Archive | July 2018

Blu-Ray Review: Gravity Falls – The Complete Series

(DVD MSRP: $59.97; Blu-Ray MSRP: $99.99)

When it comes to Disney’s animated television series Gravity Falls, I didn’t start watching until it was halfway through it’s second season. This proved to be perfect timing, as each episode quickly made me eager for more, and soon put me on track to watch the final episodes with the rest of the series’ super-fans online.

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For their summer vacation, twin siblings Dipper and Mable Pines are sent to the remote town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. There, they are put in the care of their Great-Uncle (aka “Grunkle”) Stan Pines, who runs a seedy tourist-trap called The Mystery Shack.

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L to R: Soos (Alex Hirsch), Dipper Pines, (Jason Ritter), Stan Pines (Alex Hirsch), Mabel Pines (Kristen Schaal), Wendy Corduroy (Linda Cardellini)

Shortly after the twins’ arrival, Dipper finds a hidden journal that details how the little town has a number of secrets. Pretty soon, the Pines family and their friends end up encountering a number of strange and frightening entities, that will make this a summer they will never forget.

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Some say that at 40 episodes long, Gravity Falls ended too soon. I beg to differ, as I find it’s short two-season lifespan gives us one of the most intriguing and entertaining animated series ever made. Plus, the ending was approved by it’s creator Alex Hirsch, allowing the series to conclude on it’s own terms, and not become the victim of another studio-approved cancellation (like a lot of other animated shows out there).

Unlike most animated series that struggle at first to figure out ‘what’ they are supposed to be, Falls seemed to know what it was from the very first episode. The general idea was a show that combined the relatable/emotional character antics of The Simpsons, with the mysterious atmosphere of Twin Peaks. Hirsch had always been big into mysteries and conspiracy theories growing up, and with this show, he managed to make thousands of people just as crazy as him, as they attempted to decipher the clues hidden in each episode.

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One of the messages/clues at the end of a Season 2 episode.

The show became one of Disney’s most popular series on their cable channels, and spawned a number of product tie-ins over the years. However, for many of the die-hard fans, there was one thing they wanted above all else: an official release of all of the show’s episodes on DVD.

Unfortunately, even with a massive social media campaign, it seemed there was noone at the Walt Disney Studios who felt putting out such a thing would be worth it. Imagine the surprise of many fans, when it was revealed that there WAS a company who did see it as a worthwhile endeavor. This was Shout Factory, a media company that often puts out a number of music and home video-related products.

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In this era of streaming media, boxsets regarding an animated show’s seasons are pretty rare to find. At most, the studios will just give you the show’s episodes, and that’s it. Fortunately for us, Shout Factory has often been willing to go the extra nine yards with their fan-pleasing products, and they’ve embellished this set with a number of special features!

A highlight for me, is that each of the show’s forty episodes has it’s own audio commentary track. Hirsch is present in all of them, along with an assorted mix of the cast and crew. I’m always up for hearing creators talk about the process of making things, and the behind-the-scenes dialogue was right up my alley. Back when I collected season releases of The Simpson on DVD, the commentary tracks were the big reason I made those purchases, and it was this component that led me to purchase this set.

There are also two interview segments made exclusively for this release.

The biggest one is a multi-part documentary titled, One Crazy Summer. The 105-minute special shows Hirsch and a number of the cast and crew talking about their work on the show, interspersed with video of him going through an old storage locker, where he stored a number of the show’s production materials. We get to see snippets of abandoned story concepts, and plenty of other goodies that will make you want to hit pause over-and-over again.

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Concept art for the show’s Mystery Shack location.

What some people don’t realize, is that just like Dipper and Mabel Pines, Alex Hirsch is also a twin. In The Hirsch Twins, Alex and his twin-sister Ariel sit down for a little chat about growing up together. There’s plenty of childhood pictures, and some great stories about how Alex took their personalities and interests, and intertwined them into the show’s main characters.

The set also touts a deleted scenes feature, but I was a little disappointed regarding their format. Instead of almost-finished animation, what we have are season 2 story meetings, with Hirsch narrating over rough storyboards. While it is a nice look into the show’s production process, I think it would have been better if the deleted scenes could have been included with their corresponding episodes. It would give viewers the chance to compare/contrast them with the final scenes the showrunners used.

There’s also the inclusion of a number of animated promotional materials, as well as smaller interview segments that aired on the Disney cable channels.

Shout even goes the extra mile in the packaging for the 3-disc set.

The DVD/Blu-Ray cases resemble the show’s journals (of which there were three!), and when the discs are watched, the main menu shows the opened pages of the journals.

Plus, the fun doesn’t stop there.

Just because the show is over, doesn’t mean the mysteries are too. There are a number of secret codes seen on parts of the special features disc, using the special alphabet the show created. Once deciphered, they will lead the viewer to find ‘easter eggs’ hidden within the menu pages.

I will admit that even with all the material mentioned above, I was surprised that the show’s original unaired pilot episode wasn’t included. While it is a little similar to the show’s first official episode, I felt it would have been a nice way to help show the evolution of Gravity Falls (like on the early Simpsons boxsetswhere they’d show clips from the character’s first appearances on The Tracy Ullman Show).

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Screenshot from the Season 1 episode, The Time Traveler’s Pig.

Even though it doesn’t give us everything with it’s special features, Gravity Falls: The Complete Series is still one of the most compelling boxsets for an animated series I’ve seen in a long time, and another home run release from the people at Shout Factory!

If you’re a fan of the show, it is highly-recommended that you pick up a copy. If you’re curious as to what the show is about, and got a jones for behind-the-scenes material, you’ll probably find it to be just as entertaining as I did.

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Game Review: Jurassic World Evolution

(Available on: PC, Playstation 4, and XBox One. MSRP: $59.99-Standard Edition, $64.99-Deluxe Edition)

Like many a movie-going youngster 25 years ago, I was enthralled by what Steven Spielberg had shown us on the big-screen with Jurassic Park.

However, while I had plenty of merchandise from the film (and it’s sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park), I never had any of the video game tie-ins at the time.

It wasn’t until 2003, that I ended up finding a Jurassic game tied into the film series, that pushed my buttons: Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis.

This game wasn’t about fighting off dinosaurs, but about doing what John Hammond attempted to do: build a dinosaur theme park! Sadly, when I sold my Playstation 2, so too went Genesis.

Then in 2012, the company Ludia made Jurassic Park Builder, an app-based game that also gave the player control over designing their own theme park. Sadly, it’s pay-to-play nature of obtaining some of the rarer dinosaurs quickly turned me away.

Like many others, I wondered if we could ever get a game that did what Project Genesis had done. And then, in 2017, Frontier Developments announced Jurassic World Evolution. I was all-in for this game from the second the first test images hit the internet, and eagerly awaited my chance to get a copy.

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Under the guidance of the InGen Corporation, Evolution assigns you to develop the Los Cinco Muertes (aka “The Five Deaths”) island chain, into a series of 5-star resorts.

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The game follows the same basic principles as Rollercoaster Tycoon (which was also developed by Frontier), where you have to build attractions, and keep guests happy (and safe) enough to plunk down their hard-earned cash. Of course, taking care of rollercoasters will probably seem easier than dealing with living creatures.

With Evolution, you’ll have to keep your dinos well-fed, prevent them from contracting and spreading diseases, and keep them comfortable enough not to rampage out of their enclosures. Plus, given the location of your parks, your guests may also encounter natural disasters like tropical storms, and even tornadoes.

As you develop each island, you will also be working with three divisions that help with the park’s operations: science, entertainment, and security. Your goal is to appease all three of these divisions, accept various contracts and assignments they propose, and keep them happy. This can lead to little dividends, and even special game unlocks. However, if it seems you are favoring one division over another, the others may resort to sabotage (such as opening all the security gates on the dinosaur enclosures!).

Along with in-game characters, there are also some audio appearances by the likes of Jeff Goldblum (Ian Malcolm), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing), and B.D. Wong (Dr Henry Wu).

Continuity-wise, if one tries to line up the game to being within the Jurassic World film series continuity, it gets a little complicated. On one hand, there are a series of assignments that line up with Dr Wu creating the Indominus Rex, yet Claire’s verbal warnings fit more with her characterization seen in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

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Visually, the game holds up very well. The environments from a distance almost look photo-real, and one can definitely see the care and detail put into rendering the dinosaurs.

What may wear down on the game player pretty quickly, is the constant need to keep going around the islands, ‘putting out fires’ when you’re alerted to something that needs your attention.

There also is a limit as to how much space on the islands you can develop. I’m assuming this was done as a challenge factor for game play, but one would expect a company like InGen would want to maximize profits, and give a developer total control to maximize an island’s full profit potential.

A positive while playing the game, is that unlike the app-based Jurassic Park Builder, one only needs to work on developing the parks, to gain access to the dinosaur genomes.  It’s nice to know that the more you play the game, the more chances you gain to fill in the blank spaces in your game’s genome library.

Speaking of genomes, the more genetic information you unlock for a dinosaur, the greater your chances are to alter their genetics. You can make them more aggressive, more resilient to disease, even change the color of their skin.

Frontier has also made it so that not all dinosaurs are created equal. Each species has it’s own specific needs, some good and some bad. Building properly-sized enclosures and keeping their comfort levels high is something you’ll have to constantly struggle with: the comfort of these prehistoric creatures, over the chance to make a few extra bucks.

While the game does give you the ability to access genetic hybrids like the Indominus Rex or the Indoraptor, it doesn’t allow the player to create their own affronts to nature. Given the ability to partake in ‘mad science’ in the most recent Jurassic films, this might be something the company could consider for future updates (word is, the game will be ‘plussed’ with updates as time goes by).

Evolution’s $60 retail price is a little steep, though if you’ve had an urge to play God and build your own theme park like me, your ability to have so many dinosaurs at your fingertips may make the price-point easy to forgive. Evolution is also offered in a $65 Deluxe Edition, which gives you access to five more dinosaurs not available with the standard release.

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Overall, Jurassic World Evolution has been pretty enjoyable for me. For the last two weeks, I’ve been using almost every waking moment to keep fine-tuning my parks. Even with the constant headaches of dinosaurs breaking out of enclosures and tornadoes ripping through the grounds, it still keeps me coming back for more.

Like a number of it’s fans I’ve seen online, I too am hoping Frontier Developments’ future updates fine-tune the game. Along with some added items related to the original 1993 film, I’d be interested to see the additions of an aviary, or water-based dinosaurs such as Jurassic World’s Mosasaur.