content by

Alasdair Stuart

Directors Who Could Make Really Interesting Star Trek Films

Quentin Tarantino apparently has a great idea for a Star Trek movie. While that’s a “jumbo shrimp” sentence if ever you heard one, it’s also true. It’s an idea that the studio is so enamoured with that a writers’ room has been assembled in order to workshop it.

There are really two things going on here. The first is the slight possibility of Tarantino being given a Star Trek movie. I’ve personally not connected with his work for a while, but he’s got a serious reputation, a style all his own, and provided he can color inside the lines (at least mostly), a Tarantino Trek film could be fun. It could also be a hot mess, and the fact that a lot of people have run screaming from the news says a lot about how fractious and divisive his style and reputation are, at the current moment.

And, weirdly, that’s a good thing.

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Tom Baker and Douglas Adams Ride Again in “Shada,” The Lost Doctor Who Serial

“Shada” is a Doctor Who story that’s always been folded away in strange pockets of the show’s history (which, given the direction the plot ultimately takes, is oddly appropriate). Initially recorded as part of Season 17, which aired in 1979 and 1980, the serial was abandoned due to a labor strike at the BBC. Written by Douglas Adams and representing one of Tom Baker’s final appearances in the role, it sits between decades, at the edge of the Fourth Doctor’s tenure and just before the next regeneration. “Shada” has lingered in a state that’s been both well documented and frustratingly incomplete. Numerous attempts have been made to finish the story, including a Big Finish audio drama starring the Eighth Doctor, a novelization, and a video release with Baker explaining what happened in the scenes that were never shot. All of them have tried to close the circle that “Shada” opened decades ago. None have quite managed it as it was intended.

But now, at last, this story that has haunted Doctor Who in various forms for decades has been completed, using the surviving original cast (including Tom Baker), 1970s effects techniques and vintage equipment, and modern animation to complete the story. “Shada” was released as a digital download last week and will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray towards the end of the year. It’s still as confounding and contradictory in completion as it ever was as in fragments—which, somehow, seems both intensely Gallifreyan and extremely appropriate.

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The Orville’s First Season Might Surprise You

I love the first 6-8 episodes of a TV show in its first season, because it always seems like the process is at its most transparent there. The first script order is when a show is figuring out what it is and how it’s going to work, actors and writers alike throwing things at the wall and gradually learning their way through the rhythms of their work. Some shows skip this step—Leverage in particular arrived fully formed and smiling as it quietly lifted the wallets of very bad men—but for most there’s a learning curve,

The Orville has followed that curve. What started out looking a lot like a weirdly elaborate and staggeringly unnecessary Star Trek: The Next Generation parody is rapidly becoming something interesting and new. That’s because The Orville hasn’t just spent this first run of episodes learning what it is, it’s spent it trying to balance two equally demanding requirements at the same: it has to be funny while also providing convincing drama.

[It doesn’t always succeed. But it’s getting better!]

Thor: Ragnarok is the Fun, Funny Marvel Movie We’ve Been Waiting For

“Fun” isn’t a word that’s spent a lot of time around the Thor movies thus far. Oh sure, the first two are both a good time; Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgard are great as the human supporting cast, there are some rock solid Coulson scenes in the first one and they both sprint right along. But, for all the Shakespearean majesty of the characters and the romantic doom and gloom of Viking myth and dynastic intrigue, the first two Thor films still feel a little lightweight at times.

Thor: Ragnarok changes things up quite a bit, but the biggest change is its approach to humour, and wholehearted embrace of fun. This is possibly the funniest movie Marvel has ever produced—but it’s also shot through with a welcome dash of pragmatism, compassion, and some moments of genuine heart and depth.

[Note: this is a non-spoiler review, and does not discuss major plot points, although there may be spoilers in the comment section.]

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Unearthing the Perfect Horror Movies for Halloween

The best day of the year is upon us—oh, Horror Christmas, how I love you. There is no better time to watch horror movies than October, and also no better time to try some new ones. Horror cinema has been quietly producing brilliant gems for decades now and Halloween is a perfect time to unearth a few of them.

Oh, before we get to the unearthing—see Get Out if you haven’t already. It’s the best horror movie made so far this century. And just a great movie, period.

Now! Who’s up for a classic?

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Steal the Stars Will Literally Stop You In Your Tracks (In A Good Way!)

There’s a moment, quite early on, in Steal The Stars that completely brought me up short. Actually made me stop on the pavement (over to the side, obviously—I’m not a monster) and just think about what I’d heard. This happens with really good podcast fiction for me, and it’s something I watch for—the moment when a story’s implications hit you right between the eyes, where a dramatic twist is perfectly landed. An early episode of Tanis did this for me. Likewise The Black Tapes and The Magnus Archives. It happens in my day job at Pseudopod regularly, too.

But Steal The Stars is the first time in a long time a full cast audio drama has achieved this effect. And it managed to do so not with any of the vast revelations at the heart of the story, but with a pair of character beats.

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Here’s Why Star Trek Still Has the Best Theme Songs and Credit Sequences in All of SciFi Television

Star Trek: Discovery finally launched this week and that means there are two things making me very happy. The first is that we have a new Star Trek show that’s doing new things in a very Star Trek way. The second is we get a new credits sequence.

I am an easy mark for a good credits sequence. “Good” doesn’t necessarily mean long, either—Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s exuberant twenty-second sprint tells you everything you need to know, while (in the UK, at least) Law and Order’s Rob Dougan-scored doom grimly trudges toward the same end. Then there’s the dozens of different versions of the Doctor Who theme, not the least of which is the Twelfth Doctor’s epic rock guitar take on his own theme music. Much like the Nerf Herder intro to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it’s a perfect summation of the show, and (also like the Buffy theme) it’s a strong contender for best TV theme music, and credit sequence, ever.

[But Star Trek is the all-time champion.]

The Best Continuation of The Terminator Saga Has Already Happened: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

James Cameron has formally announced that a new Terminator movie is in development. Given that he basically lives on Pandora with the Na’vi now, Cameron will be producing while Deadpool’s Tim Miller is in the director’s chair. Arnold Schwarzenegger will return and, more interestingly, so will Linda Hamilton.

That’s…good news? Probably? Maybe? Perhaps? After three increasingly ambitious and, unfortunately, increasingly incoherent sequels the Terminator series is looking a lot like it’s way past its obsolescence date. Cameron’s vague mutterings about Arnie playing the person the T-800’s physical form was based on don’t exactly help matters, either. Schwarzenegger getting to play out the Terminator version of Logan could be interesting, but—unless the film is building to a very definitive ending, rather than another sequel—there’s not really much point.

Besides, the best continuation of the Terminator saga has already happened on TV.

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The Losers’ Club, ’90s Edition: Looking Back at the First Adaptation of It

The new film adaptation of Stephen King’s It is already breaking records, with a massive opening weekend following a wave of positive early reviews. The story of seven childhood friends who are brought together by their shared fight against an ancient evil, and then reunite decades later to finish the job, it’s still justifiably regarded as one of King’s best. There are moments that don’t work, some that are frankly baffling (and if you’ve read the book, the moment you’re thinking of? Yeah, me too), but the core of the story remains rock solid. So much so that even first adaptation of the book—the 1990 TV mini-series starring Tim Curry—holds up pretty well, too.

I rewatched it a few days ago for the first time since 1990. It was one of those boundary shows for me, when it first aired; I was just old enough to get away with seeing some of it but not everything. That actually made it even better; getting fleeting glimpses of the Derry streets and a couple of moments with Pennywise. In fact I have a very distinct memory of the first Pennywise sighting but that’s about it. It was part of the shadowy coastline of grown-up entertainment and while I was heading there as fast as I could, in 1990 I still had a ways to go before I could properly approach It.

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It’s 20 Years Since the End of the World in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Happy belated anniversary of Judgment Day, everyone! August 29th, 1997 was the day that Skynet became self-aware and ended the world, according to 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Or at least, it was one of several Judgment Days, depending on which timeline you follow. If there’s one thing the Terminator franchise’s refusal to die has taught us, it’s that the End of the World is a movable feast.

Judgment Day remains a high-water mark for action movies even today and it’s easy to see why. The freeway chase and Cyberdyne sequences in particular are still among the best action scenes Western cinema has ever put on the screen, and you can’t deny either Cameron’s ambition or how well it’s executed in this film. But, the excellence of its many action scenes aside, T2 as a whole has aged in a wildly variable number of ways, and some aspects hold up far, far better than others.

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Naked Alien Vampires: Lifeforce, Tobe Hooper’s Overlooked Horror Classic

Another horror veteran, Tobe Hooper, passed away over the weekend. Hooper is best known for the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, and for good reason: in entirely different ways, those two movies have done as much to influence contemporary horror cinema as the equally great, equally missed, George A. Romero’s body of work. Texas Chainsaw Massacre pioneered the true age of gore (and implied gore) in horror and remains an acknowledged classic. Poltergeist set the template for suburban family in peril stories that would echo down the decades and become instrumental in the eventual success of the Blumhouse model (the company behind the Paranormal Activity and Purge movies, as well as Get Out).

My favourite example of Hooper’s work, however, is 1985’s Lifeforce—and I can think of no better way to celebrate his legacy than taking another look at the film.

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Charting Charlize Theron’s Quiet, Steady Rise to SFF Stardom

Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron, is an adaptation of the excellent graphic novel The Coldest City, by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. Along with its prequel, The Coldest Winter, it’s one of the best period espionage stories you’ll read. The movie, directed by David Leitch, is stylistically very different, but both versions of the story complement one another. Atomic Blonde also provides explosive, highly entertaining proof that action movies have finally begun to evolve again. After years of the hyper-caffeinated shakycam approach pioneered by Paul Greengrass in the Bourne movies, things have begun to change. That change pretty much boils down to three steps:

  • Get excellent fight choreographers and stunt drivers in.
  • Train your leads to do as much, safely, as they can themselves.
  • Sandbag the camera down and let them have some fun.

The fight choreography, in Leitch’s John Wick movies especially, warms the bruised knees of my black little Judoka heart and I’ve been so happy to see that style expand out to Atomic Blonde.

But of course, Atomic Blonde is only the latest outing in Theron’s quietly extensive genre career.

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Paying Tribute, Long Overdue, to Horror Icon George A. Romero (1940-2017)

George A. Romero, the father of the modern movie zombie, passed away last night. Modern horror, of every stripe, has lost a Titan. A Titan who ultimately fell victim to the ubiquity of his own biggest, most successful idea.

Romero got his start directing commercials and short segments for TV, one of the earliest being one for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. That adaptability and versatility stood him in good stead as he prepared to direct his first film. Released in 1968, Night of the Living Dead was Romero’s debut feature film and remains one of the all-time great horror classics.

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The Moment Has Been Prepared For: Jodie Whittaker and the Future of Doctor Who

As I write this, the announcement has just been made that Jodie Whittaker will be the Thirteenth Doctor. She’s the first woman in the show’s history to (officially) take on the role, and as I mentioned earlier in the year it’s a change which, now more than any other time in Doctor Who’s run, is desperately needed.

That’s the intellectual response.

The emotional response has involved jumping up and down, typing in ALL CAPS, and getting slightly weepy.

Because here’s the thing: change is hard. Always. And for a show that’s based around the twin concepts of change and mortality, Doctor Who has been very reluctant to embrace change in terms of its casting philosophy. While the idea of the Doctor being female has been in the show’s DNA from the start, it’s never been seen on screen.

Until now.

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