Remembering The Tragic Fate of Moonbase Alpha, Fifteen Years Later

Monday, September 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Space 1999 moon breakaway-smallOver at SF Signal, Jeff Patterson recalls the tragic accident that hurled the brave men and women of Moonbase Alpha out of our solar system and into the cold reaches of space fifteen years ago.

On September 13, 1999, our dear Moon experienced a catastrophic nuclear explosion which hurled it out of orbit into deep space. It took with it the brave men and women of Moonbase Alpha. In the years that followed the Alphans encountered Joan Collins, Christoper Lee, Brian Blessed, and whip-wielding women in red catsuits.

Space: 1999 still gets a lot of flak for being cheesy SF TV, but one cannot understate the profound impact the show had on fans in the 1970s. It was the only new effects-heavy space-based show at the time, and a syndicated show at that. It had a fairly diverse cast, at least by 70s TV standards. It featured the distinct Gerry Anderson vibe that had made Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet such eye candy, mostly due to the astounding effects work of Brian Johnson and Martin Bower.

As a child of the 70s, I remember racing home after school to catch the show in re-runs. The rockin’ theme music in the opening credits still gets me.

Read the complete article at SF Signal.

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Doyle in The Resident Patient?

Monday, September 15th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Resident_Richardson Bell

One of my favorite Holmes’ also played Joseph Bell

Apologies for this post running a bit long. While I’m a devoted Sherlockian, I’m not particularly a great fan of Conan Doyle himself. However, I find this tidbit from his life to be pretty interesting. So…

Biographers and devotees of Sherlock Holmes have written much regarding who the detective was modeled after. Joseph Bell is widely regarded as the primary inspiration, a belief bolstered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own words more than once.

In his autobiography, Memories and Adventures, Doyle said, “I thought of my old teacher Joe Bell, of his eagle face, of his curious ways, of his eerie trick of spotting details. If he were a detective he would surely reduce this fascinating but unorganized business to something nearer to an exact science.”

Add another comment, “Sherlock Holmes is the literary embodiment… of my memory of a professor of medicine at Edinburgh University.”

Now, it has been asserted that one can find bits of Doyle himself in the great detective. His second wife said that her husband had the Sherlock Holmes brain, solving mysteries that puzzled the police.

Son Adrian Conan Doyle vehemently (even militantly) argued that his father was Holmes. Seemingly more likely is that the stolid, patriotic Doctor Watson drew in great part from his creator.

But can we examine one of the sixty Holmes tales and discover biographical pieces of Conan Doyle? As a matter of fact, we need look no further than “The Adventure of the Resident Patient” and Dr. Percy Trevelyan.

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Record of Lodoss War and Subtle Subversions

Saturday, September 13th, 2014 | Posted by Elwin Cotman



If you like high fantasy, do yourself a favor and watch Record of Lodoss War, the original 13-episode OVA from the early ‘90s. For a while it was the most notable fantasy anime, though the years have seen its acclaim diminish. Thankfully, the years have also provided a more varied amount of fantasy within the anime medium. Back in the day, the first three episodes were on constant rotation on SciFi Channel’s “Saturday Anime.”

I first watched it when I was a boy and it left a large impression. Character designs were by the great Nobuteru Yuuki, who did the legendary Vision of Escaflowne and the legendarily awful Angel Cop. Out of all anime designers, he gets the idea of weight. The characters’ armor looks heavy to wear, even painful. Their clothing is wrinkled and creased. Books are coated in dust, staffs are gnarled, elves have rabbit-sized ears, and oh LORD the dragons!

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Goth Chick News Crypt Notes: Holy Millennium Falcon Han Solo!

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Holy Millenium Falcon Han SoloWhere Star Wars is concerned, even a goth chick can go fan-girl.

Just in from the UK today: A pilot taking publicity photos for a flying school accidentally buzzed one of the sets of the new Star Wars movie with pretty impressive, if unintentional, results.

Matthew Myatt originally thought his pictures were of experiment aircraft at the Greenham Common airfield in Berkshire, England. Greenham Common is a former RAF airbase. Myatt was photographing one plane from another and it wasn’t until he got back and started reviewing his images that he realized what he had captured: none other than a partially built Millennium Falcon and an X-Wing fighter.

It appears that, at least in part, director J.J. Abrams will use models for filming rather than pure CGI. As one excited fan wrote on, “Who’d’ve guessed filmmakers still build physical models?” and “Looks like the Falcon got a paint job!”

Star Wars is due out in December, 2015

Segundo de Chomón: Forgotten Fantasist of Silent Film

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Voyage to Jupiter, 1909.

Voyage to Jupiter, 1909.

Fantasy, science fiction, and horror themes have been in the movies since almost the beginning. During the first few experimental years, movies consisted of simple scenes such as a man sneezing or a train pulling into the station, but soon that novelty wore off and audiences wanted stories. Since the medium itself seemed almost magical, directors began to experiment with the fantastic in order to tell gripping tales.

Most film buffs know of Georges Méliès and his 1902 Trip to the Moon, generally considered the first science fiction film. Méliès started out as a stage magician so it’s not surprising he added an element of the fantastic in his pioneering movies. Other early filmmakers such as Auguste and Louis Lumière and Thomas Edison tended to film realistic subjects or historical/adventure stories, although Edison did make a version of Frankenstein in 1910.

Lost amid these famous names is a man who did as much for the development of fantastic film as any of them. The Spanish director Segundo de Chomón pioneered many early special effects techniques and worked on some two hundred films. Having spent much of his career in France and Italy, he’s been claimed by no country and thus has fallen through the cracks of history.

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Art of the Genre: Art of the Iconic Female #5: Princess Leia

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

fa832e1c671c8fb5638dadc8425630da-d5lc2cf-industry-reacts-to-star-wars-episode-vii-s-lack-of-womenToday continues the Art of the Genre series on the Iconic Female.  If you’ve missed any of the others, click on the hotlinks to find #1, #2, #3, and #4, and now on to the good stuff!

I was six when Star Wars was initially released.  I did get to see it in the theater, but I more remember the feel of the venue and the oddity of the aliens rather than if I had an emotional attachment to Princess Leia.  I know I must have enjoyed the film because my house quickly filled up with Star Wars figures, posters, and memorabilia, but none of this led to a particular ‘love’ of Leia.  Honestly, the only true memory of Leia I had in those early days was that her very thin and small laser pistol was lost when I tried to put her in Luke’s landspeeder.  To this day, I swear it is still ingeniously stuck inside that toy even though the odds are that it was devoured by my mother’s two inch shag carpeting where the incident occurred.

Nonetheless, Leia didn’t ‘blossom’ for me until the release of Empire Strikes Back, where, like Han Solo himself, I became smitten with her.  By this point, in 1980, I was a precocious nine year-old who was just beginning to truly understand that girls had more to offer than all my friends had previously surmised.  I well remember my Cloud City play-set, and the outstanding Han Solo figure with blue jacket that could stand proudly beside the intricately woven hair of Cloud City Leia.  I’m also pretty sure this was the first time I ever saw a kiss onscreen that didn’t make me look away, so certainly some things were readily changing in my view of this iconic character.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes – The Great Profile (Barrymore) Plays the Great Profile

Monday, September 8th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Barrymore_RestoredBack in May, I wrote about Eille Norwood’s turn as the silent film era’s finest Holmes. Now, just about any discussion concerning who the greatest actor of the silent era was will involve the name John Barrymore, who was known as “The Great Profile.”

So, it’s natural that he would make a film about a character that over a hundred years after his creation can still be readily identified by his profile.

By 1922, John Barrymore was an established star in both the US and Great Britain and had made a hugely successful version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde just two years before. Actor/director Albert Parker was determined to make a Holmes film with the forty year-old Barrymore in the lead role.

Of course, there was a minor snag, as Stoll Pictures (starring Norwood) had locked up the rights to Doyle’s original stories, with Sir Arthur’s own assistance. So Parker had an actor and an idea, but no script. The man was certainly energetic, and he rushed to Chicago and met with the great William Gillette, who was touring with his own play, Sherlock Holmes (subject of a future post).

Parker bought the rights to film the play (which had already been done in 1916 starring Gillette himself: sadly, no known print exists of that one) and arranged a deal with Samuel Goldwyn. This would easily be the most lavish and well-financed Holmes film to date.

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Hell to Pay: The Devil and Daniel Webster in Print and on Film

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

The Devil and Daniel Webster Criterion DVD-smallIs there any place more melancholy than the graveyard of forgotten writers? While the reputations of even major literary figures can wax and wane, for genuinely innovative or influential authors, critical rebounds, if not assured, are at least possible. (Hemingway, anyone?)

But permanent eclipse seems to be the fate of the facile, ambitious middlebrow who was highly popular and overpraised during his or her prime. Once this kind of writer is no longer around to hold the stage with new work, a spell seems to be broken and often a speedy and ruthless (if not embarrassed) re-evaluation occurs, resulting in a quick trip to oblivion and a complete disappearance from the public consciousness. John O’Hara, Dorothy Parker, Irwin Shaw — where are you now? Often it’s not even a matter of an “official” verdict by the critical establishment  — it’s simply that a few years pass and no one reads the writer anymore.

One victim of this kind of reaction was Stephen Vincent Benét. A prolific producer of poetry and fiction from the 1920′s up until his death from a heart attack in1943, Benét was both highly regarded by critics and popular with the wider public. His epic narrative poem of the American Civil War, John Brown’s Body, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1929, and there was a time when countless readers were familiar with his widely-anthologized story “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” a bit of nostalgic, patriotic Americana that blends history, the tall tale, and the supernatural into a fluent and beguiling concoction.

Published in 1936, “The Devil and Daniel Webster” tells the story of one Jabez Stone, a hard-working but struggling New Hampshire farmer. “He wasn’t a bad man to start with, but he was an unlucky man. If he planted corn, he got borers; if he planted potatoes, he got blight. He had good-enough land, but it didn’t prosper him; he had a decent wife and children, but the more children he had, the less there was to feed them.”

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What Did That Say? Or, When is a Subtitle not a Subtitle?

Friday, September 5th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

InigoLately I’ve had some experiences with subtitles that worry me a little. Here’s my problem: just what is it that’s being subtitled, and is there any way for us to know whether we’re missing something?

Usually when I’m watching a movie with subtitles, it’s in a language I have some grip on, like French or Italian. The subtitles are there to help me when the dialogue is too fast, or perhaps too colloquial, for me to follow it directly (though that in itself might be one of the problems, as we’ll see in a minute).  There’s only one thing I watch where I don’t have any real clue on the language, and that’s Japanese anime.

The thing is, I’ve always been a big fan of subtitles over dubbing. I prefer to hear the actors’ own voices – I know how important voice can be, and I figure actors are cast for that as much as for any other quality. Tone is also something it’s virtually impossible to translate. But now, having seen some of the stuff I’ve seen, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t be better off watching a dubbed version.

The only dubbed films or TV shows I regularly watch are dubbed in Spanish, and I do that so my ear doesn’t lose its facility with the language through long periods of disuse. I never use the English subtitles, first, because the whole point is for me to concentrate and follow the Spanish; and second, because, as a reader, my eye is always drawn first to the written word, and I’d be wasting my practice time reading the subtitles instead of listening. Though, I might cheat a bit by watching a movie or an episode first in English, so I can concentrate on the vocabulary rather than on the plot.

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Adventure On Film: Invasion Of the Body Snatchers

Monday, September 1st, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

They’re here already! You’re next!snatchers

Now that’s the voice of paranoia if ever I heard it, but those final lines from the original Invasion Of the Body Snatchers (1956) still ring true today. In this increasingly digitized, on-camera, drone-filled world, how could they not?

Having already seen the atmospheric 1979 remake (directed by Phillip Kaufman), I fully expected the original Invasion to be clunky, loaded with lousy actors, and filmed by some dim-witted amateur with no understanding of cinematic composition. Imagine my surprise: Invasion is genuinely unsettling, well acted, and maintains a taut, fearless pace throughout.

The aces up its sleeve? Director Don Siegel, for one, and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, whose take-no-prisoners script delves deeply into the twin human terrors of identity and sleep.

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