Monday, 30 March 2009

VHS Video Nostalgia: Click, Whirr, Fizz

I must be getting old. The first signs of nostalgia for a faded medium is making its presence felt. With my parents it has always been Vinyl (and the odd 8-track), and while my mother still has issues using a video recorder, it seems to have passed her by that the humble VHS cassette is now hopelessly dated. Hell, a lot of people aren’t even using physical media any more, let alone videos. The thing is, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the humble VHS tape.

This isn’t just down to the video library I built up during my teenage years, but also the fact that as a media, videos were pretty damn reliable. Yes, they would get chewed up and spat out by angry video recorders (VCRs to the rest of you), yes you sometimes forgot to knock out the record tab and taped over something beloved, but on the whole they were great.

I still have some tapes from being 13-15 years old, which places some of them at 15 years old in my collection. They still work perfectly. The films they contain have dated, but those tapes still play as well as they did when I first got them. Gah, see? What did I tell you? I’m getting old.

While some DVDs do carry trailers, they really aren’t as cool as the ones you used to find on obscure SF and horror flicks, rented from the cheap bins at the old video shop. The trailers on those things were sublime morsels of undiluted joy and wonder. The films they were advertising were probably terrible (more than likely), but the art of the trailer editor was at a peak on those things. They could make the worst pile of mindless trash seem like the most glorious piece of film ever made. Plus, the fact that you couldn’t even get hold of half of those films made the trailers seem that little bit more exotic.

Yes, you couldn’t fit much on the things, but that satisfying Click, Whirr, Fizz sound still fills me with joy. You could get excited by the box art, the trailers, the dodgy films and TV shows held within, and appreciate them in all their fuzzy, badly copied glory.

Mind you, I don’t miss screwing around with tracking. Dear God, tracking was a nightmare to sort out.

Tell me why I loved VHS again?

Stolen Fate preview on Scribd

You can now also check out the preview chapter to my new novel, STOLEN FATE, over at Scribd!

Stolen Fate by Andrew Hawnt Preview Chapter

Saturday, 28 March 2009

TV, I don't miss you

While it may make me seem like some kind of social freak, I must tell you that I don't watch TV. Well, I do, but generally the images on my screen are those of long-ended sitcoms or films from yesteryear (You know, that trustworthy period aka 'way back when'). There are exceptions- Doctor Who, The IT Crowd, and, erm, that's about it. I have well worn DVDs of the three series of Black Books, various Red Dwarf series, Spaced (I am an Enormous Spaced Fanboy. An ESF, if you will), Blackadder and a bunch of titles that ended their runs before I was born, or at least soon after.

Many people I know are huge TV fanatics, and while I am a little envious of the Battlestar Galactica club (I did see the first season before quitting watching TV- I loved that, but never followed it up and am now too far out of the loop to get back into it), I can't say that my life is all that worse off for not being addicted to Lost, Heroes, Hollyoaks, Coronation Street, Big Brother, Celebrity Nose Picking or anything else that has been littering various channels in recent years. In fact, I feel rather netter for it. Thanks to the internet I am able to moderate the stream of mindless waffle that I am exposed to (and yes, I acknowledge that there's way more waffle online). Thanks to podcasts and streaming media I'm up to date with the news, and am probably privy to a wider range of opinions in doing so.

A lack of TV shows clogging my daily and weekly routines has freed me up to do the other important things in life, such as cooking properly, scratching myself luxuriously and getting through some of the stack of books that I keep buying and never getting around to reading.

You see, I am somewhat at a loss as to how people do the TV thing now. With a bajillion channels hurling a constant stream of lurid vomit into your eyes, how do you find the time to sleep, work, brush your teeth or indeed switch channels? I am genuinely curious. I was once a complete TV junkie, soaking up series after series of dross (Buffy, Angel, Highlander: The Raven, Star Trek: Voyager) with the odd nugget of joy (Father Ted, Men Behaving Badly, Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), but after switching it off (or at least ending my love affair with the latest episodes of whatever), I seem to have lost the knowledge of cramming life with those of onscreen fictional characters.

I am, however, curious to check out some of the series that have been consistently appreciated by friends, such as House, Life on Mars and the like. But my problem is, for every good show that comes along, there seems to be twenty five that scare me off again. Sex and the City? Gossip Girl? Reality Pitchfork Dancing? Bah. Give me a 70s sitcom and leave me with my scorn.

I fear the TV addicts of today are hiding a grim secret. They have evolved beyond the rest of us. As they sit before their 125-inch LCD MindBender 5000 screen, I imagine their heads splitting open, revealing hundreds of quivering tentacles, each boasting a pair of tiny eyes and a tiny remote control, their open skull writhing with screen junky minions. Their TV set then opens at the sides and hundreds of tiny televisions extend on flexible wires, settling in front of each Head Worm. Only then can the true TV watcher be able to suck in all of the required shows at once. Only then will they be able to keep up with all of the Reality Show nonsense at once. While Celebrity Career Suicides On Ice plays to one, another will be glued to CSI: Basingstoke and another to Imbeciles On Parade, and yet others will be glued to more. You see what you've done to people, TV? You've mutated them, turned them into drooling, incoherent alien beasts with heads full of worms.

Actually, maybe my lack of a regular TV fix has done that in my head in a vain attempt to keep my brain docile enough not to scream at passers-by and hurl my own shoes at them in sheer frustration at their obsession with the lives of people they don't know and will never meet.

I love you TV, but I don't miss you.

Friday, 27 March 2009

More superhero flicks like WATCHMEN please.

So, the hoo-ha surrounding WATCHMEN is dying down a bit. I've written extensively about the film and the importance of the graphic novel in my daytime guise as a geek columnist for a certain movie collectibles and memorabilia blog, so my stance on the film is known (I absolutely loved it, both times I have seen it thus far). Now that we can look at the film a bit more sensibly (following on from the OMG IT'S WATCHMEN mania many of us succumbed to), it has made me crave more superhero/comic adaptations that are made with a similar level of respect.

One of the reasons Zack Snyder's film succeeded so well is that it is very respectful to the source material, and that shines through in every meticulously crafted frame. I'd love to see that same care applied to other properties.

While many comic book film projects are made with affection and a certain respect, Watchmen's crew went above and beyond the call of duty, thus the end product is three hours of art. Slightly different to things like Ghost Rider. Hmm. Similarly, Iron Man was about as spot-on as an Iron Man film could be, due to the crew understanding the material and Robert Downey Jr being fully aware of what Tony Stark needed to be like. It is this respect and knowledge of the source material that elevates a comic book adaptation from a bit of fun to something truly spectacular.

People already know the stories of the great graphic novels, so there is a huge level of anticipation involved. Annoy the diehard core of fans and the larger audience won't be interested. Get the diehards on your side and the larger viewing public will take note. While I can appreciate it can be a logistical nightmare making a film at all, you might as well go all the way and make a good one.

More like these. Pretty please?

Monday, 16 March 2009

Battlestar Galactica - A Modern Science Fiction Masterpiece

When it was first announced that after years of speculation there would be a new Battlestar Galactica miniseries, science fiction and genre TV fans weren't too sure whether or not it would be worth the effort. After all, as beloved as the original TV series was, it was far from brilliant. With lovably questionable production values, an uneven cast and some very patchy writing, it was little more than an enjoyable diversion for those fans drawn into SF by Star Wars. A short lived first run in 1978 was followed by the spectacularly bad Galactica 80, which is really best left forgotten. If you had told us at the start that a remake of this patchy SF yarn would become the greatest science fiction TV franchise around, many of us would have laughed in your face.

But here we are. After the miniseries showed so much promise, the new era of Battlestar Galactica became a cult hit, then an international phenomenon as each successive season brought in new fans, eager to catch up with the drama. How the hell did this happen? Aside from the extremely high production values on this new vision of Galactica, it was down to a great cast, superb scripts and a very nice twist on the classic formula. Things were turned on their head somewhat, but it worked, and worked beautifully.

DVD sales of the new Battlestar Galactica series have proven the show's popularity with contemporary audiences, and the retooling of the original concepts from the first Galactica show were given enough of a modern sheen that fans became addicted. Hats off to the writers and stars of Ronald D Moore's new Battlestar Galactica- they have brought us the definitive Science Fiction TV event of the decade, as well as a new generation of genre TV stars such as Tricia Helfer and Katee Sackhoff, who have won the hearts of sci-fi fans the world over.

There is talk of a new feature film based on the original incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, but this seems awfully counter-productive, taking into account just how popular the new version of the series is. Why not just leave the franchise to close with the end of the new era? Let it end properly. New fans don't want to see the classic series brought back again- they are more than happy with the incredible new model.

Despite the Cylons being redesigned, the story changed a little, and the complexity ramped up a thousandfold, the new Battlestar Galactica won legions of new fans for a franchise many thought long since dead, and through extras such as the spin-off project Razor (plus other forthcoming films) and the upcoming prequel series Caprica, the Battlestar Galactica story will continue to echo in the science fiction pantheon long after the series has ended.

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Andrew writes for the popular STARSTORE collectibles site and their many blogs, covering movies, TV, comics, geek culture, action figures, Battlestar Galactica merchandise, music and more! He is also a globally published music journalist and SF author.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Oh for the days of yore: Classic Comedy and its place in my life

I am currently reading Barry Cryer’s rather wonderful memoir ‘Pigs Can Fly’, a book recounting many tales of his adventures as a comedy writer and much-loved British personality. I love the man and his work. I think he’s little short of brilliant, and the book is making me want to immerse myself in even more comedy that I presently do. Make no mistake, I love comedy that is well written, well presented and funny. Unfortunately there are few modern examples of the comedic art that have filled my life with anything approaching the joy of the classics.

There are some exceptions, namely Black Books, The IT Crowd, but then I’m sent back further for Father Ted, Spaced, Men Behaving Badly and Bottom as examples. Before that we’re talking about the 80s, which, while it was nightmarish in many respects, was a great time for new comedy to come out. Prior to that, there’s the joys of the 70s and so on, with the obvious classics such as Fawlty Towers topping my internal list.

The Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise are heroes that I share with my significant other, who is also a writer (and she is much, much funnier than myself) and lover of good comedy. At the risk of destroying some of the mystique around the art of comedy, I do think that all of these things are brilliantly written and brilliantly executed, but part of their charm is perhaps that they do also provide a snapshot of a world that doesn’t exist any more.

This is why I love the fact that we have such access to recordings of the greats that are no longer with us, to enjoy over and again. It is perhaps that longing for simpler times and simpler concerns that has helped these comedies achieve their longevity, with many people longing for the days before the internet, before a million TV channels and so on.

In these atrociously stressful times, shouldn’t we make more comedy, more light-hearted entertainment? I’m not calling for a return to the Music Halls of long ago, but variety would be a boon to the current climate. Stuff reality TV, give us something that we can laugh at and enjoy for years to come. Remember shows such as Opportunity Knocks, or New Faces? How about some more things like those? New ACTS, not new AUDITIONS.

It’s not like there isn’t already enough material out there to inspire new writers and creators- it is just a shame that there aren’t as many avenues for them to get new work made. Look at those classics, those great comics and actors, they must have been doing something right, or we wouldn’t still be appreciating their work. Learn, create, and make someone laugh. Now THAT is a route to a better world.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

New Wolverine Trailer

X-Men Origins: Wolverine trailer on USA Today site

I don't know what Harry Knowles was complaining about- the fullscreen version looks fine! The trailer itself is pretty good, but some of those effects shots look *really* unfinished. Plus, CYCLOPS is in it? WTF? How did that slip by me? Gah. Doesn't that sort of screw up continuity with the first X-men film? Nice to see those glimpses of Deadpool post-scarring though. Shame nobody's really going to pay much attention to the film this year though. I sense a mediocre box office for it and a much better run on DVD/Blu-Ray.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The X-Files 3: Why the third movie needs to be made

As much as I loved The X-Files: I Want To Believe (and I absolutely adored that film), it didn't exactly set the box office alight, did it? No. Barely at all, really. Its low budget, subdued storyline and low-key action didn't grab audiences by the throat, despite it remaining true to the characters and reintroducing them to the general public in style. I can understand this, even though it irritates the hell out of me. That film was a tiny production lost in a sea of blockbusters, and really would have probably fared better had it been a TV movie instead of a full-blown cinema release.

This is why a third X-File movie needs to be made. The X-Files was a cultural phenomenon, something that the world was fascinated by for several years, before it petered out with those weaker final seasons. It deserves a proper ending, one that will satisfy the fans that have stuck with it, and one that will finally do justice to the major arcs of the franchise.

There were rumours when the sequel came out that it was a low-key precursor to a big budget third X-Files film, which was said to deal with a full-scale alien invasion. That may be a bit over the top for The X-Files, but perhaps a story concerning proof of an impending invasion being discovered, and the subsequent chase to prevent it, could be just what the franchise needs to go out with a real bang. The characters and the idea behind the X-Files is too strong and too important to be left to fade away, and a third film would cap it off perfectly.

A problem that many people had with I Want To Believe was the small scale. With an almost complete lack of special effects, no alien or supernatural involvement, it played much more like a mid-season episode than an event film, which was a shame, but I guess this was necessary when taking into account the (comparitively) miniscule budget that the makers had to play with. Mulder and Scully need one last hurrah. Give them torches, trenchcoats and a few clues, and let them save the day once and for all.