Tag Archives: Star Wars

Peter Cushing used to live in Whitstable

download (3)So goes the song by The Jellybottys, and that’s exactly where he lived – when not hammering stakes into vampires, travelling through time and space, journeying to the centre of the earth or ensuring a certain Death Star was fully operational.

Hammer and all round film and horror buff, Alex Norman, stumbles across the village that never forgot Peter Cushing.

Who knew that a day trip to the south east coast could end up as a walk in the footsteps of a celebrated legendary British actor?

Located on the north coast of Kent in south-east England, Whitstable has a population of roughly 32,000 and is famous for its oysters and historical landmarks such as the castle and Black Mill.

Its coast is lined with a mixture of shingle and sandy beaches and the scorching hot day sees many sunbathers, swimmers and water sports enthusiasts taking advantage. A jet ski has just arrived and is being carefully released into the water.

If you look out to sea, off the coast, you can see a windfarm consisting of 30 wind turbines which power 70,000 households and even further out, roughly nine miles, you can make out small black forms of the Maunsell Sea FortMaunsell sea-fort, armed towers built during the Second World War to help defend UK shores. A close-up photo of them is being sold in the marina market and, to me, they resemble the AT-AT combat walkers first seen The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

download (2)Little was I to know that it was the home of Grand Moff Tarkin, and no doubt his slippers. As we walk along the seafront promenade past the Neptune Pub where Peter O’Toole filmed scenes for Venus (2006), for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and past the stylish holiday cottages and terraced townhouses, we find ourselves on a pathway called Cushing’s Walk, a highly sought-after stretch of real estate offering perfect sea views with the beach literally on the doorstep.

What’s this we see? One of the houses has an English Heritage blue plaque and a tingle of excitement ripples through me – who could have lived here? As I move closer and my eyes refocus, I see that it reads:

PETER CUSHING O.B.E.
1913-1994
ACTOR
lived here
1959-1994

‘Cushing’s Walk’ is named after THE Peter Cushing, star of Hammer Horror, Sherlock Holmes, Dr Who and, of course, Star Wars.

My tenuous Star Wars analogy now seems quite fitting. He only appeared in the original 1977 classic but was somewhat controversially resurrected For the 2016 prequel, Rogue One.

homeCushing first visited Whitstable a long time ago…in the 1940s, and in 1958, bought this very house, initially for weekend use, and then as a retirement home, until his death in 1994. Cushing and his wife, Helen, loved Whitstable and the townspeople clearly took to them.

Cushing is probably best known his prolific work during the 50s, 60s and 70s in the Hammer horror films, alongside good friend (or should that be fiend?) Christopher Lee, particularly his portrayals of Baron Victor Frankenstein and Professor Van Helsing.

He also played Sherlock Holmes many times, originally in Hammer’s The Hound of the Baskerville’s (1959). This was followed by 16 episodes of the BBC series of which only six episodes have survived.

Cushing even played Dr Who in two films (Dr. Who and the Daleks – alongside Roy Castle – and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. – this time with Bernard Cribbins) based on the BBC science-fiction TV series Doctor Who, although the films are not considered part of the show’s official canon. And he’d end his film career dabbling with time travel in his final screen performance in Biggles (1986).

The plan for the rest of the day was decided – to find out as much about Cushing and his time here in Whitstable before we head back home to the opposite side of the Estuary.

Museum

The Whitstable Museum (quite rightly) has a section dedicated to the actor and although it’s a little tired and features a skew-whiff portrait of Cushing as Sherlock, there’s no doubting the high regard Whitstable has for this man. The remains of a half-smoked cigarette sits in a glass cabinet, supposedly Cushing’s final smoke – apparently he would wear a white smoking glove so he didn’t stain his fingers.

A volunteer at the museum was genuinely delighted that we were so interested in Cushing, having gotten so used to the younger generation’s complete lack of knowledge as to who he was! She tells us she used to go swimming at the local pool and would often see Cushing doing his laps. She also said that Cushing was a very quiet and gentle man who fitted right in with the locals, no ego or pretence. She then mentions the pub across the road, a must-see for fans of the great man.

The pub

pub3A black plaque out front says the building is the former Oxford cinema which first opened its doors on 27 July 1936. It was built around the Oxford Picture Hall, which itself, opened in 1912 in what had been the Oxford ‘concert and music hall’.

J.D. Wetherspoon took over the building in 2011 and transformed it into an art deco palace whilst retaining the essence of the original incarnation. The foyer is wonderfully preserved and its centrepiece is an original cinema projector. The walls are adorned with film posters and film cans of many of Cushing’s films such as Dracula, The Hound of the Baskervilles as well as other British favourites such as Carry on Sergeant, Hitchcock’s Stage Fright and Carry on Cruising.

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The main drinking hall is majestically presided over at the bar end by a huge black and white print of Cushing and Robert Urquhart in Hammer’s 1957 production of The Curse of Frankenstein. Some of Cushing’s original paintings also grace the walls, celebrating another of his talents.

Antique shop

Geoff Lauren antiquesWe were hoping to meet some local elders who may have met the great man and it was then that we spotted, on Harbour Street, the quirky yet enticing Geoff Laurens Antiques. Inside there’s barely room to swing a cat (perhaps one from The Uncanny) and Mr Laurens himself sits in his favourite chair deep inside his store and greets us with a warm welcome.

Geoff-LaurensGeoff has been trading in Whitstable since 1970, the same year as Scream and Scream Again, and whereas others antique stores have come and gone, Geoff continues do business.  If anyone crossed paths with Cushing, then surely it was Geoff? So I asked him and was pleased when Geoff said: “Oh yes, of course. He used to come in here all the time.  On some days when it rained, I would drive him back home. You know, just up the street is his favourite tea rooms.”

Tea room

Tudor Tea RoomsIndeed, we pop into the Tudor Tea Rooms and Cushing’s favourite table now features a touching tribute alongside a photo of him in his later years.  The message reads: ‘In loving memory of our dear Peter Cushing. A sadly missed family friend’. The shop was closing up for the day so we didn’t have time for a cuppa.

We decided to finish our tour by going back to Cushing’s Walk on the seafront promenade.  With the sun sizzling, the Neptune Pub beer garden heaving and the oyster bars packed – it was clear to see why Cushing decided to retire in this town as opposed to his previous address in London. It has a real timeless feel about it, just like the man and his movies. So it is fitting that he is remembered so vividly and prominently, almost 20 years since he died.

Tudor Tea Rooms1They don’t make actors like Peter Cushing anymore, so it is great to see Whitstable continue to honour its adopted son, an acting legend. But then actors like Peter Cushing never really die…

The Omen #30DaysOfFright

An American diplomat’s wife loses her baby in childbirth; he is replaced by an orphan baby. A series of strange and deadly accidents occur around the family, could the spoutings of a mad clergyman be correct, can five year old Damien Thorn really be the son of the devil? Having initiated the switch at birth his father now teams up with a photographer to discover the horrific truth. Can they stop the forces of evil before they become another accident?

o16The devil had already become something of a movie star in Hollywood, thanks to Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, The Omen saw him reach a box office high. I’ve always had a fascination with The Omen since I bought the trilogy as part of the Fox All Time Greats collection in 1987 from Woolworths in York.

We were on holiday there over Easter (irony) and what made that trip all the more memorable is that we also visited Fountains Abbey in Ripley, Yorkshire, which is where the finale of The Final Conflict takes place. Those VHS tapes took a serious hammering and I read the original books and the two further book sequels that followed.

These continue directly after the ending on the third film and were entitled Omen IV: Armageddon 2000 and Omen V: Abomination, both penned by Gordon McGill, who also wrote the adaptation of The Final Conflict.

The Omen has been a part of my life since I was at least 11 and, save for Jaws, is my favourite horror-related film. Like Jaws you could say that it taps into the disaster movie genre that was so big at the time with the likes of The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno.

omen10Post-Watergate it’s also akin to the conspiracy thrillers of the period such as All the Presidents Men, Klute, Three Days of the Condor, Capricorn One and The Marathon Man. It probably shares most of all with The Parallax View as Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) uncovers something so vast it is almost hard to comprehend, and like Warren Beatty’s character in Parallax, everyone he comes into contact with comes to a sticky end. You could even say that in many ways the endings are very similar.

It is a fantastical idea and one that is writ large. The Exorcist was about a girl in her bedroom and set in one house, this is about the man who could be the next President of the United States. It’s something referenced by Kathy Thorn when she hears her husband has got the job of US Ambassador to Great Britain, a position once held by none other than JFK.

The Omen is set in the heart of the world of politics and takes place in London, Rome, Israel and er Windsor Zoo. It’s practically the James Bond of horror with its globetrotting. I guess The Da Vinci Code and their sequels do the same sort of magical mystery tour thing today.

omen4Whether you believe the story that 2000 years after the birth of Christ a comet that shines in the opposite place in the sky to that of the star of Bethlehem heralds the birth of the anti-Christ is one thing but the one thing you do believe is the performance of Gregory Peck. We follow it because he does, we share his idea that it is preposterous and then the slow realisation that this is all true.

The discovery in an abandoned graveyard that his son was murdered at birth and that the mother of the child he is raising is a jackal is compelling and heart wrenching. It’s all the more poignant as the year prior to filming Peck had lost one of his own son’s to suicide, something which he blamed himself for not being able to stop. Peck is of course an incredibly gifted actor and carries a huge amount of gravitas and that amazing voice. He is Abe Lincoln, he is Atticus Fitch, we will believe in him. With an actor of less stature it simply would not have worked.

The key moment where he receives a call to say that his wife has died, that phonecall he receives after she has gone out the window is crippling. He really has nothing to lose. All is lost.

And then there is that cold, numbed reciting of the “when the Jews return to Zion” poem as he lays motionless on the bed.

o15Peck is ably supported with former Dr Who, Patrick Troughton, in a fantastically memorable part as Father Brennan, David Warner as the photographer was something of a hero when I was younger and he’s great in this. And then there’s Mrs Baylock, if Damien is the anti—Christ then she is the anti-Poppins, no one had arranged for her to arrive either. She exudes quiet menace and malevolence at first; her final scenes raise the shock level to their peak.

o14The film also looks amazing in its widescreen which is used to brilliant effect utilising it to its full advantage and creating some mesmerising imagery that really set it apart. As well as the frame impressing so does the action taking place within in.

Director Richard Donner constructs some still impressive set pieces; it must have surely secured him directorial duties on Superman: The Movie two years later, in fact the Daily Planet helicopter incident could have come straight from The Omen.

omen2First there is the nanny, played by Jack Palance’s daughter, taking a rope-assisted dive from the Thorn mansion during Damien’s fifth birthday party, the way she falls and snaps back into that glass is horrible.

A suddenly windy day will always evoke thoughts of Patrick Troughton prior to getting spiked by a church spire; this was probably the only decent scene in the 2006 remake, Troughton’s role played with vigour by Pete Postlethwaite.

o12Kathy Thorn’s fall from the balcony whilst pregnant is also fantastically taut, and the scene is brilliantly executed, along with the goldfish. The effect of the camera following on the way down is still amazing. It’s my favourite single shot after the reverse zoom and simultaneous dolly shot on Chief Brody in Jaws.

And of course the decapitation by sheet of glass, with David Warner doing his own version of the head spin. You think you see more than you do the blood you think you see is pots of paint. For such a film with so many nasty deaths it’s surprisingly devoid of any real blood.

o11I also really love the set for the cemetery, it’s like a grandiose set from a classic universal horror film, it looks fantastic, gothic and moody. And then the devil dogs attack, as a scene it is relentless, as is the Goldsmith score which kicks into high gear. It’s Hound of the Baskervilles turned up to 11, is dripping with menace and quite frankly is absolutely knackering. Not that there is much time to get our breath back for the remainder of the film.

omen5Like Jerry Goldsmith’s score, the only one he won an Oscar for, the film just continues to build into a crescendo, become more frenetic and consuming. That’s what it does to Thorn and us; it needs to do that to convince us that he should kill a child.

Would we be able to do the same if we knew he was the son of the devil, even Peck hesitates as the child pleads “please, daddy, no!” It was always a difficult watch, even more so having a daughter around Damien’s age.

Peck is armed with the daggers of Megiddo, which have to be the coolest weapons of all time, I’d so pay to see Indiana Jones and the Daggers of Megiddo. But they do him no good, he is stopped with a policeman’s bullet, it’s downbeat but masterful.

omen1 We can hardly believe that Gregory Peck has failed. Or has he? We then see two coffins, one for Robert Thorn and his son, Damien? No, the camera slowly pulls back to reveal a small boy is holding the hand of the president. The little boy turns with a smile that breaks across his face, it is Damien.

The film may have dated a little but there is still no denying the power of The Omen, even after all these years, it’s still devilishly good.

And the story goes that if The Omen had not been the success it had been for Fox then they wouldn’t have been able to spend extra money on bailing Star Wars out. That’s what you call the real power of the dark side.

 

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%.”

 

Back to the Future live

IMG_0016As Marty McFly would say, this is heavy! After 30 years it was time to go back, not just back to the big screen but back to the Royal Albert Hall for a live performance screening of Back to the Future.

The DeLorean ‘parked’ outside only helped heighten the anticipation, prior to us getting lost in the maze of the Hall’s stairways and corridors.But then we made it into the wide open space of hall itself, adding to the occasion we even found ourselves two across from a couple who had come dressed as Marty and Jennifer, McFly complete with ‘life preserver’. He must have been roasting!

Picture-12Seeing it on the big screen is not unlike time travel itself as it takes you right back to your childhood. I had never seen the original at the cinema until its 25th anniversary, only catching the sequels on the big screen first time round, although I had seen it more times than I cared to mention on TV, DVD and Blu-Ray. This mattered not as I approached the screening with the same excitement as if it were a brand new release…and so it appeared did the thronging Royal Albert Hall audience.

If Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd are the stars of Back to the Future then so is the DeLorean and if they are part of its very fabric the, like John William’s score to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Alan Silvestri’s sweeping epic score to Back to the Future is as well. And that was the real reason thousands of us were there to listen and watch a live rendition of the iconic music played to the film.

images (1)We must have only been seated five or six rows from the front, a Back to the Future live screen welcoming us into the vast auditorium. It all only added to the electricity (1.21 gigawatts) of electricity that was in the room, an electricity that initially peaked when the orchestra played those familiar bars.

Simultaneously hairs stood on end and goosebumps were raised, somehow from somewhere it all started to feel very emotional and just stirred something seeing that famous piece of film music history, so intrinsic to my childhood and my growing up, be recreated in front of my very eyes and ears.

Even though the screening, the first of its kind of this particular film in the UK, featured newly written cues by original composer, Silvestri, notably the opening titles over the ticking clocks, it was hard to believe that the orchestra was creating this well known score, in fact and times you got sucked into the film and the music that you sometimes just plain forget that creative music forces were at work just in front of you. It was that good, it was seemingly effortless but amazing to watch as you could see how the famous tune was created layer by musical layer, instrument by instrument, hand motion by hand motion.

download (1)Certainly we ensured we were watching the orchestra as much as the film after the interval, and boy those guys in percussion were certainly kept on their toes. Again, it was amazing to just see all the individuals in action that helped create the whole. Just prior to the film starting up again for its second section we were treated to a Back to the Future Part 3 medley with its western overtones and drifting into Clara’s theme.

As a film Back to the Future holds up not just magnificently but majestically, both against those films touted as family friendly fair today and even those from ‘whence it came, circa 1985, such as The Goonies and Ghostbusters. They are both classic films but Future just raises the quality bar and actually, even today, doesn’t look to have aged in the slightest in its pacing or any aspect of its unfolding story.

It was a delight to watch the familiar story unfold with characters we have got to know and love every nuance and line of dialogue and see them giant on the big screen again. It’s of great testament to the writers, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, that the story, a modern day Wizard of Oz of sorts, still holds true and is practically timeless, which is perhaps as much to do with its setting as much as its writing.

Script wise it is practically faultless and doesn’t miss a beat, the perfect movie script, nothing is wasted, no plot thread is left hanging and each piece of dialogue dovetails into the next and has real meaning and consequence. It’s a piece of storytelling without an ounce of fat. Everything occurs and happens for a reason, right down to the tiniest of nuances and should be high on anyone’s list wanting to study the craft.

images (2)It’s almost as if the film was not made in 1985 but set in 1985, new audiences scoffing as much about Marty McFly’s bulky walkman as much as we did first time round about there being no Pepsi Free!

The film itself bounds along at a fair old pace, another sign of its unflabby script and and edit suite culling, it not out staying its welcome, and at 1 hour 40-something is practically short by today’s standards where we have become used to the somewhat ponderous unfolding of the likes of Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins and one Captain Jack Sparrow.

It’s also refreshing to see a film where everything looks real and doesn’t have that muted CGI feel to it, everything in both time periods looks and feels real and solid, almost as if you can touch them. Sure, we know the Hill Valley of the 1950s is a film set on the Universal backlot (as also used in Gremlins and countless other films) but we know that it was all recreated for us to see up on the big screen and not rendered in some computer.

images (4)The interplay between Lloyd and Fox dazzles on the big screen, I had a similar experience seeing Robert Shaw writ large in Jaws on the big screen. Fox is deft at comedy, his falls and reactions really sell yet combining both straight man reacting and playing it for laughs on different occasions.

Although everyone else was familiar with how the film unfolded there were still laughs to be heard when it came to Doc Brown and his constant questioning of the use of the word ‘heavy’, guffawing at the really rather more excellent than you ever remember Crispin Glover, he really is quite amazing as the hapless George McFly. His laugh still brought the house down and there were plenty of laughs during the many moments of Marty with his mum, Lorraine.

george_savesdayIt really did feel in many ways as if you were watching it for the very first time, more curious still was the spontaneous applause that erupted when George smacked Biff, I think for many this is a standout moment in the film execution wise and in many ways is just as fulfilling as the DeLorean striking the wire just as the lightning strikes the clock tower, cue massive applause and squeals of delight.

The viewing experience was almost akin to watching someone you know do well on the sports field or on stage. You know they were good last time you saw them and are pleased that they’ve given a barn storming performance this time round. Often favourite films or programmes viewed when growing up tend to lose their charm or appeal, but with this one it only grows. It’s as if you know the film intimately.

Having said that, the film is more sweary than I care to remember and Biff is also essentially attempting to rape Lorraine, moments that tend to get lost when you are younger. But that only makes the George McFly rescue all the more satisfying and shows that it’s not just a kid’s film.

bttf-clocktowerFuture also has its melancholy side as well, not so much in the feeling that this is a period that we are so far removed from – even when referring to the 1980s – and is almost unrecognisable but also in the shape of Michael J Fox. He’s never been more breezy and likable, well okay I’ve got a soft spot for The Secret of my Success as well, but with his absence from our screens, due in large part to his Parkinsons, it’s a reminder of the loss of such an comically gifted actor. And his glances, trips and delivery is effortless to the point that if you aren’t careful you could miss it. That’s how good he is.

I don’t think I’d ever noticed him edging away from Doc before when the DeLorean is heading towards them at Twin Pines Mall, classic. He will forever be Marty, much like Matthew Broderick will always be Ferris Bueller. He is stuck, quite fittingly, in a time capsule for us to enjoy again and again.

Dmc11After one of the greatest endings to a film ever the: “roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads” scene and flying of the DeLorean into 2015 (their time), we get the titles and a great rousing end of the score just as the Amblin logo crawls across the screen – so much so I’ve always found it hard to separate the two – that is just so uplifting and celebratory it is almost difficult to find words. That was like a Silvestri full stop to it as at that point he and no one else involved in the project knew there would be two sequels so he really gives it all he has got.

So did the orchestra and it was a sublime finish that was followed by a prolonged and much-deserved standing ovation and crackle of applause that continued long after the baton had been lowered. And as for the experience of a film that you love with a live orchestra, I couldn’t recommend it enough, it takes it to a whole new level.

I’m sure it won’t be long before I end up removing the wrapping of the Intrada special edition version of the score, which I’ve yet to open after six years. Great Scott you say, no, great score.And there was no finer way to celebrate 30 years of Back to the Future.

Will we be back in time to the Royal Opera House? Quite possibly, as Raiders of the Lost Ark is swinging into the venue to do the very same. Perhaps I’ll use the staff of Ra to locate the best possible seat this time round though.

IMG_0034

Remembering Glen A Larson: Cylons are a boys best fiend

Glen A Larson, who has died at the age of 77, was responsible for sculpturing a huge influential part of my childhood…and if you were born in the early to mid 1970s then he probably was yours as well.

In the 1970s and 80s his name as creator, writer or executive producer was pretty much inescapable. And being the 1970s and 1980s they weren’t just great TV shows but had great title sequences and theme tunes.

He brought us one of the original Six Million Dollar Man TV movies, and a whole host of other fantastical TV shows besides, that were bigger, faster, stronger.

Battlestar1977 saw Star Wars blast on the cinema screen but Larson created  massive space opera epic, that was arguably just as iconic with its Cylons (for me far more frightening than the Cybermen or Darth Vader combined) and cool spaceships, and at one million dollars an episode (back then unheard of) he truly brought the epic of the big screen to the small screen. Although it only lasted one season there was a spinoff called Galactica 80, featuring flying bikes, a bearded Lorne Greene and Barry Van Dyke. And of course there was the successful reboot, that Larson didn’t have a hand in but still gained a consultant producer credit.

The last episode of Galactica 80 is of particular note as it featured the return of Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) marooned on a planet with just a lone Cylon for company, which plays out like a blueprint for Enemy Mine.

Larson stuck to outer space with his next adventure, which like with Galactica, its pilot was released theatrically, welcome Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

George Lucas or Fox tried to bring a lawsuit against Larson re the similarities of the original Galactica and Star Wars, he even nicked special effects supermodel John Dykstra, but Lucas  or Fox had some nerve really considering that the tale of Luke Skywalker was essentially Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, so it was fairly apt that the latter was Larson’s next sci-fi epic.

I had a matchbox version of the spaceship, again it was massively iconic growing up and was actually a turned down design for the Viper from the original Battlestar. Buck was kind of cool, when not busting his disco moves on the intergalactic dance floor, but everyone loved the prerequisite robot, Twiki, voiced by Bugs Bunny himself, Mel Blanc, and always confusing folk in the playground as he sounded uncannily like the Blanc voiced Yoesemite Sam. Also causing confusion, for far different reasons was the character of Wilma Dearing and her amazing lipstick!

It also boasted, in my mind, one of my favourite ever title sequences which kicked off with a. Apprentice shot if Rogers spinning to the 2471. Nobody does great intros anymore.

Sticking with great intros Larson also created Magnum PI, which had that car, that tache and of course that brilliant theme tune and credits. Magnum wasn’t Larson’s only foray into crime as he also created the quirky Quincy ME, paving the way for today’s CSI’s, Simon and Simon and also two other fighters against crime who, like Thomas Magnum, had rather cool modes of transport.

Colt Seavers, from The Fall Guy, made me want to have a pick up truck and he had a cool bath outside, besides being a Hollywood stuntman who was also a bounty hunter, cue Lee Majors sang theme tune. Altogether now, it’s only hay, a hey, hey!

knight-riderIn the other show the car was quite literally the star, I am of course talking about the black Trans Am, KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand)…oh, and Michael Knight of course! Cue pretending to talk into your Casio watch in the playground and being thrilled by your mum and dad’s car have electronic digits just like KITT, alas it lacked a super pursuit mode or turbo boost.

A cool car didn’t guarantee success of course and Automan, think Tron with a car sort of, certainly had the visuals. Not all his creations had cool vehicles, one in particular was able to change his mode of transport whenever he liked as he was able to transform into almost any creature.

I am of course talking about Simon MacCordinadale and his nine episode run as Manimal who week after week, American Werewolf style, transformed into everything from a hawk to a black panther, even a snake! I remember it aired Monday nights in the UK and for something that was so fleeting – it only lasted something like non episodes – is so vividly remembered.

I would have gone to karate if that wasn’t airing but that show seemed far cooler than suing at the karate kid, even to my eight year old self. Years later I longed for MacCorkindale to transform in the A&E dept at Holby when he was in Casualty, alas it never happened but he did turn up in a cameo as the same Jonathan Chase  character in another Larson show, Night Man in the late 90s.

Whichever way you look at it Glen A Larson made some of the coolest, greatest (to the nine year old me and the 39 year old me) TV shows that have ever graced our screens.

Although the great mind that created them has gone his vast body of high profile, high concept work still continues to influence and continues to be enjoyed and long may it for many more yahren’s to come (that’s years in Battlestar Galactica talk).

The Force is with them: Disney buy Lucasfilm and are set to return to the Jedi in 2015

With the news of the Walt Disney Company buying up Lucasfilm and announcing a brand new Star Wars trilogy it would appear that as Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke Skywalker at the end of the original Star Wars, and in turn us the audience, ‘the force will be with you…always’. How right the old bearded fella was.
 
You’ve got to feel at least a little bit sorry for all those folk who have only just shelled out for Star Wars (yet again) when it was released on bluray.
 
You’d almost be forgiven for thinking that someone was playing some serious Jedi mind tricks when the news was first unleashed. It was more a case of what Disney? rather than Walt Disney when it was announced last night of the sale of Lucasfilm to the house of mouse for 4.5 billion dollars.
 
That’s more than enough money to fill a sarlacc pit. And that’s not all, laugh it up fuzzball, as Disney then went on to announce that it was slating a new Star Wars for 2015 release, followed by two more after that with Lucas on board as Creative Consultant.
 
As Darth Vader might say: whhhhhhaaaaat!!!
 
Unsurprisingly, that news sent much of the internet and social media into something of a spin and attracted more postings and comments quicker than a death star with its tractor beam on full power.
 
So, was the move by Lucas and Disney right?
 
Certainly, if the stock exchange were open I’d love to see the impact on the Disney share price.
 
They have amassed quite an Empire now, if you’ll pardon the pun, with Marvel, the classic Disney back catalogue, Pixar, and not forgetting The Muppets, all now part of their ranks.
 
Strike them down and they will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine
 
It’s all a far cry from the late 70s when everyone was attempting to jump onto the Star Wars band wagon, Disney itself adding The Black Hole into the mix, which did just that in terms of box office takings, disappeared into a black hole. Other similar sci-fi and fantasy fare from Disney, such as Dragonslayer, Tron and even the animated The Black Cauldron – all with Star Wars undertones in one way or another – all tanked.
 
Certainly its offerings under the Marvel banner, such as The Avengers, have all struck CP30 coloured gold, as did The Muppets reboot, a franchise harking from the late 70s that had also lost its way.
 
But then we come to Disney’s John Carter from earlier this year. In theme and feel it was very much pitched as a Star Wars adventure for a new generation. The till receipts suggested otherwise and it was last seen heading not to Mars but straight into the mouth of that very same Disney black hole.
 
Disney might have a slippery Hoth glacier to climb with fans expectations, but Lucas himself has left the franchise in something of a state and to be fair the quality control rot had been there since…well, a long time ago. You only have to look as far as the Star Wars Holiday Special, The Battle for Endor and Caravan of Courage and of course multiple elements from the prequels, which, rather fittingly, were a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes as Lucas couldn’t see the woods – or should that be words – for the trees.
 
That was the past, so what of the future?

Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels must be sat somewhere waiting for their phones to ring, and who can blame them.
 
In some way shape or form it would be nice if there was a passing of the baton, or should that be lightsaber, from elements of the old cast to the new one. Perhaps even David Prowse might see a way back of sorts, after he and Lucas had a major falling out.
 
It may all be set a long time ago but the reality is that 2015 is not far, far away which suggests that the studio is already some way down the Episode 7 road.
 
Perhaps it will be direct continuation based on the critically and commercially well-received Timothy Zahn novels with followed the Star Wars children as it were.
 
Who knows, Harrison Ford may even get his wish and have Han Solo killed off, just as he wanted in Return.

The purchase of Lucasfilm also raises a multitude of exciting questions and possibilities.
 
What does this mean for the much mooted Star Wars TV series?
 
Does this purchase also include LucasArts and could that mean a Monkey Island film in the not too distant future?
 
For that matter, with Marvel and Lucasfilm under one mouse eared roof could a Howard the Duck reboot be on the cards. I’m not saying it should, just asking.
 
The Henson and Lucas link could of course mean a belated Labyrinth sequel could be a possibility. It has been a long time since the original but look at Tron Legacy and The Dark Crystal follow up is already in the works.
 
Does the Lucasfilm sale have any impact on that other Lucas series, Indiana Jones?
 
The possibilities for related rides etc will be endless at the already well established global Disney parks. It could even be something that emulates the success of the Harry Potter Tour.
 
One other thing, will filming, like it did for the original trilogy, return to the UK?
 
We won’t even mention Jar Jar.

The Return of the Jedi and other characters

Disney might now well be running the bucket of bolts that is star wars but you can be sure, despite the clunky prequels, that this first new film will be no goofy movie (that was Phantom) and that this new trilogy will make the jump to box office lightspeed on, surely, May 4th 2015.
 
Even if it will be without that Alfred Newman 20th Century Fox fanfare, something which has become as synonymous with the franchise as that word crawl, but then moving studios hasn’t done Bond any harm.