Sunday, 30 December 2018

Flogging a dead horse

A short update on my Undead horsemen today. At the end of this project I am hoping to have six completed riders. The simplest four of these will be largely based on the Citadel plastic skeleton horsemen (as found in the PBS5 Skeleton Army boxed set from the late eighties/early nineties), but it's the other two that have been keeping me busy this week.

The last two were based on models released in 1987 as part of the C21 Undead Cavalry range. The riders were Serratus the Reaper and Corpus the Fallen, mounted on horses that looked like the two from the 1986 release, shown here.

The problem was that these old metal models were tiny by comparison to any of the more modern cavalry models, and would have looked ridiculous next to their larger counterparts. Rather than simply throw these minuscule miniatures away, I decided I would try to scale them up. This involved cutting the horses in two in order to elongate their bodies, before swapping or extending each of their legs, then making any necessary adjustments to the riders, and trying to blend the whole thing together. Perhaps not quite as simple as it sounds.

I brought in an old plastic Chaos horse for parts, and you can see my results in the picture below (plus the all-plastic test model in the middle). Admittedly, at this stage, the results look a bit pony (geddit?), but I have high hopes for them once there's a little paint unifying all the conversion work.

Or at least – in keeping with the whole point of the exercise – I have average height hopes.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Horsemen of the glued-finger-tips

Hobby time is always quite difficult to find, but for the last few months that's become increasingly extreme. As a result I only have a few photos to share today, all of which are from my ongoing Undead project. 

The first shows what little progress I've made on the two war mammoths I showed back here. They are undercoated, with little moments of completed detail (mainly on the tusks), but still generally have a long way to go.

The second and third photos are from the next squad in this process, and the penultimate one in the overall project. It's going to be a small unit of cavalry, but it's proving to be a great deal of work. Unfortunately for me, the few models I had in my collection were in two pretty incompatible scales. The smaller metal miniatures from the early to mid eighties looked tiny next to Games Workshop's first plastics from a few years later. Therefore just to get them to the stage below, where most of the horses are roughly the same size, has taken me hours of trimming, pinning, gluing and filling, not to mention cannibalising an old plastic armoured horse for its larger features.

I also discovered I didn't have enough tiny plastic skulls to complete the squad, so I had to find a few from other places. This has mainly been from the backs of chaos cloaks, or from totems on banners and the like. The one shown in the picture below was from the base of a plastic Ork. 

But all this stuff still needs a lot of work, so this is really just a glimpse of the models midway through their development. Hopefully I'll have some time to finish them after Christmas. Until then, have a fantastic holiday.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The thing about the The Thing, part two

In today's post we'll be digging a little deeper into John Carpenter's The Thing and taking a look at some of the ways it has been continued in other media. There is no single, official sequel, but, like the creature itself, Carpenter's story has spawned a variety of off-shoots, taking disparate forms, reaching out in multiple directions to probe unexplored possibilities.

If you missed the original part of this article, we talked about the short story that inspired The Thing, John W. Campbell's 1938 classic novella Who Goes There? and Frozen Hell, the original manuscript upon which that short story was based. We also looked at the two other major movies, The Thing From Another World (1951) and the prequel, also titled The Thing (2011).

Before we delve into the assorted takes on what happens after the end of Carpenter's movie, let's just quickly recap where it left off. We're about to discuss the film's finale, and the various ways other stories have picked up on that, so obviously this will include spoilers. In fact, from here on in, pretty much everything is a spoiler.

At the end of the film only two characters are left alive: R. J. MacReady, played by Kurt Russell; and Childs, played by Keith David. Both men are stranded in the freezing Antarctic night, among the ruins of their camp, Outpost 31. Neither man has reason to trust the other, and the audience is given very little indication as to whether one of them is actually the alien shapeshifter. The movie draws to a close with MacReady offering Childs a swig of whisky and suggesting that the two of them just wait 'for a little while... see what happens'.*

The ambiguous nature of this conclusion left some fans clamouring for more, prompting them to scrutinise the movie for any possible clues, and generally have a right old time coming up with theories to explain exactly what had happened. Over the next couple of decades four of these ideas gained traction among the wider fan base.

Molotov whisky theory 
It has been suggested that in the final scenes Mac had swapped his whisky for gasoline, hoping to catch out the alien and its unsensitised taste buds. When Childs doesn't react to the drink, it is taken as a sign that he has been infected. The theory is essentially based on two facts. First, in order to wipe out any trace of the creature, MacReady spends much of the third act running around carrying molotov cocktails, made from old whisky bottles. He doesn't appear to be carrying any real whisky, and, second, when he does eventually claim to have real whisky we never see him sip any of it before passing it on to Childs. While this may indeed be an ingenious ploy by Russell's character, and an even more ingenious bit of filmmaking by Carpenter, it is, of course, just as likely to be down to economical storytelling, with the audience not being shown every minor detail of every inconsequential move.

My belief is that we know the alien makes excellent copies of its victims and receives all its host's memories upon assimilation, so if Childs could tell the difference between palatable alcohol and utterly repugnant petrol, then most likely the alien could too.

Amateur filmmaker, Rob Ager, explains the whole thing in fascinating detail in one of his videos, here.

Eye gleam theory
This idea came about after one of the crew divulged that during the filming of the scene where Palmer is revealed to be a creature, the lighting had been arranged to keep any reflections out of the character's eyes. Some fans therefore decided that all imposters could be detected at any point in the film, simply by looking at their eyes. This is simply not the case, and on inspection the idea is easily debunked, as shown in another of Rob Ager's detailed videos here.

Clothing continuity theory
Does Childs change his jacket between being confirmed human and showing up in the final scene of the film? If so, does that imply his first coat was ripped during a violent assimilation by a marauding alien shapeshifter? Rob Ager's take is here.

No breath theory 
At the end of the film, with the two characters outside in the snow, MacReady's breath is clearly visible every time he speaks or exhales. This is obviously due to the sub-zero Antarctic conditions, but when Childs speaks no such vapour can be seen. Some people have taken this to mean the creature has no need to breathe or that its breath is somehow different, and therefore Childs has been assimilated. The theory is lent some weight by Keith David himself, who confessed in an interview that it looks conspicuous.

But again, I don't support the idea, as I believe it just comes down to the way the scene is lit, and the actors' relative proximity to a source of heat, but, again, you can watch another of Rob Ager's videos here, detailing both sides of the argument, and make up your own mind.

Most of these theories point to Childs having been infected by the end of the film, but the various sequels didn't al
l agree. Let's take a look and see how they interpreted his and MacReady's fate.

The Thing From Another World (1991)
I'm going out on a hastily extruded, chitinous limb, to say that this comic, first published by Dark Horse** in December 1991, is still considered by many to be the genuine sequel to John Carpenter's film, even after the other takes on the story have shown up and confused the canonicity.

Written by Chuck Pfarrer and drawn by John Higgins, the story opens with MacReady waking up aboard a whaling-ship, after having been dragged by Childs on to an ice floe. Uncertain as to whether Childs was infected or not, Mac steals the ship's helicopter and goes to look for him. He lands at the remains of Outpost 31 and sets about burning any remaining biomass, but is caught in the act by a U.S. Navy SEAL team, led by Commander Erskine. Erskine and his men have been sent to investigate the earlier destruction of the base and accuse Mac of having killed all its occupants. Some of the SEAL team become infected, and a battle ensues, destroying their transport, and leaving only a handful of survivors. Erskine insists Mac help him take his injured men to an Argentine camp in the next valley, where they eventually find Childs, whose humanity is proven in a blood test. Erskine arranges rendezvous with a U.S. submarine, but turns out to be infected himself. MacReady and Childs reach the submarine just before it submerges, but Erskine transforms into a hideous creature and causes the sub to crash into an underwater ledge. In a final effort to destroy the thing, Mac blows the sub's hatches and fills the interior with near-freezing sea water. Mac appears to be the only survivor to reach the surface, and once again finds himself stranded on the Antarctic ice.

You can see a motion comic of it, made by fan collective, The Slow Mutants, here.

The Thing From Another World: Climate Of Fear (1992)
This story, written by John Arcudi, and drawn by Jim Somerville, Brian Garvey and Robert Jones, picks up directly where the previous one left off. MacReady is rescued from the ice by a group of Argentinians, who, deciding he is too weak to recover in such a cold climate, move him to an outpost in the jungles of Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America. Unfortunately Mac's life gets crazy again when it becomes clear that one of the rescue party was assimilated back near the crashed sub. In the warmer climate the organism is able to spread at greater speed and the entire camp is forced into lock-down, not knowing who to trust. The situation worsens when Childs turns up with a U.S. Navy combat team, only to be revealed as a creature himself. In the climactic sequence, Navy jet fighters napalm the entire site leaving only MacReady, and a couple of others alive.

You can see another of those motion comics by the Slow Mutants, here.

The Thing From Another World: Eternal Vows (1993)
This further continuation takes the story in a surprisingly fresh direction as the action moves to a small town on Stewart Island in New Zealand. A serial killer turns out to be one of the creatures, using the cells of its victims to replenish the rapidly dying ones in its own body. Written by David de Vries and drawn by Paul Gulacy and Dan Davis, the comic shows us the monster's thoughts, revealing that its host's consciousness is not entirely lost after assimilation, but begins to fade out over time.

Here's the motion comic.

The Thing From Another World: Questionable Research (1993)
In this final instalment from the original run by Dark Horse, the action takes us back to the ruins of Outpost 31. Scripted by Edward Martin III and illustrated by Ted Naifeh and Alex Niño, the story follows a group of scientists who collect samples of the dormant, but not dead creature, and chopper them back to their research vessel to conduct a series a tests. Once aboard the ship they confirm that, as shown in the earlier stories, assimilation is quicker in a more temperate climate, and a victim's brain is the last part to be subsumed by the alien consciousness – meaning a victim may not, at least for a while, even be aware they are infected. Sadly for the scientists, this understanding offers little practical aid in their attempt to defeat the creature once it inevitably escapes confinement.

See the motion comic here.

The Thing (2002 video game)
Although this third-person shooter video game was a new take on what happened after John Carpenter's story, it starts in a similar manner to the above comics by having a team of U.S. soldiers sent to investigate the events of the film. The player controls Captain Blake as he takes his Special Forces team to examine the ruins of Outpost 31, while another team search the Norwegian camp, all under the overall command of Colonel Whitley, via radio contact. 

The game used an innovative fear/trust system whereby paranoia could be rendered a playable feature by sowing distrust and panic throughout the characters. Among other things, the player would have to give up weapons, submit to blood tests and avoid hitting team mates during firefights in order to maintain trust.

Only a little into the game, Blake and his men find the frozen body of Childs, who most likely wasn't infected and has died of hypothermia. The soldiers destroy the remains of the American outpost, and Blake sets out to join the other team at the Norwegian camp. Once there he discovers the other squad has been attacked and are not in good shape. Their captain, Pierce, shoots himself after becoming infected.

Blake then locates a secret installation under the Norwegian base, the Pyron sub-facility, where he learns of a company called Gen-Inc, under the leadership of Dr. Sean Faraday (voiced by John Carpenter). Gen-Inc had been conducting biological experiments on the alien shapeshifters, but had lost control and unwittingly started a new infection. Colonel Whitley is also present and it soon becomes clear he has an agenda of his own.

The idea of military units being sent to investigate was most likely inspired by James Cameron's 1986 film, Aliens, and it's another theme from that franchise that recurs here when Whitley outlines his proposal to weaponise the creature for use in biological warfare. 

As part of his plan, Whitley has injected himself with the creature's genes, and is attempting to control the infection. He kills Dr. Faraday when the scientist tries to intervene, and renders Blake unconscious for transport to another facility, called Strata. Blake awakens in the abandoned base and has to fight his way through a variety of foes, before eventually encountering Whitley at the site of the original crashed spaceship. In a final reveal, MacReady shows up to help Blake defeat the now monstrous Whitley.

You can see a trailer for the game here.

The Thing II (2003 cancelled video game)
Due to the success of the initial game a second one was planned that would have taken the story further, with enhanced creatures and transformation sequences. MacReady and Blake were to battle various horrific incarnations of the creature across several ice-bound locations, including a small refinery town and an offshore oil rig, before eventually boarding an infested aircraft carrier.

Sadly it was cancelled after the production company, Computer Artworks, went into receivership in late 2003.

You can see one of the unused creature transformations here and some more of the stunning concept art here.

Return Of The Thing (2005 cancelled TV mini-series)
This two-part, four-hour television mini-series, was set to be produced by Frank Darabont for the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy), but only got as far as a screenplay and some early concept work.

The story would have started six months after the events of the film, with a group of Soviets, lead by Dr. Lukanov, being the first to explore the remains of Outpost 31. They would have found the frozen bodies of Childs and MacReady (both still human), and started studying the remains of the creature and the spacecraft. However an accident claiming the life of Lukanov's wife would have shut down the Russian project, and mothballed all the samples.

Fast-forward twenty-three years and one of those samples has somehow found its way onto a commercial airliner heading for Los Angeles. Lukanov discovers what has happened and uses a cover story about weaponised small pox to warn the U.S. authorities. When jet fighters start to escort the plane, the creature on board panics and erupts into a monstrous form, causing the plane to crash near the town of Christmas in New Mexico.

A local man, John Little Bear, witnesses the plane crash and the subsequent assimilation of a coyote, and believes he's seen something that his people call a skinwalker. He tries to stop it, but it starts infecting other animals in the vicinity, and by the time Lukanov arrives to help with the containment procedures, the town of Christmas is missing 250 of its inhabitants...

You can read a fuller review of the screenplay here.

The Thing: Assimilation – Outpost 3113 (2007 theme park attraction)
In 2007, as part of Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights, an immersive walk-through experience was created in their Orlando theme park, based on Carpenter's film. Visitors were given access to U.S. Air Force Bio-Research Facility Outpost 3113, where the wreckage of Outpost 31 had been brought for analysis. Included among the remains were the bodies of Childs and MacReady, now kept frozen in cryogenic storage tanks. It was said that one of them was not of this world – though exactly which one was cunningly left unspecified. The military science team were investigating the organism's shapeshifting capabilities, and were being pressured from above to move forward with human trials. The event saw these go spectacularly wrong as fearsome creatures in a multitude of shapes and sizes ran rampant throughout the base.

You can read a little more about the experience here or visit the official website here.

Before we finish up, let's take a quick look at some of the less official sequels. Originally, I wasn't going to include fan made stories in this article***, but on closer inspection I realised that the lack of official endorsement does not necessarily mean a lack of quality – so where do you draw the line? And there are a few ideas that really stand out... perhaps precisely because their creators are such fans.

Unfinished Business (2015 short story)
This is an intriguing idea, written by John Alexander Hitchcock, that deliberately replaces the bleak tone of Carpenter's film with a more upbeat sense of hope and optimism. It sees Childs and MacReady saved by a team from the Russian base mentioned in the 2011 prequel movie. They meet up with that film's sole survivor, Kate Lloyd, and everyone tests negative to infection. This gives the combined group a chance to come up with a definitive strategy to defeat the creature once and for all. 

You can read the full story here.

The Thing Inside (2013 treatment)
If you've already clicked on some of the earlier links to filmmaker Rob Ager's videos – where he discusses the veracity of many of the fan theories – you will probably have noticed they are deeply researched and well put together. And he has put that same attention to detail into his video treatment for a possible sequel to Carpenter's film. Although essentially just him talking about what a story could include, it contains plenty of interesting elements, including resolutions for some of the less developed lore encountered in the 1982 film, like the length of time it takes for an assimilation, and whether victims retain any of their consciousness.

You can see part one of his synopsis here and part two here.

The Thing 2 RPG (2015 video game)
This is another fan made project, but again this has been done so well it really deserves to be mentioned. At it's most basic level it serves as a sequel to the 2002 video game (ignoring the cancelled 2003 version), with the player taking control of a rescue team sent to find Captain Blake after his aircraft crashes on the journey back to base. But, despite the look of some of the early graphics, basic is something this isn't. The game is rich in narrative and not only moves the story on in multiple directions, depending upon which mode you chose and how you play, but also fills in some of the unseen events from the original game through side missions – like one where you discover how Captain Pierce became infected. 

The game is continually being updated and improved by its developer Richard2410 (AKA RicnardQele), with talk of a major update to the character graphics slated for next year.

A promo for one of the missions can be found here and more information about some of the different playable stories here.

The Things: (From Another World) (2010 novella)
This book, by Dan F. Brereton****, isn't technically a follow-up to John Carpenter's The Thing. Instead it was written as a sequel to the 1951 movie, The Thing From Another World, telling the story of seeds from the film's plant-like monster making it back to mainland Europe and the carnage that follows.

They Live (1988)
We'll finish on this, as personally I find the idea quite fascinating. The thought that cult film They Live could be considered a sequel to The Thing was suggested by Keith David in the interview mentioned earlier in this article. He posits the idea that Carpenter himself may have written and directed it as an unofficial next chapter to his earlier film. 

They Live tells the story of a drifter in Los Angeles who discovers a pair of sunglasses which, when worn, reveal some awful truths. The world is really run by a network of aliens, disguised as humans, who have replaced humanity's ruling class and are manipulating people to accept the status quo while they deplete the planet's resources. The film is based on a comic book version of a 1963 short story, Eight O'Clock in the Morning, by Ray Nelson.

Keith David, who also appears in this film (playing a different character), explains that the alien creature from The Thing would have managed to escape the Antarctic, and made it to human civilisation, whereupon it would have infiltrated the top ranks of our society. It may have mutated or evolved to a stable form, reflecting our own, and is now in charge of the destiny of the entire planet. It makes a certain level of sense, especially if you consider that the creature might gain little by assimilating an entire population, but may be better off leaving humanity in place as an abundant source of provision.

That's it for now. In the next part of this article we'll look at some of the other ways the story has been copied, modified and reproduced in its attempt to infiltrate new areas of the population and absorb new fans. In the meantime if there are any other sequels that may have escaped my attention, lurking surreptitiously to one side, that you'd like to shine a flame-thrower on, or you simply have some thoughts you want others to assimilate, please do so in the comments below.

*Later in the eighties an alternate (generally considered inferior) cut of the film was produced for the mass-market, American, television audience. As well as attempting to sanitise it by removing most of the swear words and many of the scenes showing the creature, it also tried to reduce some of the ambiguity by adding narration and changing the ending. In the final scene a dog is shown running off into the snow (reappropriated from the original opening scene), with a portentous voiceover explaining the need to watch others, because who knows what tomorrow, tonight will bring. You can see a list of most of the ways this cut diverges from Carpenter's original here, although it's worth noting this version itself has been edited in different ways for different markets.
**At the end of the eighties and early nineties Dark Horse Comics hit upon the idea of taking popular science fiction films and continuing their stories in comic book form. In just a few years they'd published many hundreds of pages of adventures set in the universes of Alien, Predator, Terminator, Robocop, Star Wars etc, not to mention coming up with the original Alien vs. Predator crossover stories, way before the first film of that name.
***Although if you really want to see a fan made movie sequel to The Thing, this one, by Erik Phairas, AKA MetalAlien, gets mentioned a lot where people mention this kind of stuff.
****Probably a pen name for San Fransisco based comic artist, and sometimes writer, Dan Alan Brereton.

Monday, 26 November 2018

A simple complex

Today a quick update on my quest to put together some modular, scratch-built, sci-fi industrial terrain for my toy soldiers to fight over. The idea is to be able to use a small collection of buildings in varying configurations to represent not just different areas of my WH40K city, Kruenta Karoliina Arx Rotunda, but also different styles of board for different types of game – like a larger, clearer board for 40K and smaller, more detailed, multi-level boards for skirmish games like Necromunda and Kill Team.

I've built and undercoated three pieces so far, with each one sat on a 12" by 6" base plate. This standardised size means that in the final design the buildings will be easily interchangeable to suit the needs and aesthetic of any particular game.

In my mind the aim of a modular project like this is to create the minimum amount of pieces to give you the maximum amount of possibilities. I won't go into any more detail about this now, but will probably discuss the plans when (and if) I ever manage to build the larger floor sections.

In terms of painting, these are by no means finished yet. The roughly highlighted undercoat, along with the beginnings of some of the metallic sections are just there to unify the models and give me an idea of what they could look like.

You can see earlier, work in progress versions of two of the buildings, prior to their undercoats here and here. But the third one is new, so I've included photos of the unprimed model below.

A lot of the techniques I've used in these models, and in the modular approach itself, came from a series of brilliant scenery articles in White Dwarf, way back in 2001. For anyone interested, I've collated them all here.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The thing about The Thing, part one

Something terrifying, long lost and forgotten, has been unearthed and revived, and is preparing to sow fear throughout the population of this planet.

For fans of John Carpenter's 1982 sci-fi horror film The Thing, that may sound like a bad attempt to précis the beginning of its plot. But for those same fans this is actually a piece of astonishingly good news about the discovery of an old book.

John Carpenter's intense and disturbing film was based on a short story by John W. Campbell* from 1938 called Who Goes There?, first published in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction**.

But it has recently been discovered that in order to create the short story, Campbell abridged one of his earlier works: a full-length manuscript called Frozen Hell. This longer story was presumed lost or destroyed until the writer and biographer Alec Nevala-Lee managed to track it down to Harvard University's Houghton Library. Nevala-Lee passed the manuscript to Campbell's literary estate, and they in turn took it to the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter.
 At the time of writing, Frozen Hell has already shattered its Kickstarter funding goal and is preparing to commence its inaugural print run. If you're quick, you can be among the first to read the full-length book by backing it here.

In most versions of the story the alien creature is able to copy itself, absorbing and assimilating its hosts' memories, and combining them with its own, to create hybrid, not-quite-exact-duplicates of itself and its victims. 
This is similar to the way ideas take hold and propagate themselves through the minds of those that carry them, often mutating slightly as they spread. And that is exactly what has happened with Campbell's story. The concepts in the book, and especially in John Carpenter's film, have propelled themselves through a slew of new material, spawning prequels, sequels, copies and spin-offs in a variety of different formats.

So to celebrate the discovery of the new manuscript, over the next few posts I'll be listing some of the books, comics, TV shows, films and games that form the essential further reading, viewing and playing for fans of The Thing.

This week we'll start with the basics.

Who Goes There?

This is the book that started it all. John W. Campbell's original tale of an alien shapeshifter found frozen in the Antarctic ice and thawed out by a team of researchers in a remote U.S. outpost. The scientists suspect the creature is able to assimilate individuals in order to hide in plain sight, and this gives rise to a creeping paranoia, that eventually proves well-founded as gruesome violence flares up in the camp.

Although this eighty year old story is instantly recognisable from John Carpenter's 1982 movie The Thing, it still feels fresh today. This is probably partly due to its credible-sounding scientific content, and partly down to it containing a fair amount of material that didn't make it into the film, including the occasional, unexpected plot twist that differs from what fans of The Thing may have thought they knew

Like its subject matter, the novella has taken many guises over the years

Frozen Hell 
Although the above Who Goes There? is the story upon which all the others are based, we now know that Frozen Hell is the story upon which Who Goes There? is based. I haven't read this yet – very few people have – but Alec Nevala-Lee, who discovered the manuscript, says that some of the scientific aspects, including descriptions of the alien spacecraft, are greatly expanded in this version, along with an entirely different opening sequence.

According to website The Verge, Nevala-Lee had this to say about it:

'There are some interesting details in the restored draft, but the really fascinating thing is how it alters the structure of the entire story, which changes halfway through from a science fiction adventure into horror. I love that kind of unexpected shift in tone, and while I can see why Campbell decided to edit it down to focus on the psychological side, there’s something very modern – and effective – in the way that it switches abruptly from one genre to another.'

A more accurate strap-line would be 'The book that inspired the book that inspired The Thing'

The Thing From Another World (1951)
Although based on Campbell's short story, this film is only superficially similar to the book. Apart from its faithful depiction of the investigation of the crashed spacecraft, most of the story has undergone considerable adaptation. It is set near the North Pole, not in Antarctica, and the alien ship has only recently crashed in the ice, not been buried there for thousands of years. But it is the nature of the creature that is most notably different: a lumbering, plant-based, humanoid monster, with thorns for fingers, able to reproduce asexually by shedding seed pods from its body, and only really glimpsed in a handful of scenes towards the end.

With the film having been released a few years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, another subtle, yet notable difference is the inclusion of more nuclear science. Gone are simple magnetic readings and in their place are Geiger counters, often used to build tension as the frequency of their clicking tracks the creature's movement around the camp. As a cinematic device it became well-known to sci-fi fans after James Cameron repeated it to great effect in his 1986 film Aliens, by arming the squad of colonial marines with advanced, yet indistinct motion trackers.

The invention of devastating atomic weaponry also left a deeper legacy imprinted on The Thing From Another World. It was in the ideological conflict between the story's lofty scientists and the more practical Air Force servicemen tasked with helping them. The scientists are blinded by their need for progress, wanting to study and communicate with the monster, without thoroughly appreciating the potential negative consequences, 
ready to take unnecessary risks in the pursuit of knowledge; while the servicemen, more representative of the general American populace at the time, are quicker to see the severity of the threat, and realise the creature must be stopped at all costs.

The movie opened to mixed reviews in 1951, but it was still the most successful science fiction film at the US and Canadian box office that year, beating the releases of both the sci-fi classics The Day The Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide. These days history looks favourably upon it, as Time magazine describes it as the greatest sci-fi film of the 1950s – no mean feat in a decade often hailed as a golden age of big screen science fiction.

The Thing (1982)
'A peerless masterpiece of relentless suspense, retina-wrecking visual excess and outright, nihilistic terror.' So said Empire magazine when it included The Thing in its list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. And although, since the 1990s, The Thing has generally been regarded as one of the best horror films ever made, it wasn't always so.

Upon its original release (the same day as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, and just two weeks after E.T. The Extra Terrestrial), John Carpenter's The Thing did not perform well at the box office. Nor was it well received critically. In fact it took quite a beating from critics, film buffs and fans of science fiction alike. So much so that John Carpenter felt it significantly lowered the trajectory of the rest of his career. A doubly barbed sting, as he himself thought it was one of his best films.

But fast forward nearly forty years and the world has caught up with him, leaving it almost impossible to see where all the negativity came from. The acting, story and setting, along with the sheer inventiveness of the practical effects combine to create a suspenseful tale of paranoia and distrust, wrapped up in a non-stop, action-packed adventure, that is now widely considered a masterpiece of science fiction cinema.

This film will drive much of what we talk about in the following articles, so we'll no doubt look at specific aspects of it in greater detail as we go on.

The Thing (2011)
Just as with the John Carpenter film before it, upon its release this prequel was considered both a critical and commercial failure. It scores badly on many review-aggregration websites, and hardly made a dent at the box office. 

The story is set at the Norwegian research base, Thule Station – the destroyed camp in John Carpenter's film, whose occupants originally dug the creature out of the ice. In this prequel we discover that Thule Station had Americans among its staff, and that nearly everyone spoke English (except the man destined to survive to the beginning of John Carpenter's tale). Complaints about the movie seem to be many and varied. Some don't like the way the action in the Norwegian base rehashed the previous film, while others felt it didn't stick closely enough to the established assimilation lore (like telling us the shapeshifter is unable to wear an earring, or never referencing the torn clothes cited in the earlier film). Others felt the story, and particularly the plotting, were clumsy and un-thought-through (asking, for example, why the alien didn't simply attack the lone heroine in the final scene). And it seems there's a general feeling that the ending in the spacecraft is an incongruous departure from what has gone before (although from what we now know about Frozen Hell, this thematic shift may have accidentally echoed a previously unknown feature of the very first version of the story).

And while I agree this film is not as tight as its predecessor, I strongly disagree that it's a write-off. It is almost unheard of for a second entry in a movie series to be as good as the first (you can probably count the times this has happened using just your fingers), especially when the original is among the ranks of the greatest films of all time. In my eyes not only is this an exciting action story, packed with all the hallmark paranoia and distrust of its forebears, but, apart from a few minor inconsistencies, it also stays miraculously true to John Carpenter's vision.

The film makers went to such great lengths to stay faithful to John Carpenter's film that they described the writing process as being like an autopsy of his movie, reverse engineering it to piece the new film together from their findings. It's an unusual method, and it leaves the reverence for the 1982 version palpable throughout, like a love letter inked in hideous, spidery, black handwriting.

And although The Thing (2011) treads new ground, it also (despite the protestations of many of its makers) simultaneously acts as a remake for an untried generation, using modern film making techniques to achieve its (usually, but not exclusively) impressive visual effects, finding fresh and intelligent ways to convey existing ideas, and then wringing them for every available drop of tension.

In the next few parts of this article we'll look at some of the less well-known spin-offs spawned by The Thing, starting with the various sequels, but in the meantime, if you are a fan of these types of stories, and enjoy reading more about them, then some of these other posts on science fiction, fantasy and horror movies may also be of interest.

And finally, seeing as today is Halloween, here is one last image: a pumpkin sculpted by Ray Villafane and the team at Villafane Studios. For fans of The Thing its influences should be clear.

*Who Goes There? was originally published in Astounding Science FictionAt the time, Campbell had recently become editor of the magazine, so he published his short story under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart, based on the maiden name of his then wife Dona Stewart.
**Astounding Science Fiction is now known as Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

A great big can of greenskin: the Forge World Ork mega dread

It's nearly the end of Orktober and I haven't yet posted a damn thing. That's partially down to the usual reason: I've been busy doing non-hobby stuff; but also because when I have had a free moment, instead of continuing with my Undead War Mammoths, I've used that time to bring some of my background projects a little further forward. It's arguable whether this is efficient time management, but I guess when inspiration strikes on a stalled project, you should make good use of it. Seize the moment. Never look that gift horse in the mouth*. Grab the ball by the horns and run with the bull. Or sumfin' like dat.

So, although a couple of old projects have progressed a notch or two, the upshot is that I have nothing new I'm willing to share right now. Thus I'm going to have to post another old model instead. 

But what a model! One of Forge World's finest. And only fitting that we take the Ork theme, and smash it face first into the walking heavy armour of that other famous hobby appropriation, Dreadtober.

I won't go on about it, except to say that the bike in among the junk on the base is an old model from Ramshackle Games; the target-headed skull logo painted on the shoulder guard is the unit badge of my Ork Dread Mob; and, if I remember correctly, the model itself was really tricky to build, but a joy to paint.

*Unless you are from Troy, of course.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The Ork buggy bandwagon, part two

Earlier this month I shared three of my old Ork battle buggies. I'd made them a few years ago for an Ork armoured column I was assembling, but I only got about halfway through the project before my first child was born.

As a result of life being utterly turned upside down by the newfound responsibility of keeping a child alive, the Ork army got shelved in favour of smaller projects – that I was able to dip in and out of. As many hobbyists have no doubt discovered, it's quite hard to mix paint, superglue and the time needed to carefully wield them, with the 24 hour nature of early parenthood. Having real-life tiny people in your world is not conducive to pursuing a time-consuming hobby focussed on plastic-toy tiny people.

But I'm rambling off topic again. I'm not here to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of being a hobby-dad. I'm here to discuss Orks. In many ways they are not dissimilar to children, or at least to my children: eagerly learning to do things for the first time; leaving discarded food and broken valuables in their wake; gleefully and mischievously disrupting every aspect of life; and generally making places look like a bomb has just detonated.

In my previous post I mentioned that I had a few more half-finished Ork vehicles kicking around my home, waiting for a time when I might feel compelled to grab scalpel and plasticard, and start mek-bashing again. While that time is not quite here, the imminent arrival of Speed Freeks and its associated releases has started to get me excited at the prospect of 'going green' again. 

But before I show some work-in-progress shots of some of my remaining Ork vehicles, I thought it worth sharing another of those inspiration illustrations that I sometimes like to sketch out.

This one is ever-so-slightly different to the previous ones (some of which can be seen at the bottom of this post), in that while I was working on the vehicles I couldn't help but think about what a multi-part, multi-pose plastic Ork buggy kit might look like. Like many of my projects I lost interest before the picture fully demonstrated the versatility I had in mind, but I think there's enough to give a good idea of the kind of thing I had envisaged.

Drawing out ideas for miniatures creates a kind of feedback loop of inspiration. I base parts of the drawing on models I am already making, which I then use to provoke new ideas on paper, which can, in turn, make their way into the next model.

The two vehicles above are very much on their way to completion, with me having started to block in some of the basic colours. The truck was once a Ramshackle Games vehicle which I cut up in order to give it some extra bulk, swapping the wheels for bigger ones that I found on toys in a pound shop. The trike was my attempt to give my Orks that Mad Max feel: a bunch of disparate yet rugged vehicles, converted for battle from whatever parts could be gleaned in a society of scant resources.

These other two are considerably further back in the construction process. I'm pretty much building these from scratch in an attempt to construct two final buggy-sized vehicles with their own distinct looks. My feeling is that if I have six very different buggies in my collection, then any further releases from Games Workshop should sit comfortably alongside them, no matter what they look like. United by their differences, so to speak.

The thing that makes me ever so slightly apprehensive is that now that those new releases are imminent, it might not be too long before I'm putting that theory to the test.