Posts Tagged With: movies

How The Wizard Of Oz should have ended, if everyone had stopped to think for a minute

Author’s note: this is an old post from a different blog that’s now privacy-controlled. It goes in here because…well, because it goes in here.

A couple of years ago, my friend Rachel posted about The Lion King. Her alternate ending is frankly wonderful, if nothing else because it finally explains exactly why Simba feels responsible for the death of Mufasa – he thought he’d started the wildebeest stampede. And yes, I know you knew that, but I didn’t. And yes, that’s monumentally thick. I’d missed the woods for the trees. Decades of watching that over and over, learning the songs (and even the orchestrations) by heart, and I’d never even noticed. I just thought Simba blamed himself because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Missing the obvious has always been one of my character flaws.

Anyway, this set me thinking, and I’d like to talk today about The Wizard of Oz – a film we watched just the other week, at Daniel’s insistence, and a film which, while I know it more or less off-by-heart, has always bothered me. It’s only partly to do with Wicked– which, as you may be aware, will completely change the way you look at The Wizard of Oz, and which neatly solves the mystery of why a witch with a chronic allergy to H2O would keep a bucket of water in the middle of a walkway where someone could easily trip over it (never mind the melting, what about slippery floors?). No, it’s the ending of Oz that I’ve never really understood. And rather than explain why in a load of preamble, we will instead jump straight into The Emerald City, just after the Wizard has sailed off in his balloon. Cue Glinda.

Dorothy

Dorothy: Will you help me? Can you help me?

Glinda: You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.

Dorothy: I have?

Scarecrow: Then why didn’t you tell her before?

Glinda: Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.

Dorothy: Hold on. What the hell?

Glinda: I’m sorry?

Dorothy: [hesitantly, but with growing menace] You…knew…all this time…that I could get back…by myself. Without you. And you…didn’t…tell me.

Glinda: You wouldn’t have believed me.

Dorothy: You didn’t even try!

Glinda: Well, no, because it was your journey that was important. You didn’t really want to go back at first, did you? You wanted the adventure.

Dorothy: No I didn’t! What, you’re going to give me some sort of Joni Mitchell shit about how I couldn’t appreciate home until I had to leave it?

Glinda: Yes, but –

Dorothy: The cyclone taught me that, Glinda. The cyclone. All I could think of up there was Kansas. I was borderline concussed. I experienced levels of nausea that I don’t think have been scientifically documented. Then I landed in Midget central and I just wanted to go home again. And instead of helping, you let me go through hell to get this far. I had apples thrown at me. I was drugged. The monkeys carried me by my hair!

Glinda: My dear, I’m so sorry. But you see, you had to go through that to realise –

Dorothy: TO REALISE WHAT? To realise that you’re a horrible person? Jesus, you’re worse than the witch. And she wanted to cook my dog!

Glinda: But you defeated her. As I knew you would. And now you’re safe and sound, and you can leave these fictional constructs behind.

Scarecrow: Hold on, hold on there. Just a minute. I’m a construct?

Glinda: Why, of course you are. When Dorothy wakes up she’ll be back in her farmhouse in Kansas and no one will believe this will have happened. She’ll have years of therapy which will bankrupt her aunt and uncle, but think of the book deals!

Tin Man: But we’re real!

Glinda: No, you’re doppelgangers. You look like people she knows, but you’re a figment of her imagination. You’re the farmhands. Although here you’re the parent figures she doesn’t feel she has in her Aunt and Uncle. Except for the Lion, who appeals to her maternal instincts.

Scarecrow: So Oz isn’t real?

Glinda: Probably not.

Lion: Gee. This didn’t happen in the book.

Dorothy: It doesn’t?

Scarecrow: No, in the book you unambiguously go to and return from Oz. Eventually you ship your family out there. This ending’s only minimally ambiguous.

Tin Man: The weird part is, I don’t think anyone’s gonna care about such a colossal change.

Scarecrow: The film has basically usurped the popularity of its source material. The songs, the quotes, the costumes – they’ll last for decades. It means this catastrophic deviation will be held in far less contempt than the changes in, say, Lord of the Rings. Oh joy, this placebo brain is wonderful!

Dorothy: And the witch? I suppose you’re going to tell me she’s Miss Gulch, aren’t you?

Glinda: Absolutely right, my dear.

Dorothy: Who will still kill my dog?

Glinda: …Well…

Dorothy: Oh, fuck this shit.

[She socks Glinda on the jaw.]

Dorothy: Well, so long, imaginary friends.

[She starts to fade from view.]

Dorothy: Oh, Glinda – one more thing. Is this really happening in my head, or is it real?

Glinda: Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry Dorothy. But why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?

[Roll credits.]

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“And when I turned round…” (part two)

Those of you who are interested might want to have a look at some of my more recent Metro posts, which include:

A tongue-in-cheek examination of the Paul McGann movie (which has upset at least one person)

Doctor Who characters who’ve cheated death (which arguably worked better over Easter weekend, when it was posted)

Fifteen thoughts every parent has while watching children’s TV (which has nothing to do with this blog, but it touched a nerve)

Today, though: Mary Poppins, revisited.

 

You will feed the birds, or you will become like us.

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The inevitable Doctor Who / Star Wars trailer thing

TheHeadlessMonks

Four a.m. All right? That’s when I went to bed. That’s pretty much a record from someone who’s frequently tried to pull an all-nighter only to decide at the eleventh hour that sleep – any amount, however small – really would be better. If you have children you will understand this. If you have my children, you’ll tell me I’m being an idiot for staying up so late on a school night.

Anyway, that Star Wars trailer. You’ve all seen it, haven’t you? The one that was announced with a flurry of trumpets and had Twitter in meltdown. The one with the ominous voiceover from Luke, who basically repeats his I-am-your-sister monologue from Return of the Jedi, to a woman whom I’m informed is probably his niece. The one that’s already been analysed to death as people try and work out whether the black stormtrooper is a good guy or a bad guy (surely ‘both’ is the only sensible answer?), why Lando still hasn’t fixed the Millennium Falcon’s deflector dish, and whether you could park a plane in one of the crags on Harrison Ford’s face. It’s standard “this is what should be in a Star Wars trailer” fare, telling us precisely nothing about exactly why the Force is awakening or in whom (although I can make an educated guess) followed by the welcome sight of Han Solo – whose absence is what killed the prequel trilogy and whose presence here got the kid in me all excited. (Actually, the kid in me is about ninety per cent of my active personality, so it was quite spectacular.)

You haven’t seen it? Well, go and watch it now. Otherwise you’re going to be horribly confused by what follows, which is my version. And here it is.

The last time they did a Star Wars teaser, I produced a selection of memes. This time I went one better, opting for a full-on reconstruction. The result is rather like the Magnum P.I. trailer I produced a while back. Anyone can do a fancy trailer with appropriate footage, designed for maximum emotional / comedic impact. Producing something that actually looks a little bit like the thing you’re trying to copy is considerably trickier, and requires time, patience and – in this case – an almost encyclopedic knowledge of New Who. I have none of the above, but where’s the fun in going into something totally prepared?

I started and finished this in a single evening, mostly as a shameless land grab. The abundance of black screen helped – there was less to do. Certain stories jump out at you as being obvious targets, if like me you’ve spent time watching them with a cynical, “They nicked that from Star Wars” eye. (This isn’t really fair, of course.  The original Star Wars trilogy is, in its own way, thoroughly derivative, and that’s the reason it works so well – it fuses western with Arthurian legend and dumps it in space.) But there are obvious contenders. I never thought I’d actually be able to do anything with ‘Planet of the Dead’, but it really was a gift for something like this. And there’s not a single shot of Lee Evans.

Episodes used, in order of first appearance:

‘Planet of the Dead’
‘The Time of the Doctor’
‘School Reunion’
‘Forest of the Dead’
‘Aliens of London’
‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’
‘A Good Man Goes To War’
‘Asylum of the Daleks’
‘Doomsday’
‘The Stolen Earth’
‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’
‘Voyage of the Damned’
‘Victory of the Daleks’
‘The Crimson Horror’
‘The Eleventh Hour’
‘Fires of Pompeii’
‘Utopia’

It works reasonably well. I wish, wish, wish I’d remembered to fix the text justification in that opening title. And what’s even more irritating is that for all the shot reversals I included, I didn’t reverse the opening walk to the Tritovore spacecraft across the San Helios desert, and this is silly. At least it’s a contrast. Aside from that, you will note the obvious inclusion of the lightsaber-toting monks in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, and the the less obvious inclusion of the pteranodons from ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’. That closing image was the hardest one to pick, and even now I’m not entirely sure it’s the right one, but by this point it was half past two and my brain was bleeding.

All the while I was producing this it made sense to do a side-by-side comparison to accompany it, just to see how close I was, or wasn’t. But I bought that split-screen enabled editing software, and I’m damn well going to use it. So here it is. May the Force, and all that.

 

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The inevitable Doctor Who / Fifty Shades of Grey thing

Warning: today’s post contains adult material.

Yes, yes, all right. I’ll concede there’s nothing inevitable about this. Except to say that my ‘Doctor Who does porn‘ entry has done better, generally speaking, than anything else I’ve written recently, and while the whole https thing means I can no longer see what most of you are tapping into your search engines, I do know that at least a few of you are searching for Doctor and Tegan sex fanfic, you dirty rascals.

Anyway: E.L. James and her BDSM juggernaut. I read the first book a couple of years back and confess I enjoyed the story, while wanting to gloss over the frankly excruciating sex scenes. Curiously this is the exact opposite of what you’d normally do in a porn movie, according to a friend of mine. The sex itself was hard to stomach (not the submission thing, I just found it tedious) but I found myself mysteriously compelled towards the character of Christian Grey, wanting to know more about him. Much like the Doctor himself, he’s a man of hidden depths who plays his cards close to his chest. Plus the first time we meet him he’s in a hardware store buying cable ties, which seems a very Doctorish thing to do, even if the intended purposes are probably somewhat different.

There was a thing doing the rounds on Facebook:

Grey_1


I changed it to:

Grey_2

Disappointingly,” said Gareth, “that image contains all 256 shades of grey. I was hoping its creator had been sneaky.”

Anyway. I got busy with Fireworks yesterday and there are two images below. First, for those of you who were wondering what happened to Jack Harkness’s wayward brother after he got out of Torchwood cold storage:

(Let’s just ignore that disastrous neckline, shall we? I had spent ages trying to sync the colours of the only suitable image of Gray so that it didn’t show, and I had shopping to do.)

Meanwhile, in the TARDIS:

Geddit? Shades? Cybershades? Yeah? [tumbleweed]

There are exactly fifty of them, by the way; I counted. Some are hidden behind the heads of Smith and Tennant. And yes, I did find those images by Googling for ‘Doctor Who naked’. And no, you don’t want to see what’s in there. Trust me on this. You really don’t. Really.

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We’re going on a bear hunt

Truthfully? I’ve never really liked London.

Oh, I know that all human life is to be found there. I know it’s a combination of stunning architecture, iconic landmarks and urban regeneration juxtaposed with crumbling hilltops and windows jammed with mesh. I know the London Underground is a masterpiece of engineering and transport logistics. It’s just that I remember being stuck in one of those tube carriages at 5:35 on a hot summer’s evening, surrounded by a mass of hot, sweaty commuters, and wondering what sort of money people had to be paid in order to actively volunteer to do this on a daily basis.

And that pretty much sums up how I feel about the place. It’s just so busy. It’s not that I mind a bit of hustle and bustle. It’s just that we tend to only visit the busy parts, because we’re inevitably doing the tourist thing. The desire to tackle Hamleys on a Saturday in December with four children in tow is perhaps a clearer sign of madness than hairs on the palm of your hand, but after our experience a couple of weeks ago I never want to walk down Regent Street again. Perhaps it’s a sign of age when you suddenly find yourself put off by crowds and traffic. Perhaps not. In either event I find myself getting slightly over-awed by the parts we visit, and in need of smaller, quieter metropolitan areas. Or perhaps this is just a colossal misjudgement on my part. Perhaps, if you live in London yourself, you’ll tell me I’m just doing it wrong, an admonishment I accept willingly.

But you find stuff. A couple of months ago I wrote a reasonably coherent piece for Metro about Doctor Who‘s London locations, cobbled together from a couple of websites and with input from Gareth. One of these days I really ought to do a decent walking tour of The Famous Bits – the steps the Cybermen descended during ‘The Invasion’ (almost but not quite at St. Paul’s), or the dockside locations for ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’, at least the part that hasn’t been rebuilt. Even ignoring Doctor Who, the boys need to see London, because photos on Google Maps don’t really cut it; so we went. There was no dinosaur hovering over Westminster – we’d arrive about 140 years too late – so I added one last night.

London_43

Besides, Emily had a grand plan, which involved Paddington Bear. If you’ve been following movie news recently you’ll know that Paddington has been in the media quite a bit, given his transition from line drawing to stop motion model to CG character, with voice provided by Michael Hordern / almost Colin Firth / Ben Whishaw. The film itself (which I have yet to see) looks to be a combination of riotous slapstick and unnecessary meanness: certainly their re-enactment of the bathroom scene in an early trailer didn’t exactly me endear me to the thing, while Nicole Kidman’s evil taxidermist – inserted for dramatic tension – seems a little excessive. Or, as a friend of mine put it, “‘I’m going to stuff you, bear!’ Ah yes, that’s the Paddington we know and love.”

Paddington_station_Paddington_Bear_statue

When I was six, we went to visit a Harley Street doctor for reasons that now evade me, and I remember a huge statue of Paddington Bear at the station that towered over me like some sort of gigantic behemoth. In reality it’s only about five feet tall. A little perspective can be a wonderful thing. Remembering how big it seemed when I was small made me wonder how my children were viewing the day, and how they will remember it later. It’s the original, of course, but it was only one of a number of statues we visited the other week; about fifty of them have been scattered around London as part of the Paddington Trail, and Emily had planned out the day so that we got to see ten. Many of these were centred around Little Venice, but that was fine, because it was quiet. There were futuristic robots. There was a London Mayor. And there was one that looked a little like Sully from Monsters Inc.

London_11

 

Little Venice is a hive of canal-side walkways and bars and bridges and contemporary offices, the sort of place ripe for a Who location shoot, presumably involving the Judoon. It has a barge that has its own bookstall. Outside one of the pavement cafes, I found this.

London_03

Which has nothing to do with anything, except that anyone who actually reads God Is In The Detail (as opposed to thinking “Oh dear, he’s off again” and skipping to the next entry) will know about my banana conspiracy. In the meantime, just because I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, here’s a picture of the War Doctor in his earlier years.

Beckett

 

I heard just yesterday that one of the statues (the one in Shoreditch) has been decapitated, which is pointless and unfortunate, although it did make me think of Omega in ‘The Three Doctors’.

The Paddington movie has somewhat tenuous connections with Doctor Who, of course. Two of the actors therein have actually played the Doctor (Capaldi, and Jim Broadbent, who played him for just under a minute). Hugh Bonneville starred alongside Matt Smith in ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ – an episode so poorly written that even the appearance of Amy Pond in a pirate costume seemed dull. Michael Gambon (‘A Christmas Carol’) pops up in a voiceover cameo, and Imelda Staunton, who plays Aunt Lucy, also voiced the computer in ‘The Girl Who Waited’. Nicole Kidman has never appeared in Doctor Who, but she was married to one of the world’s most prominent scientologists – a group who manage to make the more outspoken conspiracy theorists on Gallifrey Base seem relatively sane by comparison. (I’m grasping at straws now, but at the risk of legal action, so are the people who try and justify scientology.)

Still, just outside Greenwich Observatory, there’s this.

London_17 London_18

We have Peter Capaldi to thank for this design. “Silly,” said Gareth. “Everyone knows Daleks can’t climb bears.”

Greenwich is the home of the Cutty Sark, and the Meridian Line, which you have to pay to see, although there’s an unofficial one that intersects the path outside the observatory. There is also a spectacular twenty-four hour clock that Joshua found.

London_34

But we’d gone to see the bear. It’s a testament to how amazing my wife is that she planned an entire chunk of the day – which included two tube journeys and a half-hour trip on the Docklands Light Railway – just to get up to the top of the hill. “But the journey’s fun,” she enthused. “I love the DLR. It’s like you’re actually driving the train!”

Indeed it is; it also took us through parts of London I’d never seen before, such as Canary Wharf, visible here from the viewing platform, and complete with added Daleks.

London_29

You get a sense of grounding up on that hill. It feels chronologically significant, as if you’re standing on the edge of the world, or perhaps on the edge of a new one. You become aware that some of the greatest minds in human history have walked that path. There is a lump of rock in the museum entrance (right next to the astronaut bear, designed by Sandra Bullock) that is “possibly the oldest thing you’ll ever touch”. The fleeting sense of your own mortality and insignificance when you think just how vast the universe actually is was both impressive and not a little humbling. You realise how every day is a gift, a blank page as new and fresh as an unwrapped notebook, the cellophane discarded carelessly on the living room floor. And then I started getting Dead Poet’s Society scenes playing in my head and I knew it was time to leave.

We trooped back down to the station, and got the tube to Waterloo, where we got to do this.

London_46

Fan-tas-tic.

The underground is quick, but the bus is far more fun, and it was one of those glorious winter’s afternoons where the sky is just the right colour and the light is perfect. (Any photographer will tell you that taking photos at midday is asking for trouble, and that early mornings and late afternoons are usually much better if you want decent lighting.) I managed to get a few photos on that bus, in between gawping at the Santa fun run and telling the boys to sit down, but you’ve all seen the Big Ben clock tower before, so here it is with the pig spaceship from ‘World War Three’.

London_52.

 

Similarly, Trafalgar Square got invaded by forestry in series 8, so I’ve added a tree to Nelson’s Column.

London_51

Hamleys was the last stop, and we spent two hours there. I don’t really want to talk about it. Ever. The promise of a gigantic toy shop (and spending money) was a carrot, and we had relatively good behaviour as a result, so in the end you just have to grit your teeth and bear it. Suffice to say I think we probably went during a quiet part of the day, and that was enough. But I did notice some curious model placement in the Hornby railway layout, and I’m guessing this can’t be a coincidence.

London_55

The boys all giggled, except for Edward, who is only a year old and doesn’t get the joke. But that’s OK, because we bought him this. It makes noises and everything, and he loves it.

cyberman

Like I said, you have to find stuff.

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How I learned to stop worrying and love Tom Bombadil

Today’s post is a stroll down memory lane; something I wrote earlier in the year for another blog that’s now offline. I put it here because to be honest, The Hobbit‘s been more in my thoughts this last week than Doctor Who has. This is respectfully dedicated to she-knows-who.

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There is an apocryphal story about Tolkien. It takes place in the Eagle and Child, a tavern in the middle of Oxford, just a few miles away from my home. Tolkien had gone there to meet with members of his writers’ group, which included among its ranks author and Narnia creator C.S. Lewis. The Hobbit was doing decent business, and rumour had it that Tolkien had been working on a sequel. As he read aloud his contribution to that session – an early draft of what would eventually become ‘A Long Expected Party’ – Lewis was heard to mutter “Oh, not more fucking elves”.

If you’re not a fan of fantasy novels – as I’m not – this sentiment is understandable. My father has always decried Lord of the Rings, on the grounds that “Magic seems a convenient get-out clause for whenever the characters are in an impossible situation”. That’s something of a generalisation, and not really true when applied to LOTR (although Gandalf’s deus ex machina appearances in The Hobbit do tend to grate after a while) but I can see his point. If you’re not willing to buy into the idea of magic – even a magic that has its own rules and limitations, such as that presented in Harry Potter – you’re not going to be enamoured with talking trees and wizards who can fight off a Balrog one minute and get felled by a shrouded ghost on a giant bat a couple of books later.

I first read The Hobbit when I was ten years old. It took me nine weeks and two library renewals, at which point my mother insisted I finish the thing. Lord of the Rings was a childhood non-starter – a novel (or three novels, depending on what edition you possess) that I tried only a couple of times, never going beyond chapter six. I was a mature reader, but looking back at it now I don’t think I was ready. If you’re a parent reading this, you’ll know what I mean. Sometimes the virgin experiences of great art, literature or culture are wasted if they are given to people who aren’t old enough to know what they have. It’s a trap I’ve been anxious to avoid with my own children, with some success. I do wish I’d held off on Short Circuit.

But then in 2001 Peter Jackson strode forth from New Zealand, damaging the seats of several aircraft on his way, and produced a series of films that has become notorious for the best and the worst reasons. Because the Lord of the Rings film trilogy is a heavily flawed but ultimately quite exciting version of a set of books I’d never really cared about. And it’s this layer of detachment that allowed me to be relatively objective, at least up to a point. The truth is I harbour no great love for Middle Earth. My parents never lulled me to sleep to ‘The Road Goes Ever On And On’. I don’t have maps of the Shire peeling off the study wall. There is only room for one fixation in our house, and Doctor Who is currently it. But we mustn’t get into that now because we will be here all day.

doctor-who-gandalf

I went back to the books. The first film had recently come out, which meant that Viggo Mortensen’s intense, earnest delivery punctuated every line of Aragorn’s dialogue, which wasn’t a bad thing. Unfortunately I could also hear Orlando Bloom every time Legolas opened his mouth, and this practically sent me to sleep. Not that some of the prose wasn’t doing that already. A friend of mine – a writer himself, and a very good one – pointed out that you could summarise Fellowship of the Ring in one paragraph: “Trees! More trees! Big trees. Old trees.” He exaggerates only mildly.

The simple truth is that it’s very easy to knock Tolkien’s prose. His structure is all over the place, with climaxes and mini-climaxes and long, first-person flashback scenes in the manner of nineteenth century classics, which is not a problem except when it gets in the way. The opening hundred pages of Return of the King, for instance, are a disaster, consisting as they do largely of Pippin standing on the walls of Minas Tirith while the air is filled with foreboding and dread – it’s almost a relief when the orcs turn up. At the end of the book, the ring is vanquished, before we’re given a further eighty pages (or thereabouts) of singing elves who drink more wine than a group of English teachers at an end-of-term gathering. He then drops in a colossal anti-climax in which the Hobbits chase away an elderly shell of a wizard, and yes I know it’s important thematically, but after the siege of the Black Gate it’s such a colossal let-down. The world that Tolkien creates is vast and wondrous, and his imagination is a thing of beauty and grandeur, but the way in which he chooses to write about this world is heavily inconsistent.

Things don’t get any better when we talk about the characters. Frodo spends most of ROTK whining about how heavy the ring has become, while Sam – arguably the book’s real hero – carries him all the way to Mount Doom. Amusing, also, is Tolkien’s tendency to have Aragorn, Gandalf or Elrond introduce the principals by their full names and genealogical history whenever another character is thrown into the mix. Or, as my friend Gareth puts it (to the tune of the Monty Python Lumberjack Song):

“D’you like my sword, it’s been reforged,
I mended it myself
With Gimli son of Gloin
And Legolas the Elf

We’re the Fellowship and we’re OK
There’s nine of us, oops, now there’s eight…”

“It’s not very good,” Gareth insists (of the song, I should emphasise, rather than the books). Well, neither was Lost, and they dragged that out for years.

But a curious thing happened: I became far more incensed with the second and third films, and the changes they’d made, than I could ever be with Fellowship. And of course, it’s because I’d read the books first, but this escaped me at the time – all I could think about in 2003 was the ownership I’d taken of the novels, and how the films were less than I’d imagined they would be. Gone was Gandalf’s subterranean battle with the Balrog, which became a ‘thing of slime’ in the depths, and who Gandalf pursued – or was it the other way round? – up an enormous flight of stairs. Gone too was the epic confrontation at the gates of Minas Tirith between Gandalf and the Witch King – my favourite passage in the entire trilogy and one that upset me greatly with its cinematic omission. (Those of you who’ve seen the extended editions will know that it did make the lengthier version of Return of the King, albeit in a greatly altered form. I hated it. It’s a classic example of why you should be careful what you wish for.)

In its place, of course, is a lot of comic relief. Gimli becomes the short, funny one, in the same way that Strax would become a comedy Sontaran in Doctor Who (but again, we won’t go into that). Pippin has apparently developed dyspraxia. Christopher Lee falls off a tower. And don’t get me started on the drinking contest – a scene with so staggeringly obvious a punch line that even my four-year-old could have seen it coming.

But Legolas, of course – who takes centre stage in the battle of wines – is the master of the obvious. His role on screen, it seems, is to abandon the eloquence and intensity of his literary counterpart, and provide a sort of descriptive audio commentary for the deaf, preferably without making anything that we might label a facial expression. When Aragorn and his friends approach the Passage of the Dead, Legolas is heard to mutter “The horses are restless”. Well, we can see that. The whinnying and snorting gave it away. In the video game he’s no better, crying “The mists swirl here also!” when you’re knee deep in the stuff. When my other half and I emerged from the cinema we decided that Legolas was the equivalent of the Microsoft paperclip – another one-dimensional creation whose role was to state the obvious at the most inconvenient moment. “It looks like you’re being attacked by orcs. Would you like help?”.

elfie

On the other hand, there was no Tom Bombadil.

Bear with me. This has a happy ending But in my early twenties, I despised Bombadil and his incessant prancing and stupid Enid Blyton way of talking. “Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow / Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.” Fine. Don’t have him on your paintball team. Bombadil seemed to be a source of constant annoyance, a child in a world inhabited by men. I wanted to find out what would happen to Frodo and Sam and whether they would reach Mordor in one piece, and the interludes with Tom and his radiant wife were getting in the way. It came as a huge relief to discover that they’d dropped him from the films, although if he had been cast, I suspect Owen Wilson would have been an inspired choice.

Tom_Owen

When I went back to the books a couple of years ago, I re-read the passages with Tom, and found myself chuckling. And then laughing. Tom didn’t just fit this time; the whole book somehow seemed to be about him. I lingered over the chapters he inhabits with a curious sense of belonging, reluctant – as I’m sure Frodo must have been – to leave the confines of Tom and Goldberry’s home and venture out into the great beyond. I still don’t miss his presence in the films: structurally he doesn’t fit, at least not so early in an already truncated narrative, and the tone is off. But I found him charming and mysterious and fascinating instead of a source of irritation, and when Emily found me a book of Tolkien’s The Adventures of Tom Bombadil at a book amnesty last year, I was thrilled.

I’m sure that fatherhood has something to do with this. Tom represents security and solace in a dangerous world, and who would not wish this upon their children? By the time I re-read Lord of the Rings I had already introduced my eldest to The Hobbit, having read it to him over a number of evenings. It was the longest book we’d attempted and I managed by cheating, skimming over the geographical descriptions in the manner of William Goldman in The Princess Bride. But he was fascinated by Mirkwood, and the dragon that slept in his cave, and even before we’d finished the book he’d been busy with the crayons and Lego.

 

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Clockwise from left: wood elves feasting; a hobbit and his hole; Smaug’s cave (complete with spade so that he can bury the treasure he steals).

 

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“Daddy,” he’d said one afternoon, “What are ents?”

“Ents are basically trees that can walk and talk. They’re very very wise, and they’re very, very old.”
“Are they even older than you?”
“Yes, yes, all right, very funny.”
“And are they even fatter?”
“Don’t push your luck, kid.”

It took me years to realise that part of the appeal of The Hobbit is being able to experience it through the eyes of a child. I said earlier that as a child I wasn’t ready. Paradoxically I don’t think I was ready as a young adult either, having reached the age when you’re far too grown up for your own good – a sort of artificially mature Susan Pevensie, without the tits. I had to become a father myself before entering the second childhood that I now proudly inhabit, and my world is so much better for it.

But there are times when you have to stop empathising and start comforting, and I came unstuck one night towards the end. With The Hobbit, you see, it was the ending that stayed. Largely because my first exposure to it hadn’t been the book; it had been a staged adaptation in the school hall by a travelling theatre company. Fellow pupils were plucked from the classroom hours beforehand to take on supporting roles as accompanying dwarves or goblins. The dumbed-down approach the theatre group took was to dispense with the final quarter of the book and have Bilbo steal the treasure and dispatch the dragon with nary so much as a whisper of protest. Gone was the destruction of Esgaroth, the siege of Erebor and the Battle of Five Armies – and, crucially, the death of Thorin. Instead, the impetuous dwarf lives to shake Bilbo’s hand and then head off back to his home under the mountain. Reading the story some time later, and being unfamiliar with literary conceits, I was struck by the decision to dispense with such a major character, and it lingered for some time.

So when Joshua and I read the book, I became overtly theatrical. When it came to ‘Riddles in the Dark’ I adopted my best Andy Serkis impression and leaned in closer with each enunciated phrase, until he started to look uncomfortable. When it got to the spiders in Mirkwood, I would run my fingers up and down his arm in between paragraphs, in much the same way that Emily once did to me during the Shelob’s Lair sequence in Return of the King. You have to have some fun.

But I remember that penultimate chapter. I remember the night we sat in the lounge, before all the official Lego licensing and commercial hype about the new trilogy, and the controversy over frame rates and the treatment of horses. I remember how he felt when Bilbo was ushered into the tent to reconcile with a dying dwarf king. I remember, because we took ownership of this ourselves, and I laid my own stamp upon this before showing him what others were achieved – I would much rather he built his own artistic vision rather than relying on that of someone else, as I now wish I had done with Lord of the Rings. And I remember because I’d wondered how he would react to the departure of Thorin, given that he sat through The Lion King without batting an eyelid.

english-hobbit-illustration-1984-44

So when the time came, I over-egged the pudding. In sombre tones, I showed him Michael Hague’s accompanying illustration, remarking “Look, there’s Thorin. He doesn’t look well, does he?”
“Yes,” came the response, “but maybe he’ll get better.”
“I don’t think so, Josh. I think this might be it for him.”
“Well,” he said, unsure, “he doesn’t look too ill.”
“Let’s find out.”

Alarm bells should have been ringing at this point. You could pick things up from his tone, and I don’t know why I didn’t. Perhaps it’s because I wanted this death to mean something to him, to show him that it was important, to emphasise the death as a part of the story, to avoid desensitisation. I put on my best dying-on-a-slab voice and delivered Thorin’s ‘farewell, good thief’ monologue. Then I recounted the deaths of Fili and Kili, who had died defending their uncle. Then we reached the end and I said “That was kind of a sad one, wasn’t it?”

He burst into tears.

I felt like the worst father in the world, and I told Emily so, as she cuddled Joshua in the study, while giving me over-the-glasses looks that said You got yourself into this, now you can get yourself out of it. I reminded Josh that it was just a story.

“It’s still sad, though! Thorin’s dead!”
“Look, it’s fine. You’re very tired and I think that’s partly what’s making you so upset, and if you get some sleep you might not be quite so upset in the morning. It’s all right to be sad, but in a while I don’t think you’ll feel quite so sad. Honestly. Now, look, would you like to have Gandalf in with you tonight?”
“Is that Gandalf?”
“Yes,” I said, lifting down the figurine. “He normally sits on the piano, but how about we put him in your room next to your bed? Then he can cast some magic spells to make sure you have nice dreams.”
“Yes, but Daddy, he’s made of plastic.”

You live and learn.

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The inevitable Hobbit / Doctor Who thing

Ta-dah!

I do – I promise – have something more substantial than random meme generation in the works, but that’ll have to wait until next week. Right now much of my time is taken up moving furniture, because we’re having the place redecorated. (I don’t like it.)

At the moment (as the euphoria from the Star Wars trailer fades and everyone realises that it was just a collection of the sort of stuff you’d hope to see in the trailer for a new Star Wars film) our attention turns east, to the fires of Mount Doom: a place not visited, as far as I’m aware, in the new Peter Jackson movie, although given the other liberties he’s taken with the story, I wouldn’t put it past him. The basic problem Jackson had when he came to do The Hobbit is similar to the one that Lucas experienced – when it came to actually telling the stories, they both started in the middle. Jackson therefore found it impossible to produce The Hobbit as the standalone tale it was originally meant to be: it was always going to become a prequel to Lord of the Rings, and the first part at least suffers for it.

Sometimes, telling a story out of order works wonders. Pulp Fiction does it – the impact of the film would be lessened considerably were it not for its out-of-sequence narrative, which leaves a character who dies in the middle very much alive come the relatively upbeat end credits. And, of course, some of the best Doctor Who stories work in the same way; the ballad of River Song may have suffered in its execution (not to mention a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads), but it was at least an interesting story for about…ooh, an episode or two. Similarly, some of the best Big Finish productions start in the middle – ‘Creatures of Beauty‘ is an obvious example, as is ‘The Natural History of Fear’, which keeps you guessing and ultimately saves its crucial reveal for (literally) the last two minutes.

The idea of Doctor Who and out-of-sequence narratives makes for a rather tenuous connection to The Hobbit, of course. But I’ve written – more than once – about Tolkien’s mystical realm, and its tentative links with everyone’s second-favourite Time Lord (after the Corsair). A quick Google for fanfiction throws up a large variety of stories, none of which I intend to read, although some of the more interesting summaries are included herewith –

Timeless Wings (TimeLordHowl) – “Izzy is a Time Lord who has suffered more than most – she’s lived through genetic fusion, which is how she got her wings. Not only that, but she is stranded in Middle Earth during one of the most important times in its history.”

Everything is going to be fine (Nadarhem) – “When the Doctor crash lands with Clara on an unknown planet in an unknown dimension het thought he was just having a bad day. When he finds out it wasn’t the Tardis that brought them there. He realises that this bad day may turn in a horrible day. When on an Patrol near Dol-Guldur Legolas finds two odd people who claim to be timetravelers he knows it’s going to be a long walk home.”

Akin (Pie In The Face) – “The Doctor, while tracking down an interesting bit of Void matter, runs into Legolas, who is now living in present-day London. During journeys through time and space the two learn that Time Lords and Elven Princes are more akin then they thought.”

Out of Middle Earth: A Journey Through Time and Space (13GaladrielofLorien) – “Teenage Galadriel and her two best friends Celeborn and Melion are teleported to the modern world where they meet five modern day teenagers: Aralynn, Jacen, Bethany, Dae, and Diana. Elsewhere, the 10th Doctor along with companion Rose are accidentally aged down so that they are both teenagers. The twelve of them end up meeting and must unite to save the universe as we know it.”

Then, of course –

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As opposed to, say…

Smeagol-Gollum

“I saw a ‘webisode’ or ‘minisode’ or something a while ago,” said Gareth the other morning, “in which the Tardis filled up with multiple copies of Clara. They started talking and complaining – and, of course, two stood near enough said ‘you think that’s bad, we have to share a bed!’ (with knowing look at each other). While I’m certainly not objecting to such thoughts, or similar comments from Amy when she met herself in the two-five-minute sketch thing, you really couldn’t imagine two Rorys saying such things, could you?”

“In Who, definitely not,” I said. “In Torchwood, almost certainly…”

All of which led to the image you saw at the top of this post. I asked Gareth if he could think of any more. “Not many off the top of my head,” was the response. “I suppose you could show a picture of Enemy Of The World and call it ‘The Two Troughers’. Or the bit from The Five-Ish Doctors with David Troughton and call it ‘The Return Of King Peladon’.”
“I’ll give it some thought. It could always be a series.”
“Many things are.”

In the meantime – and also thanks to Gareth – there’s this.

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“I have a deep regard for you as well, Doctor”

I went on a school trip the other week: Thomas’s class were visiting the local cinema to see Mr. Peabody & Sherman. The (somewhat tenuous) curricular connection concerned the fact that a portion of the time-hopping animated movie is set in ancient Greece – specifically by the walls of Troy, where a group of brawny warriors are sitting inside a large wooden rabbit badger horse. For the uninitiated, the film is about Mr. Peabody – a scientifically brilliant (but emotionally aloof) anthropomorphic dog with a fondness for bow ties – and the human he adopts. Mr. Peabody and Sherman build a time machine and and the rest, as they say, is history.

If this is all sounding a little bit familiar, it’s the Ouroboros effect: the original Mister Peabody preceded Doctor Who by some years, and the influence of one on the other are uncharted. Certainly Mr. Peabody as visualised here is a well-meaning but borderline inapproachable genius in the manner of Tom Baker, although he’s also a dab hand at mixing a cocktail. There is also yet another explanation as to how the sphinx lost its nose. In any event, Dreamworks did acknowledge the similarities between the two in a trailer they released last November.

Much of the film is spent dealing with characters and situations the Doctor seems to have avoided, at least in his TV adventures – but there are connections, if you know where to look. The visualisation of the time vortex, for example, is quite striking.

 

But if you’re going to do a Peabody / Who mashup you really can’t just Photoshop the TARDIS into the blue swirly thing and leave it at that. There’s also the fact that they visit sixteenth century Florence, just as Da Vinci is finishing off the Mona Lisa, and so –

Meanwhile, back in New York, there’s a Blinovitch effect when two Shermans meet –

(And yes, the heads are horribly over-sized. It fits with the film, and Dick and Dom got an entire show out of it.)

Finally, in the fields near Troy, Steven Taylor has clearly forgotten to pull up the handbrake on the wooden horse.

And yes, unless you’re familiar with ‘Mawdryn Undead’, ‘The Myth Makers’ and ‘City of Death’, those are going to pass you by. Still, there’s this.

If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well hastily, while primary school children are pulling at your arm and nagging to use the computer. I’d say that we should stop there before we go too far, but I fear that ship has sailed.

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‘Hide’ – 1970s style

Watch this first.

There’s a bit about a third of the way through the first episode of ‘The Mind of Evil’ that more or less encapsulates Doctor Who as it was in the 1970s. The Doctor is attending a demonstration of a new machine that purports to suck the evil out of men’s minds. When the Doctor raises valid ethical concerns, the egotistical professor in charge asks what he could possibly find objectionable. Pertwee adopts a theatrical flourish in his response. “UNIT, sir, was set up to deal with new and unusual menaces to mankind,” he says. “And in my view, this machine of yours is JUST THAT!”

[DRAMATIC MOOG MUSIC AS THE DOCTOR STOMPS AWAY]

If you’re so inclined you can watch it here. Skip to the eight minute mark.

Anyway, Emily and I were watching this very episode a number of weeks ago, and when this happened we both roared with laughter.

“What I’d really like,” said Emily, “is for them to do a modern episode of Doctor Who that plays like one of these. Maybe he gets stranded in time and winds up in 1980s U.N.I.T. And they have wobbly sets and weird special effects and a funky score.”

Just because the Doctor gets to leap around in time, it doesn’t mean the show doesn’t age. The problem with any episode of a programme about time travel is that whenever it’s set historically, it’s always going to be aesthetically bound by the period in which it was filmed. In other words, if you shoot a story that’s set in medieval Italy, but do so in the 70s, it’s still going to have that visual style attached to it, even if your costumes are authentic. Likewise, if you shoot a story on a distant alien planet, but fill the background music with orchestral hits and Korg samples, it’ll come across as being very 80s. Big explosion? Drop in a white-out. Someone’s having their mind probed? Put swirly effects all over the screen. And don’t forget the facial zooms, the sort of thing that Mike Myers and Dana Carvey would later parody extensively on Saturday Night Live.

This was standard practice, of course. There were certain things you did back then, simply because everyone else did. I couldn’t find a decent version on YouTube, but anyone who’s seen the first Superman film will remember the moment when Christopher Reeve discovers Margot Kidder’s car with her lifeless corpse inside: his reaction as he takes in the scene is filmed from multiple angles, and while it might seem old hat now, it heightens the emotional pathos no end. Or there’s the scene in Carrie where John Travolta and Nancy Allen approach the blood-soaked titular teenager on her way home from the prom, and Carrie’s acts of telekinetic revenge are preceded by jerky zooms. Watch it and not only will you see what I mean, you’ll also recall you’ve seen a hundred things from the same period that did things this way. Fast forward a quarter of a century, of course, and every action film post-Matrix features tedious bullet time camerawork and excessive use of slow motion, with the refreshing (and intentional) exception of The Expendables.

This is not a criticism. Not really. You’re tied to what’s perceived as cutting edge. It’s become very fashionable to sneer at the stop-motion used in the likes of Robocop and Ghostbusters. But I do wonder if we’ll look back in twenty years at episodes like ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ and laugh at them as naff and silly. And I can’t help thinking that this will be futile. The point is that while sneering at the Thunderbirds effects at the end of ‘State of Decay’ may make for an amusing documentary soundbite, it ignores the fact that at the time they never let plastic doors and rickety staircases stop them telling a good story. It’s common knowledge that the ‘cheap production values’ of Doctor Who were laughed at even back in the 70s in the wake of Star Trek and Star Wars, but by and large the people cracking the jokes today are the very same people who were hiding behind the sofa during the likes of ‘Earthshock’. Or, as Colin Baker puts it, “I get a bit impatient when people say ‘I loved watching Doctor Who because of the shaky sets’. No you didn’t, you liar. You loved watching because you believed it and you were scared.”

In any case, Emily’s ruminations on contemporary Who filmed in a 70s style got me thinking. We might call it a parody. But it needn’t be. Part of the appeal of Hot Fuzz (a film you really should see, if you haven’t already) is that while it takes the conventions of the action blockbuster and changes the setting to a sleepy English market town, it works precisely because it refuses to send up the genre it’s referencing – it’s a tribute, rather than a parody. (The same cannot be said of Scary Movie, a sneering, puerile effort that fails partly because it sends up a film that was itself a parody, although the main reason it doesn’t work is that it simply isn’t funny.)

So it’s a fine line to walk. Still, the idea of reworking modern Doctor Who and changing it a little bit was an appealing one. ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’ has dated in many ways (giant rats, anyone?) but the episode five cliffhanger in which Leela pulls off Magnus Greel’s mask to reveal a hideous, deformed face underneath is one of the great episode endings, right up there with the ascending Dalek and, well, this:

Second rate story, but oh my.

Anyway: when it came to actually picking an episode, ‘Hide’ seemed the obvious choice. It’s structurally flawed, but it has some lovely Doctor / Clara moments, is appropriately scary at given points, and it has Jessica Raine. The Doctor’s hop through time is a gratuitous use of the CG budget, but the monster is reasonably convincing, and the National Trust property they used for the mansion’s interior could have come straight out of the Baker / Pertwee era.

I’ll try not to bore you too long with the technical stuff, but here it is. The trickiest stage was choosing a suitable clip, because so many of them are riddled with fancy camera angles and quick jump-cuts, so that they’d still look contemporary even if you changed everything old. In the end I plumped for a scene about halfway through where the Doctor and Clara get a scare on the landing, before the ‘ghost’ appears downstairs, accompanied by a spinning black disc. It builds in intensity, without being too effects-heavy. I stripped out the score and replaced it, and then re-sequenced things so that the jokes were gone and the spinning disc formed the cliffhanger. After that it was a question of filtering to death – I think I used about three different filters, stretched and reprocessed across two software packages – in order to make it look as if it were shot under the harsh lighting of an old studio. The ‘effects’ – polarising filters, a spontaneous zoom at a crucial moment and one of those grainy things that break up the picture at the end – were the last thing to be added.

In case you were wondering, the score samples used are (in order):

  • The Mutants (from ‘The Mutants’)
  • The Axons Approach (from ‘The Claws of Axos’)
  • Keller Machine Appears and Vanishes (from ‘The Mind of Evil’ – this was the pulsing effect used in the last forty seconds)

Does it work? More or less. The filtering isn’t as I’d have liked it, and I’m sure that someone with more technical expertise could have improved the processing. But even if it doesn’t really look like an old episode of Doctor Who, it does at least look a little bit like a new episode that’s purposely trying to look old. Which was the entire point, so I guess we can call that a win.

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A Town Called Mercy: The Silent Movie

Remakes are endemic to Hollywood. Like sequels, they enable you to revisit an established cash cow with minimal creative input: the characters and basic premise are there, and all (all!) you need to do is come up with a decent story. Sometimes, if you have an established name in the title, you can get away without even doing that, which may be why Batman and Robin, Attack of the Clones and Spider-Man 3 all sucked.

With remakes it’s a slightly different story: you take existing material and add your own spin. This is why of all the remakes I’ve seen, Gus Van Sant’s take on Psycho must count as the most pointless: a shot-for-shot rehash that apparently came with Hitchcock’s supernatural approval (they held a seance to ask for his blessing from beyond the grave; the portly director apparently granted it, and then gave technical advice). In interviews, Van Sant has explained that his rationale was to “bring the movie to a whole new generation”. Fine. So you colourise the original, if you must. You don’t do it over with a new cast who (William H. Macy aside) aren’t a patch on the likes of Perkins and Leigh. Why mess with borderline perfection?

I’m of the opinion that Hollywood should concentrate on remaking bad movies – or, more specifically, movies with unrealised potential. You know – the ones that sucked but had a spark about them, a glimmer of a good idea let down by poor acting or sloppy direction or atrocious dialogue. As an example, consider Playing For Keeps, which I saw some years ago in a Philadelphia hotel room – a 1980s flick about some wayward teens who decide to do up a dilapidated hotel in small town America, overcoming resistance from the hostile locals and a corrupt sheriff. It was truly appalling, but the worst thing about the whole experience was that it could have worked – a good idea, well and truly squandered.

All of which leads me to this. I seem to be producing videos at a rate of knots at the moment. They’re mostly small projects. I’ve learned that anything over a couple of minutes doesn’t always gets watched, at least not in its entirety. That doesn’t mean that the big magnum opuses, in the manner of Darth Gene or Wheatley the Navigator, have been retired. They remain among my best work. I’m just going through a short-but-sweet phase. You might call them mini-episodes.

This one came about because of a little dabbling with filters, and a current preoccupation with The Three Amigos. Silent Movie style Doctor Who is nothing new, of course, as a YouTube search will reveal. But ‘A Town Called Mercy’ lent itself perfectly, being the only time New Who has ventured properly into the American Old West (all right, Spain). When I think of silent movies, for some reasons the defining images that jump out at me are moustache-twirling villains with tremendous eyebrows, cowboys, and Buster Keaton.

“I’m surprised you did it,” said Gareth, “because presumably it involved watching the episode again”. It’s a fair point. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know all about my hostility towards ‘A Town Called Mercy’, which remained (for me) the worst episode of the New Who canon (at least until a few months later, when they broadcast ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’). Revisiting it the other week did, as Gareth suggests, filled me with some trepidation – but on the other hand, I had the sound off.

An early realisation was that if you’re going to try and improve ‘Mercy’ the best way is to indulge in a little deconstruction. So this doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a series of in-jokes and fourth wall demolitions. There are two Red Dwarf references – see if you can spot both – and a nod to an old Lucasarts graphic adventure that I’m not going to bother explaining – you’ll know it if you see it.

The Three Amigos footage works on two levels. It’s a cowboy silent movie that I didn’t have to touch – just paste in – and it enabled me to do a juxtaposed mashup for no real reason other than that I could. And everyone loves The Three Amigos, and it’s been a while since the antics of Short, Martin and Chase have graced our DVD player. But of course there’s also the recognition that ‘Mercy’ does, in itself, use the climax of The Three Amigos in its final act (although I’m willing to concede, if challenged, that The Three Amigos got the idea from somewhere else).

I knocked up the captions in Fireworks. I think they’re reasonably authentic, stylistically at least. The projector effect was found after a brief YouTube trawl, and music came from a variety of different sources, all of which I mention in the end credits. The star find was Keeper1st’s piano rendition of the Doctor Who theme, which seemed to fit the mood perfectly. I used MPEG Video Wizard for the editing, and then ran the old movie filter from Movavi, as it was better. So this one really has been through the mill a bit, but I think the end results are reasonably good.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. I’m off to spend some time with the boys. It’s Sunday afternoon, which means film day, and I get to pick. Guess what we’re watching?

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