The water came rushing through the corridors of the Pyramid, like a river somehow running uphill. The flinty-eyed Ma Dusty was so shocked, she lowered her six-shooter. Delia took the opportunity to elbow the horrible woman in the ribs, before both of them were swept along by the raging torrent.

Darkness fell as Delia and Ma were swept away from the huge robot that was the source of the light. And then even Ma was gone, and Delia was alone, buffeted down a stone corridor by a raging stream. Perhaps she heard the shouts of human voices behind her. Perhaps she did not. Most of her mind was concentrated on keeping afloat while also protecting her face from impacts with the unseen walls. For the walls were of rough stone which scratched and abraded bare skin. Delia's silvery space costume protected most of her body, but keeping her face and hands clear was not easy.

Delia hit a wall as the stream turned a corner. A struggling body hit her as she adjusted. Whose body? Friend or foe? Human or… ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 53: Cosmos"

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In Search Of S04E10 Pompeii
Look up in the sky! It's a cloud of ash! No, it's a gout of lava! It's... VESUVIUS!

We open on some re-enactors in tunics playing with a baby in a Roman style sandpit. Sure, why not. There are some columns in the background so, you know, Roman. The people look stupidly into the distance, apparently not recognising the stock footage of volcanic eruptions that is the reverse shot.

Pompeii! Nimoy gives a sweet narration about the eruption, then we get to the big question – is this cross-like object found in the ruins of Pompeii a Christian cross? I'm no archaeologist, but I'm going to go with: "I guess. Maybe. Why not?"

Camera pans across the ruins of Pompeii, while Nimoy waxes lyrical about the grandeur of Rome. It's a little lacklustre, honestly, as if Nimoy is tired of proclaiming the greatness of one ancient civilization after another.

Some really nice shots of Pompeiian frescos, then a helicopter shot of Vesuvius, and now we're joining Nimoy by the sandpit in front of the columns. This is some minor producer's house in Beverly Hills, isn't it? Again, Nimoy seems slightly uninterested in his grandiose narration, possibly because it contains at least two really obvious factual errors – that there were a 'thousand' Egyptian dynasties, and that Pompeii was the farthest city from the Holy Land in distance.

Anyway, point is, Christianity was taking off at the same time as Pompeii went kerflooey.

Talking now to Prof Edward Vendel (?) an expert on Pompeii, who delivers a very lecture-y lecture from the lip of Vesuvius. If I were to transcribe what he said, it would probably read okay, but it's so stilted when he says it. It's a relief to get back to Nimoy talking about volcanoes and Pompeii over electronic music and a rumbling noise.

There is a three or four second shot of a Roman-style bust, shuddering on a fencepost, and I will now refuse to hear anything against this episode because holy crap that's funny.

History comes alive.

SFX footage of a city crumbling from some movie and… oh no! The bust has fallen off its plinth and cracked on a mosaic floor!

There's a bit from a movie of extras yelling at Roman senators, intercut with In Search Of... actors playing Roman scientists at work with the only apparatus they had -- set squares. There's a clever sequence about an augur reading the entrails of birds, shot so the bird doesn't die -- presumably so the producers can return it to the pet shop for a refund. Sometimes I really love this show. Oh, and then the augur measures a chicken liver with calipers. Delightful!

More shots of Roman-style fountains… Probably the same garden. Extras in tunics and stock footage of volcanoes again. The re-enactors finally stop gawping at the coming darkness and move. A little. Someone drops gravel on a goblet and half a melon. Extras hide. Footage from a big-budget Pompeii movie is cut in, just making the re-enactment look cheaper. Two of the re-enactors are buried under 'ash'.

And Nimoy is back in a shirt with a collar sooooo wide… He fills a little before we get onto the discovery of the city, and the promise of what might be the first Christian cross.

I'm looking this up now… the cross has been a symbol of Christianity since the second century -- so at least a couple of generations after Pompeii. Why wasn't the cross in use earlier? Again, I'm no expert but the phrase 'too soon!' springs to mind.

Prof Vendel lectures some more. Reenactment of an Italian digger discovering a suspiciously new marble bust in a well he was digging. Shots of tunnels under the city. I'll say this for In Search Of…, if you like under-lit footage of tunnels, they've got you covered. Now footage of the digger finding a broken sign that reads 'Pompeii'.

Nimoy points out that early explorers were basically just treasure hunters, and scientific study didn't begin until later. Re-enactor playing Giuseppe Fiorelli figuring out how to make plaster casts of the hollows left by decaying bodies… He seems to be working near that mosaic where the bust shattered. I hope they cleaned this poor guy's garden later. Anyway, it is quite a well done illustration of Fiorelli's process, even if the 'cast' that they 'dig up' is impossibly detailed. This is especially obvious when it's followed by shots of some of the actual casts with some nicely low-key music and minimal narration. Classy, for once.

Shots now of the interiors of Pompeiian buildings, with Nimoy telling little stories about what is known or suspected to have gone inside them. Nice… Oh God. Here comes Prof Vendel again. Sigh. He sounds like Orson Welles doing an impression of a boring lecturer. But then he explains how wealthy Roman couples didn't sleep in the same bed because 'it lead to bad marriages' and he pauses and gives a little shrug. He's starting to grow on me.

Nimoy explains disapprovingly about the city's 'many lewd murals'. How shocking! Let's watch… Oh. He's only going with some of the tame ones. 1970s TV, dude. Now Prof Vendel standing in the arena talking about gladiators. The dramatic music and sound of applause contrasts nicely with shots of empty seats.

More frescoes… Four minutes to go, and still no Christianity in Pompeii. We're talking about Pagan gods… Oh, and now we're talking about Christianity. The church was only fifty years old when Vesuvius blew. Nimoy says that we wouldn't expect to see that the faith had spread all the way to Italy.

Wouldn't we? Why not? The Roman Empire was many things, and one of those things was basically a massive transportation network. Goods, people and ideas traveled around Roman territory surprisingly quickly. St Paul's mission to Rome was decades past. In addition, just ten years before Pompeii, there had been massive Roman military operations in Judea, and who knows what returning soldiers might have brought back?

Anyway, we finally move onto the alleged cross. In Herculaneum, not Pompeii, but hey. Interestingly, the 'cross' is carved into the stone, rather than being the free-standing cross we might expect to see on a Christian altar. A little research shows that it this cross is now thought to be a the socket where a shelf was stuck into the wall, and that hard evidence of Christian organisation in Pompeii and Herculaneum has yet to be found.

Prof Vendel – a little more animated this time because he's answering a question rather than speechifying – says that he doubts that the 'cross' was an object of Christian worship. He point out that the main symbol of Christianity at the time of Vesuvius' eruption was the fish. [Insert bumper sticker joke here.] Had there been a fish at the house, he says, he wouldn't doubt that the occupants were Christian.

Next, we talk to Dr John Ray, a theologian from Anaheim. He says that it looks like a cross, and the depression could have been where a wooden cross was nailed to the wall. He claims it's "good evidence of a Christian person worshipping."

All in all, this was a pretty decent episode. As an in-depth look at Pompeii, it's not great. But as a little taster to get people interested, yeah, you could do worse. The argument over the cross is presumably to add controversy. Honestly, in researching, I was surprised to learn how little evidence there is of Christian worship in Pompeii. I wonder where I got the idea that a Christian presence in Pompeii was not just plausible, but know. Sadly, I think the answer to that is The Last Days of Pompeii, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton's turgid 1834 historical novel, which has Christians all over the place. Somehow I'd assumed that, though it's a terrible novel, it had a stronger basis in research than it does. A lesson for myself in humility, I guess.

Quote

Prof Vendel: "Pompeii's place in history is quite unique in that in one day it was completely hermetically sealed. In other words, time… stood… still."

Overall:

Crappy reenactments: 9/10, Frescoes: 10/10, Lectures: 8/10, Nimoyness: 7/10, Electronic music: 9/10. Overall: 43/50. High Distinction.

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"So victory, eh?"

Donna put aside the glowing amulet she had been staring at, and looked up to see who was addressing her.

"Oh, hello Brownie," she said, without enthusiasm. "I guess victory. The AI holograms have stood down, the Barnlings are in retreat and most of the Pyramid Cultists have… well they're not dead or in retreat, but they've been pretty solidly beaten up."

"And you took Theopoulos' amulet?"

"Did you know Theopoulos had an amulet?"

"No, but it was always the smart bet that he did."

"I see," Donna sighed. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 52: Nope"

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Unlike the Bigfoot episode, we actually have a bit of budget here. We see people in Bigfoot costumes on snow and in a forest as Nimoy waxes lyrical about man's fondness for monsters. Remote corners of the Earth, and all that stuff.

In Seach Of s04E09 The Abominable Snowman
It may take many years of searching to find the mysterious yeti, but... Oh, wait! Found him!

And now we're building up professional Bigfoot hunter Peter Byrne. Just a lot of hero shots of him trekking through the forest. Nimoy points out that Byrne has never seen a yeti, but has been looking for one for ages. Nimoy, sitting by a fireplace, talks about how the legend of the yeti came to be known in the English speaking world, brought back by British mountaineers. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S04E09 The Abominable Snowman"

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What We Do in the Shadows has to be as close to perfection as comedy/horror films ever have. It's a film with depth, heart and a metric tonne of belly laughs. And it has a point – yes, it's some comedians doing dodgy Bela Lugosi accents, but has a point. A lot of 'vampire protagonist' stories deal with the subject of loss, but Shadows manages to break your heart with loss and still deliver a happy ending.

Wellington Paranormal is not quite as perfect. It retains the brilliant deadpan humour of Shadows, but lacks the depth or pathos. The dumb cop jokes get a little repetitive, and some of the episodes aren't well paced. But you know what? None of that matters, because it is completely hilarious. ...continue reading "Wellington Paranormal – Review"

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Alfred  felt the smooth surface of the Watch as he wandered in the darkness. It didn't help, not even to reassure him. But he was too afraid to try to put it back in his pocket, lest it slip from his fingers and be lost in the tunnel -- if tunnel it was.

It had begun as a round, tunnel with granite walls. as the light had died, the tunnel had become square, the walls rougher. Then it had become round again, with walls clad in what felt like metal sheeting. Then the walls had become soft, with a peaty smell. Then the corridor had widened, and Alfred was almost glad he couldn't feel the walls any more.

In the silence, Alfred heard a sudden clang. He started and tried to run, but was grabbed by a strong arm, and there was cold metal at his throat.

"Who are youse?" came a voice from the darkness.

"Alfred Pilbrook," Alfred said. "Um, I hope you can see in the dark or something, because otherwise it's not very safe to have a knife…"

Suddenly there was light, bright electric light. Alfred squinted, his eyes feeling like they hadn't seen brightness in a year. When his pupils had adjusted, he looked down, to see that the implement at his throat was not a knife, as he'd imagined, but a bronze sword.

"Good-o," he sighed. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 51: Exposition"

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We open on pounding drums, flute music, a re-enactment of a sacrifice and Steadicam footage of Mexican pyramids.

This episode does right what it says on the tin.

In Search Of s04e08 Mexican Pyramids
Could this be a target? Perhaps a military target?

So, guy machete-ing his way through the Guatemalan rainforest. He's identified as a chiclero, a guy who harvests sap from the chicle tree to make chewing gum. Actually, that sounds kind of badass. Could we have a documentary about these guys? No, we're just told that 'often' they're the people who found Mayan ruins in the jungle.

Lovely footage of the Mayan pyramids, which Nimoy call 'the most awesome works of antiquity' which is pretty true. There's some very interesting stuff on the Pyramid of Chalule which, in terms of volume, is the largest building on Earth. It was build by building pyramids on top of earlier pyramids until they had a super pyramid.

We move onto excavations of an Aztec pyramid in Mexico city. Some shots of a model of Tenochtitlan, nice. And then Nimoy, in a white shirt and bellbottoms standing… somewhere outdoors? Which I guess is meant to be Mexico. He taps the side of an Earth mound and calls it a pyramid, but let's be honest, they didn't ship the guy down to Guatemala for a one minute link. Anyway, he talks about how the Conquistadors thought that the Mesoamerican pyramids were tombs, and wondered who was buried there.

Moore footage of the pyramids, noting that there's a temple at the top of each one. He wonders why these temples required such massive bases. We'll come back to this.

We're looking in detail at Teotiuacan. He notes that the local pyramids are smaller than the Egyptian pyramids, and states that it's not possible to know if the builders of Teotiuacan had dealings with the Egyptians. And, of course, this was where it had to be going.

Some stuff in a tunnel under Teotiuacan that leads to a natural cavern, so maybe there are chambers in the pyramid above? Some very pretty footage of the sun rising over the pyramid and suggestion that it was used for timekeeping. And then we're into the end of Teotiuacan. The narration proclaims that 'no other great city left so few traces of its demise' while the camera is pointed at a bloody big pyramid – which is a pretty massive trace of a city's demise, if you ask me. After that, the narration builds up how little we know about the city. Which is probably better than its usual job of trying to impose strange solutions on mysteries.

Now we get to the pure speculation. Nimoy just asks a bunch of questions about what the ancient Mayans were all about, while the camera looks around. Then suddenly wer'e not asking questions about the Aztecs, we're asking about the Maya. They had observatories, you know. They had a calendar.

This part isn't terrible, it's just that they're flipping from topic to topic very fast. In a serious documentaty about Mesoamerican cultures, we'd give a little more space to examine each issue. Anyway, it concludes with the question that if the Mayans were so in death, then why no tombs?

Anywhy, this one archaeologist did find some bodies under a pyramid? Okay, looking it up… Yep! He did indeed find the tomb of the Mayan ruler Pakal. We go into this in quite a lot of detail, and it's probably the most interesting part of the episode. Generally, my understanding is that Mesoamerican pyramids were not generally used as resting places. The interview with the archaeologist, Dr Ruz, is fascinating.

Next stuff about sacrifice, which is sweet. We talk to Dr Ruz again. He talks about how sacrifices took place at the top of pyramids. Nimoy tells us about the Aztec 'skull rack' which is exactly what it sounds like.

After the talk about the sacrifice, we wonder how such an advanced people could be so into bloodshed, which is… yeah, look… Anyway, we have a quick chat about modern Mayan people, then Nimoy's narration really starts building up just how awe-inspiring Mayan cities must have looked when they were inhabited, and Dr Ruz discusses how the Mayan ruling class deliberately used the pyramids to provoke awe and obedience in their people.

More footage of pyramids… Okay, I may have been wrong earlier when I thought it was going to be about the Mexican/Egyptian pyramid 'connection'. We just go straight into the collapse of the Mayan empire. The narration is beautiful and the footage is nice. I really have no complaints here.

In fact, other than the skipping between topics, the brief talk of Egypt and a bit of patronage, it's not bad. It's not a great documentary about Mesoamerican pyramids, but it's not a bad one for it's era and running time.

Quotes

Nimoy: Pyramids were stairways to heaven – the ultimate in spiritual technology.

Summing up

Travelogue footage: 9/10, Music: 7/10, Nimoyness: 8/10, Skulls: 10/10, Silliness: 2/10. Overall: 36/50. Credit

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“I just wish you’d told me how unhappy you were with the Anthropocene age,” Fanaka said. “You know, before you tried to kill all humans.”

“And if I had told you, vat difference vould it have made?” Nalda said.

“I suppose that is a fair point,” Fanaka grimaced.

They say on a bench outside of the music shop. Or rather, they sat on half of the bench, since the other half was blocked by a bicycle that some thoughtless soul had chained there, instead of in the bike rack just ten metres away.

“It’s a fair point if we’re talking about outcomes,” Fanaka added. “But I’m not. I’m talking about communication. I’m talking about honesty.”

A breeze blew over them, warm and smelling of smoke from the burning spaceship wreckage. Nalda set her shoulders and looked at the ground – or at least her sunglasses were directed downwards. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 50: Now"

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On the side of the Pyramid, Delia held Erik in place as the Bubble absorbed him, or tried to absorb him. It bubbled and howled as it engulfed the little old man. It blackened like a marshmallow in a fire, but it wasn't hot to Delia's touch. Alfred was panicking but, to his credit, his panic took the form of grabbing Erik's hand and trying to pull him out, rather than just flapping his arms.

"What have you done, Delia! What have you done?" he cried.

The Bubble/Erik/Marshmallow thing stopped struggling and was still. It seemed to shrink into itself before Delia's eyes, becoming more humanlike in stance and shape.

"I. AM. PARADOX," it said.

"Oh," Alfred said. "Good-o." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 49: Ma"

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Fanaka didn't quite know what he expected to see in the future world tyranised by evil AIs, but it wasn't this. It wasn't this darkened room with its great mirror ball. It wasn't these people in platform shoes and bell-bottom pants, drinking pina coladas and doing the hustle. And it certainly wasn't the music, the weird yet compelling music…

"Hot Chocolate," Axel said.

Glancing down, Fanaka saw that he was holding a drink. He sniffed it. "No, I think it's a Harvey Wallbanger."

"The band, man," Jemmy said. Had Fanaka intended to bring Jemmy along? Oh, well, he was here now. "Hot Chocolate is the band that's playing. You Sexy Thing."

"You Sexy Thing being the name of the song," Axel added.

"Yes, I got that. Yes." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 48 Disco"

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