Sci-Fi Cinema vs Sci-Fi TV – The Verdict?

I rarely go to the cinema any more, if at all. The last film that I went to see was The Avengers, four years ago in 2012. Before that, it was X-Men: First Class in 2011, Avatar and Star Trek, way back in 2009, and The Dark Knight, in 2008. All in all, I think I’ve been to the cinema no more than a half dozen times since my son died, back in April 2006.

Why? For starters, the cost. Going to the cinema is an expensive pursuit these days, and the cost of admission alone isn’t much less than the price of a DVD. Then on top of that, you have to factor in the transport costs to and from the cinema, plus paying out for something nice to eat afterwards or during the film. It can make for a costly night out, and it just might be cheaper to go to the pub instead.

So is it worth paying that kind of money just to watch a film, particularly when the chances of being badly disappointed by any new Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster are unfortunately extremely high? The quality of the typical big Hollywood sci-fi movie over the past couple of decades has been absolutely dire, especially when we look back at how good the classic sci-fi films of the 1950s-1980s were by comparison. I don’t even bother going to see most films at the cinema at all these days, no matter how much they’re hyped. I simply prefer to wait for the DVD to come out and watch the film in the comfort of my own home. The fact is that, for me, the cinema is no longer the essential large viewing experience that it once was.

In years past, if I wanted to watch the film on a large screen, I HAD to go to the cinema. Now I have a lovely big widescreen TV at home, I can buy the DVD when it comes out, and watch it as often as I like (with subtitles, pause, rewind, etc) in the comfort of my own home, either alone, or with friends. So Why bother forking out a load of cash to go to the cinema, where there are all kinds of annoyances (mobile phones flashing non-stop throughout the film, disruptive cretins yapping incessantly and misbehaving, annoying kids kicking the back of your seat, people walking up and down the isles or back and forth in front of you during the film, the inevitable sore backside sitting on those crappy cinema seats, which makes the last hour or so VERY uncomfortable during longer films, etc), when, for a less than £20, I can have the DVD, a few cans of beer (a pleasant bonus when viewing at home, but strictly verboten in cinemas), and lie back on the sofa and enjoy the film on my BIG television in comfort and in peace and quiet?

But the most important reason? It’s illustrated by a remark made by friend and fellow member (Dennis Howard) over on the FanCentral social network a few years ago. He said (in words to this effect) that he rarely watches (modern) sci-fi films any more, because he’s very rarely impressed by them, and because all of the best sci-fi is happening on television anyway, not in film. It’s a spot-on observation, in my opinion, and one that I agree with very strongly. There’s only so much you can squeeze into a two-hour film, and when you consider that most modern Hollywood sci-fi movies are mostly made up of action sequences, big explosions and special effects, it doesn’t leave much time for anything else. As a result, two of the most important things that should be paramount, but tend to suffer badly in newer Hollywood movies, are the actual stories/plots and character development. I almost always walk away from the cinema afterwards feeling dissatisfied about those two aspects of a film.

This is where television has cinema beaten hands down. Old-style sci-fi television was strictly episodic in nature, with a built-in reset button at the end of every episode. But Babylon 5 changed all that back in the 90s, and today, most decent modern sci-fi series can have intricate on-going plot arcs and sub-plots that simply are not possible in a two-hour film, and the same holds true for the ongoing character development of both the main and the supporting cast. Add to this the fact that modern special effects on TV have reached such a high level of technical quality and sophistication that television sci-fi no longer looks cheap and cheesy, and we can see that most decent sci-fi concepts would be better served in a television series than in a film. Hey, even if the series gets cancelled after one or two seasons (an ever-present danger with the TV networks), we still get a LOT more than we ever would from a two-hour movie.

Sure, I still buy the best of the films on DVD, although they do tend to be older sci-fi cinema classics rather than modern films. But these past couple of years, I’ve turned more and more to television shows, and taken to buying DVD boxsets of classic and modern sci-fi series. I started off with buying classic older series such as Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel, UFO, The Tomorrow People, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Time Tunnel, Timeslip, Children of the Stones, Sky, Quatermass, The Invaders, Fireball XL5, Space Patrol, Moonbase 3, Babylon 5, the X-Files, Stargate SG1/Atlantis/Universe, Quantum Leap, and Star Trek TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY/ENT. But I’ve also been grabbing boxsets of more modern series as they’ve come down in price – Fringe, BSG, Heroes, Smallville, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, NuWho and a few others. I just wait patiently for new stuff to be released on DVD at reasonable prices, and buy them.

I’ve pretty much adopted the same policy as Dennis, to concentrate mostly on sci-fi television series, but take that further to such an extent that my objective has become one of grabbing as many classic sci-fi television series as I possibly can on DVD. Aside from having all these old gems to watch, it also gives me a lot more to talk about here on my blog, on FanCentral, and in any of the other geek forums that I hang out in. Which can only be a good thing, if I do say so myself. 🙂

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Some New Gerry Anderson DVDs

Last time out, I posted about a few new DVDs that I’d recently picked up, namely Nigel Kneale’s creepy 1972 television horror film The Stone Tape, and two DVD box sets comprising the entire twenty-four episode run of Gerry Anderson’s classic sci-fi television series UFO.

Well, this time out, I’ve gotten my hands on two more Gerry Anderson DVDs. First up is the 1969 film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, and second is The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson. I’ve been enjoying both DVDs, for different reasons (I’ll always find something interesting in any Gerry Anderson DVD), and I’ll make more detailed comments on both of them individually in upcoming separate posts.

I’m on a real roll with buying Gerry Anderson DVDs at the moment. I’ll be forking out for a few more Anderson series in the near future – Space: 1999, Captain Scarlet (classic and modern), Thunderbirds and Joe 90 are high on the list. But I have a strong hankering to make my first choice Filmed in Supermarionation. I’ve heard so many good things about this classic Anderson behind-the scenes documentary, but I’ve never actually seen it. So the curiosity is getting the better of me, and it has moved to the top of the list.

I can’t wait to see that one! 🙂

Some Good New Movies on Film4 (25th Feb 2016)

Last night was a pretty good night on television for sci-fi films. We had three in a row on favourite channel Film4, which pretty much took up the entire night’s viewing.

We started off with the Men in Black 2 (2002) sequel, a fun film featuring lots of great action scenes and good character sequences with Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith and the various aliens. It also featured the sexy and evil Lara Flynn Boyle as the main bad girl/alien, and the young and stunningly beautiful Rosario Dawson as Will Smith’s love interest. Overall, an enjoyable film, if not very original. It is, basically, a rerun of Men in Black 1.

Next out, we had Hellboy (2004), which is one of my favourite comic book-based films, and one of my favourites directed by Guillermo del Toro. It’s very different from any of the superhero films, and all the better for it, as I much prefer the horror themes of the film, with its Lovecraftian overtones. There’s a great cast, too. Ron Perlman is absolutely perfect in the title role. I don’t think they could’ve found better if they tried. And he had a great supporting cast in John Hurt (Professor Broom), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Rupert Evans (John Myers), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning), and bad guys Karel Roden (Rasputin), Ladislav Beran (Karl Ruprecht Kroenen) and Bridget Hodson (Ilsa Haupstein). Cracking film, and a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Lastly, we had a surprise package, one of those foreign movies that just keeps you glued to your seat. Swedish horror vampire classic Let the Right One In (2008) was probably my favourite film of the night, beating even Hellboy. This vampire film is totally unlike any of the Hollywood “sparkly vampire” schlock (yes, I’m pointing the finger at you, Twilight Saga), a grim, gritty and gripping movie that I enjoyed a lot, the story of a relationship and budding romance between a young boy being bullied at school and a young girl, who just happens to be a vampire.

There was also a surprisingly good US remake of this film which came out a couple of years later, Let Me In (2010) starring Chloë Grace Moretz (Hit-Girl from the Kick Ass films) in the role of the vampire. For a Hollywood remake, it kept the essence of the original really well, despite a few plot changes and the Americanization of the location and characters. I actually saw the US version a couple of years ago, before I saw the original, and was very impressed. But the original Swedish version is a cracker, at least as good, if not better, than the excellent remake. Both are great films, and I’d recommend them to any fans of horror/vampire films.

Overall, a great night’s viewing. Film4 is definitely one of my favourite TV channels.

Happy Back to the Future Day!

Has anybody seen any Deloreans recently? ‘Cos today, Wednesday, October 21st, 2015, is Back to the Future Day!!

It’s time to get out your Back to the Future Box-Sets, and stick on the classic 1989 movie sequel Back to the Future II, the future leg of the classic time travel/time loop romp. The entire trilogy is a real mind-bender, kicking off from the home base of 1985, back to 1955, forward to 1985 again, then forward even further to 2015, back again, but sideways, to the dystopian alternate 1985, back to 1955 again, then back to 1885, before finally jumping forward to the “real” (but slightly altered and much-improved) 1985 again. Phew! What a trip!

It’s funny comparing the fantasy Back to the Future II Wednesday, 21st October, 2015 to the real one. It’s just as much, if not more, of an alternate reality than the alternate 1985 in Back to the Future II itself. As with most sci-fi futures, a lot of it is laughably wrong (hey, it IS a comedy, after all), but there are a few things that have come to pass, or almost come to pass (anyone mention hoverboards?). But I won’t dwell on that now, as this particular topic is all over the internet at the moment, rivalling the hype surrounding the new Star Wars movie. I always love this “tomorrow isn’t what it was” kinda thing, so I just sit back and have a good chuckle and revel in the contradictions.

The time-travelling adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown comprise one of the very best, and definitely most fun, series of sci-fi cinema adventures in the history of Hollywood blockbusters. And just by coincidence, I’m sitting here right now, watching ITV2, which is showing the entire Back to the Future trilogy, back-to-back. And what’s playing right now? Yes, Back to the Future II! 🙂 We’re right in the middle of the alternate 1985 sequence at the moment, my very favourite part of the entire trilogy.

Anyway, I’m off to sit back, chill, and enjoy the rest of the trilogy. Happy BACK TO THE FUTURE DAY!!!!

Some Nice Saturday Night Viewing

It’s been an interesting Saturday evening so far on the television. I’ve been watching a couple of interesting sci-fi items which are helping wile away some time before I head out for my customary Saturday night out on the town.

First up was The Ultimate Guide to Doctor Who Part 2. The first part was a detailed look at the history of the Doctors and their companions, enemies and adventures during the Classic Series. Tonight’s second part was another hour long examination of the Doctor’s life, this time starting with Paul McGann and working through the first three Doctors of the new series.

Right now, I’m watching a very good time travel film, Looper (2012), a nice, twisty, paradox-y time travel tale. There are a few big-name actors in this one, including Bruce Willis, Jeff Daniels, Emily Blunt and Joseph-Gordon Lovett. It’s just ended a minute ago, and I gotta say that I didn’t see that one coming. 🙂

The Lost World (1960)

I was watching an old movie on Film4 on Sunday evening that brought back many good old memories for me. It was one of those oldies that I’d first seen way back when I was a kid, sometime during the first seven or eight years of my life, and is one that I hadn’t seen in many, many years.

The film in question was the second cinema version (1960) of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic 1912 novel The Lost World (the first version was the 1925 silent movie classic). The story involves an expedition to one of those “lost” regions of the world which were so popular back in the days before pretty much the entire world was explored and mapped. “Lost World” stories were very popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Lost civilizations in the jungles of darkest Africa and South America, beneath the sea, at the Earth’s core, indeed anywhere as yet unexplored, which could still harbour exciting adventures and unknown mysteries.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story was originally published as a serial in the Strand Magazine during the months of April–November 1912, and it took an expedition of explorers and scientists to South America, and up into the deepest, most unexplored regions of the Amazon, to a previously undiscovered plateau, where dinosaurs and other extinct prehistoric creatures had survived and still thrived. There were also cannibalistic native humans, who proved to be more dangerous than the dinosaurs, and who had wiped out a previous expedition.

The 1960 film adapts the original novel very loosely, taking a lot of liberties. And it was produced by Irwin Allen, king of the cheap and cheerful (in other words, terrible) special effects. Huge chunks of stock footage were later lifted from this film and just plonked down wholesale into several of Allen’s 1960’s television series, notably Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants and The Time Tunnel. Irwin Allen was the biggest cheapskate ever in the history of sci-fi television and cinema. He’s right up there alongside Ed Wood and Plan 9 from Outer Space. 🙂

Did I mention that the SFX are dire? Even for 1960, the special effects are terrible, and, by comparison, the ancient 1925 silent version, with the legendary Willis O’Brien producing the effects, was far superior technically. And O’Brien’s dinosaurs were proper dinosaurs, too. The 1960 film? Dinosaurs? Don’t make me laugh. The “dinosaurs” were a bunch of iguanas, monitor lizards and a baby alligator, all with bumps and horns glued to them. “Triceratops” was the baby alligator. “Stegosaurus” was a monitor lizard. “Iguanodon” (a bipedal dinosaur) was a four-legged iguana lizard (Allen must’ve looked at the names and thought “Iguana = Iguanodon”). And worst of all, “Tyrannosaurus”, the most famous dinosaur of all, the fearsome alpha predator, was played by a four-legged monitor lizard with glued-on horns and fins (Tyrannosaurus was two-legged and had neither horns nor fins). Even as a seven or eight year-old child, I knew my dinosaurs, and found these pathetic attempts totally hilarious. Anyone over the age of five these days would be howling with derision.

After all that slagging off, what is there good that can be said about the film? Granted that it is pretty lame by modern cinema standards, most of the criticisms are on the technical and SFX side of things. There is still an old-fashioned charm to this old movie, and it is certainly fun to watch. And even the so-called “dinosaurs” are hilarious, in a rather pathetic (“they aren’t dinosaurs!”) way. But the biggest redeeming feature of the film is definitely the cast, which included a number of big names – Michael Rennie, Claude Rains (as the cantankerous and hilarious Professor Challenger, the real star of the film), David Hedison and Jill St. John. They all played their parts straight and extremely well, which most likely elevated the film to a higher rating than it should otherwise have received (in my book, at least).

But most of the attraction for me is certainly on a personal level, namely the life-long nostalgia effect that links me to this film. I saw it at a very early age and it left a lasting impact on me, which led to bigger, better things. It lead directly to me reading the vastly superior original novel shortly afterwards at about age eight or nine, just as seeing George Pal’s classic 1960 cinema version of The Time Machine had led to me reading the original H. G. Wells novel a year or so before reading The Lost World.

Watching The Lost World for the first time all those years ago, was one of those formative encounters that helped lay the foundations that made me the geek that I am today. The film may not have dated very well by twenty-first century standards, but it still holds that old charm and nostalgia for me, and I’ll always make sure to watch it occasionally on TV when it gets shown every few years.

Classic Sci-Fi Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (1963)

I’m sitting here in the (very) early hours of Boxing Day, watching Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1963 horror/fantasy thriller The Birds on Film4. I haven’t seen this one from beginning to end in many, many years, so I’m enjoying it a lot.

The main characters are played by Rod Taylor (three years after his role in George Pal’s classic 1960 movie The Time Machine), Tippi Hedren (I can’t recall her in anything else), Suzanne Pleschette, Jessica Tandy and a very young Veronica Cartwright. But the real stars of the film are the birds.

The story is a classic “what-if” with an impending apocalyptic theme, and is loosely based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier. It is set in the tiny California harbour town of Bodega Bay, which is under siege by thousands of birds. The birds are launching sporadic, seemingly random attacks on the inhabitants, causing mayhem, destruction and even killing a number of people including one of the main characters, the local school teacher. There are several truly disturbing and memorable scenes, in which the birds attack the children during a party and later at the school, the mass attack and destruction at the diner/petrol station, and the final attack at the home of Mitch’s mother, in which Melanie (Tippi Hedren) is almost killed in the bedroom and left traumatised.

I did have a bit of a chuckle during the scene at the diner (just before the birds attack) where the old lady ornithologist states that there are a hundred billion birds in the world, and if they really have all ganged up together to attack the human race, we’d have no chance. I seriously doubt that, and I believe that if a war ever did break out between the birds and humans, we would very efficiently render every single one of them extinct. Cue images of tens of thousands of rednecks and Dick Cheney types blasting countless millions of poor birdies out of the sky and having great fun doing so.

The film has just ended, and never really explains why the birds are attacking. The conclusion has the protagonists just driving off in a car, under the watchful eyes of thousands of menacing birds, who just let them go, we never find out why. There is some inference (from news reports on the car radio) that the attacks are spreading beyond Bodega Bay, and that this is the beginning of the end for the human race.

That was certainly two-and-a-half hours well spent. 🙂