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Watership Down 2: Rab-bot’s Revenge

July 4, 2010

Sequels are difficult things. Will the sequel retain the pace, spirit or charm of the original? Will it be sufficiently different from its predecessor to justify its existence? Will the characters and storyline of the first be meaningfully developed in the second film?

The writer and director of Watership Down 2: Rab-bot’s Revenge has clearly pondered these questions. He has clearly lain awake at night, staring at the ceiling, deeply interrogating his motives and vision for the film. Evidently he has sat at his desk, head cradled in his hands, searching within himself for the answers.

The writer and director of Watership Down 2, searching within himself for the answers.

And then, the writer and director of Watership Down 2: Rab-bot’s Revenge has clearly thrown all of these questions into the bin (a metaphorical bin, not an actual bin as might be made of plastic, or steel, or wicker-work) and made the film anyway. I didn’t get the number 18 bus into town, where I didn’t pass through the foyer of the large multi-screen cinema, past the large posters bearing the sad, pallid, haystack face of Robert Pattison, past the popcorn (sweet and salty), overpriced bags of Jelly Babies and medium drinks. I didn’t purchase my ticket, didn’t enter the darkened auditorium, and didn’t see this film. Here is my review.

“General Woundwort was never seen again. But it was certainly true, as Groundsel said, that no one ever found his body, so it may perhaps be that after all, that extraordinary rabbit really did wander away to live his fierce life somewhere else and to defy the elil [enemies] as resourcefully as ever” (Richard Adams, Watership Down (London: Penguin, 1974), p. 477).

So reads the Epilogue to Watership Down, and so ends the first film. No one ever found Woundwort’s body. But what if his body had been found? Such is the premise of Watership Down 2: Rab-bot’s Revenge.

Woundwort’s injured body is discovered by a renegade veterinarian who takes him back to the laboratory and, through many hours of labour, painstakingly rebuilds him. So much the better to defeat the elil, the veterinarian rebuilds him as stronger, faster, more fearsome than before. He creates a cyber-rabbit. A rab-bot, as the title punningly states. This rabbit has legs of steel, lasers for eyes and craps grenades.

Woundwort returns to the now-thriving and co-operative Watership-Efrafan warren. He looks about with disgust and disdain at the cheerful scene. A young buck lops by, happy in the warmth of the sun and the verdant grass. Woundwort powers up his lasers. Pew! Pew! Within seconds, the young rabbit is a small heap of smouldering carbon. Woundwort moves on towards one of the many entrances to the warren. He positions himself strategically, and fires a couple of grenades into the opening. Holy cow! Soil and the corpses of dead rabbits fly up into the air.

The film continues in this vein, and is by all accounts a worthwhile action flick if somewhat lacking in depth and profundity. The animation, being CGI, is more polished than the original, and lacking some of its wistful charm. However, the kick-ass SFX more than make up the difference. You want explosions? You got explosions. After all, isn’t shit being blown up what any movie-goer asks for in a film? Indeed, the original starts to look inferior for its sheer lack of red-hearted, smoke-billowing detonations. Sure, the plotline of Watership Down 2: Rab-bot’s Revenge is a little weak in places, and by that we mean it is entirely non-existent, but this takes the very essence of the original and boils it right down to the bare bones. It doesn’t sugar coat it, nor (thank God) include any instances of the Brillo-haired Art Garfunkel singing ‘Bright Eyes’. This is a film about survival and about having balls. Balls made of reinforced concrete. Balls you could cut diamonds with. It doesn’t pull any punches. It defies the inevitable wrath of the animal rights activists, some of whom have already delayed the film’s release by beating the writer and director to a pulp outside his home (an ironic event, given that the writer and director is in fact a chimpanzee – see image above).

All in all, this is wholesome family entertainment, and sure to be a hit with the kids and grandma alike. I give it conkers out of ten.

Tron: Legacy

March 21, 2010

An interest in all things technological and cutting-edge means I was pretty excited when news of Tron: Legacy hove into view, and yet more so when, by by sheer chance (okay, by sheer breaking-and-entering) I managed to get my grubby paws on a copy of this sequel to that cult classic in which Jeff Bridges isn’t The Dude and doesn’t have his rug stolen. Here isn’t my review.

The film centres on Sam Flynn. He talks to machines. The townsfolk say he’s mad. Flynn is looking for his father, who vanished from the face of the physical universe and became absorbed within the code of a C64. This was shit-hot stuff in 1982, but as the years went by, Flynn’s disappearance was spoken of with acute embarrassment and consequently concealed from his son. ‘Daddy?’ says the young Flynn Junior to an ATM machine. He sleeps clutching a tear-stained calculator. The film lurches forward to Sam aged 27. He is employed in his local branch of Currys. With no father-figure and a misspent youth playing video games his education has been neglected, evidenced by the fact that he does not know nor care a whit about the missing apostrophe in Currys. All he cares about is finding his father and beating customers into submission with his impenetrable techno-babble. Flynn Senior used to wander round the self-same store, fingering the keyboards. Sam is looking for clues.

When the store is closed, Sam speaks to the computers. He whispers to the store’s mainframe. ‘Pops?’ he conjures. The lights on the mainframe wink on and off coldly. Then his eye lights upon a digital laser opposite the mainframe. Switching the laser on, Sam is transported into the world of the Master Control Program, the world into which his father had vanished.

Things have changed. The visual effects are stunning throughout, except for the crappy 8-bit graphics that are Flynn Senior’s legacy. Sam climbs aboard an 8-bit light-cycle. Its wheels are pixellated blocks and damn near square. The light-cycle makes all the stately progress of an elephant in concrete boots to the accompaniment of lively, parping music, generated by the C64 SID chip. It’s enough to make you weep into your popcorn. Other inhabitants of this technological world mock and scoff as they flash by on their upgraded velocipedes. This is a dangerous world, for this is the world of the Internet Age. Armed only with obsolete technology, and with the help of his father, Sam must defeat the nefarious and unruly Programs he encounters. The MCP once again demands conformity to its plans. Loyalty to the MCP is expressed by clicking the ‘Like’ button and sending invites to up to 20 friends. An army of depressingly stupid Programs quickly amasses. A rogue cow breaks free of FarmVille, nearly trampling our hero to a bloody, pixellated pulp. Sam finally saves the day with an ‘I bet I can find 1000,0000,0000 people who hate the MCP’ Facebook group. Unfortunately, Sam does not fare so well with the group ‘Unless 50,000,000,000 ppl join i am changing my name to Farty Guffpants’.

Nice work, Farty. Nice work.

In all, this wasn’t the futuristic whirlwind I expected, and I was temporarily stricken blind by the garish, 80s graphics, but at the heart of the film is a Message. The kind of Message that might be written on actual paper rather than digitized on a screen. The Message is this: let us not rush to embrace technology indiscriminately. The closest you got to Facebook in 1982 was to shut your face in a book, which was an altogether less painful experience. Let us tread the road to the future carefully, saith this film. Or so it would have done.

Every Day The Same Dream: A Review

March 16, 2010

This is a serious review. Stop laughing at the back there. This is serious, damn you all.

Here is my review of Every Day The Same Dream, a game available on the site Molleindustria. I have played it. Its content is arguably agoraphobic, and not in the Wotsit-munching, pasty, bean-bag-dwellling sense applied to gamers by The Daily Mail. It’s so understatedly brilliant that I make no apology for the stony-browed words that follow, though I must apologise to readers and colleagues of the AR for sullying the pages of this hallowed forum with material that perhaps more properly belongs elsewhere.

This is no run-of-the-mill game, and yet everything about its ostensible narrative is run-of-the-mill. You are an unnamed employee for an unnamed office in an unnamed town. Your world is monochrome but for isolated splashes of colour. As the title suggests, the game runs through the same routine: you start in your bedroom. A red light blinks on the alarm clock by the bed. You turn it off. You walk to the wardrobe, in which hangs a jacket, shirt, and trousers. You dress for work. You go to the kitchen. A TV flickers with primary colours. By the stove is your wife, who greets you with ‘C’mon honey, you’re going to be late’. Moving out of the kitchen and into the hallway, you press a button to call the elevator. The button lights up. The elevator arrives. Inside the elevator is an elderly woman bent over a walking cane. She tells you: ‘Five more things and you will be a new man’. Incidentally, if you walk up to her, the hand in which she holds the cane is level with your crotch, but that’s neither here nor there.

From the elevator you find yourself outside the apartment building. A blue parking sign flickers on the right side of the building. Continuing to walk to the right, you are in a queue of slow-moving traffic. You reach work and are greeted by your boss. You are late. You are ordered to your cubicle. On the wall is a graph of the Company’s profits. The red line steadily declines over the course of the game. You pass rows of cubicles, filled with co-workers like yourself. Exactly like yourself. The camera pans out. More cubicles. It pans out. More cubicles. You locate your cubicle and sit to your work – what kind of work? We are not told. The picture fades and you are back in your bedroom with the red light blinking on the alarm clock.

Now, you could play this narrative through endlessly, until the death of time itself, until the mountains fall into the sea and X-Factor stops being popular. On this level, the game points to the mundane nature of human existence. It’s like Groundhog Day, only without Bill Murray (lose 1 point for failing to include Bill Murray). The title suggests that the day which you live over and over is a dream, but what is it a dream about? Is it pointing to the fact that our fantasies only entrap us deeper within our everyday lives? But, harken to the old lady in the elevator. She may have isosceles triangles for legs, but she is the key to the game.

‘Five more things and you will be a new man’.

There are five actions you can perform that will break the repetitive monotony of your routine, some more so than others, for some only return you to the same loop. The colours within the game (the light on the alarm clock, the Parking sign, the Company profits) seemingly offer hope that is no hope at all. The alarm clock alerts you to the fact that you are late. The Parking sign indicates you are one of many commuters whose cars herd up the road like cattle. The declining Company profits reflect the depressing decline of your vitality within this death-in-life.

**Spoiler Alert**

Yet, as the Elevator Lady says, there are five things that will alter your perception of this monochrome existence, breaking the loop of the game. Other splashes of colour offer some degree of hope. The sole autumnal leaf that quivers on the branch of the tree: it is fragile, it is at the end of its life, and yet it also quivers with the last tremblings of life as it falls into your hand. The Fire Exit sign in the last cubicle frame glows green, again offering both despair and hope (if you play the game to the end, you’ll see). There’s a cow in a field. Yes, a cow. You pet it on the nose. It’s a lovely moment. I’d use the word poignant if I hadn’t banned it from off the face of the earth. Stop laughing, damn you to blazes, I love that cow.

Here I will say, if you haven’t played the game, play it. No, you haven’t anything better to do. Play it. What follows is an extreme spoiler – do not read any further unless you have played the game to completion (and you will, by God).

The leaf and the cow are but interruptions to the loop upon which you continue, but there are two ‘final’ aberrations to the routine that bookmark the game’s landscape. Walk left instead of right when you leave the apartment, and you encounter a Homeless who tells you he can take you somewhere quiet. It’s a graveyard. You return to the bedroom with the alarm clock blinking. You are not dead.This is one end of the spectrum of what I’ll have to call the semantics of death that the game employs. The other end of this spectrum is to walk past your cubicle in the office and off to the right. You find yourself on the roof of the building. You jump and return to the bedroom with the alarm clock blinking. You are not dead.

When you have completed the five things, the game does not offer you any explicit epiphany, but it is deeply unsettling. You wake up to find that your wife is gone. The Elevator Lady has gone. There is no traffic in the road. Your boss and co-workers are gone. Everything that presented and re-presented itself to you has gone, and it is suddenly awfully empty. You walk to the roof. You watch yourself jump. You are not dead: you’re watching yourself jump. Part of you has died. You are a new man.

That’s my interpretation of it anyway, and now I’m done.

Oh, and the music’s pretty cool, too.

Pariah Rustbucket Reviews…’Das flammende Herz’: A Ballet-Biography of Shelley

August 10, 2009

News has reached this reviewer’s Inbox that a ballet inspired by the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley is to be staged at the Staatsballett Berlin. I refuse to go and see it, so here is my review based on a complete absence of first-hand knowledge, factual information, or indeed anything whatsoever.

‘Das flammende Herz’ sounds like somebody having a coughing fit, but it isn’t. It is, rather, a ballet celebrating the life of Shelley, and so we must expect from the outset that it will contain scenes of an immoral and vegetarian nature. If you are of a nervous disposition, look away now.

The first act, which traces Shelley’s childhood and school-days, was somewhat pedestrian; Shelley blows up half the stage, sets fire to the butler, and leaves the remaining cast rather at a loss. The scenes dealing with his expulsion from Oxford were slightly more developed. Shelley argues irrefutably against the existence of a deity by twirling round and round like a pansy before stunning the Fellows of Oxford with a series of star-jumps, leaving the audience marvelling at the weighty and philosophical matters unfolding before them. His meeting with Godwin is also portrayed in this act, with Shelley tap-dancing on Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave as Godwin throws himself into bizarre, incomprehensible attitudes, representing his ongoing bowel problems.

The second act, and the most thought-provoking in this reviewer’s opinion, centres on Shelley’s poetry and its political agenda. The curtain rises, and a spotlight throws a turnip at centre stage into sharp relief. Shelley approaches the turnip with motions expressive of pain, indicating the plight of the labouring poor, and possibly wind. Such poems as ‘Oedipus Tyrannus; or, Swellfoot the Tyrant’ are translated into dance form, and you really haven’t lived until you have witnessed a pig perform a grand jeté. The fact that the pig then fell through the stage is a minor flaw. Shelley’s treatment at the hands of the reviewers is interwoven into this scene; Shelley throws off some spiteful arabesques before pelting his detractors with pig shit (warning: you may wish to bring some sort of umbrella or large hat with you to the performance).

The closing act movingly figures Shelley’s untimely death aboard the Don Juan and subsequent cremation, watched by Leigh Hunt, Trelawny, and Byron. The mourning of these three figures is gracefully enacted. Hunt pulls the shape of a Grecian Urn, Byron imitates the shape of a plate of potatoes and vinegar whilst Trelawny runs about the stage like a tit. The curtain falls on a collection of unnamed dancers, representing Shelley’s future audience, who smear the pages of his work with the remains of the pig shit whilst falling into raptures.

Your reviewer came away moved, if slightly malodorous, and in conclusion, this is a must for anyone with an interest in Shelley, turnips, pigs or bowel complaints.

Pariah Rustbucket Reviews…Monopoly: The 2009 Edition

August 2, 2009

Who has not whiled away a happy hour or twelve with the Parker Brothers’ finest creation, Monopoly? As Pope writes:

‘What dire offence from all the Utilities springs,

What mighty contests rise from Old Kent Road’.

To commemorate nothing in particular, this year has seen the release of Monopoly: The 2009 Edition. This updated version of an old favourite is bound to enrage and insult the purists; however, with new streamlined gameplay, updated locations and a fresh contemporary look, Monopoly: The 2009 Edition will quickly win fans too.

Gone are the traditional playing tokens: the Scottie dog, the Iron, the Top Hat, the Racing Car, the Battleship, and the Boot have been replaced by the Spoilt Shih-Tzu, the iPod, the Pete Doherty Trilby, the Skateboard, the Pushchair of the Juggernaut, and the Syringe of Botox. The game no longer starts with passing ‘Go’, which is an all-too-positive  injunction for these apathetic times. Rather, tokens must begin the game on a square marked ‘Meh’. The £200 salary has been replaced by the Dole Cheque. The first player to take their turn is decided upon not by rolling a double six, but following much debate as to whether it is worth the effort. This increases gaming time rather significantly, but is a minor flaw in the design.

The familiar locations have been updated to reflect contemporary housing estates. So the sonorous names of The Angel, Islington, Marlborough Street and Leicester Square have been replaced by such locales as Jade Goody Close, Coronation Street and Bluetooth Plaza. The Utilities remain unchanged, but have been privatised and sold off to companies at outrageous profit. As an added touch of authenticity, the 2009 Edition entitles whichever player holds the Utilities to dig up the streets of their fellow players without notice and with the utmost disruption and inconvenience.

The Stations also remain substantially unchanged, but are largely unreliable and haunted by Carlsberg-swilling youths, with the addition that players holding all the Stations can now forbid another player to land on their respective squares, impose a bus replacement service and still charge Rent.

Chance and Community Chest have been replaced by Apathy and Social Breakdown. In previous incarnations of the game, Chance and Community Chest introduced a random element into gameplay with the opportunity for both positive and negative outcomes. In the 2009 Edition, the outcomes are largely negative but become positive with some insightful liberal interpretation based on background and upbringing.

Jail has become a redundant feature of contemporary society, and Monopoly: The 2009 Edition reflects that. Instead, the Big Brother House occupies the former site of the Jail, and ‘Just Visiting’ has been replaced with ‘Viewing Figures’. Whilst a player may land on the Big Brother House, and be deemed ‘Viewing Figures’, it is best not to remain on this square for too long. ‘Go to Jail’ has accordingly been replaced by Davina McCall, and Free Parking is no longer available. But then, you can’t have everything.

In conclusion, this game receives the Rustbucket Seal of Approval, and is available at all crap stockists.

Pariah Rustbucket Reviews…Nineteen Eighty-Four: Lost Chapters in Time

July 28, 2009

Lest the reading public labour any further under the misapprehension that George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is a seminal novel describing a dystopian future with frightening accuracy, in the study ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four: Lost Chapters in Time’, Arthur Scrag-end offers the fruits of ten years dedicated to the scrutiny of what is now conclusively proved to be unpublished draft material that tells quite a different story.

In his tedious Introduction, Scrag-end  delivers his account of how the draft material came to light. Hidden for 40 years in the bowels of the Scunthorpe Public Library, Orwell’s note-books hold within their limp and greasy pages the outline of two chapters for ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ clearly intended for insertion at a key juncture in the novel. Indeed, given the state of the note-books in question, it would seem that they have already been inserted at some key juncture, but thanks to Scrag-end’s tireless scholarship the  novel can finally be reconstructed into something more nearly approaching its original framework.

The draft chapters reveal that, far from being the emblem of some future era, Nineteen Eighty-Four in fact refers to the combination of Orwell’s bicycle lock. Thus, Winston Smith is given an irrational fear of bicycles, which were the intended contents of Room 101 and not, as it was previously thought, rats.

“Winston stared in terror at the two-wheeled contraption. The hellish, inexorable motion of the chain contrived, somehow, to drive the pedals round and round mockingly. Winston whimpered, a childish sound escaping involuntarily from his lips. He remembered a time before Oceania and Eurasia were at war, a time in which there were bicycles, roaming free about the countryside, maiming and injuring unsuspecting pedestrians. He remembered his mother, killed rather unfeasibly by the handlebars of a Penny Farthing.

‘You can stop this, Winston’, said O’Brien. ‘We  are making you better. You are not a well man. We have seen the future. There will be no pedestrian crossings, no enjoyment of the public footpath. All competing transport will be destroyed. But always – remember this, Winston – always there will be the intoxication of power…If you want a picture of the future, imagine a bicycle stamping on a human face…for ever’.”

Scrag-end’s prose style is bland and obtuse, compelling the reader to gouge their eyes out with mechanical pencils. His interpretation of the note-books is at best cack-handed, and one suspects that at times the author may have mistaken the many egg-stains and blotches of Branston Pickle that bespread their pages for something of greater moment. However, this is a study which will no doubt add to the sum of scholarship on the novel, and in its tome-like length ensures that the world is rid of a few more trees that had nothing better to do.

 

‘Nineteen Eighty-Four: Lost Chapters in Time’ (Pp. 1308. £150), and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Variorum Edition’, (Pp. 845. £50) are published by The Coal-Scuttle Press.