Acorn Media // 2008 // 344 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // January 29th, 2010
"Do you know what history is, mate? It's layers -- the Romans make a layer, the Saxons, the Medievals, Georgians, Victorians, your mum, my mum. But these days, layers require forms to make sure you're not building on previous layers, so we have to take a peek."
The inspiration for Bonekickers, as explained in the behind-the-scenes features, came from a nonfiction British series, Time Team, which follows archaeologists on their digs. The series follows an archaeological team from Wessex University -- obsessed team leader Gillian Magwilde (Julie Graham, Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story), voice of reason Ben (Adrian Lester, Hustle), grizzled Gregory Preston (Hugh Bonneville, Notting Hill), and young intern Viv Davis (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Doctor Who) -- as they make spectacular finds all worth killing for each week, mostly in the vicinity of Bath, England. Something tells me that Time Team isn't very much like this.
The creators, Mathew Graham and Ashley Pharoah, brought the original British version of Life on Mars to life.
Bonekickers features six episodes on three discs:
* "Army of God"
A coin found on a construction site leads to more discoveries: skeletons hacked to death, and wood that might have come from Jesus' cross.
Manacled skeletons wash up in the Bristol Channel, helping the team uncover a secret of the U.S. Revolutionary War, with the help of a black U.S. senator who's running for president.
* "The Eternal Fire"
The team is advised not to go down into a hole created by a sulfur spring explosion, but the prospect of clues to the fate of a Celtic warrior queen is too tempting for Gillian. Thus, she and Ben are trapped.
* "The Cradle of Civilisation"
A brick from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon leads to a bigger treasure, a cuneiform tablet that could reshape Iraqi politics.
* "The Lines of War"
Gillian may start World War III with a German rival as she tries to uncover the secret behind the executions of three World War I soldiers found in a tank on a French construction site.
* "Follow the Gleam"
Ben fears Gillian might be on the verge of a breakdown, not a breakthrough, as she searches for Excalibur with the help of a possible piece of the Round Table and "The Tennyson Code," a poem's hidden message. Viv finds herself in the hands of a dangerous secret society.
In a behind-the-scenes piece to go with "The Cradle of Civilisation," one of the people involved with the series recalls his concerns about a "potentially silly" CGI snake. Yes, the snake, which just didn't seem to move like anything real, lived up to that potential. Of course, the show lost a lot of ground with me in the first episode, which featured a TV preacher planning a Holy War and going berserk with a sword as he searched for the cross of Jesus. That opening misstep -- the result of the creators' ambition to make their series both a serious drama and a fun action romp -- may be the reason there's no mention of "Series One" anywhere on the DVD box; I don't think I'd have stuck around for Episode Two, let alone Series Two.
Since I'm a reviewer, though, I had to watch all six episodes. Thus, I can tell you that Bonekickers isn't a total train wreck, even if it's hardly must-see TV. The acting is likable enough to breathe life into cardboard characters. Occasionally, a serious thought breaks through, as when Gregory notes the shock with which his colleagues react to World War I skeletons. "These men were our great-grandfathers, Viv. They're not ready to be part of history yet," he tells his youngest colleague. There's also a nifty twist in the final episode, as Gillian may realize her personal quest, to find the famed sword Excalibur (although that episode has a few silly twists as well). The final episode wraps up the season's storylines.
The plentiful behind-the-scenes featurettes have a recurring theme: hasty rewrites amid budget wrangles. As it's discussed, you can think of moments where a bit of fudging might have been visible, but the show generally looks good (except for that snake).
Those behind-the-scenes bits go into just about every aspect of the production, although they didn't get around to interviewing the catering crew.
Bonekickers is a lovingly produced show that doesn't quite gel. It's okay, but it could have been so good...
Guilty of not living up to its promise.
Review content copyright © 2010 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 344 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated