Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses - Roger Corman: King Of The B Movies

Now that's a title and a half for a book.
But that's fair enough because it's a lovely book, both to look at and to read. It's lavishly illustrated with movie stills, film posters and behind the scenes photographs, all illustrating the story of a quite remarkable man.

In case you don't know, Roger Corman is a hugely prolific film-maker who produced enough films to make him practically a studio. He's the man who shot THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS in two days, but also made my favourite THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, which is just a gorgeous film.

This is not a critical biography of the man, though. The story is told in interview snippets from so many people that worked with (and for, let's be honest) Roger Corman and other movie luminaries. John Landis, Jack Nicholson, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron and many more all put in their penny's worth.

And pennies seems to have been Corman's ethos. Pay as little as you can get away with and make a profit on everything that you put out. Some of the films were outright exploitative rubbish, but others were bona fide masterpieces.

If only through the people whose careers he helped to kickstart, Roger Corman has been a huge influence on the movie industry and this bright, cheerful and fun read seems just the right way to celebrate him.

BFI 100 Science Fiction Films

When it comes to movies, the British Film Institute knows a thing or two, so when they choose to produce a book giving you the top 100 entries into a genre then you'd expect to sit up and take notice.

As a result of those expectations, 100 Science Fiction Films by Barry Keith Grant is something of a puzzle.

Now, don't get me wrong - the author knows his science fiction films. Whilst all the usual suspects are there (Metropolis, Blade Runner, Star Wars) there are a few less obvious entries. Nobody could argue with La Jetee, for example, but it's a bit on less well-known side as are Born In Flames and Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (what do you mean, everyone has heard of that one?).

No, the reason for puzzlement is the form of the book. Nobody would expect a book from the BFI to be a vapid picture gallery, but the assessment that goes with each film proves to be mainly a precis of the storyline (and yes, spoilers ahoy!) with only a small amount of time spent on why the film is notable. Each film only gets two pages and that's reduced to only a page and a half when you take into account the single image that goes with it. This really doesn't give enough space for the author to go into any great depth.

So, here's the rub - who is this book for? True, if you are a newcomer taking on the genre for the first time, then this might be the book to guide you on your way, but there are plenty of 'best of' lists online. For the the experienced sci-fi moviegoer, there really isn't enough here to make it even a worthwhile gift from a loved one.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

DARK EDEN - A Walk On The Dark Side

Time to be honest, this review is delayed because this book was my very first experience of audiobooks (I know, I'm so 19th Century). As a result, I needed to try out another audiobook to make sure that the problems I had with DARK EDEN were down to the book itself and not to the experience of audiobooks. I've listened to another one and enjoyed it, so everything that follows is purely down to the book.

Firstly, the book is technically well-produced, with narrators who voice it clearly and flawlessly. There's not a lot in the way of fancy touches, just the story being told, but that's fine. I like things simple.

DARK EDEN is the tale of a group of humans descended from just two, living in a small forest of light and warmth-giving trees on the surface of a planet that is swathed in darkness and ice. Interbreeding has given them birth defects and they have forgotten most of the science and most of the language that their forebears possessed. A young man rises up to challenge the hidebound ways of this 'family' and determines to leave and go in search of a 'promised land'.

Biblical allusions are rife in the book, as you would expect from the title, and there isn't anything here that is going to surprise anyone.

My main problem with this book lies in the use of language. Since language has deteriorated over the generations, the characters can no longer express themselves in anything but very simple terms. When distraught, a character says that they are 'sad, sad'. This is perfectly plausible and fits the scenario, but since the book is narrated in the first person (by one male and one female narrator), the language becomes repetitive and simplistic and that grates after a while. It makes what the characters are feeling seem shallow and unimportant.

It feels like a YA book, and yet it takes in very adult themes such as incest, murder, masturbation and rape, very matter-of-factly.

What is remarkable about DARK EDEN is the world-building. From the giant trees bringing heat to the surface to the batwings, leapords and woolybacks, the world of Eden is brought to life evocatively. You can certainly imagine it in your mind's eye in all its detail. It is a compelling background to a less than compelling story.

Ultimately, the linguistic style of the book proved to be too frustrating for me, but one thing is for sure, it won't be my last audiobook.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Take a STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, musically speaking

Following the recent announcement that the Royal Albert Hall will host the UK premiere of Star Trek - Live in Concert, a celebration of the extraordinary collaboration between J.J. Abrams’ 2009 hit film and Michael Giacchino's score on May 29 2014, the venue is now delighted to announce another first.

One day later, on May 30, 2014, the Royal Albert Hall will host the UK premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness - Live in Concert, giving fans old and new a unique chance to experience Abrams’ newest blockbuster film with Giacchino’s score performed live on stage. 

With Star Trek fever at an all-time high, due to Abrams’ rebooted film franchise and this most recent film, these live concerts will feature Giacchino’s score brought to life on stage by the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, while the films are shown in high definition on the big screen, in the majestic surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall. Under license by CBS Consumer Products, the concert explores the collaborative relationship between music and storytelling that is a must for movie lovers.

“Star Trek Into Darkness” debuted at No.1 at both the U.S. and UK box office, and has already earned $440 million worldwide.

“To hear Michael Giacchino's music, the secret weapon of the Star Trek series, performed live in Royal Albert Hall, will be, I promise, a thrill,” says J.J. Abrams. “The full orchestra scoring sessions for the films have been among my favourite life experiences. To give the public a chance to hear this incredible music performed live is a wonderful thing.  I cannot wait to go and celebrate Michael's truly remarkable achievements!”

Michael Giacchino adds, “In 2003, before I wrote my first film score, I saw John Williams conduct ET live to picture at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. I will never forget that event. A little over ten years later, I will have the honour of experiencing my music for both Star Trek films performed by the incredible 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the baton of the talented conductor, Ludwig Wicki. That in itself is exciting, but the fact that we will be in the Royal Albert Hall in London is truly amazing. After working with J.J. for 13 years, it will be so rewarding to have his wonderful films brought to life in a whole new way. I look forward to sharing these concerts with J.J. and the Star Trek fans, new and old.”

Jasper Hope, Chief Operating Officer at the Royal Albert Hall, said“To go from the cinema version to the live orchestra screening inside a year clearly shows the phenomenal power of the Star Trek franchise, and the Royal Albert Hall is honoured to be presenting the UK premieres of not only the 2009 Star Trek film but now also its recent blockbuster sequel.”

These events are part of the Royal Albert Hall’s series in celebrating classic films with live orchestra. 100,000 people have now enjoyed sold out performances at the Hall of The Lord of the Rings TrilogyThe Matrix, the 50th Anniversary of West Side Story, Disney’s Fantasia, Singin’ in the Rain and the upcoming world premiere of Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton on October 7th and UK premiere of Pixar in Concert on February 22nd 2014. The Hall looks to provide memorable visitor experiences for all and, as a charity, these own-promoted events form a part of its extensive public benefit remit. 

Tickets £15 - £55 (booking fees apply)
Box Office 020 7589 8212

Tickets go on sale for Star Trek Into Darkness on Friday July 5th 2013 at 9am from the Royal Albert Hall Box Office. Tickets for Star Trek on Thursday 29 May 2014 are already on sale

Get Your DOCTOR WHO Tat Out

Just in case you hadn't noticed, DOCTOR WHO is 50 years old this year and everyone who is anyone is jumping on the bandwagon to pay their respects to the world's best-loved Time Lord. The latest up is the National Media Museum in Bradford and they want your help in getting the best exhibition that they can.

The exhibition will be all about the fans and the stuff they collect and make rather than about the show itself. So, if you have that Giant Robot doll, or a Daleks annual from way, way back, they might be interested to hear from you. You can get them at drwho@nationalmediamuseum.org.uk   

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Unique But Similar: The Prisoner Compared by Andrew K Shenton

Much has been written on the subject of THE PRISONER, Patrick McGoohan's elliptical, surreal cult fantasy show first broadcast in 1967-8. Much of that can be boiled down to the fact that there was nothing like it ever before and there has been nothing like it since.

That, though, is apparently a fallacy, as this book by Andrew K Shenton sets out to demonstrate.

Taking the major themes of the this landmark show, Dr Shenton shows how they have been used in other shows such as DOCTOR WHO, BLAKE'S SEVEN, UFO, JOE 90, CHILDREN OF THE STONES, THE OMEGA FACTOR and others either before or since, rustling up an impressive array of references from other commentators on the show and the genre in general to back him up.

There is always room for another book about THE PRISONER, especially by such a scholar as Dr Shenton, but I am hard-pressed to see who this particular book is aimed it. It reads like a textbook and might be immensely useful for anyone studying a course in comparable Prisonerology (assuming there is such a thing), and Prisoner completists will, of course, want to see what he has to say, but it's hardly the most entertaining presentation for someone wanting a little light reading.

You also have to question the subject matter. It's true that the themes of THE PRISONER have cropped up elsewhere, not least since they first appeared in the show, but every influential show is going to leave a legacy. An informed examination of that legacy would be interesting, to be sure, but that doesn't seem to be what Dr Shenton is trying to say. What he is trying to do is to challenge the popular perception of THE PRISONER as something quite unique.

The success of that will depend on whether you agree with him or not, but having some chapters devoted to a single episode of another show does weaken his case. I mean one single episode of THE CHAMPIONS sharing some ideas doesn't exactly bring down the walls of the case for THE PRISONER 's reputation.

If you want to see what the talking points are then head over to Amazon.co.uk , Amazon.com, or all good bookstores.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Bill Dares Wins - Or Rather Doesn't - With Brian Gulliver's Travels

We have it on good authority that Brian Gulliver's Travels is a very funny radio series. Something has gone seriously wrong in the translation from show to book then as the one thing that is missing from this is the funny.

Brian Gulliver is a travel writer (did a bit of telly apparently) who has gone missing for some time. Now he's back and in an asylum recovering. His daughter meets with him to write down the stories he has to tell of his crazy journey.

Swift's Gulliver's Travels is possibly the most famous satire ever, although it is probably most known now from the bastardised Jack Black film and other movie versions. The book has lasted the test of time and so if you're going to do a new version then you better have something interesting and new to tackle. The book, however goes after some very obvious targets that have been widely covered before. Celebrity culture - yep that's in here, including the obligatory reality TV sideswipe. Our obsession with health and our bodies? Yep, you can tick that box as well. Crazy religions? Well of course. These are all barn doors to be hit with a shotgun.

The main issue for me was for the main characters. Brian Gulliver is an out and out selfish git with little to no thought for anyone else and happy to go along with anything as long as his life is a comfortable one. He's not the kind the character to idolise or empathise with and his ability to apologise it all away is infuriating.

His daughter, the chronicler of his story plays the foil for him, challenging him on all of his behaviour just in case we, the reader, didn't get the point or understand the theme being discussed.

For all that, it's easy to read and moves at a pace that actually robs it of depth since none of the places that Gulliver ends up in is much described beyond the theme that is being put forward there.

On finishing the book, you won't hate it, but you won't be singing its praises either. Oh well, back to Swift.