Thursday, 21 March 2013


Life lessons from a critic-proof sequel... that really sucked

When Titan's Dreamwatch folded it became Total Sci-Fi, a web site presided over by my friend Matthew McAllister and a bloody good income source for yours truly as well (sadly Titan called it a day with their online presence in 2009). I was once asked by someone why I had only utilised a short number of words on a review of something (I forget what). The answer to that is simple: the difference between Total Sci-Fi, as an off-shoot from an actual newsstand publication, and many other genre-related web sites, is that Titan still paid by the word. This meant strict word counts on their reviews - usually between 200 and 300 words.

I miss Total Sci-Fi a great deal - as does my wallet!

My proudest moment on Total Sci-Fi was when I became one of the first people in the world to have their Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull review online.

Here was my email to Matt, accompanied by my review [below], which I sent about an hour after getting out of the Cannes world premiere:

I waited 90 minutes in the baking sun to get into this
monster so you can get this sucker up right away!

Sadly, it's pants. I know I know - I wasn't the only
one though. Think this is going to get a rough time
from critics. It got boos at the end credits in
Cannes (along with some cheers to be fair) and some
REAL boos for LeBeouf's character. He's AWFUL in it.

Walk outs before the end credits too. A lot of
deflated journalists and filmmakers.

Speak soon!


And how right I was.

My Indiana Jones review got a record number of views on Total Sci-Fi. Interestingly, the other critics - for far loftier (and better paying!) outlets than Titan - swallowed their pride and, doubtlessly worried about risking being alone in their disdain, sucked-up to ol' Steven on this one. A bit like how I imagine some of these enthusiastic Skyfall reviews have come about. The initial reviews from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and elsewhere hailed The Crystal Skull as an outright masterpiece, with one of the trades (and I forget which one) even claiming the film met with an estactic ovation.

That's the way the trades try and re-write history for their Hollywood over-lords. In this case it didn't happen, wasn't happening and, five years later, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is rightly seen as a disaster. A byword for ill-advised sequels.

Not to pat myself on the back or anything but I was the first voice of criticism out there. My only regret is going with 5/10. I wobbled about this - going back and forth between 4/10 and 5/10. I really did want to think that, maybe, I might want to watch this again sometime but, alas, I've never had the urge to go back and re-evaluate Kingdom of the Crystal Skull . Unlike Raiders of the Lost Ark, my memories of it are of mind numbing boredom, disappointment and that really stupid bit where the main cast keeps falling down massive waterfalls in a small boat, just like a Looney Tunes cartoon, but remain unharmed each time.

Anyway, with 300 words to spare here is the review I typed up immediately after getting out the screening...

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LeBeouf

Indiana Jones returns to action in 1957, where he becomes involved in a Soviet plot to locate the secrets behind the Akator – an ancient race of space aliens who hold the key to human mind control.

Oh dear, where to even start? If you hoped that the new Indiana Jones movie would feature extraterrestrial beings, comic relief meerkats and an obnoxious leather jacket wearing, rock ‘n’ roll lovin’ teenaged son for our title hero then this is the summer picture for you. However, if that brief description fills you with dread then prepare to be broken hearted.

Sure, Indy 4 comes up trumps with a small handful of set pieces but the plot is so daft, and the supporting characters so forgettable, that this long-awaited sequel soon becomes a drag to endure. Worst of all is Spielberg’s decision to bring back Allen as a love interest. Although the star of Raiders of the Lost Ark has aged well her performance in this boils down to nothing more than smiling like an 18 year old in love and mugging knowingly at the camera.

Likewise, LeBeouf as Indy Jnr. is too cocky and smug to be endearing and the sequence where he swings through vines in the Amazon wilderness (complete with “hilarious” CGI monkeys) is so cartoon-like that its very inclusion serves only to drag the viewer out of the plot at hand. Lead villainess Blanchett should be comedy gold as the flick’s sultry Soviet megalomaniac but, onscreen, she radiates a likeability and sexiness that makes her no threat at all to our hat-clad hero.

The end result is to the original Indiana Jones trilogy what Alien Resurrection was to its franchise – a tired, preposterous and, ultimately, pointless attempt at cash-fleecing from a group of Hollywood royalty that really should know better.

Verdict: 5/10

Back to blockbuster 101 class for you Mr. Spielberg!

Calum Waddell

Another one from the Dreamwatch archives: My interview with author Iain Banks, one of Scotland's most significant and sensational sci-fi minds. My own discovery of The Wasp Factory, during my first year at university, was game-changing: an indication that locally created horror fiction could be addictive, intelligent and terrifying. If you have to read this, it is highly recommended: a true contemporary classic!

Banking some Culture
Iain M Banks Interviewed
Famous for his creation of the Culture (a facet of many of his sci-fi novels, beginning with 1987’s  Consider Phlebas) 
and for shocking even the most jaded of horror readers with 1984’s The Wasp Factory, Iain M. Banks remains one of the 
genre’s most cherished authors. Calum Waddell caught up with him at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for the 
following exclusive interview. 
First off, care to give us a definitive answer on what is happening with the much rumoured film version of The Wasp 
Well, it is still rumoured! As they say in Hollywood, “don’t hold your breath.” The whole long, ghastly and - as it turned 
out – very expensive saga of The Wasp Factory not getting made into a film is one I long since stopped caring about, 
largely through despair. Litigation can do that.
All the same, if it theoretically did take place, who would be your ideal person to star as youthful killer Frank Cauldhame 
and who would be your choice of director?
I have no idea who would make the best Frank. As for a director... well, I have always said I would love the Coen brothers 
to make a book of mine into a film so I think I will stick with that. But the likelihood of any of this happening is, well, did I 
mention that thing about not holding one’s breath?
Of course some of the initial reviews of The Wasp Factory were quite scathing – with some critics being somewhat 
offended by the book. How do did you react to this?
Oh I thought it was a hoot (laughs). I was a complete unknown and had hoped to get maybe a handful of short, careless 
reviews, perhaps just enough to make sure I’d get a second book published. It was entirely a case of “any publicity is good 
publicity” with The Wasp Factory. So being reviewed everywhere by everybody and finding them all disagreeing about it, 
and the controversy itself leaking out from the book reviews into the news sections of papers and magazines, was 
something I hadn’t even dreamed of.  And, frankly, I thought the more knickers-in-a-twist notices were just hilarious. I still 
take a slightly guilty delight in upsetting precisely the sort of people who started frothing at the mouth because The Wasp 
Factory featured cruelty to animals or a young protagonist who went about cheerfully murdering other children!
Does the Culture represent your own notion of an ideal utopia - i.e. a future where government is almost irrelevant?
Yup; it is my own secular heaven. It is where I want to go when I am still alive.  Never going to happen, of course, but a 
chap can dream...
And do you believe science fiction is a good place to explore personal politics?
Potentially it is the ideal genre, because you can control every variable in the story, including the history that leads to the 
set-up at the start, whereas, in reality, we are kind of stuck with the history we have; irregardless of the efforts of revisionists. 
As someone whose work commonly explores the great unknown, do you believe in life on other planets?
I think it would be a quite bizarre standpoint not to be open to the possibility of life on other planets. We live on one small 
planet in an unremarkable solar system within a galaxy filled with between two and four hundred billion other stars. 
Moreover - as our telescopes and techniques improve – we have just started to spot solar systems almost everywhere we 
look. Plus there are as many galaxies in the universe as there are stars in our galaxy. So, for a person, now, in our current 
state of ignorance, just to decide that there isn’t life anywhere else, in amongst all of that, would appear perverse to say the 
Both The Wasp Factory and Complicity are set in unassuming areas of Scotland, perhaps indicating that the most 
shocking terror does not have to emerge from the most obvious of locations and scenarios. Can you comment on this?
Well, I guess terror can come from almost anywhere. You know - people have died tripping on the kitchen floor and falling 
onto a knife sticking up in the dishwasher! In fact, I heard - just the other day - of a guy who died after a camel sat on him! 
Believe it or not, he wasn’t discovered for six hours and they reckon he took four and a half of those to die. Can you 
imagine?  So a bit of imagination and you can conjure almost any emotion out of almost any setting – be it horror, humour or 
anything else… But, to be honest, I can’t take supernatural horror seriously at all and the rest I just don't get. I seem not to 
possess the circuitry that processes disgust or fear into a pleasurable experience (laughs).  
Do view your novel Complicity as a work of horror?
No, it is meant to be a thriller. I mean, there is some pretty horrific stuff in there, certainly, but the intention wasn’t to write a 
horror novel. But, in the end I don't really mind what terms get attached to the books. If people want to think of Complicity 
as a horror novel, that is fine by me.
Your 1994 book Feersum Endjinn indicates a suspicion, maybe even dislike, of technological advance. Is this a fair 
Nope, I didn’t mean that at all. In fact, I love technological advance; as a species, in a sense, we now are our technology. I 
would say it is what we do with it that is the problem.  I think it tells you a lot about us that the first question asked of any 
advance is “What are the military applications?”
Finally, an inevitable question: Can you name some of your favourite authors and books? 
In the last few years I have been very impressed with Alan Warner and David Mitchell. I also think that Alan Moore's Voice 
of the Fire is one of the great underrated novels of our time.