Thursday, 15 December 2011

Where the Hell are you?....and the return of Starburst Magazine...

You may be wondering (or you may not, you may well not give much of a damn) what's been happening with this Blog this year as it's hardly been updated and I've been conspicuous by my absence. Without boring you, there have been several reasons why the World of Stuff has remained Stuffless this year. Faaamily reasons, work reasons and the simple fact that I've been reacquainted with an old friend. Many of you may remember 'Starburst Magazine', the UK's longest-running magazine devoted to sci-fi/fantasy/horror etc which ran from 1978 until about two years ago when the company which published it went bankrupt. I wrote for the Magazine from 1986 to 1996 and I was, to say the least, thrilled when I heard the Magazine was to be relaunched as an internet only facility earlier this year. I contacted the new Editor who massaged my sleeping ego and asked me if I'd be interested in resuming duties for the magazine. So since May this year I've been writing pretty much exclusively for - my old TV Zone monthly column is back and I've been contributing reviews of new films, books and DVDs and even a little bit of fiction. This, obviously, was generally the meat of this particular site so I've let things grow fallow here as I've concentrated on contributing to 'Starburst'.

But it seems to have paid off as 'Starburst' will, next February, be returning to the print format. This is thrilling news for all of us working on the Magazine and I know that the Editor and his team are working flat out to ensure that this is the brightest, boldest and most eclectic sci-fi magazine in an increasingly-shrinking marketplace. This doesn't mean the World of Stuff will be redundant and I'm looking to recommence posting in the next few weeks but I would encourage you, if you're interested in the Magazine, if you've never heard of it, if you have fond memories of it or for any other reason, clink on the title of this article which will direct you straight to the subscription page, and at least consider taking out a subscription to what could be an exciting new genre magazine. The Magazine will be an independent publication, it won't have the backing of the big publishing houses but that, if nothing else, makes this an exciting new proposition and it really needs YOUR help if it's to succeed. So take a look - you can just subscribe to one issue if you fancy taking a chance - and help give a new/old friend the chance to find a whole new audience in the 21st century.

Merry Christmas and all that!!!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Book Preview: Elisabeth Sladen

Pretty much essential reading, this autobiography of the much-missed Elisabeth Sladen, the legendary Sarah Jane Smith from 'Doctor Who' and her own children's spin-off 'The Sarah Jane Adventures' (many episodes of which put modern adult dramas to shame), is released on November 17th courtesy of Arum press. Foreword is by former Doctor David Tennant.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Sci-Fi Classic 'Silent Running' comes to Blu Ray in November....

Three years after helping to achieve some of the most amazing imagery in cinema history with 2001: A Space Odyssey, special effects
maestro Douglas Trumbull made an auspicious directorial debut at age 29 with the environmentally themed science fiction classic Silent

In the distant future, plant life on our planet is extinct. Remaining specimens are cultivated in vast greenhouse-like domes orbiting in space.
Bruce Dern (Marnie, Coming Home, The 'burbs, Monster) stars as Freeman Lowell, dedicated botanist aboard the "Valley Forge", awaiting
the call to refoliate Earth – despite the scorn of his crewmates. When an order comes to instead destroy the domes and return home,
Lowell takes matters into his own hands, beginning a long and lonely voyage into the unknown.
With its
remarkable special effects (especially the robot drones Huey, Dewey, and Louie); glorious score (including songs performed by
Joan Baez); memorable sound effects (created by Joseph Byrd from the cult band The United States of America); a screenplay co-written
by Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter) and Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues), and an impassioned central performance from Dern, Silent
Running remains a uniquely contemplative and haunting adventure that continues to make hippies of young children, even today.

• New high-definition master in its original aspect ratio • A host of extras to be announced nearer the release date • PLUS: A lavish
booklet featuring rare production imagery, and more!
Acknowledged as a major influence on Pixar's WALL-E and Duncan Jones' Moon, and directed by Douglas Trumbull, the special effects
genius behind 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner, and, most recently, The Tree of Life The Masters of
Cinema Series is proud to present a new Blu-ray special edition of Silent Running to celebrate the film's 40th anniversary. Released on 14
November 2011.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Coming soon....Torchwood

Torchwood: Miracle Day, the new 10-part BBC/Starz co-production has literally just finished filming. We've seen the teasers and the promo photos but here's a quick...very trailer which shows just a bit more actual footage.

Torchwood: Miracle Day is expected to start on Friday 9th July at 9pm on BBC1 in the UK.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Dr Who - Season six trailer...UPDATED

Look...look at this for God's sake....

Coming soon to BBC1...


Then there's this trailer currently airing on BBC America...

Friday, 11 March 2011

Dr Who Filming in Penarth - UPDATED (and more!)

Filming progresses on the next season of Dr Who, now announced as commencing on Saturday April 22nd with en episode entitled 'The Impossible Astronaut'(when Stuff will be away in Poland on a stag weekend, grrr!! (shakes fist to skies)) Today the crew are in a quiet sidestreet in Penarth near Cardiff filming scenes for episode 12 which guest stars James Corden reprising his role as Craig Owens, as seen in last year's 'The Lodger'. Here's some photos and clips. Please don't ask "Which one's James Corden?" when you're looking at the third photo, thank you very much!!

The UK Press maintains its healthy interest in all things Dr Who and this latest bout of filming has seen the paps out in force. Here's a nice pic of Matt Smith in his snazzy new costume (for this episode, at least) as published in the South Wales Echo on 15th March...

And finally - and, yes, entirely off-topic - the brilliant third series of BBC3's supernatural drama 'Being Human' (full series review due shortly) came to an explosive ending last Sunday. Sob. But the good news is the BBC have already announced a swift recommission and series four will screen next year. Yaay. But things will never be the same again...

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Nicholas Courtney

"Chap with wings....five rounds, rapid..."

Sad news indeed from the world of 'Dr Who' today with the passing of one of the show's great legends. Actor Nicholas Courtney, an absolute 'Dr Who' icon for his role as the redoubtable Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, died today at the age of 81 after a short illness. If you're a fan of the series you don't need Stuff to remind you of his importance in the show's history; frankly he's right up there with the Doctors themselves (and way in front of one or two of them). For the first half of the 1970s the Brigadier was as important a part of the series as the Doctor when the series, broadcast in colour from 1970, relocated the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) to Earth and allied him with the United Nations Intelligence Task Force (now the Unified Intelligence Task force), its six-man army commanded by Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, a straight-laced military man in the old tradition, his stiff upper lip forever adorned by that false moustache courtesy of the BBC make-up department. The Brig, as he's affectionately known, first appeared in the series in 1968 during Patrick Troughton's time in the role. A swift reappearance in the classic 1968 Cybermen story 'The Invasion' sealed his popularity and when the show return in 1970 the Brig was an essential part of the mix, his starchy down-the-line military precision the perfect foil for Pertwee's twinkling iconoclasm. By 1973 the show was severing its tied to Earth as the Doctor forged out into space again and the Brig's appearances became more infrequent. By 1975 Tom Baker was in the title role and then-producer Philip Hinchcliffe was keen to move the show on from the stykle of the third Doctor and the Brig appeared for the last time as his fans had come to love him in 'Terror of the Zygons.' He reappeared in 1983, retired from the miltary and, for some reason, working as a teacher in a boy's school in 'Mawdryn Undead', returning later that same year in the anniversay story 'The Five Doctors'. His last appearance in the show came in the 1989 story 'Battlefield' with Sylvester McCoy, a story in which the character was originally intended to be killed off.

In reinventing 'Dr Who' for the 21st century Russell T Davies busily resurrected Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, the Master and even UNIT - but he never quite got round to slipping the Brig into one of his scripts. Fortunately the old warhorse, older and much less mobile, turned up in two episodes of 'The Sarah Jane Adventures' in 2008, helping his old friend battle her enemies The Bane. A further reappearance in 'The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith' the following year was thwarted by Courteney's growing ill-health.

Beyond 'Dr Who' Nick Courtney was one of those great British character actors, the sort of actor we just don't seem to breed any more. In a long and illustrious career Courtney appeared in TV shows such as 'No Hiding Place', 'Callan' and guested regularly (usually as extravagant villains) in the glossy ITC adventure series of the time - 'The Saint', 'Department S' and 'The Champions' among them. Even when his ties to 'Dr Who' were severed Nick continued to appear regularly on TV and in the theatre and at one point was the President of actor's union Equity, where he fought ferociously for actor's rights.

A huge supporter of 'Dr Who' Nick was also a regular on the convention circuit and the fan boards are already standing testament to his popularity at these events. Warm, friendly, always enthusiastic about the show, Nick Courtney was s one of the programme's proudest spokesmen, even in those dark days whe 'Dr Who' was off the air and its reputation was rather less than the sum of its parts.

So a light has gone out in the world of 'Dr Who'. But Nick Courtney's contribution to the legend of the show can never be underestimated and, through DVDs, audios and comic strips the indestructible Brig will live on in the minds and memories of the show's fans forever. Splendid chap...

Stuff is off to watch 'The Claws of Axos' now...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

DVD Review: Dr Who - The Ark

"It looks like some sort of kitchen!"

Let's face it, a lot of 1960s 'Dr Who' is pretty heavy-going these days. I mean, no-one who's sat through every turgid, laboured episode of 'The Web Planet' is going to reach for the DVD if they fancy a fun night with the Doctor and his chums and I honestly can't imagine anyone sitting through 'The Space Museum' or 'The Dominators' more than once. It's not that it's bad it's just that much of it is horribly routine and formulaic and achingly 'of its time' and plain difficult to sit through. But as 'Dr Who' fans we love it, of course; we love the fact we've seen it even if it's a bit naff by today's standards. There's genuinely classic stuff out there too (and a lot more classic stuff which remains missing from the BBC Archive); 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' remains an exciting romp and 'The War Machines' is a very clear template for what the show would become in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Stories like this month's BBC DVD release 'The Ark' fall somewhere in the middle of the essential/unwatchable divide; it's the sort of story which, in many ways, forms the bedrock of the show's reputation, being a story full of big, bold ideas way out of reach of a tiny 1960s TV budget but what the hell, they went and did it anyway.

The TARDIS travels, uncharacteristically for this time in the show's history, millions of years into the future when the human race has abandoned the dying Earth and set off in a giant space ark (never shown on screen) and heads for the planet Refusis II, a journey which will take hundreds of years. The Doctor (William Hartnell) and the puppy-dog excitable Steven (Peter Purves) and gratingly-fashionable "fab gear" Dodo (Jackie Lane) meet the human custodians of the miniaturised population of Earth and their 'slaves', the one-eyed Monoids with their reptilian skin and Beatles haircuts. Fab gear indeed... But silly Dodo's got a cold and the human race of the future has long since lost its resistance to such mundane infections and before long humans and Monoids are fevering up and dropping like flies. The Doctor, being a top scientist, fashions a cure and at the end of episode two the travellers return to the TARDIS and move on...only to reappear seconds later but hundreds of years into the future. They quickly discover that the tables have turned and Man is now the slave to the Monoids. Yikes!

A giant spaceship, exotic animals live on set, huge statues, one-eyed aliens, gun battles, space capsules bobbing along towards an alien planet, the Earth dying in a ball of flame, invisible aliens...'The Ark' is nothing if not ambitious and it's this ambition, visually at least, which marks a frankly rather mundane story out from other rather less salubrious space opera efforts of the era. Director Michael Imison, keen to hang on to his contract as an in-house BBC Director, threw everything but the (security) kitchen sink at 'The Ark' and the story is full of interesting visual flourishes and a real sense of scale which occasionally manages to belie the pocket money budget. Determined to impress the BBC with his inventive direction, Imison crafted dramatic crane shots, utilised primitive model shots, forced perspective backdrops and employey an array of rather clever working props - a shuttle which ferries the Doctor and Dodo down to the leafy surface of Refusis, the little motorised trolley device which pootles about the Ark, sparking rifles for the slightly flabby gun battles. There's always something interesting to look at in 'The Ark' even when the story itself loses its pace and the eyelids (both of them) start to droop. Imison's hard work was for nothing, incidentally, because he received notice that his BBC contract wasn't being picked up just as he was prepping the last studio session for the story. Lesser men might have walked...

So while 'The Ark' is worth a look because of its Big Ideas and the fact that it's clearly genuinely trying to push the show's visual envelope, it's bedevilled by so many of those problems which make some 1960s episodes a chore. William Hartnell, here in his third season, is struggling; his dialogue fluffs are becoming more pronounced and the actor's visibly floundering, but when he's good - the final scene when he gives the human race a rallying speech, for example - we're reminded of just how charismatic he was and how it was his interpretation of the character which laid the foundations for all those who followed (even the rubbish ones). Steven and Dodo, however, serve to remind us how good and fully-rounded Ian and Barbara were back in the first series and the guest performers playing a variety of effete shrill humans in silly skirts and smocks are so wet and dull you have to wonder if the human race was really worth saving. The Commander of the humans the travellers meet when they first arrive gurns, grins and grimaces the way only an actor who has no idea what he's saying or doing can. The serial's real misfire, though, is the Monoids, the alien slaves who become - gasp! - the masters. Imison admits that the Monoids were designed to be rivals to the Daleks and elsewhere on the disc he also admits he dreamed of untold riches from merchandising and return appearances. Fat chance; they're rubbish. Actually, to be fair, they're not a bad concept but like many ideas in 'The Ark' they don't quite come off. Their rubbery, leathery zip-up-the-back costumes look awkward and cumbersome, the slightly-modulated voices (by then-regular Dalek voice artist Roy Skelton) only draws attention to the fact they're clearly created to cash in on the Daleks, their dialogue is flat and unmemorable and, for some reason, they imprison people in a "security kitchen" which actually is, for no sane reason, a kitchen. But with their single eyeball (a painted tennis ball) and Ringo wigs they're nothing if not memorable but unfortunaely not in a a particularly good way.

'The Ark' is a light, fun little story which is easy to watch even if it does run out of steam and over-reach itself visually. The split story conceit is quite neat and well done but the ultimate impression is of a story full of ideas but without the ability ro realise them effectively. But it's a worthwhile purchase because, in many ways, the story tends to sum up the ethos of 'Dr Who' from day one - nothing's too big, nothing's too imaginative, nothing's out of reach. You'll wince at some of the prehistoric visual effects, you'll groan at the performances and you'll very probably laugh at the Monoids. But at the end of it you'll have been mostly hugely entertained and if nothing else it's a damn sight more compelling than 'Outcasts' made nearly fifty years later and with a lot more money. There's surely a lessson there somewhere...

THE DISC:Broadcaster/journalist Matthew Sweet dominates a collection of brief special features which, for an unremarkable 46 year-old story, manage to tell the viewer all they'll ever really need to know about how the episodes were made. In the best and longest feature 'Riverside Story' Sweet takes Purves back to the tiny Riverside studios in London where many early episodes were recorded. I'm a big fan of these 'Now and Then'-type location features which crop up on the DVDs of outside-filming-heavy stories and to be honest I'd like to have seen a bit more of the Studios themselves rather than the talking head bits with Purves and Imison which do, at least, serve as decent 'making of' material. 'All's Wells That Ends Wells' looks at the influence of the works of HG Wells on 'Dr Who' and is a robust piece which wheels out all the usual suspects including Kim Newman. Finally we have 'One Hit Wonder' an all-too brief piece which looks at the Monoids and why they only appeared once in the series and which draws an intriguing parallel between the Monoids as slaves tro humanity and the Ood from modern 'Dr Who'. Imison and, particularly, Purves, provide a chatty commentary and there's the usual trivia subtitles, photo gallery and a preview of the next DVD release.

There's been some right old toot from the 'Dr Who' Archives spruced up and let loose on DVD in the last few months ('Time and the Rani'??? 'Meglos'??) and many of them are real bargain bin purchases. But 'The Ark' is a pleasant, unassuming little yarn from the early pioneering days of the series and while it's silly and it's flawed it's worth your time more than many other releases from the same era.

Friday, 4 February 2011

TV review: Primeval - season four

The latest edition of TV Times (other listing magazines are available), previewing this week's ‘season finale’ of the latest series of ITV’s dino-hunting sci-fi saga ‘Primeval’, observed that the latest series has been “revitalised and refreshed.” Obviously I had to do a double take. I may even have spluttered “Whaaaa??”; there must be some reason why the man standing next to me in WH Smiths as I browsed through the celeb-obsessed magazine moved away so quickly. Could those top TV Times journos really have been talking about the episodes of ‘Primeval’ I’ve been struggling through these last six weeks because what’s been ‘refreshed and revitalised’ to them has been turgid, meandering, cheap-looking and poorly-written to me. Allow me to explain...

When the third season of ‘Primeval’ limped away from our TV screens a couple of years ago its ratings were slipping and viewers, who’d finally latched onto its repetitive ‘monster of the week’ format, had started to lose interest. Bored series lead Douglas Henshall had shipped out in the third episode and newcomer Jason Flemyng gave the show a new ‘action man’ dynamic but there was no denying that the show seemed to have run out of ideas and, a bit of wibbly wobbly timey wimey (sorry) shenanigans aside, it seemed to have nowhere else to go. No real surprise when ITV, blaming cash flow problems, decided not to commission a fourth run and for a while it looked as if ‘Primeval’ was extinct. At least the show ended on a decent cliffhanger with half the cast stranded in various dino-heavy corners of history. But they couldn’t let it lie. Series creators Adrian Hodges and Tim Haines mooched about looking for alternative funding and they found it. ITV and, apparently, the BBC chipped in along with Watch (the non-terrestrial channel which, ironically, hardly anybody does) and before long ‘Primeval’ was setting up camp in Dublin’s fair city for the production of thirteen new episodes, to be split into two series, the first of which is just limping over the finishing line on ITV on Saturday nights to even more underwhelming audiences than the third series.

What’s hard to believe is that the producers of the show, surely aware that their series was leaking viewers last time, didn’t spend some time before ramping up production on trying to fix what was clearly wrong and figuring how to fix the leaks by rebooting the show and giving it a bit of a facelift. But ‘Primeval’ has returned with the same core concept – monsters wander through twinkling ‘anomalies’ in Time and Space and rampage about in the modern day before the ARC team rush in with their big guns and chase them back again. The show tries to mix things up a bit by introducing the odd sub plot – in this latest series it’s what appears to be a conspiracy storyline and some rather dreary going-nowhere stuff about a couple of refugees from the Victorian era who have an agenda of their own. Unfortunately neither of these stories is particularly interesting so we’re left to fall back on the tried and trusted monster-on-the-loose scenario which just ain’t big or clever any more.

Replacement star Jason Flemyng has moved on from the series although it’s no secret he’s back in the half-season finale. This leaves the show with its junior leads Andrew Lee Potts (Connor Temple) and Hannah Spearitt (Abby Maitland) to carry the show – and with all due respect to the pair of them, they’re not really up to it. Spearitt, let’s face it, was always the Billie Piper-inspired casting stunt which didn’t really work; the former S Club pop star has more to do in this series but there’s a deadness in her eyes, a lack of emotional commitment to the material and Abby’s no more developed as a character than she was in episode one several years ago. Oddly, considering co-star Potts is her fiancĂ© in real life, there’s no on screen chemistry between the pair of them; she seems contemptuous and dismissive of him most of the time and in last week’s episode where prehistoric hyaenas (honestly!) threatened to ruin their former colleague Jenny Lewis’s marriage, Abby looked as if she’d rather throw herself into the jaws of any passing tyrannosaurus than marry Connor. Potts does his best as Connor but he’s not really hero material and he spends most of his time making weak jokes and looking out of his depth, as well he might. Perhaps the show’s greatest crime is its misuse (or lack of use) of the brilliant Ben Miller as sniffy civil servant James Lester; he barely appears in the series but when he does he steals the show and he invests the weak material he’s given with more gravitas and commitment that it really deserves. Also back on board for this series is former supporting soldier character Becker (Ben Mansfield) but he’s so bland and unmemorable it’s actually quite difficult to find anything to say about him.

But there are new faces in ‘Primeval’ too – and unfortunately ‘faces’ is about all they are. Ruth Kearney plays Jess Parker, a slightly-ditzy new female member of the ARC team who spends most of her time sitting behind a computer screen. Then there’s new ARC military bigwig Matt Anderson (Ciaran McMenamin, who recently appeared with James Nesbitt in the supernatural feature ‘Outcast’) but, dreary subplot about his mysterious father (Anton Lesser) aside, he’s just another man in black running about with a big gun which knocks out monsters. Finally we have former ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ star Alexander Siddig who plays Philip Burton, the financial power behind the ARC throne. Plenty of new characters, plenty of scope for drama and relationships and personal stuff – but we get little of it, or at least little of it which evokes much interest. Seven episodes in and I know (and care) little more about any of these newbies than I did at episode one. The problem is none of them have been sufficiently fleshed out by the writers who just don’t know what to do to make them more interesting, so drawn is the series towards its need to throw some new roaring monster at the audience.

Oh, and those monsters... At least in the past ‘Primeval’ won its audience over with some impressive monsters, whether they were tyrannosaurs or mammoths or sabre-tooths. They were big and imposing, well-animated and threatening. This time we’ve just been given a string of entirely unmemorable lizards and flightless birds and big grey things which leap about the place. Seen one, seen ‘em all. And with their new powerful stun guns the creatures don’t pose much of a threat to the ARC team who run around until they find the creatures, zap ‘em and send them back where they came from. It’s just another format problem; ‘Dr Who’ shows us that monsters need to be more than just roaring monsters – they need to be characters, they really need personalities and motivation and they need a reason to do what they’re doing beyond just raging about eating people. By now we’ve seen ‘Primeval’s bag of monster tricks and we’re just not impressed any more. Seen one roaring thing running around snapping at people, you’ve seen them all.

And perhaps the final and sharpest nail in the show’s coffin is the impact the relocation has clearly had on the look and style of the series. The budget has clearly been reduced; the ‘new’ ARC set is pretty much just a room with a terminal in it whereas the old place was big, cavernous headquarters of a place. The CGI (now done by the ‘Dr Who’ boys from The Mill) could do with another pas through the computer most of the time and, most irritating of all, the show just looks underpopulated. There seems to be no-one working at the ARC apart from the core group (and the odd ‘he’s going to get it’ extra) and the cast rarely includes anyone else or any real substance. The stories all seem to have been crafted to reduce the need for large casts (and guest stars have never been ‘Primeval’s strong point) but the lack of people in the show pretty much undermines the whole thing. Everyone the ARC team go, there’s hardly anyone else about. The “London” streets are deserted whenever the ARC team are haring about in search of monsters; one episode takes place in a school – but at a weekend detention session with only three kids present. Episode five sees a giant lizard-thing on the loose in a fishing village; it’s deserted save a couple of horribly-stereotyped “we don’t like strangers around here” pub locals – the village streets and surrounding roads are bereft of any human life whatsoever. Only last week’s wedding episode bucked the trend (although the country hotel where Jenny was due to get married seemed deserted the night before the wedding) with a lively scene where hyaenas chased wedding guests around the building. Sadly, as the wedding guests were all non-speaking extras it was impossible to care about any of them as they knocked over chairs and fell over because we didn’t know anything about them.

The move to Dublin may have allowed the show to be brought in on a reduced budget but the series now seems oddly dislocated from reality. Dublin’s clearly a lovely city but it ain’t London and the show does itself no favours with the odd rooftop scene with characters chatting away with verdant hills of London (?) stretching away beyond the low skyline. The show shies away from explicitly stating that it’s still set in London but it clearly is; a few establishing shots of the Thames, the London Eye, the Gherkin really wouldn’t have gone amiss and might have papered over a few of the show’s painful visual cracks.

And ultimately ‘painful’ is what ‘Primeval’ now is, to be honest. The episodes this year have been sluggish, lifeless, a real chore to sit through much of the time. Flat, unengaging characters, repetitive storylines, visually-uninteresting monsters; there’s no pace and precious little energy to the show, it seems tired and run down. What ‘Primeval’ really needs is a visionary showrunner who can look at the show and give it a new purpose, a new direction; as it is it just looks like a show which has just been made for the sake of it by people who aren’t all that interested – and I’m sure that can’t be the case as Hodges and Haines fought hard to keep the show alive. But it needs better writers, more exciting and original stories, bigger and better threats. But sadly in bringing the show back pretty much as it was when it finished with just a few changes (brought about by budget demands rather than any creative inspiration), the people who created the show have guaranteed its imminent obsolescence.

It really pains me to slate a British fantasy show because, although we’re doing better now than we were a decade ago, shows like ‘Primeval’ are the exception rather than the norm. But with ‘Dr Who’ still doing well and relative newcomers like ‘Being Human’ and ‘Misfits’ challenging the preconceptions of the genre, lazy stuff like ‘Primeval’ just won’t do any more, especially not for the Saturday night family audience who are clearly a lot more perceptive and demanding than ITV and the makers of ‘Primeval’ seem to give them credit for. Series four could have been a fresh start, a chance to grab a new audience (and even the old one) with a new-look show full of new ideas. Instead it’s pretty much just the same old same old and, when the second half of the series has finished airing on Watch in May, I suspect the anomalies will be closed for good and ‘Primeval’ will become what it’s about – a thing of the past.

DVD/Blu Ray Review: Buried

Fancy watching a 90 minute movie about a man trapped in a box? Possibly not and whilst Rodrigo Cortes’ ‘Buried’ got decent reviews when it arrived in the cinema last year, it didn’t strike me as the sort of movie I wanted to see in a darkened theatre with only the ever-present glow of everyone else’s mobile phones (damn you, British public!) to remind me I wasn’t stuck in a box too. I suppose it’s down to that primal fear we surely all have of premature burial, waking up in a coffin six feet under and with no way of getting out. Shiver... ‘Buried’ is easier to bear in the comfort of your own sitting room when you’ve got the option of making a cup of tea (if the mood takes you) when it all gets a bit tense and claustrophobic. Because, trust me, ‘Buried’ gets very tense and claustrophobic indeed...

Ryan Reynolds (soon to be seen as 'The Green Lantern' in the much-anticipated superhero flick) plays Paul Conroy, an undistinguished run-of-the-mill US contractor driving trucks in Iraq, who wakes up to find himself in a cramped wooden box buried somewhere in the desert with only an oxygen-consuming cigarette lighter and a half-charged mobile phone for company. How he got there, why he’s there and how the Hell he’s going to get out are what ‘Buried’ is all about and the ensuing ninety-odd minutes, spent entirely in the company of Conroy as his situation goes from bad to unbearable, are far more engrossing and buttock-clenching than you might imagine a movie which is basically a one-man show could possibly be.

Panic. That’s what I’d do. I bet you would too. So does Conroy, thrashing about, kicking and wailing and trying to force his way out of his box, despite the weight of the sand above bearing down upon his prison. But when he manages to regain his composure he sets about using the tools he has at his disposal to find out how he’s ended up in this situation and what he can do to free himself. It’s an extraordinarily bold concept for a 21st century movie where bang and flash rule and concept and performance take a distance back seat. It’s a credit both to Reynolds’ four-square characterisation of the everyman Conroy and Cortes focussed and unflinching direction that the film never flags, never drifts into sentimentality, never goes too far (although the sequence where something unwelcome squirms its way into the coffin does stretch credibility maybe just a bit too far and might have you shouting “Oh, hang on, this is too much...” at the screen) and, ultimately, never compromises the drama of its scenario. We’re with Conroy in that box right the way through the movie; there are no cheesy flashbacks, no cuts to his captor (a creepy, emotionless insurgent whose voice we hear over the telephone), no scenes of desperate rescuers battling to find him. It’s just Conroy, alone and scared, phoning random numbers – his family, the FBI, his employer (one of the iciest scenes in the movie has Conroy talking to someone at his workplace who is recording the conversation purely to clear his company for any insurance liability for his predicament) – in at attempt to make contact with someone – anyone – who can help him. Most terrifying of all is the voice of one would-be rescuer who sounds horribly like Simon Cowell – and that’s a voice you never want to hear, let alone when you’re trapped in a box and buried in the desert.

‘Buried’ becomes a genuinely heart-stopping race against time as an above-ground bombing raid designed to smoke out Conroy’s captor fractures the box and sand starts to pour in...Conroy has just minutes to make peace with himself but how close are his rescuers to finding and saving him? I’ll say no more...

‘Buried’ is brave and unusual film-making and it works because Cortes knows exactly how to ramp up the tension and, crucially, how to use and exploit the confines of the box to create a real sense of unease and disquiet. Reynolds’ performance is remarkable too, and it’s no surprise to learn, from the special features on the DVD, that he really suffered for his art. Through his interaction with the outside world via the mobile phone we get to learn a bit more about his life and the fact that he’s clearly just a man, an unexceptional, ordinary Joe Schmoe, not even a soldier involved in the ongoing conflict, makes his predicament even more real and even more horrifying. In some ways it’s not easy viewing, it’ll make you uncomfortable and uneasy. And when it’s over you might want to go outside for a bit just because you can. ‘Buried’ is bold, original film-making – and in an era of ongoing ‘Transformer’ and Jason Statham films, it’s the sort of movie we really need to be glad are still capable of being made.

THE DVD/BLU RAY: Blu Ray gives the movie a pinpoint clarity, essential when so much of the action takes place in the dark or in half-light. Added features are minimal but there’s a decent ‘making of’, and interview with the director and a commentary.

'Buried' is available on DVD/Blu Ray in the UK on 14th February 2011

Looks Who's Filming..!

With 36 new episodes of Dr Who-related TV goodness winging our way in 2011 (14 Dr Whos, 10 Torchwoods, 12 Sarah Janes) it's hardly surprising to hear that filming is proceeding at a pace on the first two titles (Sarah Jane already has six season five episodes in the can with another six to film later this year). Naturally the UK press are interested and the local Welsh press is regularly reporting on the comings and goings of the filming crews as they wander around South Wales. But both shows are moving further afield this year; Torchwood has shipped almost completely over to the US and there have already been reports of filming in and around los Angeles, with much mroe to come. But the crew are spending a few weeks in the show's homeland - Stuff was briefly present earlier this week at the Coal Exchange where a group of ambulance speeding away from the building which, for the purposes of the story, is now a hospital. Kai Owen (Rhys) rushed over to have a word with gawping onlookers (Stuff would never knowingly gawp) and Eve Myles (Gwen) and Tom Price (Sgt Andy Davison) arrived just as Stuff could brave the biting cold no longer. Meanwhile, thanks to an infusion of cash from BBC America, Dr Who has been venturing further afield than its usual rundown South Wales industrial estates and quarries with the crew having already filmed in Utah for the opening two-parter of the next series. At this very moment the show's filming near St Austell in Cornwall for what sounds like a romping pirate episode (currently slated as episode three) guest-starring Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonnevvile. Welsh newspapers have taken notice and reported on the filming for both series (see below - click to embiggen) and the Tube of You's is home to a brief clip of the Dr Who Cornwall filming. Knock yourselves out.

In other Dr Who news, long-time fan David Walliams (Little Britain, Come Fly With Me) has revealed on the Chris Evans Radio 2 Breakfast Show this morning that's he's accepted a role as "an alien" in an episode to be filmed in "the next few weeks." Dr Who returns with the first half of season six in April.

Stuff coming soon: Marchlands, Primeval, Being Human, Outcasts, Bedlam and more...

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Book Review: Wiped! Doctor Who's Missing Episodes

One of the greatest frustrations of being a ‘Doctor Who’ fan – apart from other ‘Doctor Who’ fans – is the fact that there are currently 108 episodes of the long-running sci-fi classic missing from the BBC’s archives. The show, like many others from the 1960s, fell victim to the Corporation’s policy of selectively purging its own broadcast history due to reasons of space (it was considered impossible and impractical to keep copies of everything the BBC made, particularly during the ‘60s and ‘70s when volume of output was increasing) and cost (the videotape on which programmes were recorded was prohibitively expensive and it was considered more cost-effective to wipe and reuse). Incredibly, by 1975 (recent memory as far as Stuff is concerned), the master tapes of all 253 black-and-white ‘Doctor Who’ episodes had been wiped along with over half of the more recent Jon Pertwee episodes. How this could possibly have happened – and the extraordinary work done by a group of dedicated (some might say obsessed) fans to recover and restore as much of this precious material as possible – is told in ‘Wiped! Doctor Who’s Missing Episode’, a fascinating and sometimes eye-wateringly detailed new volume from Telos, publishers of specialised ‘Doctor Who’ and genre material.

It was in 1981, when an edition of the ‘Doctor Who’ Magazine published an interview with the BBC’s then-Archivist alongside a list of which episodes of the series were no longer in existence, that the majority of the show’s fans became aware of how much of its heritage had gone, apparently forever. Like a bunch of science-fiction detectives these fans began to dig a bit deeper, to find out how and why this had happened and, with the BBC eventually on board as they’d finally realised they’d inadvertently destroyed something culturally significant, sent out calls all across the world – to film collectors, fans and, most importantly, all the overseas TV stations known to have purchased old ‘Doctor Who’ episodes in the past. The search was on to recall anything hidden in foreign TV archives or secreted away in private film collections. As a result, the gaps in the Archive began to be filled as episodes were recovered (most famously from Hong Kong when the long-lost 1967 serial ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ was returned in 1992) or discovered in the most bizarre places (history’s now not clear regarding the finding of two episodes of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’, said to have been found in the basement of a Mormon Unification Church in London, the actual location of which remains a mystery of modern researchers). Other episodes were returned from as far afield and far apart as Cyprus, Nigeria and even New Zealand. One particularly-zealous researcher even managed to scour the Archives of ABC in Australia and located a series of brief sections edited from 1960s ‘Doctor Who’ episodes by the station’s censors. Perhaps the most hair-raising anecdore on ‘Wiped!’ is the tale of how notorious and sometimes-controversial ‘Doctor Who’ enthusiast/record producer Ian Levene, interested in buying private prints of classic ‘Doctor Who’ years before the BBC even considered commercially exploiting their Archive (and years before the arrival of home video, to be fair) arrived at the Corporaiton to find all seven episodes of the 1963/4 serial ‘The Daleks’, which introduced Terry Nation’s legendary creations to the British public, bundled together and labelled for imminent junking. Let’s think about this for a second. The Daleks had become a phenomenon in the 1960s, probably the first big commercial and merchandised success of the TV age; surely by virtue of this alone their episodes had secured their place in any TV archive, especially their very first appearance. Apparently not; the BBC’s policy of junking programmes two years after broadcast (sometimes sooner – some Troughton serials were wiped after a few months!) was ruthless and paid no heed to historical importance. What's even more astonishing is the fact that, in 1975, just as Tom Baker was taking over as the fourth Doctor, destined to take the show to new heights of popularity, well over half of his predecessor Jon Pertwee's colour episodes had already been consigned to the dumper; fortunately the damage wasn't quite as permanent as episodes were quickly recovered and restored from abroad but even today there are a handful of Pertwee episodes which exist only as raw black-and-whtie prints (for overseas broadcasters who were late in adopting colour TV) but which are currently undergoing gruelling, costly and time-consuming colour conversion processes in readiness for DVD release.

‘Wiped!’ is full of fascinating facts and is absolutely the definitive work on the subject of what’s gone and what’s been found in the world of ‘Doctor Who’. Author Richard Molesworth has done an extraordinary job in contextualising both the BBC and its policy in relation to junking its output and he’s identified and recognised the key players in the recovery of so much of this priceless material. Eyes may glaze over here and there as the author explains in intricate detail the various ways the BBC recorded and copied and preserved its material, eyes may roll at yet another list of the ‘state of play’ of the ‘Doctor Who’ Archive at any particular point. Moleworth’s enthusiasm leads to a bit of repetition in the text here and there; the anecdote recounting the response from Iran to a BBC enquiry about missing ‘Doctor Who’ episodes – “In the name of Allah, what are you talking about?” – was amusing the first time but the joke had worn off by the third time it was repeated in the text.

Minor quibbles aside ‘Wiped!’ is a massively impressive work and, considering its potential dryness (and there are some bits which are as dry as the desert), it’s surprisingly readable and entertaining. It’s hard not to admire the dedication and perseverance of the fans who, even today, are striving to find ‘Doctor Who’s missing history and ‘Wiped!’ deserves its place on the bookshelves of anyone with even the remotest interest in this ongoing search. It’s been some years now since the last ‘find’ of a missing ‘Doctor Who’ episode and as the years roll by, with new leads drying up and practically all the overseas Archives scoured, it’s beginning to look as if there are always going to be 108 missing episodes of the series. ‘Wiped!’ is a fitting testament to the work done by many people to ensure that it isn’t a whole lot more.

Coming soon to Stuff: Primeval, Being Human, Buried on DVD, The Listening Post with Adele and much more...

Saturday, 29 January 2011

DVD review: Dr Who - A Christmas Carol

Stuff was in no fit state to pass comment on the most recent ‘Dr Who’ Christmas Special ‘A Christmas Carol’ because Christmas itself was a bit of a write-off due to a bout of genuine, 100%, out for the count flu which meant the entire festive season passed by pretty much unnoticed. Fortunately the BBC have now issued said adventure on a shiny new DVD release which gives me the perfect excuse to watch it again and to finally marshall my thoughts on this most seasonable (yet) of ‘Dr Who’ adventures.

‘A Christmas Carol’ is, in many ways, the perfect example of showrunner/head writer Steven Moffat’s apparent perception of ‘Dr Who’ as a modern-day fairytale. Season five showed us the way the series was going. Moffat eased ‘Dr Who’ away from the urgent urban backdrop favoured by Russell T Davies and set it down in the quaint world of made-up English villages, legends of girls and boys who waited, ancient cosmic traps and deadly dreamscapes. Apart from the pre-title sequence of ‘The Eleventh Hour’ London barely got a look in (and neither did contemporary Earth, come to that). In retrospect, along with all the other changes Moffat brought to the series (new Doctor, new companions, new music, new titles, new logo, new TARDIS inside and out, new sonic and, most controversially, new fat Daleks) maybe the style of the show changed a bit too drastically. It’s all down to personal taste, of course. Many fans welcomed this routine to what they saw as a more traditional style of ‘Dr Who’ with Matt Smith playing a version of the character far more reminiscent of some of his earlier incarnations than either Christopher Eccleston or David Tennant, both of whom played the Doctor as a Modern Man, a Time lord of our times. Under Moffat we have a Doctor very much in the mould of Patrick Troughton, bumbling and vague and yet authoritative and wearing a ‘costume’ rather than the ‘clothes’ sported by his immediate predecessors. Other fans – casual fans as well as the hardcore – felt more at home with Davies’ domesticated Doctor, returning to Earth every now and again to visit his companion’s relatives, and racing around the streets tangling with soldiers and tussling with politicians. But ‘Dr Who’ should never rest on its laurels, it should always strive to change and stay one step ahead of the game (and its audience) and whilst Stuff sort of misses the easy edge Davies gave his series, Moffat’s episodes, despite obvious funding issues last year, have their own charm and appeal which, if reports on the work-in-progress forthcoming sixth season are any indication, look as if they may herald a pleasing combination of the old and the new.

So to ‘A Christmas Carol’ and here, more than anywhere else, we can see the difference between Davies and Moffat – at least in the way they approach the thorny subject of the big Christmas night episode. Designed to attract as many people as possible on the laziest TV night of the year, both men clearly understand that ‘Dr Who’ has to tell a straight-forward story, unencumbered by the weight of the show’s fifty-year mythology, because many of those watching may not be regular viewers, they may be tuning in because they’re just too bloated to turn over to watch ‘Emmerdale’. Davies rose to the Christmas challenge by writing big epic adventures – a giant spider-queen descending from the stars to awaken her long-dormant arachnid offspring, skull-headed aliens invading Earth in their rock-shaped spaceship, an alien facsimile of the Titanic sabotaged and plunging towards the Earth, a giant walking Cyberfactory stomping around Victorian London. Big bold stories, full of extraordinary visual images and mad ideas; not the stuff hand-wringing fans can tolerate or take seriously but ideal fare for a casual audience who just want to be thrilled on Christmas night. Moffat’s stance is slightly different; he goes all romantic. ‘A Christmas Carol’ is one of the oddest ‘Dr Who’ adventures in the show’s long and twisty history (its twistory, if you will...and you probably won’t). With the Doctor#s newly-wedded chums Amy and Rory honeymooning on a space-cruiser plunging to destruction, the Doctor battles not cyborgs or robots or space-lizards – but he battles against Time to change the heart of a lonely and bitter old man, the one man who can save his friends and the 4,000 other people on board the space liner.

Curiously, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is an episode almost entirely without peril of jeopardy. Yes, the Doctor encounters a giant shark but it’s an encounter that’s over and done with in thirty seconds and we never really think the Doctor’s in danger. Only the irritating Amy (absent from much of the episode) and her cliched bumbling, brow-breaten husband Rory are in danger and we never really believe for a moment there’s not going to be a last minute rescue. Moffat occupies the sixty minutes in between the title sequences by fashioning a charming, if slight, story which takes its cue from Dickens but is full of all those time travel paradoxes and smart-mouth dialogue which the writer seems obsessed with. It all makes for a schizophrenic episode which is by turns frustrating and yet heart-warming. I still have issues with Moffat’s writing now he’s the Boss man of ‘Who’; he’s cast a truly astonishing actor in Matt Smith – watch him, just watch him, the way he acts with his face, his body, he’s always acting, he’s always inhabiting this character – but he doesn’t really seem to know what do with him other than get him to spurt silly comic catchphrases: “[insert item of clothing here) is cool!” or else ramble incoherently and insensibly. Matt’s not been given his defining episode yet, the episode where he really makes his mark, the episode where the audience finally sits up and goes “Wow, he’s really good!” He shines and glows and excels all the way through ‘A Christmas Carol’ but it’s hard not to feel that all the hard work done by his predecessors in making the Doctor real and believable is being chipped away by jokey references to Frank Sinatra and wedding to Marilyn Monroe. Maybe it’s the way Moffat wants it, but the Doctor’s becoming a fantasy figure again, and too much of his dialogue has become trite and silly, vehicles for gags-for-gags sake rather than to establish a firm character or any motivation for the latest Doctor.

Ongoing series quibbles aside then, and taken at its own face value, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is an accomplished and impressive piece of TV. Yes, the story is something and nothing but it looks absolutely stunning, banishing any lingering memories of some of last year’s cash-strapped adventures (invisible aliens, pensioners on zimmer frames, lazily-reused monster costumes for the finale) with some astonishingly sumptuous sets from the show’s new resident set designer Michael Pickwoad. Guest stars Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins are good value too. Gambon’s miserly Kazran Sardick is mean and cruel but we never see him as evil and he’s never really painted as the ‘bad guy’; once the Doctor sets off on his mission to change the man so he can save his friends (a long-winded way of going about it) Sardick slowly thaws just as his erstwhile girlfriend Abigail Pettigrew (Jenkins) is thawed every Christmas past for a moment or two of happiness with the younger Sardick. Considering this is Jenkins’ first acting role she acquits herself well but of course her vocal skills are called into play in a couple of musical sequences. Here, in the last ten minutes, is where ‘A Christmas Carol’ changes from being a rather sluggish, wordy drama about love and redemption and blah-de-blah into something very spine-tingling and very special indeed. My spine is, in fact, tingling at the very thought of the sequence where Abigail, Sardick gazing adoringly at her, sings into the remains of the Doctor’s shattered sonic (don’t ask) and guides the space cruiser in to a safe landing. Murray Gold, who provides a stunningly- atmospheric score for the episode, works some real magic here with a beautiful, haunting song (available soon on the episode’s soundtrack CD) brought to life by director Toby Haynes’ inventive camerawork. Crane shots, the camera circling Gambon and Jenkins, the people of Sardicktown spilling into the streets as snow falls, the Doctor and young Sardick slipping away into the TARDIS, the Doctor’s face alive with joy of a job well’s very probably, oddly, my favourite sequence of ‘Dr Who’ since it returned in 2005, an evocative and emotional scene, all underscored by Jenklins performing that song. It all serves a scene that reminds you (or at least it certainly reminds me) that whatever creative ups and downs ‘Dr Who’ enjoys and endures, this is still the best show on the box by a country mile.

‘A Christmas Carol’ is a curious beast then. It’s full of magic (the flying shark skyride is another visual highlight) and yet at times it seems plodding and pedestrian. It certainly doesn’t have the ‘oomph’ we’ve come from expect from ‘Dr Who’ at Christmas and yet when it comes alive it lives and breathes in ways only this series can. Pleasingly, over 12 million people were on board from ‘A Christmas Carol’, further proof, if it were needed (and there were those who thought it was) that ‘Dr Who’ remains one of the nation’s favourites. Let’s hope Moffat’s put away his Bumper Book of Fairytales for now and that he and his can team can deliver a big, bold, exciting series for 2011 which concentrates less of his obsessions with ‘timey wimey’ and more on romping adventures. Time, as ever, will tell...

THE DVD: Although ‘A Christmas Carol’ runs for just over sixty minutes the DVD is good value, featuring as it does the full-length BBC3 behind-the-scenes ‘Confidential’ and, better yet, a slightly-edited 60 minute version of the 2010 ‘Dr Who’ Prom from the Royal Albert hall, showcasing some of the very best of Gold’s music and with guest appearances from Smith, Gillan and Rory Williams and a host of familiar beasts prowling the aisles and terrifying the tots. The highlight here is the ‘surprise’ in-character appearance of Smith, revelling in his interaction with the audience, particularly an overawed young kid whom Smith selects from the crowd to help him with his bit of nonsense. Pretty much an essential DVD for the completist.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

DVD Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I’m a fan of Paul WS Anderson’s ‘Resident Evil’ movie franchise, based as it is on some computer game series which I’ve never played and never will. But I’ve always tended to support the underdog and, in the face of constant derision from sniffy critics, I have to say I quite enjoy the films in an utterly mindless, undemanding sort of way. They’re not art but they’re not supposed to be. They are what they are – and they’re solid, spectacular, action-packed adrenalized sci-fi films which may not be as important or ground-breaking as the likes of ‘Inception’ but they’re a damn sight more fun to watch. So there.

‘Afterlife’ is the fourth entry into what now appears to be an endless series of movies. Released on 3D in the cinemas (even on 2D it’s easy to see where the 3D sequences were – things fly towards the screen or imbed themselves in walls next to people – but, as usual, the film loses nothing when viewed in 2D) the movie picks up where the previous entry ‘Extinction’ left off (at least, I have to assume so. It’s the way of the ‘Resident Evil’ movies that you tend to forget them the moment you’ve watched them – all I can really remember about ‘Extinction’ is that Ali Larter was in it and there were zombie crows – zombie crows!!!) Anyway, after an explosive action sequence which sees the destruction of the Umbrella Corporation headquarters in Japan (Umbrella being the evil organisation which, you’ll surely recall, unleashed the dreadful T virus which caused the zombie apocalypse which remains the backdrop to the series) the genetically-augmented Alice (Mila Jovovich), no longer augmented when she’s deprived of her preternatural agility and strength (although the film seems to forget this a bit later on when it’s balletic-fight-sequences as usual, but hey-ho) is flying solo in search of a sanctuary known as Arcadia which is believed to be in Alaska. It isn’t. But Alice is reunited with Claire (Larter) who can’t remember how she found herself alone in Alaska and together the two set off to try and pick up the trail of Arcadia and eventually they find themselves in a devastated Los Angeles which is crawling with zombies. In an abandoned prison complex are a handful of other desperate survivors. Arcadia – it turns out to be a refugee a ship – is anchored just outside the city and Alice and Claire join forces with the group in the prison. But how are they to make their way to Arcadia when the prison is surrounded by zombies who are on the verge of breaking in?

That’s pretty much it for the plot – but then were you really expecting anything else? Every time a ‘Resident Evil’ pic arrives, whether it’s at the cinema or on DVD, the same old critics say the same old things. Of course it’s shallow, of course it’s nonsense....that’s sort of the point. Complaining about plot holes and poor characterisation in a film like ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’ seems like just about the greatest example of utter futility imaginable. The truth is that the critics get a bit frustrated when films like ‘Inception’ come along and make their beloved sci-fi genre respectable again for a few weeks, and then ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’ shows up like a gatecrasher at a party and brings the tone crashing right back down. In actual fact there’s never a dull moment in ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’ (where there are several very long ones in ‘Inception’) and, for a film made with a fairly low budget, the visuals are really pretty astonishing. From Alice’s attack on the Umbrella Corporation’s hi-tech base in Japan, the burning, crumbling Los Angeles (the scenes of Alice’s little plane puttering over the devastated city are music to the eyes of an apocalypse fiend like Yours Truly) to the final shattering fight through the zombie hordes to the escape to Arcadia and its own horrors (I’ll just say...zombie dogs with heads which split open!) and the thrilling cliffhanger ending, the film’s visual palette is rich and never less than totally convincing.

Having suggested that films like this are just for watching and not really analyzing, it’s hard to ignore one or two niggles. There’s a slight longeur in the middle of the film after Alice and Claire arrive at the prison and Get To Know their fellow survivors, the new characters are just zombie fodder and it’s not difficult to work out which ones will be for the chop and which ones will be lucky to make it to the next reel. Still, good to see ‘Prison Break’ star Wentworth Miller back on the screen as Claire’s brother Chris (apparently a core figure from the game franchise...who knew??) and the rest of the unknowns in the cast do their best with the thin and stereotypical character stuff they’re given.

Obviously I’m on to a bit of a loser by even trying to defend the ‘Resident Evil’ series but if nothing else Stuff speaks as it finds. If you want a bit of spectacle, a few zombies, some gore, some mad fight sequences and OTT CGI allied with a slight plot and paper thin, perfunctory characters – and sometimes that’s enough – and you’re willing and able to suspend your critical faculties for ninety-odd minutes, ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’ will fit the bill. Yes, it’s nonsense and yes it’s disposable but ultimately it’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s entirely forgettable. It’s certainly not as offensive as the reviews would have you believe so set aside your prejudices, ignore the prejudices of the jaded reviewers, and give this one a spin. It’s as good a way as any of blowing away those New Year cobwebs.
THE DISC: Terrifically sharp Blu Ray image and, as usual, it’s the BR purchasers who get the best deal with a string of featurettes alongside the director commentary. DVD buyers get a handful of features and the commentary.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Hello?? Anybody still there...?

Hello? Yoo-hoo... Ahem. What can I say? Has it really been that long? Nearly six weeks since my last post. Inexcusable in most circumstances but I have a note! Well, I don't actually have a note just an explanation for Stuff's prolonged absence. I've been pretty much poleaxed by a dose of winter flu - proper flu, too, not man flu or a bit of a sniffle - a real doozy of a virus which devastated my immune system and left me lying around the place like some sort of limp dishcloth. Or something. Christmas, whilst not cancelled, could have been perkier. Upsides; better now, lost a stone in weight. Downsides; everything else. But Stuff will be back on track shortly with the usual mix of news and reviews including Stuff's verdict on the terribly disappointing new series of 'Primeval' (it is, you know it is), a belated look at Michael Jackson's 'new' CD, reflections on the 'Dr Who' Christmas Special and more. Don't go away, normal service is about to be resumed....