Blurred Vision: Where Is The Android Avenger?!

Then, silently, effortlessly… like some great, vengeful bird of prey… he swoops into the moonless, cloud-draped sky. Behold… the Vision! 

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“What difference if I have the same brain waves? I AM UNIQUE! I am THE VISION…! And thus… I am content” – The Vision.  

Another month, another Avengers trailer… but still no sign of him. Unfortunately, this veteran comic book afficionado has yet to see that member of the Avengers who drew his attention to the title all those years ago! Naturally, when the first Avengers movie came in 2012, it was assumed that the amazing android known as The Vision would get his big screen debut there and then, but… nah. 

The latest trailer turned out to be quite a letdown; no Vision, and neither Maximoff siblings: Scarlet Witch or Quicksilver for that matter. Incidentally, there were hardly any shots of Ultron himself; worryingly, there was emphasis on a Hulk vs. Iron Man face-off which, quite frankly, is the last thing my tired retinas want to absorb right now. There is, therefore – unsurprisingly – a distinct lack of excitement from this corner of the blogosphere…

With just three months until Age of Ultron is released, there is only conceptual art of the android Avenger to whet my appetite, and this is made more frustrating by Breaking News that the Vision will have an extended role in the cinematic universe – it now “seems likely” that the Vision will appear again in Captain America: Civil War (June 2016)

How ironic: we are unable to see The Vision now!

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“He has the ability to change his density and that’s awesome… Vision is able to do something otherworldly and it’s kind of great. And he’s discovering it all as he goes along” – Paul Bettany. 

As a highly advanced synthetic being – even he describes himself as “a thing of plastoid flesh – synthetic blood” – the Vision can alter his molecular density to not only fly, but pass through solid walls and floors; as an eight year old, that was the coolest thing you could possibly see, and is probably the sole reason why he is so well-respected. In addition, he can shoot energy beams (from the jewel encrusted in his forehead). Astoundingly, despite being artificial, he had taken Scarlet Witch as his wife. Thus, his back-story had acquired tremendous depth and significance.

Having provided the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Iron Man films (and the first Avengers movie of course), it does not sound so surprising that British actor Paul Bettany was cast as The Vision. Although quite understandably reticent to reveal too much about his upcoming character, Bettany did explain that having only recorded lines, he’d never actually watched any of the Marvel movies; as preparation for the role, he sat through all of them. Just how can anyone “prepare” to portray such an enigmatic figure?

Apart from alluding to the extravagance of the sets: “we were in a set that felt like a town,” it is most curious that we actually know so little about his onscreen persona. Come on! The waiting and anticipation is anxious enough as it is… We’ve barely been given any insight into his costume, what and how much action he will deliver, or even what his dialogue will be like. Heck, what will he sound like?! 

And you know, that release date fast approaches… 

Vision-and-Ultron

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“No… no! It’s some sort of unearthly inhuman vision!” – Janet Pym. 

As new intriguing Avengers news filters through, it does appear slightly annoying that The Vision is referred to as the team’s newest member! This distinctive, green-skinned character was created by writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema, making his debut in Avengers #57 (1968). Originally constructed by Ultron as a villainous machine programmed to destroy the Avengers, the Vision betrayed his master and sided with the superhero team instead. At one time, the Vision became leader of the Avengers; it would later be revealed that the Vision’s body was the remains of the original Human Torch. As for the odd name, Ant-Man’s girlfriend unwittingly provided that in one of the series’ more memorable speech bubbles…

Out of all the mind-blowing characters to have graced the Marvel Comics Universe, The Vision must surely count as one of the most extraordinary. Reading some Avengers comics, my attention was always drawn towards the more bizarre characters like Ant-Man, The Beast, even Thor if you will, and of course, The Vision. So, “ordinary dudes” like Captain America and Iron Man were never really going to appeal, and yet, right now, they have both dominated the Big Screen in their own separate highly successful series’, plus had hefty roles in the 2012 movie together.

Okay, so the Vision hasn’t made an appearance in the first movie and neither trailer for the second thus far. Still, no reason to feel upset…

…or is there?

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Avengers: Age of Ultron will be released 24 April in the UK and 1 May in the US. 

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Pioneer of Electronic Music: Edgar Froese (1944-2015)

Founder of Tangerine Dream died last Tuesday, aged 70 

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“Working with synthesisers is a completely different approach to electrified music. We’re open to all kinds of modern music developments…” – Edgar Froese. 

The news hit quite unexpectedly this morning. Edgar Froese, who died this week in Vienna, was one of the most prominent electronic music pioneers and the only consistent member of influential electronic group: Tangerine Dream. 

Rather than be lost amongst the sound of their Krautrock contemporaries such as Neu!, Faust and Can, Tangerine Dream spent the 70s in ambitious electronic experimentation. The first albums: Electronic Meditation (1970) and Alpha Centauri (1971) were interesting experiments; but, in 1972, their third album: Zeit, a double album with one track per side, became their first masterpiece with: “just lots of strange pulsating synths and a few creepy cellos” as the 40th Anniversary CD sleeve insists.

Signing to Virgin Records gave them the chance to experiment more and resulted in the seminal classic: Phaedra (1974). It’s ambitious use of sequencers helped create a trancey, atmospheric soundscape, from which one can detect the tentative beginnings of the modern techno and ambient genres. Rubycon and Ricochet both arrived in 1975, proving that those spacey sounds could be consistently creative. 

With the release of studio albums: Tangram (1980) and Exit (1981), experimenting with the latest electronic equipment, a distinctively 80s sound emerged, and inspired the next stage of their musical direction; directors were inspired to ask them to provide soundtracks for their movies. Here they would pick up a totally new fanbase.

For the exact moment when Tangerine Dream first caught my attention, here it is…

“Together, [Tangerine Dream and The Keep] formed one of the great audio/visual events of the Eighties, and the Franke/Froese/Schmoelling soundtrack gained almost legendary status mainly because of the conspicuous absence of an official soundtrack release” – synthmusicdirect.com

Tangerine Dream were prolific composers of film music, with The Sorceror (1977), Thief (1981), Risky Business (1983), Legend (1985) and Near Dark (1987) among some of their considerable back catalogue; but it is their extraordinary soundtrack for Michael Mann’s cult second movie: The Keep (1983) which introduced me to the unique and groundbreaking music of Edgar Froese. 

At first listening, the amazing electronic music in this much-maligned cult horror movie set in Romania during the Second World War seems bizarre and incongruous, but makes for an oddly-compelling viewing experience. This may be one of the reasons why this intriguing but badly-edited film has divided opinions so dramatically. The above scene – strange and then quite horrific – naturally calls for some unnerving audio accompaniment.

Not like Tangerine Dream to oblige so obviously. On the contrary, they provide a sublime, quite uplifting track; some would say it just doesn’t work, but personally, it made for an exceptional moment. Thirty years after first viewing, the rest of the movie may have been a blur, but that scene will live with me forever…

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“So sad to hear of the sudden death of my friend Edgar Froese, founder of Tangerine Dream. Great memories” – Brian May. 

In 1967, as an art student in West Berlin, a meeting with surreal artist: Salvador Dali encouraged Froese to depart from the conventions of guitar rock and explore the universe on sonic waves. It’s quite obvious: Edgar Froese and sci-fi melded seamlessly. Of course, Tangerine Dream have – in numerous reviews – been labelled as space-rock. With some of the most pulsating or drifting cosmic sounds ever recorded, Froese and his ever-changing band of co-synthnauts (including most notably Chris Franke and Peter Baumann) achieved some phenomenal celestial explorations and musical concoctions. A glance at such titles as Alpha Centauri (1971), Birth of Liquid Pleiades (1972), Phaedra (1974), Patrolling Space Borders (1977) would easily confirm this.

A practitioner of Zen Meditation, Froese believed that time itself was an illusion, formed by the senses. There have been numerous nights when the meditative – as well as inspirational – qualities of Phaedra, Rubycon, The Keep and Zeit have all helped immensely in the compilation of a few of my Posts; so it seems uncanny that their composer is suddenly no longer with us…

“There is no death,” he once said, “there is just a change of our cosmic address.”  

The proof of any great composer must surely lie in the sheer difficulty of selecting just one track which best epitomises the power and influence that his music can evoke. Out of Edgar Froese’s varied and extraordinary body of work, it is this track in particular which has made me look out several times from my balcony, scan the stars in the night sky and contemplate life, the universe and everything. 

Thank you Edgar. 

Edgar-Froese

An Obscure Body In The SK System: Why Do Aliens ALWAYS Pick On Us?

Pathetic Earthlings! Who can save you now?

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“By the toll of a billion deaths, man had earned his immunity, his right to survive among this planet’s infinite organisms. And that right is ours against all challenges. For neither do men live nor die in vain” – Morgan Freeman. 

Ever since H.G. Wells wrote in 1898 that our planet was “being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s yet as mortal as his own,” it is painfully obvious that as long as “intellects vast and cool” persist across the gulf of space, they’ll be looking for a fight!

As the only species on this side of the Oort Cloud which actually instigates warfare on its own kind, we are, quite simply, a laughing stock – and considered fair primitive game for invasion fleets which need to test the latest upgrade of their interstellar weapons technology. Of course, it’s almost always an American metropolis that gets picked on, with Manhattan invariably getting selected again and again… and (ho hum) again…

This should come as no surprise. Supposedly, the standard answer provided is that NY City offers more recognizable landmarks – so, wait, you mean to tell me that the aliens plan their elaborate invasion campaigns using their own Lonely Planet Guide to New York? Aha…

Why should this be? Why do they make the effort? Whenever anyone as adroit (and a little bit crazy) like Dr. Hans Zarkov has the nerve to ask Ming: the Ruler of the Universe: “Why attack us?” abrupt and unexpected comes the stern answer: “Why not?!”

InvasionOfTheBodySnatchersaliens

“This is the oddest thing I’ve ever heard of. Let’s hope we don’t catch it. I’d hate to wake up some morning and find out that you weren’t you” – Dr. Miles J. Bennell. 

During the 1950s, constant threat of invasion inspired a crop of alien invasion movies. Of course, the outstanding masterpiece of this era is The Day The Earth Stood Still in which intergalactic ambassador Klaatu arrives in Washington DC to warn of imminent alien invasion if mankind fails to halt the increase in its weapons technology.

Possibly the most effective invasion movie is Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1956) which, quite unnervingly, played heavily on the rampant paranoia prevalent at that time (and is it a coincidence that the lead actor just happens to be McCarthy…?)

As a tribute to those invasion films of the 50s, Strange Invaders (1983) showed that stealth and subtlety could be just as decisive as strategically placing giant frisbees over the tallest buildings anyone can name correctly. The “invasion” was so subtle that any traces of this cult movie cannot be found anywhere.

John Carpenter’s 1988 cult fave: They Live! is generally regarded as a satire of Reagan’s America, in which aliens have infiltrated the upper echelons of society. 

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Robbie Ferrier: “What is it? Is it terrorists?”

Ray Ferrier: “These came from some place else.” 

Robbie Ferrier: “What do you mean, like, Europe?”

Ray Ferrier: “No, Robbie, not like Europe!”

A very entertaining invasion romp has to be Mars Attacks! (1996): a splendidly wacky ode to the B-movie pulp screen action of the 50s. The alien invasion is thwarted when the young hero discovers that grandma’s record of Indian Love Call by Slim Whitman makes the aliens’ heads explode. Apparently, the Martians’ distinctive speech was created by reversing the quack of a duck, ha! Genius!

Signs (2002) is most notable for being one of M Night. Shyamalamalamalan’s less painful endurance tests, offering the rare opportunity of seeing Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix sporting tin foil hats. On a Pennsylvanian farm, giant geometric symbols appear in the fields while the family follow an alien invasion unfolding on the telly… Close Encounters of the Corny Kind. 

 

In Battle: Los Angeles (2011) what appears to be a meteor storm is actually the arrival of an alien invasion fleet. A squad of US Marines have to defend the LA beach from standard fare gangly gun-toting ETs… and, well, that’s it. Must be based on a computer game as it felt like such a vapid viewing experience.

Even comicbook movies are prone to a bit of third-stone-from-the-sun-storming. The Avengers (2012) had to contend with a Chitauri invasion force which zipped out of a vortex above… yes! Yet another American cityscape… Once its learned that they are neurologically bound to the mothership, Iron Man guides a nuclear missile into it, at which all the remaining ground forces instantaneously collapse.

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“Hey, take a look at the Earthlings. Goodbye!” – David Levinson. 

 

But, before you go, there’s something you should know…

As someone who is stirred by the essence of clever ideas, catchy dialogue, some captivating cinematography and stirring characters in quality SF, then let me tell you, my friends, there is one alien invasion movie which really makes my blood boil, and that just has to be Independence Day (1996). None of the above criteria were ever considered, let alone tackled.

One of the worst cinema trips of my life; it was the mind-numbing day that cut off any hope of accepting the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a bonafide movie star. Never has there been so much destruction on such a grand scale yet was left totally deprived of any sense of shock (or awe for that matter) and without any emotional intensity whatsoever. It is said that Brad gasped while everyone else in that theatre gawped. Usually, Jeff Goldblum is cool, but on this occasion he barely got through it. 

The aliens were as useless as a wet towel and looked like nothing more than shoddy (H.R.) Giger-knockoffs, not half as menacing as our cat. As the end credits started running, some excited infant nearer to the screen yelled out: “That’s the best movie I’ve ever seen!”

No prizes for guessing that my seething despondency forced me to cry out the very opposite…

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Keep watching the skies!

Ex Machina: The Most Intelligent SF of 2015?

Just a machine? That’s like saying that you’re just an ape…

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“You just can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans” – Isaac Asimov: I, Robot. 

If a Top 10 list of my most anticipated movies of 2015 was compiled then Ex Machina – described as a sleek and stylish SF thriller – would sit comfortably near the top. Among the latest crop of trailers for big blockbusters, it is comforting to note that small-scale productions like this are still developed. This movie looks like it will offer more cerebral and challenging visual feasts which, almost ironically, is what SF should be all about.

In a week where the new Ant-Man trailer failed to impress, Ex Machina offers some reassurance that 2015 is not all about Avengers and awakenings…

This British production (in collaboration with Film4) marks the directorial debut of Alex Garland – better-known as the screenwriter for The Beach (1999) and several Danny Boyle films including SF thriller Sunshine (2007), and will star only Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson… and Alicia Vikander who looks quite extraordinary in pre-release pics. 

Basically, this is a simple specimen with only three characters, and two of them will be appearing together again in Star Wars VII. So, at the very least, this film can be studied for what to expect from these “new faces” of the SW galaxy come December. 

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“I feel more attached to this film than to anything before” – Alex Garland.  

To see here the tremendous advances in the development of the AI subgenre, considering that during the 19th century, the creation of artificial beings could never be covered in fiction as it was deemed too blasphemous; come the 20th century, it was considered merely dangerous, but ever since Czech writer Karel Capek (1890-1938) introduced the term: ‘robot,’ in R.U.R. (1921), the theme has really taken off, with both friendly and fiendish artificial characters becoming some of the most popular icons of sci-fi heritage.

Just as SF seemed to have lost its affinity with non-violent, intellectual and well-crafted works, this little movie sprang from nowhere… and managed to create the sort of uplifting buzz which that Ant-Man trailer failed to induce at all!

Ex Machina is a psychological thriller in which a reclusive billionaire programmer: Nathan (Isaac) invites one of his employees: Caleb (Gleeson) to come to his hi-tech research facility and conduct a “Turing Test”: when a human interacts with a computer; if it exhibits artificial intelligence, unbeknownst to the human, then it has passed. Caleb is invited to test Ava, possibly the most sophisticated artificial intelligence yet devised.  

Bear in mind that although the trailer for Ex Machina looks intriguing, so did the one for last year’s Automata which garnered an unwanted pile of poor reviews. That SF thriller starring Antonio Banderas had some cool scenes to offer, and the poster, with its intriguing lost-droids-in-wasteland motif, looked promising enough…  

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“The sci-fi films that intrigue me have human questions behind the technology… and I think this is just full of that…” – Domhnall Gleeson.

What is most significant about this upcoming release is what Ex Machina does not offer: violence (no ubiquitous comicbook punch-ups), pointless CGI explosions (with any luck, aforementioned facility should remain intact); clanking, cliched automatons bellowing in deep, ridiculous voices; useless dialogue littered with too many expletives (often a bad sign for any writer), and forgettable starlets shouting annoyingly at each other.

Perhaps, at the very least, this movie will serve as the template from which the Three Laws of AI Movie-Making can be implemented…

There are high hopes in this camp for Ex Machina, but just remember this: if it should fail – with the tremendous rate at which technological advances are being made these days – we’ll be faced with the slightly deflating prospect of having engineered a fully-automated, self-aware human-like droid well before anyone has managed to craft an intelligent and engaging movie about one!

Ex Machina will be released in the UK next week, and will hit US screens in early-April. 

Lastly, it seems only fitting that the concluding thoughts should come from Asimov himself. Rather than prolong banal introspective tales about automatons turning against their creators, he endeavoured to question the attitudes towards artificial beings. If such machines can exhibit some discernible form of calm and collected intelligence, they have earned the right to be counted as good people for it is the capacity to do just deeds in life rather than mere flesh and blood which makes true humanity. 

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The Three Laws of Robotics

  • as first stated by Isaac Asimov in the short story: Runaround (1942)

 

postscript

a-big-thank-you

  • to all the fantastic Followers who gave me 10 Likes and some fabulous Comments for my last Post: Brad’s Guide To The Future – my 1st foray into double figures! This is really encouraging, and inspires me to strive further; this year should see big positive changes to this Blog; notice the video upload here – hopefully the first of many!

You are welcome to pop along here as well:

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Cheers!

 

What The Flux?: Brad’s Guide to the Future

Happy New Year! Hope you all have a Good One! Not too Heavy!

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“There’s that word again: ‘heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?” – Dr Emmett L. Brown.   

1984 and 2001 are just two examples of years forever synonymous with visions of the future. As an integral part of SF, visual conceptions of future times are practically inevitable. What better way to start this new blogging year than seeing what lies ahead? Here are some of the futures we can look forward to… 

Naturally, we begin with:

2015: in the “Present Time” – Oct 21 to be exact. Marty McFly will travel from 1985 to sort his kids out. Apparently this year, we can get Home Energy Reactors, Jaws 17, self-drying jackets, hoverboards and flying cars. The latter will also play a major factor come:

November 2019: In permanently-dark Los Angeles, a group of Nexus 6 Replicants have to be hunted down by everyone’s fave Corellian smuggler. 

2022: Overpopulation and the inevitable food shortages mean that the deceased are reprocessed into green Ryvita. Order will be MAINTAINED by a gun-toting (fully-clad) Charlton Heston. 

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“You see how clever this part is? How it doesn’t require a shred of proof? Most paranoid delusions are intricate, but this is brilliant!” – Dr. Peter Silberman. 

2029: In the War of the Machines, skull-crusher tanks and heavily-armed cyborgs try to vanquish the last vestiges of the human race. A Terminator – inexplicably programmed to speak with an Austrian accent – is sent back to 1984 to terminate the resistance leader’s mother. And hey, Los Angeles is still dark (that’s permanance for you!)

2054: An officer at the Precrimes unit of Minority Report, as described by Philip K. Dick, is accused of a future murder. This has to be a monumental bureaucratic cock-up because that officer is none other than Tom Cruise! 

2077: Would u Adam-an’-Eve it? Tom frickin’ Cruise again! Only this time, the Cruiser is Jack Reacher Harper: one of the few remaining drone repairmen assigned to Earth. The movie’s called Oblivion; go figure…

2084: Mars has become colonised in Total Recall, yet-another Philip K. Dick scenario: “We can Remember It For You Wholesale.” Memory implants, Sharon Stone and an Austrian accent. Is there life on Mars? Well, there’s certainly no green Ryvita…

2087: The crew of the Nostromo have to respond to a distress signal from Planet LV426, but unleash a nasty, acid-for-blood Alien. 

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“Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen!” – Private Hudson. 

2144: Officer Ellen Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, is discovered (after floating in space for 57 years). She becomes “Adviser” to a group of gung-ho Space Marines who get wiped out by a nest of Aliens. At least Mr. Jones (the cat) survived, so that’s nice. Or it could be:

2176: There is an ongoing debate as to precisely when these two films are set. In the Special Edition, a photo of Ripley’s daughter has a date: 2174 (two years previously), which implies that Alien would have to be set in 2119… right? But heck, how can you even think about the time when you have to contend with rampant chest-bursters and face-huggers?!… And it’s another SEVENTEEN DAYS until any rescue-ship arrives?! Game over, man! Game over!   

2150: The Dalek Invasion of Earth ensues. Luckily, Peter Cushing (because William Hartnell was not deemed acceptable to a US audience) and Bernard Cribbins save the Doctor’s favourite planet from the notorious pepper-pots. 

2154: The super-rich live on a space station, while the rest lead a monotonous existence on Earth munching through green Ryvita. Except for Matt Damon who – desperate to cure his radiation sickness – goes in search of Ben Affleck Elysium. 

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Luna Schlosser: “What’s it feel like to be dead for 200 years?”                                                                  

Miles Monroe: “Like spending a weekend in Beverly Hills.” 

2173: Woody Allen awakes from a 200-year old cryostasis to find that he is Flash Gordon; smoking and deep fat come highly recommended; and his rent is 10,000 months overdue. He could have made a fortune selling green Ryvita in his health food store…

March 22, 2233: James Tiberius Kirk is born, which means that the USS Enterprise mission to boldly go and drag down new life and screw up new civilizations transpired between:

2263-68: When the “original” Star Trek takes place.

2274: Boys get to wear lycra body-suits and the girls don chiffon nighties, holding green Ryvita parties in a 70s City-state, as featured in Logan’s Run, but death is compulsory as soon as they turn 30, hence the Run

2293: Last vestiges of humanity are concentrated around green Ryvita-processing-plant apparently in rural Ireland, overseen by huge flying head known as Zardoz. Embarrassing undies modelled by: Sean Connery…?! (The future looks bleak!)

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“Beedeebeedeebeedee” – Twiki. 

2491: Due to a “freak mishap,” subjected to “cosmic forces beyond all comprehension”, Captain Buck Rogers awakes from 500-year deep-freeze to find that he is Flash Gordon and Earth’s population has been reduced to wearing brightly-coloured spandex.  

3973: The human race has reverted to primitive mute level, while snazzily-dressed (no spandex, thank The Lawgiver!) talking apes have taken over. Curiously enough, there are no Austrian accents… Order will be SCREWED UP by a gun-toting (semi-clad) Charlton Heston. 

10,191: On the distant planet of Dune, Kyle MacLachlan and the Fremen defeat the Emperor of  the Universe with the aid of an incoherent script. And lots of giant worms. Everyone – speaking without talking; travelling without moving – is popping Spice. Pure, unrefined Spice sure beats green Ryvita any day, man… Embarrassing undies modelled by: Sting. (The future looks bleaker!)

802,701: The Earth is a shambles, despite having no guns, no spandex, certainly no sign of any talking apes. No Charlton Heston for that matter. Not only has the Ryvita run out, there is no Spice to be had either! Times don’t get tougher than this. Embarrassing undies modelled by: …what looks like a grotesque bunch of subterranean trolls. (Bleaker than bleakest.) Rod Taylor is left wondering why he travelled so far forward in his Time Machine…

If none of this has made you develop a taste for History instead, nothing will! 

Cheers!