What do you mean, Flash Gordon approaching?

Let it be said here and now: I have a deep and abiding love for the Republic Serials.

Republic serials (and those of other companies too, but Republic is the best-known name) were shown in 20-minute instalments at the cinema. A serial would last perhaps twelve or fifteen weeks, sandwiched somewhere between the A-movie, B-movie, newsreel and cartoons. Each episode finished with a cliff-hanger ending, to ensure the kids came back next week.

Then they invented television. Without a steady supply of regulars at the cinema, the economics stopped holding up. Cinema serials died in the mid-fifties.

During school holidays in the UK, they’d often run these serials during the daytime. An episode a day in the late morning, sometimes two.

Tales of daring, brave heroes, with ray-guns. And spaceships. Fighting evil, against the odds, each and every week, because it was the right thing to do.

It’s no wonder I turned out the way I did, really.

The best of them all was Flash Gordon.

I loved those Flash Gordon serials. So in the 1980s, when I heard there was a Flash Gordon film, I was desperate to see it.

And what happened? It was as camp as bottled coffee-and-chicory essence. I walked out of that theatre bitterly disappointed. Where was the hero of my younger days?

(In the late 70s, George Lucas attempted to get the rights to Flash Gordon. He couldn’t, and was forced to make up his own SF action-adventure serial films instead. Didn’t work out too badly for him.)

So I’ve been waiting for decades, waiting for someone to do Flash Gordon right.

Last week, there was a huge ad on the cover of Variety. In big type across the front – “Flash Gordon – A hero then, A hero now.”

No more information. A URL to RHI Films. As of this writing, there’s no information at that URL. There’s no news in Variety or the Hollywood reporter. Nothing.

And yet, somewhere out there, Flash Gordon is waiting.

Gordon’s alive…

Nothing but music

Callaghan asks the question “What’s your all-time favourite moment in a TV show?”

Spoilers for Ultraviolet follow. That’s the 6-episode TV series written and directed by Joe Ahearne, not the film of the same name.

There are vampires. You can’t record a vampire on video or audio tape. An elite team has been set up to stop them.

Michael was a detective.
Vaughan was a soldier.
Pearse was a priest.
Angie was a doctor.

Pearse has been diagnosed with cancer by Angie, and the prognosis isn’t good. He hasn’t told anyone. A prisoner has surrendered and is being interrogated – someone who also had cancer and crossed over.

Michael is in love with Kirsty. She’s hiding out with Jacob, a vampire, and believes Michael to be part of a death squad. Jacob blackmails Michael to smuggle out vampire remains from the HQ. Otherwise Kirsty will be killed – or worse.

Vaughan confronts Pearse, who dismissed the guards from the cell and spent 45 minutes talking to the vampire. Pearse won’t tell Vaughan what they discussed.

And off we go:

The music kicks in, strong in the background as Vaughan leaves the office and walks to the interrogation room. Observes the prisoner through the one-way mirror. Gets the tapes out and listens to them.

Pearse leaves the office. He walks down a dark street, alone with his thoughts.

Vaughan goes to Pearse’s office. Starts searching it.

Angie cuts open the prisoner. He’s still undead – and aware. Michael watches through one-way glass.

Michael enters the vault where they store the dust of neutralised vampires. Searches the database and starts over-riding the security system.

Vaughan continues to go through Pearse’s office, taking it apart, throwing files and papers everywhere.

Pearse enters a church. The confession box is full, and there’s a queue. He takes a seat and waits.

Michael opens a tube in the vault. Fetches the dust of a neutralised vampire from it.

Vaughan finds the drugs for Pearse’s cancer. The label shows they were prescribed by Angie.

The confessional box. The other side slides open and Pearse says “Bless me father, for I have sinned.”

Cut to commercial break. Two minutes and fifty-four seconds without a word of dialogue other than the beginning of Pearse’s confession.

And yet at every single point in this sequence, we know what’s going through the mind of each character.

Sue Hewitt’s fantastic music drives the piece – echoing the main theme with an organ for a few moments as Pearse sits in church, contemplating the things he’s talked about and waiting for the confession box to come free.

Every image tells you what’s going on, without a word being said.

And that’s why it’s so good.

You can’t take the sky from me

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve watched all of Firefly again. Plus the commentaries.

It’s still utterly brilliant.

(It’s a Western. In space. With horses and six-shooters. Get over it.)

And suddenly it seems that others have independently had the same urge at the same time. Like English Dave and Alex Epstein.

Is it something in the air?

So if you’ve had the urge to watch something classy but haven’t known what it was that you needed… Hie thee to Amazon and pick up the complete series.

You’ll thank me for it.

And lo, there were ventilation ducts

Let’s talk about The Outsiders. 90 minutes long, and a backdoor pilot if ever I saw one.

The whole thing was done with a gusto and brio that I haven’t seen in an ITV drama since – well, since the 1970s, truth be told. What we had here was a production that echoed the classic ATV action-adventure shows. Even the series logo had a distinctively blocky, 70s vibe. (The hole in the O is formed from two characters running.)

Acting from leads Nigel Harman and Anna Madeley is competent enough, but the real stars here are the character actors in the background. Brian Cox. Colin Salmon. Anton Lesser.

Finally, an ITV drama that isn’t fluff for old people. This is fluff for the young. And great fluff at that.

The plot’s straight out of Action-Adventure 101. The formula for eternal life has been stolen by a nutter and hidden on his evil island. Our Heroes must retrieve it.

So closely did they hew to the basics, that one of the leads needed to get silently from one end of the Lair to another without being spotted. She drops into a storeroom.

“Please,” I shouted at the television, “Let there be ventilation ducts!”

I was not disappointed.

To be sure, it didn’t have a great deal of depth – and I wasn’t convinced by the male lead being saved from being blown up by a hallucination of his lost daughter – but when any kind of pilot goes to series you’ll see changes to emphasize what worked and de-emphasize what didn’t.

The Outsiders was big, brash entertainment in all the right ways.

I hope it gets its series.

Bad Science

You may or may not recall that earlier this year Patrick Stewart and Ashley Jensen were in a show called Eleventh Hour for ITV.

It claimed to be an exciting new concept which would use the latest science news-stories as a what-if to spark intelligent human drama.

It wasn’t terribly good.

So what happened?

Writer of two episodes and creator of the series Stephen Gallagher talks to The Scientist magazine about what went wrong.

Which was, basically, that for a series all about science the producers didn’t care about science. To the point of ignoring it.

As he points out in the article, millions of people watch House and ER without choking on the medical science. The producers of Law & Order don’t make up new laws in order to get an easier-to-understand story – so what’s the problem?

I rather suspect the problem here is a simple one – The producers aren’t writers.

As Stephen has said before elsewhere, in the UK industry as it stands now, production companies buy stories, not writers.

If we’re to hold our heads up high and compete in the worldwide television industry this has to change.

Locks are so, like, last century.

You’ve probably not heard of a bump key.

Here’s why you should care:

A Yale-type, or cylinder, lock has a cylinder that rotates.

The mountains and valleys, the dents cut into the top of your key, push small pieces of metal (known as pins) within the lock up and down. Most of the time, they stick into the cylinder, preventing it from being turned.

When the pins are moved up or down by the right amount – by the correct key, f’rexample – the pins no longer stick through into the cylinder, and the cylinder can rotate. Turn the cylinder, the latch withdraws, and the lock opens.

In a bump key, all of the mountains and valleys on a key are set to the lowest setting, ground down as far as they’ll go.

To use a bump key, you simply insert the key most of the way into a lock and give it a good hard tap.

The mountains and valleys on the key push the pins up. Because it’s a good hard tap, the pins bounce all the way to the top of the lock, leaving the path free for the cylinder to rotate, and BUMP, you’re in.

So a Yale-type lock can now be opened in seconds by people with no particular lockpicking skills to speak of.

More information here (PDF) and here.

Security through obscurity is not any security at all.

Thought you should know.