Friday, 23 March 2018

Get your heavy on

In the WH40K universe, the Imperium of Man is an overwhelmingly martial culture. It's geared so strongly towards warfare that a heavy-duty, military aesthetic would probably have filtered down and permeated regular civilian life. Conurbations would likely be full of suits, machines, and structures, engineered to withstand the brutal rigours of daily use in a society that cares nothing if its people live or die.

This harsh, civilian existence, away from the frontlines and battlefields of the distant future, is slowly starting to be covered by the official Citadel Miniatures range. It's what Dan Abnett and the other Black Library writers jokingly refer to as domestic 40K, and it's something that has inspired a few of my previous modelling projects.

Abnett writes most extensively about the subject in his Eisenhorn and Ravenor books. A growing set of novels and short stories that bring the civilian aspect of the Imperium to vivid, visceral life. His latest Eisenhorn collection, The Magos was released earlier this month, collecting all the short stories together in one place, along with a brand new novel.

In a strange, coincidental twist, Eisenhorn's call sign is Thorn, and the original name of the two civilian/industrial suits I'm sharing today was the Thorn Heavy Industries Utility Carapace.

Released by Mike McVey as part of his stunning, but limited Sedition Wars range, they later found their way into his Kickstarter campaign to launch the boardgame Battle for Alabaster. I found McVey's whole Kickstarter range quite tricky to work with, due to the nature of the plastic and casting, but there's no denying it contained a tonne of interesting miniatures.

These ones in particular neatly embody the hulking, utilitarian, military aesthetic that I mentioned above. They've had a little conversion work to help them sit more comfortably in the gothic and outlandish WH40K universe – a head swap and some additional tools or weapons – but hopefully nothing that detracts from how cool the original models were.

In my collection these guys now represent a haulage and transit crew, wearing heavy lifter rigs used for loading, maintenance and repair on one of the many industrial sites throughout the city of Kru. They're not fully fledged members of the Adeptus Mechanicus, but I imagine they at least have some kind of working relationship with them.

I started these two characters at the same time as my Aedes servoloader, and as such they suffered from the same basic problem that did: my utter inability to use an airbrush, even for simple base coating. The initial, flat yellow coat pooled in the model's recesses and remained thin and translucent where I needed it most. It made the models difficult to work with, and left my final paint job looking even more amateur than usual. But I did what I could, and, as always, tried to hide the worst of my mistakes behind plenty of weathering.

Regardless of the errors, I'm fairly pleased with how they turned out, and happy to call them finished. Especially as it means I can move on to something else, and try to knock the following score down a little further.



Friday, 9 March 2018

Completely original movies that aren't

With the recent release of both the latest Cloverfield film and Guillermo Del Toro's Oscar-winning The Shape of Water, I wanted to talk about original, big budget, genre movies that share a striking similarity to unrelated, earlier works.

I'm not saying the following films have copied, stolen or plagiarised – that's for the courts to decide – but I think it worth noting that original ideas might not be as original as one may think, and that flashes of inspiration can sometimes draw on long forgotten memories.

But before we talk about the big films, let's discuss a smaller, independent science-fiction film from nearly 30 years ago, that got into trouble for borrowing its ideas a little too blatantly.

Hardware (1990)
If you saw Hardware upon its release, and also read the comic 2000AD, you might remember that the film bore a strong resemblance to a short story which first appeared in the Judge Dredd Annual 1981* called Shok!. The comic was written by Steve MacManus (under the pseudonym Ian Rogen) and illustrated by Kev O'Neill. In it, a man visits an old battlefield and brings back some interesting looking detritus to give his girlfriend, a sculptor, to use as raw material. The junk turns out to be the main components of an old war droid, which promptly reactivates itself, manages to reassemble its key body parts, and chases the sculptor around her apartment block until one of them dies.

The plot of Hardware is almost identical to this comic, but at the time, the film's writer and director, Richard Stanley, didn't acknowledge his debt to 2000AD. It wasn't until several years later that a court case forced him to come clean about the provenance of the story.

As it turns out, in the world of big movies, this kind of illicit 'borrowing' is more common than you'd think.

The Shape Of Water (2017)
The Shape of Water is currently being dragged through the courts for it's similarity to a play from 1969. In Paul Zindel's Let Me Hear You Whisper (adapted into a TV movie in 1990) a cleaner at a military research facility forms a friendship with a captive dolphin, eventually attempting to free it. The lawsuit, brought by Paul Zindel's son David, outlines similarities in concept, characters, themes and plot points. According to these similarities include "the fact that the main character is shy and doesn’t speak; their settings against the backdrop of the Cold War-era 1960s and, more specifically, a lab at which experiments are being conducted by military personnel; scenes in which the woman feeds the creature and dances to records in front of it; and rescue missions, both involving laundry carts, devised after plans to kill and dissect the creatures come to light."

At the time of writing this case is ongoing, but Guillermo Del Toro has stringently denied that his film was derived from the play.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Back when 10 Cloverfield Lane came out it was generally thought the Cloverfield films would form an anthology series, of unrelated stories, linked only through their themes of science-fiction and horror.**

The sci-fi horror anthology concept had been borrowed from some of the most imaginative television shows ever produced. Programmes like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits had been doing this kind of thing since the 1950s and 60s. And shows like Black Mirror, and Métal Hurlant Chronicles had more recently picked up the baton.^

But the anthology concept might not have been the only thing the Cloverfield franchise borrowed from these shows. There's definitely a case to say the entire second film was simply lifted from an episode of Métal Hurlant Chronicles.

After being knocked unconscious, a young woman wakes up to find herself imprisoned in some kind of underground bunker. There's a man in the bunker who explains that he dragged her down there to save her life, because the outside world has been devastated by a terrible catastrophe. The girl is unsure if she believes the story, and decides she is being fed a lie when she discovers evidence that suggests the man is some kind of pervert. After a fight, she is able to knock him down and escape the bunker, only to discover the world really is in ruins.

It was a 2013 episode of Métal Hurlant Chronicles, called Shelter Me, directed by Guillaume Lubrano, itself based upon a comic from 2002, written by Dan Wickline and illustrated by Mark Vigouroux. If you haven't seen 10 Cloverfield Lane, let's just say the plot is suspiciously similar.

As yet there has been no lawsuit, and the creators of 10 Cloverfield Lane have made no acknowledgement that they based their film on Dan Wickline's story. For his part, Mr. Wickline seems remarkably pragmatic about the affair. You can read his thoughts here

The Terminator (1984)
In 1964 two particular episodes of The Outer Limits aired on American television: Soldier and Demon with a Glass Hand, both written by Harlan Ellison. Soldier, based on Ellison's 1957 short story called Soldier from Tomorrow, sees a soldier hurled back in time to eventually give his life defending innocents from an even mightier warrior sent back from the same future. In Demon with a Glass Hand, another man is sent back in time to present day America only to discover he is a robot encased in human skin. After The Terminator was released, Ellison brought a law suit against its production company, Hemdale, and the distributor, Orion Pictures. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount, and the credits for The Terminator now include a line that says "Acknowledgement to the works of Harlan Ellison."

James Cameron fervently denies any plagiarism ever took place.

Poltergeist (1982)
Episode 91 of The Twilight Zone was called Little Girl Lost. It was based on a short story by Richard Matheson, first published in The Shores of Space in 1953. In his story the parents of a little girl are woken in the middle of the night to find their daughter has gone missing from her bed. She has fallen through a portal in her bedroom to become trapped in a strange and unsettling, alternate dimension. Although by no means the entirety of the plot to Poltergeist, rumour has it the two stories shared enough similarities to prompt Matheson to get in touch with Spielberg (who produced Poltergeist, and, it is said, possibly even co-directed it^^).

It is thought Matheson was subsequently hired as a writer on the Spielberg produced Twilight Zone: The Movie, not just for continuity, but also to discourage any potential lawsuits.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
And finally, if you're one of the few people who reads this blog regularly, you might already be aware that Raiders is thought to have been loosely based on an old Charlton Heston film.

In Secret of the Incas (1954), Heston plays roguish adventurer Harry Steele, looking for golden treasure in the Peruvian jungles. Throughout the film he wears a brown felt fedora, a beaten-up leather jacket and khaki trousers, and is often seen sporting light stubble, carrying a satchel, and wielding a revolver. He frequents tough drinking holes, flies light aircraft, and explores ancient tombs, where shafts of light reveal hidden locations.

The Wikipedia page for Secret of the Incas states that Raiders’ costume designer, Deborah Nadoolman (wife of director John Landis), said the inspiration for Indiana’s outfit came directly from Secret of the Incas: “We did watch this film together as a crew several times, and I always thought it strange that the filmmakers did not credit it later as the inspiration for the series.

*Reprinted in 2000AD prog 612.
**Now that the most recent Cloverfield film, The Cloverfield Paradox, has been released on Netflix, it is generally thought to act as a prequel to the earlier two (Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane), tying them together in a single universe. Or perhaps, more accurately, multiple parallel universes.
^Métal Hurlant Chronicles, although less than ten years old as a television show, actually dates back to the 1970s with its roots as a science-fiction anthology comic, co-created by the artist Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius, and later published in the United States as Heavy Metal.

^^It's a long story. You can read about it here.