Thursday, 19 November 2009

ReBoot

While we're on the topic of cult TV shows, I'm going to move onto another forgotten gem, ReBoot, a Canadian animated series which ran for four years between 1994 and 2001. Set inside a computer where the principal characters were programs, sprites and viruses, had names like Dot Matrix and were subject to the godlike whim of "The User", who forced them to participate in games that could lead to their deletion, it was notable for being one of the very first productions to be entirely computer generated, predating the iconic Toy Story by a whole year.

Dot Matrix
Image © Rainmaker Entertainment

These days CGI is so ubiquitous that it's hard to imagine a world without it, so it's simply impossible to overstate the impact the show had when it first aired - at the time it seemed almost unbelievably innovative, groundbreaking and futuristic, even though the graphics, before they improved dramatically in the third season, were relatively clunky and already look preposterously dated.

One of the major reasons for ReBoot's success was that it was unafraid to outgrow its target audience. Although it remained ostensibly a "children's show" to the last, it grew progressively darker in tone, and some of the writing was decidedly near the knuckle; how the vicious anti-religious satire in "Daemon Rising", where the angelically beautiful super-virus Daemon subjugates skeptical sprites through the insidious, brainwashing power of "The Word", got past Broadcast Standards & Practices I'll never know.

Daemon
Image © Rainmaker Entertainment

After many years off the air, ReBoot relaunched last year with an unprecedented and utterly innovative concept. On a new website built almost entirely from user-generated content, five stories were picked from fan submissions and were then voted on by the public; the winning team would go on to turn their story into a webcomic. My personal favourite was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the very darkest one, set 17 years in the future, where the heroine has been forced to marry the villain, who rules over the whole system, and their rebellious teenaged daughter discovers that the hero, now a homeless bum living in the city's streets, is her real father, and becomes a resistance fighter. Sadly, this one didn't win; the public went for the safe option instead, although the winning entry, the wonderfully titled "Paradigms Lost", was perfectly respectable. At the same time, it was announced that ReBoot was being turned into a trilogy of feature films for theatrical release, the first of which is due to hit cinemas next year.

This model of involving the fans deeply in the rebirth process of the show stands as an inspiration to me in my quest to revive The Dreamstone. When fans have a genuine emotional investment in the property, they are that much more likely to follow it through many incarnations. Some balk at the idea of a Dreamstone webcomic, CGI series or feature film, preferring instead to wallow in woolly, cosy nostalgia. To me, no idea is too outlandish, no option can be ruled out, in the service of ensuring that the property lives again.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Dreamstone

Well, one of the things I said this blog was going to be about was cult TV shows and you can't get much more cult than The Dreamstone, a British animated series that aired for four years between 1990 and 1995 and currently ranks in my top five favourite TV shows of all time.

The Dreammaker & Albert
Image © Dolphy

Zordrak
Image © Mike Jupp

The show can genuinely be called a global cult phenomenon: a completely original concept with fully realized, lovingly rendered characters including a truly horrific villain, a complex and involving mythology, and an epic, fully orchestrated score by Mike Batt (the man behind "Bright Eyes", one of the most haunting and moving pop songs of all time); superbly written, animated and voice acted, it aired in a number of non-English-speaking territories including Germany, Brazil, Israel and Russia, but sadly
never broke the States despite an alternative pilot made for the US market featuring the voice of one Christian Bale. Despite the astonishing statistic that at the peak of its popularity five million people were tuning in to watch it every week in the UK alone, it sadly petered out after four seasons, became mired in rights issues, has never been re-aired and has slipped inexorably into obscurity.

The internet age has brought about a resurgence of nostalgia for old TV shows through sites such as Toonhound and tv.com, and a small but die-hard fan community for The Dreamstone has sprung up with several fan sites, the above-referenced Wikipedia article and even an IMDB page. The main hub for fans of the show is the personal forum of its creator Mike Jupp, who in my opinion can only be described as a visionary genius.

Although a couple of DVDs have been released, most of the show's episodes are unavailable, although several have been upped onto YouTube. One of the most interesting fan productions has been the contribution of the graphic artist DS_Dreamer who has created a level for Little Big Planet based on the show, as part of the coursework for a computer game design course:



I believe that I may be one of only a handful of private individuals in the world to have almost every single episode of the series on VHS tape, and I've just bought a video conversion gadget with the aim of digitizing the whole thing.
I've recently been watching it again with my eight-year-old daughter, who loves it too - proof that the show's quality endures. (I've recently discovered, much to my dismay, that I am missing just one episode: "Auntie Again", the first episode of season four. Does anyone have a complete copy of this episode and would they be willing to do me a dub of it? If so, get in touch!)

I've also been posting on many of the
above-mentioned sites in an attempt to see the show revived in some fashion. Mike Jupp himself has said he would love to do a new CGI series, but as the rights to the show are currently owned by Cookie Jar, who seem to have no interest in it, any forward motion is stymied. I urge anyone who has fond memories of the show to get involved - join Jupp's forum, post positive comments on IMDB etc., and petition Cookie Jar to a) re-release the whole series on DVD and b) sell the rights back to Jupp so he can make a new series. A show this good doesn't deserve to languish in obscurity.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Julie Fowlis

I went to see the sublime Julie Fowlis in concert at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith a few weeks ago and I have to say I was absolutely blown away. This was by far the best gig I have ever been to - better even than Rachel's at the Union Chapel. Fowlis, who sings exclusively in Scottish Gaelic, is renowned for her beautifully sweet, clear vocals and her virtuoso whistle playing, and she absolutely did not disappoint. Showcasing material off her new album "Uam" ("From Me"), together with her band she tore through a set of raucous jigs and reels - despite clearly being heavily pregnant - as well as presenting some of the saddest songs in the world. It was her only London date of the year and the venue, one of the smallest on the tour, was wonderfully intimate. Fowlis literally has the voice of an angel; the entire audience, most of whom could not understand a word she sang, were enraptured from beginning to end. The sheer quality of the musicianship on show was undeniable - the whole band had that effortless brilliance that comes from having played since they were old enough to stand, and what shone through was their sense of humour, the fact that they didn't take the music too seriously and weren't stuffy or precious about it at all. Sadly my copy of the album had not yet arrived so I wasn't able to take it along for her to sign, but I did get to meet her after the gig and try out my Gaelic on her. She was ever so nice, and my classmates were green with envy! Fowlis deserves every single bit of the praise and adulation that has been heaped upon her, not least for single-handedly raising the profile of Gaelic worldwide. Watch this short film about her new album...



...and then buy it immediately - you'll be doing yourself an enormous favour.

Franky is finished!

My brother and I finally finished mastering my new tune "Franky" a few weeks ago and as promised, I upload it here for your delectation. Please be patient - it takes a little while to load, but it does play eventually.


It's in my classic usual style of bright pop-rock juxtaposed with exceptionally dark, blackly comic lyrics, which in this case are inspired by the German cannibal killer Armin Meiwes who cooked and ate a man he met on the internet. Meiwes was originally acquitted of murder on the grounds that his victim Bernd Brandes volunteered to be killed, but was later convicted in a retrial. He is currently serving a life sentence. The story, both horrific and tragic, continues to fascinate me and I wrote this song from Meiwes's point of view, using only his own words in order to make it as real as possible; in this sense the song can be regarded as "autobiographical" even though he didn't actually write it himself. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy it, please comment.