Posts Tagged ‘Alien’

Mr H Reviews Russian Horror Movie ‘Superdeep’

July 4, 2021

Mr H is a Youtuber who reviews mainly Science Fiction and Horror movies. In the video below, he gives a good review to Superdeep, a Russian creature feature very much in the same gory vein as John Carpenter’s classic The Thing. Spoilers: The movie is about a group of scientists and explorers who go down Russia’s deepest borehole, where they encounter a type of fungus that infects its victims, turning them into vegetable monsters. Mr H was impressed with the quality. It has excellent special effects, and was made on the incredibly low budget of $4 million. Pacing, he says, is a problem and there were moments when the film sagged. But it had been given a budget of $8 million, he feels it could have easily held its own with the big budget contemporary American films. He especially gets irritated with the flicks that are made for $200 million, but the green screen effects are still sloppy and obvious. And he’s particularly enthusiastic about this flick as its return to the old style, mechanical, physical effects of rubber monsters and models, rather than CGI.

I’ve got a couple of Russian movies here on DVD. One is First in Space, about Yuri Gagarin’s historic manned spaceflight, the other is Guardians, a superhero movie about a team of men and women given special powers by a secret KGB project launched by Stalin. Scattered across the Russian federation, Georgia and the Central Asian republics, the team must come together to stop the evil villain from taking over Russia and the world. The special effects in both movies are excellent, while Guardians has all the tropes of the superhero movie, including secret, immoral government projects. The only difference with western, American superhero flicks is that it’s set in Russia, and so the heroes’ final showdown with the villain is in Moscow, natch, rather than New York or Los Angeles. I can very well believe that the SFX in Superdeep are similarly well done.

I also like the fact that this film uses practical SFX. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, before the rise of CGI, and was fascinated by the skills of the model makers and make-up artists. Artists like Rob Bottin and Rick Baker really expanded the boundaries of what could be done using latex and their work on films like The Howling and The Thing is still very much admired. In recent years there has been a revival of interest in practical effects in films like Harbinger One, which made it very clear that it was inspired by The Thing and Alien. One of the complaints a number of people have made about CGI is that, no matter how well it’s done, it doesn’t have the convincing presence real, physical effects. This is a film I’d actually like to see, but unfortunately it’s on one of the streaming channels, like Netflix, and I don’t want to subscribe just for one movie.

Mr H Reviews the Concept Art for Neil Blomkamp’s Aborted Alien 5

June 18, 2021

Mr H Reviews is a YouTube channel devoted to SF, Fantasy and Horror TV, film and comics, and particularly Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, which is one of Mr H’s favourites. Over the past months and weeks he’s posted a number of pieces about the concept art for Alien 5 which is just being released. Alien 5 would have been directed by Neil Blomkamp, the director of the awesome District 9. This was an SF film in which alien refugees arrive in South Africa, and are isolated in shanty towns, where they’re oppressed by a government determined to stop them breeding, and preyed on by criminal gangs who want to use their body parts for muti sorcery. The hero was a government official in one of the government anti-breeding teams, who starts to mutate into one of the aliens after an accident destroying one of their makeshift hatcheries. He is then sought and has to fight in his turn government agents, who wish to use him to unlock the secrets of the military technology the aliens have brought with them.

Alien 5 would have followed on directly from James Cameron’s Aliens, making Alien 3 and Alien 4 elseworlds stories set in an alternative timeline. In the universe of Alien 5, corporal Hicks and Newt would both be alive, as would Ellen Ripley, and ready to fight H.R. Giger’s most infamous brainchild yet again. The film was apparently all set and ready to go into production with Cameron scouting out locations for filming. It was stopped because Ridley Scott, Alien’s director, didn’t want it interfering with his Alien films. Scott claimed that Alien 5 didn’t have a script, which has been contradicted by the concept artist, Geoffroy Thoorens, who said his paintings were based on a preliminary treatment. Apparently the real reason Alien 5 was cancelled was Scott’s ego. He was jealous because Cameron’s Aliens was more popular than his, the film which launched the franchise.

Whatever the personal politics and clash of egos behind the decision, it’s a pit that Alien 5 wasn’t made because it would have been awesome. The art shows Hicks as a combat vet, scarred from the acidic blood with which he was sprayed during his battle with the evil critters in Aliens, but ready to put on that combat armour. From the art, Mr H. surmises that the plot is about Ripley and her team coming aboard a facility somewhere – there are paintings of a space station and a oil-rig like structure on a storm-tossed ocean. This facility may not be run by Wayland-Yutani, the evil company in the Alien movies. There are no Wayland-Yutani logos or markings. However, it seems the facility has got a Leviathan spacecraft, which is covered in the resin secreted by the Aliens. This also seems to be taken apart in an attempt to back engineer it. The company are also harvesting the eggs, and it seems that the company has actually won. They’re farming the Aliens to use them as bioweapons. A queen alien escapes, and all hell breaks loose.

The film adds a new stage to the Alien lifecycle. This is the trematode, a wormlike creature with pincers and proboscis, which eats its way into its victim’s guts and lays tiny facehuggers. The art shows one marine pulling one of these little bastards of his stomach, while another character is attacked while pinned under a door. There’s also a nod to the cityscape of Blade Runner, in that one of the paintings shows a futuristic city very much like Scott’s depiction of the LA of 2019. But this has a gigantic tower, which may be a space elevator or space bridge, and which contains a hollow running its length, possibly to throw something up into orbit. The company appears to have produced biomechanical armoured suits, resembling the Alien exoskeletons. Ripley dons one of these to fight the queen, who is killed by fire from a railgun or something similar. Another painting shows the space bridge or whatever it is on fire. This suggests that it’s the corporate head office, and that not only has Ripley or her successor defeated the Aliens, but she’s also taken down the company that thinks it can cultivate and control them. Here are the videos.

I’m afraid I’ve posted these videos out of chronological sequence, as I haven’t watched them in order. I hope you can still follow the progress through them, however.

Mr. H speculates that the art may be released because there is renewed interest in the movie. However, he eventually settles on the explanation that the Non-Disclosure Agreements that have prevented release of the art have finally lapsed, as Disney is on the point of buying Fox. I find this a particularly grim prospect. I don’t think it’s at all healthy for a sizable portion of Hollywood and western film entertainment to be part of a giant, global monopoly. I also don’t think Disney are the corporation that’s best suited to real, innovative Horror or dark SF. They’re based on family-friendly entertainment, and while they have considerably diversified, especially with the acquisition of Lucasfilm and Star Wars, I really don’t think they’re suited to managing darker films and concepts.

It’s a pity that Alien 5 wasn’t made. It would have been far better than Alien: Covenant, which I found disappointing and uninspired. It got rid of the interesting ideas and sole remaining character in Prometheus. The Engineers are all wiped out by the evil robot David, who has also murdered Shaw, and is now just keen on breeding more of the proto-Alien creatures, until one finally appears at the end. This threatens the new heroes, is defeated, but not before the heroine finds out right at the end as she’s going into hypersleep that the robot she has trusted up to now isn’t the ship’s good android, but David, who has smuggled the Alien eggs and embryos on board.

I think part of the problem is that Scott simply has lost interest in the Xenomorphs. He’s said that they’re not scary anymore, and that robots are more frightening. Hence the appearance of the evil robot, David. But I think he’s misunderstood the situation. People still want to see the Xenomorph. A year or so ago there were a series of short films released on YouTube by various directors set in the Alien universe and where different characters have to fight or deal with the Aliens. These generally speaking weren’t long – about 15 minutes or so, more or less. But they were well done with some interesting ideas. They showed that directors could still make an entertaining and original story with the creatures, and that there were more than enough fans willing to watch them.

It also seems that Scott’s role in the original movie has been overhyped. Some of the creative decisions that built the franchise were not his, but came from the two producers, Hill and Giler. These included the appearance of an android and the hiring of H.R. Giger as concept artist for the creature. Scott was brought on as director at the very last minute. It’s an excellent movie, and Scott is a brilliant director – I rate Alien and Blade Runner as masterpieces of 20th century cinema – but he isn’t the be-all and end-all of the Alien franchise. I agree with Mr H that the studio shouldn’t have bowed to him and cancelled Blomkamp’s flick.

One of the commenters on one of these videos suggests that, if the film isn’t going to be made, then a comic or graphic novel should appear to tell the story. Apparently this has been done with the alternative Alien 3s that were submitted and scripted. I think it would be an excellent idea. I’d also like another Alien movie to appear, though I’m not sure I’d like it to be the final episode of the trilogy Scott set up with Prometheus. Not after Covenant, unless there’s far more interest in the Aliens. Scott’s a great director, and part of me thinks that it would be good to see how his trilogy ends, but I also think that it’s time the franchise was perhaps handed over to someone younger and with a greater appreciation of the Xenomorph’s popularity.

But the release of this concept artist shows not only the imagination and skill of Thoorens, the artist behind it, but also that there is still considerable interest in Alien movies and that they haven’t been exhausted of ideas. Not just yet. They just need the right director.

Model-Maker Bill Pearson Talks About His Work on Blake’s 7

February 25, 2021

This is another video from the film about the work of the talented peeps behind the models and miniatures used in some of the classic SF films and TV shows, A Sense of Scale. In this short video of about 4 mins in length, the late Bill Pearson talks about his work on the Beeb’s cult SF series, Blake’s 7. He describes the series as the Magnificent 7 in space, and says that the heroes were all bad guys, but not as bad as the people they were fighting against. They were anti-heroes. It’s a fair description, as the heroes were nearly all convicted criminals – Vila was a thief, Jenna a smuggler, Avon an embezzler, Gan a murderer, while Blake was a democratic agitator, a political criminal against the totalitarian, fascistic Federation, who were the real bad guys. Cally, a freedom-fighter from the planet Auron, was the only one who hadn’t been arrested, sentenced and convicted by the Federation she was pledged to overthrow.

Pearson says he was persuaded to join the effects team as he was told it was going to be wonderful and big budget, which it never was. He was recruited to the series as he had impressed the Beeb’s head of special effects with what he had been doing at college, and started work at the Corporation with a couple of episodes of Dr. Who. He was on Blake’s 7 from the start and did most of the spaceships in the last series. He says there were very little miniatures. There were a couple of hero ships, but they’d been built by the time he joined the SFX crew. The London, the ship used in the first episode, ‘The Way Back’, to transport Blake and his future crew to the penal colony of Cygnus Alpha, had already been made by an outside company. Other model-makers on the series included Martin Bower, who also worked on Space 1999 and the film Outland, and who worked on a couple of models of the heroes’ ships, the Liberator. There, and I thought the effects were all done by Matt Irvine and Mike Kelt. He only got involved with the miniatures in the final series. Pearson says that he’s notorious on the internet for making the gun that Avon uses to kill Blake in the very last episode. This, he says, is still around and getting more appreciation. I think here he’s referring to the series, rather than the weapon, as it’s just after that he talks of Blake and his crew as being bad guys and anti-heroes.

Pearson states that model-making for the screen isn’t as glamorous people think. One of the downsides is unemployment and there are many special effects firms now going bankrupt. However, it is the closest we’re going to get to immortality at the moment. A century from now someone’s going to pick up a packet of cereal and get a free 4D recording of Alien, put it in their viewer, and see his work and his name on the credits. And that’s pretty cool. The video also includes stills of Pearson working on some of the models used in the series and on Alien along with the interview.

BLAKE´S 7 (TV) miniature effects – YouTube

Pearson gave the interview in 2012, and the state of the effects industry may have changed somewhat since then, but I don’t doubt that CGI has had a devastating effect on the use of practical effects in movies and television, although they’re still used to a certain extent.

Blake’s 7 was made over forty years ago and was low budget SF. Matt Irvine said once that the money spent on one effect in the cinema was far in excess of what they had to spend on the series. But the show had memorable characters, great actors and some excellent stories. The effects work varied in quality, but the main spaceships, the Liberator and the Scorpio, looked good, as did the three sentient computers in the show, Zen, Slave and Orac. Blake’s 7 is, along with Dr. Who, Thunderbirds and Space 1999, a classic of British SF television and still retains a cult following all these decades later.

Couple of Videos on the Model Work on the BBC SF Comedy, Red Dwarf

February 24, 2021

These are another couple of videos I found on YouTube. In the first, model makers and special effects technicians Bill Pearson and Steve Howarth talk about their work on series 10 of the show. It’s a deleted scene from the film Sense of Scale, which appears to be a movie about the work of model makers like the two. It’s one of a number of videos about the creation of model effects for films and TV series like Red Dwarf, Space: 1999, Alien, Aliens, Outland, Flash Gordon, the 1990’s version of Total Recall, Coneheads, The Fifth Element and The Empire Strikes Back by piercefilm productions.

RED DWARF X miniature effects – YouTube

The second video comes from the channel of someone styling themselves Duane Dibley (the Duke of Dork). As fans of the series will know, this is the stylistically challenged alter ego of the Cat. In it, Bill Pearson talks about his work on series 4 of the show when production was moved to Shepperton. He talks about how some of the props and effects ended up in skips, including one that was damaged by Craig Charles. Money was tight, and so instead of building the scutters from scratch, as they had in the first series, they used parts from radio controlled cars and electric screwdrivers instead. They also recycled props and bits of set from other shows, including a Science Fiction film Ridley Scott had completed filming there. It was only after the series ended that Patterson realised he had never made one of the major vehicles in the show. But his chance finally came when he asked to make one to be given as a prize in a quiz show.

Super Models (Featurette With Red Dwarf Model Maker Bill Pearson) – YouTube

Red Dwarf is one of my favourite SF shows, and one which, in my view, deserves its longevity and cult status. It’s really fascinating to hear from one of the team of talented artists, model makers and technicians which gave this show its great SFX. These still stand up today when miniature work has largely been superseded by CGI. Pearson mentions this in the first video, saying that he’s proud of their work on Red Dwarf, but thinks that he’ll now spend the rest of his life working in low budget projects, because the major films and TV series have gone over to CGI instead. This is a pit, as I’ve a great deal of nostalgia and respect for the practical special effects used in the Science Fiction and Horror movies I grew up with. As spectacular as the CGI graphics can be, there’s still a popular demand for old style practical effects. Harbinger Down, a horror film that came out a couple of years ago, was made using these traditional special effects techniques to cater to audience keen to relive the pleasure of the type of effects they’d enjoyed in Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Pearson, Howarth and the others, who worked on shows like Red Dwarf are immensely talented artists, and I hope their skills will continue to be in demand by producers and directors, who appreciate the value of good, practical special effects.

Videos of CGI Recreations of Vehicles and Castle for Jodorowski’s ‘Dune’

January 31, 2021

Alejandro Jodorowski’s Dune is one of the great, unmade films. Jodorowski himself is a Chilean-French film director and comics writer. A Surrealist, he made a series of very bizarre films, such as the western El Topo. In the early ’70s he set about making a film version of Frank Herbert’s classic SF novel, Dune, despite never having read it. This would have starred Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and the great, bonkers Surrealist artist Salvador Dali as the Emperor of the Known Universe. Equally impressive were the artists he hired to produce the concept art and designs for the spaceships and other vehicles and settings for the film. These included H.R. Giger, the creator of the infamous Alien, French comics artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, and Chris Fosse, the force behind a thousand SF paperback covers. The film was never made, as the producers cut its funding at the last moment. However, the work on the movie was never wasted, as Jodorowski and Moebius used it as the basis for their comic The Incal and The Metabarons. It has also been immensely influential on later SF movies, including Ridley Scott’s ’80s classic, Bladerunner.

These two videos have been made and put up on YouTube by Monochrome Paris, a group that wishes to recreate in CGI Jodorowski’s aborted film. They have so far managed to recreate Duke Leto Atreides’ car, which was designed by Fosse, and Baron Harkonnen’s castle, which was the suitably horrific work of Giger.

Here’s the link to the car video:

Reviving Jodorowsky’s Dune in Virtual Reality [Chris Foss Vehicle test – Real-time 3D] – YouTube

And this is for Harkonnen’s Castle:

Reviving Jodorowsky’s Dune in Virtual Reality pt II [HR Giger – Real-time 3D] – YouTube

I think the two videos are great, and it would be really superb if they were able to recreate the entire movie in CGI. Unfortunately the videos are from 2019 and so I don’t think their proposed movie will ever be made. It would still be good if they were able to produce more videos of some of the other designs for the movie, such as the space tugs towing the containers of spice through space, a space pirate ship and the Harkonnen’s own spaceship, which were all designed by Chris Fosse. They’re included along with his other art, included concept designs for Bladerunner, Alien and Superman 2 in the book 21st Century Fosse.

Mr H Reviews Raves about New Russian SF/Horror Flick ‘Sputnik’

August 23, 2020

This is something a bit lighter for a Sunday morning. Mr. H Reviews is a YouTuber, who discusses genre film – Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy. In this video he posted the other day, he praises a new Russian SF film, Sputnik. There are no spoilers, but he briefly sums up the plot. It’s set in in the Cold War, and is about a cosmonaut, who returns from space with something alien. It seems to be in line with films like Alien, although it also reminds me of Britain’s own Quatermass.This classic piece of British SF Horror first appeared as a Beeb TV series in the 1950s, before being filmed by Hammer. It was also about an astronaut, Caroon,from a British manned space mission at a time when we did indeed have our own space programme and were the third space power along with the Russians and Americans. He returns alone from space, his two fellow astronauts mysteriously disappeared, in a coma. It then emerges that he too is carrying a hostile visitor, and is slowly mutating into a threat to all life on Earth. Mr. H. also compares it to the much more recent movie, Life, which is also about a group of astronauts discovering and having to deal with a hostile alien entity in orbit.

Mr. H. is impressed by the film’s high production values, especially as it had a budget of 190,000 Roubles, which equates to about $2.5 million. I can’t say I’m surprised. Russia, for all its role as a global superpower, has a much smaller economy. When Simon Reeve toured it in a BBC documentary series a few years ago, I think he said that it’s economy was the size of Italy’s. It’s tiny for such a large country with a similarly large population. But that does mean that films can be made more cheaply there.

And the Russians are certainly capable of producing SF movies of the same quality as Hollywood blockbusters. A year or so ago before the lockdown I found in HMV a Russian superhero movie, Guardians. This was about a group of men and women from across the Russian Federation – one was from a nomadic people from Central Asia, another from one of the countries in the Caucasus, who have been given superpowers through a secret Russian government programme. But they now have to team up against an old threat  – the former chief of another underground project, that was shut down by the KGB, who is now determined to take over the country and the world.

It’s rather like contemporary Hollywood SF/ superhero movies with its theme of secret, unethical government experiments. And of course, as it’s a Russian film, it culminates in a battle over Moscow. If it was American, it would obviously be New York or LA. Guardians is a Russian language film, so you have to deal with subtitles, but it does show that the Russians are capable of producing genre movies of the same standard as Hollywood. And it’s also interesting to see how the Russians take over and adapt the plot and tropes of the western superhero genre.

I haven’t seen Sputnik, and so really don’t know anything about it apart from what Mr. H. says in the review, but it looks interesting. Here’s his video.

 

 

Adam Savage and Guest Engineer Build Refrigerated Cooling Suit

June 19, 2020

Adam Savage is a Science Fiction fan and engineer/special effects technician on YouTube. I think he was also one half of Mythbusters, a cable/satellite TV series in which he and his co-host put to the test various popular myths. Such as whether a car door really could shield you from bullets as shown in any number of cop shows and films.

In his YouTube channel, Savage goes off to various SF conventions and gatherings, talking to stars, special effects people and fans. He also builds replica movie props and effects. In this video, he and his guest, biomedical engineer Kipp Bradford, build a refrigerated suit.

Savage says that he’s building it because a few years ago, he went to a convention wearing a replica of the spacesuits worn in the classic SF/horror movie Alien. Wearing its quilted material in such a hot environment, however, nearly gave him heatstroke. He went to another convention after that wearing a copy of the silver space suites from Kubrick’s 2001. This had a type of cooling system built into it to stop him becoming too hot, but it seems to have just circulated water around without being a refrigerator. The refrigerated cooling suit he and Bradford build uses the same kind of technology used in domestic fridges to keep food and drink cool. It works by pumping a refrigerated fluid around which takes heat from the objects to be cooled and radiates it away. In this case, the suit uses a miniature compressor and two heat exchangers. The miniature compressor was made by DARPA for the American armed forces. Nearly two decades ago after Gulf War II the American government called for a similar refrigerated suit to be developed to keep its squaddies cool in the desert heat. The project was abandoned when it was realised that if something went wrong with the suits, the soldiers would be seriously compromised.

The suit the two use for the device is an RAF cooling suit from c. 1975. It’s designed for the British air forces high altitude pilots, and Savage says he picked it up a few years ago at an auction. I have an idea it was a similar suit with tubes for circulating fluid that the costume/make up department of Dr. Who used for the Cybermen seen in the 1980s Peter Davison story Earthshock. 

I don’t think this is something that can be built at home by your average SF fan or DIY enthusiast. Obviously one of the issues is simply getting hold of the components. They mention that one of the compressors is available from a company that will provide single units. All the other companies providing refrigerator components will only supply them in bulk, so unless you order 10,000 of them, they won’t give you anything. They also use a proper, industrial refrigerant as the coolant. There’s a lot of joking about using alcohol, including vodka as the coolant, and they state that this is a viable option. But I really don’t think that is the stuff they eventually use. They do say, on the other hand, that it isn’t the freon used in older fridges in the 1970s, for example, that was one of the gases that put a hole in the ozone layer. That’s been replaced by more ecofriendly chemicals, so that the hole is actually now closing. Which is clearly a win for the environment, even if the planet is still suffering from massive pollution and the destruction of the natural environment and extinction of millions of endangered species.

For all the light, jokey tone, it’s clear that Bradford is an incredibly intelligent man. While Savage jokes that he’s only got honorary degrees, which aren’t worth anything, Bradford has a string of higher qualifications. He’s a biomechanical engineer, who has designed similar cooling units for medevac for injured American troopers.

The two manage to construct a small refrigerator and connect it to the suit. And it works! Through an infrared app on a mobile phone camera they show it lowering Savage’s temperature as he’s wearing it down to quite a cold level. The only drawback for this viewer is that they don’t create any kind of backpack for it enabling Savage to wear it with the suit. Wearing it, Savage remarks that it’s given him an insight into the achievement of the NASA scientists and engineers, who built the spacesuits. Not only did these include similar cooling systems, but they also had to include other vital systems like air.

I found this video particularly interesting as a fan of Dune. In Frank Herbert’s classic novel, the Fremen and other people survive the harsh conditions on the desert planet Arakis by wearing still suits. These reclaim the body’s moisture from sweat and wastes through semi-permeable membranes, treating it so that it becomes drinkable water. Fans of the Australian-American ’90s SF show, Farscape, will also remember the cooling suit worn by the villain Scorpius. Scorpius is half-Skaren, half-Sebatian. The Skarens are tough, reptile-like creatures with a high body temperature and craving for heat. The Sebatians, by contrast, are identical to humans but lack human’s ability to regulate their body temperature. They’re therefore vulnerable to overheating and falling into an incurable coma. In order to stop this, Scorpius wears a refrigerated suit specially designed for him, and has had surgery performed so that he can insert cooling rods into his skull to lower the temperature of his brain. Mercifully, no-one has suggested doing anything like that yet, although some extreme conditions are treated by placing the patient in a coma and lowering their body temperature. This nifty little piece of engineering shows that while we haven’t quite reached the ability to produce a still suit like Dune’s, we’re not far off it.

As you can also see from the video, Kipp Bradford’s Black or mixed-race. There’s a move to make science and engineering more diverse, with more women and Blacks and people from ethnic minorities. I therefore thought the video might also be of interest, as it clearly shows that Blacks are also capable of doing great, awesome science and engineering. Not that there should be any doubt of it. The ‘McCoy’ of the phrase ‘It’s the real McCoy!’, said of any great invention or clever device, was apparently an American naval engineer around about World War II, who became famous for the marvels he could work on board ships.

Xelasoma on his Favourite Artists of the Fantastic

February 3, 2019

And now, as Monty Python once said, for something completely different. At least from politics. I found these two videos from the artist Xelasoma on YouTube, in which he discusses six masters of fantasy art and how they have influenced him. They are Roger Dean, Patrick Woodroffe, and Rodney Matthews in video 1, and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Philippe Druillet and Ian Miller in video 2.

Roger Dean will be remembered by fans of ’70’s prog rock for his amazing album covers for the bands Yes and Asia. Woodroffe and Matthews are also artists, who’ve produced record covers as well as book illustrations. Moebius and Druillet are two of the geniuses in modern French SF comics. Moebius was one of the ‘Humanoides Associes’ behind the French SF comic, Metal Hurlant. Among his numerous other works was Arzach, a comic, whose hero flew across a strange fantastic landscape atop a strange, pterodactyl creature. As Xelasoma himself points out here, it’s a completely visual strip. There’s no language at all. It was also Moebius who designed the spacesuits for Ridley Scott’s classic Alien. Xelasoma describes how, after he left art school, Moebius spent some time in Mexico with a relative. This was his mother, who’d married a Mexican, and the empty, desert landscape south of the border is a clear influence on the alien environments he drew in his strips. Xelasoma also considers him a master of perspective for the way he frequent draws scenes as viewed looking down from above. And one of the pictures illustrating this is of a figure in an alien planet looking down a cliff at a sculpture of rock legend Jimi Hendricks carved into the opposite cliff face. Druillet, Xelasoma feels, is somewhat like Moebius, but with a harder edge, drawing vast, aggressive machines and armies of fierce alien warriors. He’s also known for his soaring cityscapes of vast tower blocks reaching far up into the sky, which also influenced Ridley Scott’s portrayal of the Los Angeles of 2019 in Blade Runner. The last artist featured, Ian Miller, first encountered in the pages of the British Role-Playing Game magazine, Warhammer. His style is much more angular, deeply hatched and very detailed. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will recognize several of the pictures Xelasoma chooses to represent his work as depictions of some of the weird, sinister gods from the Cthulhu mythos. They include not only Cthulhu himself, but also of the half-human, amphibious, batrachian inhabitants of the decaying port in the short story, The shadow Out of Innsmouth.

What Xelasoma admires about all these artists is that they don’t follow the conventions of modern western art established by the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Renaissance. They alter and distort the human form and that of other objects and creatures. He describes Dean’s landscapes as organic. Patrick Woodroffe and Matthews also create strange, alien creatures and landscapes, and with the creatures Matthews depicts also very different from standard human anatomy. Many of the creatures, machines and spaceships in Matthews’ art are based on insects, and appropriately enough one of the bands whose cover he painted was Tiger Moth. This featured two insects dancing on a leaf. Another picture, The Hop, shows an insect band playing while other bugs trip the light fantastic in the grass, surrounded by items like used cigarettes. His humanoid figures are tall, stick thin, with long, thin, angular faces and immense, slanted eyes. Xelasoma admires the way Matthews can take a train or a deer, and turn them in something uniquely his, as he shows here. He states that he first encountered Dean’s and Woodroffe’s art in the art books his mother had, such as Woodroffe’s Mythopoiekon. He also identifies somewhat with Woodroffe, as neither of them studied at art school. Woodroffe was a French teacher, while for Xelasoma art was far too personal for him to submit to formal training.

Xelasoma points out that these artists were creating their unique visions before the advent of computers using the traditional artist materials of paint and brush, and before courses in SF, Fantasy and concept art were taught at colleges and universities. Nevertheless, he finds their work far more interesting and inspiring than modern SF and Fantasy art, which may be more anatomically accurate, but which, too him, seems very ‘samey’. He complains that it doesn’t make him hallucinate, which the above artists do. Well, I hope he doesn’t mean that literally, as that could be very worrying. But I know what he means in that Dean, Woodroffe, Matthews, Moebius, Druillet and Miller create strange, fantastic worlds that have a striking intensity to them. They seem to be complete worlds, either in the far past or future, or parallel realities altogether, but with their own internal logic drawing you into them.

Discussing their influence on him, he is critical of artists that simply copy the work of others, changing a few details but otherwise keeping to and appropriating the other artists’ own unique visions, some times trying to justify this by saying that their work is a ‘hommage’ to the others. Xelasoma is well aware that his own work is very different to the artists he talks about here, and that many of his viewers won’t be able to see their influence. But he goes on to describe how they have influenced him at the general level of form or composition, while he himself has been careful to develop his own unique style.

Dean, Woodroffe and Matthews have produced books of their work, published by Paper Tiger. Matthews and Miller also have their own websites, for those wishing to see more of their work. Moebius passed away a couple of years ago, but was the subject of a BBC4 documentary. There’s also a documentary about Roger Dean on YouTube, presented by that grumpy old Yes keyboardist, Rick Wakeman. Xelasoma believes in their fantastic depictions of landscapes and animal and human forms makes them as important and worth inclusion in museums and galleries as Graeco-Roman and Renaissance art. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would maintain that in their way, they are far more significant than many contemporary artists that have been promoted as ‘official’ art. Xelasoma’s documentary really shows only a few pieces from these artists’ works, and the bulk of these videos are about the particular impact they have on him. But nevertheless it’s a good introduction to their work, and explanation why they should be taken seriously as artists beyond their origins in popular culture.

Part I

Part II

Thought Slime’s Top Anti-Capitalist Horror Movies

November 1, 2018

This is a suitably Hallowe’en themed video from the left-wing American vlogger, Thought Slime, which I found on YouTube. In it, he discusses the top five horror movies with an anti-capitalist messages. They are George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead at 5, The Stuff, 4, Alien at 3, John Carpenter’s They Live, 2, and Society at no.1.

In Dawn of the Dead, the heroes take refuge from the zombie apocalypse in a shopping mall. However, the zombies themselves are drawn to it because of its importance to them in their former lives. Thought Slime then discusses how the film thus presents zombies as a metaphor for mindless consumerism. He also acknowledges that Romero himself didn’t intentionally put an anti-capitalist message in the movie, and only realized that he had after he had made it.

The Stuff is, Thought Slime says, not a good movie. One of the actors insisted on improvising his own lines, and it shows. But it is very clearly an anti-capitalism film. It’s about an evil corporation that finds a highly good seeping out of the ground, and decides to package it as a new foodstuff. Not only is this mess addictive, it also gradually takes over the brains of those who eat it, and eats them from the inside out. The company isn’t worried about this, because it’s making them lots of money, and so they kill Federal investigators and anyone else who might discover its evil secret. The movie also includes fake adverts for this Stuff, and has it shown served in restaurants.

Thought Slime explains just how close this satire is to the behavior of amoral companies in the real world. The tobacco companies knew about the lethal effects of the product they were selling, and continued to promote it. And Big Oil is very aware of the damage petrochemicals are doing to the environment, but are intent on selling them because of the massive products they make. Even though this threatens to destroy the world.

Alien also has an anti-capitalist message, as the real villain isn’t the titular extraterrestrial creature, but the Wayland-Yutani Corporation. The Alien’s like a wild animal, a force of nature. But the Wayland-Yutani corporation, which employs the Nostromo’s crew, are completely amoral. They want it for their weapons division, and considers the crew expendable. Thought Slime compares their disregard for the safety of their workers with that of the corporations mining rare earth elements now, who similarly aren’t concerned with protecting the lives of the miners they employ. He also ask which company would also be so set on acquiring such dangerous weapons. As he ponders, the name ‘Raytheon’ appears on the screen, the name of one of the big American weapons manufacturers. He also makes the point that the Alien itself is a metaphor for sexual assault and the invasive nature of pregnancy, but doesn’t elaborate on it as it has been better explained elsewhere.

In They Live, an unemployed vagrant, played by the wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, discovers a pair of magic sunglasses that reveal that the Earth has been taken over by evil capitalist aliens, and the subliminal messages that they put in banknotes, the press and adverts to keep people enslaved, obedient and consuming. The aliens represent current capitalism and the capitalist class, while the spectacles are a metaphor for class consciousness. He discusses how the Nazis have taken this film as an anti-Semitic metaphor about the Jews, and makes the point that this is angrily denied by the director and writer, John Carpenter, himself.

He argues that within the film there is no alternative to capitalism, and compares this to Noam Chomsky’s book on propaganda. This argues that the major news outlets and the media all have this bias. He also recommends Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, which argues that capitalism ensures that capitalism is the only economic model people will consider.

He puts Society in top position because, if They Live is didactic about the evils of capitalism, Society is practically a call to revolution. In this movie, the rich are a completely separate species of goo monsters with predatory sexuality that prey on the poor. The hero is a normal lad a family of them has raised, but that’s just a joke they’re pulling at his expense. He can never really be one of them. Class mobility is an illusion. They control the politicians, education system and the police. Anyone who tries to expose them is consumed by the system. It isn’t a conspiracy movie, like They Live, which suggests that before the aliens arrived, society was just and good. But in Society, there has never been a good past. The goo monster rich have always been in control. The goo monsters don’t need to do what they do. They simply behave as they do because they enjoy it. And humans are, in this movie, a metaphor for the poor.

He concludes by saying that he doesn’t think that these movies were made to turn people anti-capitalist, but framing it that way makes it easier to communicate an anti-capitalist message to people. Horror movies are uniquely positioned to do this as they are a commodification of death and suffering. They’re considered more mercenary than other movies, are cheap and easy to make, and can turn a big profit at the box office, even if they’re terrible. Here the opening titles come up for the film, Ghoulies, which he explains at the beginning of the video is one of his favourites. And even when a horror movie is good and artistically accomplished, it inspires scores of cheap knock-offs. It’s considered a low genre which provides cheap, almost pornographic thrills. Thought Slime then argues that this attitude is rooted in classism. In other words, he says, hoity-toity types ignore horror movies. Which is why they’re good for reaching out to people against capitalism.

Warning: There is some foul language, and it naturally contains clips from the films it mentions. Though as this video was posted on YouTube, it shouldn’t be too horrific for the proverbial People Of A Nervous Disposition.

Refuting Anti-Semitism Smears with the Reasonableness Test: Part 1

May 25, 2018

In this post, I intend to critique and refute one of the arguments used by lawyers for the Israel lobby to support the anti-Semitism smears. This is that a comment may be fairly considered as anti-Semitic, even if this is denied by the person who made it, simply because somebody else may consider it as such. This is the argument used by the prosecution lawyers against the Black anti-racist and anti-Nazi activist, Marc Wadsworth in his trial by the Labour party. Wadsworth has a long history of defending Black civil rights. He also was instrumental in changing the law on racial harassment in concert with the Board of Deputies of British Jews after a spate of attacks on Jews following the election of the BNP’s Derek Beacon to a place on one of the London councils in the 1990s. He is in no way any kind of anti-Semite. But he is left-wing, and so Ruth Smeeth, a Blairite and supporter of Israel, accused him of anti-Semitism when he remarked on her passing information to a Telegraph journalist at a press conference. Smeeth immediately whined that this was anti-Semitic, as it was accusing her of being part of a conspiracy. Just like Nazis accuse Jews conspiring to enslave gentiles. In fact, Wadsworth’s comment made no reference to Judaism at all, and he didn’t even know she was Jewish. He states that his lawyers at the trial refuted every one of the prosecution’s arguments. Until they took a call from their lawyers, who advised them that they could still win if they claimed that another person could consider it anti-Semitic.

In many parts of the law it sometimes does come down to the question of whether a person would consider that the issue in question is the case. But there’s a proviso. It has to be a reasonable person. And in many cases where the anti-Semitism argument is used, the parallels between real Nazi doctrines or symbolism are so tenuous, that they have less similarity to what a reasonable person would be live, than with the barking mad ideas of conspiracy theorists and rumour-mongers.

Let’s take the symbolism the Board of Deputies of British Jews claimed to find in the position of a fallen Palestinian protester in a story in the 1990s comic, Crisis. Created by Pat Mills and a group of three Jews, the story was about Israel’s maltreatment and brutalisation of the Palestinians. In it, a member of the IDF beats up a Palestinian protester, breaking his limbs so that he lies awkwardly on the ground. Pat Mills is the creator of 2000 AD, and one of the major forces behind Action and the war comic, Battle. As readers of 2000AD will know, Mills is very left-wing, and a firm and very vocal opponent of racism. This is a very clear subtext in the strips Nemesis the Warlock, where a future human empire wages a war of extermination against aliens based on no more than racial prejudice, and Strontium Dog. This is set in a future where mutants are second-class citizens, forced to live in ghettos and forbidden to pursue any job other than bounty hunter. And I’ve said before that it was in the pages of Battle that I first encountered stories dealing with the Holocaust and the concentration camps. This was simply a story where a British squaddie fights his way to one of the camps and sees the emaciated inmates through the barbed wire. I can remember myself being shocked by the prisoners skeletal, emaciated appearance. As I was supposed to. The comic couldn’t show anything too explicit, but what it showed was enough. Enough to show that the Nazis weren’t just responsible for an horrific war that claimed 40 million European lives, but also for scarcely imaginable horrors perpetrated against Jews, and other racial and political minorities and dissidents. And their should be no doubt also that Mills’ co-creators on the Crisis strip were decent, self-respecting Jews, and not self-hating anti-Semites either.

But the Board ignored all this. They claimed the scene was anti-Semitic, because the position made by the Palestinian’s fallen body looked like a swastika.

This is clearly bonkers. It’s the view of someone, who has spent so long looking for anti-Semitic and Nazi imagery, that they’re finding it wherever they look. In this instance, it did the Board no good because Robert Maxwell, the comic’s publisher, stood up to the Board and told them where they could go. But the ruling that something is anti-Semitic, if someone else considers it is, makes future decisions like Maxwell’s much more problematic.

Self-described anti-racists finding what they want to find in popular culture, and making stupid claims of racism, aren’t confined to Jews and anti-Semitism. Way back in the 1990s one Black academic made a similar claim about the film Aliens. This was the sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic Alien. Directed by James Cameron, this had Ripley join a team of Space Marines as they went to wipe out the Aliens, who had attacked and killed the colonists on their planet. Moving through the Aliens’ nest, Ripley finds the Alien queen, laying her eggs which will hatch the next generation of face-huggers.

It was a straightforward SF/Horror yarn. But not according to this academic. She declared that it was a metaphor for Reagan’s America. The Alien Queen represented Black American ‘welfare queens’, who were a threat to White society and conservative values by threatening to drown everybody else with the children they brought into the world. It’s quite a bizarre theory, as nowhere in the film is there any explicit or even implicit comment about race. Except that the Marines themselves are thoroughly multicultural, with a Black sergeant, and a tough, Hispanic female squaddie, Vasquez. And the only feature the Aliens have in common with Black people is their colour. In every other respect they’re vastly different. But it shows how some people’s determination to find a political or racial subtext in a movie leads them to see things that aren’t there.

Continued in Part Two.