Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars’

Cartoonist Kayfabe Review’s Jack Kirby’s ‘Eternals’ #1

July 7, 2021

This might interest those of my readers, who are into UFOs and the theories about ancient astronauts. Cartoonist Kayfabe is a channel on YouTube hosted by two independent comics creators, Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg, which reviews and talks about comics. In the video below, which they put up yesterday, the pair review the first issue of comics legend Jack Kirby’s book, The Eternals.

Published in the 1970s, this was based on the theories of Erich von Daniken, that humanity had been visited in antiquity by aliens, who had been worshipped as gods. In Kirby’s strip, the aliens were the Celestials or Space Gods, immense giant humanoids wearing weird armour or spacesuits, rather like the world-devouring Galactus of Marvel’s Fantastic Four comic. In the strip the Space Gods had come to Earth in the distant past, genetically engineering humanity’s pre-human ape ancestors. The result was three species of humanoids, the Eternals, humanity and the Deviants. The Eternals possessed immortality and superpowers, and were taken by humans as gods. One of the Eternals is called Ikaris, which is clearly a version of Icarus, the character from Greek myth. While the Eternals were generally benign and largely aloof from human affairs, the Deviants were actively hostile. Their genome was unstable, with a result that they were monstrous in form and envied and hated Eternals and humans for possessing a stable body plan and good looks. One of the Deviant characters was a man, who looked human, and so was hated by the rest of the Deviants and forced to compete in lethal gladiatorial contests for their amusement.

I first came across the Eternals as a back-up strip in the British version of Marvel’s Star Wars comic. From what I remember, the first tale had Ikaris, in disguise as Ike Harris, leading a party of human explorers into an ancient South American temple. The temple is, in reality, a monument to the Space Gods, who then return to Earth. The temple becomes their landing site, with one Space God standing sentinel over it. This then becomes a forbidden zone to the three other species. The Celestials have come to judge their experiments, taking fifty years to make their observations and gather information. If humanity or the other races fail the test, the Space Gods will exterminate them.

Kirby was a master of cosmic art, and this strip shows how skilled he was at drawing beings from outer space of immense power. The various ancient astronauts depicted in the temple’s carvings and statuary are clearly influenced by the art of the ancient South American Indian civilisations such as the Aztecs and Maya. This very much follows the views of von Daniken and similar authors, who interpreted a carving of an ancient Mayan king from the temple of Palenque as portraying an ancient astronaut piloting a space capsule.

There have been a multitude of comics about flying saucers since Kenneth Arnold made his sighting of a group of mysterious objects over the Rockies in 1947, which launched the modern UFO phenomenon. The Eternals is an example of how a similar, related theory – ancient astronauts – also entered popular culture in comic form. I don’t think the strip actually lasted very long. Either I stopped reading it, or the strip disappeared from Star Wars comic after a few issues. Despite this, the characters have remained part of the MCU and a film based on the strip, which I’ve blogged about previously, is currently being filmed, trailers for which have been released. Kirby’s art is awesome, and the strip marked Jolly Jack’s return to Marvel after a period with DC. I think Kirby had left because of his dispute with Marvel and Stan Lee over who had created many of the most iconic Marvel characters. Although he had returned, there still seems to have been considerable resentment against Kirby at Marvel. Piskor and Rugg comment on the overwhelmingly hostile tone of the letters Kirby’s editors at Marvel chose to publish in the comic.

I really enjoyed the first Eternals story and its premise, though I think I got bored with it as the tale went on. I shall be very interested indeed when the film finally comes out, as I’m currently in two minds whether I want to see it. It could be very good, and it’ll be great to see Kirby’s designs for the Space Gods appear on the silver screen. It’ll also be interesting to see what effect, if any, it has on the paranormal milieu. Will it lead to a revival of von Daniken and the ancient astronaut theory?

Trailer for Film of Isaac Asimov’s ‘Foundation’

July 3, 2021

I found this trailer for a forthcoming film of Asimov’s Foundation on the Moviegasm channel on YouTube. Foundation is, like Dune, one of the great classics of Science Fiction. It’s the story of the decline and fall of a sprawling galactic empire against the rise of chaos and barbarism, and of one scientist’s attempt to prepare for the return of civilisation and hold back this new dark age. It’s the story of Hari Seldon, the inventor of the science of psychohistory, which allows him to predict the fall of what seems a stable and prosperous interstellar society. Seldon therefore sets up two Foundations, one secret, to preserve the empire’s science and culture. There were originally two novels, Foundation, published in 1955 under the title, The 1,000 Year Plan, and its sequel, Foundation and Empire, published that same decade as The Man Who Upset the Universe. It was clearly an influence on Star Wars and Dune, which similarly tell epic tales of intrigue and warfare in sprawling galactic empires. I don’t think it’s ever been filmed, possibly due to the expense and difficulty of bringing such a complex novel spanning centuries to life. I do remember, however, that there was an LP of it read by William Shatner.

There has been a previous trailer for the film, released a few months or so ago. It looks fascinating and visually extremely impressive, but fans of the book are concerned if the film will do justice to Asimov’s views on history and politics, which are at the core of the book. There’s been the same problem with the adaptations of Frank Herbert’s Dune to the large and small screens. Dune is similarly a book of ideas, containing Herbert’s speculations and views on ecology, politics and the dangers of charismatic leaders. Film and TV are, however, visual mediums, and so the intellectual depth of the book has largely been left behind as the screen adaptations concentrate on visual spectacle. Whether this will happen with Foundation remains to be seen. Looking through the comments about the trailer on YouTube, people are also concerned that it’s produced by Steve Jobs’ old outfit, Apple, and so may be pushing computers and AI as the salvation of humanity. It also seems to contain cloning, which apparently isn’t in the book and suggests that certain liberties have been taken with Asimov’s classic text.

Still, like the trailers for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, it looks awesome and I certainly want to see it, always assuming it’s going to be on at the cinemas rather than streamed online. But there doesn’t seem to be any date for its release. Dune’s release has been postponed yet again in order to avoid clashes with other big budget movies, so I wonder if we’ll ever see it. Let’s hope so, as it promises to be a true SF epic. It remains to be seen whether it can live up to it.

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.

Marvel Studios’ Teaser Trailer for the Eternals Movie

May 24, 2021

Marvel have released the teaser trailer for the movie of their comic, The Eternals. This shows a race of highly advanced, superpowered people landing on prehistoric Earth to teach early humanity. The voiceover announces that they’ve watched us create some splendid achievements, but have never interfered. Until now. There’s then scenes of them making their presence known, and family gathering in which a juvenile member talks about leading the Avengers and them all joking about it. The movie debuts in November.

After watching this, I’m in two minds about going to see it. I’m not really into superhero movies. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate them. It’s just that I’ve no interest in most of them. I loved the original Superman flicks when they came out in the ’70s -80s with Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steele. I like the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and I actually think the Ang Lee Hulk movie is seriously underappreciated.

I actually got choked up a bit when I saw it at our local cinema. Yeah, it took liberties with the Hulk’s origin, but it actually got the tone of the book right. The Hulk was always a profoundly countercultural figure. Banner was a former nuclear scientist conducting bomb tests for the military. His girlfriend was the daughter of the senior officer in charge of the project. He was exposed to the gamma radiation that turned him into a ‘raging behemoth’, in Smilin Stan’s somewhat overheated prose, by rescuing a disaffected teenager, Rick, who had driven into the testing range playing his harmonica. I think the model for the character was probably James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause and similar teen anti-heroes. Banner threw him into the protective trench just in time to save him from the blast, but was himself caught in release of deadly radiation as the bomb detonated. And the army Banner served hated his alter ego. The army was determined to hunt him down, and so the Jolly Green Giant was constantly fighting running battles with the American military. And with the revelations of atrocities by American forces during the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, in some of the strips Banner was critical of the military and the dehumanisation of ordinary soldiers who participated in covert military experimentation. I am not surprised it flopped when it pitched its hero against the American army at a time when the American, British and European public were all being urged to support our troops during the War on Terror.

But I got choked up on the flick because it was faithful to that aspect of the strip. And in the scenes when the Hulk faces down and fights his father, who has also used the gamma ray process to become the supervillain, the Absorbing Man, they were shot almost exactly like the comic’s depiction of the Hulk’s battles with superpowered enemies. At least as they were drawn by mighty Bill Mantlo.

And then there was the nod right at the end to the Hulk TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. This is the scene where a group of paramilitaries walk into a camp where Banner is giving medical care to the local Latin American peasants. They declare they’re seizing his drugs and supplies. Banner naturally objects with the classic line ‘Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’. All the while the camera is pulling upward until all you see is the tops of the trees. And then it ends with the Hulk’s roar.

Blow what the critics think, I thought it was awesome!

But back to the Eternals. They were drawn by Jack Kirby, and first appeared over this side of the Pond in Star Wars Weekly, if I remember correctly. The strip was based on the theories of Erich von Daniken. He’s the Swiss hotelier and the author of Chariot of the Gods and its various sequels, which claimed that humanity had been visited by spacefaring aliens in antiquity, who’d been worshipped as gods. Alien expertise were behind the construction of various monuments, like the pyramids, the Easter Island heads. The mysterious Nazca lines out in the Chilean desert weren’t made by the genius of the pre-Columbian Indian peoples. No! They were landing strips for the aliens’ spaceships. His ideas have been extensively debunked, most notably in Crash Go The Chariots. But they still exert a certain influence on the ancient astronaut crowd, along with the bonkers theories of Zechariah Sitchin and his wretched Nephilim.

In the strip, the Eternals were a sister race to humanity. Both peoples were the results of experimentation on ancient pre-human apes by the Celestials. These were fifty foot tall ‘space gods’, encased entirely in space armour and possessed of immense powers. The Eternals were blessed with immortality, highly advanced technology, and superpowers. Their names recalled those of the Graeco-Roman divinities. One of the leaders of the Eternals in their dealing with humanity was Ikaris, whose name is obviously a form of Icarus, the son of the inventor Daedalus, who died because he flew too close to the sun. Alongside the benign Eternals were a malign third race, the Deviants. Make up your own jokes here. I wonder if they’re going to be in the film, and if they are, whether they’ll give them a different monicker because of its sexual connotations. While the genomes of humans and Eternals were genetically stable, that of the Deviants very definitely wasn’t. They were thus monstrous in appearance, and were bitterly jealous of the handsome appearance of their cousins. Human-looking Deviants were hated and persecuted, forced to fight against each other in gladiatorial combat and the Deviants were constantly seeking ways to destroy humanity.

Meanwhile, the Space Gods themselves had returned to Earth to judge the results of their experiments. They would take fifty years doing so, during which time they remained immobile and hidden at the sites of their ancient landings and cults. If humanity was judged a failure, the Celestials would destroy us.

I liked it because at the time I was really into the possibility of ancient astronauts, and Kirby’s art was magnificent. He’d taken pains to educate himself about science and cosmology, and nobody drew ‘cosmic’ like Jolly Jack. Even now I’d say that he’s peerless in his depiction of alien gods and godlike beings like the Celestials and Galactus. In the 1970s he was approached to provide the concept art for a film of Roger Zelazny’s novel, Lord of Light. This fell through, but the idea and his art was later used by the CIA as a cover for rescuing American hostages in Iran. If you see some of it, you’ll see just how impressive Kirby was.

Kirby’s Art for the abortive film, Lord of Light, from Desirina Boskovich, Lost Transmissions – The Secret History of Science Fiction, Film and Fantasy (New York: Abrams Image 2019) 234.

But I’m in two minds about this movie.

I was fascinated by the Celestials themselves. They were huge, ridiculously powerful, and totally alien. They were roughly humanoid, with the same number of arms and legs, but encased in armoured suits that suggested more the gods of the ancient, primal societies of some Amerindian peoples and ancient Japan. They also had no interest in communicating with us whatsoever. When they returned, their emissary just took up his position in an ancient Mayan/ Aztec temple and then stood stock still. This was how he’d remain for the next fifty years. And the Celestials made it very clear that they wanted to be left alone. When a villainous scientist ignores the urgings of the Eternal Ikaris, in human disguise as Ike Harris, to leave, the Celestial uses his advanced technological powers to transform him into a cube of inert matter. The scientist will remain in this state for the next fifty years, when he will be restored when the Space Gods pronounce their final judgement on humanity.

They were like true aliens in that they were incomprehensible. And genuinely awesome in their immense power. You couldn’t challenge them, you couldn’t negotiate with them or even talk to them. You could only stay out of their way.

But the trailer doesn’t show them. The Guardians of the Galaxy showed glimpses of them, which is one of the reasons I like them. Apart from the fact that they also had Steve Gerber’s avian hero from a parallel dimension, Howard the Duck. I’d like them to be in the flick, and that they are as powerful and awesome as they were in the original comics and in their very brief appearances in the two Guardians movies.

But I’m afraid they won’t, or they will be underused, and that the film will be simply another superhero movie, as enjoyable as they are for Marvel aficionados. At the moment I’m cautiously optimistic, as Cosmic Book News and other SF/Fantasy/comics websites have covered photos released way back in 2019 showing the Space Gods tombs. These were originally passed off as sets for the latest Star Wars movie, but later revealed to be for The Eternals film. And they do show the influence of Jolly Jack.

See: Eternals Set Images Reveal Jack Kirby Influence | Cosmic Book News

This might make the film worth seeing, just for another reminder of the sheer cosmic awesomeness of Kirby’s creations.

Historical Ignorance and Prejudice on Sadiq Khan’s Monuments Panel

February 12, 2021

Sadiq Khan has been at the centre of more controversy this week. The Tories hate him with a passion because he’s a Labour politico, and they can’t tolerate the idea, let alone the reality, of someone from the left being mayor of London. And so he has joined his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, the head of the GLC when Thatcher was in power, as the target of right-wing hate and venom. They also dislike him because he’s a Muslim, and so in the mayoral elections a few years ago we had the noisome spectacle of Tory candidate Zack Goldsmith implying that Khan was a radical Islamist cosying up to terrorist or terrorist sympathisers to bring down Britain. All rubbish, of course, but there are still people who firmly believe it.

Following the attacks on Colston’s statue in Bristol and the campaign to remove other statues of slavers and other British imperialists elsewhere in Britain, Khan has set up a panel to examine the question of doing the same in the capital, as well as renaming streets and other monuments with dubious historical connections. The panel has fifteen members, but it has already been denounced by its critics as a panel of activists. There have been articles in the Depress, Heil and Torygraph strongly criticising its composition and the selection of its members. The Torygraph’s article complained that it contained no historians, who could set these monuments into their proper contexts or any Conservatives. This is actually a fair point, because the actions of some of the panel’s members strongly indicates that those individuals have zero knowledge of the history of slavery.

One of Khan’s choices for membership of the panel is Toyin Agbetu, who managed to cause outrage in 2007 at a service in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. Agbetu disrupted the service and tried to approach the queen, shouting that it was all a disgrace and You should be ashamed. We shouldn’t be here. This is an insult to us’. I think that he was outraged that the British were congratulating themselves were ending the slave trade when they should never have been involved in it in the first place.

Another appointee is Lynette Nabbossa, a business academic and head of an organisation to provide role models for young Blacks. She has claimed that White supremacy is rooted in British history. In October she wrote that the UK was the common denominator in atrocities across the world, and

‘No matter where you find examples of white supremacy, all roads lead back to my country of birth.

‘It was the UK’s racism that birthed slavery and colonialism. We say it is in the past but our schools, colleges, universities, streets, museums etc have never stopped honouring the enforcers of our oppression.’

These are statements of historical ignorance and racial prejudice which should cast severe doubt on the suitability of these individuals for membership of the panel. 

British imperialism was based on the notion that the White British were superior to the non-White nations they conquered and ruled over, and this country and its ally, America, have been responsible for propping up various horrific dictators and murderous despotic regimes around the world. But neither Agbetu nor Nabbossa seem to know or understand that slavery existed long before the British empire, and that White supremacy wasn’t just a British phenomenon. What about the Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch empires? Apartheid has its origin amongst the Afrikaners, who were Dutch colonists. Britain only gained Cape Colony, the founding settlement of what later became South Africa, in 1800, seizing it from the Netherlands during the Napoleonic Wars. And we were hardly responsible for atrocities in Africa committed by some of the newly independent African regimes, like Idi Amin’s Uganda, the Rwandan genocide or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

They also don’t seem to realise how near-universal slavery was as a global phenomenon. It was a part of many African societies before the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade. Muslim slavers transported Blacks slaves north to the Arab states of north Africa, while African and Arab traders exported slaves from east Africa across the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean to Arabia, India, and south east Asia. The first Black slaves in Europe were imported, not by White Christians, but by the Arab-Berber states of al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. And the campaign against slavery began in White, European culture. This has been stated repeatedly by western Conservatives and attacked and denounced by their opponents on the left. But it’s true. I haven’t been able to find evidence of any attempt by a non-western society to abolish slavery before the Europeans. The closest I found is a document in one of James Walvin’s books, a complaint from a Muslim Egyptian against the enslavement of the Black Sudanese. This was not an attack on slavery as a whole, however. The Egyptian objected to it in the case of the Sudanese because they were Muslims, and under sharia law Muslims are not supposed to enslave other Muslims. The author of the complaint does not object to the enslavement of non-Muslims.

Part of the rationale behind British imperialism was the campaign to stamp out slavery around the world, particularly in Africa. When Jacob Rees-Mogg made a speech in parliament claiming that BLM had shot itself in the foot and that people were now interested in the careers of imperialists like Gordon of Khartoum, he had a point. Gordon was sent to the Sudan by the Anglo-Egyptian authorities to put down the Mahdi’s rebellion. All very stereotypically imperialist. But the Mahdi wasn’t just rising up against infidel oppression. He and his followers were slavers and slaveowners. Slaving was an integral part of Arab Sudanese society and trade, and they were outraged when the British tried to stamp it out and protect the indigenous Black peoples.

Slavery was also part of the African societies further south, in what became Rhodesia and Malawi. The Kapolo slaves there, apart from other indignities, had to use broken tools when working and eat their food off the floor. And the explorer Richard Burton, writing in the 1840s, says in his book Wanderings in West Africa that the condition of the slaves on that part of the continent was so wretched and the enslaved people so starved that if Black Americans saw them, they’d give up all ideas of freedom and be glad of their lives in the west.

As for slavery being the product of White British racism, the opposite is true. According to scholars of western racism, such as Sir Alan Burns, the last British governor of Ghana and the author of Colour and Colour Prejudice, and books such as Race: The History of an Idea in the West, there was little racism in Europe before the 15th century. White racism and modern ideas of White racial supremacy arose after the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade to justify the enslavement of Black Africans. But this all seems lost on Agbetu and Nabbossa.

Now they are only two of Khan’s panel. There are 13 others, and it’s probably that the Tory press seized on them to make mischief. The others may well be more moderate and informed. I’ve certainly no objection to the inclusion of a Star Wars actor, who outraged Tory sensibilities by describing Boris Johnson as a ‘c***’. It’s not the word I would use, and it is obscene, but Johnson is a thoroughly nasty piece of work, as is the party he leads. I’d therefore say that, barring the language used to express it, it’s an accurate assessment of the vile buffoon. Tom Harwood, chief catamite at Guido Fawkes, has also been stirring with the claim that the panel was considering the removal of a 16th century statue of Queen Elizabeth. This is something he seems to have pulled out of his rear. The panel has not said anything about Good Queen Bess’s statue, and it’s just Harwood trying to cause trouble by lying. Which is standard Guido Fawkes’ practise.

But the inclusion of Agbetu and Nabbossa does cast severe doubt on the panel’s expertise as a whole and the suitability of its other members to make informed judgements on controversial historical monuments. But the ignorance and racial prejudice of the two also shows that we really need to have the global aspects of slavery taught. The deeds of the past should not be covered up, but they should be placed in context. It needs to be made very clear that slavery is a global phenomenon, that it was not invented by White Europeans preying on Black Africans and that it was also deeply ingrained in many African societies and practised by the Islamic states and empires as well as Hindu India. Such knowledge might be a shock to people like Agbetu, who seem to labour under the illusion that Africa was somehow free of it before the European invasions, but that is no reason why it should not be taught.

Otherwise you get bad history and the politically correct anti-White racism these two promote and demand.

Real Boob Armour from the Middle Ages?

January 3, 2021

There was a bit of controversy a few months ago over an episode of the Star Wars spin-off TV show, The Mandalorian. The Mandalorians are a race of mercenaries, one of whom was the Star Wars film villain, Boba Fett. The show’s titular character roams the Galaxy with a baby clone of Yoda righting wrongs as law and order has broken down in the battle between the Empire and the Rebellion. Or I think that’s what the show’s about. The row erupted over an episode which showed female Mandalorians wearing fitted breastplates shaped for women’s breasts. Feminist critic of video games and the SF/Fantasy genre was not impressed, and posted a tweet expressing her disapproval.

She was then answered by the show’s fans, who certainly did not believe that such armour was sexualising or demeaning women. Many of those rebutting Sarkesian were women. One of them posted an interesting piece by a female veteran of the Iraq invasion, who described how uncomfortable the breastplates worn by American squaddies are, particularly for women. She wanted breastplates shaped for women’s breasts. Others pointed out that women boxers today wear breastplates to protect their boobs.

I found this picture of a set of armour from the later Middle Ages at Churburg in Frederick Wilkinson’s Arms and Armour (London: Hamlyn 1978) p. 66. As you can see, the breastplate really is only a strip across the upper torso, leaving the stomach, throat and shoulders protected by chain mail. I don’t doubt that the armour was made for a man. There are records of women fighting in armour during the Middle Ages, such as Joan of Arc, but they were very much exceptions to the rule. When they did fight, they wore men’s armour. However, looking at the Churburg armour, it does seem to me to be the kind of armour women may have worn if they were a regular part of medieval armies and it was made especially for them.

There’s an awful lot of SF and Fantasy in which the women warriors do indeed wear very little. But I don’t see the female breastplates on the Mandalorian as sexualising the women mercenaries. Indeed, from the above illustration – which is admittedly for a man – it does seem to be the kind of armour fighting women would wear in such a society.

MechaRandom on Israeli Space General’s Claim that the Aliens Really Are Here

December 9, 2020

Here’s a piece about Israel, which doesn’t involve them maltreating the Palestinians. But are they really in touch, along with the US, with beings from another planet?

MechaRandom42 is a vlogger, who talks about SF/Fantasy film, TV and comics, especially Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr. Who. She’s very critical about recent treatment of these classic series and film franchises, which she and many other fans believe have been ruined for explicitly ideological reasons. For example, popular, long-standing male characters in her view have been deliberately humiliated and undermined in order to give centre stage to poorly written and unlikeable female characters in order to preach an explicit and simplistic feminist message. At the same time gay and trans characters are also included in popular film franchises and TV series, like Batwoman, but the treatment given them is also simplistic. It’s tokenism, and this forced diversity comes at the expense of creating genuinely well-crafted, popular characters or intelligent, coherent and involving plots and stories. She’s also critical of recent Star Trek series, like Star Trek Picard, for abandoning the utopian optimism of previous series, like Classic Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and so forth, for a darker, dystopian future that’s robbed the series of its soul and reduced it to a generic SF show which just uses the settings and characters of Trek. She also laments the series’ decline in their ability to treat issues like racism, sexism and gayness. Previous series of Trek did so intelligently and from the perspective that humanity had already transcended these problems. The series often had an explicit message, but it took the trouble to explain them to the audience and didn’t patronise or insult them if they disagreed. Now their treatment is much cruder, reasoned argument is replaced by shrill preaching and there’s an underlying attitude that everyone who disagrees with the message must be an ‘-ist’ or a ‘-phobe’. This has resulted in these once popular film franchises, TV series and comics losing viewers and readers. And it’s one of the reasons the last series of Dr. Who catastrophically lost viewers.

It’s a controversial view, but one shared by a number of other Youtubers and fans of these genres. Some of this criticism comes from people on the political right, but it has also been expressed by peeps on the other side of the political spectrum. They argue that there have always been a concern with these issues in popular entertainment, and that there hasn’t been a shortage of strong female characters in SF. The Alien franchise’s Ellen Ripley is a classic example. The problem is that these issues aren’t being intelligently handled, but instead have been taken over by creators who are ideologically intolerant and seem intent on alienating their audience rather than winning them other.

In this video, however, she moves away from this to discuss the claims of Haim Eshad, a retired Israeli general, professor and former head of their Space Security Force, that the US and Israel really have made contact with aliens. According to the Jerusalem Post, citing another Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot, the two countries have made contact with the Galactic Federation, and they’re operating an underground base on Mars jointly with the aliens. Donald Trump was on the verge of announcing the extraterrestrial presence on Earth, but was stopped from doing so. The aliens don’t which to cause mass panic, and believe we are not ready for them just yet. He’s also got a book coming out, which he says contains more details and evidence.

MechaRandom compares this with the Star Trek universe and its theme of whether humanity is sufficiently evolved to meet aliens. She believes that we aren’t, and that this is due to the way society has dumbed down so we don’t use our ability to do Maths. This is the area we need to be concentrating on, in her opinion, if we are to meet aliens. She also wonders whether the retired military gentleman really is telling the truth, or if he’s ‘a crazy old guy’. He’s 87.

Aliens & The Galactic Federation Are Real For Reals This Time? – YouTube

To people with more than a superficial knowledge of Ufolore, this is very familiar stuff. Ever since Kenneth Arnold made his sighting of them over the Rockies in the 1947, there have been tales of secret government pacts with aliens, underground bases and so on. And there have been a string of Contactees, like George Adamski, who claimed that they had personally made contact with aliens, who had given them a message for humanity. These aliens also claimed to come from some kind of galactic or interplanetary federation, and their messages reflected the pressing global concerns of the day. In the 1950s this was the threat of nuclear war. In the 1980s and 1990s this was the threat to the environment, mirroring the rise of the Green movement. Whole religions have been built on such claimed contact, like the Raelians, UNARIUS and the Aetherius Society. This was set up in the 1950s by taxi driver George King, who heard a voice in his kitchen one day telling him that he should ‘prepare to be the voice of interplanetary parliament’. The Society claimed that King was in touch with an alien, Aetherius, on Venus, where Jesus was also alive and well, as well as Mars Sector 6.

There have been rumours of underground bases since at least the 1980s, as well as various newspaper and magazine articles and books written by government or military officials like Donald Keyhoe, Nick Pope, and the pseudonymous ‘Commander X’. The British hoax TV programme, Alternative 3, broadcast in the 1970s as an April Fool’s joke, also claimed that the Americans and Russians were secretly operating bases on the Moon and Mars, to which people were being kidnapped for use as slave labour in the event of global environmental collapse and the extinction of terrestrial humanity.

There are also stories that President Truman made contact with aliens when they landed at Holloman AFB in the ’40s or ’50s. JFK is also supposed to have been about to reveal the truth about the aliens, which is why he was assassinated. Ronald Reagan is also supposed to have been privy to this information, as shown by his remark to Steven Spielberg during a screening of ET at the White House: ‘Only five people in this room know how true all this is’.

You get the picture. Nothing Eshad has said, at least according to the Jerusalem Post article, is original. If anything, it’s curiously dated. The Contactee Howard Menger claimed to have seen Americans and Russians cooperating together on a secret base on the Moon when the space brothers took him there on one of his extraterrestrial jaunts. Menger was not a military man, but a barber. Hence the title of one of his books was Hairdresser to the Space People, or something like it.

Is Eshad telling the truth, or is he deluded or actually lying? My guess it’s one of the last two. Age and the pressures of holding such a senior command in the tense, war-torn Middle East could have taken their toll on the old boy’s mental health. It might also be that he may have personally had some kind of UFO sighting or experience, like some of the US astronauts. Or had UFO reports from the service personnel under him passed up for his comments. Researching the subject, he’s come across all the tall tales and rumours, and managed to convince himself they’re true.

On the other hand, he could very well be spinning yarns himself. He could be telling these stories as some kind of personal joke and to make a buck on the side from the sales of his forthcoming book. Or there may be something far more sinister going on here. There’s a large amount of evidence that the US intelligence agencies have been deliberately spreading disinformation about alien contact, crashed spacecraft and secret underground bases for their own purposes. Some of this might be destabilise the UFO community, which they have often viewed as a security threat because of the interest taken in secret aircraft and the air force and other bases, which are supposed to hide alien spacecraft and bodies. Some UFO sightings have been of American spy planes. These were often flown from US airbases in Britain and elsewhere, but were so secret that the Americans didn’t tell their allies in the host nations. It might be that Eshad is telling these tales of alien contact in order to have everyone looking in the wrong direction and so ignoring something that his country is really doing in space. At present the militarisation of space is banned under international law. Trump wants to break this and set up an American Space Force. Perhaps Israel is considering doing the same, but wants everyone to disregard it on the grounds that people think that what they’ve seen are alien spacecraft, and only nutters believe in UFOs and aliens.

And you could go on speculating. We really don’t know he’s telling these stories about secret contact with aliens, and can only guess at his motives. But I’m certain that aliens aren’t here, that Trump wasn’t going to spill the beans about them and that there definitely isn’t a secret US-alien base on Mars.

Robot Takeover Comes Nearer as Britain Intends to Employ 30,000 Robot Soldiers

November 11, 2020

If this is true, then the robot revolution that’s been haunting the imagination of Science Fiction writers ever since Frankenstein and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots just got that bit nearer. Monday’s edition of the I for 9th November 2020 carried this chilling snippet:

Robot soldiers will fight for Britain

Thirty thousand “robot soldiers” could form a key part of the British army within two decades. General Sir Nick Carter, head of the armed forces, told Sky News that “an armed forces that’s designed for the 2030s” could include large numbers of autonomous or remotely controlled machines.

This has been worrying many roboticists and computer scientists for decades. Kevin Warwick, the professor of cybernetics at Reading University, begins his book with a terrifying prediction of the what the world could be like three decades from now in 2015 in his 1990s book, March of the Machines. The robots have taken over, decimating humanity. The few humans that remain are desexed slaves, used by the machines to fight against the free humans that have found refuge in parts of the world difficult or impossible for robots to operate in. Warwick is absolutely serious about the threat from intelligent robots. So serious in fact, that he became a supporter of cyborgisation because he felt that it would only be by augmenting themselves with artificial intelligence and robotics that humans could survive. I went to see Warwick speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Science years ago. When it came to the time when he answered questions from the audience, he was naturally asked whether he still believed that robots could take over, and whether this could happen as soon as 2050. He replied that he did, and that the developments in robotics had brought it forwards by several decades.

There have been a series of controversies going back decades when a country has announced that they intend to use robot soldiers. When this happened a few years ago, it was received with denunciations by horrified scientists. Apart from the threat of an eventual robot revolution and the enslavement of humanity, a la the Matrix, there are severe moral questions about the operation of such machines. Robots don’t have consciences, unlike humans. A machine that’s created to kill without proper constraints will carry on killing indiscriminately, regardless of whether its targets are a soldiers or innocent civilians. Warwick showed this possibility in his book with a description of one of the machines his department has on its top floor. It’s a firefighting robot, equipped with sensors and a fire extinguisher. If there’s a fire, it’s programmed to run towards it and put it out. All well and good. But Warwick points out that it could easily be adapted for killing. If you replaced the fire extinguisher with a gun and gave it a neural net, you could programme it to kill people of a certain type. Like those with blonde hair and blue eyes. Set free, it would continue killing such people until it ran out of bullets.

Less important, but possibly also a critical factor in the deployment of such war machines, is popular reaction to their use against human soldiers. It’s been suggested that their use in war would cause people to turn against the side using them, viewing them as cowards hiding behind such machines instead of facing their enemies personally, human to human, in real combat. While not as important as the moral arguments against their deployment, public opinion is an important factor. It’s why, since the Vietnam War, the western media has been extensively manipulated by the military-industrial-political complex so that it presents almost wholly positive views of our wars. Like the Iraq invasion was to liberate Iraq from an evil dictator, instead of a cynical attempt to grab their oil reserves and state industries by the American-Saudi oil industry and western multinationals. Mass outrage at home and around the world was one of the reasons America had to pull out of Vietnam, and it’s a major factor in the current western occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Popular outrage and disgust at the use of robots in combat could similarly lead to Britain and anyone else using such machines to lose the battle to win hearts and minds, and thus popular support.

But I also wonder if this isn’t also the cybernetics companies researching these robots trying to find a market for their wares. DARPA, the company developing them, has created some truly impressive machines. They produced the ‘Big Dog’ robot, which looks somewhat like a headless robotic dog, hence its name, as a kind of robotic pack animal for the American army. It all looked very impressive, until the army complained that they couldn’t use it. Soldiers need to move silently on their enemy, but the noise produced by the robots’ electric motors would be too loud. Hence the contract was cancelled. It could be that there are similar problems with some of their other robots, and so they are waging some kind of PR battle to get other countries interested in them as well as an America.

I’m a big fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, about a band of former war robots, led by Hammerstein, who are now employed fighting interplanetary threats and cosmic bad guys. When not remembering the horrors they experienced of the Volgan War. These are truly intelligent machines with their own personalities. In the case of Hammerstein and his crude, vulgar mate, Rojaws, a moral conscience. Which is absent in another member of the team, Blackblood, a former Volgan war robot, and ruthless war criminal. I really believe that they should be turned into a movie, along with other great 2000 AD characters, like Judge Dredd. But I don’t believe that they will ever be real, because the difficulties in recreating human type intelligence are too great, at least for the foreseeable future. Perhaps in a centuries’ time there might be genuinely intelligent machines like C-3PO and R2D2, but I doubt it.

The war robots now being touted are ruthless, mindlessly efficient machines, which scientists are worried could easily get out of control. I’ve blogged about this before, but the threat is real even if at present their promotion is so much PR hype by the manufacturers.

It looks to me that General Carter’s statement about using 30,000 of them is highly speculative, and probably won’t happen. But in any case, the armed forces shouldn’t even be considering using them.

Because the threat to the human race everywhere through their use is too high.

The Overlord on Rumours that Mark Hamill Has Sold Image for Hollywood CGI Clone of Luke Skywalker

August 8, 2020

‘The Overlord’ is another YouTube channel devoted to news and views about genre cinema and television. It’s hosted by Dictor von Doomcock, a masked alien supervillain supposedly living at the centre of the Earth. And who is definitely not impressed at all at the state of contemporary popular culture, and particularly the way beloved film classics like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who and so on are now being trashed by producers who have no respect for these series and their fans. And in this video he talks about the bizarre next step in this process: the recreation of favourite film characters like Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker through CGI, completely removing the need for human actors.

A website, WDW Pro, has claimed that Disney are looking for ways they can break the pause in filming imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. They are therefore looking at ways to do without human actors. They have therefore been looking at a technological solution to this problem, using the same computer techniques used to create the films The Lion King of 2019 and the 2016 film version of The Jungle Book, as well as the facial recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Rogue 1. Frustrated at the hold-up filming the third Guardians of the Galaxy flick, Disney will use the technology, Cosmic Rewind, to create a completely computer generated movie, but one that would be presented as using human characters. This is going to be an experiment to test the possibility of creating films without human actors and the need for their salaries. According to a rumour, which WDW Pro has not been able to confirm, the projected film is about Young Indy, and its effectiveness will be tested when a rollercoaster based on the film comes on as part of Disneyworld.

Lucasfilm has also apparently made a deal with Mark Hamill within the last 18 months in which he has signed over his image to them so that they can use it to create a CGI Luke Skywalker. This Virtual Skywalker may also be used in the projected Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars theme park. However, due to the project’s severe financial problems, this may not happen anytime soon. Disney are slowly moving towards using this technology to dispense with human actors so that they won’t have to suffer a similar pause in filming ever again, although they won’t move away from human actors altogether immediately.

Doomcock himself laments this development, and feels that it is inevitable in a world where Deep Fake technology has advanced so far that we don’t know if the people we see or the news we watch are real, or that the characters we see on the screen are brought to life by real actors using the skills and craft they have learned. He wonders what will happen to our civilisation – what we will lose – if everything we see on the screen is synthetic, and we are removed another step again from reality and anything that has ‘heart’. It might all be all right, but it seems to him that the more we remove the human element from art and culture and make it the creation of AIs, the more removed we are from our culture.

He also vents his spleen about the choice of subject for this putative movie, pointing out that there was a TV series about Young Indiana Jones years ago, and nobody wanted it. He recommends instead that if this grave-robbing technology is to be used, it should be used to recreate the mature Indy of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom. He also criticises Hamill for what he sees as his poor judgement in making the deal with Disney. Hamill should know personally how a poor director can ruin a beloved legacy character, the actor’s own contribution and a favourite film franchise through his experience playing Skywalker in The Last Jedi. He famously wept on set during that movie and bitterly criticised the director’s decisions. He’s sarcastic about the respect Disney shows such legacy characters. It’s rumoured that George Lucas is returning to helm the Star Wars films, in which everything will be fine and we can look forward to a bright, new golden age. But considering the potential for abuse, Doomcock states that he is dismayed, flabbergasted and disgusted by Hamill’s decision and fearful for humanity’s future. As human culture becomes made by machines, hasn’t Skynet won? Who needs to launch nukes, when we have a CGI Skywalker dancing like a monkey in a bikini?

Here’s the video, but as Doomcock himself warns you, it isn’t for children. It has adult humour. Blatantly adult humour.

As you can see, there’s more than a little hyperbole in Doomcock’s argument, and some people will take issue at what he views as the humiliation of Luke Skywalker to push a feminist or anti-racist message, like Black Lives Matter. But his fears of the abuse of such technology aren’t unfounded, and have been around for quite some time. The possibility that actors would sell their images to film companies to recreate them Virtually, while making the flesh and blood person redundant, was explored a few years ago in the SF film The Congress by Ari Folman. This was loosely based on the Stanislaw Lem novel, The Futurological Congress, but is very different, and, in my opinion, inferior. For one thing, the Lem novel is hilariously funny, while the movie is grim and depressing. The movie is about a Hollywood actress, Robin Wright, playing herself, who makes precisely the deal Hamill is rumoured to have made. She then stars in a series of action movies, including one sequence that is definitely a tip to Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. But this is all computer animation. The Wright herself isn’t remotely involved in their filming. Indeed, it is a condition of her contract that she not act at all, and live the rest of her life in a very comfortable retirement. These developments are followed by the discovery of a drug that allows people to enter a vast, consensual Virtual Reality, in which they can be and do anyone and anything they want. The world’s masses abandon reality, so that civilisation decays into a very grim, dystopia of ruin, poverty and misery. At one point Wright takes the drug, which will return her to reality, only to find herself in a food queue in a burned out, abandoned building. Unable to come with this, she returns to the Virtual world to search for the son she lost while in a coma as a result of a terrorist attack on the Las Vegas congress she was attending at which the hallucinogenic drug was launched. As I said, it’s a depressing film in which such illusions really are bringing about the destruction of humanity. And there is no escape, except into the Virtual world that has caused it.

The film follows a number of other SF works that have also predicted similar dystopias brought about by the hyperreality of mass entertainment. This includes John D. MacDonald’s short story, Spectator Sport, in which a time traveller appears in a future in which all human achievement has ceased as the public live out their lives as characters in VR plays. Another, similar tale is Good Night, Sophie, by the Italian writer Lino Aldani, about an actress in a similar world in which people live harsh, austere lives in order to escape into a far brighter, more vivid fantasy world of entertainment. Rather less pessimistic was the appearance of the SF film, Final Fantasy, all those years ago. This was supposed to be the first film in which all the characters were CGI, and who were supposedly indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood reality. The fact that further films like it haven’t been made suggests that, reassuringly, people want real humans in their movies, not computer simulations.

We’ve also seen the appearance of a number of computer generated celebrities. The first of these was the vid jockey, Max Headroom on Channel 4 in the 1980s. He was supposed to  be entirely computer-generated, but in reality was played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer under a lot of makeup. Then in the 1990s William Gibson, one of the creators of Cyberpunk SF, published Idoru. This was a novel about a man, who begins an affair with a Virtual celebrity. Soon after it came out, a Japanese company announced that it had created its own Virtual celeb, a female pop star. Gibson’s books are intelligent, near-future SF which contain more than an element of the ‘literature as warning’. The worlds of his Cyberspace books are dystopias, warnings of the kind of society that may emerge if the technology gets out of hand or corporations are given too much power. The creation of the Virtual pop star looked instead as though the corporation had uncritically read Gibson, and thought what he was describing was a good idea.

But going further back, I seem to recall that there was a programme on late at night, presented by Robert Powell, on the impact the new information technology would have on society. It was on well after my bedtime, and children didn’t have their own TVs in those days. Or at least, not so much. I therefore didn’t see it, only read about it in the Radio Times. But one of its predictions was that there would be widespread unemployment caused by automation. This would include actors, who would instead by replaced by computer simulations.

Computer technology has also been used to create fresh performances by deceased stars, sometimes duetting with contemporary performers. This worried one of my aunts when it appeared in the 1980s/90s. Dead performers have also been recreated as holograms, to make the stage or television appearances they never made in life. The late, great comedian Les Dawson was revived as one such image, giving post-mortem Audience With… on ITV. It was convincing, and based very much on Dawson’s own live performances and work. It was good to see him again, even if only as Virtual ghost, and a reminder of how good he was when alive.

I don’t know how reliable the rumours Doomcock reports and on which he comments are. This could all be baseless, and come to nothing. But I share his fears about the damage to our culture, if we allow our films and television to be generated by technicians and algorithms rather than flesh and blood thesps. Especially as the rising cost of movies mean that the film companies are unwilling to take risks and seem determined to rake over and exploit past classics rather than experiment with creating fresh material.

CGI’s a great tool. It’s used to create vividly real worlds and creatures. But I don’t want it replacing humans. Even if that means waiting a few years for new flicks to come out.

 

‘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.