This review & recommendation roundup is going to be a short one. Since last time I have finished writing one book (woo!) and have started editing another book (not my favorite thing to do but I am getting better at it). I’ve been busy. Anyway. Enough excuses! Onto the stuff.
The Deep by Nick Cutter – I counted Nick Cutter’s previous horror novel The Troop as one of my favorites of 2014. The Troop is a dark, gruesome tale of a troop of boy scouts dealing with a slimy horror that gets inside and changes people. Nasty piece of work. Considering my appreciation for that book, I considered Cutter’s next horror story The Deep to be among my most anticipated novels of 2015. It didn’t disappoint.
The Deep tells the story of the world dealing with an apocalyptic disease called the ‘Gets. The disease causes people to forget things. Little things at first. Where’d I leave the keys? What’d I have for breakfast this morning? Then you forget your family, your name, how to chew your food, and eventually how to breathe. It’s like Alzheimer’s on a massive scale.
The scientific community has discovered a strange substance in the Pacific Ocean that might be a cure-all. The problem is it’s located at the deepest part of the ocean — eight miles down — and so they must build a facility there in order to harvest and study the discovery. But this strange new biological substance may not be the miracle they’re all hoping it to be. The stuff might actually be evil incarnate. . . and it’s drawn some of the greatest scientific minds in the world down to the dark depths for a bit of fun.
The story is a bit like Michael Crichton’s Sphere (one of the author’s more underrated works) mixed with Paul W.S. Anderson’s film Event Horizon (one of the director’s only worthwhile films). Or maybe it’s James Cameron’s The Abyss meets John Carpenter’s The Thing. However you want to try to describe it, I personally think that The Deep is one of the most harrowing sci-fi horror stories ever done in either fiction or film.
This book is relentless and unforgiving. The horrors that haunt the characters never seem willing to let them go, and we’re stuck down in the deep with them. After one bad thing is just barely survived, something else even worse pops up. I’d previously been of the opinion that you need some space between the scares to build suspense, but Cutter succeeds by never letting the reader get a chance to catch his/her breath. It’s like an extended chase sequence through a haunted house and every door has something bad waiting behind it. Almost all your fears get checked off the list one by one. If you’re scared of something, chances are The Deep has it covered.
Like The Troop, The Deep has its fair share of body horror and nastiness. But this time we get more psychological horror as well. Also like The Troop, the action of The Deep is broken up by jumping into other places in the timeline. The Troop did this with newspaper clippings set after the incidents of the book, The Deep gives us flashbacks of tragedies and dark drama set before the events of the book. If I’m being honest, I liked The Troop’s newspaper stuff more because it helped build dread, but the flashbacks here serve to build a more complex central character. Our hero Luke Nelson suffered a lot in his life before ever finding himself at the bottom of the ocean dealing with giant hands, undead test animals, and evil goo. The horrors of the deep get into his head and force him to replay much of that trauma over again on the underwater station. It’s dark stuff and not often pleasant, but the horror and suspense make for a story that’s difficult to put down, with scenes that linger on long after the book is closed.
The Deep is one of the most frightening haunted house stories I’ve ever read. It just happens to take place eight miles beneath the surface of the ocean. Great book. Highest recommendation for horror fans.
The Art and Making of Hannibal: The Television Series by Jesse McLean. I think that Hannibal is the best show on TV right now. (Curse you NBC for cancelling it! I just hope it finds a new home on some other network. Netflix? Are you listening?) The writing is dark and intriguing. The performances from Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne and others are all top-notch, portraying complicated characters with surprising subtlety. I think that their portrayals of these popular characters should be considered the definitive representations by now (Anthony Hopkins is great as Hannibal, but Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is deeper, more human). The show is also the most visually interesting thing on television. Though this book spends time on multiple aspects of the show, its primary focus is on the visuals and the behind the scenes of how they brought those visuals to life.
It’s often surprising how much Hannibal is able to put on TV. This is a gory show. The Walking Dead, TV's other extremely gory show, mostly shows nasty bites and heads getting pulverized. Hannibal is inventive with its bloody set pieces, not only pushing the boundaries of what’s allowed on TV, but also pushing the people working on the show to do their very best on schedules that are less than ideal.
If you’ve not seen Seasons 1 & 2, you should do so before beginning this BTS book. Basically every episode and every major crime scene of the first two seasons is covered in detail. We get concept art, BTS photos, and final shots taken from the show. Added to that are many interesting comments from the cast and crew. These are smart, creative people and they offer some interesting insights, not just to the ‘making of’ aspects but also to storytelling and characterization.
The show picks and chooses how to incorporate sections from Thomas Harris’ books. Instead of going for a direct adaptation that follows the books from point A to point B, Bryan Fuller and his writers like to surprise people about what comes next. For example, certain portions of the third novel appear in the show before parts of the first novel do. This ‘making of’ book kind of does the same thing in that it does not begin with episode 1 and continue on from there. The book and its writer Jesse McLean cover every episode, but with no discernable order; not chronological, and certainly not based on dramatic importance. The final major chapter of the book focuses on the Lance Henriksen episode with the human totem pole. I personally consider the episode to be among the more forgettable episodes of Season 1, but it does feature that incredible set piece of the human totem pole. So it makes perfect sense to close out this book – a book about dead bodies. Well, it’s more than just that, of course. But the fact that the totem pole is given extra treatment at the end should make it clear that the makeup and effects work are the primary focus of this book.
Since only the first two seasons are covered here, this book is bound to feel somewhat dated within a year’s time. That can’t be helped, as Season 3 just began. Perhaps we can hope for a Volume 2 sometime in the future? If this book is any indication, there are going to be many more stories to tell. Hannibal is my favorite show on TV. So dark, so weird, so good. And I think this book is a decent companion piece to the show.
Godzilla: History’s Greatest Monster by Duane Swierczynski – I’ve established myself as a kaiju nut by now, I think, right? Godzilla: History’s Greatest Monster is basically Jason Statham vs. Godzilla and it’s just as silly and as cool as it sounds.
Okay, so it’s not really Jason Statham, but it might as well be. Boxer/Statham is an ex-special forces tough guy with a grudge against Godzilla. Along with his team of ultimate badasses (which are a more unique bunch than you’d expect), Boxer travels the globe taking down kaiju for cash, but Godzilla is the one beast he just cannot defeat. When malevolent alien kaiju invade the earth, Boxer realizes that maybe he’s been fighting on the wrong side all along.
History’s Greatest Monster is a collection of IDW’s ongoing Godzilla line (when it was originally published issue by issue, I believe the title was simply Godzilla). History’s Greatest Monster follows the first chapter of the ongoing series Kingdom of Monsters (though I don’t think you need to read that one to follow this) and precedes the (final?) part of the ongoing Godzilla series, Rulers of Earth. All the chapters of the ongoing series have their own specific tone thanks to different writers and authors. I never liked Kingdom of Monsters. History’s Greatest Monster is a big step up, giving us strong central characters, lots of action, and a big storyline that flows really well from issue to issue.
The art by Simon Gane is interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever read a comic with art that I could compare to Gane’s. I wasn’t immediately a fan, but I grew to like the art very much. There’s one issue in the collection where we get art from Dave Wachter instead. You could say that Wachter’s art is ‘cleaner’ but by having that one issue with a different style it kind of messes with the visual look of the collection. All in all, though, the comic’s visual presentation is really interesting.
I had a lot of fun with this one. Actually I think it ranks much better than its reputation suggests. History’s Greatest Monster succeeds because it manages to feel like a epic Godzilla film in comic book form. For a fan, there’s a lot to like.
As I mentioned before, I contribute film reviews for the Asian action movie website CityOnFire.com. So the three reviews here are Asian films. For other film recommendations, see the bottom of this blog post.
The Happiness of the Katakuris – When Takashi Miike agreed to do a remake of Kim Jee-woon’s directorial debut The Quiet Family, he wanted to give the story his own “personal stamp” to make his version worthwhile. And Miike did exactly that, turning the dark comedy into a bizarre musical, complete with claymation monsters and zombie dance numbers. The Happiness of the Katakuris is somehow simultaneously one of Takashi Miike’s most insane films and one of his most accessible. It’s a wonderfully weird journey into the mind of one of cinema’s boldest, most inventive filmmakers. Read my full review at City on Fire.
The Taking of Tiger Mountain – Adapted from Qu Bo’s 1957 novel Tracks in the Snowy Forest, which is itself based on a true story, Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain takes what sounds like another drama about China’s revolution following WWII and turns it into an entertaining action-adventure instead. Tsui Hark thankfully shirks politics, preferring instead to just have a bit of fun. I don’t always agree with such an approach to historical events, but in recent years we’ve gotten a lot of historical action films from Asia that tried to be tragic and dramatic but came across as stuffy and dull instead. A movie that simply strives to entertain its audience is all right by me. And while it’s unlikely that The Taking of Tiger Mountain will ever be considered one of Tsui Hark’s finest films, it is one of the director’s most entertaining pictures made in the past decade or more. Read my review at City on Fire.
Retaliation – There are two primary types of yakuza (Japanese gangster) film. The genre began with films about chivalrous gangsters. These classics depicted yakuza as outlaws, yes, but they lived by a code, they were often romantic, and they did right by their neighborhoods. In the late 60s and into the 70s filmmakers deconstructed the yakuza, depicting them as ruthless bastards out for personal gain who cared little for honor or who got hurt along the way. This second type of yakuza film is perhaps best represented in the filmography of Kinji Fukasaku. His famous series Battles without Honor and Humanity explains the new depiction of the yakuza world so well you don’t even need to see the films because the title says it all. I think you could say that Yasuharu Hasebe’s 1968 film Retaliation is something like a bridge between the two types of yakuza film. Read my full review at City on Fire.
Jurassic World is a lot of fun. See my previous blog post.
Batman: Arkham Knight is not just a great videogame, it’s one of the boldest, coolest stories in Batman’s long history.
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the craziest, most awesome things you’ll ever see in theatres. If you’ve been holding off, stop that. GO SEE THIS MOVIE. And check out my rambling appreciation post about the film.
I’ve been reading this horror manga series by Junji Ito called Uzumaki. It’s insane. It’s about a town cursed by the shape of the spiral, which corrupts reality, twisting it into something ugly. You’ll never get the images of Uzumaki out of your head. Crazy stuff.
Are you the only person who hasn’t seen Daredevil on Netflix? Check it out. It's cool.
Hmm. That’s about it, I think. Like I said, it’s a small review & rec roundup this time. I’m thinking about the format of these posts. I may start doing these more often, especially the reading recommendations. Because, you know, BOOKS.
I know I keep talking about new book announcements coming up… well, they're still coming. Really. I’m editing In the Shadow of Extinction now. The book is huge (maybe not by Stephen King standards, but for me it sure is) so the rewrite is taking some time. More soon! I promise.
My paranormal thriller The Man with the Devil's Tongue can now be read in its entirety on Wattpad. I'm still new to Wattpad and haven't really used it much yet. It seems like a cool place -- readers and writers get to interact and share their stories. Everything on Wattpad is free to read, so that's cool. In addition to publishing the complete novella of The Man with the Devil's Tongue to Wattpad, I also added excerpts for Blood Child and Death's Good Intentions.
Like I said, you can only read a sample of Death's Good Intentions on Wattpad, which is admittedly not-so-cool. But! For a limited time, you can pick up the Kindle ebook copy of Death's Good Intentions for only $0.99. Click this link.
My childhood movie is Jurassic Park. It’s my Star Wars, my Harry Potter, my Spider-Man, you get it.
Like a lot of kids, I was inexplicably drawn to dinosaurs. I mean, dragon-like beasts once walked the earth. How cool is that? So along comes this film with special effects that present dinosaurs as realistically as possible. And I loved it. I think Jurassic Park (I saw Spielberg’s film first, then fell in love with Crichton’s book) was the driving force behind me wanting to become a storyteller. I mean, the first completed stories I ever wrote were Jurassic Park fanfiction. There’s a sense of wonder to Jurassic Park that I just responded to. Now I’ve seen the film countless times and I still feel that same wonder, that same sense of adventure, which to me makes it a very rare sort of film.
It occurs to me now as I am writing this that I will never know a movie better than Jurassic Park. I watched that thing so many times, I know it by heart. And recognizing my viewing habits of today, I know that I will never watch another film so religiously as I did Jurassic Park. I fully recognize that there are better films, but I’ll never have that same connection with a film again.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park gets a lot of crap from critics and filmgoers alike but I’ve always enjoyed the film. It’s a step down from Jurassic Park, to be sure, and it has some downright silly moments… but I like it. I watched it again recently and was struck by how much darker the film was compared to Jurassic Park. I’d heard people call it the ‘dark’ sequel before but I never got that until now. Weird. The story’s not darker, but the dinosaur attacks are considerably more vicious. Like when Eddie Carr gets torn in half? Holy shit. That’s still a striking sequence.
I think I prefer Crichton’s The Lost World to the film. They share some of the same scenes and characters, but it’s a very different story. Like the film, Crichton’s Lost World is considerably darker than the first film. Of course, Crichton’s Jurassic Park book is also darker than its adaptation. There’s a part where compies kill a baby, if I remember correctly. So, yeah.
But as far as sequels go, I really think The Lost World is underrated. In a lot of ways, it is Spielberg’s King Kong. I mean, you’re bypassing the theme park stuff and just having an adventure on an island with dinosaurs. Like King Kong, a dinosaur is brought to the mainland where it causes wanton destruction before the heroes intervene. Unlike King Kong, Spielberg lets the rex go back home alive.
I think Spielberg understood that while the human characters mattered (and I maintain that Malcolm, Grant, Ellie Sattler, and John Hammond are strong characters), the major appeal of the films was the dinosaurs. We love the T-Rex, Triceratops, and Stegosaurus. Joe Johnston apparently didn’t understand the viewers love for the old favorites. In Jurassic Park 3, director Johnston and crew give the viewers the Spinosaurus, believing you'll think it's so cool that you'll forget all about your old favorites. So determined to prove the Spino’s badassery they had it kill a rex just moments after rex’s initial arrival.
There’s a lot wrong with Jurassic Park 3. It’s a bad film, full of awkward dialogue, lame characters, talking raptors, digging through poop for a phone, and a boring visual style. But I think that kind of disrespect for what the viewers were wanting or expecting ended up hurting them the most in the end. We liked the raptors – JP3 makes them talk! We liked rex as the island’s big bad – JP3 kills it off in seconds! We liked smart, relatable characters – JP3 gives you the noisy Kirby family and a very grumpy Alan Grant! I do like the aviary sequence, though. And the plane crash ain’t bad, I guess. But if every film fan has that favorite childhood movie, then they must also have that other film that sort of pulls the heart out of their chest and stomps on it. That’s what Jurassic Park 3 is for me.
There was a new Jurassic Park every four years until Jurassic Park 3 came along. It’s been almost 14 years since that film. A long time to wait.
During that wait, I’d come to terms with the fact that we may never get a JP4. And if we did, it would be wise not to expect much. There were rumors of doing a Jurassic Park prequel… which might’ve worked, but really, why? Then there was the infamous leaked script from John Sayles that featured half-dino/half-man hybrids being created in the Swiss Alps to be used as super soldiers. The script also featured pteranadons stealing hot dogs at a baseball game. It’s a weird screenplay. There’s even concept art for this abandoned JP4 which can be found on the internet.
Supposedly Spielberg and the studio were high on this idea, but internet people/fans were not convinced. Fan backlash was so severe that I think the internet probably had a good deal to do with putting the kibosh on that idea.
Then in 2008 we lost author Michael Crichton and animatronic effects master Stan Winston, two of the most important people behind the making of the Jurassic Park series. Producer Kathleen Kennedy even supposed that with their passing, perhaps it was time to put JP4 to bed.
It took much longer than expected, but we finally got our JP4 in the form of 2015’s Jurassic World.
So, after 14 years, was Jurassic World worth the wait?
Short answer: Yes. Probably. I think so… Well, I liked it.
Long answer: MOVIE REVIEW!
In Jurassic World, John Hammond’s dream of an island resort filled with prehistoric beasts is finally realized. John Hammond simply did not live to see that dream come to fruition. The island and the dinosaur breeding patents have been bought up by the Masrani Global corporation, who set about turning Jurassic Park/World into the destination resort it always should have been. And apparently things are running smoothly this time because there’s no Dennis Nedry to muck things up.
Jurassic World is open for business and sees thousands of visitors daily. In fact, things are running so smoothly that the idea of dinosaurs walking the earth has (somehow) become commonplace. In a desperate attempt to attract new and returning visitors, they ask geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, the only returning human cast member) to create a dinosaur that’s bigger, meaner, and cooler than all the other creatures in the park.
Meet Indominus Rex. It’s a ‘classified’ hybrid of multiple dinosaurs and other species. Perhaps taking notes from the anti-Sea World documentary Blackfish, the Indominus has gone a bit insane from being raised in complete isolation. The only things it knows are its feeding routines and the walls that keep it locked away from the rest of the world. The movie kicks off when the Indominus breaks free of its cage and begins a violent rampage across the park, killing both dinosaurs and humans alike.
It’s easy to say that the Indominus Rex represents corporate greed with teeth. But we could also say that the monster perhaps represents a bit of criticism aimed at Hollywood blockbusters (Jurassic World included). The geneticists create this monster that’s meant to be bigger and scarier than its natural born counterparts all based around the idea that tourists no longer care for normal dinosaurs. One could suppose that this was the idea being passed around Universal, as they worried filmgoers would not attend yet another Jurassic Park without a strange new concept to bring them in. The Indominus Rex could almost be the mascot for blockbusters (especially sequels) that are always concerned about being bigger and louder than the competition.
As mentioned above, earlier abandoned concepts for JP4 included dinosaur hybrids designed for combat. The Indominus feels like a bit of a leftover of that idea, reshaped into something more acceptable to audience expectations. The other side of that abandoned concept seems to have been adapted into Jurassic World’s raptor pack, who are trained to obey human commands. As a kid who grew up respecting paleontologists long before he fell in love with science fiction, I was not automatically convinced by either of these two ideas in the trailers. But the film sells both the Indominus and the somewhat obedient Velociraptors solely because of the mythology built up in previous films. In Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton came up with a genius idea for how to recreate dinosaurs with genetics. And because we know genetics has already dabbled with hybrid modifications, the idea of a hybrid monster dinosaur is believable enough. Similarly, the raptors have been depicted as thinking animals in the previous films (smart as a dolphin or primate). So when their human trainer (Chris Pratt) starts issuing commands, we’re willing to believe it. Without the backbone of the previous films, these concepts could not have worked.
Stepping into the director’s chair for Jurassic World is Colin Trevorrow. Jurassic World is only his second feature film. I enjoyed his debut feature, the indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed. That film was made for less than a million dollars. Jurassic World cost approximately $150 million. Universal and Spielberg took a big gamble by picking Trevorrow to make the film, but for the most part I think that gamble paid off. The film looks impressive and it feels like both a respectful nod to the original film and a natural continuation of the story.
The cast is pretty good. Upon first viewing I’m not sure that any of them are going to become fan favorites, though. It’s interesting to note that while Chris Pratt is the film’s hero, Bryce Dallas Howard is the true protagonist. Both do some good work with the roles they’re given, but these are not complex characters. And because you apparently can’t have a Jurassic Park movie without kids, Jurassic World gives us Gray and Zach (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), the nephews of Howard’s character who are on a weeklong stay at the island while their parents sort out a divorce (interestingly that is pretty much the same backstory behind the kids Tim and Lex in the original film). The young actors are actually pretty decent, and we’re thankfully spared any silly heroics that kids in the previous movies performed to defeat the dinosaurs (the gymnastics kill in The Lost World remains my least favorite part of that film). My favorite character was actually Mr. Masrani, the man in charge of the park, as played by Life of Pi’s Irrfan Khan. Masrani seems to have the most dramatic depth of the characters, as he realizes the errors that have been made and sets about fixing them himself.
Oscar winner Michael Giacchino (Up) takes John Williams’ place as the film’s composer. The score makes good use of Williams’ Jurassic Park themes while also providing some nice new tracks. I really like this score.
I would have liked to have seen more animatronics work in the film. The previous Jurassic Park films switched between CGI and animatronics whenever they could, giving you a blend that you could believe in. Jurassic World’s dinosaurs are 99% CGI. Only a dying Apatosaurus is done with practical effects and it’s actually the film’s most dramatic scene. The actors play off the dinosaur well and one can’t help but think that other scenes could’ve been improved if they’d done more animatronics throughout the film.
The film’s biggest flaw is the character Hoskins as played by Vincent D’Onofrio. Hoskins is essentially the film’s human antagonist, but the character is not the least bit interesting, mainly because he’s really only there to set up one of the film’s action sequences. Hoskins sees potential to turn the raptors into an asset for the military and sees the crisis on Jurassic World as an opportunity to field test the raptor pack in combat. The character and the setup for this subplot are the most political parts of the film, but it’s not entirely clear what the film is trying to say with them. What’s most disappointing about this character and subplot is how long it takes to come together. After the first scene with Hoskins we understood his motivations, then the film keeps reminding us over and over until finally opportunity presents him with a chance to act. The end result is a boring character that slows down the film every time he walks on screen. Vincent D’Onofrio is a fine actor but he can’t save the poorly written character.
The film works once the action gets going and the thousands of guests come under attack, but it takes a frustratingly long time to reach that point. And please don’t think that all I want from the film was action. That’s not the case. The original Jurassic Park took its time getting to the action-adventure parts of the story, but until then we were given enough interesting scenes to hold us over. Jurassic World actually gets to the action faster than Jurassic Park does, but the scenes leading up to that point are not that special.
We’re also given some some blatant product placement. A note on the product placement: I usually do not mind it. However, I think it went a bit overboard with showing off the Mercedes cars. Basically every vehicle in the movie is a Mercedes and the film makes sure to show them off any chance it gets. Occasionally it looks like a car commercial set in the jungle. It got to the point where I seriously wondered how much of the film’s budget was covered by Mercedes-Benz. It’s not something I really want to hold against the film, but it is a bit distracting now and then.
Considering that Jurassic World’s primary intention was to be an entertaining monster-attack adventure movie, I think it succeeded. There’s enough chaos and cool dinosaur action here to satisfy most moviegoers. I don’t think the film manages to tap into that sense of wonder that the first film had, but it does present enough iconic sequences to make it stand out from the usual summer movie action heroics. The finale, which some have criticized as being over-the-top, made this Jurassic Park fan very happy. A good deal of the film assumes you love Jurassic Park and the fan favorite dinos, and in no part is that more obvious than in the final 15 minutes.
So in closing, was it worth the 14 year wait since the last Jurassic Park film? Well… 14 years is a long time. Maybe? I don't know. But it's fun. It’s a film with many flaws, some of which seemed so painfully easy to fix, but the good outweighs the bad this time around. Jurassic World doesn’t hold a candle to the original film. But did anyone really expect it would? It’s a far better sequel than Jurassic Park 3 and I think some viewers will also prefer it to The Lost World (not me, but I think more highly of The Lost World than most others). As far as the sequels go, The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 were pretty basic adventure stories set on an island that time forgot. The motivations for the heroes of those two films are both to rescue someone that’s alone on the island. In that way, The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 follow a blueprint closer to King Kong than the original Jurassic Park. Jurassic World is more similar to the original JP. It’s a high-concept adventure movie about people trying to capitalize on bringing extinct animals back to life, and the venture ending very badly for everyone involved. (It's worth noting that TLW and JP3 are set on Isla Sorna while JP and JW are set on Isla Nublar. Different islands, different story molds?) Jurassic World does manage to set itself apart from the other movies by moving into sci-fi/horror territory thanks to the Indominus Rex, making it probably the scariest and most violent entry in the series. It’s far from perfect and I'd be lying if I said wasn’t hoping for something more polished, but I enjoyed myself and I’ll be happy to welcome this new Jurassic Park film into my collection.
I give Jurassic World a 7/10.
*JURASSIC WORLD the film, logo, and poster are all owned by Universal Pictures*
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of books and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
Blog notice: mostly this blog is for sharing my thoughts and talking about my books. From time to time I will also comment on books, films, music, sports, and/or videogames. During these times I may use images of the creative works under discussion. I'm posting the images under the "fair use" allowance, for purposes such as criticism, comments, reporting, teaching, and research. If you have any issue with images used on this blog, please contact me and the images will be removed.
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