Kurtzman, Picard, Discovery, and Tarantino: What the Trek Is Going On?

“Are you sure it isn’t time for a colorful metaphor?” — Spock to Kirk, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

You may have noticed that there are a lot of rumors going around about the various Star Trek projects lately — some are fairly accurate, other not so much. I considered trying to tackle one or the other this week, but they are sort of complicated. Then I came across the Midnight’s Edge video below. It does a great job of reviewing what has been said and sorting out what’s what. I certainly learned a lot, anyway, and thought it was well worth the 13 minutes (or less, if you bump up the playback speed).

Topics include:

1) Has Alex Kurtzman been fired?

2) The Bidding War

3) Discovery Season 3 in trouble?

4) Picard Test Screenings

5) Quentin Tarantino’s Star Trek

Ready…?

Whether any of that is good news, bad news, or indifferent to you probably depends on how you feel about what Kurtzman’s done with the franchise, your feelings about “Discovery”, expectations for “Picard”, excitement (or not) for an R-rated, Tarantino-created ST film, etc. I, for one, am “meh” regarding a Tarantino project, but I’ll be rather disappointed if any of this mess over finances and licensing results in a cancellation of “Discovery” or reduced production value of same. I also count myself among fans with high hopes for “Picard”, and it would be a frickin’ shame for CBS/Amazon to screw that up, too.

Fingers crossed…

P.S. Before going to press, I came across this new article, in which Kurtzman gives some updates and observations of his own.

Advertisements

The Problem with DC Movies

“Once you crack the script, everything else follows.” — Ridley Scott, writer/producer/director of TV & film

If you have read many of my TV and movie reviews here over the years, you’ve probably noticed my frustration with… well, a lot of things. But, one refrain is that I’m not sure who to blame for a disappointing show: the writer(s) for a poorly developed story and/or character(s), the actor(s) for not doing a good job in the role(s), or the director for failing to elicit good performances or to realize the best vision for the material (or some such thing). Or, perhaps a combination?

Another issue has to do with proper casting. For instance, I had serious doubts about Daniel Craig as James Bond, as well as Ben Affleck playing Batman. But, in the end, I was pleasantly surprised on both counts. Just don’t get me started on Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan…. A related issue is when beloved characters are “tweaked” too much, imho, from the source material and/or the writer(s) demonstrate that they really don’t understand the character or his/her appeal.

A few weeks back, someone (“LKJSlain”) in one of the pop-culture Facebook groups I frequent posted some insightful observations of her own on this subject. I believe the original subject matter was the now-confirmed casting of Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne in Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman reboot. (I have been reminded that he is much more than just “that guy from Twilight“, so I am cautiously optimistic.) LKJSlain shared her thoughts not just on Pattinson but on DC-based movies in general and on Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. She was nice enough to let me share the post with my readers….

*cracks knuckles*

Okay…

Here are my general thoughts (like anyone cared)… BY AND LARGE most people have absolutely despised the newer DC movies. NOW- there are some people who really enjoyed them, sure, and movies like Wonder Woman (minus the villain, which wasn’t terrible, but was WEIRD) and Shazam (which, IMO was MOSTLY incredible, minus a bump or two and an odd occasional problem with pacing) but the other films (Suicide Squad, Aquaman, BatmanVSSuperman, Man of Steel-) were not “necessarily” TERRIBLE but they had some really weird glaring errors that not only miffed the fans, but caused a lot of people who love the comic book genre and superhero / comic book films to just be left scratching their heads… – “Why did they go THIS direction?” “Why did THIS happen?” “WHAT THE HECK Batman wouldn’t DO that…” “Superman is acting strange…” “Mus…tache…” etc…

This combination of what I will call “oddities” makes for some really BIZARRE movies… I have my opinions about WHY (And a youtuber who I love named TheCosmonautVarietyHour has an EXCELLENT video that represents everything that I’d say here- it’s a 25 min -plus- long video that’s called “The Problem with DC’S Heroes” – watch it, it explains the problem perfectly, I can’t post it here because he cusses a lot…)

But here’s the deal… The problems are not the actors… the PROBLEMS are the movies themselves…

RobPat might be INCREDIBLE portraying Batman, [but] it’s not going to matter if the Batman he portrays is written terribly and leaves the audience with a sense of confusion / head scratching more than, “Heck yes, that’s the Batman that I know and love!”

I’ll use the JOKER movie as an example.

Joaquin Phoenix can act. HE … CAN… ACT… But do you know what I DON’T want to see? A movie that makes me feel EMPATHETIC towards the Joker… -_- (again, these are the things that are WELL explained in the video I mentioned above…) As a writer, it always miffs me SO MUCH with these movies because I always feel (pardon my hubris) that I could have written a BETTER Joker story.

TO ME this movie “JOKER” is CRYING for the audience to “feel sorry” for and thus “understand” the Joker… I DON’T WANT TO UNDERSTAND THE JOKER! That’s why he’s such an awesome character, he’s one of the few villains that encompasses and represents TOTAL chaos, anarchy, and a sense of “WHY?” It makes for a GREAT villain, and part of the greatness of that villain IS the mystery. If you REMOVE the mystery, it’s not the same character and after that, the audience will ALWAYS say, “Oh, well…his horrible past…” etc… -_- NO!

(SIDENOTEDONTGETMEWRONGIMSTILLGOINGTOSEETHISMOVIEBECAUSEILOVEHIMAND
ITHINKTHEMOVIEITSELFMIGHTBEOKAYANDITLLDEFINITELYBEINTERESTINGIFNOTHINGELSE
OKAY…)

My point being- one of the reasons that people roll their eyes with these choices is NOT the actors themselves, but trying to picture THESE actors in the modern DC films… *cringe*…

Regarding her initial comments, I can’t comment re Aquaman or Shazam!, since I haven’t seen them, yet. As for the rest, yeah, I’m pretty much in agreement. In regards to Phoenix as Joker, I mentioned in another post that I would (eventually) check out that film. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was a bit “iffy” on it, but I think LKJSlain comes pretty close. I am perhaps more accepting of some origin for the character. But, the never-fully-answered question of “How did this guy get so screwed up?!” is indeed part of the appeal. We certainly don’t want a sob-story to make us empathize (sympathize?) with the Joker. He is the embodiment of chaotic evil, a capricious homicidal maniac with a clown fetish, and Batman’s arch-est of archenemies. That’s all.

Bottom line is that, while Phoenix will no doubt give a marvelous performance, this is not the Joker we’ve been looking for. (Nor is that Jared Leto version from Suicide Squad.) It’s like DC / Warner Bros don’t even understand their own characters, and they have only themselves to blame for their cinematic failures.

Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2019: Special Comics Edition, Part 2 of 2

“SHAZAM!” — Billy Batson, who then transforms into Captain Marvel

Continuing from last week’s Part 1, we have four Silver and Golden Age superheroes celebrating notable anniversaries this year. Is one of them a favorite of yours?

Showcase #22

Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) (1959): 60 years

Hal Jordan was not the first ‘Green Lantern’ of Earth — that honor goes to ‘Alan Scott’ — and several Green Lanterns have been introduced since. But, Jordan became the Green Lantern of the Silver Age of Comics when he debuted in Showcase #22 from DC Comics. The character went on to become a perennial favorite, especially for those who grew up on DC comics in the 1960s-90s. Created by John Broome and Gil Kane and based on the likeness of Paul Newman, Jordan may have temporarily adopted a couple other important aliases along the way (e.g., Parallax, the Spectre), but he has survived death, cancellation, and several retcons and rebirths to remain a beloved and influential character in the DC Multiverse.

Hal Jordan has either co-starred or made appearances in many animated series and films, as well as in multiple video games. The Jordan Green Lantern has also headlined a live-action film and is set to co-star in 2020’s Green Lantern Corps live-action reboot. Of course, merchandise based on the character runs from action figures and maquettes to power rings and lunch boxes. The character has ranked quite well in IGN’s lists, too: #7 in 2011’s “Top 100 Comic Book Heroes” and #4 in 2013’s “Top 25 Heroes of DC Comics”.

Marvel Mystery Comics #4

Namor, the Sub-Mariner (1939): 80 years

Prince Namor of Atlantis, the Sub-Mariner, was created by Bill Everett for Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 (1939) — a planned black-n-white giveaway for movie theaters. When the promotion fell through, Everett introduced the public to his new creation in Timely/Marvel’s first regular color comic book, Marvel [Mystery] Comics #1, later that year. (See pic of Namor’s first cover appearance.) Of course, like many characters, he had to weather wars (real and fictional), economic downturns, amnesia, cancellations, etc. Despite the character’s arrogance, aggression, mercurial temper, and fluctuating loyalties, he has maintained a respectable fan-following after all this time. In addition to guest-appearances and co-starring in other books, he has starred in several miniseries and at least five regular comics series — in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960/70s, 1990s, 2011.

“The Avenging Son” has had two aborted TV series (in the 1950s & 1970s) and an on-again/off-again live-action film project (1990s-2000s). The character has appeared in several animated series and video games, as well. Namor has been ranked by Wizard as the 88th greatest comic book character. IGN ranked Namor as the 77th greatest comic book hero of all time and 14th in their list of “The Top 50 Avengers”. For something a little different, ComicsAlliance ranked him #16 on their list of the “50 Sexiest Male Characters in Comics” (2013).

Whiz Comics #2

Captain Marvel / Shazam (1939): 80 years

Long before Marvel’s ‘Carol Danvers’ took the monicker Captain Marvel (or was even conceived of), there was another “Captain Marvel”. In Whiz Comics #2 (cover date Feb. 1940; release date Dec. 1939), Fawcett Comics published the first appearance of the original Captain Marvel character, alter ego of young orphan ‘Billy Batson’. Much to the delight of Fawcett and creators Bill Parker and C.C. Beck, the character was an instant hit and outsold all other superheroes during the 1940s — even Superman himself. In the early 1950s, National Comics Publications (owner of Superman) sued Fawcett for copyright infringement and won, forcing Fawcett to stop publishing Captain Marvel-related comics. In the 1970s, National (now known as DC Comics) licensed the rights to the character and bought them completely in 1991. There have also been trademark conflicts with Marvel Comics (for obvious reasons), resulting in at least one version of the character to be renamed “Shazam!”. But, let’s not get started on the retcons, reboots, and relaunches….

The Fawcett/DC Captain Marvel has the distinction of being “the first comic book superhero to be adapted into film, in a 1941 Republic Pictures serial, Adventures of Captain Marvel“. There was a brief radio serial in 1943. The character has been featured in a 1970s live action TV series and a 1980s animated TV series. There have been animated films, appearances on other animated series, and various video games. And, of course, 2019’s Shazam! live-action film (which I have yet to see) was a big hit. The “Big Red Cheese” was ranked as the 55th greatest comic book character of all time by Wizard; the 50th greatest comic book hero of all time by IGN; and UGO Networks ranked him as one of the top heroes of entertainment.

Detective Comics #27

(The) Batman (1939): 80 years

One of the most valuable and sought after comic books — well, by those with big bucks, anyway — is Detective Comics #27, the debut of the Batman! (Or, “Bat-Man”, as he was originally named.) Bruce Wayne’s alter ego got his own self-titled, regular series the following year, and creator Bob Kane (with Bill Finger) continued to refine the character. There have been a number of “interpretations” of the character over the decades — from the gun-wielding, pulp-style vigilante in those earliest years; to the more light-hearted, even campy version of the 1950s-60s; to the grim-n-gritty “Dark Knight” of the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond — and there have been a number of revamps and relaunches. But, through it all, the Caped Crusader’s popularity and iconic imagery continue to rival even that of his friend and colleague Superman.

There have been times when there were four regular Batman comics published each month, along with various related series, miniseries, and one-shots. Merchandising has produced untold numbers of Batman-themed clothes, toys, and collectibles. Over the decades, there have been Batman comic strips, books, radio dramas, a stage show, two movie serials (the second co-starring ‘Robin’), live-action TV series, animated TV series (including the multiple-Emmy Award-winning Batman: The Animated Series), live-action films (including a couple that won Academy Awards), animated films, and video games (including Batman: Arkham City (2011), which holds a Metacritic ranking of 94%). This doesn’t include guest appearances and co-starring roles in other shows, films, serials, comics, etc. And, of course, Batman continues to rank at or near the top of various superhero lists by Wizard, IGN, Entertainment Weekly, et al. (He is in my book, too!)

I’m sure some of you noticed a few names missing that I could have included in this list — e.g., Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) (1959), Teen Titans (1964), Guardians of the Galaxy (1st version) (1969), Alpha Flight (1979), TMNT (1984), Robin (Tim Drake) (1989). But, not only did I need to limit myself for time and space reasons, I also had to leave some “fresh” ones for when I do this list again in 2024, right? 🙂

L8r…

Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2019: Special Comics Edition, Part 1 of 2

“I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do best isn’t very nice.” — Wolverine (Marvel Comics)

As promised, here is the comics-focused addendum to this year’s “Notable Genre Anniversaries” — well, part 1, anyway. Read on, pilgrim….

Saitama

Saitama (2009): 10 years

The ‘Saitama’ character debuted in 2009 in the first issue of the One-Punch Man webcomic, created by manga artist ONE. Saitama may be strongest of all the heroes on his planet, but he becomes “bored by the absence of challenge in his fight against evil and seeks to find a worthy opponent.” ONE described his idea for the character thusly, “Punching is oftentimes pretty useless against life’s problems. But inside One Punch Man’s universe, I made Saitama a sort of guy who was capable of adapting his life to the world that surrounded him, only armed with his immense power. The only obstacles he faces are mundane things, like running short of money.” (Sounds like an alternate-Earth mashup of Superman and Spider-Man to me.)

Despite the creator’s taking a couple hiatuses from the series over the years, One-Punch Man became immensely popular right away and remains so. As of April 2019, the webcomic had released 111 chapters, and the site has received millions of hits. There have been several collected editions printed, and the ninth volume included a drama CD. There was a spinoff webcomic, and a separate North American edition of the series began publication in 2013, with printed editions beginning 2015. And, of course, we can’t forget the anime adaptation that first aired in 2015. One-Punch Man was nominated for a Manga Taisho Award in 2014. The first two printed volumes made appearances at the top of the New York Times Manga Best Sellers list, with the series being nominated for an Eisner Award in 2015. The anime even maintains a 100% score at Rotten Tomatoes.

I may have to check it out someday….

Wolverine cameo at end of The Incredible Hulk #180

Wolverine (1974): 45 years

Ever since he debuted in The Incredible Hulk #180-181 (Oct. & Nov. 1974), Wolverine (aka Logan, aka Patch, aka James Howlett, aka Weapon X) has easily become one of the most popular American comic book characters of all time. Whether working solo or with the X-Men or some other partner/team, fans just seem to love the enigmatic, often surly, mutant Canucklehead with retractable claws and an uncanny healing factor. Best of all when he has the adamantium lacing his skeleton and giving his claws an indestructible edge. (You may remember that I listed him among my Top 5 favorite Marvel superheroes.)

Some of the character’s mystery began to be peeled away beginning with writer-artist Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Weapon X” story (1991), the wisdom of which some fans have questioned. But, he has nonetheless maintained legions of fans — thanks in part, I’m sure, to the popular movie version. Created by Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and John Romita Sr., Wolverine has appeared in every media adaptation of the X-Men franchise, including multiple films, (animated) television, and computer and video games. The character was ranked #1 in Wizard magazine’s 2008 Top 200 Comic Book Characters; 4th on IGN’s 2011 Top 100 Comic Book Heroes; and 4th in Empire‘s Greatest Comic Characters.

Amazing Spider-Man #129

Punisher (1974): 45 years

The Punisher (aka Frank Castle) was very much in contrast with the ever-joking, heroic star of Amazing Spider-Man #129. Created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr., and Ross Andru, the character was inspired by ‘Mack Bolan’ from Don Pendleton’s The Executioner book series — a grim Vietnam vet with a vendetta against the mob. Initially cast as an antagonist, he was only too happy to visit the same sort of brutal violence and death upon his targets/opponents as they did against their victims, which included Castle’s family. While Castle left a trail of blood and body parts, he also garnered a huge following of comic fans, many of whom could (at least partially) identify with his frustration and desire for revenge against injustice. Given the lengths he was willing to go to (e.g., torture and murder), the Punisher became an iconic anti-hero and symbol of vigilante justice.

The hit character began with more guest appearances and a miniseries before getting a regular series of his own. At one point, there were four Punisher-oriented monthly comic titles, and he made appearances — though somewhat toned down — on at least a couple of Marvel’s animated series. There have been three live-action Punisher films (each with a different lead actor) and most recently two seasons of a live-action TV series from Netflix (after guest-starring on the Daredevil series). And, of course, there are the video games, too. Accolades include being named the 19th Greatest Comic Book Character of All Time by Empire; #27 in Top 100 Comic Book Heroes by IGN; and ranked #39 in Wizard‘s Top 200 Comic Book Characters.

Daredevil #1

Daredevil (1964): 55 years

Though best known for his classic all-red costume, Daredevil (aka blind attorney Matt Murdock) debuted in Daredevil #1 in a half-red/half-yellow “acrobat” costume (see pic). Stan Lee and Bill Everett created what would be a beloved character with many ups-n-downs — both as a character and in terms of publication. Daredevil is a complex character — a man with a good heart but always struggling against the desire for vengeance and other inner demons. He is a more “street level” hero who typically deals with street thugs, drug dealers, human traffickers, and other vices in the seedier parts of town. Yet, when necessary, the “Man Without Fear” can mix it up with powerful supervillains (often alongside his superhero pals) and deal with some big-league threats. Still, as with the best characters, it is his humanity through it all that attracts his fans.

Daredevil has appeared in various of Marvel’s animated TV series, video games, guest-starred in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk TV movie, had his own big-screen movie in 2003 (which was only somewhat successful), and was the focus of 3 seasons of Netflix’s recent “Daredevil” TV series. The character was ranked as 37th Greatest Comic Book Character by Empire; #21 in Wizard‘s list of the 200 Greatest Comic Characters of All Time; and #10 on IGN’s “Top 100 Comic Book Heroes”. Also, comic book readers surveyed by Comic Book Resources (CBR) website named ol’ DD as Marvel’s 3rd best character.

So far, so good. Next week, we’ll continue with four more in Part 2….

Fan-Cast: Buck Rogers

“Well, I’m scheduled for execution, and if I miss it I could be in a lot of trouble.” — Gil Gerard as ‘Buck Rogers’

While planning the ‘Buck Rogers’ entry in my recent “Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2019” series (and even before), I got to thinkin’ that a reboot TV series might be cool — or, even a movie or two. Buster Crabbe played the role in 1939, and Gil Gerard played him 40 years later. Another 40 years have gone by, so who could play ‘Buck Rogers’ now? I decided to fan-cast the character, and… this be that. Enjoy!

Buck Rogers

Buck (r) and Buddy (l)

The story of ‘Buck’ Rogers is that of a man thrown roughly 500 years into Earth’s future. Published in 1928/1929 (novels & comic strip), the original version has Anthony (later nicknamed ‘Buck’) Rogers as a 29-year-old former airman and veteran of World War I. By 1927, he is working for the American Radioactive Gas Corporation when he is called in to investigate unusual phenomena in abandoned coal mines in Pennsylvania. A cave-in exposes him to some sort of radioactive gas, which puts him into “a state of suspended animation, free from the ravages of catabolic processes, and without any apparent effect on physical or mental faculties”. Rogers is presumed dead, and he remains in suspended animation until waking in AD 2419.

He manages to get out of the cave, wanders through some unfamiliar forests, saves a woman (Wilma Deering) from being attacked, realizes how long he has been “gone”, and is introduced to a strange, new world. Essentially, the world is ruled by a number of huge “gangs”, including the Bad Bloods who shot down Wilma’s patrol. Rogers ends up not only acclimating but becomes a gang leader himself.

Other versions (e.g., radio show (1932-6), movie serial (1939), ABC TV series (1950-1), comic strip revival (1979-83) followed the same basic outline, but certain dates, locales, supporting players, and specifics regarding gangs & dictators, etc., were altered. For example, for the movie serial starring Buster Crabbe, “Buck and his young friend Buddy Wade get caught in a blizzard and are forced to crash their airship in the Arctic wastes. In order to survive until they can be rescued, they inhale their supply of Nirvano gas which puts them in a state of suspended animation. When they are eventually rescued by scientists, they learn that 500 years have passed. It is now 2440. A tyrannical dictator named Killer Kane and his henchmen now run the world. Buck and Buddy must now save the world, and they do so with the help of Lieutenant Wilma Deering and Prince Tallen of Saturn.

TV poster for NBC TV series

The 1979 motion picture Buck Rogers in the 25th Century — created by Glen A. Larson, who gave us Battlestar Galactica, too — updated the concept a bit and led to a new TV series of the same name from NBC. In this one, Captain William ‘Buck’ Rogers is a USAF/NASA pilot who commands Ranger III, a space shuttle-like ship launched in 1987. “When his ship flies through a space phenomenon containing a combination of gases, his ship’s life support systems malfunction and he is frozen and left drifting in space for 504 years. By the time he is revived, he finds himself in the 25th century. There, he learns that Earth was united following a devastating global nuclear war that occurred in the late 20th century, and is now under the protection of the Earth Defense Directorate, headquartered in New Chicago. The latest threat to Earth comes from the spaceborne armies of the planet Draconia, which is planning an invasion.”

From what I can tell, all versions of Buck Rogers have him as an athletic, action-oriented, white male. He is attractive, self-confident, and (at least in the NBC series) charming and with a good sense of humor. (Though his 25th-century friends don’t always understand his jokes or 20-century references.) He is also bright, a skilled hand-to-hand combatant, and an exceptional pilot — all skills that come in handy as a “gang” leader or Directorate operative.

Buster Crabbe was about 30/31 when he shot the Buck Rogers serials, and Gil Gerard was 36 when Buck Rogers in the 25th Century debuted. Given his military experience, I think 30-something is a good age for the character. As for height, Crabbe and Gerard were/are both 6’1″. I’d prefer Rogers be at least 6′, though I’d consider an otherwise excellent candidate who is an inch or two under that. He should also be a white male with an athletic build. For whatever reason, I think of Rogers as having dark hair (while Flash Gordon I think of being blonde). That’s not really very important, though I think a relatively short, military-acceptable cut would be reasonable, especially at the start.

If this project were being made a few years ago, I would have nominated Alex O’Loughlin, Eric Dane, and maybe Mark Wahlberg. Unfortunately, they are all in their 40s, now. I looked at Daniel MacPherson (39), but he’s too short. I considered Diego Klattenhoff (39), but decided he just didn’t feel right for the part. Dylan Bruce (39) and Alan Ritchson (34) are both strong possibilities, but I’ve cast them several times before and wanted to bring you some newer faces this time. 🙂

So, here they are…

Chris Evans

OK, Chris Evans (6′,b.1981) isn’t exactly a new face, but I don’t think I’ve cast him for anything before. Genre movie fans know him best as Captain America in various films and, before that, the Human Torch. He has also had major roles in The Losers, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Push, Street Kings, Cellular, et al. We also mustn’t forget his voicework on “Robot Chicken”. I think Evans has the right mix of charm and physicality to do this role justice. Probably my top pick. Besides, it seems rather fitting for the guy who played ‘Steve Rogers’ to then play ‘Buck Rogers’, no? Hmm, I wonder if the characters could be related….

 

Lex Shrapnel

You might remember that I included Lex Shrapnel (????,b.1979) in my “6 Coolest Names in TV & Film” post. Unfortunately, I can’t find his height listed anywhere; but, I estimate it at about 5’10”. He’s not a big name, but he has appeared in “Flyboys”, Captain America: The First Avenger, “Hunted”, “By Any Means”, Seal Team Eight: Behind Enemy Lines, “The Assets”, Thunderbirds, “Sons of Liberty”, “Medici”, et al. Assuming he is sufficiently likable on-screen, this role could be a breakthrough for him.

 

Luke Macfarlane

 

Fans of the “Killjoys” series will recognize Luke Macfarlane (6’2″,b.1980) as ‘D’avin Jaqobis’. He has also appeared in “Supergirl”, “Person of Interest”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Over There”, and lots of non-genre things, as well. On “Killjoys”, his character is flying around in spaceships, shooting blasters, getting into fights, etc. ‘Buck Rogers’ sounds right up his alley. Plus, he has the required looks and charm. I think he’d make a fine ‘Captain Rogers’… Buck, that is.

 

Tom Hopper

Tom Hopper (6’5″,b.1985) is both the youngest and tallest of today’s four prospects. He is currently enjoying some success as ‘Luther Hargreeves’ in “The Umbrella Academy” (recently renewed). Genre fans might have also seen him in “Game of Thrones”, “Black Sails”, Kill Ratio, “Northmen – A Viking Saga”, Knights of Badassdom, “Merlin”, et al. Even an episode of “Doctor Who”. He obviously has the required physique and is familiar with action roles. Hopper might just be the Buck Rogers we’re looking for….

 

Think you have the perfect casting suggestion for ‘Buck Rogers’? Let us know below…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2019.

Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2019, Part 3 of 3

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — opening line of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Back in March, we began this series of “notable genre anniversaries” for this year, and the second part came out a couple weeks later. After a detour into giant monsters and Star Trek and stuff, we’re back for Part 3 this week. Ready? Here we go…

(First edition)

Nineteen Eighty-Four (aka 1984) (1949): 70 years

First published in June 1949, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel set in — you guessed it — 1984, when much of the world was characterized by endless war, propaganda, and government surveillance. According to Orwell, “[The book] was based chiefly on communism, because that is the dominant form of totalitarianism, but I was trying chiefly to imagine what communism would be like if it were firmly rooted in the English speaking countries, and was no longer a mere extension of the Russian Foreign Office.”

A combination of science fiction and political fiction, the novel has been surprisingly popular and influential. How?

“Many of its terms and concepts, such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Room 101, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and memory hole, have entered into common usage since its publication in 1949. Nineteen Eighty-Four also popularised the adjective Orwellian, which connotes things such as official deception, secret surveillance, brazenly misleading terminology, and manipulation of recorded history by a totalitarian or authoritarian state, as described by the author. [By 1989, it had been translated into 65 languages, more than any other novel in English until then.] In 2005, the novel was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. It was awarded a place on both lists of the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels, reaching #13 on the editors’ list and #6 on the readers’ list. In 2003, the novel was listed at #8 on The Big Read survey done by the BBC.” [Wikipedia]

Most of the world was far different than Orwell’s fictional world when 1984 actually rolled around. But, the novel is still recognized as quite insightful — even prophetic — as English-speaking nations do indeed seem to be inching (or, running, in certain cases) ever closer to this end. Current communist regimes (e.g., Russia, China) serve as models for our Orwellian future, and it ain’t pretty.

OK, enough politics…

(Title card)

Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949): 70 years

As the first science-fiction show on American television, “Captain Video and His Video Rangers” was the precursor to a heckuva lot of genre fare that fans have enjoyed over the past 7 decades — from “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” to a couple comic-strip adaptations I’ll get to below, as well as the various Star Treks and Battlestar Galacticas, et al. Sure, it was black-n-white and even hokier looking and sounding than the original “Star Trek” or “Lost in Space”. But, kids & adults alike ate it up back then. Plus, there were special “Video Ranger messages” during commercial breaks, and cool premiums were sold like rocket ship keychains, plastic spacemen, ray guns, decoders, etc.

Broadcast live 5 or 6 days per week, the program was set in the far future and followed the adventures of the eponymous Captain Video (initially played by Richard Coogan, but primarily by Al Hodge) and his fellow fighters for truth and justice against villains like Doctor Pauli and Hing Foo Sung. Over 1500 episodes aired between June 1949 and April 1955, including 20 episodes of the Saturday-morning spinoff “The Secret Files of Captain Video”. But, only 24 episodes are believed to have survived, with only 5 available to the public.

Critics originally mocked the very low-budget series for its bargain-basement effects, sudden plot-shifts, and incoherent scripts. Things improved a lot in 1952, though. The writing became smarter and more imaginative when (now-)big names like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Damon Knight, James Blish, and Jack Vance began producing scripts. Also, the team of Russell and Haberstroh took over special-effects.

In 1951, a Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere movie serial was produced and starred Judd Holdren. Fawcett Comics put out a 6-issue run of the “Captain Video” comic that same year.

Flash Gordon (1934): 85 years

The “Flash Gordon” comic strip was first published on Jan. 7, 1934, in hopes of competing with the already popular “Buck Rogers” strip. (I’ll get to Buck in a minute.) It was the creation of a King Features staff artist named Alex Raymond, who wrote (with assistance) and drew the strip until he joined the U.S. Marines in 1944. Other than the obvious “Buck Rogers” parallels, the character/story appears to have been heavily influenced by the recently published novel When Worlds Collide (1933) by Philip Wylie. Following Raymond’s departure, several writers and artists contributed to the character’s adventures, either on a regular or temporary basis, including such notables as Harry Harrison and Gray Morrow, culminating with Jim Keefe’s run (1996-2003).

“King Features sold the Flash Gordon strip to newspapers across the world, and by the late 1930s, the strip was published in 130 newspapers, translated into eight foreign languages, and was read by 50 million people…. [It] is regarded as one of the best illustrated and most influential of American adventure comic strips.” [Wikipedia]

The Flash Gordon comic strip has been adapted into film serials (starring Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe), an American movie (1980) and a low-budget Turkish version (1967), both live-action and animated TV series, comic books, novels, radio serials, and even a musical play. The latest was a live-action TV show on the SyFy channel (2007–2008). As with earlier adaptations, its success led to numerous licensed products — e.g., pop-up books, coloring books, toy spaceships and rayguns.

Raymond’s artwork and designs on the comic strip have been lauded by genre professionals and led genre historians to consider him “one of the most famous science fiction artists of all time, although he never contributed an illustration to any science fiction magazine or book”. The strip has influenced superhero comic artists, including elements of the costume designs for Superman and Hawkman.

Buck Rogers (1929, 1939, 1979): 90, 80, & 40 years

I’m gonna cheat a little bit with this one, because we missed last year’s 80th anniversary of the character’s debut in the novella Armageddon 2419 A.D., published in the Aug. 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, which followed up shortly with a sequel, The Airlords of Han. But, the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D. newspaper strip that made the character popular began Jan. 7, 1929; Buster Crabbe starred in the “Buck Rogers” serial in 1939; and the “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” TV show that I loved to watch debuted back in 1979.

Buck Rogers was the brainchild of Philip Francis Nowlan, though he originally named the character ‘Anthony’. The name changed to ‘Buck’ when Nowlan and illustrator Dick Calkins adapted that first story for the new comic strip by John F. Dille Company (later changed to National Newspaper Service). As already mentioned, the strip was very popular, causing competing syndicates to develop or license similar heroes (e.g., Flash Gordon, Jack Swift, Brick Bradford, Don Dixon, Speed Spaulding, John Carter of Mars).

“Buck Rogers was initially syndicated to 47 newspapers…. At its peak in 1934, Buck Rogers appeared in 287 U.S. newspapers, was translated into 18 languages, and appeared in an additional 160 international papers.”

Calkins left the daily strip a few years later, replaced by Rick Yager. After that, what artist drew what strip gets murky (and the signatures are unreliable). There were a number of illustrators over the years, ending with George Tuska’s run (1959-1967). The New York Times Syndicate produced a “revival” of the strip with Gray Morrow in 1979, which continued until 1983.

Not surprisingly, the popular character has also been adapted for movies and movie serials, TV series (in which ‘Buck’ is established as a nickname for ‘William’), radio programs, comic books, novels, an aborted web series, RPGs, video games, and even a pinball game. Let’s not forget the toys, too, like various rayguns & pistols, spaceships, and action figures. There have been many pop-culture references to Buck Rogers, including in “Duck Dodgers” (obviously), “Futurama”, The Right Stuff, and the XZ-38 Disintegrator Pistol on the cover to the Foo Fighters’ self-titled album. More importantly, “Buck Rogers has been credited with bringing into popular media the concept of space exploration, following in the footsteps of literary pioneers such as Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs.”

Zorro (1919): 100 years

As a kid, I loved Zorro! In fact, in recent weeks I have re-watched the 1940 classic The Mark of Zorro starring Tyrone Power (and Basil Rathbone as the primary villain) and 1975’s Zorro starring Alain Delon (and Stanley Baker taking the main villain role). (Loved the theme song of the latter one!) I’m on the lookout for 1974’s TV movie The Mark of Zorro starring Frank Langella (with Ricardo Montalban as the main baddie), too. Great fun!

Set in 19th-century California under Spanish rule, the character is sort of a cross between Robin Hood and the Scarlet Pimpernel, with elements of an ennobled Spring-heeled Jack — i.e., a nobleman who is a bit of a dandy and a coward in public, but who secretly dons a black mask and costume to steal from corrupt noblemen & politicians (and return the funds to the poor & oppressed commoners) and fight the military attachments working for them. Like most such heroes, Zorro is quite the athlete and hand-to-hand combatant, as well as a skilled equestrian. Our hero’s favorite weapons are the smallsword (or possibly a rapier) and the bullwhip, both of which he uses expertly for offense and defense and to slice his trademark “Z” into walls, tables, and the occasional clothes/flesh of unfortunate opponents. He isn’t opposed to using other weapons (e.g., daggers and pistols), too, if need be.

Zorro was created by American pulp writer Johnston McCulley and debuted in the serialized novel The Curse of Capistrano. The 1920 film adaptation, The Mark of Zorro starring Douglas Fairbanks, was so successful that McCulley spent the next few decades capitalizing on it. Here’s a brief rundown from Wikipedia:

Comic cover w/ Guy Williams from the Disney TV series

“[T]he character was featured in a total of five serialized stories and 57 short stories, the last one appearing in print posthumously in 1959, the year after [McCulley’s] death. The Curse of Capistrano eventually sold more than 50 million copies, becoming one of the most sold books of all time. While the rest of McCulley’s Zorro stories didn’t enjoy the same popularity, as most of them were never reprinted until the 21st century, the character also appears in over 40 films and in ten TV series, the most famous being the Disney-produced Zorro series of 1957–59, starring Guy Williams [later of “Lost in Space” fame]. Other media featuring Zorro include stories by other authors, audio/radio dramas, comic books and strips, stage productions and video games.

Being one of the earliest examples of a fictional masked avenger with a double identity, Zorro inspired the creation of several similar characters in pulp magazines and other media, and is a precursor of the superheroes of American comic books, with Batman drawing particularly close parallels to the character.”

Bravo!

That’s the end of the regular series for 2019. I hope you liked reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. You might have noticed that, unlike the 2018 series, I left out comics/superheroes this time around. In a few weeks, I’ll do a “special, all-comics edition”, so keep an eye out for that one, too!

Review of Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2

“Sometimes, in war, the terrible choice is the only choice.” — Vice Adm. Cornwell

Late as usual, but I “needed” to add my 2 cents re Season 2. So,…

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

Cmdr. Michael Burnham

“The People”

I may have mentioned it before, but the stoic Burnham character reminds me a lot of Martin-Green’s ‘Sasha’ character on “The Walking Dead”. It has made me wonder how much range she has in her acting. Of course, since Burnham was raised on Vulcan since the age of 12 or so, it makes sense that she would have much of that emotional discipline ingrained in her. But, as revealed this season, Burnham has a lot of rage and other things bottled up inside. We got to see her deal with many personal issues — e.g., Saru nearly dying, awkward reunion with Tyler and concern over his joining Section 31, worrying about Spock (first AWOL, then non-communicative), awkward reunion once Spock regained control of his faculties, awkward reunion with her long-thought-dead mother (played wonderfully by the talented Sonja Sohn), seeing her mother sucked back into the future, seeing a friend sacrifice herself, prepping to defeat Control via a one-way trip to the far future, etc.

Burnham went through an emotional roller-coaster this season, and it showed. She raged, cried in grief and frustration, cried with joy and relief, and, yes, she even smiled a couple times. Martin-Green is an attractive woman with a beautiful smile, and I wish we got to see more of it. The main thing, though, is that Burnham is growing into a more complex, self-assured, and more-rounded character, and we’re there to witness it. (Now, if only we could figure out why this woman is connected to so many important people and events….)

I gotta say, though, it sucks to be Tyler, too. I’m not just referring to all that guilt, shame, etc., from his Klingon spy days, either. One former girlfriend, with whom he just (secretly) had a baby, is now Chancellor of the Klingon High Council, and his mere presence at her side causes her all sorts of problems. So, not only is the baby sent off to an isolated monastery, but Tyler takes the blame for a failed coup (by someone else) and is banished from the Empire. His more recent former girlfriend is very conflicted about seeing him again, especially given his Klingon/family problems, and she hates his new job. He reluctantly accepts assignment aboard Discovery (as a quasi-spy), but no one trusts him, and they eventually accuse him of sabotage. Sheesh! Of course, he eventually is cleared and acquits himself honorably. Oh, and he gets stabbed in the gut by a rogue A.I. along the way, too.

But, honestly, I’m sorta bored with the character. I’m wondering if it isn’t time — no pun intended — to write him off the show. (At the very least, give his hair and beard a trim!) Of course, now Tyler is in charge of Section 31, but he is stuck back in 2257. So, assuming Season 3 doesn’t have a parallel storyline in that era, problem solved. I suspect we may see him in the Georgiou-led spinoff, though.

L’Rell and Tyler

About those Klingons… So, L’Rell now has hair, as do some others. I believe it was explained that only the religious caste/sect had the custom of shaving their heads. Same goes for those funky, spikey outfits we saw the Klingons wearing on the Sarcophagus ship in Season 1. It was a religious thing. In her new position, she doesn’t have to abide by those rules. Makes sense. But, we still have the more serious problem of the much different appearance of the Disco-Klingons vs. previous representations. I maintain that the best way to address this would be to establish that there are two (or more?) races native to Qo’noS. The ones we are familiar with from STIII/TNG/etc. are from Houses we have not yet seen on STDisc. At some point before the show goes off the air, we should see (or, at least, hear about) those other Houses rising to power over the current ones. Perhaps the STDisc Houses could even be a) destroyed via battle or disease; b) banished far, far away; c) rendered sterile; or, d) transported far elsewhen via time crystal.

OK, back to the characters…

Tilly is always a delight to watch, and she didn’t disappoint this season. I really liked the “evolution” of Saru’s character, too. (Glad I saw the Star Trek Short that introduced us to his family and culture, as well as the one where Po and Tilly met.) While the B-storyline with Culber’s return was somewhat interesting, I’ve never cared for the character and would be happy to see him written off. (Though, perhaps we could see more of Dr. Pollard?) I didn’t mind Stamets as much this season, perhaps partially ‘cuz he was less central to the main plot. His relationship struggles don’t appeal to me, either. I wouldn’t be disappointed if they wrote him off, though the crew will probably need him to control the spore drive in the 32nd century. After that, he should transfer or retire, as the character has been contemplating, and be replaced by a real engineer (i.e., Reno).

I never really liked the morally ambiguous Leland, so his death didn’t bother me at all. Georgiou, on the other hand, is always entertaining, as you never know quite how much to trust her. Yet, she does seem to genuinely care for Burnham. Michelle Yeoh must have a fun time playing her. While I wouldn’t say I loved the Vice Adm. Cornwell character, she was a good ally and died an honorable death. She will be missed.

I’ll mention the rest of the main bridge crew later….

As for new/”new” characters, Cmdr. Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) seemed to remain in the background most of the time, like the writers weren’t quite sure what to do with her. She did, however, prove herself a stand-up gal in the end, ready to make the hard choices, including risking her own life (like any good officer). I wonder if she and Number One were friends…. Number One was played ably by Rebecca Romijn, and it’s too bad we only really got to see her in action (sort of) in the finale. Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) reminds me of Harry Dean Stanton of Alien fame. Scrappy little guy… Anyway, I like the Reno character, and the Discovery needs a regular engineer (as opposed to an astromycologist) in the lineup.

Spock and Pike

I have to admit, after seeing Anson Mount in the abysmal “Inhumans” mini-series, I wasn’t sure about his casting for ‘Captain Christopher Pike’. Turns out, I had nothing to be afraid of. He was perfect for the part! He played Pike as somewhat Kirk-like — e.g., his sense of humor — but also different enough to be… Pike. He was a great Captain, loyal and appreciative of his crew, a good tactician, willing to sacrifice himself, etc. I think the decision to temporarily give him command of Discovery worked quite well for the story and, afaik, didn’t interfere with canon. Count me among those who would like to see another series centered on Pike, Spock, and the Enterprise.

Given that Spock is… Spock, and I’ve been a fan since the mid-70s, I can’t help but be critical of anyone other than Leonard Nimoy attempting to portray him. But, of course, no one is going to look, sound, or act exactly like the original. So, with that said, I think Ethan Peck ended up doing a terrific job. We got to see Spock at an even earlier place in his personal development than ever before (setting aside previous glimpses into his childhood in “Star Trek: The Animated Series”, that is). We didn’t see him grinning and outwardly exuberant as in “The Cage”/”The Menagerie”, but we did see him struggling with strong emotions. Much of that was due to the aforementioned reunion with his foster sister, from whom he has been estranged for a couple decades.

It was most gratifying to witness the healing process, though, once the true cause of the estrangement was revealed. In particular, it became apparent how much Spock and Michael love and respect each other, as well as how much he depended on her to help him find the “balance” between logic and emotion (despite their long estrangement). In truth, Michael helped to shape Spock into the character fans have known and loved for 50+ years. Her final piece of advice to him was a gift that long-time fans know will lead to his strong friendship with James Kirk — and, arguably, Leonard McCoy. Excellent! Also, finally seeing a clean-shaven Spock in science-blue, on the bridge of the Enterprise, makes me want a Pike/Spock-led spinoff to happen even more.

“The Story”

Some have complained about the writing in Season 2 (as they did for Season 1), calling it “hokey” or full of “massive plot holes” or whatever. Personally, I think the writing was pretty darn good, and the complainers are setting too high a standard. Taking the season as a whole, yes, it might have been a little uneven. There were occasional plot holes and things that, upon further reflection, didn’t make sense. (For example, in the last episode, how the heck did that one bulkhead so greatly reduce the projected damage to the saucer-section and also completely protect Pike, who was practically at the center of the blast?) Is it annoying? Frustrating? Definitely. But, that is true for any series I can think of, including such standouts as “The Sopranos” and “Babylon 5”. And, yes, that includes every other ST series, as well. (I think I said as much in my Season 1 review, too.)

I will say that, just as when Discovery went to the “Mirror” universe in Season 1, I was surprised they used time travel in Season 2. On the one hand, it seems like the writers/producers feel a need to return to familiar (and popular) territory. Why? On the other hand, many fans find this comforting, cheering for connections to the old favorites. Plus, the writers gave us decent stories that expanded our knowledge (“Mirror” universe; Empress Georgiou) and introduced new methods/tech (time-suit; time crystals). Of course, the whole idea of using Captain Pike, Number One, and (eventually) Spock from the Enterprise could be seen as a similar tactic, and one that worked incredibly well. (Fans loved it, including me!)

One thing that has sort of irked me is that the show has not been more focused on the “lower ranks”, as it had originally been billed. (Or, at least, that was the impression I had.) In actuality, we have another triumvirate, with Cmdr. Burnham as the focus but followed closely by Cmdr. Saru and the revolving captains (i.e., Georgiou, Lorca, Pike). In a way, this is too bad, because I thought the new approach could give an interesting perspective. To be fair, we have at least gotten to know Stamets and Tilly pretty well. I’d like to know more about Owosekun (aka “Owo”), Detmer, Rhys, and Bryce, though. (R.I.P., Airiam, we hardly knew ye.) I haven’t read anything about it, but I’m guessing that the writers/producers just decided that the old formula (with a little variation) worked better. And, tbh, that’s probably true. However, showrunner Alex Kurtzman has confirmed, “We’re going to be using all of them much, much more.”

One of the best episodes this season was #8 (‘If Memory Serves’), which brought Spock and Pike back into contact with Vina and the Talosians. (Another nice tie-in to ST:TOS.) Episode #11 (‘Perpetual Infinity’) was also an excellent episode with great performances by Martin-Green and Sohn in particular. (Fun Fact:  In the flashback, Burnham’s biological father was played by Kenric Green, real-life husband of Sonequa Martin-Green.) And I definitely have to include the season finale (‘Such Sweet Sorrow’) — particularly the second Part — in my list of top episodes. This was great Trek and great writing in general.

That finale finally gave us the solution we needed for why the Spore Drive was never used in other ST series. If Starfleet takes Spock’s recommendation, all records of Discovery and her crew will be erased and talk of them banned within Starfleet, so I guess that’s supposed to answer why Spock (and maybe Sarek) never mentioned Burnham before. (Or, would that be, later?) But, conspiracies and associated cover-ups are less likely to work the more people that are involved, so I don’t quite buy it. Plus, any Starfleet-wide ban wouldn’t hold sway over Klingons, Kelpians, Queen Po (love her!), Amanda, or anyone else Discovery encountered while it was in service. Details, details…

The Discovery‘s travel 950 years into the future sets up Season 3 for a very different situation to deal with, though one similar to when they jumped to the “Mirror” universe in Season 1. It will put them beyond even the period that “Crewman” Daniels (“Enterprise”) came from. Will Discovery be able to wipe out the Sphere data with advanced tech? Will they get in trouble for violating the Temporal Accords? Will they jump into the middle of another war or the aftermath of one? Will they ever return to the mid-23rd century? And, where/when is Dr. Gabrielle Burnham? We certainly don’t have any answers, and Kurtzman ain’t talkin’. But, you can bet, despite my complaints about the series, I eagerly await the (continued) adventure!

P.S. Saru gets my vote for who assumes the captain’s chair. Burnham, naturally, should double as Chief Science Officer and First Officer, as her brother will on the Enterprise in a few years. 🙂

Report from Newsy McNewserson

I have a smattering of genre news bits for you that caught my attention over the past couple weeks or so. Let’s get right to ’em…

1) Some of you may remember when I wrote last year about the live-action adaptation being developed of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s “Y: The Last Man” comic series. While I liked the comic, I was very disappointed in the direction Vaughan and the showrunners, Michael Green and Aida Mashaka Croal, had decided to take the TV version. Well, Green and Croal recently tweeted that:

“FX has decided not to move forward with our series in its current form…. We hoped to reward their talent and their trust not just with success but with a show that had something to say, in a time when things must be said. As Y fans ourselves, we hope the future allows just that.”

That suits me just fine. However, given Vaughan’s earlier statements, I have no confidence that things will turn out much better. (For example, the fact that they changed the Yorick character from amateur magician/escape artist into a “brilliant young geneticist” is just wrong, imho.) And, yes, FX is still moving forward with the project, though we don’t know, yet, which if any of the impressive cast — who had been “scheduled to soon begin production for a 2020 debut” — are still attached.

2) Have you watched the season/series finale for “Gotham”, yet? (It airs the night after this gets posted.) Obviously, I haven’t, as of this writing. But, the trailer was rather titillating, with Penguin and Riddler getting more iconic looks, the disfigured inmate J(oker), and other characters, all of which happens after a 10-year jump forward.

One character that was not fully revealed in the trailer was Catwoman. However, it was announced that Camren Bicondova decided to opt out of trying to play a 10-years-older version of Selina Kyle, so she happily passed the baton (and her blessing) to Lili Simmons. Bicondova tweeted:

“It’s important to me that I’m the one to tell you this because it was a choice that I made…. I firmly believe that part of leaving a legacy and being part of a legacy means knowing when to pass the torch to someone else. I was blessed to be the vessel for Selina Kyle for her formative teen years, and it only felt right to give someone else the torch for her adult self….”

A mature decision and probably the right one. Now, if only they had replaced David Mazouz — a slender 5’9.5″ with still-boyish appearance– as Bruce Wayne / Batman. I am glad that they jumped the show/characters forward 10 years, with Bruce having been away all that time, presumably learning all kinds of skills and knowledge. But, it will be a stretch to accept him as a 27-year-old, let alone as the imposing, scary crimefighter known as the ‘Batman’. Let’s hope Mazouz at least had time to bulk up some before they shot the finale.

3) “The Gifted” is not being renewed for a 3rd season. Apparently, despite being rated consistently well at IMDB, the show’s actual rating in the key 18-49 demographic went from bad in Season 1 to worse in Season 2. “Black Lightning”, however, despite lower IMDB ratings, has been picked up for a 3rd season. I have mixed feelings about both. I (mostly) enjoy both shows, yet I don’t always look forward to watching them. They both have interesting elements, but neither has lived up to my hopes for them. For “The Gifted”, at least, it looks like I wasn’t the only one disappointed. [Note: I’m still working my way through both shows, so I’m hoping the current seasons end well.]

4) Another genre show that was renewed for a second season is Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy”, based on the comic series — really, three (so far) mini-series — by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. I never read the comics, nor have I watched the Netflix series, yet. (Looking forward to it, though.) Obviously, then, I can’t comment on the adaptation or its faithfulness to the source material. From what I understand, though, both the comics and TV show are quite popular, so I’m sure the fans are rejoicing at this news. (Especially since the first season ended on a cliffhanger!)

5) The cast and crew of DC’s new “Swamp Thing” show got a bit of a shock the other day.

“The currently in-production project is being shut down earlier than expected as its producer, Warner Bros., evaluates the future of its DC Universe streaming service, on which the series was scheduled to premiere May 31, according to several sources within the local industry.”

The original 13-episode order is being cut to 10, with a bit of additional footage expected to shoot “to give the season a conclusion”.

6) The Season 2 trailer for “Krypton” dropped and… it looks good. Zod is now in control, Seg-El leads the rebellion, creepy Brainiac guy is still around (hangin’ out in a forest, apparently), the Doomsday creature is (or will be) loose, and everyone’s favorite Czarnian, Lobo, shows up. This does not bode well for Seg and his friends. As in the first season, the effects are pretty cool, and we may even get a spaceship or two. Doomsday looks a helluva lot better than the version from Man of Steel. Lobo, on the other hand, is just another alien with a British accent. What little can be seen and heard on the trailer, he sounds like John Constantine from “Legends of Tomorrow”, except with a beefier, Czarnian look. (The actor, Emmett J. Scanlan, appeared twice on the “Constantine” series.) Not enough fraggin’ muscles, though, and not enough attitude, if ya ask me. Still, I generally liked the series in Season 1, and I’m sure I’ll (eventually) watch Season 2.

7) Finally, a couple updates re the Picard-centered Star Trek series. First, four new castmembers have been added since I posted about the show: Australian newcomer Evan Evagora, Allison Pill (“The Newsroom”, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), Harry Treadaway (“Penny Dreadful”, “Mr. Mercedes”), and relative newcomer Isa Briones (“American Crime Story”). Assuming they have all been cast for the main characters described in my earlier post, my money is on Evagora as young Romulan “K’Bar” and Treadaway as either “Lawrence” or “Starton”. Pill is also 30-something, so she could play “Connie” (originally described as African-American) or, I suppose, “Lawrence” or “Starton” (originally described as male). Briones is most likely “Indira”, though if they re-wrote the “K’Bar” character as female, she could play that one.

Michael Chabon, one of the writers and executive producers, provided our second update. He announced the other day that the series had officially begun production in California. And, while Hanelle Culpepper is still directing the first two hours of the show, Jonathan Frakes will be helming the second two. Yaayyy!

Comms off for this week….

More Kaiju Goodness

“This world doesn’t belong to us.” — mantra of Monarch

When I was a young lad, one of my favorites things to do on a weekend afternoon was to watch either an old Tarzan movie, martial arts movie, or big monster movie on TV. Godzilla? King Kong? Loved ’em. Following up on last week’s “notable genre anniversaries” post, which included the original Godzilla (1954) film, I decided to relay some information I’d come across regarding more Godzilla and related movies planned for the future.

First, what does Legendary/Warner Bros. have in store for us?

Godzilla (2014)

Back in 2010, Legendary Pictures signed a licensing deal with the Japanese Toho Co. that allowed the former (partnered with Warner Bros.) to develop their own Godzilla films. In 2014, we got Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards, which was generally positively reviewed by critics and fans alike. (Didn’t hurt that it grossed $200,000,000 domestically and $529,000,000 worldwide.)

With the successful release of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island (2017), audiences were treated to a reboot of another (though non-Japanese) legendary (heh!) beast. Also part of Legendary’s ‘MonsterVerse’, this film took place in 1973 and referred to other M.U.T.O.s (i.e., Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) that the Monarch group (founded in 1946) were aware of. Most enlightening was the post-credits scene, in which the survivors joined Monarch and were shown cave paintings of creatures that looked rather like Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra.

Though they have been teasing it for a couple years, we know for a fact now that these four monsters (called “Titans” in the film) will all clash — along with a few more, apparently — in writer-director Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, due out May 31, 2019.

Want a sneak peek? Check out the cool trailer at the bottom of the post, then come back here…

For a few more details, including mini-spoilers, give this article a gander: “Set Visit: Everything We Learned from the Godzilla: King of the Monsters Set”.

Fans will have to wait less than a year after that for the long-anticipated Godzilla vs. Kong, due out March 13, 2020. Director Adam Wingard just announced that principal photography has wrapped in Australia. The next few weeks (months?) will see visual effects and music incorporated, along with final editing during the post-production phase.

As I recall, the old King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) was one of the goofier Godzilla movies — and that’s saying something! 🙂 Part of it was the laughable ape-suit they used for the Kong actor. Ugh! Fortunately, we already know that the new, CGI Kong looks tons better. Speaking of “tons”, there is a size issue. The original Kong was under 20′ tall, but he was nearly 150′ in King Kong vs. Godzilla. Just as well, or the 164′ classic Godzilla would’ve made short work of him. They shrunk Kong down again to about 66′ in the ’60s, then 55′ for the 1976 King Kong remake. The 2005 remake shrunk him down again to about 25′.

Godzilla’s size hasn’t fluctuated quite as much, but the Legendary version is 355′ tall! The newest Kong we saw on Skull Island (2017) is said to be 104′, relatively young, and still growing. So, with Godzilla vs. Kong being a sequel to both Kong: Skull Island (set in 1973) and Godzilla (present-day setting), I can only guess that they will have Kong triple in size over the nearly 50 intervening years, in order to put him in the same league as Godzilla. (I wonder if he gets to move to a bigger island, too….)

Alright, what about Toho?

Shin Godzilla (2016)

I have not yet watched Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla Resurgence in the U.S.) (2016), which altered the origin, appearance, and powers from the original and most familiar version. (Its fourth form is most like the classic version, though it stands more than 30 feet taller than even the Legendary version.) Despite Shin Godzilla being the highest-grossing live-action Japanese film of 2016, it will not get a sequel. This is due to the deal Toho made with Legendary Pictures to create their ‘MonsterVerse’. However, Shin Godzilla‘s co-director, Shinji Higuchi, has said that deal ends after 2020. This would explain why no other MonsterVerse movies have been announced to follow 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong. (Too bad, though, ‘cuz I’d love to see Legendary’s take on more kaiju.) Toho should then be free to film their own versions. And they have big plans…

Citing the integrated Marvel Cinematic Universe as a model, here is what Keiji Ota, Toho’s Chief Godzilla Officer, told Nikkei Style:

“[A]fter 2021, we’re thinking of a potential strategy that [releases] Godzilla movies uninterrupted at a rate of every 2 years, although there is a preference for a yearly pace as well.

The future of the series and its forwarding developments are very conscious of the method of ‘shared universe’. Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, etc. could all share a single world view much like a Marvel movie where Iron Man and the Hulk can crossover with each other. It is said that each movie can be a possible film production where any one of them could lead a film of their own as the titular character.”

Sounds like the good ol’ days to me, though perhaps with more latitude for additional kaiju to headline their own flicks.

So, while Legendary’s post-2020 kaiju projects appear non-existent at this point, Toho seems quite prepared to launch a new MonsterVerse-like era of their own. With this “World of Godzilla” in the making, it seems fitting to utter a familiar refrain:

“Long live the king!”

Or, should that be “kings”?

I dunno about you, but I’m looking forward to some monster-sized mayhem over the next few years! 😉

=================================

Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2019, Part 2 of 3

“There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call… The Twilight Zone.” — Rod Serling’s opening narration of “The Twilight Zone” original series

A couple weeks ago, I wrote briefly about The Matrix (1999), Stargate (1994), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), The Terminator (1984), and William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) novel. This week, we’ll look at a few more of 2019’s anniversaries of significant sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure genre properties. Let’s begin with…

Alien (1979): 40 years

Forty… years. Holy cow!

Written by Dan O’Bannon & Ron Shusett and directed by Ridley Scott, this sci-fi/horror masterpiece became a nearly instantaneous modern classic and kicked off a panoply of sequels and imitations. The horrific xenomorph of the title, with “acid for blood” and jutting mouth-within-its-mouth, was designed by Swiss artist H.R. Giger, making both Giger and the alien into genre icons. The film, which cast included talents like John Hurt and Ian Holm, made relative newcomer Sigourney Weaver, who portrayed the Nostromo‘s reluctant heroine (‘Ellen Ripley’), into a genre fan-favorite, as well.

Alien, which had been pitched to studios as “Jaws in space”, enjoyed both critical and financial success, grossing $80.9 million in the United States, while international box office estimates have varied from $24 million to $122.7 million. (Total worldwide gross was somewhere between $104.9 million and $203.6 million.) It won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and was also nominated for Best Art Direction. It received BAFTA nominations for Best Costume Design (John Mollo), Best Editing (Terry Rawlings), Best Supporting Actor (John Hurt), and Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Role (Sigourney Weaver). It received awards and additional nominations at both the Saturn Awards and Hugo Awards. Jerry Goldsmith’s score was nominated for a Golden Globe, a Grammy, and a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.

Critiques of the film have become generally more positive, but early critical analysis was somewhat mixed. Much of the controversy has been centered on its sexual overtones. O’Bannon admits that he very much intended to mess with audiences’ — especially the males’ — heads re sexual fears, assumptions, etc. This is all done via the xenomorph’s somewhat androgynous design and various features and behaviors that represent sex organs, rape, etc. Nasty stuff, and I’m glad most of it went right over my head, so I could enjoy it as a straight-up sci-fi/horror flick. Apparently, some astute critics picked up on it, though. O’Bannon has also stated that the story was “strongly influenced, tone-wise, by Lovecraft,” which was the aspect that most attracted Giger to the project.

Moving on… There have been three direct sequels (Aliens (1986), Alien³ (1992) and Alien: Resurrection (1997)), two crossovers (AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004), Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)), two prequels (Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017)), all with varying levels of success. (I have written here about an Alien 5 being developed by Neill Blomkamp, but that appears to have been shelved.) There have been multiple comic series, novels, video/computer games, various home video options, etc.; and, just the other day, a High School in New Jersey began performing their play adaptation. I’m guessing it’s at least PG-13….

Starship Troopers (1959): 60 years

Following the U.S. suspension of nuclear testing, legendary writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote the military science fiction novel, Starship Troopers. (He was fiercely anti-communist and pro-nuclear testing.) Actually, it was first printed in two parts as “Starship Soldier” in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Heinlein’s regular publisher found it too controversial; besides, they were used to Heinlein’s more youth-oriented fare. So, he turned to Putnam, which published it in Dec. 1959.

The story is interspersed by scenes with the central protagonist (‘Johnny Rico’) and others discussing “philosophical and moral issues, including aspects of suffrage, civic virtue, juvenile delinquency, and war; these discussions have been described as expounding Heinlein’s own political views…. A coming-of-age novel, Starship Troopers also critiques U.S. society of the 1950s, argues that a lack of discipline had led to a moral decline, and advocates corporal and capital punishment…. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960, and garnered praise from reviewers for its scenes of training and combat and its visualization of a future military.” Sci-fi critic Darko Suvin has called it the “ancestral text of U.S. science fiction militarism.”

But, not everyone agreed with Heinlein’s views, of course. The book (and Heinlein himself) was accused of everything from fascism & militarism to racism & sexism. Heinlein is credited with introducing the novel (heh-heh) idea of powered armor exoskeletons. These, along with his political views and ideas about a futuristic military, have influenced or inspired other authors/novels, which sometimes present an opposing view (e.g., Haldeman’s The Forever War, Harrison’s Bill, the Galactic Hero). The live-action movie adaptation (1997), written by by Ed Neumeier and directed by Paul Verhoeven, used many character names and plot details from the novel; but, it had a very different, ironic/sarcastic tone, with a lot of fascist imagery. Also, fans of the novel didn’t like that the powered armor technology had been left out.

There have been four, straight-to-DVD sequels to the film: Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004) and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008) were live-action, whereas Starship Troopers: Invasion (2012) and Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars (2017) were animated. An animated, Japanese adaptation (“Starship Troopers”, in 6 parts) was released on Laserdisc in 1988 which was “far closer in tone to the original novel”, and an English-language animated TV series (“Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles”) ran from 1999-2000. There have also been comics, board games, and PC & web-based games.

The Twilight Zone (1959): 60 years

Another genre landmark from 1959 was CBS’s debut of the world-renowned anthology TV series, “(The) Twilight Zone”, created and presented by Rod Serling. Recognized for its signature creepy music and Serling’s opening and closing narrations (see quote at top of post), the series blended sci-fi & fantasy with psychological horror, suspense, and the supernatural/macabre. There were often surprising twists, and some episodes were quite bizarre. The show was also noted for its socio-political commentary and moral-of-the-story lessons, while exploring such themes as prejudice, love, war, revenge, obsession, etc.

The series was both a popular and critical success, and several episodes (e.g., “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” starring William Shatner; “It’s a Good Life” starring Billy Mumy; “To Serve Man” starring Richard Kiel; “Time Enough at Last” starring Burgess Meredith; “Eye of the Beholder” starring Maxine Stuart) have themselves become genre icons. The talented Mr. Serling wrote nearly two-thirds of the episodes, but the show also boasted noted writers that included Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Damon Knight, Jerome Bixby, et al. No big surprise, then, that the show is often considered one of the best dramas of all time — genre or otherwise.

The franchise has gone on to include a radio series (2002–12), a comic book, novels, a magazine, various types of games (e.g., board, card, video, pinball), live theater productions, and a theme park attraction. A Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) feature film led to a revival of the TV series that ran on CBS from 1985 to 1989. A 1994 TV film, Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics, was based on two previously unknown pieces discovered by Serling’s widow. A second series revival aired 2002-2003 on UPN, and a third reboot just kicked off on April 1, 2019, on CBS All Access. Unfortunately, I understand that the first episode of the latest series was laced with ham-handed bits of leftist ideology. Not a good sign. But, one can always return to the earlier series for more subtle — or, at least, more deftly handled — socio-political commentary while traveling the fifth dimension.

Godzilla (1954): 65 years

Directed by Ishiro Honda and featuring special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, the Japanese film Godzilla (transliterated from Japanese ‘Gojira’) initiated both the kaiju subgenre and “suitmation” F/X. (Btw, can you imagine if they had stuck with their original idea of a gigantic octopus instead of the dinosaur-inspired monster we know and love?) “Kaiju”, you ask? That would be a reference to giant monsters (literally, “strange beasts”) that typically cause massive amounts of mayhem, either on their own or fighting each other. Other examples include Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Gamera, Megalon, Mechagodzilla, Hedorah, etc. It should be noted that Godzilla is sometimes portrayed as the “bad guy” (as in the original film), but sometimes he is a “good guy”, defending humanity from other monstrous foes.

The 1954 film contained “political and social undertones relevant to Japan at the time.” When it was licensed to Jewell Enterprises in 1956 for a North American version, roughly 30 minutes of Japanese-specific themes and commentaries were cut and replaced by new scenes “featuring Raymond Burr interacting with Japanese actors and look-alikes to make it seem like Burr was a part of the original Japanese production. In addition, sound-effects and soundtracks were tweaked and some dialogue was dubbed into English.” One of the more transferable concerns reflected in the story was that of reckless use of nuclear power and resulting radioactivity, as embodied by Godzilla himself. Later films also addressed threats like pollution, genetic engineering, and extraterrestrials.

Originally commissioned by Toho to capitalize on the successes of the 1952 re-release of King Kong and 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Godzilla‘s popularity led to an incredibly successful franchise. According to Wikipedia,

“It is recognized by the Guinness World Records to be the longest continuously running movie franchise, having been in ongoing production from 1954 to the present day, with several hiatuses of varying lengths…. From 1954 through 2018, there have been 32 Godzilla films produced by Toho in Japan. There have been several American productions: adaptations including Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, King Kong vs. Godzilla and Godzilla 1985, and three Hollywood productions: Godzilla (1998) produced by TriStar Pictures, and Godzilla (2014) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) produced by Legendary Entertainment in partnership with Warner Bros. Pictures.”

In addition to inspiring giant monster movies around the world, the Godzilla franchise has expanded into television (including animated series and even guest appearances in the live-action “Zone Fighter” (1973)), books, comics and manga, video games, and references in music, along with tons of related merchandise. In short, it is a surprising, pop-culture phenomenon that brings joy to millions.

Who would have thought that a big lizard with radioactive breath and a “yell” as distinctive as Tarzan’s would be such a hit? All in all, what 1954’s Godzilla began is quite impressive, considering most of the time the main star is basically a guy in a monster suit, kicking and smashing his way through miniature sets and wrestling other guys in monster suits.

All done. See ya next time…