Sunday, February 22, 2015

An Unearthly Podcast: Revenge of the Cybermen


In our 93rd episode, the AUP crew moves on to the first color Cybermen episode. Is it worthy of the most popular era of Doctor Who, or does it deserve to go into hibernation for 7 years?

Friday, February 20, 2015

An Unearthly Podcast: The Invasion



We finish the black and white Cybermen with “The Invasion”!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Film Reviews: 2014’s Godzilla

2014 was a huge year for movies based on properties I enjoyed as a child (and still do). My Little Pony, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles...with all this, I suppose it will only be absolutely necessary for me to review Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods, something related to Sailor Moon Crystal and maybe even try my hand at reviewing the latest Pokemon movie, even if that's independent in that it's a franchise that has yet to take a break since my childhood. Adding to this crowd, of course, is Godzilla.
Like many of my friends and colleagues, I was cautiously optimistic about a new American Godzilla movie. I don't hold as much of a grudge against the 1998 film as many others, but that doesn't mean I wish to see it replicated. No, a Godzilla film produced independent of what country it's from is certainly better, although being the third film in the meta-series with the same name certainly doesn't help matters.
Godzilla begins with an investigation into a collapsed mine in the Philippines, which reveals the body of a long deceased daikaiju. The world of the film is ambiguous as to whether or not kaiju are known to exist, save for the fact that most people have little knowledge of them and Americans are clueless about them. This is fitting for established continuity – almost all of the previous Godzilla films were centered around attacks in or around Japan – and works equally well for a standalone film. We cut to Japan, where Joe and Sandra Brody, an American couple who work for a nuclear plant, are concerned about events that may be related to this incident. This causes an explosion at the plant, during which Sandra loses her life.
It's important to note how this is played out. Predictable (particularly in film), the American acts on his emotions, demanding that he be allowed to override the security protocols in an attempt to save his wife, much to the protest of his Japanese colleagues. More importantly, they trust him – they input the manual override to give him this chance. Equally important, while he waits until the last possible minute to trap his wife and her team with the explosion, Joe does it, rather than risking the city to give her more time. Both groups are allowed to portray their expected cultural traits, but neither to the point of being irrational. This scene is symbolic (whether intentional or not) of the trust between Toho and Warner Bros in establishing this film. Toho trusted Warner Bros and Legendary to make a film that lived up to their standards for the Godzilla franchise, and this is their honest attempt to live up to that.
The explosion causes the destruction of the nuclear power plant and causes the evacuation of Janjira. Years later, when Joe – who remained in Japan when his son Ford (because apparently the Brodies were huge fans of Douglas Adams) returned to the United States – is caught attempting to breach the quarantined zone around Janjira to obtain records from his former home, his military son is called to collect him from the authorities. Joe convinces Ford to help him in his illegal investigation. They are captured by the local authorities – a sort of military-industrial complex who is investigating the area and what happened here and is run by a man involved in the Philippine situation from earlier – but only shortly before an egg that has been draining radiation from the area and the rubble hatches into a flying daikaiju and the widower is killed by injuries sustained during the collapse.
From here, the exposition dump begins. It's at this point, forty minutes into the film, that Godzilla is first mentioned as having been awakened by a nuclear submarine in 1954, adding Godzilla to the list of films that claims a direct relationship with the original Gojira without acknowledging any of its multitude of sequels. The creatures – named Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTO) despite being identified – are a parasite that were found in a corpse of a Godzillasaurus – the one from the movies, not the real one – in the Philippines, and a surviving one awakened at that time tunneled through the ocean floor to the power plant from the start of the movie, implying that the egg is more of a pupal stage than an actual egg.
After about fifteen minutes of exposition and MUTO-hunting, Godzilla appears. This is a scene that's given all of the time and grandiosity it deserves. First is the suspenseful music, then a shot of fins, then a massive tsunami that wipes out a city. The first shot of his body – rather,10% or so of his body - is illuminated only by emergency flares, and he disappears once again into the background. The entire sequence takes about two minutes, and then we cut back to the monster the movie is actually about.
This film gets a lot of criticism for its use (or lack thereof) of Godzilla. Some of this seems to be tied into the title – for a film title Godzilla, Godzilla appears about as much as Batman does in Batman – which I consider more the fault of the title than the script. We've seen plenty of Godzilla over 60 years; he can put in a little bit less labor than the up-and-comers. Why the film wasn't named something like Godzilla: Invasion of MUTO (I tend to prefer a more traditional Japanese title, such as Godzilla: Radiaton-Eating Flying Monster MUTO but I'm not holding my breath) I don't know. I think the fact that the first full-body shot we get of Godzilla being during a monster brawl is brilliant, and I love the fact that Godzilla is treated more as a force of nature than as a character.
Godzilla and MUTO inconclusively clash on Honolulu. There is no reason to think that he is going to be the “Rocky” he was in many previous versus films; Godzilla is easily holding his ground and then some, although the battle is very short and he is more of a distraction to MUTO than anything else at this point. Both kaiju, the military and the evacuees of Honolulu are all headed East, and it is then revealed that what maybe a second MUTO that had been determined to be dormant is now buried in a nuclear waste site in Nevada. Not long after this revelation, the creature destroys Las Vegas, because apparently we're taking a little bit more inspiration from Roland Emmerich here than we probably should, and destroying well-known American cities is how we portray drama, which means that the three monsters are probably going to meet somewhere near...
Actually, the film wastes absolutely no time in telling us the climax is going to take place in San Francisco. At least they're transparent in their city-porn. It hasn't been relevant to the plot (and never actually becomes so, as she is never more than an evacuee/observer) but Ford's wife Elle and their son Sam live in San Francisco. This adds extra motivation for Ford to stop the kaiju, but since motivation does not automatically equal drama, does not actually add anything to the film.
Speaking of Ford, it's very lucky that he just happens to be in Explosive Ordinance Disposal. Considering that the plan is to use his expertise to dispose of the MUTOs (given the acronym, the plural should probably still be MUTO, but acronyms are rarely adapted as such) with a bomb with enough analogue components to survive the EMP powers that are characteristic of the MUTO. It would have been terrible that Ford been a plumber, or an MP.
The rest of the film is a combination of set pieces, segue-ways, and of course the battles between the MUTO and Godzilla. While the first two are average but live up to what they need to, the latter is the one that is going to decide whether or not most people want to watch the movie at this point. In this case, I'm forced to say that while the “force of nature” angle is one of the most amazing things to feature in a Godzilla film, they may have made Godzilla too powerful. There are exactly two types of battle in this film, save the first few seconds that Sam Brody watches on the news: one-sided battles that feature the King of Monsters literally curb-stomping a MUTO, and one-sided battles featuring two MUTOS overpowering Godzilla with numbers. This may seem to add more drama to the moments when Godzilla is outnumbered, but it's clear to all watching that the impervious dragon will eventually catch up with one of them alone long enough to destroy them, and then it will be all over. Not that this prevents great moments – Godzilla's finishing move at the end is one of my favorite visuals in Godzilla's 60-year history.
Godzilla is not one of my all-time favorite Godzilla films, and I probably wouldn't place it any higher than its predecessor (by which I mean Final Wars, not the American-biased scale which sometimes counts Millennium and sometimes jumps back to 1998). It's not truly iconic enough of a film to hold the title (one that should not have been allowed, anyway), but if you think of it as Godzilla vs MUTO, it's perfectly passable in the sense of not being one of the worst films in its 60-year history. On a scale of 1 to 10 in which Godzilla Raids Again is a 1 and Gojira (1954) is a 10, I'd probably place Godzilla in the realm of a 5, visual improvements notwithstanding.

Monday, February 16, 2015

An Unearthly Podcast: The Wheel in Space


The Cybermen continue with :The MoonBase: part two. AKA :The Wheel in Space:!

Friday, February 13, 2015

An Unearthly Podcast: The Tomb of the Cybermen



Our second round with the Second Doctor and the Cybermen is one of the few fully found stories. This is the classic “The Tomb of the Cybermen”.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

teenage_mutant_ninja_turtles_ver17_xlgSince before I can remember, I have been a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. One of the earliest things I can remember owning is a TMNT lunchbox. While I had largely given up after school television by the time the second animated incarnation came around and didn't know about it until after its cancellation, I enjoyed watching The Next Mutation every day after school.

I tell you all of this so that my position is clear. Once a fourth live action theatrical film starring the turtles was announced, nothing was going to prevent me from watching it. While some used their fandom of the original trilogy of films as an excuse not to watch a film with Michael Bay's name attached to it, I remembered that Steven Spielberg's name was just as attached to the last franchise that Bay drove into the ground and decided to let the movie speak for itself.

And speak for itself it did. As with all adaptations of the source material (none of which, I should mention, have been remotely like the satirical comics they were adapted from), the film had its idiosyncrasies. In this version, the turtles were as physically imposing as their superhuman strength would suggest, and there is once again a love triangle featuring April O'Neil (poor April; she may never be free of this), this time featuring Michelangelo and Vern. The origin of the story is different, with the turtles being the result of human experimentation. Perhaps the biggest difference of all is that, rather than the Shredder being a villain named Oroki Saki, there are two villains: the Shredder, and an Anglicized version of Saki's name in the form of Eric Sacks.

Taken together, these can be considered pretty big changes, but it is worth keeping in mind that few of these facts were ever static in nature. Over the past thirty years, the turtles have been the result of alien interference, accidental mutation by alien material, and mutation caused by manmade material. The Shredder has been an independent villain, a villain made threatening by his alliance with aliens, and an alien masquerading as a long-dead human. Any and all of the turtles and their allies have, at one time or another, been smitten with April O'Neil, who has been a schoolgirl, a TV reporter, and a secret agent with varying degrees of skill and lack thereof. Even the Shredder's minions have ranged far and wide. A made-for-TV animated film was released in 2009 highlighting the disparate Turtles universes as a multiverse adventure, definitively pinning down the fact that there is no “right” and “wrong” version of the story.

With these variables in mind, it is clear that the 1990 movie is the story this film works hardest to emulate. Like in the original series, April O'Neil works for Channel Six and wears a yellow coat, although in this instance she is a morning show host rather than an investigative reporter. The turtles say “Cowabunga”, and Splinter was born a rat, not a human. Beyond these ties, however, this film is as much its own story as the numerous previous versions of the story. Still, it is filled with references to the Turtles universe. Michelangelo is working on a Christmas album. One of the Shredder's first lines is “tonight I will dine on turtle soup”, a reference to the original five-episode season of the 1987 animated series. Saki makes a reference to the fact that rabbits were intended for use in their experiments before turtles. Karai, the name of Shredder's daughter best known for her appearances in the 2003 and 2012 animated series, is the name of Shredder's top lieutenant, though it is not stated whether or not they are related.

It's pretty clear that somebody on the writing team did their homework. On the next Star Wars or Star Trek movie, that much attention to the series' past would guarantee it to become one of my favorite movies in recent history. The rest of the writing would not to commit some pretty egregious sins to detract from that.

The writing does indeed struggle. There are three credited writers on this film, barring any changes made by the Director or any Producer interference. As expected, the script is a mess. The changes made to the origin seem to be a pretty clear instance of not being sure what this film wants. The dialogue is stilted and does a better job making April seem legitimately crazy than like an honest reporter in a difficult situation (“They were my pets. They were my pets, and they were named after Renaissance painters.”), even though the film is clearly setting up a “nobody believes the plucky protagonist” situation in Act One.

Other flaws in this story are ones that I came into this film expecting. I know what the name Platinum Dunes means. It means that while I was disappointed, I wasn't surprised to find that Vern was more interested in ogling his former employee's anatomy than driving during a life or death chase scene. I expected the groaningly long fight scene down a hill that must have been bigger on the cliff-side. I did not expect the ridiculous amount of effort that went into making Donatello – a ninja no less socially capable than his brothers – into as much of a stereotypical nerd as possible. The pointless and unnecessary love triangle was equally expected and equally rubbish.

The result here is that on top of the research, the film itself is pure fluff. The story is new in the details and sets itself from other incarnations of Ninja Turtles, but when you put them together there isn't all that much new about it. Character traits are exaggerated, but there is no reason for it. The “experimentation” origin gives plenty of room to explain the almost caricatured differences (such as if Donatello was an experiment for a super-intelligence gene, Raphael for a steroid), but the film is not interested in going to lengths so much as it is in entertaining people for an hour, which is disappointing.

There are some nice touches, not in the form of original storytelling, but in the form of small bits that are of equivalent importance to the nods to Turtles history. A seemingly unimportant game shown from the turtles' childhood turns out to be the key to their using teamwork to finally overpower the Shredder. There is some nice animation in the beginning of the film, though I would have liked to see it used more (perhaps during Splinter's flashbacks). The turtles act as real brothers, even going so far as to back Mikey up when he turns a no-longer-Hollywood-legal moment of quiet anticipation on an elevator into a comic relief beatbox session so as not to have the scene cut.

It is the good bits that make the bad bits so disappointing. I hold no delusions that the lowest-common-denominator content could have been cut, but the project named “Project Renaissance” could have been used in a dialogue scene to make the exposition less painful. Adrenaline and cocaine could have been acknowledged as different things and possibly even lead to a temporary “Red Sky” mutation instead of causing the turtles to want to clean the lair.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2015 is never going to be accused of being the best Turtles movie, but nobody thought it was going to be. It is a movie that pays homage to decades of history and has a few worthwhile moments. The sins that were committed, from the excessively busy Shredder costume to everything about Vern, were not excessive enough to ruin my enjoyment of this. This is a film that someone watches to see more of the turtles, and let's face it, there's not always enough of that.

An Unearthly Podcast: The Moonbase


And we return for the second classic Cybermen episode, as we delve into “The Moonbase”!

Friday, February 06, 2015

An Unearthly Podcast: Spare Parts (Big Finish Audio)


The full crew returns for the first episode of the year, and the start of our Cyberman run. This is “Spare Parts”.

Monday, February 02, 2015