Midnight Special(2016)-Film Review

I’m steadily going through a few films from the last few years which I have missed but have cropped up on Netflix. This was one of those films. It was from director Jeff Nichols, who has now made a number of very acclaimed and respected films and it was his second to feature the actor Michael Shannon.

It had been a while since I had thought about watching it and I only vaguely remembered that it was in some way possibly a science fiction movie. This was right but not very much like most sci-fi movies you might see.

It starts quickly with two men going on the run with a young boy-who seems oblivious-driving at night while at the same time the FBI bust into a large rural church gathering and round up the people there. In the car with the two men, the calm young boy wears swimming goggles at night and reads a comicbook by torchlight until they have to turn off the headlights and the driver puts on night-vision goggles so that they can drive unseen. Yes, very strange indeed.

Soon after this the film slows down while the two men, one played by Michael Shannon is the boy’s father, continue their journey to get the boy to a specific destination in a few short days before the FBI can reach them. Is the boy really his son? What do the FBI want? What were the church doing with the boy?

The film quickly threw up these and other questions. It seemed like it may have actually simply been a tense kidnap or abuse drama story but then a very sci-fi thing happens suddenly with the boy and we see that something really strange and fantastic is going on and there is a whole lot more to the story.

Soon enough the film feels like a mysterious episode of The X-Files or an X-Men film but it continues to maintain a tense emotional hold on the viewer. They meet up with the boy’s mother and soon Father, Mother and close friend all struggle with what they should be doing and what is the right thing for the boy.

In some ways I thought it may have been a bit more standard chase/thriller film with the cops/FBI on their tale and very predictable but thankfully that mostly was not the case. Most of the visual effects are really good, certainly the end of the film. It may not be the most original sci-fi movie all the way to the end but it become quite a philosophical story which raises a number of questions about faith, guilt, alien contact, families and more.

A good science fiction film with some challenging emotional and philosophical depth.

James E. Parsons has two SF books out now-Orbital Kin & Minerva Century both available from Waterstones, Amazon, Barnes&Noble and other bookshops and online in paperback and ebook now.

 

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Ghost In The Shell (2017)-Film Review

Yes this live-action adaptation of the anime sci-fi cyberpunk 90’s classic was released at cinemas many months ago but I missed it back then. I was given a copy of it for Christmas and so now I have seen. There was a few reasons why I didn’t catch it back at the cinema months ago, and one of those reasons may have been due to the slightly uncomfortable issue of ‘Whitewashing’ in the film which very many people were critical about. Why did it star Scarlett Johansson? Did it need to have her? It is seen as an American movie-did it have to be? Could it not have been Japanese made with full Japanese cast of actors?

There were several arguments around these issues of the film production-why was the lead character played by a white American actor? But then the response was that the character of Major Mira Killian was not specifically Japanese in the original manga or anime and was possibly wearing a body and also is a cyborg so she could be created in any visual design way. And on it continued.

So yes, that all may have put me off seeing it or paying my money at the cinema which may have been endorsing this kind of possibly Americanisation of original Japanese entertainment. I could understand it in other ways as well-Scarlett Johansson was at the time of production possibly the highest paid Hollywood actress/female actor due to her role as Black Widow in the Marvel movies, which is a similarly well trained, highly physically capable heroic character so it does right in that sense. Plus, they would have thought it the best thing to have her in this film as it would possibly draw such a huge audience because of her.

So anyway, lets talk about the movie. I am also a big fan of the original anime film from the mid-90’s. If you already knew about it, you may have seen over time how frequently it had been stated that without Ghost in the Shell there may have been no The Matrix. That’s possibly true, as the Matrix trilogy especially the first film did seem to take so much visually and stylistically from this anime/manga classic. I did see the anime G.I.T.S. a couple of years after Matrix was released and I really was shocked at the similarities.

Besides the controversies of production, with this live-action version of G.I.T.S. what do we get? Is it a very close remake? Is it only inspired by the original anime?

Well this is where it did not do so well for me as it is not a total remake, or exact shot-for-shot live-action version but it does feature several very memorable scenes from the anime movie which look almost exactly the same (made extremely well) and the story uses some of the anime feature length story with some elements from episodes of the anime series as well. This resulted in a film which did not really give me a fascinating original new tale, but I mostly knew where it was going all of the way through to the end.

In some ways now I do actually regret not seeing it at cinemas or even on IMAX because along with the recent Blade Runner sequel this movie really does look absolutely mind-meltingly stunning visually. It gives us what Ridley Scott probably exactly wanted for the original Blade Runner all those years ago. It looks just like Scarlett Johansson is walking through that movie and you almost expect her to bump into Deckard on the neon-lit streets. It also contains some of the very best science fiction special effects I have seen in recent times when we seen Major taken apart, reconstructed, broken, her face opened out, other similar cyborg characters and robotic creations. They all look seamless and breath-taking.  These are different times for Hollywood with their international cinema audiences changing and evolving and so I can probably (cynically) understand the very international main actors cast around Johansson. This is no bad thing just different to the anime and does feel possibly forced. But then they added in Juliette Binoche who of course is really great and added a maternal bond element with the Major. Strangely they cast Japanese legend Beat Takeshi Kitano-which is fine, as he is a fantastic actor/director-but he has his own dialogue in Japanese and subtitled while no other characters do in the movie.

Another big difference is that this live-action adaptation is nowhere near as philosophically deep or profound as the anime original. I’ll be honest, I had to watch the original a good couple of times for so much of the philosophical theories and issues to sink in and absorb them. With this version, a thin level of the questions around humanity, the self, cyborg, A.I. and robotics are probed but not with too much depth. It would be wrong to have the script be exactly the same as the original but I did feel they could have worked on this more but then in many ways it still is a Hollywood movie aiming for as wide an international audience as possible.

This film is not a total let down. It is not as controversial as you may have been led to believe. If you have not ever seen the original anime or manga you will possibly really love it. You may wonder if it is a Blade Runner spin-off movie. I felt that it was also a little too short. If you have seen the anime movies and series or the manga go see this anyway because it is still very much worth seeing. It is not entirely perfect but it is still a really great new sci-fi movie which does begin to ask some questions about how robots, A.I. and technology may radically alter our lives in only a short time from now.

 

James E. Parsons is author of two SF books Orbital Kin & Minerva Century (a cyborg mystery in space) out now in paperback, ebook and hardback in all good bookshops and online. Also his first horror novel Northern Souls is out now in paperback/ebook.

Blade Runner 2049-Film Review

(Spoilers Alert ) Here we are over three decades after the original SF movie classic was in cinemas and flopped but gained an ever-growing cult fan-base and actually influenced almost all sci-fi films, books, television ever since.

I had been reading a few articles and interviews with the new director Denis Villeneuve (whom had recently had success with SF alien first contact film Arrival) and the actors involved this time including Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling. As the original film was set in 2019 which is only a couple of years away right now the new sequel moves further in time but only by around thirty year so that it could still be some sort of ‘near future’ story. Given the current advances in AI and robots, DNA/gene splicing and research and bioengineering we can potentially believe some of this new story could take place in some ways in our actual near future.

For decades now of course the fans of the first film have long debated the truth of Rick Deckard-was he human or replicant? Thanks to around half  a dozen versions of the film from director Ridley Scott there have been a number of ways to interpret the film. Is this one of the reasons it has been such a cult favourite for so long?

The story does move on this time. There has been a catastrophic global blackout on energy and data which helped the original Nexus replicants to escape and hide. The company did collapse due to scandal after the many dangerous escaped replicants such as the ones we know from the original movie. After time a new visionary businessman named Wallace has come along and has designed new breeds of replicants with longer and natural lifespans but he does have some deadly intentions for the long term.

We follow a new Blade Runner named simply K in this sequel as he starts to find some clues which begin to lead him to an extremely important case which breaks apart what he thinks he really knows about himself and his work. With this story, we start knowing that K is a new natural lifespan replicant Blade Runner-we know that he knows this, but what he uncovers still leads toward the end of what he thinks of as his truth and the true work he is doing and for what reasons.

Often criticism of the original movie argues that it lacks enough narrative, short on story and character at the expense of breath-taking visuals and soundtrack above all else. I understand that, but do not entirely agree with it. With this sequel, of course it does resemble the original in very many ways. This will keep the many loyal old-time fans pleased, but again it might provoke those same negative comments to some extent.

We are now more than thirty years down the line from the first Blade Runner movie. The fans and viewers have grown old with that film (and the many different director’s cuts and theatrical versions). So in some ways this sequel really did have to offer more for cinema audiences in terms of story depth and detail, to some extent at least. Over the many years there have been at least one spin-off sequel novel, a sort of sequel videogame and comic-book versions which have moved the story on in a number of ways, and so there have been a number of possibly strong enough concepts and ideas to move forward with if and when a sequel was ever made. Some really did not like the idea of a sequel to this particular cult classic. Was it another cynical cash-grab from Hollywood? If it was, well it is forgiven and a relief to find that it is a bold success.

I have seen in the last week or more since it was release, at least two extremely positive reviews from a couple of very well respected UK film critics whom I usually trust. I have also read and heard a small number of negative remarks, and these are possibly justified in some ways.

It is good to see that the director has mostly kept the film quite stripped down of CGI besides the girlfriend of K and a few other effects which help support the near-future atmosphere in subtle ways. There were actual miniature sets made and real international locations filmed and I think the combination of these worked really well did help connect this with the original film. Along with this, the film just looks absolutely stunning. at least four or five times I was sitting there thinking to myself ‘my god, that looks so amazing’ as I watched the screen.

It is I think even longer than the original Blade runner movie, and does seem to pack in a fair amount of more story, twists and detail this time around. This might be one aspect which almost made it feel too different to the original, but again we are in 2017 now, the core fans of the original are probably older and willing to take in more narrative levels this time. Thankfully I don’t think it goes quite too far with this.

With the actors and acting I largely think they were all great choices. Ryan Gosling fits the world of Blade Runner really well, and feels like a new younger Deckard-which fits in well with the film later on. Harrison Ford is held back until really fairly late on in the film but this works and feels natural for the story. It seems Ford understood this thankfully. Someone recently didn’t seem to like the performance of Jared Leto as new corporate messianic businessman. I think it probably is more about the almost repetitive and not entirely always required dialogue he is given. He could have opened up the character I think but it may have posed a danger to the overall film.

But this is a sequel to Blade Runner and it is the direction, set design, soundtrack that we really want to see work well and it certainly does give us what we’ve been waiting for. We see much more of what we only had brief glimpses of in the first movie. This is a truly breath-taking vision of a possible future, bringing to mind Spielberg’s A.I., The Matrix and Dune in different ways among many other scifi visions.

Go see this movie on a very big IMAX screen if you can. This is another example of a rare and very worthy sequel to a highly influential and classic sci-fi film.

 

James Parsons is author of two SF books- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century, both available now in all good bookshops and online. His first horror novel Northern Souls is published 31st October.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.