Automation and its Impact on Jobs

A couple of weeks ago a few high profile Silicon Valley types discussed how automation would change the work space. The TES has been considering the impact that this could have on teaching too and as a teacher it is something I have had to think about.

Ever since science fiction began there have been stories and warnings of dystopian futures where the mass populous are plugged in and drop out of the crumbling society, instead plugging into virtual worlds where a utopia exists whilst machines carry out the day to day work. The Wachowski's The Matrix, Aldous Huxley's Brave New Worlds and various works by Philip K. Dick all show worlds where the unwashed masses consume virtual reality or computer based entertainment at a worrying rate and this seems to be happening in real life. In Japan there is the phenomenon of hakikomori, where people are shut-ins and rarely go outside, and there are numerous tales of people playing MMORPG's and dying due to exploding bladders or lack of nourishment but apart from anecdotal data there are real-world figures.

Automation has led to an estimated 30 % of jobs being done by machines and this means a lot more people seeking new jobs or training. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has stated that this will become more prevalent in the future and as such there will be a need to provide enough money for everyone to live on: a universal basic income.

Critics of this idea have said that this would lead to many people leading sedentary lives where all they would do is play video games, watch box sets and do very little. That may be true and is a real worry but the critics saying this often have interesting, fulfilling or very well paid jobs. I wonder how they would feel if they worked as a cashier at a supermarket or did some basic manual work that required very little skill?

This kind of moralising assumes the worst of humanity. I'm sure there are many people, who if given the opportunity, would just stay at home and consume media but there would also be many who would finally be able to explore new hobbies and interests. How many of us would like to learn a new skill or take a course in something, not for financial reasons but just because we have an interest? Imagine a world where people could pursue a passion and live a fulfilling life based on their interest, imagine the possibilities...

So whilst the critics may not like the idea of a Universal Basic Income it may in fact be the way forward, a welfare system for everyone based on jobs that would be replaced by automation. Now I'm not saying I have all the answers but I do think we need to look at this with a fairer light than it has been presented with. When the Labour Party fought for 48 hour weeks, weekends and Bank Holidays businesses and the like said it would destroy the capitalist system yet here we are 70 or so years later still doing fine overall. Let's not always assume the worst and look forward optimistically.

LINK- The Robot Exhibition at the Science Museum

Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys- Film Review

I recently wrote about the 'May The Toys Be With You' Star Wars Toys exhibition which I attended at the Torquay Museum. Star Wars is a phenomenon and a huge part of pop culture. I like the original movies just fine but it never became a formative or integral part of my childhood, I never played with the toys, had the annuals or role played as characters from that universe but I appreciate what it did for media as a whole. However for many it was a huge part of their childhood and the toys fill them with nostalgia.

Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys is an informative look at Kenner toys ©GravitasVentures/ X-Ray Films

Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys is an informative look at Kenner toys ©GravitasVentures/ X-Ray Films

Whilst flicking through my Amazon Prime account I saw that Plastic Galaxy, a documentary film exploring the world of Star Wars and Kenner toys, was available to watch for free on the service so I took a chance and gave it a watch.

The documentary is just over an hour long and is a talking heads type of affair. It has informative sections where the narrator explains the events chronologically and this is interspersed with former Kenner designers, photographers and artists who made the figures and designed the artwork. This is all very informative and gives a good understanding of some of the behind the scenes details.

The documentary itself is very informative and was obviously created by fans for the fans of the franchise and as such it provides a quick and useful snapshot of this small pocket of time but when some of the workers discuss the crazy hours they had to do to get the toys in stores by Christmas, the director glosses over these. This would have been useful to have on film for posterity as crunch times were brutal and some of the former employees discuss sleeping at their offices for weeks on end, hardly ever going home. These are not wonderful memories for Star Wars fans but as an insight into the toy making business in the 80s this is invaluable.

For fans of the toys the documentary is serviceable but not essential. Being so niche I'm sure fans of the toys are already aware of this film but for those with even a passing curiosity Plastic Galaxy is worth an hour of your time.

Twin Peaks: The Return- Complete Series Review

I have loved the new series of Twin Peaks. Like a lot of David Lynch's work The Return infuriated and frustrated but boy when it came together it really came together.

Every week I looked forward to the next episode to snatch a little more information and develop more of an understanding of the mythos and world that had been created. I hadn't become aware of how complacent a lot of TV shows or even my viewing habits had become; I often multitask and do other things whilst watching most TV shows and some movies but not so with Twin Peaks. The nature of the show demanded your attention, a mere second could reveal so much that you had to watch things carefully, including the credits to work out who the large cast of characters were.

The first 7 episodes had me frustrated as I wanted to know where Annie was and what had happened to Agent Dale Cooper. But I liked the flow and mystery of the show and so continued to watch, hoping that Lynch and Frost would finally provide me with the closure I needed to THAT 25 year old cliffhanger.

Things got weird at episode 8; the most avant garde piece of television film making I've seen for a long time. It started off as a normal, well as 'normal' as Twin Peaks gets but then after a protracted night drive sequence and a raw performance from Nine Inch Nails the whole feel of the episode changes and we are presented with a flashback, presented in black and white, of the Giant. The episode gets even stranger with an atomic bomb test exploding in New Mexico and what I believe to be the birth or origins of Bob into this world. We see Laura as 'The One' with a glowing orb of her face, the one we are all familiar with of her homecoming photo... But this is the 1950s so is Laura Palmer prophesied to be the force for good nearly 40 years before her existence? Who knows?

After the craziness of episode 8 the series took a 2 week hiatus, as if knowing people would need the time to collect themselves and process what they had just seen. I know many shows have mid-season breaks for a while to ramp up the excitement but I've not really seen a show decide to take a week off to let it's viewers digest that specific episode.

From then on the seemingly disparate elements seemed to come together thick and fast.

Agent Cooper had spent the episodes is a fugue state as Dougie Jones, a doppelganger created by Evil Coop (another doppelganger who is possessed by Bob). These Dougie Jones segments were charming but seemed to drag early on. Like most I was hungry to see the Agent Dale Cooper we all know and love but as time went on and the Jones world was revealed to be a part of the larger Twin Peaks tapestry I fell in love with the affable lug, just like his wife Janey E, played wonderfully by Naomi Watts. It is the most unconventional love story but Dougie/ Agent Cooper and Janey E have a cute story arc where she falls in live with her former wastrel of a husband.

Episode 15 was a standout episode as 2 characters who have been in love for a long time but been unable to be together for various reasons finally got together. I fist pumped and whooped for joy at this scene, which was beautiful scored with Otis Reddings 'I've Been Loving You Too Long'. This episode also features the final appearance of the Log Lady who gives a clue to Hawk and says her goodbyes in the most heartrending scene.

Episode 16 gave the fans what they have waited for and I'll not spoil it here but will say that it was worth the wait. Several despicable people got their comeuppance whilst a pivotal moment was marked by whoops of joy in my household. There were still mysteries abound surrounding Audrey and Diane but with the two part finale coming up it was all building up to be spectacular.

The final two episodes answered many questions but in typical Lynch fashion left many more open to interpretation or just plain unanswered. Episode 17 gave us the background on Judy but more importantly it gave us the meeting of Evil Coop and Agent Dale Cooper. It went a little comic booky here but delivered with things kicking off at the Sheriff's Station. Freddie finally came into his own and we found out who Naido was. Cooper got to meet his FBI colleagues and reunited with the Sheriff's Department staff in a heart warming moment.

We then got a lengthy reintroduction of Fire Walk With Me with many scenes from the film shown from different angles but this time with Cooper in them, Cooper in the woods hiding whilst Laura and James shared an intense moment. The fact that Cooper went to Laura and tried to save her by walking through the woods with her only for her to vanish was shocking and made me uncomfortable... it seemed like Cooper was so close but had been outdone by Judy again!

Then it went a little surreal as Cooper tried to go to the past to alter the timeline and save Laura Palmer, who was in the alternate timeline/ dimension was Carrie Page, a middle aged maybe-Laura Palmer who worked as a waitress at Judy's Cafe. Cooper took her back to her house in Twin Peaks and when he knocked on the door there was no Sarah Palmer but rather the mysterious lady who bought the house from a Mrs Chalfont. Agent Dale Cooper was confused and asks,"What year is this?" and then we hear Laura Palmer/ Carrie Page scream... and the screen fades to black.

What does this all mean? Well I don't quite know but it could be that there are no happy endings and the battle between good and evil will continue infinitely. Evil will triumph but as long as there are good men like Cooper fighting the good fight there is always hope. Lynch and Frost have created a masterful ending which is open to interpretation and already I have seen hundreds of posts online with theories, claims and counter-claims about what the ending represents but is there an answer? Lynch works best when creating a mood and like author Haruki Murakami, the work defies logic but seems to have a narrative that would be easy to decipher, if only you had the Rosetta Stone.

Overall Twin Peaks: The Return was one of the finest series I have ever seen. The levels of violence against women was uncomfortable at times but when looking at the whole piece of work, necessary to bring to the fore the issues that we have in the real world of misogyny and abuse. After all Twin Peaks was the story of a young girl being sexually abused by her father by the will of an evil spirit and largely ignored by her aloof mother. It is a challenging watch but often the finest works are, there are no easy answers and for a work of this magnitude there shouldn't be. Lynch and Frost make us uncomfortable and question the status quo and for that they should be applauded.

The way the writing pair have woven a story after 25 years with some of the cast and crew either passing away or not being available to film is remarkable, the fact that it all flowed and made sense is astonishing. Nothing in Twin Peaks is weird or surreal for just its sake, there is a deep lore here and it underlies everything.

The Return was amazing and answered most of the questions I had from the first two series but it wasn't always an easy watch early on. For those with patience and a spare 18 hours available Twin Peaks is an essential watch, it challenges what TV in this day and age can do and requires you to pay attention and watch closely, something I know I have become complacent at through binge watching.

A special mention must be made of the performances of the large ensemble cast. Kyle MacLachlan did some excellent work in his three roles, playing the menacing Mr C with cold-hearted detachment, but also giving us the lovable Dougie Jones, a character you grow to love as he makes the world better by his subtle features and occasionally repeated words. As Agent Cooper he embodies the goodness that made the character so beloved and admired.

Grace Zabriskie, who plays Sarah Palmer, gave a stunning tour de force performance of a parent who had suffered so much and is in anguish at losing her loved ones.

The Log Lady, Margaret Lanterman, played by a dying Catherine Coulson, was phenomenal. Knowing she was dying in real life of cancer, her turn as the Log Lady dying on the show is heart-breaking. Her final call to Deputy Hawk on the night she knows that she is going to die (episode 15) is heart-rending, you can feel the connection between these two actors who have worked on something as profound as Twin Peaks. The new melancholy score by Angelo Badalamenti underscored this. When Hawk tells the rest of the Sheriff's department Lynch lingers on the scene to give it gravitas but also as a memorial to arguably the most iconic Twin Peaks character.

I was pleased to see Philip Jeffries return but not as we expected, due to David Bowie's death the role was played by a giant bell/ kettle. Why? Because Lynch.

If you haven't had a chance to see this masterpeice you owe it to yourself, you really won't be disappointed.

May The Toys Be With You: A Star Wars Toy Exhibition

Star Wars is a phenomenon and a huge part of pop culture. It is not a work with which I am particularly nostalgic as I caught it later in my youth than most of my friends. I like the original movies just fine but it never became a formative or integral part of my childhood, I never played with the toys, had the annuals or role played as characters from that universe but I appreciate what it did for media as a whole.

Over 300 million Star Wars figures have been sold, but I wonder how many remain from the original Kenner Star Wars figure line from the late 70s/ early 80s? My guess is not that many as most children would have chewed on them and their parents most likely would have thrown them away after they lost a limb or two. Don't forget that this was a time before collectable toys and fandom were on the scale they are now- in fact Star Wars is often credited with starting the whole fandom and collectable toys market.

An interesting fact that may not be well known is that the toys made more money than the original trilogy of films ever did. Lucas was a smart guy and ahead of the curve when it came to merchandising.

Well if Star Wars toys tickle your nostalgia bone then you should head to the Torquay Museum where Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, Hans Solo and others characters have descended for 'May the Toys Be With You,' which showcases one of Britain’s finest Star Wars toy collection.

I went with my 2 year old daughter and enjoyed the museum as a whole. The Star Wars exhibition is contained to one room but it is packed with a large collection of some of the first Star Wars toys, posters and memorabilia produced. 'May the Toys Be With You' also gives visitors the chance to get up-close to stunning life-sized replicas of Darth Vader, R2D2 and a Stormtrooper. My daughter and I got a picture with Darth Vader and she was suitably scared... evil creatures who have destroyed whole planets will do that to her. There was a statue of Yoda and a Boba Fett helmet and chest armour but these were contained behind a glass case so I couldn't get a picture of my daughter with Yoda, which was a shame.

Contained within the room were lots of Kenner Star Wars figures and some were still in their boxes whilst others were loose and displayed in glass cases. The provenance displayed around the room discussed the origins of the action figures, the problems with forgeries and copies and a discussion on the collectors market.

There were a couple of highlights on show including a wonderful diorama set up of the planet Hoth and the snowy battle going on. This was lovingly created and looked spectacular.

As a gamer I was pleased to see an original full-sized Star Wars X-Wing Cockpit arcade video game by Atari. I never played on it but know that it is well regarded and loved by many.

As a whole the 'May The Toys Be With You' exhibition is a loving tribute to the Star Wars figures fandom, and whilst small is curated with much affection. If you are in Torquay and have even a passing interest in Star Wars you must go to see this.

The museum also has a few other permanent exhibitions on including Explorers and Ancient Egyptians, The Story Behind Britain's Oldest Fossil and the only permanent Agatha Christie exhibition. The last one was particularly interesting as it house Poirot's cane and art deco study as well as Miss Marple's fur coat ans suit. As a fan of the David Suchet Poirot series this was a bonus to seeing the Star Wars exhibition.

At £6.50 this museum is a no-brainer. That price includes entry for a whole year so in my opinion is well worth it. The Star Wars toys exhibition runs until 3rd September so of you want to go you better get your skates on, or take the Millenium Falcon and get there in 14 parsecs.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets- Film Review

Luc Besson is an auteur; a visionary director who will put his hand to anything. More often than not it doesn't all work, but what he does produce is always interesting with the kernel of good ideas and so his work is always worth a watch. Harvey Weinstein called Besson a "has been" but I don't think that's true at all, rather Besson is a man with artistic ambition and seeks to realise but with varying results. So when the trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets dropped a few months ago my interest was piqued. 

Adapted from Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières epic French sci-fi comic series, Valérian And Laureline, Besson seems like the logical fit, what with his penchance for visual flourishes and elaborate set pieces. The comics series has been credited with inspiring much of the sci-fi media but what of this adaptation of the original source material? 

The story is action sci-fi 101; In the 28th century, special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) work together to maintain order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the minister of defense, the duo embarks on a mission to Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis where diverse species gather to share knowledge and culture. When a dark force threatens the peaceful city, Valerian and Laureline must race against time to identify the menace that also jeopardizes the future of the universe.

From the off the film is a sumptuous visual feast filled with neons and stunning detail. The beginning 10 minutes of the film is scored with David Bowie's Space Oddity and shows the space race to the expansion of Alpha, with the humans meeting the various alien races over time. It is an assured and beautiful start to the film. The world building is immaculate, which you would expect from the director of The Fifth Element, another cult sci-fi film. However once the story starts it falls woefully short of matching the brilliance of the visuals. 

I've never read the bande-desinee source material but in this film Valerian is supposed to be a bit of a handsome womanising rogue, however DaHaan, who is a fine actor and does well playing the moody outsider, is woefully miscast. He doesn't have the presence of a young cocky Hans Solo type. The supposedly flirty dialogue between his character and Laureline comes across as wooden and poorly scripted. As a man who's supposed to have bedded tonnes of women his banter seems more like that of a horny teen desperately seeking a date for the prom. Delevingne does well with the role she is given and actually shows some range and the potential to be  good actress but the dialogue doesn't do either actor any favours. At times the chemistry between the two protagonists feels forced, like students who had been forced to do a project together by a teacher, rather than a long-time partnership spoken about at the beginning of the story. There were some witty one liners but these were few and far between and the flirting is cringe-worthy and embarrassing at times.

However there are some highlights including an amazing star turn from Rihanna as the shape-shifting cabaret artist/lady of the night, Bubbles. In her stunning cabaret inspired performance she shape shifts into different costumes at stunning speed and pole dances with style. The mind reading jellyfish scene with Delevingne is funny and the creature designs are incentive and quirky, especially the 3 duck-like creatures which look oddly like Howard the Duck from the terrible 80's film, but grubbier. 

The visuals could only have been done now but the story, which has inspired countless sci-fi films including Star Wars, Star Trek, Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy, feels old and in need of updating and refreshing. As a new film this feels strangely out of time. I'm sure when the comics were created it all felt very exciting, like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers but now these are old hat and so offer nothing new for todays plugged in audience. 

So overall, the film is worth seeing but not for the story or actors but rather for the visuals and special effects.

Into the Unknown Exhibition Shines Bright at the Barbican

Into the Unknown is a large exhibition set in the Barbican which explores the world of science fiction. The genre was initially niche but over the years has grown in popularity to frequently become pop culture touchstones. Novels, comics, cinema and music have touched upon the human desire to explore new worlds and this exhibition is a great one that looks at the evolution of the genre.

This sculpture at the Barbican reminds me of the monolith that features on the cover of video game No Man's Sky.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw mankind exploring new lands and making exciting new discoveries, this opened up a literal whole new world of imagination. The late 19th and 20th centuries saw mankind make giant strides in science and technology, which led people to look to the stars and desire to explore the planets and dark void of space in the hope of finding new worlds and peoples. This exhibition looks at all of that and is very generously organised with over 800 exhibits on show. The show is broken into a few distinct parts; Extraordinary Voyages, Space Odysseys, Brave New Worlds and Final Frontiers.


Extraordinary Voyages

The 18th and 19th century saw a boom in science ad the age of enlightenment took over from the centuries of superstition and witchcraft. At the forefront of this was the literary giant Jules Verne and his work is well represented here. There is a page from a manuscript on show and many models of his illustrations. The designs are beautiful and intricate and practical as Verne worked with esteemed scientists of the time to create plausible machines. Vernians are well catered for here. Another personal favourite of mine, model maker Ray Harryhausen, has a large presence. In creating believable lifelike models of fantastical creatures and dinosaurs (at least at the time they were created) Harryhausen inspired generations of directors, special effect creators and youngsters, including me. A lot of his models are on show and considering some are over 60 years old, are in remarkably good condition. The maquettes of some of these legendary creature designs are on show and ask the visitor to recall the films they once starred in. The original sketches and story boards of classics such as The Lost World, The Valley of Gwanji and the original Mighty Joe Young show the artistry of such luminaries as Harryhausen and his mentor Willis O'Brien. 

These Ray Harryhausen models were amazingly detailed up close.

Space Odysseys

The space race of the 1950s and 60s was more than just a triumph of engineering, it was a time of great optimism about humanity and its future after the devastating Second World War had shaken the whole of the planet to its core. Visual artists and authors, often collaborating with scientists and engineers, were able to stir up public fervour in depicting a plausible vision of humanity amongst the stars. The next section of the exhibition has stunning original Russian art on show and the thing that stands out is the sheer hope. Images show the realised dream of humanity reaching the stars and living on other worlds. Another real highlight here for the film aficionado is the script, as written by Arthur C. Clarke, of Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The exhibition then shows the way science fiction has inspired TV shows and cinemas. There was lots on show but Darth Vader's helmet and John Hurt's suit from Alien are early boons. As a fan of H.R. Giger the Alien head design as well as his Jadorowski's Dune inspired chair were both excellent, the bio-mechanical horror that Giger created are wonderful to see up close. As a huge fan of Irwin Allen's work (it used to show on Channel 4 on Sunday afternoons in the 80s) seeing the Spindrift spaceship from Land of the Giants brought back waves of nostalgia.  

Brave New Worlds

The last section of this part of the exhibition was looking at the world of sci-fi in the modern age. It featured models of original classic robots such as Robbie from Forbidden Planet and Twinkl from Buck Rogers but also a more modern exhibit in Ex Machina.  There were video montages of classic sci-fi scenes including one of my personal favourites, the opening of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Stunning images of utopian and dystopian worlds painted on canvas and printed from computer software were on show too and presented plausible imagery of what the future may hold for us.

As a whole the first section of Into the Unknown was an impressive your through the birth and evolution of sci-fi.

The next part of the exhibition was the film In The Future They Ate From The Finest Porcelain by Larissa Sansour. I didn't watch the film as I didn't have the time due to prior commitments so I can't comment but I hear from others that it was well worth the 29 minute run-time. 

The final part of the exhibition was an art installation down in the basement space, it is called In The Light Of the Machine by Conrad Shawcross. You enter a dark space and once your eyes adjust you make out large panels of metal with holes in, all placed in concentric circles, almost like a neolithic stone circles similar to stonehenge. In the middle is a light and this enters the holes and projects onto the black walls, giving off an eerie light. You can hear a machine working away at its centre and through the holes of the machine and the gaps between the large metal plates you can see a seeming sentient machine holding out a light at the end of a rod. The effect is oddly unsettling yet calming, the rhythmic thrum of the machine soothes yet unnerves as the light rays dance on the walls. The whole piece is well worth a visit and stays with you long after.

I left the exhibition and reflected on what I had seen and experienced. As a whole i believe that the exhibition was well curated and thoroughly engaging. The whole of the Barbican has been utilised for this exhibition, with experimental videos, computer games and sculpture littering the building. Anyone with a spare couple of hours should see this as it is a well curated experience.

The Wonder of Moomin World

I have a love for the Moomins as many of you may know. I've discussed the Moomins multiple times before, when talking about the 80s stop motion animation, the recent vinyl soundtrack release and the exhibition at the Southbank Centre. What many people may not know is that my love for the Moomins is all pretty recent. When the Japanese animated show came out in the early 90s I was already too old for the show and was busy being edgy with the X Men cartoon. No, my love for the Moomins came in the mid 2000s with the release of the comics. Tove Jansson's comics were published in the 1950s in the Evening Standard and it was here that the characters became popular, however the collected volumes weren't released until 2006. As a comic collector I noticed the first 4 volumes on sale and decided to buy the set and it was here that the whimsical stories with heart and street philosophy entered my life. I fell in love with these hippo-like creatures that spouted aphorisms and enjoyed the simple things in life. 

When I discovered that there was a theme park called Moomin World, I knew that I had to go, even if it was in some obscure town in Finland. Luckily enough I have an understanding and some would say long- suffering wife who understands (read: puts up with) my flights of fancy and so we decided to visit Finland, catch up with an old friend (as in a real friend, not some homily for something more untangible like 'time' or friendship') and travel to Moomin World

When organising the trip I read the reviews and noticed that many had complained about the price and size of the park, so I had my reservations but I remained optimistic nonetheless and decided to visit with an open mind.  

So how was it? Well, in a nutshell... I loved it. This was not a foregone conclusion as many would assumes due to my alleged sunny 'glass half full' disposition and my Moomin fanboy-ism, but rather a viewpoint reached on balance of my personal experience and that of my 2 year old daughter, the primary audience for this theme park. 

The coastal walk to Moomin World is gorgeous.

To get to the park my wife, daughter and I walked around the coastal path from Naantali, a picturesque town with stunning views of the sea. To reach Moomin World you have to cross a long bridge over to Vaski island where the theme park is located. The bridge was beautiful and on either side elegant boats were moored, gently bobbing upon the wave in the glorious sunshine. As an introduction this sight certainly presented an air of wonder as many Moomin stories are centred around the sea and a love of nature.  

The bridge over to the island where Moomin World is situated adds to the excitement and atmosphere.

Once over the bridge we followed an old gravel path through the woods for about 50 metres and came to the entrance, a small wired gate with the Moomin World banner. We waited a few minutes and entered, paying our 28 Euro fee each, children are charged at the same rate so for our party it cost 84 Euros in total, that's a lot!  

Upon entering the park the thing to note were the quirky buildings and lots of shops, lots and lots of shops and stalls where you could win prizes, however at 4 Euros a pop I didn't play any of the games!  

My family and I headed straight to the highlight of the park, the Moomin House. We were near the front of the line and and due to our brisk walking pace were the first to meet Moomin Papa, who waved at us and kindly took a picture. Also walking around were Moomin Mama, Moomintroll, Little My and the Fillijonk. We got pictures with all of them and my daughter, who was initially frightened started to enjoy herself.  

A little while later the whole Moomin family,  Little My and the Fillijonk performed a little play and danced. My daughter joined in with the clapping and boogieing, unaware that they were speaking in a different language, Finnish.

The characters from the Moomins dance away merrily and my daughter danced away too!

The characters then walked around and met people, taking pictures and also performing an interactive performance piece where Stinky, the resident Moomin Valley bad boy, stole the Fillijonk's bag. My daughter was really invested and we followed the story around the area. She found Stinky fascinating yet scary too, every time I went close to take a picture with him she started to cry but if we moved away to another part of the park she insisted on seeing Stinky. Kids!  

We entered the Moomin house and saw the living room and bed rooms. The whole thing was wonderfully realised and as a fan of the comics, seemed quite accurate to the feel and look of the world. 

We then left the house and went on a little trek to see the bathing hut and Edvard the Booble. My daughter loved that and was really excited, calling him a dinosaur. He bobbed on the waves and seemed quite happy moving with the current.  

Moomin Papa's boat faces the sea.

Moomin Papa's boat was nearby and it was a climbing frame with a circular water channel built in that contained boats you could race. My daughter and I spent about 30 minutes here just racing them around and she was ecstatic, pouring out the water from the boats as they filled up on their journey around the circuit and floating them again.  

With the time approaching midday we went for lunch at Moomin Mama's Kitchen restaurant. At 3 Euros 50 the children's buffet was excellent value and included free drink refills. My daughter had mash potatoes, sauteed carrots, grilled chicken and meatballs and scoffed it all up. I'd read reviews which had slated the food but it was typical theme park fare, quick and easy food at a fair price.

After lunch we did the Fairy-tale Trail where we crept past the Witches and Alice's house, entered the labyrinth, adventured into the cave of the Hattifatteners, bravely went into the Groke's house and then climbed the mountain and walked across the suspension bridge. We met Thingummy and Bob and the people playing them were so cute and spoke a sweet nonsense language.  

My daughter loved the whole experience and didn't want to leave but at over 3 hours my wife and I felt like or was time to go as it was nap time. 

So was the money we paid for the 3 hours there worth it? Undoubtedly! If my daughter had her way we would have stayed all day. As an adult I can see why some people may not think it was worth while, people expecting a theme park with rides and fireworks will be disappointed but for those willing to engage with the performers and play in the different settings it is definitely worth your time. Some of the areas are looking a bit tired and could use a lick of paint but for somewhere that is susceptable to extremes in weather like Finland this is to be expected.  

Do yourself a favour, if you have a chance to visit Moomin World, do but don't necessarily go out of your way to visit Finland especially for it as it's great but not THAT great!

To Infinity And Beyond with the Into the Unknown Exhibition at the Barbican

This summer the Barbican is hosting a centre-wide festival-style exhibition exploring the works of various creators in the world of science fiction. The exhibition shares over 800 pieces from a wide variety of backgrounds including Jules Verne, Ray Harryhausen, H.R. Giger and Soviet posters from the space race era. There are suits and items from films such as Star Wars, Interstellar and Star Trek on show. 

I have booked tickets and will be going this Sunday and will feedback here my thoughts on the exhibition but needless to say that I am very excited!

Twin Peaks: The Return (Series so far review)

Wonderfully quirky yet full of menace, Twin Peaks: The Return is nothing like I expected yet everything I didn't know I needed. I watched the first two episodes on the night of their premiere and even though Episodes 3 and 4 were made available for streaming on Sky Atlantic here in Britain on the same day, I held off to fully appreciate the first two episodes and reflect on what I had just seen.  Watching those first two episodes, I once again became entranced by the world of Twin Peaks. I had no idea what was going on and still have no clue to be honest but Lynch and Frost's work has sunk its hooks into me and I want to find out more, I need closure!

 I don't know what future episodes will bring, but the series has so far subverted my expectations by being deliberately slow paced and oblique at times- counter to the current binge watching state of most series. It requires patience and thought; people hoping for a quick resolution to 'Where's Annie?' and what has happened to Dale/ doppeldale are going to have to wait and see. 

 The new episodes (6 at the time of writing) are not artificially structured to allow for adverts and so we have some extremely long scenes which last several minutes, this allows the show to present its dream logic in an uninterrupted way. This could go disastrously wrong, and there are a few scenes where I believe it does, but for the most part Twin Peaks: The Return is essential viewing.  

 Moving on to episode 3 and 4 we finally get to spend more time Dale Cooper but not as we once knew him. Out from the Black Lodge after 25 years he spends his timeacclimatising to life back on this plane and it is slow going. There are scenes that will make you laugh and some have led to memes galore, HelloOOOoo Mr Jackpot, but as a whole the deliberate slow world building has enraptured fans of Lynch's work whilst turning off some viewers who do not like the more Fire Walk With Me direction that The Return persues.

 From episodes 5 things seem to ratchet up. In episode 5 but particularly 6, there is swearing, nudity and violence but it is all indicative of Lynch's auteur style. In episode 6 there is an incredibly brutal stabbing yet in typical Lynch fashion the scene has an absurdist humoured take on violence. Later on in the same episode there is an incredibly moving scene of a mother mourning the death of her son as he is run over whilst crossing a road. The scene is shocking and Lynch lingers on the mother's anguished face, yet there is lightness as a passerby sees the soul of the young boy ascend to the heavens and comforts the mourning mother. This is also where the first real new score by composer Angelo Badalamenti comes in, which heightens the emotions of whole scene further. 

 So how is the return of Twin Peaks? Well, the new episodes are like a fever dream, things don't make sense and for every moment of wonder and joy there are two for dark and disturbing. Some of the cast return but for the most part we are introduced to new characters, it has been over 25 years after all. It is starting to come together, I'm not sure where it will lead but I'm sure that it will be a journey that is both wonderful and strange, and I for one am going to enjoy the ride.  

Digital vs Physical Media

Over recent years there has been a push towards digital media. There are many positives to this including the fact that it saves space and resources. As a father of 1 with a small house space is a premium, I can have tonnes of digital media and it won't take up any more physical space. Also a lot of the time digital media is accessible from different location via online services like Netflix or the cloud, this makes it really convenient to access resources from many different locations and there is no risk that the digital media can be lost or stolen. Digital media can be cheaper to acquire the physical copies, especially when it comes to rare or retro games. For example Mother on the SNES used to trade on eBay for over £100 but now is available from the Nintendo online store for only £6.49.

Earthbound costs a fortune for a mint boxed copy but now it is available for under 7 quid on the Nindendo store.

There are many pros for buying digital but I have my concerns.
Physical media has a resale value. With some games costing £60 on release I like the fact that if I like it I can keep it in my collection but if don't or I don't think it is worth having permanently I can sell it on. I can afford now to keep all my physical games but as a child I depended on trading to purchase the next game, otherwise there was no way I could have afforded it on my £2 a week pocket money.

However my concern with digital media is mostly to do with the legacy.
PT, the free Silent Hills demo from Sony, is no longer downloadable on the PS Store.  Many Sega games have been taken down from iOS, only downloadable to those who bought them initially and can download again but not for new customers.
If Metropolis, Fritz Lang's masterpiece were a digital only release made now it would have been lost to the digital ether, same for F. W. Marnau's Nosferatu. Games such as Silicon Knights Too Human, which was successfully destroyed due to copyright infringement would no longer be available in the digital marketplace.
Many modern games use online servers to play multiplayer, but after some time the servers are turned off meaning the multiplayer is no longer accessible.

But its not all doom and gloom. The internet creates tribes and ardent fans, there will always be someone or a small group who preserve something of interest and disseminate its. As a Mysterious Cities of Gold fan it was thanks to joining the Goldlist mailing list that I was kept up to date on developments on the new series. YouTube uploaders also preserve classics like Quatermass and emulators upload roms of classic and obscure games onto websites.

Fans often keep obscure or niche products and media alive.

So the whole issue is pretty complex but for me physical media is the way for most ways to consume most media but there are occasions for digital media.

The Mysterious Cities of Gold- Retro Soundtrack Review

I am a huge fan of the animated series Mysterious Cities of Gold, it is my favourite programme of ALL time and was a formative part of my childhood; single handedly creating my interest in anime, manga, South and Central American culture and synthesizer music (It's why I love Jarre, Vangelis and Oldfield).

In my mancave I have a MCOG medallion, an original cel, a French book discussing the making of (even though I haven't studied French since my GCSE's 20 years ago) and a model of the golden condor. However no mention of The Mysterious Cities of Gold would be complete without a mention of the mesmerising soundtrack. There have been some amazing soundtracks for TV shows over the years but the synthesizers and futuristic sounds used in the soundtrack gave this series a unique, mesmerising atmosphere all its own.

I made this influence map 7 years ago and as you can see the MCOG features prominently.

I don't know my arpeggios from my elbow but hopefully I'll be able to describe the tracks with such flourishes of description that you'll get the gist of what I'm saying and trying to convey; layman's terms.... don't begrudge me my enthusiasm and flights of descriptive fancy.

I got this CD for much cheaper than it is currently going for... this OST is in high demand!

I got this CD for much cheaper than it is currently going for... this OST is in high demand!

The album starts with the French opening credits. It has the instrumentation that we all know and love but with the vocals of French pop star of the time Noam Kaniel. The track is okay but holds no real nostalgia for me, that'd be track 16, the extended version of the English vocal track that played over the opening of the show. Track 15 is the instrumentation of the opening credits so if you feel like having a Philip Schofield moment this is the one to do it on!

Track 2, Heureux Esteban (Happy Esteban), is the track familiar to many as the 'to follow' music. It played at the end of the show and teased you as to what would happen in the next episode. The track itself is an upbeat and jolly track with a gentle pulsing synth and wonderfully joyful instrumentation.

Tracks 3 and 4, Theme de Zia and Theme de Tao are both French vocal tracks. Zia's Theme is airy and light and the vocals are like a ballad, it suits the character well. Tao's Theme starts with a driving drumming beat and then the riveting rhythmic music kicks in, I don't understand the vocals but the chorus is instantly singable.

Track 5, L'aventure de Tao (Tao's Adventure), is a driving track which starts with a blaring bit of brass and then sounds like a marching band with some triumphalism. It is a very memorable track and often occurred at adventurous moments of the show, usually when the children were enacting out a plan to save someone or get something.

Track 6, L'aventure D'Esteban (Esteban's Adventure) is an instrumentation of Tao's Theme and so this has me thinking that maybe they got the track listing mislabeled for track 5 and 6- the old switcharoo. Anyhow this track sounds like a calypso track with a lush steel drum sound playing over some nice percussive bass.

Track 7, Les Tristes Cites D'or (Sad Cities of Gold), is a bit of melancholia and levity amongst the bombast. It has a flute playing winsomely over some soft instrumental music. Then the chorus comes in and you know that this is a song of reflection. The whole piece is beautiful and evocative of early morning sadness.

Track 8, Le Vol du Condor (The Flight of the Condor), is one of the signature tracks of the show. It’s a work of fragile magic, a hypnotic combination of beautifully breathy sounds and exquisitely gorgeous melodies and soft-spun instrumentation. There is much serenity in this piece of music and it lifts the spirits.

Track 9, En Naviguant (By Sailing), has some of the soundtracks lushest and most organic synthesizer sounds. There are little zephyrs that punctuate the strong synthesizer sound, adding a sense of scope and wonder to this dreamy track.

Track 10, Les Incas (The Incas), is a joyful track that combines traditional flute sounds with Spanish guitar to create vivid imagery of the andes. It is a very evocative piece of music and one of my favourites.

Track 11, Esteban Dans La Vie (The Life of Esteban), is one of the more emotional tracks. It played when Esteban and Zia both meet their fathers, moments of great gravitas. As such it is suitably downbeat and dramatic, verging on melodrama but without the negative connotations that implies. A great track worth a listen.

Track 12, La Grand Tempete (The Great Storm), is a track that was used in the He-Man cartoon series too. It is a swirling whirlwind of drama and conjures up images of storms with its deep resonating sound and brooding score. A truly great track that builds up slowly and spectacularly.

Track 13, Les Dieux Des Incas (Gods of the Incas), is one of the greatest tracks ever written in my opinion. when people talk about soundscapes they discuss Eno, Tangerine Dreams, Popul Vuh and various artists of the same calibre but this track shows that Saban and Levy should be included in the pantheon. This track is an otherworldly journey through a sound cosmos to the higher dimensions of sound. It is so powerful and evocative, almost primal. This is one of my favourite albums of all time and this track is one of the reasons why.

Track 14, Les Aventures Electroniques (Electronic Adventures), is an upbeat slab of pop electronica, it is a fast paced track that surges forward with excitement and vitality. This is one of the best tracks on the album and I remember that it occurred at high octane moments in the show. The track itself is a wonderful flute melody playing over a stirring synth production with several joyful moments and pauses. Another great highlight.

There are a few omissions on this soundtrack that disappoint me though and one of the most glaring omissions is St. Elmo's Fire (also known on other versions of the soundtrack as La Passage Secret), known to many fans as the Song of Mysterious Awesomeness. The sense of awe and wonder this music piece brought in me at the time was palpable, I would shake with excitement as this track was reserved for only the most special moments of the series. It is used when a new discovery is made or when the characters experienced a grand phenomena. The juddering driving synths mixed with the whoozy flow of the main tune lend the piece an otherworldly air which perfectly suited the air of mystery. I have extremely powerful memories of this track as this music was used on the maiden flight of the golden condor. The point when the machine comes online for the first time and flies is etched in my memory. I've seen this episode more than any other (I watch the series annually) but I still get goosebumps when the music kick in. The link to this moment is below and I would recommend you watch it (it kicks in at 56 seconds).

Overall the album is a beautifully crafted electronic masterpiece bubbling with synths and tones, all exquisitely held together with crystalline pop production. It is an evocative suite of synth music which perfectly captures the feel of the show. There are moments of true euphoria but it's not all happy electronic music, there are some moments of menace and levity. I love the whirling feeling of weightlessness on some compositions but then it can be followed up with wafts of dense symphonic mist that emerges floating up from the speakers. For fans of electronic music or fans of the show, this is a must-have. Okay it's not the complete soundtrack but the tracks on here are clean and pristine with no crackle or hiss.

Let's Play with the Programmers

Personally, I dislike Let's Play videos, especially because a lot involve someone being loud and annoying trying to crack 'jokes'. However, I do like developer commentaries as they provide very insights into a games creation, and may talk about cut features and what could have been. With the increasing popularity of Let's Play videos, we actually have gotten some interesting developer Let's Plays over the last couple years. These are a few of the developer and creator commentaries that I like.

Conker's Bad Fur Day
(older NeoGAF thread)
A few of the ex-Rare staff get together to talk about the creation of the game. It's fun and relaxed and features a lot of swearing.... would you expect anything else from Conker?

Wolfenstein 3D
(He starts playing 8:44 in, but it's a good listen anyway)
John Carmack reminisces about the game with a lot of interesting insight and commentary, from gameplay to tech. It's more serious and technical than the Conker one, and he only plays for about 15 minutes, but it's still quite a treat.

Hideki Kamiya talks about Bayonetta for over seven hours. As he's doing it solo it does drag on a bit but it does give some insights into his favourite games.

Day of the Tentacle

Tim Schafer talks about this point and click classic. He is an interesting guy to listen to and his humour is pretty awesome!

These are a few of the commentaries that I like. If you have some that you like please let me know!

DC: Art Of the Brick Review

Lego has been enjoying a resurgence in the past decade, very nearly bankrupt in 2004 the company now has a multi-media empire, including video games, an Academy Award Winning film (for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, for Everything Is Awesome by Shawn Patterson) and many, many playsets. Now artist Nathan Sawaya has used more than two million Lego bricks to create art pieces inspired by the comic book world of DC. Over the course of exhibition you will find numerous Lego models and dioramas of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Flash as well as the rogues gallery containing, amongst others, the Joker, Harley Quinn and the Riddler. The exhibition has many different art pieces and the level of detail is astonishing. The level of patience and craft shown is immense and I doff my cap to the artist. 

The standout piece for me was the Batcave section of the exhibition as the music from the animated series played and a screen projection of Gotham looked impressive against the Lego made Bat signal.

The exhibition is being held in a  purpose-built tent, just minutes away from Waterloo Station and whilst this is fine, the fact that I went on one of the hottest days of the year made the whole thing uncomfortable to walk around. It was warm and there was very little fresh air in there

 If they couldput some ventilation that'd be great but otherwise this is well worth a visit at £16.50.

Anime Background Exhibition at the House of Illustration

When Akira was released upon an unsuspecting world in 1988, people were blown away by the animes detailed depiction of a sprawling dystopian megacity. A few years later Ghost in the Shell hit cinemas and again moviegoers were floored by the detailed vision of the near future. Both films have been cited as inspirations behind many major Hollywood films such as The Matrix and Ex Machina and been influential in other media. 

A major new exhibition at the House of Illustration, Kings Cross, London is now showcasing the backdrops to these and some other classic anime. It is a dying art as most anime are now computer generated but back at the time of these productions most were hand drawn. 

Over the course of 3 rooms you are given the opportunity to see pencil drawings, water colour paintings and other types of medium to understand the artistry involved when tasked with creating impressive but also believable cityscapes.

The anime films covered include Rintaro's Metropolis and Oshii's Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. What is astonishing is seeing how different artists and directors had such differing views of the future, some of the artwork seems almost eerily precient.  

Seeing the research photographs of Japan and China, the original pencil sketches and then the final painted backgrounds is interesting as you can see the process from beginnning to end.

I've seen all the anime and read most of the original manga that the films are based on but whether or not you have seen them doesn't matter. The artistry and futurist imagination is what is on show here and this exhibition places that left, right and centre! This is a must see exhibition for anime, manga, film and sci-fi fans alike.  

Video Game Papercuts

I love video games and I also like taking photographs, so the idea of merging the two appealed to me. Over the past several months I have been taking characters from various video games and placing them in the real world and these are the results so far. It's a small portfolio but hopefully I'll add to it over time.

Twin Peaks Retrospective

We are mere hours away from the return of Twin Peaks. After nearly 25 years, and that cliffhanger, the show is returning with many of the original cast as well as a veritable smörgåsbord of new characters and actors. 

I've been binge watching the original 29 episode run of series 1 and 2 on DVD over the past few weeks and recently read the Mark Frost book Secret History of Twin Peaks. I have loved immersing myself in the haunting world of Twin Peaks once again. 

Whilst doing the rewatch of the show certain images were as clear and vivid as I remembered them from 20 years ago when I first watched the show. David Lynch's visuals are very haunting without the sound but when you lay in Angelo Badalamenti's unforgettable score and the sound effect mix something magical, almost operatic happens. The sound and images truly complement one another, so much so that several images have been seared into my consciousness; the swinging traffic lights, the dark trees swaying in the breeze, the beautiful waterfall and the hues of brown that permeate the show. There is a poetry and synergy between the images and music that I haven't seen in any other TV series since.

The show itself moved at a leisurely pace, especially when compared to many modern shows, but it was never a slow show, there was always a sense of something lurking just beneath the surface; it could be something terrible, exciting or indeed magical - whatever it was it was never something boring... There was a wonderful dream-logic reality which meant that anything could happen at any point of the show. You want a backwards talking dwarf? Check. You want a unicorn? Check. You want a mysterious giant? Check. How many other shows could do that yet still make a sort of sense?

This unnerving other-worldliness of the series was hinted at in the pilot with the red room shown briefly, but it was really cemented in episode 2 when we meet the sinister backwards talking dwarf in a room of red curtains and chevron flooring.... All this added to the unnerving peculiarity of what could have become just another also-ran police procedural. However after the scene with the empty bottle in the forest and Buddhist philosophising you know you are watching something that is unique and special, how many other shows features FBI Agents trying to work out a murder's identity by trying to break a bottle with a stone?

Throughout the course of the entire show light and dark contrasted heavily, often within one episode, for example the cliffhanger of season 1 when Cooper is shot and the oldest waiter in the world serves him (slowly) whilst he is bleeding to death on the floor, Cooper waits patiently and politely for the waiter's return.

This weirdness continues with the introduction of the giant, a figure famous across nearly all cultures. The duality between the giant and the dwarf makes you consider dualities further and adds to the light / dark dynamic... Are humans just the playthings of creatures and being from another realm? 

When the killer is revealed in episode 14 the question of personal responsibility and whether we are responsible for our own actions Is asked. Is our life predetermined? Are we merely puppets in a greater play or do we have to accept personal responsibility for our actions, even when we may have no control over them?

The series does undoubtedly dip after the reveal of the murderer of Laura Palmer, with the introduction of the pine weasel and Benjamin Horne's spiritual epiphany, but after a few episodes it found its feet again with the introduction of antagonist Windom Earle,  further lore reveals with the Black and White lodge and a look at Agent Dale Cooper's past.

The series reaches a crescendo with episode 29, when David Lynch returned to helm the arthouse horror final episode which ended with the possession of Agent Cooper. Since then fan theories and video essays have abound as to what happened next but with the release of The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost, we have a small insight as to what happened to most of the characters of the show as well as the history of the area.

I cannot wait for the new series and hope that it takes me to a place both magical and strange. After 25 years I hope the wait was worth it, I have a firm belief that it will be. 

The Moomins- Cartoon TV Review

The Moomins are beloved characters created by the Finnish artist and storyteller, Tove Jansson. I am a huge fan of the creatures but I wasn't always this interested. I first came across the series as most children did through the weird felt stop motion show from the 80's. I've spoken before about how the creepy music and unearthly jerky felt character movement weirded me out at the time but with time I've come to appreciate the music, but what of the show?

Well being older and braver I finally decided to eat that frog and re-watch the series and give it a re-evaluation.

The first series of The Moomins is now on Amazon Prime and whilst it is the classic series from the 80's much has changed. From the start things seem off, the creepy introduction music has been replaced by a cheesy pop track and the well recognised title card has disappeared too.

The iconic title card is removed from the Amazon Prime series.

The complete soundtrack has been replaced but also the charming narration and voice-work by Richard Murdoch, replaced by a variety of voice actors who now play the different characters. The new narrator sounds bored, speaking v-e-r-y slowly and without much enthusiasm. All these may not sound like much but collectively it changes the whole feel of the thing and as a such the series loses it's otherworldly charm. In the original first episode, Thingummy and Bob, the scary character of the Groke makes an appearance and the music is suitably dramatic and unsettling. The foley work is impressive with a deep growling sound combining with the dark synthesizer sound. However in this version this is replaced with a more modern dramatic piece of music which although sinister doesn't compare to the original composition.

I persevered for a couple of more episodes but as a whole the feel of the show was 'off.' In the same way that Turner Classic Movies recoloured old films like 'Citizen Kane' and 'The Big Sleep' to appeal to a newer, younger audience, or for more contemporary take, George Lucas' constant meddling with the original Star Wars Trilogy led to worse films, this playing with the Moomin animation of old does no favours to what was a classic if slightly unnerving animation series. If you can watch the originals then please do but this version on Amazon Prime is a poor option.

Inspector Gadget- Retro Soundtrack Review

Inspector Gadget was a staple of 80s cartoons for many children. The crazy adventures of a confused Clouseau-esque cybernetically enhanced policeman, who is rebuilt with many attachments may sound horrific and slightly reminiscent of the Robocop storyline but in the hands of Haim Saban and Shuki Levy it became a crazy farce that filled 86 episodes! I watched the cartoon regularly and even though it was never my favourite I still watched to see where Gadget would end up going each week. The soundtrack realy struck me at the time and the stunning introduction animation and theme song struck a cord with many people, being instantly hum-able even now.

Several soundtracks of the show were released in the 80s but they have been incomplete or suffered from noise distortion after being mastered from vinyl originals, Télé 80 released a CD in 2013 but it only had 22 songs, missing much from the series but the CD is still highly sought after by retro animation collectors.

The 2012 release of the soundtrack is incomplete and not worth getting. Also it is pretty expensive to purchase.

The 2012 release of the soundtrack is incomplete and not worth getting. Also it is pretty expensive to purchase.

However a few years ago they released the updated Inspector Gadget 30th Anniversary Special Edition, which is the most complete collection so far published of Shuki Levy and Haim Saban's score. It contains all the surviving compositions known to exist and Levy provided the master tapes for the new CD himself so the quality of the tracks is pretty clear. So what of the soundtrack? The whole album is composed of 30 tracks, some vocal but many instrumental pieces from the show. The first 3 tracks feature French vocals over well known Inspector Gadget instrumental pieces. They are fine if you are into that kind of thing but they're not really for me. However the album starts properly with track 4, Gadget Sur Mars (Gadget on Mars) which is a moody slice of 80s synth with a deep wubby bassline. In parts there are sounds that are similar to some Mysterious Cities of Gold tracks. 

  • Track 5, Le Fantome (The Ghost) is a warbly piece of music which sounds like a synthesized zither. You can imagine it being played in a ghost house, all jaunty and kiddy scary.  
  • Track 6, Musee De L'art Fou (The MAD Art Museum) is an upbeat piano piece, it moves from dramatic theatricalopening to a quick piano piece which wouldn't be out of place in a stereotypical Western saloon scene. Then the main Inspector Gadget motiff plays over what I can only describe as the sound I hear when people are trying to hide in cartoons. You'll know what I mean when you hear it.  
  • Track 7, Gadget in Japon (Gadget in Japan) is the stereotypical Japanese music, almost comically racist if it wasn't so charming, it opens with a gong and moves along to a rendition of chopsticks and then has a traditional flute sound. It is a rather whimsical and a wonderful piece. 
  • Track 8, L'usine de Chocolats (The Chocolate Factory) is a rather bouncy track that reminds me of ska music with its use of piano and trumpets. The track moves at a cracking pace and the Gadget motiff is there popping up every now and again. 
  • Track 9, Rodeo (Rodeo) is the Gadget motiff played in a American mid-west like dancing tempo, lots of fiddles, trumpets and piano combining energetically. 
  • Track 10, Theme of the Dr's Gang (Theme of Dr Claw's Gang) sounds wildly different, like an 80s cop show, it is all marching beat and jazzy and has a poppy trumpery sound with some cool bass and wailing bass guitar sinuously working its way in under some serious cello.  
  • Track 11, Hero's Dan's La Jingle Africaine (Heroes of the African Jungle) sounds like your stereotypical African sound, all drumming and pulsing jungle beat but then it changing tempo and a trumpet comes in to give it a little verve and variety, before going back to the traditional drum sound. 
  • Track 12, Gadget Chez Les Incas, (Gadget With the Incas) is a piece all panpipes and traditional folk guitar and flute. The piece reminds me of Tao's Theme from another series from the time, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, and is well worth a listen 
  • Track 13, Fai's Gaff (I'm not sure what this means) is one of my favourites tracks, it was often used when Brain the dog had to help Gadget from certain death. It changes rhythm quite a bit moving from dramatic driving synth to jaunty ska-esque high-jinks.  
  • Track 14, Gadget en Difficulte (Gadget in Trouble) was often used when Gadget was just about to fall into Dr Claw's trap, it moves around quite a bit from scary synth to ska. 
  • Track 15, Desert Arabia, (Arabian Desert), is your stereotypical Middle-Eastern sound, all flute, jingly percussion and boingy drums. 
  • Track 16, Gadget Le Sophistique (Sophisticated Gadget) sounds like a lounge piano piece, all classy and slow and then it devolves into jazzy brass and almost big showtune-esque. 
  • Track 17, Theme Du Train (Train Theme) is a fast pulsating synth piece, the Gadget motiff plays quickly at a fast pitch with a bass sounds that recalls the sound of a train in the tracks.  
  • Track 18, Le Royaume (The Kingdom) is a majestic soaring piece with a marching sound that goes into dreamy hazy territory before coming back to marching music. 
  • Track 19, Le Course de Voitures (The Race of Cars) starts of judderingly then move at a quick pace, with keys moving up and down and the pitch changing constantly, it sounds frantic and driving. 
  • Track 20, Les Pharaons (The Pharoahs) is another stereotypical sound with flute and tambourine playing over a beautiful drum beat. It certainly creates a vivid image of Egypt in your head.  
  • Track 21, Le Theme de Finot (Finot's/ Brain's Theme) a jaunty piece which is very joyful, usually when Brains is trying to help Gadget.  
  • Track 22, Gadget En Italie (Gadget in Italy) is very quick and stereotypical with the sound of fast folky guitar.  
  • Track 23 is the Gang Theme reprised and has more wailing guitar sound and a heavier burst of trumpets. 
  • Track 24 is the opening theme in instrumental and is just as wonderful as you remember. 
  • Track 25 is one of the highlights of the album for me as it is Sophie's Theme (Penny's Theme), a beautiful brass piece playing over a cheerful and jaunty beat. 
  • Tracks 26 to 30 are different versions of the opening and closing tracks and track 27 gives us the English-language opening theme in true stereo.
This is the soundtrack that any fan of the show should get as it has many of the tracks used in the show, more than any previous soundtrack release.

This is the soundtrack that any fan of the show should get as it has many of the tracks used in the show, more than any previous soundtrack release.

Overall this is an excellent soundtrack with some really strong pieces that sound similar in instrumentation to MCOG. The album itself if wonderfully eclectic but brought together with the constant Gadget motiff. The album is well worth getting and as it has been remastered from the originals, probably the best you'll get of this fondly remembered series. 

The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers: Volume 2

I was a big fan of volume 1 of The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers and praised its remarkable insight into Japanese game development. For any gaming fan volume 1 was an essential look into the often secretive world of 80s and 90s gaming and a lot of what I've said about Volume 1 holds true for this volume too.

The cover art by Satoshi Nakai is pretty cool. ©CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

The cover art by Satoshi Nakai is pretty cool. ©CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Volume 2 kicks off in spectacular style with a frank and deep discussion on the yakuza and their involvement in the entertainment industry. This is the first in-depth and honest discussion in mainstream media by my reckoning, nothing like this has been investigated before and the extent to which the yakuza influenced and helped grease the wheels of the video games industry is astonishing to read. The names of theindividuals and the companies involved have been redacted but this is still remarkable testimony of how the yakuza protected many arcades and ensured that the game boards weren't stolen to be cloned. The interviewee presents it as a necessary evil for many companies but also discusses how his daughter was kidnapped by the yakuza and only freed when he dropped an arcade machine from a well-known company outside their headquarters, it was a threat of sorts but it worked and his daughter was released. Accounts like this are remarkable and I for one am glad that they are being collected as they would be lost forever. 

The rest of the 29 interviews are interesting and cover many different aspects of the industry but of particular delight were: 

  • the interview with Hudson's #7 employee Takashi Takebe, who discusses the origins of this well respected but poorly documented company, famous for Bomberman and Pang amongst many other properties. It was interesting to hear how it changed from supplying computing hardware into a software house when it saw an emerging market. It was one of the first Japanese companies to see potential in the burgeoning micro computing market in 80s Europe and so many of its titles were converted to these machines. 

  • There are a few interviews with people who worked for Zainsoft, a company that produced interesting if buggy messes of games. Some if the interviewees' were very candid and spoke about these 'black corporations', companies that treated their workers extremely poorly and were often violent towards them. There are recounts of people being locked in their offices and being forced to work for 20 hours a day, being unable to go home for months on end and even having computer monitors thrown at them. This all seems far-fetched but with so many people from the same company saying the same thing consistently it does sound like this occurred and was actually quite common, it must have been to be given a label of 'black companies'. The most violent and shocking account is by Kensuke Takahashi who worked for the company for 4 years, it is a look at the darker side of game development. Another revelation is that Sega was involved in these practices too and this was one of the reasons that it went into deep decline as many people shunned their products in disgust.

  • The origins and the closure of one of my favourite game companies Westone is covered with a couple of interviews including an in-depth interviews with Ryuichi Nishizawa, Kouchi Yotsui and Maki Ohzora. Nishizawa was one of the creators of Wonder Boy and the Monster World series, including one of my favourites, Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Trap. The discussion about who benefits most from home conversions is really thought provoking as even though arcade game producer Westone made two long running series it was the conversion licensees who benefited most. Nishizawa comes across as a kind and creative figure and this interview is a real highlight. 

  • Ohzora was the character artist for Westone and hearing her discuss her inspiration for the world's she created is really insightful and well worth the read. 
  • Shinichi Sakamoto was a composer for Westone and worked on Wonder Boy in Monster Land and Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Trap. It is an extremely short interview but as the composer of one of my favourite video games, very insightful.  

  • Professor Yoshihiro Kishinito, formerly of Namco, shares a credit list of early Namco games, something that is invaluable for gaming historians as many creators were only able to sign in pen names in games.  

  • The interview with Human alumnus is interest as the company produced some interesting titles in its time but according to the interviewees it was the vision of the individual creators rather than company ethos or vision that developed this mentality. Producer Taichi Ishizuka discusses Mizzurna Falls, a pre-Shenmue open world game with a Twin Peaks style mystery. I came across this game a couple of years ago and much like Deadly Premonition it is a diamond in the rough kind of game. The discussion behind its creation is great and considering the tiny team and budget it had, all the more extraordinary. Szczepaniak recommends viewing a Let's Play by Resident Evie and having seen this play through a few weeks ago I can recommend that this is the best way to experience the game as it seems janky and awkward to play, but has an intriguing enough premise to watch the 9 or so hours of video.

The book ends with Szczepaniak dismissing the Japanese game development Downfall Myth, the idea that Japan is becoming bankrupt of gaming ideas with many of the games companies going onto the more lucrative mobile gaming sector, but he provides a list of over 100 Japanese games from the last generation (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, PC) that defy the myth that Japanese game development is declining. It's a powerful rebuff to the Microsoft perpetuated Downfall Myth which aimed to promote western games, a sector where the Xbox is doing significantly better than in the east.

As a book archiving years of Japanese game development history this is a marvellous work. As with the first it is a tough read from cover to cover, as naturally there are some interviewees and topics that are more interesting than others for me and whoever reads this but it is great stuff nonetheless.  This book is an unprecedented account of Japanese game development from the people who were there and that is why volume 1 and 2 have been such an important piece of work that will hopefully improve our understanding of this period of time. I find these books are essential and hope that volume 1 and 2 are successful enough to support volume 3. 

Ulysses 31- Retro Soundtrack Review

A warm fuzzy feeling, that feels like unconditional love, emanates from my heart when I watch television shows and cartoons from my childhood. There are a few very special shows that make my heart flutter all-the-quicker and one of these is Ulysses 31 (the others are The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Dogtanian and Around the World With Willy Fogg if you're interested). I first came across the show when it was first shown in the mid 80s on the BBC but I saw it in my formative years again in the early 90s on Channel 4, where it was shown daily at 6:30, just before the Big Breakfast. I remember thinking how cool and ahead of it's time the animation was but the moody, evocative and exciting synthesizer soundtrack complemented the show well... heightening the sometimes very dark cartoon well. Being a huge soundtrack nerd I tried to track it down but to no avail. The soundtracks that were available were the original vinyl printings from 1981 and these were far from the complete soundtrack, often vocal remixes over the scores.

I purchased a Tele 80 Ulysse 31 soundtrack a few weeks ago but unfortunately it contained lots of French vocal tracks and only about 6 instrumental pieces from the show.

This album has mostly french vocal tracks and only 5 instrumental pieces so is best avoided by those looking for the phenomenal score used in the show.

To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement, however in my search I did see that as 2016 was Ulysses 31's 35th anniversary a collector's edition of the complete soundtrack would be available on double CD for the very first time. The release would include the complete score by Denny Crockett, Ike Egan, Haïm Saban and Shuki Levy and all the opening and closing credits sung in the French and English!

The album was only produced in limited numbers and was fetching a very high price on Amazon and other websites but I managed to get the soundtrack at a reasonable price on ebay, shrink wrapped and brand new. And so, without further ado... here is the review of the Ulysses 31 soundtrack.

This is the album you want if you are looking for the complete musical score... it is truly wonderful and impeccibly presented.

The first thing to notice is that the soundtrack has a bit of weight to it as it is a double CD set (containing 165 tracks!)with a 16 page booklet explaining the creation of the show, with interviews of the the creators, composers as well as a detailed account of the remastering process. Unfortunately for me the whole thing is in French and having not spoken the language since secondary school my translation is patchy at best, however I have a wonderful teaching assistant who speaks French fluently and I will try to get her to translate it for me.

The music here is crystal clear as it has been remastered from the original masters by Ian Jones at Abbey Road Studios.  This is the way the soundtrack was intended to be heard as even on the DVDs the music can sounded distorted and warbled.

I've listened to the album a few times now and the majority of the themes I remember are all here. I'm not sure how the album is sequenced but I think it is in chronological order, with many of the familiar themes near the beginning and the more uniquely used tracks or incidental tracks being later on in the collection.

I'm not going to go through every single track here as that would be long and incredibly tedious for your to read so I'll pick out the highlights.

On disc 1:

  • Track 2 is Overture- The Base of Troy, which sounds quite majestic and sweeping, just what you'd expect for a space opera but it morphs into late 70's disco with a funky beat. Definitely a track of it's time but charming for it.
  • Track 3 is energetic and driving as it underscored moments of space battles and actions. Attack of the Tridents is a very short track, being only 20 seconds long, but is very effective.
  • Track 4, Unknown World, is a beautiful piano piece with moody synthesizer bloops and beeps creating an unsettling soundscape. This piece was used in times of tension and mystery and you can see why.
  • Track 5, Noumaïos's Theme is a beautifully melancholic piano and flute theme. There is very little synthesizer sound used for this piece and this adds to its wistfulness- a definite highlight.
  • Track 10, The Curse of the Gods #1, is one of the signature pieces of music from the show. It has a dramatic steady drum beat which is added to by a deep synth sound which adds a spooky element, then the trumpets kick in and add a shrill element. This is another absolute must listen for fans of the show!
  • Track 15, Olympus, is a wonderful piano and deep synth sound which is further enhanced through the shredding guitar. It sounds broody and dark and is another signature theme from the show.
  • Track 16, Space Battle, sounds like an 80s soft rock band just jamming with drums, cymbals and shredding guitar combining to create a fast paced track.
  • Track 21, Calypso, is a soft piano piece that sounds melancholy and thoughtful at first then the flute and drum kick in to add another layer of sadness. Another beautiful must listen.
  • Track 25, The Sirens, sounds unearthly and ethereal. The whoosy airy synth sounds mixed with the strange whale-like squeals give this piece a unique sound. It ends with strange cries and moans of the type you'd find in scary horror films. it is quite unlike anything else on this album but in a good way.
  • Track 31, Ulysses Battles the Cyclops, sounds suitably epic. It builds with a deep bass guitar and thumping drum and then the weird synth kicks it adding to the drama, throw in a few violin and trumpet sounds and this piece kicks it up a notch until it reaches the dramatic end.
  • Track 40, Goodbye, is a poetic flute and piano piece that flutters by sadly. It was often used at the most tear-jerking moments of the series and you can hear why.
  • Track 53, Ulysses meets Ulysses, is a strange Spanish guitar piece interspersed with some dramatic strings.

CD 2 continues the good work of the first but has less of the well known tracks but does still contain much worth listening to.

  • Track 3, Tales of the Legend, is a dramatic track with organs and what sounds like some harmonised vocals, lending this piece an otherworldly air.
  • Track 4, Odysseus, sounds like an 80s guitar solo from a soft rock band, all shredding guitars and a cool base in the background.
  • Track 30, The Heart of Olympus, has a deep baritone noise underscoring a dramatic piano peice... very unnerving!
  • Track 40, Universe in Harmony, is pure funky disco celebrating the success of Ulysses. A fitting groovy ending to the series!

Overall the soundtrack is brilliant and has stood the test of time well. There are tracks that are undeniably relics of the time but the whole score sounds like it belong to a lost sci-fi feature film rather than a 35 year old animated series. This is a must have soundtrack for all fans of the show and for fans of synthesizer music with that late 70s / early 80s feel. Essential!