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!

Rantin’ And Killraven: What’s HOT On The Bronze Age Comics IN Pile

Madre De Dios! More Mighty Marvel Mayhem!

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“A quest… You humans love quests and epics… romantic notions… absurdities which clutter your lives and distort your base realities!” – The High Overlord.  

NIX OLYMPIA VOLCANO, MARS – DECEMBER 2019

“He had touched the blade of grass… and it turned to red Martian dust beneath his hands. The sand shifts through his fingers now, and Killraven knows for a certainty that the desert he kneels upon is located on the planet Mars. 

“He is alone with that truth – and the truth is staggering!”

But what is truly staggering is that how a comic entitled: War Of The Worlds featuring Wellsian Martians (on giant tortoiseback, by gad!), alien vistas and high adventure on the Fourth Rock From The Sun with a Terran hero bestriding the russet landscape sportin’ thigh-high boots could turn (on?!) out to be so…

disappointing. 

Killraven: ha! Now there’s a name ta die for!

Isn’t it…?

With the right creative team, this should have developed into a hit – at least a cult classic, but no… 

As a fan of all things Martian, hopes that #36 (May 1976) would be a joy to behold were running high, until the reaction was so low. No prizes for guessing that this title was cancelled after only 30+ ishs…

Anyway! Welcome back to the weird wonderful world of Bradscribe – apologies for the delay since the last Post, but things have been hectic around here.

Once more unto the back issue boxes, dear friends!

Undoubtedly the highlight of Summer ’16 involved delving into the treasures of Bronze Age comics – that exceedingly special time from c. 1970 (curiously estimated with the debut ish of Conan The Barbarian of all things) up until the mid-’80s (and the death of Jean Grey?) when some exceptional titles were produced. At the most, taking advantage of the opportunity to catch up with some truly remarkable writers and artists; pleasantly acquire previously unknown titles; and dip nostalgically into editions that used to belong in my bedroom but for whatever outlandish reason got lost in the mists of time has transmogrified into an enjoyable and worthwhile venture. 

For me, the Bronze Age happened to be the best period for comic books. Killraven – for all its faults – demonstrates how experimental and innovative Marvel Comics could be during the 1970s.

Here then are some of the special ishs that have accumulated in my specially-reserved box this past few months:

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“The brute still lives! Such ineffable strength and longevity are almost beyond my experience and bear further study at The Project!” – The Hate-Monger.  

“The first rays of the crescent moon found the blood-red pendant grafted to John Jameson’s throat and he becomes a beast: Man-Wolf!”

Yes, yes, we covered that lupine moonbeast here: but that was too long ago, and quite frankly, he deserves more blogspace – for he is an extraordinary character simply never available on the Southern English newsstands of my youth. And it is a pleasure to finally catch up with his stunning series.

From ish #30, Man-Wolf became the sole principal star of Creatures On The Loose, until being cancelled (with ish #37 back in 1975). Ish #35: Wolfquest (May 1975) is – rip-roaring sci-fi action/adventure at its 70s best.

“David Kraft wrote it; George Perez drew it; you get to read it!” says the text on the groovy front page. There is also an ace cameo from Colonel Nick Fury (one of my all-time fave comic book characters) – “Sonuvagun if it ain’t!” – and Dum Dum Dugan! 

As penultimate pages go, this – the death of the Hate-Monger is as awesome and intense as Bronze Age comic art gets – proudly loaded up here (above).

Can’t help thinking what Perez would have done with Killraven…

And there was no way that Col. Fury’s dramatic entrance could not be included here:

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Nick Fury: “Dum Dum, ya big walrus, quit flounderin’ and folla me!”

Dum Dum Dugan: “Fergit it, Nick – I ain’t goin’ nowhere without my blamed Derby!” 

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Thanos: “Would you believe I’m doing all this out of the goodness of my heart?” 

Adam Warlock: “No, for I perceive that you have no heart!”

Like the BA gem listed above, (The Power Of) Warlock was also cancelled in its prime, but Adam, the golden-hued character himself made such an indelible impression on my infant mind.

More tragically, the original series lasted no more than just 15 ishs. Ironically, Warlock – “By Orion!” – has attained hallowed cult status and is extremely difficult to come by; when my sensors did detect odd editions, the going rate seemed ridiculously high. So finding that immortal classic: Warlock #10: How Strange My Destiny (December 1975) (for a thankfully ridiculously low price!) proved to be an exceptional find.

The first part of the acclaimed Magus Saga in which Adam makes an uneasy alliance with notorious bad seed: Thanos in his showdown with the Magus. It also features Gamora (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame!) and Pip The Troll (who – judging from the letters pages – became a sensation among Marvelites far and wide!)

Thanos – and (let’s be honest) even Pip The Troll – would have swept the floor with Killraven…

As Adam realizes with horror: “My mind is a cesspool of corruption that will someday spawn the Magus” – the Magus is Adam Warlock’s future self!

Blimey Charley, what a humdinger! 

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“25,000 armed Black Knights just to kill four unarmed intruders?! The Magus must be cracking up! Wish I had 50,000 instead of a mere 25,000…” – General Egeus. 

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Captain Marvel: “There’s Titan, Drax – it won’t be long now. But why so silent? What are you thinking about?”

Drax The Destroyer: “About how difficult it may be, once our alliance is ended… to kill you!”

Hankering for more galactic thrills, it seemed inevitable that Marvel’s spaceborn “most cosmic superhero of all” – the original Kree warrior: Mar-Vell – would get snapped up.

Eager to find out more, an excellent additional feature of Warlock #10 – an insert in which Captain Marvel explains the background (and threat!) of his arch-enemy: Thanos. Usefully, it noted #s 25-33 as the classic ishs in which the two legendary characters went head-to-head.

Initially, Marvel Spotlight #2 (featuring Captain Marvel) came into my hands fairly early on during this hunting season. However, Pat Broderick’s art style failed to alight the Bradmonitor. Not to be outdone, a chance was taken with Captain Marvel #59 (November 1978). Despite retaining Broderick’s pencils, The Trouble With Titan actually offered a more satisfying look, mainly because of the special guest star appearance by Drax The Destroyer. 

“By the Lost Horns of Hala!”

The outlandish contents involve Mar-Vell and Drax having to rescue Eros and Mentor from being “menaced by what manner of monsters, only the the Great Pama knows!” And trespassing in the domain of Lord Gaea – and having to fight their way through his hordes of Earth-Demons to escape! Written by Doug Moench – always a reliable choice (so why couldn’t he have worked on Killraven…?)

Have already picked up further ishs, but so far, #s 25-33 are proving to be elusive… 

In conclusion, me lovelies, it should be pointed out that – in a sale, just to be on the safe side! – another ish of  Killraven WAS acquired. And lo, Brad The Merciful steps in to grant the underachievers a second chance, but…

Ha! Guess what?

Despite having a fascinating splash page, #35 (March 1976) is bogged down with an even more confusing plot; moreover, he grumbles, the addition of an insipid Martian character and a deranged, scantily-clad woman spouting interminable gibberish does NOT guarantee rewarding reading! 

So, it’s official then: Killraven is PANTS….

Not gonna let this absurdity distort my base realities!

But heck! Let’s not end on a bum-note.

As Confucius used to say: “If you’ve got time for one more cake, you’ve bally well got time for one more comic!”

Hey! Looks like yours truly has got just the right thing: 

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“Alas, Iron Fist, you have my sympathy. No man should be spurned by a beautiful woman and fall in battle on the same day!” – El Aguila.

Last and – well, really! Is anyone nuts enough to say: “least” to Luke Cage’s face?! – we have Marvel’s very own dynamic duo: Power Man and Iron Fist. 

This is such a nifty break from my usual cosmic cravings, and besides, back in the day, one ish did pass through me grubby infant mitts, but Brad‘ll be damned if he can recall the exact one! Never fear, random back ishs have been selected, and are turning out to be an unexpected fab treat!

#65: “An Eagle In The Aerie” (Oct 1980) is great fun. En route to the Aerie (HQ of Heroes For Hire), Luke and Danny are followed by old adversary: El Aguila and – “Santa Maria!” – half the staff of all-female guards have revolted and all three costumed heroes have to defend the Aerie from all-out assault.

El Aguila leaps and bounds suavely through battle, firing bursts of his biologically-generated electricity through his sword while exclaiming: “Believe me, senoritas, doing this hurts my heart as much as it does your lovely bodies.”

Before Luke and Danny can get a word in, the Eagle escapes in a helicopter, but not before smooching the secretary.

Ah, they don’t make masked men of mystery like that any more…

If only Killraven oozed just half the charm of El Aguila…

Been searching for ish #58 (El Aguila’s initial appearance) but – not surprisingly – it is rare and expensive.

Finally, could not resist including this intriguing lil cameo from another Marvel stalwart:

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Iron Fist: “You’re up early, Luke. How did you sleep?” 

Power Man: “Kept dreamin’ ’bout floods an’ tidal waves.”

Iron Fist: “Sorry about the waterbed.”

Originally, this Post began back in September(!), revised in November, but it has taken the last few gruelling days just to finally launch this draft – well, anything really! – into the blogosphere.

Relieved, rather than pleased, to have accomplished some writing again.

Meanwhile, quite a considerable comics collection has amassed here over the past few months – therefore CANNOT WAIT to discuss, in a flurry of forthcoming Posts, the juiciest finds with you!

So, while the world falls apart, this:

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…is where you’ll find me: the “Leisure Hive” @ Brad Manor. 

Happy hunting, True Believers!

You would NOT BELIEVE what you can get for 60 Portions these days…   

Lingua Extraterrestria: What Would First Contact Entail?

When We DO make Alien Contact, What Will We Have To Say? And How…? 

And By What Means Can We Begin To Comprehend What THEY Want?

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“What the hell are we supposed to use, man, harsh language?” – Private Frost. 

“Thousands have taken to the streets amid growing unrest at the perceived “alien invasion,” reads the Breaking News banner.

“Governments across the globe have declared a state of emergency urging residents to remain in their homes until meaningful contact can be made.”

What do they mean by “meaningful contact”?

The exciting, yet cautious, notion of first contact with (intelligent) extraterrestrial life has often popped up in movies, books and essays, but they all – frustratingly – fall short of supposing how such a landmark event could be achieved.

The most prominent SF extravaganza to tackle this premise (refraining from military antagonism) and emphasize attempts at establishing connections with alien visitors happened to be Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), in which initial connection transpired through exchanges of musical motes. 

Groovy – fortunately, variable tones possess the same harmonics elsewhere in our galaxy!

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“I really misunderstood that linguistics was closer to being a translator… When you’re approaching language, you look at structure, anthropological, sociological… how it exists inside of that. It’s got very complicated” – Amy Adams.  

Just opened in cinemas this week is Arrival, a most-welcome package that dares to offer something more cerebral rather than just aiming to be visually spectacular. 

After twelve ovular smooth and shell-like spacecraft appear in skies at various locations around the world, answers – rather that action – is called for. The military (led by Forest Whitakerenlist the services of leading academic linguist Dr. Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) to try and work out why they are here, and what do they want. 

Curiously, every eighteen hours, a section of the craft suspended above the plains of Montana opens up, allowing Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to try and facilitate a basic exchange of communication.

The new Arrivals are revealed as seven-pronged starfish-like creatures dubbed “heptapods.” Intriguingly, these visitors do participate in contact, but only by emitting a highly sophisticated form of non-linear orthography – rings of swirling black “ink.”

How can Dr. Banks hope to suss out something like this?:

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“Some supporters of linguistic relativity think that the cognitive benefits of language helped spur its evolution. This is relevant to the movie, as the fate of humanity depends on us understanding their language” – newscientist.com

Among the earliest systems of writing, wedge-shaped cuneiform tablets were produced by the Sumerians in the Ancient Near East five thousand years ago. 

Having had the privilege of studying this bewildering civilization at university, one could not help but observe that they seemed so incongruous to World History – the notion of extraterrestrial origins should not sound so fantastical.

Incidentally, their religious texts quite categorically describe “the Ancient Gods who descended from the Heavens…”

Since the Phoenicians developed the first alphabet, scripts for Indo-European languages – of which English is just one member of that family – generally run horizontally from left to right, but with the observation that Arabic runs from right to left, should the heptapod circular “language” be read clockwise or anti-clockwise? 

Moreover, at what point on each billowing ring should Dr. Banks begin to decipher these messages? So many syntactic and semantic aspects to consider in such a fascinating and – considering what is at stake – frightening voyage of discovery!

As Dr. Banks wonders:

“They use non-linear orthography. Do they think like that too?” 

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“Are you dreaming in their language?” – Ian Donnelly.

Having already notched up five-star reviews and an encouraging string of superlatives from a wide range of film magazines and websites, Arrival looks set to be the phenomenal, thought-provoking classic that gives SF a good name.

Ultimately, this movie sets out to be more about human understanding, memory, love and fortitude than just delivering yet another tiresome alien invasion CGIfest far beyond the sensationalist reach of such dumb, inconsequential fare as Independence Day: Resurgence (which we were so kindly subjected to earlier in the year).

To find out how “distinctly original” and “truly exceptional” Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival really is, Brad will be checking it out this weekend. Therefore, a Review is sure to follow!

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Keep watching the skies… 

No Sleep Till Doomsday: A Slice Of Bradfiction

75th Post! Before We Get Started, Does Anyone Want To Get Out? 

WARNING: Contains strong language from the very beginning and the whole thing gets a whole lot worse way before the end. 

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“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you” – Ray Bradbury.  

“Throat-warbler! Jerkface! Douche-bagger! You can go back to wherever you came from, you demented Humperdinck!Xandar Vekken, the uncompromising bounty hunter shouted, “…And rot in a vat of guba-slime! Your Followers can’t protect you cos I’ve already collected ’em!”

Dak Galbi, the Administrator, in his office at Folly Goldabek Block, gulped and stared in absolute dread. “Quaequam Blag, Vekken!” he blurted. “My! Pardon my language… An’-and h-how did he reply to that?!”

“Aww, ya know – the usual: threatened to put a bounty on my head…”

“A bounty on a bounty hunter! My, will the oddities of this galaxy never end? My…!”

While spinners zipped back and forth along the rain-spattered skyways outside, the hunters listened intently.

“Vital data pertaining to the revival of the Star League was unfortunately nabbed by a notorious gang of three Dangalak bandidoes: Skweekee Bumthyme; Floppy Baublebouncer and Marky “Mark” Wahlberg,” Dak dithered, running a trembling finger across his mobi-scanner. “Find these miscreants, return the data, and I can promise you… triple your standard rates-”

Xan’s eyebrows raised with intrigue; Skinjob’s would, if he had any. 

“Mashdup Bottywrangler is a snivelling little rascal, but has managed to retain his miserable life by becoming the most reliable informant I know. I summoned you here because he has tracked this certain bunch of Dangalaks to the bar known as: “The Scruffy-Lookin’ Nerf Herder,” down on Old-Fashioned Way, located just a few blocks from here. It is the sort of sleazy address at which such wretched jackasses would hang out…”

Cut immediately to the hunters entering the bar (‘cos the bit inbetween is kinda slow an’ boring.)

The immediate stench of dead dog and kippers drew them over to Table No. 6. All three Dangalaks glared at Xan and Skinjob with nothing short of utter hatred. The fat one – identified as Floppy Baublebouncer – bellowed at them first. “Chao buoi sang, Terran-scuz!” 

“Wahl!” yelled Marky. 

“Well, ciao to u too, I’m sure…!” Skinjob gasped.

“Well, howdya like that, Skinj?! We’ve only just come in and already I wanna waste ’em!”  Xan bristled. 

“No da ngung?! Hoat dong vinh nien!” Baublebouncer blurted.

“I don’t give a drok if ‘e’s got hoat dong, Skwee!” Xan gnashed. “What’s your toe-rag pal blabbin’ about?”  

“Don’t take dat tone wid us, Terran-scuz!” Bumthyme bleeted. “He says you haf no right to barge in heere and “interrogate usss…”

“Trai Dat van la nha toi!” Baublebouncer snarled that line with such venom at Xan. No doubt about it, you could have fried an egg on all that mutual contempt filling the room. 

“Frick you, Floppy!”

“Wahl!” yelled Marky.

Okey dokey, then,” Xan exclaimed impatiently. “This is not your day, you Dangalak frickwits!” 

“Co biet khong, thoi da doc ve tran dau nay! No dien ra ngay o day! Giai Super Bowl cuoi cung!”

Xan flared. “Why you lousy-! You can say that again!”

“Aww! Enough of this useless chatter,” Skinjob butted in. “Are you goin’ to give us the data we seek…?!”

“Meh!” Baublebouncer blared. 

“Wahl!” yelled Marky.

Quaequam blag!” Xan cursed. “We’re gonna need more than 1000 words if we’re gonna sort this lot out…”

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“You can’t miss Skinjob; he wanders around in that wretched, dishevelled trenchcoat with what looks like a toaster for a head. Please, you cannot miss him; I’ve been trying for days and still haven’t had a clear shot…” – Boba Fett.  

HELLFIRE! One of the Dangalaksthat frickin’ Floppy most likely! – opened fire first. In time-honoured tradition of sci-fi evil creeps everywhere – luckily for our two (anti?)-heroes – all his rounds missed hopelessly. Xan somersaulted nimbly behind the nearest table and returned fire. For the next five ferocious minutes, the barroom filled with laser-fire. Skinjob’s sensors picked up an emergency exit being broken out the back.

“Blazes, Vekken! At least two of them have escaped!”

The last remaining Dangalak made a run for it. Skinjob fired a reckless shot, instantly cursing his poor aim. As the smoke from the blast-points disappeared, the android looked incredulously at his partner.

“Hey, Skinj, what’s troubling you?”

“When the blazes did you learn to do those gymnastics?” 

“Before my boobs got too big-”  

“Boo-wha-?! You’re a woman?!” 

“Of course, if I was just another spotty, testosterone-drenched boy, no one would notice now… would they?”

“Umm, right… hang on, though: isn’t ‘Xandar’ a boy’s name?”

“It’s a deliberate typo. The tag is really ‘Xandra,’ but I never corrected it; ya think I’d get this work if the agency knew I was female…? Besides, I just took advantage of this writer’s laziness in not fleshing out my character traits properly…” 

“Wha-?! Wow – now we’ve revealed this plot-twist, I don’t know what to think…”

“Oh yeah? What are ya thinkin’ about now, Metalhead?”

“…You’ve gotten yourself into the wrong business, girly.” 

“Aow, is that right, Skinj?” she hissed, standing akimbo.

“Sure is. Look, the weaker sex ain’t supposed to make-”

“Whoa, stop right there! Let me tell you somethin’ about the “weaker” sex, fellaWe… make… LIFE!” she yelled, slapping her belly. “Men – these days…” She flicked out a taser from her belt, and whammed it to the point where Skinjob’s nose would have been… 

“…Can’t even make a frickin’ sandwich!”  

One quick sizzle and Xan had stormed out of the room before the addled android hit the deck, and before you can say: “Golly gosh, he wasn’t expecting that…”

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“Science fiction is metaphor… The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself… The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next” – Ursula K. Le Guin.  

So, what does come next?

When Skinjob came to, early the next morning, lying flat out on Dak’s office couch, he realized that not only were some of his circuits missing, but he noticed with horror that Dak’s ceiling had not been dusted for a long time. A very long time…

“Ahem! The only way, Mr. Skin, is up.” 

“Eh? Wha-?” the android muttered as the Administrator’s face – looming down at him – came into focus.

“My hand… take it…” 

“Yeah, sure. Boy, that Xandar!” Skinjob blustered as he sprang back onto his feet. “Where did that girl go?”

“Sorry, Mr. Skin… what girl…?”

Meanwhile, halfway across the galaxy: “Whatdya mean, ya ain’t gonna give me the data?!” that girl shouted.

Floppy just shouted something unintelligible and drew his blaster; Marky just shouted: “Wahl!” and drew his blaster. 

“Alright, you screwheads! Take tha-!”

At that moment random laser-blasts seared through the air from behind her. There was Skinjob, letting rip. 

“Hush up, girly! This ain’t no time to monologue! Blast ’em.”

KAPOW! Bumthyme got bumped off. 

The other two fled into the bushes (which should have been described earlier, but really, in all this excitement…)

“Yay, good shootin’, girly!” 

“Hey, chrome-mouth,” Xan snapped. “As long as I have this blaster in my hand, watch what ya say. Less of the “girly” from now on, okay? Capisce? Anyway… frickin’ ‘eck. That’s the only one outta these three screwheads who could speak English, ya dumb droid! Now we’ve made our job a heckuva lot more difficult! An’ we’re gonna havta move frickin’ fast…”

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“You needn’t worry about your reward. If money is all that you love, then that’s what you’ll receive” – Princess Leia Organa. 

“Yeah! What about the frickin’ money?!” The android’s voice was tinged with a hollow wail of despair. The i-card – slapped onto Xan’s ship – glistened under the twin orange suns, almost mocking them. Skinjob grabbed it, pausing to glance at his accomplice.

“I’m almost afraid to open it up…”

Back in their ship, the android processed the message through the onboard translator. The message began, inevitably, with: “Ha! Terran-scuz, ha-!” 

It continued: “Ha! We’ve escaped to Mogadon IV, in the Flaccid Quadrant, where you can’t find us! Ha! Try your luck, Terran-scuz, ha-!” 

“Wahl!” yelled Marky. 

The hunters exchanged big beaming grins.

“What a pair of imbeciles!” the android answered. “They’ve only just given away their whereabouts.”

“Okey-dokey, Skinj, pick up the Bum and put ‘im in the cargo hold-”

“Hey, seeing as you’re all high an’ mighty, why don’tcha do it yerself?!” the android moaned.

But Xan just smiled demurely. “‘Cos I’m just the ‘girly!’ Now hush up an’ move yer ass, coochie-coo!” 

“Jeesh, now I’m beginning to understand why them Dangalaks don’t like you much…”

“Ha! Tough crud, Skinj! Charge the boosters!”

Suddenly, Xan’s face was locked in a deep pensive mood: “Ya ever get the feelin’ that the writer hasn’t thought through our storyline as much as ya’d like?”  

“Hell yeah! Let’s all team up an’ fight ‘im!” 

“No, hush up a minute, I’m tryin’ ta think out loud here…”

“What if we cut out all the descriptive stuff about interstellar travel and just jump to the next chapter, preferably set on Mogadon IV?”

“Oh no, ya can’t. Only The Creator can deem what happens to ya… or doesn’t.”

“What is all this wishy-washy supernatty stuff you keep hollerin’? I’ll have none of it-“

“It’s not up ta you, Skinj – it’s all the Whim of the Writer. If ya want ta be successful with trackin’ down yer bounties, maybe get a love interest in the next instalment, or wrangle yer way outta being written out, ya should take it up with Him.

“Okay…” Skinjob muttered, recharging his plasma-rifle. “Who Him?” 

His moniker is ‘Brad.’ He’s kinda weird, yet very distinctive in the Blogosphere. Ya’ll know Him when ya see Him – he’s got big ears, dark eyes and ‘e’s covered in white fur…” 

“Cheers!” 

to be continued...

Dabbling In The Dark Side: The Bane of Brother BradFail

There is a fascinating world inside your head waiting to be discovered, but don’t stray from the path…

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“Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for” – Ray Bradbury. 

By all that’s sacred! How is this possible?!

For those of you wondering how my Posts get to be so awesome, spare a thought then – by gad! let the shocking truth shine forth here – my fiction (scripts, novels and short stories) has really stalled these past few weeks, despite sporadic sessions of fruitless keyboard pummeling.My cognitive faculties have worked wonders with my blogs, but the other stuff? Just one resounding meh…

Concentrating on any writing project during this time – other than these blogs – has proved to be such a chore. Fortuitously, you will be spared the personal gripes of a forlorn Freelancer – thankfully, this is not that kind of blog, but at least my overworked and under-appreciated noddle has been spared the full brunt of despair… for now.

Yet there must be an easy way out – and still have your limbs, bank balance and sanity intact, but by what desperate-bordering-on-devilish means can this be achieved…

…without succumbing to your own Dark Side? 

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People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls” – Carl Gustav Jung.

Of course, the most prevalent view of a “dark side” is synonymous with the Force, that “moral, philosophical, metaphorical and psychic concept” from the Star Wars Universe. 

Carl Jung analysed this “part of us we like to keep hidden from public view,” only back then (c. 1907) he referred to it as “the shadow self” – that deep and dormant part of our personality wherein lie all our negative and destructive emotions. So, does my shadow self produce better fiction?

While languishing in the shadows of the blogosphere, let me assure you that there will be NO resort to evil ways to achieve greater success. Some comfort can be gleaned from the fact that now – more than ever – there is nothing like science fiction to confront and help ease the pressures of modern life.

Our favourite genre has sought to conquer our fears, and dared to tackle those terribly vexing existential questions that have stumped humankind for aeons such as: why are we here? Are we alone in the universe? Are we humans or replicants? What would our alternate self be doing in a parallel dimension? If you unscrew your navel will your bum fall off?  

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“My evil self is at that door, and I have no power to stop it!” – Dr. Edward Morbius.

Within the elementary basis of the subconscious mind resides the “Id” – a concept first explored by Sigmund Freud in: “The Ego and the Id,” originally published in 1927. He described it as “the unevolved instinctive part of our brain, responsible for the urges and desires we try to repress.” 

In Forbidden Planet (1956), this theme was explored to (then) spectacular Technicolor glory. On Altair IV, Dr Edward Morbius was terrorised by a frightening yet imperceptible entity, which (spoiler ahoy!) just happened to be the manifestation of anxieties from his own subconscious.

Fortunately, my frightful inner daemons have been ably suppressed… until now, at least. Get thee gone, Darth Plagiarism!

At the moment, spending my days wandering and meditating in a hooded habit, when not blogging – writing is a lone (not lonely) profession/pursuit. Quitting has never been an option – ha! don’t even know the meaning of the word – and, rest assured, Brad ain’t gonna start now! Bravado, Resilience, Aptitude, Determination – hell, that’s what Brad stands for!

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Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill. 

Aah… what a marvelous sunrise! Sit back. Relax! Deep breaths… It is this kind of serene vista (photo taken yards from my home sweet home) – which helps soothe the soul, but gazing longingly at it won’t get my work done! Over the course of the next few Posts, you might get to see some of my attempts at fiction, but there will be insights into crafting cool dialogue, and character development – watch this space!

Cinematic SF generally may seem to be locked in a downward spiral, beset with turgid maze-running and snow-piercing, and addled with drab Divergent-this and Insurgent-that. Having toiled and tussled in trying to develop difficult scripts, it’s easy to see how a lot of modern scripts just don’t work, but it is still annoying to think that my writing/editing services are NEVER called upon.

For the moment, this writer will carry on to the best of his abilities… within legal parameters of course. Whilst endeavouring to resist the temptation to traipse down the dark path, an article in one writing magazine recently discussed how evil is a matter of perspective, and it would bode well for any writer to embrace their dark side (once in a while). 

Who knows? Maybe it’s a wonderland teeming with free nachos and choc-chip cookies…

Perhaps my bland brown habit should be ditched in favour of a dynamic black robe…

“Evil is intriguing,” the article exclaimed. “Evil is good.”

Hmmm…

BradFail

darkside

Cheers!

Peter Cushing: “The Gentle Man of Horror”

Actor. Gentleman. Scientist. Vampire Hunter. Time Lord. Detective. Imperial Badass.

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“The most professional actor I have ever worked with. He’s highly regarded all over the world as a brilliant actor, and deservedly so. If they knew what we got up to on the set in every film we’ve made… the imitations that I used to do, the dances that he used to do… ” – Christopher Lee.  

There is one reason why horror movies no longer appeal to me. They are certainly a barren and soulless place without the late great Peter Cushing (1913-1994). Best remembered for producing the definitive versions of Baron Frankenstein and Van Helsing for Hammer horror films, he was an actor of exceptional range and skill.

Before he made his indelible mark on the horror genre, he had appeared in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, and had leading roles in a string of TV adaptations including Pride and Prejudice, The Winslow Boy, and most notably in the live dramatisation of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is the latter production which inspired the producer Michael Carreras to invite him to to star in the film destined to change his life forever…

In 1957, he appeared in Curse of Frankenstein, playing the notorious scientist totally different to the pained and remorseful character envisaged by Mary Shelley. Cushing’s Baron Frank was a cruel and cunning piece of work, who is prepared to push a visiting professor to his death just to get a head. The monster was played by fellow horror maestro: Christopher Lee. It not only marked the establishment of a formidable partnership, but a lifelong friendship.

Its stupendous success led to another interpretation of an infamous gothic character the following year. Dracula (1958) certainly gave the opportunity for Lee to create a career-defining performance, but in Van Helsing, Cushing was calm and collected, sensitive yet determined, and ultimately presented an admirable adversary. It’s amazing to consider now how energetic both roles were: the gripping climax in which Van Helsing runs the length of a banqueting table, tears down the curtains and lunges at a sunstruck Dracula with two silver candlesticks pressed together to form a crucifix is said to have deen devised by Cushing himself!

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“When he did Sherlock Holmes, he went to a very famous teacher of the violin so that he knew how to hold it… When he was making The Mummy, he went to the hospital and and sat in with operations. He was very meticulous…” – Joyce Broughton (his secretary).

Peter Cushing could adapt to any role. In 1959, he played Sherlock Holmes in Hammer’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Directed by Terence Fisher, many Holmes afficianados consider Cushing’s detective as the definitive article.

In 1965, the success of BBC’s Doctor Who led perhaps inevitably to the big screen. In order to maximise transatlantic appeal, Cushing was cast in place of William Hartnell, playing the Time Lord as an endearing grandfatherly figure in Dr Who and the Daleks. Its phenomenal success led to a sequel: Daleks’ Invasion of Earth: 2150 AD. (1966).

Other distinctive roles included: The Mummy (1959), and H. Rider Haggard’s She (1965). In an attempt to emulate hammer’s success, Amicus Productions joined the horror bandwagon, involving Cushing’s invaluable services. Some of the most notable films included: Dr Terror’s House 0f Horrors (1964) in which he dealt tarot cards foretelling the fate of passengers on a train; and The Creeping Flesh (1972) whereby a horrific skeleton from the jungles of Borneo “will be resurrected when the gods shall weep.”

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“The boots they gave me [to wear as Grand Moff Tarkin] were far too small. I said to George: ‘…whenever possible, could you please shoot me from the waist up?’ He very kindly agreed… I was really wearing carpet slippers. That is why Moff Tarkin was so hostile… his feet were killing him” – Peter Cushing.

The passing of his beloved wife Helen in 1971 devastated him. In subsequent years, he made movies of a distinctly lesser quality; this was a concerted attempt to keep his mind occupied as he adjusted awkwardly to a crushing existence of loneliness.  

In one of his more entertaining roles, he appeared as a delightfully daffy professer in At The Earth’s Core (1976), alongside trusty fantasy stalwarts: Doug McClure (“a very dear chap”) and Caroline Munro (“so sweet”). Absolutely hilarious, he was gifted with such dialogue as: “A rhamphorynchus! In this day in age! How extraordinary!”

Maybe George Lucas was a Hammer fan? This would help explain Cushing’s appearance in the original Star Wars (1977) as Grand Moff Tarkin: a brief, yet deliciously malevolent turn. No other actor could lace the phrase: “You may fire when ready” with such bloodcurdling doom!

Nevertheless, in real life, Peter Cushing was a kind and gentle fellow, always approachable, and never said a harsh word about anyone. Although honoured with an OBE in 1989, Peter Cushing never won any movie accolades; yet surely he has topped most horrorfans’ and movie-goers’ polls and – as new generations discover the various gems of his amazing career – he will continue to do so.

Perhaps the last words should be left to the maestro himself:

“The tremendous affection that people shower upon me, and the interest they take in my work, touches me so deeply…

“To think that young people are still interested enough in me to write about me and see my pictures is pretty marvellous!”

 

 

Towering Influence: A Tribute To A Larger Than Life Legend

 

Richard Kiel: 13 September 1939 – 10 September 2014

1977, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

“Well, they don’t really need an actor, he’s more a monster part… I said if I were to play the part, I want to give the character some human characteristics, like perseverance, frustration” – Richard Kiel.

At 7 ft 2 in tall, Richard Kiel, who has died at the age of 74, will be forever remembered for playing the henchman Jaws in not one, but two Bond movies. The role has became so iconic that he’d virtually made a separate career from countless Bond convention and fanfest guest appearances. Despite being blind in one eye, and his distinctive height and physiognomy attributed to the hormonal condition: acromegaly, he carved a 50-year career spanning dozens of television and movie appearances.

Funnily enough, in the mid-70s, when auditions for a certain evil cloaked space villain began, both Kiel and one Dave Prowse were up for the role. Interestingly, Kiel “turned down the role of Darth Vader in order to play Jaws, which he felt offered greater acting potential since the character was not encased in a mask.” When the role of Jaws came along, he (reluctantly) went up for it against (who else?)  Dave Prowse…   

And what about Chewie? In an interview two years ago, Kiel claims he turned down the chance to play that walking carpet due to a fear of being typecast, and complaining that it’s: “always so hot inside those suits…”  

When The Incredible Hulk was developed for television in 1978, Kiel spent the first two days of filming as the green giant. However, the producers felt he “was not bulky enough,” so in stepped Lou Ferrigno, but later in the series Kiel would make an appearance, albeit uncredited.

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“He was a super guy. He was larger than life. He was very friendly; would always make time to talk with his fans” – Luis Fairman.

Richard Kiel – who would have turned 75 this past Saturday – began his acting career by appearing in various TV Westerns such as Laramie and The Rifleman. He starred in the poor little-known SF feature: The Phantom Planet before making a striking appearance on television.

One notable episode of seminal TV show: The Twilight Zone, “To Serve Man” (1962) told how a 9-foot tall alien race known as the Kanamits arrived on Earth to assist mankind. Besides being 2 feet too short(!), Richard Kiel portrayed the still-imposing Kanamit ambassador who visited the United Nations to reiterate the aliens’ peaceful intentions; his lips never moved – as Kanamits communicated telepathically, his “voice” was provided by another actor.

Later that year, Kiel would play the titular caveman of the atrocious Eegah, in which “teenagers stumble across a prehistoric caveman, who goes on a rampage.” 

Other roles in the genre included The Humanoid (1979). Richard Kiel had a substantial role in this ultra-cheap Italian Star Wars knockoff, but this is a shame, for it turned out to be yet another case of shoddy material which did not do its star any justice. As anyone can see from both Bond films, Richard Kiel could apply the subtlest nuances in his looks to alternately convey menace and mayhem and then heart and humour.

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“They shot two endings [for Spy Who Loved Me]: one where the shark got him and one where he got the shark. And, in America, there was great whooping and hollering when his head came up out of the sea” – Sir Roger Moore.  

Sir Roger Moore was said to be “totally distraught” at learning of Richard Kiel’s passing. Despite being involved in some of the best fight scenes of the 007 franchise, off-screen Moore and Kiel were the best of friends. Moore praised his giant friend for helping him in fundraising campaigns for UNICEF. “He was a big, caring man.”

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) is often considered one of Moore’s best 007 adventures. Originally, Jaws was to be like every other henchman: do his bit and then come a cropper, but there was such a distinctive vibe about Kiel’s performance which makes Jaws one of the most memorable villains of any genre. Plus, preview audience reaction was so positive that the character was saved to bite another day.

Although Moonraker does not rate highly on some Bond lists, it still holds up pretty well. For the 1979 Bond movie, two elements were required: it had to have a sci-fi feel: to capitalise on Star Wars fever, then an unprecedented worldwide phenomenon; and secondly,  Richard Kiel just had to make a comeback as the baddie with the baddest teeth.

Critically, Jaws may be even better in his second outing. Consider the list of classic scenes: who can forget his comical arm-flapping before plummeting onto a circus big-top?; the boat chase and the priceless expression he pulls prior to toppling over a massive waterfall; and what about the cable-car sequence? But what really confirmed Jaws in the stratosphere of franchise fame was the introduction of a love-interest in the diminutive form of a bespectacled, pig-tailed girl known only as “Dolly” (played by Blanche Ravalec, trivia-buffs!), who incidentally, was cuter and more charming than that film’s official Bond-girl(!) This twist could so easily have turned out ludicrous, but was handled just right. Upon realising that he does not measure up to megalomaniac Drax’s “standards of physical perfection”  Jaws revolts, ending up aiding the same man he’d been hired to kill. Against expectations – certainly against typeKiel had succeeded in creating a more tender, endearing individual.  

There was no greater opponent for Jaws… other than his own metallic molars. “They were nauseating” Kiel said. “As soon as the director called Cut, out they came.” The formidable gnashers were tipped to be created by John (Planet of the Apes) Chambers, but that job went instead to dental mechanic: Luis Fairman. Whilst filming, those uncomfortable teeth were kept in a safe each night! So, have they been kept in a glass by the actor’s bedside ever since?

Not exactly. Kiel admitted not knowing what had happened to them, but thought they may have ended up “in a Bond museum somewhere.”  

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Well, here’s to you, Richard.

Cheers!

 

 

 

“Utterly Compelling”: The Most Mesmerising SF Movie You’ve Never Seen!

And man exists to create… great art

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“The Zone wants to be respected. Otherwise, it will punish” – Stalker.  

In the annals of modern cinema, it would appear that while people flock to watch ninja mutant turtles, some of the finest celluloid masterpieces lie neglected somewhere. This is the story of one such near-forgotten treasure.

Having savoured many fine SF delights in my time, complacent enough to believe that all the good movies, books and comics have been well and truly devoured, every so often – out of the blue –it is still possible to be struck by a bolt of absolute, unparalleled brilliance. On a few occasions, the above still – a mysterious yet overpoweringly cool image – has been seen. Frustratingly, there were never any revealing captions to reveal what it was or from whence it came. But then, just a fortnight ago, while searching for something else – isn’t that always the way? – a piece of music, in fact, my eyes caught this pic in a Youtube Suggestions box (of all places).

Eureka!

The name: “Stalker” did not mean anything to me. The 5-minute track which accompanied the pic, listed as “Meditation” was composed by Edward Artemiev, who provided the score for the Russian movie: Solaris, a widely revered masterpiece of World Cinema. It is a fantastic hypnotic piece of music (now played daily, even swirling around inside my headphones this very moment as the keyboard is battered relentlessly).

And the search to find the movie was on!

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^ Trying to enter the Zone through gritty monochrome back streets (l) and then finding “the quietest place in the world” (r)

“A vast prose-poem on celluloid whose forms and ideas were to be borrowed by moviemakers like Lynch and Spielberg” – Peter Bradshaw.

Stalker – directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, a stalwart of Soviet cinema – tells how a meteorite supposedly crashed in the USSR many years ago and the authorities cordoned off the area, labelling it: “the Zone.” Whoever went in to investigate the truth were never seen again; rumours spread that normal laws of physics did not exist there, and deep within this Zone, there was the Room, a special place where people’s innermost wishes and desires can come true. Despite being forbidden to enter, countless souls yearned to find out what the Room has to offer.

Enter the Stalkers: special guides who – for a price, of course – can help the curious avoid the traps and take them to the Room. Here, the Stalker (played by Alexander Kaidanovsky) agrees to take two clients, known only as Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and Professor (Nikolai Grinko) into this restricted area. The rest of the film concentrates on these unlikely adventurers infiltratingand exploring the Zone, but more importantly, can they find the Room, and are they prepared mentally to enter it?

Chillingly, the Stalker himself describes the Zone as “the quietest place in the world.” In one interview, Tarkovsky suggested that the Zone did not exist, and was a figment of Stalker’s imagination. Whatever the truth behind this most beguiling of enigmatic plot devices, the film’s uncanny yet subtle ability to twist the minds of more discerning cinema-goers remains undiminished.

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^ Abandoned features of the Zone (l) and realising they have lost the Professor and are lost themselves (r)

“Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic inquiry into freedom and faith presents an arduous journey for the spectator, but conjures up its own mystical universe with majestic conviction” – Total Film.

Upon its release in 1979, critics – in awe of its “raw emotional impact” and “multi-layered visual resonance” – discussed Stalker endlessly, trying to derive real meaning from the seemingly ambiguous images and dialogue. Not until 1986, and the frightening calamity of the world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl did it all come together. Suddenly, the eerie wasteland, the abandoned tanks, the cobweb-ridden bushes and all the desolate lifeless features made startling sense.

Stalker is described as an art film, which means that the first 37 minutes are in gritty monochrome. As the trio travel into the core of the Zone (by rail), colour appears, but it’s fairly muted – most notably, the overgrown grass appears to have a greyish tint; and there are long atmospheric panning shots of bygone artefacts of past lives strewn in shallow water. If the subtitles on my copy are reliable, then it can be confidently stated that the dialogue is a joy to read, consisting mainly of enriching and poetic lines. The screenplay was written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, loosely based on their own novel: “Roadside Picnic”.

Behind the indomitable legend lies an unbearable legacy. As filming took place near a disused chemical plant outside Tallinn, Estonia, the toxic surroundings would eventually catch up with members of the cast and crew. To compound the hazards, the original film stock was ruined and all scenes had to be reshot. Talk about double exposure

The actor who played Writer: Anatoli Solonitsyn died of cancer, while Tarkovsky himself succumbed to cancer just months after the Chernobyl disaster occurred, but at least their contributions to the art of World Cinema will forever be honoured. In a recent poll, members of the BFI voted it Second Greatest Movie (behind Blade Runner); on the Rotten Tomatoes movie website, it holds a perfect 100%.

stalker dogwriter solonitsyn

^ So many iconic images to choose from; note the religious connotations (r)

“Every single frame of the film is burned into my retina” – Cate Blanchett.  

To what extent does science feature in this languid fiction? Other than allusions to that meteorite, and the dubious promise of otherworldly powers, there is actually very little to tie this film with an SF tag. Essentially, it works as a meditative psychological drama, and with some hypnotic long and lingering shots, meticulously framed by Tarkovsky, this makes for a rewarding visual feast.

Crucially, the film skilfully incorporates the age-old science vs religion dilemma, with Stalker instilling his faith in the Zone, while his two companions represent the cynical intellect of restless enquiring minds. As they trudge ever closer to the Room, the moods of all three become more agitated and introspective…

It has been said that Solaris is the Soviet 2001. A similar comparison can certainly be given to Stalker. Clarke and Kubrick deliberately set out to raise more questions, rather than provide answers with their powerful yet perplexing masterpiece, and that is most definitely what Tarkovsky strived to accomplish with this majestic and metaphorical work. As for its notoriously plodding pace, there was never a dull moment to be had.

While Writer and Professor experience nothing in the Zone except silence and emptiness, those attributes are precisely what compel Stalker – otherwise burdened with a jobless and hopeless existence – into this area time and time again.

Lastly, it seems quite clear to me that not only does the Zone exist, we make of it what we will because, ultimately, each and every one of us desires such a special place into which we can escape, find solace and be alone with our thoughts.

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Honestly, how – and why! – has Brad been deprived of this classic for so long?

 

 

Outer Space, Outta Bounds: Why You Wouldn’t Want To Go Interstellar!

They all wanna see Buck Rogers and that’s us!

If you don't succeed, try and try again!
If you don’t succeed, try and try again!

“I’ll tell you, being involved in human space flight, it is an emotional endeavour. I think it brings in the highest highs and the lowest lows” – Ellen Ochoa.   

As SF literature has consistently featured the marvel of manned space flight, movies have repeatedly revealed how dangerous and downright foolhardy such spacebound ventures can be. So with a revival of manned space exploration announced by NASA back in 2004, not surprisingly, scientists greeted the news with disdain, knowing all-too-well what dangers will lie in store for the new wave of unsuspecting space invaders.

Just look at the record of celluloid space flight: an embarrassing catalogue of disaster, danger, bad news and overacting. It is most notable that the most optimistic predictions of one of science’s greatest visionaries: Arthur C. Clarke fell short when it came to the enlightening subject of humankind’s journey to the stars. No doubt his predictions of humans landing on Mars – by 1994, and then by 2010 – were severely offset by the Apollo 13 crisis, and the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

Who would be a Space Hero? 

You have to ask yourself: if given the chance – knowing how far unmanned space probes have already travelled and how much data they have accumulated, while manned space missions will be way too costly – would you still want to venture into space?  

The latter stages of the Apollo space program yielded very little of scientific value to our knowledge of space, so – bearing in mind that clearly defined objectives should be set out well in advance – what use/benefits would these new missions strive to achieve?

Anybody know what the inflight movie is?
Anybody know what the inflight movie is?

“This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it” – H.A.L. 9000.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) featured the first manned mission to Jupiter, but the Discovery was at the mercy of the shifty computer: HAL 9000. There is no more lonely, frightening experience than being stuck outside your own ship (without helmet) and trying to reason with a machine that refuses to open the pod bay doors…

A year later, the movie Marooned told the story of three astronauts trapped in orbit when they lose control of their vessel. A fourth man goes up in an untried craft to try and rescue them; it gained an Oscar for its special effects.

Too much time, but no space
Too much time, but no space

“You know, when Apollo 17 landed on the Moon, people were calling up the networks and bitching because reruns of I Love Lucy were cancelled. Reruns, for Christ’s sake!” – Dr. James Kelloway.

Capricorn One (1978) was a taut and compelling conspiracy thriller about a hoax manned mission to Mars. Just before launch, the three-man crew are advised to evacuate their rocketship and informed that they had faulty equipment. In order to save the space program (especially its funding), the reluctant astronauts have to act out the Martian landing at a remote studio in the desert. But then they realise that in order to make this phoney show convincing, they will have to be bumped off, so they make good their escape. Despite going separate ways, they are hunted down by mysterious pursuers in black…

See how dangerous it is? Especially when you consider that none of these guys even got off the ground for cryin’ out loud!

Galactic hero Kevin Bacon
Galactic hero Kevin Bacon

“We just put Sir Isaac Newton in the driver’s seat” – Jim Lovell.

Eventually we come to the movie: Apollo 13 (1995), based on the actual drama that unfolded in 1971. Interestingly, for the synopsis, refer to Marooned; however, in this case, there was no rescue vessel. Jim Lovell and his crew-mates – along with Mission Control – had to work out how they would make it back in one piece.

You’d think that having the legendary Intergalactic Hero Kevin Bacon onboard would be enough to ensure boundless good fortune for any mission, but no, they had to be lumbered with Bill Paxton, the only movie star to be killed off by both Predator and Alien…

Before this far-reaching, but near-missing, Post blasts off into the hyperspace of the Blogosphere, it should be said that in the forthcoming SF thriller: Interstellar a wormhole will be tested to find out if the next stage of space travel can be reached. Considering how none of the above examples made it through without any major difficulties, all that can be said here is:

“Good luck with that!”

 

Freak Out In A Moonage Daydream

When we’re asleep, we can do almost anything.   

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“Is that all we see or seem just a dream within a dream?” – Edgar Allan Poe.

Whatever the mind can conceive, so it is said, the mind will achieve. With special visual effects achieving new heights on screen due to the amazing advances in digital technology, the astonishing – and deadly – images of what can be conjured from the oneiric zone are formulating with increasing style and complexity. This subject had to be tackled here at some point.

The greatest minds in Classic Science Fiction have conceived some of the most stunning literary visions in the genre, and the movies have tried, with varying degrees of success, to translate those visions to the big screen. Yet when the whole movie derives its entire structure from the content of dreams (and dreams within dreams) as the two diverse, yet inextricably linked, examples included here show, SF can explore neuroscientific possibilities.

Naturally, when rummaging around to find those movies most suitable for this Post, the first classic scenes that sprang to mind emanate from horror movies. This should come as no surprise; our deepest and darkest fears manifest themselves through the most common random creations of the subconscious brain: nightmares.

inceptiondreamscape

“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate” – Cobb.

While we eagerly await Chris Nolan’s Interstellar later this year, his complex dream-invading noir opus: Inception (2010) deserves scrutiny here. It deals with planting an idea in someone else’s mind, rather than stealing them, which is the specialist skill of the main character: Cobb, played by the unlikely, yet rewarding, choice of Leonardo di Caprio.

While this movie should be celebrated for presenting a more cerebral adventure, for once the incorporation of CGI here is well utilised, and represents the benefits to be gained from them in modern movie-making. Deservedly praised for its technical achievements, there are some particularly mesmerising imagery on offer. As one reviewer aptly put it, Inception is: “the film by which to measure the density of all others.”

This instantly brought to mind that little SF thriller: Dreamscape (1984) which quite similarly brought in the talents of a young psychic who could break into other peoples dreams. The plot was very interesting: tormented by nightmares, the US President agrees to let Alex Gardner (played by the then seemingly ubiquitous Dennis Quaid) enter his mind and sort out the problem from within. The Defense Secretary sends a psychic loon to assassinate the President and his protector within the “dreamscape”.

Technically, some may say that its special effects have not stood the test of time, but then, for the early 80s – and considering its criminally undervalued status – they retain a charm all of their own. The script is pretty snappy too.

astro

“Psychotherapists… have developed innovative approaches to dreams beyond mere interpretation. These are grounded in the implicit assumption that waiting for a patient to produce a dream makes as much sense as keeping a computer off until it decides to turn itself on” – Harvey Greenberg.   

Is there room here for that modern classic: The Matrix (1999)? Perhaps, its main protagonists enter the titular system via sleep mode; and intriguingly, there is a central character named Morpheus – in Greek mythologyMorpheus was the God of Dreams who could manifest himself in the dreams of kings as a messenger of the Olympian gods.

However, the emphasis in these bleak, dystopian proceedings is on simulation – there is no inherent oneiric activity. Not to worry, there will be an excuse to feature this dazzling mix of combat, technology and philosophy in a future Post.

Where do we go when we dream? Ha, the many nights spent lying awake (or – more likely – propped up against the computer screen) trying to ponder that one out…

No prizes for working out whether androids do dream of electric sheep, but some Comments would be very much appreciated before you drift away to the Land of Nod.

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Sweet dreams…