Monday, April 28, 2008

Some Wit, Little Irony

Into town for the general press preview of Iron Man. Directed by John Favreau, the action is as hard-edged as the new incarnation of the Bond series, and while there’s the expected ton of CGI, there’s also room for some smart dialogue and good performances. Most notably that of Robert Downey, Jr, who carries the movie with his charmingly charismatic take on Tony Stark, effortlessly shading from wisecracking irresponsible playboy to wisecracking tortured genius. Gwyneth Paltrow does her nuanced best with the two-dimensional character of his PA, ‘Pepper’ Potts, while Jeff Bridges amply fills the Gene Hackman role as bald, cigar-chewing, jovially menacing father-figure.

The movie does a fair job of filling a summer-blockbuster shaped hole, and the first act, apart from shifting the venue from Vietnam to Afghanistan, sticks pretty closely to the origin story published in Tales of Suspense 39 way back in 1962. (I picked up Iron Man’s story a little later, along with Thor and the Fantastic Four, not really out of choice, I have to admit: the spinner in my local newsagent stocked Marvel rather than DC comic books.) Problem is, the origin story - warlord kidnaps American armaments genius, forces him to create a copy of his superduper new missile system in a cave, and is surprised when he creates an invincible suit of armour instead - is pure hokum. And while the warlord may be leader of a multinational terrorist group, he's still a cliche of oriental fiendishness (he's also a diluted version of Iron Man's original nemesis, the Mandarin), To be fair, the script makes some attempt to deal with the paradox at its heart - Tony Stark responds to a brutal lesson in blowback from his own arms company by building a more powerful weapon, in an era where we've had ample real-life lessons that no amount of high-tech can give our military adventures happy endings - but in the end it simply sidesteps it, and delivers an entertaining but pretty predictable WWW-style slug-fest. Still, after the very noisy denoument, the movie doesn’t entirely waste the saving graces of its sly wit and Robert Downey, Jr's mischievousness: there’s a neat parting shot that slings us straight towards part two of the franchise.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

I do. It’s goes past my office while I scroll down, scroll down, scrowl down, making corrections suggested by my copy editor to the manuscript of The Quiet War. For after the editing and the rewriting, comes the nitty-gritty word-by-word sentence-by-sentence analysis of the text for bloopers both factual and grammatical, repetition, inconsistency, repetition, general stupidity and much else. I’m lucky. I have a fine copy editor with a magpie memory (which means that he can remind me that I used the neologism ice-rock throughout, except for the one time I used icerock), a thorough working knowledge of usuage and abusage of written English, and a pretty good sensitivity for register - the difference in voice between scenes that have different emotional contexts, or between viewpoints. He’s also incredibly clear on what he thinks should (ought?) to be changed, so it wasn’t much of a hardship, no really it wasn’t, to spend the weekend wincingly going through the marked-up manuscript, and then making the appropriate changes to the electronic file. Now I have to read it through again, s*l*o*w*l*y, and then it goes back to the publishers, who will send it to the typesetters to be set in book form. And then it comes back to me again, one last time, so that I can check for any bloopers that skated past, or somehow introduced themselves. Amazingly, there will still be some mistake lurking in the final text, which I will be able to find by the simple method of opening the finished book at a random page and letting my eye fall on a random line.

Somehow, I managed to spend a lovely afternoon, the sunniest and warmest so far this year, in a pub and walking on Hampstead Heath, discovering that the ideal accessory for someone who needs to meet other people is a ten-week-old toy poodle (not mine: my friends’).

I also finished a kind of autobiographical essay for the Postscripts magazine in which I’m the featured author. It’s called How Was The Future For You? and starts like this:

In July, 1969, it seemed to me that the road to the future was as straight as a monorail line, as predictable as an eclipse. Harold ‘white heat of technology’ Wilson was prime minister. The long years of austerity that had followed the Second World War were slipping into history; London was swinging like a pendulum do. The British prototype of Concorde frequently overflew my school, piloted by the inimitable Brian Trubshaw. Nuclear power promised unlimited electricity too cheap to be worth metering. A hovercraft service linked Dover and Calais. The first decimal coins were being struck in the Mint, replacements for the half crowns, florins, shillings, sixpences, thrupenny bits, and copper pennies, halfpennies and farthings of the l.s.d. system inherited from the Romans.

I was fourteen. I read science fiction to the exclusion of almost everything else, and watched every episode of Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Thunderbirds Are Go. I’d switched allegiance from the Victor, a comic that endlessly refought the First and Second World Wars, to TV 21, which promoted a future full of big machines and bigger explosions. My mind had been expanded by 2001: A Space Odyssey, which (setting aside the stuff about monoliths) laid out the game plan for the thirty years: shuttles owned by Pan-Am; wheel-shaped space stations in Earth orbit; giant Lunar cities; expeditions to the outer planets; brilliant, almost human computers; quietly competent scientist heroes. And now, July 16 1969, in the lunch hour of one of the last days of the summer term, I was sitting in warm sunshine on a grass bank of the school playground with several friends, listening to a transistor radio tuned to a live broadcast from Cape Kennedy, Florida, USA, the launch of Apollo 11. The future would never again be so hopeful, so full of promise.

But in the blue and sunny expanse of the sky which the Apollo astronauts left behind on their way to the Moon, a small cloud about the size of a man’s hand was beginning to drift towards the sun.
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