Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dr Who Reunion Show Including Richard Dawkins

Everybody loves a reunion show, but The Stolen Earth from Season Four of the New Dr Who is perhaps the greatest reunion show ever.

Big parts of Dr Who history converge in this two-part episode.

First, the antagonists are none other than the Daleks. The Daleks were first introduced in 1963 and menaced every incarnation of the Doctor so far.

Five of his Companions, Donna Noble, Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Jack Harkness, and Sarah Jane Smith are on hand to help. There's a sixth companion who appears in the second part, but I'll keep that identity secret for now.

Although most of the characters are from the new Dr Who, Sarah Jane Smith, The Daleks and Richard Dawkins are all connected to the show's original run.

Wait, Richard Dawkins wasn't in any of the original Dr Who programs. That's true, Dawkins himself never appeared on the show, but his wife, Lalla Ward played Romana, the lady time lord from 1978 until 1981. Before she married Dawkins, she was briefly married to Tom Baker, who played the Doctor opposite her.

Apparently Dawkins married slightly better in real life than he did in the South Park Universe, where he married the transgendered Mr Garrison.

Some saw Dawkins' cameo in The Stolen Earth as a clue in their theory that Donna might, in fact, be a regenerated version of Romana. Since we don't really know what gave Donna such unique qualities related to time, who knows, maybe she is Romana.

The Edison Frankenstein Film

Sometimes wishing for something is better than having it.

For many years, film fans knew of a cinematic version of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein predating the Boris Karloff version by more than twenty years.

Produced by the Edison company in 1910, little was known of this Frankenstein film because nobody could find a copy of it. Along with Lon Chaney's London After Midnight, The Doodle Bug Dance from The Wizard of Oz and the Spider-Pit sequence from King Kong, Edison's Frankenstein became one of the most sought-after lost films of all time.

We knew that a man named Charles Ogle played the monster and many people talked about the creation sequence made from burning a wax dummy of the monster and under-cranking the camera, then playing the film backwards so the dummy seems to come together instead of disintegrating in a burst of flames. For many years, all that remained of the film was the image you see here.

In 1910, Edison films were still mainly distributed to Nickelodeon theaters across the country. Far different from today's movie theaters, most Nickelodeons had fifty seats or less and might show a dozen or more different movies in a day. In just five years, The Birth of a Nation would forever change movies and movie theaters.

Because there were so many Nickelodeon theaters, Edison made many, many prints of their films, so there was always a fairly good chance a copy of Frankenstein might eventually show up somewhere.

A private film collector did eventually find a copy of Frankenstein in his inventory. When he learned how rare the film was, and realizing he might have the only copy, he decided to try and make a little money off it, so he sat on the film until its original copyright expired. Then, in the late 1980's word started getting around that film buffs could get a copy of the rare film on VHS, but since the owner was still trying to establish his own copyright of the film over its original, expired copyright, the VHS copy had a ghost image of his copyright claim scrolling over the entire film.

Being a fan of early horror, I was really eager to get a copy for myself. I'd known about the film since I was a kid, and that one surviving still made me eager to see it. Although most of my peers couldn't be bothered to watch a silent film, I knew a lot of these films were still an extraordinary experience and grew a real anticipation for just such an experience when I mail-ordered my copy on VHS. And then it came in the mail...

To say the film sucked is an understatement. I'd wanted to see this film for almost twenty years and when I finally got the chance, it was one of the dullest thirteen minutes of film I ever saw. It turns out there was a very good reason the Edison Frankenstein film was lost. Nobody thought it was good enough to save.

Watch below, this YouTube version of the Edison Frankenstein film in all its glory, and try to imagine my experience of waiting and wanting to see the film for so long, only to have this as my reward.

Link: YouTube

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Truth About Robby the Robot

Remeber the Episode War of the Robots from Lost in Space? Robby and B9 fight again, but this time in the Star Wars Universe

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lost 5:12 Enhanced Hieroglyph of the Monster

Original Image

Enhanced & Filtered Image

I'm not sure how useful this is, but I made a screen grab of the pictograph above the smoke monster vents from episode 5:12 Dead is Dead and cleaned it up a good bit and labeled the hieroglyphic elements. I call it a pictograph rather than a hieroglyph because it doesn't seem to depict a sentence, but rather an artistic representation of an event or an idea.

Here's what I see:

A and E: obviously Eyes, but they're not the eyes of Horus. I wonder if these eyes are related to the whispers Ben wants Rousseau to run away from.

F and K: snakes, but they could also be representations of the smoke monster.

B: could be the sun, but it also kind of looks like the Dharma symbol.

J: could be the sun too, but it could also be the island or a planet or any number of things.

C: looks like stairs to me, but it could be anything.

H: is an ankh, we've seen that before.

I: no clue what this symbol means. Maybe some generous reader could enlighten me.

G: is obviously Anubis, Egyptian god of the dead. What's curious here is that Anubis is kneeling in a submissive pose to D It almost looks like Anubis is praying to the smoke monster. If that's the case, then that's a pretty big deal.

D: Most people are calling this figure the smoke monster. Since it's right above the place where the smoke monster comes from, that makes sense. So far, when we've seen the smoke monster it looked like, well, smoke...but here he looks more like lightning. (sort of like Reddy Kilowatt) is this a manifestation of the monster we haven't seen yet, or is it just how the designer thought Egyptians might draw a picture of the smoke monster?

Reddy Kilowatt

Thursday, April 9, 2009

There's Something Strange in Loch Ness

Filmmakers for the History Channel's MonsterQuest recently discovered something totally unexpected in Scotland's famous Loch Ness.

Using remote operated vehicles to film underwater, Mike O’Brien of Louisiana-based SeaTrepid LLC was hoping to find evidence of the Loch Ness Monster when his cameras showed something else...

Golf balls, thousands and thousands of golf balls.

Besides mysterious lake monsters, Scotland is famous as the birth place of golf. Apparently locals and tourists have been using Loch Ness as a driving range for some time now and evidence of their activity is building up on the lake's bottom.

Although the monster can probably handle it, there is some concern for other life in the lake as golf balls can emit toxins as they deteriorate. Even though the ecology is somewhat fragile, there is no plan to retrieve the golf balls yet because they're in a part of the lake that's too deep to use regular scuba equipment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

MirrorMask: A Jim Henson Fantasy

Most of you are probably aware of the two fantasy films Jim Henson produced in the 1980's, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, but many of you may not know there is a third Henson fantasy film, MirrorMask, released some fifteen years after his death.

MirrorMask is the dream-quest of Helena, a young girl who lives and works with a family circus until her mother falls gravely ill. Originally conceived as a sequel to The Labyrinth, MirrorMask is Helena's coming-of-age story. Although it has many of the same story elements of Labyrinth, MirrorMask uses them in much more subtle, but yet much more powerful ways. It's the story of Helena growing up: what she wants to keep of her life as a girl, what she wants for the future, what she wants from boys, and most importantly, her relationship with her mother. It even explores the relationship between artists and their creations.

Toward the end of his life, Jim Henson realized he had taken physical puppetry about as far as it could go and began experimenting with the then, new field of computer generated imagery. After his death, his children Brian, Lisa, Cheryl, John and Heather continued taking the company in that direction.

Although there are some physical effects in MirrorMask, they realize most of the film using CGI. Unlike most studios who use CGI just as an effect, The Hensons use CGI as an art in itself, just as their father used puppetry, and like their father's work, MirrorMask is a stunning and unforgettable visual experience.

Henson was most proud of how he used the work of a single designer (English artist, Brian Froud) in The Dark Crystal. For MirrorMask, his children chose to go the same route by using English artist Dave McKean. Like Froud's work in The Dark Crystal, McKean's art fills the entire universe of MirrorMask, sets, costumes, backgrounds and character design.

McKean's designs are quite different from Froud's. His work is more psychological and iconic and abstract. McKean's work is strongly reminiscent of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey, and like Burton and Gorey, most of his work begins as a pen or pencil sketch.

Since neither The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth did very well during their studio release and made most of their returns in VHS and DVD sales, the studio decided to have a limited theatrical run for MirrorMask and focus their efforts on selling the film in the secondary market. The plan soon fell apart though so the video release of MirrorMask received little, if any, advertising.

Because the marketing plan for MirrorMask collapsed, most of the people who might really enjoy the film never heard of it, which is really a shame since MirrorMask really is every bit as good, if not better than either The Dark Crystal or labyrinth. You can still find the film on DVD though, and if you love fantasy films like I do, then I really, really recommend it.