TV-News: Stargazing Live – Brit in Space Edition

This Tuesday on 11:03 GMT, three astronauts will be launching to the International Space StationTimothy Kopra from NASA, Yuri Malenchenko from Roscosmos and Timothy Peake from ESA, the first Briton to go to space under a British flag. For this occasion, the BBC has pulled out all the stops and will cover both the launch and the docking on Tuesday with two special editions of Stargazing Live, hosted by Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain. According to several news reports, they will be joined by Helen Sharman, the first British citizen to go to space and visit Mir in 1991 and  former Canadian Astronaut and ISS commander Chris Hadfield. BBC science presenter Dallas Campbell will also be reporting live from the Baikonur launch site. Here’s the schedule as of Saturday, December 10:

10:30 GMT on BBC One: Blast Off Live is going to cover the hopefully not delayed launch scheduled for 11:03 GMT for 45 Minutes.

19:00 GMT on BBC Two: Brit in Space will not be able to cover the actual docking procedures, which are scheduled for 17:24 GMT, but will be right on time for the hatch opening and welcoming starting at 19:25 GMT. This program is scheduled for an hour-long time slot.

Update: I completely missed that there was a Tim Peake Horizon Special on Sunday evening. This is repeated on Monday evening at 23:15 GMT on BBC2 if you want to catch it again.

As usual, NASA TV will also cover the launch, but the BBC coverage will probably be much more interesting with lots of interviews and much more. Stargazing Live will also return for a new regular series starting on January 12.

 

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DVD-News: The Martian gets a Release Date

I’m not really looking at DVD or Blu-Ray release dates nowadays anymore, but here’s one I’ve been really waiting for: Andy Weir’s The Martian. According to a Space.com article from today, 20th Century Fox will first release the movie in the US as a digital streaming release on December 22, while the DVD and Blu-Ray will follow next year on January 12. There does not seem to be a UK release date yet, but according to Amazon.de the German Blu-Ray and DVD releases are on February 18, so a British release might be around the same time. There are absolutely no words on the bonus materials yet, but there will probably not a lot of them. I’ll probably get either the UK or German release, because when I order the US disc, it will probably arrive only after the European ones come out.

Just as a side note, I have actually not yet seen the movie except in trailers and some featurettes, but I’ve read the book and liked it very much for some very simple reasons. First, it is less science fiction than science future and seems almost entirely plausible. Second, no aliens or some etheral forces are mucking about. Third, Mark Watney may have to suffer more than John McClane in all of the Die Hard movies together, but nobody actually dies in the story! There is a bit of emotional baggage in the book that may or may not have made it into the movie and there’s quite a lot hair-raising excitement, but it seems far away from the drama-fests of Gravity and Interstellar. Despite the huge NASA hype around it – which only really started midway through production – I think the movie is what a proper space adventure should be all about.  I’m sure the movie will be fun, but I will do a merciless review when I’ve seen it!

While everybody’s waiting for the home video release, here’s a throwback to the beginning of this year: author Andy Weir was on the Weekly Space Hangout back in January before he got very busy with the promotion of the movie and was totally in his element. It was a great conversation and he even joined in for the rest of the hangout – it’s very much worth watching!

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DVD-Review: Futurama Season Three

Once again it has taken me ages, but I’m still continuing with my Futurama review series as good as I can. Today it’s Futurama Season Three on the menu, when the series had reached its perfection that would last a long time. The first two seasons were great, this is when Futurama became amazing with only a few episodes showing some weaknesses. It was also the season in which the big mythology of the series slowly started to emerge, making Futurama much more than just a collection of unconnected stories. Even today, those earlier episodes are surprisingly good considering they are now about fifteen years old. The DVDs are a bit limited in terms of image quality due to the production circumstances, but the commentary tracks on every episodes make them an invaluable collection you won’t get on today’s streaming services.

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Game Review: Discworld

Two years ago, I put together a review series for the 30th anniversary of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, but I never quite finished it. Although I had covered all of the animated series and the television movies, I never got around to write about the Discworld Adventure Games, which are a part of this unique universe too. It was the first game released in 1995 and simply called Discworld that brought me to Pratchett’s books in the first place, so maybe I have a bit of a soft spot for it, but it is still one of the best adventures of its time. While it has its flaws, the hand-drawn graphics and the brilliant voice acting with none other than Eric Idle in the lead role make this practically another Discworld animated movie. Head over to my other blog to read the complete game review – the first one I’ve written for a long time!

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TV-News: QI Series M starts this Friday

It’s that time of year again… the most amazing British television quiz show QI returns this Friday, October 16 at 22:00 BST / 23:00 CEST on BBC2 with the episodes of series M recorded earlier this summer. As usual, the 45-minute XL versions will air on Saturday around 21:00 BST, which is unfortunately slightly overlapping with the Doctor Who broadcasts on BBC1! There is already a preliminary episode list with all the guests on Wikipedia and it looks like it will be a lot of fun.

There are also some very sad and at the same time very good news: today the BBC revealed that Stephen Fry will step down as the quizmaster of QI after series M with thirteen years and 180 episodes under his belt. The good news is that his old friend and frequent QI guest Sandy Toksvig will take over in his place beginning next year, which – at least in my opinion – could not be a better choice. Stephen Fry will be missed, but QI will go on with a new, but familiar presenter and producer John Lloyd plus the QI Elves in the background. Meanwhile, there are still sixteen unaired episodes with Stephen Fry to watch this fall and winter!

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DVD-Review: The Penguins of Madagascar

I’m almost a year too late with this review, but I’ve had such a lot of fun with this movie that I decided to write a review anyway. It’s absolutely classic Dreamworks Animation material – The Penguins of Madagascar may not be the pinnacle of moviemaking, but it’s simply great and clever entertainment with the special twist the studio has become famous for. It also marks the end of an era as the last production of the original PDI studio, where it all began in the mid-1990s. With a fast and quirky script, a bunch of fantastic characters with a wonderful voice cast all brought to life by the brilliant animators, this movie hits all the right notes and while it was not enough to save the venerable PDI part of Dreamworks, it still remains one of their best movies. The DVD is, unfortunately, slightly disappointing with the now common lack of extras, but the technical quality is absolutely impeccable. This article is, like most of my recent ones, more focused on the fim than on the disc itself, so it’s more of a movie review.

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DVD-News: My Fair Lady 2015

I had mentioned this a long time ago, but the planned release of My Fair Lady in its newly restored version had been delayed for unknown reasons. More than a year later, a new release date has been announced – now it’s finally coming out on October 27, although in the US only for now. Everything has been sort of hush-hush and not even Robert A. Harris, who has been working on both the 1994 and 2015 restorations, was able to comment much about the work on the movie – until now. A couple of days ago, the Home Theater Forum had scored an amazing interview with him, which has a lot of details about the earlier and current restorations of the movie and the huge differences between them. While digtal restoration technology was still in its infancy twenty years ago, this time it was possible to scan and restore the movie completely in the digital realm in resolutions that finally do the large-format 65mm source justice.

There are not much details about the single, combined Blu-Ray/DVD release – only that it will be a set with two Blu-Rays and one DVD. The second Blu-Ray reportedly will contain 90 Minutes of ‘never before seen’ archive material, but it does not look like this will be available on DVD. Keeping the old 2-disc special edition will be a good because most of the old extras including the documentary seem to have been jettisoned too – but the new release will be worth it alone for the new video and audio restoration. I’m still not sure if and when I will be getting this new release, but should it make the way into my collection, I will give it a full review.

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DVD-Review: Shaun the Sheep Movie

The sheep are on the loose, but they’re on a mission – to get their farmer back home! Aardman Animations has done the impossible with successfully bringing Shaun the Sheep from the small to the big screen in the most amazing way possible. Simply called Shaun the Sheep Movie, it’s an instant Aardman classic every bit as good as their previous movies with just a few tiny faults. The concept of the original series was brilliantly expanded into a longer story and is not just a collection of the short episodes from the original series. Made possible by Studio Canal and an European film investor group, this is also Aardman’s first cinema adventure completely separate from anything Hollywood and it’s refreshing to see what they can accomplish independently. The DVD release is practically identical with the simultaneously released Blu-Ray and although low on extras (it’s the first Aardman movie without a commentary track), the presentation itself is absolutely first rate.

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DVD-News: Studio Canal restores The Third Man

For the anniversary of Orson Welles’ 100th birthday, Studio Canal has pulled something special out of the magic hat – a new restoration of The Third Man, this time in 4K made from a fine-grain positive copy of the original negative, done by Deluxe Digital in England. The new restoration has reportedly already been shown at the Cannes Film Festival and will be released in cinemas in both the UK and US on June 26 and “this summer” also here in Germany – but more importantly, new DVD and Blu-Ray editions are already coming on July 20th in the UK and on June 16th in Germany.

A 2-Disc DVD set contains the movie with the same great extras including an audio commentary and the Shadowing the Third Man documentary as the earlier StudioCanal editions, the Single Blu-Ray contains the same extras and there is also a slightly expensive Limited Edition Blu-Ray/DVD-Combo with the three separately available discs plus a soundtrack CD and some print material. The German editions seem to be identical, but only the 2-Disc-Set and the Blu-Ray are being released by StudioCanal’s Arthaus label. The prices are actually quite decent especially in Germany and if you haven’t bought the movie recently, this set is really recommended and is also a good replacement for the unfortunately out-of-print Criterion edition from a few years ago.

[Update & Warning 15.7: I received the German DVD edition today and it’s worthless because the 1.33:1 image has been encoded in 16:9 with thick black bars at the sides, making it virtually unwatchable on 4:3 displays and wasting almost half the resolution of the DVD! DO NOT BUY THE DVD EDITION OF THIS DISC – the authoring is messed up either on purpose or by accident. It’s also false packaging, because the rear cover says “1.33:1 (4:3 Full Screen)”! This concerns all European editions of the DVD, since the disc has English, French and German menus. Highly disappointing of Studio Canal! I’m trying to contact the German and English offices with a complaint, but I have no great hopes that this will properly be re-authored. Unfortunately I will not be reviewing this disc now in this shape.]

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DVD-Review: Futurama Season Two

It’s been a while since the last review, but here’s the continuation of the review series about that other thing Matt Groening once did: Futurama! This article is not only a review of the DVDs, but mainly an in-depth piece about Futurama Season Two, when the series became even better than the already amazing first season and hit its stride that would almost constantly continue for a long time. There are only few slightly weak episodes and some of the biggest classics of the series with lots of new character development, introductions and plenty of crazy stories. Even those early episodes hold up very well and it’s almost unbelievable that they are already over one and a half decades old. The DVDs suffer a little under the somewhat less than optimal image quality, but make more than up for it with great extras including the enormously entertaining audio commentaries on each episode.

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Note: As I wrote in the previous review, the next reviews are going to follow when they’re ready. That means not necessarily in weekly installments – but they’re coming! I’m just taking things slow – stay tuned!

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