From Dragons to Superheroes, Zombies, and More – Part 1

While scanning through some ideas for posts, I realized that there were several announcements from the past few months for new TV series in development which I had not yet commented on. (Not that I comment on everything that crosses my path, but these are all ones that I normally would.) They are from six different franchises and span a variety of themes and subgenres. So, allow me to pass on what little there is to know about each one…

Harington as Jon Snow

1) First, while there is a lot of talk about the currently-airing “Game of Thrones” prequel, “House of the Dragon”, there is another GoT series in the offing that has fans excited. Namely, Kit Harington it set to return to the small screen for an HBO series centered on his ‘Jon Snow’ character. It is the only GoT spinoff being considered that would be a sequel to the original show.

That announcement came in June, but there has been only speculation about a potential plot. George R.R. Martin confirmed his involvement, adding:

“It seems as though Emilia Clarke has already mentioned that SNOW was Kit’s idea in a recent interview. So that part is out. Yes, it was Kit Harington who brought the idea to us. I cannot tell you the names of the writers/showrunners, since that has not been cleared for release yet… but Kit brought them in too, his own team, and they are terrific.”

IMDB has an entry for “Untitled Jon Snow/Game of Thrones Spinoff” but still no names attached.

2) Remember The Inheritance Cycle, the young-adult fantasy novel tetralogy by Christopher Paolini? There was a live-action film based on the first book, Eragon (2006), but despite including such notables as Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, and Robert Carlyle, it didn’t do so great. I didn’t see it (or read the books), but from what I gather, the fault was bad writing that didn’t even bother to follow the source material.

Well, according to Variety, that first book in the series is being adapted into a live-action TV series for Disney+. This comes on the heels of a fan-led, Paolini-supported, social media campaign that started in 2021, though there is no indication how much influence it had on Disney. As per CBR:

“Paolini will serve as a co-writer and co-showrunner on the upcoming series, with Bert Salke set to executive produce under his Co-Lab 21 banner. 20th Television will produce.”

3) Are you a member of Clone Club? I am referring, of course, to fandom for the “Orphan Black” TV series. If you are, then you should be happy to hear about “Orphan Black: Echoes”, an upcoming, 10-episode spinoff series. As reported by Timothy Adams at comicbook.com,

Krysten Ritter

“‘Jessica Jones’ star Krysten Ritter has landed the lead role in AMC’s Orphan Black sequel. Titled ‘Orphan Black: Echoes’, the sequel to ‘Orphan Black’ takes place in the not-too-distant future and examines how human existence is manipulated by scientific discovery. ‘Orphan Black: Echoes’ follows a group of women as they weave their way into each other’s lives and embark on a thrilling journey, unraveling the mystery of their identity and uncovering a wrenching story of love and betrayal. Krysten Ritter is set to star as well as executive produce. ‘Orphan Black: Echoes’ was originally ordered to series back in April.

Krysten Ritter’s starring role is a woman named Lucy, who has an unimaginable origin story and is trying to find her place in the world….

Anna Fishko will serve as showrunner and writer of ‘Orphan Black: Echoes’, while series co-creator John Fawcett will return as an executive producer and director.”

Subsequent reports are that Keeley Hawes (“Line of Duty”, “MI-5”), Avan Jogia (“Ghost Wars”, Zombieland: Double Tap), and relative newcomer Amanda Fix (North of Normal) have joined the cast, and a few more producers have been named. The show is expected to premiere on AMC+ some time in 2023.

I enjoyed the original series a lot, but I’m not sure about this sequel. No word on if ‘Lucy’ will end up being one of several clones. Though I’m not a huge fan of Ritter, I think she might be able to pull off a few clone identities. Still, a different direction might be better.

Gotta go prep for Hurricane Ian. See y’all next week for Part 2!

Red Sonja Developments

Last December, I posted about the upcoming Red Sonja movie from Millennium Films to be directed by Joey (formerly Jill) Soloway (“Transparent”) and starring Hannah John-Kamen (“Killjoys”). I expressed concerns over comments made by Soloway regarding “the divine feminine” and lesser concerns about the casting of John-Kamen, who I otherwise like.

Matilda Lutz | Red Sonja

In early March, however, news broke that John-Kamen and Soloway had both left the project. No reasons were reported. Soloway had already been replaced with M.J. Bassett (Solomon Kane), though she still shares writing credit along with Tasha Huo and Bassett. With production still scheduled to begin in May 2022, the hunt was on for a new leading lady. Ideally, they wanted someone at least 5’8″, but they ended up signing Matilda Lutz (Revenge), an Italian model-turned-actor. Lutz is 5’6.5″, which is only a half-inch taller than John-Kamen, and she has neither the acting nor action experience that John-Kamen has. That announcement came in August, so it appears that they did not meet their targeted start-date.

Bassett had the following to say regarding her involvement and the newly-signed lead:

“I’ve wanted to make a Red Sonja movie since I was a teenager — she has been a powerful presence for me and a character that I have always wanted to bring to the screen with my own voice and vision. When I met Matilda Lutz, I knew she had all the magic I was looking for and could see the complexity and depth she would bring to Sonja.”

Jeffrey Greenstein, President of Millennium Media, chimed in with:

“This has been a long journey from script to screen and we are excited to go into production after assembling the best creative team, an amazing band of up-and-coming talent and a fun and fantastical world fueled by the Red Sonja IP. M.J. is an amazing filmmaker with fantastic vision and Matilda was absolutely brilliant in Revenge that we knew she was right for this role the moment we saw her — making them the perfect duo for Red Sonja.”

Obviously, they are going to hype the film and praise the star. But, I wasn’t so sure, so I decided to watch Revenge. I wouldn’t exactly call Lutz “absolutely brilliant”, but her range and ability did surprise me. The character was no Rambo — just a young woman more at home on the dance floor or poolside. But, she was quite believable as such a character, who then gets raped, seriously injured, and left for dead; then she manages with grim determination to tend her injury, locate those responsible (in a large, desert-like area), and exact her revenge. (Never mind the fact that she should have died from the copious bloodloss. That’s to be laid at the writer/director’s feet.)

So, “vengeful warrior” won’t be a huge stretch. I suppose some accelerated training in sword-fighting and related skills will help with the Red Sonja role. But, she still doesn’t have the size and physicality (either muscles or curves) that, imho, the character requires. They better at least give her red hair!

Sharing the screen with Lutz will be Wallis Day (“Krypton”) as ‘Annisa’ and Robert Sheehan (“The Umbrella Academy”) as ‘Draygan’. Additional castmembers include Michael Bisping as ‘Hawk’, Martyn Ford as ‘General Karlak’, Eliza Matengu as ‘Amarak’, Manal El Feitury as ‘Ayala’, Oliver Trevena as ‘Tr’aal’, and Katrina Durden as ‘Saevus’.

Filming is underway in Bulgaria, but there has been no tentative release date set as of this writing.

Madame Web Sightings

A few months ago, you may remember that I wrote about the Madame Web film being developed for Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (SSU). S.J. Clarkson (“Jessica Jones”, “Collateral”) is helming the film, and Dakota Johnson (The Peanut Butter Falcon) will star as the title character. There has been a bit of news on the project since then, so…

One of the lingering questions has been “Which ‘Madame Web’ will Johnson be playing?” Would she be the original, blind and paralyzed old lady (except when she wasn’t), Cassandra Webb? Or, would she be Cassandra’s younger (and recently blinded) successor and former Spider-Woman, Julia Carpenter? In July, a brief video-clip and pics of Johnson on the movie’s set showed her sporting a red leather jacket such as Carpenter wears in the comics. (Her hair, however, was brunette rather than the comics-accurate ginger locks.) I notice that IMDB’s listing for the movie confirms that Johnson is playing the Julia Carpenter version of the clairvoyant precog. (I hope the character at least mentions Cassandra Webb as her predecessor, maybe even having a flashback sequence or two.)

August saw a few more set pics and video of two characters (EMTs?) running up to a recent car wreck, the female of the two being referred to by fans as Dakota Johnson. It was from far enough away, though, that it could be someone else, and my first guess was Emma Roberts. Set design supposedly places some scenes — maybe the entire story? — in New York of the early 2000s, so this would make them FDNY paramedics. Another report was of an authentic-looking Daily Bugle building and a Daily Bugle delivery truck.

I mentioned Emma Roberts (“American Horror Story”), and she has indeed been reported as joining the cast, as have Sydney Sweeney (“Euphoria”), Adam Scott (“Big Little Lies”), Isabela Merced (Transformers: The Last Knight), Celeste O’Connor (Ghostbusters: Afterlife), Mike Epps (Dolemite Is My Name), Zosia Mamet (“The Flight Attendant”), et al. According to IMDB, it is now known that Scott and Roberts will be portraying ‘Ben Parker’ and his sister-in-law, ‘Mary Parker’. (That is, unless it’s a typo and Roberts is really playing Ben’s wife, May. In the comics, Mary and Richard Parker were CIA agents and the parents of Peter Parker, who would become the original Spider-Man.)

Merced and O’Connor will be playing ‘Anya Corazon’ and ‘Mattie Franklin’, respectively, two characters who in the comics became spider-themed superheroes. Sweeney, Mamet, and Epps’s characters have not been revealed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the first two were also arachnid heroes, or even villains. Epps is too old to play the normal, teenage Miles Morales, but I suppose he could play ‘Ultimatum’ or another adult version of Morales from some other Earth.

Production began in Boston in July 2022 and will continue into October 2022. Release date is currently Oct. 6, 2023.

Fan-Cast: James Bond, Redux

First iconic gun barrel sequence (w/ stuntman Bob Simmons)

While writing “The Future of James Bond” a couple weeks ago, I realized that a new fan-casting post for ol’ 007 was in order. Of course, I already wrote such a post in 2017. But, circumstances require another go at it, since 1) Daniel Craig is leaving and they will be re-casting with 2) “Someone probably in their 30s.” Also, franchise-runner Barbara Broccoli noted that the new Bond should be taller than Craig’s 5’10”, and I’m guessing they would prefer at least 6′. (I went over all this in the first post linked above, along with my concerns regarding the “reinvention of Bond”.)

Of course, when I did my original fan-cast for Bond, three of those candidates were 34-36 years old and the fourth was nearly 40. They are all almost 5 1/2 years older now. Ideally, I was hoping to come up with someone, say, 32 to 35, but didn’t have much luck. (Note: Connery was 32 when Dr. No premiered, and Craig was 38 when he started in the role.) And, yes, I stuck with white, cisgendered males, as originally conceived by creator Ian Fleming. For what it’s worth, my three finalists are all actors I have never fan-cast for anything before.

One guy from my first list that barely fits this one is Aidan Turner (5’10.75″,b.1983) (“Poldark”). However, not only would he already be 40 during filming next year (assuming they get started next year), he is probably not tall enough. Likewise, while Ed Speleers (5’10”,b.1988) (“Downton Abbey”) is only 34, his height rules him out. Fan-favorite Henry Cavill (6’1″,b.1983) (“The Witcher”), on the other hand, has the height but is only a month younger than Turner. For those of us wanting to know what Cavill would be like as “the world’s greatest spy”, we can check out his film Argylle, tentatively premiering in 2023.

If the powers-that-be decide to broaden their search to those of 40+ years, I wouldn’t object to Cavill. Another fan-favorite is Sam Heughan (6’2.5″,b.1980) (“Outlander”), who is already 42. Similarly, I thought Brendan Patricks (6′,b.1980) (“Downton Abbey”) might be an interesting choice. As long as we’re considering this age group, Ben Barnes (6’1″,b.1981) (“Shadow and Bone”) would certainly be a great option.

But, getting back to the 30-somethings, I came up with the following candidates:

James Norton

I heard or read James Norton‘s (6’1″,b.1985) name being thrown around, as it had been a few years ago, so I checked him out. While slightly older than I’d prefer, he fits the bill. Like many young British actors, he has certainly done his fair share of period pieces — for example, Belle, “War & Peace” (2016 remake), “Grantchester”, “The Nevers”. But, he has also appeared in an episode each of “Doctor Who” and “Black Mirror”, Rush, “McMafia”, Rogue Agent. I think he would be a fine “007”.

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Max Irons

Max Irons (6’2″,b.1985) is the son of acclaimed actor Jeremy Irons, but he doesn’t rest on his family name. He has proven his talent in such series and films as “The White Queen”, Woman in Gold, “Tutankhamun”, Crooked House, “Condor”, and the recent “Flowers in the Attic: The Origin” mini-series. As you can see, he even has a bit of experience playing a spy/agent. Irons would surely make a respectable ‘James Bond’. Maybe they could get his father to guest-star…?

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Tom Cullen

Like a couple others mentioned here, Tom Cullen (6’1″,b.1985) has been on “Downton Abbey” and an episode of “Black Mirror”. Like everyone mentioned here, his career is a mix of British period pieces and, well, various other things. A few of those include “World Without End”, “The Five”, an “Orphan Black” appearance, “Gunpowder”, “Knightfall”, Zebra Girl, “Invasion”, “Becoming Elizabeth”, et al. Another fine actor with a variety of experience, he could make a great addition to the Bond legacy.

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No “perfect castings”, and I’m sure there are many other potentials that I am simply unaware of. Who do you suggest?

Catching Up with Godzilla and Friends

You may remember that I wrote an article this past March titled “Godzilla and Aliens and Predators, Oh My!”. One of the news items I addressed in that post was about Legendary Television developing a TV series that occurs post-Godzilla’s rampage through San Francisco (aka G-Day). The series might be titled “Godzilla & The Titans”, but the IMDB listing is “Untitled Apple/Godzilla and the Titans Project”.

In June, several castmembers were announced. Anna Sawai (F9, “Giri/Haji”) will play ‘Cate’, a former schoolteacher and a G-Day survivor. Kiersey Clemons (Zack Snyder’s Justice League, “Extant”) will portray ‘May’, an American ex-pat with a roguish exterior. Joe Tippett (“Mare of Easttown”, Monsters and Men) will play ‘Tim’, an office drone who dreams of secret agent adventure. Elisa Lasowski (“Versailles”, Hyena) has the role of ‘Duvall’, an expert operative with unwavering confidence in herself and her skills. Ren Watabe (461 Days of Bento) will portray ‘Kentaro’, an intelligent, creative, and curious young man who has yet to find his own path.

The first two episodes will be directed by Matthew Shakman (“WandaVision”, “Game of Thrones”), who will also serve as an executive producer. For a list of other producers and the show’s premise, check out my earlier post. For a few more details on these characters, check out the Deadline article.

In July, it was announced that both Kurt Russell (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Thing) and his son Wyatt (“The Falcon and The Winter Soldier”, Overlord) have signed up for the kaiju-oriented series. No names or profiles have been released for their characters, but they are believed to round out the “central cast” with Sawai, Clemons, and Tippett. A couple other castmembers listed on IMDB worth noting are Mari Yamamoto (Kate) and Christopher Heyerdahl (“Van Helsing”), the latter of which plays ‘Puckett’.

We also have some big-screen Godzilla news, as you may have heard….

Back in March of this year, Variety reported that Godzilla vs. Kong 2 would be filming on Australia’s Gold Coast where Kong: Skull Island filmed in 2016. The production would receive several million dollars worth in subsidies from the federal government and Queensland state government.

“The highly skilled crews, first-rate facilities, and unique locations make filming in Australia a great experience. The support from both the federal government as well as Queensland has always been critical to our success in achieving a high level of filmmaking and an unparalleled audience experience.” — producer Eric McLeod

It was reported in late July that the sequel film — working title Origins — had begun production, as cast and crew were seen filming on a beach in Gold Coast. (There was a bit of footage in the 7NEWS Brisbane report, but it is unknown if the kaiju-less clip will remain in the film.)

Adam Wingard has returned to the director’s chair, so we have good reason to believe the film will delve somewhat into more about Hollow Earth and more monster history/mythology. The Origins title would seem to confirm this. There was some early reporting that indicated the film might be a Kong-starrer only, despite being billed as Godzilla vs. Kong 2. Fortunately, an official press release from just the other day has cleared this up. Here’s the key section:

“This latest entry follows up the explosive showdown of Godzilla vs. Kong with an all-new cinematic adventure, pitting the almighty Kong and the fearsome Godzilla against a colossal undiscovered threat hidden within our world, challenging their very existence – and our own. The epic new film will delve further into the histories of these Titans, their origins and the mysteries of Skull Island and beyond, while uncovering the mythic battle that helped forge these extraordinary beings and tied them to humankind forever.”

Could that “colossal undiscovered threat” be, say, Keizer Ghidorah and maybe the alien Xiliens? Or, maybe something totally new? In any case, it has got to be something the two “kings” can understand and fight, right? Regardless, sounds intriguing enough to pull me in!

Dan Stevens (“Legion”, “Downton Abbey”) has signed on to be the (human) male lead. Returning are Rebecca Hall (The Night House), Brian Tyree Henry (Bullet Train), and Kaylee Hottle (Godzilla vs. Kong). No word, yet, on Alexander Skarsgard or Millie Bobby Brown. New faces will include Fala Chen (Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings), Alex Ferns (The Batman) and Rachel House (Thor: Ragnarok). The writing team consists of Simon Barrett (You’re Next), Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean), and Jeremy Slater (“Moon Knight”).

Producers include Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Eric Mcleod, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull, and Jon Jashni, with executive producers Josh Grode, Adam Wingard, Jay Ashenfelter, Jen Conroy, Kenji Okuhira and Yoshimitsu Banno.

Current premiere date for the film is set for March 15, 2024.

The Future of James Bond

Following the events in No Time to Die (2021), the James Bond franchise prepares to enter a new phase. Are Bond’s long-time fans ready for it?

I finally watched Daniel Craig’s fifth film in the franchise the other day. I found it to be overall not bad, if a bit long. (And perhaps a bit controversial.) Naturally, it got me thinking about what might be next for the character. As many of you know, the brief message at the end of the credits says, “James Bond will return.” But, for various reasons, he won’t be played by Craig.

A few years ago, when Craig was playing hard-to-get before signing on to do this last film, rumors swirled about who might be a worthy replacement. As was the case then, some are pushing for a non-white male (e.g., Idris Elba, Rege-Jean Page, Henry Golding, Dev Patel), and I gave my reasons why I don’t favor that idea, either. (Besides the general view, there are also cons for each of the four I just listed.) Others want to put a woman in the role. Daniel Craig is on record as being against the idea, and I concur for the same reasons. Here is what franchise producer Barbara Broccoli has said:

“He can be of any color, but he is male. I believe we should be creating new characters for women — strong female characters. I’m not particularly interested in taking a male character and having a woman play it. I think women are far more interesting than that.”

In the past, I have also said that I thought they needed to begin with a much younger actor, so they can begin with Bond leaving the Navy, going through MI-6’s “00” program, and into his espionage adventures from there. More likely to get 15+ years out of him, too, though the current focus is just the next three movies. (Remember, Connery was 32 when Dr. No (1962) came out, 41 for Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and 53 when Never Say Never Again (1983) was released.) According to TV/radio host and actor Ross King (IGN), it looks like younger — “Someone probably in their 30s.” — is exactly what they are looking for. Also, whereas Craig was the shortest Bond at 5’10” (leaving out various Bonds from the original Casino Royale (1967)), they now want someone taller.

Broccoli said some interesting things in a previous interview, too:

“Nobody’s in the running. We’re working out where to go with him, we’re talking that through. There isn’t a script and we can’t come up with one until we decide how we’re going to approach the next film because, really, it’s a reinvention of Bond. We’re reinventing who he is and that takes time. I’d say that filming is at least two years away.”

Some are concerned about that last sentence, but I’m not, even if it means we won’t get the next Bond film until 2025 at earliest. It’s understandable, especially given the rest of her comment, plus we have a survived waiting six years between the last two movies.

It’s the “reinventing who [Bond] is” that concerns me. What does this mean, exactly? Even aside from the possibility of changing ethnicity, will they alter his backstory? His personality? His skillset? His well-documented tastes for beautiful women and shaken vodka martinis? (I think they already phased out the cigarettes years ago.) Will he no longer be the cold, efficient killer, creatively resourceful, serious-minded yet quick with a quip?

To be fair, the skillset might be a little different, or at least reflect less experience, depending on how early in his career they begin. His appreciation for beautiful women is one thing, but I am conflicted about changing his bed-hopping habits. On the one hand, my personal moral views would like to see him exercise more self-control in that area. (Plus, it always seemed a bit over-the-top the way women practically threw themselves at him.) On the other hand, it reflects a part of his psyche that could be delved into. As for most of the rest of it, I say, leave the character alone. Certainly, don’t make him more like Jason Bourne or John Steed or even “The King’s Man” (all of which I like). Keep Bond’s distinctives, both positive and negative, which are a proven formula for success, after all.

Mostly, I hope they don’t soak the franchise in “wokeness” or change-for-change’s-sake, in some quest for either freshness or relevancy. If Broccoli et al. mess with the James Bond / ‘007’ character too much, they risk ticking off most of Bond’s fans worldwide, and that would be stupid. Why alienate a huge, built-in fanbase? In sports terms, it’s their game to lose.

Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2022, Part 4 of 4

“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

I know it has been almost two months since Part 3 came out, so… my apologies if you were anxiously awaiting the final post for the series. This week, however, should make you happy. We have an interesting mix of century-plus old properties, all of which I have enjoyed to one degree or another at one time or another, so this should be fun.

Peter Pan (1902): 120 years

Peter Pan (1907), by Oliver Herford

I have early childhood memories of watching the animated Disney Peter Pan film (1953). Can’t remember if I saw a TV broadcast of the musical Broadway production (1954) starring Mary Martin. But, I do remember TV commercials advertising a Peter Pan stage production starring comedic actress Sandy Duncan (1966, 1979-1981), then several years later starring Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby (1974, 1990, 1998-1999, 2004-2005, 2008-2009, 2011-2013).

Peter Pan (along with Wendy, Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, et al.) was the creation of J.M. Barrie, a Scottish novelist and playwright, though Barrie only produced two distinct, original works featuring the character. The first was The Little White Bird (1902), an adult novel with a section of six chapters collectively titled “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens”. It has 7-day-old Peter being taught to fly by birds and fairies. Barrie then developed a stage play around the character titled Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (1904). Success convinced Barrie’s publisher to extract the original six chapters from his novel and publish them — with added illustrations by Arthur Rackham — as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906). He later adapted an expanded version of the play’s storyline into a novel titled Peter and Wendy (1911) (aka Peter Pan and Wendy).

Pan, adventurous leader of the Lost Boys on the mythical island of Neverland, was quite literally the “boy who never grew up” — or, at least, not past 12 or 13 years. He was “an exaggerated stereotype of a boastful and careless boy” with “a nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude, [who] is fearlessly cocky when it comes to putting himself in danger.” It certainly helped that he was a skilled swordsman, mimic, could fly, and sensed danger when it was near. As such, he became “a cultural icon symbolizing youthful innocence and escapism.”

Barrie wrote a sequel play, When Wendy Grew Up – An Afterthought (1908), and Geraldine McCaughrean wrote Peter Pan in Scarlet (2006), the official sequel novel, commissioned by Great Ormond Street Hospital who own the rights. But, there have been many more novels, both authorized and unauthorized, written about Pan and other characters from Barrie’s stories. There have been comics/manga, plays, an authorized musical radio adaptation, TV shows, video & computer games, etc., either centered on Peter Pan or featuring him (and possibly his associates). Same is true for films, both animated and live-action; the first was Paramount’s Peter Pan (1924), a silent movie starring Betty Bronson, while the most recent is Disney’s Peter Pan & Wendy, due for a 2022 release. There have been non-fiction works and bio-dramas, as well as references and homages made in music of various genres. And, of course, there have been tons of related merchandise of different types over the decades.

*Dracula*, 1st ed. reproduction

Dracula (1897): 125 years

Whereas Peter Pan is all about maintaining childlike freedom and innocence, that is impossible to do with Dracula. (Interestingly, there is a connection between the two, as the movie The Lost Boys (1987) is about a gang of youths who are vampires — which, of course, keeps them forever young.) More on that in a minute…

Bram Stoker, personal assistant of actor Sir Henry Irving and acting manager for London’s Lyceum Theatre, supplemented his income writing romance and sensation novels. Written as a series of letters, articles, and diary entries, Dracula has no single protagonist, but the central character is a centuries-old count who “suffers” from vampirism. The novel’s effective use of horror elements resulted in both positive and negative reviews. Stoker earned no royalties on the first 1000 copies sold. It was serialized in American newspapers, then an American edition of the novel was published in 1899. Unfortunately, due to some copyright and registration issues, Stoker didn’t make much money from the book.

Stoker drew heavily from Transylvanian folklore and history, possibly modeling his titular nobleman after the real-life figure of the Wallachian prince known as Vlad the Impaler. Categorized as “Gothic horror”, it is acknowledged as “one of the most famous pieces of English literature”, while the characters of Dracula and Abraham Van Helsing have become archetypes of the vampire and vampire hunter, respectively. Thus, Stoker’s “critical legacy” was finally established after his death in 1912.

Thematically, the topics of “sexuality and seduction” are represented throughout the novel. (Despite being married and fathering a child, some literary and behavioral evidence has led to the theory that Stoker was a repressed homosexual.) Race/ethnicity is another major theme in the novel (e.g., anti-Semitic remarks and assumptions, negative depictions of Slovaks and Romani people). Some have suggested that vampirism as a disease symbolizes Victorian anxieties about STDs and other diseases, while others see more racism in the use of vampiric “disease” (and associated animalistic traits and transformations) among certain peoples.

Dracula has had numerous plays (first being Stoker’s own Dracula, or The Undead (1897)), films (the first being the very loosely-adapted Hungarian silent film, Drakula Halála, the director/star of which later was forced to destroy all copies), TV series, video games and animation, comic books, and of course novels. Even “Sesame Street” has a character called “the Count” and General Mills has its “Count Chocula” breakfast cereal. Multiple academic studies and non-fiction books have been written on Dracula, its origins, legacy, etc. For those with an appreciation for the character and/or the Gothic horror (sub)genre, merchandise ranging from Halloween costumes and fake fangs to jewelry to coffin beds are available.

Count Dracula may not be the first vampire to appear in literature, but he has become the quintessential, iconic vampire and the inspiration for many others.

*The Invisible Man* (1897), cover by Pearson

The Invisible Man (1897): 125 years

Given the era, it isn’t surprising that H.G. Wells has an entry here. (I covered The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine in previous “Notable” posts.) The original version, written between March and June 1896, was a short story titled “The Man at the Coach and Horses” — a reference to a local inn where the central character seeks lodging and tells his tale. But, Wells didn’t like how it turned out, so he (re-)wrote a longer version, i.e., the now-classic novel (novella?). As was common at the time, the story of The Invisible Man was first serialized in Pearson’s Weekly in 1897 but then published in book format later that same year. It’s one of those classics that I haven’t read but really should.

Two major influences are usually mentioned in regards to Wells’s The Invisible Man (not to be confused with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), which is about a very different subject). The first is “The Perils of Invisibility,” one of the Bab Ballads by W.S. Gilbert. It includes the couplet, “Old Peter vanished like a shot/but then – his suit of clothes did not.” The second was Plato’s Republic, in which the legend of the Ring of Gyges postulates that a man who became invisible could act so freely that he would “go about among men with the powers of a god.”

As per Allen Grove, professor and chair of English at Alfred University:

The Invisible Man has a wealth of progeny. The novel was adapted into comic book form by Classics Illustrated in the 1950s, and by Marvel Comics in 1976. Many writers and filmmakers also created sequels to the story, something the novel’s ambiguous ending encourages. Over a dozen movies and television series are based on the novel, including a 1933 James Whale film and a 1984 series by the BBC. The novel has been adapted for radio numerous times, including a 2017 audio version starring John Hurt as the invisible man. The cultural pervasiveness of the invisible man has led to everything from his cameo in an episode of ‘Tom and Jerry’ to the Queen song ‘The Invisible Man’.”

I remember watching and enjoying two short-lived “The Invisible Man” TV series, one starring David McCallum (1975-1976) and one starring Vincent Ventresca (2000-2002). It may be time to track those down…

Sherlock Holmes (1887): 135 years

One hundred thirty-five years ago, prolific British author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published the first story starring “consulting detective” Sherlock Holmes, one of the best-known and most popular fictional characters of the Victorian and Edwardian Eras. Indeed, Holmes became an icon of crime fiction, cementing Conan Doyle’s literary legacy. That first story, “A Study in Scarlet”, appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual magazine (1887), followed by the novelization (1888). Conan Doyle would follow up with three more novels and 56 short stories published between 1890 and 1927. Most of the tales are narrated by Holmes’s friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson, who often accompanies Holmes on his investigations.

Fun fact: The phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” is never uttered in any of the sixty stories by Conan Doyle.

Conan Doyle once wrote that, like many fictional detectives, Holmes was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. Holmes’s speech and behavior were clearly influenced by Émile Gaboriau’s popular Monsieur Lecoq. In fact, Holmes and Watson briefly discuss Dupin and Lecoq in A Study in Scarlet. Conan Doyle is on record as saying that a real-life acquaintance of his, Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, was another model for Holmes, but Bell insisted that Holmes was based more on Conan Doyle himself. Sir Henry Littlejohn, another notable in the medical field, is also said to have been a major inspiration. Others have been suggested but were never confirmed by the author.

The first two Holmes novels were only moderately well-received, but his popularity took off in both Britain and America once the short stories (beginning with “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891)) began coming out in The Strand Magazine. Conan Doyle was strangely ambivalent about the character, but when he killed off Holmes (and archnemesis Professor Moriarty) in “The Final Problem” (1893), it led to unprecedented public outcry, including over 20,000 canceled subscriptions to The Strand. Conan Doyle was eventually convinced to “resurrect” Holmes in a story first serialized in The Strand (1901-1902) and then published as a novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1903).

The following from Wikipedia summarizes Holmes’s legacy well:

Sherlock Holmes portrait (1904), by Sidney Paget

“Though not the first fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes is arguably the best known. By the 1990s, there were already over 25,000 stage adaptations, films, television productions and publications featuring the detective, and Guinness World Records lists him as the most portrayed literary human character in film and television history. Holmes’s popularity and fame are such that many have believed him to be not a fictional character but a real individual; numerous literary and fan societies have been founded on this pretence. Avid readers of the Holmes stories helped create the modern practice of fandom. The character and stories have had a profound and lasting effect on mystery writing and popular culture as a whole, with the original tales as well as thousands written by authors other than Conan Doyle being adapted into stage and radio plays, television, films, video games, and other media for over one hundred years.”

There are multiple statues of the character around the world, and he has been honored with streets, locomotives, and at least one honorary fellowship named after him (by the Royal Society of Chemistry). There have also been specially-dedicated rooms and exhibits in libraries and museums.

Well done, sir!

I didn’t realize it when I first planned this post, but there are some interesting ties between the authors. Conan Doyle was an acquaintance and distant cousin of Bram Stoker. Conan Doyle also collaborated with J.M. Barrie on the libretto of Jane Annie (1893). Conan Doyle and Barrie were avid cricket players (though Barrie wasn’t nearly as good) and both were members of the Authors Cricket Club and the Allahakbarries. H.G. Wells also played for the the Allahakbarries, as did a few other notables (e.g., Rudyard Kipling, P.G. Wodehouse, A.A. Milne).

That’s another year’s worth of notable anniversaries noted. Whew!

Ahnuld’s New Spy Series

Here’s something I came across a few weeks ago — though it was first announced in late-2020 — but haven’t seen much talk about it since then….

Schwarzenegger and Barbaro

According to Variety, a new spy series created by Nick Santora of Blackjack Films, Inc., (“Reacher”, “The Fugitive”) is being developed over at Netflix, and there are some pretty familiar names attached. To start, it co-stars Arnold Schwarzenegger (True Lies, The Terminator) and Monica Barbaro (Top Gun: Maverick) as a father and daughter who discover that they’ve each secretly been working as CIA operatives for years, which naturally calls into question most of their relationship. They are then “forced to work together as partners, and against the backdrop of explosive action, and espionage, learn who each other really are.”

Schwarzenegger’s ‘Luke Brunner’ will be “a strong, gruff and loveable curmudgeon” and Barbaro his “eldest and most perfect daughter”, ‘Emma’. Travis Van Winkle (“Instinct”, “The Last Ship”) will play ‘Aldon’, a wise-@$$ CIA officer. Jay Baruchel (Random Acts of Violence, The Art of the Steal) will play ‘Carter’, Emma’s sweet and unsuspecting boyfriend. Devon Bostick (“Most Dangerous Game”, “The 100”) will play ‘Oscar’, Luke’s son and aspiring app developer. Gabriel Luna (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, Terminator: Dark Fate) will play ‘Boro’, season 1’s main villain. Additional characters will be played by Fabiana Udenio, Barbara Eve Harris, Scott Thompson, Adam Pally, Aparna Brielle, Andy Buckley, Milan Carter, Fortune Feimster, David Chinchilla, Stephanie Sy, Rachel Lynch, et al. Schwarzenegger’s True Lies co-star Tom Arnold may even show up.

Multi-Emmy nominated and winning director Phil Abraham (“Most Dangerous Game”, “Daredevil”) is on board to direct at least the pilot episode and maybe more. Santora and Schwarzenegger will both serve as executive producers, with the former being showrunner. Additional executive producers include Adam Higgs (“Legacies”, “Scorpion”) and Scott Sullivan (“Reacher”, “Scorpion”), along with Skydance Television’s David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Bill Bost.

The series has now been titled “Utap” (aka “FUBAR”) and is being billed as an action/adventure and thriller, though it is sure to have many humorous elements, as well. It currently has an order for eight, hour-long episodes. Last I knew, filming was scheduled in Toronto for May 2 through Aug. 25 of this year, but no premiere date has been announced. It will be Schwarzenegger’s first starring role in a scripted TV series, though he does have another — a Western titled “Outrider” — in the works.

Done right, I think this could be a fun little series. Not sure if I’ll watch it right away, but I’ll definitely give it a look…

Review of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Season 1

“Cool!” — Cadet Nyota Uhura (SNW season 1, episode 1)

To tell the truth, I was ambivalent about doing this review. What can I say that hasn’t been said? But, who knows, maybe my review will convince someone who hasn’t watched “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” (SNW) yet to watch it. Of course, my usual reviews contain spoilers, so last week I posted a “Very Brief, Spoiler-Free Review of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Season 1”.

Now for the long, spoilery version…

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

Story/Writing:

I was quite pleased with the writing for Season 1, especially considering that it always takes everyone on a new show a while to get comfortable with it — to get into a groove, as they say. Of course, some of the characters were familiar, as was the overall concept and the fictional universe it was set in, so that certainly helped. The return to an old-fashioned, episodic format was welcome, as well, and since many fans have been clamoring for that, it should make a lot of them happy.

There were many familiar themes and plot devices — familiar for science-fiction in general but especially for Star Trek. Examples include beaming down to a strange planet disguised as natives so the landing party can do some snooping around; a big ionic storm that interferes with comms and transporters (why is anyone surprised by this?); the old hide-in-the-gas-clouds-to-even-the-odds tactic; being stalked by an invisible hunter; et al. We got a mix of ship-chases, space battles, diplomatic missions, ethical challenges, encounters with strange beings, new scientific discoveries, medical puzzles and other conundrums, personal angst and tragedy, humorous interactions, homages to other shows/films, etc. Also, despite some ‘dark’ stuff, the general atmosphere is positive, hopeful.

Were things a little predictable at times? Sure. There were a few plot holes, as well. But, we also got a few surprise revelations (e.g., ep. 3) and nice plot-twists (e.g., ep. 5 and 7). There was a good amount of character development, especially for so short a season. Examples include Pike’s and Spock’s personal struggles, the revelation that Una is a genetically-enhanced Illyrian, young Uhura’s indecision about her future and where she fits in, La’An’s insecurities about herself and her past, etc. (I’ll say a bit more about this stuff in the “Main Characters & Actors” section.) Between this character-related material and the various situations-of-the-week, many times I found myself thinking that a particular episode or aspects of it felt like a “classic” Trek episode or was reminiscent of TNG-era Trek.

Now, I need to say a bit about the LGBTQ+ stuff. As I have said before, I am not a fan of this “woke” aspect of new Trek. But, I don’t harp on it. In this series, we actually had to wait until the 5th episode before the LGBTQ+ revelations began. I am referring to a brief, playful discussion between Chapel and Ortegas, in which Chapel may have revealed that she is bisexual — or, at the very least has “experimented” with a woman partner. I suspect that Ortegas will turn out to fall somewhere in the LGBTQ+ rainbow, and the actor has since hinted at it, too.

USS Enterprise

In episode 7, we got a transgender “counselor” — well, I can’t remember for sure if the character was supposed to be trans, but the actor is — advising Spock against binary thinking and to be who he is, regardless of what others think or expect. C’mon, guys. Subtle, you are not. Then, in the “fairytale” storyline of episode 8, it was hinted that Una and La’An’s past relationship may have been something along the lines of “friends with benefits”. Sheesh! (Or, was that just those versions of the characters?) All right, I’ll leave it at that.

One final thing about the writing… In previous Star Trek reviews, I have complained about the anachronistic, late-20th/early-21st century Earth colloquialisms that occasionally occur in the dialogue. Unfortunately, I have a couple examples this time, as well. 1) “Get outta town…” in episode 5. 2) “Pro tip…” in episode 7.

Main Characters & Actors:

Christopher Pike (Anson Mount): My impression of Pike from “The Cage” (TOS) was that he was a fairly serious, no-nonsense sort. But, as we saw in season 2 of “Discovery” and now in SNW, the writers/producers have chosen to loosen him up a bit. I think it helped viewers to warm up to him quicker, but I am concerned that they may be overdoing it just a little. Other than that, I am enjoying Mount’s version of the character. He is a careful, thoughtful leader who trusts his talented crew. He seems to go the extra mile to get to know them, even cooking a few crewmembers dinner from time to time. Like Kirk, Pike is not afraid to break the rules to win the day and save lives. Good! And, of course, he continues to struggle with his knowledge of the accident that will one day disfigure him and kill three(?) of his crew. One thing that bothered me, however, was his informality with Admiral April. They may be old friends, but the way that Pike refers to April as “Bob” in front of junior officers would seem like a breech in decorum to me.

Spock (Ethan Peck): As with other versions, it is difficult to avoid making comparisons between this Spock performance and the original. Leonard Nimoy will always be the definitive ‘Spock’, but Peck is doing a more-than-adequate job. I expect he will get even better as he becomes ever more comfortable in the role. From other series and films (including “Discovery”), we know some of the identity/heritage issues the character is and has been dealing with at this point in his life, and I appreciated the nods to some of that canon. They included a lot of Spock’s relationship with T’Pring (Gia Sandhu) this season, so we saw more of the tensions that eventually lead to the events of “Amok Time” (TOS). Of course, there were other events and revelations that also help fill in the character for even us older fans. I look forward to seeing his relationships evolve with Pike, Chapel, et al., as they contribute to his life/career and he to theirs.

Captain & crew on Enterprise bridge

Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn): Pike’s ‘Number One’ has proven to be both physically and intellectually formidable, as well as being a fine officer whom Pike trusts implicitly. I like that she has a mentor/mentee relationship with La’An, who actually has some of the same “serious” mannerisms. It was entertaining to watch the two of them attempt to have fun, but I would like to see more of a breakthrough. Maybe in a later episode? Quite the cliffhanger ending, what with Una’s arrest! It seems like she’s headed for a court martial, prison time, and Dishonorable Discharge. However, perhaps a Starfleet tribunal could be convinced that her contributions far outweigh the matter of her being genetically-modified (not her fault) and her cover-up of that fact. She may even get a reduced sentence and be allowed to remain in Starfleet, possibly with a demotion and perhaps stuck in an unfavorable assignment. Whatever the writers decide to do, I’ll be there…

La’An Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong): The very driven Security Chief is turning out to be more interesting all the time, especially as she confronts her fears and insecurities. (The whole Gorn thing is the stuff of nightmares!) Somehow, I thought there would be more tension between her and the crew due to her heritage. I also assumed she would be augmented. But, neither appears to be true, and the only one struggling with her heritage appears to be La’An herself. This, of course, contributed to her anger when she discovered Una’s own controversial heritage and augmentation.

Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding): She may not sound too much like Nichelle Nichols or have her grace (if that’s the word), but Gooding does have the beauty and smarts. Talented, too. I like the character a lot and what they are doing with her so far. (Making her so good at everything might be a bit much, though.) In fact, for someone who is “only” a cadet at this point, they spent comparatively a lot of time on her this season. Presumably they felt this was required so that we could see and hear her struggle to “find her place” and eventually decide to not only stay in Starfleet but take Pike up on his offer to have her assigned to Enterprise as an ensign. I can appreciate that, especially for such a well-loved legacy character.

M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun): The good doctor sounds like he could be a very interesting character. He already is, in fact, based largely on the storyline with his sick daughter and how that all ended. Bit of a tearjerker. I hope they give him more medical challenges. (Of course, they will!) Also seems like he may have been around the block a time or two, such that he makes a good mentor for Nurse Chapel and perhaps a confidant/sounding-board for Pike.

Chong, Navia, Olusanmokun, Bush, Gooding

Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia): I like her. She seems not only an excellent pilot but very easy-going and someone who likes to have fun. Quick with the one-liner, too. I was going to question her unorthodox hairstyle, but then it occurred to me that humanoid women in Starfleet seem to have a lot more flexibility with hairstyle than the males. (“Female privilege”?) One thing I don’t understand, though, is her very casual interaction with superior officers. Maybe she just follows Pike’s example? She didn’t get much focus this season, but I assume we’ll get to know her better in Season 2.

Christine Chapel (Jess Bush): Sorry, but I just don’t care for Nurse Chapel. It may sound sexist, but part of it is that I don’t find her attractive. (Part of that is the hair; I don’t like the “chopped” look.) Another big part of it is that she doesn’t act like TOS Chapel at all. (Or, at least not the impression of her that I always got.) I do mostly enjoy the humor, and I might like her better if she was a brand-new character. Then, I wouldn’t be bothered by her fun/mischievous qualities. (Fun/funny bit with the escaped Kileyan, for instance.) But, I am disappointed that she seems so different.

Hemmer (Bruce Horak): Though he initially presented himself as gruff and easily offended, Hemmer turned out to be an OK guy. Bit of a taskmaster, sure, but excellent at his job, despite being blind. He was able to lay some sound, non-technical advice on Uhura, too. He even demonstrated a sense of humor. I was sorry to see him go, though it was a noble sacrifice. (Who will they get to replace him next season? Scottie, by any chance? On one hand, that would be cool. But, another new character might be more interesting.) I think I saw something about Horak returning as a different character next season.

Miscellaneous:

One of the things that sparks a lot of controversy on these new ST shows, especially the prequels, is the look of the ships and other tech in comparison to the Original Series. I admit, I have wrestled with it a bit, too. I have come to the conclusion, though, that generally speaking, the artists and set designers are doing a pretty good job at finding a balance between what was and what we can now do with the better methods and designs (and more funding). It is advanced enough to satisfy current expectations, yet familiar enough to be believable as a “clearer vision” of what Roddenberry, Jeffries, et al. wanted in TOS. Nice external views of Starbase 1, as well.

On a totally different matter, from what I remember, no ST book ever indicated that Adm. Robert April was anything but Caucasian. Same goes for Transporter Chief Kyle, who we also saw in various TOS episodes and The Wrath of Kahn. But, now they have been retconned to be Black and Asian, respectively. I don’t have a big problem with this, considering that they are both relatively minor, supporting characters. But, I strongly dislike diversity for diversity’s sake, which this seems to be.

Here are a few miscellaneous quickies to end the post:

1) I like the opening credits and the theme is great, both beginning and ending with very familiar notes.

2) I appreciate the occasional TOS “ping” noises on the bridge, but they should be more regular.

3) The Shuttle Stamets was a nice touch.

4) Nice timing to have a “Starfleet Remembrance Day” episode coincide with real-life Memorial Day.

5) I liked that we got to hear comments/tributes by crewmembers at the funeral rather than another Captain’s speech (though I’m sure there was one).

6) Will someone please get Pike’s hair under control before it takes over the ship?!

My overall comment on the show echoes the Uhura quote at the top of this article: “Cool!”

I hope you enjoyed this review of the first season of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”. As always, feel free to leave a (family-friendly) comment below.

Very Brief, Spoiler-Free Review of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Season 1

“Hit it!” — Capt. Christopher Pike, USS Enterprise

My reviews of TV shows are typically somewhat lengthy and spoiler-ish, either directly or implied by reference. While working on one for “Strange New Worlds” (SNW), I decided to preface it with a non-spoilery review at the top. Then I realized I would never get the whole thing done before it needed to go out Wednesday night. (Sigh!) So,… I am posting the spoiler-free review on its own and delaying the more detailed review until next week. Hope ya like…

“‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ provides fans young and old with much of what they have been asking for, beginning with an old-fashioned, episodic format. The plots of those episodes are generally well-written and enjoyable despite — or perhaps because of — using familiar themes and plot devices. You will find yourself thinking, ‘This feels like a TOS or TNG story!’ While there is some ‘dark’ stuff, the general atmosphere is positive, hopeful. There are intriguing and complex characters with quite a bit of character development for a mere 10 episodes. And, of course, the show centers on the “original” USS Enterprise (NCC-1701). Overall, the majority of fans — well, the ones who give it a chance — should be quite pleased.”

Not sure why I have it in quotes, as if I’m quoting myself. Oh, well… SO much more to say, but that’s what the regular review is for. See ya next week!