This review contains spoilers.
1.4 Angry Birds
Though the title may put you in mind of the popular mobile phone game, this week’s Primeval: New World wasn’t a parody involving prehistoric birds and pigs and some form of battle scenario, but instead the most enjoyable and interesting of the show’s four episodes so far.
Angry Birds opens with the longest and most satisfying pre-credits set-up yet. We get an inventive first-person – or should I say first-creature – shot of something leaving the prehistoric forests of old through an anomaly and into a train yard, complete with an effect that should represent an animal’s way of viewing the world but could be seen as a really bad 3D effect. Luckily, the idea is put across well.
We then come to an interesting set-up of characters and some more of the well-written dialogue that has been a strength of this series so far, alongside some neat cinematography and build-up. Sure, the two characters we meet are straight out of the stereotypical stoner-category and the man on the motorbike remains a mystery, but it’s the most enjoyable opening yet and builds tension nicely. Using only minimal shots of the creatures increases their impact, from the final reveal of the young bird among the cannabis plants and the attack on the biker from its more adult companion, the parts not shown clearly have make more of an impression that what is revealed.
Post credits, the action returns to Cross Photonics where Toby sets off on her journey to be one of the characters that becomes more rounded in this episode, expressing her frustration of being stuck in the office with the technology, very much mirroring the attitude of Sarah Page in the third series of the UK Primeval, in the same way that Dylan’s introduction of tasers to Mac in the early part of the episode picks up from Becker’s plot strand. With this established, it’s over to the familiar alert of an anomaly and the team assembles for action.
Thankfully after last week’s perfectly enjoyable, but stand-alone episode that felt like it had minimal effect on the overall plot, some of the story strands that have been set-up in previous weeks are once more picked up, with Angelika’s frustrations of Evan’s sideline becoming his main obsession made clear – the company loses a key contract during the episode – and her relationship with Ken Leeds and how she wants him to take over the anomaly research under the Government’s ‘Project Magnet’.
The detection of the anomaly naturally takes them to the abandoned train museum established before the credits where they encounter the two men growing cannabis on an industrial scale. There they have also boxed up the infant terror bird in a neat bit of CGI that finally shows the budget the show has.
The team has now established itself into working groups, with Evan and Dylan heading off first and finding themselves in a hostage situation whilst Mac and Toby follow on, the latter eager to get into the field and the former still struggling to sound British (his “Can’t be watching your bum” line sounded like the writer was at pains to make him sound English but failed). He did mention his girlfriend Sam, though, which at least keeps that plot element alive from episode three but will it actually go anywhere with her having any effect on the main plot?
Evan and Dylan set off a tripwire outside the cannabis carriage, getting them into the hostage situation, with the classic mistaken identity occurring where the two drug growers think they’re the police, whereas they just want to check for incursions.
It’s around this time that we get to see the full terror birds and, compared to the same creature that appeared twice in the UK Primeval, they are larger and much more fleshed-out, with the feathers of the original much more realistically rendered and given an almost turkey feel. After not particularly impressing with the CGI in the first three episodes when it comes to the creature of the week, Angry Birds felt much more satisfying in the amount – and detail – of the graphics. The use of POV shots from the creatures also works through much of the episode and built up the tension.
The episode also dispels, to a certain extent, my assertion that the spin-off is not actually as adult as it professes to be. Whereas the previous three episodes contained very little you wouldn’t expect to find in the original series, this one ups the ante much more with a well-made prop of a severed human foot, some more colourful language and, later on, a realistic and visual death scene between one of the drug growers and an adult terror bird. It’s still not as adult as I was expecting and I don’t think I’d have any worries showing it to someone younger than the recommended fourteen plus rating, but it’s getting there.
Character development also continues strongly in this episode with the blossoming romance between Evan and Dylan coming along nicely, even if it’s perhaps a little bit pushed, especially in a scene where it looks like Evan is proposing to her as he helps her over the fence. I’m glad to say that Ken Leeds is back, the most interesting character in the new line-up on the basis of back story and actual distinction as a varied individual, and Geoff Gustafson plays the awkwardness of the character with aplomb. It’s not all perfect on the character front, that said, with the two drug growers straight out of the book of mild clichés, with one threatening and bossy, the other repressed but ultimately more moral, though they’re not bad for supporting characters.
As the hostage situation continues, Evan is allowed out to track the adult bird in what becomes the best sequence of the episode, even if the soundtrack can’t decide whether to back it with rockier music or quieter, tense strings. The soundtrack of Primeval: New World is perhaps the biggest unknown quantity, seemingly doing its job without being too intrusive, but doesn’t really grab you as anything incredible.
Toby and Mac soon arrive on the scene and take part in the terror bird sequence that sees some very impressive CGI in a ten-minute action scene that doesn’t shy away from showing the creature and getting it to interact with the scenery, something that the UK series was always good on but this spin-off has lacked so far. The terror bird model seems more real in this series and the sequence in which it chased Dylan through the carriage was exciting and impressive to watch. The location scout for this episode should be acknowledged for finding an interesting location – both visually and claustrophobically – to film in. It’s also in this part of the episode that Ken Leeds continues to shine as an interesting character and the ensemble feel of the team feels like it’s coming together.
They manage to cram in this latter part of the episode a nice balance of gun fighting scenes, tension and a little bit of comedy, as well as a conclusion to the creature problem that ties in all the elements of the episode well. They throw in some development of the anomaly detectors during the episode that suggests that, even if the technology is progressing far faster than the UK original, they still have a lot of work to do.
As the debrief happens at the end, a few more intriguing plot strands are set-up. Ken Leeds is integrated into the team having proved his worth, even if Evan is suspicious, and even promises to help Cross Photonics get hold of some Government contracts to compensate for their lost revenue from Evan’s monster-hunting, but we find out that he is doing an Oliver Leek and has kept the baby terror bird in his car having said he threw it back through the anomaly in its cardboard box, which also leads to the well-included conversation of how a cardboard box in the past might be viewed suspiciously by archaeologists but would decompose, which shows they are considering their impact on history (but no worry about the massive plane they left behind in the preceding episode).
Overall Angry Birds was an improvement over the filler episode three which, though an interesting story, didn’t really advance the series along. Though we didn’t learn any more about Evan and the death of his wife and who exactly he has cryogenically frozen, we did learn more about Ken Leeds and what his plans are and how they connect with Angelika, as well as some neat development in most of the other characters and the feeling they are becoming more of a team.
On top of that, the episode contained the strongest CGI so far with a well-rendered creature that interacted well with the scenery and got a lot of screen time, in a series that has been a bit lacklustre with the creations so far. The plot was interesting and tied everything together nicely and the supporting characters were engaging enough to care for, as well as there being the first real suggestions of a more adult overtone, especially in the terror bird eating the dead man.
On the other hand, Mac’s British-ness is still laid on too thick and some of the characters and plot lines feel too recycled from the UK version, but overall it’s the best episode so far with all the elements coming together to form an exciting, well-constructed forty-five minutes. I still think it’s missing something from the UK version, perhaps due to it stretching out the over-arching plot over twice as many episodes or lacking the magic that British drama tends to specialise in, but it’s a series that is growing on me and improving, mostly, with each episode.
Read Philip’s review of the previous episode, The Fear of Flying, here.
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