STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (USA, 2019) ***½
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Production Company: Lucasfilm / Bad Robot / Walt Disney Pictures; Release Date: 16 December 2019 (USA), 19 December 2019 (UK); Filming Dates: 1 August 2018 – 15 February 2019; Running Time: 142m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: DTS (DTS: X) | Dolby Atmos | Auro 11.1 | Dolby Digital | IMAX 6-Track | Dolby Surround 7.1 | Sonics-DDP | 12-Track Digital Sound; Film Format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 50D 5203, Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219); Film Process: Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Dolby Vision, Panavision (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 12 – moderate violence, threat.
Director: J. J. Abrams; Writer: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams (based on a story by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow and Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams and characters created by George Lucas); Executive Producer: Tommy Gormley, Callum Greene, Jason D. McGatlin; Producer: J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Rejwan; Associate Producer: Nour Dardari; Director of Photography: Dan Mindel; Music Composer: John Williams; Film Editor: Maryann Brandon, Stefan Grube; Casting Director: Nina Gold, April Webster, Alyssa Weisberg; Production Designer: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins; Art Director: Paul Inglis; Set Decorator: Rosemary Brandenburg; Costumes: Michael Kaplan; Make-up: Digital Makeup Group; Sound: David Acord; Special Effects: Dominic Tuohy; Visual Effects: Industrial Light & Magic and others.
Cast: Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Naomi Ackie (Jannah), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Richard E. Grant (General Pryde), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Keri Russell (Zorii Bliss), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Greg Grunberg (Snap Wexley), Shirley Henderson (Babu Frik), Billie Lourd (Lieutenant Connix), Dominic Monaghan (Beaumont), Harrison Ford (Han Solo (uncredited)).
Synopsis: The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more as Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron’s journey continues. With the power and knowledge of generations behind them, the final battle commences.
Comment: A technical triumph of visual effects and energetic action set-pieces this is an engrossing experience for two-thirds of its run time. Unfortunately, it becomes bloated during its final act with a need to tick too many boxes as it plays out its crowd-pleasing finale. It’s a shame as there is so much that is right with this conclusion to a saga that has spanned 42 years. The story propels us from one strange or exotic location to another and from set-piece to set-piece as it guides us through the simple quest that will ultimately lead to final closure on the Sith/Jedi war. As a spectacle, it is hard to resist, yet it somehow fails to connect on an emotional level as character revelations seek to top each other and some of the plot contrivances are overly convenient and obvious. Also, during the many action scenes, you begin to wonder whether any Stormtrooper can shoot straight. That said, the CGI and design work is simply amazing and Williams provides yet another majestic score. The result is an entertaining and largely satisfying final chapter that at the same time leaves you thinking it could still have been better.
Notes: Also shot in 3-D.
ARABIAN ADVENTURE (UK, 1979) **½
Distributor: British Lion Film Corporation (UK), Associated Film Distribution (AFD) (USA); Production Company: EMI Films / British Lion Film Corporation / Major Studio Partners; Release Date: 19 July 1979 (UK), 21 November 1979 (USA); Filming Dates: 24 July 1978 – October 1978; Running Time: 98m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: Brian Hayles; Executive Producer: Kevin Connor; Producer: John Dark; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: Ken Thorne; Film Editor: Barry Peters; Casting Director: Allan Foenander; Production Designer: Elliot Scott; Art Director: Jack Maxsted; Set Decorator: Terry Ackland-Snow; Costumes: Rosemary Burrows; Make-up: Yvonne Coppard, Robin Grantham; Sound: Jim Atkinson; Special Effects: George Gibbs; Visual Effects: Cliff Culley, Charles Staffell.
Cast: Christopher Lee (Alquazar), Milo O’Shea (Khasim), Oliver Tobias (Prince Hasan), Emma Samms (Princess Zuleira), Puneet Sira (Majeed), Peter Cushing (Wazir Al Wuzara), Capucine (Vahishta), Mickey Rooney (Daad El Shur), John Wyman (Bahloul), John Ratzenberger (Achmed), Shane Rimmer (Abu), Hal Galili (Asaf), Elisabeth Welch (Beggarwoman), Suzanne Danielle (Eastern Dancer), Art Malik (Mamhoud), Jacob Witkin (Omar, the Goldsmith), Milton Reid (Jinnee), Roy Stewart (The Nubian).
Synopsis: An evil magician seeks to gain power by obtaining a magic rose. A peasant boy and a Prince join forces to stop him.
Comment: The last of five fantasy adventures made by director Connor with producer Dark. This hokey Arabian Nights tale owes much to the strong cast headed by Lee at his villainous best. However, Tobias lacks charisma and acting chops as the hero prince. Samms makes for an appealing princess whilst Rooney adds some comic relief and Cushing some gravitas in cameo roles. The action scenes are plentiful, but often sub-par with obvious choreography. The visual effects are average at best, as is evident in the climactic magic carpet battle. A fun adventure nonetheless for the undemanding.
Notes: Feature film debut of Emma Samms.
WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (UK, 1978) **½
Distributor: EMI Films (UK), Columbia Pictures (USA); Production Company: EMI Films / British Lion; Release Date: 5 May 1978; Filming Dates: 5 September 1977 – 13 January 1978; Running Time: 96m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: Brian Hayles; Executive Producer: Jim Brown (uncredited); Producer: John Dark, Kevin Connor; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: Michael Vickers; Film Editor: Bill Blunden; Casting Director: Allan Foenander; Production Designer: Elliot Scott; Art Director: Jack Maxsted; Costumes: Lorna Hillyard, Monica Howe; Make-up: Robin Grantham; Sound: Jim Atkinson; Special Effects: John Richardson; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
Cast: Doug McClure (Greg Collinson), Peter Gilmore (Charles Aitken), Shane Rimmer (Captain Daniels), Lea Brodie (Delphine), Michael Gothard (Atmir), Hal Galili (Grogan), John Ratzenberger (Fenn), Derry Power (Jacko), Donald Bisset (Professor Aitken), Ashley Knight (Sandy), Robert Brown (Briggs), Cyd Charisse (Atsil), Daniel Massey (Atraxon).
Synopsis: Searching for the lost world of Atlantis, a professor and his associates are betrayed by the crew of their expedition’s ship, attracted by the fabulous treasures of Atlantis.
Comment: The last and weakest of McClure’s four fantasy adventure movies with director Connor. The story and plot are derivative, but at least Connor keeps the action coming thick and fast and the set-pieces are well shot and edited. Monster effects are variable, with the best being the giant octopus. The inhabitants of Atlantis are stoic and bland with Gothard and Charisse giving one-note performances. However, McClure and Gilmore work well together as the heroes of the piece, echoing the former’s work with Peter Cushing on AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976). Aka: WARLORDS OF THE DEEP.
AT THE EARTH’S CORE (UK/USA, 1976) ***
Distributor: British Lion Film Corporation (UK) / American International Pictures (A.I.P.) (USA); Production Company: Amicus Productions; Release Date: July 1976 (USA), 22 August 1976 (UK); Filming Dates: 26 January 1976 – mid April 1976; Running Time: 90m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: Milton Subotsky (based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs); Executive Producer: Harry N. Blum; Producer: John Dark, Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: Michael Vickers; Film Editor: John Ireland, Barry Peters; Production Designer: Maurice Carter; Art Director: Bert Davey; Costumes: Rosemary Burrows; Make-up: Robin Grantham, Neville Smallwood; Sound: Jim Atkinson, George Stephenson; Special Effects: Ian Wingrove; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
Cast: Doug McClure (David Innes), Peter Cushing (Dr. Abner Perry), Caroline Munro (Dia), Cy Grant (Ra), Godfrey James (Ghak), Sean Lynch (Hoojah), Keith Barron (Dowsett), Helen Gill (Maisie), Anthony Verner (Gadsby), Robert Gillespie (Photographer), Michael Crane (Jubal), Bobby Parr (Sagoth Chief), Andee Cromarty (Girl Slave).
Synopsis: A Victorian era scientist and his assistant take a test run in their Iron Mole drilling machine and end up in a strange underground labyrinth ruled by a species of giant telepathic bird and full of prehistoric monsters and cavemen.
Comment: Scatty, juvenile and low-budget fantasy adventure gets by on its camp approach to the material with Cushing excelling in one of his lightly comic and eccentric scientist roles. McClure makes for an effective and likeable hero and Munro is stunning as one of the scantily clad natives. The monsters betray the lack of funds, but the action is well-edited to disguise some of the limitations this presents the production. The script is tight but lacks any depth or set-up. Vickers provides an eerie electronic score and Connor directs with a great sense of fun which he balances with the eerie atmosphere created by the imaginative production design and Hume’s photography.
Notes: Last film produced by Amicus, Hammer’s chief rival during the 1960s and ’70s.
THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (UK/USA, 1977) **½
Distributor: Brent Walker PLC (UK), American International Pictures (AIP) (USA); Production Company: American International Pictures (AIP) / Amicus Productions; Release Date: 22 June 1977 (USA), 27 August 1977 (UK); Filming Dates: began 24 Jan 1977; Running Time: 91m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: Patrick Tilley (based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs); Executive Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff; Producer: John Dark; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: John Scott; Film Editor: John Ireland, Barry Peters; Production Designer: Maurice Carter; Art Director: Bert Davey, Fernando González; Set Decorator: Simon Wakefield; Costumes: ; Make-up: Robin Grantham; Sound: George Stephenson; Special Effects: Ian Wingrove, John Richardson; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
Cast: Patrick Wayne (Ben McBride), Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), Sarah Douglas (Charly), Dana Gillespie (Ajor), Thorley Walters (Norfolk), Shane Rimmer (Hogan), Tony Britton (Captain Lawton), John Hallam (Chung-Sha), David Prowse (Executioner), Milton Reid (Sabbala), Kiran Shah (Bolum), Richard LeParmentier (Lt. Whitby), Jimmy Ray (Lt. Graham), Tony McHale (Telegraphist).
Synopsis: Major Ben McBride organises a mission to the Antarctic wastes to search for his friend (McClure) who has been missing in the region for several years.
Comment: Okay sequel to THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1974) lacks the creative energy of the original but remains a mildly entertaining diversion. Wayne is rather wooden in the lead role, but Douglas and Walters compensate. McClure reprises his role from the first film in a guest slot. Effects are limited due to the lack of budget, but Connor gets as much excitement as he can from a rather flat script and stages some good action sequences and monster set-pieces.
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (UK/USA, 1975) ***
Distributor: British Lion Film Corporation (UK), American International Pictures (AIP) (USA); Production Company: Amicus Productions / Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. / Land Associates / Lion International; Release Date: 29 November 1974 (UK), 13 August 1975 (USA); Filming Dates: February 1974 – 18 April 1974; Running Time: 91m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: James Cawthorn, Michael Moorcock (based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs); Executive Producer: Robert H. Greenberg; Producer: John Dark, Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky; Associate Producer: John Peverall; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: Douglas Gamley; Film Editor: John Ireland; Casting Director: ; Production Designer: Maurice Carter; Art Director: Bert Davey; Costumes: Julie Harris; Make-up: Tom Smith; Sound: Don Sharpe, George Stephenson; Special Effects: Derek Meddings; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
Cast: Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), John McEnery (Captain Von Schoenvorts), Susan Penhaligon (Lisa Clayton), Keith Barron (Bradley), Anthony Ainley (Dietz), Godfrey James (Borg), Bobby Parr (Ahm), Declan Mulholland (Olson), Colin Farrell (Whiteley), Ben Howard (Benson), Roy Holder (Plesser), Andrew McCulloch (Sinclair), Ron Pember (Jones), Grahame Mallard (Deusett), Andrew Lodge (Reuther), Brian Hall (Schwartz), Stanley McGeagh (Hiller), Peter Sproule (Hindle), Steve James (First Sto-Lu).
Synopsis: During World War I, a German U-boat sinks a British ship and takes the survivors on board. After it takes a wrong turn, the submarine takes them to the unknown land of Caprona, where they find dinosaurs and neanderthals.
Comment: This low-budget fantasy-adventure is great fun and its charm and energy help you forget the variable special effects. McClure enjoys himself as the square-jawed hero and has good support from a game British cast, including Penhaligon as a biologist and McClure’s love interest. Action scenes are well directed and the monster work as good as it could be for the budget. Themes around evolution add a layer of intelligence, but this is still primary juvenile entertainment.
Notes: McEnery was dubbed by Anton Diffring. Followed by THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) and remade in 2009.
FANTASTIC VOYAGE (USA, 1966) ***½
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox; Release Date: 24 August 1966 (USA), 14 October 1966 (UK); Filming Dates: 25 January – mid June 1965; Running Time: 100m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: CinemaScope; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Richard Fleischer; Writer: Harry Kleiner (screenplay), David Duncan (adaptation) (based on a story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby); Producer: Saul David; Director of Photography: Ernest Laszlo; Music Composer: Leonard Rosenman; Film Editor: William B. Murphy; Art Director: Dale Hennesy, Jack Martin Smith; Set Decorator: Stuart A. Reiss, Walter M. Scott; Costumes: Bruce Walkup, Truman Eli, Ollie Hughes (all uncredited); Make-up: Ben Nye; Sound: David Dockendorf, Bernard Freericks; Special Effects: Johnny Borgese, Greg C. Jensen (both uncredited); Visual Effects: L.B. Abbott, Art Cruickshank, Emil Kosa Jr.
Cast: Stephen Boyd (Grant), Raquel Welch (Cora), Edmond O’Brien (General Carter), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Michaels), Arthur O’Connell (Col. Donald Reid), William Redfield (Capt. Bill Owens), Arthur Kennedy (Dr. Duval), Jean Del Val (Jan Benes), Barry Coe (Communications Aide), Ken Scott (Secret Service), Shelby Grant (Nurse), James Brolin (Technician), Brendan Fitzgerald (Wireless Operator). Uncredited: Brendon Boone (Military Policeman), Kenneth MacDonald (Henry – Heart Monitoring), Christopher Riordan (Young Scientist).
Synopsis: A diplomat is nearly assassinated. In order to save him, a submarine is shrunken to microscopic size and injected into his bloodstream with a small crew. Problems arise almost as soon as they enter the bloodstream.
Comment: Imaginative sci-fi memorable for its superb production design and photographic effects, which deservedly won Academy Awards. The script is solid, even if the dialogue is a little hokey at times, and provides the requisite set-pieces, helping build tension in the story. The concept of miniaturisation is fanciful, but once you get past that element there is much to enjoy in the fantasy it creates. Boyd makes for a likeable square-jawed hero and Welch adds glamour to the mix. Capably directed by Fleischer and with an eerily discordant score from Rosenman.
Notes: The picture marked the first major screen role for actress Raquel Welch. Won Oscars for Art Direction-Set Decoration (Jack Martin Smith, Dale Hennesy, Walter M. Scott and Stuart A. Reiss) and Special Effects (Art Cruickshank). Novelised by Isaac Asimov. Followed by an animated TV series in 1968.
Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 60m) ***½ pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Jamie Childs; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Denis Crossan; m. Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Sharon D. Clarke, Samuel Oatley, Johnny Dixon, Amit Shah, Asha Kingsley, Janine Mellor, Asif Khan, James Thackeray, Philip Abiodun, Stephen MacKenna, Everal A Walsh. In a South Yorkshire city, Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan and Graham O’Brien are about to have their lives changed forever, as a mysterious woman, unable to remember her own name, falls from the night sky. Can they believe a word she says? And can she help solve the strange events taking place across the city? Whittaker’s debut as the first female Doctor is a refreshingly straight-forward story but lacks any real wider threat being seemingly contained to a small area around Sheffield. Whittaker acquits herself well and in her post-regenerative state is sparky and witty. Walsh, Cole and Gill look promising as future companions. The whole thing is sumptuously photographed – mostly shot at night to create a more claustrophobic atmosphere – and the score is appropriately menacing, without being overbearing. This serves to give the story a more cinematic feel. As debut stories go it ticks most of the boxes and creates a new feel for the series that is seemingly a back to basics approach and that’s not necessarily a bad thing after some of the overblown and lazily written concepts that had crept in during Steven Moffat’s tenure. That said dumbing down the show would be a mistake. A promising, if flawed opener. The episode’s title is a reference to THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976) starring David Bowie. [PG]
Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 60m) *** pr. Peter Bennett; d. Rachel Talalay; w. Steven Moffat; ph. Richard Stoddard; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, David Bradley, Mark Gatiss, Pearl Mackie, Lily Travers, Jared Garfield, Jodie Whittaker, Jenna Coleman, Matt Lucas. Two Doctors stranded in a forbidding snowscape, refusing to face regeneration. And a British army captain seemingly destined to die in the First World War, but taken from the trenches to play his part in the Doctor’s story. This is the magical last chapter in the Twelfth Doctor’s epic adventure. He must face his past to decide his future. And the Doctor will realise the resilience of humanity, discovering hope in his darkest frozen moment. It’s the end of an era. But the Doctor’s journey is only just beginning. Self-indulgent bow-out for Capaldi’s Doctor with a confusing plot device designed to wring-out every emotion from fans of the series. It will likely have left non-fans cold with its frozen-in-time plot line as both 1st and 12th Doctors hold back their re-generations. There were nice touches in this episode – notably the resolution of the WWI army captain’s story and the meeting up with an old friend/foe. Bradley doesn’t always get the 1st Doctor right, but this is not helped by him being given some weak lines, knowingly poking fun at the changes in cultural environment since the days of those early serials. Capaldi is excellent, as ever, and it is sad to see his Doctor finally go. Whittaker’s brief appearance looked promising and left us on another cliffhanger. The production values were good and the photography excellent, but hopefully new producer Chibnall will move away from Moffat’s penchant for complex concepts and get back to good old-fashioned story-telling to win back a broader audience base. 
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017; USA; Colour; 152m) **** d. Rian Johnson; w. Rian Johnson; ph. Steve Yedlin; m. John Williams. Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels, Andy Serkis, Warwick Davis. Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past. Highly entertaining action-packed addition to the saga, which revisits many of the themes explored earlier in the series and as such may seem overly familiar. The basic chase plot is stretched a little with some lazy progressions, but despite its length the film doesn’t stand still for long nor does it outstay its welcome. Hamill and Fisher feature more heavily and there are one or two twists along the way, but its mid-trilogy position inevitably leaves certain issues unresolved. The visual effects and location work are exemplary. Also shot in 3-D.