Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Long time but..

Long time no post.. again. Well was trying to complete my plan to pull everything here together into a much more awesome format, but life had to just jump in the way...
In an effort, and because I am still alive and will still be posting... I has a Tumblr now.


Go and um.. tumbl at it or something.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Genre Genre Genre..

I have found myself fixated in a number of places at the moment, the great television viewing season is pretty much at a pause as we wait for Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead etc to return to our screens. My consumption of late, when not watching stuff I already have watched, has focused towards stuff from Japan and the current run of Marvel films. Why I ask myself?
We live currently in many ways in a post-genre world, the threads of genre fiction that I have previously discussed here spread and diversified out over the late 19th and early 20th century are in some ways heading back to a big crunch. Genre mashing is a popular thing, a Superhero film is not always a Superhero film any more. In many ways this is a return to the mean rather than a revolutionary concept, Sci-Fi and Fantasy were not separate genres for much of the 20th century. Genre mashes have existed, well for as long as Genre fiction has so far as I can tell.
But there is something all together different about modern Hollywood's handling of Genre, and I'm not sure what it is down to. Is it just bad writing? Neoliberalism attempting to homogenise genre? Is Genre dead?
It can be parsed a little by looking at what works and what hasn't, what projects have succeeded and what haven't. I reviewed Guardians of the Galaxy recently, a movie that has not only seen incredible commercial success but a huge cult following online for characters only nerds like me would have known of two years ago. It's a very good movie, don't get me wrong, but it isn't a great movie.. Why is it the second coming of the Marvel Franchise then? Because Genre. Because it is possibly the most straight up Sci-Fi adventure film to hit the screen in an age. Because we are fatigued by the Op-Art that is the Transformers films, by the soulless Star Wars re-editions and prequels and by a terrible series of sequels, reboots and rehashes. Back in the days of VHS we could at least turn to the direct to video schlock market, but no more. The position that was once gleefully occupied by passionately (often terribly) made indie films is now taken up but groups like The Asylum who churn out dozens of mediocre "mock busters" and films like "Sharknado". Films that do not fail due to a lack of budget or ability from otherwise passionate film makers, but films that are purposefully made to be cheap and bad.
Genre mashes are not a bad thing, they work when written well. (Cowboy Bebop) But I think what we tend to see as Genre mashes today are more switching aesthetics than actual mashes. The aesthetics of Genre have long been mixed up with Genre itself; this is the reason some people don't believe me when I tell them that Kurosawa made westerns. Genre is a story structure and a set of story focuses, it is not "does the hero wield a six-shooter or a katana?". (And if it is where does that leave "The Samurai"?) What we call a Genre mashup now days is usually a genre wearing another genres clothing, very few of them really intertwine the structure of two genres. (Firefly looks like a western and is actually one in a few episodes but is mostly a Space opera in western clothing) Steampunk is an example of this, it isn't much of a genre in it's own right but a set of aesthetics applied to other genres. (Usually Sci-Fi, U-Chronia or Horror), Cyberpunk the same.

So my point is that sometimes it is nice to break the rules, but if your grasp on the rules is incomplete you are likely to just make a mess. Marvel have done a marvellous job making Superhero films that capture the genre in a way that many others do not, they are fast and fun and whilst simple for the most part are able to slide in some nice if not shallow social criticisms. (Ironman and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are the best examples) It is also why we have an explosion in young adult novel adaptations, as they often have very good holds on their genre and style. (Look at what happens when the film companies meddle with them too much, you get "The Golden Compass") Japan does very good pure Genre and mixed Genre shows, some even spawning their own Genres. (Neon Genesis Evangelion skirts between Transhumanist Scifi , Literary fiction and Surrealist Drama) They have been doing this for a very long time and do so with much less attachment to western trends. Most of their genres are born out of western comics, cartoons and literature imported post World War 2, but left in a strange cultural space between east and west something wondrous grows. Europe is the same, until recently trends in Sci-Fi in France or Germany were very different from trends in the US or UK, genre mixing was much more common with the Genres resembling their early 20th century versions up until the 1990s.
The ironic thing of course was, anime like Neon Genesis and Cowboy Bebop were in some part born of creators who believed that their medium was stagnating right at the same time the west was discovering the vibrancy of Japanese animation. The need to create new genres in a realm where genre is a much more rigidly enforced concept than in the West is at the heart of the total genre rewrite that Neon Genesis represented. This reason, much like with Guardian's success is also why we in the west respond to anime in the way we do. Very often it has a genre purity and simplicity that appeals to we who live in a world of four Michael Bay Transformers movies. (What are they? Sci-fi? Action? Adventure? Max Headroom style experiment in nano second advertising?) A friend of mine who is Japanese often bemoans lists of best/worst anime written by westerners because they are generally out of touch with what Japanese fans actually like. The visual novel School Days (スクールデイズ Sukūru Deizu?)often appears on worst lists of anime/manga written by western fans, but was very popular in Japan was the example given to me. (Primarily due to it's grizzly and brutal killings of it's characters)

Where does that leave us? Well besides me rambling.. It leaves us in a place I think that is slowly rediscovering the joy of Genres, the fact we have expectations when we watch stories (Based on Genre constructs in most cases) and sometimes we actually like them to be met.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Marvel keeps it fun: Guardians of the Galaxy

Since it's announcement, Guardians of the Galaxy has been seen as a huge risk for the currently successful Marvel studios. As the cinematic universe expands, and as the actors who made the universe popular become more famous (ie. Less likely to keep doing Marvel films) , the studio has had to add additional comic book franchises to its tent. Due to the joys of movie copyright, many of the obvious big name books are "stuck" with other studios who are unlikely to release these properties to Marvel/Disney. (X-men, Spider man and the Fantastic Four are all currently off limits) So Marvel took the gamble and have started to produce and plan films based on their less well known lines, after all they made Iron Man a household name when this project started.
The second big risk came from the choice of comic, Marvel's Cosmology is complex and often off-putting to even comic readers. The Guardians of the Galaxy are a basically unknown superhero team set in a weird 1970s sci-fi universe full of aliens and ancient gods. How would that go down?
Well a perfectly timed Hype machine and several well put together trailers later, apparently amazingly well. Once again a Marvel film does the ensemble cast well, something that so many other big budget films get wrong by making the film "the main character and his sidekicks". (It's almost always "his" before you point that out) The Avengers was perfect in this regard, creating solid roles for each of the main and even the minor characters.
The story follows Peter Quill, who nicknames himself "Star Lord", a galactic treasure hunter who was abducted from Earth as a child. While on a job to recover a mysterious ancient Orb for a client (with a good amount of double crossing of his partners) he is set upon by Gamora, daughter of the Mad Titan Thanos who is working for a rogue Kree warlord Ronin the Accuser. In the fight he is also attacked by Rocket and his houseplant/bodyguard Groot, bounty hunters looking to snag a high priced bounty put on Quill by his former allies. (As depicted in the previews) They all go to gaol where they meet a mad man named Drax who swears to kill Ronin for slaughtering his family. The aim is to escape and sell the orb and possibly save the Galaxy along the way.
It's hard to see how that synopsis would go down with a general audience who didn't know who Thanos was, what a Kree was or even may have a hard time accepting a character who is essentially a cybernetic Raccoon. But they do, and it works. Groot is now an internet phenom. Seriously, Groot.
Like all the Marvel titles to date Guardians takes itself exactly as seriously as it needs to, no more no less, it is a super hero movie and it is fun. It is also a great Sci-Fi film of the Space Opera Genre, the worlds it creates are solid and believable and created with some very well constructed mes-en-scene rather than confusing exposition. In fact the most expository parts of the film are quite fun, the now famous line up in gaol was a genius way of explaining just who and what these characters are. The action is also very smooth and has an almost totally absence of annoying cuts or cam shake. In fact these fight scenes are almost totally done straight up, some visual effects but no gimmicks and very good fight choreography. (Better than the choppy flat stuff in the Nolan Batman films and less overly choreographed than the Star Wars prequels)
But it is an ensemble character movie, and that is where it really shines. All of the characters are well fleshed out and have their moments in the spotlight. In fact I found Quill to be probably the most weakly developed character, with most of the development of his background tacked on at the end of the film. I feel a little too heavy handedly as well, his journey from rogue to planet saving hero is organic and works without stuff being awkwardly jammed in at the end.
To this date I don't think there has been a bad film in the Marvel franchise yet, a couple of average films but no bad ones. Guardians is defiantly at the good but not great end of the scale, its not at the heights of Iron Man or Captain America: The Winter Soldier , but it is light years (see what I did) ahead of the majority of Sci-Fi action flicks in terms of pacing, story and characters.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Do you know what day it is?

Today one of the most wonderful movies ever made, possibly the best US attempt at an unconscious  Jerry Cornelius film, "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension" turns 30.
On this hallowed occasion check out this awesome bunch of trivia: http://www.everythingaction.com/2014/08/10/buckaroo-banzai-vs-30th-anniversary-trivia/
Or go watch the movie, the whole thing is on Youtube so no excuses. (As well as most streaming services in countries that have those... sniff sniff)
Why? Because Jeff Goldblum in chaps that's why.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday once again, some delays expected

You know I coulda been a contender? :P
With life handing me setbacks to me getting this blog to the next stage I wanted it to get to, I thought I was back on track. I had three review/articles outlined to do and two more for "It rolled" and then...
Well then my primary HDD decided it would be awesome to drop dead on me. So currently operating with duct tape, hope and my old Win-7 box.
I hope to see Guardians of the Galaxy shortly, all the cool kids seem to be raving about it and and I am really interested to see the direction they are planning to go in. (Especially seeing how unexpectedly good Captain America: The Winter Soldier was)
Well speak soon!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I'm back baby!: Space Dandy (2014)

(I know a long absence, Japan and some unstable work stuff had all but halted my ability to do much else. I'd do the former again anytime, the later not so much...)

Egads I love that opening.
If you have been reading these typings for a while you will notice that I have certain predilections for genres, genre mashing and a distaste for the fan obsession with canon in fiction. It probably also would not surprise you that one of my favorite shows of all time (Not fave anime, fave show) is Cowboy Bebop. Currently I have my doubts that a better genre fusion show has been written in the east or the west to this date. The man behind Bebop was Shinichiro Watanabe , a giant of anime also responsible for Macross: Plus and one of the segments of the Animatrix. So Watanabe's newest project, Space Dandy, naturally peaked my interest.

The one thing that you need to know about Space Dandy, because I can hear you all clicking back on your browser reading this, is that is much smarter than its surface appearance and whacky name implies. Space Dandy is a genre satire of anime and genre fiction in general, hiding behind a mask of a female obsessed Elvis clone named Dandy.
The series outline is very simple; Space Dandy is a Dandy in Space. He is an elite alien hunter who tracks down unknown new aliens to catalog. He explores the galaxy in a ship called the Aloha Oi with his crew; a robotic vacuum cleaner named QT and a Betalgeusian named Meow due to his resemblance to a cat. (Something that annoys Meow no end, despite all the feline habits he constantly exhibits)
Now Dandy is a simple creature, he hopes to capture an ultra rare alien and hand it into the alien registration center for money to visit his favorite restaurant; a chain known as "Boobies". (A thinly veiled Hooters, complete with a Koala instead of an Owl, could be a language pun) Each episode usually follows this quest for money so that one day Dandy can visit all of the Boobies outlets in the universe. All the way he is pursued by the mysterious Dr Gel and the forces of the Gogol Empire for reasons that are utterly unknown.
How does this make for a show? The premise is simply an excuse to propel the clueless Dandy and his crew into genre bending adventures with no heed to inter-episode continuity or ongoing plot. The series in unapologeticaly episodic and has a visual style that hearkens back to pulp sci fi of the 1950s, all rocket ships and ray guns. In this way it pokes fun at the usual pattern of Anime, the trend towards shows being mysteries that the cover uncover whilst building towards a world shattering conclusion. Dandy has none of that, he is pursued by mysterious forces he is not aware of, and remains unaware of because they always fail due to dumb fortune. There is no grand plan, characters die only to reset back into place at the start of the next episode, the same waitress (Honey) seems to work at every Boobies in the Universe in a nod to Nurse Joy from Pokemon. (or is he visiting the same outlet constantly, that is the question) 
It is in fact very refreshing that each episode you watch is a self contained whole, the first episode is probably the only one the you could want to watch in order as it introduces the characters but really there isn't much additional information there other than why and how Meow is on board. In many ways the series seems like a deliberate stick in the eye of all the anime tropes coming out of Hideaki Anno's "Neon Genesis Evangelion"; the original puzzlebox anime. (I am going to write an article about "Captain Earth" soon, a show that manifests all the best and worst of the post Anno Anime) 
Helping along the gleeful reset button based comedy is a different animation director every episode, so outside the core cast the animation style of each episode varies dramatically. From straight forward conventional (and very high quality) anime style in episodes like ""A Merry Companion Is a Wagon in Space, Baby" to wildly surrealistic episodes like ""Plants Are Living Things, Too, Baby". (Yes all the episode titles end in Baby, just like all the Bebop episode titles were music references) 
The comedy is combination of schoolboy like J-humor tinged with many satirical references to other show or genre fiction. Surprisingly for an show whose main character is obsessed with women it has little "Fan Service" outside probably the first two episode, which even then is tame compared to most anime. In fact Dandy is a perennial letch like so many anime leads, but he never seems to actually want to do anything beyond ogle boobs and asses. He never even seems to consider that there is more that can be done than look at women.. (A social comment maybe?) 
The space stuff in the show is great, often bizarrely designed and in many cases function-less other than being a normal appliance "In Space". There are dozens of weird and bizarre alien designs every episode. But the treatment of technology is ultimately very contemporary, with Meow using space versions of Twitter and Instagram constantly and all of the high tech being about as reliable as modern computers. Space Dandy is very aware of it being a cipher for our modern times rather than a futurist prediction. 

Should you watch Space Dandy? Yes, absolutely. Some episodes fall a little flat but the majority are funny and clever chaos. It is rare to see a show in this day and age that actually is as freeform and whimsical as Dandy, even animated shows in the west seem to need a more serious edge to them to succeed. (Adventure Time or Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy the only in production western show I can think of that come close)
So if you want perhaps the funkiest show about at the moment, give it a try. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What I'm watching now: Jodorowsky's Dune (2013)

(A short absence, was in Japan again! As well as various real life dramas. Continuing without further ado...)

Sometimes there are works of art that are important not for their existence but their lack of existence; the unrealized, the destroyed and the unfinished. Art is ultimately something that struggles with the ephemeral nature of all things, so we are captivated more by that even more ephemeral art object; the great unfinished work.
Jodorowsky's adaptation of Dune is perhaps the most influential unfinished work of the later twentieth century cinema. It is a great unknown and has a legend that has echoed and overshadowed all subsequent attempts to adapt Herbert's Novel. In many ways it was the result of a near perfect storm that perhaps did not last long enough for the film to see completion. Jodo's great work will never be realized, an even if it was in some alternate reality and transported to our realm in a form we could watch, I am unsure any work could live up to the legend of Jodorosky's Dune.

The film lives in possibly the only way it can, in the form of a documentary produced in 2013 by film maker Frank Pavich that seeks to document the story of perhaps the greatest film never made. The film is ultimately a very nostalgic look at the pre production of the film, a process that took three years , cost $2million of the film's projected $9.5million dollar budget and never shot a foot of film. In some ways it is a little too nostalgic, not mentioning a number of key issues the project faced, but from the wonderful interviews with Jodorowsky it seems almost impossible to speak to the man and not be captured by his wide eyed, almost cult leader like, charisma and enthusiasm.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean film maker who came to great prevalence in the early 1970s for his two surrealist/existentialist films "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain". Jodo was the toast of avant-garde film-making in France and was offered financing for any project he desired, and as the clip above illustrates he wanted to do "Dune". At this stage Film was making its uneasy progression through the 1970s, scarred by Vietnam and the end of the Summer of Love. This was a time where Genre filmaking stood in the shadow of Kubrick's 2001 and had not yet discovered "Star Wars". Drug culture was settling into the mainstream which had yet to grow tired of the psychedelic hope that the 1960s had created. Jodo promised not just an Art film, not just a Science Fiction film, but like Kubrick a film that would change Cinema forever.

"Jodorowsky's Dune" is possibly the closest one will ever be able to come, practically, to seeing the film itself. Jodo and Jean Giraud (The comic artist known better as Moebius) spent the start of pre production creating a shot by shot storyboard and script that occupies a great tome that Jodorowsky gleefully displays during the documentary film. The documentary recreates several scenes from those story boards using Moebius's sketches in animated form with Jodo narrating, these sequences alone make the documentary worth the ticket price. The rest is gold as well, tales of courting Orson Wells and Salvidor Dali for the project, of flying Dan Obannon to Paris from the US and bringing the (sadly now late) Swiss artist HR Geiger to world prominence. We are also given insight into Jodorowsky's vision for film making though both him and the eyes of his Son (who featured in El Topo alongside his father and would have featured as Paul in Dune).

Now the 9.5million dollar (or $40million if you are Dino De Laurentiis) question that nerds on the internet and in fanzines of old would as is simple; would this have been the definitive version of the unfilmable novel we love so? The short answer as illustrated by this documentary would be; no it would not have been. If the question was "would this have been an amazing film based on the novel Dune?" then the answer would be it may have been. Like Kubrick's "The Shining", Jodo's "Dune" was very aware of its status as an adaptation. Jodorowsky even discusses this himself using a very inelegant metaphor, in short to love the novel and create the best film he could he would have to ravish it, to pillage and burn it so that his vision would rise like a phoenix. If you are a fan of the novels who disliked Lynch for having Paul make it rain at the end, well Jodo's ending left that in the dust. In fact so much of his proposed film wildly deviates from the original work, character names, place names, the Spice and some motivations alone remain. (Like Paul's conception being via a drop of blood because Leto was castrated, or the Emperor being so afraid of death that he has many robotic duplicates, or the total removal of the poison tooth scene, the ending and more...)

The future influence of Dune cannot be understated and the documentary does a great jobs of showing the other films that Jodo's failed film created via it's death. (Alien, Star Wars, Promethius a examples used that use ideas or designs from Jodo's film. In fact this documentary makes me more convinced that Avatar is a Dune Adaptation by stealth.) This documentary is a timeless recording of that most ephemeral artistic concept, the incomplete masterpiece, and one all fans of Genre film-making need to see.

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's Sunday somewhere right?

Hi everybody!
So a short one today because.. well life.
But for those of you with the inclination to like Tabletop RPGs do I have a story for you!
A friend of mine is running a Kickstarter for an Australian written and produced Role Playing Game and the initial art for the book looks amazeballs.
I mean seriously;

So if you want to support an Australian RPG which looks the business drop on over to:

Still to come: That Dune Documentary, some boardgame reviews (at last!) and my 13.79192934c on the doom that came to the Star Wars Expanded universe.
Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What I'm watching now: Frank Herbert's Dune (2000 mini series)

Next we come to the Sci Fi channel mini series version of Frank Herbert's Dune, directed and written by John Harrison. Just like the 1984 film adaption the 2000 mini series creates strong opinions in fans of the original novel, it is both applauded with doing so much with a limited budget and derided for poor effects work and pacing.
Much like many early drafts of the 1984 version, the mini series is a massive undertaking, clocking in at almost five hours long. In many ways it follows a similar path to the movie, it focuses very heavily on Paul's journey from man to messiah, but the extra screen length of the mini series format allows the motivations of other characters to be explored more fully. (Or does it? That's an issue I will get to below...)
Being a mini series we do need to look past issues of budget just a little, in 2000 CG was still very primitive and the huge battle sequences of the Lynch film could not be reproduced in any real way. The CG that is used is fine, and for the most part somewhat less effective than the model work of the original. Same with the acting, the talent gathered for a Sci Fi channel mini series was never going to be near the cast Lynch put together his for Dune. (Srsly Dean Stockwell, Patrick Steward, Sean Young, Max Von Sydow, Jürgen Prochnow etc etc etc) So I want to focus primarily on where this adaptation could improve on the film; script, plotting, pacing and communicating the complex narrative of the novel. The rest, FX, Costumes, sets are really low hanging fruit. 
John Harrison's adaptation is often held up as a more faithful version of Herbert's novel by it's fans; I'm not sure that is the exact word I would use. A more comprehensive adaptation maybe, but it suffers from many issues caused by the Transliteration of the text into another medium. While the plot of the novel is there, much of the dialogue has been reworked for a contemporary audience and to remove or explain some of the novel's more obscure and complex elements. The most glaring example I can think of is the begging, like Lynch the film starts in a slightly different spot and reorders the events pre departure for Arrakis. However if you cut the 1984 film's version's much debated Guild Navagator scene, Lynch's version is closer to the novel. Paul in fact starts the mini series complaining about his duty and how he never sees his father to Jessica, a scene that feels just odd in this particular universe. Alec Newman brings a much more leading man element to Paul in his depiction, as opposed to the awakening man child as depicted by Kyle MacLachlan, and this also does not sit well with the world. These little changes are littered throughout, from Princess Irulan visiting Arakkis and meeting Paul, to the almost totally removal (again) of the Fenrings as characters.
What rings even stranger is that many of the scenes (such as the Test of the Box) are almost shot for shot remakes of Lynch's scenes from the 1984 film and almost totally drained of any gravitas by very flat direction. The battle for Arrakine is almost totally non existent, a good choice as the series budget would not have been able to create the sort of battle scenes needed, but the few scenes of the battle we do see have a muzak version of Toto's score from the 1984 film under them. I'm not sure how deliberate these echoes back to the Lynch version are, but they are everywhere and always come of not quite as good.
The length allows Harrison to do very well by two very pivotal characters who are both in many ways better than their 1984 counterparts. The primary one is the Baron Harkonnan, who is given much more room to breath and exist in this version. His scheme to use the Emperor to rid himself of the Atredis and elevate his house (via Feyd) to its former glory is better presented and explained here. He is not simply an existential evil, he is a cunning an dangerous mastermind. Although even when this is going well, the poor direction of the series drags him down, such as the moments when he breaks the forth wall at various points. (Also what the hell is up with the pronunciation of Harkonnan? Lynch had Herbert on set so we can assume he got it right. So why change it when the version that had the author as a direct consultant and all other media seems to pronounce it the other way...?)  The other is the Lady Jessica who seems to just fade into the background after going into the desert in the film version. Jessica as a character is much more felt out, more proactive and intelligent. She is given much more to do and interacts with many characters to move the story outside of Paul's rise.
Many of the minor flaws could be overlooked, but the pace of the piece is just so glacial, something that I would forgive if it was in order to present the story more completely. But the story is changed, many things are still omitted and additional scenes are added. While this is a more complete telling of the story, it still isn't quite there.

Sunday post: Mornings of Futures Past

Ok, Dune miniseries review should be up tonight but I feel I need to post more regardless. (Especially as I now have a shiny new Keyboard) I'm about to totally nerd it up and play a "Call of Cthuhlu" LCG tournament, I think I shall write about it in my other space as I have neglected my tabletop gaming side this year so far...
But I leave you with some awesomeness from Youtube. Do you want to know how much the Japanese love gambling? Well the videos above were made for a Macross Pachinko machine, not a remake or Blu Ray remaster or anything, a Pachinko machine. They are *amazing* and make me more than a little teary with nostalgia for the series I rediscovered my love for last year.
Till later in the evening...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Technical difficulties

Do You know how important a space bar is to blogging? Very when you do it in English let me tell you. So my coverage of all things Dune was hampered this week by the deterioration of the quality of my keyboard, which eventually decided not to space entirly.
This topic has been a much more interesting one than I at first thought, Lynch's Dune honestly deserves a very detailed critical re-examining at some stage, one that puts it in context with other versions of Herbert's novel and Lynch's other works. (I'll be doing that briefly in these virtual pages but a more detailed examination could be done.)
To keep you all tidied over for the time being I managed to find a wonderful interview on Youtube with Lynch and Herbert just before the film was released. It actually confirms many of my own thoughts about the novel and film as well as getting to hear Herbet himself talk about the process of film adaptation. (And why Authors are often so bad at it, I'm looking at you King)

The Miniseries watch continues, amazingly I have been side tracked by another adaptation in Brain Fuller's "Hannibal" TV series which I am enjoying for the most part. (Especially as it does not simply ape "The Silence of the Lambs" in form or feel)

Type again (with spaces!) soon.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Aside: Sunday, The Tomorrow People and my second fave series returns for 2014

Hello readers. Real financially paying life has been busy so my posts are getting slower, something I am endeavoring to correct with some time off soon. (And then in Japan again, what a whirlwind)
First cab off the rank, still watching the Dune mini series. It is long and a little hard going in places, but I hope a review in the coming week along with a history of Dune and gaming.
Second a MASSIVE shout-out to the #freebabylon5 folks on twitter who have said lovely things about me and my reviews of the series. @mister_murphy1 , @crazydan9 , @anakaty831 and @doikea ありがとうございます!

This week I have also started seeing trailers for and hearing people talk about the US reboot of "The Tomorrow People". Currently I don't know what to think about it, I may give it a try if it starts to look promising and not just an Xmen homage wearing the title of a 70s UK sci fi show. Personally I am unsure if the lightning in a bottle that was the 1960s/1970s pop culture can ever be recaptured, as most reboots of classic shows seem to desperately attempting to demonstrate. For every BattleStar Galactica reboot, there is a The Prisoner reboot... The Tomorrow People itself is also a series very much at odds with the way we see the world now. It was a work of very optimistic transcendental humanism; a group of young people who represent humanities future in the stars. I'm not sure you could make a teenage action/adventure series where the main characters have special powers and a genetic predisposition against violence now days...

Now we tend to talk about Genre fiction around these parts and I have been remiss to not mention my second favorite show (This is my favorite) and current 300 pound gorilla of Television Genre fiction "Game of Thrones" as of yet. Primarily as everyone else on the tubes talks about GoTs and I tend to like steering the boat into less written about waters. But heck yes I am excited for the new season. Now one thing that has happened is that someone I know is in the new series, only a minor part but still awesome. She is an Adult entertainer and there seems to have been some fake controversy kicked up by click bait websites around the number of porn actresses that have been hired in the new series. Really in this series? You're upset that the Actor who appears nude in a scene may not keep their bits under their clothes the rest of the time? Who gives a crap to be honest, and Aeryn has done a very good job standing up to this low bar tabloid reporting. (Not to mention shithouse art criticism, something that we here at the Tomorrow's sound megaplex are dead against) So if you partake in that sort of online entertainment, show her some support. If you don't well, watch Game of Thrones anyway :P
In a second Porn related anecdote this week, and I forgive you if you are becoming worried that this blog is becoming all porn all the time, I managed to geek out on Twitter this week with a Japanese Porn Star over the Walking Dead finale. She replied and everything! Twitter is something I need to write about, it is a very unique and often easily discounted internet thing.
Until next time folks!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What I'm watching now: Dune (1984)

It is infamous, the final realization of Dino De Laurentiis's attempts to bring Frank Herbert's novel to screen. After Ridley Scott left the project in favor of Blade Runner De Laurentiis turned to young up and coming director David Lynch to helm his project. For Lynch this would be his second big feature after the acclaimed "Elephant Man", all his previous films being produced independently. This would be Lynch's first, and only, attempt to make a big Hollywood blockbuster popcorn epic. (Lynch had also been reportedly offered directorship of Return of the Jedi at about the same time)
It would be simple to write Dune off as suffering from an inexperienced director, or the wrong director for the project. Lynch himself has stated that he had not read the novel beforehand and had little real interest in Sci Fi, so this would all make sense right? If Jodorosky or Scott had have been behind this project, crisis would have been averted and the unfilmable would have been made possible, right? I'm not so sure.
It is important to remember that a film of a book or comic is an adaptation of that work. Two very important things about adaptations, first; the linguistic components of different mediums require them to be handled in different ways between versions. Dune the book will be different from Dune the Comic, or the Role Playing game, or the Computer game or the Movie; in the same way as a photograph of a tree is different than a drawing of the same tree and is different than a text description of said tree.  (and is different from the Tree itself)
The second (as I mentioned in the article on canon) is that the author has influence over the work. Adaptations are in many ways the authors reaction to the source material, it will focus on the aspects of the source material that the author found engaging. The Shining is Kubrick's reaction to the novel, it is different because it is reflected through his eyes as a film maker. Slavish adaptations tend to be very dry and lack personality or subtext, see Snyder's insipid version of "Watchmen" or Chris Columbus's two Harry Potter films. (The first two, not bad films but they lack the energy and depth of Cuaron's "Prisoner of Azkaban"a film which which made me a Potter believer)
So Lynch reacts to Dune as a non Sci Fi fan reacting to an unfilmable work of literary Sci Fi...
Which in many ways made him a perfect fit, Herbert disliked the trappings of his genre and added various concepts to his story that would frustrate technologically based storytelling. (The Butlarian Jihad, Sheilds etc) Lynch also has an interest in transcendentalism and surrealism; dreams, meditation and transformation of the self through these things were aspects of the novel he focused on when putting the screenplay together.
The scope of the story was one of the aspects that made it such an "unfilmable" work, it is a story with dozens of moving parts and concepts not explained directly in dialogue. As I mentioned last time, the other great unfilmable work was "The Lord of the Rings", due to it's length and the production requirements. When Peter Jackson finally produced the filmic version he stated that he only wanted to tell one story, that of Frodo and the ring. The story was pruned (despite still taking over six hours to tell) and the focus moved to that central plot arc. Lynch's Dune is the same, as I suspect Jodorosky's and Scott's would have been as well. (And for those who think we never saw Scott's, think again) Lynch would focus on the ascension of one man, Paul Atredies, to demi godhood via dreams, meditation and the mind altering Spice.
Still even Lynch's version reportedly was looking to be close to three hours long, just as the script De Laurentiis had commissioned Herbert to write would have been. This issue was resolved in a couple of ways, Lynch was not given final cut on the film, an introductory monologue would be added and voice over narration would be added as well to expedite storytelling.
So does this film work? In hindsight that is a very complex question. Lynch is a very good film maker, a great vision filmmaker and a great director of actors. The production design is almost universally fantastic, so striking in many places that it has shaped the way the novel is visualized ever since. Lynch's Dune is a Baroque Diesel-punk vision, a decaying feudal universe that lacks silver or chrome or neon. The soundtrack from Brian Eno and Toto is orchestral and evocative, even today I am unable to read or watch anything related to the franchise without the soundtrack playing in the back of my head. There are sequences of the film, particularly early on, that quite well explain the setting and characters. (Although the opening sequence with the Emperor and the Guild is a little redundant, it puts a little too much focus on the Emperor's assistance to Baron Harkonan which could have come out organically via the story) However once the story shifts to Arakis and the fall of house Atredies the story speeds up and becomes a little disjointed. Lynch is workman like with the large battle sequences, they are not badly done and some of the sequences are quite striking, but he is not a director of cinematic action and it shows. For Lynch violence is not cinematic, it is visceral and emotional, in all his work he puts a particular exclamation on violence in order to make the audience uncomfortable. (Because I suspect, he feels it should) He notably makes the "Weirding way" a combat technique using sound and motion rather than one of extreme body control because he did not want to do a film featuring "Kung Fu on sand dunes". Violence for Lynch is an emotional story element, seen especially in the deaths of many of Paul's allies during the attack on Arakine. The Harkonnen's brutality is highlighted as lynch wants us to feel the desire for revenge that Paul feels and that is part of Paul's ascension. The journey of Paul Atreides to Maud'dib is what is important here, the Harkonnen motivations and machinations are simplified to provide bloody fuel for this story. While I do generally disagree with Critics who cite the Baron Harkonnen as an indication of Homophobia on the part of Lynch, that aspect of the character was ported almost directly from Herbert's novel and not focused on anywhere near the extent that Lynch often does focus on the psycho-sexual aspects of characters. It seems to be there to a small extent as a nod to the character's motivation in the novel. Lynch did make the Baron a much more manic villain than the novel calls for, but again this is part of Lynch's emotive subtext; we see Baron Harkonnen as Paul sees Baron Harkonnen.

Dune is a film whose elements add up to a good film, but not a great film, and this is where the disappointment in it comes from. Its parts are much greater than its whole, it has no shortage of acting talent, the effects are mostly very good (not quite at the levels ILM were at, but close), the script is strong. The changes to the story are not devastating, and in many cases seem necessary to tell the story in the confines of a two hour film. Something about the project does mesh though, if that is down to Lynch or Producer Rafaela De Laurentiis (who had final cut) will probably never be known. Dune is probably a story too large for a two hour film, and sadly was made in a day were the possibilities of sequels was yet to be understood. We know Lynch's cut would have been longer, Herbert's version of the script as well, the project I feel is damaged by the complex story being truncated into a summer blockbuster format. We get something that pleases neither the general cinema goer nor the Dune fan boy, so is regarded as a failure by history. Longer cuts do exist, but they are generally cobbling together material that was on the cutting room floor for a reason. So many of the "extra" scenes added to the three hour Alan Smithe cut are first takes or rehearsals, many scenes are lengthened needlessly. (Such as one where there is fully 10 seconds of Pieter DeVris and a Harkonnen guard dragging Dr Yui's body out of a room while the camera sits locked off. Yes editing often makes scenes shorter for a reason!) It is possible that a good editor could make a workable longer cut of the film, but Lynch's lack of interest seems to preclude that ever happening.
Many internet people are very critical of the film due to its deviation from the novel, a line of argument I find to be more than a little lazy. The film has genuine issues of tone and story telling, but these are more complicated then "The Sadukar suits are silly" or "The Baron's Doctor was not a character in the novel". Being more slavish and accurate to Herbert's novel will do almost nothing to fix the fact that the excellent elements of the film fail to come together in the final product.
So do we praise or bury Lynch's Dune? A little bit of both, perhaps Lynch was not the director to bring this to screen. The mantel of "big event film" director does not sit on his head well and perhaps this was just not the project for him? The format demanded by De Laurentiis, a single two hour motion picture, could also be to blame. Maybe as Frank Herbert (who for the most part enjoyed the movie) was correct in seeing that the point of the novel was missed in this adaptation, it is not the story of man becoming a god but a man playing at being god.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A potted history of Dune

Much of what we today see as Genre fiction matured in the 1960s, the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy and the Spy thriller were transmuting via singular creations into the genres we know, read and watch today. (Horror had done half of it's metamorphosis in the 20's with Lovecraft, much of the modern genre is based on those who drew from him in the 1970s; King, Campbell etc)  Speculative fiction was a divided genre before the 60s, between Hard Science fiction and the pulpier realms of Space Opera (a descriptor for "bad" sci fi up until the 70s), the schlock of the "Creature feature" and Planetary Romance (Edgar Rice Burroughs is the most classic example of this). What we think of as fantasy fiction was not a genre in an of itself, Sword and Sorcery was just a sub genre of Speculative fiction and a lot of Planetary Romance and Space operas contained extensive elements we today would call "Fantasy". "The Lord of the Rings" started to gain a lot of popularity in the 1960s and helped the Fantasy genre crystallize more as it's own entity with this popularity, and while Hard SF quite happily moved along at it's own pace the rest of the Speculative fiction genre would be transformed in the same was as Sword and Sorcery would be. In 1963 Frank Herbert would start serializing Dune in Analogue magazine as "Dune World" and "Prophet of Dune". Herbert's work was a distillation of the Planetary Romance genre tinged with the growing literary sophistication that Genre fiction was gaining. Herbert very distinctively puts the Science of Science fiction in the back seat to sophisticated societies and characters much in the way Heinlein had in "Stranger in a Strange land" and "Glory Road". Indeed instead of a technological advance, Dune focused on the development of the human body and mind as its Sci Fi anchor. This aspect, along with its mix of eastern mythology and mysticism almost guaranteed it success in the late 1960s.
The version of the book cover above is the one I came to know as "Dune" as a child and eventually reading as a Teenager. It is one of the most uniquely written novels, in both its style and prose, in the canon of science fiction. Even Herbert's later Dune novels do not manage to capture the feel of the original novel whose concepts and sophisticated narrative structure caused many to deem it unfilmable. Like "The Lord of the Rings", "Dune" was a great holy grail of film making, many would try and many more would fail utterly to adapt it. While Tolkien's work would eventually see a successful adaptation in the digital age, Dune is still without what could be called a "successful" adaptation to another medium.
In many ways Dune was an even more difficult task than "Lord of the Rings". While LotR's scale and length posed a difficulty that was eventually overcome, Dune was not just a matter of special effects or story length. The structure of the novel itself; the number of characters, plots and ideas make it an incredible task to adapt to film or other visual medium. (The book has a Glossary for example, as many concepts are not explained as part of narrative. An impossibility especially as film making has become less articulate not more over the decades)
Attempts to make a filmic version of Dune started in 1971 before passing into the hands Alejandro Jodorowsky. Jodorowsky's failed attempt is as legendary for its ambition as it was for its outlandish cost and cast. Three years in pre production and the project fell apart, the rights being picked up by Dino De Laurentiis. De Laurentiis made several attempts to get the project off the ground, penciling in Ridley Scott to direct at one point. Finally the De Laurentiis adaptation saw screen in David Lynch's hands, and was a critical and commercial failure. Herbert wrote sequels up until Chapterhouse Dune in 1985. 2000 saw a new adaptation by the Sci Fi network, this time a television mini series. The First two sequel novels were adapted by Sci Fi in 2003 as Children of Dune.
Frank Herbert's son Brian has penned a number of sequels and prequels based on his father's notes since 1999, to considerable commercial and mixed critical success. Paramount attempted to get another film adaptation off the ground in 2008, but after being stuck in development hell for three years the project was dropped in 2011.

So next time we will be looking at the first adaptation to make it to screen, 1983's epic flop by David Lynch/Alan Smithie. How bad was it? Why did it go wrong? Are the alternate cuts any better? Stay tuned to this filmbook next week and see....

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Momentary lapse of reason

Well a short absence sadly and back despite a 3rd world internet connection trying its hardest to make me want to become an information Luddite.
This week we will return to our normally scheduled programing; an overview of the many attempts to bring Frank Hebert's seminal novel Dune to screen. That will be followed up by reviews and comparison of the David Lynch version, the Sci Fi channel mini series and the never made Jodorowsky version. (Via the documentary with luck) Also a little something gaming related over at It Rolled from the Dining table... (It may actually involve that computerized gaming that the kids do nowdays)
So sit back and enjoy as we return to normal broadcast.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What I'm Watching Now: Babylon 5 (The story continues and conclusions)

In many ways season 5 of Babylon 5 had a different feel from it's proceeding seasons. While seasons 1 to 4 were rocketing towards a building conclusion, season 5 felt (as I mentioned last time) much more open and unresolved. That was because network changes had opened the possibility of spinning the series off into a franchise much in the same way "Star Trek the Next Generation" had been. Season 5 was very much "Book 2, Chapter 1" in the Babylon 5 franchise; it had a new villain (The Drakh), new characters and a new direction set in the same universe.
After the series conclusion TNT network produced and released four Babylon 5 TV movies and started work on the first spin off "Crusade". Over the past few weeks I have watched the four movies, Crusade may be on the cards for a later date and will get it's own article if I do. The movie quality was actually much better than I remember...

Movie 1: In the Beginning
I remember this one being incredibly anticipated at the time of its release, and it doesn't disappoint for the most part. The story of the Earth/Minbari war reuses a fair bit if footage from the series but adds enough extra material to make it a very worthy watch. The SFX production is some of the best the franchise has done, with the battle of the line a truly epic event. (We are talking hundreds of ships on screen at once) Some of the story additions are a little suspect as is often the case with prequels, Sheridan, Franklin and G'kar going on a secret mission, meeting a Ranger and getting captured by the Minbari for example probably would have changed the way the characters interacted in the Season 2 opener. (Like I'm pretty sure Franklin acted like he was meeting Sheridan for the first time in that ep)
 But it is a well paced and interesting story despite being one who's great secret (The reason for the Minbari surrender) is well covered by the series. Enough other character moments are in there to keep it entertaining, allowing the viewer to look past the inevitable nature of the story's resolution. The movie is framed in a wonderful way as well, the story is told by Londo to two children in the Centari royal court as he awaits seeing Sheridan and Delenn (and G'kar) during the flash forward in Season 3's "War without end" 

Movie 2: Thirdspace
The second movie is a stand alone adventure focusing on the themes of ancient Lovcraftian horror in the Babylon 5 universe. What makes it doubly awesome is that all the alien designs were done by Wayne Douglas Barlowe , possibly my favorite Sci Fi artist. It's a good solid SF story, and it is also good to see Ivanova back on screen (she has a tiny part in In the Beginning as well) in a major way. Sheridan also preempts Picard in the Next Gen movies by boarding and destroying the evil super weapon at the end.

Movie 3: River of Souls
River of Souls is a weird one, and not a film I had good memories of. On a re-watch many years later it actually stands up better than I remembered it. A story expanding on the Soul Hunters of the first season of B5 this film not only features Martin Sheen but also Ian McShane (TV's Lovejoy and Al Swearengen from Deadwood) who really does steal the show. This is also very much a debut for the "Nu Crew" of the station, with Garabaldi the only old main cast appearing as himself. (Franklin appears in a vision had by Lochley)

Movie 4: A Call to Arms
Effectively the pilot for the spin off "Crusade", A Call to Arms is a very odd movie. No strictly bad, but it has a very different feel than the series and movies that came before it and I do feel that is to it's detriment. It follows John Sheridan, aged and still president, stealing the new Alliance battleship Excalibur (From the alliance) to combat an attack on Earth by the Drakh who have deployed the only remaining Shadow Planet Killer to the task. New incidental music, a very different style of direction and editing as well as a new cast of characters. (Of which two and one minor character make the jump to Crusade) As a movie it lacks a lot of the tension that Babylon 5 was able to create at its high points, and I'm not sure if that is the writing or the new score's fault.

"A Call to Arms" was the set up for the first spinoff series "Crusade". It ends with the Drakh spreading a plague over the Earth causing it to be quarantined. The highly advanced plague will kill all human life on Earth in 5 years, setting up for the Yamatoeque quest of the Crusade TV series.
(The sadly ill fated TV series, as it got almost half a season..)

There have been two other Spin off attempts over the years, currently nether has been successful at getting Babylon 5 back on Television. Legend of the Rangers was a pilot that failed to get picked up, depicted a rag tag crew of Rangers facing off against a mysterious foe "The Hand" aka the aliens from Third Space. While the Ranger series is a nice idea, the idea of a "rag tag bunch of underdogs" who also are part of an elite quasi religious order didn't hang together well imho. (That and the really stupid VR battle bridge that the ship had, that required the helm officer to punch and kick to fire ship weapons. No wonder that class of vessel was discontinued)

The third and most recent was "Babylon 5: The Lost Tales" a pair of short episodes set in the B5 universe. The Lost tales aren't bad, but they are low budget and sit strangely in the continuity of the show. Like all the attempted spin offs the Lost Tales lack the dynamic tension that Babylon 5 was able to build up over its first four seasons.

Currently there are no concrete plans for more Lost Tales or other B5 spin offs, there is a strong online campaign; Free Babylon 5, to get the original series back on Television. Babylon 5 is a bit of an unremembered precursor to today's very cinematic television, along with Twin Peaks and the X files it was part of Genre TV's coming of age in the early 1990s. The multi season story arc, the "5 year plan" and the heavy use of foreshadowing as a dramatic device were very much introduced to genre TV though Babylon 5. Shows like Lost, Breaking Bad and Battlestar Galactica have very much followed in the footsteps of Babylon 5.

I for one hope that we see more shows in the Babylon 5 universe in the coming years, we already have a large comic book, roleplaying game and novel based universe to fill in all the gaps of the original series but one longs to see Babylon 5 revisit the small screen again. At this stage 20 years on the main cast is probably too old, and has a number of notable absences now, for a direct sequel to the series. But I for one would not object to something "Next Gen" style, some time in the future in a new universe. Very much what Legend of the Rangers was going for, but a little more grounded in presentation. At the very least a remastered version of the series would be amazing.

Till next time

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Night

Hey hey all you readers in interweb land.
So I have decided to do Dune (two and a half versions) as the next series, should be an interesting ride through cinematic almosts.
My time is tight over the next fortnight as I am working on a monstrous Roleplaying project that will be run as part of a weekend event for Caligo Mundi. So my typing will be largely diverted to my game "The Oni's Smile" over that time. But I do intend to finish off the Babylon 5 series with an overview article on the movies and spin offs. (Watch this space)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Sunday Sunday (What do you want me to watch and write about?)

It's been a few weeks, definitely a period of time has passed. I have one chapter, an appendix if you will, to the Babylon 5 review series to come and then I'll be looking for more things to watch should life be kind and give me the time.
So teetering a bit on what I should do as a "What I'm watching now" next, any suggestions? With the documentary on Jodorowsky's Dune hitting DVD soon I was thinking of that as the next series. (Lynch's, the mini series and then the doco) But totally open to suggestions as always. Just remember I usually do season by season or version vs version reviews, I just don't have the time to do episode by episode recaps at this moment in time. (Provide me with an alternate source of revenue and then we can talk though :P) More when inspiration strikes!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Babylon 5 Reviews listed

So I have finished the great Babylon 5 rewatch, a grande endeavor it was as well. In fact my admiration for the show has only grown after watching it almost half a decade after the last time I had. I am going to do a short appendix on the various spin offs next week, no plans to do an *actual* rewatch of Crusade yet but have been watching the movies again.
For ease of reference (esp since this project started in December) here is a list of all five season reviews.

Season 1: Signs and Portents
Season 2: The Coming of Shadows
Season 3: Point of no return
Season 4: No surrender, No retreat
Season 5: The Wheel of fire
Crusade and the Television movies

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What I'm watching now: Babylon 5 (Season 5: The Wheel of Fire)

Well it's time for the season that almost wasn't, season 5. The great lesson of Babylon 5 is that while sticking to the plan is tricky it is ultimately rewarding. As I've already mentioned JMS had a series of trapdoor contingencies for actors and plots, these small changes were really just course correction elements, the plan ultimately unchanged. (For example Sinclair left and Sheridan was shifted into his role. Sheridan then went on to do the stuff Sinclair would have done had Micheal O'hare stayed on with the series.) The existential crisis that truncated season 4, the fact that the WB was in financial distress and was likely to cancel the series, broke the 5 year plan. JMS was forced to wrap up the primary story arcs in year 4, effectively putting much of the fifth season out of the scope of the five year plan. Other things changed as well, Babylon 5 was a hit so the series was not only granted a fifth year but a chance to do more on another network. Four telemovies were commissioned and a spin off series for the TNT network was put into motion as well, so season 5 is in many ways a launch pad for the ill fated Babylon 5 spin offs as much as it is a conclusion to the show.
Before I go on with the inevitable Season 5 bashing (you all know it's gonna happen) there is one thing about this season I have to commend. My favorite title sequence of the whole series. It is a great final season title, looking back at the whole series it never fails to make me a little fluttery inside hearing Koch say "And so it begins" at the start of each episode...

Season 5 sadly is a game of disappointing expectations, picking up on two major plot threads that were left dangling at the end of season 4. These plots neatly divide the season into two major arcs, the second one I actually quite like. The first is the foreshadowing of the Telepath war, represented by the character of Byron. Byron is a rogue telepath who attempts to set up a colony of human Telepaths free of the Psy-corp on Babylon 5. (Needless to say this does not go well) I remember during the first run of the series just disliking the character, as many online did at the time. On this rewatch I actually found the character quite confusing, it is difficult to figure out just how we are supposed to feel about him and his quest. Byron is depicted as a quasi messianic figure surrounded by a largely silent group of followers, in many ways his plight is sympathetic, but in many other ways it has all the classic hallmarks of a cult. His people almost never talk, only communicating via telepathy, they are devoted to him unto death, they shun support from Dr Franklin when offered, and they do everything to exclude themselves from the rest of the human race. When learning of the true origins of Telepaths from Lyta (that they are all engineered by the Vorlons as weapons against the Shadows) he decides it is vital they press his wish for a home world for Telepaths, so they scan and try to blackmail all of the alien ambassadors. Naturally this goes badly but is an incredibly malicious act for a peace loving character to perform especially in a series that has noted how dangerous and traumatic unauthorized scans can be. The story is obviously supposed to be, man with good intentions goes bad for the sake of his ideals. But the creepy cultish nature of Byron's Telepaths goes someway towards subverting that reading. Not only that, to make the plot work they have to tweak the way Telepaths have worked in the past. If you saw this season in isolation you would almost think that no other races had Telepaths apart from humans, even though it was established in the pilot that the Narn wanted Telepath DNA to breed Telepaths to give them a defense against exactly the sort of thing Byron was planning to do! So if G'kar was afraid of this military use of Telepaths (and it's also been established that Centari Telepaths do this sort of thing for cash) why don't all the governments already have something in place to stop this sort of casual surface scanning to get secrets? Seeing as it is an established "thing" in this universe?
It probably also doesn't help Byron that his uncertain writing is paired against Walter Koenig's brilliant Alfred Bester. Of all of the series guest stars, Bester is the most consistently well written and performed and Koenig is really able to sell his character's unwavering faith in his own ideology so well that you can't really be blamed for rooting just a little for his bloodhound units as they hunt the "blips" on B5...
The other big and rather disappointing addition is Captain Lochley, with the departure of Ivanova at the end of Season 4 a new captain was needed for the station as she was the logical successor to the now President Sheridan. Lochley sadly is little more than a clone of Ivanova, a tough no nonsense female officer who we aren't given quite enough time to get to know. She very much feels like she is filling in an empty place on the show rather than bringing anything new, even her deep dark secret isn't all that deep or dark. (Would have been much more interesting if she had fought for Clarke's side during the war as was a red herring) Because she is new she gets little development in the season's much better second half, as most of that action is focused on the Alliance and bringing the more established characters to resolution.
The second half of the series, the titular Wheel of Fire, is for the most part very well paced and plotted. It is the sad tale of the fall on Londo Mollari and Centari Prime that had been hinted since Season one and in my opinion was probably originally intended to run somewhat parallel the war with earth as the series final chapter. The only issue in my mind occurs is when JMS attempts to tease the proposed follow up series "Crusade", leaving several elements of the story unresolved. The second last episode "Objects at rest" is very bad for that. First we get Lenir, hurt from watching his beloved Delenn marry Sheridan, commit the most pissweak "betrayal" I can recall. (After it being foreshadowed earlier in the season) He decides not to help Sheridan during an engine room accident on the White Star, leaves but then thinks best of it and comes back, only to run away again. Betrayal needs some malice to it, and this really was lacking much emotion besides the formally fine character having a bit of a tantrum. Also supremely frustrating is the final scene with Londo visiting Minbar. The tragedy of his last visit, him hoping that he could get drunk with his friends so he could share what he knew about the Drakh's secret conquest of Centari Prime, only to be hit by the fact that the Minbari can't consume Alcohol. Tragic and brilliant, less so with the cliff hanger that the scene leaves us on. Londo delivers a urn for Delenn and Sheridan's first born containing a Drakh keeper, the results of which we never learn because it's the last episode besides "Sleeping in the Light". It's a blatant "watch Crusade to see what happens" ending.
This season also includes the intended ending for season 4 "Sleeping in the Light", the very last episode in the Babylon 5 story. It is set 19years in the future with Sheridan facing his final demise after being resurrected by Lorian on Za'Ha'dum. It's an ok episode, really a prolonged goodbye to the series and its characters and little more. It seems a little out of joint after season 5, as many of the plot developments (like Lochley not being there) seemingly forgotten about. The glaring one is what happened to their son and the Keeper? Is Centari Prime still full of Drakh? Did the Centari rejoin the alliance under Vir? What happened in the Telepath War? What Happened to Lenir? All things that may not have been asked if this episode proceeded season 4, but vital questions after season 5 as they had just spent 21 episode making us care about these events.
Sadly Season 5 is a bit of a sour note for the series, it has some great elements in it but for some reason is just incapable of pulling them together.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday post

Holy crap.

Dempagami.inc is an all girl Denpa band from (you guessed it) Japan who are famous for their cover of the Beastie Boy's classic "Sabotage"
You can read more about that here.
The video above is Dempagami.inc staring in their very own 70s style moustachioed cop show set in San Fransisco. Seriously, Hollywood, why the fuck are you bothering with Batman vs Superman when this could be made into a film. *Sigh* Priorities people. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

So, I think the world is now ready for Jerry Cornelius

(B5 will be back soon, Season 5 is proving to be harder to binge watch...)

I wrote a mostly coherent series of articles not too long ago about the death of canon in popular genre fiction. One of the things that motivated that introspection was my dissatisfaction with the current state of one of my favorite franchises; Doctor Who. I came to realize that it was ok that the Nu Who was not the same as the Classic Who that I love so much. Texts do not have an obligation to remain consistent with texts written by different authors on the same topics/characters.
The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who gave us a couple of things to digest, first a quite furious debate about who should be Matt Smiths replacement, and a (in my mind) cementing of the fact that this Doctor Who is a distinct character in many ways from the one I grew up with.
I have spoken to many fans who the Nu series, many who have not seen the Classic series and like Doctor Who for their own distinct reasons. My view of the Doctor has always been as a low level but heroic cosmic meddler, he enters situations as the outsider who is distrusted but perseveres though wit and genius. He is not a character with many "powers" beyond his intelligence; (a trait I like in my heroes, I admire Sherlock Holmes for the same reason) , his mentalism is minor, he can regenerate his body (although that is never really used as a plot point) upon extreme injury, he has a respiratory bypass system (ie he can hold his breath a long time) and of course the Sonic Screwdriver. Even the TARDIS is rarely used as a plot point in Classic Who, it is more a gateway to the story for the Doctor and his companions. Naturally these are played up more in the Nu series, in particular the Regeneration and Sonic Screwdriver. The Nu Doctor is a Pansexual lonely Messiah, who appears in all places and all times. He is not a character who generally needs to gain credibility from the people he meets as he has a reputation that proceeds him. (He more often than not now needs to deal with people's fear of him or the Time Lords)
Now this is my opinion which holds just as much authority as any other person with too much time, a keyboard and a net connection; but I think the character that Nu Who fans want subconsciously is not the Classic Doctor at all. It's Micheal Moorcock's Eponymous anti-hero Jerry Cornelius.
Now I love Jerry Cornelius, he is one of my most favorite literary constructs, Moorecock's eternal champion work boiled down into one insanely cool entity. I and many actually good authors have used him or aspects of him in derived works as Moorecock put the character out there as a sort of open source protagonist. (Although he did take exception to Grant Morrison's Gideon Stargrave for following his formula too closely. I'm unsure if he was right there...)
We now live in the age of the Internet, of mashups, gender swaps and a movement towards a more inclusive and plastic popular culture. The retelling of The Hobbit with a total gender swapped cast gaining attention is a peak indication that this phenomena is starting to become very much part of the culture.
Cornelius as a character is all that and a bag of crisps, in fact I can think of few better poster children for the neo-plastic popular culture that we now see ourselves moving into. Cornelius is gender morphing, non bound by sexuality, time and dimension mobile and a Messianic avatar of the time he is written in. Most of the most famous works in his series are very heavily steeped in the 1960s and 70s, hence the characters often seen connection to the drug culture of the time. The Cornelius of the classic quartet of novels is still a little out there even for today's fan, the reoccurring masochistic and incestuous relationship with his sister Catherine for example. But the metafictional Jerry Cornelius finds popular culture gravitating towards him, Moorcock even included a more distinctly feminine reflection of Cornelius in his work in the character of Una Persson who would not only appear as Jerry's lover but often would best him for the affections of Catherine. (In "The Condition of Muzak" for example)
It would seem Cornelius is a character who's time has come as "he" already has so many of the aspects that fans want in a fictional character. The plasticity to fit into any place and time, to be anyone. Much in the same way at the Doctor is seen as a great post modern character, though he is shackled by decades of canon and fan expectation. (Hense why the female Doctor thing tends to spark passionate debate on the intertubes. Something John Nathan Turner joked about to vex die hard fans in the 1980s still vexes today)
So as pop culture moves away from its segmented origins and becomes one greater meta-plastic mess of fiction, crossovers, swaps and switches, it is time for Jerry Cornelius.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sunday post so late it's Monday!

Did anyone mention it was hot? The fact that my PC is in a hotter part of the house seems to slow my posting during Melbourne's recent heat, I still can't write properly on a mobile device. But the lounge and the big n'cheap TV is air conned so much watching has been done. Babylon 5 season 5 is almost done, it's been a hard slog I have to say. Binged "Orange is the New Black" Season 1 and was indeed very pleasantly surprised; proof that Americans can do black comedy well.
What's for this week? Well hopefully finish B5 so I can move onto the Movies, writing another gaming project that will consume my time and energy too soon after that last, and more stuff for the gaming blog is on the way :)
Thanks for the patience and the response to the B5 reviews, your clicks keep me writing stuff.

Friday, January 31, 2014

What I'm watching now: Babylon 5 (Season 4 No surrender, No retreat)

By 1996 Babylon 5 was a moderate success for WB and after it's initial stumbling with casting it had established itself as a major Sci-fi television serial. It had received several Hugo awards as well as Emmys for special effects, make up and cinematography. However the network was in trouble financially and JMS had the impression that the series would not be renewed after the 1996-97 season. So he decided to truncate the last two chapters of the story into one season and even ended up shooting the series finale as part of this production block. To achieve this he also performed a task not done before in television, he wrote the entire 22 episode season himself.
Now with the hindsight of history, we know that Babylon 5 got it's fifth season, but at the time JMS was faced with the possibility of his epic space opera ending a chapter short. The Shadow war, which had been building for the better part of three seasons, is wrapped up very quickly (and many think disappointingly) in the seasons first six episodes. It would seem that the nature of that major storyline's conclusion would not have been altered greatly by running the full season, more time would likely have been devoted to making the Vorlons work as villains and setting up the highly Moorcockian ending to the great war. (Humanity rejecting the gods of the past)
One of the features that JMS always boasted about in writing B5 was the concept of a "Trapdoor", and out that he had for every major character should the actor leave. He had a plan to replace any character should it become necessary and indeed several of those Trapdoors game into play as the series moved on. The one biggest criticism I can think of for the narrative of the Shadow war's final act would be the presence of the Gandelf like Lorien, a character that seemed to be the "Trapdoor" for the Shadow War's ending. Lorien is an unspeakably ancient alien who predates the Vorlons and Shadows; who acts as the principle catalyst in moving the Shadow War to its conclusion. While as a concept he may have been in JMS's original story draft, in this truncated season the character comes off as a heavy handed mcguffin who appears with little precedent to dispense answers to the plot. I have no issue at all with the philosophical ending of the War, I quite like it in principle in fact, Lorien just seemed like too elegant a solution. Especially for a series that often deliberately avoided that sort of solution. It's not to say the ending of the war is a total waste, Londo and Vir on Centari prime is a storyline that makes every minute of the first six episodes worth it. Once again Peter Jerasik, Andre Katsulous and Stephen First steal the show as they grapple with the Caligulaesque Centari Emperor Cartagia. G'kar is captured while trying to locate Mr Garabaldi, and is used by Londo as a vehicle in a plot to Assasinate the mad Emperor. All great stuff, and would have worked amazingly well at the end of the season. Sadly after the Shadow War's conclusion these three characters tend to drift a bit with nothing to do, awaiting the conclusion of Londo's destiny that would have happened in Season 5.
The remainder of the season is devoted to the civil war with earth and Sheridan's effort to liberate earth from the despotic President Clarke. As I mentioned last time, this plot arc skirts some topics and ideas that would not be possible on television after 11/9/2001. Issues of state torture, propaganda, fascism , warmongering and scapegoating "the other" all feature predominantly in this plot arc. With the heavily cut down nature of the Shadow plot arc, the Earth civil war is given much more time to breath and seems to be presented largely as intended. I personally suspect that many of the events that occur with Londo and the "legacy" of the Shadows would have originally concurred with this story arc as part of Season 5. (It makes a lot of sense as both Londo and G'kar seem stuck "between" plots a fair bit in Season 4 and 5, and the series uses that space to turn them into a slightly comic paring which I feel fails. More on that next time) The Minbari civil war plot also seems to indicate that the final chapter of Babylon 5 would have originally involved each major race dealing with the Shadow War's aftermath at home.
Like the previous season we get a lot of action not happening on the station, in particular on Mars which features very prominently. Sadly Mars has only three sets, a transport tube, the underground and Thomas Edgar's apartment; actually seeing how the Mars colonists live would have been nice and I am sure budget is to blame. This budgetary issue does afflict the Babylon 5 universe as it moves on, the majority of the Mars sets seem like reskinned Babylon station sets. One of Babylon 5's great strengths as a series is that the station seemed like a real place, it bustled and seemed lived in. Unfortunately as the series's scope expanded the new places it visited tended to be smaller and less alive, we only ever see Centari Prime from within the Palace for example. Budget is to blame and this sadly makes some of the events in Season 4 (and especially in the Spinoff Crusade) seem cheap or hockey. One of Sci Fi's greatest Achilles heels is when ambition and vision outstrip the ability of the program to present them. (AKA the Classic Doctor Who conundrum)
Despite the small let down of the Shadow War conclusion Season 4 is still a strong season, its central arc is pacy and filled with great character beats for Sheridan, Ivanova, Marcus and Garabaldi. The character movements of these season seem to do best in pairs, Sheridan vs Garabaldi, Marcus and his infatuation for Ivanova, Londo and G'kar and Delenn and the Minbari warlord Neroon. The writing for these pairings is tight and interesting, a few of the other characters like Franklin and Zac lack these oppositions and generally don't seem to grow or develop much as a result. (Though to be fair, I'm not sure what else you could do with Franklin after his addiction plotline that wouldn't lead to killing him off)
I usually pick a highlight or two and in this season it has to be episode 18 "Intersections in Real Time", a very atypical episode in that it only features Sheridan and an Earthforce interrogator more much of it's run time. It directly harkens back to Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four and the penultimate episode of "The Prisoner"; the brilliant "Once upon a Time". It harkens back to the Next Gen episode "Chain of Command" as well, though I do find Ron D Moores version of Nineteen Eighty Four's frightening interrogation sequence not quite faceless enough. He repeats the Motif again a few times in Battlestar Galactica but it always seems to be a clash of two characters rather than one person vs the faceless system. (One is not worse than the other, it's just different character dynamic.)
The ending of the season is a strange one, the second last episode "Rising Star" is very much intended to be the second last episode of the whole series to be followed by the series finale "Sleeping in the Light" which was shot as part of Season 4. When it became apparent that Babylon 5 would be renewed for a fifth season a new season finale was made "The Deconstruction of Fallen Stars" which while a little rough as a concept is a very interesting episode in the annals of Television Sci Fi. The Science fiction story as history, or as part of a much longer history is a very old device in fiction. Dune and the Foundation series feature installments hundreds and even thousands of years apart. Possibly for the first time in Televisual media we have such a story, tracking humanity's future up to a Million years ahead. Anime had treated itself as historical document before this, presenting itself as historical tales created after the events described. SDF Macross and Gundam both do this. But they don't depict history over such vast sweeps of time as this Episode. Such movements in narrative time are usually only reserved for epilogues or situations where time can be advanced but the main cast can still operate. (Red Dwarf for example, Hundreds of years pass between some seasons but Lister is a constant)
For many Babylon 5 ends here, for us we still have another Season! Tune in next time for my trip into Babylon 5 Season 5. Is it as disappointing as I remember it? Can like the first season it be redeemed with time?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Year of the Doge

I have often struggled with the idea of asking for donations on this blog. I put ads up and the few cents Google grants me as stipend is more than sufficient for my heady lifestyle. I actually enjoy writing stuff and putting it up for people to read so the idea of asking for money to do it has never worked for me.
But, there is also the want to do more and higher quality work. Real life does get in the way and if there was something in this caper I would be able to do more, get stuff edited etc (Do weird things such as doing drafts like a real writer!)
But the internets have given me a happy medium between my two diametrically opposed positions on this. I will take donations from those who like what they read and want to read more. But I will only ask for said donations in Dogecoin. (If you really want to give me real money, email me, you will not be offended by refusal ;))
My wallet address is to the right>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
So donate some Doge and keep me writing. But I'll probably write anyway.
Did I mention I was a fan of Andy Kaufman? 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

An aside; Free Babylon 5!

Now I set about re watching Babylon 5 about a month ago, totally independent of what I discovered recently was a growing movement to get the show onto television again in reruns. Warner Bros have shown little inclination beyond the initial DVD releases to keep the series in syndication.
Recently a fan movement has appeared on the internet seeking to convince television networks to rerun Babylon 5 for a new generation of fans. If you have been enjoying my re watch blogging and want to support the series in it's 20th anniversary year go to http://freebabylon5.com/ and voice your support!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What I'm Watching Now: Babylon 5 (Season 3:The Point of no return)

One thing I haven't talked about yet which is one of my favorite aspects of the staging of Babylon 5 are the opening titles. Unlike many series, Babylon 5 had a new title sequence for each season marking off and setting the tone for each chapter to come. Each has a new monologue and also dates the series within it's fictional timeline; each season being analogous to one year of fictional chronology. I always find the opening of B5 satisfying, every time I watch it.  I'm sure it's the cinema studies student in me who recalls being told how important the opening and closing of a film is to the overall impression the film leaves. Season one and two were mostly the same, simply swapping the new lead actor into the intro and mentioning some plot advancement. For three we see the premise of the first two seasons stated and then refuted: "Babylon 5 was our last best hope for peace. It failed" showing us the evolving nature of the show. Most other shows quickly revert to the mean, but B5 is stating in its credits that the story moves on.
Recently an article on Salon talked about what television shows can learn from recent break out success Breaking Bad,  and the solution was to have an ending in mind from the beginning. This is where a lot of genre Television becomes unstuck, not having it's eye on a destination and how to get their instead pouring twist on twist and ending up with a weak unconvincing ending. Think of Battlestar Galactica's reboot (or even the original), the last two seasons of Stargate SG1 or The X files; all series that had a continuing narrative arc built in but obviously with no clear end point in mind resulting in dramatically diluted or rushed endings. Now Babylon 5 suffers from it's own issues largely due to the politics of TV, but while it is running through it's major story arc it has a pacing and momentum matched by few series because it is rushing towards an definitive end. But more on endings later, for now lets look at season 3.
After the upheavals of season 2 the cast of Babylon 5 is now mostly stable with the core four characters (Sheridan, Franklin, Ivanova and Garabaldi) and ambassador characters (Mollari, Delenn and G'kar) forming a very solid bedrock for the drama. Season 3 quickly expands on the concepts of "The coming of shadows" in its first episode "Matters of Honor". As hinted at the end of the last season the Shadows now act openly attacking worlds and helping the various races of the galaxy fight each other. While not the best episode it very skillfully sets up the themes and obstacles to come. It introduces Marcus Cole, the series first regular Ranger character. It shows us the shadows and their agents further influencing the Centari, the league of non aligned worlds as well as Earth government itself. It also finally introduces The White Star, a ship built by the Minbari to help Babylon 5 against the shadows. The introduction of the White Star is the most structurally changing element the series has brought in since replacing its lead actor, no longer is this series station bound but capable of traveling to other places to tell new and larger stories.
The season develops all of the themes from the season before, conspiracy, ancient evil, faith and hope. The character journeys push into the long dark period where they rise or fall, something that continues as a central theme of the series up until the start of Season 4. G'kar and Doctor Franklin for example go through transformations of character, falling to rock bottom but returning stronger than before. G'kar has always been played as a foil, the villain of the pilot and heroic underdog of the Narn/Centari war he starts this season on the path of bloody revenge and ends it two of his three steps towards his character's endgame rejecting the violence of a new war with the Centari and instead seeking to aid Babylon 5 against the darkness.
Season 3 has a number of stand out episode, possibly more than season 2. Not only the Messages from Earth "trilogy" of episodes (Messages from Earth, Point of No Return and Severed Dreams)but some of the best use of sound and vision in the series so far. My stand out besides the season closer (see below) is "And the rock cried out, No Hiding place", the tale of Londo's revenge against Lord Refer and a great character study episode of Londo and Vir.
In good old three act structure, this season represents the start and maybe the entirety of the story's second act. The ancient enemy is revealed at the close of season 2 but all of the true complications of the main arc appear in season 3; the succession from the Earth alliance, the rise of the Shadows and the truth about the nature of this great war. All this drives to the best season closer of the series, and one of the best of any genre show "Za'ha'dum". It is almost the perfect episode of B5, the pacing, the soundtrack, the drive towards a dark and gripping ending. The Christopher Franke electronic riff when Sheridan comes to the balcony overlooking the shadow city still gives the Krautrock fan in me chills whenever I hear it.
Seasons 2 and 3 definitely represent the peak of Babylon 5 as a storytelling vehicle, they are driven and exciting with only a little fat every now and then. Generally the plots are operatic and grand without becoming earnest or forced. The fate of the universe in many cases does hang in the balance as this show does rearrange it's fundamental tenets as the story moves on. TV hasn't quite gotten to the point at B5 where mains can be eliminated easily, but the structure below the cast can shift and change direction without resetting. Actions have consequences which generally pay off, we will get to where they don't shortly...

Till next time folks!