Review: “007: Tomorrow Never Dies” By Raymond Benson (Film Novelisation)

Well, since I haven’t read an action-thriller novel in a while and because I was feeling nostalgic for the 1990s, I thought that I’d check out Raymond Benson’s novelisation of the 1997 James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies”.

Although it has been quite a few years since I watched the film that this novel is based on, it is something which holds quite a bit of 1990s nostalgia for me. Seriously, to me, James Bond will always be Pierce Brosnan. So, when I realised that there was a novelisation (that was going very cheaply second-hand online), I just had to read it.

So, let’s take a look at “Tomorrow Never Dies”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1997 Coronet (UK) paperback edition of “Tomorrow Never Dies” that I read.

The novel begins in the Khyber Pass, where a number of international criminals and terrorists are holding a weapons market. Back in Britain, MI6 are keeping a close eye on the proceedings, accompanied by naval officers and a Russian general. After a while, the navy decide to launch a missile at the weapons market, but MI6’s man on the ground – elite agent James Bond – spots a stolen nuclear weapon at the bazaar. With minutes left until the missile hits, Bond has to come up with a daring plan to get nuke out of there and back into the right hands. Needless to say, lots of thrilling action follows.

Sometime later, a British naval vessel is sailing in the South China sea when they are radioed by the Chinese navy and asked to surrender because they have strayed into Chinese waters. However, the GPS still shows that they are in international waters. The Chinese navy launch a couple of fighter planes. However, these are shot down by missiles from an unknown source whilst the British vessel is scuppered by a torpedo-like drilling machine. As the vessel sinks, mysterious divers close in on it and the surviving sailors are gunned down in cold blood.

Needless to say, Britain thinks that China attacked them and vice versa. With the two countries on the brink of war, it is up to James Bond to get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile, the Chinese intelligence services have also dispatched their top agent, Wai Lin, to look into the matter too. Soon, both agents find themselves meeting each other at the launch for the new headquarters of a news organisation called Carver Media Group in Hamburg….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was really fun to read 🙂 Imagine something like a more efficient Clive Cussler novel (this novel is a lean and efficient 213 pages long 🙂 ) that has a bit more of a traditional British thriller-style atmosphere. Seriously, I actually prefer this novel to what I can remember of the film. It keeps the classic 1990s James Bond atmosphere whilst also telling a story that is much more suited to the page than the screen.

A lot of what makes this adaptation work so well is that – compared to what I can remember of the film – there’s a lot more depth and a bit more grittiness. Not only do we get to learn a lot more about the history of all of the characters (including the sordid histories of many of the villains), but this novel also takes advantage of the fact that it doesn’t have to pass a film censor in order to inject a bit more impact and intensity into the film’s action scenes. Plus, a lot of the film’s more comedic moments translate to the page fairly well too 🙂

Plus, the novel’s story is also fairly close to what I can remember of the film. The only major story differences that I noticed were that when Bond and Wai Lin are captured by the main villain, he doesn’t give a speech about chakras when he threatens to torture them. Likewise, there’s a small sub-plot about James Bond learning Danish that I don’t remember seeing in the film. Still, if you’ve seen the film more recently, then you’ll probably be better at spotting story differences than I am.

In terms of the narration in this novel, Benson’s third-person narration works fairly well. The narration is, as you would expect, a little bit more formal and descriptive than more modern action-thriller novel narration is – but it is still very readable and reasonably fast-paced. Likewise, Benson is really good at translating cinematic action scenes to the page in a way that isn’t too confusing either.

In terms of the pacing and characters, this novel excels itself 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, all of the characters get a lot more depth and backstory when compared to the film. Plus, this novel manages to cram a full, self-contained thriller story into 213 pages 🙂

Given how long a lot of thriller novels from the 1980s/90s onwards tend to be, it is so refreshing to see a thriller novel that is so lean and efficient. Yet, it never feels like the novel is abrupt or rushed either. Not only does Benson tell a gripping, concise story – but he also has time for a few brief 1-2 page descriptive segments about history, food etc.. too. Seriously, I miss the days when paperback novels could be this short 🙂

In terms of how this twenty-two year old novel has aged, it has mostly aged well. In other words, although there are a few descriptions, plot elements and moments that will seem cringe-worthily dated when read these days, this novel mostly reads like a wonderful piece of 1990s nostalgia. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, the narration is a little bit formal by modern action-thriller novel standards, but still very readable.

All in all, this is a brilliant film novelisation. It isn’t merely a re-telling of the film, but an expansion of it. It adds a bit of extra depth, grittiness and intensity to the film, whilst still retaining everything that makes the film so wonderfully gripping and cheerfully nostalgic. So, if you miss the days when Pierce Brosnan was James Bond and/or you want some 1990s nostalgia, then this novel is worth checking out. If you’re a fan of Clive Cussler, you’ll like this novel too. Likewise, if you want a good short thriller novel, then this one might be worth looking at too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.

Review: “Flood Tide” By Clive Cussler (Novel)

Well, for the next review in my series of Clive Cussler reviews, I thought that I’d look at a novel from 1997 called “Flood Tide”, which was another Cussler novel from the small pile that my uncle lent me.

Although I had mixed views about reading an older edition with smaller print than a modern novel (that is 511 pages long), my recent experience with finishing “Sahara” made me decide to give “Flood Tide” a try. And, to my surprise, I ended up binge-reading it within about 2-3 days.

So, let’s take a look at “Flood Tide”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS

This is the 2002 Pocket Books (UK) paperback edition of “Flood Tide” that I read.

“Flood Tide” begins in 1948. In an unknown location, the ship Princess Dou Wan is transporting a mysterious cargo owned by a Nationalist general fleeing the civil war in China. Although the journey begins well, the ship quickly runs into foul weather. Given the age and condition of the vessel, she begins to break apart and sink, with very few survivors….

Then we flash forward to the year 2000, where a woman called Ling T’ai is a passenger on a trafficking vessel headed for the US. After cruel treatment by the criminals running the vessel, she survives and we learn that she is actually Julia Lee, an undercover American INS agent. However, as the vessel draws closer to the US, Julia realises that she is still in danger…

Meanwhile, Dirk Pitt is taking a holiday near Orion Lake in Washington in order to recuperate from a previous adventure. However, after a mysterious break-in at his cabin leads to him discovering several hidden cameras, he turns his attention to the mysterious sealed compound on the opposite side of the lake….

One of the first things that I will say about “Flood Tide” is that it’s the best non co-written Clive Cussler novel I’ve read so far. Not only is it filled with the grippingly suspenseful scenes and thrilling action you would expect, but the pacing is significantly better than in “Sahara” too. In other words, there are rarely any dull moments throughout the story.

The thrilling and suspenseful segments of the story are spaced out perfectly, with Cussler giving the audience just enough time to relax between these thrilling moments. Yes, the characters/narrator occasionally drone on about classic cars and old boats, but these segments are less of a slog to read than the scientific/environmental lectures in “Sahara” (mostly since said old cars/boats often swiftly end up being a central part of the story’s thrilling action scenes).

In addition to this, the story also contains a surprising amount of tonal variety too. For example, the earlier scenes set around Orion Lake initially start out a little bit like something from a lighter moment of an old episode of “Twin Peaks”, before going in a much darker horror-based direction. After this, there’s some gripping suspense that eventually builds to a spectacularly thrilling action-packed crescendo. And this is just the first 120 pages! The story gets even more thrilling after this.

There are so many brilliant set-pieces and segments of the story, including an utterly gripping segment based on a ship called “The Oregon” (which is also the setting for a series of co-written spin-off novels), a brilliantly spectacular car chase in Washington DC, some high-stakes drama on a river etc.. Seriously, the action thriller elements of this novel could put a Hollywood movie to shame.

Likewise, the novel’s sub-plots are reasonably good too. In addition to a reasonably well-written romantic sub-plot, the novel’s main sub-plot is actually connected to the main story. Like with “Sahara”, the sub-plot doesn’t take centre stage until the later parts of the story but, unlike “Sahara”, it is actually directly relevant to the main events of the story and serves to provide a satisfying, and slightly emotional, ending to the story.

Cussler’s writing seems to get better with time and “Flood Tide” is no exception. Not only is the dialogue slightly snappier and wittier than in “Sahara”, but Cussler’s narrative style also achieves a brilliant balance between being descriptive and being fast-paced.

Likewise, the characters in this novel are reasonably good too – whether it is the novel’s greedy and ruthless villain or the supporting cast, the characterisation isn’t ultra-deep but it is certainly good enough. Likewise, Clive Cussler also makes a brief author cameo too – although this is fairly understated.

The harsh cruelty and sadism that characterised Cussler’s “Sahara” and “Iceberg” is somewhat less prominent here, with most of the novel’s combat-based scenes being more focused on thrilling drama, suspense and/or spectacular fast-paced action. This lends the novel more of a rollercoaster-like quality and also gives the novel a bit more of a “blockbuster movie”-like quality too.

However, I should probably include the obligatory warning that I almost always have to include when reviewing older Clive Cussler novels. In other words, a few moments of the story might seem mildly dated and/or “politically incorrect” when read today. Even so, this is much less of an issue in “Flood Tide” than it is in the other older Cussler novels (eg: “Iceberg”, “Sahara” and “Raise The Titanic”) that I’ve read.

But, like with most older Clive Cussler novels, if you can overlook the dated elements of the story, then you’ll be richly rewarded with an utterly gripping and compelling tale. Seriously, despite these flaws, the story is still brilliantly gripping.

All in all, this is the best older Clive Cussler novel I’ve read so far. Not only is the pacing of this novel absolutely brilliant, but it is also crammed with thrilling and suspenseful scenes that will propel you through the book at a fast pace and make it difficult to put it down for too long. Yes, the novel is a little bit dated sometimes. But, despite this, it is still one of the most spectacular older Cussler novels that I’ve read. Like with Cussler’s excellent co-written “Zero Hour“, it is pretty much a spectacular 1990s action movie in book form. Which is never a bad thing!

If I had to give “Flood Tide” a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Quake: Dissolution Of Eternity” (Expansion For “Quake”)

Well, after playing the amazing “Scourge Of Armagon” official expansion for “Quake”, I thought that I’d check out the other one. I am, of course, talking about Rogue Software’s “Dissolution Of Eternity” expansion from 1997.

Before I go any further, I should point out that I played “Dissolution Of Eternity” using the Darkplaces source port rather than the GL Quake source port supplied with the version of the game available on GOG. Not only was this because, after working perfectly exactly once, GL Quake then started crashing my computer every time I tried to play the game – but also because using Darkplaces allowed me to save hard drive space. Seriously, the download of “Quake” on GOG is a bloated 1.1 gigabytes in size!

Likewise, due to some problems with Darkplaces and/or my computer, I had to lower the texture quality to “16 bit” during the last couple of levels of “Dissolution Of Eternity” in order to maintain a playable framerate. So, if the textures in a couple of the screenshots in this review look slightly posterised, that’s why.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Dissolution Of Eternity”:

When you get here, choose the door on the right and don’t look back!

“Dissolution Of Eternity” contains 15 new levels (split into two episodes), new monsters, new textures, alternate ammo types and apparently new music too (but, again, I couldn’t get the music to work).

One of the very first things that I will say about “Dissolution Of Eternity” is that you shouldn’t judge it by the first episode. In fact, it’s probably best to skip the first episode altogether (and, yes, this expansion actually has a proper episode selection area) and just play the second one – because it is way better. But, more on that later.

The first episode, “Hell’s Fortress”, contains seven reasonably well-designed non-linear levels that contain challenging, fast-paced gameplay. However, this episode just lacks personality. It is drab, dull and dreary.

*Yawn*

Yes, the actual gameplay may contain a few really cool moments and E1M5 looks vaguely cool (in a gothic Lovecraftian kind of way) but, for the most part, this episode really isn’t anything that memorable – even down to the relatively weak boss fight at the end.

The fifth level of episode one is probably the best. I mean, there’s a reason why a demo of it plays in the background when you start the game.

And, yes, this electric pentagram in E1M4 looks cool – but this episode isn’t anything to write home about.

On the other hand, the second episode (“The Corridors Of Time”), is amazing!

Seriously, it contains all of the creativity and personality that the first episode lacks… and then some more. Not only are the levels in this episode longer, even more complex and slightly more challenging – but there’s loads more variety and creativity too. If you only play one episode, play the second one!

If you choose wisely when you start the game, then you should see THIS.

There are too many standout moments in episode two to mention. But, the best ones are probably the ancient ruined streets in part of E2M1, the amazing gothic ancient Egyptian setting of E2M4, the awesome Aztec-style settings in E2M6 and the epic boss battle (against a dragon!) in E2M8.

Thanks to the more complex level design and increased variety of interesting settings, this episode is an absolute joy to play 🙂

Since the background music didn’t work here, I supplied my own. Seriously, this Ancient Egypt level is even cooler with “Powerslave” by Iron Maiden playing in the background 🙂

And, yes, there’s an Aztec level too: )

And you get to slay a dragon too! Thankfully, this isn’t a “puzzle-based” boss. But, the battle is tough enough for a final boss battle 🙂

E2M4 is probably the best level in the episode, and it includes things like a giant temple to Osiris, Egyptian mummies, sarcophagi, complex mazes, smaller sphinx statues, smaller pyramids and even an excellent mini-boss segment. If you love classic Ancient Egypt-themed FPS games like “Exhumed“, “Killing Time” and “Serious Sam: The First Encounter“, then episode two is worth playing for this level alone 🙂

And, yes, there are even pyramids too 🙂

Another cool thing about the second episode is that, every level or two, you will have to fight several small mini-bosses. Near the end of many levels, a powerful ancient Greek/Babylonian/Egyptian-style giant (called a “Guardian”) will rise from the ground and attack you.

Not only is this guy a formidable foe, but if you retreat or hang around too long, he’ll start spawning weaker copies of himself too. Often, the portal at the end of the episode will only open when the “original” Guardian is killed. Not only does this add extra challenge to the game, but it also makes finishing each level feel like even more of an accomplishment:

And, yes, these battles can be wonderfully epic 🙂

The other new monsters in “Dissolution Of Eternity” are all reasonably good too. In addition to an ogre that fires a different type of grenade, there are also floating wraith creatures, electric eels, stone knights, lava mini bosses, stronger “Egyptian Mummy” versions of the zombies, a mini-boss version of the episode one boss and “invisible” swordsmen (fortunately, they aren’t completely invisible – there’s a floating sword and a light on the ground).

These new monsters help to add some extra challenge and variety to the gameplay. However, they don’t really seem to have the same level of uniqueness or “personality” as, say, the gremlin monsters from the “Scourge Of Armagon” expansion.

However, the zombie mummies are about as metal as you can get \m/

Instead of new weapons, “Dissolution Of Eternity” includes three new ammo types (“Lava nails”, “Multi-rockets” and “Plasma”). These basically serve as an “alternate fire” mode for many of the game’s weapons (and you can toggle between “standard” and “improved” ammo by pressing the weapon’s number key). Plus, there’s actually enough of this extra ammo scattered around the expansion for it to actually be useful in many of the game’s combat encounters.

Yes, this looks really cool… and you’ll actually get to use it semi-regularly too 🙂

The lava nails allow both nailguns to not only be more powerful, but also to carry extra ammo too. The multi-rockets allow the grenade launcher to fire cluster grenades (which look cool, but aren’t that useful practically) and the rocket launcher to launch a powerful barrage of four rockets (which is a lot more useful).

The plasma ammo for the lightning gun… didn’t work properly (on my computer, at least) and did nothing more than place a floating blob of plasma in front of the player.

All in all, about half of “Dissolution Of Eternity” is really brilliant (and the other half is fun, but a bit drab). Although this expansion contains lots of cool extra stuff and a decent number of challenging and enjoyable levels, it often doesn’t quite reach the level of personality and fun found in “Scourge Of Armagon”. Even so, the fourth and sixth levels of episode two are well worth playing though.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Review: “Quake: Scourge Of Armagon” (Expansion for “Quake”)

Quake” is one of those games that I only ever seem to play every few years. I first played the shareware sometime in 1996-8, I played some of the full version in 2005 and I actually completed the full version in 2013.

Still, whilst looking on GOG a couple of weeks before I prepared this review, I noticed that a re-release of the game that included the two expansions (“Scourge Of Armagon” and “Dissolution Of Eternity”) was on special offer.

So, I thought that I’d return to “Quake” once again. And, since “Scourge Of Armagon” had the most cool-sounding title, it was the first expansion that I decided to play.

Before I go any further, I should point out that I played “Scourge Of Armagon” using the Darkplaces source port rather than the GL Quake source port supplied with the GOG version. Not only was this because, after working perfectly exactly once, GL Quake then started crashing my computer every time I tried to play the game – but also because using Darkplaces allowed me to save hard drive space. Seriously, the download of “Quake” on GOG was a bloated 1.1 gigabytes in size!

So, let’s take a look at “Scourge Of Armagon”:

Yay! Quake! It’s been way too long!

“Scourge Of Armagon” is an official third-party expansion (by Hipnotic) from 1997 that contains fourteen new levels (and three secret levels, although I only found one). In addition to this, it also contains new items, new monsters, new weapons and (apparently*) new music.

(*The music didn’t work in the version I played – I don’t know if this was because of the source port I used or the method I used to get “Scourge Of Armagon” to run. However, I vaguely remember some comments about the lack of music on the game’s GOG page too – so, it could possibly be a general issue with this version of the game. Likewise, since I wrote this review quite far in advance, I don’t know if it has been patched by now or not.)

The game’s story is fairly standard stuff – you play at the Ranger once again, who has to travel through a slipgate in order to defeat the forces of one of Quake’s generals called Armagon. In other words, it’s just an excuse to fight lots of monsters.

Seriously, I mean a lot of monsters!

Be sure to play the original “Quake” before you play “Scourge Of Armagon”!

Since this is an expansion, it is designed to be even more challenging than the original game was. So, it isn’t for new players! But, as thrillingly fun as these challenging new levels are – the difficulty curve is somewhat strange, since the final boss is ridiculously easy:

Seriously, I beat this guy on my second attempt. Despite the dramatic way that Armagon is introduced, this is just a “circlestrafe and hold the fire button down for a minute” type of boss fight!

One of the interesting things about “Scourge Of Armagon” is that it is split into three “episodes”. Although these episodes cannot be selected individually (and you’ll lose your weapons every 5-6 levels or so), this structure allows the game to contain a surprising amount of variety.

Most notably, the first “episode” is a sci-fi themed episode that obviously takes a lot of influence from the then-upcoming “Quake II” – this episode is also filled with grunts, enforcers, zombie dogs and robot scorpions.

It’s been a few years since I played “Quake II”, but I’m pretty sure this is a Strogg logo… in “Quake 1”!

This episode also includes a rather creative level that is set in an underground mine – featuring an “Indiana Jones”-style boulder segment, some cool-looking outdoor areas, some impressive machinery etc…

The other two episodes mostly consist of the kind of classic gothic medieval Lovecraftian horror type levels that will be instantly familiar to fans of the original game. Plus, the third episode starts with a level that reminded me a bit of an ‘evil’ version of “Riven” too 🙂

Seriously, it’s almost like “Riven” but with guns and monsters!

One interesting thing here is that some parts of the second episode are more gothic than usual. One stand-out level here is called “The Crypt” and it features ominous lightning, zombie-filled coffins and all of that kind of stuff 🙂

There’s also some really awesome lighting in this level too 🙂

The level design is mostly really good, with some creative touches throughout the expansion. Most of the levels are the kind of challenging, non-linear things that you would expect from a classic FPS game. But, there are some interesting variations too.

For example, one level called “The Gauntlet” deliberately tries to be more linear than usual in order to create a ‘gauntlet’-like experience.

*Sigh* Remember when linear FPS game levels were actually a rare and amusing novelty?

Likewise, since I’m more of a “Doom” fan than a “Quake” fan, it was surprisingly cool when I saw this in another level:

Yes, the ending to level eight (?) looks a little bit like something from “Doom” 🙂

However, part of the seventh (?) level is somewhat badly-designed. Basically, unless you know some of the tricks that only experienced “Quake” players (and retro FPS gamers in general) know, you’ll get totally and utterly stuck.

Seriously, it was only after wandering around the level about five times that I finally realised that you were supposed to bypass a locked door by standing on top of a small raised area and rocket jumping through a hole in the ceiling.

Unless you’re an avid FPS gamer who knows how to rocket jump, you’ll get totally and utterly stuck on this level!

The new items, weapons and monsters are really cool too. The new monsters consist of formidable robotic scorpions, really annoying floating grenade creatures and, best of all, the gremlins.

These adorable little critters will scamper around and try to steal your weapons. They also make really adorable squeaking sounds and look a bit like cute little green versions of the “Fiend” monster…. which will probably make you feel bad when you inevitably blast them into smithereens with your shotgun.

Plus, they’re almost certainly also a reference to an amazing Christmas movie from the 1980s too 🙂

The new weapons are mostly good. The laser gun is a powerful and useful rapid-fire weapon, whose projectiles will also bounce off of walls too. Likewise, the proximity mine launcher can actually come in really handy sometimes (seriously, there’s one segment where you can use it to defeat a shambler just by firing prox mines through a hole in a nearby door).

The other new weapon is none other than Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor! This mythological weapon can either be used as a simple club or it can shoot sparks at nearby enemies when swung at the ground. However, you probably won’t use this souped-up crochet mallet that often – since it’s often more practical to just use the other weapons.

Pictured: One of about three times that I actually used Mjolnir.

As for the new items, they’re really good too. In addition to a scuba suit and a new type of shield (the “Empathy shield”), the stand-out item is the Horn of Conjuring! This amazing item will summon a random “friendly” monster who will follow you around and help you out. Although the monster’s AI can be a little bit clunky, there is nothing more awesome than having a pet Fiend or a pet Shambler at your side during a fight!

Awww! It’s a pet fiend 🙂 Isn’t he adorable!

All in all, “Scource Of Armagon” is a fun set of enjoyably challenging “Quake” levels with some interesting (if infrequently frustrating) level design. Most of the cool new stuff added to the game works really well too. In addition to this, the expansion neither feels too short nor too long and it will provide at least a few hours of thrillingly challenging 1990s FPS fun 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Mimic” (Film)

Well, for the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a look at yet another monster movie. But, before I begin, I should probably point out that this film review series will probably go on a brief hiatus until at least the 3rd July (due to other articles/reviews that I’ve got planned for the next few days).

Anyway, the next film from the 1990s I’ll be looking at is a Guillermo Del Toro film from 1997 called “Mimic”. This is one of those films that I watched on VHS during my mid-teens but haven’t re-watched since then. So, when I saw that second-hand DVDs of it were going cheap online, I decided to take another look at it.

So, let’s take a look at “Mimic”. Needless to say, this review contains SPOILERS. I should also point out that the film contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS too (although I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to be an issue).

“Mimic” begins in New York, where a mysterious and dangerous epidemic is spreading amongst the local children.

Two members of the CDC called Dr. Susan Tyler (played by Mira Sorvino) and Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam), discover that the disease is being spread by cockroaches.

So, Dr. Tyler begins to genetically engineer a species of infertile hybrid insect called the “Judas Breed” which gives off an enzyme that causes the cockroaches’ metabolisms to speed up to a dangerous level. After releasing a swarm of these bugs into the New York subway, the cockroaches are eliminated and the spread of the disease is quickly stopped in it’s tracks.

Well, that was a short film! Huh? There’s more…

Three years later, a priest is murdered by a mysterious assailant – with the only witness being an autistic boy called Chuy who lives in the house across the street with his grandfather. Whilst the police investigate the murder (and some mysterious droppings found on the ceiling of the church), two children visit Dr. Tyler with a box containing an unusual insect that they’ve caught.

After some haggling, she agrees to pay them $10 for it and asks them to look for egg sacs belonging to the insect. But, when she opens the box, she finds that it is still alive and – after a brief scuffle – she manages to impale it on a dissection table.

Yay! Science!

A closer examination reveals that it’s a larger version of the Judas Breed that seems to be capable of reproduction. But, before she can examine the bug too closely, a mysterious person breaks into her lab and steals it.

However, a while later, a friend of Tyler’s lab assistant finds an even larger bug at a nearby sewage facility and, after performing an autopsy on it, the CDC scientists deduce that there is a colony of highly-evolved insects hiding in the subway tunnels beneath New York….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s probably one of the most “serious” monster movies that I’ve ever seen.

Whilst most monster movies are at least a little bit tongue-in-cheek, “Mimic” is a brooding, sombre, dark, grim and bleak horror film. Whilst it isn’t “jump out of your seat” frightening, the oppressive emotional tone, grim surroundings and creeping uneasiness of this film really set it apart from the average monster movie.

Yes, this isn’t one of those “fun” monster movies. It’s something a bit more gothic…

In addition to the rather dark themes within this film (such as the unintended side-effects of scientific research, children being harmed, horror lurking in plain sight etc…), the grim emotional tone is also compounded through some wonderfully gloomy lighting and lots of claustrophobic, old and dilapidated set design.

Even the scenes set during the day can often look at least slightly gloomy and/or ancient.

Seriously, the lighting here is wonderfully gloomy in only the way that a film from the 1990s can be. However, whilst this style of lighting is just something that looks really cool in other films, the almost constant use of this type of gothic lighting in “Mimic” quickly turns it from something beautiful into something much heavier, creepier and more oppressive. It really adds a lot to the grungy, grim atmosphere of the film.

Still, some of the lighting looks really beautiful.

But, despite the aesthetically pleasing orange/blue colour scheme that the film’s lighting uses, it still somehow looks really heavy and gothic.

The film’s story and pacing are also fairly good too. Although the film starts out with a number of story threads, they all gradually converge together fairly well as the film progresses. Likewise, although the film has a very slightly slower pace than you might expect from a monster movie, this fits in very well with the heavy, gothic and sombre atmosphere of the film. Best of all, at 101 minutes in length, this film is still just about short enough to remain focused and compelling throughout.

Likewise, the film’s characters are all really good. Many of the characters are somewhat understated and realistic, which really helps to immerse the audience into the events of the film.

In other words, it’s a horror movie where the main characters are sensible people.

Even when the main characters are confronted with the giant insects, they will often react to this in a realistic way (eg: hiding, planning, fighting only when absolutely necessary etc..). Even during the film’s two most dramatic action sequences, you really get the sense that Tyler and Mann are only resorting to such spectacular heroics because they genuinely think that they won’t survive (and either want to take the insects with them and/or protect the life of someone else).

Although the film’s main twist is probably at least vaguely well-known by now, it is still a surprisingly inventive – if far-fetched – one. Basically, due to their accelerated evolution, the bugs are now the size of humans. And, as both a protection and hunting mechanism, they have developed the ability to crudely mimic the appearance of humans by using a bony, skull-like mask that grows from two of their legs.

And, given how gloomy the film is, this disguise probably actually works.

As the title suggests, this theme of mimicry runs throughout the film – whether it is the fact that the geneticists try to mimic nature near the beginning of the film, or the fact that Chuy often tries to communicate with the giant bugs by mimicking their strange chattering noises (which, in turn, could be their attempt at imitating the cries of those they devour), or the fact that the main characters’ main defence against the giant insects is fooling them by using a scent gland from a dead insect etc..

This film is about the imperfections and dangers inherent in copying something you don’t understand (eg: Chuy thinks that the insects are friendly because he can “talk” with them, but he soon learns otherwise when his grandfather is devoured by one of them). This theme also evokes Freud’s concept of “The Uncanny” quite often too and this theme of imperfect copying is one of the things that really adds a lot of horror to the film.

The special effects in this film are surprisingly good, considering that it is a mid-budget film from a little over two decades ago. First of all, the pyrotechnics in one scene are absolutely spectacular.

So many explosions! I can’t believe it isn’t a Michael Bay film!

Plus, although there is an obvious CGI insect in one scene, many of the effects are gooey, slimy and/or grotesque practical effects. This really helps out a lot with the “gross out” elements of the film’s horror and it really helps to create the feeling that the characters are stepping into an alien-like insect colony when they venture into the stygian depths of New York’s abandoned subway tunnels.

Ah, good old 90s CGI – so wonderfully cartoonish.

Seriously, these practical effects look so much creepier!

And, yes, this film is filled with slime, gunge, gunk, ichor and sludge aplenty!

Musically, this film is reasonably good and, although I didn’t really notice the music that much, it certainly seemed to add to the film’s brooding, creepy and grim atmosphere.

All in all, this is a very well-made horror movie. It contains lots of thematic complexity, realistic characters, atmosphere and creepiness. It is a very unique and imaginative film that gets as much of it’s horror from the general atmosphere and emotional tone of the film as it does from the actual “monsters” in the film.

However, it isn’t really the kind of fun, cheesy monster movie that I really enjoy. Yes, it has a lot of artistic merit and it is very well-made, well-written and well-directed. But, it isn’t really “fun” in the way that a monster movie should be. Still, if you want a more “serious” example of the genre, then you can’t go wrong with “Mimic”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and half on artistic and narrative grounds. But, again, it isn’t a “fun” monster movie.

Review: “Shooting Fish” (Film)

For the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a slight break from Hollywood films and take a look at a comedy film from 1997 called “Shooting Fish”.

I wanted to include this film in the series because I saw it on rental VHS when I was about ten. Although I remembered very little about it, it has the distinction of being the first “12 certificate” film that I ever saw and, to my ten-year-old self, this fact alone was the height of coolness! So, when I saw that second-hand DVDs of it were going fairly cheap online, I just had to get a copy for old times’ sake.

So, let’s take a look at “Shooting Fish”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.

“Shooting Fish” follows two con artists called Dylan and Jez (played by Dan Futterman and Stuart Townsend). Their goal is to raise £2 million by scamming and cheating as many rich businesspeople and aristocrats in London as they can, in order to fulfil their lifelong dreams of living in a stately home.

£2 million? How difficult could it be?

Their latest swindle involves selling fake voice-recognition computer systems and, to make the scam work, they need a fast typist. So, after placing an ad in the paper, they end up hiring a medical student called Georgie (played by Kate Beckinsale).

However, in the middle of a “demonstration” of the system, she becomes suspicious. So, Jez and Dylan tell her that they are raising money for orphans (which is technically true, since Jez and Dylan were orphans when they were younger). Glad to help out with a good cause, Georgie decides to join the gang….

Yay! Crime!

One of the first things that I will say about “Shooting Fish” is that it’s slightly more of a subtle and understated comedy than I’d expected.

Although there are quite a few amusing moments and it’s a rather “feel good” kind of film, it often isn’t really the kind of “laugh out loud” comedy film that I’d originally expected.

Most of the comedy is dialogue-based/ character-based, but there’s also some visual humour too. Like this amusing number plate which reads “A T05 DF”.

In fact, the thing that it reminded me most of was an excellent TV series called “Hustle” that appeared a few years after this film came out.

However, although “Shooting Fish” has some of the slick cheekiness of “Hustle”, the narrative sometimes feels a little bit less focused. Whilst “Shooting Fish” certainly contains it’s fair share of amusing capers and audacious schemes, it is also slightly more of a character-based drama too. Whilst this adds some emotional depth and drama to the film, it also takes some of the focus off of the main characters’ many amusing cons, swindles and tricks.

The dialogue is fairly good, but the film’s pacing doesn’t always feel quite right.

Another slight problem with “Shooting Fish” is the lack of attention to detail.

Whilst the elaborate heists in a TV show like “Hustle” are somewhat silly, the audience is distracted from this by the many small details and clever plot twists that the show’s writers have added. On the other hand, there are some scenes in “Shooting Fish” where you’re left thinking “how the hell did they get away with that? Someone would have noticed!“. This film is very much a ‘style over substance’ film sometimes.

Case in point, this scene involving a jockey and a “hidden” helium baloon springs to mind. Somehow, not even the other jockeys notice it…

For the most part, the story of the film is reasonably good. However, there are a couple of parts of the story that seem a little bit contrived (eg: a plot element about recalled £50 notes). Still, given that this is a slightly stylised feel-good comedy caper movie, then these parts of the film can be excused for this.

Likewise, the tone of the film is somewhat interesting too. Whilst some parts of the film are fairly stylish and slick, many other parts of the film are somewhat slow-paced and understated. Whilst this gives the film a bit more complexity, it does detract very slightly from the comedic elements of the film. Even so, as I mentioned, this is more of a frequently amusing light-hearted feel-good film than a “laugh out loud” comedy.

There’s also the inevitable romantic sub-plot too.

The characters in this film are reasonably good, with the friendship between Jez and Dylan being a central part of the film. Plus, since Dylan is a more extroverted character and Jez is a slightly more geeky and introverted character, the contrast between their personalities helps to add some interest to the film.

Likewise, their uncertainty about how Georgie will react if she learns the truth about their plans to raise £2 million for orphans is also an important part of the film too. But, whilst Georgie has an interesting backstory, she sometimes comes across as a somewhat old-fashioned and “posh” character in a few scenes.

Although the “posh” element of her character is explained (somewhat unexpectedly) at one point in the film.

This film also contains a couple of interesting cameos from well-known actors too. To modern audiences, the most noticeable of these is that a certain then-unknown actor called Peter Capaldi happens to have a brief role in the film.

[Insert amusing “Doctor Who” reference here.]

In terms of lighting, style and set design, this film is absolutely excellent!

Not only are the flashback and daydream scenes in this film filmed using some really cool purple and green filters, but a similar effect is also used in the background of another scene in the film too. Not only that, many of the location designs in the film look suitably distinctive and detailed too. Best of all, there’s also a fair amount of cool-looking high contrast lighting too 🙂

Seriously, I really love this effect! More films need to use it!

And the lighting in some scenes is amazing! I’ve said it many times before, but people certainly knew how to use lighting properly during the 1990s!

Musically, the film is fairly good too. Although I (surprisingly) didn’t recognise any of the songs in “Shooting Fish”, they all seem to go fairly well with the events of the film.

All in all, this is an amusing feel-good film. Yes, the narrative could have probably been a bit more focused. Yes, this film can occasionally have more style than substance. But, it isn’t a bad film. If you’re looking for a light-hearted drama film or something that is vaguely, sort of possibly similar to “Hustle”, then this film might be worth watching.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.

Mini Review: “Woodburn” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”)

Well, although I’d vaguely planned to play and review a strategy game called “Eador: Genesis”, I seem to be more in the mood for FPS gaming at the moment.

So, since it’s been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD, I decided to use the ‘random file’ feature on the “/idgames Archive” again and, after a couple of goes, I found a rather interesting-looking level from 1997 or 1999 called “Woodburn“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port [v 2.7.9999.0 ] whilst playing this WAD. The notation that comes with the WAD seems to suggest that it might have problems if you use “Legacy”. However, it will probably work on most modern limit-removing source ports.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Woodburn”:

“Woodburn” is a single short “vanilla” level (eg: no new textures, monsters etc…) for “Doom II” and “Final Doom”. But, what it lacks in length, it certainly makes up for with fast-paced and challenging gameplay.

Ok, it’s mostly “challenging by late 1990s standards” challenging, but still….

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it contains a lot of imps. Whilst large numbers of monsters are nothing new in “Doom II” WADs, “Woodburn” is somewhat different to more modern “slaughtermap“-style levels for the simple reason that it consists of lots of claustrophobic corridors and balconies, many of which are within view of other imps and/or other projectile-firing monsters (in fact, there isn’t a single hitscan monster in this level!).

Yay! Projectile dodging!

What this means is that the difficulty in this level is less “strategy-based slaughtermap gameplay” and more “difficult, and occasionally cheap, traditional-style ‘Doom II’ gameplay“. Because you often don’t have a lot of room to move or dodge, this forces you to play in a much more aggressive way than in many other monster-filled levels (which often favour strategy, retreating, circlestrafing etc..).

Although this would be an interesting change of pace, it is let down slightly by the ammo distribution throughout the level. Although you’ll have enough shotgun and plasma rifle ammo to deal with the many imps (and one arachnotron) in the first half of the level, expect to start running a bit low later in the level. This is especially annoying since it is at this point that the level begins to introduce more mid-level monsters.

Yes, good ammo management matters more than you might think. Running away can also work too…

Even though you get a chaingun and several large boxes of bullets during this part of the level, it is too little too late. This is especially true considering that you’ll also be facing narrow walkways filled with revenants. Luckily, all of these segments of the level can be dodged in various ways.

Yes, you probably don’t want to stay on this walkway for very long…

As for the level design itself, it’s surprisingly good. The level is a small, but complicated, multi-layered maze that is well within the tradition of classic non-linear “Doom II” levels.

The claustrophobic corridors and platforms also help to add extra challenge to the level too (even though this can veer into “cheap difficulty” territory sometimes). Likewise, there is one clever segment where you have to cross a large slime-covered area, whilst avoiding teleporters that will transport you into an inescapable tower that is surrounded by monsters.

However, if you have jumping enabled, then it’s more escapable. Which brings me on to…

… I am not sure if this level is meant to be played with jumping enabled (if your source port allows jumping). Theoretically, this level can probably be completed without jumping. But, the level is somewhat more forgiving if you use jumping occasionally. So, choosing whether to jump or not probably allows you to vary the difficulty slightly.

For example, to get the yellow key, you have to stand in the middle of a large area of radioactive sludge and wait for a platform to descend. Whilst this normally wouldn’t be an issue, it’s very likely that you’ll only have a few health points remaining at that point. So, jumping onto the platform as early as you can might not be a bad decision.

All in all, this is a fun, furious and challenging level that will probably provide you with 15-30 minutes of entertainment. Yes, the difficulty can sometimes feel a little cheap and the ammo distribution isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun and reasonably well-designed little level.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get at least three and a half.