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Monday, 27 June 2011

Green Lantern

Superhero movies are like sharks – if they stop moving, they die. Ok, maybe not exactly like sharks. But in a movie like Green Lantern, if the audience is given too much time to realise quite how silly what they’re watching is, then they’ll give up.

Despite having fighting purple aliens, making giant fists out of magic rings and a phobia of the colour yellow, everything in Green Lantern feels flat.

An adaptation of the DC comic, Green Lantern is the story of jet fighter pilot Hal Jordan, who reluctantly takes the place of Earth's protector as part of the Green Lantern Corps, a team of intergalactic space cops.

After a good set up, Green Lantern seems like it has all the ingredients, but ultimately spends too much time faffing about with Jordan's dull love life and boring baddies.

Ryan Reynolds is likeable enough as the man in the horrible CGI green tights, but his slacker superhero seems as bored with the whole thing as we are. Basically Top Gun’s Maverick in Space, he’s no different than cinema's countless other lovable rogues who come good in the end.

The one thing that does set Green Lantern apart from say, Superman or Thor, is his power-ring's unique ability to create whatever objects he can imagine - a race car to rescue an out of control helicopter, water to soften the landing of a falling damsel in distress or a brick wall to hide behind. This means Green Lantern has to out think his enemies, rather than just BIFF POW his way out of danger.

But sequences like this, and Hal's Green Lantern training on their home planet, which should have been fun are cut short in favour of lengthy chats between his tough guy boss Sinestro and six funny blue people who sit on massive pillars.

Add to this a very ineffectual villain in Peter Sarsgaard's mutated mad scientist Hector Hammond, and you've got a bona fide snooze-fest.

Green Lantern always never rises above ordinary, and seems satisified with that, almost as if it’s bored with itself. It has the audience in its grasp, but never goes in for the kill.

And that's something you could never say about a shark.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Dungeons and Dragons

The opening titles of Dungeons & Dragons were genuinely terrifying.

As eerie fairground music tinkles in the background, a group of kids take a ride on a ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ rollercoaster. Suddenly, they’re whisked into a nightmarish dimension where they’re immediately charged by a fire breathing five headed dragon.

Luckily, they’re quickly assisted by the Dungeon Master – imagine a sort of squashed Ross Kemp with Jimmy Saville’s hair – who gives each of them a magical weapon and a new job title.

There’s Hank, the Ranger and the gang’s leader, Shelia, who had a cloak that made her invisible, and a massive crush on Hank, and her kid brother, Bobby, the Barbarian. Then there was Presto, the rubbish Magician and Diana, the Acrobat, whose magically super weapon was basically, a stick. And not forgetting the best character, Eric, the Cavalier – a total sh*t, but also the only one who echoed what we were all thinking watching at home, that the whole thing was completely unfair.

Each episode would see the gang try to locate a portal that would take them back to the real world. Invariably, they’d battle their arch foe, the demon-like Venger, before getting within inches of a portal that offered a tantalising but unreachable glimpse of the theme park, filled with sunshine and happy children eating candyfloss.
Of course, they never made it through.

Usually this was thanks to Uni, Bobby’s squeaking pet unicorn and probably the single most annoying cute sidekick in a cartoon series ever. Almost every episode the gang’s attempt to get back home was ruined by Uni getting her horn stuck in a bush or something.

Most episodes found the group trying their best to put on a brave face as they climbed some impossibly harsh rock face or trekking across a never-ending ice-field before Dungeon Master popped up to set them their task.

You could almost hear a nation of kids screaming as he delivered his infuriatingly ambiguous riddle that was supposed to lead the gang home. In fact, this feeling was, once again, regularly voiced by super-cynical Eric, who was the only character who seemed to recognise how ridiculous the situation was.

Most of us were just praying for the episode where Eric finally lost it and spent the remaining 15 minutes of the show repeatedly punching Dungeon Master in the face while shouting ‘JUST TELL US WHERE THE *$%^$% PORTAL IS YOU BALD HEADED LITTLE S@*T’ and then drop-kicking Uni off a cliff.

The sense of hopelessness I felt as a child watching Dungeons & Dragons has never left me. There weren’t many cartoons where the lead characters were almost exclusively miserable – hounded around an inhospitable landscape by a one-horned bastard and continually ridiculed by a wizened old man with a potato face.
So genuinely did I want those poor kids to get home to their parents, I would have gladly accepted that it meant the end of the show. The saddest thing of all though, is that they never did get back home. The show was cancelled in the middle of its third series, leaving the kids stranded forever. (If they ever did get back though, they could’ve sued that theme park for millions…)

Thursday, 2 June 2011


Imagine this day at the office – you’re an undercover cop, just going about your business when you’re shot in the face by a ne’er-do-well. When you wake up, some bastard has reconstructed your face so you look like David Hasselhoff. Then, while you’ll still reeling from that horrible news, they give you a talking car.

So, you’ve got a super intelligent car that can drive itself, but you also have David Hasselhoff’s face. Swings and Roundabouts.

Anyway, that’s the set-up for Knight Rider (1982-1986). The aforementioned bastard was Wilton Knight, founded of FLAG (Foundation for Law and Government) and after he pops his clogs in the pilot episode, it’s up to Irish smoothie Devon Miles to send Michael (Hasselhoff) and KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) on crime-busting missions.

In the days before SatNav, a talking car was something of a novelty, and someone thought it might be a good idea to base a whole TV show on one. But KITT (effeminately voiced by William Daniels, later to become Mr Feany from Boy Meets World) did more than direct you the wrong way off the A11 – he was a crime fighting car! A jet-black Pontiac Trans Am with a red pulsating scanner at the front, KITT was every man’s dream car.

Meanwhile, Michael Knight was every woman’s dream man. Leather jacket, perm, a way with the ladies. That’s why FLAG had to give him a gay car, just to temper his extreme manliness a bit. (KITT and Michael always had some affectionate banter going on in-between missions – they were definitely flirting.)

Wow. So many questions. How does the car drive himself? Could anyone just put the handbrake on and render him useless? What sort of a name is Wilton?
Don’t worry, everything was explained in the opening narration. It went like this:

A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in the world of criminals who operate above the law…Michael Knight. A lone crusader in a dangerous world. The world… of the Knight Rider.

Sounds exciting doesn’t it? It was a pity then, that every episode pretty much followed the same basic formula of similar 80s shows like Street Hawk, Airwolf and the A-Team.

In Knight Rider, Devon would send Michael to help out a poor community that was being bothered by hoodlums/mobsters/evil business men. A car chase would be shoe-horned in, and Michael would have a fist fight with somebody. (The community would also include at least one attractive twenty something woman for Michael to snog/save from certain death.)

There were some exceptions to the formula though, like when Michael’s evil twin Gareth turned up in a big truck. (Also played by Hasselhoff, he looked exactly the same as Michael but with a moustache – all evil people have moustaches.) And sometimes, if you were lucky, the episode would feature a bit where Michael put KITT into TURBO BOOST mode. This basically meant KITT went a bit faster, but it was very exciting.
The producers obviously had fun trying to get the word ‘Knight’ into as many episode titles as possible. Over four seasons, they included: Knight Moves, Knightmares, Knight in Shining Armour, A Good Knight’s Work, Halloween Knight, Knight of the and Chameleon, Knight of the Rising Sun, Fright Knight and my favourite, Deadly Knightshade (which has nothing whatsoever to do with nightshade, it was just another chance to shoe-horn their favourite pun into a meaningless phrase)

There were some rubbish Nineties versions of Knight Rider – something called Knight Rider 2000 and Team Knight Rider, but they were even more boring that the original and no one liked them. Hasselhoff went on to be a pervy lifeguard before becoming the second worst judge on Britain’s Got Talent. KITT ended up dispensing wise advice to Cory and Tapanga.

But Knight Rider remains fondly remembered by all who saw it. And be honest, who hasn’t shouted ‘Let’s go KITT!’ to their dashboard, pressed the air con button and pretended it’s a TURBO BOOST while no one’s looking?