Happy Birthday John Williams!

Happy birthday John Williams! One of the greatest ever composers of film music. He stands alongside such masters as Max Steiner, Erich Korngold and Bernard Herrmann.

John Williams popularised the Wagnerian Leitmotif technique of Film Music composition whereby individual characters, places or incidents have their own particular theme. A classic example is the Star Wars trilogy whereby Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and Yoda, all have their own distinctive musical themes.

When Spielberg asked Williams to write the music for Schindlers List, Williams initially refused Spielberg’s request. You need a better composer than me, he said. You are right, Spielberg replied, but they’re all dead! Enough said. Happy Birthday Maestro!

The Crater Tycho

Tycho Crater, taken yesterday evening with my 8” reflector telescope is situated on the moons southern lunar highlands and was formed over a hundred million years ago when an asteroid impacted on the moons surface.

The material ejected during the impact event, are still visible as bright streaks forming beautiful rays emanating from the crater.

Napoleon (2023) Dir: Ridley Scott

The life of Napoleon Bonaparte has been documented more times than any other person in history with over 40000 books and 11 movies. From Abels Gance’s seminal 1927 Napoleon Biography to the big budget Waterloo starring Rod Steiger as the emperor. Stanley Kubrick spent several years developing a Napoleon Biopic only to have it shelved on budgetary grounds.

This then brings me to Ridley Scots much-anticipated addition to the Napoleon canon, which had been gestating in Scott’s head for many years, and with Writer David Scarpa on board with Joaquin Phoenix playing the iconic general, the omens were good for an old-fashioned epic in the mould of David Lean. Unfortunately, what we got is 160 minutes of the Napoleon and Josephine soap opera with a couple of short battles thrown in for good measure.

The film starts with Napoleon as a young 23-year-old lowly cavalry officer played by a 51-year-old Phoenix without any attempt at all to de-age him. His strong American accent further adds to the almost comic nature of the character. However, for reasons not given, this young officer is given the command of removing the British forces from the fort at Toulon. He then explains his plan to his commanding officer in a very quiet, nervous tone as if making it up as he goes. In fact the real Napoleon had spent a considering amount of time analysing the fort, terrain and tactical locations of the British forces before he introduced his audacious plan to his seasoned Generals. Napoleon fought bravely despite being sworded in the leg and against all odds, the fort was taken with the British fleeing. This segment as a whole is a film in itself as it first demonstrates Napoleons Genius in both Military and logistical planning and would have given a great insight in to his mind-set. The ultimate attack on the fort would have made a great finale to any film version.

However, here lies the problem with Scott’s film. At 2 hours and 38 minutes, the runtime is too short to encompass all the key events in Napoleons life, and like the siege of Toulon, events are rushed along with no real insight in to character motivations or explanations and we are then hurried to the next scene without any emotional glue as a linkage. Before the popcorn has even finished Napoleon is crowned Emperor and one is left wondering how he got to this pivotal moment. The script rushes along at a speedy pace and a lot of exposition has clearly been left on the cutting room floor.

The battle scenes are few and far between and then cut short, taking us straight after to long drawn out conversations between the two lovebirds. Pacing was definitely an issue.

Vanessa Kirby is fine as Josephine, although the actress is 20 years younger than Phoenix; Josephine was in fact 6 years older than Napoleon, but this is merely a trivial detail as the film takes great artistic license with many events and situations. However, it is Phoenix’s performance, which is the weak link here. There is no chemistry between the protagonists and I was continually wondering what Josephine found attractive in the unlikeable, awkward Napoleon with the personality of a wet slipper. The same Napoleon could not organise a game of football, never mind conquer most of Europe.

First-hand accounts tell us is that the real Napoleon was a very confident, witty, highly intellectual and attractive personality. He had a fierce temper an icy stare, and a smile that was very charismatic.

He rose from relative obscurity and as Emperor he instituted a number of lasting reforms: He reduced the power of the church and pushed Science, he reformed public education based on the ideals of reason and use of intelligent debate to build an ordered society. He centralised administration of government, a central bank, a road and sewer system and the legal system. The legal reforms became known as the Napoleonic code and remain to this day the cornerstone of modern law in 21st century Europe. He instigated religious freedom and whenever his armies entered European cities, they liberated the Jews, giving them civil and religious liberties at a time of widespread anti-Semitism.

He was also the greatest military leader that ever lived. His brilliant tactics at the battle of Austerlitz, his greatest victory, when the heavily outnumbered French forces routed the might of the combined Austrian and Russian armies is required learning in military academies to this day.

All this is omitted from the film and instead we get a version of Napoleon as an odd, comical character who merely stands and watches, as the battles are unfolding and lowering and raising his right arm at opportune moments.

I am not sure why Ridley Scott chose this particular historical figure. He clearly had no interest in understanding who Napoleon really was or to create a realistic portrait of what made the man tick. A case in point was the infamous scene showing Napoleon shooting at the pyramids. Basic research would have found that he had extremely high intelligence and was an avid reader of science, mathematics and history. He adored ancient history and prior to the Egypt campaign, he read the Koran and learnt Arabic to allow him to deal effectively with the tribal leaders. He also took with him Scientists and Archaeologists to examine the monuments and It was here that the Rosetta stone was found which led to archaeologists being able read Egyptian hieroglyphics. Napoleon was in awe of the ancient monuments and would never have fired on the pyramids. This complete disregard for the true personality of the man who is the main focus of this biographical film is quite surprising.

Despite the negatives, there are some good points from the film. The Cinematography by Dariusz Wolski is sumptuous and clearly modelled on the famous paintings of Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and the costume design will almost certainly get an Oscar nod.

The Worst Journey in the world

My 2023 New Year’s resolution was to learn as much as possible about the Heroic age of Polar Exploration (1897 to 1922). Nine months, and several books later I have just completed my final book and what a read it was.

The Worst Journey in the World is a gripping account of Captain Scott’s Tera Nova Expedition whose ultimate aim was to reach the South Pole. This they did but perished on the return journey.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was the youngest member of the Expedition and later part of the rescue party team that found the frozen bodies of Scott and the three men who had accompanied him on the final push to the Pole.

Despite the horrors that Scott and his men eventually faced, Cherry-Garrard’s account is filled with details of scientific discovery and anecdotes of human resilience in a harsh environment, supported by diary excerpts and accounts from other explorers. The Worst Journey in the World is the most celebrated and compelling of all the books on Antarctic exploration.

London Marathon 2023

With my legs still tired from last weekends marathon and with London being a very tough route I plucked up all my energy and mental strength to get a time of 4:12. Two marathon one week challenge officially over, Feel proud of myself.
Marathon 1 : 4:23
Marathon 2 : 4:12

The Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) taken with my RASA 8″ Telescope. I took images in the Oxygen and Sulphur wavelengths of light in addition to the Hydrogen alpha images i took a couple of weeks ago and have now created an RGB colour image representing 8 hours of exposure. This barred spiral galaxy is 2.5 million light years away in the constellation Andromeda and is home to over a Trillion stars. The brown bands of nebulosity on the outer edge represent new star forming regions and the object below the main galaxy is M32, is a smaller satellite galaxy of Andromeda and only discovered in 1742

Journey in to the Heart Nebula

I was pleasantly surprised with the amount close up detail visible in my image of the Heart nebula i had taken a few days earlier. As a result, I’ve created a very short video to showcase the beautiful pillars of gas and dust that make up the nebula. Hard to believe it is 7500 light years away from us. Make sure you have the volume on. Enjoy.

The Heart Nebula (IC 1805)

The Heart Nebula (IC 1805), an Emission Nebula, 7500 light years away, in the constellation Cassiopeia which shows glowing ionized hydrogen and Oxygen gases and darker dust lanes. Imaged on Tuesday and Wednesday nights as icicles were forming on my nose . I used my wide 8″ RASA telescope with hydrogen alpha filter, Oxygen III and Sulphur II narrowband filters attached to my camera, and a total exposure time of four hours to bring out the detail within the nebula. I added the three light waves to the RGB channels and the result is this gorgeous Hubble palette image.

The heart shape is clearly recognisable and indeed the shape and strong visible hydrogen gas and dust is driven by the radiation, which is emanating from a small group of stars near the nebula’s centre. This open cluster of stars contains a few bright stars nearly 50 times the mass of our own sun.

The Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635)

The Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635) is an Emission Nebula in the constellation Cassiopeia, imaged last week (My third attempt) using my 8″ RASA Telescope and an ZWO CCD deep space imaging camera. This is one of my favourite deep space objects and at 11000 light years away it is a very distant and faint object, hence I used over 3 hours of exposure to bring out the Nebulosity. Indeed, the Nebulosity consists of Hydrogen Alpha, Oxygen III and Sulphur II gases, which is why I used special narrowband filters to extract only those crucial wavelengths of light.

The Bubble shape is caused by a star forty times as massive and several hundred thousand times more luminous than our sun (visible in the seven o’clock position inside the Bubble). Its enormous energy output and powerful stellar winds have blown a titanic Bubble of ionised gas measuring thirty six Trillion miles in diameter, and it is this Bubble that can be seen in the middle of the picture.