Advertisements

Archive for September, 2017


Review by C.J. Bunce

This week Star Trek: The Next Generation observes its 30th anniversary of airing its pilot episode.  For this anniversary Titan Books released this week an over-sized hardcover book collecting artist Juan Ortiz’s poster art that he designed for a 2015 trading card series by Rittenhouse called the Star Trek: The Next Generation Portfolio Prints Series (previewed here at borg.com two years ago).  Like the trading card series, the new book The Art of Juan Ortiz: Star Trek: The Next Generation features all 177 episodes of the series, as interpreted by the celebrated illustrator and designer for firms that include Disney and Warner Bros.  You might recall Ortiz’s breakout work, his 2013 poster art for Star Trek’s original series, an eye-popping re-imagining of each episode of the classic show as if each episode had its own movie-style poster (reviewed here at borg.com).  For Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ortiz takes a similar approach–each poster an homage to an episode–but his style and focus are entirely different.  The Art of Juan Ortiz: Star Trek: The Next Generation requires the individual to take a bit of an intellectual journey.  If you were a fan of Ortiz’s original Star Trek series designs, you might approach this expecting something similar.  It’s not.  A flip through his book is more like attending a new gallery show of a modern artist you’ve seen before but he’s debuting an exhibition of new work.

As with any artwork the interpretation is in the eyes of the viewer, sometimes–and perhaps even usually–requiring the viewer to take an active approach to the viewing experience.  The viewer must participate in a review of Ortiz’s posters.  With Ortiz’s original series, they all rang with a similar nostalgia factor, applying mid-century retro imagery from advertising, movies, cartoons, and TV shows.  Some of his Next Generation posters follow the rules he created with his first series.  His poster for The Big Goodbye features a pulp noir cover with glimpses at the crew in the Dixon Hill holonovel.  The Dauphin poster features a stylized silhouette of the scene where Wesley introduces Salia to another world.  His look at A Fistful of Datas is an homage to classic spaghetti Western posters.  And his image for The Neutral Zone (as seen on the book cover) captures the Romulan warbird reaching out for the Enterprise-D, similar to stylized imagery from his first series.  Ortiz mostly forgoes the more expected nods this time.  He also forgoes 1980s design tropes–something a viewer might expect for a 1980s series homage–and opts instead for inspiration from indie film posters, black-light posters, rock/punk, and comic books generally.  The result is a bit refreshing while also unexpected and even jarring.  The artist clearly takes the viewer on a new journey–an intriguing one that tells the viewer as much about our own knowledge of the series as about Ortiz’s views of the series–while he explores a new and different way to look at Star Trek.  

Ortiz acknowledges in the notes that his favorite character is Brent Spiner’s Data, and Data seems to be his default subject matter for many of the images, while he also employs Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard frequently and appears to use Denise Crosby as a focus whenever possible.  As much as he focuses an image on the grand theme of an episode, he just as often pulls the most obscure–while still memorable–detail for the eye to focus on.  Take for instance his response to Parallels, an episode that showcases Michael Dorn’s Worf, who has crossed over from a parallel universe.  Ortiz instead uses as his focus Riker, featured captaining the ship and later destroyed among an infinite universe of Enterprise-Ds.  His view of Timespace takes a 1960s mod approach, and focuses on the humorous fleeting image where Picard draws a smiley-face in a cloud of gas.  With every image he seems to request the viewer to ask the question:  What part of the episode is being conveyed here?  With that query he causes interaction between the viewer and the art.  And the viewer may not always grasp the message of every poster, which may prompt repeat viewings.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Narragansett Brewing Company has a new Lovecraft beer available this summer, complete with an excellently creepy and fantasy-rich marketing campaign.  The latest in Narragansett’s series of Lovecraft offerings features a tale of a classic copper-helmeted deep-sea diver, and the presentation is the kind of design that beer can collectors will want to get their hands on.  Born in 1890, the same year that Narragansett Beer was founded, H.P. Lovecraft spent the majority of his life in Providence, Rhode Island, as a struggling author, only achieving literary fame posthumously.  Commonly referred to as the “Father of Modern Horror,” he influenced authors and artists from Stephen King to Metallica to Ridley Scott.  H.P. Lovecraft is probably best known for creating Cthulhu, a fictional deity described as being part man, part dragon and part octopus.  It is this creature that inspired the Cthulhu Mythos, a cultural lore and shared fictional universe of Lovecraft successors.

Past Lovecraft beers in the series have featured homages to Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Herbert West–Reanimator, and The White Ship Now ushering in the Halloween season, inspired by Lovecraft’s incredible short story The Temple, Narragansett’s latest includes a great video to accompany the release (check it out below, and you can read Lovecraft’s original stories online at the links in the above titles).

Now that autumn has arrived it’s also time for Oktoberfests, and Renaissance Faire season is in full swing.  Narragansett has that covered as well, with a richly drawn medieval theme in its new Fest Marzen Lager.  Featuring an image of the mythical King Gambrinus based on an 1898 illustration, the orange can echoes the coming falling leaves and contains the company’s Bavarian style beer offered in the 1960s and 1970s.  The Fest product was the most requested beer by fans of the company in a recent poll, and this is the first time the company is releasing it to market in three years.  To celebrate the “Return of the King,” ‘Gansett is launching release parties and even a half marathon with pumpkin pie at the finish line.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Syd Mead, the famed “artist who illustrates the future,” is an icon of visionary design and illustration.  No other creator has shown the world a utopian vision of a possible future in so many ways.  At the same time he has created a world we want to see develop that lies ahead, we have seen his future begin to be realized.  His aerodynamic designs have influenced auto design in recent decades from car makers including Chrysler, Ford, and GM.  He has created the look of space technology that we all accept as believable thanks to his concept art–art that has influenced the art direction of films for four decades.  A new book published this month provides an in-depth intellectual review of Mead’s style, influences, and impact on the history of design.  The Movie Art of Syd Mead: Visual Futurist is a college level, art design course book of sorts that takes movie concept art to an entirely new level, a serious look at his style that will appeal to serious artists in any field, and a popular work for fans of the films he has inspired.

“What makes Syd’s vision so compelling,” says the book’s author, architect/designer and professor Craig Hodgetts, “is not only the means he employs to convey it, but the acute physical and environmental awareness: the endless curiosity about how the world works; the precise level of detail and the practical engineering knowledge that he brings to even the most fantastic devices.”  Beginning with the look of the both geometric and organic mechanical villain V’ger from the year 2273 in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture to a mid-21st century casino and hotel in this year’s Blade Runner 2049, Mead’s sketches, drawings, illustrations, and paintings have inspired and influenced the art design of dozens of movie productions.

   

Mead’s most groundbreaking and memorable cinematic visionary creations came in the 1980s with four films.  Returning to our theme of celebrating 1982 films, for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner Mead was influenced by Edward Hopper’s desolate cityscapes.  To translate author Phillip K. Dick’s writings into visual form, Mead and Scott took an idea of sculpture artists Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Stankewicz and author William Gibson.  The filmmakers lay claim to be the first to use their ideas of “retro-fitting” on film–the process of creating a unique object by means of a strategic assemblage of allied components; by harvesting parts from abandoned or obsolescent “donors” and re-assembling them, a new entity is created.  In the same year as Blade Runner, Mead saw his designs realized in the very different world of Tron, modelling a convincing digital world by extrapolating from the patterns of computer motherboards and other now obsolete technology of the era.  The giant screen-filling image of Master Control, the labyrinthine pathways for the lightcycles, and Sark’s hefty transport vessel all hailed from the mind and pen of Mead.  Taking the look of James Cameron’s original Alien film and modifying it significantly, Mead skipped the “slick shapes of Star Trek” and the “greeblies of Star Wars” to create what he envisioned as a “highly-engineered, purposeful vessel” where each feature could have a function, in the 1986 sequel Aliens In the same year, Mead created what would become an iconic image of the 1980s, Number Five the robot, the friendly star of the film Short Circuit.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Once again Tom Cruise proves he can’t make a bad action movie.  This Friday his latest, American Made, opens in theaters nationwide.  It is absolutely a Tom Cruise movie for anyone that loves Tom Cruise movies, and everyone else will find a 1980s flashback blast waiting for them.  Cruise has had starring or recognizable roles in 42 movies.  As with star actors like John Wayne and Arnold Schwarzenegger, many expect to see Cruise play Cruise in every new film, but that’s not quite what happens.  Like many actors you can bundle their performances into categories, although it’s easy to find some overlap.  There are Cruise’s cocky maverick hotshots in Jack Reacher, Collateral, Mission: Impossible, Days of Thunder, Rain Man, Cocktail, The Color of Money, and The Outsiders.  That’s a bit different Cruise than the renegades of Top Gun, Oblivion, Valkyrie, Minority Report, Born on the Fourth of July, and The Last Samurai But that’s not the Cruise you’ll find in American Made.  This is Cruise as flawed, cavalier everyman–and a bit of a dope–the kind of roles you could see Gary Cooper or Kevin Costner cast in.  Early buzz suggests this new role is Cruise as cocky maverick hotshot, but that’s only on the surface because he’s playing a pilot.  In American Made you’ll find the more casual but layered Cruise of War of the Worlds, Far and Away, Edge of Tomorrow, A Few Good Men, The Firm, and Jerry Maguire.  This is also the more likeable, more relatable Cruise persona.

Cruise’s character Barry Seal was a real person who fell into some crazy, impossibly outlandish situations as a pilot in the 1970s and 1980s.  This isn’t a true biography–the real events in Seal’s life are far different than as portrayed in the first half of the film, but the second half tracks much closer.  The Barry Seal of the film begins as a well-trained pilot that gets bored with the mundane.  He starts small, smuggling cigars from Cuba into the states while a TWA pilot.  Then a CIA agent named Schafer catches him and offers him a deal: Seal’s evasive techniques are perfect to take spy photos in Central America.  For Seal it beats boredom, and it’s a breeze for him, despite the frequent heavy gunfire.  Seal gets in deep but never really seems to understand how deep, because underneath what would appear to be your typical hotshot pilot is that bit of a dope.  He is so clueless he can’t fathom that his wife, played by Sarah Wright Olsen (Parks and Recreation, Enchanted, 7th Heaven), won’t respond affirmatively that she trusts him when he gives her a smile and asks “do you trust me?”  Twice.  He’s actually taken aback, despite the impossible situation he drags his wife into (like Jerry Maguire trying to convince his new girlfriend that all isn’t as bad as it seems).  And his new pal list includes Manuel Noriega.

CIA agent Schafer (an amalgam of agents the real-life Seal had worked with) is played by Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ex Machina, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).  Gleeson is a ringer for Timothy Busfield in Field of Dreams or Sneakers and has great chemistry with Cruise–and he’s surprisingly strong directing the much older Cruise’s actions in scene after scene despite his youth.  Together Schafer and Seal build-up some CIA successes, but Seal has a growing family and needs some extra money on the side–and Schafer isn’t providing more money–so the CIA success is coupled with Seal’s casual assistance in the rise of the Medellin Cartel as he begins smuggling cocaine.  The DEA learns about it and Seal bounces back and forth, playing for both sides, ultimately smuggling weapons for the White House and Ollie North in what became the Iran-Contra scandal.  And then the FBI gets involved.  And all the while Seal literally can’t figure out what to do with all his proceeds from his smuggling, burying some piles of cash in the yard, his wife stuffing shoe boxes full of money in closets, after buying up much of the small town they arrive at in Arkansas.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you had a time machine and your goal was to find someone to give a master class in storytelling–a master class in worldbuilding–and bringing an idea to reality, would there be a better choice than Jim Henson?  Henson will be forever known first for his Sesame Street character Ernie and Muppets Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, The Swedish Chef, and more.  The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Show are beloved by generations.  He made the unreal seem real, and fantasy as close to reality as we may ever see it.  Yet he was perhaps proudest of the creation of the first full-length, live-action motion picture where the stars were all creatures, The Dark Crystal, yet another of the unforgettable films from 1982 we’re celebrating this year here at borg.com.  The Henson family and The Jim Henson Company have opened their archive and published the remarkable story of the film from idea to the film’s release in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, available this month from Insight Editions.

Writer Caseen Gaines’ new chronicle of The Dark Crystal is not a typical “visual companion.”  The story told in the text provides a most intriguing account of Henson, a behind the scenes look at the man from his family and all those who worked with him, as he talked through the idea for a darker story while delayed on a chance cancelled flight with his daughter, as he cast a team of puppet builders, creative performance artists, artisans, costumers, and concept design artists, as he leveraged the success of The Muppet Movie, and strategically negotiated his way to gain investment dollars to make a film that stands alone in the history of fantasy film.  As daughter Cheryl Henson states in the book, “I don’t think my father ever tried to hide how something was done, because how it’s done is often as interesting as the final product”–and that proves true in The Ultimate Visual History.  She provides a foreword to the book and an introduction is provided by film creators Brian and Wendy Froud.

Gaines includes tipped-in replica memorabilia from the Jim Henson archives, which she integrates into the narrative to illustrate the five years of Henson’s concept to screen process.  Readers gain new appreciation for Henson as we witness his own hand-written notebook pages of ideas for the characters that would transform into the dualism of the Skeksis and Mystics, Brian Froud’s original concept book created to sell the idea to investors, outlines, story treatments, hand-drawn sketches, scene memos, and a concept art pitch book by Froud for a planned sequel.  Photographs document a chronological preparation of characters looking at first nothing like their final on-screen personas and the difficult process of creating the mechanics for each type of character, for Gelflings Jen and Kira, the exiled Skeksis Chamberlain, Jen’s dying Mystic master, a room full of potato-headed Podlings, the wise goddess/prophet Aughra, the majestic Landstriders, the giant beetle-like Garthim, and the cute and toothy fuzzy Fizzgig.  The new fantasy world had its roots in myths and folklore, yet Henson created something singular with all these magicians that was akin to Tolkien’s fantasy realm.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

In a year of retrospectives that included the return to theaters of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), would you have guessed that the film to fill the most theater seats would be Hayao Miyazaki’s 1984 film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind?  Sunday I saw just that, as Ghibli Fest 2017 and Fathom Events presented the first of three screenings nationwide.  Tonight you, too, can see Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind at select theaters nationwide, the subtitled version, followed by the 2005 English dubbed version screening again Wednesday.  Check out the Fathom Events website here for participating theaters and to get tickets.  If you are a fan of Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, epic fantasy films, or great cinema in general, Nausicaä is a completely different film in the theater than as seen on the small screen.  In the theater you will be immersed in Miyazaki’s sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrific, post-apocalyptic world.  You’ll surrounded by the prolific composer Joe Hisaishi’s sweeping, gorgeous melodies and breathtaking emotional cues.  And if you’re an anime fan debating which of Miyazaki’s creations is the best–Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, or My Neighbor Totoro…  you may decide Nausicaä is the winner.

Nausicaä is chillingly timeless and current.  I discovered what began as a rather chatty theater suddenly became quiet as the story’s themes unfolded: the consequences of unchecked technological advances, the price of decades of polluting the environment, the likely outcome of warring nations bent on total destruction of the other, the results of failing to take responsibility for the animal kingdom.  Miyazaki combined more compelling and important drama in one film than many top directors have created in the entirety of their careers.  But the film is not the stuff of your typical bland mainstream drama–it’s chock full of action and daring adventure of the fantastical variety while also considered a science fiction tale because of its dystopian vision of the future.  Set one thousand years into the future, the world was once ravaged, and cities destroyed, by mutated insects and beasts created by humans as bioweapons that laid waste to everything like military tanks, all during the horrible Seven Days of Fire.

But over the centuries a balance has formed between the Toxic Jungle, humans, and the animal world.  A young woman named Nausicaä, a princess of the Valley of the Wind, is praised and respected by her people.  She studies the forest, its creatures, dangerous spores, and the environment, all in secret, searching for anything to help her preserve the progress that has been made.  Her world is soon upset by the people of Tomekia, militant humans led by Princess Kushana (voiced in the English version by Uma Thurman) bent on destroying the insects and sending the world out of balance.  But it is Princess Nausicaä that steals every scene.  From the very beginning she emerges as a great leader, clever and resourceful, never hesitating to protect the people and things she cares about.  And the plot threads are entirely unpredictable–Miyazaki’s entire grasp of fantasy, interlocked with amazing special effects for an animated film, suck us down into the quicksand with Nausicaä and a boy named Asbel.  Miyazaki created a flying contraption for our heroine, a glider so wonderfully conceptualized every viewer will believe it could be real, based on sound aeronautic principles, from the soaring trajectories, weight, and movement in flight to Nausicaä’s different ways she grasps the ship to maneuver it.  Even the enormous multi-eyed Ohms feel ominous and threatening.

Continue reading

Named after the late beloved comic book creator Mike Wieringo, the first ever ‘Ringo! Awards were presented during an irreverent and humor-filled ceremony Saturday night at the end of the second day of Baltimore Comic-Con 2017.  This year the annual Harvey Awards were renamed in Wieringo’s honor.  Wieringo was an artist best known for his work on DC Comics’ The Flash, Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four, and his co-creation Tellos (discussed earlier this year here at borg.com).

Voters from more than 100 countries selected the nominees and winners were picked from a final ballot by members of the comic book industry creative community.  Presenters last night included Mark Waid, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Amy Chu, Tom Brevoort, Walter and Louise Simonson, Terry and Robyn Moore, Kazu Kibuishi, Charlie Kochman, Lora Innes, Thom Zahler, Todd Dezago, and Craig Rousseau, with a keynote speech provided by multiple Eisner Award winner and Mouse Guard creator and David Petersen.

The ceremony provided two Hero Initiative awards, the Dick Giordano Humanitarian Award to Joshua Dysart, and the Lifetime Achievement Award to Marv WolfmanMultiple winners included John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell for their civil rights story March: Book III, winning for Best Original Graphic Novel and Best Non-Fiction Comic Work, and Skottie Young, recognized as Best Cartoonist and for his I Hate Fairyland as Best Humor Comic.

Darryl (DMC/Darryl Makes Comics) McDaniels awards Best Cover Artist ‘Ringo! Award to Frank Cho.

Here is the list of winners selected from the final ballot:

Best Cover Artist–Frank Cho (who accepted the award singing the “Thank You Very Much” song from Oliver)

Best Series–Vision (Marvel Comics)

Best Letterer–Todd Klein

Best Colorist–Laura Martin

Best Humor Comic–I Hate Fairyland, Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu (Image Comics)

Best Original Graphic Novel–March: Book III, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions)

Continue reading

So long as you have a compelling story to tell, sometimes having all the right people on the big screen is enough of a reason to sit through a movie.  But Agathie Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is like watching a play by Shakespeare.  You already know the story is excellent, and the challenge is how creatively the latest director will manipulate the strings and how deftly the actors will portray the characters.

The latest adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express has all the right components for a movie-lover’s two hours of bliss.  How will Kenneth Branagh orchestrate his next opus?  Like the magnificent Henry V or Much Ado About Nothing?  We can hope.  How will this room full of master thespians of the British and American schools play off each other?  Aren’t you inkling to find out?

This latest trailer for the film (see the first here if you missed it) expands the reach of the first, giving us a good look at Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and Branagh directing Branagh as Inspector Poirot.  Other stars include Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, Leslie Odom, Jr., Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, and Olivia Colman.  And don’t forget, publicity for the film has indicated that the clues of the crime are everywhere, including in posters and the trailers for the film.

Here is the second trailer for Murder on the Orient Express:

Continue reading

Think fast, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon players–where can you find the lead actors of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica all in one film?

He is one of the top ten filmmakers of all time–Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki, known for Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and much more, but Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is considered by many to be his masterwork.  It is a grand work that the film medium could not yet hope to transform into live action—a devastated world destroyed by atmospheric poisons, and barraged by gigantic insect beasts, sweeping cinematography, and a post-apocalyptic world layers and layers deep.  And from this arises a young woman named Nausicaä, princess of the Valley of the Wind.  Innocent and driven, can she piece back together what divides man and nature?

It’s a story of dangers and sacrifices, of epic scope, feuds between warring clans, a dying planet, and the forging of a new heroine.  A sci-fi adventure fantasy first released in Japan in 1984, Nausicaä’s story of protecting nature is a timeless tale.  Miyazaki adapted his own 1982 manga story for the screen, celebrating its 35th anniversary this year with so many other great science fiction works internationally.  The film stars the voice talents of Sumi Shimamoto, Goro Naya, Yoji Matsuda, Yoshiko Sakakibara, and Iemasa Kayumi in this month’s subtitled screenings, with English voice actors including Alison Lohman, Uma Thurman, Patrick Stewart, Mark Hamill, Edward James Olmos, Shia LaBeouf, and Chris Sarandon in the dubbed screenings.

Frequently ranked as one of the greatest animated films of all time, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is being presented by Fathom Events in the States as part of Studio Ghibli Fest 2017.  Tickets are available now here at the Fathom Events website.

Continue reading

e-t-clip

Review by C.J. Bunce

I can’t hazard a guess as to how many times I have watched E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Probably a handful of times in 1982 and 1983, and at least once during a return to theaters in the past 35 years, plus a few times on VHS.  What stood out today, watching the film as part of the Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies 35th anniversary re-release screenings, is how ageless the film is.  A teenager sitting behind me caught every single joke.  In a time when parents don’t think to take their kids to classic film opportunities like this, the kids are truly missing a great experience.  The film is a giant adventure story set in the backyard of a boy and his brother and sister.  It’s relatable.  Just check out Elliott’s room.  There’s a toy Star Destroyer on the table.  A TIE Fighter across the room.  He carefully explains who Greedo, Hammerhead, Walrus Man, Snaggletooth, Lando, and Boba Fett are to E.T.  And that advance LEGO builder set on the shelf.  How many kids’ homes today, after all these years, still look so similar?  And someone nearby is getting ready to dress up as Yoda, or a character from his neighborhood, in only a few weeks, much like the kid E.T. tries to run off with on Halloween.

It’s not only relatable, it’s about that subject that sci-fi does best when done right:  Communication.  Last year’s acclaimed sci-fi film Arrival was all about it, but does it reach into each of us like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has?  We celebrated one of the best episodes of television this year here at borg.com, discussing the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest of all Star Trek episodes, Darmok from The Next Generation, a story entirely about the practical, real-world difficulty of communication.  Elliott, played so well by Henry Thomas, and later Gertie, played equally well by the younger Drew Barrymore, each use what knowledge a little kid has to try to relate to an outsider.  And we immediately see the problems–the barriers–that get in the way.  Elliott tries to convey to the very curious new alien visitor so willing to learn that this giant object is a peanut.  “You eat them, only you can’t eat this one because it’s not real.”  He’s describing a bank that was made to look like a peanut.  He then puts money in it.  And the result: E.T. next tries to eat a toy car.  Just as Dathon and Picard found, communication isn’t all that easy.  Only when Gertie gets her only one-on-one opportunity, of the three kids she is the one who helps E.T. gain his vocabulary.  The innocent and the youngest and the most awestruck.  And she’s also the first to understand he is trying to phone home.  Communication is difficult sometimes, but if kids can figure this out, what can adults do?

gertie-and-e-t

This week’s release was the original cut, as seen in theaters in 1982, not with any modifications.  This is the first time the film has screened in theaters since the death of writer Melissa Mathison in 2015 (you might not have seen the laserdisc version of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the only version ever released to feature Mathison’s then kinda-sorta well-known boyfriend Harrison Ford in the shadows as Elliott’s principal, meeting Elliott’s mom Mary (Dee Wallace) after his frog rescue–a bad scene, justifiably deleted).  I did not recall how much we see E.T. in the film’s first scene as he and other botanists search out samples.  E.T. carefully digs up what appears to be a Redwood sapling.  But I now understand what Spielberg was thinking in his later re-cut version.  As a kid I thought the humans were the enemy and yet this time I found no evidence of the humans trying to do anything other than learn about E.T.–much like the humans in Close Encounters of the Third Kind were scientists attempting to communicate.  In Close Encounters, the presence of weapons are to scare the public from the faked quarantine area.  Maybe that was the purpose of the weapons in the original E.T. cut.  But somehow the rifles seemed out-of-place when the kids were escaping on bikes, after E.T. dies, after showing all the adults desperately try to help, to save E.T, some even in tears.  This was the differentiator of Spielberg’s alien films from those that came before–the same spirit that only a few years earlier guided scientists to launch a couple of records into space hoping to communicate with someone out there.  So swapping out car phones or walkie talkies for rifles actually is consistent with the actions of the adults in the rest of the film.  I also can understand why so many little kids look back on the film as scary.  There’s plenty to scare little kids–those same things that scare E.T. throughout the film, as well as what might be many kids’ first introduction to death.  But the scene is gracefully done, and three decades later it’s great to hear that the adults are clearly heard attempting all those real-world, life-saving techniques to save our new alien friend.  Mathison masterfully blended a science fiction, a fantasy adventure, and a coming-of-age story all in one package.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: