Tag Archives: Sci-fi

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #6 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 1 (1987 – 1988)

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #6 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 1

Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry

Season 1 writers (selected): John F. Black, Diane Duane, D.C. Fontana, Maurice Hurley, Robert Lewin, Richard Manning, Kathryn Powers, Gene Roddenberry, Joseph Stefano, Tracy Torme etc.

Season 1 directors (selected): Colin Bucksey, Rob Bowman, Cliff Bole, Les Landau, Kim Manners, Win Phelps, Mike Vejar etc.

Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton etc.

Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway

Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television

**THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS**

“MAKE IT SO. . .”

So, my cultural journey beyond the stars continues with a review of the first season of Star Trek: Next Generation. It took some serious time for what was originally known as Phase II to take off. Indeed, they finally hit warp speed during the late 1980’s. Roddenberry, the original Enterprise crew, plus swarms of Paramount employees had kept themselves busy with the ‘Original Series’ cinema releases, but, in 1986, a new TV series was announced.

Then, almost a year later in September 1987, Star Trek: Next Generation was released. TNG featured: a new crew, a more advanced class of Enterprise, and a variety of new aliens, planets and galaxies to boldly explore. While there was an initial decree to avoid all the old enemies from the original series, the Klingons, Romulans and more, slowly bled into the show as it was further developed.

FIRST CONTACT

Much has been written about Star Trek in general and the internet is brimming with articles, features, interviews, podcasts, fan films and documentaries which would take an immortal’s lifetime to read. So, my approach to this piece is to concentrate on the characters, narratives, themes and concepts which leapt out while watching it.

Overall, I really enjoyed most of Star Trek: Next Generation – Season 1. I have read that die-hard fans were resistant to the idea their favourite show from the 1960’s was getting a makeover. However, Paramount/CBS Studios chucked $1.3 million at each episode and shot on 35MM film, thus demonstrating a commitment to a quality product.

Even watching it now I am impressed by the production values, cast, direction and science fiction concepts. Obviously some of the effects are a bit dated compared to what we experience today but I always prefer in-camera effects and prosthesis, anyway. Having said that Star Trek has always been about strong ideas and themes for me.

In terms of story and character there are some very strong episodes and some pretty weak ones. Gene Roddenberry, his producers and raft of writers were, reported to be consistently at loggerheads throughout the production. So much so very few of the original TNG writing team remained by the end. It’s a testament to the rock-solid formula of the show that such issues did not hinder the ultimate consistency of entertainment while I was watching.

My main criticism is that some episodes felt like first drafts. Plus, there was, on occasions, a few episodes which were top heavy in set-up and rushed toward the end. Nonetheless, Roddenberry’s original format is always fascinating and you could certainly feel that when they successfully married: the science fiction concepts, characters, tone and dialogue you got many great episodes.

THE FAMILY UNIT

Holding the narratives and show together was an exceptionally brilliant set of actors. I mean, in the cold light of space, Star Trek: Next Generation could be deemed just men, women and aliens in silly outfits. Of course, we know it’s much more intelligent than that. So with acting heavyweight Patrick Stewart leading the way, all the cast were committed to their roles formidably. They had to be for it to work so well.

To me TNG was structured around a quasi-family unit, as opposed to the naval/military hierarchy of the ‘Original Series’. Captain Jean-Luc Picard majestically leads from the front with authority and a keen sense of fair play. Dr Beverly Crusher is the pseudo-matriarch, both professional and caring. Further, the other main members of the crew are, very loosely speaking, the children.

Riker I’d suggest is the first son and heir apparent, closely followed in the hierarchy by Geordi. The likes of data and Wesley are the younger, gifted children, full of intelligence and enquiry. The sensitive, Troi and tougher Yasha represent the older daughters, while I’m not quite sure how the Klingon, Worf, fits in. Perhaps, he’s a bastard son or long lost cousin seeking affirmation of the family unit. Thus, these characters as a ‘family’ support the spine of the show, all combining with varying strength and characteristics to form a whole that propels both drama and emotion.

THE REST IS HISTORY. . .

Star Trek: Next Generation consisted of TWENTY-SIX episodes!! While no doubt well paid, this remains an incredible workload for the cast and crew. Initially, the season got off to a difficult start in terms of ratings and reviews. Nonetheless, by the end of the season , the class of the production and format shone through. Furthermore, it would be nominated for seven Emmy TV awards. Ratings would also improve and it became the highest rated syndication series by the end of the run. To conclude, I would like to look at six episodes from season 1 which I felt stood out while I watched them.

THE BIG GOODBYE – EPISODE 12

The ‘Holodeck‘ plays a huge part in the series as a whole. It’s a fantastic way to marry the past and future together. In this clever episode Picard attempts to escape into one of his favourite film noir simulations but gets more than he bargained for. Then when the holodeck malfunctions, Picard and his crew find themselves in the midst of a simulated “real-life” and perilous gangster mystery.

DATALORE – EPISODE 13

I love a good Jekyll and Hyde story and this one explores the origin of much respected android, Data. Brett Spiner is such a good television actor and he nails both roles as Data and his “brother” Lore, who, as genre conventions require, is basically bad Data and hell-bent on taking control of the Enterprise.

HEART OF GLORY – EPISODE 20

Obviously the stories involving the Federation are always interesting but often I really enjoy the more personal narratives. In this episode Michael Dorn as Worf finds his allegiances between the Enterprise and fellow Klingons tested. It’s a fine character exploration as we get to see Worf’s warrior persona versus the more reasoned Starfleet side.

THE ARSENAL OF FREEDOM – EPISODE 21

War, or threat of war has always been at the heart of many great episodes. The concept that a planet of arms dealers who are killed by their own hi-tech product was a great idea. It also gave the crew and Enterprise major threats on the planet they visit and in space. The action, character development and suspense make this a very thrilling episode all-round.

SYMBIOSIS – EPISODE 22

Social commentary was a key component of the ‘Original Series’. Many episodes tapped into the zeitgeist of the 1960’s issues relating to war, race, religion and gender etc. TNG continued this tradition with Symbiosis which expertly explores the nature of narcotic addiction and how it can be exploited to negative effect by an alien race. I especially enjoyed the grey ending where the ‘Prime Directive‘ comes into play.

CONSPIRACY – EPISODE 25

A major rule throughout Star Trek is that the Federation is not to be shown as corrupt. There have been exceptions to this in certain feature films and they get around this in Conspiracy with the Federation top brass invaded by parasitic aliens. The narrative was very strong and felt like a feature film story in scale. I also loved the David Cronenberg-style monsters appearance in the gory finale.

DOCTOR WHO –S11 – EP. 10 REVIEW – THE BATTLE OF RANSKOOR AV KOLOS (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – REVIEW – THE BATTLE OF RANSKOOR AV KOLOS (2018)

Directed by: Jamie Childs

Written by:  Chris Chibnall

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Phyllis Logan, Mark Addy, Percelle Ascott, Samuel Oatley, Jan Le 

Produced by: Alex Mercer

Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Music composer: Segun Akinola

**SPOILER WARNING**

Notwithstanding the New Year’s Day special coming on the first day of 2019, season 11 of Doctor Who came to an end with an episode which was certainly a big improvement on the last two episodes. As a whole this season has been very hit-and-miss and despite the lofty title, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, promised much but just about delivered more hit than miss. Arguably, it was a pretty simple narrative of return and retribution as the Doctor and companions came face-to-face with an old adversary.

Firstly, I must say it was a gorgeously shot with the craggy locations of the planet contrasting impressively with the futuristic spacecraft and alien technology. On the whole the series has, despite some very dodgy CGI in a couple of episodes been lovely to look at. Likewise the guest stars in many of the episodes have been very good and in The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos seasoned character actors Mark Addy and Phyllis Logan bring resonance to the drama.

Answering a legion of distress signals brings the Doctor and the Tardis crew to Ranskoor Av Kolos circa year 5425. There they find aplanet ravaged by conflict and an amnesiac soldier Paltraki (Addy) who has lost his mind and crew. Soon the Doctor comes face to face with an ancient race called ‘The Ux’; an all-powerful duo able to build worlds with their minds.Basically they are like a telepathic Minecraft player but dealing with complex chemical and physical reality rather than computers.

More dramatically, however, is the nemesis of the piece. Having dispatched the ‘Predator’-like villain – from the very first episode of this series – the Tzim-Sha into dimensional space they find him now wreaking havoc on Ranskoor Av Kolos. He exploits The Ux’s incredible power and religious naivety to create a weapon of mass destruction and terrorize the galaxy. But who will stop him we ask? The Doctor of course!  Well, with revenge on his mind (for the death of his wife, Grace) Graham has a moral choice of killing Tzim-Sha/Tim Shaw or being the better man. It’s this emotional conflict which gives the episode its’ most interesting aspect. Indeed, once again Bradley Walsh gets the most to work with out of the companions.

 

Overall, Chris Chibnall’s writing has been criticized on social media by irritated fans, however, I don’t actually think the concepts and general writing of the show are as bad as people say. What I think has been flawed is the rewriting and development of many of the scripts. I actually think ten singular episodes are probably too many, and like some of Capaldi’s episodes, they set-up excellent dramatic situations but had rushed endings. I believe they should go for say five stories (over ten episodes) at maximum and develop the characters more so we feel for them and the stories have a chance to breathe. Lastly, I think Jodie Whittaker has been excellent carrying the show but I never liked her costume and the direction of the Doctor as a breathless, wacky primary teacher sort did not gel with me. But as Sunday entertainment goes The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, and the series as a whole was enjoyable, if slightly underwhelming television.                  

Mark: 7.5 out of 11

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW – a tremendous B-movie-sci-fi-cult-classic!

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie Du Fresne, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson

Music by: Jed Palmer

Cinematography: Stefan Duscio

Edited by: Andy Canny

Stem

For me Australian filmmaker Leigh Whannell is one of the best screenwriters out there. He has been involved in the writing of TWO fantastic horror originals: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). Furthermore, he has written and directed a brilliant sci-fi-horror-B-Movie in Upgrade. He is a great writer because he brings conceptual invention with strong style and tight economy. What he shows is that you don’t need billions of dollars to make an entertaining film but rather a decent script with focussed ideas and great twists at the end.

I watched his latest film Upgrade (2018) at a Fright Fest 2018 preview and its blend of science fiction, body horror and bloody gore was lapped up by the packed crowd. The director, Leigh Whannell, did a Q & A afterwards and spoke of his desire evoke the spirit of the 1980s low budget films like The Terminator (1984) and he certainly achieved that in my view. His budget of $5 million dollars was stretched by incentives from the Australian government and what it lacks in scale, the movie more than makes up in a look and style which echoes that of those 1980s sci-fi classics.

Stem

Upgrade’s story is very simple and similar in some ways to Death Wish (1974) and also the recent assassin shoot-em-up-actioner John Wick (2014). But the joy is not so much in the plot but in the exceptionally well devised character arc our hero, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green), goes through. Left a depressed, suicidal and a quadriplegic by a vicious robbery he is given the opportunity to revitalise his body by a computer genius, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson). Hell-bent on finding the killers of his wife he agrees to surgery which will implant an artificially intelligent programme into his body and enable him to walk again. After which the story moves at some pace as he first comes to terms with the new technology, before his descent into the criminal underworld really gathers speed.

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STEM itself is a fine supporting character too. There is much humour in Logan Marshall-Green’s performance and his interaction with the “HAL9000-like” computer in his head. Marshall-Green also excels physically during the brutal and fantastically choreographed fight scenes. Indeed, the bloody violence is a joy and I actually wanted more gore as less definitely WAS NOT more. But, overall, this is a fantastically enjoyable B-movie mash-up with an incredible look for such a low budget film. Shadow, fluorescent light, darkness, blood, metal and strobes all co-mingle to startling effect. The score by Jed Palmer is a brooding classic and some of the technological concepts relating to bionic and Nano-technology were very inventive. Above all else, it’s Whannell’s lean and mean machine of a script that wins the day; he certainly deserves to work on a bigger scale no doubt!

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

SCREENWASH MOVIE REVIEW ROUND-UP – SUMMER 2018 – including: Alone in Berlin (2018), Call Me by Your Name (2017), Leave No Trace (2018), Testament of Youth (2014) and many more.

SCREENWASH MOVIE REVIEW ROUND-UP – SUMMER 2018

I watch a lot of stuff. It keeps me out of the pub and my liver safe from further harm. In between a July dominated by the World Cup in Russia, over the last few months I’ve been mainly re-watching Star Trek (OST) and catching up with the first two seasons of Mad Men in my downtime. But, in the last month, I decided to have a break from those fine shows and catch up with some movies via Netflix and Sky. I also include some quick reviews of a few films I saw at the cinema too. All reviews are, as usual marked out of eleven.

ALONE IN BERLIN (2016) – NETFLIX

Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson give subtle and compelling performances in this excellent WW2 drama. They portray a German couple who have lost their son in the fighting and retaliate by waging a ‘quiet’ war distributing anti-Hitler leaflets.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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ANON (2018) – SKY CINEMA

Clive Owen stands out in this under-cooked sci-fi drama inspired by Philip K. Dick and Black Mirror. He’s a future cop where crime is contained by point-of-view surveillance techniques. The idea is stronger than execution as it falls apart in the final act. (

Mark: 6 out of 11)

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)SKY CINEMA

Luca Guadagnino’s direction is exquisite, while Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet are exceptional in their portrayal of romance in 1980s Italy. A fantastic soundtrack and beautiful scenery cannot save the characters who I found narcissistic and tedious.

(Mark: 6 out of 11)

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CARGO (2018) – NETFLIX

Martin Freeman leads the cast in this Australian horror film which finds his kind father at the mercy of outback zombies. It’s a slow moving film which offers characterization over gore, effective moments of tension and the always dependable Freeman.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

DEEP WATER HORIZON (2016) – NETFLIX

This is an intelligent disaster movie about one of the biggest oil spills ever. BP’s drilling practices are criticized as the slow-build direction gives way to explosive action at the end. Overall, the excellent cast and script make this a very compelling drama.

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

GIFTED (2017) – SKY CINEMA

Chris Evans takes a break from both battling Hydra with an altogether more everyday fight. He plays guardian and uncle to a gifted child (brilliant Mackenna Grace) who finds himself in a bitter custody battle for the child, in a very touching human drama.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

GODS OF EGYPT (2017) – NETFLIX

This is a really bad attempt at creating a Star Wars like franchise in mythical Egypt. Gerard Butler shouts throughout as though he’d swallowed the Brian Blessed guide to acting! Terrible waste of $150 million and my precious time.

(Mark: 4 out of 11)

HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) – SKY CINEMA

Groundhog Day (1993) meets slasher film as College super-brat portrayed by Jessica Rothe finds herself dying again and again in various horrific ways. Turning detective she must solve her own murder in this derivative but well executed horror movie.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

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HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (2017) – NETFLIX

Ryan Reynolds’ cynical performance and Samuel L. Jackson’s sparky turn make this assassin-action-film very watchable. Reynolds has to get Jackson to The Hague to testify against a nasty dictator; cue bullets, car chases and one-liners galore!

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

In Fallen Kingdom Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, once again pits their wits against mighty prehistoric creatures. J. A. Bayona brings a gothic style to the final act but ultimately, despite the incredible effects on show, the narrative feels tired.

(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE

The intense Ben Foster and brilliant newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie act their hearts out in this subtle family road movie. Opting out of society they play father and daughter attempting to stay ahead of the authorities in a very touching and heartfelt drama.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (2017) – NETFLIX

Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth are acting stand-outs in this watchable murder mystery set in Victorian London. The cinematography is impressively moody, however, the narrative runs out of steam by the time the twist kicks in.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

OCEANS 8 (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

An excellent ensemble cast including: Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham-Carter etc. cannot save this by-the-numbers heist film. It looks gorgeous but was low on jeopardy and ultimately, I didn’t care about the characters.

(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (2014) – NETFLIX

Alice Vikander is outstanding in this heart-breaking story of the impact of World War One on Vera Brittain and those she loves. Based on a seminal work of literature, it features themes relating to: war, death, pacifism, violence and the struggle of women combatting everyday prejudice. It’s very touching story, stellar cast and deeply empathetic characters which make it a highly recommended period drama.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

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WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY (2018) – NETFLIX

Always interesting Noomi Rapace stars as septuplets in hiding during a dystopic future that allows one child per family. The intriguing premise starts well but gives way to O.T.T violence which detracts a tad from an otherwise entertaining sci-fi film.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #2 – STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (SEASON 2)

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #2 – STAR TREK: OTS (SEASON 2)

Having written extensively about my love of Star Trek (The Original Series) in this article HERE – I have over the last few months completed the viewing of the second season.

My mission was to boldly watch every Star Trek episode ever made and report back with the findings. The second season, as a whole, compares favourably to the first in terms of writing and performance and concepts. One could say that season 2 drops slightly in quality toward the end. This could be explained by the uber-producer Gene L. Coon leaving as the day-to-day showrunner, plus Gene Roddenberry was less hands-on  too. Nonetheless, while the ratings continued to dip, the consistency of dramatic, comedic and science fiction or fantasy on show was in my view of an excellent quality. One notes that certain repetitions of format had obviously come to the fore in the format. I mean we still get Spock, Kirk, Bones and the rest of the crew fighting a slew of alien life forms or mad computers, yet such genre familiarity is also part of the major appeal.

With the budget (still sizable for its day) of each episode being lowered and NBC moving the second season to a later time slot on an unfavourable day the ratings suffered somewhat. So much so the show came perilously close to being cancelled. However, a core of Star Trek and science fiction fans protested physically and in writing to the studio and eventually they relented and gave the crew of the Starship Enterprise a third, and alas, final frontier season.

With regards to Season 2, there were some excellent episodes and I noted a move toward more comedic tones. Here are SIX episodes which captured my imagination in terms of narrative, drama and humour.

AMOK TIME – Episode 1

This classic episode is the only one of the Original Series to feature scenes on the planet Vulcan. It also is the first time the Vulcan hand salute is shown. It further marks the first appearance of the phrase which accompanies the Vulcan hand salute, “Live long and prosper.” The story finds Spock with a form of Vulcan heat and it demands he finds a mate to marry. Cue some wonderful acting from Leonard Nimoy and classic hand-to-hand combat between Spock and Kirk. The exploration of Vulcan culture adds a depth to Spock’s characterisation and this adds texture to an already fascinating character.

MIRROR MIRROR – Episode 4

The episode involves a transporter malfunction that swaps Captain Kirk and his companions with their evil counterparts in a parallel universe. It’s a wonderfully nifty sci-fi concept and has the cast stretching their acting chops playing nefarious versions of themselves with gleeful abandon. Moreover, the Trek theme of duality of psyche and split personalities is explored in a very entertaining fashion. When I first saw this it reminded me of the Red Dwarf episode ‘Parallel Universe’; but of course sci-fi is full of doubles, parallel and mirrored narratives within the genre.

THE DOOMSDAY MACHINEEpisode 6

This very cinematic episode is an absolute storming drama with echoes of Moby Dick and Jaws (1975) in space, as the crew of the Enterprise are caught within the path of a gigantic monstrous machine dubbed ‘the Planet Killer’!  All throughout the stakes are incredibly high because if they do not stop it whole galaxies could be destroyed.  The episode is intense and nail-biting with  Shatner absolutely nailing his performance, while guest actor William Windom brings an impressive mania to his role as Commodore Decker.

METAMORPHOSIS – Episode 9

This is a wonderful episode for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the photography by Jerry Finnerman was absolutely beautifully lit with warm hues, ambience and glow. The lighting compliments the gentle nature of the story which finds the Starfleet trinity of Kirk, Spock and McCoy pulled down to a planet by a mysterious alien force called “The Companion.” There they find a missing Starfleet scientist Zefram Cochrane (Glenn Corbett) and discover he has not aged at all; but the price is he cannot escape “The Companion”. The drama plays out gently and is assured in its thematic exploration of loneliness, romance and the curative powers of love.

JOURNEY TO BABEL – Episode 10

This multi-layered episode finds us meeting Spock’s parents for the first time as the Enterprise ferries an array of Ambassadors within the United Federations to the Babel conference. Throw into the mix Spock’s dispute with his father and a murderer on board attempting to derail an important mining contract between the planets, and you get a mature work of political science fiction writing. The screenplay from Star Trek stalwart DC Fontana is full of great dialogue and a suspenseful murder mystery. Having already appeared in Season 1, as a Romulan Starship Captain, Mark Lenard as Spock’s father Ambassador Sarek is the stand-out guest star.

THE TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES – Episode 15

Aside from a wonderfully alliterative and fun title, The Trouble with Tribbles is often cited as one of the most entertaining and humorous Star Trek episodes ever. The episode was nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation at the 1968 Hugo Awards, with the award instead going to The City on the Edge of Forever. Tribbles are of course, hamster-like-rodents which mate like rabbits and through sheer mass cause havoc on the Enterprise. Shatner is on top comedic form as Captain Kirk, dealing with the furry pests and a raft of Klingons sharing an uneasy truce; that is until a right-royal bar-fight breaks out in this laugh-out-loud fifteenth entry of the season.

MISDIRECTION (2018) – Latest Fix Films’ Short!

MISDIRECTION (2018) – Latest Fix Films’ Short!

As well watching loads of films and television programmes I also write scripts and produce low-budget short films. This year and last was quite productive.  My horror short Flatmates (2018) was shot and completed and having got a couple of festival screenings it still awaits an online release.  In the meantime I shot a 90 second micro-budget science-fiction thriller called Don’t Trust Me (2018) which can be seen on my YouTube channel HERE.

Furthermore, my short film C’est Fini (2018) was produced by the Northern Film School and our Star Trek Fan film The Holy Core (2018) found a backer and is currently in pre-production. Finally, myself and actress Melanie Gayle decided to work together again to produce a script for another 90 second short film competition Depict! This competition screens micro-shorts at the Encounters Film Festival and so we shot MISDIRECTION (2018), with that in mind.

MISDIRECTION (2018) was shot in June in a day with a small crew; not that they are short but there was only four of us!  The crew were great and so was my leading actress Melanie Gayle. My wife also provided wonderful voice work as the SAT-NAV. The 90 second version was edited and then submitted to Depict. Yet, I also had a slightly longer version cut and I think, despite the low-budget, it works well as a little twist-in-the-tale story that’s both funny and sinister too. There are obvious homages to the works of Philip K. Dick, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Black Mirror and Tales of the Unexpected. Here it is – hope you enjoy:

PITCH

A short, low-budget science-fiction comedy film with a twist.

SYNOPSIS

Valentine Ford is meeting her boyfriend, Dave, for dinner. However, her SAT-NAV has other ideas.

CAST / CREW

Starring: Melanie Gayle, Melissa Zajk

Written and directed by: Paul Laight

Camera: Inigo Berron

Sound: Tom Fisher

Editor: Joseph Martin-Kelly

Production: © 2018 – Fix Films

Website: http://www.fixfilms.co.uk

CONTRASTING DREAMS: REVIEWING THE WORK OF AUTHOR – PHILIP K. DICK

CONTRASTING DREAMS ON PAGE AND SCREEN: REVIEWING THE WORK OF PHILIP K. DICK 

“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, what is real? I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

― Philip K. Dick

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INTRODUCTION

For a writer who wrote extensively about artificial intelligence and technology, Philip K. Dick himself was in fact a certifiable writing machine, publishing over 44 novels, a further 120-odd short stories, plus a whole vision of manuscripts, essays and other literary paraphernalia. His death at the relatively young age of 53 took an incredible genius away from us; however, you’re never too far away from his work either on TV, computer or at the cinema.

The latest cinema release inspired by Dick’s vision was the beautifully directed space epic Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Here Denis Villeneuve picked up the baton from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982); an adaptation of K. Dick’s seminal novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968). But of course his stories have also given us film adaptations including: Minority Report (2002), Total Recall (1990 & 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Next (2007), Paycheck (2003), A Scanner Darkly (2006) etc. Moreover, Amazon has recently adapted his classic 1962 alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle (2015) to positive acclaim.

With Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror jumping ship to Netflix, Channel Four UK (Sony / Amazon in the U.S.A) and various other production companies) must have felt there was a “futuristic anthology show” hole in their schedule. Thus, they obtained the rights to Philip K. Dick’s back catalogue and produced a show called Electric Dreams – shown in two halves in 2017 and 2018. The production values were very high and some extremely talented actors, producers, writers and directors were brought in to bring ten Dickian short stories to the TV screen. Such creative luminaries included: Janelle Monae, Dee Rees, Ronald Moore, Juno Temple, Bryan Cranston, David Farr, Matthew Graham, Timothy Spall, Jack Thorne, Steve Buscemi, Anna Paquin, Terrence Howard, Travis Beacham, Richard Madden, Vera Farmiga and many more.

I have immersed myself in the novels, cinema and TV work inspired by Philip K. Dick recently. I was fascinated by the themes and narratives represented and comparisons between the literary and screen works.  How did they compare to Dick’s original vision and how do they differ?

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NIGHTMARE THEMES IN ELECTRIC DREAMS

Of late I have read his novels Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), Ubik (1969) and the collection of short stories – collated in conjunction with the Channel 4 series – Electric Dreams. Moreover, I have seen most of his works adapted for cinema. His narratives are often hallucinatory and dream-like with simple yet devastating prose. They deal in reality, alternative reality and beyond reality. You’re often in a place where you are unsure as to what is occurring is in the real world or some imagined or manufactured nightmare. Technology, disease and war are more than often a threat.  The biggest threat though is humanity and its seeming endless proclivity for inventing weapons, machines and viruses with which to kill. Paranoia and doubt infect Dick’s work making you feel as trapped as his characters. Further, mutated strands of humanity are a staple trope where telepaths and empaths inhabit his oeuvre; along with classic science fiction aliens and monsters from outer space too.

The narratives, while possessing an otherworldly and futuristic feel, paradoxically feel realistic because his characters are everyday people. They are rarely action heroes or soldiers or scientists but rather administrators or office staff, factory or transport workers. They are family people trying to make their way through life and the horrors the world throws at them. Given Dick was writing during the 1950s onwards it’s not surprising that the threat of nuclear war hung heavy within his words. Furthermore, the rapid technological breakthroughs which, while offering hope for humanity, brought with it a movement to the loss of free will and a possible future governed by machines. Big corporations, banks, governments and computers all erode and destroy the very fabric of being in Dick’s world rendering human identity and existence obsolete. His universe is brimming with people under threat, humans desiring to escape and a questioning of what it means to be human.

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CONTEXTUALISING THE NIGHTMARES

**CONTAINS FILM AND LITERARY SPOILERS**

Adapting Dick’s work can be complex because what works on the page as a concept can be difficult to transfer to a visual medium. Conversely, his work is often altered beyond recognition with fragments of the initial idea remaining while others stay true to the original. The original and subsequent sequel of Bladerunner (1982) are very faithful to the structure and futuristic vision of Dick’s original novel; retaining the ‘hunting of replicants’ plot and the existential question of whether an android can be considered human. In Electric Dreams the adaptation of the short story Human Is. . . . poses a similar question. In this story a wife faces the choice as to whether her husband, whose body has been invaded by an alien, is in fact more human because he is an improvement and displaying idealised human traits such as kindness and love. The flipside of this occurs in the film adaptation of Imposter (2002), and the short story adaptation The Father Thing, where nefarious aliens hell-bent on invasion take over the humans in order to divide and conquer. Human Is…  both the short story and television adaptation are particularly convincing as many people have all been trapped in dying relationships where we wish we could change our partner.  Dick’s story takes this idea and makes it real and emotionally very powerful.

Certain filmmakers, when adapting Dick’s work, will mould their style to his vision. For example, in the Steven Spielberg directed thriller Minority Report (2002), Dick’s pre-crime conspiracy model was presented as an action pursuit film with Tom Cruise going on the run for a crime he may or may not have committed.  Spielberg retains the initial idea and concepts relating to pre-cognitive telepathy and empathic mutation but renders it a more fast-paced and spectacular cinematic experience. Similarly, telepathy and mutants feature heavily in Matthew Graham’s pretty faithful adaptation of The Hoodmaker. Like Minority Report telepaths are exploited by the government and law to do their bidding, only for the system to be corrupted and used for death by those in power.

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Dick’s story We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, has been adapted on two occasions as Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Paul Verhoeven’s earlier version about warring government agents and colonies on Mars is an absolute blast. Dick’s concepts relating to alternative realities and implanted memories are fused with an explosive Arnold Schwarzenegger action film. Yet, what is retained amidst the shoot-outs and spectacular set-pieces is the main protagonists’ life dissatisfaction and desire to escape their everyday existence for something more exciting. This is a common theme in Dick’s work and can also be found in the Electric Dreams’ stories Impossible Planet and The Commuter. In the latter a Station clerk finds a hitherto lost “town” which offers a means of escape from his seemingly humdrum life but it comes at a cost. While Total Recall raises the pace and stakes within an interplanetary setting, The Commuter is more ordinary and emotional in its cerebral representation.

Political, social and technological corruption is present in many of Dick’s other works too. In Richard Linklater’s adaptation of A Scanner Darkly (2006), an undercover cop battles to conceal his identity while struggling with drug addiction. While in Electric Dreams, Dee Rees’ rendition of Dick’s short story The Hanging Man, takes an allegorical story about social unrest and fascistic hangings, turning it into a thought-provoking, paranoiac nightmare scenario. Rees calls her story Kill All Others, where we find Mel Rodriguez’s factory worker driven by fake news and political manipulation during an election. This eerily reflects much of the social and media saturation seen during Donald Trump’s U.S. election win. Likewise the adaptation of Foster, Your Dead became the very impactful Safe and Sound; and examined the deadly possibilities of technology firms manipulating youth within the context of the war on terror.

Arguably not as successful, however, was the Tony Grisoni adaptation called Crazy Diamond. This episode completely altered Dick’s story Sales Pitch, which told of a relentless Sales-Bot who won’t take no for an answer. In fact I had no idea what Crazy Diamond was trying to say and perhaps the writer should have stuck to Dick’s intriguing techo-nightmare premise.  Indeed, threat of technology and the inevitable doom progress represents is also presented in the excellent episode called Autofac. Dick wrote this story in 1955 and set it after an apocalyptic world war has devastated Earth’s civilizations. All that remains is a network of hardened robot “Autofacs” supplying goods to the human survivors. However, these drones and bots are in fact hindering survival and the idea is incredibly prescient. Indeed with the rise of Amazon and Google and Apple industries our society is becoming more dependent on such technology to the extent we could be classed as helpless without it.    

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams

CONCLUSION

Lastly, what Electric Dreams demonstrates, along with the many film adaptations of his work, is that Dick’s concepts are just as relevant, if not more so than at the time of writing. Moreover, what this thematic and genre contextualisation of Dick’s work illustrates is that universal themes such as: the desire to escape; what it means to be human; media manipulation; fear of technology and war; oppressive government regimes; and all round insidious paranoia about a very dark future are inescapable and will always be part of society and the human condition.

*Article originally appeared on http://www.sothetheorygoes.com*