Tuesday, 23 November 2010

DR Who Does A Dickens

"Amy and Rory are trapped on a crashing space liner, and the only way The Doctor can rescue them is to save the soul of a lonely old miser, in a festive edition of the time-travelling adventure, written by Steven Moffat. But is Kazran Sardick, the richest man in Sardicktown, beyond redemption? And what is lurking in the fogs of Christmas Eve? "

That's the synopsis of the Doctor Who Christmas special, the first to presided over new showrunner Steven Moffatt. Since Dickens and crashing space liners have already been covered during Russell T Davies' tenure as the master of the TARDIS, we can't help but wonder what the Moff is up to.

I guess that we'll find out on Christmas Day when the BBC's flagship science fiction show once again anchors the festive programming.

The last versio of this tale that the BBC produced was a comedy  version starring Doctor Who actress Catherine Tate Nan's Christmas Carol in which previous Doctor David Tennant also appeared.

Douglas Adams' Other Hero Comes To Television

Douglas Adams may no longer be with us, but that hasn't stopped people living off his legacy and this Christmas will see Dirk Gently (star of the impossibly brilliantly titles THE LONG DARK TEATIME OF THE SOUL) coming to BBC 4.

Don't expect a straight adaptation of the books, though, as they are even madder than THE HITCH HIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Instead, the characters will be involved in something that is imbued with the spirit of Adams. That's the theory at least. The BBC blurb states:

"Stephen Mangan stars as Dirk Gently, who operates his eponymous detective agency based on the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, in this hour-long drama based on Douglas Adams's cult novels.

Perpetually broke, hopelessly chaotic and utterly infuriating, Dirk is suspected by most to be nothing more than a cheap conman – and they might be right. Nevertheless, his methods, though unusual, do often produce surprising results.

In this story, adapted by Bafta-winning writer Howard Overman (Misfits), Dirk is called upon by pensioner Ruth to help solve the apparently simple and harmless disappearance of her cat.
When leaving Ruth's house, Dirk stumbles upon an old university friend, Richard MacDuff, seemingly breaking in next door. Dirk refuses to put the meeting down to mere coincidence and MacDuff unwittingly finds himself caught up in his investigations, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend, Susan.

Dirk suspects that MacDuff and Susan have more to do with his case than they realise, and while he delves into seemingly inconsequential details he begins to uncover a host of extraordinary events that put them all in grave danger.

Dirk Gently is played by Stephen Mangan, Ruth by Doreen Mantle, Richard MacDuff by Darren Boyd and Susan by Helen Baxendale. "

We will withold judgement until we have seen the final product.

BBC's Christmas Ghost Story

The BBC has a tradition of seriously scary ghost stories for Christmas and the new one is a remake of 'Whistle and I'll Come To You', based on a tale by MR James and originally filmed starring the inestimable Michael Hordern.

The BBC press release states:

"John Hurt, one of Britain's most esteemed and prolific actors, stars as James Parkin in Whistle And I'll Come To You, the haunting story of a man's encounter with an apparition on a desolate British beach.

Updated for 2010 by screenwriter and novelist Neil Cross (Luther), Whistle And I'll Come To You is a thoroughly modern adaptation of MR James's atmospheric Edwardian ghost story. It focuses on one man, James Parkin, and his separation from his wife Alice, whom he has just left in the care of a nursing home.

John Hurt says: "Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You, My Lad is MR James's most evocative, and possibly best-known ghost story, and I'm thrilled to be involved in this contemporary reworking of it. I've not done a ghost story before, and I'm always looking for new challenges and different stories to tell."

Pensive and in emotional turmoil, Parkin travels to their favourite old rambling destination in an off-season British seaside town. There he encounters an apparition on a desolate beach which begins to haunt him, with terrifying consequences.

Providing a cinematic, unsettling and spooky addition to the Christmas schedules, Whistle And I'll Come To You delves into themes of ageing, hubris and the supernatural, adding a terrifying psychological twist in the tale to this family hearthside favourite.

Neil Cross says: "For reasons I don't quite understand, I always enjoyed tales that terrified me. I grew up loving ghost stories, classic and modern. But I never got to tell a ghost story ... until this opportunity."

John Hurt plays James Parkin, Gemma Jones plays his wife, Lesley Sharp plays Hetty the nurse and Sophie Thompson plays Carol, the hotel receptionist. "

John Hurt and Lesley Sharp together? We're there.

Monday, 22 November 2010


This wednesday marks the last episode ever of GHOST WHISPERER on Living TV. This marks the end of the fifth season of the show centred around an antiques store owner who also has the ability to see the dead and tries to get them to deal with their baggage and thus make their way into the light.

MEDIUM is a very similarly themed show in which a mother has dreams about the dead, allowing her to work out who killed them and thus allowing them to rest in peace. MEDIUM however is still going strong in its seventh season.  What has this show got that GHOST WHISPERER was missing?

Starting with what they both have in common, both star well known actresses in central roles with strong characterisations. Both have stable marriages with supportive husbands and both deal with an afterlife, giving people hope that death isn't the end. Both solve mysteries about how people died.

MEDIUM, though is much darker than GHOST WHISPERER. Dealing with murder and other serious crimes all the time, it delves into the darker side of life much more than its rival. It also doesn't always have a happy ending, something that cannot be said for GHOST WHISPERER. The ironclad template for a GHOST WHISPERER episode always ended with the loved ones of the ghost getting together for a quick cry and hug and sending the ghost into the light. Quite often MEDIUM offers up endings in which the heroine doesn't win, the guilty aren't punished or their punishment comes at a heavy cost. This acerbic edge cuts through the hideously saccharin nature of GHOST WHISPERER in which life is perfect and death is only a quickl group session away from being equally perfect.

The set up of the MEDIUM family group is also much more realistic than that portrayed in GHOST WHISPERER. The family there is chaotic and noisy and often there is conflict that is resolved in messy, but recognisably real ways. The husband struggles with his wife's gift rather than blithely accepts that ghosts exist and his loved one should put herself at risk to sort out the afterlife.

MEDIUM also plays around with its format much more than GHOST WHISPERER which was ruled by a template that was so rigid that it felt like only the names and occupations of the minor characters were changed from week to week. Familiarity does indeed breed contempt.

GHOST WHISPERER was loved by enough people to make it through five successful seasons, but it seems that the more realistic, darker, edgier and violent MEDIUM is what more people want  more of the time.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

End Of The Bloated Sci Fi Blockbuster?

Last year it was MOON and DISTRICT 9 and this year it's SKYLINE. There's also the upcoming MONSTERS to look forward to.

What links all these? Well they're all science fiction, they all cost peanuts and they all feature excellent special effects.

Whilst James Cameron can still command budgets that dwarf the national income of a small nation (mainly because his movies make more money than the national income of a medium sized nation), effects savvy independent movie makers have cottoned on to the idea that passable CGI effects can now be knocked up at a price that probably wouldn't pay for Cameron's limo driver. This means that shoddy special effects are no longer excusable even for the low budget film maker, but it also means that massive special effects are no longer the sole preserve of the studio blockbuster.

We'd like to think that this means studion blockbusters will have to get smarter in order to stay ahead of the game, but really what are the odds of that?

Even so, the low budget CGI special effect might mean that this becomes the genre of choice for independent film makers that previously would have turned to horror. Which is good news for anyone who likes their sci fi with brains (and we don't mean brains being eaten by aliens!).

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Why Shorter Is Better

The fourth series of THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES has just finished running on the CBBC channel and is just one of a number of science fiction and fantasy shows that are currently having a lot of success in the UK. In the USA, CAPRICA is the latest high profile science fiction casualty. Why is it that UK shows seem to have a much higher chance of success and multiple series than their US counterparts?

The first answer is simple enough - money. In the US ratings are everything and if you don't get the numbers then you don't get a second season no matter how good you are. Keep getting the numbers and you'll go on forever. With the BBC and all its satellite channels, the money isn't quite so critical and so shows don't have the financial burden. They can be slow burn gainers and gradually build up their audience.

The main reason, though, may lie in the difference between a UK and a US 'season'.  THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES  consisted of six stories comprising two half hour stories each. Other shows on the main channels (rather than the children's channels) have seasons that last anywhere between six and twelve episodes and the ones at the higher end of that scale are being targeted at the American market as well as the domestic one. In the USA a season runs to 21-22 episodes. That's a lot of hours of television to fill with quality stories. As a result, concepts that might make excellent UK six part series end up being stretched over three months of shows, with the quality suffering and the dreaded filler episodes bolstering the numbers.

It's much easier to come up with a concept that will enthrall over six episodes than over 22. Thus so many of the genre shows in the US end up with storylines that are generic and familiar and overused and thus start to look like all their peers.

Many of the UK's greatest shows would have failed utterly if they were stretched to fill US schedules. Perhaps that is why the UK will always come up with the quirky and originally leftfield entries like BEING HUMAN and LIFE ON MARS whilst the US will continue to excel at generic episodic shows like MEDIUM or STARGATE UNIVERSE that we've seen before, but are slick and stylish and good at retelling old stories.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Get all of FARSCAPE in one go

When FARSCAPE first hit UK TV screens, we dismissed it out of hand as STAR TREK with muppets. Following a recent rewatch for the main website, how wrong we were.

FARSCAPE is one of the most original shows that the genre has produced. It has a voice of its own right from the start, is always fun, is often exceptional and is occasionally breathtaking.

If we were making a list of our favourites then this might even make our top ten and that is saying something.

The one downside to loving this show is that the DVD releases were in blocks of episodes rather than whole seasons, so the cost of getting hold of the show was prohibitive. It also took up a lot of space on the shelves for those people who just couldn't help themselves. Those two points alone were all that have prevented us from flashing the cash.

Now, those excuses will not stand. The entire show, every episode, including the PEACEKEEPER WARS mini series that took the place of the final season, is available for one reasonable price in one reasonably sized box full of shiny dvds. This means that our bank manager's going to be a bit less happy with us, but what do we care? We'll be glorying in the hours of mad, mental and often drug-fuelled (Crichton's forever getting something shoved up his nose or injected into him whether he wants it or not) space opera that is quite unlike anything there was before it.

Or since for that matter.

If there are no posts to this blog for the next couple of months, well now you know why.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Sci Fi Freak Site on Balloonacy Route

The Sci Fi Freak Site has signed up to take part in Orange's internet balloon race Balloonacy. Pick a balloon and float through the strange outer reaches of the internet picking up speed boosts and air along the way. We hope to see your balloon floating across some of our pages from Monday.

Friday, 29 October 2010

What TRON LEGACY looks like - our sneaky peek

Way back in 1982, Disney's part computer animation TRON blew our young minds. True, the plot was perfunctory, the acting only so-so and the dialogue somewhat stilted, but the computer generated cyberscapes were quite amazing, the disc fight was fun and the light cycles, well who didn't want a light cycle?

It certainly blew a few other people's minds since Chuck has a TRON poster on his wall and the Pixar bods regularly quote it as a major influence on them.

And so we come to TRON LEGACY, due out in the UK in late December. Part sequel, part remake 25+ years on it's one of the most eagerly awaited films in the science fiction genre for some time and last night we got to see 20 odd minutes of stuff from it.

Well needless to say it looks fantastic. The visuals (all rendered in 3D these days of course) are pretty special with the fancy new light cycles and updated space paranoids and tanks all given much more depth and texture. Also the suit effects (some of the weakest in the original movie) are hugely improved.

What of the plot, acting and dialogue? Do you really care? Well if you do then the plot seems to be a bit of a retread, not a lot of it was actually shown, with Kevin Flynn's son going into the grid after his father, the acting was fine without being spectacular and the dialogue was, well let's just say it was there and leave it at that.

The most important thing that we can say about the 20 odd minutes that we were treated to is that they felt like only 5 and that can't be a bad sign.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

20% OFF our TV show encyclopedia this weekend

This weekend only there's a full 20% off the price of the the comprehensive guide to all things science fiction, fantasy and supernatural on television as lulu.com offers up monsters savings.

Follow the link, try the preview and if you like what you see then order away. When you get to the checkout use the code GHOST305 as the discount voucher code and a full fifth of the price will magically disappear.

With Christmas just around the corner then this could be an opportunity to provide for the sci fi freak in your life.

You'll need to be quick, though, because the offer ends on November 1st.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Hordes of zombies have been stalking the commuter routes of the world this morning to announce the start of the eagerly awaited (at least in our place) THE WALKING DEAD TV series . Starring the UK's own Andrew Lincoln (AFTERLIFE), the show is being broadcast in the UK only a few days after it's initial showing in the USA and it looks like Fox Channels are pushing it out around the world at superspeed in an attempt to outfox the internet pirates. This could well be the shape of things to come.

The picture is of the 'horde' that descended on London and the show itself will be shown on the FX Channel (no doubt non Sky subscribers will be resorting to those internet guys - we do not support such behaviour, it's illegal. Find a friend to tape it for you instead.) on November 5th at 10pm. With Frank Darabont scripting and directing and Gale Anne Hurd producing this might be the TV debut of the season.

We'll be watching (probably through our fingers). Will you?

Monday, 25 October 2010

MERLIN gets fourth series

We'll be the first to admit that when we heard what the BBC's new fantasy show MERLIN was going to feature teens in an anachronistic multi-cultural dark ages we were pretty sure it was going to be rubbish.

We'll now be the first to admit that we were wrong and the show is ace and so it's great that the BBC have announced today that a fourth series will be made.

Full report can be found on the BBC news website here.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Santa In Shock Imprisonment

Odd promotional technique #2: Put Santa in a cage!

To promote new horror film RARE EXPORTS: A
CHRISTMAS TALE, Santa will be appearing at the Vue West End on Saturday night ... in a cage.

He will be guarded by two hunters who will be handing out the attached guidelines for correct behaviour near
the Santa (see left).

Part children's adventure, part macabre seasonal shocker, this darkly humourous concoction defies categorisation.
Santa Claus is coming to town, but unfortunately for the children of this particular Finnish neighbourhood, spreading Christmas cheer is not at the top of his list. In the depths of the Korvatunturi Mountains a team of scientists uncover a secret that has been buried for hundreds of years. When the town's livestock is slaughtered and the children start to go missing, young local boy Pietari begins to realise that this will be a Yuletide like no other, as the time has come to learn the ugly truth about the real Father Christmas.
Originating from two award-winning short films that spawned an online cult phenomenon, director Jalmari Helander's debut feature effectively retains their sinister style, while deftly expanding on his unique vision. With a dash of Tim Burton-esque whimsy and a malevolence that evokes the darkest of fairytales, Rare Exports is overflowing with inventive ideas and crafty twists. Part children's adventure, part macabre seasonal shocker, the film gleefully blends genres to create a darkly humourous concoction that defies categorization, proudly
standing alone as a true one of a kind.

Why Science Fiction Isn't Funny

VAMPIRES SUCK has just come out into UK cinemas and BETTER OFF TED has just shuffled off UK TV screens, so it's an opportune time to look at the failure of genre subjects for comedy.

It has long been our contention that the three scariest words in the english language when put together are science, fiction and comedy. Admittedly VAMPIRES SUCK is more a horror spoof than sci fi, but it is genre and it comes on the tail of severe rubbish like SUPERHERO MOVIE and DISASTER MOVIE etc. BETTER OFF TED is a comedy along the lines of THE OFFICE (it wishes), but it is set in a company where universal translators, cryogenic freezing and all manner of science fiction inventions, so we're classing it as sci fi.

The thing is that for every classic sci fi comedy (RED DWARF, GALAXY QUEST... OK, we admit it - we're out) there are dozens of horrible things like MY HERO, QUARK, SPACEBALLS, CLONE, NO HEROICS, HYPERDRIVE...the list goes on.

The problem is that science fiction, fantasy and horror all require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. There is an inherent silliness about them because they involve people who can leap tall buildings, spaceships that go faster than light, monsters that look like men with false foreheads etc. Comedy is about pointing out the absurd in life and if there is an inherent absurdity built into the initial concept then the comedy falls flat.

Look at the two choices for good sci fi comedy, RED DWARF and GALAXY QUEST, and it is obvious that the comedy comes from the characters and the situations, not from the science fiction. RED DWARF is THE ODD COUPLE on a spaceship and GALAXY QUEST is taking the mickey out of the very real phenomenon of the science fiction convention. It's all about the characters not the sci fi trappings.

Other almost great sci fi comedies include 3rd ROCK FROM THE SUN, MORK AND MINDY and...once again we're out, but these also are about the characters discovering the absurdities of life, not being caught up in space alien situations.

The conclusion is pretty clear - genre comedy isn't funny unless it's done very very well.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Angels At Work in the UK

It's truly amazing what people will come up with to publicise their products. The Sci Fi Freak Site received the following data release about angels and other spirits at work in the country to publicise the release of the fifth season of the utterly brilliant SUPERNATURAL  starring Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki on DVD. This show has changed from a humble 'monster of the week' series to a remarkable examination of brotherhood and the fight against evil, no matter how serious that evil becomes. Season five dealt with a war between demons and angels and the coming of the Apocalypse and was the best yet. If you haven't seen the show then get hold of copies right now. You won't regret it.

And how to publicise this release? Apparently to commision a study into angels and fairies and their activities in the UK. So, for allthose who believe and for those that don't here is the release in full:

"Guardian angels, white witches and fairies are just a few of the good spirits which are active in the UK today according to the Supernatural Angel Report – a comprehensive study into angelic paranormal activity in the UK over the past 25 years.
The  Supernatural Angel Report was specially commissioned to celebrate the release of Supernatural: The Complete Season 5 DVD out now and focuses upon paranormal occurrences associated with angels and good spirits which have been reported to the police and leading paranormal organisations in the UK over the last 25 years. The extensive research, conducted by the UK’s leading authority on the unexplained, Lionel Fanthorpe, included studying multiple archives, police reports, published reports and interviews with a number of ex police officers.
The report notes that there have been 755 documented incidents in the past 25 years, ranging from healing and helpful entities, to visions of angels and animal spirits. The report reveals that benign entities are the most common angelic paranormal experience with 192 reported incidents in the past 25 years, the majority of which can be found in Yorkshire with 18 reported cases.

Official Reports of Angelic Activity in the past 25 years:
1.      Benign Entities                      192
2.      Friendly Entities                     127
3.      Visions of Angels                  104
4.      Helpful Entities                       99
5.      Animal Spirits                         69
6.      Fairies                                      44
7.      Visions of Saints             41
8.      White Witches                       32
9.      Guardian Angels                 24
10.  Healing Entities                     23

Benign entities are neither helpful nor friendly but people, who have come in contact with them, describe them as harmless and non-threatening. One example case is at St Martin's Church in Westmeston in Sussex, where there are reports from witnesses of a strange, eerie phantom which glides from the St Martin's Churchyard then drifts across the road and finally vanishes through the wall of a neighbouring house.

The second most reported type of angelic paranormal activity are friendly entities with 127 reports. One witness, at St Botolph's Priory in Colchester in Essex, reported seeing a phantom figure moving among the gravestones.  It paused and smiled in a very friendly way at the witness and her friends - then faded away and vanished altogether.

There have been 104 reported cases of angel visions over the past 25 years. In Sutton Wood in Derbyshire what seems to be an angel takes the form of a pious monk wearing a large golden cross.  Witnesses have described the entity as very holy and having an aura of goodness that makes them glad that they have seen it.

Helpful Entities are the fourth most reported about angelic paranormal beings and there have been 99 cases of them helping people repeatedly over the years. One of the most documented takes place at the site of the old Manor House at Cold Ashton in Gloucestershire.  One of several episodes connected with the site concerns a lost motorist who called at the Manor and asked the very friendly butler, who answered the door, for directions.  The motorist set off on the right road and reached her destination safely.  When next in the vicinity, she looked for Cold Ashton Manor again - only to find that it was empty and had been derelict for many years.

In at number five are animal spirits, with 69 being reported, the most prolific of which is the Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who belonged to a man named John Gray.  When John died in 1858, Bobby guarded his grave for the next 14 years until Bobby himself died in 1872.  Witnesses have reported seeing the phantom of the faithful little terrier still loyally guarding John's last resting place in Greyfriars Cemetery.

There have also been 44 official reports of fairies and the woods in Croston, in Lancashire, are home to a fairy known to the locals as Shrewfoot, or Marsantos.  It is a very protective entity and is reported to have saved at least one pedestrian who was in danger on the adjacent road from a speeding lorry. There have been 41 reports of visions of saints, plus 32 accounts of white witches.

Some additional reports include; multiple experiences with Guardian angels on the M4 and powerful healing abilities at the Well of St Madron in Cornwall. "

Monday, 11 October 2010

Death By Sci Fi TV - and we love it

Way back in July 2008 we bemoaned the lack of anything remotely genre to watch on TV. Well, here we are two years later and it appears that we are going to have to become hermits to watch all of the new stuff that is piping down our teletubes some time soon.

New show HAVEN has just started on Syfy in the UK and joins its stablemates EUREKA and WAREHOUSE 13 as things we're goggling at. Eureka's in its fourth season and WAREHOUSE 13 in its second, but we're still enjoying them both.

BBC1's got MERLIN to fill up our Saturday nights and CBBC is just about to plunge into THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES once again, giving us our weekly dose of the DR WHO universe whilst Matt Smith is off twiddling his thumbs

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES is back on ITV4 with another season of toothsome adventures, whilst Sky brings back the third season of FRINGE and the second season of STARGATE UNIVERSE.

And there are more shows slated for the near future as well. How will we cope? We're gonna need a time machine just to keep up.

Happy viewing.

The Sci Fi Freak's Guide To The Televisual Galaxy goes on Kindle

The Sci Fi Freak Site's own encyclopedia of science fiction, fantasy and supernatural shows is now available for Amazon's Kindle device. This means that as well as the print and download versions available at http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?fListingClass=0&fSearch=sci+fi+freak%27s+guide+to+the+televisual+galaxy this comprehensive guide to all the fantastic television shows around can be accessed through any gadget that has a kindle app on it including the ipad and android phones.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Five Reasons Why We Love Chuck

Tonight marks the end of CHUCK's third season on Channel 1 (Virgin 1 as was) and we're going to miss it despite being safe in the knowledge that there's another season yet to come. Here are the top five reasons why we love CHUCK.
  1. IT'S CHEERFUL - In today's depressing world of austerity measures forced on us by governments paying to bail out the incompetent and greedy bankers, we all need a little bit of happiness and sunshine in our lives. Despite moments of angst here and there, CHUCK is relentlessly upbeat and happy and we love it for that. The default expression on most of the characters' faces are smiles (well, OK usually confused frowns, but smiles are a close second), there is lots of fun banter and only the bad guys are mean. Chuck may have lost some of his innocence, but the show retains most of its.
  2. GUEST SPOTS - this third season has had ex-superman Brandon Routh in it throughout, but there have been plenty of other familiar faces that have popped up, but in fun cameos rather than just tawdry stunt casting. Ex-starship captain and quantum leaper Scott Bakula is great as Chuck's oddball father in the largest supporting role, but Jordana Brewster's short time as Chuck's squeeze in season 2 was also pretty good. Others who have made single episode appearances are Christopher Lloyd, Swoosie Kurtz, Armand Assante, Kristin Kreuk and Gary Cole.
  3. THE TRIO - When casting the lead trio, the producers got things absolutely right. Zachari Levy has an easy everyman charm that anchors the show as the central characer, Yvonne Strahovski is gorgeous and can handle the action stuff with aplomb, but also has the hint of vulnerability that the part requires and Adam Baldwin can bring gales of laughter with a simple frustrated growl. Make no mistake, these three are the show.
  4. THE MINOR CHARACTERS - Everyone gets good lines in Chuck whether it's the General who is only ever seen (to date anyway) on screen, the best friend, sister, Captain Awesome or Buy More manager. Though some of these are increasingly sidelined as the show develops they continue to get the laughs. The various bad guys who appear from week to week, usually bemused by the trouble they are caused by the apparently incomptent Chuck, are usually good value as well.
  5. JEFFSTER - The musical duo that is Jeffster (Scott Krinsky and Vik Sahay) are stuck somewhere between the so bad they're brilliant and the just plain bad. Their performances on the show are utterly superb entertainment and they even performed live at Comic Con. Jeffster Rock - though whether that's a good thing is open to question.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The BBC 2 Science Fiction Movie Season

There was a time when the best way to see a film at home wasn't on a shiny disc. There was a time when the debate over 2001-A SPACE ODYSSEY on VHS or Betamax hadn't even been thought of. There was a time when the only way to watch a science fiction film at home was to catch it on BBC2 as part of the regular science fiction film seasons that used to pop up there.

Part of the reason, a quite sizeable part in truth, that I am an incurable sci fi freak is because BBC 2 would schedule a season of science fiction 'classics' at a reasonable hour of the evening (6.30 or something like that) so that I could watch them between dinnertime and bedtime.

The films were always the same ones, but that didn't matter. Some of them were good, some of them were great and some of them were bloody awful, but they were science fiction and they were there. What more does a growing geek need?

It was there that I first discovered the real joys of SILENT RUNNING, FORBIDDEN PLANET, COLOSSUS - THE FORBIN PROJECT, WAR OF THE WORLDS and THEM! These are films that I have loved all my life it seems and copies of them on tape and disc have always lived in my house. Giant ants, cute robots, killer computers, invading martians and a machine as big as a planet. That was the stuff of imagination.

In the second rank of movies there would be THIS ISLAND EARTH and  WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE - pulp to be sure, but quality pulp.

And then there was INVADERS FROM MARS and TARANTULA, movies that were never any good, but always got trotted out to fill out the season.

Without these movies I wouldn't be the sci-fi obsessive that I am. Some would say that's a good thing, but if the alternative were an interest in Morris Dancing? I shudder to consider it.

So, a heartfelt thank you to the schedulers of BBC2 for helping me to find the larger universe that is available out there. And if you fancy doing a quick season of sci fi movies on BBC 2 I could get my kids to watch.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

X Men First Class in Oxford

Hollywood came to Oxford (again) as the film crew for X-MEN: FIRST CLASS filmed in sites around the city. They came prepared to create their own rain, but the city provided the real thing for free.

The film, which tells the story of the early lives of Professor X and Magneto, both of whom attended Oxford University in the '60s, hence the period costume being worn by the bored looking extras.

Stars James McAvoy and Jennfer Lawrence were watched by a small group of onlookers (hey it was raining quite hard) as they tried to meet up on at the entrance to the Sheldonian theatre on Broad Street. At least it was easy for them to act out being wet.

The streets around were filled with period vehicles parked up for the wider shots and in these days of austerity measures it seems like the X-Men are being forced to give up the X-Jet for the less glamorous X-Bus.

The film is being directed by Matthew Vaughn and was written by Jane Goldman. Since this is the team behind KICK ASS and STARDUST we have high hopes for it to restart the franchise.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Give Us Our Endings!

In the UK we're quite lucky because when the latest US sensation comes to our screens we already know whether it's been cancelled or whether it is steaming ahead into its second, third or fourth season. This means that we can already choose whether or not we want to invest ourselves in getting to know and like a bunch of characters in time for them to disappear without a trace, usually left hanging over a cliff in any number of life-threatening situations.

Nobody likes having their favourite shows axed by any television network (look at the campaign to get JERICHO reinstated), but the truth is that any show is going to go out the window if it doesn't have the following necessary to bring in the big bucks from the advertisers (we're lucky to have the BBC in that respect as well).

Sometimes our science fiction loving counterparts over there in the US don't even get a chance to see a whole series before it is taken off the air. The likes of HAUNTED, POINT PLEASANT, EASTWICK and one of the all time favourites (according to the number of visits the page on The Sci Fi Freak Site gets compared to all the others) AMERICAN GOTHIC didn't get a full run out on the US station first time around. All of these were shown in full (though not necessarily in the right order) in the UK when they were shown.

Now it doesn't matter how quickly a show fails to make the grade in terms of money and success, it will pick a number of fans no matter how short a time it gets. Those fans will be hurt by the sudden loss of the show. We're starting to think here that every time we get to like something it gets summarily axed. Those fans deserve to be shown a little bit of respect by the networks that commissioned the show in the first place.

We believe, therefore, that a new contracting system should be entered into that compel anyone commissioning a new series to offer a TV movie sorting out all of the hanging plot threads to any of the shows that are cancelled.

That might sound a bit much, but we refer you to three examples where this has been done. The first is FARSCAPE, which was cancelled after the end of the fourth season with two major characters left in bits (literally). In order to resolve that particular storyline, a two part mini-series known as THE PEACEKEEPER WARS was undertaken and gave some sort of closure to those who had invested four years in following the Crichton/Aeryn love story, not to mention the fate of the muppets in the show. Second up is ALIEN NATION, which only got one season, but left half of alien cop George's family dying of a virus engineered to kill the newcomers. A TV movie followed entitled DARK HORIZON that effectively tied up two of the major plot threads as well as the more personal character stories. So successful was that movie that it was followed by three more of variable quality. Finally we give you FIREFLY, the cancellation of which is still a cancer that eats away at the very souls of those who fell in love withe show and every one of its characters in its very short TV run (you can tell we liked it can't you?). OK, so the movie here was released into cinemas, but the principles applies that it gave some sort of closure for the characters and was voted as the film of the year by the viewers to the ever popular BBC film review show Film (insert year here).

If TV networks want our time to fuel their profitability (and make no mistake that viewer numbers are all they care about because that's what makes the money) then we should expect a little faith in return.

So come on network moguls, when you have to kill off our favourite shows then throw us the bone of a resolution.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Back To The Future back in the cinema

In case you didn't know it, the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy is out on Blu Ray in October and to celebrate the fact, the first movie going back to the cinema for a short time only.

Should you go?

Well first off why haven't you already got the trilogy on DVD? It's been around for long enough and it's one of the most entertaining trilogies that the genre has produced. If you have, then you've seen the film more than enough times to know it off by heart, so what's the point? It's true that the film doesn't have a lot in the way of blow your mind special effects to seem so different on the big screen or to necessitate the upgrade from DVD to Blu Ray.

That said, seeing any film on the big screen is an improvement. When we saw movies that we'd only seen and loved on TV (THE WIZARD OF OZ, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, BLADE RUNNER - yes we know) we were utterly blown away by them on a big screen. These were whole new experiences and subsequent TV viewings have also improved as a result.

But there's the cost implication to consider. Take a family of four to the cinema near us (not including petrol and sweeties etc) and you're looking at £28. Amazon.co.uk has the Blu Ray trilogy priced up at...wait for it...£28.

So treat the family to a great night's cinema or treat them to three nights great TV?


The dangerous artefact hunters of WAREHOUSE 13 are back for their second season of adventures on Syfy and are sharing a couple of crossover episodes with stablemate show EUREKA (or A TOWN CALLED EUREKA) if you prefer. Sounds like a good reason to compare and contrast the two shows if you ask us.

So which is better - EUREKA or WAREHOUSE 13?

First off, it's a fair comparison because both shows inhabit the same general area in the genre. Both are action/adventure shows, but with a light comedic touch that is brought out through their casts and some witty banter. Both involve items that inevitably end up bringing the immediate area to the brink of destruction and both are on Syfy. So there.

Of the two, we're plumping for EUREKA. Why? Well for one thing, it's been around longer. That's not a fair comparison, but we have had longer to get to know the characters and, to be fair, we like them a whole lot better than the ones in WAREHOUSE 13. The lead pair in EUREKA are Colin Ferguson as Sheriff Carter, an everyman whose position amongst the town of geniuses provides endless scope for mugging as he fails to understand a word said to him. Compared to him, Eddie McLintock is a charisma vacuum as Pete Lattimer in WAREHOUSE 13. Joanna Kelly compares better with Salli-Richardson-Whitfield as Myka to Allison, but the supporting characters fall far short once you get past that. Saul Rubinek is fun bordering on irritating as Artie in the Warehouse, whilst the rest of the supporting cast fail to register. In EUREKA there is deputy Jo and her gun fetish, Fargo and his ability to press the wrong button at the wrong time, Henry who bridges the gap between Carter and the rest, the arrogant Nathan Stark and bonkers Jim Taggart (no longer with us), the rebellious Zoe...the list goes on. WAREHOUSE 13 just can't cope.

Then there is the chemistry between the leads. The will they/won't they of Carter and Allison Blake in EUREKA fuels the show and Jo has an interrupted love story with Zane going on at the same time whilst other more minor characters have all been having some sort of relationship. In WAREHOUSE 13 it's work, work, work with no romance hinted at between any of the characters, making it all a bit cerebral and cold.

Both shows have clever, clever plotting, great devices to cause mayhem with, not bad special effects and production values.

In the end it comes down to the human factor. EUREKA has it, WAREHOUSE 13 hasn't. But then, there's time yet.

Where ENTERPRISE went wrong

Space may be the final frontier, but Enterprise proved to be the final straw for the television voyages of the Starship Enterprise, not the Enterprise of Kirk, no not even that of Picard and his next generation. These were the voyages of the very first Starship Enterprise, the one that was the flagship of Starfleet simply because it was the only ship in Starfleet, the ship that first took mankind to the stars.

ENTERPRISE was the show that was going to reinvigorate the franchise after the frankly lacklustre effort that was VOYAGER by completely reinventing the show. There would be no shields, no phasers, no transporters, no prime directive, just a few hardy explorers out there trying to make a difference. Sounds quite an exciting idea, doesn't it?

Sadly, it all went wrong in the execution. The ship was crewed with the least interesting crew yet to the point that the lead three of Captain Archer (centre) T'Pol (not in uniform) and Tucker (right) took all the attention and the rest were completely sidelined.

The main issue, though, is the way that the timelines of all the previous (or later since this is a prequel show) shows were thrown out of the window in such a cavalier manner. When the show is dealing with Vulcans, Andorians and Orion slave girls it does what any STAR TREK should, but then it can't resist bringing in the likes of the Ferengi and the Borg, not to mention shapeshifters. Since these creatures were completely unknown when first encountered by Picard in THE NEXT GENERATION we can only assume that Archer's crew were particularly bad at keeping records or that Picard's crew don't know how to read.

Furthermore, all the things that made the concept exciting, prove to be too much of a hurdle for the writers and soon enough there are phasers and transporters and just about everything that later crews relied upon to solve those difficult plot puzzles.

ENTERPRISE is a perfectly serviceable space western and would have been accepted as such had none of the other STAR TREK shows existed. Since they do, it will remain the show that killed the franchise on the small screen until JJ Abrams' reboot is adapted for TV.

ENTERPRISE has just finished a complete repeat run on Virgin 1 (now Channel 1) and earlier episodes are still showing on that channel

Monday, 20 September 2010

High Def Damages Classic Sci Fi?

It's the moment that every parent dreads. You're introducing your son to the pleasures of THUNDERBIRDS for the first time (and why else would you have children in the first place?) and all they can see is 'I can see the strings'.

Now OK, I expected that with regards to the puppets. Everyone can see the strings on the puppets. That's part of the show's charm after all. What I didn't expect was to be able to see the strings holding up Thunderbird 2. I've seen this show on small colour televisions when it was first shown and on video, but the DVD version of the show with its crisp, clean transfer is the first time that I have ever noticed the strings holding up Thunderbird 2.

Now I have noticed that Ray Harryhausen classics like IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA or EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS are now available on the highest of definition formats - Blu Ray and the question occurs - how will 50s special effects that were dodgy at the time stand up to being digitally enhanced.

Well, the truth of the matter is that they don't. Blu Ray enhances everything and that means that it enhances all of the defects as well. I recently caught THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN (not sci fi I know, but the principle applies) on a hi-def TV channel and had to turn it off after a few seconds because the special effects in some of the aerial scenes were so unutterably awful. I'd never noticed that before.

Now Blu Ray is the only way to see the likes of AVATAR in your own home (not least because you can pause it when your bum - or your brain - just gets too numb) because their effects stand up to the spotlight that Blu Ray puts on them. These old classics, however, just don't.

Fortunately, what IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA has that its modern counterparts seem to lack is an entertaining storyline that zips along and involves the audience without either lecturing them or talking down to them. Whilst I could watch IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and enjoy it for what it was, though, I did flinch when those special effects came on.

Perhaps all films should take a leaf out of the STAR TREK book and remaster all those old special effects so reduce the 'ouch' factor.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Sci Fi Franchise Hell

RESIDENT EVIL:AFTERLIFE in 3D emerged onto cinema screens this week and proved not to be the much better than the original. This got me thinking about sci fi movie franchises and how there just aren't any good ones.

Immediately an army of STAR WARS fans leap to the fore and demand apologies, but the prequel movies aren't that great, special effects advances are not, and there aren't that many people STAR WARS fanboys or not who would be able to argue with that.

The STAR TREK fans would be the next ones up to complain, but be honest STAR TREK V THE FINAL FRONTIER is just plain pants. The original STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE was not nicknamed the slow motion picture without reason either. For every good one there's a not so good one.

The ALIEN franchise might have a claim after the first two films, but ALIEN 3 didn't rock most people's world and ALIEN RESURRECTION was generally found to be lacking. When it merged with the, frankly average, PREDATOR franchise things went seriously downhill with the ALIEN VS PREDATOR movies.

The MATRIX movies had a hell of a start in the original movie but he architect's nonsense put an end to that even before the dodgy rave/orgy scene in REVOLUTIONS.

So what does that leave us with? And if anyone suggests the bloody awful TRANSFORMERS films they might just get a punch in the mouth.

It leaves us with the superheroes. The X-MEN movies had a chance, but THE LAST STAND and WOLVERINE certainly put a crimp in the quality of that and THE FANTASTIC FOUR could only manage and OK Two. Robert Downey Jr's IRON MAN films might make it, but the second film was just the first film reheated and ought to have seen the end of that particular franchise. SPIDER-MAN 3 was so poorly received that the whole franchise is to be rebooted from the start only a few years after it was started.

Only the reborn BATMAN franchise shows any sign of managing to create a franchise with any consistency of quality and that's because the studio aren't about to hurry the creative team into a rush job when they are getting successes like INCEPTION out of them.

Science fiction has never been a genre that has lent itself to the franchise market (PLANET OF THE APES aside), but with many potential franchises not even getting past the sequel, things have never been as thin as they are right now.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


The Sci Fi Freak Site is proud to announce the release of the Sci Fi Freak's Guide To The Televisual Galaxy.

This is the first book produced by the site which provides reviews, cast and episode lists of hundreds of science fiction shows as seen on television along with episode plot summaries and ratings for those shows that have been reviewed on the site itself. This provides an invaluable resource of information when you just can't be bothered to boot up the computer to look at Wikipedia or hours of fun browsing for stuff that you had forgotten you ever saw or stuff that you never even knew about that might be worth a look.

At 616 A4 pages, it's a comprehensive guide to nearly 300 television productions from the 50s to the present day.

And you don't have to worry about it going out of date or needing to buty a new one each year as annual appendices will be produced that update the one that you've got.

It's available from lulu.com in both printed and download format.


The Three Ages Of The Lord Of The Rings

The Lord of the Rings is regularly voted as being one of the favourite books of all times by readers all over the world, but it has dominated the fantasy world in all its major incarnations (we're going to ignore Ralph Bakshi''s cartoon because the saga was not finished in that format and because we want to).

The Book

JRR Tolkein's book is a mammoth undertaking in the reading just from its sheer size, but it gets harder and harder the closer towards the end that you get. What starts off as a fairly clean romp through a thoroughly detailed imaginary world with likeable characters (Tom Bombadil aside) gets darker and darker as the characters all descend into their own personal hearts of darkness. Nobody returns from this particular saga (assuming that they return at all) untouched by the darkness and the evil that is portrayed.

The scale is epic and the story splinters with the major characters going off in all directions and encountering so many minor characters that you need to be committed to the reading to keep them all straight.

The writing also becomes less clean and narratively pleasing as Tolkein's style becomes more flowery and even pretentious as he becomes more and more overcome by the gravitas of the story that he is portraying. By the end of the mammoth tome don't be surprised if you're skimming whole sections looking for the continuation of the story rather than huge chunks of description and increasingly tedious elven songs.

By this point, however, you're hooked and need to get through to the end to find out what happens, so you will keep going no matter what.

At risk of being controversial, the Lord of the Rings is not the greatest book ever written, but it might possibly be the best story ever told and that story is the secret of the book's successs, popularity and longevity.

The Radio Show

In 1981, the BBC produced a 26 part dramatisation the saga that is one of the few radio productions that any fan of science fiction and fantasy should own (The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy and Orson Welles' production of The War Of The Worlds being amongst the others). With the likes of Ian Holm as Frodo, Michael Hordern as Gandalf, John Le Mesurier as Bilbo, Simon Cadell, Sonia Fraser, David Collings, Peter Vaughan and many other familiar UK names amongst the impressive voice cast the performances are excellent to brilliant (Peter Woodthorpe's Gollum) and they have a script to serve them in Brian Sibley and Michael Bakewell's adaptation.

The characters are well rounded, the action is stupendously created despite the lack of visuals and some of the sequences bring chills to the heart even now.

Every aspect of the production is given the benefit of the BBC's undeniable expertise and this was the absolute definitive version of the tale until

The Films

Peter Jackson would have been nobody's first choice as director of the film trilogy if asked before the release of The Fellowship of the Rings in 2001, which just goes to show how nobody knows anything in the film business because the the trilogy complete by The Two Towers and The Return of the King is the ultimate in cinematic fantasy. No attempt to capture fantasy on the big screen before or, crucially, since has even come close to matching Jackson's films for imagination, scale, scope, drama, action, character or acting.

With a cast that beats even the BBC radio version including Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Christopher Lee, Viggo Mortensen, Cate Blanchett and Ian Holm (though as Bilbo now rather than Frodo) for stellar names and all of them perfectly cast, the heart and the soul of the movies are assured. Onto that human element is heaped huge action sequences, CGI creatures that are flawlessly integrated into the whole and sweeping vistas of New Zealand, effortlessly doubling as the worlds of Middle Earth.

Though Jackson's films play around with the plot of the book, every change is justifiable and improves the flow of the story which combines the huge scope of the war that encompasses whole nations and the intimacy of two friends on a quest that will threaten their very souls.

Whether you're reading, watching or listening to The Lord Of The Rings the one thing that you can be assured of is that you are experiencing the greatest fantasy story ever told in the best example of the media involved.

The Lord Of The Rings truly is the one ring to rule them all.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Kevin McCarthy Dies

Kevin McCarthy, the star of INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS has died and we just wanted to mark his passing with a short word on the film that we most know him for even though he had an extensive list of film, TV and theatre credits to his name.

INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS is the ultimate 50s communist paranoia movie in which the emotionless alien invaders take over the bodies of the folk of a  small town, but leave the soul behind, stifling creativity, individuality and all that is best in humanity in the process. A small group fight against the takeover, but find that the increasing tide against them.

It's a marvellous film and the best telling of the story despite having been remade for the cinema 3 times and had one recent television version.

McCarthy's part in the film is pivotal to creating the unsettling of the audience as it is through him that the paranoia increases throughout the film. A lesser performance could have undermined the effect of the film.

The original ending (not the tacked on 'happy' one) of McCarthy screaming at uninterested motorists that 'You're next!' is one of the most enduring moments in science fiction history.

Friday, 27 August 2010

F - New British horror gets premier at Frightfest

Frightfest is the place to see horror movies in the UK for the first time and F is a perfect example of that. Getting its world premier at the festival the synopsis goes something like this -

"F tells the story of Robert Andeson, a burned-out alcoholic world-wearty English teacher, a man who has to face this most terrifying demons. F is set in a huge, sprawling UK comprehensive school, after lessons have finished for the day. What is a place of learning during the daytime becomes a vast and deserted labyrinthine nightmare of endless corridors, empty classrooms, woodwork rooms, gyms, welding rooms, motor pool shops, canteens, photographic darkrooms, art studion and sports halls. The school comes under relentless attack from a group of bloodthirsty hoodies, intent on only one thing, to spread terror. Anderson must battle these brutal killers, and his deepest fears, in a desperate battle for the survival of his pupils, fellow teachers and those he holds most dear.

F will be released nationwide from September 17th courtesy of Optimum Releasing."

We don't normally cover non-supernatural horror here, but we like to support British film-making when we can.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Sci Fi Totty - A Genre's Shame

There can be little more schizophrenic than the science fiction genre's depiction of women. On the one hand the genre was amongst the first to show women as being intelligent and capable whilst on the other it saddled them with ridiculous outfits that made the most of their outstanding assets.

Just think of the original outfits that the crew of the Starship Enterprise wore in the original STAR TREK. Could those skirts have been any shorter? Is that what Starfleet considers to be practical spacewear? And yet the show had a string of capable women from Nurse Chapel and Lt Uhura through to the subject specialists that appeared.

In THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Patricia Neal was a single mother completely in command of her situation, but Anne Francis in FORBIDDEN PLANET had another of those ridiculously short skirts to deal with. Faith Domergue was one of the world's leading scientists in THIS ISLAND EARTH Julia Adams was a top scientist in THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, but her main contribution was to swim about in a one-piece swimsuit.

That reference is apt because the reason for this speculation is the release in the UK of PIRANHA 3D, which again goes all schizophrenic. It features a female sheriff heroine who is as good as any man, but has so many scantily and unclad females as to completely spoil the effect. Hell, even Ripley, the ultimate science fiction heroine got down to her skivvies in ALIEN.

Alice, the genetic killing machine in RESIDENT EVIL, is as competent a woman as it gets, surviving when all the men around her are killed off, but even she had to be seen being 'born' naked.

The there's Stella Starr, who saves the universe no less in STARCRASH, but she does it in the skimpiest of outfits. Princess Leia led the rebellion against the empire, but she had to sport a gold bikini when necessary.

It seems that no matter how much the genre tries to show women in a positive light, there's always someone who wants to put them in their underwear instead.

Piranha 3-D
Forbidden Planet [Blu-ray]
Resident Evil - The High-Definition Trilogy (Resident Evil/ Resident Evil: Apocalypse/ Resident Evil: Extinction) [Blu-ray]
Creature From the Black Lagoon (Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection)
Starcrash (Roger Corman Cult Classics) [Blu-ray]
The Day the Earth Stood Still
This Island Earth

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Style Over Substance?

Just the other night I got the chance to see SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD and had a thoroughly good time thank you very much. It is very funny, nicely played, has lots of visual gags and tons of cinematic creativity.

What it doesn't do is make any sense. This is a film where the story isn't the thing. To keep dating the girl of his dreams Scott Pilgrim needs to defeat her seven evil exes. Why? Because it's a fun idea. This is not reality. This couldn't possibly happen. This isn't meant to be taken seriously. It's a fun ride rather than a true film.

Kids today spend more time on computer games than going to the pictures and they are now the mass entertainment market of choice. That SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD therefore does everything it can to look like a video game shouldn't come as a shock. Defeated enemies scatter coins like Sonic scatters rings, there are popup screens and scores and even an extra life that comes in handy towards the end. There are even magic doors.

OK, so films don't have to tell a 'real' story to be great and they don't have to make any sense either (anyone who's seen LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD will attest to that), but is this a trend? AVATAR looked like a videogame and was certainly more interested in putting pretty pictures on the screen than having a plot or acting and stuff. TRANSFORMERS 2 had big robots hitting other big robots and...er...nothing else. SPEED RACER was nothing but flashy visuals. CLASH OF THE TITANS was an empty CGI-fuelled experience.

Fortunately, I don't think this trend is going to go damage cinema too much. There have always been films that look better than the content they are filled with. Right now, though, there are films that are as good in terms of plot and character as they are in visual quality. Think back to last year's MOON, which was all about plot and character. This year's biggest hit has been INCEPTION which has a startlingly good plot for such a huge blockbuster and the animated likes of TOY STORY 3 and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON have shown that even a kids' movie can max out on plot and contain good characters. KICK ASS shows that a plot can still be good whilst being matched to a great visual sense.

So let's just sit back and enjoy the hybrid experience that is SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD (because it is a really good night out) and not worry about the future of science fiction in the cinema. There will always be the empty eye-candy, but the good plot and likeable character is making a comeback.

Inception [Blu-ray]
How to Train Your Dragon (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Dragon Double Pack) [Blu-ray]
Toy Story 3 [Blu-ray]

Monday, 16 August 2010

Shyamalan-bashing to become Olympic Sport?

Do you remember (it might even have been September) the first time that you saw THE SIXTH SENSE and were utterly blown away by this film from a director was clearly something of a genius?

How times have changed. With the release of M Night Shyamalan's THE LAST AIRBENDER garnering the kind of critical abuse unprecedented by even his standards we have to ask where it all went wrong and why the man considered most likely to succeed is now Hollywood's favourite pinata replacement.

Nobody likes a smart arse and Mr Shyamalan has never been backward in coming forward and telling everyone what a genius he is. In THE LADY IN THE WATER he cast himself as the man whose writing would save the whole of humanity! When he burst on the scene with the hugely successful SIXTH SENSE then he would have put a lot of more established noses out of joint, but it was a brillliant film. After all, he wrote, produced and directed it all himself. What a (talented) git!

Then came UNBREAKABLE, also starring Bruce Willis and another tricksy tale that proves to be a smart comic book origin story with another nice twist. THE VILLAGE was nicely put together with some scary moments, but it suffered from a twist that made it all a bit silly in retrospect and SIGNS was also a bit silly, but it was creepy too and had some major good jumpy bits.

Then came THE LADY IN THE WATER and the downward spiral began. This was Shyamalan's most personal project, based on a story that he told his kids, according to the hype. That's all well and good, but a bedtime story isn't necessarily what you want to base a film on and this film appealed neither to adults nor to kids. It was probably well received in the Shyamalan household, though. This was the film where everyone suddenly felt safe venting their envy and the bashing began.

It was THE HAPPENING, though, that took the sport of Shyamalan bashing to stellar levels. Sure, it was not a great film. It wasn't even a good film, but it had some supremely creepy moments at the start and some good jump moments in it as well. There were much worse films that the critics could have taken their spleens out to wipe all over, but it was Shyamalan and so it got far worse than it deserved. After all, the man who made THE SIXTH SENSE is capable of so much better.

And so we come to THE LAST AIRBENDER, which has had some gleeful savaging. We've not seen it, but feel confident that it's not as bad as everyone seems to think. It's a kids' movie and it doesn't seem to be being reviewed in that spirit.

M Night Shyamalan is the cinematic whipping boy of the moment. He needs to quit writing, directing and producing his own films and either write films for someone else or direct films that someone else has written. That way, he can't take all the blame himself.

M. Night Shyamalan Vista Series Collection (The Sixth Sense/Signs/Unbreakable)

Friday, 13 August 2010

AVATAR back for more of your money

Yes, AVATAR makes it way back to the big screen in an attempt to snaffle more of your hard-earned cash and the excuse for this is a whacking great 8 minutes (yes, 8 minutes) of new footage.

Now 8 minutes sounds like quite a lot, but consider that the film originally ran to 162 minutes which means that there will be a whole 5% more to see. Are you actually even going to notice that since it is presumably not going to be one new 8 minute sequence? And don't forget that James Cameron thought that these 8 minutes weren't even worth being in the original movie. It's unlikely to be some recently recovered footage of the actors delivering hitherto unnoticed oscar-worthy performances is it?

This brings us to the whole issue of 'Director's Cuts'. Now where a film has been messed up by a studio or has been restored with recently discovered footage then we have no issue with putting out the new version. The recent BLADE RUNNER boxset came with 5 different versions of the one film and we went ahead and bought that anyway. But when a film comes out with the director's vision intact and then is re-released with a chunk of stuff that he didn't want to put in first time around then that's called profiteering.

Enhancing the experience for a new medium is also something that we don't have a problem with. When you're sat at home and can pause the DVD to nip upstairs to the loo or make a cup of tea then the extended versions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS are an entirely different proposition than being stuck in your cinema seat with your legs crossed not wanting to miss a thing.

So, why do we have a problem with AVATAR being re-released into the cinema? Well, we don't in principle. Some films ought to be re-released and we have loved big screen showings of THE WIZARD OF OZ, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, DOUGALL AND THE BLUE MOON CAT, ET THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and many others which we had only ever seen on TV or hadn't seen on the big screen for a long time. The cinema is the only place to see these films in their full glory, but they were brought back in their original form with no pathetic excuses about adding in extra bits. If you want to go back to Pandora and see AVATAR on a big screen with 3D glasses on to witness again the wonder, scale and epic beauty of the computer generated vistas then that's fine, but don't be lured back by the promise of 8 minutes of new stuff just tacked on for that very purpose.

Monday, 8 March 2010

TRANSFORMERS storm the Razzies

The Razzies were taken by storm this year with TRANSFORMERS:REVENGE OF THE FALLEN taken numerous awards in the ceremony that celebrates the worst in mainstream Hollywood output.

Though we would like to say that it doesn't deserve the brickbats, we can't because it is a dreadful waste of a couple of hours. Michael Bay, a regular nominee, didn't show up to claim his reward, though Sandra Bullock gamely did, winning a Razzie the day before she won an Oscar. Now there's a lass with a sense of humour.

LEGEND OF THE LOST also managed to take an award and thoroughly deserved it as well. They should all be ashamed of themselves.