Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Whatever happened to cinematic Space Opera?

Taking in the usual rash of summer blockbusters, there is a distinct lack of spaceships. Granted, this is the era of the superhero movie, which I’m most definitely in favour of, but there isn’t really anything around right now to satiate the hunger for great big spaceships. Nothing original anyway. On TV there’s Battlestar Galactica. A remake. In the cinemas we have The Clone Wars. A spin-off. Now, between the million remakes and sequels, there really should be a new Space Opera to tantalise us with tales of galaxies far far away that never had the merest whiff of a Gungan about them.

It has been over thirty years since Star Wars destroyed everything in its path, and thus isn’t it time we had something new to be in awe of? There is more than enough source material out there for the lazy exec who doesn’t want to risk having something original written and made. There are literally thousand of books and series of books that would make incredible film franchises. With the shrinking cost of Cg effects and their rise in quality over the past few years, it is more feasible than ever to make something on a grand scale.  You can have digital sets and digital extras. Hell, film the whole thing in front of a green screen and give the cast toy guns. It is now possible to create the most magical worlds that the imagination can dream up, so why aren’t more Space Operas being made? The audience is certainly out there.

Execs: Think of the lucrative merchandising rights involved, if you’re not sold on the idea of a rollicking adventure with a great script. Filmmakers: Think of the adoration and appreciation you would garner by creating the next Star Wars. Think of the generations you could inspire to do the same, and to do better. Believability be damned- give us something that kids will be playing in the streets for years to come. Give us heroes and villains, dastardly plots and immeasurable odds. Give us royalty and hotshots and dreamers and rogues, and give them the universe as their playground. Give us energy weapons and lightspeed drives and political intrigue in the corridors of galactic power. Give us new dreams to dream, and we will lap them up.

Turn to your slush piles. Turn to the submissions of excited creators’ CG examples and scripts and designs. Turn to the new generation to help provide the next one with a new legend to enjoy. Just please, give us some great big spaceships to dive into and take us away from the unholy mess the world is in right now. Escapism please. We know what life is like down here. How about giving us a taste of what it is like across the stars?

Saturday, 16 August 2008

FREE SCIENCE FICTION STORY- 'ECHO'

Offered here free of charge is a story from my anthology ACROSS THE SEAS OF MIND, which is available to order in print and download here! I hope you enjoy the story and will check out the book. A rather sombre piece of science fiction, Echo was fun to write and carries many ingredients that fascinate me and permeate much of my work- themes of destruction and learning, time travel and technology. I hope it is to your liking.

ECHO
By Andrew Hawnt
From the collection 'Across The Seas of Mind'

They fell silent for a moment, listening for the first hiss of static to surge through the library’s ancient systems. The books were already laid out in rows, open, ready to be filled with memories. The gathered had prepared the sanctuary with haste, as this wave of knowledge had been unexpected. The Librarians waited now, robed and hooded and solemn, as the planet’s gargantuan receptors opened up to their full scope, and the temporal and spatial distortion that had been hurtling towards them began to fill their halls with information.

The receptors crackled and rumbled beyond vast city walls, refining the distortion into actual images, words, thoughts, memories. Whatever this mass of chaos was, wherever it had originated, it contained an incredible amount of history, and the librarians were adamant that they would gather it all for the education of all and the cataloguing of every instance in history. This wave was a special find indeed.

As it grew in the massive engines beneath the city, purified by the oval-shaped receptors that soared kilometers into the sky beyond the Librarians’ citadel, turbines masked by crystal began to whir over the sanctuary, and the books began to be etched with symbols, words, stories and undulating pictures. The crystal screens over the turbines hummed, and the Librarians watched in awe as images of the past sprang to life over them in a massive scale, echoes of a distant world’s past recounted for all to see, all to know.

Pages flipped, chapters were filled and the story played out all around them in
Shimmering, ghostly apparitions. Those ethereal murals relinquished the secrets of the powerful wave that had delivered these memories, and told a story that none of the Librarians could have expected.

The wave was an echo of home.

Three centuries had passed since they had colonized this barren world and transformed it into the quadrant’s most prosperous and respected Library planet, and the barbarity of home had long since faded, replaced by discussion, debate, deliberation, and learning of a high order. The days of brother and sister against brother and sister were things of the past, things only spoken of in the countless tomes that filled every structure on the face of the planet.

Yet here they were, playing out all around the thirty-five most senior Librarians, stood watching wide-eyed as war ravaged their ancestral home. Weapons so terrible that they made the Librarians physically want to run from their ghosts as they rampaged across a landscape that had once been beautiful. Cities lay in ruins as millions of soldiers faced off against one another with all manner of guns, knifes, disruptors, grenades and more.

One of the LibTechs scrolled through the control sphere linked to this manifestation, and the image shifted to a terrifying structure which had been the focal point of the event that had created the echo wave. A glowing sphere held in place by vast pylons that stretched into the sky. Generators the size of cities powering the machine, which warped reality around itself. A temporal bomb.

What could have possibly happened to humanity that would be so bad as to inspire the use of a time weapon? The Librarians went over the rapidly filling books, hungrily lapping up the words, but nothing was there other than a record of this final day. Nothing was left other than this shockwave that had escaped for the stars. The history of their world was gone, but here, in this remote outpost of learning and records, the history of their world was well documented in many cities-full of books and data systems.

The archives were checked. The history texts remained intact. The Library had escaped any temporal destruction caused by Earth’s own paradox, which was comforting but humbling. They now possessed the only records of humanity in existence, not to mention its last vestiges of civilization.

They watched in horror as the echo of the final moment passed before them. The temporal weapon opened up, revealing a blossom of pure magenta, which unfurled and grew and licked at the ground with tendrils of light. The soldiers, so many thousands of them below the machine, screamed in a vile chorus as their bodies were taken apart molecule by molecule. The shockwave came, and the land was decimated. The cities vanished, the people disintegrated, and space folded upon itself around the dying world as the very planet crumbled. The anomaly caused by the weapon ripped humanity apart. Men. Women. Children. Civilization. Religion. Love. Hate. Belief. Hope. All gone.

A halo of screaming time hurtled out in all directions and the image went blank, the Librarians having witnessed the birth of the echo wave. The crystal screens fell dormant, generators powering down as the wave passed into nothingness.

All around them, the books closed, filled with the final chapter of their own people, their home, their history. They had missed three hundred years, had lived peacefully in deep space as generation after generation had faced off against one another in endless wars, and now, here in this resting place of knowledge and truth, they would at last find the peace that humanity had always longed for but never found.

One by one, the books were filed away, and the Librarians thought of home.

(C) Andrew Hawnt 2008

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

THE FOREVER GUARDIAN- EPISODE THREE IS HERE

Hey folks, sorry for the delay in getting the third part out. It has been completed for a couple of weeks but some personal matters needed to be attended to in the meantime which couldn't really be avoided. This third episode is where the mystery deepens and all manner of things are revealed to Alison, including what lies ahead for the world and the strange underworld that exists beyond human eyes. This 35 page third episode is only available as an eBook at the moment, and is a mere 99p to purchase. Work is well underway on part four.

Check out The Forever Guardian- Episode Three!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

PAPRIKA - DVD review

A good friend brought this delirious anime to my attention, and from the psychedelic cover art I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, which is a feeling that lasted for the whole film until its mind bending climax. Made in 2006 and helmed by renowned anime director Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers), Paprika is a hallucinogenic, surreal work of genius that needs repeated viewings to truly get your head around it. Based on a 1993 story by Yasutaka Tsutsui, it takes place in the near future and follows a detective and a ‘dream therapist’ as they try to recover a stolen device that allows entry into peoples’ dreams. By literally the second minute, you have no idea what is real and what is a dream, as the story takes delirious turn after delirious turn.

That’s not to say the film is a mess- it really isn’t. It is just that it flies so much in the face of conventional, linear storytelling that you really have to pay attention to stay on top of everything that is going on. The sequences in which the dreams of various people march and march and march in a disturbing and rather macabre procession of ingenious creatures and creations are unforgettable. Those with a fear of dolls will have something to scream about with this film as several of these dream sequences involve masses of talking dolls with terrifying faces.

The character of Paprika herself is a wonderful creation, life affirming and ethereal yet childlike. The use of CG mixed in with the traditional cel shaded animation adds a powerful extra dimension to proceedings, which tend to fly off at mad tangents whenever the fancy takes them. Such is the nature of dreams- unpredictable, unusual and utterly surreal. The art direction in this film is really quite astounding, and the soundtrack and voice actors perfectly suit the visuals, which is where some anime movies fall down dead. This one excels in pretty much every area, but as mentioned before, the story can sometimes be a tad difficult to follow. Stick with it though, and you re in for an anime experience you won’t forget. This is another important feather in Kon’s cap, and needs to be seen to be believed.

As the detective and therapist become ever more involved in the mysterious occurrences in the dreamscape, the real world starts to unravel around them, and the truth of the whole thing is delivered with a satisfying twist both in terms of plot and visual impact. The DVD is presented in lush 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with gorgeous colours and a perfect sound mix. On the extras front it is limited to a Filmmaker commentary, but I can let that slide as quite simply the film is incredible to watch and savour.

I give it 8/10

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

LOST BOYS: THE TRIBE review

This straight to DVD sequel to the 1987 teen horror classic had a rough ride from the start. Many fans were concerned that it would tarnish the reputation of the original, and was a last stab at cashing in on the name before it faded too far into obscurity. It is easy to cast a nostalgic glow over the first film and the cult following it garnered. The Lost Boys is one of those films where the diehard fanbase are going to be very hard to please, let alone impress, with a DVD follow up twenty years after the fact. It wasn’t anything particularly groundbreaking, but the original movie had a strong cast and a nice twist on the tired old vampire yarn. The idea of staying young and partying forever is something that captured many people’s imaginations, and thus from the onset this film was going to get it in the neck (ouch) if it wasn’t up to scratch.

So how does this film fare? Fans and critics alike feared the worst, but have been curious nonetheless. The most powerful image from the first film, and indeed the most memorable character, was played by Kiefer Sutherland, and now the main vampire character, Shane, is played by Kiefer’s younger half-brother, Angus. This is a logical bit of casting, which helps keep this film in the same universe as the first. His portrayal of an undead party animal, and undoubtedly leader of the tribe, is the standout of the film by far.

The film itself is an entertaining piece of fluff that doesn’t try to be something it isn’t, and offers an updated take on the story of the original movie without being a complete rehash. There’s more gore, more sex and more violence than the original, which helps hold the attention. The running time is kept lean and thus the story doesn’t hang around long enough to annoy you. While the cinematography isn't anywhere near as inventive as the original, it suffices.

The inclusion of Corey Feldman, reprising his role from the 1987 film, is highly amusing, and he gets a bunch of incredibly cheesy lines that are delivered with tongue planted firmly in cheek. This is a film about vampires partying and people hunting them down, and vice versa. It doesn’t try to be high art, and hits all the right beats to keep the audience watching until the grisly climax. It is the anarchic streak in the vampires that keeps this grounded as a ‘Lost Boys’ film, a good example of which is the house party scene in which one of them guts another vampire for kicks, then shoving him over into a bush as he tries frantically to pick his own innards up from the patio, while drunken partygoers look on in horror. It is this sense of adolescent shenanigans that also adds some power to Shane’s malevolent presence- he's sinister where the other vamps are just snotty kids. The cast are uniformly okay- serviceable for a DTV sequel.

This is not a perfect film, but as entertainment, it serves its purpose. It is cheap, but doesn’t really look it that often. While not the grand return of the franchise fans were hoping for, it could have been much, much worse.

I give it a 6/10