Tag Archives: movies

Should there be a Doctor Who movie?

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Yesterday afternoon, Twitter lit up with news and/or rumours that a Doctor Who movie is in production. The accuracy of this seems in doubt – an article in Variety seems fairly definite, but Doctor Who Magazine, easily the most trustworthy DW news source, says it’s just the same rumours that have been doing the rounds for years. I’m really none the wiser, although the kurfuffle did drive traffic towards a non-movie-related DW post I wrote, so that was helpful.

Putting aside the accuracy of the reports, should there be a Doctor Who movie? The smart alec answer is that there’ve already been two, back in the sixties, remakes of the first two Dalek stories starring Peter Cushing. Big screen adventures out of continuity with the TV show are nothing new. And yet…

And yet I’m not convinced that film is the best medium for Doctor Who. One of the show’s strengths is that it has an incredibly flexible format – one week it can be about a comedy encounter with Agatha Christie, the next week it can be about the horrors of World War I. By picking one type of story to focus on, a movie, by necessity, loses that flexibility – what story would they go for? A big space opera conflict with the Daleks? A funny alien meeting a girl from contemporary Britain? A story set during a well-known historical event? All of these are representative of Doctor Who – picking just one could have a Schrodinger’s Cat-like effect on the flexibility, the fluidity of the concept. That’s why Doctor Who‘s natural home is serialised television.

(It also doesn’t help that film’s tend to be about the key moment in their lead character’s life – taking the TV series as a guide, this would be the Doctor leaving his home planet in the first place or specific details about the apocalyptic Time War… And yet we don’t need to see these. They’re the motivation behind the Doctor’s every action, but the mystery surrounding specifics is compelling. Again, the flexibility to imagine your own answer to these questions is a powerful aspect of the show. Indeed, fan engagement is one of the main reasons it’s lasted so long.)

Of course, over the last few weeks I’ve been influenced by the book/blog TARDIS Eruditorum, which makes the point that the serialised nature of Doctor Who is one of its key strengths – that’s why, for much of its history, the show was based around an episodic structure, complete with cliffhangers – you get to imagine your own continuation of the story for a week before seeing how that marries up with what the writers came up with – even the relaunched series is based around plot arcs. Film lacks this, unless you take the risky move of doing a trilogy.

But, and here I’ve nicked another idea from the Eruditorum, one of the themes of Doctor Who is running and escape: “I ran,” the 10th Doctor once said, “In some ways I’ve been running ever since.” The ever changing setting, bouncing around galaxies and history, adds to this – never stand still, never hang around, never go home. A one-off story doesn’t give you this. A film series could, but it wouldn’t really do anything that couldn’t be done more effectively on TV.

And don’t cite film’s ability to get big name actors and huge special effects, because Doctor Who has produced great stuff on a budget of five quid and a bag of crisps, and one look at the guest cast since 2005 reveals plenty of acting talent, thank you very much.

Anyway, the film looks like just a rumour at the moment. I’m not going to worry about it or channel the Geek Rage. Doctor Who remains, at its heart, a TV show that goes out on a Saturday evening and lets your imagination run riot between episodes. Even if it makes it to the big screen again, or is holographically projected into our living rooms, that’s what it will always be. Long may it continue.

 

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You Are What You Choose To Be: Some thoughts on ‘The Iron Giant’

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This post contains spoilers!

Today is International Animation Day, and so I thought it would be nice to talk about one of my favourite animated movies. The Iron Giant, released in 1999 and starring Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr and Vin Diesel, is the story of a lonely child, Hogarth Hughes, who encounters and befriends a giant robot from space. You’d think that would be enough, being an adaptation of Ted Hughes’ book The Iron Man, but there’s something else that makes the film dear to me. You see, The Iron Giant is the best Superman film ever made.

At one point in the film, Hogarth is showing the Giant a pile of magazines when they come across a comic featuring an evil robot, Atomo. The Giant instinctively relates to the cover – over the course of the film it’s revealed that he’s a heavily armed war machine – but Hogarth’s having none of this – he sees the Giant as being more like another comic book character:

Oh, here. This is Superman. He’s a lot like you. Crash-landed on Earth, didn’t know what he was doing… but he only uses his powers for good, never for evil. Remember that.

Hogarth’s being naive, of course – the military antagonists hunting the Giant probably have a clearer grasp of the situation, as he was obviously sent to Earth on a mission of conquest. Naivety triumphs over expedience though; although the Giant reacts to perceived threats by, well, blowing them up, his relationship with Hogarth helps him to transcend his programming:

DEAN: He’s a piece of hardware, Hogarth. Why do you think the army was here? He’s a weapon, a big…big gun that walks.

THE GIANT: I… I not gun.

You can’t help but have sympathy for the guy – we’ve got a tendency to categorise each other by what we do for a living, or where we come from. Often that’s not meant to be malicious or exclusionary but it creates a straight-jacket all the same, trapping us within the expectations and perceptions of others. There are still jobs in which women are seen as anomalies; when Obama became president, people wanted to see his birth certificate. Prejudice become handcuffs we slap on the dreams and aspirations of other people. Heck, this is more widespread than we’d imagine – how many rock stars were told to get a job in a bank because of the limited career opportunities for musicians?

Anyway, the movie takes its inevitable course; the military are called in and, because the military in these stories are always misguided and foolish, a nuclear missile is launched at the town. This is 1957, the height of the Cold War, and atomic destruction is an ever-present spectre. And yet there is hope, because the Giant has s decision to make:

HOGARTH (IN FLASHBACK): You are who you choose to be.

THE GIANT: Superman.

With that, the Giant flies to intercept the missile, saving the town but being destroyed in the process, and I’ll openly admit that I cried. One of the themes of Superman over the years is that it’s not really about the powers, it’s the heart and soul behind them, and that’s always been a powerful idea to me. And so maybe it was the animation, maybe it was the evocation of all those Superman comics I’ve read over the years, but The Iron Giant hit me in an emotional way that few movies manage.

(And yes, I’m aware that it’s a very similar twist to Terminator 2. I found it moving then as well.)

Because maybe we all carry around an element of fear – that we’re not good enough, that we’ll never really achieve much, that we lack purpose or, worst case scenario, that we’re a gun and that’s all we’ll ever be. It’s not true. Grace and change are possible. You don’t have to be Atomo; you can be Superman. You just have to make that choice, and act like it’s true.

 

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Little Boy Reacts To The Empire Strikes Back’s Big Revelation: Take that, spoiler culture!

I’ve blogged about spoiler culture before, but that took paragraphs to say what this video of a little boy reacting to the big reveal in The Empire Strikes Back says in 46 seconds…

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My Favourite Muppet (Thanks Jim Henson)

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Had he not sadly passed away in 1990, Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, would have turned 75 today. Given the impact the Muppets and their colleagues over on Sesame Street have had on generations of childten, it’s worth taking a moment to remember Jim and his legacy, so here’s a tribute to my favourite Muppet.

Step forward Beaker.

Back in the day, I’d’ve probably chosen Animal as my favourite, or maybe Gonzo. Over the years though, I’ve come to appreciate characters I can relate to, and while I struggle to say I can relate to Animal’s heavy metal anarchism or Gonzo’s chicken obsession, Beaker’s a different story.

For a start, the poor guy’s accident prone – he gets mutilated, savaged, electrocuted, and when things get really bad his head gets squashed into his neck. I can relate – maybe not with the head-squashing thing, but if there’s an opportunity to fall over, smack my head off a low beam, get stuck in a lift or be on a German plane when the pilot delivers an announcement including the word ‘kaput’, you can bet I’ll end up sacrificing my dignity in public. Same as poor old Beaker.

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Then there’s music. Some people, like Pavarotti, can sing. Other people, like Bob Dylan, can’t sing but get hailed as a musical genius anyway. And then there are those of us, like myself and Beaker are doomed to have our musical talents forever forcibly hidden under a bushel. I do a unique version of Born to Run, Beaker participates in a singular rendition of Danny Boy, and maybe both of us will be recognised as legendary in a couple of hundred years or so. Until then, we remain unappreciated, outsider stars in the musical firmanent.

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And then there’s communication. This is an area in which Beaker struggles, pretty much being limited to “meep”. I have a greater vocabulary than that, by at least fifteen words, but sometimes the words just don’t come out. I say “thingy” and “doohickey” more than the holder of an English degree should, and I’ll confess I’ve made the classic election/erection mix-up. Sometimes I think it would be easier if all I could say was meep.

So Beaker, you and I are brothers from another mother. But let’s not forget the man who brought you to a wider audience – you and Kermit and Fozzy and Big Bird; Bert and Ernie, Fraggles and Doozers, decades of fun, learning and frog-led anarchy.

Thank you Jim.

Inconceivable! Some Thoughts On Why The Princess Bride Is Awesome

Before you read any further, if you’re one of the many people who get directed here trying to find out if Robbie Coltrane is in The Princess Bride, IMDB says he isn’t. But now you’re here, I hope you enjoy the rest of the post.

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Yesterday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and I couldn’t think of much to write about it, other than linking to news of the Pirate Party winning local elections in Berlin (and a short but magnificent joke). I realise now that I was blind, for one of my favourite films involves a pirate and it is truly worthy of a thousand blogs. I am, of course, talking about The Princess Bride.

To briefly recap the plot: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy becomes a pirate, boy fights rats, boy rescues girl with the help of a vengeful swordsman and a giant. It’s not particularly complicated but it doesn’t need to be – it’s a fairytale, albeit a slighly snarky and subversive fairytale.

It follows a lot of fairytale traditions, of course, and acknowledges that from the start: the framing device involves a grandfather reading The Princess Bride to his sick grandson. The boy is outaged – he thinks it’s a ‘kissing book’ – but he relents and becomes both audience and commentator to the action. And that’s fair enough, because stories are meant to be interactive, at least to a degree.

(The novel, like the film written by William Goldman, plays with this idea a lot more – the narrator discovers that the original story of The Princess Bride was a political satire and that his own grandfather used to cut out the boring bits when reading it to him. Assume the film as an adaptation of the novel and so many people, both real and fictional, get in on the storytelling action that we never actually get to see the real story. Which is probably for the best, as what we get sounds way better than the original by S. Morganstern.)

The characters are as slippery as the narrative – that’s fair enough, this is a fairytale and its inhabitants are meant to be liminal. A shy, quiet farmboy becomes the biggest badass in town, enemies become allies, disguises are key to the plot, and even the gulf between life and death can be bridged by the semantic difference between the words ‘all dead’ and ‘mostly dead’. After all, this is about storytelling and so language is important: “As you wish” becomes code for “I love you”, we’re reminded that ‘concerned’ isn’t the same as ‘nervous’, and one of the best lines is all about using words you don’t really understand:

“Inconceivable!”
“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

The only thing we can be clear on is True Love, which is eternal and unbreakable, which is the whole point of the movie. You know it’s heading for a happy ending, but that predictability doesn’t matter when the journey’s so much fun.

Because despite my lit-crit wibblings above, The Princess Bride is a really funny film. The casting is spot on (when Harry Potter needed to cast a giant, they called Robbie Coltrane. When The Princess Bride needed to do the same, they got, well, Andre the Giant), and the script is amazing, full of quotable one-liners and punch-the-air declarations if love and revenge. For instance:

You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.”

“This is true love – you think this happens every day?”

“Do you want me to send you back to where you were? Unemployed, in Greenland?!”

“I’m not left-handed.”

“Never go against a Sicillian when death is on the line!”

“Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons!”

“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…”

“I fight gangs for local charities and stuff.”

“Please consider me as an alternative to suicide.”

“Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped.”

(The problem with quoting The Princess Bride is that, like Pringles, once you stop, you can’t stop.)

But despite its subversive attitude, the film works because it has heart; declarations of true love may be over-the-top but they’re sincere (that’s why the movie topped the Top Ten Romantic Movies for Geeks list at Funk’s House of Geekery), and the climactic swordfight between Inigo and the Six Fingered Man features the legendary line “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”. Apparently actor Mandy Patinkin spat that line at the cancer that killed his father and it shows – he means it. That’s what makes The Princess Bride a classic, towering over other films that go for a similar vibe (like, say, Pirates of the Caribbean). And that’s why people love it.

“Grandpa, maybe you could come round and read it to me again tomorrow.”
“As you wish.”

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