Friday, April 17, 2015

Thunderball (1965) | Music

After the worldwide success of Goldfinger, the budget for Thunderball got much much bigger. One of the improvements with the new money was to film the whole thing in Panavision anamorphic widescreen, which meant reshooting the opening gun barrel sequence. In the first three films, the Bond that walks into the gun barrel, turns, and shoots is stuntman Bob Simmons. And he's in black and white. With Thunderball, they replaced Simmons with Sean Connery on color film.

According to title designer Maurice Binder, who had resolved his dispute with Saltzman and Broccoli and was back after sitting out the last two films, he'd seen the pre-title sequence and knew that it ended with the Aston Martin's shooting water at the screen. He decided to merge that into the title sequence and went the opposite direction from the two Robert Brownjohn sequences. Instead of projecting light onto women's bodies against a dark background, Binder filmed swimmers and projected their silhouettes against colorized images of bubbles in the water. The effect was a huge success and became the template for almost every Bond title sequence that followed. It's a good sequence, hinting at the underwater motif that's so important to the film, and I love the way the titles come in looking like light reflecting on water.

Meanwhile, John Barry brought back "Goldfinger" co-writer Leslie Bricusse to help write the new title song and they came up with "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" after a nickname for Bond created by the Italian press. Shirley Bassey was also brought back to record it, but Saltzman and Brocolli weren't totally happy with her version.

Part of why they didn't like it was the arrangement, so the second version featured a longer intro that works in the Bond theme and allows the lyrics to start after we've seen the name of the film. But they could have rerecorded that and still used Bassey, so there was apparently something about her performance that they also didn't care for. In the second version, they used Dionne Warwick. I don't know what the producers' specific issues were, but Bassey's version is bombastic while Warwick's is sultry. I love Bassey, but if they were going for a seductive quality, I can see why they preferred Warwick's take.

It was United Artists that put the halt on even that version though. They thought the theme song ought to actually mention the name of the movie (and generally speaking, they weren't wrong), so they sent Barry back to start over. This time he teamed up with Don Black, who was the manager and occasional song-writer of From Russia With Love singer Matt Monro. Barry and Black quickly banged out the "Thunderball" theme, brought in Tom Jones to sing it, and the rest is history (though elements of "Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" are still in the soundtrack, particularly in the song the band's playing at the Kiss Kiss Club when Fiona's shot.

Incidentally, Johnny Cash also submitted a song using the film's name. It's a pretty good Johnny Cash song, but - and I say this as a huge fan of Cash - it's not a passable Bond theme. Maybe Barry could have done something with it, but I still think he made the right choice.

I love Tom Jones and I love the music of the final song, but I don't love the lyrics. Maybe it's because I've never been able to decide whom they refer to. Is the song about Bond, like "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"? Or is it about the villain - Largo, in this case - like the theme to Goldfinger? The words are ambiguous enough that they could refer to either, which sort of makes them refer to neither. They're generic.

As with Goldfinger, Barry doesn't use the James Bond Theme a lot in Thunderball. It shows up during the pre-credits fight (helpful for getting audiences in the mood) and again to close things out at the very end, but for the most part Barry uses elements of the two theme songs and also the 007 Theme he created for From Russia With Love. I guess another way of looking at it is that Barry's using the Bond Theme more and more sparingly as the series goes on.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. From Russia With Love (John Barry instrumental version)
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. From Russia With Love (Matt Monro vocal version)
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. Dr No
2. Thunderball
3. Goldfinger
4. From Russia With Love
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thunderball (1965) | Villains

Blofeld is back in Thunderball, again played by Anthony Dawson's (Professor Dent from Dr. No) hands and Eric Pohlmann's voice. He's more effective here though than he was in From Russia With Love where he was closer to the planning of the caper. In Thuderball, he's able to remain in the shadows and leave the success or failure of the plot to the movie's real villain, Maximillian Largo.

Italian actor Adolfo Celi plays Largo, but like so many early Bond villains, his voice was dubbed. The voice actor was Robert Rietty, who would go on to voice Blofeld in For Your Eyes Only and also have a bit part in the Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again. Celi is a memorable villain, thanks in large part to his eyepatch, but he also has some of that calm aloofness that I admired so much in Auric Goldfinger. He's more suave than Goldfinger though, so his emotional detachment feels like an affectation. A very polished affectation, but disingenuous nonetheless.

Some of that also has to do with his big weakness and the reason he fails in his mission. He's too attached to Domino. That was also true in the novel, so it's not like the movie is dumbing Largo down. He's actually a very smart bad guy, but he does occasionally let his passions get the better of him and needs to be reined in. Someone should have told him that keeping Domino around after having her brother murdered was a bad idea. She's the hole in his armor and the whole plan would have succeeded if not for her.

I hate calling Fiona Volpe a henchman, because she's actually smarter than Largo. When Largo wants to have Bond killed, it's Fiona who advises him against it, knowing that Bond's death will let MI6 know for sure that Bond was on the right track. But she takes her orders from Largo and fits the henchman definition in every way, so that's how I'm going to classify her.

She really makes no mistakes though, except for maybe wearing her SPECTRE ring in public, but that doesn't lead to any serious defeat. Bond knows she's a bad guy, but she still captures him and it's only through his own awesome resourcefulness that he gets away and she ends up dead. She makes Bond look better because she's also so good at her job.

There are a couple of other henchmen that need mentioning even though they don't do much and I don't like them. Count Lippe is a fool and turns Bond onto the whole caper by needlessly trying to murder Bond at Shrublands. Yeah, Bond saw his tong tattoo, but that needn't have led Bond to SPECTRE.

Vargas has the ingredients for an interesting villain with his cold ruthlessness and lack of vice, but the movie doesn't do anything with him except let him be killed really easily (though wonderfully and memorably). He's a wasted character and barely qualifies as a henchman. More of a glorified thug.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
3. Doctor No (Dr. No)
4. Maximiillan Largo (Thunderball)
5. Rosa Klebb (From Russia With Love)
6. Kronsteen (From Russia With Love)
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
2. Grant (From Russia With Love)
3. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
4. Miss Taro (Dr. No)
5. Professor Dent (Dr. No)
6. Morzeny (From Russia With Love)
7. Vargas (Thunderball)
8. Count Lippe (Thunderball)
9. TBD
10. TBD

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Thunderball (1965) | Women

For the most part, the women of Thunderball are served much better than those from Goldfinger. There's not much to the first one we meet though. In fact, the movie never reveals her name. According to IMDB, it's Madame LaPorte, a French spy played by French-Japanese actress Mitsouko. We get no sense of who she is or what she's like; she's just there for Bond to explain things to so the audience isn't lost.

Pat Fearing, Bond's physical therapist at Shrublands, gets more to do, though he doesn't treat her very well. When he's injured by a piece of equipment on her watch (though not due to any fault of hers), he blackmails her into having sex with him. It's a creepy move on his part, but besides giving into that she seems more or less like the kind of woman who can take care of herself. She's strong-willed, but only up to a point, which I imagine Bond finds very attractive.

I'm going to talk more about Fiona Volpe tomorrow when we cover villains, but she deserves a couple of thoughts here too. Like Pat, Fiona is also strong-willed, but she takes it much further and that's what I like about her. She's probably the smartest bad guy in the movie and is Bond's biggest rival in most ways.

The literary Domino is one of my favorite women in the novels and the movie version does a nice job of capturing her. Mostly. Claudine Auger has a hard time balancing the confidence and vulnerability of the book's version, so she seems awesomely unaffected by Bond one minute and then the next she's moaning about the way he holds her.

One of the things I'm tracking in these movies is when the female lead turns totally stupid, because it happens a lot in the series. But I'm learning that that's a later development. It doesn't happen with Honey, Tatiana, or even Pussy, and it doesn't happen with Domino either. Once she knows who the good guys and bad guys are, Domino is very brave and agrees to help Bond even though she's in way over her head. A stronger actress would have made her a better character, but I very much like the way she's written.

My favorite woman in Thunderball though is Paula Caplan. She's Bond's assistant in Nassau and I'll get to why I like her in a second. But first, it's worth noting that she's played by Jamaican actress Martine Beswick, who also appeared in two other Bond films. She was one of the Romani women in the death match during From Russia With Love, but she was also one of the silhouette dancers in the opening credits of Dr. No. Terrance Young, who directed all three movies, apparently liked her a lot. She'd go on to appear in various Hammer films like One Million Years BC, Prehistoric Women, and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.

What makes the character so cool though is that she's a beautiful woman, but there's absolutely no hint of sexual anything between her and Bond. No flirting, no nothing. It's all completely professional and knowing Bond, I'm giving her the credit for that. And as much as I hate to see her go, I also love the way she dies. Not by being roughed up by Largo's men (though she is), but by her own choice via cyanide capsule. It's a tragic death, but it's an heroic one too. Absolutely love her.

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Paula Caplan (Thunderball)
2. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
3. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
4. Domino Derval (Thunderball)
5. Honey Rider (Dr. No)
6. Sylvia Trench (Dr. No and From Russia With Love)
7. Pussy Galore (Goldfinger)
8. Tilly Masterson (Goldfinger)
9. Jill Masterson (Goldfinger)
10. The Photographer (Dr. No)

Adam Link: The Autobiography of a Mechanical Man [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Sympathetic robot characters were not the norm in the 1930s. Robots were either the tools of mad scientists or out-of-control monsters. Isaac Asimov's fame as an SF writer rests partly on his tales of likeable robots. He created the famous "Three Laws of Robotics," logically deduced rules that robots would have to follow to be used safely in society. Asimov wrote entire novels around possible issues with the Three Laws and how robots would be accepted or not by humans.

But this was in the 1940s. Asimov's first story, "Robbie," was written in 1939 and did not see print until September 1940. Authors who predated Asimov include Neil R Jones with his stories of the Zoromes and John Wyndham (under his real name of John Beynon Harris) with "The Lost Machine," but most influential was Eando Binder (Earl and Otto Binder, a brother team). They created Adam Link, a robot who is judged by humanity, but not found wanting. The stories of Adam Link appeared in Amazing Stories between January 1939 and April 1942. The first of ten stories was entitled "I, Robot," because the narrator of the piece is the robot itself. This was revolutionary. Nobody had ever told the story from the robot's point-of-view before. When the stories were collected in book form the title I, Robot (1965) was selected. This was also the name of Asimov's first robot collection (1950), with the Binders' permission.

The original Binder stories are more like episodes in a novel. (In fact, when it came time to collect them, the story titles were dropped and only chapter titles were given.) The first story, "I, Robot" ends with Adam Link in prison, waiting for his destruction. The second part, "The Trial of Adam Link," has Adam being represented in court by Dr. Link's nephew, Thomas. This story ends with the case lost and Adam's facing death again. The next story has reporter Jack Hall finding the people Adam saved from a fire (and a small child from a speeding car), who speak out and free him. It is these two stories that will form the television adaptations of the future. "Adam Link in Business" has the robot searching for some form of meaning and employment. Jack Hall is interested in Kay Temple, but she falls for the metal man. Adam is forced to leave so that Kay can fall in love with a human. The story leaves off as Link goes on a new journey. What will happen to him next? These cliffhanger endings worked well to force editors and readers to ask for the next portion of the tale. In consecutive episodes, Adam fell under the control of an evil scientist, created a metal mate named Eve, then became a detective to save her from the Black Fist Gang's frame-up, and he became an athletic champion to win over public opinion and the right to have American citizenship. He even fought for humanity against alien invaders. Not bad for a robot.

Asimov casts a big shadow, but SF fans still have a fondness for Binder's Adam Link. The stories were adapted into comics and television. First in 1955-56 with EC's Weird Science-Fantasy #27-29 (March/April 1955 through May/June 1956). Adapted by Al Feldstein and drawn by Joe Orlando, the last three issues of this title adapted "I, Robot," "The Trial of Adam Link," and "Adam Link in Business." Feldstein's adaptation simplified the stories a little, but otherwise were faithful. Joe Orlando's art was low-key by EC standards, drawing Adam with a pointed conical head.

"I, Robot," the original story, received two television adaptations, first by the original Outer Limits (November 7, 1964) and again in the new version of Outer Limits (July 23, 1995). The best thing about these two, very similar versions is that Leonard Nimoy was featured in both. In 1964 he played the journalist Jack Hall (renamed Judson Ellis) who acts as a kind of foil to the lawyer, Thurman Cutler (played by Howard Da Silva) who represents Adam Link and loses. In the 1964 episode, the lawyer is not the relative. That is the beautiful Marianna Hall as the professor's niece, Nina Link. In 1995, Nimoy got to play Cutler himself (and wins the case) with his son Adam Nimoy directing the episode. Cynthia Preston is the prof's daughter, Mina Link, now playing foil in place of the reporter.

The first television version may have sparked an interest in another comic version. More likely it was an adaptation of "Adam Link's Vengeance" in a fanzine, Fantasy Illustrated #2, adapted by Otto Binder and drawn by D Bruce Berry and Bill Spicer. This piece won the Alley Award for Best Fan Comic Strip of the Year. Binder was interested in adapting more of the Adam Link stories, but who would publish them? The unusual choice was James Warren's Creepy. Known for down-beat horror, the magazine in its early days was edited by Archie Goodwin and attracted the likes of Frank Frazetta, Gray Morrow, Reed Crandall and Steve Ditko. The new adaptation by Otto Binder would be drawn by Joe Orlando, the original artist of 1955!

As you'd expect, Binder's adaptation is accurate and he gets to tell five more episodes about Adam Link. Orlando's second time around as artist is interesting because rather than replicate what he did ten years earlier, he uses the black and white medium well with gray shades and a more realistic look. He drew Adam differently too, abandoning the conical head for a more human one. In the end, the Creepy adaptations were well done, but ended too soon when the Warren company fell on hard times. In the end they published "I, Robot" (Creepy #2, April 1965), "Trial of Adam Link" (Creepy #4, August 1965) "Adam Link in Business" (Creepy #6, December 1965) "Adam Link's Mate" (Creepy #8, April 1966) "Adam Link's Vengeance" (Creepy #9, June 1966) "Robot Detective" (Creepy #12, December 1966) "Adam Link, Gangbuster" (Creepy #13, February 1967), and "Adam Link, Champion Athlete" (Creepy #15 August 1967).

Except for the 1995 Outer Limits episode, Adam Link's career ended here. And it's not surprising. He had a lot more competition by 1967. Robots were appearing in all kinds of media from books like Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to television with Lost in Space and Astro to films like Forbidden Planet to comics like The Metal Men. Likeable robots are here to stay and Earl and Otto Binder did their share to make them a permanent part of the science fiction fabric.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Thunderball (1965) | Bond

Actors and Allies

Yesterday, I mentioned that Moneypenny and Bond's relationship was changed slightly from the novel Thunderball. That's because Fleming had weirdly changed it for the novel. The literary Bond and Moneypenny never flirt (that's something he does with his own secretaries, not with his boss'), but in Thunderball Fleming wrote that Moneypenny had a crush on Bond. It never came up again in the books, so maybe he thought better of it, but it was also creeping into the movies with Goldfinger. In Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Bond and Moneypenny flirt, but it's entirely mutual and there's no hint that she wants anything more from him than he wants from her. In Goldfinger though, I got the feeling that she was starting to have romantic thoughts about him. Fortunately, that's all gone in Thunderball and we're back to sheer, mutual playfulness.

Felix Leiter is also back and I like Rik Van Nutter in the part. He's not a very good actor, but he looks like the literary Felix with his lean handsomeness, sandy hair, and relaxed demeanor. Visually, we won't get another Felix this good until the Timothy Dalton era.

One of Bond's most important allies in Thunderball is his assistant, Paula, but I'm going to talk more about her tomorrow.

An overlooked ally is Bond's Nassau contact, Pinder, played by Earl Cameron. It's a small part, but also an important one. Pinder is competent, useful, and surprisingly ubiquitous through the middle part of the movie. I enjoy watching him a lot.

In fact, Pinder is a bigger character in Thunderball than Q, who only appears in one scene. That's not unusual for the series, but Thunderball uses him in a weird way, sending him all the way to Nassau to outfit Bond, but then never mentioning him again. There will be plenty more of that in the later Bond movies, but it's kind of surprising here when we see it for the first time. We do get a chuckle out of the situation though when Bond realizes his mission has been invaded by Q and he says, "Oh no" like he means it. The mutual disdain between the men has been escalating over the last couple of films and Thunderball continues to play that up. Eventually, we'll see that Bond and Q's ribbing each other is actually affectionate, but here it can be read either way.

As for Bond, Connery is completely at ease with his character; possibly more than in any other movie. That's not to say that he looks uncomfortable in the first three films, but he's got this part down by Thunderball and he's never funnier. That's largely due to Connery's delivery, but the script is also the funniest in the series so far. As I was keeping track of quips to figure out the best one, I was surprised by how many great lines Bond has in Thunderball.

Best Quip

Choosing the best quip turned out to be easy though. As funny as the whole movie is, nothing beats Bond's setting Fiona's corpse in a chair at the Kiss Kiss Club and asking the people at the table if his "friend can sit this one out. She's just dead." And Bond looks simultaneous pained by the pun and completely amused with himself as he turns away from them. Just perfect.

Worst Quip

There aren't any full-blown stinkers in the movie, but the one with the worst landing is when Bond takes off his jet pack and declares, "No well-dressed man should be without one." It's not horrible, but it's also not trying very hard.


Speaking of the jet pack, it's my favorite gadget in the movie, but there are plenty to choose from. And that's not even counting SPECTRE gadgets like Fiona's missile-firing motorcycle and Largo's tricked out yacht (I've decided only to include Bond's gadgets in my Top Ten). The Aston Martin makes another appearance (this time firing water cannons instead of creating an oil slick), but there's also a tape-recorder disguised as a book, a geiger counter watch, a geiger counter camera, a radioactive pill that acts as a homing beacon when swallowed, a handy rebreather for underwater work, and a propeller-driven SCUBA tank set up with built in spearguns and plenty of underwater grenades. Q really outdoes himself this time.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
2. Jet pack (Thunderball)
3. Attaché case (From Russia With Love)
4. Propeller SCUBA tank with built-in spearguns (Thunderball)
5. Rebreather (Thunderball)
6. Camera-tape recorder; mostly because it reminds me of a camera my dad used to use (From Russia With Love)
7. Seagull SCUBA hat (Goldfinger)
8. Book tape-recorder (Thunderball)
9. Geiger counter watch (Thunderball)
10. Geiger counter camera (Thunderball)

Bond's Best Outfit

I got tired of looking at Bond's suits and trying to decide which color scheme I liked best, so I picked this poolside outfit he wears with blue swim trunks and a watermelon shirt. It's bold, but he pulls it off.

Bond's Worst Outfit

I couldn't find a great screenshot of this entire outfit, but the straw hat is only part of the problem. Bond's pants exactly match the color of his shirt and that's a real issue for me. Looks like he's wearing pajamas.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Thunderball (1965) | Story

Plot Summary

SPECTRE steals a couple of nuclear bombs and it's up to Bond to get them back.


It's mostly a faithful adaptation of the novel Thunderball, though that of course was adapted by Ian Fleming from the movie treatment he'd created with writer/director Kevin McClory and others. That's why McClory gets a producer credit on this film.

The court battle over Thunderball had ended during the production of Goldfinger when Fleming - who was very sick by this time - more or less gave up. The novel could remain in print with Fleming's name on the cover, but future editions would have to credit McClory and writer Jack Whittingham as contributors to the film treatment the book was based on. And McClory won the complete TV and movie rights to the story.

McClory was actually working on his own version of a Thunderball movie, but the popularity of Sean Connery as Bond made McClory realize that he'd have a hard time competing. He went to Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli with the offer to make the film together. They weren't keen on it at first, but Columbia's Casino Royale spoof was also in the works and Saltzman/Broccoli realized that a third Bond film would be bad for them. And if they were ever going to be able to adapt Thunderball, this was the time. So they scrapped their plans to make On Her Majesty's Secret Service the next movie and accepted McClory's offer.

While not strictly influences, there are a couple of references to other movies in Thunderball. For instance, when Bond tells SPECTRE assassin Fiona, "I've grown accustomed to your face," he's quoting the Audrey Hepburn version of My Fair Lady that had come out the year before. And earlier in the movie, he tells Shrublands employee Patricia Fearing that he'll see her "another time, another place," which was the name of a Sean Connery movie from 1958.

How Is the Book Different?

The plot is very close to the novel, but McClory had continued tweaking the script and there are changes, mostly great ones. For example, the movie drops M's interest in fads as the reason Bond begins the story at the Shrublands health resort. The alternative reason it offers isn't super plausible, but I'm glad that M is less of a joke than he was in the book. Speaking of which, Bond and Moneypenny's relationship is also different from the book, but I'll say more about that tomorrow.

A third, positive change is Bond's reason for going to the Bahamas to search for the missing bombs. The book makes that a hunch on M's part, but in the movie it's Bond who suggests it and he has a good reason for doing so. Which brings me to...

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

Because Bond goes to Nassau on his own hunch instead of M's, he's putting his reputation on the line with the Foreign Secretary who's running the operation. That's a big change from the book, but it gives M the opportunity to stick up for Bond to the Secretary, which is totally something that the literary M would do.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

As Sean Connery's Bond becomes increasingly solidified as a character, he moves further and further away from the literary Bond. I'll talk more about this tomorrow, but it's not entirely a bad thing. It is partly a bad thing though, because as sadistic and chauvinistic as the literary Bond is, he's not as oppressive and creepy as Sean Connery in his interaction with Patricia Fearing. Bond not only packed a weird, mink glove to take to the resort; he also blackmails Pat into having sex with him. That's in line with the way he treats Pussy Galore in the Goldfinger movie, but I can't imagine Fleming's Bond doing that. In the novel, Pat supplies the mink glove and blackmail never enters the picture.

Cold Open

The cold open for Thunderball doesn't have much to do with the main plot, but I can see what they're going for. Each cold open so far has tried to outdo the one before. From Russia With Love featured a quiet, moody death, Goldfinger had a couple of gadgets and a short fight, and Thunderball offers a prolonged fight sequence and some major gadgets, including the return of Bond's Aston Martin.

And it's not like the opening has nothing to do with the main plot. Not only does Blofeld refer to it in his SPECTRE briefing, but recovering from that fight is at least part of the reason Bond starts the movie proper at Shrublands. It's the best cold open so far, even if the opening shot of the initials JB on a coffin is a sad and poorly executed idea.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. Thunderball
2. Goldfinger
3. From Russia With Love
4. TBD
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Movie Series Continuity

Blofeld and SPECTRE are back of course, after sitting Goldfinger out. As in From Russia With Love, we still don't see his face and he still has the white cat.

Bond's trick of throwing his hat onto Moneypenny's hatrack makes its fourth appearance in as many movies, though with a humorous twist. Bond enters her office and is about to toss his hat when he realizes that the hatrack has been moved right next to the door where he's standing. Disappointed, he just puts it on the rack like a normal person.

And finally, there are apparently a lot more Double-O agents in the movie universe than in Fleming's. The books only talk about three, but when Bond attends the conference room briefing with "every Double-O in Europe" there are nine chairs. Incidentally, the seventh one is Bond's.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

7 Days in May: Harry Potter and the Furious 7

Doctor Who

We've been watching classic Doctor Who for a while in our house, but recently David expressed an interest in the new stuff, so we skipped ahead. Diane and I had already seen the Eccleston episodes and David was enjoying them for the most part (he's not a big fan of the Slitheen and who can blame him?), but our New Who marathon ground to a halt with "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances." That's the two-part story where the Doctor and Rose go to London during the Blitz of WWII, meet Jack Harkness, and have to solve the mystery of a gas-masked boy who goes around very creepily asking people, "Are you my mummy?"

Diane was freaked out about these episodes back in 2005 when they first aired. David was about the same age as the gas-masked boy at the time, so the story resonated in an especially disturbing way with her. Ten years later, we hoped it wasn't quite as scary as we remembered, but no, it totally is and David was freaked right out. He has a very active imagination and three days later he's still struggling with some of those images. There's no way he's going to be able to handle the Weeping Angels, so as a family we're going back to the Pertwee era and I'll forge on alone with the New Who catch-up.

My personal opinion about these two episodes though is that they're the best in the Eccleston season up to that point and are a great reminder of why Stephen Moffat (who wrote them) eventually got the gig as show-runner. There are some other very strong episodes in that season ("Dalek" and "Father's Day" being two), but "The Doctor Dances" is my favorite so far.

Eccleston gets a lot of crap from Doctor Who fans and I understand it to an extent. When these episodes first aired, I was just so happy to have the Doctor back that I wasn't the least bit critical of Eccleston's portrayal. Especially since I didn't have Tennant's to compare it to, yet. Watching it again, I can see why it doesn't sit well with some people. Eccleston's Doctor is manic, but in a dark way. He's very angry and sometimes outright mean and cruel. But that makes complete sense to me considering what he's recently been through and I still find him a compelling and likable - if extremely tragic - character.

Star Wars: Clone Wars

Another marathon we're working through is trying to get through all the Star Wars movies and TV shows, in chronological order, by the time The Force Awakens comes out. We're in Season 3 of Clone Wars right now and it's rough going.

We like the adventures and the way the series jumps between groups of characters. That keeps it exciting and fresh. But the show really dumbs down the Jedi in order to make other threats more dangerous. All the Jedi forget to use the Force at key moments and apparently anyone in the galaxy can pick up a lightsaber and use it with Jedi-like skill against an actual Jedi. Right now, my enjoyment of the show is about equal with my frustration at it. If we weren't doing this as part of a project, I'd consider dropping it to free up time for something else.

The One I Love

Another project I'm working on is catching up on all the 2014 movies that I missed seeing. If you check out that post, I'm banging them out in pretty much the order that I listed them.

The One I Love isn't exactly what I expected. It explores the theme of changes in relationships; just not in the way I thought it would. It starts off as a drama with comedic (and perhaps supernatural) elements, but ends up being sort of a light thriller. It would make an interesting double-feature with Gone Girl since both movies compare their leads' relationships at different stages and ask which stage is preferable. Do we like the beginning stage when everyone's on their best behavior? Or do we prefer the later stages when we're getting real with each other, but everything's so much messier? Gone Girl explores those questions in a heavy, obvious way, while The One I Love is light and subtle. I prefer The One I Love.

The F Word (aka What If)

The F Word is an Irish-Canadian movie that was retitled What If for release in the US and UK. The original is the better title, not only because it's way more clever, but also because it actually has something to do with the movie. The F Word of the film is "friend" and the movie explores the relationship between an emotionally damaged man (Daniel Radcliffe) and a woman (Zoe Kazan) who's currently in a serious, long-term relationship.

I love this movie. Its leads are absolutely charming, but what I like most is how complicated the emotions and relationships are. Wallace and Chantry agree to be just friends because she has a boyfriend. Wallace claims to be okay with that because a) he's recently been hurt badly by a cheating ex-girlfriend, and b) he's vowed never to do that to anyone else. He doesn't want to be the guy who breaks up Chantry and Ben. But Wallace obviously has feelings for Chantry and a lot of the movie is about his struggle to keep those in check. He doesn't want fall into Nice Guy Syndrome and it's fascinating to see him navigate the relationship imperfectly, but as honorably as he can.

What is so refreshing about the movie though is that Chantry is an equal player in the relationship. She's not just the object of Wallace's desire, she's a complete character with her own faults and mixed emotions about both Wallace and Ben. She's just as compelling to watch as she tries to figure out what's going on, how she feels about it, and what she should do. Put all that together with funny dialogue, a wonderful supporting cast, and a great soundtrack and you've got the best romantic comedy of last year, if not the last several years.

Furious 7

I was nervous going into this. Partly that's because I attributed everything I love about the Fast and Furious series to Justin Lin. James Wan was untested as an action director and that was before all the troubles during production, starting with the death of Paul Walker. I wanted Furious 7 to be as good as the last few movies in the series, but I despaired.

And truthfully, it's not as good as Fast Five or Furious 6. Those are enormously fun movies with huge casts and over-the-top plots that still manage to hold together somehow. Furious 7 is dealing with a smaller cast thanks to the deaths of some characters and its plot doesn't hold together nearly as well. Really, the thing that's supposed to be driving the plot doesn't make sense at all. None of this makes it any less fun than the previous movies though.

The plot is super thin and I expect that will bother people who aren't already all in on the series, but I found plenty to enjoy. The story is only there to get us from one action set piece to the next and it does that adequately. As important as story is to me, this is a movie about huge action and characters I've come to care a lot about. It handles those elements perfectly while also including awesome performances by Jason Statham and Kurt Russell. The Furious series is everything I want The Expendables series to be.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Locked in Time: Time Machine Classics [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

The fourteenth episode of the popular sit-com The Big Bang Theory, "The Nerdmabelia Scattering," featured a prop from George Pal's 1960 film The Time Machine. The four main characters go in together to buy the original time machine prop, leading to neurotic Sheldon Cooper's dreaming and crying out, "Not flesh-eating Morlocks!" The disk-backed machine is described by Penny as "something Elton John drives through the Everglades!" But my favorite joke was when the guys simulated the sped-up time effect from the movie, pretending to be moving at advanced speed like the people in the street. Besides being hilarious, this cultural reference to the 1960 film is very telling. The show did not feature any references to the 1978 TV movie or the 2002 film. Why? Because no one, despite big budgets and CGI, has surpassed George Pal's film.

Of all the films based on HG Wells' four major SF themes, "The Time Machine" has received the least formal adaptations. This is probably due to the expensive nature of creating a future world. The concept of time travel has become widely familiar though, from comedies to super-hero fare. Anyone from the Three Stooges to the Flash can travel in time. The idea became a mainstream trope while actual adaptations of the story have been sparse.

"The Time Machine" (1895) catapulted HG Wells into the top tier of science fiction writers. The story (some call it a short novel) follows an anonymous inventor who goes to the future, seeking a time when Science will have solved all of humankind's problems. What he finds instead is a garden world populated by two separate races: the Eloi, with their pleasant bovine simplicity, and the evil Morlocks, dwelling below with their sinister machines. The tale works on so many levels that I've re-read it more times than any other of Wells' stories. The SF extrapolation is wonderful, following a split in the human species, as well as a look at the eventual death of the solar system. This post-Morlock portion of the tale has been as inspirational as the first part, influencing writers like William Hope Hodgson and John W Campbell. Wells also uses fantasy tropes like the dream journey and return, but the story also works as a horror tale, with the Morlocks slowly exposed and their terrible secret revealed. Perhaps most important to Wells is that the story is also a socialist cautionary tale about the division between proletariat and those who exploit them.

The very first TV adaptation was made by the BBC and appeared January 25, 1949. No recordings of this show exist. The Time Traveler was played by Russell Napier and Mary Donn was Weena. The script shows a fairly accurate adaptation and the photos look like typical BBC television, shot on a stage but with impressive sets.

Eleven years later, science fiction filmmaker George Pal would bring the story to blazing color with astounding special effects. The classic film starred Rod Taylor as the Time Traveler and Yvette Mimieux as Weena. The film won an Academy Award for its time-lapse photography. It is this film that gave us the chair with the spinning dish that supplied the prop for that episode of Big Bang. Unlike Pal's adaptation of The War of the Worlds (1953), this film did not update the setting but stays in the Victorian age of Wells. Because of this, the time machine does not have a futuristic look, but a quaint Steampunkish one. The only deviation from Wells' vision is the deletion of the scene where he goes beyond the Morlocks to see the end of the Earth.

Pal's film lingered on in TV reruns and re-releases at theaters for decades. It took until 1978 for someone to approach the material again, this time as a television movie, part of Sunn Pictures' Classics Illustrated series. Sadly, the producers updated the background, making the Time Traveler, played by John Beck, a scientist working for the military. The theme of the piece is also updated to being about the military industrial complex and not humanity's overall evolution. The film has numerous strikes against it. First, the almost Western-style music. This, along with jaunts back to a Salem-style witch-burning and the Old West, brand the picture as very American in what was a quintessential British novel. These past episodes take up almost half the movie, leaving only the last 50 minutes for the Eloi. The bad writing is accompanied with much bad acting. Priscilla Barnes, as Weena, is the only convincing performer.

There is a good laugh for people today when we learn that in 2004, in a world with environmental challenges, a three-day work week and test tube babies, World War III breaks out and annihilates the planet. Humans are driven underground and only the Eloi choose to come up again, leaving the underworld to the Morlocks, who look like Frankenstein monsters with glowing eyes. What was a series of fascinating mysteries and reveals in the novel is baldly and boringly stated in this film. Even the message of peace is twisted when the Time Traveler helps the Eloi to destroy the Morlocks. Wells would never have done this for he knew that the Eloi are too docile and stupid to produce clothing, food and other things necessary to survive. The Time Traveler returns to Weena when he learns the corporation he has blindly worked for, wants to use the time machine as a spying tool to keep their competitive edge on all future technology.

If the 1978 film was a disappointment, the 2002 film by Wells' grandson, Simon Wells, was an intriguing failure. Guy Pierce plays the Time Traveler, appropriately set before the turn-of-the-century, but in America. He is Dr. Alexander Hartdegen, a professor of Engineering at Columbia. The film supplies a romantic back-story in which Hartdegen's fiancée is killed. Using the time machine he tries to change the past, but finds doing so only causes her death in other ways. Disconsolate, he goes into the future to find Earth being ravaged by the destruction of the Moon. In this future time he encounters Vox, the computer library, played wonderfully by Orlando Jones. Later in the film he would encounter him again, in the dilapidated library of the Eloi. Jones is funny, singing an imaginary Andrew Lloyd Weber musical based on Wells' book, but he even manages to make us a little sad for the AI personality that can forget nothing. He also supplies the background info that is usually done at this point in the story. In many ways the film is an homage to the 1960 and even the 1978 films. Hartdegen's design has the same levers and spinning disk (though two) that we all know. The time lapse sequences use the same growing plants and passing suns that the other films did. And like the other two, the sequence after the Morlocks is ignored.

Now the bad news: once the time traveler goes 800,000 years into the future, the film stumbles. The success of the recent Tim Burton film, The Planet of the Apes, had a dire influence on the producers. The Morlocks are no longer small, apish creatures but several separate types, one large and brutish and the other thin and vampire-like, their king played well by Jeremy Irons. The Eloi are no longer pleasure-seeking cows but barbarians living in huts built on the sides of cliffs. I imagine the producers did not want the second portion to slow in momentum, taking their time to slowly reveal the Morlocks. Instead they dove Planet of the Apes-style into a world of hunter and hunted. The second half tries to be an action film and loses itself for a while. This said, much is the same as the 1960 film, with the main character's discovering the Morlocks' slaughterhouse and the eventual destruction of the underground caves. Before this, Hartdegen and the Morlock King get to argue about evolution and time paradoxes. They fight it out on the time machine instead of the usual bunch of Morlocks and the film ends with the machine destroyed. Hartdegen, with his Weena (named Mara) at his side, is ready to face an uncertain future. Even though the earlier parts of the film played homage to 1960 (like the dresses in the shop window), the second half tries to satisfy action fans and fails.

One side film I would like to mention is Time After Time (1979). This film featured Malcolm McDowell as HG Wells, who has created an actual time machine, and David Warner as Jack the Ripper. The Ripper's killing spree ends because he steals the time machine and escapes to our time. Wells follows him to the future and has to hunt the madman down. The film was directed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer, who had a bestseller with the Sherlock Holmes pastiche, The Seven Per Cent Solution (1974). The movie also stars Mary Steenbergen as the love interest, Amy, who would appear in another time travel franchise, Back to the Future. Time After Time is a delightful bit of fun for Wells fans, but isn't actually an adaptation. The Ripper's death is similar to that of the Morlock King twenty-three years later and I have to wonder if the film didn't have some influence.

The legacy of Wells' "The Time Machine" is too wide to clearly outline. His idea of traveling in time has been part of so many science fiction novels, TV shows, comic books and films. Without the Time Traveler's adventures there is no Captain Kirk going back to 1968 in "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" or saving whales in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. No Red Dwarf. No Doctor Who or Back to the Future. No crappy ending of Superman II. Mainstreamed SF like The Lake House by James Patterson or better yet, Somewhere In Time by Richard Matheson. Classics like The Door Into Summer by Robert A Heinlein, "The Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury, "Behold the Man" by Michael Moorcock, and on and on and on... Time travel is one of the major SF themes and like so many others, the man who gave it to us went by the name of Wells.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.


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