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Random thoughts about sound and vision.

Star Trek: Revisiting The City On The Edge Of Forever

If you're a fan of Star Trek - particularly the Original Series - I can't recommend enough Harlan Ellison's 1996 book about The City On The Edge Of Forever. It's arguably the most famous episode in the series.

No, make that infamousCity had a bruising trip from page to screen. The TV episode is justly acclaimed as one of Trek's finest - if not the finest - hours. It's the one that has Kirk and Spock literally leaping into the past to stop a drug-crazed McCoy from dramatically changing the future. The show won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and is a classic episode.

But it could have been even better.

Harlan Ellison's book contains his original script, which won him the Writer's Guild of America award for Best Teleplay. There are significant differences between what he originally wrote and what ended up on the screen. In the book, Ellison sets out his side of the story in a remarkable 80 page essay. It's an abject demonstration of how Hollywood treats its writers. Ellison spells out how his script was dumbed down and diluted on its way to production. Show chief Gene Roddenberry is repeatedly shown making out to the media that Ellison was the bad guy. William Shatner, God bless him, doesn't come out of it well either. If there's one lesson to be learned, it's that you do not cross Harlan Ellison and get away with it; his pen is mightier than your sword. It's fascinating stuff, written more out of frustration than rancor by Ellison. After nearly 30 years of bottling it up, the book was clearly a long overdue catharsis.

Now the really good news. There's currently a Kickstarter campaign to fund an audiobook version of Ellison's book. Not only will there be a full cast reading of the original teleplay (including LeVar Burton, Robert Forster and Jean Smart) but that epic essay will be read by Ellison himself. Plus there's a raft of extras.

As I said - if you're a fan of Star Trek or Harlan Ellison or both - this is an investment well worth making.

Boldly go.

 

Back In The Saddle

I first saw Silverado some thirty years ago - early '86, probably. I rented it on VHS cassette and watched it in all its mono sound, pan-and-scan glory.

I thought it wasn't very good, that it had been highly overrated. The tape was returned to the rental library and the film promptly forgotten.

Then this week , in an article over on Hollywood Elsewhere, I saw a clip of Kevin Costner in Silverado. This was a revelation. I couldn't remember Costner being in the film - hell, I could barely remember the film at all. So this weekend I rented and watched it again.

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You probably know this already, but Silverado is fantastic.

It's Lawrence Kasdan's homage to those great Howard Hawks western classics - Rio Bravo, Red River, El Dorado. There's an amazing cast - Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt. John Cleese is quietly menacing in an unusually straight role for him. Kevin Costner is like you've never seen him before (or since) - wearing an ear-to-ear grin in every scene and clearly enjoying himself hugely. There's glorious widescreen photography. A bracing score by Bruce Broughton. And strong direction by Kasdan of his own screenplay.

How wrong I was.

I can't think why I dismissed it so out of hand back in the mid Eighties. I liked westerns well enough back then, so the genre wasn't the problem. I certainly admired Kasdan for co-writing The Empire Strikes Back and I had liked both his first two films as a director, Body Heat and The Big Chill

It's only been a few times when I've radically revised my opinion on a film. I remember not caring much at all for The Royal Tenenbaums after seeing it at a press screening. A fortnight later, my wife was keen to see it, so I grudgingly took her. On the second viewing, I loved it. Two weeks and I'd turned 180 degrees round in my opinion.

Lesson learned. So now I'm going to have to watch all over again those film classics that I've never understood the acclaim for. Platoon. Vertigo. Million Dollar Baby. Even Lawrence Kasdan's own Grand Canyon.

On second thoughts...I think I was right about that one the first time around.

The Last Picture Show

It's finally happening. The best cinema theatre in the world - for my money - is to sell its last bag of popcorn, show its last trailer and project its last film.

Three years ago, I raved about New York's Ziegfeld Theatre for being the best place anywhere to see a movie. I mentioned that there were already rumblings it was going to close. Now those rumours have become fact. The Ziegfeld will probably see out its days as a cinema with the film currently showing - STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. There are worse movies to bow out with.

When you're allegedly losing a million dollars a year, the closure of your business becomes inevitable. Despite the movie palace glamour and high standards of projection, audiences just weren't going to the Ziegfeld. In a few weeks, the shutters will come down and after extensive redevelopment, the former Theatre will reopen in late 2017 as an upscale space for corporate galas and events.

Fade to black tie...

 

Broken Glass

Short version: if you haven't already, go see The Revenant. It's the most astonishing cinematic experience you'll have had in years.

Long version (and full disclosure): I went into The Revenant with some trepidation. I had liked Birdman well enough but thought co-writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu's choice of follow-up project was...curious, to say the least. 

After watching the first thirty minutes, my worries were gone. This was bold, gutsy, innovative film-making, the like of which I hadn't seen for some time. 

As a modern cinema audience, we're fully aware of film storytelling works. We understand the filmmakers know how to push our buttons and the cinematic bag of tricks they use to do so. But with this film, Iñárritu doesn't rely on them - he's rewritten the rulebook.

The story at the heart of the film is a simple one. Set in the early 1800s, it's a bloody tale of red in tooth and claw survival and revenge. Leonardo DiCaprio is Hugh Glass, a frontiersman mauled by a bear and left for dead by his companions. DiCaprio then has to literally drag himself through the frozen wilderness to safety, navigating icy-cold rivers and struggling across the barren landscape. It's a powerhouse performance and DiCaprio is utterly convincing.

The Revenant works as both philosophical drama and action movie. It's a personal odyssey and a brutally raw widescreen epic at the same time - Terrence Malick meets Tough Mudder. By the end of its 156 minute running time, you'll feel as exhausted, drained and battered as Hugh Glass. And wanting to go through it all again.

For whom The Bell tolls

Another day, another legend gone. Alan Rickman - the man who was Hans Gruber, Marvin the Paranoid Android, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Professor Severus Snape - has passed away

All magnificent performances. But there's another, lesser known one. In 1992, Mike Oldfield brought out Tubular Bells II, a sorta-sequel to his '70s prog-rock masterpiece. It's bland, inoffensive and not terribly memorable...except for one track.

Coyly (and anonymously) billed in the sleeve notes as "A Strolling Player", Rickman takes over the Master Of Ceremonies duties from the original's Vivian Stanshall. As Oldfield piles them on one by one, Rickman drolly introduces each instrument as it appears in his own imitable manner. No one else could make the word "glockenspiel" sound like it was emanating from the heart of darkness itself. I have no idea what "the Venetian effect" is, but Rickman makes it sound so sinister and foreboding, it ought to be slapped with a public health warning.

There have been many tributes paid today but this one rang particularly true: