Spirited Away

Viewed – 26 November 2014  Blu-ray

How long has this acclaimed, Academy Award winning entry in the Studio Ghibli cannon taken to reach Blu-ray?  It feels like an age since I first watched it, my very first introduction to the mind and talent of famed director Hayao Miyazaki – but sitting down to it’s immediate charm, I was transported back to a fantastical world, part Alice In Wonderland, part The Wizard of Oz, but woven together from a rich tapestry of Japanese mythology and sheer uninhibited imagination.


Chihiro is a young girl moving to a new house with her parents.  Forced to go to a new school, the prospect fills her with uncertainty and dread as she sits disgruntled and winey in the back seat of the family car.  However on route to their destination, the small family come across a mysterious tunnel in the woods, and venturing inside soon stumble upon an abandoned village.  Yet this is no ordinary village and when Chihiro’s parents are transformed into greedy pigs after eating from a banquet, the frightened young girl begins a journey of self discovery and finding strength she never knew she had, by working in a bath house, meeting a magical boy who can turn into a dragon and bumping into all manor of spirits, monsters and witches.  This is a stunning achievement in ideas and wonder … Miyazaki really out did himself and the world we are treated to is rich in detail with spooky, weird and creepy inhabitants and locations … the boiler man and his many legs, the giant baby, the ‘no-face’ monster, the stink spirit, the witch and so much more.  On first seeing this the sheer wealth of creations and extremely bonkers ideas was overwhelming, but done with such style and skill – the experience stayed with me.  Now with more familiarity with the world of Studio Ghibli, I found it easier to get to grips with, not as strange as I recalled and just enjoyed it for what it was.  Traditional hand-drawn animation at it’s best, borrowing from some of the most memorable stories ever written but adding a vibe all it’s own, that makes it stand proud.   One of the most magical movies ever made.

This Blu-ray release from Studio Canal is really impressive.  The image quality looks sharp and is bursting with colour and vibrancy.  Shimmer and softness that has marred some other Ghibli releases is absent here thankfully, and I was also pleased to see a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that truly brings this classic to life.  That orchestral soundtrack is amazing and with a decent English dub with clear voice work as well as some great use of the surrounds (the boiler room sounds amazing) – this really can’t be faulted.  The disc itself isn’t exactly brimming with extras with an archive introduction from John Lasseter (who was still at Pixar when it was filmed apparently), yet an interview with Hayao Miyazaki and a making of are both good additions.  We also get the usual Studio Ghibli story-boards to watch as the movie plays, which can be worth a look for enthusiasts.


The Blu-ray:  4 /5

The Movie:  5 /5

Alice: Madness Returns – impressions

In a games industry seemingly crowded by first person warfare shooters and simplistic casual family games, it’s good to actually play something that isn’t interested in trying to appeal to the widest audience possible or re-create New York city or a war-torn battlefield.  This is happy just being a videogame.  A sequel to the widely publicised but rarely seen American McGee’s Alice, this time on all platforms rather than just the PC, has you controlling an adult Alice as she tumbles into Wonderland once again following her release from a mental asylum as featured in the previous game.  Fans of the stories by Lewis Carol will be immediately familiar with the dream-like fantasy world, but this is certainly no children’s fairy tale, with Alice portrayed as a much more violent and attitude driven girl happy to bludgeon her enemies to death with a Hobby Horse or slice them to shreds with a Kitchen Knife.

Developer Spicy Horse have crafted a lovingly dark tribute to the classic stories with each location (each with its own distinct theme) beautifully realised if not exactly graphically ground-breaking on a technical level.  This game harks back to the classic days of the 3D platformer, a genre I’m sad to say seems to be disappearing at a rapid rate.  It feels very nostalgic to play though, and has some great ideas, inspired by the stories such as shrinking to discover hidden paths and get into otherwise unexplorable areas, and along with a good variety to the monsters and some quality fight mechanics with imaginatively bonkers weapons, this so far is a joy to play.  I’ve barely been off it and only received the game yesterday.

I have also come across some interesting diversions from the standard platforming and fighting mechanics, such as a side scrolling shooter level, some interesting, if simplistic puzzle solving (which suits me), and challenge rooms where you are set upon by a wealth of monsters and if you survive you win a section of a rose – which I’d guess fills up an extra rose on you health metre.  Very Legend Of Zelda.  Granted, the ideas aren’t exactly new, so if you’re looking for something fresh or innovative, then by all means look elsewhere, but if you want quality tried and tested gameplay, a classic platforming hack ‘n’ slash adventure with no end of imagination and a gorgeous visual style … then I’d recommend this in a heart beat.

Apparently the game clocks in at a good twenty hours with five very big chapters.  It’s not terribly tough however, so play on HARD for a more satisfying experience.

Note: The game comes with a code to allow you to download the original American McGee’s Alice, which is a great free extra but the game hasn’t aged well, and compared to the new game, the fight mechanics and control system (converted from PC’s mouse & keyboard to the 360 (or PS3) pad)  is not particularly well implemented.

Top Ten Movies 2010

My Top Ten Movies 2010

Compiled of the movies I have seen during the year.  

Some may be older than 2010.



2   MOON









Alice In Wonderland

Viewed – 23 December 2010  Blu-ray

I used to be a huge Tim Burton fan back when he made the likes of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow.  I loved his gothic style and imagination.  Combine this with his frequent collaboration with composer Danny Elfman, most notably on the Batman movies, and this movie-fan was in constant awe.   In recent years however I haven’t really kept up with his movies.  The last one I watched was Sweeney Todd, which left me cold, and I haven’t as of yet seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

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