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Thursday, 30 June 2016

Dreamworks Dragons S5: Race to the Edge, Part 3

Dreamworks Dragons
Series 5
Race to the Edge, Part 3

Okay, wow, hey, I actually had no idea this was even meant to be coming - I should have, really, because it was around this time last year that we got part two, but it completely slipped my mind, and I only realised when I saw people talking about it. I am glad, though: I have enjoyed basically all of the Dragons television shows thus far, almost as much as the films (and both How To Train Your Dragon and How To Train Your Dragon 2 are some of my favourite films, so that's saying a fair amount), so I was more than happy to marathon another thirteen episodes.

Picking up shortly after the end of series four, series five follows Hiccup, Toothless, and their fellow dragon riders and dragons, as they explore the archipelago they live on, searching for new species of dragon. But they must still contend with the Hunters, led by Viggo Grimborn, an astute and cunning businessman whose mind effortlessly outmatches Hiccup's. To complicate matters, Dagur shows up on the Edge to reveal that he's attempting to redeem himself for his past crimes, and Heather joins the group as a full-time member.

So, we'll get the technical stuff out of the way first, because that's all - basically exactly the same as in the last two series, actually. 

There are a few points where you can tell that they've maybe slightly increased their animation budget, as they give a few characters some alternate costumes, throw in a few impressively animated sequences, and generally make things look a bit more detailed and fluid. 

The Buffalord.

At the same time, though - were the Dragon Hunters always composed of endless clones of the same dude, all dressed exactly the same way (actually, that's not true, sometimes he has a bandana on his face)? I don't remember them being, but it's really obvious this time around, and kind of jarring - and especially when there are multiple Dragon Hunters in the same shot or, arguably even worse, two separate groups of (totally identical) Dragon Hunters engaging in different plot relevant activities in different places.

The music is more or less the same - simplified riffs on the film's soundtrack, but it's also gotten a slight upgrade, managing to even achieve something like greatness at a few points (there's a somber, bagpipes version of the main theme that plays during episode eleven that I would kill to get on a soundtrack), and being, on the whole, a pretty fun listen. I mean, I'd buy a soundtrack if they were selling it, but apparently that's not something Dreamworks wants to do.

The voice-acting remains very strong, and in a nice turn, we get to hear a little bit more of Alfred Molina as Viggo this series. He's always a joy to listen to, with just the right mix of earnestness and smarm. 

The - the something, I don't recall.

Which leads us nicely onto the story itself. My big problem with the last two series was that after a while, every episode felt like variations on a theme: Character has interpersonal problem, dragon or Hunters or both are encountered, character overcomes interpersonal problem and saves the day - the standard formula, with a slightly grating conservationist rhetoric hammered in.

This series varies things a little more, and it largely does that by peppering a couple of pure adventure stories in, such as the auction episode, the 'Astrid is sick' episode, and the finale; and through the character of Dagur, whose redemption arc (which only shows up in two episodes, but out of thirteen that's a not insignificant number) keeps us guessing as to whose side he's on. 

The - somewhat inevitable, especially when you consider that the team has a new member - downside to that is that some characters never get their time in the limelight at all. Neither Astrid nor the twins get focus episodes, and new member Heather gets only one focus episode (and a bit part in one of Dagur). The others don't fare too much better either: Snotlout gets one focus episode, and arguably shares his with Hiccup; while in a slightly baffling turn, Fishlegs gets two. The result is that the series is broken down into two Dagur episodes, two Fishlegs episodes, one Snotlout episode, one Heather episode, three pure adventure episodes, and then three Hiccup episodes, and that feels - incredibly unbalanced.

We also don't make a huge amount of progress on the plot. By the end of the series, the team still has no idea that Viggo's activated the Dragon Eye; much foreshadowing is made of someone worse than Viggo, with a mysterious cloaked man attempting to buy Toothless, and Viggo meaningfully remarking that unlike some people, he doesn't want to rule the world, but nothing ever comes of it; and in a slightly odd turn, the series ends on a strange cliffhanger episode that introduces dragon-worshipping ninja English people, but never really explains who they are or why they're there. 

You might have thought I was joking. I was not. I was not joking.

It feels like a rather incomplete series, and that was true of the two before it. Possibly it'd just be better to wait until they're all out and then marathon them as one fifty-two episode series, since that's clearly what they're being made as, with very little thought as to whether each individual part works as its own story. 

Still, I enjoyed this series a lot. Apparently Netflix likes to space them about six months apart, so I guess we'll be seeing part four some time around December or January. Neat, cool, looking forward to it.

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