Tag Archive: Horatio Hornblower


Review by C.J. Bunce

When next surfing your next adventure on Netflix, fans of seafaring stories will want to make sure they save some time for the 2005 television mini-series To the Ends of the Earth, one of the best accounts of the brutal, nasty, ignoble, and vile side of life in the early 19th century.  In what would be a relatively simple flight across continents today on a jet plane was a life-risking venture on the high seas in 1812, as a young British aristocrat named Edmund Talbot travels by a converted ex-warship to Australia, and learns more about social positions, decency, military discipline, and character than he contemplated when he booked his voyage into politics around the globe.  As with the recently reviewed series The Terror, To the Ends of the Earth is a grimy, authentic look at life below deck for the several tiers of passengers (a mirror of British society) in a classic man-of-war.   But where the production for The Terror looks gorgeously historic, it’s the stench that seems to permeate this tale in a way unmatched by The Terror, the A&E Horatio Hornblower series, Master and Commander: To the Far Side of the World, or Kenneth Brannagh’s Shackleton. 

Sometimes just plain gross, but never in a gratuitous way, To the Ends of the Earth is a smartly written story in the same serial delivery as the Hornblower series, this one three 90-minute chapters for a total of 4.5 hours.  Based on a trilogy of novels from the 1980s by Nobel Prize-winning Lord of the Flies author William Golding, for fans of modern film and modern takes on Sherlock Holmes, the series is a great, early pairing of the BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the big screen Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadow’s Moriarty, Jared Harris.  Although his fictional story is less popular an his voyage less memorable, Harris elevates his layered Captain Anderson to a naval leader comparable to Forester’s Pellew and Foster and O’Brian’s Aubrey (and a comparison of his captain then to his The Terror captain 15 years later is also worth the watch).  A younger Cumberbatch also shows his acting chops and foreshadows his later rise in filmdom, carrying each scene for nearly the entirety of the series’ 4.5 hours as the show’s tour guide, Talbot.

Flies.  Rotted food.  The stench of the wounded and the dying in close quarters.  The constant rocking of the ship, inability to walk, or sit, or drink, or sleep without getting sick, wet clothes, rashes, injuries, preparing for battle, losing men overboard–this film stinks (well, almost) like no other, and thankfully without the addition of Smell-o-vision.  Add to that being lost, the uncertainty of ever landing anywhere, distrust, embarrassment, mutinous types, savvy sailors and poor sailors, alcohol, drugs, sex, and no doctor or surgeon in sight for six months.  Oh, the good ol’ days, right?  We must take the books’ author and the studio’s word for it as to true authenticity, but the costumes and treatment of the human condition seems completely spot-on.  Thomas Hobbes’ life outside society as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” has hardly been more plainly laid out.

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Sometimes writers find the right obscure but fascinating event of the past to tap for the next fictionalized tale.  The Terror, a new series beginning tomorrow on AMC, has the potential of being the next clever idea in the historical horror category.  By all accounts it looks like a secret prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing (just as the movie Split was a secret film in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable saga).  That’s not really the case for this suspense-thriller, supernatural-horror series despite its similarly chilling, desolate, Arctic setting, blood and gore horrors, and lurking menace.  It’s a fictionalized account of actual events from 1845-1848, written by author Dan Simmons in his 2007 novel of the same name.  But it couldn’t look more like a John Carpenter creation.  It begins tomorrow night on AMC.

The novel is such prime fodder for a novel it’s incredible it hadn’t been adapted before in this way.  In the real world the British Captain John Franklin was leading an Arctic exploration for the Northwest Passage with two ships, the HMS Terror (The Terror!  Yes, really!), and the HMS Erebus (in Greek mythology Erebus was a primordial deity representing the personification of deep darkness, shadow, and chaos).  It is no secret that the expedition is noted in history books as a famous lost expedition.  The British character names sound like you’d expect in a fictional seafaring crew penned by the likes of C.S. Forester, Patrick O’Brian, or Robert Louis Stevenson: Commander James Fitzjames, Dr Harry D.S. Goodsir, Cornelius Hickey, Seaman Magnus Manson.  Playing Captain Franklin is Ciarán Hinds, the brilliant character actor we’ve loved in everything from Mary Reilly and Jane Eyre to The Sum of All Fears, Road to Perdition, The Phantom of the Opera, Munich, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Woman in Black, John Carter, and Shetland (and he was the voice of Steppenwolf in Justice League and starring now in Red Sparrow).  The captain of the Terror is played by Sherlock Holmes film star Jared Harris (Far and Away, Last of the Mohicans, Lady in the Water, The Riches, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Fringe, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.). Fitzjames is played by Tobias Menzies (Star Wars: Rebels, Outalnder, Casino Royale, Law & Order: UK, Black Mirror, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones).  Alistair Petrie (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Victor Frankenstein, Hellboy) plays Dr. Stanley.  And Greta Scacchi (Emma, The Player, Presumed Innocent) plays Lady Franklin.

The production for The Terror looks gorgeously historic, the ships and costumes as intricately crafted as those in the A&E Horatio Hornblower series and Master and Commander.  The show’s production design is by Jonathan McKinstry (known for the original Total Recall, Band of Brothers, Penny Dreadful, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, The Borgias, and Sphere), with supervising art director Matthew Hywel-Davies (Doctor Who, Torchwood), and set decorator Kevin Downey (Mary Shelley, King Arthur, Penny Dreadful, Little Women).  Costumes were created by Annie Symons, who designed the wardrobes for King Arthur, The Woman in Black 2, and TV shows The Hollow Crown, Doctor Zhivago, Sweeney Todd, Dracula, and Great Expectations.  Showrunners are David Kajganich (In the Clouds, A Bigger Splash) and Soo Hugh (The Killing, Under the Dome, The Whispers).  The fact that Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Alien: Covenant, Coma) is executive producer has been heavily marketed.

Here is a preview for tomorrow’s first episode of The Terror:

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Freeman Watson

Almost if to prove that they can do the original Sherlock Holmes better than Guy Ritchie’s 19th century film adaptations, showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are promoting the next episode of their Sherlock.  This time stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman return to the story’s roots instead of modern England, yet the latest trailer hints that they still live in a world well aware of Holmes’s crime-fighting fame.

“You’re Sherlock Holmes,” says Dr. Watson as he thrusts the famous deerstalker hat into Holmes’s hands, “wear the damned hat.”

The 19th century streets, the buildings, the entire environments are impeccable.  Would we rather have a Sherlock movie or a television series so long as either stars Cumberbatch and Freeman?  We may all answer “series” if only they could crank out more than three episodes every year or so.  But we’ll happily wait as we did for the equally good A&E Channel Horatio Hornblower episodes starring Ioan Gruffudd (Forever, Fantastic Four), Denis Lawson (Star Wars: A New Hope, Marchlands), Paul McGann (Doctor Who), David Warner (Tron, Star Trek, Twin Peaks, Time After Time), and Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) that arrived piecemeal in a series of eight TV movies between 1998 and 2003.

retro Sherlock

So check out the latest from Sherlock here:

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Few actors have had the opportunity to explore as many diverse characters as David Warner.  As genre actor, Warner is frequently the choice for leading man villain roles, for his long face and ominous stature, but it is his powerful voice and slithery and sneering yet refined inflections that cause his words to echo years after you hear them.  He’s played classic roles like Henry VI and Hamlet and King Lear and even Bob Cratchit, he played a villain in the big budget movie Titanic and yet also narrated a Winnie the Pooh movie.  He’s performed opposite Vanessa Redgrave, Gregory Peck, Jason Robards, and Anthony Quinn, and also opposite Steve Martin and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  And since his debut in 1963 he has guest-starred in a variety of series ranging from Remington Steele and Hart to Hart to the Father Dowling Mysteries and Tales from the Crypt, to Murder She Wrote and The Outer Limits.  In 50 years he has portrayed upwards of 200+ characters in as many productions.

But we love him best for his sci-fi, fantasy, superhero and costume adventure roles.  Take a look at the various major franchises where Warner has left his mark:

TOM JONES (1963).  In David Warner’s screen debut he played the conniving Blifil, out to destroy the wily an dashing Tom, played by Albert Finney, and win over Tom’s love interest, played by Susannah York.  From the very beginning we can see the kinds of roles Warner would be cast in.  As an 18th century squire’s son, Warner performed according to period style and manner, yet subtley dastardly and ungentlemanly.

THE OMEN (1976).  Warner played Keith Jennings, an unfortunate photo-journalist who becomes one of Damien’s victims, one of many roles for Warner as part of the horror genre.

TIME AFTER TIME (1979).  In director Nicholas Meyer’s critically acclaimed re-imagining of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, Warner plays gentleman John Leslie Stevenson opposite Malcolm McDowell’s author and inventor H.G. Wells.  Or is he such a gentleman?  As the most loathsome and recounted villain in history, Warner’s take on Jack the Ripper as 19th century murderer-turned-time traveller let loose in modern times is picture perfect.

TIME BANDITS (1981).  As the all powerful epitome of evil genius, the Evil Genius, in the silly Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits, Warner plays it completely straight, giving gravity to his performance and legitimacy to the entire film.

TRON (1982).  For a subset of kids who were 10 to 12 years old in 1982, David Warner’s Sark was every bit as cool a bad guy as Darth Vader.  Warner played three roles in Tron, Ed Dillinger, executive of ENCOM, Sark, the red master of the soldiers in the computer world of The Grid, and the voice of Sark’s own master, the frightening and lifeless Master Control Program.  Sark’s viciousness and lack of concern for anyone but himself was Warner at his best.

STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989).  In Warner’s first foray into the Star Trek universe Warner proved he could play not only high class evil but also a character who was outright smarmy.  Hypnotized by Laurence Luckinbill’s mystic Vulcan Sybok, Warner’s St. John Talbot represents Starfleet stuck at the arse-end of the universe.

TWIN PEAKS (1991 ).  As the conniving Thomas Eckhardt, Warner managed to carve out a memorable role in the middle of the strangest band of characters ever to hit the TV screen.  Although a lot of his character’s cunning occurred off-screen and in back story, onscreen Warner revealed a sinister affair with his former protegé, Josie Packard, including the assassination of his former business partner, Mister Packard.

STAR TREK VI:  THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991).  In another Nicholas Meyer film and Warner’s second Star Trek work, Warner is stunning as the Abraham Lincoln of the Klingon Empire.  With a new Klingon regal look and flanked by fellow Shakespearean thespian Christopher Plummer as Chang, Warner’s Chancellor Gorkon by all appearances was a typical Klingon warrior, but at a dinner with the crew of the Enterprise we learned that a Klingon could upstage the would-be heroes of the Star Trek universe, making them look like a group of backwoods hicks.  Acting against type, Warner’s martyred leader died trying to bring the Federation and Klingons together, and Warner’s sincerity made us care, and his characterization in turn flipped our view of the Federation upside down.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1992).  Returning to the drippingly sinister, pure evil of Warner’s performances as Jack the Ripper and Sark, Warner’s Cardassian interrogator Gul Madred was the only villain except The Borg to have bested Captain Jean-Luc Picard, in the two-part Next Generation episode “Chain of Command.”  Gul Madred pulls no punches torturing Picard, even after his own people require Picard to be returned to Starfleet.  I see three lights!

LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (1994).  Proving that TV audiences would accept David Warner in the same league as Marlon Brando, Warner was able to play Jor-El, Superman’s noble father who was savvy and smart enough to save his son from his planet’s oblivion despite violating the rule of law of Krypton.

BATMAN (Animated) (1992-1995).  In the DC Comics animated universe, Warner voiced the smooth talking terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul for several episodes of the series, locking in his continual casting for genre voice roles.

BABYLON 5 (1995). In Babylon 5, Warner portrayed Aldous Gajic, the brain wiping seeker of the Holy Grail who dies saving a younger character that he sees as a version of his former self.

SPIDER-MAN (Animated) (1995-1997).  Not one of his biggest roles for sure, Warner here was able to add the Marvel Comics franchise and one of Marvel’s greatest foes, Red Skull, to his list of accomplishments.

MEN IN BLACK (Animated) (1997-1999).  Here Warner played Alpha, a rogue Men in Black chief who had previously been Agent K’s friend and mentor.

TOTAL RECALL (TV) (1999).  As leading neurosurgeon Dr. Felix Latham, Latham works for Rekall and again Warner plays an assassinated character.  Or was he a clone?

STAR TREK: KLINGON ACADEMY (Video Game) (2000).  The video game includes some surprisingly good new footage of Warner and Christopher Plummer reprising their roles as Gorkon and Chang.

STAR WARS: FORCE COMMANDER (Video Game) (2000).  It is easy to picture Warner as Grand General Brashin, a viperous Grand Moff Tarkin type in this video game from the Star Wars universe.

HORATIO HORNBLOWER – MUTINY and RETRIBUTION (2001).  Returning to the costume adventure genre where Warner first got started, Warner played Captain James Sawyer in two installments of the brilliant and exciting Horatio Hornblower series from A&E.  Sawyer was the vile and cruel taskmaster of the HMS Renown.

PLANET OF THE APES (2001).  As Helena Bonham Carter’s ape’s white-haired father Senator Sandar, Warner showed that he is nowhere near finished amassing sci-fi film franchises.

DOCTOR WHO: UNBOUND (Audio) (2003 and 2008). Warner played the famous Doctor (an alternate Third Doctor, that is) opposite David Tennant, before Tennant was to play the 10th TV version of The Doctor, in the installment Sympathy for the Devil.  Warner reprised the role five years later in Masters of War.

DOCTOR WHO: DREAMLAND (Animated) (2009).  Warner played in the world of Doctor Who yet again as Lord Azlok, Lord Knight of the Imperial Viperox War Horde in this animated production.

And to wrap it up, at this link you will find a 10-minute feature involving Dillinger’s character from the original Tron, first appearing on the Tron: Legacy DVD release special features.  It has been suggested that this is a bridge for Warner to reprise his role as Dillinger and Sark in the sequel to Tron: Legacy.

We can only hope!

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C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

(With spoilers)

Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a dual role as estranged twin sisters in her new series Ringer on the CW network.  The “ringer” in the title is presumably Gellar as sister Bridget, who ends up as a pretender and “dead ringer” for high-class sister Siobhan.  The difficulty for Gellar will be getting viewers to forget she was Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The pilot episode featured non-stop plot twists, so many that it the show is very engaging, but begs the question: Can the writers keep up the momentum, or will this ultimately fall flat like Buffy co-star Eliza Dushku’s overly hyped but short-lived series Dollhouse?

Ringer plays more like Gellar’s early soap opera work but there may be more here to stick around for.  As Bridget, the focal character of the series, Gellar shines as a weatherbeaten survivor of one or more 12-step programs, barely making it in the world, and currently plea bargaining a prostitution rap in exchange for turning states’ evidence on a local crime boss.  But Bridget is smart and clever and concocts a plan to go away with a long-lost sister, Siobhan, who no one in Bridget’s current world knows about, a classy and smarter sister who is wealthy and has a seemingly perfect life.  But Siobhan too reveals a more vulnerable side and we slowly learn her life is in shambles in various ways.

On a boat ride the sisters bond but Siobhan drugs Bridget and by all accounts Siobhan throws herself overboard.  This leaves Bridget to step into her life like in The Riches or Dave, but Ringer is no comedy.  Bridget learns her sister had a dysfunctional relationship with her husband, played by Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower, Fantastic Four).  She easily takes to her sister’s best friend, only to learn her sister (and now she) is having an affair with her friend’s husband.  Yet we get the feeling she likes Siobhan’s husband and could make her new life work as his wife.  See the soap opera-esque branches starting to form?

As almost an afterthought she learns the problem behind her sister’s marriage: their son must have met some early death. This is befuddling and we only know this from a brief reaction to a snapshot on a shelf.  Wouldn’t this son have come up in a prior conversation?  We must assume this was also held back for some reason as part of Siobhan’s planned death.

To leave us further hanging, Bridget picks up the phone to learn her sister’s test results are back, Siobhan was pregnant, and Bridget repeats this aloud so now her new husband thinks she is pregnant.

But wait–there’s more.  We see a last-minute murder attempt on Bridget’s life.  And the person behind the hit?  Flash to Paris, France and here is the real Siobhan, alive and well after all.

  

Ringer will be the ideal star vehicle for Gellar and opportunity for Emmy glory.  She gets to play a down-and-out fish out of water with Bridget, and Bridget’s opposite in jet setter, fashion forward Siobhan, both caught up in this complicated web of deceit, with Gellar onscreen for every minute of it.  Do they pay actors twice for playing two roles?  Do you think Gellar asked her agent this question?  (Buffy would have).  Viewers will find themselves asking:  which sister is Gellar more like in real life?

Except for the huge Buffy fan base that is eager to see the next new Gellar project, the cards are stacked against any show like this being successful.  Will each episode be about lies built on other lies, with Bridget skating through all the barriers thrown at her?  How long can that story last, or will they play up the soap opera plotting to make this go on forever?  With most series cancelled abruptly we may never learn where the story will end.  Ringer’s producers and writers will need to offer more than twists to keep viewers watching.

That said, episode one pummeled us, along with character Bridget, with a lot of material to digest.  Gellar’s acting is more nuanced than her Buffy days, and what she has to offer new each week is what will likely keep viewers coming back for more.

The 2011 San Diego Comic-Con is just ten days away.  Sold out months in advance as with past years, again more than 100,000 comics, sci-fi, fantasy, movie, TV and gaming fans will descend on the beautiful waterfront convention center for this year’s event.  Comic-Con organizers released the programming schedule for the four-day convention this weekend, and as usual there is something for everyone.

At the top of my list our own borg.com contributor, author Elizabeth C. Bunce, will be giving away advance copies of her new fantasy novel Liar’s Moon and will speak on a panel with other genre authors as part of the Saturday line-up.  She will also be available for signing copies of her new book, the sequel to StarCrossed in her Thief Errant series.  If don’t you don’t get a copy at Comic-Con you’ll have to wait until its official release in November from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic .

DC Comics has several presentations involving the September release/re-launch of 52 comic titles, including panels featuring Jim Lee and several writers and artists.  Digital artist  Freddie Williams II (Captain Atom, DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics) is scheduled to be in “artist’s alley” again this year and internationally known artist Alex Nino (God the Dyslexic Dog) will be featured in one panel.

Some great TV series cast presentations are scheduled to appear–the entire cast of Chuck, Psych, Warehouse 13, and Torchwood are at the top of the list along with a presentation by the one and only Bruce Campbell from Burn Notice.  The current Doctor Who himself, Matt Smith, is slated to be on a panel.

Another panel features Rick Baker, monster maker, talking about making creatures for the future release, Men in Black III.

The fan group OneRing.net will hosting a panel on the coming Hobbit movie and they hint at one or more surprise guestsand Mugglenet will be featured in a separate panel discussing the final Harry Potter installment.

Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four, Horatio Hornblower) will preview their new TV series thriller Ringer in one of the big convention ballrooms.

Other interesting scheduled presenters include Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead), William Shatner (Star Trek), Avery Brooks (Deep Space Nine), Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica), Elijah Wood (Wilfred, LOTR), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), Jeff Smith (Bone), and Terry Moore (Echo, Strangers in Paradise).

You can also depend on the major studios to preview coming theatrical releases both on and offsite at this year’s show.  Too much for any one person to see! 

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com