ALIEN:Covenant Film Review & Thoughts 2017

*There may be some spoilers ahead…

In the cinema nobody could hear me scream. I didn’t scream at all, but then I didn’t laugh or moan either.

Yes this weekend I finally got down to one of my local cinemas and caught a showing of ALIEN:Covenant. This has been very hyped up and one of the film of 2017 I have very much been looking forward to personally. It almost did not happen after the sharp and often very negative and critical reactions to Prometheus a few years ago. Director Ridley Scott had plans and thoughts of quickly following up that film with a new series of films which would lead to the first ALIEN film chronologically. The fans did not warm to much of what Prometheus had offered us, and it had not made as much money as may have been expected at the box office.

So for the last four or more years I feel like I have been one of the few people on planet Earth willing to give Prometheus the time of day and observe some redeeming things in among the numerous plot gaffs and more.

Was Prometheus just too confusing? Did it make any sense at all? Was it far too pretentious as it considered space Gods while most ALIENS fans may have simply wanted to see classic bloodthirsty Xenomorphs?

ALIEN:Covenant picks up the Prometheus storyline a decade later. A new crew are travelling to a potential new home planet across the galaxy on a seven year hyper-sleep trip. They are woken early after some unexpected damaged affects the spaceship. When working to repair the damage on the outside of the ship they pick up a unusual signal which seems to be human. Decoding the message eventually reveals to them coordinates for a planet which seems at first to have almost perfect balance of ecology, land, sea and gases for human life. After arguing they decide to follow the signal as it may lead them to a perfect new planet years soon than they were due.

When they reach the planet they land and go out on foot to explore the landscape around them. They see familiar plants, fields, trees around them. Only a short while later, one of the crew having stopped for a smoke becomes ill. His is taken back to the grounded ship but among the rest of the exploring group, another stumbles and falls, coughing and the group is slowed down. Before reaching the ground ship he spasms and a savage embryonic creature bursts from within him. The thing runs out trying to attack the group and they shoot at it. On the grounded ship the other crew member also has a creature burst forth from him and it runs off inside the ship. Out on the land, as the crew try to shoot at the fast moving thing, a figure comes out and shoots it down instantly. The figure is David-the android from Prometheus.

This is where it connects up with the previous film. Covenant is very much where the story becomes about David. He was saved by Prometheus crew member Elisabeth Shaw as they stopped the Engineers and took control of their spaceship with setting course for the Engineer home-world which is where the Covenant crew have landed now.

At the start of ALIEN:Covenant there is a brief prelude scene with Mr Wayland and David. Wayland asks David how he feels as a new android. Even at the start David seems to have been unbalanced.

Is ALIEN:Covenant the non-nonsense bloody gorefest with many wild Xenomorphs that many fans had hoped they would get with Prometheus?

We do get this but much of the philosophical musings about God, mankind’s origins and creation from Prometheus continue on in this sequel. This is no bad thing, I personally did enjoy much of that previously but at least in this sequel it is balanced out against more action sequences and actual recognizable Xenomorph creatures on screen. Did audiences really only just want to see a simple copy or retread of James Cameron’s ALIENS all over again?

ALIEN:Covenant on the whole feels like a mix of the first ALIEN movie with some degree of ALIENS. We get some fast paced shooting and chase scenes this time around, there are a number of very large spaceship machinery and equipment, guns and pulse rifles familiar to die-hard fans of the series. Also unlike Prometheus, after only around half an hour we see the first nasty little alien creature racing around and biting at the crew members.

Now lets just think for a moment-what did we not like about Prometheus? How many dumb mistakes were made by the Prometheus crew? Did that film really have to leave so many questions unanswered?

It may have been a flawed film, but in my opinion it did have some great things going for it. Some suggest that we can now see ALIEN:Covenant as the real prequel to ALIEN and this may be true but it does not mean that we should all together forget Prometheus. In some ways Covenant now makes us understand and appreciate Prometheus much more.

It is obvious that Ridley Scott has heard some of the criticism for Prometheus-not that he should only makes films to please fans at all-and he has made a film here which does give many nods what the loyal ALIEN fans remember well and have loved over the years. The Covenant crew are a more interesting and real group of characters this time around. There are several moments and ways in which Covenant reminds us of ALIEN and it feels good and right it this is to all lead right up to connecting with that film.

Like I have said, this film focuses on the android David-he is very much now a new distinct monster of modern science fiction. Tragic and calculating, Scott has decided that David is at the very centre of the creation of the Xenomorph species. Michael Fassbender can be applauded for his dual performances in Covenant is both David and new android Walter.

The other strong performance comes from Katherine Waterson as Daniels-very much a precursor to Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ripley of the ALIEN franchise. Waterson really takes the character all the way, and goes through many great scenes of emotion and frantic action trough to the very end.

Again like Prometheus there are a few dumb moments early on, characters peering into places they really shouldn’t and things which obviously just exist to move the narrative along. We can go with this, let it go and sit tight for the right. It is a good one. Some of the CGI creatures may not look entirely convincing every time they appear on screen. This does not ruin the film on the whole. As it ends, we have seen a very pleasing addition to the ALIEN series of films. I may have expected to see the Engineers again, more of their planet and their ways but I think that just will make me appreciate Prometheus more.

Ridley Scott seems to have wanted to make something special here, and it has moments where it looks much like 2001:A Space Odyssey and with androids David and Walter it shares some themes with his own Blade Runner movie.

Was this the sequel to Prometheus first intended? Will there be more films leading from this linking it all to the original ALIEN movie? If so, how many do we need?

If you are an ALIEN fan, do go and see this film now. You will not be let down, but again go with an open mind and enjoy.

 

James E. Parsons is author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available now from all good bookshops-amazon, WHSmith, Waterstones, Barnes & Nobles- in paperback, ebook, hardback. His first horror novel Northern Souls is published late 2017.

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Once more around the galaxy-Doctor Who series 10

Yes here we are at Easter and it is time for the return of Doctor Who to our small screens. The seems to have been like years not months. The big difference now is that it sees the last episodes to feature Peter Capaldi in the lead role. It seems like he has hardly been the character for very long. Has he lasted long enough? Did he come at the right time?

There have been many mixed views of the quality of the show since Capaldi joined and it can be suggested that if it has been weak or lacking at times it may have been more due to the writing from Steven Moffat. So many people have an axe to grind for this man but I think he has in the past given us some very unique episodes and he really does so in the most recent series as well. It may not have been perfect, it may have still had way too much Clara for some, but around half of the episodes of the previous series were actually magnificent. So what can we expect in this last run for Capaldi?

Well we really have moved on past the whole Clara period and onto new times. We’ve passed the extended time of the Doctor contemplating who he is and what he does on his adventures which at times ventured much deeper into his past than the show ever had. This could be one grand defiant and joyful final run. It does though look as if the fun and light tone is being put back in place if the lack of that was a serious concern for the show producers and fans over the last couple of years. The Doctor does now have a new young female companion called Bill. He also has Matt Lucas as strange comedy sidekick Nardole…oh dear.

It could be that this new series is bringing back into the show a few elements that have been missing for a while and which has disappointed the fans. Do most fans of the show want a much more fast, funny and light-hearted show? With Peter Capaldi as the Doctor does that kind of thing just not work well?

We are due a new actor in the lead role next year. Can the show survive until then? Will this be another hit-and-miss series?

It could be that I am in my late 30’s and have perhaps been easily happy with an older Doctor exploring more deeper philosophical questions but it had seemed to go on like that for a good while. Given the chance can Capaldi be as wild and unpredictable as Tom Baker back in the 1970’s? This weekend will bring back the Doctor.

James E. Parsons is author of SF books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century available from amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith, and other good bookshops internationally as paperback, ebook and hardback.

 

High Rise-Film Review

It is around a year since it was released, this adaptation of the classic J.G.Ballard novel from 1975 it was shown on television last week and I watched it this weekend. I am a big fan of the books and fiction of Ballard and Ben Wheatley, the director of this film has been making increasingly good and very original films for the last few years in the UK.

News of this adaptation made me very curious at the time and Wheatley even managed to pull in top Hollywood star Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Marvel Avengers and Thor movies) and others such as Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans and others familiar faces.

Alright, so I had not read the book of High Rise but was familiar with the story concept and it seemed similar to a few other Ballard books he had written after that one which I had enjoyed. Over the years there had been a number of occasions where his books were almost put on the big screen or can be seen to have obviously influence a good number of science fiction and thriller films. The one clear adaptation which stands out was the David Cronenberg directed Crash-a version of probably the most famous and notorious Ballard book. Like that story and some others from Ballard, High Rise explores the psychologically dark and uncomfortable interests and desires of mankind in modern or near future times.

So from the slick poster artwork and trailers and knowledge of Ballard fiction I might have been expecting something extremely brutal, disturbing and challenging. Is this what I got?

To a degree yes but I may have been let down in some ways. It did not have to be just like the cold and perverse tale of Crash, and this film was actually even surprisingly humorous and retained a more restrained kind of satire I felt.

Like a number of Ballard stories it looks at how society could go over the brink and breakdown starting from what we see as the perfect example of civilized and decent western post-industrial living. With this tale, in what is built as a state-of-the-art high rise building we see the divides of class and society stacked over each other. It only takes a short of amount of time before the rich and poor begin to antagonise each other to the most absurd and extreme ways.

I was expecting Tom Hiddleston to lead the story in a more engaging way but he seemed possibly distant-but then Ballard lead characters can often seem like that. The actor Luke Evans actually puts in a very good lively performance as the rage fueled and frustrated tv actor, along with one of the better performances from Jeremy Irons in a long time.

It was fairly obvious to see clear influences of the director in the style of visuals and editing-hints of Stanley Kubrick, Nic Roeg. The music often bringing to mind A Clockwork Orange.

I think one main problem for me was that the director decided to set the film in the 1970’s when the actual book was written. if the book like other Ballard novels was intended to be set in simply a near future then this may have confused things for me. Was it that the director wanted to say things about that period of time or did he just want to really make a period film, paying homage to some of his favourite films and directors of that time?

This film then is not set in a near future for us, but a kind of alternative 1970’s where things spiral horribly out of control. I believe that I did read the director saying that the political climate of that time had interesting parallels with today and so did feel like an interesting place to put the film.

Would I personally like to see a version of High Rise set in our modern times or a contemporary new near future? The story or book may now be dated to some extent and has influenced a few films over the years already. Will our civilized  capitalist society still yet unravel and tear itself to pieces? Any future may yet be possible…

James E. Parsons is the author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith and other good bookshops internationally now. His first horror novel is due in 2017.

 

 

Origin of another species? – Life movie 2017

Out now in cinemas we have the sci-fi movie LIFE. The time it really caught my attention was when I think I saw the trailer at a cinema a few weeks ago when I went to see X-Men spin-off LOGAN.

Suddenly this new sci-fi trailer hit the screens which I had not heard of until that moment (or at least it had not caught my attention in magazines or on the internet). It features a number of well known Hollywood actors including Ryan Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. It looked pretty good, some very good effects of some kind of space exploration mission and some mysterious new lifeform sample taken begins to dangerously evolve or mutate and grow as they return to Earth.

Of course in this brief but exciting trailer the film did resemble the SF classic ALIEN -many similarities with the spaceship crew, the visual sets and direction and the ominous mysterious alien entity threatening them. This is not at all the first or last film to look like this or display the influence of the Ridley Scott/H R Giger sci-fi/horror franchise.

How many different kinds of hostile aliens can we ever expect to see in movies? It is possibly a sub-genre of science fiction, probably mostly in film. Sometimes it works (very well) and often it is repetitive and derivative. With this new film the alien threat seems quite formless which may represent a number of things.

In the past we have had the Species film series (almost like ALIEN, having a monster designed by the late H R Giger) which though good for the first movie, became mostly predictable and boring with the sequels. It was also to a fair extent playing for cheap titillation and soft nudity thrills with the always very glamorous naked female version of the alien monster. We previously saw this in the 1980’s in the Tobe Hooper sci-fi shlocker Lifeforce (and the alien sexy female was also some kind of space vampire…)

We can probably go as far back as Invasion of the body snatchers and John Carpenter’s The Thing to see the other close influences on LIFE. Either the alien threat captures humans and infects or impregnates them, or like the Species films take on their human form. So while this is no really new vision the return of this kind of hostile alien contact to cinema screens may represent our very current social fears of terrorism and attack from the unknown. We feel the constant threat (thanks to right-wing news media) and their form may take any number of shapes and appearances.

 

James E. Parsons is author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century now available in paperback, hardback and ebook from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, and other good bookshops internationally. His first horror novel is due published later in 2017.

 

 

Shellshock future:Ghost in the Shell live- action in cinemas

We are now at the end of March 2017. We are not yet hooked up or linked into the internet or web biologically or with some fusion of human body and wires or cables. Broadband connection has not entered into our internal cerebral consciousness just yet.

Over twenty years have passed since the now classic anime film Ghost in the Shell hit cinema screen, adapted from the manga comic book. Although of course inspired by the cyberpunk novels from William Gibson and Bruce Sterling and films like Total Recall and Robocop, Ghost in the Shell is arguably responsible for inspiring The Matrix trilogy and much of modern science fiction cinema ever since.

A live-action movie adaptation of this cyberpunk thriller has been a contentious idea for so many years. This was an almost perfect animated film, which pushed the visual boundaries and techniques of the medium at the time. To make a version with real actors and sets would almost be like a huge insult to the creators of this classic film.

Also like much science fiction be it in film or books, some of it has dated with the passing of two decades. The basic concept remains fascinating but any kind of inspired remake would be different in a number of ways.

For so much time Ghost in the Shell has been an animated film along with the other anime modern classic AKIRA which so many hardcore fans would defend and protect at all cost before ever wishing ever considering a live-action  remake. The questions of which actors would or should be which characters, which director could successfully take on the challenge?

Those questions are redundant now. The live-action version of Ghost in the Shell hits cinemas this weekend in the UK. We finally had international superstar Scarlet Johansson cast in the lead role of Major alongside a mix of American and Asian actors. What does it mean that a modern classic anime/manga story enlists a hugely popular American actress for the lead over an actor who comes from where the actual story originated? There has been much debated about this issue in the last year or so since during the movie production. Some people genuinely outraged at the choice of Johansson, others more accepting of her. Was she chosen for her acting or her previous similar role as Black Widow in the Marvel films? Was she picked simply because she is arguably the most famous or popular female actor in the world currently?

Putting this issue to one side perhaps the other more interesting aspect of this live-action version of Ghost in the Shell comes with the original being decades old now. The original ideas and visuals of what might be futuristic technology used by police and state now do look in some ways unbelievable and outdated. We may not exist in what we thought of as virtual reality in the early or mid-90’s but we do now have very sophisticated smart phones and computers with touch screen wifi, broadband, almost every month or so we have new devices which merge how  we use and interact with technology and the internet. It makes sense that a 2017 version of Ghost in the Shell we look even more advanced and altered than the previous film. Now that we know the future vision offered to us in the original is not what we have, but we have lived with this cyberpunk vision for years now and many of us have a kind of affectionate nostalgia for it in a similar way to the steampunk phenomenon. With this in mind, Johansson has even suggested in one magazine interview recently that the world of Ghost… is possibly a parallel version of our future or present. This is handy for sidestepping how a futuristic vision has aged alongside real technological progression.

However the live-action adaptation will be view on the big screens, it is still just one of a number of films and shows which has come from the original and continually influential movie.

 

James E. Parsons is a SF/Horror author. His books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century are available from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith and all good bookshops as paperback, ebook and Hardback. His first horror novel will be published later in 2017.

Class-Doctor Who spin off series 2016-short review

Are you a huge Whovian? Been watching Doctor Who for decades, years or only just begun recently? What do you like most about the show? Have you seen any of the spin-off related show from over the years such as Sarah Jane Adventures or K-9?

At the end of 2016 we were taken to a familiar school in the world of Who over the years, Coal Hill academy. While there was a break from the Doctor and his own adventures last year, this location and a group of teenage characters came along to keep us entertained.

CLASS does come from the same place as Doctor Who (and even features him at the end of the first episode) but it is quite a surprisingly different show. This may have shocked or actually upset a great many people judging from the very mixed response in the last couple of months since it first aired in the UK on BBC3.

The eight episode series does have a loose story thread but starts with individual tales. This episodes are similar to quite a few Who episodes but edge closer to other sci-fi films and tv shows such as The Twilight Zone, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, X-Files and more. The series had been aired late night on Mondays on BBC1 due to the gore, blood, violence and occasional swearing at times.

A good few loyal Doctor Who fans may have been very surprised, and I know some have just not been impressed or happy with it at all. Why is this? It is really so bad?

Since Doctor Who successfully returned long-term in the mid-00’s and has been on the small screen ever since, the show creators have taken some inspiration and chances with that success at times, with casting, scripts and other projects. One successful early spin-off show which quickly gained a big fanbase was Torchwood. It was connected to Who and came from there but had its own set of characters and stories goin on separately. People loved that show and especially the lead character Captain Jack Harkness and his golden age Hollywood style adventure hero antics and fascinating sexuality. That show though did largely stay in the same area where the whole family could watch it together, all ages.

This probably does not really apply with CLASS. Your very small kids should not see most of this. I mean, its not as excessive as any actual 15 or 18 rated horror films but it does almost get to that level, almost. Some fans therefore may feel this betrayed where it comes from and what it should be coming from the world of Doctor Who.

This isn’t the main issue that most people have had with the show. Usually reactions I’ve read or heard take aim of the low or clichéd quality of the scriptwriting. Some thought the characters were terrible, just really predictable. Others may have commented on the acting.

For me personally, I actually did enjoy the series for most of the time and like a couple of people I know, I think it probably did get better toward the end. Some thought the opposite was true.

Well look, they couldn’t just go and make another Torchwood (though the fans have been waiting for that show to return for years now) and in a way it is like seeing a more naughty, offensive and slightly subversive part of the Doctor Who show where the lead character goes missing and the cameras turn to others around him, but for eight episodes.

I’m over twice the age of the young characters but I could mostly still believe them and understand their lives, even if sometimes maybe too tragic.

Like Doctor Who over the last decade and more it is brave at times to include people and issues relating to our modern times- gay characters, people of ethnic minority background, other countries and not have them simply be ‘joke’ characters but the ones we connect with and invest our interest in. But really the best character is Ms. Quill, who comes from Doctor Who and she acts like he ever rarely does. She is regularly aloof, obnoxious, sarcastic, funny, bored, self-interested even nasty. So then of course this all makes her very watchable and entertaining all the way through. And like the present Doctor at least, she is not young-well, she is probably middle aged at a push. While most of the series looks at each individual young character and their issues while some random wild alien invasion takes place, toward the end Miss Quill is revealed as a very interesting character.

The series comes to a highly dramatic and possibly OTT ending but this does probably leave things open for the show to return. If that will happen is yet to be confirmed. I would like to see the series return and maybe some of the flaws in the scripts and writing could be smoothed out with it next time.

 

James E. Parsons is a SF/Horror author. His SF books Orbital Kin & Minerva Century are available now from Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, WHSmith, and other good bookshops. His first horror book is published later in 2017.

 

Star Wars-Rogue One:Film Review

Another year, another new Star Wars movie. This is the way for the next decade or more we can believe. So this new Star Wars connected film has been out on release for a couple of weeks, but I often wait a little while until the crowds have died down. In a good way, I went along to a local cinema on January 1st, a great way to bring in the new year I would say.

We have had a year of build up and hype again but this time it has been a little different. This new movie is not a strict ‘important’ Star Wars event movie-or not to some people, as it is the first ‘spin-off’ film. It takes place in the space world, the same time-line of the original three movies, but it is not a sequel and not really a prequel either.

From the pictures and stills and then the trailers for the related movie, I was increasingly interested in just what kind of movie it would turn out to be. It features another group of entirely new characters-although does include and add in a few well loved ones-like The Force Awakens. The difference here is that these characters will not continue on in another sequel after this film. Most clued up Star Wars fans will be very aware of this.

So as this is a stand alone separate but related Star Wars movie, does it matter? Do we care about the story or characters this time?

That answer is yes, very much so. I had been very interested in two things really before seeing this. One was the director chosen being Gareth Edwards who has in a short time build up a reputation for really great sci-fi films with epic effects combined with great storytelling and acting. The second point of interest was the new female lead-Felicity Jones. With The Force Awakens we did get a great young female lead, which was excellent. Here with this new film, it had been hinted at that the story would be more mature, sombre and with an older female lead, I thought it could be much more interesting and good to see.

From the first couple of minutes, the direction had pulled me in. It looked superb, it really did. The musical score in new and different although does bring in small pieces of the well known Star Wars score here and there. We are introduced to the character of young child Jyn, which feels very familiar but is told well in a few minutes. Cut to a few years later and adult Jyn (Felicity Jones) escapes captivity and goes out on a bold adventure with a group of defiant yet interesting characters.

It does often feel a lot like the first three original movies, and it is visually styled that way very carefully, even more so than The Force Awakens which works in the time-line order or events and the films.

Yes, as you may have heard now, in some ways it is almost as good as or better than Empire Strikes Back. Even so, this is not a perfect or flawless movie. After the first hour or less it does slump and slow down and the familiarity of the classic Star Wars movies echoed in a number of the scenes and visuals perhaps does not help this movie. That does not ruin it all the way by any means, and it does continue on and I would say that it very much is as great as those early movies and so then it is a real shame when it comes to an end and we find that we will not see these characters again. There are some great dialogue lines regularly, a really great new sarcastic droid, fine supporting actors involved including Riz Ahmed and Forrest Whitaker. We also see a very powerful and aggressive Darth Vader back on the big screen and this does impress I must say.

There are some surprises, some great acting, fantastic visuals among the best ever seen in any Star Wars movie.

This next December will bring the next Star Wars sequel in the ongoing series but I might be looking forward much more for the next stand-alone film like this fine example. The Force elsewhere is strong.

 

James E. Parsons is author of SF novels Orbital Kin, Minerva Century both available from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Nobles and other good bookshops internationally.

 

 

The Expanse-tv show review

In the last week or more I have managed to watch this new sci-fi show which thankfully just suddenly ended up on Netflix in the UK here. I had read about it many months ago, but there had been very little news about when it would come over here or on what television channel.

I had been aware that it is adapted from the hugely popular SF space opera book series from the last few years written by James S.A.Corey (which is actually two writers working together). Like that book series this seemed to be a very epic and complex story, weaving together a number of plots and characters.

In the last couple of years we have had a few mostly good quality new SF shows, often on SyFy channel. These included Continuum, Defiance and more recently Killjoys and Dark Matter. How would this show compare to these other recent successes? What would all of the fans of the book series it is based upon think of it?

I have not personally read the Expanse book series and so had no solid expectations or ideas of how the characters should look, act or what the show should look like. I do though write space opera-my latest published book is in that style- and I am a fan of the classic tales of that kind.

So what did I think? Well first of all, with just the first episode it looked very well made with high production values and good direction. The sets seemed to be on a big scale as if for a feature film and the visual effects seemed like something you would possibly see in a cinema. It started very well.

It soon gives us a space attack and mystery, and a small group of main characters are thrown together and left to desperately travel to safety in deep space. Somewhere else on colonised space habitat a tired detective begins to follow a trail which leads him toward some interesting but dangers people and places.

The show had the look and feel at times of the recent very popular Battlestar Galactica television reboot-quite realistic camerawork, fairly dark and gritty lighting often, desperate and tense situations. Sometimes though it has some lighter brief moments of humour and colour which remind of the cult hit Joss Whedon Firefly show.

This does look like the most visually impressive tv science fiction show for years, which is great and unusual to see on a small screen. For the most part, the writing is very good. The characters and acting do pull you in and you want to watch them interact and see where they go together and how. In some sense because the visuals do look so good, almost Hollywood sci-fi cinema level an slight difficult feeling arises as it feels like a film stretched over several hours and there are maybe a few times when it does drag just a bit.

Is it what I thought it would be? I may have been expecting something more like the ALIENS films due to the early photographs and pictures of this show in magazines and online. Was I let down? No, it was a very good show, which could hopefully continue and get even better as it does leave us with some intriguing new mysteries in space to be resolved. I also do have to say that the actor Thomas Jane -previously most well loved for his shot at a Punisher Marvel movie over a decade ago-here he is a fantastic character, so well worn in watchable.

I have recently seen the new trailer for season two of this show and so next year will reveal if it can keep going and give us even more great deep space action and thrilling adventure.

 

James E.Parsons is author of SF books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century-both available as paperback/ebook from all good bookshops internationally now.

 

 

Westworld-Friends are electric again…

Inspired by the cult 1970’s sci-fi movie written and direction by Michael Crichton-the man who also gave us Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, this new HBO show was billed as the new event to step into the place of Game of Thrones.

It may not be the first seventies SF movie that comes to mind when considering an adaptation for small screen. Other cult movies films of that period to adapt could have included A Clockwork Orange, THX-1138, Zardoz (maybe…), Deathrace 2000, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Mad Max among others.

With the first released picture of this new Westworld tv show, it looked like something that might have come direct from cinema screens and Hollywood millions. There are a great number of very big cast name actors involved including Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood to name only the main players. Yes, the producers really were aiming to give us something very special and high quality this time. We were to believe this as well given that brother of Batman director Chris Nolan, Jonathan Nolan was (who co-wrote those Batman films) helped create this series and it had the huge guiding hand of J.J. Abrams.

So is it a good show? How much like the original cult movie is it?

Well right with the first episode you will quickly recognize many familiar visual elements and tropes seen in the film. You get the wild west theme park, we are shown that the cowboys are of course robots called Hosts. Like the film, at first it seems like a great place to spend some leisure time. Although with the show, we follow a different set of characters as the story moves along.

This was a slow burning series. There were some serious changes and unexpected switches from the movie to what we were watching here. At times it almost felt as if they may have taken things too far with the onscreen violence of various forms, as if it was just too much for what we remember the film as being, besides the last twenty minutes or so. Here it is like this series starts with the end of the movie and continues along that path but then goes on to explore and wide range of notions of violence as entertainment and what that means for us humans, why we sometimes seek that out and how it affects us.

Coming from J.J.Abrams and Jonathan Nolan many of us probably did expect to some extent some mysterious macguffins or long and unwinding narrative paths which could take many weeks to unravel and reveal strange truths-if they ever would. Yes, this is a challenging show regularly. After a couple of weeks many viewers were agreeing on social media how they were confused or perplexed in a number of ways by the often very vague and elliptical way characters would walk or scenes were cut suggesting a number of thing but not always obviously clear of meaning or the plot. But how often do we really want everything always spelled out to us in cinema movies or television like we are very small children with the smallest attention span?

This show does go way beyond the basic premise of the original movie, delving deeper into the existence of the theme park robot wild west characters. They do become conscious but why and how and for what reasons are held from us but very teasingly suggested episode by episode. There are some episodes where you really do have to pay very close attention or you will sudden be very confused or lost but stay with the show and I think I can say that you will probably be very rewarded and stimulated emotionally and intellectually.

We are challenged to ask questions about how we use modern technology, what we might do with artificial intelligence and super-realistic robots in our near future. These can actually be quite disturbing things to consider but with the whole series and the well chosen cast of actors we can look at some possible times of tomorrow and the challenges of our rapidly advancing technology and how we will live with it.

 

James E.Parsons is the author of SF novels Orbital Kin and Minerva Century, both available on Amazon and in various other well known and reliable bookshops internationally.

 

 

Black Mirror Series3 Review

From one a week, to all in one weekend. The new series of this modern and often disturbing sci-fi tv series has switched from UK Channel4 over to Netflix. The budget has been increased greatly, the locations, visual effects, soundtrack all bigger this time. But does that make it better?

In the space of just over a couple of years this series has successfully become the modern equivalent of The Twilight Zone of The Outer Limits for modern times. Some episodes have been darkly comic, satirical while others have been almost too terrifying to think about for too long after watching.

Like the previous two mini series, the shows continue to jump ahead from known daily life modern technology such as smart phones, the internet, A.I., social media, online games and more. There are some differences this time, but there are enough familiar things to keep you interested and guessing like before.

Okay, so I really don’t wish to give spoilers and so I’ll try to keep things brief but informative with my casual review of the new series here.

Episode 1-Nosedive

The series starts with a fairly light and humorous episode. This looks at social media and how desperate we might get to gain top marks from friends and others, and what it would mean in society. Things go tragically wrong for the young lady who needs more likes and stars. A good start, reassuring us that the show has not simply gone all ‘Hollywood’.

Episode 2-Playtest

This one doesn’t seem to radical really. It follows a young guy needing some quick cash who signs up to test out a new experiment videogame. Ah, seems a walk in the park at first…safe word stop…stop…stop…! Actually ends up being pretty intense and dramatic. Reminded me of the underrated David Cronenberg movie Existenz.

Episode 3-Shut up and dance

Okay this one is in some ways funny to begin with, seems quite low budget, back to basics but the idea here soon gets very chilling and horrible. Very nasty, very tragic episode.

Episode 4- San Junipero

This is the episode that almost anyone can watch and will find it very sweet, very emotional, nostalgic. If you experienced or grew up in the 1980’s (I was a young kid back then) you will love this one. But as it moves along, this one moves from beautiful, romantic, time-travel (sort of), to bitter, difficult, tragic but philosophical and sombre tale. Very touching.

Episode 5-Men against fire

Much like Call of Duty or a military near future tale with parallels to recent warfare, this may not be the most original episode or best. It reminds me at times of 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, Full Metal Jacket- which is not a bad thing. Again, this one ends with a quite nasty and very troubling close but does perhaps make us question what our governments and military may be tempted to do in the name of war or victory.

Episode 6-Hated in the nation

So this final episode is feature length. It is just under one hour and a half. Now, some people have said that this one could have been much shorter, that it dragged on too long possibly. I don’t think I felt it was too long. I did enjoy it, even though it is very much like a crime/detective drama/thriller CSI style show. It considers the dangers of social media in connection with A.I. and almost nano-tech alongside the quick reaction hate mentality of the masses. This one is probably more of a slow-burn longer lasting fear tale, which will stay with us for a while in a different manner to the other episodes.

So has the show changed far too much in the leap over to Netflix, or the way we can in theory watch the entire series in one go rather than one per week as in the past?

Some of that is just how we can watch much television these days on catch-up, but no, thankfully I think this series at least has retained the basic founding idea of what the show is and how it show be. Well done with this one Charlie Brooker, I look forward to more=if I can bare to watch through my fingers…

 

James E. Parsons is author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century (SF fiction) both available now in paperback, ebook and hardback from all good bookshops internationally.