Sunday, 22 July 2018

Trailer rundown

It's Comic con time in San Diego, which means there's trailers galore. So, what's coming up?

Doctor Who season eleven

After the rather pointless teaser aired during the FIFA World Cup final, we finally get a proper trailer for the thirteenth Doctor's debut series. Jodie Whittaker looks like she's going to be absolutely perfect, but the trailer really doesn't tell us much about the series. Would it kill them to show us a monster, or a historical figure, or play us some dialogue with the companions? It still feels like we know nothing new about the series. One thing we do know is that the Daleks are taking a breather, which is probably for the best.

Star Trek: Discovery season two

This looks pretty grand. There's even more of a hint of Abrams Trek to this than the first season, but it also looks like Discovery is getting back to the sense of exploration than Trek is known best for, albeit with some mysteries and threats to face. Anson Mount looks like he should make a great Captain Pike - Bruce Greenwood is still my favourite though - and it's also been reported that Rebecca Romijn is set to play his executive officer, Number One. Spock's absence is clearly a major plot point, while we know he does make an appearance in the season at some point this might just refer to the reported flashback scenes to his and Burnham's youth.

As well as this exciting and visually remarkable trailer - love the Saurian crewman - it's also reported that, among other initiatives, the gap between now and next year's season will be filled by mini-episodes called Short Treks. Lots to look forward to here.

The Orville season two

This looks really promising. As well as the feel being almost identical to Discovery's trailer, this makes it appear that the series will be more like Star Trek itself than the parody that the first season played as. As that first season went on, the scripts relied less on humour, and the jokes that were included were better balanced with the drama. Season two looks like it will continue in this direction.


Cap'n Marvel! Cap'n Marvel! The first Shazam! cinematic release in almost eighty years, this looks like it'll be a lot more fun than most of DC's recent film output. It's not how I'd have done a Shazam! movie, more like a new version of Big than anything, but it looks like it's going to be tremendous fun. Captain Marvel is the silliest of the properties DC is comfortable bringing to the big screen, only a step away from its own parody, Bananaman. Looking forward to this one.


Hmmm... not feeling this. Previous TV takes on the Teen Titans have been aimed at younger viewers and embraced the inherent silliness of characters like Beast Boy. Alternatively, a middle ground, a show for older kids like Young Justice would have worked well. This is just... blah. I guess it's pretty accurately predicting what teenagers would be like as superheroes: convinced that they're terribly mature, going on about how dark everything is, swearing whenever possible. Doesn't mean that this is any good though. Teen Titans Go to the Movies looks better.

Marvel Rising: Initiation

This is the beginning of a series of Marvel Rising cartoons which bring together a bunch of modern, young characters from Marvel comics - either new in the last few years, like Ms. Marvel, or revamped, like Squirrel Girl. Largely female, which sets this apart from most superteams on screen. Spider-Gwen, the breakout star character of the last few years, is clearly the big draw here (named Ghost Spider in this version), but it's Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl that make me want to watch more than anything. Love that Squirrel Girl hasn't been madeover into the usual skinny type. Also, America Chavez is going to be in this, so expect multiversity.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

The World's Greatest Detective

Lots and lots to write about soon, but for now the blog's a little quiet due to my being very busy with real life. Most of it good, though. For now, may I direct you to C P Studios where the first episode of The World's Greatest Detective is now available to stream or download!

"Curtan Razer," Episode One stars Terry Cooper as a note-perfect Batman. It also features Pete Lutz, Scott D. Harris (the C P Studios Doctor), Sean Young and William E. McCloskey, and a brilliant turn from James P. Quick as the villainous Mr. Woebegone. It's written by Scott Harris, James Quick and Rick Warren and features some excellent sound design. Episode two will be out next week and further episodes are to come, including "The Lynx of Mbacke," my two-part story at episodes five and six.

Listen here, you will not be disappointed.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Cinematic Enterprise 3: Re - Genesis

Directed by Leonard Nimoy
Written by Harve Bennett
Released: 1st June 1984
Set: c.2285
Starships: USS Enterprise NCC-1701,
USS Grissom NCC-638, USS Excelsior NX-2000
Klingon Bird-of-Prey, Merchantman
Planets visited: Earth, Vulcan and Genesis

The third Trek movie formed the middle part of a linked trilogy that charted the lengths that Kirk and Spock would go for each other. While it's considered the weak link in the trilogy by some - suffering from the supposed curse of the odd numbers - to my mind it's a fine adventure with real heart.

The Wrath of Khan had been a hit with the fans and critics alike, and naturally Paramount wanted a sequel. The first and most important part was getting the stars back on board, and Leonard Nimoy's involvement was, well, paramount. Fortunately, Nimoy's feelings on Trek had been revitalised by the success of Khan, but there was one proviso: he wanted to direct the film. The previous director Nicholas Meyer had cut his ties with the franchise over disagreements concerning the scripts, so the position was open. Producer Harve Bennet began writing the script with Nimoy's input, crafting a story about the resurrection of Spock on the Genesis planet. The story would involve Kirk going to any lengths to retrieve Spock's renewed body, stealing the Enterprise from Starfleet in order to travel to the quarantined planet. In a more metaphysical element of the story, Spock's soul would be carried by McCoy, who had been melded with by Spock moments before his death (leading to some intense moments from DeForest Kelley as the addled McCoy).

Nimoy brought in Industrial Light and Magic much earlier on this film than previously, working closely with them during the storyboarding and design process. The result is a visual richness that surpasses Khan, but works in a very different way to the ethereal, hyperspace visuals of The Motion Picture. The result is a more lived-in, workspace kind of universe, a little bit Star Wars in its rough-edged realism. Roger Ebert called the film a compromise between the tones of the first and second, and that's exactly right. It feels more like a true follow-up to the TV series, and also looks forwards to the upcoming The Next Generation, only three years away at this point. While the uniforms are straight from Khan, we get to see the main characters in their casual, off duty wear, and they wear clothes that people might actually go outside in. I love the mix of the grimy, used alien ships and the shinier, more majestic Starfleet facilities, but even then, there's a realism to it. The Spacedock prop, which would turn up several times as different space stations in TNG, is filmed brilliantly, making it appear absolutely gigantic, the Enterprise a bug against it. Inside, starships are lined up, building on this tremendous sense of scale. Then McCoy goes to the bar on the Spacedock, a seedy joint not that far from the Mos Eisley Cantina, with bizarre alien patrons, and tries to charter a ship off a shrill, big-eared extraterrestrial who looks almost like a prototype Ferengi.

Even the Enterprise is looking a bit worn out by this stage, overshadowed by the newer, sleeker USS Excelsior, designed as a plausible design evolution from the familiar ship. The Excelsior prop would become the mainstay of Starfleet, appearing again and again in TNG and even DS9, an old workhorse of the 24th century - part of the old guard, but not that old. Then there are the alien ships: the battered kitbash Merchantman, with its mixed crew of humans and a sexy female Klingon captain; and of course, the Klingon Bird-of-Prey. While this is another new ship, it's Klingon through-and-through (in spite of early scripts having it a stolen Romulan vessel, hence the name). It looks like it was made old, a functional and threatening beast of a ship. While again, its reuse throughout TNG and DS9 was partly due to having a well-made prop that could be reused, it's such a perfect ship for the Klingons that it becomes iconic in short order.

The Klingons themselves are designed better here than in The Motion Picture, refined from their brief appearance there since they need to function as actual characters, rather than V'Ger fodder. Early plans were for the Romulans to be the primary antagonists, but Nimoy wanted the Klingons, who he felt were more theatrical (the studio was in agreement, considering them a better selling point). His casting of Christopher Lloyd makes that plain. Lloyd, a year away from Back to the Future, is brilliant here, hammy as anything but genuinely threatening. Commander Kruge is just an absolute bastard, through and through. His obsession with controlling the secret of Genesis is a feasible goal; he's not wrong when he states that it's the greatest weapon ever created. (I assume Starfleet thoroughly buried the technology after this, for the sake of keeping the peace.) The Genesis planet itself is at once both wondrous and hellish, with wormlike bacteria creatures that try to eat the Klingons (Kruge kills one straight away, just to show how hard he is).

The Search for Spock reinforces the status of the Enterprise crew as a family, in spite, or indeed because, of Spock's effective absence for much of the runtime. Sulu was given command of the Excelsior in early drafts, an element that would be held back until the sixth film. In the event, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura and Scotty all help Kirk and McCoy pinch the Enterprise. The film continues on from Khan with the inclusion of David Marcus and Saavik, working together to explore Genesis as part of the USS Grissom crew. There are hints of romance there between them, but this plotline never really gets anywhere. The link back to the previous film is weakened somewhat by the recasting of Saavik; with Kirstie Alley declining to return, Robin Curtis took on the role, giving a little more humanity to the character. The inclusion of Mark Lenard as Sarek linked the film back to the original series, and cemented the family theme; Spock's father and Kirk's son are both major parts of the film.

There was a real risk, when developing this film, that bringing Spock back would invalidate his sacrifice in Khan's climax. Retrieving Spock would have to come at a price. The cost of Kirk regaining his friend would be the loss of son - killed by the Klingons in a moment of pure cruelty - and the Enterprise itself. The ship is as much a character as any of the actual cast, and while destroying the Enterprise is par for the course in Trek films now (happening again in Generations, Into Darkness and Beyond) back in 1984 it must have packed on hell of a punch. I can't imagine many viewers were that upset by Merritt Buttrick getting stabbed up, but I bet a few fans cried when the Enterprise was destroyed. Beyond that, Spock, when Nimoy finally appears in the closing scenes on Vulcan, is not the man he was.

Some fans tend to skip The Search for Spock, but it's an essential part of the ongoing story of Star Trek and a film with a lot to offer.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

REVIEW: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Finally got round to catching the fifth Jurassic Park film, and it was very good fun. I can't pretend that it brings much to the franchise that Jurassic World didn't, although the final scenes hint at a possible game change for the Jurassic universe. So, spoilers within, pretty much straight away.

Colin Trevorrow said that he couldn't keep the series confined to theme parks, and this is exactly the right decision. Jurassic World revamped the concept of the original Jurassic Park by going back to the theme park, only bigger and better, making it a success so that it would come crashing down all the louder. While nothing beats the original film and novel, Jurassic World was a brilliant update. The Lost World followed Jurassic Park by both letting the dinosaurs have the run of their island environment, and then dragging them back to civilisation (although the novel which is superior, remains confined to the island). Fallen Kingdom follows this development closely, albeit with new twists.

Left to their own devices at the end of the previous film, the dinosaurs are now threatened as Isla Nublar is about to erupt in a volcanic cataclysm. The complete re-extinction of the Dinosauria is imminent (someone may have to remind me what happened to the B-site, Isla Sorna, and why there are no dinosaurs left there). Revealed is Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell - always god value), the little known partner behind John Hammond's genetic experimentation. He now plans a rescue operation for the dinosaurs. Naturally, it's up to Claire and Owen, that plucky pair from Jurassic World, to go bring in Blue the last Velociraptor and the other dinosaurs to safety. Lo and behold, there are others who want the dinosaurs for less noble reasons: the trade in dinosaur soldiers is a potential goldmine.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt retain the fun chemistry they had in the previous film. They fit the classic pattern of couples from action movies: obviously into each other, plenty of sexual chemistry, but blatantly incompatible. They need life-or-death situations to make a relationship work. Claire has developed between the films, now part of a dinosaur rights group. Owen, on the other hand, is building a house and not spending much time with anyone. It's their mutual concern for the dinosaurs that they bred, trained and displayed that takes them back to the island, and the script isn't afraid to point out the hypocrisy.

There's a solid cast at work here. Owen and Claire get a new pair of sidekicks, Zia the palaeoveterinarian (Daniella Pineda, exceedingly cool, very sexy) and Franlyn Webb, IT guy and hacker (Justice Smith, geeky, nervous and relatable). Kind of disappointed they didn't bring Lex back from the first film to be their computer person and get some retro 90s graphics in there, but still, I liked these two. Rafe Spall is excellent as Eli Mills, Lockwood's right hand man and a happily ruthless and ambitious bastard. Toby Jones does his usual sterling work of playing a slimy creep, appearing as a sort of arms dealer who sells the dinosaurs Mills has secured. Ted "Buffalo Bill" Levine fulfils the tough commando role, and we have a cute spunky kid in the form of Lockwood's granddaughter Maisie, played by Isabella Sermon. 

Linking back to the original trilogy are B.D. Wong as Henry Wu, still designing dinosaurs for profit and falling on the wrong side of scientific ethics, and Jeff Goldblum back as Ian Malcolm in much publicised appearance which ends up being little more than a cameo. It's completely in character that he should be calling for the dinosaurs to be left to die, given that he was vocally against their creation to begin with. Nonetheless, he's essentially wasted in his appearance here.

It all works very nicely, and marches along much as you'd expect until the dinosaur auction. Taking place in Lockwood's mansion and estate late at night, there's a gothic vibe not present in the previous films. The franchise's newest monster, the Indoraptor, stalks the corridors in a way that's far more evocative of horror films than the usual action adventure style of the Jurassic films. On the subject of the newest mega-dinosaur, I rather prefer it the over-the-top I. rex, although given that she was meant to be part raptor anyway I'm not sure this new one stands out conceptually. Still, a maddened raptor monster trained to kill with maximum efficiency makes for a potent threat, and is kept under wraps long enough to maintain interest. 

Still, I was more excited to see the proper dinosaurs, especially as my two favourites finally make an appearance on the screen. First a Baryonyx emerges from a tunnel within the disintegrating island, and then a Carnotaurus comes barrelling along mere moments later. No match for the T. rex, of course, but I love Carnotaurus, the ugly bastard. Blue, the last raptor, is a fully fledged character here, gaining as much sympathy as any of the human characters, and the T. rex, still the very same old girl from the first film, owns all her scenes. I'm pleased that the sixth film is said to have no more mutant dinosaurs, and that it will be focusing on dinosaurs living in the wild as they escape and spread across America. No doubt humanity's time as the dominant life form is meant to be the fallen kingdom of the title, but I'm not quite sure how long term and drastic this change will be, given that the dinosaurs are all female (although they've circumvented that before), and most species are represented by a single individual. Nonetheless, it's a change in direction that should make for an interesting (final?) installment. 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

FANS WHO: "The Wooden Planet" and "Everything Stops for Tea"

CP Studios are Scott D. Harris and James P. Quick, two fans extraordinaire who produce fan audios for Doctor Who and, premiering very soon, their own Batman series, World's Greatest Detective. There are many fan series, both in the UK and US, but this is CP Studios straddle the Atlantic, with Scott living in Britain and James in the States, which gives their audios a bit of international flavour. I've already looked at the first release of their main DW series, Las Pinturas Negras, and given that was two years ago I realise I haven't really these "Fans Who" often enough.

Las Pinturas Negaras is followed by two very different stories, both of which use ridiculous ideas to take on some heavy targets for satire. The Wooden Planet is a four parter, originally conceived by one Arco Chambers, very much in the format of the classic series or Big Finish's plays, but the content and pace varies considerably along the four episodes. As the title suggests, it's set on a planetoid constructed from wood, one that is inhabited by devout monks and nuns, perhaps drawing inspiration from one of the infamous proposed outlines for Alien 3. Of course, a wooden planet is an utterly ludicrous idea, one that Scott and James poke fun at in their script. Only people who are blinded by religious conviction into distrusting technology would possibly think that it's a sensible idea to live in a space habitat constructed from wood. There's more than one threat to the colony, but the major on is as devastating as it is prosaic: a fire, which the religious leaders refuse to confront.

It's a very strong script, with no little criticism of the way the religious right, in the classic words of the Doctor, "change the facts to fit the views." The monks even believe that the Earth has been utterly destroyed, something the Doctor knows to be absolutely untrue in this timeframe, since he's been there both then and after. Scott plays the Doctor as well as being one half of the writing/producing team. He's at what we might call peak McCoy here, rolling his r's like nobody's business and generally giving it his all as a slightly flamboyant, rather verbose incarnation of the Doctor. His sense of mounting frustration as the story progresses is tangible.

As with all fan productions, the acting skill varies, but it's generally very good, and I particularly liked Katie Parker as Sister Lianne, who becomes a sort of extra companion for the story, as well as Monica Ballard as the insanely close-minded leader the Abbess. As the episodes continue, the story takes unexpected turns, with a seemingly metaphorical beast in the colony's bowels turning out to be very real (and very familiar), leading to some effective horror as the Doctor and his team attempt to escape from the mounting threats. The final episode slows the pace down considerably, acting as a sort of epilogue for the frenetic adventure. My only real nitpick for the production is that, as with Las Pinturas Negras, the use of music from throughout the history of Doctor Who makes it sound very disjointed.

This is completely resolved in the funny little follow up Everything Stops for Tea, a curious one-episode adventure which sees Scott's Doctor now acting solo. The story boasts an excellent new theme tune by Hardwire, and altogether improved sound design. Anne Lawrence joins the team as assistant producer, credited as both having originated the story idea (then written by Scott and edited by James), and also plays the Doctor's defense attorney Clover. Yes, the Doctor's on trial again, in a skewed version of England which plays out like a Victorian version of Planet of the Apes. After taking on religion in The Wooden Planet, CP Studios turns its attention to inflexible justice systems and close-minded bigotry. It's a very silly but very effective one-off. Scott plays his Doctor a little calmer, albeit unable (for reasons that become clear) to keep his trap shut for more than a moment. The only little problem is that the recording of Anne's part is of a different quality to the rest, with a noticeable background hiss, which unfortunately marrs the otherwise excellent sound.

So a big shout-out to Scott and James (who, btw, has small roles in both productions AND does the cover art AND directs both stories) for some very fine Doctor Who adventures.

Best lines: The Wooden Planet: "I thought the sonic screwdriver didn't do wood?"
"Who on Earth told you that rubbish?"

Best credit: Everything Stops for Tea: Simian Noises Linda Leete