Saturday, May 29, 2010

Film Notes: This Is England

Shane Meadows (part-autobiographical) film "This is England" is a moving, disturbing and deeply sad movie. It is in its own way quite brilliant, despite the fact the subject matter is so dark, and the violence, language and scenes of drug abuse so shocking.

The story concerns a bullied eleven year old boy called Shaun, from a Northern English council estate in 1983. Although he is vulnerable because of material poverty, his real vulnerability comes from the loss of his father in the Falklands War. He finds acceptance, affection, protection, enjoyment through membership of a skinhead gang; loyalty to which will also mediate his access to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and girls.

In the early stages of his gang membership the boundary-pushing exploits of the group are as mindless as they are foolish. Under the leadership of Woody, the gang dress-up and vandalise empty buildings, but are racially integrated - a young Jamaican lad called 'Milky' being an essential member. This stage of the gang is meant to symbolise the early stages of skinhead culture in which they drew on Ska, Reggae and other forms of Caribbean culture. The happy stupidity of the group comes under pressure however when former leader 'Combo' is released from prison and begins to re-assert authority and lead the group into the National Front, and sickening outright racist violence. This stage of the gangs development represents the surge of the far -right in the 80s, which split the skinhead movement. Woody and Combo split - and the gang divides, but with Combo as the new father-figure, young Shaun is inextricably drawn into Combo's twisted world of paranoia, hatred, and insecurity. When Combo's personal weaknesses spill over into violence against their old friend Milky, the film plumbs depths of almost total despair - only to end with a note of hope as young Shaun hurls his National Front banner into the sea.

The film has four quite superb aspects that make it compelling.

The filming, and setting of the film is brilliant - just spot on. The look, background and feel of Thatcher's Britain is captured with both broad landscapes (as they were becoming post-industrial) which are wonderfully recreated - along with countless tiny details; carpets, TV sets, clothes, bikes, Rubic Cubes - all recreating the sights, and mood of the times. On top of this, many archive clips from TV news from the era, are woven throughout the story. We see riots, miners, soldiers, Argentinian POWs, Thatcher, Bob Holness' Blockbusters and much more. The backdrop is executed so well, that it acts as perfect canvas for Meadows on which to lay his story. The opening montage of 80s footage is a wonderful 3 or 4 minutes of retrospective in its own right, irrespective of the powerful overture that it is to the main performance.

The soundtrack is also a masterpiece. While it would be all to easy to have dumped a load of obvious 1980s hits behind the film, Meadows resists that particular temptation, and instead draws on a combination of the Ska and Black-roots music that defined the fissures and ironies of Skinhead culture, juxtaposed with heart-wrenching delicate musical passages which underlined the tragedy lurking behind the bravado.

As a piece of cultural commentary, Meadows film works very well. I have read that despite the extreme language and many disturbing scenes, (which gain the film an 18 cert) many councils wanted to use this film as part of their social education programmes. The brilliance of the film is that it shows both the joys and dangers of gang life. It speaks from the inside about the way that extreme communities do indeed generate all the benefits of genuine community, in an irreplaceable way for many of their members. Without a father, or friends, and in constant danger from violence, young Shaun is helped into adolescence and protected by the gang. However - it also demonstrates the way that community can work for great evil - when the basis of the loyalty that they exhibit becomes twisted. The inevitable and tragic decline of the basis of the group is told with gravity and looming menace.

Finally, the acting and directing is really very, very good. Thomas Turgoose as the 11/12 year-old central character is just absolutely convincing, as an innocent, as a thug, as a vulnerable boy, and a swaggering teen, when stoned and when sober. This is a remarkable performance. He's backed by many other good actors too, Joe Gilgun as Woody - plays the character-in-dilemma very well. Stephen Graham as Combo presents us with a character so damaged, flawed and weak - that to see him overtaken by his rage, inadequacies, and inability to secure the woman he wants, which spur the evil side of his character to triumph - is as absolutely tragic as it is completely terrifying.

Make no mistake, this is no easy film to watch. The way in which the tentacles of wickedness encircle a young boy, which he welcomes, and which lead him to rejoice in evil is disturbing stuff. Disturbing too are the scenes of violence, racist language, and juvenile drug abuse. These however were the realities of the author's life - and remain the reality of countless people's experience today. With minutes to go - the film leaves the viewer almost gasping for a glimmer of redemption, for even a breath of clean air amongst the stifling fumes of despair. And even for that - Meadows keeps us waiting until the film's very final seconds.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Welcome to Perth

Perth Station: Not Quite Dead Yet

Perth Station: Redundant Things

Once part of a building, now just a home for aspiring vegetation.

It's best running days are probably behind it...

No longer required

This was once the supporting wall for an enormous station roof. From the 1880s to the 1960s, Perth was one of Britain's most important rail-centres, with lines radiating out all over Scotland. Most of its operations took place under a vast 'overall roof', which rested on these great stone walls. When the rail services and the roof that covered them, were decimated in the 1960s, some of the walls were left standing, like monuments to what had come before.

Perth Station: Redundant Spaces

Long-redundant loading gauges hang, rusting and forgotten - in the carriage sidings area. The platform on the left is where my Grandparents would have driven off the motorail train for their Highland holidays in the 1970s.

Perth Station: Windswept and Forlorn

Perth's once great station lies windswept and forlorn. It struggles to functionally occupy the space its history has provided it with - like a great lumbering, wretched metaphor of Britain.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Peeling Paint

Waiting at Perth Station for Vlad to appear - I admired the various paints peeling from metal columns and wooden station canopies.

Monday, May 24, 2010

How to spend a warm sunny afternoon

Driving back from Edinburgh Airport on Sunday afternoon after depositing my Mum and Sister there, we had a few spare hours. Ice creams, sunshine, the backdrop of Kinross House and twenty-two guys engaged in an exhibition of the highest form of sporting culture, most contentedly occupied us!*
"Nicely clipped off his toes backward of square for a couple"

*actually Mrs H. dozed contentedly in the sunshine!

This post contains an offensive word.....

I was on the phone today, dealing with someone representing a major company who were working on a crime-prevention scheme with government funding. We had to run through the usual stuff about the house, and who owned it etc. The conversation was routine until I said that I co-owned the house with my wife. "Well, I'll put partner, then" said the person on the phone. Why not just put "wife" like I said, I asked. The answer amazed and disturbed me...

"Well, we're not allowed to use the terms 'husband and wife' anymore, because they are offensive", she stated. "Offensive to who?" I asked. Clearly flustered she said that the terms were not politically correct and that they had been told they must only use the term 'partner' in order to comply with government legislation! I asked what would happen if someone found the term 'partner' offensive? The reply I got was that this happens all the time, especially with older people who are very unhappy at being referred to as partners, not spouses. However, she said - these people had to be offended in order to comply with government directives on avoiding offensiveness!

Now I am going to be offensive. Mrs H is not my partner (civil or otherwise), my bidie-in, my flat-mate, or any other such arrangement, she's my wife! When I say 'wife' I don't mean in some neanderthal sense that I view her as an object in my ownership any more so than she does when she calls me her 'husband'. Nevertheless, the terms remain an accurate description of our relationship and our commitment to it. So, I have used an offensive word: wife. I trust you are horrified, angered, and massively offended.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I was tagged by Sara! in a photographic blogging memory-lane thing! The idea is to look back in the archives and re-publish the sixth photo you posted on the blog. Well, here's 5&6, which are here again together because they belong together and were originally published under the title, "It's Better Than Watching TV!"

Anyone else want to play?

Schiehallion (Sidh Chaillean)

Schiehallion, (or Sidh Chaillean) is the picture-postcard mountain of the Central Highlands. Over the centuries it has become famous for four things. Historically the mountain was the known as the "fairy hill of the Caledonians" - in the days when fairy-folk were not the whimsical delicate helpers of fairy-stories, but sinister subterranean abductors and slave-masters! Scientifically, the mountain was used in some pioneering research into physics of gravity. The Astronomer Royal in the 1770s worked out that the symmetry of the hill made it a perfect object for using to establishing its mass, and the extent to which it attracted massive plumblines towards it and away from the perpendicular. Apparently this process also involved the first use of 'contours' on maps. More recently the mountain has become well known for its dramatic appearance, especially from Loch Rannoch, and has adorned many mountain calendars and posters, or websites promoting tourism here.

In our family Schiehallion is above any of this quite simply remembered as a brilliant day out. Mrs H. and I wandered up this great hill when we were students, and sat for hours in bright sunshine near the summit, quire mesmerised by the views over Glen Lyon and Lawers. Yesterday, Boris and Norris joined me for a walk up the hill - again in fabulous weather. This was quite a challenge for the boys - its a bigger walk than they've done before - but they managed it more easily than I could have hoped for, despite the intense heat. Simply carrying enough water for three of us, for the nearly five hours we were away from the car was an important achievement in itself! If the climb had been beyond them, I was happy to turn back, but they seemed to plod-on relentlessly, with the incentive of drinks and sweets to be passed around at each landmark we passed.

Since the last time I was here, a new path has been cut into the hill, joining the ridge lower down and avoiding a really nastily eroded section of the original route. They have also added a steep parking charge to contribute towards the works. The boys were in great form all day, laughing, joking and blethering their usual bizarre mixture of conversation randomly jumping through the usual eclectic range of subjects.

Our family was strictly segregated on gender lines yesterday too. My wife, daughter, sister and mother spent the day shopping for clothes in Glasgow. Thankfully, they neither expected or requested the presence of the boys and so we took our chance and ran to the hills! With birds soaring on the thermal currents, heathaze shimmering over the heather, a beautiful mountain under our feet, views across Rannoch Moor from an airy summit that feels like standing in the sky to enjoy - who could even contemplate shopping!

Preaching: Uphill and into a Headwind

I have done public-speaking in all kinds of places over the last ten or so years. Obviously most of these have been in church buildings of one kind or another, but there has also been a restaurant, a student union, and a park thrown in along the way too. Friday night was an experience that will live long in my memory, however. I was due to speak at a church men's night, following a meal in a local hotel. The hotel managers assured the guys organising it that the venue was entirely suitable - that the doors to the room would be closed for the talk and that it was ideal for our purposes. As, no doubt, you have already guessed - their confidence was ill founded! The reality was that it was like preaching uphill into a strong headwind!

The room proved to be not just a room - but also the corridor through which people gained access from the bar to the gardens. On a hot Spring Friday night, this was naturally a very popular route! The people coming through were making their way immediately behind me! What's worse was that as some of them had clearly been making use of the services of the bar (!) one or two decided to join in. One woman in particular made a helpful contribution to the talk, despite the fact that she was just slightly slurred-0f-speech and wobbly of leg! As if this wasn't bad enough - it also turned out that the music couldn't be switched off in our room! That meant that while people in the bar enjoyed the strains of 80s Rod Stewart - I was having to shout over him in order to be heard!

Can you imagine?!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


By the river, at Luncarty

Nothing to see here..

"Nothing to see here, move along"

Church Men's Weekend

The mountains in the East of Scotland have a peculiar beauty that is all their own. Lacking the spires, pinnacles and great sea lochs of the west-coast ranges, and maps without the word "Sgurr" to be found - they nevertheless have a wild, open, and enthralling excitement, that draws the explorer in with the promise of wide views, deep glens and robust walking.

High in the Perthshire Hills is the Compass Christian Centre, an outdoor centre, just south of the Spittal of Glenshee (3rd picture from the end). A whole crowd of guys from church had hired it for the weekend, and dashed off there on Friday night, for a weekend of fellowship, activities, talks, and a hillwalk too. It's only the second time we've done this - and I think it was even better than the first!

Ironically, I suppose given the location, the theme of the talks this year was on living and serving in the city. The speaker, from Aberdeeen, has spent many years with his church serving people in some of the city's areas of most acute need. He challenged us to think about how as a church we can become more faithful to Christ in our calling to serve those in both spiritual and physical need; and told us some inspiring stories from his own ministry about people who have been freed from all kinds of imprisonments, such as sin, drug-addiction, doubt, rebellion against God, alcoholism; and how the church's calling today is to break out of the cosy-huddles we have built for ourselves and to really serve! Strong stuff this - delivered with some passion too. I am sure that everyone on the weekend will want to work out how we an respond to this - which may take some time.

In addition to the serious stuff, we enjoyed good banter over food or round the fire, on the golf-course or up the Munro, and as we scratched furrowed brows over a fiendishly obscure quiz-night! This was a great weekend - well worth investing time in, thanks to all those who organised it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

At Willowgate Cafe

The Tay Salmon Fisheries company is a name with which any reader of Perth's history will be familiar. No pictorial history of the area would be complete with a few images of the little tub-like fishing boats ('cobbles') being used to haul tons of salmon from nets stretched across the river. Salmon were once so plentiful in the Tay and its tributaries that apparently local by-laws in some towns restricted the frequency with which it could be given to apprentices, for fear that stingy masters would offer them nothing else. Likewise, van-loads of ice-packed fish being dispatched by rail, for all parts of the country is another potent image of the town's past.

Sadly we know that the stocks of salmon on The Tay today are not what they once were. Trawlers with sophisticated sonar systems are able to hoover-up the migrating shoals out at sea more efficiently than the fish are able to travel and breed. Some fishing vessels have even been seen illegally operating in the Tay Estuary over recent years. The Tay Salmon Fisheries may no longer be in the business of employing countless fishermen to run net-fishing operations - but it is still very much in business, owning and managing several beats.

Tay Salmon have also diversified their operations. Along Friarton reaches, where the Tay's two streams that part around Moncrieff Island merge back into one broad river, they have built and stocked a series of fish-ponds. They have also built a nice-little cafe right under the Friarton Bridge itself, at the foot of Kinnoull Hill. It's easy to walk or cycle to the "Willowgate Cafe", by following the Dundee Rd out of Perth, but sticking to the path on the right hand side of the road. Just before Willowgrove, a private road winds down to the riverbank, over a railway bridge to the cafe.

The peace of the gently rolling Tay, and the clatter of trucks on the great overhead bridge may be strange; but as little 'Doris' and I got of our bikes and sat on the outside benches over looking the river - enjoying a frothy hot-chocolate and a fabulous slab of chocolate cake it was the river that captured our attention.

It may well be true that the Tay's fish-stocks are depleted; but on Friday as the river became almost stationary at the turn of the low-tide, the water was alive with fish. Flashes of silver, like tin-foil, darted beneath, while ripples broke out all across the surface and time-and-again fish broke through - rising up to pluck some floating insect from the water's skin. It all happened too fast for photos - but there was a wonderful sense of life brewing within the body of the river.

The little cafe there offers a range of snacks and drinks, and on cold mornings is heated by a log-burning stove that gently steams in the centre of the room; giving the place a lovely warmth, and a hint of wood-smoke. The place is quiet, and the menu quite restricted, but the service is friendly enough. It's real selling point as a cafe, is the fact that in winter, you can sit by a window, next to the fire and watch the Tay roll by; while in summer you can sit outside in the sun to enjoy it. If they ever manage to create a riverside walk, all the way from the town to it, it will be even better - avoiding the high-speed traffic on the Dundee Rd.

Strange Spotlight

Driving home the other night through heavy rain, under dark skies and even darker hills- I was surprised to find this tree strangely illuminated by a patch of sunshine. Not quite a 'burning bush' but an arresting sight, nevertheless.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Clocking the Banger

It may be an old heap that my kids think is embarrassing to be seen in; but my faithful old banger seems to just keep going. Boris and I were driving down to Kinross tonight for a cricket match when we clocked it. The cricket match was called off, when a deluge turned into a hail-storm, in freezing temperatures. The evening will only be remembered for this milestone in the life of one elderly vehicle - the moment captured here on film!

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Vase full of Socks

A strange sight in our house today..

Sunday, May 09, 2010

At Loch Katrine

The Trossachs are often referred to as the "Highlands in Miniature". The Trossachs area is indeed charming, picturesque and very easy to access from most of Central Scotland. Within the region, Loch Katrine is a popular place to visit, as it is the home to the steam ship the Sir Walter Scott. A ride on this vessel is a wonderful way to see this corner of Scotland, beginning at the loch's eastern end where the low wooded hills plummeted straight down to the water, through to the western end where great high mountains, set back from the lochside point skywards.

Another attraction the loch boasts is an excellent cycletrack which covers about three-quarters of the loch's perimeter. Cycling a good tarmac road, but without cars, meandering through unbearably gorgeous scenery is a winning combination which could only be bettered by being bathed in warm sunshine. Happily yesterday we were blessed with all these things as we did another family bike-run, this time also making use of the new bike racks for the car.

The lochside cycle track begins by luring the cyclist into a false sense of security as it hugs the water-edge. A few miles later the road begins to undulate and then throws down some serious challenges to the cyclist in the form of a few quite steep climbs. I was on the bike with little 'Doris' sitting in the tagalong behind me. Dragging all that extra weight up the hills was probably exactly what my bloated frame needed in the form of a very high energy lung-busting workout!

The next family ambition is to book a place for us and the bikes onto the morning sailing of the Sir Walter Scott - cruise to the far end of the loch and spend a few hours working our way back round the loch to the car. Can't wait...

Friday, May 07, 2010

Boris' First Match

Last night young Boris played his first competitive cricket match. Even though he's one of the really young ones in the under 13s team he did pretty well and more than justified his place in the team. He bowled a couple of overs, beat the bat a few times, almost had a catch and only got really hit once. Batting at 9, he came in during a total batting collapse facing a petty quick older lad - but managed to block out a couple of overs before getting out lbw to a yorker. It was a shame that he didn't manage to score more than one - because alongside some good defence, he hit some nice shots - but couldn't penetrate the field. He was also instrumental in getting a run out when he was fielding - with a good throw in from 3rd man.

He's mad keen to go back for the next one!

(Boris on the boundary - face blurred for privacy)


I think that after all the shennanigans of the last 24hrs this will prove to have been a very good election to lose. The ideal situation for Libs and Labs is in fact a Tory minority government. That would enable them to give Cameron two years to make the deep, deep cuts required to restore solvency to the public coffers and make him the most hated man in Britain as a result. There will be some hardships, there could well be some civil unrest too. Then, when Cameron has done the necessary and become hated for it, the Libs and Labs could pass a vote of no confidence in his minority government, bring him down and have a runoff between them for 1st and 2nd place in a 2012 election.

Or is that too Machiavellian?

I have blogged some more detailed thoughts on the election today on my work blog,

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

New Fangled Folk: Live at the Redrooms, Perth

New Fangled Folk is the three way collaboration of Scottish singer-songwriters, Yvonne Lyon, Kim Edgar and David Ferrard. Last night - and as a farewell to The Redrooms at Perth Theatre which is set to close; they came together to provide two hours of charming, heart-warming and delightful entertainment.

Rather than each performing a solo-set, the set list rotated between the three - with the other two acting as the backing band for the artist featured on that number. This was perhaps a risky strategy - but it paid off handsomely, with not a hint of competition between the performers wanting to dampen the audiences enthusiasm for a rival's number! Instead, with Lyon (Lead or backing vocals, guitars and percussion), Edgar (Lead or backing vocals, piano or guitar) and Ferrard (Lead or backing vocals, guitar); they worked well together delivering Ferrard's more traditional folk, Edgar's more quirky, and Lyon's melodic songs,;very nicely indeed. They had obviously not thrown this set-together with undue haste, but had taken the time to construct and rehearse some beautiful, and sometimes surprising harmonies.

Yvonne Lyon kicked the gig off, with her song Everything's Fine, from her album "A Thousand Questions Why". Her upeat strumming, lovely voice and engaging lyrics immediately remind the listener of Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls. For anyone who remembers Yvonne from her former band "Land" (as Yvonne Whitty), this is a considerable change of style. Land had a bigger, and less folky, feel than her solo material, and where Land wore their faith on their sleeve, Lyon prefers to tease the listener towards bigger questions. With hints of American singer-songwriters, Suzanne Vega and Sarah Masen abounding; listening to Lyon is an effortlessly enjoyable experience.

Kim Edgar is a quite different performer from Lyon. Her songs are more offbeat (usually metaphorically, occasionally literally), and laced with social commentary too. The contrast is not just with the less edgy and more melodic Lyon; but also due to the fact that Edgar leads with the piano as her first instrument, which always gives a different feel. She gave a good performance, which the crowd appreciated, especially I think the diversity and versatility of her writing. I wondered on a couple of occasions if she was struggling very slightly vocally (her songs certainly demand quite a range), and wasn't altogether surprised to read of a previous gig in which she had lost her voice. Certainly her songs peaked when the quality of her songwriting was matched by the vocal delivery of her lead, accompanied by the swell of Lyon and Ferrard's creative harmony lines.

Ferrard describes his music as having been influenced by his dual Scots-American parentage, and he quite consciously explores the musical relationship between the folk tunes which originated here, but migrated Westwards and have found new life in places such as the Appalachian Mountains. Drawing on a much more traditional folk-sound than Lyon or Edgar, Ferrard uses his strong, distinctive voice to sing protest songs old and new, tell stories and invoke atmospheres. He sings like a combination of Don Maclean, John Denver and James Taylor, but with a lilt that sounds Irish to me!

The strength of the evening wasn't however in any of the individual performances, but in the variety they offered and the contributions they made to one another's material. Edgar's piano was essential on some of the others' tracks, as was Lyon's percussion and Ferrard's vocals. A "New Fangled Folk" gig isn't really a riotous, foot-stomping occasion, but more a reflective and very enjoyable evening in the company of some very talented people. The Perth crowd were rather understated in their appreciation, but nevertheless after they had closed with a Lyon lead "Down to the River" (Alison Krauss, from "O Brother, Where Art Thou), they were brought back on for an encore of a traditional Auld Lang Syne.

Altogether a fine evening's entertainment - and at £8head, I've paid a heck of a lot more for a lot les fun than this.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Film Notes: Avatar

It was Mrs Hideous' film choice this weekend, and dismayed at my last choice of some Coen brothers film or other that "didn't have a proper ending" (sic) , she went for James Cameron's new epic Avatar, just released on DVD. The added incentive for her choice was that we promised to review the film for the kids in order to decide which, if any, of ours it might be suitable for. It's rated as a (12), but our experience is that the official ratings can be a bit erratic - or perhaps our kids reactions to different types of more 'grown-up' themes isn't consistent. One of ours for example, wasn't a bit bothered with the fantasy violence in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. In his mind that was so disconnected with reality as to be purely entertaining; unlike "Home Alone" whose innocent fun he thought was terrifyingly close to, er.. home. So I have the kids to thank for the fact that I wasn't sitting down to watch another predictable "Romantic Comedy", a genre I find singularly lacking in both those adjectives.

Instead we watched Avatar (at which this post has finally arrived). I must admit that I was skeptical from the outset, it wasn't that I had read critical reviews, it was that the only other film by Cameron I have seen is the woeful "Titanic". That film limps on for hour after excoriating hour until battered into submission by the cinematographical equivalent of Chinese water torture, the poor audience is left pleading for the wretched thing to sink so that they can retreat to the shelter of their homes. Titanic is perhaps the most undisciplined piece of editing in the history of film, with so much superfluous material left in it that it drowns itself in a sea of its own pretensions.

Avatar however proved to be a quite different prospect. Although the middle section of the film is rather slow in places, the unfolding story-line holding no surprises, and progressing towards its inevitable conclusion without enough purpose - the attention rarely wanes. The reason for this is singular and deeply impressive - the film is visually absolutely stunning. The visual concepts are brilliant, the filming is breathtaking, the integration of human actors and technology is perfect, and the beauty of nature as depicted on the planet on which the action is set is quite wonderful. The floating mountain range at one end of the size spectrum, and the floating, glowing insects at the other, were particularly impressive. On several occasions we drew breath at the power of the images - and we were watching in 2D on the TV screen. What the full 3D/cinema experience would have been like I cannot imagine!

The overpowering visual experience of Avatar is however a bit of a mask for some serious weaknesses in writing we felt. While the concept of the film (perhaps what The Lion Witch and Wardrobe are to Christianity, Avatar is to Gaia), failed to convince; the real weakness was the predictability of the plot and characters. Ironically, while millions had been spent in projecting the images of the characters in three dimensions, their personalities seemed rarely to peak above one! Virtually all the humans were 'irredeemable baddies', committed to environmental rape and destruction, while all the blue people were good, joyous, intergalactic hippies, all loved up and tuned into their mother-earth... (yawn). Brush strokes this broad are not the things of artists, but of house decorators.

Finally though, the film sits awkwardly between different levels of meaning. It seems that Cameron wants to use technology, fantasy violence and the power of imagination as commentary on America, particularly Iraq and the quest for oil. He wants to further a new-agey type environmentalism and foster the de rigeur liberal-western self-loathing. I'm not objecting to that per se - I mean, I'm all up for some serious self-loathing. What I do mean is that Cameron goes far enough into these themes to make them obvious and pointed; but surrounds them with so much flimsy hyperbole that any objector to his thrust can easily be met with the 'it's only a sci-fi film' rebuff. And it's true - how can you possibly take anything with a comic-book villain like Col Miles Quartich at its centre, remotely seriously!? What emerges is a curious mixture of different genres, all mingling together with the distinct influences of Dances with Wolves, crossed with Star Wars and Shrek (!).

All of these negatives however, didn't ruin what was a memorable visual spectacle.