Tuesday, 29 May 2012

London MCM Expo Report 2012

Last weekend, if you were living in the UK, you might have known that the London MCM Expo took place featuring the usual gathering of cosplayers, comics salesmen many Doctor Who fans and enough katanas to equip a small army. Par for the course when it comes to gatherings of nerds. Amongst the stalls selling replicas of film weapons, out of print comics, and areas set up by independent artists there were a number of promotions for soon to be released video games and films.
With a chance to get a first impression of some major releases, Gareth of Paranerds.com and I went to investigate.

The Games:
Most of what was available for playing at the MCM Expo were those already fully released. Ones such as Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Dead or Alive 5 and Warriors Orochi 3 were available to play, and they’ve all been out for months. That being said there were a number of ones which were still open for demonstrations and Q&A sections however.

The Old Republic (MMORPG):
In the Q&A section for their massive online game, Bioware seemed to be keeping its cards close to its chest. Those talking seemed to be trying to avoid revealing too much about any future changes to their title and there frequently seemed to be the general response of “we wanted to do that from the beginning but…”
The most notable examples are an unwillingness to talk about new species, wider involvement in warzones and wider content for new/current classes. There was honestly not much told to fans of the game but from the sounds of it they are focusing upon trying to expand upon certain content for its current playerbase. Concentrating upon improving the experience for current players rather than creating stuff to attract new ones. Whether or not they will listen to criticisms of The Old Republic and try to improve upon the flaws most frequently complained about remains to be seen.
Here’s hoping one of the improvements they’ll make is to stop continually blurring the boundaries between Jedi and Sith until there seems to be no difference between them. It’s as if they’re trying to retcon Karen Traviss' rants into being right.

Transformers Universe (MMO):
This is most definitely a game which is being made by fans for fans. Those present in talking about Transformers Universe were all people very familiar with the franchise, long-time fans of it and were dedicated to creating a genuinely good game. From the questions answered in the Q&A it sounded like the developers were planning to create more of an action orientated MMO than most traditional ones, with less of an obvious focus upon levelling and grinding for exp. Despite this, they did mention several times that they wanted to make a proper use of the transformers’ ages, with most being able to live for millions or sometimes billions of years. As such we might either see the sort of thing present in The Old Republic, with each character being able to shape themselves over an initial storyline or an altered version of a traditional levelling system.
In response to a question the developers also stated they wanted to make the transformers’ abilities and fighting styles the core mechanic, emphasising upon the two things which come to mind when people talk about the series: Gigantic robots fighting one another and being capable of fast travel while in vehicle modes. With any luck this’ll result in more “breach their defences!” “Halt the enemy advance by destroying those siege weapons!” missions than “find six insecticons and harvest their parts” tasks. Quite how vehicle modes will be employed in the game remains to be seen, but the developers are apparently taking notes from games like War for Cybertron. The last really promising note is that the developers are planning to make as much use of the characters from the Prime universe as possible, including several from the cartoon but also planning to expand to introduce versions of classic series characters. Prowl and Barricade have already been announced, characters not present in the cartoon, and with any luck we’ll be seeing more of this if there will be any future expansions.
It does have promise, but be warned it seems to be being made for Transformers fans first and foremost.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour (Action, Vehicle Simulation):
Honestly, I’d heard nothing about this one – it seemed to come out of completely nowhere and it looks very promising. Without going into details on its storyline, the sequel to the older Steel Battalion game seems to have flipped from one play style to the next. The original game utilised an expensive, massive controller to invoke immersion with the player using dozens of buttons, two joysticks and various dials to help control what was effectively a walking tank. Instead the makers are choosing to use Xbox 360 Kinect in order to try and create the feeling of piloting an awkward, two legged attack vehicle. The really surprising thing is though, it doesn’t feel like a step down – there’s still a great deal of immersion to be had and in all honesty this actually feels like a good used for the Kinect. Unlike Star Wars Kinect or the other gimmicky types of games, this one seems to have been planned out to try and balance the use of controllers and hand motions to keep the tank moving.
While piloting the machine you direct and fire it with your controller much like you would in any game, giving the direction and tight controls required for precision shooting and gauging distances. However, the panels inside your cockpit, levers and buttons are flipped on and off through the Kinect. For example, if you’re aiming through the firing slit to shoot you can motion to move back, close it and then turn to a device to your left in order to view directions through exterior cameras. It feels clunky and complex but in a good way, like you’re trying to operate a war machine with all the problems and issues you’d come to expect from driving such a vehicle. The graphics also don’t seem to have suffered from this, while by no means outstanding they’re passable which is more than can be said for the average Kinect focused game.
This one looks really good; if From Software managed to get this right we could have an extremely good title on our hands. Keep an eye out for this one.

Aliens: Colonial Marines (FPS):
While unable to get close enough to actually play the damn thing, thanks to a large writhing mass of people surrounding the cubicle where demos were being held, we were able to get some initial impressions of the game. Watching other people play their way through it and interviewing a few players willing to talk as they left, the game looks like it could be the next Bioshock. Streamlined, well made, with a genuinely interesting plot and some great level designs Colonial Marines seems to be worth the long wait. I will say that the initial trailers have removed some of the initial menace of the xenomorphs by reducing some of their weaker forms to simple cannon fodder, but the promise of newer, tougher bioforms should hopefully offset this.
The game does feel a lot like a sequel to the Alien vs Predator games, far more so than this generation’s latest instalment to that series. You’re operating as part of a human squad isolated from the bulk of your forces, the motion tracker and a lot of recognisable weapons are present, and xenomorphs leap at you and perform recognisable movements like running on walls without feeling old or predictable. The only criticism I will give is that the graphics don’t seem all that impressive at the moment and the atmosphere to the game could do with some slightly improved presentation to emphasise upon the hero’s initial situation. Other than that if Colonial Marines’ first few minutes are an indication of the game’s overall quality it’s going to be a winner.
This could well end up living up to the hype so keep waiting for this one a little longer; with any luck your patience will be rewarded.

The Films:
Like the games, a lot of the films being advertised were those which we’ve seen a lot about already. Most of them were just posters for things which were soon to be released like Prometheus, Men in Black III and a few new anime OVAs which I’ve not seen or heard enough to properly comment upon. There were two films which had brief film and trailer screenings which were original and were worth commenting upon:

A Fantastic Fear of Everything:
This is a dark comedy(?) starring Simon Pegg which does look like it’s to follow a path not often trod by films these days; having a plot which simultaneously blurs reality with fiction and the cartoonish with horror. Playing a children’s writer turned murder mystery writer, Pegg’s performance sees him slowly going inside; becoming obsessed with his own tales and gripped by paranoia. Forcing him to the point where, well, there’s lots of shots with him carrying bladed weapons.
The reason for that question mark at the end of comedy is that it’s hard to tell quite what direction this film is supposed to be going in. It’s like the reverse of John Carpenter’s Starman. In that film you had a science fiction love story which had a lot of the visual cues and cinematography you’d expect to see in one of Carpenter’s horror films. In this case, from what we see of it, A Fantastic Fear of Everything seems to have a lot of horror moments and disturbing themes, but a lot of its visual images seem to be from the sort of comedies Pegg stars in.
From what was shown the film’s directors do seem to be taking risks in trying new things, something always commendable, and it is going with some interesting visual effects. It apparently is going to use scribbled cartoons and drawings to display at least some of Pegg’s character’s hallucinations which does help to give it a distinctive look. While there is some uncertainty to be had with the film, Pegg is a versatile actor and can work with these situations, this plus its overall look means it could end up being a good film. Wait and see how it develops and what new information is revealed in the future.

Chernobyl Diaries:
This one is either going to be really good or really bad. Why? Well, amongst other things it is a found footage movie produced and written by the guy who has directed, produced and written for the Paranormal Activity films. This might sound like beating a dead horse with a stick, but they tend to have a few which are really good and a lot which are either mediocre or really bad. This one looks like it could go either way; either being the next Troll Hunter or turning into another Apollo 18.
The plot from the start sounds like something which has more than a few holes in it; a group of friends choose to head off and go for an extreme tour. Now, this you’d expect to be kayaking, mountain climbing or something with extreme sports. These people decide to go check out a town which is in the shadow of the Chernobyl fallout with a former Special Forces soldier as a guide. This already has a few problems in itself as it seems ridiculous that anyone in their right mind would want to wander into an actively radioactive zone as a sort of holiday, let alone try to have an “extreme” tour in an abandoned town. And then they’re attacked by something living in the town which is hostile to them.
What the mysterious thing is this time is obviously going to be a mutant of some sort, but the real question is what kind. People’s guesses range from the villains being something like Fallout’s ghouls to violent ghosts haunting the ruins. Personally I’m hoping we’ll end up with an entirely new insect monster spawned from the radiation B-50s style; like some combination between Godzilla and the xenomorph queen from Aliens rather than just a group of mutated feral people.
It has an interesting setting, some possibly good setups but there are some warning lights lit up by just the trailer of Chernobyl Diaries alone. Read a few reviews before deciding to take a look at this one as it really could go either way at the moment.

So that’s the first looks seen at London’s MCM Expo. Nothing seemed to appear truly bad at first look and with any luck the finished product will resemble these previews. Unfortunately I was unable to take any photographs or footage of this myself, due London being in the middle of a mass battery shortage apparently, so apologies for that.
With any luck we will be able to review some of these titles properly when they come out and if people want this sort of report to become a yearly thing for this site, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Star Wars: Starfighter (PC Video Game Review)

For everything bad which came out of the first episode of the Star Wars prequels it can at least be said that there were two good things we got out of it. Firstly it brought us one of the best lightsaber battles in the entire saga, thank you Ray Park, and secondly it brought us some genuinely fun tie in games. Not all of them were great, the less said about Obi-Wan and Obi-Wan’s Adventures the better, but most were actually decently made. Star Wars: Starfighter though? Not as good as people remember.
The big problem with the game is that it feels small and frequently unfocused. The most obvious example of this is the plot – almost all of the time you feel like you’re outside of events. Your characters are barely involved with the resistance on Naboo, most of the game is spent with the characters trying to get their act together and there isn’t even an obvious bad guy. Hell, the final boss, the person who killed the protagonists mentor and left him for dead in an asteroid field barely appears. He’s given only a couple of lines of dialogue, no connection to any of the heroes, you never even learn his name! No really, when he shows up as an enemy in the final level he’s just credited as “Merc Leader”.
Even the finale doesn’t have you doing all that much. Two of the protagonists never had any subplots to really flesh out their characters, the only one who did had it left unresolved, the victory in the final mission is achieved by Anakin Skywalker and none of them ever had a major impact in the war.
Now some of you might be saying stories have never been a major part in these games, but you’d be wrong. Think of a lot of flight simulator games; Ace Combat, Aquanox, the Wing freaking Commander series – all of which had either a recognisable villain, a well-paced storyline or characters who at least felt like they were at the core of events. Each of them had their flaws even for their time, but you could forgive them if they had a good story driving things forwards. They also had sizable casts of characters who were given time to link up with and develop, or at the very least knew one another prior to the game’s start, who speak to one another to develop their personalities. It vastly improves the playing experience when well implemented, but in Starfighter it’s almost never used. For most of the game the characters are either working on their own or join up with individuals who very quickly die. Even when the protagonists properly team up there’s no real communication between them aside from “do mission objectives”. The only time they do manage to get this right is the pirate Nym’s early storyline but it’s only used for about three levels before his side characters are replaced by the regular cast.
Along with the story, something which also makes the game feel small is a lot of its levels. Despite not being a long game it has the habit of either repeating certain levels multiple times or leaving most of the map featureless. This isn’t so much of a problem in space, but on missions inside the atmosphere there’s this habit of confining you to certain areas and not providing enough to distract you from any flaws such as its lack of features. The most notable one of these is one mission where you’re protecting allied units fortifying themselves in a circle of ruins. There’s not enough enemies appearing quick enough to hide the fact there’s nothing to the map outside the ruins themselves, just a continual sea of grass and hills with the occasional TF landing craft. What’s more is that you know this is effectively a copy/paste of an earlier type of mission, the evacuation from Lok. That wouldn’t be a bad thing in itself were it not for the fact that, like Nym’s other early missions, that was a much better designed level than the later ruins defence.
The enemies also felt similarly flawed a lot of the time. The most interesting looking ships you encounter are the mercenary warbands consisting of Dagger, Morningstar and Dianoga fighters, but they only appear in the first couple of missions. The rest of the time you’re constantly fighting droid fighters, which while well designed and head after you in large numbers, become repetitive. Part of your mind already knows that the game has something besides the Federation’s ships to pepper with laserfire and after a few missions you can’t help but hope they’ll turn up again to give you some variety. That’s not the biggest problem through – that would be the exact type of enemies you end up facing.
On a great deal of missions you don’t end up fighting swarms of aircraft so much as you do vast numbers of tanks, turrets and ground based installations. These were easily targeted and you can strafe them without too much trouble. Sure, they might be so heavily armoured they can shrug off anything short of multiple torpedoes but that can be worked around without much trouble. So what did the developers do to make them a challenge? They gave certain ones powerful main guns which not only make a chunk of your HP disappear but have such a high impact they’ll throw off your aim and send you flying in an entirely different direction. They’re accurate as hell as well, with dozens being deployed at once in some missions. So when you are fighting ground vehicles, half the time they’re pushovers and the rest they’re easily ripping you a new one. This results in Starfighter not so much having a difficulty curve as being a series of uneven spikes, with the experience of playing missions jumping from “well, that was easy” to “ohgodohgodohgodohgod I AM SO SCREWED!” seemingly at random.
Even simply comparing it to other flying games from its time, Star Wars: Starfighter really isn’t all that great. Okay, it had vastly better space levels than Battle for Naboo, some nice unlockables and some inventive ideas. But on the other hand it had all the flaws outlined above along with other irritating features such as invincible capital ships and seemingly having no effect upon the Trade Federation’s blockade at all. I’d probably not be criticising this quite so harshly were it not for the fact the series developers produced a vastly superior sequel just one year after this hit the shelves with Jedi Starfighter. It seemed to take into account the flaws in the original, giving a much better story, a wider variety of enemies, a greater sense of power, better subplots and a main villain who not only gets a name but some actual bloody screentime.
Star Wars: Starfighter is available on Steam for £2.99. It’s an admittedly fair price for what you’re getting, but in all honesty you should just save your money for something else. It’s a better game than Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X., but that’s like saying Goldeneye is a better FPS than Duke Nukem Forever. Just because it can outdo a mediocre modern instalment of the genre doesn’t mean it’s the flawless gem you remember it as, nor will playing through it feel satisfying in this day and age.

Star Wars: Starfighter and all related characters and media are owned by LucasArts.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Titan (Comicbook Review)

Being one of the major titles in Warhammer 40,000’s short lived Inferno! comics print, Titan is fondly remembered by a lot of fans. It was a run which showed war on a much bigger scale than anything seen before in the universe, had memorable characterisations and several truly awesome moments per storyline. The odd thing is though, for a series so often remembered as being a classic, Titan is a really flawed series.
Probably the biggest reason it was so flawed was that unlike other on-going storylines there seemed to be no initially planned out plot for Titan. True it did have the duo of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning working on it, but the early books do feel like they only had a baseline idea of what they were working on. The series begins with the Warlord class titan Imperius Dictatio, imagine the holy hybrid of a battle tank, a gundam and a cathedral, failing in battle. Its aged cyborg pilot dies from the stress of piloting the Dictatio mid battle, just as an enemy titan class war machine is bearing down upon them. In an effort to survive the encounter Erwin Hekate, a cadet who was not even being considered ready to take control of a god-machine is forced into directly linking with its machine spirit and takes control.
Doesn’t sound too bad does it? But this introductory issue shows only this and nothing else. Aside from Hekate we’re given little impression of the rest of the crew and the fight against the enemy titan, an ork Gargant, isn’t shown. It’s like the writers were set a series of targets to hit while writing this and given the space for nothing else.
This didn’t really help with following issues which didn’t directly follow on from one another, jumping ahead for weeks at a time and having no plotlines to drive the narrative forwards. Okay, there’s the backdrop of a war against the orks, but it’s never really expanded upon nor do we get that many details about how it started or how it is going. We get the distrust of the crew with Hekate being untested and taking command without earning the rank of princeps, but there’s only a few lines about this and it’s dropped in the final issue of the battle against the orks. So the first storyline is not that great, feeling like a comic which at best you’d read and forget about. It did introduce many elements which would become a major part of the canon surrounding titans, such as their princeps’ withdrawal symptoms of disconnecting from the machine, but not much else.
In all honesty it was only during the second storyline that things began to get interesting – which is the book almost all fans seem to have joined on. Titan II: Vivaporius really felt like a new start for the series once it began, while it didn’t spend time reintroducing events it felt more coherent and planned out. It depicted everything from the Dictatio’s deployment onto the planet to the crew standing in the aftermath of the conflict, and everything followed on from one another. Unlike the first storyline you felt at best the writers were skipping ahead a few days or a week at best in order to get to the meat of the action rather than bypassing almost the entire conflict. Much like you’d see in any comic following a prolonged war, balancing out the need to skip periods of time with keeping a continuous pace and truly building on past events.
Along with this major improvement was the villains the Dictatio’s crew were facing. The first storyline against the orks did not show them to be a real threat, with Hekate single handily curb stomping a large army of the greenskins during the finale without taking any damage. So what did the writers do? Replaced them with the tyranids, the far more dangerous forefathers of Starcraft’s zerg, but managed to use them in a unique way. Rather than relying completely upon their overwhelming power and adaptability Abnett and Lanning chose to utilise an otherwise rarely seen part of their character: the Hive Mind’s ability to manipulate others. First wounding the Dictatio as part of a gambit, destroying one of the two allied imperial titans who came to rescue them knowing Hekate would react in anger, then using that desire for retribution to their advantage. Throughout almost the entire story the aliens have the upper hand, Hekate dancing to their tune and it was an effective method of enhancing their threat. Building upon their capabilities as the story escalated, emphasising upon their power but avoiding it seeming as if they are utterly “I can single handily crush daemon primarchs” invincible. Something which puts them above a few of the more notable space marine codexes of the last few years.
It’s about this time that the characters began to stand out in their own right. Aside from Hekate, the Dictatio’s crew never had time dedicated to properly establishing their personalities. The story was still focused squarely upon the princeps but gives some impression of how they worked together, such as the ever professionally antagonistic relationship between Moderati Voss and Engineer Dorn. A few moments even allow them to step into the limelight such as an Alien style cat and mouse hunt between Dorn and a tyranid drone, allowing them to seem less like simple extensions of the Dictatio.
Things would continue to improve in the final two books Cold Steel and Omnissiah, which while starting afresh from Vivaporius sometime after that campaign did display the impact of those events. This was shown in part through a much more battle hardened and experienced Hekate. Who re-introduced himself in one of the series’ best engagements, utterly trouncing an enemy machine that ambushes the Dictatio and wins through innovative tactics. The fight also introduced some of the biggest changes– such as a more realistic art style, the presence of new characters and text boxes being used to show greater descriptions of environments and damage as much as Hekate’s thoughts. It seemed that those involved with the previous book were looking and what did and didn’t work, changing things again to see what worked best for the series’ future.
The most obvious change in the last two books is the aforementioned new artistic look, embracing a much more realistic depiction of characters and machines. This likely had something to do with Andy Lanning giving up inking duties he had held in the last two books and it’s all the stronger for it – probably some of the best art Inferno! ever produced. Rather than relying almost entirely upon inking to show depth and substance, the style in these final two books appears far more solid with more varied shades in its environments. This made the characters look much more human and was a real bonus to this book especially considering its villains were the allies of Chaos - mutated semi-human abominations and reality warping daemonic juggernauts. All of which contrast very well with the human protagonists, the more realistic elements heightening how unnatural their outwards appearances are.
The big problem in trying to review the final two books is they’re very closely connected and one cannot be described without spoiling some of the events to the other. What is worth saying is that they books were the high point of the series, when it started to have storylines directly lead on from one another to create an actual saga. Unfortunately they also ended up being the series’ swansong as not long after Omnissiah was completed Inferno! was cancelled.
There was time for one final one shot story but it added little to the actual series and didn’t follow on from Omnissiah’s ending, simply confirming that they escaped their predicament at its end. It also felt like it had fallen back on the problems of its early stories, disconnected from everything else and only focusing squarely upon Hekate rather than the crew as a whole. As such Titan ended as weakly as it began, but as a whole it was a well written comic. Once it found its footing the comics seriously picked up and had some strong moments. While it wasn’t as detailed or was as well refined as you’d find in major Marvel or DC releases it had good action, fairly strong writing and well-rounded characters.
As a series which did not have the usual comicbook conventions of spandex clad superpowered heroes and as a story which did not feature Warhammer’s iconic space marines, it’s not bad. You’ll find much better work produced by Abnett and Lanning but Titan is deserving of the praise it has been given.
While Titan has been out of print for years, collections of the whole series are available on Amazon, but prices tend to range from £38 to over £100. Furthermore Black Library has announced it will be re-releasing the God-Machine omnibus during August of this year, so if you're interested it's reccomended you wait until it becomes avalible again through them.
Titan and all related characters and media are owned by Black Library and Games Workshop.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Propaganda and Social Fears through Science Fiction (Film History)

The genre of science fiction has long served as a method of tackling social worries and concerns since before the dropping of the atom bomb in the closing days of the Second World War. From its early incarnations to modern films, many productions have served as either a moral lesson or an attempt to focus upon fears present at the time of its creation. The best examples of this can be seen in those created during the Cold War and the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” which was the 1950s.
While previous films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis presented futures in which, then current, social problems had only become increasingly worse it was the possibility of nuclear annihilation which caused a boom in the number of films featuring futuristic settings or science having turned rampant. One of the most clear cut and earliest examples of this was 1954’s Godzilla in which a personification of atomic devastation rampages through Japan causing mass devastation. Something which was a constant fear in Japan as a result of the two atom bombs being dropped at the conclusion of the Second World War, and the constant threat of the Cold War.
As noted in Chapman (2006), later examples existed in the UK such as the Quatermass film serials which explored themes of infiltration by hostile powers, spies, racism and xenophobia; and also the early Doctor Who serials. These were described in Roberts and Taylor (2001) as being “an arena for exploring the emerging issues in British life of 1963 and 1989” by Nicholas Cull, and the themes of its episodes ranged from tolerance of alien cultures (The Aztecs) to colonial oppression (The Mutants). In addition to this, its most frequently appearing villains, the Daleks, were creatures which had come into existence as a result of genetic experimentation after prolonged nuclear war. Out of all of these however, Hollywood was the earliest to address the development of atomic energy and rising tensions of the superpowers in the East and West.
While previous science fiction productions during the 1930s and 40s had frequently been earth based such as King Kong (1933) and Frankenstein (1931), films set offworld like the Flash Gordon film serials were in a minority. However, with the dropping of the atom bombs the public began to become more interested in more fantastical science fiction settings and the genre was utilised to promote . One of the most prominent examples of this is the films which sparked the explosion in the number of Hollywood’ science fiction productions – 1950’s Destination Moon.
Destination Moon presented a very pro-nuclear message with the ship, powered by uranium, defying a court order to lift off and land on the moon to begin mining operations. The court order itself is portrayed as having been the result of irrational fear and complete paranoia, overlooking any benefits due to their concern. A clear message that in spite of how atomic and nuclear technology was previously used, fear should not be allowed to hold scientists back from using it in future developments – especially ones which could help counter the “Soviet threat”. This was the first major attempt to use a science fiction film to address public concerns over the Cold War, using its more fantastical setting and distance from real life to explore subjects which were regarded as taboo. It would not be the last and a vast number of science fiction films were soon to follow it with Hollywood producing several each year. Many of these were quick to similarly tackle on-going real world issues and public fears, but very few ever presented nuclear energy in the same positive light as in Destination Moon.
With the Cold War continuing, NATO and the Soviet Union creating more weapons of mass destruction with each passing year, films began to emphasise upon the dangers and threats which came from radiation. Hollywood films frequently featured monsters born from nuclear energy, brought to life or mutated by it, which were major threats to humanity. One famous example of this was Them! from 1954, which featured ants which had been affected by radiation and as a result were rapidly increasing in size. As noted in Film4 it “displays the paranoid flipside to the 50s optimism about a brave new nuclear-powered world”. Its anti-nuclear message was primarily delivered through the characters repeatedly emphasising upon the fact that atomic detonations were to blame for the threat, something summarised by the film’s closing lines:
Robert Graham: Pat, if these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb in 1945, what about all the others that have been exploded since then?
Dr. Patricia 'Pat' Medford: I don't know.
Dr. Harold Medford: Nobody knows, Robert. When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we'll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.
The statements directly link the dropping of the first atom bomb with the beginnings of a horror which comes to threaten humanity years later and questions the results of what other atomic detonations since then. This links the monster threat of the film to the continued development of atomic weapons by both sides. Cementing the idea that they serve as a substitute for the threat posed by radioactive technology and its adverse side effects on living beings as shown by then recent scientific discoveries, as noted in Lev (2003). In addition to this the monsters themselves were noted to have been arguable stand ins for the Soviets with the film noting that the ants are “savage, ruthless and courageous fighters”. Then adding to this point by stating how their society is totalitarian, utilising slave labour and with each member of a colony serving a single specific role and nothing more. A subject of fear which was to be more thoroughly explored in 1956’s Invasion of The Body Snatchers.
The film featured humans in a small town being replaced by copies of themselves, serving an alien power but lacking any distinctive traits or truly human emotions. Unlike Them! the exact message behind this film has been debated as to exactly which social fear of its time it was attempting to focus upon.
As stated in Dirks it is primarily seen as being a film of anti-Communist propaganda and a warning against infiltration, with each person in the town being no greater than any other. Having no dreams, ambitions or individual aspects which puts them above their fellows, and their only task being to serve the unseen force which has control over them. At the same time it has also been regarded as having been a criticism of McCarthyism, the paranoia caused by Communism in America or, to quote Dirks, the numbing of our individuality and emotional psyches through conformity and group-think.” There have been records from interviews and conversations with the director Don Siegel that this was completely intentional, with him stating that the film was “An allegory for Communism and McCarthyism; the traits of being "one of them" is being cold, unable to express emotion or closeness.” What is truly meaningful about this is that this clear political stance created similar trends in films of this time, as stated in Clarens (1968) many other science fiction productions containing themes of dehumanisation and the loss of individual identity. He contrasted this with the original messages in Metropolis with its warnings on the “encroachment of the machine” and considered this to be political commentary on the "the Korean War and the well publicized reports coming out of it of brainwashing techniques".
Together, the above mentioned film and Them! serve as the best example of how widespread political commentary and the addressing of contemporary issues was within science fiction. That films of this time could cover a widespread range of social anxieties. From obvious issues being generated by an ongoing arms race and an impending destruction to criticising the methods of the government and rampant paranoia, even during a continued espionage and propaganda war. That the genre responded to and addressed a wide range of social concerns even as they were taking place.
To conclude, it is clear that science fiction films do frequently serve as a response and projection of social fears. The examples above list how this was a constant presence in the genre’s most predominant age, continually having its films reflect upon issues even at the height of its popularity. This is something which has not lessened over time with many modern films such as District 9 drawing attention to fears such as racism and the past repeating itself. Even those which feature giant monsters and threats which are total fantasy feature villains and situations which can be used to comment upon current social concerns. And, as the introduction details, this was not something purely limited to Hollywood but an aspect of the science fiction genre in every country.

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Tarratt, M. 1970. Monsters from the Id. In: Grant, B. 2003. Film Genre Reader III. Texas: University of Texas Press.
Metropolis, 1927. [Film] Directed by Fritz Lang. Weimar Republic: UFA.
Destination Moon, 1950. [Film] Directed by Irving Pitchel. USA: George Pal Productions.
Godzilla, 1954. [Film] Directed by Ishiro Honda. Japan: Toho.
Them!, 1954. [Film] Directed by Gordon Douglas. USA: Warner Bros.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956. [Film] Directed by Don Diegel. USA: Allied Artists Pictures.


Chapman, J. 2006. Inside the Tardis, The World of Doctor Who. London and New York: I.B. Tauris.
Clarens C. 1968. An Illustrated History of the Horror Film.  United Kingdon, Capricorn Books.
Dirks, T. Filmsite Movie Review Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) [online] Available at: <http://www.filmsite.org/inva.html> [Accessed: 22nd March 2012]
Film4’s Them! (1954) [online] Available at: < http://www.film4.com/reviews/1954/them> [Accessed: 22nd March 2012]
Lev, P. 2006. The Fifties, Transforming The Screen 1950-1959. London, University of California Press. pp. 186
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Saturday, 5 May 2012

Justice League: The New Frontier (Film Review)

For an adaptation which has had so much praise heaped upon it, it seems that The New Frontier is very flawed. It has a number of good strengths, there’s no arguing that, but the whole thing feels like it’s by the end it is largely incomplete. I’ll try to explain:
Justice League: The New Frontier is a film adapted from the comic series DC: The New Frontier. It shows what happened to the DC heroes during the mid 1950s to early 60s as they turned from the Golden Age to the Silver Age of comicbooks. Rather than ignoring previous canon or going for a reboot it takes a lot of previous events into account and goes so far as to make both the heroes of the Golden Age and their changes believable. It goes about fleshing out the beginnings of some heroes in many cases and setting up situations which trigger developments in their characters.
For example, many superheroes who fought in the Second World War against the Axis forces have become disillusioned with the Cold War – none more so than Wonder Woman. Who is opposed to the inaction of the war and simply wishes to get involved with countries which have war crimes being committed in them, political fallout be damned.

She, Superman and many of the more idealistic superheroes are forced to sign loyalty pacts to the USA and the superhero community is under threat of the paranoia caused by McCarthyism. The Flash is having trouble continuing his heroic actions without incurring the wrath of the government and Batman has been forced underground entirely.
Hal Jordan is shown as a developing character struggling with the guilt of his actions. During the Korean War he was forced to take the life of an enemy soldier who did not know peace had been declared and could not understand Hal’s attempts to inform him of this.
Atop of all this a lone green martian is accidently teleported to earth during a scientific test and something very old, very powerful and extremely angry is on the move, unseen by all but a few individuals on the planet.

That all sounds fantastic doesn’t it? Several great storylines, all of which with massive potential and all of which can afford to have time and effort put into exploring them. Then realise that all this has to be told in the space of 70 minutes with time left for a huge climatic battle. Yeah, then all these stories start to become less of an asset and more of a hindrance. The film is so often jumping from one plotline to the next and moving at such a fast speed it feels extremely unfocused, often with tales feeling like they’ve only been brushed upon rather than fully developed.

For example Batman’s development is supposed to show how he went from his dark black brooding self from the Golden Age to the more colourful kid friendly one from the Silver Age. Basically think of the jump between the style of the original Tim Burton Batman and Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. This is explained by him terrifying a child being held hostage when trying to rescue him and changing his attire as it was intended to “scare criminals, not children.” The problem is we never see him making the decision to change it, only the event which made him consider this and then him turning up later on in the new outfit. There’s no time spent to really develop it.
All of the stories suffer from the lack of time, either feeling like corners have been cut to fit them in or rushed due the time constraints. Everything is set up very well but when it actually comes down to the conclusions or depicting the characters considering changes it tends to stumble. The whole thing really feels like it needed more time to develop, perhaps being made into a series, animated trilogy or included fewer characters. While the dedication Bruce Timm paid to the original tale is greatly appreciated, his desire to include as many of the comic’s plotlines as possible made it feel sporadic and lacked a single focus.

It is worth saying that despite these flaws The New Frontier is deserving of a good amount of the praise it is given. It was a new step in western animation to showing greater maturity in dealing with the themes displayed in its scenes and despite jumping from one character to the next storylines like the Martian Manhunter’s development were undeniably well translated.
Furthermore the voice acting is consistently good and as Bruce Timm is attached it’s a given that the animation is very well done, including one especially memorable early scene which introduces the film’s villain. The only reason I’m not going into this more is that you can probably find a dozen other reviews giving greater analysis on all of its good areas.

Overall, Justice League: The New Frontier is worth watching once but the comic is definitely a much better telling of its stories. It’s recommended you hunt down that run rather than watch this film unless you have a distinct preference for animated adaptations of superheroes over their adventures on paper and ink. The production’s makers did well with what they were given, but it’s hard to get around the fact that the comics were far better paced and developed.


Justice League: The New Frontier and all related characters and media are owned by DC comics and Warner Bros. Animation. It was distributed by Warner Home Video.