Thursday, 20 December 2012

Leigh Brackett and the Unknown Empire



Guest post by John Rivers

As speculation grows over the story lines of three new Star Wars movies (THREE. NEW. STAR WARS. MOVIES!) and people scrutinise what Michael Arndt, Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg will deliver, I thought it would be great to take a look at the scripting behind the original trilogy. However, as luck would have it, I found that I had arrived at a collection of Leigh Brackett stories in my reading list. It was Brackett who delivered the first screenplay of The Empire Strikes Back.

Brackett was a science-fiction author and screenplay writer who had enjoyed writing genre material from a young age and had broken into screenwriting through the success of her detective novel No Good from a Corpse in 1944. She therefore found herself being able to write the SF and fantasy stories she loved as well as work on movies. During the mid-forties, Brackett struck up friendships with other authors such as Edmond Hamilton (whom she later married) and Ray Bradbury. Brackett talked about Sundays being spent at the beach with her friends and reading each others' work. In 1946 Brackett had begun a story entitled "Lorelei of the Red Mist" when she was called on by Howard Hawks to work on the screenplay of The Big Sleep, a job she shared with William Faulkner, an alcoholic who would disappear drunk for days. Bradbury meanwhile stepped in and finished "Lorelei of the Red Mist".

By the late 70s Brackett had continued to write both prose fiction and screenplays before being approached by George Lucas to write the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas had the story planned out (albeit, different to the one we know), and invited Brackett to write the first draft. Her experience in pulp SF and screenwriting clearly impressed Lucas as, being the best person for the job. Remarkably then, almost none of Brackett's work makes it to the finished movie.

The reasons for this are clearer if we look at the screenplay Brackett delivered. Overall this feels like a slower movie than the Empire that we know. There's a sense of urgency that the Kasdan screenplay has, lacking in Brackett's version. For a start it takes the Empire a fair while to get to the Ice Planet the Rebels are hiding on. Snow creatures are attempting to undermine the Rebel base (literally) before the Imperial Navy makes an appearance. Otherwise the overall structure is there - the Rebels flee, Luke flies to a Bog Planet, Leia and Han evade the Empire in an asteroid field, meanwhile Darth Vader broods in his castle - that's right, his castle and they all meet up on a city in the clouds called Hoth. Luke and Vader fight and Luke learns nothing about his true parentage. The revelation at the end of Empire only came about in later script meetings between Lucas, Kasdan and Gary Kurtz.

The screenplay also has intriguing details about the characters that never happen in the Star Wars universe as we know it. Han Solo has a stepfather called Ovan Merekal (though Han claims he's not his stepfather), who controls the biggest transport guild in the galaxy. Leia is desperate to bring Merekal into the Alliance and at the end of the script Han is dispatched to persuade Merekal to join them. It takes the death of Lando's foster dad Bahiri to persuade Lando to go back on his deal with Vader. Also interesting is Leia wondering if Lando is a clone, you know, from the Clone Wars. Finally, Yoda is called Minch and he's grumpy.

It's a glimpse of a Star Wars that never was and as much as I enjoy Brackett's writing, Kasdan's screenplay has more pace, the stakes feel higher. In fact I'd go as far to say that Splinter of the Mind's Eye would have made a better movie than Brackett's Empire. Luckily things turned out a different way.

Meanwhile it's worth reading Brackett's short stories. They are fantastic explorations of the ancient civilisations of Mars and Venus, full of magic and wonder. The guys are tough and some of the women are tougher, but they have a genuine sense of adventure which is great to read. In fact, given that Brackett's stories feature grave robber-come-archaeologist types one wonders if she was an influence in Lucas's creation of Indiana Jones? He definitely feels like a Brackett creation!

The collection I read was the Fantasy Masterworks edition of The Sea-Kings of Mars. It's quite pricey to buy as a secondhand paperback, but a rewarding experience.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Willow arrives on Blu-ray disc in March



Willow bows on Blu-ray disc in March with a new digital transfer overseen by Lucasfilm.

Journey to the far corners of your imagination with Willow, for the first time ever on stunning Blu-ray! Written and produced by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, the film tells a timeless fantasy tale in which heroes come in all sizes...and adventure is the greatest magic of all. In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the unforgettable classic has been fully digitally restored and debuts on Blu-ray and DVD Combo Pack March 12, 2013 from Lucasfilm Ltd. and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

When young Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis; Harry Potter franchise) finds an abandoned baby girl, he learns she is destined to end the reign of the wicked Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh; “Upstairs, Downstairs”). In order to protect the child, Willow must team up with a rogue swordsman (Val Kilmer; Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) and overcome the forces of darkness in the ultimate battle of good versus evil!

The Willow Blu-ray and DVD include a dazzling array of extras with never-before-seen exclusive content such as deleted scenes with remarks from Ron Howard, a personal video diary of Warwick Davis, matte paintings and much more. In addition, look out for Ron Howard’s new introduction for the original 1988 featurette “The Making of an Adventure,” as well as special effect legend Dennis Muren’s new intro to his piece, “From Morf to Morphing: The Dawn of Digital Filmmaking.”

Special Features
WILLOW is presented in widescreen with 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio (Lossless). Special features include:
● NEW Willow: Deleted Scenes with Ron Howard
● NEW Willow: An Unlikely Hero Personal Video Diary of Warwick Davis
● The Making of an Adventure with an all new introduction from Ron Howard
● From Morf to Morphing with an all new introduction from Dennis Muren
● Matte Paintings
● Easter Egg

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Star Trek Into Darkness channels The Dark Knight



The teaser poster for Star Trek Into Darkness suggests JJ Abrams is channelling Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy for the first sequel to his franchise reboot! The subsequent teaser trailer reaffirms this. What do you think?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Skyfall smashes UK box office record in 40 days



Skyfall succeeded where Avengers Assemble, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises failed: getting me into a multiplex for the first time since David Fincher's remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which coincidentally starred Daniel Craig.

Skyfall is a masterclass in shadow play set against lyrical bombast! Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig pay spectacular homage to a 50-year legacy.

London, 5th December – Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment are delighted to announce that Skyfall has made history in the UK and become the highest grossing film of all time. Skyfall has now taken a staggering £94,277,612 at the UK box office in just 40 days on release, making box office history and overtaking the record previously held by Avatar which had a lifetime gross of £94,025, 632 million during 11 months on release in UK cinemas.

SKYFALL, the 23rd James Bond adventure, continuing the longest running and most successful franchise in film history, opened in 587 cinemas across the UK and Ireland on Friday 26th October, and is still on general release. In response to this fantastic news, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said “We’re overwhelmed with gratitude to the cinema-going audiences in the UK who have made Skyfall the highest grossing film of all time. We are very proud of this film and thank everybody, especially Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes, who have contributed to its success.”

“I am incredibly proud of the amazing heights to which this film continues to soar and wish to again congratulate all involved on reaching such a tremendous milestone,” said Gary Barber, Chairman and CEO, MGM.

Peter Taylor, Managing Director, Sony Pictures Releasing UK also commented “We are delighted that cinemagoers have so enthusiastically embraced Skyfall in such an incredible way. It seems particularly fitting in 2012 that the latest James Bond adventure should become the highest grossing movie ever marking the fiftieth anniversary of one of our truly iconic cultural characters in record breaking style.”

Daniel Craig is back as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 in SKYFALL™, the 23rd adventure in the longest-running film franchise of all time. In SKYFALL, Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. The film is from Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Directed by Sam Mendes. Produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Legend Ends



“The Dark Knight Rises” is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download.

In the epic conclusion to filmmaker Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy, Gotham City is threatened by the masked terrorist Bane, forcing Batman to return from an eight-year absence and fight for his city one more time.

Leading an all-star international cast, Oscar® winner Christian Bale ("The Fighter") again plays the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. "The Dark Knight Rises" also stars Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle; Tom Hardy as Bane; Oscar® winner Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose") as Miranda Tate; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. Returning to the main cast, Oscar® winner Michael Caine ("The Cider House Rules") plays Alfred; Gary Oldman is Commissioner Gordon; and Oscar® winner Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby") reprises the role of Lucius Fox.

Synopsis:
It has been eight years since Batman vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act.

But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane.


I missed Christopher Nolan's tech noir opus at the cinema, but the 35mm/IMAX hybrid print on Blu-ray disc is reference material.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Rebel Against Cancer



Calling all Star Wars fans - Stand Up To Cancer, Lucasfilm and Rovio have collaborated on a new line of co-branded t-shirts with one goal in mind: fighting cancer.

All SU2C Angry Birds Star Wars T-Shirts are sold exclusively at the SU2C store, and are a great way to give back this holiday season (a portion of all proceeds benefit cancer research). The shirts feature iconic characters from both Star Wars and Angry Birds, with “Let’s Smash Cancer,” “Rebel Against Cancer,” and “Totally Over Cancer” emblazoned on the shirts.

The t-shirts are available in Heather Gray or Black and vary in size from S to XXL. Prices range from $19.99 to $29.99.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Matthew Vaughn to direct new Star Wars?



A day doesn't go by without a new Star Wars: Episode VII rumour!

The latest to percolate the web suggests director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) may be in the running to direct Disney's new trilogy. This might explain why Vaughn's handed over directing chores to Bryan Singer for the first sequel to his X-Men reboot.

Perhaps we'll seen Claire Danes (Stardust) playing a Jedi Knight?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart reprise roles for Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past



Bryan Singer, back at the helm of The X-Men film franchise, took to Twitter to announce Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart's return!

“I’d like to officially welcome back James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, & Nicholas Hoult to #XMEN for #DaysOfFuturePast

Thrilled to announce @ianmckellen118 & @SirPatStew are joining the cast of #XMEN #DaysOfFuturePast #magneto #professorX More to come…”

X-Men: Days of Future Past is currently slated for release on 18th July, 2014. Can't wait.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Rick McCallum retires from Lucasfilm



Rick McCallum has, like George Lucas, retired from Lucasfilm following Disney's acquisition of the company.

Say whatever you like about McCallum, who produced the Star Wars prequels and Star Wars Special Editions, but his pioneering work on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and BBC's The Singing Detective was exceptional.

Guess this has nixed the long rumoured Star Wars live-action series and any chance of it appearing on the Disney Channel...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

"In my box are such delights..."



I'm in the midst of an annual tradition: watching The Box of Delights, during the 6-week countdown to Christmas, and thought it only appropriate to repost this timely (timey-wimey) review from 2010!

Guest post by Daren Thomas

‘Christmas Time, don’t let the Bells ring’ So sung Justin Hawkins, he of Freddie Mercury spangled jumpsuit fame and the once frontman of ironic 70s rock influenced, XFM-loved, combo ‘The Darkness’ on their Xmas Offering. Ahh… The Christmas songs: the weird, the wonderful, the pure cheese and the novelty. Whether it’s Shaky in his woolly jumper in Lapland, George Michael mooning over girls in Switzerland (ooh the irony) or those vaguely suspect looking 70s kids trying to join in with Roy Wood and Wizzard. Yet in spite of attempts to record a new yuletide three and half minutes of ‘fun’ (yes Chris Martin I’m looking at you), it's funny how the same ones are still rolled out year after year. Any such new ‘efforts’ only leave you wondering the same things: A) Who the hell is this? B) Why? No, really, I mean. Why? And C) When is some proper Crimble fest like ‘Walking In The Air’ coming on? And cue: some overweight snowman yanking a kid by just one arm (no, that’s not a euphemism) as they both fly, albeit improbably, in the sky towards the North Pole (or Toys R us if you are still living in the 1980s).

What’s the point of such musings you may ask? Well, apart from Christmas and apart from the very kindly Mr. Hood allowing me some space (the fool, the fool), it got me pondering about how nostalgia is so important at this time. Not just the times of our youth, the parents, family (and above all presents), but to a TV and fantasy geek like me, a time to revel in all that’s good and nerdy in the film and TV fantasy world. And I’ll go further to suggest it’s the same for all of us, not just the fans, but even the dyed in the wool ‘I don’t watch fantasy it's for kids’ types. Give them Christmas and all of us are connecting with their inner child and recalling the past, Christmas full of magic and delights… In my case a whole Box of them.

So, as I sit down on Christmas Eve for the marathon viewing of The Box of Delights, I lament on leaving it so late every year (as a three hour session isn’t the ideal way to reveal this episodic yuletide heavy treat). Then again I never seem to watch it any other way. Why? It has Christmas magic and fantasy oozing from its very spools (alternatively insert a modern day DVD equivalent phrase here). With snow aplenty and a retro CS Lewis like Xmas setting (god, they knew how to do Christmas in those ‘olden days’). It also boasts an ex-Doctor Who, old school animation and wonderful clunky blue screen. What’s not to like? Its always great to see young plucky ‘jolly hockey sticks’ Kay Harker attempting to fight off the wolves with a magical box and going head to head with camp uber-villain Abner Brown and his talking rat. This is positively a tradition I can’t live without and one of the many shows I religiously watch every Christmas, without fail. It makes me wonder, am I alone in this? If not, what’s on your list of must watch?

I blame Dickens. Damn his perfect Christmas. Apparently, modern historian types seem to agree that his take is the reason we all long for a White Christmas (no doubt with every Christmas card we write). But who can blame us? A Christmas Carol sums up the very spirit of Christmas and yet gives us an emotional cracking yarn with a fantasy twist, complete with scary ghosts that hark back to the Victorian’s love of a good Christmas ghost story. But you can keep yer singing and Dancing Albert Finney or Jean Luc Picard’s worthy, almost Shakespearian Ebenezer. Only one man is Scrooge: Alistair Sim. His portrayal has never been bettered for me.

The comedy world has given us various takes on this familiar idea too. Most recently Catherine Tate’s Nan was joined by yet another ex Doctor (who took the turn like a camp Russell Brand). Bill Murray’s Scrooged transposes Ebenezer as the unfair miserly head of a TV network (I couldn’t possibly comment). But top of my list each year is the funny delight of Blackadder’s clever reversal of the story, it’s a present that can be used again and again and again (so sue me Richard Curtis).

Even the day job at TV’s most famous fake hospital doesn’t get let off so easily, it too has had its twist on Dickens, complete with genuine ghosts that took us back to the great 86 storm and forward to a hospital in L.A. This came the year after its homage to It’s a Wonderful Life, which had Richard Briers in the Clarence role, in a bizarre fourth-wall-smashing-format-breaking one off story. Well, it's Xmas, anything is possible. Maybe.

The Dickens treatment has its long-overdue take up by this years Drew special… Whatever happened to that online fan idea of David Morrissey being a miserly alternate future Doctor who is visited by a Doctor of the past (McGann) and Doctor of the present (Tennant)? Ahh, you gotta love fans (but maybe not too much). But, as Drew is the fantasy family drama on TV right now, its place at Christmas is obvious and a seasonal must. So much so, its weird to think with its millions of viewers, its still a relatively new addition to the Christmas Day schedule. I even found myself nostalgically reaching for The Christmas Invasion to watch this year, like it was a long lost Christmas classic. Well, I suppose it sorta is. That said, if you were an old Who fan like me, as a kid, the show may have taken a Christmas break, but the toys and annuals always made it key in my celebrations.

Fantasy and Christmas have always been there and with obvious reason. That’s right, kids, I’m talking to you. The man with the beard who comes down to bring presents at Christmas time..? No. Not Noel Edmonds. Oh never mind. Anyway, there was only one must watch Christmas film for me as a kid: The Wizard of Oz in all its black and white to full hand painted Technicolor glory. Actually I lie. The great and glorious Oz didn’t come alone. Oh no. Christmas also needed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. For my Sister, it was always Digby, the biggest Dog in the World (you know - the one with Doctor Nookie in it). Then we had occasional treats like Pufnstuff or Laurel and Hardy’s Babe’s in Toyland. All of which were inspiringly fantastical and magical over the holidays.

Naturally, Christmas films and TV don’t just stop with the fantasy-led ones. Where would be without The Great Escape or The Italian Job or The Sound of Music? I hear you cry. Ah. That great melting pot of Xmas TV: The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise and take your pick of Minder or Poirot on the Orient Express. But even the safest, most well-known of these would then seemingly dip their head into the bizarre and fantastical: In Only Fool’s and Horses, Rodney has a nightmarish flash forward and who could forget the bizarre edition of Two point Four Children which still haunts me to this day (that and the sit com So Haunt Me – but that’s a whole different story). In recent years one of the best examples came in Lark Rise To Candleford. Yes. You heard me correctly. A beautiful snowy festive tale with the sad story of a lost ghost, which turned out to be… Wait for it… A real ghost! Whoda thunk it?!? It was a real genuine treat. This year UK TV’s best drama Misfits had its own take on the proceedings and Howard Overman’s superb writing once again gave us a funny, endearing and fantasy drama with great comedic timing (just don’t watch it with Nan and Grandad after the Turkey).

So whether you are one of the ten odd million tuning in for Katherine Jenkins and Karen Gillan… Sorry, I mean Matt Smith and Michael Gambon (naturally) in this years Drew, or whether it’s the ghost story re-working of Whistle and I’ll Come for You, another Harry Potter, or even a re-showing of Sky’s Pratchett.. Planned or not. Just by being with others, especially children, siblings or friends, or just getting into the Xmas atmos, you will become that inner child once again. So, you won’t get away with the old ‘I don’t do fantasy’ adage. It doesn’t wash at Christmas. All bets are off. So, come on, embrace it (as you know you will). Don’t worry we won’t tell. Promise…

As Stevie Wonder sang

‘Everyone’s a geek at Christmas Time’

I think that’s what he sung. Didn’t he?

Daren Thomas is a budding writer, whose day job in television has been diverse, from Assistant Directing on ‘Eastenders’, to looking after roof-jumping free-runners on a French action movie ‘Les Fils Du Vent’ and pretending to be Michael Kitchen on ‘Foyle’s War’. He has worked for several years in the script/story department within the BBC’s continuing drama ‘Holby City’.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Win the ultimate Game of Thrones prize



“Davos Seaworth didn’t believe us at first, but Salladhor Saan soon set him straight.”

To celebrate the pre-order of Game of Thrones S2 on Blu-ray disc and DVD we have the ultimate Game of Thrones prize up for grabs.

The prize includes a money-can’t-buy script from S1 signed by George R. R. Martin himself, an Apple iPad, a limited edition S1 Blu-ray dragon egg gift set, and bundles of Game of Thrones-themed goodies...

To be in with a chance of winning this fantastic prize - just head over to the competition by clicking here. Please note that to enter, you’ll need to log in via a web browser as Facebook tabs do not work on mobile device apps!

Don’t forget you can now pre-order S2 on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon.co.uk.

Best of luck!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Empire Strikes Back scribe returns to Star Wars



No director or cast have been announced for Disney's new Star Wars trilogy, but it appears that Lawrence Kasdan will be joining Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) and Simon Kinberg for writing duties, if the Hollywood Reporter is to be believed.

Kasdan co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, with the late Leigh Brackett, and his appointment should chime with fans of the franchise's darkest, and best, instalment.

Are you looking forward to the new trilogy or suffering from franchise fatigue?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Disney eyeing Hasbro?



Last week the geek galaxy was ablaze with rabid speculation that Disney may acquire Hasbro!

The Pawtucket-based company holds the key to the Star Wars toy kingdom, which the House of Mouse will be eager to acquire prior to the theatrical release of Episode VII in 2014. However, any deal would have a profound effect on the Hollywood studio system!

For example The Clones Wars is moving from Cartoon Network to Disney XD in 2013, following the acquisition of Lucasfilm. Dark Horse Comics will surely lose Star Wars to Marvel and IDW would suffer a similar fate with its stable of Hasbro properties: from G.I. Joe to Transformers.

Imagine if Apple buys Disney and gains unfettered access to all that mouthwatering content?

Friday, 9 November 2012

The force is strong with Angry Birds Star Wars



Angry Birds Star Wars completes a triumvirate of 2012 releases from Rovio: including Angry Birds Space and Bad Piggies! All essential purchases.

Don't dismiss this latest tie-in as merely a lazy cash cow, and further brand dilution, in the wake of recent developments in the Star Wars galaxy. This isn't beloved characters plugging PC World or Vodafone.

Within seconds of downloading the iOS app from the App Store, the familiar sights and sounds of a galaxy far, far away... enthralled in a way worthy of the original trilogy, which it so lovingly lampoons. So much so I purchased the OS X version, too. £3 well spent.

My childhood self applauds Rovio. This is the stuff of Christmases past. However, iCloud syncing across all devices would be a welcome addition in a future update; I'd like to continue from where I left on my iMac or iOS devices.

This is the best Angry Birds game to date. That is all.

Download Angry Birds Star Wars (iTunes)
Download Angry Birds Star Wars (Mac App Store)

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Space Janitors



Space Janitors, a spoof comedy based loosely on Star Wars, is coming to Felicia Day's premium YouTube channel, Geek and Sundry. For the first time Season 1 will air in HD and season 2 is in pre-production.



If you haven't seen Space Janitors yet it's a satirical and irreverent sci-fi comedy about life aboard an iconic evil space station as seen through the eyes of Mike and Darby, two custodians try to keep things clean in the midst of an intergalactic civil war. After all, for every Dark Lord there’s 10,000 minions that need working toilets

Season 1 starts airing on Geek and Sundry on November 13th and will air on Tuesdays.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A long time ago in Disneyland...



George Lucas has sold Lucasfilm to Disney, for a cool $4.05 billion dollars, with the promise of a new Star Wars trilogy, set after Return of the Jedi, to begin in 2015. Place your bets on who will direct Episode VII. I'm backing JJ Abrams.

This is an unprecedented move for a studio that owns PIXAR (founded at Lucasfilm) and Marvel! However, the House of Mouse has struggled to establish its own successful sci-fi IP: Mars Needs Moms and John Carter have fallen short of commercial expectations and lost Disney millions of dollars in the process.

What implications (if any) does this have for Dark Horse Comics' Star Wars titles? Marvel was instrumental in the success of Star Wars in 1977 and I'd be surprised if the franchise doesn't return to the fold with immediate effect.

In the wake of Avengers Assemble. Will we see Avengers vs. Jedi (AvJ)?

Monday, 22 October 2012

Something stirred, something Alien…



This weekend I watched Prometheus on Blu-ray disc. Twice in quick succession - unprecedented for me - in an effort to collate my thoughts into something remotely coherent. Artistic ambition has returned to the Alien franchise on an epic scale.

I wholeheartedly agree with John Rivers' excellent review! For all its precarious narrative flaws. Prometheus remains utterly enthralling: a compelling collusion of cerebral and visceral thrills.

The Engineer (AKA Space Jockey) as alien Adonis taps into the mythological underpinnings (a reprise of Star Trek V with 2001: A Space Odyssey aspirations) wrapped around amorphous Alien DNA. I won't go into story specifics per se. But, was delighted to see some of the mysteries surrounding the derelict spacecraft (Alien) answered in a way that, selfishly, satiated my college conjectures. Dark Horse comics for the win.

Damon Lindelof's (co-creator of Lost) pedigree for episodic television is unimpeachable. Yet, here there are too many characters for a two-hour multiplex pleaser. Cut out the Ensign Red contingency and you're left with a nuanced performance from Noomi Rapace, an ice maiden personified in Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender's scene stealing android. Frankly, Fassbender delivers one of the best acting performances in recent years. David's enigmatic introduction is director Ridley Scott's love-letter to silent filmmaking.

The ending is, arguably, anticlimactic when viewed in the context of a standalone film (a criticism that could be levelled at The Empire Strikes Back)! There's a nagging sense of a work-in-progress rushed to meet a studio-imposed summer deadline and the commercial necessity for a sequel. Presumably Prometheus will be followed by the search for Paradise? Make it so, Sir Ridley Scott.

It would be remiss of me, as a self-confessed Whovian, not to mention Dr Liz Shaw (Noomi Rapace)! Surely a Doctor Who in-joke and not coincidence?

From a technical standpoint. The Blu-ray disc is reference material and will reveal any weaknesses inherent in your home cinema setup. Therefore, it maybe worth digging out that old copy of Digital Video Essentials (DVE) on DVD before you can fully appreciate the deep focus photography captured using Carl Zeiss lenses.

Blu-ray disc with thanks @petehotchkiss.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Dishonored: take a trip to the dark side



Dishonored, a steampunk fable to rival BioShock, is a macabre masterclass in open world gaming; eschewing the on-rails blockbuster thrills of Call of Duty (a guilty pleasure); favouring shadowy, supernatural, stealth and imagination!

Not for the squeamish. You play Corvo Attano, a bodyguard, who is framed for the death of Dunwall City's Empress. She must be avenged and her kidnapped daughter rescued.

Your decisions directly influence the narrative outcome in this first-person action adventure: do you sneak past enemies or kill everyone in the room and befall a plague of rats upon the city? The dark side is quicker, easier, more seductive...

Arkane has assembled a stellar cast of actors that includes Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon, Carrie Fisher from the original Star Wars trilogy, Brad Dourif and, if I'm not mistaken, Game of Thrones' Lena Headey.

Dishonored is a love-letter to hardcore gamers seeking cerebral and visceral thrills, and should be discovered on your own terms. It would be remiss of me to say much more!

Arkane may have published the game of the year! A game in which, ironically for a bloodthirsty genre, no one has to die, but where's the fun in that, eh?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

New Xbox 360 dashboard rolls out!



For the past few months I've been beta testing the latest, subtle, iteration of dashboard, which starts rolling out to Xbox LIVE subscribers from today!

Here are the highlights:

Refreshed Xbox 360 Dashboard. We’ve updated the UI with a few things, including an updated layout with more tiles, a combined TV & Movies channel and, in the US, a Sports destination.

Internet Explorer for Xbox. With Internet Explorer on Xbox, you can easily find and view internet content on the biggest screen in the house, including HTML5 videos.

Recommendations and Ratings. Recommendations will allow you to discover new favorites, generated based on a number of variables including the content you previously viewed, what your friends are consuming and what is most relevant and popular with our Xbox community. You can now rate content yourself and also see Rotten Tomatoes ratings.

Pinning. Pinning lets you personalize the dashboard by saving your favorite movies, TV shows, games, music, videos and websites right to the home screen. It’s as easy as opening an app or a favorite movie and clicking “pin.”

Xbox Video. Formerly called Zune Video Marketplace, Xbox Video offers hundreds of thousands of TV shows and movies for buying or renting in instant HD streaming.

Recent. Previously called Quick Play, the Recent view gives you a list of movies, games, apps or other types of content that you most recently accessed on the console.

Enhanced Search. The last Xbox LIVE update brought Bing voice search to Xbox so you could use voice to search for movies, TV shows, actors, directors and artists. This year we added genre search to the list, so now you can search for action, comedy, romance, drama or sci-fi. Bing voice search now includes results for video across the Web, including YouTube.

International Expansion of Voice Search. We’ve expanded our Kinect voice search capabilities to 9 new countries – Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Ireland.



The dashboard update coincides with Xbox Music (a rebranded Zune). A streaming service not entirely catered towards Xbox LIVE members; unless you're prepared to shell out more money for a service that will be free on Android and iOS devices in 2013!

Xbox SmartGlass will be launched on October 26th for tablets, PCs and smartphones. This pits Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony head-to-head in the so-called second screen space during the holiday season. I'd argue Microsoft has already won the war...

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Hasbro unveils Angry Birds Star Wars line



Amazon is taking pre-orders for Hasbro's Angry Birds Star Wars tie-in, ahead of the game's release this November, in time for Halloween.

The Pawtucket-based company has announced a range of products from toys to costumes. AT-AT Attack Battle Game (pictured) is all kinds of awesome.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Ashley Eckstein on Star Wars Reads Day!



Those fine folk at Geeks are Sexy interviewed Ashley Eckstein (The Clones Wars' Ahsoka Tano) during last weekend's inaugural Star Wars Reads Day!

Why is ‘Star Wars Reads Day’ important?

‘Star Wars Reads Day’ is important because the story of Star Wars is being told in so many different ways, not just on television. To me, it’s a story of hope, a story of good overcoming evil, and so to encourage that through reading, it’s just the perfect mash-up. It was really awesome to see so many kids today and to hear from so many of them that they love reading Star Wars books.

You can read the full interview with Ashley Eckstein here.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Angry Birds Star Wars this November



Next month Rovio unleashes the power of Lucasfilm licensing in Angry Birds Star Wars!

The birds take the role of Rebel Alliance, and the pigs play, you guessed it, the evil Empire... Red bird is Luke Skywalker and the green pigs will be Stormtroopers lead by Darth Vader.



Hasbro will be announcing a range of branded toys and accessories including an Angry Birds Star Wars edition of Jenga for the holiday season.

Angry Birds Space and Bad Piggies were released this year to critical acclaim and topped the App Store around the world.

Is this a brand extension too far? Sound off in comments.

Friday, 5 October 2012

50 years of 007



James Bond turns 50 today and the longest running film franchise in cinema history shows no sign of relenting to silverscreen upstarts! Even Harry Potter and Star Wars ran out of steam...

My Bond fandom began, like so many, watching the films on TV! An irresistible blend of action and romance - at its zenith in On Her Majesty's Secret Service - translated to innumerable car chases with Corgi tie-ins and Action Man firefights! Even Hasbro's Transformers toy line paid homage to the secret agent: Megatron's alternate mode was a Walther PPK. James Bond nurtured a love of fast cars and an aspiration to own one, myself.

There were the teenage years of apathy towards Ian Fleming's creation (Doctor Who and Star Wars suffered, too). I rediscovered Bond during a rerun of Moonraker in the mid 1990s! Suddenly, I was that wide-eyed child, waiting impatiently in the queue, at the Odeon, Exeter; Bond's going into space and I must have that ticket.

I had serious reservations regarding Adele's theme song for Skyfall (David Arnold isn't onboard due to London Olympics 2012)! But, within seconds of hearing the sweeping orchestrations, recalling John Barry's seminal soundtracks from my childhood, I was sold.

Local lads Muse submitted Supremacy, which interpolates familiar Bond motifs, yet Adele's soulfulness wins! What say you dear reader?

The last two decades delivered two brilliant Bond movies; GoldenEye and Casino Royale. After the nihilistic excesses of Quantum of Solace; Skyfall promises a return to form under the auspices of Sam Mendes (American Beauty).

Imagine a remake of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, directed by Christopher Nolan (Batman trilogy), and starring Daniel Craig?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Dalek Jack-O-Lantern



How cool and clever is this for Halloween? Forget the new Dalek paradigm! This is timely and all kinds of awesome.

Be sure to check back for further Halloween highlights throughout the month of October.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Now TV on Xbox 360



Last August Sky launched Now TV for Xbox 360.

Already available for PC, Mac, Android and iOS devices. This rival to Netflix and LOVEFiLM grants full access to all 11 Sky Movies live channels for those taking the Sky Movies Pass subscription.

A 30-day free trial of the Pass is available now, after which it costs £15 per month. You could subscribe to both LOVEFiLM Instant and Netflix for £11.

Where does this leave the excellent Sky Go?

Do you use Now TV and is it worth £15 per month? Let me know in comments...

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Mass Effect Trilogy



No sooner has BioWare confirmed Mass Effect 4 for next generation consoles, EA has announced an expansive Mass Effect Trilogy box set this holiday season. The company makes no mention of including any DLC.

A post on the official BioWare blog, reads, “We are very excited today to announce the Mass Effect Trilogy coming to PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. All three award-winning games from the series will be available together in one premium package, complete with foil box and exclusive artwork. Mass Effect Trilogy will also mark the long-awaited debut of the original Mass Effect on the PlayStation 3 console!”

The PS3 version will be released at a later date. The original Mass Effect was an Xbox 360 exclusive in 2007.

To coincide with the launch of the Mass Effect Trilogy, EA has declared November 7th to be “N7 Day.” The company stated that there will be a “worldwide celebration of the Mass Effect franchise, and that there will be in-game, online, and live events at which “fans can congregate and fly their N7 colours.”

Will you be celebrating N7 Day?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Eggs and Daleks: Soufflé Girl's winning recipe



I've been most remiss in not posting my thoughts on Doctor Who S7, which is about to conclude its first half season run with this weekend's The Angels Take Manhattan! A potentially infamous storyline witnessing the departure of longterm companions the Ponds. I'll shed a tear for the girl who waited...

Back to the present. S7 opens audaciously with Asylum of the Daleks, the Ponds estranged, and an unexpected cameo from forthcoming new companion Oswin, played with chutzpah by Jenna-Louise Coleman. The best kept secret since the Cybermen's surprise return in Eartshock steals the show in a riveting, scarlet-lipped, performance as the girl trapped in a haunted house.

A haunted house filled with menacing, dysfunctional, Daleks. Note the use of the words menacing and dysfunctional. Terry Nation's creations are always best served in a shadowy world and here we're treated to an inspired mashup of The Dead Planet and Genesis of the Daleks: set within the walls of an asylum.

These Daleks are the rejects; broken; too dangerous to control; nightmarish. All the better for it. A rare return to the Daleks home planet of Skaro provides the icing on a deliciously dark cake.

An epic exchange between the Doctor and a Dalek culminates in the chilling revelation: "We have grown stronger in fear of you!" A line worthy of Star Wars' Darth Vader.

Bravo, Mr Moffat.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Star Wars Origami at MCM Expo



In July I wrote about Chris Alexander's upcoming Star Wars Origami book. Martin Hunt is a homegrown talent and recently connected with me on Twitter...

Martin is a Maths graduate and software engineer, currently living in London with his wife, son, and two enormous cats.

He started designing his own origami models while at university and has never looked back. You can see his stellar designs atStarwarigami.

Martin's work was most recently exhibited at the London Film and Comic Con this year, courtesy of the British Origami Society, and will be on display again at the upcoming MCM Expo at ExCel London in October.

Monday, 17 September 2012

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar 2012



Get Christmas off to a galactic start with the LEGO® Star Wars Advent Calendar!

Featuring 24 gifts, including iconic starships, minifigures, and accessories:

Mini-figures include Santa Darth Maul, Snowman R2-D2, Gonk Power Droid, Gungan Warrior, Hoth Rebel Trooper, Imperial Officer (Hoth), Rebel Trooper, Snowtrooper, Security Battle Droid, and Super Battle Droid.

Models include AT-AT Walker, Darth Maul's Sith Infiltrator, General Grievous' Starfighter, Gungan Shield Set, Gungan Submarine, Guns and Lightsaber, MTT, Naboo Flash Speeder, Naboo Royal Cruiser, Naboo Starfighter, P-Tower Turret, Separatist Shuttle/The Lapiz Cutter, Super Star Destoyer, and Vulture Droid.

This great advent calendar is the perfect gift for Star Wars fans of any age.

Last year's sold out quickly due to demand. Buy yours today.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Wii wish U you a merry Christmas



For the first time in sixteen years a new Nintendo console will launch with a Mario title!

Wii U launches in Europe and the US this November ahead of December's debut in Japan. New Super Mario Bros. U is a day one title and Bayonetta 2 a surprise platform exclusive. She'll shift additional units to hardcore gamers.

Three UK bundles have been announced: Basic Pack (8GB), Premium Pack (32GB) and ZombiU Premium Pack (32GB).

Here's a breakdown of each bundle:

Basic Pack (8GB)
Wii U GamePad
GamePad stylus
Wii U AC adapter
Wii U GamePad AC Adapter
HDMI cable

Premium Pack (32GB)
As Basic Pack
Wii U Sensor Bar
Wii U stand
GamePad stand and charger
Nintendo Land
Nintendo Network Premium

ZombiU Premium Pack (32GB)
As Premium Pack
Wii U Pro Controller
ZombiU replaces Nintendo Land

Prices are at the discretion of retailers and wildly fluctuate from £250 for the Basic Pack to £330 for the ZombiU Premium Pack and that's before any shortages this holiday season. Best Buy, Toys "R" Us and Target have stopped taking pre-orders in the US. Amazon maybe your best bet!

“The standout feature is the quality of the software line-up – the strongest we have seen on a new Nintendo console,” said Tesco’s games buying manager Jon Hayes.

GAME boss Martyn Gibbs added: “It is safe to say that anybody that gets their hands on it and plays it for half an hour will see exactly why they should be excited.”

I've pre-ordered a Premium Pack for £264, which is less than a N64 sans game pak in 1998. We're in a double-dip recession and new games consoles are not a priority for most consumers. However, the pack-in is excellent value when you factor-in a bundled game (Nintendo Land), accessories, Nintendo Network Premium and increased memory. It's worth noting there's no sensor bar included with the Basic Pack! There'll be a few unboxing faux pas on Christmas Day!

The Wii U is backwards compatible with most Wii games and accessories. However, there is no native GameCube support (including WaveBird controller). Storage space is expandable via external HDD, SD card and USB flash drive.

What do you think of the Wii U? Are you interested in pre-ordering one before its release? Let me know in comments.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Star Wars collection for sale!



A friend is selling his vintage Star Wars collection, which includes loose action figures, vehicles and playsets from the original trilogy!

Highlights include the Palitoy Death Star playset, which was only released in the UK and differs to the US edition, and boxed Slave I.



Any readers interested in making an offer for all (or parts of) this collection, please email for further details.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Mass Effect 3: Leviathan



Exploring the Mass Effect universe has dominated most evenings! The franchise is a stellar mashup of sci-fi concepts from the minds of Isaac Asimov, Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas to name but a few.

BioWare has officially confirmed the first premium single-player DLC on a par with Mass Effect 2's Lair of the Shadow Broker. Leviathan. Players will be able to further explore the origins of the Reapers in the oceanic depths of the planet Despoina.

Something lurks in the dark corners of space, something powerful enough to kill a Reaper. Shepard must discover the most closely guarded secret in the galaxy before the Reapers silence it forever. Discover more about the origins of the Reapers as you race across the galaxy to find the Leviathan. Unravel the dark history of the Reaper Race before it is too late.

Taking place during the events of Mass Effect 3, players will be thrust into the darkest corners of space where they will hunt a mysterious being rumored to be powerful enough to destroy a Reaper. As they race against time, they will begin to unravel the secret of the Leviathan.


The developer has reiterated that Mass Effect 3 for Wii U will be more than a pedestrian port! Are you interested in replaying the game on Nintendo's next generation console or is Shepard's story at an end?

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Daleks, dinosaurs... Doctor Who is back!



A spectacular new promo image for the upcoming Doctor Who S7!

Generations of Daleks, dinosaurs on spaceships, Weeping Angels and the demise of Amy Pond?

Starting this Autumn on BBC One and BBC America! Watch the trailer here.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

OS X Mountain Lion arrives on the App Store



Alas, my iMac (Late 2006) is too old to play nicely with OS X Mountain Lion! Let me know what you think of the latest iteration of OS X in comments. Apple's press release follows...

CUPERTINO, California—July 25, 2012— Apple® today announced that OS X® Mountain Lion, the ninth major release of the world’s most advanced desktop operating system, is available as a download from the Mac® App Store℠. With more than 200 innovative new features, Mountain Lion includes iCloud® integration, the all new Messages app, Notification Center, system-wide Sharing, Facebook integration*, Dictation, AirPlay® Mirroring and Game Center. Mountain Lion is available as an upgrade from Lion or Snow Leopard for $19.99.

“People are going to love the new features in Mountain Lion and how easy it is to download and install from the Mac App Store,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “With iCloud integration, Mountain Lion is even easier to set up, and your important information stays up to date across all your devices so you can keep editing documents, taking notes, creating reminders, and continue conversations whether you started on a Mac, iPhone or iPad.”

With more than 200 innovative new features, Mountain Lion includes:

*iCloud integration, for easy set up of your Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Messages, Reminders and Notes, and keeping everything, including iWork® documents, up to date across all your devices; the all new 
*Messages app, which replaces iChat® and brings iMessage™ to the Mac, so you can send messages to anyone with an iPhone®, iPad®, iPod touch® or another Mac;
*Notification Center, which streamlines the presentation of notifications and provides easy access to alerts from Mail, Calendar, Messages, Reminders, system updates and third party apps; system-wide *Sharing, to make it easy to share links, photos, videos and other files quickly without having to switch to another app, and you just need to sign in once to use third-party services like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Vimeo; 
*Facebook integration, so you can post photos, links and comments with locations right from your apps, automatically add your Facebook friends to your Contacts, and even update your Facebook status from within Notification Center;
*Dictation, which allows you to dictate text anywhere you can type, whether you’re using an app from Apple or a third party developer;
*AirPlay Mirroring, an easy way to wirelessly send an up-to-1080p secure stream of what’s on your Mac to an HDTV using Apple TV®, or send audio to a receiver or speakers that use AirPlay; and
*Game Center, which brings the popular social gaming network from iOS to the Mac so you can enjoy live, multiplayer games with friends whether they’re on a Mac, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

Additional features in Mountain Lion include the revolutionary new Gatekeeper, which makes downloading software from the Internet safer; Power Nap, which automatically updates your apps and system while your Mac is asleep; and a faster Safari® browser. New features for China include significantly improved text input, a new Chinese Dictionary, easy setup with popular email providers, Baidu search in Safari, and built-in sharing to Sina Weibo and popular video websites Youku and Tudou.

Pricing & Availability OS X Mountain Lion is available from the Mac App Store for $19.99 (US). Mountain Lion requires Lion or Snow Leopard (OS X v10.6.8 or later), 2GB of memory and 8GB of available space. For a complete list of system requirements and compatible systems, please visit: apple.com/osx/specs. OS X Server requires Mountain Lion and is available from the Mac App Store for $19.99 (US). The OS X Mountain Lion Up-to-Date upgrade is available at no additional charge from the Mac App Store to all customers who purchased a qualifying new Mac system from Apple or an Apple Authorized Reseller on or after June 11, 2012.

Download OS X Mountain Lion from the App Store

Thursday, 19 July 2012

My Xbox LIVE updated for iPad



A couple of weeks ago Microsoft updated its free iOS companion app with media control functionality. At the time I bemoaned lack of support for iPad…

This Tuesday that complaint was rendered moot! This is a welcome addition, but will leave users clamouring for more! For example you can't switch on the Xbox 360 or purchase games in-app. Presumably the good stuff will arrive in the form of SmartGlass later this year.

Download My Xbox LIVE (iTunes)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Star Wars Origami session at Comic-Con 2012



If you are going to Comic-Con 2012, definitely stop by Room 7AB from 2-3pm on Friday, July 13th for the Star Wars Origami folding session with author and master origami artist Chris Alexander.

Chris will be leading a hands-on class, teaching you step-by-step how to fold an exclusive Comic-Con Boba Fett helmet, as well as a lightsaber and Han Solo in Carbonite. This is an event you won’t want to miss!

ABOUT THE BOOK
The Jedi Master of origami, Chris Alexander teaches young Padawans how to fold 36 amazing projects from a galaxy far, far away. All your favorite characters, creatures and objects from the Star Wars universe are here. Included in the book are 72 sheets of specially designed origami paper, so that once folded, the models look like they stepped out of the movie. August 7, 2012 | ISBN 978-0-7611-6943-7 | $16.95

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Alexander began doing origami at the age of four. Since then he’s created dozens of original designs, many of them Star Wars themed. He has a large Star Wars fan base and tours the country folding at conventions and museums. His website is www.starwarsorigami.com. He lives in Lancaster, California

Star Wars Origami will be available in bookstores August 7, 2012. Pre-order here.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut bows Tuesday



Not since Heavy Rain (PS3) has a game so masterfully captured my imagination! From immersive art design and rich characterisation to a soundtrack the equal of TRON: Legacy. Mass Effect 3 is in a class of its own.

I may have missed out on Mass Effect (having only recently won an Xbox 360) and its first sequel, but Mass Effect 3 has invaded my subconscious. So much so that I've dreamt about visiting The Citadel and battling Cerberus forces alongside gamers' favourite blue-skinned alien: Liara!

Much has been written about the game's controversial ending(s) and the developer's pledge to release a free patch that clarifies continuity issues. For gamers dissatisfied with the ending(s) of BioWare's Mass Effect trilogy, a free Extended Cut will be available to download from Tuesday on Xbox LIVE.

“The Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut is a downloadable content pack that will expand upon the events at the end of Mass Effect 3,” the game’s website reads. “Through additional cinematic sequences and epilogue scenes, the Extended Cut will include deeper insight to Commander Shepard’s journey based on player choices during the war against the Reapers. The Extended Cut will be available to download at no additional charge on June 26th on Xbox 360 and PC and PlayStation 3.”

EA has announced that Mass Effect 3 will be released on Nintendo's Wii U console this upcoming holiday season. A future patch supporting Microsoft's Xbox SmartGlass app could add further replay value to the game.

The developer suggests that players use the last save file prior to the Cerberus HQ mission to unlock the new Extended Cut DLC. Personally, I'm going to undertake another walkthrough...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Control Xbox 360 with iPhone



For the past few weeks I've been considering a Microsoft Media Remote purchase! Yesterday the Redmond-based company updated My Xbox LIVE (iTunes) with media playback controls! The app is free, but requires an Xbox LIVE Gold membership.

What’s New in Version 1.5

iPhone:
• Use your iPhone with your Xbox to connect, control and discover content on your console. Connect your iPhone for access to a quick list of your most recent console activity. Control your content with play, pause, fast forward and rewind media controls. Find fresh entertainment to play in the new Discover section.
• Improved Authentication to make it more stable

iPad:
• Improved Authentication to make it more stable
• iPad high-resolution images

This is the perfect excuse to dust off my iPod touch, which had been consigned to the drawer since I took delivery of a new iPad last month. The latter will become invaluable when the Xbox SmartGlass app is released, for smart phones and tablets, later this year.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Prometheus: An Alien Paradise



This weekend witnesses the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in the UK. However, John Rivers takes timeout from the festivities to explore the dark depths of LV-223...

Guest post by John Rivers

The story of Ridley Scott’s Alien was one I knew long before I actually saw the film [Likewise - Ed]. My Dad had the adaptation by Alan Dean Foster* and as an 10 year old I enjoyed taking it to primary school and enlightening my fellow pupils with the new swear words it contained.

I also used to be able to recite the crew and the order in which they died: Kane first, then Brett, Dallas etc. The story became a collection of images that I thought I knew. When I actually saw the movie of Alien aged 16, I was astounded by how slow the opening was, how Scott rushed nothing, took his time through the images - a dark and empty spaceship, John Hurt gets up in a series of slow dissolves, emphasising the brief amnesia of waking from a long sleep. It was therefore a joy to watch Ridley repeat the sequence in Prometheus albeit this time from the point of view of David, Michael Fassbender’s wonderfully creepy and yet somehow loveable robot.

That’s just one example of how Prometheus echoes Alien, there are lots of other moments that hark back to the 1979 movie, that’s half the fun of having a prequel. It is, however, where Prometheus differs that the movie gets more interesting. A scientific crew is sent to investigate LV-223 which, according to a longshot archaeological guess, may be where humanity has come from. They poke an ant hill with a big stick and guess what happens next? Well, perhaps not quite what you were expecting, and that is why I think so many reviewers felt disappointed.

Prometheus wants us to consider some big SF questions: about the nature of humanity, its origins and future. I quite liked this approach and coupled with the impressive visuals of the planet and the naturally Giger-esque interior I found myself thinking more of 2001: A Space Odyssey that any of the Alien franchise. I considered this to be a good thing indeed, as this genuinely felt like the only sequel since Alien3 to try something different.

The film needs to be re-edited, perhaps with more latitude to ramp-up the tension in the final third (which feels a little messy and disjointed in terms of pace). It also suffers badly from ‘leaving you unanswered questions for a sequel syndrome’: half of this is entirely intentional, the other half comes from poor plotting or perhaps there was more left on the cutting room floor as Scott delivered the 2 hour movie the studio no doubt requested [The Blu-ray disc release may include an extended edition - Ed].

Overall Prometheus is worth seeing and an enjoyable experience in 3D. As part of the Alien franchise it doesn’t feel like it’s on the periphery, it’s simply widened the scope of the Alien universe or perhaps in this case, with Scott experimenting with 3D, given it much more depth.

*My Dad’s bookcase was an exercise in terrifying books: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, Firestarter by Stephen King, The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheately were all there alongside Emmanuelle which was scary for different reasons.

Follow @johnrivers

Friday, 1 June 2012

Star Wars 1313



Lucasfilm today announced Star Wars 1313. A new internally developed IP in the Star Wars universe. This time aimed at a mature audience.

Described as a "third person cinematic action adventure," players take control of an unnamed bounty hunter as they explore the depths of the Coruscant underworld.

Named for Level 1313, a ruthless criminal underground deep below the surface of the planet of Coruscant, the game puts players in control of a deadly bounty hunter as he uses an arsenal of exotic weaponry to hunt down his marks and uncover the truth surrounding a criminal conspiracy. Star Wars 1313 emphasizes epic set pieces and fast-paced combat with a hero who uses human skills and gadgets, rather than supernatural Force powers, to make his way through this dangerous world.

“We’re excited to share one of the projects LucasArts has been hard at work developing,” said Paul Meegan, President, LucasArts. “Star Wars 1313 dives into a part of the Star Wars mythos that we’ve always known existed, but never had a chance to visit. We are committed to bringing the best gameplay experience and visual fidelity to life and I truly believe the work we are showcasing at E3 will speak for itself.”

Not since Dark Forces blasted its way onto my Macintosh Performa 5200 in the mid 1990s have I been so excited about a Star Wars game! You?

Thursday, 31 May 2012

LOVEFiLM launches HD streaming



Yesterday @LOVEFiLM tweeted that it will start streaming in HD. This brings the Amazon-owned company on par with rival Netflix and is a welcome move. However, there is a fly in the ointment.

PS3 owners can't currently stream in HD and the maximum number of registered devices is still limited: Do I forgo a second games console for an iPad?

Here's the full press release:

AMAZON’S LOVEFiLM LAUNCHES HIGH DEFINITION STREAMING – HD DAY – 31st May 2012 

LOVEFiLM, an Amazon company, today announced the launch of high-definition (HD) service, giving LOVEFiLM Instant members crystal clear viewing.

The HD functionality, available from today in the UK and Germany, will allow members of LOVEFiLM – Europe’s largest subscription service instantly streaming films and TV series over the internet and sending DVDs and games by post – to stream top quality films and TV series on demand and for no extra charge in HDTV resolutions up to 1080p.

LOVEFiLM members in the UK, using PC or Mac, will enjoy content in full 1080p high definition, while members using their Xbox 360 or Samsung and LG connected HDTVs will enjoy 720p resolution. In Germany, HD content will be available initially on PC and Mac in full 1080p high definition.

The catalogue of HD films available to LOVEFiLM members will expand over the coming weeks and months. In the UK titles will include teen sensation The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, family favourite Gnomeo and Juliet and British comedy Four Lions. Top US TV dramas including LOST and Ghost Whisperer will also be available alongside a whole host of British titles, including the BBC’s popular documentaries Human Planet and David Attenborough’s critically acclaimed Planet Earth.

Jim Buckle, MD of LOVEFiLM, commented: “LOVEFiLM is the number one consumer choice for subscription film and TV series streaming in Europe. The introduction of HD quality content further strengthens the offering and marks another key milestone in delivering our members the best possible service with exceptional value.”

Films and TV series available in HD will automatically stream with the improved quality where an internet connection can support it. For 720p streaming members will require a minimum internet connection of 4mbps, while those with connections of 12mbps or higher will enjoy full 1080p where possible.

LOVEFiLM offers thousands of on-demand films and TV series via LOVEFiLM Instant, together with the largest selection of DVD, Blu-ray and games with packages starting from as little as £4.99 per month.

What do you think of LOVEFiLM Instant HD streaming? Tried it out yet? Let me know in comments below...

Friday, 25 May 2012

Celebrate Geek Pride Day with Kinect Star Wars



It's 35 years since Star Wars first graced the silver screen in the US... And to celebrate I'm giving away 2 copies of Kinect Star Wars to readers.

Nothing will get your inner geek going like the latest addition to the Star Wars repertoire: Kinect Star Wars, where you’re the Jedi. It’s the first controller-free Star Wars game, and you can drive, dance and defeat the enemy, all with your Kinect.

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Kinect Star Wars, just answer this question:
Which droid contained the stolen Death Star plans?

A. C-3PO
B. R5-D4
C. R2-D2

Please post your answer in comments or on Twitter @johnhood using the hashtag #feeltheforce and join the movement.

The competition closes on Friday 8th June and is open to UK residents only.

If it’s too beautiful to stay inside, download the Kinect Star Wars mobile app, which is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Wake up, John! It's Halo 4 Limited Edition



Halo 4 doesn't ship until this November. However, Microsoft and 343 Industries have officially announced an obligatory Limited Edition that includes the following mouthwatering extras:

War Games Map Pack Access – The Limited Edition includes access to nine maps – three future competitive multiplayer map packs, each including three locations, available for download post-launch on Xbox LIVE. (A detailed release schedule for the map packs will be announced at a later time)

Specialisations – Receive early access to six Specialisations, available at launch on Xbox LIVE, to achieve higher ranks in your Spartan career. In addition to gaining access to new ranks, Specialisations unlock new customisation options. Purchasers of the “Halo 4″ Limited Edition will get access on launch day, while others will have to wait as Specialisations are released over time.

The Limited Edition also contains the UNSC Infinity Briefing Packet, which includes an armour customisation schematic, a blueprint of the massive ship itself, and insight into what it means to be one of humanity’s finest warriors: the Spartan-IVs.

Bonus digital content through Xbox LIVE:

Unique in-game Spartan-IV armour skin. Unique in-game weapon skin for the Assault Rifle. An exclusive in-game emblem. Xbox LIVE Avatar prop. Xbox LIVE Avatar Spartan-IV armour set. “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn” Special Edition – An extended 90-minute version of the live-action digital series that will bring the “Halo” universe to life as you’ve never seen it, and provide an enthralling backstory leading up to the events of “Halo 4.”

Looks like 343 Industries is going for broke with this franchise reboot sans Bungie. Bungie split from Microsoft in 2007 and 343 Industries was established in-house to develop the Halo intellectual property. Halo 4 is the first instalment of a new trilogy that may crossover onto the next generation Xbox.

Are you looking forward to Halo 4 and the return of Master Chief?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Clone Wars scribe adapts The Phantom Menace



Does this Star Wars: Episode I in 3D tie-in revolutionise the way we read comic books? John Rivers pulls himself away from The Clone Wars to investigate!

Guest post by John Rivers

At some point around writing for the cartoon series versions of All Dogs Go to Heaven and Timon & Pumbaa, Henry Gilroy was handed the script to Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. A decade on and Gilroy was lead writer on the highly successful series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I mention this because while The Clone Wars is a brilliant foray into the expanded universe of the Wars, The Phantom Menace comic book is probably the most straightforward adaptation ever seen in comics.

To describe it as shot-for-shot would do Gus Van Sant’s bizarre experiment with Psycho an injustice, but this is as-near-as-dammit a copy of the movie as you could own outside of the DVD. Occasionally you are offered a tantalising glimpse of dialogue excised from the final edit of Episode 1, but other than that, it’s absolutely precise.

Not one character has a thought in the whole piece, never once is a thought-bubble deployed. Admittedly Gilroy must have been under strict instructions to follow the script as closely as possible and not deviate from it. This presents problems in the latter half of the book, when he slavishly has to keep flicking between the ground assault on Naboo, Anakin piloting the fighter and the Darth Maul smackdown.

The artwork is detailed but again lifted straight from the movie and lacks any of the imagination afforded the Manga version or the fantastic licence of the early Marvel work. As an adaptation it is entirely faithful, as a comic it has all the structural and dialogue challenges of the first episode.

I would love to see a freer interpretation of the first episode, reinvented in the same way superheroes have been done many times over. Imagine a Phantom Menace where Jar Jar is a Gungan War Lord, Qui-Gon is a broken, elderly wizard and Anakin is a girl. The possibilities are endless. Maybe that is to come and it would be great to see these interpretations in comic form, like the acclaimed Star Wars Tales or Infinities series.

Only one to consider getting if you’re a completist!

Follow @johnrivers
Photo courtesy @richardmackney

Monday, 14 May 2012

Star Wars creator to offer low-income housing



Heralded by some critics as the best thing George Lucas has done in years (after re-writing our collective childhood with those prequels).

The creator of Star Wars has shelved controversial plans to build a movie-making dream factory on the grounds of Grady Ranch, Marin County, and is offering the free space for low-income housing.

"The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were to spend more time and acquire the necessary approvals, we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbours," Lucasfilm said in a statement.

Perhaps Obi-Wan Kenobi had some say in this laudable decision? Whatever! Many happy returns of the day, George!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Prometheus 'Rated R' for Ridley



After months of intense speculation and an international trailer that appears to feature an imploding face. Twentieth Century Fox has confirmed that Sir Ridley Scott's 'Alien for generation Xbox' (#areyouseeingthis) will garner an R rating in the US and 15 certificate in the UK!

How excited are you to see Prometheus uncut in June?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Darth Across America



Julie Schuchard, a San Francisco-based portrait photographer and fellow Star Wars fan, has let me know that she's embarking on a road trip across America with a Darth Vader mask...

"The Darth Vader theme unites us nostalgically, and the mask allows us the anonymity to be expressive in front of the camera in a new way. With the landscape of America as a backdrop, this series will bring together all the things I love about being a photographer and using art to unite and connect people from all walks of life."

Julie will be documenting her travels here:

http://darthjulie.tumblr.com/
http://www.facebook.com/DarthAcrossAmerica

For further details and to donate, please visit here.