End-of-Year Awards 2021

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

It’s the end of 2021, so it’s time to look back on a few of the entertainment highs (and lows) of the year! Like I did last year, I’ve picked out a few of my favourite entertainment experiences from the worlds of cinema, gaming, and television, and I’ll be giving each a totally official Trekking with Dennis award!

Most categories have a winner and a runner-up; some just have one title and in those cases they’re the winners by default. I’ve put Star Trek episodes into their own category, otherwise I’d just be saying that every TV show that I liked this year was Star Trek!

Caveat time! Obviously I haven’t watched or played anywhere close to everything that was published or released this year! The exclusion from these awards of titles such as The Last Duel or For All Mankind doesn’t mean they aren’t good; I just have no experience with them so I can’t comment. It goes without saying that everything here is entirely subjective! This is just one person’s opinion – so feel free to disagree vehemently with some or all of my choices!

With that out of the way, let’s get started!

Best Documentary:

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Half-Life Histories series; Kyle Hill

There have been some interesting documentaries this year, but I wanted to highlight a semi-professional series that has been quietly ticking up views on YouTube. Kyle Hill has crafted a series of absolutely fascinating documentaries about nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and nuclear accidents – some of which were familiar to me, but several of which actually weren’t.

Nuclear weapons are an incredibly controversial topic, of course, but nuclear power is something I firmly believe that we as a species need to embrace. At least in the short-to-medium term, nuclear power offers a reliable way for humanity to meet our growing power needs while phasing out fossil fuels.

Kyle Hill’s documentaries show how early nuclear experiments could and did go wrong, but they aren’t alarmist. Hill has a gentle, almost understated style that tells these serious (and occasionally fatal) stories with due dignity and gravitas, but without sensationalising the events in question. For anyone interested in the likes of the Chernobyl disaster or the early history of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the entire series is well worth a watch.

Best Web Series:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
The Jimquisition; Jim Sterling

I’d like to highlight a fellow non-binary creator here. Jim Sterling – also known as James Stephanie Sterling – is a video games critic on YouTube. Their main weekly series, The Jimquisition, often highlights bad practices in the games industry and draws attention to misbehaving corporations. The Jimquisition was one of the first shows to criticise the practice of lootboxes a few years ago, for example, and this year Sterling has worked relentlessly to call out the likes of Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard.

Too many publications – even blogs and social media channels – now work hand-in-glove with big corporations in the video games industry, leading many so-called independent publications to, at the very least, be cautious in what they say about both their corporate friends and the games they review so as to maintain their level of access. The Jimquisition has always been different because it’s self-funded, leaving Sterling free to criticise as they see fit.

On a personal note, seeing Jim Sterling come out as non-binary was one factor among many as I made my own decision earlier this year to discuss my gender identity in public for the first time, and I want to thank them for their brave decision.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Tasting History with Max Miller

There really isn’t anything quite like Tasting History. There are a plethora of cooking shows and channels online – many of which are fantastic! And there are some great history shows as well, everything from mini-documentaries to living history re-enactments. Tasting History blends these two things together, as host Max Miller cooks a variety of different historical dishes, and uses those as an entry point to talk about some of the historical events and personalities associated with the food.

I love history and I love cookery shows, so Tasting History is absolutely the kind of thing that was going to appeal to me! But a fun premise alone wouldn’t be enough, and Tasting History has a well-spoken host who makes both sides of the show entertaining as well as interesting. I’ve learned a lot about different dishes and historical cultures this year, things I never would have found out about if not for Tasting History.

Best TV Special:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

After 2020’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special had been a ton of fun, I was pleasantly surprised to see Disney+ bringing back Lego Star Wars for another outing this year. Terrifying Tales was a fun Halloween special, one which drew on many classics of the thriller and horror genres for inspiration while maintaining a child-friendly atmosphere. I’m not a huge fan of horror, so this lighter tone was just perfect for me!

Focusing on Poe Dameron, Terrifying Tales used a frame narrative to tell three different spooky stories set in all three of the Star Wars franchise’s main eras. The first short, which focused on Kylo Ren, contained more backstory for the character than the entire sequel trilogy – and I would argue that it was actually better than the minuscule character development that Kylo/Ben Solo got in the films!

Palpatine was hilarious in the vignette that featured him, and I adored the way that Terrifying Tales used the character. The third and final vignette was a parody of a Twilight Zone episode and featured Luke Skywalker, and that was pretty fun to see as well. Overall, Terrifying Tales was a cute, funny, and lightly spooky way to get ready for Halloween!

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
The Grand Tour: Lochdown

As we approach the pandemic’s second anniversary, we need things like Lochdown to poke fun at what’s been going on in the world. In a unique way that only Hammond, Clarkson, and May can really pull off, The Grand Tour’s special episode made a trip to Scotland one of the funniest and most entertaining bits of television I enjoyed all year.

The trio have found great success at Amazon, and free from the constraints of the BBC (both financially and in terms of content), I’d argue that The Grand Tour is leaps and bounds ahead of Top Gear. As the show has switched its focus to these kinds of special episodes, there’s been a lot of fun to be had!

I’m not really a car person. Cars have always been a means to an end for me; a mode of transportation. But the enthusiasm of the three hosts for their vehicles is infectious, and the fun they have on their wacky adventures always manages to succeed at pulling me in and making me feel like I’m right there with them.

Worst TV Series:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Rick and Morty Season 5

After four pretty strong and funny seasons, Rick and Morty stumbled this year. It felt to me like the writers had become a little too aware of the show’s success and place in pop culture – and didn’t really know how to handle that. Season 5 was bland and forgettable, with several episodes that didn’t even win a smile, let alone a laugh.

Rick and Morty crossed over from being a fun series with a cult following and really hit the mainstream somewhere around its third season, and clearly that’s been a double-edged sword. Too many of the attempted jokes this year came across as either desperate or else simply as gross-outs or edginess for the sake of it.

Though the show had a few successful moments, such as the scenes between Rick and Birdperson toward the end of the season, Season 5 has to be considered a failure.

Best TV series:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Foundation

The first season of Foundation was imperfect but nevertheless good. The novels upon which Foundation is based are incredibly dense works that can, at points, feel more like philosophy than sci-fi, so bringing something like that to the small screen was no small challenge – but Apple TV+ stepped up.

Jared Harris put in a wonderful performance as Hari Seldon, and was joined by several actors with whom I was less familiar – but who all did an outstanding job. Foundation is also a visually beautiful series, one which makes great use of Apple’s high CGI budget. A second season has already been confirmed – so that’s something to look forward to in 2022!

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time was the first of Amazon’s two big-budget fantasy shows to make it to screen. We’ll have to wait until next year for the corporation’s Lord of the Rings prequel/adaptation, but The Wheel of Time is definitely a show worth watching in its own right. It has struggled, at times, to break out from the shadows of both Game of Thrones and the aforementioned Tolkien adaptation, but I’m so glad that I gave it a chance to impress me on its own merits.

Outside of the Star Trek franchise, The Wheel of Time is unquestionably the best television show I’ve seen all year. Amazon managed to adapt the first part of a long and complex story in a way that was understandable and easy to follow, bringing a new high fantasy world to the screen for the first time. There are some fantastic performances from Rosamund Pike and Madeleine Madden in particular, making The Wheel of Time a series to get lost in.

The first season concluded recently, and a second is already on the way! I can hardly wait.

Worst Video Game:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

This is a difficult one. There were plenty of bad games this year – games with horribly intrusive monetisation, overladen with bugs, or that just plain sucked. But for me, the year’s most egregious video game failure is a so-called “remaster” that was lazy, that didn’t feel like much of an upgrade, and that left me incredibly disappointed when I consider what might have been.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition contains a number of bugs that were present in the original versions of its three constituent games; bugs that BioWare failed to fix. Its visual upgrade, coming less than ten years after the third game in the series, was already going to be a hard sell, but there seem to be many textures that BioWare either didn’t touch at all or else did the absolute bare minimum to.

And that’s Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in a nutshell: it’s a “remaster” that tried to get away with doing the absolute bare minimum. The sad thing is that I adore the Mass Effect games – but this version was so much less than it should’ve been.

Best Video Game:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Road 96

Road 96 is quite unlike anything else I’ve played all year – and probably for quite a long time before that too! The game focuses on characters, introducing players to dozens of completely unique NPCs during a branching quest to escape a totalitarian state. It’s a road trip game… but that definition scarcely does it justice.

Road 96 has a beautiful art style, too, one that really brings to life its characters and American Southwest-inspired locales. There’s a wonderful soundtrack that accompanies the game, one with a definite ’80s inspiration – which I’m totally there for! It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling Road 96, and it’s an experience I really think you should try for yourself in as unspoiled a manner as possible.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Kena: Bridge of Spirits

When I was thinking about my pick for “game of the year,” there was never any doubt in my mind that Kena: Bridge of Spirits would take the trophy. It’s one of the most visually beautiful games that I’ve ever played, bringing an almost Disney-esque art style to life in the most fantastic way possible.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a modern-looking game with a distinctly old-school feel to it. The game combines elements of puzzle-solving and 3D platforming with some tight, focused combat, and the addition of the Rot – little critters that accompany Kena – is both adorable and incredibly useful. Collecting things in video games can feel like busywork, but because Kena’s power grows with every Rot she picks up, even this aspect of the game manages to feel worthwhile.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits had been one of my most-anticipated games of the year. It didn’t just meet my expectations – it surpassed them by a country mile.

Worst Film:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film that tried to be dark and edgy and in doing so ended up robbing its source material of any of the fun and entertainment value it could’ve had. DC Comics has struggled to compete with Marvel, failing to recognise that it’s Marvel’s blend of humour and action that makes those films so appealing to many viewers. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a case in point – and a great example, in my opinion, of a film that completely misses the mark.

Perhaps to distinguish it from the likes of The Avengers, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was packed with gimmicks, too. An incredibly dark and boring colour palette drowned the film in grey, black, and brown tones, and some scenes were so poorly-lit that following the action became difficult. It was also shot in a weird 4:3 aspect ratio – again, seemingly for the sake of a gimmick.

I’m genuinely happy for fans of DC who worked hard to secure the so-called “Snyder Cut” after a long campaign. But the end result was, for me, the worst film I’ve seen all year. And this was a year where I watched Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Best Film:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Raya and the Last Dragon

I paid a lot of money (by my standards, at least) to watch Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+! Maybe I should’ve waited the extra couple of months, but I was genuinely interested to see the latest big Disney animated picture. The one surprise was the lack of any musical numbers, but despite that I had a good time with Raya and the Last Dragon.

Kelly Marie Tran put in an outstanding performance as the titular Raya, a young woman on a quest to restore the life of a dragon and reunite a fractured land loosely based on Southeast Asia. The film was dramatic and exciting, with a fun cast of characters. It’s also noteworthy that all of the main characters – heroes and villains – were women.

Now that it’s on Disney+ (and out on DVD and Blu-Ray) it’s definitely worth a watch.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Dune

I was worried that Dune would once again prove to be too difficult to adapt, but I was thrilled to see that I was wrong! Dune is a sci-fi masterpiece, and if its second instalment comes anywhere close to living up to this first part, I think we’ll be talking about the duology alongside the likes of The Lord of the Rings in years to come as being an absolute classic.

Dune is a long and occasionally dense book, so condensing it down and keeping a cinematic adaptation with a large cast of characters easy to follow was no mean feat. Director Denis Villeneuve did an outstanding job, and every aspect of the film, from its dialogue to its visual effects, are pitch-perfect.

I’ve had a review of this one in the pipeline for a while, so stay tuned in the new year – I might finally get around to finishing it!

Most Exciting Announcement:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Wicked

Picture Credit:Β Wicked the Musical London.

I was very lucky to have seen Wicked on the stage in London early in its run, and the soundtrack has to be up there as one of the best modern musicals. The announcement of a film adaptation came as a truly welcome surprise this year, and I will follow its progress with anticipation!

A spin-off from The Wizard of Oz, Wicked purports to tell the story from “the other side” – i.e. the Wicked Witch’s point of view. Disney in particular has shown in recent years that this concept can work exceptionally well, and Wicked pulls it off. The musical and the book that inspired it are very different, but both are enjoyable in their own ways – and I hope the film will be as well!

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Early in 2021 there were rumours of a Knights of the Old Republic game being in development, but it wasn’t until September that its existence was finally confirmed. A full-scale remake of the first game in the series is being worked on, and the idea of being able to go back and replay one of my favourite Star Wars games of all time is a truly exciting one!

So far all we’ve seen has been a CGI teaser, so the game is probably a couple of years away. But it’s still good to have something like this to look forward to! After several years of very limited success under Electronic Arts, Star Wars games are now being tackled by more developers and publishers – meaning we should see more from the franchise in the years ahead. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a remake of Knights of the Old Republic II after this one!

Best Star Trek Episode:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
There Is A Tide…
Discovery Season 3

There Is A Tide is basically “Star Trek does Die Hard!” If that sounds like fun to you, then we are definitely on the same page! Featuring a desperate plan to re-take the USS Discovery following its capture by a villainous faction, Michael Burnham, Tilly, and several members of the bridge crew all get their chances to be action heroes.

It isn’t an entirely self-contained episode, as it brings to a head Starfleet’s conflict with the aforementioned villainous faction that had been running for much of the season, as well as containing other ongoing story threads. But it works well as a single episode, too, with an explosive and action-packed story that feels like it was lifted right out of an action blockbuster!

There Is A Tide is a great episode for Michael Burnham, but it’s also good for Admiral Vance as well. He truly seems to embody the values that Starfleet and the Federation have always held, and anyone who feels that Discovery has placed less of an emphasis on that should pay attention to Vance’s scenes in particular.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
First First Contact
Lower Decks Season 2

First First Contact is an incredibly well-done episode of Lower Decks. The series’ trademark sense of humour is still present, but we see the entire crew of the USS Cerritos working hard to overcome an incredibly difficult challenge and save not only an ailing Starfleet ship but also an entire planet. The crew rise to the occasion as we always knew they could, and First First Contact hits all of the emotional highs you could ever want from an episode of Star Trek.

It’s also an episode that truly embraces the spirit of the franchise. The Cerritos’ crew aren’t faced with some horrible monster or alien to defeat, instead the puzzle that lies before them is scientific – and the solution to it has to be as well. All of the main and secondary characters get moments in the spotlight, and First First Contact even found time to further advance the relationship between Ensign Mariner and Captain Freeman.

Finally, there was an incredible moment of symmetry toward the end of the episode, as the Cerritos saved the day in a very similar fashion to how it had to be saved in the Season 1 finale. That moment was pitch-perfect – and I won’t lie… I teared up!

So that’s it!

We’ve dished out a handful of awards to some of the best – and worst – entertainment experiences of the year. 2021 is a difficult one to summarise. The ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic has been noticeable, with delays and even some cancellations getting in the way and spoiling the fun. But there were some fantastic projects across cinema, television, and video games too – including some brand-new titles that I feel have the potential to lead to ongoing franchises, or to be talked about a lot in future as classics of their various genres.

As 2022 approaches, I hope you’ll stay tuned for a lot more to come from Trekking with Dennis! In the days ahead I plan to look forward to some of the films, games, and television shows that we could enjoy throughout the coming year, so definitely stay tuned for that! And I have a number of reviews and other articles in the pipeline.

So the only thing left to do is to wish you a very Happy New Year! Whatever you have planned for tonight, I hope you have an amazing time. See you next year!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.


Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:

Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

Rick and Morty Season 5

The Wheel of Time

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Raya and the Last Dragon

Wicked

Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Discovery 3×12 There Is A Tide…

Lower Decks 2×10 First First Contact

YouTube channel spotlight: Cruising the Cut

It was only a few years ago that I rarely used YouTube. I’d occasionally check out a film trailer or listen to a song I couldn’t find anywhere else, but I largely bypassed its user-generated content, figuring that the website was largely filled up with amateurish comedy, cat videos, and cringeworthy children making videos they’re bound to look back on in shame a few years down the line! But as the web has grown to become an ever-larger part of all of our lives, I’ve found myself spending more and more time on YouTube to the point where I’m pretty sure I watch at least one video on the platform every day.

There are some great channels on YouTube, and you can find different ones dealing with every topic under the sun, but this time I’d like to shine a spotlight on one which became a favourite a couple of years ago: Cruising the Cut. When I first subscribed, the channel was hovering somewhere around the 25,000-subscriber mark. That’s good, but by no means YouTube royalty! In the last couple of years, however, Cruising the Cut has grown to well over 100,000 subscribers, and hitting that mark was thoroughly deserved.

So what is Cruising the Cut? It’s primarily about travelling on England’s canal network, and the life of a “liveaboard” – i.e. someone whose permanent home is his narrowboat. The gentleman in question is named David, and the first couple of videos on Cruising the Cut explain how he decided to sell up and move aboard a canal boat permanently. David was a television journalist before starting his YouTube channel, and his background, both in terms of knowing how to use the camera and set up beautiful shots, as well as how to be interesting and informative in his presentation, shines through.

David runs the channel and produces and narrates every video.

2021 seems like a great time to get caught up with Cruising the Cut if a travelogue around England sounds like your cup of tea, because the pandemic has, unfortunately, brought a halt to David’s planned travels. The result of this has been fewer videos, and a recent announcement that there may not be much travelling being put to film at least for the next few months. So now could be a good time to binge-watch David’s travels so far!

I’ve always had an interest in canals, and their history is really fascinating. The second half of the 1700s was the heyday of canal construction in England, and a network of artificial waterways was built that spans much of the central part of the country. They were initially constructed as profitable transportation routes, often for moving natural resources like coal or iron to budding industrial centres. By the mid-20th Century, however, many canals had fallen into disrepair, and it took a lot of hard work to restore the network to its current condition – work which is still ongoing.

The invention of the railway and steam locomotives brought canal construction to a premature halt in the 19th Century, though many of the engineering and mechanical techniques pioneered during their construction did not go to waste and was used by early railway builders. It’s primarily for this reason, though, that the canal network is not larger!

A map showing the extent of the canal network in England and Wales.
Picture Credit: The Canal & River Trust

Since starting his channel in 2015, David has filmed his travels across a significant portion of the canal network, but hasn’t yet been everywhere or stopped at every point of interest! So hopefully, once the pandemic clears, there will be more to come. He manages to be informative and entertaining in equal measure in every video, and I find myself learning something new about the canals, their history, or the part of the country he’s visiting almost every time.

Gongoozling – the name for canal boat-watching – is, by its nature, a slow affair. This isn’t something fast-paced or action-packed, so set your expectations accordingly! Canal narrowboats only have a maximum cruising speed of around four miles-per-hour, so don’t expect Cruising the Cut to be zipping all across the country in each video. This is, as David says, “slow TV.”

There’s nothing wrong with that, though, and stepping out of our sometimes-hectic lives to slow down and set our watches to “canal time” is no bad thing. Sometimes we choose entertainment for its value as escapism, and perhaps that’s what you’ll find with Cruising the Cut. Life on the canals certainly seems to be at a different pace – it can feel, sometimes, like another world, one caught in a moment somewhere in England’s past.

The intro to episode 159.

When I first encountered Cruising the Cut there were a couple of other canal-related YouTube channels, but that number has grown over the last few years and there must be at least a dozen by now. It’s a niche, certainly, but apparently a growing one! I wouldn’t have expected that necessarily, but despite the fairly obscure subject matter, it just goes to show that anything can be interesting and entertaining if well-presented.

That could be the motto of many YouTube shows, actually! I’m often surprised at how channels with a fairly narrow or unusual focus can draw large audiences, but when the presenter is enjoyable to watch, the subject matter itself can almost be anything. In the case of Cruising the Cut, following David’s travels around the canal network is one half of the appeal; the second is the way in which it’s presented.

The episodes in which he travels are usually filmed from two angles – one at the front of the boat, and one at the back, where David can speak directly to the camera from the boat’s stern deck. Cruising the Cut does sometimes make use of drone shots as well, and these can be absolutely stunning! There are some beautiful vistas along the canal network, and David’s camera work is great at capturing them.

The view from the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in Wales.

So that’s about all I have to say, really. Cruising the Cut is gentle entertainment for when you need a break, as well as an interesting and informative travelogue, one that is perhaps not quite on the beaten track! You may have seen England in travel documentaries before – you might even live here – but I’d be willing to bet that most folks haven’t seen this side of the country. There are big cities, smaller towns, and rural areas all served by this canal network, and it really is a world unto itself – a world of slow-moving pleasure boats, holidaymakers, marinas, chandleries, and even the occasional floating business that has survived into the modern era.

I know this isn’t the usual kind of geekdom that I write about – and it seems a country mile away from sci-fi – but if you’re interested either in a fun travelogue or in learning more about the canals, which are a fascinating part of English history, maybe you’ll find Cruising the Cut as much fun as I do.

Cruising the Cut, and all videos posted to the channel, are the copyright of the channel owner. YouTube and associated trademarks are the copyright of Google and Alphabet. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

VE Day – marking the 75th anniversary with documentaries

Today marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day – that’s Victory in Europe day, when Germany officially surrendered at the end of World War II. British, Canadian, Australian, and American soldiers would continue fighting Japan until August, so this wasn’t the final end of the war, but for the nations of Europe, the USSR, and American armies fighting in the European theatre of war it was. History is one of my big passions, though it’s not something I talk about often here on the website. But today is a great opportunity to look at a couple of great documentaries about the war as we celebrate this poignant anniversary.

Cameras had been present in every conflict since the Crimean War in the 1850s, so photography was not really new by the time of World War II. The American Civil War is often cited as the conflict that invented the idea of a “war correspondent”, reporting the facts and taking pictures for newspapers back home. And during the First World War a generation earlier, video footage was routinely captured to be used in newsreels – and propaganda.

But the Second World War saw photographs and video captured on a much bigger scale – almost every army detachment would be assigned an official photographer, and many soldiers would take their own cameras from home with them when they went off to war. I have several family photographs in my collection from my grandfather and great-uncle, both of whom fought in the war and, by a very strange coincidence as they were assigned different roles in different units, both saw action during the Battle of Crete.

I’m going to look at two documentaries in this article, one British and one American. They both look at the same conflict from the same side, but with very different perspectives. The American documentary I’ve chosen in Ken Burns’ The War, which was released in 2007.

The War was released in 2007 and looked at the conflict from an American point of view.

The War is, by the standards of other works looking at the conflict, narrower in scope. It has a focus on individuals from a select number of smaller towns across the United States, and while it does of course deal with the conflict’s major events, it often does so through that lens. It also begins not with the events of 1939, the widely-accepted beginning of the Second World War, but with the attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941, which marked America’s entry into a war that had already been raging for more than two years.

The decision to begin the documentary in 1941, while at the same time providing only minimal background to the United States’ declaration of war, is a limiting factor because it means the whole story of the conflict isn’t told. However, The War doesn’t aim to be a comprehensive look at the entire conflict. As with Ken Burns’ other works, it is a uniquely American film looking at how the war affected the United States and how Americans participated in it. Whether you consider this limitation to be problematic or not may depend on where you come from – from my own point of view with my family history tied to the conflict, the Battle of Crete, which saw my grandfather captured and interred by German forces, had already occurred several months before The War begins its coverage. It is, in that sense, an incomplete picture.

Nevertheless, The War is an interesting and well-done television series, drawing on a vast amount of historical data and documents to tell the story of the later two-thirds of the conflict very well. It also covers the Pacific Theatre of the war in far more detail than many other works do, as Europe is often the focus of Second World War documentaries. Keith David, who’s a well-known voice actor and has appeared in many films and video games, even voicing the role of Admiral Anderson in the Mass Effect series, is The War’s narrator.

The second documentary I’ve chosen to highlight is The World at War, a British series made in 1973. Don’t be put off by when it was made, because this documentary is about as comprehensive as it’s possible to be.

There’s something of a “sweet spot” when it comes to studying certain past events. Too close to the event in question and people can be reluctant to talk openly and honestly about what happened, but wait too long and too many of the principal players have died or are not available to participate. The World at War lands right in the middle, and as such is able to interview many senior and prominent people who were involved in the decision-making process during World War II.

Such important figures as Anthony Eden, who had been the UK’s Foreign Secretary for almost all of the conflict, Karl Donitz and Albert Speer, who were senior German cabinet ministers under Hitler – Donitz would even be named Hitler’s successor and formed a short-lived government, Traudl Junge, who was Hitler’s secretary and on whose memoir the 2004 film Downfall was based, Lord Mountbatten, actor James Stewart, and many others were all interviewed for The World at War. Getting the perspectives of such important figures makes the series such incredibly riveting viewing. Hearing people like Speer in particular discuss what it was like working with Hitler is absolutely fascinating, and brings to life a period of history that we only really think of as being in black-and-white.

Former Nazi government official Albert Speer was among the many significant interviewees for The World At War.

With 26 episodes and clocking in at a massive 22 hours, The World at War is a huge time commitment, but well worth it. No other documentary series has tried so hard to cover World War II in such comprehensive detail, looking at every aspect and every major front in the conflict – even the pre-war conflicts between Japan and China, and the rise of Hitler’s Germany from 1933-39, both of which can be overlooked by other studies of the conflict.

Award-winning actor Lawrence Olivier provides The World at War’s narration, and the series is definitely the better for his involvement. At the time it was made, The World at War was the most expensive documentary ever produced, and its use of archive footage from the time, as well as its extensive interviews with veterans and prominent wartime figures makes it incredible for anyone with an interest in the conflict.

So it was a bit of a different article this time, taking a break from the world of fantasy and sci fi to look at the real world for a short time.

The 8th of May 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day. The War may be found on DVD and Blu-Ray and is the copyright of PBS. The World at War is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray and is the copyright of Thames Television and ITV. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Netflix series review – Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak

If you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ll know that I love documentaries. There have been some really interesting documentary films and series made over the years that I’ve been lucky enough to see, including many whose subject matter I would never have thought to explore otherwise. Netflix is actually a great platform for documentary content. I don’t know how many films and series they have available in the genre – and unfortunately it will vary somewhat depending on where you are in the world – but there are a lot of interesting ones to check out, including some that have been nominated for major awards.

It was with all of the above in mind that I decided to try Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak, which was released in January 2020. I’ve always had an interest in things like disaster preparedness and emergency planning, so it definitely piqued my curiosity when it appeared on my list of things to watch that Netflix recommended. I’d been meaning to check it out ever since, but as always, there were other things to see and do!

Title card for Pandemic.

Pandemic follows a few different individuals, mostly medical professionals, in a number of places around the world as they work on various aspects of disease prevention and treatment. It’s actually incredibly ambitious in that regard, telling the narrative from different places and different perspectives. The filmmakers visited such diverse places as the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Egypt, Guatemala, and various locations in the United States – a truly huge amount of travelling that must have massively inflated the budget of the series. And the end result is definitely the better for gaining different perspectives.

Some of the locations visited – like Rajasthan in India and Cairo in Egypt – are incredibly densely populated, and as Pandemic goes to great lengths to show, are much more vulnerable to influenza – the disease which is the focus of the documentary – as a result. Seeing those places, and the overcrowded buildings and streets, instead of merely reading about them or having them explained in a voiceover, was definitely an interesting aspect, one that the filmmakers have clearly wanted to convey.

Given that a pandemic of a disease like influenza is a global problem, I think it’s important that any attempt to cover the subject matter should be global in scope. Only seeing a European, American, or western perspective would be more relevant to Netflix’s core audience, perhaps, but would be limited in its messaging and understanding of the topic. The truth is that, in a lot of cases, it’s places in the third world that are worst-hit when a disease outbreak occurs because the infrastructure and medical facilities aren’t present in the same way, and the level of preventative care – like inoculations – and post-infection treatment is of lower quality. That’s not meant to be a criticism – there are clearly people in those regions working incredibly hard. But it is the reality that millions of people in some countries aren’t vaccinated against, for example, tuberculosis – despite the vaccine having existed for decades.

Healthcare workers in India.

As well as looking at some of the history behind disease prevention, and the scientific research that is ongoing, Pandemic is also a series of personal stories. We spend time with many of the documentary’s subjects as they go about their lives, interact with their families, and discuss the impact that their work can have on their life and those around them. In that sense, it was a much more personal look at the subject than a documentary that focused on facts, figures, and interviews staying on-topic would have been. While I enjoyed that aspect of Pandemic most of the time, there were some moments that were awkward and clearly scripted, or at the very least set up to get the exact shot and line that the filmmakers wanted. There’s a line that a documentary filmmaker has to walk when doing something like that, and at times Pandemic was on the wrong side, as some of these scripted moments ended up feeling like the film was being dishonest. By presenting a scene through the camerawork and editing as if it were a genuine, spur-of-the-moment conversation when it clearly was not, some of these sequences ended up feeling forced and fabricated. While there weren’t too many of these moments such that the series was overwhelmed by them, it did suffer as a result.

When considering Pandemic, we do have to talk briefly about the current coronavirus outbreak. Pandemic was made last year, before this current outbreak had begun, but how we approach it – and indeed the fact that more people have been interested in it – can’t be completely detached from the current situation. Coronavirus is not influenza; the two viruses are very different and thus will have to be approached differently by governments and medical staff. But much of Pandemic’s subject matter is applicable to the current outbreak – most notably how easily it can spread and how it can take root in some of these densely-populated areas in the third world where healthcare and hygiene are worse than here in the west. In that sense, Pandemic is a timely release – with all the fuss in the news at the moment about the spread of coronavirus and the various quarantines and other steps being taken to stop and prevent its spread, there are lessons to be learned from this series.

Politics is at play in Pandemic; it is a deeply political series at times. For some people that will be offputting, especially because the way some political issues – like migration – are handled are very one-sided. There are numerous swipes and digs at Donald Trump and his administration in particular, as well as interviews with Democratic Party politicians, legislators, and supporters. It would have been worth the filmmakers including some kind of statement at the end of the episodes where these people appeared to say that they did ask Republicans to join in with the series – if indeed they did ask. That would have shifted the blame for the lack of political inclusion to those who refused to participate.

Oregon State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward was interviewed in Pandemic.

Healthcare is a political issue. The inclusion of politics is thus unsurprising, and Pandemic does not claim to be a balanced, all-around look at the subject matter. Many documentaries are incredibly subjective in the way they handle their subject matter – look at Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine or Fahrenheit 9/11 as examples of that. This doesn’t make Pandemic worse, but it does mean that as the audience we have to be aware of the filmmakers’ leanings and biases and remember to treat it as a subjective piece. In 2020, there really isn’t such a thing as a truly objective piece of reporting or filmmaking, but even so, there will be numerous points where I’m sure that people who don’t fully subscribe to the filmmakers’ politics will be at least a little uncomfortable in the way some of the material is presented – I can tell you that I certainly was.

Staying with contentious political issues, one of the most interesting aspects of Pandemic for me is that the filmmakers went out of their way to track down and speak with anti-vaccination families and campaigners. The anti-vaccine movement has been growing for some time, and is widely blamed for a resurgence in diseases like measles which had once been essentially eradicated in the western world. It’s likely that, as we go forward into the new decade, decisions will have to be made about what rights people do and don’t have when it comes to issues like vaccination, and by letting the anti-vaccine campaigners speak for themselves, Pandemic did a good job of presenting both sides of the argument – even though it was clear from the way some of those sequences were edited which side the filmmakers were on.

Overall, I’d say that Pandemic approaches an incredibly broad topic in a personal way. The decision to present it through a series of separate, individual stories rather than as a more general overview of the topic definitely shows off different angles of how organisations around the world approach disease prevention, but at the cost of having a narrower focus than some documentary series covering the same subject might. I enjoyed it, it was interesting and informative, but certainly not comprehensive. However, given the position we’re in when it comes to the current coronavirus outbreak, I would recommend it – just so long as people remember to keep their fears in check. Some of the interviewees can stray into “doom-and-gloom” territory at times, and again considering our current situation in regards to coronavirus, this might be offputting for some. Regardless, I had a good time with the series. Netflix has both created and hosted a number of good documentaries, and Pandemic is a solid addition to its lineup.

Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak is available to stream now on Netflix around the world. The series is the copyright of Netflix. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.