Archive for July, 2015


There’s little doubting that the Star Wars series has paid greater homage to the western genre than its military space exploration contemporary. While Star Trek continues to describe journeying into the ‘final’ frontier and, in the Spectre of the Gun, even recreated the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, it’s still a far shout from cowboys in space that was George Lucas’ Episode IV. Look at Luke Skywalker’s interstellar quest initially triggered by the murder of his aunt and uncle, and then consider the plots of any number of vengeance westerns and you’ll see what we’re attempting to unpick with this post.

You’d think, though, that with such a influential conjoining of genres, there’d be a plethora of other quality titles that either preceded Star Wars, or came afterwards. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Valley of the Gwangi (1969), Bravestarr (1987) and Cowboys and Aliens (2011) are really nothing to get overly excited about – unless you factor in a well-earned nod of animated appreciation for Ray Harryhausen’s work in the first instance. Thankfully quality does prevail, as the number of successes within this crossing of worlds out numbers the ‘also rans’.

Westworld (1973) is probably the most notable progenitor within this hypothetical space. Thanks to Yule Brynner’s haunting and relentless gunman, plus an early directorial outing by Michael Chriton, it has garnered appreciation ever since its release. It’s also the springboard for this post, as HBO plan to launch a 2016 TV series with Anthony Hopkins playing the role of Doctor Robert Ford.

There’s a big gap until the 26 episode anime excellence that was Cowboy Bebop (1997). While the feel of the show was definitely weighted towards the Sci-Fi end of the the influential scale, it’s constant riffing over western tropes ensures its inclusion here. Next Firefly (2002). Do we really need to say any more than that? Joss Whedon’s seminal and tragically curtailed TV series, enmeshed American Civil War sensibilities with rabid space zombies and came out shining and bright.

The remaining two space cowboys come from the realms of the comicbook. First up, the three-eye Weird Rider in Allan Moore’s beautifully nostalgic Tom Strong (2002) and then, finally, John Leather – AKA the Dead Ranger – from Warren Ellis’ excellent Planetary series (2005). Which, all told, doesn’t exactly give us a gang of genre warping rustlers, but does pack enough six guns to deputise this extraordinary posse.

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Like all good, criminally underrated TV shows, the implosion of Utopia after its second series is dragging a trail of fan related news stories in its wake. We covered its inception and continuation here on Drozbot during 2014. But now, it seems as if we’ll never have closure regarding this pre-apocalyptic viral conspiracy.

Writer Dennis Kelly has tried to get a two hour special commissioned to make up for the cliff hanger that concluded the final episode, but Channel 4 vetoed the idea. There was a flurry of activity around #whereisjessicahide on Twitter – which was still running in June this year – so perhaps there’s a chance we might see a Futurama-esque resurrection instigated by the show’s avid supporters. There were even plans for a US version with David Fincher at the directorial helm and Rooney Mara as Jessica Hyde. Once again though, things have gone disturbingly quiet on that front.

Some say that time is the great healer, but as it moves forward and the cast dissipate to various other projects and, to be blunt, they age, the window of opportunity for this most darkly comic and stylistic of SciFi shows quickly closes.

Meanwhile, Neil Maskell – the sociopathic Arby – is well on his way to becoming a pin-up here on Drozbot. Not only has he gone on to a leading role in Channel 4’s android drama Humans, he’s also featuring in Ben Wheatly’s upcoming adaptation of J G Ballard’s High Rise.

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John Hurt 1984

Even before his explosive arrival on the Sci-Fi scene with the chest-bursting Kane in Alien (1979), John Hurt was already well recognised in our house. As Quinten Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant (1975), Caligular in the BBC’s 1975 adaptation of I, Claudius and the titular Mr Forbush in Mr Forbush and the Penguins (1971), he established himself as a provocative and emotive character actor. Needless to say, beyond this realistic introduction, he’s since become a stalwart of the fantastical in so many guises and, with over 200 film credits to his name, it’s a hard task to chose the most influential roles for this post.

After the splatter-fest of his death in Ridley Scott’s extraterrestrial horror, Hurt went on to voice Snitter in the animated version of Richard Adam’s The Plague Dogs (1984). Equally as harrowing as Watership Down, the fact that one of the two plucky heroes may well be carrying the downfall of the human race was a smart twist that gave the tale an apocalyptic and timely resonance. Then, in Michael Radford’s 1984, it’s hard to now conceive who could have made a better Winston Smith to Richard Burton’s formidable O’Brien.

For Hurt the 1990s didn’t have as many standout moments within the genre, as he moved through a series of bit parts before securing a more prominent role in Guillmero del Toro’s adaption of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy (2004). From there a noteworthy reversal of roles from Winston Smith earlier to Alan Moore’s Fascist British leader in the film version of V for Vendetta. A smaller role in Lars von Triers Melancholia (2011) followed, and then straight into a 2013 Sci-Fi double feature as Gilliam in Bong Joon-Ho’s filmic version of Snowpiercer and then as the iconic lead in Doctor Who.

It all makes for an impressive CV but, even excluding the other roles beyond genre, it’s hard to avoid turning any article into a rambling list of achievements. That said, all of the above do offer something slightly more contemplative than action movies that happen to sport a Sci-Fi setting. Plus, it’s worth repeating just how influential Hurt’s presence is as an actor for fans of the fantastical, all the more so with his recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. If there was any time to show our collective appreciation it’s now and, usefully, he’s forward-thinking enough to remove any celebrity barriers to doing exactly that.. And, with David Yate’s Tarzan in post-production, there’s no sign of fatigue from Mr Hurt just yet.

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