Films, TV, Books...
If it’s on your screen, on your pages and in your face, it’s here.
If it’s on your screen, on your pages and in your face, it’s here.
Copy protection! What’s the point? It inconveniences legitimate customers and doesn’t actually stop piracy. The music industry has finally woken up to the fact that copy protection benefits no-one – and as a result, you can buy and download unencumbered digital copies of music from iTunes and Amazon – but the movie industry is still clinging to the belief that they can stop pirates by, er, targeting paying customers.
After all, they wouldn’t steal a handbag, although if their new handbag keeps nagging them not to steal handbags, they might wish they had.
What these idiots somehow don’t seem to grasp is that their tactics are more likely to drive people towards piracy. Here’s a comedy image that hilariously lampoons the difference between a DVD and a pirated copy – except it’s pretty close to the truth. When you can’t enjoy a thing you’ve bought without getting warnings and adverts rammed down your face, it hardly inspires you to go out and buy again.
Blu-rays are the next generation of annoyance. This was brought home to me last week when I couldn’t even play a blu-ray I’d bought, after looking forward to its release for weeks.
The root of my problem: I don’t have a HDTV, so I watch blu-rays on the computer instead. You might think that to view blu-rays on a computer, you simply need:
Well, you’re part right. Unfortunately, what you require isn’t just a screen – you need an all-star, Hollywood-approved screen, with anti-piracy nonsense built in. And if your screen doesn’t support the anti-piracy gubbins HDCP, as mine doesn’t, blu-rays will refuse to play through a digital connection like DVI.
Luckily, the vast majority of blu-rays don’t have any objection to playing through a VGA connection. If scrabbling around under the desk swapping over cables is the price I have to pay to watch a blu-ray on my inferior setup, so be it. A mild annoyance, but not the end of the world.
So imagine my displeasure when, last week, I was met with this dialogue.
Yeah, I couldn’t watch this sucker through VGA. And I definitely couldn’t watch it through DVI.
What to do? Go out and spend over £100 on the display equipment world’s answer to Fort Knox, able to stand firm against all forms of video piracy, except perhaps piracy with my eyes, which even movie company dullards are just about able to stomach?
Or should I spend a couple of hours on Google, figuring out how to get around this ridiculous restriction?
I opted for the latter option and was pleasantly surprised by how straightforward the process was. Far from a spelunk through dingy corners of the Internet fraught with danger, finding the right software was pretty easy and using it was simple too.
So thanks to the movie industry’s anti-piracy bullshit, I now know how to pirate a blu-ray, a subject in which I previously had no interest. Well done guys.
The blu-ray? Star Trek: The Next Generation in HD.
It’s glorious, it’s decrypted, and it’s on my hard disk. I can watch it, but it’s certainly made me think twice about purchasing more blu-rays in the near future. What if the software doesn’t do the trick next time? Why take the risk that I won’t be able to watch something I’ve purchased legitimately?
Far from protecting themselves from piracy, the distributors of the Star Trek blu-ray have both taught me how to do it, and made me dubious about buying anything further from them. Brilliant.
Apocalypse! You can’t beat a bit of it.
It’s everywhere, from the unconvincing CGI monster-infested streets of New York in I Am Legend to doom-laden “what if” TV programmes like Channel 4’s passable Life After People or ITV’s ridiculous Flood. But before we were quite so worried about being wiped out by weird contagions or being forced to mutate into Kevin Costner by global warming, the purveyors of television drama had a much more immediate threat to frighten us silly with: mutual assured destruction.
I’m sure the certainty that anyone lobbing a nuclear warhead halfway around the world would unleash a retaliatory hail of atomic death before the missile had even left their home territory was much more likely to keep you awake at night than the vague notion that, at some undetermined point in the future, the polar ice caps might melt a bit.
Happy to feed the nightmares of their viewers, television companies stepped forward in the early 80s with two made-for-TV movies within a year of one another: Threads from the BBC in the UK, and The Day After from the US.
While both of these films are still powerful enough to be scary, even after over twenty years, they each have a very different take on the post-apocalyptic landscape. In a sense, the films reflect differences in national character more than anything else: while Threads shows the population of Sheffield wallowing in medieval poverty even fifteen years after the Russian improvements to the city centre, the merry townsfolk of The Day After are seen banding together and preparing to reconstruct Uncle Sam via hard agricultural toil practically, well, the day after their own hammering.
In both cases, the films evoke the aftermath of a nuclear exchange in ways which don’t quite ring true, from opposite ends of the spectrum. The world of Threads is unrelentingly bleak, filled with deformed, mentally retarded children and adults too shell-shocked to function even a decade after the blast. The immediate aftermath of the nuclear blast causes mass panic and food shortages, which the ineffectual interim government can only curtail by taking drastic measures.
By contrast, The Day After’s rosier outlook gives us a provincial university hospital where dedicated staff remain at their posts for days, struggling to treat people who are happy to wait patiently in line despite half their faces hanging off and their entire family dying quietly by their side.
I’m sure the American TV audience would like to think it would pan out like that, but I think Threads barely has the edge on realism.
In both dramas, the countdown to doomsday is, if anything, more effective than the post-nuclear struggle itself. Both ramp up the tension in the early stages by staging a minor ground scuffle in the Middle East, encroaching into our characters’ lives via the background chatter of TV and radio reports. As things become more serious and those pesky Ruskies bust their way into West Berlin, the tension mounts.
Threads has its characters stockpiling food and following the advice of the creepy Protect and Survive television broadcasts; The Day After shows our heroes piling earth against their cellar windows, constructing an impromptu fallout shelter in which they can cower until the great American nation rises again (after perhaps a fortnight).
The Day After wins over Threads in one important respect: the beginning of the fateful day itself. This is almost by necessity. The United Kingdom would never have got much of a look-in during a nuclear exchange between the USA and the USSR, neither as a target (Threads has it receiving a mere smattering of the total firepower exchanged) nor as an aggressor, with our nuclear deterrent being both relatively small and lurking aboard submarines somewhere in the world’s oceans. The first nuclear strike in Threads comes with minimal warning, in the early morning when old Reagan would be snoozing. Despite causing pandemonium on the streets, it’s fair to say that the good people of Sheffield don’t stand much of a chance to do anything beyond being typecast, and melting.
The Day After has the luxury of being set in Kansas, home to some of the USA’s nuclear arsenal. The Russians are good enough to make the dubious decision to strike during American daylight hours, giving our characters the opportunity to see their own nuclear warheads heading off to do their duty – and the unpleasant knowledge that, no matter who started it, some Russian missiles will be along to return the favour.
If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic material, both films are essential, if somewhat crusty viewing. If you have views on the nuclear deterrent or fancy acquiring some, so much the better.
If you’re anything like me you’ll find yourself wondering the oddest things in unguarded moments. A recurring train of thought has me musing what delights were on TV the day I was born.
Thanks to the excellent archivists at the BBC and their crack team of “BBC 2.0″ geeks (who must sadly suffer the worst label ever created), now I know. You can too.
So what did I miss as a day-old baby? I missed a Tomorrow’s World item on an exciting new hydraulic cutter that would go on to be known as the “jaws of life”. I missed convicted paedophile Jonathan King making an appearance on Top of the Pops. I missed kinky old Frank Bough telling us about the good value of new cars on Breakfast Time.
Most devastating of all, I missed the first and only BBC1 showing of one of the worst Doctor Who episodes ever recorded.
Find out everything you ever wanted to know about BBC programmes, and stalk your favourite BBC stars across thousands of meticulously cross-referenced items, on the Infax catalogue.
I have given up on my quest to listen to my entire music collection in alphabetical order.
I got as far as ‘Ay’.
God, it was a stupid idea.
It’s a funny thing, your own music collection. Given enough time for your tastes to change, the contents of it can seem like a complete mystery – or, conversely, a refreshing change when you revisit some old favourites.
The latter is something I don’t do often enough, so – as I will be sitting constantly in front of the computer for the best part of the next week – I am trying something not attempted since the days of GTA3 and its built-in MP3 player.
I am listening to my entire music collection, in alphabetical order, artist first. With no skipping.
It’s going to be a tough slog. I’ve only just started, and I know ‘Abba’ is just around the corner. I’m tempted to cheat and delete some Beatles tracks, because I have entirely too many. Oh, and The Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking lurks somewhere.
But no, I’ll stick to it and see how it goes. Keep track of my progress on Last.FM.
Yay, it’s 24 season again!
I still think my idea for Asian-style 24 is worthy of consideration at the highest level. In fact, I’d be shocked if scripts weren’t currently being drafted, actors hired and shaky sets being constructed for such an undertaking right now. It would be tough to beat the series opener for this season of 24, but I’m sure Indian television can rise to the challenge!
Eagle-eyed viewers of the latest series may have spotted a domain name for CTU floating around. Would tapping the address into my web browser device transport me to amusing sites set up by the producers of the show, a la those sites set up by the BBC for Doctor Who?
No, alas, although CTUGov.net may be registered by 20th Century Fox – just to keep those nasty cyber-squatters at bay – they haven’t bothered to do anything awesome with it.
Hmm, haven’t had a post about telly for a while, eh? Probably because I don’t watch the old tellybox that much any more, but what the hell! That just makes my observations all the more relevant, right? Er… right?
The only unmissable thing on at the moment is Life on Mars, BBC1. Our hero is transported back in time to the 1970s, where he’s a detective – the same as in the modern day – in very different circumstances. His crazy modern methods cause a stir in the land of wide collars and moody smoke-filled rooms, but he gets results. Don’t they all?
I hate to say it, but the only other thing I even slightly watch is Celebrity Big Brother. Well, where else can you find a self-styled “protector of the weak” (not a direct quote) Member of Parliament standing around as “not a transvestite, just dressed as a woman” Pete Burns hurls abuse at some woman who was in Baywatch? Nowhere, that’s where!
Fortunately, there is a reason for that. Celebrity Big Brother is simultaneously appalling and engrossing, and I can’t help but watch it. Oh dear.
Needless to say, I was super pleased with the success of the Doctor Who revival last year. A second series was commissioned on the strength of the first episode’s ratings; a third off the back of the critical acclaim the series received. People stopped laughing at me. Instead I laughed at them as I poked them with sticks. Things were great.
I hoped this would lead to a revival of science fiction in general – sadly missed in the UK since BBC2 decided to show shite in their 6pm slot instead of the good stuff – and home-grown British science fiction in particular, which hasn’t known great success since Blake’s 7. It doesn’t look like I’m going to be disappointed, because Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood is due to be screened next year.
It sounds like Doctor Who for grown-ups, in other words people exactly like writer Russell T Davies who grew up with the series and now want something a little more substantial. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, here’s a man who knows what he’s doing. His series is going to be ace.
And it’s going to be a “British crime/sci-fi paranoid thriller cop show”. How good is that? If it even approaches being anywhere near as good as The X Files before it went a bit trousers, I am going to explode.
I have a confession to make: I really enjoy science fiction. Oh no, such a social stigma! But wait a moment, please. I’m not talking about Star Trek Voyager, or Star Wars, and especially not those awful books which always start out with a seemingly random premise involving a war, except in space, and progress into the worst pile of pseudo-technological nonsense you’ve ever read. These things aren’t just inextricably linked with the worst aspects of geekdom, they are also often associated with fantasy – and all the stereotypes that invokes – because of an identical “anything can happen” philosophy in their writing.
I’m not interested in dwarves shagging elves, or whatever it is they get up to. I’m especially not interested in the analogue taking place in space, which somehow transforms “fantasy” into “sci-fi”. I’m interested in real science fiction: thought-provoking visions of the future.
You might call me a bit of a pessimistic fatalist, to put it mildly. I like my visions of the future to be rather gloomy, in a “we’re all going to die through our own stupidity” kind of way. And for people living in an age of incredible technological and social advances, nobody did gloomy better than the Victorians.
What led me to make this post today is The Machine Stops, a short story from 1909. If you read nothing else, read this! It’s great and seems disturbingly prescient – will there come a point when we become too reliant on machines? Irony of ironies, I had to look up some of the words on Google as I read.
Other suggestions? HG Wells was a great writer, specialising in unnerving scenarios which seem idealistic on their surface, but unwind into nightmares before the reader’s eyes. In The Time Machine a Victorian gentleman travels thousands of years into an apparently decadent future, to a time when mankind has forgotten either his basic humanity, or all the accumulated knowledge of his ancestors, depending on which side of the utterly divided society he has ended up on. There’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, a scary vision of the consequences of genetic engineering, way before its time. Oh and don’t forget War of the Worlds – not so much destruction by our hands, but a reminder that we – or even Martians – are not all-powerful.
John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids – in which Man creates a plant which eventually takes over the Earth – is a favourite too. It even has a great BBC series.
Read the books or in one case, listen to the musical version – they’re great! Just avoid the terrible film adaptations at all costs, especially The Island of Doctor Moreau. It still makes me cry.
And stop associating science fiction with Star Trek. Please. There is more to it than that.
Yay for updating this thing with vim. Obviously I said I wasn’t going to update any more, but if everything everyoen said turned out to be true then the world wouldn’t be a very interesting place, would it?
Now the BBC has said that top documentary series The Power of Nightmares is going to be distilled down into a two-and-a-half hour film and shown at Cannes. Hey, can I paste links into a PuTTY window? Hey, I can, so check it out.
Being able to scroll around a wrapped line would be good though. Bloody vim. Bloody Linux. You know I really should resurrect that “Why Linux is Bad” article, because it was the one good thing on this site. And it got random people commenting on it ages after it was posted, presumably because some disgruntled Windows fans, tired of being preached to, were rebelliously typing “why linux is gay” into Google. Or something.
God, tlak about being sidetracked. Where was I?
Seriously though, bloody vim hotkeys. Give me a proper content management system any day.
Oh yeah, I was (haha – lucky you if you happen to browse the site right now – I’ve just saved what I’m typing without thinking that it will go LIVE! Straight onto the fearsome Internet! Bohh! Close bracket. I can edit this one easily enough because it’s at the end of a line. Don’t think I’m going to be fixing that ‘everyoen’ in the first bloody paragraph though.)
Yeah so The Power of Nightmares. Unsurprisingly no American TV network would touch it with a bargepole – too bad because I was wondering what Fox News would make of it if it got within moral outrage distance – but as a feature film, now, it at least stands a chance of being seen by those who might care. It’s no Fahrenheit 9/11 – though I’ll let you in on a secret (don’t tell anybody), I thought it was better – but it’s an incredibly thought-provoking piece. Not only that, it’s visually interesting with some great music, real feature film material. Michael Moore could learn a lot from this. Admittedly the series is full of gimmicks, like continual clips from Ali Baba and the Forty Theives whenever it starts to talk about Bin Laden, but none of it really makes you go “oh sod off Moore, you tosspiece.” Like the whole “guess what, soldiers die in wars” section in Fahrenheit 9/11, which by my best estimate lasted about four hours.
The real question is, would I be suffering more if I was using emacs? No, wait, that isn’t the real question at all. Ignore me.