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Tag Archive: Michael Crichton


Jurassic Park 3D dimension

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s difficult to ascertain what Steve Spielberg could have done differently had he actually planned a Jurassic Park 3D movie or filmed it originally with 3D technologies.  Jurassic Park 3D is so well done, devoid of gimmicky 3D imagery, but filled with crystal clear depth and eye-popping dimension scene after scene that you’ll think it isn’t merely a post-production conversion.

Unlike the few months technicians had to create the transfer used for a movie like the admittedly superb Predator 3D release, reviewed earlier at borg.com hereJurassic Park 3D underwent a full year of a painstaking, detailed transfer process, thanks to the post-production conversion studio Stereo D.  It’s also a testament to having those creators who made the original production oversee the conversion from original 2D film to 3D.  In this case, the oversight was by director Steven Spielberg himself.

Jurassic Park 3D cover

When considering what makes good or bad 3D movie subjects, we learned from Predator 3D, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Friday the 13th III in 3D that nothing beats Mother Nature when you’re watching 3D.  The context of setting a film in the natural world, highlighting the detail of trees and grass and, in the case of Jurassic Park a forest nestled among waterfalls in real-life Hawaii, is the best environment to judge 3D on your home 3D system.

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creature from black lagoon poster

Who is my favorite Universal Studios classic movie monster?  I have always answered The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  I first watched the web-footed and web-handed fellow with gills in 3D on local network television on one Friday night many years ago.  I am not sure cable TV was yet making its headway across the country, but the “creature feature” was something marketed for a few weeks over the summer.  The local CBS affiliate, if I recall correctly, teamed up with the local Hy-Vee grocery store to hand out those cardboard and vellum 3D glasses.  I knew early on that The Creature was the first and only one of the classic monsters filmed and shown in theaters in 3D back in 1954.  My trusty World Almanac told me it wasn’t the first 3D film released–that went to the African lion film Bwana Devil in 1952.

As part of my current quest to sample the best of 3D movies on Blu-ray, finding The Creature from the Black Lagoon on the very short list of released 3D films was a big win.  Back in 1997 in Seattle where basic DVDs were first released in a major U.S. market, I remember digging through a short box at the big Suncoast store but feeling similarly dismayed, until I noticed A Boy and His Dog among the early conversions to digital video.  The Creature is a great starting point for modern 3D, giving the current technology some historical context.

Creature in 3D

Thanks in large part to make-up guru Bud Westport’s incredible creature suit and mask, the film holds up as well as any modern classic.  In fact, viewing The Creature back to back with Predator 3D (reviewed here earlier this month), it’s surprising how similar the films are.  Take away the sci-fi intro to Predator and you have a jungle adventure with another otherworldly creature.  As with Predator 3D, the multi-layered jungle comes alive in The Creature, and the careful placement of actors onscreen gives a crystal clear dimensional image that doesn’t waver.  Better yet, you have to look hard to see The Creature’s air bubbles–mostly he swims for seemingly long stints underwater with no apparent breathing going on.  And let’s not forget both of these films are part of the horror genre–each character gets picked off one by one by the monster until only a few are left for a final life-or-death showdown.

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Grave Descend Hard Case cover

Reviewed by C.J. Bunce

Grave Descend was penned in 1970, the penultimate novel Michael Crichton wrote under the pseudonym John Lange back in his med school days, re-released thanks to Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime series after years out of print.  We previously reviewed his Scratch One and Zero Cool here at borg.com.  Before the days of stories centered on a group of disparate scientists thrown together to solve an impossible and often unbelievable problem, Crichton tried his hand at adventure novels that borrow more from Ian Fleming than science fiction.

In Mad Men fashion his work included the arrogance and womanizing of pulp novels of the day, and early Crichton protagonists were often American wannabe James Bonds.  His leads are not spies but experts in something, for example lawyer Roger Carr in Scratch One and radiologist Peter Ross in Zero Cool, each dropped into an adventure they didn’t ask for, Carr mistaken for a spy and Ross forced to violate his ethics in a strange way.  In Grave Descend we catch up with Jim McGregor, a deep-sea diver hired to retrieve objects from a multi-million dollar yacht sunken off the coast of Jamaica.  But he quickly notices oddities related to his new project and the man who hired him.

pulp Grave Descend

Here Crichton returns to a setting of Fleming’s expertise, that Caribbean island that Bond frequents in several novels, including Casino Royale and Doctor No, also reviewed here previously.  Like Fleming, Crichton presents a realistic Jamaica, from its denizens kicking back Red Stripe beer to its seemingly never-changing, sharply divided social strata, to its sand to forest variety of natural landscapes.

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Zero Cool cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Just two years before he would become a well-known breakout author with 1971’s Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton wrote his fifth novel under the pseudonym John Lange, Zero Cool.  This is one of eight novels Crichton wrote in his medical school days reprinted in a new edition thanks to Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime series, and it is second in our series of reviews of these classic, “lost” novels.

Zero Cool is definitely a product of the late 1960s.  Unlike Crichton’s bulky, techno-babble filled later works, Zero Cool reads like a quick pulp novel you’d read years ago on the Greyhound bus between towns.  Completely escapist fun, its hero, American radiologist Peter Ross, is visiting places you might find in an Ian Fleming James Bond novel or Michael Dibdin’s Zen novels, and there are plenty of luxurious European settings he finds himself in over the course of the book. Crichton’s writing is tight and he seems to be close to mastering his pattern for storytelling, mixing otherwise unrelated worlds that culminate with some strange resolution you can’t see coming.

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Scratch One cover by Orbik

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re like this reader, you probably thought you read the last of the catalog of Michael Crichton novels when you finished his last novel, Micro, reviewed here at borg.com last year.  But what if there were eight Crichton novels that suddenly appeared, as if by magic, that you had never heard of?  The “lost” Crichton novels?  For fans of Crichton (who died in 2008) and his bestsellers like Jurassic Park, Sphere, Disclosure, and Rising Sun, it’s practically a dream come true.  Diehards may have heard of these eight novels published in the late 1960s, written while Crichton was in medical school, all under the pen name John Lange and all long out of print and nearly impossible to find.

Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint worked with Crichton in his last years to re-edit, re-write a few chapters, and then finalize a new printing of all eight novels, with interesting and catchy titles Odds On, Scratch One, Easy Go, Zero Cool, The Venom Business, Drug of Choice, Grave Descend, and Binary, and all with great new pulp art covers by Glen Orbik.  We plan to review them all here, and today we begin with Crichton’s second published novel, Scratch One, originally published in 1967, but available next week in bookstores.  It’s not yet known if re-releases of two other early works by Crichton, A Case of Need, written as Jeffery Hudson, and Dealing, written as Michael Douglas, will be forthcoming.

Scratch One first edition

Scratch One follows Roger Carr, an American lawyer who has been assigned the posh job of acquiring a half-billion dollar villa in France for a wealthy client.  It’s the type of job Carr is used to as the son of a senator without any other particular value to his firm.  It allows him to maintain a playboy’s lifestyle on the French Riviera and other lavish European locations and use his charisma to land a new lady friend at every stop along the way.  But where Carr sounds like he could be James Bond, he also has no particular skill as a spy or assassin.  That’s relevant because Carr stumbles into a scenario that could be found in an Ian Fleming novel.

Carr in every way is “the Man who Knew Too Little.”  Unfortunately he just happens to look like a real spy being sought by a league of murderers trying to prevent an arms deal with a faction in the Middle East.  Their method of stopping the deal is plucking off one by one key players in Egypt, Portugal, Denmark, and France, and murdering a popular race car driver at the famous annual Grand Prix–a driver who is a wealthy man in his own right who, as part of his side activities, mixes with arms dealers.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A&E’s Coma is coming soon to a TV near you.  The two-night mini-series updates both the original Robin Cook novel and the Michael Crichton adaptation to film from 1978 with the realities of modern medical technology and a new story.  Considering the movie Coma didn’t do all that well (it had to duke it out for moviegoers’ attention against the likes of Superman, Grease, Halloween, Animal House, Every Which Way but Loose, Foul Play and Invasion of the Body Snatchers), it’s a curiosity for a remake in 2012.  Not so much science fiction as medical procedural drama with a horror twist, it also is not a suspense/thriller so much as a steadily plotted mystery where the story is revealed throughout the two episodes instead of waiting for a big gotcha at the end.

Coma will also go down as one of the last productions of the late Tony Scott, who served as executive producer with brother Ridley Scott.

The mini-series follows a medical student who, on her first day interning at a hospital, uncovers information that could unravel the secret behind the coma patient care facility called the Jefferson Institute.  A&E pulled out all the stops on its Coma Conspiracy campaign.  See our coverage earlier this month here.  The marketing campaign also included mock footage of a clandestine group of individuals who learn the truth about Jefferson.  Unfortunately these marketing bits don’t make it into the actual series, and the producers missed an opportunity to take the folks trying to uncover the conspiracy through their own media and factoring it into the story.

If you have seen the original movie or read the novel, you may find yourself waiting for certain things to happen to certain characters that never quite transpire.  Erase all preconceptions and you will find this to be a fun TV adaptation, and whereas I don’t think it matches the blood pumping scares of the 1978 movie, you’ll find something here that makes the show well worth adding to your DVR list.  And you may be surprised at the level of consideration given to real-world subjects, medical care in particular.  Be prepared for the writers to touch on ethical and moral considerations of topics from the use of stem cells for researching new diseases, to problems with organ donation processes, to human research, to the challenges of overpopulation and an aging society that lives longer than its predecessors.  But it’s not all about that—it will get you into full-on horror mode by show’s end, including the inclusion of some special effects gore you won’t find in a typical A&E mini-series of years past.  Its special effects do offer some sci-fi influences, but the most impactful scenes include a montage where families of coma patients meet with their loved ones at the Jefferson facility.  Some of the series is sure to give you the willies, the wiggins, the creeps, or even the heebie-jeebies.

The best feature can be found in the young cast members, along with a few noteworthy performances by long-time character actors.  I found I liked James Woods’ performance above all the others from the older set.  What the writers did with his character, Dr. Howard Stark, was an interesting twist on Richard Widmark’s similar character in the original movie.  Richard Dreyfuss turns in a believable stock performance as a near-retirement medical school professor.  Ellen Bursytn turns in a very different take on Jefferson Institute administrator Mrs. Emerson, compared to the uber-creepy Elizabeth Ashley in the original movie role.  Yet Burstyn’s character is still as vile as she needs to be, just in a Great Expectations’ Miss Havisham kind of way.  A smaller role, a smart cop named Detective Jackson played by Michael Pniewski, really brought some gravitas to the last part of the series.  Geena Davis’s Dr. Lindquist doesn’t quite work, however.  She’s a researcher who has a strange predilection for medical interns and her storyline could have been handily cut from the series.

As for the younger acting crowd, Michael Weston (House, M.D.) continues to impress, here as a psychotic sociopath under the care of Dr. Lindquist.  Joseph Mazello, who played the young boy in Jurassic Park, is all grown up and shows he made it past the kid actor phase and could easily start taking on leading male roles.  But the really solid performance comes from Steven Pasquale (Rescue Me) as Dr. Mark Bellows, who one could see carrying an ongoing series based on this mini-series.  The star of Coma is Lauren Ambrose, who has been steadily building her career with good roles in Law and Order, Torchwood, and Six Feet Under.  Unfortunately she is stuck here in a typical “horror female” lead role, which sometimes means stepping into situations your average medical student would likely avoid in real life.  Still, she performs the role of medical student intern well and is as good as Bujold in the original.

At times I thought the series should be longer, maybe divided over more than two episodes like a typical mini-series–I’d think the creators could have edited together maybe three or four episodes here.  Then again that could result from simply watching the screening copy without commercial breaks.  Either way, I would have no problem sticking with these characters and situations were it to become a full-blown ongoing series.

Coma, A&E’s two-night television event, premieres Monday, September 3, 2012, at 9pm ET/PT and concludes Tuesday, September 4, at 9pm ET/PT.

By Art Schmidt

For my top five list of stories I’d like to see turned into motion pictures, I have tried to be somewhat realistic.  Some of my favorite stories, whether novels or games or comic books, I have left off as just being beyond realization.  The wish of their being turned into a movie is, in itself, a fantasy, due to various factors.

For instance, since I was a teenager, I’ve been dying for someone to make a movie from Grand Poobah Dungeon Master Gary Gygax’s original storyline thread from the first D&D modules: “The Village of Hommlet” modules (T1-T4), the Slaver series (modules A1-A4), the “Against the Giants” series (modules G1-G3), and the “Drow of the Underdark” series (modules D1-D3 & module Q1 “Queen of the Demonweb Pits”).  Of course, this would be for the die-hard gaming geeks almost exclusively, and at twelve modules (adventures) it would be difficult to pack into a motion picture trilogy or quintology (!), even if anyone would be so crazy as to provide the funding for it.

I’m stoked for a movie adaptation of Ernest Cline’s recent novel, Ready Player One, but I’m not including it because it’s already in pre-production at Warner Bros.  No need to wish for that which is likely to already happen.  Then there’s the Wheel of Time series, which isn’t quite over.  The final book, currently titled A Memory of Light, is scheduled to be published in January of 2013.  And as the fifteen-volume series will clock in at an estimated 11,000 pages, it could never conceivably be condensed down to make any real sense in a few motion pictures.

Trivia:  A series of three books is called a trilogy.  A series of five books is called a quintology.  A series of seven books is called a heptalogy.  What is a series of fourteen books called?

Answer:  Too damned long!

Note:  No offense to Robert Jordan, may he rest in peace, the series is great, but it could have probably ended after eight or ten novels.  I really enjoyed the first ten Wheel of Time books!  And all of your Conan novels were great, too!

So, too, would I love to hear of a big screen adaptation of some of R.A. Salvatore’s  Drizzt Do’urden novels, especially the Icewind Dale Trilogy, but alas, it is not to be.  I could name some Star Wars and Conan novels that I’d like to see adapted, but those subjects have already been masterfully done on the big screen, so there is no use wasting our time.

Same goes for the less well-known but equally awesome Deathgate Cycle heptalogy from the great fantasy team of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  Too many books in the series (few of which really stand entirely on their own), and likely too hardcore (i.e. small) of a fan base.  Anyhow, the powers that be (being in power, as they are), would most likely take a run at Dragonlance (ho-hum) before considering Deathgate.  Too bad.

In the “slightly unrealistic” column, however, I have included the Elric of Melnibone saga in my list, despite the main character being an anti-hero and thus a difficult win for a motion picture, even with the hard-core fantasy crowd.  Strangely enough, this may be the one wish that I am granted (read more in my Elric entry, below).

A lot of fantasy, I know.  I’m a fantasy kind of guy.  There are a lot of good horror, sci-fi, and other fiction out there crying to be made into films, but really, we get a lot of good stuff from those genres already.  But there is a dearth of good fantasy films out there, and they come along so rarely; The Fellowship of the Ring came out over ten years ago, after all.

Man, I’m getting old.  Somebody please make a couple of these before I croak.

Other honorable mentions.  I’d love to see something done with Gaiman’s Sandman series, but probably too difficult and definitely niche.  Same goes for Marvel 1601, one of my favorite graphic novels (also Gaiman).  But niche.  The books of Michael Crichton have been done (and done, and done) as they are so interesting and have such strong plotlines, but my favorite novel of his is one of his non-fiction works, Travels.  He chronicles some of his real-life travels had some great insights into his own life from them.  But again, probably too tight of an audience for something like that.

Neuromancer would totally rock, but the conventional wisdom is that cyberpunk is way over.  I’m no good at conventional wisdom, though.  Maybe it’s so over that it’s ready to be hip again?  Disco and bell bottoms keep coming back, after all.  On second thought, maybe not.

Anyway, on with the real list.

#5 – The Gaean Trilogy (Titan, Wizard and Demon) from John Varley

A mix of fantasy and sci-fi, this is the first thing I thought of when I saw Avatar.  And I wasn’t alone.  Space farers explore a foreign planet where magic seems to happen in nature, strange creatures abound, and some of them are intelligent/sentient.  Then humans come along and really muck it all up.  That’s the Gaean Trilogy’s premise (not the plot) in a nutshell.

Of course, there is much more to it than that.  There are far more significant differences between these novels and the movie Avatar than there are broad similarities.  The combination of sci-fi and fantasy is what would make this appealing, and the titanides and eventual revelation of the Gaea intelligence (and what follows) would make for a great movie.

#4 – Fallout: New Vegas (video game)

My favorite game in recent years (besides Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I’m itching to play even now while writing this), FNV was a great game because of the amazing, engrossing storyline.

In a nutshell:

In the late twenty-first century, America and China fight a prolonged war over resources that ends with a nuclear exchange.  The nuclear warheads and subsequent fallout kills most everyone except a chosen few who retreat to underground ‘vaults’ to ride out the Earth’s recovery from global fallout (hence the title of the series).  Life as we know it ends.

Some two hundred years later, people begin to emerge from the vaults, and find some still living humans, along with irradiated creatures, mutants, and all sorts of crazy stuff living in the burnt-out shells of our former civilization.  Las Vegas was spared from direct nuclear attack by the defenses of wealthy industrialist and casino owner, as was the nearby Hoover Dam.  People died, but the core of the Strip survived (what irony).

A lone traveler enters the area, gets shot in the head and buried, but survives and is nursed back to health, although with amnesia from the wound.  He sets about trying to learn about himself and his assailants, and in the process discovers that Las Vegas (dubbed “New Vegas” by the current residents) is being contested over by a growing civilization from California (the New California Republic, or NCR), an army of brutal slave-owning tribals calling themselves Caesar’s Legion, and the wealthy citizen who kept Vegas from annihilation (or is it him?) who runs New Vegas with an army of killer robots and calls himself Mr. House.

The story is compelling, and locations are fantastic, the inhabitants are diverse and interesting, and there are stories aplenty for the traveler to encounter and deal with on his way to the game’s climactic battle between these competing forces over who will control Hoover Dam, the one source of electricity and life-giving water amidst a world of death and dust.

A great movie that would make.  We’ve seen shades of this with The Book of Eli (a great movie, but more of a morality tale than a straight-forward action/adventure flick) and The Road (a great example of how really good books can be terrible movies), but nothing like the tale spun in New Vegas.

#3 – The Elric of Melnibone novels by Michael Moorcock

An island of anemic sorcerer kings who rule the world.  A savage world of monsters and heroes who strive daily to survive.  Magic that allows people to cross into other dimensions and sail through space to other planets.  Stormbringer.  What an absolutely epic fantasy movie that would make!

Of course, the main problem is that Elric is an anti-hero.  In fact, Elric is the very embodiment of the modern-day anti-hero.  He’s not a nice guy.  He’s not even rough-around-the-edges-but-basically-moral-in-an-immoral-world (like Conan) kind of guy.  He’s a self-important, selfish, power-hungry elitist.  At times, he’s a murder, though he does begin to show some humanity and regret after a while.  But he has a goal, and purpose, and oh, the adventures he has, the places he goes, and the things he sees!  All fantastic, and all while wielding what can easily be called the most powerful magical sword in all of fantasy (save perhaps for Shieldbreaker from Fred Saberhagen’s Swords novels, but I digress…)

I would absolutely love to sit in a theatre and watch the albino sorcerer-king travel the planes swinging the Black Sword of legend.  Ever since I saw Conan the Barbarian, I have longed for someone to make movies out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Elric saga.  One down, one to go.

Apparently, I am a little late to the party on this one.  Director/Producer brothers Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) and Paul Weitz (American Pie, Little Fokkers) were reportedly in “pre-production” on a movie trilogy based on Moorcock’s dark, brooding novels about my second-favorite anti-hero (see #1, below, for my fave), but that project has been side-tracked and is lately talked about by the brothers in wistful terms of ‘someday’.

Here’s hoping that “someday” actually comes.

Side Note: I’m not 100% certain, but I believe “Pre-Production” is a fancy Hollywood term for people emailing and texting back and forth about great ideas for a movie, then meeting in coffee shops and chatting about how great it would be to make said movie, before moving on to work on real movies that are actually being made.

#2 – Justice League / The Dark Knight Returns

DC Comics is sitting on a goldmine, but they have had some trouble translating the shiny stuff in their mine into coin of the realm.  The Batman movies of late being the obvious exception, DC Comics has not enjoyed the great success of Marvel in translating their characters to the big screen.  Superman was ground-breaking back in the seventies, and the first couple of Batman movies of the late eighties / early nineties paved the way for what was to come.  And then there is Batman Begins, The Dark Knight (of course), and this summer’s Dark Knight Rises.

But taking the long view, that’s maybe six or seven hit movies over a thirty year span.  Not horrible, but not that great.  But compare that with Marvel’s run in just the last twelve years, and you can pick twice that number of successful movies based on their characters.  The X-Men movies (at least two of them), the Spiderman trilogy (again, at least two), The Fantastic Four, X-Men: First Class, and the movies leading up to and including this summer’s The Avengers (Ang Lee’s Hulk and Iron Man 2 notwithstanding).

I’m not bashing DC here, don’t get me wrong.  Their characters are iconic, to say the least.  And maybe they don’t value movies as much as Marvel does, which is fine.  There is certainly more money to be made in movies, but money isn’t everything; no movie is better than a bad movie, when the protection of a brand is essential to the company’s success.

But DC has such a wealth of great story that it’s hard to fathom that there hasn’t been more translation from the inked page to the lighted screen.  Just imagine this movie trilogy, my friends…

The Justice League – A movie centering on the core of the League, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow and the Flash (possibly also Hawkman and/or the Martian Manhunter, depending on the ability to introduce the movie-going public at large to these characters), coming together to form the group to thwart Prometheus along the lines of Justice League: A Cry for Justice, except using the central characters rather than a competing alliance / ideology, with internal group conflict as to how to deal with the situation as would be natural.  Prometheus is murdering foreign superheroes, then planning to destroy cities of the League’s superheroes (maybe limit it to three key cities, rather than the sprawling destruction in the mag).  After being defeated he negotiates his escape, proving he’s not bluffing by detonating one bomb as in the book.  In this adaptation, Superman is the negotiator and Batman (along with Green Arrow) wanting to make him pay no matter what.  End with the Green Arrow scene (no spoiler here), with the barest hint that Batman helped him (but didn’t necessarily know what he was going to do).

The Justice League: Legion of Doom – The League battles the formation of the Legion of Doom.  The Legion is forming along the lines of the backstory from the Justice series in 2005-2006, with Brainiac (and Lex Luthor) fooling even his fellow baddies and planning to get the League to wipe out his ‘competitors’ of evil.  But unlike in Justice, their motivations are to take over the American government (as depicted in Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again).  The League wins the apparent victory against the facade, but Brainiac and Lex succeed behind the scenes with their real master plan.  At the very end, the League is disgraced and talks of disbanding.  Superman is called away on an emergency he won’t discuss… (Lex has Kandor and is going to blackmail him, but don’t reveal that until the last movie in the trilogy).

The Justice League Returns – The movie everyone wants, Superman vs. Batman, pull out all of the stops.  This movie would basically blend The Dark Knight Returns with a little bit of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, blending the emancipation of Batman’s fellow Leaguers a-la DKSA into the main storyline of DKR (yes, it might be sacrilegious, but this is Hollywood we’re talking about)The Justice League disbanded after their failure in The Legion of Doom, and Brainiac and Lex have taken over America and put a computer President in place.  With Kandor held hostage, they have forced Superman to help capture or banish the other League members (similar to the backstory of DKSA and DKR both: “Diana returned to her people; Hal left for the stars…”  Leave Shazam out, he makes things too complicated).  This bit could be the prologue to the movie itself (before credits).  Batman is the bitter retiree in DKR and follows that storyline back from retirement to defeat the Mutants gang and/or the return of Two-Face, then sets about freeing his fellow Leaguers (DKSA), which leads to the confrontation with Superman as the puppet of the Braniac/Lex regime (weak not from the DKR nuclear missile but from the faux ‘catastrophes’ that Brainiac/Lex cook up for him in DKSA; the asteroid, the volcano in Hawaii, etc.) along with Batman’s fellow Leaguers (similar to Green Arrow in DKR, but with Hal Jordan and Barry Allen also assisting as in DKSA).  No Kara, though, and no Dick Grayson craziness, and take out all of the future media “super babes” hype and whatnots.

Ok, I’m done geeking out.  And I realize that the fanboys would cry FOUL (and worse) and this kind of hacked together plot from what may be their favorite series(es).  Me?  I’m not a purist, I just like good story.  Perhaps that’s why I seem to be one of the small minority who absolutely loved both the Watchmen comics and the spectacular movie equally.

Hollywood can ‘just’ make DKR and I’d be ecstatic.

I know there was (is?) a JL movie in the works, announced as being in “pre-production” (oh, boy) last year by Warner Bros., but couldn’t find anything recent on the subject.  Anyone have any fairly recent scoop on where that one is at?  Still in pre-production?  Man, those guys drink a lot of coffee.

#1 – The Chronicles of Amber novels from Roger Zelazny

This would make a great movie trilogy, no question.  The great thing about this story and why it would translate to the big screen is the beginning: the hero is a seemingly normal human being on planet Earth in the current day.  He awakes in a mental institution, not knowing how he got there, but it’s apparent he’s being kept sedated and held against his will.  He escapes but has amnesia (I know, it’s a tired plot device, but here it absolutely works).  He finds out he has a sister, goes to her home to investigate, and finds some things that are… weird.  He confronts her, and then meets more family.  And things get a bit weirder.

As his journey progresses, the audience learns things as the protagonist does; bit at a time, little by little, slowly building up this incredible picture of the hero as a long-lost prince of a magical kingdom in another dimension.  Sound like a book for young adults?  Hang on to your britches, cause it’s anything but.  Don’t let the terms “long-lost prince” and “magical kingdom” fool you.  This is hardcore fantasy at its absolute finest.

Once the hero, Corwin, loses his amnesia, he finds that he is a talented swordsman, a gifted military leader, and a cunning strategist.  He’s also an able sorcerer and in line for his absent father’s throne.  However, his family is currently vying against each other in cabals and alliances for the crown, and there are as many of them as there are books in the Wheel of Time series.

It has the fantasy swordplay of Conan (the original), the magical flair of The Matrix (if you haven’t read the books, it’s hard to explain that reference, but believe me, it’s apropos), the political in-fighting of A Game of Thrones, the gritty war drama of Braveheart and Platoon (again, the reference works, trust me) and the narrative genius of the multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning author, Zelazny.

Yeah, it’s that good.  At least to me.  That’s why it makes the top of my list of stories I’d love to see made into movies.

Come back tomorrow, and Jason McClain will give us his take on adaptations and being true to the source material.

Review by C.J. Bunce

Cyborg, by Martin Caidin, is the 1972 novel that was adapted into the television series The Six Million Dollar Man.  Long out of print, it is only available today via libraries or used online bookstores.  I managed to track down a copy via Amazon.com for only a few dollars.  My assumption was that this would be a dated story, but that it could be similar to the novels that it claimed to be like in its cover statement “In the explosive tradition of the The Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man.”  Both The Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man were by Michael Crichton, and having enjoyed both of those years ago I figured this was worth a try.  I was more than happy with this book.

First, it is a medical thriller more than a dramatic work of science fiction. Cyborg focuses on the details of witnessing the crash of a NASA stunt vehicle and an Air Force emergency response team’s reaction to a man who barely survived such a crash.  More than anything I have read before, this absolutely reads like an early Michael Crichton novel, including his way of incorporating scientific details, but not too much detail to bore the reader.  Cyborg has characters you care about, characters dropped into strange circumstances made very real.

Caidin’s description of the crash was as an eye-witness of sorts, and the first three chapters read like nonfiction.  Written before the space shuttle program, this type of mission reflected real missions of the time between the days of Apollo and the shuttle program, honing the technology leading to the first real mission with Space Shuttle Columbia.  Shockingly, the crash scene is like a foreseen account of the actual real-life disaster of the Columbia space shuttle.  The gritty realism of the first three chapters sets up the reader for a believable entry into the un-real that follows.

Colonel Steve Austin is a stunt pilot who had already served as astronaut on the last moon mission, the last man to walk the surface of the moon.  Waiting to go off as an astronaut on some Skylab mission he is now at a Mojave Desert test launch, which is vividly described.  Jan Richards is his girlfriend, all too familiar with being the spouse of an astronaut and the circumstances that come about on launch days, and although she has been there before, she is still nervous.  We learn quickly that Colonel Austin is a stunt pilot every bit like the Chuck Yeager as detailed in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.  He is confident if not cocky.  Like Han Solo, in response to his girlfriend’s “I love you, Steve Austin,” he responds, “Same here.”

The fact that author Martin Caidin actually participated in the real-life NASA counterpart to the program in which Austin crashes adds a heightened realism to the novel.  Caidin was on site when a pilot suffered a similar terrible accident–the same type of disaster that aired at the beginning of each Six Million Dollar Man episode and makes up the first part of the novel.

Steve Austin, seriously injured as a triple amputee, gets not prosthetics, but improved-upon artificial limbs and an artificial eye.  But first we get accounts of medical triage, a play by play account of the cutting off of Austin’s blood loss, the overall success of protecting the body from burns because of the NASA flight suit, loss of both his legs and left arm, loss of eye through metal debris in the cockpit, skull damage, jaw damage, skin damage, assessment of respiratory damage, standard procedures from placing the intubation tube to removing the space suit from what remains of his body.

Doctor Milton Ashburn, head of emergency response, after hours go by, finally utters the words “He’ll live.”  But then all the conflict and story begins, starting from the lowest of places: “If you love that man like I do… then pray that he dies.”

If you’ve seen people recovering from surgeries, it is all about pain and lots of recuperation time.  It’s what I thought was missing for the first third of the book, then Caidin goes into detail about nerve endings and compensation for missing limbs.  To the layman even in 2012 it all seems to make sense.  Instead of brushing over the details of creating a cybernetic organism–a cyborg–he details all the processes and only in the last 20 percent of the novel do we get to the reason the government is willing to pay $6 million to keep this one man alive, and more than that, make him superhuman.  It is of course to make him a super soldier.

As storytelling is concerned, Cyborg is part Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, part Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Sphere, part Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage.  There is something exciting when a team of experts in varying fields come together to achieve some purpose that no one initially believes will work.  It’s the formula that worked so well several times for Michael Crichton.

The second third of the novel brings the realization that this in a real and thoughtful sense is a modern retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, only it is the story you can imagine a young 19th century author wanted to tell, as she obviously thought this type of medicine would be possible one day.  As the science is concerned, if it was not exactly possible to do in 1972, it certainly could be more possible today.  Despite the fact that this was written before the pervasiveness of computing, Caidin includes many references to computers, to micro-electronics that would one day be microchips, and bionics that would one day become the beginning of nanotechnology.

Once we get past months of recovery, recuperation, and therapy, and Austin getting to know his new body and abilities, the last third of the novel is a cross between Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger mixed with any number of 1960s military intelligence operation stories, like The Guns of Navarone.  First Austin goes on a deep-sea mission, using mechanical dolphins, off the coast of Surinam.  He then moves on to a desert mission in North Africa–a Seal Team Six type operation mixed with a True Lies international arms story where Austin teams with an Israeli soldier named Tamara.   The ending is about survival, and whereas Austin upon learning of his triple amputee state remarked that the doctors should have let him die, when he finally is left in a hopeless situation he learns he really wants to stay alive.

Great survival references are included in the final chapters including a bit about the real-life B-24 bomber downed decades ago in the desert called the Lady Be Good (documented in an episode of the History Channel’s History’s Mysteries in the 1990s).

Cyborg is surprisingly not dated considering it was written in 1972.  There is the odd focus on male-female relationships reflecting 1970s men-women workplace relations, but nothing as cringeworthy as I’ve read in 1950s pulp novels.  It probably helps that Caidin doesn’t spend any time on things like clothing descriptions, the very thing that makes the TV series a bit hard to watch today.

I’ve had the fortune of meeting and talking to three of the 12 surviving United States Apollo program astronauts who flew to the moon, and their confidence and character were well mimicked by Caidin’s account of the fictional Colonel Austin.  Clearly Caidin spent time with these guys in real life, and it is reflected in his book.

Cyborg is a great candidate for re-issue.  The TV series opening episodes follow the novel very well, with only the most minor of differences, like which arm that is lost and replaced.  It was also good to see that Phil Hester and Kevin Smith’s Bionic Man comic book series, which we review here periodically, is faithful to the spirit of both the series and novel, although it takes more of the TV series changes on in its monthly story.

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