The Wicker Man: The Different Cuts

Screenshot 2017-08-24 20.23.13

SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists!

The version of The Wicker Man that came out in 1973 was not what the director intended. Around 12 minutes of footage had been removed from Robin Hardy’s movie on the orders of his superiors at production company British Lion. They feared that it was too difficult a film for a general audience and also wanted a shorter cut that could be released as a B-movie. Running at 87 minutes, The Wicker Man was first released as the support for Don’t Look Now in December.

Then, in 1976, Hardy decided to release his original version in America. But there was controversy when it became apparent that his 99-minute cut had been junked, as had all 368 cans of the raw footage from the late-1972 shoot. Some people, including the movie’s star Christopher Lee, saw this as a deliberate, petulant ploy on the part of British Lion. Less paranoid people concluded that the footage has simply been misplaced. (Archiving the rushes and assembly edits from an unsuccessful horror film was not standard practice in the 1970s.)

It was then recalled that a print of the longer version had been sent to independent film producer Roger Corman in LA when he’d been asked for advice on how to market the movie. Being a film geek, Corman had kept his copy – so it was now used for the basis of a rerelease in 1977. (Ironically, Hardy took the opportunity to take out a few scenes.)

I’ve already reviewed the 1973 version of The Wicker Man, so this is a look at the extra footage that’s contained in the original director’s cut. It’s not an extensive list of every difference; just a discussion of the interesting ones. Some of these moments were trimmed out for the 1977 release, but all three versions are now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

* Because any scenes that were cut out in 1973 are taken from Corman’s viewing print, the picture quality is not as strong.
* As originally released in 1973, The Wicker Man begins with policeman Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) arriving on the island of Summerisle. In the earlier director’s cut, however, that arrival is preceded by six minutes of storytelling… On the mainland, Howie chats to a colleague called McTaggart (John Hallam) and walks past some graffiti on a wall that reads ‘Jesus saves’. Howie agrees with the sentiment but still wants it removed. McTaggart then gently ridicules his superior after Howie asks how things are in the town: “Just the usual,” he replies. “Rape, sodomy, sacrilege.”
* Next, we see Howie attending and speaking at a church service (some footage of which was used in the theatrical cut as brief flashbacks). We get a closer look at his fiancée, Mary (Alison Hughes), while the minister is played by director Robin Hardy in a Hitchcock-style cameo.
* In the next scene, a postman (Tony Roper) delivers a letter to the police station and shares a joke with McTaggart about the uptight, prudish Howie. “Ah, poor old Mary,” says the postman. “When those two are married, she’ll spend more time on her knees in church than on her back in bed!” Howie then walks in on them laughing. The letter, of course, is the one telling Howie about the missing Rowan Morrison. He says he’ll visit the island of Summerisle and will be away overnight.
* We then cut to him flying to the island in his seaplane – ie, the opening scene of the theatrical version.
* The film’s first in-story song, The Landlord’s Daughter, has an extra verse in the longer cut. During it, the landlord (Lindsay Kemp) bangs the optics with a pair of spoons and we get a look at the musicians.
* Later in the same scene, after the landlord says that last year’s harvest-festival photo is missing because the frame broke, there’s an extra shot of him looking meaningfully at the space on the wall.
* A major bit of restructuring occurs now. In the longer cut of the film, Willow (Britt Ekland) doesn’t sing her sexy song at this point in the story. Instead, we see the musicians in the pub (including the film’s composer) singing a gentle, sensual folk song. Outside, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) appears under Willow’s bedroom window and introduces her to a boy called Ash Buchanan (Richard Wren). This is clearly a regular arrangement: Summerisle brings Willow young men for her to bed. Howie watches on bemused. Then Summerisle has a long speech about how he likes animals: “They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins. They do not make me sick discussing their duty to ‘God.’” Later, Howie is trying to sleep but has to ignore the sound of Willow and Ash having sex.
* The next morning, Howie and Willow share a quick scene and he asks where the school is. In the theatrical version it was replaced by a scene (absent from the long cut) where Willow wakes Howie with a cup of tea and says, “I thought you were going to come and see me last night.” (Because, of course, in that version of the film she’s already tried tempting Howie into bed.)
* A scene that was cut out in 1973 shows Howie questioning the island’s unhelpful doctor (John Sharp). Howie has been told that the missing Rowan Morrison has died and asks the GP how. “She was burnt to death,” he says. “As my lunch will be if I continue here talking to you.”
* Willow’s siren song happens now – during Howie’s *second* night on the island. As well as being moved, a verse was trimmed out when the film was edited down in 1973.
* In the longer edit Howie’s frantic search of the island has a couple of moments that were missing in the theatrical cut: he looks in the hairdressers, then falls down someone’s stairs.

REVIEW: It may be sacrilege to say it, but the shorter, butchered version of The Wicker Man is a better film than the original director’s cut. The theatrical print is leaner, tauter, pacier and jumps straight into the story, whereas the longer version has scenes that you just don’t need. The opening, for example, is six minutes of hammering home Howie’s puritanical, uptight Christianity. But cutting it in 1973 didn’t damage the film because later scenes (and Edward Woodward’s excellent performance) sell the notion perfectly well and more economically. The other major difference between the cuts is the shifting of Willow’s song from the story’s second night to its first. Again, the enforced change helps the movie. Not only does it pull Britt Ekland’s nudity forward – this is, after all, an exploitation film – but it means we lose Summerisle’s original introduction. His first scene in the director’s cut is a rather naff and redundant scene where we spy him standing him outside Willow’s window. In the 1973 release print, he gets a much stronger first moment: Howie thinks he’s in an empty room in Summerisle’s mansion, then Christopher Lee appears from behind a high-backed chair.

Nine slugs out of 10

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This website was incredibly helpful in providing information and context.

X-Men: Days of Future Past: The Rogue Cut (2015, Bryan Singer)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A year after the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, a different edit was made available on Blu-ray and DVD. Called The Rogue Cut because the most attention-grabbing addition was an entirely new subplot concerning that character, it’s around 17 minutes longer than the original. I’ve already written about the theatrical print, so this review is concerned with the changes made in 2015. It’s far from a full list. I’m just mentioning what I spotted and thought interesting…

* During the opening action sequence, we now see a glimpse or two of a temporary shrine the characters have built to fallen comrades. Aww.
* The minor characters in the future stuff now have a discussion about the pros and cons of changing history. “My people need to vote,” says Bishop as it concludes. Charles looks round the group, reading their thoughts: “They just did,” he says. “They’re in.”
* Kitty and Bobby share a moment – and a kiss – as she prepares to send Wolverine back in time.
* After Logan gets to 1973 and wakes up in bed with a woman called Gwen, his fight with some goons is more violent. There’s then an extra scene. He steals a heavy’s car and finds Gwen in the passenger seat. She clearly knows the 1970s Logan well, but this version just tells her to get out. As he drives away, we hear a radio news report about the end of the Vietnam War and see the World Trade Centre in the background – further reinforcements of the time period.
* In the 70s, when Logan, Charles and Hank need to find Quicksilver’s address, Logan laments that they don’t have the internet.
* There’s a new exchange at Quicksilver’s house: Logan trades a bit of banter with Quicksilver’s younger sister and there’s also mention of a third sibling (a nod to the fact that Quicksilver has a twin sister in the comics).
* Nixon’s first line while he watches news reports about mutants – “Fuck me!” – had been cut from the original version. A little while later another line has been reinstated – “I don’t care who you screw,” he says to Trask, “as long as it’s not me.”
* In the original version, the comatose Logan in the future scenes lashes out and injures Kitty. She then has to maintain the time-travel trance while bleeding. In this cut, however, Bobby suggests they find Rogue – a character from the original X-Men trilogy – so she can take Kitty’s place. It’s the headline change to the movie, and has a huge affect on the third quarter.
* Another huge change happens around this time too. In the original cut, Charles talks to Raven via telepathy and infers that she’s heading for Washington. That information has been removed from this version, though, and we cut to a new scene of Hank and Logan. Hank asks if he makes it in the future and Logan deadpans, “No.” (In the original, this exchange happens later on. Of course, that scene’s been trimmed out of this edit.)
* The new stuff continues… Hank is watching TV coverage about Trask when he hears a sound in the house and finds that Raven has sneaked in. She says she had nowhere else to go and kisses him. As they make out they turn into their (coincidentally both blue) mutant forms. He says she’s beautiful, which is a reference to a conversation they had in X-Men: First Class, but then pulls away and walks off. (That’s more willpower than I’d have, mate.)
* Then there’s a lovely dissolve from an exterior shot of the house in 1973 to the house in the war-torn future. In the 2020s, Charles, Erik and Bobby break into Charles’s former home to rescue Rogue. All this stuff is intercut with familiar shots of the 1973 Erik breaking into a government building. The crosscutting is really good, and was clearly the original intention during filming.
* In 1973 there’s a new scene of Raven sneaking into Cerebro and smashing up the equipment. After she’s left, she heads for Washington and we’re back into the original cut’s storyline.
* In the future, Rogue reaches the temple. Kitty learns that Bobby has been killed during the mission. Rogue then takes Kitty’s place by Logan’s side. (In the 70s, meanwhile, Logan somehow senses that Rogue is now in charge of his time-travelling.)
* In the White House sequence, Charles has a chat with an injured serviceman, who asks why he can’t walk. “Friendly fire,” says Charles.
* A new post-credits scene shows Trask in the same kind of prison that once held Erik. He’s grown a beard.

Review: The additions are good in and of themselves, and the flow of the storytelling is impressive when you see them in context. But it’s easy to see why the Rogue subplot was cut in 2014. It’s a tangent, a diversion, that doesn’t contribute anything new. Losing it didn’t damage the story. The Raven/Hank scenes were perhaps a greater loss, as they flesh out two key characters, though the pace was undoubtedly zippier without Raven’s visit to the house.

Eight Central Parks out of 10

Red Dwarf III (1989)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: Lister, Rimmer and the Cat are still in place, though they’ve each had a makeover. Rimmer’s new costumes are very Captain Scarlet-y, for example, while Lister’s developed a love of leather jackets. (The newly hired costume designer was Howard Burden, who worked on Doctor Who between 2012 and 2014.) Elsewhere, Holly has been recast. Norman Lovett was bored of commuting from his home in Edinburgh to rehearsals in London and studio days in Manchester. So replacing him is Hattie Hayridge, who’d played the female Holly in series two. The change of gender is explained during the comically fast-scrolling on-screen text at the start of episode one. Also explained in that copy is the fact that Kryten, a guest character in series two, has joined the regular team. Original actor David Ross wasn’t available, so Robert Llewellyn is now under the mask. He uses a strange, kinda-Canadian accent for some reason, but he’s very funny when given stuff to play.

Episode 1: Backwards (14 November 1989): A terrific start. Rimmer and Kryten fly their shuttle through a ‘time hole’ and end up on a version of Earth where time is running in reverse… Great comedy is mined from footage being played backwards (or actors pretending it is). A woman regurgitates an éclair, people ride a tandem the wrong way, a big bar brawl sees tables ‘unsmashed’ and Lister thrown through a broken window that then reassembles… In truth, a lot of these jokes don’t stand up to logical scrutiny. But it’s all very entertaining.
Observations: The Star Wars-spoofing caption at the beginning tells us that the twin boys Lister was pregnant with at the end of series two have been returned to their original universe. The gang’s new type of shuttle – the green, globular Starbug – makes its debut. This episode features the first Red Dwarf scenes set on a recognisable and real Earth. Writer Rob Grant cameos as a man smoking a cigarette. Tony Hawks has another Red Dwarf role: he’s the compère at the pub in the backwards world.
Best gag: Just before the team leave the backwards Earth, the Cat nips into the bushes…

Episode 2: Marooned (21 November 1989): Red Dwarf is approaching five black holes, so the gang evacuate while Holly flies the ship through the cluster. Lister and Rimmer crash-land on a planet and are stranded without food or heat… Scintillating comedy. Stunning. It’s largely a two-handed playlet based on the twisted friendship of Lister and Rimmer. (The Cat, Kryten and Holly are absent for a 22-minute stretch of this 29-minute episode.)
Observations: Almost everything is set inside Starbug. There are no scenes set on Red Dwarf itself: a first. We also see Blue Midget. Why the gang don’t evacuate in the same shuttle is not addressed.
Best gag: *All of it.* Lister and Rimmer’s bewilderingly entertaining duologue covers Alexander the Great, the meaning of the word mayday, a tube of Bonjela gum ointment, dog food, Harold Pinter, William Shakespeare, virginity, a skateboard, the day Cliff Richard was shot, a Javanese camphor-wood trunk, a Bentley V8 convertible, the ninth hole of Bootle municipal golf course, page 61 of Lolita, Napoleon’s Armée du Nord, an authentic Les Paul copy guitar, She’s Out of My Life and the Last Post. Amazing stuff. Really well played and thoroughly hilarious.

Episode 3: Polymorph (28 November 1989): A genetically modified creature that can drain people of emotions boards the ship… Uproariously funny. There’s a great comedy prologue about Lister using medical supplies while cooking, then the plot kicks in and the episode freewheels along with joy and huge confidence.
Observations: At the start, a gravely voiced narrator warns viewers of scary content. The whole thing is a pastiche of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). Since series two, Lister and Rimmer have moved into posh officers’ quarters (well, you would, wouldn’t you?). At one point, Rimmer watches an old home movie, in which we see him as a child (played by Simon Gafney), his three brothers and his mum. The polymorph later takes the form of his mother (played by Kalli Greenwood). Frances Barber cameos when the polymorph poses as a sexy woman to entice the Cat into flirting. Kryten cites a Space Corps directive: not the last time we’ll hear a variation on that joke. He also uses a psi-scan for the first time: it’s a spoof of Star Trek’s tricorder device, and will become a regular source of exposition.
Best gag: There are three *enormous* contenders. The scene of the polymorph taking the form of Lister’s underpants, which he then puts on, is puerile visual comedy of the first rank. The boxers start to constrict, causing Lister agony. So Kryten – wearing a vacuum cleaner attachment on his groin – kneels between Lister’s legs and tries to yank the pants off. Rimmer walks in on them. “Well, I can’t say I’m totally shocked,” he says once the studio audience have stopped hyperventilating. “You’ll bonk anything, won’t you, Lister?!” Just as hilarious is the polymorph pretending to be Rimmer’s mum. It claims to have slept with Lister and goads Rimmer with descriptions of the act: “I honestly thought my false teeth were going to fall out…” Finally, Rimmer as a pacifist hipster after he’s lost all his anger is spectacularly funny.

Episode 4: Body Swap (5 December 1989): Rimmer convinces Lister to trade bodies with him for a time, ostensibly so he can get him fit… Giving Craig Charles and Chris Barrie the chance to play the other’s character is a fun idea. But sadly the practicalities muddy the humour somewhat. The proper actor still voices the character (Barrie dubs dialogue over Charles playing Rimmer, for example), which can be very distracting. You sense the actors having to awkwardly match their words to unfamiliar mouth movements, and it surely means that the audience laughter we hear is not genuine.
Observations: Starbug is featured again. As is another shuttle – it’s referred to as White Midget in dialogue, but the shot of it is of Blue Midget from series two. Rimmer also takes over the Cat’s body in the last scene, so Barrie and Danny John-Jules trade roles.
Best gag: Rimmer, in Lister’s body, pretends that he’s lost his arm in an accident. Lister is aghast. Rimmer: “It’s worse than that. I’ve lost your watch too.”

Episode 5: Timeslides (12 December 1989): Kryten discovers a mutated developing fluid, which prints photographs that allow you to travel in time… The plot makes very little sense, but never mind. Tremendous fun.
Observations: One of the photographs is from the wedding of Rimmer’s brother Frank (played by Chris Barrie). Comedian Mark Steel has a silent cameo as a skier. At one point Kryten suggests they go to Dallas in 1963, stand on the grassy knoll and shout, “Duck!” (a whole episode will be based on this joke in series seven). We meet Lister aged 17 (played by Craig Charles’s brother Emile). Ruby Wax (the wife of director Ed Bye) cameos as a TV reporter. Koo Stark plays Lady Sabrina Mulholland-Jjones, an attractive woman Lister marries in an alternative timeline. Simon Gafney plays a young Rimmer for the second time. It’s taken 17 episodes of Red Dwarf for scenes set on the actual, real, proper planet Earth… unless you count the backwards version from earlier in this series or the home-movie footage Rimmer watched in Polymorph. At the end of the story, thanks to timey-wimey nonsense, Rimmer is fully human again. But he soon accidentally kills himself.
Best gag: Rimmer, realising he’s now alive: “Kryten! Unpack Rachel and get out the puncture-repair kit!”

Episode 6: The Last Day (19 December 1989): A message reaches Red Dwarf that Kryten is at the end of his working life. A replacement is on its way to deactivate him… It’s a good idea to focus on Kryten, who’s settled into the team very nicely, but this is a relatively underwhelming episode.
Observations: Robert Llewellyn also plays a rep from the company that built Kryten. Gordon Kennedy plays Hudson 10, the replacement android. Lister reveals that he was abandoned as a baby in a pub – we’ll see that happen, and learn more of the context, in series seven.
Best gag: Kryten is told there’s no such place as Silicon Heaven. “Then where do all the calculators go?” (Hudson 10 repeats the same joke later on.)

Best episode: You’re a better man than me if you can separate Marooned and Polymorph. Worst episode: The Last Day.

Alternative version: The episodes were ‘remastered’ a few years later. Avoid at all costs. Much more fun is ‘Backwards Forwards’ – a DVD special feature that allows you to watch the episode Backwards playing in reverse. Among a number of treats, you can see what Arthur Smith is actually saying in his rant at Rimmer and Kryten. He’s ridiculing viewers who have bothered to watch the footage in the right order.

Review: This feels very different from the first 12 episodes. For example, giving Kryten stuff to do and involving the Cat a bit more means a more democratic approach to the storytelling. It’s not so much the Lister-and-Rimmer show now, reportedly a deliberate move because of a behind-the-scenes feud. (Having said that, episode two is basically one long scene between the pair.) There are other major changes too. A new high-tempo title sequence is made up of clips from the series and is scored by a rock-guitar instrumental version of the closing song. Sets, costumes and visual effects are all on a much higher level of professionalism. Everything’s more artfully lit, more polished and generally classier. Series two had been consistently funny and entertaining. This is even better.

Ten pistons in an ocean liner’s engine room out of 10

Dracula (1931, Tod Browning)


An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The same locations as the book, though the only scene set in Whitby is the shipwreck. Noisy traffic in London tells us it’s the 20th century.

Faithful to the novel? After a fashion. The screenplay is based on a stage adaptation of Dracula that had been successful in both the UK and America. The story is therefore a slim-line take on the book’s plot. A major change is that it’s Renfield, rather than Johnathan Harker, who visits Transylvania. He falls under the vampire’s thrall after a brief encounter with Dracula’s Brides, then helps the Count travel to England on a ship called the Vesta. Once in the UK, the troubled Renfield is looked after by Dr Seward, who runs the sanatorium next to the house Dracula has bought. Meanwhile, Dracula specifically seeks out his new neighbour and learns that he has a daughter called Mina; she has friends called John Harker and Lucy Weston. (Rejigging the core characters’ relationships will happen a lot in future films too.) Quincey Morris and Arthur Holmwood have been dropped from the story – as has the climax where the good guys chase Dracula back to his castle.

Best performance: Dwight Frye as Renfield goes from dapper and slightly camp to wide-eyed and batshit crazy. Elsewhere, Bela Lugosi is building a cliché in front of your eyes. From this point on, people will think of Count Dracula in evening dress with a cape, holding a candle and speaking in a stilted accent. (In the novel, the character is said to have perfect English.) Lugosi had actually already played Dracula – in the Broadway production of the play. He’d taken over from future Upstairs Downstairs actor Raymond Huntley, who’d been in the West End cast. Appropriately enough, Lugosi was Hungarian: in 1897, when the original novel had been published, Transylvania was in Austro-Hungary. The film’s cast also has another apt connection: Dr Seward is played by Herbert Bunston, who had actually worked with Bram Stoker at London’s Lyceum Theatre at the turn of the century.

Best bit: In one of the scenes that highlights this is based on a theatre play, Dracula is visiting Seward in his sitting room. Van Helsing spots that the count doesn’t appear in a mirror so confronts him – and Dracula smashes the mirror. (Vampire attacks, by the way, come after fades to black. This might be a pre-Code film, but they still weren’t going to get too violent in 1931.)

Alternative versions: A silent version with intertitles was also prepared for cinemas that had yet to convert their equipment to sound. Sadly it seems that cut is now lost. But what does survive is the Spanish-language Dracula that was made concurrently with this movie. Rather than a badly dubbed copy, this was an entirely separate endeavour filmed by a different cast and crew but using the same script and sets. They filmed overnight while the main unit was sleeping. By some accounts it’s the much better movie of the two.

Review: This movie is only 70 minutes and it doesn’t hang about. It’s a brisk telling of the essential Dracula story. So brisk, in fact, that drama gets left by the wayside. As soon as Renfield arrives in Transylvania, the Count tells him they’re leaving for England. Lucy is killed after just one encounter with Dracula. Van Helsing rumbles him on their first meeting. It’s hardly nuanced stuff. Thankfully, for the first half at least, the film is very creepy. We meet Dracula via a terrifying shot of him in crypt, while his castle has vast, shadowy interiors like a cathedral. But there’s no getting away from the feeling that this is a lacklustre movie. Director Tod Browning made his name in silent film and it shows: dialogue scenes are lethargic and stilted. There’s also an unwelcome debt to the stage play. Characters actually stand at the French windows and describe what’s happening off-screen! Director of photography Karl Freund also shot Metropolis (1927) – one of the most visually ambitious movies of the silent era – but you can sense him wrestling with Browning’s static style. When the camera moves it impresses. But too many scenes play out with no tension, and sadly the story feels flat. Is this a classic despite its director? That would be apt, I suppose: the novel is a classic despite being a poorly written potboiler.

Eight crumbling castles of a bygone age out of 10

Red Dwarf: series two (1988)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: The same line-up as series one. Holly’s face is no longer pixellated.

Episode 1: Kryten (6 September 1988): For the first time we meet a character from outside Red Dwarf itself. They crew find an android called Kryten (David Ross), who’s living on a crashed space ship. Although he takes a while to accept the fact, his crew died a very long time ago… A consistently funny episode that hits the ground running. There’s a real confidence on show now. David Ross is good fun as the subservient, earnest Kryten.
Observations: The episode starts with a clip from a futuristic soap opera about robots called Androids. The theme tune is very Neighboursy, while Tony Slattery voices one of the characters. We see the gang’s shuttle, Blue Midget, for the first time.
Best gag: Lister, Rimmer and the Cat travel to Kryten’s ship, thinking it contains three attractive female officers. But when they arrive they learn that the women are just skeletons. Kryten – who’s deluded and thinks the girls are still alive – returns from making some tea, and Rimmer points out that the crew has died. Kryten: “My God, I was only away two minutes.”

Episode 2: Better Than Life (13 September 1988): This entertaining episode has some nice character stuff for Rimmer, who learns that his father has died. He then has to confront his bullying dad in a virtual-reality computer game the gang are playing called Better Than Life… The information about Rimmer’s childhood goes a long way to justifying why he’s such a prat.
Observations: This episode, the show’s eighth, is the first to include scenes set outdoors – albeit in a VR simulation. The production team filmed on a beach, a golf course and surrounding areas. Tony Hawks gets another role and appears on screen this time: he plays a character within the Better Than Life game. A fantasy version of Yvonne McGruder, a crewmember mentioned in series one, is played by Judy Hawkins. Rimmer’s dad is played by John Abineri. Ron Pember appears as a tax collector.
Best gag: Learning that Casablanca has been remade, Lister is outraged. “The one starring Myra Binglebat and Peter Beardsley was definitive!”

Episode 3: Thanks for the Memory (20 September 1988): Feeling sorry for Rimmer’s inadequate life, Lister decides to give him some fake memories of an exciting romance… This is a tremendous little mystery story, effectively told in flashbacks. It’s really funny and there’s no fat on it anywhere. (They never explain how Lister and the Cat wipe their own memories, however!)
Observations: Because he’s a hologram powered by the ship, when we see Rimmer on the surface of a moon he has to stand in a ‘hologramatic projection booth’ – that idea will get dropped! Blue Midget features again.
Best gag: Rimmer’s drunken confession about his only sexual experience: “Yvonne McGruder. A single, brief liaison with the ship’s female boxing champion. March the 16th. 7.31pm to 7.43pm. Twelve minutes. And that includes the time it took to eat the pizza.”

Episode 4: Stasis Leak (27 September 1988): The gang find a wormhole that allows them to travel to March 2077 – ie, three weeks before the accident that killed the crew… A fantastically structured and paced episode that both uses and mocks time-travel clichés. It ends with a surreal scene featuring three Listers, three Rimmers, the Cat and Kochanski.
Observations: The episode starts with a black-and-white flashback to 2077. In this scene – and later on when the regulars time-travel – Captain Hollister returns from series one. Kochanski and Petersen also appear. Morwenna Banks cameos as a lift stewardess. Tony Hawks voices a talking suitcase.
Best gag: The Cat repeating “What is it?” as Lister and Rimmer try to explain the stasis leak.

Episode 5: Queeg (4 October 1988): Holly’s inept management of the ship results in a back-up computer, Queeg 500, taking over. He soon puts Lister, Rimmer and the Cat through gruelling exercise drills and on meagre rations… A nice ‘bottle’ episode with a phenomenal punchline. In fact, the whole thing is a lead-up to the big woofer waiting at the end.
Observations: Charles Augins plays Queeg. It’s specified that it’s been 14 months since Lister came out of stasis. A scene where Rimmer is affected by a virus and repeats other characters’ dialogue gives Chris Barrie a chance to show off his impersonation skills.
Best gag: Holly reveals that he was pretending to be Queeg all along. “We’re talking jape of the decade. We are talking April, May, June, July *and* August fool.”

Episode 6: Parallel Universe (11 October 1988): An okay episode in which the gang travel to an alternative reality and meet other versions of themselves. Lister sleeps with his equivalent and ends up pregnant… It has some good moments, but it’s a bit one-note.
Observations: There’s no title sequence or intro from Holly. Instead we launch right into an elaborate dream sequence of the Cat’s: him, Lister, Rimmer, Holly and some sexy women performing a 1960s-ish LE song-and-dance routine on a gaudily lit stage. (The track, Tongue Tied, was later released as a Red Dwarf-branded single. It reached number 17 in October 1993.) Hattie Hayridge makes her Red Dwarf debut playing Hilly, the computer in the alternate reality. The other corresponding characters are played by Angela Bruce (as Deb Lister), Suzanne Bertish (Arlene Rimmer) and Matthew Devitt (Dog). Bruce and Bertish are very good.
Best gag: The fact that Lister would one day fall pregnant was seeded in series one. Rimmer takes great delight in reminding Lister about it, and is then gleeful when he remembers that childbirth is agony.

Best episode: Thanks For The Memory. Worst episode: Parallel Universe.

Alternative version: As with series one, all of series two was ‘remastered’ for a VHS release in the 1990s. The results were ghastly.

Review: The writers have clearly decided to break their self-imposed rule about the show being contained on the ship. Things are now opened up massively – four episodes feature the characters leaving Red Dwarf, another sees them travel through time – and there’s even some location filming. Holly also gets more to do and his solo spots (a riff on decimalising music, for example) are always really funny. These changes are a huge help. The whole run has more zip, more bite to it, than series one. Lister and Rimmer are still the leads, and Craig Charles and Chris Barrie are again superb – even though behind the scenes the actors weren’t getting on. (As well as a personality clash, Charles was unhappy with the fact Barrie was on more money.) There are no ‘difficult second album’ issues here: this set of episodes is more ambitious, more polished and generally funnier.

Nine triple-fried-egg butties with chili sauce and chutney out of 10

Red Dwarf: series one (1988)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: The line-up in series one of this sci-fi sitcom has a definite hierarchy about it. At the top are two lead characters: Dave Lister (played by Craig Charles) and Arnold J Rimmer (Chris Barrie). At the start of episode one they’re crewmembers on board a space mining ship called Red Dwarf. The officious, arrogant and buffoonish Rimmer is boss to the slobby, lazy and happy-go-lucky Lister. After being caught with an illegal pet cat, Lister is put into suspended animation as punishment so survives a nuclear accident that kills the rest of the crew. Three million years later, Red Dwarf has drifted into deep space. Lister is awoken by the ship’s AI computer, the deadpan and befuddled Holly (a floating head seen on monitors, played by Norman Lovett). Holly then resurrects Rimmer as a lifelike hologram. And they find a strange creature called Cat (Danny John-Jules), who – after three million years of evolution – is descended from Lister’s pet moggy. The series is based on the bickering relationship of Lister and Rimmer. The Cat and Holly are sidekicks who drift in and out of episodes.

Episode 1: The End (15 February 1988): A decent start to the series, which tells the story of the accident that kills most of the ship’s crew. Around two-thirds of it is set before the explosion, in fact. There’s some economic plotting and a few funny lines. Chris Barrie and Craig Charles impress straightaway with a great chemistry. You want to spend time with these people.
Observations: The guest cast include a few characters who – though killed off here – will crop up in later episodes: Mac McDonald as Hollister, the ship’s American captain; Clare Grogan as Kristine Kochanski, a very pretty flight technician who Lister really fancies; and Mark Williams, Paul Bradley and David Gillespie as Lister’s crude pals Petersen, Chen and Selby. An actress called Alexandra Pigg was originally cast as Kochanski, but a strike delayed the filming of this episode and she had to be replaced. Grogan, of course, was the lead singer in Altered Images.
Best gag: Holly’s replies when Lister’s asking what’s happened to the crew: “They’re dead, Dave… Everybody, Dave… Everybody’s dead, Dave… Everybody’s dead, Dave… They’re all dead. Everybody’s dead, Dave… Everybody is dead, Dave… Gordon Bennett, yes, Chen, everybody. Everybody’s dead, Dave… He’s dead, Dave. Everybody is dead. Everybody is dead, Dave.”

Episode 2: Future Echoes (22 February 1988): A very entertaining sci-fi concept that could have come from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation – the ship passes the speed of light, so time is affected and the crew experience weirdness. It’s still focused on the characterisation of and dialogue between the two leads, though. Very funny.
Observations: From now on, Holly begins each episode with a short précis of the situation then a unique joke. There are flash-forwards to Lister aged 171 and then him as a younger man holding his twin sons, Jim and Bexley (a gag not completed until the end of series two). Comedian Tony Hawks has his first of many roles in the series: voicing a vending machine. It’s also the first appearance of the ship’s sentient toaster (voiced by John Lenahan).
Best gag: The scene where Lister has a conversation with Rimmer that makes no sense at all. Rimmer’s replies bare no relation to what Lister’s saying. Then, after Rimmer walks off, a second Rimmer comes in and says the exact same dialogue as before – but this time it matches Lister’s side of the conversation.

Episode 3: Balance of Power (29 February 1988): Another good one in which Lister takes a chef’s exam in an attempt to outrank Rimmer.
Observations: We finally get an explanation of why Rimmer, of all people, was resurrected by Holly: by giving Lister an antagonist, Holly hopes to keep him sane. There’s a flashback to before the accident that features Petersen, Chen, Selby and Kochanski. Clare Grogan also plays Rimmer, in effect, when he pretends to be Kochanski. Sadly, Grogan’s pretty ropey in the scene. At the end of the episode Lister is promoted above Rimmer.
Best gag: Despite the performance, Rimmer pretending to be Kochanski has some great lines: “I’m having a woman’s period!” he says as a desperate explanation for Kochanski’s strange behaviour.

Episode 4: Waiting For God (7 March 1988): The first poor episode, with a dull, simple storyline. Lister learns about the religion based on him that built up in his absence, then meets a cat priest who’s been living on the ship. The priest is played by a shaky Noel Coleman. The subplot about a pod found in space is much more fun. It’s the series’s first specific pastiche of 1979’s Alien (Rimmer thinks it will contain aliens who will clasp themselves to your face).
Observations: Holly’s introduction tells us that Lister was only lying about his promotion in the previous episode. Talkie Toaster appears again.
Best gag: Rimmer’s zealous conviction that the pod contains aliens. He’s even decided which aliens: “Quagaars! It’s a name I made up. Double A actually!”

Episode 5: Confidence and Paranoia (14 March 1988): It’s a decent idea, but the episode falls a bit flat for some reason. A radiation leak causes some strange happenings, including Lister’s confidence and paranoia being manifested as separate men. Craig Ferguson plays the former; Lee Cornes the latter.
Observations: Rimmer practices his ridiculously elaborate salute for the first time.
Best gag: The punchline that sees two Rimmers on board the ship.

Episode 6: Me2 (21 March 1988): Good stuff. At the end of episode five, Lister was tricked into creating a second hologramatic Rimmer. Now that there are two Arnolds, they choose to move in together. However, they quickly rub each up the wrong way… The humour comes from a) Lister and Rimmer kinda missing each other, and b) the fact that even Rimmer can’t cope when trapped with himself. The split-screen shots of two Rimmers are done well, and Chris Barrie carries a huge amount of the comedy. A superb performance.
Observations: Captain Hollister appears in a flashback set right before the accident. Tony Hawks voices a cinema advert.
Best gag: Rimmer’s self-recorded video tribute to himself. It goes on a bit, so Lister fast-forwards and stops at a random point. Rimmer is saying: “…if you put Napoleon in quarters with Lister, he’d still be in Corsica peeling spuds.” (Also worth mentioning is Holly’s joke about sausages and Norweb.)

Best episode: Future Echoes. Worst episode: Waiting For God.

Alternative version: In the 1990s, this series was ‘remastered’ by writers/producers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. It was an attempt to do for early Red Dwarf episodes what George Lucas was then trying to do with the Star Wars trilogy – ie, upgrade it and make it seem more modern. The title sequence was replaced with a fast-paced montage, CGI effects were crudely added, some scenes were trimmed, Norman Lovett recorded new material as Holly, the episodes were filmised and the frame was cropped into widescreen… The result was terrible and has thankfully been mostly forgotten.

Review: Compared with what’s to come, this first series certainly feels small-scale. Aside from the lovely model shots of Red Dwarf itself, we never leave the interior of the ship; the cast never leave the TV studios. A remarkably slow and oomph-less title sequence doesn’t help. Neither do some really cheap-looking sets – the ship is mostly grey and boring and drab and bargain-bin. It’s not slick television. Fortunately, the comedy (the important bit) is tremendous. For example, Chris Barrie *shines*. He’s on the money right from the word go, instantly hilarious and committed to the role. Rimmer is a monster with many, many unlikable traits… Yet you miss him when he’s not on screen and actually feel sympathy for him. Craig Charles is a lot looser as Lister, but charismatic and with a genuine likeability. The series is built on scenes of these two bickering and it’s never boring. We even ignore the fudging that sees two men who despise each other choose to share a bunkroom. Away from the big two, the Cat breezes in and out of scenes, mostly unconcerned with the episode’s events, while Holly doesn’t feature too much. All four characters are very funny, which makes the occasionally muted laughter from the studio audience difficult to fathom. Some good gags actually go unnoticed.

Seven complete and total tits out of 10

Aliens vs Predator: Requiem (2007, The Brothers Strause)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists. Not that it really matters with garbage like this one.

A hybrid of a predator and an alien crash-lands in modern-day America…

The cast: A dreadful collection of wooden, daytime-soap performances. It’s not long before you’re rooting for the monsters. The only notable actor is Reiko Aylesworth (24, Lost, my sexual fantasies). She plays Kelly O’Brien, a soldier who’s really picked the wrong weekend to visit home. There were plans to get Adam Baldwin to reprise his Predator 2 role of army guy Garber, but a new character was created instead.

The best bit: There isn’t one.

Crossover: The previous film had featured the head of Weyland Industries, so this one gives us a coda scene with a character called Miss Yutani. (Weyland-Yutani is the name of the all-powerful conglomerate in the original Alien movies.) At one point a character says, “Get to the chopper!” – a reference to Predator’s most famous line of dialogue.

Alternative version: Turns out, the DVD I watched *is* an alternative version, with seven extra minutes compared to the theatrical cut. Haven’t I suffered enough?!

Review: This staggeringly boring mess mines new depths of storytelling ineptitude. Thankfully it’s so badly lit you often can’t tell what’s happening.

One pizza box out of 10

Next time: The Predator series gets its Aliens…

Alien vs Predator (2004, Paul WS Anderson)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

October 2004. A satellite detects a heat bloom coming from underneath an Antarctic island, so a team of scientists and explorers head there to investigate…

The cast: The lead character, Alexa Woods, is played by Sanaa Lathan. She’s not terrible exactly, but doesn’t have much to work with. Other members of the team vary from the adequate (Colin Salmon, Ewen Bremmer) to the downright awful (Raoul Bova). Lance Henriksen appears in his third Alien film, playing his third character. He’s now millionaire businessman Charles Bishop Weyland (the ‘pioneer of modern robotics’), which is a multi-stranded reference. His company will later form part of Weyland-Yutani, the conglomerate from the 1979-1997 Alien films, while his middle name nods to the android Bishop from Aliens. Presumably that robot was based on this guy’s likeness. (Quite who Henriksen was meant to be playing in Alien³, therefore, is another matter.) In one scene he fidgets with a knife: another echo of the android.

The best bit: All the stuff on the Antarctic surface looks great, especially the terrific set of the abandoned whaling station. The weather conditions, the dramatic lighting, the sound design – they all help tremendously.

Crossover: Of course, the whole project is a crossover based on a comic-book series that began in 1990. As an in-joke, one scene has a previous ‘franchise mash-up’ playing on a TV: 1943’s Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. Arnold Schwarzenegger was due to cameo as his Predator character, Dutch Schaeffer. However, the actor dropped out when he won a recall election in his bid to be Governor of California.

Alternative version: An extended version is available on the DVD. The only addition that improves the story is a short prologue set in 1904 at the Razorpoint whaling station.

Review: A horror movie lives or dies on whether we care about the characters. Think of the first Alien movie and you think of Ripley and Dallas and Kane. Think of its sequel and you think of Hicks and Hudson and Newt. Here, sadly, the people are all bland and forgettable. The opening third features several moments where a character is introduced or focused on – yet it’s all so bloody mechanical. Ewan Bremmer’s Miller has children back home; therefore, says the film, we should like him. It’s not enough. It’s just people trotting out their quirk or showing off a speciality. The writing *never* feels organic or fresh. After an opening that’s brisk so at least keeps your interest, the team find a pyramid under the ice. They explore, deducing centuries of back-story and deciphering ancient hieroglyphics with ease. (Channel 4’s Time Team could have done with these people – they took three days for each dig and sometimes found bugger all!) However, once the monsters show up, the film becomes very dull very quickly. On the upside, clearly some thought has gone into a way of bringing the two species together. The solution – that predators have visited earth before and use xenomorphs for sport – uses the rituals of hunting from Predator and the horrific life cycle from Alien. An inventive idea. The story also takes an interesting turn for the climax when Alexa forms a truce with the lead predator. And on a technical level the film is perfectly accomplished. As a throwaway B-movie, it works fine. But it’s just not in the same league as its antecedents.

Five Pepsi bottle-tops out of 10

Next time: Even more aliens versus predators!

Alien: Resurrection (1997, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Scientists on a space station create a clone of the long-dead Ellen Ripley, complete with an alien growing inside her…

The cast: Sigourney Weaver plays the scientists’ eighth attempt to clone the original Ripley. (She also climbs into a grotesque fake body for one scene as an earlier version.) The character has quite a journey, beginning as a Bambi-like simpleton and ending up as an action-movie cliché who makes postmodern quips. Weaver’s great, of course, but the film doesn’t justify the progression. Elsewhere, the cast is a mixed bag. The gang of space pirates from a ship called the Betty are writer Joss Whedon’s dry run for his later TV show Firefly. But whereas those characters were well written, brilliantly cast and endlessly enjoyable, here we get a rubbish Michael Wincott as captain Frank Elgyn and a bland Winona Ryder as Annalee Call, who’s later revealed to be an android. The other members of the crew are played by Kim Flowers (boring), Gary Dourdan (boring), Ron Perlman (fun and the only one to make much of an impression) and Dominique Pinon (terrible). The head of the space station, General Perez, is played by Dan Hedaya. Brad Dourif gives the Brad Dourif performance as one of the scientists. Leland Orser plays a man sold to the scientists so they can experiment on him and does the same kind of permanently scared stuff he did in Seven. Raymond Cruz’s character, a soldier called Distephano, is bizarrely not introduced properly and just kinda joins in the action. He’s only there for exposition, which makes you wonder why the more interesting Perez wasn’t used instead.

The best bit: An underwater sequence features our heroes being chased by swimming aliens. It’s really well staged action with an ace music cue. The tension is eked out by the very length of the scene (the characters are holding their breath for over three minutes), then we see that their escape route is actually leading them closer to alien pods…

Alternative version: A 2003 director’s cut made some minor changes. Most notably there’s a new title sequence – a long zoom out from the teeth of an insect to a huge space ship – and an extra scene at the end with Ripley and Call on earth. It seems there’s been a big war while they’ve been away.

Review: “They said the lines… mostly,” claimed Joss Whedon years after this film came out. “But they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do.” Watch the movie in this context and it suddenly makes more sense. Alien: Resurrection is like that scene in Raging Bull where Jake LaMotta is practising a speech – it’s written with some wit, but a steamroller delivery just flattens everything out. Whedon’s script has some funny lines, a bit of crafted banter and Western-style cadences (“She is severely fuckable, ain’t she?”). But the cast and director just aren’t able to give it life. Speaking of which, Jean-Pierre Jeunet was a really strange choice to direct a big-budget action movie. He’d just made a stylish but boring fantasy movie called The City of Lost Children, and his next film was the whimsical Amélie. He doesn’t seem a good fit for this kind of material. (Danny Boyle, Peter Jackson and Bryan Singer were all sounded out before Jeunet got the gig.) To give him his due, the action stuff in the second half is quite enjoyable and reasonably tense. But just think how much better it’d be if we cared about the characters. Alien: Resurrection’s miscast mercenaries are a poor version of the marines in Aliens. Those earlier characters didn’t ask us to like them, so therefore we did. Here, the crew of the Betty each get a moment in the spotlight yet fail to impress. As I said above, Perlman’s Johner is the best of the bunch, thanks to a performance with some attitude behind it. He also gets a good gag when he’s spooked by a tiny spider’s web. But another big problem is the aliens themselves. Ignoring the less-is-more rule, the film gives us long, lingering looks at them. Suddenly they’re robbed of their power and are just men in rubber suits. And that’s representative of the whole film. There’s no wow factor. Still more enjoyable than Alien³, though.

Six Terran growth conglomerates out of 10


Alien3 (1992, David Fincher)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Ellen Ripley wakes up on a prison planet – her spaceship has crashed, her companions have been killed, and it soon becomes clean that an alien has got loose…

The cast: Sigourney Weaver’s back, playing Ripley for a third and final time. (Spoiler: she dies at the end.) Due to the prison’s lice problem she has to shave her head. Also returning is Lance Henriksen, this time in two roles. He has one scene voicing the android Bishop (the damaged body is an animatronic puppet), then shows up at the end as the human designer of the Bishop model. Not back, however, are the other survivors from Aliens. Hicks and Newt are killed off in the opening credit sequence, leaving Ripley alone and isolated. (During research I discovered that some literal-minded prat has edited Alien³’s Wikipedia page to specify that it’s not Hicks’s body in the escape pod. It seems that in Aliens: Colonial Marines – a 2013 videogame that takes place between the two movies – he was replaced by a guy called Turk. Give me strength.) Charles Dance is quiet, melancholic and likeable as prison doctor Jonathan Clemens. Brian Glover is good fun as warden Harold Andrews. Ralph Brown plays Andrews’s assistant, Aaron, who’s been nicknamed ‘85’ because of his low IQ. Paul McGann is billed fourth in the opening credits, even though mentally unstable prisoner Golic is quite a minor role. (Brown and McGann had both been in 1986’s Withnail & I, of course, and their Withnail co-star Richard E Grant was actually offered the role of Clemens.) Various other inmates are played by a panoply of British character actors: Danny Webb, Pete Postlethwaite, Peter Guinness, Phil Davis, Clive Mantle… As with Ripley, they all have buzz-cut heads. One of the few non-Brits in the film is Charles S Dutton, who’s very good as Dillon, the prison’s top dog who’s found Jesus.

The best bit: There are some great shots used for the alien’s point of view, which are filmed with a steadicam using a wide-angle lens. The cameraman twists and turns as he moves forward, making it seem like the creature is running along the walls and ceilings. Incidentally, the cinematographer was originally Jordan Cronenweth, who’d shot Blade Runner. But he dropped out after two weeks because of Parkinson’s disease, so these POVs were the work of Alex Thomson.

Alternative version: Director David Fincher more or less disowned this film after its release because he’d been so upset by interference from studio executives. Huge portions of the script were rewritten during the shoot, so many scenes had to be dropped and entire subplots were changed. In 2003, without Fincher’s involvement, an ‘Assembly Cut’ was compiled for a DVD release – this version went back to the original script and used a lot of footage that had been dropped in 1992. The changes in the 37 minutes of new stuff include:
* Ripley’s escape pod now crashes near a coastline. Clemens finds her and carries her into the prison.
* There are a few extra moments that beef up the inmates’ religious zeal.
* The alien now impregnates an ox rather than a dog. After the ox dies there’s a scene of two prisoners taking it to an abattoir. One of the guys then finds a dead facehugger but doesn’t know what it is.
* Golic’s role is more substantial. He’s disliked by other inmates because he’s so crazy. The prisoners’ attempt to capture the alien is successful – but then Golic, who’s fascinated by the creature, lets it go.
* When Ripley throws herself off the gantry into the furnace, the alien inside her no longer bursts free.

Review: We’re back to the horror vibe of film one. In the first few minutes of this remorselessly dark film, there’s a very creepy shot of a facehugger lurking in the escape pod – and there always seems to be something scary hiding in every corner of the frame. Also, the society in this left-to-its-own-devices prison is an interesting world for an action-horror story. There’s an unsettling feeling of decay to everything – both physically and psychologically. At one point Aaron tells Ripley they have torches but no batteries. It’s a metaphor for the men: they have the equipment but no energy. However, there are big problems… The story’s pace is monotonous and there are few surprises. The whole film’s all on one level, basically: it’s a song with no choruses. It’s also *unremittingly* grim. The other Alien films mixed in flashes of humour or moments of humanity, whereas this gives us dour characters, a post-mortem on a child, an attempted gang rape and a sickly brown colour palette. The film has nowhere to go tonally. And the camerawork is often quite irritating. There are lots of low angles for not very clear reasons, and it often looks like a macabre music video. Watching this movie is a real jolt after the tight, experience-based direction of the first two films. Ridley Scott and James Cameron dropped the viewer into their stories; Alien³ watches events from afar.

Five double-Y chromosomes out of 10

Next time: Joss Whedon writes an Alien film? What could go wrong?