the changeover with Steven Moffat at the helm rather than Russell T Davies seemed to be pretty smooth, with perhaps one minor reservation: I wasn’t that impressed.

Rob: My wife and I LOOOOVED (like every other right-thinking person) David Tennant as the Doctor so we were both tentative about Matt Smith.  That said, the young man is making the role his own and the show continues to entertain.

Mark: The spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures continued to be popular for children.

There were a number of other series that continued their evolution. In the UK, the vampire-werewolf-ghost series that is Being Human had its second series and was very popular, though strangely not a series I’ve warmed to. (It is now being remade for the US, due 2011.)

Primeval, the dino-romp, was retrieved from death and had a fourth series produced, admittedly with a bit of a revamp.

Sherlock was an imaginative and a nicely-done contemporary reimagining of the old detective, (again by Steven Moffat), which for me was spoilt by the awful ending and the throwaway villain.

Merlin seemed to improve a little in its third series, though I’m still spending more time looking at the wobbly swords and woollen cardigan ‘chainmail’ than the plot.

From the US, True Blood had more sexy vampire shenanigans, and seems to be doing very well. Similarly, The Walking Dead, a simple tale of zombie folk, was a very popular AMC series at the end of the year.

Rob : True Blood’s 3rd season was a big improvement over the MaryAnn softcore porn that was the 2nd season and The Walking Dead, though it veered from the comics, was still fun and interesting.

Mark: Fringe, my favourite of this list by far, took some interesting turns which seemed to be popular with genre fans, though sadly not perhaps with the masses.

V: The New Series I thought was good, but not as good as I had hoped. I think it still has potential but the jury’s still out for me on that one.

Rob: V died off towards the end of the first season for me.  Not bad, but it seemed to meander a bit.

Mark: The Event, a Lost-style series is still running, with a mid-season break. I thought it had potential but quickly became mundane.

Warehouse 13 and Eureka continued to keep steady support in the US.

Rob: Eureka is probably the best show on the SyFy network, a nice balance of serious and humour that, for formulaic TV, doesn’t feel as if it is too formulaic.  Another show my wife and I love.

Mark: Some series reached their proper end, whereas others were culled before their logical conclusion. Lost reached its end in Series Six, to an ending that satisfied some but angered many others.

Rob: The ending to Lost was perhaps the most divisive series ender since…well since Battlestar Galactica the previous year.  For my part, I thought it was terrific and I’m now sad it is no longer on TV.

Mark: However, Flashforward was cancelled at the end of one season. Like The Event it started well, but quickly became a bit of a chore. Also cancelled was Caprica. From what I’ve seen so far, I really like, but it is not Battlestar Galactica. Its early demise is disappointing. Similarly, Stargate Universe,which I thought was a nicely developing series, better than the original Stargate series, was sadly cancelled.

Rob: Flashforward was, I thought, too smart for its own good at times.  For me, it was an enjoyable hour of weekly television with good acting (aside from the over-acting of the main actor Joseph Fiennes), and a show that didn’t seem afraid to try things.

I fell in love with Stargate Universe very early, despite never really getting into any of the previous series.  Another good cast, great FX, and a nice meshing of episodic storytelling and over-reaching story arc. I’m still feeling the sting of it being cancelled.  It seems ever since the channel that airs the show here in the States changed its name to the ridiculous SyFy, it shows less and less science fictional content and doesn’t even give such shows a chance to gain an audience.

Coming to an end in 2011 is Smallville, a show that has had a lot of ups and downs over its decade of being on television.  The past season brought me back into the fold thanks to a tightening of the relationship between Clark and Lois. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m sort of in love with Erica Durance, the actress who portrays Lois.  The show is at its best when it doesn’t stray too far from the mythology of Superman and with the introduction of DC Comics foremost presence of evil Darkseid, looks to have a stellar conclusion.

Mark: Yup: I’ve stuck with Smallville since the beginning. Though  I have struggled the last couple of seasons, I have liked it when the series has touched on its comic roots. I will watch the final series, yet to be shown here in the UK.

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