Doin’ the (coo, coo) pigeon..

Sometime on Tuesday afternoon, working from home, I noticed that soot and pebbles were increasingly falling down the chimney into my empty fireplace. I was wondering if the neighbours were doing something, or if the chimney pot was coming loose, or maybe Santa Claus was making an early appearance. To my surprise, I heard a flop and something caught my eye.

Alas, it wasn’t Santa. There were no presents or any “ho-ho-hos”.

It was a pigeon. And it was sitting in my fireplace looking rather surprised to be there. But it wasn’t as surprised as I was. It wasn’t a big pigeon – maybe a teenager – and was speckled brown with white wings.

I grabbed a towel, opened the front door, slowly moved towards the pigeon and covered it with the towel – gently. There was a bit of flapping at first – but the pigeon was very gracious in letting me wrap it up and take it outside where it waddled off somewhere. I don’t know whether it flew away, was eaten by a cat, or knocked down by a car – but if it was a teenager, I figured that if the family was nearby, they’d come for it.

Thank goodness I was home at the time because that pigeon could have done some serious damage to the house.

And remember: KNOW WHERE YOUR TOWEL IS. Be a hoopy frood.(*)

Meanwhile, I think I’ve earned the right to be in Pigeon Street. I bet they never did a story where a pigeon comes down a chimney. Cue those electro tom-toms (which, whenever I listen to disco music which features them heavily, I always think of pigeons – those talented drum players which nobody has ever given them credit for).

Doo doo, doo doo, etc. repeat 30 million times

(*) Thank you, Douglas Adams.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens is undoubtedly one of the best TV shows released this year. But despite the promise of a physical media release filled with extras and audio commentaries, I will not be buying it.

Over the past few years, 4K UHD televisions have been slowly invading people’s homes. And streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have been upping the ante over traditional broadcasters and releasing shows in 4K. But, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, Amazon makes it unnecessarily bloody difficult to watch 4K content on their service.

And now they’re releasing a DVD and Blu-Ray of Good Omens. Which was shot in 4K UHD. But they’re NOT releasing a 4K UHD Blu-Ray because heaven forbid, it might cost them a lot more money to produce a 4K UHD Blu-Ray master and duplication. No wonder post-production companies such as Deluxe are in trouble. Will Technicolor be next?

The Blu-ray and DVDs may well have lots of extra features such as audio commentaries and featurettes, but you’ll also be paying for a lower resolution version of the content that you already have access to (providing you pay your subscription).

So. Why the bloody hell do streaming companies such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video not do away with physical distribution of their content completely and offer extras such as audio commentaries and featurettes within their service? Punters would have to keep paying access to it, thus generating near-guaranteed returning subscribers and thus revenue, plus you get it in the highest resolution possible. Additional content can be updated as and when too.

Amazon HAS released audio commentaries online. For season one of Transparent. But nothing else has ever been released. Was it a failed experiment? Difficult to know. Only Amazon has the answer to that.

Netflix has stuffed extra content in the Trailer section their titles. For example, the Star Trek Discovery Shorts were hidden away – no announcements made – in the show’s Trailer section where most people wouldn’t think to look.

If physical media is to retire gracefully, we need the streaming services (and especially Apple who, along with their TV studio partners, STILL have not released any purchasable TV show content in 4K UHD or provided any extras with it) to up the ante. That means original content gets audio commentaries, featurettes, etc. as physical media releases would – and in the highest available quality and resolution possible.

Releasing 4K UHD TV content on DVD (standard definition) or Blu-Ray (high definition) is being cheap, miserly, and uncaring. It serves little benefit to the consumer, and even less so to the TV studio that makes it. Why even bother?

One of television’s most ambitious & successful productions to date

Back in 1982, Jim Henson & Frank Oz set out to create a fantasy world full of strange wondrous creatures – some good, others evil. After a great war between the evil Skeksis and the peaceful Gelflings – virtually eliminating the Gelfling civilization in the process – two Gelfling survivors team up to solve the riddle of the Dark Crystal.

The film itself was a masterpiece of fantasy filmmaking, utilising puppetry for the denizens of Thra. Jim Henson and his Creature Shop threw every technique they had at the film to realise the designs of Brian Froud. Hand puppets, animatronics, full-size costumes, marionettes, you name it – they used it. And with some decent matte paintings, optical effects and elaborate sets, the world of Thra was a wonderful, but somewhat limiting place.

Much has been discussed regarding the sequel to The Dark Crystal: The Power of the Dark Crystal, but ultimately a decision was made to tell a story prior to the events of the 1982 film.

What’s even more extraordinary is that Netflix was able to commission a major special and visual effects spectacular which spans nearly 10 hours of television. HBO and Game of Thrones – eat your heart out. This piece of work is the very best that Jim Henson’s Creature Shop has ever produced. It’s certainly their biggest. More so than Labyrinth. And it also marks an (albeit temporary) welcome return for the JHCS to London – they left back in 2003 after we at MPC had finished on Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life.

That said, Netflix has not spared the pennies making this show. The sets are extraordinary. The vistas of Thra are enthralling. The camera work is now decidedly less static – with sweeping movements and handheld close-ups. We have more inserts of character legs running, jumping and picking up/dropping things which gives the characters a more organic feel. Some characters have a bit of digital augmentation to provide more expression, though the Gelflings still feel as if they’ve been Botoxed up to the hilt:

Guess the mood: happy, sad, angry or as high as a skunk?

But it’s the extremely talented puppeteers’ skill that brings through the physical emotion of the characters, backed up by the excellent voice actors – many of whom are big-name stars. Much praise goes to Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamil as the voice of The Scientist Skeksis and Simon Pegg as The Chamberlain. And Awkwafina as the hideous Collector (so much mucus for a single Skeksis). There are far too many names to mention here (both voice actor and puppeteer, and sometimes both) as they are so good – all bloody wonderful. The casting people deserve an Emmy.

The story is a slow burner. But that’s absolutely fine. It provides a wonderful orientation to the world of Thra and its inhabitants – considerably more so than the movie which had 1 and a half hours to cram in a beginning, middle and an end. Sometimes the level of detail is so good – especially when watching in UHD/4K, that you could just reach out and grab what’s on the screen. Excellent cinematography and production design (by Jane Goldman/Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust‘s Gavin Bocquet) make everything just pop.

Stand out moments include the Podling bathing scene – in which a bare bummed Podling escapes from Gelflings charged in overseeing their annual bathtime. A Podling named Hup – a paladin with a wooden spoon for a sword – starting a “bar” fight. The Skeksis bathtime. The Heretic and his other-self (especially the opera (a bit of Tuvan throat singing, anybody?) and puppet show). And anything featuring The Hunter. You’ll never see any other Skeksis move so fast.

Having read the earlier graphic novels – The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths (as opposed to Creation Meths) – I was a bit disappointed that they hadn’t included Aughura’s son, Raunip. But having read an interview with co-creators Jeff Addiss and Will Matthews, and co-executive producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, there wasn’t any space for him in this story. But there is hope he may be present in a future series. Yay!

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is a beautiful, beautiful tribute to Jim Henson for whom I am certain would have loved every single minute of this. I was blown away at the level of detail and care that’s gone into the making of the show. From the scripts through to the puppets, puppet special effects, sets, special effects, visual effects, cinematography, direction – and not forgetting Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim’s wonderful score.

The original series soundtrack, now available on Apple Music
Vol. 2 of the soundtrack – even more Gelfling goodness

Netflix MUST renew the show. It took years to get to this point, so renewing now means that the next trip to Thra wouldn’t be for at least another 2 years (2021/2022 at the latest). I’d say that both this and Amazon’s Good Omens have been the TV highlights of this year. Expect the awards season to reflect this – I see many wins for both shows.

11/10 – An absolute blast – best thing on TV for *ages*

The end of an era?

Star Wars was the first film I ever saw at the cinema. I’m too young to remember EXACTLY when I saw it (it was released in 1977 when I was just one year old, so no chance of catching it when it first came out) – but it must have been during one of the semi-frequent cinema re-releases. I do remember going to see Empire Strikes Back in the cinema with mum (and I was scared stiff of Yoda at first!), and Return of the Jedi with both my mum and dad. I loved every minute of it. Star Wars was a wonderful universe, full of imagination and strange creatures. And we could enjoy it as a family.

So Star Wars, for me, is rather special. The forthcoming release of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker will be quite special in that it ends the 9 films run featuring the Skywalkers. We’ve witnessed the rise of Anakin Skywalker and his transformation into Darth Vader. We’ve seen his son and daughter find each other after being separated at birth and fight the Empire. We’ve seen Leia’s son kill his dad, while Luke abandoned teaching after the terrible tragedy which saw his nephew turn to the dark side.

And it all ends here:

Mind you, while it will be sad to say goodbye to the Skywalker family, we’ll always have Disney+ to look forward to. No idea as to the availability in the UK, but it will carry the first-ever Star Wars TV series: The Mandolorian. Plus there will also be other TV series set in the Star Wars universe to follow. Disney recognises the importance of Star Wars as a brand, so they’re not going to just let it sit there and gather dust – unlike what they’ve done with The Muppets (which is a big shame).

The Art of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Exhibition, BFI Southbank

I’ve had a very pleasant day out in South London along the Southbank visiting the BFI Southbank for the Netflix exhibition of The Art of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. It was a chance to get up close and personal with the puppets (or at least sculptures/poseable versions) and learn a bit more about the production.

I’m hoping to attend a screening of the first episode along with a Q&A with Louise Gold on Monday.

It really was quite extraordinary to see the attention to detail that’s gone into these puppets, and as you can see from the many photos, the world of Thra is an incredible place. Even if it has phallic mushrooms/plants. With teeth. Ooer-missus.

Everything above was shot on an iPhone XS Max.