Tuesday Morning

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A tree in the house? You must be barking.

P1070897 (2)We didn’t have the Christmas tree up last year, partly because it had been a bad year, what with losing Ben, and partly because we’d only had Eddie a month and we weren’t too sure if Westie pups have a knack for trying to pull trees down on a whim. So now he’s a year older and wiser, Ed has his first Christmas tree. Don’t think he’s particularly impressed, but he hasn’t tried pulling it down/grabbing at the ornaments just yet.

I rather think he reckons we’ve gone a little mad again. He’s used to his humans behaving oddly once in awhile. He’ll just humor us for a bit. Then see if he can get the damn monstrosity down on the floor and out of the way- there’s a natural order to things, and it doesn’t include having trees in the house.

The Farthest Voyager

far22017.58: The Farthest (2017)

When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an astronaut, and it seemed the simplest thing there might be. After all, men were walking on the moon, Captain Kirk and his Enterprise was exploring strange new worlds, the future seemed full of possibilities. Of course they were actually impossibilities, but try telling a seven-year old kid that when there are people walking on that moon in the sky.

Can you even imagine that now? You used to be able to look at that moon, and people were there.

Some years later, with me still being fascinated by space-travel and astronomy, reading 2000 AD every week and with films like Star Wars and Close Encounters on the big screen, and NASA sending Viking to Mars and Voyager to the outer planets, it was still a pretty amazing time to be growing up. Then Carl Sagan made (and wrote) his incredible tv series Cosmos. Sagain was hugely good at being able to articulate all kinds of scientific theory, opinion and discoveries to the layman. With Cosmos he became a science superstar, much to the chagrin of many of his contemporaries. I cannot explain the profound impact of that show, and its book and its soundtrack, had on me at the age of fourteen/fifteen. After growing up with the interests that I had, it was like it was created just for me.

Of course, I didn’t become an astronaut, or work in any profound science or space-based career- we can’t all be Brian Cox. But I never lost my love for reading about science or space discoveries, and just the sound of Carl Sagan’s voice is enough to send a tingle up my spine.

Carl Sagan shows up a few times in period footage during The Farthest, a remarkable space documentary that charts the formation, execution and legacy of the Nasa Voyager mission launched in 1977- a Grand Tour of the outer planets. I remember the news updates when Voyager sailed past Jupiter and Saturn- this was in the days before 24-hour news coverage, so the bulletins were all we had until BBC’s Horizon documentary series caught up with it periodically. The Farthest is almost an uncanny window to the flybys that commenced in 1980, throwing me back, through music and video footage and stills, to those amazing discoveries, and more than that, through the voices of key scientists and engineers behind the project, to learn the amazing true stories behind it all.

Brutal reality bites home when one of the scientists comments about Voyager’s flybys of Uranus and Neptune- we will all be long dead and buried, he says, before mankind ever visits those planets again. Its one of those realisations that seems shocking and yet suddenly commonsense: they are just too far away, and the will and expense needed to return just aren’t there. How wonderful that we are alive, now, when we have made those first visits, discovered those worlds for the first time. And can watch incredible documentaries such as this. In a world so mundane and dominated by the most moronic and narrow-minded political worldviews, it’s a glimpse of what’s possible when we as a species Think Big.

The Voyager spacecraft will, it is asserted, outlast us all- long after our civilization, or whatever follows it, or indeed after mankind as a species has become extinct or our world destroyed by the sun, or indeed long after even our own sun has died, the Voyager’s and their gold discs with The Music of Planet Earth will attest to the fact that we were here- We Were Here. You don’t get bigger than that. Enthralling stuff.

Fabrications & Misinformations: (not) a Youtube Woody Allen movie, but maybe it should be.

utbeThis morning I had an hour free, and thanks to the wonders of intelligent televisions (question for later: are the televisions more intelligent than the programs displayed on them?) I decided to load up Youtube, put ‘Blade Runner 2049’ in the search box and see what popped up. There’s a few nice featurettes on there; Weta has a nice one about the miniatures, and there are obviously those prequel shorts (I rewatched the Blackout 2022 anime, that’s really good). Some nice analysis videos are starting to surface- 2049 is clearly a great film for discussion.

But I watched a few review videos, and good lord some are just plain terrible. Is this the future of film criticism? Two guys are on there talking about 2049 for some forty minutes and they can’t even remember some of the character’s names. On another there’s four reviewers talking about the film, and one of them claims the original Philip K Dick ‘short story’ states that Deckard is clearly a Replicant. What is he talking about? That is patently not the case, and it’s a novella, not a short story.

This kind of stuff really winds me up. In this day and age, misinformation is everything- I mean, some people believe everything they see on the tv or internet. And everyone seems to think they can be a presenter or critic and put themselves up on stuff like youtube without any qualifications or talk without any research or due diligence. God knows this blog is read by very few and amounts to very little in the great scheme of things, but I think about what I write and make an effort to be factually correct. But some people are spouting utter nonsense and drivel on these videos. It’s like the inmates are running the asylum, and quality control comes a distant third, fourth or fifth in the aim to get as many clicks/views as possible.

The dangers, of course, are that some people’s careers can be put at risk because of the unqualified opinion and vitriol on these sites/videos, whether it be the film-makers being spoken about or professional critics views being swamped out in all the nonsensical noise. Every fool seems to have an opinion, well, of course they do, and I guess everyone has a right to voice that opinion, but please, take the courtesy of due care and do some research.  Next thing you know, our Prime Ministers, Politicians and Presidents will think they can spout any utter nonsense without having to back it up with facts. Oh, wait…

 

Holiday Eddie strikes a pose

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Well, he seems a natural at it really. He certainly took a shine to Scotland and having his owners at his beck and call for two whole weeks. One long endless playtime with lots of forest walks and a trip to the beach thrown in. Even celebrated his first birthday whilst he was there- as if being spoiled wasn’t enough, he wanted a big birthday meal and a new soft toy to chase around too. Same again next year, Ed?

RIP Tobe Hooper

lifeforce1I read the news of Tobe Hooper’s passing today with much sadness- another Horror great gone. In some other alternate universe, Tobe Hooper’s film Lifeforce is revered as the finest bad horror movie ever made. Any film that features a security guard trying to tempt a naked space vampire with a biscuit has got to be one of the greatest, oddest films of all time, and Lifeforce is full of such mad genius. I know most horror fans will refer to Hooper as the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Poltergeist but for me, he’ll always be the Master of Space Vampire movies- in the grandest tradition of Ed Wood, Lifeforce is his undoubted masterpiece.

1982

As I write this, 35 years ago.

Half a lifetime ago I guess. I was sixteen.

I remember, walking with a group of friends (most of whom I have not seen in decades- in that pre-social media era freindships had a habit of splintering off forever,  lives spinning off like shattered shards of glass). We were walking to another’s house on the other side of our council estate, to play Dungeons and Dragons (we were RPG-junkies for a few years back then). I remember walking down a street as we made our way across, talking about Blade Runner, thinking about the film’s year of 2019. Worked out how many years ahead it was, how old I would be in that year. A time so long-distant to a sixteen-year-old! 2019 was some incredibly far-off shore, a distant alien landmark, way past that other notable year, 2001, that figured so highly in our geek estimations.

It’s odd to consider that Kubrick’s special year was such a landmark to my generation and those before us-  2001: A Space Odyssey! Those very words were exciting, powerful, they carried some kind of arcane meaning. People now, kids, likely look back on it as just any other date, just another old movie. For us it was something bigger than us, something evocative of a space-faring future ambition. We had visions of returning to the moon, going to Mars. Even in 1982 it all seemed a matter of when, not if.

In hindsight, we were pretty stupid. But 1982, 35 years ago, it was another world.

1982 was a year for other worlds. Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Runequest, Gamma World. Well, I could go on and on about those RPG days. Back when the acronym TSR meant so much, Gary Gygax was some kind of genius, and Games Workshop was a gateway to incredible places- each of us of our group would pick a game system and create adventures we would later gather to play.  I ran a campaign titled Shadow World using the AD&D rules that went on for years. I still have books and folders of work I wrote for it, up in my loft- it was such a passion of mine that took so much time it’s hard to fathom now. I should have been out fooling around with girls but instead was inside my room dreaming up dark dungeons and evil sorcerers. Well, either that or reading or painting.

I read so much back then- Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert E Howard…

1982, Arthur C Clarke was still alive and writing, as was Ray Bradbury. Frank Frazetta was still alive. John Buscema and Gil Kane and Gene Colan and so many others I grew up with were still working in comics. I was reading 2000 AD in those days, the comic still in its prime. 1982 was the year they ran the 26-issue Apocalypse War saga in the Judge Dredd strip. Each week after reading each installment I was trading comments with my mate Andy in the halls of our secondary school. Block Mania, East Meg One, War Marshall Kazan, Stubb guns, 400 million dead... it was some glorious soap opera, a comicstrip punk-Charles Dickens that unfolded each week, and we would marvel and moan at the various turns of fate as the saga progressed.

I remember the threat of global nuclear armageddon was very real, so that Apocalypse War storyline seemed very pertinent. We actually went to war that year, an old-fashioned war: Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and we sent an armada to those small islands thousands of miles away that no-one had even heard of. I remember the daily updates on the news.

1982 was a very good year for films. Its why this blog has its name, for one thing.

Blade Runner, ET, Poltergeist, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Thing, Mad Max 2, Conan.People often refer to it as the ‘summer of 1982’ and of course it was if you were American, but in other countries that incredible summer of genre films was spread out across the year, as releases were not so immediately global then. Wrath of Khan was here in July, The Thing in August (what madness was that?), Blade Runner and Poltergeist in September, Tron in October, and finally E.T. not until December when likely everyone had already seen it on pirate VHS. Video piracy-  how I first saw The Thing and Conan and Mad Max 2 (and The Exorcist, too, that Autumn).

I could never get my head around being able to watch films on-demand at the press of a switch. Even today it seems a bit weird, a bit like sorcery. In 1982 of course it was a slice of the future, but always over someone else’s house; at home we couldn’t afford a VHS machine until we rented one in late 1983.  Those dark Autumn nights of 1982 when we gathered over a freinds house when his parents were out and watched those VHS copies, they linger in my head forever, so intense it almost seems like yesterday. I giggled like some kind of idiot on first watching The Thing (it just seemed so extreme, in hindsight it was probably nervous laughter, not funny ‘ha-ha’ laughter, but I hadn’t seen Dawn of the Dead at that point). I detested Conan for not really being honest to the Howard books (though I made peace with it soon enough on subsequent viewings) and I remember being gobsmacked by the wild kinetics of Mad Max 2.

Backtrack a few months to Easter, 1982, and Tron: I remember playing an RPG over a freinds house and we paused to watch Disneytime on his portable telly. Imagine five or six of us enthralled when they showed a clip of Tron: it was the Lightcycle chase, and this little portable b&w television was suddenly a window into the future. Hell, I was still playing videogames on my Atari VCS and they were nothing like the cgi being thrown around in Tron. We had seen nothing quite like it, it was like something that arrived out of nowhere.

It was like that back then. Films did seem to come from nowhere. I remember every month going into the city to the specialist bookshops, reading all the latest movie news in the latest issues of Starlog, Fantastic Films, Starburst, Cinefantastique, Cinefex. Marvelling at the latest pictures, reading the latest previews/reviews/interviews. There was no internet, films were spoiled less and information harder to come by. Trailers were rarely seen (not available at a whim as they are now).

When I saw Blade Runner that September, I had never seen a single scene beforehand, hardly any pictures. I do remember a film-music programme on the radio on which I heard the sequence of Deckard meeting Tyrell- that was my only experience of that film beforehand. I wonder if that was why the film had such an impact on me back then? Nowadays we see so much, learn so much, before we even see a film. It steals the surprise somehow. It’s so hard to avoid these days.

Back in 1982, films kept their surprises.