A Zarjaz 40 Years!: A Celebration Of 2000AD

Borag Thungg, Earthlets!

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“Welcome to the galaxy’s greatest comic: a subtle blend of thrills, some old, some new, all of them zarjaz. 2000AD: thrills from the future at an old-fashioned price!” – Tharg The Mighty. 

“It’s wild! It’s sensational! It’s your future!”

In the last week of February 1977, the first zarjaz issue of 2000AD was unleashed on an unsuspecting planet. It contained three stories and a free gift – a ghafflebette Space Spinner! – attached to the front cover.

Nobody had any idea that it would not only become a sensational hit, but dramatically transform the British comics industy. Back then, you see, the average life expectancy of new comics lasted no more than “a few issues.” Up until that point, there had been no market for SF in the UK comics market, so – oddly enough – it was automatically assumed that 2000AD would fare no better…

Each issue – or Prog as it is affectionately known – came adorned with the legend: “In Orbit Every Monday.” But more intriguingly, the Editor happened to be Tharg The Mighty: a green-skinned Betelgeusian responsible for delivering these weekly doses of “thrill-power,” and regarded plastic cups as his fave delicacy; Betelgeusian phrases made regular appearances in each Prog.

Published by IPC Magazines, it was aimed at young boys who craved something other than the usual “war and football fare”. Studying it’s awesomeness down the years, what is most striking is its formidable – and consistent – array of writing and artistic talent – cheekily referred to as “the droids” – who would garner international acclaim and go on to develop projects for Marvel and DC Comics.

In the beginning, it looked rather tame: Dan Dare – the Pilot of the Future – was more commonly associated with Eagle comic, while Mach 1 was a direct copy of the Six Million Dollar Man

Ironically, another sci-fi comic released in 1978: Starlord – produced on better quality paper – enjoyed higher sales figures. However, production costs meant that 2000AD survived, and Starlord disappered after only 22 issues. Strangely enough, Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters were transferred from Starlord and became some of 2000AD’s most popular stars.

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“Dredd to Control! Some kind of ruckus going on, Hank Wangford Underblock! Better get me a Catch Wagon!” – Judge Dredd. 

Can remember reading the comic at school – 1984 was a classic year for 2000 AD. Not sure who brought the copies in, but they were widely circulated around the classroom.

Although the comic’s most popular character was Judge Dredd, who made his debut patrolling the ultra-mean streets of Mega-City Onein Prog 2 – my Vinglop Hudsock (reading enjoyment) always concentrated on the exploits of the A.B.C (Atomic*Bacterial*Chemical) Warriors such as Hammerstein, Deadlock – and perhaps the COOLEST comic book character EVER – Joe PineapplesRogue Trooperthe GI (genetic infantryman) roaming the Morokk desert of Nu-Earth, in the eternal future war between Norts and Southers with his helmet, backpack and gun containing bio-chips of his three fallen buddies, brilliantly illustrated by Cam Kennedy.

And DON’T exclude the extraordinary awesomeness in the form of Nemesis The Warlock, wonderfully created by Brother Mills and Brother O’Neill and extolled the virtues:

“Be pure, be vigilant, behave!”

At a time when sci-fi was still considered as Boy’s Own fare, it is amazing to reflect that part of its innovation lay in its impressive range of strong, female characters including: Halo Jones, Venus Bluegenes, Durham Red, Tiffany Rex and of course Judge Anderson: Head of Mega-City One’s Psi-Division. 

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“Military fuzz, dammit. Gotta move. I ain’t gonna be shot by my own side… Sorry to disappoint you, fuzzballs!” – Rogue Trooper.  

Also that year, in London, just round the corner from Grandma’s gaff, a newsagent had a half-price box. Therein lay Progs: 365 and 370 – my very first purchases of thrill-power!

Having just retrieved them from my files – the covers have inevitably yellowed and the edges are crumpled – they now sit in pride of place on the desk beside me.

Bizarrely, one of the comic’s most ensuring characters was Slaine: a Celtic barbarian – with its delirious mix of dragons and sorcery this strip looked so incongruous, but was well-received all the same. Another script-hit from Pat Mills – does it come as a surprise to learn that he is one of my all-time favourite writers (in any medium)?

Both these Progs were graced by one of my very favourite characters: Strontium Dog: the adventures of Johnny Alpha, the mutie bounty hunter and his “norm” partner: Wulf Sternhammer. Featuring the terrific artwork of Carlos Ezquerra, it was honoured in this Post: 

And – grok! Had almost forgotten D.R. & Quinch. My most immediate memory to flood back from Prog 365 was this hilarious pastiche of Hollywood written by Alan Moore – yes! That Alan Moore.

“Man, this was a problem of mind-liquefying majorness. The script had about fifty-eleven-hundred pages. Of this, eight words were completely readable. These were ‘Oranges’ in the title, and ‘Close the curtains, Geoffrey, I’m amphibious,’ which was right at the end. To be perfectly frank, man, I wasn’t even 100% sure about ‘amphibious'” – D.R. Dobbs. 

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Torquemada: “Only I stand for order! And discipline! Especially discipline!”

Nemesis: “Basically I stand for having a good time…”

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“Some day soon we’ll all be feeding the worms… so why waste time playing heroes when we could be killing for kicks and riches?” – Thrax. 

And then there was Bad Company: a weird, but wonderful, future-war tale created by Pete Milligan, Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy. Rather than focus predictably, and monotonously, on the horrors of war, this irresistible classic centered on its absurdities.

It offered a truly bizarre roster of characters, including the young wide-eyed narrator: Danny Franks; the mad, monocled mutant Frankenstein’s Monster-like Kano; and my personal fave: the ghoulish dude with the over-sized overcoat: Thrax, distinctive with his long, supercool fringe, and his amusing tendency to call everyone: “turnipheads”.

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“I want to feel alive again. That’s why I keep a heart in my chest locker” – Joe Pineapples.

My days as a Nonscrot (someone who does NOT read it regularly) were numbered. At the end of June 1988, a bolt of unavoidable thrill-power hit me in one newsagent at the end of June 1988 in the form of 2000AD Prog 581 (above). Who doesn’t dig large-taloned dudes with even cooler swords? One excited flick through: and it was immediately purchased.

There then followed a really scrotnig Summer, hunting local comics emporia for the most recent back issues. Having designed a major facelift – new format, new logo – for Prog 555, Tharg The Innovative reinvented the entire package with Prog: 650, adorned with the slogan: “New Thrills! More Colour!”   

With two stints at university, leading eventually to an overseas job, following the galaxy’s greatest comic became virtually impossible. In the last two years whilst working on this blog, re-energizing my taste for SF, my thoughts inevitably slide back to those golden years of 2000ADcan still smell that grotty classroom even now… 

But memories of that classic thrill-power lingers much longer…

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“Don’t want to hurt other Strontium Dogs unless we have to – electro-flare!” – Johnny Alpha.

Months ago, rummaging through the basement of a secondhand bookstore, looking – as is always the way – for something else, my heart leapt as a pile of 2000 AD back issues (from the classic years of 1983 and 1986) emerged at the back of the bottom shelf! 

The biggest problem is: how does one catch up with a quarter-century of Progs? So much thrill-power – so little time…

It is absolutely staggering to think that 2000AD still thrives to this day; it’s constant formula of experimental characters and witty cultural/political refs is hopefully winning new converts. The magic Prog 2000 came out last September, but all the drokks have been reserved especially for this week’s Anniversary Special. It is heartening to see the return of personal fave: Strontium Dog.

And of course, Joe Dredd just had to make a special appearance: shutting down the Prog’s birthday bash, disapproving of such a “seditious freak-out weirdo trashzine.” Hey Joe, what’s wrong with that? Don’t be a Grexnix, old man! This Squaxx Dek Thargo used to create and edit his own trashzines back in his juve-days, y’know! If anything, you should complain that today’s droids have failed to offer a Space Spinner or suchlike with this Prog…

Quaequam Blag!

As Tharg himself said: “2000AD: it’s not a comic… it’s an attitude!” 

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Splundig Vur Thrigg!

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: A Bradscribe Review

State Your Elation For The Record:

This Rogue Is The One To Rave About!

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“The first thing that you have to do is get over the fact that you’re doing a scene with Darth Vader. That took me a little while, because I’m a first-generation fanboy” – Ben Mendelsohn.

One of the many disappointments with Star wars Episode III is that it denied our chance to see how the Rebel spies stole the Death Star plans.

For TOO LONG has yours truly revelled in the intrigue induced by the legendary scrawl:

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…and wondered how that premise would… (eventually?) make such a great movie…

And here it is! It only took three and a half decades for delivery.

Like the seemingly impossible mission for which this ragtag band a’ rebels volunteer, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story defies the odds to present such a welcome addition to the galaxy’s greatest saga.

Well! Where do we begin?!

A big fist-pump to this band of lovable rogues. They represent a superior Suicide Squad: more thrilling and thankfully less puerile. We do end up caring about their fate, which seemed to be the ultimate challenge here.

Quite frankly, Felicity Jones is a revelation as Jyn, galactic tearaway and daughter of Galen Erso, the reluctant creator of the Empire’s new superweapon. Admittedly, Jones looks an unlikely action star, but she pulls it off with aplomb. 

By far the best of the main bunch are Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yenstill can’t believe he fits so well in this galaxy!) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) – the fighters from Jedha. 

Love the relationship between Cassian and Kaytoo, although this charming lil plot device was crying out for further attention and development. Considering what an obvious win the reprogrammed Imperial droid turned out to be, he deserved greater opportunities to scene-steal. (If they couldn’t grant him more lines, at least give him that blaster!). 

Still reckon that Diego Luna makes a way cooler Star Wars name than Cassian Andor…

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“That’s right, I’m playing the male lead! I didn’t really think that would be such a big deal…” – Felicity Jones.

The main problem with SF these days is that sfx have reached such stupendous levels, other elements such as plot and character development sometimes tend to fail in comparison. But Rogue One overrides that problem – all elements fuse reasonably well to produce something that is undeniably enjoyable. 

Here, the effects are suitably grandiose and awe-inspiring, from the graceful flights of the supersleek spacecraft(s) to the simply stunning vistas of Jedha and Mauritiuis – (sorry!) Scarif.

What about the aliens? 

Sorely underused – a personal gripe. For my Rough Guidequite tactfully, details relating to Pao and Bishan were dropped. Naturally assuming that they might not receive too much screen-time, they didn’t even get a word in – not even an indecipherable one! Between them!

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“I’d have loved to have taken a Stormtrooper outfit but we weren’t meant to take anything. I got away with a couple of small things but I can’t tell you what” – Mads Mikkelsen. 

Of the Imperial personnel, Ben Mendelsohn is particularly impressive as Director Orson Krennic. 

It was wonderful to see that well-known (well-despised?) officer from A New Hope make a dramatic reappearance. Was expecting to burst into tears upon catching sight of this beloved actor, but, just when you think how sophisticated CGI has become – let’s face it – he doesn’t look natural! No real presence = no credible menace. Moreover, they did not get the voice right!

But what about Vader?!

Surely, this film could never have worked without everyone’s fave Sith Lord. The build-up to his long-waited “return” is tense; his first scene (shared with Krennic) presents him in typically moody and magnificent mode.

His second scene?

Deep breath: WHOA! He REALLY gets busy – showing a Dark Side darker than anyone had ever expected! This is REVENGE of the Sith right here! 

Aren’t we so grateful that James Earl Jones could lend his esteemed vocal talents to Star Wars once more!

Sadly, however, the rest of the Imperial Officers are just anonymous. 

Is it possible to have a Star wars movie without a John Williams score? Some fans may argue that Rogue One does not feel right, precisely because of that vital exclusion. The music here is rousing enough, especially the mystic twang played when the proceedings reach Jedha.

As these rogues are rougher, the action more gritty, the dogfights more spectacular, for me, Rogue One is bigger and better than The Force Awakens.

There have been a few five-star reviews appearing in the last two days. Obviously, those critics have enjoyed the exhilarating ride that uberfan Gareth Edwards (the force is strong with him!) has concocted here, but, to be fair, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story falls short of the brilliant standard of The Empire Strikes Back – a veritable 5* package if ever there was one. 

The power of what we are dealing with here may be immeasurable to some, but this first-generation fanboy is pleased (relieved!) to bestow upon it a solid:

4-out-of-5

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“For my 30th birthday, we visited the Skywalker home in Tunisia. I stood at the same spot where Luke watched the sunset. My girlfriend said: “For your 40th birthday, you won’t be able to top this!” For my 40th birthday, I was directing Rogue One…” – Gareth Edwards. 

From All-Star To Dawnstar: Recent Vintage Acquisitions Read And Reviewed

The Quest For Classic Comics Continues…

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“Silence, please, everyone! I’ve been a little worried about how to tell you this … but, in my identity as Carter Hall, I’m going to enlist in the US Army!” – Hawkman.

And with this bombshell, so begins “Never Step On A Feathered Serpent!” the fifth issue of All-Star Squadron, a title whose debut ish (in September 1981) – with its mix of of superheroes and World War II history developed into an unputdownable phenomenon in the Bradhouse. 

My only regret is that (apart from #10, ten years later), no further ishs could be found.

Staying in the UK on extended leave, belaboured over the bonce by the Mace of Nostalgia, yours truly set aside this Summer to finally track down those comic classics from the so-called “Bronze Age” that eluded me all those moons ago, as well as checking out previously unseen titles. 

Three months ago, perusing the back ish departments of some handy awemongers’ emporiums in London, the ball started rolling with the purchases of All-Star Squadron, #s 5 & 7.

Was it a good start?

  • Squadron scrambled, or brain scrambled?

Amazingly imagineered by the invincible creative team of Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler, its reserved status in my collection is well-assured! But equally astounded at how this ish could have slipped past my Radar of Ninth Metal back in the day…

#7 is equally compelling, with the introduction of the Nazi costumed super-villain: Baron Blitzkrieg! 

Already looking forward to snapping up further ishs of this great title!

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“I’ll have to hit-and-run – use my speed and Kree-training to counter his brute strength – and try to wear him down!” –  Ms. Marvel.

Ms. Marvel #15 (March 1978)

“Carol Danvers a woman who had it made – until the day radiation from an exploding alien machine gave her the skills and powers of a Kree Warrior, plus an uncanny Seventh Sense – transforming a human woman into… a heroine!”

With a proposed Ms. Marvel movie in the works, now would be a good time to catch up and get to know her – if anything, isn’t everyone curious to find out what radiation from an exploding alien machine does to you? Moreover, this Seventh Sense – it sounds groovy! – could we have some?

The woman with the Kree powers must battle Tiger Shark. This villain looks supercool on that dynamic cover (see above) and makes for a mighty antagonist inside.

The script is provided by Chris Claremont – always a big plus in my book! 

But when you consider the premise: woman in leotard is punched and has cars hurled at her by lunatic dressed as a shark… 

  • Marvelous, or Ms. Fire? 

Despite this dodgy premise, this ish is fab; the art by Mooney & DeZuniga is great, and there is a craving for more of this title.

Please note: his captive (who turns out to be the cousin of Namor – y’know: The Sub-Mariner!) is actually fully-clothed during the few panels in which she appears, so no fish-scale bikinis or strategically-placed hubcaps herein…

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“The thing is: that’s my Mom up there! What’s come over her since she won the Earth election?” – Colossal Boy. 

Legion of Super-Heroes was a title hugely enjoyed as a nipper. Now, an irresistible curiosity to find out what other ishs looked like spurred me on. #273 was the ish selected. 

Such characters as Wildfire and Tyroc were as cool as fudge, while others such as Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad(!) made the title unintentionally hilarious. 

One member of the Legion of Super-Heroes stood apart from the others: a graceful figure with a stunning pair of wings, her name was Dawnstar – or as her co-Legionnaire: the blond, green-skinned Brainiac 5 called her “Dawny.”

Hey, just be thankful this Post was not entitled Finding Dawny jeez, that sounds as corny as heck…!

  • So, Legend, or just leggo…?

What a swiz – she’s not in it! 

Undoubtedly, this is a compelling epic, bristling with drama!; intrigue!; the craziest super-cozzies you will ever see! And the story-line involving a revered Legionnaire framed for murder, wasn’t bad, but considering the immensity of the issue, and a high turn-out, where was the yellow, tassled one?

By the Black Nebula! It feels like your correspondent has been stood up…  

That other strong fave, Wildfire, barely got a look-in either.

Its been great to look at art not seen for 35 years – one or two other ishs will certainly be tracked down…

Even if it is just to see her again…

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“I am Gaius Tiberius Augustus Agrippa! I am power! – What kind of beings are you? Is all the world now the domain of monsters?” – 

During online research for comic art a few years back, my trail led to pages for an ish of Fantastic Four. Although not a fan of this so-called “World’s Greatest Comic,” both pen an’ pencilling duties for #241 (April 1982) belonged to the legendary John Byrne.

In “Render Unto Caesar,” S.H.I.E.L.D. has detected a mysterious power source emanating from the interior of Africa. With the aid of the Black Panther, the Fantastic Four go to investigate and discover – “Jupiter!” – a being, once a soldier in a distant outpost of Emperor Caligula. Almost two millennia ago, he stumbled upon alien technology to create a fabulous city, more splendid than the Roman Empire at its height.

He even neutralises the Fantastic Four’s superpowers. Irate at being selected to be his “Empress,” Sue Storm removes his golden helmet, only to find that- ha! Well, don’t let me spoil it for you! 

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  • Really Fantastic, or just a 4-letter word?

When this Summer of nostalgic comic-collecting set forth, a mental note was taken to look out especially for this one.

That priority was well-rewarded. 

Yes! Fantastic by name – undeniably fantastic by nature. With terrific guest-star appearances by Nick Fury and the Black Panther – two characters high on my Wanted list, this story: “Render Unto Caesar” is an absolute classic.  

Particularly enjoyed the amusing nod to Raiders (above), a light moment that presents its creator perfectly at the height of his enchanting powers.  

Feel the Byrne!

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“The X-Men would have trained me to use my mutant abilities more efficiently… If only I had joined them when I had the chance!” –  Dazzler.

Dr. Doom happened to be one of those characters sought after 30+ years ego, but never got him – could not find the relevant ish of the Fantastic Four that featured him.

Dazzler was a cult figure – “gifted” with the ability to convert sound into dazzling light – who got her own solo series.

The Monarch of Latveria guest-stars in #s 3 & 4. Ended up picking up the latter (it has a slightly more thrilling cover).

  • So, truly dazzling, or just dazzled off? 

Nah, this is not one of my better purchases.

The art by Frank Springer is good enough, but the prospect of a cutie mutie (…on frickin’ roller skates, fer cryin’ aht lowd!) never excited me even way back when yours truly was cute an’ supple enough to arse about with frickin’ roller skates. 

White flares are no match for a yellow, tassled cozzie. Any day… 

Good Grud, this is precisely the sort of infantile mag a chap of my age should not be bothering with – so will sell this on asap!

Hang on… 

If a character as lame as this could get her own series… and a popular fave such as Dr. Doom – or Dawnstar, for that matter! -couldn’t, well… 

Undeterred, my quest – delving further into the dense jungle of back issues – continues… 

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“This is one time… all the words in the Universe aren’t enough…” – Dazzler.

Star Wars Prequel Blog-a-thon: The Phantom Menace [Week 1]

Star Bores I: A Spent Force… 

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“I’m sure this one will do fine…” – George Lucas.  

Always gratifying to expunge one’s demons, so they say. So it is with the wretched Star Wars prequel trilogy. 

As part of a blog-a-thon devised by Ashley over at boxofficebuzz, these much-maligned prequels have come under scrutiny, and she gladly accepted my participation.

Back in 1999, the hype for a BRAND NEW STAR WARS MOVIE(!) was phenomenal. George Lucas was ready to come out of his directorial hiatus and tell us how Anakin Skywalker – the Jedi apprentice of Obi-Wan Kenobi was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force and became Darth Vader. So, what did Brad make of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace? 

Let’s just say it was a trip to the cinema he will NEVER forget…

This Post follows boxofficebuzz’s What works/What doesn’t work format, although – let’s face it – the latter is going to be a significantly longer section…

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“I was apprenticed to the most powerful being in the galaxy once. I was destined to become… so much more” – Darth Maul.

What works:

  • Darth Maul: by far the standout element of Episode I. 

As a fan of aliens/villains in hooded cloaks, it’s difficult not to be mesmerised by the spectacular choreography of Ray Park. The extraordinary makeup is both devilish and distinctive. And hell, he’s everyone’s fave Dathomirian Zabrak ‘cos of his supercool dual-bladed sabrestaff. Strangely enough, this Sith apprentice was the very first aspect of preview images to catch my attention. Remember thinking at the time: we’re in for one helluva good cinema trip…

Rather than inevitably load up that lightsaber duel scene itself – still amazing after 17 years – this featurette is worth a look: 

  • The Pod Race

Admittedly, this was fun the first time we watched, and the only sequence not including Darth Maul worth extra viewing. Sebulba is a particularly dastardly figure, and the ensuing carnage makes for compelling viewing. Obsessed with Tatooine’s Tusken Raiders, watching them twenty years later taking pot-shots at the pods was a joy. But please, leave out the two-headed commentator (speaking English?!)

  • John Williams triumphs with the music score. As always. 

Undoubtedly the most outstanding track here is Duel of the Fates. Could you imagine the lightsaber battle without it? 

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“How does it feel to see my designs out in the world? All you can do is sit back and watch in amazement” – Iain McCaig.

  • The conceptual designs of Iain McCaig:

One of my favourite SF/fantasy artists is Iain McCaig. It was a really exciting day when news broke that he was working on Star Wars: Episode I. He was the artist solely responsible for creating the terrifying look of Darth Maul, and designing the outlandish costumes worn by Queen Amidala. 

Although some of his concepts – such as the most reviled alien in the universe – did not make the transition to the big screen so well, his exceptional artistic contribution should be honoured as one of the prequel trilogy’s scant saving graces.

  •  The J-type 327 Nubian Royal Starship:

Super-sleek, covered in chromium, this vessel carries more class and sophistication than any of the dialogue or acting. Such a wonderful design, it does not belong in such a below-average blockbuster. 

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“Phantom Menace is, ultimately, so extraordinarily objectionable… Nothing has the right to bore and disappoint us this much” – Peter Bradshaw. 

What doesn’t work (where do we begin?!):

At the beginning, of course…

  • The beginning: is so lame and monotonous. 

“Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.” 

Really? Who gives a monkeys? Suddenly, John Williams’ oh-so-familiar perpetually-stirring theme tune feels incongruous when set to this mind-numbing scrawl. Honestly, this is the intro to a NINE-PART SAGA, and that is the best you can come up with, George?! Remember the opening scene of Episode IV? Yeah! NOW THAT is how you begin a blockbuster! 

  • The taxation of trade routes:

How was this needless attention to economics and politics supposed to engage with the infant cinema-goers?

  • The script: NONE OF THIS RUBBISH MAKES ANY SENSE.

More than the original trilogy, the inanity of the dialogue is called into question; you can’t call any of these figures “characters” because they are never fleshed out/explained. There is no reason/motivation for these figures to stick together, just as there is no reason/motivation for them to travel from one side of the set/planet to the other and – most of all – there is zero character development, so nobody comes out alive (literally).

  • The CGbloomin’I 

Those aliens aren’t real; that droid army certainly isn’t real; fx over here – fx over there – fx every-frickin’-where. And it’s all so tediously obvious. Thus, the screen is beset with absolutely no sense of wonder. And the magic – that endeared the original trilogy to millions – is depressingly absent.  Look, George, it would have been a whole lot easier melting my retinas staring at a video game for 133 minutes instead…

And while we’re on the subject:

  • That droid army: What a bunch of fragile, useless, near-sighted scrap piles!

It’s far too easy to destroy them. The old phrase: “Could knock them down with a feather” could not be more apt. Nothing to fear then, especially during:

  • The Battle of Naboo:

As a fan of SF battlefields, this should have rocked. Instead, the droids – and their battle-tanks – are assembling on the opposite hill – so what? Everybody has seen how ineffective they are – therefore there is no tension, no trepidation for the battle to come; as for the Gungans, by this point, everyone in the cinema is rooting against them, so it’s such a wasted opportunity. Again, more worthless CGI to sit – and yawn – through. Speaking of yawning…

  • Natalie Portman: seems to be a byword for lousy acting.

Cringing in my cinema seat thinking with dread: Shit! We haven’t got to put up with her in the next two episodes, have we…?

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  • Qui Gon Jinn:

Apart from sounding like he was named afer a bottle of Korean alcohol, WHO THE HELL IS THIS GUY?! The original trilogy was quite specific: Yoda trained Obi Wan. So to learn that this “Qui Gon” fella was not only training the young Obi Wan, but ready to train Anakin as well, annoyed me immensely – ’twas an affront to my supposed status as All-Knowing Star Wars Honcho. Without any character development whatsoever, there is absolutely no audience reaction to his death.

So long, Qui Gon – didn’t know/care much for ya anyway. 

Liam Neeson obviously signed up under the impression that he was going to be part of something special… as did: 

  • Celia Imrie: What was she doing?!

She’s one of the finest TV actors in the UK, so upon discovering she was to join the Ep I cast, it seemed perfectly logical that she would be playing Anakin’s mum, thus providing the right gravitas and emotional intensity required – but no. Bloody typical: overwhelmed to be involved with Star Wars she wrangled her way to big screen mediocrity by appearing instead as one of the fighter pilots. Honestly, her gain was everybody’s loss…

  • Ewan McGregor: He does NOT save this movie, despite so many protestations to the contrary.

He just sleepwalks and drones his way through, only “coming to life” during that confrontation with Darth Maul. And cut that lame pony-tail off! Bad, padawan, bad! And hey! He’s responsible for the oh-not-so-cool: 

  • Death of Darth Maul:

Why kill off the coolest asset of the trilogy in the first Episode?! Maul’s duel with Qui Gon on Tatooine ended with the latter jumping onto that sleek chromium ship. It would have been really clever to end the Obi-Wan/Maul saber-scrap in a similar fashion, with the Sith somersaulting onto an escape ship, leaving the Jedi to watch helplessly as it blasts high into the sky, knowing that this Sith must be hunted down in the next episode... But then again, no one listens to a word Brad says… hello? 

Last, and by all means least:

  • THAT ALIEN WE ALL ABHOR!

Don’t need to mention the lanky, goofy one by name – everyone knows who it is, and enough antipathy has been hurled in his direction since 1999. There is just one more thing to add here: was this figure deliberately intended to look, sound, move and act as derisory as he did? If so, WHY?!

Having blotted out this confusing but colourful mess of a movie from my mind, it was hoped that this would be a mere unforseen one-off misstep, and George would get his mojo back in order to deliver a darker, more dramatic, Episode II.

Besides, the signs were favourable: we were promised less of the lanky, goofy one; the legend that was Christopher Lee was rumoured to appear(!) and the return of Boba Fett looked more likely than ever. 

Really, how could it possibly go wrong?

They couldn’t fuck it up a second time!

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…Could they?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Bradscribe Review

Episode VII: Luke Skywalker has vanished… 

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“The idea of being involved in it frankly felt dangerous” – J. J. Abrams. 

“Come on, baby, don’t let me down!” growls everyone’s favourite nerfherder during one of the many exhilarating moments in this record-smashing latest installment of the galaxy’s greatest saga. This perfectly sums up the expectations – not just of my humble self – but millions of fans as the weeks, then days, till release were agonisingly counted down.

No worries; fortunately for all of us, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a triumph, and deservedly so. J. J. Abrams has crafted a superior space fantasy, offering so much more than just a fanboy pastiche – embellishing this blockbuster with plenty of brand new and intriguing delights, forging the franchise in a bold and promising direction. Give him a film project with ‘Star’ in the title and – yay – he will work wonders…

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“I’ll tighten those restraints, scavenger scum” – Daniel Craig. 😉

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“People were like: ‘Oh my God, you’re Rey Solo’ – this is what people do, they just assume I’m Han Solo’s daughter, it’s not even a question any more” – Daisy Ridley.

It’s fantastic to see the new generation of Wars stars: Ridley, Isaac and Boyega – and, what the heck, BB8 as well – establish themselves firmly and convincingly in this beloved galaxy. 

As the central character, newcomer Daisy Ridley more than holds her own as the resilient Rey. Most curiously, when we first see her, she is merely a scavenger, searching for scrap from the now-legendary Battle of Jakku (and selling it to Simon Pegg! 😉 and – bizarrely – squatting in the shell of a fallen AT-AT. Pretty soon, she’s – what the-?! – not only flying the Millennium Falcon, but perfectly adept at the Ways of the Force. Blimey, Charley! She’s just too good to be true…

In Finn (John Boyega), we have a completely different type of character: a stormtrooper who – after a change of conscience – wants to defect to the Resistance. Through a compelling plot development, he helps the escape of star-pilot: Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). The time is right for Star Wars to have a new cocky young flyboy, and Dameron certainly makes the grade. 

Must – at this point – express what a delight it was, at last, to meet the wonderful, yet enigmatic, Maz Kanata. She reminded me a lot of the old dears who sell jasmine garlands in downtown Bangkok. Her “castle” is the sort of blissed-out, rad dive this blogger would have loved to frequent during his college days.

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“I feel there’s a recklessness about him that’s maybe not normally associated with the Dark Side. You normally think of order, and structure… he’s just a little bit more unpolished” – Adam Driver. 

For me, by far the best, most tantalising new addition to the cast is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). He not only looks right, but – by Jove! – he sounds menacing enough. Black-robed and badass: that’s how we dig it around here! Could it get any better? 

In time-honoured tradition of Star Wars – with his ragged crossbeam lightsabre and disconcerting mask – he has captivated and freaked out the entire fanbase in equal measure. 

Hey,  don’t mean to brag, but his true identity was sussed on this blog months ago. And what he does towards the end of this episode – with Rey, Finn and Chewie looking on in horror – actually came as NO surprise. At all. 

Before moving on: let it be known that Supreme Leader Snoke was superb and sufficiently sinister – another unforgettable contribution from Andy Serkis.  

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“I didn’t have the imagination to recognise the future potential for the character. I was only going to do three of them, so I wanted to use the character to supply some bass notes, some gravitas” – Harrison Ford.  

It was just amazing to see that wondrous piece of junk – not Han Solo, ha ha! – but his eternally supercool Corellian freighter which – inexplicably – just happens to be standing neglected on Jakku AND in the exact area from which Rey and Finn must make their escape?! How opportune… 

There is no dramatic build-up to the entrance of Han and Chewie together, but the lump in the throat is still inevitable. Funnily enough, after all these years, Han is STILL moody and obsessive over the Millennium Falcon, forever quick to remind anybody that it’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 14 – sorry! – 12 parsecs. 

But when General Leia first steps into view after 32 years, quite frankly my tear-ducts burst. SO GOOD to see Carrie Fisher in a Star Wars movie again. 

As a HUGE fan of the X-wing Fighterit was, after all, my very first Star Wars toy – the sensational sequence featuring a whole squadron of them skimming the surface of that lake was irresistibly stupendous. The ensuing dogfight offered an enticing spectacle. This movie also honoured one of this franchise’s more stirring trademarks: TIE fighters chasing our heroes through ever-narrowing tunnels of vast installations.

Just can’t get enough of that wrecked Star Destroyer embedded in the sands of Jakku. 

Impressive. Most impressive.

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“In the street, they call out: ‘Hey, Princess!’ which makes me feel like a poodle” – Carrie Fisher. 

Yes, there are a few quibbles:

  • Having been enthralled at the prospect of Captain Phasma: a female stormtrooper, we looked forward to finding out what she would do. Bah! A couple of forgettable lines and nothing else hardly seems worth the bother…
  • Been waiting on tenterhooks to hear the new score by legendary composer John Williams. Don’t know about you, but there were no discernible epic tunes here.
  • The movie ends on Skellig Michael, a World Heritage site off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. That’s the problem: without any CG tinkering whatsoever, it looks exactly like it was filmed… off the coast of County Kerry, and NOT in a galaxy far, far away…  
  • Seeing Joseph Gordon-frickin’-Levitt all greened-up, supposedly as Yoda? (!) at the Hollywood premiere on Monday night. Jeez, what a prat… 

Let’s not deny it: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a successful re-engagement with the myth and magic that has made this the best-loved and most durable franchise.

Despite being several notches down from the glorious masterpiece that was The Empire Strikes Back, this is still a Magnificent Seventh Episode in its own right. 

And – oh yes – the Force IS strong with this one! 

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© All Rights Reserved

Any scum and villainy who dare swipe any of this stuff for their own nefarious ends shall be cut down by my crossbeam lightsabre!

Grumble, grumble, disturbing lack of faith, etc, etc. 

Luke And Brad: The Two Dreamers Who Had To Unlearn What They Have Learned.

Kylo Ren Is NOT Luke Skywalker. Luke Skywalker Is NOT Kylo Ren.

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“Luke’s just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him” – Aunt Beru.  

When Luke Skywalker trudged wearily out of his uncle’s igloo in the desert and gazed longingly at the binary sunset, a new icon of SF cinema was made. Moreover, seeing the blond mop and the snazzy pyjamas, it was like seeing my reflection on the big screen; this hero was certainly someone to relate to, and root for.

No matter what that scruffy-lookin’ nerfherder boasted about blasters, me and Luke gobbled up everything we could find about hokey religions and ancient weapons. And yes, many times this lil cake-guzzling perisher stared at the sunset, dreaming about escaping to better far-off places…

Now, while the mass frenzy surrounds the Return of Han Solo, my concerns automatically lie with Luke. With a more substantial teaser trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens hitting the internet big time earlier this week, how did Mark Hamill feel about returning to his legendary role after all this time? 

“You know, the security is just crazy,” he remarked incredulously. “When we made the original films, you had the odd reporter hanging around the studio, bribing people to give them stories. Now, do I really have to wear this robe and this hood… to go from the trailer to the soundstage?

“They said: “Yeah, there’s drones.” Seriously! There’s drones flying over the studio trying to get pictures of whatever they can.” 

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“Told you, I did. Reckless is he!” – Yoda. 

A long time ago in a school playground far far away – perhaps because of his gleaming blond hair – Brad would always be chosen to play Luke. Even the other kids could feel the bond between us both. So, blasting stormtroopers? Learning the ways of the force? Taking on the Empire all by meself?! 

Nah…

Half a dozen boys would argue – or fight – over who would play Han Solo, so we never got anywhere. Honestly, the Death Star would have cleared the planet and blown us into smithereens before we knew who was who. A fine Rebel “Alliance” we turned out to be: sheesh!

Both of us had fathers who were legends in their own right.

Luke was led to believe that his father was “a navigator on a spice freighter.”

My father certainly was a mechanic on several planes in the RAF.

“He was the best star pilot in the galaxy.”  

You bet! Still proudly keep his flight gear hanging up in my wardrobe back at my UK base.

“And he was a good friend.”  

Sure was. Took me to watch the original trilogy at the cinema; we often quoted the best lines to each other before he could speak no more… 

Now, me an’ Luke have come so far – fatherless and fearless – and through so much. Most people haven’t got the fuggiest idea what’s happened to Luke in the thirty years since the Battle of Endor; most people couldn’t give a fugg what’s happened to me in the thirty years since reading comics during school hours.

Sure, Luke ended up far far away from Tatooine; this blogger ended up far far away from Taunton.

The Force may have been strong with us once, but our fortunes since leave a lot to be desired. After not hearing anything from him for some considerable time, naturally the anxiety became almost unbearable.    

So it was an absolute joy for me – after all these years – to hear Luke narrating the second trailer, but just before the anticipation grew, rumours spread that he will hardly figure in Episode VII. Suspicions were confirmed last week, when the official movie poster was released. Obviously, his absence from this publicity was the first point everyone noticed.

“I have a very bad feeling about this…”

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“It was certainly unexpected… I thought if they did a third trilogy, we wouldn’t be involved. It is really about the new generation of characters. We are just there to lend our support and grow contractually obligated beards” – Mark Hamill. 

Now, what of these rumours swirling around the internet about Luke having turned to the Dark Side – that Luke and this new villain: Kylo Ren are one and the same? 

Well, no. Absolutely not. 

For a start, we have seen the pic of Adam Driver, sans mask, from the Vanity Fair spread a few months back. Luke had constructed his own lightsabre by Episode VI – even impressing his old man with it. So he would not have produced something as crude as Ren’s jagged crossguard sabre.

During the making of Return of the Jedi, Mark Hamill pitched the possibility of Luke turning to the Dark Side. The idea was swiftly shot down by George [Lucas]. Again, in 2005, on a TV talk show called: Dinner For Five – with J.J. Abrams as one of the other guests! – Hamill discussed the idea once more:

“As an actor, that would be more fun to play. I just thought that’s the way it was going… the pivotal moment. I’ll have to come back, but I’ll have Han Solo in my crosshairs and I’ll be about to kill him or about to kill the princess…” 

Now that would cause a great disturbance…

Whatever his screen-time in Episode VII, Luke should feature strongly, even driving the plot. And his (father’s) lightsabre would appear to constitute an important element of these proceedings. Essentially, the premise here might be: The Search For Luke Skywalker, implying a self-imposed exile of some kind. Whatever fate has befallen Luke, it is likely that this Kylo Ren is directly responsible. 

No matter what lousy opportunities have tripped me up in recent years is nothing compared to what my ol’ buddy Luke seems to have suffered. We’ve only got another eight weeks until we can all find out what happened to the farmboy who destroyed a Death Star.

What will Luke have in store for us come 18 December? Will Brad publish a positive review?

One thing you cannot underestimate about him and me:

You’ll find that we’re full of surprises… 

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“Luke Skywalker… Now, that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A long time…” 

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!

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