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The Advent Panda

17th Dec 2015: The Festive Force Awakens!

There is no argument, no debate, no doubt….there is only one Christmas blockbuster movie this year….Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Pre-screenings are already underway and those questions WILL be answered….

Where is Luke Skywalker?
Who are the First Order?
Why is C3PO’s arm now red?

…and most importantly…
Has JJ Abrams managed to do a better job of fixing the light speed drive of these movies than George Lucas (or indeed Chewbacca!)?

My tickets are bought and all will be revealed in just a few hours.

All I can say, is that its going to take a huge mouthful of pick & mix to stop me shrieking like a girl when old man Solo utters those inevitable words once more: “I have a bad feeling about this…”

May the Paws be with you.

TP.

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ImageWith the coming weekend to mark the 50th Anniversary of the BBC’s science fiction television triumph ‘Doctor Who’, I have been looking for some way to tip my hat to our favourite Time Lord.

To do so innovatively has proven difficult. The web and most other news outlets have been plastered with material either reviewing the show or it’s influence over the last five decades. I had almost given up and left it to the army of devoted journalists and bloggers who have already trodden the path. However, today I was driven to tap the keys after reading an interview with Peter Davison, the fifth and at the time, youngest actor to assume the role of the Doctor.

ImageHe was speaking about his decision to depart the show upon the advice of one of his predecessors – Patrick Troughton, who had proposed that 3 years was enough before typecasting set in. He recalled how satisfied he had been with decision and how he had actually made the choice quite early, a good year or so before his final episode actually aired. Anyway, to get to the point, he was fine up to the time of filming his last story, but despite knowing it was the right move, was gutted to see Colin Baker actually replace him!

It caught my attention and got me thinking because I, (although somewhat less dramatically) was experiencing something similar today.

After a prolonged period of planning, I had agreed an amicable departure from my last employer to break away from the shackles of ‘commuterdom’ and pursue projects of my own. It has been a lengthy and congenial separation, with me continuing to help out on a part time basis until my replacement was found. He arrived over the last few days and this week I conducted the main thrust of a handover. He is now leading the team I led, receiving the mail I received and attending the meetings I attended.

Like Mr. Davison I don’t regret my decision for a moment, but it’s very strange and a little disturbing to watch someone step into your shoes and walk straight on at the crossroads, leaving you to take the different path you have chosen.

TP20 11Ds 2Change is hard but fundamentally necessary if we are to grow and live life to the full. Perhaps on some level as a child, Doctor Who taught me that. Letting go of an old Doctor was hard, but within a short period you had grown to love the next. With a new Doctor, some things stayed the same, but there is a reinvigorated opportunity for new stories, new companions, new adversaries and above all, new adventures!

How often do we look back on our lives and sometimes not recognise the people we once were? Different jobs, different relationships, different homes may have brought out diverse traits in our personality, even though some of our basic characteristics remain the same. Sound familiar?

We are often the sum of many ‘lives’ perhaps not quite as literally as the Doctor, but in some ways we ‘regenerate’ ourselves – sometimes willingly and sometimes as a result of circumstances beyond our control. Maybe my acceptance of this, my willingness to embrace it and my belief that I can reinvent myself, owes its origins to my Saturday teatime TARDIS journeys.

(As I look down at the lengthy striped scarf I am wearing as I write this on the train, perhaps there were other influences too…)

ImageAnyway, happy birthday Doctor Who and if I’m correct in the above, I hope that current and future generations of children will glean more from the show than just a love of Converse sneakers, bow ties and the notion that a fez is cool!

Now excuse me while I attend to my computer. The old girl is wheezing like a grampus. Perhaps I should reverse the polarity of the neutron flow?

TP

ImageI’m sure we have all caught those movies on the Syfy channel, or at the very least seen the remorseless stream of trailers for something like “Disaster Movie Week”. It’s our opportunity to witness the world being consumed by a swarm of genetically modified wasps or some mad scientist’s weather machine disrupting the gravitation poles of the planet causing mayhem and carnage. This is the domain of low budget special effects and wooden acting that can only draw us in when we are particularly susceptible (often incapacitated on the sofa due to illness or after too many beers down the pub!).

Somewhere in the tangled synapses of my brain, I started to wonder what horrific stories might emanate from the actual news headlines of today. With tongue shoved firmly into cheek, I present to you my 2013 Disaster Movie synopses.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

What the Frack?

Greedy power companies and corrupt politicians ride roughshod over scientific research to recommence the practice of fracking in the UK, whereby high pressure liquid is pumped into rock deposits underground to crack them and release natural gas. A militant group of environmentalists has somehow managed to sabotage the fracking injectors, replacing the usual liquid with rice pudding. The plan backfires when against all odds, three companies set out to perform massive fracking operations at exactly the same time. The earth trembles, Big Ben and the Shard collapse as the whole of the United Kingdom is ripped apart by huge earthquakes, causing it to be consumed by the sea. The debris (including superheated fried rice) is thrown into the atmosphere and the change in sea level has a catastrophic effect on the rest of the world. As a result, humanity spirals back into an apocalyptic, pre-industrial age where physical strength supersedes intelligence and a ‘Lone Man’ of integrity must fight to rescue his estranged family from harm and restore a semblance of civilisation to a broken world.

Pyongyang Shebang!

ImageThe North Korean leader is vexed. The UN sanctions, state of high alert in South Korea combined with the US military exercises in the region have done nothing to make his gourmet noodles sit more comfortably in his belly. Aside from looking about 12, his hasn’t lost his passion for boyhood pursuits and is tipped over the edge when one of his aging Generals forgets protocol and accidentally beats his esteemed leader in a round of “Battleship” from MB Games. Howling “You sank my battleship!” in Korean at the top of his voice he hurls the box of the game violently at the General, missing him by miles, but hitting the rather large red button to the left of his desk. ‘No problem’ he thinks, the dual keys in separate locks need to be in place and quarter-turned for the launch of his shiny new nuclear missile. The relief is short-lived as he remembers overdoing the rice wine last night and showing off his ‘power’ to a pretty little Korean cutie before leading her to his palatial bedroom. Did he really leave the keys in? His question is answered by the roar of a missile launch. His groan is shared collectively by the world as the domino effect of retaliation strikes reduces large portions of the planet to a wasteland. As a result, humanity spirals back into an apocalyptic, pre-industrial age where physical strength supersedes intelligence and a ‘Lone Man’ of integrity must fight to rescue his estranged family from harm and restore a semblance of civilisation to a broken world.

Spam Slam

The biggest cyber attack in history is launched against a noble ‘not for profit’ organisation seeking to protect internet users from malicious spam. Spammers of the world unite to take down their servers with a sustained attack of e-mail Viagra offers, beating the existing attack record of 300 Gbps and ‘keeping it up’ all night! The Spammers get more than they bargain for when the internet slows for the entire planet and IT companies around the world throw everything they have at it to prevent its paralysis. Their efforts are in vain as the internet fails globally together with every system, financial and logistical, that relies upon it. Back-up systems cannot cope with a failure of this scale as infrastructure and economies around the world collapse. You’ve guessed it… as a result, humanity spirals back into an apocalyptic pre-industrial age where physical strength supersedes intelligence and a ‘Lone Man’ of integrity must fight to rescue his estranged family from harm and restore a semblance of civilisation to a broken world.

Eat Horse and Die!

The horse has been man’s faithful companion for millennia, but in his endeavour to make the horse stronger and faster, man has cross-bred and chemically enhanced its performance over the years. This has caused subtle changes in the horse’s body chemistry and biology which unbeknownst to us is toxic and harmful to humans when consumed. Horse meat may have been a delicacy in some countries, but the quantity in which it was eaten was small. After all, who’s going to notice the odd Frenchman smelling like decay, slurring his words and neighing into his glass of vin rouge before keeling over? However, when half of Europe starts to behave this way due to horsemeat mis-sold as beef, society is rocked. Productivity declines, economies fail and soon it becomes clear that the horse-derived contagion can be transmitted from human to human. Countries cannot close their borders fast enough and the disease sweeps through the world. Only a small amount of the population has natural immunity and survives the ordeal. And yes, wait for it.… humanity spirals back into an apocalyptic pre-industrial age where physical strength supersedes intelligence and a ‘Lone Man’ of integrity must fight to rescue his estranged family from harm and restore a semblance of civilisation to a broken world.

ImageI hope those of you that share my rather dubious sense of humour enjoyed this and are now scouring the news sites for your own movie nightmares.  Let me know if you find anything good and we’ll pitch it to the Syfy channel together!

On the other hand, those of you interested in playing the notorious “Lone Man” are probably best served imagining yourselves falling to your knees on a deserted beach in a leather loincloth and yelling fruitlessly at a half buried Statue of Liberty. Once you’ve perfected your best Charlton Heston impression of the line “God damn you all to hell!” let me know and I’ll keep you in mind for the auditions!

TP

Image

Time travel has always fascinated me. It would be incredible to have your own personal TARDIS (for those unacquainted with the term or those who have been lost in the Amazon Jungle for the last 50 years – this is the name of the time machine from the popular BBC TV series ‘Doctor Who’)

However, what if you only had one trip? Would you be tempted to go back and see the world as it was or forward to see what we had become? Even a small hop backwards or forwards within the span of your own lifetime could be most enlightening.

It always seems to me that the passage of time is much like aeroplane travel. Planes travel at amazing speeds, but to the passenger peering through their oval window, it seems like a leisurely cruise through the clouds. It only when you observe another object at close range– albeit another plane at a different altitude or the ground as you come in to land- do you have any idea of the relative speed at which you are flying. Similarly, we often find it hard to perceive how we have changed over time or how life has changed around us.

This got me thinking and as a result I present to you the Tarantino Panda ‘Tin-pot Time Machine’. It’s a chance to look back through the decades from the person you are now to the person you once were by answering some simple questions. You may be quite surprised what you find. Anyway, this is me, then and now…

Image30 years ago – 1983

What was I wearing?

A slightly tight school blazer and trousers that were insufficiently narrow to be cool!

What music was I listening to?

Squeeze, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, The Human League, The Style Council (…and timelessly…The Beatles!)

… and how?

On vinyl records through a Sharp Linear Tracking vertical record player (played both sides without turning the record over!)

What was I watching on TV?

Doctor Who (of course!), Grange Hill, Dallas, The A Team.

Where was I working?

Not sure if ‘school’ counts!

Where was I on a Friday night?

At home with my parents, a bottle of coke and some Marks & Spencer Prawn Cocktail crisps as a treat! (Barring, of course, occasional random school discos with illicit cider drinking).

What was my relationship status?

Single, but undoubtedly head over heels in love with some girl in my class that I was too shy to talk to!

Where did I holiday?

Somewhere in Europe with parents and 30 strangers by coach (45 mins to see the whole of Cologne before you’re back on the bus for another 3 hour drive!)

What did I drive?

A Raleigh Hustler Racing Bicycle!

20 years ago – 1993Image

What was I wearing?

A mauve casual jacket over a black turtle neck with straight tight black jeans and black leather ankle boots

What music was I listening to?

REM, the Spin Doctors, Ace of Bass, Annie Lennox, Crowded House, Del Amitri (….and yep….still The Beatles!)

..and how?

On CDs through my new Kenwood Hi-Fi system with Wharfdale speakers

What was I watching on TV?

East Enders, Top of the Pops, Cracker

Where was I working?

An office in a high street in Essex (yes really)

Where was I on a Friday night?

Either… in our rented house having barely scratched together the cash for a Chinese takeaway and a cheap bottle of Spanish red

Or, after payday…down the pub for several pints of Kronenburg 1664 and a couple of packets of Scampi Fries

What was my relationship status?

Living with girlfriend soon to become wife number 1….

Where did I holiday?

Lake District with my girlfriends parents, torrential rainfall and pubs at the top of mountains that look like someone’s living room!

What did I drive?

A sickly orange Mark 3 Ford Escort 1.1L (Money Pit!)

Image10 years ago – 2003

What was I wearing?

Colourful Polo Shirts, jeans, casual leather slip-ons and a short black leather coat.

What music was I listening to?

Jet, The Darkness, The White Strips, Evanescence, Puddle of Mud (Still Beatles?  Absolutely!)

…and how?

On CDs through my upgraded Kenwood ‘separates’ Hi Fi stack with Denon CD player, surround sound and subwoofer.

What was I watching on TV?

The Office (UK version), Keeping Up With the Braithwaites, Star Trek – Enterprise

Where was I working?

In an office? Yes, but never quite sure in which country it would be!

Where was I on a Friday night?

At home with the telly or an Italian Restaurant close to work with friends, colleagues and girlfriend

What was my relationship status?

Living with girlfriend soon to be wife number 2! (a lot can change in 10 years…)

Where did I holiday?

Acapulco via Mexico City….Coco Locos on the beach!

What did I drive?

Silver Audi A4 1.8 Turbo (Woohoo!)

ImageNow! 2013

What am I wearing?

‘Fat Face’ casual shirts, straight jeans and red Converse All Stars

What music am I listening to?

Anything from the Friendly Fires to Steely Dan depending on what my iPod shuffles for me (…and oh yes, plenty of recently re-mastered and digitally downloadable Beatles!)

…and how?

Via an iPod or iPhone through my Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin docking station

What am I watching on TV?

Doctor Who (yes, still!), Fringe, the Walking Dead, Dexter, True Blood

Where am I working?

Awwww crap! Still in an office (but at least in a swanky Central London one)

Where am I on a Friday night?

At a nearby Nepalese restaurant or more than likely on the sofa of our own house, with my beautiful wife, in front of a High Def Flat Screen TV with a delicious Pinot Noir

What is my relationship status?

Married to Wife number 2 and very happy about it!

Where do I holiday?

Anywhere with 5 stars and a bar!

What do I drive?

Pearlescent Red Mazda 6 Tamara Special Edition 2L (yeah, bit of a come down really!)

 

As you will have observed, as the river of time sweeps us downstream, some things change and others stay exactly the same! So, reverse the polarity of the neutron flow, set the vortex manipulators for transference and take a journey down memory lane in your own tin-pot time machine! Let me know if you find anything that you weren’t quite expecting…

TP

I don’t mind saying that I’m quite a fan of cult entertainment, be it the science fiction, fantasy or supernatural genre. In the late 70’s and 80’s, Sci-Fi was very much the leader in terms of both television and films, but the 1990’s and early 2000’s saw its prominence fall away.

Principally, US television found Sci-Fi expensive to make and with the increasing public appetite for reality television it was difficult to justify the production costs. The changing culture of television audiences also played its part with more viewers wanting to dip in and out of television to watch single episodes rather than be committed to a show that required investment in its past and regular viewing in the future. Some show’s bucked this trend like the infamous ‘Lost’. A wonderful show, but difficult to keep track of even when you had watched all the episodes!

Even in the UK, the BBC gave up on one of its ‘favourite sons’ Doctor Who in 1989 which had been a Sci-Fi classic. This decision was probably more to do with poor writing and the inability of the license funded BBC to keep up with a sufficient special effects budget that was now essential for such a show. Rather strangely, a decade and a half later when the colossus of Star Trek was also brought to a close on television, the BBC was convinced to bring back the time travelling Doctor much to the collective joy of many children and adults alike.

There have of course been science fiction successes in the last decade.  The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica comes to mind (who would have thought it?) and of course the genre remains strong at the movies. However what sub-genre of cult entertainment has thrived in these inconsistent years of feast and famine for Science Fiction?

Vampires.

It was Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula in 1992 that first started to change our preconceptions of Vampires, away from the Hammer Fang Films of 1960’s and then in the late 1990’s, for the American’s, Buffy came along and in the UK a niche cult show called ‘Ultraviolet’ did the same job of relating Vampires to the modern day world.

Since then, a slew of Vampire TV shows and movies has followed in the 2000’s which have been further fuelled by the success of the Twilight saga. I have to admit that I don’t find ‘kissy teenage vampire’  fiction terribly appealing, but I understand why it is and have nothing against its fans. On the other hand, the way in which the Vampire myth has been treated in True Blood is genius and the steadily burning season storylines that build to an enormous dramatic crescendo at the finale are a joy.

However, the last Twilight movie has been released and I can’t help but feel that the gushing well of Vampire mania is starting to ease. So I ask the question – what’s next?

For a while I thought it was Zombies. Anyone who has seen ‘The Walking Dead’ will understand why. That show combined with the impending Hollywood version of Max Brooks’s excellent ‘World War Z’ starring Brad Pitt are sure to cause a stir. However, in common with Spielberg’s latest alien drama ‘Falling Skies’ and True Blood which I have already mentioned, these shows’ depth and popularity lie squarely in their characterisation and examination of humanity. They are not so much about Vampires. Aliens and Zombies, but more about how a community of human beings reacts under the strain of the enduring the unimaginable.  Isn’t this at the heart of many a good story irrespective of the genre or location?

To my surprise it has not been the undead that are stumbling in to fill the Vampires void, but the beloved Fairy Tale!

The US TV series ‘Once Upon a Time was a surprise hit of the year for me and the arrival of ‘Grimm’ which is a combination of a cop show and tales from the Brothers Grimm simply affirmed the notion. Adding to these TV successes is the fact that there have been two recent movie adaptations of Snow White and that big screen versions of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are just round the corner. We are in the midst of one of the most successful comebacks of all time.

But is it that much of a surprise?

Surely it was just a matter of time before these stories that have been with us for hundreds of years re-emerged to make use of our new special effects and computer generated graphics. These tales have never really gone away, but simply stayed locked within a children’s book or perhaps a cartoon Disney movie from the mid 20th century. Many of our classic movies owe their DNA to the Fairy Tale.

Consider George Lucas’s Star Wars. Surely its  just  the story of a young prince (Luke Skywalker) rescuing a beautiful princess (Leia)  from a well guarded castle (the Death Star) where she is imprisoned by a Lord of black magic (Darth Vader) whom they can only overcome with the help of a White Wizard (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and some lovable rogues turned heroes (Han Solo and Chewbacca). Throw in some robots and spaceships; replace the swords with ‘lightsabres’ and you have converted your classic fairy tale ingredients into a science fiction epic.

It is the darkness in Fairy Tales that makes them so irresistible to children. The desire to hide behind the sofa during ‘Doctor Who’ is no different to those early fears of witches and evil queens in our favourite bedtime stories. It’s very easy to expand upon those embedded fears, wind up the dial and turn those storylines into something that puts a shiver down the spine of even adults. TV and film producers have realised that and are setting about exploiting it for all its worth.

So, should we feel conned by the fact that we are simply being fed regurgitated fictional fodder from our childhood and indeed, from hundreds of years before that?

Well I say….no! In a world where TV and film producers will remake material from barely a decade or two ago, I feel a sense of comfort that they are able to reach back much, much further. Fairy tales were originally constructed not only as entertainment, but as a way to teach children the difference between good and evil. We are in as much need of that today as we ever were.

New ‘cult fiction’ is being written every day and I applaud its creative originality, but every now and then, it’s good to delve back to the basic building blocks of fantasy fiction and reanimate those core values and themes:

There is good and evil in the world.

There are times when it seems that evil has the upper hand.

But ordinary people with goodness in their hearts can prevail against incredible odds.

I like to think that if we all grew up with that belief etched upon our souls, the world would be all the better for it.

TP

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