Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season One

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Season One (ten episodes), 2022, 4K UHD

How refreshing, something that lives up to the hype: this was pretty great. Genuinely a whole lot of fun, I had such a blast watching this over the past week – so glad I waited for the 4K release (plaudits to CBS/Paramount for announcing the 4K set before the Blu-ray set came out several weeks ago). While this series wasn’t perfect, and I took exception to SOME of the decisions made (space doesn’t seem to be at a premium on these Constitution-class ships; the rooms are bloody massive), on the whole, yeah, it really was pretty great- the best Star Trek since The Original Series.

What? The best Star Trek since The Original Series? Yeah, probably so. To be honest, its likely unfair to compare just ten episodes of a series to The Next Generation’s 176 episodes across seven seasons- the proof of how good Strange New Worlds really is won’t be apparent until it has itself has run four or five seasons but I think they have struck gold here. Strange indeed, after suffering through Discovery and Picard.

I mention TNG in particular because, well, while SNW gets lots of plaudits for channelling the spirit of TOS, its very much as indebted to TNG as it is the original show: its like a clever hybrid, really, of the two. Like TNG, SNW is much more of an ensemble show, less dominated by its main protagonist -in this case, Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) – than TOS was with its Captain Kirk. Typical of television shows back in the 1960s, TOS was always pushing the supporting cast way, way in the background, making it clear who the stars of the show were (and even then, the whole Kirk/Spock thing caused friction behind the scenes). Indeed, its curious just how much both Pike and Spock take a back seat in some of the show’s episodes, and very often the writing feels as much as if it were something written in TNG’s prime as much as something written for TOS; certainly a more positive, utopian approach than the increasingly dark, pessimistic view of other, more recent Treks.

Paywalls being what they are, I won’t be watching the second season arriving next month on Paramount+; so instead I’ll likely be busy avoiding most spoilers until I get to see it on 4K disc next year, hopefully, maybe.  Oh well, I can certainly give these first season episodes a rewatch to tide me over…

Family Plot Revisited

Family Plot, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1976, 120 mins – 4K UHD

We’re staying in the 1970s with a rewatch of Alfred Hitchcock’s light-hearted caper Family Plot. Its a great decade for movies, the ‘Seventies: it gave us Irwin Allen disaster movies, The Godfather films, Star Wars, Rocky, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, The Exorcist, Chinatown, The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three,  Days of Heaven… so many others, it’s a great decade of films to lose oneself in.  I could spend the next few months just watching films made during that decade and I’d have a great time.

I’m not suggesting Family Plot deserves to be considered as a great 1970s film or deserves to be in that list I just rolled off, its Hitchcock’s last film and not one of his best. I watched it for the first time a few years back and wasn’t hugely impressed, but its inclusion on the second Hitchcock 4K UHD boxset meant that it was inevitable I’d give it another go.

My feeling remains the same: it a very slight feature; indeed, it often has the look of a 1970s TV Movie, it lacks pretty much any sense of cinematic scale or ambition. But it is a 1970s movie: so it has a great cast, Bruce Dern, Karen Black, William Devane, Ed Lauter, faces we grew to know over that decade watching films and television shows. Its that weird thing about generations of actors through the decades, their time in the limelight. There were decades where James Stewart, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, would feature in films,  or Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, or Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and Jack Lemmon, or later on Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino. I think I refer to the 1970s as a great decade of films not just because it simply WAS a great decade for films, but also because it was the first decade in which, as I was growing up, I began to recognise and enjoy seeing familiar faces time and time again in various films and American TV shows. Some fifty years later now, the nostalgia is like some fine wine to be savoured.

In the 1970s, actors didn’t need to be impossibly beautiful and perfect, they didn’t need to be bulked-up in the gym as some model of physical ideal. They could still be greasy-haired, bald, overweight, wrinkled… there was a reality to the actors mirrored in the reality of their flawed characters, a reality mirrored in their tense dramas.

Anyway, back to Family Plot: at times its great fun, and others its pretty excruciating (the scene with Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern, their car tampered with and careering down a winding mountainside road, the actors hamming it up with horrible front projection work behind them, is one of the worst sequences Hitchcock ever did). On the whole its light and entertaining, but a lot of that is that 1970s nostalgia, those old cars, those familiar faces, and that languid pace in which scenes were allowed to breathe and not cut to a breathless frenzy as they are so often now. The film also looks quite splendid in 4K- the Blu-ray was very problematic but having been remastered in 4K it looks really fine and filmic. Yeah, there’s that strange double-take when one realises that a (to be kind) very average film such as this gets a 4K UHD release before so many other more deserving films just from that same decade, but hey, we’re living in a world where The Sword and the Sorcerer gets a 4K disc before there’s even a whiff of Milius’ Conan the Barbarian ever getting one.

I enjoyed Family Plot much more second time around than I did watching the Blu-ray disc a few years back (the poster cheekily advises ‘you must see it twice!’). Maybe its diminished expectations and all that, maybe it was the prettier picture, in 4K. Maybe it was appreciating the John Williams score a bit more than I did before (its a weird thing, William’s familiar music style married to a Hitchcock film, it feels a bit odd). But yeah, it was rather fun. And William Devane is such a great slimy bastard, his voice just dripping with slippery menace: I first knew him from that 1980s TV show Knots Landing (American TV soaps/drama were so big that decade it feels rather peculiar now, and hard to explain, looking back) but of course he was great in The Marathon Man and the later Mel Gibson flick Payback.  There’s a guy who deserved better movies, and less TV work, in his career. As for Bruce Dern, what a joy that actor is, always (soft spot for Silent Running and The ‘Burbs, obviously).


High Plains Drifter

high2High Plains Drifter, Dir. Clint Eastwood, 1973, 105 mins – 4K UHD

There’s a ghost in High Plains Drifter– on first or second viewing, you might decide its Eastwood’s character, a wronged town Marshall betrayed and killed in cold blood now returning as a nameless drifter to exact vengeance on those who killed him and those that allowed it. While that’s patently true, the film variously described as a Gothic Western or a Western Ghost Story, there’s another ghost lurking, in every frame- its the ghost of the way films used to be. 1973. Imagine that. Clint Eastwood in his prime. Directing and starring in a Western. Does it get any better?

In 1970s American Cinema, a decade of cynical, brutal antiheroes, the drifter of this grim film is possibly the biggest antihero of them all. Here’s a guy who kills in cold blood, rapes a woman, bullies and belittles with utter disdain the morally bankrupt town that betrayed him. There’s things in this film -such as when the drifter drags a woman into a barn and forcers himself on her- that you couldn’t get away with in film today without howls of protest from all sorts of groups.  Who are audiences intended to identify with and root for here? The people of Lago all share guilt in allowing a good man to be murdered, and didn’t lift a finger to help him, but this drifter is hardly someone we can identify with either.

By the early 1970s, the American Western was already changing, had been for years, but this film seems to be a further quantum-shift to that end,  Eastwood seems to have been deliberately kicking all the old tropes of the noble Western, with its moralist tales of Good and Evil, into the dust. Everybody deserves their damnation here, it seems: painting over the town’s sign from ‘Lago’ to ‘Hell’ seems fitting indeed. Is Eastwood dismantling the myth of the American West here, or the American Dream in general? I’m not at all surprised to have read of John Wayne’s response to this film and his resultant feud with Eastwood.

high1This was my first time watching this film in widescreen, having only seen it on television years ago- it looks great on Kino’s 4K disc; there’s lots of detail, the HDR gives a great sense of depth in daytime scenes, Eastwood often framing scenes with the big blue sky and the lake behind the wooden structures; its a bright, handsome picture at times quite at odds with the darkness of the story. In night time scenes here’s some black crush evident but that seems to be how this film was photographed, the scenes shot at night under limited lighting (as opposed to that day-for-night nonsense) plunges so much into darkness, as if the film is ironically trying to protect us from seeing what’s happening.

There is no-one today working in Hollywood who has the presence of Eastwood in his prime; he is an icon of Cinema and this film is obviously a precursor of his later Unforgiven, another subversive film that questions the heroic shooters of the Western. There is so much to enjoy in High Plains Drifter – the cast is great, they are all middle-aged and their faces often craggy, nobody has been anywhere near the gym (and there’s something so refreshing in that); there’s nothing remotely aspirational here. Only darkness and bankrupt morality- Eastwood suggesting that maybe that’s all there ever was in the West. High Plains Drifter may be one of the grimmest, darkest Westerns ever made and I suspect it just gets better with age.

The Weekly Summary #19

silo1Cripes. A lot of television shows this week, a continuing (and time-consuming) trend of late.

57. The Trouble with Harry (1955) – 4K UHD

58. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) – Blu-ray

The Last of Us Season One Episodes 6 – 7

Silo Season One Episodes 1-3 Apple TV

Hello Tomorrow Season One Episodes 1 -4 – Apple TV

Citadel Season One Episode 4 – Amazon Prime

59,. Troll (2022) – Netflix

Silo, by the way, is becoming rather brilliant- the third episode is one of the best hours of television I’ve yet seen this year. Something of this quality really shouldn’t languish (if that’s the word) behind a streaming channel paywall.

Well, at least watching a few films means I can bring back the ‘best/worst of’ week properly- the worst was easy (Troll, a pretty dire effort) but I must confess to being conflicted as regards the best, which was  between The Trouble with Harry and Judgment at Nuremberg. Obviously its the latter, but Harry had a definite charm and was just so odd, and certainly beautiful in its 4K presentation, it just left a mark. Other weeks, who knows, it might have swung it, which itself is pretty weird considering its such a lesser-known Hitchcock film and obviously has its issues. I suppose its a case of… well, am I picking the best film of each week, or the one that I enjoyed more? It isn’t necessarily the same thing.

Next week, well, that’s looking busy already. An opportunity to revisit an old favourite, The Brotherhood of the Wolf, which arrives in a great 4K UHD release accompanied with two Blu-ray discs featuring the theatrical cut (that some feel is superior to the DC) and plenty of extras, finally consigning my decades-old Canadian DVD to posterity at last. I must confess to considerable trepidation regards this one, its a tricky thing watching a favourite film years later.

The week also brings my first purchase of new label, Radiance Films, with its Blu-ray release of François Truffaut 1968 Hitchcockian thriller The Bride Wore Black. This one’s the kind of blind-buy I rarely make these days, but I couldn’t resist it, considering it has a Bernard Hermann score, is based on a Cornell Woolrich (Phantom Lady, The Guilty, Rear Window) story, its Hitchcockian tone, and that it (or its source story, anyway) evidently inspired Tarantino’s Kill Bill films (I wonder when we’ll ever get those two in 4K UHD?).

Finally, season one of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds arrives on 4K UHD. a few weeks after its Blu-ray debut. About the only decent thing Star Trek: Discovery gave us was Anson Mount’s Christopher Pike and I’ve been curious indeed regards this show- couldn’t resist buying a copy with it now actually getting a release on 4K.  Mind, can’t believe I’m in any way excited about new Star Trek… but maybe its release offers some hope that Silo may get a 4K release on disc someday?

The Trouble with Harry

TWH3TWH1The Trouble With Harry, 1955, 99 mins, 4K UHD

Dir Alfred HitchcockRebecca, Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, Vertigo, Torn Curtain, Family Plot, Starring John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaineThe Apartment, Irma La Douce, Edmund Gwenn, Music score by Bernard HerrmannCitizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Vertigo, Taxi Driver

The trouble with Harry is that, well, he’s dead. He’s lying out in a field just outside town, a well-dressed corpse on a pretty spot with a lovely view. Unfortunately for Captain Albert Wiles (Gwenn) who has been out shooting rabbits (and upon finding Harry’s body is convinced he must have accidentally shot Harry dead), its also a spot frequented by many of the townsfolk. The Captain’s attempts to hide the body are constantly thwarted by people walking by, but everyone seems to behave rather oddly.  Single mother, Jennifer Rogers (MacLaine in her first film role), brought along by her son Arnie (who discovered Harry earlier while playing out in the field with his toy gun), knows who Harry was but also seems to be glad he’s dead and leaves him there, taking Arnie back home. Spinster Ivy Gravely, stumbling upon the Captain while he is dragging the corpse to the bushes, immediately vows to keep the Captain’s secret (under the proviso the Captain pays her a visit for tea later that afternoon). Struggling artist Sam Marlowe (Forsythe) then comes upon Wiles and the body, and he doesn’t freak out either: instead he casually sketches the corpse and then helps the Captain bury it. They are interrupted by the town doctor, who walks by and is so engrossed reading a book that he doesn’t even spot the body lying at his feet. Its all very odd indeed- I’m getting dizzy just summarising the basic plot.

One thing is immediately clear- The Trouble with Harry looks utterly gorgeous on this 4K UHD disc; the golden Autumnal colours of New England are simply ravishing,  the film looking like a work of beauty throughout. Its really quite stunning; filmed in Vista Vision, its another of those classic 1950s films that looks better here on 4K disc than many new films do.

The film itself is a little more problematic, unfortunately, but funnily enough, it proves so endearingly unusual that I can see it becoming one of my favourite Hitchcock films, over time and repeat viewings.  Definitely one of Hitchcock’s quirkier efforts, its a very dark comedy displaying his British sense of humour; it reminded me greatly of Ealing’s The Ladykillers  (and a bit like imagining Twin Peaks as a 1950s comedy). Certainly a far cry from the tense thrillers that Hitchcock is more famous for, it has most probably been an acquired taste even for Hitchcock’s fiercest fans over the years.

Its one of those disorientating situations where coming to a film blind can initially be an issue, as it took me a little while to tune into just what kind of film I was watching. I imagine audiences back in 1955 found themselves feeling much the same way, as I understand the film confounded both audiences and critics, proving to be something of a financial failure back then. Maybe it was a film ahead of its time? These days it just feels outside of time, a curious artefact.

I certainly feel like I shall be able to enjoy the film more second time around now that I’m familiar with its tone, able to understand its characters often odd behaviour and the films quite macabre situations (I think Harry gets buried and dig up, what, three times?). Its such a very odd film. Its about life, death, young love, old love, guilt, innocence… all wrapped up in a comedy posing as a Hitchcock murder suspense/mystery film. Absolutely as bizarre as that sounds, it works, somehow. I just never appreciated how perfect Hitchcock would have been to direct an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes: chalk that up as one of the great film ‘what-ifs’ that I’d never considered before.


The Weekly Summary # 15

I took a quick snap of the disc purchases from the last month or so. Looking at them it looked a little curious, the spread of them- six Blu-rays, six 4K UHD so an even split on formats, there’s a few noir, a few westerns, a television show that I couldn’t (well ok, wouldn’t, paywall and all that) watch on streaming, and a few releases of old films I like/ have watched before. The 4K steelbook of The Green Knight was triggered by a sale on Amazon. I surprised myself by buying the deluxe edition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, its not a film I’m particularly fond of. I bought a copy on R1 DVD back in that formats early days when I used to import loads of stuff, but it frankly disturbed me so much I only watched it once, maybe twice. But there you go- trust Second Sight to pull me back in. Its a nice set but the book is not as definitive as the one that came with their Dawn of the Dead release, I’d have preferred more variation in the choice of essays/writing, some focus on merchandising maybe or video releases over the years.  But certainly as far as the film is concerned, this set is the final word. Five commentaries though: what’s the chance I’ll even manage to get through even one?

Had a surprise yesterday when Amazon delivered the 4K UHD of Superman II a little early. Does me no favours, I intended to give the 4K disc of Superman: The Movie a rewatch first  and didn’t manage to fit it in yet. Is that ridiculously anal of me to want to watch the first film again before watching this one? Its not as if I need to jog my memory or anything. I’m actually considering giving the theatrical cut of Superman II a go first, before the Donner cut, to refresh my memory as regards the changes between the two, but frankly I’m a bit daunted regards finding the time to do that. Its like commentary tracks, I love the idea of sitting down for them and taking them in but time always gets in the way; but alternate cuts of movies? There’s a few on that Dawn of the Dead release that are still waiting….

So anyway, all this about time brings me to this rather lacklustre list of what I watched this past week. Its all about  the reality of how much of a time sink televisions shows are when there’s only so much free time around.

51. All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) – Netflix

Station Eleven (2021/2022), Episodes 2-10 – 4K UHD

The Last of Us Season One (2023), Episodes 2 -3

Star Trek Picard Season Three (2023) Episode 9- Amazon Prime

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973) – 4K UHD

All of the above results in my Best/Worst of the week section being as redundant as ever (restricted, as it is, to being just ‘new’ films – isn’t that a decision that’s biting me on the a–). By default the ‘best of’ the week is the most recent remake of  All Quiet on the Western Front – maybe it should qualify as the worst of the week also, as goodness knows I had issues with it.

Star Trek Picard nears it grand finale thank goodness. I’ve actually been writing a post about the show, an episode guide of sorts, and am waiting for the last episodes to land so that I can complete it. I was shouting at the screen again at the sheer stupidity of the ninth episode (have a guess how many people it takes to build a Galaxy-class starship). So, er, no its not very good. The series showed promise at times, it was fun seeing the old TNG gang slowly get together again, but as usual the writers clearly never had a decent plan.  They seem to even ignore their own continuity/mythology, never mind that of the decades-long franchise as a whole: its even like last year’s season two of this show never happened (sure, we’d all like to think that but hey, they were the showrunners themselves so they have no excuse). Are writers these days so accustomed to multiverses and various timelines that they just go lazy and wing it?  Maybe the tenth and finale episode can save the day, but I doubt it.

Next week, either I’ll take a break from television and get on with some movies, or I’ll plunge back into For All Mankind with its second season. Which reminds me, I’ve yet to post a review of its first season! There it is again: Time. Makes me wonder how I managed to see over fifty ‘new’ films by mid-April…

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

westernf1All Quiet on the Western Front, 2022, 145 mins, Netflix

Can’t say I enjoyed this one at all, really. Are we SUPPOSED to enjoy films like this, though? Perhaps we’re supposed to SUFFER films like this, like some kind of penance. War is bad, war is horrible, let this film show us the ways. The nightmare that the poor souls who suffered this Great War can really only be approximated, but let this film do its damnedest to show us the life and death (and the suffering inbetween) of the Trenches of the Western Front.

I experienced a somewhat curious realisation, about midway through this film. “I’m not enjoying this at all,” I commented. I’ve watched Apocalypse Now, Platoon, The Thin Red Line, Come and See, Saving Private Ryan, 1917, so many war films that have reminded us over the years of the horrors of war, in ever more graphic detail. This was something new. Have I reached some kind of saturation point with regards war films?

Maybe its a cumulative thing- I have, after all, been watching so much post-Apocalypse stuff of late; The Last of Us, Station Eleven, Finch... so much of my recent viewing has concerned the end of the world and all the misery of that. Maybe I’ve become sensitive to this kind of thing, I guess we all have our limits. Maybe its real-life encroaching on things. I couldn’t face watching Imprint’s new edition of Jacob’s Ladder when it arrived last week, instead quietly putting it away onto a shelf in my back room, to be faced another day.

So halfway through this new version of All Quiet on the Western Front, so revered at awards season (Four Oscars, Seven BAFTAs), I announced “Maybe its time to dig out that Toy Story boxset.” Maybe I really do need something lighter, more cheerful. Of course, I stuck through the film to its end, but I maintain I didn’t enjoy it at all. I think I endured it.

The film owes a debt to Come and See, that much is certain – maybe that film has ruined me for war films  (I only just realised that I never wrote a review of that film – I watched the Criterion Blu-ray edition about a year ago), or maybe I just need to watch something lighter. I guess what perplexes me now is; was it the film, or was it me? Is there only so much misery that we can take? All Quiet on the Western Front is quite relentless in its depiction of the hell of war. I think maybe it should have heeded the lesson of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter – this film needed some perspective, a half-hour of the young men at school, at home, fooling around, enjoying normal life, before launching them into the hell of the war (goodness knows it could have lost half-hour of its war/torture porn, blood and misery and not missed it).  That may or may not have been faithful to the original book, I don’t know, I never read it, but what’s the point of being entirely faithful when you’re the third attempt at dramatizing it? At this stage maybe the whole point of doing a third version is ABSOLUTELY to do something different.

The Weekly Summary # 14

I didn’t post any reviews this week. Wednesday marked the first anniversary of my Dad’s passing – yeah, a whole year already- so it was inevitably a week preoccupied with thinking about him. Not that there’s anything unusual about that, not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, but this week being a year on, I was rather looking at life through the rear-view mirror more than usual, and it was difficult to get enthused about writing posts.

That being said, life goes on. Of course it does. And we manage.  So what did I watch?

For All Mankind Season One, Episodes 1 – 10,  2019 – Apple TV+

The Last of Us Season One, Episode 1, 2023 – Sky Atlantic

Star Trek Picard Season Three, Episode 8, 2023 – Amazon Prime

Station Eleven, Episode 1, 2021/22 – 4K UHD

50. Finch (2021) – Apple TV+

A week dominated by television shows, clearly. I’ll get to writing some reviews soon. As far as films are concerned though, I watched only one, so that best/worst of the week section I usually write here that’s concerned only with films seems even more pointless than it did last week.

jacob videodromeI bought a few discs last week that I will hopefully also get around to writing about in proper posts. One was the Imprint edition of Jacob’s Ladder; this is one of my favourite films and advance reviews indicated that the HD transfer was an improvement on previous Blu-ray editions, and the extras clearly were, so it seemed a safe purchase. I dipped into the opening sections of the film and it certainly looks pretty good, and the extras really are very good indeed. Its a great release and I look forward to spending some time with it and rewatching the film but I was a bit raw regards its subject matter for obvious reasons (it even arrived on Wednesday, of all days) so its gone on the shelf for a bit.

brotherhood4kNo doubt that sound you can hear is Studio Canal gearing up to announce a 4K UHD edition in a few weeks… actually, Studio Canal did make a welcome announcement (well for me at least) with news of a 4K UHD edition of Christophe Gans’ Brotherhood of the Wolf. I have no idea what I’ll make of the film watching it again, its been so many years since I last saw it, but this was such a big favourite of mine when I imported it back in the R1 DVD days (so long ago now that I really don’t want to know). Its been as troubled for a decent UK edition over the years as Jacob’s Ladder has been so its rather strange how both of these films suddenly now get new disc releases so close to one another.

An indication of how well 4K resolution etc can improve on Blu-ray quality was evidenced a day after Jacob’s Ladder arrived in the post, when I succumbed to an Amazon sale for the 4K edition of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.  I’d bought Arrow’s previous Blu-Ray set – the one in the hard-box with book etc – when it came out several years back and I swore off the recent 4K edition even though, again, its one of my favourite films (Arrow have a dubious track record of releasing 4K discs of their previous Blu-ray releases and I’m doing my best to resist). In just the same way as Field of Dreams seems the best film based upon the work of Ray Bradbury, even though it has nothing at all to do with Bradbury, so Videodrome has always seemed to me to be the best film based upon the work of Philip K Dick (even though, again, it actually has no connection with Dick’s work whatsoever).  Anyway, the 4K is from the original camera negative (as opposed to the Blu-ray that was from an interpositive) and it does seem to show, from the little I dipped into it.  So I look forward to watching the disc properly when I get chance. Is it also overly anal (and horribly geek) of me to note that a big plus here is the disc having a double-sided sleeve allowing use of the superior original title font and artwork? I was originally intending to just swap out the fancy box-set edition’s Blu-ray for this set’s 4K disc but I think I’ll keep them seperate, the original art looks so good. I should grow up.

The Weekly Summary #13

marty1Here’s what I watched in week 13 of 2023:

46. Police Story 2 (1988) – 4K UHD

47. Police Story 3 (1992) – 4K UHD

48. Martin (1976)

Dragonslayer (1981) – 4K UHD

Jack Ryan Season 3 – Episodes 3- 6

Star Trek Picard Season 3 – Episode 7

49. Greyhound (2020) – Apple TV

I’ve finally activated a three-month free trial of Apple TV, which means I’ll finally be able to watch Ron Moore’s For All Mankind, a series I’ve wanted to watch for so long there’s three whole seasons on there for me to catch up on. There’s also that Foundation series that looked so interesting too, and some other stuff (Claire is a big Tom Hanks fan, so the film Greyhound was the first thing on there that we watched).

There’s so much I have to try squeeze into the three-month trial I probably should cancel my Netflix subscription for a few months. That’s how people seem to do things these days, isn’t it? Streaming etc still feels like a strange world; already there is talk regards the Golden Age Of Streaming being over, all that crazy money being thrown at creatives for over-inflated, over-indulgent projects finally coming back to Planet Reality. Maybe the great experiment of shows being immune to ratings  (and instead more reliant on social media optics) that Netflix seemed focused on may be over too? I don’t know. Maybe its more to do with all the content being spread over too many seperate streaming services (at ever mounting cost), and the public voting with their wallets?  Maybe its something to do with streaming services blind-siding their shareholders with subscription figures that included all the bundled free trials, leaving a curious reality gap between subs and revenue? Who knew?

Well, best and worst of the week: well, that’s a tough one because this week is the first in which I haven’t seen anything particularly bad. Its all been good, which, hey, is some kind of achievement but it makes this part of my weekly summary a little awkward this week. Its crazy- I enjoyed everything. But the best of them?  Maybe its Police Story 2, because it was a genuine fun-ride, and it wins out over Police Story 3 because although the third film has a better, serious story, and maybe better acting, and the most outrageous stunts involving an helicopter that I think I’ve seen etc, the second film just has some great laughs that make it more genuinely entertaining. But then we come to George Romero’s Martin which was on some other level really – I love 1970s film-making and this was fantastic; I was so impressed by all three actresses featured in it and was gobsmacked that one of them (Elayne Nadeau) never made a film again, another (Sara Venable) had credits that could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the third (Christine Forrest) had credits that could be counted on just two hands.  These are not actresses that set the film world alight but they are genuinely great in Martin. Typically of Romero’s films there was a sense of off-the-streets reality to them, especially Nadeau. So yeah, Martin was best of the week. I just can’t decide on which Second Sight 4K edition of that film to buy, which is such a 2023 problem: so many tat boxes (and its terrible that some of them don’t even feel like tat boxes, they look so good). Oh my poor wallet.

Anyway, next week? Hmm, it’ll no doubt be influenced by that Apple TV trial… I expect the time has come for me to finally catch up with For All Mankind….

Dragonslayer 4K UHD

dragons4kDragonslayer, Dir. Matthew Robbins , 1981,  108 mins

I’m not counting Dragonslayer in my running count of ‘new’ films because, well, I obviously had seen the film before, but it certainly FELT like I hadn’t when watching this new 4K UHD disc that arrived in the post last week. I’d last watched Dragonslayer more than thirty years ago, but in some ways, its almost like I didn’t- firstly, it was back in the VHS era, off a TV broadcast that was one of those horrid pan and scan versions that was ‘normal’ back then, and secondly it was an edited, ‘TV version’ (and the film had already been cut by the BBFC here in the UK to get the film an ‘A’ certificate at cinemas). I clearly had not seen the film at its best – so while suggesting I’d never seen it before is a bit of a stretch, hopefully you get my point.  There are times when watching a 4K UHD disc of a ‘catalogue’ title on an OLED can prove something of a revelation, and this is such a case.  Its a much better film than I remembered.

For one thing, Dragonslayer looks absolutely gorgeous now. Apparently, poor image quality plagued the film on VHS and DVD; I think much of that was issues related to its deliberately dark image- the film was photographed by Derek Vanlint, who’d shot Ridley Scott’s Alien a few years before, and he does seem to have been a master of darkness. Alien is an exquisite-looking film, one of the most beautifully-shot films I know; it gets such wide praise (deserved as it may be) for its ground-breaking production design, but that seems to have overshadowed consideration of how much credit should have been given for just how well that production design was photographed.  Vanlint’s lighting made it look so good,  his cinematography made the film look and feel so real.

So anyway, returning to Dragonslayer, watching it now in a 4K restoration in proper widescreen, with the massive benefits of HDR, makes Vanlint’s craft really shine in ways that home video formats in the past couldn’t manage. Interiors are lit by flaming torches or candles, exteriors are often gloomy, many scenes set at night. This darkness is informed by the films narrative; this is a grim, gloomy tale, a Dark Ages fantasy about the last days of both magic and dragons, its Pagan world on the brink of being usurped by a Christian age of reason and science (or something like that). Some of the films marketing posters are so colourful and bright it looks like they are advertising some other film, and seem rather ill-judged considering the darkness that dominates the films visual palette.

Dragonslayer2But its a beautiful darkness; the art direction is very good, the sets are great (and tellingly claustrophobic, with low ceilings etc) and while the visual effects by ILM, particularly the go-motion Dragon, look very good indeed, credit must be given to the film’s matte paintings. Dating back to a time when they were hand-painted onto glass and then optically placed into the film, they look quite beautiful and convincing here (I think the wide colour field of 4K and HDR really helps these paintings work as they did projected in cinemas, as opposed to how colour timing on home video formats did them no favours). Its true that the effects-heavy finale looks to have had some DNR applied, but this isn’t as glaring as some reviews make out, and is clearly there to help bring the best out of the optically-processed imagery. There are some YouTube video clips from several years back of the films finale that look really horrendous regards matte lines, fringing and other issues intrinsic to the effects technology of the time and its clear that everything done for the films new release has been for the positive.

It doesn’t feel anything like as dated as one might expect, considering where fantasy films were back then – when Dragonslayer came out, fantasy was taken about as seriously as science-fiction had been before 2001: A Space Odyssey (or certainly Star Wars) –  which is to say, not at all. It was still the era of Hawk the Slayer, Clash of the Titans, Krull, Conan the Destroyer and other such lamentable efforts. Naturally those films have their fans, but they haven’t aged as well as Dragonslayer possibly has.

Dragonslayer3I’m actually surprised that Dragonslayer holds up so very well, considering The Lord of the Rings films, and TV shows like Game of Thrones, have since so vividly realised sorcery and dragons through their complex effects advances. Both those franchises have made fantasies so popular and mainstream now, but when one considers when this film came out, over forty years ago now… Dragonslayer seems ahead of both its time and its audience. That being said, to be brutally honest the films failure on its original release probably had less to do with any failings of it as a film and more to do with it being so close to the release of Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (released just a few weeks after Mathew Robbins’ film). Some films just get  lost in the noise from other films, and in this case the Ark chewed up and swallowed the Dragon. Like films such as The Thing and Blade Runner released the the following year, Dragonslayer would have to wait for its time to come via critical and popular reassessment, but maybe its time has finally come.