Posts Tagged ‘H.R. Giger’

Cartoonist Kayfabe Look at the Art and Career of ‘American Hero’ Steve Ditko

December 10, 2021

More comics stuff, and a rather longer video than usual at 1hr 9minutes, but the subject deserves it. Steve Ditko is one of the great, legendary figures of American comics. He’s probably best known for creating Spiderman and the occult hero Dr. Strange with Stan ‘the Man’ Lee for Marvel. But as this video shows, Ditko worked for many other American comics companies – DC, Charlton, Dale and EC among them as well as self-publishing his personal works. In the video, the Kayfabers Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg go through the volume Ditko Unleashed: An American Hero, which accompanied an exhibition of the great man’s work. The book’s bilingual in English and Spanish, which suggests that the exhibition may have been in Spain. The volume not only describes Ditko’s career, but gives plentiful illustrations of his art.

Ditko, like Kirby, came from a blue-collar, working class background. He went into art school to study cartooning, as he wanted to be a comics artist. His career was uneven, working for a number of different publishers and in a variety of different genres – monster, science fiction, horror as well as the superheroes for which is he is best known. He also worked with some of the great names in American comics. At times he inked the awesome Jack Kirby, at other times he was inked by Frank Miller, the artist and writer chiefly responsible for turning Daredevil into one of Marvel’s leading heroes. I think he may also have been inked by John Byrne, one of the major artists behind the New X-Men. He was admired by many of these new artists. The epic Jim Starlin, in one edition of his Warlock comic, ‘One Thousand Clowns’, dedicated it to Ditko for showing us a new reality. Starlin’s art was rather more naturalistic, but he also used the same floating paths and mystic portals in his work. He also went through several hard times in his career. At one point he moved away to New York to recover from tuberculosis, then, as in Britain, a major killer. There were also years when he struggled, as many others did, to get work. He also worked on a number of merchandising tie-ins, like Micronauts and Rom: the SpaceKnight, which were intended to promote toy figures. I read the comics, which were excellent without having any interest in buying the toys, which might indicate they were too successful. Like the adverts for Cinzano Bianco wine with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. Everyone enjoyed them and they’re still fondly remembered by peeps of a certain vintage, but the people watching the ads couldn’t remember the brand of booze and so didn’t buy it. Ditko, like Kirby, broke off from Marvel for a time, before he returned, working on the above tie-ins along with the robotic superhero Machine Man.

Ditko, Politics and Morality

Unlike Stan Lee, who was a liberal, Ditko was very Conservative, a follower of Objectivism, the philosophy of supercapitalist ideologue Ayn Rand. He also had very black and white views on morality, which were expressed in his personal creations, Mr. A and The Question. He believed that heroes should be heroes, their morals pure and uncompromised. True to his ideals, he turned down work when the characters he was being asked to depict didn’t live up to them. A few years ago Jonathan Ross made a documentary for BBC 4 or one of the other channels searching for Ditko. One of those interviewed was Brit comics titan Alan Moore, who described meeting Ditko at Ditko’s home. He says that Ditko had a very narrow, inflexible view of morality, telling Moore, like one of his characters, that there were only two ways, a right way and a wrong way. Ditko’s politics are very definitely not mine, and I’m very much aware that in the real world, things are very often never a case of black and white but more shades or grey and motives can be less pure than we’d like. But after the comics industry went through a phase in which they tried to make their heroes darker – Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the foremost – and it was difficult telling the heroes from the villains, it’s refreshing to have someone who believes in old fashioned heroics.

The Kayfabers believe that if he were working today, Ditko would be cancelled or at least severely annoy and alienate 50 per cent of his audience. I think the first is certainly true. There has always been a left-wing message in American comics and an awareness of social issues. In the late 1960s into the 1970s both Marvel and DC tackled issues like racism and the rise of the feminist movement. As a response to the latter, Marvel created the Valkyrie, original a woman scientist who revolted against the patriarchy after having the credit for her discoveries stolen by her male colleagues. The Hulk comic also questioned American militarism, while Captain America, in disgust at Watergate and the contemporary corruption of American politics, renounced his patriotic monicker to become Nomad. Of course it wasn’t long before he rediscovered his faith in the rightness of the American way and put his uniform back on. However, Lee has also said in an interview that he was careful not to make the message too shrill so that it alienated readers that didn’t share his politics. Now many Conservative and moderate left comics creators and fans believe that in many strips, the political message has become too overt at the expense of traditional qualities like plotting, characterisation, dialogue and sheer fantasy. This was the motive behind Comicsgate a few years ago, when a number of comics creators, like Ethan van Sciver, broke away from the main comics companies of DC and Marvel to set up on their own.

Heroism and Its Absence in Modern Genre Film and Literature

One of the problems Az of Heels vs. Babyface and The Critical Drinker is that many of today’s pop culture heroes actually don’t act like heroes. For example, in one episode of Batwoman reviewed by Az, he comments critically on the way Batwoman treats the villain, a woman who has murdered several innocents. When Batwoman confronts her, she tells Batwoman that she’s killed so many people out of rage at her persecution as a lesbian. As a result, Batwoman, a lesbian herself, lets her go. This is simply immoral. The persecution of otherwise perfectly decent people because they’re attracted to the opposite sex is wrong, but it doesn’t justify the murder of innocents. Whatever political views real policemen and women have, they still have to act impartially and arrest those, who break the law and especially those who commit terrible crimes like mass murder.

The Critical Drinker put up a whole video about the failure of contemporary SF heroes to live up to the standards of true heroism with the latest Star Trek iterations as a case in point. He contrasted these were the high standards of professionalism demanded of the captain and crew in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation. In that series, the characters knew the importance of duty and respecting the command hierarchy even if they disagreed with it. At the same time, Picard and the other senior officers demanded and got the best from their crew. Several of the episodes involved leading characters learning the difficulties of command. There is one episode where one of the characters is training for promotion. Part this training involves trying to find ways to prevent a warp core breach that will destroy the Enterprise. The problem is insolvable until nearly every option has been tried except the one the prospective leader has been consciously trying to avoid: they have to send Jordi into the warp core to fix it, a command which will result in his death. But it’s unavoidable, and both characters know their duty is to their ship. The would-be commander has to give the order, which Jordi calmly accepts. And a hard lesson is learned. Instead, the crew of the new Trek franchises are grossly unprofessional. They bicker over there personal relationships in front of a superior officer, react badly to the stressful conditions they should, as crew aboard a quasi-military spacecraft, be trained to deal with and try to undermine their superior officers. Case in point: one sequence where Kirk and Spock attempt to beat the living daylights out of each other. Yeah, I’m aware that it happened in an episode or two of the original Trek, like the classic ‘Amok Time’, but there were extenuating circumstances. I like Star Trek and have got a couple of the recent Trek films on DVD. But I think the Drinker has a point, even if it comes from a jaundiced, booze-soaked mind. I think we need a few more heroes who are genuinely heroic in the old fashioned sense, even if the social views they hold may be those of the left.

Stylistic Strong Points

But Ditko’s own career also had its contradictions. At one point he was working on BDSM/ fetish comics, and there were certainly questions raised about the spectacular and surreal effects in several of his strips. Many of his characters, like Dr Strange, enter strange realms in which roads float apparently in mid-air, and doors and portals appear leading to elsewhere, like the mobile holes in many a cartoon strip. Strange shoots beams of light and conjures up strange geometrical figures in his incantations. These effects resemble the entoptic imagery seen when people start to hallucinate after using mind-altering drugs. Which led to the obvious question: was Ditko also on ’em. Ditko was too straitlaced to use recreational chemicals, and answered ‘No’. It all came from within, from his own unaided imagination. Which says to me that Ditko had an awesome imagination on his own, and that the really great, creative people don’t need drugs.

I can’t say that I was ever a fan of Ditko, as his artistic style with Marvel seemed rather too simple. I really admired those artists who were rather less stylised and more detailed and naturalistic. Nevertheless, this video shows that Ditko was a master of his art. The Kayfabers point out that he’s great at cityscapes and portraying fluid action sequences in which the characters are constantly in motion. In some of the strips, Ditko also used colour washes to enhance his line art, and the result is stunning. There are also a couple of strips where Ditko’s inkers were beginning to use computers to add inks and colour to his pencils, which are also very striking.

The Kayfabers also think that some of the pictures come from the private collections of people who acquired them less than legally. There is a black market in comics art, and Ditko was a victim along with many others. They won’t name names, of course, because they don’t want to get writs from m’learned friends. But they also state they’re just glad that someone, somewhere has preserved these pictures that would otherwise have been lost. Ditko also suffered into inadvertently giving people his autograph, thus cheating himself of money. He didn’t give autographs. However, if someone wrote to him asking for his autograph, they’d get a polite reply for Ditko saying ‘No’. Which he’d sign. People cottoned on to this, and exploited it.

Comics and Other Genre Artists True Artistic Innovators Deserving Academic Respect

The Kayfabers also lament that Ditko and that other American comics legend, Jack Kirby, weren’t more articulate. If they had been able to use the kind of language critics and intellectuals use about art, they could easily have been up there with Warhol and the Factory. But they were working artists, who had to grind out their strips to make a buck, and so didn’t have time to mix with people in art galleries. I completely agree. It’s been my opinion for a very long time that the truly great, innovative art exploring new visions, directions and tools is that of the space, science fiction and fantasy artists, including book illustrators and comics artists. And there are others who feel the same. I can remember watching one video about comics, in which one of the speakers said he felt angry seeing the work of artists hung in art galleries, who had based their work on comic artists. He felt that the original comics artists should have got the money and their work hung instead. Way back in the ’90s I tried to get one of the art magazines to accept an article in which I argued this point, and showed the stylistic similarities between respect fine artists like H.R. Giger and those of the Soviet austere school and such comics greats as Kirby and the British master of aliens, robots and the grotesque, Kevin O’Neil. Unfortunately, it was turned down because it would have been too expensive to run. But the point remains. And it'[s shown in Ditko’s art. There’s a panel in which the exhibition shows a clear influence on one of Ditko’s weird geometrical designs in a portal in Dr. Strange with a painting from the Russian avant-garde artist Vassily Kandinsky. The two debate whether there is a genuine influence there, before concluding that their probably is. I can easily believe it. Many comics artists have their own heroes and influences in fine art as well as other great illustrators of the past. Way back at the comics festival UKCAC ’90 I remember going to a talk by Charles Vess, who talked about the great artists and illustrators he admired. I can well believe that Ditko absorbed and incorporated ideas from fine art as well as cartooning and illustration, and that his own work pushed these ideas forward into new directions.

The book goes up to 2016, nearly the end of Ditko’s life. He died only a few years ago. Wossy in his quest to find the great man managed to track him down to an advertising agency in the Big Apple. Ditko agreed to meet Woss and the other host, but it all had to be off-camera. The programme concluded with Wossy stating that when they met Ditko he was very sweet, gave them lots of copies of his work, but they couldn’t repeat what he said to them. And so walked off into the New York crowd.

Well, RIP Steve Ditko, one of the greats of American founders. The book and the video by the Kayfabers are a great overview of one of the creators of some of the most iconic modern American superheroes.

Cartoonist Kayfabe on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ‘Panic Fables’

December 8, 2021

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean-French film director and comics creator. He was responsible for a number of very bizarre Surrealist films, such as Holy Mountain, one of which features a battle between the Incas and invading conquistadors as enacted by frogs in period costumes. In the 1970s he tried to make a film version of Frank Herbert’s classic Dune, which would have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, his son, Brontis, as Paul Atreides, and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha. Concept art was by H.R. Giger, Salvador Dali, Chris Foss and legendary French comics artist, Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud. Dali would also have played the Emperor of the Universe. However, the great Surrealist stipulated that he would only act for half an hour. So Jodorowsky planned to make a robotic Dali to play the Emperor for the rest of the film. The film was, however, abandoned when the producers stopped funding due to mounting costs. Jodorowsky and Moebius weren’t dismayed, and used the material they had already produced for the film as the basis for their comic book, The Incal. Although it was never made, Jodorowsky’s Dune has influenced a number of later SF movies and a film version of The Incal is now underway.

In this video, hosts Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg look through Panic Fables, produced when Jodorowsky was living in Mexico. Jodorowsky had been teaching mime at university, but was now blacklisted. He could no longer teach or make films. He therefore turned his creative talents into comics. Panic Fables describe themselves as teaching initiatory wisdom. This doesn’t surprise me, as I go the impression that Jodorowsky has a very strong interest in esoteric mysticism. However, this doesn’t impress one of the Kayfabers. He’s from Pittsburgh, and so when someone talks about mystic knowledge, it seems to him to be all about separating the rich from their money. The pair are nevertheless impressed by Jodorowsky’s creativity, commenting on his drawing style and unique use of colour in the strips. They also wonder what American influences may have reached Jodorowsky from north of the border, as it was published at the same time the first underground comics were beginning in America, and both Jodorowsky’s work and the undergrounds mark a radical departure from contemporary comics.

Panic Fables are obscure much less well-known than Jodorowsky’s films or his comics with Moebius, The Incal and then The Metabarons. But the video about them give an insight into his considerable creativity during this period, when the Mexican authorities were trying to close him down.

Taika Waititi Adapting Jodorowsy’s ‘The Incal’

November 9, 2021

Here’s another piece of fascinating SF news from Quinn’s Ideas on YouTube. Apparently the New Zealand director, Taika Waititi is adapting Alejandro Jodorowsky’s SF comic/ graphic novel, The Incal. Jodorowsky’s a Chilean-French surrealist film maker and comics writer, among whose bizarre cinematics works is The Holy Mountain. I can’t remember if it’s that film or one of his others that contains a battle between Conquistadors and Incas played by frogs in period costumes. Jodorowsky tried to make a version of Dune in the early ’70s. This would have starred his son, Brontis, as Paul Atreides, Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha. The concept artists included Salvador Dali, H.R. Giger and Chris Foss. The film was never due to the producers pulling the funding as costs escalated. However, as Quinn explains, Jodorowsky used some of the material and ideas he had developed for the movie and, with French comics maestro Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, turned it into The Incal.

There are three books in the series, Before the Incal, The Incal and Final Incal. The Incal was the first published with art by Moebius, who did not draw the other three books although the art is still good. Jodorowsky’s Dune, although never made, nevertheless inspired a series of other movies including Star Wars and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. The books follow the adventures of John De Fool, whose name is quite intentional and who is a fool figure while simultaneously being the most important person in the universe. The book’s are about his quest to obtain the Incal of the title, the most valuable object in the universe. Quinn wonders if the character of Fry from Futurama may also have been inspired by him. Futurama’s artwork is similar and Fry is also a fool. Quinn states that The Incal is very strange and not for everyone. In addition to it, Jodorowsky also created the Metabarons comics, which contains rather more of his Dune material. Quinn states that he knows Waititi best from his comedy films. One of these was the vampire comedy, What We Do In The Shadows. He therefore wonders how he’ll get on with the more serious material in The Incal, although this also has elements of comedy. Quinn also makes the point that it’s a great time for SF film and television, with Dune in the cinemas, Asimov’s Foundation on Apple TV and the news that Dan Simmons’ Hyperion is also being adapted.

This is interesting news, though I do wonder just how similar The Incal and the Metabarons are to Frank Herbert’s novel. I suspect that while they were inspired by Dune they’re actually very different. From what I understand of Jodorowsky movie, it would have been significantly different from Herbert’s book. And while I hope that this goes ahead, I also wonder how successful the film will be amongst anglophone audiences. Moebius and The Incal are well-known amongst comics fandom. BBC 4 screened a documentary about the great French comics artist a few years ago and I remember how, way back in the 1990s, his international cache was so strong, Marvel persuaded him to draw the Silver Surfer strip for them. However there is the problem of whether audiences outside France will be familiar enough with the comics to want to see the film. The film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was based on the long-running French SF strip, Valerian. This was a flop, and it has been suggested that one of the reasons it did was that international audiences simply weren’t familiar enough with the French strip to be interested. I’m not sure how true that is, as I think the film should still have been able to draw in audiences on its own merits even if most people didn’t know about the source comic. The Incal, however, might be in a better position in this regard as I think more SF fans across the world have heard about Jodorowsky and Moebius. Jodoroswky is involved with the film in any case, and so it should be very interesting to see how Waititi translates it to the big screen.

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.

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’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

August 8, 2020

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

Blade Runner 2049: ‘Time to Live’

September 1, 2017

This is another trailer for the forthcoming sequel to Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049. Described as a ‘featurette’, it’s a short film mixing scenes from the film with soundbites from the stars Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, the director Denis Villeneuve, and various members of the production crew, including its art director, and the director of the original classic himself, Ridley Scott.

It begins with Ford describing the immense impact of the scope and look of the original movie, and says it’s great to be back in his character’s, Deckard’s, old clothes. He’s glad they fit. Ridley Scott says he had no idea at the time the first movie came out that it would be so iconic. Later he says that it was meant to be a stand-alone movie, but there’s always more than you can tell in a two hour film. The production team tell how they wanted to preserve the look of the original, while also doing something that was ‘divergent’. And Villeneuve says that he never felt anxious while making it that Scott was watching over his shoulder.

I put up a previous trailer for Blade Runner 2049, the short prequel, Nexus Dawn, yesterday, and said that, while I’m looking forward to the film’s release in October, I also have mixed feelings about it. The film is now rightly regarded as one of the classics of science fiction cinema. It was a dark, dystopian vision of the future, that also mixed in French film noir, to create a dismal but stylish ‘Future Noir’. I’m afraid that the original is such a classic, and has set the standards so high for its sequel, that it will be simply impossible for the film to fulfill them, no matter how good it is. I think part of the problem many people were disappointed with the Star Wars prequels, and Scott’s prequels to the original Alien film, Prometheus and Covenant, is partly because these films are also cinematic classics.

There’s also the problem that part of what made these films classics was that at the time, they had a unique quality or vision that set them far apart from other films of the same type. In the case of Star Wars, it was Lucas’ creation of an entire galactic society, complete with its own form of mystical religion in the force, as well as the superb special effects. The spaceships and robots looked good. The film also broke with previous SF movies in that the technology looked used. I can remember reading in Starburst that it was the first SF movie to ‘dirty up’ the spacecraft. Rather than everything appearing antiseptically clean, the ships in Star Wars looked like people actually flew and maintained them in real conditions, in working hangers full of grease and whatever people in A Galaxy Far, Far Away use for enjoy oil.

In Alien, you also had the dirty, worn look of the spaceship Nostromo. It was dark, and dingy, stacked with equipment, and looked like what it was supposed to be: a functioning industrial complex, built for work, not beauty. And then there was the weird, biological design of the alien spacecraft the Nostromo’s crew encounters and explores, with the space jockey and the Alien itself, all designed by the Austrian surrealist, H.R. Giger.

The imagery and designs of these films have been so influential that they’ve become part of the stock visual language of much of the science fiction that followed them, to the point where it might be difficult for some younger film enthusiasts to understand just how exciting and revolutionary they were when they first came out.

As for Ridley Scott’s comment that he had no idea that Blade Runner would become the classic it is, this is very true. It flopped in the cinemas. This was partly because the studio didn’t think audiences were intelligent enough to work out what was going on, or understand some of the future slang, so they insisted that Ford also did a voiceover during certain scenes. There’s a rumour that Ford thought it was such a bad idea, that he deliberately made his voice as flat and monotone as possible in the hope the result would be so terrible the studio wouldn’t use it. But they did. And unfortunately it did affect the way audience received it. Put bluntly, it made the film a laughing stock. A friend of mine went to see it – he was a few years older than me – and he said that people in the cinema were laughing at the voiceover.

What saved the movie were the fans, who discovered it on video, who turned it into a cult movie, so that its audience and reputation increased. This reached the point where it allowed Scott to do something that had never been done before: he released a director’s cut of the film. Which critically removed that stupid voiceover.

And the result of that long process of rediscovery and growing appreciation is that the original movie is a cinematic classic. Blade Runner 2049 has a lot to live up to, but I’m really looking forward to it.

Chris Foss on Working with Giger and Moebius on ‘Dune’

April 24, 2017

Chris Foss is one of the great masters of British SF art. Apart from painting numerous book covers, he also worked as the concept artist for Alien, Superman, and the version of Dune that was being made by the Franco-Chilean surrealist, Alejandro Jodorowsky. Sadly, his work for Alien and Dune was never seen. Ridley Scott rejected his depictions of the ‘Nostromo’ for alien, as he thought it was far too interesting and would distract the audience from the main action. And despite extensive preparation, Jodorowsky’s Dune was never made. The studio pulled the plug at the last minute. It wasn’t a wasted effort, however, as the work Jodorowsky and the French comic artist, Moebius, had put into Dune was used by them as the basis for the comic book series, the Metabarons.

A documentary came out a few years ago about the making of Jodorowsky’s Dune. Jodorowsky states that he wanted it to blow the audience’s mind. It was to have the effect of taking LSD, but without actually using the drug. Certainly the concept art looks truly awesome. Apart from Foss and Moebius, Jodorowsky also employed as concept artist H.R. Giger, the creator of the ‘Alien’. Giger produced various designs for Vladimir Harkonnen’s cast, and for a train, very much in his distinctively nightmarish style. Among the actors lined up for the film were Orson Welles as Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha. Jodorowsky’s son, Brontes, was to play Paul Atreides. And the Emperor of the Galaxy would be played by the great surrealist egotist himself, Salvador Dali. But only for half an hour. So Jodorowsky and his team intended to fill in the rest of the time, that have been occupied by Dali, by using a robotic version of him. It’s a pity that the film was not made, as with those artists and performers, it truly would have been a genuinely mind-blowing experience.

In this clip, Foss talks about how wonderful it was working with Moebius and Giger, but says that he enjoyed it because what he was doing did not interfere with them, and their work did not interfere with his own. Looking on YouTube a few years ago, I found that Foss had put up a series of short videos about himself and his work, so if you’re interested, try looking to see if they’re still there.

Trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant

December 26, 2016

Looking through YouTube on Christmas Day, I found a trailer for the next instalment in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant. Directed by Ridley Scott, this follows on from his not-quite Alien prequel, Prometheus, which came out in four years ago in 2012. The blurb for this runs

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with ALIEN: COVENANT, a new chapter in his groundbreaking ALIEN franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.

Directed by Ridley Scott

Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollet, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby.

The trailer shows the Covenant landing, and a scene with one of the David robots, played by Michael Fassbender. On landing, one of the crew steps on a bizarre set of bulbs, which releases some kind of spore. There is also a proper Alien egg hatching, ready to birth a facehugger. The sequence begins with one of the female characters refusing to let one of the other women out of room with a man, who is clearly in the agonies of some kind of transformation, or the eruption of an Alien from their body. It ends with two lovers in a shower having their tender moment interrupted by an Alien attack.

According to the YouTube page, it opens on May 19th.

This is another movie that I’m looking forward to, along with the sequel to another of Scott’s SF masterpieces, Blade Runner 2049.

The Alien has now become one of the classic Hollywood monsters, alongside the Predator, and older creatures like the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman. Several critics have pointed out that Alien was basically a ‘B’ movie, but treated like a Hollywood main feature. I’d say that this was a fair statement. The basic story – alien gets on board spaceship to run amok killing the crew – was the storyline of another, very definite ‘B’ movie of the 1950s or ’60s. The same critic remarked that it could have – and very nearly did – come from Roger Corman, the great director responsible for churning out any number of them. Fortunately, Dan O’Bannon, the script writer, objected and the studio found Ridley Scott instead. What elevated the movie far above it’s ‘B’ movie plot were its stylish direction by Scott, its superb special effects and the way its script broke a number of conventions and gender stereotypes. It was one of the first SF movies to have a strong female lead in Ripley. Another critic has pointed out that as well as breaking gender stereotypes, Ripley also broke another Hollywood convention in that she was basically a hard, by-the-book character. These types usually die before the end of the movie, but not before they perform some noble gesture that shows they’re OK really. Ripley goes by the book, and doesn’t want to let Kane in to infect the ship with whatever attacked him. She’s right, but it’s a hard attitude, and she’s overridden by Ash, who appears to be acting from simple compassion. The reality is otherwise, and, as everyone whose watched or heard of the film knows, carnage ensues. But Ripley survives to the end, and finally beats the monster.

And, of course, what really made the monster one of the classics was its unique quality and the dark beauty of its realization by Swiss Surrealist H.R. Giger. The Alien’s two-stage life cycle – facehugger and then the monster itself, is genuinely alien. It isn’t like anything on Earth. Its gestation inside humans is based on the ichneumon moth, which lays its eggs in captive caterpillars. These serve as living larders as the developing larvae hatch and eat their host from the inside. It plays on the fear of parasitism, and was intended by the writer and director to make the men in the audience afraid of rape and a malign pregnancy, rather than women.

And when it finally emerges and develops, the monster itself does not look like anything on Earth. The film was before CGI and a little before animatronics, so it really was another ‘man in a rubber suit’. However, it’s design was so unique that it didn’t look like one. It was both cadaverously thin, like a spindly, distorted human corpse, but with an insect carapace. It also had a tongue with its own mouth and set of teeth, and appeared to lack any kind of external sense organs. There are no eyes or ears that you can see. Finally, there are the strange tubes emerging from its back.

Stylistically, it was one of the biomechanical creatures that formed Giger’s oeuvre. These were a disturbing mixture of the biological and mechanical, so that organically derived shapes had the shapes of, and acted like, machines. The Alien was so uniquely strange and disturbing, that it’s influenced the design of other malignant beings from space since then. The aliens in Independence Day show Giger’s influence, as did the ‘Sleazoids’ in an X-Men storyline of about the same time, and the Cythrons and their armour in the Slaine strip in 2000 AD, for those comic fans of a certain age.

There’s also supposed to be an Alien 5 in production, which will apparently see the return of Ripley, Newt and the surviving Space Marine from James Cameron’s Aliens. I don’t know much about this, however.

The Alien franchise is now 3 1/2 decades old, and like Hammer Horror’s Dracula, or Star Wars, doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping. From the trailer it looks like the latest instalment could be well worth going to, if you’re a fan of what Mark Kermode has called ‘gribbly monsters.’

Giger’s Dune Sandworm

July 19, 2015

I found this extremely cool concept painting of a Dune sandworm by H.-R. Giger over at the 70s Scifi Art tumblr page.

Giger Dune Sandworm

Giger, who died last year, is best known for his work on Ridley Scott’s Alien, and for designing the creature, ‘Sil’, for Species. He was, however, one of the concept artist, along with Chris Foss and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, who worked on the designs for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film version of Dune in the 1970s. That never got made, as the film’s backers dropped it at the last minute. Jodorowsky himself and his co-workers have said it’s because, in Hollywood the producers want to be far more involved than simply just putting up the money for the film. They backed out simply because they didn’t know who Jodorowsky was, or quite understand what he was doing.

The other reason was probably the sheer cost of the film itself. Jodorowsky himself has said that he hired Salvador Dali the play the Galactic Emperor (!). Dali demanded a million dollars, and stated that he would only play the Emperor for half an hour. Astonishingly, Jodorowsky agreed, and the contract was duly signed. Standing in for Dali in the rest of the movie would be a robot.

Giger’s own designs for Dune have been published, and are on-line, as are Foss’. His plans for the Baron’s spacecraft, the Galactic Emperor and his palace, and for spice freighters and attacking pirate ships have been published in the album of his work, 21st Century Foss, by Paper Tiger.

After Jodorowsky’s version collapsed, Ridley Scott was hired about a decade or so later to make the 1980’s version. It’s for his, later version of the film that Giger made the above design for the worm. Unfortunately, Scott’s brother died, causing him to abandon the project. As a result, it was then passed on to David Lynch.

Lynch’s film has been critically panned, and the received opinion of it is negative. It’s widely held to be a notoriously bad movie. I have to say that I like it, and I think it’s actually a good film. It’s main problem is that it tries to compress Herbert’s lengthy and complex novel into a single movie. It really needs to be split into about three, as the Dune 2000 miniseries did, and Peter Jackson with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Even as it is, I think Lynch’s version still holds up and is massively underappreciated.

As for Scott, he went on to make Bladerunner, which is now justly recognised as one of the great SF film classics. And despite the failure of Jodorowsky’s film version, Jodorowsky and Moebius managed to use the material they had produced for it in their SF comics. The film’s look and concept designs are even credited with influencing later, successful SF movies like Bladerunner and Alien.

Two years ago a documentary on the making of Jodorowsky’s Dune came out. I’ve looked for it on the shelves in HMV and elsewhere, but I’m afraid I haven’t been able to find it this side of the Atlantic on DVD. It is, however, on the net.

Here’s the trailer:

jodorowsky states that he wanted to produce the effect of taking LSD without having people take the drug. Looking at the designs created for the movie by Giger, Moebius and Foss, and Jodorowsky’s own, unique take on the material, it would have been an awesome and truly mind-blowing experience.

Which is what good SF does. C.S. Lewis, the fantasy novelist and Christian apologist, was a strong fan of Science Fiction at a time when it was regarded, in the words of Brian Aldiss, as ‘worse than pornography’ by the literary elite. He wrote three SF books himself, strongly informed by his own Christian convictions: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra/ Voyage to Venus and That Hideous Strength. He declared that ‘Science Fiction is the only true mind-expanding drug’.

He’s absolutely right, and it’s a tragedy that too many people have got ensnared by chemicals, rather than picking up a good paperback.