Wednesday, 28 April 2010


In production and due for release in 2011, The Mighty Thor directed by Kenneth Branagh, sounds promising for another Marvel comic adaptation - despite worries about whether anyone can refine mythology involving a pantheon of Norse gods into a contemporary fantasy scenario that will entertain a mainstream audience. Asgardian epics worked just fine on four-colour pages, but can the peculiar content of Thor comics be transferred to genre cinema in compelling style without becoming (endearingly?) silly or, even worse, embarrassingly stupid or unforgivably pretentious?    

The challenges of archaic language used in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's comicbook series have reportedly been avoided by the film's writers (at risk of upsetting the purist element of Thor fandom!) by opting for today’s colloquial English - but hopefully not vagaries of ‘Amglish’ (from which the phrase ‘oh my god’ acquires some new Americanism of cringe-worthy potential!), and this curiously ignores all the possibilities that are offered by tapping into Branagh’s experience at making films out of Shakespeare's texts.

Amongst many other pitfalls to be evaded, principal casting of some puny humans (not as mere templates for CGI creations, presumably) as various Norse deities has a rather amusing ‘international’ flavour, so far…
  • Australian Chris Hemsworth (Kirk’s dad in Star Trek) plays thunder god Thor
  • Welshman Anthony Hopkins could make a worthy all-father as Odin
  • Swedish star Stellan Skarsgård is likely to be good as Silvig
  • Irish beefcake Ray Stevenson (vigilante Frank Castle in Punisher: War Zone) is cast as Volstagg   
  • English–as–Eton, Tom Hiddleston comes from TV acting, for prime villainy of Loki
  • Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano is – intriguingly – assigned the role of Hogan 
  • Californian Rene Russo portrays Frigga (no jokes, please)
  • Another American actress, Jaimie Alexander (from slasher movie Rest Stop) plays Sif, consort of Thor
  • Israel-born actress Natalie Portman, interestingly, plays nurse Jane Foster 

In the comics, Jane was assistant of Dr Don Blake, the mortal who transforms into Thor, but it’s unclear, at time of writing this, whether the character of disabled medic Blake appears in this film or not. Other geeky questions and concerns include: will they keep iconic features of the comic like Thor’s magic hammer (with unpronounceable name ‘Mjöllnir’), or will he just get a battleaxe? If the film’s plot follows that familiar tale about Odin’s punishment of Thor with exile to Earth, will the storyline lapse into cliché as yet another example of tedious father–and–son reconciliation themes which infect nearly all Hollywood products nowadays? 

Like both Iron Man films, and forthcoming Captain America remake ('First Avenger…' reportedly stars Chris Evans, from Fantastic Four movies), Thor is part of build-up to Joss Whedon’s mooted 'Avengers' epic (we can only hope that it follows revisionist trend established by Ultimates comics, not the Avengers' 1960s' origin story), in prep for 2012. Ah, that’s a year of apocalypse, right? Verily not…

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Paranormals whatever

Although I find publishers’ marketing trendiness for so-called paranormal/ supernatural romance books a vaguely interesting cross-genre project, I have avoided reading any of those novels… There are simply too many series of books, the market is obviously swamped, and I prefer TV adaptations of such things on DVD – amongst a batch of boxsets, I watched Blood Ties (based on Tanya Huff’s Vicki Nelson series), and I’m likely to be reviewing True Blood (derived from Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books) for Black Static, soon.   

My concern is whether such experimenting with varied tropes is any kind of genuine literary development or worthwhile genre progress..? By making traditional horror’s creatures (vampires and werewolves, especially) the heroes/ heroines or characters in modern romantic dramas, former subgenre menaces have lost much of their gothic appeal (Buffy has a lot to answer for), and such contemporary over-familiarity risks domesticating the monsters. What’s happening to essential otherness of horror in all this? Is ‘urban fantasy’ just another gimmicky category label for bookshops or does it represent horror tamed into mediocrity? 

Hopefully, new vampire anthology, The Bitten Word (Newcon Press) - which I bought at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, will contribute something… terrifying or fascinating to whatever’s the next big thing or movement for independent publishing. Back in 1985, Tom Holland’s comedy-drama Fright Night had a vampire moving in next door to a horror fanboy, and then kidnapping/ seducing a teenager’s girlfriend, but at least Fright Night’s vampire remained (mildly) scary. When horror abandons subversive traits, adopting/ favouring romantic plots instead, and ghastly monsters/ transforming creatures are domesticated, we get awfully boring soap opera/ sitcoms like TV series Being Human.

Is that sort of material a suitable advancement of meaningful horror for 21st century, in TV, film, or books?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

BS in colour

This month’s Black Static #16 (April–May 2010) from TTA Press is the first issue of this bi-monthly magazine to be printed in full colour throughout... and it looks glorious – from the redesigned contents listing, to Peter Tennant’s 15 pages of book reviews (a section that regularly includes interviews with genre authors).

My own 'Blood Spectrum' column also looks better than ever with a display line-up of DVD packshots, and many publicity stills from the coverage of 28 films. I have added ratings (scores out of 10) to all titles listed below…

Demon Warriors (4/10)
Cut (4/10)
Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (6/10)
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus (8/10)
2012 (7/10)
The Descent: Part 2 (6/10)
Invitation Only (5/10)

Plus – ‘Argento-mania’, reviewing four re–releases
Terror At The Opera (8/10)
The Stendhal Syndrome (8/10)
The Card Player (6/10)
Two Evil Eyes (7/10) 

‘All ye zombies’, a batch with stuff about –
Zombeak (3/10)
Survival Of The Dead (7/10)
Zombieland (5/10)
Night Of The Living Dead 3D (2/10)
Day Of The Dead (10/10)
Dance Of The Dead (5/10)

And, finally, the Dreadful Delights: round–up, which looks at –
Ong Bak 2: The Beginning (5/10)
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (4/10)
Chaw (5/10)
Give ’Em Hell, Malone (5/10)
iMurders (2/10)
Salvage (1/10)
Hellbride (1/10)
Paranormal Entity (0/10)
Henry Lee Lucas: Serial Killer (1/10)
Bitch Slap (6/10)
Backwoods Bloodbath (1/10)

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Odyssey aftermath

Final day of Odyssey 2010 was a run-around to pack non-essentials, get my bags into hotel luggage store, and checkout before 11. Jobs done, I went to see La Menace Vient de l’Espace (aka: The Menace Comes From Outer Space, 2009), a 19-minute short film with English-subtitles introduced as a ‘lost’ sci-fi classic, which is really a highly amusing pastiche, complete with female robot and portable phone, of low-budget 1950s' cinema (including This Island Earth and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers). Directed by Pierre-Axel Vuillaume-Prézeau, this envisions a modern French society radically changed by using a numeric language, and this ‘protocol 123’ is revealed as prelude to an invasion by aliens, but…

It’s very funny, so if you missed it search for the download version on You Tube. The noon panel about novels provided some insightful comments from Caroline Mullan, Graham Sleight, and Jetse de Vries, moderated by Ellen Datlow. I missed lunchtime programme item about ‘climate scepticism’ but watched and listened to first part of They Walk Amongst Us Here created by ‘Old Time Radio’ enthusiasts in the Commonwealth hall.

Left that early for a Green Room meeting before my last panel, ‘Dollhouse: Ethics and Identity’, where Steve Kilbane moderated our views on this somewhat (mildly!) controversial TV series, though I disagreed with a few of Liz Batty and Paul Cornell’s opinions about the show’s SF content. At 4pm, the closing ceremony's attendees packed the main hall, although many people from the con (including top guest Iain Banks) had already gone home.

Overall, a very well organised weekend event, with significant improvements to various tech services, despite the architectural oddities of some hotel conference rooms (a few of which were simply numbered, this time, instead of using the names they had for Orbital two years ago).

Monday, 5 April 2010

Odyssey finale

Odyssey 2010 – Monday

Yesterday was busy, starting with a panel on anthologies – Ellen Datlow, Ian Whates, Colin Harvey and Gary Couzens discussing 'the art of compilation'. Al Reynolds' talk about 'SF and the modern cosmos' had tech problems, so it started late and its colour slide-show was only screened in black-and-white. From the main hall, I went to the noon panel about 'writing meaningful reviews' moderated by John Clute, but the panellists (I'd never heard of any of them before) all had completely different perspectives, making any balanced or interactive discussion rather difficult.

I had to leave that item early, to visit Green Room, ready for my panel about Clarke (and whether he's still worth reading), where Colin Harvey moderated our discussion. With Ian Whates, Edward James, Martin McGrath, and Stephen Gaskell, opinions differed but we seemed to agree that such older SF novels ought/ should appeal to younger readers today. After, I listened to some comments from 'Not The Clarke Awards' panel, but found I hadn't read any of the books they were talking about.

Next, meeting Interzone film reviewer Nick Lowe, after his BSFA lecture on “2001 and the Narratology of Transcendence,” revealing the 'untold' story about developing the script for Clarke and Kubrick's masterpiece. I saw Roy Gray just after the dealer's room closed at 6pm, and we went to the poetry readings hosted by Birmingham's former poet laureate Chris Morgan. Roz Kaveney's readings were good, as were some others, but I forgot their names.

I had to leave that room early, in time for my panel on James Cameron's Avatar, where Jetse de Vries moderated our lively discussion of the film's merits and faults. I waited patiently for the Mitch Benn gig to start - much later than expected in the main hall, but his 'adult' comedy/ singing act was not funny and only weakly amusing. I think he's just a retarded Bill Bailey wannabe.

Announcements made in Atrium bar space for 'Steampunk Ball' dance in the main hall were an increasing annoyance during late night drinking and chat, but it didn't really spoil the evening, where conversations included mysterious origins of life and the reportedly surprising popularity of Harry Harrison in Russia... I found a copy of Sentinel newsletter #5, with a picture of my first panel on Friday night. Oh, yay.

This morning, I'll be checking out, but still going to programme items, and I have one more panel to do before the closing ceremony.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Odyssey weekend

Odyssey 2010 – Saturday & Sunday morning

After breakfast on second day of convention, I missed the panel on female superheroes, and went for educational and informative 'Quantum Computing For Beginners' talk by Dr Nik Whitehead, adding some background detail to theories I'd already read about in SF books. Found a front-row seat for guest-of-honour Iain M. Banks' highly amusing interview by Jane Killick, but I had to leave main hall early in time for my panel on Watchmen, debating film's merits & faults but also talking about Alan Moore, the motion comic, and superheroes in general.

George Hay lecture (sponsored by SF Foundation) was an interesting talk by Oliver Morton about 'geoegineering'. I enjoyed the panel on 'writers and the web' – including Joe Abercrombie and John Meaney moderated by Maura McHugh. Before teatime, I saw tail end of panel discussion on geoengineering, which included Phil Huggins, Jonathan Cowie, and Morton.

First hour of SF 'tall stories' inspired by Clarke's Tales From The White Hart was very good, with Andrew J. Wilson giving best reading of most entertaining short story, but I left after that one to get a drink... and found Jetse de Vries serving whiskies at launch party for his anthology Shine – which really deserves to succeed with its theme of optimistic SF. Slowly, the Royal room cleared to make way for an exclusive preview of short genre films chosen for Sci-Fi London Film Festival. I watched the first three but then had to hurry along to room 41, for my panel about US remakes of British TV shows, where versions of Life On Mars and The Prisoner were talked about.

After 10pm, I had something to eat from limited snack-menu in the Atrium bar, and was ready for drinking and talking until about half past one. Distribution of Odyssey's Sentinel newsletter seems uneven - I got issues two, three, four, but seven, but when/ where/ what happened to issues five and six?

Now it's after breakfast on Sunday... I'm especially looking forward to this morning's guest-of-honour talk by Alastair Reynolds, and my couple of panels about Arthur C. Clarke (lunchtime), and Avatar (this evening).

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Odyssey 2010

Odyssey 2010 - 61st British SF convention

Hotel busy and I had time for a panel on book collecting before checking into top-floor room (with only car park view). Meeting & greeting, sorting out copies of Premonitions for dealer's room, and trying to avoid buying any books... then it was 4pm, time for first panel in main hall, where Iain M. Banks, Edward James and others discussed Utopia – in various fictions, while  questioning whether it could ever be realised.

Friday's teatime panel on UK vs. US TV was in small room 40, packed to capacity with more standing than sitting. Jane Killick and Gary Blog led discussion on styles, standards and examples - with Chad Dixon becoming default moderator – but no consensus was reached about quality from either side of Atlantic. I went to NewCon Press launch in Royal, but free booze was all gone, and I wasn't tempted by that new SF anthology. Looked in main hall for several minutes of UK movie première Universal Soldier: Regeneration, but even Van Damme's presence couldn't save this clunky actioner, so I left early, to visit art show launch, which seemed smaller than previous 2008 exhibition at this hotel, but which still had several excellent displays.

Opening ceremony started late and finished quickly, but 'star-scape' stage set-up, giant video display with original animation and 2001 theme music made it look grander than just intro to line-up of guests and organisers. A panel item on 'Disability and Villains' was troubled with an inactive sound system for a sizeable room, where my 10pm panel titled, 'It's Shit But We Like It' was fun and enjoyable as noisy chat about films & TV, but derailed by lack of focus. At least a techie arrived to switch the mics on.