Thursday, 17 August 2017

Parenting: never easy [Review: Star Wars Identities]

London is having a good summer for science fiction events. Star Wars Identities is an exhibition of Star Wars costumes, props, models and concept art at the O2 arena, and themed around the parallel life stories of Luke and Anakin and the factors that influenced their personalities - throwing in the odd psychology lesson. Possibly it takes itself a little too seriously in this regard, it would have been perfectly OK just to have put all the genuine movie material on display without this extra dimension of psychology, but it does give the exhibition a bit of structure and it's quite fun too - along the way visitors create their own Star Wars character and backstory with the help of a hi-tech system involving a bracelet sensor used to make life choices at each step.

This is an excellent collection, covering all the films and including everything from the most famous costumes and droid or starship models right through to for some reason the frieze from Senator Palpatine's office, with many exhibits accompanied by concept artwork. Star Wars Identities has been at the O2 Arena since November 2016 and will be there until September 2017.

Well indeed.

Jawa-jawa is better than wara-wara.

Lost in your (Jabba) eyes.

Admire the unbelievably detailed modelling on this Imperial destroyer.

Concept models for the main hero of the Star Wars saga - it's lucky the director chose carefully, otherwise this character might have lacked gravitas and come across as a bit trivial and annoying. In fact the concept work displayed in this exhibition includes some fascinating could-have-beens - including character sketches of an early, female Luke character and a younger, gnome-like Yoda.

You can never have enough spaceships. Mon Calamari cruiser in the foreground.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

[Review: Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets]

When a valuable stolen treasure is sighted in the multi-dimensional Big Market, Valerian and Laureline, two intergalactic special agents are dispatched to recover it - but this turns out to be just the first step in solving a greater mystery connecting the stolen item, the destroyed planet of Mul and the mysterious entity that has taken over part of the multicultural space city Alpha.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a Luc Besson film based on the Valerian and Laureline French graphic novels. The heroes are played by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delavigne. As in the comics, Valerian is straight-laced and does it by the book while Laureline is more of an out-of-the-box thinker; traditional gender personality traits are exaggerated for effect. Somehow they appear younger in the film than in the comics - more or less hormonal, bickering teenagers despite their elite skills, military rank and galaxy-saving duties. Theirs is not the greatest on-screen partnership Hollywood has ever seen. When the chemistry does work the flirting and bickering is fun to watch, but it's hit and miss throughout the film. The plot also veers between child-friendly action, adult innuendo and the aftermath of a serious war crime making me wonder just who it is aimed at.

Valerian also takes inspiration from other sci-fi movies - visually there's a lot in common with The Fifth Element including colourful, entertaining aliens, sharp fashions particularly when it comes to uniform, and eye-popping over-the-top environments. The space megacity of Alpha, born from a series of space handshakes starting with the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz link-up, is a mixture of The Fifth Element's New York and Star Wars' Coruscant. There are plenty of other Star Wars parallels but on the other hand, for some reason none of the Star Wars movies feature a shape-changing alien exotic dancer performing any famous scenes from Cabaret. Why not, George?

I bought my ticket for Valerian with high expectations for the visuals but fairly low for everything else. I came out ahead in that the visuals are indeed pretty good, and much of the film (if not quite all) is entertaining.


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Curved Space [Review: Into The Unknown]

"Into The Unknown" is an incredibly ambitious science fiction exhibition in London. In a relatively small gallery space, the Curve Gallery at the Barbican Centre, there is an attempt to tell the entire story of the science fiction genre, from its' origins ito the present day, it's development across different continents and cultures, and across media including books, films, art, architecture, music, games and more, at the same time exploring the many different concepts that appear in sci-fi. The result is fascinating - an Aladdin's Cave of real treasures that can be explored and enjoyed, interspersed with shelves of sci-fi novels and screens showing clips from classic films.

The main gallery is full of surprises - an interactive Mission Control scene from The Martian, a viewing/listening post dedicated to Afrofuturism, and a short sci-fi film with a script written by a predictive text AI. Outside the main gallery the quest continues with exhibits hidden in nooks and crannies elsewhere in the Barbican. A particularly interesting find was Larissa Sansour's experimental film "In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain" with its' theme of archaeological warfare.

"Into The Unknown" can be seen at the Barbican Centre from 3rd June until 1st September 2017. The website is here.

model of airship "The Albatross" from Jules Verne's novel Robur The Conqueror
robots including Sonny from I, Robot and TARS from Interstellar
model of the miniature submarine from Fantastic Voyage
spacesuits from Star Trek V and Moon
 the portable shared-dreaming device from Inception

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Doctorin' The Tardis



The Sci-Fi Gene welcomes Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor, and looks forward to finding out just how this highly talented actress interprets this unique TV role. Whittaker is best known for her role in Broadchurch but also appeared in Joe Cornish's low budget sci-fi Attack The Block, reviewed here, alongside a certain John Boyega who would incidentally be an excellent choice for the 14th Doctor.