The Martian (2015)

books, film, fucking funny, Matt Damon, review, Ridley Scott, sci-fi, space

I was such a naive fool just a few months ago. I definitely thought I would be able to manage reading Andy Weir’s The Martian before the screen adaptation came out. As I’ve mentioned a million fucking times already, I’m not managing to read a damn thing at the moment. Especially when you consider that Aziz Ansari’s new show is up on Netflix. I’ll always love reading but, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, there’s always something else going on. I’ll wait til I can sit down and read a chapter without falling asleep I’ll get back on with the reading. Before that miracle happens, I’ll just go with the film version. Especially when it has more Matt Damon.

The Martian is the thrilling tale of one astronaut’s struggle to survive alone on Mars. After being mistakenly left for dead, Mark Watney must find a way to get by on a desolate planet with limited supplies. Mark, a botanist, manages to farm crops, get back in touch with Earth and survive in a harsh environment for around 600 Mars days. Back on Earth, a team at NASA must attempt to find a way to get supplies to the planet so Mark will be able to live until the next manned mission lands in four years.

This film pretty much lives and dies on the lead character because so much of the narrative rests on him alone. Matt Damon does an exceptional job and manages to ensure the film remains grounded in the realms of human emotion. Mark is a great character who shows a great tenacity and Damon plays him beautifully. It’s got to be one of his strongest performances to date. It’s the moments with Mark that keep the film together through the slightly dodgier scenes back on Earth.

Despite a quite epic cast list, that includes everyone’s favourite Sean fucking Bean, the plot that takes place back home as NASA work tirelessly to help Mark often threaten to bring the film down. The pacing is a little odd at times and the great actors are given fuck all to do anything with. There are so many characters on the sidelines that they all get forgotten about in the drama of rescue. Sean Bean and Jeff Daniels get a small chance to lock horns slightly as the flight director and NASA top-dog respectively. However, the rest of the cast just coast by with a few furrowed brows and scientific jargon.

Most unfortunately of all, Watney’s fellow crew members who are resigned to a couple of brief glimpses into their personal lives through video messages and flirty glances. Considering how wonderful the moments on Mars are it just doesn’t feel good enough. We deserve to know more about Jessica Chastain’s Commander Lewis and Michael Peña’s pilot. There should be more to the pathetic attempt at romance between Kate O’Mara and Sebastian Shaw’s characters than a quick peck on a space suit helmet. For a film so invested in it’s main character, the rest of the character development is annoyingly shitty.

Much more annoying than any potential scientific issues viewers may have found. As someone who just about scrapped by in A Level Chemistry, I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the science at play here. To be honest though, I don’t really give a shit. I said the same about Gravity and the I think realism was far more important to that plot. Ridley Scott went out of his way to ensure that enough of what was seen on screen was close to reality and, in my humble opinion, he does a good job. If anything, the most unrealistic part of this plot is the fact that Matt Damon’s character is apparently unmarried. What the fuck? The man’s a fucking god.

To be honest, the science doesn’t really matter. This is a film that refuses to take itself seriously and, against Christopher Nolan’s super serious Interstellar, The Martian is quick to point out its relaxed attitude. Watney is forever cracking jokes and pointing out the coincidences that allow the story to keep moving. The only aspect of the film that belies its unassuming nature is the length. The film is fucking obsessed with time and the number of Mars days (sols) that Mark has stranded is constantly being updated. The constant count, mixed with the problems with pacing in the narrative, has the effect of making the film feel as though you’ve been waiting as long as our astronaut. However, there’s so much charm on screen here that you won’t give a shit about it.

Star Wars: The Trailer Awakens

can't wait, fucking beautiful, Harrison Ford, JJ Abrams, review, space, Star Wars, trailer
The last week has been fucking exhausting. Not only am I still trying to get to grips with my new job, keep up with my new schedule here and getting obsessed with Minecraft all over again, but we have a fucking huge onslaught of great trailers to get through. I’ve already mentioned that 2015 has been a quiet reading year so far but I also can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema. I’m starting to regret all those years that I’ve defended video games: having a console once again is royally fucking up my life. Thankfully, there is a shitload of great films coming this year: Age of Ultronis only days away and then we have a constant stream of potentially great films to look forward to. Something the trailers released in the last 7 days have only proved.

The most squeal-tastic trailer moment obviously came from the secondteaser for JJ Abrams The Force Awakens. This gave fans an even greater look at the new take on this much loved franchise and, for the most part, put paid to any people out there still doubting Abrams’ suitability for the task. It’s a bloody awesome trailer packed full of great imagery to get your juices flowing. Nothing I have watched in film recently comes anywhere near the sheer wonderment of seeing the wrecks of an X-wing and a Star Destroyer in the middle of a desert planet. Then, just when you think nothing could give you chills quite like the first look at the Millennium Falcon in the first teaser, along comes Harrison fucking Ford in the flesh.
There is a lot to discuss in the 1.49 minute long trailer and greater people than myself have taken the time to do so. For my part, I’m just fucking thrilled. This is the Star Warswe know and love; the Star Warsthat existed well before George Lucas fell in love with CGI and nearly fucked everything up. I’m also thrilled to see a complete lack of the classic Abrams lens flare… at least for now. Abrams himself has stated that the film has been made in such a way that it still makes sense without the effects. Now I enjoyed some fucking great books last year but that is hands up the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read.
For me, the trailer just proves what I’ve been saying ever since the director of Episode 7 was announced: JJ Abrams is going to fucking kill it. There is excitement, action and all the familiar faces you need. It’s less of a deep studying into galactic politics and back into the safer waters of a Western/space adventure. Everything looks awesome and new. The updated Stormtroopers and the Tie fighter pilots look so fucking cool and then we have the supremely badass looking Chrome Trooper. The symbol of the Empire itself is slightly different and everything is all that little bit more red. It’s all so familiar but also new and exciting.
With the release of some character names we now know that the shadowy figure with the three pronged lightsabre is Kylo Ren. Even though I’m still heartbroken that it wasn’t a hooded Gwendoline Christie that we saw in the first teaser (it seriously looked like such a Brienne walk), we have a new Sith Lord that’s even cooler than Darth Maul. (Whatever you guys think of the prequels, you have to admit Maul was outstanding.) I love his mask and am even happier with the weird lightsabre.
Speaking of lightsabres, isn’t that Anakin Skywalker’s lightsabre that we see being handed to that woman we assume is Leia? But didn’t Luke lose that on Bespin? Dun dun duh. This raises so many wonderfully exciting questions. We still don’t know who anyone is, with the exception of a couple of names, or where anyone is. Although we have a bit more information now: Oscar Isaac is the expert flyer, Poe Dameron; John Boyega as the Stormtrooper Finn; and Daisy Ridley as Rey (who I can imagine turning out to the be the offspring of someone super important what with her single name status). We have a longer look at the new, not Tatooine, planet Jaku as well as glimpses of a snowy planet, a jungley planet and a potentially flamey planet. It’s still all so mysterious.
There have been a lot of crazy theories released by fans since this trailer was released. One of the strongest comes from the use of Luke’s speech from Return of the Jediand the image of Darth Vader’s melted helmet. The voiceover can be heard saying “my father has it” and the fans have been going wild imagining that Vader is not dead or that whoever saved his burning helmet has decided to clone him or bring him back to life. Not only am I extremely doubtful but I’m also fucking hopeful this hasn’t happened. I’m OK with an older and wrinklier Harrison Ford but I couldn’t cope with an aging Vader.
However, the image of his helmet is surely one of the strongest images you could hope for in this trailer. It seems like a symbol used solely for the trailer but we still have to ask ‘who the fuck would keep it for so long?’ When you really think about it, this teaser is fucking perfect. We see little bits to get us hooked without ever being told a damn thing. The helmet, the wreckage, Luke’s robot hand reaching out to R2-D2, a TIE fighter chasing Finn and Rey, and the fucking Millennium Falcon flying into the exhaust of an Imperial Cruiser. These are the scenes we’ve been waiting for since George Lucas announced the release of the prequels. To quote Han Solo for a moment, “Chewie, we’re home.”

Gravity (2013)

Alfonso Cuaron, drama, fucking beautiful, George Clooney, review, Sandra Bullock, space

Gravity is one of the films that has featured in a pretty much every ‘Top Films of 2013’ lists and, despite being extremely late to the party, I managed to fit in a viewing before the year came to an end. Despite the cavalcade of positive feedback that poured out following its release, a friend of mine saw this fairly early in its release and came up with the one word review of “weird”. Although, as she is the same friend who argued the case for the awful 2011 Three Musketeers remake, I wasn’t prepared to miss the opportunity based on her analysis. (She also hated Hugowhich, if you ask me, is unforgivable.)

Gravity comes to us thanks to Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón and his co-writer son. Quite frankly, it is one of the nerve-wracking, emotional and visually exciting films you will probably see with a main cast of only three people. Cuarón does a grand job throughout his pretty short runtime (91 minutes to be precise) of balancing the phenomenal space landscapes and knuckle-biting drama. Everything that the director throws at you is designed to take your breath away but not entirely steal focus. It’s clever and precise film-making that will restore your faith in the industry.
The opening manages to be both sedate and breathtaking. In the impressive and unbroken 13 minute take, the camera slowly pulls away from aerial shot of planet Earth to reveal the films meagre cast making repairs to a satellite. Sandra Bullock plays rookie engineer, Dr Ryan Stone, who can only boast of six months specialist NASA training. Understandably nervous, she carries out her repairs under the watchful eye of veteran spaceman Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who would rather spend his time gleefully playing with his super cool jetpack. He happily lets the scientists work as he regales Houston mission control (voiced by Ed Harris in a wonderful reference to his role in the 1995 space-adventure Apollo 13) with his all too familiar anecdotes.
It is a lovely and understated opening to a film that is pretty much guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat for the remainder of the narrative. For, inevitably, the mission isn’t all plain sailing. All too soon word reaches our space folk that trouble is brewing in the shape of debris heading straight for them. When Dr Stone finds herself untethered and drifting through space, the audience is spinning along with her. We join her on her frantic race against time: equally alone and equally lost.
Gravity is a tense experience. Thanks in no small part to Steven Price masterful and atmospheric Gravity is made what it is because of sound or, in actual fact, the lack of it. Taking its lead from that Alien adage “in space, nobody can hear you scream”, Cuarón, for the most part, leaves the film hauntingly quiet. The most claustrophobic moment occurs just after Bullock has been set adrift in space where the audience moves inside her helmet and can only hear her frantic breaths.  Bullock essentially carries the weight of the film on her shoulders. Thankfully, she pulls it off with great gusto: showcasing not just physical flexibility but emotional range and mental strength.
Since it was released, there has been a great deal said against the scientific fact on show within this film. Whilst I admit I’m no real scientist (my A Level Chemistry teachers would definitely attest to this fact), I honestly can’t say that I care. Gravity, like every other Hollywood film, behaves as though the characters and story that it is presenting is both relevant and entirely feasible. It stands out as a film set in space because it neither refers back to the golden age of space exploration nor looks into an exciting and unknown future. Gravity is a contemporary piece that could very easily be happening above our heads. Meaning that, even though Cuarón’s film may demand you suspend your disbelief on a fair few occasions, this film becomes all the more absorbing.
For that is the great thing about Gravity: from the opening subtitles onwards, it engulfs its audience. I, like most sane people, haven’t completely warmed to the new 3D era of film. I have enjoyed specific productions that have utilised it well but have yet to be convinced it was a technological advancement that we desperately need. Hugo, The Hobbit and, though I’m loathe to offer it too much praise, Avatar have all shown that, given the right love and attention, 3D can be a benefit. Then comes Gravity: quite simply the visual effects supplied by Tim Webber are mind-blowing: the only time I’ve ever been one of those people who ducks when something comes flying towards them. Avatarwas the first triumph for the third dimension but Gravity takes it to another level: providing a totally immersive experience.
It is only when the film reaches its denouement that everything looks to be on shaky ground. Cuarón hammers homes the idea of rebirth and evolution. It feels a little sloppy and rushed after such a sensational display of talent and care. Stone is the ordinary woman who finds herself in the most extraordinary of situations and she has to fight, at times with herself, to survive. Cuarón is forever pushing the drama throughout the film and, by the final scene, there is a disappointing sense that he has tried to push it too far. However, by the time it reaches that point, you’ll have gone through too much emotional turmoil to really be paying attention.

The Day of the Doctor (2013)

anniversary, David Tennant, Dr Who, John Hurt, review, space, Steven Moffat, television

To quote, River Song “Spoilers”.

I’ve made no real secret of the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of Steven Moffat’s time as head writer on Dr Who. I think the quality of the writing has decreased and the focus has become spectacle and viewing figures instead of good characters and well-executed narratives. Plus, his last 3 seasons have included far more complete duds than the Russell T era was ever guilty of and, in my opinion, the vast majority of great episodes come from the first 4.5 series of the rebooted show. However, I was just as excited as the vast majority of the world about last night’s 50th anniversary special and sat in front of my TV praying Moffat would pull it off.

The Day of the Doctor is to Dr Who what Skyfall was for James Bond: namely a completely geeky celebration of the classic science-fiction show. It starts from the get-go with subtle and slightly less subtle references to the episodes of the past. We have the classic Who opening titles, the opening scene, a returning enemy and more than a few familiar faces. It’s an action packed adventure that sets out to reinvent the show as we now know it.
Unfortunately, right off the bat, I find my first hint of disappointment thanks to the unnecessary, just writing it so we can use a lot of green-screen, scene which sees the Doctor hanging out of the Tardis as it lands in Trafalgar Square. Just because we have a bigger budget doesn’t mean we need to use every bit of it, guys. Less is, as they say, more. However, it was great to have UNIT back and the reappearance of Kate (Jemma Redgrave), who made an amazing first impression in the otherwise forgettable Power of Three. Also worthy of a mention is the bescarfed and asthma suffering Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) who I definitely hope to see her return at some point. She’s pretty much your typical fangirl (complete with Tom Baker inspired accessory) and, from the looks of it, has been a hit with Whovians the world over.
UNIT need the Doctor and Clara to help them solve a mystery surrounding something new: Time Lord art. Our introduction to this new section of Time Lord society was wonderful and not only served as a large part of the following narrative but offered breathtaking visuals. Featuring traditional ‘bigger on the inside’ Time Lord technology, the painting on show contains a single moment in history. A very important moment in history as it turns out: The Moment. The last seven seasons of Dr Whohave been leading to this point where we finally come face-to-face with the exact point that this supposedly good man made the decision to destroy his people in order to save existence. Before he pushes the big red button he has to justify his actions so, thanks to a weapon of mass destruction that handily has a conscience, the War Doctor (John Hurt) gets the chance to meet his future self.
Thanks to another flashback we get a glimpse of Number 10 (David Tennant) enjoying some down-time with Elizabeth I (Joanna Page) in 1562 and trying to prevent an invasion by the Fourth Doctors old enemy the Zygons. Our current doctor (Matt Smith) is eventually transported to the same time and the stage is finally set for the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Matt Smith and David Tennant work really well together on screen. They both have a similar way of approaching the character and it is great to watch their dialogue. The two over-grown children are initially wary of each other but, ultimately, have a great deal of respect for their different selves. The pair has a great back and forth and the little bitchy lines are a welcome break in moments of heavy plot development.
Smith plays his Doctor with the same relish and skill that we have come to expect since he took over for series 5. I think he’s done an admirable job and his over-excited child-like nature is infectious and easy to embrace. However, this episode was all about the return of Tennant who, despite a 3 year gap, fits back into the old suit perfectly. It’s always lovely to see an actor to return to a key role in their career and you can tell he had a lot of fun doing it.
That is something that The Day of the Doctor does well. Moffat is at his best when he is writing on a very personal and close level because he can play with language, drama and comedy. In terms of his writing, this episode has to be one of his finest Who episodes to date. Anyone who makes the brave decision to mock large aspects of your own work is alright by me. The Day of the Doctor is self-aware and tongue-in-cheek despite all of the dark themes on show. It is out together very cleverly and, despite all of the jumps through time, it is easy to keep up with the action. Unlike a lot of Moffat’s recent episodes, there is no sense that the drama just peters out towards the end. The action and the emotions are running high from the opening to ending credits. Most importantly of all, because he was preoccupied with something more important, he didn’t make the mistake of going too big. The moments when this episode really flies are in the quieter scenes starring our main three men.
After a brief glimpse at the end of series 7, John Hurt finally gets the chance to show us what he is made of as the War Doctor works up the courage to make the ultimate choice. He is a weary and defeated man who can see no other way out. However, it is only after he comes face-to-face with his youthful future that the sparks really fly. Hurt gets some utterly amazing lines to throw about and fits wonderfully in the role of the disapproving parent. I’d describe Tennant and Smith’s approach to the Doctor as one full of eagerness and
glee. Hurt is calm, collected and totally badass. The younger men hold their screwdrivers aloft in the same manner that a Shakespearean actor would hold a sword whilst Hurt stands alongside and gets straight to the point. It’s an attention-grabbing and completely engrossing performance.

As is the supporting role played by Billie Piper. Thankfully, Moffat decided against attempting to bring back Rose Tyler once again but used her image, or more specifically Bad Wolf Rose, as the interface of The Moment. Piper has some great moments whilst guiding the War Doctor to his ultimate decision and she plays her role with a great deal of subtlety and skill. Considering part of me was dreading her arrival, I found myself rejoicing that she could make it back to mark the occasion.

Rose Tyler may have recently been voted the greatest Doctor Who companion ever by a BBC3 poll but there can be no denying that Clara is well on her way to proving herself. Having spent much of her first series just moving the story along, it was nice to see her make more of a mark here. Unlike Amy (who, as you may remember, I couldn’t stand), she is clever, independent and strong. Jenna Louise Colman is a fine actress and, provided she is given the correct material, she should continue to flourish under Peter Capaldi’s guidance. Just look back at that phenomenal moment where she stood up to all three Doctors and managed to change the course of history.
That is, after all, what Moffat wanted to do with this episode. The narrative of the Zygon invasion is just your run-of-the-mill Who story: shape-shifting aliens, confusion about who is real, confrontation and eventual resolution. Whilst it has some important and clever components to it, the plot is, ultimately, inconsequential and the story is never even fully resolved for the audience. This is about the Doctor and the  choice he made. A decision that has haunted him since well before 2005’s Rose. It never really seemed to fit that the Doctor, as we know him, would accept that there was no other way to stopping the war. He has faced a great many foes and has always failed to accept defeat. The Doctor deserved a second chance and that is exactly what Moffat gave him.
A second chance that led to one of the most extraordinary sequences in television history and the moment that Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows almost broke the internet: all of Doctors to date coming together to save their planet from destruction. I defy anyone to sit through it without feeling like a child again. Any viewer who didn’t watch as all of the familiar faces of the past (and one from the future) flooded our screens and didn’t jump for joy had no right watching the show at all. Similarly, if anyone watched that final scene, where all of the Doctors line up side-by-side, without shedding just a little tear has no heart.
Even the slightly shameful and cringey Tom Baker cameo was forgivable and the conversation between him and Matt Smith was a wonder. He was the man who defined the Doctor for such a long time and it wouldn’t have felt right without some sort of appearance. Plus, the idea that regenerations can backtrack in some way is an interesting one that will of course leave a lot of fangirls hoping David Tennant and his great hair will fall on hard times and find his way back.
There is simply too much to say in praise of this episode and far too many references and moments to discuss that I could write forever. Of course, there were flaws here but the positives more than outweigh them. Even the use of CGI and special effects worked in this setting. If I’m completely honest, the opening shots of the Time War felt a little bit like the flat and lifeless CGI of the Star Wars prequels but there were some scenes where it really worked. Can anything compete with the visual of three slow-mo Doctors facing off against a Dalek in the middle of the Time War before crashing through a painting into the tower of London? No? Didn’t think so.
Ultimately, this episode gave a great deal of closure to a terrible part of the Doctor’s past, it celebrated who he was, allowed him to come to terms with his actions and left him with a new direction. Whatever happens in Matt Smith’s final outing at Christmas, we all know where Peter Capaldi is heading: home.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, JJ Abrams, review, sci-fi, sequel, Simon Pegg, space, Star Trek

I set out a promise to you, dear readers, before I continue: I promise I will try as hard as I can to make sure this doesn’t just descend into my ramblings concerning the attractiveness of Benedict Cumberbatch. It’ll be hard. He is one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen and his voice should come with some sort of parental guidance. Seriously this film should have been rated a 15 just because of how erotic all of his lines sound. Not since the days of Jack Bauer has someone sounded quite so sexy whilst threatening to kill a bunch of people. But here I am falling into the same old trap.

Back in 2009 JJ Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise by rewriting history to allow a wider range of people to embrace a dwindling franchise. Abrams famously admitted to not being a fan of Star Trek and set out to make a film that would appeal to people like him whilst hopefully not alienating the loyal fans. It was a Star Trek film made as a Star Wars film and the whole thing was considered to be a major success. The decision to start a clean slate by rewriting such familiar character histories allowed Abrams to do what he wanted with the franchise whilst still leaving the classic television show in tact. It was a brilliant decision and for the past four years cinema goers have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up.

Into Darkness picks up shortly after Star Trek left off with Kirk (Chris Pine) and friends exploring the depths of space in his very own ship. We catch up with them mid-adventure with Kirk and Dr Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) sprinting through an alien wilderness to escape an angry extraterrestrial mob. We quickly learn that this is all just a huge distraction whilst Spock (Zachary Quinto) works to calm down an active volcano. To be honest, I could have done without this opening piece as, really, it adds little to the overall story and seems to drag everything out a bit. (Also, the idea that the Enterprise could survive hidden underwater for a few days seems a bit far-fetched to me but there we are.) Although, it allows Quinto the opportunity to shine once again as Spock. The actor continues to get better in the role and his inner-wrangling between his two halves is a great thing to watch as he finds himself getting deeper into two personal relationships. The most important and loving of the two is between Spock and his Captain and as we pick up the story we find ourselves in full bromance mode. The pair continue to play off each other very well and it’s a double act I’m looking forward to seeing more of in the future.

It is the conflict between the two men that creates the supposed need for the opening gambit as it’s major purpose is to remind the audience that Spock is all about the prime directive and favours the needs of the many over the few. Of course, Kirk being Kirk the crew manage to go against the all important Prime Directive and makes their presence known to the simplistic lifeforms inhabiting the planet. Inevitably this doesn’t sit well with the important people back at Star Fleet and Kirk has his ship taken away from him before being made First Officer to a returning Admiral Pike. That is until a disgruntled ex-employee John Harrison vows vengeance against The Federation by blowing up one of their secret bunkers in London, with the help of Dr Who’s lovable Mickey Smith (also known as talented actor and film-maker Noel Clarke). Kirk is called back into play after promising Admiral Marcus that he will hunt down and capture the deadly Harrison.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives another stand-out performance as Harrison. He plays the character with a chilling intensity but doesn’t make the mistake of taking him into ridiculous super villain territory. He humanises Kirk’s deadly foe to the extent that it often becomes difficult to separate him from the the supposed good guys who are out to stop him. I won’t go into massive spoiler territory (as my personal cinema experience was slightly marred after IMDB revealed the true name of his character before I’d seen the film) but he brings about a great new insight into one of the most infamous Star Trek foes (OK maybe that was a bit too obvious but the film has been out a while and I doubt any of my two (at best) readers are coming to me for advice on whether or not they should see a film). Cumberbatch really is one of the greatest actors around and will no doubt go down in history as one of the most devilish villains in the history of the franchise. The decision to cast him in the role may now be creating some controversy with some critics but based solely on performance, Harrison is a complete success and I can’t imagine any other actor playing him with the same balance of drama, humanity and light-heartedness. And he’s pretty easy on the eye… don’t know if I’ve mentioned it yet.

The scenes between Harrison and Chris Pine’s Kirk are wonderful as the pair face-off in an increasingly dramatic fashion. Pine has nowhere near the level of acting talent that Cumberbatch possesses but it is this fact that makes these scene all the more effective. Harrison is a deadly enemy, a super-soldier, and Pine manages to make his own shortcomings highlight his foe’s clear head-start. Kirk is left floundering in front of his superior enemy just as Pine is left to try and catch-up to Cumberbatches superior performance. It leaves Kirk seeming vulnerable but determined to come out on top.

It is a welcome consequence that also adds greater depth to the moments shared between Pine and Bruce Greenwood’s Captain Pike. The difference between the pair as actors only makes the father-son style relationship all the greater on screen. What Pine does bring to the role is an unending energy and ability to make all of the outlandish situations and slapdash narrative stick together. He appears to have absolute faith in what he is doing which makes it easier to accept some of the looser aspects of the plot.

That would have to be my major criticism of the new Star Trek. It just isn’t as slick as Abrams’ first outing and it doesn’t fit together as easily. There is a tension between Abrams slick production and the film’s thin and, at times, haphazard script. Into Darkness offers amazing visual episodes, moments of documentary style camera work and references to modern day terrorism. It is a triumph of modern film-making but this story just seems quite childish and sloppy. Rules don’t seem to matter in this world and there are no real consequences. Like a childhood game where you’re all just making it up as you go along, Into Darkness changes the importance of certain ideas as and when it feels like it. For all of Spock’s banging on about the Prime Directive there appear to be no consequences when the crew of the Enterprise consistently fail to abide by it. Kirk loses captaincy of his ship for all of 2 hours before he’s back in the hot-seat.

The main writing technique seems to be if it doesn’t make sense just add another fanboy reference in there to keep the audience happy. ‘Wait why the hell has that been allowed to happen… ooh look a Tribble!’ On the one hand I appreciated these little references to the Original Series and delighted in hearing talk of the neutral zone and Harry Mudd. On the other, it’s the Steven Moffat thing all over again. If you don’t have the substance to keep an audience happy why not just treat them like dribbling morons and wave shiny/familiar objects in front of their face? If Star Trek was about introducing a new generation of Roddenberry’s franchise then Into Darkness is about celebrating it. We have more great performances from the lead characters: something like a mix between an impression and a re imagining of old friends. All of the key players are there doing what they need to do to make this a successful Star Trek film. We delight at seeing Chekov (Anton Yelchin) panicking in his ‘can’t believe it’s real’ Russian accent and shiver when Sulu (John Cho) shows off his dark side whilst taking temporary command of the ship. Karl Urban continues to provide great laughs (and a great impression) as Bones and is not only one of my favourite characters but provides some of the most memorably one-liners. Who would be happy to call it a Star Trek film if Dr McCoy never said “Damn it man, I’m a Doctor, not a *insert occupation here*.” I can’t say I’m a massive fan of Simon Pegg’s Scotty and I do find his pretty dire Scottish accent grating but there can be no denying that he provides humour and, in this film at least, drama and emotion. All of the necessary ingredients are there but I still can’t help but feel the final meal is lacking some seasoning. It’s just not quite as good as it could be.

That’s not to say that there isn’t enough to keep you entertained and Abrams’ set action pieces continue to be amazing. There is nothing quite as intense as the arrival of Nero’s ship in the the previous outing but there are some great space-based sequences that will surely keep fans of the show and the new films entertained. The film’s world of the future is, as far as this can be true in 2013, a realistic one. Gone are the clichéd visions of the future from pre-1980s sci-fi. Instead we have a world that you could genuinely see existing; a world where the Federation live and try to keep Earth safe. It’s a joy to watch and it makes the connection between Harrison’s acts of violence and the modern world all the more obvious. This is a genuine look at terrorism and the hidden dangers that could be facing us every day. Our greatest fear nowadays isn’t the big, well-known foe but those hidden amongst us. The potential violence and hatred that lives within humanity. In any other setting this idea would have been lost in a haze of space kitsch. It speaks to a modern audience is a way that the Original Series spoke to the audience of the 60s. Abrams may not be a fan of the show but he is certainly keeping alive its ideals.

Finally, there has been a lot said already about the female representation in the latest Star Trek film but that’s not going to stop me throwing my own thoughts into the ring. In the first film we were introduced to Uhura (Zoe Saldana) as the romantic interest that comes between Kirk and Spock. Yes she can speak a few alien languages but she didn’t exactly make much of an impact. To be fair to Abram and writers Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, the Enterprise’s major female presence does have a bit more to do in the latest instalment but there is still an apparent lack of kick-ass women in Star Fleet. The main argument I can see in favour of Uhura is that she has two moments of bravery and action (yes that’s right two whole short pieces in a film that lasts over 2 hours.) I can’t deny that she does has her moments of kick-assery as we see her face up to the Klingons with steely determination and she plays an important role in bringing down a deadly enemy during the final showdown. However, that still doesn’t seem enough to me. For the most part, she is present in the film as Spock’s girlfriend (and even then she is secondary to the all important bromance) and primarily to remind us of the separation between his Vulcan and human heritage. It’s just not good enough.

Especially when her only other female member of staff is Alice Eve’s Dr Carol Marcus who spends half of the time getting herself into sticky situations so a big brave man can save her and the other half being the sexy (and preferably half-naked) romantic interest for Kirk. There was a great deal of potential for Dr Marcus to be an intelligent and influential character in the plot but it just falls down to another example of an objectified damsel in distress. Alice Eve does a great job with the material she’s been given but there is only so much anyone can do with a character who spends her screen time being helpless and alluring. I’m not trying to preach about the sexualisation of women (and indeed men) in cinema and Star Trek in particular (especially when you consider that I started this review by salivating over the gorgeous Benedict Cumberbatch) but it would be a lot easier to take the unnecessary underwear scene if Marcus was shown to be something more than a hot bod. The argument that Kirk was shown in his underwear and that Harrison was supposed to be shown in a state of undress does nothing to diminish the argument either. It’s not so much about the nakedness but about the lack of depth. Both Kirk and Harrison prove themselves to be more than just a piece of eye-candy by the subsequent actions within the plot so these more sexual scenes are less prominent. Ask anyone what Alice Eve did in the new Star Trek film and I guarantee most people would tell you she got undressed.

This character would be easier to handle if there were a few more important female characters. Look at all of the scenes that take place at Star Fleet headquarters. Were there any senior female officers present during any of the key meetings? I certainly didn’t see any. Are we really meant to believe that a society that has started exploring space is so backwards in their ideas of gender equality that there are only about three females employed in the entire Federation? Although, we have gone from having one key female in the first film to two in the second. Maybe by the time Abrams’ 6th film comes out we’ll either have a plethora of women parading around in their underwear or, hopefully, just one strong and useful one?

(While I’m at it, I’d like to point out that arguing in defense of the undressing scene because the ladies from the 1960s show were sexy is the biggest load of bullshit imaginable. Times have changed so to say that something that was allowed in the 60s should be OK now is unbelievable. Star Trek can and perhaps should be sexy but we have to make sure that the female characters represent the sense of equality that society is now supposed to be supporting. Women can and are as useful and important as men and our biggest cinema franchises should share that view. What kind of message are the film-makers giving its primarily young audience with one-dimensional characters like Dr Marcus? Just think of the children. Won’t somebody please think of the children?!)

So, in closing, it’s not quite the Star Trek film we were all expecting but it’s good enough. Cumberbatch’s Harrison is a more than great follow-up to Eric Bana’s Nero and manages to take us into new territory by often forgoing the brute force tactics favoured by the angry Romulan and instead playing mind-games with his victims. He’s a deadly mix of strength and cunning like a terrifying amalgamation of Batman’s two greatest enemies Bane and The Joker… but with a much nicer face. There is enough to keep us all happy but it does seem slower and less slick than the original. Abrams’ first film was a game-changer and it is no wonder people left the cinema in wonder. This just feels a little flat next to its older brother. Nothing terrible of course. It’ll still beat most of the original films for sheer enjoyment and quality but we’ve come to expect something now. It’s better to not think of this as a sequel but merely a CV for Abrams next big science-fiction challenge. If Into Darkness tells us anything, it’s that Star Wars Episode 7 is going to be epic.

Dr Who and the blog post of doom.

Dr Who, sci-fi, space, Steven Moffat, television

You can tell that I’m supposed to be something important because I’m writing a new post. One thing you can say about Murdocal is that the height of her motivation comes when she has a big deadline approaching. Anyway, here I am and I’m not going to be able to achieve my goal until I get this out of my system. Tonight is the BBC 1 premiere of the second half of Season 7 of Dr Who. This starts the journey to the end of Steven Moffat’s third series as head writer of the popular science-fiction show and, if recent reports are anything to go by, perhaps the journey to the end of his reign. I would personally relish this decision as I’m one of the ever-growing group of people who are becoming tired of Moffat living out his boyhood fantasy and creating a show his younger self would love. 

Now I would consider myself something of a fan of Dr Who but I freely admit that I’m not the greatest of Whovians (I don’t really understand the show’s obsessive fandom and it scares me that some of these people exist). However, the last few series (mainly the ones since Moffat took over but I’ll include the four David Tennant specials) have left me bored and slightly jaded. I can’t see anything in the majority of episodes being produced lately that made the show so special. Aside from ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ and ‘Amy’s Choice’ none have really stood out from the crowd. I think there is a great deal of quality lacking from the writing and, thanks to a bigger budget, more focus is being put on they way the story is told rather than the story itself.

Having just seen the newest episode it serves as a good explanation for what I think the show has become. Dr Who has become primarily about spectacle rather than about quality. The story revolves around the modern world and the importance of the internet in an obvious and, frankly, unoriginal attempt to build on the existing fear of cyber crime and identity theft. The plot is nothing to shout about and I couldn’t really find myself getting too caught up in the fear as the threat wasn’t very prominent. The only person we were concerned about was Clara and, as we know by now, even if she dies it doesn’t matter much. There was no real effort in creating the ‘monster’.

What I did enjoy about this episode were the lovely little moments between the Doctor and Clara. They are both interesting characters and I think both Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman are fantastic performers. Take a look at the scene where the Doctor changes his outfit (paying special attention to his adorable bow-tie chest) and when the two take off on a motorbike for some breakfast. Amazing. It’s these moments of real humanity when we get a deeper look into these two figures that create the most excitement. For all his flaws, Russell T Davies was a writer whose major concern was his characters and the effect his storylines had on their lives. You really cared about the main characters and, as he was more concerned with the characters than the science-fiction, you cared about the people who the Doctor was destined to save. 

Moffat tries to make you care about his supporting cast but he constantly ruins the more down-to-earth moments by doing things like placing the pair in a bad CGI plane. The larger budgets should have made an already great show even better and more polished. Instead, like so many Hollywood movies, Moffat and co. have become distracted by the almost endless possibilities that technology can bring them. This wouldn’t be a problem if it hadn’t come at the expense of the writing. After all, some of the finest episodes of Dr Who are the ones with the simplest set up but a really clever plot. 

These days we’re just given plots that have the most aesthetic potential. It’s almost as if buzz words are thrown into the ring and they attempt to place the ideas in a Who setting: we haven’t done dinosaurs and kids loves dinosaurs; POTC is popular, we’ll do pirates; and vampires, they’re pretty ‘in’ right now aren’t they. It’s all a bit clichéd and lazy. I mean take the first episode of this current season for evidence of just how little Moffat and his team think of their audience. We have an episode that basically just exists so they could reference past incarnations of the Daleks (and for Moffat to once again show off about how much of a fanboy he is) and, again, there is no real sense of danger. We know the Doctor isn’t going to let Amy turn into a Dalek and the idea that the magic air that does so will also work on the Doctor is unlikely going in. And where did this Asylum of the Daleks come from anyway? If the Doctor knew there was a building where the Daleks that other Daleks fear are kept wouldn’t he have destroyed it just in case? Plus, where the fuck did the Dalek parliament come from? Are we expected to believe that during the Time War the Timelords rounded up all the Daleks in the universe except their politicians? I don’t think so. 

But I don’t want to get too into the numerous plot holes in this and many other episodes as all the series of Dr Who so far have pushed the edges of the canon as far as they can. No, the reason I pick this episode over any others is simply the ending. Moffat has reached the stage where he clearly thinks his audience are so idiotic that the only thing they need to deem an episode a triumph is 5 minutes of Daleks shouting “Dr who?” repeatedly. Fuck that. Despite what the BBC may believe, the people who watch Dr Who aren’t the inmates in the mental hospital in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. And any argument that starts “it’s a kids show” can fuck off too. That doesn’t mean the plots have to be so simplistic and overly reliant on blowing shit up that you could genuinely believe a child wrote it.

Now, I’m not a hater of Steven Moffat in particular but there is no denying that he did a better job as a writer of solo episodes. He has singlehandedly written some of the most terrifying and wonderful episodes in the modern show’s history. The man can write. What he can’t seem to do as well is handle the series wide story-arc. Again, one thing in favour of Russell T was his ability to create intriguing hints about the series finale. Who didn’t watch the last episode of series 1 and not get an insane amount of joy from the whole “I scatter the words through space and time” thing that brought together all of the little references throughout past episodes? There is an argument to say that he pushed this formula to the limit but, regardless of this criticism, I can probably reenact every series final of the Russell T era. Ask me anything about the last few episodes of the Moffat reign and I’m left a little helpless. I know there was a massive box and a Roman Rory-bot. Oh and River Song kept turning up all the fucking time. Now there is someone who really outstayed her welcome. I wouldn’t mind so much but the major plot twists surrounding her character stood out a mile away. She had so much potential when she first turned up but it all just became an annoyance. She was obviously Amy’s daughter, she was obviously the one meant to kill the Doctor and she was, most obviously, not going to do it. 

I don’t think I would mind her so much if Amy and Rory were interesting enough characters to warrant adding to their family. They are, in my mind, the worst companions to date (yes even worse than Martha) because they don’t go on any real journey. Week after week they get themselves into dangerous situations because of their own stupidity but never learn anything. The only type of journey they go on revolves around whether Amy/Rory is really in love with Rory/Amy. It’s dull. At least all of the other companions changed for the better. Rose and Mickey both became more confident and badass thanks to the Doctor. Martha travelled the world to save Earth from the Master and is a fucking solider/qualified Doctor. Donna gained much more purpose and confidence. Amy? Well she got a husband, a baby and a new house in London. Yay, personal growth!

Anyway, I’m rambling now. I don’t want to end this without clarifying that I’m not saying Dr Who is all bad. I’m not just saying this because I don’t like change or because I’m too familiar with the old days. I think shows like this need to change every so often to keep it fresh and I love Matt Smith as the Doctor. He brings a naive excitement to the role and I think he’s totally filled and reshaped the hole David Tennant left. (Let’s be honest, Tennat was only the favourite Dr because he was the one who had done it for longest in the modern series. He’s great but he isn’t the definitive Doctor.) As for the old episodes, I grew up watching some of the old series but I was too young to have a great attachment to it. The thing I remember most about Dr Who before Russell T revised it was the creepy closing credits with Jon Pertwee’s face underneath. I also don’t follow some of the arguments out there that has become too dark, too sexy and that there is too much of a focus on romance. It may be a bit darker but so is everything these days. As for being sexy, we have to be honest and say that Dr Who has always been a bit sexy. Look at the some of the past companions and suddenly Amy Pond’s quite normal denim mini-skirt doesn’t seem that crazy. 

On top of that, there have been some great episodes and the show does have some of the best writers at its disposal. Neil Gaiman’s episode was both clever and exciting and I can’t wait for his second one this series. Mark Gatiss always brings something interesting to the table. (He has also written the only episode of Sherlock that I believe warrants the spectacular respect that the show has gained. I like the show but again it’s all very meh. Without the two leads that show would be nothing. There I’ve said it.) What I don’t see is any kind of consistency. We are celebrating the shows 50th anniversary this year but what are we really celebrating? The slow decline of a once clever and different show into an all too familiar Michael Bay style science-fiction show. The series, the loyal audience and the great cast just aren’t getting the kind of material that they deserve. It’s not fair to the people out there who have stayed with this show since their childhood. How can it be that they are expected to get the same amount of excitement they once got at the sight of a dustbin with a plunger attached to it whilst listening to the title repeated for half an hour?

Then again, if you can’t beat them, join them. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who. Dr Who.