A Dark and Scary Place
Weyland Industries picks up a heat signature in an uninhabited sector of Antarctica at the location of an abandoned Whaling Station. A team of experts is assembled and dispatched to investigate. Weyland himself (Lance Henriksen) explains to them that an ancient temple, perhaps the earliest sign of civilised life on earth, has been detected far beneath the ice. A thermally cut pipe already leads down to the temple, technologically far in advance of man. But the experts aren't the only ones interested in the ancient construction. A spacecraft arrives and dispatches three hunter predators. The human presence in the temple activates a dormant alien queen, and quite suddenly the team is caught in the middle of an alien versus predator fight which has raged for thousands of years...
Alien Vs. Predator has been on the cards for some years now. The moment 20th Century Fox realised they had possession of two successful and eminently workable franchises it was only a matter of time and the right script before the two came together to wage on-screen war. Dark Horse ran a highly popular comics series which ultimately kept the concept in the public mind. This is primarily Paul Anderson's baby, which he nursed for some time before it finally came of age [in fact reviewgraveyard.com were the first to break the news that Anderson had secured the directors chair on this movie], apparently impressing the film company with the vitality of the script. He also directed the piece, and I must say, although certain parties have seen fit to criticise the finished product, I personally think he put out a very enjoyable film. It's necessary to make that clear now, because you could quite easily systematically pull AVP apart.
Firstly, it borrows from plenty of other film sources. Okay, so no idea is totally original, but if you ignore the many peripheral connections, here we are still left with major elements of Cube (the reconfiguring rooms), Tomb Raider (the interior settings and action sequences), and The Thing (exterior settings and notions). Secondly, if the predators were only interested in humans as cattle-like hosts for the ultimate prey, then it's pretty unlikely one of them would arm and team-up with one, even if she did save its life. If the temple is a trap for the human team, how are so many aliens activated when there is only a handful of humans to act as potential hosts, and why do only three predators arrive to sort out the mess?
Then there are the more simple mistakes. Why does the Alexa Woods character not freeze to death on the surface whilst fighting the alien queen? It seems to be forgotten that this is Antarctica and she is in a T-shirt! The exertion would only cause her to lose valuable body heat more quickly. Also, why isn't the predator craft detected by satellite? The predator multi-readout vision allows them to see an alien gestating in a host; so why did the other predators not see the one in their own colleague? And what is the explanation for the alien/predator crossbreed? Had the predators been playing with genetics, or the two species doing the squelchy together?
As a naturally inquisitive person all of these thoughts were running through my head. However, I also like to immerse myself in a film I'm watching, and I can tell you even bearing all of the above in mind, I didn't let it spoil my enjoyment. It even creates a back story scenario explaining the connections between the two races.
The first disc in this two-dvd presentation contains a normal and extended version of the film, a commentary by Lance Henriksen and Sanaa Lathan, a second commentary by Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. and John Bruno, and Inside Look (trailers for other Fox films, including Hide and Seek, Elektra, and Robots).
Disc two features: Pre-production (a long and interesting documentary), Production (another documentary), Post Production (Visual Effects Breakdown, and 11 deleted scenes with optional commentary), Licensing the Product (The comic book, and Monsters in Miniature by Todd McFarlane, an entertaining overview of the Spawn.Com company), and Marketing (HBO Special, teaser and trailer). So plenty for your hard-earned groats.
Whilst never even likely to aspire to the heights of Alien and Aliens, AVP is considerably better than the abysmal Alien 3 and more exciting than Alien Resurrection. Buy it.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2005)
The year is 2278. Centauri Prime burns. In the palace an elderly Londo - now emperor - watches like Nero. Two children wander into a forbidden area of the palace, and Londo tells them a story: As a young man he is asked by Earth Alliance diplomats what he knows about the Minbari. The Earth military are arrogant after winning a war against the Dilgar. They propose to send ships to Minbar to see if they propose a theat. Londo recommends they send one ship, because even when the Centauri were at their height they would not cross the Minbari.
Lenonn is a Minbari who protests at the decision to disband the Rangers at a time when the prophecy says they are needed most. He meets with the Grey Council, invoking the name of Valen, who formed the Council of Warrior, Worker and Religious castes and led a great victory against the Shadows. Delenn is standing in for another in the Grey Council. She is allowed to speak by her master, Ducat, and suggests confirming part of the prophecy by travelling to Z'Ha'Dum to see if the Shadows have returned to their homeland. It is said that the Vorlons will come forward when it is time. No contact has been made publicly, but Kosh the Vorlon ambassador, and Ducat have been meeting privately. Delenn is initiated into the Grey Council.
Sheridan is assigned as First Officer on the Prometheus, the frontline Earth ship investigating Minbari space, but he declines the promotion, remaining loyal to his Commanding Officer and proclaiming the commander of the Prometheus to be a loose canon. The Prometheus goes in too close in an attempt to obtain information on a Minbari warship and is scanned in turn. In a traditional open-handed approach the Minbari move in with gun ports open. The captain of the Prometheus sees this as a prelude to an attack and so orders all guns to open fire. Ducat is killed and Delenn is distraught. When told that the Grey Council is divided on whether to strike back, she reacts with great anger and instructs the Council to kill all the humans. "No Mercy." So began the Minbari holy war against Earth.
Delenn regrets the slaughter and seeks to find an end to the madness of this war - a war which the humans can't hope to win. There can be no satisfaction in genocide, but the Warrior caste has embraced the situation. Delenn visits a reconstruction of Valen's old living quarters and is surprised to meet two Vorlons, one of whom gives his name as Kosh. A hologram message from Ducat is projected, asking for the Vorlons to be trusted. They are here to prepare for the coming war with the Shadows and to announce that the humans will be needed as allies. They are the Key.
The Earth military discovers that Doctor Franklin had previously treated sick Minbari people long before the war. A general demands he hand over DNA data gathered at the time, but Franklin refuses, invoking the medical code of practice which dictates he save lives. He will not give information that will lead to the creation of a bio-genetic plague that will kill-off an entire race. He is arrested.
The Lexington detects a short-range Minbari ship and dispatches a fighter to follow. It is a trap. Minbari warships arrive suddenly through jump gates, and many of the Earth cruisers with the Lexington are quickly destroyed. The Lexington itself is heavily damaged and the captain killed, leaving Sheridan in command. The Lexington is adrift. Sheridan sends a distress signal, knowing that a Minbari ship would arrive to finish them off. But Sheridan plays dead before releasing tactical warheads at the enemy. This constitutes the first major victory in the difficult war.
Delenn seeks a way to stop the war. She sets up a meeting to negotiate, and Sheridan is sent to a neutral planet with Franklin, and G'Kar (the Narn ambassador) as mediator. Londo orders a Centauri ship to destroy the Narn ship and attack their location on the planet surface. A Minbari is killed in the attack, after whispering something to Sheridan. The Minbari arrive quickly and take Sheridan, Franklin and G'Kar, but Sheridan shouts to a cowled Delenn he knows what is in Lenonn's secret place - and utters a Minbari word which means 'the future'.
Earth struggles for two years, making the Minbari fight for every inch of space, but eventually it stands on the edge of destruction. The final conflict becomes known as 'The Battle of the Line', a last defence of Earth to allow transport ships to flee the planet. Sinclair is leading an Earth fighter squadron on the Line. A multitude of jump gates open admitting Minbari attack cruisers, and all hell breaks loose. Sinclair's fighter is disabled, and he attempts to ram a Minbari ship. Delenn suggests that a human be brought on board her Minbari ship, on the pretence they should learn about Earth world defences. Sheridan is brought aboard and, when probing his mind, they discover he has a Minbari soul, the soul of Valen. Delenn tells the others this is a sign from Valen that the humans are important in the coming Shadow War, and that they should not be killed. A telepath will remove this memory from Sheridan's mind so he cannot tell anyone else. The order is given to surrender when they are on the eve of victory, and this decision confounds a hundred worlds. The war is over.
The Earth president orders the construction of the Babylon Project, a place where races can work out their differences peacefully. They can never afford to make another mistake like the one which began the Earth-Minbari war.
When TNT became the new production financers of Babylon 5 for Season 5, they wanted something to launch it, and suggested a prequel. Writer and Co-Executive Producer J. Michael Straczynski considered how he might tackle this in an original way, and eventually decided on the notion of shooting forward to the future to have an elderly and guilt-laden Londo (now Emperor of Centauri Prime) tell a back-story about the Earth Minbari War to two small children - which fits in with the continuity of the entire serial. We learn how Sheridan got his Minbari nickname of 'Starkiller' when we see him destroy their biggest ship, the Black Star, in a hopeless war. We discover what happened to give Sinclair the "hole" in his mind, and that the order to attack the humans was first given by Delenn, after her teacher and friend Ducat was killed in a misunderstanding with a curious (and somewhat arrogant) Earth ship. The Prometheus (which from legend brings fire) was the first Earth ship to fire on the Minbari. There is also Londo's confession that the war was partly his fault.
Babylon 5 - In The Beginning fills in all the storylines we have wondered about by employing the prose rule of "show, don't tell", without ever seeming like exposition. Long-time fans will know about these situations through the episodic format and will enjoy seeing them unfold on-screen, whilst for newcomers it serves as a good back-story without ever going over old ground. All of the main characters are well-employed (with only G'Kar not so prominent) and the acting in some parts is breath-taking, particularly Peter Jurasik as the aged Londo and Mira Furlan as Delenn. Considering (like Revenge of the Sith) much of what happens is expected, this TV movie works remarkably well. I urge you to re-experience it on the Region 1 Movie Boxset version - in Dolby Digital Widescreen.
(Review by Ty Power 2020. A shorter version of this review appeared on my original website in 2005)
Commander Lochley, who was the first officer which replaced Ivanova around eleven
years before in this timeline, is faced with a Babylon 5 worker who seems to be possessed by a demon - or maybe the Devil himself. A priest is caught in a dilemma of whether or not to perform an exorcism, as the incarcerated man debates theology with them. But Lochley
discovers the demon is tied to the Earth and, in an attempt to escape, is trying to trick the priest into performing an exorcism in space...
Technomage Galen appears to President Sheridan as he travels to Babylon 5 for the tenth anniversary celebrations of the Interstellar Alliance. He shows Sheridan the destruction of New York and says that in 30 years Prince Ventari of the Centauri Republic will destroy the Earth in his quest to return his race to their former glory. This can only be prevented by Sheridan killing Ventari.
Having decided the time was right for more Babylon 5, and to cater to a fanbase crying out for more, after the hugely lucrative DVD box set sales of seasons one to five, Warner approached writer, creator and visionary J. Michael Straczynski with the idea of perhaps making a feature film version. JMS reportedly told them he couldn't imagine a movie without G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) and Dr Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs) - both of whom have died since the series ended - and instead proposed a number of short, straight to DVD stories concentrating separately on major characters from the series.
The first of The Lost Tales consists of two stories loosely connected to form the TV movie Voices in the Dark (a typically poetic JMS title). The Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) tale is lacklustre at best, and would barely have passed as a stand alone episode in the old first season. Aside from Lochley, who hasn't got the presence of Ivanova as first officer in the series, the priest is convincing, but the whole fails to carry as a story in its own right. The second tale is much better. Bruce Boxleitner slips easily back into his role of Sheridan like he's never been away, and Peter Woodward, briefly in Babylon 5 and a main character in the spin-off series Crusade, is engaging as the sometimes dangerous, sometimes humorous technomage Galen. Of course, this dramatic plot dilemma has been played-out several times previously, but it is well-handled here.
The potential continuity problem of the Babylon 5 station exploding at the conclusion of the five-year story arc is overcome here by rolling back time a few years, setting these tales before that momentous event. Credit should be given to returning music composer Christopher Franke, who creates effective fresh dramatic enhancement rather than relying on any of his major themes from the series. The visual effects are utilised to their best order within the obvious confines of the budget (exterior views of the station appearing somewhat darker and more sinister), but haven't the same impact as the groundbreaking CGI seen on the series. Having recently re-watched all of Season One, the old effects hold up remarkably well considering we are now more than ten years down the line. The dialogue, as you would expect from JMS, is one of this release's strong points, with lines like "I've never known hope when it wasn't on a diet," from Sheridan.
On the menus we are given the option of watching Voices in the Dark as a TV movie, or selecting one or the other of the two half-hour segments. Extras include: Fireside Chats (18 minutes of questions posed by fans which are answered by JMS); The Straczynski Diaries (21 minutes of production information and nonsense about glove puppets); Memorials (JMS and cast talk about Andreas Katsulas who played G'Kar, one of the best characters from the series, and Richard Biggs who played Dr Stephen Franklin). Some interesting snippets of information can be collected here, such as the fact JMS would watch his main actors off-set and then incorporate the witnessed traits into their characters. JMS also mentions what I remember as being one of the strongest scenes in the entire Babylon 5 series. Londo is trapped in a broken-down lift with G'Kar. G'Kar is happy to die because his sworn enemy will die too. Andreas Katsulas introduced the madness of laughter into the scene, which JMS okayed because it made the moment so powerful.
I could probably talk all day about Babylon 5; it was after all one of the greatest TV serials of all time. However, The Lost Tales is quite obviously a nostalgia trip for established fans, of which I'm certain there are plenty. This feels like Babylon 5 but is missing the interaction of its loved characters. It's rather like saying this is a good stew because there are potatoes - even though there's nothing to go with them. There should be more of these releases to come, whereas I would personally prefer one release with as many of the ensemble that can be collected together.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2007)
The year is 2267. The Earth is said to be largely uninhabitable, with the population crammed into orbiting space stations. Medical doctor Laura Portmann dreams of joining her sister on the paradise world of Rhea, which is continually teased to the populace. But the journey and transfer is hugely expensive, so she takes a job aboard the cargo ship Kassandra on an eight year trip to a space station orbiting Rhea. The crew undergo cryogenic hibernation with each of them being roused separately for an eight month shift. Laura has the final watch, and immediately begins to hear sounds coming from the hold. She also has the sense she is being observed. When she comes across the security chief, Samuel Decker, Laura initially assumes the mystery is solved. However, they are forced to wake the rest of the crew prematurely to search the immense cargo bays, and it is then that they uncover a conspiracy which shakes the human race to its very foundations...
This is a German film with English subtitles. I hadn't come across it before, although it was presented at the 2010 Sci-Fi London Film Festival. It has a slow and steady build-up with visuals to keep you interested, which is probably why it reminded me in format of those early scenes in Alien. I kept expecting some sort of monster to lumber out of hiding and pick off the crew in established fashion, one by one.
Cargo is very much a grounded science fiction with a human interest story - as all the best tales are. The problem is that it will only appeal to a select niche of viewers. There is next to no mainstream accessibility which, although personally is seen as no real hardship, will certainly hinder its path to commercial success. Furthermore, the excruciatingly slow pace caused even my interest to wane at times; and I have more patience than many for a believable and realistic low-key plot.
As mentioned, the visuals are very impressive without ever being over-bearing. The space station from which the cargo ship leaves is stunning, and seems like a somehow merged scene from Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Philip K. Dick's Blade Runner (or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - for purists). Cargo can't be faulted for its sets and down-played special effects, but what is really missing is the excitement, the tension, the suspense. You just don't care about anything that happens.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2010)
In a Cambridge University laboratory a very unusual science experiment is underway. A virtual reality suit is linked to a super computer, but the project goes seriously awry when, unbeknown to his colleagues, occultist Victor Neumann uploads the works and black magic ceremonies of the notorious Aleister Crowley in binary form. After donning the suit, Classics lecturer Dr. Haddo turns from a self-conscious stutterer to a self-assured, even arrogant and conceited verbal and physical aggressor. Having shocked his students and outraged the faculty, Haddo sets out to repeat and progress Crowley's so-called 'sex magic' using depraved acts and hallucinogenic drugs - to the point where he actually believes himself to be a reincarnation of 'the wickedest man in the world', the universally condemned Beast. But when Haddo displays more knowledge of Crowley than even a madman scholar would, his former colleagues are forced to find a way to reverse the process...
Chemical Wedding is co-scripted by Iron Maiden front man, Bruce Dickinson, based on his solo CD of the same name. Not only have I been a more than avid follower of Maiden since their self-titled debut album in 1980 (yes, I am that old, though I remain young at heart!), but I also know, as do many others, that Dickinson is multi-talented: he is a singer/songwriter at the top of his profession, a jumbo-class airline pilot, a novelist, a BBC radio DJ, and a former national-level fencing coach. With all this in mind, the question is can he add screenplay writer to his résumé. The answer is yes... sort of.
The slightly non-linear, loop structure to this film will undoubtedly confuse many mainstream viewers, who might prefer your standard beginning, middle and end whiz bang Hollywood blockbuster. Personally, I can appreciate the attempt to achieve something a little different. This movie explores such topics as quantum physics, time theory, alternative universes, and of course the occult - so the closest connection it might have to another film is something like Donnie Darko or Primer.
Although I would describe Chemical Wedding as thought-provoking, it's far from being staid. The dark humour isn't prominent, as some media quotes seem to suggest, rather it is dropped in subtly in various places, particularly in some of the ceremonies and latter dialogue. In the same way that Westworld is a good film made a hundred times better by the excellent performance of Yul Brynner, the same can be said for Simon Callow here. The larger-than-life presence of the well-known thespian means that he dominates every scene in which he appears. Callow's acting is fabulous, especially considering some of the questionable actions and lines he has to contend with.
Okay, so this isn't a film that's going to be remembered in ten years time, but it is valiant attempt to do something out of the ordinary. Extras include a Making of... documentary; Deleted Scenes; a Trailer; and a Commentary by director Julian Doyle, co-writer Bruce Dickinson and producer Ben Timlett. And watch out for a couple of cameo appearances by the Bruce-meister himself.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2008)
"Roll up, roll up, roll up, and see these funny little creatures in their natural 'abitat. Watch 'em go through their funny little tricks. Poke 'em with a stick and watch 'em jump!"
I consider the Pertwee years to be the most innovative in Doctor Who's history. In the five seasons between 1970 and 1974 more risks were taken in attempts to raise the visual quality of the programme. Many failed - most apparent being some of the Blue Screen and monster effects - but without this passion for progression there would have been considerably less of an improvement in production values with seasons twelve to fourteen. However, it wasn't simply costumes and special effects. Tom Baker has been reported as saying that he loved the childish naïvety of his character; always believing the best in individuals until proved wrong. The third Doctor beat his subsequent incarnation to this attitude. A good example of this is an early scene in Carnival of Monsters, in which he attempts to communicate with some chickens as representatives of the local intelligent life forms, despite Jo's insistence that they are only poultry.
Once again we welcome another offering from the prolific pen of the late Robert Holmes. Not generally regarded as being one of his better scripts, it is nevertheless a competent tale of two intertwined plots. The Doctor and Jo Grant arrive on a ship bound for India in the 1920's, to discover that the same actions are being played through continuously. Eventually, they escape through a plate in the floor into an area of circuitry, and the Doctor realises they are inside a Miniscope - a mini live galactic zoo - which he had persuaded the Time lords to ban. Searching for an exit from the machine, they stumble into the territory of the Drashigs, the dragon-headed monsters of the piece which move like caterpillars, and are tracked back into the circuitry. The illicit scope is owned by Vorg and his assistant Shirna, who are planning to show the exhibits for profit, but instead get caught up in the schemes of Kalik and Orum, two of the grey-face locals who wish to overthrow the President by releasing the Drashigs from the scope.
What's unusual about this story is that the majority is told using only two major sets: that of the ship, and the Inter-Minor arrivals area. The internal circuitry set of the Miniscope is filmed from different angles to give the impression of immensity, and there is a short marshes scene which introduces the Drashigs.
The Drashig's fail to leave a lasting impression, unlike so many memorable monsters before them. They are let down by a few careless scenes. The group shot of them on the marshes can only be grouped together with that Skarasen in the Thames moment from the otherwise excellent Terror of the Zygons. The terrorising sea monster in Carnival fails to convince in the same way. Having said this, the close up scenes - one featuring a Drashig breaking through a metal plate into the circuitry, and another displaying the concertina-like body of one such individual - pass inspection better than the distance shots, that resemble exactly what they are: glove puppets.
The acting performances are all top notch. Jon Pertwee is as solid as ever, effortlessly commanding the centre of attention of every scene he is in. Katy Manning is bubbly, but wonderfully devoid of Elisabeth Sladen's occasional over-acting. Leslie Dwyer as the flamboyant showman Vorg, manages to convince despite being garbed like a Liquorice Allsort. Ian Marter portrays an early example of the nautical pomposity, to be later endorsed in his Harry Sullivan character.
"One" Kalik and "one" Orum, and other local dignitaries formally discuss every slight detail of each situation as it arises, sounding like the Prince Charles chorus. It is a pet hate of "one" to conduct "oneself" as "one." What's wrong with "I" or "My?" Perhaps Robert Holmes' intention was to highlight just how ridiculous it sounds. Or more likely it was supposed to explain that these are high-ranking officials or of noble birth. This leads me to two minor quibbles regarding the plot.
In such a politically correct society, is it likely that slaves would be utilised, regardless of their intellect? These slaves are seen as being mindless grunts without two brain cells to rub together, and "Ugg" and "Urgh" their way through the relevant scenes. Is it likely, then, that the powerful Eradicator would be left in their care? As there is such an evolutionary distance between the slaves and the dignitaries, I prefer to think of the unseen common populace as the midway point. The plot itself is good but, in places a little long-winded, making me think this story would have worked better as a three-parter, although the looping storyline on the ship makes for some inventive reactionary replies.
There are some great one-liners which are made all the more amusing for being played straight. When the TARDIS is picked up by a giant hand, Jo says, "Where's it gone?", to which the Doctor replies with conviction, "Up there." When Vorg is frantically working to repair the Miniscope, he asks Shirna, "Put your finger on there a minute." When sparks follow with a small shock, he finishes, "Good, that must be the live switch."
So in conclusion, as far as Robert Holmes contributions go, Carnival of Monsters is no Spearhead from Space or The Talons of Weng-Chiang, but it sure beats The Space Pirates hands down!
(Review originally written by Ty Power for DreamWatch Magazine 1995)
I have mixed feelings about this story, and the down side is almost totally down to the length. Six parts is an obvious exaggerated format for Frontier in Space which, unlike Jon Pertwee's premiere season, fails to be enhanced by significant character progression. It would have been much better served - certainly made tighter - as a four-parter.
The model shots are at best below average, with the spacecraft of one docking sequence quivering like a jelly on a plate, before locking on. The third Doctor's two space walks - one to conduct necessary external repairs, the other to reach the control room without passing the Master - are rather nonsensical, especially as he attaches no secure lines to the ship which is in both cases in flight. The wires used to make it appear he is floating, along with the orange suit, cause the Doctor to resemble an ageing Captain Scarlet!
Almost everything else I have to say is complimentary. These minor quibbles should be overlooked in favour of what is a very strong and extraordinary story. Writer, Malcolm Hulke was a great visionary in regards to investigating many aspects of human nature, in certain trying situations. Here he had a future treaty between Earth and Draconia saboutaged by a third party. Cargo ships from both sides are being raided, and each is recognising the perpetrator as the other party. However, the raids are being conducted by the Ogrons - last seen serving the Daleks - using a sonic hypnotic device (hypno-sound) which stimulates the fear centres of the brain, causing the victim to see what he most fears. The Doctor's theory is justified when Jo Grant sees a Drashig from Carnival of Monsters.
Without the cameras venturing into the general populace, the viewer in convinced of the brink of disaster situation by tele-newscasts received in the female Earth President's office, reporting widespread rioting and calls for all out war. General Williams, her aid, initially hovers close to insubordination with constant pressure for retaliation. Similar scenes are witnessed in the Draconian nobles court. We are also reminded of a future political society with population problems with the broadcast: "As an inducement for couples willing to live in the first two totally enclosed dome cities ..., family allowance will be increased to two children ..."
The length is used to a couple of good purposes. It incorporates several locations to inhibit lazy eye syndrome: the cargo ship, Earth, the Luna Penal Colony, Draconia, the Master's ship and the Ogron homeworld (Planet Quarry, I should think). Then there is the uncovering of consistently devious plot twists. The tentative alliance is utilised as the main stay, with the perpetrators being peeled away to eventually reveal the source. First there are the Draconians, then the strong but primitive Ogrons, and then the Master himself. What can you say about the late Roger Delgado's portrayal except chilling! By his very presence in a scene he continues to make nape hairs bristle everywhere. Sadly, this was his final performance for the programme.
There are a couple of nice lighthearted moments. When discussing their situation with the Doctor in a detention cell, Jo states, "All we've got to do is find out what's going on, who's behind the Ogrons, where they've taken the TARDIS, go and get it back, and then we can all go home. I don't know what I've been worrying about!" When the Earth battle cruiser announces that it will lock on in five seconds, the Doctor examines his watch. At least, I sincerely hope that was meant as a joke!
Jon Pertwee himself would undoubtedly endorse this release. He often praised the manoeuvrability of the Draconian half-masks, which admittedly are rather effective. The concrete walkways of the Southbank play host to some short games of cowboys and Indians between Draconians, Ogrons and Earth guards.
I do feel the notion of Ogrons worshiping a seldom seen native creature on their home world a valid one which was only touched upon rather than exploited to its full potential. Unfortunately, its nature and purpose isn't elaborated upon. Why exactly do the Ogrons pay homage to a huge blob?
The Daleks' appearance at the conclusion of the final episode will undoubtedly please casual viewers, but for me they only succeed in demeaning the entire plot at its climax. The Master, easily commanding his scenes, finishes up playing second fiddle to the unconvincing malevolence of the Daleks. Although he underhandedly insults the "tin pots", he concludes by pleading for Earth to rule over. The Daleks' introduction serves better as a simple link to the following story, Planet of the Daleks.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for DreamWatch Magazine 1995)
After a group of pregnant women become trapped in an overheated elevator (that's lift to us Brits!), resulting in a couple of premature births, ex-marine and present day lift engineer Mark Newman visits the 102 floor New York Millennium Building to check out the systems. Everything seems okay, but this is only the first of a string of dangerous occurrences. A building security guard is decapitated, a blind man walks through the doors into an empty shaft, the bottom falls out of a lift full of people, and there is a near miss with a little girl. It appears that the express elevators have a mind of their own. Accompanied by Jennifer Evans, a beautiful but nosy reporter who initially gets him into trouble, Newman investigates. They discover that the designer of the elevator computer system was expelled from the military after disastrous use of organic technology involving dolphins. His illicit work continues, but this time it's not dolphins he's using...
Down has a very much made-for-television feel to it. It's obviously fairly low budget, compared with most other modern cinema releases, and predictable in many areas. When regular film and TV bad guy Michael Ironside turns up as the villain of the piece, you instantly realise this was played as a safe bet. No casting against type here; Ironside is so established in this kind of role that the moment he makes his appearance you just know you should begin the booing and hissing, for no logical reason except that he's there.
Our hero fairs little better. He's a likeable enough chap, but too easy-going and weak for his supposed background. A tough ex-marine would surely push back when threatened. Here his military training is merely tacked on to explain how he can climb a lift cable and hang upside down to fire a rocket launcher. The reporter is the saving grace here: annoying, and yet good-looking and somewhat quirky.
However, the main plot strand makes little sense. Why would anyone want lifts to think for themselves? More importantly, after only a couple of major incidents, the building would have been closed to the public for a thorough investigation. In this age of political activists the police could not afford to take a chance of more people being killed, no matter how much revenue would potentially be lost. Keeping the entire building, complete with lifts with the hump, open is nonsensical, especially as the police and security all suspect terrorists.
A less than average film. On an even more ridiculous note, as the film ends Newman and Evans step straight into another building's lift. As they go down (!) the soundtrack kicks in with Aerosmith's Love In An Elevator. Yes, I groaned too.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)
A man wakes up in a cavern deep below the ground. Naked, he possesses no knowledge of his identity or location. The dead body next to him seems almost incidental to his concerns. Progressively climbing, he comes across different levels with evidence of technology. It is the remnants of a research facility. The mysterious organisation appears to be known as Eden Log. As his memory slowly returns, the man will learn he has an inextricable link with the place. The answer apparently lies on the surface, but he will need to avoid capture by people who want him stopped at all costs...
Although the mood lighting is very dark, and the plot pacing at times excruciatingly slow, Eden Log is nevertheless simultaneously curiously compelling. Much of the running time consists of Tolbiac crawling over or climbing rocks, and examining wire conduits, trunking, wire fencing and the occasional video sequence welcoming people to the complex.
It's not until halfway through that we learn the KC is the subject of an intensive search to prevent him reaching the surface and a secret to be protected. A researcher, wild roaming mutants, and a female who appears to know something about his identity and purpose are additional components in a film which asks more questions than it ever answers - right up to and including the conclusion.
The mutants themselves are intelligently filmed in quick, fleeting movements, and the sympathetic characterisation of the protagonist being obliged (not always successfully) to control his mutant urges creates a little tension where there is virtually none.
Comparisons have been made with the debut films of other notable genre directors. I can detect a little of Natali's Cube (a fantastic film that explains nothing), and a more notable influence from Lucas' THX 1138; however, to call this a 'thought-provoking and stylish sci-fi shocker' (as the press release does) is being just a touch too complimentary to a low budget feature which appears to imply (as do other similarly-structured examples, such as Primer) that you will only enjoy this if you are of a certain intelligence.
Having said that, mainstream viewers will find little to satisfy here. Eden Log is a good attempt at an original hard science fiction, but suffers somewhat in the entertainment stakes.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2008)
An international space station comprising a crew of two British, two Americans, a Dutch woman and a Japanese man collect a mineral sample from a satellite which has been to Mars. They find a single cell life-form which contains all the ingredients for growth and evolution. When it begins to react to stimulation the news is a relayed to an excited Earth. However, precautions are taken by placing the lab in quarantine and, when the life-form appears to die, an electric shock causes it to react with violence. Despite protocols it manages to escape the lab, where it grows and shows adaptability and natural predatory survival skills. Suddenly, it is not only the remaining crew-members who are in danger but the very existence of life on Earth...
This is very much Alien for the new generation, and boy does it work! When Ridley Scott’s first Alien film emerged to an unsuspecting public, aided immensely by H. R. Giger’s design, nothing like it had been seen before. In a science fiction environment it offered an example of what could happen when man ventures out on to other planets. Life explores an even more potentially realistic scenario. What really brings it home is that this could happen right now. We have a space station, we have exploratory satellites taking photos and samples. Furthermore, an edge-of-the-seat atmosphere is created very early by having a nondescript alien organism (dubbed Calvin). The greatest fear in life is fear of the unknown, and at no time do we learn what it is capable of, what it can survive, or how it might adapt and evolve in any situation. There are some serious scares, so rare in films these days.
A variation on the Wish Fulfillment saying is: Be careful what you look for, you might just find it. In a sense, this gives credence to those dissenters of certain social networking who opine about opening a can of worms. This is pushing that scenario to the limit. After all, renowned science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once said that if we ever came across extraterrestrial life it would be so different that we wouldn’t even recognise it for what it was.
Directed by an enthusiastic Daniel Espinosa, Life is very much a joint effort, with actors such as Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada and Ariyon Bakare working well and naturally together. It’s a nice touch to have the Japanese astronaut’s wife having their baby on a video link so, in effect, he can be there. This creates an important link between the astronauts and the Earth, and an even more important one for the viewer to realise the situation is critical not just to the space station but the entire planet. The weightlessness is handled extremely well, so that rather than the slow weighted shoes of other films they zip around with some speed in this one, heightening the pace and sense of constant peril. This tightly-shot base under siege-type film is well worth a look.
Extras include: Astronaut Diaries (characters shooting video sequences for the public back home); Creating Life (The Art and Reality of Calvin); Life in Zero G (about filming the movement of the characters); and Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space (documentary).
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2017)
Nick Halloway (Chevy Chase) is a lazy business executive who burns the candle at both ends. Knowing he has an important presentation to attend at a nuclear research facility in the morning, Nick parties with friends, where he meets a beautiful blonde documentary producer (Daryl Hannah). During the presentation he sneaks off for some much-needed rest, wandering around a top secret area (like you do) and finding a quiet place. But there has been a curious nuclear accident and the building is evacuated. All but Nick. As others stare up at a building which has large chunks missing – or at least somehow invisible – they spot a hat moving around. Nick is invisible and suddenly of great military value. He is obliged to go on the run, pursued by the chief of security (Sam Neill). How can he approach his new love without freaking her out and alerting the attention of the man who wants to control him...?
This is a 1992 film based on a book by H. F. Saint. The man did a Norman Greenbaum disappearing act in real life. When he sold his one and only book, his agent secured him $2.5 million in film and book club rights. It’s thought that he moved his family to somewhere in Europe. The film is a showcase for the then revolutionary new special effects revealed by Industrial Light & Magic. Chevy Chase was obliged to wear a skin-tight blue bodysuit, and more time was spent digitally removing images than actually producing them. A sterling job was done – even to the point of removing Chase’s shadow in each scene. But a film is seldom just about the effects.
As a long-time fan, I couldn’t complete this review without mentioning that this is a John Carpenter film. It’s an often overlooked one, mainly because – unlike his brilliant low budget movies from the first half of his directing career – it is a mainstream, big budget affair, with well-known box office-attracting stars, which Carpenter only directed. As opposed to those that he wrote, directed and produced the soundtrack for. His more well known offerings like Halloween, The Fog, They Live, The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and Escape From New York made a statement, and are Carpenter through and through. This was more of a money-making enterprise. Look out for a short piece with Carpenter himself playing a helicopter pilot and speaking into the radio. The sequence is accredited at the end of the film to the pseudonym Rip Haight.
As for the film itself, the special effects seem quaint now but are still impressive. It’s an enjoyable light-hearted action romp, but not the kind of feature you would necessarily wish to watch repeatedly. The aforementioned films I’ve watched so many times I’ve lost count. This one hasn’t really been cleaned-up either, whereas the new prints on the others are quite stunning. That just leads me to believe Memoirs of an Invisible Man has simply been re-released to coincide with the other better releases in order to cash in on them. One thing I can say though, is this is a family film that all ages can watch and enjoy together. Watch Sam Neill in the much better Carpenter film In the Mouth of Madness.
Extras include: How to Become Invisible – The Dawn of Digital Effects; Outtakes; Trailer & Gallery.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2018)
Only days after if was released in selective cinemas, Dogwoof releases Memory: The Origins of Alien, on DVD and on Demand. Said to be the most comprehensive documentary on this ground-breaking film from 1979, it incorporates interviews, storyboards, artwork, and a history from original concept to realisation...
Although it could be argued this genre began in the 1950s with the plethora of fun science fiction monster b-movies, the modern era of SF horror undoubtedly began with Alien in 1979. Without the style, impact and, ultimately, the success of this enterprise there may not have been many other subsequent big budget Hollywood ventures. In fact, so enduring was the rude awakening that humanity isn’t the dominant species in the universe that it has remained with us for four decades. Many movies have tried to emulate Alien (among them Species and Splice), but even some of the sequels have fallen short in that respect.
As you would expect, the documentary explores many (although not all) of the film, concentrating mainly on style and the timeless chest-bursting scene. There are snippets of interviews with the late Dan O’Bannon, the scriptwriter, and new interviews with his widow. O’Bannon, of course, worked alongside the great John Carpenter on Dark Star (which he also acted in). When they fell-out, O’Bannon worked on his own concept called Memory (from where this documentary gets its title). At some stage in the process the name changed to Star Beast (a rather tacky title), before settling on Alien. The strength of the original 29-page script is evident in the fact the first section of the film remained unchanged.
For me, by far the most interesting and informative part of this documentary lies with the origins of the alien designs and environments. Of course, we all have H.R. Giger to thank for the artwork which had never revealed the like in popular culture. His phenomenal designs were described as menacing, uncomfortable, sexual and beautiful. It has been said that much of his artwork was influenced partly by the ancient Egyptian culture, but more fully by the tales and themes of classic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. I adore Lovecraft; I have a leather bound complete collection of his work, which I have read at least three times, and some favourite stories more frequently. Lovecraft’s setting and slow-burn creeping menace (or, as Lovecraft himself would put it: The Crawling Chaos) is all over Alien – as well as Event Horizon, another favourite of mine. Giger even published a collection of his work under the title The Necronomicon – a forbidden and rare book invented by Lovecraft, incorporating all of the information about the Elder Gods (or Old Ones) – creatures that would be likely to send even the reader to the edge of madness.
Yes, Giger was influenced (is any idea completely original?) but this stuff - enhanced even further by Francis Bacon’s The Furies – had never been seen before. So, for the first time the public was offered a culture not even slightly humanoid. Life is the only film to even get close to emulating the impact of Alien. So powerful was Giger’s influence that when the film company banished him from the project, director Ridley Scott brought him back in.
Much as this is an interesting and compelling documentary, I do rather feel short-changed on extras (of which there are none); considering there is a Blu-ray set of the six (non Predator) Alien films, with extended cut versions of some, and other extras, for only £15.99. Although this is a 95 minute piece, when you consider John Carpenter’s The Thing had the full feature, plus an 80 minute documentary and a whole host of brilliant extras, I think this would sit more comfortably as a special feature – perhaps on a future 4K collection of the films.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2019)
A military lieutenant wakes from cryogenic sleep aboard a spacecraft which appears to have lost all power. Aided by his superior officer, he starts the long journey to the bridge (by-passing sealed doors and crawling through ventilation shafts) to discover what has happened. Unfortunately, the effects of the sleep means he can't remember anything about the ship or its mission. When he finds the bodies of operatives belonging to a follow-up task force to his own, it becomes alarmingly obvious that something is awry. He doesn't know the half of it; a large contingent of violent mutant bipeds has overrun the ship. The reactor is on a critical countdown, and the cargo consists of the last vestiges of the human race. Hope of survival appears impossibly thin, and the future of mankind hangs in the balance. However, help comes from the most unexpected quarters...
The pull here as far as actor appeal goes is Dennis Quaid - the only big name in attendance. However, the vast majority of the action and plot centres on the 'soldier boy' lieutenant, as he makes his way initially to the bridge, but getting diverted to engineering when he learns that the reactor is going critical. The idea here seems to be to explore the evolution of a seemingly abandoned craft. The mutants themselves look great; they are cleverly depicted in quick movements and editing cut-aways, so that we have to wait until at least halfway through the film before we see them in their entirety. It's at this point that they strongly resemble the carnivorous attackers from John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars - particularly the warrior-like leader.
The lighting is kept very low, which comes as both a blessing and a curse; keeping dangers half-hidden to the detriment of actually seeing what is going on. The special effects are saved for the shot of the spacecraft at the beginning, and the ejection of the life pods to the surface at the end. I can appreciate the attempt to do something different with the sci-fi/horror genre, but ultimately it only amounts to a run around.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2010)
Two young scientists are attempting to isolate genes from a newly created hybrid creature for the purposes of combating certain diseases. However, unbeknown to the company, they have created another creature with human DNA present. The animal human hybrid becomes both smart and unpredictable. Initially, scared, they come to love the creature. But their unusual child continues to transmogrify, eventually metamorphosing into something very different and very dangerous...
I very much expected this film to be a third rate copy of Species (and I didn’t even like that film very much). However, I was immediately intrigued by the concept and how it was played out. There is a morbid fascination which draws you in and ultimately makes for compelling viewing.
One of the largest moral dilemmas we are ever likely to confront as human beings is present and foremost in this movie. The human ingredient in this hybrid makes the creature at once both an abomination and a sentient being with human rights. It’s a Frankenstein tale of sorts, but pushed to the very limits. Instead of an animated monster made from dead human body parts, what we have here is an evolving inter-species organism, which takes on some human characteristics whilst remaining a long way from being human. Just when the key players are growing attached to it, there is a further development which makes it even less human - merely humanoid. The survival of the creature could almost certainly seriously affect the ecological balance of the planet, but can they remove themselves emotionally enough to do what is necessary?
There are some nice extras included on the disc: an informative interview with director Vincenzo Natali, who also directed the excellent Cube; a 32-minute featurette (A Director’s Playground); a 33-minute Behind the Scenes documentary (including extraordinary visual effects and make-up); and a Trailer. This is one of those films which very naturally portrays what might well happen in the near future, and leaves you thinking at the conclusion of events. It is well worth a look.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2010)
Three men and a woman comprise the only crew on the ARK moon base. When the structure is hit by an unscheduled meteor shower, it causes a considerable amount of damage, as well as affecting the life support. However, they soon discover that is not the worst of their problems. The female crew member has ventured on to the moon surface to check the damage, and unwittingly brought a bacterial contagion into the complex. Spores on a rock fragment reproduce, and the woman undergoes a full pregnancy in a matter of hours. The creature spawned mutates and replicates a crew member. The woman and the copied crew member have seen it, but Colonel Brauchman and the doctor believe they are suffering hallucinations brought on by carbon monoxide poisoning, caused in the damage. The truth will have to be realised soon, because the creature is using the shafts to watch and study them and their weaknesses, and it’s intent on killing them all...
There aren’t nearly enough science fiction horror films any more, as all or most seem to be compared with Alien. Of course, Stranded does borrow heavily from that SF classic. There’s the claustrophobia, the use of ventilation shafts, the gestating alien and, most notably, the escape pod fiasco. There is also use of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario, along with the body horror of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Even Predator gets a little wave, as does Event Horizon (a vastly underrated film). In fact, it’s very difficult for the genre to be original; it has taken on established acceptances and fears to deviate too much from that path.
I like Christian Slater as an actor - and we don’t get to see him as much as we should – but to be honest, he’s not given a great deal to work with here. So, we get an enjoyable enough film. Action I can do without, but character strength and plot tension are essential qualities which are just a little lacking here. I don’t want to come down on Stranded too much, as it’s very obviously a low budget outing; it’s just that to make itself known it needs to incorporate something radically different. I appreciate convincing hard science fiction, but only if it has something new to say.
Roger Christian directed Battlefield Earth. I don’t think that’s something to brag about. The novel is one of my favourite books of all time, and an international bestseller. The movie, however... Well, let me simply say it takes awful to a new level. So Stranded is definitely a step in the right direction.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2013)
When an extensively damaged caravan and a little girl deep in shock are discovered on the edge of the desert, a professor and his doctor daughter show up at the local police department to begin their own investigation. As more deaths and damage occurs, the team is joined by an FBI agent and then the army. Their worst nightmares are realised when they are confronted with the horror of rapidly multiplying giant ants...
What is the difference between a 1950's b-movie turkey and a remembered classic? Happy accident or careful planning? A multitude of science fiction and horror films were turned out during that decade of cold war suspicion and uncertainty. Some were so bad they were good (Plan 9 From Outer Space and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman), most were just plain bad, and then there were the undisputed classics (The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Incredible Shrinking Man). While Them! is not quite in the league of the last two mentioned films, it is a very effective movie.
There is nothing accidental about its achievements; for the director Gordon Douglas, it wasn't simply a case of zipping up some men into rubber suits and pushing them in front of the camera. It's evident that the cast and crew care about the story and the very real impending peril that drives it.
Okay, so don't expect too much from the ants; they lumber and loom when they should be running around at breakneck speed. The mandibles don't move, and the antennae flop about like they've been injected with a local anaesthetic. However, the creatures are intelligently filmed in long shots or extreme close-ups, so as to conceal their failings.
The concept of giant ants is perceived as a major threat by the viewer through expert information imparted by the professor. Formic acid is pumped into the victims via a stinger. An ant can lift several times its own weight (perhaps throwing a few cars around was beyond the budget!). After a single mating, a queen can lay thousands of eggs; this can produce several more queens who fly the nest to other areas. Proof of this arrives when, after destroying the original nest, it's discovered two queens have escaped. One wreaks havoc on a naval warship, whereas James Arness, Joan Weldon and company trace the second to the storm drains beneath Los Angeles. The professor points out that within days ants could take over as the dominant species on earth.
I love films like this, because every so often the producers just let go and have fun. Enter the overly dramatic music, lines of jeeps (the same ones) speeding up and down roads, a major character saving two boys before accidentally-on-purpose flinging himself into the clutches of an ant for an heroic demise, and the professor quoting The Bible: "... and the Beast shall rule over the earth."
With a film as old as this you'd be excused for expecting no extra features. Here we get a lengthy trailer, a photo gallery and some test footage of the ants. Great stuff!
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)
John Nada is a homeless and jobless drifter who comes to town looking for labouring work. He finds refuge with a large destitute homeless community, but it is soon mysteriously attacked and destroyed by riot police. Most of the individuals are taken away. When Nada witnesses a similar raid on a nearby building, he waits it out before entering to look for clues as to what the purpose of the raid was. Inside he finds a pair of sunglasses which changes everything around him when he puts them on. A percentage of the population actually consists of aliens with skeletal faces, and just as importantly all advertising and media is subversive brainwashing aimed to instruct the populace with messages such as Consume, Procreate, Submit, Obey, No Independent Thought, and on the money, This Is Your God. When Nada meets Frank he has a hard time convincing him, but a scrawled message, They Live - We Sleep, convinces them that there are others who know the truth. The problem is how does this small band of rebels open the eyes of the world...?
John Carpenter has always had an inherent dislike of authority; this comes across in some of his films (such as the anti-hero Snake Plisskin in Escape From NewYork), but none more so than in They Live. This was his comment on Regan-era USA, with money, consumerism, capitalism and middle-class "Yuppies", not to mention the plight of the forgotten homeless (the name Nada means 'nothing'). He believed at the time that everything we see is designed to sell us something, that the only thing society wants to do is to take our money.
Carpenter adapted and scripted a short story by Ray Faraday called 8 O'clock in the Morning, which was published in a magazine in the 1960s. Under the pen name Frank Armitage (a character in The Dunwich Horror by H. P. Lovecraft) Carpenter added plenty of social commentary and found that a lot of humour was creeping into the story. In fact, it's this dark, knowing irony and satire which makes the film stand out so prominently as original and entertaining. One such example is when two TV icons are revealed to be aliens while they are criticising Carpenter and George Romero films for being too violent.
As with Prince of Darkness, the budget was only $3 million and the shooting schedule 8 weeks. For the part of Nada, Carpenter recruited experienced wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, whom he had seen at a Wrestlemania event. Taking a chance paid off, because Piper brings much more than brawn to the part. Keith David (who had appeared in The Thing) was alongside him with Meg Foster. Mind you, Piper's profession did help when Carpenter scripted-in a seven minute alleyway brawl because he wanted to out-do The Quiet Man as the longest on-screen fight.
As with his previous film, Carpenter composed another excellent mood-enhancing music score. Releasing the film just prior to the 1988 elections was either inspired or a very lucky happenstance, because it proved to be a hit at the box office - seemingly the only Carpenter film that audiences 'got' straight away. An inherent message in the film about not selling-out for big financial success was not lost on Carpenter fans, who know that he has never been close to doing so. There was talk of a sequel to They Live, titled Hypnowar, but it was never made.
They Live has always existed as an unsung hero, both as an individual film and part of the Carpenter collective. It’s often overlooked and seldom named when people list his most popular projects. However, other Carpenter fans, like myself, will reveal the truth of the matter: that it is another classic in the Carpenter movie arsenal. The main appeal is that it is different. A political statement on consumerism disguised as entertainment, yes. But it’s not just a veil; there is so much to enjoy here. The science fiction element of aliens living among us, the humorous but somewhat creepy alien reveal (when they realise they can be seen as they really are) and the plethora of one-liners ("I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum."), and there is the action which hardly lets-up and introduces one of the greatest pairings in film history.
The movie is at times uncanny, darkly comic, intriguing and character-driven. Ideal popcorn entertainment – even though it’s making a statement on society. Subsequent films, such as The Matrix, have borrowed heavily from this concept of a false life we are leading behind a sinister secret.
They Live is one of three 4-disc box set releases – the others being The Fog and Escape From New York. These incorporate a 4K version, a Blu-ray, a full disc of old and new extras, and the Carpenter soundtrack. There is also a 2-disc Blu-ray of Prince of Darkness. As with The Fog, I have only received the DVD for review. However, the clean-up and upgrading from the original film negatives – even on the DVD – is phenomenally crisp and bright, with vibrant colours. I urge any true Carpenter fan to invest in the 4-disc sets, which include newly-commissioned artwork, art cards and poster.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2018)
JR MacReady is a helicopter pilot and part of the crew of a US Antarctic research station. When a Norwegian helicopter mysteriously crashes whilst chasing and trying to kill a dog, the station takes the animal in and allows it to wander. MacReady and others fly to the Norwegian base to find out what took place. They discover it uninhabited, bleak and cold. A huge area in the ice has been cut away to reveal part of what appears to be a spacecraft. A man-sized block of ice is taken back to the US base where it accidentally thaws out. When the dog is placed with the sled dogs they cower in fear as it erupts into a hideous creature. A flame thrower destroys it, but this is in fact a shape-shifting extraterrestrial which can take the form of any living thing. When attacked it reveals its previous forms in a sickening amalgamation of twisted body parts. From that moment on, the station becomes a hotbed of fear, panic and ultra-paranoia, as nobody knows who to trust. MacReady thinks he has the solution, but is he too late...?
This was at face value a remake of the 1951 SF-horror film, The Thing From Another World - directed by Carpenter's hero Howard Hawks. However, Carpenter returned to the original short story, Who Goes There, by John W. Campbell, rather than copy Hawks' version which was radically different.
A young and talented effects man called Rob Bottin convinced him that the multiple shape-shifting of the creature could be realised by hand. He was right; although no video or CGI effects were used, it all holds-up very well even today, aided once again by the excellent lighting.
There is a very claustrophobic feel to The Thing; no doubt coming across from the film crew itself which was snowed-in at a small mining town in British Columbia accessible only by a 27 mile dirt road. The set was built and left for them to return to in the snow covered bitter winter.
This is a film about professional relationships, mistrust and paranoia as much as it is about a monster. The plot and pacing is very finely balanced, and works beyond all expectations. The blood-testing scene is inspired, being edgy, scary and funny. As in Escape From New York, Kurt Russell slips easily into the role, whilst ensuring the characterisation is completely different.
Upon its general release, The Thing bombed. Cinema-goers were apparently appalled and disgusted by the hideous shape-changing scenes - missing the point entirely. E.T. had just been released and the public was not ready for Carpenter's intelligent and well-crafted monster flick after such a popular and benign alien from Spielberg. However, a few years later critics began to reassess the film, and it picked up a huge following retrospectively.
The premise of a shape-shifting creature is said to have inspired the T-100 from Cameron's Terminator 2, particularly the scene when it loses substance and goes through one shape after another. There was also an episode of The X-Files which was heavily influenced by The Thing. Dark Horse comics published a continuation of the story, which also brought a new audience to the film. Carpenter has toyed with the idea of a sequel ever since, but in semi retirement he's unlikely to get around to it.
The fantastic array of extras on the the original DVD releaase disc include the 80 minute Terror Takes Shape documentary, the thoroughly entertaining (again) commentary with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, Production Background Archive, Production Art and Storyboards, Location Design, Outtakes, Production and Post Production Notes, Cast and Filmmakers' Notes, and Cast Production Photos. Phew! This subsequent Blu-ray release has additional new extras, whilst keeping the originals.
Note: There is now a sought after 4K edition. If you have a 4K TV and player you need to purchase this. It's absolutely stunning.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2008/20)
An American paleontologist is sent thousands of miles away to a remote Norwegian research base in the frozen wastes of the Antarctic. A major scientific discovery has been made in the ice. There is what appears to be a spacecraft, and nearby an alien creature embedded in the ice. The ice block is transported to the camp for study, but the unknown occupant of the UFO makes its escape as the temperature rises. The men and women of the base will soon come to realise that the newcomer is a deadly predator that can skillfully duplicate its prey, so that their living conditions become a boiling pot of ill-trust and paranoia. However, for the paleontologist there is the added realisation that the Thing can not be allowed to escape to populated areas...
For anyone who isn’t aware of its illustrious background, this tale began as a short story called Who Goes There? written by SF scribe W. John Campbell Jr. In the 1950s, Western filmmaker Howard Hawkes adapted it as The Thing From Another World. John Carpenter was greatly inspired by the techniques utilised by Hawkes. In 1982 Carpenter returned more closely to the source material, accentuating the claustrophobia, paranoia and base-under-siege format. He has described this as his best film - both in its latter day success, and the enjoyment in the making. So, what do you do when confronted with the situation of updating/remaking a cult classic? Answer: you make a sequel, or in this particular case a prequel.
This version of The Thing acts-out what took place at the Norwegian base prior to those events we all know and love from Carpenter’s film. Essentially, it means that this film ends at the point Carpenter’s begins - with the helicopter pursuing the fleeing dog across the ice. The danger here is that continuity has to be right, and that’s exactly what director Matthijs Van Heijningen has striven for in an attempt to make these earlier plot lines canon to the fans. On the extra features virtually everyone spoken to talks about paying homage to Carpenter’s fantastic film. After watching the film I would say homage means copying almost every aspect of it.
Consequentially, I found myself appreciating the technical prowess of the new film, whilst pretty much hating it. For instance, the monster effects are a combination of animatronics, prosthetics and CGI, and it’s evident even to the untrained eye that what works least well here is the CGI. The open-body tentacles look fake, whereas the body sculptures work quite well. The obvious problem is that the majority of creature reveal moments are drearily close to the originals featured in John Carpenter’s far superior movie. There’s that homage again. Also, I like the way this film uses natural fire rather than CGI fire, which even in multi-million pound blockbusters still doesn’t work.
In all other respects this is simply a by-the-numbers rehash. It lacks characterisation; everyone is faceless canon fodder. The feeling of dark oppression and paranoia which completely permeates the celluloid of Carpenter’s film is completely absent here. There’s no mood, and you just don’t care about the proceedings. In short, there’s nothing new about this film, apart from the idea of looking in people’s mouths, as the creature can not replicate non-organic material - i.e. teeth fillings. For real tension, check out the scene in Carpenter’s film where they take blood samples to discover who has been replicated.
There are apparently two versions of this release. One with just the new 2011 film and extras (commentary, deleted scenes, The Thing Evolves, Fire & Ice) - and a 2-film version which includes Carpenter’s 1982 film and a horde of extras. Take my advice, buy the 1982 film; it’s superior in every way.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2012)
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