Sunday, February 11, 2007

Primeval review

"...Primeval made me smile all the way through, though admittedly for a woman who is slightly outside of the dinosaur-loving demographic a lot of that smiling came as a result of the presence of delicious Douglas Henshall."

Kathryn Flett: The Observer 11 Feb 2007

Damn, summed it up for me...


Seriously though, I doubt you would be surprised to find that the show was for me largely an indulgence of the first order. As Marie said, Dougie is a "class act" ; and he is. BUT, even though I think he's - well, 'hot' comes close to the right term - that comes from his acting and not despite it or as an aside. He's utterly convincing and charismatic; he's plays wounded flawed heroes exceptionally well; he has that quality of being able to convey a subtle flash of emotion in his facial expression; and he brings a deft touch of talent to flesh out even the most under-written of characters. But I ramble.

I know not everyone will have had the sympathetic eyes and ears that I did, but Henshall aside I would STILL have watched this programme. I might have winced more readily but I've tried to review this with as much balance as I can muster.

Characters (excluding Nick Cutter):
Some have criticised the characters for being a bit lumpen or sketchy. Actually, this was nothing worse than the often-seen 'first episode problem' when writers (or, more likely, producers) feel the need to spell large chunks of exposition and character explanation early on. I would have to say that Ben Miller's character aside most of this worked. Unfortunately, you need something to hold onto and in a difficult to judge early/pre-watershed slot this did a good job of presenting its central bodies. Abby's boisterous character worked well, especially her fanatical expertise on lizards; Stephen's hard-workingly aware manner played well against Cutter with whom he clearly has a long term understanding of both work and personal life; Claudia is clearly out of her required depth for the Home Office job but I'll forgive her that because she instantly fell for Cutter... heck, I totally get that. I'll even give Connor some credit as a character: not because of his conspiracy theory mentality (predictable) nor because of his irksome crush on Abby (equally so), but because of his recognisably geekish delight in things beyond understanding (in which he IS rightly matched with Abby even though she is already looking to be a Stephen kinda girl). And Helen Cutter...? Juliet Aubrey is some kind of goddess and a good actress. But how and why would she have stayed in the rift (oh come on, we KNOW that's what it far is the Forest of Dean from Cardiff anyway...) and leave lovely Dr. Nick behind? The Doctor may be worth all the monsters, but these monsters are not worth leaving this doctor behind for...
Rating: 3.5/5. Hopefully, things will flesh out further - the script/direction needs to let the actors breathe a little more.

Character - Nick Cutter:
As written, the character isn't quite as fully formed as it could be; so the team making Primeval made one of their best decisions in getting Henshall for this role. And they have him keep his accent... Sigh. Cue one VERY happy bunny in Nottingham...
Rating: 4.5/5 Because even Douglas can't redeem everything that wasn't quite right about the programme.

Hmmm. Too weak by half with some really clunky lines, poorly structured... Not quite George Lucas bad (you might be able to write this shit but you sure can't say it), but definitely one of the weaker elements.
As The Stage pre-review noted, it's a bit of a dim idea to spoil your money shot of a dinosaur appearing by having the damn thing lumber into frame as the first seconds start up. Much better - as they do so later on - to have only hints of the monster out there. Similarly, the changes of pace at the Home Office with Miller's character (as funny as a fart in a lift) showed a dire misunderstanding of what was needed. Better to have had Claudia come across as a sympathetic supporter only to later be revealed as keeping the scientist team under watch. Miller's po-faced humourous turn just makes the government bodies look like idiots. I know they are, but really, some level of subtlety would have been nice. And I know they were acting to props, but sometimes the reaction shots were a little too gob-smacked. Again, hopefully this will be eased into and ironed out somewhat as the series progresses (though 6 episodes is no where NEAR enough to do this justice).
Rating: 2/5

FACT: all effects look shit within five minutes of seeing them. That's why you need good character, direction, script and substance. You need those to help you suspend the disbelief that comes into play in fantasy TV/film. How did these work? Well, I liked the Stargate-esque visuality of the rift. I liked the glass-like effect and its fading impact/magnetism. I also liked the longer shots of the dinosaurs. And I liked the close-ups in the action scenes (especially in the child's bedroom). It is, as usual though, in mid-shots, context shots, where sometimes something is lost. Too close to convincingly belong to their environment; too far away to work in relation to people, some of the creatures came over as CGI creations. But you know what? It largely didn't matter because once I accepted their presence in this environment, I accepted them. And the locations were by and large superb (mind, where were those opening 'university' shots filmed?)
Rating (pre-suspension of disbelief and in some dodgy mid-shots): 3/5
Rating (once suspension kicks in): 4/5

Sometimes too obvious? Oh yes, but somehow strangely enjoyable for all that. I actually laughed out loud when the Kaiser Chiefs came on. Frequently too loud (scoring/music does not have to take on Murray Gold), but nevertheless it mostly worked.
Rating: 3.5/5

Overall (excluding Dr. Cutter): 3.5/5
Overall (inclding Cutter): 4/5
It has some way to go to truly challenge a behemoth like Who that comes with its own long-term history and status. But as an enjoyable interlude and provision of fantasy TV it will do me for the next five weeks.

Thank you and out.


Anna Lowman (annawaits) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna Lowman (annawaits) said...

Fab review :) I'd knock a couple of points off, well, everything, but apart from that ;) Hehe.

(Typos in the comment I deleted :) )

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Just watched episode one again on the Sunday repeat.

I stand by everything I said. Except to add that I probably was able to concentrate more on swooning at Henshall's blue eyes than last time...

Matt_c said...

I missed it as was watching the lovely Simon Amstell do standup at LSE - cheapest pints I've bought since moving to London.

Anyway, your review misses out the most important factor concerning dinosaur fests; how many people got gruesomely chomped?

rashbre said...

Comprehensive review although there seemed to be some strange attractors affecting the end assessment. I shall continue to watch and actually my mum was a little critical of even my fairly gentle assessment. I'm guessing that the popular vote is yay even if the critics are holding back.

More than anything, we need a few 'binding agents' of popular culture and I suspect this is one.

What colour were the eyes, again?


Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Matt - no where near enough people got chomped. Not on-screen anyway. Blooming cross-over programmes are no where near daring enough on the body count. kids LIKE gruesome!

Good on you seeing Simon Anstell though.

Rashbre: the eyes? I was too busy looking to notice...