Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD

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Told with humorous candour by it’s creators, this thrill-powered documentary blasts through the groundbreaking history of seminal British sci-fi comic, 2000AD.

It was launched as a short term cash grab on 1977’s Star Wars-inspired craze for sci-fi, and no-one expected it to be still be around in the year 2000, never mind in rude health in 2015.

My first exposure occurred in 1978 with an off the cuff remark from my older brother about the death of character, John Probe.

Nothing intrigues a seven year old boy more than death, so I asked to take a look at his comic and my life was changed for ever.

John Probe, codenamed MACH 1, was a blatant mashed-up rip-off of TV’s The Six Million Dollar Man, and Steven Spielberg’s 1978 Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

Kind of interesting and fun, the super-powered spy strip was quickly forgotten when I discovered the awesome artistic majesty of Mike McMahon’s full colour centre spread.

Featuring flying giant killer mutant rats and human sacrifice, this was my introduction to the insane world of Judge Dredd. I’d just found what I didn’t know had been missing in my life.

A typographic cover of little more than 3 letters in a heavy font would be a startling choice now, but back then it was a typically outrageous and in your face statement.

These were the trademarks of an unruly group of pioneering writers and artists who forged the comic’s anti-establishment attitude in the punk rock heat of 1970’s industrial unrest.

At it’s best 2000AD is full of violent, funny, subversive, anarchic, satirical and allegorical stories.

In strips such as Halo Jones, Strontium Dog, Nemesis the Warlock and Nikolai Dante the protagonists and anti-heroes are bounty hunting mutants, piratical lotharios and all manner of robots and aliens.

Central to the comic’s longevity is the character of Judge Dredd, the fearless, ruthless 21st century lawman; a judge, jury and executioner.

He was visually influenced by films such as 1975’s Death Race 2000, and 1974’s The Cars That Ate Paris, and eventually took to the big screen in his own right.

Hoodlum in chief was the first editor and creator Pat Mills, who through force of personality willed the comic into existence.

The soundtrack’s thrash guitar chords echo the combative spirit of the comic but can’t drown out Mills’ vigorous championing of the work or numb us to the ultra violence of the fabulous art.

Mills is interviewed at length along with many other key creators such as writers John Wagner and Alan Grant, and artists Carlos Ezquerra and Brian Bolland, who provide smart, articulate, passionate and wry commentary.

Artist Dave Gibbons and Kevin O’Neil describe the good long Friday afternoon pub sessions, where a friendly competitive atmosphere was fostered. But Mike McMahon, my favourite member of the holy trinity of Judge Dredd artists is notably and sadly absent.

Treated as workhorses, the creators struggled for recognition, were ripped off by management, saw irreplaceable artwork dumped in skips and threatened with litigation – for copyright infringement of their own work.

In the following years the comic has changed owners, seen many of it’s top talent lured to the American comics market and suffered a variety of editors.

Dave Bishop is as disarmingly honest about the success of his stewardship as Mills is scathing of it.

As the comic has become a convenient shop window for ambitious talent, the 2000AD temperament has also been exported to the States.

Sly Stallone’s 1995 movie version of Judge Dredd, was poorly received and mocked by fans, whereas 2012’s Alex Garland scripted Dredd, is a superb realisation of the character and his world.

Although his script for 2002’s 28 Days Later, borrows heavily from John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, Garland says the ferocious tone is pure 2000AD.

Garland went on to write and direct 2015’s brilliant Ex Machina, and he argues the influence of 2000AD has infiltrated long and deep into cinema.

Clear examples of 2000AD’s  influence include 1987’s Robocop, 1990’s Hardware2007’s Timecrimes and 2015’s Robot Overlords.

But few recent sci-fi films don’t include some 2000AD DNA. It’s not possible to view Christopher Nolan’s 2014 Interstellar, without comparing the library sequence with the ending of Gordon Rennie and Frazer Irving’s 2000 series, Necronauts.

In the words of it’s green-skinned alien editor Tharg the Mighty, Futureshock is zarjaz and scrotnig. Watch the film. Then go buy the comic. Here.

Carol

Director. Todd Haynes (2015)

There’s tremendous quality to admire in this intelligent, assured and elegant period piece.

A shame it lacks the drama the tremendous acting, design and writing promise but don’t deliver.

It’s based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith who also wrote The Talented Mr Ripley (1999).

Cate Blanchett was award nominated for that film and certainly will be again her immaculate performance here.

In the title role she’s a moneyed, married mother who begins an affair with shop girl Therese.

Rooney Mara’s quiet reserve essays a delicate flowering of awareness.

It’s her finest performance to date and hopefully it will be recognised as such by the Academy.

They take a road trip with a camera in one suitcase and a gun in another.

This leads to a showdown with Carol’s seemingly decent husband, played by the dependable Kyle Chandler.

The presence of the gun acknowledges the problem with a script which doesn’t have a lot going on once the couple consummate their relationship.

So the gun is clumsily thrown in to add a frisson of drama where none exists.

As the romance develops and what obstacles exist seem to melt away, we realise we’re witnessing a beautifully played and sumptuous soap opera.

The Good Dinosaur

Director: Peter Sohn (2015)

As plodding as the hero of the title, this prehistoric animated adventure is occasionally exciting, funny and sad, but never in any great measure.

Made by Pixar and released by Disney, it’s a middling effort which has made it to the screen after a difficult production.

History was changed 65 million years when an asteroid didn’t hit the earth and wipe out the dinosaurs.

They’ve evolved to speak, build houses and grow crops.

Arlo is a cowardly and dim Apatosaurus who after some reckless parenting, is lost in the wilderness.

He’s befriended by a brave caveboy nicknamed Spot and together they set off on the long trek home.

Raymond Ochoa whines and whimpers as Arlo and Jack Bright grunts and howls as Spot.

Episodic adventures follow one another and we’re invited to admire the magnificent vistas on the way. They are epic in scale, beauty and frequency.

Credited as ‘Volumetric Cloud Supervisor’, Matthew Webb does a stand up job styling the weather.

Meanwhile the sweeping herds of prehistoric wildebeests are sufficient to placate even the most intemperate guests of Torquay hoteliers.

There’s an unfortunate contrast between the stunning photo-realistic backgrounds and the cartoon cast of rubbery skinned, glass eyed dinosaurs of uncertain charm.

It’s distracting, as if Mickey Mouse popped up in a David Attenborough documentary.

The first director was sacked halfway through, the script was re-written and the cast almost completely replaced.

One character says ‘we must gather our crops before the first winter storm’ immediately after a winter storm. Just one example of a failure to iron out all the issues.

Minor characters are churned through the script before being forgotten.

With all this in mind it’s a marvel the film is as competent as it is.

Kids will love the game of whack-a-mole and adults will grin at the magic mushrooms reminiscent of Dumbo (1941).

Parenting orders are hammered home in heavy handed homilies by Jeffrey Wright‘s daddy dinosaur.

Obey your parents. Do your chores. Don’t play in the river. Do kill your enemies. Not very Disney that last one.

I felt lectured and wanted to rebel. And I’m a parent. Lord knows how children will respond to this.

There’s a strong Western vibe as the boy and his dog, sorry, dinosaur and his boy trek home to their farmstead.

As they meet cowboys along the trail, Sam Elliot adds his magnificent Texas drawl to a tall-tale telling Tyrannosaurus Rex.

He’s called Butch, a sly reference to the actor’s cameo in the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

The Good Dinosaur is neither brilliant or awful. Good is the operative word.

Black Mass

Director: Scott Cooper (2015)

After series of flops including Mortdecai (2015), Transcendence (2014) and The Lone Ranger (2013), Johnny Depp’s career is in desperate need of a hit.

Here he hides his leading man looks under extensive make up, false teeth and a receding wig.

Although he’s great as the ruthless American gangster ‘Whitey’ Bulger, it’s a clunking biopic that’s far less than the sum of it’s parts.

It’s fine looking with a nice contrast between the faded grandeur of the locations and unfortunate 1970’s fashions.

Boston is inherently photogenic and offers a variety of unfamiliar settings.

But strong performances from a great cast are undermined by an unfocused script and uninspired direction.

Whitey feeds information on his mafia rivals to childhood friend turned FBI agent in return for a blind eye to his gangster activities.

Joel Edgerton’s central character is sidelined in order to give more screen-time to Depp.

Neither are sympathetic, despite early attempts to portray Whitey as a loving family man.

Supporting characters such as Jesse Plemons’ are introduced, forgotten about and wheeled back in again.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s role is even more reduced as Whitey’s Senator brother.

There’s an interesting story to be told how the lives of these two brothers took very different directions.

But the film ignores this, preferring to indulge in macho posturing and bloody violence.

The setting, soundtrack, language and violence are very much the milieu of director Martin Scorsese.

However not only does Black Mass feel like Martin Scorsese lite, it feels like poor Martin Scorsese lite.

Black Mass calls to mind the maestro’s weak, albeit Oscar winning The Departed (2006).

What’s more interesting is it’s also Ben Affleck light. Black Mass suffers in comparison with the actor turned director’s Boston set crime thrillers Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010).

I say that as a fan of both Affleck’s films.

Depp may have to wait a while longer for his next success.

Love 3D

Director: Gaspar Noe (2015)

There’s little love but copious graphic sex scenes in this indulgent French flesh fest.

Take away the lengthy porn scenes and we’re left with unremarkable people and their dull, insular arguments.

Murphy is an American in Paris who on January 1st receives a phone call from the mother of his ex girlfriend, Electra.

She’s concerned her daughter may be suicidal having not seen her for some months.

This plunges the sullen, self-pitying film student into a bout of soul-searching.

We see the anger, fear and jealousy of their destructive relationship in flashback as the combustible couple spend their time at parties, bars, cafes and sex clubs.

The exes are played with naked enthusiasm by Karl Glusman and Aomi Muyock.

Klara Kristin plays Omi, the mother of Murphy’s baby son and the director isn’t above casting himself as a gallery owner, though we are mostly spared his nudity.

There’s confidence in the assured and repetitive rhythms of the fluid timeline as it slithers back and forth.

At 135 minutes the indulgent length allows us to admire the beautiful lighting, confident colour scheme and contained camerawork.

But the slight story and lack of emotional connection with those involved makes for an empty and unsatisfactory experience.

Steve McQueen the man and Les Mans

Director: Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna (2015)

There’s a great documentary to made about the making of motor racing film Le Mans (1971), but this isn’t it.

Constructed by Hollywood star Steve McQueen as a float to parade his twin passions of fast cars and movies, the vehicle for his vanity crashed at the box office.

Filming started without a script, the original writer was the first of many fired, the director quit and it went considerably over it’s $6m budget.

John Sturges had helped create McQueen’s career by casting him in The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963).

As a veteran maker of crowd pleasing entertainments for the studios, the director walked off the set, frustrated at McQueen’s truculent refusal to adhere to established Hollywood storytelling.

McQueen’s desire was to represent the reality of the racing experience demonstrates a lack of understanding of Hollywood filmmaking, where emotional truths are revealed through the artifice of the medium.

Understandably upset at the aching slow progress, the studio wrested the steering wheel away from the King of Cool’s control.

The resulting film was a malfunctioning hybrid of approaches and was received with indifference by the public.

Too little technical information or financial detail is offered. We learn the cars are very fast and expensive. But not how much they cost or how many were involved.

There is a vague sense of wanting to rehabilitate McQueen’s reputation from taciturn action star to visionary producer.

But the tone lurches into blokeish banter as his on set infidelities were then covered up but are now leeringly discussed by the crew.

His first wife and their son Chad contribute interviews as do his then gopher, the racing team and the production crew.

McQueen is repeatedly described as being at the time the world’s biggest star.

It’s a description his contemporaries Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Sean Connery or Lee Marvin may have quibbled with.

As the helmet of the actor is lifted, behind the famous and startlingly blue eyes is revealed a deep well of ego.

It’s an oddly deflating experience, leaving us stalled on the starting grid.

The Hunger Games. Mockingjay Part 2

Director: Francis Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence takes arms against the world for the fourth time as in this concluding chapter of the dystopian sci-fi series.

As freedom loving fighter Katniss Everdeen, Hollywood’s highest paid actress offers a typically excellent performance of weary intensity.

She is given far less opportunity to display her fighting skills in this sombre episode.

It’s handsome, well acted and thoughtful, yet the dialogue is often uninspiring and it’s a long march to the action.

By adding scenes with human shields and a trail of refugees the script plunders contemporary concerns but doesn’t offer comment.

Initially we’re forced to put in a few hard yards ourselves as we’re re-introduced to the motivations of the characters and it’s almost a relief when war starts whittling away their numbers.

As her comrades die in the cause of freedom, Katniss longs to fight.

But Julianne Moore’s scheming rebel commander Coin considers Katniss a useful propaganda tool and refuses to let her.

When the unified rebel army marches on the Capitol, Katniss is embedded in a media platoon which contains both points of her love triangle.

But there isn’t much tension between hunky warrior Liam Hemsworth Gale and Josh Hutcherson‘s brainwashed former turncoat Peeta.

Both are fairly dull characters but with Sam Claflin’s maverick warrior Finnick married off, she hasn’t much to choose from.

When her squad commander is killed, Katniss takes charge and leads her team on a suicide mission.

Her target is to assassinate Donald Sutherland’s evil despot President Snow who is holed up in an opulent and heavily guarded mansion.

As Katniss navigates the rubble strewn streets, she’s lumbered with a device which suspiciously resembles a game console.

It’s designed to detect Snow’s extraordinarily elaborate booby-traps.

The troops combat floods, flame, friendly fire and ferocious underground ghouls.

Friends and family are killed or captured as they trek through the terrain of the fallen city and Katniss has a suicide pill should her plan fail.

Though the foreboding tone is sensibly free of laughs, the regular supporting cast bring smiles of recognition.

Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci don their fabulous costumes one last time and a shambling Woody Harrelson adds some welcome warmth.

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman has a surprisingly large amount of screen time in a final hurrah for his great talent.

Four years ago Lawrence was a little known actress.

Now due in no small part to The Hunger Games’ billion dollar success, she’s firmly and deservedly part of the A list.

By tackling the themes of war, freedom, suffering and sacrifice in a measured and occasionally spectacular fashion, this franchise has raised the bar for the Young Adult genre.

But as solid and satisfying as the Hunger Games are, I’ve had my fill and I couldn’t stomach another one.