[From Solihull Observer, 12 October 2017:]
Forty years ago, Paramount Television attempted to set itself up as a fourth US network, with Star Trek as its ace card. William Shatner would return as James Kirk, although Leonard Nimoy had declined the studio’s entreaties to bring Spock back aboard the USS Enterprise bridge (and was, in any case, locked in a legal row over unauthorised exploitation of his image). Star Trek: Phase II began as a tv movie, stretched into a full series and eventually shifted onto the big screen as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, whilst plans for the putative fourth network were quietly shelved.
Well, here we go again: CBS (successor to Paramount’s tv assets) wants to slice itself a piece of the pay-per-view pie which has proven so profitable for HBO and Netflix, beginning with its own Star Trek spin-off, Discovery. Set a full decade before the Enterprise embarked upon its five-year mission and allegedly firmly locked into that original timeline (as opposed to the ‘Kelvin’ timeline created for the three recent movies featuring Christoper Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock), Discovery was initially announced for January, rescheduled for May and finally made its debut last month; worrying warning signs, you might think, but CBS clearly have their minds focused on higher things, such as profit forecasts.
Much has been made of the fact that the new lead is a “woman of colour”, but Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-99) already featured an African-American actor in the commander’s chair and Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) a female captain, so that’s hardly noteworthy. In fact, one early rumour I heard was that Discovery would continue the adventures of the female first officer played by Majel Barrett fifty-two years ago in the unaired Star Trek pilot “The Cage”. Instead, Sonequa Martin-Green stars as Lt. Cmdr. Michael Burnham, a human raised on Vulcan following her parents’ deaths during a Klingon raid. Of course, the makers can’t resist some half-arsed fanwankery, so her adoptive father is none other than Sarek, although there’s curiously no sign of his current wife Amanda Grayson (better known as Spock’s equally human mother).
So far, so so-so, but it gets worse. The opening two episodes are located aboard the USS Shenzou, described by its captain as a veteran of the fleet yet just as absurdly huge and tech-encrusted as any of the shiny starships seen in JJ Abrams’ ‘Kelvin’ reboot. Its sister vessels have been similarly upgraded, zipping out of warp drive like the dark wizards in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Pixels. In contrast, the Federation’s Klingon adversaries have shaved off the beards, reupholstered their foreheads and now resemble a gang of Orcs with the social skills of Big Brother contestants.
Much of this could be overlooked, were the entire enterprise (ahem) not so dreadfully dull. With the possible exception of Saru, an alien science officer with an amusing bias towards self-preservation (Doug Jones), none of the characters engaged me in the least, leaving their dramatic tribulations of negligible interest. Phaser beams fly, starships fry, crewmen die, uncaring I.
Matters reportedly improve with the third episode (the reverse is difficult to conceive), but by then CBS will be expecting US fans to subscribe to Discovery via its “All Access” platform, and I strongly suspect many will already have walked. In this latest quest to monetise Gene Roddenberry’s creation, CBS may well have guaranteed this wobbly spin-off neither prospers, nor lives long.
[From The Dark Side #186, August 2017.]
[From Infinity #3, August 2017.]
There’s a nice article in the autumn edition of Wetherspoon News, in-house magazine of the JD Wetherspoon pub chain, covering my chat with Laurel & Hardy historian John Ullah about local comic Charlie Hall. It was a follow-up to an earlier interview which aired on Made in Birmingham TV and was originally intended to go out on the same show, but our slot was unexpectedly cancelled as part of a programme shake-up at the channel, which has apparently sub-let eight hours of its daily schedule to the Sony-owned TruTV and has consigned much of its locally-produced content to the early hours to stream its new tenant’s American programming. Quite how all this conforms with Made in Birmingham TV’s franchise commitments is up to Ofcom to decide.
[Scan by John Ullah]
The cast and crew of All Bad Things…, photographed yesterday outside the Rajnagar International Restaurant in Solihull.
Left to right: Joe Dempster, Sham Zaman, Gabriela Zogall, Anthony Atkins, Sophie Sharp, Olivia Comer, John Messer, Kevin Clarke, Steve Green, Rob Eadon, Demelza O’Sullivan, Abul Kalam, Liam Woon, Aliy Haycox, Jamie Lambe. Not shown: Chrissie Harper (back behind the camera), David Shakes, Omar Kasis.
Principal photography commenced yesterday morning on All Bad Things…, a short film directed by Chrissie Harper from her own screenplay (developed from an idea of mine). The two leads are played by Liam Woon and Demelza O’Sullivan, with Sham Ali as the waiter. We were generously offered a chance to film at the award-winning Rajnagar International Restaurant in Solihull, which really added to the authenticity of the storyline. There are two short scenes left to shoot, but we hope to have the final edit completed by early October.
Here’s the brand new promotional image for Club Vamporama, featuring Elizabeth Hastings as the mysterious Marie and Dru Stephenson as the somewhat jaundiced Jenni. Photograph and digital design by Chrissie Harper.
[This film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD by Fabulous Films on 14 August 2017.]
Reportedly squeezed out by sitcom sausage machine Jeremy Lloyd (Are You Being Served?; ‘Allo ‘Allo) as a favour for his friend David Niven (never better than in A Matter of Life and Death) when the latter revealed a yen to portray Count Dracula, Vampira is fatally undermined by the inability of Lloyd and director Clive Donner (1978’s small-screen rehash of The Thief of Baghdad; Get Smart revival The Nude Bomb) to decide what genre they’re aiming for. Spoof? Sophisticated comedy? Softcore farce? Woefully vague in both conception and delivery, this anaemic yarn offers a Dracula with little bite and jokes far too long in the tooth to raise more than a groan.
Niven tries to paste over the cracks with his career-winning bonhomie, but even he can’t save a scenario which sees his beloved wife transformed into a cross between Elizabeth Bathory and Foxy Brown following a ill-fated blood transfusion from a group of visiting Playboy models (don’t ask, it’s just one of numerous oddities in this screenplay). Lloyd was apparently instrumental in getting his former Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In colleague Teresa Graves the title role, her only movie lead, but his storyline is less kind to Linda Hayden (dispatched with absurd haste), Jennie Linden (wasted as an imperilled literary agent) and Freddie Jones (whose demise shows every sign of having been heavily cut to avoid a higher certificate). Only Nicky Henson emerges relatively unscathed, playing a horror writer bent to the Count’s will (no sniggering at the back, though that would be a novelty with this film), but the material he’s working with feels like remnants from one of his mate Robin Askwith’s Confessions romps.
Hammering another nail into Vampira‘s coffin, this is by no means an optimal print, and the final scenes (in which Niven’s usual tan appears to have been coated in boot polish) are particularly washed out. Appropriate, really: playing up the ‘debonair aristocrat’ angle might have clicked with 1970s audiences (after all, aren’t most members of the nobility bloodsuckers of a kind?), but this vampire vehicle never really came into focus.