Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Event Horizon #30DaysOfFright

event2It is the year 2047, the rescue ship Lewis and Clark is sent to intercept the Event Horizon, a spaceship that mysteriously vanished some seven years earlier but has reappeared. Where has it been, where is the crew and who what is the sinister presence on board? Now the rescue crew, including the creator of the Event Horizon, must rescue themselves before it is too late.

Poor Paul (WS – as he is now known) Anderson has had something of a rough ride on the science-fiction slipstream, with numerous Resident Evils, Death Race and Alien Vs Predator – the latter which I rather liked in a Big Daddy Vs Giant Haystacks kind of way – all drawing buckets of scorn.

For me though his finest hour (or hour and thirty five minutes) has always been the 1997 movie, Event Horizon, and seeing as it part-inspired the uber-atmospheric PS3 smash, Dead Space, I’m not the only one.

event1Essentially the movie is Hellraiser meets The Shining in space…but then the Jaws in space tag never did Alien, which it has a nod to production design and creepiness wise, any harm. And for me that is what makes the movie so much fun, that it is essentially a haunted house movie in space, which is certainly more fun and original than The House on Haunted Hill remake or GhostShip (essentially the same tale as Event but…gasp…set at sea) and certainly better than Jason X which was also set among the stars.

Featuring a stellar (or should that be interstellar) cast comprising of Sam Neill (quite literally exorcising some demons he had left over from In The Mouth of Madness) and Laurence Fishburne, Joely Richardson, a pre-Harry Potter Jason Isaacs and the always dependable Sean Pertwee.

event7Sam Neill, as the designer of the Event Horizon, Dr Weir, is quality as ever, exuding authority and charm at first, with a disturbing back story that haunts him and us for much of the film. At first he is essentially like Ripley in Aliens, has knowledge but not acceptance of the crew. But if he’s good at being good, he’s great at being evil and devilish, see the third part on The Omen trilogy, The Final Conflict, and the aforementioned In the Mouth of Madness for further proof.

Fishburne as Captain Miller, in charge of the Lewis and Clark, is a great no nonsense turn and proves quite the foil to Neill and he really convinces in his leading role.

event4The film is as beautiful as it is deadly and is filled with intrigue, jumps and gore aplenty Event Horizon raises itself above the usual fair due to some wonderful set design and visual imagery – including the mother of all zoom outs from a space station – and a fantastic gate room that is a meld of Stargate meets Hellraiser box via Contact.

Zero gravity has never been so eerie with all manner of objects floating around the titular ship…which is a star of the show in its self, with its great design inside and out, taking its design cue from Notre Dame Cathedral.

event9With elements of The Shining, Alien, The Black Hole, Hellraiser, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Flatliners this isn’t just a mishmash of what we have seen before simply set in space, it is far more intelligent than that. As a psychological space horror Event Horizon has plenty of the crimson stuff and gore, but it is that slowly building sense of dread and pulsating paranoia that gets us as much as the crew.

Adding to the general feeling of unease throughout is the score that is simply something else. Being essentially a science-fiction/horror movie the music is something else, a fantastic fusion of the work of the late Michael Kamen (who worked with Queen on Highlander and scored both the Lethal Weapon series and Die Hards) and the techno sound of Orbital, creating something that is raw and visceral and perfect for the mood of the movie. If you loved Tron Legacy’s score then this is the horror equivalent.

event6Having experienced it on the big screen when it was first released it’s a real surprise that it was something of a misfire at the box office as it really grabs you from the off and engages throughout, delivering both in the science –fiction and horror stakes in buckets (of blood).

I found it a disturbingly thrilling cinematic experience that lingers long after it has been seen, if you haven’t explored the Event Horizon then you are in for one hell of a nerve-jangling ride.

This lean and mean film more than deserves its place with such sci-fi horror classics as Alien and The Thing and certainly packs a mightier punch and more jumps than both Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, the latter released the same year.

event10It’s not so much in space no one can hear you scream and more if no one is on board the Event Horizon then when you scream will anyone hear it? The answer to that one is an emphatic yes. Go see it!

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Gremlins #30DaysOfFright

grem1To describe Gremlins as a kid’s film would be like describing the Bates Motel as a swell place to stay.

Cutesy in a typical Spielbergian world at the very beginning, sure, but it is soon revealed that we, the audience, and indeed the Peltzer family are sorely mistaken and have somewhat misread the situation in the ultimate ‘always heed the instructions’ moment in cinematic history

grem5An animal is for life, not just for Christmas, such is the number one life lesson that we can all learn from the Spielberg Executive Produced, Joe Dante Directed, Gremlins. Rounding out this trio of talent is then scriptwriter – later Harry Potter Director, Chris Columbus – who was on something of a roll after penning scripts for both The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes around the same period. This ‘E.T. with teeth’ captivated and entertained and still stands tall as a comedy horror Christmas classic, and you don’t get many of those.

Originally a spec script by the young Columbus the feature was set to be a very different ‘beast’ with the Gremlins being even more dark and twisted, with the irresistibly cute Gizmo turning into Stripe, Barney the dog getting hung and Billy’s mum’s head rolling down the stairs!

Being a Joe Dante film it is a veritable reference of film and cartoon delights, from a cameo by the legendary animator Chuck Jones to a blink and you’ll miss it Steven Spielberg disappearing in The Time Machine.

grem6It’s a deliciously wicked and rich film, even until this day and has an almost timeless charm about it like that other 80’s classic Back to the Future, which also shared the Universal backlot as its main set that created the town, Kingston Falls, and it does so spectacularly.

We get suckered into the cute, furry routine just like the Peltzers. It’s a family movie alright, but more about a families survival than in the traditional sense of the word. As such it caused such shockwaves Stateside and was one of two films that year, 1984, that helped create the PG 13 rating in America, the other film being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

grem4For all the Gremlins’ attacking from a Christmas tree, driving a bulldozer into the Futterman house, causing mayhem in the streets it’s a very low key scene that lingers in the memory and proves to be the most distressing, that classic monologue by Phoebe Cates on why she hates Christmas, a chilling story of them finding her dead dad stuck up the chimney dressed as Santa Clause. Inspired and perhaps only pipped by the SS Indianapolis story speech by Quint in Jaws for its powerfulness. And it is creepy as hell.

grem3The set pieces and the imagery, their swirling lights of the swimming pool when Stripes throws himself in at the deep end, the tension of the death of the college tutor scene played against the rapidly beating heart on the projector, on par with anything in The Howling. Not to mention the discovery of the pods and the classic kitchen scene culminating in death by microwave.

It’s a shame that Dante went for out and out comedy in the sequel as it would have been an interesting study in terror to see them go really, really dark. Of course, a remake or reimagining has been mentioned but it really does remain to be seen whether the Gremlins would hold the same appeal us knowing that they were merely pixels. The Gremlin creations by Chris Walas (who went onto win an Oscar for the effects on The Fly) are pretty much pitch perfect in design, that other unsung hero of the film is also Jerry Goldsmith and his blistering score that manages to be both comical, touching and scary in equal measure.

grem7It really is a nasty piece of work, and is all the more beloved and beautiful for it. Full of great energy, Dante clearly has great fun letting the Gremlins run riot in the usual Spielberg-like world, albeit one full of B-movie horror high jinks, and it all works wonderfully thanks to the film’s humour and the charm of its young leads. It maybe a special effects lead film but it’s the story that drives it, just like Back to the Future.

grem2Alien is often mooted as the monster sci-fi movie of reference but for me it will always be Gremlins, for me it will always be a great big little monster movie.

 

Still Truly, Madly, Deeply missing Alan Rickman

rickman 6Yesterday, Alan Rickman would have been 70. There was a audible gasp and general disbelief in the office when the sad news of his death broke back in January.

Since then it’s kind of been on a bit of a spin cycle in my head what to write.  I didn’t know him or meet him but still felt rocked by his death.

Rickman dying, to paraphrase one of his great lines from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, was a bit like cutting our hearts out with a spoon. Why a spoon? Because it hurts more you twit!

To most Alan Rickman will be most fondly remembered for his ‘villainous’ turns in said Prince of Thieves (ironically robbing the film from the titular outlaw), Hans Gruber from Die Hard and he gained the respect of a whole new legion of fans with his masterful Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series.

We may not feel sorrow for The Sheriff or Gruber when they meet their maker but it will be more poingnant than ever next time we can face watching the death of Severus Snape, a hero all this time.

snapeLittle wonder then that Potter author JK Rowling sculpted Snape with Rickman in mind, he quite literally was Snape and commanded your attention whenever he was on the screen. They may have been fleeting appearances but they were so powerful and obviously ultimately held such importance. Little wonder then that the man with that voice and those measured and distinctive movements was given such a pivotal role.

Indeed as a Rickman once stated, he didn’t believe that he went out of his way to play bad guys, he just played interesting characters. And those characters only became all the more interesting with Alan Rickman in their shoes.

Those shoes were particularly well-heeled in Die Hard. A film is only as good as its villain, which is absolutely why Die Hard is the daddy of the series and still a standout in the action genre, not because of John McClane  but because of how wonderfully great Rickman was as Gruber in what was his film debut.

Some debut, he was spotted for the role after winning plaudits for the equally dastardly Valmont in the Broadway production of Dangerous Liaison. He’s suave, ice cool and like a wily, suited fox. He’s also chillingly underplayed in everything from his classic shoot the glass line to the cold dispatch of  Takagi, who won’t be joining his employees for the rest of his life.

hans-gruber-fall-1080And not to mention Gruber’s memorable death fall, although that’s no acting on Rickman’s face as he is dropped some 20 feet onto an air bag in front of a green screen. His surprise is real as he was expecting the stuntman holding him to drop him on three, but to get the desired reaction he let go on the count of two.

He’d have made a wonderful Bond villain, although in reality was something of a pussycat. According to IMDB the films director, John McTiernan, had to smash cut away from Hans Gruber’s face whenever he fired a gun, because of Rickman’s uncontrollable habit of flinching from the noise and flash

Less may have been more in Die Hard but more was definitely more when it came to Rickman’s high-spirited (it really is) and BAFTA award winning performance as The Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

ThievesAgain we have menace and (also dashing) dastardly doings aplenty, especially in his atmospheric character introduction but there’s also a lighter comic side in his larger than life portrayl that could be described as more Panto of Thieves than Prince. It’s a fine line and he just stays the right side of it and dominates the film, certainly influencing the BBC TV show and arguably delivering one of the top two Sheriff turns along with Nickolas Grace (TVs Robin of Sherwood). Naturally I have Rickman’s action figure from the Kenner toy range, still mint on its card of course!

He also played the bad guy in Quigley Down Under, I won’t say underrated as everyone I know who has seen it loves it, let’s just say that Quigley is much under seen and if you fall into that category then shame on you/you don’t know what you are missing. Alan Rickman in a cowboy, seething in the Australian outback at Tom Selleck. What’s not to love.

senseTruly, Madly, Deeply is oft misguidingly dubbed ‘the British Ghost’ – yes it has a dead husband coming back to his wife but really is where the similarity ends.This is more of a character study and less about Hollywood sheen and more in the realm of snotty crying, but also with plenty of laughter. Rickman oozes charisma as Jamie. Romantic lead was something of a change of pace and it would be something he would return to with great aplomb for Sense and Sensibility, also starring good friend Emma Thompson.

And he would be back in the romance realm with Thompson in segments of the ensemble comedy, Love Actually. Rickman here taking on various attributes as villain of the piece-of-sorts having an affair, but also comic moments with Rowan Atkinson and still loving his wife. Again it was another interesting,rounded character.

We’d already seen Rickman’s comedic chops in the likes of Prince of Thieves with his (reportedly ad-libbed) cancelling of Christmas – we’d seen it even earlier as Kevin Kline’s artist flatmate in The January Man – and he certainly left his imprint in that genre with his turn in Dogma and with ‘that’ unmistakable voice as Marvin in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.

galaxy questBut by Grabthar’s hammer, his lasting comedy gift to us though was in the greatest Star Trek film never made, Galaxy Quest, in his Nimoy/Patrick Stewart hybrid role as the award-winning Shakespearean actor, Alexander Dane, who is is typecast as alien Dr. Lazarus. His delivery is sublime.

Back to Truly, Madly, Deeply, Rickman ultimately shows us even in death there is life. And perhaps that is what he has left with his body of work, his life of others on the screen. They aren’t Rickman, but they are, we feel we know him, and feeling we know him and the interesting characters he inhabited, we miss him.

Like Jamie, the character he plays in Truly, we can always have him in our home. Released theatrically in the US it was shown as part of a Screen Two drama on BBC2, so it was somewhat fitting that it all kind of came full circle upon Rickman’s passing as good friend and Truly, Madly, Deeply co-star  Juliet Stevenson was interviewed live in the Newsnight studio on BBC2.

With a giant black and white image of Rickman behind her she said: “He could make you roar with laughter with a couple of words, he could be searingly insightful with just a line. He was very instinctive and a very intuitive person.”

And that in a single sentence pretty much perfectly encapsulates all of the above and captures the very essence of the man and his performances.

rickman 4Her beautiful tribute continued: “He treated everyone with the same degree of courtesy and that’s one of the reasons he’s very, very loved. He had absolutely no snobbery at all. He saw the possibilities in everybody.”

I wrote to Alan Rickman back in 2001, when he was in London on stage at the Albery Theatre in ‘Private Lives’. He showed that courtesy Stevenson spoke of to me and very kindly sent a signed black and white picture back, and that’s just one of the reasons he’s very, very loved and shall continue to be very, very missed.

Jurassic World: a raptor-ous return

3039097-inline-i-2-jurassic-worldFirst things first, Jurassic World is not a remake or a reboot or a reimagining, it is a continuation, some 20 years down the line, of events post the original Jurassic Park. In the ensuing years let’s just say that the Park, now World a la Disney, Sea and er Peppa Pig, has evolved somewhat in the last two decades to become a giant tourism monster which now needs even bigger monsters to ensure the return of punters.

Jurassic World, like the two sequels to the original before was never ever going to be able to play the sense of wonder card of the original Spielberg blockbuster, but it knows it and that actually forms part of the plot. In a sense, in part, it is a love letter to the original and perhaps that is why it has struck such a chord and made more money than expected, After all it is 14 years since the last Jurassic Park and that is a whole generation that has only grown up with it on TV.

jw2And the ethos of the park: having bigger and newer monsters to pull in the punters, is something not lost on the writers and filmmakers for that exact reason, Not only have there been three previous Park movies but we’ve also seen the return of Godzilla (twice) and King Kong take on a pair of T-Rex, not to mention a whole plethora of creatures in the likes of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, so the film has to pull something out of the bag that we haven’t seen before either…with a brand new dinosaur.

The scope and scale of this entry into the series practically makes the original look like a small independent film, the original in comparison was a more intimate affair on a smaller scale,if such a thing could ever be said about the still impressive Jurassic Park. World certainly ups the spectacle with a fully operational park with nods aplenty to SeaWorld with its Mosasaurs attraction (nice touch with it essentially eating Bruce the Great White), DisneyWorld with its take on Main Street – where at one point it’s as if we hear echoes of Dr Ian Malcolm’s laconic wit from the first film when he says ‘but the pirates of the Caribbean don’t start eating the public’ when things start to go very, very wrong – and the giant escalators that reminded one of Universal Studios Hollywood.

It’s like the Park you dreamed of visiting as a child. And as with the original you do get the oh and ah of all the delights the new World has to offer, mostly seen through the eyes of Gray (Ty Simpkins), whose excitement we readily share. And because we know the dinosaurs the wonderful Jurassic Park theme reprise, amazing work by Giacchino, is utilised not for the introduction of a dinosaur but fr the wonder of the very park itself. And there is wonder and wow factor to be had as we see the park in all its splendour, even though we know it is going to end way out Westworld.

Of course the musical theme is as much a part of the Jurassic series as the dinosaurs, I couldn’t get it out of my head for at least the next day, but that isn’t the only footprint of Jurassic Park. Story wise it is essentially a retelling of sorts, writ large in every single way imaginable, but then so has pretty much every James Bond film. There are plenty of nods and winks to the first film though, that really celebrate and embrace it with confidence.

JURASSIC-WORLD-8Both the children in the original and World have a family that is breaking down (a Spielberg staple, here Executive Producer) and are only on the island to take their minds off it, well at least it does do that. There’s a lovely moment where the eldest son, Zach played by Nick Robinson, is in denial but the youngest, visibly upset, has googled his mum and dad’s lawyers and discovered they are divorce lawyers. it was very well handled on a monorail, where one of the passengers is reading a Dr Ian Malcolm book, Jeff Goldblum’s character. Later it is nice to see glimpses of a John Hammond statue, as well as cameos by Mr DNA (voiced by the film’s director Colin Trevorrow) and also a delightful moment from a Dilophosaurus, the spitting dino that killed Dennis Nedry.

And then there’s the more obvious, in a wonderful sequence, where the boys find the old Jurassic Park centre and the auditorium which housed the ‘when dinosaurs ruled the earth exhibition’, even coming across the infrared goggles that get discarded, a fantastic example of the audience knowing more than the characters. It was a genius idea that the boys find the original JP jeeps and get one of them working, In a way it was Jurassic World: Parks of Future Past.

There is also some fabulous juxtaposition in the scene where there is a field of decimated dinosaurs, there’s a real sense of dystopia and negative as opposed to the hope and positivity of when we first glimpse the vista of Jurassic Park after Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) see their first dinosaur. It’s also the scene where these aren’t just dinosaurs (or CG or animatronics for that matter) you care for them and you are sad when the dinosaur breathes its last. It evoked memories of Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend and the death of Littlefoot’s mum in The Land Before Time, the latter also executive produced by Spielberg.

Empathy built we also start to care and have feelings for other dinosaurs, especially when it comes to a major scene with the raptors where they are given their moment to shine as man’s beast friend.

For all its boom and bang, of which there is plenty and often, the film also relishes its smaller moments of focus or dialogue that also reminds one of the cleverness of the original and makes it just more than a bloated summer blockbuster lurching from one set piece to another. That Spielberg dust has clearly been strewn to ensure some of those little moments and nuances are just as remembered as the big and noisy ones.

The only returning character we get from the original series is Dr Wu, who is clearly as rubbish as he was in the first film but is played with relish by BD Wong, best known for being good on Law and Order: SVU, although he really does think what he is doing is not wrong. Last seen with an attaché case of specimens he will surely feature in any sequel, and at some point will end up being devoured by one of his creations.

Chris Pratt cements his position as a viable A-lister, and it is perhaps his biggest calling card for the part of one Dr. Jones, certainly he has the presence, likability and delivery. Pratt is a man of action in this, with a neat touch being that he is essentially a velociraptor whisperer and despite all the dinosaurs the ‘money shot’ of the film is definitely Pratt on his motorbike flanked by raptors. It works, is delightful and just brings joy. It may as well be us up on that bike exuding McQueen like cool.

He doesn’t really grow as a character, he’s been right all along like Charlton Heston in Earthquake, but he is something of a loner, he’s friendlier with dinosaurs than people but does become part of a family unit, with Claire, Gray and Zach by the climax.

Bryce Dallas Howard also impressed, as Claire, she saw the biggest change in terms of (limited) development of character and effortlessly switched from almost robotic towing the party line to all out Lara Croft protective Aunt.

There was lots of nice interplay between Pratt and Howard and they really fizzed, the sort of polar opposite dislike that you get in Raiders between Marion and Indy and original chalk and cheese, Hannay and Pamela, in The 39 Steps.

It’s Jurassic World, it was never going to be a deep and meaningful character study and to be honest we didn’t want it to be. We want a roaring dino romp and on that it delivers.

Ultimately this film is about working together as one, as a team, on several levels, as will become apparent to anyone seeing it. And ultimately that message is a deeply satisfying one, both from a human and dinosaur point of view.

I did miss Grant or Malcolm, perhaps next time we’ll get to see Pratt call on their services, and after a $500 million opening weekend, and the world’s fastest film to smash the $1 billion barrier, we won’t be waiting 14 years for the next instalment.

T-Rex_DigitalJurassic Park ended with the roar of the T-Rex as the banner proclaiming ‘When dinosaurs ruled the earth’ drops to the floor. With that opening weekend, the biggest in history, and it being the number one film in the 66 countries it was released in and the fastest film past the $1 billion barrier, that time is now.

Box clever: The Box of Delights

115bbc2[1]Steam trains, wise men with beards who know magic, flying cars and characters transforming into an array of animals. So far, so Harry Potter, right? Wrong.

Christmas television, for me, meant many things. It of course meant the perennial Bond movie and usually the odd Sinbad or Doug McClure epic along with Digby the biggest – if not the most convincingly so – dog in the world. But for me one programme that will always evoke fond childhood memories and have the power to transport me back some 25 years, how fitting as that is exactly what ‘The Box’ can do, is the BBCs classic adaptation of The Box of Delights.

Harry Potter and those kids who went to Narnia might have thought they had cornered the market in middle class school kids having rollicking adventures that beggar belief, but they’d be wrong. Based on the children’s book of the same name by John Masefield, this six part adaptation is set in England in the 1930s, it tells the adventures of Kay Harker as he returns home from school for Christmas. On the train he meets a mysterious but kindly old man who gives him the Box of Delights, a magical box which gives the holder the powers of flight, physical transformation, and the ability to travel through time. Of course, the forces of evil, led by members of the clergy, are out to steal the Box, and it’s up to Kay and his friends to stop them.

Produced prior to but to an equally high standard as the BBCs Narnia adaptations this production his Christmas written all the way through it and even concluded on Christmas Eve, which is when the last episode is set, on its original airing, something which it should be done every year and turn it into the seasonal classic it deserves to be. If America has the traditions of a Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch (the animated short) then we should certainly be able to deliver more than The Snowman – although of late this seems to be the Patrick Stewart/ Hallmark Channel reworking of A Christmas Carol over the last few years.

The programme still has an epic feel about it with amazing location work and cinematography; remember this was also the same period that the BBC splashed the cash on other children’s drama such as The Tripods. The special effects, which mostly featured animation and primitive blue screen, have dated badly but are somehow in keeping with the period it is set and just give the whole proceedings a further feeling of nostalgia.

The three pillars that have allowed ‘Box’ to stay long in the consciousness of those who saw it when young are its music and titles and two amazing performances from two of its cast.

The titles showed several key images from the show and were almost quasi-doctor who like, quite fitting with the second doctor, Patrick Troughton, making an appearance as one of the key characters. Indeed as in classic Who we even see his face travel towards us in the titles. The accompanying music, The First Noel, was also something else and managed to be both enchanting and sinister at the same time.

Troughton may only appear in three of the six episodes but his presence is felt throughout and for an actor who has played so many memorable roles in everything from Robin Hood, Doctor Who, a villain in Sinbad and a doomed clergyman in The Omen, this is perhaps his greatest legacy as the Punch and Judy man who is as lovable, wise, cunning and likable as Dumbledore.

And then we have the Reverend Abner Brown, the late Shakespearean actor, Robert Stevens, who admirably chews the scenery up and spits it back out in every scene. Never has the term mad man for a character seemed so fitting. He and the range of characters he surrounds himself with are genuinely creepy, even today.

Also well worth a mention and the things of many a youngsters nightmares no doubt were the rather sinister pair of ‘clergymen’, “Foxy Faced Charles” and “Chubby Faced Joe” who are two agents working for the villainous ringleader, ‘Abner Brown’. They also had the ability to change in wolves and even give chase after Harker in some wonderfully shot snow scenes. The pair remind me somewhat of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever, a pair who also gave a feeling of unease and are rather unsettling whenever they appear.

Unsurprisingly, the rumour is that ‘Box’ is set to delight a whole new audience as it makes its leap to the big screen under the helm of a former Harry Potter Director, Mike Newell. Here’s hoping it loses none of its magic or indeed its darkness in its journey. Even if it does it will only increase the respect for the original adaptation.

It has to be said that the casting directors will have to go some to match anyone as good as Troughton, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who associates him with this over his role as The Doctor, as good and memorable as it was. Some feat you may think, but he pulls the character of Cole Hawlings off so convincingly that it really is hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

To my knowledge it has only ever been screened twice in the UK, so the campaign to annually rescreen ‘The Box of Delights’, starts here. Even if not on BBC1 or 2 surely it’s a perfect fit for BBC4, so let’s turn it into the institution it deserves to be.