Tag Archives: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

The magnificent Blake’s 7: Robin Hood in space

With the death of Blake’s 7 actor Gareth Thomas it’s time to strap on your transporter bracelets to The Liberator and THAT ending for ‘Robin Hood in space’.

Such was the basic premise of Blake’s 7 back in 1978, and that idea was pitch perfect for one of the most beloved TV series of the last 40 years. Always seen as something of Doctor Who’s younger sibling, it springing from the mind of Who-alumnus, Terry Nation, for many it was never held in as high regard or as beloved. But, for me, I probably loved it even more than the fellow in the blue box.

You can see the similarities to Sherwood’s finest with its original character set-up, with Gareth Thomas headlining as Roj Blake, who leads a rebellion against a tyrannical regime (hey, even in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Norman Soldiers were likened to Nazis). More ‘Marauding’ than ‘Merry Men’ his reluctant heroic crew, perhaps sharing as much with the likes of The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven as much as with those from the trees of Nottingham.

We are then introduced to corrupt computer genius, Avon, (Paul Darrow), essentially Will Scarlett, a man who you wouldn’t trust as far as you could throw him, even if he was classed as your friend, but you would far rather he be your friend than your enemy. Avon quickly become the show’s favourite, with his sardonic wit and no nonsense behaviour, he had the same appeal as the likes of Han Solo.

Master thief, Vila, steps up as your Much the Millers Son, as he is essentially the light-hearted comedian who is something of a coward. Avon and Vila were the perfect foils for one another and have the zingiest dialogue this side of the galaxy that is still as crisp and clever to this day

Gan, is clearly the Little John of proceedings with his mighty frame and heart, but I’m not quite sure how a smart arse computer, Zen, fits into it all Merry Man wise, um, Friar Tuck…well he is at least the voice of reason and calm. The rest of the original crew were made up of Jenna, a smuggler, and Cally, a telepath, and these feisty, gung-ho women were clearly reminiscent, in their fighting spirit, of Maid Marian. After all, you have to remember that this was the late 70s and that women did as much of the rescuing as well as the being rescued.

The ship, The Liberator, a wondrous design whose Corgi model once bestowed my birthday cake as a child, which was a brilliant backward-looking design with its (Lincoln) green bubble at its rear, so my hats off to you Matt Irvine for a ship that even outclasses the Millennium Falcon for being so ugly and impractical – Einstein would have a fit on the Physics front – that it is a thing of beauty.

If Blake and his crew represent Robin Hood and his Merry Men, then the Federation forces, personified in the obsessive, psychopathic Space Commander Travis, complete with eye patch, and his superior, the ruthless Supreme Commander, Servalan, represent Sir Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham, respectively. You only have to look at the mid 80s rebirth of Robin of Sherwood on ITV, and latterly, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, to see how similar the working relationship between Servalan and Travis was to that of the Sheriff and his lapdog.

The show was quite revolutionary in terms of structure – the arcing plot is ahead of its time, something seen as commonplace in the likes of the Battlestar Galactica reboot – and characterisation. It also features a surprisingly cynical world view with a healthy dash of dystopia and dash of moral ambiguity, this is no Star Wars black and white – which premiered in the UK the same year the show was launched – instead there are massive grey areas in the ensemble cast, like we see in everything from 24 to Lost and The Walking Dead, people who aren’t just the well-rounded, good-looking good guys of programmes like, say the original Star Trek.

It may have had its peak and troughs throughout its four-year series, not to mention cast changes galore and Blake jumping ship come the end of series two, but it had a fantastic concept, multiple major character deaths and perhaps the finest ending of any TV show past, present or future, an ending from which Planet of the Apes writers would find hard to get out of, an ending that gave my chin carpet burns from the force it struck the floor, an ending that had the balls to kill off the entire remaining cast and still have Avon going out (or did he?) in the coolest TV moment of my life.

Not bad, essentially being a kids tea time programme and taking in political intrigue and terrorism (remember the IRA were still out in force) and harrowing deaths of beloved characters. The sets may have wobbled and it was probably filmed in one too many quarries, but hey that is BBC budgets at that time for you, but the writing still holds true and is pretty blistering stuff most of the time, clearly helped in part with many of the main actors being RSC trained.

Thomas came back for that last episode having left after series two and he claimed never to have watched an episode. That’s a shame and a real loss, despite its somewhat dodgy sets and special effects it had some great Orwellian dystopia which meant that it was well-ahead of its time, especially in that time slot. And, story wise it still really shines today and remains relevant with terror and political intrigue riding high in the headlines and a major staple of TV drama, the rebooted ‘gritty’ Battlestar Galactica was of course dubbed ‘The West Wing in space’.

And these unjust times of political unrest and times of terror Blake et al  would fit in perfectly. Stories about anti-government dissidents and corrupt, totalitarian governments never seem to go out of fashion (it’s no coincidence that the series villain was a woman – just as Thatcher came into power), and surely that’s doubly true of this era of terrorism.

Crucially, it had drama and conflict in spades, and most of this came from within the crew, especially between Blake and Avon or Avon and Vila, which was full of crisp, foil-bag fresh dialogue that even JJ Abrams or Joss Whedon would be proud to have scribed today.

Although it has been resurrected as an audio drama, getting a new lease of life in a series of audio adventures which has attracted a whole host of talent from Bond and genre fave, Colin Salmon as Kerr Avon and guest stars from Ashes to Ashes’ Keeley Hawes and new Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Like the Who audio adventures it has also lured back cast members from the original series, Michael Keating and Jan Chappell, all of which shows there is still plenty of talent and interest in the project.

It keeps threatening to return to screens with aborted attempts from Sky and the Syfy Channel in recent years. With the return of Star Wars to the big screen and another Star Trek series in the offing, as well as on the big screen, we are in the same alignment as when Blake’s 7 first materialised on our screens.

And after all in this world niche audiences for The Walking Dead and original dramas produced for the likes of Amazon, with The Man in the High Castle, and Netflix, with House of Cards, or Sky Atlantic with Fortitude, then there is nothing to stop the return of The Liberator and its crew.

Who knows, perhaps the real life death of Roj Blake, from heart failure and not shot by Avon, could be the right catalyst for his rebirth. Roj Blake is dead, long live Roj Blake?

As Zen may have stated: “Probability of reboot, 80%.”

 

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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.

The Best Old Skool Cameos

Remakes, reimaginings, reboots, revamps, call them what you will. Hollywood may perennially suffer from ‘sequelitous’ but it also has something of a soft spot for the remake and big screen reboot. Dean Newman checks out the best blink and you’ll miss em moments where the new remake kids on the block feature a nod to their originals.

10. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
It’s a masterful remake but it’s the small things that make this chilling paranoid classic really shine. A case in point is the moment when the star of the original, Kevin McCarthy runs into a car screaming that they are here already and the pure genius here is that this is exactly how the original film ended, with McCarthy running down a busy road screaming those very words.
This might have meant that he had been running for some 22 years but it also meant that in another sense it could be considered as something of a continuation of events  rather than just a straight remake. Genius.

9. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Perhaps my second favourite old skool cameo is from Bill Bixby in The Incredible Hulk who didn’t let a little thing called death stop him turning up for a knowing nod and wink. Bixby is seen on TV in an episode of “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1969).
Mr Marvel himself, Stan Lee, who has pretty much done an ‘Alfred Hitchcock’ in every Marvel movie, turned up this reboot as a man who slurps a soft drink contaminated with Bruce Banner’s blood.

8. Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
A space-set riff on The Magnificent Seven from the pen of John Sayles and produced by one Roger Corman. It’s a film full to the brim of wonderful memories from when I was young and the crisp writing and early score by James Horner gives it some much needed weight. But the glue that holds this ragtag group of mismatched aliens together is surely Robert Vaughn, who of course appeared in the original Magnificent Seven. A complete guilty pleasure with able support from George Peppard, as a cowboy just in case you didn’t get it, John Saxon and John Boy from The Waltons.

7. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987)
The pilot may have had DeForest Kelly passing on the Trek baton to the brand new crew in the very first episode but the best nod and wink to the original series was from the original ships transporter system. Its ceiling was now transformed into the floor of the brand new transporter. Recycling, the possibilities are endless.

6. Smallville (2001)
It has an irritatingly catchy theme tune and many may have labelled it Dawson’s Cape, but this series, which is set to take the crown as having the most episodes of any sci-fi show, treats those previous Superman incarnations with supreme reverence. And it’s an impressive roll call.

Christopher Reeve (Dr. Virgil Swann) played Superman in Superman (1978) and its three sequels; Terence Stamp (Jor-El) will forever be General Zod in Superman II (1980); Annette O’Toole (Martha Kent) played Lana Lang in Superman III (1983); Dean Cain (Dr. Curtis Knox) played Clark Kent in “The New Adventures of Superman” (1993); Helen Slater (Lara, Clark’s mother) played Kara/Supergirl in Supergirl (1984). Marc McClure (Dax-Ur) played Jimmy Olsen in Superman (1978), its three sequels, and Supergirl (1984), Margot Kidder (Bridgette Crosby) played Lois Lane in Superman (1978) and its three sequels. Teri Hatcher (Lois’s mother) played Lois Lane in “The New Adventures of Superman” (1993).

 

5. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Until Russell Crowe went round hiding in bushes last year, Sean Connery was the oldest person to have portrayed the Hooded Man on screen, which he did in1976’s Robin and Marian. With nod, wink and a favour to old The Untouchable co-star Kevin Costner, Connery turned up as an uncredited King Richard at the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves giving permission for Costner’s Hood to marry Maid Marian.

4. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
One of the better received remakes of recent years is Dawn of the Dead. For me it lacks the social and satirical bite of the original but a great effort with some memorable imagery. Getting in on the ‘brains’ action again were some of its original stars, including make-up supremo Tom Savini and Ken Forlee, who even gets another chance to give his classic line from the original – “When hell is full the dead will walk the earth”.

3. The Omen (2006)
Harvey Stephens, who portrayed the cute but evil moppet Damien in the original The Omen (1976), appears in this remake as the tabloid reporter (a devilish job if ever there was one) who asks Robert Thorn if the deceased nanny “was on drugs”. Apparently he is a property developer now after being a futures trader in London, almost jobs the devil would be proud of then.

2. Cape Fear (1991)
The classic Bernard Herrmann score made a welcome return, thanks to Elmer Bernstein, in this Martin Scorsese helmed remake and original stars, Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck came along for the ride, as did Martin Balsam. Quality. Their roles this time round are played by Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte and Joe Don Baker respectively.

1.Planet of the Apes (2001)
Clearly written by a group of monkeys with typewriters this good-looking but completely vacuous retread is a major misfire from the mind of Tim Burton. At least original star, Charlton Heston, got to hide his embarrassment behind some admittedly good Ape make-up where he delivered a twist on his classic “get your filthy paws off me you damned dirty ape” to Marky Mark (no doubt in desperate need of a funky bunch of bananas).