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 -

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:
Read up on the law so you can be informed of what is going on:American Censorship

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.


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.


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.


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