popcorn

Ultimate Film Guide 2014

Yes, the Ultimate Film Guide is back! This is the ultimate list of all things science fiction, horror, fantasy, speculative, or just plain weird that are coming out this year. Print out and display in a prominent place for maximum film contact.

16 January

Devil’s Due – After a mysterious, lost night on their honeymoon, a newly-wed couple finds themselves dealing with an earlier-than-planned pregnancy. While recording everything for posterity, the husband begins to notice odd behaviour in his wife that they initially write off to nerves, but, as the months pass, it becomes evident that the dark changes to her body and mind have a much more sinister origin. If you’re not already fed up of found footage movies, this might be up your street.

17 January

Collider – There’s no information up for this film. It’s listed as science fiction, and that’s about it.

The Devil’s Bargain - Again, no information about this. I’m guessing it’s probably horror.

20 January

The Station – Scientists working in the German Alps discover that a glacier is leaking a liquid that appears to be affecting local wildlife.

27 January

The Girl at the End of the World - Katie and Dan are in a long distance relationship but when a catastrophic event knocks out all technology, they must find a way across oceans and land to be with each other at the end of the world. This missed the apocolypse trend of 2012 and 2013, but it might still be interesting.

29 January

I, Frankenstein – This was pushed back from last year (never a good sign). It’s about Frankenstein’s monster being a monster hunter, but seeing as they can’t even get the name of the monster right, this looks like pure schlock. Good for a fun night out though.

 

7 February

RoboCop - In 2028 Detroit, when Alex Murphy – a loving husband, father and good cop – is critically injured in the line of duty, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer. You know the story of RoboCop. What remains to be seen is if this remake can match the original.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman - Another film pushed back to a later release date. A film version of the classic American cartoon, this looks about as good as those Smurfs films.

10 February

The Curse of Ba’al - No synopsis for this film yet. It seems to be a bog standard horror film, probably cashing in on the current trend for demons.

14 February

The Lego Movie - An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together. OK, the Lego games are good and funny, but this might be a step too far.

The Pirate Fairy – This is yet another Tinkerbell movie, because Disney is not going to stop milking a successful cash cow. Still, it has Tom Hiddleston and Christina Hendricks in it, so it might be divertingly enjoyable.

The Universe - This is listed as being ‘sci fi’ but has no other information.

17 February

Dragon Day - A family getaway to a mountain town turns deadly when China launches a massive cyberattack against the USA, forcing former NSA engineer Duke Evans to fight to save his wife and daughter in the New World Order.

18 February

The Last Scout - Another science fiction film with no synopsis available. Honestly, what’s so hard about providing a vague summary of a plot?

19 February

Vampire Academy - Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, half human/vampire, guardians of the Moroi, peaceful, mortal vampires living discretely within our world. Her legacy is to protect the Moroi from bloodthirsty, immortal Vampires, the Strigoi. This is her story. The tagline is ‘They Suck at School’. I would suggest that this ought to be shortened.

21 February

Pompeii - Hey look, it’s Titanic with a volcano instead.

Only Lovers Left Alive – A story centred on two vampires who have been in love for centuries. With Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston starring, this film has had some massive hype. It looks fascinating, and is one of my most eagerly anticipated films of the year.

Winter’s Tale - A burglar falls for an heiress as she dies in his arms. When he learns that he has the gift of reincarnation, he sets out to save her.

Welcome to Yesterday - A group of teens discover secret plans of a time machine, and construct one. However, things start to get out of control.

26 February

The Book Thief - Another of my top films for this year. While subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. Under the stairs in her home, a Jewish refugee is being sheltered by her adoptive parents. This film – and the book it’s based on – are narrative by the omnipresent figure of Death. It’s a beautiful story, and hopefully the film does it justice.

28 February

Legacy of Thorn – Four years ago, Jess and her friends lived a nightmare that has left her almost killed by the unstoppable killer ‘Thorn’. Four years later, Jessica and the survivors make an attempt to stop him once and for all.

 

3 March

The Human Race – Battle Royale with running.

6 March

The Hypnophile - ‘The Hypnophile is the first in a series of sick and twisted thrillers where the unexpected darkness becomes a reality and your nightmares are the only rest bite between the utter mayhem and madness that unleashes at the hands of the Hypnophile the owner of your mind, your dreams and your soul. There will be NO ESCAPE FROM HER.’ Of course.

7 March

The Grand Budapest Hotel - The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. It’s a Wes Anderson film, so it’s guaranteed to be weird and wonderful.

300: Rise of an Empire - The Greek general Themistocles battles an invading army of Persians under the mortal-turned-god, Xerxes.

10 March

Memory Lane – An orphaned war-veteran routinely travels between our world and the afterlife in search of his fiance’s killer by stopping and starting his own heart.

14 March

Under the Skin - An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland. Another really interesting film that I would recommend seeing.

The Zero Theorem - A computer hacker’s goal to discover the reason for human existence continually finds his work interrupted thanks to the Management; this time, they send a teenager and lusty love interest to distract him. This is the new Terry Gilliam film. I am an unashamed Gilliam fan, and this is one of 2014′s highlights.

17 March

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero – A flesh-eating virus spreads throughout a cruise ship in the Caribbean after it crashes into an abandoned scientific research boat.

28 March

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier. I AM VERY EXCITE.

Muppets Most Wanted - While on a grand world tour, The Muppets find themselves wrapped into an European jewel-heist caper headed by a Kermit the Frog look-alike and his dastardly sidekick.

Noah - Darren Arnofsky’s retelling of the Biblical myth, where he magically makes ancient Palestine entirely populated by white people.

31 March

Valley of the Demon - Another independent British horror film. This was all the information I could find.

 

1 April

Dead Walkers: Rise of the 4th Reich - It’s a film about zombie Nazis.

4 April

Divergent - Beatrice Prior, a teenager with a special mind, finds her life threatened when an authoritarian leader seeks to exterminate her kind in her effort to seize control of their divided society. Based on a YA book series, I have heard mixed things. It might be a good popcorn flick.

The Double – A comedy centered on a man who is driven insane by the appearance of his doppleganger.

11 April

The Quiet Ones - A University physics professor assembles a team to help create a poltergeist.

18 April

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - Peter Parker runs the gauntlet as the mysterious company Oscorp sends up a slew of supervillains against him, impacting on his life. I’m hoping this film is as good as the first one.

Magic Magic - A naive young tourist’s road trip across Chile with friends turns into a waking nightmare.

25 April

Transcendence – A terminally ill scientist downloads his mind into a computer. This grants him power beyond his wildest dreams, and soon he becomes unstoppable.

28 April

Geek Undead – A mild-mannered IT tech fights zombies.

 

2 May

Frank – A comedy about a young wannabe musician, Jon, who discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank.

16 May

Godzilla – RUN! IT’S GODZILLA!

22 May

X-Men: Days of Future Past – The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants. Another film I am very much looking forward to!

27 May

Soldiers of the Damned – Nazi soldiers and the occult.

30 May

Maleficent – The “Sleeping Beauty” tale is told from the perspective of the villainous Maleficent and looks at the events that hardened her heart and drove her to curse young Princess Aurora.

Edge of Tomorrow – A soldier fighting in a war with aliens finds himself caught in a time loop of his last day in the battle, though he becomes better skilled along the way.

The Midnight Horror Show - The Moreau Family travel around the UK putting on an underground variety show for an adult audience. But behind the curtain there is something more sinister going on than simple entertainment.

 

1 June

AfterDeath – Five young people wake up dead. Washed up by the tide they scramble to an abandoned beach house, soon realising that the perpetual night and blasts of pain suggest this is some version of hell. Between in-fighting and attacks by a demonic shadow creature, they recall the collapse of the nightclub that brought them here – and begin seeing hope of a second chance in the cabin’s two mysterious paintings…

Cute Little Buggers - English knock-off of Gremlins.

The Redwood Massacre – The Redwood Massacre horror story is legend throughout Scotland. Every year party-goers flock to the site on the anniversary of the murders. A group of campers heading for the house soon find themselves being stalked by a mysterious evil.

14 June

Eve – A year on from the outbreak in a lonely world where the remaining survivors of humanity are hunted down by a new evolutionary threat. Our group who are now down to just four stumble onto an abandoned refugee\ evac center looking for food, with deadly consequences.

30 June

C.O.O.L.I.O Time Travel Gangster – A film about London Gangsters, Time Travel and Good verses Evil. As a young disbelieving reporter interviews the oldest man on earth, she unwittingly discovers how history is changing before her very eyes.

 

4 July

How to Train Your Dragon 2 – It’s been five years since Hiccup and Toothless successfully united dragons and vikings on the island of Berk. While Astrid, Snoutlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island’s new favorite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace. Now, Hiccup and Toothless must unite to stand up for what they believe while recognizing that only together do they have the power to change the future of both men and dragons.

10 July

Transformers: Age of Extinction - oh, who really cares at this point?

17 July

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Survivors of the simian plague trigger an all-out war between humanity and Caesar’s growing forces.

25 July

Jupiter Ascending – In a universe where humans are near the bottom of the evolutionary ladder, a young destitute human woman is targeted for assassination by the Queen of the Universe because her very existence threatens to end the Queen’s reign.

 

1 August

Guardians of the Galaxy – In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.

6 August

Nightfall – Two friends discover a vampire conspiracy to enslave the human race.

8 August

Hercules - Having enduring his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord. This film has Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, and Ian McShane, so it sounds pretty epic.

15 August

The Expendables 3 – The third instalment of the action-adventure franchise that follows the exploits of Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, and their associates.

22 August

Deliver Us from Evil – NY police officer Ralph Sarchie, investigates a series of crimes. He joins forces with an unconventional priest, schooled in the rituals of exorcism, to combat the possessions that are terrorizing their city.

29 August

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – The town’s most hard-boiled citizens cross paths with some of its more reviled inhabitants.

 

1 September

Rock Band Vs Vampires – Oh dear.

12 Septmber

The Boxtrolls – A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator. Based on the children’s novel ‘Here Be Monsters’ by Alan Snow.

3 October

Dracula Untold – Vampire mythology combined with the true history of Prince Vlad to tell the ‘origin’ of Dracula.

10 October

Broken Nation – A futuristic Magnificent Seven set in a post apocalyptic Britain.

17 October

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Michael Bay wasn’t content ruining one franchise.

24 October

The Maze Runner – Battle Royale in a maze.

Paranormal Activity 5 – Exactly the same the same things that happened in the last four films are bound to occur in this one. Do not expect any significant changes.

31 October

Invasion of the Not Quite Dead – In 1978 a deadly virus is contained… Thirty years later the virus is released on an unsuspecting island off the coast of England in this ‘unique’ take on the Zombie genre.

Ouija – 9 friends take a camping trip into the woods, only to find they are not alone.

Facility 31 – Guilt-ridden Army prisoner Rosie Hinton has to lead a group of detainees to safety when a clean-up of an abandoned facility unleashes a sinister secret.

 

1 November

Blind Date – Charlie and Maggie are both looking for that special someone, after meeting through a dating website they agree to go on a date. What follows, no one can expect.

7 November

Interstellar – A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

21 November

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One – Katniss Everdeen reluctantly becomes the symbol of a mass rebellion against the autocratic Capitol. One of my top picks for the year.

 

1 December

Hadron – As humanity battles swarms of flesh-eating bugs, a teenage girl is forced to go on the run with her younger sister, and discovers powers of her own that maybe the key to saving the world.

5 December

Exodus - This is a film about Moses, and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. However, I am disgusted that this film has an all-white cast when they are portraying Africans and Palestinians. I really would advise that you avoid both films for their appalling whitewashing.

12 December

Home – A group of aliens seek refuge from their enemies by hiding out on Earth.

19 December

The Hobbit: There and Back Again – Another film I am eagerly waiting for. The trilogy of Hobbit films conclude.

21 December

Tales of Albion – Myths, legends and folklore of Britain re-told in eight interwoven tales.

26 December

Night at the Museum – Hopefully, this is better than the last film.

 

 

 

 

* All information is correct at time of posting, but dates may be altered or changed over the course of the year.

 

peter_capaldi_doctor_large

First Doctor Who Series 8 Photo

The BBC has released the first picture of Peter Capaldi from Series 8 of Doctor Who.

Capaldi, notably in Matt Smith’s costume (presumably so as not to spoil the new costume just yet…) is pictured with Jenna Coleman.

The pair are currently filming the first two episodes of the new series in Cardiff, Wales.

 

City Scape

What If Money Was No Object?

I don’t normally share things like this, since they can be perceived as kind of gimmicky, and it’s certainly not sci-fi.

However, I think it appeals to that sense of hope and aspiration that is at the heart of so much science-fiction.

And perhaps, with those January Blues creeping in, it’ll give a little boost.

Black-Mirror-In-Memoriam-1

Another Look into the Black Mirror

A look back on a Sci-Fi classic America almost missed out on…

Dystopian and Orwellian futures are nothing new to British science fiction. If you follow the news, you might even learn that fiction has given way to fact in some pretty spooky ways. It has become increasingly more difficult to remain private and hide from the beast with a billion electronic eyes. And, of course, there’s no denying how much our own daily lives have been changed by the influx of technology.

Charlie Brooker explored the horrific ramifications of too much tech in his anthology series Black Mirror. Utilizing contemporary notions of everyday technology and media, and his trademark satirical style, Brooker challenged the world we live in today. Bold and innovative, the series was taken up by countries all over the world including Australia, Sweden, Hungary and China.

Despite the popularity of the series, however, it has only recently made its way to the United States, and is currently only viewable on Audience Network . That being said, if you’re living in the States, this might just be your first time hearing about this ground-breaking, sci-fi series. With a new series being strongly hinted at, it’s never been a better time to get acquainted with this darkly brilliant drama.

In a nutshell…

Black Mirror has been likened to The Twilight Zone in terms of its anthology format and the shocking twists that always leave the viewer hungry for more. There is no continuity between the episodes in terms of plot or character and the only thing shared is a certain sense of dread.

blackmirror2The series looks at technology…or rather, the ease it allows, not as a luxury but a drug. In a world where children in elementary school are walking around with pocket-sized personal computers, it’s hard not to imagine the unforeseen consequences of all this technology. These are the consequences explored in each episode.

Journeying through the Black Mirror…

When you first start watching Black Mirror, it might feel like something you’ve heard and seen before. Ostensibly, it might feel like another ageist attack on the millennial geeks and their fanatical adherence to smartphones and social media, until you get deeper into it. That’s when you realize Black Mirror isn’t so much a cautionary tale but a call for human beings to remember their humanity.

blackmirror3Episodes explore various aspects of the technological infrastructure that has become our daily lives. How easy it is for people to lynch and crucify one another in digital arenas and use their tech until it filters every piece of human speech into ironic and meaningless sound bites. How monstrous it must seem that the idealized image of a person is the pinnacle of our engagement with them as an individual. Indeed, what is there left of humanity when all of our discourse and interaction is filtered into nothing more than baseless apps and acts?

However, it’s not the users or the technology itself that Brooker is holding accountable – it’s the companies and corporations. It’s the syndicates and the businesses that see the users as nothing more than notches in a binary bedpost, a statistic for business. The ones who cheapen our ostensibly passionate arguments and discussions by trivializing them through the use of apps and tech – things that invite the user to unknowingly and mentally punch out.

Black Mirror is a journey into the bleak and darkest recess left in the absence of humanity…

A much-needed return…

There have been rumblings of Black Mirror‘s return and Brooker is certainly ready to re-enter the ring. No doubt, he will find plenty to work with in light of recent events in the world of surveillance. While the series might come off as cynical, the message is more of a hopeful call to humanity.

Technology is everywhere – there’s no getting away from it. We are closer than we ever were before because of it and, as a result, our dealings – be they kind or spiteful – have far-reaching and more intimate ramifications than we realize.

Alien_Drawing_Monster_Creepy_horror_sci_fi_dark_death_1920x1080

Movie Screams

I got an e-mail from the creator of Movie Screams, which purports to be the world’s first online horror and sci fi film theatre, and who are now screening sci-fi and horror videos, with uploads every week that showcase work by video artist, filmmakers, animators, actors, screenwriters and horror fans around the globe.

Now, the quality of the videos featured varies substantially, but it’s a nifty idea, and I quite like the simplicity of the approach.

Probably a good site to keep an eye on, if you’re a fan of the content and/or the genre.

Click on the image below to jump through to the site:

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 03.22.11

il_fullxfull.380028488_bs1o

3 Sci-Fi Ships Perfect for Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve!  To celebrate the holiday season, we take a look at the three sci-fi ships most suited to live in during the festive season!

ds9xmas

1. Deep Space Nine (ST: DS9)

Okay, so it might not be a ship, but where better to spend your Christmas!  Imagine the Promenade lined up with decorations, festive shops and a warm gingerbread coffee (with some Kanar, of course!) at Quark’s!

Those dark corridors could quickly look quite cosy with some multicoloured LED lighting!

38vty

2. Serenity (Firefly)

I’d imagine Serenity could be quite festive once Kaylee had time to get everything set up!  A homely ship, with plenty of nooks and crannies to hide presents and decorate, park on a snowy, forest planet and enjoy the 25th December.

VSL_Dessus

3. Destiny (Stargate Universe)

She may not look like much, but I’m talking more about the ship before it became deserted and broken.

With an arboretum and Ancient technology, you could create a nice wintery forest for the season and camp out there!  With the beautiful backdrop of the ship travelling between star systems overhead, it’s hard to picture a more tranquil and festive scene!

1 - tauriel

Tauriel – A Feminist Critique

The Lord of the Rings as a franchise doesn’t age well when subjected to critiques of feminism and racism; it is unfortunate that the original books were a product of a society that was entrenched in some very nasty attitudes towards those who were not eminently respectable white gentlemen. This does not mean that Tolkien and Lord of the Rings are ‘bad’, just that it’s an intensely male and white franchise. It is what it is, and it is as much a period piece as it is a great fantasy work.

So, along comes the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. They are undeniably great films, but have a definite gender problem. Middle Earth is a very male place indeed and there are four named women who hold prominence; Arwen, an elfish princess who is the love interest of Aragorn, Éowyn, a shield maiden of Rohan who is romantically interested in Aragorn and ends up pushed to the side to be with Faramir, Galadriel, who… gives presents and has wise voice overs, and Rosie, who is the love interest of Samwise (much to the disappointment of a generation of young women Tolkien could never have predicted). Can you see what the problem is here? Saving Galadriel, who barely features in the second and third films, the women have a function as love interests to men. And while I think Éowyn is an outstanding character, and she serves a vital function in the destruction of Sauron, she does get shoved off to Faramir right at the end. It’s as if the giant misogynistic finger of God descended from the heavens, pointed at poor old Miranda Otto in her battle gear, and loudly proclaimed for all to hear, ‘Well done, you have killed the Witch King in order to defy the boundaries of your patriarchal society. Now you can settle into babies and retirement with this man that you barely know. I hope you like beards!’.

Now, I know you’ll be saying that this is a silly criticism to make. The films were written by a predominately female writing team, can’t I be happy with that? And it’s not like Peter Jackson can just insert a female character just to fulfil your silly girly fantasies of riding around Middle Earth without washing and not having to settle for the first man that is free. They are a fairly accurate and loving adaptation of Tolkien’s epic trilogy, and the women can only perform the role proscribed by the canon text.

Aha. Aha.

When it came to making The Hobbit into a film, the Jackson writing team decided that they would turn it into three films. There are plenty of pros and cons of that decision, but the team decided that a major problem was a lack of female representation. They could bring in Galadriel, as they adapted parts of The Silmarillion in order to make the films serve as a direct prequel to the original trilogy, but The Hobbit is a 100% sausage fest. It was absolutely unacceptable that there would be a three film series with only one named woman of importance. The question was, were would the original female character be inserted? The Mirkwood elves were the best choice, seeing as they play an important role in the second and third films, and expansions could be easily made. Enter Tauriel, the female captain of the guard, and an absolutely guaranteed ass kicker. Evangeline Lily took the role on the promise that her character would not be involved into overly complicated romance plots; after all, she was well known for playing Kate on the show Lost and was unfortunately despised for her boomeranging between Sawyer and Jack. Tauriel was going to be exciting and wonderful and remind all us twenty something female fans of the moment when we saw Éowyn or Arwen swing their swords and for a precious moment knew that strength, nobility, and courage does not solely come in a male package.

I sat anxiously on opening night, with my box of popcorn and my packet of Minstrels, and… well, Tauriel certainly does kick a lot of orc backside, but she unfortunately falls right into Beaton syndrome. What is Beaton syndrome? Kate Beaton, the artist and writer behind Hark A Vagrant!, identified that ‘strong’ women in films (‘strong’ being a synonym for ‘I may be a sexy [insert job here] but I can also kill a lot of things with my pinky finger’) often invariably get pushed into a relationship with one of the convenient men around her for no apparent reason. A woman’s existence must be vindicated by her connection to a male character, and love is an appropriate avenue.

Tauriel, for all that she is captain of the guard, falls squarely into ‘love interest’ territory. Not only is she the token woman on display – where are the elves of Mirkwood hiding all their other women, I wonder? – but she is double the amount of love interest. Tauriel, despite the promises Peter Jackson made to Lily, is the focus of a love triangle. The Prince of Mirkwood has feelings for a lowly, common elf, while she finds herself attracted to the bad boy dwarf prince. This is the kind of cliché I cut my teeth on as a fiction writer, and has all the bad smell of studio hacks all over it. After all, love triangles produce huge box office returns; the despised Twilight ‘saga’ brought in the big bucks with their ridiculous ‘Teams’, and the Hunger Games is marketed to teenage girls as being the intense struggle Katniss has between Peeta and Gale. If you want to bring in an audience of teenage girls, who have lots of money to spend, then you must include this latest market fad.

That is what Tauriel feels like. She feels like the creation of network executives. She has a love triangle. She is another archer, in a market where archery is very popular. She can be sold as a toy to both boys and girls, making the most profit the company can get from the great Tolkien cash cow. She is vaguely conflicted. Tauriel feels like something created by a group of men ticking boxes for maximum demographic appeal.

It is noticeable in a year where Bryan Fuller, the noted cult TV writer, has created a new adaptation of Thomas Harris’s ‘Hannibal’ novels. The Harris books, similar to the works of Tolkien, reflect the attitudes and society of the age in which they were written – in this case, the world of law enforcement in the 1980s. Fuller knew that the Hannibal books are not diverse to successfully reflect the modern world, and genders and ethnicities of characters have been changed. It makes not a lick of difference to the show, other than to highlight what other franchises are getting wrong.

This is a tragedy to what could have been a stunning achievement as a character. Tauriel, when taken away from the love aspect of her subplot, is an elf who dreams of seeing beyond the confines of her forest home. She wants to experience a whole new world. She knows the rank hypocrisy of the system that holds her up and yet would refuse to aid those who do not conform. Like the greatest of Tolkien’s characters, she looks beyond herself to fight against evil. In the film, her feelings about the evil that is spreading across Middle Earth must be related to how it impacts on the men in her life, not upon her own instincts. All that she does must be joined with a thick line to a man, denying her any agency of her own. She does not achieve the noble aim of diversifying Middle Earth.

However, this does not mean that I dislike Tauriel as a character. Yes. I know. That does sound massively contradictory considering I’ve spent over a thousand words summarising why she fails under a feminist critique. But there is something in my gut that means I cannot dislike a woman working and striving to achieve something in a masculine world that attempts to deny her presence. As soon as I saw her, kicking orc arse and being a general badass, I liked Tauriel. She is a lone woman surviving in a world that does not accept the different. She is a woman struggling with the pain of letting down those she cares about. She finds the token that humanises a creature she despises, and makes her turn away from an age-old animosity between races. She finds herself connected to someone she might lose because of old and powerful evil that she cannot fight against alone. Evangeline Lily is an immensely talented actress, and makes a part that feels so small and so proscribed so utterly real. Despite myself, I found myself believing in the connection that she made with Kili. To tell the truth, even though it was riddled with problems and felt like the decision of a network board, I found it utterly adorable. There is nothing like impossible, difficult, tragic love to melt my bitter heart.
No matter her faults under a feminist critique, Tauriel embodies the best traits of Tolkien’s characters; compassion, courage, a willingness to express and feel love, and the determination to fight for what she knows is right, no matter what the personal cost may be. When my young niece is old enough to watch these films with me, I will not be upset or angry if she wishes to be like Tauriel. I would only wish that she would take those values, and demand more from the unequal world around her.

DS9wormhole

Retro Review: Far Beyond The Stars

Original Airdate: February 11, 1998.

I’ve recently had the time to enjoy some Star Trek: Deep Space Nine reruns on SyFy here in the UK.  At present, they’re working their way through Season Six, probably my favourite season of any of the Star Trek shows.

Today, I noticed that Far Beyond The Stars was on.  I quickly announced that my housemate’s television plans for the evening were cancelled: we’d be watching this episode.

I remembered it fondly, and having not watched it for about ten years, I was curious to see how it had aged.

Splendidly is the answer.

It remains a fine hour of science fiction, and of Star Trek, and ranks up there with the best.  A challenging and thought-provoking look at racial struggle in mid-20th Century United States, all through the lens of hope that Star Trek offers.

Not only does it excel in its handling of the subject matter, it also excels as a piece of storytelling.  It’s fair to say that it is magnificently written with superb pacing.  The hour flies past, and I picked up on several parallels I missed when I was younger.  For instance, Sisko’s dreams of Benny Russell reflect the challenges he himself goes through.  He speaks to his father at the beginning of the episode of how every time he feels he’s achieved a victory, something happens that knocks him back to the start.  So too with Benny, as his glimpses of hope are shattered by circumstances outside his control.  And with the main villain of Deep Space Nine, the Dominion, being predominantly present far away in the Gamma Quadrant – an ominous distant danger represented by the limited forces they have in the Alpha Quadrant (Dukat, Weyoun et al) – in his dream the owner of the magazine, who is never depicted on screen, has the power to quash Benny’s hopes through his mouthpiece of the magazine editor, played by Rene Auberjonois.

All the while, it’s topped off by an acting tour-de-force from Avery Brooks, whose breakdown after failing to break through the shackles of racial prejudices is a simply mesmerising showcase of ability.  Not bad for the man who also directed the episode.

I’m quite certain more in-depth reviews than this exist.  However, I caught this episode in passing this evening, and it truly deserves an revisit.

It’s fantastic.  It’s challenging.  It’s possibly the best episode of Deep Space Nine there is.

And there are some pretty splendid episodes of Deep Space Nine out there.

So, while we’re at it, have your say: is it the best episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?

Is Far Beyond The Stars the best episode of Deep Space Nine?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...
Desolation-of-Smaug

Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

In Brief:

The Desolation of Smaug succeeds where its predecessor failed, but some issues remain.

In Depth:

I found myself smiling as I left the cinema last night. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug had, for me, succeeded where An Unexpected Journey had failed. It had transported me back to Middle-Earth.

Gone were the pacing issues of the first film, along with the ridiculously over-the-top Twilight wolves and the ability to jump from a dry grassland to a soaking woodland metropolis simply by climbing into a rock.

In our review of An Unexpected JourneyI wrote that:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy excelled in making Middle-Earth a living, breathing world inhabited by real yet fantastical characters.  It did so through taking the breathtaking scenery of New Zealand and seamlessly integrating CGI and fantastic prosthetics into magnificent sets and superb landscapes.  Yet, in The Hobbit, Peter Jackson almost inexplicably choses to tinker with this finely honed balance and go more all-out with CGI.

Make no mistake, there is very little attempt made to step away from CGI usage. It’s used aplenty. Yet, whether it’s improvements in the quality of the CGI, or more attempt made to integrate the CGI into the actual purpose of the scene (rather than it becoming a flashy portfolio of special effects), it feels far less intrusive this time around.

The computer generated orcs – a major problem the last time around for my enjoyment of the film – are of far higher quality this time around, and almost look real. AUJ made Gollum look real, yet failed miserably with the likes of Azog. While Azog still isn’t perfect, he’s a lot better.

And again, it felt like effort was made to make the environments more believable. There was far less of the fantastical colours, the glowing-eyed wolves, the moonlit forest fire that looked completely cartoonish.  Instead, Jackson and WETA appear to have opted for a more natural colour palette, particularly in Erebor, Mirkwood, the mountain tombs and Dol Guldur.

The result?  I felt like I was in a real world again, like I had in The Lord of the Rings. And since I wasn’t constantly being pulled out of the world, I was able to enjoy the film.

Leaving the effects aside (and I admit, they might seem an odd place to start a review, but they had been so pivotal in my frustrations with the first film it seemed a natural place to begin) The Desolation of Smaug is a stronger film than the first. The pacing issues that riddled the first film are gone, and while it still a long film (I did hear other cinema goers moaning about the length as we left), I felt as if it flew past faster than An Unexpected Journey.  The film gets down to business quickly with a meeting of the fantastic Richard Armitage’s character Thorin and Gandalf in Bree, and it never really slows after that.  It moves quickly, moving at good pace between the multiple plot lines: Bilbo and the Dwarves, Gandalf’s investigation into Dol Guldur and Legolas’ life in Mirkwood.  The new characters are well realised, particularly Bard in Laketown, and I particularly enjoyed the appearances of Beorn and Stephen Fry’s Master of Laketown.  I actually felt the fun, this time around.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

Much as the Riddles in the Dark sequence in AUJ stood out, there are several similarly exemplary scenes in TDOS.  I loved the ominous scene with the Wizards at the tombs at the High Fells, Gandalf’s battle at Dol Guldur, as well as the sequence in Mirkwood with the spiders (which was a pretty terrifying action sequence).  Finally, there was a great sense of geographical continuity that had been lacking completely in AUJ. Here, I felt we were back on track, travelling through a believable world, and I think the long-distance shots over Mirkwood played a huge part in grounding the viewer, showing them the path ahead – much as the ending shots in The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers did.  I’d content they’re hugely underrated shots, and AUJ suffered without them. (I know they had the final shot of Erebor after the Eagles had rescued the Dwarves, but by that point I’d spent two hours and forty-five minutes wandering around a seemingly disconnected series of set pieces that changed faster than you could say “Fly, you fools!”

Anyway, moving on.  While there are some great scenes, some sequences fall short of excellence simply because they go on for too long. The pursuit through the rivers in Mirkwood goes on a little too long, and has a little too much of the gratuitous Legolas action. The Dwarves vs. Smaug in Erebor, similarly, goes on too long with little real progress. A good comparison would be Khazad-dûm in The Fellowship of the Ring: a fantastic action sequence with stages and consequences and humour.  The Erebor sequence – although visually stunning, and a magnificent representation of a decayed Dwarf kingdom, lacks the same emotional attachment and the ‘stages’ which allow it to avoid becoming repetitive. Some of the fire diving, as well, was a bit over the top.

The Tauriel storyline fell a little flat, too.  I appreciate the purpose it could give, since I assume she’s going to die in the next film at the Battle of the Five Armies, and thus giving Legolas a reality slap to move away from Thranduil’s isolationist stance and join the Fellowship, but I felt the dynamic with Kili, whilst well acted, just defied belief a little bit.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

I appreciate that some Tolkien fans are up in arms about how different these films are from the books.  I understand that point of view, being a huge fan myself. But I also appreciate the challenges Jackson has faced in putting these films together. He could have gone for a simple film version of The Hobbit book, which could have been fun, but would have fallen slightly flat as a standalone series of films.  The ring, for instance, would never really have been explained, the Necromancer storyline had to be dealt with and he couldn’t really not make links between The Necromancer and Sauron like the books. Jackson took the decision to make a prequel to The Lord of the Rings and a Hobbit series at the same time, taking content from the appendices to join the dots between the two.  This material is complicated, and written for the satisfaction of an academic mind and curiosity rather than for a Hollywood audience.

As a result, Jackson has had to improvise and invent to simplify and create a digestible film story.  And where in AUJ this sometimes came across as carelessness or a lack of the same love and devotion he had displayed in The Lord of the Rings, it feels like that’s beginning to come together in TDOS.  For instance, I can see more clearly the purpose of Azog’s character in exploring the Necromancer storyline (and I think this will be even more important in There And Back Again next year).  Jackson’s had to make some tough choices, and while The Hobbit series will never be as faithful as The Lord of the Rings was, I’m beginning to appreciate that it can’t be.  And that’s okay, because it’s still trying to be faithful to its continuity and film universe.

The last film was a disappointment.  This one wasn’t, and that may partially be because I went in expecting to be disappointed.  After all, with no Andy Serkis to blast out that wonderful scene again,  would this film make up for it?  I’m pleased to say that it did.  It’s no Lord of the Rings, simply because as nice as the Dwarves are, I don’t think you could do a scene as emotional as Boromir’s death (after two films) because we’re simply not as emotionally connected with them as we would have been with any of the Fellowship.  Whether that’s a failing of Jackson or Tolkien (gasp!), that’s up for the debate.

But I’m certainly excited by the next film.  It has the potential to be pretty brilliant, and The Desolation of Smaug is certainly a step in the right direction.