Thursday, 29 December 2011

Soul Drinkers - Phalanx (Book Review)


The Soul Drinkers saga is one of Black Library’s long standing series, covering the trials of a space marine chapter who were loyal to the Emperor but fought the Imperium. Being nihilistic, grim even by the standards of Warhammer 40,000 and willing to mix up the status quo of the universe it has stood out amongst Black Library products as something unique.
For six novels the Soul Drinkers have fought and died in the name of their beliefs, and in Phalanx their tale finally comes to an end, in fire but not in darkness.

After the events of Hellforged and the betrayal of the Adeptus Mechanicus, chapter master Sarpedon and the remaining Soul Drinkers have been taken captive, stripped of armour and weapons. As a chapter of Rogal Dorn their captors, the Imperial Fists, jail them in the Phalanx to await stand trial for their actions rather than outright killing them due to chapter traditions.
It is not simply the Soul Drinkers’ fate which hangs in the balance however. Thousands of years old machinations are coming to a close and the chapter is beginning to realise their “freedom” might have been a part of a detailed plan devised by another being.

Phalanx is definitely one of the best novels of the saga. Ben Counter has always excelled at two things in Warhammer, showing just how dark the universe can be and giving bittersweet endings which allow for the protagonists to gain some victory even in failure.
Counter fully uses both in this and gives the chapter a send off entirely fitting of the series. It makes it very clear from early on that the novel will feature the Soul Drinkers' final hours. They have lost everything, imprisoned on one of the best defended fortresses in the Imperium and are standing trial for their crimes. Crimes which are not simply against the Imperium but also against the God-Emperor, and Sarpedon is quickly beginning to realise they could all too easily be guilty of all charges.

The novel spends a lot of its first half focusing upon the Soul Drinkers’ actions in the past and their current state. It’s something used well as this is a finale but some readers might find the build up to be ponderously slow. It’s a similar problem people have brought up with The Outcast Dead, there is a great deal of time spent talking but very little in the way of action until quite late on.
Thankfully the weight of the revelations being given helps keep a reader’s attention, giving away information which changes much of what we knew about the Soul Drinkers. Very little of this can be talked about without giving away spoilers but what is revealed here makes the novel the most significant installment to the saga since the original novel Soul Drinker.

When the book does move from the trial to a battle what it gives us is one of the most desperate battles seen in the books, with astartes from a good dozen chapters focusing on combating a single enemy assaulting the Phalanx. The intensity of the fighting is detailed well into the pages and Counter helps to emphasis upon just how cataclysmic the consequences will be if the space marines cannot halt the invading force. Being the saga’s finale the body count is high, not just amongst the soldiers appearing in the book but amongst Soul Drinkers characters as well.
The novel’s ending is neither happy nor triumphant, concluding on a very bittersweet note. While the Soul Drinkers do emerge victorious the cost is staggering and Sarpedon’s final actions make it clear that this is the end of his tale.

If you’ve been reading the saga until now then it’s strongly advised you buy this one both as closure and as a fairly good read. If you’ve not, then read a few extracts of the original, if you like what you see then try reading the first omnibus and go from there. This won't make anyone who has hated previous books enjoy the series though, so if you weren't fond of previous novels then don't bother buying this one.

Phalanx is recorded in the Hammer and Bolter issues 1 through to 12 and will be distributed in novel form in April of 2012.

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Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Krull (Film Review)


This was originally intended to be something Christmas themed, focusing on a film which took place on this day, but nothing satisfying could be found. Most of the good films focusing upon Christmas have already been reviewed time and time again, and considering the number of bad reviews lately it felt like it was time to focus on something fondly remembered. At least by some people anyway.

Merry Christmas to you all and I hope you enjoy this review.

Krull is the quintessential 80s sword and sorcery film. It was an ambitious attempt to create something like Hawk the Slayer with a blockbuster budget and it shows, a lot of those type of films’ flaws being carried over to this one. But as were a lot of their strengths.

While the story makes absolutely no sense it contains enough outlandish ideas to hold your interest. While the characters are basic, the actors seemed to be having a lot of fun with their roles and enthusiastic about the film which translates well onto the screen. While the plot relies upon many fantasy staples, it never drags and fights are always added at the right times to keep the audience’s attention. Add to that the music of James Horner, some expensively made and well shot locations, then horses which can travel at Mach 2 and you’ve got a film. Not a good quality film, but definitely an awesome one.

The story sounds like someone put down their plans for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign onto paper and pitched it to some filmmakers. A warlord from outer space known only as the Beast lands on the primitive planet Krull, deploying legions of alien Slayers to kill off its population fearing a prophecy which may come to pass. After some time of fighting the rulers of the remaining kingdoms attempt to formalize an alliance against the Beast by marrying off their heirs, Colwyn and Lyssa.
Unfortunately Lyssa is the one to who the prophecy refers to so no sooner are they married than the Slayers storm the wedding, kill everyone, devastate the kingdoms’ armies and kidnap Lyssa. Colwyn is the only survivor and banding together with a wiseman, Ynyr the Old One, criminals and a cyclops; attempts to find a way to storm the Black Fortress to rescue her.

So yes, we’ve got a medieval sword and sorcery adventuring band vs an alien space warlord and his armies of laser gun wielding shock troops. How can you not like this?
In all seriousness, if there is anything truly worth criticising about the film it’s the fight scenes. Many seem sporadically composed and do not flow well, usually being shot in stages or are simply one sided beatdowns. This feels jarring considering how well many of the establishing shots and more static scenes are filmed, and it’s mainly Horner’s music which helps carry the battles. None of them feel as overly epic or truly threatening as, say, the fights seen in Conan were.

One other problem is something which will stand out is that there are some plot holes so large you could happily throw a whale through and have it not hit the sides, and deus ex machina so contrived you could spot them in your sleep. The biggest offenders are during the conclusion in which the mystical flying ninja star Colwyn carries, Krull’s version of excalibur, fails to kill the Beast and does little to help them. This is in spite of the film setting up the weapon as the ultimate in monster killers and it having not been used until the very end due to Ynyr specifically stating not to unsheathe it until needed the most. Then, caused by his and Lyssa’s love for one another, Colwyn focuses his emotions to shoot fireballs from his hand at the Beast.
Yes, you actually read that. And no, seeing it happen doesn’t make much sense either. It’s just one massive arsepull.

At the end of the day though, Krull does hold up pretty well as a 80s fantasy movie. It’s not good, it doesn’t make much sense and in terms of basic film storytelling it is a complete and utter mess, but it is really fun to watch. It’s definitely up there with Tron, The Dark Crystal and Conan when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy films from thirty years ago.
Rent this one if you’re interested to see what a traditional Dungeons and Dragons fantasy film looks like when it's a big budget production and not a Sci-Fi Pictures original film.

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Krull and all related characters and media are owned by Columbia Pictures.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Horus Heresy - Raven's Flight (Audiobook Review)


Raven’s Flight can be summed up in one sentence: This is why you do not anger Corax.

Serving as a prequel to the recently released Deliverance Lost, Raven’s Flight helps to bridge the gap between the events depicted in First Heretic and Fulgrim with the desperate escape seen in Age of Darkness.
After the gunship his bodyguard tried to evacuate him in is shot down during the Drop Massacre, the Raven Guard primarch leads the few thousand surviving warriors in a series of hit and run attacks on the traitor legions. This makes up the core of the action in the audio and it’s the battles we see which really make it worth getting.

In the many books and series we’ve seen thus far in the Horus Heresy the primarchs have been depicted as beings of great power. Ones who can kill titans, take hammer bows unflinchingly and command great loyalty of their men. They’ve been also depicted as being flawed, able to fall to Chaos and be badly crippled while fighting others of their kind. What we’ve not seen is one truly unleashing himself as Corax does here. The battles have to be seen to be heard to be fully appreciated but it’s unlikely we’ll see anything similar to this until, perhaps, the Siege of Terra.

Along with the events on Isstvan V there are some much quieter scenes on Deliverance. Prifector Valerius is plagued by visions of burning ravens and outright destruction, images which have haunted his dreams for days and he is coming to believe that it is a message from Corax. While wishing to head for Isstvan with his garrison force he is repeatedly stonewalled by the remaining Raven Guard commander, Bran, who believes this is folly and is quickly becoming suspicious of Valerius.

While these were scenes definitely needed to break up the fighting on Isstvan and foreshadow the final events of the audiobook, they are definitely the weaker half of the story. Some of the interaction between Bran and Valerius feels forced at times, like the author Gav Thorpe was forced to condense a much longer series of events into a shorter space of time.

This never becomes truly irritating but it does lessen the overall quality of the story and isn’t helped by some very flowery writing. Thrope’s style can come off as being quite dry and he doesn’t seem to quite know what to put into the scenes of verbal sparring between the two. It doesn’t help that a lot of the action, much like one or two of the violent scenes, comes across as being melodramatic. Like it’s supposed to be trying to parody a serious scene rather than actually be a genuine turning point in the audio. What helps offset this is some exceptional voice acting by Toby Longworth who speaks the lines with enough conviction to help the listener overlook these moments when hearing the audiobook for the first time.

Overall Raven’s Flight is the weakest of the four Horus Heresy audiobooks thus far, but it’s still definitely worth listening to. It features easily some of the best action scenes and while it might come across as occasionally hammy, especially when Valerius is involved, there’s enough good moments with Corax to make it worth listening to. If you want to read Deliverance Lost, it’s strongly recommended you listen to this first.

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Raven's Flight and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Film Review)


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has the problem in that it constantly zig-zags between being genuinely good and being an amateurish mess. The whole thing feels like it had two people constantly wrestling for control over the film, one who knew what he was doing and the other being the personification of every fear and criticism of longtime Sherlock fans.

You can see examples of both in just the opening few minutes – The film jarringly begins with no easing the audience into events and just outright declaring Europe is under siege and on edge. It constantly tells you this but almost never shows you it.
The film then reunites Holmes with Irene Addler and gives some brief chemistry between the two, showing off Holmes’ ability to witness events and disguise himself. Unfortunately the interaction between the two is extremely fleeting, Holmes seems to have become sloppy, making major mistakes and his disguise is obviously fake and barely hides his identity.

This then moves into a fight scene between Holmes and several thugs, trying to again show Holmes’ combat prowess and quickly display his skills. What we get is shockingly bad editing and cinematography. The entire thing is shot almost entirely in close ups, constantly moving to prevent the audience seeing any of what’s taking place.
This just keeps going, Holmes being treated as comic relief and good ideas are mired by poor presentation, until the film drops a bridge on Irene Addler and the credits roll.

Very little in the film shows anything near the skill Guy Ritchie displayed with the original and the while thing is a mess. Probably the best examples of this are where certain gimmicks seem to practically take over the film.

Holmes goes through three or four times the number of disguises seen in the original, at one point looking uncannily like Doctor Frank N Furter, while treating his insanity as slapstick humour in contrast to the dark, deadpan displays of the original. He’s written like some crackpot inventor rather than someone who is literally bored to the point of dementia, needing work to stay sane.
Zack Snyder apparently hijacked the film for a few minutes as well, as there is a massive running gunfight with explosions, artillery and machine guns which is shot almost entirely in speed-up-slow-down effects. If this wasn’t enough we also get ten minutes of “ultra-sound” effects. That irritating silence filled with micro-sound effects as the film seems to focus upon tiny details, displaying everything in extreme close ups, without there being any reason for it.

A Game of Shadows seems to be bursting with energy – trying to display its potential in every way possible but it lacks restraint and focus. There’s no where near enough quiet moments and it rushes through so much it feels like it lacks any substance. It makes the film feel cheap more than anything else.

Yet in spite of all this there is some good here. On the opposite end of the quality spectrum all of the acting cast do well here with Holmes and Watson’s strained friendship being a constant source of enjoyment. Stephen Fry is, well, Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes and while underused elevates any scene he’s in to some of the A Game of Shadows’ best. The comedy tends to veer into the slapstick but occasional gems like those seen in the original shine through and reminds you why the first film worked so well.
Moriarty is displayed as being a credible threat who treats Holmes’ efforts like an every day occurrence, contrasting with previous incarnations, and Jared Harris’ performance gives a unique spin on the character.

The few action scenes manage to escape the editor and frenzied cinematography do prove to be fun, especially one sequence on a train. Featuring clever ideas, heroics and the sort of overt destruction you’d expect to see by now.

The 2009 Sherlock Holmes is in here but it’s buried beneath a great deal of bad ideas and awkwardly implemented concepts. By all rights this should be something advised to avoid all together, but the few moments of humour and actual enjoyment present in here means it’s worth seeing. Barely.
Wait to rent this one out on DVD if you’re going to see it, just brace yourself for some major flaws.

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and all related characters and media are owned by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Old Republic: Revan (Book Review)




Why? Just fucking why?
We didn’t need this novel, we could have quite happily left the games alone, but then someone has to write this horrible mistake. Couldn’t they have at least given it to an author who doesn’t apparently hate Knights of the Old Republic fans?

The overall plot of Revan is covering the mysterious years after Knights of the Old Republic, why he went missing and where the Exile is. This didn’t need to be expanded upon. Part of what made his leaving so interesting was due to the brief hints as to why, giving suggestions to why he was leaving but never outright saying it. It was a mystery, and mysteries are only interesting so long as you don’t know the truth behind them. But the book has bigger issues than just existing, much bigger ones.

The flaw which stands out the most amongst its shortcomings is its characterisation. Drew Kerpyshyn is a competent author, one who can produce genuinely interesting things onto paper like the Darth Bane series, but he seems not to understand any characters he doesn’t personally create. Or apparently hates them. As a result in this novel Knights of the Old Republic 2 is made almost entirely irrelevant and is completely swept to one side. Most of it is retconned into oblivion.

According to this novel the Exile is just an every day Jedi sent after Revan by Bastila, not a wound in the Force itself. Thus KOTOR2 apparently never existed and its events never happened due to the removal of this one key characteristic. It was the entire driving force behind Kreia going after the Exile so that never happened; Nihilus, another wound in the Force, just plane never existed in the first place according to this. Visas Marr is also deleted from existance. This was a retcon which didn’t need to be done. The Exile was a good character, didn’t need to be nerfed like this and one of Bioware’s best RPGs deserved a better send off than the bastardisation which is this novel. But wait, it gets worse.
Why did they get rid of the Exile’s unique trait? Apparently to give the same ability to a completely new character. That’s right the villain in this, the bloody Sith Emperor, is a wound in the Force. What, was it too inconvenient for there to be a third person who had this ability? Did Kerpyshyn just look at the idea and think “MINE!”?

It’s not just the KOTOR2 characters who suffer in this either. Revan staggers aimlessly about the plot like he’s concussed. Okay, he’s supposed to have memories coming back but that doesn’t mean the writer had to turn him into some halfwit who goes off to fight the Sith without the absolute vaguest fucking clue about what he’s doing.
Oh, and also all of his actions are reduced to a petty slave acting out of spiteful hatred towards his mind controlling master rather than someone actually working for any greater good. No, that is actually in there and it's even worse than it sounds.

There are some well written characters. The Emperor does have some interesting elements,  and a Sith known as Scourge is a very good character. The problem is all this is constantly overshadowed by Kerpyshyn apparently putting no where near the effort needed for a novel like this. But wait, it gets worse. Here’s how the novel concludes:

The Exile rescues Revan, teams up with Scourge and they go off to take on the Emperor. The Emperor proceeded to beat Revan senseless, burning him horrifically as they go one on one until the Exile intervenes and they prepare to team up. At which point Scourge’s chronic backstabbing disorder gets the better of him and he insta-kills the Exile. Revan is taken captive and turned into the Emperor’s bitch. Kept alive as a source of power and knowledge for Bioware’s new big bad villain.

Do you know what the absolute worst part of this is though? The crowning turd in the waterpipe? In one of Kerpyshyn’s blogs he complains about people disliking the book and states they just have to deal with it. Since Revan is a financial success apparently he basically doesn’t care, I quote "I guess controversy sells!"

When Revan is good it is admittedly very good, but its massive flaws, spiteful attitude towards KOTOR2 and rife use of deus ex machina drag it down.

Save yourself a lot of time, pain and money this year give this one a miss. If you have any love for Star Wars, KOTOR or Bioware do not buy this book and hope to high heaven it is retconned from the canon.


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The Old Republic: Revan and all related characters and media are owned by Bioware and was published by Del Ray.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Sound of Thunder (Film Review)


A Sound of Thunder is a film which has the audiences leave its screenings asking questions. Questions like I thought this cost $80 million, where did the budget go!?”

The script is full of holes, the plot is clichéd, the acting is bad and the “villain” is a transparent businessman more concerned with money than common sense. What’s more is that while that film makers apparently looted CGI renders from the 1999 serial Walking with Dinosaurs meaning the monsters look like something from the Asylum films. The only indication that it had anywhere near the budget it did was the presence of Ben Kingsley in yet another role he will regret and wearing a bleach-blonde borderline Eraserhead wig. Like the rest of the cast he’s phoning in his performance and seems less animated than the half baked green-screened backgrounds and monsters. Even ignoring these flaws; it displays some of the worst misunderstandings of science I have ever seen on film; which is saying something considering the lack of technobabble.

The real shame is that the story it is based upon is a classic; a short tale written by Ray Bradbury in the 1950s which explored the butterfly effect. It featured tourists going back in time to kill creatures, specifically dinosaurs, just before their deaths in the manner of an African big game hunt. In that tale accidently stepping on a butterfly resulted in a militant president elected and “domestic” changes to the future. Only minor things but it gave a good example of the butterfly effect, how small changes can result in big ones, especially with time travel.

In the film the butterfly is apparently the most important creature in all of history, its death resulting in low quality CGI “time tidal waves” and swarms of monsters which are clearly hybrids of real life ones. Add an incredibly predictable plot given away by the trailers, Messages delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the point where the film flat out tells you “corporations bad!” less than a minute in, and you know any dignity in the film was left on the cutting room floor.

Yeah, this one is bad, but there is some fun to be found in it.
The first half is spent waiting for the predictable disaster, but once the butterfly is crushed and the real insanity begins it becomes somewhat entertaining. The cast, aka protagonist and cannon fodder, run through a time warping city full of mad hybrids of creatures. It has every cliché the writers can think of and it goes from being a total disaster to being a perversely enjoyable trainwreck.


Don't get me wrong, it never reaches "So Bad It's Good" territory but any film which includes the protagonists fight swarms of bullet resistant “baboonaraptors” is at least trying to do something right.
Watch this one if you want something to riff on over a few beers, otherwise pretend it doesn't even exist.
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A Sound of Thunder and all related characters and media are owned by Franchise Pictures.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Transformers Exiles (Book Review)


The big problem involving Transformers Exiles is it doesn’t need to exist. For those not in the know, this book is a part of a continuity involving the War For Cybertron game and the ongoing Prime cartoon. The novel before this one, Exodus, was supposed to cover aspects not shown in the games such as the buildup towards the war and giving a bit more depth to the story, such as Megatron being RoboSpartacus.  Unfortunately the author Alex Irvine didn’t bother to actually play WFC. As a result the war went in an entirely different direction, only partially linked into the game and had a completely different ending where all of the Autobots left Cybertron.
In Exiles Irvine seems to be making a real effort to link his novels into the Prime series and make up for his earlier mistakes. The problem due to the announcement of WFC’s sequel, Fall of Cybertron, which follows the Autobots’ guerilla war on the planet it’s likely this book will be completely non canon.

Even when Irvine is trying to solve continuity problems and link it into Prime just creates more flaws in the book. Bulkhead, who was not in the first book but is a main character in Prime, appears out of nowhere in the first chapter and stays with the characters until the end. He’s jarringly dropped into events with no warning and this is something which keeps happening throughout Exiles. Next to nothing is given any real introduction, things just seem to suddenly happen with little buildup and are accepted without question. This becomes almost hilarious when the Autobots show up on a colony cut off from Cybertron for millions of years, Velocitron, and its inhabitants immediately accept they’re from their long lost homeworld and bring them before their leader.
The big problem with this is something I’ve also seen Geoff Johns be criticized for in some of his Green Lantern comics: there is something big going on but Exiles does not convey the size of what is taking place. It never steps back to give descriptions to events or give major buildup and without that everything feels very small scale when looked at on their own, in spite of the big ideas in the book. And there are some seriously big ideas behind Exiles.

As well as the Autobots being on the run from the Decepticons as they hunt down the All-Spark, a lot of elements from other series turn up. To help solve a plot problem from the previous book Unicron is introduced to the plot and there is a serious look into what happened to the original transformers. Several even turn up, Vector and Nexus Prime, and the protagonists even come across the tomb of another Prime who was killed when one of their number turned traitor. These bits make the book readable but it is still visibly weighed down by its flaws, the biggest of which is the characters.

For all the fun Irving seems to have in writing about lost artifacts and ancient mysteries, he really drops the ball when it comes to characterisation. For a group which is supposed to be as bold and simplistically diverse as the transformers, all of them seem to blend into one another. You can read all of the dialogue as if it is from the same person and even when a chapter focuses entirely upon a single character’s thoughts it feels like it could be just about anyone in the book. Only a few stand out such as Megatron, but that’s only because they are exceptionally bloody minded or totally insane.

All in all this one is something fans should probably pass on. There are a few good bits here and there but the writing style and lack of characterisation seriously drags the book down. Whoever edited this one didn’t help and there are some seriously shoddy mistakes which take place from chapter to chapter. One blatant screw-up is when Optimus and one of his allies drive away from a monolith at the end of the fifth chapter, only to suddenly be back in front of it as if they’ve never left. For all the effort put into this one, it really feels like it should have been a comic rather than a text novel. At least then perhaps some of the flaws present in the writing might have been covered up by the artist.

If you want a good Transformers tale try looking into some of the Dreamwave comics or early IDW story arcs, because Exiles is painfully average at the best of times. It’s far better than anything in the Michael Bay film scripts, but that’s not saying much.

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Exiles, Transformers and all related characters and media are owned by Hasbro. The book was published by Del Rey Books.


Images taken from TFWiki.net

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Thing From Another World (Film Review)


To say that 2011’s prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing was a disappointment would be underselling its failure.

The writer didn’t understand what made the story it was supposed to precede so effective and it completely lacked the sense of paranoia which made the first film frightening. It felt like a glorified direct to DVD cash in and the CGI paled in comparison to the physical effects of the original. It was heavily flawed and seemed very underwhelming due to its link with one of the greatest horror features ever produced. Thankfully for anyone wanting to see more action involving frozen extra-terrestrials, there is in fact a third Thing film.

Few people seem to realise that John Carpenter’s film was in fact a remake of a classic horror film of the 1950s, cheerily titled The Thing From Another World. Which is itself an adaptation of the book Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. While the horror aspect present in the novel is visibly toned down and lacks the alien’s shape shifting abilities, the film preserved a lot of what made the novel effective. There is distrust between the personnel on the artic station, they are facing something much more powerful than themselves and a lot of the characters behave so competently it’s astounding to contrast them with some in modern day slashers.

The story of TTFAW has more in common with Campbell’s tale than Carpenter’s film. A resupply crew led by the film’s protagonist, Captain Hendry, is sent to a scientific station in the North Pole at the request of its leader, doctor Carrington. They were requested as Carrington spotted a meteorite falling through the atmosphere and repeatedly changing direction like a manned craft, requiring a long range aircraft to seek out where it landed.

The craft is revealed to be a flying saucer, buried below the ice and while unsalvageable, the crew find its pilot, similarly buried, nearby. Cutting out a block with it in it, they bring the frozen creature out and take it back to the base, only to have it accidently thaw out not long after arrival. The creature then begins lurking outside the base, stalking the humans as it is highly resistant to the cold and has no trouble adapting to its environment.
Well, not entirely as the artic lacks one thing which only the humans can provide: food. It needs an abundance of blood plasma to survive. The film follows the heroes’ attempts to fight off its repeated attacks and their unity begins to fracture due to internal conflicts.

Probably what makes this film worth watching the most is that the director, the famed Howard Hawks, seemed to actually realise how unthreatening the monster looked. Even by 50s science fiction standards it looked like a villain which would have been laughed off of any set, and resembled Dragonball’s Piccolo more than it did Space Dracula.
As a result the film almost never shows it directly, frequently obscuring its face and having it appear after the station’s lights had cut out. The audience is never shown close ups of the Thing and in only two instances is it ever seen directly. This, combined with devices used to build up tension like the slow clicking of Geiger counters heralding its approach on the base, makes what should have been a laughable villain into something genuinely frightening.

Oddly enough though, the creature’s semi-human design did help the film in another way: it made the actions of the film’s token evil scientist seem somewhat more reasonable.

From the very instant he appears on screen it is clear that Carrington is going to be an antagonist within the film. Robert Cornthwaite’s slow, methodical and detached performance seems reminiscent of Christopher Lee’s more famous performances and clearly marks him as a villain.

Despite this he does make some very reasonable arguments about the alien. When it breaks out it is in fact the humans who attack it first, driving it out and causing it to be attacked by the station’s team of dogs. The audience never sees if it was going to attack them and in almost every situation it is the humans who attack first upon it appearing before them. He continually tries to reason that they should talk to it, convince it to stand down and try to communicate with what is clearly a sentient being he considers to be acting out of fear.
Carrington does spout some very villainous lines. Most notably praising the creature’s lack of emotional weaknesses but he seems to genuinely believe that it can be talked down without further bloodshed. Even during the conclusion, when the Thing is advancing upon the remaining protagonists, Carrington is nearly killed cautiously walking up to the creature and trying to convince it that they don’t want to harm it. While still very much a 50s evil scientist he is written with much more depth than you would find in science fiction characters of this era.

Similar surprising details are found in almost the entire cast. I mentioned before how the humans behaved with surprising competence during the film and this even goes for the small background characters. When a guard is assigned to keep an eye on the frozen creature shortly before it breaks out, a guard who had only spoken a scant handful of lines, I immediately assumed he was dead meat. Instead, to my utter amazement, the guard survives the encounter, doing the smart thing and legging it rather than being slaughtered like in many modern films. The Thing From Another World is dotted with moments like this which contradict all normal horror clichés and makes watching it a very different experience to modern science fiction horror films.

The Thing From Another World is by no means perfect. While it is a classic there are some shortcomings which it suffers from. Due to the censorship laws time, and the changes to the villain, it lacks the intensity and gore of John Carpenter’s film. The soundtrack seems very average, a few performances seem phoned in, and while Hawks’ signature cinematography is very effective in many scenes he seems to have trouble working around the tight confines of the aircraft early into the film. A big problem is that many secondary characters lack individual personalities, most of their lines consisting of the sarcasm and deadpan humour Hawks was known to love. These merely weaken the film though, rather than ruin it, and it’s still definitely one worth watching.
Watching The Thing From Another World is like watching a story of classic Doctor Who. It has some very visible flaws, fails when it comes to special effects and the story seems tamer than what you'd find today; but it's still very fun to watch. The problems it has you can put down to it coming from another era and only help to highlight how far ahead of its time it was.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Death of the Internet

This isn't a review so much as a warning to everyone. I've made a point of sticking to text updates until now and not putting up other people's videos, but I think this time deserves an exception. What you're about to watch is what will likely happen if Protect IP manages to get through the Unites States Congress -

http://fightforthefuture.org/pipa/
http://americancensorship.org/index.html#website


As it says, major sites will be targeted. It could easily be abused, your blog, myspace page or any account could be taken down for posting the wrong image. Things like The Spoony Experiment and other major entertainment websites could be censored and removed from existance thanks to this, not to mention what will happen if other nations start to get behind this. Effectively it's completely accurate to say that the internet as we know it will die.

So what can you do?
If you’re a citizen of the United States, call your local representatives. Calling and letter writing will always work better than email. If you don’t know their number , use this site:
http://www.contactingthecongress.org/
Read up on the law so you can be informed of what is going on:American Censorship
http://americancensorship.org/infographic.html
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2011/10/sopa-hollywood-finally-gets-chance-break-internet
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/10/house-takes-senates-bad-internet-censorship-bill-makes-it-worse.ars
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/05/sen-ron-wyden-to-place-a-hold-on-the-protect-ip-act.ars
http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-h3261/show
http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-s968/show

Even if you're still completely sceptical of the whole thing and think there's no chance of it getting through, consider this: Would you rather spend five minutes putting your name onto a protest which is not needed, or would you rather have said you'd done nothing if this bill does get through and does all the damage the video says it will?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Halo: Cryptum (Book Review)



Halo: Cryptum is a hard book to review as there is a lot here to both praise and criticise.
On the one hand it is well written, has a good pace, had likable characters and feels like the beginnings of a complex science fiction trilogy. On the other it introduces a lot of elements which serve little purpose in the overall universe, is utterly disconnected to the Covenant war and in all honesty seems like it’s Halo in name only.


As you might have guessed from the cover, the book looks into the lives of the Forerunners, the mysterious race who created Guilty Spark and the titular halo devices seen in the video games. In this case the book specifically follows the tale of one of the race, Born (Born Stellar Makes Eternal Lasting), who records the final years of his species’ existence. While this will likely answer a lot of questions about the games over time all I kept asking while reading it was “Do we really need to know this?”

The Forerunners were like Mass Effect’s Protheans. They’re a long dead race of aliens who we know little about and were involved in a major event which threatened the very existence of the galaxy itself. This works well on its own, expanding upon their lives removes a lot of the mystery behind them which makes their civilisation so interesting. If this was not bad enough there are many aspects relating to humanity which are quickly brought up, we have seen no sign of until now, and actually had me stop to check I had the right book only a few pages in. Yes, humanity is in this and yes they feel very out of place but it gets much stranger later on, trust me.

To give the book some credit the story itself is very well written. As the book is told through a first person narrative from Born the reader gets a good feel of how different his species from humanity without pages being spent trying to show just how alien they are. The only problem with this is that the style in which the first person narrative is written can be initially off-putting, helped in no small part by the author, Greg Bear, spending little time easing the reader into the novel. Bear in mind the book opens up with a Forerunner standing on a steamship filled with choirs, a crew of human subspecies going over a sea of kraken. Did I mention this doesn’t feel something from Halo?
It doesn’t get any easier to read in chapters following this, all of them feel slow and plodding, before thankfully picking up once the first big reveal is made. From there on it starts to get very interesting, expanding greatly upon the Forerunners and, despite the lack of action, has a feeling of major events being in motion. This is primarily due to the frequent hints about the Flood and the exploration of that antagonist’s origins.

This is a book which was enjoyable but it might have been better suited as a standalone series rather than a prequel to Halo. If you can manage a number of odd creative choices, major changes to the history of a number of species, big reveals and fewer explosions than usual, you might want to give this one a shot. If you’re a Halo fan who wants to preserve the sense of mystery behind the Forerunners and is more interested in the war between the UNSC and Covenant, then I’d suggest buying the novel Ghosts of Onyx over this.


One final warning I will give about Cryptum is that it’s not something you can read casually. Despite the short chapters and large font you need to concentrate to read this one, it did prove to be hard to focus on events taking place in the novel. It’s nowhere near as hard to follow as Frank Herbert’s later Dune novels or similar stuff, but it’s much harder to follow than other Halo novels like The Cole Protocol.


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Halo and all related characters and media are owned by Microsoft.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Film Review)


This film is a small miracle. This film has the best lineup for a film of its genre since the Expendables. Unlike that film though, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn succeeds on every conceivable level.
Here’s who you have in it:
  • Stephen Spielberg directing.
  • Peter Jackson producing.
  • The lead writers of Doctor Who, Spaced and Attack the Block, Stephen Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish creating the screenplay.
  • John Williams composing the film’s soundtrack.
  • The man who has done the cinematography for Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, Janusz Kaminski, doing each scene.
  • The film editor for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, Michael Khan, doing what he does best.
  • It has Jamie Bell as the protagonist, Andy Serkis playing the supporting role, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg playing the comic relief, and Daniel Craig threatening people as the villain.

If this film had failed there would have been riots on the streets, but it thankfully gets everything right.

The plot itself is straight forwards, taking tips from several of Hergé’s original comics. The film’s hero, Tintin, buys an antique model ship in a sale but is quickly menaced by two separate individuals trying to get it off of him. Not long afterwards he is drawn into a dangerous conspiracy ranging across thousands of miles seeking several different models and the secrets they hold.

The story feels like an excuse to get from scene to scene, and the actual secret becomes clear to the audience at about the half way mark, however that’s all it needs to be. There are no obvious plot holes, there are many cleverly written scenes, the characterisation is strong, and the dialogue is exceptional.
It moves at a fast pace as well, not so much building up at the beginning as starting with a brisk speed which never stops until the film’s end. This really works in its favour as it cuts a lot of corners, getting right to the action people want to see. This is a good thing as the script tries to be something of an origin story with Tintin encountering Captain Haddock, the second most identifiable character in the series, for the first time in this tale. It never gets bogged down in characterisation, establishes Tintin is a famous reporter within one scene and says “hey, they’re together now!” once he and Haddock meet. Relying primarily upon the actors and dialogue to pick up the slack, which they thankfully do.

The characters themselves all stand out well. Each actor was perfect for the role he was given, but Andy Serkis steals every scene he is in as Captain Haddock, frequently even outdoing the comic relief provided by the bowler hated Thompson twins. And that’s saying something considering who is playing them. The only real shortcoming is the villain, Sakharine, who is not very memorable and while well acted by Daniel Craig he isn’t given enough to do on screen. Then again this was a problem present in the comics as well, so it might have been a result of basing the script upon Hergé’s tales.

The cinematography is as breathtaking as you would expect it to be, featuring some of the best chase scenes ever put into cinema. Due to the film makers are using animation and motion capture rather than live action there was a lot more freedom to be had with each scene and the characters perform stunts which would only have been possible in a cartoon. This is the way full motion capture flicks should be done, in a cartoonish, over the top style in order to do extravagant, physically impossible action scenes. Not movies like Avatar, where it is nothing but a badly implemented cheap gimmick.

Speaking of motion capture, it helps that the CGI is outstanding in this film. There is a near perfect balance of cartoonish features and realism found within every human in Tintin showing incredible details but also very over-exaggerated features like noses and chins. As Peter Jackson put it: We're making them look photorealistic; the fibres of their clothing, the pores of their skin and each individual hair. They look exactly like real people – but real Hergé people!”
The film does enter uncanny valley but only with Tintin himself due to his more realistic facial features and even then it is only a handful of times in very brief shots.

This is probably the best family film you’re going to see in the next few years. It feels much more like an Indiana Jones installment than the Crystal Skull and though loyal to its material it stands out well on its own. While being child friendly Tintin is not afraid to show the occasional bit of blood, but never loses its fun, semi-lighthearted feel at any point.
It does conclude with sequel bait, but that does not detract from the film. If they keep the current team and actors working on it, and get Christopher Lloyd to play Professor Calculus, this could make for a classic trilogy.

Definitely see this one while it’s in theatres.

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The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and all related characters and media are owned by Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Codex Necrons (Fifth Edition) Review


Warhammer 40,000 is dead to Games Workshop.
I wish the Black Library and Fantasy Flight Games the best of luck with the franchise, because it seems the company who created it do not simply "not care" about it any more, they're out to kill it off.

Yes, the fluff looks like it's bad. The Old Ones were beaten by the C'Tan without the Chaos gods being remotely involved, the Necrons easily killed them despite being weaker than the C'Tan, and the Necron Empire lasted much longer than the Eldar one. The Eldar also only had one because the Necrons allowed them to. Oh yes, and apparently some Necrons are now benevolent, lawful characters who are "good".
There are so many plot holes here and contradictions to other Codexes that it might well have destroyed the entire basis for the game. Heaven help us if Ward feels the need to try and top Draigo's fluff.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Arms-Commander (Book Review)



Generally in all reviews I’ll try to detail what’s good and what is bad in each novel, I’ll cover the few specks of quality in the worst of media and still detail the flaws in the best of it. There is nothing which Arms-Commander can be complimented on. There is not one single shred of quality to be found amongst its pages. It’s insulting, overrated, hypocritical and L.E. Modesitt seems more interested in trying to spread hate than preach tolerance. It’s the James Cameron’s Avatar of fantasy novels.

What makes it so bad? Its basic concept. The author apparently intended to use a fantasy setting to explore some moral flaws in society and outline current problems. This is a good idea which has been done with sci-fi, fantasy and comics for many years with Quatermass, Doctor Who and arguably the Dark Knight all having done this in the past. Arms-Commander attempted to do this with gender bias in society and sexism. It failed spectacularly.

Just looking at the cover’s synopsis will tell you it is going to be bad. The protagonist is a female from a matriarchal society which the book portrays as being good, desirable and everything a civilisation should be. The villain is the male ruler of a patriarchal nation and decides to invade the above society because he, and I quote, “wishes to destroy Westwind because the idea of a land where women rule is total anathema to him.” Already the book sets up the idea that women are morally superior and that having them in control is somehow the correct choice while having men in charge is somehow entirely wrong.

What follows after you open it is a painful experience in which the author endlessly bashes you over the head with the idea that intolerance and subjugation of women in any way is completely wrong. While at the same time all men are arrogant fools who only make mistakes, are crude and women surpass them in every area.
It does this with all the subtlety of an elephant playing a piano with a sledgehammer.

I got tired of this very early on. The lack of skill on the author’s part only made it harder to read and I decided to just skip to the end after dragging myself through the first half of this monstrosity. This is something I’ve never done with anything I’ve reviewed before and I apologise for that, but it did reveal the pinnacle of all that is wrong with this book: the conclusion. Like Avatar it was so utterly hypocritically bad it had me openly shouting obscenities at its pages and seeking the nearest source of fire.

The ending has the matriarchal society being victorious over the book’s patriarchal ones and thwarting the efforts to conquer the female nation and make them conform to their ways. All the way through it has shown these attempts to make them conform to be wrong and force fed the reader heavy handed messages about how immoral this is. In the final few pages it has the protagonist walking up to another nation and telling them that they will now conform to her beliefs, women will now carry power and their society and their governments dominated by females. She does the exact same things the villains were doing and it portrays her as being morally correct, not even making an effort to bring up the hypocrisy of this act.

Avoid this badly written schlock with all its ham fisted double standards, cardboard cut-outs of characters and terrible conclusion.


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Arms-Commander and all related characters and media are owned by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

A Chinese Ghost Story (Film Review)


As the last review was of an enjoyably bad horror film it seems only right that this one should cover a genuinely good one. One which utilises the same mixture of comedy, horror and action but does it well, and which you hopefully won’t have heard of. It’s called Qiàn Nǚ Yōu Hún or Sien nui yau wan, or alternatively if you don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese: A Chinese Ghost Story.
So what is it? As a friend of mine put it: “This is the Chinese Evil Dead II.” It’s easy to see why as well - it has gore, classic physical effects, possessed corpses, it even has its own evil tentacle tree monster.

The plot of the film is relatively simple: A timid, down on his luck tax collector known as Ning Choi-san is forced to seek refuge in an old abandoned temple in the middle of a forest. Despite being repeatedly warned away from the place by its resident, the old swordsman Yen Che-Hsia who Ning encounters fighting a rival, he decides to stay the night.
Something is quickly shown to be wrong with the temple as Yen’s rival is murdered then possessed by a demon which Yen quickly dispatches. Ning meanwhile is unknowingly menaced by stop motion zombies but more importantly encounters Nieh Hsiao-Tsing. A beautiful woman who he quickly falls in love with but learns is a ghost bound to a soul sucking tree spirit and is to be wedded to the ruler of the underworld. From there on the film’s a good mixture of romance, comedy and demon slaying as Ning and Yen try to help Nieh escape her fate.

The first thing you’ll notice watching this film is that like others of its era, such as Evil Dead II which was released the same year as this, has a very artificial feel to it. There’s a noticeable level of grain on the screen and both the lighting and scenery looks very synthetic at times, especially when indoors. This thankfully becomes less of a problem as the film goes on but it can be initially irritating.

What helps make up for this lack of quality is some surprisingly professional editing and cinematography, both of which help to give the film a stylistic feel which suits it perfectly. It’s meant to be a fantasy tale, it’s got all the traditional tropes of a romantic tale and hell, it’s even got a completely self describing name. The film seems to completely embrace its fictional aspect and it’s all the stronger for it.

The same strengths and flaws as with the setting can be found with the fight scenes. It feels “fictional” but it works well and gives it a defining style, displaying fairly impressive wirework for the time. The fighting embraces the fantasy element to the point where Yen summons a legendary sword and then starts firing energy blasts from his hands. No, that’s not a joke, he actually does that during the third act.

The only real failure of A Chinese Ghost Story worth mentioning is that it seems more like an outright fantasy film rather than a horror/fantasy hybrid. There are certainly some creepy moments which turn up throughout it but things like the stop motion zombies are more amusing than terrifying. Even when the heroes fight their way into hell and through horrific creatures it always feels more like Legend than it does Prince of Darkness.

Aside from that minor gripe there’s not too much to complain about. The performances were fairly good even if the actors did have a few over the top moments, the plot was well paced and while they are dated the effects have a lot more substance than the CGI in some of today’s films like the Thing remake.
If you don’t mind reading subtitles and can forgive a few faults due to age then you’ll probably have some fun watching this one.

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A Chinese Ghost Story and all related characters and media are owned by Hong Kong Legends.