Archive for February, 2012


Review by C.J. Bunce

If someone were to ask you whether you prefer covers to books or movie posters or compact discs that were either (1) painted or (2) created via computer using compilations of photographs, which would you choose?  Do you know anyone who would prefer a photo cover to a cover painted by an artist?  Would you believe it that the powers that be, those folks who make all the decisions from On High, claim that focus groups and marketing studies show that consumers prefer photos to paintings?  Who and where are these test subjects, and what planet do these people hail from?

The comic book medium has realized what audiences have preferred for years, which is why they enlist the likes of Alex Ross, Mauro Cascioli and Adam Hughes to paint covers, it’s why the main covers of comic books used to entice an audience almost always have renderings drawn or painted and only rarely do you see a “photo incentive cover” as a limited edition item.  Were it true that we, the audience, preferred photo enticements to illustrations by artists, don’t you think comic book publishing would have figured that out by now when they create movie and TV adaptations?  I think the reality is that decision makers in marketing departments in the entertainment industry (outside of the comic world) are often out of touch with real audiences.  That distancing explains why so many movie trailers are made so poorly, too.  It explains why movie posters these days cease to grab our attention like they once did.

What was the last movie poster that caused you to stop in your tracks and want to go see a movie?  That, after all, is the point of a poster, isn’t it?

The original classic art by Struzan for the 1978 re-release of Star Wars

The Art of Drew Struzan at first blush is a coffee table book chronicling the work of the artist Time Magazine called “the Last Movie Poster Artist.”  Along with the books Drew Struzan: Oeuvre (2004) and The Movie Posters Of Drew Struzan (2004) you can see the entirety of more than 150 movie posters Struzan has produced during decades of painting for studios big and small.  And if you were going to pick one of the three books for a reference book on Struzan at a book shop, you might skip over The Art of Drew Struzan for one of the other books that has more movie posters featured.  But skipping this one would be a big mistake.

Original comp art by Struzan for John Carpenter's The Thing

From the introduction by Frank Darabont, director of such big films as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, (two films borg.com writer Jason McClain and I can’t stop talking about over the years), you know that you are beginning to read a very unique kind of book.  A bit from Darabont’s introduction:

“I have seen the future, and it sucks…. There’s no sugar-coating this.  Movie posters suck these days.  They’re going to suck even more tomorrow.  And as we shuck and jive (and text and Facebook) ever onward into the digital future, movie posters will just keep doggedly and willfully sucking all the more.  It’s a headlong progression of suckage, a symptom of the mass-produced everything-by-committee mindset of our culture….”

Amen, brother!

Struzan's comp for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, which did not make it to a final poster

What Darabont is speaking of is the advent of the digital creation of “art” via Mac utilities and the likes of Adobe Photoshop, where productions can design a cover or poster work far cheaper by having anyone on staff easily combine photos of actors and scenes into an image, without including any input from a trained artist.  It’s pseudo-art, images made to think we’re looking at a creative work, without considering the artistic thought that used to go behind such works.

Changes in marketing leadership ended Struzan's role in the Potter films mid-way through creating Chamber of Secrets

The text of The Art of Drew Struzan that accompanies the images found in its pages is all Drew Struzan as he explains not just the work of the artist, but the decline of the profession of making movie posters itself.  Struzan uses highlights of his projects from the beginning of public recognition of Struzan for his work on the international poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 to a poster for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008.  Better yet, he uses in-progress artwork never before made public to illustrate his creative process for each movie featured in the book, artwork that he calls “comps.”

If you were just flipping through the book at a bookstore you may pass this one because it is missing a lot of key subjects in Struzan’s past–images like his work on movies featuring the Muppets, for example, or Jurassic Park and E.T., the Extra-terrestrial, that are among his most notable works.  As you read through the book you understand how a lot of his early comps were never retained–the cost was too high for a struggling artist to pay for copies, or studios kept the comps.  So the existence of this compilation alone is a lucky thing to witness.

The comp for Hellboy by Struzan, which never made it to final poster

What Struzan reveals in this book is a story not just of someone who is the universally acknowledged king of movie poster painting.  That of course is true.  But he apparently is like a lot of classic artists of centuries past, who never received the full monetary benefits that his “benefactors” (here, the  filmmakers) were able to make from his work, and the “millions” audiences assume he made from this work.  This is a story of a struggling artist, barely a blue-collar life, in his view, at points in his career, although he was selected and admired for projects by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Guillermo del Toro.  This is also a how-to book of sorts for aspiring artists wishing they could be mentored by such a superb painter.

Struzan reveals a dwindling of artistic control for the artists as it happened over just a few decades for him, where “the suits” from Hollywood showed less and less respect for his artistry to the point that Struzan got fed-up and retired.

Not even this great poster would likely have made Waterworld succeed at the box office

Look for key featured Struzan works for movie posters that never made it to final form in movie marquees, such as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Waterworld, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth.  And the amazing variety of different styled comps are evident as seen in the pages for Blade Runner, the Back to the Future films, the Indiana Jones films, and the Star Wars prequels.  The quality of the images included stands strong for those wanting the traditional coffee table book, too.

The Art of Drew Struzan retails for $34.95 but can be found less expensive at online bookstores.  And if you’d like to own the original art, many images are still for sale at Struzan’s website.

In the vein of the recent barrage of gimmicky novels where classics are twisted into modern horror genre works, we have a new movie coming soon to a theater near you: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  Two trailers premiered for the movie this week, and I think the first one, the international trailer, is slightly better:

What I see from the novel is what is not there.  That voice-over is the late Johnny Cash from an old audio recording.   We don’t get a good look at young actor Benjamin Walker speaking as Lincoln and I think there is a reason–he doesn’t look or sound anything like Lincoln.  Once you get past the title you realize that all this has going for it is a title.  Whereas making a book like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mixes up classic characters with strange modern horror ideas, this one deals with a real human.  I think that will be jarring for audiences, even though Lincoln is many generations removed from us.  What we see of Lincoln is very strange, especially his movement.  I think the Sacagawea ad showing her as a museum exhibit, or the robot Lincoln at Disney World, are more animated than this guy (and look better):

The strange slow motion dance moves remind me of Gary Oldman’s creepy vampire minions in Dracula mixed with The Matrix.  Aren’t we all bored by that slow motion action by now?

Here is the American version of the trailer:

It doesn’t look like a Tim Burton picture, but more like he lent his name to help the film, much like all those “Steven Spielberg Executive Producer” films that never are of the calibre of true Spielberg movies.  The fact that they had to use Johnny Cash’s voice makes me think the actor playing Lincoln doesn’t have the voice well enough to show us in a preview.  And where are all the vampires?  I see guys in 1800s suits swinging stuff around but no clear vampires.

What’s with the image of modern day Washington, DC?

Wouldn’t it be cooler to show DC in a preview as it looked in 1861-1865?

The only thing I see going for this one is Rufus Sewell, our past best candidate for the next James Bond after Daniel Craig leaves the role behind.  He doesn’t get high billing or featured in the trailer, either.   Just too many oddities lend some real doubt to this movie going anywhere beyond its catchy title.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

 

As we predicted here last month, the CW Network is trickling out details of the new Green Arrow series Arrow.  The biggest news is that veteran of several Star Trek roles, Susanna Thompson, has been cast as Green Arrow/Oliver Queen’s mother Moira Queen.  Although not a regularly featured character in past Green Arrow comic book series (although Queen’s mom had a role recently in Green Arrow: Into the Woods), having a seasoned genre character actor like Thompson in the series should bring some credibility to the show that is to feature several young actors in lead roles.

Mike Mayhew’s take on Moira Queen

Susanna Thompson may be best known for playing the Borg Queen opposite Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager.  She also played the Romulan Varel in the excellent classic episode “The Next Phase”–

and Jaya the inmate in the episode “Frame of Mind,” both from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  She later played trill Doctor Lenara Kahn opposite Terry Farrell’s Jadzia Dax in the Deep Space Nine episode “Rejoined.”

Thompson as a Trill in Deep Space Nine “Rejoined”

She has played plenty of other roles, including characters in Alien Nation: Dark Horizon, The X-Files, Twilight Zone, Law and Order: SVU, Without a Trace, Cold Case and another queen, Queen Rose Benjamin on Kings.

Katie Cassidy on New Girl

And it seems like the best way to get a role on Arrow is to have guest-starred on last (and this) year’s best comedy series, New Girl.  Yesterday the CW released that Oliver Queen’s girlfriend Dinah Lance aka Black Canary will be played by Supernatural actress Katie Cassidy.  Although in Dinah’s best incarnation in the comic book series she ran a floral shop called Sherwood Florist in Seattle with Ollie, the creators threw that back story out the window and have Dinah as a lawyer.  Cassidy is the daughter of 1970s singer/pop star David Cassidy (remember The Partridge Family? “I Think I Love You”? Yep, that guy).  She actually looks a bit like her dad.

Katie Cassidy on Supernatural

So will the producers go the right direction with dark-haired Dinah who sports a blonde wig, or wimp out and make her dyed blonde like recent incarnations?  Cassidy has played roles both ways and looks like she could carry off the part (visually at least) either way.  Cassidy’s past roles include Zoe on 7th Heaven (with ex-Star Trek actors Stephen Collins and Catherine Hicks), Ruby on Supernatural, Trish on Harper’s Island, Ella on Melrose Place, and Juliet on Gossip Girl, along with roles in A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Click, and When a Stranger Calls (2006).  Most recently she played Brooke on the “Wedding” episode of New Girl.

Katie Cassidy on Harper’s Island

Behind the scenes, costume designer Colleen Atwood will be creating the new supersuit for Green Arrow and hopefully Black Canary as well.  Originally it was rumored that Tish Monaghan, a veteran costume designer for films Insomnia, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), Happy Gilmore, the Cats & Dogs series, the Twilight series, and the short-lived TV reboot of Bionic Woman would be doing the costume.

Cliff Chiang’s Black Canary

We reported earlier that Stephen Amell had been cast in the lead role as Oliver Queen.  Amell can be seen currently as Cece’s off-the-wall boyfriend on New Girl.  His high energy performance on that series may indicate he is a great choice for the role as the archer superhero.

We’ll share more about this new series as we hear it!

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

One of the key differences I have always appreciated is the differences between Star Wars and Star Trek that make both franchises great.  Star Wars was more rounded in science fantasy and Star Trek in science fiction, the difference primarily being thw eighting of the world building between magic and technological explanations.  It may be that is the reason that the omniscient race of Qs rubbed me wrong in Star Trek: The Next GenerationStar Trek was always better staying away from magic or religion, a leaning and preference of creator Gene Roddenberry himself.  Q’s silly jumping in and out of crises, and even causing them, often made Picard, our hero, look baffled and sometimes petty and annoyed, which I think detracted more than it added to the series.  So I’m a bit surprised that I am not bothered at all at a union of similarly omniscient Doctor Who and Captain Picard’s crew in the May mini-series Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation².

What’s more fun than taking the two franchises’ greatest borgs, Cybermen and The Borg, and throwing them together?  A conversation between Rory and Data?  Commander Riker hitting on Amy Pond?  Is Q a long-lost Doctor?  Is the Doctor a long-lost Q?

Billed as the “two of the greatest science-fiction properties of all time come together in a comic book for the first time” that’s mainly true, although fans of the now-defunct Wizard Magazine and artist Mike Mayhew may recall seeing this stellar image created for one of Wizard’s last issues, bringing together for the first time the crew of the original Star Trek and Matt Smith’s Doctor Who with companion Amy Pond, chock full of Romulans and Klingons and Daleks and Cybermen:

I contacted the artist of the above artwork Mike Mayhew (www.mikemayhewstudio.com) to get his reaction to the new Star Trek/Doctor Who team-up:  “It’s about time!  IDW has set the stage for the sci-fi crossover folks have been waiting for.”

Mike explained the background for the Wizard project, too: “I was contacted by Wizard magazine for art to accompany an article called “Last Man Standing” that debated who would win: Vader vs. Agent Smith, Ripley vs. Sarah Connor, Alien vs. Skrulls, etc.  Wizard gave me all the characters they wanted and I researched the weapons and ships.”

I for one love it when obvious fans of genre series get to dive into the creative process like this.  borg.com readers will know Mike from his past work on Green Arrow.  He is currently finishing up the successful Marvel series FEAR ITSELF: THE HOMEFRONT and is currently working on a creator-owned book.

As a rabid fan of both Star Trek and Doctor Who, I couldn’t be happier that CBS and IDW Publishing finally realized what a good idea they had from the Wizard Magazine reference.

From the CBS/IDW announcement: “By joining these two sci-fi powerhouses, fans will be taken on the ultimate adventure through time and space,” said Liz Kalodner, executive vice president and general manager of CBS Consumer Products.  “We are excited about this new adventure for the Doctor and the fact that he will be travelling with Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his iconic crew. This is a perfect partnership for not only Doctor Who’s incredible fans, but also for the brand. We have just celebrated our most successful year yet. Doctor Who’s latest season delivered record ratings for BBC AMERICA and it was most downloaded full TV seasons of 2011 in the U.S. on the iTunes Store,” says Soumya Sriraman, executive vice president Home Entertainment and Licensing.

The eight-issue limited series will be written by Scott and David Tipton, who have written for Star Trek before in Star Trek: Infestation.  Doctor Who writer Tony Lee is also expected to contribute to writing duties for the series.  A key feature of the series will be painted covers and interior art by James K. Woodward (Star Trek: Captain’s Log: Jellico, Star Trek: New Frontier, Star Trek: The Last Generation, Star Trek: Alien Spotlight).

One photo circulating the Web shows the 11th Doctor taking companions Amy Pond and hubby Rory to Star Trek’s past–the bridge of Picard’s Enterprise-D:

If this is truly from the series (sometimes blogs release their own Photoshop fantasies as reflecting a new release so it is anyone’s guess) this may indicate the future time period for this mash-up, or that there may be some time travel within Picard’s tenure in Starfleet.  I know what you’re thinking:  Will the Enterprise-D be harder to steer than the Tardis?

Here’s a nice 2012 convention sketch by Woodward merging Doctor Who with Batman:

Sketch from Woodward's website: http://www.jkwoodward.com

And here is some of Woodward’s past work on the Star Trek franchise:

Cover to Star Trek: Captain's Log: Jellico

Woodward's take on klingons and Captain Harriman in Alien Spotlight: 4000 Throats

Woodward is pretty creative, too.  Check out this great take on a classic Justice League of America cover (#195).

And yet another great Woodward cover, proving yet again, the coolest Klingons wear eyepatches:

Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation² is scheduled for release May 2012.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

By C.J. Bunce

Today we know what happened to Charles Van Doren, either through living through the aftermath of the quiz show scandals or watching the movie Quiz Show.  Like McCarthyism and later like Watergate, certain events poke at the public and make you question what is going on around you.  Comparing ourselves to readers in the 1950s we know that we never made it to Venus  colonization in the 1990s.  We know that Marilyn Monroe would die young.  We know that Tucker’s automobile would not get very far.  Imagine the era of the Cleavers in Leave it to Beaver.  When Sandra Dee didn’t have to worry about her future but could smile and make everyone happy on the big screen.  Imagine back to the world of the Twilight Zone, but the Twilight Zone neighborhoods before weird things start to happen.

To me, it all looks black and white.  That is of course because of television, because movies had color in the 1950s.  Kodak photos were in color in the 1950s.  But even if you grew up in the 1970s you got to see everything your parents watched because of the miracle of cable TV.

Of course Time Out of Joint could take place anywhere, but it is roughly 1958 when Philip K. Dick wrote Time Out of Joint that we meet Vic and Ragle and Margo and Junie and Bill.  A time when Charles Van Doren was winning game shows on television.  Upheaval in the Middle East.  Recession, millions unemployed.  Familiar?  A normal family: Vic who works the registers at the grocery store, stay-at-home wife but civically active Margo, and son Sammy.  Margo’s brother Ragle, irresponsible, single, 46 years old and flirts with the neighbor’s wife, lives with Vic and Margo and spends the day answering contest entries in the newspaper.  He works as hard as anyone who works full-time, simply to keep winning the contests, and he has won two years in a row–national champion, his photo published in the newspaper.  Publicity of Ragle as local winner was good for the local paper.

If you have ever moved across the country to a new city, you probably felt uneasy at first.  Maybe its the new trees that look like nothing you grew up with.  Ocean where you knew only plains.  Seasons that don’t change quite right.  Simple things like grocery store chains you never heard of in your several years as resident of planet Earth.  And yet some things are familiar and you gravitate toward those places.  Maybe it is something as familair as a Target store or A&W root beer stand.  Anything that can help you get your bearing.  maybe you put your phone down at home and later find it in your car.  Too much on your mind?  Or is it something else?

Neighbors Bill and Junie Black come over to Vic and Margo’s with espresso and lasagna one night.  And tidbits of information make the reader feel like something is a little off.  Sammy’s radio gets no signal, and we learn there has been no radio reception nearby for years.  As a reader, you are slowly sucked into a world like our expected America of the 1950s, but something makes us uneasy.  Vic walks into a room fumbling for a light cord that is not there.  He doesn’t remember the room having a light switch.  Soon Ragle becomes the central character in our trip back 50 years.

Vic is paranoid.  But not so much as Ragle.  No surprise, since this is the age of paranoia, right?  Russians, civil defense alerts…all ready for the Bay of Pigs coming soon to a bomb shelter near you.  Everyone is a bit… paranoid, everyone except Bill Black.  Vic suggests Ragle can pull it all together, after all, he solves riddles with data and charts and scientific-precision calculations in their living room.

Later in the week Ragle asks Junie to go swimming, a break from strategizing his contest entries.  She recalls walking up steps where there should have been three steps but there were only two.  Ragle can’t seem to get the oddities out of his brain.  He walks to the soft-drink stand to get a beer, and it dematerializes leaving a note that states “SOFT-DRINK STAND.”  Ragle thinks he is having a nervous breakdown.  He wants to quit the contests and take a vacation out of the country.  He tells Vic.  Vic and Ragle agree something is wrong.  Somehow “the time is out of joint.”

Sammy has more slips of paper he picked up at the site of some old houses Margo was trying to have leveled by the city to protect kids from getting hurt there after school.  Ragle buys the slips of paper from Sammy and goes to the ruins and unearths several magazines he is not familair with and a phone book from an unrecognizable town and time period.  He begins calling the numbers and the operator says to try the call again.  He questions the operator and she hangs up on him.  He flips through the magazines.  One features a story that Laurence Olivier is dead.  “But he’s alive, I know it,” says Margo.  And there is a photo of a beautiful woman none have them have seen before and the magazines speak of her as if she is famous.  “Marilyn Monroe.”  The magazine says she is famous here in America.  But that can’t be.  No one has heard of her.

As readers, and suggested by Dick, is Ragle just mentally ill?  After all, he lives with his sister’s family at age 46.  He doesn’t have a real job but sleuths out word games not by solving puzzles, but like the kids that ace the SATs because they figured out the supposedly random code of the bubble dots.

The next morning neighbor Bill Black gets to work and receives a report.  About the phone calls being made.  He rushes to the office of a man named Lowery.  Could all this be happening?  Is Ragle sane again?  Suddenly we are thrust into a world that could be found in the TV series Lost.  But this experience is for more personal, far more real.  Hints at the world Dick would later write that would become the film The Adjustment Bureau and short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” that M. Night Shyamalan would uncover with The Village, that Bruce Willis encountered in Mercury Rising, that Rod Serling would investigate in “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and countless other Twilight Zone episodes.  That The Truman Show would unapologetically borrow from decades later.  But there is more here.  Dick reveals ideas in his novels in a way that seems relevant and current, even 50 years later.  Time Out of Joint is no different, and is one of my favorites of all his works.

My hints at read-alikes and watch-alikes above will give you a hint at themes to expect in this solid science fiction work that today would be side by side with mainstream bestsellers as the science fiction is only a small part of what happens to these characters.  Looks for themes that Dick pursues in later works, like the meaning of what is real, who we are.  I have a stack of all but one of Dick’s works and plan to make my way through many of them again and others for the first time.  If you have only met Philip K. Dick through the numerous movies based on his works, then there is a giant volume of brilliant novels, and maybe even more brilliant short stories that lies ahead.  Time Out of Joint would be a great entry into Dick’s work.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

After about exactly two months to the hour from when I purchased the video game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim I finally finished the game.  How close to two months?  I bought the game on December 9th, a Friday evening around 9 pm.  I finished the reunification of Skyrim set of quests at around 12:30 am on February 10th.  Finishing that set of quests got me to 48 of the 50 possible achievements for the game on Xbox.  I don’t think I’ve ever written a more obsessive-compulsive geeky sentence than that one, or for that matter a more obsessive-compulsive lede.

I finished the 49th achievement by 1:30 am that same night (escaping from jail.) I completed the last achievement (get a 1000 bounty in each hold) at about 5:30 on Friday night.  Then, after I went to each hold again to clear my name, I went to my home in Whiterun, took off all my weapons and armors and sat down to rest.  I had become Arch-Mage of the College at Winterhold, I had become the listener for the Dark Brotherhood, and I had become a member of the Nightingales as well as the guild master of the Thieves Guild.  I had become the Harbinger of the Companions.  I had slain Alduin and I had reunited the factions of Skyrim.  I think my character deserved a little sit down time, a little time to sit and reflect before beginning more adventures.

I could easily see picking up the game again and playing more even though I’ve finished it. Starting it up, grabbing a selection of weapons, armors and magical trinkets from my storage locations in Whiterun would take about five minutes.  There are still areas that I haven’t explored.  I still haven’t mastered the schools of magic or the use of a shield. (I tend to be a bow and two-handed sword guy, both of which preclude the use of a shield.)  Then again, I could pick it up and start from the beginning and instead of doing everything, maybe just do quests that relate to being a mage.  It would be tougher to do, especially with my poor hand-eye coordination skills in the middle of a melee, but I could eventually get to the same place in the game, I’m sure.

That’s the beautiful thing about this game and it reinforces the idea that I had when I first started playing the game: it’s like automated Dungeons and Dragons (or D&D for those in the know and that don’t mind abbreviations and so that I can save quite a few characters going forward.)  I loved D&D because you could take the same character, find their strengths and flaws and update your style of play to that every time you went on an adventure.  You could play that same character again and again and just like a model airplane, a drawing or a long piece of writing, you saw it improve with each new addition and you took pride in getting it to that point.  On the other hand, each time you played, you could create someone new and start that process again because I found enjoyment just creating a new character.  Playing the game no matter the character or adventure was fun.

The tough part of D&D (and to some degree another old favorite, Strat-o-matic baseball, hereafter known as Strat to save characters) was that there was such minutiae to track that sometimes you chucked things out the window or didn’t bother to track them because it would make the game take too long.  For example, there is encumbrance.  You shouldn’t be able to carry everything you can buy or find as you walk through the world.  Maybe a sword, a bow, your armor, some gold and some various bits of miscellany and that’s it.  However, writing down the weights of each, adding it up and then tracking it as you add and subtract things is not the fun way to play a game.  Skyrim does all that for you.  You want to carry five chunks of dragon bone? You can, but then when you find an ebony sword, if you decide to carry it, you can’t run.  You slowly plod along.  I tried it a couple of times.  It’s not a fun way to play.

For Strat, I liked to keep the stats of my players.  I liked to track all of the stats you’d see on the back of a baseball card.  But, if you asked me would I rather look at the past game and write up all of the statistics or play another game, I’ll take playing the next game every time.  Catching up on stats can wait until that time when all of your friends have to go home for the night.  My friend Jon introduced me to Diamond Mind Baseball, I found automated stats and all I had to do was play the game.

However, not all is rosy in the world of the Elder Scrolls.  The first negative with Skyrim, and you can probably guess what it is from the previous three paragraphs, is the lack of a social aspect.  It’s a single player game and there is no multi-player option. (Boy, would a multi-player option be great.)  What made D&D and Strat so great was the chance to get together with friends and play a game.  I’m not saying that there isn’t a social aspect to Skyrim; it’s just not in playing the game. If I know someone has played or is playing, I want to hear about their character.  What race did they choose, what paths did they try, where they are in the story, did they get married, did they buy houses, what are their strongest traits, what shouts do they know or whatever comes to mind in what I just did in the game.  Most everyone likes to talk about their characters and how they choose to interact with the world.  The great thing about these conversations though is the thought to return to our youth.  Playing Skyrim has led me to a few different conversations to play some D&D or other role-playing games.  That has me more than a bit excited.  I love games.

The second negative with Skyrim is my problem with pop culture addiction.  Playing Skyrim ebbs and flows, there are times when it becomes a little less interesting as it feels like you are just running errands, but at other times, you can’t wait to see where the story goes next, where your abilities and skill with the game match up perfectly with the difficulties of fighting and every battle is a perfectly tuned challenge.  Those are the times that I can’t stop playing and just like staying up until 3 am to catch up on Mad Men, watching the sixth episode of the day of The Wire or Doctor Who or reading books until 5 am because after every chapter I want to know what happens next, Skyrim fits into that danger zone of compulsion where I don’t leave the house and push off sleep until the early hours of the morning.  I stayed up until 3 am for four straight days and woke up at 8 am every morning as battles with Draugr and dragons filled my dreams and I had to battle the temptation to immediately turn my Xbox on again.  (I failed more than a couple of those internal battles.)  I became a walking zombie with Skyrim replacing the quest for brains.

As you can see, those negatives don’t reflect that poorly on the game, just my ability to manage it and my expectations for it.  I did love playing it, but its greatest magic comes from opening the past portals to my life, the joy from getting together with friends to play a game.  I’m sure I’ll still play Settlers of Catan or Apples to Apples with friends, but the chance to play a little D&D now that it has stirred in the minds of friends and myself makes me smile a little inside.  First level never sounded so wonderful.

Tonight dog lovers across the galaxy tune in to their screens for the annual Super Bowl of dogdom, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.  Here at borg.com, this is serious TV viewing, and this year our thoughts naturally turned to… dogs in space.  Like Laika, the first dog in space who beat mankind into the outer realms, these dogs have gone… where no man has gone before.  So we bring you our very own contenders for Best in Show–our picks for best dogs from genre fiction in TV, movies, and comics (in no particular order).

1.  Toto – Who better to start our list than the little terrier feisty enough to take a bite out of Miss Gulch and accompany Dorothy on her journey down the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz?

2.  Einstein – Doc Brown’s faithful sheepdog companion, like Laika, was the first to make a historic voyage there and back again in a Delorean in Back to the Future.

3.  Fluffy – Two heads are better than one, so three must be exponentially better.  How can you not like this lovable cerberus from Harry Potter & the Sorceror’s Stone?  Just don’t let thieves know their secret, that music will lull them fast to sleep.

4.  Fang – Speaking of Harry Potter, we can’t pass up the loyal and large pal to Hagrid, Fang the boarhound (played by a Neapolitan Mastiff).  Although Hagrid calls him a bloody coward, in The Sorceror’s Stone he took Harry and company through the Forbidden Forest.

5.  Krypto – Strange how themes repeat themselves.  Originally, Krypto, like Laika and Einstein, was Jor-El’s first foray into creating a vehicle to get Kal-El (our Superman) off of the planet Krypton and on his path to Earth.  Although a mishap sends Krypto off-course, fortunately he makes his way back to his best friend.

6.  Porthos – We would later learn Porthos would have a pack of offspring of his own per Scotty in Star Trek 2009.  This fellow accompanied Captain Jonathan Archer on many a mission where no man had gone before in the earliest Star Trek stories on the series Enterprise.

7.  Astro – Maybe the first family dog we were introduced to in the future of our past, Astro loved Elroy, Judy, Jane and George Jetson and showed there are no bad dogs today and hundreds of years from now.

8.  Commander Kruge’s targ – We never learned her name, but this fiercely loyal friend helped make all of us cheer for Kruge when he went up against Admiral James T. Kirk in Star Trek: The Search for Spock.  Unfortunately, she represents the one four-legged companion on our list that doesn’t make it, thanks to that dastardly Kirk and friends.

9.  Fizzgig – Seemingly cute and innocent, Fizzgig is the Muppet companion to Kira in The Dark Crystal.  Like Kruge’s targ, although not technically Canis familiaris, he had all the qualities of a good buddy and did not hesitate to bear his fangs to protect Kira when he sensed danger.

10. Butler – James Kirk redeems himself in his last mission when he is sucked into the Nexus in Star Trek Generations.  His reaction to seeing his dog Butler at his old home shows there was a real guy in that Captain Kirk.

Honorable mention:  All greyhounds, since they look like AT-ATs from The Empire Strikes Back.

Do you have any others you think should make the list?  Let us know, and enjoy the Dog Show tonight! The 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show airs tonight and Tuesday on USA and MSNBC. Only dogs from Earth are eligible.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

My exposure to the Lone Ranger was via Saturday movie serials featuring Clayton Moore’s portrayal of the masked lawman and his partner Tonto, played by Jay Silverheels.  I watched these with my dad, and he had watched them in the theaters as a kid.  My exposure to Zorro was via Guy Williams’ portrayal in a similar series I watched with my dad.  Williams, of course, later played Will Robinson on Lost in Space.  Moore and Williams looked alike to me, and I’ll admit if you told me George Reeves (who portrayed Superman in the 1950s alongside these other shows) had starred as Zorro or the Lone Ranger I would not have been surprised.  I mention all three together here because they all could be the same forthright hero played by the same lead actor.  So from my view it is a no-brainer that you would hook up the two Old West characters from this period of classic TV.  (I also was familiar with the Antonio Banderas films The Mask of Zorro and The Legend of Zorro).

   

The Lone Ranger: The Death Of Zorro Issues #1-5, published last year, was released this week in a trade paperback edition and it’s one you’ll want to check out if you like Westerns, especially the old Lone Ranger and Zorro serials, or if you’re just looking for something different.

This is not a team-up–It is more like The Godfather, Part 2, in its structure with Don Diego/Zorro in the Don Corleone slot and John Reid/The Lone Ranger in the Michael Corleone slot.

A fully realized historical fiction novel is lurking somewhere between the pages of this book, held back only by the required page count for the comic book format.  Expect something much more complex than, say, the current All-Star Western series by DC Comics (which is brilliant in a different way).  Unlike the Jonah Hex story, this is a shoot ’em up only secondarily.  Like Jai Nitz’s work on Dynamite’s Kato Origins series, Ande Parks delves deeper into the characters we only know on the surface.  I have been getting the vibe reading Dynamite Comics titles in the past year that this rich writing of background and relationships is becoming a hallmark of the publisher’s writer choices.  This trade paperback edition features another stellar retro homage to Zorro and The Lone Ranger by cover artist Alex Ross.

Note that this is not a Zorro book as much as a Lone Ranger book, as the Spanish masked hero dies early on, which should be no surprise based on the title.  But his spirit and legacy fuels the actions of the Lone Ranger and the rest of the story.  The audacity of killing off one of the heroes so early was surprising, but in that good way just as Steven Seagal had shared billing in the trailers with Kurt Russell in Executive Decision, yet was eliminated within minutes of the opening credits.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see Parks and artist Esteve Polls branching off on some past Zorro stories down the road.  Polls’s artistic style for this book has a very classic Western look and feel.

Look for themes of honor, loyalty, racism, brutality, corruption, Civil War aftermath, Spanish influences in America, the legacy of Native Americans–all here.  There is plenty woven into this story.  Parks even works in a subplot involving bushwhackers who have a James brothers vibe.  Plenty of strong-willed characters can be found here, and villains who are not just the guys in the black hats but characters with their own rules and motivations, however clouded or deluded as seen through the eye of hindsight from the modern reader.

You need only have a passing interest in the Old West to get sucked in.  Those who wouldn’t think to give the genre a try are missing out on some good storytelling.  Place this story alongside DC Comics’ El Diablo: The Haunted Horseman as a good entry point for new readers (Parks served as inker on El Diablo) as Dynamite currently has several titles featuring The Lone Ranger available.

Ande Parks will be known here to fans of Green Arrow as inker for several years on the DC Comics title, along with artist Phil Hester.  He also has written several works, including Capote In Kansas, Union Station, and The Green Hornet: Blood Ties.

The Lone Ranger: The Death Of Zorro is now available at Amazon here.

Few actors have had the opportunity to explore as many diverse characters as David Warner.  As genre actor, Warner is frequently the choice for leading man villain roles, for his long face and ominous stature, but it is his powerful voice and slithery and sneering yet refined inflections that cause his words to echo years after you hear them.  He’s played classic roles like Henry VI and Hamlet and King Lear and even Bob Cratchit, he played a villain in the big budget movie Titanic and yet also narrated a Winnie the Pooh movie.  He’s performed opposite Vanessa Redgrave, Gregory Peck, Jason Robards, and Anthony Quinn, and also opposite Steve Martin and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  And since his debut in 1963 he has guest-starred in a variety of series ranging from Remington Steele and Hart to Hart to the Father Dowling Mysteries and Tales from the Crypt, to Murder She Wrote and The Outer Limits.  In 50 years he has portrayed upwards of 200+ characters in as many productions.

But we love him best for his sci-fi, fantasy, superhero and costume adventure roles.  Take a look at the various major franchises where Warner has left his mark:

TOM JONES (1963).  In David Warner’s screen debut he played the conniving Blifil, out to destroy the wily an dashing Tom, played by Albert Finney, and win over Tom’s love interest, played by Susannah York.  From the very beginning we can see the kinds of roles Warner would be cast in.  As an 18th century squire’s son, Warner performed according to period style and manner, yet subtley dastardly and ungentlemanly.

THE OMEN (1976).  Warner played Keith Jennings, an unfortunate photo-journalist who becomes one of Damien’s victims, one of many roles for Warner as part of the horror genre.

TIME AFTER TIME (1979).  In director Nicholas Meyer’s critically acclaimed re-imagining of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, Warner plays gentleman John Leslie Stevenson opposite Malcolm McDowell’s author and inventor H.G. Wells.  Or is he such a gentleman?  As the most loathsome and recounted villain in history, Warner’s take on Jack the Ripper as 19th century murderer-turned-time traveller let loose in modern times is picture perfect.

TIME BANDITS (1981).  As the all powerful epitome of evil genius, the Evil Genius, in the silly Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits, Warner plays it completely straight, giving gravity to his performance and legitimacy to the entire film.

TRON (1982).  For a subset of kids who were 10 to 12 years old in 1982, David Warner’s Sark was every bit as cool a bad guy as Darth Vader.  Warner played three roles in Tron, Ed Dillinger, executive of ENCOM, Sark, the red master of the soldiers in the computer world of The Grid, and the voice of Sark’s own master, the frightening and lifeless Master Control Program.  Sark’s viciousness and lack of concern for anyone but himself was Warner at his best.

STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989).  In Warner’s first foray into the Star Trek universe Warner proved he could play not only high class evil but also a character who was outright smarmy.  Hypnotized by Laurence Luckinbill’s mystic Vulcan Sybok, Warner’s St. John Talbot represents Starfleet stuck at the arse-end of the universe.

TWIN PEAKS (1991 ).  As the conniving Thomas Eckhardt, Warner managed to carve out a memorable role in the middle of the strangest band of characters ever to hit the TV screen.  Although a lot of his character’s cunning occurred off-screen and in back story, onscreen Warner revealed a sinister affair with his former protegé, Josie Packard, including the assassination of his former business partner, Mister Packard.

STAR TREK VI:  THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991).  In another Nicholas Meyer film and Warner’s second Star Trek work, Warner is stunning as the Abraham Lincoln of the Klingon Empire.  With a new Klingon regal look and flanked by fellow Shakespearean thespian Christopher Plummer as Chang, Warner’s Chancellor Gorkon by all appearances was a typical Klingon warrior, but at a dinner with the crew of the Enterprise we learned that a Klingon could upstage the would-be heroes of the Star Trek universe, making them look like a group of backwoods hicks.  Acting against type, Warner’s martyred leader died trying to bring the Federation and Klingons together, and Warner’s sincerity made us care, and his characterization in turn flipped our view of the Federation upside down.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1992).  Returning to the drippingly sinister, pure evil of Warner’s performances as Jack the Ripper and Sark, Warner’s Cardassian interrogator Gul Madred was the only villain except The Borg to have bested Captain Jean-Luc Picard, in the two-part Next Generation episode “Chain of Command.”  Gul Madred pulls no punches torturing Picard, even after his own people require Picard to be returned to Starfleet.  I see three lights!

LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (1994).  Proving that TV audiences would accept David Warner in the same league as Marlon Brando, Warner was able to play Jor-El, Superman’s noble father who was savvy and smart enough to save his son from his planet’s oblivion despite violating the rule of law of Krypton.

BATMAN (Animated) (1992-1995).  In the DC Comics animated universe, Warner voiced the smooth talking terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul for several episodes of the series, locking in his continual casting for genre voice roles.

BABYLON 5 (1995). In Babylon 5, Warner portrayed Aldous Gajic, the brain wiping seeker of the Holy Grail who dies saving a younger character that he sees as a version of his former self.

SPIDER-MAN (Animated) (1995-1997).  Not one of his biggest roles for sure, Warner here was able to add the Marvel Comics franchise and one of Marvel’s greatest foes, Red Skull, to his list of accomplishments.

MEN IN BLACK (Animated) (1997-1999).  Here Warner played Alpha, a rogue Men in Black chief who had previously been Agent K’s friend and mentor.

TOTAL RECALL (TV) (1999).  As leading neurosurgeon Dr. Felix Latham, Latham works for Rekall and again Warner plays an assassinated character.  Or was he a clone?

STAR TREK: KLINGON ACADEMY (Video Game) (2000).  The video game includes some surprisingly good new footage of Warner and Christopher Plummer reprising their roles as Gorkon and Chang.

STAR WARS: FORCE COMMANDER (Video Game) (2000).  It is easy to picture Warner as Grand General Brashin, a viperous Grand Moff Tarkin type in this video game from the Star Wars universe.

HORATIO HORNBLOWER – MUTINY and RETRIBUTION (2001).  Returning to the costume adventure genre where Warner first got started, Warner played Captain James Sawyer in two installments of the brilliant and exciting Horatio Hornblower series from A&E.  Sawyer was the vile and cruel taskmaster of the HMS Renown.

PLANET OF THE APES (2001).  As Helena Bonham Carter’s ape’s white-haired father Senator Sandar, Warner showed that he is nowhere near finished amassing sci-fi film franchises.

DOCTOR WHO: UNBOUND (Audio) (2003 and 2008). Warner played the famous Doctor (an alternate Third Doctor, that is) opposite David Tennant, before Tennant was to play the 10th TV version of The Doctor, in the installment Sympathy for the Devil.  Warner reprised the role five years later in Masters of War.

DOCTOR WHO: DREAMLAND (Animated) (2009).  Warner played in the world of Doctor Who yet again as Lord Azlok, Lord Knight of the Imperial Viperox War Horde in this animated production.

And to wrap it up, at this link you will find a 10-minute feature involving Dillinger’s character from the original Tron, first appearing on the Tron: Legacy DVD release special features.  It has been suggested that this is a bridge for Warner to reprise his role as Dillinger and Sark in the sequel to Tron: Legacy.

We can only hope!

END OF LINE

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

It sounds better than it is.  Star Wars is back in theaters.  “See it again for the first time.”  Before 1999 this would have been incredible huge news, and of course in 1999 it was huge news.  Back then we hadn’t seen any new Star Wars movie hit the big screen since 1985, when the last reels of Return of the Jedi played in dollar theaters across the country.  And we all lined up around the block at theaters to see this new Star Wars, this time a big “prequel,” and what would be the film to define that word forever after.

The first time the words Star Wars appeared at the top of the familiar scroll and John Williams trumpets blared from nowhere, no audience was silent.  Star Wars Episode I:  The Phantom Menace was finally here!  And then the movie began.  And there was talk of tariffs…and…what’s that?  Tariffs?  Trade routes?  And the wincing started.  And it didn’t really end until Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith showed Darth Vader walking like Frankenstein.  I’ve always said the reason why franchises succeed is because of checks and balances and the involvement in every enterprise of several creative minds.  When one guy makes all the decisions, and presumably everyone around him is afraid to question his vision, the result is Episode 1.

That said, 1999 was a long time ago.  By now you have probably watched Episode 1 on cable more times than you would admit, simply because nothing else good was on, and, isn’t a little Star Wars universe better than no Star Wars universe?  And maybe you know some kids who weren’t going to movies in 1999.  If so, then, whether or not you love or less-than-love Episode 1, you’d be nuts not to grab that kid and go see it again.

Wait a second, what’s that you said about wincing?

I know.  You can come up with so many reasons to avoid this movie:  (1) Everyone blames Jar Jar for everything, global warming, the economy…  Personally, if George Lucas was aiming at kids just a bit with this character, then fine.  He’s only annoying when you consider being an adult viewer.  If Jar Jar was the only oddity in Episode 1, everyone would have little bad to say about the film.

Jar Jar, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan

(2) But you have to add to Jar Jar things like the stupefying midichlorians, an unwanted scientific explanation for the existence of Jedi that instantly shifted all this great space fantasy to questionable science fiction.  It was an unnecessary concept that made the possibility that anyone could become a Jedi, even young hopeful Earthlings, vanish.  You gotta have the noble blood.  Lame.  (3) And I already mentioned the pure excitement of discussing trade routes.  As a concept later in the prequel trilogy this might have worked, but as the first thing we saw, it started us out wrong.  (4) Then you have Queen Amidala.  What could have been used to explain the strength, leadership, and determination of Princess Leia became one of the most pathetic attempts at strong women leaders put on screen.  In Episode 1, she is foreshadowed to be paired with this much younger and smaller boy.  It all seemed so wrong.  In all three prequels she never gets to do anything, with all her greatness happening apparently off-screen.  (5) And to top off the bad, the one character we cared about, that we wanted to see, was never Anakin.  It was Obi-Wan Kenobi.  The guy who first whispered about the clone wars to us.  His past was key to everything.  And in Episode 1 instead of someone awe-inspiring we got a young, pompous, arrogant jerk with a goofy haircut.  We didn’t want to idolize Jedi Knights as protectors who were better than the rest of us.  We wanted Jedi who would stand shoulder to shoulder with the little guy.  Samurai, not WWII military police.  (6)  Phantom Menace as a title, announced well before the release, was indicative of the weird we’d get.  Luckily all the other titles were far better.  (7) Haven’t we already given enough of our earnings to the House of Lucas?  (8) One final thing (because we could go on forever):  CGI Yoda can’t touch Muppet Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back.  ’nuff said.

Amidala in Padme disguise

So there is a lot to wince at.  But then again maybe we should all just lighten up and go with it.  Criticizing Episode 1 is too easy.  Don’t be Simon Pegg in the TV series SpacedUnlearn what you have learned.  Why should I go to see it, you ask?

First, Darth Maul.  More specifically, Ray Park’s performance as Darth Maul.  If they didn’t get anything else right with Episode 1, they finally gave us a lightsaber battle worthy of the Jedi and an acrobatic athlete up to the task of taking on knights in space.  And Maul’s red center-handled lightsaber could not have been a better designed weapon.  Although we questioned the red face and horns, at the time we didn’t know that he was but the first in a line of several prospective alien lieutenants of varying races that were being tested to be the Emperor’s one right-hand man.

Qui-Gon, Kenobi and Zod (oh my!)

Although he was only half as cool as he should have been, with his stilted dialogue and inexplicable removal of a little boy from his mother (leaving her to be a slave!), Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gonn Jinn had a very cool look, and for what Lucas was attempting to do, he gave us a leader we all would happily follow.  And where he was lacking, we got to meet an even cooler Jedi, Mace Windu, played by Samuel L. Jackson.  His calm coolness worked, even if he didn’t get to do much yet.

Mace Windu hanging out

And one contributor to the Star Wars universe who never failed was John Williams.  His new score for Episode 1 was on par with Return of the Jedi.  Sure it was darker and less magical, but it reflected the story Williams was handed.  The seemingly never-ending pod race would have been far more painful without his new theme.  The “duel of the fates” of the climax would have been far less foreboding without his incredible soundtrack.

Composer John Williams

Next, the costumes were just awesome.  Check out all of Natalie Portman’s 3,761 dresses.  And the set design and sound can’t be beat.

Finally, the nostalgia and pure fun may be all the reason you need to see this one.  Anthony Daniels as C-3Po.  Kenny Baker as R2-D2Tusken Raiders on Tatooine almost changing the future of the galaxy with a single rifle shot at a little boy in a pod race.  Cameos by Warwick Davis and former Star Wars, Star Trek and Lord of the Rings fan club president Dan Madsen!  Emperor Zod as a good guy!

Kenny Baker, R2-D2 and Dan Madsen

And who doesn’t like 3D?  Just pop some Excedrin before you go.  It might help prevent the headache behind your eyes.

Besides, putting aside the way cool and creepy Daniel Radcliffe movie The Woman in Red, or the 3D version of Disney’s best animated work, Beauty and the Beast, what else are you going to see in theaters this weekend that is any better than the Star Wars universe in 3D?  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?  The Vow?  The Grey?  There are three great reasons right there to buy tickets for Episode 1 in 3D before they’re sold out.  And it might whet your appetite while you wait for a better film to return, Attack of the Clones, and then later the real fun begins–the original Star Wars in 3D and then The Empire Strikes Back in 3D.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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