Tag Archive: Jules Verne


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’ve been missing the David Tennant from Doctor Who–he regenerated 11 (!) years ago into Matt Smith–and series like Broadchurch and Good Omens don’t cut it, and you don’t like your Tennant fix as a nasty villain as in Jessica Jones, then your series has finally arrived.  BBC and PBS Masterpiece’s new adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 science fiction adventure Around the World in 80 Days isn’t your father’s or father’s father’s or father’s father’s father’s Jules Verne.  But it is very much Doctor Who.  It’s David Tennant in the lead role as Phileas Fogg acting his most emoting, put-upon, and frenetic Doctor Whovian.  It even has two companions to accompany him on his journey, a journey already booked for two seasons.

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Apparently they don’t make it–at least in the first season–since a second season is already approved.  It’s the most classic piece of science fiction and adventure, coming to your PBS Masterpiece:  BBC’s latest adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel Around the World in 80 Days It’s David Tennant in the lead role as Phileas Fogg acting his most frenetically Doctor Whovian and passing to his fans the code word “companion” in its first trailer for the series.  It might be the most we’ve seen Tennant in this kind of rollicking role since his last turn as the 10th Doctor.  The production looks sharp, as we’d expect from the BBC, with costumes, trains, and set pieces quite up to snuff.

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Shatner pic   NS18P X

With this morning’s successful launch and return of 90-year-old William Shatner into outer space aboard the Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft, Shatner gave his fans worldwide perhaps the greatest single moment in the annals of science fiction.  Melding the best of fantasy and reality, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard NS-18 mission took the most famous fictional character, Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk, and made him an actual space traveler, 60 years since the first manned spaceflight, 52 years since the first Moonshot, and 55 years since Shatner first stepped onto the bridge of the Enterprise set.  It’s something no fan of Shatner or Star Trek ever could have dreamed of, a landmark, one-of-a-kind, impossible opportunity that is a giant leap for any writer, actor, or other creator of the ideas behind science fiction, back to all those past dreams of space travel, from the science fiction of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, and George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, to crewmembers of the fictional starship Enterprise invited by NASA to the ribbon-cutting for the first space shuttle named for the Enterprise, to actual astronaut Mae Jemison flying aboard the space shuttle Endeavor and returning to be a guest star on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Does anyone not want Star Trek to be “real”?

Only William Shatner could have done something like this.  If you’ve met the man in person, you know he has unbounded energy like probably nobody else, certainly no one at the age of 90, showing no signs of slowing down, as evidenced again today.  The approximately 10-minute flight took the actor and crewmates above the 62-mile (100 kilometers) Kármán line at 9:53 a.m., which is the most commonly recognized boundary of the edge of space.

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Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight company Blue Origin postponed the flight to today due to forecasted high winds at its launch site (Bezos, a fan of Star Trek, had a cameo as an alien in the movie Star Trek Beyond).  The flight had liftoff at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas, at 9:49 a.m. (Central Time), returning at 10 a.m. sharp.

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Jules Verne’s novel The Lighthouse at the End of the World was written in 1901, but published posthumously in 1905, about a band of pirates seizing control of a lighthouse that lit a path for ships through an important straight in the South Atlantic.  Comic book writers David Hine and Brian Haberlin are taking that time period and flipping it into the distant future in their new adaptation, a five-issue series called Jules Verne’s Lighthouse, coming this spring from Image Comics.  Don’t confuse this with the 2019 movie Lighthouse starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson–that was an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s unfinished story “The Light-House.”  In this story, at the edge of the galaxy lies a giant supercomputer known as the Lighthouse.  Not a beacon so much as an advanced air traffic control for spaceships navigating wormholes, this Lighthouse is manned by a small group living for years in peace, until the arrival of space pirates.

Check out a preview of the first issue below.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You’ll find a lot familiar about the journey in the new sci-fi thriller Underwater, but it’s certain to keep you on the edge of your seat, trigger your claustrophobia, and get most of the beats of the survival thriller genre right.  Most of that is thanks to Kristen Stewart, who stars as an engineer named Norah, working in an oil drilling facility seven miles down at the bottom of the ocean.  Stewart makes our own recent tour of isolation seem pretty tame, as her world literally explodes due to some deep-sea fracking that causes an earthquake, breaking up the facility and severely minimizing the opportunities to leave for the surface.  If that weren’t enough, the earthquake releases some kaiju-inspired beasties.  It all allows Stewart to create a character as tough and heroic as Alien’s Ellen Ripley with a modern homage to the original sci-fi survivor.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

These days most movies translate just fine from the big screen to a home high definition television.  Late December’s release from Warner Brothers, DC’s Aquaman, is a surprisingly good transfer, showcasing the film’s epic fantasy seascapes and truly unique otherworld sea creatures without the sound contrast and lighting issues that plague recent action film releases.  Aquaman is available now on 4D, Blu-ray, DVD, and in digital formats, and it’s available both on Vudu and Amazon Prime.  A single word to describe this rare, solid entry in the DC franchise?  Epic.  Throughout the film viewers will see concepts from the history of fantasy films absorbed into its plot, from the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark to Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, to Ray Harryhausen fantasy classics, King Solomon’s Mines and Tomb Raider, and even Harry Potter and Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories.

It all begins with the cast, and in particular the chemistry between the always cool and confident actor who looks born to play superheroes, Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, and Amber Heard as a beautiful grown-up Ariel turned badass named Mera, who may be the best realized heroine from the comics in the DC universe.  Aquaman director James Wan (Furious 7) does something rare for the superhero genre and forms his film around a romance between the two as they embark on a quest across the planet for the legendary trident of King Atlan, first king of the earliest water-breathers living under the sea.  Wan makes that happen more successfully than other DC romances of the past, including even Clark Kent and Lois Lane.  What is not lost on the small screen is the CGI-heavy undersea universe, but this time a film is CGI-heavy in a good, exciting way (Aquaman knocks the much lauded CGI film Avatar out of the water in every way).  Atlanteans riding sea horses, sharks, whales, and turtles.  Aquaman and Mera hiding out inside a whale, Pinocchio-style.  The film hits its visual zenith with a giant Kraken-like beast with an appearance as awesome as seeing Godzilla for the first time.  The visuals have all the imagination and colorful execution that makes for a rewatchable film, and the score has a pounding synth feel, with a mixed vibe of Daft Punk from Tron: Legacy and Queen from Flash Gordon.

The home release is accompanied by 15 behind-the-scenes features.  The best has Dolph Lundgren explaining the connections between key characters and concepts in the comic books with the portrayal in the film, in Going Deep Into the World of Aquaman.  You get a feel for how energetic and how fun Jason Momoa is in real life in Becoming Aquaman and A Match Made in Atlantis.  Details of how the director expanded on the comics and where he mixed Kaiju and historical sea stories can be found in James Wan: World Builder.  Heroines of Atlantis will leave viewers convinced future films in the series need more women characters, with only two to speak of in this film.  Other features include Aqua Tech, Atlantis Warfare, Black Manta, Villainous Training, Kingdoms of the Seven Seas, Creating Undersea Creatures, three Scene Study Breakdowns (the Sicily battle, the early submarine attack, and the underwater trench climax), and a sneak preview of Shazam.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A giant new photographic essay of the space program reads like a behind the scenes account of the greatest production ever attempted.  And it might be just that.  Space Utopia: A Journey Through the History of Space Exploration from the Apollo and Sputnik Programmes to the Next Mission to Mars is the result of a decade of collaboration between photographer Vincent Fournier and the world’s most important space and research centers.  Fournier worked with researchers at NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russian Space agency, the European Southern Observatory, and other locations to identify those intriguing parts of earthbound facilities, historical locations, and physical objects that have gone to space and back, seen through an artist’s eye.  From space suits and environmental suits to spaceships, satellites, Soyuz trainers, ballistic missiles, and rovers, to training facilities and environments, to experimental items used on the International Space Station and flown to the moon, Space Utopia is a one-of-a-kind look at the history of the space program in pictures.

Through his photographs Fournier is attempting to explore humankind’s myths and fantasies about the future.  According to Fournier, “My aesthetic, philosophical and recreational fascination for the space adventure undoubtedly comes from the pictures and books I saw and read in the 1970s and ’80s —  movies, television series, science fiction novels, documentaries and news reports — that have mixed and superimposed in my memory like a palimpsest…. Space explorations emblematic locations are like cinema sets where Tintin might meet with Jules Verne in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey…”

THE SPACE PROJECT – Fournier’s Space Shuttle Discovery Nose Landing Gear, J.F.K. Space Center [NASA], Florida, U.S.A., 2011 (from theravestijngallery.com)

Has the future already happened or does something more lie ahead?  Some images are stunning and colorful in their brilliance–high-tech concepts at their finest.  Others are stark and haunting, like posed space suits from Buzz Aldrin and Gus Grissom.  Space shuttles frozen in their retirement like the dismantled Discovery and immovable Independence, and the Atlantis standing majestically poised for its final flight all appear as ghostly, solemn relics, while the futuristic sound chambers. the dexterous robotic humanoid Robonaut 2, and Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America evoke an optimistic future ahead.
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Review by C.J. Bunce

So many genre novels are quick reads, full of action and modern surprises.  Once in a while you stumble upon the slow read–the book that is so smartly written, so exciting and enjoyable you never want it to end, and you force yourself to take it slow and enjoy the author’s use of language.  With his latest book I’ve now added James Lovegrove to my shortlist of authors I will make sure to read as soon as his next work is released.  His new novel is Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils, book three of his trilogy, The Cthulhu Casebooks.  In short, this work has it all–tie-ins, a mash-up, genre-bending, and immersive storytelling in a suspense-filled mystery adventure.  It’s a big feat because the very subject matter and project has much to overcome.  First, it is the third book in a series, not your usual place as a reader to begin.  As it is a new release, I delved in anyway, and discovered Lovegrove crafted a complete end-to-end story requiring no prior knowledge of the first two books in the series.  Second, it’s a tie-in and a mash-up of the most well-known historical characters in all of fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson twisted together with the macabre, dark world of H.P. Lovecraft.

I’ve reviewed several Watson and Holmes stories written in the past decade and the challenge is always the same–getting two voices just right, voices that are so familiar after reading original Doyle writings, and watching countless modern sequels and a host of television series and movie versions.  One misstep and it’s easy to pull a reader out of the narrative, yet Lovegrove doesn’t skip a beat in this regard.  Whether you’re drawn to the TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the classic Basil Rathbone film version, modern retellings, or just Doyle’s own marvelous words, you will feel this book is a believable sequel to the original stories and the voices are spot-on.  Another barrier for Lovegrove to overcome is getting right that rich world of H.P. Lovecraft, whose works and words drip with a uniquely strange brilliance and eerie beauty.  Again, Lovegrove fully captures the spirit of his creations and seaside environments, too, as if he’d conjured Lovecraft for this story.  This strange mash-up of the logical, rational Holmes and Watson and the dark and fantastical Lovecraft probably shouldn’t work so well.  These are opposites, right?  But Lovegrove fuses them into one, evoking the 19th century wonder of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne science fiction and fantasy along the way.  Not merely a fun romp for fans of either world, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils has all the realism and research of a scholarly work, sinking us into the world of England, the nautical life of coastal peoples at the turn of the 20th century.

The story begins a few years after the retirement of Holmes and Watson.  In Doyle’s story “His Last Bow” we learned the character retired to a farm at Sussex Downs taking on beekeeping as a pastime.  Only two original stories take place during Holmes’ retirement.  This is where Lovegrove’s Watson catches up with Holmes: The date is 1910 and as England and the world moves toward war, Holmes and Watson learn the leaders of the famed Diogenes Club are all dead, found under strange circumstances.  When three young women go missing in a nearby town, the detective duo takes on sleuthing out their disappearance as their final case, where they encounter local lore that speaks of monsters from the deep and a foretold legend of the return of a phantom from long ago.  Locals believe that is why the women are missing, and Holmes knows it must all be connected.  How much is real, how much is fantasy?  Is it possible Holmes could discover both worlds might co-exist?  Can Holmes ever escape the specter of his lifelong nemesis Moriarty?  And what of his brother Mycroft?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Lists, and by extension, books with lists, are the stuff that sprout conversation.  Sometimes good conversation, sometimes knock-down-drag-outs, but always something to talk about.  We saw that last month in our look at Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies that Are Out of This World, and it applies to Scott Christianson and Colin Salter’s new audacious work, 100 Books that Changed the World This book is not merely a list of books, but an argument supporting why the authors think each book merits recognition.  After all, with more than 2 million new books published each year (300,000 per year in the U.S. alone) and documented writings going back thousands of years, whittling them all down to 100 is a bit daunting at a minimum.  Grade schoolers, college liberal arts and sciences majors, and everyone else has probably encountered a list like this before, usually styled the “greatest,” “most influential,” or “most significant” books ever written.  Ultimately, readers may find the compilation of 100 books that “changed the world” results in a very similar set of books.

What would make your list?  You can probably list 20 included without much work.  The authors state in their preface that there are 50 books everyone would agree should be included.  Think religion and myths (the Torah, the Bible, the Quran), math and science (Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Newton’s Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica), philosophy and politics (Plato’s The Republic, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man), works of fiction (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings), classic children’s books (Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales), works of the often-disputed literary greats (I’m looking at you, James Joyce), and works of long undisputed literary masters like Homer and Shakespeare.  Yes, these are all “givens” for a list like this.  But noteworthy great additions I don’t recall seeing on a list like this before include Louis Braille’s Procedure for Writing Words, Music and Plainsong in Dots, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of TimeAnd no author made the list more than once, except the writers of the Bible, which appears on the list twice: for the Gutenberg Bible and the King James version.

The authors hope their book “makes you question your own choices or ours, or introduces you to a book.”  Criticisms of 100 Books that Changed the World aren’t going to be all that dire as much as simply topics for discussion.  They’re the same critiques of any list or book like this.  Thirty-seven books on the list were written by authors from England, removing the inclusion of any books from some countries.  The list is heavily back loaded, with 26 books from the 19th century and 35 books from the 20th century–explainable in part since the authors didn’t have a lot to select from the first 3,000 years covered.  The oldest book included is the I Ching, roughly 4,800 years old, and the most recent, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein, only four years old.  The late history scholar Robert E. Schofield postulated that historians cannot accurately assess the influence of a historical period unless at least 50 years has transpired, and consistent with that theory, nine books shouldn’t have made the cut, removing books like Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Art Spiegleman’s graphic novel Maus, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As you’re planning to attend the upcoming return of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park to theaters, a new book released this week is going to take readers of all ages on a tour of the history of real dinosaurs and the history of the study of dinosaurs itself.  A fresh look at the science of paleontology and the resulting knowledge about the life, environment, and structure of the major species of dinosaurs is the subject of Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom.  Authors Christine Argot and Luc Vivès, researchers at The French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, use the museum’s own paleontology gallery as the starting point to tell how scientists developed the study and reconstruction of dinosaurs since the gallery first opened in 1898.  Everyone has a favorite dinosaur, and whether yours is a stegosaurus, triceratops, diplodocus, allosaurus, iguanodon, brontosaurus, megalosaurus, or tyrannosaurus, you’ll marvel at the spectacular images of their skeletons on display as scientists have updated them consistent with improved knowledge and techniques across the years.

Interlacing the work of paleontologists, geologists, museum curators, and other scientists around the world, and changing views of remarkable fossil discoveries (like placement, stance, and presence of feathers) over nearly 150 years, the authors combine photographs of their collection with images resulting from digs, artists’ interpretations, magazine articles, and museum archives.  From tales of dragons and mythical beasts to speculative works from John Milton’s Paradise Lost to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot, and Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, ideas of fantasy have informed science and vice versa.  Movements and individuals have changed our outlook into history, via wealthy benefactors, scholars, educators, and artisans.  From lost displays in the Crystal Palace to the artistry of Charles R. Knight, the history of dinosaurs is also the evolution of the thinking of mankind.  The result will fascinate both young and old readers, whether Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom will be your kid’s first book of dinosaurs or a companion book for a high school or college museum studies course, or simply a resource for you to enjoy.

One story recounts the misidentification of an iguanodon finger bone as a nose bone.  Another story describes the excavation of a pit in Belgium in the 1870s that netted 130 tons of bones.  Preservation and conservation methods are discussed throughout, plus improvements in museum display, like the use of 3D printing to allow an original tyrannosaurus rex from the States to be replicated and put on display at the Paris museum this summer.

Here is a preview of Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom courtesy of the publisher:

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