Doctor Who – The Daleks Invasion of Earth Review (or 2164 looks shit)

April 24, 2011

The year is 1964 and Doctor Who has now been on TV for a full year. Thanks in no small part to the Daleks it has become a very successful and popular TV show and so naturally, plans were made to bring them back.

And what better way to capitalise on their success than to bring them back in a story set on earth.

Terrific work from the design team painting the Black Dalek. Thankfully by the end of the story they’ve sorted him out.

The Daleks!! In London!! Surely this would be a sure-fire commercial success? And it was. The ratings for this story would range between 11.5 and 12.5 million viewers – up from around 8 million viewers in the previous story and almost doubling the viewership from early in the first series.

Around this time as well, Carole Ann Ford decided to leave the show, and so she would be written out at the end of part 6, thus breaking up the original cast of the show and starting the revolving door casting policy that exists to this day.

So without a doubt The Daleks Invasion of Earth is an important and memorable story in the history of Doctor Who.

But is it any good?

Doctor Who – The Daleks Invasion of Earth Review: What’s This One About?

It’s London in the year 2164 and yes, you guessed it, the Daleks have invaded Earth. Their aim is to mine their way down to the earth’s core, destroy it and replace it with an engine that will allow them to pilot it anywhere in the universe.

No…I don’t know how that could possibly work either.

But anyway, they have turned the entire region of Bedfordshire into a giant mine-works and are using the oppressed human race as slave labour. Some of the humans have been

Oh come on Dalek!! You MUST have seen him!

converted into the zombie-like Robomen, who are controlled by the Daleks through transmitters on their rather cumbersome head-sets.

Small sections of the human race are still fighting on though and you know what they say; when there’s life, there’s hope.

Having landed by the Thames, the travellers are conveniently locked out of the TARDIS again – this time because Susan has managed to collapse a bridge just in front of it, meaning they can’t get back in without cutting equipment. But they don’t get the chance to find the cutting equipment as they become separated from each other and are thrown straight into the fight against the Daleks. As the story progresses, we watch as the main cast each make their way down to Bedfordshire in the hope of finding each other and defeating the Daleks into the bargain.

Ultimately the Daleks are defeated and the travellers are reunited, but it seems as though Susan has fallen in love with David – a member of the resistance. Knowing that she would never willingly leave him, the Doctor decides to take the decision away from her and locks her out of the TARDIS before telling her she must get on with her life without him. He promises to come back and visit her, but as we all know, he never does.

Thoughts

If you buy the DVD of this and watch it in all of its remastered glory, the first thing that will strike you about the Daleks Invasion of Earth is that it seems like its been done with a far

‘Mon Then!!!

bigger budget.

For a start – other than about 15 seconds of footage in the Reign of Terror – this is the first time Doctor Who contains scenes filmed outside the studio. Not constrained with the small studio at Lime Grove, the production team make the most of the added freedom they now have, with plenty of striking images of the Daleks patrolling around well-known London landmarks. It must have been pretty frightening/exciting for children to see the Daleks in a familiar environment like that.

And not only do they get to film outside, but they seem to have the money to hire more people. Thanks to outside footage and the amount of extras involved, the scene in episode 6 where the humans and Robomen emerge from the mine-works having overthrown the Daleks is probably the most impressive shot of all of 1960s Dr Who.

Overall it makes the whole thing seem a lot grander and film-like.

But if the story itself is crap, then all the outside footage and extras in the world won’t save it.

As it happens, the story is alright. It’s far from the best Doctor Who story and is probably the weakest of all the 1960s Dalek serials. Part of what makes the story good is what makes it suffer.

I would say it’s a bit like they agreed upon the concept before working out a story. Yes, the Daleks are back and yes they are in London, but beyond that there isn’t all that much to it. In a few months time I’ll get to the Patrick Troughton story – The Invasion – where the Cybermen invade the Earth. That was a gimmick too, but the difference there is that the Cybermen were far from major players in the story. The real villain was Tobias Vaughan. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The point is that the Daleks don’t really do much in this at all, and yet beyond them there isn’t really anything to it. As it is, the Daleks have a very sketchy motivation for their actions. They are yet to have the focus of knowing who the Doctor

“The Slither, Ian. It’s Coming Straight For Us. Very…Very Slowly”

is, and they aren’t particularly evil either. Yes, I’m sure that it looked impressive having a Dalek coming out of the water at the end of episode one but there wasn’t really any need for it.

As an interesting side note: Both the actor in the Dalek casing and the Roboman who went into the Thames in Episode 1 had to be immediately rushed to hospital once they’ve filmed their scenes because the Thames was so filthy that there was a serious chance they could have become ill. Health & Safety wouldn’t stand for that now.

But as I say, the Daleks just didn’t do enough. Oh the actors inside them seemed to be having fun, happily trundling round in circles around the set of the studio for no apparent reason while the voice actors delivered their lines, but that didn’t make them interesting. And the voice actors themselves didn’t do a particularly good job. In some cases, the ring modulator didn’t seem to be used to make ‘The Dalek Voice’ and instead they resorted to putting on squeaky, high pitched voices to say stuff like ‘Kill him’.

And then beyond that Terry ‘Not At All Lazy’ Nation uses exactly the same demise for the Daleks – their power gets drained meaning the humans can defeat them with punches, kicks and pushes.

Oh, and their entire plan is ruined by Ian blocking the descent of their bomb with a plank of wood in the mine-shaft. Not exactly fool-proof.

Criticisms of the Daleks aside (hey, that could be the title of the next Dalek story), the rest of the story is a bit hit & miss.

For a start, you really have to criticise the writers, designers and production team in general for their depiction of London in 2164. Why? Because London of 2164 is exactly the same as London of 1964. People are wearing 1960s clothing and living in 1960s squalor, while technology doesn’t appear to have evolved and London looks no different. The only references to this being in the future come from the rather lazy lines “Have you been on a Moon Station or something” and (in reference to a woman’s trip to see London) “Oh and there was the moving pavements, the shops and the Astronaut Fair”. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh because I’m sure that sounded

I hate to use the same caption twice but… ‘Mon Then!!

futuristic at the time, but even so, that’s not nearly enough.

Yes, credit must be given for making London seem like a barren wasteland following a few years of Dalek occupation, but it still looks like what London would have looked like following a few years of Dalek occupation in 1964. Seeing as they probably had to set it in the future, they should have done a slightly better job with that. At least they could have tried to differ the clothing.

My other problem – and it’s a small issue really – is with the Robomen. Don’t get me wrong – I think the Robomen are a great idea and they are very well realised in the story. Indeed, the Robomen in the TV story are far more scarily effective than the ‘Silly Soldiers’ we see in the big screen movie adaptation of the story. But my problem with them relates to the Daleks’ selection process. We see in Episode 2 that they set a very intricate and clever trap to test the prisoners’ intelligence. Those that pass get turned into Robomen. Leaving aside the contradiction that they turned the ignorant and stupid Jack Craddock into one of them anyway, why would the Daleks look to turn the intelligent people into their zombie-like muscle? Surely they should turn the strong into Robomen regardless of intellect and kill the weaker intelligent subjects if they fear them to be potentially dangerous?

One element that does deserve praise is the human side to the story. Even though the Doctor & Co. only turn up at the tail end of the invasion, you get a good sense that the rest of the human resistance are tired, damaged and barely holding on to their emotions. Almost all of them have a back story, and the actors add little things to their performances to give their parts a sense of believability. Apart from one notable exception, there aren’t really any failures among the human cast of the show.

While I enjoyed the story-arc of Larry – the guy who travelled to Bedfordshire with Ian to try and find his brother – the pick of the bunch was definitely Bernard Kay as Carl Tyler. As Kay said himself in the documentary included in the DVD, he decided the best thing to do to bring out his character was to do nothing. Tyler is a man who has come to guard his emotions having seen so many of his friends die. How do you act that? Well Kay does it by understating it. When the focus of the camera is not on him, he stands there with his arms down by his side looking quite blankly around. He looks, acts and sounds like someone who has been fighting a war for years. Excellent work.

William Hartnell once again is seen to enjoy battering an extra a little bit too much. I was going to suggest the Roboman was something other than a White Christian Male, but I won’t.

Not so excellent is Peter Fraser as David Campbell. Let’s just say he’s not very good and move on.

In terms of the main cast, three of them do a good job and one doesn’t. I’m sure by this point you’ll be able to guess who the odd one out is.

Yes, it’s Carole Ann Ford as Susan. Thankfully, this is her last appearance for 19 years and the character of Susan won’t be missed. The sad thing about it is that Ford isn’t that bad an actress but Susan just isn’t a good character. And it’s not that there aren’t enough storylines to go around or that the ‘young’ member of the cast has to be portrayed in a specific way because her replacement – Maureen O’Brien as Vicki – is meant to be around the same age and she is miles better.

Suitably, Susan’s farewell storyline isn’t very well done, as she falls in love with the dreadful Peter Fraser. This leads to some pretty ropey scenes in which they ‘gradually fall in love’. I think the Doctor summed up the viewers’ feeling towards the storyline when he abruptly tells them not to “…stop to pick daisies along the way” when they are sent to disable the Daleks’ power supply.

Of course, even though we’re probably all glad to see her go, the way the Doctor leaves her in a war-ravaged time with a guy she’s really only just met, with no shoes or even a chance to say goodbye is a little bit harsh. And, from a Ret-Con point of view, he’s left her there to marry a bloke with a completely different life cycle to hers. The Tenth Doctor let Rose down by saying that she’d grow old and die while he stayed the same and he couldn’t do that to her or to himself. But to Susan and David? Yeah, that’s ok. Unless of course, Susan isn’t really his granddaughter and has the same life-span as a human. After all, she says she’s 15 in Marco Polo.

Alright, I know that the whole life-span thing wasn’t a consideration at the time so we…

Wait…15? What sort of man leaves his 15 year old granddaughter alone to live with a bloke she’s only just met. With no shoes. And does David know about her age?

No matter what way you look at it, that’s just wrong. In fairness though, he makes it seem like a nice thing to do with his legendary “One day, I shall come back”.

But he could have left her with some shoes…

Can you detect the imagery they are going for here kids?

Speaking of the Doctor, we discover that he doesn’t like to kill people, but he sure has hell loves to give them a beating. The way he pounded the crap out of that Roboman with his cane seemed to give him a lot of pleasure. This is backed up in a couple of stories time in the Romans, so look out for that. He also appears a lot braver than he did since the last time he encountered the Daleks; the way he stands up to the Dalek coming towards him as if to say “‘Mon then!!!” may just have been an excuse for the director to do a bit of ‘First Person Perspective’ camerawork, but I think it really adds to his character.

Barbara is…well…Barbara. Jacqueline Hill puts in another good performance.

Ian meanwhile does a very good job of managing to survive in war-ravaged England, stowing away in flying saucers, traversing treacherous mine-works and evading Daleks while wearing a suit. He really is an action hero to look up to.

Some other observations…

The Doctor was unnecessarily rude to Jack Craddock when the two of them and Ian were locked up together. And I really want to know what Craddock was going for with the abruptly cut-off line “And the Great Big Pumpkin…”

Episode 5 is called The Waking Ally, presumably because the Doctor was unconscious during episode 4. But he was unconscious because a real-life accident on set meant William Hartnell spent the week off work. So what was it called originally?

And finally, I couldn’t let this review pass without mentioning the Slither. So I mentioned it. Good old Slither.

Doctor Who – The Daleks Invasion of Earth Review: Should You Watch The Daleks Invasion of Earth

If you want to see 1960s Doctor Who looking as big-budget as possible then this is the story for you.

The Doctor feels pretty good about himself having lied to Susan that he will one day return to see her. What a bastard!

But while it looks great (issues with the Black Dalek’s paintwork and 2164 looking like 1964 aside) it isn’t the best of stories.

The Daleks just aren’t all that impressive. The voices are sometimes poorly done, their plan is stupid and they are destroyed far too easily.

It’s the worst Dalek story of the 1960s but is still better than most of the Dalek stories of the 70s or 80s.

Overall there are better stories out there than this, but it’s still entertaining and is worth watching for the historical significance and to see Susan leave.


Easter Special: The Passion of Christ (or Jesus Takes One Hell of a Beating and is Compared to John Cena)

April 24, 2011

Alright, I know I’m venturing into some murky and dangerous waters doing a review of a film like the Passion of Christ. Religion is obviously something that a lot of people feel strongly about for good and bad reasons, so no matter what I write, I risk offending people.

I’m not a religious person myself and never have been. Neither, on the other hand, am I anti-religion. Obviously an objective mind would be a little bit sceptical of the whole Jesus thing considering there are accurate historical records of lots of other things that went on at the time and in times before it, yet there’s nothing concrete about him. But hey, live-and-let-live I say. If people want to be religious and don’t use it as justification for doing bad things, who am I to argue with that.

So please, when reading this review, read it on the level that I’m reviewing a film just like I would review any other film; it’s just that the main character is Jesus. And I write it from the point of view of someone who isn’t religious, and therefore my views and opinions should be interpreted on that basis.

Or in other words, don’t crucify me if you don’t like it (sorry…I had to).

The Plot

The Passion of Christ takes place in the last 12 hours of Jesus’s life, beginning with – according to Wikipedia – The Agony in the Garden. If this was a William Hartnell Doctor Who story, Agony in the Garden would definitely be the title of

This is El Greco’s depiction of Jesus carrying the cross up to Calvary. It’s a very positive way to look at it.

episode 1.

I’m sure you all know the story, but to summarise…

Jesus gets betrayed by Judas and is arrested to face trial by the local Jewish Rabbis, who have taken offence to his claims to be the Son of Man.

He faces a mockery of a trial in a not-exactly-friendly environment (during which one of his followers – Peter I think – abandons him to save himself. Jesus doesn’t look too surprised) and is sent up to the Roman governor – Pontius Pilate – to be sentenced.

Pilate can’t quite believe the amount of hatred being given towards Jesus and – not wanting to go down in history as the man who condemned Jesus if really is what he claims to be – passes the buck onto Herod Antipas. As Antipas is the ruler of Jesus’s home town of Nazareth, Pilate reckons he’s the one who should sentence him.

Herod wants nothing to do with it and so the buck is passed back to Pilate. At this point, Pilate offers up every chance for this whole affair to be sorted amicably. He believes that if he offers them a choice between sparing the life of Jesus or that of the notorious criminal Barabbas the mob will let Jesus live. But, much to his shock, they choose to spare the latter. Knowing there is little he can do, he appeals to Jesus to say something – anything – to save himself, but Jesus isn’t interested either.

So grudgingly, Pilate surrenders Jesus to a good old fashioned whipping from his soldiers. And boy, does he take a beating. But Jesus won’t go down, and so the angry guards keep on whipping him until he is a bloody – and likely mortally wounded – mess. They even place a crown of thorns round his head to mock him. But despite all of this, Jesus is still able to get up.

When he’s presented to the baying mob in this condition, it shocks them a bit, but they are unrepentant; to them, Jesus must die. So they bully Pilate into ordering a crucifixion (bet you didn’t see that one coming).

And so – as is the custom – Jesus is made to carry the cross on his back all the way from the town up to the mountain where he will be crucified. Along the way he finally starts to sell his injuries a bit and struggles to keep himself upright – not least because the Roman guards keep knocking him down, beating him up and then shouting at him for being unable to carry on – so an innocent bystander is made to help him the rest of the way.

And once he’s up there, it’ll come as no surprise to you that he is crucified and ultimately died. His death is signified by a terrible thunderstorm.

Throughout the film a freaky looking creature – who I assume we are to believe to be the devil – watches on in delight.

Mel Gibson takes a rather different approach to the matter.

Also there are Lost-style flashbacks that deal with issues such as the Sermon on the Mount, the Last Supper and – and this is something I didn’t know – Jesus inventing modern tables.

Oh, and Judas gets bullied by children into hanging himself. Kids, eh!

To end the film, we see Jesus coming back to life. Yay, the opportunity for a sequel!

Thoughts

Any film that involves a man getting as heavy a beating as Jesus gets in this film would be powerful to watch. But – beating aside – I’m not entirely sure about  we are supposed to feel towards Jesus.

On the one hand, we obviously feel bad for him as you would anyone in the same situation, but on the other hand I saw his behaviour as a little bit aloof. I’m probably missing the point. At no point did he seem particularly fussed about what was happening to him, both from a positive or negative direction. Romans are beating him to a pulp and he just kept getting up. Then Pilate offered him a few chances to save himself and not only did he spurn those opportunities, he didn’t even do so in a particularly gracious way. Furthermore, the people who help him throughout are just met with a sort of indifference.

Now, as I say, I’m not a religious person. The extent of my religious knowledge really just comes from R.E. at school, but that just isn’t how I thought Jesus was supposed to have been. As you can see in the picture of the painting by El Greco, Jesus is usually portrayed as a sort of upstanding and – if not friendly – certainly not unfriendly guy. But I just didn’t get that from the film.

Instead, I thought to myself “Jesus, Jesus! You could have made that a little bit easier on yourself, and at least thanked the guy who helped you carry the cross.”

Is that what I’m supposed to think? Probably not.

But if Jesus’s portrayal is bad, it’s still a lot better than the majority of others in the film. The Jews are written as if it were a Nazi Propaganda film, Herod and his harem are shown to be weirdos, perverts and deviants, while his disciples are

Jesus braces himself for his fight with the Mitchell Brothers. A main event anywhere in the world!

cowards and the Romans are a combination of cowardly administrators and bloodthirsty thugs. I would say it was a very black and white view of the world but apart from it being too easy a gag at Mel Gibson’s expense, it would require there to be someone who come across ‘white’.

If I was reaching, I’d say the guy who comes across the best is Simon of Cyrene – he who helped Jesus carry the cross. But even then, he helped him under duress.

So I don’t think anyone really comes across all that well. And it begs the question of who the film is supposed to appeal to?

I don’t know that, but I do know who it will appeal to…

Fans of gory films and/or professional wrestling (sorry Vince; Sports Entertainment).

The film is two hours long and more than half of it is spent watching a variety of people physically abuse Jesus. When you come away from it, that is what you will remember. Obviously the whole film is fresh in my memory having only just seen it, but that was the second time viewing it for me. The first time was when it was on the cinema, and in the 7 years between viewings, the brutality was all I really remembered – specifically the scene where he is whipped by the Romans. And it’s not just me – the other people I was watching it with said the same thing “Oh, is this the one where Jesus severely whipped”.

Then of course there is the gratuitous close-ups of the nails being hammered into his hands and feet when he is getting mounted upon the cross, as well as the crow gouging out the eye of the other guy getting crucified. These things seem to exist just to make you wince. So it begs the question – is that the point of the film? To make you wince? Like a horror movie?

Someone recently described the Saw films as ‘torture porn’ and it could easily be argued that that is exactly what The Passion of Christ is.

This is actually a screencap from a live-action adult version of Shrek. I bet Donkey didn’t see that coming!

If – like me – you’re a wrestling fan, some of the stuff that goes on transcends the gore and the religious ‘message’ (if there is one) and just becomes quite humorous. The scene where Jesus – who is supposed to be the good guy – is roundly booed by those attending his trial, while Barabbas gets his own chant and a massive cheer from the crowd when he is freed is reminiscent of John Cena at New Years Revolution 2006 or in the ECW Arena at One Night Stand the same year. Watch it and compare it.

Similarly, when he gets whipped so badly by the Romans you expect the baying crowd to chant “Holy Shit”, “E-C-DUB” or “This is Awesome”. And when he gets back up again for the final time when they think they’ve whipped him into submission, you can imagine a Japanese audience going “Wooooooooooooooah”.

The only thing missing to complete the wrestling analogy is that Simon of Cyrene should have said “I’m Sorry. I Love You”, before nailing him with a superkick.

Unsurprisingly, a quick check on Google shows that there are plenty of Passion of Christ drinking games. Who’d have thought it!

So yeah, the amount of brutality coming Jesus’s way just becomes over the top and I think it devalues what the film is supposed to achieve – but it does it so much that I have absolutely no idea what that was.

To finish off with some praise for the film though, I liked the way it was done in what we can assume to be the correct language. And it worked well, because in the seven years between viewings, the people I watched it with had completely forgotten that it was done in a ‘foreign language’, meaning it didn’t detract from the viewing experience.

Should You Watch The Passion of Christ?

What better way to celebrate Easter Sunday with the family than watch a man getting brutalised for two hours.

If you are a religious person then you will probably have a completely different experience watching the film, although I really can’t see the Songs of Praise demographic enjoying this. Certainly the only person of faith I know – that being my own mother – would never watch it. Knowing what it is, she knows she wouldn’t gain any enjoyment from it and it would have no bearing on her beliefs.

So as I’ve asked a few times, what’s the point? Whose it for? Where’s the enjoyment away from irony and comical similarities to wrestling? I just don’t know. I can’t see it.

If you want to watch a good film with a religious element to it, I’d recommend The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston.

At least I knew what the point of the film was.

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Scream? I Didn’t

April 21, 2011

Last Friday saw the nationwide release of Scream 4.

The Scream franchise is something that reminds my social group (all in their late 20s and early 30s) of their Halcyon Days; Degeneration X, South Park, the Dundee University Students Union, Halloween Nights etc. I imagine it’s the same for most people of that age since it currently sits atop the UK Box Office Charts.

And sure enough, my friends – most of whom mump and moan at the mere suggestion of a trip to the rather overpriced cinema – were all like “A new Scream film? I’m there!!!” So we all agreed to go.

The ever bumbling Ghostface is knocked down...

But then it occurred to me – I’ve never seen Scream or any of the sequels.

“You’ve never seen Scream? You can’t mean that!”

But it’s true, I haven’t. It’s just one of these things that has passed me by. I haven’t seen the Karate Kid either come to think of it…

So anyway, I decided that before I see Scream 4 I should at least see the first one, and then maybe 2 and 3.

Plot

Since it was implied that I was the only person in the world  of my age-group not to have already seen it, I’ll assume you know the plot.

But if you don’t, here’s the imdb plot summary

A killer known as “Ghost Face” begins killing off teenagers, and as the body count begins rising, one girl and her friends find themselves contemplating the “Rules” of horror films as they find themselves living in a real-life one.

Thoughts

I’ve had trouble writing this section of the review. It has actually been sitting open on my PC for a couple of days while I’ve tried to work out what to say without rambling.

And again...

So to get to the heart of the matter, the problem with watching Scream in 2011 – especially for the first time – is that is has dated; badly.

Fair enough, 1996 was 15 years ago, but it seems like things made well within the ‘mid-late teen era’ of my demographic shouldn’t look quite so old. It does though. It looks ancient, people have terribly dated clothing and the incidental music is loud and intrusive (thus negating the entire point of ‘incidental’ music). The greatest sign of its age is that mobiles are referred to as “Cellular Telephones” and that the ability to check someone’s phone record is used as a clever way to catch the killer. It’s a bit like the episodes of Columbo made in the 80s and 90s that catch people out because of newfangled technology like ‘Telephone Answering Machines’ and ‘Home Printers’.

1996 is clearly a long time ago.

The one thing that hasn’t aged about Scream is Courtney Cox, mainly because she looked old back then too. Was this woman ever young?

But its not just the look of Scream that had dated – it’s the concept and the effects as well.

As a concept, it’s maybe not fair to be too critical. It would be like criticising Laurel & Hardy for using jokes you’ve seen and heard before. Scream was the film that revitalised the genre – we all know that – but if you’ve seen any horror film made between then and now, you’ll have seen this film before. Naturally, those that followed it expanded upon ‘The Scream Formula’ so it was bound to have dated in that respect.

And again... Seriously, why do these girls not try and attack him once he's down. Or at the very least, disarm him?

In terms of the plot – it seems to rely on the ‘swerve’ of who the Ghostface turns out to be. Now I’m not sure if the ‘swerve’ (i.e. suddenly challenging what the audience has come to believe is the point) was something that wasn’t used all that often back in 1996, but I doubt it was new. By the late 90s though, everything was a swerve. In films, M. Night Shyamalan was the chief culprit, while on TV, step forward Vince Russo. Need I say more than “It’s me Austin! It was me all along” (anyone who knows what I’m talking about will agree on that score). Even in recent films like Unknown, the ‘swerve’ is still a major part of it.

What that does is conditions the viewer to try and guess where and when the swerve is coming, and in Scream, it really isn’t all that difficult. Within 30 seconds of the main cast all appearing together, you know exactly who Ghostface is. By the time Ghostface appears again you’ve worked out that two people are combining to be Ghostface. So you just sit there waiting for the bit that is supposed to be shocking and offer yourself a rather hollow congratulation on ‘working it all out’.

And then there are the effects…

I’m sure at the time, the first scene was considered really scary and gruesome. But since then the quality of special effects have increased greatly and films like Saw and Final Destination have ramped up the gore to a whole new level. It’s got to the point where the viewer is now completely desensitised to stuff like this, and so everything that happens in Scream just seems really tame. While people may have been frightened watching this in 1996, I just sat there chuckling. Maybe that was the desired audience reaction, but I doubt it.

Oh, and one other thing that makes the film seem dated is Ghostface himself. Whether it’s because he’s been the subject of so many parodies or because people have been dressing up as him at Halloween for years now, I just couldn’t take him seriously as he pranced about in his cloak. He comes across about as threatening as Donald Duck.

And on the subject of Ghostface – he’s the most bumbling serial killer ever. While watching the film, take note not only how how many times Whatever Happened To Neve Campbell evades him, but also look at the amount of times he ends up in vulnerable positions having slipped or been knocked down. The people he does kill ultimately deserve all they get for not fighting back. The scene where Whatever Happened To Neve Campbell’s friend gets killed in the garage is the worst example of it. She manages to knock him down three times and each time just prances over to another part of the room allowing him to get back up again. For God’s sake love, kick him in the head while he’s down. That would have

"It's Me Austin. It Was Me All Along". Those were the words that made anyone who saw the WWF Higher Power angle look out for 'The Swerve''. Everywhere. As such, Scream's attempt at a swerve is childsplay.

sorted him out. But no, she tries to escape head first through a cat flat she couldn’t fit through. Dear oh dear.

My final problem is the motivation for Ghostface’s murders. We can understand why he was trying to kill Campbell and through association we can understand why he killed her best mate. He also had to kill the cameraman to protect himself and the motivation for killing the School Principal is obvious.

But why did he kill Drew Barrymore and her boyfriend, and in such a torturous way? Unless I missed something, that made no sense. There didn’t seem to be any motivation for it, other than to start the film with a ‘gruesome’ set piece. But doing things that have no relation to the plot just to give the viewer something to get their teeth into is not something I like. So marks off for that.

One final observation…

When the likes of Party Teen #1 and Reporter With Mask are named in the credits, why is one of the most recognisable actors – who incidentally has a lot of lines – left out? Henry Winkler as the School Principle is uncredited for Scream. That just seems….weird.

Final Summary

Usually I would end with a ‘Should You Watch…’ section, but my understanding is that now that I’ve watched Scream, the entire human race has seen it. So instead, I’ll summarise.

Scream has dated, but in all fairness that isn’t Scream’s fault. A victim of its own success, Scream has been surpassed by the many films that it influenced. Had I seen it before I watched the likes of Saw, I might have found it more gory than it is. Had I not seen almost any other TV or film made in the last 15 years I might have been caught out by the swerve. And had Ghostface not been parodied so many times, I might have found him something other than an amusing cartoon character.

But I have and it was, and therefore Scream just didn’t have the desired effect on me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad…it’s just dated and irrelevant.

Had the teens been played by cast of Dawsons Creek or One Tree Hill I imagine I would have appreciated it far more.

Having said all that, I look forward to seeing Scream 4 to see how they do a film like this today. In the meantime, I think I might just about what happens in Scream 2 and 3 so that I’m caught up.


Doctor Who – The Planet of the Giants Review (or The Doctor Faces Up To His Greatest Enemy Yet – A Small Business Owner With Nothing Left To Lose)

April 17, 2011

It’s unusual for a Doctor Who story to be 3 parts long. I initially wrote this review on the basis that there were never any ‘proper’ three-parters, because the Two Doctors is really a 6 parter in length and the Utopia/Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords triumvirate is arguably a single part story linked to a two-parter. And I was being a smart-arse by thinking you’ll think “But wait, what about Planet of the Giants”. And then, as I’d explain how it was originally a 4 part story that was cut down to three parts because Episodes 3 and 4 were considered too dull and plodding and thus were merged into one.

It all looked so good.

Then I was reminded that the Sylvester McCoy era had six different three-part stories. I’d forgotten. What a tit. Subconsciously I think I was just trying to forget that era ever happened.

As you can see, it’s all kicking off down at the Switchboard office. I can’t imagine why Hilda & Bert’s scenes were cut down so much, can you?

I’ll try and save face with the Doctor Who Fun Fact that since episodes 3 and 4 were filmed and were never broadcast, it means that there is technically a ‘properly’ missing episode of Doctor Who, as the audio no longer exists either.

No…that didn’t save my blushes.

But anyway, let’s get to the review of Planet of the Giants

What’s This One About?

Due to the doors of the TARDIS opening before they land, the Doctor and chums are reduced roughly to the size of an inch. They don’t realise this until they are – surprise surprise – separated from the TARDIS. In this case, Ian has become separated from the group when he goes inside a matchbox which is subsequently picked up by a full sized man.

The Doctor, Susan and Barbara manage to catch up with him, but once again they are separated when Ian & Barbara take refuge in another man’s briefcase, which – in turn – is also picked up and taken inside a laboratory.

The Doctor & Susan climb up the inside of a rusty water-pipe to get into the lab.

While this has been going on, a small business owner (Forrester) who has invested all his money in an insecticide (DN6) is given the bad news that it is too potent by  a man who comes from what we can assume to be the Insecticide Board of

I was going to make a gag about Forrester’s anger being linked to the small size of his ‘gun’, but I’m more interested with his amazing posture in what must have been quite a stressful situation.

Standards. As it turns out, Forrester is either ruthless, insane or both and came to the meeting packing heat. He shoots and kills the bloke from the board (Farrow). Then the scientist who made DN6 (Smithers) turns up and is alarmingly not too concerned about the murder.

They attempt to cover up their crime by phoning Farrow’s work pretending to be him, but because Forrester sounds nothing like Farrow he raises the suspicions of the telephone switchboard operator (Hilda) and her policeman husband (Bert). So he comes to arrest them.

Switching back to the travellers, Barbara has accidentally poisoned herself by touching a seed that had been covered in DN6 and looks set to snuff it. They must return to the TARDIS and return to normal size pronto before she dies. Before they go though, they decide to indulge in some light vandalism by setting fire to an aerosol can.

Thoughts

First I’ll address the merging of Episodes 3 & 4. As it turns out, both episodes were very heavy on Bert and Hilda and their suspicion that something wasn’t quite right over at Forrester’s house. We can only give thanks to BBC Head of Drama Sidney Newton for making the decision to merge them, because I can only imagine how dull it would have been. As it was, with around 22 minutes of material cut, Bert and Hilda still had too much screen time.

Hilda: “Oooooh, that didn’t sound like Mr. Farrow to me”
Bert: “I’d best take a look”.

That’s all there needed to be. But no, they still had numerous scenes that amounted to no plot development.

An impressive shot, you must agree!

One would also assume that there were other scenes cut involving the gradual decline of Forrester and Smithers’ relationship, and also a few more scenes with the travellers doing exciting things like reading a giant notebook to discover the formula for DN6.

So no, we don’t miss much with losing an episode of Planet of the Giants.

Onto what was left of the story and the first thing that comes to mind is that they decided to use the gimmick of the travellers being miniaturised before they thought of a plot to go with it. I say that because the plot was crap. The idea of a suburban murder because a man looked set to lose his life-savings just has no place in Doctor Who. Doctors maybe, but not Doctor Who.

What saves the story is just how stupid some of the things that happen are. Let’s list them…

  • The Match Box: Why would Farrow leave the match box on the ground not once, but twice. Other than to conveniently allow Ian to get in and get out again it just makes no sense. Surely he’d put it in his pocket?
  • The Telephone Call: When Forrester makes a phone call pretending to be Farrow, why does he not try and make his voice sound different? He just puts a thin handkerchief over the mouthpiece on the receiver and speaks in exactly the same voice. No wonder it raised suspicion. And then when Hilda phones him back pretending there’s a phonecall for Farrow, he does it again. Idiot! He deserved to get caught.
  • The Corks: This is stupid on many levels. The first is that if the travellers are supposed to be an inch tall (and remember, the designers generally do a good job of keeping things to scale) what size are these corks supposed to be,

    As, to be fair, is this. I should point out that this fly was moving while on camera. If it was just a static model of a fly it wouldn’t have impressed.

    considering that they are able to be picked up, walked around with and then placed underneath the phone receiver to put it off the hook? We must assume they are about a quarter of an inch big at best. So how are they big enough to put the phone off the hook? And finally, why is such an insignificant thing enough to be the final nail in the coffin of the Forrester/Smithers relationship. “Did you put these corks under the phone, you bastard!!” He didn’t actually say that – instead he flirts with murdering him.

  • The Phonecall: Under what circumstances could the travellers – a party containing two scientists no less – think that they would be able to have a telephone conversation with Hilda at the switchboard when they are only an inch tall. And why do they even want to speak to the police? Maybe this is something lost among the cuts of episodes 3 and 4.
  • Farrow’s Holiday and the Planned Dumping of His Body: Farrow must know that he’s dealing with a man teetering on the edge in Forrester. Why on earth would he be so stupid as to say “Right son, DN6 is a no-go. I’m going to let the board know about this, but not before I sail across the English Channel on my own tonight”. That’s just playing into Forrester’s hands for goodness sake. So once Farrow has been killed, Forrester then thinks that all he has to do is to overturn the boat – presumably half way across the Channel – and when Farrow is found he’ll get off scot-free. a) How’s he going to manage that and b) Maybe I’m giving 1964 too much credit but what about the bullet wound?
  • Barbara – The Silly Little Woman Who Would Rather Die Than Have Ian Say “I Told You So”: So Barbara has picked up the seed covered in DN6 mere moments before Ian says “Oh by the way, don’t pick up that seed”. At this point she has two choices to pick from. On the one hand she can say “I just touched it. We should get back to the ship as quickly as possible”. Alternatively she can just not mention it, getting progressively more ill and instead urge Ian and the Doctor that they must pit their witsagainst Forrester, find out exactly what’s in DN6 and look to find a cure there and then. She chose the latter. Each time she mentions this ludicrous plan, Ian rather sharply and understandably shoots her down and makes her feel small (b’doom tch) by saying words to the effect of “Why would we waste our time on that you daft bint”. Only when she actually collapses does she admit what she’s done. But then, presumably to spite Ian further, she decides that she’d rather stay there and die trying to stop the production of DN6 than get back to the ship. Only, it isn’t made all that clear because I think they may have cut an important scene out where she makes that decision.
  • “And whatever you do, don’t look in the cat’s eyes”, says the Doctor while standing there looking directly into the cats eyes. Hypocrite. Ian & Susan are no better either.

    It’s Clearly the 1960s – Why don’t Ian or Barbara even suggest that the Doctor tries to find a way to make them full sized again while also keeping them in the same place, because they are clearly in ‘present day’ Earth.

  • The ‘Take The Gun Out Of The Pocket And Put It Back In Again’ Shot: By no means is this unique to Doctor Who, but why is it that when someone thinks they may have to kill someone, their thought process involves taking the gun out of their pocket, showing it to camera, putting it back into their pocket again and then following after the person they intend to shoot. Lazy writing.
  • And Whatever You Do, Don’t Look Into the Cats Eyes: Is what the Doctor says while standing staring directly into its eyes.

As you can see, a lot doesn’t make sense, but it’s so stupid that it’s amusing.

Moving on from the bad, a lot of credit must be given to the design team on this story because the sets are fantastic. Apart from the corks, the scale of everything is about right. It looks amazing – especially once they get inside. I’d personally give extra credit for the scene in the sink. Knowing how small the studios and bulky the cameras were, to achieve the shot of the Doctor and Susan being viewed from above in the sink is very well done. Bravo to the director.

Also, I like the cliffhangers. Part 1 ends with the travellers being stared down by a cat and part two ends with the immortal line “Barbara! He’s standing at the sink. I can see him standing at the sink. He’s turned the tap on!!”followed by a

Smithers – here played by Alex Salmond’s thinner and older brother – can’t quite believe Forrester is going through with ‘The Worst Plan of All Time’. Oh, and doesn’t he look like Richard Nixon!

shot of a man washing his hands and then taking the plug out of the plughole. Ah, the dangers of being small.

And what would have been the cliffhanger for part 3 had it been a four-parter? I imagine it was exactly half way through the episode where Barbara collapses and Susan says “Grandfather, we can do something can’t we”

Should You Watch Planet of the Giants?

All in all, it’s a bit of a nothing story. The gimmick is fine but the plot is drab. Thankfully, it’s saved by some wonderful set design and a lot of inadvertently stupid things happening in the plot..

So don’t go into this expecting a great story, but if you approach it with the right mindset and take it as lightly as it deserves to be taken, then you’ll take something from it.


Doctor Who – The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance Review (or ‘How to Accidentally Write a Modern Doctor Who Story 45 Years Early’)

April 16, 2011

Double the bang for your buck today as I update with another Doctor Who story.

Included in the Farewell Great Macedon boxed set was another story by the same writer – Moris Farhi.

It is a story that is unusual in many ways for early Doctor Who and is seems very much ahead of his time.

And it has a great name as well – The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance.

I’d often seen the name of this story included in lists of unmade Dr Who adventures. And I always assumed it sounded like some kind of historical story, maybe set in Egypt or Japan.

But its not. In fact it’s anything but…

Doctor Who – The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance Review: What’s This One About?

This is a one part story set on the alien planet of Fragrance. Unusually it takes place just as the travellers are about to leave.

The Doctor shows an alien couple round the TARDIS while their son commits suicide because Barbara won’t stay with him.

Yup, that’s it.

Thoughts?

For those of you familiar with Doctor Who up to the point we’ve got to with the reviews, you’ll notice the formula. TARDIS lands somewhere. Travellers get separated from the TARDIS. They encounter some kind of danger. They eventually get back to the TARDIS.

That’s it. That’s the formula. The Doctor isn’t some guy who wants to right the wrongs of the universe. He’s not some kind of intergalactic fixer. Yes, he eventually becomes that – I suppose he has to. But at this stage he’s just a traveller who

gets caught up in the affairs of the planets he lands on.

This is different. This is unique.

We join the ‘action’ as the TARDIS is preparing to leave. There doesn’t seem to be any danger, but instead it seems like they’ve landed in a nice place among nice people who they’ve enjoyed spending their time with. What a lovely premise.

As they prepare to leave, the Doctor shows a couple who he is obviously friends with, around the TARDIS. This in itself is very strange for the time, and – credit where its due – they make a point of noting how strange this is. Ian especially can’t quite believe it.

Barbara on the other hand is busy breaking some poor sod’s heart. You see, for some reason the people of Fragrance are dependant upon being in a couple. As the daughter of the family explains to Susan, everyone on Fragrance has two parts to their life. The first part is growing up and the second part (known as the Fragile Yellow Arc) is finding a partner. And they can only fall in love once. So unrequited love just isn’t something that happens (thinking about it, that doesn’t make too much sense, but we’ll go with it). Rhythm – the man who has fallen for Barbara – needs her to stay to continue on with his life. If she leaves then he must go on to the afterlife.

Of course, she doesn’t leave. So he has to snuff it. Callous bitch.

Knowing how the TARDIS works, Rhythm’s family tries to stop them leaving. Barbara does try to do the right thing and stay to save his life, but the Doctor makes the decision for her and dematerialises. While Barbara makes some quiet protests, you get the feeling there is a bit of relief that the decision has been made for her.

As you can see, it’s unlike any Doctor Who story throughout the entire original run of the series. As it happens, the story was rejected because of this. But put it in the context of today’s Doctor Who where the single episode format is king. It could work. And it would work. Replace Barbara with Amy, Rose, Donna or Martha and you have yourself a modern Doctor Who story.

Much like Farewell Great Macedon, the parts are played by Russell, Ford and Dorney. This time though, another actress – Helen Goldwyn – joins in. In terms of the voice acting, the only thing that is a bit weird is that it sounds like Barbara is having a conversation with Alexander the Great. It sounds a bit weird.

Should You Listen to The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance

I enjoyed it. It wasn’t particularly gripping or exciting, but I enjoyed it because it was different. Farhi has written a 2011 Dr Who Script in 1963. He’s changed the format of Doctor Who a good 45 years early. It’s weird. But that’s what makes it good.

Give it a try!

Doctor Who – The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance Review: Should This Story Have Been Made?

As I say, it was rejected because it wasn’t sticking to the Doctor Who format. It’s not massively exciting and it’s only one episode long. Should they have made it? Yes. As I’ve said before, they could easily have chopped away a couple of episodes from the Reign of Terror, and they could have punted Edge of Destruction altogether.

But then on the other hand, Dr Who was really considered to be a family show. I’m not sure kids would really appreciated the story. It doesn’t have danger and its not educational. The idea of suicide over unrequited love isn’t something you’d want your kids to see, even less so in the 60s than today. It seemed to be made for adults.

And as such, maybe it was too different for them to commission it.

So while I understand why it wasn’t made, I still think it should have been.


Doctor Who – Farewell Great Macedon Review (or If They’d Made This, Things Would Never Be The Same Today)

April 16, 2011

Before I start the reviews of the second series of Doctor Who, I’ll take you on a brief detour.

Obviously for a series like Doctor Who, which has gone on for so long, there are plenty of stories that were planned but never made. Some of these – like Bryan Hayles’ idea for Doctor Who and The Nazis – never got past the ‘rough idea’ stage, but others went a lot further. In some cases, the scripts were fully written up before they were ultimately abandoned.

One such example is Farewell Great Macedon – a 6 part story about the demise of Alexander the Great by Moris Farhi – which was originally commissioned to take place during season 1.

Thankfully, the scripts for this still exist and so Big Finish have converted it into an audio drama starring the two surviving members of the original cast – William Russell & Carole Ann Ford.

How do they get passed the fact that William Hartnell & Jacqueline Hill are no longer with us? Easily. Russell and Ford play their own parts and then narrate the majority of the others. The only other member of cast is John Dorney, who plays the part of Alexander.

So, here’s the review…

Doctor Who – Farewell Great Macedon Review: What’s This One About?

As you might have guessed, this is a historical adventure in which the Doctor and his companions meet Alexander the Great.

As Alexander and his army reach the gates of Babylon, some members of his party plan to usurp him for their own personal gain. Before they can get rid of Alexander though, they must dispatch the three generals of his army who have

Since this is an audio drama there are no funny screencaps I can provide

already been chosen as his successors.

Naturally, the travellers end up taking the fall for at one point and are made to take various challenges to prove themselves. The Doctor must walk across burning coals, while Ian must wrestle for his life in sporting combat.

All the while, Barbara knows exactly what is going to happen because the events that transpire actually did take place.

Thoughts

There; I don’t think I spoiled much.

As I’ve written above, this story was supposed to take place during the first series back in 1963/4. It was actually written by Farhi while Marco Polo was being shown on TV, and you can see the similarities between them immediately.

  • The TARDIS lands somewhere mysterious that turns out to be somewhere on Earth? Check. While in Marco Polo they land atop the Himalayas, in this story they land in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
  • The TARDIS has some kind of malfunction that means they are stranded there until the Doctor can fix it? Check. In this case, the TARDIS has run out of fuel and so the Doctor must fix it by using some kind of basic sciencey type stuff to extract fuel from the soil. To be honest, I can’t remember what exactly he did and can’t really be arsed checking.
  • The Travellers meet a well known and powerful historical figure in charge of his own group of travellers? Check.
  • At some point they get on the bad side of this historical figure but eventually win him over again? Check.

All fairly standard stuff for the era.

Where it differs to other historical stories (most notably the Aztecs) is in regards to the changing of history and how the main characters approach it.

As we saw in the Aztecs, Barbara decides to try and change the way the Aztec civilisation operate in an attempt to save them. The Doctor and Ian meanwhile try their best to assure her that she can’t do such a thing.

In this story however, the roles have been reversed. Barbara knows exactly what is going to happen. She knows that Alexander’s generals will all meet their doom and finally, once they get back to Babylon, Alexander himself will die. The Doctor and Ian believe they can change history and try to save each of the generals before their death.

When the second of the generals – Calamus – is poisoned by a the conspirators, the Doctor attempts a blood transfusion to save him. When Alexander is on his death bed, the Doctor instructs Ian to build an Iron Lung for him. In both cases history sorts itself out and both do die as it was written, but the fact remains that the Doctor tried to save them.

So certainly it would be interesting to have seen the road down which Doctor Who had travelled if this story had been broadcast instead of the Aztecs.

In terms of the acting, there are only three people to comment on. William Russell is still sounding good for a man his age, and does a nice job of performing different parts with different styles of voice. Of course, he sounds older than when he was in Doctor Who – it was 47 years ago and he’s now 86 – but he is still very much up to the task. Actually, it’s amazing to think that Russell now is a whole 30 years older than William Hartnell when he had the part of Doctor Who. Poor old Hartnell really didn’t look all that good for a guy in his 50s.

Actually, this is one thing I can comment on due to the lack of screencaps. This is a picture of William Hartnell without any old-man wigs and outfits, taken before he played the part of Doctor Who. Therefore you can assume this picture was taken in his early 50s. Frightening isn’t it?

Carole Ann Ford unsurprisingly spends the least amount of time playing her own character – Susan – and instead focuses more on playing Barbara. That’ll be because Susan would have had practically nothing to do once again. I can’t say that surprises me. But, much like Russell, she does a good job here acting out the different parts.

The star performer though is John Dorney as Alexander. Unlike Ford and Russell, Dorney plays just one part, and he plays it with real conviction and emotion. I imagine if he’s a fan of Doctor Who that he modelled his performance on Mark Eden’s portrayal of Marco Polo. There are certainly similarities.

Without Dorney, I think this story would suffer a lot. At three and a half hours long it certainly isn’t something you would want to listen to in one sitting, and if that length of time was spent listening only to Russell and Ford going back and forth, I think it would struggle. So Dorney must be given a lot of credit.

Credit too must be given to the sound department at Big Finish. You really get the feeling you are listening to a story made in the first series of Doctor Who. Sound defines TV shows in my opinion. It doesn’t determine whether something is good or bad of course (though terrible incidental music can ruin a TV show, like it did for the 7th Doctor story Paradise Towers) but it does define it. Maybe its just me, but when I think of the early JNT era of Doctor Who – especially his first and Tom Baker’s last season – the first thing that comes to mind is the music.

The point of this is that if Big Finish played some incongruous sound effects and incidental music over this it wouldn’t feel right. Instead they compose music and sound effects based upon that heard in Series 1. It works wonderfully and really adds to the experience.

Should You Listen To Farewell Great Macedon?

If you are a fan of this era of Doctor Who, then this is like a new and undiscovered story for you to listen to. It sounds authentic and it is well performed.

Yes, it runs for quite a long time, but if you listen to one episode a day then that would not represent a problem.

Doctor Who – Farewell Great Macedon Review: Should This Story Have Been Made?

This is a completely different type of question to answer then whether or not you should listen to it. Clearly if this was to have been made, it would have replaced one of two stories – The Aztecs or the Reign of Terror.

If it had replaced the Aztecs, it would have changed Doctor Who forever. The story about ‘You can’t change history; not one line’, which is still being felt to this day in Doctor Who, would never have happened. The Doctor himself tried to change history and unlike Barbara in the Aztecs, you didn’t leave with the impression that he’d learnt his lesson.

And if it had replaced the Reign of Terror, it just wouldn’t have worked particularly well. The changing history part wouldn’t have been included and so you’d just be left with the travellers observing history without being in any danger themselves for 6 weeks. That wouldn’t have been particularly exciting. And it would have just seemed like Marco Polo Lite.

So while the story itself is good, it wasn’t a very good fit for the series as it turned out. As such, the commissioners probably made the correct decision by not making it.

But hey, as I say, give it a listen.


Unknown (or Holy Shit, Qui-Gon Jinn and Adolf Hitler team Up to fight Skeletor)

April 7, 2011

So despite my intentions to see this film the week it came out, I only just got round to seeing Unknown, starring that wise old Hoss, Qui-Gon Jinn and Diane Kruger – a German woman who spent years trying to sound American so she’d be taken seriously in Hollywood, and thus struggled to be taken seriously when she applied for the part of a German-based woman. Acting; it’s a funny old game.

Plot (As Spoiler Free as Possible)

I would say that you wouldn't mess with Qui-Gon Jinn, but he's not looking all that tough in this publicity photo.

Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a biologist who is visiting Berlin with his wife Liz (played by January Jones) to deliver a speech at a biotechnology summit.

As he leaves the airport, he accidentally leaves his briefcase behind on one of the luggage trolleys, so when he gets to the hotel and realises it, he hails a taxi to take him back there.

Big mistake.

On the way, the taxi – driven by Kruger’s character Gina – is involved in an accident and ends up in the river. Harris is knocked out and wakes up four days later in a hospital bed, barely able to remember who he is.

Eventually he does and he realises that his wife must be worried sick, so he leaves the hospital to go back to the hotel. But he doesn’t have any ID because that was in the briefcase he left at the airport.

Once he’s at the hotel, he takes a while to convince the hotel staff that he is Dr. Martin Harris and that the way to clear it all up is to take him to his wife. And they do.

But…

His wife apparently doesn’t recognise him, and there’s another man there who says he too is Dr. Martin Harris and unlike Neeson, he has the ID to prove it. More than that, all evidence online to back up who he is (such as his university’s website) has been changed to show the other guy as Martin Harris.

This obviously angers and confuses Neeson who realises that he needs to prove who he is. He tries to get the organiser of the summit – Professor Leo Bressler – to back him up because he’s spoken to him on the phone many times, but the other Martin Harris seems to know everything they spoke about as well.

Harris tries to get his line manager on the phone to back him up but he’s conveniently not around to take the call.

There’s just no way for him to prove who he is (apart from the very very easy way which I will get to shortly).

So Neeson he tracks down Gina taxi driver and also hires a former member of the Stasi (East German Secret Police) to help prove his point.

Oh, and all the while, two men keep trying to kill him.

Similarly, this was a picture taken for Hitler's aborted face turn. It just doesn't look right. The kids aren't buying it. They want John Cena.

Plot wise, that’s as far as I can go. Does Harris find out what is going on? Why is his wife pretending not to know him? Who is this other Martin Harris? How did it all happen?

Well, it’s all explained, and in a clever way in my opinion. While I didn’t spend my time frantically coming up with possible solutions before the reveal just so I could say ‘I knew that was going to happen’, like my friend Amit always does, I  have to admit that I didn’t see it coming.

What is it? Watch it yourself and see.

Oh, and Frank Langella – who played Skeletor in the live action Masters of the Universe film in the 80s – is in it as one of the bad guys. Nice.

Thoughts

Ok, so what was the very easy way for Neeson to prove who he was? Well put it this way; Neeson may try and say he has an American accent, but he doesn’t. He’s got a strong Irish accent. So when both Martin Harris’s were trying to convince Bressler that they were the one who had spoken to him on the phone, Bressler would surely say “Oh yeah, I spoke to the Irish guy, not the American”.

But of course, that would be too easy.

Unknown is a lot like an Alfred Hitchcock film. Indeed, you could imagine the part of Martin Harris being played by James Stewart or – to a lesser extent – Cary Grant. It’s mistaken identity in reverse. In North by Northwest – my favourite film no-less – Grant is mistaken for the spy known as George Kaplan. He wasn’t Kaplan of course so he spent the film escaping from danger while trying to prove he was plain old Roger Thornhill. In this film, Neeson escapes danger while trying to prove that he is Dr. Martin Harris. It’s an interesting twist on a tried and tested formula.

One big difference between the films of Hitchcock and a film like this is the use of violence. It was rare to see explosions, murder, car chases and fight scenes in those older films, and to be honest I think they were better for it, mainly because when violence was used (such as in the film Torn Curtain) it made more of an impression. The drama was in the suspense.

Now THAT is how you take a publicity photo. Skeletor - here holding the Diamond Ray of Disappearance - looks like he could take both Qui-Gon Jinn and Hitler. This film could have settled that age old question forever, but sadly didn't.

But I can’t say there was too much suspense in this, and instead the scenes where Harris tried to prove his identity were held together by car chases, home invasions and the like. That’s not necessarily too bad a thing, because it was enjoyable, but when you do sit down and compare it with the likes of North by Northwest and The Man Who Knew Too Much it does come up lacking.

But let’s not be too harsh on the film. It was good. No, it won’t go down as a classic, but it did have the stereotypical ‘stellar cast’ and an interesting and unexpected development towards the end. But I can’t say more than that because it would spoil it. If you have seen it, you might agree with me that the conclusion of the film was a little bit troubling from a moral point of view…

As for the stellar cast, Neeson performed his part with aplomb. I found him to be convincing in the role and when he had to use violence, it was believable because – let’s face it – a guy that big has to be pretty handy when it comes to fighting. Of course – as I said earlier – he doesn’t have anything even remotely resembling an American accent, and per the script I think we’re supposed to believe that he does. That’s a combination of baffling and laughable.

Beyond Neeson, Kruger is fine in her supporting role, and credit has to be given to Bruno Ganz (he of Downfall fame) who plays the former member of the Stasi. If Ganz is a perfectly able bodied man in real life then he’s done a great job of acting someone who is near death. Usually you can tell when an actor is near death in reality when you see them. Case in point; track down the episode of Alf that has the grandmother off the Goonies in it, or take a look at Gorilla Monsoon at Wrestlemania XV. Both will send a chill up your spine.

But when actors try to act ill when they are fine, it just doesn’t have the same effect. To me, Ganz looked like he was ready to go to Java, so to speak, but he’s still kicking about, so credit where it’s due.

And his two-hander scene with Langella is probably the best scene of the whole film.

Should You Watch Unknown?

Yeah. It’s easy to compare it to Hitchcock films which are and always will be classics, and when you do, Unknown will come up short. But on its own merit it is an interesting film with a nice ‘reveal’ at the end and an tried and tested concept behind it. Nobody in the cast does a bad job and when the only thing you can criticise it for are having too many chase/violence scenes as well as Liam Neeson’s accent, then that’s not too bad.

It’s not a classic, but it was good fun to watch and it kept me entertained throughout.

Of course, if Neeson, Ganz and Langella had played Qui-Gon Jinn, Adolf Hitler and Skeletor instead of the parts they did play, then this would have gone down as a classic.

We can all agree on that.