Tag Archives: BBC

Throwback Thursday: “The War of the Worlds” (1953)!

Man, did “The War of the Worlds” rock my world as a little kid.  When this movie made the rounds on 1980’s television, it was arguably a bigger reason to celebrate than a “Godzilla” movie.

I’m a little puzzled to realize that neither the trailer or the original film poster below show the Martian ships, which were pretty damned nifty for a 50’s movie.  I’m not sure why that is.  (Maybe up to  certain point the filmmakers wanted to save that as a surprise for people who bought a ticket?)

This isn’t the only adaptation of the classic 1898 H. G. Wells novel that I would come to love.  A few years later, I wound up getting the famous 1939 radio play on cassette tape.  And as an adult, I’ll always enjoy  Steven Spielberg’s genuinely frightening big-budget 2005 version.  I haven’t quite warmed to the new BBC series yet, but maybe that will change.



Throwback Thursday: “The Tripods” comic strip in “Boys’ Life” magazine!

I had a subscription to Boys’ Life magazine for a couple of years when I was a Cub Scout in the early 1980’s.  My parents canceled it after a year or two, and I can’t blame them — I just wasn’t reading it.  Boys’ Life was the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America, and it was pretty wholesome stuff … it just didn’t offer the excitement of my comic books or the occasional copy of Fangoria that I manged to get my hands on.

But there was one feature of Boys’ Life that I followed religiously — the serialized comic strip adaptation of John Christopher’s The Tripods book trilogy.  (Christopher published the first three of his books in the late 1960’s; he added a prequel novel in 1988, but that was long after the Boy Scouts and Boys’ Life was behind me.)

The Tripods was cool, dark dystopian stuff.  The story opened with the first book, The White Mountains, to find humanity settled into an agrarian, pre-industrial age in which their overlords were the titular “tripods” — massive three-legged vehicles piloted by unknown beings.  Humans were ritualistically “capped” with a brain-altering device when they reached age 14 — thereafter becoming docile and conformist and easier for the mysterious machines to subjugate.

The White Mountains followed a trio of 13-year-old boys who escaped the “capping” to seek out a human resistance movement; the second book, The City of Gold and Lead, shows two of these protagonists infiltrate the city of the tripods’ operators.  (Spoiler — they’re grotesque aliens.)  The third book, The Pool of Fire, presumably picks up from there, but my Boys’ Life subscription ran out before the magazine got to that.

I recently, however, used this Interwebs thingamajig to discover what looks like a real gem of a find — a 1984 BBC mini-series adaptation of the books.  I started the first episode and it looks quite good.  If I get around to watching the whole thing, I’ll review it here.







A review of “Fear the Walking Dead,” Season 1 (2015)

I know that love for “Fear the Walking Dead” (2015) is not universal, but I needed to pipe in at least once to say that I thought that “Season 1” was terrific.  (I feel funny calling six episodes a “season,” but I’ve heard that de facto miniseries like this are a new trend in television.)  I’d give this apocalypse story a 9 out of 10.

For me, “Fear the Walking Dead” satisfied a longstanding itch.  If you grow up a fan of post-apocalyptic horror, you are constantly exposed to the aftermath of the end of the world.  In the vast majority of films and fiction, horror fans are treated to flashbacks, at best, of how it all went down.  Here we (partly, at least) get to see it all go down.

I’ll bet that stories so expansive in scope are a little harder to conceive and write convincingly.  Very few writers of prose or screenplays have expertise in disaster management, disease control, mass psychology or homeland security.  How much easier is it to have protagonists roam a landscape of burned out buildings, with only graffiti, snippets of conversation, and occasionally a blown newspaper offering hints of exactly how the end came about?

“Fear” deserves a hell of a lot of credit just for trying (as does “The Strain” over at FX).  It’s also why the globally plotted “Contagion” (2011) was such a frighteningly interesting thriller, and why Max Brooks’ stage-by-stage zombie pandemic easily made “World War Z” the greatest zombie novel ever written.  Through the eyes of an average family, “Fear” at least tries to show us meaningful glimpses into how police, emergency and military authorities would react.  The result is some interesting stories.  A nerdy high school student is the first to prepare, for example, due to his attention to the Internet’s alternative media.  And a doomed compact between a civilian neighborhood and their putative military protectors concludes in a particularly horrifying way.

Soooooo many viewers complained that there were “no zombies.”  Well, there were always a couple, at least — we got a great one in the first episode’s earliest minutes.  But that wasn’t the point.  The creators of “Fear” told us that this would be a different type of show, with a “slow burn” -type horror.  For me, that worked.  Look at it this way — we routinely see “zombie swarms” over at that other show (what was its name again?).  We’ve been seeing them for five whole seasons — the first repelled Rick Grimes’ ill advised solitary horseback exploration of Atlanta.  That’s fun for a zombie horror fan, but it’s nothing new.

“Fear” offers us something much different — a kind of “creeping horror.”  This seemed like the “Psycho” (1960) of onscreen zombie tales.  No, we don’t see zombies everywhere, but watching even one episode of “The Walking Dead” (2010) lets us know that these lackadaisical everyday people are in for a hell of a ride.  We, the viewers, know what they do not.  That’s what our high school English teachers taught us was “dramatic irony,” and it makes this a nice little companion show to “The Walking Dead.”  In fact, ALL the characters we see are probably doomed to die, given what we know of the statistics established by “The Walking Dead.”  That’s pretty dark stuff.

Other viewers complained about the characters being boring or unlikable.  I do get that.  Nobody here, I think, will ever gain the same viewer loyalty as Rick, Michonne or Daryl Dixon.  (If it were put to a vote among the women of the world, I’m pretty sure they’d rename “The Walking Dead” as “The Norman Reedus Show.”)  But “Fear’s” average (and, yes, sometimes boring) people seemed far more “real” to me — I think they functioned better as viewer surrogates, and better allowed me to imagine how I might react in a world like this.  I almost started viewing this as an end-of-the-world docudrama in the same manner as the BBC’s little known “End Day” (2005).

Besides, two characters in particular do show great promise.  I just can’t say who or why without spoiling that they survived.  Yet another character who appears suicidal in the final episode is one that I thought was pretty interesting, and we do not actually see this person’s death.

Sure, I had my own quibbles.  Los Angeles is remarkably empty for a city of nearly 4 million people.  I’m inclined to think that, even after an unlikely evacuation attempt, it would still be swamped either with people who still needed help, or with zombies.

Also … the sparse information we’re given about the zombie phenomenon here seems disappointingly contradictory.  We’ve established that a universal, invisible illness means people will return into undeath, regardless of how they died.  But we also see a flu-like illness affect some people (who are doomed to die shortly thereafter), but not all people.  Are these two different manifestations of the same disease?  Is it even technically a contagion, or is it an environmental illness?  (I know my questions here are absurdly silly, but this is precisely the sort of thing that horror nerds argue about over at the Internet Movie Database.)

Oh, well.  My recommendation here is to give this a chance, with the caveat that it definitely isn’t “The Walking Dead.”  It’s damn good.

Oh!  One more thing!  Keep an eye out for occasional homages to “28 Days Later” (2002).  And watch closely — one such plot arc is devilishly turned on its head in a subtle thematic twist.


My review of “The Divide,” (2012)

I was surprised indeed by “The Divide” (2012) – a flawed post-apocalyptic  horror film that nevertheless has a hell of a lot going for it.  It’s a horrifying, brutal look at seven apartment building residents who survive a nuclear holocaust by sheltering together in the building’s basement.

Does that sound dark?  Because it’s a hell of a lot darker than you think it is.  This film is brutal and disturbing – even by the standards of the survival-horror sub-genre.

The script is flawed, but this movie still surprised me and held me in suspense.   You know it’s a worthwhile movie if you can’t stop watching it, even if the screenwriting isn’t perfect.  That’s partly due to a great cast – with terrific performances by Michael Biehn, Courtney Vance, Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia,  Ashton Holmes, Rosanna Arquette and Ivan Gonzalez.

Despite the good acting all around, the runaway performance was Michael Eklund as Bobby.  This guy is an incredibly talented actor.  He nailed the role of a survivor who descends quickly into madness and depravity, and was probably the best thing about this movie.  His performance actually reminded me a hell of a lot of Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs.”  That kid was amazing and terrifying.  (I don’t think what I’m writing here is a spoiler; everyone knows the premise of the movie, and Bobby is recognized almost immediately as an erratic personality.)

This movie reminded me just a little of the superb BBC docudrama, “Threads” (1984), which was an equally brutal look at the aftermath of a nuclear war – far more so than the inferior American “The Day After,” which made headlines a year earlier.  (And doesn’t everyone in my age bracket remember that?)

The special effects budget is limited.  But the final shot of the movie is fantastic.

Again … this is not a feel-good film, even when compared with other movies like this.  This movie was written by people who have absolutely no faith in human nature.  The final choice by one character is pretty sad evidence of that.  What the character does seems inexplicable at first, but then makes perfect sense when you think about it.  And it’s pretty depressing.

I’d give this movie an 8 out of 10.