Well, with Series 3 of Maid Marian being released on Monday (although I already have the DVD – ta, Play), I thought it would be appropriate to, erm, review Series 2. I’m so good at websites. But considering Series 1 got me gushing all over the keyboard with delight, will Series 2 continue in the same disgusting vein?
Another slipcase! Sorry, but I just don’t see the point of them – they’re another thing that has to be removed before you can watch the DVD, and they get damaged easiy. And unfortunately, the cover still bears the slogan “Special Edition – Two Disc Set”. Which is triply annoying; “Special Edition” implies loads and loads of extras like a full set of commentaries and documentaries, which isn’t the case – and it also implies that there’s some kind of “Standard Edition”, which also isn’t the case. Furthermore, it might be a two disc set, but as we’ll see below – the release doesn’t actually need two discs, and it was purely a marketing decision. I have no problem with people proclaiming things loudly on DVD covers, but I prefer them not to be a load of bollocks.
However, the cover does work a lot better than the first series release – you don’t have the problem of the entire cast blending into the background. Unfortunately, the amusing picture of the Sheriff they’ve chosen is far too dark – it needed brightening up if it was to be used as a DVD cover. On the plus side, Paul Cemmick’s drawings around the logo are fantastic – and are different than from the first series cover, which is a nice touch.
The back cover is very nicely designed, and works a lot better than the front. Hilariously for a U certificate DVD, the text calls Rotten Rose “a bit of a slapper”. Excellent. Open up the case, and the chapter points are printed inside; they’re not especially clear though, as the background is slightly too dark. The discs themselves are picture discs – they’re very nicely designed, and are printed better than the Series 1 discs as well.
Before we go into the menus, let’s first take a moment out – because this is a momentuous occasion. Yes, Eureka have changed their ident from this disgusting thing, to what you see before you. It’s simple enough – their logo, coming towards you subtly on-screen with an old-fashioned projector noise behind it – but it’s classy, it’s a nice design, and it’s a million times better than the old one. Lovely. I know I’m a complete and utter cunt, but the old ident enraged me every time it appeared, wheras this puts me in a good mood to enjoy the rest of the DVD. Presentation matters.
The menus then. They’re a CGI jobbie (JOBBIE) set around Nottingham Castle; we start off outside and make our way through the corridors to King John’s Study. With plenty of chickens roaming around clucking all over the place. It’s all really rather well rendered. Leave it too long without selecting a menu option, and King John will start shouting amusing abuse (with dialogue taken from the episodes); leave it longer still and eventually a portcullis will slam down, and things will go silent. This is excellent, as it means that you won’t get annoyed with the same menu loop audio going round and round if you have to leave the DVD for a while. And a rather better thing to do than start playing the episodes automatically like some DVDs do, which is just utterly dumb.
Unfortunately (you knew one was coming) – the main menu options aren’t in a nice list like the first DVD. Instead, you have to use the direction buttons and various scrolls will pop up, for ‘Play All’, ‘Episode Selection’, ‘Extras’ and ‘Subtitles’ – pretty much how the bonus materials menu works on the Red Dwarf DVDs. In other words – Mystery Meat Navigation. I was never a huge fan of it on the Red Dwarf DVDs, but didn’t complain because it was only for the bonus features, and the menus were a lot of fun. As a navigation mechanism for a main menu however, it’s clumsy – and the Dwarf DVDs sensibly had text menus for these.
Select the ‘Episode Selection’ item, and the camera zooms in onto the table with a slick piece of animation, and gives a list of episodes carved into the wood, whilst the main theme plays. Unfortunately (there’s that word again), unless the episode title is highlighted, it’s slightly hard to read – I preferred the clear text of the Series 1 release. Select an episode and it brings you to the chapter menu, rendered in the same style. Unfortunately (aarrgh), unlike Series 1, this isn’t accompanied by the backing track of the main song from that episode, which is a huge huge shame. Perhaps they can’t find the tapes? It seems strange that they should suddenly not be bothered doing it, especially as the menus (despite my reservations about some aspects of them) have clearly had a lot of work go into them. As for the chapter points – for a 25 minute show, six chapter points (including the beginning of each episode) is fine; but why isn’t there another one to go straight to the end credits? It seems an odd omission when they are so celebrated. (Although the people who think they are better than the actual show can fuck off with their tediously “clever” opinions.)
On the first disc are the extras – just select the option, and the chest opens up revealing the goodies; I’ll cover them later on. The main reason I mention this is because I love the way the commentaries are selected; there’s a ‘View Episode One With Commentary By Tony Robison and Crew’ and ‘View Episode Three With Commentary by Director and Cast’ options. This is so much better than pointing you to a seperate setup menu, as they’re only on a couple of episodes – this is a nice bit of menu design. The subtitles are switched on by selecting the candelabra on the main menu; you’re then brought to, erm, another candelabra, where you’re invited to ‘Select the candles to turn the subtitles ON’. It’s nice enough… but at the same time, a bit fussy. A simple on/off option on the main menu using the first candelabra would have been easier.
All in all then – it’s clear a lot of effort has gone into the menus, and they look beautiful – but a few adjustments to make them more user-friendly wouldn’t have gone amiss. This seems to be a recurring problem with Eureka menus, which is a shame. (There are of course serious accessibility problems with these menus for the blind; but this applies to nearly all DVDs on the market, so I won’t dwell on that here.)
Six episodes again; three on the first disc, and three on the second. (See below for rant.) I’ll admit that I found the first couple of episodes were slightly worrying. I don’t know whether it was just the mood I was in, but I didn’t feel they were quite up to the standard of the first series. From the third episode onwards, things do get better – indeed, the best episode this series is the third, Little Brown Noses – a parody of Comic Relief, first broadcast just two years after the first Red Nose Day. The song parody and the peasants reactions to it have a real bite to them.
The series also introduces two new excellent characters – the Guy of Gisborne (a child in a man’s body), and Rose Scargill, Marian’s scheming childhood friend who I’d like to have sex with over and over and over again. These episodes are a lot more standalone than the first series, but the addition of these characters helps keep the sense of some kind of continuing storyline. Both characters fit into the series remarkably well – it’s almost like they’ve always been there.
Overall, I was left slightly disappointed with this second series. I don’t quite know why – it’s still funny, it’s still entertaining, and it’s still very well acted and very well made. (Just check out the shot I’ve included here – it’s just beautiful.) I suppose it’s just that no matter how well done it is…. it didn’t quite reach the comedic heights I expected a second series to do. With Series 1, I occasionally complained that some bits were slightly too twee, or the odd thing was hammered into the ground too hard. This has largely gone – but in this series there are a few too many weak punchlines here and there. It’s still wonderful stuff, but not perhaps as wonderful as I was expecting for something that had such an amazing start with the first series. Indeed, you can probably tell that I’m not quite as enthused about it by the length of this section – I usually burble on for far longer than this.
But here’s a quick teaser for Series 3, which i’ve just started watching – that’s when it really kicks off again.
Interestingly, the end of Rotten Rose Part Two, the last episode in the series, feels very… final somehow – the way It’s written, shot and acted. I suspect they thought they were going to do two series… and then two more were commissioned when it because clear what a hit the show was. The two year gap between Series 2 and 3 would seem to confirm this as well; it was the only such gap in the show’s history.
Booklet: Another comic, written by Tony Robinson and illustrated by Paul Cemmic. This is fantastic. In keeping with the second series, it’s perhaps not as good as the first booklet – but it’s still 8 pages of sheer joy. Ha ha, they get covered in piss and poo! It’s just wonderful seeing things that the TV series would never have got away with – the custard/funnel joke on the last page, for instance.
The extras I usually enjoy the most are ones looking behind-the-scenes of a production. I am a production information geek. But these booklets prove that if done well, extras that are in-universe can be just as appealing. And these are done extremely well. Oh, if only they’d release a weekly Marian comic. The fact that I’ve even thought of that confirms just how great these booklets are.
BBC Internal Trailer: Oh yes. Running at 7 minutes 22 seconds, this was shot on the set of the first series of Marian, and consists of Tony Robinson and the rest of the cast telling the BBC sales team about the show, and the accompanying comics that were for sale. This is absolutely marvellous – the joy I get hearing them go on about “the BBC sales force” is equalled only by the PBS idents on the Red Dwarf VIII DVD, where the cast go on about “your local television station”. And there’s a wonderful blooper at the end with Forbes Collins getting all sweary. I wonder if this was originally beeped, or whether the beeps were added for the DVD?
This is an absolute corker of a find. I know I whinge about certain things on these releases, but the fact that items like this have been included shows that someone is ferreting around behind-the-scenes to find this kind of stuff. Which is fantastic.
Hunt the Chicken: Rubbish! Seriously, just rubbish.
Oh, you want more? Well, you’re presented with a 3D view of “King John’s Dungeon!!”, where you have to select various objects and see if the errant chicken is hiding in them.
And that’s it.
Now, it’s not that I object to games as extras on DVDs per se – it’s just that they’re usually just so half-arsed that they’re not worth the bother. This isn’t only half-arsed – it’s completely pointless. There is absolutely no skill involved here – it’s just a guessing game, and one that I suspect wouldn’t entertain an entertainment-deprived five year old. A boring waste of time. The money would have been better spent elsewhere.
Commentaries: Two this time – the first on The Beast of Bolsover with Tony Robinson, Maggie Chappelhow (Costume designer), Christine Powers (Make-up designer), and David Bell (Director), and second on Little Brown Noses with David Bell again, Mike Edmonds (Little Ron), Howard Lew Lewis (Rabies), and David Lloyd (Graeme). The first is the more entertaining, but that’s simply due to the fact that Tony Robinson would be interesting describing the contents of his nose.
Excellently, there’s a “shit” left on the second commentary track. Now, you can easily get away with a shit on a PG – but I suspect that you can’t on a U certificate. And this is a U certificate DVD. The general rule with commentary tracks is that you don’t have to submit them to the BBFC – but that the track has to conform to the certificate for the rest of the release. A Tomorrow’s People release was recalled a while back for the swearing on the commentary being unsuitable for the given certificate; whilst I can’t see the same happening here for a single shit, it is technically breaking the guidelines.
Mind you, there is a problem. And I think you can guess what it is. Here, you’ve got seven excellent commentary participants… and there’s only two commentaries. This is just ludicrous. There’s more than enough people involved to have a wonderful set of commentaries spanning all six episodes. It’s such a shame that there’s only two. I want to hear plenty more Tony Robinson and David Bell especially. It just seems such a waste.
There’s a running theme going through my reviews of these Marian DVDs – and it’s a theme that makes me feel really guilty. It goes: “This is really nice, and it’s clear effort has gone into this release – but…” – followed by a list of irritances. If this was just a bare bones release slapped out with no thought whatsoever, then I’d feel pretty happy in ripping the thing to shreds. But it’s clear that a lot of effort has gone into the production of this release. It’s just a shame that with a bit more effort and a few corrections here and there, then this DVD would be absolutely stunning. A full set of commentaries on all six episodes would go a long way towards this.
The problem is – being a two-disc set really doesn’t help it. If all this was on one disc, then I’d probably be saying how impressed I was (although I’d still bitch that I wanted more commentaries). But by making this a two-disc set and slapping “Special Edition” on the cover, you’re practically begging to be torn to pieces in the extras department. And I’m sorry – I know I whinge on about this. But I can’t stand marketing as the expense of a usable product. All of Series 2 along with the extras would easily fit onto one disc, and it would be far more convenient to play. It being split across two discs is utterly, utterly ludicrous. Like the first series, I’ve knocked a star off the extras because of it. Call me a cunt if you like. And I’m sure you will.
It has to be said, however, that the standard of these Marian releases is far higher than the Brittas ones. (I would have killed for similar commentaries on the Brittas releases, for instance.) Eureka really are learning how to put a decent package together – perhaps next year, they’ll get even better.
The really weird thing about Series 2 of Marian is – this is the first time it’s been released. Ever. Series 1 got a VHS release at the time, but after then – nothing. I know that these days, the cheap production costs of DVD makes it easier for things to get a release, but even so – you’d expect that one of the most popular kids TV shows of the 80s/90s would have had some other release, even if it was a Best Of. So this is your first chance to actually own these episodes properly.
Of course – despite my whinges, I suggest you buy it. It’s a wonderful series. But if you’re on a limited budget, then I’d suggest buying Series 1 followed by Series 3, and then waiting until Series 2 has come down in price a bit, as it’s definitely the weakest series out of the three released so far.
But, as the cliche goes: weak Maid Marian is better than 95% of the stuff out there.