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Friday, 14 September 2012

Feature: 'Blue Mountain Mystery: The Movie' Review

Blue Mountain Mystery: The Movie rolled into the UK's Vue cinemas during the weekend of September 1st 2012 and has just been released on DVD.

After the unanimous disappointment of the Fifteenth Series, the slight resurgence of interest in Day of the Diesels and the promises held in Season Sixteen, would we ever see a new beginning for Thomas & Friends?

The few who were given the many chances to see it early in Australasian and United States theatres, the Thomas fanbase would be left pondering, Is it a good?, Was it better than the last one?, Is it a promising future for Thomas?

The individuals who did see it would come out in open arms afterwards to appreciate the new film product. But were they right to do that? Here, Roll Along Thomas answers those questions with the Blue Mountain Mystery review.


The seventh film in the series (counting Thomas and the Magic Railroad) starts off rather differently with a pre-credits sequence. It sees the Narrow Gauge Engines hard at work at the Blue Mountain Quarry. Already, this interests the viewer with the introduction of the new location, the many activities happening and the impressive but even more snazzy visuals from the much loved Nitrogen Studios, who sadly depart animation duties in this story.

We get more introductions with the appearances of Owen and Merrick working friendly with the little 'uns. Then suddenly we find Paxton speaking for the first time. This already fills us with the many promises that this film would eventually deliver. Paxton gains an important role by serving as a worrisome antagonist which would be elaborated further on into the story.
With the small presence of Sharon Miller's usual writing structure, this is soon banished rather quickly and would only crop up a few times later on. Reminiscent of a typical James Bond film, this moves to a thrilling but suspenseful action sequence, which has nothing to do with the story. A slight breath of fresh air. Rheneas finds himself in trouble owing to parts of the substituted Blondin' Bridge tumbled down to the ground. 

The line of the upper terrace immediately educates a young child to be tought a few words, this is a good sign. While a warning signal is swiftly held up by a worker, the viewer would notice that the flag is green, signalling the engine to go. While at first this may seem wrong, it is the right thing to do when you think about it.

If you are involved in an emergency, you have to act fast with no time to lose. So long as the lifeform in danger gets an explanation, the person responsible for the act knows what he or she is doing. Rheneas struggles to get past the bridge but manages to clear the scene as it falls to pieces. Robert Hartshorne provides a believeably stressful soundtrack during the action which makes you either want to hold onto your seat or put your hands on your mouth.

The causality kick starts a memory re-emerging from the fans' mind of a previous danger scene occuring from an episode of the Classic Series which also teaches you the actions and capabilities that you should take. Some have compared the tidbit to the Fifth Series. A shot of Rheneas going down a slope at one point convinced me that this was a live-action depiction. Top marks to Nitrogen on that brief image.
After the success of Rheneas escape, we get moments of humour from Paxton who is near buried in the heap of rubble. Confused and bewildered, the diesel is hit by a stone and mutters, Ow... Steven Kynman's calm tone and comic timing gives the message for some laughter to respond. We are treated to a minute long title sequence where the animation moves to the basics of sharp cartoon artworks. It, in a way, tells you to sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

The plot then starts properly with leaves hanging from a tree opening a camera pan down to Thomas, Annie and Clarabel swimmingly having fun chattering about in the beautiful countryside, complete with the country atmosphere of a forest and some cows, grazing. The wonderful opening shot of the tree looks almost life like and is the start of a big send-off for the Nitrogen animators. The scene truly is, enchanting.

Annie and Clarabel speak for the first time since the Eleventh Series and are voiced by the ever reliable, Teresa Gallagher who gives the insufferable aids to Thomas smooth vocals and well spoken posh accents which is just fitting. The fun stops there as we are given a lesson on the railways; Slow down! The signal is red, warns Clarabel. I always stop at a red signal, replies Thomas. Only because we tell you to!, Annie jokes.

The importance of the message is none to say the least, a welcome return from the series' early days and a nod to the hard working railway people who know all about the life of trains. It is also where Blue Mountain's script editor, now head writer, Andrew Brenner's writing comes into place. Winston appears as a jester to The Fat Controller who are both used in an embarassing but comedic way. A better introduction to the car would have been ideal.
During Topham's notice about the disastrous day at the quarry, he notes to Thomas that he must take his passengers to their destinations first before proceeding to replace Paxton at Blue Mountain. It is something we haven't heard for a long time but is nonetheless a strict piece of talk from a railway controller. Paxton gains a short scene with Emily afterwards, improving his screen time.

A few moments of repitition crop up with the narrow gauge engines greeting Thomas. In a surprise turn-around since The Great Discovery, a musical montage of the Blue Mountain Quarry song is presented. Though not as the actual music video, a gathering of working hard scenes fill in the void and somehow fits perfectly with the story, complete with industrial sound effects. Hartshorne even creates a soundtrack version straight after the montage ends.

Moving onto the voices. Dissatisfaction arose when Sir Handel utilized a squeaky voice but after watching this film twice, I feel that it suits his character. He used to be a devious little steamer and with age has matured into a wiser engine, but at the same time, still maintains some of his youth. Skarloey's age is represented by a deep Welsh sound while Rheneas, Peter Sam and Rusty recieve the perfect mix of young, old and cheerful.

Owen gets a tough sound, so as if to say that, he knows what he is doing and he is strong. Merrick and Winston's somehow cheeky personalities share almost the same voice, but with one mature and the other a bothersome youngster who is a trainee at his job. It's just a shame that the two don't add much to the story and are purely there for the basis of humour. But the voice actors I will say, know what they are doing.
Perhaps the most worthy voice added to the cast is Michael Legge as Luke. Michael donates his Irish background to give young Luke a vulnerable but heriocally brave and smooth vocals. The portrayal certainly matches with his character and adds more hints of different cultures living on Sodor. Back to the film, Luke is seen for the first time coming out of hiding.

This leads to a helpful game of hide-and-seek with the narrow gaugers trying desperately hard to hide Luke fast and away from Thomas. It is not exactly made clear as to why the engines wouldn't trust their friend Thomas to find out an eventually undisclosed secret that was tucked away a long time ago and in some respects may seem slightly out of character from the first four narrow gaugers.

The secret of Luke's actions adds some drama and keeps the viewer engaged as you want to know what will happen to Luke and you want to care for him but at the same time, you want to care for Thomas as he's responsible to keep schtum. It is a matter that goes on in life. What do you do when you find out someone's secret? Should you tell anyone? Should you not? You must care for the victim no matter at what cost it makes.

Thomas asks his buds at Tidmouth Sheds, What do you all think is the worst thing an engine could do? This is where the old days of the show return for three great glimpses of nostalgia from arguably some of the best episodes in the program's history. These are re-imagined with Nitrogen's CGI and fulfills Greg Tiernan's ambition to re-create older tales for present day. It is nothing but a real crowd pleaser for the people who grew up with the olden days.
Despite some inconsistencies in visual differences, it doesn't really matter. We get some powerful references to the show's past and we loved those moments. The Sad Story of Henry is probably the superior out of the three. We see a chief of an island punishing one of his engines in a brutal way. Bricking him up in a tunnel, which is something of a worse nightmare or maybe a form of claustrophobia. It can relate to the mountain mystery and its outcome.

A near accident between Skarloey and Rocky is prevented by Thomas which ultimately persuades Luke to believe in him. Skarloey delcares, You saved me from losing my cab. The line makes you wonder what would've happend to Skarloey's driver and fireman. An injured crew or possible fatalities could've arised if no warning was called out. 

To take matters in your own hands to save some lives is an important factor of safety and this is shown in a Thomas & Friends episode! Brenner's research harkens back to 80s and 90s Thomas. Thomas reminds Luke that he steamed past a danger sign, and fell into a mine. Joking, and I'm still here!. Perfect mix of comedy and nostalgia.

Paxton returns in our sights for another role, listening in on Luke's very bad secret. The mystery unravels a backdrop for the then identified Victor and sounds like something that Miller may have saved since his inception in Hero of the Rails, a good idea. Though the shocking image of an engine landing in the sea may scare some kids. they would need to wait for a plausible explanation.

Victor breaks new ground for the show as a different language is heard, Spanish. Not only are the little bits of foreign dialogue surprising to hear, the basic sentences can teach children a new language. I was gutted that Matt Wilkinson did not voice Victor for this special. He gave Victor such an ideal sound but alas is replaced by the US' David Bedella. Though disappointing, you don't really notice this change and David actually does well to mimic the Cuban.

While on his branch line (hooray!), Thomas runs past a red signal but this time realizes his mistake, and reverses. This shows that Thomas' character is slowly returning and is once more a regulation that all drivers or in this case steam engines refer to in real life. Perhaps a reference to Toby Feels Left Out, Toby helps the true blue by pulling Annie and Clarabel to work.

The three have a good working relationship as evident by the chatter and shows that they have known each other for so long. Entering the Dieselworks to find the yellow engine, a scrapped Marklin engine is seen in a panning shot. Those who are clever trainspotters will have noticed this engine in parts of the First Series. It is another easter egg that Tiernan added for the more mature fanbase.

Thomas hears Paxton divulging Luke's secret to Diesel. This is the part where Diesel reverts back to his devious Season Two character instead of his Season Six portrayal. It is a joy to hear what trickery Diesel has up his cab but the fact that Hartshorne's slow and evil music cue signals back to the early days of the character, is just a pleasing win.

However, because of Thomas' thorough search for the yellow engine, this is where the film starts to lose pace. Upon leaving the quarry, our little engine asks four of his friends to give him the answer which goes on for too long. He then questions it to Edward, then Cranky in a lengthy but humorous scene at the Docks and a has a brief exchange with James. Though relevant, pace is lost up until the plot goes back on track with a discovery at the Steamworks.

In a very sombre interaction with Victor, the Cuban locomotive reveals to Thomas the true story about himself, the yellow engine and what occured on that fateful day. We get a simple explanation that the wheel chains snapping off Victor were the reasoning behind the horrifying fall at the Docks, and so, Luke's supposed act of physical contact is out of the game. Victor's perspective is played so well and adds more drama, leading to the film's final act.

Later, Thomas encounters Diesel at a junction being provoked at by The Fat Controller to take a broken down Mavis away. Diesel's determination to label Luke a baddie is rich coming from the devious oiler. Here combined with Hartshorne's reprise of his theme makes you feel that the Diesel we used to know is back and more evil than ever. The resurgence of the character's original personality really fits in with the feel that this story takes on.

After seeing Thomas emerging from hiding, Paxton's confusion is displayed to such an extent that you feel sorry for him to decide, what are you going to do when your stuck in the middle?. His frustration wracks his mind when he has to choose the side of good or bad. Thomas blurts out to the narrow gauge engines that he spoke to Victor about the very matter, leaving them to reject Thomas in anger.
The sign of neglection is a thing that goes on in life and normally would affect friendships, relationships and also families. Its a strong matter. But relating to this and this is noticeable, when you base stuff in real life for adaptations like this, they tend to be successful to audiences when they react to it, thoughtfully but in a good way and the move that this product takes is well thought out and uses the major participants strongly to develop characterisations.

Now I have been hearing from various fans who have argued that the next procedure is silly, but, it almost isn't. To save his dying friendship with Luke, Thomas elects to go up the incline with the help of Rocky and Owen. The sheer lunacy that is realised when Thomas staggers around the narrow gauge tracks has a reason. Thomas is determined not to lose a friend and will take any risk for an engine or indeed engines to believe in him.

Unable to stop, Thomas bursts through the buffers and dangles on the end of the cliff tops. The expressions that the engines show combined with the sudden pause of music and the cries for Help! had me on the edge of my seat. Has Thomas just made the biggest mistake of his life? Yes, and no. He took a risk and ultimately needs saving himself. The orchestration adds heroism, especially when Luke pulls him to safety. Its a passable dramatic sequence.

I will admit however that I didn't like the fast trail down Owen. Though gripping, I would have believed it more if this was tried in the model era of the show. I'm not saying I hate the animation, I absolutely adore it 100%. But I just wasn't sure if this was believable enough, writing wise. The whole thing is finished quickly luckily and landing on the deck, Luke and Thomas are safe. Look out for a nod to the models.
Upon trying unsuccessfully to brainwash Luke and Paxton about Thomas, Paxton re-enters the quarry with Victor. Resolving the situation, Victor forgives Luke and the two are the best of friends. It is a touching scene and is helped by the performances of Legge and Bedella. And so, the film ends and fades to black... almost. Sam Blewitt returns to sing the Blue Mountain Mystery song, now a popular contender for the best of the modern Thomas songs.

Half way through, the music video breaks to provide a filler scene as to what happened days after the events. The relationship between Victor and Luke is explained that they are close in contact with both of them together at the Steamworks. In a nod to Victor's past and as a culmination of a running gag, Rheneas emerges as the yellow engine and is finally given his repaint.

The scene is merely meant to be an amusing joke and doesn't mean that Rheneas will remain like this forever. Even so as Blue Mountain is set before the events of Season Sixteen. Returning to the song, sombre tones are played out to the music perhaps signalling the tearful farewell to Nitrogen Studios and their wonderful CGI. This is evident by the use of a reprise of Thomas going over the camera to a fade in of their logo. It made me sad.

I speak for all of the fans and followers of the show and their work to say that I am sorry to see them go, but their swansong went out on a high note. Arc Productions certainly have a hard act to follow.

Blue Mountain Mystery lived up to its hype, served many surprises and has almost the right ingredients to making a Thomas & Friends production. The return of popular characters, the greater focus on personalities, the back story, the research, the education it gives, the nods to the past, the nods to the The Railway Series, and so on.
The film truly is a near return to form of our beloved program and from the little nuggets of information I have been informed about the next Series Seventeen, and with the professional Andrew Brenner at the helm, I truly believe that the little engine and his friends are coming home, to a much better place.

TheTopHatts gives the Blue Mountain Mystery an...

FALL 2013

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