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Monty Python BD review coming, plus Jack Ryan: S2, AppleTV+ & my thoughts on HBO’s His Dark Materials

November 1, 2019 - 12:52 pm   |   by

Today’s post will be brief, as I’m working to finish a sort of teaser review of Network’s new Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Norwegian Blu-ray Edition box set. Network was kind enough to send me check discs of the first season (the other discs are coming as they’re available), so I’m going to review those ASAP and then update the review when the rest of the set arrives. I can already tell you with confidence, however, that the restoration is remarkable. The series have never looked so good, nor been so complete and uncut. More in the review as soon as I finish it (possibly later today).

Speaking of reviews, I’ve also posted my in-depth thoughts on Warner’s new 8K/16-bit restoration of The Wizard of Oz on 4K Ultra HD. It’s also remarkable and should absolutely be on the want lists of every serious cinephile who’s upgraded their systems to 4K.

I’ll tell you, it’s been really uplifting this week to see three beloved film and TV titles (It’s a Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz, and now Monty Python) that have been given such careful and meticulous restoration for home video release. And I’m more impressed every day with just how far the state-of-the-art in restoration and remastering technology has come. [Read on here...]

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Terminator: Dark Fate (4K Ultra HD)In other news today, we have a street date from our retail sources for Paramount’s Terminator: Dark Fate on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra HD: Look for it (unofficially) on 1/28/20. We’ve updated our 4K Ultra HD Release List here at The Bits accordingly, and you can pre-order the title now on Amazon here (and yes, that’s the retail cover 4K artwork there on the right).

Some quick updates on the TV front...

Amazon Prime has just dropped the new season of their Jack Ryan series and it’s now available for streamed viewing in its entirety. Season One of the show was outstanding (I reviewed it on Blu-ray here on The Bits back in May). As a fan of the original Tom Clancy books, the 90s film series, and the character in general, I can’t recommend the show more highly.

Also, AppleTV+ has just officially launched and should now include the first episodes of a number of new dramatic series for streaming, among them For All Mankind (Ron Moore’s new series), See, and The Morning Snow. So do check that out if you’re interested.

His Dark Materials

Finally today, HBO has allowed me to screen the first four episodes of their new co-production with the BBC, His Dark Materials. The series is based on the classic Philip Pullman novel trilogy from the 1990s. Some of you might recall that New Line tried (and failed disastrously) to adapt the first novel in the series, The Golden Compass (aka The Northern Lights in the UK) as a film back in 2007.

So fans of the books will be very happy to know that the BBC/HBO series is exquisite and nuanced, with a beautifully textured alternate world and a compelling cast. For those unfamiliar with the books, its story follows Lyra Belacqua, a young orphan girl whose life is turned upside down by powerful forces vying for control the world. Lyra, it seems, is the key to a mystery that could alter the balance of power, so those forces begin to take an interest in her. But Lyra means to control her own choices, a decision that sends her own an epic journey to unlock her own destiny.

Dafne Keen (Logan) is terrific as Lyra, while Ruth Wilson (Mrs. Wilson) brings unexpected depths to the role of Marisa Coulter. James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) contribute strongly too, as Lord Asriel and Lee Scoresby. But even the actors in smaller roles add much to the fabric of the series. And in this world, a person’s soul manifests tangibly as an animal companion called a dæmon; these have been rendered well and naturally in CG.

The first four episodes (of eight in the first season) takes the story to about Chapter 11 of The Northern Lights, while cleverly infusing it with a bit of material from Pullman’s recent prequel, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage. The episodes also offer some original material that’s meant to set-up the events of the second season (now in production) which will cover the second book in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife (the complete series will likely span three seasons, one for each novel).

Fans will also be pleased to know that the larger themes of Pullman’s novels (which serve as a kind of inversion of Milton’s Paradise Lost) are fully intact, though on the page they only begin to fully reveal themselves at the end of The Northern Lights and into The Subtle Knife. So one can expect the series’ thematic context to deepen as it progresses. I will tell you, as a reader who loves Pullman’s novels, I’m very happy with what I’ve seen thus far. If the series continues to build upon these first four episodes, HBO and the BBC should have a huge hit on their hands. (I’m already hoping for an eventual 4K Ultra HD release). The series premieres Sunday night on BBC One and Monday night on HBO. This is not Game of Thrones, so don’t expect it to be. But I think could be just as good in its own way. And based on what I’ve seen thus far certainly, it’s highly recommended.

All right, that’s it for today. I’ll try to check back in later today or tomorrow with that Monty Python review. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

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