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Archive for May, 2012


By C.J. Bunce

Outer space looks so peaceful and tranquil from the images we have received over the years from NASA astronauts.  Yet the reality of space is that it is an unforgiving place, and impossible to survive in without adequate protective gear.  Without a space suit you would lose consciousness within seconds because there is no oxygen.  Blood boils and then freezes because of the lack of air pressure.  Extreme changes in temperature would kill you one way or the other:  In sunlight temperatures reach 248 degrees Fahrenheit and in shade temperatures drop to -148 Fahrenheit.  And you’d be exposed to radiation.  Basically, no spacesuit… and you’re done for.

Above is an image of the actual space suits used by American astronauts in the 1960s and 1970s.  I grew up with stories from my dad about being on one of the recovery ships for John Glenn’s (first!) historic space flight.  I was fortunate to have worked with a NASA spacesuit on display at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution on the Moon Landing’s 20th anniversary, and witnessed the three Apollo 11 astronauts speaking of their journey.  Since then I have met two other men who went to the moon.  On the one hand they are just people like everyone else.  On the other, they all realize they have done something incredible.

Harrison H. Schmitt, the 12th and last man to walk on the moon, at book launch with Elizabeth C. Bunce and C.J. Bunce.

I’ve also been lucky enough to see in person not only the several space capsules in Washington, DC, but something I never thought I’d see when I was a kid–Gus Grissom’s Liberty Bell 7 capsule, cleaned up after being found at the bottom of the Atlantic resulting from his controversial flight.  Real life space travel carries a special kind of magic, and to try to match it, Hollywood has its work cut out for it.

Gus Grissom’s restored Liberty Bell 7 module, now at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.

More than a century of science fiction has recognized the need for some travel suit or the other for space travelers of the future.  As reflected in science fiction films, costumers in Hollywood have adapted to the cutting edge science of the day to perfect the look and feel of the future for their science fiction fan audience.  But it wasn’t until the space race that the modern real space suit look was established as the standard, when costumers realized that realistic travel in space required pressurized suits, including what is obvious today, components like gloves and airtight helmets.

Whether film producers are making TV series or movies, space suits end up as a large chunk of the production budget.  Looking right costs money.  Leading the way in the future of dress in outer space was the original Star Trek series and subsequent Star Trek series.  But because of budget constraints there was a surprising lack of actual space suits on each of these series.  Even though the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation referred to their shipwear as “space suits” on a daily basis on set, that’s not the type of gear we’re discussing here.  A chronicle of those types of suits would fill a book, from Star Trek to Babylon 5 to all the other science fiction TV series made by the Syfy Network alone.  Those typically form-fitting and more military styled suits were a much cheaper way to make a TV series that could survive financially.  Likewise, we’ll save for another day space pilot suits, like Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing fighter flight suit from Star Wars and Apollo’s Viper flight suit from Battlestar Galactica.  But even Star Trek was able to spend budget dollars on space “outer wear” over the years from time to time.

The following is a look at the change of the design of the space suit in film over the years.  Literally thousands of artists’ renderings of space suits can be found in countless covers to pulp novels, comic books, and other works, too.  Many of them influenced or mirrored the designs below, and ultimately the costume designers rarely stray from reflecting the forward looking vision of their time.

In the 1902’s A Trip to the Moon, probably the first real science fiction film, they didn’t even bother with a space suit, just the explorer’s formal dress of the day.

The dawn of sci-fi serials arrived.  In the 1950s serial Captain Video, the heroes wore basically modified football helmets and contemporary air force gear.

But Captain Video also had more futuristic garb.

In 1950’s Destination Moon, we see the first of the color-coded space walkers, a concept used as recently as in Star Trek 2009.

In 1950’s Space Patrol we begin to see a costuming theme–the multiple cuff rolls–an element that makes it to the Star Trek movies in the form of the radiological suits.

In 1951, serious science fiction comes of age with The Day the Earth Stood Still, and with it we get a peak at not what Earthlings might wear in space, but what the aliens already there wear.

In Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) we see more of the rolled armwear that would become typical of 1950s TV and film, and the glass globe found in many lesser sci-fi works.

More cuff rolls! With the comedy Have Rocket Will Travel (1959) the Three Stooges enter the Space Age.

Throughout the span of the series, The Twilight Zone featured several episodes focusing on astronauts, and made the best of a small budget, including these costumes in the episode Elegy…

… and Little People, again with the football helmet.

In 1961, no “costume” was necessary as Earth witnessed the first astronaut donning a space suit in outer space, with Yuri Gagarin’s epic flightas the first human in space.

In 1965 Lost in Space not only featured John Williams’ first sci-fi soundtrack, but cutting edge, cool space stories and characters filled the TV screen, including Dr. John Robinson’s space suit.

The TV series The Outer Limits offered up various versions of spacesuits in the early 1960s, but no performance in-suit was as memorable as that of William Shatner in the episode “Cold Hands, Warm Heart,” a realistic space suit like those worn by real astronauts.

In the 1970s one of my favorite comedic actors was Jerry Lewis. Being a kid I laughed at everything he did, and I remember not quite understanding more of the risque bits of his 1966 film with Connie Stevens about bringing both sexes together in space: Way, Way Out. It also makes me think this was the start of me thinking all space suits should be made of aluminum fabric.

My love of the silver space suits, of course, may also be because of the Mercury program space suits…

… and of the great astronaut G.I. Joe.

In 1966 the original Star Trek arrived. I’m not sure if it is truly a space suit or more of protective wear, but here is Spock sporting full gear in the episode The Naked Time.

1967 saw the first of the James Bond films addressing outer space with You Only Live Twice, with Russians in space.

In the bawdy comedy In Like Flint, James Coburn ends up in space with a silver suit… and good company

The typical bumbling Don Knotts role was even more fun in space, as seen in 1967’s The Reluctant Astronaut.

In 1968 Star Trek got real space suits instead of velour shirts, as seen here worn by the Enterprise crew in the classic episode The Tholian Web.

Upping the ante, Stanley Kubrick spared no expense to create multiple space suit variants for 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Here we have that color-coding concept again.

Here is David’s red-orange suit close-up.

And the yellow version of the suit.

And 1960s camp participated in the Space Race as well, as seen in 1968’s Barbarella.

But it didn’t stay on long.

In the same year, Charlton Heston & Co. soar off in space gear to a very familar planet in The Planet of the Apes.

Tons of Doctor Who shows featured often bizarre space travel outfits.  One Doctor Who special had its own take on the space suit, here in the 1968 film Doctor Who and the Wheel in Space.  (Watch out for those Cybermen!)

In 1971, Earthlings saw Heston’s character leave in a rocket and apes return in Escape from the Planet of the Apes.

Strange goings-on for Sean Connery’s James Bond in 1971’s Diamonds are Forever.

As a big John Carpenter fan, I was surprised his early film Dark Star was so hard to watch. And he used very odd space suits.

In 1975, Space: 1999 had Martin Landau and even women astronauts in these great, orange suits, similar to the Star Wars X-Wing pilot suits filmed around the same time.

I’ve heard that NASA loaned real space suits to The Six Million Dollar Man series for at least one episode. I wouldn’t be surprised, as they look perfect.

Here Jenny Agutter is shown guest starring on an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man in a great suit.

In 1977 Capricorn One showed us what conspiracy theorists thought all along, that even the real astronauts were wearing costumes. Waterston, Brolin, and Simpson.

Strangely enough there are not a lot of space suits used in the Star Wars series since, like Star Trek, they didn’t have pressurization or other environmental concerns with their vehicles. One standout is an astronaut hanging at the Mos Eisley spaceport cantina. This photo is actually from the Superbowl ad from this year, creatures created by Tom Spina Design.

The original cantina guy in space suit.

Between 1978 and 1982, Mork & Mindy catapulted Robin Williams career. He arrived in a space suit complete with strange helmet. The series had access to the Star Trek archives and was able to use original series costumes and props.

In this episode of Mork & Mindy, Mindy’s dad wears a space suit consisting of the Star Trek original series Tholian Web space helmet mismatched with The Naked Time protective suit!

Come back tomorrow and we will continue with part 2–42 more uses of space suits in TV and movies, from 1979 to today.

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The last big production of The Great Gatsby was in 1974 and starred Robert Redford as the awkward but admired aristocrat Jay Gatsby and Mia Farrow as the shallow Daisy Buchanan (Mira Sorvino and Paul Rudd starred in a smaller production of the story).  The actual star of the book and narrator of the original F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, the character Nick Carroway, was played by a youthful and energetic Sam Waterston in the 1974 film.

This Christmas, Leonardo DiCaprio will play Gatsby and genre favorite Carey Mulligan will play against type as a somewhat ethereal Daisy.  Ex-Spider-man actor Tobey Maguire will play Nick.

Here’s the first trailer for the film:

The first thing that jumps out is the lack of the defining component of the roaring twenties–jazz.  So whereas we see a lot of nice art deco components in the trailer, it doesn’t immediately conjure up 1920s, Fitzgerald’s book, and prohibition.  Hopefully this is just the Hollywood standard of putting up a preview with unrelated music, trying to get us caught up in the craziness of the story and the time period.  We haven’t seen a big historical film based in the 1920s for a while–maybe Chicago?

The cars look good–hard to fake that, but the costumes seem a little bit modernized to our eyes.  It will be interesting to see what the costume designer is going for here.  Maybe an updated feel?

Either way, we hope it’s a good stepping stone to more roles for Mulligan.

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Yes, I said “nearly perfect!”  While everyone is oohing and aahing over Avengers, don’t make the mistake of missing Men in Black 3.  It’s absolutely not Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Barry Sonnenfeld & Company have turned in a textbook example of how to make a sequel, even more than a decade since the last.

The winning buddy cops-slash-intergalactic INS agents formula has lost none of its freshness since the 1997 original team-up of Agents J and K played by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.  If anything, the bit has grown and deepened as the actors and the franchise have gotten a little older.  The worldbuilding remains original and exciting, and the time travel storyline only builds on that, in really fun and impressive ways.

As is pretty clear from the trailer, the story involves Agent J (Smith) traveling back in time to 1969 to work with a young Agent K, played by Josh Brolin (Milk, No Country for Old Men, Jonah Hex, Goonies).  It makes for a great mash-up of two classic sci-fi favorites, aliens + time travel.  The details of life in 1969–from Andy Warhol (SNL’s Bill Hader) to the Apollo 11 moon launch–are wonderfully wrought, particularly the gorgeous retro/space-age technology used by the MIB agency (watch for Agent K’s battery-operated neuralizer).

Performances turned in by all the cast range from solid to fantastic.  Plenty has been said in the press already of Brolin’s eerie channeling of Tommy Lee Jones’s established Agent K–but his performance is more than mere imitation.  He fully inhabits the role and makes it his own, a la Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films.  And his performance as the younger K shows us an entirely new side of the gruff agent, which drives the film’s emotional arc and provides much of the story’s heart.

Will Smith is top notch, as ever, proving that he remains one of the best actors of his generation.  Thanks to sharp scriptwriting by Etan Cohen (King of the Hill, Tropic Thunder), Agent J’s unique brand of swaggering humor rattles through the whole picture, providing many of the film’s sensational high points, from needling prickly partner K to guzzling chocolate milk to mouthing off to 1969 police officers.  But the best line of the whole movie is delivered by little Violet O’Hara of Apartment 5K.  It’s quiet, so keep your ears open.  Most of the audience in our showing missed it completely.

Equally impressive, and for which the filmmakers should be complimented, is the secondary cast, including several less recognizable actors.  In particular, Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire) provides some of the movie’s best moments, and was a real pleasure to watch as Griffin, a sort of prescient alien whose combination of knowledge and innocence makes him curiously endearing, reminiscent of a young Robin Williams’s Mork from Ork.  Rounding out the cast is Emma Thompson, in a fun role as Agent O (replacing Rip Torn’s Agent Zed as director of MIB).

If there are missteps, I’d have to say that Jones looks a little tired, and not in the worn-down-by-the-job way from MIB 1 and 2. Fortunately, most of Agent K is performed by Brolin in the scenes taking place in the past, and his energy leaves nothing wanting.  My biggest “complaint,” and the only reason I didn’t think the movie was perfect… well, unfortunately, that would be a spoiler.  Suffice it to say that there was a moment in the resolution we were led to expect, but the actual finish (although surprising) packed that much less emotional punch.  Hence, the teeny-tiny deduction.  Definitely not any reason to miss this great summer flick!

Review by C.J. Bunce

A modern reader will flinch a bit at Ian Fleming’s second James Bond novel, Live and Let Die.  His novel was written in 1954 through the eyes of an ex-British intelligence military officer and all the British imperialism of the time in which Fleming was writing spy novels.  Blacks are referred to as negroes throughout the book and it’s hard to separate whether the characters or narrator are guilty of the use of racial slurs attached to characters of almost every race, and even 1950s America is disparaged incessantly by Bond and the narrator throughout the book.

The villain of Live and Let Die is a large black man with “golden eyes” called Mr. Big.  By all accounts he is every bit the equal of any other mob boss from New York City’s history, only this mob boss is said to be the first criminal genius who is black.  He gets all the benefits of being a criminal mastermind and, indeed, gives Bond as much of a run for his money as any Bond villain.   M sends Bond on this mission in New York City, partnering with the CIA to attempt to track down a tie of rumored gold coin treasure of legendary pirate Captain Morgan and how Mr. Big is using the gold to fund his illegal enterprises.  Because Mr. Big is believed a spy for Russian agency SMERSH, whose agent left Bond’s hand branded as “spy” at the end of Casino Royale, Bond is eager to take out Mr. Big.  But Bond under-estimates this crime lord.  To give you an idea of the lens through which Fleming wrote the book, here’s an excerpt:

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a great negro criminal before,” said Bond.  “Chinamen, of course, the men behind the opium trade.  There’ve been some big-time Japs, mostly in pearls and drugs.  Plenty of negroes mixed up in diamonds and gold in Africa, but always in a small way.  They don’t seem to take to big business.  Pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought, except when they’ve drunk too much.
 
“Our man’s a bit of an exception,” said M.  “He’s not pure negro.  Born in Haiti.  Good dose of French blood.  Trained in Moscow, too, as you’ll see from the file.  And the negro races are just beginning to throw up geniuses in all the professions–scientists, doctors, writers.  It’s about time they turned up a great criminal.  After all there are 250,000,000 of them in the world.  Nearly a third of the white population.  They’ve got plenty of brains and ability and guts….”

The villain Mr. Big seems to mirror this in the climax of the book:

“In the history of negro emancipation, there have already appeared great athletes, great musicians, great writers, great doctors and scientists.  In due course, as in the developing history of other races, there will appear negroes great and famous in every other walk of life.  It is unfortunate for you, Mister Bond, and this girl, that you have encountered the first of the great negro criminals.”

So you not only have racist banter, you have the passing derogatory reference from a 1955 British society view, including the hinted weak attempt at the “but hey, jolly good, they’re giving it a good show,” and multiple attempts by Fleming to claim that he has managed to write the account of the first black villain of literature.  So the bottom line is this novel will make the average reader cringe, several times, throughout the story.  If you want to move past that part of the book, you’ll find the story and action rival that of his first novel, Casino Royale.

I had the benefit of reading Live and Let Die without reference to the Roger Moore film of the same name, the eighth in the Broccoli family’s cinematic productions.  But as much as I think I have seen all the Bond films multiple times, this story seemed unfamiliar.  It may be because bits of the novel are filtered through the movie adaptations Licence to Kill and For Your Eyes Only So I read it imagining Bond as current Bond actor Daniel Craig, but also trying to remember Sean Connery playing the role.  Only after finishing did I realize this was Roger Moore’s first role as Bond.  His more snobbish performances might very well have made him the better pick for this Bond story.

The co-star of this novel is American CIA agent Felix Leiter, and perhaps because I am an American reader, he has become my favorite supporting character in the new series, as played by black actor Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace He’s sort of the John Clark (from Tom Clancy’s novels) of the Bond world.  In my mind’s eye I saw Wright as Leiter here, but he was written and played in the films as a white Texan, so my thoughts of his Fleming’s clever use of Leiter helping Bond through understanding the politics of Harlem were just misplaced.  I also did not realize Yaphet Coto played Mr. Big onscreen and Jane Seymour as Bond-girl Solitaire.  Unlike Seymour’s typical role, the novel’s female conquest for Bond is neither independent nor strong.  But in trying to save her own life she manages to help Bond in the process, and is interesting as a second tier Bond partner.  And for my last movie reference I also admit I was tripped up every time M was referred to as male, as Dame Judi Dench’s seven portrayals on film now forever lock her as the only M in my mind.

Movies aside, as spy novels go, Live and Let Die stands on its own merits.  Peeling back the social commentary, James Bond in his second mission is both more accessible and emotional (he tears up once) and also more gritty.  His banter among spies rings of a predecessor to Richard Marcinko’s Rogue Warrior persona.  The most enjoyable trait is his loyalty, and even friendship, to Felix, and it is damage done to Felix that drives Bond’s motivation through half the novel.  Ian Fleming, who knew his hero at page one of his first novel, here leaves aside any character building and dives in head first with Bond as the fully realized master spy, fully aware of all the details in the room.  Fleming’s own life at his real-world estate called Goldeneye in Jamaica in particular is used to excellent effect in his descriptions and assessment of contemporary Jamaica.

Look for good sequences of Bond and Leiter being beaten in Harlem by Mr. Big’s henchmen, Felix’s “off-screen” bout with a shark in Florida, Bond exacting satisfying revenge for Felix, Bond’s attempt to save Solitaire from Mr. Big while uncovering the secret behind Captain Morgan’s gold as he swims in underwater gear off the coast of Jamaica, and finally, Mr. Big’s cunning method of concealing the gold and protecting his find from others.  A strange sub-culture of voodoo permeates the novel–Mr. Big uses black American workers across the country as his eyes and ears and to do so relies on their belief in and fear of voodoo.  This comes off as strange to the modern reader, particularly that all these people supposedly truly believe that Mr. Big is not the devil himself, but the devil’s own zombie.

Despite its shortcomings Live and Let Die features an action-packed story and Bond in spy mode as intriguing as ever.

Review by C.J. Bunce

In the climax of Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls, a battered Batman looks up and utters “…I am sick… to death… of owls!”  Me, too, I thought, after seven chapters of the first released hardcover of the New 52, written by Scott Snyder with pencils by Greg Capullo.  Hardly a page of the first seven issues of the rebooted Batman series does not include an owl, worked into the background or architecture or elsewhere.   There’s not a lot of subtlety to be found here.

Although I’d put David Peterson’s owl renderings in Mouse Guard up against Capullo’s any day, Capullo does a nice job of working owls into the story.  In fact his art and the overall look of this hardcover puts it in the camp of prior trade compilations like Batman: The Cult.  It certainly surpasses Grant Morrison and David McKean’s equally dark Arkham Asylum in both story and art.  That said, it fails to achieve the excitement, fun, and energy of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush or Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke, or the mythology of Batman found in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.  If you like your Batman not only dark but flawed, making as many bad decisions as good, and you’re tired of the recycled pantheon of Bat-villains, this book may be for you.  Unfortunately, the twists and excellent execution of story found in Issue #1 of this Batman series didn’t hold out, the owl-villainy doesn’t match the classic bat-villains, and so the series became monotonous and tired by Issue #7 for this reader.

I haven’t seen a lot of continuity of story presentation across the New 52 titles.  But of all the titles I’d hoped for more origin of Batman than is peppered in flashback through the first seven chapters of this compilation.  Had The Court of Owls been a story arc in a normal year of Batman stories, I may have actually appreciated it more.  But as part of a launch that was to allow new readers to enter and understand the series, I think this series doesn’t make any headway.  That said, what’s there really to understand?  It’s just Batman, right?  As the leading title of DC Comics, I think despite its great sales, the story doesn’t have broad appeal.  Why is everyone reading it then?  With all the Bat-titles in the reboot, this series started out as the best and is probably considered the best, but we’re all not just waiting for another good Batman story, we want another great Batman story and we’re willing to keep coming back until we get it.

The hook of the owl as a creature of night who eats bats as a visual or storytelling concept would have worked for me for an issue or two.  Today DC Comics have The Court of Owls – Night of the Owls story permeating throughout the DC New 52 titles as a crossover event.  What is the Court of Owls?  It’s a bit like an evil version of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, mixed with the Masons as revealed in the National Treasure series, and a chemical reaction that allows humans to be immortal.  Despite all the years of Bruce Wayne exploring and building out a batcave, and his long understanding of Gotham City as his city, suddenly we readers are introduced to a concept never before even hinted at, and a mention that… oh, yeah, Bruce Wayne tried to hunt down the Court of Owls as a kid and ultimately came to the realization they did not exist.  The problem is, unlike the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword’s noble cause, we are given no motivation for the Court’s evil doings.  They’re just bad guys.  If you had this much power, would you live like these masked ghouls under Gotham or would you live the high life?

That said, there is a lot to like in this series.  Snyder’s use of modern technology to assist Batman is well placed. Dick Grayson’s Nightwing has hardly been better as Batman’s sidekick, including a brilliant turn as Joker to fool the inmates of Arkham Asylum.  The entire supporting cast, although hardly used, have nice moments, including Tim Drake, Commissioner Gordon and even Alfred.   Capullo’s art is as good as any of Jim Lee’s best Batman work.  Capullo and Snyder both are obviously passionate about creating a complex Bat-tale, and for that, the book is worth a second read.  With that second read, more plotted foreshadowing can be found.  The Court of Owls was clearly not an easy tale to construct, both from a story concept or visually.  And as a starting point, Issue #1 is one of the best issues of Batman you’ll ever read.  If you like Batman in a chamber of horrors, Snyder and Capullo’s vision has the feel of the crazy masked club of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide ShutUnfortunately I just didn’t find the arc compelling enough to keep me hooked for all seven issues.

Batman: The Court of Owlsseems to borrow a bit from Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson’s Batman: The Cult in story and look.  Capullo’s depictions of a tortured Batman are equal to the horror and drama depicted in Bernie Wrightson’s panels in The Cult.  That’s high praise for Capullo as Wrightson’s work on The Cult was nicely done.  But I was never fond of Batman being duped and sucked into the villain’s world, or portrayed as less than genius, and even allowed to be beaten to a pulp.  All that happened in both Batman: The Cult and Batman: The Court of Owls This is why I found myself on the side of Nightwing in the sparring between the two–and I am not typically a fan of Nightwing.  I prefer my Bat-story to show Batman in the shadows more, as the detective who doesn’t become emotional or fall for the villains’ traps like the Batman of the camp 1960s TV series.  Finally, I was distracted by how much the Court’s henchman Talon looked like Watchmen’s cool hero Nite Owl.

Nite Owl from Watchmen.

A big plus of this hardcover edition can be found at the back of the book.  Snyder’s script for issues #1 and Capullo’s pencil roughs that accompany that story reveal some of their creative process, which I always love to see.  And along with Greg Capullo’s superb cover art (it’s great when a publisher allows the interior penciller to also create the cover art!), the appendix also includes full page color images of the alternate, incentive covers.

If you want to give Batman: The Court of Owls a try, it is now available at local comic book stores and online.  Editors Note:  Check out my review of the hardcover of Night of the Owls–all the crossover issues compiled–at this link.

They are three very different series, one an 11 season megahit, one a five season struggling hit, and the other a one-season series that missed its audience and hardly had a chance at all.  Fox’s House, M.D. finished its eleventh season Monday with a Hugh Laurie retrospective (where actors Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard end by trashing the production set) and a textbook finale episode.  USA Network’s In Plain Sight pulled itself together in the final two seasons and ended with a satisfying conclusion earlier this month–the best finale of the three series reviewed here.  NBC’s one season series Awake, a series inexplicably cut short when NBC continues other much weaker, tired programming, provided a rare opportunity to wrap a cancelled series, bookending a stunningly well written series with a clean finish in Thursday night’s finale.

If you haven’t seen these finales you’d do yourself a favor to stop, watch them online or elsewhere, and come back, as there be spoilers ahead here.

House, M.D. had some powerhouse seasons and a superb cast that was ever-changing.  That change took the series to a new level.  With Doctors Chase (Jesse Spencer), Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), and Foreman (Omar Epps) one-upping each other over the first seasons, and an ongoing “will they or won’t they” storyline between Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Greg House and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), it took the break-up of the team and a room full of candidates for House’s team to really show the series’ potential.  Enter Doctors Taub (Peter Jacobson), Kutner (Kal Penn), and the Doctors we knew as Cutthroat Bitch (Anne Dudek) and Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) in competition for House’s praise and a place on staff.  Only when the writers finally gave in and put House and Cuddy together did the show fall apart, but then a minor character named Martha Masters played by Amber Tamblyn turned the show around and it sailed in for a strong finish this season as we got to see House with his ideal wife, Dominika, played by Karolina Wydra.

But the writers always returned to what really gave the series heart–House’s friend Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard)–and creator David Shore all but admitted the inspiration for House in the finale’s retrospective.  As we’d always expected the House/Holmes (pronounce it “Homes” if you need to) and Wilson/Watson was intentional, including the House/Holmes brilliant analytical mind and antisocial nature, and to highlight it further the season finale mirrored the famous Sherlock Holmes case, “The Reichenbach Fall.”   Ultimately House, M.D. was a weekly buddy series, and the creators gave us the last scene we all needed.  A big plus for the finale was the return of past cast members, except the glaringly missing Cuddy, with even Kal Penn’s Kutner returning from the dead for an appearance.  And we knew that Doctor Chase would ultimately come out on top in the battle to replace House.  Taking the chair of House’s desk leaves us with the thought that the “show will go on” if not on TV then, by analogy, in real life.

In Plain Sight started almost unsure of what it wanted to be with star Mary McCormack playing an ever-irritable witness relocation program U.S. Marshal who was the bad end of a relationship with cool and (almost) decent boyfriend Raph (Cristian de la Fuente).  Then we began to understand her more as we met her disaster of a family, mom Jinx (Leslie Ann Warren) and sister Brandi (Nichole Hiltz).  Jinx and Brandi got so bad at points you felt bad for the actresses having to play these roles.  But Mary had the best support team you could wish on a person: partner Marshal Marshall Mann (played by Frederick Weller) (a strange character name that worked anyway) who was smart and full of brainy curiosities, and boss Stan McQueen (Paul Ben-Victor), a gruff but perfect-for-Mary leader of the Albuquerque federal office.  Creative differences almost lost the audience at the end of season two, but a re-focus on Mary prompted the series to pick itself up in time for actress Mary McCormack’s real-life pregnancy that the producers smartly just adapted for her character in season four, one of the best seasons of writing an acting for any actress on any television series.

As for the finale, the “will they or won’t they” angst we saw botched by allowing House and Cuddy get together, kept us guessing until almost the last scene for Mary Shannon and Marshall Mann.  When Marshall finally professes his love for Mary in the finale you could hear a collective sigh of relief across the viewing audience.  But it wasn’t what the passing viewer might think–it was true to both characters and simply a perfect climax to the relationship between these two partners, resulting in Marshall taking over the Albuquerque office where he could finally take care of Mary and still marry his fiancée Detective Chaffee (Rachel Boston), while Mary ends up with a new beau and boss Stan gets promoted to the Washington, DC office with new girlfriend Lia (Tia Carrere in the final season’s most refreshing new role).   As satisfying endings go, In Plain Sight simply was a winner.

As standalone episodes, the Awake finale packed a rollercoaster of action, twists, and emotion, with all the important plot threads nicely tied up.  The only problem with Awake likely was that it aired in a primetime slot on a major network.  On any other network–Fox, CW, USA, AMC–Awake would have found its audience and been a smash hit.  But NBC’s typical viewer does not like the clever supernatural drama as NBC has proven with prior cancellations year after year.  Awake was exciting, and included a cast of brilliant actors headlined by British actor Jason Isaacs, who, like fellow Brit Hugh Laurie, offered up a pitch perfect American accent.  Preparing for the worst, the creators readied a season finale that could stand strong as a series finale should the show get cancelled, and low viewership resulted in just that end.  Isaacs’ character Detective Britten never got any rest in season one–every time he awakened he was in a different reality–and it seemed as if Isaacs himself had a heavy burden playing this challenging character in an Emmy-worthy performance.  In fact, if Emmys nominees were being considered right now, you could bet Laurie, McCormack, and Isaacs would be strong contenders.

Awake’s finale allowed the supporting cast to shine–Detective Freeman (Steve Harris), Detective Vega (Wilmer Valderrama), and Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) and Dr. Lee (BD Wong) only scratched the surface of what future seasons could have revealed.  Missed opportunities, such as what was to happen between Detective Britten and Tara (Michaela McManus), will never be known. Although we will never learn the “why” of the series, the unravelling of the car crash that got Britten into the entire mess gave viewers what we wanted in the end–a way for Britten to undo the past, or at least move forward as if the crash never ruined his life.

Sadly, we likely will never see the one-season Awake characters again other than on DVD, but House, M.D. and In Plain Sight will likely visit us again and again forever in syndication.  The good news is that these great actors are now freed up to give us something else.  What will Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Mary McCormack, Peter Jacobson, Jesse Spencer and Jason Isaacs do next?

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Most reality TV and competition shows aren’t worth watching when compared to all the great TV writing available these days.  Two weeks ago in our Spring TV Wrap-up, we discussed the best of this past season, and you’ll notice there are no reality shows listed there.  Why?  The reality TV formula got old fast as the past decade moved along, as did competition shows generally.  Sure, American Idol and Top Chef still get big viewership numbers, and we drift back for an episode of Iron Chef once in a while, but at some point even their fans will dwindle.  Let’s face it, there’s something for everyone and we won’t knock it (it’s why having several hundred channels to choose from seems to be a very “American” thing) and fans of reality shows probably aren’t also watching our sci-fi, fantasy, and other genre programming.

That said, one of the more fun reality-esque shows because if its unique subject matter is starting its second season this week: the Syfy Channel’s Hollywood Treasure, which airs on Tuesday nights.  I was impressed that they changed up the show a bit for the season two premiere, and offered a lot of content anyone can enjoy.  Three key things make the series work.  First, although Hollywood Treasure has the obligatory formula for reality shows, including the repeated scenes that straddle each commercial break and make you race for the fast forward on the remote, the plain coolness of the subject matter of the show outweighs any reality show annoyance factor.  Second, the show focuses on the guys who run Profiles in History, consistently the entertainment memorabilia auction house that pulls in the highest sales of any auction house in the world, and items they sold at auction in the past year.  These guys run into all sorts of neat props and costumes from Hollywood and occasionally an actor or show creator.  Third, the guys who run the auctions and are featured in the show, Joe Maddalena, Jon Mankuta, Brian Chanes, and Fong Sam, are actually fans of genre films and comic books as much as they are businessmen.  I’d dealt with these guys in the past and they are always great to work with.  Some of the scenes are formulaic and more than a bit contrived, but their passion and excitement for memorabilia always shines through.

The highlight of episode one of this new season, and what will certainly keep watchers coming back for more if they can keep bringing in similar guests, is a segment where actor Sean Astin discussed movie props he owns (and used to own) from Rudy, Goonies and The Lord of the Rings.  Astin always has such an aura of authenticity that you can ignore all the theatrics and just enjoy seeing this guy simply talk about making movies.  The personal items he retained from playing Samwise Gamgee are certainly treasures any LOTR fan would love to get his hands on.

Astin kept his screenused backpack and pans, his Elvin pin, his bread pouch, and leather wineskin from The Lord of the Rings films.

Other sequences in this episode were an attempt to auction one of the four original sets of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz for $2 million, which Profiles was only able to sell after the fact by direct sale, still attaining the $2 million the owner wanted as a minimum reserve price.  In this sequence Profiles also revealed that they actively solicit buyers after sales for items that don’t meet the minimum reserve price–buyers that kick themselves later for not bidding, thinking the sell price will be out of their range.  In reviewing the slippers they got to visit what seemed like a private collector’s own Fort Knox lockdown facility.  Another segment featured Joe Maddalena buying a Jim Carrey hat and cane from Batman Forever, then trying to flip them at auction for profit.  And Maddalena also visited the Dreier collection of costumes and props, which is being auctioned off over a few years.

Profiles in History is the same auction house we discussed here last year that made all sorts of records selling off the Debbie Reynolds movie costume and prop collection, including the famed Marilyn Monroe Seven Year Itch subway vent scene dress and an Audrey Hepburn My Fair Lady dress, among millions of dollars in other sales, and the Captain America auction last month.  And these are the guys we caught up with last year at Comic-Con showing the Back to the Future III DeLorean.  Their auction website is www.profilesinhistory.com.  We hope they can keep up the momentum started in their first episode of season two all season long.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

By C.J. Bunce

Eclipsing the highly anticipated live action summer release The Dark Knight Rises, The Dark Knight Returns is up next.  An animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s 1986 seminal dystopian look at Batman is being produced by Warner Premiere/DC Comics Premiere Movies.

The news is somewhat bittersweet for diehard The Dark Knight Returns fans.  On the one hand, any well-done video adaptation would be a welcome sight.  That said, until we see a live action version of this major graphic novel, anything else is just something less than the potential that this property could realize in both viewers and revenues for DC.  Until we see Warner and DC Comics put this work on the big screen, we can’t get too excited here.

Providing the voice for the grim and hardened Batman is Peter Weller, who has been in several TV shows and movies, such as guest roles on House, M.D., Psych, Dexter, Fringe, Monk, 24, Star Trek: Enterprise, and key roles in the films Screamers, Leviathan, Buckaroo Bonzai, and of course, Robocop. It’s too bad this isn’t live action, as Weller’s great Robocop jaw could pull off the look of a 50-something Bruce Wayne.

This should be a good year for Weller, who also has an as yet-undisclosed role in the new Star Trek movie. And a resurgence of Robocop in light of a new big screen remake announced here previously should also shine a light on the original borg police officer.

Ariel Winter (Modern Family) will voice Robin, with Wade Williams (Prison Break) as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and genre favorite Michael McKean (This is Spinal Tap, Homeland, Smallville, Sesame Street, The X-Files, Star Trek Voyager, Saturday Night Live, Coneheads, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Clue), expected to portray the doctor from Arkham Asylum, and David Selby, likely to portray one of the villains.  (We hear Mckean got hit by a car this week, so we all hope he recovers quickly).

What should be highly anticipated, and has not yet been released, are the voice actors who will portray the key guest appearances in Frank Miller’s novel: Alfred Pennyworth, the Joker, Superman, and Green Arrow.  I’d expect some key voice actors for the various newscasters, too, assuming this film follows the original’s focus on economic turmoil and 1980s excess.

Fans of the animated Batman: Year One, released last year, may appreciate this new animated feature the most.  The plan is for The Dark Knight Returns to be released on two parts, the first by year end and the second in early 2013.  Unfortunately it is also direct to video—so you won’t find this one at a theater unless Warner gives a preview at the San Diego Comic-Con this year as they did with Batman: Year One last year.  The first photos released yesterday really don’t seem to grab Frank Miller’s rugged style, so hopefully the actual release is able to attain some of that from the original sourcework.

Bob Goodman (Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Static Shock) is writing the script for the film.  Storyboard artist and animation director Jay Oliva is directing.

Review by C.J. Bunce

A lot can be said for the DC Comics New 52 reboot, and without re-hashing every bit of that for the umpteenth time, one single high note comes to mind.  With so many #1 titles, with stories starting for the most part from scratch, it allows anyone to become a new reader, anyone to become a fan of something they weren’t a fan of before.

Oddly enough, when DC Comics said that they would have 52 titles, I actually believed them.  I am glad they didn’t stick with that approach.  Several books have been layered into the New 52, some relevant, some not.  Titles like Batman Incorporated and Huntress.  Another title I was surprised to see was Smallville: Season 11.  And I am surprised it is a good series adaptation.

Smallville, the TV series, at its high point had millions of fans.  Over its incredible ten-year run on the CW Network, it boasted both comic book fans and a mainstream audience.  It never grabbed me, but once in a while I’d watch an episode and could see the appeal.  As TV series are concerned, my preference was the earlier, slightly different but still similar Lois and Clark TV series.  That series featured Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane and Dean Cain as Clark Kent, and–one big difference from Smallville–Clark donning the Superman suit and cape.  Although I really liked Tom Welling in the remake of John Carpenter’s The Fog, it’s probably that distinction that kept me away from Smallville.

Smallville: Season 11 gives fans of the TV series Tom Welling finally portraying Superman, in the suit, and continues the story of the characters where the series left off.  This works like the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, etc. series–so long as every other panel is drawn to look like the actors who played the characters on TV, this can work.  It actually works really well with Smallville Issue #1.

Writer Brian Q. Miller knows the characters enough to make you feel like you’re watching the show, with snappy dialogue and a relevant story.  He should, as he wrote for the TV series.  The banter between Clark and Lois is likely the best part of the first issue, with Lois as a particularly funny character.  Pere Perez’s renderings aren’t picture perfect but he often nails the actors’ appearances and their roles, enough so that Smallville: Season 11 Issue #1 hits all its marks as you’d hope.  Perez gives readers several good splash pages of Welling as Superman.  Better yet, Miller and Perez give a substantial part of the story to Oliver Queen/Green Arrow and his wife Chloe Sullivan-Queen.  Here the differences between Smallville and the New 52 series are obvious, including the fact Oliver is married, confirming Smallville as a parallel universe story in the DCU.   As much as I know diehard Superman fans love the current Action Comics series, by comparison I found Smallville: Season 11 Issue #1 more interesting than Action Comics Issue #1.  I was also surprised I prefer the Justin Hartley-influenced Green Arrow look, vibe, and story in Smallville to the current New 52 Green Arrow series.

At a dense 33 pages, including an alternate cover image and recap of the TV series season 1, with Smallville: Season 11 you’ll for once feel like you got your money’s worth.

Just released is the new “super trailer” for the 23rd James Bond adaptation, Skyfall.

It pretty much speaks for itself.  You either like James Bond or you don’t (and how could you not?).  And fans will forever quarrel over who was the best Bond.  I’ve said before here at borg.com that what like about Daniel Craig is his ability to so easily and visibly take over the room as he enters, simply through his walk and attitude.  He has presence, and it reflects the sure-footed, suave, and brilliant character Ian Fleming created in his novels.

As Bond, Craig has become “the man every man wants to be, and the man every woman wants to be with.”  Craig is the ultimate British hero, but he plays it differently than the prior Bonds, a more modern type of British character.  In the trailer he appears as tough and thick-skinned as ever, and what’s that?  James Bond in jail for murder?  Will this third film with Craig be his last?

In his first role as Bond, Casino Royale, Craig took the character to new places returning to Bond’s first 007 super-spy mission.  Edgier than ever before, we saw someone in a foot race that seemed like he really was actually in a foot race and actually trying to catch the bad guy, and not caring whether he got scars along he way or his clothing rumpled, unlike some past Bonds.  Playing a high-stakes card game this Bond is not mild-mannered so much as cool and cocky.  Like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, this Bond doesn’t care what anyone else is doing around him.  As much as we are glued to the every move of each “Bond girl” in this film–Caterina Murino as the first bad guy’s girlfriend, and then Eva Green as Vesper, soon to be his first and last love in the series–they are focused on Bond.

The follow-up film, Quantum of Solace, whose title comes from a Fleming short story, was not as great from a story standpoint, but Craig made the best of it.  His best on-screen relationship is with Judi Dench’s M, who strangely comes across as a determined and scornful but somewhat caring mother figure to Bond as much as a boss and head of covert ops at MI6.

Luckily we get to see Craig at least one more time as Bond this October.  Skyfall stars Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) as the villain, with Dame Judi Dench (Henry V, Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Brown) returning as M, with Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter series, English Patient, Schindler’s List), Albert Finney (Big Fish, Tom Jones), Helen McCrory (Life, Harry Potter series, Doctor Who) and Ben Whishaw (The Hour, Layer Cake) in key supporting roles, and Naomie Harris (28 Days Later, Pirates of the Caribbean series) and French actress Berenice Marlohe as the next “Bond Girls.”

Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition) will direct, with filming locations in Scotland, Istanbul and Shanghai.  And still no word has been released as to whether we will see anyone reprise the role perfected by Desmond Llewelyn and later by John Cleese as Q.

Following the above trailer is another cool looking feature not usually pinned to a movie trailer:

a preview of a new Activision video game, 007 Legends.

The first of six missions will be released this October beginning with a return to the Roger Moore film Moonraker.

Great visuals, including the return of Jaws, great music, and the dialogue and sound look promising, too.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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