CGI animation is all the rage at the moment. It has been going strong for over a decade but now it is becoming almost the norm. Even Gerry Anderson's classic puppet series, Captain Scarlet, has been reinvented - to reasonably good effect - in a new CGI incarnation. Good CGI these days is almost indistinguishable from the real deal. Bad CGI, on the other hand, makes productions look cheap just like any poor effects would. The trouble is, CGI generally costs a great deal, so funding a wholly CGI children's TV series is difficult. That said, it can be done, as is clear from Captain Scarlet.
Shadow Raiders (a TV series that was spawned from a toy range) is about the ongoing planet wars between the Alliance and the Beast. Also known as War Planets, the battles take place on various different planets - the Ice Planet and the Prison Planet for example - with the evil beast destroying everything in its path. In the first season we saw the planet Tex destroyed by the Beast and a sole survivor, Princess Tekla, journeying to the Ice Planet to warn of the Beast's impending arrival. Although the various planets are in conflict with one another, this threat creates the aforementioned Alliance, who try to put aside their differences in a desperate bid to survive the onslaught.The 13-episode second season kicks off with the conclusion to the cliff-hanger season 1 finale, which sees changing loyalties and explosive confrontations abound. Internal conflict still clearly has not dissipated, with King Mantle proving to be the biggest enemy from within, whilst the Beast still proceeds to eat planets. Aside from this global arc, the episode by episode stories come up with more small-scale struggles of loyalty and betrayal, with trips to all of the planets being made - either intentionally or through unavoidable crash-landing - and various battles being fought. Despite this, they never lose sight of the big pictures, with the ominous looming threat of the Beast maintained throughout.
Shadow Raiders is a purportedly multi-million dollar sci-fi series that 'utilises state of the art CGI animation.' That's all well and good, but from an adult's perspective, it looks pretty clunky. I don't mean jerky - the animation is smooth and fluid and colourful - but it just looks like the kind of animation we have on game consoles now: chunky and clunky - and the reason for that is because it is about eight years old. In CGI terms, eight years is forever. Whilst 'classic' animations tend to remain watchable for years if not decades after their first broadcast, CGI has progressed so far that older productions become dated in a much shorter time. Shadow Raiders is a prime example - and without the heritage of something like Transformers (although it does employ the same toy range concept) - I find it difficult to see the market for this. The main characters look like they have either been chipped out of solid stone or are related to almonds or other members of the nut family. The lead hero, Graveheart, is captain granite, the lead heroine Jade has deep fried seaweed for hair and Femur looks like an almond, only on fire. I guess young kids are going to like them but I just did not see the appeal.It's not as if the action scenes make up for these cheap-looking characters - the planet munching bad guy is a very messy eater and the planet-size action looks just as budget as the rest of it. Space battles are slightly more interesting, but so few and far between that we are left with lots of meandering clichéd conversations and clunky fisticuffs to keep us entertained. It is just not enough. Pitched as telling 'the epic tale of a small band of diverse characters fighting against a common enemy,' it is clear that originality was also not a prerequisite - that phrase could be used to describe an awful lot of sci-fi (and other) stories over the years. Sure there are a few interesting side stories that populate this second series - the kamikaze sacrifice of a key character, the way two of the rebels unwittingly join opposing forces and find themselves facing each other in conflict - but it's all by the by. Each episode you get through leaves you dry, not particularly wanting to face another - and it just should not be that way. CGI animation, when it's done right with a good story and interesting characters has a shot at the championship title. Shadow Raiders isn't even a contender.
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