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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Big Green Beast

X-Men and Spider-Man. X-Men and Spider-Man. For many years it seemed that X-Men and Spider-Man were destined to forever be the big guns in Marvel's arsenal no matter what anyone, Marvel included, tried to do to change that. At least in the minds of the general public at large.

The last couple of years have seen Marvel make great strides in launching successful franchises for some of their other characters, with Iron Man, Thor and Captain America; and to a slightly lesser extent The Hulk; hitting it big, and the upcoming Avengers movie looking like being a very big deal but go back more than a couple of years and things were very different indeed.

Be it Daredevil and its sort-of-sequel Elektra, The Fantastic Four, Punisher or of course Ghost Rider, none of the Marvel adaptations that were gracing cinema screens could seem to get close to the success of the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises. And it had ever been thus.

Back in the 90's Marvel produced X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons that ran for years; we all watched them and we all loved them. But they also produced Iron Man, Fantastic Four and Hulk cartoons; none of which managed a fraction of the success, nor the longevity. Where they inferior shows? Well, in the case of the FF and Iron Man shows I can't tell you, because I have no memory of ever having seen them but I recently watched the Hulk cartoon and I can honestly say that, at least in it's first season, it was actually a far stronger production than either of it's more successful stablemates.

Here be my thoughts. If you wanna hear them. (I apologise that it's quite long, but this is my first attempt at something like this. I'll get better, hopefully, in time.)

And as a special treat, we have the Goblin's views on the same show. He's a bit more eloquent than I am, to be fair.

And that's the thoughts in our house on the 90's Hulk cartoon. Hope you're leaving us feeling enlightened, educated and of course entertained. Or like you've just wasted half an hour. Whichever.

He shoulda smashed her.
Come back next week when I shall have a top 5 for you, since I haven't done one for a good while.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Stand

I'm about to ask you all a favour. Please don't click the big red X when you start to read it; I promise, the whole post isn't that; there is actual discussion of the telly box after the waffle.

Have you read many posts on here? If you have, you'll understand what I'm about to talk about.

I struggle with finding a consistent tone for this blog (and for the other critical blog I write). Some posts are a sort of potted history (mostly cribbed from Wikipedia) of whatever show I'm in the process of watching. Other posts take the form of reviews. Some are just surreal stream of consciousness waffle. From one post to the next, you don't know what you're going to get and in fairness, that's in large part because I just make them up as I go along, and see where they take me. Still though, it's always me doing the writing, so you would expect some kind of uniform style to develop, wouldn't you?

Anyway, I've had a think about this and I've decided that... I can't decide. I don't know whether this wildly inconsistent tone is a good thing or a bad thing. I don't even know if people read this blog enough to have noticed it. Certainly I get a relatively high view count but, somewhat tellingly, the majority are on posts that contain pictures of particularly popular stars; I'm not naive enough to miss the connection there.

So I'm going to do something now that I would normally never do. I'm going to specifically ask for people to comment. If you are a regular reader, who has partaken of the Quest's dubious pleasures enough to have formed an opinion (or, of course, if you're a newcomer willing to spend a bit of time poking around in the archives) I'd like to know what you think of the Quest. Does it need a more consistent tone? Do you even care? If you like, feel free to comment merely to say you just come for the pretty pictures. I'm genuinely curious as to how people perceive the Quest. (Cue zero comments and I look like a needy fool)

And now, to the actual point of this weeks post.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...

I read The Stand (The Complete and Uncut Edition) when I was, oh, must have been about 15 or 16. I think I'm right in saying that it was one of my earliest encounters with the work of Stephen King; certainly it was the spark that ignited the desire to read a hell of a lot more by him.

Maybe I loved it because it fulfilled a subconscious need for something a little bit larger, or a bit more 'epic', to mark my true ascent into adult reading. Maybe I loved it for precisely the opposite reason; that it's huge death toll appealed to the adolescent bloodthirstiness that still abided within me, whilst allowing me to feel 'grown up' by sheer virtue of it's heft. To be fair, though, that desire for a nice big bodycount has never really left me, and I suspect never really will. If it did, slasher movies and fps video games wouldn't be the money spinners that they are. Maybe the desire to 'grow out' of those urges is the true sign of lingering childhood, and the acceptance that you never will and shouldn't want to, the true sign of maturity. Eh? Yeah!

Anyway, whether it be the epic scope or the multitude of cool deaths; or more likely an amalgam of both of those things and a multitude of others; I loved The Stand with a fierce and abiding passion. Until I forgot it.

I mean, I was young, and you do, don't you? There will always be specific scenes that never leave you; Nick's early exit from the story, and the female spy doing what she does to avoid interrogation being two prime examples for me with The Stand; but many aspects of the book fade from memory, leaving just the bare bones of the plot behind. You could re-read it, of course, and one day I plan to do just that, as I have several times with such classics as The Borribles, but The Stand is a big book and King so prolific, that there is always something new on the horizon from him; some new wonder demanding your attention. So it sits untouched, awaiting my return.

In the meantime, a TV version hoves into view. I remember a time when a new Stephen King mini-series would pop up once or twice a year, and Channel 4 seemed to have something of an unofficial monopoly on broadcasting them in the UK. They became 'Event' television, in a very real way, with Storm of the Century in particular being a massive talking point; what did that dude want? For the record, I nearly called it. Nearly.

The reason I bring up these other King shows, is that I want to say that The Stand was the one that started that little golden age of King minis. I'm not entirely sure that it was, but that's my recollection, and I don't feel inclined to look up the dates so I'm gonna stick with that assertion; in much the same way that I think the Ted Danson Gulliver's Travels was the first of the big all star Hallmark mythology minis. (And didn't they settle into a pronounced downward trajectory pretty bloody quickly?) If The Stand was the first though, then it's easy to see why it might have made networks sit up and take notice of King as a television writer; because it is superb.

The show, even at it's not inconsiderable 6hr length, had to apply some fairly intensive nips and tucks to the story, so perhaps it's for the best that I don't remember the specifics of the book all too well but I'll tell you this; whatever changes were made, be it sub-plot excision, character amalgamation or whatever other tricks King applied; the story didn't suffer a jot. When I sat down to watch it again just recently, I was held rapt for the duration.

It's down in large part, I suspect, to King's willingness to spend time building his characters before tearing them down; something he used to great effect in novels Salem's Lot and Needful Things, amongst others. Indeed, I'd be hard pushed to name any character in this show that you could point at and say "they're cannon fodder", because they're all of them afforded the screen time to really appear relevant. Not to mention, for the most part they're all cast to appear relevant as well.

With every role, from leads Stu (Gary Sinise) and Franny (Molly Ringwald), to relatively small (but still pivotal) roles like Judge Farris (Ozzie Davis), the cast is a veritable who's who of stars. I mean, who watches a show with Rob Lowe and expects him to die 2hrs before the end? Or for that matter, you don't tune into a show, see Ed Harris and Kathy Bates, and say "I reckon they won't even last the episode."

Yes, this is a dream cast and, for the most part, one that recognises what it's a part of. The weak links; because in a cast this size, of course they exist; are few and far between (I really don't know what Laura San Giacomo thought she was doing) and they can't even begin to drag down the average.

Even King himself, in a role that is considerably larger than the tiny cameo I remembered, manages not to embarrass himself. (Of course, he missed a trick by not playing himself as a survivor. Would have been a nice hint at the meta stuff in the Dark Tower series, don't you think? Although all of that was still years away at this point.)

Long story, well, long I suppose looking at the wordcount, I remember really, thoroughly enjoying The Stand back in the day and I enjoyed it just as much this time around. Even the oft criticised ending worked brilliantly for me. Of course nothing the leads did affected the outcome; that's the point. It was about making a stand because it's the right thing to do, even if it is hopeless. The clue is in the title.

And those are my thoughts on The Stand. Not particularly enlightening, insightful or even, when you get right down to it, interesting, but what did you expect? I knocked it up in about an hour, for Heavens sake. Join me next time, when I shall be discussing something or other that may or may not have been on your TV screen recently, which I may or may not have enjoyed, and which you may or may not be interested in. It'll probably be a cartoon.