by Jef Burnham
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Acorn Media.
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The Matthew Graham co-created series Life on Mars (2006) starred John Simm as a police officer who finds himself inexplicably transported back to 1973, and was an absolutely brilliant and under-appreciated piece of television. His ambitious 2008 series, Bonekickers, once again takes audiences back in time. Bonekickers follows a team of Indiana Jones-style archeologist/adventurers (and their intern) who risk their lives to unlock some of history’s greatest secrets. But a grander historical scope does not necessarily make for a better series, as Bonekickers unfortunately proves.
Bonekickers is every bit as episodic as its predecessor, but has far less reason to be since each episode’s narrative is supposed to be linked, if incidentally, to a millenia-old conspiracy the archeologists uncover in the series finale. This conspiracy, though hinted at in earlier episodes, is explained almost exclusively in the finale. What’s more, the intense drama of the episode results in huge leaps of characterization for the archeologists. As a result, the finale feels unnecessarily bloated. Furthermore, the characters’ contrary demeanor and singular quirky traits throughout the bulk of the series prevent them from being entirely three-dimensional and sympathetic. That being said, with its fast pacing and engrossing mysteries, the series is in fact addictively watchable much in the same way, and for the same reasons, that the National Treasures movies are. Yet I was saddened to find that Bonekickers is nowhere near as satisfying as its predecessor.
What Bonekickers has going for it though is an extraordinary cast, including Julie Graham (At Home with the Braithwaites), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Doctor Who), Hugh Bonneville (Notting Hill), and Michael Maloney (The Forsyte Saga). Torchwood’s Burn Gorman guest stars in “The Lines of War,” quite probably the strongest episode of Bonekickers, and delivers what might very well be the strongest performance of the series as a World War I soldier who leads a small band of German and British troops on a quest to find the weapon to end the war.
The series looks really sharp on Blu-ray, but I doubt the format matters much as the 1080i picture, though sharp, isn’t particularly impressive. And the 2.0 stereo sound isn’t really sold on the BD format either. Special features on the Blu-ray set include behind-the-scenes segments for each episode (up to about a half dozen each) and a brief bit about the conception of the series. These segments can be played individually from a special features menu, which lacks a “play all” feature or in an interactive viewing mode. In the interactive mode, when a symbol appears onscreen, you can access the pop-up menu to view segments applicable to the current scene. These segments were incredibly interesting and insightful; but I can’t attest to the functionality of the interactive option because I don’t partake in any features that interfere with the way in which the program was originally intended to be aired/viewed.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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