Perry Mason: The Case of the Glass Coffin Review (or ‘Any Perry Mason Because They Are All So Formulaic’)

May 27, 2011

It must have been about 10 years ago – maybe more – that BBC One showed all the 80s/90s Perry Mason at lunchtime after Neighbours. For a university student, this an afternoon’s entertainment sorted.

Since then though, they haven’t seen the light of day on terrestrial TV. Instead, whether it be the highs of Diagnosis Murder to the very low lows of Pettrocelli, almost everything else has been shown instead. And ITV tends to just show Columbo (and good for them, because Columbo is the best of the genre by a country mile).

But no Perry Mason.

You can’t even buy it on DVD – and believe me, I tried to get it as a Christmas present for my mum.

This is Perry Mason when he's happy. What an affable looking chap...

So it was with a modicum of excitement that I stumbled upon a full length Perry Mason TV Movie – The Case of the Glass Coffin – on Movies For Men of all channels.

“Brilliant”, I thought “All the Perry Masons are good as far as I remember”.

The Plot

I started to write out the plot of this in fine detail, but then I thought ‘Why bother?’. After all, Perry Mason scripts are mostly very similar.

This is how it goes…

  • There’s about 15 minutes of set up work where someone manages to piss off a fair amount of people to the extent where they end up murdered (This one is about a magician’s assistant who is a total bitch and gets offed during the act)
  • One suspect stands out more than others and is charged with the murder by the upstanding but weary homicide detective, Lt. Brock
  • The person charged just so happens to be a friend of either Perry Mason, his secretary Della Street or his underling/hired muscle/ladies man Ken Malansky, and so Mason decides to take up the case (As it happens, Mason was at the show as a guest of his friend – the magician – who ends up getting charged)

Of course, this is where the prosecution and police should just say ‘Oh for fuck’s sake. He’s obviously innocent so we’ll let him off’. But they don’t. So the next hour of so involves…

  • Mason visiting various other suspects wearing a big black coat and intimidating them with a look. Oh, he knows they might have done it, and they know he knows that they know he knows. And he knows it too.
  • Malansky gets a ‘Sassy Girl/Reporter/Private Investigator’ to go around with and inevitably sleep with off camera towards the end of the episode. He’s also involved in various unnecessary punch-ups as people stand in his way of getting to the truth (in this episode he haa to go out of the city to a small hick town in the backwoods of Colorado, where the same hired goons try to kill him 5 times, and chase him around in a pick-up truck, complete with chase music played on a banjo)
  • Della Street flirts with Mason a bit and shows herself to be the most efficient Secretary in the world (in this episode she had to phone round 258 opticians to try and find if any members of the show got contact lenses that day, and she manages it in a few hours)
  • With numerous potential suspects in the mix, and the trial not going too well, the team finds some unknown piece of evidence that will win them the case.
  • Mason wins the case, not with concrete proof, but rather by cornering some weak-willed sod on that stand and just shouting “You DID do it, didn’t you. Don’t look at anyone else, look at me! It was you!” in a progressively more angry tone until the real killer buckles under the pressure and goes “Yes…yes it was me, and this is how and why I did it”. Usually there’s no real evidence to this, but Mason just scares them into admitting it.
  • Wearily, the prosecution lawyer (and it’s usually the same guy every episode) accepts he’s lost the case and harmed his career even further.
  • There’s a Back At The Ranch-house scene to finish

In this episode, it turned out that the girl who was killed had fled her home town and changed her identity having committed a hit and run murder a few years back. And would you believe

But this is the Perry Mason you don't want to see coming after you. He's not all smiles and sunshine. 'Mon then!

it, the girl whose mother she had killed that night was one of the other assistants to the magician. Of all the coincidences…

Also, this episode finishes with perhaps the most distasteful thing I’ve ever seen. The Magician and his wife can’t have children, so at the end, Mason decides to gift them two of the saddest looking, wheelchair-bound disabled children you’re ever likely to see. As he put it himself, he had the magician’s wife ‘pick them out’ to take home, like they came from a disabled children shop. I was actually taken aback by how deplorable the whole thing was.

Thoughts – The Good (Not Much)

Perry Mason has a cool theme tune.

Raymond Burr is always worthy of a cheer.

But that’s it.

The Bad – The Acting, The Direction and The Writing

Where do I start…

Well, let’s start with the acting. It is pitiful – almost painfully bad.

Some people have the idea that American TV shows are generally more polished than their UK counterparts, but TV really only got the big-budget treatment across the pond in the last 10-15 years. Can you think of ten quality TV shows to come out of American in 1991? Probably not. And even if you can, how do they compare to the output today? You’d likely see the acting and grimace.

From start to finish the acting in this is poor. People inexcusably stumble over their lines and deliver them in such a hammy and ‘am-dram’ way. They also leave pauses to allow them to pout to the camera.

Even Raymond Burr, who was a well respected actor and is head and shoulders above everyone else in the episode, often shows up badly. There’s just so much dead time watching him stare at people in-between lines.

Of course, it’s not helped by the writing or the direction either. They most likely cause the bad acting.

Surely the director would say ‘Sorry Ray love, can we go again’ and try and speed things up a little bit. But no.

The writing calls for cartoon hillbillies in old fashioned saloons, and lines like “You’re in the wrong part of town, partner”, “What’ll it be, stranger” or – when speaking to the local drunk who they’ve sobered up for questioning – “How are you feeling?” “Not good…I’m sober dag-nabbit”. Cringeworthy. Who commissioned this as acceptable?

Worst of the lot – the bit that combined bad writing, direction and acting – was when Malansky’s Woman of the Week says “Oh NO. (pause) They are CHASING us. (pause). What are we going TO DO!!!” I think I rewound that three or four times just to take in how bad it was.

Also, the pacing is all wrong as well.

Does anyone really want to see Ken Malansky get into a fight with the same people, five different times? No. Don’t be absurd. And yet that’s what happens. Presumably Malansky is there to offer female viewers a bit of a thrill, especially when he has one of his fights wearing only boxer shorts, but that’s no excuse.

The whole thing could be made a lot better if it was done in a faster pace and maybe in 50 minutes rather than 120 (including breaks). They would have cut down on so much of the crap and the stalling and perhaps made the whole thing more bearable.

The ‘So Bad It’s Actually Good’ – Plot Resolution

As I say above, every Perry Mason show ends up the same way. He doesn’t appear to have anything to go on when he decides who he’s going to bully into accepting a lethal injection, but once he’s picked his prey, they are for it.

In this episode having interviewed lots of people without it going anywhere, there’s a quick scene with them watching a video of the Magic Show where the murder happened and Mason proclaiming “Well, looks like we’ve got our killer” making almost everything that came before it redundant.

So he calls the girl up to the stand and shouts at her.

And Mason is an intimidating guy. He’s a big old hoss of a man who is almost as wide as he is tall. If he’s shouting at you with his steely gaze then most people would probably admit to the murder just to get the nasty man to stop. Yes, what Mason says to them does almost mean they have no recourse but to admit it, but the question is how he got there?

It’s a bit like someone being handed a mathetical problem to solve and providing the correct answer, but showing no evidence of any work they did to get there.

Stupid, but amusing.

Should You Ever Watch a Perry Mas0n TV Movie?

If you ever stumble across one of these on TV, the most entertained you’ll be is in the last 15 minutes. That is where all the action is, that’s where the unintentional humour is, and that’s where you get to see Mason shouting people into submission.

Beyond that, the pacing of the story is painfully slow, with about 1hr 15mins of killing time, usually with Ken Malansky getting into fights.

I would say these shows are nowhere near as good as I remember. In fact, they are pretty ropey overall. In the 10 or so years since I watched them, American TV has come on leaps and bounds, and there are also a load of other shows of a similar genre that are better.

There’s a reason why these are shown on Movies for Men and not BBC1.

My advice – watch Columbo instead.


Doctor Who – The Crusade Review (or When Top Quality Acting Just Isn’t Enough)

May 26, 2011

Apologies for the lack of blog updates over the last week and a bit – I’ve been busy with the Football Manager Survey thing that I’m doing.

Anyway, when last we checked in on the Doctor and his companions they had just left the planet Vortis. Next up is a trip back in time to the era of Richard the Lionheart and the Holy Wars. Yes, it’s the only story in Series 2 to have any missing

The Doctor might be all smiles here, but he’s mere moments away from clubbing this poor guy over the head with his cane in a classic ‘Attack first; Ask questions later’ tactic

episodes – The Crusade.

Sadly, episodes 2 and 4 of this story are presumed to no longer exist, and indeed up to 12 years ago only Episode 3 – The Wheel of Fortune – survived in the BBC Archives. That was until Episode 1 – The Lion – was found in the possession of a New Zealand film collector.

It’s quite fortunate that this actually happened, since The Crusade was sold to fewer foreign countries than the average William Hartnell story. That’s because it could be deemed to be offensive in some quarters, and as such, it wasn’t sold to any of the Middle Eastern states.

Although as you’ll read, I’m not exactly sure why…

Doctor Who – The Crusade Review: What’s This One About?

The TARDIS lands in a forest on the outskirts of the Israeli city of Jaffa, coincidentally in the middle of a Saracen ambush of King Richard and his associates.

Almost immediately, Barbara is captured by the nefarious El Akir and – along with Sir William de Preaux – is taken to the palace of the Saracen leader Saladin. In an attempt to save their lives, William bluffs El Akir into believing that he is King Richard, and Barbara is his sister Joanna. When their lie is exposed, El Akir is pissed off and out for Barbara’s blood.

Meanwhile, having saved the real King Richard from a would-be executioner, the Doctor, Ian and Vicki are welcomed to his court. While there, they try their best to encourage the King to let Ian go and try to broker a peace deal – saving Barbara in the process. By the time he finally relents – and officially gives Ian the title of Sir Ian, Knight of Jaffa – Barbara has already managed to escape, although eventually finds herself back in the clutches of El Akir.

So Ian must travel on to save Barbara from the El Akir, while the Doctor and Vicki hang around King Richard’s court.

Along the way there are lots of hi-jinx involving the Doctor stealing clothes from a shop, Ian being tortured by – and eventually defeating and then befriending – an ‘of-the-time’ racist caricature of an thieving Arab, Vicki pretending to be a young

Julian Glover and Jean Marsh bring the ACTING!!!! Quality stuff

boy, Barbara promising a man she’ll kill his daughter rather than letting her be captured by El Akir (OK, maybe that doesn’t qualify as hi-jinx), Royal Shakespeare Company level acting by Julian Glover & Jean Marsh…

and Bernard Kay blacked up.

Oh those crazy days before political correctness

Thoughts

The Good – Serious Acting

As I say above, there are the occasional comedy moments in this one, mostly involving the Doctor and his interactions with the stereotypical ‘on the take’ shopkeeper Ben Daheer (played by well known 60s Z-Cars actor Reg Prichard) and the Palace Chamberlain.

For the most part though, this is a far cry from the ‘Roman Romp’ of two stories before. The director – Douglas Campfield – has brought in a host of terrific ‘serious’ actors and given them

Saladin (Bernard Kaye) and his brother Saphadin quietly ponder life in black-face.

a strong subject matter to sink their teeth into.

Best of the lot is Julian Glover – perhaps best known for his role in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (although Who fans will always remember him as Count Scarlioni in the City of Death) – as King Richard the Lionheart.

Sometimes you get the feeling that the more ‘established’ guest actors maybe don’t take it that seriously and ham it up a bit when they guest star on Dr Who. Not Glover; he plays it as straight as an arrow and with absolute conviction. I particularly love his scene with the real Joanna (played by Jean Marsh) in Episode 3 where they argue about marrying her off to Saladin’s brother Saphadin as a means of making peace. The two of them go back and forth in an engaging and engrossing fashion, including the fantastic line “You defy me with the POPE?!?!?!”. Such is the quality of this scene, it’s probably the strongest ‘acting’ seen on the series up to this point.

And it’s not just Glover and Marsh who excel either. Walter Randall plays El Akir with a believable menace, helped by the great job the makeup department has done with his facial scar (the little things often make a big difference), while Bernard Kay is back again (probably too soon after his recent appearance as Tyler in the Daleks Invasion of Earth) giving a slightly more animated – yet still characteristically stoic – performance as Saladin.

As a final note on this, credit must be give for the sub-plot involving Haroun El-Din and his daughter in episode 3 (that’s the one I mention above about Barbara promising to kill his daughter rather than letting her be captured). It’s about as far away from the jovial tone of The Romans as you can get.

The Indifferent – Racial Stereotyping/Characterisation

I’m not going to jump on the offended bus here – I don’t really have much of a problem with the racial stereotyping and ‘blacking up’ of actors in old shows like this. Yes, I understand that it would be considered offensive now, but this was made in 1965. It’s all about perspective.

This is the best picture I could find of him, but you can just tell that the character of Ibrahim isn’t Politically Correct, can’t you?

Bernard Kay doesn’t play his character for laughs, and the integrity of the character of Saladin isn’t in any way ruined by the fact that it’s a white guy with brown make-up playing him. I’d like to think that any right minded person would see that.

I could however understand if people were offended by the character of Ibrahim (played by Tutti Lemkow – a man whose appearances in three different Doctor Who stories are all missing from the archives)

Ibrahim’s character is that of a sleazy and cowardly bandit and Lemkow portrays him in a similar way to Spike Milligan’s ‘Put it in the Curry’ Dalek. There’s no chance this would be allowed to happen today.

But having said that, it’s not spectacularly offensive. Indeed. it’s no different to the portrayal of people from that neck of the woods than in Disney’s Aladdin, or the way the Chinese are portrayed in any number of children’s films made at the time, and certainly nowhere near the likes of the Black & White Minstrel Show.

As an interesting aside as well, it’s worth noting that the way the story is written, Saladin is portrayed as a fair and thoughtful guy, while Richard is often seen to be childish and sulking. That’s not how films or TV shows based around these events tend to go.

Barbara gets to act alongside what can only be described as a cross between Jesus and Navid off Still Game

The Bad – A General Lack of Action

The thing that drags The Crusade down unfortunately is that…well…nothing much actually happens.

With the historical stories, the young viewer has come to expect to see the Time Travellers land during times of historical significance (like the overthrowing of Robespierre, the burning of Rome and later, the Viking Invasion, the part of the Trojan War with the wooden horse, and the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve) but if nothing like that happens, the scripts tend to fall back on other elements of the plot to save it – e.g. The Aztecs is a story about time travel that educates the viewer about Aztec culture at the same time.

In the Crusade, we don’t really get to see anything major happen and there’s nothing else going on to distract from that. The TARDIS has landed at a point of stalemate between Richard and Saladin, and leaves without anything being resolved. The two of them don’t meet, and instead it’s really just 3 episodes of politics between the two, followed by an extra episode where Ian has to rescue Barbara again.

Indeed, other than Barbara and her bid to escape El Akir, the main cast don’t really do much. The Doctor – with Vicki once again glued to his hip – does nothing other than hope to stay out of everyone’s way (although he does take the opportunity to viciously attack some poor sod at the start of episode 1) and Ian is once again sent off on a quest to rescue his woman.

Even the way it ends is lacklustre. The Doctor and Vicki just tell Richard that they are leaving and he accepts it. Yes, there’s an episode-long side story-arc about how one of Richard’s Knights ends up having an issue with him and follows the pair of them out to the forest, but it’s either just a bit weak or lost in translation on the reconstruction.

Maybe it’s unfair to criticise it for nothing of historical significance happening, but then, if that is accurate, they shouldn’t have made a story about it in the first place.

Other Observations

A few random observations to finish…

  • The guy who is involved in the fight with Ian during Episode 3 is nowhere to be seen in Episode 4. Presumably Tutti Lemkow wasn’t available to film the insert for Episode 3 and so is replaced with his ‘brother’, but it does seem a bit weird.
  • The BBC once again deserve credit for the fantastic job they do with the sets, costumes and music in this story. The Beeb is second to none when it comes to historical stuff like this
  • Unlike the Romans, where there is such a small cast that Sevcheria has multiple jobs and Tavius has a split-personality, The Crusade seems to employ almost a completely different cast with each episode. Clearly the budget was bigger on

    All together now…Boooooooooooo!!!! Hisssss!!!!!!!!!

    this one.

  • I love the end to Episode 3. El-Akir’s line of “The only pleasure left for you is death. And death is very far away” is a doozy.
  • Even watching it now, years after it was rediscovered, watching The Lion still feels as though you’re getting to do something new and exciting as a Doctor Who fan. How sad, eh?

Doctor Who – The Crusade Review: Should You Watch The Crusade?

There are two sides to this argument.

On the one hand you have a story where nothing much happens, and the main character is sidelined with almost nothing to do.

Yet on the other hand you have a very nice looking story containing perhaps the strongest ‘guest’ acting on the show up to this point, and probably for a long time to come.

Even if The Lion hadn’t been rediscovered in 1999, we’d be lucky to still have probably the best of the 4 episodes remaining in The Wheel of Fortune. Glover and Marsh are superb.

I had seen The Crusade a few times before and always enjoyed it, but having looked at it critically for this review, I can’t help but feel that there just isn’t that much to it.

With lesser actors involved, I don’t think it would be remembered as fondly as it is.

So sadly, for the second story in a row, I can’t really recommend it too much.

Next Time: The Space Museum


The Football Manager 2012 Scottish Research Project – Have Your Say and Be In With a Chance of Winning a Copy of FM2012

May 20, 2011

So for the first time, I’m making a post that isn’t a review of something.

As you may or may not know, I work as the Head of Scottish Research for the Football Manager series of games.

Every year, when we do the research for the game, we rely heavily on the input of the fans of the teams to make sure that the information is as good as it can be. Sure, we could easily find out basic information about players such as names, dates of birth, positions etc ourselves, but what sets Football Manager apart from other games in the genre is that by asking the fans – the people who watch the players week in and week out – we can reflect the teams more accurately. By getting the fans’ perspective, we can say that Player X is better than Player Y at Albion Rovers or that a relatively unknown youngster at Berwick Rangers has the chance to play for Scotland one day.

But without a doubt, a lot of it is based upon (usually objective) opinion. We judge by our own interpretations, and it could be that one fan’s view of a club differs entirely from the majority of others. And that fan might be the one in charge of researching the club for the game.

The above example is a rarity – although it has happened in the past – but it has to be said that the way we research is not without its’ potential pitfalls. Say for example the deadline for the research is approaching and one of the researchers decides he has to drop out for personal/work reasons or develops a problem with his internet connection? Then you’ve got a problem. How do we get that team researched? Well if we can’t find a direct replacement (and if you think about it, for teams in the Scottish Third Division, there aren’t a massive amount of regularly attending fans to begin with) then we have to do it ourselves. Technically the data is good, but it misses the informed opinion of the regular fan.

Similarly, whenever we announce a vacancy on the research team, we’ll get multiple applications for each club. Some people will say they are the best candidates because they go to all the games, while others might say they have close ties to the players/board and are able to give us accurate info as a result. Inevitably, we can only choose one, so the guys who don’t get the position are lost to the research process. And I’ve always thought that was a shame.

And then there are the people who would like their say but the position for their club never becomes available. Or maybe they don’t have the time to be a researcher but still want their say? Maybe they work in football and wish to offer a broader opinion? How do we get these guys involved?

Well for the past couple of releases, I’ve sought the input of other fans for Dundee United – the team I personally research. I’ve wanted to read what other United fans think of players, and compare that to my own thoughts. If my opinions have gone against the consensus, then I’ll make the appropriate changes. It’s worked for me.

So I’ve decided to apply that method to all the clubs in the country. As you are the ones who buy and play Football Manager then you should be able to have your say.

As such, I’ve created a basic survey to allow you to let us know how you would rate your team based upon the players’ performances this season. It’s pretty straight forward and can be found here

While it should only take 5-10 minutes of your time, you can help our research by letting us know…

  • Who you think is the best player at your club, and why?
  • How you would rate the first team squad at your club from best to worst?
  • Who you think the best players playing in your division – but not at your own team – are?
  • Which players have the ability to play at a higher level now or in the near future?
  • Who the best and worst managers are in your league?

The more opinions we get, then we’ll be able to spot patterns in the responses and reach a consensus. This will then be balanced against the thoughts of the research team and will serve to improve the entire process.

For fans of the SPL clubs, I would ask that you don’t include Old Firm players when rating who you think the best players out-with your club are. There’s no agenda to this, it’s just that objectively, we know the best players in the league play for Rangers and Celtic, and it wouldn’t be remotely insightful to have that question being answered with an Old Firm Select XI.

Another innovation we’re going for is to make sure that we don’t miss any important pieces of news over the busy summer transfer window. For the bigger clubs it’s usually fine, but for the smaller clubs, news of contract extensions, players being released, changes in the backroom staff or transfers can be easily missed. So if you’re interested in helping out with that, follow me on twitter @SGMilne and tweet me whenever anything happens that the research team should know about. I’ll also use twitter to keep you all up to date with anything interesting that comes with the results, as well as any vacancies in the Research Team that might come up.

Feel free to pass on this link to as many fans forums as possible – the more feedback we get, the better the results will be!

As an added incentive, anyone who fills in the survey as completely as possible will be in with a chance of winning a free copy of Football Manager 2012 when the game is released for the PC later on this year.

I look forward to your feedback!

Just for clarity – the link to the survey is also below

http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/592080/FM2012-Scottish-Survey-Pre-Season-2011-12

(note: This is the updated survey as of July 2011)


Doctor Who – The Web Planet Review (or ‘A Case of Style Over Substance’)

May 14, 2011

With there being so many Doctor Who episodes from the Hartnell and Troughton eras missing, you often get the feeling some of the lost ones develop a mystique and reputation they perhaps don’t deserve. A good example would be Tomb of the Cybermen, which – while a classic in its own right – was considered to be the Holy Grail of Doctor Who before it was rediscovered in the early 90s. It just couldn’t live up to how good people said it was.

So it makes me wonder; which stories that do exist would be remembered as better than they are if they were lost to the BBC Archives?

The Krotons is an obvious example. If all that survived were a few photos of the Krotons taken at the right angle (i.e. from the waist up) those who watched it at the time would tell people of these amazing crystalline monsters – a triumph of design and something to scare children everywhere.

But the one that stands out for me here is The Web Planet – The only story in the history of the programme set in a completely alien world with no humanoid characters at all, out-with the main cast!!!

The Doctor & Ian in their Space Anoraks. As you can see, the vaseline works a treat to get an alien ‘glow’

Giant Ants!!!!!!

Giant butterfly men who would fly around the studio!!!!!!!!

A wonderful planet set with amazing use of the camera to make it look like they really are in space!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Martin Jarvis as a Menoptra!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Without question, if this story didn’t exist, people would authoritatively say it was a classic. End of story.

Of course, style doesn’t always equal substance…

Doctor Who – The Web Planet Review: What’s This One About?

Following directly on from the end of the Romans, the TARDIS has been forced down onto Vortis – a barren and dead looking world where pools of acid replace water and oxygen is in short supply.

While the Doctor and Ian go out to investigate what is keeping the TARDIS from taking off again, Barbara ends up under the influence of a mysterious force that puts her into a zombie-like trance and controls her through the gold bracelet she was given by Nero in the previous story. As a result, Vicki is left alone inside the TARDIS.

But she’s not safe there as a colony of giant ants (The Zarbi) have found it and have taken it to the control room of a giant living organism known as The Carsinome.

The Optera costumes have had a lot of work gone into them, but I think they look cheap.

Soon, the Doctor and Ian are also captured by the Zarbi and taken to the Carsinome where the disembodied voice of the evil Animus speaks to the Doctor through a headset that descends from the roof.

While this is going on, Barbara is rescued from walking into a pool of acid by a gang of giant butterflies (The Menoptra) but soon both she and her insect friends are taken prisoner by the Zarbi and their Larvae Guns (half beetle/half gun) and imprisoned in the mysterious Crater of Needles. While there, they plan to escape and to take down the Animus once and for all.

Meanwhile, back at The Carsinome, the Animus has instructed the Doctor to find out about the Menoptra Invasion plans using the TARDIS’s astral map (in truth, Vortis belongs to the Menoptra but has been taken over by the Animus, who has sucked all the life out of the planet and turned the usually harmless Zarbi and Larvae into his soldiers through mind control). While he does this, Ian manages to escape to try and find Barbara. He teams up with a female Menoptra called Vrestin, but along the way they are attacked by Zarbi and forced down into an underground tunnel.

While there, they come across the Optera – wingless descendants of the Menoptra who have evolved to live underground and worship the Menoptra like Gods.

Much like the Daleks Invasion of Earth, where all roads led to Bedfordshire and the Daleks mine-works, in this story the Doctor, Ian and Barbara, and their associated parties all – one way or the other – converge upon the Centre of the Carsinome by the end of Episode 6 where they put a stop to it once and for all.

Sounds exciting doesn’t it?

Appearances can be deceptive.

Thoughts

The Good – Episode 1

There it is folks, the Phallic Web Gun

I love episode 1 of this story – it clearly sets out to be different from anything they’ve tried up until this point. For the first time, an outside force has interfered with the TARDIS, and for the first time they’ve landed on an alien planet where oxygen isn’t available in abundance so they have to wear protective clothing when they go outside (Mega Anoraks!). For the viewer, there must have been a real sense of something unique going on.

We learn more about how the TARDIS operates, we see more of it and there’s also time for some character development for Vicki. I also like the scene where Barbara finally gets the chance to explain to her that she and Ian went to Rome as well in the previous story. Usually Doctor Who stories work in a way where the events of the previous adventure are forgotten almost immediately, so I found that refreshing.

Ian and the Doctor get some good lines in too, and their exploration outside the ship combines a little bit of humour (the Doctor thinking Ian was doing a magic trick with his pen when it disappeared) with more of that uncertainty about the situation (the weird echo that comes back onto them when they raise their voices).

And there’s a great bit of direction where the Doctor and Ian march towards the camera in a business-like manner as if they were the Sweeney.

Finally, it’s got a terrific cliffhanger. It isn’t made obvious that the Zarbi have taken the TARDIS, and it looks as though Vicki may have taken off without her companions, so the first time viewer probably shared the Doctor’s shock when he sees that it has disappeared.

The Bad – Plot and Pacing (Specifically Episodes 4-6)

While my description of the plot might sound exciting, I suspect what makes it so is the thought of the concept behind it – giant ants, giant butterflies, a disembodied alien intelligence, pools of acid, an alien world and no humanoid

Triple H and the famous backstage skit from Vortis

characters at all.

However, if you were to replace the ants with soldiers, the butterflies with a young band of oppressed rebels, the alien world with an Earth Colony and the disembodied alien voice with a fat bloke who would bark orders at the Doctor, then you’ve got any number of bland Doctor Who stories that we’ve had to suffer throughout the show’s history – but six episodes long instead of the usual four.

Six episodes is just too long. Apart from Ian & Vrestin discovering the Optera (which happens in episode 4), everything I’ve written about in the summary above happens in the first three episodes. In fairness to them, those three episodes are good – especially the first one as I’ve said – but then it slows down to a glacial pace for the last three. From then on it’s just scenes with Ian & Vrestin talking to the Optera, The Doctor talking to the Animus, Vicki occasionally getting put in a trance by the Zarbi and Barbara & the Menoptra standing around saying they need to do something.

I’ve watched the story quite a few times in my life, but I still couldn’t tell you how the plot advances in Episode 4 compared to 5 or 6. I think the only thing I remember for sure is that at some point there is the cringe-worthy scene where the Menoptra start yelping ‘Zaaaaaaaaaaaaaarbiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiiiiiii” and acting like matadors.

It would have worked so much better if they’d truncated the plot of episodes 3-6 into two faster paced episodes like they did with the Planet of Giants. But they didn’t, so we’re left with a story based around a gimmick which isn’t strong enough to support six whole episodes. And it suffers as a result.

The Good – Alien-ness

I don’t really know how it manages it since there are no facial features to it, but the Animus is looking particularly smug here

People often say that the Web Planet is a ‘brave’ story. They’ve gone all-in on this one setting it on a completely alien world with no humanoids, and from an artistic point of view, it’s terrific. The first thing they do to achieve the appearance of events taking place somewhere completely unusual is so simple and yet so effective that it’s genius – they smear Vaseline on the camera lens. What that does is make things seem occasionally blurry as if the atmosphere is not in any way like Earth. It’s brilliant, and it’s enduring. Whenever my brother or I see any blurry camera work, one of us chips in with ‘This is taking place on Vortis’. Notable examples include a backstage skit with Triple H at Judgement Day 2001 and the highlights of a recent match between Dundee United and Hearts on BBC Alba. Some people might say that’s sad, but I say it’s cool!

It’s not just the camera work that…erm…works either. The music and sound effects hit the right notes, so to speak, and the costumes are – for the most part – superb. The Menoptra look great with their combination of butterfly and bee appearance, and the way they act is very alien. Any Doctor Who fan worth his or her salt knows this is down to the ‘Insect Movement by Roselyn de Winter’. de Winter – who plays Vrestin – has obviously taken time to choreograph the way the Menoptra and the Zarbi move around. In the case of the Menoptra, this is down to hand movement, which is used as the primary means of expression since the costumes they wear prevent their facing being particularly emotive.

The Zarbi move around well most of the time too. On the odd occasion they accidentally bump into the camera, but I think we can forgive them that. It can’t have been easy to act in those costumes.

The work on ensuring they seem alien doesn’t stop there, because there are little touches added to the way they speak. Throughout the story, Vrestin calls Ian ‘Herron’. There’s no clunky scene in which she decides to start calling him this to his bemusement either. She just calls him Herron and we accept it. Similarly, the other Menoptra call Barbara ‘Abara’.

It’s the little things that count.

The Bad – The Optera and William Hartnell’s Wig

The one area where the story is let down from an artistic standpoint is the Optera. The costumes look very amateurish – you can tell they are made with a cheap foam-like material – and their acting and overall portrayal (for which we should probably blame de Winter unfortunately) is like something out of a school play. I just didn’t like it at all. They are a big part of what makes the latter half of the story mind-numbing.

And while we’re on about costumes, what is up with William Hartnell’s wig? It seems to change in length from episode to episode. Sometimes he looks smart, other times he’s like a scraggy old tramp.

Random Observations

If you’ve seen the story, maybe you can answer this one…

  • Why is it even called the Web Planet? Is it from when the Doctor and Vicki are shot by a rather phallic looking web gun in the cliffhanger at the end of episode 5. Or – come to think of it – is it that because the TARDIS has been forced
    And there's all the supporting cast together at the end. You can't argue that it looks good, but the story itself comes up short.

    And there’s all the supporting cast together at the end. You can’t argue that it looks good, but the story itself comes up short.

    down onto the planet and stuck there like the proverbial fly in a spider’s web? It probably is the latter because The Web Planet is only the name of episode 1, and as with all these old stories, they had individual episode titles rather than one all encompassing name for the story.

  • Speaking of the phallic web gun, I have to give a lot of credit to Maureen O’Brien for her the scream she lets out when she’s shot by it. Some companions – like Susan – would scream at the drop of a hat, but the character of Vicki wasn’t like that. So when she screams, it works on two levels. The first is that you know this isn’t a scream of terror, but rather a scream of pain, and beyond that, you can tell it isn’t just a little bit of pain – she’s in agony. Great stuff.
  • On that note, William Russell deserves credit for his own scream of pain, when the Optera plunge his hands into what we can assume to be a vat of boiling wax.
  • As much as I’ve criticised the Optera, the bit where one of them saves Ian’s group by plunging her head into an erupting volcanic hole in the wall is pretty grim.
  • I just don’t get the Larvae Guns at all. How is it they are deadly under the control of the Animus but are friendly plant-watering pets when they have their free will?
  • While the Menoptera look good – and especially so in the film inserts with their more advanced costumes – it’s not so easy to distinguish between them. So while I know who Roslyn de Winter plays, I couldn’t tell you which one was Martin Jarvis
  • I just love how they use the word “Electron” as if it’s something new and exotic. Maybe it was at the time?
  • While they make a good effort with The Doctor & Ian to show that it’s a thin atmosphere on Vortis and it’s therefore difficult to breath unaided, they don’t seem to bother with this for Barbara. Maybe she’s got stronger lungs?
  • It was only when I took a minute to think about it and read the subtitles that I realised the Doctor shouts “Echoes, dear boy” in episode one. For years I thought it was “Of course, dear boy” and I felt mildly confused.

Doctor Who – The Web Planet Review: Should You Watch the Web Planet?

The only way I would recommend this is if you manage to find a way to watch Episode 1 and 2, and possibly episode 3 without having to pay for all 6 (check the websites like youtube or daily motion – I’m sure you can find them)

But as a whole, I wouldn’t recommend this story, unless you are looking for a cure to insomnia. Beyond the first few episodes, it’s just so dull it’s unbelievable. But I guarantee if this story was missing, it would be considered a classic.

What I would recommend though is to watch the youtube video below. It’s done by a guy called ZillakYT and I think it’s hilarious and makes the whole thing far more bearable and exciting. Hopefully he doesn’t mind me linking the video on here – all credit goes to him (although he makes the story look exciting enough that one poor sod says ‘I can’t wait to watch the story’ in reply to him)


Attack on the Block Review (or Honestly Not What I Was Expecting. In a Good Way)

May 12, 2011

Seeing that it was made by the producers of Shaun of the Dead and involved the ‘acting talents’ of Nick Frost, I presumed that newly released film Attack on the Block would be pretty much what tagline said it would be – Shaun of the Dead with Aliens.

I liked Shaun of the Dead (although I didn’t particularly care for some of the Frost/Pegg followup films like Hot Fuzz) and the trailer for it looked funny, so I went along.

So how does it compare?

What’s it About?

Seeing as this film only just came out, the chances are you haven’t seen it, so as per some of the my other movie reviews, I’ll be brief.

Set on Bonfire Night, the film starts with a nurse walking home at the end of her shift where she is mugged by a gang of inner-city youth thugs. As they are about to do her physical harm, they are interrupted by a meteor crashing into a car

Attack on the Block

parked nearby, and when they go to investigate they discover than a small alien was part of the meteor. It attacks the leader of the gang – Moses – before scurrying off.

They eventually catch up with it, and – full of insecurity based bravado like these kids usually are – kill it for sport. Triumphantly they take it back to their council estate (or ‘The Block’) where they keep it in the secure ‘Weed Room’ at the top of the building.

What they don’t realise though is that dozens more meteorites have fallen to the earth under the cloak of all the fireworks going off, and the aliens in these ones are far bigger, far more dangerous and are coming after them specifically.

Why are they after them? Can they be stopped? Will they all survive? You’ll have to watch it yourself.

Thoughts

As I said above, the trailer for this film made me think it would be very much played for laughs like Shaun of the Dead was. While SotD had its mildly gruesome moments, it was hardly an exercise in grossing out the audience like other Zombie films.

This film is different. Yes, there are comical moments (usually surrounding the exploits of the two pre-teen kids who want to be part of the gang) and a lot of sharp and insightful dialogue, but I wouldn’t say it’s played for comic effect whatsoever.

No, the main thing that stands out about this film is the brilliant use of suspense. For anyone who has read my Scream review, I criticised it for a lack of that very thing. There was nothing to make you jump and nothing that drew the viewer in. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Attack on the Block was the complete opposite, and it was achieved with clever direction. The director left just enough time to make you think ‘Oh, something’s about to happen’ and then enjoy the moment before springing the surprise.

The suspense is also helped by the use of the aliens in the film, as well as their ultra-black costumes. We very rarely get to see them until near the end. Whenever they pounce, the use of lighting in the film means that all you see are their glowing teeth. It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but it reminds me of Predator in that respect. Or The Descent.

That’s how you make a science fiction film/show effectively. The characters don’t really see the monsters and neither do we, so we share in their surprise when they pounce. The aliens are an unknown to the characters and therefore that uncertainty is felt by the viewer. It was extremely effective and very enjoyable in that regard.

But it’s not just about how well done the aliens are; the special affects in general are of a high standard. Whenever an alien manages to kill someone, it’s done in a very gruesome way. I was surprised to find when I left that this film was actually a 15, and that speaks volumes as to how desensitised we are as a society to this sort of thing. When I was growing up, it would have been an 18 without question.

But there has to be more to the film than just suspense, special effects and a few laughs.

Thankfully, there is.

The characterisation is spot on. With the possible exception of Nick Frost (surprise surprise) each of the main cast has depth to their character and a reason for being in the film. You can understand their motivations (even if you don’t agree with them) and they all develop well.

The plot makes sense too, which is crucial. At one point I was asking myself ‘Why are the aliens seemingly just going after these guys and not anyone else’, and it’s explained logically and reasonably. I was actually quite impressed with the reason they came up with.

And there’s also a nice moral to the story, as Moses realises there are consequences to his actions, and the gang as a whole realise that perhaps mugging people is not the way to go about things, considering they end up befriending and seeking refuge with the nurse who they mugged at the start of the film – Sam (Jodie Whittaker).

Overall, the acting is of a good standard, but that didn’t surprise me considering its a Film4 production funded by the National Lottery. Maybe I’m being quite broad in my assessment, but those films all tend to be good. Same with BBC Films. If they make it onto the cinema and they are done by either of those companies, expect a good film.

And that’s what we get – a good film. At 89 minutes long it flows well from scene to scene, everything makes sense within the confines of the story and it keeps the viewer captivated throughout.

Should You Go To Attack on the Block?

So far as the cinema this year I’ve seen 10 films and with one exception (I’m looking at you 127 Hours), I’ve enjoyed them all. With a film like the Adjustment Bureau, I went in with low expectations and came away from it very pleasantly surprised. With True Grit, I enjoyed it, but got what I expected. With Thor, I enjoyed it but in all honesty was expecting better.

With Attack on the Block, I went in expecting to enjoy a Shaun of the Dead style black comedy, but instead I got an extremely effective, suspense filled science fiction film in the classic ‘Base Under Siege’ style. And I loved it.

It’s a highly enjoyable film and it’s worth seeing.


Doctor Who – The Romans Review (Or How to Progress Your Career in Three Easy Steps, by Sevcheria the Slave Trader)

May 9, 2011

In The Rescue, the writers slipped in some mild and subtle humour to nice effect. Maybe it was coincidence or possibly it testing the waters  for the next story – The Romans –  in which humour becomes a major factor. Presumably because it’s set in Ancient Rome, the writers decided to make the story – and Episode 3 in particular – part serious/part farce.

If I was William Hartnell, I’d be insulted that they brought in a gurning old man with no teeth as a ‘look-alike’. How this man planned on single handedly killing Nero is a mystery to me.

At the time this wasn’t a popular move among viewers, with BBC Test Audiences giving feedback such as it being ‘unrealistic’, ‘suitable only for morons’ and ‘so ridiculous that it’s a bore’ . In contract to that, The Times described it as ‘flawless’ and in the years that followed, it has come to be considered as one of the underrated classics.

So with that in mind…

Doctor Who – The Romans Review: What’s This One About?

This is the one set in – as I’m sure you’ve guessed – Ancient Rome.

There are three separate threads to the story.

  1. Comedy: With Vicki in tow, the Doctor visits the palace of the Emperor Nero, pretending to be the recently murdered Lyre Player from Corinth, Maximus Pettulian. What the Doctor doesn’t realise is that not only is he there to play a concert for Nero (and he’s never player the lyre in his life) but that Pettulian’s real motivation for going there was to murder the Roman Emperor. Vicki also has her own sub-plot where she befriends the Palace poisoner.
  2. Serious Drama: Having been captured by Slave Traders passing through on their way to Rome, Ian & Barbara are separated before they reach the capital, with Ian being bought by the owner of a Roman Galley. Eventually thanks to a fierce storm that saw the ship sink off the coast near Rome, Ian and his friend-for-the-story Delos make their way to Rome to try and find Barbara.
  3. Somewhere in the Middle: Barbara meanwhile has been bought by Tavius – the head of Nero’s household and the man who had arranged for Pettulian to commit the murder – and becomes a servant to Nero’s wife. She also becomes the object of the Emperor’s affections

Throughout episodes 2-4, the Doctor & Vicki narrowly miss seeing Barbara numerous times. Just as they exit a scene, she enters it – and vice verca.

Critique

The Comedy

As I mention above, the main thing that strikes you about the Romans is the comedy, and that could be a good or a bad thing. Thankfully in this case, it’s a good thing. Assuming you take the Romans in the spirit it was intended then it’s a

Wow…fearsome.

very enjoyable story. Sure, for a story that falls under the ‘historical’ bracket, some of the things are a bit silly (such as the way Nero comes to the idea to burn down Rome) and so the people who think the ideal Doctor Who story is The Massacre might frown upon it, but it’s certainly no less silly than some of the stuff that happens in Doctor Who today. And it’s positively straight laced compared to stories like Creature from the Pit and the Horns of Nimon in which Tom Baker appears to be trying to turn Doctor Who into The Tom Baker Comedy Show.

No, the comedy in this story is mostly good. William Hartnell once again appears to be having a great time acting his part and shines in his scenes with Tavius and Nero himself. He especially seems to enjoy the scene where he gets to beat up the mute assassin Ascaras. Incidentally, if that scene had been transmitted in the 1980s, I’m sure if would be used as evidence that the show was becoming too violent – he gives the poor sod one hell of a thrashing.

The humour is also pretty clever at times, such as the scene where he ‘plays’ the lyre.

My only criticism of the ‘comedy’ involved was the inclusion of Nero’s servant Tigellinus. Some of the stuff made me chuckle (such as the way he ended up poisoned) but the scene where he just comes into the sauna and throws a bucket of water over Nero made no sense. A scene like that makes you understand why people were critical of the story at the time.

The Romans isn’t all about comedy though. Poor old Ian doesn’t get involved in anything even remotely comical. From the off he’s smashed over the head by a vase, made to work as a slave rowing on a galley, nearly drowned, captured again in Rome, made to fight to the death and given the job of rescuing Barbara from under Nero’s nose. Indeed, it could be said that his ordeal is probably the worst he has to face while travelling with the Doctor.

Ian & Barbara – At it!

What that does is work as a counterbalance to the light-hearted nature of the other sub-plots and it gives the whole thing a better sense of proportion.

Budget Constraints

As we all know, Doctor Who in the 1960s had a shoe string budget to begin with, and this was no doubt stretched further by the spend on stories like the Daleks Invasion of Earth and the Web Planet. So when you ally that with the problems of two completely different styles of plot happening in the same story, it does have an affect.

In this case, some of the guest characters act completely different depending on which regular they are in a scene with. Tavius (Michael Peake) for example doubles up as a noble and serious Christian who is filled with compassion for Barbara’s plight, yet acts like something out of ‘Allo ‘Allo around the Doctor. In one scene he manages to do both.

Like Tavius, Ner0 has a bit of a split personality too. Around Barbara, his wife, the Doctor & Vicki he’s portrayed like something out of a Carry On film (Derek Francis, who played the part, went on to be a Carry On regular, so go figure). Around Ian, he’s dangerous and insane.

That’s not to say that Francis or Peake do a bad job. On the contrary, they both manage to alter their performances very well when needed. With Francis, you can tell he’s more of a comedy actor at heart and no doubt he was cast because of that, but Peake seems to play both serious and humorous equally well. It’s just that it appears a bit confusing.

Then of course there is the ultimate Jack of All Trades, Sevcheria (played by Derek Sydney). In episodes 1 and 2, he’s a down-on-his-luck slave trader. In episode 3, he’s in charge of the prison where slaves are kept and arranges fights for Nero’s amusement. By episode 4, he’s turned into the Captain of Nero’s guard. That’s some career progression in such a short space of time. Presumably they just decided to use Sydney

If looks could kill…

again in the later episodes rather than casting and paying a different actor. It’s not a big deal, but I remember it confused me as a child.

On the subject of budget constraints, one of my all time favourite ‘My God, that looks cheap’ moments in Dr Who history is the hastily put together stock footage of lions that Ian is supposedly seeing out of the window of his cell. In among clips of varying quality is a quick glimpse of a friendly looking lioness eating a turkey leg in a zoo. Brilliant.

Other Thoughts

Here’s an observation; a few reviews back, I mentioned how old William Hartnell looked for a man in his 50s, even without the old-man wig he used in Doctor Who. Well he looks like a vibrant thirty-something compared to Bart Allison, who plays Maximus Pettulian. I can’t imagine Hartnell would have been too chuffed at them hiring him as someone who is supposed to look like the Doctor. How an old man like Pettulian planned to assassinate Nero, I have absolutely no idea.

Another observation; when Ian and Barbara first appeared in An Unearthly Child they were no more than co-workers – you got the impression they weren’t even friends. Well, by the Romans the characterisation of their relationship indicates they are clearly (to use a term from The Big Bang Theory, which I’m currently watching) engaging in ‘coitus’. I was just

While Derek Francis commits himself fully into his portrayal of Nero, the actress playing his wife clearly has half a mind on the Health & Safety implications of that burning paper in a small studio.

going to write ‘By now, Ian and Barbara are definitely shagging’ but it felt a bit crude. For anyone who thinks that Doctor Who is exploring new avenues by having a married couple like Rory and Amy together in the TARDIS, just watch the interaction between those at the start of episode 1 and the end of episode 4. It’s blatant.

In terms of whether or not the story is historically accurate, I’m sure the kids will have learned a little bit about Roman times, but they won’t have learned how history unfolded. Unlike in the previous three historicals, the Doctor actively (but inadvertently) influences history by accidentally burning Nero’s map and giving him the idea to burn down Rome. He hasn’t changed history, so it doesn’t go against the message expressed in The Aztecs, but instead he becomes responsible for history turning out as it did. We’ll see this more than a few times in later Doctor Who, but for this era it’s a departure from the norm.

Of course, one thing they didn’t get right was the whole ‘Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down’ thing. It’s a popular misconception that Thumbs Up meant ‘Save him’ and Thumbs down meant ‘Kill him’, but in truth, Thumbs Up meant to unsheathe one’s sword and kill the fallen gladiator, while Thumbs Pressed was an indication to put one’s sword away and let the man live. Thumbs Down had no meaning at all. So there you go…you’ve possibly learned something.

Finally, I think it’s worth mentioning the comparison between this story and the early Peter Davison era. Davison’s Doctor started out with 3 different companions, but in almost every story they appeared in, one was given little-or-nothing to do (usually it was Nyssa). If you ever watch the commentaries or documentaries that come with the DVDs, you’ll notice how they blame that on Doctor Who being unable to support such a large cast. In their opinion, they didn’t think it was possible to give a sub-plot to each of the characters and so by default one had to be sidelined. I would suggest they watch The Romans. Every character is given something to do and plenty of scenes on their own. While Vicki does spend a

Hopefully the look on Jacqueline Hill’s face is to do with the writers indulging in one of the great misconceptions of the Roman era. Thumbs UP was the sign to kill. Thumbs PRESSED meant let him live. Thumbs down had no meaning. Amateurs!

lot of time in the scenes with the Doctor, she is relevant to the plot and also given time on her own with the Palace poisoner.

It just shows how well written it is compared to some of the stuff that followed it.

Doctor Who – The Romans Review: Should You Watch The Romans?

Once again, I’m going to say yes. In terms of ‘historical’ stories, this is up there as one of the very best. It’s also a great example of how to create an effective balance between humour and serious drama. Everything about the story flows, there are never any lulls in the plot and the writing is, on the whole, of a very high standard.

As I said above, at the time, the public didn’t think too highly of this story, but over the years, people have come to appreciate it. Many say it is one of the most underrated stories, but when the common consensus is that it’s good, surely that’s no longer the case?

In any event, this is a very enjoyable Doctor Who story and I highly recommend it.


Scream 4 (Once again, I didn’t Scream. This time, I wasn’t supposed to. And that’s a good thing)

May 4, 2011

In the end, I didn’t bother to watch Scream 2 or 3; they just didn’t take my fancy. But that didn’t stop me going to see the fourth instalment of the series, known ‘cleverly’ as SCRE4M.

For those who read my review of the original Scream movie, my criticisms were mainly concerning how it wasn’t scary and that everything in it had been done to death (no pun intended) so many times since then that it had practically no impact on a first time viewer in 2011.

Now, quite rightly, people came back and said ‘But Stuart, the original film was supposed to be a pastiche of the films that came before it like Halloween, Psycho et al’ and while that is true it still wasn’t a particularly good one. It didn’t seem all that clever about it, and indeed, Scary Movie – a scene-for-scene rip-off of Scream – ended up being a far more enjoyable and satirical film. Of course, don’t get me started on the decline of the Scary Movie franchise. Beyond the first one it has to be up there as one of the worst film franchises in history…

So now, Scream 4 is on the cinema, and having familiarised myself with the original film, I went along to see it.

Would I enjoy it more?

Plot

Pretty much the same as Scream.

Well, that’s not quite true.

Yes, I'm reusing a screencap from Scream. But the reason is that Ghostface once again spends his time falling about - but this time only when he comes up against Sidney

Sidney (played once again by That’s What Happened To Neve Campbell) has returned to Woodsboro to promote her book for the 15th anniversary of the original movie and this is the catalyst for another killing spree.

Officer Dewey (Former WCW World Heavyweight Champion David Arquette) appears to have become the highest police authority, while Courtney Cox – who looked so old that even I was taken aback – is also still there living off the success of the ‘Stab’ franchise, which – for those like me who missed Scream 2 & 3 – is a series of films that is based upon the stuff that happened in the Scream films. Essentially, self-referential fiction-within-fiction or ‘Meta-Fiction’.

Anyway, without spoiling anything, the plot appears to be once again about Ghostface going after Sidney, her friends, colleagues and family, as well as the occasional ‘Hot Young Teenager’ (in Scream 4, the teenage quota centres upon Sidney’s cousin Jill and her school friends)

The sequence of killings appears to be similar to that of the first film (and probably the 2nd and 3rd. If I’d seen them I’d be able to comment) and of course there is one massively obvious suspect. I won’t spoil who I think that is, nor will I spoil whether or not s/he is the culprit.

Also, this time, there’s a chance that the main characters won’t make it out alive…

Thoughts

I’ll nail my colours to the mast early on this one. I really enjoyed Scream 4. In my opinion, it was everything that people who defend the original say that film was, but done far better and more effectively. It’s like they decided to take the concept of Meta-fiction and just go all-in.

The plot of the film is secondary to the continuous references to the horror film formula. The idea is that having seen the Saw, Final Destination and ‘Stab’ franchises, people know exactly what is going to happen, to the point where they don’t take it seriously. The film starts out just like Scream, but cleverly it’s actually the start of Stab 6, which is really the start of Stab 7, which then in turn ends up being the start of Scream 4. I’m not sure if I explain that well enough, but it’s so ridiculous and ‘meta’ that it borders upon genius. It would have been the bravest film ever if the entire film was the initial scene just repeating itself over and over again.

What is also addressed is that the shock value of people being stabbed to death has been ruined by the Saw films, so the consumer doesn’t really react to it anymore and therefore Wes Craven doesn’t bother to devote much time to ‘grossing’

Kirsten Bell makes a cameo in Scream 4, presumably sitting with her younger sister or neice. Because there is no way she can be taken seriously as a teenager

the audience out. Yes, there are plenty of murders – far more than in the original – but they are all done in a rather matter-of-fact way, allowing the film to develop more in the way of black comedy.

And the comedy hit the right spot. While I sat through the original laughing at it, I watched Scream 4 laughing along with it. It’s a crucial difference that is key to enjoying a film like this.

Even though it’s impossible, it seems as though the film has been made bearing my criticisms of the original in mind!

Another one of the things I liked about the film was the cast. It was like a Who’s Who of TV Actors from the past few years. Among the cast are Seth from the OC, Annie off Community, Claire The Indestructable Cheerleader from Heroes, Robin’s sister from How I Met Your Mother, Antwon Mitchell off The Shield, President Laura Roslin from Battlestar Galactica, Veronica Mars off…well, you know, Macauley Culkin’s brother and a few other recognisable actresses from shows I don’t watch like True Blood and 90210.

I think pretty much all of them meet a grizzly end, which is great.

Of that cast, the one who is the most heavily featured is Hayden Panettiere (Claire off Heroes) sporting a hairstyle which can only be result of a real life rebellion/crisis. The amount of time devoted to Panettiere is disappointing for me because I’ve long considered her one of the worst actresses in the world. She’s not that bad when she’s playing light characters, but when she has to do anything dramatic or emotional she’s an embarrassment. Her dreadful performance alongside the equally wooden Milo Ventimiglia in Heroes’ second season was the reason I gave up on that show.

So was she killed? I’m not going to say, but I spent the entire film hoping she would be, put it that way.

And on the subject of the guest cast, I have to make mention of Kirsten Bell’s small cameo as a ‘Hot Young Teenager’ at the start of the film. Come on! Really?! In Veronica Mars I could quite easily have believed she was a teenager. I even commented that I thought it was good that they cast a teenager to play a teenager in it before I found out she was actually a woman in her mid 20s. Now she’s just shy of 31 and to be frank, she looks it. She even played Jason Bateman’s wife in Couples Retreat a couple of years back for goodness sake. She can’t play teenagers anymore. That ship has sailed. Grow old gracefully love!

But I digress…

One thing that comes to mind while watching this film is that in the world in which Scream 4 is set, even if selling Ghostface outfits is a commercially successful enterprise, should the fact that it encourages murder sprees at regular intervals not mean that it becomes a morally irresponsible item to sell? I would think so. Without the Ghostface masks, surely none of this would happen?

On that note, Sidney Prescott is considered to be a heroine in the film, but in truth, she’s a serial killer herself is she not?

The only other negative issue I have with the film is what I call ‘Doctor/Dalek Syndrome’. If you’ve watched Doctor Who, you’ll know what this is about. Usually the Daleks will ruthlessly exterminate anyone without a second thought – no questions asked. But every time the Daleks find themselves in a position to exterminate the Doctor, they will either take him prisoner or get so excited that they’ll shout “You are The Doctor. You are an enemy of the Daleks. You will be

So That's What Happened to Neve Campbell! She's in Scream again! Sadly for her, I suspect it's a trip to the glue factory next. At least she's prepared for it.

Exterminated” over and over again without shooting, allowing the Doctor to escape.

It appears as though Ghostface has the same problem. Without any thought, he’ll efficiently murder most people, despite their size or attempts to fight back. But when he’s faced with the opportunity to kill Sidney or Gale, he’ll panic, stumble around and allow them to fight back/escape. In among all the other meta clichés, this is something that they never address, which is disappointing.

Those criticisms aside though, it’s an enjoyable film. In particular, the final 20 minutes are very good. I’m not going to spoil anything for people who haven’t seen it, but there are a few plot twists in the last act of the film that actually caught me by surprise. I’m not going to say that I saw things coming when I didn’t, and I reckon that without those things I’d probably come away from the film thinking it was alright, but nothing more.

As it happens, it’s clever, funny, extremely self aware and keeps your attention.

But poor old Neve, this is it for her. A career in TV Movies awaits.

Should You Watch Scream 4?

Yes, I think you should. Some people have said the Meta-Fiction nature of the film is just too much. I don’t think it is. I think this is what Scream 4 has to be. People say that the first Scream is a parody of the genre, but it has absolutely nothing on the fourth instalment of the series.

I wouldn’t say it’s particularly fresh or ground breaking, but it doesn’t need to be. By now, everyone knows what a Scream film is about, and everyone in the film knows it too. But yet it still manages to surprise at the end of it all.

As I say above, Wes Craven addresses the issues I had with the first one and turned it ar0und completely.

Overall, it’s well worth a watch.