Sunday, 28 November 2010

A long time ago, in a cinema far, far away...

Before the shrug of shoulders... Before the collective sigh of unsuprised acceptance... Before reaching for the mouse to click on another link because you're sure you've read all you could possibly read about Star Wars...
Please give me a moment of your time. Lets just take time to sit in an imaginary room... Yes, thats it... All of us. Cast your minds back... back... back...
Look at us. Little Billy, Darren, ooh and Martin in the corner there. Garys here as well. Mark, David, Peter, James & Joe, that tom-boy Lorraine, and even that smelly kid with the sticky toys, Steven. Aahh, who could forget him farting loudly in assembly and then shitting himself later in PE?
The one thing that united us in our days of formative infancy? Was it our favourite hymn in assembly? Was it whether Scrappy Doo had ruined Scooby Doo? Was it those watery, oh-so-not-heinz spaghetti hoops served with that lumpy mash at school dinners? No...
STAR WARES! Star Wars reigned supreme 1977 thru... FOREVER. Between 1977-1984 alone, Kenner had sold 300 million Star Wars figures to the likes of our smiling, fat little faces and pudgey grasping mittens.
Whether you had bought them from James Selbys in Holloway, Harvey Johns in Parkway or even the 80s shopping mecca, Brent Crosss, we all brought our Star Wars figures in to school. We threw them at each other, rough-housed with them, stuck them into each others orifices, little knowing that they would be worth a small fortune if we had been the wierd, twisted, outcasts of humanity who'd actually kept them in their unopened packets.

We pulled the light-sabres out (come on, you know you used to call them light-savers, or some other misheard derivative), lost all those fiddly, little guns they came with, only to borrow mis-sized ones from other toys as a substitute, I even remember biting the antennae off of Greedo in a fit of rage! The 3.75" action figure had been born, and Kenner's stroke of genius would be copied ad infinitum. (Yes, yes, Im aware of Matel's 6.1" Masters of the Universe range.)
School playtimes were filled with an unholy chorus of 'eeuuuuoogh..... eeuuuuoogh.... eeuuuoogh' as we ran rabidly around the playground shooting imaginary lasers at each other. Sure, there might have been an occaisonal game of Battlestar Galactica, or if we were feeling cheeky, even a game of Battle Beyond the Stars, but the staple chant of the Playground was 'Whooo wants to play Staaaar Waaars!'
'eeuuuuoogh..... eeuuuuoogh.... eeuuuoogh' to playground stabbings... Where did it all go so wrong?
The Star Wars experience defined an entire generation. Those strange, strange people, our age, you sometimes meet, who plead ignorance and say they have never seen the films, are either those sad knobbers who have tried to add a bit of alternate mystique into their identities by lieing, and by pretending they dont have TVs, or are the ones who had really, wierd parents who refused to let their kids do anything fun or imaginative in the hope they would grow into sociopaths, serial killers or accountants.
I was one of the lucky ones who saw the original Star Wars (A New Hope) at the Dominion Theatre (yes the one at Tottenham Court Rd.) with both, thats right BOTH of my parents. Forget one liking horror and the other liking sci-fi, this felt like a history shaking event that the whole family had to be party to. And we were.
We were there. BANG! 1977, Dominion Theatre, watching Star Wars for the very first time. FUCK YEAH! My No.1 seminal sci-fi moment.
Yes, I am a Star Wars child. I lived it. I loved it. You would have to categorically prove the entire cast of the original trilogy were all paedophiles in order to even dent my sacred memories.
I still recall being on a bus with my mum and suddenly having an anxiety attack about growing up.
'What if I stopped liking Star Wars?' I thought. I think that dreaded song Puff the Magic Dragon was responsible. Jacky Papers growing up and forgetting about his old friend Puff? That song used to really upset me. I remember on that bus promising myself that growing up would not change me. That fickle little Jacky Papers fucker! WHERE ARE YOU PUFF?
We have all seen the original film (except for aforementioned wierdos) so rather than a replay of our favourite scenes, heres some rarer trailers and commercials from the 70s & 80s. Some of them are... strange... but interesting.

How could Star Wars not be at No.1 of any Sci fi list?
Big D out.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Gorilla Warfare!

Early, early, early, memories of Planet of the Apes. Vague and gossamer. Images of the TV show blurred unrecognisably with the movies. A photo of a 4 year old at Selfridges with Urko and Cornelius standing either side. A photo I sadly no longer have.

Planet of the Apes must have had quite an effect on me. In the photo I look absolutely petrified as these two heavily made-up, ape-men tower menacingly over me, but I remember being resolute enough to go and stand next to them and have my photo taken, just for the kudos. Magical memories.
I have of course seen the quintology of the Planet of the Apes countless times from boy to man and know and love them like old friends. The 1974 TV show Im not as familiar with but seem to remember the protagonists being a sort of Starsky and Hutch - blonde, brunette - arrangement. Apparently the show was unpopular and cancelled in the States, but ran for its full series here in the UK and was shown again in 1994 by Channel 4.
So ingrained was Planet of the Apes in my head as a kid, that I distincly remember watching TV and hearing a report of guerilla warfare in Africa. Not being old enough to discern the word 'guerilla' from 'gorilla', I immedeately thought the Planet of the Apes scenario was now an inevitability. After much screaming and shouting and no small amount of fuss, my mum finally assured me that guerilla warfare was a very different thing from what I imagined.
The films make for good watching (some better than others), and even with todays special effects and make up there is still something magical about the original costumes that doesnt make them feel dated. Sure nit-pick if you must, but the handful of chimp faeces that Tim Burton threw in our faces in 2001 wont even be remembered in another 10 years time, when people will still be watching and enjoying the original films, not just for nostaglia reasons, but because they are good entertainment. Moments of special effects sewn loosely together with bad dialogue and wrapped in a horrendous plot are no substitute.
Here is one of my favourite lines from the original film:

Unfortunately, the final scene has become such a cliche it has lost all its power and gravitas. But try, if you can, to watch it as a member of an unsuspecting audience in a movie theatre, who is about to witness it for the very first time.
This is my seminal sci-fi moment No.2

Tune in to my next blog when we'll see what we all expected anyway.
Big D out.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Silence is Golden.

Bruce Dern's tree-hugging, robot loving, neurotic in space, is the next subject for my Seminal Sci-fi Moment.
Silent Running is perhaps the most emotional I have ever become whilst watching sci-fi.

Most of you probably know the story. On the Earth all natural plant life has become extinct and what remains is kept in enormous domes, attached to freighters which orbit Saturn. The film's subject is topical even today.
Bruce Dern's performance is truly endearing and even though his character kills the rest of his crew in order to save the animals and plants which he cultivates in the domes, no sympathy is lost for his cause. His crew members and indeed Earth Government, seem flippant and quite at ease in ordering the destruction of his lifes work and indeed the only remaining examples of specific Earth flora and fauna in (one must assume) the universe.
He then becomes a fugitive, with three robots (service drones) and a single intact dome.
The finale sees him destroying himself and one of the robots (one has also been lost earlier in the film after becoming detactched from the side of the ship whilst doing repairs) as he jettisons the last remaining dome into deep space.
Regardless of the plight of Earth's forests and wildlife, the small, mute, bipedal, ambling robots, which Bruce Dern's character (Freeman Lowell) names Huey, Duey and Louis, were the subject of my emotional focus when I first saw the film as a kid. The robot that stays behind with Lowell has been crippled by an accident, and the emotional attachment Lowell builds with these companions seemed as important to me as the fate of the forests in the dome.
The last robot is put aboard the dome so he can maitain the eco system and tend the forest.
At the end of the film, there is hope that the dome will travel, and the forest survive, being tended by the little robot, and perhaps germinate on an alien planet somewhere. But for me, as a kid, watching the final scene of a little robot, all alone, with a colourful little tin watering can wandering through the dome's forests, while the hauntingly beautiful music of Peter Schickele, sang by Joan Baez, plays in the background, something burst inside of me. I bit back tears as my father led me from the cinema. And when I just could not hold them in any longer I pretended to fall and hurt myself and burst into a flood of tears. I always enjoyed our sci-fi cinema trips so I wanted to keep my pretense of being daddy's stoic little boy and never told him the truth about why I cried for an hour after watching Silent Running. Of course mum could tell something was up when we got home, and I told her very secretly about the poor little robot before I went to bed... before bursting into tears again.
This has to be a very tearful Seminal Sci-fi Moment No.3

From Zero to Hero.

As a quick aside, from my Seminal Sci-fi moments, after letting my comic reading slip slightly, I thought I'd give a quick review of a comic I was given.
Soldier Zero. Not just any old Soldier Zero, but no less than Stan Lee’s Soldier Zero.
So what are all these titles with Stan Lee’s brand signature emblazoned over them like Kellog’s over a cornflake packet?
Well apparently the wily octogenarian has written a new universe and a host of characters for BOOM! Studios.
Now I use the term ‘written’ loosely, as Paul Cornell seems to be the one writing Soldier Zero, and Stan Lee is listed as being... the Grand Poobah... ?
Hmmm. Shows how out of touch I am. I thought Grand Poobah was a rank in the Ku Klux Klan. Whooops!
One cant help but think that this is perhaps a great marketing ploy to get people to buy the title. Is it why I bought the title? Yes, it probably is, so the marketing ploy worked.
I suppose the real question is then, did I enjoy it?
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and I do think first issues need to make some sort of impact on their reader. Now, this can be a tricky task, because for a fresh title that has little to link it to any other of the comic universes, characters and storyline have to established from scratch.
Bringing it bang up to date, Afghanistan veteran in a wheelchair returns to civilian life to find a new type of battlefield. And yes, it’s handled with a sensitivity and reverence I found refreshing. But from the opening splash of a manga-esque protagonist battling a space-ship, to the following page of a young man in a wheelchair. I felt I knew what was going to happen and the middle of the comic was just filler. No it doesn’t stink, and it’s not altogether boring, just perhaps forgivably predictable for an origin issue.
Saying that, I’m a man that could read a thousand comics of Hulk punching someone, and be quite content. So my comic needs are simple. Perhaps for the more intellectually demanding comic reader they might not forgive so easily.
The art by Javier Pina (Batman and Superman) renders the universe with his usual smooth, crisp defined lines, and no ambiguity. Just the way I like it. And no I don’t like pickle on my cheese sandwiches either.

Incidentally, Marvel’s new title Superior just went for the same angle, although granted it was MS that had confined their character to a wheelchair, so just as an exercise I cast my addled mind back through comic history to find what other examples I could come up with off the top of my head.
Oracle from the pages of DC, Box from the early Alpha flight comics, The Black Racer… Oh! And I almost forgot Professor X. (Never would have heard the last of that, hey X-fans?)

Any-hoo, aforementioned wheelchair bound protagonist and awkward date, are (quite literally) struck by a dying, extra-terrestrial entity and a sort of Captain Mar-vel cosmic symbiosis ensues which enables him to a) save his date from being crushed, b)Walk again, albeit in the style of an upright quadruped. c) Scare people from behind shrubs and bushes.

I did find myself wanting to find out if he’s going to be able to control this symbiotic blessing/curse, whether this cataclysmic, cosmic event has re-attached his spine when he reverts to his human form, and find out what’s the deal with one hand having three fingers and the other having five? So perhaps next month, my comic sack will have issue 2
So… It’s a very readable first issue that’s easy on the eye too. But is that truly a recommendation or am I just trying not to offend Stan Lee? Well, I’m not saying that the House of Ideas has run out of ideas, but they are perhaps pouring old wine into a new bottle.  

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Quater-massive Attack!

Greetings Earthlings,
So, a thoroughly home-grown sci-fi icon, Bernard Quatermass is up for the seminal sci-fi moment No.4 accolade.
A very British creation having his roots in BBC serials and radio dramas, he was a rocket scientist who had conducted top secret work for the British War effort, apparently 'mapped the tropics' in his early life, and became head of the British Space Programme to launch a manned rocket into space. What a thoroughly spiffing chap eh? There was even a 'Quatermass in the Third Reich' prequel adventure which never came to fruition, were he was to travel to Nazi Germany during the 1936 Berlin Olympics to become involved with Wernher Von Braun, but end up helping Jewish refugees escape the Nazi regime.
It wasnt until Hammer Studios committed his deeds to the big screen that he received worldwide recognition. Unfortunately they picked an American actor to play the lead, so as not to alienate the American audiences and help distribution.
Quatermass and the Pit was another of Hammer's successes. With the Devil himself turning out to be a huge Martian Entity that came to Earth millions of years ago.
Perhaps not as pro-active as Dr. Who, or as wacky as Doc Brown but definately not a mere sidekick like Doctor Zarkhov, he had become almost ineffectual by the time John Mills played him in the 1979 TV serial The Quatermass Conclusion. Here we see him as a vulnerable and confused old man who just wants to find his missing grandaughter, and for the most part seems little interested with the apparent alien intelligence that harvests young humans from beyond space (Come on! Make the connection Quatermass!).
The show was, perhaps for nostalgia reasons, my favourite of the wily old scientist's adventures.
He would receive a 21st century make-over in the 2005 remake of the Quatermass Experiment, to mixed reviews.
So my seminal moment lies within The Quatermass Conclusion. It has quite a moving ending, and even on re-visiting it several years ago it still brought a lump to my throat.
Its a compelling and intelligent sci-fi drama that was perhaps too British for its own good. As a result there was little interest from film distributors and it acheived very little international presence.
The nursery ryhme chanting which seems an archaic attempt to memorialise the evil of the alien intelligence is an unsettling background accompanyment to almost every episode and its gritty, all too British dystopia really hits home for us indigenous stock. London is inhabited by desperate, bloodthirsty gangs, the police are brutish, thugs and black cab drivers are rude and awkward... Hmmm. When was this set again?
The episode in which the alien intelligence strikes Wembley stadium, and like a diner who has ordered too much, cannot finish his meal, is a perfect example. The vaporised human proteins that the alien cannot assimilate turning the sky green as the sun rises. Quatermass escapes by inadvertently hiding in the underground car park.

The next scene I want to show you is truly chilling.
One of the survivors from the alien intelligence's attacks is at hospital and decides to pay a slight homage to The Exorcist.

And lastly, my favourite quote from the series:

Aaah the voice of a generation: Stop trying to know things...
Tune in to my next blog to see me cry like a little boy...
Big D out.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sci-Fi-Fo-Fum, I smell the blood of Logan's Run!

Greetings Earthlings,
With Halloween and the horrific fading, fast from view, like a distant star, twinkling its last twinkle above morning's horizon, perhaps it is fitting that we turn our gaze skyward.
The cosmos. To infinity and beyond... The night sky with its immense, inky, blackness, punctuated by the light of celestial bodies is of course a prime inspiration for sci-fi.
And sci-fi is where Id like to take you with the next 5 blogs dedicated to my most seminal sci fi moments.
As I have said in previous blogs, the line between sci-fi and horror is a thin, blurred one, forever changing its position. And although many of my sci-fi memories did in fact shock and scare me, there wasnt that lasting terror; that lingering, creeping dread that I found horror movies gave me.
For my love of sci-fi I have my dad to thank. Writers like Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlen, and Vonnegut inspired and moved him, and filled his sober moments with the fantastic. In his not so sober moments he would listen to the Beatles and dance around the front room in his underpants.
At a very young age he took me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Now I already had a footing in sci-fi, as I watched the early saturday morning, black & white, episodes of Buster Crabbe's Flash Gordon, and 2001's opening scene of ape men braining each other had me sold for the next 20 minutes. But after that... I fell asleep. This is not to say 2001 isnt a great movie, but my neonate mind just couldnt reach far enough to grasp its lofty concepts, or indeed scenes with 15 minutes of dialogue. Where are those crazy ape men? I kept thinking.
Fear ye not. My father did not give up on me. 20,000 leagues under the sea followed. Soylent Green. Logan's Run, Planet of the Apes, Silent Running, The Omega Man.
There were not many 70's sci fi flicks that we missed. Just like mum would waive my usual bed time so I could stay up late and watch horror with her, dad was a very charming man, and got me past many a cinema attendant to see films whose ratings I was far to young for, feeling my minds expansion would be safe under his supervision. After all, who knows their son better than their dad.
And sure enough my palatte began appreciate the vintage of sci-fi.
Whereas horror delivers sudden scares and an instant gratification from its gore, a taste in sci fi usually has to be acquired, developed; their concepts are meant to plant seeds for further thought. Most sci-fi films are asking that you start to view things in a different way. They are designed to move you very differently from a horror film.
That really is not to say that there are no horror films that do this. Just that the premise of each genre has its archetypes... and ironically enough, one of these archetypes is the very film I fell asleep to.

And so my narrative brings us to my seminal sci-fi moment number 5.
Logan's Run was my first vision of a future dystopia... disguised as a future utopia... You see? Quite complicated for a young kid. But, I got it. Even my young mind could discern that the virtues of this 'utopia' were far outweighed by its inherent flaws. Dead by 30? Even at my age, 30 seemed uncomfortably close. My dad for instance was 30 when he had me, and so would have been Carousel fodder long before he would have had a chance to take me to see the film.
Michael York's character is again a complicated prospect for a 5 year old. A sort of anti-hero who has been picked for an undercover mission, fucked over by the central computer, and alienated from his friends. Its only halfway through the film that he realises, and decides that growing old might be a viable possibilty and alternative to getting blown up on your 30th birthday.
The book is markedly different, and although the film was my first exposure to the Logan's Run universe and a precious memory, I do actually prefer the book, where lastday age is a measely 21!
Saying that, the imagery in the film is great. The lastday Carousel scene is... unfortgettable. The costumes are futuristic but still retain a funeral dread and spooky look to them.
The scene is terribly unsettling. Its not just the fact that consenting 30 year olds are being vaporised to the climactic chants of the looneys in the crowd, there just seems something fatalistically orgiastic about the writhing participants, and something grotesquely voyeuristic about the slavering, spectators. Although I couldnt have said those words at 5 years old, Im sure I kinda felt  that same vibe.
The scene I think labels my point about sci-fi and horror being close bed-fellows.
This has to be my seminal, sci-fi moment No.5

Tune into my next blog for a piece of very English sci-fi.
Big D out.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Halloween Nerdgasm Quiz Report.

Greetings Earthlings,
Yes, it has come and it has gone, and a tremendous amount of fun was had inbetween its coming and going.
I speak of none other than the Halloween Nerdgasm Quiz which was a packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, fancy dressed, phantasmaglorious exxxplosion of fun!

The Fabulous Scarey Clarey
Sorry this report comes so late in the week, but I lay comatose for several days following the Halloween festivities.
My Halloween sweety bags were a great success, with teams shouting loud enough to break wine glasses and set car alarms off for miles around. Unfortunately at the end, the winning teams rushed all the prizes and raped any and all treats I had left in reserve. I have a strange feeling my brother was behind it.

My bro as Lex Luthor and me as some sort of nice bloke...
The scores were the closest they have ever been in any Nerdgasm quiz yet! First place and second place were battled out over a tie-breaker at 53points, and third and fourth place had 52points which again went to a tie-breaking decider. Even fifth place had 49points (Well done Joe's team) which shows that teams were only a question or two away from the first place crown.
As far as the ABC warriors go, Dom has made it very clear (via links, posts and references) that Ro-Jaws can indeed be considered an ABC warrior (a question on which 1st place was decided).
All in all though, everyone seemed to enjoy the questions, lovingly researched and written by my good self, and the audio round got the best reception yet, with a soulful muscial interlude by yours truly... errr... thats me in case anyone wondered. Nearly everyone there knew the song, which was Audrey IIs 'Mean Green Mother...' from The Little Shop of Horrors. Please listen to the original and tell me who you think was best. :)

Levi Stubbs is of course the man behind Audrey IIs voice and is a fucking genius. His voice is like honey being drizzled over a Ferrero Roche and then inserted into my ear!
I do have to admit at this point, that I was heavily stressed out at the Quiz. The stubborn, steak-eating septegenarians in the spot where I needed to set up my equipment were my first hurdle (swallow damn you, swallow!), and then to be honest I didnt expect as many people to turn up to the quiz, as did. My sweetie bags and quiz sheets were thankfully in abundance, which is more than could be said for the tables and chairs, with teams crammed into corners and standing on each others toes. But I think on the whole it was a success. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, including myself after a couple of beers had calmed my nerves. Everyone went home with their quiz, blood lust sated until the next Nerdgasm. Indeed an after party was had at a local bar led by none other than newcomers Cuz-Carly and Dean, and the group of groovy ghoulies that made up their team.

Here is the lovely Laura as DC's Black Canary and Cuz Carly as... Gonzo from the Muppets.

So, there you have it. Please follow my blog for more updates on upcoming quizzes.
Big D's NerDgasm Quiz. Bringing you the best in Sci fi, fantasy, horror, cartoons, comedy, comics and retro TV.
As all attendees can proudly attest with puffed chests and a gleam of lunacy in their eyes: I HAVE HAD A NERDGASM!