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Tag Archive: The Empire Strikes Back


hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug Bilbo

Review by C.J. Bunce

Like Star Wars or the first of any good trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was almost a standalone story, to be watched over and over again.  And like The Empire Strikes Back, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug jumps rights into the adventure and doesn’t relent until the final cliffhanger at film’s end.  The Desolation of Smaug’s triumph may be a sweeping and epic inclusion of more fantastical settings and strange, new worlds than any film before it, some beautiful in their colorful grandeur, others in their dark creepiness.  And more story and subplots are fit in to keep viewers on the edge of their seats for the whole two hours and forty minute tour.

Dwarves The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug

It’s hard to say if this installment of The Hobbit is better than the first.  It’s a wondrous tale in the same way as the Harry Potter series included the stand-out episode Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Sure, it needs to be seen in the context of what comes before it, but wow, what a great ride in and of itself, almost literally.  We’d seen previews of the great dwarf barrel escape scene, but director Peter Jackson didn’t just squeeze in river ride as an afterthought.  It’s full of good humor and action, something like what we imagine George Lucas intended in his pod race scene, but this effort is successful, focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of dwarves and elves alike, as they dodge the grotesque and foul Orcs under the leadership of two particularly nasty fellows, Azog (Manu Bennett) and Bolg (Lawrence Makoare).  Most of the action is over-the-top, but if you’re in for a penny you’re in for a pound, and the arrows flying and dragon fire ablazing are what any fantasy fan could hope for.

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Smaug Dwarves

Not since the first trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring has Peter Jackson released a more enticing movie trailer for his Middle Earth films.  This full-length “sneak peek” for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at three minutes includes so many characters, so many locations, so many great sets and costumes, that the waiting until December 13 for its release is going to be… well, the hardest part.

Smaug epic quest

So much action and destinations on this epic journey of Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo Baggins, and Thorin Oakenshield and his band of Dwarves, makes us wonder whether this could possibly be the sequel of sequels in Peter Jackson’s arsenal.  We of course loved both The Lord of the Rings installments of The Two Towers and The Return of the King.  But like The Empire Strikes Back was for George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy, will this be the grand opus for Peter Jackson?

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Flash Gordon Vol 2 cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

The second volume in the high-quality restored hardcover library edition of the original The Complete Flash Gordon Library was released December 18, 2012, and it measures up in every way to the first volume, reviewed here at borg.com this past October.  Volume 2, along with Volume 1, made the borg.com Best of 2012 for Best Comics Collected Edition.

The original weekly four-color comic strip series continues courtesy of restoration work by Peter Maresca.  Continuing where Volume 1 left off, this volume, titled The Tyrant of Mongo includes strips originally published between April 1937 and January 1941, created by artist Alex Raymond and writer Don Moore.

Awesome Raymond Flash panel

Comic book and science fiction writer Doug Murray continues his essay setting the background for the times in which Flash Gordon was written.  He includes interesting detail like the fact Raymond used life models for some of his work, much like that employed by artist Alex Ross today.  Ross counts Raymond as a key influence in his own work.

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By C.J. Bunce

It’s no secret that I am a fan of Green Arrow, and in advance of watching the preview to the new CW Network series Arrow and seeing the actors on their panel, I gawked at the new Green Arrow suit at the DC Comics booth at the San Diego Comic-Con.  The nicely polished display cases made it difficult to get great photos because of reflections.  I tried with two cameras but ultimately perfect shots would have only been available after the crowd dispersed after hours.  But, for the benefit of any cosplayers, here is what I was able to get:

The Green Arrow suit was designed by Academy Award winning costume designer Colleen Atwood.  The costume features a great choice for the shade of green and a combination of both fine suedes and more rugged, practical fabrics.

Close-up detail on hood of new Arrow costume.

Detail of bow carvings and boot from Arrow suit.

Detail of arm darts on new Arrow suit.

Deathstroke villain mask from new Arrow series.

Also at the DC Comics booth were Watchmen costumes, presumably advertising DC Comics’ current summer series Before Watchmen.  They showcased two costumes, the Comedian, and Nite Owl’s polar suit.  Both of these were worn by the actors in the Watchmen movie:

Warner Brothers featured some new costumes from the coming Superman reboot movie, Man of Steel.  Here is the hero suit from the movie:

Far across the convention center, I spoke with Joe Maddalena about his TV series Hollywood Treasure, which I enjoy watching for all the various props and costumes and owners that unearth them.  He had several costumes and props on display, including Marlon Brando’s costume as Jor-El from the original Superman film and one of Johnny Depp’s suits from Edward Scissorhands:

Profiles in History also had some screen-worn Star Wars costumes on display, including this Snowtrooper helmet from The Empire Strikes Back and a Stormtrooper helmet and rifle from the original Star Wars.

The Snowtrooper helmet in particular illustrates how time is not always kind to materials used for productions, never intended to survive much beyond the studio shoot.

Profiles in History also showcased a nice Wolverine costume from the X-Men films, worn on-screen by Hugh Jackman:

The guys from The Prop Store in London had a great booth again this year, attended by staff from both their London and L.A. offices.  The focus piece at their booth was this classic spacesuit from the original Ridley Scott movie Alien:

Finally, across the aisle from the Alex Ross art display was the giant display of Iron Man suits from Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers. 

All of this led up to the later reveal of the new Iron Man suit to be featured in Iron Man 3.

Definitely impressive displays this year of screen-used costumes–something there for everyone.

Review by C.J. Bunce

Half of Star Wars fans will tell you it’s the best of the entire series.  Although A New Hope quickly built up an amazing and beloved new galaxy, it wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that we met a fully realized universe of diverse planets and complex, well-developed characters, personal stories of heroes we now knew well, risking their lives for each other.  Like The Godfather and The Godfather II, you can try to compare them and see the ways in which one out-performed the other.  For me, young Vito Corleone watching as a rug is stolen for him by Bruno Kirby’s Clemenza, the kiss of death with John Cazale’s poor, stupid Fredo, the tragic downfall of Michael Corleone–all of these stick out as the powerful pieces of the series and all happened in the sequel.  With The Empire Strikes Back, we met Yoda, we learned of Luke’s relationship to Darth Vader, we saw Han Solo really put the Millennium Falcon to its limits in that asteroid field, we saw AT-ATs devastate the Rebel Base, we saw romance develop between Han and Leia, and we saw the brief glimpses of the motley band of bounty hunters, and especially Boba Fett.  And it probably had the single best film soundtrack of any film, certainly any John Williams soundtrack, ever made.

A candid image of Harrison Ford on the Millennium Falcon set.

So it is no wonder that The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, published in 2010 for the film’s 30th anniversary, is an exceptional account of the behind the scenes herculean efforts required to make such a cinematic masterpiece.  The book uses contemporary interviews interspersed with archival notes from George Lucas’s own files, including pieces dating back to A New Hope, suggesting the source of the name Darth Vader (dark invader) and other interesting bits of trivia, and hundreds of photos both color and black and white, to tell the story behind the story.

Yes, he only had a cameo, but that really was one-day leading man Treat Williams as a Rebel soldier on the Hoth set with Carrie Fisher.

Focusing on the film’s director, the late Irvin Kershner, and piecing together bits from George Lucas’s own original visionary thoughts through author Leigh Brackett’s scripting and the key actors’ personal accounts, author J.W. Rinzler lets the past speak for itself (Rinzler also wrote the previously successful “Making of” books The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films and The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film.)  Little extraneous commentary is included, and instead quotes from the creative minds speak of poor filming conditions, too much to do in too little time, and the elephant in the room–could they really meet Star Wars fans’ expectations and continue the story of Luke Skywalker in another successful, ground-breaking blockbuster?

A king’s ransom, or at least the holy grail of any science fiction movie costume collector. So who lays out Boba Fett’s clothes for him anyway?

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back includes Mark Hamill’s own account of his near-fatal car crash and Lucas’s plan for the film had he died, the complete beginning to end planning of Boba Fett’s costume including incredible images back to the original incarnation as a “supertrooper,” planning and preparation of advance toy marketing, the late Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art, and the crazy filming of the Hoth scenes in a blowing snowscape.  Hurdles for the production included the single challenge the entire success or failure of the movie depended on: the design, construction and performance of Yoda, a muppet to replace the role originally planned for the aging Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan Kenobi.

A view of the boom in the shot as Harrison Ford watches Luke and Leia kiss. Having read the script, he looks like he is thinking “how could George show these two kissing?”

Also included are detailed descriptions of deleted scenes, including more extensive footage of tauntauns and the Hoth wampa and the rebels in the snow cave.

The book had been previewed in Entertainment Weekly, which had hinted at some of the never before published photographs from the book, but the magazine article only skimmed the surface of what can be found here.  For some readers it will be a perfect coffee table book, and for others it will be a reference and how-to manual for project managing an epic film.

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back is available at Amazon.com and all other bookstores.

Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, R2-D2 and C-3PO all would look differently if not for artist Ralph McQuarrie.  McQuarrie died this weekend at the age of 82 after a battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Fans of Star Wars knew McQuarrie by name, thanks to the great access Lucasfilm gave to fans over the years of the making of the original Star Wars trilogy.  Even before many had seen Star Wars for the first time back in 1977 they could flip through 21 prints by McQuarrie that inspired the sets and costumes for the original Star Wars in the Star Wars Portfolio compilation.  For many kids, this was their first access to science fiction fine art.

The images created by McQuarrie were not his alone.  George Lucas had created his ideas behind Star Wars over several years, but to get a pictorial representation of Lucas’s vision, he turned to McQuarrie.  “Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision ‘Star Wars,'” Lucas said in a statement. “His genial contribution, in the form of unequaled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy…. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s fabulous illustrations and say, ‘Do it like this.'”

McQuarrie’s style for the original Star Wars trilogy was often Art Deco influenced, with his original vision of C-3PO very similar to the robot of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

McQuarrie created images for many productions, many that would influence the final production and some that would not, including images for Star Trek and E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial.  In Raiders of the Lost Ark, McQuarrie created this biblical image to explain the power of the lost ark of the covenant that Indiana Jones used to show the feds what they were up against:

In this image, McQuarrie included an image of Mark Hamill for what would be the original Battlestar Galactica series, when Hamill was offered, and ultimately declined, a leading role as Commander Adama:

One of McQuarrie’s most reproduced images is of Yoda for an early Lucasfilm Christmas card:

McQuarrie had a cameo appearance in an ice planet Hoth scene in The Empire Strikes Back.  For the 30th anniversary of Star Wars Hasbro produced an action figure of McQuarrie as that character.  Over the years Hasbro did something else that was unprecedented: creating action figures of the Star Wars characters based on the original paintings of McQuarrie.

   

The original Star Wars Portfolio is difficult to find these days, but several books that have chronicled the original Star Wars trilogy contain these images, including The Illustrated Star Wars Universe, the rare The Art of Ralph McQuarrie, and many old Star Wars calendars.

There is no doubt McQuarrie left an indelible mark on the artistry of classic science fiction.

(All photos above Copyright Lucasfilm Ltd).

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

A lot has been written about “comic book adaptations”—taking a comic book character and making it into a movie, as has now been done extensively in the theaters with Superman, Batman, the Avengers characters and X-Men, and to a lesser extent with Hellboy, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four, and on the small screen with Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and several others.  What hasn’t gotten as much attention is the art of successfully translating of a movie into comic book form.

For years, comic book publishers have teamed with movie studios to co-market a new film with a same-day or early release adaptation of the movie or to take advantage after the fact on the public’s desire to view the movie again later.  The recent term is the movie “tie-in”.  This has been done in fiction novelations as well, sometimes to positive effect and sometimes not.  A striking example is an early attempt to create a novelization for Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner, itself based on a Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  That didn’t fly for the original creator and the novel issued with the movie release was actually a re-issue of Dick’s original work.  This lent some confusion to viewers of both the book and movie because of the many changes made for the film.

In comic books, studios and publishers have been cross marketing movies extensively back at least to the early 1950s, with the Dell Four Color comic books series, which included movie adaptations of John Ford’s The Searchers, Moby Dick with Gregory Peck, and dozens of others, to the Gold Key series of the 1960s, which delivered the popular Star Trek and other TV series adaptations in addition to movies, to Marvel Comics in the 1970s with adaptations of Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Logan’s Run, and even into the 1980s with adaptations of films like The Last Starfighter.  For some movies, rights issues prevent a movie from making it into comic book form.  This is the case with the James Bond movies and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Getting a comic book adaptation right involves the same sensibilities as that required for a good novelization. Story must always remain the key focus, but with comics you get the added bonus of the visual re-presentation of the film.  Often the writers get advance looks at what the filmmakers are doing, but sometimes they don’t get to see as much as would be helpful for rounding out the adapted work.  In the 1977 Star Wars comic book adaptation, one page featured a first look at Jabba the Hutt, who we would later meet in the movie Return of the Jedi and find to be a giant slug.  In the original Star Wars adaptation he is a yellow, whiskered biped, a humanoid–an example of preparation and timing not allowing for an accurate translation of what ends up on screen.

In 35 years I still have not seen a comic book adaptation that was as well done as Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson’s The Empire Strikes Back, published by Marvel Comics (cover at the top of this article).  Where the Star Wars adaptation was a stylized sci-fi epic, Empire featured a stunningly drawn adaptation of characters, aliens and places, and even characters that looked like the actors playing the characters.  The Empire adaptation was released in a giant over-sized book in the same way the Star Wars adaptation had been released.  As a kid, I had repeatedly checked out the hard-bound library version of the Star Wars adaptation—to get that taste of the movie in the days when you had to wait years to see a movie re-released in the theater, long before video tapes.  So when I got the Empire version in the same format for my birthday, it became a well-worn companion that stuck by me until Return of the Jedi premiered.  Incredibly it is still available for sale on eBay and at Amazon.com.

Why did the Empire adaptation work?  Preparation clearly played a key role, with the writers and artists having full access to the complete director’s version of the film, including scenes that eventually were cut from the film.  An artist who stuck to the film and refrained from unwanted elaboration also helped.  Clearly, compared to the Star Wars adaptation that had been quickly drawn, the Empire adaptation benefitted from on artist who had the time to include great detail.  And just as Star Wars was issued in single issues over a period of four months, so was Empire, and the plotting and chapter divisions also reflected a film that was paced well, lending itself toward a good adaptation.  What followed suit would be years of similar high-quality adaptations, including a superb three-issue Marvel Comics series adapting Raiders of the Lost Ark, and later, a four-issue adaptation of Return of the Jedi.  From then on adaptations would stick closer to the films they were adapting.

A few recent comic book projects will be featured in the following days.  These works are not adaptations as much as science fiction movie tie-ins, but they are also some of the most creative and interesting bridging between movies and comic books to ever hit the shelves.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

The Prop Store (formerly the Prop Store of London) had a great booth at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, with a wall full of production-made and screen-used props and costumes.  The most recognizable to sci-fi fans is probably this nice condition Uhura dress from the original Star Trek season 1 or 2.  (I am assuming they have good provenance for this one as a real Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura costume or they wouldn’t have it on display, but you couldn’t see any tags from its display to tell just by looking).  It also has appropriate arm rank braids and William Ware Theiss’s unique sunburst design.  A pretty costume in person!

 

Uhura costumes of any variety are rare, as they didn’t change her wardrobe throughout the series and movies as much as her male counterparts.  This piece was not for sale at Comic-Con but on display from a recent buyer.  Here is a close-up of the delta patch:

The Prop Store representatives told me they try to sell a shirt at their booth that matches something on display, and this year’s shirt is appropriate and clever (see top of article above)–“Comic Khan 2011″.  And here is the Khan vest on display from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, one of my favorite films I saw in the theatre as a kid:

Definitely a rare and a sought after style because of Khan’s position as the best villain of the Star Trek universe.  But if you can afford the $30-35,000 for this vest (I heard two different sale amounts), you can afford to wait for the studio to sell off its studio pieces one day, or for the buyer from a previous Profiles of History auction to put his/her more complete costume set on the market again.  For this kind of money a buyer should examine the piece in person and make certain he/she knows what he/she is getting.  My concerns with the jacket at this price level:

  • I think the Prop Store piece is a back-up piece that may not have made it to filming.  The piece is incredibly clean compared to screenshots, as if it was a back-up that was not used, and not completely distressed with singe and wear marks from early scenes (the character was supposedly wearing this for years in the story) or blood and battle damage from later scenes, or it has been extensively cleaned.  Yes, it has the cut marks that match both the screencaps and other costumes that have surfaced, but other details of distressing are missing.  My money is on it being a back-up, since, for example, you can see from handling other outfits from the same scene–the Khan crew outfits–that the distressing used for even background pieces is not something that could just be washed off.  Those marks are painted or dyed and they are permanent.  
  • The Prop Store piece includes no typical indicia of a hero piece.  Is it rare and clearly identifiable for the character of Khan?  You bet.  But my understanding is this piece has no sewn tag stating Ricardo Montalban’s name, indicating to me you cannot unquestionably state it is more than a stunt Khan piece.  Every Khan crewmen costume I have seen has a clear sewn in tag with the name of the actor or actress.  This has a paper tag (with name misspelled, which can be found on even confirmed costumes from time to time), but these are easily created, and do not establish provenance.  Still cool and rare, just no proof offered of it being a “hero” piece worthy of such a hefty price tag. 

This Prop Store piece is the fifth Khan costume lot we’ve seen publicly.  The studio owns two versions it uses for its Star Trek tour, and Profiles in History sold one in 2002 that appears from photos to match closer to movie screencaps, and contains the several collateral decorative pieces–key pieces that in my view make the outfit, including the necklace made from a destroyed Starfleet belt buckle–the coolest part of the whole costume.  (I haven’t seen these close enough to know whether these are real, replicas, heroes or stunts, but believe at a minimum the Profiles sale lot is the real thing).  Here is the 2002 sale lot:

Here are the two from the Star Trek tours:

Profiles in History sold a different Khan costume last year, a neat mask and turban set from Khan’s opening scene (notably with clear labels stating “Ricardo Montalban” and “Kahn” (sic).  This Prop Store vest makes number five.  Are there more Khan pieces out there?  Could be.  But more items surfacing should drive the price down, not up. 

The Prop Store would do well to have someone like Tom Spina make a creative display for it as he did with the recent Profiles in History opening scene Khan mask and turban set, which although not used for the entirety of the movie, displays much better compared to the piece on display at Comic-Con.  On its simple black half form, the Prop Store vest looked sort of like an old, yellow, velour consignment shop piece from the 1970s compared to how cool it should display. 

The Khan piece I’d like to get my hands on?  Khan’s necklace or his slick metal accented gloves, one of which sold through Profiles in History in 2002 with the mask and turban set that sold last year without the glove:

Ultimately, I think Khan is univerally the best Trek villain because of Ricardo Montalban’s voice and charismatic acting, not his costume.  I don’t think this costume is intrinsically cool, especially after viewing this in person, as are so many other costumes in the Star Trek universe.  And for the asking price, you could buy a whole bridge crew of Klingons or Romulans.  More bang for the buck, in my view.

But Prop Store had more than just Star Trek on display (although that would have been enough).  They also had this superb Abe Sapien latex mask from Hellboy II: The Golden Army:

Abe Sapien is one of the best creatures in one of the best comic book film franchises, created by the great Mike Mignola.

They also displayed several other pieces such as prop weapons, a lot from Gladiator, and pieces from Pan’s Labyrinth, the Terminator series, the Raiders of the Lost Ark series and Superman II.  And last but not least was this beautiful, recognizable head of our favorite golden protocol droid, C-3PO from The Empire Strikes Back.  A great mask no matter how you slice it.

 

The Prop Store sells props and costumes from its Los Angeles and UK offices, via its website at www.propstore.com   I look forward to seeing what they have on display next year!

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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