R.I.P. Harlan Ellison

The prolific writer of numerous iconic SF works has died…

Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison: one of the all-time greats of literary and screen SF (image used for illustrative purposes only, no copyright infringement intended).

The news on Thursday of the death of Harlan Ellison marks the loss of one of science fiction’s most iconic writers and whose contribution to the genre and storytelling in general cannot be understated.  Notoriously protective of his works, Ellison’s career encompassed an impressive range of material from short stories and novellas to comic books and television scripts that would become highly regarded and influential.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio on 27th May 1934, Harlan Ellison’s journey as a writer began after holding a series of odd jobs and having his stories published in titles such as Amazing Stories and Fantastic Science Fiction before serving in the U.S. Army between 1957 and 1959.  Work in television would eventually follow and Ellison would provide teleplays for various shows including Burke’s Law, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and ultimately, The Outer Limits and Star Trek.

For The Outer Limits, Ellison penned two of the series’ most revered stories, “Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand”“Soldier” is particularly noteworthy, a story in which two enemy combatants in a future war find themselves transported into the present, it became a contentious issue upon the release of James Cameron’s The Terminator.  The apparent similarities between “Soldier” and The Terminator saw Ellison launch legal action on the basis of plagiarism leading to the addition of an acknowledgement of his works to the closing credits of The Terminator.

However, it’s Ellison’s one-time connection with Star Trek that produced arguably his greatest and most celebrated work which resulted in 1967’s Hugo Award winning “The City on the Edge of Forever”, recognised as one of the very best Star Trek episodes.  Much to the outrage of Ellison, his script was heavily rewritten by Gene Rodenberry (following drafts by other Star Trek writers) in order to bring it more in line with Roddenberry’s vision and philosophy for Star Trek and to adapt it to the technical and budgetary limitations of television at the time.  Despite this, the core concept of Ellison’s story remained and only served to make the finished episode stronger and in 2014 his original teleplay for “The City on the Edge of Forever” would be adapted into a comic book mini-series, published by IDW.

Harlan Ellison would continue working into the 1970s and would serve as a creative consultant on the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone and in the 90s would be enlisted by J. Michael Straczynski as a ‘conceptual consultant’ on Babylon 5 where he even made an onscreen appearance in the 1997 episode “The Face of the Enemy”.  Ellison’s short story “The Human Operators” would form the basis of two episodes of the contemporary version of The Outer Limits – the 1999 episode “The Human Operators” and 2002’s “Human Trials”.  His final television credit came in 2007 with “The Discarded”, an episode of Masters of Science Fiction, co-written with Josh Olson and based on Ellison’s story “The Abnormals”“The Discarded” is notable for starring Stephen Hawking, John Hurt and Brian Dennehy and being directed by Jonathan Frakes who played Commander Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Harlan Ellison leaves a rich legacy and can be considered as one of the all-time greatest writers of science fiction.

Harlan Ellison died 28th June 2018, aged 84.

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Flashback: ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’

Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, directs Star Trek’s

notorious fifth big screen adventure…

Star Trek V a

‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ – a flawed but fun adventure for the original crew…

Year:  1989

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Laurence Luckinbill

Directed by:  William Shatner / Written by:  David Loughrey (Story by William Shatner, Harve Bennett & David Loughrey)

What’s it about?

Spock’s estranged half-brother, Sybok hijacks the U.S.S. Enterprise to go in search of the fabled planet Sha Ka Ree…

Retrospective

It’s generally looked upon as the weakest of the original crew’s big screen voyages, but is Star Trek V: The Final Frontier really all that bad?  With the critical and commercial success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986 and the franchise entering a new golden era with the launch of television series Star Trek: The Next Generation it would have been fair to say that the odds were already stacked against Star Trek V, in whatever form it would take.  With Leonard Nimoy having helmed Star Treks III and IV it would be William Shatner’s turn in the director’s chair and although the results would be less successful with the production being hindered by budgetary woes and script and story issues, The Final Frontier does have its moments.

The story of The Final Frontier sees an undermanned and malfunctioning U.S.S. Enterprise despatched to Nimbus III – dubbed “The Planet of Galactic Peace” – where Spock’s long lost half-brother, Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) has taken envoys of the Federation, Klingon and Romulan governments hostage.  Using his Vulcan telepathy to ‘influence’ individuals into joining his cause, Sybok succeeds in commandeering the Enterprise and taking her crew on a voyage to the mythical planet ‘Sha Ka Ree’…where he believes God himself resides!  Adding to the tension is the eager commander of a Klingon vessel out to prove himself (Captain Klaa, played by Todd Bryant) by relentlessly pursuing the Enterprise, in the hopes of engaging her captain in battle.

It all sounds a little hokey, but with the revelations of the film’s final act it all comes together like a fairly entertaining episode of 1960s Star Trek.  Although the finished film lacks the complexity, nuance and real-world commentary writer/director Nicholas Meyer would infuse into Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Final Frontier is still an imaginative and fun science fiction adventure carried by the beloved characters of the original Star Trek, especially the central troika of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy and the performances by their respective actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley.  Principal cast aside, one of the film’s biggest assets is guest star Laurence Luckinbill who brings both strength and passion to the role of Sybok, an outcast of Vulcan society who has shunned their traditions in repression of emotion and an adherence to logic above all else.

It’s been well documented that Shatner’s original vision for The Final Frontier was far more elaborate and, perhaps, daring than what eventually appeared on screen.  Most notably, a diminished budget meant a finale in which Kirk was to be pursued by monstrous rock creatures (a sequence preserved in the pages of the DC Comics adaptation) would not be possible.  There were also some major script changes, facilitated in part by concerns from Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley about how Spock and McCoy would be portrayed in the film, both particularly startled by an earlier draft of the story which had Spock and McCoy also falling under Sybok’s influence and turning on Kirk along with the rest of the Enterprise crew.

Some of Shatner’s concepts certainly work, particularly the concept of “the Planet of Galactic Peace” – a well-intentioned, yet failed experiment in co-operation between seemingly implacable enemies.  The very notion of Sybok and his ‘crusade’ is also allegorical of religious extremism, an element watered down likely at the behest of Paramount Pictures but still has some presence in the completed version of the film.  Working with Shatner and producer Harve Bennett on the problematic narrative, David Loughrey’s screenplay does a respectable job in focusing the disparate elements into a reasonably cohesive and entertaining adventure that gives all of the Star Trek crew moments to shine with strokes of humour that’s as enjoyable as some of The Voyage Home’s funniest moments.

One of the film’s biggest drawbacks is in its visual effects, which generally fall below the quality of previous instalments.  With legendary effects house ILM stretched by their commitments on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Ghostbusters II, the film’s visuals were undertaken by a smaller, less established effects company and lack the overall punch of what was seen in prior Star Trek films, made all the more noticeable by the inclusion of stock footage from The Voyage Home.  It’s a shame because if ILM had been available it would have improved The Final Frontier, especially those sequences in which the Enterprise traverses the ‘Great Barrier’ where the effects work is adequate but clearly weaker and far less impressive than ILM’s work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a decade earlier!  Luckily, the production design by The Next Generation’s Herman Zimmerman is decent with the trashy, decaying aesthetic of Nimbus III’s ‘Paradise City’ aiding greatly in the sort of gritty Western feel Shatner strived for.  The bridge of the newly commissioned Enterprise-A is also a highlight, brightly lit and with advanced touch screen displays on show, it’s slightly reminiscent of the set of J.J. Abrams’ films as opposed to the subdued and submarine like styling Nicholas Meyer would employ for The Undiscovered Country.  Jerry Goldsmith’s score also proves to be a successful component, mixing themes from Star Trek: The Motion Picture with new material to enrich key moments of excitement, awe and mystery.

In the end Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is by no means the strongest entry in the series, mainly due to disappointing special effects work and the dilution of the stronger themes William Shatner sought to explore.  Yet, viewed with an appreciation for the original Star Trek series and affection for its cast of characters there’s a certain level of enjoyment to be had.

Geek fact!

The role of Sybok was originally intended for Sean Connery, ‘Sha Ka Ree’ being derived from his name.

Star Trek V d

In search of “the ultimae knowledge”: Kirk, Sybok, Spock and McCoy reach the Final Frontier…

Have you read… ‘Green Arrow: Year One’ ?

With ‘Arrow’ returning to television screens in the UK and US later this month, here’s a previous post looking at one of the very best and most accessible Green Arrow comic book stories that fans of the tv series should definitely check out…

GEEK BLOGGER UK

The comics and graphic novels you may not have read that are

well worth checking out…

Written by:  Andy Diggle / Art by:  Jock

Collects:  Green Arrow: Year One #1-6 (published 2007)

What’s it about?

The young Oliver Queen is a reckless socialite and billionaire playboy without a purpose.  Betrayed by his trusted bodyguard, Hackett, Queen is shipwrecked on an opium-rich jungle island where he must fight for survival against a group of ruthless drug traffickers…

In review

No doubt like numerous other comic book fans, DC Comics’ Green Arrow was a character I had always overlooked.  Sure, I had a passing awareness of Oliver Queen from years of reading other DC titles (his appearance in Geoff John’s Green Lantern:  Rebirth for example) but for some reason I was never really interested in Green Arrow – was it the Robin Hood motif?  Possibly – although honestly I…

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GBUK film classics: ‘From Russia With Love’

With ‘Spectre’ currently taking the worldwide box office by storm, here’s an earlier GBUK post looking at one of the very best James Bond films…

GEEK BLOGGER UK

Looking at some all-time film favourites…

 

“Red wine with fish.  Well that should have told me something”

 

Year:  1963

Starring:  Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee

Director:  Terence Young / Written by:  Richard Maibaum

What’s it about?

Crack spy James Bond is dispatched to Istanbul on a mission to capture a Soviet coding device but soon becomes embroiled in the plots of the nefarious SPECTRE organisation…

In review

From Russia With Love is the second cinematic outing for Ian Fleming’s literary super spy (and based on Fleming’s 1957 novel of the same title), James Bond (aka 007), and ranks highly as one of the best – quite possibly THE best – of the enduringly popular film series.

Whilst 1964’s Goldfinger would catapult James Bond into the stratosphere as a pop culture icon and world-wide phenomenon, From Russia With Love presents the…

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Film Review: ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ (spoiler free)

Mission accomplished?

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris

Directed by:  Christopher McQuarrie / Written by:  Christopher McQuarrie (story by Christopher McQuarrie and Drew Pearce) / 131 minutes

What’s it about?

With the IMF disbanded, Ethan Hunt and his teammates must evade capture by the CIA whilst they seek to thwart the plans of the mysterious rogue organisation known as The Syndicate…

In review

Rogue Nation is the fifth instalment of Tom Cruise’s popular action film franchise based on the classic television series which ran during the late sixties/early seventies (and resurrected briefly in the 1980s).  With 2011’s Ghost Protocol proving a huge critical and financial hit, the pressure was surely on to make the IMF’s latest adventure as big and good as, if not better than their previous outing.

Rogue Nation largely succeeds and is undoubtedly a strong and reliable addition to the series, whilst there may be a touch of the familiar the filmmakers have deftly straddled the line of delivering everything that made Ghost Protocol work so well whilst ensuring that there are enough fresh elements to complement the overall ‘package’.

Director/screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (who has worked with Tom Cruise previously on Jack Reacher and Edge of Tomorrow) succeeds Brian DePalma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird as creative master of this newest Mission: Impossible and demonstrates a talented ability to skilfully stage the adrenalin infused large scale action set-pieces audiences have come to expect from the M:I series and present a labyrinthine spy narrative that never ceases to surprise with its numerous twist and turns.

Of course, the star of the show is Tom Cruise himself bringing the same relentless drive that has aided in the success of the Mission: Impossible film series.  Cruise injects the character of Ethan Hunt with the usual charisma and skill but as always it’s his extraordinary commitment to the film’s action and stunts that makes much of Rogue Nation so exhilarating, from clinging to the side of a cargo plane as it goes airborne, to trading heavy blows with Jens Hulten’s henchman through to the intense motorbike and car chases.  Yet, it’s actually a novel twist on the computer vault-data theft plot device from the first Mission: Impossible that stands out as one of the most exciting and daring action sequences in Rogue Nation.  Once again there are beautiful and varied locations, this time including Vienna, Morocco and London with some striking imagery provided by cinematographer Robert Elswit.

Returning from duty in Ghost Protocol are Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames.  Although Renner and Rhames are a little sidelined, Pegg’s role as Benji Dunn is once again significantly larger than his cameo in J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III and, as with Ghost Protocol, Pegg proves able to play both the comedic and the dramatic (and moments of both feel well balanced and well executed in Rogue Nation) effectively.  Alec Baldwin brings some decent star power to bolster proceedings as the CIA man charged with apprehending Hunt and his team and whilst Sean Harris’s raspy-voiced main antagonist isn’t as well defined and as menacing as some of the greatest Bond villains, he’s non-the-less suitably psychotic.

Aiding Hunt is Isla Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson), a character with torn loyalties upon which much of the mystery and intrigue of Rogue Nation centres on.  The character of Faust and the manner in which she is played by Ferguson is a huge asset to the film and it would be welcome to see the series break trend and have her return for the already mooted sixth Mission: Impossible.

All in all, Rogue Nation is another mission safely and solidly accomplished.

The bottom line:  Rogue Nation is another successful big screen Mission: Impossible venture for producer/star Tom Cruise and his various collaborators with high stakes action combined with an intriguing and twisty spy plot.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is in cinemas now.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team of spies return to action in Paramount Pictures' 'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation'.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team of spies return to action in Paramount Pictures’ ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’.

Special Preview: ‘Attack of the Killer Sock’

Something spooky is ‘afoot’ in the latest short from Alexander Williams…

There's a chill in the air in the latest offering from Mcphoney Pictures - 'Attack of the Killer Sock'!

There’s a chill in the air in the latest offering from Mcphoney Pictures – ‘Attack of the Killer Sock’!

Regular GBUK readers might recall that I’ve mentioned my good friend Alexander Williams who produces numerous wonderful short films showcased via his website, mcphoney.com.

Now, it’s easy to point out that I might simply be saying all this because he’s a valued and dear friend but in all serious – the guy is TALENTED!

So, having been offered the privilege of an advanced viewing of Alex’s latest project, I have the pleasure of bringing you a brief, spoiler-free (because I want you all to check it out and enjoy it for yourselves!) look at Mcphoney Pictures’ upcoming release, Attack of the Killer Sock.

Don’t be fooled by the title of the short and the ‘central threat’.  Yes, there’s a hint of the darkly comic (as anyone would expect when a murderous piece of clothing is involved) yet it’s treated with a seriousness and intensity that you may not expect – and be pleased to discover!

As the short (clocking close to a respectable 30 minutes) opens we’re informed of the project’s inspiration – the works of late quintessential ghost story author M.R. James, many of whose stories have been adapted for television by the BBC.  The influence is clear and much like those BBC adaptations there’s deft use of simple, yet extremely effective visuals (and audio) to instil in the viewer a palpable sense of atmosphere that’s unnerving and chilling.  Alex deftly employs all of the tropes of a classic scare – utilising a diverse range of angles and close-ups and lighting techniques that reminds us that fear comes from the unknown and the unseen (or barely seen).

If only the BBC would hire Alex to produce their next M.R. James adaptation as I found Attack of the Killer Sock every bit as unsettling and effective as their adaptations of such classic James stories as the Tractate Middoth and Whistle and I’ll Come to You.

Anyway, all that’s left for me to say is to recommend viewing the trailer below and that you check out Attack of The Killer Sock when it’s released via mcphoney.com (and the Mcphoney YouTube channel) this Halloween!

A very special thanks to Alexander Williams for the opportunity to bring you this preview and all those involved in the production of Attack of the Killer Sock.  Check out Alex’s other work at www.mcphoney.com.

Attack of the Killer Sock is released via the mcphoney.com website and YouTube channel on Friday 31st October.

Geek Highlights of 2013 – Part Two

Continuing a look back at some of the highlights and happenings in the geek universe, as it was in 2013…

A MAN OF STEEL RISES AND BATFLECK BEGINS…

After Green Lantern failed to launch the DC Comics answer to Marvel’s behemoth film universe and confirmation that Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are a standalone trilogy, DC (and studio Warner Brothers) certainly had a lot resting on Watchmen director Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot.

As numerous trailers were released, anticipation was set feverishly high.  Maybe that’s the problem these days, too many trailers and too much hype means that expectations can never be fully met and whilst Man of Steel may have provoked some mixed geek reactions it pretty much ticked all the boxes so far as I’m concerned.  Along with the epic scale, Henry Cavill brought strength and conviction balanced with a healthy measure of humanity to the role of the world’s greatest superhero in a film that delivered a promising launch point for the burgeoning cinematic iteration of the DC Comics universe.

Despite grumbles in the fan community, Man of Steel still grossed over $650 million in worldwide box office takings and a sequel was inevitable.  Little did we know that DC would announce the inclusion of their other great ‘hero’, none other than the Batman himself!  Drums rolled and the fan community waited with baited breath for the big announcement…the new Batman will be…Ben Affleck?  The internet well and truly exploded and no-one seemed happy (and still aren’t), to be fair Daredevil was ten years ago and Affleck has since matured into a superior actor (and not to mention his efforts as an Academy Award worthy director – could DC/Warner Brothers be eying him up for Justice League?) and judgement should rightly be reserved until the film is released.  Christian Bale will certainly be a tough act to follow and his performance possibly never bettered but Batman is an enduring pop culture icon and as long as the bat suit is free of nipples It’s worth being open minded.

We’re promised a slightly different take on the Dark Knight detective this time with an older more weary and even angry Bruce Wayne, borrowing heavily from Frank Miller’s seminal comic book opus The Dark Knight Returns.

Of course before the year was out DC/Warner Brothers pulled another surprise reveal…Wonder Woman (a role bequeathed to Fast & Furious 6 actress Gal Gadot) will also feature in the Man of Steel sequel (or Superman/Batman film, just don’t cheapen it by calling it Batman vs. Superman), securing further foundation for that inevitable Justice League film.

Is this all a step in the right direction?  We’ll see in July 2015, but expect a trailer by Christmas…

WHO IS THE DOCTOR?

2013 marked the 50th Anniversary of a ‘little’ television series called Doctor Who.  The British science fiction series first aired in November 1963 on barely a shoestring budget, yet the character of the Doctor and his heroic adventures through time and space has captured the hearts and minds of many and has been enjoying a contemporary resurgence and even earned mainstream popularity since his return to screens in 2005 (the series now thankfully bolstered by much higher production values).

As plans for a 50th anniversary special were kept tightly under wraps, Matt Smith revealed news of his departure in the 2013 Christmas Special (leaving many heartbroken) and ensuing speculation of who his successor would be.  Kudos to the BBC and Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat with their choice – Peter Capaldi.  Capaldi – best known for his sharp, expletive laden turns as Malcolm Tucker in the BBC political satire The Thick of It (and spin-off film In the Loop) is an inspired choice – will we see a return to the older more cantankerous iteration of the Doctor established by the late William Hartnell?

Of course let’s not forget that 50th Anniversary special.  The Day of the Doctor saw Matt Smith’s Doctor team up with his previous ‘incarnation’, facilitating the return of David Tennant (arguably the best Doctor since Tom Baker).  It was a fun adventure and a fitting celebration that benefitted further from the inclusion of A-list guest star John Hurt.

Completing the 50th Anniversary ‘package’ was the rather excellent An Adventure in Space and Time, a BBC ‘docudrama’ (by Who and Sherlock writer Mark Gatiss) following the conception of Doctor Who and it’s swift rise in popularity thanks to the efforts of producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) and leading man William Hartnell (David Bradley).  Bradley turned in an earnest yet heartfelt performance as Hartnell, certainly worthy of a BAFTA and the surprise cameo of Matt Smith’s Doctor was both surreal and a treat for fans.

Well, there you have it, a small selection of the numerous highlights of 2013 in anticipation of the many to come in the next twelve months.  It’s certainly a great time to be a geek, long may it continue!

What are your favourite geek highlights of last year?  Share your thoughts below!

WHO am I again?  Peter Capaldi's confused entrance in the 2013 Christmas Special of 'Doctor Who' was brief yet tantalising...

WHO am I again? Peter Capaldi’s confused entrance in the 2013 Christmas Special of ‘Doctor Who’ was brief yet tantalising…