Sunday, June 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of blah, blah, blah...

Once there was a time when the combination of George Lucas and Steven Speilberg could do no wrong. And during that period they made 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' - one of my favourite movies ever. This was the first film I ever saw multiple times at the cinema. I think I saw it on three consecutive weekends when I was 11.

Then they followed it up with 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' a few years later. It was darker and not quite as good, but still great fun.

Then Lucas lost it. He went on to make 'Howard the Duck', the Ewoks movie and ultimately create Jar-Jar Binks; not a great career progression. Speilberg went all serious on us and lost the knack of doing a great blockbuster. The third Indiana Jones movie 'The Last Crusade' was quite good, but not as great as the first two.

And now, after a couple of decades of waiting, comes the fourth, and presumably final, Indiana Jones movie. Was it worth the wait? No. Was it an entertaining film? Yes. Was it another Indiana Jones movie? Not really...

Spoilers below. So watch out if you haven't seen the film...

The basic plot of Indiana Jones movies is that Indy has to get to some ancient religious (and generally magical) artifact before the bad guys (generally Nazis) get to it to use the power for their own evil ends. Along the way we get some whip-cracking, swash-buckling, fist-fighting, gun-toting, truck-chasing action.

But Indy is now 20 years older and we're now in the 1950s. So the bad guys can't be Nazis anymore (actually, I think they could have been, especially since the action mostly takes place in South America - I'm sure there were some Nazis hanging on there in the 50s...) and our hero can't swash his buckle in the same way he used to (actually, as we will see, he can, but the producers obviously thought we wouldn't believe that) so we have a younger sidekick who turns out to be Indy's son. OK, I have no problems with either of those changes.

But let's consider the ancient artifact... Its not a well-known, but lost, Judeo-Christian artifact like the Ark or the Grail in films one or three, its not a fictional Hindu artifact like in film two, its a completely fictional - and clearly alien - artifact from a completely made up religion. You see, from the very outset the rules of this film have changed - we're not in the realm of religious-fantasy, we're firmly in the realm of sci-fi. And that's not Indiana Jones territory.

I'm a big fan of Stargate (the original movie as well as the TV series it spawned), and the premise of this film is very much in Stargate territory. Then there are elements of the Mummy movies thrown into the mix (most notably the swarming ants scene). Then finally there are some elements of Indiana Jones movies thrown in for good measure: hating snakes, truck chases, clifftop fights, a bit of tomb raiding, melting faces, etc., etc. But they are not the starting point, they feel like they've been thrown in there to keep the punters happy. And some of the classic Indy elements are spoiled as they are brought in incorrectly, like the scene with all the natives swarming out of the temple - very much like the opening scene of Raiders, but there Indy only escaped because he had a hapless accomplice with a plane, here we had to resort to sci-fi crystal skulls to scare off the natives. Silly, and not very Indiana Jones.

So this fails as an Indiana Jones movie, and if I'd gone in armed with high expectations I'd have been quite disappointed. Thankfully I'd heard about the silly alien thing (although it pervades the entire movie, its not just the last half hour like some reviewers suggest) and had gone in with as few expectations as I could. And hence enjoyed it quite a bit.

You see, the character of Indy is still intact (even if he's in the wrong film) and Harrison Ford does a great job of making the ridiculous Lucas plot and dialogue seem real, or at least believable. I have no issues with the James Dean-esque son of Indy and thought he brought a new angle to the story. The baddies were a bit two-dimensional with Cate Blanchett behaving like the sort of psycho nutter who is usually second in command to some cat-stroking evil genius. But the cat stroker never appeared, so we were left with a slightly incomplete set of baddies. And Ray Winstone was rubbish.

So what we're left with is a load of quite enjoyable action scenes, a charismatic couple of central characters, a nice re-appearance of Marion from Raiders and some hints of social comment from Speilberg, all tied together with a ridiculous plot and premise.

I liked it. I will certainly watch it again someday. But it was not a worthy successor to Raiders.

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Doctor Who: 'Turn Left' (S4E11)


That is all I need to say.

The opening credits to next week's episode are going to go on about half the episode: David Tennant; Catherine Tate; Billie Piper; Freema Ageyman; Elizabeth Sladen; John Barrowman... I wonder if Eve Myles will get opening credits billing? And it looks fantastic. I wonder why so many conincidences happen around Donna?

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Doctor Who: 'Midnight' (S4E10)

I quite enjoyed this episode too, even if it did oscillate between carefully observed characterisation and pure stereotype. It was well cast, suitably quirky, had the right amount of tension & release and was generally quite entertaining. Every time it was about to get annoying it managed to get out of it in time.

But I have two gripes.

The first is a complaint against the Radio Times who listed 'Billie Piper as Rose Tyler' in the credits. So I was all excited in an 'oooh, I wonder how they're going to bring Rose back' kind of a way, only to be disappointed that she only appeared onscreen for less than a second and isn't really back yet. (but next week...)

The second is against The Doctor himself. He quite spectacularly failed to save the day and it was only through the self sacrifice of one of the other characters that he (and everyone else) were saved from peril. Our hero failed. This show is all about how The Doctor is, essentially, a superhero and always cleverly saves the day. But this time he didn't, he failed, he lost. Was this because he was without an assistant in this episode? Will there be repercussions in future episodes? I guess we'll find out. But The Doctor himself only gets 4/10 for this episode. Not clever enough by half. Or possibly too arrogant.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Doctor Who: 'Silence in the library' & 'Forest of the dead' (S4E8&9)

Was it just me, or was that the best Doctor Who story of all four series so far?

Erm, probably spoilers in what follows... ;o)

Where should I start? Well, first off, the library setting was great. Looked not unlike something that should have been in Star Wars. And then the 'stay out of the shadows' thing was nicely creepy. Although the 'I have two shadows' thing was a bit silly.

But I can forgive them for that, there were some real gems in there. The whole idea of meeting up with a future assistant was great, although if the series runs for long enough it could give some real continuity problems - it is clear that Prof River Song knew this regeneration form of the Doctor, but significantly aged, so to keep the continuity line right we need to have David Tennant as Doctor for several years yet and then have a slightly younger River Song as an assistant. Possibly more than just an assistant if the hints were accurate... That could be tricky.

The whole library and vashta nerada (or however we're spelling that) thing would have been creepy enough, but the faces on the terminals and the data ghosts made the thing a whole heap more creepy. And then to put the whole thing inside the head of a small girl. Genius.

But what I didn't totally understand was what exactly it was that River Song did at the end that the Doctor was going to do? I had thought that the Doctor was going to upload all the 'saved' people into himself somehow, but the people all rematerialised in the library, so what did River actually sacrifice herself for?

But anyway, I thought it was great and it was the first two parter in a long time that didn't have an 'oh, get on with it' section in the middle somewhere. Fab.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Not sci-fi books. Honest.

When is a sci-fi book not a sci-fi book?

Last year (you may remember) I read and reviewed 'The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters' by G.W. Dahlquist. Well, the sequel - 'The Dark Volume' - is out now (hardback) and I popped into my local bookshop to see how much they were selling it for. But it wasn't in the 'Science Fiction and Fantasy' section of the shop. I found it in the 'General Fiction' section.

But the book is clearly SF. OK, it might be a pseudo-Victorian setting, but it is quite definitely 'steam-punk' SF. They have impossible technology. Characters in the book are transformed into super-human (or certainly non-human) beings. So why is this book not shelved with the rest of the SF?

Another SF book I read recently, 'The end of Mr Y' by Scarlett Thomas (hey, I don't seem to have blogged about that one; it was quite good) is similarly shelved in General Fiction, not in SF. Yet that one features time travel and rewriting history.

So when is a SF book not a SF book?

The only conclusion I can come to is that it is not considered SF when mainstream reviewers actually like it. Then they class it as literature.

I had thought perhaps it was when an author who had not previously written SF wrote a SF novel, but then I realised that G.W. Dahlquist hadn't written anything before 'Glass books'. He's never written non-SF.

Its the same on TV and in movies. You get actors being interviewed trying to play down the 'science fiction' aspect of the show or movie that they're in. You know, they might be in Heroes - which is all about superheroes - but they still make out that its not a SF/Fantasy show and claim its really all about character and drama. But so is almost all SF!

Aaaaargh! It makes me want to scream.

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Nancy (epilogue)

What did I tell you? The public, in their infinite wisdom, chose the worst of the three in the final of 'I'd do anything' on Saturday night. Sigh.

Personally, I think that Jodie won in the same way as Michelle McManus did on Pop Idol a few years ago (2003, actually) - she got the 'fat vote'.

Then again, none of my favourites have ever won any of these Saturday evening talent shows. The British public has no taste.

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Spoiler sport...

Why did nobody tell me that Saturday evening's Doctor Who was the first part of a two parter? I like to know these things in advance. Now I have another four and a bit days to wait for the conclusion. I wasn't mentally prepared for this. And add to that that this is the best episode of the series so far, which only serves to increase the annoyance. Aaaaargh.

Full review to follow once I've seen the conclusion.

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