‘The Rack Pack’ Review

Well, here’s a first. I’m actually going to do a review of a TV Movie which has been exclusively released on BBC iPlayer, The Rack Pack!

Why am I doing this instead of something more graphic design related? Well… I actually designed some of the props for this film. Specifically, I designed these drinks-labels…

drinks labels
The labels I designed for this movie.

There’s even an old blog-post about the time I spent designing them, and watching the show be filmed. So, it only seemed right for me to review the show I helped created (if only by around 0.2%).

Synopsis

Based on true events in the early 80’s, Alex “Hurricane” Davies is a bombastic, alcoholic snooker-player whose just too good at his craft for anyone to criticise. That is until Steve “The Nugget” Davis comes along, a nerdy, ginger-haired newbie to the sport who spends his spare time playing arcade games and staying clear of the booze.

Steve’s manager, Barry Hearn, knows he has the skills, but not so much the personality for being in the limelight. So, he gives the lad a new haircut, a new suit, and trains him to be the well-manored yet startling snooker-professional we all associate with the sport today. But as Steve gets more positive publicity throughout the tournament, it looks like it may be more than Alex’s championship that’s on the line here.

Davis made to look threatening.
Davis made to look threatening.

The Good Points

Let’s start with the actors in this film, because they all did wonderful jobs. Luke Treadway did really well as Higgins, especially as we watched his life go down the pan. Will Merrick was really good as Davis, too, and it was fun to watch him grow from being the underdog to the quasi-nemesis. Kevin Bishop was spot on with his voice when playing Hearn, as well. Honestly, there isn’t really an actor or actress in this movie who I was swap. They were all right on the money.

Higgins and Davis prepare to lay against each other.
Higgins and Davis prepare to lay against each other.

I also thought this was written especially well, not only for the memorable characters and sequences, but also because it managed to cater to both sports-fans and the general audience. I’m saying this, because even though I’m not into snooker by any stretch of the imagination, I still felt as if I could grasp how rules of the sport worked simply by watching the film. I didn’t have to think too hard about what they were, I could just watch them play and grasp if they were doing well or not.

By the way, were these actors really playing with real balls? There’s one continuous shot I remember in which we see Higgins pot them all one after the other, and I was trying to figure out whether or not this was really him doing it, or whether there were some very clever effects being used in post-production. Either way, it was still very impressive.

Was this moment real, or some very clever movie magic?
Was this moment real, or some very clever movie magic?

Speaking of which, I loved it how cinematic this movie felt. It didn’t feel like the director shrugged his shoulders and said “oh well, it’s only going to be on iPlayer, so we don’t have to work as hard on it”. No, I actually felt as if I could watch this on the silver-screen and be very satisfied with what I saw. I loved the desaturated colour-palette, I loved how the editing flowed seamlessly between all of the different camera angles, and admittedly, I’m a sucker for the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. There’s just something about wide-screen that I fall for every time.

I realised this back when I saw this movie being filmed, but what I didn’t realise was that what I actually saw was the movies ending. And I have to say, there’s something really chilling about this. Despite all of the editing in the finished product, I can tell you from personal experience that this scene was actually acted and filmed in one continuous shot (albeit multiple takes), and it really felt like these two characters had been in this mad journey this entire time. They had their highs, and they had their lows, and with the way they were talking to one another and saying their farewells, it actually kind of left an impact on me.

A still from the very shot I got to see being filmed.
A still from the very shot I got to see being filmed.

My Little Criticisms

What, you didn’t think I was just going to be calling this movie perfect on the pure basis I had some involvement in it, did you?!

Well, I for one think honesty is the best policy, and I think it’s only respectful to be honest with the crew of this movie about the little problems I had in order to know what improvements could be made in the future. And besides, it really was only minor problems I had with the show.

Most notably, it was simply that I noticed a few details in the props they used which gave the game away that they weren’t real. For example, when one character stuck a cigarette in his mouth, I could see the indentation of where the fake logo was glued over. I can’t really criticise the show for that, though, because the naked eye wouldn’t have noticed. You’ve got to really know what you’re looking for to spot these errors.

Also, the soundtrack could have perhaps been worked on. Don’t get me wrong, the actual playlist is fantastic. One of the songs they used, Baba o’Riley from The Who, is actually my favourite song (I love songs with a strong build-up). But whenever a song started playing, it seemed to come out of nowhere. Once again, perhaps that’s simply a case of me being farmiliar with the material.

Overall Opinion

On the whole, I found this to be a really well-produced, cared-for, enjoyable TV movie, and surprisingly enjoyable for those not into Snooker. If it comes out on DVD sometime soon, nothing’s going to stop me from buying a copy.

Now, I’m not exactly the best person for making predictions for award-season. I thought Inside Out might have been a contender for Best Picture at the Oscars this year, and it wasn’t (good grief, will an animated movie EVER win Best Picture?!) With that said, this did remind me quite a bit of another TV movie I found to be exceptional, Murdered by my Boyfriend, and that had its fair share of BAFTA nominations.

So, keep your eyes peeled, folks, because this might be a BAFTA contender.

Keep your eyes on this, Higgins!
You heard me, Higgins!

If you fancy watching this movie, feel free to click here and experience the rack pack play the game the only way they know how!

What Makes ‘Thunderbirds Are Go!’ a Practically Perfect Reboot?

I would start this post by telling you when the release date for the second half of Series 1 of ‘Thunderbirds Are Go!’ is, except ITV seem to be keeping it a tightly graded secret. They’ve said it’s supposed to be sometime this month, yet exactly when this month they plan to release it is a mystery.

Nevertheless, there’s never a bad time to tell my watchers just how good this show is, especially since it’s one of my favourite shows. It shouldn’t be long before they announce the release date, so let’s take an in-depth look at what makes this show F.A.B.

It Knows What to Update…

thunderbirdsarego_kayo

As with any adaptation, there are countless changes which need to me made. One of the most notable updates in ‘Thunderbirds Are Go!’ is that there are far more stronger female characters than before. The original did have the smart and elegant Lady Penelope, but it also had Tin Tin. Although far from a bad character, in the end, she was little more than a damsel in distress. She’s since been replaced by Kayo, whose got 100 times more spirit than her predecessor, as well as a genuinely interesting back-story relating to the shows main villain, The Hood.

There are other things which have been updated too. The island looks a little less 60’s, the FaceTime screens have been replaced with holograms, the Thunderbirds themselves have updated looks and functionalities, and Brains has become British-Indian. All of these little changes help to not only make the show individual, but also make it better.

…But It Doesn’t Lose Its Nostalgia.

thunderbirdsarego_stingray

There are some things from the original show which simply can’t be replaced (some would argue that puppets should have still been used, but we’ll get to that later). From the opening “5…4…3…2…1…” titles, to the enhanced launch sequences of each Thunderbird, to the catchphrases and technical jargon, just about everything which fans of the old show love shows up in some way, shape or fom in the reboot, as well as a few sneaky Easter eggs from other Gery Anderson productions (hence ‘Stingray’ being John’s favourite TV show).

The writers clearly did their homework on the old series too. They might have made some changes to the plot, the most notable one being Jeff Tracy being a missing person instead of the leader of I.R. But, on the whole, the story, characters and format take clear influence from the original show. Perhaps the makers of ‘Catwoman’ (2004) should take notes.

It’s a Case-Study for When Practical and C.G.I. Effects Should be Used.

thunderbirdsarego_tracyisland

It’s ironic that arguably the most iconic thing about the original series was the thing it’s creator hated the most; the puppets. Gery Anderson mastered the scale models with impressive designs and even more impressive destructions. When they were destroyed, they had a genuine impact on the sheer basis that you could feel the weight and scale of these explosions.

The same can’t really be said for the puppets, since Anderson himself hated how stiff and clumsily handled they were. That’s the advantage that C.G.I. has, especially when motion capture is used. Body parts which move more swiftly than before, faces with added emotion, and taking away the need to film real hands for close-up shots add life to the characters.

Furthermore, when you have Weta, the team behind the effects in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ franchise, taking charge if the effects, you can bet that the balance of practical and computer effects will be done to the highest possible standard. Seriously the characters look like puppets with added life!

It Takes a Few Risks.

thunderbirdsarego_grandma

When a creative is willing to break a few rules, it makes their project far more exciting to create, purely because no one knows whether or not it would pay off. It was a risk for the crew to re-design all of the machines, especially Thunderbird 5 which looks practically nothing like the original. It was a risk for them to introduce Grandma Tracy, whose most memorable feature is being a dreadful cook. It was a risk for them to make Alan a 16-year-old who rides a space-board as opposed to your usual jet-pack.

Yet, if you ask me, all of these risks do in fact pay off. They give us viewers something new to chew on whilst watching the show, and make us look at the franchise in a different light. I adore the new look of T5, I find it hilarious how oblivious Grandma is to how terrible she actually is at cooking, and, good lord, I want to ride a surf-board in space!

It’s More Merchendisable Than Before.

thunderbirdsarego_toy 2

When I first saw the new logo, I practically fell in love with it! The diagonal type and enlarged ‘Thunderbirds’ felt reminiscent of the original logo, yet the sans-serif font and sneaky ligature which creates the ‘I.R.’ initials within the same logo made me know instantly that the adaptability of this logo was going to make way for great branding.

You have your classic costumes, figurines and model Tracy Island, but it’s the packaging design which is what makes these toys so inviting. The logo can be used on the packaging in a more vectorised way than in the opening titles, and yet still clearly represent the franchise. Plus, the bold colour palette of night blue and the 5 key colours of the Thunderbirds, as well as the more print-friendly profile images of the Tracy’s (as opposed to the seperstely illustrated profiles used in the 1960’s) make the brand look ready for the toy shop!

Isn’t There Anything Wrong With It?

If I did have to nit-pick, I would say that I’d prefer it if each episode was a tad longer. I think it was right for the team to shorten the episodes since the music is suspenseful and children generally enjoy shorter shows. Yet, at the same time, each episode does seem to go in the blink of an eye, and I find myself at the end of most episodes crying “is it over already?!” With that said, I suppose that’s a good complaint to have. It just shows you how much I enjoy the show whilst watching it!

Summary

On the whole, though, this show is a my prime example of how to make a reboot the right way. It’s got a style which brings in the best of both worlds, it keeps me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, and it’s genuinely well-written stories make me excited to tune in every morning for the next episode.

‘Thunderbirds Are Go!’? I couldn’t have put it better myself!