Friday, 1 March 2013

"It's A Miracle These People Ever Got Out Of The Twentieth Century"

So says a despairing Doctor Leonard McCoy during a visit to 1986 in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

1986 was the year that the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated on launch, the first PC virus starts to spread, Voyager 2 makes its first encounter with Uranus, the Chernobyl disaster took place and a treaty ends the Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years' War between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly.

My father was in the Royal Air Forces and we spent 1986 in Germany on a military base.

These are a few of my favourite things from 1986:

Film
Jumpin' Jack Flash
This film is a gas, gas, gas. Whoopi Goldberg is fantastic in a spy film that often feels like it should be perfect family viewing, but instead it is replete with some top quality swearing.

Aliens
Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, Jenette Goldstein, Al Matthews and Bill Paxton are great in a magnificent ensemble cast as James Cameron's excellent sequel shifts the focus from horror to action. Sequels are rarely this good.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
The fourth Star Trek movie has the biggest crossover appeal as the crew of the late Starship Enterprise boldly go back to the late twentieth century. The cast are fantastic and show a flair for comedy, indeed this is more of an ensemble film than any of the others. The environmental subject matter is well handled, the culture shocks are enjoyable and the lighter tone is a surprisingly good fit.





Labyrinth
For a film that is largely a series of set pieces strung together unified by a quest and a design aesthetic. Inventive and visually arresting throughout. Creating a new fairy tale would always be difficult, but creating one that feels timeless and grimmer than Grimm's is practically impossible and Labyrinth is a huge success on its own terms.

Hannah And Her Sisters
Both of Hannah's sisters have relationships with both of Hannah's husbands in both of this film's storylines. One tragic, one comic and Woody Allen and Dianne Wiest are hilarious in both. Art sold by the yard, Page 112 of e. e. cummings and every scene with Hannah's parents are great. While we're at it take a look at the German language poster.

Transformers: The Movie
As a child, the cartoon about robots in disguise captivated me, but this big screen edition certainly lived up being more than meets the eye. Even watching it now, I still find it extraordinary. This toy friendly cartoon is absolutely crammed full of deaths. Deaths left, right and centre. A touching way of breaking bad existential news to children or a cynical method of making way on toy shop shelves for the new lines on offer before regretting it and realising enough to realise that they need Optimus Prime back. You decide.

Short Circuit
Johnny Five discovers he is alive and the result is much, much better than Frankenstein with a laser makes it sound. The search for input, definitions of life and rights for robots make for a great family film with a thought provoking story. Yes, really.

Stand By Me
Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Corey Feldman, John Cusack and Kiefer Sutherland are all wonderful in Rob Reiner's excellent movie that has become the definitive coming of age story.

When The Wind Blows
Jimmy Murakami's animation of Raymond Briggs' tale of the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust is brilliant, comic, tragic and heartbreaking. A mix of both drawn animation and stop-motion animation with fantastic music and arresting imagery which arguably packs a greater punch than many live action depictions.






TV
Doctor Who: The Trial Of A Time Lord
The twenty-third season is unique as it is made up of a single fourteen-part story, ostensibly divided into four sections. The Trial Of A Time Lord begins with a truly fantastic model shot of the Time Lord space station and introduces the idea of the Doctor on trial admirably. Colin Baker, Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham are wonderful in the courtroom scenes which start and end well, although the scenes do get very repetitive in between. The first section of evidence with its Marb station, its books of knowledge and the redacted information is intriguing and Nicola Bryant, Tony Selby, Joan Syms and Tom Chadbon are great. The second section of evidence is a much bleaker affair, the Doctor's interrogation of Peri is very unpleasant, Peri's death and what comes after are horrific and the end result is very brave television, with great performances from Brian Blessed, Nabil Shaban, Christopher Ryan and Richard Henry, while Baker is chilling and Bryant is absolutely excellent. Bonnie Langford makes a far better debut in the third section of evidence than its reputation suggests, it takes the from of a nice little murder mystery, the Mogarians and Vervoid designs are great and it ends on a great cliffhanger. The stakes are raised to their highest ready for the finale, as the proceedings move into the Matrix and the imagery is superb, the Dickensian Fantasy Factor, the Messrs Popplewick, the desolate beach, Anthony Ainley is clearly having ball, Baker, Jayston and Selby are wonderful, while Geoffrey Hughes almost single-handedly lifts it to the level of a masterpiece. An epic is probably not the best course of action when the series is on trial itself, but the story manages to be both more and less than the sum of its parts.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes: The Empty House; The Abbey Grange; The Musgrave Ritual; The Second Stain; The Man With The Twisted Lip; The Priory School; The Six Napoleons
Jeremy Brett returns as Sherlock Holmes in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Edward Hardwicke makes a brilliant debut as Watson in The Empty House, the scenes reuniting him with Holmes are genuinely touching and Mrs Hudson's part in the plan is hilariously realised. The Abbey Grange is another opportunity for Brett and Hardwicke to display how well they work together. The treasure hunt of The Musgrave Ritual is nice change of pace and Ian Marter's cameo is wonderful. Patricia Hodge and Colin Jeavons are great in The Second Stain. Clive Francis and Denis Lill are fantastic in The Man With The Twisted Lip. Brett and Hardwicke are wonderful together in the tracking scenes, and Christopher Benjamin is magnificent in the very sinister episode, The Priory School. After nearly seven minutes entirely in Italian, The Six Napoleons, Eric Sykes, Marina Sirtis and Jeavons are wonderful, and the scenes of Brett and Hardwicke playing with Lestrade are a lot of fun.

The Singing Detective: Skin; Heat; Lovely Days; Clues; Pitter Patter; Who Done It
Michael Gambon, Patrick Malahide, Bill Paterson, Alison Steadman, Joanne Whalley and Janet Henfrey are fantastic in Dennis Potter's seminal work, while Lyndon Davies is phenomenal as the young Philip Marlowe.

Blackadder II: Bells; Head; Potato; Money; Beer; Chains
Another generation, another Blackadder, another Baldrick. This time around we're in Elizabethan England and Edmund is a Tudor courtier trying to win the favour of the flighty Queen whilst keeping his head, but more importantly the second series creates the dynamic that we know and love. Rowan Atkinson, Tim McInnerny, Tony Robinson, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry and Patsy Byrne are fantastic and Blackadder II's highlights include Gabrielle Glaister and Rik Mayall in Bells, Percy's neckruff fashions in Head, Tom Baker and Simon Jones in Potato, Ronald Lacey as the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells, a nugget of purest green and "The path of my life is strewn with cowpats from the Devil's own Satanic herd!" in Money, the ornamental devil's dumplings, "I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach...of a concrete elephant!", Miriam Margolyes and Hugh Laurie in Beer and Ze Master of Disguise in Chains among many more.

Yes Prime Minister: The Grand Design, The Ministerial Broadcast, The Smoke Screen, The Key, A Real Partnership, A Victory For Democracy, The Bishop's Gambit, One Of Us
Jim Hacker arrives at Number 10 Downing Street and once again has no idea of the status quo that the civil service has subtly balanced. The move to Prime Ministerial duties gives the show a larger scope than Yes, Minister, but the humour remains largely the same. Highlights include is a brilliant satire on the nuclear policy of the Cold War, a turning point that sees Sir Humphrey tested like never before as he loses The Key, a parody of ministerial ignorance of overseas territories like Grenada and the Falklands until they were invaded and all the speeches made by Sir Humphrey Appleby. Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne, Derek Fowlds, Clive Merrison, Deborah Norton, John Nettleton, Peter Cellier, Donald Pickering and John Normington are wonderful throughout.

M.A.S.K.: Demolition Duel To The Death; Where Eagles Dare; Homeward Bound; The Battle Of The Giants; Race Against Time; Challenge Of The Masters; For One Shining Moment; High Noon; The Battle For Baja; Cliff Hanger
The format of the second season of M.A.S.K. is a departure from the first as our heroes and villains take up racing with a vengeance. It's M.A.S.K. does Wacky Races with VENOM taking the place of an army of Dick Dastardlys. New toys in shops meant new vehicles, characters and masks being added to the cartoon and racing across four continents required some fun, but far fetched, stories involving transportation rights, slave mining, a scientific formula, a plant to cure a disease, a microfilm, money raised for charity, plans for a top secret plane, a high profile hostage and some dangerous seeds. Buzzard, Goliath and Bullet are all great new additions. In the new format Scott and T-Bob have virtually disappeared, except for the moralising codas which bizarrely now even include VENOM.

Books
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
The sequel to Terry Pratchett's The Colour Of Magic consolidates his Discworld. Rincewind survives falling off the edge of the world, meets Cohen the octogenarian Barbarian, visits Death's Domain and is given Twoflower's Luggage in an adventure which brings a new meaning to the Big Bang.

The Jolly Postman, Or Other People's Letters by Janet & Allan Ahlberg
A children's book about a postman who delivers letters to fairy tale characters like the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, and the Three Bears which contains the actual letters themselves is a brilliant, brilliant idea and you can see why it has endured.



Comics
Doctor Who: Exodus, Revelation! & Genesis!; Nature Of The Beast; Time Bomb; Salad Daze; Changes
Building into a nice little mystery with each chapter, Exodus, Revelation! and Genesis!, the Cybermen look great and Frobisher's monomorphia is in retrospect both very comic and very tragic. Nature Of The Beast is a sombre affair save for Frobisher's great interjections. The Time Bomb is a nice little paradox of a story. Peri's mind wanders through Alice In Wonderland and populates with talking vegetables in the great absurd one-shot Salad Daze. As a story, Changes is slight, but the visuals of the exploration of the TARDIS are fantastic, Peri gets some nice dialogue and the fight between Frobisher and the other metamorph is nice and varied.

Watchmen: At Midnight, All The Agents...; Absent Friends; The Judge Of All The Earth; Watchmaker
The first four parts of Watchman show us a comic that redefines what comics can and should be able to do. The motivations of the characters are well drawn, their story has an unprecedented depth. A world that has outgrown the superhero discovers that it needs them more than ever.

Games
Alex Kidd In Miracle World
One of the reasons that the Sega Master System was the greatest games console ever: this brilliant game was built into the console itself.






Recommendations welcome

Later this month: 1985

4 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Aliens is the greatest movie ever.

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Wendy aka Quillfeather said...

Ah, those were the days. And as Michael said, thanks for the trip down memory lane!

Tony Laplume said...

I'll take that Doctor Who as the best recommendation as to where I might start I've ever come across. And Jumpin' Jack Flash also sounds fascinating. I've always meant to watch Blackadder all the way through, too. Classic humor.