TWIN PEAKS.

coop

It began with The Elephant Man. I don’t remember when exactly it hit HBO, but it had to be shortly after we had acquired the network in our home, the other two seminal films playing around that time were Jaws (which we had watched countless times in a weird sort of family after-dinner ritual) and The Exorcist (which I was never allowed to watch, but was forced — by myself, unknown to my parents — to secretly listen to at the top of the stairs to our den, the product of this fused with mine own grisly imagination tortured yet enthralled me for the better part of a couple of months).

The Elephant Man at first reminded me of the Hammer films of my earlier youth (more than likely due to the English cast and the sure hand of Freddie Francis’ cinematography), but it bore a much deeper emotional hole in me than any of those films had managed before. The film carefully examined the extents of what constitutes humanity, and in many ways came to the conclusion that we as a race (at least, in the depicted 19th century) were still a good deal away from achieving that goal. I have seen the film several times since, and cry every time I see it. What seemed to move me as much as the aforementioned camera work or even the wonderful actors’ portrayals (which include those of Sir Anthony Hopkins, later Lynch regular Freddie Jones and the late, great John Hurt in the title role) was what Lynch seemed to bring to the table — an otherworldly existentialist vibe, one that turned into a haven when Joseph Merrick asphyxiates trying to sleep “like other people” and in death is reunited with his mother at the film’s conclusion. It gave a film that could’ve been more traditionally portrayed a shimmering soul at its centre as if to belie its murky and backwards surroundings. Needless to say, this David Lynch guy blew me away even as a kid — and the interviews with him all mentioned the film that marked his professional debut: Eraserhead.

At some point, while in high-school, I had finally managed to rent a copy of Eraserhead, which I found had long been lauded as a creepy surreal manifesto of sorts in one or more of the magazines I had devoured over the years (be it Heavy Metal or SPIN, I don’t know), scoring a major coup in my ever-growing list of films that needed to be seen. I remember being transfixed watching it, feeling as if the floor had given way beneath me as I hung deep into some inky, sweaty, shuddering tomb of industrialised anxiety. Also, I may have been high at the time. I loved it.

Far removed from The Elephant Man, this was my true introduction to David Lynch, and his unique, rather broadly archetypical and intuitive style of storytelling. Like Kubrick and Moebius before him (in my experience, at least), he insisted on showing a story instead of merely telling one, but in Lynch’s case he would even forego the more accessible layers of audience participation and break down the matters at hand in more abstract and imaginative ways. He was making it harder for us but in a way that was enthralling to follow onscreen. In the words of Dr. Thompson, “Buy the ticket, take the ride”, and what a fascinating ride it was.

Meanwhile, Lynch went on to create Dune (which most fans of the book’s author Frank Herbert abhor, but I absolutely love) and Blue Velvet (which I saw while attending college, and praised to my friends as being “truly Lynch”, although the term, for the most part, was lost on them), solidifying him as a go-to source for nebulous high weirdness.

Then, at last (at least for you, Patient Readers), came not only a new font of Lynchian goodness but one that was on television, every week. Yes, I was truly excited when I first heard that Twin Peaks, Lynch’s collaboration with Mark Frost, best known for being one of the head writers of the seminal series Hill Street Blues (not to mention, according to IMDb, the screenwriter of The Believers, one of my fave John Schlesinger potboilers) was coming to TV. It was like a steady diet of manna from heaven.

The resulting series was a phenomenon, which literally dominated popular culture in the early ’90s. It was a careful balance of crime procedural, soap opera, backwoods slice-of-life dramedy and now trademarked surrealism, all overarched by the question that burned at its core — that of “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” It was a show that could literally appeal in some way to everyone, and, at least for its first season, it did. However, the network hosting the show, ABC, pressed Lynch and Frost to reveal who, indeed, did kill Laura Palmer (a question they never planned on answering but leaving hanging as part of the atmosphere of the show), and halfway through the series’ second season they finally obliged. It was revealed that Leland Palmer, Laura’s father — who was possessed by the violent “BOB”, an entity from the Black Lodge, an alternate plane of ultimate evil — had sexually assaulted and slain his daughter. Palmer committed suicide in response to his deeds, and the book was closed on that most prominent chapter of Twin Peaks. Or so we thought.

Despite a love interest for Special Agent Dale Cooper (the wonderful longtime Lynch regular Kyle MacLachlan, who had starred in Dune and Blue Velvet), the series’ main character, and a new antagonist known as Windom Earle (not to mention a transexual FBI agent portrayed by David Duchovny, who would later rise to prominence as the very male Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files two years later), Twin Peaks faced a slow inexorable death soon after its second season. It ended with Cooper being trapped in Red Room between the White and Black Lodges, his evil doppelganger sent out with BOB into the world to wreak havoc whilst he remained a prisoner. The final episode included a mysterious message, with the lost spirit of Laura Palmer telling him that “I will see you again in twenty-five years”.

Indeed, some twenty-six years later (the excess time being drug out by negotiations between Lynch and Showtime, the premium network hosting the new season) Twin Peaks has returned. The network blessed us with four hour-long episodes on demand Sunday, and I for one ate them up like glittering candy. With the series being on premium cable, and Lynch firmly in control, one would expect that this Twin Peaks would be a considerably more unruly beast that the original — and they’d be right on the money. Aside from mentions here and there of returning characters (and some replacements, like Robert Forster as Sheriff Harry Truman’s brother Frank), the first four episodes mainly concern themselves with Dale Cooper’s eventual return from beyond, and the reign of terror created by his doppelganger (mentioned as “Mr. C.” by a backwoods crony at the beginning of the first episode). Each hour is filled with vignettes from a number of places outside the usual mountainous treelines, such as New York, South Dakota and Las Vegas, and no, not much of anything has even begun to be sewn together. I love it and eagerly await more to come next month.

American Gods.

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We all make choices in life, whether they be about important issues, such as whether or not to stay in school (I left after my first year of college — idiot), or trivial ones, like going with either Arby’s or Horsey Sauce on my Beef N’ Cheddar (I typically do Horsey, though sometimes both). Somewhat middling on the above-given scale is picking what authors to read, and while I’ve followed several over the years, I’ve never delved into the work of Neil Gaiman.

I first heard of Gaiman’s Sandman series in the ’90s and even the involvement of my all-time favorite illustrator wasn’t enough to get me into it:

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Afterward, his name popped up several times amid films I had either seen or planned to see, such as Robert Zemeckis’ uncanny valley take on Beowulf, or Henry Selick’s wonderful Coraline, based on Gaiman’s original book. You’d think all of the above would be enough to cement me as a prospective Gaiman fan, but — due more to sheer laziness than any prejudice — I just never picked any of his stuff up.

Fast-forward nearly twenty years later, and I am beginning to have misgivings. American Gods, the new series on Starz based on Gaiman’s 2001 novel, has me by its talons from the get-go. Equal parts mythologically rich and batshit crazy, I cannot wait to see what happens next.

To those unfamiliar, American Gods is Gaiman’s tale of those immigrant faiths that were thrust onto the New World over its history. The resultant icons of these faiths, the aforementioned gods, find themselves trapped between the dwindling devotion of passing generations and the rising cults of desire, such as technology. Chief among these ancient deities is Mr. Wednesday, known to most who are up on their Elder Edda as Wotan or Odin, lord of the Æsir. With such kingly realms apparently out of reach, and in desperate straits with his current environs, he does what he knows best, and prepares to go to war.

Thrown headlong into this imminent conflict is one Shadow Moon, a recent parolee who finds his life outside institutional walls to be nothing less than a catastrophe, making him a ready mark for Wednesday’s ensuing campaign. A new and surreal landscape is thus opened up to him, one filled with the former and budding rulers of the multiverse now reverted to masquerading amid the common mortals, desperate to garner whatever power and influence they can.

At the helm of the new series, along with Gaiman himself as executive producer, are Bryan Fuller, who formerly ran the magnificent (albeit short-lived) NBC series Hannibal, and Michael Green, who helped write the screenplay for the equally magnificent James Mangold film Logan (as well as credits for the upcoming Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049, both of which will surely be mentioned here soon). Needless to say, this is a series with an embarrassment of talent, which not only has a clear assessment of the subject matter, but the collective cojones to deliver it to an eager audience. Count me among the eager, I am already counting the days until episode two.

The Void.

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I’ve often trumpeted my love of films from the late ’70s and early to mid-’80s on this blog –particularly those of the horror genre — but have never taken a moment to discuss just why I find them so uniquely appealing. If I had to guess, I’d have to say that it is a combination of factors. For one, the majority of them were independently produced, and as such were free from big studio expectations. These productions were lean and mean, and not a bit afraid to tell stories that were far beyond the usual tropes. Couple this with quickly advancing filmmaking technology, not to mention a burgeoning industry of visual and makeup effects talent, and you’ve got the makings for a great deal of inspired and entertaining cinema. Also, in retrospect, I grew up on the stuff. What most folks revile as low-budget schlock and surreal storytelling I welcome like a warm and familiar blanket, temporarily distracting me from the horribly normal world.

Luckily for me, I have compatriots out there — filmmakers who were truly inspired by that long-gone golden era. Unlike the droves of direct-to-video hacks who now blatantly reproduce the same tired scenarios and cardboard characters (cue the radio music as the car filled with nubile ignoramuses flies down the backroads of Nowhere, USA, where folks tell of a killer on the loose…), these guys have got it down. They know how to tell a tale filled with tension and atmosphere, and more importantly, just how much of the Damned Thing to show beyond the shadows. In particular, I speak of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, and their fine little gem of a time capsule entitled The Void.

From the initial trailer shown online, I was ready for this one. Like It Follows before it, The Void showed a great deal of promise from the get-go: I immediately imagined John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness and The Thing had a baby with good old Howard Phillips Lovecraft acting as midwife, and soon realized I wasn’t far off the mark. Thanks to the glories of modern digital technology, I was able to see the film on opening night with video-on-demand — otherwise, I would’ve probably had to wait until it was released on Blu-ray or DVD.

The Void doesn’t waste a bit of time getting the viewer into the story. Before we know it, Officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) is delivering a mysteriously injured man to a nearby hospital — one which, due to an upcoming move to a newer building, is currently functioning in a limited capacity. Here a number of other characters are thrown into the mix, including Allison (Kathleen Monroe), the head nurse on staff, not to mention Carter’s wife, and Sheriff Mitchell, played by none other than Art Hindle, of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Brood fame. Pretty soon afterward things begin to go awry, as a number of creepy cultists (pictured above) encircle the building — not to enter but to keep anyone from getting out. Needless to say, but things don’t get any better for them from here.

The film continues along a disjointed and surreal path, filled with spectacular visions and horrific monstrosities. Major kudos as always from me for filmmakers who dare to simply show a story instead of telling it, awkwardly using characters to spew narrative instead of having the confidence to let the viewers sort out the goings-on for themselves. Gillespie and Kostanski have that confidence, and only allow what little information the audience needs to advance, and even then leaves a great deal to their interpretation. The practical effects are low-budget but beautifully applied, and create moments of abject horror and confoundment. Overall, the acting is serviceable but more than enough to carry the narrative, and amid the hypnagogic visuals and an atmospheric soundtrack including the work of personal fave Brian “Lustmord” Williams give a proper commentary while presenting a world gone horribly — and wonderfully — weird.

While not a direct throwback to past films per se, The Void takes its influences and hammers out a solid homage to the genre jewels of my youth and still manages to charter bold new territory. No spoilers here, but I would be very pleased if the success of this film granted the filmmakers with more opportunities to continue telling such ambitiously torrid tales. If you agree with any of the reasons listed above and The Void is playing in your area, I wholeheartedly encourage you to go see it. If not, do like I did and seek it out via video-on-demand. But to paraphrase Nietzsche, if you gaze long into The Void, it will inevitably gaze into you.

GOBLIN-FOLK OF THE TALAMOR.

Another writing that grew from The Battle of Bad Galeth was this short Mannish analysis of that most common foe of the more prominent races of Eurychra, Goblin-Folk of the Talamor. It is written from the position of a learned Udanian sage, who apparently has had a peculiar fascination with these foul denizens, even to the point of managing a rough etymology of their given names. Among the finer points presented are a more detailed account of the origin of orc-kind, and some ideas behind their particular enmity against the Elves.

 

 GOBLIN-FOLK OF THE TALAMOR
By
Conath Ovidan, Legist and Sage of the
Court of Magdal-Ayin

Throughout the history of Talamor, known to the learned Elves as Eurychra, many races, and their variants have come into being. A common element throughout has been that of the urganach, those foul creatures commonly described as “goblin-folk”, due mainly to their most common representatives. It has been said that there are more goblins warring beneath the surface of the earth than fires amid the Walls of Night, but that remains to be properly debated. What is known about them is that while they may very well exist in such numbers, their kin exists in many, much more deadly forms unknown to the commoner. The purpose of this writing is to not only delineate these creatures and their relation but to properly place them within the overall scheme of racial history, which currently includes the many sub-races and derivatives of Elves, Dwarves and Men.

While their exact entrance into Talamor’s pre-history is not known, many theories have been posited by the historic writings of the Hylenic, or wood-elven scholars. Most concern them with being minions of the earth, to a lesser degree not unlike the Dwarves or Giant-kind, that were perverted into evil servitude by the fire-god Esh, whom the Elves name Ignar. While his influence has long since left the world (outside of rumored cults), his minions still run rampant across and deep within the whole of Talamor.

Goblin. The name is derived from the Kedanic gobbeling , or “(one) from the gobbel”, that word meaning a depth of the earth. Similar is the Hylenic term kobold, however it tends to be used as blanket term for their ilk. The Dwarves, their closest adversaries, know them as the huldir, or “hidden ones”. The creatures specifically mentioned here are slight (4’ in height typically), with umber to ochre skin, large pointed ears (comically so, when compared to those of the Elves), prominent noses and small, seemingly ineffectual eyes. As could be perceived, their senses of hearing and smell are considerable, while their eyesight, at least amid the surface-world, barely so. However, in their dark habitat below ground, they can sense the differing graduations of heat (including that coming from interlopers to their dim lairs) perfectly well. Therefore, even in the least lighted conditions, the goblin can function as effectively as a Man in sunlight, with ranged as well as melee weapons. Accordingly, the light and heat of the fully sunlit world disables them to a great degree, so they are rarely seen in such locales unless at night or in darkened conditions. They garb themselves in everything from rough-hewn cloths to leathern armors sourced from the likes of giant rats (which they are known to breed as livestock) to grazing animals that have been drug down to their dismal homes. In emulation of the Dwarves they are fair miners and smiths and manage to cobble fearful blades and missiles, some of which are poisoned with any number of stagnant fungi. Goblin society is tribal, with any number of them led by either a chief or king, who is often the largest and most repugnant of their given number. This loathsome creature is either a hobgoblin proper (see below) or some terribly wily individual who has managed to manipulate the underlings into a state of reverence, or at least mindful dread.

Hobgoblin. The term was once specifically associated with a leader caste, or “head-goblin”. While that is indeed the case in some instances (hobgoblins leading goblin tribes), it has since been revised in citing a larger variant strain of the creatures. While they appear in many ways like their close cousins, the hobgoblin is larger (averaging at 6’ tall), broader and considerably more brutal than their lesser relatives. They are also adept at wielding two weapons at once, making them dangerously dexterous foes, and are markedly better miners and smiths, with their armors and weaponry on par with most Mannish fare. They are often led by orcs or bugbears (see below), or one of the more advantageous of their own kind.

Orc. A truly separate strain of goblin-kind is the orc (the name is supposedly derived from the Dwarvish nork or norker, meaning “foul (one)”. Their origin lies relatively recent to the others in that they were the product of the mad wizard Golgamed’s endeavor to create a servant race of creatures to attend his liege Jehar the Usurper at the fortress of Bad Galeth some 250 years prior. The fate of Bad Galeth, and that of Golgamed’s madness need not be recounted here, but it is important to say that while the experiment was ultimately a failure, it resulted in a proliferation of creatures that bred faster than any other of their kind and maintain a considerable number to the current day. Being the result of repugnant act of breeding goblins with heavily drugged human females (supposedly the females were first slain and partially devoured by the deviant creatures, until Golgamed devised a proper slurry of fungus, fecal matter, and grime which managed to convince the fiends that their prey was at least somewhat like their kind), but little did the wizard know that the final female subjects in question were, in fact, were-boars, which resulted in their mutant progeny bearing the porcine snout and jagged tusks associated with orcs today. They are likewise covered in a thin coat of wiry black hairs, thickest at the back and hindquarters, where the base of the spine results in a short tail. Like their cousins the hobgoblins, they stand around 6’ tall at full height, and many of them are as broadly built through selective breeding. Unlike their cousins, however, they are more prone to have other, “lesser” creatures perform acts such as armoring and smithing — enslaving the likes of other goblin tribes, or even Dwarven or Mannish thralls to tending to such menial business in their behalf. A curious subject is their hatred for Elves, being more inclined to slay them on sight than treat them as chattel like the other races. Some relate this to the Vale-elves’ participation in the Battle of Bad Galeth, but no obvious correlation can be made of this supposition. Elven flesh and organs are also considered among the greatest delicacies in the orcish diet, especially after elaborate and horrific torturing of the prey. Some old orcs are known to treat Elven blood not unlike fine wine and keep it in airtight casks for sharing in celebrations. They are viciously competitive, and the veterans of their many civil struggles are large tribes of keenly militaristic opportunists who strike fear in their many foes across Talamor.

Bugbear. The largest of goblin-kind, they stand at a massive 7’ to 9’ tall, and are typically covered in a brackish fur. The name is from the Kedanic bu-gebur, meaning “lurker from below”. Not the most intelligent of their race, they nonetheless are remarkably dexterous for their size and are unrelenting once induced into attack. Some say they are the product of hobgoblins mating with giant-kind, such as ogres or ettins, but this remains to be undocumented and is guesswork. Regardless of their exact origin, when wielding heavy arms such as axes, spears, and morning-stars, they can be devastating when encountered. Their might is respected among even the orcs, who often enlist bugbears in the front lines as savage infantry among their troops.

The variety of urganach present in Talamor represent a significant threat to its free-peoples, not only due to their great number but to their cunning organization. This writing is thus put forward with the only sincere leverage against such a threat — that of knowledge. Only when we learn further of such races normally only seen through the rough lens of legend and lore can we come to understand their weaknesses and limitations.

The Battle of Bad Galeth.

First of all, I apologize for yet another long absence. It was a number of projects which held me away this time, most of which will be detailed here — but some that will end up being revealed elsewhere, or at a later date in any case. I’ve been working on a few art projects, which tend to consume a great deal of my time outside of work, as well as a great deal of work on a custom Quake project I’ve been pursuing for at least a decade now (I’ve been through at least four or five versions of it until finally hitting upon the proper balance of aesthetics and gameplay to satisfy my appallingly specific desires). But enough grumbling, here at least is one of the fruits of my ardor, the epic poem The Battle of Bad Galeth.

As mentioned in the other entries dealing with my developing D&D world setting, the fortress was the final venue of battle in the first Mannish civil war, between the Kingdom of Eburelon and the forces of Jehar the Usurper. What began as an experiment in putting the history of Eurychra to verse ultimately became a massive, five-page behemoth that, while sticking to a strict meter, ended up detailing some facets of the conflict that I had not considered previously. After a couple of months of a process more like sculpture than writing per se, we have the dramatic results entered below. Prepare for a long read, folks — but I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

 

THE BATTLE OF BAD GALETH.

King Brandrach of the Bladed Hand made sure that all could understand
The keep of White Oak meant sanctuary;
But Jehar was a willful man, and many stood at his command,
Unlike the King, he sought adversaries.
Now in the end the King prevailed, had Jehar and his soldiers jailed,
Held by some to be seen as true martyrs;
Their followers made ardent threats, with prejudice without regrets,
Brandrach got much more for what he’d bartered.
He signed a writ to set them free, conditioned that they’d never see
The borders of Eburelon again;
While Jehar and his people left, accepting loss, feeling bereft,
Their leader never lost the will to reign.

Now Jehar took a southern path, on past the Shrine at Malacath,
Down to the foothills of the Hinder Peaks;
His numbers swole after release, the last thing on his mind was peace,
Although his current futures looked quite bleak.
But Esta proved to be a boon, her witching grace made Jehar swoon,
Her visions fueled his dimming source of ire;
And Golgamed, with eyes coal black, drove the hoards of goblins back,
With searing flames of his magical fire.

Through them, Jehar’s lot was leased, he now commanded man and beast,
A massive force led by faith or by flame;
They took to mining in the hills, supplanting stone with fevered skill
To erect a great fortress in his name.
It was christened Bad Galeth, with twisted towers and great breadth,
A dividing wall from which to take
The true forces of the White Oak, and then at his leisure choke
The life from those that he would not forsake.

Jehar bid dread Golgamed to fashion minions from the dead,
And forge a score of soldiers set to prowl;
The mage drew back souls from beyond, to his cold will they did respond,
He mated women-folk with beasts most foul.
The orcs thus came into the world, their blackened heavy lips were curled
Over sharp tusks and fangs with slavering snouts;
Devoted were they to their liege, but any else would besieged
By the savagery of these repugnant louts.
Attending them would be the band of slayers known as the Black Hand,
The highest allies to their master’s will;
Their servitude was writ in blood, their devotion to Jehar would
Prove to be grist of a fated mill.

Among those that were once sworn, a crease of mistrust had been worn,
In light of evils set to run amok;
To mute witness were cabals kept, their secrets held to bare except
Those wishing their necks on the chopping block.
Among these was a rogue most sly, one Melayina the Nightseye,
Who bid that Jehar had grown quite insane;
So grossly overwhelmed with power, from the highest twisted tower,
He could not be recalled to sense again.

Nonetheless he set his eyes upon the Dwarven paradise known to common folk as Lendalath,
His forces took the Mountains Dread, allying with or leaving dead
Any evils that set to block their path.
They stole at last into the vale, and with renewed numbers prevailed,
Secured the quarry they had come to take;
The eminent smith Agmundar, whose works were known both near and far,
And his kin whose lives would be put at stake.
In return the smith conceived plated breasts and chain-mailed sleeves,
The likes of which had never been before;
With metals drawn from hidden hoards, the treasures of forgotten lords,
And weapons forged from a magical flaming ore.

Thus armed, equipped and willed to wrath, the army beat a northern path
To take on their foes within the wood;
But as they’d rose to Malacath, a vale-elf legion from Khadath
Had leapt into the fray before they could.
Feathered arrows filled the sky, their infantry made battle-cries
And tore deep into the enemy’s rear;
Their blades-men took to hack and hew, followed the remaining few
That stood between them and the nearest mear.
Now Jehar’s men gave hew and hack to drive the elves from Khadath back,
Who’d kept them far from their intended goal;
Despite their armor, flaming blades and many other dark charades,
Their numbers were held to the eastern knolls.

Down came the men of Brandrach, all poised and ready for attack,
The moment had been planned long in advance;
In Jehar’s absence had the King gone far south negotiating,
He and his allies left nothing to chance.
The standard of the White Oak flew as outnumbered enemies knew
To flee lest they join the ranks of the dead;
They were driven back to Bad Galeth, pursued by almost certain death,
When the long-fought battle came to a head.

The allied force of Elves and Men found themselves opposed again
By the host that met them at the fortress gate;
The undead, orcs and black-garbed hordes that duly served as castle wards,
Intended to abruptly end their fate.
Forged metal cleft into bone, as above the sentry horns were blown,
And all within the walls were drawn to battle;
Again elf-arrows filled the sky as greater throngs were drawing nigh,
All around could be heard their death’s rattle.

Deep within the walls beyond, a revolution had been spawned
At the sounds of bloodshed from outside;
Led stealthily upon the fly by Melayina the Nightseye,
Many minions duly fell by the wayside.
But her campaign was cut far short, her actions met a sound retort
By Black Hand guardsmen that remained within;
They seized the rebels, bled them dry, and manacled the Nightseye
To bring before their lord and dealt by him.

At the gates when all seemed lost, the very winds themselves were tossed
At the entrance that held all opposed aghast;
A fiery burst and crack of thunder tore the evil host asunder,
At its center, the wizard Andarast.
The mage wielded searing flame, and summoned beasts from higher planes
That appeared at his bidding and attacked;
With his allies at his side, they then began to turn the tide,
And soon the wards of Bad Galeth were sacked.

The remaining orcs fled in the night, the undead faded beyond sight,
While their master watched from overhead;
In disbelief from what had passed, he called attendants to him fast
To go and fetch the wizard Golgamed.
The Nightseye had been pushed aside as her departed jailors hied
Deep within the dungeons of the castle;
Still manacled but yet unseen, she stole down to the mezzanine
Of the tower, no longer its vassal.

She bravely shadowed their path down into the fortress underground,
Teeming with blackness, barely lit by flame;
Guided by echoes off its walls, she finally stepped into the halls
Where Agmundar and his ilk hid in shame.
The old Dwarf had succumbed to age, and Jehar’s minions in their rage
Had tortured him and made him feel their wrath;
They’d hobbled him to make him lame, and against threats to do the same
To his folk, he had prevented their scath.
“Greatest of Smiths,” said the Nightseye, “Thee and thy family should fly,
For now the battle has made the way clear;”
“My mate and kin shall pass,” said he, “But I have ailed miserably,
My wounding so grievous I must stay here.”

As yet unbeknownst to all, mad Golgamed’s imminent fall
Was due to the waning of his spirit;
The demands had taken their toll, though fallen just beyond their goal,
Wielding such great power made him fear it.
Now when brought forth before his liege, poor Golgamed‘s mind was besieged
By demons of desire and doubt and pain;
When put to task the mage lashed out, in a foul tongue did he thus shout,
“I’ll never be thy wonton thrall again!”

Jehar with Esta took aback from Golgamed’s heinous attack,
As the wizard assaulted them in ire;
The Usurper clung to his mate, barely escaping from their fate
Of being duly consumed by the fire.
Jehar called upon his men to come to his aid yet again,
But the Black Hand guards ignored his command;
One glance at Golgamed’s dire eyes had made them come to realize
That things had gone far worse than they had planned.
Then Esta spat and cursed them all, with upraised hands she made a call
To summon some foul beast from the Nine Hells;
It took Esta and Jehar on its back and in a flash was gone,
Beyond the tower despite blades and spells.

Below the fortress on the ground, a crowd had gathered all around
To watch as their foes made their scant escape;
“They’re making their way towards the Waste,” said Andarast with urgent haste,
The exit left all with their mouths agape.
Then before them came the Nightseye, Agmundar‘s folk following nigh,
Her wearied brow and dark eyes filled with dread;
“I know that ye’ve taken great pains,” she said, “But one more threat remains,
That of the enraged wizard Golgamed.”

Far above them the wizard fumed, his mania had him consumed,
Denied the chance to slay his perceived foe;
His growing furor reached its peak, for the Black Hand guards it seemed bleak,
They all were taken, in one mighty blow.
That highest tower did explode, along its length it bent and bowed,
And collapsed far below into the hold;
The guard towers to east and west were then the next to become stressed,
They crumbled and collapsed to join the fold.
The warden walls, once high and stern, had fallen each upon its turn,
They trembled and fell flat upon the earth;
Their impact made a rumbling sound, and shook the land from all around,
As every massive blockade met its berth.
The keep of the place was thus strained, its failure could not be contained,
Like a chest that had exhaled its last breath;
Amid the clouds of smoke and dust, of crumbled stone and detritus
Lie the corpse of that had once been Bad Galeth.

Westworld (Cont.)

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Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s take on Westworld has wrapped its first season, and it was glorious. Possibly the headiest and heated first season for any television show, it took great pains to create a meticulously detailed world, only to have it set for utter destruction by the end of its run. Mind you, I may be spoilering a bit here (but no more than I need to), so if you have yet to see the show you may not want to read any further (but you just might).

The biggest mind-blower was the fact that the show, from the first episode, was running in three different concurrent timelines. This was not revealed immediately but was slyly hinted at in details presented onscreen. The casual viewer will be dissuaded by clever editing and writing, but even this was done for a sincere reason — to invest ourselves in the characters, and their motivations. Had we known for certain what we were watching in a more linear manner would have simply made things terse and wanting, the given method truly involved the viewer as an active participant, should the many reddit threads and youtube videos prove to be self-evident.

Secondly, the character arcs were genuinely satisfying. There were relatively few of them who didn’t go through a considerable metamorphosis, albeit some had begun a passage that will probably continue into the next season. This includes humans as well as the aforementioned android “hosts”, with the overall effect being a balancing of the board, so to speak — and an open wake for things to come.

Lastly, I want to point out the magnificent performances of the cast. Jeffrey Wright is simply amazing. I cannot go on enough about what an incredible actor he is, able to take the most subtle and transient emotions his character(s — SPOILERS) surmount and ingest throughout this telling season. I’ve been a fan of his for a while, but he really has been given a role worthy of his finesse with Westworld. Evan Rachel Wood is a revelation. The entire show impinges on her character, and she carries the weight with an even stride. Her performance is effortless and evocative, and I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next. Thandie Newton is an absolute delight, and Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris do their usual brilliant takes on their given characters. I’ll have to admit that my favorite character is Ingrid Bolsø Berdal’s Armistice — she is so goddamn foxy, missing an arm or not (SPOILERS) — and I hope to see more of her in the upcoming season.

Arrival.

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Before Star Wars leaped into our media consciousness in 1977, science fiction films were considerably different. After being a schlock stock of trade in the 1950’s and early 1960’s with a tirade of films featuring someone or something either becoming significantly larger, mutated or both (Zappa’s Ship Arriving Too Late to Save A Drowning Witch pops into mind: “All of them HORRIBLY LARGE from RADIATION”), the genre was brought into more slower-paced, thought-provoking territory. With Godard’s Alphaville in 1965, and continuing three years later with Kubrick’s 2001, the science fiction film became a format for more mature concepts. While the giant whatever sub-genre continued into the 1970’s (due mainly to the efforts of schlockmeister Bert I. Gordon — don’t get me wrong, I love his films), they were countered with the likes of The Andromeda StrainSolaris, not to mention Steven Spielberg’s entry the same year Star Wars premiered — Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Over the past few decades, a scant few other fruits have dropped from the “serious sci-fi” tree, which include Ridley Scott’s ground-breaking Blade Runner in 1982, Terry Gilliam’s visionary 12 Monkeys in 1995, Ron Howard’s moving take on the Carl Sagan novel Contact in 1997 and most recently 2004’s Primer and Moon in 2009. Most recently, in the vein of all of the above and more, comes Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival.

Arrival is the tale of Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is thrust from a life of bland academia into the forefront of an alien invasion. Paired with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a mathematician, they are tasked with trying to communicate with the inhabitants of an alien craft, one of twelve that have appeared above different countries on Earth. Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker), makes them aware of the global situation, albeit from a military point of view. The rest of the film is about how they not only manage to communicate with the visitors but also with each other.

While avoiding spoilers (believe me, I hate them much more than you do), that last sentence bears more review. As I have stressed throughout this writing, this is no Independence Day. It is slower paced, logical and heady, but not without a wealth of surprising ideas and intimate emotion. A bit of patience is required for those used to more action-oriented fare, but for fans of the movies mentioned above, it is a revelation. Communication is the main theme of the film, and, like my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Darmok”, it is about the struggle to surmount the differences to find the greater good of what we all share. Cue the music:

Adams is incredible (as always), and Renner, who basically plays to the audience’s emotional state throughout the film, more than fills the role. Whitaker makes a credibly crusty Colonel, although I’m much more looking forward to him in the upcoming Rogue One. While the effects are seamless and awe-inspiring, the cinematography spot-on and the music successfully reflecting both alien and human themes, the real stars of the show are Eric Heisserer’s screenplay and Villeneuve’s direction. Going into detail about how they are would truly spoil the fun for anyone who hasn’t seen Arrival, but needless to say, if you’re a fan of “old school” science fiction with genuinely thought-provoking and emotionally moving themes, this film is definitely for you.