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Pick of the Year 2006
A personal selection by CNash

Cinema Pick: Superman Returns

It saddens and shames me in equal measure that, as a movie fan, I didn't see the original Superman films earlier - only catching them shortly before the then-impending release date of Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. The first two were instant cinema classics; though I'm too young to remember firsthand the reaction to the original films, it's since been written in history, and Christopher Reeve's portrayl was just how DC Comics' flagship superhero should be.

But did Singer's sequel-like offering live up to everyone's expectations? In this humble reviewer's opinion, yes. I found Superman Returns to be a triumph; from the nostalgic opening credits, right down to the final shot of Superman soaring into the distance. The performances of the two lead actors were top-notch. Newcomer Brandon Routh was confident in both Clark Kent and Superman roles, while Kevin Spacey brought a menace to Lex Luthor that wasn't always there in Gene Hackman's prior performance. The supporting cast was disappointing: James Marsden was as one-dimensional in his role as Lois Lane's fiancé as he was as Cyclops in the X-Men films, and Kate Bosworth, although a good actress, didn't seem as right for the part of Lois as other actresses had been.

Technically, the film was astounding. Every special-effects shot shone: Superman landing a damaged plane in a baseball field; a great Kryptonite continent rising into the ocean, and all those shots of Superman flying through the air as if Routh could simply do it naturally. All of these add up to one immensely thrilling and entertaining experience.

I was too late to add to my colleagues Camus and Lord Summerisle's praise back in June (I felt a third review would be overkill), so I'm pleased here to be able to name Superman Returns my cinema pick of the year for 2006. Here's hoping that whatever sequels are in the pipeline will be just as fantastic.

Camus review | Lord Summerisle review

TV Pick: Doctor Who, Series 2

It was inevitable that I would name either Doctor Who or Torchwood as my TV pick, as I watch precious little TV aside from these series. So, as Torchwood hasn't yet finished, and it would be unfair of me to pass judgement on it as a series until it has, the gong has to go to this year's Doctor Who. The man with the plan, Russell T. Davies, had to overcome the small obstacle of recasting the title role after Christopher Eccleston's sudden departure, but his choice of Scots actor David Tennant was pleasing to all - as the Christmas special of 2005 (a kind of teaser for the new series, intended to tie up loose character developments) proved.

While Tennant's Doctor wasn't without his faults - namely, his propensity to go off on huge babble-fests to himself, only to suddenly exclaim "THAT'S IT!", and his annoying perpetual cheerfulness that I think owes much to Eccleston's performance - he continued the "darker Doctor" character arc that started with Eccleston. He's not as whimsical as his predecessors from the old series, seeming a lot like Peter Davison's interpretation at times. He's merry, but when it comes down to the wire, he can be driven to the point of instability when his emotions are evoked.

Where I felt series 1 was a letdown was in the variety of the stories. All of them were, on some level, set on or around Earth. Series 2 goes some way to fixing this; the Doctor (and companion Rose) visit the colony of New Earth, and a far-flung asteroid, but again, all of the other episodes are set on Earth. Series 3 needs to sever its ties and be unafraid to visit more new places, rather than anchor itself to the safety of London or Cardiff.

For all its faults, the new Doctor Who is coming along nicely, and viewers think so too - with Davies talking of a fourth series in the works. And judging by this year's Christmas special (only just aired), series 3 will take it in new directions - which I think is just what it needs to keep it going strong.

DVD Pick: The 4400, Season 2

As I mentioned above, I don't watch much TV; this is mainly because I can't stand having to conform to TV schedulers' ideas of when I should watch something. Instead, I buy it on DVD to watch at my leisure. This was the case with The 4400, an American-made sci-fi drama series that's got its head in the stars but its feet firmly on Planet Earth. The basic premise runs thus: a comet falls to Earth one day and deposits about four and a half thousand "refugees", all of which went inexplicably missing at some point over the past fifty years. US Homeland Security is on the case; its top agents, Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie) always seem to stumble upon newly-uncovered secrets to do with these forty-four-hundred people - not least, the fact that several of them are displaying superhuman powers akin to those of the X-Men.

Like the more recent series Heroes, The 4400 looks at how super-powered humans can fit into a real-life setting, utterly divorced from the false reality of comic books. It's also got a running narrative concerning where these folks have been, and why they were taken. The first season was only a "mini-series" of five episodes, but it's been greatly expanded upon in the thirteen episodes of Season 2. Each episode is divided between the groups of main characters - the aforementioned Tom and Diana, young couple Richard and Lily and their baby, and Jordan Collier's vaguely-sinister "4400 Foundation". For a series such as CSI, which focuses far more on episodic stories than characters, this wouldn't be advisable - but with a character-driven series like this, it works in its favour.

One gripe is that it's not immediately accessible. Viewers jumping into the middle of the series will find that they miss out on references to past episodes, especially as the season nears its conclusion - which, in the grand tradition of arc-based television, ties up most of the season's loose ends. However, I can't see a way to avoid this without downplaying the overarching plotline (as was done in Burst Angel), which I think would kill the series' appeal.

The 4400 remains an enthralling series, and while I haven't yet caught up with Season 3 (it's not out on DVD yet), I'm anticipating more of the same great quality of story and characterisation from it. 

Superman Returns

USA 2006
154 mins
Bryan Singer
Brandon Routh
Kate Bosworth
Kevin Spacey
James Marsden
Parker Posey
Frank Langella
Sam Huntington
extra features

Crystallizing Supermanfeaturette

Designing Superman featurette
Superman on the Farm featurette
Superman in the City featurette
Superman In Peril featurette
Menacing Superman featurette
Wrapping Superman featurette
Resurrecting Jor-El featurette

Dr. Who - Series 2 Complete Box Set

UK 2006
640 mins
James Hawes
Dan Zeff
Euros Lyn
Graeme Harper
James Strong
David Tennant
Billie Piper
Camille Coduri
Noel Clarke
Pauline Collins
Sean Gallagher
Anthony Head

The 4400 -
Series 2

US 2005
530 mins
Leslie Libman
Nick Gomez
Patrick Flueger
Chad Faust
Laura Allen
Conchita Campbell

Related articles
Pick of the Year 200 – Camus
Pick of the Year 2006 – CNash