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This Should Be a Movie: ZOIDS

Most people in the US haven’t heard of ZOIDS, which is nothing short of a national disgrace. They’re a toy range that stood alongside Transformers and Masters of the Universe in the toy aisles of the 80s, complete with their own mythology, epic characters, and comic series from Marvel.

To catch you heathens up, ZOIDS themselves are a race of giant robotic mecha dinosaurs controlled by drone pilots that are locked in an eternal war for control of the planet Zoidstar. The good guys are the Blue Zoids and the bad guys are the Red Mutants, and they damn well rip each other to shreds.

The line itself has a convoluted history. Originally released in Japan as Mechabonica in the early 80s, they were then released in the US under the new name of Zoids. These did well, and were subsequently rebranded as Zoids in Japan. The designs were tweaked once again and given new individual character names and a sweet backstory for release in Europe. By 1985, the toys were reintroduced in the US as Robostrux (with no backstory or supporting media), rebranded in Japan as Zevle, sold to Kenner in the US and re-relaunched as Technozoids, and so on. If the US market hadn’t suffered this brand fragmentation, it would have been a huge property like the European release.

In the UK, most boys had Zoids. They were too cool to ignore. The robot designs were a cut above the majority of kids toys, looking like they’d just jumped out of a movie. They were motorized (either wind-up or battery operated), meaning they could walk under their own power, and you had to assemble them yourself, like a Lego kit on steroids. Their imagined scale was massive, and the box art, TV commercials and overall product design only added to that.

But the ace in the hole was the Marvel UK comic, published weekly as a dual title with Spider-Man. Marvel UK could turn things into gold (as demonstrated by their amazing Transformers run), and their penchant for violent, cinematic storylines permeated all the way through the Zoids comic. It bought the toys to life in a visceral way, and added some odd spiritual overtones that I never fully understood as a kid (the war between the Zoids factions is overseen by a weird immortal dude called The Namer, though I can’t remember why.) Grant Morrison wrote a  bunch of these, hence the high quality factor. You can read the whole run here.

The comic took huge inspiration from movies such as The Terminator, Aliens, Blade Runner and The Thing, and that, combined with the grandiose beauty of the Zoids themselves, would make for a massively satisfying cinematic experience. Leaving the exact plot of the comic aside, if a crew of humans were to discover the planet the Zoids were warring on, all hell could break loose. And if the crew in question had someone among them that didn’t exact stumble upon this planet by accident, but lead them there in search of a family member, and subsequently draws them into the fight, you’d have an emotional barnstormer of a story.

Zoids are still going strong today, with the Japanese market supporting new toys, a number of anime, various games, and reissues of classic kits. With the movie industry leaning so heavily on IP these days, it’s genuinely surprising that something so screen-ready has been left undisturbed for so long. I think it’s down to lack of familiarity in the US, but you could argue that ‘undiscovered’ factor, combined with a built-in audience in other markets, is the best of both worlds. Get Neill Blomkamp on the phone immediately.

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Disney x Coach

I did the concept, storyboards and art direction.

Live action by http://trevorundi.com

Animation by http://fluxmedia.co.nz

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CHILDREN OF MEN

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. At the time the film didn’t break any box office records, but it was lauded for its eerily prescient take at what society might look like on the brink of collapse. Never flashy or over the top, it was a classy, understated achievement. Only now is its influence apparent.

Set in London in 2027, after a global flu pandemic and years of human infertility, journalist Theo Faron (played by Clive Owen in a career best role) is contacted by his ex-wife, Julian, to aid her and her group of radicals smuggle a woman named Kee to the coast. He enlists help from his government-appointed cousin Nigel (who has largely disconnected his feelings from the world), and his old friend Jasper, a retired political cartoonist caring for his paralyzed wife.

Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.

It’s a essentially a chase movie in structure, as Theo and Kee run from their pursuers, stumbling into the crossfire of an almighty battle to regain control of an immigration camp on the way. It’s a desperately human struggle, with lives hung on to by a thread. Very tense stuff.

The backdrop to all this is important. We see the final moments of a society burdened by challenges it cannot cope with. Overwhelming migration, political unrest, disease pandemics, terrorism.

These all looked fairly sci-fi ten years ago, but are numbingly regular occurrences today, leaving us with entire countries lurching towards the right in response. It’s food for thought, and Children of Men doesn’t paint a very rosy picture of how we deal with such big issues.

Visually, Children of Men ushered in a new set of tools that hadn’t been deployed like this before. The now famous unbroken shot of the attack on Julian’s car was so novel, people didn’t notice how impossible it was the first time they saw it. The big battle inside (and outside) the abandoned building at the end is also a high watermark. As with the rest of the film, it’s not designed to call attention to itself, more to put you inside the scene. It does that brilliantly.

Oddly, a scene that sticks with me is one that doesn’t often get talked about often; Theo escaping from the farmhouse at dawn. It’s done in such a way that you can totally put yourself in his shoes. It’s minimal. There’s no music score. Barely any sound at all. It plays out in what feels like real time. The threat is life and death, and it all comes down to whether he can walk on gravel lightly, and open a car door without noise. The shot of him rolling the car down the hill, silently, with a group chasing on foot is so real and so tense, it’s as if it happened to you. The relief is palpable.

From the first blast of chaos in the opening scene, to the ambiguous ending filled with hope and uncertainty, Children of Men is a mature attempt to look at humanity’s future. It’s freaky that it turned out to be such an accurate one in some respects, but all good sci-fi hits the bullseye, whether it be good or bad (think of HG Wells predicting mass evacuations of British cities 50 years before it happened).

It’s a bleak film, but there’s beauty here too. Beauty in the truth of sorrow, survival, grief and hope. For me, one of the best movies of the 2000s.

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Here’s what I’d add to Battlefront

I think Battlefront is a great game, but everyone agrees it could use more content. More stuff is being added via paid DLC soon, but since I’m obsessed with Star Wars lore, I thought I’d say what I’d like to see added. Might as well use this knowledge for something. *shakes fist at sky*

I’ll break it down by category: Heroes, Infantry, Star Cards, Weapons and Ships.

Hero Boushh

I’d like to get a tiny bit obscure with my picks here, since the main characters that everyone expects (Bossk, Chewbacca, Yoda) are too obvious. Let’s go with Boushh, the bounty hunter (spoiler it’s Leia) that rescues Han from Jabba. No one has really explored the character outside of the comics, so you could get a little original with their abilities. Obviously thermal detonators would be involved, maybe some additional HUD stuff through that cool visor, and a powerful melee weapon using Boushh’s electrostaff.

Hero General Veers

The undefeated AT-AT Commander himself. I picked him for the cool hat, and to balance out the Imperials against all the bounty hunters they’ve got currently. He would have excellent armor, long and short range weapons and something revolving around military tactics that would be useful. I don’t know what. If I did, I’d be working at DICE.

Infantry Mon Calamari

Some new character models unlocked at Level 70 would be cool. For the Rebels, the Mon Calamari from the ROTJ deleted scenes would be perfect. They’re clearly the backbone of the Rebel fleet, and are excellent pilots and tacticians, so unlocking this infantry should give you some sort of buff when you’re playing Fighter Squadron.

Infantry TIE Fighter Pilot

How is this armor not in the game already? They not only look badass, but they’d blend in similar to a Shadow Trooper, but with more hoses and equipment and shit. Again, they would give you some sort of advantage in Fighter Squadron.

Star Card GRS-1 snare rifle

Zuckuss’ super weird-looking double-barrelled gun. This doesn’t fire bullets, it fires a paralyzing spray that immobilizes targets. Imagine if you could use it to stun enemies and then switch to another weapon and take them out. Would be frustrating for the other person, but who cares about that? It’s Star WARS, not Star PICNIC.

Star Card Force Pike

There are various force pikes in Star Wars, but I’m going with the classic Emperor’s Royal Guard ones. There is absolutely no defense for a regular player against either Luke or Vader, so this would be a way to block their lightsaber attacks. Maybe it could let you survive long enough to jetpack away. I like that idea.

Weapon DDC Defender

This is an elegant sporting blaster that Leia used on Endor. Very light, but surprisingly powerful. It blasted away a stormtrooper in one shot in Return of the Jedi. Maybe it can be exceptionally good at short range, and still accurate (but weaker) at long range.

Weapon Relby K23

Another blaster, used by the guards on Cloud City. I’m thinking this could be a good alternative to the E-11, but a little fast firing. And it’s silver, that’s got to count for something.

Ship B-Wing

I love this ship. I would geek out if I got to fly this around. It should be a tank – not so agile, but delivers huge damage.

Ship TIE Bomber

This is an obvious choice. Again, I think this would be tank-like; slower but dealing lots of damage, with bombs instead of missiles. Would be excellent for strafing runs.

That’s all I got. I’m going to check back after the next expansion and see if I get any of these right. Fingers crossed for the B-Wing.

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Passengers

Passengers is a script by Jon Spaihts that’s been floating around for a while (I believe it got him the chance to pitch Prometheus to Ridley Scott), and finally it’s being made with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. I read the script a long time ago and really liked it.

There’s an air of familiarity about the concept. The person-isolated-in-space story has been done so many times it’s practically a genre, but it’s one I like a lot. This is reminiscent of stories like WALL-E, Silent Running and Solaris, but with a distinctly touristy vibe. Imagine being the only person stuck on a luxury cruise ship – not the worst situation in the world, but one that would eventually send you as mad as a window. The top half of the script has the main character Jim dealing with his loneliness and boredom in a variety of ways, until he can take no more. Without spoiling too much, eventually a woman called Aurora, played by Lawrence, joins him and the two have to find a way to live together.

The tone is surprisingly light, so I can see why they cast who they did. The only thing that concerns me is how they will keep it visually interesting for the duration of the movie. The script flags a little in the middle, and with only a handful of characters and locations to support it, it might get a little repetitive. The ending was somewhat soft as well, but maybe they’ve changed it.

Overall, it’s great to see an original sci-fi movie get made in the current climate. There’s an opportunity for some excellent acting here to go along with the robots and spaceship repair scenes, and I happen to love spaceship repair scenes, so it’s a double win.

Passengers is set for release on 21 December 2016.

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Great Character: Ahsoka Tano

Adding a new lead to Star Wars, with its iconic characters and a voracious fanbase, is nothing short of daunting. How do you top Darth Vader? Obi-Wan Kenobi? Muftak and Kabe?! It aint easy being the new kid at school, and true enough, the introduction of Ahsoka Tano had most people rolling their eyes in derision.

After watching the Clone Wars movie (starring a farting slug called Stinky), I was definitely in that camp.  I thought Ahsoka was annoying, slight, and a token addition to appease the kids in the audience. But I’m happy to say I was wrong. Dead wrong. Ahsoka turned out to be the greatest addition to Star Wars since sliced portion bread.

Season one was still a little underwhelming, but by the time Clone Wars got to season two, something had kicked in creatively. The character of Ahsoka just took off. In one memorable episode, Ahsoka is helping lead a huge ground attack, holding her own in battle, defying orders and being unapologetic afterwards. That’s when I started to take notice. Was I crazy, or did this get really good? Answer: It got really good.

Ahsoka is a badass

Ahsoka is an excellent Jedi. Sure, she messes up like everyone else, but then she fixes it. She cares about what happens, and acts. I love seeing main characters who are capable when facing tough situations, who aren’t just succeeding because of luck. She’s comfortable being a leader, is naturally brave, and has a certain confidence that people who excel at something have. There’s no swagger and arrogance. She’s got two lightsabers and gets things done.

She’s important

She’s working alongside Skywalker and Kenobi, two of the greatest Jedis who ever lived. She knows Yoda and Mace Windu. She leads missions for the Republic and commands large amounts of troops who absolutely respect her. In short, she’s a major part of the Star Wars universe in a way that new characters sometimes aren’t. And it feels like she belongs there. The writers made her as well-rounded and as interesting as her peers. And in terms of story, she almost changed the course of the whole Star Wars saga. Which brings me to my next point.

She was right all along

Throughout the Clone Wars, a running theme is that the Jedi didn’t see their enemy coming. They fucked up, basically. But you know who did see it coming, and tried to warn everyone? Ahsoka. She was right about Palpatine and the Sith and how people were being framed. The storyline of her bringing all that to the Jedi Council’s attention and what happens after is one of the greatest in all of Star Wars (and I say that as a die-hard Original Trilogy fan). It’s a hell of an arc, and there was so much more to say. How do you deal with that much of a betrayal, by good people, when you’re 100% in the right? That is why people wanted more Clone Wars.

In fact, Ahsoka Tano fits in so well to the Star Wars universe that it’s almost hard to believe she didn’t exist until after the Prequels. She’s not only the key to understanding Anakin’s story, she’s also the hero he failed to be. Presented with a similar path, Ahsoka handles all of her choices differently.

You’ve got to hand it to the Clone Wars team. They pulled off the impossible.

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Thoughts on the Rogue One teaser

circle_rogueThe trailer dropped today, so now everyone can see how great this is shaping up. It’s definitely in the same Star Wars universe people are familiar with, but with a slightly different tone. More war, less hero’s journey.

That’s one of the great things about Star Wars. It’s so rich and so vibrant, just a different angle is all it needs to become interesting again.

Here’s five things I noticed:

This Star Destroyer has extra shit on it. Look on top of the bridge tower between the two ball things. What is that? Also the Star Destroyer looks very white, which makes me think it’s a new class. Maybe a specialized ship used for construction.

The Death Star getting it’s super laser installed. Okay, that’s a cool shot, but that thing is 22km wide. They are shoving it right in there pretty quick, like 1km per second. I guess it’s all done with tractor beams and such, but still.  Take your time guys.

This guy looks like a Grand Admiral. He’s posing pretty hard to make himself look evil, which I actually don’t love. Apart from the Sith, the Empire is run by a bunch of bureaucrats, but not out-and-out villains.  Still, that cape is wonderful.

I love this shot. You might think it’s on the Death Star, but it’s actually Canary Wharf tube station. Those desert scout troopers look great, and there are a ton more trooper types yet to be revealed. If one thing is certain, we’re going to get really good look at the Empire’s military in this.

Emperor’s Royal Guards! This is probably the best shot in the teaser. Who’s the guy in the foreground? Is it Palpatine? Is it Vader? What’s the tube in the middle of the room? And what’s in it? Probably nothing.

The teaser insinuates that Jyn turns into an Imperial or is drawn to the enemy, but that’s just trailer misdirection, I think. She’s sneaking on the the Death Star to steal the plans. Maybe she gets a chance to defect though, which would be a nice moment.

Overall, a tiny glimpse, but a good one. We didn’t see any of the new aliens and droids that are in this, except for a few snippets. I really like Felicity Jones already. My only fear is that Star Wars iconography is getting so familiar it feels a bit normal, but that could be because I look at it every day. My word, I love this stuff.

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Homer’s Donut Allergy

homerCheck out my Simpson’s spec called ‘Homer’s Donut Allergy’. I researched for hours to see if the premise had been done, and I don’t think it has, but who the hell knows?

This owes a huge debt to ‘Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song’ by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein, which is absolutetly jam-packed with funny ideas. I ripped them off so hard.

Download the pdf here: HOMER’S DONUT ALLERGY

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Thoughts on The Force Awakens

I saw The Force Awakens three times on opening day. First at Grauman’s Chinese Theater at 2am, secondly on the Disney lot at 10am and thirdly at the Arclight Hollywood in the evening. I don’t know how JJ and the crew does it, I was wreck after 24 hours of this stuff.

Nothing can repeat that seismic moment of pop culture history that was the release of the first Star Wars movie. It was so complete, so far ahead of its time, and delivered on every level, that a repeat of something so unique was unlikely. One aspect that the Star Wars saga has been able to maintain is surprise. They are all highly unusual films, filled with things you’ve never seen before, wrapped in a very solid, archetypal story. That’s where I thought The Force Awakens failed. It had a lack of surprise.

It does so much right. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were superb, arguably more comfortable than even the returning veteran Star Wars actors. There’s a subtle leap in visual effects that brings the CG work up to the level of the original trilogy, and can finally match the ambitions of the creators’ imaginations. Kylo Ren is a welcome addition, as are Maz Kanata and Poe Dameron.

Apart from the general retread of the story from A New Hope, one thing that stuck out as false (and likely won’t hold up to repeat viewings) were the blatant callouts to the original trilogy. The holochess set, the training remote, Han firing Chewie’s bowcaster, were all played for nostalgia. At that moment, the actors knew they were in a movie and were communicating to the audience directly to say ‘remember this?’ One of Lucas’ tenets for the world of Star Wars was that nothing should call attention to itself (something even he failed to stick to), but it’s a shame it went that way here. We also got the same ships, and stock Star Wars locations, so there was a heavy dose of familiarity, too. Minor nitpicks, and only bothersome if you’ve absorbed the universe over hundreds of hours of viewing.

The new aliens seen in Maz’s castle, Jakku and the Eruvana were pretty weak. The scene with the Scottish guy, the little freaks of Kanjiklub, and the godawful rathtars will have people scratching their heads for years to come once all the hype has died down. Or maybe it’ll end up people’s favourite scene in the movie. It’s moofmilking at its best.

What they did do, they got absolutely right. The filmmakers just didn’t get overly ambitious. In fact, looking through the Art of The Force Awakens book, there’s a much more interesting and maybe more original movie that didn’t get made.

They chose the safest route, and the balancing act of ‘I can’t believe what I’m seeing’ and ‘this shouldn’t even work’ was lost. That is a ridiculously high bar to judge something against. Maybe it’s more sensible to look at where it ended, which has potential to make for an absolutely mind-blowing sequel.

If they dare to do it.

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TWINS

When you and your wife are pregnant and going to your second ultrasound scan at 12 weeks, the last thing you want to hear is unexpected news. Me and Lakshmi were worried. We’ve never been through anything like this before, and we didn’t even know if we were mature enough to handle having a child.

We had an uneasy sense that day, even as we left the apartment. Sure enough, halfway there, a clicking sound started coming from the car. I couldn’t ignore it, even if it meant being late to our appointment. I pulled into a gas station and had a look at the front left wheel. A huge spike had gone into the tire, and the only thing stopping it for going all the way in was a washer around it. It was cleanly embedded, so I thought we could limp to the hospital and figure something out afterwards.

We were running late, but not too late considering what had happened. Arriving at the hospital, we got in the elevator to the 8th floor. It got stuck between the 6th and 7th. We looked at each other. Yup. Of course. Some other people in the elevator laughed and played around with the buttons, and soon it continued up to the 7th floor and the doors opened. Everybody got out.

Next we found ourselves taking the fire escape stairs (slowly, remember. One of us is pregnant) to the doctor’s office. I felt like we were either sneaking in, or being evacuated, and neither made me feel too relaxed.

They saw us right away. We were prepared for… something. But everything was fine. The baby looked healthy. No complications, apart from massive bouts of morning sickness for the mother. The doctor had finished, and told us to come back in four weeks. I don’t know why, but then she wanted to check things one more time. She had another look around.

“Did we know there were two in there?”

I can still remember Lakshmi and I looking at each other and just start laughing. What else are you going to do? Okay, twins it is. Sure, we’ll have two. It’s not like we know what we’re doing anyway. Hell, make it three. (The doctor actually checked.) We’ll have a whole litter of them.

So that was that. We got the car fixed, had a nice lunch, and then went home and called our families to tell them the news.

Cut to a year later. Emily and Leela are here and they are perfect, as far as I can tell. Leela likes screeching, bouncing and throwing Lamby on the floor. Emily would rather sit down with a good book and laugh her head off. I can’t wait to tell them this story.

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