28 September, 2010

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back [book review]

Author: J.W. Rinzler
Hardcover: 372 pages
Dimensions: 29.6 x 27.4 x 3.4 cm
ISBN: 978-1-84513-555-3

Release date: 12th October, 2010
RRP: £40.00

2007 was the thirtieth anniversary of Star Wars and not a lot happened. Contrary to expectations a feature-packed six-film DVD (and/or HD format) boxset was not released and rumours of a 3D theatrical re-release proved false. There were however a couple of good books released. One of those was J.W. Rinzler's The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film which provided a thorough account of... well, the making of the film. Three years later it's the thirtieth anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back and Rinzler is back with another book.

It's presented in the same format as its predecessor, written with the use of notes, memo's and mostly contemporary interviews. Alongside this, there are a variety of visual treats such as concept art, storyboards (including Luke's training that didn't make it in to the final film), photos of models, on-set action (including another deleted scene), equipment, diagrams and more. The complete story of the film's production is covered from the earliest story ideas to the theatrical release - and then the bit just after the film was in theatres and it was decided to add three more shots. How much of this is new to you will depend on what you've read before, but there is still a lot of previously unseen pictures and new bits of information to be found – for example the identity of "Monkey Lady" (the original Emperor) which is finally revealed.

There's plenty of interest throughout. The story conference summary mentions that Han was raised by Wookies – an idea that years later wouldn't be used in Revenge of the Sith either. There's also mention of a lost sister: the "other" referred to in the film. "Someone suggested it might be the Princess," says Mark Hamill later on "but I think that would be a letdown."

Where things really get good is when filming begins. It was a troubled shoot which ran far over schedule, making for an interesting read. The freezing cold of Finse, the stage burning down at Elsetree Studios and other problems such as Dave Prowse revealing details of the film: "I talk at science-fiction conventions and I try to give them a little bit of information they don't have. And I'll always say, 'Whatever happens, don't mention this to anybody.'"

Leaks may have been annoying but it becomes apparent that the biggest problem was the ever increasing cost. George Lucas was financing it himself, leading to conflict with producer Gary Kurtz. "I'm faced with a situation where everything I own, everything I ever earned, is wrapped up in Empire" says Lucas at one point, whilst Kurtz seems to have had a lot more faith in the film: "I would say, 'Look at the rushes: The performances are really good, it's working really well and it's going to surprise everybody'". Ultimately the film was a success, but the relationship deteriorated and it's no surprise that Kurtz didn't return for the next film.

The filming had previously been chronicled in Alan Arnold's excellent Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of the Making of The Empire Strikes Back. Indeed it is the interviews that Arnold conducted for his book that provide a large chunk of the quotes in this one. However the two have a very different feel. As you would expect from the title, Arnold's book is more personal with a lot of his own thoughts and observations included – although some of these can still be found peppered throughout this one. Additionally "some of the best material [...] didn't make it into the publication" notes Rinzler in his introduction.

One highlight from Once Upon a Galaxy was the day Arnold had director Irvin Kershner wear a cordless microphone. The transcribed recording has also made it in to this book - though each version has a few moments not included in the other. It provides a fascinating glimpse of life on set as Kershner and Harrison Ford try to figure out the scene in the carbon freezing chamber that just isn't working. It's also funny. Carrie Fisher turns up, seems desperate to slap Lando, gets quite annoyed that things are being changed without her and eventually falls out with Ford. Oh and Dave Prowse pops up to talk about his book.

It's not just the stars that provide the interest. Over at ILM they find that despite figuring out things on Star Wars, a new film brings new problems - and the fact that their new facility is under construction doesn't help. It's easy to feel sorry for Dennis Muren et al, when having followed their quest to get the Tauntaun movement just right, it's one of the first things to get criticised following a preview. Also of interest is seeing LucasFilm grow, something the people there were not always happy about.

The book also provides a look at the changing shape of the saga. There's been confusion over the years as to just how many films there is supposed to be and here an early outline reveals that the first Star Wars film was to be Episode VI. Obviously this changed when it was decided to make Empire the fifth episode (the first film would not be numbered until the 1981 re-release). The deals for Hamill and Carrie Fisher included a fourth film and the book notes that there was at one point a 12-film plan but by the time Empire was released this had been reduced to 9. "People were always asking, 'Are you going to do more sequels?'" says Lucas towards the end of the book "Sometimes I got carried away."

Overall this is an excellent book. Things such as Splinter of the Mind's Eye (the first Star Wars novel) and The Star Wars Holiday Special, both released during the period covered here, are only briefly mentioned when perhaps more could have been written on them. But that's just a minor criticism, the book is after all titled The Making of The Empire Strikes Back and it delivers a full and engrossing account of the making of the first Star Wars sequel whilst also providing a lot of interesting photos and pictures to look at.

The Making of Star Wars was released in paperback and hardback formats, with the latter having more content, but this time it appears there is only a hardback version. This may be unfortunate if you were hoping to save a few pounds but the book is likely to be found below RRP most places (at the time of writing Amazon have it available to pre-order for £25.99). It is worth noting that TMOSW received a second paperback release in 2008 (RRP: £14.99), that shrunk down the book to a smaller size (22.9 x 15.2 x 3.8 cm), though it lost a lot of the images. If such an edition appeals, it may be worth hanging on to see if the Empire book receives a similar release.

08 July, 2010

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“Oh my gosh are you going to see  Shakira?”
“Actually I'm watching Marina…”

I found plenty of acts to see across the festival as well as those I couldn't due to clashes. As always I had Halvin’s Clashfinder to help me out. I saw a lot more people with one this year – presumably due to a mention on the official site. It's useful for seeing who is on at any given time and whilst it can be used to plan your festival I try not to come up with any firm plans beforehand. Oh I may not have deviated greatly from the rough-in-my-head-plan, but some decisions were made at the very last minute. There  were quite a few instances of seeing an odd song or two from acts when either travelling between stages – or arriving as they were getting towards the end of their set. This included both known (Florence and the Machine, Hot Chip) and unknown (a duo with an acoustic guitar and a cello) acts.

On Thursday I was looking forward to Two Door Cinema Club and they were great. I am however basing this on their Saturday set as their day 2 show was very much like Maximo Park last year, with the crowd stretching out the Queens Head tent and past several food stalls.

Friday aka day 3 (or day 1 if you're watching the TV coverage) saw several great performances including The Courteeners, Vampire Weekend and Lissie.
Lissie was playing the Park Stage and I noticed a few in the crowd initially seemed happy to sit back and chill - but they quickly fell in love with her. I managed to get a couple of videos too.

I've missed the actual coming on stage/hellos but this was the first song she played.

And here is some chatter and the cover she finished her set with. The sound cut off at the end, leaving the crowd to finish the song but it worked quite well.

Also playing The Park on day 3 was a surprise guest. The crowd gathered and no one seemed to have even the slightest idea who was playing. The Strokes? Girls Aloud? It could have been anyone - although as the stage got closer to being set up, the smart money was on Thom Yorke. It was and yet somehow it still came as a surprise. However I soon left. I'm not familiar with his solo stuff and whilst that wouldn't usually be a problem for me, I felt a bit out of place surrounded by an enthusiastic and delighted crowd. As he was later joined by Jonny Greenwood to perform some Radiohead tracks, this was in retrospect a mistake.biffyflag Less surprising was The Park's day 4 guests: Biffy Clyro. It seems everyone knew this even before the festival started and just in case there was any uncertainty, flags were being given out in the morning promoting their appearance. As I've seen them before (and plan to do so again), I decided to watch something else instead.

I'm disappointed I didn't film more. The problem was that most of the time I found myself either so far away it was pointless trying to get a video, or I was so close that I couldn't. The short clip below of The Bootleg Beatles shows what would typically happen when trying to film.

Still it was an enjoyable festival. Saturday was my favourite of the days with a particularly good run of acts that startemarinad with Delphic on the John Peel Stage. I was watching from the side of the tent (getting caught by the sun) and then I moved in for Marina and the Diamonds. At first I thought this might be a mistake but it actually turned out to be cooler inside the tent. I managed to film ‘I Am Not A Robot’ but upon watching it back, the image quality was quite poor (the cap on the right being the best it got). Everyone had seemed quite excited for Shakira, so after the excellent Marina had finished her set I decided to head over to catch the end. However I went via the Other Stage where I found The Cribs (I'd completely forgot they were playing). They were putting on a good show and I ended up staying to the end. I then stayed put, met up with the rest of our group and watched a cracking set from Editors before heading over to the Pyramid stage to watch Muse.

Muse were fantastic. The field was packed as they performed a series of great songs and the crowd were loving it. I was quite a way back but even there everyone sang, jumped and whooped with delight. And then came the encore. Apparently some of the press knew what was coming, but we were clueless. The first roar came when it appeared that the band were coming back on stage, the second noise started as a gasp before morphing into confusion. The Edge was on stage. What? I mean wow! but what's going on? Some more whooping, then he starts to play ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ and the crowd roars and there's jumping… no, there's dancing. Muse (feat. The Edge) are playing ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ and it is glorious. Here's a brief snippet from my point of view:

Or you could probably find the professionally filmed BBC version on YouTube. After Muse had finished (and Plug In Baby/Knights of Cydonia makes for an excellent finale) we headed off to watch the Kick-Ass movie adaptation at the cinema tent. I'd not seen it… and I still haven't. Just as it was due to start someone mumbled something about a problem and they'd be showing Sherlock Holmes instead. I hadn't seen Sherlock Holmes either so was happy to sit back and watch.

Some time passed and I pressed a button to illuminate the screen of my mobile. Nope, no messages. I hadn't been expecting any but getting caught up in the Glastonbury atmosphere had previously led to delayed responses to text messages (and some missed calls) so I had got into the habit of checking every now and then - just in case. I saw the time: it was just past 2:30 which meant it was now Glastonbury 2010 - day 5. Muse had finished just after midnight so I should have already been aware of this but… day 5? Really? A lot had happened but it didn't feel like this was my fifth day here. Day 5… I'd have to remember to wish Cat a happy birthday if I saw her. What band was I seeing next? Wait… day 5! The last day of the festival. “It's nearly over” I said as part of a rare tweet, not realising then that my Glastonbury 2010 would actually be over a lot sooner than expected. But that was a disappointment yet to come, right then things were good. I was calm, had  a clear mind and felt refreshed. Well inside anyway - outside I was in desperate need of a proper shower. wrist Page             1     2

Glastonbury 2010

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bagThis year it didn't rain, prompting people to claim it was the first sunny Glastonbury in ages - despite the fact that (aside from a few brief showers) the previous two festivals have been sunny as well.
Due to circumstances beyond my control I had to leave Sunday morning which was extremely disappointing, but up until then I had been having a great time.

The week before the festival had been spent making sure I had everything I needed (though food would of course be purchased last minute) including plenty of batteries as I'd  be taking a AA phone charger. The first one I purchased didn't work with my mobile-of-choice so I got a second.  However I kept the first as it worked on my backup mobile and featured four types of connectors that might fit the phones that other members of our group would take (they didn't). The reason for the charger, rather than my usual trick of a slightly knackered but super battery life mobile was so I could take my actual phone. I'd then be able to take photos  without the need for the separate camera of previous years. And videos.

In 2009 there had been massive problems with traffic, but this year things would be different. Although the festival gates would open at 8:00 on Wednesday, the car parks would be open Tuesday at 21:00. One of our group would have to wait around Wednesday morning (having only been able to get a coach ticket for the festival) but the majority of us travelled throughout the night, encountering no delays and eventually arriving at the car park at 2:15.

After (at most) 30 minutes accumulated sleep it was 5:30 and talk on the car park was that the gates would actually be opening at 6:00. People were heading up (and I had seen people at 4:00 doing the same) so we joined the increasingly long queue. At 6:30 we were told that actually the gates were opening at 8:00 after all. Also we were queuing in the wrong place so could we kindly move over to the side of the field where the actual queue should be.
When they did start letting people in, it was a slow process. Actually considering the number of people it wasn't too bad, but we had already spent a couple of hours not moving so it was not much fun.

I was initially pleased with the spot we'd found for our tents as it appeared to be close to the Park stage and the three main stages as well. I can only assume it was sleep deprivation that led me to this conclusion because it's not possible to be close to all four of those stages at once (something I know from past experience) and in fact we weren't particularly close to any of them. Aside from watching England's World Cup game (which was shown on the Pyramid stage) and getting sunburnt not a lot else happened on day 1. After a barbecue I decided to try and get some sleep and surprisingly I managed it. I awoke ready for some music.

DSC00134Of course there's not just music for you to see at Glastonbury: there's a circus, a theatre, a healing field and much more. This year I finally visited the Sacred Space/Stone Circle. Loads of people there but it was very peaceful. Some interesting things nearby too.
Just outside the entrance to the Sacred Space was this fella. (click to enlarge)

Inside was this dragon:
There was plenty of other artwork around the festival including paintings and this sand sculpture. (click to enlarge)

I also liked Club Henge, located in the Dance Field. Amusingly one stall in this field had a sign reading “shit camera: £1”.

club1 club2

As it was the festival's 40th anniversary there were various birthday signs around and if anyone was celebrating their own fortieth birthday whilst at the festival they could head to the John Peel stage for a meal. The same stage was also offering backstage tours in exchange for (if I recall correctly) whisky.
I didn't see many people in fancy dress until day 4 but there was quite a variety. There were as usual a few Where's Wally?'s and Clockwork Orange droogs as well as a bunch of bananas and Rocky and his various opponents.

People were as usual pleasant and helpful to one another. OK there was the occasional person who would force their way past and someone stole one of our chairs on the first day, but generally Glastonbury folk are decent sorts.

Our group did our own bit of helping out when one night our campsite became a place for lost festival goers. First up was Cat (or possibly Kat) who was sure her tent was nearby, but just couldn't find it in the dark. We sat her in front of the fire for drink and chat and I charged her battery. She was good at guessing accents and job occupations (well 4 out of 5). It would be her birthday on Sunday (day 5) and she and her friends planned to dress up as “German wenches”. Whilst heading for the toilets she found her tent which was—as she thought—just a few away from ours.
About half an hour before Cat was reunited with her tent we were joined by Rob who could only be described as cold. He was less sure he was camped nearby and was still shivering for quite some time after taking his place in front of the fire. A steward would eventually help Rob find his tent but before then there was some chat. Whenever talk turns to “what do you do?” I'm sure to mention I write the occasional review - purely because I'm amused by how people's brains refuse to process it. To my surprise Rob actually asked some questions. It wasn't an in-depth discussion but I'm so used to people just staring blankly at me I think I momentarily went in to shock.

Anyway music…

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30 June, 2010

Glastonbury 2009

Originally posted: 30th June, 2009

Although a few things had relocated (plus the fact I hadn't been everywhere anyway) I seem to have got the hang of finding my way around the huge site now, so there was no missing an act because I couldn't find the stage. There were however cases where I missed an act because of irritating clashes. Sometimes there was overlap so I could watch the start of one then head to the other, but if there was more than two I wanted to see things got complicated and ultimately it didn't happen.

 Day 1 was spent mostly in Traffic. Setting off from home at 7:00 I was expecting to be all set-up by the afternoon relaxing with a drink and some food before heading off for a look at the site. We eventually arrived on site around 20:30 and that's with the aid of a local flogging us a shortcut for a quid (a second local gave us a free shortcut!). After parking we then had to transport all our stuff from cars to campsite, getting wristbands along the way. I don't know how long this all took but we were having to put up tents with the aid of torches. Next: food. Consequently sleep was delayed until well into day 2.

 In the morning I discovered the toilets were already terrible but it was a sunny day that involved the previously planned relaxing and then we were off to our first band: Maximo Park. They were in the Queens Head which (if you don't know your Glasto stages) is a small tent. As the first recognisable name of the festival a huge amount of people turned up and the set had to be delayed for safety reasons. When they did get going our group was sat chatting/chilling with a group of random people well away from the tent and actually we didn't really pay the band much attention… but apparently they were good.

 After all that I went off for a wander to look around the site. Lizo from Newsround was recording something near the Pyramid stage but not a lot else was happening. I then purchased a coconut and started drinking just as a thunderstorm started, making for a comical sight as I headed back to my tent. With lots more rain later on I was shocked that the place didn't become super muddy. Even more surprising was that apart from a few brief moments the rest of the festival was a bright and sunny one. Two years on the trot!

Day 3 (aka Friday) is when the festival begins proper and the mass-band watching commences. Can't list them all (though lets face it a list would be boring) as some I just stumbled across and didn't always catch their name. None were dull and plenty were great: Kasabian, Tom Jones, Jarvis Cocker, Spinal Tap to name just a few. Also excellent were Easy Star All-Stars (reggae Sgt. Pepper's) who I wish I'd seen all of but I didn't due to—if I recall correctly—food delays.

I can't pick an overall favourite but for each of the main days:

Friday: Ray Davies. Headlining the Acoustic stage and playing mostly Kinks material this was an amazing set. We somehow got near the front causing me to curse myself for leaving my camera in the tent. The crowd were still singing Lola as they slowly exited the field.

Saturday: Little Boots. Had it not been for Mr Davies, Little Boots' set (on the John Peel stage) would have been the Friday highlight, but Saturday she took the top spot due to this intimate stripped-down performance in the rather awesome (and tiny) Guardian Lounge. Armed with just a keyboard and her trusty Tenori-on (“it’s magic” she says when quizzed on what it is) this was great to watch. I was front row and this time remembered my camera.

Sunday: Blur. It seems that every knobhead at the festival descended for this finale at the Pyramid stage, pushing their way past everyone to get to the front but the band were on top form, playing great song after great song with the crowd singing every word. Just as you're struggling to think what else they could play they hit you with another song you realise is one of your favourites. A fantastic end to a fantastic festival.
 Little Boots

Monday was… uneventful. Got up at 4:00, packed everything away, headed home (some slight congestion, but never stationary), spent a long time in the bath.

22 January, 2010

Hello again.

Welcome to my blog. My new blog. That currently consists of old content. Hmm.
I had a mini-launch earlier this month, followed by the uploading of a few old (slightly tweaked) posts from the previous blog. I kept it quiet (the newsfeed was temporarily turned off) but now I should probably tell you a bit about Possibly Interesting.

Expect less waffle and more articles. There's some old articles that will reappear on this blog, but I intend to post a lot of new stuff too. What kind of stuff? Well as listed in the navigation bit at the side:

Dave (my stuff)

Anime and Manga

Computer and Video Games

Film and TV



Of course that's at the time of writing. Plans change and maybe some of those will be dropped, maybe some will be added, but that's what I expect to be writing about and I already have a few ideas for each category. For example, expect Music to contain shaky gig footage, although my laptop's not really up to video editing at the moment - which will also cause a few problems with my short film plans.

Between blogposts, I will probably be posting vague nonsense on Twitter (see box just below the blog navigation). That's all for now. There's not much on the blog at the moment, but hopefully it will soon grow.

14 January, 2010

Max Allan Collins on the Dark Angel novels


I quickly got hooked on Dark Angel when five had a complete run through of all 42 episodes in 2002/2003. At this point the show had already been cancelled, but whilst five were showing the episodes, the three novels written by Max Allan Collins were also released.
The first novel (Before the Dawn) was a prequel, but the two that followed (Skin Game and After the Dark) provided a continuation and conclusion to the TV series.

I read After the Dark in super quick time and thought it was an excellent conclusion, featuring great action, humour and wrapping up various unresolved points. I'd also enjoyed the previous two novels so decided to send M.A.C. an e-mail saying how much I'd liked them.To my surprise I got a reply, responding to the points I'd made whilst also writing a bit about Before the Dawn and Skin Game.

Hi David --

Yours is the first reaction I've received to AFTER THE DARK, and I'm relieved it's such a wonderful one.

The difficulty with doing a prequel (BEFORE THE DAWN) is trying to do something significant (like Seth) without it seeming terribly unnatural that Max would never mention Seth to Logan, later. (Imagine having to come up with a story that had both Max and Logan in it heavily, but never meeting!)
I had to get Jim Cameron's personal permission -- which he granted in record time -- to stage Seth's death and the final fight at the Space Needle, so that I could explain the Needle's significance to Max as a brooding post.

Continuity implants, as we call them in the comics, have their dangers and you have to watch out for a negative domino effect.

But I would offer this justification: May have said something to Logan about Seth, with Logan pleading ignorance, in some moment that went unrecorded on the show. We didn't spend every hour of every day with them, and things happened off-camera. This would only add to Max's rage with Logan over this "betrayal."

The prequel came about, as I have said, because when I was approached to write the DARK ANGEL novels, I had not seen the show (though I'd heard good things about it) and needed to get up to speed, fast. By limiting myself to a prequel, I could study the pilot closely and begin writing, while I was watching tapes, catching up.

When the show was cancelled, I saw the opportunity to write a significant trilogy about DARK ANGEL -- the beginning and the end, so to speak. As you noted, I set up the possibility of another novel (or series of novels), but I do have my doubts that I or anyone will be asked to continue them. A shame.

I really like these three books and in particular AFTER THE DARK, which is one of my best "tie-in" novels (and Matt Clemens contributed greatly). SKIN GAME came off well, but was very tough, as it was conceived as a second-season type "monster" story and became, with the cancellation of the series, the first couple of episodes of a non-existent "third season," with all of the baggage of the season-end cliffhangers that would have gone otherwise unresolved. The structure of the novel required Max to play the role of "mayor" of Terminal City and, while she is in every chapter, she does not carry the ball, re: action/adventure. It worked well as the story that needed to be written, but I swore to Matt Clemens that we would have Max kicking ass throughout the final book.

And I think it's a ride. I particularly like that you enjoyed the humor, which I think is strong and in the tradition of the show, without watering down the "heavy" aspects of the story.

You can share these thoughts with any other DARK ANGEL fans you might know.

Thanks again.



Originally posted 25th July, 2003
Introduction adjusted 14th January, 2010

13 January, 2010

An old friend

Pictured to the left is my battered copy of Helen
McCarthy's The Anime Movie Guide. Actually it was quite battered when I first purchased it "new" from a bookstore whilst on holiday in Llandudno. This was the first time I'd found a shop that had the book and as this was 1996 I couldn't just hop online and order a copy as I didn't (nor did anyone I know) have internet access. So I took it to the till and paid the full price of £9.99 despite the scratches and bent corners - I can actually still recognise some of the cover damage as "pre-Dave".

Anyway the cover didn't matter as what was inside seemed (to '96 Dave) to be a comprehensive guide to every anime ever released. Which it wasn't - not that it claimed to be I should note. The big clue is that "since 1983" bit on the cover. Also it only covered movies and OAV's, so no TV series. But it didn't matter because movies and OAV's from 1983-1995 was pretty much all you could buy at the time.

At first I just looked up the titles I owned or had seen (then those in the same series I perhaps hadn't) but it then became an invaluable guide to aid in my anime purchasing. I remember going in to town one day and seeing the first volume of Gunbuster in a shop. I nipped home, checked what Helen could tell me about it, liked what I read (and no, not just the mention of "bouncing boobs" if anyone has just looked it up) then headed back to town and made my purchase.

There is a glossary at the start and there are small boxes scattered throughout with further information on things such as certain creators or influences. It feels very much like a prototype of The Anime Encyclopedia which McCarthy would later co-write with Jonathan Clements. And whilst the excellent Anime Encyclopedia does include TV series, covers 1917 up until the year of publication (current version: 2006) and is easier to navigate: A-Z rather than year by year (further divided in to movies and OAV's), I still have a soft spot for the older book and will dig it out whenever I want more information on a movie or OAV that was released at some point between 1983 and 1995.

Originally posted 17th February, 2009
Image replaced 5th October, 2011 

Underwhelming blog launch

Welcome to Possibly Interesting.