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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

I blew the money I got teaching summer school on a new TV.

I bought a Toshiba 52X55OU television and a Denon DVD 2500BTCi Blu-Ray player. I already have a good sound system and an all-region DVD player. I added HD cable with DVR.

So, was it money well spent?

In the case of the TV, yes. While the picture is slightly smaller than my rear projection TV, the picture is much brighter, and the new TV does not fill up my whole living room. I would say the TV is easily twice as good as the one I had. It was also the priciest item I bought.

The Blu-Ray... not so big a deal. Yes, nicer picture than my old DVD, but only about 10% nicer. I could have lived a long time without.

The HD cable, a total rip-off. The guy who sold it to me told me I'd get HD cable, what he didn't tell me was that this was the HD cable "introductory package" and I would only get six channels in HD. If I wanted the other channels in HD, I'd have to pay extra. But, it was part of a package that included high-speed internet and DVR and I can hardly believe I lived this long without both of those.

For those of you who don't have DVR, it makes your VCR all but obsolete (except for playing old movies not out on DVD, like The Magnificent Ambersons and At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and TV shows recorded in ages past, such as the Star Wars Holiday Special). I've never successfully programmed a VCR, but DVR is simplicity itself. You push a button and it shows you a TV schedule. You highlight the program you want to record and choose "record this program" or "record all episodes of this program" and you're done. The only drawback is that you can only record about 60 programs, and then you have to erase something to record something. But since almost all new television shows are out on DVD within a year, that is not a serious drawback. I mainly record so I can fast forward through commercials.

DVD Review

The Golden Compass The Golden Compass (***), by Chris Weitz, based on the novel by Phillip Pullman
The first movie I bought on Blu-Ray was The Golden Compass. I gave the theatrical version four stars. This DVD is exactly the theatrical version. It does not include any of the scenes that were filmed but not shown. Also, while the acting, directing, and special effects are all first rate, cutting the story down to under two hours really hurts. Not only is the opening rushed, but there are too many places where one of the characters has to say, "Well, now that we've accomplished our mission in the Kingdom of the Ice Bears, here we are on the way to where the children are being held captive." This kind of conversational transition happens several times during the film. If the studio had only allowed Chris Weitz to film all of his original script, it could have been great. Everything on the screen is picture perfect. But all too much is left out.

This is the first film to gross less than $150 million in the US and then go on to make more than $300 million worldwide. Evidently other countries are not as swayed by the Catholic church as the US is. That worldwide gross makes it likely that we will see films of the other two books in the trilogy.

Copyright © 2008 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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