Sunday, May 27, 2012

Superman 2 - Donner cut

Richard Donner was replaced as director on Superman 2 by Richard Lester. In 2006 Donner and the writer Tom Mankiewicz edited a version of the film that was closer to their original intentions.

Although it is a bit rough and ready in places it is a much better film. Some of the scenes included look like rehearsal footage and there are some costume and hair inconsistencies particularly in the scene where Lois deduces that Clark Kent is Superman, but the result makes a lot more sense. In the theatrical version there was the rather strange moment when Kent trips into a fire revealing his secret identity. Superman should not trip up. In the Donner cut Lois uses her investigative skills to figure it out and the trick she uses to finally make him "un-mask" is clever although I'm not convinced it would really fool Superman.

The battle with the Phantom Zone villains is better and doesn't resort to the silly wind gags from the original. Nor does Superman make up any new superpowers on the spot, so there is no throwing the S shield from his chest and no kiss of forgetfulness for Lois. Unfortunately this does mean we get the same unsatisfactory turning back the world device from the end of the first film but we can't have everything I suppose.

All in all this is a much better film and just leaves me wondering how it would have been if they had left Donner in charge. Maybe we would have the superhero sequel equivalent of Godfather II. Check out this version if you have not seen it yet.

Now on to number three and all those terrible jokes.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Big Finish - Shada

A Big Finish bonus release, Shada by Douglas Adams. Directed by Nicholas Pegg and starring Paul McGann, Lalla Ward, James Fox, Susannah Harker and Andrew Sachs.

Where to begin with Shada? Originally conceived as a Fourth Doctor adventure for the 1979-80 television series and written by Douglas Adams. Filming began but was interrupted by industrial action at the BBC and never completed or broadcast. Various incomplete versions have been stitched together over the years and some of the filmed scenes were used when Tom Baker declined to appear in the The Five Doctors. Adams himself recycled some of the characters and the Cambridge university setting into Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

Finally in 2003 Big Finish adapted it into a complete Eighth Doctor story and it was available on the BBC website with a Flash style animation of the story. And here is the full cast audio drama in six parts as originally intended, and with an all-star cast. As well as all the actors I mentioned above it also features John Leeson as K-9 and Hannah Gordon as the voice of Skagra's ship, and all of this for £5 on the Big Finish site.

The performances here are great. Paul McGann continues to sound completely at home in radio drama and it is nice to have the return of Lalla Ward and John Leeson. James Fox turns in a delightfully dotty performance as Professor Chronotis, forever muddling his tenses and making endless pots of tea. Andrew Sachs turns the villainy dial up to eleven as Skagra, and I enjoyed hearing Susannah Harker and Hannah Gordon. If I could have one voice for the computer and sat-nav in my car I think I would choose Gordon's.

The story is complex but I didn't feel it needed to be six episodes long. There are several examples of the classic Doctor Who scenario where the villains have the Doctor and his companions at gunpoint but decide to explain their plan rather than pulling the trigger. Once per story is acceptable but hearing repeated examples rather strains credulity. However on the plus side the special effects are so much better on the radio than they ever could have been on television in 1980.

If this was the first time I had encountered the story of Shada I think it would have scored higher but as I was familiar with the plot and it rather dragged on a bit for me this is going to score 3 out of 5 Robotic dogs.

Next up will probably be The Butcher of Brisbane unless I splurge out more money on the Klein stories special offer.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Big Finish - The Jupiter Conjunction

Big Finish monthly release 160 The Jupiter Conjunction by Eddie Robson. Directed by Ken Bentley and starring Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson and Sarah Sutton.

The crew of the Tardis show up on a comet which is being used as a cheap form of space freight. As always there is something nasty afoot with some suspicious alien creatures, a weapon of mass destruction. Can the Doctor prevent a war between planets?

Somehow this one didn't quite take off for me. The performances are good, Rebecca Front plays one of the leaders on the comet and she is impressive in everything she does at the moment. Likewise the sound design is great and Philip Pope does a good job as the spooky voice of the Jovians. However despite all that it was a little predictable and I didn't pay much attention during the third part which sort of drifted by.

Maybe I am suffering from a surfeit of Big Finish at the moment but this just gets 3 out of 5 cricket sweaters. Next up is Shada.

Big Finish - Energy of the Daleks

Release number four in the Big Finish Fourth Doctor series: Energy of the Daleks. Written and directed by Nicholas Briggs, with Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and Mark Benton.

The Doctor and Leela arrive in London in time to witness a company called Globesphere solve the energy crisis, but all is not what it seems and there is a malevolent force behind the plan to harness solar power from the Moon. Guess who, or what?

I listen to the Big Finish podcasts and last month I entered a competition tied in to their Sherlock Holmes series, and this is the CD I won! I bought the first two of the Fourth Doctor stories at Big Finish day but time and money prevented me from subscribing to them in addition to the regular monthly releases so this was a nice bonus. And it is a cracking story.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson just seem to be having great fun recreating their roles from 30 years ago. And the Daleks are great with suitably scary voices by Nick Briggs. Mark Benton played the first named character to die in the 2005 revival of Doctor Who on television and here he is again intersecting with the Whoniverse. His character is on the receiving end of a lot of the Doctor's techno-babble and his responses are fantastic. He sums up the bewilderment most of us would feel if we ever encountered someone like the Doctor. It is a very nice turn by Benton and it really cemented this story for me.

I have found some of the monthly two CD stories a bit long in places. This single CD two parter really zips along and seemed too short in comparison. Maybe three episodes would suit me best? Anyway it's another great Big Finish release which is going to get the first full 5 out of 5 Dalek suction cups from me.

Next up is Peter Davison in The Jupiter Conjunction.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Big Finish - Master

Next up in my journey back to the early years of Big Finish is release number 49 - Master by Joseph Lidster and directed by Gary Russell, with Sylvester McCoy as The Doctor and Geoffrey Beevers as The Master.

The Doctor is telling somebody a story, and it is a ghost story of sorts. It even takes place on a dark and stormy night in a spooky old house with a series of gruesome murders. Geoffrey Beevers originally played the disfigured version of the Master before his regeneration into Anthony Ainley in the 1981 serial The Keeper of Traken. One of the many great things that Big Finish have done is to bring back these interesting actors from various eras of Doctor Who and put them in new stories. This is no exception with a fine performance by Beevers in what is almost a dual role.

I love it when the Doctor clashes minds with villains who are his equal in intellect, and who better as an opponent than another renegade Time Lord who used to be his friend. McCoy and Beevers are on sparkling form in the debates they have about free will and evil. Meanwhile they are backed up by another actor from classic Doctor Who, Philip Madoc, who sadly died in March 2012. I bought this Big Finish production based on the title alone but it was nice to hear Philip Madoc in there and be reminded of his great work in Doctor Who, and of his classic appearance in Dad's Army.

The only problem I had with this battle of wills between the Doctor and the Master was that it seemed like it had been padded out to fit the standard four episode format. I was somewhat bored in a number of the exchanges that didn't involve McCoy, Beevers or Madoc. However the murder mystery and ghost story were nicely done and there is a surprise, and extremely fearsome, villain.

This gets another 4 out of 5 tissue compression eliminators. My next Big Finish listen will depend on which CD set turns up first but it could be Doctors four, five or eight!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Big Finish - Colditz

This is the first of three Big Finish titles I bought in their recent £5 sale. Colditz by Steve Lyons, written by Gary Russell, with Sylvester McCoy as The Doctor, Sophie Aldred as Ace, Tracey Childs as Klein and David Tennant as Kurtz.

Growing up in the 1970s it is impossible to hear the name Colditz without thinking of the long running BBC series with Bernard Hepton, Robert Wagner, David McCallum and Anthony Valentine amongst others. Listening to this Big Finish production I could see the austere castle and its courtyard which apparently was filmed at Stirling castle in Scotland. The Doctor and Ace turn up in the wrong place at the wrong time and are soon prisoners. While Ace tries to join an escape attempt, the Doctor is interrogated and then handed over to the mysterious Klein who seems to know some of the secrets of his Tardis.

Maybe it was the deliberate harking back to the TV series and the real history it was based on but this was a terrific story. McCoy's Doctor seems to have met his match to some extent in the character of Klein but that doesn't stop his trademark manipulations of his enemies. Meanwhile the boisterous Ace is almost too much for the reserved British prisoners. This story was released in October 2001 when David Tennant was just a jobbing actor so it his fun to hear his recognisable voice doing a German accent.

I enjoyed this so much that it passed almost too quickly. Once thing that I did miss was the 'DVD extras' that BF now put on their CDs. It's always nice to hear writer, director and actors discussing the production at the end of the second CD, but these early releases don't have that bonus track which is a shame.

Despite that this story gets a good 4 out of 5 Balsa wood gliders. Next up is Master.

2000AD Prog 1783 - A medical review

Spoiler alert! Mild spoilers for the Judge Dredd story from Prog 1783 ahead. You have been warned!

The Day of Chaos - Eve of Destruction story by John Wagner continues and the situation in Mega-City One just gets worse. The Council of Five meet to try and plan a way out of the approaching catastrophe and they have summoned my favourite Mega-City Microbiologist, Professor Lucas Wyant.

Wyant lays out the difficulties they face in trying to control the spread of the deadly Chaos Bug. His calculations of the numbers of people likely to be infected are based on an exponential growth rate with each newly infected victim going on to infect a number of people and so on, and so on. Plugging Wyant's figures into excel and using an exponential growth trend suggests that the number of Chaos infected citizens on day four will be 147 million. After the Apocalypse war the Mega-City One population is about 400 million so Wyant is correct when he says that Dredd's suggestion of a quarter of the city is likely to be an underestimate. However Dredd is not far off and this just reinforces the impression that Dredd instinctively knows his city and the challenges facing it. Likewise John Wagner's attention to detail in this storyline continues to impress me. He certainly seems to have a grasp of public health issues and exponential growth rates.

Turning back a page Judges in bio-hazard suits examine the body of one of the infected agents who brought the Chaos bug into the city. They note that he bled to death and that transfusions just seemed to make the situation worse.

It would seem that along with all the others symptoms the infection also causes a condition called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation, or DIC for short, which is an extremely serious blood clotting disorder. In DIC multiple tiny clots form within blood vessels and these clots quickly use up all the proteins known as clotting factors. Without these clotting factors there is nothing to stop bleeding and the result is uncontrolled haemorrhage. Giving patients blood or infusing clotting factors may buy some time but can actually make things worse and the only effective treatment is to find what has caused the DIC in the first place, and to reverse that. As Professor Wyant points out, for the victims of the incurable Chaos bug this is impossible. DIC also explains why the infected bleed from every orifice as discussed in Prog 1765.

I would be fascinated to know where Wagner gets his medical knowledge. He is certainly on the money again here, even in a single throw-away remark by a Med-Judge that reveals more about the deadly plague which is sweeping the Mega-City. This issue gets a full 5 out of 5 medic-droids for medical accuracy. The new Golden Age of 2000AD continues. If you want to get caught up on what you have been missing then there is a useful recap of the Day of Chaos storyline on the 2000AD site here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Alien 3 - Third amongst equals

Moving rapidly on to the always difficult third film in any franchise. Alien 3 came out in 1992 and was directed by David Fincher, what ever happened to him?

Sigourney Weaver returned but this time insisted that there be no guns after the military free for all in Aliens. The pre-production was incredibly troubled. William Gibson himself wrote an early script which you can read on the internet. Directors and actors came and went and Fincher was handed the project with little time to prepare and without a finalised script. So it is not too surprising that this one is a bit odd.

Again I watched the theatrical release rather than the special edition which gives us a strange Bull-Alien rather than the original Dog variant. Every British actor with a shaved head turns up including the great Brian Glover, along with Ralph Brown, Pete Postlethwaite and Paul McGann (four years before he would become the Eighth Doctor Who. Charles Dance provides a brief romantic respite for Ripley and proves that you should never have sex in a horror film.

It's all dark and violent and looks very brown. There is the feeling that there's a good movie struggling to get out of the murk here but it never quite makes it. And it is rather spoilt by the first CGI Alien which looks awful and much less scary than the man in a rubber suit varieties we have had so far. There are clues that Fincher would go on to much better stuff with more creative control but all in all Alien 3 is a diasappointment.

Next up is current fan favourite Joss Whedon, and the director of Amelie making part the fourth. That can't be right can it?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Aliens - Guns, lots of guns.

In 1986 James Cameron brought us a sequel to Ridley Scott's masterpiece. Aliens starred Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen.

Let me start by saying that this is one of my favourite action films of all time. Frankly it is probably nearly everybody's favourite action film. So I will refrain from the superlatives and just make the following notes. Once again it is only the character of Ripley who seems to be thinking clearly throughout the film. Her Colonial Marine colleagues are supposed to be tough and smart and turn out to be neither. The company man is exactly what we thought he was and we get the second in our alphabet of androids "I prefer the term 'Artificial Person' myself".

There is, of course, the famous line but I was also struck by Ripley's earlier line when they first raise the idea of returning to LV-426, "I am not going back ... and I would not be any good to you if I did." Fortunatley for us and the character of Newt she is spectaculary wrong. Speaking of Newt  I decided to stick to the theatrical releases for the rest of the series so I missed the stuff about Ripley's dead daughter and Newt's family going out to investigate the alien spacecraft. But frankly those scenes are not necessary, the bond between Ripley and Newt is obvious, and the family they form with Hicks and Bishop is quite touching.

It's a terrific film. Obviously the genre has switched from horror to all out action and yes it is quite militaristic, but it is as good now as it was in 1986. James Cameron used to make great films in the 80s. Next up is skinheads in space.

Big Finish - The Four Doctors

Every year Big Finish produce a special bonus CD as an exclusive reward for their subscribers. The 2011 Christmas bonus was The Five Companions which I have already reviewed. I have just extended my subscription for another year and got a free CD as a result so was able to get the 2010 CD The Four Doctors.

Written by Peter Anghelides and starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks. There is something irresistible about a multiple Doctors adventure and this single CD story has got the lot. The Eighth Doctor sets up a time loop which will involve his past selves as they attempt to overcome their oldest enemies.

It is a fairly short adventure compared with the usual two CD four parters so my review is correspondingly brief. This was a terrific romp with four great radio actors (five including Briggs as the voices of the Daleks) giving their best. It gets an appropriate 4 out of 5 temporal paradoxes. Next up is a trip into the past for Big Finish, the Doctor and Ace in Colditz.