Glory 4K UHD

gloryposterTonight I finally watched my 4K disc of Glory; first time I have seen the film for several years. What a magnificent film, what glorious (sic) music from James Horner. I was so lucky to be loving films and going to the cinema while films like Glory were being made, and someone like James Horner composing stuff like his scores for Glory, Field of Dreams, Cocoon, Apollo 13, Legends of the Fall, Braveheart

I texted my old and now-distant friend Andy that I’d re-watched Glory again, and reminisced about the day we first watched it. Andy, my cousin Tony and I had watched Born on the Fourth of July that afternoon, then gone over Tony’s for a takeaway tea (his folks were away) and later returned late evening to the Showcase cinema  to watch a film called Glory, that we knew nothing about other than it was a Civil War movie. We’d been impressed by a big carboard standee of the poster that had been on display in the lobby of our Showcase cinema for a few weeks: a beautiful image that promised… something. You know, back in the good old days of great, imaginative poster art. We didn’t expect, though,  that we would walk out at midnight, stunned, convinced that we’d just seen a better film than Born on the Fourth of July: it was the Oliver Stone film that critics were raving about. Glory seemed to just come and go, but it certainly left its mark on us. I searched out the Glory soundtrack CD a few days later. Popped it onto a cassette and blasted it out of the cheapo stereo in my beat-up old death-trap first car as I raced Andy and I through Cannock Chase in blazing sunshine several days later. Good times.

I grew up watching Jaws, Star Wars, CE3K, The Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner at the cinema… and so many others. I was a really lucky guy, looking back. Films were better then. Film music was better then.

Glory looks really fine on 4K; its a gorgeous, grainy image with real depth and vibrancy, particularly those shots of the setting sun obscured by fire-smoke etc. Its a good example of how film-like the 4K format is with HDR. What a cast that film had too. And there is a very real, tactile feel to the film too, as there’s no CGI. Its all pretty much real, which just makes the battle scenes all the more impressive. After watching the film I put the commentary track on and watched it again, not something I do as often as I used to. Its one of those (rare) picture-in-picture commentary tracks, in which we can see the speaker in a smaller image in the corner. Anybody remember those? DVD and Blu-ray had some really ambitious, clever features like that, that the studios just don’t seem to bother with anymore. Its getting so that looking back at the glory days of DVD makes me feel lucky to have been around in those exciting days for a film-lover. I remember when every new special edition seemed to be more ambitious, films like The Abyss, Contact and T2, and the first boxset of the Alien films. I used to buy them on R1 from a local hi-fi store, but actually bought The Abyss disc when I was on holiday in San Francisco back in either 2000 or 2001. That’s a surprisingly long time ago, now that I think about it- but isn’t everything? That night I vividly recall first watching Glory with Andy and Tony was 32 years ago. 32 years ago!

Tracking tells me my expanded Glory soundtrack disc from La La Land left America yesterday. Its on its way. Really looking forward to hearing it. Eat, drink and be merry, Morgan Freeman tells me on the commentary track, for tomorrow we die. That’s one way of summing up Glory, and maybe life too.

Well, I’m tired. Time for bed, folks. This film was a good one.

Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984)

bloodbth2This really isn’t the film the title suggests that it might be, and the oddest thing about it is that I had absolutely no idea that this film even existed until I stumbled upon it watching Netflix a few nights back. Some films slip into an obscurity so total its like they were never even made, and to be brutally honest, some of them deserve that too. Which is the case with this one.

Released way back in 1984 this British comedy-horror film stars a bunch of British television actors/comedians of the time and is thus something of a time capsule for those of us who lived through the 1970s/1980s. Kenny Everett, Pamela Stephenson, Gareth Hunt, Don Warrington, Cleo Rocos, Sheila Steafel… you might not know their names but if you were watching television here in the UK back then you’d remember their faces, possibly with nostalgic affection. The film even features a minor role (albeit important to whatever constitutes a plot role for horror favourite Vincent Price who, like Peter Cushing, had a peculiar penchant for appearing in any old rubbish as long as there was a pay check. 

But strike from your mind any thought that this might be some long-lost classic, because this film is terrible. It isn’t funny, it isn’t scary, its just appallingly bad. Most of the cast listed above are playing a bunch of scientists investigating alleged paranormal goings-on at Headstone Manor, a creepy old building with a history of death and violence, and none of them convince as actors never mind scientists: the acting wooden to the point of being inferior to a Gerry Anderson puppet show, and the direction woefully perfunctory and lame. Its a chore to get through and I winced most of the way through -partly out of embarrassment for those onscreen, partly through the jokes landing with repeated thuds. Its a cringe-worthy ordeal to sit through during which one frequently wonders, “what were they thinking?” 

The film was written by Barry Cryer, something of a legend in British television comedy, who worked on several comedy shows of that era like The Two Ronnies, Morecombe and Wise and many others, but most notably The Kenny Everett Video Cassette, which was Everett’s hugely popular comedy series airing between 1978-1981 that I loved growing up, and likely landed him this gig which proved to be Everett’s one ill-fated foray into movies. Lampooning horror tropes of the time, this could have been quite fun, but it fails to hit the mark of aping the style of the 1960s Hammer horrors that its supposedly making fun of. It feels more like a television comedy sketch stretched too far, too much a thing of the early 1980s when it should have been more of the gothic horror of two decades before with an affectionate comedy bent. This film doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be- at least the infamous Carry On films knew what they were, and Carry On Screaming is some kind of golden classic compared to this and far more successfully nails its horror-comedy balance.

bloodbthIt probably doesn’t help that the budget must have been pretty dire;  there’s indications that much of it was shot under considerable time-pressure, resulting in blatant continuity errors and a disjointed story that really makes no sense whatsoever. Vincent Price for instance, nominally playing the major villain evidently filmed his scenes quite apart from everyone else. It has the effect that his scenes seem from some other movie just edited in-between scenes featuring Everett and company exploring the manor (which Price never enters, and with whom Price never shares any screen-time). Worse, Price is written out suddenly as if they literally ran out of time (was he available for just three days or something?) so he just seems to disappear midway through. I accept that in a horror-comedy lampooning horror tropes the last thing one should expect is a sensical storyline or anything approaching genuine horror, but all the same, when you have a guy as canonical as Vincent Price in a film, you should use him as such. Price was always so larger-than-life that part of the pleasure of any of his horror films was his tendency to play things big, almost parodying the very horrors he was starring in (whereas Peter Cushing would underplay roles, not drawing attention to himself). Mind, there is some pleasure in seeing that Price was clearly enjoying himself as usual, so at lest some good came from the film.

Maybe they just couldn’t afford him to be around sufficiently enough to use him to the films advantage. In defence of the film, one cannot appreciate the pressures when making a film, the money and time constraints at the time. Which sounds like I’m making excuses for a film being woeful, but its obvious that a British film such as this is an entirely different enterprise to a $200 million Hollywood blockbuster that turns out appalling. Some scenes such as a flashback of Everett’s character messing up a surgery is a blatant one-camera piece of schtick that looks like something direct from his television sketch show. I can imagine in some film projects a director shooting retakes until he can say “that’s perfect!” whereas I imagine director Ray Cameron here would just say “that’ll do!” and then move on to the next (likely unprepared) scene. Its just the reality of low-budget film-making, particularly back in the early 1980s here in Britain, when we hardly had any film industry at all.

So really one to avoid then, unless the sheer curiosity of this strange oddity overwhelms you, as it did me. Its really something of a time capsule for those of us who grew up back then, albeit perhaps one that shouldn’t have been dug up yet. I wonder how on Earth Netflix got a hold of it? I suppose its just further proof that Netflix will stream anything and everything.

Glory expanded edition

glory1Christmas is coming early. I’ve been waiting for someone to do this soundtrack proper justice for years, decades, and here it is at last- one of the last James Horner remasters/expansions, I imagine, certainly one of the last few I’ve been holding out for. What is left, Field of Dreams and maybe the 2-disc Brainstorm? Yeah, I’m still hoping for the latter: it’d be ironic and strangely fitting if that soundtrack, the first James Horner album I ever bought (on the old TER vinyl), turned out to be my last one too. But its a crazy enough world, this Glory is proof enough of that.

I look forward to being able to write a review in a few weeks.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021)


hitmans wifeThe Hitman’s Bodyguard was one of my guilty favourites a few years back (a rare digital rental that got me buying it on 4K disc a few months later when it dropped in price). It was one of those films where you just know you’re being had, that its not a great film, but there was something in the cast, the chemistry between them, that just clicked for me. Really, how could you go wrong with a cheesy action flick with Ryan Reynolds cracking jokes and Samuel Jackson blasting expletives? They even had Gary Oldman chewing up the scenery as an Eastern European megalomaniac villain (if there’s such a thing as an Eastern European megalomaniac hero, let me know).

The law of diminishing returns proves inevitable with the sequel, but its the cast which again largely saves the day. I get such a kick out of these characters, and the film really benefits from Salma Hayek having a much larger role, not so much chewing the scenery but rather simply demolishing it. To be clear, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is not a very good film (its arguably awful trash), and it is clearly inferior to the first, but I still got that guilty kick out of it.

I couldn’t even tell you what its about- some vague plot about a Greek billionaire (Antonio Banderas) seeking revenge on the European Union by infecting it with some war-grade virus in order to destroy European Civilization. Somehow our three crazy misfits get caught up in it, there’s something about a briefcase, Frank Grillo wants to get back to Boston, mostly its a lot of loud swearing and even louder action: there’s violent deaths, and lots of them. I don’t know what the body count is of the other night’s Kate and this one, but I perhaps need to chill with some sedate contemplative romantic comedy now these two have assaulted my senses.

The one thing that particularly irritated me this time around, was the editing. This thing is edited down to within an inch of its life, so much so that its almost rendered impossible to make sense of (hence my bemusement regards the plot). Its possibly because they had little confidence with the script carrying the film, which is a pity because it renders the pacing so relentless it almost breaks the film entirely. Transitions are perfunctory at best as we leap from one location (and another action sequence) to the next, characters noisily come and go, its hard to make sense of it all. Consequently the film loses something that the original had- there’s fewer character beats (and hell, the original was never Shakespeare), as if the film-makers have decided we don’t want characters, we just wants stunts and explosions and Ryan Reynolds thrown all over the place. Its much like a cartoon.

Its the cast that saves it. Hayek in particular is in great form, a foul-mouthed tramp with a heart whose, er, physicality becomes a visual gag all the way through. Samuel Jackson of course is just doing Samuel Jackson; he’s one of those actors whose presence alone can light up a scene even on autopilot. I suppose the same is true of Morgan Freeman, but he’s largely wasted here, one of the few actors not given free rein to let loose (although his casting gives the film one of its better jokes, perhaps Harrison Ford would have been a better choice). Likewise Frank Grillo isn’t allowed to break into action- seems a wasted opportunity burying him in what is a minor role when his physical prowess could have been better utilised; maybe he’s being set-up for a larger role in a possible sequel. Antonio Banderas has an unlikely crack at playing a Bond villain- he’s perhaps too charming, and not as nasty and cold as he needs to be: some guys just make better heroes than they do villains. 

There’s a fantastic drinking-game with this film; have a drink whenever Hayek breaks into a foul-mouthed tirade. Pretty sure I’ll never manage it through to the end of the movie, but I might have fun giving it a try. Maybe the plot will make better sense in spite of the toxic inebriation, some films just work that way.

Kate (2021)

kateKate is a beautiful and deadly assassin and although she has killed many people in the past, we can be fairly confident they were all bad guys who deserved it. We are not actually assured of this, but she seems to demonstrate some reticence regards killing a yakuza leader in Japan when the guy’s young daughter is seen alongside him. Kate’s pressured by her handler to pull the trigger anyway, and she does, but it doesn’t sit well with her seeing the bad guy’s blood- splattered daughter screaming at the sight of her father having had his brains blown out.

Maybe a more interesting film would have demonstrated Kate to be a cold-hearted killer without any conscience or remorse and over the course of the film changed her, shown her the error of her ways and then sought atonement for her sins. Not that this would have been particularly original, but this isn’t that film.

No, this is further demonstration of the considerable impact of John Wick on action flicks, because this is a John Wick-is-a-babe film with nods to Kill Bill -and maybe, at a stretch, Black Rain too, if anybody’s memory can stretch that far back (1989 being like Ancient History to many). There is also a very definite nod to noir classic DOA, although probably not the 1949 original (who remembers THAT far back?) but rather the 1988 remake featuring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, which was something of a misfire but one I quite enjoyed. Kate, you see, wants to quit after the events at the start of the film featuring the blood-splattered child, but nobody quits: instead she gets betrayed and poisoned with a radioactive substance leaving her with just 24 hours to live. This could have been the premise of a film with an interesting noir vibe, of a doomed assassin trying to exact revenge for her own murder, an examination of a murky world of crime, violence and murder and the futility of a wasted life. But nobody makes films like that these days. 

kate2What people want to see is an indestructible killing machine making the bad guys pay, and Kate does this in spades; its as deliriously violent and gory as the John Wick films and just as daft, existing in a parallel universe of bloody carnage that never seems to attract the cops (although considering the number of police I ever see, maybe these films are actually more realistic than one would initially think). And you’ll believe a fairly slight pretty woman can snap bones, smash faces, throw brutes around etc even when outnumbered ten or even twenty to one, although when the film nears its climax and the numbers get hysterically close to small armies she at least gets the help of an honourable Yakuza and his own troops to back her up. One’s suspension of disbelief does start to wane though considering some of the antics she gets up to whilst we are assured her insides are rotting away and her skin turning black with what’s presumably gangrene or something (thankfully her pretty face is the last part to go gangrenous, so hey, she’s always a sexy killing machine). 

There’s little wrong this film, as far as testosterone-fuelled action flicks go. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is very good as the titular Kate- she’s a good, charismatic actress with decent physicality for the action stuff. Marvel possibly missed a trick not seeing her potential for one of their own comicbook movies but there’s no reason why she couldn’t be announced for one: Spider-Woman, maybe, or a female Captain America? Her supporting cast is very good, but by now Woody Harrelson has been seen in too many similar roles and the eventual twist re: his character is seen a mile off: at this point his casting in stuff like this is surely a red flag that ruins any possible surprise (its frankly diabolically lazy casting).

The Japanese setting is visually arresting and as beautiful as one might expect, everything drenched in eye-popping neon that melts the screen in Dolby Vision. Its not a bad film, and its not a boring one, either; the stunts are always good value (only a silly CGI chase scene that looks like a Tron outtake messes things up with cartoon car-play). The problem is, we’ve seen all this before and eventually the familiarity of these John Wick knock-offs will inevitably breed contempt, if it hasn’t already. I enjoyed Atomic Blonde much more if only because that came out back when these things still seemed a bit fresh; there’s a distinct whiff of decay hanging around at this point.

A Blu Days of Heaven at last

Days-of-Heaven bluOne of the films I always wanted on Blu-ray that I was never able to get was Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, released on Blu-ray by Criterion in the States way back in 2010. As usual with Criterion, the disc was region-locked and I’ve never owned a multi-region player during what was the Blu-ray generation, so that was that. Recently Paramount released an extras-free edition in the States; I’m not sure if it’s the same Criterion master, or if it was region-locked too- I think this edition was also released in France, which was region-friendly but not ideal language-wise (‘Les Moissons du Ciel’ would not look ideal on the shelf). 

By sheer chance though I stumbled upon news that Imprint, an Australian boutique label (a sort-of Down Under Indicator, by the look of it) has released Days of Heaven using the Criterion master and adding some new extra features of their own rather than try license any from Criterion (a new audio commentary, featurettes on the editing and score etc). Australia is UK-friendly Region B (I have a few Australian discs; I think Dagon was the last one I bought earlier this year), and even better, Amazon here in the UK even has it in stock. It costs rather more than most films -more than most 4K titles, even- but not a hell of a lot more than some recent boutique releases that are on the £25 mark- though to be honest, after waiting so long, I didn’t hesitate (had the Criterion it been region-free it would have cost me about the same anyway).

Cue Arrow or Eureka or MOC announcing their own UK release for half the price in the next week or two. 

Anyway, the disc arrived yesterday and it looks really nice- the first 2000 copies have a high-quality, thick-cardboard slipcover, the art on the slip and amaray case are both lovely (the only odd omission is the lack of any kind of booklet): what matters most though is what’s on the disc, and what a pleasure it will be watching this film again, on Blu-ray at last (I have a copy on DVD somewhere which is pretty horrible and can be consigned to the bin immediately). 

Days of Heaven is not my favourite Malick film -currently The Thin Red Line is, but my view may be revised once I watch this again, as I haven’t seen it in years and never really in very good quality. To be honest, Days of Heaven always kind of creeped me out, before. I think it was the haunting music getting under my skin (particularly its use of the “Aquarium” movement from Camille Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals). The main titles with that music playing over actual photographs from the turn of the century, setting the tone for the film and its  period setting, always just set my nerves on edge somehow like I’m watching a horror movie. I have the 2-disc FSM edition of the Morricone soundtrack and that often creeps me out too, weirdly. There is a strange, disturbing quality to the rather dreamlike film in general, the majority being shot in the magical ‘golden hour’ ensuring a particular atmosphere to the visuals to accompany that soundtrack. We’ll see how I find it this time around. 

But hell yeah- I have Days of Heaven on Blu-ray at long last. Maybe I could even find time for a double-bill of Malick’s Badlands (which I also have not seen in years) with Days of Heaven

The Matrix Reboot?

Is it just me, or does the recently-released trailer for the upcoming Matrix 4 look like its less a sequel and more a reboot? The vibe I get is that its actually retelling the story of the first film and at the same time (if it is a continuation) rather pretending that Reloaded and Revolutions never happened. Feels like what a trailer for Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 would have looked/felt like, being a continuation from Aliens pretending that Alien 3 etc never happened. On the one hand, The Matrix franchise seems eminently well-suited to this kind of thing (Neo in the fist three films being the “sixth anomaly” according to the architect when confronted at the close of Reloaded, suggesting that this Neo is some different iteration). But this doesn’t explain why its Neo and Trinity, i.e. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reprising their roles here after they died in Revolutions, except that when we saw the previous five anomalies reacting to the architect (on the tv screens), it was still Neo we saw reacting in different ways (“You can’t control me!/Fuck you!/I’m going to kill you!/You can’t make me do anything!”) which rather puzzled me back then, unless the machines are genetically-engineering the humans in the farms and it really is Neo playing the anomaly each time.

I’m probably over-thinking it. 

Horizon Line (2020)

hline3Okay, here’s one I take for the team. This was watched on a late-evening unwind, clicking on one of the first suggestions from Amazon Prime (now that I think of it, I really must email Amazon ‘What did I do to deserve this?” if only to discern how whatever algorithm they use manages to think I’d enjoy Horizon Line. What on Earth in my watchlist/viewing history makes it think I needed to watch this?).  

Maybe the Amazon prime algorithm hates me, only unlike Skynet’s nukes, this critter is trying to finish me off with bad movies. Be afraid movie lovers, be very afraid: streaming really can be bad for you.

Anyway, that’s my excuse for having watched this; Amazon Prime hates me (probably payback for watching Netflix). This was pretty awful. Terrible, frankly. Its also possibly the stupidest film I’ve had the misfortune to see. Two star-crossed lovers, who split up a year ago wind up accidentally chartering a small plane together for a trip to a mutual freinds wedding in Mauritius. The pilot dies of an heart attack mid-flight leaving the two alone to figure out how to fly to safety and get into each others pants whilst holding onto some self respect.

How will they manage to survive a broken GPS? A terrifying storm? A broken Autopilot? A broken radio? A leaking fuel tank? With no sign of a map or compass or anything to discern where they are or where they are going, will they get to the wedding on time? Do you think they will kiss and make up during the stress and decide they love each other after all and they were silly breaking up?

Do you think one of them will open the cabin doors and climb outside while at cruising speed at high altitude, use gaffer tape to seal the leaking fuel pipe after accessing the engine in flight (mind the propeller, mate!), and the other get onto the wing and open the fuel cap, and hold onto the wing with one hand whilst refilling the fuel tank with bottles of booze left by the pilot?

Do you think the hunky one will smash his arm and the pretty one will demonstrate astonishing medical skills to straighten it and splint it up? Do you think said pretty one will be able to survive a crash into open ocean, swim up to the surface and then go back down to go save the wounded hunk and resuscitate him? Do you think you could possibly care what happens after all this preposterous nonsense? No, me neither, but this film needs to be seen to be believed.

I mean, technically its quite accomplished, it certainly looks good (presumably its using LED volumes, LED virtual walls to make it all look so ‘real’, because it looks too good for traditional greenscreen, unless its remarkably good greenscreen). Its just such a shame that so much effort has clearly been made for such a silly film, its like some kind of microcosm of modern film-making. As authentic as it looks, the dafter the screen-writing gets, and the risible dialogue (“you can do this!” “I believe in you!” “You got this!” ad nauseum) just.. these actors can’t possibly be this bad with decent material, can they? Well, every flick is a pay check.

This is clearly one of those films with the tagline ‘watch and forget’ or ‘leave your brain at the door’ as if that’s some kind of excuse. I’m tempted to suggest it really needs to be seen to be believed.

But, er, maybe not.

Django (1966)

django1I’m not one for spaghetti westerns- other than this one, I don’t think I’ve seen any that hadn’t been directed by Sergio Leone. The only thing I really knew about Django is that it was presumably the inspiration for Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012). Django apparently was the subject of some notoriety due to its excessive violence, which horrified people at the time, although today its cartoony theatrics seem dated and almost quaint. It was directed by Sergio Corbucci, who would afterwards direct another spaghetti western –The Great Silence (1968) – which was known to me through its Ennio Morricone soundtrack which I bought on CD back when I was having a binge on Morricone albums a few years ago. Curiously I have that film’s Blu-ray release through Master of Cinema on pre-order for a November release, so when I noticed the connection seeing Django pop up on my Amazon Prime recommendations list, I gave it a shot, thinking it might indicate what kind of film The Great Silence might be. 

Well, it was sort-of a pleasant surprise. The dubbing is typically atrocious, the dialogue is dire, the story is so paper-thin it doesn’t really make any sense (its some vague revenge plot) and the acting isn’t any great shakes either: so on that front, the film was no surprise whatsoever. But there was something appealing about it. I thought the production design was impressive; I mean, its clearly cheap but there’s something arresting about the wind-torn, muddy streets of a desolate town that seems to be literally sinking into the mud. Its like the end of the world as much as the end of the West.

Corbucci’s direction is no-nonsense and straight forward with no ambition towards the mythic, operatic qualities of Leone’s work, although Django (Franco Nero) could be seen as an Angel of Death in some corner of Hell. The cartoony violence prefigures that of the Rambo films that followed Stallone’s First Blood (Django despatches dozens of bad guys with a machine-gun hidden in a coffin that he drags around through the film, and hilariously the ammo-belt feeding the gun never moves). I presume it was this body-count that infuriated everyone back in the day, and its quite funny watching the various stuntmen/extras flailing around in exaggerated death throes generally minus any blood squibs going off or anything- for a film decried for its violence its not particularly graphic. Today a film like this would get a pass for its violence but would be roundly condemned for its treatment of women characters, all depicted as whores, subjected to being beaten by male characters (or whipped, even) and an indulgent,  lengthy sequence in which three of them are caught in a mud fight that serves nothing but the pleasure of male viewers. Its literally a film from some other age and makes any of Leone’s excesses seem quite tame (Leone of course came under fire for his own treatment of women in his films, particularly Once Upon A Time in America).

Raised By Wolves (Season One)

raised1Alas, the fascination with ‘mystery boxes’ continues and becomes increasingly tiresome: its a crux used by JJ Abrams all through his career and one endlessly mimicked by other creatives, best described as being a narrative which drops viewers into the middle of a mystery-in-progress that leaves them wanting to know answers in both directions (what happened before/what happens next?). Admittedly I can trace a lot of this to J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5, which is one of my most revered genre shows. Not that B5 was the first, but certainly at the time when it came out, American shows were generally episodic in nature, pressing a metaphorical ‘reset’ button at the end of each episode and one episode seldom if ever referencing another.

Babylon 5 was more like a huge novel, each season being a part of a larger whole, so early seasons of B5 dropped hints and portents of mysterious ancient wars and a dark menace returning to threaten all the galaxy, and Straczynski fulfilled all the promise in later seasons, rewarded all the investment with the arcs and world building. He brought all the threads and revelations together into a grand conclusion that satisfied immensely (at least as regards the Shadow War storyline with season four, season five’s issues being largely out of his hands).

It paid off, and in spades, but that was a trick that showrunners and writers these days don’t seem to heed. 

So instead we get obtuse writing posing as complex storylines, promising grand revelations regards mysteries being scattered through plots (Westworld, Lost, Disney Star Wars etc) which ultimately fall apart, everything being built on sand. Its incredibly frustrating being taken in every time by this mystery box routine. Showrunners and writers are hooking viewers in and then largely failing to reward the viewer investment: even shows that succeed at this on some level only manage this in some compromised way that proves contentious even amongst fans (I’d cite Fringe as an example of this, and Ronald D Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot too).

So now we can add Raised By Wolves to this annoying list of Mystery Box Television, and already by the end of its first season its clear that a promising concept is not going to fulfil the early promise of its first few episodes. Those first two episodes in particular, directed by Ridley Scott no less, promise so much that even within the space of its ten-episode first season the crushing disappointment is palpable.

raised2Two androids (‘Mother’ and ‘Father’) arrive at a remote planet, Kepler 22b tasked with raising a group of human children in order to rebuild and save a humanity that has been destroyed by a global war between two factions: atheists and fundamentalist sun worshippers called the Mithraic. The visual design and concept is fascinatingly reminiscent of that of Scott’s troubled Prometheus, so much so that it almost seems an unofficial sequel, or at least set in the same universe. The music, too, seems directly related to that films haunting score.

On that level, I was hooked from the start, and enthralled by glimpses of this global disaster shown in flashbacks (Ridley Scott visualising The End Of The World!), scenes of survivors boarding colony ships bound for a fresh start on a new world. Vague references to the two warring factions and a subtext referencing Eden, humanity bringing its old sins to tarnish this new world – it promised much. Additionally, ‘Mother’ (Amanda Collin, who is quite excellent) is fascinating, an androgynous android that back on Earth was a weapon of mass destruction, a Necromancer that destroys with its voice, the android of Lang’s Metropolis transformed into an Angel of Death. Now mysteriously reprogrammed to nurture and protect its cargo of twelve human embryos and the children they grow into, she is aided by her companion, a lesser, servant-model android named ‘Father’ (Abubakar Salim, who possibly steals the show). ‘Mother’ is initially protective as intended, but falls back into her old destructive ways when her wards are threatened by a Mithraic colony ship arriving at this New World, her powers terrifying both children and enemies alike.

The mysteries are endless: who reprogrammed ‘mother’, what is the history of this new world and the skeletons of giant snakes that litter the landscape, what are the unnatural circular shafts that plunge into the depths, the odd voices characters begin to hear, the mysterious artefacts of alien origin that are found… yeah its all mystery box piled upon mystery box, and unwisely the series begins to unwrap some of these boxes, each one proving a confounding disappointment, increasingly riddled with inconsistencies. Why is no-one alarmed at signs of alien life or remnants of apparent alien intelligence? Are Mother’s virtual meetings with her creator truly the resurfacing of deleted memories or are they a fabricated deception created by some entity of Kepler 22b, manifested later as the giant snake? And how do Mother and Father survive plunging down into what is presumably the molten core of the planet, through and out the other side (as patently ridiculous as it sounds, it makes the Hollow Earth of Godzilla vs Kong seem almost pedantic).

Its actually alarming to see a show that begins with such promise collapse so very quickly- its like seeing all three seasons of Westworld condensed into a single season, and I cannot imagine where it will take us with season two (just finished filming, apparently). That’s if I stick around for season two, of course. I was enjoying the first half of this season but began to rapidly lose interest during the second half, the finale proving totally unsatisfying, typically dropping hints and leaving arcs for season two to attempt to resolve (or just tangle up even more). Even as a fan of Babylon 5, I am getting so tired of the teasing of revelations and answering questions with more questions: just tell the goddam story.