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Sunday 30 September 2007

Things that Make You Go 'Whu?'

Made by the Fleischer studios in 1931 and featuring an early appearance by Betty Boop. In this incarnation she has a deep voice and dogs' ears.

The Bum Bandit? If you can get your head around any of this, you're doing far better than I am.

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Publication Day

Well, today's the day. I know that a few copies have already snuck out there, but as of now The Kingdom of Bones is official goods.

I don't think I've ever had a novel that's attracted as much advance reaction as this one... and let me tell you, that's never been for want of trying.

I think it's a great-looking piece of production. With its old-fashioned typesetting and deckled page edges it looks and feels like some rare object that's been put together out of yellow fog and old parchment.

I've tried something new this time around. Taken together, the original research plan and detailed research diary contain over 20,000 words of background material. There was never any question of including them in the book, but the acknowledgements page offers a link to thekingdomofbones.com where both documents are available as downloadable PDFs.

Trust me, they're for obsessives only. Them, and anyone interested in the level of detail involved in writing a historical.

I must be a glutton for punishment. I've another under way and a third one planned. They're not sequels, but their worlds overlap in a way that should make for one unified, three-headed opus.

There you go. Advertisement over.

Thursday 20 September 2007

Second Variety (2)

Right now I can't do much more than pass along what's appearing in the trades - here's an extract from the fullest piece I've seen so far, in The Hollywood Reporter.

There's also an expanded version of the Variety coverage now online. Reuters, Hollywood News and Movieweb all carry versions of the story, none of which mention the creator credit. But it's not like I'm sensitive, or anything. Not complaining. Just, y'know. Pointing it out.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

The "CSI" trio of CBS, Jerry Bruckheimer TV and director Danny Cannon are reuniting for a new drama project based on the British limited sci-fi series "Eleventh Hour."

CBS has ordered a pilot with a hefty penalty for the untitled project, which Jerry Bruckheimer TV is producing with Granada International Media and Warner Bros. TV. The penalty is rumored to amount to a 13-episode production commitment, and WBTV is said to be proceeding with making the series, which is expected to net strong international sales given the Bruckheimer brand's popularity worldwide. CBS would neither confirm nor deny the deal Tuesday.

The drama centers on a special science adviser to the government who, with his feisty female bodyguard in tow, saves people from the worst abuses of science.

The four-hour original series, which aired last year on ITV, starred Patrick Stewart.

Feature writer-director Mick Davis will pen the script for the U.S. version. "CSI" executive producer Cannon, who directed the pilot for "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and is credited with creating the hit franchise's distinct look, is set to helm the pilot.

Davis and Cannon are executive producing with Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman and an executive from Granada to be named later.

Wednesday 19 September 2007

Second Variety

Well, it's out now. Here's the stop-press email from Variety.com:

Following a fierce bidding war, CBS has beat out ABC for the rights to a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced adaptation of Brit thriller Eleventh Hour.

Eye has committed to at least a pilot, with a hefty seven-figure penalty attached if the Warner Bros/Granada project - which remains untitled in the States - doesn't move forward. Reports from people familiar with the situation suggest that CBS may have agreed to as much as a 13-episode on-air commitment, but the Eye is denying it's stepped up to that level.

Bruckheimer and Jonathan Littman are set to exec produce the untitled adaptation of Eleventh Hour.

Eleventh Hour aired as a four-part miniseries in Blighty last year, with Patrick Stewart starring. Thesp played Professor Alan Hood, who's called in by the government to investigate mysterious cases that involve matters of science - from cloning to global warming. U.S. adaptation is said to have a tone similar to The X-Files.

Monday 17 September 2007

Frodo and the Camel

So my cousin Josh is working behind the bar of The Elusive Camel, when in walks Frodo.

(I have family in Australia, on my dad's side. To avoid complication we all refer to ourselves as cousins, regardless of generation or degree of actual relationship).

Josh was over here for a few years, working and touring and doing the Young Australian thing. The Elusive Camel, Waterloo is a large and lively pub on London's South Bank, just a short stroll from Tower Bridge (they did some of their best business when David Blaine performed his glass box stunt just a - ahem - stone's throw away). One of Josh's oldest friends was managing the place, and most of the staff were people from back home. Josh was living in a room over the pub, and the bar work was paying for his keep.

And, as I say, one quiet afternoon he turned to the next customer, and there stood Elijah Wood.

By all accounts it was quite a session; all the staff clustered around and Wood stayed for several hours, chatting, buying drinks, cooperating with requests for pictures. By Josh's report he was a really nice guy, unassuming, interested in everyone.

By morning everyone's snaps had been uploaded and sent around to the other side of the globe; later in the day, a bunch of them made the return trip and showed up in my mailbox.

It was Elijah Wood, all right, no doubt about that, beaming happily from the midst of a bunch of roaring Aussies. But I didn't get it.

I couldn't parse it as star behaviour. By then he'd done all three Lord of the Rings movies and would be recognised anywhere. For someone in such a position to walk alone into a strange pub and then to spend most of the day there... well, I could believe it of Oliver Reed, but this was hardly the same thing. Up to a certain point, actors love to be recognised. Beyond that point, it can become a problem.

Some time later, Wood had a new movie out. It was called Green Street (retitled Green Street Hooligans and then just Hooligans for the US) and he played a young American, kicked out of Harvard, who travels to London and becomes involved with organised football violence.

Here's my guess; someone must have told Wood that if he wanted to understand the mindset of the London football hooligan, he should go South of the river and spend some time in one of the boozers there. So he set out alone, crossed Tower Bridge, and went into the first pub he saw.

And that was his research for the role; a happy afternoon spent amongst the young expatriates of Oz.

Well, it's a theory.

Josh went on to work as a PE teacher, ran the London Marathon, got engaged to a distant relative of Grace Kelly, and earlier this year took her back to Safety Bay.

Australians, eh?

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Well, it works for me

Sometimes it doesn't take much to brighten my day.

For all I know this may be common knowledge. But it was news to me when I heard it and made the connection a couple of weeks ago.

Michael G Wilson, stepson of Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli and Executive Producer and sometimes co-writer on the Bond movies since 1979, is the son of actor Lewis Wilson.

Lewis Wilson was the first screen Batman. He played the lead role in the 1942 Columbia serial, with Douglas Croft as Robin and J Carroll Naish in the villain's role.

My universe has meaning.

Saturday 8 September 2007

Crude, but Effective

Every little community has its in-jokes, and each community has its bottom-of-the-pecking order geek who catches on late and then fails to realise when everyone else has moved on. In the world of Doctor Who - which has become a big world again, due to the success of the TV series' revival - the fast-track to lamer status is to make cracks about wobbly sets and dodgy effects and watching from behind the sofa.

(I go back to the Hartnell days, and I never watched from behind the sofa. More likely my nose was four inches from the screen and I'd have to be picked up and moved so that others could see.)

Looking at some of the '80s stuff in the company of cast members a few days go, I was struck by something that I'd been far too self-absorbed to notice back when I worked on the show. Which is that everybody, but everybody involved, was reaching for something way beyond what the budgets, the available technology, and probably even our own abilities, could deliver. Back then I was in my mid-twenties and the Whos were my first writing job in TV. I fretted and railed and grew depressed at my failure to deliver something that might stand alongside the great sf that I'd grown up reading.

In my head, it was always perfect. But in your head, it always is.

What I can see now is the extent to which everybody took the base materials of 80s studio-made TV with its low technology (compared to today), crippling time schedules (compared to any time in history) and inadequate resources, and shot for the moon. That's in every department - sets, costume, effects, performance. Knowing what I now know about how TV is made, I realise that I was witnessing the spectacle of seasoned professionals trying to squeeze a quart of ambition into a half-pint pot of opportunity, and doing it on a timescale that doomed everyone to a world of "if only". I took everything for granted back then; only now do I see how hard others were pushing themselves for this under-appreciated, under-respected kids' science fiction show.

Of course the end result fell short. Under those circumstances, the only way you can ever ensure that it doesn't is to aim low. But as the proponents of 'poor theatre' have always asserted, when your resources are meagre then your audience will compensate with their own imagination.

That, I believe, was the true secret of the show's success. There never was a poorer theatre than the screen fare available to a science fiction fan, back in the days before screen sf was a universal commodity. A cardboard robot, a spaceship on a visible wire... these were the agents of awe. The point of it was that you looked past the flaws in the presentation and responded to the vision behind them.

We don't do that so much, now. The flaws aren't so obvious and I fear that our imaginations have grown seriously soft. I've heard people say, with some air of superiority, that the special effects in the new Who aren't all that great. Same with Primeval, and Torchwood, and Walking with Dinosaurs.

Well, point one. They f*cking are.

And point two, so f*cking what?

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Charlie Brooker's Screen Burn

I can't remember when I last walked into a bookshop and paid full price for a book. Well, I can, because it was this afternoon. Before that, I mean.

This afternoon I was in London with a train journey ahead of me and nothing to read on it. The Tube strike was in full swing, and as I walked from Wardour Street toward Euston I had time for a quick mooch around Foyles' (I'd been recording a DVD commentary for an old Doctor Who, about which I'll probably say more at some other time).

There it was, a collection of Charlie Brooker's TV columns from The Guardian. For once I didn't do my usual trick of giving it the once-over and then running home to order it from Amazon with a few quid off, but slapped down the Mastercard right there and then.

It brightened the journey back no end, although I did check the index first for any mention of shows I'd been involved in. Just to see if there were any bits I'd need to skip. For a thin-skinned soul like me, it's always more entertaining to see others getting the roasting.

I'd spotted Brooker at this year's BBC Vision Talent bash (don't ask me what it was; a vast sweaty unlit hellhole crammed with thousands of bodies, is all I remember. It took place in some venue near the British Museum and the drinks were free. It was BBC-hosted and was like Piers Plowman's "Field Full of Media Folke").

I was tempted to collar him just to say thanks for a line in a recent column. Writing about Fearne Cotton and an interview she'd given to GQ magazine, he reckoned that mention of Ms Cotton's depilatory practices would have set the GQ readership "wanking like an angry orchestra."

But I didn't.

I did, however, buy his book. Which I suppose is a more concrete form of appreciation.

Sunday 2 September 2007

The Count of Monte Cristo

I just watched the 6-hour Gerard Depardieu version of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO over four nights, and I think I maybe found some useful lessons there. The special power of the story lies in the way that Edmond Dantes remakes himself as a machine for vengeance and then reappears to engage with his enemies, none of whom shares the audience's knowledge of who he really is.

It's an enormous story hook and it never fails – it was the structural model for one of the best science fiction novels I ever read, Alfred Bester's THE STARS MY DESTINATION. Put a mask on him, and he's Batman. Flip it around to the enemies' point of view and it's Friedrich Durrenmatt's THE VISIT.

It's all about vengeance as a whole-life strategy, and the effect of its complex pressures and conflicts on the avenger. You wouldn't want to be the Count of Monte Cristo, Dantes tells one of his confidantes – he's a cold-hearted bastard who knows no happiness. I'd much rather be Edmond Dantes again, but they took that away.

In the 2002 Kevin Reynolds movie (which I liked a lot, by the way), the final answer to it all is a Hollywood sword fight. Good guy fights better than bad guy. But in this more resonant version he has a more subtle and complex revenge. He shames one enemy and drives him to suicide, puts another one into a personal hell by making him face the truth behind his family values, and finally finds his way back to being Edmond Dantes again by showing mercy to the last (albeit after ruining him financially).

It's far from perfect. The first time we see Dantes, it's as a prisoner of eighteen years' standing. He kicks away the thin gruel he's given and insists that he doesn't want food, he wants to die. But Depardieu looks more like a man who's eaten all his cellmates. Nose-and-wig disguises and melodramatic subterfuges that may work on the page don't work on the screen. And Dantes' ultimate reconciliation with his old love doesn't ring true and is, apparently, a significant divergence from the book.

But it felt like six hours well spent. And quite a bargain, too - the version I bought had a copy of the novel boxed in with the discs.

Saturday 1 September 2007

Freebies - at a Price

The price being that you have to go out and buy a copy of The Daily Express.

I've just learned that this week's running Express DVD giveaway is the complete set of Charles Edwards MURDER ROOMS films, along with Ian Richardson's two outings in the role of Sherlock Holmes.

Well, in purely selfish terms it means a brief flash of yerblogger's name on TV screens up and down the land.

But I imagine it'll be the same digital transfers that featured on the DVDs of the series sold by IMC Vision. Which were cropped to old-fashioned 4:3 fullscreen even though the films were shot on Super-16 and shown in 16:9 widescreen; picture quality was muddy with digital noise and poor edge-definition. My guess is that they simply re-used the master from a VHS tape release. It looks that bad.

I complained to BBC Films at the time and their response was pretty much that once the sub-rights were sold, any quality issue was out of their hands.

To see the show in its proper format, you're better off with the American DVD boxed set. Which can be had new from about twelve quid.

Otherwise, each one's yours for the price of a newspaper.

And if being seen with the Express is a problem for you, you can always buy a copy of this month's Bottles up Bums to hide it in.