Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative

Home Of Swords, Sorcery, Superheroes, Sonic Screwdrivers, Supernatural Scares, Star Stuff, Sci-fi, Smeg, and Silliness

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Pandorum (2009)

A welcome addition to the "spaceship as haunted house" sub-genre of horror sci-fi (which also includes Alien and Event Horizon), Pandorum sees flight crew member Bower (Ben Foster) awaken from suspended animation on a massive starship heading to the planet Tanis - which is supposedly future-mankind's last hope for survival after Earth's resources have been sucked dry.

The suspended animation has left Bower with temporary amnesia, but he quickly discovers things aren't right on the ship and he is not the only person awake.

There's very little originality in Pandorum (and it's great for a 'spot the homage' drinking game), with the majority of the important plot twists being very predictable, but the film is well made and well acted, with some great scenery, interesting ghoulish monsters and nicely-paced excitement and thrills throughout.

It was a movie I'd wanted to see since it came out and I wasn't disappointed.

End Of Summer Review Round-Up...

Pandorum (2009): A welcome addition to the "spaceship as haunted house" sub-genre of horror sci-fi (which also includes Alien and Event Horizon), Pandorum see flight screw member Bower (Ben Foster) awaken from suspended animation on a massive starship heading to the planet Tanis - which is supposedly future-mankind's last hope for survival after Earth's resources have been sucked dry.

The suspended animation has left Bower with temporary amnesia, but he quickly discovers things aren't right on the ship and he is not the only person awake.

There's very little originality in Pandorum (and it's great for a 'spot the homage' drinking game), with the majority of the important plot twists being very predictable, but the film is well made and well acted, with some great scenery, interesting ghoulish monsters and nicely-paced excitement and thrills throughout.

It was a movie I'd wanted to see since it came out and I wasn't disappointed.

Jumper (2006): Another film I'd wanted to see for quite some time and I ended up being only slightly disappointed by, after I'd heard a lot of very bad things about it.

David Rice (Hayden 'Anakin Skywalker' Christensen) discovers he has the mutant ability to teleport - like Nightcrawler of The X-Men, but without the sulphery aftertaste and smoke. He ends up living a hedonistic lifestyle of global travel, robbing all the money he wants from banks, and soulless hook-ups with women in bars.

But after eight years of this great life, he discovers there's a bigger picture - a larger mythology is suggested (but never explained) with an organisation called the Paladins tracking down and killing 'jumpers'.

Samuel 'Mace Windu' L. Jackson is the white-haired Paladin on David's trail, who cites religion as his justification for killing mutants, but we never know if that's just his personal raison d'etre or the mission statement of all Paladins.

It doesn't help that the two jumpers we get to know - David and Jamie Bell's Griffin - aren't particularly sympathetic characters, with Griffin crippled by one of those hideous Hollywood faux-European garbled accents that could be cockney, could be Irish, could be anything.

The effects win the day in Jumper, yet despite a worldwide playground and some stunning set pieces, it feels like a very small and incomplete film; almost a prequel (oh, Hayden... not again!) to a more developed movie that might actually explain what's going on... and why we should care.

Super Hero Squad Show - Hero Up! Although the theme tune of Super Hero Squad may not have the insane Shonen Knife vibe of the Teen Titans, it's still a pretty mighty ear-worm and will get stuck in your head (you have been warned). This DVD features the first six episodes of this addictive kids' cartoon serial (which in my geeky brain I see as the cartoon show that the characters in the Marvel Universe watch about themselves), where the heroes live, permanently in their costumed identities, in Super Hero City (the mayor is Stan 'The Man' Lee himself!), while the villains, who all work for Doctor Doom, live outside the city in a gorgeous lair shaped like a Dungeons & Dragons' beholder! The overarching plot of the serial is that during a fight between Iron Man and Doctor Doom the crystalline Infinity Sword was shattered and both sides are now chasing down the powerful, magic shards of the sword (known as 'fractals') in an effort to rebuild the reality-altering sword. The character designs are based on those small, 'deformed' figures you can find in Toys R Us, and while their personalities are toned down and slightly stereotypical (e.g. the Silver Surfer is a bit of a cosmic stoner, Thor is very vain, Hawkeye's a jerk, Falcon is a joker etc), the writing is perfect and the individual stories may be simple but that doesn't mean silly. Kids will love the show - it's fast, colourful and funny - but adults, especially those up on their Marvel lore, will be entertained by it as well... and singing the theme tune to themselves for days afterward. Volume two is  due out in the United States in November.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

From The Stacks: Spelljammer #1

At the height of Dungeons & Dragons' popularity in the late 1980s, TSR - then publishers of the game - made a deal with DC Comics to produce a variety of D&D themed comics.

The main Advanced Dungeons & Dragons title ran for 36 issues (plus an annual), while other titles concentrated on popular settings like The Forgotten Realms (25 issues) and Dragonlance (34 issues).

However, in retrospect, the Spelljammer title was a bit of a strange choice. As a game setting it was always rather controversial, with many players objecting to the mingling of science-fiction elements into their 'straight' fantasy settings and many of the alien races were rather comical (hippopotami in Victorian naval costumes and giant hamsters being the ones using held up for ridicule).

Of course, Dungeons & Dragons has a tradition of mixing sci-fi with fantasy as many of its originators sought their inspiration in the pulpy sword-and-sorcery tales of the '30s and '40s, rather than Tolkien's high fantasy oeuvre (just look at the Blackmoor, Arduin or Tekumel campaigns).

Several smaller companies have produced Dungeons & Dragons comics since the DC era (including Kenzer & Co and Devil's Due).

The latest company is IDW which is bringing out a Dungeons & Dragons title in November (based off of the 4th Edition of the game) and then a Dark Sun title in the new year (set in the popular campaign world of that name).

The company also has plans for a Forgotten Realms comic later in 2011, although I suspect that may depend on sales of the initial brace of titles.

Oh, and there's rumours of the Wizards Of The Coast community forums that Spelljammer is coming back as a game setting for 4e in 2011.


As part of a cross-blog endeavor to promote lesser known comic book titles (entitled Read This Too), I am beginning my issue-by-issue review of the Spelljammer title today - and will hopefully stick to a weekly schedule to cover all 15 issues of this odd, little title before moving onto other Dungeons & Dragons comics.

Spelljammer (issue 1) - Journey's Song, Kirstig's Tale

Publication: DC Comics, September 1990

Creators: Barbara Kesel (writer), Michael Collins (penciller), Dan Panosian (inker)

Plot & Review: The narrative begins with cleric Kirstig leading a caravan of her tribe across the desert of a nameless world, looking for a new homeland, when they stumble upon a downed Spelljammer ship - which they mistake for an exotic but abandoned building.

In an almost Hitchcockian way writer Barabra Kesel then switches the focus of the story to the inhabitants of the ship - although a sub-plot involving an unpleasant scout trying to emotionally blackmail Kirstig into marriage does return towards the end of the issue. The ship's crew is a miss-matched bunch from several worlds and this provides Kesel with a good opportunity to info dump the nature of "spelljamming" on the reader - and the natives.

This segment also allows for some namechecking of other familiar Dungeons & Dragons worlds and places - such as Krynn and Waterdeep - and some well-known monsters (ie. umber hulks).

The caravan, which has dragged the spaceship along with it, soon reaches water and that's when trouble begins as the moody scout, Thrar, accuses one of the ship crew, Pax, of trying to steal Kirstig away from him. In the ensuing brouhaha, the spaceship takes off with its old crew joined accidentally by Kirstig and a number of other 'stowaways'.

A solid introduction to the series, with slightly too many characters to keep track of and Kesel taking the rather disappointing approach that when magic is cast, all the spellcaster does is say the name of the spell (e.g. "dispel magic", "know alignment" etc), which resulted in a strange panel where three people are just saying the word "tongues".

However, the universe we are introduced to - especially in Pax's pocket guide to cosmology and spelljamming - is wide open for adventure and excitement and if I had been picking this up in 1990 I certainly would have been on the look-out for issue two.

It's going to be fascinating to see how the high fantasy worlds of Dungeons & Dragons are to be merged with the space travel and low-tech sci-fi of Spelljammer over the next 14 issues.


Other blogs taking part in this drive to promote lesser-read titles, Read This Too, can be found below. Please visit my comic book colleagues and bathe in their wit and wisdom...

Monday, 27 September 2010

A Brief Skirmish...

Skirmish in Sidcup was a new wargames show to me, but as soon as Rachel and I rolled up at about 10.30am on Sunday morning I was immediately overwhelmed by the vast array of affordable second hand gaming material for sale.

This was, by no means, a large show (maybe on a par with the early days of Cavalier, the Tunbridge Wells Wargame Society show, when it used to be held in a school in Southborough), with the traders filling a single school hall and the corridor outside.

Catering for all variety of "toy soldier" collectors, the show wasn't only aimed at wargamers, but we certainly dominated and there was plenty of new product for sale as well, particularly Games Workshop, Flames Of War etc

However, both Rachel and I remarked on the seemingly low prices of the goods for sale - the second hand stuff at least - and while I hadn't expected to pick much up at all I actually ended up with quite a sizable haul (and a large percentage of my budget still untouched).

As well as a lot of cheap figures - both metal and plastic (with prices, for metal, ranging from £1 to £2 on average - even for painted figures - and plastic proportionately cheaper) - I found a couple of 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons modules (Hall of Heroes and Waterdeep And The North, both Forgotten Realms pieces) for 50p each and a box set of Ravenloft: Realm Of Terror for £6. My largest purchase of the day was a painted Zvezda castle (a keep, three corner towers, a drawbridge and five wall sections) for £15, which should sit across my games table nicely for siege games etc

The castle has a basic paint job on it that will probably suffice, but if I'm feeling brave I might try and dry brush the stonework a bit more.

(Of course, I realise the castle is technically the wrong scale for my 28mm figures - being more 1/72 or 1/76 - but it's a dramatic show piece so I don't think it really matters. It just means the wooden doors are all a bit on the small side, but so what?)

My old friend John Ewing, who used to run Military & Myths/Black Knight Games in Sevenoaks when I worked in the town, was there manning a stall with his wife and so Rachel and I had a good catch-up chat with him (and I purchased a few fantasy figures). John had originally been my 'figure painter of choice' when I first started seriously getting into this type of gaming about a decade ago, after university, until he retired from that particular 'labour of love'.

I was then lucky enough to meet Neil Wilson (of Wilson's Miniatures) at a show - I don't even remember which one now - and haven't looked back when it comes to getting someone else to do the fiddly bits of my hobby.

Complementing the traders were about a dozen displays from local wargames' clubs, in another hall (next to the all-important canteen), with a good mix of historical and fantasy games.

I got to meet Gary Mitchell, of Space Vixens From Mars fame, and actually see his miniatures in the flesh for the first time. Some will certainly sit well with my beloved Galactic Adventures In The Fourth Dimension Of The Forbidden Zone (GAFDOZ) figures from Killer B Games.

More pictures of the games can be found here in my Facebook album.

The show takes place about every six months and as it only took us just over half an hour to get there I'm sure we'll return next year. It also meant yesterday that Rachel managed to get home in time for the start of the Grand Prix.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Watch Out For Wormholes!

PRESS RELEASE: Brit Movie Tours, a unique film and TV locations sightseeing tour company that visits iconic screen locations in London and throughout Britain, has just launched two new tours designed for Doctor Who fans to complement its existing Cardiff Locations Tour.

The four hour luxury air-conditioned mini coach tour includes Doctor Who locations from the past 45 years with a particular focus on the classic series.

Visitors can see over 15 locations from the show, both new and old including sites featured in The Invasion, Resurrection of the Daleks through to more recent episodes such as Rose and Aliens of London.

Fans can also take a trip to the Doctor Who Museum and get a chance to pick up some Doctor Who gifts and memorabilia.

This three-day fully guided small group tour starts and ends in London and travels across England to South Wales where the show is filmed.

Sites visited include the Maze of the Dead, the Pandorica, Bad Wolf Bay and many other locations from both the classic and new series.

Brit Movie Tours director, Lewis Swan said: “One of the aims of these new Doctor Who Locations Tours is to take fans to places they know from the TV series and get a bit closer to the characters, both good and evil, that they see each week.”

Visitors can find out more information about this tour as well as others on offer by visiting London Tours of TV and Film Locations


It's only taken five months - since the last landmark - to score a quarter of a million hits!

While the site has seen a slowdown since our 200,000 celebrations back in April, clearly my "summer of slackness" didn't have as big an effect on hits as I thought (of course, this could simply mean that people are mainly coming to HeroPress to swipe pictures of Amanda Tapping).

All being well my coverage of Merlin should bring some more people to the site (we're already seeing a bump on Saturday and Sunday after I post a review) and then when HeroPress gets back up to full speed next month, I'm going to make a concerted effort to produce more focused, quality posts.

I'm slightly concerned that this might actually lose me some Followers though (the HeroPress superteam is a pretty broad church at present) if people don't feel their particular niche is being covered.

The site has also seen a pleasant leap in Blogger Followers - now up 122 (which makes me an 'old school Maven' by Trey's ranking, or a 6th level blogger) - along with 77 Followers on Facebook, a tasty 175 Google "subscribers", and 34 Followers for my new HeroPress Tumblr.

However, once again my fears of why the bulk of visitors are being drawn here is borne out by the recent search statistics (which I guess is my own fault because I wanted the babe-factor to draw people in... I just hope they stay around!)

All that being said, I don't think a quarter of million visitors is bad in just four years really.

Foreign Language Zombie Film Week!

[REC]2 (2009): More a continuation (in a Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings way) than a sequel to the excellent REC, REC 2 opens with the famous night-vision shot of the stunning Manuela Velasco being dragged off into the darkness and picks up the story moments later with the building being stormed by a SWAT team.

The armed police have been assigned to escort a sinister, scar-faced "government representative from the Ministry of Health", Dr Owen (Jonathan Mellor), into the quarantined housing block.

As with its predecessor, this Spanish-language horror is filmed in the shaky-cam style of hand-held cameras - whether carried by the SWAT team or a trio of juvenile delinquents who come into the story about half-way through.

Very quickly we are reminded that this is not your Uncle George's zombie film, but something a whole lot more supernatural, as it fills in some of the questions left hanging by REC.

Imagine a tower block full of Regan MacNeils!
This is the Aliens part of the story after the scene-setting Alien-ness of REC.

The religious backstory makes for interesting meat, but the truly clever tricks come towards the end when the nature of the hand-held camera medium is used to brilliant effect.

REC 2 works on its own merits, although it may come across as a bit of a 'do-over' of REC when looked at like that.

However it's when you take the two halves as a single film you realise that this is an amazing, original horror movie that, in a market saturated with cookie-cutter zombie movies, has found a unique spin.

Chanbara Beauty (2008): Late in the 20th Century, an evil corporation started raising the dead, bringing on the zompocalypse.

Now, as zombies roam the urban desolation of futuristic Japan, they are being hunted by the taciturn and emotionless, but rather cute and scantily-clad, Aya (Eri Otoguro), dressed in a fur-trimmed bikini and cowboy hat, and armed with a magical sword that makes the zombies explode (sometimes).

She is joined by the even cuter, shotgun-slinging, crackshot biker chick Reiko (Manami), as they hunt for the total whack-job Dr Sugita (Tarô Suwa), whose continuing experiments are bringing the flesh-eating dead to life, and Aya's wicked little sister Saki (Chise Nakamura) who killed their father and joined the bad guys (although not necessarily in that order).

These are not your typical Western zombies either; some are able to speak while others use weapons as well as they did when they were alive (look out for the zombie Gogo Yubari, complete with spiked ball and chain).

Full of the schlocky, low-budget weirdness we expect from this type of Japanese horror - as well as the deeply black, and sometimes disturbingly slapstick, humour - Chanbara Beauty is about as bonkers as this these films get before going total Grand Guignol (e.g. Tokyo Gore Police).

The minimal story features a bizarre sub-plot about Aya's blood being crucial to Sugita's experiments - although it's never explained why or why Suki's blood isn't as useful - and then both Aya and Suki inexplicably manifest previously unseen superpowers for their final showdown (which does go on a bit, no matter how much you like watching pretty Japanese girls duel with katanas).

The best excuse I can come up with for the off-the-wall nature of the movie is that it is based on a video game, OneChanbara (which at least explains Reiko's shotgun-of-infinite-ammunition!)

Aya's choice of fighting attire is also never explained (or even commented upon) and neither is the oddly peeling, fake rose tattoo on her left arm. The ending suggests that may be, like the video games, sequels were planned that might have tackled these pressing questions...

The Horde (2009): Seeking revenge for the death of one of their colleagues, a small group of armed police officers break into the near-abandoned, condemned tower block where his murderers - a Nigerian/Eastern European drugs gang - has its base.

However, not only does their plan go pear-shaped, but they have chosen the night of the zompocalypse to make their attack.

When the dead start coming back to life, the cops and killers in this French film are forced into an uneasy alliance as they have to fight their way back out of the tower block... through never-ending hordes of flesh-eating ghouls.

While The Horde excels in gory violence, and the shifting group dynamics make for some interesting character moments, ultimately the movie adds nothing new to the zombie genre, beyond the mismatched composition of the core group of protagonists.

There are some wonderfully stylish fight sequences, which justify the price of admission, but the plot has the intellectual depth of an old school, shoot-'em-up video game - stringing one beautifully choreographed, blood-splattered, head-smashing scene to the next.

However, while the majority of zombie films are rather nihilistic, by their nature, The Horde is particularly bleak in this respect and certainly couldn't be called a 'feel good' flick.

Walking The Dead (2010) : Saving the worst for last - and not to be confused with The Walking Dead - Walking The Dead is a Canadian film shot in China that blends the supernaturnal stalker and zombie genres in a grim mish-mash.

Following a nervous breakdown, journalist Charles Palmer (Ted Biggs) relocates to Beijing where he is contacted - by letter - by a man called Ming claiming to have buried his niece alive in a remote village as part of local folklore.

The utterly bizarre thing, and not only that the Chinese postal service appears to get the letter to the journalist in the blink of an eye, is the totally blase attitude of everyone (from the journalist and his boss) to the little girl's mother to this confession.

Palmer arrives at Tai Ji, a sparsely-populated ghost town where the residents are either insane or in an odd trance-like state (kinda like 'zombies!). There he conveniently bumps into Anna (Angela Tong), the girl's not unattractive mother and Ming's brother, and they proceed to bumble around the village trying to dodge, The Walker (the sightless, axe-swinging maniac who is supposedly bringing the dead back to life) and his undead cronies.

There seems no urgency about finding the missing girl and digging her up. Anna and Palmer stop at every opportunity to trade expositional anecdotes - sometimes with flashbacks!

At one point, Charles is examining a corpse in the morgue for clues (a corpse Anna claims to have already searched) and Palmer finds a mass of rolled up paper 'hidden' under the body's jacket collar. Clearly the Chinese idea of "searching" and a Westerner's is something different then... because a blind man could have found that 'cleverly concealed' message!

It's all a bit of a shame really because at its heart there's some interesting folklore here about "the walkers" who can control the deceased and take them back to their home villages for a proper burial.

Unfortunately, a shoddy script by Dwain Worrell and pretty dreadful acting by all concerned undermine the good ideas and make Walking The Dead rather tedious.

The movie is also crippled by dire pacing, thanks to director Melanie Ansley who slips in a couple of nonsensical dream sequences that do nothing expect stall any brewing sense of tension (of which there is none anyway).

Admittedly, in the film's closing minutes, it manages to pull an unexpected, half-decent M Night Shyamalan/Carnival Of Souls-style twist, which goes some way to explaining some of the odder moments of the story (although I'm not entirely convinced it explains everything).

However, it's really too little, too late and even then the film makers manage to botch that by pointlessly going for a double bite of the cherry with a redundant bonus twist (that, thanks to poor make-up, I'd suspected from very early on).

Overall, despite a novel premise, Walking The Dead's so bad it's not even funny. Of all the zombie-themed movies I saw this week, this was the only one I'd never heard of before... and now I understand why.

FINAL VERDICT: Although some may say it's simply going over ground covered in the original movie, [REC]2 is by far and away the best zombie flick I've seen this week, having the right balance of shocks, tension, atmosphere and intelligence.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Merlin: Goblin's Gold

AMENDED (5pm, September 27): This review has been updated to correct a dreadful error I made regarding the "magic book" that was given to Uther as evidence of Merlin's spell use.

I don't believe it!
Goblin's Gold turned out not to be quite the belch-and-fartfest that the trailer had made it out to be. In fact the episode, although flawed, was surprisingly good, taking the occasional darker-than-expected turn.

While retrieving a book for Gaius from the dusty vaults of Camelot's well-stocked, but clearly underutilised library (good to see old Geoffrey of Monmouth, as played by Michael Cronin, again), Merlin stumbled upon a concealed room behind a secret door and accidentally freed a pesky goblin (voiced by Mark Williams) that was imprisoned within a lead-lined box in there.

To further its desire to obtain as much gold as possible, the goblin 'possessed' Gaius and began to secretly wreak havoc around Camelot that Gaius was then able to cure "for a fee".

And yes, for one scene, this did involve afflicting the court with flatulence - but it was only one scene (and, as much as I hate to admit it, I was laughing).

Eventually, Merlin realised what was going on, but then had to find a way of getting the goblin out of Gaius without hurting his old friend; unfortunately this was when the goblin-possessed Gaius "unmasked" Merlin to the court as a user of magic, even handing over a book of spells to Uther, and claiming it was Merlin's.

The episode also saw some tender moments between Arthur and Gwen, as well as the now obligatory half-naked
shots of Arthur (we've had at least one every episode this season so far!) to pander to key demographics.

The tattooed goblin itself was a nicely realised piece of CGI and it was almost a shame that we didn't get to see more of it.

Richard Wilson also had a chance to shine in this episode, rather than be the usual background character to the younger members of the cast, although his 'possesed Gaius' sailed awfully close to Victor Meldrew territory on occasion, illiciting hearty cries of  "I don't believe it!" in our house.

However, there were some glaring inconsistencies in
Howard Overman's script, such as:
  • why the goblin only possessed Gaius (when Merlin and Gwen eventually drove him out why didn't he just possess one of them?);
  • given how easy it was to convince Uther that no-one knew how the goblin had gotten free in the first place, why didn't Gaius and Merlin take that course of action immediately (thus probably circumventing all the problems the goblin caused around the castle)?
But for its plot holes and (thankfully) few moments of low humour, Goblin's Gold wasn't the total undoing of all the good will created by the previous episodes that I'd feared it would be.

Morgana (
Katie McGrath) was still sultry and sinister, the use of magic actually felt quite appropriate (e.g. Arthur's donkey ears), Gwen and the prince were suitably coy with each other, and not all of the humour revolved around bodily functions.

After the epic nature of the two-part Tears Of Uther Pendragon, Goblin's Gold was definitely a smaller, light-weight affair - and at times felt like it had escaped from Season One - but as long as it remains a one-off, and not a sign of the tone for the rest of the season, I find myself not as displeased as I was expecting to be when I saw the trailer last weekend.

Next week:

Everything's Better With Muppets!

Not so much a Saturday Morning Matinee as a deliriously infectious - and factually correct - pop music video entitled "Everything's Better With Muppets", from Spray, (Jenny McLaren and Ricardo Autobahn).

Ladies & Gentlemen, Only Three Months To Christmas...

It's been a strange week at HeroPress, not posting a single blog entry (until today). Which is why I'm delighted that the site is still attracting new Followers, clearly confident that I will return to regular duties ASAP (ie. the end of next week)!

The latest recruits to our all-embracing superteam are:

* Captain Comics of The Brave and The Old (a pleasant, colourful and kid-friendly comic book site. He's also a Dungeons & Dragons player)

* Gilmoure of The High Tech Redneck (another Tumblr junkie)

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Geek And Gamer Girl Song!

This has been doing the rounds for a few days, but as I'm planning a particularly light week of posts (to really crack on with several projects around the gamesroom), I thought I'd leave you with Geek And Gamer Girls.

This great music video stars the ubercool Star Wars-loving, geek chic actress Clare Grant (plus her colleagues from Team Unicorn) and her beau Seth Green, as well as featuring cameos from Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff and Stan 'The Man' Lee.

Look, Up In The Sky...

This weekend was also the annual Southern Model Air Show at the Beltring Hop Farm (site of our regular pilgrimage to the War & Peace show).

For the first time, this year, we were joined by Rachel's parents; her dad, in particular, having a keen interest in the model planes and boats (having only recently sold his own scratch-built boat at a boot fair).

As before, the show was a great mix of model boats (both static and in operation in a large display tank); high-speed model cars skidding round a dirt track and jumping over ramps; a few scale armoured tanks and military vehicles; a collection of life-sized, working daleks (supplied by the Dalek Builders' Guild) freaking out small children and collecting for charity; and the model planes themselves.

The highlight for Rachel and I - and a special treat for her unsuspecting parents - was the commentary from the inimitable Dave Bishop of D.B. Sound, an archetypal eccentric blend of facts and figures (he knows his stuff!) with wonderfully British stream-of-consciousness waffle, punctuated by enthusiastic whoops and Stuart Hall-caliber chortling.

If anything he was even more random this year than last, sharing with the audience his views on "young love", his two daughters (one went to Reading university and did terribly well, the other is just leaving home and he will miss her awfully), wasps (he doesn't like them) and a bunch of lost car keys (you won't get home without them, check yer pockets!).

The man's a genius - the model aircraft world's answer to Murray Walker - and worth the price of admission alone!

Sadly, our camera packed up about half-an-hour into the day and so I have no pictures of videos of the event. The disc had to be reformatted when I got home, which meant the few things we had shot were lost.

It's International Talk Like A Pirate Day!!!

And don't forget to pick up your 2011 Hot Pirate Babes calendar while ya walkin' the plank to Davy Jones' Locker or summit suitably piratical...

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Merlin: The Tears Of Uther Pendragon (part two)

There was an undeniable epic quality to the second part of The Tears Of Uther Pendragon unlike anything I can recall seeing on television before; the siege of Camelot could have been lifted whole cloth from Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings, with its Cecil B DeMille-scale and grandeur.

All too often in television fantasy, there'll be talk of armies but we'll only see a handful of men (Legend of The Seeker, Xena: Warrior Princess etc) - but Merlin gave us thousands of bodies on the screen.

The episode also had the tension-filled feel of a season finale, rather an opening story.

Yes, I realise the 'hordes of soldiers' was achieved with CGI trickery, but it was well done, as were the skeletons Morgana raised from the crypts of Camelot to force the defenders to fight on two fronts. It was a shame we never saw more than two or three in a single shot (so, not really an "army of the dead", as they were called), but still shades of Jason And The Argonauts - which can't be a bad thing.

Merlin had escaped the giant scorpions (which I discovered were called Serkets, after the Egyptian goddess of scorpions), with the aid of the Great Dragon and returned to Camelot.

However, even though he and Gaius knew that Morgana was a traitor - and even managed to undo the curse she had put on Uther - they were impotent to do anything about it because the king would never heed any gossip against his ward.

Now, this is a bit of frustrating point as it stymies that particular plot strand rather conveniently, but I suppose it reflects the Medieval mindset.

Meanwhile, Cenred's 10,000-strong forces were marching on the city, at the behest of Morgause and Arthur was left to fortify Camelot and prepare for the inevitable siege, because of Uther's incapacitation.

A brilliant episode, only slightly undermined by the fact that ultimately Morgana was not unmasked as the traitor at Camelot's bosom, but that's more a question of personal taste and not a reflection on Julian Jones' writing, because even that was handled expertly.

It's now a question of seeing where the show goes from here, to see if the 'status quo' has been restored and future episodes won't reflect what has gone on in this story - or if the overarching plot is really moving forward and the characters' are truly heading towards their well-known (to us) destinies.

I made mention last week of comparisons to Smallville and I felt it again here with Merlin's constant need to maintain his 'secret identity' as a natural born wizard - even in the heat of battle and from fellow practitioners of the arts.

But it's good to see he is feeling more confident in his sorcery and the show is increasing its use of his magic; he is, after all, the most famous wizard in the world and it somehow doesn't seem right to constrain him excessively.

What I'm really looking forward to this season is a stand-up, knock-down, drawn-out magical duel between Merlin and Morgana (as I hadn't realised she wasn't aware of his powers and just considered him 'Arthur's servant'). Perhaps that's where we heading for this season's actual finale. Although this 'false finale' - in only episode two of Season Three - is going to be hard to top.

Next week:

Okay, I'll Bite...

The current 'old school' meme in our little corner of the Interwebz was started by when you think about Dungeons & Dragons, the cover of what product comes first to mind?"

Has to be:

The first edition AD&D Players Handbook, which pretty much encapsulates the D&D experience of my youth - killing monsters and taking treasure.

Although a close second would be :

The blue book that started it all for me, back in the late '70s.

If I had to go for a third pick (which I know is kinda having my cake and eating it), it would be:

My first exposure to adventuring with a group of strangers in a public environment (i.e. the club arm of The Dark Tower, Tunbridge Wells' first - and only - FLGS). I always thought - and still do - that it was rather odd to have the dungeon map on the front cover of the product!

Thor: Love & Thunder (2022) + Dr Who (2022)


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