Big Train-Series 1 (1998)

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Released 2-Mar-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary-Writers And Cast
Deleted Scenes
Gallery-Photo
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 210
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jonathan Gershfield
Graham Linehan
Christopher Morris
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Kevin Eldon
Mark Heap
Simon Pegg
Amelia Bullmore
Julia Davis
Rebecca Front
Tracy-Ann Oberman
Catherine Tate
Phil Cornwell
Barry Davies
Graham Linehan
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, end credits appear over the show

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Big Train is yet another one of those seemingly endless runs of British sketch comedies which were especially prevalent in the late 90s. Perhaps the difference between this and others like The Sketch Show is that Big Train tends to combine high-quality production values with some very good acting (both dramatic and comedic). This helps give it a slightly different feel to many other sketch comedy shows, though this results in sketches that are often just not funny. There is a sense that the writers and actors were influenced to varying degrees by Monty Python and this is reflected in some of their sketches, or dialogue, such as in the numerous animated Stare-out competition sequences. The principal writers were Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews who had previously collaborated on another comedy series, Father Ted.

    All the sketches are performed almost totally by the five principal cast members; Amelia Bullmore, Julia Davis (who was recently seen on the BBC black comedy series Nighty-Night), Kevin Eldon (who was also in the same series), Mark Heap, and Simon Pegg (perhaps the best known face of these five, with the title role in Shaun of the Dead, and roles in many UK comedies). The show itself has a 'high-quality' look about it, largely due to the fact that it was recorded on film rather than videotape, and there seems to be greater use of actual locations (even if they're just offices) for both exterior and interior shots.

    The three males have the lion's share of the on-screen time (which could explain why only the three of them returned to do a second series in 2002). There really is a palpable sense of camaraderie between the guys, with the two female leads always seeming a little on the 'outer' and just filling in slots in the sketches, which is a shame as they are both fine actors in their own right, as witnessed by the many shows in their respective resumes.

    As mentioned above, many of the sketches have a serious, dramatic look and feel to them which sometimes adds to the impact of the bizarre or outrageous 'punchline', though alas, more often than not, the sketches fall flat. There are a few absolutely laugh-out-loud sketches throughout the six episodes (and indeed in the deleted scenes), but unfortunately these are too few and far between. The other problem, perhaps quite fundamental, is that many of the sketches drag on too long. That's acceptable if they are packed with humour, but they're mostly just stretching out a single joke (for example the painful Bee Gees sketch in Episode 1, or the far-too-numerous Stare-out competition sequences).

    Of course, humour can be a very personal thing, so some people might find more of these sketches hilarious...

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Transfer Quality

Video

    A good clear picture throughout is on offer, presented in its original filmed aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

    Sharpness is good throughout and there is good shadow detail at all times.

    Grain is not visible except in the occasional stock footage, such as the aircraft taking off in episode 1 at 3:27. There is obvious, artificial, grain used in the Hall and Oates sketches in episode 5.

    There is no visible low-level noise.

    Colour is well balanced throughout and has that rich look that is achieved when film, rather than video, is used for the original recording. Somehow it lends an air of 'quality' to the final product.

    Aliasing is not an issue except during the Hall and Oates sketches in episode 5 at 7:00. 'Artificial' grain has been added to the black and white photography to give it a 'documentary' look. However, this has led to horrendous aliasing in the transfer, which renders these sketches almost unwatchable as almost the whole screen flickers.

    There are no obvious positive or negative film artefacts.

    Subtitles are only available in English for the Hearing Impaired. These are well timed to the onscreen dialogue and, whilst they don't capture every word, effectively convey the essence of each sentence.

    This is a dual layered disc, and the layer change occurs at 9:25 during episode 4. It is reasonably well placed at the end of a sketch.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.

    The only other audio track present is the commentary track, which is also in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.

    Dialogue is clear at all times, which is essential to this show. Audio is in sync with the actors' lip movements on screen.

    The music does the job without being anything particularly memorable.

    The front left and right speakers are used well, sometimes very well. There is no output from the rears, except for some ambient noise sent there as a result of the Dolby decoder settings on the amplifier/receiver.

    The subwoofer chips in with some low-frequency support for some effects and music, though obviously it doesn't get a dedicated 0.1 LFE channel.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu Audio

    The main menu and submenus are nicely done with various 'flyby' and still shots of a seemingly large model railway setup.

Audio Commentary

    Quite an enjoyable and sometimes very funny commentary provided by Graham Linehan, who wrote and directed this series, Arthur Mathews, co writer, and some of the cast members.

    This commentary manages to provide quite a bit of background information on most of the sketches, actors, locations and  production and still manages to be entertaining, largely due to the guys just being their funny selves!

    They do occasionally have some problems recalling some of the details (after all it has been 6 years), but this just adds to the atmosphere of these guys sitting around a comfortable lounge (well, recording studio anyway), sipping tea and passing comments as they watch the Big Train episodes. Often the commentary is funnier than the original dialogue, especially after the cast members join them in the commentary.

    They manage to sustain their enthusiasm throughout all six episodes.

Deleted Scenes

    There are plenty of completed sketches that were left off the final televised product. These have been assembled, together with a title sequence, so it looks like another full episode. Each sketch can be played individually from the menu, or they can be played in sequence using the "Play All" menu option.

    Some of the material in this collection is perhaps funnier than some in the televised episodes, perhaps further indicating just how subjective humour really is. One good point about watching these deleted scenes is that it gives the viewer a feel of watching an episode without the sometimes annoying audience laugh track.

Photo Gallery

    Self-forwarding slideshow of photos from the show and from behind-the-scenes. Each photo has a caption. Not a particularly great or useful extra.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Big Train doesn't appear to have been released in R1, which is perhaps understandable given that it probably wasn't even shown on TV in the US.

    In the UK it has been released as a 2-disc set which includes series one and two.

    I'm sure series 2 will eventually be released in R4 as well. If you can't wait, then order the 2-disc R2 version (as long as your player can play it).

Summary

    Overall I was disappointed by this series. Perhaps the few very funny sketches I had seen when the series was first aired on TV left me with fonder memories than I should have had. The six episodes are quite patchy in their humour. While there are some very funny moments, unfortunately these are mixed in with some sketches that are just plain boring and unfunny and a few others that are almost cringeworthy. Many of the sketches also run too long and end up stretching out a single joke too far. A few are worse - they run too long without any real humour!

    Good production values, good acting, and the actors' serious faces combine to present a good looking production, which sadly just isn't funny enough for me to recommend highly, except to fans of the show.

     The picture and audio quality are both good (except for the major problem with aliasing in the black and white sketches). The extras are great, especially considering this is a single disc release. The commentary track is enjoyable, and the deleted scenes provide almost a complete extra episode.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Satish Rajah (don't read my bio!)
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-344 Multi-Region, using Component output
DisplaySony KV-XA34M31 80cm. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2801
SpeakersMain: Mission 753; Centre: Mission m7c2; rear: Mission 77DS; Sub: JBL PB10

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