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. 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 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.