Category: Whole Story

the story’s finished, so it’s time for a complete retrospective!

1966: Invasion Earth 2150 – Movie Daleks at 50

1966 Dalek Invasion Earth 2150 at 50

1966 Dalek Invasion Earth 2150 at 50

It’s 50 years since the Dalek’s last big screen outing. The 1960s were packed with science-fiction invasions, but this was something else. Riding on the unexpected wave of Dalekmania, the fiendish pepper pots of hate were ascending through pop-culture awareness to immortality. Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. released 50 years ago this month.

Print the neg-a-tive!

“I didn’t want any bug-eyed monsters and the Dalek is what made Doctor Who” – Sydney Newman

AFTER BEATLEMANIA, THERE WAS DALEKMANIA. THEY ARRIVED ON SCREEN AT THE VERY TAIL OF 1963, FAMOUSLY THOSE BEMS SNEAKING PAST PRODUCER SYDNEY NEWMAN’S BLANKET BAN. And classic, early production issues with their resulting risky decisions by a producer, in this case the inimitable Verity Lambert, is what phenomenon is made of. True enough, by the end of their first serial in February 1964, the Daleks were a hit, and Doctor Who with them. Come the end of that year the pepper pot tyrants had seeped into popular consciousness, happily employed in newspaper cartoons and headlines. They would return the following year, for not one but two seven part serials. None of the other early Who monsters earned a repeat, let alone triggered a cultural shock. Those quick returns, all penned by their creator Terry Nation, remain the perfect comebacks against which all of the Doctor’s foes must be measured. Perfect  escalation.

After the travails of that first story on their home planet of Skaro, the show’s first alien world with its distinctive petrified forest, deadly whirlpools and gleaming city, they then made it to Earth. It was an planet, a country, very familiar to the one we knew, but set in the exotic reaches of the 22nd century. An utterly alien and yet a terribly familiar environment where the monsters had… Won. And everyone, after years of occupation looked like they were from the 1960s. That Wyndham-styled sequel was followed by a third story in the show’s second year that saw the Daleks build on their mastery of space to tackle time, pursuing the TARDIS crew through various points of history and future.

Simply named, The Chase was the Doctor’s first odyssey, a lightweight but spectacular blockbuster tale completing a set and thrilling the viewing public. It’s a miracle of the show, but testament to the power of the Daleks, that each of those first three serials survive in their entirety. Sadly, the same is not true of their fourth and most extravagant story. The 12-part Daleks’ Masterplan sought to tie up winter for the third year in a row. Now almost entirely missing, it was an epic journey of galactic politics and suitably imposing McGuffin, the Time Destructor: a devastating weapon that could do just that. Combining intrigue and invasion with the multi-location approach of The Chase, that adventure would conclude the monster’s first age. Credited with half the episodes, something rather scoffed at by then script editor Donald Tosh, it would be Terry Nation’s television swansong to his creations during the 1960s. He had other plans for his deadly creations.

Gliding evil

The  Daleks barely changed…

No one mind produced the Daleks full-formed and ready to exterminate like Victory of the Daleks’ Progenator. Their design was typically fortuitous. Nation’s script directions had been light, really only specifying that they should not have legs, apparently inspired by dancers Nation had seen glide across a dance floor. When young BBC designer Ridley Scott wasn’t available, the job fell to Raymond Cusick who had mere hours to formulate their look. The classic anecdote that the distinctive design came from the designer sliding a pepper pot across a canteen table is apparently apocryphal. That happened, but only when Cusick demonstrated the movement of his design, already based around the idea of a man encased in a sitting position.

The final design would become a 1960s classic, and it had staying power. Cybermen came to be defined by upgrading and change, other monsters would return during the classic run with vastly different designs (Sontarans) or when they arrived in the 21st century New Series new budgets and design allowed them to update (Ice Warriors, Zygons)… But the Daleks barely changed. That’s not to say there haven’t been considerable attempts to do so. But the spider modification that would have met brought the Daleks to the mid-90s American series were ultimately pushed into expanded universe fiction. The poorly thought through New Paradigms of 2010, while not as huge a change as they first appeared, were quickly dissolved in the in-continuity spats of renegade factions and racial purity that dogged Dalek culture since the 1960s.

It’s of crucial importance that the Daleks have retained the same, undeniably distinctive shape and design for over 50 years. With most Doctor Who monsters, any lay man would struggle to identify one from its shadow. Not so a Dalek. Everyone knows that.

And soon to become science fiction’s premier recurring fascists, it’s fitting they looked ridiculous from the start. Continue reading “1966: Invasion Earth 2150 – Movie Daleks at 50”

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1966: Revolver at 50

1966 The Beatles' Revolver at 50

1966 The Beatles' Revolver at 50

The third of Jokerside’s tributes to the mighty cornerstone of pop culture that was 1966 links back to the first. It’s August 1966 and the arrival of the second of two musical landmarks that heralded the start of something new. A few months after The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, The Beatles were about to turn into something else entirely … Revolver, released 50 years ago today.

Yet you may see the meaning of within… It is being, it is being

“Alchemy” – Tony Visconti

IN THE MIDST OF A CULTURAL EXPLOSION, UNCHALLENGED SINCE, MUSIC, FILM, TELEVISION AND ALL MANNER OF MEDIA EXPLODED IN 1966. It collided with street level pop culture revolution, simultaneously responding to and dousing those same flames with its own intoxicating fuel. Sat prime in the cultural decade that reached from 1963 to 1974, it blended with the baby boomers’ coming of age, the counter-culture and social revolutions that set a template that’s still felt today.

It had been building for some time. And having played a huge part in the beginnings of the cultural revolution in 1963, four years and six albums into their career, The Beatles were perfectly placed to help this seminal time reach its apex. They were also in the right place. The first two long-reads in this 1966 series have necessarily dwelt in America, celebrating the immediate success of Batman the television series and the May release of the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds. But few places could rival London as a hotbed for the ongoing revolution. And unlike The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks and other bands who’d sprung from the capital, The Beatles had soon left the Merseybeat boom in the early sixties when they led the British invasion of America and by the mid-1960s were lodged in the British capital as observers as much as instigators. But unlike many other bands of the time, The Beatles’ output rarely responded or referenced the cultural shifts around them. Typically, the songs, films and long players that emerged from their prolific work-rate rose sat self-contained. Above that. But 1966 caught them on a cusp.

Spinning disks

“I was alone, I took a ride…”

Writing about Revolver always feels daunting task, as it teeters on the brink of full pelt worship. But subjective as The Beatles’ back catalogue is, it’s helped by its incredible quality. Picking a favourite tune from The Beatles’ output may wax and wane from day to day, season to season, but this writer’s favourite songs don’t sit on Revolver. Nor is the distinctive, monochromatic album cover their best. The difference comes on the turntable. While every Beatle album is an enjoyable album to spin, Revolver couldn’t have been better named. It slots together from that sleeve to the split of the sides, the balance of the tracks and the inspiration of its musicians make for a combination greater than the sum of its quality parts. It’s simply the greatest record playing experience in the Beatles’ oeuvre.

True, it followed close on the heels of albums like A Hard Day’s Night and Rubber Soul each of which marked a new step in maturity, skills and depth for the band. But compared to the huge, influential leaps into the unknown that followed, Revolver is a clear tipping point. Balanced and varied, emotional deep and frivolously disrespectful, it’s an album of the future.

Because what Revolver does is something different altogether. It shows the Beatles at their full power: a live band, whose players were just about cohesive, before later albums found them drifting apart. That later divergence would take them on to higher plains, but the looser fit abandoned the energetic phenomenon that was the Fab Four, the unbreakable force that had defined Beatlemania.

Cohesion would remain in aspects of the albums that followed of course. But in many ways Revolver is the end of one Beatles story. The songs between it and its successor Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band started a revolutionary new tale altogether.

At the end of the road, Abbey Road brought back the illusion of beautiful collaboration but from the work of many band members toiling in pairs or on their own, while most were working on solo projects. As a result, that album incorporates the worst excess of both McCartney and Lennon, left unchecked, where Revolver had demonstrated the power of the two working together just a few years before. The rivalry had stretched too far. Before Abbey Road, Let it Be featured a notably unified sound and blues sentiment under the brash production of Phil Spector, but that plastered over growing disdain for each other and multiple disagreements that had grown from mid-1960’s grumbling. Before that, Magical Mystery Tour was to find them rudderless without Brian Epstein, trying the experiment of McCartney leadership. Even Revolver’s follow-up Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a fraction too far into the band’s splintering. The arrival of facial hair and new costumes came with a studio-bound band that had left touring behind. Revolver was the lightning period, the tipping point. The Beatles’ recording era had arrived, where they had chosen studio over road. That, among other things… Continue reading “1966: Revolver at 50”

1966: Batman the Movie at 50

1966 Batman at 50

1966 Batman at 50

“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”

It was the television series that leapt to the big screen after its first season, providing the first slice of feature length Caped Crusader. And five decades on, somehow that white eyebrowed facet of Batman persists. Not only was its multi-colour legacy recently felt in the comic spin off Batman ’66 which ended earlier this year, but this October sees the release of animated sequel Return of the Caped Crusaders.

Shunning countless efforts to derail the camper side of Batman, a look at a crucial part of the Caped Crusader franchise: Batman: The Movie, released 50 years ago today.

Batman’s never been more about life…

THE SHADOW OF THOSE LEGGINGS, THAT DELIVERY, THAT BAT-PHONE, THOSE PUNS, THOSE CLIFF-HANGERS, THOSE WALL CRAWLS, THOSE FIGHT SCENES… It persists, despite the combined big screen, big budget efforts of Burton, Schumacher, Nolan and Snyder to set a different Batman over the last 30 years. Yes, even Schumacher, who aped much but somehow failed to recapture the show’s subtle breadth and laugh out loud comedy. In fact, the television series started a domino effect of reaction and negation. Nominally, Joel Schumacher’s duo of Batman films nodded furiously to the series that was then three decades removed as a response to the darkening gothic stylings Tim Burton brought to the character with 1991’s sublime Batman Returns.  But for every line of parody (“Holy rusted metal!), sharp strings or happy broadening of the Bat-family Schumacher attempted, just showed how sophisticated the source material was in comparison. That in turn triggered a realistic reboot in the mid-200s, starting a trilogy rooted in comic plotlines and characters that emerged in the 1970s as a direct response to the campness of Batman’s 1960s television incarnation (Ra’s and Talia al Ghul, Bane), just as the current cinematic Batman is strongly rooted in the Dark Knight of the mid-1980s. But through it all, the flame of the 1960s Batman has kept burning. In its way a response to the darker, more realistic Nolan films of the 21st century and the difficult legacy of the ground-breaking Burton-inspired Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011) was a confident, brash cartoon tribute to comics’ silver age which paid huge tribute to the ‘60s show.

Perhaps there’s no better indication that the not-so dark facet of Gotham’s masked guardian simply won’t disappear than Batman ’66. A web and printed comic set in the 1960’s universe that ran for 73 issues, concluding just in time for the show’s 50th anniversary. More of that later… Because 1960s’ Batman is so much more than a persistent ambassador of a lighter age.

Batman: The Television Series (1966 – 1968)

“Tune in tomorrow—same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!”

Batman arrived on ABC in January 1966. A phenomenon in waiting, it carried an inevitability the show’s endless death traps could never match. Originally developed as a kids’ TV adventure romp heading to mornings on CBS, it took a brief turn towards serious drama when it turned to ABC before some arbitrary decisions set the tone it became famous for. When it fell on William Dozier’s desk, his few casual glances at a few Batman comic books convinced the producer that the series should aim for camp comedy. It may have been a broad reading of the source material, but what emerged was bottled lightning. One of that period’s highest rated series it managed to run twice a week during its first two seasons and tot up and astonishing run of 120 episodes over three series and two years. On the way, it cast an eye on mid-60s culture and counter-culture and sent its own brand of perceived campery back into the pop art zeitgeist. When it ended, the distinctive version of the Dynamic Duo portrayed by Adam West and Burt Ward broke into the short-lived animated series the New Adventures of Batman at the end of the 1970s, and aside from semi-spin-off show The Green Hornet, the camp it brought to comic book was felt for decades to come in the likes of Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey and Lois and Clark.

But Batman wasn’t just thrown together. The influence of old adventure serials was clear felt in its multi-part episodes and cliff-hangers, while its broad mix of comedy, caricature and moralising sat perfectly, and iconically, in the flowering mid-1960s. While the dodged certain harrowing parts of the Batman mythos, many well established in popular consciousness three decades after the comics arrival, the show settled on the jolly, well-heeled lives of bachelor Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson. Thanks to rapid change switches and some fireman poles, the majority of their appearances were as their alter-egos, not the vigilante night terrors well known today, but sanctioned Gotham City crime-fighters. Despite what appear to be radical changes by current standards, the show managed to incorporate swathes of well-known elements from the comic books, including villains (although sadly, neither side Two-Face never made the transition, denting his popular awareness for quite some time) but also introduced a roster of original, and not-so original, rogues who worked their way back onto the page.

And after one series Batman achieved the unthinkable. It became the first feature-length incarnation of the Caped Crusader. The franchise that’s so far captured over $4.5 billion at the worldwide box office started here.

Batman the Movie (1966)

“Bruce Wayne and Girl Companion Kidnapped!”

Yes, the movie has it all. But inevitably, Batman’s rapid ascension to the big screen wasn’t clear cut. Having set the tone of the piece, Dozier intended a theatrical release to drive up publicity for the fast developing television series. The sticking point proved to be the budget, the risk of which fell squarely on Twentieth Century Fox, who duly balked. Things changed with the phenomenal response of audiences when the show was bumped forward in ABC’s schedule to January 1966. The movie was hurriedly produced at the close of that first series, quickly flipping from promotional tool to cash-in. It opened at cinemas just two months after the final episode of the first series, just in time to beat the second series into the Bat Cave.

The rushed production cost the involvement of Lorenzo Semple Jr, and perhaps shortened the phenomenon’s life. As head writer, Semple’s immediate deft pop-stylings had been evident from the series premiere, and a defining feature of its success. But the ambitious shooting schedule pushed him and other key players back, something cast members including Adam West, suggested left the second year flagging and heaped fuel on the show’s rapid burnout. Still, while the film didn’t perform spectacularly at the box office, its influence alongside the television series that spawned it, not least in putting an Underground United of Batman’s big four villains on the screen, was immense.

The budget boost for the big screen adaptation allowed the production to buy vehicles and props that fed into the second and third years of the television series, while its higher production values brought out the best of the show’s mid-60’s pop. Take that glorious opening, following a three part tongue-in-cheek yet all too appropriate dedication…

“ACKNOWLEDGMENT We wish to express our gratitude to the enemies of crime and crusaders against crime throughout the world for their inspirational example. To them, and to lovers of adventure, lovers of pure escapism, lovers of unadulterated entertainment, lovers of the ridiculous and the bizarre. To fun lovers everywhere- This picture is respectfully dedicated. If we have overlooked any sizable groups of lovers, we apologize.  – THE PRODUCERS”

Bat-opening

“Waugh waugh!”

Four colour spotlights then catch the film’s upcoming criminals straight-off; the audience knows exactly what’s in store within seconds of the opening. Although those titles end in rather pointlessly way with an unknown criminal escaping down an ally, there’s still time for the rather bedazzled Batman and Robin to comically bump into each other in the dark. All in all, the tone is set, and there’s no intention to hang about.  The plot that unravels is pure, nonsense Bond parody, and the script wastes no time propelling the Dynamic Duo into new vehicle, the Batcopter, and high seas a mystery via the instant costume change lever and sped up Batmobile … Continue reading “1966: Batman the Movie at 50”

Snow Boots: Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

A tale of Sire and Ice

Second, a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

There was a planet of Ice…And then Star Wars became a franchise. A glimpse back at the original Episode V, its iterations and context in the wake of The Force Awakens glorious boosting of Hollywood’s mightiest space franchise.

It was a film that needed no beginning, required no end…

HERE IT IS, EMERGING IN THE DEPTHS OF A DISTANT GALAXY WITH THE DEPLOYMENT OF A SPACE PROBE THAT THEN CRASHES INTO THE ICE SHEETS OF THE PLANET HOTH. Everything we might have assumed from the oddly triumphant and indulgent close of Episode IV wasn’t true. Everything Hollywood imagined about summer films was about to be blown out of the galaxy.

The Empire Strikes Back is legendary, there’s no doubt about it. Still quoted, among a select few, as a if not the premier example of a sequel that outdoes its original, the last three decades of try-hard comparators have failed to dislodge it. Its quality is far too enshrined to be knocked.

Here is where things began. It’s almost solely responsible for the early 21st century preoccupation with blockbuster trilogies, a neat model when it comes to actors, contracts and budgets. But just as A New Hope had slotted genres and intention together in ways never thought possible, Empire was just as ground-breaking in the way it seized and built on that position. It was a film that needed no beginning, required no end. But it served up two dramatic sledge-hammer blows at either end. And immediately, cockily, the threat level was deftly and massively raised as the audience discovers that the destruction of the Death Star had only served to annoy the Empire. Who could guess the twists, turns and ending that were to follow…

And it wasn’t just the threat that had increased.

Star Wars:  Episode IV – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The saga’s themes of family and lineage were about to be set in carbonite

Come the end it’s easy to see that The Empire Strikes Back had no choice but to ramp up the drama. That it did it so well, following the simplistic, fairy tale plot of the previous film, is Empire’s considerable achievement. We join the Rebel Alliance in a far different state to the one we left it. On the run and in a make-shift soon to be discovered base; dug into ice foundations that are a metaphor for isolation. It’s cold in space, it’s colder on Hoth. We didn’t know it at the time, but the saga’s overriding themes of family and lineage were about to be set in carbonite. So it’s little surprise that one route to that dramatic elevation falls to classical tragedy.

From Bar to Bard

In Empire our Hamlet, position and role thrust upon him, is destined to encounter his father’s ghost

Indeed, Empire pushes Shakespeare to the fore. We join the Rebel troops on the battlements of Elsinore, unknowingly waiting for a ghost of Hamlet’s father that is a far more powerful and compelling than it appears in massed stop-motion and snowtrooper-clad force. That establishes a heightened universe where Vader, seen for the first time in communication with the Emperor, the father figure he rushed to with indecent haste, can get away with the use of “thy”. But the Bard’s influence is greater than choice words. We have expanded the atavistic palette of Biblical quests and Campbellian monomyth to include the nearer world of Greek tragedy and the great playwrights in general.

In Empire our Hamlet, his position and role thrust upon him, is destined to encounter his father’s ghost at the climax of the film; and in so doing he creates one of the most famous sequences in film history. That sets the tone for the concluding part of the trilogy to examine the consequences of those revelations as the tightening familial loops meets the return to a leaner structure. By Return of the Jedi, Luke would be fully formed as his black robed Hamlet, wavering not between action and indecision but the universal spiritual concepts of light and dark. The story of how he got there just feels so much more compelling…

Holiday destinations

This is a huge galaxy… Episode V is intent on using the Battle of Hoth to force our apart.

The change to ice from the cold space and hot desert of the first film sits prettier in the hindsight of Vader’s fiery creation on the planet Mustafar, committed to film over two decades later in Episode III. The switch stands up to scrutiny in much the same way that themed ice and fire levels do in videogame platformers; it was something that no space operas had the vision or finance to attempt before, even if such intentions existed on screen, and rammed one thing home: This was a huge galaxy. And every entry in the saga would widen it further up until The Force Awakens chose familiarity. That’s a central tenet to George Lucas’ Star Wars films that he always stayed true to, and no doubt one of the reasons behind his inability to withhold criticism of the most recent instalment. The subtlety of that film’s Jakku being a cold desert planet compared to Tatooine’s hot and arid desert eco-system is lost against the broad palette of the original and prequel trilogies. But as iconic as the Battle of Hoth that opens Empire is (albeit 25 minutes in), the film doesn’t feel the need to stay there for long. While Episode IV brought our heroes together, Episode V is intent on using that battle to force them apart.

Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope

Behind the scenes consistency

Nature may abhor a vacuum, Star Wars makes a meal of it.

The original Star Wars trilogy benefits from a remarkable strength of consistency.  That overcame the uncertainty that run through the first film’s production all the way up to release, the three-year gap between each sequel and the changing personnel behind the scenes. Lucas was a constant of course, although as he stepped back from directing and writing chores. And it’s clear that The Empire Strikes Back’s benefitted from the addition of some high quality creators. Nature may abhor a vacuum; Star Wars makes a meal of it. And some of those new creators came from unexpected quarters.

Far from the beach retreat that marked the end of Lucas’ short film career in a parallel universe, the few years that followed the release of the first Star Wars film found the producer-director in wildly different circumstances. His science-fiction project had vastly exceeded expectations, unleashing a phenomenon and changing Hollywood in the process. And against the norm, Lucas proceeded to finance the sequel himself, all $30-odd million of it. Not having had the easiest ride directing the first instalment, and having taken on increasing responsibilities producing the work of his freshly minted special effects company ILM as well as the brewing Indiana Jones franchise, he sought a new director. And who better than someone who tutored him at film school? Against early protestations, Lucas insisted Irvin Kershner, previously known for smaller, character-based fare, helm the hottest sequel in Hollywood.  Kershner would make a name on action franchises through the next two decades, including the rogue James Bond film Never Say Never Again three years later, but Empire remained his finest hour. Continue reading “Snow Boots: Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”

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