Saturday, 16 January 2077

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Sunday, 23 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 17-18

A17: Legacies
Airdates: 20 July 1994 (US), 29 August 1994 (UK)
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by Bruce Seth Green
Cast: Alyt Neroon (John Vickey), Alisa Beldon (Grace Una), Security Man (Richard Henry), Cart Owner (Patrick O’Brien), Station One (Marianne Robertson), Station Two (Joshua Cox)

Plot:    The Minbari warcruiser Ingata arrives at Babylon 5, but immediately opens its gunports. A tense stand-off ensues until Delenn arrives in Command & Control and points out that the cruiser’s targeting systems are not active. The Minbari warrior caste believe that displaying one’s weapons to a potential enemy or ally is a sign of openness and respect, and cannot comprehend why other species see it as a threatening gesture. The captain of the Ingata, the great warrior-general Branmer, has died and his body is being displayed at every Minbari colony en route back to Minbar where he will be interred with full military honours. The Minbari populace of Babylon 5 is the latest group to see the body. Delenn is annoyed by the tradition: Branmer was a great warrior, but only joined the warrior caste during the Earth-Minbari War. Before that he was a great healer and holy man, a member of the religious caste. His own wish was for a simple ceremony, but his executive officer, Alyt Neroon, is determined to see him honoured with a full military spectacle.

A young girl, Alisa Beldon, is thieving in the Zocalo when she suddenly passes out, generating a massive psychic blast as she does so. Talia Winters senses her pain and has her rushed to Medlab. Alisa is a latent telepath whose powers have just manifested. Talia is keen to have her shipped off to Earth to join Psi Corps as soon as possible, but Ivanova intervenes. It may be Earth law that human telepaths have to join Psi Corps, but there are loopholes in the law, mainly that if an alien government adopted her as one of their citizens, Psi Corps would have no hold over her. Talia is angry that Ivanova is trying to interfere in something that has nothing to do with her, but Ivanova is determined that Alisa will not suffer the same fate as her mother. The Narn make an impressive offer of money and luxuries in return for Alisa working for them and donating genetic material so the Narns might be able to breed their own telepaths, but Alisa scans Na’Toth’s mind and learns that, whilst she would be rich, Narn is no longer a welcoming world, having become a cold and harsh place following the Centauri occupation. Few non-Narn live on their homeworld and Alisa would be quite alone.

The viewing ceremony begins, but Neroon is enraged when Branmer’s body goes missing. He threatens war against Earth if this insult is not resolved quickly, but calms down again and works with Garibaldi in tracking down the corpse. The Pak’ma’ra, noted carrion eaters, haven’t seen it and every other avenue appears to be closed.

Delenn has a meeting with Alisa, telling her that on Minbar telepaths are honoured members of society. They aren’t paid money, but are provided for by the government, free of charge. Alisa scans Delenn’s mind and learns she is telling the truth, but also that Delenn knows something about the missing body. Thanks to her Grey Council training, Delenn is able to close her mind, but too late. Alisa tells Sinclair what she saw and Sinclair angrily confronts Delenn, who confirms she has taken Branmer’s corpse and disposed of it according to his wishes for a simple ceremony. She confesses to Neroon, but uses her authority as a member of the Grey Council to ensure he accepts the situation. Sinclair surprises Neroon by offering to make a public statement of respect for Branmer, who was a canny, but never cruel enemy during the Earth-Minbari War. Neroon leaves with somewhat greater respect for humans than when he arrived. Talia doesn’t agree with her decision, but accepts it and then offers the hand of friendship again to Ivanova by offering to buy her a drink. Ivanova tentatively accepts.

Alisa leaves for Minbar. Before departing, she tells Sinclair that when she was in Delenn’s mind, Delenn was thinking of a word she quickly covered up: “chrysalis”. She leaves Sinclair to mull the word over.


Saturday, 22 July 2017


After a very lengthy spell of silence on the subject, George R.R. Martin has finally provided an update (if a short one) on two A Song of Ice and Fire projects, including The One That Everyone Wants To Know About.

Artwork by Chase Stone, from The World of Ice and Fire.

No, The Winds of Winter is not done, and George confirms that completion is still months away, finally ruling out a 2017 release date. The good news is that George thinks that a 2018 release for the book is therefore more likely, but nothing is set in stone.

Interestingly, George also provides a update on Fire and Blood, the once-mooted "GRRMarillion" which was originally planned to come after the series was completed. This book draws on over 300,000 words of new material that GRRM wrote for The World of Ice and Fire, most of which was dramatically cut down in editing for the final book. With something like 80,000 words on the Dance of Dragons alone (from which the novellas The Princes and the Queen and The Rogue Prince have been drawn), this was always going to be a hefty project and, going through it, George and his publishers realised that it was going to have to be a two-volume project, with the first volume (containing well over 100,000 words, probably closer to 200,000) already effectively complete.

As a result, Fire and Blood: Volume I, being a history of the Targaryens from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III the Dragonbane, will be published in late 2018 or early 2019. Fire and Blood: Volume II, which will cover the period from Aegon III to Robert's Rebellion and the death of the Mad King, will follow several years later, presumably after A Dream of Spring is completed. This possibly means that the second half of the history will be a large larger and in more detail than originally envisaged, so for those who've been beginning for a prequel story about the Rebellion, this may be the closest you'll get (I also suspect this will have to follow Spring so George can give the full, "unedited" account of the war without having to worry about any more spoilers).

GRRM concludes his update by saying that we may therefore get two new Westeros books in 2018, if things go well (or maybe none at all, if they do not).

A History of Middle-earth Part 2: The Siege of Angband

Part 1 can be found here.

The First Age of the World began with the rise of the Sun and Moon for the first time, lighting up the skies over the lands of Aman and Middle-earth, making dark creatures fear the light and tremble at the wrath of the Valar. But that wrath was stayed: the Eldar had betrayed the order of the Valar and broken their oath, so for all that the Valar wished to drive Morgoth out of Arda they were bound to stand aside. The elves who had returned to Middle-earth to make war on Morgoth - the Exiles - were on their own.
These were the Elder Days of Middle-earth, when the Great War of the Jewels raged across the western-most part of Middle-earth, that lost land beyond the Blue Mountains known as Beleriand. The First Age is counted as lasting six hundred years from the rise of the Sun to the end of the wars of Beleriand, and in that time much of the scene was set for the following millennia.
A map of Beleriand, from Karen Wynn Fonstad's definitive Atlas of Middle-earth.

The Beginning of the War of the Jewels
After dimming the lights of the Trees, Morgoth and Ungoliant fled over Helcarax­ë, coming to the northern-most regions of Beleriand. There, whilst passing over the mist-shrouded land of Hithlum and drawing near to Angband, Ungoliant turned on Morgoth, demanding recompense for her efforts, but a host of balrogs arrived from Angband and drove her into hiding. Morgoth then entered Angband in triumph. He raised the Iron Mountains above Angband and created a terrible, triple-peaked volcano named Thangorodrim which belched fire high into the skies above the mountains. Thus the elves of Beleriand were alerted to Morgoth’s return.
In the long years since the Great Journey, the Teleri elves who had remained in Middle-earth had not been idle. Elwë, founder of the kingdom of Eglador, had been acclaimed as Lord Elú Thingol Greycloak of the elves of Beleriand, and the Maia Melian was his queen. The Falas became a fortified stretch of coast defended by Círdan from his strongholds of Brithombar and Eglarest, whilst Ossiriand in the east became ever more beautiful and home to increasing numbers of other elves late-come over the mountains from Eriador. The dwarves, meanwhile, had founded the mighty fortress-mine of Khazad-dûm in the Misty Mountains, many hundreds of miles to the east of the Blue Mountains, and some of their number came west, founding Belegost and Nogrod in the Blue Mountains and another, smaller hold under Mount Dolmed on the western face of the range, from where they traded with the elves. 
But the servants of Morgoth had also not been lazy. Sauron had bred orcs uncounted in the pits below Angband and gathered to him such strength of arms as had never been seen before in Middle-earth. When the light of the Trees failed, Sauron sensed that something had changed and that before long his master would return. So it proved. After Morgoth’s arrival he decided to quickly launch an assault against the elves of Beleriand. He knew that Fëanor could not let either the theft of the Silmarils or the murder of his father – the first death of one of the Eldar by violence – pass uncounted, and wished to destroy any potential allies the Noldor would find in Middle-earth.
He did not find the elves of Beleriand unprepared, for skirmishes with the numerous orc forces had already taken place in the foothills of Dorthonion – a raised highland area in the north of Beleriand, not far from Angband – and the mountains of mist-shrouded Hithlum. Thingol had already began gathering strength of arms and sent word to Círdan of the Falas and Denethor of Ossiriand to do the same. Morgoth’s armies then marched, dividing into two great hosts. One passed through the gap between Hithlum and Dorthonion formed by the passage of the mighty River Sirion, aiming itself at the Falas, whilst the eastern army marched on Ossiriand, whilst sending skirmishers to keep Thingol bottled up in Eglador. Morgoth had not expected boldness from Thingol, believing that he would only fight if his kingdom was directly threatened. Instead, Thingol waited until Morgoth’s host had passed and then attacked from the rear, whilst Denethor led a head-on assault from Ossiriand. The eastern host, caught between two armies, was destroyed for all its vast size, although Denethor of Ossiriand was slain in combat. The few survivors retreated northwards, but were intercepted by a dwarven force on the slopes of Mount Dolmed and destroyed almost to an orc.
In the west things went better for Morgoth. With Thingol and Denethor leading the fighting in the east, it fell to Círdan and the less-populous Falas cities to resist this force. A series of guerrilla strikes delayed the advance of the host, but eventually the Falathrim had to retreat to Eglarest and Brithombar and hold them against siege.
So ended the First Battle of the War of the Jewels. The armies of Morgoth had suffered a grievous defeat in the east and failed to win an overwhelming victory in the west. Then the fleet of the Noldor sailed into the Firth of Drengist under the shadow of the mountains of Hithlum, and Fëanor son of Finwë led his people onto the shores of Middle-earth.

Gothmog confronts Fëanor at the feet of Thangorodrim during the Battle-Under-Stars. Art by CK Goksoy.

The Battle-Under-Stars
Fëanor’s troops arrayed themselves in Hithlum and prepared for battle, but Morgoth, fearing that his enemy’s strength of arms was becoming overwhelming, immediately sent his reserves into battle, attacking Fëanor’s army with what forces he had left in Angband. Fëanor shattered the attack and led his forces towards Angband. The western host besieging the Falas cities immediately turned north and hastened to crush Fëanor’s army from behind, but Celegorm, third son of Fëanor, had kept a reserve behind in Hithlum. This force descended from the mountains and destroyed the orcs as they attempted to pass through the valley of Sirion between Dorthonion and Hithlum.
Fëanor’s forces drew nigh to Angband, but, his wrath unrestrained, Fëanor outraced his troops and raced to the gates of Angband. There he was attacked by a host of balrogs led by Gothmog and, despite a valiant stand, was slain. The balrogs would have despoiled his corpse, but the forces of his sons arrived and drove them away. The gates of Angband were sealed against them and they lacked the strength for an assault, so withdrew to Hithlum to plan anew.
So ended the Dagor-nuin-Giliath, the Battle-under-Stars, the Second Battle of the War of the Jewels. Fëanor was slain, but Maedhros, his eldest son, refused to claim the High Kingship of the Noldor, ashamed of his father’s betrayal of Fingolfin. When Fingolfin’s host stepped foot on the shores of Middle-earth after the devastating crossing of Helcaraxë, Maedhros surrendered the High Kingship to his uncle and repented the betrayal of his father. Fingolfin accepted the apology and added his strength to his nephews’, thus strengthening the Noldor’s forces further, and then went forth to meet the elves of Beleriand in parley.

 The Siege of Angband, by John Howe.

The Siege of Angband
King Thingol Greycloak did not welcome the Noldor with open arms, but saw their strength as a way of containing the renewed threat of Morgoth. After forcing them to accept him as overlord of Beleriand, Thingol surrendered control of Hithlum, Dorthonion and the northern foothills of the Blue Mountains to the Noldor, placing them on the front lines whilst keeping his own strength in reserve. To protect his homeland from attack, Thingol and Melian together weaved a magical field around the forests of Neldoreth and Region, known as the Girdle of Melian. Thus Eglador became Doriath, ‘The Land of the Fence’.
Fingolfin chose to take Hithlum as his base of operations, sending his elder son Fingon to fortify Dor-lómin in the south-west and his younger son Turgon to assume control of Nevrast, the stretch of cost south-west of Dor-lómin. Turgon here based himself at the fortress of Vinyamar in the shadow of Mount Taras.
The sons of Finarfin were given control of the weakest point in the forces besieging Angband, namely the Pass of Sirion between the mountains of Hithlum and the highlands of Dorthonion. Orodreth and Finrod fortified the Pass, building the fortress of Tol Sirion (noted for its tower of Minas Tirith, a name later used in history for another great fortress) upon the island of the same name. Angrod and Aegnor fortified the north-western and northern slopes of Dorthonion, from where the fires of Thangorodrim could be seen in the distant north.
The seven sons of Fëanor held the east. Maedhros built a mighty fortress atop the tall hill of Himring, whilst Maglor’s base lay atop Mount Rerir. Caranthir assumed control of Thargelion, the land north of Ossiriand, whilst Amrod and Amras, after gaining the permission of Thingol, fortified Amon Ereb and assembled their hosts in East Beleriand behind their brothers’ forces.
The Sindar held the centre of Beleriand at Doriath, whilst the Falathrim continued to hold the coasts under Círdan’s rule. The dwarves of Belegost and Nogrod agreed to come forward to aid the elves, but kept their strength in their fortresses, keeping only a small force on Mount Dolmed to respond rapidly to an enemy attack.
Morgoth chose to remain in Angband, but in the 54th year of the siege his forces emerged and launched a direct assault on Dorthonion. In the so-called Glorious Battle the elves shattered his forces and sent them reeling back in defeat.
After some additional years both Finrod and Turgon received dreams (actually visitations from Ulmo) telling them to leave their holdfasts and build hidden refuges. Thus Turgon abandoned Vinyamar, though leaving his armour and weapons in the fortress at the dream’s direction, and led his people to a vast collapsed volcano in south-western Dorthonion known as the Echoriath, and there built the immense city of Gondolin, greatest of all cities of the Noldor upon Middle-earth. Meanwhile, Finrod descended into western Beleriand and there built the subterranean fortress of Nargothrond. He won the respect of the dwarves for his hewing of the caverns of Nargothrond and was awarded the title "Felagund", "Hewer of Stone". By the 103rd year of the First Age, both realms were complete and the siege thus strengthened.

The Coming of Men
When three centuries and more had passed since the leaguer about Angband had been set, Finrod Felagund, Lord of Nargothrond, travelled eastwards into the lands of Thargelion and Ossiriand and journeyed awhile among the green-elves. Then he met a strange people, a host of beings like and unlike elves who had descended into East Beleriand from over the Ered Luin. These were the first of the race of men to reach the north-west of Middle-earth, followers of the great chieftain Bëor the Old. Although filled with despair when he learned of their short lifespans upon Arda before they must answer the call of Mandos, Finrod nevertheless saw in them a proud and valiant people, and taught them much of war and craft. The men were amazed, for the dark-elves they had met before in the wilds of Rhovanion and Eriador were unlike this fearless warrior, blessed as one who had seen the Light of the Trees, and grew to love and respect him and his kin. In the years that followed more and more men passed over the Blue Mountains from Eriador and settled in the lands of East Beleriand, and although some such as Curufin and Celegorm mistrusted them, others like Finrod and Turgon and Maedhros saw in them a new ally in the war against the Dark Power of the North. Unbeknown to all, men were the Second Children of Ilúvatar, the second chosen race of Eru.
Bëor’s people became the First House of the Edain (Elf-friends), for they came first to Beleriand and remained true to the cause against the Enemy. They settled in Estolad, the Encampment, between the rivers Celon and Gelion, and there grew numerous and prosperous. Bëor in time passed away in the service of Finrod and his son Bregor arose to leadership of the First House, and after him came his sons Barahir and Bregolas, and of Barahir and his son Beren more is told later.
The Second House of the Edain was the race known as the Haladin, led by Marach. These people came to Beleriand soon after Bëor, and dwelt for a time in Thargelion before removing themselves over Gelion to the wide, rolling countryside south of Estolad, and there was much peace and friendship between the First and Second Houses.
The elven lords took counsel, and the Noldor agreed to take into their services all who would swear loyalty to them. Thus many of the Edain removed to Hithlum and Mithrim to serve Fingolfin himself, whilst others went to Dorthonion to serve Angrod, Aegnor and Orodreth, but Turgon, although recognising the valour of the men, did not allow any to come to Gondolin, and kept the Hidden City secret even from them. But, Finrod aside, none of the Exiles sought counsel with Thingol, whose lands the Edain passed through, and Thingol angrily rejected those Edain who would serve him, and held the Exiles responsible for the Edain’s behaviour in Beleriand.
The Haladin in time migrated west after a great battle against an orc-raid sent from the north, and after many years adopted the Forest of Brethil as their new home. Thingol was again angered, since the Forest of Brethil lay nigh on the borders of Doriath, although it was not included in the Girdle of Melian, but Finrod came forth and after much discussion obtained the grace of Thingol for the Haladin to settle there.
In time there arose a great captain of men, Hador Lórindol, a stalwart warrior and a keen slayer of Orcs. Fingolfin himself embraced him as a brother, and gave to Hador a land to dwell in within Hithlum, the great plain of Dor-lómin. There Hador raised a great host to enforce the Siege, and elves and men mingled greatly, becoming friends and allies against the darkness. In time Hador passed on and the lordship fell to his oldest son Galdor, and Galdor’s sons were Húrin and Huor, of whom more is told later in this history.
Thus the race of men joined the Siege of Angband, and the Noldor recognised them as valiant allies, but the Sindar were less convinced and Thingol and the green-elves of Ossiriand long mistrusted them.

Fingolfin confronts Morgoth during the Battle of Sudden Flame.

The Battle of Sudden Flame
The Siege of Angband endured long over four centuries and the hosts of Morgoth were ever kept at bay by the vigilance of the elves, now greatly bolstered by the arrival of the Edain. Thus reinforced, Fingolfin summoned a great counsel of men, dwarves and elves and suggested that a new assault be launched upon Angband, since now they had the numbers needed to pull down Morgoth from his iron throne and take back the Silmarils he had stolen from the Noldor, and thus vengeance could be claimed for all of those that Morgoth and his servants had slain, man and elf and dwarf alike. But the other captains did not see the need for such an attack, and indeed many had grown used to the peacefulness of the Siege and saw not the necessity for blood to be spilled whilst it endured. Indeed, only the sons and grandsons of Hador, who were closest in alliance to Fingolfin, and Angrod and Aegnor, whose lands lay within sight of blighted Thangorodrim, supported Fingolfin’s proposal, not enough to ensure victory, and the meeting came to naught.
This Morgoth studied from afar, through spies and beasts in his service, and knew then that his foes were divided, softened by the long years of peace. In the mines below Thangorodrim he had forged weapons of war and in the surrounding lands he had bred Orcs innumerable, and the great Dragons and dark Balrogs stilled heeded Morgoth’s call. Now Morgoth knew that the time had come to breach the Siege. Some suggested that if he but waited for a few more years, until his hosts were larger still, then he could have destroyed all of his enemies at one swoop, but once Morgoth had decided upon something, it could not be undone.
In the 455th year of the First Age, Morgoth unleashed his forces at the besieging armies. Channels had been cut underneath Ard-galen, the green plain which encircled Thangorodrim, and these were now filled with fire. At one fell swoop almost all of the troops on Ard-galen were incinerated. Then the Gates of Angband opened and Glaurung, Gothmog and Sauron led forth the armies of Morgoth to battle. Rather than divide their forces as before, the dark host instead marched straight into Dorthonion, catching Angrod and Aegnor’s forces before they could rally. In a week of fire and slaughter the north slope of Dorthonion was put to the flame and the fortresses there cast down and destroyed. Thus perished Angrod and Aegnor and their allies. Then the hosts of Morgoth turned east, besieged Himring where Maedhros had his fortress and destroyed Maglor’s host on the plain of Lothlann, although Maglor survived to seek shelter in Himring. Then the Orcs passed on to the slopes of Mount Rerir and shores of Lake Helevorn, scattering all before them. The Pass of Aglon was taken and Celegorm and Curufin fled to Nargothrond, and Caranthir abandoned Thargelion and fell back on Amon Ereb, where he built new defences with Amrod and Amras.
The slaughter in the north was great, but Turgon refused to risk Gondolin by leading a host forwards. However, Finrod led a great army forwards from Nargothrond and, after being joined by Celegorm and Curufin, reinforced Orodreth’s fortress at Tol Sirion to hold the Pass of Sirion against the Enemy. The battle was won, but Finrod himself was encircled and would have been slain had not Barahir grandson of Bëor come with a great host of men and relieved him. Thus Finrod was indebted to the house of Barahir.
Morgoth’s forces also attacked Hithlum, but these attacks were designed purely to contain Fingolfin’s troops and prevent him from riding to the aid of the Sons of Fëanor, and in this they succeeded, but Fingolfin himself was filled with wrath for the fall of so many of the Noldor. Enraged, he passed alone through all the armies of Morgoth and came to the Gates of Angband itself. There he challenged Morgoth to single combat even as his brother had done, but this time Morgoth accepted the call, bolstered by the victory of his forces. In his confidence Morgoth nearly perished, for Fingolfin was mighty among the Noldor and his cunning blade wounded the Dark Lord in both body and spirit, and Morgoth was horrified for this showed his powers as a Vala were fading as a result of the disfavour of Eru. But still Morgoth had many times the strength of an Elf and in the end crushed Fingolfin under his weapon Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld. Thus fell the Lord of the Noldor, but his body was not taken by the Enemy, for Thorondor Lord of Eagles came hither and seized the body in his great claws and bore him south to Gondolin, where Turgon made a great cairn for his father.
Now Fingon, eldest son of Fingolfin, became Lord of the Noldor and hard-pressed was he to re-organise the forces of the Exiles, for they had been scattered and were barely holding the line against the enemy. To safeguard his bloodline, Fingon sent his son Ereinion to join Círdan at the Havens on the south-western coast of Beleriand, though Ereinion bitterly complained. Thus it was that Ereinion met and befriended Círdan, and after many years Ereinion gained the name of Gil-galad ("Spark of Brightlight"), a name famed in legend and in song.
But the ruin of the Siege was not yet complete. Two years after the Dagor Bragollach (Battle of Sudden Flame) Sauron’s forces put Tol Sirion to siege and then stormed it, driving Orodreth and his kin back to Nargothrond, and Sauron made Tol Sirion into Tol-in-Gaurhoth (Isle of Werewolves), his own stronghold to replace Angband which he had given up to his master. Five years after this the host of Morgoth assailed Hithlum and would have taken it, but Círdan sailed up the coast to the Firth of Drengist and put ashore great strength of arms, and thus halted the onslaught and turned it back. Fingon had held Hithlum, but at great cost.
Other matters of import came to pass also in the years after the Siege. Húrin and Huor were journeying with a great party near the upper Sirion when they were assailed and almost overcome by Orcs, save that a mist arose from Sirion and covered their retreat. Then Thorondor the Eagle and his servants gathered up the party and bore them to Gondolin to recover from their wounds. Under the King’s Law none who set foot on the Hidden Way to Gondolin could leave again, but Húrin and Huor pointed out that they had come by air and knew not where Gondolin was in relation to the rest of Dorthonion. Thus they were allowed to leave again and return to their own people, but their exploits soon became legendary and even the servants of Morgoth came to hear of it. Then Morgoth bent his efforts to locating the Secret City so he could plan against it.

Parts 3-6 of the History of Middle-earth Series are available to read now on my Patreon feed as follows:

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The Cities of Fantasy and History of Middle-earth series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 15-16

A15: Grail
Airdates: 6 July 1994 (US), 15 August 1994 (UK)
Written by Christy Marx
Directed by Richard Compton
Cast: Aldous Gajic (David Warner), Deuce (William Sanderson), Jinxo (Tom Booker), Ombuds Wellington (Jim Norton), Mirriam Runningdear (Linda Lodge), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Mr. Flinn (John Flinn), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Plot:    Whilst Garibaldi attempts to ensure a thug and criminal in Downbelow, Deuce, is incarcerated after committing acts of murder, extortion and blackmail, Sinclair is intrigued when a “true seeker” arrives on Babylon 5. Aldous Gajic is a human from Earth, the last of an order whose objective is to locate the Holy Grail. Since Earth has pretty much been investigated in detail, Gajic now turns his attention towards space. Sinclair thinks the idea is far-fetched, but Delenn berates him for his lack of faith. The Minbari revere true seekers, those who live by pure faith alone, unencumbered by the need to know whether an event is true or not.

Meanwhile, Gajic befriends a lurker named Jinxo, who is hiding from Deuce, to whom he owes money. Jinxo is scared to leave Babylon 5, since he worked as a construction worker on the first four Babylon stations. Each time, when he went on leave, the station collapsed or exploded. Working on Babylon 4, he stayed until the station was finished. However, as his shuttle left the station upon completion, it vanished in a strange blaze of light. He now thinks some calamity will befall Babylon 5 if he ever leaves, so stays and makes a living in Downbelow.

Gajic and Ombuds Wellington, who is prosecuting Deuce, are both taken prisoner by Deuce, who plans to feed them to a creature called a Na’ka’leen Feeder he has hiding in a replica of Kosh’s encounter suit. Jinxo, Garibaldi and Sinclair intervene and Deuce is arrested. The Feeder is killed, but so is Gajic. Shortly after, Jinxo returns home to Earth. Babylon 5 remains intact.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

First previews for PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING

The first promo material has been unveiled for Pacific Rim: Uprising, the sequel to the 2013 movie where giant robots punched giant monsters in the face and was way more fun than it should have been.

Uprising is set ten years after the first movie, with Earth facing a renewed Kaiju threat. A new generation of jaegars, more powerful and capable than those in the first movie, stand ready to meet them. John Boyega (Attack the Block, the new Star Wars movies) stars as Jake Pentecost, the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) from the first movie, whilst Rinko Kikuchi reprises her role as Mako Maori. Charlie Hunnam, who starred in the first movie, is not returning due to a scheduling conflict.

This sequel will also feature a more international cast, with Chinese actors Jing Tian and Zhang Jin having a large role, a nod to the first movie's enormous success in China and the involvement of a Chinese production company in co-producing the movie.

Guillermo Del Toro is still on board as a writer and producer, but Steven S. DeKnight (Daredevil, Spartacus) is directing this second movie in the series.

Pacific Rim: Uprising will be released on 23 February 2018. You can see a snazzy website with some more info on the world and characters here.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 13-14


A13: Signs and Portents
Airdates: 18 May 1994 (US), 8 August 1994 (UK)
Working Title: Raiding Party
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Janet Greek
Cast: Lord Kiro (Gerrit Graham), Lady Ladira (Fredi Olster), Morden (Ed Wasser), Reno (Robert Silver), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Raider (Whip Hubley), Customs Guard (Lynn Red Williams), Freighter Pilot (Hector Mercado), Man (Garry Kluger), Pilot 1 (Lee Methis), Pilot 2 (Douglas E. McCoy), Station One (Marianne Robertson), Station Two (Joshua Cox), Station Three (Anita Brabec)

Date: Wednesday 3 August 2258. It is now closer to eleven years than ten since the Battle of the Line.

Plot:    Lord Kiro and his aunt, the Lady Ladira, arrive from Centauri Prime to see Ambassador Londo Mollari. Londo has recently brokered a deal with a dubious merchant, Reno, to recover the Eye, an ancient Centauri artefact possessed by the very first Emperor of the Republic. The Eye has been lost for a century. The Centauri have paid a huge amount of money to recover the Eye and Kiro and Ladira are to take it back home. Ladira is a seer who has prescient flashes of the future, once telling Kiro that he would be killed by “shadows”. She finds Babylon 5 unnerving and keeps seeing an image of the station under attack by strange forces in the future. Kiro tells Londo that he, and many other nobles, bitterly resent the loss of the Republic’s prestige and power in the Galaxy and wonder when the Centauri lost their will to rule.

A human arrives on the station. Going only by the name Morden, he arranges meetings with Ambassadors G’Kar, Delenn and Londo. He asks each of them a simple question: “What do you want?” G’Kar tells him he wants revenge on the Centauri, to blacken their skies and burn their cities, to kill their parents whilst the children watch and to utterly destroy them, as the Centauri broke the Narn a century and a half ago. However, G’Kar’s ambitions do not extend beyond that. He has no wish to see the Narn rule other races or conquer the Galaxy. Delenn ponders Morden’s question, but suddenly the sigil of the Grey Council appears on her forehead. As she watches, Morden becomes engulfed by darkness. She throws him out of her quarters, horrified at what she has seen: “They are here.” Londo tells Morden that he, like Kiro, despairs of what the Centauri have become and wants a renaissance of power, for the Centauri to be restored to their rightful position as rulers of a huge empire. Morden seems most pleased by this answer.

Sinclair tells Garibaldi about his recent experiences with flashbacks to the Battle of the Line (episode A8). He asks Garibaldi for help and he agrees. Garibaldi quickly comes up with something odd: the Minbari Federation co-funded Babylon 5 on the condition that they could veto the Earth Alliance choice for command. They vetoed everyone but Sinclair, who was way down the list. The reason is unknown.

The Raiders are mounting a major series of attacks on cargo ships headed for the station and Sinclair is determined to wipe them out once and for all, although he is puzzled at how the Raiders are getting in and out of hyperspace so fast when their attacks are taking place hours away from the nearest jump gates. The Achilles, a cargo ship from Earth, reports an attack and Ivanova takes out Delta Wing to investigate. Sinclair notes that the Achilles is two further sectors away than the other attacks and realises it is a diversion. He recalls Delta Wing and prepares Alpha Wing for launch under Garibaldi. A Raider operative on board makes his move, taking Kiro and the Eye hostage and commandeering the Centauri vessel. Sinclair shuts down the jump gate so they can’t escape, but a Raider command carrier – large enough to generate its own jump points – jumps in and launches a large number of fighters at the station. A full-scale battle erupts, but the Raider fighters are decimated when Alpha and Delta wings catch them in a crossfire with Babylon 5’s own defence grid. The Raider carrier jumps out with Kiro and the Eye on board. On the station Morden bumps into Ambassador Kosh, who tells him in no uncertain terms that he must leave at once. The time is not yet right and the lesser races are not ready as yet. Morden doesn’t answer and Kosh becomes more insistent and threatening.

The Raider ship re-emerges in open space and Kiro congratulates the Raider captain on a job well done. However, Kiro’s plans to use the Eye as a rallying symbol to topple the Emperor are ruined when the Raiders plan to just ransom the Eye and Kiro back to the Republic for an immense profit, enough to replace their lost fighters and buy two or three more command vessels. Suddenly an immense alien ship appears out of nowhere and destroys the carrier, precisely dismantling it with massive cutting beams. Kiro and his “friends” die. Ladira feels her nephew’s death back on Babylon 5 thanks to her prescient abilities.

Londo feels dejected, thinking he will be lucky if he isn’t stripped of all rank for this fiasco. Morden appears with the Eye, telling Londo that he has associates who sometimes do him favours. Morden leaves, promising to call back one day. Ladira also takes her leave of Sinclair, but before she goes she leaves Sinclair an image of her vision, showing Babylon 5 being destroyed by unknown forces. She tells him it is only a possible future.


Monday, 17 July 2017

RIP Martin Landau

American actor Martin Landau has sadly passed away at the age of 89.

Landau was an actor with a long and storied Hollywood career, making his major film debut in North by Northwest (1959). In 1966 he began appearing on the television series Mission: Impossible, first as a recurring guest star and then as a series regular. Given that he was still getting Hollywood film roles, his decision to regularly appear on TV, limiting his movie exposure, was unusual for the time. Mission: Impossible ended in 1973, but Landau was almost immediately recruited to star as Commander Koenig on Gerry Anderson's Space: 1999, which ran for two seasons from 1975.

Landau made a career comeback in the late 1980s, earning Academy Award nominations for Tucker: The Man and his Dream (1988) and then Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989). Wood Allen, who directed him in the latter, was enthusiastic about Landau's skills and his professionalism and reliability to deliver the material.

Landau finally won the Oscar for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994). Landau watched two dozen of Lugosi's film and became a huge fan of his work, inspiring him to reach deeper to deliver a more worthy performance. In 1998 he also appeared in the first X-Files film.

Landau continued to work right up to his death, earning Emmy nominations for appearances on Without a Trace and Entourage. An actor of range, depth and intensity, capable of playing both standard leading man roles and more artistic, offbeat ones with equal relish, Landau was a tremendous talent, and will be missed.

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 11-12

Earthforce One, clearly inspired by the real-life Air Force One and almost certainly the inspiration for Battlestar Galactica's Colonial One (which was designed by some of the same people).

A11: Survivors
Airdates: 4 May 1994 (US), 25 July 1994 (UK)
Working Title: A Knife in the Shadows
Written by Mark Scott Zicree
Directed by Jim Johnston
Cast: Lianna Kemmer (Elaine Thomas), Cutter (Tom Donaldson), Sergeant Lou Welch (David Crowley), Nolan (Jose Rosario), General Netter (Rod Perry), Young Lianna (Robin Wake), Special Agent (David Austin Cook), ISN Reporter (Maggie Egan), Alien (Mark Hendrickson), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Plot:    Earth Alliance President Luis Santiago is due to pay a visit to Babylon 5 to congratulate Sinclair on a job well done and also to present the station with a brand new fighter squadron, Zeta Wing. However, whilst preparing the Cobra Bays to receive the new fighters, a massive explosion rips along the docking arm, killing several workers. Earthforce special intelligence operatives arrive ahead of the President to investigate, one of whom, Lianna Kemmer, is the daughter of an old friend of Garibaldi’s who was killed on Europa when he refused to go on the take. Garibaldi slipped into alcoholism and Lianna’s idealised view of “Uncle Mike” was shattered. Kemmer angrily blames Garibaldi for not helping her father and is quick to pounce on any evidence that Garibaldi himself might be involved in the bombing.

One of the survivors of the blast, Nolan, dies whilst claiming that Garibaldi planted the bomb and a search of Garibaldi’s quarters turns up both a diagram of the Cobra Bay and Centauri ducats, a neutral hard currency (cash) which is untraceable, perfect for paying off assassins. Garibaldi goes on the run to clear his name and receives help from G’Kar and Londo. He is eventually captured by Kemmer after falling back on the bottle, but Sinclair searches Nolan’s quarters and turns up Homeguard propaganda and bomb-making equipment. Nolan must have set the bomb and inadvertently blown himself and the bay up ahead of schedule. Realising that Kemmer’s second-in-command, Cutter, must have planted the evidence in his quarters, Garibaldi manages to convince Kemmer to confront him. Cutter turns out to be behind the attack and has rigged the other Cobra Bays to explode when the B5 fighters launch as an honour guard for the President. Garibaldi manages to get Ivanova to stop the launch and knocks Cutter out himself. Kemmer heads back to Earth, her faith in Garibaldi restored.


Sunday, 16 July 2017

RIP George Romero

George A. Romero, the godfather of the modern zombie story, has passed away at the age of 77.

Romero was born in the Bronx, New York in 1940. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1960 and began producing commercials and short films. Night of the Living Dead was his first feature, shot on a shoestring budget in 1968 with Romero directing and, alongside John A. Russo, writing.

Night of the Living Dead was an enormous success, driven by cultural shock at the movie's explicit blood and gore. It was filmed for just $144,000 but made over $30 million at the box office. The success was seismic and transformative for Hollywood: it created both the modern zombie story paradigm and also popularised gory horror as a major franchise in its own right, paving the way for the likes of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween franchises.

Unexpectedly, Romero did not immediately embark on a sequel. Instead, he directed a romantic comedy (There's Always Vanilla), an occult thriller (Season of the Witch), a virus disaster movie (The Crazies) and a vampire movie (Martin) before finally making a sequel to his debut. Dawn of the Dead (1978) was just as seminal as its forebear, featuring only light narrative connections but it was praised for its taut direction and siege storyline. The third film, Day of the Dead, was released in 1985 but Romero showed little appetite for continuing the story, instead putting his stamp of approval on remakes of both Night of the Living Dead (1990) and Dawn of the Dead (2004), the latter marking the directorial debut of one Zack Snyder.

A resurgence of interest in Romero's work took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with Joss Whedon citing him as an influence on his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and Robert Kirkman's comic The Walking Dead (2003 onwards) taking off featuring a fresh, ongoing take on the zombie mythos. The Resident Evil video game series and movies, along with the films From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), 28 Days Later (2002) and Shaun of the Dead (2004), also featured nods and homages to Romero. Romero, inspired, filmed three new movies in his series: Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2009).

Romero subsequently semi-retired from film-making, instead passing the reigns for a new sequel, Road of the Dead, to Matt Birman and Night of the Living Dead: Origins, a prequel that will finally explain the origins of the zombie apocalypse, to his son G. Cameron Romero.

George Romero passed away on 16 July 2017 from lung cancer. Few creative minds can claim to have achieved as much as did in completely transforming a genre of film and bringing it to a massive new audience. His influence lives on in the zombie movie and that ongoing fear and fascination with the living dead.