Posts Tagged With: life on mars

The Doctor of Oz

OK. Watch this first. Better yet, watch it and then go to the YouTube page and click the ‘like’ button. God knows I could use the hit count, and I’d rather get it fairly than resort to artificial inflation.

The Wizard of Oz is one of those films that has followed me round for most of my life. You may remember, some months ago, that I blogged about our household’s first video recorder and the many viewings of Ghostbusters that followed. The Wizard of Oz may have been the fourth or fifth pre-recorded tape we bought. I’d already got through the book and wasn’t quite prepared for the glossy Technicolor buoyancy that followed. It would be years before I learned about the mythology that sprung up around the film, with the in-fighting amongst the cast, the problems with Garland’s breasts, the near-omission of ‘Over The Rainbow’ and the urban legend about the dead Munchkin.

I was saying to sj only the other week that the interesting thing about The Wizard of Oz on film is its utter trashing of the ending. While it takes a number of liberties with the book, with many characters dropped and many adventures abandoned, the biggest thing that happens is the solidification of Dorothy’s Kansas life, giving her a reason to come home. But it’s more than this: the very end of the film is a direct reversal of the very end of the novel, in which Dorothy arrives out of nowhere and lands on the grass outside the house that her parents are rebuilding. In the film, the entire journey to and from Oz – and, crucially, all the inhabitants therein – are seemingly¬†imagined constructs, with friends and nemeses taking on counterpart roles when she and Toto set off along the Yellow Brick Road.

In other words, in the film Dorothy doesn’t actually go to Oz. She only thinks she does. The novel – and its many sequels – establish Oz as a real place that’s not on any map, but which anyone can visit (and indeed, Dorothy and her Aunt and Uncle eventually uproot and take up permanent residence there in one of the later books). In the film, she gets concussion during the cyclone and wakes up in her own room some hours later none the worse for her ordeal, with no one willing to believe that she’s been gone for days. This isn’t revealed until the very end of the film, unlike, say, Life on Mars – a show that was in many ways a direct homage to Oz – which featured a protagonist who spent most of his time trying to work out whether he had in fact time-travelled or was merely trapped in his own subconscious. The show’s sequel, Ashes to Ashes, explained everything (and nonetheless posed as many questions as it had provided answers), but perhaps the best explanation to this conundrum came from Albus Dumbledore near the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which he reassures our eponymous hero that “Of course it’s happening in your head, Harry. But why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?”.

And I’m rambling.

This all started with the scarecrow. I picked him up in Cancer Research one Friday evening for a bargain price. As I snapped the lid on the plastic tub that contains the Doctor Who figure collection, making a mental note to do another photo-shoot some time, I noticed that if you were to team him up with one of the Cybermen, and – ooh, I don’t know, the Werewolf from ‘Tooth and Claw’, you’d have the three sidekicks from The Wizard of Oz. And after that, all you really need is Dorothy and Toto.

Casting was the real joy here. Pantomime is a big part of Christmas – at least it is in this country – and The Wizard of Oz is on every holiday, so I took the approach of the Who figures staging their own amateur dramatics production, sort of like the characters in Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation. There was no question of who to cast as Toto, and with that in mind there was really only one choice for Dorothy (unless I can find a Leela or Romana figure, anyway). Sarah Jane’s a bit long in the tooth here, admittedly, but so was Garland.

The Wizard of Oz features an amusing turn by Frank Morgan, who not only plays the Wizard himself (and his real-world counterpart, Professor Marvel) but also the Emerald City gatekeeper, the cab driver and the weeping sentry outside the Wizard’s inner sanctum. It’s the sort of multi-role casting that Eddie Murphy now seemingly does in every single movie he makes, but in 1939 it worked beautifully – and when it came to casting the Wizard (which obviously has to be the First Doctor, who looks the part), it made sense to cast some of his other regenerations in these supporting roles. The wish-fulfilment scenes of John Barrowman getting run over by the pirate ship / eaten by Joshua’s Playmobil clam were something I stuck in at the last minute when I realised I really wanted to feature Jack, without having anything for him to actually do. (Those familiar with musical theatre will have worked out that he’s singing – or attempting to sing – ‘The Doctor and I’, an adapted version of ‘The Wizard and I’, from Wicked, itself an unofficial prequel to Oz. I love joining up those dots!)

MGM are notoriously hot on copyright when it comes to The Wizard of Oz. They allow for short scenes on YouTube, but will block certain iconic moments (like Dorothy’s arrival in Munchkinland) and I read of several people who had seen videos deleted or audio disabled because it infringed copyright. So I took no chances and stuck instead to a four-minute summary of the entire film, in short bursts that tell the story (sans music) without ever telling too much of it at once. The result is a video that jumps all over the place, but it works, more or less.

I shot this over an evening and a morning, and then it was just a question of synching the photos with the narrative. I didn’t feel confident enough to venture into stop motion on this occasion, so you’re stuck with the pictures, but they do – wherever possible – mimic the positioning of the actors in the film. The sets are dreadful, of course, but I was working with Duplo and Playmobil. Likewise the lighting is second-rate – if I’m going to start doing this properly I really ought to invest in a decent studio area with spot lamps, but at least you can see it.

It’s the credit visuals I’m quite pleased with. Here they are again, without all those words getting in the way.

The scarecrow, as a friend of mine pointed out, is a surprisingly good breakdancer. Who knew?

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Museum piece

Bromyard is one of those towns my family encounters frequently but never actually experiences properly. It’s situated on the A44, equidistant – or near enough – between Worcester and Leominster (two great examples of English place names that sound nothing like their spelling would suggest they do). It is a place we drive through if we are returning to or from Emily’s parents’ Shropshire abode – assuming we’re going the pretty way (i.e. the route that doesn’t involve tedious, tank-emptying stretches of the M40). The problem with the non-motorway route is that while it saves on fuel it does tend to take longer, particularly on the lengthy A44 stretch, as it is a favourite route of caravans, milk tankers, tractors or slow-moving pensioners, and you can count the number of safe overtaking spots on the fingers of Homer Simpson’s left hand. Normally when I’ve driving through Bromyard I’m either exhilarated that we’re making reasonable time, or drumming my fingers on the wheel, and praying that the slowcoach in front with an upper speed limit of thirty-five miles an hour (including in built-up areas, which really irritates me) is going to turn off soon.

On Easter Monday, however, we stopped here, because there’s a town centre attraction I’ve been wanting to visit for years. You may remember a while back that I posted photos of the Doctor Who exhibition we went to in Cardiff – all bright lights, flashing models and relatively light on actual content. We’d driven through Bromyard and seen signs for the Time Machine museum there a number of times, but had never actually got round to going. Thomas can be a bit highly strung when it comes to stuff like this, and I was blowed if I was going to pay five quid for entry only to have him tear about the place in one of his moments of silliness. So the fact that he was, on this occasion, staying in Shropshire with his grandparents gave us the perfect excuse.

Daniel lasted a minute and a half. It didn’t help that he was tired. It also didn’t help that the moment you walk through the door there’s a whopping great Dalek in the entrance by the TARDIS door, as the Who music loops in the background: effective for conjuring up the spirit of the thing but not so good if you’re a sleepy three-year-old (or near enough) who is discovering lately that certain things frighten him more and more. We had, I think, been lulled into a false sense of security after Cardiff, when – being too young to really understand – he had been taken in by the sights and sounds; if I remember correctly it was Joshua we’d had to reassure and console. But today, Daniel was having none of it. We tried to show him that it was just a bunch of models and that nothing was real, but since Cardiff, he’s actually seen the show, and after five minutes of screaming and head-burying and cries of “I DON’T LIKE IT, IT’S TOO SCARY!” Em and I cut our losses and she took him back to the car, while I walked round with Josh. Then we switched. Daniel dozed on my shoulder while Josh went on his second circuit, gleefully pointing on each occasion at the stuff he recognised and, after coming across an enormous poster of two police officers posing by a Cortina, asking why The Master was in Life on Mars. (I confess I was too busy admiring Sam Tyler’s leather jacket – which I’m still annoyed I didn’t photograph – to give him a proper answer.)

Speaking of photos, these aren’t great, but they do give you a general idea. One of the lovely things about the place is that ¬†it’s stacked full of memorabilia from the show’s golden age – there is plenty of new stuff as well (including a substantial collection of barely-glimpsed alien costumes from the bar scene of ‘The End of Time’, gleefully mounted in every single display case with a sense of glee which frankly borders on overkill) but I was whooping with delight at the sight of Patrick Troughton dolls, old Cybermen and – most thrillingly of all – an actual Zygon. Elsewhere there’s a model Starbug (of Red Dwarf), and plenty of Thunderbirds stuff. It’s not huge, but you can spend a happy hour there looking at everything. I’d have enjoyed it more had we actually had the chance to go round it together, rather than having to work in shifts, but that’s the way it goes.

Those pictures, then…

Daleks! The one front left is the 1966 edition. The gold one on the right hand side is 2005. Note the increased size. Maybe we’re all just getting taller.

‘Earthshock’ Cyberman. I cried. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know why.

The gold outfit worn by Robert Llewellyn in ‘Krytie TV’, Red Dwarf VIII

Starbug!

Ood!

See, there’s always one idiot who has to mug at the back and ruin the picture.

Davros reconstruction

Sycorax warrior

Gene Hunt’s I.D.

Silurian. I’m not sure if this is the 70s or 80s version.

“Seriously, they don’t let me out of here soon I’ll pee battery acid all over the floor of this case.”

Matt Smith’s white tie from ‘The Big Bang’, apparently the only Eleventh Doctor outfit on show in a private collection.

It’s blurry and poorly lit, but IT’S A ZYGON!

It’s still blurry and still poorly lit, but IT’S A ZYGON!

Costumes from ‘The Family of Blood’. Or, as son no.1 put it, “Why does that monster have no arms and no head?”

1967 vs 2006. No contest for scariness. Absolutely none.

Do go, if you get the chance. Just leave the three-year-old at home.

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Darth Gene

Masked characters are, for obvious reasons, very easy to redub. The better known the original voice, and the deeper the contrast, the more effective the result. Darth Vader is thus ripe for lampooning, being one of those few instances where the voice arguably supersedes the appearance of the character – in other words, as many people could tell you what he sounds like (usually in the form of awkward, barely recognisable impressions) as they could describe him visually. Thanks to James Earl Jones’ delivery, Vader’s voice is an integral, inseparable component of his character, to the extent that removing it means he’s simply not Darth Vader (cf. the end of Revenge of the Sith – you’ll know what I’m talking about). You do have to wonder how they cope in the foreign releases.

A glance over the internet finds any number of Star Wars parodies, many of which involve Jones, using dialogue from The Lion King and any number of other pictures that starred or featured him. For a bit of comic relief you could also do a lot worse than look up the original dialogue as recorded by Dave Prowse while he was stomping around the sets in character. The result is Darth Vader as performed by the Wurzels: a slightly effete pirate captain, perhaps. (There’s an urban legend that says that Prowse genuinely thought his own voice would feature in the final cut. I wish I could believe that.)

But it was the reuse of dialogue from Guy Ritchie’s Snatch – specifically the primary antagonist, Brick Top – that resulted in one of the funniest videos ever to hit YouTube. I am not including a link to it here, simply because Snatch Wars (go on, look it up if you must) is basically funnier than anything I’ve ever done and anything I’m likely to do. As redubs go, it’s the pinnacle, Everest, the holy grail. It’s where we’re all trying to reach. I was ambivalent about even mentioning it in this post, but I have to, simply because it was so influential.

The last videos I posted – i.e. the two Ashes to Ashes ones – were constructed while I was leafing through footage for this, almost as a side project. The idea of taking the hardest copper in Manchester / London and sticking his voice onto Vader the Grand Inquisitor was so obvious I couldn’t believe no one had done it before (I eventually found out why, but more on that later). Hunt is blessed with so many classic, instantly quotable lines throughout his forty-odd television appearances that this seemed as natural as breathing. So I rented the DVDs, ripped out the audio, and sat down at the computer.

And it took the entire summer.

All right, I was away for three weeks, here and there. But even leaving that aside I don’t think I had any idea what I was getting myself into. For a start, there was so much dialogue. I had to abandon my original idea of actually listening to every episode, and instead opted to read through transcripts for both shows, which I’d helpfully found online (although one is no longer available), and then skipping through each audio file to find the appropriate dialogue passages. Even then, a lot of stuff had to be ditched – lines and sequences which looked great on paper were, as it turns out, entirely unusable as they were undercut by music or background noises that meant their inclusion in Star Wars would have jarred completely. There were tears over some of the stuff I had to cut. Actual tears.

Even once you have enough dialogue – and there was enough, even with the net losses – actually putting the thing together was fiddly and problematic. The Dalek Zippy video had been much easier because I rarely had to contend with any sort of musical background; the score is minimal and where it did pop in I could remove it completely, because the Daleks were mostly speaking to each other. This doesn’t work in a film where half the time the character you’re dubbing has to react to dialogue from other characters, which means putting their lines in, and finding that you have to paste the appropriate part of the score back in underneath the dialogue you’ve inserted. And whatever section of the trilogy you happen to be watching, there is usually something playing in the background. Half the time I found I didn’t even have the right segment on what I’d assumed were fairly complete CD editions of John Williams’ music; even when it did exist I had to contend with the PAL DVDs of the trilogy, which were marginally faster. Have a look at the scene on the Death Star between Darth Vader and Moff Jerjerrod (yes, I looked that up; even I’m not that geeky) at 7:39 and you’ll see what I mean. It hangs together, but only just.

After all the technical stuff was done I had to sequence everything and come up with credits, and it was then that I had the idea of a little ‘next time’ preview at the end, which is worth watching even if you don’t watch the rest. And out of consideration to those of you who don’t really have sixteen minutes to spare, I have contracted the best of Darth Gene into its own two minute trailer, originally so that I could submit it to The Trailer Mash, but I found I liked the trailer even more than the full edition. What was strange was that I’d expected the whole production to be, like Dalek Zippy before it, a mixture of random moments and nothing more. I wasn’t expecting to tell the story that eventually took shape.

A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this, and that’s why the subsequent YouTube embargo – related to Fox’s ownership of the material – really sucked. I should have thought about it at the time (although copyright infringement isn’t really a reason not to do something like this, you just have to be careful about where you put it). It’s a bit of a downer to find that a video that was months in creation has been blocked worldwide. I tried unsuccessfully to contest it under not-for-profit fair use (which I think is a reasonable argument) but after weeks of non-response from Fox I gave up and uploaded it to Viddler instead, where it is left undisturbed but largely unwatched. (The subtext behind this? Please pass this on, if you like it. The more exposure the better.)

It is occasionally patchy, and a little rough around the edges, and could probably do with some trimming in the Jedi sequences. But it remains, perhaps, my favourite of all the videos I’ve done, simply because I learned so much from the process – how not to do it, as well as how to do it – and it may be a while before I attempt anything of this magnitude again. And may the Schwartz be with you.

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