Friday, 31 May 2013

"We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear" Screening: SHORTz

"We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear" will be screened at SHORTz short film and music night on 2nd June at East Bloc, Hoxton. Details here.

Mega Black Jack Geary Vs Giant Honor Harrington

John G. Hemry (Jack Campbell) and David Weber are two acclaimed writers of military sci-fi - the Lost Fleet and Honor Harrington series. I reviewed Dauntless here, have worked my way through Fearless, Courageous and Valiant and the rest of the series since, while I read and enjoyed the Honor Harrington novels several years ago. At first glance they seem very similar: both series describe massed battles between large space fleets with naval command structures and ship classes, clashing at relativistic speeds and fighting with missiles and beam weapons. Both feature very charismatic commanders. Both authors share the extraordinary ability to describe a large and complex military action in such a way that even we civvies can follow the action and understand the tactical errors made by the commanders.

David Weber is an avid historian and draws extensively on history for inspiration. The Napoleonic wars are important but in some ways this is a front – there are coded references to other historical eras everywhere if you start to look for them. The ships of the Star Kingdom have impenetrable shields above and below. As a result they fight like sailships, firing broadsides then rolling to fire double-broadsides, crossing the enemy T, forming walls of battle and so on, with only a little adaptation for three-dimensional theatres and gravity wells. It’s contrived but artfully so, and other features such as the Warshawski hyperspace sails uphold the sailship analogy.

The battles and wars in the Honor Harrington series are often recreations of real historical and political dilemmas: the different attitudes towards losing commanders on British and French sides, for example, or the social pressures that might lead a society first to republicanism and then to war.

Hemry’s background is his own Navy service. While his backstories are equally detailed, the links to specific nations or cultures are much less clear - instead the Alliance seems to be a generic feudal culture while their opponents, the Syndicated Worlds, are an equally generic business-led society where ships are commanded by CEOs. Also, where Weber’s writing celebrates history, Hemry’s seems to celebrate physics: in particular relativistic distortion becomes a major theme in every battle. On the other hand the ships of the Lost Fleet are not constrained by seafaring tactics and, once Blackjack Geary manages to stop his captains’ overreliance on the Suicidal Head On Charge, the 3D tactics become fascinating.

By choosing a more generic setting, Hemry’s writing is less about the morality of specific historical wars and more about the morality of war in general: atrocities and murders, treatment of prisoners, the importance of tactics, the politics, and the value of basic discipline, as well as the human cost of war. These issues come up in the Star Kingdom too, of course, just as they do in real life.

But all this distracts from the most important question: who would win in a fight? Fleet to fleet they are well matched: both are strategic and tactical genii, both have, at times, faced overwhelming odds and snatched victories from the jaws of defeat, both have turned rivals amongst their own captains into faithful allies, and importantly both make their own luck by responding quickly and intelligently to situations. They’re both devious as hell too – expect a battle full of feints, diversions, melodramatics and underhand tactics. Geary might have a slight edge simply because he’s used to commanding a much larger fleet. On the other hand, in a face-to-face combat situation, I don’t think Geary would stand a chance against the coup de vitesse.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Doctorin' The Tardis [Review: The Name Of The Doctor]

My money was on the Doctor being Kandy Man all along... damn.

Madame Vastra hears a cryptic message about the Doctor from a murderer and with Jenny's assistance she brings together Strax, Clara and the deceased River Song via a trance. When the Doctor eventually hears the message himself, he and Clara set out on a voyage to the one place a time traveller should never go - the location of his own grave.

The Name Of The Doctor leads to an extremely clever reveal and central concept, and it does at least look as if the whole Clara story arc has been building to this point. It's also got a lot of heart - some nice scenes with the Doctor and River Song, as well as the relationships between other characters, and for the long-suffering Doctor Who fan there are glimpses of the Doctor's earlier reincarnations, digitally remastered and worked into the plot.

However before you get to the really good stuff, you do have to swallow two bitter pills: the fact that "time travel has always been possible in dreams" (no it hasn't, sorry) and the appearance of the laziest Doctor Who creatures ever, the White-Stocking-Over-A-Plastic-Skull-Maskodonians.

Government cutbacks have gone too far. Even the Romanian entry in this year's Eurovision Song Contest made more of an effort to look sci-fi.

[It's My Life - Cezar]

Some plot elements remain vague and mysterious - it's hinted but not fully explained that the cheap monsters are just information, as is River Song, and this is connected in some way to the Library where her personality was stored after her death. Also, the Doctor and Clara have to Tardis it to the supposed graveyard with great difficulty - but the Cheapikons can get there, bringing Vastra and the others, using only background music and a couple of focus pulls. The last few seconds make no sense, but not to worry - Moffat and friends have until November to come up with a plausible explanation. Once again an episode promoted as something incredible turns out just to be a regular one but still enjoyable.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A Mind Forever Voyaging [Review: A Man Of Parts]

“It would be no more than justice to give his name to the twenty-five years between the ‘nineties and the War. For it was he who largely wove their intellectual texture.” - Odette Keun, 1934

As a writer of fiction, the subject of this quote and David Lodge's "fictional biography" created genres and concepts including alien invasion and the time machine, pushed the scientific romance firmly into the literary mainstream, helped to shape the modern novel and increased the division between popularist and artistic literature - while predicting the role of air supremacy and nuclear weapons long in advance of their development. As a writer of fact his account of the history of the world commanded international respect until it was superceded. As a politician he was present and influential in the early days of the Fabian Society, and as a celebrity and socialite his scandalous love-life and general misbehaviour was never far from the public eye. Oh, and he invented table-top wargaming too.

David Lodge's "fictional biography" of H.G.Wells is in fact a fastidiously-researched and well written account, putting Wells' fictional and non-fictional writing into context: Lodge’s evidence entirely justifies Keun’s statement, while advancing the argument that he could have achieved far more in any of his endeavours, were it not for the consequences of his scandalous personal life. The "fictional" status of the book allows the author to take two liberties: to imagine the internal dialogue as an elderly and physically frail H.G. looks back on his life, and to take the reader behind closed doors imagining the intimate relationships between H.G. and his wives and lovers. H.G. is his own sharpest critic, whether commenting on the racism that surfaces in some of his novels, or dividing between those women he loved and those he did not.

Many of the real-life characters in the novel are brought to life in a very personal way: not only familiar authors such as Henry James and E.Nesbit, but in particular Amy Catherine or "Jane", H.G.'s wife. She emerges as a complex character herself, choosing more than just to tolerate her husband's behaviour, often befriending and supporting his mistresses after he had abandoned them. At times it is possible to see H.G. as a true believer in libertine values but overall, on balance he appears to have been more of an opportunist accepting female attention as a consequence of his fame, and his attitude to women was a long way from any present-day semblance of equality.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Drop Your Shoulder

"Drop Your Shoulder" (C) Tenderstar 2012

Tenderstar recording session at Resident Studios 20.5.12. All tracks mixed by Matt Burns. Videos produced and edited by Joshua Westbury for Tenderstar, with thanks to Max Blustin for additional technical input.

Previous videos from this session here or on my Short Films page.

Find Tenderstar here or on their Facebook page.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Written Off

Written Off, a short comedy directed by Sophie Caramigeas. My contribution to this film is small - just the titles and credits animation. Expect to see some exciting things from the producers, Caramie and Tiger Dreams, over the coming year.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Killer Eels From Mars

Molly Brown's short film, made for a Kino Challenge. One of the voice-overs sounds strangely familiar...

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Epic Journey Baggins [Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey]

As an aside, may I say how excited I was to learn that The Hobbit has been shot at the revolutionary hi-tech rate of 48 frames per second. I must add that my sheer ecstasy at this envelope-pushing feat was only slightly tempered by the fact that, thanks to the miracle of interlacing, television has been broadcast at 50 frames per second since the 1920s. Way to go Peter Jackson!

Do I need to summarise? Perhaps. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of a planned trilogy adapted from Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the prequel to The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) recounts an adventure that takes him out of the cosy Shire and into the dangerous reaches of Middle Earth in the company of an elderly wizard (Sir Ian McKellan) and a band of dwarves seeking to re-take their mountain kingdom.

There is a trend for expanding books into multiple films: Harry Potter 7 and Twilight 4 were both made into two-parters. The commercial advantages are obvious, although in the case of Harry Potter 7 I think it was also a good artistic decision.

However, The Hobbit is a short, children’s novel, so developing it into a trilogy means playing fast and loose with the pacing, expanding back-stories, flashbacks and action scenes sometimes to the point of boredom. On the other hand some of the action is great – a scene in which nature-wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) leads the Orcs a merry chase in his rabbit-sleigh is both dramatic and amusing, in keeping with the light tone of the novel.

Another aspect of the film perhaps a little too faithful to the novel is the near-absence of femininity. Unlike modern sci-fi and fantasy which is full of strong, confident and interesting female characters, Tolkien's cast are predominantly male, and I have to be honest and say I found the film a little less enjoyable as a result. Cate Blanchett is excellent as the elven queen, for her few minutes on-screen. Otherwise women are just background – Hobbit washerwomen in the Shire, elven musicians in Rivendell. There may have been a female dwarf running away from a dragon in one of the flashbacks.

Overall the strengths of this film outweigh these points – as with The Lord Of The Rings, Tolkien’s fantasy landscape is once again brought to life, the film is very faithful to the characters and Middle Earth lore, and once again the cast are incredible – hard to say which out of Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis (once again playing Gollum via motion-capture) or Sylvester McCoy is the real show-stealer.