Powder Burns Episode 4: Fifteen Thousand Friends

The Blind Sheriff. Powder Burns

This episode starts off what with can only be called a flashback. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but the scene feels out of place when compared to the rest of the episode’s story–which is in present day. By the end, you still aren’t sure why it was included.

Moving on to the meat and potatoes of the story, episode four could basically be called 3.5 as it has very little to do with the previous plotline of Emmett trying to capture Monte Hogue. We’re introducted to another character, a man from the US Army. Seeing as this is a western, you know he’s going to be trouble. You arent’t sure in what capicity, but the moment he’s on screen you know he’s plotting something.

Once again, John Wesley Ship and the rest of the cast bring their A-game and the appearance of Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo from the original The Man from U.N.C.L.E series) makes the episode stand out a bit more than usual. This is the weakest of the episodes in terms of the overall story arc, but still a good episode taken on its own.

4/5 Stars

It’s About Time: The Heist

The time traveling comedic duo had amazing first episode. There was genuine laughter every few minutes and the story was great. Episode two takes the concept of time travel and turns it on its head. Paradoxes in particular are a focal point of this episode, without being overtly obvious about it. If you know about science fiction, then you’ll know about the butterfly effect: the theory that one little change in the past will have a ripple effect on the present. The classic example is a man steps on a butterfly and suddenly the dinosaurs are still alive in the present day.

The comedy is great once again, and the story is bit more complex. The subplot with the professor felt odd and the scenes focusing on him too short. It begged the question why this was included in the first place. Hopefully the answer will become clear by the end of the first season.

The plot focus of this episode is the two newbie time travelers hatch a get-rich-quick scheme, which involves robbing Blackbeard. The ending is where the butterfly effect comes in isn’t exactly world-shattering like most time travel stories, but that’s what made it a WTF moment. A good WTF moment.

I suspect good things from the rest of the season.

4.5/5 Stars

The Diamond of Jeru

The Diamond Jeru is a wonderful story—full of suspense, intrigue and mystery around every corner of the wilderness with which the story is set. That being said, it wasn’t until the thirty minute mark where you can hang your hat on something. In this case its jealousy. The particular scene was a bit one-sided, in that the jealous character was being thick-headed, but it was understandable given what we know of the characters.

There’s also a tug-of-war between the conventions of audio drama and full-cast productions, which adds to the long, drawn out beginning which is only there to set everything up. In simpler terms, this audio story doesn’t know what it wants to be. For example, one time the narrator mentions the color of something as well as detail not necessary for an audio drama. However, in other parts, the sound effects and ambiance are so good that you wonder why the narrator is describing the same thing you’re hearing. Basically, it gets too specific when it doesn’t need to, and that could turn some people off.

It is however a nice transition ground between old time radio conventions (the ones which use narration) and the more modern era of audio dramas. The creators strike a fine balance and sometimes miss their mark, but aside from the one nitpicky example above, they’re easily forgettable and don’t impact the enjoyment of the story.

Fun fact: this story is based on the author’s travels in Borneo and the audio adaption was headed by his son Beau–who, for over ten years–recorded sound effects and music. Both of which are original. I’m usually not one for the biography of an artist, but that’s too amazing a fact not to include. How much of the story is based on truth, is anyone’s guess, but seeing as there aren’t supernatural elements in the story it’s possible that the entire story might be truthful to an extent.

The ending has the emotional weight of a modern contemporary story, but at the same time the tone of a 30s era pulp fiction. It’s an odd combination and the narration helps meld the two together. When a certain character dies, the music is beautifully composed and had me misty-eyed, despite not knowing the character too well (aside from his role in the story).

In the end, the biggest hump to get over is the beginning and the narration. Compared to other productions that use the same audio storytelling techniques, however, this one feels rich with life and different from a more contemporary standpoint. And that is its biggest strength: blending the old and the new conventions into a cohesive whole.

4/5 stars

The Mask of Inanna

Winner of the 2012 Parsec Awards and a favorite among audio/radio drama fans everywhere, The Mask of Inanna combines elements of old time radio with the sensibilities of audio drama in the modern age. The blending of the two is seamless and works for the story Alicia E. Goranson is telling. It doesn’t feel like a cheap gimmick at all. Rather, it pieces up things up in the same way the Mistborn: The Final Empire (the book) uses the italicized paragraphs at the beginning to chapters as both a plot point and a coolness factor.

The plot itself is anything but simple and is so unique. There’s a god called Inanna who watches over her followers children who are out risking their lives in Iraq. The protagonist is Leonard Allen—an elderly man who recently left retirement to finish the horror radio show he hosted back in the day. The name of the show is “After Dark” and for most of the episodes, a radio drama within an audio drama takes place. But it’s not simply there for fan service of OTR fans, it serves the story as a plot point.

The ending is where this piece truly shines. Truth be told, the middle was a slog to get through, mostly because it felt like setup or simply wasn’t interesting. But, man was that set up worth it. The last time I grew misty-eyes from listening to audio dramas was We’re Alive Season 2. Since then I’ve awaited another show to hit me with an emotional gut punch. I won’t say what happens for obvious reasons, but know that getting through the middle episodes is well worth your time.

5/5 Stars

The Empire Strikes Back Episodes 6-10

If there’s one thing I noticed when listening vs. watching The Empire Strikes Back, it’s how much of Han Solo’s rogue nature and pigheadedness is exemplified in the radio drama than in the films. Harrison Ford does a great job, but watching the films a long time in a galaxy far, far away he never acted as despicable as the actor playing him in the radio drama. It wasn’t bad, simply different but his character was what stood out the most. Even if some of the lines were the same, the way this actor delivered them was creepy. Like Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler kind of creepy. Han is a bit of an asshole, but there was charm to his character.

Moving past Han Solo’s ego, Luke begins his training under Yoda. The furry green Jedi master is played by a different actor, but there are still remnants of the original voice. At times it was odd listening to a different interpretation of the voice. Even more so than Darth Vader, whose voice took a while to get used to in A New Hope. I mean let’s face it, James Earl Jones is the voice of the iconic star wars villain. However that does not mean someone else can’t do their own interpretation of the character. It will just be a harder obstacle to overcome for a good portion of the population. By this adaptation I was already sold on this acting interpretation of Darth Vader. To be more specific, it happened in A New Hope.

Perhaps one the most memorable moments in cinema history is when Darth Vader tells Luke that he is his father. That revelation paved the way for sites like TVtropes.com to exist. It’s become a cliche, sure, but back then it was a WTF moment of epic proportions. Of course at this point we already know the revelation is coming. It’s sort of like the Sixth Sense in that once you know the ending it’s hard watch the movie without that reveal in mind, acting as a sort of one trick pony.

All in all Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is a fun ride with little deviation from the movie. In fact 98% of it was taken straight from the screenplay it seemed.

4.5/5 Stars

Big Dan Frater and the House of Long Pants

Big Dan Frater and the House of Long Pants is perhaps the weakest of the five episodes, but still manages to warrant a quick chuckle here and there. Unlike the previous episode, this episode, the humor took second seat to horror and drama. There’s still humor of course, but it’s more a parody of horror movies than anything else. In fact it’s kind of wishy-washy in the way it plays out.

After listening to this episode, it became quite clear that these characters are not only misinformed, but idiots. A little bit about the plot for this episode: this is a classic “trapped in a house while a murderer is on the loose” story. Not sure if there’s an official term, but hopefully the description provided is enough to offer up some examples of movies and other television shows. Michael Myers from the Halloween movie series should leap into mind or something similar

The ending itself is abruptly concluded and the resolution is a: “Really? That’s what happened?” kind of moment. All tension is lost and you can’t help but wonder what the point of this episode was. To make you laugh, or make you sympathize with the characters? Either way this is the weakest of the five episodes, with episode four being a close second. Next week is the review for episode three, which is perhaps the best one out of the mix.

3.5/5 Stars

Big Dan Frater and the Escalator of Forgetfulness

This the first of five self-contained short audio dramas about a big man named Dan Frater, his side-kick and a librarian who solve mysteries together. If this sounds like Scooby-Doo, you’re not alone. Think the classic cartoon mixed together with a bit of old time radio and you pretty much have Big Dan Frater.

This first episode is mostly a comedy with some dramatic bits thrown in to keep it from becoming pure slapstick. In this episode, the mystery is about an escalator in a mall that makes people forget what they wanted to do once they reach the top. The ending, while not paying off anything the episode deems important to tell you, is in fact satisfying. I’d go so far as to call it surprising yet inevitable and something only a comedy can do.

Expect another episode reviewed next week and the weeks following. if this sounds like your cup of tea, check out the album on iTunes. It’s $7.99 and includes a blooper reel. Unfortunately only one episode is available for individual purchase and download on the iTunes store. Its title is “Sorry, Right Number.” Expect that review two weeks from now.

4.5/5 Stars

 

Good Omens

The adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s pre-apocalyptic story on the events of the book of Revelation makes for an interesting story, and an even better audio drama. It was produced by Dirk Maggs, who also worked on the Neverwhere audio drama, and like the underground city of London, it adds life and complexity to this co-authored work of fiction.

If you haven’t experienced the story before in its original form, this audio drama will be that much more effective, I feel. Having never read the book, I was going into this story blind. What sets this story apart from other apocalypse stories is the humor. It’s hilarious, but at the same time unlike the usual comedic dribble movies released every couple of months. At times the humor is juvenile, sure, but there’s only one example of that and it’s kind of running gag, so it’s okay.

Author Brandon Sanderson said it best on a recent Tor.com blog post on Terry Pratchett’s death this year:

Pratchett is transcendent. There are lots of funny writers. Some are hilarious. A few are good at making you think at the same time. But most humorists, while brilliant, have trouble with story. If I put their book down, I remember the laughter, but feel no urgency to return.

That “transcendence” is what most  comedies by Pratchett have in spades. He also delivers a style unique to him and almost universal to all (there’s always going to be haters). Of course, let’s not forget Neil Gaiman, whose own literary skill can be found in spades, despite Pratchett’s comedic and storytelling genius.

If there was a gateway drug for both Gaiman or Pratchett work, this would be as popular as a commonly used anti-depressant. All I can say is I’m going to my local library and checking out a few Pratchett books, because now I see what all the fuss is about.

You can find it on audible.com. It’s well worth the credit or price you pay.

5/5 Stars