“Last Christmas” (Doctor Who Christmas Special 2014) [SPOILERS]

last christmas doctor who

I have always found Doctor Who Christmas specials to be a bit hit or miss. That’s probably a description you could apply to the series in general, but the required shoehorning of Christmas paraphernalia into the storyline tends to stretch the credibility that bit further.

David Tennant’s debut in “The Christmas Invasion” is probably the pinnacle of them, whilst offerings like “The Next Doctor” were no different than ordinary. And the likes of “The Snowmen” were just pretty bad.

And, it being Christmas, the viewership figures will be higher, and opinions will be divided. So this, humbly offered below, is mine.

Read on…(and mind the spoilers!)

Heresy of the Week: Alien3 is the best of the Alien films

alien 3

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

Most of the debate surrounding the Alien series of films revolves around which is better: Alien or Aliens. This debate, however, is misfounded and both sides are actually wrong. Alien3 is, in fact, the superior Ripley romp.

Read on…

Top 5 horror films for Halloween

Welcome to Halloween.

Welcome, also, to too much sugar, pumpkins everywhere, and endless debates about whether or not it constitutes the Americanisation of British culture (answer: nobody cares).

But all of that misses the point. Halloween is not about any of that. Halloween is about horror films. The TV listings are jammed with them, Netflix have a “Halloween film” section, and HMV have been doing a roaring trade (I imagine) in the classics since about mid-October.

So here’s my contribution to the mix. My top five horror films, for your enjoyment. Enjoy.

Read on…

Prometheus – A Review

Prometheus (2012)

I got rather excited about Prometheus, in the run up to its release, despite telling myself that I wouldn’t. Something about it seemed to lift my boyish spirits, and allow me to hope that the lightning of the original Alien film would strike again. I also broke one of my other rules, and looked at reviews before I went to see it. When I saw the mediocre ratings and critical accounts, I salved my precarious hopes by remembering that the reviewers had all fallen at the feet of James Cameron’s epically headache-inducing, three-hour, 3D monster Avatar, which was certainly amongst the last decade’s biggest cinematic let-downs, and which I called bullshit on.

So what did I think of Prometheus when I saw it? Meh…

Yes, I’m sorely disappointed, but more in myself than the film. I should have known better than to think that Alien could be recreated in such a way today. Prometheus was shiny and pretty, but ultimately lacked the best part of its granddaddy and more recent ancestors- the intrigue and sense of mystery.

It’s hard to get down exactly what the source of the problem was, but I think it started with the flip-flopping over whether or not it was an Alien prequel. It ended up as some sort of bizarre semi-prequel, with the result that I and many other cinema-goers didn’t really know what to expect.

It started off pretty strongly, I thought, with the opening scene strong and intriguing, and the homages to the original Alien in the hypersleep scenes softly done. Unfortunately, once it got going properly, the plot was a little on the obvious side. The rows and rows of cannisters suggestive of the iconic “eggs” felt tired rather than creepy, and the plot-driving lack of caution displayed by almost all of the characters was just lazy.

That’s not to say it was all bad. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of David the android (Is that a spoiler? I don’t think so, it’s made pretty damn clear from the off) particularly in the interaction with Charlize Theron’s icy business administrator. The beginning, showing David alone on the ship whilst the rest of the crew sleep, was an excellent piece of character-setting.

Similarly, whilst her character didn’t shine overall for me, Noomi Rapace’s odd self-caesarian scene had all the tension and grit that would have made Prometheus a success, had it been sustained throughout.

But sadly, the moments of brilliance were too few and far between, lost amid a tide of mediocrity and superfluousness. The final scene, for example, was wholly unnecessary. A better film would have been able to achieve as much, if not much more, through subtle implication.

The most disappointing part, I felt, was the fact that the ingredients were all here. It could have been a passable, if not a good, film. Ironically, what brought it down most of all was being shackled to the mythos of the original Alien films. Attempts to shoehorn in references felt a bit like having Ridley Scott sat next to you, nudging you with his elbow and saying “Eh? Look! Eh? Eh?” every few minutes.

If from the start it had been its own film, rather than an Alien prequel/not prequel, it might have stood a chance. It would also have avoided what I call Star Trek XI syndrome, where the future is a lot shinier and sleek than you remember it being.

In the end, I can’t recommend Prometheus. It was a mediocre SF film, dragged further down by the weight of expectation it put on itself. The critics, it seems were right. Though I still claim victory regarding Avatar.

The Thing [2011] – A Review

The Thing (2011)

I’ll be honest, I approached this with some trepidation. The original film The Thing is a classic of sci-fi and horror, one of those films I watched as I began my awakening to the genre, and loved every moment of. Coupled with my general distrust of remakes, I wasn’t at all convinced that this would be a sound investment of my time.

Surprisingly, then, I can report I rather enjoyed it. It managed to capture some of the feeling of the original, but add to it with more modern touches. The film is actually a prequel rather than a remake, which begs the infuriated question, why does it have the same name as the original? I don’t have the answer to that, but the film itself does fit perfectly into the original which is rather gratifying in itself.

But that it works as essentially fan fiction to the original should not at all be the gauge of its success or failure. It must stand as a film in its own right- which it does rather well. The CGI rendering of the titular Thing gives it a rather different flavour, swapping the 80s gore effects which Carpenter was so fond of for a more Dead Space appeal. Indeed, the Thing more resembles the necromorphs from those video games than I remember previously.

The story itself was sound, but then it was half-written by the film it was expanding upon. A team of Norwegian scientists in the Antarctic discover a crashed alien spaceship along with an alien frozen in a block of ice, and remove the latter for examination. Except it’s not quite dead, and the alien cells can imitate human cells, and you can probably see where this is going.

The pacing goes for a little less claustrophobic paranoia, and a little more big budget action, but I think that’s more a sign of the times than anything- and aside from there being no real explanation as to why there is such an abundance of flamethrowers at Antarctic bases, it doesn’t stray to far from the believability of the premise.

One interesting note is that it does seem to be staffed by lookalikes. The female lead, at certain angles, bears rather a resemblance to Firefly and Stargate Atlantis actress Jewel Staite (but isn’t). The can’t-speak-English Norwegian heavyman looks sort of like Liam Neeson gone native (but, unsurprisingly, isn’t). And the English radio operator looks the spit of Tim Roth (but isn’t). None of which has any bearing on anything really, but I thought it was interesting…

In the end, though, as much as I enjoyed the film I’m left wondering why it was made as a prequel to 1982’s The Thing. Yes, it fitted perfectly with it, but that’s because it was made to. It didn’t have to be. It had flavours and inspirations from a variety of other sources, including as I’ve already mentioned the Dead Space video game series, and the first Alien vs Predator film. I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t pushed as an inspired-by-but-unrelated film, injected with a bit of originality and allowed to go its own way a bit more.

Even straight-jacketed to someone else’s film I enjoyed it, but I do think I would have enjoyed it even more if it was its own film. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who is getting sick of remakes, prequels and the like.