seaQuest DSV: Season one

260px-Season1cast

Today is the 25th anniversary of science-fiction show seaQuest DSV beginning on American television. It’s always been a much-ridiculed show (‘Star Trek glug, glug, glug,’ my mother used to call it). But I’ve always been very, very fond of it – especially the first season, which was set 25 years into the future (ie, 2018). So here’s a list of the 10 best episodes from that opening year…

10. Knight of Shadows (31 October 1993)
Shown on Halloween, this episode abandons the rest of the season’s plausible science and just has ghosts in it. A Titanic-style ship is found after lying on the seabed for 105 years.

9. To Be or Not to Be (12 September 1993)
The pilot episode, shown 25 years to the day before this blog post went live. It introduces the characters and concepts very well.

8. Games (3 October 1993)
A Hannibal Lector type inveigles his way aboard the ship and plays cat-and-mouse games. Creepily directed with a terrific score by John Debney.

7. Treasures of the Mind (26 September 1993)
A well-written, early episode about international diplomacy after a long-lost cache of antiquities is found.

6. Give Me Liberte (24 October 1993)
Crew members have to be quarantined after being exposed to a deadly virus in this mystery episode, guest starring Udo Kier.

5. Brothers and Sisters (17 October 1993)
A nice, low-key plot about a young boy who has to be convinced to abandon a dangerous location. ER’s Kellie Martin is excellent as his friend.

4. The Good Death (15 May 1994)
A stylishly directed action episode about a South American military dictator (Luis Guzmán).

3. Nothing But the Truth (9 January 1994)
SeaQuest does Die Hard as terrorists storm the boat while there’s a skeleton crew aboard.

2. Greed for a Pirate’s Dream (16 January 1994)
A deliberately slender plot because it’s the drama concerning the guest characters – a group of treasure hunters on an island about to destroyed by lava – that’s more interesting.

1. Bad Water (7 November 1993)
A shit-hits-the-fan story about a sunken tourist sub and crew members stranded in a hurricane. (It’s easily the piece of television this blogger has seen the most often.)

 

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My 10 favourite Christopher Nolan films

Christopher Nolan

To celebrate the 48th birthday of film director Christopher Nolan, I’ve ranked his 10 movies to date in order of wonderfulness…

10. Following (1998)
Nolan’s self–financed debut is a story about a wannabe writer who stalks strangers out of curiosity. It has many of the elements you’d expect from a 1990s low-budget crime movie: a story told out of sequence (because, you know, Tarantino); a cast who aren’t as sharp and believable as you’d hope (to save money, Nolan only allowed one or two takes); black-and–white photography (because that makes it look moody, right?); and handheld camerawork (because that’s quicker than setting up elaborate shots). Mildly diverting to begin with, it then starts to drag.

9. The Prestige (2006)
An interesting film rather than an entertaining one. It’s about Victorian stage magicians competing to find the perfect trick, but it feels clinical and cynical. The craft is there, but not enough heart.

8. Insomnia (2002)
An orthodox crime thriller elevated by a really great performance from Robin Williams as the bad guy and the generally weird setting of Alaska in the never-ending daylight of summer.

7. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The weakest of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, this sees a reclusive Bruce Wayne forced to suit up to fight the muffled-voiced terrorist Bane. It’s too long, too convoluted, and has too many risible moments (most famously, an entire city’s police force gets lured into some tunnels) – but it’s still a fun watch. Anne Hathaway is especially good as the cat burglar Selina Kyle.

6. Inception (2010)
Mindboggling at times, but fascinating nevertheless. It’s a film full of complex concepts and it expects you to keep up. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the leader of a gang who can secretly access people’s dreams and plant ideas in their subconscious. (The gang are an enjoyable bunch, with chalk-and-cheese members like Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As much as it’s a sci-fi ‘concept’ film, this is also a heist movie.) The visual flamboyance on show is absolutely staggering. Many scenes take place in a dreamworld that’s spatially surreal and yet still solid, while CGI and inventive camerawork are expertly used to tell the story and embellish the settings. Also, Hans Zimmer’s *much*-copied incidental music makes everything feel monumentally huge.

5. Batman Begins (2005)
A retelling of the Batman origin story that turned its back on the kiddie-friendly slush of the most recent entry in the series. With the character rebooted, the story was played straight and given psychological rigour. It takes a while to get going, but once we’re into Bruce Wayne fighting crime in Gotham City the film sings with theatrical style.

4. Interstellar (2014)
A science-fiction movie with real sweep and panache. In a near-future blighted by ecological problems, Matthew McConaughey plays Coop, an astronaut sent on a vital mission into the depths of the solar system. Due to the differences in relative time, decades will pass on Earth while he’s away… There’s plausible science mixed with speculative theory and even spiritualism, an adventure plot merged with family drama, as well as shocks and twists. Jessica Chastain is also tremendous as Coop’s grown-up daughter.

3. Dunkirk (2017)
The evacuation of Dunkirk seen from various points of view – young soldiers stranded in France, airmen providing the cover for the retreat, and the crew of a fishing boat crossing the Channel. The three subplots take place over different time spans (an hour, a day, a week), yet feel totally concurrent due to the film’s artful editing and Nolan’s sense of storytelling. The 70mm photography takes your breath away, while several epic action sequences are impressively staged for real. Moving, well cast and engrossing.

2. Memento (2000)
A superb, noir-ish thriller with – famously – its scenes in reverse order. Devilishly clever and admirably bold, with a great central performance from Guy Pearce, this is the story of a man hunting for his wife’s murderer. The biggest problem? A medical condition means he can’t form any new memories so must rely on self-written notes and photos he can’t remember taking. As with later films Interstellar and Dunkirk, the unusual chronology never feels confusing or clunky. Instead, it puts us into Leonard’s point of view: we don’t know what happened earlier because he doesn’t.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Big, bold, complex, provocative and dangerous, this is the superhero genre’s equivalent of The Godfather Part II or The Empire Strikes Back. It’s monumental. Daunting. Impressive. Threatening. Challenging. Fascinating. *Ambitious*. Heath Ledger commands the frame whenever he’s on screen as the Joker, while the IMAX-shot action sequences are thrilling.

 

Four years of reviews…

To celebrate four years since I began this blog, here’s a list of every review that’s gained a maximum score of 10 out of 10…

Rubber Soul (1965)
Revolver (1966)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (1967; actually, I gave it 4,000 out of 10, but that’s the same thing)
Abbey Road (1969)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The Wicker Man (1973)
Fawlty Towers: The Builders (1975)
Fawlty Towers: The Hotel Inspectors (1975)
Fawlty Towers: Gourmet Night (1975)

Jaws (1975)
Star Wars (1977)
Alien (1979)
Fawlty Towers: Communication Problems (1979)
Fawlty Towers: The Kipper and the Corpse (1979)
Fawlty Towers: The Anniversary (1979)
Fawlty Towers: Basil the Rat (1979)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980; actually, because it’s so good I gave it 11 out of 10)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Hatful of Hollow (1984)
Back to the Future (1985)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Aliens (1986)
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
The Queen is Dead (1986)

Die Hard (1988)
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Batman (1989)
Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Licence to Kill (1989)

Red Dwarf III (1989)
Back to the Future Part III (1990)
Aliens: Special Edition (1991)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut (1992)

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Schindler’s List (1993)

Definitely Maybe (1994)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
GoldenEye (1995)
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995)
Fargo (1996)
The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition (1997)

Jackie Brown (1997)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Masterplan (1998)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Firefly: Our Mrs Reynolds (2002)
Firefly: Out of Gas (2002)
Firefly: Objects in Space (2002)
Serenity (2005)
Casino Royale (2006)
Love (2006)
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (2007)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Star Trek (2009)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)
The Lego Movie (2014)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Logan (2017)

My 10 favourite Ridley Scott films

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To celebrate the 80th birthday of visionary film director Ridley Scott, here is a list of what are – in my opinion – his 10 best movies…

10. Black Hawk Down (2001)
It might be a bit one-note, and too long, and too quick to paint foreigners as evil, but Scott’s based-on-a-true-story war movie is incredibly well staged.

9. Hannibal (2001)
A decent-enough sequel to an admittedly better film (The Silence of the Lambs, 1991).

8. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Ridley’s Crusades epic was cut down by studio executives before its release, but was still a good film, full of rich imagery and historical context. Thankfully, the director then released his edit on DVD – running at three hours, it’s much the better version and adds back in some necessary character detail and subplots. Only the blank central performance from Orlando Bloom disappoints.

7. Black Rain (1989)
Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia head to Japan in this fish-out-of-water cop thriller, which is stylish and thoughtful.

6. Gladiator (2000)
Made on the cusp of the CG revolution, this movie uses still-impressive computer graphics to extend its huge physical sets and the result is a totally convincing historical world. Russell Crowe, as a Roman general forced to become a gladiator, has rarely been better.

5. Thelma & Louise (1991)
Despite its serious subject matter – oppression, misogyny, death and rape – this is a huge amount of fun, thanks to a smart, witty script, two world-beating central performances from Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, and Ridley Scott’s visual panache and sense of pace.

4. The Martian (2015)
Superbly charming and likeable sci-fi disaster movie with a sense of humour. It’s based on a really good book, and carries over its playfulness and droll line in comedy. Matt Damon’s excellent, the supporting roles are really well cast, and the situation is genuinely affecting.

3. Robin Hood (2010)
One of Ridley’s most maligned movies, this does have one significant flaw. At various points of his career, lead actor Russell Crowe has attempted a vaguely English accent – see Gladiator, Master and Commander, Man of Steel, The Mummy… Nowhere, however, is it quite as ear-scrapping as in Robin Hood. The actor once walked out of an interview when a journalist suggested he sounded Irish. I’d go more for a mix of Irish, East Midlands, Cornish, Australian, Geordie, Welsh and Dick Van Dyke. But this is just a blemish on an otherwise excellent piece of work. Basically Robin Hood: The Origin Story, the movie ticks the usual boxes – the Crusades, King John, Marian, the sidekicks – but also weaves Robin’s story into a tapestry that involves palace intrigue, civil rights and a coming war. Beautiful to look at, well cast, exciting, funny, and with a fascinating backstory informing everything, this deserves to be much more liked.

2. Blade Runner (1982)
See full review for more, but basically it’s a masterpiece.

1. Alien (1979)
Beating Blade Runner by a Jonesy the cat’s whisker, Alien is not only one of the best science-fiction films ever made and one of the best horror films ever made, it’s one of the best films of any description ever made – see my full review for more.

 

My 500 favourite films

This is the 500th post on this website, so to celebrate I’ve quickly knocked up a list of my 500 favourite films. Well, that’s a lie. It wasn’t quick. It’s taken *weeks*.

I’ve limited my choices to narrative films that were released at the cinema, so there are no TV movies, documentaries or concert films. And I’ve tried to be honest. I’ve not artificially added ‘classics’ just because that’s the thing to do. I’m not saying The Wizard of Oz, Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shawshank Redemption or any other omissions are bad films; it’s just that I don’t have a personal affection for them. Neither have I shied away from including unpopular films. If a movie is on this list it’s because I genuinely like it.

1920
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

1922
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror

1927
Metropolis
Wings

1929
Piccadilly

1931
Dracula
Frankenstein
M

1933
King Kong

1935
Bride of Frankenstein

1936
Dracula’s Daughter

1941
Citizen Kane
The Maltese Falcon

1942
Casablanca

1946
The Big Sleep
It’s a Wonderful Life
A Matter of Life and Death

1948
Rope

1949
The Third Man

1950
Sunset Boulevard

1951
Strangers on a Train

1952
Singin’ in the Rain

1953
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

1954
Dial M For Murder
Rear Window

1958
Carry On Sergeant
Dracula
Some Like It Hot
Vertigo

1959 
North by Northwest

1960
Psycho

1961
Carry On Regardless

1962
Dr No
The Manchurian Candidate

1963
Carry On Cabby
From Russia With Love
The Great Escape

1964
Carry On Cleo
Carry On Spying
A Fistful of Dollars
Goldfinger
A Hard Day’s Night

1965
Carry On Cowboy
For a Few Dollars More
Help!
Thunderball

1966
Carry On Screaming!
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

1967
Carry On Doctor
You Only Live Twice

1968
Once Upon a Time in the West
Planet of the Apes
The Producers

1969
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Carry On Camping
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

1970
Carry On Loving

1971
And Now For Something Completely Different
Carry On At Your Convenience
Diamonds Are Forever
Dirty Harry
Duck, You Sucker!
Duel
Escape From The Planet of the Apes
Shaft

1972
Blacula
Carry On Abroad
Dracula A.D. 1972
The Godfather
Shaft’s Big Score

1973
Carry On Girls
Coffy
The Exorcist
High Planes Drifter
Live and Let Die
Magnum Force
Scream Blacula Scream
Shaft in Africa
The Wicker Man

1974
Blazing Saddles
The Conversation
The Godfather Part II
The Man With the Golden Gun
Murder on the Orient Express
Young Frankenstein

1975
Dog Day Afternoon
Jaws
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Rocky Horror Picture Show

1976
All The President’s Men
The Eagle Has Landed
The Enforcer
Keoma
The Omen
Rocky
Silent Movie

1977
Jabberwocky
The Spy Who Loved Me
Star Wars

That’s Carry On!

1978
Damien: Omen II
Death on the Nile
Grease
Halloween
Superman: The Movie

1979
Alien
Apocalypse Now
Mad Max
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Moonraker
Rocky II

1980
Airplane!
The Blues Brothers
The Empire Strikes Back
Raging Bull
Superman II

1981
An American Werewolf in London
For Your Eyes Only
History of the World, Pt 1
Mad Max 2
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Time Bandits

1982
Airplane II: The Sequel
Blade Runner
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Evil Under the Sun
First Blood
The King of Comedy
The Missionary
Rocky III
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Tootsie

1983
A Christmas Story
The Dead Zone
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
National Lampoon’s Vacation
Never Say Never Again
Octopussy
Return of the Jedi

Sudden Impact
Superman III
To Be or Not to Be
Trading Places
WarGames

1984
2010
Beverly Hills Cop
Blood Simple
The Boys in Blue
Ghostbusters
Gremlins
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The Karate Kid
Police Academy
Runaway
Sixteen Candles
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
The Terminator
This is Spinal Tap

1985
Back to the Future
Brazil
The Breakfast Club
Brewster’s Millions
Clue
Commando
The Goonies
Ladyhawke
National Lampoon’s European Vacation
Return to Oz
Rocky IV
Santa Clause: The Movie
Teen Wolf
A View to a Kill
Weird Science

1986
Aliens
Clockwise
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Howard the Duck
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Little Shop of Horrors
Police Academy 3: Back in Training
Pretty in Pink
SpaceCamp
Stand By Me
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Top Gun

1987
Beverly Hills Cop II
Dirty Dancing
Empire of the Sun
The Fourth Protocol
Good Morning, Vietnam
Innerspace
Lethal Weapon
The Living Daylights
The Lost Boys
Mannequin
Masters of the Universe
Near Dark
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Predator
The Princess Bride
Project X
RoboCop
The Running Man
The Secret of My Success
Spaceballs
Three Men and a Baby
The Untouchables
Withnail & I

1988
Big
The Dead Pool
Die Hard
D.O.A.
A Fish Called Wanda
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach
The Rescue
Scrooged
Vice Versa
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Working Girl
Young Guns

1989
The Abyss
Back to the Future Part II
Batman
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Black Rain
Fletch Lives
Ghostbusters II
Honey I Shrunk the Kids
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Lethal Weapon 2
Licence to Kill
Parenthood
Police Academy 6: City Under Siege
Slipstream
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Twins

1990
Back to the Future Part III
Die Hard 2
Edward Scissorhands
The Exorcist III
The Godfather Part III
GoodFellas
Home Alone
The Hunt For Red October
Narrow Margin
Nuns on the Run
Predator 2
Presumed Innocent
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Total Recall
Young Guns II

1991
Barton Fink
JFK
The Last Boy Scout
Point Break
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Terminator 2: Judgment Day

1992
Alien3
Batman Returns
A Few Good Men
Lethal Weapon 3
Memoirs of an Invisible Man
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Patriot Games
The Player
Reservoir Dogs
Sneakers
Unforgiven
Wayne’s World

1993
Dazed and Confused
The Fugitive
Groundhog Day
In The Line of Fire
Jurassic Park
Last Action Hero
Schindler’s List
True Romance

1994
Clear and Present Danger
Ed Wood
The Hudsucker Proxy

Nadja
Pulp Fiction
Shallow Grave
Star Trek: Generations
Speed
True Lies

1995
The American President
Bad Boys
Casino
Crimson Tide
Desperado
Die Hard With a Vengeance
Get Shorty
GoldenEye
Heat
Mallrats
Outbreak
Se7en
Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead
Toy Story
Twelve Monkeys
The Usual Suspects
Waterworld

1996
2 Days in the Valley
The Fan
Fargo
The Frighteners
From Dusk Till Dawn
Grosse Pointe Blank
Independence Day
Mission: Impossible
Trainspotting

1997
Alien Resurrection
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Face/Off
Fierce Creatures
Jackie Brown
L.A. Confidential
Lethal Weapon 4
Men in Black
Starship Troopers
Titanic
Tomorrow Never Dies

1998
The Big Lebowski
Enemy of the State
The Negotiator
Out of Sight
Ronin
Saving Private Ryan
The X Files

1999
American Beauty
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Galaxy Quest
The Limey
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Toy Story 2
Wild Wild West
The World is Not Enough

2000
Dracula 2000
Gladiator
Memento
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Shadow of the Vampire

Shaft
Sleepy Hollow
Timecode
Traffic
X-Men

2001
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Amélie
The Fast and the Furious
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Moulin Rouge
Ocean’s Eleven
The Parole Officer
Spy Game

2002
24 Hour Party People
The Bourne Identity
Catch Me If You Can
Chicago
Die Another Day
Gosford Park
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Solaris
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
The Sum of All Fears
The Time Machine

2003
Bad Boys 2
Kill Bill, Vol 1
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Runaway Jury
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
X2

2004
The Bourne Supremacy
I, Robot
Kill Bill, Vol 2
The Manchurian Candidate
Man on Fire
Ocean’s Twelve
Shaun of the Dead

2005
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Batman Begins
Good Night, and Good Luck
Kingdom of Heaven
King Kong
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Serenity
Sin City
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

2006
The Black Dahlia
Casino Royale
Children of Men
Crank
Déjà Vu
The Departed
Mission: Impossible III
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Superman Returns

2007
The Bourne Ultimatum
Death Proof
Die Hard 4.0
Hot Fuzz
I am Legend
No Country For Old Men
Ocean’s Thirteen
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Planet Terror
Superbad
Run, Fatboy, Run

2008
The Dark Knight
Frost/Nixon
How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
Iron Man
Quantum of Solace

Vantage Point

2009
Crank: High Voltage
The Damned United
Fast and Furious
Inglourious Basterds
The Invention of Lying
Sherlock Holmes
Star Trek
The Taking of Pelham 123

2010
The Book of Eli
Easy A
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec
Inception
Robin Hood
Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Unstoppable

2011
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
The Artist
Attack the Block
Captain America: The First Avenger
Contagion
Drive
Fast and Furious 5
Hugo
The Inbetweeners Movie
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Paul
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Super 8
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
X-Men: First Class

2012
21 Jump Street
The Dark Knight Rises
Django Unchained
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Hunger Games
Looper
Skyfall

2013
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness
The World’s End

2014
22 Jump Street
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
The Inbetweeners 2
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
The Lego Movie
X-Men: Days of Future Past

2015
Bridge of Spies
Crimson Peak
Ex Machina
The Hateful Eight
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Legend
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Mr Holmes
Spectre

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
A Walk in the Woods

2016
Deadpool
The Nice Guys
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Star Trek Beyond
Their Finest
X-Men: Apocalypse

2017
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Logan
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge
T2 Trainspotting

Totals:
1920s: 5 films (1%)
1930s: 6 (1.2%)
1940s: 8 (1.6%)
1950s: 11 (2.2%)
1960s: 26 (5.2%)
1970s: 55 (11%)
1980s: 126 (25.2%)
1990s: 103 (20.6%)
2000s: 87 (17.4%)
2010s: 73 (14.6%)

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.

Ten Things I Love About The Wicker Man (1973, Robin Hardy)

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SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists!

The Wicker Man is sometimes cited as Britain’s best horror film. Here are 10 reason why I think that might be so… (Note: this review is based on the version of the film released in 1973. I’ll cover the longer ‘director’s cut’ in the next blog.)

1. The story…
…which (seriously, big spoiler coming up now) is a huge con trick. Every character but one is lying throughout, which makes a first viewing a gripping mystery and repeat viewings great fun. Policeman Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives on a small, isolated island in the Hebrides in search of a missing 13-year-old girl. He’s been tipped off by an anonymous letter, but no one on the island – not even the girl’s supposed mother – appears to have heard of Rowan Morrison. They also seem benignly disinterested in Howie’s investigation. As the copper asks more and more questions, he also becomes aware that the villagers have abandoned Christianity in favour of pagan rituals and beliefs, many of which centre around sex. Eventually, he uncovers the truth: the disappearance of the girl was staged in order to lure him to the island – and the entire village is in on the ruse. They need a pure, righteous virgin for a horrific sacrificial ceremony…

2. Sgt Neil Howie…
…who is the movie’s point-of-view character. Edward Woodward holds the whole film together, appearing in every scene and playing Howie with total sincerity (and a decent Scottish accent). The earnest West Highland policeman arrives on the island in a dapper little seaplane (he represents the technologically advanced outside world, you see) but soon faces a frustrated enquiry. He’s a deeply religious man who prays before going to sleep and who rallies against the island’s heathen community. He’s also, we learn, engaged to be married and doesn’t believe in sex before marriage. Woodward’s measured performance is fantastic: just watch as Howie gets increasingly manic and angry and shocked from scene to scene. Howie’s a rather humourless man, yet you feel real sympathy for him during the harrowing final scene.

3. The music…
…which is vital to the movie’s eerie, unsettling vibe. The Wicker Man is essentially a musical in disguise. As well as mood-setting score, there are numerous scenes where characters burst into song. The first instance comes after just 11 minutes: Howie watches agog as a pub full of villagers serenade him with a lewd song called The Landlord’s Daughter. Even Howie himself gets to sing later on when he blasts out Psalm 23 as death approaches. Music is woven into the fabric of life on the island and the film’s many folk songs manage to sound both menacing and seductive at the same time.

4. The landscape…
…which gives the story a beautiful yet strange island setting. The movie was shot entirely on location in Scotland, which immediately differentiates it from, say, Hammer Horror films that were confined to sound-stages and Home County woodlands. In The Wicker Man, you can sense the fresh air blowing through every scene. We see the fishing village, the sea, cliffs and caves, the woods, fields and orchards, an abandoned churchyard and the stately manor – all locations with a bucolic, medieval, pre-science feel. Nature is so important to this story – it’s almost a character in itself – so images and discussions of it recur throughout.

5. The villagers…
…who are now the prime example of ‘happy yet creepy locals’ in a horror movie. When Howie arrives at the island, they’re reluctant to send a dinghy out to his seaplane. Then they pretend they’ve never heard of the child he’s looking for. Without being openly rude or aggressive, it’s clear that *something* is wrong. The scene also showcases some fantastically characterful faces: these are real people, not Hollywood extras. The action soon cuts to the village pub, The Green Man Inn, where we get one of the great the-music-stops-and-everyone-looks-round moments in cinema. But again a palpable sense of danger is being created because the villagers are being so *nice*: they smile, laugh, sing, dance; they never threaten Howie or tell him to get lost.

6. Willow…
…the beautiful, blonde barmaid at The Green Man who enjoys being the object of the villagers’ lusty affections. The film ekes out real menace because no one (not Willow, not her father) is at all concerned by a load of old men perving over her. Cast in the role was Swedish actress Britt Ekland, who brought both star power and sexual chemistry to what is actually a relatively minor role. (Britt had some help: not only is all of her dialogue dubbed by another actress, but a body double was brought in for some of the nudity.) The character’s showpiece scene comes during Howie’s first night on the island: he’s trying to sleep, but in the next room a naked Willow is singing a seductive song and rhythmically banging on the wall and writhing around. It’s an erotic temptation – an act designed to test the virgin Howie and make sure he’s the best possible person for the sacrifice. (Howie’s willpower holds. Somehow.)

7. The weirdness…
…which gives the film a relentlessly surreal, and often sexual, quality. Without ever going full-blown mental (and therefore losing the ‘truth’ of the situation), the bizarre behaviour soon starts to mount up… The local postmistress cheerfully denies her eldest daughter is missing, then later forces her youngest to hold a toad in her mouth as a cure for a sore throat. The village schoolteacher (Diane Cilento) teaches a class of 13-year-old girls about phallic symbolism. Howie stumbles across a midnight orgy going on in the middle of the village. The chemists has a jar full of foreskins for sale. A schoolgirl has a beetle tied to a piece of string attached to a nail, so the more it fights to get free the more it’s trapped. Women dance naked around some standing stones. Howie walks in on the local librarian (Ingrid Pitt, another bit of star casting) having a bath and possibly masturbating… and she just smiles at him.

8. Lord Summerisle…
…who is the leader of the community. He doesn’t actually appear until the 40th minute, but his entry into the story kicks Howie’s indignation into an even higher gear. It’s probably Christopher Lee’s finest acting performance: free of Dracula and co, he’s able to show charm, toss off quips (“Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent”), affect nonchalance, and turn into an ever-smiling murderer. Lee was a prime mover in getting the film made and took it very personally when his studio bosses didn’t like it. 

9. The different edits…
…which mean this film has a fascinating production history and now exists in a variety of cuts. Basically, director Robin Hardy’s preferred version of the film was edited down by the producers before release. About 12 minutes were removed, much to the chagrin of Hardy and star Christopher Lee, then the unused negatives were junked. (The urban myth is they were thrown into a landfill site that’s now under a motorway – sometimes said to be the M3, sometimes the M4.) A few years later, however, Hardy remembered that a print of the longer edit had been sent to independent film producer Roger Corman so he could give his opinion on how to market the film in America. And he’d kept it. So the long version was released in 1977 – ironically with a few trims. I shall look at how the versions differ from each other in the following blog.

10. The ending…
…which is where this horror film becomes truly horrific. Having deduced that Rowan Morrison is to be sacrificed to appease the gods who let a harvest fail, Howie disguises himself and joins the village’s May Day parade. There are strange rituals along the way, including a moment when it seems that someone has been beheaded, then Howie sees Rowan near some caves. He races to save her and they flee… But it’s all a ruse. Rowan deliberately leads him onto a cliff where Summerisle, Willow and others are waiting. It’s not Rowan they’re going to sacrifice; it’s Howie. The whole thing has been a long con: they staged the girl’s disappearance to draw the virgin Howie to the island, then frustrated his investigation until May Day. The entire village was in on the charade, even the children. It’s an astonishingly chilling plot twist, in part because of how numb Woodward plays the revelation scenes. Howie knows there’s no way out so retreats inward, quietly praying and reaffirming his faith in Jesus. But then he’s led further up the headland and sees it… an enormous wicker statue, in which he’s to be burnt to death. “Oh, Christ! Oh, Jesus Christ,” he calls out, as much a call for help as a scream of desperation. He’s a man of faith, who believes he will be reborn through Jesus. But aren’t the villagers also people of faith? There’s a cheeky piece of religious satire going on here. Earlier in the movie, Howie, shocked by the community’s heathen beliefs, asked, “Have these children never heard of Jesus?” and Summerisle pointedly replied, “Himself the son of a virgin impregnated, I believe, by a ghost.” The difference, of course, is that the villagers are prepared to murder an innocent man for their beliefs… The Wicker Man is part of the ‘folk horror’ tradition – a series of stories set in isolated rural communities and featuring brutal, often violent behaviour. It’s the finest example, actually.

Ten apples out of 10

“Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience…”

Episodes of the American sitcom Cheers typically begin with a voiceover informing viewers that the show has been recorded with a studio audience in attendance. The device was introduced during the first season to confound rumours that the producers were adding a laughter track.

The phrase first appeared on the 13th episode (Now Pitching, Sam Malone, which was broadcast on 6 January 1983) and was used on nearly every episode until the show came to an end with its 11th season in 1993. The regular cast shared the duties, on a seemingly random rotation, so I thought it would be edifying – or at least diverting – to see who did it the most often.

11. Nicholas Colasanto (Coach Ernie Pantusso) – 0

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Of the 10 actors credited in a Cheers opening title sequence, only one never said “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience”: Nicholas Colasanto, who played dim-witted but eternally loveable barman Coach. The character was a regular from episode one, but Colasanto died from heart disease on 12 February 1985 during production of the show’s third season.

=9. Kirstie Alley (Rebecca Howe) – 1

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Despite neurotic bar manager Rebecca being in all 149 episodes made after she joined the cast in 1987, Kirstie Alley performed the introductory voiceover just once: on the episode Paint Your Office (5 November 1987).

=9. Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith Sternin-Crane) – 1

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Psychiatrist Lilith was initially a one-off character in season four – a love interest for Frasier Crane – then returned as a semi-regular from season five onwards. But despite all these appearances, Neuwirth only got to say “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience” once. It was on Madame LaCarla (3 October 1991), which came during the 10th season when she’d been temporarily promoted to the regular cast.

8. George Wendt (Norm Peterson) – 12

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One of only three actors who appeared in all 270 episodes of Cheers, George Wendt – who played slovenly but good-natured barfly Norm – was conspicuously underused when it came to assuring viewers that the laughs were genuine. When the gimmick was introduced, he actually said it on the first three episodes. But he was then called on just three times in the next two seasons… and then not again until season 10. His final go at it was on the episode It’s Lonely On The Top (29 April 1993).

7. Kelsey Grammer (Frasier Crane) – 13

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Psychiatrist Frasier Crane was introduced in the first episode of the 1984/85 season, initially as a short-term character. But he proved so popular he was promoted to the regular cast and stayed until the end. He performed the voiceover 13 times, from season six’s My Fair Clavin (10 December 1987) to season 11’s Is There a Doctor in the Howe? (11 February 1993).

6. [No one] – 22

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There are 22 episodes of Cheers that don’t use the phrase. Most came before the device was introduced, but in occasional later episodes it was replaced by either a ‘Previously on Cheers’-type voiceover or simply the first line of the opening scene.

5. Shelley Long (Diane Chambers) – 27

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One of the co-leads when the series began, Shelley Long – who played aspirational waitress Diane – featured in every episode until leaving at the end of the fifth season. (She also returned as a guest star for the last ever episode in 1993.) Her first go at “Cheers is filmed…” was on the second-season episode Homicidal Ham (27 October 1983); her final instance was on I Do, Adieu (7 May 1987), her last episode as a regular.

4. Woody Harrelson (Woody Boyd) – 33

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Naïve, young barman Woody Boyd joined the show at the start of season four, as a replacement for Coach, and stayed until the end. But he had to wait for his first “Cheers is filmed…”. It finally came in season six on the episode Christmas Cheers (17 December 1987). His final voiceover was exactly five years later on Love Me, Love My Car (17 December 1992).

3. John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin) – 49

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Postman Cliff featured in the show’s opener, Give Me a Ring Sometime (30 September 1982), then was in nearly every episode until the finale in 1993. Ratzenberger said “Cheers is filmed…” regularly between No Contest (17 February 1983) and Look Before You Sleep (1 April 1993). He’s one of only two actors who got to do it in all 11 seasons. He’s also one of only two actors who were allowed to embellish the phrase. The first and fourth times he performed the function, it was amended to “Here’s a little-known fact: Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience.”

2. Rhea Perlman (Carla Tortelli/LeBec) – 53

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Caustic waitress Carla was in every episode of Cheers and performed the voiceover in every season, from Show Down Part 1 (24 March 1983) until penultimate episode The Guy Can’t Help It (13 May 1993). She also got her own character-centric embellishment. In most of her instances during the first five seasons, she said “Hey” before the usual wording. This addition was then dropped.

1. Ted Danson (Sam Malone) – 59

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Unsurprisingly, the actor who introduced episodes of Cheers the most often was the top-billed Ted Danson, who played bar owner and ladies’ man Sam Malone in every episode. What is surprising, perhaps, is that he didn’t do it until the third season. Ted’s first voiceover was on Rebound (Part 1) (27 September 1984), then he performed the role regularly until series finale One for the Road (20 May 1993).

My top 10 Harrison Ford characters

Harrison Ford has been one of my favourite actors for a very long time. Being about five years old and realising that the same man played both Han Solo and Indiana Jones was possibly the exact moment I became a film geek. So to celebrate his 75th birthday here’s a rundown of his best characters…

10. President James Marshall

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Appears in: Air Force One (1997)
Quote: “Get off my plane!”
In this silly but fun thriller, Ford is a fictional US President fighting terrorists who have taken over his personal airliner. It’s one of the actor’s *many* roles in which he plays a husband/father whose family is threatened by bad guys. This motif in his CV was spoofed in a very funny YouTube mash-up.

9. Martin Stett

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Appears in: The Conversation (1974)
Quote: “I’m not following you. I’m looking for you. There’s a big difference.”
A relatively minor role in a paranoia thriller directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In the original script Stett was just an unnamed underling, but Coppola liked Ford’s approach so much – he played him with a cool menace and decided he was gay – that the character was given extra screentime.

8. Allie Fox

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Appears in: The Mosquito Coast (1986)
Quote: “Look around you. How did America get this way? Land of promise, land of opportunity. Give us the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Have a Coke. Watch TV.”
Based on a Paul Theroux novel, the film tells the story of an American man who moves his family to Belize in search of a purer, simpler life. Ford plays Allie’s increasingly unhinged behaviour really well.

7. Jack Trainer

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Appears in: Working Girl (1988)
Quote: “Me? Nah.”
Harrison shows off his skill with light comedy in this likeable 80s film about big business. He plays the object of the lead character’s affections: a honest, undemanding guy in a cut-throat world.

6. Rusty Sabich

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Appears in: Presumed Innocent (1990)
Quote: “Next time you talk to him, tell him to call me so I can find out what’s going on in my own fucking investigation.”
In this taut mystery movie, Ford plays an assistant district attorney who must investigate the murder of his own mistress. It’s his story, so we’re seeing events through his eyes, yet the longer the film goes on the more you doubt his sincerity. Is Rusty actually the killer?

5. Dr Richard Kimble

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Appears in: The Fugitive (1993)
Quote: “I didn’t kill my wife!”
Wrongly accused of murdering his other half, Kimble goes on the run and is chased by a US marshal played by Tommy Lee Jones. It’s a classic everyman role for Ford – well, a successful and rich everyman – and he’s excellent at playing an innocent who’s overtaken by events.

4. Jack Ryan

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Appears in: Patriot Games (1992), Clear and Present Danger (1994)
Quote: “I couldn’t just stand there and watch him shoot those people right in front of me. It was… rage. Pure rage… Just made me mad.”
This character – a CIA analyst and family man – was first played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October (1990), a superb thriller about a rogue submarine. When Baldwin dropped out of the sequel, Harrison Ford took over. He played Jack Ryan in two very entertaining and well made movies, and brought bags of decency and guile to the role.

3. Rick Deckard

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Appears in: Blade Runner (1982), Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Quote: “I was quit when I come in here, Bryant. I’m twice as quit now.”
Harrison Ford’s skill at conveying a huge amount with relatively little dialogue has never been better used than in this magnificent movie. Deckard is a classic film-noir private detective working in a futuristic LA. He’s world-weary, laconic and damaged.

2. Dr Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones Jnr

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Appears in: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Young Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Blues (1993, TV), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Quote: “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.”
Indy is part college professor, part archaeologist and part globetrotting, Nazi-beating, wisecracking adventurer. With his fedora hat, leather jacket and whip, he’s a comic-book character come to life. A swashbuckling hero for the ages.

1. Han Solo

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Appears in: Star Wars (1977), The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Quote: “Sometimes I amaze even myself.”
The words swagger and charisma could have been coined to describe Han Solo, the untrustworthy-smuggler-turned-hero-of-the-rebellion. He’s a dry, droll presence in the Star Wars series, adding cynicism and sarcasm to the otherwise earnest first film and then romance and soul to the sequels. He has the best spaceship in all of sci-fi, dresses like a cowboy, and is capable of a man-crush-generating smirk. Peerlessly, effortlessly, relentlessly cool.

Best of the rest: Also worth mentioning are… Boy racer Bob Falfa in American Graffiti (1973) and More American Graffiti (1979)… Colonel Lucas, the nervous military toady in Apocalypse Now (1979)… David Halloran, the US soldier in soppy war film Hanover Street (1979)… Policeman John Book in Amish thriller Witness (1985)… and Richard Walker, yet another husband worried about his under-threat wife, in Frantic (1988).

My 10 favourite Tony Scott films

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Film director Tony Scott died in 2012, but today would have been his 73rd birthday. So to celebrate here’s a rundown of his 10 best movies.

10. Top Gun (1986) – ridiculous, overblown and macho. But so much fun too.

9. Spy Game (2001) – a CIA thriller with Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, four different time zones and lots of flashy camerawork.

8. The Fan (1996) – Robert De Niro goes entertainingly nuts as a baseball fan who stalks his favourite player.

7. Deja Vu (2006) – the sci-fi gimmick is ingenious and inventive, but the film never loses sight of the plot and the central character (played by Denzel Washington in one of his five Tony Scott films).

6. Crimson Tide (1995) – a tense submarine thriller with Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman butting heads in a battle of the heavyweights. (Quentin Tarantino did a pass on the script and added some pop-culture references.)

5. The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) – a hip, flashy remake of the 70s train-based caper. It also has another great Denzel Washington performance, this time squaring off against John Travolta.

4. Unstoppable (2010) – essentially just a single 90-minute action scene, this movie has absolutely no fat on it at all. A simplistic yet thrilling film. It’s pure cinema: storytelling through action and visuals.

3. True Romance (1993) – an early Quentin Tarantino script given a Hollywood sheen by Tony Scott. Vivid characters, cracking dialogue and visual flair.

2. The Last Boy Scout (1991) – a stylish, witty neo-noir written with bags of attitude by Shane ‘Lethal Weapon’ Black.

1. Enemy of the State (1998) – a fantastic techno-thriller about surveillance, with Will Smith as the Cary-Grant-in-North-By-Northwest-type innocent caught in the crossfire.