DVD Review: Merlin: The Complete Second Season

Hello!

The myths and legends surrounding King Arthur have always fascinated me. Tales of honor, friendship, love, betrayal, swords and magic are woven into a tapestry filled with shiny knights, wizards who age backwards, and a sense of adventure. From Le Morte d’Arthur (Sir Thomas Mallory) and The Once and Future King (T.H. White) to The Sword in the Stone (Disney), Monty Python and the Holy Grail and even Camelot (the musical from Alan Jay Lerner & Federick Loewe), the stories have been told and retold through the ages.

So back in 2009 when Merlin was announced and started to air on NBC (after airing on the BBC), I was planted in front of my television and it didn’t take long for the rest of my family to join me. We were all drawn in by the antics of A young Merlin (Colin Morgan) working as a manservant for Prince Arthur (Bradley James) in a Camelot ruled by Arthur’s strict father King Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head, Giles from TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer). In another interesting twist, Guinevere (Angel Coulby) works as a maid to Morgana (Katie McGrath), the King’s ward. As we’re dealing with a Smallville-style revisiting of the Arthur myths, Merlin has a couple of mentors along the way – the wise old court physician Gaius (Richard Wilson) and the Great Dragon (voiced by John Hurt, Hellboy).

We tuned in regularly to see what kinds of trouble these characters would get into and how the writers would reinvent a younger Camelot. I was particularly interested in how we’d see characters from the older stories like Lancelot, Mordred, Morgause and Nimue show up as they inevitably would. And honestly I was quite surprised. The production crew did a great job of breathing new life into these stories.

When the first season ended, we were obviously hoping that the show would be renewed. And though NBC didn’t air it directly, season 2 aired on the Syfy Channel last year. Due to insane schedules last spring, we only watched the first few episodes and never got back to see how it ended up. As a result, we were very happy to see Merlin: The Complete Second Season appear on DVD at the beginning of 2011!

Picking right up where the first season left off, the second season starts out with Merlin almost losing his job as Arthur’s manservant to a thief and ends with Merlin saving the day and giving Arthur all the credit, which is a recurring theme on the show. Another recurring theme is the concept of destiny and Merlin’s fate being linked to Arthur’s. It’s something brought up by many shows of this style – from Smallville to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Is a person’s fate decided or can the path change?

It ultimately comes down to the character’s decisions – their choices between what’s right and wrong – that shape their destinies. But like life, not every decision is easy and all have consequences that may ripple far into the future.

What I really loved about season 2 is that these characters are starting to come into their own. Sure, Arthur’s a Prince and supposed to do what his daddy the King says, but we start to see him rebelling a bit against policies he doesn’t believe in. He goes off against orders to rescue Gwen in one episode and on a quest in another episode to find the last remaining Dragonlord because it’s what’s right for Camelot even if it goes against the King’s wishes.

The other relationships really mature and change as well. Where there was a definite class boundary between Merlin and Arthur in the first season, we start to see them become more like best friends or brothers by the end. And the love triangle between Lancelot (Santiago Cabrera), Arthur, and Gwen starts to form. Arthur is recognizing the feelings he has for Gwen, but struggles with them because a relationship between a noble and a servant could never be. That really starts to come into question when he sees the budding feelings between Lancelot and Gwen. And finally we see the Great Dragon really push Merlin to release him as he agreed to. But when Merlin gets a glimpse of what the future could be like when the dragon is freed, does he really want to?

As with the first season, there are serious moments intermixed with some comedic moments. The difference in the second season however is the distance between the light and the dark. As Morgana begins her slide to the dark side, there are many tough choices for Merlin to make – but that makes the lighthearted banter between Merlin and Arthur that much more important to keep things from being bogged down in darkness too often.

All thirteen episodes of the second season are included on the first four DVDs of this five DVD set. The last DVD is a collection of great extras. Without question, the BBC has done an amazing job gathering a set of “Behind the Scenes” features for the season. Every episode has a thirteen minute look at the work that goes into filming, producing, and acting each show, which gives you something more concrete to watch than a longer feature that covers the entire season at once. In addition, there’s an introduction to the new season from the cast and crew, audio commentaries, a collection of photos, and a Making of Merlin documentary that covers the entire season. If you have a PC, you also have access to a set of Wallpapers you can use as background images.

If you were a fan of Merlin as it aired on the BBC, NBC, or Syfy networks, Merlin: The Complete Second Season is definitely a DVD set worthy of your collection. It’s been fun catching up on all the action in Camelot as Season 3 gets in full swing on Syfy!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up both seasons of Merlin on DVD below!

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Movie Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Hey there…

Yes, I know that there are people who on principle skip anything Jerry Bruckheimer produces. And yes, I know that there are those people who try to miss anything Nicolas Cage appears in because they simply don’t like him. And there are probably a third group who believe that Fantasia is sacrosanct and must not ever be touched again by human hands… But I’m evidently not one of those.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical that it could be done. Who could possibly write a script for a two hour film that’s based on the short animated feature as part of 1940’s Fantasia from Walt Disney? How could you take Mickey Mouse and the dancing mops, brooms, and buckets and modernize it for today’s audiences?

Well, I think they actually managed to pull it off. We went as a family and all of us really enjoyed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Cage, Jay Baruchel, and Alfred Molina playing the lead roles. Hopefully it will make more money than it has so far so that we can continue to see the adventures of “Dave the Sorcerer”.

What is it about? It starts in medieval times with the saga of Merlin (James A. Stephens) and his three apprentices – Veronica (Monica Bellucci), Balthazar (Cage), and Horvath (Molina). When Horvath turns on his friends and master to join the evil wizardess Morgana (Alice Krige) in an attempt to take over the world and killing Merlin – Veronica sacrifices herself and binds Morgana’s soul within herself, and Balthazar captures them both in a Russian Doll magic item. That starts a war between the Merlinians, with Balthazar at the lead, and the Morganians seeking to free Morgana to take over the world.

Balthazar spends the next thousand years trying to find what Merlin called “the Prime Merlinian” – an individual with the potential to take Merlin’s place in the world. Along the way, he captures other evil wizards in the doll as they continue to try to release their queen.

When young Dave stumbles into Balthazar’s magic shop while on a field trip, it’s revealed that he is the Prime Merlinian Balthazar’s been looking for all this time… But through a series of mishaps, Dave unwittingly releases Horvath and a battle ensues that eventually finds the two ancient enemies locked away for 10 years. That gives Dave some time to get some therapy for what nobody believes he saw.

And that brings us to the present day, with Dave having become a physics geek working with electricity and plasma. I won’t spoil the rest, but suffice it to say that it’s a wild ride where Balthazar and Dave must work together to try and save the world from Horvath and Morgana.

Before I saw the film, I read a few reviews chastising the exposition at the beginning that sets the stage for the transition to the modern day. As such, I was a bit concerned. Turned out that I need not have been. Though director Jon Turteltaub might have chosen to “show, not tell” that section of the story, I think it would have added another 30+ minutes to the already two hour long film. As such, to keep it short enough to play frequently at most movie theaters I think it was a good choice to avoid the lengthier storytelling option.

It was obvious that Cage and Baruchel had a good time working together. The relationship between Balthazar and Dave seems genuine and the Master/Apprentice ties that bind them together lead to some touching moments. Molina simply ate up the screen as Horvath and cut a dashing figure in what looked like a late 18th century/early 19th century suit, hat, and cane. Even Teresa Palmer as Dave’s eventual girlfriend Becky played the “fish out of water” character well, even going so far as to play a pivotal role in the climax.

The only character I didn’t like was Toby Kebbel’s magician Drake Stone, the evil wizard who helps Horvath set Morgana free. Stone played a Criss Angel-type stage magician who was in it more for stroking his ego than for any perfection of his art. But I think we were supposed to dislike the slimy character – so if that was the case then bravo to Kebbel’s acting chops.

The special effects were spectacular. From the dragon in Chinatown to the car chases on the flip side of a mirror, the effects seamlessly transported me into a world where magic exists. I found myself watching, wide-eyed and enjoying every minute in that world – wishing there was a bit more magic day to day in our own.

For me, Bruckheimer has struck again as he did with films like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and National Treasure. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice offers escapism and a big budget popcorn movie where you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

If you don’t like Bruckheimer, Nick Cage, or the idea that a Mickey Mouse cartoon could be made into a big budget live action adventure movie, I’d recommend that you stay home. But I’m certainly glad I went to see it.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Merlin Season 2 Trailer!

Hi all!

Though the first season of Merlin that aired on NBC last year was a bit uneven in spots, everyone at my family looked forward to seeing what trouble young Merlin, Arthur, Gwen, and Morgana would get into in Camelot. The chemistry between characters, action, and story lines were enough to keep us all intrigued.

Well, according to Geeks of Doom, Merlin will be back on April 2 for Season 2! Yay!

They’ve posted the trailer for season 2 and I’ll embed it below:

Take a look at the post on Geeks of Doom for more details on the season 1 marathon that happens this weekend as well!

–Fitz

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