RLLauthor@outlook.com and @RLL_author GO TO AMAZON KINDLE STORE AND TYPE RLL. YOU WILL FIND MY BOOKS.

Saturday 1 June 2024

WHEN AMAZON KINDLE DIRECT PUBLISHING TRIES TO REMOVE YOUR BOOK: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

They came after me.
   Let me be clear about this. Amazon KDP didn’t try to remove my book. They simply eyeballed my book’s material during the standard publishing procedure. And they didn’t like what they saw. So they totally tried to remove my book.
   This is publishing death by algorithm. It is removal by default.
   I’d conducted one of my periodic reviews. My Kindle books house hyperlinks leading to the outside world. Occasionally, those links go bust. Either I remove the links or update to better ones. If you change a single thing or many things then you are republishing.
   My deal with my cover model, Totenbraut, included this gem: I’d provide links to her online presence. In the past, I offered multiple links. My recent review showed one link stopped working across several books. Time to update.
   I hired her again to provide a new cover for a book. An updated cover means republishing the whole thing, and submitting the work for review. You can’t update the cover by itself. It’s a fairly painless process, if damnably slow. I’d also need to update the link situation. Line your ducks in a row and then bomb the whole waddling crowd at once…
   One change or many changes, the arrival of the update e-mail is slooooooooooooooooow. So make many changes at once. Don’t change and republish, change and republish, change and republish, not for one book, all in the same day. Oh, the sun has set. When did that happen?
   This wasn’t about updating one book. I don’t leave any books behind. No. I check all the files, update what’s necessary, and republish everything on the list anyway. Whether Totenbraut is on the cover or not, whether some books need updated links or not, everything is checked and it’s all published again.
   Then the material sits in a folder that’s done. Latest book folder blah-de-blah, insert date here. This is a hell of a lot more convenient than the way I used to do things.
   (I knew what was updated based on whether or not the book file had a back-up file. Fiddly, and easy to miss in a sea of files. Therefore…)
   Your one-stop-shop really should be a one-stop-shop. Everything is updated. No book is left behind. Here are the latest copies. No quibbles.
   And so…
   Updating one book with a cover, and updating several books over a busted link, I reviewed the rest and found one thing that needed fixing across all books. Looks like I’ll be publishing all books all over again anyway, and with good reason. Time to update that folder in full.
   And then…
   I slogged through the fixes. Checked. Double-checked. Triple-checked. One by one, the books went from LIVE to LIVE plus a note. The note tells you the book is under review, and reviews could take up to 72 hours.
   This is an arcane process. You republish books one, two, and three…then see book three finish the marathon first. An e-mail eventually states your book is now live. Publishing order depends on the size of the book and the number of alterations. Also, the weather plays a part. And, possibly, chicken bones feature in the equation.
   One by one the books cleared the last hurdle, in no particular running-order. I missed an extra detail, and had to go in and publish one file again. That’s why you quadruple-check the stuff you triple-checked. This took eternity.
   My wayward nag passed the hurdle the second time. And then, out of a clear blue sky, thunderclouds formed. Oh no. One aircraft from the squadron hasn’t returned. Should be back by now. Everyone else landed and went off to the pub. Pilots. Roaring drunk, the lot of them. Thunderclouds formed.
   Not gradually. This was an instant thunderstorm. Dehydrated. Just add water. And maybe an algorithm. I wasn’t the only one conducting a review. Amazon reviews everything you put out there. And then clears it. That’s what Amazon does.
   Amazon cleared this particular book over three dozen times since I first published it. Going by the e-mail archive, that is. I updated or changed a load of links, many times. No drama. I even changed the file when their outdated format was replaced and no longer supported. If I added, subtracted, or altered material, I republished the book. And I never had a clearance problem publishing or republishing the text.
   Did you hear thunder? Must be an incoming e-mail from Darth Bezos… 

During our review, we found that the following book(s) appears to be a derivative work based on previously published content:

INCOMPLETE UNCOLLECTED SHORT WORKS. by RLL (AUTHOR)

 We need to confirm one of the following:

• All underlying content is in the public domain
• The underlying content is under copyright and you have the rights to use it

In order to publish the book(s), please take the appropriate action below within 5 days:

Option 1: Provide information for underlying public domain works
If your book(s) is based on a work(s) that is in the public domain, reply to this email and provide the following information for the public domain work(s):

Underlying work information:
1. All author names:
2. All author dates of death:
3. All initial publication dates:
4. All initial publication countries:
5. Website link(s) to confirm:

Option 2: Provide information for underlying works under copyright
If your book(s) is based on a work(s) that is under copyright, reply to this email and provide us with documentation and/or verification showing you hold publishing rights.

Examples of documentation we cannot accept include:
• A personal statement by you that you have the publishing rights
• A copyright application for which registration has not been confirmed
• Contracts that have not been signed by all parties

For more details about publishing public domain books, visit Help:
https://kdp.amazon.com/help/topic/G200743940

Please reply with the requested information within 5 days. Otherwise, the book(s) will be unavailable for sale on Amazon.

If you have questions or believe you've received this email in error, reply to this message.

Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

I’d never received one of these Nastygrams™ before. Well. Fuck.
   Why is this message bad? REALLY BAD. WELL AND TRULY BAD. If you don’t comply then the book is gone, and, if you are a repeat offender, Amazon can shut down your entire account. You aren’t allowed to open another account to start all over again. No more publishing on Kindle for you.
   They put you up against the wall, offer you a last cigarette, and shoot you before the tobacco-related cancer kicks in.
   Worse than that, you can be banned on your first time out of the gate. You don’t even gain the luxury of being accused of repeat offending. Whether you are farm-fresh to the Mighty Amazon or you’ve been plying the trade routes for years…doesn’t matter. If this message lands on your doorstep, then it is – to use a highly technical term – some serious shit.
   Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
   It happened on a Friday, close to midnight. I read the message during a late check-in on e-mail. Midnight rolled around. I now had four days in which to deal with the problem, and not five.
   Weekend days. If I replied on Saturday, would I see any response before Monday? It’s careless to load a book into the system and then disappear for two weeks to the Bahamas without reading e-mail. So…never do that. You might return to a ban. Of everything you’ve ever published.
   I had to respond, or else. Amazon KDP didn’t try to remove my book. But they totally tried to remove my book. This is publishing death by algorithm – selecting my title seemingly at random. It is removal by default – if I don’t respond in the five four days left to me.
   What to do? Sieve. Sift through the corporate speech and note the important points. Sadly, the important points were generic. We think you messed up, but we aren’t going to tell you how. Why not? Software selected you. Congratulations. You’ve lost this lottery.
   Had I published material that was already in the public domain?
   No.
   Had I published material that wasn’t mine to publish?
   No.
   Did Amazon contact me in error?
   Yes.
   I had to respond within five four days and tell them so.
   What was evidence? I wrote the material. True. But that wasn’t evidence. They couldn’t accept this on my say-so.
   Now an affidavit from a thunderstorm, or a few words on oath from a heavy shower, would meet with all the attention they deserve.
   Well, what else could I offer? I turned to the interwebs to find out how other people dealt with this. Oh no…
   A few examples proved…less than helpful. Unhelpful. Okay, fucking useless. A scammer or two dropped hot truth bombshells on a crater-infested landscape. They’d been caught out trying to sell the Kindle version of snake-oil and Amazon insta-killed their bare arses – which, incidentally, they were all showing on the High Street. And here’s how to get around the problem…
   No fucking use to me.
   I stared up at the Sword of Bezoscles dangling over my head by an electronic thread. What to do? Write myself out of a hole, obviously. How to say what needed to be said? Swearing wouldn’t cut it. I could ask for further clarification first, instead of arguing my case.
   But why bother, if my response cut the argument off at the knees? Save a lot of pointless e-mail tennis, back, forth, swish, goal, no, it’s offside, wait, that’s not cricket. Without swearing. Swearing wouldn’t cut those knees. I had to base my reply on the facts. Facts I had to back up somehow.
   And no swearing. Also, swear ye not. Oh, and don’t fucking swear.
   I wanted to say What the fuck, Amazon?! without swearing. The Amazon e-mail accused me of ONE of two things. Either, reading between the railway lines, I was up to some sort of scam by publishing material in the public domain…or I was publishing material belonging to someone else without permission.
   What is the public domain? There you’ll find material that is out of copyright. Don’t confuse this term with the public arena. They are not the same thing. I have placed my blog post in the public arena. You can read this post online, very publicly.
   But I haven’t relinquished, re-assigned, or surrendered the copyright in this text. The blog post you are reading is © to me and it is not in the public domain. The copyright is mine. It hasn’t expired. Barring further changes in copyright law, it won’t expire until 70 years after my death. So, as I sit typing, I’m glad it hasn’t expired – this tells me I am still alive.
   Amazon believed I’d published my book…but it was old material by someone else and it was out of copyright. Maybe I was scamming people with that. And there are plenty of scams that tried their luck on Amazon Kindle, based on stuff that’s out of copyright.
   Option two…
   Amazon thought I’d published my book…but it was material belonging to someone else and still in copyright to…whoever. I know a few Romance Writers. They’ve told me the romance industry is full of that shit.
   Grab someone else’s book, slap a cover of a rippling male torso out there under a new title, and…get exposed by an entire internet of romance readers polishing their magnifying glasses and sharpening their kitchen knives.
   Hunky Detective Dude becomes Spunky Mountain Rescue Dude. True to form, the mountain guy spends much of the book investigating a murder. Like a detective. Chad Bradley becomes Brad Chadley, and no one notices. Right?
   Fucking wrong, you fuck-muppets. Why do you keep doing this? Evil romance writers, for frock’s sake. Romance writers. You were meant to provide hope in the world. Damn it, Darth Bodice-Ripper. You were the chosen one. Lady Lace-Gusset threw over Lord Chinstrap’s country estate for…Duke Brad-Chadley the Detectionist?! And his horse. Buick!
   Fuckwits.
   Anyway. Amazon needs to confirm one or the other.
   One. I have put out material that’s from some other century, this is not a scam, and the copyright expired so here’s all my working.
   The other. My book really is my book and I haven’t published anyone else’s work as my own without permission signed in blood.
   Either it’s in the public domain and I’ve followed the rules, so Amazon can fuck off, or it’s in copyright and the copyright is mine. And Amazon can fuck right off. I’m forced to explain myself without swearing.
   And so…
   My response is to deny the first point and move on to the second point. Easy. My book is my book. Or, no, let’s look at this in detail…

We need to confirm one of the following:

• All underlying content is in the public domain
• The underlying content is under copyright and you have the rights to use it

All underlying content is in the public domain? No. Job done. First point denied. No evidence. Just flat-out denial. Moving on to deal with…the underlying content is under copyright and I have the rights to use it. Yes, the work is copyright, and yes I have the rights. Job done, bitches. But how to prove that?
   I turn the cogwheels in my mind, trying to work out what tripped the sensors. There’s an obvious point. Let’s open at the start. 

During our review, we found that the following book(s) appears to be a derivative work based on previously published content:

Is this it? INCOMPLETE UNCOLLECTED SHORT WORKS is a collection of short stories. There’s an earlier article in there. And I incorporated blog posts into the text. Those blog posts told the story of building up to publishing on Amazon Kindle.
   I own the copyright in this blog, and in the article I wrote, so I am fine with work published previously elsewhere. Yes, the blog posts were previously published – by me. I own the paperwork on the paperwork. Did I fall foul of an automated process?
   Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.
   I can publish collected articles in one volume. They are mine. No big deal. But there’s also Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Select.
   If I enrol a book in that programme, I agree the material is exclusive to Amazon – and hasn’t been published elsewhere, not even on a blog, so help me, Bezos.
   Of the books I published, two, and only two, were outside the KDP Select programme. One contained an introduction taken from a blog post: that book was MIRA E. Eventually I kept the material inside the book, and deleted the blog post so I could transfer MIRA E. to KDP Select. Removing the blog entry from the public arena made MIRA E. available as exclusive under the Select contract.
   Now I only have one book outside KDP Select. INCOMPLETE UNCOLLECTED SHORT WORKS still has the blog posts inside. Those posts are still live on this blog. There shouldn’t be a problem here. The rights are mine.
   Along with all the rest of my books, I published this book again. There was a hyperlink I had to deal with. And that was about it for the text. No other great changes.
   Did I somehow accidentally enrol the book in KDP Select when I republished? If I did that, I’d be in violation of the exclusivity agreement, as the blog posts are still in the public arena. Amazon could have run an internet check on the text and found portions of the text online in my blog. And slapped me. However…
   You must actively enrol in the Select programme. It’s not automatic. You choose. I was sure I hadn’t fucked up on that score. (Spoiler for this story: I didn’t fuck up on that score.)
   Okay. I hadn’t breached a Select agreement – there was no Select agreement to breach. I didn’t select Select. Yes, I’d previously published the content elsewhere…but I didn’t breach Amazon guidelines. Also, it was my content. No exclusivity contract could mess this up for me – if I didn’t sign it. I didn’t sign it.
   What the fuck else could it be, then? Bearing in mind, they never told me in detail. Just said I’d done a no-no. Oh no I hadn’t. What if this is about the first point? The public domain stuff? Is it the title? It’s a jokey title. Like writing an Unauthorised Autobiography.
   Maybe the detectors at Kindle HQ picked up on incomplete and uncollected and tried to match them to public domain collections. Collected letters. Complete collected poems. Along those lines. Short works. This seemed the more likely case.
   OR. Someone put out a public domain anthology and added essays that are copyright to them. And my title triggered a more complex conflict in the Amazon searchlight.
   So have I stumbled over a mutant hybrid combination of point one AND point two, leading to a case of mistaken identity?
   (I’m often confused with the Venezuelan rocket scientist of the same name.)
   My book is electronically mistaken for a work in the public domain based on a similar title, but there’s also new copyright material in this other work and I’ve been labelled in breach of that as well? Amazon isn’t bolting an arm to a torso, in the style of Frankenstein, surely?
   No. It’s all bullshit. This isn’t about point one and point two merging on the slab, down in the lab, fuelled by mistaken identity, unidentified flying conspiracies, or too much/too little booze.
   Get into tiny detail, then. It can’t be a title thing. For a start, there is no copyright protection in the title of a book. (Though there are other protections and remedies available. I won’t go into the finer details here. This blog post is long enough as it is.) Did they think a title of mine was too close to a title by someone else? Well, they never told me. So I don’t know.
   My opening defence would be…there is no copyright protection in the title of a book. Also, I check titles on Amazon to see if someone else has written a book with the words I intend to use. That’s at the start of the story writing process, not left to the end of the publishing process.
   I am puzzled. What have I done? Or…
   Wait, no. What has Amazon done? Down the Kindle years, I’ve become aware of all sorts of scams on Amazon. They flare up, are spotted, and then they are squashed. Was I caught in a net cast for another fish? Did I walk into someone else’s surveillance operation?
   The net tightens. Well, it’s always tightening. Amazon upped (or downgraded) its game and now the devil take the hindmost. Did they use Artificial Intelligence to save on a thimble of perspiration? Maybe. Are we going to see more of this bullshit? If it saves money, and it does, then as sure as night follows day…yes.
   On the topic of Artificial Intelligence, as I went to republish these books I was asked if I’d used any Artificial Intelligence in the creation of my works. No. More galling than that, when I went to check on my potential Amazon ban, I was hit with an advert for making money on Amazon.
   And it came across as the scammiest Amazon advert I’d seen. This woman offered me the secret of using Amazon to make money. Eventually, she told me about Amazon publishing. And, hell, I didn’t even need to write the books myself. I could use Artificially Intelligent tools…
   The only artificially intelligent tools I had to deal with were the robotic ones on Amazon trying to remove my work on a digital fucking whim. Okay. So. Leaving much subtlety and nuance in copyright law aside for the sake of fucking brevity…
   (It’s a bit late for that.)
   The only thing that matters is this: my human response squelches Amazon’s robotic objection.
   No swearing. I swear mentally as I type. The best position to start from was the one they threw at me. If I received their complaint in error, I should say so. And I open right there.
   I believe I have been sent this message in error.
   No shit, Sherlock. But, luckily, I HAVE been sent this message in error…and so I immediately channel their response in that direction. I follow up with the original publication date. So they know it’s been published on Amazon for years with no problems. Until now. And I tell them the book is a collection of my own short stories. All true.
   But wait a bit. They want evidence. 

Examples of documentation we cannot accept include:
• A personal statement by you that you have the publishing rights
• A copyright application for which registration has not been confirmed
• Contracts that have not been signed by all parties

Basically, I am telling them I have the publishing rights. They can’t accept that as evidence. But it is worth telling them. Assert ownership over your material. I tell them I wrote the fucking stories without swearing at them.
   What’s this next piece of legal nonsense? They won’t accept…a copyright application for which the registration has not been confirmed. That’s American copyright law: a quaint notion Robert Louis Stevenson hoped they’d get around to some day.
   As Scottish as Stevenson was, I needn’t register my copyright anywhere. (Oh, services exist for that purpose. For a fee, of course.) My copyright exists in the work from the moment of its creation. However, there is a place to lodge your work: a library of record. So I fire that salvo at them. I tell them the work is lodged as a matter of record…
   This is a quick e-mail, fired off under the stress of that sword hanging o’er my head. I don’t provide documentary evidence. But I tell them plain. And I can back that with documentary evidence if I really have to.
   Even the blurb – the Amazon product description – tells readers this is a collection of my own work. Is that evidence? Add it to the pile. Can’t harm to put it in. Wouldn’t think of leaving it out. Assert your ownership of the material.
   Then I really get into the part they won’t accept as evidence.
   Listen, fuckers. My fucking book is mine to do with as I fucking please. You’ve never fucked with it before. Well now you fucked around and you fucking found out.
   All the fucking times I fucking republished the fucker with minor emendations, and you come to me now, like an ungrateful cunt in a Mafia movie on a wedding day, and you don’t like a minor fucking update to the opening fucking text?
   Not even part of the fucking story. The fucking preamble. Don’t shit down my fucking neck and tell me it’s raining chocolate. How much do you love your pet horse, Jeffy? I’ll fucking see to it that Jeffy the horse gives you a big wet cuddle when you go to bed at night. Make you an offer you’ll never forget in a fucking hurry. And what’s with the cheese? I stick motherfucking provolone in my socks at night so they smell like your sister’s crotch in the morning.
   Yours, sincerely…
   Scotsman with a grievance. Ray of sunshine. P.G. Wodehouse. Google it.
   I didn’t phrase any of it that way. And I don’t recommend writing to Amazon with that level of spleen. I did all that without swearing. Out loud or in print. Mentally, though, the text was spot-on. In your head, that response is the only place for that response. I was calmer and more measured in the e-mail.
   Anyway, I told them the work was my copyright, it wasn’t in the public domain, and that was that. To them, it’s not evidence. But tell them, tell them again another way in the same response, and shuffle the words around to tell them a third time. Amazon says it isn’t evidence, but it’s fucking evidence to you, hell, and definitely to me.
   I looked for duplicate book titles, just in case. Nothing. Again, that’s no crime in copyright law anyway. I returned to the business of their error. A computer search lumped me in with another category by mistake. I invited them to look into this. And I asked them to state, explicitly, the nature of any passage that troubled them – given that they’d offered me a generic error message with nothing to go on.
   Then I ended with the accusation that an algorithm was at play. In other words, don’t come to me and tell me that it is up to me to prove my innocence over a vague issue. You tell me what I did wrong. And show evidence of that. You can’t? I knew that score the moment yon dreadful e-mail landed on my digital doorstep.
   But I didn’t swear. Aloud. Or in print. You’ve made a mistake, Amazon. Where’s your evidence, author? Come on, Amazon, you tell me where the evidence is. Shtrict rulesh of golf, Goldfingerrr. 

EMMA STONE: No, Jeff. You be trippin’.

Long story short, too late, as soon as this went in front of a human pair of eyes, the matter was resolved. 

The following book(s) you recently updated have been reviewed and were successfully passed:

I received a separate e-mail telling me the book was now live in the Kindle store, where it remains. Looks like they’ve added a glitch to the metadata, but that couldn’t have triggered the initial investigation.
   At least the book is there. I wonder if the page-count was a factor. Could be…they thought it was a public domain scam with the same 30 pages repeated many times over, for the page-turn farmers to click through, possibly. Doesn’t matter. They never said.
   Advice. If they come after you and you are a scammer, tough luck. But if they go after you purely as the result of tightening their steely grip on scammers, keep your cool. Gather the facts. Present them without swearing.
   If they come after you when you’ve made a genuine mistake and you’ve fallen foul of the regulations, hope it isn’t the end of your account. Try not to fall foul of the set-up in the first place.
   So much is published that they can’t check it all. They rely on automation. So. Put your complaint in front of a human being. Legitimise your case by simply turning up to argue that case. Scammers are less likely to put in an appearance. Assert your ownership of the material. Don’t swear in the e-mail.
   Much swearing went into the making of my response to Amazon. On the electronic page, the profanity was all in digital invisible ink.

Thursday 9 May 2024

FILLING NON-EXISTENT GAPS ON BOOKSHELVES AND ORPHAN-RESCUE: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

Once every thousand million years or so – I’m under-exaggerating – I thoroughly check the bookshelves for non-existent gaps. And I also check for misplaced books in an unbalanced run of volumes. Orphans feature in this narrative. What the hell does any of that mean?
   It means my writerly library of physical books is stacked according to size and not going by the alphabet. Books go where they fit. You do your very best to keep a series on one shelf. And, in the time-honoured fashion, the first book in a series sits on the right of the shelf at the start of that series.
   So you can pick up a few books at a time, in reading order, of course. Reading order when you sit them down on a table, that is. Top to bottom and first to last.
   But…
   As Mercurial time passes, errors in this perfect system sneak in. You read the latest book in a series and set it down on a shelf. Any shelf will do. You are in a great hurry to save a pizza, and will fix all that book stuff later. No. You’ve created an orphan. Having finished the book, you move on to another tale. And the orphan remains lost in the tall trees. Okay, other books. They are trees.
   Books are trees by another name. Informative trees. Books are informative trees. A thousand million years passed by this week, and it was time to organise things I believed were already organised. Just triple double-checking.
   I started hunting out obvious candidates. Round up the usual suspects. You know the drill. That stray Dashiell Hammett volume that skipped town to commit murder in the dark. Reunite that bad boy with the other gangsters. One last heist. That always ends well.
   On my quest to discover misplaced tomes, I stumbled across a video recommended to me by Doctor Google. This was a video on decluttering. There are loads of ways to throw things out. Fifty ways to leave your bookcase…for recycling or demolition. What is the rule of 5 decluttering? Or the 12 12 12 rule? What is the 333 rule? Or the 20 20 rule. What is the 90 90 rule? Or the rule of 9…rings for mortal men. Doomed to die.
   What the fuck is Scandinavian Death Cleaning? Is it a band, and have any of the members been arrested for setting fire to churches? Is it Norwegian Death Cleaning, and is that the same as Swedish Death Cleaning?
   I saved time by not investigating the different rules of decluttering. On with the decluttering video, at double speed. Skipping the slow parts.
   An American woman told me she decluttered her house by no longer purchasing high heels or tampons. I somehow dimly suspected I was not the target audience of her particular video, and that the advice would prove useless in the extreme. There is no need to keep physical copies of movies, now that streaming services are so popular and versatile. Right?
   What of the other videos recommended next to this one? Same look to almost all of them. An American woman would warn me about the clutter of high heels, tampons, and movie discs in assorted formats and containers. But one video stood out.
   Another woman warned me not to abandon physical media. She was stockpiling movie discs to see her through the nuclear apocalypse. I stared at my bookshelves. My mission wasn’t to declutter anything. In the Digital Age, it was still important to me to keep all these physical books in some lunatic semblance of order. After all, they were bought and paid for.
   The declutterers of this world would accuse me of shuffling deck-chairs on the Titanic. That lone Hammett volume must shift from this bookcase to that bookcase. Orphan-rescue. And there’ll be adjustments along the way. No shelf is jam-packed so tight that you can’t get a book back out.
   Most shelves have a bit of wiggle-room to see them through. Books are stacked on top of each other when the shelf is half-empty. That’s now a mid-shelf bookend, to stop the rest of the books falling into the gap from the crater edges. Gradually, gaps fill. But there are also non-existent gaps…
   Damn it. There are two books in a series. I wonder if that writer scribbled any more? (Checks internet notes.) Damn it, there are another eight in the series. Now I must create a non-existent gap. Books in a series go together, if they can all fit on the shelf.
   Adjustments along the way. I don’t think I have a bookcase with fixed shelves. That’s insanity. A fixed mid-level shelf for stability, yes. It’s time to play the sub-game of Spreadsheet Purchasing Bingo and resetting adjustable shelves. Height is a factor. Width of a book is important. But height is your main enemy.
   I see those two books, and raise you the other eight. Spreadsheet Bingo. Wait. The paperbacks are all expensive. I can buy all the hardbacks for a third of the price? What sorcery is this?! Hey, I’ll take it. Luckily, there’s an old dodge here.
   The top of the bookcase is a shelf unto itself. One side is rammed against the wall. And I have a bookend that’ll hold the other side in place. This is a non-existent gap. I relocate two authors from crowded areas elsewhere. They take up a bit of space. Some books are now lying flat on the top of this lofty structure.
   Time to fill the non-existent gap. Buy these three books for one author’s series. Now order those hardbacks. But remember to buy that book from the one cheap place online. The volumes arrive in separate bags over the course of the week. Bingo! We have a full shelf.
   The dodge of using the top of the bookcase? That ignores height. I don’t have to adjust any shelves to take account of the taller hardbacks mixed in with diminutive paperbacks. It’s just you, me, and the ceiling, sport. I use the bibliography page of a writer’s Wikipedia entry to make sure these non-existent gaps are filled in the right reading order.
   Proper, right, chronological reading order. Hmm. This works for most writers and their books. Some of them go back and write prequels or interludes between tales at a later date. The reading order of Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories is guided by the rule of Chaos. And who is to say that’s a bad thing?
   You can read The Chronicles of Narnia in any order you please. Just be sure to read the last one last. C.S. Lewis has no say in that, of course. But read the last one last. To re-read that series now, I’d most likely start with The Magician’s Nephew.
   Reading order brings me, rather messily, to that other matter: misplaced books in an unbalanced run of volumes. What the hell is that? It’s about making adjustments. This stretch of books must move to a new shelf or a new bookcase or even across the hall into another room full of more bookcases.
   If I abandoned physical media, I’d declutter my library so heavily that the floor would spring back up once the obsolete bookcases were removed from those overburdened floorboards. Can’t have that. Empty rooms, easy to navigate across in a straight line, are no fun. Beware them.
   Yes, I juggle books. That’s what this is about. I pick up a row of books sandwiched between outstretched hands on outstretched arms. And I mostly manage to carry those from the old shelf to the new shelf. Occasionally, there’s an accident. Collapse. I pick the books up and stack them in the same order. Or so I think. I’ve unknowingly created orphans in the otherwise orderly pile.
   Lone Wolf and Cub. Yes, I know. The series is NUMBERED. I didn’t drop any while moving them. I sat the stories down on a table in stacks and then put one stack in the wrong order. A quick glance at the result showed enough numbered copies in the right order to fool the eye with a devious optical delusion.
   Anyway, I am on the hunt. And I spot stuff like that. Until next time, of course.
   Orphans. Books divorced from a series. Jumbled reading order. Sometimes that’s down to the original author. Realising a writer went on to write more books? Now I have non-existent gaps to fill. And, possibly, shelves to adjust as I make books fit in.
   There’s no decluttering here. Not if I am completing a series and creating a gap in a shelf to fill it. Instead of decluttering – throwing things out or giving them away – I am maximising the space on those bookshelves. A quick poll shows that the top of almost every bookcase is a shelf that holds even more books.
   Here, there, for technical reasons, this is not true. I have to be able to reach light switches. Do I really, though? No. Bookcases block light. That’s why there are so many extra lamps providing illumination from floor switches. The floor switches that aren’t blocked off by bookcases, that is.

Monday 1 April 2024

CRIME FICTION’S TEN COMMANDMENTS: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

Ronald Knox is the suspect. He gave us Ten Commandments for writing crime fiction.
   I have three commandments for writing crime fiction.
   One. THOU SHALT NOT place the word algorithm or any variation thereof in thine manuscript. For there will be a hundred days of darkness and a plague of locusts upon thee if thou fuckesteth this up.
   Two. THOU SHALT NOT place the word protocol or any variation thereof in thine manuscript. For thine bloodline shall be accursèd unto the seventh generation and long will be the wine-red shadows o’er thine tomb. Frederick Forsyth appears to be notably excused from this commandment.
   Three. THOU SHALT NOT permit any character to utter the phrase beginning Is this the part where. For if ye transgress against the Writing Gods themselves, woe be unto thee and thine and all others within a mile’s radius of the divine blast. Also, lice shall worry thee.
   Death by Algorithm on the Nile just ain’t gonna cut it. A brick wall will delay your protagonist. Or a hard and fast law. But placing a protocol in a murder mystery isn’t a barrier. You’ll only make it sound as though you just introduced a green yoghurt-ish health drink to the scene of the crime.
   Is this the part where I get to subvert the cliché by prefacing the cliché with the phrase IS THIS THE PART WHERE? Frankly I’d prefer it if you just hit us with the cliché minus the preamble. We’ve abolished the Edwardian Age and the string quartet prelude to taking a shit. It’s quicker just to go when you need to go.
   I was going to talk about the writing commandments set forth by Ronald Knox. And I planned to do that by dragging a few crime shows into the conversation. But I immediately realised that confirming or denying the existence of the breakage of these commandments in a show…well, that might spoil certain aspects of the mystery for you.
   So I’ll just have to talk around a few choice areas.
   A Murder at the End of the World.
   Death and Other Details.
   Two television shows aiming themselves at the Golden Age of murder mystery. Yes, the Golden Age of detective fiction is dead. However, its corpse is on permanent display in the kitchen freezer, and that is here to stay. For the body is trotted out at regular intervals as high technology allows us to revisit the case in search of suspects new.
   What was the Golden Age of the crime story? Very specifically, the detective story. You’ll be shocked to hear that this amazing period of untrammelled homicide is generally fixed Between the Wars. Loosely, we’ll take that to mean in the 1920s and the 1930s, though there were ripples from before 1914 and many aftershocks well beyond 1938.
   Does this exclude Doyle and his creation Holmes? Of course not. The Problem of Thor Bridge appeared in 1922. We don’t really exclude anyone writing after 1938, my dear Watson, given the building blocks of golden murder mysteries are so durable.
   A Murder at the End of the World and Death and Other Details both make use of an old foil: death in the isolated English country house. This house is ivy-clad and snow-bedecked. The telephone is cut off for at least some of the action. And the party? It’s a party of rich ne’er-do-wells and rapscallions. With a coat of computer technology daubed across the scene, to make things appear less ancient, you are in business.
   End of the World features a bright female detective and her bright male co-detective investigating murder in the past. We move through another story in which the same two detectives meet up years later after one walked out on the other. The venue is an English country house a Bond villain’s lair in an icy wasteland, and there are suspects aplenty when death occurs. Technology features heavily.
   That story shifts between past detection and current investigation. It’s a major feature of the tale. Two murder mysteries for the price of one.
   Other Details features a bright female detective and her bright male co-detective investigating murder in the past. We move through another story in which the same two detectives meet up years later after one walked out on the other. The venue is an English country house a cruise ship very much all at sea, and there are suspects aplenty when death occurs. Technology features heavily.
   That story shifts between past detection and current investigation. It’s a major feature of the tale. Two murder mysteries for the price of one.
   Both narratives showcase at least one scene that should be discussed heavily. Each scene isn’t. Therefore, each scene is instantly deeply important to the seasoned mystery reader. The cogs whir, and you reach a conclusion.
   Also, both shows feature security cameras. And then they both do backflips to neutralise the security in the name of allowing the murder mystery to continue. These aren’t spoilers. No. Massive building blocks are shuffled around to keep the episodes going.
   What are the Ten Commandments, provided by Knox? Well, he was a priest as well as a mystery writer. He provided guidance. The High Priestesses of the Golden Age were many, and their works are still known very well. Commandments exist to be broken. How many were broken in those two television shows? Here, I tread on thin eggs.
   One. The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.
   Veteran readers are always on the lookout for aliases, disguises, wordplay in names, servants in the background, distant relatives, shady tradesmen at the door on the night in question or two days beforehand, and all sorts of tricks. The warning about thoughts is about thoughts, musings, unreliable narration, outright lies, and so on. These are not facts. And murder mysteries rely on facts, not the murderer’s thoughts. Flashbacks by narrators, reliable or otherwise, are always suspect.
   Knox demanded that the mystery have a mystery. He wanted the mystery presented early. And the mystery had to grab the reader and make the reader care about the resolution. You needn’t care about the legion of unsympathetic suspects, detectives, or even victims, in these tales. But you should care about how it all ends.
   Two. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
   If you tell a tale of a ghostly dog and then present evidence concerning the footprints of a gigantic hound, you’d best follow up with a declaration or two against the supernatural. To his credit, Holmes, through Doyle, does so.
   We are, therefore, going to rule out vampires, demons, the forces of darkness, Christmas in July, and all other nonsense. Since the commandments were written, people have gone on to write vampire murder mysteries – but even those come with their own particular logical or vampirological frameworks, guides, rules, regulations, and commandments.
   Three. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
   If a passage of text is written in invisible ink, does that count as a secret passage? I’ve always liked the idea of a secret door leading to a secret passage that has another secret door inside it. You’re meant to miss this door on the left, on the way to the more obvious secret room ahead.
   In electronic murder mysteries, we’ve reached the point of no return. Secret passages are conjured from nothingness when the security cameras fail. This is the only way for a murderer to bypass all that surveillance. The mystery writer creates a secret passage through the field of vision. It’s all done with mirrors.
   So secret passages aren’t only to be found in ancient castles. They may exist in ancient castles with security cameras all over the place. I like a good secret passage myself, though your taste may suffer an allergic reaction. Is there such a thing as a secret passage? Or are we really speaking of the hidden door? Have as many of those as you like, I say.
   Caution. The more secret doors, passages, and rooms you add, the greater the chance of turning your detective story into a comedy. Perhaps that was what Knox had in mind, when warning us off.
   Four. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
   At least Knox leaves scope for long scientific explanations in the middle of the story. Brand new untraceable poisons are right out, it must be emphasised. If the victim dies from a heart attack and science goes on to prove this, then you’ve written a story about someone who died of a heart attack. Don’t slap a murder mystery label on that one.
   Five. No Chinaman must figure in the story.
   That’s extreme. What Knox is attempting to say is that he was bored. He’d had enough of racist depictions of Chinese characters popping up as instant suspects in murder mysteries on the basis that they were being Chinese in a built-up area or being Chinese in the English countryside – both crimes once punishable by hanging and possibly flogging.
   Spoiler alert for Death and Other Details. Part of the plot involves a merger with a Chinese company. So Chinese characters are in the show aplenty, and they are suspects. They are played by Chinese actors. This was not always the case. Did Peter Ustinov really need the money?
   Here’s a spoiler alert for A Murder at the End of the World. The cast includes Joan Chen. Now I’m wondering if Knox would have objected to a Chinese woman featuring in the story. A Chinese murder mystery set in China with an all-Chinese list of detectives, victims, and suspects…could, at least, include one unsympathetic chinless wonder of a toffee-nosed English public schoolmaster, surely.
   This isn’t just about Chinese murderers/suspects/victims or detectives. You may take it that racist depictions of all types must be excluded from murder mysteries. Unless the murderer is racist.
   Six. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
   Note that Knox doesn’t rule out accidents which hinder the detective, or intuition which proves to be wrong.
   Seven. The detective himself must not commit the crime.
   This goes without saying, but Knox said it. I’m reminded of publishing advice when it came to putting the book in front of someone in the business.
   When dealing with publishers, in your summary of the story you must never describe how the mystery ends. There was another piece of advice to go with that. When dealing with publishers, in your summary of the story you must always describe how the mystery ends.
   Anyway, I think Knox is hinting, strongly, that the detective’s sidekick should also be included in this particular commandment. We’ll return to sidekicks shortly.
   Eight. The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.
   I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Murder mystery stories depend on the steady drip-drip-drip of information to the readers. Overwhelm your audience with clues. Many people have gotten it into their heads that a mystery must, by definition, be mysterious – and they write books in which clues are jealously withheld in favour of padding. Padding won’t lead to a conviction at the Old Bailey, not unless the murderer smothered the victim with an exotic brand of cushion.
   Are there variations on this one? Absolutely. The detective may draw attention to a detail that is not recognised as a clue at the time. But the avid reader makes note of this. Clues may be presented in a jumbled order. All the better to disguise the timeline of events, my dear. The detective won’t last long in a series of books by pocketing clues and declaring that those will all be explained later. This simply will not do.
   Nine. The sidekick of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
   It’s a roundabout way of saying that the sidekick mustn’t remain silent. The detective can always do with someone to talk to. Musing aloud lets the detective dangle herrings – red or otherwise – in front of the reader. Meanwhile, musing silently tells the readers eff-all.
   Ten. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.
   This applies just as well to twin suitcases, near-identical cars, similar doors, and clones. If clones are to feature in your murder mystery, put clones in the title. You’ll save a lot of bother later.
   There’s an alternative list of twenty acid barbs, fired off from the waspish pen of S.S. Van Dine – who sounds as though he might’ve been torpedoed off the coast of Newfoundland by the Germans back in 1917. We needn’t concern ourselves overmuch with those. I’d find myself having to avoid spoilers all over again.
   One non-spoiler to finish on. A Murder at the End of the World features Harris Dickinson as one of the detectives. You can catch his performance in See How They Run. He plays Dickie Attenborough in a murder mystery set around the performance of an Agatha Christie play. And I daren’t say anything about that.
   I’d leave to write The Algorithm Protocol, with the opening line Is this the part where…
   But I fear murder most foul would be committed.

Friday 8 March 2024

VIEWING ANOTHER PILOT EPISODE – ABOUT A PILOT. SHŌGUN: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

Anjin.
   Pilot.
   I sat down to watch a pilot about Goody Three-Shoes Galadriel and the Rings of Something or Other, Does it Truly Matter? Just to refresh your memory…

 

*

 

Galadriel returns home and has to attend a town council meeting to receive some kind of STAR WARS medal. These town council meetings are always the fucking same. The rebellious character is on to something, but the elders don’t want her interfering. So she’s dragged back from the latest scraped knee incident to be given a final warning about not doing the thing.
   At which point, she proceeds to fuck off and she does the thing she was not meant to be doing – leading to adventure. Except for that very last part. Her reward at the meeting is to sail to Elf Heaven on a boat that is so fucking viciously green-screened that I cannot say the visuals were the best thing about this pilot episode.

 

*

 

My conclusion? Clearly, the best thing about Galadriel’s pilot episode was the ending. In the sense that the torture finally ended.
   But The Rings of Pah! reminded me of SHŌGUN in one respect. Town council meetings. Except…these really are council meetings, and they all have meaning. It is a time of unease in Japan. The old SHŌGUN appointed a council of five regents to watch over his son until that young boy grows old enough to rule.
   Then the old guy died. And that’s when the differences of opinion came in.
   Five friendly lords. Four lords are allied against one. You may have seen Hiroyuki Sanada in a John Wick movie or an Edward Zwick production of The Last Samurai. The man has an impressive list of credits to his name.
   But this. This is his time. And this is his role. It helps that he’s a producer on the show. Often you are told a character is a master strategist. And you know this on the basis that you’ve just been told the character is a master strategist. Not here.
   Hiroyuki Sanada plays Tokugawa Toranaga, the lord who is given the shortest and shittiest end of the stick in these council meetings. You see, you are shown, in every scene he occupies that this character truly is a master strategist. Every furrow of the brow, each pause in speech, the concealment of his true plans, the shifting of his schemes to take account of outrageous swings in fortune…
   There’s lot of acting involved in SHOWING you that he’s a master strategist. And we need more television along the same lines. All I learned about Galadriel in that shit-fest of a travesty of a TV show was that…she’s blonde.
   Mm.
   James Clavell was a writer who worked in movies. Somehow, he ended up directing To Sir, with Love. Yes, that’s a film about an outsider. The movie was a box-office hit. It helped that he was a producer on the film. You’ll find his writing spread across cinema. He has an impressive list of credits to his name.
   Being taken prisoner in World War Two made Clavell as a writer. The Japanese put him in Changi in Singapore. His wartime book was King Rat. From there, in leaps and bounds, he worked his way up to writing SHŌGUN.
   Clavell wasn’t the first to take history and fictionalise it into a page-turner. The master strategist Toranaga is a thinly-veiled fictional copy of Tokugawa. But you can send your fictional fellow on different paths. You do this to keep a rein on pacing and the absurdity of life.
   History takes bizarre turns at times, and often outdoes fiction. Clavell worked on the script for The Great Escape – based on the book by Paul Brickhill. Brickhill’s account of a mass escape-attempt from Stalag Luft III was toned down for the movie version.
   Partly, that’s about pacing and turning in a film that isn’t as long as World War Two. Many of the escape efforts defy belief and would come across as ridiculous if you piled them on, one after the other.
   If you write a historical novel, you do so under the confines of history. You must colour your picture within the lines. But if you change the names to protect your own narrative, history becomes a broader canvas, and you throw buckets of paint at the damned thing.
   Did you write a history book at that point? No. Did you create a page-turner? Clavell wrote a page-turner. He involved one William Adams, a ship’s pilot who arrived in Japan in 1600. But he’s John Blackthorne in the book.
   Prison obviously shaped Clavell’s whole life when World War Two ended. Watching the pilot episode of SHŌGUN, you see John Blackthorne spend a lot of time as a prisoner of the Japanese. There’s no getting away from that.
   You’d think this would crush the narrative. No. It opens the story up. You get more scenes of interest from a character who is imprisoned than you view in the whole of that misbegotten pilot episode for Galadriel and the Masters of the Universe. Or whatever it is called. Amazon and the Folly of Bezos.
   Goody Three-Shoes spends an episode walking around Middle-Class Earth twiddling her fucking thumbs. Over in SHŌGUN, John Blackthorne, a man with the occupation of twiddling his thumbs while held prisoner, does more.
   Everything in the sub-Tolkien parody is so fucking earnest. Meanwhile, in Japan, practically every second character is a barbarian or calls another character a barbarian. I watched a shower of bastards being a shower of bastards to each other.
   And there was more sympathy for these rascals, rogues, rapscallions, and ruffians than there was for all the nice/twee characters across the way in Tolkien-ish land. Spoiler alert. One character has a man cooked in a big metal pot. We have sympathy for this swine when he almost dies in the sea.
   Not by drowning. He’s going to commit ritual suicide before that happens. Gchaladriel went about being nice and I didn’t care. (People became unaccountably Welsh when they uttered her name, hence the extra letters.)
   In Japan, a bunch of bastards thrived. Everyone had an agenda, and that agenda was often violent and bloody. The English pilot? Bastard. All the Portuguese? Utter shower of bastards. The four Japanese lords, intent on protecting the heir – but secretly plotting to kill him and each other – total bastards. Toranaga – under sentence of death from the start of the show – has to be a bastard in order to survive.
   His main rival, Ishido, is a complete and utter bastard who wants to kill everyone on the council. And then he wants to find more people to kill so he can die gloriously in a legendary battle. We even have sympathy for him.
   No sympathy for Gchchchchaladriel. Even less for the photocopied Indiana Jones who lumbered through a non-movie. These things were difficult to watch. SHŌGUN was easy to drink in.
   A character speaks out of turn at the council meeting. Well, that’s it for him. He must go off and commit ritual suicide. Oh, and his baby must die with him. Surely his lord will be merciful?! Toranaga allows the man’s wife to live. That’s it. No last-second rescue for a loyal follower who let his emotions get the better of him, almost creating a massacre right there in the room.
   Why does it work? The stakes are all-consuming and they are explained to us. Then they increase vastly at every turn. Is it a perfect TV show? Perhaps it’s asking too much that the characters speak in their own languages…
   There’s a little bit of The Great Escape here. The movie convention for the years 1939-1945 is that all the actors speak the same language for the benefit of the audience in that country. The Great Escape is in English for the English-speaking market. But you know everyone in the movie speaks German for the German market.
   Here, with SHŌGUN, the Japanese characters speak Japanese with subtitles. John Blackthorne “speaks Portuguese” to the Portuguese bastards who do their damnedest to have him hanged or crucified when they translate from Portuguese to Japanese. But for the English-speaking audience the “Portuguese” speech is all in English.
   I think they could have gone full subtitle with this show. Throw in all the languages with all the subtitles. It’s a weak mark against a production with so many strong points, and I let it pass without real complaint.
   Speaking of strong points. The production has such a great level of detail to the costumes that the costumes bleed character. I love the acting, particularly across the language barrier. It’s great. Some of these bastards truly are dressed like a shower of bastards. And others, perhaps even bigger bastards, are resplendent in the finery of peacocks.
   I understand there’s a degree of technical wizardry involved in portraying scenes. John Blackthorne at the tiller of a ship in raging weather simply can’t have been filmed in a genuine storm. But the scenes at sea look as good as they can look. You are right there with the crew as water dominates the deck.
   Contrast that with the choir of heavenly angels at sea in Middle-Class Earth. I watched two pilot episodes. One about an elf named Blah-Meh of the Beige. Barely a character. I’m having trouble spelling Galadriel. The other pilot was about a pilot. A bastard. Prisoner. Liar. Pirate. Heathen. A character we could care about.
   One story had no story and made me flee the series in search of sanity. The other story made me want to tune in for more. Which I did. The pilot episode of SHŌGUN was the least-impressive episode of the series. Stakes increased in episode two. No matter the awful things characters did, I’m guessing you’d be cheering them on at that finish to episode three. At least, in that show, the characters dive into the sea for a reason.

Thursday 1 February 2024

BELATED VIEWING OF A PILOT EPISODE. RINGS OF PAH!: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

 

This one I came late to, on the basis that I’m no Johnny Tolkien fan. More of a Clive Staples kind of reader, truth be told. Though Clive Staples Lewis sounds like an unexpected office brawl, come to think.
   I was invited to mock the opening episode of Johnny Tolkien’s Amazon Prime’s The Lord of the Flies, Damn Flies, and Statistics Rings: The Infinity Gauntlet of Bigby Rings of Power – brought to you by Darth Bezos and Weetabix.
   Indeed. I may have made some of that up.
   Context. I haven’t read The Hobbit. But I did read The Lord of the Rings. I’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia, which has such a huge spoiler for it as a series that it is a huge spoiler just admitting there’s a huge spoiler for it. And I won’t spoil it for you. Clive can do that on his own time. What else? I watched The Lord of the Rings as animation before I watched the live trilogy of movies.
   If I ever tell you I’m a massive fan of The Silmarillion, it’s a coded warning that I’ve been kidnapped for ransom.
   I had to check notes for this next bit. Apparently, I was once invited to watch a Hobbit movie. It didn’t matter if I’d missed one. And it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t see the next one. So I guessed I’d be watching the middle one of the three padded movies.
   Normally, I would never do this. I’m going out on a stout limb here and stating that I don’t watch the second movie in a series unless I’ve seen the first. What does this all mean? It means I’ve now done this terrible deed, this crime against cinema, once, and once was enough.
   Also, the movie itself was a crime against cinema, padded to fuck, and quite the terrible deed. Something about a giant gold statue of a dwarf melting like a pack of butter and filling a swimming pool for a dragon to bathe in. There were a few dwarf characters as well, but it wasn’t worth paying attention to any of that.
   So. You will understand that I could never be a butt-hurt Johnny Tolkien fan, coming in here with my brand of criticism while cultishly praying to The One True Text. (Yes, The Brand of Criticism is a magical Dungeons & Dragons sword. And that…is a roleplaying fact.) No. That’s not the angle, here.
   By contrast against the non-fun movie about a Hobbit, the Narnia movies were fun. Far from perfect, true. But there was enough spirit to see you through to the end. Unless you were Disney, who bowed out after the second film in the series for reasons of corporate soullessness.
   The problem was that Disney needed a lordly ringly movie spree of its own about a wizarding bunch of English schoolkids caught up in magical adventures. Far better to stick to the source material provided by Lewis, than attempt a mish-mash of other franchises for the sake of a quick buck. Would’ve made more money by not trying to make more money chasing other franchises and their Balrogian shadows.
   After the third one, minus Disney, the moviemakers were really pinning their hearts to their sleeves in plugging the idea of a fourth movie about Eustace and Jill. It was not to be, Chéri.
   I am no butt-hurt fan of the land of Narnia the book series being ruined for eternity by Narnia the movie series. No. Even the harshest fans of the books-to-movies will tell you that Will Poulter was terrific casting as Eustace. In other matters, matters of story, were there some bewildering choices for those movies? Yes.
   You didn’t have to go to New Zealand to make Narnia come to life. That was a Tolkien-franchise-based thing. Do I care about accuracy to the sacred text? I don’t see the talking lion as a big furry golden Jesus-figure, and you don’t have to either if you don’t want to.
   No matter how shitty the adaptation from book to movie, the book is still there if you want to read it. And that’s always the harshest lesson to remember. The thing that you liked initially…is still around. We need reminding of that, from time to time.
   I’m looking at you, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Dullness. Not merely the worst Indy movie I’ve seen, but one of the worst movies I’ve seen. But the trilogy is available to watch. The thing you liked is still here.
   Sadly, I must return to the business of Johnny Tolkien. Too many people turned Tolkien into a business. The movies based around Smaug the dragon and the giant dwarf statue and Tolkieny shenanigans…they were padded to fuck, but made their money. Yes. The business of Tolkien.
   Tolkien’s son Christopher was saddened to see that Peter Jackson’s crew gutted the book and turned it into an action movie…
   He referred to The Lord of the Rings, but he also applied that to the impending film about Bilbo. Should have been a TV series. It wasn’t. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Trilogy is something I won’t be watching. Tolkien’s lore deserved a long-form approach. Television. Episodic. Building a world.
   And so, someone somewhere decided they could do a prequel. There was a TV series. By Amazon. Bezos. Massive fan of Middle Earth shenanigans. He sat there in a Star Trek shirt on his dick-shaped spaceship, contemplated Middle Earth, pondered his orb, and said Make it so.
   Cue Game of Thrones with its introductory map sequence set to jaunty music.
   I guess it’s better to have a dick-shaped spaceship than a spaceship-shaped dick. Depends on the sci-fi franchise. Back to Tolkien, though we’ll be detouring into a testicle-shaped spaceship eventually.
   What are the criticisms of this lamentable TV project? I am not here to have a go at the acting. So what is worth criticising? This folly. The format of the show, which we’ll return to. Criticism?
   It rewrites Tolkien! Big fucking deal. Tolkien rewrote Tolkien, and he was Tolkien for fuck’s sake. Once The Lord of the Rings became a thing, The Hobbit underwent some revision to bring it into line with the later history. Tolkien’s choice.
   Criticism. Events in the history are compressed for the sake of the TV show.
   Big fucking deal. Go back to The Lord of the Rings at the movies and watch Gandalf ride majestically to the parchment version of the National Database, in search of evidence on the One True Ring. He might be gone for a few weeks. We’ll be generous and say a month. There and back again, he doesn’t spend more than…wait. Read the book. See how long it takes for Gandalf to reason things out. Seventeen years.
   Rewriting Tolkien and compressing events are hardly criticisms. So where does the TV show go wrong? It’s fucking boring. Nothing happens in episode one. There are no stakes. Evil is gone and we cannot find it. Well, fuck all the dwarf prostitutes, hide my lunch, call me hungry, does Gollum still shit in the woods – and would that make for a more exciting TV experience? No, no, it wouldn’t.
   Generally, my tolerance for a new TV show reaches the point of crisis after fifteen minutes. I’ll know, within that time, whether or not I am going to switch off. Rarely, I’ll finish the first episode in full and then decide the show is not for me. But for the most part your goodwill, as a writing team, as a production crew, dies in the sixteenth minute of a show if nothing worthwhile happens in the first quarter-hour.
   I won’t name two shows. One I quit after six minutes. The other I left two minutes in – but I was playing it at double speed. So I guess I quit in the first minute, two minutes in. Yes, I almost always watch YouTube videos at double speed, to save time. If I could do that with all of your empty movies and ponderous TV shows, I fucking would.
   Amazon wanted their Game of Thrones experience. Yes, that one ended well. I’d seen the first series of that show, and stopped reading the books after a while when it occurred to me that G.R.R. Martin was a step below J.R.R. Tolkien in the sense that Tolkien was still alive after the conclusion of his large fantasy tale. If Martin lives to finish writing, I may return to his saga – from the start, obviously. Or, y’know, maybe fucking not.
   The Amazon TV version of Tolkien didn’t move fast enough at the very beginning. We have Galadriel narrating past events for us, as happened in the movie version of Tolkien’s world. And that’s the problem. We need to make this like Tolkien, which means we’ve only vaguely made it like Peter Jackson’s version of something like Tolkien. We’re in the general area, right? There’s a map, to guide us.
   I believe Amazon spent most of the budget on Elf Wallpaper™ and Google Middle Earth Maps®. Seriously, what is it with this fucking map? It shows us we are in another part of the land, somewhere, and people are not doing stuff in each location. Okay.
   Yes, yes, the beginning. It’s…the opening of The Lord of the Rings again. Galadriel narrates the history of evil, which, in this case, is the story of Morgoth, who – in a fit of anti-social tree rage – cuts down the Christmas lights on two mighty English Elvish oaks. Or something.
   There’s no Christmas in Tolkien. No Santa Claus. There is a Santa Claus over in Narnia, though. That pissed Tolkien right off. You can’t have Santa in Narnia, but you can alienate your readers by placing Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings.
  Why is Tom Bombadil the first to be cut from adaptations? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the way he treats that One True Ring as if it doesn’t exist and has no hold over him. No explanation. If you smoked weed while reading the books, you were into him. And if you were dropping tabs of LSD like Legolas dropping fools with his bow, then I guess you fucking loved Tom Bombadil, man. ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE NOT STONED READING THE STORY…not so much.
   Right. Morgoth is evil. He doesn’t like Christmas trees. They aren’t Christmas trees. Stop that. Even with the fairy lights. So Morgoth is ushered on and almost instantly ushered back off. His minion, Sauron, is soon ushered on and off again.
   It’s hard to care. The main antagonist in The Lord of the Rings is the One True Ring, not Sauron. Sauron has a walk-on part at best. He is remote. A pantomime threat. Where is Sauron? He’s behind you! The Ring, though. With its whispers, and temptations, promises, and sense of power. It’s the villain of the piece.
   And in a fucking prequel…is absent. Oppenheimer is having trouble gathering enough fissile material for its construction. So the story is about Galadriel and her search for evil. She piles helmets up into a muddy mound, commemorating the deaths of 300 Spartans, and regrets wearing clean willowy dresses on spattered battlefields.
   Don’t worry. She changes into Jeanne d’Arc’s battle armour soon enough. And we get this ice cliff climb that does nothing. Start that fucking scene on the icy wastes with the wind blowing and people falling behind, not on this sub-par Tomb Raider cliff climbing exercise. She’s looking for evil, but evil isn’t coming looking for her. Fuck. What’s the point of all this, then? Speed this up, for fuck’s sake.
   We are inter-cutting throughout, going to the prototype Hobbits and then to the doomed Elf-Mortal romance that borrows from The Lord of the Rings. Plots with not much going on in them.
   Who are the antler folk? Doesn’t fucking matter who the fucking antler folk are. Forget the fucking fucketty antler folk. Apparently, it mattered to Gary Oldman levels of EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!!!! when watching the trailer.
   But the trailer isn’t meant to showcase the TV show. It is just meant to promise you lies, damn flies, and statistics. Statistically, around a third of people watching actually finished the show.
   We’re in the realm of streaming and data-mining the streams to see who loved the…oh. Just below two-thirds of the audience fucked off before the end, sparing their eyes, ears, and brains, I guess.
   Too many characters spouting deep meaningful meaningless words from the ancient scrolls of Live, Laugh, Love. This is the internet bitches, and the fans turned up to Die, Scowl, Hate. Whole lotta nothing going on. But that doesn’t even begin to cover it. Back to the non-story…
   So Paladin GIRL BOSS Jeanne D’Arc LARA CROFT Galadriel and her D&D party go into this winter dungeon, see. They gaslight the lone inhabitant into being a monster, kill the beastie, and… gain experience points so they can go up a level. Oh, and Sauron’s been leaving a QR code around the place, to remind everyone that evil’s been up in ya business, ya bitches.
   I’d have started this episode with the testicle spaceship landing on a blasted heath. Fire up The Ride of the Valkyries, boys; sounds like Wagner’s back on the menu.
   Galadriel returns home and has to attend a town council meeting to receive some kind of STAR WARS medal. These town council meetings are always the fucking same. The rebellious character is on to something, but the elders don’t want her interfering. So she’s dragged back from the latest scraped knee incident to be given a final warning about not doing the thing.
   At which point, she proceeds to fuck off and she does the thing she was not meant to be doing – leading to adventure. Except for that very last part. Her reward at the meeting is to sail to Elf Heaven on a boat that is so fucking viciously green-screened that I cannot say the visuals were the best thing about this pilot episode.
   No. The best thing was the end of the pilot episode and the lessening of the burden on my shattered mind. I no longer had a shred of mocking commentary left in me.
   Commentary. You shouldn’t be in a position to provide live commentary for an opening episode. Or, indeed, for any episode. You should be swept up in a world and not swept out to sea.
   I’d have quit at the CGI snow troll fight if I hadn’t been asked to watch the whole pilot. Fuuuck. I am angered at the lack of quality in the writing of this non-episode, and, reminder, folks, I am no Johnny Tolkien fan. Even I was pissed off at this drivel.
   Galadriel’s reward is to sail to a big golden light. I thought for a second that Barbie and Oppenheimer had somehow come together in an imperfect fusion of mash-ups drawing The Lord of the Rings into the same orbit. Sauronheimer: The Barbie Incident.
   But no. That would have been a mercy. And faster-paced. Galadriel sails a stormy sea. On a boat with everyone standing upright and not swaying. At least on Star Trek they’d lean to the side when the ship was hit. Elf scientist Mr Spock confirms this, when he’s not singing about Bilbo.
   I think I’d rather just have the green background, if I’m brutally honest. Look at the amazing background visuals of the sea! And wince in pain at the truly fucking atrocious foreground nonsense going on there.
   Pros: it’s a pilot episode I never have to bother with again. Cons: everyone else listing pros and cons mentions great visuals as a pro. It’s a fucking lie. Watch and wince in agony at the CGI troll fight and this sheer buffoonery on the boat. Paging Ralph Bakshi. Ralph Bakshi to reception.
   ANYWAY, Galadriel is about five seconds from Elf Heaven when she makes the sort of rash decision that would get you killed under all other circumstances. This absolute megacorporate soulsucking fuck-muppet of a diluted non-character jumps overboard so she can swim an ocean in search of evil. Shit like that will get you killed in Dungeons & Dragons, real life, and most bleak movies.
   But not in Amazon’s version of Middle England Earth: The Land that Plot Forgot. What else is there? Racial slurs for Elf characters. Mysterious cow poisoning. More Sauron QR code nonsense. And waiting for the pre-Hobbit character Dolly MacGoodGollyMissMolly to run off and have a fucking adventure for fuck’s sake.
   Galadriel is not the only diluted fuck-muppet of a character in the show. And here, we must acknowledge that there’s a bit of a problem. When you are talking about the rings, three of them end up with the Elves. And we can quote the opening to the movie, for this bit.
   One word will do.
   IMMORTAL. Elves are immortal.
   I was there, Gandalf, three thousand years ago, when Tolkien himself signed away the movie rights.
   So how do you deal with immortal characters? This is what leads to time-compression in the timeline. You can keep throwing the immortals into the story, but your pre-Hobbits and your other mortal types will have story segments as long as the life-expectancy of a flailing fly. One option would be to do a detailed story of mortal characters, with the immortals restricted to cameos.
   Cameos for Galadriel? That would actually work. Mortal characters across many lands and many years are there to uncover the clues. Only the immortal Galadriel, Elrond, and Kelly Osbourne can fit the clues together, over time. Yes, you’d have to keep replenishing the mortal characters, but you’d do it from batch of episodes to batch of episodes, year after year.
   That’s one way. Incidentally, the very exact number of eight episodes was a contractual thing. The rights to TV shows longer than eight episodes live on in the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie. Something to do with the legal powers of the Witch-king of Angmar, Saul Zaentz. Operating from beyond the grave, beyond the pale, and beyond belief.
   No, Galadriel isn’t the only fuck-muppet of a diluted character. Yes, part of the problem lies in the immortal qualities of certain characters. In other words, all the Elf characters in this TV show are pointless. That’s despite having pointed ears.
   Did I mention I preferred the Narnia movies, and that I thought Susan’s romance with Prince Caspian wasn’t on my bingo card of things that really upset Hitler?
   The Rings of Power. Or. The Pangs of Hunger for a story. Oh, and don’t forget a guy fell out of the sky inside a ball-shaped spaceship disguised as a rock. At which point I declared him the Last Son of Krypton.
   And I just didn’t care. Evil made a cow ill. How evil is that? Galadriel didn’t go to Elf Heaven. She’d have to work her way through a Peter Jackson movie trilogy to gain the Golden Ticket admitting her at long last to that Great Chocolate Factory in the sky.
   But, in the meantime, in this TV show, night swimming. Lots and fucking lots of it. I’m sure I missed out loads of the plot from this pilot episode. Just as the writers did. Oh, Kelly Osbourne popped in to offer to build a few rings of power, but the show seemed reluctant to mention this. I may be pronouncing Celebrimbor slightly off-key.
   At least Sexy Shelob™ didn’t turn up to turn heads and drain bodies. Even if parts of this show looked like a computer game.
   Someone call the burns unit. We’re admitting an entire cast and crew.
   Is it a criticism to say nothing much happened in this pilot episode? You can criticise Tolkien for that, too. He built a fucking world. And used that as the backdrop, the foreground, the side dishes, and everything else. Plot takes a back seat to majestic travel at times. Then the Ents appear, and the story REALLY paused for breath. Why would you expect a TV show set BEFORE the main action to be any differently-paced?
   Don’t trust Bezos, Mr Frodo.
   This guy in a loincloth landed on Horsell Common , much to the dismay of the pre-Hobbits and H.G. Wells. Dolly MacGoodGollyMissMolly and her chums must face the mystery of discovering whether or not this truly is Kal-El, Son of Krypton. Or possibly Braniac.
   Maybe he’s Bruce Wayne trying out a funky ejector seat, given that his Batmobile was sliced in twain by a Balrog named Bane. That would tie in to Galadriel’s arrival in Gotham City in episode two.
   What do these TV shows do for us? Not much. To quote Michael Moorcock out of context…
   They don’t ask any questions of white men in grey clothing who somehow have a handle on what’s best for us.
   Moorcock’s criticism of Tolkien’s Middle England Earth, taken from last century, applies to the town council meeting in this century’s empty non-adaptation of bits of Tolkien’s wallpaper the writers were permitted to plunder from the back of that Weetabix packet for a duration of no more than eight episodes. Contractual obligation achievement unlocked.
   When the first thing out of their mouths is WE’VE PLOTTED AHEAD TO COVER FIVE YEARS OF THE SHOW, you know you’ll struggle to make it through episode one. Let me just watch the trailer again.
   Oof. That trailer music should have served as warning enough. Everyone in the trailer looks busy getting ready for some unspecified looming evil. Buy one Morgoth, and have a half-price Sauron whether you like it or not.
   The show has been out for a while, now. It is difficult to research any of it. When I go to the internet, the internet seems to be concerned with who Galadriel is dating. Is it the bad boy, Morgoth? Sauron, rebellious and daring on his motorbike, perhaps. Could it be Kylo Ren or Sauron-a-like Snoke? Rosemary the telephone operator? What about that mild-mannered janitor?
   Could be.
   And the reviews. Holy fucketty fuck. By all means, change your opinion over time. But some of those reviewers were breaking Olympic records when it came to doing the backflip over shifting the reviews around.
   If your initial review was about sweeping majesty and a show not afraid to take its time, I’ve got hot fucking news for you. The show was eight episodes long. You didn’t have time to climb an ice cliff, twirl a blade like a drum majorette waving off an ice troll as a joke, or go on a quest for evil only to find out evil’s gone away for the weekend.
   Your reward for your pointless side-quest shall be…retirement in Elf Heaven. Off you go, now. Remember, we know best. You are just a youngster, Galadriel. Don’t huff those mushrooms in the forest, now.
   Then the head of the town council is off to a wooden condominium in what will one day become Rivendell, with the rest of the afternoon spent scouring the Palantir for rumours of Sexy Shelob™. A massive burning eye blinks on there for a second, but it’s a known Microsoft Update glitch. Nothing to see here.
   What haven’t I talked about? Dolly MacGoodGollyMissMolly, the pre-Hobbit. That isn’t her name. No. Really, she’s Dolly O’GoodGollyMissMolly. The Hobbits, in case you haven’t read The Lord of the Rings, are unfeasibly, unswervingly, abso-fucking-lutely ENGLISH.
   This is not the case in the movies, but we’re here to talk about the pre-Hobbits from the TV show. The Harfoots. Or the O’Harfoots. Just call them O’Hare and be done, bejesus. When is a Hobbit not a Hobbit? When it is a pre-Hobbit, or a…LEPRECHAUN Harfoot.
   So there are these…
   …pauses, sensitively, then gives up…
   …travellers, see. Down-to-Earth. Salt of the very soil. We know that, as they are shorter people. And there’s a lilt to their accents, begorrah.
   Aye. Travellers, in wagons, who speak in a particular way. And they are scavenging for food. Soon the forces of Sauron will engineer a food shortage aimed specifically at the Little Folk. With their chirpy attitudes and their ragged clothes and their muddy faces, they’ll fuck off to America in search of gold.
   You won’t find America in Middle Earth, silly. Though you will find Amarehk in the works of Michael Moorcock.
   Why are they hiding from the antler folk? FORGET THE FUCKING ANTLER FOLK. We need to boost this plot with something. These pre-Hobbit travellers don’t live in the Pale. They live beyond it. Could we throw in a villain?
   Dark Lord Sauron, come on down, the price is right. For Amazon, the financial cost of being TV hobbyists was far from right. Sauron is wheeled on with all the subtlety of Darth Vader turning up for a cameo in your Spider-Man movie. Back to the Future we forgive for that kind of nonsense, but don’t push your luck.
   An episode devoted to Morgoth being a character…would’ve been handled just as badly, I’m sure.
   MORGOTH: I’ve left the keys in the ignition and you really have to use those sandwiches up by the weekend. Other than that, rock on my #dudebro.
   SAURON: (TEENAGE GIGGLING.)
   Other problems. A horse died making the second series of the show. And that is fucking tragic. Whether a show is great or not, any death associated with it is simply awful.
   If you whined about black people being in a TV show featuring magic fucking rings, I’ve no words for you. Why is there a black man in STAR WARS?! He’s a Stormtrooper! Yes, he is. And he’s in Tunisia, filming the very first STAR WARS movie. He’s removed his helmet for an informal photo-shoot, back in the 1970s. So why are you angry at John Boyega, decades later? Oh.
   I don’t believe there’s any way to finish on a positive note, which is why I kept these last points to the end. Hard to believe a horse died over this show. I’ve made it this far. Let’s wrap it up in a bow of barbed wire. I thought I’d type up an exercise in comedy. But you all know it is tragedy.
   They tore out Tolkien’s appendix and displayed it on TV, so we could watch it slowly decomposing into dust over the course of eight treacle-slow episodes. Or so I am told. I barely made it through episode one.
   One episode to ditch them all and to TV history consign them. In the land of Amazon, where the positive reviewers lie. Then they sit up and gasp as other people hold contrary opinions.
   Stop making insipid piss. Yes, it is a medical condition. The cure for insipid TV is to stop watching. Find something you like and watch that instead. Sounds like a plan. Luckily, it won’t take eight episodes of tree-porn to enact. And now we must take our leave of Tolkien’s appendix, the CGI festival of notes for an actual story, and we must watch anything else, maybe even everything else, instead.
   Gimli proffers his axe. But I’ll see your axe, Gimli, and raise a remote control.

Thursday 4 January 2024

INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DULLNESS: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

Finally saw that movie. And by finally, I mean I don’t have to watch the entire film again. Just snippets, for the purposes of this chat.
   If you came here to read this, you came here after watching movies featuring Indiana Jones as the hero. I won’t be describing every single scene in detail. So if you came here randomly without having watched any of those stories, you are on stony ground.
   There are only three movies about Indiana Jones. Let’s clear that up from the start. But there are five, and that is worth mentioning in passing. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is marketed as INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Indiana goes on to have risky adventures at THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and on THE LAST CRUSADE.
   After that is anyone’s guess. Spoiler alert. In the third film, he rides off into the sunset as an adventurous cowboy should. And that’s that.
   Except, belatedly, he allegedly turned up on the quest for THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Following those shenanigans in a kingdom, BELATEDLY again, there was something about a dial of dullness. But with the characters populating that last movie, it was impossible to care.
   No one has ruined Indiana Jones. Those early movies are still available, after all. Spend your time enjoying what you love, and turn away from what you hate. If you hate the later films, that is. Maybe you are just rather blah on them, as expending hate isn’t worth the effort.
   In the first three films, the road to adventure kicks off with a transition from the Paramount logo to some sort of depiction of a mountain. There’s a transition to a mound in the fourth film, which shows the direction we’re heading in, but they just don’t give a flying fuck by the fifth and very final film in the series.
   Just couldn’t be fucking arsed, could they? The series is owned by Disney at that point. However, the Paramount logo is still present and they could have made the standard transition. But no. We get the sound of ticking. Time is running out for the franchise. We need to push one more movie out there before the star, Mr Ford, grows too grumpy to alter digitally.
   Indiana Jones heads off on adventures to stop the Nazis. But not in a fifth film. No. I grabbed hold of that fucking dial of destiny and went back in time to stop the film being made. And we’re all better off for that. Occasionally, expending a little hate is worth the effort. Where did it go wrong?
   Too long a gap in production between movie number three and movie number four. Same again, pretty much, going from movie four to movie five. The big problem with Indiana Jones was the trio: Lucas, Spielberg, and Ford. They had to get together to make these movies.
   A lot of heels were dragged over film studio floors to reach where we are now. The movies have dates to go with them: 1981, 1984, and 1989. Then, if we quote Sallah, we cut to 2008 and 2023: bad dates. The initial run covers the 1980s. In the 1990s, there was a TV show.
   Spielberg was dragged kicking and screaming back in for his last hurrah in 2008. The crystal skull beckoned. Ford was happy to make a fifth one as long as the gap in production wasn’t anything like the gap between the third and the fourth one. Bad dates.
   Lucas could have directed one. As long as he had his STAR WARS collaborators Harrison Ford and composer John Williams on board, no reason why not. Lucas reminds me of Sergio Leone – both being directors with great influence on the world of movies. They directed around a handful each. Spielberg keeps churning them out by way of comparison, chasing the output of Alfred Hitchcock.
   Indiana Jones. We always knew that one day you’d digitally walk back through cinema’s door.
   The first film featured great stunt work. This is true of the trilogy. Then the production gap kicked in and computer generated images were available for use in the fourth film. Too available. A lot of people say that the fourth film lost them when Indiana Jones dodged the effects of a nuclear blast by shielding himself inside a refrigerator.
   Not me. No. For some reason, I expected that level of nonsense from a story featuring Indiana. It was Tarzan in the jungle, later. The whole foliage-bedecked sequence. I’m sure on paper that a duel in the jungle, across vehicles, with swash being buckled…
   Yes, I’m certain that looked fun on paper.
   But on the computerised side of things…
   Fuck off. I mean…this is the crystal skull adventure. Misadventure. Fight scenes and chase sequences really show their lack of value and are revealed as padding in this fourth film. I haven’t reached the tedium of the mystical dial, yet. That’s a whole movie and many years away at that point.
   There are physical stunts in THE CRYSTAL SKULL. But there weren’t meant to be that many computerised effects. The opportunity slipped out from under them. Was the fridge a step too far?
   When Indy went to the doom-laden temple, that sequel/prequel had to go above and beyond, didn’t it? Did it? It didn’t have to. More of the same would have done us, I’m sure. Had that been the case, would we have complained about over-familiarity, though?
   The opening of the first film is great fun. It gives us Jones the adventurer. He hates snakes. And we meet his enemy. Belloq. More on him, during the fifth film. Shortly after that, we see Jones the academic. His friend Marcus Brody hands him a mission. It’s important that you understand the pacing of the first film. There’s the mission before the mission which somehow ties in to the mission – a set-up freely borrowed from the movies of Bond – James Bond.
   Action in the jungle. Meet Belloq. Return to academia. Encounter Belloq later. Yes, we’ll keep returning to Belloq. But remember this: SHORTLY after Belloq, we see Jones the academic. The short opening sequence sets the standard for the entire movie’s pace. Shame that wasn’t the case for the whole series.
   What about those opening sequences? In the first movie, Jones is in the field facing action. He encounters a villain he’s met before, and he’ll meet that villain again. Escaping off in a plane, we travel with Doctor Jones to the groves of academe. He’s Professor Jones again within the first quarter of an hour of the film’s opening.
   In the second movie, he’s in the field. This is a bit different. The opening gives us villains, but throws them away. Really, the sequence introduces us to Indiana’s sidekicks. Still, he makes an escape by plane just barely within the first fifteen minutes. Then it is on to other adventures.
   The third movie opens with a flashback. But it does relate to the later plot. We’re out of the flashback and back at the university just barely within the first fifteen minutes of the start.
   Then we have this gap in production. In the fourth movie, we start very directly with the villains. But we don’t return to academia until almost 25 minutes after the movie starts. This is true of the fifth film. We have a flashback, introducing the villain. And it is almost 25 minutes before we hit academia.
   So, just looking at these stretches of time, over time, the sweet spot for an opening is close to ten minutes. But we’ll allow for slight detours and go up to almost a quarter of an hour. The last two films take this too far. For a lot of people, that fifth film gives them the big highlight of the movie in the opening flashback. That wore off for me pretty quickly. It could have been cut in half, reducing the number of digital shots related to a Nazi train.
   Do I object to the absurdity of it all? No. The movies are full of improbable nonsense. We demand that, after a little while. Escapist fantasy is escapist. The only place to draw the line is at heavily foreshadowed plot points that lumber into view with all the subtlety of no subtlety. Watch the fifth movie and see. See what I did there.
   Escapism. The second movie, set rather puzzlingly before the first film, opens in a nefarious nightclub. You might say it’s a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The action becomes more and more improbable as the seconds pass. Escaping to an aeroplane and from the aeroplane is as daft a sequence as being saved in a refrigerator is, come the fourth film.
   No parachutes. Just an inflatable yellow raft. It falls improbably to a landing on snow. This is a Slalom on Mount Humol, going by the soundtrack. Yes, I am playing the music of John Williams as I type.
   The raft goes even further into the realms of improbability, leading to a river. Absolute nonsense, and every bit as daft as the refrigerator scene from the fourth movie. Let’s detour into that for a second.
   Indiana Jones survives a nuclear blast inside a fridge. Any radiation damage he suffers is offset by his experience with the Holy Grail from the third film. We’ll run with that. If you hate the refrigerator and nuclear bomb double-act, take note: you’d have fucking detested it in BACK TO THE FUTURE, where it was slated to appear originally. Spielberg’s a nut on the subject.
   Fortunately, Doctor Jones survives the nuclear blast and is warned by the military – don’t climb into fridges. They aren’t safe. That’s for any children watching. I think nuclear weapons are a wee bit more dangerous than fridges are. That’s for any adults reading.
   What stands out in the first film? Many things. The truck chase. Not just the truck chase…
   From the moment Indy and Marion start their escape from the tomb, the action is terrific. It doesn’t feel padded. The movie comes in at under two hours, even including closing credits. Okay. What stands out in the second film?
   The movie is a rollercoaster ride. Yes, literally. The mine cart chase is a theme park ride waiting to happen. But there’s more to the film than that. Willie Scott and Short Round are based on characters from old movies. I say they are great at conveying the mood. You might find them irritating.
   A fish-out-of-water nightclub singer and a gambling kid sidekick are just right for this second (first) story. They all visit the temple, take in the sights, see a spot of doom, and have spooky adventures.
   I suppose the second film is set before the first film to keep the hope alive that Indy would still be with Marion in a third movie. Maybe that was the plan at the time, but it didn’t pan out. Technically, I should watch TEMPLE OF DOOM first in the series, but I can’t be bothered. Maybe one day. We’ll have a detour into Sergio Leone in a wee while.
   What stands out in the third film? The tank chase. But there’s more to it than that. Marcus Brody is in the field, for once. And the last crusade they are all on…it’s just a great way to end a trilogy. This wannabe Bond movie has a James Bond actor in it, after all.
   So what stands out in the first three films? We are given characters to root for in dire situations. Those situations include a truck chase, a mine chase, and a tank chase. But without the characters, you would have padding and nothing but padding. We are also given characters that hark back to the days of Old Hollywood.
   Indiana Jones raids that lost ark, and, to do so, he’s borrowed items of clothing from Charlton Heston in a film called Secret of the Incas. If you are wondering why no one sued, well, it was a Paramount picture. Keep it in the company and all is well.
   Before he reaches the doomed temple, Indiana appears to be taking style tips from Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. And his (supposedly) last crusade is a Bond film with a Nazi coat of paint on it. (A pot Ian Fleming himself dipped into, in the novel Moonraker.)
   Characters we care about. Indy and Marion. The characters not everyone roots for in that doomed temple: Willie Scott and Short Round. But you need to be heartless not to care about Short Round desperately trying to turn Indy away from the cause of evil. There is heartlessness in that movie. And it is done practically, rather than digitally.
   Willie Scott is a hapless force of nature. And even if you don’t buy into it, hey, surely you still care about Indy in that second film. The point in this prequel is that Willie Scott is definitely not Marion.
   We could’ve been given more of the same, more of the stuff that appeared on the big screen in the first movie. But the temple is full of doom, and it is very bleak in places. Call it an experiment in giving you more Indiana, but in a different setting with new sidekicks and a departure from the widely globetrotting first movie.
   It’s pretty much about the palace above the temple, some nods to the cinema of Sir David Lean, the temple, and that literal rollercoaster ride. The movie is a little longer than Indy’s first cinematic outing. But not overlong. We’ll get to that bit.
   I like the combination of Willie Scott and Short Round. Yes, they are plunged into horror. There’s an old-fashioned movie-making sensibility at work, at the same time delivering a film that puts the gore on screen rather than in the shadows…though shadows always play a part in stories featuring Doctor Jones.
   Characters we care about. For the last ride into the sunset, we’re joined by Marcus Brody who provides a fair bit of comedy. Sallah makes a brief but welcome return. Connery clucks his way through the production declaring that everything is intolerable. But the movie is highly tolerable.
   For once, the love-interest is a villain. That’s hardly a spoiler. Obvious villains are obvious, and I’ve refrained from naming another obvious villain here. Still wouldn’t be a spoiler if I said the name. The movie doesn’t outstay its welcome. And the series doesn’t outstay its welcome, either. Near the end of the film, Spielberg is dangling over a cleft in the planet. The audience is there, holding him up. Spielberg reaches for another movie in the series…
   Spielbergiana…let it go.
   Let us turn to the cinematic masterpiece that is INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. In light of the fifth movie, we can dub the fourth movie with this title: cinematic fucking masterpiece. Which version, though? Frank Darabont surfaced to kick the script around. He had form, having worked on the TV version of Indy’s adventures. But there were a lot of cooks in that kitchen. Hardly any are credited officially.
   Darabont isn’t credited in the opening. There are characters in the movie that weren’t in Darabont’s head or the script that fell out of his head. How much of his input made it to the finished production? Hard to say. Darabont was caught between Spielberg and Lucas. A rock and an even harder rock.
   When these new characters turn up after an agonising pre-production period, they feel bolted on. I knew none of the script chicanery when I watched the movie. Is it a cinematic masterpiece?
   No.
   Is it a bad movie? The first hour of the film is pretty much what you’d expect from a film featuring Indiana Jones if the actor hadn’t portrayed Indy in a movie in a long time. Nostalgia played a huge factor in the movie’s financial success. Also, Ford still had it, had it in spades, diamonds, clubs, and hearts, when he made the film. Spielberg didn’t really come across as a director who wanted to be there. But Ford was game. He made sure he was fit for the assignment.
   Ray Winstone has very little to do as Mac, a friend of Indy’s from the war years. He turns up a heartbeat before Indiana does, and then rapidly betrays Indy. So much for that so-called friendship. It’s hard to care when the instant character goes for instant betrayal.
   Indiana is built for instant characters. He meets Belloq. Someone he’s met before. For us, that’s our introduction to the villain. Indiana talks to Marcus, an academic colleague of long acquaintance. Indy meets Sallah, an old friend who guides Indy through the problems with the search for the lost ark. All instant characters. So much for the first film. Mac as a friend who betrays Indy in the opening scene of the fourth movie…just doesn’t cut it. And there’s no recovery from that, which is why Mac has very little to do thereafter.
   Cate Blanchett also has very little to do. She arrives on the scene as Irina Spalko – she’s a budget Rosa Klebb from a far better Bond movie, reminding us that the character is a budget Rosa Klebb from a far better Bond movie, and that she has very little to do.
   Igor Jijikine is the henchman. But, y’know, if they’d ditched Mac and Irina and beefed this guy’s role up and given him a memorable sub-henchman of his own, I think the movie would have played better.
   Jim Broadbent is okay, but he has the unenviable task of being a replacement character for Denholm Elliott while he walks past a portrait of Denholm as Marcus Brody. Broadbent is given a little more to do than that, but not much. I’d say he fares pretty well out of the experience. Denholm also puts in a cameo as a statue at the faculty.
   I’m not really a fan of Shia LaBeouf, but he does what’s asked of him and he’s okay. Except for the jungle sequence. Not his fault. He turns up in this film as Marlon Brando. No, seriously. If you missed the reference, that’s what was going on there.
   John Hurt was, presumably, well-paid for his appearance. I have the sense that he’s a soft replacement for Connery. Connery was to have had a cameo, but that didn’t suit Sean. If his role had been enlarged, he could have been off in the jungle, driven mad, and had a few key scenes.
   How to fit Sean in? At the wedding. That was the plan, I guess. We’ll return to the wedding.
   Crystal skulls abound in this story. The year is 1957, and the movie opens to Elvis singing for the entertainment of the people who had the most fun making this film. I’m talking about the American Graffiti rejects racing against the villains. The youngsters soon depart.
   Indy still has it. The Nazis are no longer suitable as villains. (That would change.) Hitler is out. Commies are in. Hell, they could have at least hinted that they’d saved Hitler’s brain.
   Lucas dragged the Roswell incident into proceedings from the 1940s, and here are the Russians looking to loot something crystalline and skullish from a top secret warehouse. They’d have been better off going after the ark…glimpsed in a throwaway joke.
   This opening sequence is long. Far too long. Reduce the characters. Cut the time spent on the opening. Leaving aside CRUSADE, as Indy is right there as River Phoenix in the flashback, CRYSTAL SKULL takes the longest of all five movies to show Indy as a character on the screen. Hell, that’s allowing for TEMPLE OF DOOM, which runs a whole musical number before he walks into the club.
   After a bumpy start, and clunky introductions of various characters, Indy is on the hunt for an old colleague: Oxley. This is John Hurt, who babbles throughout his performance, and then returns to sanity to babble an explanation involving creatures that are definitely not aliens.
   If they were aliens, that would hurt Spielberg’s feelings, as he didn’t want to be heavily associated with making movies about aliens. Says Spielberg, signing up to direct a fourth movie about Indiana Jones. Could we make the movie about a shark skull, maybe? One of crystal. No one would notice.
   Let’s deal with the mutt. Or Mutt. Shia is playing Marlon Brando by way of James Dean, filtered through the coffee-paper of American Graffiti. But the character is named…after a dog. See what they did there…
   There’s a motorbike chase. I quite like that chase. It’s a bit of fun. Musically, it’s enjoyable. Leading up to the chase, we discover Mutt’s mother’s name isn’t Martha. That would be too much of a coincidence. No, her name is Marion. This had to be the worst-kept secret in moviedom: Karen Allen would reprise her role as Marion Ravenwood.
   Why be so coy about this inside the movie, when the actress was on the poster and in the trailers? Oh, and credited in the opening. This was 2008, and the internet was a thing in a way that it hadn’t been in (checks notes) 1989. There weren’t even a million users of the primitive internet back in ’89.
   Reminds me of STAR TREK: INTO DIMNESS. A movie that went out of its way, in 2013, to hide the fact that it was THE WRATH OF KHAN remade. In 2013. With the internet. And phones. A worldwide squeal of internet annoyance over the phones and your secret is busted. What was all that shit with this John Harrison guy? In the non-build-up to this non-film, he’s definitely not Khan. Spoiler alert. No one cared.
   Excuse me while I veer off into talk of the Keaton-Jackman Effect. In 1989, irate Bat-fans physically wrote letters to complain about Michael Keaton’s casting as the lead character in Tim Burton’s BATMAN movie. The news that a sequel was announced off the back of the film’s success led to fans commenting that Keaton better be fucking involved, or there’d be no point watching the damned thing.
   This happened later with the character of Wolverine. Who the fuck is Hugh Jackman? Keaton had a dozen movie credits to his name and was derided as being a comedy actor with no business portraying Bruce Wayne, let alone the Batman. Jackman had two movies behind him and was slagged for not having a career yet.
   Presumably, if Jackman were the veteran of ten Australian comedies he’d have been wrong, so wrong, for Wolverine on that basis. After the release of X-Men, fans demanded a solo outing for Wolverine and that only Hugh Jackman could play him.
   We’ll call this the Keaton-Jackman Effect.
   One of the best portrayals of the character by Jackman is in the movie Logan, directed by James Mangold. I’ll return to him on the small matter of a dial. Of dullness.
   Things that don’t often work. Belated sequels to movies. Sequels so delayed that you are in another decade, or, gasp, a different century. Bringing back a much-loved character in a cameo role so that the torch can be passed down to the next generation. I think that worked once, in a STAR TREK TV show. In movies, not so much.
   I haven’t bothered to explain the plotting of these movies featuring Indiana Jones. Maybe I should summarise. Indy is an archaeology professor who would give real archaeology professors absolute fucking nightmares. In his first outing, he tries to stop the Nazis from claiming a powerful pile of dust made from rocks. This is before war breaks out.
   Stop the bad guys from obtaining the mystical thing. Have adventures along the way. That’s the formula.
   A word or two about William Hootkins. Hootkins is in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, taking a lesson in biblical matters from Harrison Ford. Indy sketches out a staff and explains what the Ark of the Covenant actually is.
   Mr Hootkins is also remembered as Porkins in STAR WARS. Porkins is the recipient of the worst advice in a space movie. As he struggles to deal with some trouble aboard his one-man fighter jet, er, spaceship, while attacking dams in the Ruhr Valley the DEATH STAR, Hootkins is told to…EJECT.
      WHERE TO?!
   Oh, to the surface of the DEATH STAR, which Luke Skywalker will shortly demolish? That’s assuming there’s even an atmosphere on the DEATH STAR’S surface. I quibble over these things. Where are the clouds on the DEATH STAR, damn it?!
   To this day, I think all the lights on the DEATH STAR should flicker as the big ray gun is fired. A man in an orange jumpsuit sticks his head through prison bars and intones…dead planet walking. Yes, I’ve seen too many prison movies. Frank Darabont appears to be responsible for many of them.
   Why mention Hootkins in connection with Indiana Jones? CRYSTAL SKULL retreads that government guy moment in the hunt for a few nostalgia fumes. Jones is dumped by the Russians at the top secret warehouse. We’re introduced to the idea of aliens.
   They are extradimensional lifeforms, damn it!
   Jones is betrayed by Mac and escapes. Harrison Ford does his own stunts here. The safety wires are easy enough to remove digitally, and I have no problem with that. For some reason, there’s an experimental rocket sled that leads off in the direction of nowhere. Indy hitches a lift.
   In the morning, he reaches a deserted town. It is a nuclear test site. Let’s find out how American houses stand up to those atoms. Indy takes shelter in a fridge. The Russians race out of town in their car and die in a haze of sub-par digital destruction.
   Indy is discovered, decontaminated, and then interrogated by government guys. This section reminded me of Hootkins. Essentially, the scene goes nowhere. Then it’s off to academia. Is Indy a communist agent? The only enemy agent he consorted with was a suspect Austrian that time in Venice. And she could hardly be described as communistical. Ah, Venice. It’s okay. You get a pass for dallying with the Nazis, provided they are rocket scientists.
   Leaving the fourth movie under something of a cloud, Professor Jones boards a train. To emphasise that he is older, his hat has turned grey for a bit. Enter Marlon Brando and a spot of exposition leading to the motorbike chase.
   There’s some faffing around with a language Indy must work hard to understand. Being a movie, this takes a few seconds. He and Mutt are off in search of Professor Oxley. And possibly treasure, power, fortune and glory…
   There’s a bit of Indy stuff leading to the next location and the next location. This is all okay. Ultimately, once you’ve pieced so many clues together it is time for capture. Indy and Mutt are captured and taken into the commie camp of captured characters.
   John Hurt earns more money for babbling a bit. Karen Allen puts in a welcome return as Marion. We get some character stuff. And the repeat, I guess, of a thing no one wants to see. But there it is. And we’ll see more of it in the future.
   Two characters get together in a movie. The audience cheers. Damn. What to do in the rest of the series? I know. We can split them up so we can put them back together again. Now, in defence of Marion as a character…that’s how she starts. Indiana Jones walks back through her door in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. She’s an instant character from his past.
   They were together. And they split. Now he needs her help, and she joins his world of adventure. Marion vanishes from the other movies. It’s in the fourth film that she returns after a long absence which…
   Allows these characters to get back together again. Oh, and here’s your son. Marion is used as a hostage to force Indy’s hand. Indy, slow on the uptake, realises Marion Ravenwood is Mutt’s mother. He lags a bit behind on the rest of that story.
   Mutt takes the lead and mounts an escape that goes nowhere. Except, we all officially learn that Mutt is Indy’s son. Next, we shift into the jungle in daylight and a convoy of vehicles. And this is where the movie loses me.
   So, instead, for a bit, I’ll talk about STAR WARS. George Lucas, again. Once upon a time, in an earlier galaxy that just happens to be this one, STAR WARS was STAR WARS. As soon as you number them, and start at the number four, you’ve created scope for filming the first three.
   What then? Announce episodes seven, eight, and nine?
   When episode seven was announced, I believed four things. One. Harrison Ford would get his long-time wish and Han Solo would die. Two. Luke Skywalker would merge with the Force and become a ghost. Three. We would see Princess Leia use the Force in a big way. Four. They could do what they liked with the story, as long as they didn’t just repeat the attack on the DEATH STAR.
   It is the year 2015. Harrison Ford plays a character who had a happy ending with his Princess. Now, we find that they’ve split up over the thorny issue of their wayward son. Also, Luke Skywalker has fucked off somewhere.
   Much time has passed. Format? The original characters would appear, and pass the mantle of heroism to the next generation of new and interesting characters. But the original characters would still be involved in a major way. Up until Han Solo’s death, of course.
   Implementation? Utterly sideline the characters we turned up to see. Not how I’d have written it. You want to keep the fans happy, right? Start with the regulars from the very opening and add the fresh cast from that point on. You don’t utterly sideline people. In the much-delayed and frankly unwanted BLADE RUNNER sequel, you would like to think you could add a layer of interest to what was great before.
   You’ve done a man’s job, sir. I guess you’re through, huh?
   The writing is certainly through. If you must bring Gaff back in a sequel, meet him in a bar watching a dancer perform with a neon snake. Don’t stick him in a nursing home.
   TONY SOPRANO: It’s a retirement community!
   When there’s talk of retirement in BLADE RUNNER, it doesn’t mean taking it easy. No, it means taking it rather fucking harshly. Funny, that. Harrison Ford, again. Almost as if there’s a fucking pattern here. He had a happy ending with his replicant girlfriend in the first movie, and that went to shit in the sequel. Is this the default setting for films, now?
   Where was I? Just make what worked part of your plan. And do stuff with it. Don’t sideline it, remove it utterly, diminish, belittle, or berate it. We’re going to need the Roman numerals for this one. 

Episode VII. THE FORCE AWAKENS.

 It is a period of fragile peace in the New Republic. Sneaking away from endless politics, Senator Leia Solo plans to meet Jedi Master Luke Skywalker to finalise plans for a new and dynamic Jedi Fleet.
   Before the meeting can take place, they find themselves surrounded by space pirates on the Blood Red Moon of Bantonnay.
   This is no chance encounter, but an ambush arranged by sinister forces hoping to overthrow the Republic and bring about the return of THE GALACTIC EMPIRE.
   Now, Ben Solo, Jedi Knight, and his smuggler father Han race across the galaxy aboard the Millennium Falcon, with the mighty Chewbacca, to haul Luke Skywalker’s feet from the flames one more time…. 

It’s better to start with Ben as a good guy and then be tempted by the Dark Side. We would care, then. Also, Han would never admit to hauling Leia’s feet from the flames…but he’d gloat a bit over Luke, just for the nostalgia value. Han would also call Leia sister as a joke.
   As a Senator, Leia could reasonably sneak away from politics for a time. The New Republic is still rough around the edges, and Han smuggles supplies to good causes when bureaucracy stands in the way of decency.
   Those new characters come in to create factions. You’d look for at least three factions of good guys, duelling and blasting their way across the end of the movie in typical STAR WARS style. Drop a bunch of Darths in there for innovative duels, and you are all set.

ANYWAY. This shit about the characters getting together only to be split apart by the next movie just to get back together again…is really fucking annoying. But we haven’t talked about the mummified corpse in the room.
   The Mummy, from 1999, may give you that Indy fix for the ’90s. Its roots lie in the movie by Karl Freund, so maybe you are getting that Indy fix for the ’30s. There’s a game cast, sand, action and humour aplenty…
   And a couple who get together in this movie only to stay together, married, with a kid sidekick in the sequel. Well, isn’t that something? Okay, the actual mummy has a fucking tragic love-life, but come on – he’s the villain.
   Back to the CRYSTAL SKULL. It’s definitely not alien. The shape of it nods in the direction of H.R. Giger and Ridley Scott, but we’ll gloss over that. Truck convoy. Indiana Jones. Marion is with him. Hell, her theme is playing in the background.
   And then. We have a clunky combination of live stuff blended, in a blender, with the computer mulch. Where’s Vic Armstrong when you need him? Well, he was fucking available when he was fucking available, but you took too long to make this one so he wasn’t available for any stunt coordination on this one.
   Yes, Vic Armstrong is listed in the crew for that third Mummy movie that kept him away from Indiana Jones, but, as we all know, there is no third Mummy movie. Spielberg had the annoying habit of shooting down ideas based on films that were just released, but another four years would go by before any meaningful progress. It’s so tedious. They would lose actors from these lumbering projects and just have to make do later.
   Still waiting for Even More American Graffiti. Maybe Harrison Ford could come back and sink that franchise as well, completing the fucking run and scoring bonus points for shits and giggles.
   The jungle sequence is green, plastic, and cheese-laden. However, the music performs far more valiantly at this point in the movie than the on-screen action does. John Williams turns up for the job, no matter the failings in this chase.
   I am not here to root for the music in the chase, though. Music may compensate for certain technical deficiencies. If your rubber shark is broken, just show underwater sequences set to music and let the editing help you through.
   But the jungle chase sets the tone and mood for the declining half of this film. Long before we reach the scenes with the ants, we must contend with the business of the monkeys. Monkey business? Spielberg should have hired the Marx Brothers.
   Mutt is left behind in the jungle. He catches up by heading everyone off at the pass. This involves the use of vines. When Chewbacca impersonates Tarzan in the STAR WARS universe, it’s brief and that makes it funny.
   And then there’s this shit. Not Shia’s fault. Even when Mutt heads everyone off at the pass, he still sees them far ahead. So he has to head them off at the pass all over again. Woeful pacing. It all ends in tears, except that it all ends in ants.
   Computer generated ants. I don’t even know where to start with this. In other movies, there’d be snakes. Or a lion. Here we’ve reached the point at which computers are capable of generating swarms of ants. True, The Mummy movie gave us swarms of insta-killer beetles. Not the best part of that movie. Never mind all that.
   We’re in a race to reach the place. The refrigerator sequence is on the same level of absurdity as the waterfall sequence that follows the ant sequence. All that matters is reaching this lost kingdom with crystal skulls in it.
   Get there before the commies do. Is this important? Let the commies brave all of the tricks and traps first and then mop up after. But no, we’ll have our heroes do all the work for the villains this time around.
   I’m not sure about the guardians of this lost place. Either…they crawl along tunnels to reach thin walls that they burst out of…or they are imprisoned in the walls. You know, maybe they live in the spaces between dimensions, courtesy all that alien technology. It isn’t alien. No. It’s from somewhere…don’t know.
   Basically, all you have to do is open the doorway using the crystal skull. Then you reach the control room of the alien spaceship. It’s from another dimension, damn it. And the movie delivers on a mystical ending.
   By that point we’ve had Indy declare that this is intolerable, in a nod to an earlier movie. He also spouts the line about a bad feeling that you’ll find repeated over in STAR WARS. So who cares if an Indy movie gives you another mystical ending to a movie with Indy in it.
   It is an ending that seems pretty harsh on everyone who lived in the immediate area, protecting the immediate area, but the movie glosses over that one. Rosa Klebb’s stand-in seeks the knowledge that is too much for Indy and friends.
   They escape from CGI hell, and we head off to the wedding. Ah, the wedding. As originally scripted, I guess Henry Jones Senior and Sallah were to be bridesmaids or something and that pleased neither actor.
   The hat passes from Indiana to Mutt and…Indiana promptly takes it back. Everyone lives happily ever…there’s another belated sequel. Well, fuck. On the bonus side, this movie comes in at just under two hours and then they roll credits.
   Half of the film is worth watching. The first half leads you to believe that you are having adventures with geriatric Indiana Jones. Not true. That’s for the sequel. A sequel not directed by Spielberg and with no story input by George Lucas.
   I’d likened Sergio Leone to George Lucas. What’s the right order in which to watch these films? You could watch TEMPLE OF DOOM, RAIDERS, and LAST CRUSADE in that order just to keep the dates right. Chances are, you are just fine watching RAIDERS first.
   You could view The Good, the Bad and the Ugly before A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Try it. You’d be watching a film set during the American Civil War and then two films set after. Leone makes this quite clear by having the Clint Eastwood character do something very obvious at the end of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to tie the other movies into a later timeline.
   There are dates on gravestones that also confirm this. But you can’t totally trust time in a Sergio Leone movie. His use of guns from crazy time periods is quite deliberate, as he evokes an atmosphere related to events beyond the Wild West. That’s how you can spot the MG 42 in A Fistful of Dynamite, even though the gun wasn’t invented at the time. Leone liked to draw the viewer’s attention to other wars, other massacres, and other revolutions in that film.
   We’re glossing over Indiana Jones attempting to blow up the lost ark with an unbuilt Russian weapon in RAIDERS. That brings me back to Belloq, in the end. In the end, there’s a fifth Indy movie. The DIAL OF DESTINY. My soul is prepared. How’s yours?
   Do you want to know the plot? It’s right there in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Belloq explains it to Indiana Jones. And the makers of the DIAL OF DULLNESS were listening. You can see the director, James Mangold, having the spark of an idea appear above his furrowed brow.
   Look at this. It’s worthless. Ten dollars from a vendor in the street. But I take it, and bury it in the sand for a thousand years: it becomes priceless.
   Belloq is talking about a watch. And that is pretty much the plot. I’ve written at length about this movie without writing about this movie. Length. Yes. It overstays its welcome, running well beyond two hours.
   Part of the blame lies with the extended opening flashback to the war. An orc steps in from The Lord of the Rings to tell us the good news. Looks like Nazis are back on the menu, boys. Indy is hunting for a mystical object. Forget all that. It is nonsense of the worst kind. There’s a fake mystical object. But there’s a much better real mystical object. And…
   Why the fuck are you dithering over this multiple choice essay on which magic item the hero is after? Pick one and stick with it.
   Of all the people involved in the movie, the actor who appears to be having the most fun is Toby Jones in the flashback. What to say of Indiana Jones and the Rubberised face of Youth
   Harrison Ford’s face is de-aged for the movie. But not his voice. He’s too grumpy to alter digitally. Isn’t it great to see younger Indy battling Nazis again? If they’d treated it as a James Bond franchise and made one every few years, we’d have had movies set during the war.
   Would a full series have deflated and diluted the action? Eventually, any series tires out. I think I’d have preferred that to the fits and starts and sputterings of the way it all went. Am I going to explain this last movie to you?
   Too much CGI. Overlong movie. Ke Huy Quan should have come back in for the fifth film. Short Round would have handled the fight scenes, protecting Doctor Jones. This is the cry that went up. But he was better off out of it, I guess.
   The Nazi American Eagle has landed on the moon. It is the year 1969 and Doctor Jones is living in some sort of twilight existence, teaching disinterested students who would have been born after the war. Yes, bored feckless Baby Boomers. That’s the people he’s teaching in the seconds leading up to his retirement.
   TONY SOPRANO: It’s a retirement community!
   Indy is saddled with a trouble-prone force of nature who is also an instant character from his past. There’s a kid sidekick who almost knows how to fly. This will be important later. In a lumbering way.
   We could care, but the movie doesn’t go out of its way to help us in that direction. Disposable characters are murdered by disposable thugs. The chief villain of the piece would appear to be the writer. But we’ll settle for a budget version of Wernher von Braun in the form of a Bond villain who was a better Bond villain when he was in a real Bond movie.
   It’s not Mads Mikkelsen’s fault that he has this unerring ability to locate Indiana Jones. The chief villain is the writer, remember. The plot concerns a dial, or half of it. And an item that can locate the other half of it.
   So there’s…
   I am rapidly losing the will to type. That fucking digital train sequence at the start. Go and watch The First Great Train Robbery. That’s really Connery on top of that train. The train is real, too. It’s too much to ask Harrison to do that at his age. I get that. But does so much of the train sequence need to be faked?
   Anyway. Nazi flashback. Cut to 1969. There’s a lousy set-up that cannot possible pay off. Indy, in his apartment, puts a fridge magnet over the photo of Marion. Yes, you guessed it. They photocopied the STAR WARS thing and shoved it here. Just a reminder, for you…
   Harrison Ford plays a character who had a happy ending with his Princess wife. Now, we find that they’ve split up over the thorny issue of their wayward son. Also, Lucas Spielberger has fucked off somewhere.
   The thorny issue of the wayward son, in this case, is the off-screen death of Mutt. Did they? Wait. Did they just Admiral Ackbar the motherfucker? Foul set-up: Indy and Marion are no longer together AGAIN.
   Payoff? There isn’t one. They get back together at the end of the movie. That’s the plan. It lumbers into view the moment Indy pulls the fridge move. He’d have been as well climbing inside it and waiting for another nuke.
   If the set-up is lousy, I couldn’t care less about the resolution. An older Short Round or Mutt could have been here to handle the fights. And the quips. No level of nostalgia could save this overlong movie.
   Various villains cycle through and there are chases, I’m sure. Basil Shaw and his daughter Helena could have been so much more in this film. Sadly, not the case. Basil was obsessed with the dial, in much the same way as Henry Senior was fixated with the Holy Grail.
   This obsession has passed down to Basil’s daughter who is also Indy’s goddaughter, Helena Shaw. But it isn’t enough for this movie. After faffing about chasing around New York on a horse, Indy…that was his stunt double with a computerised face…I started to suspect that Ford just standing and sitting down might be computerised as well. Where were we?
   Indy is on the trail. The Nazis are on the trail. Helena is on her way, one step ahead of everyone else. There is a nice flashback to more of Toby Jones and a younger actress playing Helena. And there is a great shot of both Helena actresses as the older one remembers the past by staring at her younger reflection fading from an aeroplane window.
   If the movie had the promise of that one scene, damn it.
   This was the first thing I’d seen Phoebe Waller-Bridge in, though I’d heard her in the movie about young Han Solo. The promise of the characterisation was there in that aeroplane scene. She is playing to a movie type. The troubled character who gets into scrapes, and who, at some point, breaks through into a sheen of positivity that lasts for the rest of the film.
   I’m not defying anyone to play that part and overcome the script problems. Close, though. Phoebe was given stuff to do, but not enough of it and not enough of the right things for a movie about Indy and his supporting cast.
   It isn’t enough to think that the first half of the CRYSTAL SKULL is a movie about Indy doing Indy stuff. If the second half of the movie slides down the shitter, the overall movie dies. I feel that this is the case with people who frothingly tell me that the first half of Full Metal Jacket is great and this news alone makes it a great movie.
   Hmmm.
   DIAL OF DULLNESS. What is the plot? Just watch. Or. It’s just about a watch. It is not really watchable. Helena Shaw is there to pull a heel-turn in reverse and finally endear herself to the audience. Well, the end credits rolled…and I am still waiting for that bit.
   Indiana should have recognised his goddaughter. On the other hand, he was told that Mutt’s mother was Marion and he didn’t take that in. Anyway. There’s a sub-plot about a guy who was going to marry Helena. And she owes him money. Lots of chases. None of them memorable.
   And then Antonio Banderas shows up as one of Indy’s instant character friends. He should have made big Puss-in-Boots eyes. Spoiler alert. This whole sequence was shit. Spielberg directed JAWS, written by Robert Benchley’s son Peter. Peter Benchley wrote The Deep. That was a movie featuring JAWS star Robert Shaw.
   I’m playing six degrees of ten variations on something to do with Kevin Bacon. Basically, the idea of a treasure ship being concealed by another treasure ship above it…that’s been done before. We don’t quite get that here, but the earlier movie features a moray eel. And there are CGI creatures in this timed-mission level that Indy must face…
    Maybe it’s all the cartoony CGI from the start of the movie. Indy looked like younger Indy as long as he didn’t turn his head. But that train sequence was like a level in a computer game. And the build-up to this underwater action sequence was…to tell us that they only had three minutes.
   After which, it’s back to the surface and…Antonio Banderas fans, look away now.
   I’m reminded of the villain’s ability to keep turning up. Audiences didn’t turn up. The film took hundreds of millions at the cinema and still rolled over and flopped.
   Escape. Learn a few things. Oh, the villain’s breathing down your necks again. Raid a tomb. Well that’s not very ethical in the fifth movie in a series about thieving archaeologists. And then. The hard part of the movie.
   There are many variants of the Heinkel bomber, so I suppose you could add one more to the pile without being noticed. Of the thousands of aircraft built, there is a handful in existence today. Even with his connections, where did low-rent Wernher von Braun grab a Heinkel from?
   Did he just roll up to an air museum with a bag full of thousand dollar bills and wink in a full German accent at the museum curator? I’ll have it back by the weekend, Mein Herr. Actually, that would work on the basis that you aren’t coming back to this time. You are headed off to change history entirely.
   So it is off to the past we go. And then this ludicrous CGI battle in ancient history. With a bit of noodling and a load of anti-climaxes. With one mighty punch, our hero was free. In the future again.
   There’s the payoff. Marion turns up for reconciliation. When the actress starts bitching about how her role was reduced, you know there were twenty-five-plus scripts for this shit. There’s Sallah again. Blink and you miss him. Sallah’s contribution to this movie starts to make the bridesmaid cameo in CRYSTAL SKULL look appealing.
   Spoiler alert for the end of the movie. Indy hangs up his hat. But takes it back as the movie fades. It’s not the years. Definitely the mileage. The tyres are gone and the wheels are worn down to wishful thinking. Even the fumes in the tank are running on fumes.
   Who thought this was a good idea and can we use the dial of dullness to rewind? Normally, I write around 1,500 words in these blog posts. But the computer tells me that I’ve exceeded 8,000. I cannot apologise for my rambling rant. When the movie itself has no structure worth reporting, I am forced to veer off into other things.
   This film ends with Indy and Marion united all over again. The payoff did not match the set-up. Faces did not match bodies. Length of movie did not come close to original length of original movie. The people involved in producing and directing this were snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?