Some New Gerry Anderson DVDs

Last time out, I posted about a few new DVDs that I’d recently picked up, namely Nigel Kneale’s creepy 1972 television horror film The Stone Tape, and two DVD box sets comprising the entire twenty-four episode run of Gerry Anderson’s classic sci-fi television series UFO.

Well, this time out, I’ve gotten my hands on two more Gerry Anderson DVDs. First up is the 1969 film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, and second is The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson. I’ve been enjoying both DVDs, for different reasons (I’ll always find something interesting in any Gerry Anderson DVD), and I’ll make more detailed comments on both of them individually in upcoming separate posts.

I’m on a real roll with buying Gerry Anderson DVDs at the moment. I’ll be forking out for a few more Anderson series in the near future – Space: 1999, Captain Scarlet (classic and modern), Thunderbirds and Joe 90 are high on the list. But I have a strong hankering to make my first choice Filmed in Supermarionation. I’ve heard so many good things about this classic Anderson behind-the scenes documentary, but I’ve never actually seen it. So the curiosity is getting the better of me, and it has moved to the top of the list.

I can’t wait to see that one! 🙂

Some Good New Movies on Film4 (25th Feb 2016)

Last night was a pretty good night on television for sci-fi films. We had three in a row on favourite channel Film4, which pretty much took up the entire night’s viewing.

We started off with the Men in Black 2 (2002) sequel, a fun film featuring lots of great action scenes and good character sequences with Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith and the various aliens. It also featured the sexy and evil Lara Flynn Boyle as the main bad girl/alien, and the young and stunningly beautiful Rosario Dawson as Will Smith’s love interest. Overall, an enjoyable film, if not very original. It is, basically, a rerun of Men in Black 1.

Next out, we had Hellboy (2004), which is one of my favourite comic book-based films, and one of my favourites directed by Guillermo del Toro. It’s very different from any of the superhero films, and all the better for it, as I much prefer the horror themes of the film, with its Lovecraftian overtones. There’s a great cast, too. Ron Perlman is absolutely perfect in the title role. I don’t think they could’ve found better if they tried. And he had a great supporting cast in John Hurt (Professor Broom), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Rupert Evans (John Myers), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning), and bad guys Karel Roden (Rasputin), Ladislav Beran (Karl Ruprecht Kroenen) and Bridget Hodson (Ilsa Haupstein). Cracking film, and a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Lastly, we had a surprise package, one of those foreign movies that just keeps you glued to your seat. Swedish horror vampire classic Let the Right One In (2008) was probably my favourite film of the night, beating even Hellboy. This vampire film is totally unlike any of the Hollywood “sparkly vampire” schlock (yes, I’m pointing the finger at you, Twilight Saga), a grim, gritty and gripping movie that I enjoyed a lot, the story of a relationship and budding romance between a young boy being bullied at school and a young girl, who just happens to be a vampire.

There was also a surprisingly good US remake of this film which came out a couple of years later, Let Me In (2010) starring Chloë Grace Moretz (Hit-Girl from the Kick Ass films) in the role of the vampire. For a Hollywood remake, it kept the essence of the original really well, despite a few plot changes and the Americanization of the location and characters. I actually saw the US version a couple of years ago, before I saw the original, and was very impressed. But the original Swedish version is a cracker, at least as good, if not better, than the excellent remake. Both are great films, and I’d recommend them to any fans of horror/vampire films.

Overall, a great night’s viewing. Film4 is definitely one of my favourite TV channels.

Happy Back to the Future Day!

Has anybody seen any Deloreans recently? ‘Cos today, Wednesday, October 21st, 2015, is Back to the Future Day!!

It’s time to get out your Back to the Future Box-Sets, and stick on the classic 1989 movie sequel Back to the Future II, the future leg of the classic time travel/time loop romp. The entire trilogy is a real mind-bender, kicking off from the home base of 1985, back to 1955, forward to 1985 again, then forward even further to 2015, back again, but sideways, to the dystopian alternate 1985, back to 1955 again, then back to 1885, before finally jumping forward to the “real” (but slightly altered and much-improved) 1985 again. Phew! What a trip!

It’s funny comparing the fantasy Back to the Future II Wednesday, 21st October, 2015 to the real one. It’s just as much, if not more, of an alternate reality than the alternate 1985 in Back to the Future II itself. As with most sci-fi futures, a lot of it is laughably wrong (hey, it IS a comedy, after all), but there are a few things that have come to pass, or almost come to pass (anyone mention hoverboards?). But I won’t dwell on that now, as this particular topic is all over the internet at the moment, rivalling the hype surrounding the new Star Wars movie. I always love this “tomorrow isn’t what it was” kinda thing, so I just sit back and have a good chuckle and revel in the contradictions.

The time-travelling adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown comprise one of the very best, and definitely most fun, series of sci-fi cinema adventures in the history of Hollywood blockbusters. And just by coincidence, I’m sitting here right now, watching ITV2, which is showing the entire Back to the Future trilogy, back-to-back. And what’s playing right now? Yes, Back to the Future II! 🙂 We’re right in the middle of the alternate 1985 sequence at the moment, my very favourite part of the entire trilogy.

Anyway, I’m off to sit back, chill, and enjoy the rest of the trilogy. Happy BACK TO THE FUTURE DAY!!!!

Some Nice Saturday Night Viewing

It’s been an interesting Saturday evening so far on the television. I’ve been watching a couple of interesting sci-fi items which are helping wile away some time before I head out for my customary Saturday night out on the town.

First up was The Ultimate Guide to Doctor Who Part 2. The first part was a detailed look at the history of the Doctors and their companions, enemies and adventures during the Classic Series. Tonight’s second part was another hour long examination of the Doctor’s life, this time starting with Paul McGann and working through the first three Doctors of the new series.

Right now, I’m watching a very good time travel film, Looper (2012), a nice, twisty, paradox-y time travel tale. There are a few big-name actors in this one, including Bruce Willis, Jeff Daniels, Emily Blunt and Joseph-Gordon Lovett. It’s just ended a minute ago, and I gotta say that I didn’t see that one coming. 🙂

The Lost World (1960)

I was watching an old movie on Film4 on Sunday evening that brought back many good old memories for me. It was one of those oldies that I’d first seen way back when I was a kid, sometime during the first seven or eight years of my life, and is one that I hadn’t seen in many, many years.

The film in question was the second cinema version (1960) of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic 1912 novel The Lost World (the first version was the 1925 silent movie classic). The story involves an expedition to one of those “lost” regions of the world which were so popular back in the days before pretty much the entire world was explored and mapped. “Lost World” stories were very popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Lost civilizations in the jungles of darkest Africa and South America, beneath the sea, at the Earth’s core, indeed anywhere as yet unexplored, which could still harbour exciting adventures and unknown mysteries.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story was originally published as a serial in the Strand Magazine during the months of April–November 1912, and it took an expedition of explorers and scientists to South America, and up into the deepest, most unexplored regions of the Amazon, to a previously undiscovered plateau, where dinosaurs and other extinct prehistoric creatures had survived and still thrived. There were also cannibalistic native humans, who proved to be more dangerous than the dinosaurs, and who had wiped out a previous expedition.

The 1960 film adapts the original novel very loosely, taking a lot of liberties. And it was produced by Irwin Allen, king of the cheap and cheerful (in other words, terrible) special effects. Huge chunks of stock footage were later lifted from this film and just plonked down wholesale into several of Allen’s 1960’s television series, notably Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants and The Time Tunnel. Irwin Allen was the biggest cheapskate ever in the history of sci-fi television and cinema. He’s right up there alongside Ed Wood and Plan 9 from Outer Space. 🙂

Did I mention that the SFX are dire? Even for 1960, the special effects are terrible, and, by comparison, the ancient 1925 silent version, with the legendary Willis O’Brien producing the effects, was far superior technically. And O’Brien’s dinosaurs were proper dinosaurs, too. The 1960 film? Dinosaurs? Don’t make me laugh. The “dinosaurs” were a bunch of iguanas, monitor lizards and a baby alligator, all with bumps and horns glued to them. “Triceratops” was the baby alligator. “Stegosaurus” was a monitor lizard. “Iguanodon” (a bipedal dinosaur) was a four-legged iguana lizard (Allen must’ve looked at the names and thought “Iguana = Iguanodon”). And worst of all, “Tyrannosaurus”, the most famous dinosaur of all, the fearsome alpha predator, was played by a four-legged monitor lizard with glued-on horns and fins (Tyrannosaurus was two-legged and had neither horns nor fins). Even as a seven or eight year-old child, I knew my dinosaurs, and found these pathetic attempts totally hilarious. Anyone over the age of five these days would be howling with derision.

After all that slagging off, what is there good that can be said about the film? Granted that it is pretty lame by modern cinema standards, most of the criticisms are on the technical and SFX side of things. There is still an old-fashioned charm to this old movie, and it is certainly fun to watch. And even the so-called “dinosaurs” are hilarious, in a rather pathetic (“they aren’t dinosaurs!”) way. But the biggest redeeming feature of the film is definitely the cast, which included a number of big names – Michael Rennie, Claude Rains (as the cantankerous and hilarious Professor Challenger, the real star of the film), David Hedison and Jill St. John. They all played their parts straight and extremely well, which most likely elevated the film to a higher rating than it should otherwise have received (in my book, at least).

But most of the attraction for me is certainly on a personal level, namely the life-long nostalgia effect that links me to this film. I saw it at a very early age and it left a lasting impact on me, which led to bigger, better things. It lead directly to me reading the vastly superior original novel shortly afterwards at about age eight or nine, just as seeing George Pal’s classic 1960 cinema version of The Time Machine had led to me reading the original H. G. Wells novel a year or so before reading The Lost World.

Watching The Lost World for the first time all those years ago, was one of those formative encounters that helped lay the foundations that made me the geek that I am today. The film may not have dated very well by twenty-first century standards, but it still holds that old charm and nostalgia for me, and I’ll always make sure to watch it occasionally on TV when it gets shown every few years.

Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (1963)

I‘m sitting here in the (very) early hours of Boxing Day, watching Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1963 horror/fantasy thriller The Birds on Film4. I haven’t seen this one from beginning to end in many, many years, so I’m enjoying it a lot.

The main characters are played by Rod Taylor (three years after his role in George Pal’s classic 1960 movie The Time Machine), Tippi Hedren (I can’t recall her in anything else), Suzanne Pleschette, Jessica Tandy and a very young Veronica Cartwright. But the real stars of the film are the birds.

The story is a classic “what-if” with an impending apocalyptic theme, and is loosely based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier. It is set in the tiny California harbour town of Bodega Bay, which is under siege by thousands of birds. The birds are launching sporadic, seemingly random attacks on the inhabitants, causing mayhem, destruction and even killing a number of people including one of the main characters, the local school teacher. There are several truly disturbing and memorable scenes, in which the birds attack the children during a party and later at the school, the mass attack and destruction at the diner/petrol station, and the final attack at the home of Mitch’s mother, in which Melanie (Tippi Hedren) is almost killed in the bedroom and left traumatised.

I did have a bit of a chuckle during the scene at the diner (just before the birds attack) where the old lady ornithologist states that there are a hundred billion birds in the world, and if they really have all ganged up together to attack the human race, we’d have no chance. I seriously doubt that, and I believe that if a war ever did break out between the birds and humans, we would very efficiently render every single one of them extinct. Cue images of tens of thousands of rednecks and Dick Cheney types blasting countless millions of poor birdies out of the sky and having great fun doing so.

The film has just ended, and never really explains why the birds are attacking. The conclusion has the protagonists just driving off in a car, under the watchful eyes of thousands of menacing birds, who just let them go, we never find out why. There is some inference (from news reports on the car radio) that the attacks are spreading beyond Bodega Bay, and that this is the beginning of the end for the human race.

That was certainly two-and-a-half hours well spent. 🙂

Classic Sci-Fi Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (1963)

I’m sitting here in the (very) early hours of Boxing Day, watching Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1963 horror/fantasy thriller The Birds on Film4. I haven’t seen this one from beginning to end in many, many years, so I’m enjoying it a lot.

The main characters are played by Rod Taylor (three years after his role in George Pal’s classic 1960 movie The Time Machine), Tippi Hedren (I can’t recall her in anything else), Suzanne Pleschette, Jessica Tandy and a very young Veronica Cartwright. But the real stars of the film are the birds.

The story is a classic “what-if” with an impending apocalyptic theme, and is loosely based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier. It is set in the tiny California harbour town of Bodega Bay, which is under siege by thousands of birds. The birds are launching sporadic, seemingly random attacks on the inhabitants, causing mayhem, destruction and even killing a number of people including one of the main characters, the local school teacher. There are several truly disturbing and memorable scenes, in which the birds attack the children during a party and later at the school, the mass attack and destruction at the diner/petrol station, and the final attack at the home of Mitch’s mother, in which Melanie (Tippi Hedren) is almost killed in the bedroom and left traumatised.

I did have a bit of a chuckle during the scene at the diner (just before the birds attack) where the old lady ornithologist states that there are a hundred billion birds in the world, and if they really have all ganged up together to attack the human race, we’d have no chance. I seriously doubt that, and I believe that if a war ever did break out between the birds and humans, we would very efficiently render every single one of them extinct. Cue images of tens of thousands of rednecks and Dick Cheney types blasting countless millions of poor birdies out of the sky and having great fun doing so.

The film has just ended, and never really explains why the birds are attacking. The conclusion has the protagonists just driving off in a car, under the watchful eyes of thousands of menacing birds, who just let them go, we never find out why. There is some inference (from news reports on the car radio) that the attacks are spreading beyond Bodega Bay, and that this is the beginning of the end for the human race.

That was certainly two-and-a-half hours well spent. 🙂

It’s A Wonderful Life (1947)

I‘m sitting here watching the classic 1947 movie It’s a Wonderful Life, which is one of THE greatest films of all time. Christmas wouldn’t be complete without this film, with some great acting performances from James Stewart, Donna Reid, Lionel Barrymore and the others, an excellent, very entertaining, above average comedy drama, focusing on the remarkable life of an altruistic, but very dissatisfied and unhappy (with his life) young man, George Bailey.

We’re at the point where Uncle Billy has just lost the $8000 (or, rather, the vile Mr. Potter has it, and won’t give it back). The auditor is at the Bailey Building and Loan, and all hell has broken loose. George has just had the big bust-up with the family, and is asking Potter for help, with the loathsome old cockroach gloating and revelling in this opportunity to destroy his opponent. Everything is spiralling out of control, and George is in total despair, contemplating suicide. In answer to his prayer, George will soon be encountering Clarence, his guardian angel, and making his fateful wish – that he had never been born.

We’re just about to enter the next sequence of the movie, and the part which really elevates it to greatness. The film will sidestep into the truly magnificent and altogether darker and more terrifying alternate reality in which George Bailey never existed. His home town of Bedford Falls is now Pottersville (with nobody to oppose him, Potter has taken over the whole town), a complete dive and utter cesspool, where all the town’s inhabitants are much harder and more cruel people, and lead radically different lives under the all-pervasive evil influence of Potter. We get a chance to see just how different, and worse-off, the world would’ve been without George Bailey.

This is the original and archetypal alternate reality fantasy film, imitated (but never bettered) by many films in the almost seven decades since its release. We’ve moved into the alternate reality sequence now, as George is growing more and more frantic with each encounter he has with familiar characters, none of whom know him, and who are now all subtly different and much darker people than those friends that George knows in his own reality. The film is definitely no longer light-hearted or comedic in tone, and the atmosphere has changed totally, to something genuinely chilling. Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a seriously brilliant movie, a landmark cinematic masterpiece which, like George Bailey himself, has sent out ripples down through the decades, influencing countless films that came after it. It still has a powerful effect on me every time I see it (and I must have seen it more than a hundred times). It must have been a truly breathtaking film back in 1947. Any film buff who has never seen this movie seriously NEEDS to see it, as they’ve missed out on one of the all-time great films. An absolute cinema gem.

George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE (1960)

Right now, I’m having a lovely, relaxing Saturday evening, sitting back, chilling, and watching one of my favourite sci-fi cinema classics on Film4. The amazing 1960 George Pal movie adaptation of the landmark H. G. Wells 1895 novella (or short novel) THE TIME MACHINE is one that I haven’t watched in quite some time, and it’s really nice to see it on the telly again.

This was the very first sci-fi film that had a big impact on me, when I first saw it at about the age of five or six years old on local Irish television (RTE). I remember standing, totally transfixed, in my grannie’s living room, staring at the TV in total amazement for two hours as the film unfolded (some achievement, I can tell you, as I never stood still for a moment when I was a young kid). At that tender age, I’d never seen anything quite like it, and this film was to become a life-long influence, playing a massive part in turning me into the sci-fi/science fiction geek that I am today.

For at least the first half of my life (I’m almost 54 now), THE TIME MACHINE remained my absolute favourite film ever, until I eventually became fed up with it after watching it over and over again ceaselessly on video during the 1980’s. This one film kick-started my obsession with sci-fi cinema in general, which I’ve adored from that very early stage of my life. It also led directly to me picking up the original H. G. Wells novel from the local library a couple of years later, a point in my life which also marks the beginning of my life-long love for reading science fiction literature. This old film has a lot to answer for! 🙂

Sure, a lot of my love for this 1960 film is probably sheer nostalgia on my part, and younger viewers might consider it slightly dated and slow now compared to more modern films, with their wondrous CGI special effects and non-stop action and explosions. But I believe that the SFX in THE TIME MACHINE still hold up remarkably well today – you have to remember that this film is over fifty years old, and it DID win an Oscar for the visual effects back in the day. So it was definitely THE big sci-fi blockbuster movie with the great effects, at least back in 1960, and still looks good today, in my opinion. I wonder how many of the current fancy movies will still hold up in fifty years time.

The 2002 Simon Wells-directed reimagining of this film has grown on me over the years, despite my dismissing it as an inferior remake when it was first released. But while I do like the 2002 version now, the 1960 version still retains that spot in my heart as my favourite movie version of this classic 1895 scientific romance. Highly recommended, especially for older viewers who don’t suffer from having only the attention span of a goldfish or who are unable to sit through a film without non-stop action and snazzy modern SFX.

The film is getting near the climax now, with the hero rescuing the female “love interest” from a terrible fate underground as “Saturday Evening Lunch”. I’m off to watch the ending!

Sci-Fi Cinema Classic – THE TIME MACHINE (1960)

Right now, I’m having a lovely, relaxing Saturday evening, sitting back, chilling, and watching one of my favourite sci-fi cinema classics on Film4. The amazing 1960 George Pal movie adaptation of the landmark H. G. Wells 1895 novella (or short novel) THE TIME MACHINE is one that I haven’t watched in quite some time, and it’s really nice to see it on the telly again.

This was the very first sci-fi film that had a big impact on me, when I first saw it at about the age of five or six years old on local Irish television (RTE). I remember standing, totally transfixed, in my grannie’s living room, staring at the TV in total amazement for two hours as the film unfolded (some achievement, I can tell you, as I never stood still for a moment when I was a young kid). At that tender age, I’d never seen anything quite like it, and this film was to become a life-long influence, playing a massive part in turning me into the sci-fi/science fiction geek that I am today.

For at least the first half of my life (I’m almost 54 now), THE TIME MACHINE remained my absolute favourite film ever, until I eventually became fed up with it after watching it over and over again ceaselessly on video during the 1980’s. This one film kick-started my obsession with sci-fi cinema in general, which I’ve adored from that very early stage of my life. It also led directly to me picking up the original H. G. Wells novel from the local library a couple of years later, a point in my life which also marks the beginning of my life-long love for reading science fiction literature. This old film has a lot to answer for! 🙂

Sure, a lot of my love for this 1960 film is probably sheer nostalgia on my part, and younger viewers might consider it slightly dated and slow now compared to more modern films, with their wondrous CGI special effects and non-stop action and explosions. But I believe that the SFX in THE TIME MACHINE still hold up remarkably well today – you have to remember that this film is over fifty years old, and it DID win an Oscar for the visual effects back in the day. So it was definitely THE big sci-fi blockbuster movie with the great effects, at least back in 1960, and still looks good today, in my opinion. I wonder how many of the current fancy movies will still hold up in fifty years time.

The 2002 Simon Wells-directed reimagining of this film has grown on me over the years, despite my dismissing it as an inferior remake when it was first released. But while I do like the 2002 version now, the 1960 version still retains that spot in my heart as my favourite movie version of this classic 1895 scientific romance. Highly recommended, especially for older viewers who don’t suffer from having only the attention span of a goldfish or who are unable to sit through a film without non-stop action and snazzy modern SFX.

The film is getting near the climax now, with the hero rescuing the female “love interest” from a terrible fate underground as “Saturday Evening Lunch”. I’m off to watch the ending!

Sci-Fi Film Marathon, Saturday 5th July-Sunday 6th July, 2014

I’ve said several times before that Sundays at our house have become a favourite of mine for sci-fi on TV and DVD, so much so that I’ve taken to referring to the day as “Sci-Fi Sunday”. Well, this weekend was no different, with the local UK Freeview television channels coming up with the goods yet again, airing some excellent sci-fi films over the weekend. The only unusual exception was Channel 5, which most weekends has at least one sci-fi film on, but not this time around (but lots of Disney stuff on today, for anyone who’s into that kinda thing).

The additional plus this weekend was that Saturday was almost as good as Sunday, for a change. This week it’s not just “Sci-Fi Sunday”, but an entire “Sci-Fi Weekend”, during which Film4 hosted no less than four classic sci-fi films, and Channel 4, ITV2 and BBC Three aired one each. Add to that the two sci-fi DVDs that I watched with my friends on Sunday night, and that amounts to quite a sci-fi marathon over two days.

Unfortunately the BBC channels, particularly the two big ones, BBC One and BBC Two, are very poor when it comes to airing any kind of sci-fi, preferring instead to aim for the lowest common denominator and concentrate on an unrelenting garbage diet of soaps, sport and reality TV. I think the BBC considers Doctor Who to be their absolute limit for sci-fi these days, and tough luck if we want anything else. When there’s no Doctor Who on the BBC channels, there’s very rarely any sci-fi at all. If it wasn’t for the news or documentaries, I wouldn’t watch BBC One or Two at all. The same for BBC Three. Aside from a couple of episodes of Doctor Who on Friday evenings, it’s complete crap.

Once again, Film4 was the undisputed champ, with two sci-fi films on Saturday, and two more on Sunday. Saturday afternoon started off well, with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). Then we did a bit of channel-hopping over to Channel 4 for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), and then it was back to Film4 again for some Arnie in Conan the Barbarian (1982). Sunday afternoon saw Film4 picking up where they left off on Saturday night, with The Phantom (1996), running straight into Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). The usual Sunday evening visitors started drifting in by that point, so once the Star Trek V film was over, we switched from TV to DVD, with the first part (of three) of the Sci-Fi Channel’s excellent Dune mini-series (2000).

Then it was back to the TV for another film. Given what I said earlier about the BBC channels being very bad for sci-fi, I almost died of shock when BBC Three actually aired Tron: Legacy (2010). This was followed soon after on ITV2 by The Matrix Reloaded (2003), the very good second film in the Matrix Trilogy. Finally, and taking us from late Sunday night into early Monday morning, it was another DVD, the much underrated fourth film in the Alien series, Alien: Resurrection (1997). I’ve heard many people whinge about how bad they think this film is. I disagree with them. I always enjoy it when it is re-run on TV.

I’m slinking off to bed now at just after 4am, exhausted, but very satisfied after two days of great sci-fi films. Here’s looking forward to next weekend! 🙂

Sci-Fi Cinema (Part 1)

I’ve always loved all kinds of sci-fi cinema, starting with the “silent” movies, and going right up to the big-budget blockbusters of the modern era. It’s hard to believe that’s it’s over a century since the very first sci-fi film was produced. When Georges Méliès unleashed Le Voyage dans la Lune upon the unsuspecting world in 1902, it was the beginning of a new era.

That film may have been very primitive and very short by modern standards, but it was unique, the first movie of its kind. It must’ve been mind-boggling for the earliest cinema-goers to watch something like this. I reckon that even Méliès, visionary that he was, could never in a million years have dreamed how things would turn out. Imagine the poor man, taken forward in time and sitting in a modern cinema, watching any modern sci-fi blockbuster movie, with all the incredible SFX and pyrotechnics. He would been in complete shock. 🙂

From this point on, the film-making skills and technology improved at an incredible rate, through the earliest efforts of the first decade of the twentieth century, including the impressive Frankenstein (1910), produced by Thomas Edison (yes, THAT Edison), through the glory days of silent European cinema during the second decade of the century, in particular German gothic horror cinema, to the 1920s, when we were beginning to see much more sophisticated “silent” classics like Willis O’Brien’s classic The Lost World (1925) and Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis (1927).

Jump forward another decade to the 1930s, the beginning of the era of “talkies”, and things had taken a quantum leap forward, improving beyond all recognition. Two of the greatest sci-fi movies of that decade, and two of my personal favourites, were Willis O’Brien’s classic King Kong (1933) and Things to Come (1936), directed by William Cameron Menzies, possibly the first two true great sci-fi film classics of the “talkies” era. Let’s not forget that this was also the decade that first gave us the great sci-fi movie serials with heart-stopping cliffhangers at the end of every episode. Starting with Flash Gordon (1936) and its sequels, it mushroomed and spawned an entire industry of movie serials. Kids (and grown-ups) flocked to the cinema every week, to catch up on “The Next Thrilling Installment…” of their favourite adventure serial.

The 1930s also saw the start of a new breed of horror films produced by Universal Pictures, beginning with Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), and stretching out over fifteen years until the movies petered out in the mid-1940s with House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945). In between those years, there was a wide range of Dracula and Frankenstein sequels and other new additions such as Werewolf of London (1935), the first (relatively unsuccessful) werewolf film, soon joining the fold. The next werewolf film, The Wolf Man (1941), featuring new lead actor Lon Chaney Jr, was much more successful, leading to several sequels (usually co-starring with the other Universal monsters), and culminating in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), although he did pop up again in the comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

These films made superstars out of B-movie actors Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr.. And even though Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man were the three big stars of the Universal monster movies, there were other classics, such as The Mummy (1932) and its sequels and The Invisible Man (1933) and its sequels. The Universal monster movies were a phenomenon lasting almost two decades through the Thirties and most of the Forties. Actually, they were more like a separate industry within Hollywood itself. I loved those old monster movies. It’s been far too long since I’ve watched any of them.

Aside from the Universal monster movies, a few B-grade horror films, some of the daft comedies, and a very few occasional decent flicks such as Dr. Cyclops (1940) and Mighty Joe Young (1949), the 1940s were a barren wasteland for real sci-fi cinema. The Twenties had Metropolis, the Thirties had Things to Come and a plethora of sci-fi movie serials like Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938), Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940), and Buck Rogers (1939). But aside from maybe Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe and King of the Rocket Men (1949), I don’t think there was anything produced in the Forties that remotely qualifies as real science fiction (heck, even these two barely qualify either).

The Forties was easily the worst decade for science fiction films. I guess that’s not really surprising, as the entire world was at war for the first half of the decade, and trying to piece things back together again in the second half. Lack of budget during those rough years mitigated against spending money on films with too many technical special effects, plus there was maybe a not-inconsiderable anti-technological, anti-science bias among the movie-going audiences (which is quite normal during wartime). Science fiction on the Big Screen was no longer in vogue. Sure, Hollywood did continue to pump out the films, but there were no real sci-fi classics of note. If I was to write out a list of my favourite classic sci-fi movies of the twentieth century, I think the Forties would be the only decade that I’d have real trouble finding something that I really liked.

It wouldn’t be until the start of the 1950s that things would really start to pick up again. And what a decade that was. The first true Golden Age of sci-fi films, in which real science fiction movies (as opposed to horror) started to predominate. But we’ll leave that until next time.

To Be Continued…

Yet Another “Sci-Fi Sunday”

Sundays at our house have become a favourite of mine in recent months, so much so that I’ve taken to referring to the day as “Sci-Fi Sunday”. The reason for this is that the local UK television channels almost always air one or more sci-fi films in the late afternoon and evenings. Then, at night, my friends pay a visit and we always finish off Sundays by watching two, maybe three more sci-fi movies on DVD. Well, yesterday was no different.

Beginning with television, by hopping between two channels, Channel 4 and Channel 5, I managed to find three sci-fi films in a row. We started off with Barry Sonnenfeld’s fun 1999 steampunk western Wild Wild West, based on the rather strange 1960’s sci-fi TV series of the same name. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, but is definitely a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Next up was Simon Wells’s 2002 reimagining of George Pal’s classic 1960 film The Time Machine. I recall when I first watched this one that I wasn’t very impressed, and considered it a poor remake of the original. But I’ve mellowed over the years, and the film has definitely grown on me with each subsequent viewing.

Finally, we were treated to a real classic, George Lucas’s epic 1980 Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. As far as I’m concerned, this one was EASILY the best of the original Star Wars trilogy, by the proverbial country mile. I’ve seen it dozens of times, and I still enjoy it every single time.

That was it with the sci-fi films from the television channels, but there was still more to come, as the DVDs came out. The 1998 Alex Proyas-directed noir-sci-fi classic Dark City has always been a particular favourite of mine. It’s moody, atmospheric and simply gorgeous visually. I hadn’t seen it in quite a while, so it was an absolute pleasure to sit down to this one again. This film was probably the highlight of the evening for me.

Finally, to round off the night, we had the classic 2001 first film of Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. This one is a gorgeous Big Screen classic in every way. I really enjoyed all three films in the trilogy, which is the height of irony, as I absolutely hated the books (I dislike Tolkein and that particular brand of fantasy immensely). The films work for me visually, and distill everything that was good in the novels, while cutting out all the endless padding and rambling (in other words, most of the novels). I find it weird that I’ve always liked fantasy onscreen, but not in books. Very strange indeed.

That’s a few classic movies and many hours of fun movie-watching for one day (more than the rest of the week combined). Roll on the next “Sci-Fi Sunday”! 🙂

Some Sunday Evening Movies

Another quiet, relaxing Sunday afternoon/evening, sitting in, just watching sci-fi films on television and DVD. Sunday has become one of my favourite days for films. There’s almost always something good on for sci-fi fans on a Sunday.

I started off this afternoon watching two-in-a-row on Film4. The first was an “oldie-but-goody”, AT THE EARTH’S CORE, starring Peter Cushing, Doug McClure, and the absolutely gorgeous Caroline Munroe. Based on the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of the same name, the monsters and special effects might (definitely) look a bit hokey compared to modern movies, but it was fun, and not a mess of explosions, fighting and SFX without a story, which is a problem afflicting many modern sci-fi films.

This was followed by CONGO, the first Michael Crichton-based film that I’ve seen in a while that didn’t have dinosaurs in it (I’ve seen lots of re-runs of the various JURASSIC PARK films over the past few months). Not a bad film, even if carnivorous gorillas don’t seem to have quite the same attraction as lots of raptors or the compulsory Tyrannosaurus Rex. 🙂

Finally, on DVD, something a little more modern. I’m not usually a big fan of films based on computer or consoles games, but I gotta admit that I liked PACIFIC RIM. Firmly based in the Kaiju/giant monster vs giant robots genre, there are lots of great SFX and titanic fight scenes between the various kaijus and men in giant robot suits, but there’s also a half-decent story, which is a major plus. Another fun film.

Well, the sci-fi films are all done now, and the evening is almost over, so it’s back to Film4, and DIE HARD 2. All-in-all, a very good evening’s viewing.

Sunday TV Viewing

I’m just having a nice, quiet Sunday afternoon here, chillin’, sitting at my computer and watching some TV. Sunday is always good for sci-fi films on UK television, and today has been no exception.

I’ve just spent the past few hours watching the movie adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (2007). I’ve got the novel and the graphic novel, but have only ever managed to catch bits ‘n’ pieces of the film before. Well, I caught it all today, and it wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. Quite humorous in parts, and less mainstream fantasy than the likes of Lord of the Rings, which suits me fine.

The two leads, Claire Danes and Charlie Cox, as love interests Yvaine and Tristan, were pretty good, as was Mark Strong as the nasty bad guy Prince Septimus. But the best of the lot were Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil witch Lamia, and Robert de Niro as the hilariously camp Captain Shakespeare. He was brilliant, and absolutely stole the show for me.

At the moment, I’m watching The Incredible Hulk (2008) on ITV2, whilst right now, over on Channel 5, is the very weird Zathura (2005), by the same guys who brought us Jumanji (1995). And that will be followed when it finishes by The Fifth Element (1997). Non-stop sci-fi film goodness, on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Choices, choices. It’s a pity that there aren’t several of me, so that I could watch them all at the same time in different rooms. 🙂

Comic Books In The Movies – The Purist Conundrum

I’m a life-long geek, and, like most other hardcore geeks, I’m a huge fan not only of comics, but of films based on comics. I really enjoy most modern superhero films, and I’m obviously also a huge fan of many of the original comics that these films are based on, particularly those based on characters created by Marvel Comics.

However, this love of superheroes in both the comics medium and the cinema poses a major problem for some of those more “die hard” fans watching films based on their favourite comics. Hardcore comics fans tend to be extreme purists, who can’t abide even the slightest changes to their favourite comics and characters. These people are almost impossible to please when it comes to any kind of movie adaption of their favourite comic books.

I myself used to be like that, totally obsessed with films being “exact reproductions” of my favourite comics or books, but I’ve wised up over the years and long ago given up any hope of ever seeing any direct translations from comic books to screen. Nowadays all I hope for is to get a decent, fun film.

I still have a few purist tendencies of my own, especially when it comes to my favourite comics. Hell, I’m almost guaranteed to moan incessantly about any reboot of one of my old classic comics favourites (the Legion of Super-Heroes being a perfect example), let alone a loosely-based movie version. But, in general, these days I’ve chilled greatly and now I do tend to be a bit more compromising than many of my more “fanatical” brothers and sisters.

I’m also very lucky in that I have a really strong ability to compartmentalize, which means that I can still sit and enjoy a film, even if I spend most of the time criticizing the changes and omissions compared to the comic. If the film is a good FILM in itself, even if it’s NOT a good adaption of the original comic, I’ll probably still like it. Sure, I’ll nitpick about all the continuity errors and differences, the little (and large) inconsistencies and the seemingly gratuitous and unnecessary changes made to the characters, continuity and story (hell, let’s be honest, all geeks love to nitpick and complain). But if the film is a fun FILM, I’ll still give it a thumbs-up.

Unfortunately, most of the hardcore purists are much harder to please. They want nothing but a direct translation of their favourite comics to the big screen, and no changes, however small, to the characters, story, continuity and history of the comic concerned are permitted. Well, listen guys, if that’s what you expect from Hollywood, then you’re living in cloud cuckoo land. IT AIN’T EVER GONNA HAPPEN! Hollywood has always done things their own way, and they use comics and books as a vague basis for their films, rather than doing inch-by-inch faithful adaptions (only the “classics” get the premium “don’t mess with the story” treatment, and I’m not referring to classic comics here either).

Add to this the fact that these films are NOT aimed at hardcore comic book geeks at all, but at a completely different, more general cinema audience, and the reality is that you have to accept that superhero films will be completely different beasts to the original comics, with characters and plot ideas cherry-picked from all over the place, rather than from one story.

There are also a few other practicalities which make faithful adaptions a definite no-no. Comics and film are completely different mediums, and direct translations are often simply not possible. What might look or sound great in a comic might definitely NOT look or sound so good in a live action film. A perfect example of something that doesn’t work at all in movies is comic book characterization and dialogue. It simply does NOT translate well to film. People just do NOT talk and behave in “real life” like they do in superhero comics, and anything like that appearing on film either has to be a crazy pastiche, or a comedy, otherwise it just won’t work at all.

An even more perfect, and more visual example of this failure to translate across media is superhero costumes – the guys and gals wearing their underclothes on the outside. They look great in comics and animation, but my own strongly held opinion (and I’m far from being on my own here) is that they almost always look ABSOLUTELY pathetic, stupid and laughable in live action movies. With the exception of a handful of “iconic” characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man and a few others) who should NOT have their costumes messed with under any circumstances (do ya hear that Man of Steel? Damned flyin’ condom…), it’s almost always better to get rid of the silly “men in tights” costumes in movies if you want to be taken seriously. The X-Men films are a perfect example of how to do it right – those padded leather uniforms looked really slick and functional, and were much, much better onscreen than the original costumes. Wolverine definitely looked a heckuva lot better than he would have if he’d appeared in the silly yellow or brown costume that he wears in the comics.

But let’s face it, none of the above comments will sway purists at all. No matter what anybody says or does, the purists will never be happy. There’s always gonna be someone who has to moan, and there’s absolutely no pleasing these people. Look, all I have to add (aside from “Chill, and get a life!”) is this: if you’re a die-hard purist, and you absolutely CANNOT abide these movies because they dare to alter some of your sacred comic book texts, then ignore them. Don’t watch them at all. Go down the pub instead and relax with a nice, cool brewski.

Why put yourselves through all the soaring blood pressure, hair pulling, the swearing and frustration? Why do you continue to go to these films if you know you’ll hate them so much? Do you enjoy torturing yourselves or what? Or is it that you’re a bunch of drama queens and just LIKE to complain and kick up a fuss so you can get some attention? Y’know what? Either judge the film as a FILM, not a comic book, because it ISN’T a damned comic book, it’s a M-O-V-I-E, or quit yer endless griping and don’t bother watching the darned thing in the first place.

Or why don’t you do something really smart and just go away and read some comic books instead? If you want the Real Thing, then read the real thing. Ignore the films altogether and go out and buy all those lovely trade paperbacks and hardback Marvel Masterworks or DC Archives, and other collections of classic Silver and Bronze Age Marvel and DC comics, and drift off into comic book nirvana. The originals will ALWAYS be out there if you want them.

Whether they were good adaptions of the comics, or not, recent years have given us a raft of truly classic superhero films, including the most recent Avengers film, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, X-Men: First Class, The Dark Knight, and Watchmen, among others. There have also been some truly excellent films based on non-superhero comics – the first Hellboy film and the absolutely brilliant Dredd, for example – both of them not only two darned good films, but two of the very best comic book-based films EVER.

If Hollywood keeps dishing out quality comic book films like this, I’ll be more than happy, as will most fans. And sod the purists. 🙂

A Quiet Night In – A Few Good Movies

I‘ve been sitting in tonight for a change, having a nice, quiet Friday night viewing session, which certainly makes a change from a night out on the town, or visiting relatives, which is more like my usual Friday night.

At the moment I’m watching a real gem of a late-night film on television, Gremlins, one of the true classic movies of the 1980s, and still one of the funniest films ever. I’ve seen it at least twenty times, if not more, and I’m still sitting here, cackling like an idiot. Just watching the scene right now with the gremlins in the cinema, watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and the little terrors all singing along to “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go.” Hilarious! 🙂

Earlier this evening, I also watched a couple of very nice DVDs, starting off with Jaws, one of the real classic Steven Spielberg movies. Even with the dodgy-looking (by today’s standards) shark, it’s still a very scary film, and that atmospheric, frightening music each time the shark was about to make an appearance still sends chills up my spine.

Next up was James Cameron’s fantastic Aliens, still one of the best bug-hunt sci-fi films ever. As sequels go, this one is a rarity, just as good as the classic Ridley Scott original, despite being a completely different type of movie. Most sequels very rarely live up to the original film.

Three old classic films, and still three of the best. Why the hell can’t Hollywood make movies like this any more? All in all, a very nice night’s viewing. I’m going to bed a happy man tonight. 🙂

The cinema’s just gone BOOM!! blowing up all the gremlins except for Stripe. He’s a bad little mutha******. 🙂

The City of Lost Children (1994)

On my old, long-gone SFreaders.com blog, I used to do short reviews of films and television programs that I’d just watched. I’d note down a few on-the-spot points and comments during the film, and put together a short review – just several paragraphs summarizing the comments and impressions I’d jotted down – while the film was still fresh in my mind, either that same night or the day after. I’d then post this mini-review to my blog under the heading of “A Quiet Night In: (Title of Film)”.

Cover of The City of Lost Children

Well, I think it’s long past time that I started reprising “A Quiet Night In” again for this blog. I had a nice, quiet night in tonight, and had a great time watching the DVD of a rather strange, yet enjoyable film, The City of Lost Children (1994). This is a fascinating and entertaining French surrealist fantasy from Belgian film-makers Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, the two guys who produced the classic and equally surreal Delicatessan back in 1991, as well as the more mainstream hit movies Alien: Resurrection and Amelie.

The City of Lost Children is a strange, whimsical, dark adult fairytale. Set in a bizarre, twilight, retro steampunk, dystopian cityscape, the story begins with a weird gang who kidnap young kids from a local harbour town, and take them by boat to an offshore oil-rig. This is the futuristic base of evil scientist, Krank, who is afflicted by accelerated ageing, apparently caused because he has lost the ability to dream. Krank believes that he can reverse the ageing process if he can start dreaming again, so he tries to do this by stealing the dreams of the kidnapped children, but all he gets are nightmares, because the kids are terrified of him.

Circus strongman One (played by Ron Perlman) and little orphan girl Miette, search for One’s little brother, who was kidnapped by the gang at the start of the film. A series of crazy adventures and dangerous encounters with all sorts of weird characters lead to the final psychedelic climax and rescue of the children from the doomed oil rig.

The plot isn’t exactly logical or based in reality (it is absurdist surrealism, after all), but it’s great fun, full of crazy technology, imagery, schemes and ideas, and truly grotesque characters. There’s not just one but TWO mad scientists; we’ve also got Krank’s six henchmen, who just happen to be clones (all played by Dominique Pinon) created by the other mad scientist (also played by Pinon); a giant brain floating in an aquarium; evil Siamese twin sisters (the Octopus) who control, Fagin-like, a small gang of runaway children, using them to steal money, jewellry and other valuable items; the weird gang (who kidnap the children), all of whom happen to be totally blind and who can only see with the aid of cybernetic eyes; and trained fleas and rats. Nobody could ever accuse these characters of not being memorable! 🙂

It seems that Jeunet and Caro have their own little group of favourite actors that they like to call upon whenever they make new films, and there are a few of these familiar faces in this film. Ron Perlman also starred in Alien: Resurrection, and Dominique Pinon and Jean-Claude Dreyfus were both major characters in Delicatessan several years before.

Dominique Pinon has starred in at least four Jeunet and Caro films that I know of – Alien: Resurrection, Amelie, Delicatessan and The City of Lost Children (as well as other cinematic classics like Betty Blue) – although he is mainly familiar to mainstream audiences because of the first two films.

I’m a huge fan of “foreign” (non-English) films at the best of times, and this is a good one. But I’d offer a bit of advice – watch the original preferred 2002 French-language DVD release with subtitles, and avoid like the plague the awful English dubbed later releases. The original DVD version is far superior.

Anyone who is tired of the endless, vacuous, formulaic Hollywood action flicks, or if they just enjoy off-beat, surreal fantasies such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, could do a lot worse than try out The City of Lost Children. I certainly enjoyed it immensely.

A Quiet Night In – The City of Lost Children (1994)

On my old, long-gone SFreaders.com blog, I used to do short reviews of films and television programs that I’d just watched. I’d note down a few on-the-spot points and comments during the film, and put together a short review – just several paragraphs summarizing the comments and impressions I’d jotted down – while the film was still fresh in my mind, either that same night or the day after. I’d then post this mini-review to my blog under the heading of “A Quiet Night In: (Title of Film)”.

Cover of The City of Lost Children

Well, I think it’s long past time that I started reprising “A Quiet Night In” again for this blog. I had a nice, quiet night in tonight, and had a great time watching the DVD of a rather strange, yet enjoyable film, The City of Lost Children (1994). This is a fascinating and entertaining French surrealist fantasy from Belgian film-makers Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, the two guys who produced the classic and equally surreal Delicatessan back in 1991, as well as the more mainstream hit movies Alien: Resurrection and Amelie.

The City of Lost Children is a strange, whimsical, dark adult fairytale. Set in a bizarre, twilight, retro steampunk, dystopian cityscape, the story begins with a weird gang who kidnap young kids from a local harbour town, and take them by boat to an offshore oil-rig. This is the futuristic base of evil scientist, Krank, who is afflicted by accelerated ageing, apparently caused because he has lost the ability to dream. Krank believes that he can reverse the ageing process if he can start dreaming again, so he tries to do this by stealing the dreams of the kidnapped children, but all he gets are nightmares, because the kids are terrified of him.

Circus strongman One (played by Ron Perlman) and little orphan girl Miette, search for One’s little brother, who was kidnapped by the gang at the start of the film. A series of crazy adventures and dangerous encounters with all sorts of weird characters lead to the final psychedelic climax and rescue of the children from the doomed oil rig.

The plot isn’t exactly logical or based in reality (it is absurdist surrealism, after all), but it’s great fun, full of crazy technology, imagery, schemes and ideas, and truly grotesque characters. There’s not just one but TWO mad scientists; we’ve also got Krank’s six henchmen, who just happen to be clones (all played by Dominique Pinon) created by the other mad scientist (also played by Pinon); a giant brain floating in an aquarium; evil Siamese twin sisters (the Octopus) who control, Fagin-like, a small gang of runaway children, using them to steal money, jewellry and other valuable items; the weird gang (who kidnap the children), all of whom happen to be totally blind and who can only see with the aid of cybernetic eyes; and trained fleas and rats. Nobody could ever accuse these characters of not being memorable! 🙂

It seems that Jeunet and Caro have their own little group of favourite actors that they like to call upon whenever they make new films, and there are a few of these familiar faces in this film. Ron Perlman also starred in Alien: Resurrection, and Dominique Pinon and Jean-Claude Dreyfus were both major characters in Delicatessan several years before.

Dominique Pinon has starred in at least four Jeunet and Caro films that I know of – Alien: Resurrection, Amelie, Delicatessan and The City of Lost Children (as well as other cinematic classics like Betty Blue) – although he is mainly familiar to mainstream audiences because of the first two films.

I’m a huge fan of “foreign” (non-English) films at the best of times, and this is a good one. But I’d offer a bit of advice – watch the original preferred 2002 French-language DVD release with subtitles, and avoid like the plague the awful English dubbed later releases. The original DVD version is far superior.

Anyone who is tired of the endless, vacuous, formulaic Hollywood action flicks, or if they just enjoy off-beat, surreal fantasies such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, could do a lot worse than try out The City of Lost Children. I certainly enjoyed it immensely.

The Ninth Gate

Just been watching this movie on TV. It’s a supernatural thriller starring Johnny Depp and Emmanuelle Seigner. Frank Langella and Lena Olin are quite good as the bad guys.

The movie, overall, is quite interesting and watchable, but what the hell was that ending all about? Beats me. Must watch it again sometime, to see if I can figure it out.