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New Escapist Column! On “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as a Theme Park Ride and a Cinematic Marvel…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Given that Raiders of the Lost Ark turned forty years old this summer, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at Steven Spielberg’s defining summer blockbuster.

In particular, Raiders of the Lost Ark is proof that it is possible for a “theme park ride” of a summer blockbuster to also function as a distillation of cinema. Everything in Raiders of the Lost Ark moves with singular purpose towards the same goal. It is a visceral and impressive technical accomplishment, but the craft involved in works in service of big ideas about the power of imagery and iconography. Form and function are indistinguishable, what the film is about becoming inseparable from how it is about it. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a triumph of filmmaking.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Star Trek: The Lost Era – Well of Souls by Ilsa J. Bick (Review)

This November and December, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Well of Souls is a story of the Enterprise-C, the ship introduced in Yesterday’s Enterprise. One of the best-received episodes in the history of Star Trek: The Next GenerationYesterday’s Enterprise established Rachel Garrett’s ship as the troubled Enterprise, the tragic flagship, the doomed space craft. Ilsa J. Bick builds on that characterisation in Well of Souls, one small story from some point in Garrett’s command of the Federation flagship.

While Well of Souls feels like a rather unconventional Star Trek novel, it is charming in its own way. Bick connects her tale to the themes of Well of Souls, suggesting a troubled ship manned by a struggling crew. The novel returns time and again to the theme of unfortunate choices, the weight of making the best decision of the options open. Unlike Kirk or Picard, Bick seems to suggest, this version of the iconic starship doesn’t get that many lucky breaks, with her crew repeatedly forced to accept the least bad of a selection of unappetising choices.

Well of Souls is  a thoughtful, introspective piece. It doesn’t flow or pace itself as well as it might, but Bick crafts a compelling picture the never-the-less. While not quite the best of the Lost Era tie-in novels, it’s ambitious and insightful. It lacks the energy of Serpents Among the Ruins or The Art of the Impossible, but it’s still a very worthy read for anybody looking to sketch out a gap in the Star Trek mythos.


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Doctor Who: City of Death (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.

City of Death originally aired in 1979.

It’s quite good.

Quite good? That’s one of the great treasures of the universe and you say “quite good”?

The world, Doctor, the world.

What are you talking about?

Not the universe in public, Doctor. It only calls attention.

I don’t care. It’s one of the great treasures of the universe!


I don’t care. Let them gawp, let them gape. What do I care?

– Romana and the Doctor discuss the Mona Lisa

City of Death might divide fans of Doctor Who, with some regarding it as too silly or childish, but I think it’s easily the best Tom Baker serial the show produced, and probably the most entertaining serial for those unfamiliar with the classic show. It helps that the script combines some of the era’s best writers, with “David Agnew” serving to cover contributions from David Fisher, Douglas Adams and Graham Williams. I’ll concede that the farce tended to get a bit much towards the end of Adams’ tenure as script editor, but City of Deathpitches itself perfectly with some wonderful science-fiction concepts peppered over some fine location work, with a side of superb British wit.

From Paris with Love...

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Chris Claremont’s Run on Wolverine (Vol. 2) (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

Although his extended run on Uncanny X-Men is one of the most renowned runs in comic book history, it’s easy to forget just how massively Claremont developed the X-Men franchise beyond that core book. He did, after all, launch spin-off titles like New Mutants or X-Calibur. The writer also shepherded the development of Wolverine outside the Uncanny X-Men book, producing the original Wolverine miniseries with Frank Miller, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine with Al Milgrom and even Save the Tiger in Marvel Comics Presents. Claremont also drafted nine of the first ten issues of Wolverine’s first on-going solo title and, while not the writer’s finest work by a significant stretch, it is a pulpy and entertaining read – one more firmly grounded in pop culture conventions than grim violence and anti-heroic nihilism. The issues are a light, fun collection of stories featuring the character, nothing more and nothing less.

A cut above the rest?

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The Art of Compromise: Picking the Family Christmas Movie…

Christmas is a fun time in my household. We pack in the entire extended family for a day of fun and celebration, a nice dinner, some drinks. They stay over for a night or two and we do all the usual family activities. Christmas night, we watch a movie. St. Stephen’s night, we play a game of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. As you can imagine, finding a movie that thirteen-odd people will sit down and enjoy in a crowded sitting room by the fire, glasses of wine and popcorn handy, is no mean feat. And, I admit with some measure of pride, the task is assigned to me: I’m the one asked to come up with a suitable movie for the Christmas evening. And, as much as it’s a fun task, it’s also a daunting one.

Ghosts of Christmas past...

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The Adventures of Tintin: The Calculus Affair (Review)

To celebrate the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn in the United States later this month, I’ll be taking a look at some of nineties animated television show. Check back daily!

Note: This is our review of the animated episode, check out our review of the book here.

We’re just finished the more fantastical series of Hergé’s adventures, where he took his lead (and supporting cast) to the bottom of the ocean, to the heart of a lost Inca society and even to the moon itself. The animated series proved quite adept at handling these stories. The fact that Hergé’s two-part adventures translated to four-part feature-length episodes was just icing on the cake. However, I find myself wondering how the team will handle The Calculus Affair. It’s a relatively mature adventure, and it represents a point where the series became considerably more self-aware and reflexive. Given some of the changes made to earlier stories, I can’t help but wonder how the series will deal with these very different themes and ideas.

Tintin must have ticked off some important people in his time...

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Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun (Review)

In the lead-up to the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, I’m going to be taking a look at Hergé’s celebrated comic book character, from his humble beginnings through to the incomplete post-modern finale. I hope you enjoy the ride.

I have to admit to really liking the two-part Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun adventure, to the extent that I’m actually eagerly anticipating Peter Jackson’s adaptation that may never materialise. The two-parter really just takes the best aspects of Hergé’s Tintin mythos, brewing up a pop culture stew that can be served as a mystery story or an adventure into a mystical and unknown world. The idea of discovering a long-lost tribe of ancient Inca is certainly an appealing one, and would make for a gripping turn-of-the-century adventure. Using that premise as a starting point, Hergé leads us and Tintin in the heart of Amazon, filled with excitement and danger and mystery.

Tintin, why don't you come Inca?

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Tintin: The Black Island (Review)

In the lead-up to the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, I’m going to be taking a look at Hergé’s celebrated comic book character, from his humble beginnings through to the incomplete post-modern finale. I hope you enjoy the ride.

The Black Island is a fun piece of pulp fiction, which wonderfully feels like Hergé was drawing on whatever pop culture reference was closest to hand at the time. In a way, this strange blend of influences mixes to produce a cocktail that fits surprisingly well against this instalment’s British background. It also features some of Hergé’s strongest artwork, in my own very humble opinion. It might lack the sort historical and political context that defined The Broken Ear and The Blue Lotus, but it’s still a more-than-worthy entry in the series.

Well, don't they have egg on their faces...

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Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh (Review)

In the lead-up to the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, I’m going to be taking a look at Hergé’s celebrated comic book character, from his humble beginnings through to the incomplete post-modern finale. I hope you enjoy the ride.

This is more like it. I think Cigars of the Pharaoh is the first quintessential Tintin story. It really feels like Hergé has figured out the kind of stories he wants to tell, with a weird blend of various pulp genres from crime to mystery to horror, all mixed with a healthy dose of comedy. It’s also the first adventure in the series (and I’m including Tintin in the Congo) that feels truly exotic as our hero travels the world to unearth the central mystery.

Tintin's first glimpse of a Red Sea Shark...

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Going Nutz Over Nazis…

Ah, Nazis. The most typical of Hollywood villains. It seems that whenever you want the audience to cheer at what your morally ambiguous hero is up to, just stick his opponent in a Nazi uniform and you can guaruntee that the viewers will know which side they’re on. It used to be in the old days that simply putting a villain in a Nazi uniform was a regular past time for any big director. You didn’t need characterisation or complexity. If they’re German between 1941 and 1945, they’re a bad guy. Well, at least that used to be the way. In recent years it seems that we have accepted that things may be slightly more complex than those black and grey uniforms that they wore. There are many shades. So much so that the ‘thoughtful Nazi flick’ has pretty much become guarunteed Oscar bait. Given the minor furore which surrounded the release of Inglourious Basterds, is the time of the one-dimensional cardboard cutout passed into history? And has political correctness gone too far?

Don't make a song and dance about it...

Don't make a song and dance about it...

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