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The X-Files – The Post-Modern Prometheus (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The Post-Modern Prometheus is a decidedly strange little episode.

As the title suggests, it is a stunningly indulgent piece of television. Written and directed by Chris Carter, The Post-Modern Prometheus is an off-beat adventure shot in black-and-white, stylistically referencing everything from James Whale’s Frankenstein to the work of Cher to the iconic dance sequence from Risky Business. The script is chocked full of literary and cinematic references, stitching them together in a way that suggests the monster alluded to in the title of the episode.

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time…

There are more than a few moments of awkwardness in the script. As with Small Potatoes, there seems something a little awkward about a comedy episode that treats a serial rapist as the jumping-off point for a wacky comedy adventure. (“This is a very serious crime,” Mulder asserts at one point, but the script never seems too bothered by it.) There is something quite knee-jerk and reactionary about how The Post-Modern Prometheus plays into the stereotype of scientific development and research as morally questionable by default.

And, yet, despite these fairly sizable problems, there is a lot to love here. It has been suggested that Carter considers The Post-Modern Prometheus as a deeply personal work – it is not hard to see why. The Post-Modern Prometheus is a story obsessed with the act of creating – whether through biological reproduction or scientific experimentation or even by way of storytelling. It is an episode engaging with a story that has long since slipped out of the control of its creator, and which is free to evolve and develop in infinite directions.

Drivin' to Memphis...

Drivin’ to Memphis…

There is a joy and energy to The Post-Modern Prometheus that almost compensates for the more unpleasant aspects of the script. There is a lot of fun to be had here, whether listening to the creature singing along with Cher or simply watching Mulder and Scully dance as they provide a monster with a (literal) storybook ending. There is a sense that The Post-Modern Prometheus was written almost entirely without cynicism, an incredible celebration of Chris Carter’s own thoughts on storytelling and mythmaking.

The Post-Modern Prometheus is perhaps too deeply flawed to be the classic that it desperately wants to be, but it is a fascinating and bold piece of nineties television that demonstrates just how much enthusiasm and verve The X-Files could bring to proceedings when it wanted to.

It is never a happy mob...

Basement dwellers…

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The X-Files – End Game (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Towards the end of End Game, Mulder stumbles across a nuclear submarine that was attacked in the episode’s teaser. The craft was disabled by a strange craft it picked up in the ocean. Now, following a mysterious alien figure across the world in a quest to find his sister, Mulder approaches the location of the lost American submarine. As he does, he notices the submarine’s coning tower, bursting through the ice.

It’s one of those beautifully iconic television moments. It’s an image that is audacious and stunning and beautiful and breathtaking. It immediately gives End Game (and Colony) a sense of scale. All of a sudden, this isn’t just a bunch of stuff happening under the radar in some small town somewhere. This is the hijacking of a nuclear submarine by a hostile entity. This is Mulder going to the ends of the Earth to get his sister back.

Not so green any longer...

Not so green any longer…

It’s also worth noting that the symbolism is beautiful. Even looking at a picture of Mulder on the ice conjures up all manner of associations. Coupled with the non-linear storytelling employed by Colony and End Game, it calls Frankenstein to mind – Frankenstein serving as a massively influential text on Chris Carter. However, the idea of Mulder finding important existential answers on an Arctic soundstage also evokes Clark Kent’s self-discovery in Richard Donner’s Superman films, playing into the sense that this is an episode framed in cinematic terms.

The rest of the episode could just be dead air, and End Game would still work impressively well. However, End Game remains a fantastic piece of work in its own right, effectively codifying how a two-parter is meant to work.

The truth is out there...

The truth is out there…

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Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Brain of Morbius originally aired in 1976.

How did you get her here, by the way?

The power of the Sisterhood.

Really? What, you mean you still practise teleportation? How quaint. Now, if you got yourself a decent forklift truck–

Doctor, you have but a little time left. Will you waste it prattling nonsense or confess your guilt.

What do you mean, I have but a little time left?

Before you die.

But I’m only seven hundred and forty nine. Life doesn’t begin until seven hundred and —

At the next sun. That is agreed.

Not by me, it isn’t. I haven’t even been consulted.

– The Doctor, Ohica and Maren are clear on a few things

The Brain of Morbius continues the trend of phenomenally strong episodes in Baker’s sophomore season. Barring The Android Invasion, it’s a fairly stellar run of adventures, and I think that it’s these stories that a lot of people (casual follower and hardened fanatic alike) think of when they remember Tom Baker’s celebrated tenure in the role. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe continues his “gothic adventures… in space!” trend from Planet of Evil, this time offering a futuristic take on a Hammer-Horror-style Frankenstein. And the results are as fun, as wonderful and as grotesque as you might have imagined.

They did the monster mash…

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Non-Review Review: The Monster Squad

The Monster Squad is an affectionate celebration of the monster movies of yesteryear, written from the point of view of a generation that grew up with the Universal Horror monsters. When Dracula conspires with his monstrous brethren to conquer the world, it’s up to a gang of plucky kids and their knowledge of horror movie tropes and clichés to stop the lord of the vampires from swaying the balance of good and evil once and for all. It’s an understandably cheesy celebration of those old monster movies, one that benefits from never taking itself or its subject matter to seriously. However, there’s a deep and abiding affection to be found in The Monster Squad, a polite and endearing salute to the iconic monsters of the thirties (through the fifties) from a generation that has its own scary subjects to worry about.

Staying under wraps…

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Non-Review Review: The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

In many respects, The Creature From the Black Lagoon feels like a brass band funeral for the golden age of the Universal monster movies. The subgenre would continue ticking over for quite some time. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy would be released the following year, The Creature From the Black Lagoon would spawn two sequels for the two years following, and Universal would try a spate of monster movies up until The Leech Woman in 1960. However, it’s clear that – by 1954 – the golden age of the Universal monster movie was well over.

And I think that part of the reason that The Creature From the Black Lagoon works so well is because it’s almost a mournful eulogy for the genre.

Out of the depths…

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Non-Review Review: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The monster demands a mate!

I always feel a little strange that I don’t completely love Bride of Frankenstein. James Whale’s Universal Monster movies are all among the very finest in the subgenre, and each of the three collected in this blu ray boxset are well worth the price of admission. And I really like Bride of Frankenstein. It’s great fun. It has a tremendous energy and surreal “buzz” around it that makes the movie fly by, no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

Whale has, as with Frankenstein and The Invisible Man, managed to draw together a fantastic cast, some amazing production design, a willingness to acknowledge the hokey nature of the material and the highest technical skill in pretty much every aspect of the finished project. And yet, despite that, Bride of Frankenstein never really feels like a single unified film. Rather, it’s a bit like the eponymous monster, strange bits and pieces from all manner of sources brought together and stitched up in a way that is far more aesthetically pleasing than its direct predecessor. I just find, personally, that with Bride of Frankenstein, the sum of the parts is actually much greater than the whole.

Scream queen…

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Non-Review Review: The Invisible Man (1933)

We’ll begin with a reign of terror. A few murders here and there. Murders of great men, murders of little men, just to show we make no distinction. We might even wreck a train or two. Just these fingers around a signalman’s throat, that’s all.

The Invisible Man is a classic, sandwiched between James Whale’s celebrated monster movies – Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. The movie was renowned at the time for its special effects, which still hold up remarkably well on the snazzy new blu ray issued by Universal Pictures. However, the film itself is still fantastic on its own terms, featuring a great leading performance from Claude Rains, a witty script and some fantastic direction from Whale. I think it’s also quite wonderfully telling that The Invisible Man manages to feature the story of simultaneously the most human and the most inhuman of these Universal Monster Movies.

The freak who came in from the cold…

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