Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Doctor Who: One Of Those Weeks

It's definitelty been one of those weeks people. Keep the faith.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Hurricane [Not To Be Confused With The Wind And Rain Machine]

Run For Your Bloody Lives!

That's right people, this one is in honor of Hurricane Irene and like Agent Smith, she's powerful, relentless and she's coming.

You wouldn't like her when she's angry so be ready.

Take cover friends, batten down the hatches or do some much needed crying in the rain.

Stock up on good liquor, non-perishables and several hot women. All races welcome.

Put away items that can quickly pass for deadly throwing stars in the wind and harm your children.

Get stuck with a hot chick if possible, particularly one with a wet t-shirt.

If all goes well, power will be back in a few days. Just in case, armed women could come in handy to prevent looting.

Yes, the storm, she is a-coming!

And whatever you do, if things get real bad, like The-Chariot-taking-in-water-on-the-ocean BAD, don't go outside. You're no Mark Goddard even if you think you are. Good luck everyone. God speed.

Keith Wilson [1942-2011]

Production designer Keith Wilson of Space:1999. Actresss Ziena Merton of Space:1999 appears in the background.

It's FAB FRIDAY and what better way to take the opportunity to praise all things Gerry and Sylvia Anderson then to pay tribute to the life of Keith Wilson. There's no question a celebration of his work is in order. Fanderson's FAB magazines and Andersonic pay the most detailed respects to the creative visionary, but Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic felt compelled to do the same.

Outstanding and award-winning production designer Keith Wilson passed away this summer [2011]. Wilson is best remembered for his stunning production detail, entirely unique vision and set design provided for both Year One and Year Two of Space:1999.

It was not my intention to let this one go, but I needed to find the time and pay Wilson the proper deference for all he did for our beloved Space:1999, one of the bona fide, unforgotten and timeless science fiction classics.

His contributions to all things wonderful in the world of Anderson cannot be overstated. He was instrumental in the distinct and original look of Space:1999 [1975-1977] creating something tantamount to the anti-Star Trek. He also worked on Fireball XL5 [1963], Thunderbirds Are Go [1966], Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons [1967], Joe 90 [1968-1969], The Secret Service [1969], Doppelganger [1969], UFO [1970], The Protectors and sci-fi series Star Maidens [1976]. His credits run long and wide in both film and television outside of Gerry Anderson as seen in such series as Dinotopia [2002] and HBO's Gulag [1985] starring David Keith, Malcolm McDowell and Shane Rimmer. But if anyone deserved credit for the visual successes of Anderson's projects, Wilson was one of them.

Jobs included designer, assistant art director, art director, co-writer and production designer. *// His specific work includes the interior of the Skydiver on UFO as well as many of the show's costumes despite direct credit to Sylvia Anderson.

His big move came following an abundance of work on the planned second season of UFO, which ultimately morphed into Space:1999.

Wilson's classic work for Space:1999 was very modular and could be disassembled and reassembled quickly through his clever design and planning. Most notable in costume design was Wilson's move from Rudi Gernreich's unisex Main Mission uniforms to the equally unique look created for Year Two including those jackets. The uniforms were never the problem with Year Two and Wilson's input was one of the highlights including the reduced-in-size underground Main Mission as a result of budgetary constraints dubbed Command Center. Most importantly, it was the scope and space of Wilson's Main Mission that remains iconic as science fiction sets go. Main Mission is as classic a piece of science fiction history as the Enterprise bridge, the interior of the Tardis or the home of Stargate Atlantis itself. Wilson's influence on the look of Space:1999 was profound. Main Mission was a multi-level, spacious masterpiece - a triumph of production design. It was equally a symbol of the scope of the series itself and its efforts to explore the vast unknown of space.

Wilson offered astounding alien locations like the planet of Piri in The Guardian Of Piri. Nuclear Generating Area 3 in one of Space:1999's classic episodes, Year One, Episode 9, Force Of Life, starring Ian McShane is another extraordinary centerpiece and a personal favorite. The set is a critical component of that amazing episode as many of Wilson's contributions were. He also generated magic on another David Tomblin-directed episode in The Infernal Machine with Gwent. Height, space, scale and color palette all dwarf the actors in another of Wilson's epic sets. Finally, the Dorcon spaceship in The Dorcons reimplemented a number of set pieces, but in new color.

Wilson made the most of his resources and deserves praise for reinventing a look with existing pieces. Production designers always do it, but Wilson was one of the masters. It shows. To this day Space:1999 remains a series that looks like the grade A cinematic production effort the team was shooting for and Wilson was a big part of it. What Wilson and others achieved looks remarkable decades later. There is little doubt his work on Space:1999 will continue to shine.

This reflection on Wilson's achievements seems particularly appropriate in what has become an unexpectedly somber week in tone here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic. The research comes compliments of FAB #69. More on Keith Wilson from assorted sources will be spotlighted in forthcoming Space:1999 coverage.

Keith Wilson passed away in July. He was 69 years old.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tom Baker: Death & Me [Part III]

The concerned look over that final destination with the good Doctor.

The idea of death is a profound one and the mere consideration of it is often daunting for the mind to comprehend. Tom Baker, too, suggests it difficult to fully understand, because we never actually experience it, return and digest the experience to inform our comprehension.

For whatever reason, former fourth Doctor Who Tom Baker seems to acutely get my own sense of unease on the subject. He manages to articulate thoughts on the matter quite eloquently. We are very much of one mind on the subject of mortality. Now, perhaps many have these thoughts, but never actually verbalize them. Whatever, the subject is replete with great emotional depth and somehow every time Baker broaches the subject he manages to impart some wisdom of observation on the topic and captures my own relative thoughts on the matter quite succinctly. Click here for Part One and Part Two.

My tribute to Nicholas Courtney and a check of Doctor Who Magazine #436 revealed a Tom Baker interview. He waxed poetic on his old friend, and once again, addressed his personal obsession with death. It is clearly a concept of some fascination for the the man and I certainly understand especially given the passing of so many of his creative partners.

One particular excerpt struck me and I wanted to share it here as part of a direct connection to the two aforementioned earlier entries on the theme, thus the reason for the title.

Baker certainly isn't simply presenting his thoughts to be theatrical or raise a brow, of which he's certainly not a stranger. But Baker clearly has mortality on his mind and the end of this great run we call life, "electric word life...." I don't know what the future brings, but I know that I too consider such existential quandaries and I know that I understand him.

"It's quite difficult to think happily about the fact that life is only 4,000 weeks, isn't it? Or a thousand months."

"And for one third of that, you're asleep! The one thing that happens to us all is we die, but it's the one, single thing in our lives that we can't imagine."

"My first job was as a professional funeral-goer. But now, I find going to a funeral distressing, actually. The sense of loss is so acute, because I identify with it myself, 'actuarially speaking', as they say. 'Actuarially speaking, Tom, you'll be the next Doctor Who to die.' 'Thanks,' I said."

"Life is frequently coming to terms with a sense of loss, isn't it? Losing one's childhood. People dying. People betraying you. Breaking up from your partner. Becoming an orphan. It's always loss. The sense of loss that we all feel, all the time. But especially when we lose someone like Nick."

"Seeking consolation - the only consolation we have - is that we knew him, and we loved him. We were part of that. It was a fantastic privilege. We should be grateful for that, and hope that when it's our turn to be eulogized someone might say that of us." Amen brother Baker.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Doctor Who: Jedi Or Jawa?

Doctor Who and Sarah Jane Smith disguised as Jedi... or Jawa?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nicholas Courtney [1929-2011]

"I appear to have played my part in the creation of a modern-day icon. It's quite a thought!" -Nicholas Courtney-

Doctor Who's Elisabeth Sladen wasn't the only beloved person of the Doctor Who series to leave us in 2011, but boy is she missed. Nicholas Courtney passed a few months earlier in February and may be a more recognizable icon to those on the other side of the big pond in Great Britain.

Courtney is best remembered on Doctor Who as Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, the head of strike team UNIT. The character's long name is befitting of Courtney who embodied the character for nearly 41 years. His run ran opposite many incarnations of the lead Doctor Who role captured through performance by William Hartnell [First Doctor], Patrick Troughton [Second Doctor], Jon Pertwee [Third Doctor], Tom Baker [Fourth Doctor], Peter Davison [Fifth Doctor], Colin Baker [Sixth Doctor] on audio and Sylvester McCoy [Seventh Doctor].

Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen. Doctor Who Magazine #402. Courtney even appeared opposite Elisabeth Sladen in her Sarah Jane role on The Sarah Jane Adventures [2008] in a two-parter dubbed Enemy Of The Bane. The latter appearance would be his final in character. He nearly appeared opposite David Tennant in a second episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, but became ill.

Apart from his appearance in Tom Baker's first official episode as the good Doctor in Robot, Courtney also guested opposite Tom Baker in one of my favorite '70s era Doctor Who episodes, Terror Of The Zygons. The latter with its cheesiest effects, but wonderful Zygon outfits, has still yet to appear on DVD.

Doctor Who Magazine #436 [the biggest regular issue ever at 100 pages] offers a wonderful tribute to Courtney's career. Many actors, technicians, artists and writers reflect on the man's career. It's a splendid issue for those who remember the man's work fondly. Two segments entitled Nicholas Courtney Remembered, a David Tennant interview, a Tom Baker interview where he submits he'll be missed "terribly," and a thorough tribute to the man by Marcus Hearn dubbed The Last Post round out the salute, not to mention reflections on one of Courtney's favorite episodes called Inferno from the Pertwee years. As you might expect, apart from the feature article, The Last Post, which is like The Last Word on Courtney's life and career, the Tom Baker interview is almost worth the price of admission. He is, as always, colorful and rarely slides into discussions about himself.

Personally, I certainly didn't have the same affection for the character that I did for Sarah Jane Smith, but Courtney's Brigadier was a classic and certainly unforgettable even for me. You can take a look at some images and a video clip featuring Courtney with Tom Baker in Baker's first appearance as Doctor Who on the series in Robot here.

Although I'm late paying tribute to the man I shouldn't feel too bad as my own entry mirrors Doctor Who Magazine's equally proper remembrance.

One thing is quite poignant when considering the bigger picture of Courtney's passing, the loss of Elisabeth Sladen and earlier producer Barry Letts as noted by producer Philip Hinchcliffe. "It seems we are all mourning the gradual passing of a great era of Doctor Who."

Nicholas Courtney was clearly a gentle and good man and he died following a battle with cancer at the age of 81.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Captain America & The Invaders

Captain America likely won't be on the receiving end of that fist blow in next summer's The Avengers [2012] where he'll be working side by side with the big green fellow unlike the scenario presented in this wonderful cover art for Captain America #230.

The summer is sadly fast approaching the end. One of the highlights in the world of blockbuster summer cinema for me was the arrival of Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]. I definitely awaited its arrival with some degree of anticipation. As it turned out, it may have been more than I expected. In retrospect, it was certainly one of the better comic book films and easily among my favorites of the last few years. Director Joe Johnston delivers period adventure like no other a la The Rocketeer [1991] and October Sky [1999] to name two of his films. The former takes place in 1938, while the latter 1957 and Joe Johnston always effectively delivers that sense of time and place with style and muted beauty lending his pictures a good degree of detail in capturing the look and feel one might imagine. And, of course, what gets more period than Jurassic Park III [2001]. In fact, these pictures are among his best.

Most of the critical feedback regarding Johnston's work on Captain America: The First Avenger has been favorable, but a few have had a negative assessments levied against him. Personally, the film walks that always difficult fine line in an introductory hero film balancing excitement, character and origin story like a circus performer on a tightrope and the trick is a sight to behold. Johnston succeeds beautifully as we hold our breath. With such a sure and steady hand on the project it's interesting how Johnston often receives backhanded compliments regarding his work as if he stumbled upon good luck. He may not be Christopher Nolan, but his work is solid as it is here in Captain America: The First Avenger.

The casting choices are brilliant from Chris Evans [Sunshine] to Hugo Weaving [The Matrix, V For Vendetta] as The Red Skull and everyone else standing between good and evil. I had my doubts about Evans, not here, but as an actor once upon a time. After seeing the dismal Fantastic Four [2005] and his grating work as The Human Torch, perhaps in character as Johnny Storm, I may have judged the fellow unfairly and too harshly. Sadly, as it turned out, no one cast for Fantastic Four could save that film from mediocrity.

But, somewhere along the way, Evans connected with Danny Boyle and delivered something special, for me, in a supporting role in Sunshine [2007]. Sunshine was easily one of the finest science fiction films of that year and Evans completely altered my potentially unfair opinion of him. So when the announcement came that Evans would be Captain America, I embraced the choice and rallied behind it. Had the announcement come pre-2007 I would have had a much different reaction. My opinion of Evans as an actor is still not fully formed, but as Captain America he was a terrific choice to wear the stars and stripes, the red, white and blue. How fitting Evans should hail originally from Boston, Massachusetts, home of the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere.

Captain America: The First Avenger, the film, was like an old-fashioned antidote to all of the grim-faced darkness pervasive in comic book adaptations and graphic novels that we enjoy today. There's a warmth and likability to the film that feels like it arrived in a nick of time amidst the souring of our national economy and an America that appears to be realigning financially and politically. It arrived at a time when some including our leaders spend a good deal of time apologizing for our country. Whether intended or not, Johnston makes no apologies for the patriotic vibe of the picture and he shouldn't based on the source material. If he had it wouldn't have been Captain America. Heck, a good deal of critics express their affection for the film, but quickly deflect that it has anything to do with a sense of pride about the picture's tone. We can't have that. We can't be perceived as patriotic as writers. It was truly a shot in the arm.

The film's only failure from a marketing perspective was that the studio didn't release the it on the long 4th of July weekend. I would have thought it might have had even greater returns. It seemed like a missed opportunity.

Johnston's avenger is like the light night to the tortured dark one called Bruce. It's a welcomed contrast. Evans sincere and spirited soul, natural, All-American good looks is the perfect choice for a summer action hero. He also plays the underdog portion of the film delightfully. He's the regular little guy, literally, to salute and get behind.

Most of all, this is a rare comic film where its sense of place and time gives it a unique vibe from almost all of its contemporaries. What better place to rekindle American pride and patriotism than a setting of World War II? Who better to deliver it than Johnston? In a world where America is no longer perceived a righteous champion with its excursions into Afghanistan and Iraq, and God knows our soldiers are just, Johnston's Captain America paints the portrait of a hero, a symbol of American strength, at a time when it held the moral and just high ground. The world seemed painted in black and white, when it came to enemies and allies, not the grey shift of mounting global players knocking at our borders. America was indeed a heroic nation to most. Films like Saving Private Ryan [1998], as painful as World War II was, painted us as liberators and a force for good long before things got murky in Vietnam, because we were. Shifts from conventional war to asymmetrical and de-centralized warfare have moved us a long way from those black and white days. Captain America: The First Avenger reminds us of a better time for the nation and not just a simple, comic book diversion. The Red Skull and Hydra are all symbolic constructs of the Nazi evils of World War II, and Captain America takes us back to a time when the fight was right and a nation was beloved. How things have changed. Such motivations, intended or not, are certainly rare in Hollywood, but Johnston delivered a film with a tone wildly unexpected for today's Hollywood.

When I was a kid, the carpet of my bedroom floor was covered with comic books. There was hardly a spot of rug exposed. Everything from The Uncanny X-Men, The Champions, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and eventually The Micronauts populated my shelves and floor. These were incredible books and comic books filled with wonderful stories and beautiful art. As cinematic as today's books look, they simply don't make comics the same way anymore.

For a period, I was a fairly big fan of Captain America And The Falcon, but one of my favorite books was The Invaders created by Sal Buscema and Roy Thomas. In fact, I enjoyed just about everything Buscema touched and for a time he was doing some terrific stuff on vintage era Captain America. His prolific, epic touch ran on a host of titles from 1968 through the 1980s and beyond, but his work in the 1970s remains some of my favorite. His Invaders, which is hinted to in the film, is preceded by the tagline reading The Greatest Super-Heroes Of World War Two! Perhaps this is one component of Captain America: The First Avenger that worked so well for me. The Invaders unit is certainly hinted to, but I would love nothing more than a sequel film called The Invaders featuring Captain America, The Human Torch [could Chris Evans carry both parts?; actually this one is Jim Hammond -the original android Human Torch; not Johnny Storm] and Namor: The Sub-Mariner. Supporting players would include Bucky [introduced in the film], Toro [Thomas Raymond; sidekick to Hammond] and Union Jack. Having these heroes battle Adolf Hitler, The Red Skull and the Axis Powers [Germany, Italy and Japan] would certainly be a comic book joy. Such a production would be forever unlikely, and a book like The Invaders seems oddly, politically incorrect today, despite its basis in history, but a boy can dream can't he?

In many ways seeing Captain America: The First Avenger reach the big screen as it did was partly a dream come true. Never in a million years would I have thought they would go back to the origins of the character in such a stylish, impactful way. Director Ang Lee destroyed the source material for his Hulk [2003] film. I believe the handling of Steve Rogers and his alter ego, created in 1941, would make creators Joe Simon and the late Jack Kirby proud. Giving us Captain America in this way was genius and Joe Johnston breathes and weaves his typically sincere kind of Saturday matinee fun into the picture that reminisces of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. It's rare to find a picture with that kind of energy today. To see the film come to life, propelled by a story filled with stellar costume design and blockbuster ideas, within the era of the World War II hero he was designed to be was truly refreshing and something special. Now if only I could get my Invaders in the form of a healthy and sizable flashback in a Captain America sequel.

The Invaders returned for this issue of Namor: The Sub-Mariner with cover art by John Byrne. While I'm certainly excited about the potential of The Avengers on film, which will feature Cap's next appearance, the idea of an ensemble picture, like The X-Men, makes me a little uneasy. Captain America: The First Avenger did a nice job of mixing action with character and I hope the latter isn't sacrificed as a result of sharing the stage. If I had a choice, Invaders or Avengers, I'd be pulling for the former, but I'm certainly more inclined to say I look forward to a legitimate Captain America sequel, one that takes the character to the next level in a manner reminiscent of The Dark Knight's [2008] arrival following the underappreciated Batman Begins [2005]. Yes, bring back the shield.

Is Captain America: The First Avenger on the same level as The Dark Knight? Of course not. People wonder why so many of the superhero films run average to good in the final product, but it's rare the material receives the support of a top tier talent like Christopher Nolan. That's why Batman is in such great hands.

Joe Johnston is often slighted for his reliable efforts, but there's a simple, reassuring pleasure he brings to a strong, streamlined narrative like Captain America: The First Avenger. He's a sturdy, good director with an eye for adventure. Fortunately Johnston does the character justice. Cap explodes off the screen like the classic character from the pages of the comic book. Perhaps I was hungry for a film like this, susceptible and open more than ever to it, but like the classic comics, Johnston embraced those patriotic ideals and he wasn't ashamed to deliver the wholesome kind of character embodied in Steve Rogers, a good, decent man and one proud of his country. Several lines in the script reflect that attitude. Can you imagine?

Captain America Promo

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

SciFiNow: Lost In Space

The latest issue of SciFiNow #56 delivers a splendid Time Warp for the retro science fiction set. Fans of Lost In Space can celebrate an eight page spread with loads of great information and images looking back at the iconic 1960s classic.

I purchased the issue without even a glance. It was must own science fiction for the Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic site. If there are more than two to three pages worthy of investigation than the magazine often meets the eyeball test for me.

There was just one disappointment. SciFiNow opted not to provide a Top 10 Best and Worst list for the series. We all know the three magical seasons of Lost in Space deserves such a list. The Sci-Fi Fanatic will be providing his own in its absence on a date to be determined. The omission of that always fun portion of their retrospectives aside, this colorful look back provides interview footage by Bill Mumy and Jonathan Harris from the fanzine archives and a good bit of behind-the-scenes information that was insightful to the making of the series.

I'm often impressed at SciFiNow's efforts to provide some degree of research in their coverage. It's not just commentary from James Hoare, who does do a nice job with the piece, but a good deal of fact finding. I'll provide some of that information in future Lost In Space episode coverage. Ohhh the pain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lost In Space: Artificial Intelligence VS. Natural Stupidity

It's really hard to bet against Dr. Smith even if Robot is in play. Smith always comes out smelling like a rose... or a vegetable.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fire In The Sky: The Alien Encounter

Fire In The Sky is a quietly powerful little film as a foray into human nature, but it's more fantastical elements of an actual alien abduction are just as remarkable and run in terrifyingly stark contrast. Fire In The Sky is both a great science fiction story and human event. Here is the fictionalized abduction of Travis Walton.