Cuddly Kenny Everett

Posted Friday, December 31, 2010, 11:40 AM

A few days ago it was Kenny Everett's birthday. Who? Surely you know Cuddly Ken, he of the Kenny Everett Video Show? I grew up watching his subverted comedy in the 70s and 80s. He was the perfect transition, filling the gap between Monty Python and the Goon Show I consumed in the 70s, and the anarchic Comic Strip and The Young Ones I was influenced by in the 80s.

He started out his career in Radio, pioneering Pirate Radio, an independent radio movement that escaped the censorship rules of the BBC. He became friends with the Beatles right in the midst of their peak, and their surreal period influenced his move into TV.

Wacky use of rapid fire sound effects recording, Quantel video tricks, silly sketches like Captain Kremmen, and his amazing audio trickery singing in fantastic bouncy harmonies with himself.

TV characters like biker Sid Snot, punk Gizzard Puke, complaining hypocrite Angry of Mayfair, preacher Brother Lee Love, soft porn star Cupid Stunt, and French pervert Marcel Wave are embedded in my memory, and every so often I'll launch into their catch phrases. He is a part of pop culture, almost like no other.

Here are two of his most famous sketches. The Instant Bee Gees Kit, and the Barbra Streisand sketch.

He was gay, though he didn't publicly disclose this until late in his life. Sadly, he contracted HIV, and died in 1989 of an AIDS-related illness.

It seems to me that he is a perfect choice for a bio pic to be made of his life. He was part of so many important pop cultural touchstones, from Pirate Radio, to Beatles, to TV technology, to coming out as gay and contracting AIDS. There's a hell of a story in there.

And who should play him? There is only one possible choice. David Tennant.

I mean look at this. They're practically twins. Stick a beard on him and you're sweet. Even Tennant's english accent is a close match, he'd just have to twang it into Kenny's subtle Liverpudlian, which shouldn't be hard.

Do it, David! You know you want to!

Bridge to the Stars

Posted Saturday, December 4, 2010, 8:09 PM

I was looking at an image of a fantastic new mega-camera that will be installed on the Blanco Telescope at Chile's Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, and was marvelling at the bright attractive colours. It wasn't that long ago that everything technological was white or silver or grey, and now they are deliberately building complex machinery in bright colours.

It occurred to me that the garish 60s colour scheme found in the original series of Star Trek's Enterprise now may not be so out of place as it was looking for so long. Yes, it's still very dated, but stylistically it wouldn't necessarily be as out there as we might have expected when we were living through the Space Shuttle-oriented functional style of Science Fiction of the 80s, and the beige casual style of the 90s. We're now widely adopting the iPod-style of the 2000s, which may subsequently evolve into a colourful candy-coated style of the 2010s. Certainly I see many cars are starting to move away from the whites, silvers, and bronzes of recent times, into bright greens, yellows, and reds, so I think it's inevitable that this will spill into other electronics.

But the Enterprise style still looks cardboard and studio-bound. It definitely needs a spruce up if it was to be realistically adapted into a style that would actually be utilised in a spacecraft. Big boxy desks and chunky platforms would not be likely, and would need some softening and practical adjustments to be useful.

So I was thinking about that idea, on how you might want to adapt the bridge into a more modern styling, while still maintaining the original series palate and sensibility. After looking around online to see if anyone else had done that first, and not finding anything, I decided to do it myself. I would make a 3D model of the original Enterprise bridge and then use that as a template to update all of it into something sleek and modern but still very familiar.

The first thing I changed was the control panels, moving them from chunky desks to flat iPad-style touchscreens. This lent itself well for all the displays, including the wallscreens around the circumference and the display monitors.

I added a second turbolift door, to balance the symmetry of the bridge's layout, though it could just as easily lead to a different room instead, such as a conference room or the Captain's ready-room.

Then I made the Captain's chair into something slimmer and more flexible, while still maintaining the same dimensions and location, overlooking the Conn.

The railings around the central pit could be thinned down to bars, instead of the ugly thick wood of the original set, and shifted around to give a clearway from the turbolift to the Captain's chair. I also added an extra display panel on the railings for access convenience.

In the end, I'm not sure how much of an improvement it is. It is just as likely to appear dated in fifteen years as the original bridge does, but it is, I think, more in keeping with the future of technology and is somewhat more logically arranged, if not strictly speaking as interesting to shoot (the clearway to the lift doors does make areas in the frame feel empty).

Overall, though, it's not bad for a first pass.

Time For Some New Desktop Wallpapers

Posted Thursday, November 11, 2010, 8:20 PM

I can't stop myself from constantly changing my PC desktop wallpaper. Sometimes I'll put something new up three times in a week, though I do try to keep it down to twice a month.

Usually I'll find some online and pre-made, perhaps promoting an upcoming movie, video game, or current TV show, or occasionally an actress or model who takes my particular fancy or is just pleasantly photographed.

But just as often I'll make one of my own, adapted to fit the exact dimensions of my monitor, and mixed together using my own artistic sensibilities, such as they are. Having discovered the joy of blending grungey textures into a palatable or dramatic composition, I have learned a lot in a short time about how to make something look modern and appealing.

A good example is this pic of actress Eliza Dushku, which uses a lot of dirty textures to make it look like she's standing in front of a wall (in reality she was in front of a grey dropsheet in a studio).

I also looked at some other designs of movie promotional art to mix in this pic of Bullets and Bastards, with Dave Hankin waving his gun around aggressively, splashing a lot of high contrast colours across the page at a dynamic angle to give it emphasis.

And then here are a selection of images I grabbed from my old job at an Adult Website, that I textured up to work as Safe-For-Work wallpaper images. I also have a couple that are more graphic, though no more so than your typical figure study, but I decided not to show them here, at least for now.

Joss Is Just Not Popular Enough

Posted Wednesday, October 20, 2010, 6:00 PM

I have never been a big a fan of Joss Whedon's work. He created and masterminded such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spinoff Angel, the SF Western Firefly and its movie sequel Serenity, and most recently the hard-to-define Dollhouse, while dipping his finger into a few other pies here and there throughout.

I have tried to watch and enjoy Buffy, but it just didn't work for me. So much of it seems tailor made for my demographic: It's a fantasy adventure show, with great characters, witty dialogue, complex story arcs, all well acted; and yet whenever I tried to get into it, I'd get bored halfway through an episode. Many of my friends absolutely adore it, so I tried multiple times to give it another chance, but I just couldn't sustain any interest in it. I didn't even try with the spinoff, Angel. I don't even know what the plot of that is.

The science fiction show he made next I had better luck with, I found Firefly to be much more my cup of tea. Similarly, it had adventure, complex story arcs, witty banter, and brilliant acting, but even then, I just didn't find it compelling; I have only watched the series once. I know I would have kept watching if it had been picked up for more than 13 episodes, but it wouldn't have ever been in my top ten must watch list.

Dollhouse just left a bad taste in my mouth. A company wiped the personalities of people, and replaced them with manufactured ones, made to order for whatever they were hired to be. Be they prostitutes, assassins, or something in between, they were kept dormant and placid until they were implanted with whatever talent, skill, or personality the client requested. Presumably the plots started to explore the immorality of this, and it began to unravel, but I gave up on it before it reached that point. I may give it another chance some day, but I found it so unlikeable and distasteful I'm not going to seek it out.

Here's the problem. Almost all of the above shows have not had good ratings. Buffy is the exception, the rest skated on thin ice and died before the real meat of the series kicked in. Some blame the network, Fox, for this, as it seems to operate like it has no faith in Joss's work. For a while I accepted that analysis, because the evidence seemed to suggest that.

But here's the thing, I think Fox were right to have no faith in Joss Whedon's work; I don't think he knows quite what he's doing. Yes, he has an excellent grasp of plotting and character and dialogue, but he doesn't understand what appeals to a wider audience; he can't formulate a concept that will appeal to the demographics a Network needs to sustain a show.

What made Buffy a success with the geeks that obsess over anything Whedon-esque wasn't what made it the ratings winner that kept it going over seven seasons. It certainly made it an entertaining show to follow, but it wasn't enough to grab a wider audience. What Buffy had going for it was the teen Soap factor. It had a lot of pretty teens battling relationship drama, all set in a High School. That is a very tangible concept to sell to a wide audience. People know what they're getting, and it's just what they want. The vampire and demon hunting is just the mcguffin, that a lot of people can overlook to get to the meat of the issues. But the fanboys don't care about the good looking teen stuff, they like the monster hunting and the witty banter.

Take away the wide audience appeal of a teen soap, and you get Angel, a broody demon saga. In theory it should've worked again, as a good drama often grabs an adult audience, but in this case the teens who liked Buffy didn't like Angel, and adults who like drama don't like fantasy demons and vampires. They didn't follow. Only the fanboys remained.

Science Fiction adventure in the vein of Star Trek is even harder to find new audiences for. You tend to get a small hardcore fanbase for that, which is disappointing as the shows tend to be expensive to produce so require a decent audience to justify the costs involved. Firefly just doesn't have enough going for it to draw in the wider audience, not even the Trek fans. For whatever reason, and I think it's in the cynicism in some of the characters' attitudes, they didn't come flocking to Firefly. Once again, only the Whedon fanboys remained (they have now started calling themselves Browncoats; this really annoys me, for some reason).

Dollhouse was a failure of an idea from the start. And to be fair, Fox did re-jigger a lot of the early episodes into something the show wasn't supposed to be, which didn't become clear until later in the series when Joss started to get his way more often (or so I have gleaned from reviews and articles). But nevertheless there was no wide audience appeal for its style. It just didn't have what it takes to get the eyes trained on the screen.

Joss Whedon may be great at dialogue, character, and story arcs, but he sucks at understanding the audience he needs to be a true success in the Industry. He is a huge nerd, his fan base are huge (HUGE) nerds, and that's fine in and of itself, but if he wants to get anywhere he has to make a show that has 70% non-nerd-appeal.

I'm not holding my breath.

Absence Makes The Part Go Wander

Posted Wednesday, September 8, 2010, 10:04 PM

I haven't posted anything to the blog for a while. I've been in a strange place mentally (and it's even manifesting physically with aches and pains) so haven't had much to share.

But I have been active, and those tales can be found on a different blog, for Pick Up And Go, that chronicles some of the film-making fun we've been dabbling in. It's been for a couple of fun projects that are intended for Rob to practise his Visual Effects on for his showreel. Only he calls his a demo reel, and after all why not?

I have also updated my own showreel with a couple of additional elements I've buggered about with, like this steampunk-ish robot, which I will animate to walk through a city.

A Different Kind Of Remake

Posted Tuesday, July 20, 2010, 8:08 PM

Sometimes I watch a movie from a long time ago (the 80s - sad to say that is almost the dark ages, in some respects) and wince at it. Not because it's a bad film, but because styles and technology have changed so much in the intervening years that it feels dated and creaky.

The most obvious difference, especially for me, are things like the visual effects, which back then were entirely practical or optical, which is to say they were literally filmed on top of the original film using another camera, or were drawn on by hand. Almost no computers were used at all for filmmaking back then (except for motion control cameras and some crude computer graphics).

But there's also audio quality, colour grading, title sequences, soundtrack orchestration, and the pacing of the editing. All of these have improved, or changed, quite significantly in the last decade or so, and have altered our expectation of how our entertainment plays out.

And it occurred to me how interesting it would be for someone to take the original footage of an entire shoot from a film made in the 80s, and completely re-cut it, from the ground up, into their own movie. They would have to be unfamiliar with the movie, so it shouldn't be a much-loved classic, but can't be a completely obscure lump of nothing, so I figure a typical 80s fantasy film that could do with a few tweaks to boost its quality would be ideal.

Krull was not a runaway success on its initial release in 1983, but as cheesy 80s fantasy movies go it did a lot of things right. Some of the casting was excellent, with rough-hewn Alun Armstrong, a pre-fame Liam Neeson, a very amusing David Battley, and a noble and wise Freddie Jones.

But it also did a lot of things wrong. Lysette Anthony was very pretty, but they dubbed over her voice so she had an American accent! Why? Almost none of the other cast were American, so why change her lovely voice? Plus her role was to be a damsel in distress, which in this day and age is unacceptable.

The lead was played by Ken Marshall, who has not done anything else of note, and it's no wonder as his acting is mediocre at best; He has some charisma and charm, but absolutely no energy and is certainly no hero; As a prospective King he would be a weak and ineffectual ruler.

The bad guy is a monstrous creature, known only as the Beast. He doesn't play much of a proactive role in the story. Yes, he kidnaps the princess and throws challenges at the band of heroes, but all from a distance.

And finally, the magic weapon, the glaive, is all style and no substance. It isn't used as a knife or sword, instead it is mystically operated to fly around and slice in a method not adequately explained or explored.

A few other factors are also worth mentioning. The score is suitably grandiose, with a couple of pieces being very cool, especially the piece accompanying the fire mares. The Beast's soldiers are really creepy, as they scream when they die. Rell the cyclops is very well done, and is a great character. The landscape is quite epic and beautiful, especially as much of it was not augmented by matte paintings, but were genuine Italian locations. And the adventure as a whole, where they travel across the kingdom picking up members of their band as they go, was well structured and had a lot of time for us to grow to love the characters.

So I think it would be marvellous to be able to go into the original takes and edit the film my way: Choose new shots, with new edits; Use the original voices of the cast; Replace all the visual effects, matte paintings, and model shots with CG and digital set extensions; Improve the makeup on the creatures and cyclops; Colour grade to bring out the vividness of the colours and match the interior sets and the exterior scenes. Re-record the soundtrack to match my new cut; and make it faster, funnier, and more exciting.

I figure with a small team of ten or so to achieve it, especially not having to actually organise and shoot the film itself, it would cost only a couple of million dollars and take 18 months to get it looking perfect, perhaps sooner.

Who do I talk to to get this happening?

I Don't Know Nothin'

Posted Sunday, July 11, 2010, 7:02 PM

Sometimes I wish I had a tutor looking over my shoulder, giving me tips and step-by-step lessons.

My current hobby, amongst many, is that of visual effects. That includes 3D Modelling, Texturing, and Animation, as well as Compositing, Rotoscoping, and anything else that comes up as needs must.

In the professional Visual Effects industry you can specialise in any one of those disciplines, but when you're an amateur just trying to put something cool together, you have to know a little bit of everything. I do know a little bit of everything, but only a little. It's not quite enough of any one of them to get professional work straight away, but it's plenty enough to continue as an amateur.

My skills lack mostly in understanding the tools I have at hand. Though I have many excellent books, and there are plenty of great websites to get some tips from, including Video CoPilot and SpinQuad, there's nothing quite as useful as turning to an experienced person when you're stuck and asking them just how to achieve the fiddly thing that's missing.

I have a good eye. I can look at a clip and see what it needs and have a reasonably good idea of how to achieve that, in principle. But in terms of actual execution, I am average at best, and struggle.

In the picture above, which is from a clip about ten seconds long, only the soldier is real. Everything else is digitally created or a manipulated still image photograph. I had to: key out the greenscreen, and then rotoscope around the soldier for his every move to give him a clean edge (and also the second soldier who has since been cropped out of the shot); build and texture the truck model, animate it coming down the road; build and texture the road and walls using a blend of several photographs; and then composite them all together using a series of layers, tracked to the original camera shake, and colour graded so that all the disparate elements fit together as a whole.

I have worked on this shot for over a year, from prepping and shooting the plate of the soldiers, modelling the truck, through to assembling the pieces, and then subtly adjusting it until it has reached its final stage. In that time I learned a lot about modelling a vehicle; about animating wheels; about rotoscoping in separate chunks instead of in one big go; about colour grading; about "expressions" which are mathematical ways to manipulate 2D layers; about "Depth Maps" which are greyscale images that represent the Z-Scale, or depth, of a 2D image or clip to give me virtual 3D to play with; and about "chromakey" which is a method of removing a single colour from an image, such as for a greenscreen.

If I had a tutor, guidance from an expert, I could have finished it much sooner, and with less struggle, and perhaps even more efficiently using techniques and tools I've not even touched before. I do wish I had the time and money to organise something like that. But I don't even know where to turn. I'm no beginner, so a regular Night School course isn't quite what I'm after, but there are no doubt many beginner's steps that I do need to brush up on before I can skip to the top level.

Until I figure myself out, I will enjoy being jack of all trades, master of none, and be thrilled by those artists who really know what they're doing, and who produce first class awe-inspiring work every time.

Am I Geeky Enough?

Posted Friday, June 18, 2010, 1:31 PM

I am not sure if I am as geeky as I ought to be. It is time for an analysis.

I have never been someone who has made friends easily. Throughout my life most of my friends have been few, and borne of circumstance rather than true appeal. This is not true of every one of them, but enough to make me wonder.

At ages from birth through to ten, I had three friends of any significance, and that was because I lived in a small seaside village out in the country. The population was barely 150 people, and the kids who were listed as my friends were within 12 months of my own age. That's generally how it works; anything beyond is that nebulous range called either "the older kids" or "babies" both of which you stay away from.

Though we went through periods of disliking each other, and I was a weird kid even then, I had those friends throughout my childhood until I hit my teens and High School, where they were instantly abandoned as I discovered people with the same sense of humour as me. This overwhelmed me, that I could actually make friends with people I could relate to, and we spent the next five years joking around about the nerdiest stuff ever, ranging from British TV Comedies, Fantasy Action Films, and any other weird stuff that would make us giggle.

We kept to ourselves, in our own little out of the way corner of the school playground, and it never once occurred to me that we were nerds or geeks or whatever the word-du-jour was for our kind. We just did our own thing and enjoyed ourselves. And yet we discovered Computers together. Video Games! Adventure Games! Computer Graphics! We rushed to book the "Computer Room" each weekend when the schedule went up (our school had two computers back then, both Apple IIe clunkers with greenscreen CRT monitors. It was heaven!) If that didn't compartmentalise us, what did? We weren't really aware of it, but the truth is we were card carrying nerds; dictionary definition outsiders; obsessive Star Wars geeks. And yet we had no idea. Unlike how US movies tend to demarcate things, we were an amorphous bunch of kids, and all our circles overlapped. Even some of the girls liked computers at least a little bit.

Speaking of whom, girls generally dismissed us as not worth bothering with. Except both my friends got girlfriends over that time (then lost them again, I might add) while I did not. Girls have never been interested in me, despite my being interested in them just fine, and this has not changed throughout my entire life. I've given up caring about that facet, though, and now prefer my solitude.

When my friends started to gravitate towards other interests and important events occurred in their lives, they left High School, while I went through a bout of loneliness and loss. My Dad died when I was 14, but it wasn't until I was 16-18 that I started to really miss him, having reached the age where I could have used some guidance. So I felt like I was adrift. Unfortunately this lasted right up until I was about 25, and I aimlessly meandered through a sad grey little life doing almost nothing with myself.

I moved away from the little village at 19 years of age, and moved to the nearby metropolis, population around 80,000. There I stumbled upon friends who would shape my future. First a comic book artist who urged me to participate in the comics he himself either produced or contributed to. Then a movie geek who wanted to make his own films, preferably involving prosthetic make-up and pyrotechnics, who also introduced me to acting in the theatre. Then a few friends from that world, one of whom went on to be a film Director who I did some storyboard work for.

The new friends I met during the "making movies" stage of my 20s were very influential, but ultimately just as aimless as I was. Though we all had big dreams, we had no money, few opportunities, and didn't know what the hell we were doing. This has plagued my whole life.

Then I discovered the internet. Not only did this open up the literal World to me, but also the Web, a new frontier which required something called Website Designers. Could it be that two of my favourite things, computers and art, were no longer impenetrably obscure sciences, and could be accessible by poorly educated little old me at last? It was where I felt I could make an impact, and though I have continuously struggled with getting my head around the technology which consistently forged far ahead of my skill level, I have made something of a small career out of it.

When my movie-making friends all moved away to new cities, I was left behind just as my first Web Designer job ended (the Manager was a completely useless idiot). Suddenly, and it was very sudden, I had no job, no friends, and no idea of my future. I figured the best way to kick myself in the butt was a complete restart, and the easiest way to do that, I thought, is to move to a whole new country, preferably one with as little a culture shock as possible. So I moved from New Zealand to Australia.

I quickly found more work in the Internet realm, as a Web Designer and beyond, and also made new friends, who initially were just open to any Star Wars fan who happened along, but I was instantly a hit with a couple of people for my storyboard experience for the films they were making. Eventually I moved onto doing visual effects, and after ten years that's where I still am today. These friends have been great companions for the most part, and we've had a lot of fun, but still now, as before, I am not a very social person, and tend to enjoy my own company more often than not. I happily stay at home most days and do my own quiet thing in my own little corner of the world.

So, it seems to many I am sure, that clearly I am a geek. I like comics and computers and movies and the internet. I used to wear glasses. I am skinny and balding, with a beard. My hobbies include CG visual effects and fantasy books. I even wrote a script that was a classic mediaeval fantasy film, and my other unfinished screenplays are also somewhat fantasy-based. I have a decently large DVD collection, and was the first of my friends to get a big fancy TV (which is now outdated and old compared to theirs).

But... I do not obsess over things to infinite detail. I am not any kind of expert in any subject. I do not have encyclopaedic knowledge of anything, useful or obscure. I laze around and try to find shortcuts to even completing any of the fun things I do, and would much rather not do any work for anybody at all, if I could get away with it.

Am I a geek? Or am I just a lonely man with hobbies?

I can't tell.

I'm not sure if it even matters.

Vincent and the Doctor

Posted Sunday, June 6, 2010, 12:52 PM

I used to write reviews of Doctor Who episodes, but I don't do that anymore. Partly because I realised that my reviews weren't very informative or useful to anybody - I tended to say variations on "Gosh, that was good" and "Hmm, didn't like this one so much". It felt like it needed more than a rating, it required analysis, which I am not very good at; especially so soon after having watched each episode; having to be careful about spoilers (my own choice); and only seeing part of the season, so story arcs or two part episode reviews were left hanging.

Anyway, this also is not a review, but it is a comparison. The latest episode of Doctor Who was about the impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, someone whose work I very much admire, and they very cleverly included in the episode some shots of his inspirations. So I thought I'd show some of the ones I recognised. There may be others I missed.

It opens in a wheat field, where crows fly away at the approach of an invisible beast.

The Doctor and Amy find Vincent at a cafe in France.

Vincent's bedroom is very familiar.

His furniture is the subject of some very personal art.

As he speaks of what he sees in the night sky, Vincent paints a picture in their mind's eye.

None Of Your Damn Business

Posted Wednesday, May 12, 2010, 4:31 PM

There's been a lot of concerns about Facebook lately. Serious privacy-related concerns. What used to be a priority for the social networking juggernaut is now being treated as a liability. Without warning, personal profile information, image galleries, and some posts, which until now had been set as private, viewable only to a few, were changed to be almost exclusively public, available to all. The only way to change that was to go in and set each individually to private again, though even that option wasn't available until after an outcry.

I had never ventured into Facebook until very recently, when I started to get so many links to the site, of the "Hey, look at this" or "I've been discussing this here" or "Wonder what your old school friends are doing now?" variety, all pointing to Facebook, and not visible unless I was signed up.

So I signed up.

It was not much fun to wade around in, and was decidedly cluttered and non-intuitive. And 90% of what I found was boring, meaningless, or badly organised. But maybe, I reasoned, if I stuck it out, there would be a benefit I could get from it.

After two months, nothing has sprung into view. It seems to be a bit of a dead zone full of inconsequential dullness.

It was the principle of it all that caused me the most worry. My own profile information was safe-ish, I had gone in and set the privacy settings to a reasonable level, but I am worried for other Facebook users, and for what this means to personal information online, generally. It's a frightening precedent to set, does exactly what many Web users have long been paranoid about, and is therefore unacceptable.

I figure the best way to express my distaste at this direction that it is heading is to quit Facebook. Judging by the upset murmurs around the web, I am anticipating as much as a 50% drop in membership activity for it over the next year. That may not be good for Social Networking, but would be a good indication of what users expect of online privacy.

Plus Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who invented Facebook, seems to be a bit of a dick.

So I have cancelled out of Facebook, deleted my account, never to return.

I'm still on Twitter, though.

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Bypassing The Tannhauser Gate

Posted Saturday, May 1, 2010, 11:47 AM

This one won't make me very popular.

Ridley Scott is overrated.

He has directed many films which are listed in personal top tens: Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner; and also made some less popular films, often listed as disappointing mistakes: Legend, Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down. In terms of pop culture, he has made an indelible impact, not only in making oft-quoted and well-remembered films, but in influencing film styles, especially in the realm of cinematography and production design.

I like Alien, though it's not my favourite of the franchise. I like aspects of Legend as it embodies classic fantasy like no other film, and has one of the coolest bad guys ever realised. And I like some of Gladiator though the fast shutter-speed stylisation has been an outrageous travesty visited upon far too many action films since, including, it appears, Scott and Crowe's next, Robin Hood.

But the one of his films that I have never liked is arguably his most popular amongst the fans: Blade Runner. Even after having re-watched it recently with fresh eyes, the dislike has only been compounded.

An interesting idea - Futuristic Detective Noir based on the Philip K Dick story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which I've never read. You can certainly play around with that concept a lot.

For some reason, a lot of Philip K Dick stories have been made into movies. I can't see why, as the resulting films have not been very appealing, in my opinion, and have apparently been adapted so heavily they may as well have been original concepts in the first place.

The usual structure for a Detective Noir is for someone to come to Sam Spade with a potential crime that needs investigating, he shadows a few people, slips some money to an informant or two, until he gets a lead and a few clues to piece together, solving the crime and catching the bad guy. Much adventure and witty repartee ensues.

None of that happens in Blade Runner.

Deckard is hired to retrieve robots gone rogue, called Replicants because they are indistinguishable from humans unless analysed with special testing equipment. He is handed a lead, which he follows doggedly, and ends up thrown in amongst a seedy and dangerous underworld. The replicants are sent against him, and he deals with them inadequately and awkwardly, and whenever he loses a thread, he is put right back on track again by other people.

Not once does Deckard solve a clue. Not once does he follow a lead that wasn't handed to him without prompting. Not once does he defeat a Replicant with skill. There are sequences lasting many minutes with no talking of any kind. And the last Replicant that comes up against him gives up and dies voluntarily, after spouting prosaic memories that are likely implanted.

And then Deckard runs away from this dangerous exhaustingly damp world with an unpleasant woman.

Stylistically the movie is astonishing, and I think that's what a lot of its fans really like about it. If they first saw it when young, or when it had first come out, which was at a time when production design on this scale and realism had never been executed before, they can't separate their initial experience of it with an objective assessment.

But the story has to hold up, and it really doesn't. It's meandering, with no conclusions, some really unlikely coincidences, and a limp ending of no significance, though it tries very hard to sound like it has. Deckard is pushed and pulled around to every single plot point, with no self-motivation whatsoever. The main bad guy who is orchestrating it all is such an extreme stereotype you can't take him seriously, and seems to be at once both getting in Deckard's way, while also guiding him to the Replicants at every step. The Replicants are violent towards Deckard because they want to live and be free, and yet in the end don't seem to care about living at all.

It's an awful way to structure a film. Looking cool isn't enough to save it. It doesn't deserve the fanboy support it gets, with such fundamental flaws throughout.

This isn't a case of differing tastes, this is a bad film, clumsily masked by dazzling visuals.

I am quite disappointed.

It Ought To Be Simple. Why Is It Complicated?

Posted Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 12:36 PM

I am finishing up the last touches on a website. In the same way that the most dangerous time to be on a return journey is a few miles from home, the most fiddly time to be finishing a website is in the last few steps. It's when things that you had anticipated to be the simplest and quickest end up taking the longest and are the most maddeningly convoluted.

Why are some methods to do things so absurdly complicated? Why can't everything be elegant and simple and just work straight out of the box?

Early on in my computer career, when the only access to a computer of any significance that I had was to my flatmate's Commodore Amiga 500, I marvelled at the wonderful GUI of its Operating System. Things worked really smoothly, were arranged logically, and were simple for beginners to grasp. It was leaps ahead of what Windows users were battling with, in Win3.1, and was somewhat more advanced than what I had seen in Apple Macintoshes of the time.

But all of that elegance was marred by its disk drive, that constantly whirred and clicked whenever it was empty. It was intended to be an elegant system to recognise when a disk was inside, and it could instantly activate. But the method was clunky at best, with it endlessly circling, waiting, and checking, a soft but everpresent "clunk" every ten seconds. The solution was to always have a disk in, blank if necessary.

A stupid design fault on an otherwise excellent computer. I can only imagine that the Amiga's death was due to more dumb decision-making of that ilk.

After Windows 95 came along, competing more directly with Apple's newer OS, things started to happen, as now using a computer was tangibly logical, instead of mind bendingly complicated. Except a few of my friends at that time didn't want to travel the evil Microsoft or expensive Apple route, and instead clung to the free and kludged together Linux avenue.

Linux, at that time, (not so long ago) was for Nerds only. And I don't mean afficionados and geeks, I mean full on 200% NERDS who obsess over minuscule ephemera as if they actually mattered to the world at large, instead of the easily dismissed nonsense it is.

The Linux Nerds like to use software that they have to "compile" rather than install. That is, they have to add each small part of the program, in pieces, with text commands to get them to work together. They come with no instructions on how to do that, or documentation on how to use the application after it's ready, and no help files should it fail, or any assistance at all. You have to nut everything out yourself, on your own, and if there is a single ounce of incompatibility with any of your other apps or hardware, then it will refuse to work at all, with no explanation.

Compare that with an application with an installer and drivers and a documentation PDF, pretty much the standard for current software on Windows and Macs.

Needlessly complicated, versus sweetly elegant. For some reason, there has to be years of absurd complication and mystifying messiness before someone swoops in and tidies it all up to work effectively and smoothly at long last.

The point of this post is that, on this website I am finishing up, I am trying to find a way to add audio files to the posts so that they come readily setup with a player, requiring no extra work for my client than "choose file, choose place it appears in post, save". I am happy to deal with complications to get a file on my blog (and what a ridiculously messy business it is to add images to Blogger), but for the average user those kinds of steps are needlessly complicated. The method I have employed to achieve this elegant solution involves four third-party plugins; two paragraphs of careful step by step instruction; and two additional text editing steps nobody ought to have to do, and which can easily go wrong, messing up the whole procedure.

It's utter madness that it is so needlessly complicated.

This is coupled with no way for her to upload a gallery of images in one click, no way for her to add a video clip without six lines of javascript or DHTML embed code that she would have to edit by hand each time, and no way to add searchable tag clouds without an expensive separate plugin I will have to purchase.

These kinds of standard, simple, default features are instead unavailable or overly complicated.

Whatever happened to elegance?

You Can Dance If You Want To

Posted Sunday, April 25, 2010, 1:16 AM

I was having a quiet evening in (just like 99.9% of all my other evenings) randomly leaping through YouTube, when I stumbled across the music video for the 80s one hit wonder Safety Dance by "Men Without Hats". Famous for its incomprehensible nonsense, coupled with a weirdly catchy tune, it was the band's only success, and is still popular amongst the nostalgic. And to match up the weirdness, the video is equally incomprehensible.

It begins with a man, Ivan Doroschuk, in pseudo-peasant dress skipping through a field, with a diminutive court jester (played by actor Mike Edmonds, who is great in the TV show Maid Marian and her Merry Men) when they spot a landmark and head off towards it. They meet up with an enthusiastic girl who is skipping along in her own way, where they reach a crossroads, and randomly choose a direction.

It takes them into a village, where they wait by a gate while continuing to dance, and are soon joined by locals and Morris Dancers in a parade down the main street, over a bridge, until they reach a farmyard where they have a May Day festival.

The end.

Pointless, but infectious, fun.

The "safety" dance, incidentally, is when you make an "S" shape with your arms, which they do a few times through the video. S for Safety, presumably.

Anyway, it occurred to me that I could probably find most of those locations in Google Maps.

Luckily Wikipedia solved half my initial obstacles by mentioning the exact village where it was filmed, called West Kington, in Wiltshire, in the UK. And amazingly it's barely changed in the intervening 25 years or so since it was filmed. There seems to be a commitment to preserve the old-timey feel of a lot of country villages in the UK, maintaining their chocolate box appeal for tourists and historians.

I present to you now a few comparison shots of the location, the map of which you can find in Google Maps here.

The sequence was filmed in two separate locations, so there's a subtle break in continuity, but that's not unusual in any kind of filming. In this case, the two locations are barely a mile apart from each other.

The field is still there, but they filmed it away from the roadside, so the Street View camera doesn't get the same angle. But after much searching (see next shot) I know this is the exact field, and the stone wall in the foreground of the video is that seen at upper left in the lower streetview pic. It is now overgrown with bracken.

You can see on this map the wall that leads away from the road, from the north to the south, towards the path. This matches the continuity of the video, where the characters walk through the field, to the corner of the wall, and then run down to the path.

I struggled to find this location, as the road is not a main one, and could have been private, where Street View rarely goes. I searched for the distinctive building on the hilltop. After matching up fields, pylons, buildings, and road divisions, I found the exact spot. And as you can see, it has barely changed at all.

And even more amazing, you see the log on the patch of grass in the music video? Well, it's still there! It's just been rolled a few metres away.

Then the sequence leaps to the village, and continuity is tight here. They start by skipping down the lane, west to east, past a house, up to a gate at the junction where the villagers cross a bridge, and straight into a farmyard.

This lane was a challenge, as there are three that radiate out from the village, and more beyond, so I had to look at each of them before determining which one it was. You can see the house behind them is the same, and the power pole to the left of shot also matches (a new pole, but in the same spot), with the shed behind the girl.

The girl then dances effusively in front of a couple of houses, which are distinctively recognisable by the fence palings and a red letterbox at the gate. Both remain unchanged.

The gate is just off the centre of the village, at the junction of three roads, a lot closer than the video implies. Though there are some considerable differences, and a mismatch due to the lenses used, you can recognise the same power poles in the field behind the gate.

Note the girl and Ivan (the lead singer) are each doing the "Safety Dance" "S" move.

The wide shot of the village bridge is deceptive. It's filmed in the middle of the field quite a distance behind the gate, and not as a POV from the gate. I couldn't find a matching angle in Street View, but you can see that there are vines on the main building just right of centre in the video shot, and also left of centre in the Street View angle, which are barely unchanged after 25 years. What's up with that?

In case you are confused by the different angles, if you look at the video frame, they are dancing on the bridge, marching from right to left. Whereas in the Street View shot, they would be coming towards us, with the bridge in the midground.

And finally a few metres down the road is a farm, with a large open courtyard, where they set up the fairground for the big dance finale. You can recognise the tractor shed and the long building as the most obvious matching features, though there are some minor alterations like new roof tiles and different paint jobs.

It was quite fun to go through it and confirm the locations, especially as it's such a beautiful, charming area. Whenever I found a match I got a thrill of recognition.

I am such a nerd.
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