Great Mysteries of the World

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd March 2015.

I spent this past weekend on a boys’ weekend away up the coast. Of course, we all awoke on Saturday to the sad news of Leonard Nimoy’s passing. He made an indelible impact on all of lives, not just in Star Trek, but as the host of the American psuedo science program In Search Of, which was produced between 1977 – 82 but perpetually broadcast throughout the eighties on early Saturday evening Aussie TV repackaged as Great Mysteries of the World.

Throughout the weekend, many unsolved mysteries of our own emerged between beers, golf and the beach.

Mystery 1: One of my mates, to avoid embarrassment let’s just call him James, made the claim that he had “lived” in San Antonio, Texas. It later emerged that he had been dispatched there by his employer for just two months, leading to a major debate on what exactly was required to claim that you had “lived” in a particular location. According to James’ argument, I could claim that I had lived in Maine (10 weeks teaching at a US summer camp), or taken to the extreme, Disneyland, Paris, Cairo, Istanbul, Fairstar the Funship or even onboard a 747. These claims would obviously be ludicrous (unless I was trying to impress my mates), so what would the rules be?

The debate went back and forth over the weekend. Did you have to receive a utility bill in your name at the new address? Or perhaps get a new driver’s licence for that location? Was it just about having to buy groceries, cook and perform domestic tasks there? Is it purely time based, but in that case, are we talking about six months, four seasons or a year? Where was Mr Spock when we needed him?

Mystery 2: With the majority of us ex-theme park employees, discussion turned to the brightly coloured two seater “aqua bikes” with the large paddle steamer type back wheels that were a common attraction at the mediocre theme parks of Sydney during the seventies and eighties. Are they still being manufactured and where can we buy one? An internet and online auction site search proved fruitless. Surely these bastions of aquatic family fun and recreation from the past were not extinct? A great mystery indeed?

Mystery 3: On the topic of extinction, I recalled from the deepest depths of my memory the existence of tourist mushrooms that could be found in towns all over New South Wales. These steel mushrooms stood about two metres tall and for a 20 cent coin, would play a recording with tourist information about the history of that location.

No one had any strong memories about these objects but I am certain these were a common feature outside tourist information centres and attractions. The internet also appears to have erased the existence of the mushrooms. Have timecops from the future been dispatched back in time to erase all proof, Looper style?

If you or someone you know have any information about these (not so) great mysteries of the world, please contact Leonard Nimoy or the Loch Ness Monster, care of the CWD

Live long and prosper, Leonard Nimoy.

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Published in: on March 19, 2015 at 22:46  Leave a Comment  
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Comixology: comics digital style

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30th July 2013.

I’ve always loved comics. As a kid, I’d arrive at the bus stop early and browse the comic racks at the newsagency. Each week I’d receive my allowance and put aside just enough money to purchase a comic, which I would read on my way to school and reread on the return journey. I would then file the comic safely away in a shoebox where I presumed it would stay for years under my bed until it became valuable. What I didn’t know at the time was that the price the newsagent scribbled on the front cover in black marker rendered the comic worthless then and forever.

A couple of years ago, I found myself in a financial position (pre-mortgage, of course) that allowed me to have the latest comics delivered weekly from a specialist store in Sydney. Every Friday, I’d receive a package of crisp, mint condition books. I’d carefully read them before they were sealed inside acid free bags and then transferred to a comic storage box where I presumed they would stay for years in my spare room until they became valuable. What I didn’t know at the time was that there are thousands and thousands of nerds around the world doing exactly the same thing and that the vast majority of comics decrease in value over time. Only limited condition covers and pristine first editions are worth collecting.

Several thousands of dollars later, I realised that what I actually enjoyed was following the adventures of Batman, Superman and other superheroes with their underwear on the outside, not the actual physical act of collecting comics. And that’s why I’m now hooked on the Comics iPad app by Comixology.

Comixology is a platform for purchasing, reading and collecting digital comics. Both DC and Marvel sell digital editions of their printed products, as well as digital exclusive titles, through Comixology. Many major independent publishers also participate. Once you buy a comic, it stays in your virtual collection forever and is accessible via multiple devices (smartphone, tablet and PC). Actually, similar to music collections on iTunes, you are only licensing the comics for your own personal use until you die. You can’t bequeath your comic collection to anyone else.

One of the great features of the Comixology platform is the patent pending “guided view” technology, which allows the reader to follow the action panel by panel, replicating the normal action of the eye when reading a printed comic page. Both golden age and brand new comics look great in HD.

At the moment I am thoroughly enjoying The X-Files Season 10, which sees Mulder and Scully continuing to search for the truth following the events of the final episode of the TV series. I’m also keen on the ongoing adventures of the new movie universe USS Enterprise crew in Star Trek. The Walking Dead remains a perennial favourite. I’ve also just discovered Batman ’66 which continues the campy trials and tribulations of the Adam West caped crusader universe. Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 00:15  Leave a Comment  
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Star Trek TNG on Blu-ray – Make it so!

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th September 2012.

It’s hard to believe it was twenty five years ago when the catch phrases, “Make it so” and “Earl grey, hot”, entered the lexicon of geeks around the world. That’s right, Star Trek: The Next Generation made its debut in 1987 and this year, to celebrate a quarter century of “boldly going where no-one has gone before” the complete first season has been given a high definition makeover for a must-have blu-ray release.

For Aussie Trekkers (not Trekkies), the first time TNG appeared on our screens was not on broadcast television, but in video stores. I still vividly remember having to wait for my monthly fix of two episodes to arrive at my local rental outlet on VHS. I wasn’t a big fan of the original series. Despite my adoration of all things Shatner, the adventures of Kirk, Spock and crew in their low tech, cheap looking Enterprise did not fit in well with a mind that was already inundated with the sophisticated special effects (at the time) of the original Star Wars trilogy. I have the same affliction with early Doctor Who episodes. Send all abuse letters care of the CWD, thanks.

TNG was a completely different case. I was completely sold on this vision of the future, where bold explorers toured the universe with a code of ethics almost as stiff as their ridiculous starched, clearly uncomfortable uniforms. Actually, it wasn’t even as elaborate as that. The genius of Gene Roddenberry’s vision is that there actually is a future for man. Enough of the geek philosophy… I know it’s just a TV show, but it is a really good one.

Starting with TNG, the Star Trek universe expanded with the debuts of spin-off series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, followed by Star Trek: Voyager. Trekker fandom in Australia peaked in the early nineties and for a while, I was a big enough fanboy to be attending Trek Conventions in my very own red jumpsuit uniform. Please don’t tell anyone about this. I would hate to lose my credibility. No-one would take my columns about The Village People seriously if they knew.

I still recall having a bingle in my friend’s car on our way to a convention at Darling Harbour. Having to stand on George Street calling the NRMA in full Starfleet uniform was an interesting experience. I guess that’s why they invented the transporter beam.

Anyway, back to the blu-ray release. Star Trek: The Next Generation Season One looks absolutely pristine in high definition, as if it was filmed yesterday (or stardate 66178.3). The detail is stunning, with minute joins in the prosthetic makeup of the aliens and flaws in the set construction and painting now obvious.

Originally shot on film, the restoration process has involved locating the archived master reels, an extensive cleaning process to bring the footage to high definition standards, and then a complete episode rebuild. The special effects have been re-composited from the original film elements and look brilliantly sharp.

 

As with most long running shows, TNG Season One is a little bit of a mess. Characters are yet to be established and are quite inconsistent. The tone isn’t quite right. That comes in by Season Three or Four. I guess at the time of production, the cast and crew had no idea that the show would be a hit.

I don’t really consider myself a Trekker anymore. Besides, my uniform no longer fits. However, I still consider TNG to be one of the best TV shows ever. Remastered on blu-ray, you now can experience the series with a visual clarity that wasn’t possible twenty five years ago. Regardless of whether you are a casual Trek fan or fluent in Klingon, this box set is a must-buy. “Make it so!”

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 01:02  Leave a Comment  
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Saving Your Favourite TV Shows: Too late for Terra Nova?

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th March 2012.

Fans of the Network Ten family sci-fi series, Terra Nova, were disappointed to hear last week that the dino-drama had been cancelled after one season. Filmed in Queensland, the show was more expensive than your usual one hour drama with an average episode budget of US$4 million. Despite having Steven Spielberg, who mined similar storyline ground in Jurassic Park, attached as Executive Producer, Terra Nova drew ordinary ratings.

A campaign to save the show was launched in December by its small but loyal fan base, spurred on by the series’ lead actor, Jason O’Mara. Fans were encouraged to send plastic toy dinosaurs to FOX Entertainment President, Kevin Reilly. Unfortunately, this was not enough to save Terra Nova, however, there is a slim chance that the show may be picked up by another network or distributor. The current internet rumour is that Netflix, a major player in the US on-demand streaming and DVD rental by mail industry, may give the show a reprieve.

There are still a couple of episodes yet to air in Australia. Considering the axe has fallen (for now), expect to see them late at night between Proactiv ads and Flavorwave infomercials.

This isn’t the first time that fans have banded together to try to save their favourite shows from cancellation. Here are my favourite success stories.

Way back in 2000, the success of The X-Files resulted in several short lived shows involving aliens. Roswell, a teen drama revolving around a trio of stranded alien siblings, was facing the chop after its first low rating season. Starring Katherine Heigl, before she became really annoying, Roswell was granted a second and third season after fans banded together to send 3000 bottles of Tabasco sauce to WB Network executives. This was the first time that the internet had brought fans together to save a TV show.

A few years later, a post-apocalyptic action drama series entitled Jericho premiered in 2007. Starring Skeet Ulrich of Scream fame, the show focuses on the township of Jericho, Kansas following a nuclear attack on the US. Low ratings led to the series’ cancellation after one season but outraged fans had different plans. Inspired by a line of dialogue from the final episode where a character repeats a famous quote from a military general in the Battle of the Bulge (“Nuts!), fans rallied online and sent over 20 tonnes of nuts to the offices of CBS.

Jericho was miraculously renewed for a second season, however, the show’s ratings continued to be peanuts, so to speak, and it limped on for another seven episodes before being put out of its misery. A third season appeared in comic book form.

Before the internet and email, people used to write on pieces of paper and physically send them to each other as “letters”. As crazy as that sounds, a letter writing campaign by fans saved a little known science fiction series known as Star Trek.

After two seasons of exploring the universe in a starship made of plywood, Kirk and Spock were about to be cut loose to go where many failed shows had gone before. A fervent letter writing campaign convinced NBC to green light a third series, albeit with a lower budget. This third season of Star Trek ultimately failed in the ratings and led to its cancellation, however, it also brought the total number of episodes to 79, which allowed the series to be syndicated. It was the continuous repeats of Star Trek in syndication which led to its immense popularity amongst nerds everywhere.

Terra Nova may be dead as a dinosaur but fans of Ringer, Gossip Girl, The Mentalist and all three CSI incarnations should start planning their internet campaigns now. Ratings for these shows are down and the axe is being sharpened. Start looking for quirky things to post to your friendly TV network executives today.

Published in: on March 26, 2012 at 07:42  Leave a Comment  
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“Jim from Neighbours” – The Busiest Actor in the World (perhaps)

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd January 2012.

A long time ago, in an Erinsborough far, far away, the beloved Neighbours character Jim Robinson suffered a major heart attack and passed away on screen, right before a commercial break. This was way back in 1993, when people actually watched Neighbours and on-screen deaths were rare. Most departing characters simply moved to Brisbane to live with Scott and Charlene.

After eight long years of service to Grundy Television, Kiwi actor Alan Dale was departing the soapie, and a regular income, with his dignity intact and no embarrassing attempts at singing to speak of. Well, there was the dreadful 1989 Christmas With Your Neighbours album but being a Christmas album, it was meant to be dreadful (I hope).

Typecast as “Jim from Neighbours”, Dale found it difficult to get work in Australia. With nothing to lose, he relocated his family to the USA where there was potentially a need for fresh faces in the mature actor niche.

The rest, as they say, is pretty interesting. “Jim from Neighbours” managed to overcome the spectre of Australian typecasting and went on to appear in almost every US television show going as the “serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide.”

He was Caleb Nichol, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide in the hit series that introduced the world to talent vacuum Mischa Barton, The O.C. After his character was killed off with a heart attack, he went on to star in Ugly Betty as Bradford Meade, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide. After his character was again killed off with a heart attack, Dale went on to feature in the brain bending Lost as Charles Widmore, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide but no known cardiac history.

There really was no stopping “Jim from Neighbours.”

Whenever you switched on a television, there he was in a guest role. His credits are pretty much the contents of my DVD shelf. E.R., The X-Files and its spinoff The Lone Gunmen, Torchwood, Entourage, NCIS, The West Wing, JAG, Californication and The Practice have all been graced by the authoritarian and secretive presence of Alan Dale.

He was even the Vice President of the USA in seven “hours” of the rather silly but fun 24. As Jim (not from Neighbours) Prescott, an authoritarian VP with something to hide, he mistakenly placed President Palmer under house arrest, based on false evidence. Playing the third most powerful man in the world (behind the American President and Batman) may seem  an honour until you realise that two years later on the same show, Vice President Mitchell Hayworth was portrayed by Aussie ex-pat and “actor” Cameron Daddo.

Not limited to the idiot box, Dale’s career has also expanded to the silver screen. Last week, I popped the sci-fi vampire action thingy Priest into my VCR to find “Jim from Neighbours” playing his usual character, but in a silly robe, in eye popping 3D.

Most impressive to geeks everywhere, Dale was also cast in two iconic film franchises. He pops up as General Ross in the mediocre Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and plays the Romulan Praetor Hiren in the so-so Star Trek Nemesis. OK, so they weren’t the best films in the series but how many Star Trek and Indiana Jones movies have you been in?

He even has his own trading cards. That’s right, on ebay there is brisk trade in Alan Dale signature cards from his Lost, Star Trek and Indiana Jones and the Blah Blah Blah appearances.

Later this month, Dale will appear on Aussie cinema screens as Detective Isaksson in David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

This year, all Australians (and New Zealanders) should celebrate the amazing career of “Jim from Neighbours” and his remarkable body of work, playing the authoritarian figure with something to hide, since shaking off the stigma of typecasting way back in 1993 when Jim Robinson of Ramsey St met his maker.

Shooting the Shat

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 12th April 2011.

So you’re a controversial Hollywood actor, some would say a has-been, currently between jobs and looking for a gig. What do you do for a little income? You book yourself on a speaking tour and hope that your fans will shell out to see you do something you’ve never done before. That is, be yourself.

No, I’m not talking about Charlie Sheen. I’m referring to Captain James T. Kirk himself, William Shatner. The Shat premiered his William Shatner Live speaking tour in Sydney last week and over two thousand fans parted with $150 or more to pack the State Theatre just to be in the same room as the man also known as T.J. Hooker and Denny Crane.

In his introduction, Shatner acknowledged being nervous about his first ever speaking tour, especially after hearing the reports of walkouts and poor reviews for Charlie “Winning” Sheen’s similar enterprise the week prior. I’m pleased to report that Bill’s show did not disappoint and ended with a standing ovation.

I remember meeting Batman’s Adam West and being slightly underwhelmed. I have a dedicated and autographed picture which I’ll treasure forever but I certainly got the impression that West was just there for a payday and had better things to do. That certainly wasn’t the case with Shatner, who seemed genuinely pleased to be in Australia and meeting his fans.

I attended a private Q & A session prior to the show, where Shatner introduced us to his wife, Elizabeth Martin, who is 28 years his junior. Both previously widowed, the couple breed, ride and show horses. Being a little younger than her husband, Martin admitted meeting Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Picard, Patrick Stewart and wondering how it was possible a spaceship could have two captains.

The main show consisted of an interview by host Jonathan Biggins, followed by questions from the audience sent via twitter. There was also the opportunity in the foyer for fans to submit questions. It was via this method that I managed to end up standing in front of a sold out State Theatre audience with a microphone talking to William Shatner.

In response to my question, Shatner confirmed that he will not be appearing in the new Star Trek film. He also added that he was disappointed to not have been included in the recent Star Trek reboot which featured Leonard Nimoy reprising his role as Spock.

Shatner was surprisingly candid throughout the show, explaining the events leading up to the tragic death by drowning of his 3rd wife, Nerine Kidd. He also discussed his close friendship with Nimoy and the animosity which still exists between himself and some of his Star Trek co-stars, particularly George Takei.

The Shat also revealed himself to be an environmentalist, making a passionate impromptu speech for saving Mother Earth. Heavily involved in environmental charities, he also told an amusing anecdote involving an amorous gorilla propositioning him during an appearance.

Infamous for his spoken word interpretations of pop classics such as Mr Tambourine Man and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Shatner ended the show with a special performance of Men at Work’s Down Under.

Having turned eighty this year (but looking sixty thanks to a little work I presume), William Shatner shows no signs of slowing down. With a successful live show on his hands and the second season of his new sitcom $#*! My Dad Says to record, The Shat looks set to continue going where no actor has gone before.

TV: sometimes a decent ending is Lost

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 15th June 2010.

The long awaited finale to Lost has finally aired. After six brain busting seasons, dedicated Lost fans were decidedly mixed on the ending, which apparently closed many storylines, but not all. I say apparently, because I must admit that I have never seen a single second of Lost. Not because I don’t think I would enjoy it. I’m actually looking forward to starting on season one, episode one real soon. I’ve been avoiding Lost in fear that it would be axed without an ending.

As a fan of serialised television drama in general, there is nothing more gut wrenching than seeing your favourite characters disappear without a trace. After hours and hours of adventures, quests and trials and tribulations, the least a long running TV show owes its audience is a decent farewell.

The recent announcement of Flashforward and Heroes meeting their maker means that I can save myself the time and effort required to keep up with their convoluted mythology. With so many unresolved storylines, I can walk away from the mysterious blue hand markers and superpowered comic book characters knowing that I don’t have to care anymore that saving the cheerleader might also save the world.

Even more painful is when a series is cancelled on a cliff hanger. My Name is Earl concluded after four seasons with the words “To Be Continued” on the screen. Ouch!

Of course, great shows that only survived one season before getting the chop can still be enjoyed and mourned at the same time. Knowing that you only have fourteen or so episodes to spend with memorable characters can be a bittersweet experience but at least you haven’t outlaid hours of staring at the idiot box. The excellent but short-lived Joss Whedon show Firefly and Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks are well worth your time and do not end with cliff hangers.

A well written finale can be sad but truly satisfying. After eleven seasons and running longer than the actual Korean war, M*A*S*H bowed out with the superb two and a half hour Goodbye, Farewell and Amen. From its premiere in 1983 until it was surpassed by the 2010 Super Bowl, it was the most watched television broadcast in US history.

Star Trek: The Next Generation concluded with the well written All Good Things. Bringing back Q, the complicated villain from the very first episode, Captain Picard and crew came full circle in a series that actually may have surpassed the Shat-tastic original.

Seinfeld did something similar, except they brought back practically every memorable character from its nine season run. The final lines of the show are actually from the very first conversation of episode one. In nine years, nobody developed or learned anything. Perfect.

There have also been several clangers, which only served to kick sand in the face of their loyal fan bases.  Millennium, created by The X-Files’ Chris Carter, was axed in 1999, a year short of its namesake upon which its apocalyptic mythology was building towards. Can’t think of an ending? Just have the main character drive off into the distance in a yellow pickup truck. Thanks a lot Mr Carter!

Also frustrating was Quantum Leap’s finale. After 96 episodes of Dr Samuel Beckett leaping through time and rewriting history’s wrongs, fans hoped that “his final leap would be the leap home” as the opening narration of every episode reminded us. Of course, the final episode concluded with the words “Dr Sam Beckett never returned home”. Um, can I get those 96 hours back please?

Despite the volatility of the television marketplace, where ratings mean everything, I think all fans deserve the chance to say bon voyage or “till we meet again on DVD” to their favourite shows. Now if only I could find out how Doug Mulray’s Naughtiest Home Videos ended?