Storylines In Review

2018 Blog Posts

A Cynic’s Xmas FilmFest - Intro
The Xmas holiday break is the ideal time to kick back and binge-view. But as a reaction against the kind of relentlessly cheerful, sentimental outlook that is pushed at us on xmas tv, I thought I’d adopt a ‘Diogenarian’ approach, with film choices reflecting non-materialist values, or more broadly a critical (some would use the word cynical) disengagement with mainstream social values.

Below: This is a poster I came across on the wall of a Scots writer’s retreat I stayed at in 2014, which is as good an expression of the Diogenarian ‘simple life’ creed as any.

The original Diogenes carried the simple-life ascetic lifestyle to a crass exhibitionist extreme – he lived in a wine barrel in Athens market etc; but his example helped inspire the Cynic school of philosophy, which spurned material values and embraced independent living, and had a longterm influence, cf Thoreau’s bestselling Walden. (The name cynic was originally an insult, related to canine - implying its proponents lived like a dog.)

From 2008-2011, I was a member of a local Diogenes Club, where a group of us met Fridays in the lounge of some local grand hotel to discuss this and that over a beer or two (asceticism didn’t come into it at all), and once a month held a home-cinema film evening where we took turns choosing the DVD. Many mainstream films promote an opulent, materialistic, hedonist or otherwise unsuitable outlook here, so this was always a challenge, and it must be said a ‘Diogenarian’ aspect was not always obvious in the members’ choices. Often the choice was driven by the fascination of old b&w films when life was simpler in the sense we had fewer possessions, reflecting the relative austerity of the postwar era in Britain.

At present, Britain is facing a massive sociopolitical divide, over ‘Brexit’ as the possible driver of a new austerity. The Establishment view is that the 2016 Brexit referendum vote on leaving the EU was an act of economic ‘self-harm’ by 'extremists' (the 17 million who voted Leave, the biggest vote in British history) which must be stopped at all costs. The ‘Bremainer’ arguments are all about the importance of wealth and the prestige and power that goes with it (“feasting at the top table” etc). There is a concern that the better-off will be pushed into the austerity now imposed as a matter of government policy on those on benefits, which drives disabled people into bankruptcy and even suicide.
This gives works like A Xmas Carol a certain grim topical irony, but Diogenarianism and its offshoot Cynicism are broader in outlook than the classbound system which drives so much of the current debate. Like existentialism, they are a rejection of other officially-endorsed conformist societal values like patriotism or religious orthodoxy, reflecting a disillusion with, or alienation from, dogmatic ideological frameworks. Note this does not mean works that are just gloom and doom - they can represent a hearty affirmation of individualism.
Thus, there is scope for application to a whole range of storylines, and here we have attempted an example for each of the 50-plus popular storylines covered on this site.

Go to A Cynic’s Xmas FilmFest feature page
(Warning: Contains content which may make you cynical.)

Hollywood’s iconic ‘saddle tramp’ figure who wanders the West is a typical Diogenarian or Cynic figure, owning no more than his horse can carry, living amidst natural surroundings, owing no man allegiance, and refusing paid work which violates his own moral code. [The still here is from Cheyenne, the first hourlong tv western series.)
A more modern equivalent is the private eye / freelance operator who may lack financial security or regular work but can’t be bought or intimidated by the corruption around him, but will fight for what he sees as right, in effect as an underdog's champion. Often their character background is that they ‘dropped out’ after a disillusioning experience with mainstream values (usually in the military), which explains their ‘cynicism.’ Cf the Jack Reacher film series, which has the ex-MP wandering vigilante hero living as much a cleaned-up lifestyle as tv’s buckskin-fringed westerners – the free-spirited Reacher of the novels owns a folding toothbrush but not a handkerchief, much less a change of clothes.

Below: an example of the independent-minded Cynic attitude in the 'maverick-detective' storyline, from Bullitt (1968). In a climactic key scene (trimmed in some prints for its language), the politician played by Robert Vaughan has been deceived by a mob figure using a decoy to pose as an informant at congressional hearings - a ploy which has got several innocent people killed. He nonetheless tries one last time to compromise Lt. Bullitt's single-minded pursuit of the mobster.

Chalmers: He's still my witness. I'll be delighted to let you have him after he testifies tomorrow. The Organization, several murders, could do us both a great deal of good.
Bullitt: Look Chalmers, let's understand each other. I don't like you.
Chalmers: Oh come on now, don't be naive, lieutenant. We both know how careers are made. Integrity is something you sell the public.
Bullitt: You sell whatever you want, but don't sell it here tonight.
Chalmers: Frank, we must all compromise.
Bullitt [turning on Chalmers]: Bullshit! Get the hell out of here, now.

(After a foot chase through the airport, Bullitt draws his weapon for the first time in the film and without a word shoots the now-trapped mobster dead at almost point-blank range... so much for compromise.)

Upcoming Attractions 2018
-A series of blog posts on upcoming film or tv releases, storyline by storyline.

The 'Best Laid Plans' Storyline 2018

This is a storyline most popular with filmmakers in a crime context, as ‘the 'perfect crime goes wrong’, reflecting the censor-friendly moral theme that Crime Does Not Pay – no matter how well-planned the crime.
Most of the upcoming works are, for whatever reason, either fact-based or remakes of earlier works. (Last year’s Whisky Galore written by Peter McDougall was both.)
Remakes include a Superfly redo (“cocaine dealer tries to secure one more deal before getting out of the business”), adapted by Alex Tse from the 1972 original blaxploitation crime drama; an updated US-set remake scripted by Gillian Flynn and director Steve McQueen of Lynda La Plante’s 1983 tv thriller Widows (“four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms”); and The Red Circle, a remake scripted by Steven Knight [Peaky Blinders] of Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic 1970 heist drama Le Cercle Rouge.
Among original scripts are Bad Samaritan writtten by Brandon Boyce, which has one of those plots where lowlife protagonists get more than they bargained for when they stumble upon a prize – here, “A pair of burglars stumble upon a woman being held captive in a home they intended to rob.” There is also the Maghreb-set French heist comedy writtten by Karim Boukercha, Noé Debré, and director Romain Gavras (son of Costa-Gavras): Le Monde Est À Toi /The World Is Yours. (This is a title ref Scarface fans will recognize, but it may be ironic - set in a modern coastal resort, the plot seems to concern a small-time dealer whose “life falls apart when he learns his mother has spent all his savings.”)
Fact-based works include Stockholm, from a New Yorker article titled “The Bank Drama” by Daniel Lang, about the 1973 Swedish bank robbery hostage drama which gave ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ – the psychological bond between hostage and captor - its name.
Not all best-laid plans are criminal ones - sometimes the police's plans can go horribly wrong as well. 54 Hours, originally titled Gladbeck, written by Holger Karsten Schmidt and director Kilian Riedhof, is a two-part dramatization revisiting (20 years on) what has been called German media history's "darkest hour". (This distinguishes it from the 1972 Munich Olympics hostage disaster, which was an official rather than media cockup.) In this case, police allowed the media to get between them and a hostage situation where bank robbers held bus passengers hostage. It ended with two hostages dead, the robbers surviving, the media being given stricter rules, and several officials resigning. (See banner image at top for screenshots of press crowd and final motorway shootout.) Broadcast on German tv in March 2018, it was shown on BBC in October, but it is not yet out on DVD in subtitled form, only on a German DVD.
Fact-based too are Vault, written by director Tom DeNucci and B. Dolan (“a group of small-time Rhode Island criminals who in 1975 attempt to pull off the biggest heist in American history, stealing more than $30 million from the mafia”), plus a rare-book heist drama, American Animals, from writer-director Bart Layton, a “genre-bending movie based on the true story of four teenagers in Lexington, Kentucky who tried to strike it rich by pulling off a $10M heist centered on a library.”
Fact-based also is the comedy King Of Thieves, written by Joe Penhall from a Mark Seal magazine article, about 'the largest burglary in English legal history', the 2015 Hatton Garden heist. While not exactly a remake, this is scarcely the first screen dramatisation, cf Wikipedia:

“The heist was one of the main features of the American investigative science web-TV series, White Rabbit Project, released on 9 December 2016. The programme sees the presenters investigate and demonstrate the methods used in the heist as well as featuring dramatised re-enactments. It is featured in series one, episode five, "Heist!". A four-part mini-series, Hatton Garden, starring Kenneth Cranham and Timothy Spall, was due to broadcast on ITV from 11 December 2017, but has been postponed until 2018. The Heist was also the subject of two films, Hatton Garden: The Heist from 2016 and The Hatton Garden Job (aka One Last Heist) from 2017. A third film, King of Thieves starring Michael Caine and Ray Winstone, is in post-production.”

Another remake of sorts is is a five or six episode BBC version of The Beast Must Die. Not to be confused with the 1974 werewolf film, this is the first authentic adaptation of a 1938 mystery classic by Nicholas Blake [= poet Cecil Day-Lewis].
In 1969, French director Claude Chabrol co-adapted a version called Que la bête meure, which omitted the novel’s co-protagonist, the private detective Nigel Strangeways. A writer plots the murder of the man who killed his young son in a hit-and-run, but becomes chief suspect when someone else kills him. It is being written by Gaby Chiappe [Their Finest, Vera, BBC’s Shetland etc].


Above: David Tennant in Bad Samaritan

Above: Le Monde Est À Toi /The World Is Yours

Above: Stockholm stars Ethan Hawke as the would-be bank robber turned hostage taker Lars Nystrom trying to get an associate out of prison (shades of Dog Day Afternoon).

Above: 54 Hours aka Gladbeck

Above: King Of Thieves, with Michael Caine as leader of the 4-man senior-citizen gang dubbed the Diamond Wheezers

Jon and Josh Silberman [Living Biblically etc] have been hired to write Coyote Vs. Acme, a feature spinoff of the WB cartoon series created by animation director Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese in 1948. The Acme Corporation is or course the inaptly-named Wile E. Coyote's mail-order supplier of devices bought to catch the Road Runner; these inevitably never work as planned, and often simply backfire on the hapless canine, sending him into a rock wall or over a canyon edge. The variations on this Sisyphus-like setup always seemed to be endless, and evidently there are more variations-on-a-theme still to come. Meep, meep!
One work which appears to be neither fact-based nor a remake is The Good Girl, a tv drama serial being adapted by writer-director Oren Moverman from Mary Kubica’s 2014 debut novel, which has a kidnapping-gone-wrong plot setup as the basis of a nothing-is-quite-what-it-appears drama.
('Alternating timelines and the shifting points of view of Mia’s mother, her kidnapper, and the detective tasked with finding her, constantly circle the question of what really happened to Mia and how, even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems.'
The 'Big Night' Storyline 2018
This is not a storyline that gets much attention, perhaps due to the inbuilt restraints of its time-frame, with the focus on a single evening or overnight stretch, but the dramatic unities of time and often of place can enhance a rite-of-passage story. Perhaps the most used plot setup is a party where fateful events unfold, as in last year’s British satiric drama from Sally Potter, simply titled The Party (a political pun). Below are 10 upcoming releases or productions, including two projects involving Orson Welles, one actually made by him but unreleased for four decades.
Bad Times At The El Royale: Written by its director Drew Goddard, this 1960s-set mystery drama has “Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe's El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption - before everything goes to hell.”
Berlin, I Love You: This 4th entry in the 'Cities of Love' anthology feature franchise [2006-], following Paris Je T’aime, New York I Love You, and Rio, Eu Te Amo, will have 10 vignettes set in the German capital, written by 8 different scenarists for 11 different directors. It qualifies in part as most sequences will likely be evening or night-time encounters.
Here And Now has an early-evening setting, covered in real time. Originally titled Blue Night, and not to be confused with the just-cancelled Alan Ball HBO tv series Here And Now, has been described as an homage to the famous 1962 Agnès Varda film Cléo de 5 à 7 / Cléo From 5 to 7, a real-time drama about a woman waiting the result of a fateful medical test. Written by Laura Eason [House Of Cards], in this US-set update “A singer in New York gets a grim diagnosis that puts her life and dreams into perspective.”

One Night Love (Plan Couer): This 8-part Paris-set romantic comedy as a French-language original for Netflix may fit the bill here. Based on a feature script by British tv writer Chris Lang [Unforgotten] with director Noemie Saglio, this has ‘a female bachelor who does not understand why she can’t find love. Her three friends, determined to help, hire an escort, whom she promptly falls in love with’.
The Other Side Of The Wind, described as a mockumentary satirising the Hollywood studio system and the new wave of art-house European filmmakers, is Orson Welles’s final work, made in the early 70s but long delayed by rights disputes which prevented a final assembly. It’s set one night when a crisis-hit filmmaker’s relaunch party goes slowly wrong.
The Prom Goer's Interstellar Excursion, adapted by Chris McCoy from his 2015 YA SF novel, has a high schooler’s prom date ruined when she is abducted by aliens.
Ready Or Not, written by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy, “tells the story of a young woman, who on the night of her wedding, is invited to her new in-laws time-honored tradition which turns into a lethal game of survival.”
Satanic Panic, written by Grady Hendrix, is described as “an After Hours-esque horror comedy with a dash of gore”, where “a pizza delivery girl at the end of her financial rope who has to fight for her life — and her tips — when her last order of the night turns out to be high society Satanists in need of a virgin sacrifice.”
Uptown Saturday Night, a remake of the 1974 Bill Cosby-Sidney Poitier comedy, is being developed from a script by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris.
We Interrupt This Program, from a Sean Sorensen script, dramatises the behind-the-scenes conflicts during Orson Welles’s 1938 War Of The Worlds radio mockumentary-style hoax.

The 'Citizens Into Soldiers' Storyline 2018
Above and below: The fact-based drama, 12 Strong, adapted by Ted Tally and Peter Craig from Doug Stanton's non-fiction book Horse Soldiers, about the first military unit sent into Afghanistan in the weeks after 9/11, premieres in the US this month.
68 Whiskey, the working title of a commissioned Paramount/ Imagine TV pilot written by Roberto Benabib [The Brink] based on a hit Israeli TV series, Charlie Golf One. It ‘follows a multicultural mix of men and women deployed as Army medics to a forward operating base in Afghanistan nicknamed “The Orphanage.” Together, they endure a dangerous and Kafkaesque world that leads to self-destructive appetites, outrageous behavior, intense camaraderie and occasionally, a profound sense of purpose.’ Currently in development, A Brotherhood ‘tells the story of William, a struggling U.S. veteran of the Iraq War, who is forced to return to the Middle East after ISIS kidnaps his estranged brother.’ Writer-director Bandar Albuliwi was inspired by a 2015 article about ‘a 28-year old former American soldier who travelled from a small town in Wisconsin to war-torn Syria in order to join the People’s Protection Unit (Kurdish YPG).‘
A TV limited-series adaptation, written by Luke Davies and David Michôd based on Joseph Helller’s classic antiwar novel Catch-22 [filmed 1970], is being directed by George Clooney, who also costars. Three lost episodes BBC’s hit sitcom about the Home Guard, Dad's Army, are to be reshot for digital channel Gold. The video tapes of the episodes Under Fire, A Stripe For Frazer, and The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Walker were recycled, but now will be remade with new casts performing the original Jimmy Perry / David Croft scripts.
First Man, adapted by Josh Singer [Spotlight] from James R. Hansen's biography of Neil Armstrong fits the profile though its setting is Cold rather than hot war. It follows Armstrong's career over eight years, up to, and just beyond, the lunar landing, and is released in October.
Greyhound, scripted by its star Tom Hanks, now in post-production, is based on the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester, about a passed-over USN officer who is thrust into the forefront of WW2 when he is given command of the destroyer Greyhound, leader of ‘an escort force protecting an Atlantic convoy in the Battle of the Atlantic’, suffering ‘fatigue, depression, and self-doubt as his self-perceived inferiority and inexperience to the other captains under his command troubles him’. Mayday 109, from a script by Samuel Franco and Evan Kilgore, dramatises the story of JFK’s WW2 shipwreck experience when his PT boat was rammed by a Japanese warship and the crew had to survive on a tropical island. (This was previously dramatised in the 1963 film PT 109.)
US firefighters have been put in the same heroic class as soldiers since 9/11, and Only The Brave, written by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, fits this storyline. It dramatises the 2013 Granite Mountain disaster, when a team of elite firefighters went into the midst of an out-of-control wildfire in Arizona and were overrun.
In development is a US tv series adaptation by Eric Tuchman (The Handmaid’s Tale) of Bruce Henderson’s book Sons And Soldiers, subtitled The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler. (Says it all.) WWII drama Waiting For Anya, adapted by director Ben Cookson and Toby Torlesse from the Michael Morpurgo novel, has a young shepherd in effect join the French Resistance by helping a widow smuggle Jewish children across the border from southern France into Spain.
Tuntematon Sotilas (Unknown Soldier) dramatises the fortunes of a Finnish infantry unit in the followup to Finland’s 1939 Winter War against the invading Soviets. Adapted by Jari Olavi Rantala and director Aku Louhimies from Väinö Linna's best-selling 1954 novel, this must be the 3rd or 4th film adaptation, but this time also draws on the novel's unedited manuscript version, Sotaromaani. As well as the 3-hr Finnish cinema version (its biggest hit) and a shorter international release, a 5-ep miniseries version is being released by YLE (Finnish Broadcasting) for Xmas 2018.

The 'Civic Disaster' Storyline 2018

Above: 22 July, one of two rival productions on the Utoya massacre - see below under Utoya. In Altitude, written by its director Marc Fienberg, to start filming in South Africa in January, “a man who has planned the perfect romantic proposal to his girlfriend in front of their friends and family aboard a hot air balloon. An abrupt accident leaves only the couple and [her] estranged ex-boyfriend on board as the balloon rises at out-of-control speeds, forcing the trio to try anything to stay alive.”
The feature biopic The Challenger, written by Jayson Rothwell, will tell the story of the ill-fated NASA astronaut Christa McAuliffe, who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle tragedy. Written by Craig Mazin, the five-part HBO miniseries Chernobyl being filmed in Lithuania will cover another 1986 real-life disaster, the Ukrainian nuclear power plant meltdown which contaminated areas of Europe with radiation.

Kursk, adapted by Robert Rodat [Saving Private Ryan] from Robert Moore’s book A Time To Die, is a $40 million English-language French-Belgian drama about the 2000 Kursk submarine disaster, where 23 Russian sailors who survived the initial explosion slowly suffocated due to official inaction and obstruction.

Another fact-based drama, Only The Brave, written by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, about the 2013 Granite Mountain disaster, when a team of elite fire-fighters went into the midst of an out-of-control wildfire in Arizona and were overrun, fits this storyline as well.
Written by Chris Sparling, the disaster thriller Greenland is ‘the story of a family’s fight for survival in the face of a cataclysmic natural disaster.’ The four-part Channel 4 / Hulu series commissioned The Light (w/t) written by Jack Thorne, dramatises what sounds like an Aberfan-type disaster in a small Welsh town, where many children die.
The JFK assassination in 1963 was probably the defining trauma in civic affairs in the modern era. The Ben Jacoby-scripted drama Newsflash focuses on how CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite became the 'voice of America' in the aftermath of the assassination when the nation was in shock. The U.S. intelligence failures which led to the CIA and FBI not coordinating to prevent 9/11, despite the many clues it was about to happen, are the subject of Hulu's 10-ep drama The Looming Tower, written by Dan Futterman, Alex Gibney, Lawrence Wright based on Wright's Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction novel.

There are two rival dramatisations of the 2011 massacre of Norwegian youth by Anders Breivik, though the focus is different in each. Scripted by director Paul Greengrass and Åsne Seierstad from her 2015 book One Of Us, 22 July deals mainly with Breivik's trial, and is being shown on Netflix in October. The Norwegian film Utoya - July 22, written by Siv Rajendram Eliassen and Anna Bache-Wiig from director Erik Poppe’s story, dramatises the event in real time from the viewpoint of a fictional teen, and is being released in cinemas.
[Note: The above post was the last in our series of '2018 upcoming attractions' posts by storyline [proceeding alphabetically]. We did 10 of these, some requiring their own dedicated feature pages (as there were so many examples), before the year itself ran out. See our home page for a complete list of the 10 storylines covered.]
World Press Freedom Day

Unesco’s World Press Freedom Day, every 3 May, is an apt time to consider some of the films which have celebrated this key component of democracy. To cite the Washington Post's current slogan, “Democracy dies in Darkness”. The newspaper, now owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is under attack by the US President, as it has been before - see All The President's Men and the recent The Post. And in other countries, investigative journalism can get you killed - a growing trend, it seems. This year's theme is 'Keeping Power In Check: Media, Justice And The Rule of Law'. (In other words, why the press is not, to use Trump's slogan, an "enemy of the people". Cf a recent Trump tweet: "I just cannot state strongly enough how totally dishonest much of the Media is. Truth doesn’t matter to them, they only have their hatred & agenda. This includes fake books, which come out about me all the time, always anonymous sources, and are pure fiction. Enemy of the People!")
Below is a personal selection of 10 film/tv dramas. In terms of popular storylines, they are nearly all examples of the ‘conspiracy uncovered’ story, though the more realist ones, detailing the hard slog to obtain the necessary facts, also qualify as 'investigative procedural' stories.

1. All The President's Men (1976), scripted by William Goldman based on the 1974 non-fiction book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
2. The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961), written by Wolf Mankowitz and director Val Guest
3. Deadline – U.S.A. (1952), written by director Richard Brooks
4. Defence Of The Realm (1985), written by Martin Stellman
5. On Expenses (BBC 2010), written by Tony Saint
6. Reds (1981), written by Trevor Griffiths and producer/director/ star Warren Beatty
7. Spotlight (2015), written by Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy
8. State Of Play (BBC 2003), written by Paul Abbott [2009 US feature remake scripted by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Peter Morgan and Billy Ray]
9. The Year Of Living Dangerously (1982), scripted by David Williamson and director Peter Weir from Christopher Koch's 1978 novel
10. Zodiac (2007), scripted by James Vanderbilt based on 2 non-fiction books by Robert Graysmith
National Alien Day, April 26

-No, I’d never heard of it either till yesterday. It’s inherently odd – could there may be more to it than meets the eye?
Apparently the official explanation is that the date was chosen from the planetary ID number where in the 1979 film Alien the crew find the eggs of the deadly reptoid alien race: ‘LV 426’ [4/26 = April 26, geddit?]. Officially it began two years ago as a simple celebration, promoted by the studio, of the 1979 film. But it’s inherently odd - we don’t have ‘Jaws Day’, ‘Casablanca Day’, ‘Godfather Day’ and so on, ad infinitum. The name is ambiguous – generic – and I’m wondering if it has a more general appeal, related to a growing, more general interest in aliens – not just in outer space, but here on earth. These past few years, a freedom-of-information campaign has been building called the Disclosure Movement. This is to reveal any US government knowledge of alien extra-terrestrial presence. (Hillary Clinton vowed to discover the truth when she became President – there are stories that any curious new President is shown crashed saucers and alien bodies kept at the ‘Area 51’ USAF base.) The scenario echoes that of the '79 film, where the powers-that-be want to utilise the aliens for military purposes. The Disclosure ‘truthers’ argue the US Government made a postwar deal with a reptoid alien race which allowed them to abduct and harvest humans, in exchange for advanced technology. It’s a ‘Faustian pact’ setup - in this interpretation, the volunteers who happily board the alien craft at the end of CE3K would simply be experimented on, perhaps harvested for their organs.
For there is a theory, which has made its way into film criticism and genre histories, that since the 1950s the US government has been using Hollywood scriptwriters to float various scenarios to gauge public reaction to a real-world disclosure, and to condition them to the idea aliens really are here, to soften the culture-shock blow when it comes, offering production support in the form of military vehicles, aircraft, and personnel as an inducement.
In any case, it seems there are two storied outlooks here: [1] the aliens are friendly, here to help us evolve beyond our destructive tendencies, and [2] the aliens are hostile – they want to take over Earth, want us humans as food, slaves etc. Any ‘Faustian Pact’ setup aside, these fit two popular storylines of the sort we cover here, the ‘Evolutionary Struggle’ and ‘Apocalypse Survival’. As sci-fi is a populous genre, I’ve chosen 20 titles for our films list, rather than just the usual 10 we’ve listed for previous occasions. About half fit each of our two main storylines, though in a few instances, the aliens simply prove beyond human understanding. All are feature films unless otherwise specified. Note that there is sometimes more than one version of a title.


Alien visitors, Klaatu and Gort - the reasonable, friendly face and behind, the not-so-friendly one who is the real master.

-Still from The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), scripted by Edmund H. North from the 1940 Harry Bates story “Farewell To The Master”

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (UK 1968), written by Arthur C Clarke [also 1984 sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact based on Clarke's 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two]
2. Alien (1979), written by Dan O'Bannon & Ronald Shusett [sequels, prequels and spinoffs ongoing]
3. Arrival (2016), scripted by Eric Heisserer based on the Ted Chiang short story "Story Of Your Life"
4. Avatar (2009), written by its director James Cameron [sequels ongoing]
5. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), written by its director Steven Spielberg
6. District 9 (2009), written by its director Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
7. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), written by Melissa Mathison
8. Fantastic Planet / La Planète Sauvage (Fr/Cz 1973), scripted by Roland Topor and director René Laloux from Stefan Wul’s 1957 novel ‘Oms en série’
9. Galaxy Quest (1999), written by David Howard & Robert Gordon
10. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (UK 1981), tv serial written by Douglas Adams from his radio serial [2005 feature film also]
11. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956), scripted by Daniel Mainwaring from 1955 Jack Finney novel The Body Snatchers [1978 version scripted by W.D. Richter]
12. Paul (2011), written by co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
13. Predator (1987), written by Jim Thomas, John Thomas
14. Quatermass And The Pit (UK 1958), tv serial written by Nigel Kneale [1967 Hammer colour feature version aka Five Million Years To Earth also scripted by Kneale]
15. Solaris (USSR 1972), scripted by F. Gorenshteyn and director A. Tarkovskiy from 1961 Stanislav Lem novel [2002 US version scripted by director Steven Soderbergh]
16. The Andromeda Strain (1971), scripted by Nelson Gidding from the Michael Crichton novel [2008 tv miniseries version also]
17. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), scripted by Edmund H. North from 1940 Harry Bates story “Farewell To The Master” [2008 version scripted by David Scarpa]
18. The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), scripted by Paul Mayersberg from the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis
19. The Thing From Another World (1951), scripted by Charles Lederer from 1938 John W. Campbell Jr. story "Who Goes There?" [1982 version scripted by Bill Lancaster]
20. The War Of The Worlds (1953), scripted by Barré Lyndon from 1898 H.G. Wells novel [also 2005 Spielberg version etc]

2001: The aliens themselves are never seen; the surviving astronaut becomes a guinea pig in an alien science lab, to be reborn and returned to Earth as the next step in human evolution.

Royal Air Force Centenary – The RAF On Film
The 100th anniversary of the founding of the RAF this year has prompted me to put together a blog item in similar format to earlier ones this year, with a list of 10 film-tv titles to mark the occasion by. (The RAF was formed on April 1, 1918; there are various commemorative events scheduled between mid-April and July 10, when there will be a Westminster Abbey service and televised parade followed by a flypast over Buckingham Palace of up to 100 aircraft representing RAF history.) To tie in with the centenary, a number of film titles like The Dam Busters and Angels One Five have been issued on DVD or Blu-ray in digitally restored form, as part of StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics collection. Included below is our own short-list of 10 films. Initially I thought to trace the RAF’s development through the decades, with one film per decade, but this proved unrealistic.

Nearly all the major films made are set in WW2. If you stretch the coverage to include films about the RAF’s main predecessor the Royal Flying Corps, you can add a couple of films set late in WWI, but there are almost no notable titles set after that. While the US made aviation films set in the 50s, 60s, 70s, etc, Britain made only one of note. Thus the list may seem nostalgic for the days when ‘the Few’ saved the country from invasion, but there is a sad background to the lack of films set post-WW2.
…Britain had invented the jet engine prewar, but bankrupted by the war, simply gave the technology away to the US. Civil aviation took a knock when the first jetliner, the Comet, had to be withdrawn after 3 of its 9 aircraft in service came apart in midair due to a then undocumented problem, metal fatigue. (Though aircraft designer Neville Shute had written of its danger in his novel No Highway In The Sky, filmed in England in 1950.) That ended British aviation’s hopes of dominating the transatlantic passenger jet market. The testing of the first supersonic aircraft also ran into unknown problems. The chief test pilot for leading firm DeHavilland, who was actually the owner’s son, was killed when his plane came apart over the Thames Estuary in 1946. The incident is covered in the 1952 David Lean film [Breaking] The Sound Barrier. (It would be a US test pilot, Chuck Yeager, who would make the first successful documented supersonic flight in 1947.) Going ‘supersonic’ also led to a disaster at the 1952 Royal Farnborough Air Show when a DeHavilland Sea Vixen prototype jet fighter broke the sound barrier and then broke up in midair above the crowd, killing 31.
The RAF’s motto is Per Ardua Ad Astra (‘Through adversity to the stars’), and Britain had been looking postwar towards aerospace (cf the final shot of the film The Sound Barrier). In the 1950s, there were British boys-adventure comics like Dan Dare - Pilot Of The Future (set in the late 1990s), and radio dramas like Journey Into Space (set 1965-), but even these great popular successes did not get made into films. (David Lean proposed doing a Journey Into Space film, but this went nowhere.) To save money, the government in the late 50s abandoned Britain’s rocket programme in favour of building only unmanned guided missiles for defence. And increasingly they bought US-made technology.
After 1960, films were increasingly made with US finance and so had US actors or characters in the lead roles, as with 633 Squadron and The Great Escape, set at a camp for RAF POWs. (Despite the latter film’s opening claim of accuracy, no Americans participated in the actual escape.) British film producer Sir David Puttnam long tried to produce a film of Len Deighton’s classic 1970 realist novel depicting a 1943 RAF bombing raid, Bomber, but he was never able to get the financing. He instead ended up in 1990 making a routine drama, supposedly fact-based but heavily fictionalised, about an otherwise unremarkable US bomber mission on the final raid of the crew’s rota ‘tour’, Memphis Belle, from which plane and crew emerged unscathed – as had already been shown by a wartime documentary of the same name. (This routine raid ironically occurred the same date as the Dam Busters raid, a feature remake of which by Peter Jackson was announced a few years ago, then quietly put aside.) For those who want more historical context on these and other RAF-related dramas, I’m putting together a feature page on the history of the RAF on screen, from The Dawn Patrol to The Sound Barrier. In the meantime, here’s our A-Z shortlist of 10 films for those who want a ready list (all available for viewing on DVD and/or BluRay). It includes two titles depicting the Royal Flying Corps, the RAF's predecessor, and one set in the early days of the postwar jet age:

1. Aces High (1976), scripted by Howard Barker, from RC Sherriff’s play Journey’s End, and memoir 'Sagittarius Rising' by Sqdn Ldr Cecil Arthur Lewis
2. Angels One Five (1952), scripted by Derek Twist, from book What Are Your Angels Now? by W/Cdr Pelham Groom
3. Appointment In London (1952), scripted by John Wooldridge and Robert Westerby from Wooldridge’s story
4. Battle Of Britain (1969), scripted by James Kennaway and Wilfred Greatorex from book 'The Narrow Margin' by Derek Dempster & Derek Wood
5. The Dam Busters (1954), scripted by RC Sheriff from Paul Brickhill’s 1951 book and W/Cdr Guy Gibson’s 1944 memoir Enemy Coast Ahead
6. The Dawn Patrol (1938), co-scripted by John Monk Saunders from his story "The Flight Commander”
7. Malta Story (1953), scripted by William Fairchild and Nigel Balchin, based on an idea by Thorold Dickinson and Peter de Sarigny
8. The Purple Plain (1954), scripted by Eric Ambler from H.E. Bates’s novel
9. The Sound Barrier (1952), scripted by Terence Rattigan
10. The Way To The Stars (1945), scripted by F/Lt Terence Rattigan, Anatole de Grunwald, director Anthony Asquith, Capt Richard Sherman; poem by John Pudney

... As to storylines, most of these RAF dramas naturally fall within the 'royal champion' story type, but the 'war-torn romance' story runs this a close second. There are also at least 2 'war is hell' stories. As usual, I'll let viewers decide which is which.
Update: We now also have a feature page up on the history of the RAF on-screen, here.
Canadian Film Day Picks
National Canadian Film Day has been held every April for the past 5 years. This year it’s on the 18th, when there are showings of selected films all across Canada. The NCFD website has a list of 150 Canadian films to choose from, also available as a downloadable PDF. Their website refers to the ‘sesquicentennial edition of National Canadian Film Day’, meaning 150th anniversary. This would likely refer to a special 150th anniversary, in 2017, of Canadian Confederation in 1867. Obviously there were no films back then; Canadian cinema itself only emerged post-WW2. Before that, films set in Canada were US or British productions. (For anyone interested in the backstory here, so to speak, there is a retrospective documentary about this online – the 1978 Has Anybody Here Seen Canada?, plus a book, Hollywood’s Canada by Pierre Berton.) Evidently the ‘sesquicentennial’ idea is to have films dramatising the entire period since Confederation in 1867. Even if such a range of films can be found, that’s a tall order which would require a whole feature page to itself, and I think in the meantime we’ll just stick to an introductory-style list of 10 films.

I’ve selected films that are made by Canadians rather than by visiting US filmmakers. This approach is akin to the difference between being a tourist and a resident, and there are no films in the list below with fur trappers, moose, Mounties, bush pilots, canoeing, bears etc. (The ‘bear’ in the source story for the 10th entry is a metaphor for dementia.) The closest to an exception is The Grey Fox, which is a fact-based realist work set in the 1900s, about a figure holding out against the modern age that came with the railroad. Otherwise, the films are all set in town or city surroundings. I had to cross off a few initial choices, such as Outrageous! (1977) and Why Rock The Boat? (1974) - both considered at the time as somewhat subversive - since home video copies seem impossible to obtain internationally. This unfortunately includes a few francophone entries (Canada being officially bilingual) such as Les Ordres (1974) and Le Déclin De L'empire Américain (1986), the closest to a bilingual film on the list being The Pyx, set in Montreal.

Contrary to popular image, Canadian films are not all wholesome family films like Anne Of Green Gables, or adventure stories involving outdoor pursuits. Right is a still from Paperback Hero [listed below], with Keir Dullea and Elizabeth Ashley indulging in some indoor water sports.

To keep it manageable, the list doesn’t include shorts, for which the National Film Board of Canada has probably won more awards than any other outfit, or tv series, only features. Films are listed in chronological rather than alphabetical order to give a better idea of the development of Canadian cinema. You may notice that neither women nor black etc filmmakers appear on the list until the 2nd-last entry, and even this is for some a controversial [as very sexually explicit] work. As Canadian films tend to be unknown abroad (one reason for doing this list), I’ve included a Wiki link for each title. As to what popular storylines the 10 represent, the list is designed as usual to cover a range of these, from the ‘coming of age’ and ‘dangerous liaison’ storylines, through the ‘midwinter crisis’ and ‘faustian pact’, to ‘apocalypse-survival’ and ‘life-ending reconciliation’ stories.

Winter Kept Us Warm (1965), written by director David Secter.

Goin' Down The Road (1970), written by William Fruet and director Don Shebib

Paperback Hero (1973) written by Barry Pearson and Les Rose.

The Pyx (1973), written by Robert Schlitt based on John Buell's 1959 novel

[Note that because the original title - referring to a a small round container used in Catholic ritual - was regarded as too obscure, US distributors released the film under the exploitation-style title The Hooker Cult Murders. In French, the film is known as La Lunule, meaning a crescent-shaped amulet etc.]

The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz (1974), written by Lionel Chetwynd from the 1959 novel by Mordechai Richler.

The Grey Fox (1982), written by John Hunter based on biographical sources

Strange Brew (1983), written by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas with Steve De Jarnatt, based on their SCTV series characters.

Last Night (1998), written by director Don McKellar

Lie With Me (2005), written by Tamara Faith Berger, director Clément Virgo and Carrie Paupst Shaughnessy based on Berger’s 2001 novel.

Away From Her (2006), written by director Sarah Polley from Alice Munro's 2001 short story The Bear Who Came Over The Mountain
The Evolving 'Brexit' Storyline 
-An evolving real-world political ‘storyline’ is being dramatised in various ways.
The Easter weekend papers have been full of speculation about ‘Brexit’ as the UK will be ending EU membership in a year, at the end of March 2019. Normally, we wouldn’t cover a political topic per se, but attempts to transform a real-world political ‘storyline’ into drama put it into our purview here. So: What’s the story? As they say in films, “It’s complicated.” [read on] (For overseas readers, there is a backgrounder section alongside the main text on our feature page.)
St Patrick’s Day Film Picks

As it’s St Patrick’s Day today [Mr 17th], I thought I’d do a similar viewing list of 10 suggested films for those observing the occasion at home. Note that this is just a personal choice of titles, films about Irish society that have meant something to me. As to their storylines, as with our Scots Burns Night and Australia Day lists [see earlier posts], there’s a range of them. The only recurring storyline seems again to be the ‘country retreat challenge’, where the protagonists’ lifestyle, livelihood or life is under threat. This could apply to at least 3 of the 10 below, though I leave it up to the viewer to determine which ones.

1. Man Of Aran (1934) staged documentary, written by director Robert Flaherty
2. Odd Man Out (1947) scripted by R. C. Sherriff from 1945 F. L. Green novel
3. The Quiet Man (1952) scripted by Frank S. Nugent from 1933 Maurice Walsh short story
4. Young Cassidy (1965) scripted by John Whiting, from 1956 autobiography Mirror In My House by Seán O'Casey
5. Ryan's Daughter (1970) written by Robert Bolt
6. The Dead (1987) scripted by Tony Huston from c1911 James Joyce story
7. The Commitments (1991) scripted by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Roddy Doyle from Doyle's 1987 novel
8. The Guard (2011) written by director John Michael McDonagh
9. Calvary (2014) written by director John Michael McDonagh
10. Brooklyn (2015) scripted by Nick Hornby, from Colm Tóibín's novel

... Ireland did not have its own film industry till well into the postwar era. Early productions on the list were made with the involvement of US filmmakers who claimed Irish ancestry, as here with Flaherty and Ford.
British filmmakers also played a role, as here with Carol Reed, Jack Cardiff, Alan Parker. In recent years, finance has become more international. The most recent film illustrated here, Brooklyn (2015) [mouse over image at right] is listed as a coproduction between the UK, Canada, Ireland, Belgium and the USA.

Finally, Irish filmmakers have been able to get their own stories onto the screen, as with the last few titles on our list - which is as good a reason to celebrate as any.

Australia Day Film Picks
Further to the previous blog post, I've been reminded that the same weekend as Burns Suppers are held worldwide is also Australia Day. So I thought I'd do a list of film candidates to match the Scots one. I haven't tried to include vintage films like The Overlanders, made by Ealing Studios in 1946 before the Australian film industry emerged in its own right. (The last two titles below were made by British or Canadian directors, but were said to have directly inspired the first films of the 'Australian film renaissance' which began in the mid-70s.) While the Scots films on the preceding list mainly follow the one storyline (the 'country retreat challenge'), the Aussie titles below do not. There are a couple of 'country retreat challenge' stories, but overall the list is more diverse, from 'war is hell' and 'war-torn romance' to 'away-break crisis', the 'monstrous awakening' and 'modern misfit' through 'castaway', 'outpost command crisis', 'apocalypse-survival' and 'future dystopia' storylines. But I'll let you work out which is which. Hopefully, there's something here for everyone.
Babe (1995) written by director Chris Noonan and producer George Miller, from Dick King-Smith's 1983 novel The Sheep-Pig
Breaker Morant (1980) written by Jonathan Hardy, David Stevens and director Bruce Beresford, from the play by Kenneth G. Ross and Kit Denton's book "The Breaker"
Crocodile Dundee (1986) written by Paul Hogan, Ken Shadie and John Cornell from Paul Hogan's story
The Dish (2000) written by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy and director Rob Sitch
Mad Max series [Mad Max (1979); Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981); Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985); Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)] written by director George Miller at al
Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) scripted by Cliff Green based on the novel by Joan Lindsay
They're A Weird Mob (1966) scripted by director Michael Powell and 'Richard Imrie' [=Emeric Pressburger] based on the novel by 'Nino Culotta' [=John O'Grady]
A Town Like Alice (1981) scripted by Tom Hegarty and Rosemary Anne Sisson from the novel by Nevil Shute
Wake In Fright aka Outback (1971) scripted by Evan Jones from the novel by Kenneth Cook
Walkabout (1971) scripted by Edward Bond loosely based on James Vance Marshall's children's novel
The Burns Night Film

Every January 25th, I commemorate Burns Night (the birthday of Scotland’s national poet) by having a meal of [veggie] haggis etc and watching a suitable film set in Scotland. It’s well-known that there are more people of Scots background living abroad than in Scotland itself, and Burns Night is hence commemorated across the world. Often, Burns Suppers are celebrated by an expensive haggis-and-whisky supper mounted by local Burns societies and accompanied by readings from Burns’s verse, attended by local dignitaries. Unfortunately, women are still often excluded from joining Burns societies, and unless you have an invite to one of these expensive, exclusive Burns Supper evenings, the occasion must be celebrated privately. For anyone in this situation, celebrating it at home – alone or with a companion – the supper menu is standard (haggis, neeps, tatties, whisky), but there is no standard choice of after-dinner film. There are no films about Robert Burns himself (a planned biopic with Gerard Butler was never made), but there are other films which commemorate ‘Scottishness’ in different ways.
This year, my personal choice was the Bill Douglas Trilogy. This was a sequence of 3 autobiographical featurettes made by Bill Douglas (1934-1991) in the 1970s, dramatising his childhood and adolescence in the Scottish mining village where it was mostly filmed, in 16mm b&w. Set in the 1940s, it's the grimmest of grim reminders of the bad old days (and Scottish cinema has a number of these). Douglas's stand-in Jamie (played by an actor who himelf died age 38) lives in conditions of destitution with various unsuitable relatives, as his mother is mentally ill and his father absent. His only escape from misery is the cinema …
I realise this may not reflect others’ ideas about a suitable Burns Night film, so for future reference I’ve compiled a shortlist of 10 suitable candidate film choices below. A couple are actually TV serials too long for a single evening, so you'll have to select an episode or two. I've also included a sequel for the final choice in the A-Z list below, making a double-feature showing.
10 Burns Night Film Candidates
Note that 3 of the 10 are sometimes referred to as the Bill Forsyth Trilogy but are listed separately as they are unrelated stories.
Braveheart (1995) written by Randall Wallace
Comfort And Joy (1984) written by director Bill Forsyth
Gregory’s Girl (1981) written by director Bill Forsyth
Hamish Macbeth (1995-97) written by Daniel Boyle et al, loosely based on the novels by M. C. Beaton [Marion Chesney]
I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) written by Emeric Pressburger and director Michael Powell
Local Hero (1983) written by director Bill Forsyth
Rab C Nesbitt (1988-2011) written by Ian Pattison
Stone Of Destiny (2008) written by director Charles Martin Smith
Sunshine On Leith (2013) written by Stephen Greenhorn from his stage musical
Whisky Galore! (1949) and Rockets Galore! (1957) written by [1] Angus MacPhail and Compton MacKenzie from C.M's novel, and [2] Monja Danischewsky and Compton MacKenzie from C.M's novel

[Below: Stills from [1] I Know Where I'm Going! and [2] Whisky Galore!, and from [1] Gregory’s Girl and [2] Hamish Macbeth]

‘Tis The Season To Be Binge Watching
-Boxset Binge 2017: 007 And The 'Secret Agent Champion' Storyline

The Xmas break has become the time for binge watching. On-demand ‘catchup’ viewing spikes in December, and BBCiPlayer for the first time is offering entire series of shows for this purpose. Sales of boxsets also spike. This has had an impact on the writing and production of tv series as well – recently Mark Lawson did a 3-part R4 docu series on this phenomenon, and how it is altering perception of story arcs.
The start of all this was the ability to record off-air for ‘time-shift’ viewing that came with VCRs in the early 80s. Initially, studios like Disney tried to block the sale of these machines entirely, on the grounds that it might harm their tv viewing figures, but soon they were issuing their own videos, with boxsets for longer-running tv series. When the slimmer DVD format came in, they were able to cram more into a boxset – a dozen or more discs in keepcases. Now, the boxset is expected to be the ultimate edition – digitally restored and the most complete. This is of course not always the case where there is an additional cost for ancillary rights, such as music reuse. For example, my boxset of BBC’s Hamish Macbeth is missing an episode where the locals are rehearsing an amdram production of West Side Story. This is not announced, and those who discover the omission may feel they have the right to complain if it is an ‘official’ boxset representing the series. This situation hit the headlines recently where someone in the US bought The James Bond Collection 50th anniversary [?] boxset “Celebrating Five Decades of Bond” and sued because it was missing the 1967 Casino Royale and the 1983 Never Say Never Again. A judge ruled the lawsuit could go ahead because of the phrasing and expectation of completeness, though both were rival, non-canonical productions. (One fansite calls them ‘rogue productions.’)
I inherited a larger James Bond box set myself this past year. A neighbour moving out had left a cardboard box full of videos in the hall, labelled Help Yourself. Inside were all the Bond films issued on videocassette, i.e. not the Daniel Craig ones. But all the others were there, including the two ‘non-canonical’ ones, the 1967 Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again. I have a ‘combi’ machine that will play videocassettes and DVDs and thought this would be an ideal opportunity to watch these films in sequence, to get an overview of how the series evolved artistically over the decades. In the event, I didn’t manage to go the distance. The first 4 titles demonstrated the appeal of the original films, but with You Only Live Twice I felt the series began to lose its way. The underlying problem is that all Fleming’s plots have a megalomaniac psycho billionaire with a plan to take over the world via a project or agency he is funding with his untold wealth, and only 007 can stop him, by going alone into his fantastic hidden lair, being taken captive, escaping and blowing up the key installation just before the villain’s master plan goes into effect. The inherent unlikeliness of all this, even in genre fiction terms, creates difficulties for the scriptwriters as it is all to be played out as live action in real locations. Taking a jokey approach does not really solve the problem and creates glitches in tone at every turn.

Left: stills from [1] Thunderball: the 00 agents are told about SPECTRE's nuclear blackmail plot; and [2] Goldfinger: the millionaire supervillain outlines his plan to raid America's bullion supply at Fort Knox.

The series' repeated story setup belongs to the older, romantic school of the ‘secret agent champion’ storyline. (There’s also a realist school, as in the works of LeCarre.) It predates Fleming, with Clubland heroes and evil-genius villains like Fu Manchu going back to pre-WWI. The Bond films are simply the most expensive instances, productions able to mount elaborate chase scenes and other action setpieces in exotic locations, with spectacular interior sets for the villain’s lair etc.

The original series was made by Cubby Broccoli's and Harry Saltzman's Eon productions. Pictured: Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli, Connery, Fleming, Harry Saltzman [1962 publicity photo]. In fact, Fleming was snobbishly disdainful of Connery and the first Eon film, Dr No.

Right: From Russia With Love: [1] the chess tournament which sets up the idea the enemy conspiracy is planned as a series of chess gambits, and [2] the moment Bond has the plan revealed to him.

Since ‘Bondmania’ hit circa 1963-4, there have been many rival instances, often presented as spoofs.

Dr No: the moment 007 first reveals how ruthless he is. ("That's a Smith & Wesson, Professor, and you've had your six.")

This was the case with the first non-Eon production. The 1967 Casino Royale was a zany, cheerful farce, which seemed to intercut several different films, where the Bond identity was spread across different agents as a cover name. (It's recently come to light that this idea derived from the work of veteran Hollywood scriptwriter Ben Hecht. He was originally hired to do a straight CR adaptation, but the filmmakers just stitched together ideas from his various drafts, and the whole thing was then played for laughs as another 'Sixties spy spoof'.)
Connery quit the role after You Only Live Twice, declining to make On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Ironically, this was a more serious film, closer to the novel, but proved another one-off in the sense the replacement actor, George Lazenby, promptly burnt out and walked away. Connery agreed to return in 1972 for another lame, jokey walk-through in Diamonds Are Forever, in exchange for a 7-figure payment to his favourite charity. The Roger Moore run starting in 1973 tried to have its cake and eat it by having Bond save the world while acting the playboy and making offhand jokes – which trivialised the threat and left the fight scenes unconvincing. (He barely gets his suit wrinkled or hair mussed, never mind a bloody nose.)

Above: Roger Moore's iconic appearance in the ski-jump scene prologue of The Spy Who Loved Me [2] Moore's final appearance, A View To A Kill.

 Above: [1] the villain's lair in Moonraker (1979), and [2] the older Bond getting a health check in Never Say Never Again (1983)

The films were still using the novel titles but had different plots which emphasised chase scenes involving every type of vehicle. (Each is written by a regular stable of writers.) After the first few Roger Moore entries, I couldn’t face any more as they began to blur together. I jumped ahead to the 1983 Never Say Never Again, made after Connery’s producer partner finally cleared the rights after a lengthy lawsuit. (The novel Thunderball had been in fact a novelisation of a story created by Fleming with 2 other uncredited writers.) Connery had played a number of ageing-but-still-game heroes after his 007 stint, in films like The Wind And The Lion, and this was an opportunity for a mordant, reflective re-visiting of the Bond persona in middle age. Or rather it would have been such an opportunity if the makers hadn’t opted to go for a conventional remake, aside from a few jokey remarks. Without any character development, it was little different in approach from Connery’s previous return as Bond in 1972, a mix of the usual chase/action sequences and lame jokes. (Rowan Atkinson plays Bond’s blithering-idiot local contact, Nigel Small-Fawcett.)
The NSNA title, supplanting the working title Warhead, was suggested by Connery’s wife, based on her husband’s saying ‘never again’ to Bond in the 70s, but there isn’t even the usual belted-out dynamic title song to go with it and drive the idea along, just some warbley Michel Legrand pop music. There's no prologue action scene either (it was reportedly filmed then cut, and not restored with other deleted scenes for the DVD - which suggests it was really dire). It ends with Connery winking at the camera - perhaps the whole film was meant as a joke?
The two Timothy Daltons that followed were more serious, the first, The Living Daylights, being quite promising. But the second (the first not to use a Fleming title or story premise), produced as Licence Revoked, had its title changed when US audiences saw this as a reference to driving licenses. Licence To Kill however was exactly what Bond officially lacks in the story, and in the confusion it turns into a revenge quest as pointlessly nasty as it was unconvincing. (It coincided with a WGA strike, so the usual last-minute fixup of the rough spots - violent changes in tone - did not happen). Dalton left, and the series came to a stop for 7 years. (Licence To Kill was the worst-performing film in the entire series, eclipsing the ageing Roger Moore’s final outing, A View To A Kill.)  


The Pierce Brosnans which relaunched the series in 1995 with Goldeneye were a mixed bag. Again, the desire to play action scenes as jokey (cf John Cleese as Q) indicates an inability on the part of the writers to take their own plots seriously. The last, Die Another Day in 2002, was regarded as least credible for its invisible car – though I’d personally nominate as the nadir of credibility the computer-generated scene of Bond surfing off an icewall using a piece of fuselage.)

In From Russia With Love, when Bond has the SPECTRE plot (to create a sex scandal for the Sunday papers) explained to him, he comments “Must be a pretty sick collection of minds to think up a plot like that.” It’s a line that brought down the house when I saw it at a uni film society, as it seems to apply to the overall story rather than just SPECTRE’s conspiracy.
The first films already have Bond deliver those lame scene-capper quips concluding an action scene for the audience to have a chuckle at some gory death. Was this an anti-censorship gambit? The Bond of the novels is almost humourless, and often bored, even when having affairs (his main passion seems to be scrambled eggs for breakfast). However, the jokey approach would not disappear until the 2005 reboot with Daniel Craig, where the quips are just asides, minor throwaway lines.

Below: The last Brosnan Bond, Die Another Day (2002)

After the breakout success of The Bourne Identity, the producers had decided to reboot the franchise with a dark psychological approach, so 007 has to battle some psychological bugbear from his past as well as the villains. Craig is a serious actor as well as having the muscular physicality to carry off the action side (he’s really the British Steve McQueen), and Casino Royale was promising, suggesting a more adult, realist approach.
Unfortunately the followup was prepared during a Writers’ Guild strike and instead of Quantum Of Solace focusing on the human side of a lonely profession (the Fleming short story is a Somerset Maugham homage), the word Quantum gets turned into a secret organisation which is ‘everywhere’ but nobody official has ever heard of it. (I suppose this is because the scriptwriters just invented it to turn the title into a pun – a nonsensical one.) It’s nonstop action from the ‘cold open’ car chase (where you can’t even tell who’s chasing whom) and Bond’s human side is relegated to one token ‘solace’ scene.
Otherwise it’s a straight revenge quest, with Bond after those who led Vesper astray, and a token conspiracy-plot about the Quantum organisation out to control the world’s water. (I had my hopes up from the title that this would be a more adult approach and saw it in our local arts-centre cinema, but after 2 hrs of deafening action scenes and non-sequitur plotting, wound up referring to it as Quantum Of Bollocks.)
The 3rd instalment, Skyfall, has Bond disappear off the radar a la Bourne, officially dead. It then has a bizarre last act with a betrayed ex-agent villain infiltrating MI6 and causing mayhem, such as causing an underground train to crash through a wall to kill Bond (all modern supervillains can hack into and control even the most secure govt networks). Dressed as police, he and his men even invade a Parliamentary hearing in order to kill M as she is being told she’s obsolete while she reads a Tennyson poem to the scrutiny committee! M and Bond flee up to northern Scotland to his isolated childhood home, Skyfall, in the Aston Martin from the 1960s films, to await the villain and his private army and fight them off with just the help of his old gamekeeper, played by Albert Finney. (You’d think they could have asked the police to help as the villain would be wanted for killing a dozen policemen, if nothing else.)

Above: In Skyfall, [1] 007 is officially declared dead before recovering from his wound (Moneypenny shot him accidentally) and returning to HQ. [2] In an image evidently inspired by Batman, he stands symbolically watching out over the city rooftops. It's the film's keynote image, used on the DVD.

The 4th instalment, Spectre, is nonsensical from the start: the late M leaves a posthumous video message in Bond’s email to kill some gangster, with no explanation. Bond goes ‘rogue’ to do so, and won’t even tell his new boss, and so is grounded. We never find out what she knew about the man’s organisation, which proves to be SPECTRE, which at that stage nobody seems to know officially anything about.
During production, studio memos re the script’s deficiencies were leaked online, evidently by hackers working for Kim Jong-un (you couldn’t make this up). A Sony producer described the script as ‘rough, rough, rough … Bond is simply fighting henchmen in many overblown and familiar sequences – helicopter, elevator shaft, netting.’ Another studio executive wrote: ‘Also, there needs to be some kind of a twist rather than a series of watery chases with guns. This is Blofeld after all. What does he have up his sleeve?’ The email leaks drew attention to the classic problem with the studio system – filming begins before the script is ready.
To squeeze in the new past-coming-back-to-haunt-you angle, the script postulated that the organisation’s longtime head, Blofeld, was really Bond’s foster brother all along. What a coincidence! (The scriptwriters also do not explain Bond’s killing Blofeld in earlier films, never mind his not recognising Blofeld as his foster brother.) Blofeld has been seeking revenge for being displaced by this childhood ‘cuckoo in the nest', and forming SPECTRE allowed him to kill off Bond's girlfriends. He is now in league with the new combined secret services head ‘C’ who is taking over the whole intelligence apparatus.
In almost every script, Bond is either having his license revoked over some indiscreet killing, or MI6 / the 00 Section is being closed down – you know, because computers, they've made special-forces type ops and agents obsolete. (Try telling that to the Americans.)
Here, the finale features the unlikely idea that instead of just selling it off, MI6’s Thames-side HQ is set for midnight demolition. This is despite the fact it’s a prominent landmark (which is very much still there on public view despite the finale) - so that MI5/MI6 can move into a fancy glass tower opposite which has been built in almost no time as it is privately financed - by SPECTRE. Bond and the new M, the geeky new Q, and the new Moneypenny all now go ‘rogue’ as they are all being sacked. Luckily, the villainous new ‘C’ loses his balance and falls out a window. With minutes to spare before demolition, Bond saves the girl, who has been abducted by Blofeld and trussed up atop MI6 HQ, and from a speedboat pursues and with his pistol shoots down the villain’s helicopter so it crashes on Westminster Bridge. (I saw it at the cinema, but watched it again over Xmas on tv as I couldn't be sure I'd followed the story - I'm still not clear on certain points, like where 007 gets that plane in the Alps.)
At that stage, Daniel Craig publicly announced he'd rather slit his wrists than do another Bond film. “Who do you think should be the next 007 then?” a friend asked me. “Nobody,” I said, “they should just stop making them unless they can come up with a coherent script.”
Update: Since then, Craig has been persuaded to return for Bond#25. Details are unclear at this stage. The trailer on YouTube titled Risico is a fan-made fake. ('Risico' is a Fleming short story whose plot was used in the 1983 For Your Eyes Only, the least jokey of the Roger Moore entries.) Another rumoured title is Shatterhand, a Blofeld cover alias in You Only Live Twice, which fits the current run of titles beginning with S, though it’s been used elsewhere, so there may be legal problems. The leaked news item that the plot will be taken from a 2001 ‘continuation’ novel, Never Dream Of Dying by Raymond Benson, seems unlikely. The other rumoured plot is that 007 retires and gets married, but then his bride is killed by Spectre, and he goes rogue in retaliation. (Sound familiar at all?)
… In conclusion, I think seeing a series in this way isn’t necessarily just a new form of addiction, as the press characterise it. (Binge-watching /-viewing derives from binge eating or binge drinking.) It can make you more critical – you can see more clearly the sameness of the plots and the improbabilities when the writers desperately try to vary the formula.
It's not just the Bond series, which I used here as an example. A friend lent me a DVD set of the cult US series The Walking Dead so I could 'catch up' on it: I managed to get through several episodes before I felt my intelligence had been insulted enough, and gave up on it. Ditto with the BBC's new apocalyptic police thriller series Hard Sun which just began this week on BBC1. The entire first season of is already available on iPlayer pre-broadcast, so 'catchup' is not the right term here. I'm afraid I lost confidence in it after the first hour, and wonder if the BBC are also hedging their bets, reckoning that audiences will quickly lose interest in its baffling obscurities. It's open to run for 5 years, if enough viewers want to stick with it until world's end in some sort of unexplained solar radiation surge 5 years away. The plot mcguffin is a flash drive with a video presentation showing the doomsday facts and figures; MI5 is willing to kill police officers and kidnap their families to keep this secret; if the producers want to cut the series short, they can just have a character upload the video to YouTube and it won't be a secret anymore, hey presto.
On the other hand, binge viewing can lead to appreciation of a series that evolves intelligently. For my boxset this year, I asked Santa for the 6th and final series of the Elmore Leonard series Justified (2010-16), and having watched all 5 preceding seasons without its ever becoming predictable, am looking forward to watching all 13 hours of this during the January viewing drought.
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Storylines In Review 2018