Posts Tagged With: lego

Have I Got Whos For You (Apocalypse Now Edition)

Excuse the radio silence these last weeks, but I’ve been away. And busy. And now I’m neither. Which is a blessing, but it comes with the realisation that I’m rather behind. So let’s crack on with this week’s meme roundup, shall we?

First and foremost:

I haven’t seen Good Omens yet. Needless to say the interest of the DW community was piqued when someone (it might have been Gaiman, it might have been Tennant) happened to mention that there were some Doctor Who references in there, which instantly led to people freeze-framing number plates and street corners to try and find them. By far the most hysterical conversation I witnessed was an American who was convinced that they’d seen a red TARDIS, which was in fact a telephone box. It’s a cultural misunderstanding, but you know how these things work: even when it’s been explained to you, you don’t want to back down.

Anyway, I was trawling the web, looking for Easter Eggs, and –

[coughs]

In politics this week, a leaked mock-up shows a rather different set of prospective nominees for the backstabbing skirmish that is the Conservative leadership battle.

(It’s going to be Boris, isn’t it? Dear God, it’s going to be Boris.)

Entertainment now. And as the new face of Worzel Gummidge is unveiled, the old one reveals that he doesn’t like it.

I never read the books, but Mackenzie Crook’s appearance is supposedly based on the idea that Worzel was supposed to have a turnip head, as opposed to looking like Jon Pertwee covered in soil. This is fine, and understandable, but he looks like someone who’s been prematurely aged (see: Beetlejuice, The X-Files and various episodes of Doctor Who) and the plant strands that serve for a beard remind me a little bit of Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean. The problem is that irrespective of faithfulness to the source material, Pertwee’s iconic rendition has all but usurped it. Worzel Gummidge is like The Wizard of Oz: everyone remembers how it looked, rather than how it read.

Elsewhere, in gaming: as Forza Horizon 4 unveils its new Lego-themed expansion, the Doctor has a nagging feeling that he should move the TARDIS.

When I posted this, various people were keen to point out that the TARDIS would be fine, since it had extrapolator shields. To which the obvious response is “Yes, but the car doesn’t!”

 

Finally, it’s been – can you believe it – five years since the death of Rik Mayall, which makes me sad that he was never involved in Doctor Who in some way. He was an extremely talented actor – both in straight and comedic roles – with a tremendous screen presence. He even makes Drop Dead Fred semi-interesting – although you’d have to use him carefully. There is no place for the man in a Dalek story. Bottom was – to all intents and purposes – the Waiting for Godot of sitcoms, so it would have to be something ostensibly mundane, where characters are lulled into a false sense of security and mostly just sit around waiting for things to happen.

“IT’S NOT BLOODY DOING ANYTHING!”

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Legopolis (part one)

There was a time when you could sort of get Doctor Who Lego, and it was rubbish.

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At least some of you had this, right? That cut-price, flimsy, second-rate Lego knock-off that wouldn’t stick together and wouldn’t stay together, with its wobbly platforms and barely-functioning mechanisms (and I ought to know, I spent an entire afternoon trying to build the bloody thing). The Dalek set was no better: poorly designed, tedious to put together, and filled with cheap-looking Daleks. I know that Lego have a patent on their particular brick design and that the plastic they use is generally higher quality, but really. Oh, I have stared into the abyss with you, Character Building, and I have found you wanting.

The figures themselves weren’t bad, of course: I bought a set of all eleven some years back, along with a few of those £2 mystery bags that theoretically contained one of seven or eight different figures but which almost invariably contained the Eleventh Doctor. The boys and I had great fun playing with them, but they occasionally came in useful for other things.

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TOTD_Lego

Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to Gallifrey? Despite the abundance of assorted fan creations all over the internet, this was – alas – the nearest we thought we’d get to actual official Lego Doctor Who. Until last year, when this happened.

We’ve been here before, of course. Lego Dimensions was an attempt to cash in on the success of Skylanders and Disney Infinity: collectible toys used to unlock new areas and abilities in an expansive open world video game. Even before launch, the tabloid outrage had started in earnest. It was easy to see why, if you did some elementary mathematics: a starter pack would set you back something between eighty and ninety pounds, while level and team packs cost another thirty. Even the fun packs (containing a single character and a gadget of some sort) were fifteen pounds each. “It’ll cost you £350 if you buy everything!” screamed various media outlets, neglecting to mention the fact that you don’t have to spend anywhere near that amount to get a heap of enjoyment from the game.

There’s a certain sense of moral hand-wringing at work here. How dare you – we seem to be saying – how dare you, Lego, a capitalist venture, try and make money out of us by selling us things we don’t have to buy? Never mind the fact that you’re not the first to go down this road. We thought you were different. We thought you were on our side, rather than the exploiting, money-grabbing bastards at Disney. We thought you were all about the creativity, which is presumably why you’ve been re-releasing the same set of bricks all these years and never making new ones. You see? When you put it like that, the whole argument is ridiculous. The real problem here is peer pressure, and if you’re succumbing to that, you’re just not parenting properly.

In this case, the peer pressure came from me. Our kids have too much screen time and know too many swearwords (all of which they learned in the playground, rather than the house) but we’ve done one thing right: by and large, they don’t whine for stuff. Keeping commercial television at a minimum helps – any exposure to the minefield that is CITV is tempered by the running commentary I keep up through the advertising breaks, pointing out misleading product claims or gender stereotyping, until we got to the point that I didn’t have to do it anymore because the boys were doing it for me. So when it came to actually investing in this, they were all reasonably interested, but I was the one that pushed for it. “Because it’s Lego,” I said, “and because it’s Doctor Who Lego.”

It meant upgrading the Xbox. It was due, anyway – that 360 isn’t going to last forever, and if we were going to invest in the Dimensions set then some sort of futureproofing was in order. I wanted a PS4 (I still do) but the boys’ friends seem to have gone the Microsoft route, and it’s only a matter of time before they start doing online gaming, so the parent in me won out over the gamer.

You wonder why you bother, sometimes. Minecraft was tremendous fun for everyone until Thomas discovered the concept of griefing. Last year I set them off on Lego Star Wars, thinking that it might be a good way to introduce them to the series before we eventually moved on to Dimensions, but had forgotten that this early instalment does not have a split screen co-op mode, which led to great frustration when the experienced player was trapped at the edge of the play area as the camera zoomed ever outwards, waiting for the younger player to catch up. So I installed Viva Pinata instead, thinking that a multiplayer gardening game couldn’t possibly do any harm, only to find that they were far more interested in bashing the in-game A.I. assistant with a shovel.

Pinata

Split screen issues aside, the main problem with the Lego video games – as anyone who has followed the series will tell you – is that they’ve become increasingly complicated. This isn’t an issue if you’re a gaming veteran who’s used to upgrades and abilities and an increasing number of collectible items. Lego Indiana Jones 2 was the first to feature a large, fully interactive hub that made you actually hunt for the next level. Harry Potter featured an obscene number of items to collect, as well as game-breaking bugs that prevented you from doing just that. (Even after all these years, things have sadly not improved.) Lord of the Rings actively splits the gameplay so that in some levels, one character is teleported to an entirely different location and forced to do various things while someone else is having their own story, which rather spoils the effect of co-op.

It’s a far cry from Lego Star Wars – which, eleven years later, still holds up beautifully, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it is surprisingly minimalist. There are ten canisters per level, all used to build different vehicles that sit nicely in the cantina outside the hub. There are seven character types for accessing inaccessible areas (Lego Dimensions has 31). Characters you don’t unlock automatically may be purchased for a reasonable number of studs. There is one secret level, accessible when the main game has been completed, in which you get to stomp all over Princess Leia’s consular ship as Darth Vader. There are no gold or red bricks. Purple studs have yet to make an appearance. There’s not even any building, for heaven’s sake. There is just hours of unadulterated entertainment as you run through swamps and starships, hitting things and occasionally using the Force to move stuff.

Lego_StarWars

Lego Dimensions – as you’ll know if you’ve played it – features gold and red bricks, upgradable vehicles, hidden characters in need of rescuing, stuff to buy, stuff to renovate, minikit canisters, and…I stopped looking. I can’t keep up. The much-coveted 100% goal has eluded me since that second Indiana Jones game and I’m not inclined to try and reach it now. It is the proverbial bunch of grapes dangling tantalisingly out of reach of the hungry wolf’s mouth, and I am inclined to find it sour. There’s just too much: an absolute wealth of Easter Eggs, secret levels and other hidden delights. It’s information overload. The between-levels hub, at least, is pleasantly minimalist, consisting of a single, multi-floored area with a computer that takes you in and out of the different game levels. Shame it’s all so…blue.

I didn’t mention the toy pad and its circular, geometrically intricate hub, which took almost an hour for the kids to build and approximately thirty-five seconds for their two-year-old brother to destroy. The pad serves as an extra layer of gameplay: dropping minifigures on different sections takes them in and out of the world and allows access to new abilities and previously unavailable platforms and rooms, thanks to the puzzle design. If you have extra figures that can access hidden areas, dropping them onto the pad will bring them into the game (and if you haven’t bought them, you can purchase their abilities for thirty seconds at a time using studs you’ve collected). Keeping minifigures attached to the plastic base that functions as an identity chip therefore becomes absolutely vital if you don’t want to become hopelessly confused (although swapping them over is a great way to prank your children). It also necessitates storing them in a safe place, which has only failed to happen once. I wouldn’t mind if we ever got to play the bloody thing, but Traveller’s Tales have an annoying habit of doing this whenever I turn on the Xbox.

Xbox Update

I appreciate that they want to update things (although I’d appreciate it more if said updates actually fixed the bugs that made us play through that ridiculous Back to the Future Level again) but seriously, can’t they give us a choice? And yes, I’m aware that the always-on setting would allow an automatic update, but our carbon footprint is already through the roof and I’m not inclined to raise it any further. On the plus side, this made me all nostalgic for the days when I’d visit a friend’s house and he’d put the Chase HQ tape in his Spectrum cassette player, and then we’d go off downstairs and get a snack or something while it took ten minutes to load. Of course, these days it only takes two hours.

Lego Dimensions levels vary in quality. There’s the very good (Portal, Scooby Doo, Doctor Who), the good (Ghostbusters, which is curiously satisfying despite a general lack of atmosphere), the passable (The Simpsons) the irritating (Midway Arcade, which emulates Gauntlet very nicely but insists on splitting the screen when there’s more than enough room for two players at once) and the utterly dire (BTTF). The designers’ attempts to vary artistic style are largely successful – the land of Oz hums in glorious Technicolor, while the cel-shading in Scooby Doo is top notch.

And what of the Doctor Who level? Well, those of you who know your video games will be aware that there are two of them: a standalone level pack, ‘The Dalek Extermination of Earth’ – which I’ll write about when I’ve actually got round to playing it – and ‘A Dalektable Adventure’, the Who-themed level in the game’s central campaign. In the latter, Gandalf, Wyldstyle and Batman encounter Cybermen, Daleks and Weeping Angels. ‘Bad Wolf’ is scribbled on the walls, and overhead TV monitors replay the oh-god-it’s-coming-out-of-the-screen moment from ‘The Time of Angels’. The Doctor’s role is brief, although those of you who have played the rest of the campaign will be aware that he takes a much bigger role in the finale.

Lego_Doc

Some of the best moments in Lego Dimensions are the little moments where you open up a tear in reality in order to pull through an object of use from another dimension (something they shamelessly nicked from Bioshock, although I’m not complaining). It leads to moments like the scene in the Portal level where you clear obstacles with the help of a screaming Homer Simpson, clinging to a wrecking ball. But the game speaks to anyone who has mashed up universes in creative play. In his bedroom, I’ve watched Daniel bash up Uruk-hai with Ninja Turtles and Spider-Man: in Lego Dimensions, GlaDOS has a conversation with HAL from 2001, the Joker stomps all over Springfield, and General Zod appears on the roof of the Ghostbusters’ firehouse. It’s a fanboy’s wet dream, but it’s more than that: it’s a testament to the power of creative thought. It’s also a cynical marketing stunt, of course – Lego have spent years shrugging off criticism that their current sets are too rigid and unimaginative, and eventually decided to fight fire with fire. It started with The Lego Movie, which embraced the concept of hybrid, non-linear thinking, and Lego Dimensions (despite the cataclysm that results when Lord Vortech starts fusing worlds) is a natural extension of that.

None of this would count for zip, of course, if the game wasn’t any good, but thankfully it is, despite the bugs. It encourages teamwork, perseverance and a certain degree of lateral thinking. Em and I enjoyed it very much. And of course, when the boys started playing it, they fought like tigers on heat. I had to referee. And then I had to supervise their sessions, ostensibly to lend a hand when they got stuck and were too busy arguing to work out the solution, although this only made things worse.

Oh, that’s another thing. I didn’t mention this, did I?

It’s brilliant. I always wondered how you’d handle the Angels in a third-person game, and the intermittent power failures fit the bill nicely. What this video doesn’t show you is what happens when you allow them to get too close, which leads to a bunch of close-up shots with gaping mouths, vicious-looking fangs and those soulless white eyes. It would have terrified Daniel, but he was already watching the thing from outside the room anyway, leaving the others to manage without him: not easy when you have to move the figures around the toy pad while you’re trying to move Gandalf around a disintegrating platform.

It came to a head one Sunday afternoon, the boys stuck in the first half of the Doctor Who level. “No, no,” I said. “No, you need to use the earth element on that. Josh, put him on green. No, GREEN. No, hang on, you’ve – Thomas, why did you deactivate the switch?”
“I didn’t!”
“Well, it was on, and now it’s off, and you were standing by it! Turn it on. That’s – no, look, you only need to press it once. Once! Now do it again. Daniel, what are you doing?”
“I’m bashing up the Batmobile.”
“You need the Batmobile to get over that ramp. That’s it. Reverse. Rever- no, look, just turn round. That’s it. Right round. Further! Now, go for- no, you need to slow down or you’re going to – see, you’ve gone over the edge.”
“I can’t do it.”
“You can do it, you just need to aim properly. No, right, right, RIGHT! Oh, look, give me the controller. There. Now, just drive straight over it. Thomas, have you turned the switch back on?”
“No.”
“Look, if you don’t turn the switch on you won’t be able to clear that swamp and we’re never going to be off this level. Right. Now, aim down at the – NO, NOT AT HIM! NOT AT HIM! LEFT! LEFT!”

From the dining table, Emily looked up from her painting. “You know who you sound like?” she said. “One of those soccer dads.”

I left the room, saturated with self-loathing. She was right, dammit.

But there are times – rare, shining moments – that they work together. Having discovered Clara Oswald stuck in a glass case, it was decided that they should spend fifty thousand of their hard-earned studs in order to hire the hero they needed to rescue her. This is a high-profile and important mission, so the task of actually breaking open the case within the thirty second time limit was entrusted to me, because the likelihood of me screwing it up was minimal.

So I freed Clara. There was much whooping and rejoicing. Then they spent the next five minutes chasing her round the base, kicking the crap out of her.

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Doctor Who: Switching Channels

In 1992, John Ritter (Three’s Company, It) and Pam Dawbey (Mork and Mindy) starred in Stay Tuned, in which an unmotivated couch potato and his long-suffering spouse inadvertently make a deal with Satan and wind up stuck inside their TV. There they are forced to escape from a variety of pastiches – The Dukes of Hazzard, Wayne’s World and Star Trek all feature – before winding up in a Salt-N-Pepa video. It is thoroughly silly, and twenty-five years later, it is ripe for a remake.

This is not that remake. But it is as close as I’m ever going to get to it, given my limited editing skills. And it has Muppets.

Switching Channels – as I have called this, even though I’m not entirely sure that’s the right title – started life as something very different. I’d originally envisaged a sweeping, rambling narrative that took in the entire Pond backstory, from encounters in Leadworth to farewells in Manhattan, by way of spaceships and mines and factories. It was going to be called The Ballad of Amy and Rory, and it was going to be epic. The Doctor and Amy would look up at the sky in horror to see a giant Zebedee jumping over the hedge, as in this Goodies episode (I haven’t timestamped the link, but the moment in question is at 7:10, if you were wondering). River’s announcement that “I’m your daughter” would segue into the Eastenders theme, because I always thought that would have made for a better ending. (Actually, the episode really ought to have finished with Amy bellowing “I’m not telling you what to do. I am not your mother!”, before River screams “YES YOU ARE!”.)

Best of all, I was going to juxtapose the Doctor’s tearful farewell to Amy in the New York cemetery with extracts from this.

It would have been fun, and I almost managed it, but in the end I couldn’t find a decent helium-recorded version of ‘Annie’s Song’ that didn’t have dialogue playing underneath it. Someone clever could probably rip it from the foreign language DVD and re-pan the stereo tracks. I even went down that road myself. So maybe another time.

But there was also going to be another segment in the middle that saw Amy and Rory fall into a TV set, and it was during the process of becoming increasingly frustrated with the other bits that I realised that a little streamlining was in order. So out went the other bits, and in came the the metaphysical post-modern silliness that you’ve hopefully just watched, unless you decided to scroll down and read this first (in which case scroll up again. Go on; we’ll wait for you).

The main inspiration for this stems from 1990s children’s television. If those of you who’ve never heard of Tots TV could bear with us a second:

Is_It_Just_Me_3

You see what I mean.

Look, I’m aware that some things probably shouldn’t be thrown together. Baileys and Coca-Cola, for example (I know this from experience, having tried it). The happy, carefree, multi-lingual world of the three small puppet children in Ragdoll’s 1990s extravaganza is streets away from the thoroughly twisted sight of Amy the Peg Doll careering through George’s doll’s house in the final act of ‘Night Terrors’. But I refuse to accept that there wasn’t at least a part of the concept design that wasn’t influenced by it, however subconsciously. It was therefore an obvious starting point – and from there, other influences followed. The Scooby Doo / Doctor Who thing, for example, is something I’ve talked about before, but if you don’t fancy reading all that, just have a look here:

Is_It_Just_Me_4

And so on and so on.

There are rough spots. The Third Doctor scene isn’t as I’d hoped it would be, because of the non-existence of certain lines that Arthur Darvill never said (and probably never will). I shot the animation over the course of a single hour, and boy does it show. I make no excuses for this except that I was on childcare duty and Edward kept wandering in and jogging the table (which is why the landscape keeps moving around). The lighting is inconsistent and the figure placement even more so, but the animation itself is comparatively smooth by my standards. I’d love to be Oliver Postgate working in his garage, but it’s the middle of the summer and I have to keep breaking up the Minecraft squabbles. Besides, our garage is full of junk; you couldn’t swing a cat in there, let alone a Soup Dragon.

There is a point at which any artist or creator has to stop with the polishing. I’m comparatively scrupulous over my blog posts – even more so when it’s paid work – but I often think that with the videos I draw the ‘stop polishing’ line somewhat prematurely. It’s cost me in the past – I still regret the occasional glitches and random, almost subliminal frames in some of the early stuff that wasn’t trimmed properly – but I’m also at the stage in my life where I care less than perhaps I should. When you have only so much time, and (in my case) only so much technical expertise, it is sometimes better to get something done than to get it perfect. Russell T. Davies knows this, perhaps, better than anyone, as his confessions in The Writer’s Tale only re-affirm.

So I’m happy with this being rough. The Beatles’ first album was notoriously rough, and everyone loves that. Besides, being ‘rough’ means that it’s finished. And I’m glad it’s finished, because now I can go and do something else. That tribute to ‘Logopolis’, for example, or the Withnail and I mashup I’ve been tinkering with for months. I have more ideas than capacity to implement them successfully, but this isn’t a career; this is a bit of fun. And I’m happy for it to be fun, and nothing else.

Still, I wish I’d managed to fix ‘Annie’s Song’.

(Incidentally, if you were wondering about the significance of the blocks in the background during the animated bit, they’re there for a reason. But I’m not going to tell you. It really ought to be obvious.)

 

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The Lego Movie / Doctor Who connection

If you’ve seen The Lego Movie, you’ll know by now that it’s basically a one-hundred minute pastiche of The Matrix, with bricks. That doesn’t mean the Wachowskis should start calling their lawyers, given that The Matrix is your bog standard quest movie, replete with Arthurian imagery (right down to the closing shot of Matrix Revolutions), but set against the backdrop of the evil genius argument and fashioned for a teenage audience who had grown up on video games. It’s half Excalibur, half Tron. There isn’t a single original thought in there. That it gets away with it is down to the effects, the guns and the always entertaining Hugo Weaving, who is by far the most animated character in the entire trilogy, counterbalancing the fact that he was (Legolas aside) the least animated character in Lord of the Rings.

Of course, there’s an interesting development at the end of the second act of The Lego Movie, in which [COLOSSAL SPOILER]. But the question of reality and authorial intent is a curious one, and of course I immediately started to wonder how we might relate this to the Whoniverse, and the idea of pocket universes, dimension jumps and the act of creation and potential.

In the end, all I could come up with was a bunch of Photoshop hatchet jobs. And here they are. First, the obvious.

 

 

 

Then there’s the character similarities.

 

 

What do you mean, you have no idea who that other chap is? Oh look, go and watch ‘The Pirate Planet’. It’s absolutely magnificent television, and it features one of the most memorable, quotable villains in the history of the show. It was written by Douglas Adams, and it shows.

Then there’s this, which is rough around the edges but my personal favourite.

 

We really have to fix up Benny with the Space Core from Portal 2. (Various people already have, of course.)

Finally, there’s this –

Kragle_Rock

– but I think that’s a euphemism for “We’re running out of ideas”. Still. Muppets. Not nearly as animated when they’re glued. Although it make make Baby Bear less irritating.

 

 

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‘It’s only a model’

I knew that Character Building set would come in useful.

Fig_1

As Gareth pointed out, “Some of these look more realistic, too.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to say it,” I replied. “Largely because I knew you would.”

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I have the power

Because sometimes, you just have to share a silly picture.

Skeletor_Cat

The sharing of which led to someone else sharing this with me. You reap what you sow…

Lego_Dalek_2

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‘The Bells of Saint John’ revisited

Coming soon: another EXCLUSIVE reveal about the Doctor’s true identity, courtesy of Gareth.

But you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow for that. In the meantime, I bring you Thomas’s latest Lego creation, which he calls ‘The Doctor Ascending the side of the Shard’.

Shard

Yes, I know the dimensions of the Shard are a little askew. He’s five!

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Lego Balamory Revisited

You will recall the Lego Balamory I constructed the other week. It now lies in pieces around our bungalow, partly in the form of still-intact chunks of plastic masonry that sit in the jute basket that houses the other bricks; partly cannibalised for Joshua’s next project (more on that another time). But before I took the thing apart – which had to happen quickly, because it really wasn’t fair to hog most of the Lego in the house for the sake of a vanity project – I managed to get creative with the video camera. This was the result.

For those of you unfamiliar with the original, this is a recreation of the title sequence, up to a point – make sure you watch the whole thing! A two-pronged approach was necessary: first, I swooped in and out with the video camera, mimicking the pans of the original as closely as I could. The waving characters was done using the SLR, and some (very) simple stop-motion. The jerky positioning and inconsistent lighting hopefully masks the fact that half of them appear to be making obscene gestures. Some work better than others. I’m quite pleased with Archie; it’s a shame he looks so much like Lotso.

Try and ignore the fact that it was filmed on a folded zed bed in my spare bedroom, and that there’s a towel sitting behind the model, supposedly emulating forestry. Also ignore the yellow articulated trailer standing in for Edie McCredie’s bus, and the fact that you can clearly see my shadow just as the camera zooms in on the white house. Basically this is low-tech. It was off the back of it that I realised I needed a better approach to lighting and also a remote control for the camera shutter.

As a compare and contrast exercise, here’s the original – I referred to it when putting this together.

I’m still toying with the idea of a Lego Holmfirth. But maybe not yet.

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“Dr James McCrimmon, from the township of…er…”

Basically, Balamory was doomed.

 

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(Photos of the whole project can be seen on one of my other blogs.)

 

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Does this pole still work?

When I was not quite ten years old, back in early 1988, we bought our first video recorder.

It was a revelation. No more the slaves of the clock. No more did I have to wait until Christmas to watch Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz. The VHS collection sat on the top shelf of the cabinet (when we eventually got the cabinet; those first few weeks the recorder sat on the floor) and the chunky plastic boxes were pulled in and out at least twice a day as we explored wildlife documentaries and Gerry Anderson creations and sitcom compilations. My younger brother filled up a three-hour tape with Thomas the Tank Engine episodes and wept for an hour when my mother, in order to punish him for some misdemeanour or other, refused to sanction the recording of the Christmas special, rendering his season two collection incomplete.

Access to a video recorder filled up the hours, but it also aided my sense of recall. I would wake early on Saturday mornings and sit down in front of the television, having already calculated the time I would need to start watching Superman in order to finish before I had to leave for the weekly swimming lesson. Terence Stamp’s beautifully performed monologue permeated my consciousness until I could recall every pause and every cadence of his delivery. I watched the TV edit of Back to the Future so many times I memorised it in its entirety, and took the toned-down language of the kid-friendly version to be gospel until many years later, when I heard Doc Brown swear for the first time. I can’t remember most of what I learned in school, but I can still recite the radio announcer’s Toyota commercial in the opening scene.

But it was Ghostbusters that held a special place, because it was the first tape we bought and I more or less wore it out over the years. My friends at school were crazy about it, and it was a bandwagon I couldn’t wait to ride. I can still recall the sense of disappointment when the technician who installed the VHS (yes, we needed such electrical specialists in our house) told us that we would have to leave it to settle for three or four hours before we could use it, to allow time for the machine’s moving parts to adjust to room temperature. Instead we went out, but I spent most of the time looking at my watch.

My family didn’t do Halloween, and trick-or-treaters were politely but firmly turned away. At no point did I feel deprived or embarrassed by my parents’ religious stance (save once, but that’s for another day) because they were happy about us watching Ghostbusters until the cows came home. They would even watch it with us. My mother would always chuckle when Bill Murray – ever the master of understatement, even then – reacted to the sight of a hundred-foot marshmallow man tearing up Fifth Avenue with the words “Well, there’s something you don’t see every day”. Meanwhile, my father howled with laughter every time Rick Moranis emerged from the wreckage of the destroyed penthouse, gazing at the smouldering rubble around him, before remarking “Boy, the superintendent’s gonna be pissed!”.

Years later it is still my favourite line, and I wonder how much of this is a judgement of quality and how much of it is raw nostalgia. Because when I think about it, Ghostbusters united us as a family in a way that no other film before or since – with the possible exception of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – has managed to do. We watched and experienced it together and in a strange sort of way it brought us closer together. And when I think about it now, that oh-so-laborious afternoon that I had to spend before I got to open up the video case for the first time wasn’t so much about seeing the film again as it was about introducing it to my brother, who was yet to experience it. The ability to watch it took second place to the newfound ability to discuss it and play games that were centred around it, and I can still recall the thrill of seeing his face light up the first time he saw Murray get slimed by the onion ghost.

Lately, I’ve wondered how much of this I may have transferred onto my own children. Because Halloween in our house began early – on Saturday evening, to be precise, when Emily had gone out and I elected to begin our celebrations now. We don’t trick-or-treat, but we have a pumpkin and I allow the boys to watch a (reasonably) scary film. Joshua has been asking about Ghostbusters for years, and until this year I’ve denied him, simply because sometimes the gift of a particular film or book isn’t appreciated before you reach a certain age, but lately I’ve felt he was ready. It was supposed to be just the two of us, but an insomniac Thomas wandered in towards the end of the first act and sat with us for the rest of it, as silent and receptive as he is at his best. Joshua, meanwhile, burst into fits of laughter every time a ghost was seen eating or Murray did something funny.

The next day, without any encouragement or help from me, he was busy. Here’s his Ecto-1.

Here’s a rendition of the onion ghost.

And finally, here’s a Lego self-portrait, wearing a Ghostbusters t-shirt.

It also gave me an excuse to play through this again.

I’ve experienced it before – a couple of years back – but it’s better with company. And on this occasion I had Josh sitting with me, watching as we blasted and slammed our way through the Sedgewick and Times Square, drawing in his breath at the fisherman ghost, and then giggling whenever a stray beam touched one of the other players. And, of course, he’s blissfully unaware that – like the film we’ve just watched – this is just an extension of my childhood, a time when I was not much older than he is now, and all those Saturday afternoons round a friend’s house playing the first Ghostbusters game on his Amstrad. It became an excuse for not doing other things, much like many of my gaming habits now. In my bedroom we had a Spectrum, rather than an Amstrad, and the game looked dreadful, but we loved it, and we played it to death.

Times have changed, but I basically haven’t.

 

 

 

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