REVIEWER Simon Sansbury
THE ADVENTURES OF STEPHEN BROWN
Chris Wilkes & Neil Miller
It's been sometime since I've been able to pen a review, last year in fact. So long I'd actually forgotten which episode it was that I had reviewed last. After the chaos of moving home to my lovely shiny new flat, and all the other things that kept me from you, it is to another kind of chaos that I draw my attention. That being Kaos Absolute, story three in the 2009 series of The Adventures of Stephen Brown. The winding up of the story lines that involve The Death, Kaos and the Augury, not to mention young Sally Crawford's revenge against Stephen Brown for murdering her father. Much tying of lose ends to be done then. There's not a moment to lose.
The opening CGI shots of the Venturer were really nice in setting the scene, maybe a 'previously on The Adventures Of Stephen Brown' might have reminded anyone (like me) who'd forgotten how it was we got to this particular peril in the first place might have helped. Being really limited within the confines of the Venturer set does limit cameramen and directors alike. As the thing gets blown up every couple of years it does give us a chance to do something a bit different. Some learning of lines, and some different camera shots might have made things move along a bit better.
When we transport down to the planet, we are treated to the first half of a swear word left onto the audio when Blocklon (Matthew Hampton) walks into Stephen Brown (Ryan Brady), this along with hearing the director saying 'action' on an earlier bit of footage is a shame. Things start to look sparkly again when our intrepid heroes are walking towards Augury's cave. Some nice, but not too clever computer work there has created a cave entrance where there wasn't one, and later on we have the effect of Kaos' life force approaching it. It is again the challenges of fitting so many people into so little space that contributes to making the performances in the Augury's cave looks as realistic as the greenery that's draped all over the set. The Augury (Sassi Page) is meant to look really ill, but doesn't. The lighting here just doesn't do the set, or the actors any favours, and is perhaps too clean and too bright for my liking. I like things a bit dirtier and darker. But the least said about that the better.
Chris Wilkes' rendition of Kaos inhabiting Stephen Brown's old body isn't all that threatening or menacing, but he pulls some interesting faces as he fights Stephen Brown. There's some nice touches here in the lightening flashes etc of the phantasmagorical nature of the bitch fight between them, but the fight itself isn't always as tense, fast or threatening looking as it is at other times - but that's not helped by the return of those awful punch sound effects. There must be better ways to get realistic punch sound effects. (without resorting to actually punching people.. hang on.. that might work....).
The lack of effect to the already clinical lighting when Kaos' life force enters Chris (ahem) coupled with three people trying to roll around on the floor in such a small space really does harm the suspension of disbelief here. Which is a shame, as this scene, and its elements, is a staple of science fiction stories since, well since before November 23rd 1963. The storytelling could have been helped with some flashbacks to go with the dialogue while Ryan explains to Sassi how they got to that point.
Episode 2 starts off with a good recap of all that's gone before. Watching The Death (Robert Hampton) threaten Sally Crawford (Hazel Whiteland) by squeezing her cheeks was just as convincing as her reaction to it, and the threat afterwards. This story has some really brilliant elements to it that really mean a lot in the canon of the show. The script by Messrs Wilkes & Miller could have been shown off much more effectively, there's a couple of points when perhaps a line might have been0changed to better effect, but most of the time it really zings along, and attempts to deliver a real sense of pace and drama. Something the actors seem to have missed entirely.
Ryan, Matthew and Katie 'rush' to escape the cave, helping along the wounded/ill Augury only to be confronted again by Kaos, still in the form of Chris Wilkes. There's some fancy light show battle on the shingle there that is done rather well, and the dispatching of The Augury is a rather good shot. The conviction, urgency and fear is completely absent on all of the actors' performances however. After she's dead, The Augury has a telepathic conversation with Ryan's Stephen Brown. This scene, although spoiled by a very cheesy ending that looked like a toothpaste commercial, was very well lit and executed by both Sassi and Ryan.
Some more clumsiness from the crew means we have such a good shot of the boom at the bottom of a shot while Ryan, Katie and Matthew stand and discuss the danger they are facing that I thought perhaps we could have dressed it up as some sort of furry alien. As Ryan explains that Kaos' life force is still around us (although without the sound or lighting effects that hinted at it before) there is again this very static delivery of what should be tension building lines. There's a 'walk, stop, say line, stand talking, talk about danger, walk off at a normal place' formula to the acting. The CGI here of the planet cracking up comes without explanation or reason, and doesn't at all match up with what's happening in the live action shots. There's absolutely no evidence of the planet destroying itself on location. Obviously 'blessed' with a brilliantly sunny day didn't help.
Episode 3 reminds us that for a planet under destruction it still looks remarkably like a rather nice Sunday walk in the country. Could we have done something to darken this down or muddy up the image a bit in post production ? I don't know, but it's something we have done before. The exploding planet illusion isn't helped by the inconsistently applied synchronised stumbling of the cast to the camera shakes. The camera effect works rather well (although not applied in later shots - perhaps there was someone else on camera, perhaps they just got bored of it), but the cast manage to make it look like they are trying to find their way home after drinking too much on a night out in town.
Ryan has some lines in another moment of 'we're running away, but we'll stop long enough to deliver our lines, pause for a bit and then not hurry off again', where the sound is rather poor. We also get to see how close the sound man is to the action, because his leads are dangling into the edge of the shot.
The shots from the point of view of Kaos' life force look rather like someone threw some compost on the camera lens before shooting it. It doesn't match up however with the shots from episode one, and doesn't quite convey the atmosphere of the moment. Some lines delivered by Ryan about how Kaos is sapping his life force makes him sound like a whining teenager (ala Kev & Perry style) than our hero struggling to keep it together.
Death, despite saying he wasn't going to be a hero and die fighting Kaos, does just that. A really vital moment in the history of the show, and we have no shot of our star's reaction to the death of his brother. The moment is further spoiled in the next episode by the smiling and laughing as Blocklan lifts up the now deceased Death to carry him back to the Venturer. Really pivotal moment in the story line and it's completely ruined. The episode ends with the now correct and faithful restoration of Kaos to his former self, aka the intergalactic hoodie in the form of Neil Miller. It has to be said that Neil works the menacing look very well and delivers the only believable performance of the story. He really does look cross enough to bite your ear off. Chris now gets his telepathic Skype call from the Augury. Again really well done with the mood and atmosphere. Although this does come across as a self referential last outing (until the next time) for Wilkes' Stephen Brown it's so expected that we get away with it.
Miller's appearance on the shingle to fight Ryan's Stephen Brown is a great show of lights, only spoiled by the fact that it isn't lip synced right. The unconvincingly delivered fighting talk from Ryan, coupled with the leaping together into combat makes it look like they need to get a room more than a referee. The magically convenient (for the writers) ability to transport himself allows Ryan to take Chris with him back to the cave where another 'fight' in the form of a hug off ensues. Wilkes' hands look like he's about to start massaging Miller rather than strangle him, but at least he still manages, mid fight to put his hat back on before hugging Miller once again. This story has in it all the key ingredients of a fantastic forty minutes of entertainment, I hope the audience could see past the flaws in the acting, directing and production quality to that cracking story underneath. Just imagine how epic it would have been if they didn't have to do that.