The Impossible Planet.



TV I saw the new X-Men film last night. I didn't enjoy it in the end, partly because the screen was tiny and filled with teenagers who didn't seem to actually want to watch the film but mostly because it felt like the work of someone who was trying to make what they thought an X-Men film should be like rather than trying to make something which entertains because it's the X-Men. I've had much the same criticism of a couple of episodes of Doctor Who this season, and despite my positive review last week, but in this case I was afraid it was my problem -- that I was becoming slightly jaded with the whole thing. Call it a crisis of faith if you like but I almost didn't watch tonight's episode while it was on, just in case.

Thank God I did.

I've seen fans playing games trying to work out which of the old eras each episode is most like. For the first half I actually thought I was watching a spruced up First Doctor story (which was weird) then as the climax descended I knew this was pure Eighth Doctor territory, right down to the news that TARDISes are grown (which ties it in with Alien Bodies doesn't it?). In my sporadic reviews of that era, I suggested that the the Eighth Doctor books were all about a small humanoid fighting against giant planetary or galactic forces, and that's exactly the territory this story has dropped into (although with a bit of Robots of Death tossed in for good measure).

Generic discussions aside, I can't believe that something like that is going out on Saturday teatime. I don't remember the last time the show did demonic possessions so well, with all the tattoos and screaming and random death. But classically it managed to meld the epic proportions of potentially a Lord of the Rings size foe with moments of human terror and body horror. Having just recently rewatched Pyramids of Mars I was amazed to hear the voice of Sutekh demonstrating how a horrific voice in a tiny cabin can be just as chilling as a computer generated wolf, if not more so because you simply don't know what it wants or what it's capable of. Well alright, at the end, with the Ooooood we're back in marching killing alien territory, but when has that not been something that happens? Well alright the design of the back of their heads was ... interesting ... but I like the idea of the globe translators giving the wrong signal -- especially as the cause of the basically false teaser cliffhanger -- I don't think that's ever been done before.

Also, unlike the rebels in the Cyberman story, the crew were clearly defined from the opening scene. The writing of Matt Jones (who I think I once met at a script conference) proved that in a two-part you simply do have the time to establish characters, even a little bit, so that when wiggy things happen to them, possibly resulting in death, you care. Scooti Manista (MyAnna Buring) was likeable companion material so you actually felt something as she floated away in the almost void (really she was great -- anyone else feel a twinge of regret that she left so soon?) Finally, for the first time in what seems like ages, we had the Doctor and Rose sitting down and having a chat about something, even if it was the loss of the TARDIS (another Eighth Doctor novel paradigm). Given that we already have some idea what happens in at least a couple of the episodes after this we know that it'll be turning up again (I'm guessing the psychic link) but part of me wishes that we could see the Doctor and Rose trolling around the universe conventionally for a few episodes and dealing with that. Is Doctor Who just about time travel?

And in a weird move, Tennant seemed to have toned down his performance slightly whilst Piper's gone in a whole other direction. Anyone else wonder if in places the spirit of Cassandra was still around or if Rose was doing an impression of Ken Branagh's drunk act from Peter's Friends? Surely the loss of the TARDIS leading to no way home would have led to a bigger reaction. A coping mechanism? Are we seeing the effects of all that travelling, that she's become desensitised to the happenings? Is it that belief that everything will turn out alright in the end so why worry? They're heading for a fall. They are. But it has an amazing cast of largely film actors who've previously worked with British directors like Mike's Leigh and Winterbottom and it really shows. And none of them gave the kind of BIG LARGER THAN LIFE performance that actors stuck in sci-fi dramas too often end up doing. It's a treat to have someone like Secret and Lies' Claire Rushbrook (who I once saw shopping Manchester with Bev from Brookside) in (still) my favourite programme (have at you the less good final season of The West Wing).

I think you could actually see the directorial difference here. Were Euros Lynn is all about interesting angle and visceral action, James Strong's more of a wide angle lense, legible action kind of a guy. In moments when I'd expect a handheld we had smooth movement, but there were still those beautiful sweeping crane shots. The editing was a bit weird towards the end though, the repetition of what looked like the Doctor dancing in the cave. Despite some excellent Firefly-style violin chords during the demonic-aaaah scenes, the full orchestral score, whilst suitably epic was still TOO BLOODY LOUD, with some bits of dialogue being lost in the mix. Whose problem is this? The sound mixer? The Dolby downmixer? Murray Gold himself. I mean it's not just us who are noticing this -- I hear even Dead Ringers have done a sketch. Will someone do something please?

Look -- if the only bad thing you can say about an episode is that the music is too loud then something very right must have happened. From the production design that looked like a movie to a script which sounded like one too, the week's Doctor Who raised the bar yet again and confirmed my theory that you take the good with the bad. This time The Age Of Steel allowed to us to bathe in the awe and mystery of The Impossible Planet and I can't wait to see into The Satan Pit.

Thank you, and good night.

Meating places

Food "With so many different fast food chains out there and so many hamburgers to choose from, it leaves one with some of life's most difficult decisions. What hamburger is the best? How do you choose the best tasting hamburger? By simply reading this article. With over 20+ years of scientifically proven taste testing experience, we (my taste buds) have researched the different meats that fast food restaurants have to offer." -- John Money at The Plain Jane

Ugh.

Film When I heard that hack director Brett Ratner had left the Superman project I was happy. When I heard that he'd replaced Bryan Singer on X-Men 3 I was unhappy. Then I saw the trailer and I was happy and again ? and ? well alright this could go on forever but really, I thought that actually, things might not be so bad after all, that the production momentum that Singer could have built up might have been enough for the film to quite good after all.

Today I saw the film.

Oh dear.

I've actually seen some reviews that have talked up the good aspects of the film, but frankly they're all in denial. Most comic book films run a fine line between brilliance and boredom, and I'd say that usually it's something that can't be put into words. Unless your watching Batman & Robin (or walking out as I did).

It's actually very easy to say why X-Men: The Last Stand doesn't work.

There are too many characters and not enough time given for us to care about them, or enough work done to make them distinctive enough, because it features too much bland, placeholder-rate dialogue. It doesn't have a feel for the characters that have been built up in previous films, and too many of them drop out of the film to often and illogically, some giving speeches that are fundamentally wrong as though the words have been written and given to whoever hasn't said anything for while.

There's far too much plot with two stories vying for attention either of which would have been perfectly fine on their own and were in their original comic book form. That one of the plots is from the classic Chris Claremont era and the other from Joss Whedon's latest work on what's been described as the best book since the Chris Claremont era makes the whole thing all the more horrifying.

The spectacle rules the story not the other way around, meaning that unlike the earlier films it lurches from set piece to set piece. Important, iconic story moments that fans will have been waiting for are flubbed away at the expense of other scenes that lack resonance. All of the previous talk about storms coming and the great big battle to end all great big battles add up to naught, especially in the anti-climactic resolution.

It's edited within an inch of its life and doesn't notice that in the Singer films the best moments happened when the characters were just hanging around and chatting. It's not funny enough. It has a horrifyingly generic score. It spends half its time referencing the first film then actually tells us it's referencing the first film in the dialogue.

Hmm.

But paradoxically there are still some moments of genius, hairs on the back of the neck brilliance. Some of the characters work extremely well when they're given room, especially Beast and Kitty Pride who both have the best fight scenes in the film. Despite looking uncomfortable with some of his lines, Hugh Jackman's still great as Wolverine and given that she ends up effectively carrying the other half the film, Hallie Berry finally shines in her role as Storm.

Some of the new mutants are special even if many of them feel generically characterized. The opening scene in the Danger Room is fun even if it tosses off a plotline from the comics that would have been excellent had the filmmakers had the balls to have gone with it, especially since it is the actual final battle, not the sortie that appears here. Some of the special effects are, well, special, even if at times it feels as though the film pauses for a while so that we can see them.

Really this is one of those cases when I'd sufficiently lowered my expectations and still ended up disappointed. To be honest, it's amazing how carefully the X-Men trilogy has paralleled a certain other sacred trilogy. And just like Jedi, this'll pass the time but not make you feel truly satisfied.

Burger

Food "IF an American tells you to go and try the best hamburger in town, you might start thinking of one of the American diners decorated with those oh-so-typical red leather seats and chrome bar stools, purchased out of a How to make an American Diner catalogue. The hamburgers there are huge, garnished with half a kilo of Freedom Fries, swim in ketchup and mayonnaise, and, horror of horrors, the juice has been squeezed from the pickles." -- Eszter Bal√°zs on a Budapest burger battle.

Pianonono

Music The theme from Tetris played on a badly tuned piano. But she's not the only one @ YouTube with the bug. There are thousands ...

Healthy

Life I've handed my essay in and I'm in the process of trying to do some reading although with the summer and the fact that everyone else in the university seems to be having fun it's very easy be distracted. Which is possibly why I'm typing this rather than have my head in the book.

As I walked away from the faculty I was heckled by someone, an older man with a friend. They were both bearded and in old looking clothing. They were carrying half drunk bottles of white cider.

"Hey student." He shouted, "You're healthy lookin' for a student. Are your mummy and daddy in the police? Is your daddy a mason?"

Wierd.

Grin

Politics Since this seems to be a politics and plants sort of a day, lets join our correspondent Nick Robinson as he asks Just Why Is Gordon Brown Smiling?

Plant envy

Plants " There is more to nettles than just their sting. Butterflies love them, clothes are made from them, and they can even cure aches and pains. This week (17-28 May) is national Be Nice to Nettles Week and this Saturday 27 May the Natural History Museum is celebrating with a Nettle Day. You can take part in a range of talks, activities, tuck into nettle-based food or even buy nettle gifts."

I seemed to spend my whole childhood being stung by these things. And every single time I'd cry. And every single time my Dad would rush off to look for some dock leaves to cure the pain. Despite the medicinal effects of the nettle, it's really those dock leaves that are the heroes in this. But's not national Be Dandy to Dock Leaves week is it? It's always the bad guys that get all the glory.

News cycle

Politics "Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies' products. [...] The range of VNR is wide. Among items provided by the Bush administration to news stations was one in which an Iraqi-American in Kansas City was seen saying "Thank you Bush. Thank you USA" in response to the 2003 fall of Baghdad. The footage was actually produced by the State Department, one of 20 federal agencies that have produced and distributed such items." -- Andrew Buncombe

I don't usually cover US politics here (or any kind of politics for that matter) but this is really, really horrifying. I suppose the comparison are those media outlets that use the video packs that film companies send out to publicise films in which they'll sometimes use the interviews and pretend the particular actor or director was talking directly to them. But this is political propeganda that cuts to the heart of the subject of journalistic independence. As far as we can tell these news outlets don't have to release this stuff, but that fact that they do and pass it off as real news is wierd. But then I look at the news in the UK when parliament is sitting and see how often the top story is some initiative that the government here is due to/has announced at such time that it'll perfectly hit the news cycle and I wonder. But then, I suppose, in those cases, balance is provided through the opinion of other parties ...

Most comic, Holmes ...

Comics "It was about this time that DC tried to break away from its policy of pushing fifties and sixties reprints and make a few bold moves, creating short-run comics with new characters to see if any spark caught flame. Among such other legendary notables as King Arthur and Beowulf, Mr. Sherlock Holmes appeared in his very own comic for September-October 1975, a double-story issue that contained extremely abbreviated versions of "The Final Problem" and "The Empty House." -- Douglas Johnston at A Study In Sherlock

Raw nerve

Film George Lucas must really hate the fans who paid for his ranch. Remember all the excitement a few months ago because the original, original versions of the Star Wars trilogy were being released? Forget it. Details have emerged and far from spending a few dollars to clean up the prints and releasing them in any kind of quality. They're apparently using the old laserdisc masters and dropping them onto the disk non-anamorphically which'll be fine if your tv set is square but if you're like me and widescreen it won't look that much better than high end VHS -- well ok that's an exageration, but it certainly won't have the same picture or sound quality that other films have enjoyed. There's also a useless space gulping X-Box demo which means the bit-rate'll be shot to pieces. It gets worse.

Rage in the fan community has led to statement from Lucasfilm's publicity. I'm going to reproduce it in full with commentary, because I haven't had a good textual rant in a while and this looks ripe for it ...

I wanted you to know how much we appreciate the passion and enthusiasm you have for Star Wars, and thank you for sharing your concerns about our upcoming DVD release.

Doesn't the tone of that sound a bit patronising. It reminds me of the Magrathean defence system on the Heart of Gold in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy .. 'We'd like to thank you for your interest in our planet and it's services...' Erm. We paid for Lucasfilm by endless buying your products. Be nice to us.

The DVDs being released in September will contain two versions of Star Wars: Episodes IV, V and VI - the Special Editions (which represent George?s vision of the movies) and the first versions, which will be included as bonus material. We hoped that releasing those 'original' movies on a bonus disc would be a way to have some additional fun with the debut of the movies as individual DVDs. We certainly did not want it to become a source of concern or frustration for any of our fans.

One step at a time. It's getting really tiresome when we hear that the special editions of the films are George's vision. Because weren't the original versions his vision? And the original special edition releases? Shouldn't that read George's vision (at the moment). Additionally it's always being said from a Wellesian perspective -- as in -- we'll never see Orson Welles' vision for The Magnificent Ambersons but we have seen a close approximation of Touch of Evil. If that's the case what about the visions of the other two directors of these films, Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand? Whilst the documentary which accompanied the last boxset went some way to debasing Marquand's contribution, the impression was that Kershner certainly had a lot to do with the success of Empire -- has anyone asked him if he wants all the digital jiggery pokery scuzzing up his vision?

After making some play about the fact that they were releasing the original versions we remember from our childhoods -- now it transpires that they're actually being considered 'bonus material' to films we've all bought anyway in a boxset with a bonus disk. How is it 'additional fun' to include them with individual versions of films (let me say it again) the vast majority of fans have bought already anyway. I'm not concerned or frustrated -- I'm annoyed -- because if I want to see those films on dvd as I remember seeing them with my dad at The Woolton Picture House when I was eight (double bill re-release Wars & Empire with ice-cream and Kiora in the middle) I'm going to have to buy a dvd that I already own and pay extra for the privilege. Err, thanks.

As you may know, an enormous amount of effort was put into digitally restoring the negatives for the Special Editions. In one scene alone, nearly 1 million pieces of dirt had to be removed, and the Special Editions were created through a frame-by-frame digital restoration. The negatives of the movies were permanently altered for the creation of the Special Editions, and existing prints of the first versions are in poor condition.

Here's what I don't understand. If the films were cleaned up for the special edition then presumably scanned into the computer for the CG and whatnot, surely these cleaned up versions are going to be the original versions except, err, cleaner. As they said once on South Park -- 'Chewbacca the wookie -- forest moon of Endor -- this does not make sense...' Has something interesting gone on with the negative that we as film fans (and possible historians) aren't privy to? The wierdness continues. The second sentence indicates that the original negatives for the films, those vital items from which all celluloid prints are struck have been "permanently altered for the creation of the Special Editions, and existing prints of the first versions are in poor condition." It's fairly ambiguous as to what that means but if it means that the original negatives have been damaged -- and by that I mean as well as being cleaned actually been physically changed in some way that's just terrible -- if only from a film archiving and history point of view becuase it means that when we're all gone and someone wants to visit a version of the original negative for educational purposes or new release in the future, they're not there. What's wrong wrong with them that they couldn't be used for this release?

So many fans have requested the original movies, we wanted to find a way to bring them to you.

OK. Thanks. How about releasing the newly cleaned up versions, with the original commentaries from the laserdisks and anamorphically, with the deleted scenes that we still know are knocking around because they appeared on the Behind The Magic CD-ROM last decade? Hell even a reasonably priced vanilla release would do.

But since these movies do not represent George's artistic vision, we could not put the extraordinary time and resources into this project as we did with the Special Editions. The 1993 Laserdisc masters represented the best source for providing the original versions as DVD bonus material. Although these are non-anamorphic versions, they do preserve the original widescreen composition of the movies.

About the only good thing about this is that the soundtrack might actually be closer to what we remember. Anyone reading this who's (a) not a fan of the series (b) not the slightly nerdy type of film fan or (c) thinks I'm crazy won't understand all this jesticulating. But really all I'm asking for is ...

- The chance to buy a reasonably priced version of my favourite film as I remember it from when I was kid (Dad, Woolton Picture House, Kiora) on dvd without having to buy a version I already own
- Anamorphically so that it fits my widescreen tv
- Shiny

And now, based on this apocalyptically bizarre statement ...

- some assurance that the original negatives are still in their archive, peachy clean and available to film historians of the future.

I think they touched a nerve. I'm glad I'm not a really big Star Wars fan or this would have been really annoying. I probably just needed to get some things of my chest and this statement was there for the taking. Oddly enough, I feel much better ...

Thanks George.

washer and dryer

Commuter Life I was passing through Manchester this morning on the train I discovered how some of buildings which back onto the canal have their windows and fixtures washed. The window cleaner, with bucket, mop and squeegy absails down the side of the building, just thin but sturdy looking bit of rope keeping from certain doom. The train had stopped opposite and all of passengers sat mesmerised has he swung there, applying soap, scraping it off leaving those glass pains shiny and newish. Amazing.

Whatever happened to Rin Tin Tin?

Wildlife Low Culture presents -- Animal Superstars. Where are they now? Seriously though -- Animal from The Muppets? I thought he was still very much with us. I thought he'd just changed hands.

Three paragraphs about one thing

Life A progress report. My dissertation research is in full swing although I seem to be in the unusual situation of being bewildered to the point that I can't focus on any one thing but also being unable to switch off from thinking about it. As usual there seems to be almost too much to read, not enough time and an insurmountable hill to finding a road map to follow.

It's a chicken and egg syndrome -- I need to have some idea of the structure of each chapter so that I know what to concentrate on reading, but I won't have a really good idea of the structure until I've done the reading. Also there's all of the film watching which is why I should probably be viewing Love Actually instead of writing this, but I'm attempting the displacement activity approach and trying to concentrate on something else in an attempt to get away from that thing.

I've begun to talk to the dissertation as though it's a person as 'Well, you're going to be about this...' which can't be a good thing. In some ways the handing in date of September seems like an age, but on the other hand it's only three months. And with the snails pace it takes me to write academically. So anyway if I'm not here then I'm there doing that.

Your Space

Elsewhere I now have a MySpace. What have I done?

Would you be quiet, please.

Books "The library last year decided to let the undergraduate masses into the reading rooms. On the face of it, a good idea. The British Library is a national collection funded by taxes, so why should its material be limited to a small band of researchers? But the past 12 months have witnessed a catastrophic collapse in its working environment. The studied calm of the reading room has given way to a hum of mobile phone ringtones, chit-chat and pubescent histrionics. It is difficult to get any work done. As one letter of discontent to Brindley puts it: "Many new readers are simply idling away the hours in the library in time-honoured undergraduate fashion, when one of the great characteristics of the British Library used to be a sense of communal hard work and endeavour by professionals of all ages." -- Tristram Hunt in The Guardian

I haven't obviously been to the reading room so I can't comment on the accuracy of the article, however, based on experience there is one item I really can agree with. Libraries are supposed to be a place for quiet and learning. If there's too much noise that studying becomes impossible, something has definitely gone wrong. One regular reader will be pleased to know that I actually asked someone to talk a bit more quietly at university last week. You know what happened? They apologised then carried on exactly the way they had before...

Echo and the Bunnymen live in the park



Footage at YouTube of a concert in 1982.

Modified Industrial Elevator

Elsewhere CarLoft.

L'Ant En Dec

TV If ever there were a set of circumstances that would lead to The Idiot's Lantern taking a hit, it would be live celebrity football on the other side and a bank holiday. But hey, 'we' still beat them in the averages (by one percent).

BBC 1 ITV 1 BBC 2 Channel 4 Five
19:00 … 5.8 (30.9%) … 5.4 (28.7%) … 1.3 ( 7.0%) … 1.2 ( 6.6%) … 1.0 ( 5.1%)
19:15 … 6.5 (32.7%) … 6.2 (31.5%) … 2.0 (10.1%) … 0.7 ( 3.8%) … 0.5 ( 2.6%)
19:30 … 6.7 (32.8%) … 6.8 (33.5%) … 2.3 (11.1%) … 0.5 ( 2.3%) … 0.5 ( 2.5%)

Does somewhat prove that ITV need to drop in something really special to have an impact -- although when does the next talent show begin? It's not next week is it?

Sour Grapes

Film "IF YOU HATED THE MOVIE SO MUCH WHY DID YOU GO AND SEE IT IN THE FIRST PLACE????? That's what my mom means when she says you have a bad case of sour grapes. Sour grapes is when you don't like something and you tell everyone you don't like it. Its not nice and my mom also says that if you don't have anything nice to say, you shouldn't say anything at all. Your review should have just been one blank space instead of the negative stuff you wrote. I mean, I don't know you so I can't say your'e a bad person, but if writing negative things about people is your thing, then maybe you should write obituaries. That way no one's feeling get hurt because the person you are writing about is dead." -- A young commenter takes issue with the reviewing of a Lyndsey Lohan film at The AV Club. Like whatever.

vitriolic

Journalism "Subjects such as women's issues, racism, anti-war politics, environmental matters and virtually any topic deemed "liberal" inspired some vitriolic comments from readers that I will mention here. I was called everything from "bitch" to "whore" and was often addressed as "sweetie" or "honey" before a launch of expletives. Most attackers took the position that I was just a cute, dumb, college student (even though I was in my late 20s) in an effort to discredit me and I was most reliably attacked by a collection of right-wing Web sites and right-wing men who sent me letters." -- Heidi Schnakenberg for AlterNet

Sorry, but I don't speak 'Argh,' or whatever, so?

Film If Louis Malle had directed Star Wars. It's My Dinner with Chewbacca!

Blade Runner

Film Blade Runner: Final Cut. Does this mean that we'll get everything? Also -- four versions of the film? Isn't the international cut only four seconds longer? I'd just be happy with a good looking restored print of any of the them. The negative used for the now deleted Vanilla release looked like it had been driven over.