Laserblast July 6: Jason and the Argonauts on Blu-ray, Dr. Who, Eyeborgs

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Tuesday, July 6 sees no new theatrical horror, fantasy, or science fiction titles making their home video debut; fortunately, that is no reason for fans of cinefantastique to despair: the 1963 classic JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, with stop-motion effects by Ray Harryhausen, is arriving on a brand new Blu-ray disc that improves on the picture and sound quality of the previous DVD release. Not only that, the Blu-ray is loaded with no bonus features, including an audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen.
JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS is a sort of precursor to CLASH OF THE TITANS (1980) – both films are based on Greek mythology – but JASON is the better effort, despite the larger’s bigger budget and cast of stars. The writing, directing, and acting are reasonably strong, creating a fairly serious work, and Harryhausen offers up some of his most imaginative monsters, including a giant walking statue, a multi-headed Hydra, and the famous skeleton battle, which outdoes the earlier skeleton duel in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Sony’s 1998 DVD featured a full screen and a widescreen transfer (one on each side of the disc), but supplemental material was limited to a brief interview with Harryhausen, conducted by director John Landis. The new Blu-ray, also from Sony, features a new transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.66, for a sort of compromised widescreen look. (For technical reasons, Harryhausen preferred to shoot in standard format; to get a widescreen transfer requires cropping the top and/or bottom of the image.) The disc, which is region free, features DTS audio and Dolby Surround. The old Landis-Harryhausen interview is ported over. Additionally, there are these new bonus features:

  • Commentary with Harryhausena nd historian Tim Dalton
  • Commentary with Peter Jackson and William Randall Cook
  • Skeleton fight storyboards
  • Harryhausen legacy featurette
  • Harryhausen Chronicles feature narrated by Leonard Nimoy
  • John Landis interview with Harryhausen (from DVD)

Fans of the classic British television series DOCTOR WHO will be pleased to see several old episodes from the 1960s and ’70s released on DVD this week:

  • THE TIME MONSTER with John Pertwee
  • THE SPACE MUSEUM with William Hartnell

EYEBORGS makes a direct-to-video debut on DVD and Blu-ray. This flick is from the director of PYTHON, the 2000 stinker starring Robert Englund, but advance word suggests that this new film is quite an improvement.
GOD OF VAMPIRES is another DTV title making its debut. This American film follows a hit man contracted to take out a Chinese crime lord – who turns out to be a vampire.
GAMERA VS. BARUGON, the second film starring the giant flying fire-breathing turtle, arrives on DVD. MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 did a good job on this one, back in the 1990s. After that, it’s hard to imagine watching the film without Joel and the ‘bots.
Fans of Japanese gore films can rejoice in the release of the ULTIMATE MACHINE GIRL Collectors Tin, a three-piece set dedicated to the low-budget revenge flick, about a girl who loses her arm when she is brutally attacked – then replaces it with a machine gone and goes after her attackers. At the very least, it’s no more ridiculous – and probably a good deal less so – than PLANET TERROR.
If you’re too cheap to shell out the dough for a single title, here are some bargains for you: a Blu-ray two-pack of  PRACTICAL MAGIC and WITCHES OF EASTWICK and another Blu-ray two-pack of DR. GIGGLES and OTIS.
If that’s not enough value for your money, there are two DVD box sets coming out that offer 25 titles a piece – although, in spite of th word “classic” being used in both cases, quantity rather than quality is what’s really selling.
25 SCI FI CLASSICS includes no classic titles that I can recognize, but there are a few cult items (Roger Corman’s THE WASP WOMAN) and some star names that might just peak your interest (Charles Bronson in ONE STEP BEYOND, Peter Graves in KILLERS FROM SPACE, the latter of which was derided in an episode of THE FILM CREW).
25 HORROR CLASSICS is also short on true classics, although this set at least include WHITE ZOMBIE (with Bela Lugosi), which is a great, if slightly creaky, black-and-white horror from 1932. Also included are ICE FROM SPACE, starring Paul Newman (a TV-production, I believe) and Lon Chaney in FRANKENSTEIN. (This is presumably the notorious live television production, in which a drunken Chaney believed he was doing a rehearsal.)

Yetis For X-Mas on 'Doctor Who'?

DoctorWho_YetiBleeding Cool posted this illustration from designer Peter McKinstry that purports to be the internal structure of DOCTOR WHO’s old nemeses, the robotic Yeti’s.
The Yeti’s, tools of the other-dimensional Great Intelligence menaced second Doctor Patrick Troughton in the 1960’s serials The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. DW_yeti_60s_2
The sometimes chilling, often kinda silly and cuddly-looking creatures are said to be featured in this year’s DOCTOR WHO Christmas special.
It’s not the first time Yetis were postulated to be un-earthly in origin. In the Cthulhu Mythos, the Yeti, (Mi-go or Mei-go) are said to be fungoid/crustacean extraterrestrials with strange motives, using furs at times to disguise their presence and true forms.
Nigel Kneale’s (THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT) Abominable Snowmen were mentally advanced (possible) extraterrestrials.

Actor Christopher Eccleston on why he abandoned the Tardis

DOCTOR WHO: Christopher EccelstonWhen the BBC revived their popular DOCTOR WHO franchise back in 2005 (nine years after the Fox DOCTOR WHO TV movie and sixteen years after the cancellation of the original BBC series), one of the key elements was actor Christopher Eccleston, who presented a fresh, original take on the familiar character – consistent with the past but re-imagined for the new millennium. Yet somewhat mysteriously (and rather out of step with the tradition of the show, which tended to see its stars stick around for four of five years on average), Eccleston left the role after a single season.
He recently explained to the BBC News the reason for his departure: he “wasn’t comfortable working on” on DOCTOR WHO.

“I think it’s more important to be your own man than be successful, so I left,” he tells BBC News.
“I was open-minded but I decided after my experience on the first series that I didn’t want to do any more,” he said.
“I didn’t enjoy the environment and the culture that we, the cast and crew, had to work in,” he continues. “I thought if I stay in this job, I’m going to have to blind myself to certain things that I thought were wrong.”
But the 46-year-old said the fact that he played the Doctor – and not that he had quit – was “the most important thing”.
“I really feel that because it kind of broke the mold and it helped to reinvent it. I’m very proud of it,” he adds.

Sense of Wonder: Gender equality on Doctor Who?

Karen Gillan and Matt Smith
Karen Gillan and Matt Smith

It seems the latest incarnation of DOCTOR WHO, played by Matt Smith, is engendering some controversy across the Atlantic, due to the short skirts worn by  current travelling companionAmy Pond (Karen Gillan), which are considered “too sexy” by certain Brit viewers. Ms. Gillan is not the only one accused of exposing too much skin: There was also a seen in which Smith appeared clad only in a towel, prompting some fans to complain that they could see the Full Monty – a claim refuted by the BBC. (Smith was wearing “an item to protect his modesty.”)
Defending her character’s wardrobe, actress Karen Gillan points out that Amy Pond’s skirts are standard length for young women of her age:

“I just don’t get it with the skirts. It’s what any girl on the street is wearing. I mean, Amy’s not a schoolgirl, she’s 21, pretty much the same age as me, and we all wear stuff like this.”

Fair enough. However, Gillan goes on to say that Amy Pond is the Doctor’s equal:

“It’s just never occurred to me that a woman wouldn’t be equal, in any sphere, to a man,” she said. “It’s nothing that has ever come up in my life and nothing I’ve thought about in terms of Amy. She’s just a strong girl, woman, whatever. Oh, let’s just say she’s a strong female.”

I’m all for gender equality, so if Amy Pond is going to wear short skirts, I suppose it’s only fair for the Doctor to show up in a towel. However, the issue here is not equality between a man and a women. It’s between a 21-year-old Earthling and a Time Lord who has lived thousands of years. It’s just a wee bit absurd to imagine that anyone from Earth, male or female, could be the Doctor’s equal. The only way we’re going to get gender equality on DOCTOR WHO is if the BBC decides to bring back Romana from the E-Space parallel dimension, where she remained at the end of WARRIOR’S GATE during the Tom Baker era.

Dr.Who Actor On 'Fright Night' Remake

According to The Hollywood Reporter
David Tennant (DOCTOR WHO) has been cast in the role of Peter Vincent in Dreamworks’ FRIGHT NIGHT remake.

The former TV Time Lored will be teaming up with movie STAR TREK alumni Anton Yelchin, who is playing the role of Charlie (William Ragsdale in the `85 version).
In the original, Roddy McDowall’s Vincent was a has-been monster movie star, now hosting a late night TV horror movie show. The name was a play on Peter Cushing and Vincent Price.
Tennant’s version will be a Las Vegas Las Vegas magician whose act is inspired by horror movies. He claims to be an expert on vampires, which lead Charlie to enlist his aid against the suspected vampire who has moved in next door.
Chris Sarandon was the blood-thirsty neighbor in the original, Colin Farell will fill that role in the update.
Also announced as cast for the film is Christopher Mintz-Plasse (KICK-ASS) as “Evil Ed”, Charlie’s oddball friend, who is very attracted to the darker side of horror movies.
Toni Collette is signed to play Charlie’s endangered mother.
Craig Gillespie (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL) was previously reported as onboard to direct.

Doctor Who – 'The Hungry Earth' Trailer

Here’s the trailer from from DOCTOR WHO: The Hungry Earth, which will have it’s U.S. premiere this Saturday on BBC America.

“It’s 2020, and the most ambitious drilling project in history has reached deeper beneath the Earth’s crust than man has ever gone before — but now the ground itself is fighting back.
The Doctor, Amy, and Rory arrive in a tiny mining village and find themselves plunged into a battle against a deadly danger from a bygone age.”

Directed by Ashley Way
Written by Chris Chibnall
Guest Stars: Arthur Darvill (Rory),
Meera Syal, Neve McIntosh, Robert Pugh, Samuel Davies
Airs this Saturaday at 9PM ET/PT

'Torchwood' To Be Re-lit

TorchwoodWEBThe BBC announced today that
BBC Cymru Wales, BBC Worldwide, and Starz Entertainment (the US cable network), will form a three way co-production partnership that will produce a new season of TORCHWOOD.

The 10-episode fourth season will be written by a staff led by creator/producer, Russell T Davies (DOCTOR WHO).
Julie Gardner and Jane Tranter will also return as executive producers.
John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) and Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper) will reprise their roles, along with new cast members.
It’s not yet known if Gwen’s husband Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) will return, though it seems likely, as all the other Torchwood team characters have either been killed off, or shown to have moved on to other things.
The article goes on to say that rather than be shot and take place largely in Cardiff, Wales, this new season will have an international flavor, with stories taking places in the U.S. and other locations around the world.
Ben Stephenson, the Controller of BBC Drama Commissioning, said: “…Torchwood will burst back onto the screen with a shocking and moving story with global stakes and locations that will make it feel bigger and bolder than ever.”
This announcement should come as some relief for TORCHWOOD fans, following previous disappointing news that Davies’ recent efforts to bring the show to the U.S. as a Fox Network series had fallen though.

Doctor Who: Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone

DOCWHO_weeping-angels_R The Eleventh Doctor Is In Good Hands

I’ve been watching the fifth season of the BBC’s revived DOCTOR WHO series on BBC America with great interest. New producer Steven Moffat is branching off from the often inconsistent, but memorable tenure of Russell T Davies, who brought the series back from limbo. It’s early days yet, but I think the series is in good hands.
Matt Smith is the youngest Doctor thus far, and while he still seems to be channeling some of David Tennant’s hyper 10th Doctor, he’s also bringing his own shadings of the Time Lord as being nerdy-quirky, compassionate, far from omniscient, and possibly somewhat immature and reckless.
New companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) is attractive and the center of an enigma, seen in the first episode of the season, when the newly regenerated Doctor discovers a ‘crack’ in space and time, manifesting in her childhood bedroom. He thought he had sealed it, but the trouble was just beginning, in what promises to be a long story arc.
Two of Steven Moffat’s creations for the show, the sinister  ‘Weeping Angels’ and the mysterious River Song (ER’s Alex Kingston) reappear in this two-part episode. Song is a very important person in the Doctor’s life, but they keep meeting out of temporal sequence, a great idea for a show about a time traveler. He first meets her the day she dies–at least, physically. (Fourth Season’s two-parter ‘Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead’.)
The Angels were created for the third season ” Doctor-light filler” episode ‘Blink’, for which Moffat won BAFTA and Hugo awards.
They’re a strange race from the early universe who appear as stone angels, usually with their eyes covered as though crying. They’re “quantum locked”, meaning they literally turn into immobile statues while anyone is looking at them. As soon as living beings take their eyes off them, they can move quickly, and attack, seeking energy–be it from radiation or people’s own life / temporal energy.

Amy, The Doctor, and River Song are looking for Angels
L-R Amy, The Doctor, and River Song are looking for Angels

Dr. Song has used her knowledge of the Doctor’s vanity (he visits far future museums to ‘keep score’) to lure him into rescuing her from sticky situation via a starship’s flight recorder on which she has inscribed the message “Hello, Sweetie!” in old ‘High Galliferyan’. She’s also promised his help to a company of soldier-priests intent on destroying the last of the Angels, still onboard the now-crashed spacecraft.
There’s a lot of creepy-fun atmosphere on the planet, in a catacomb full of ancient and decayed to the point of being featureless statues. (Kudos to director of photography Damian Bromley & Crew.)
One of the flaws of the first of the two episodes is that no one suspects what the statues are until too late, including the Doctor, who knows that the long-dead aliens who built the place had two heads, not one. Of course, they are near-dead Angels, now feeding on the ship’s radiation and other power, and any living thing they can find.
And this seemed screamingly obvious to me as a viewer. It’s one thing to figure things out a little in advance of the heroes (which can be a nice plus), it’s another to think they’re all dim-wits.
A young cleric-solider named Bob (David Atkins), whom the Doctor had tried to reassure is killed, and the Angels use his mind and voice to torment the Time Lord. In a nice bit, he remains polite and apologetic as he relays their taunts.
Amy Pond has stared into the eyes of a Angel, and it has gotten into her visual centers, which makes it necessary for her to close her eyes and still try to navigate, having to trust the Doctor, even though she knows he doesn’t always tell her the truth.
She’s saved, but through the actions of River Song, something this new series and season have done often, making the companions seem at times more clever, understanding, or heroic than the Doctor. I can understand the desire to make these characters seem worthy in their own right, both to the audience and the time-traveling hero, but it’s a trend that can become irksome; it seems to diminish the lead role slightly.
The afore-mentioned crack in space & time shows up again, acting as both a deu-ex-machina, and a springboard for further stories.
This crack is actually eating up time & matter, and thus memories–explaining a number of things, such as why Amy had no idea what the Daleks were, despite very dramatic public and world-wide incursions by them in previous seasons. It’s implied no one remembers them, because these events now never happened, an ingenious way of getting rid of stories Moffat’s predecessors did that he might not care to keep in his continuity.
And considering some of the truly over-the-top elements of some episodes, who can blame him?
(People who have traveled in the TARDIS can remember them, because it takes you outside of time and changes your perception of  it.)
The Doctor seems both frightened and delighted with this new phenomenon that could consume the universe.
At episode’s end, after fending off a surprise romantic overture from the to-be-married the next day Amy Pond, the Time Lord suddenly realizes that his companion and her wedding date are inextricably linked to this menace, and hustles her into the TARDIS, just before the stroke of midnight.
A nice cliffhanger ending, even though the next episode “Vampires of Venice” wouldn’t appear to address the matter directly. Maybe the Doctor’s buying time.
I’ll tune in to find out.
DOCTOR WHO: Time of the Angels / Flesh and Stone (2010)
The Doctor: Matt Smith
Amy Pond: Karen Gillan
River Song: Alex Kingston
Father Octavian: Iain Glen
Directed by Adam Smith
Written by Steven Moffat

Laserblast: May 4 DVD & Blu-ray: Tooth Fairy, Escape from L.A., Dr. Who

This Tuesday offers not much exciting for fans of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. The only recent theatrical release making its home video debut is TOOTH FAIRY, starring Dwayne Johnson as a reluctant – you guessed it – tooth fairy. The film is available in DVD and Blu-ray. Julie Andrews co-stars.
For fans of classic and/or cult films, there is one bright spot: the Blu-ray release of John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM L.A. Less exciting is FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS, with a new DVD released hosted by “Mr. Lobo,” whoever he is.
As for the rest, PULSE and SICK NURSES ended stuck together in a double DVD pack. There are a few DTV titles: VAMPEGEDDON and DARK NATURE (which was supposed to have come out a week or two ago). The old Fred Olen Ray opus EVIL TOONS makes another appearance. And several old DR. WHO titles arrive from the John Pertwee and Tom Baker era.

Norton Hears Who Fans

During Saturday April 25th’s airing of DOCTOR WHO the BBC ran a cartoon “coming next” promo for their OVER THE RAINBOW reality series, featuring an animated version of UK TV personality Graham Norton.
Unfortunately, it appeared as The Doctor (Matt Smith) was making an impassioned speech during The Time of Angels’ dramatic cliffhanger ending.
Thousands of viewers complained to the BBC, which issued an official apology as to the timing of the incident.
In this video from his BBC One talk show, Graham Norton does his humorous best to make amends to WHO fans.
The Time of Angels’ airs this coming Saturday (May 8th) at 9PM Eastern, followed by SO GRAHAM NORTON.
Now if only viewers in the U.S. could gain some respite from these animated nuisances during our own programs.