Archive for July, 2019


Review by C.J. Bunce

So many books that go behind the scenes of films take a similar approach, skimming the surface with interviews of only top production heads, providing diehard fans of the property who have read all the fanzines little that is new.  So when you get an immersive treatise like The Making of Alien, you must take a few weeks to digest every story, quote and anecdote found inside.  Maybe it’s because so much of the inception of the other classics J.W. Rinzler has written about is the stuff of sci-fi movie legend, but Rinzler’s research this time around is completely enthralling.  Writer Dan O’Bannon, writer and initial director Walter Hill, concept artist H.R. Giger, director and storyboard artist Ridley Scott, actors Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright, and Ian Holm–Rinzler’s chronology is framed by the entry of these people into the project and their key roles.  The account of their intersected careers and efforts resulting in the 1979 sci-fi/horror classic provide a detailed understanding of studio productions in the 1970s.  For fans of the film and the franchise, you couldn’t ask for more for this year’s 40th anniversary of Alien.

Rinzler, who has also created similar deep dives behind the scenes of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, the Indiana Jones films, and last year’s The Making of Planet of the Apes, has established the best format for giving sci-fi fans the ultimate immersive experience.  In many ways The Making of Alien is an account of the necessary vetting process behind any major creative endeavor.  The first draft of any story is never the best, and sometimes neither is the 100th draft.  But the best books and the best movies get reviewed by other people, usually producers, editors, studios, departments, some with prestige and money backing them, sometimes over and over, with changes made to every chapter, with creators and ideas that are tried on for size, dismissed, re-introduced, and sometimes brought back again.  By the end of many a film, the contributors are exhausted and disenchanted, some even devastated.  Only sometimes this is alleviated by a resulting success.  It was even more difficult working on a project like Alien–a mash-up of science fiction and horror pulled together in the 1970s, when drama was in, and science fiction meant either the cold drama of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the roller coaster spectacle of Star Wars.  Behind the scenes there would be overlaps in creative types, like famed set “graffiti artist” Roger Christian and sound expert Ben Burtt.  But ultimately Alien had to be something different to get noticed.

The stories of O’Bannon and Giger’s contributions and conflicts are the most intriguing of the bunch, and if you’ve read everything available on the film you’ll be surprised there is far more to their stories you haven’t read.  The influence of John Carpenter was paramount to getting the idea of the film past the first step, particularly his films Dark Star and The Thing.  Along the journey other creators would intersect with the project–people like Steven Spielberg, Alan Ladd, Jr., John Dykstra, Brian Johnson, Nick Allder, Ron Cobb, Jerry Goldsmith, and even Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

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For the new Star Trek: Picard series, a sequel to not only Star Trek: The Next Generation and its films–and now apparently to Star Trek Voyager, also, the hints from the production that the series was going to be something entirely new weren’t altogether accurate.  Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Star Trek Voyager’s Seven of Nine actor Jeri Ryan, and Jonathan Del Arco, who played Hugh, all will be joining Patrick Stewart as Picard, appearing in the continued journey of the Federation.  But executive producer Akiva Goldsman insisted that this isn’t a sequel at a panel today at San Diego Comic-Con, appearing along with showrunner Michael Chabon and co-executive producer Alex Kurtzman.  The direction for the series that the members of the production are stressing is that the series will be new, yet the trailer for the series is all throwback goodness.

As the saying goes:  The old is new again.

Some nostalgia from the ghosts of Star Treks past includes Picard in similar TNG civilian shirt and First Contact jacket and combadge, he’s right where fans would expect him in the future: at his vineyard a la All Good Things… readying to be called upon to go off-world on some special mission a la the Unification, Gambit, Preemptive Strike, Chain of Command, Birthright, and Endgame stories, with scenes evoking Kirk’s final days from Star Trek Generations.  Spiner’s character is in a box (literally), appearing to be B9 (and not the exploded bits of the actual Data?)–not that it matters.  Seven of Nine is back (looking like she never left) with an only slightly updated cybernetic prosthetic on her forehead and more human than before.  Although they didn’t make the first trailer, other blasts from the past include the return of Riker and Troi.  And expect lots of the Federations’ original enemies, as Romulans return as one of the show’s key antagonists.

This appears to be exactly what fans have been after since the IDW Publishing comic book series prequel to the movie Star Trek 2009 (discussed here) put Picard back on the bridge with B9, and then Brannon Braga teamed up Picard and Seven of Nine in his IDW series (discussed here back in 2012).  New cast members for the series include a diverse group of new faces, including Isa Briones, Santiago Cabrera, Evan Evagora, Michelle Hurd, Alison Pill, and Harry Treadaway.

The wait is over.  Check out the first trailer for Star Trek: Picard:

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Victoriana meets steampunk and mythology in an upcoming series.  With production design that evokes The Golden Compass, Harry Potter, and the gloom of Charles Dickens, Amazon Studios’ new Carnival Row has all the elements of a good fantasy.  With two big stars, Cara Delevingne (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) and Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings), it looks to be the next series to keep an eye on.

At San Diego Comic-Con this week, Amazon Studios’ released two introductions to the series, presented by the two lead actors.  The best feature may be the beautiful accompanying music by Nathan Barr, composer of many a horror show.  And this has plenty of its own blood and gore.  A detective show, a mystery and a fantasy world with its own look despite familiar influences, Carnival Row will be a certain pick to binge-watch next month.

Check out these new previews from SDCC 2019 of Carnival Row:

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Netflix and The Jim Henson Company previewed even more from the forthcoming sequel series to Jim Henson’s fantasy masterpiece, The Dark Crystal this week at San Diego Comic-Con.  We previewed The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance back here at borg in May, including all the voice cast playing characters both familiar and new.

The new footage shows a little more of what is coming next month, plus it offers some behind the scenes imagery, with brief commentary from creators, including director Louis Leterrier, executive producer Lisa Henson, production designer Gavin Bocquet, creature and costume designer Brian Froud, assistant costume designer Wendy Froud, and actor Simon Pegg, the new voice of Chamberlain.  What is clear is that Jim Henson would likely have approved of their method.  We’ll have to wait to see it to confirm whether it also has the heart, the wonder, and the fear of the original.

The Muppet-like characters so far look as good as anything The Jim Henson Company has created.  Aughra, the Skeksis, the new Fizzgig, and new Gelflings also appear to be faithful updates to the originals.  At SDCC the director announced a behind-the-scenes documentary is also in the works.

Take a look at the new footage and behind the scenes glimpses at The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance:

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The BBC and HBO brought a new trailer to San Diego Comic-Con Thursday for the new series His Dark Materials.  Logan star Dafne Keen is back in a leading role as Lyra Belacqua, with Ruth Wilson as the vile Mrs. Coulter, James McAvoy as the grand Lord Asriel, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as the friend to polar bears everywhere, Lee Scoresby.

If it all looks familiar it’s because the first part of the series traces the steps of the Philip Pullman novel Northern Lights aka The Golden Compass, already translated into the movie The Golden Compass, a big-budget, special effects filled spectacle in 2007 starring Dakota Blue Richards, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Sam Elliott, and Christopher Lee, and an equally impressive voice cast.  The film was as big as fantasy movies get, with a budget to support an all-star cast, so it will be a challenge to create an episodic version as spellbinding and audience-grabbing on a TV studio budget.

Yet for television fantasy it looks great so far–Dafne Keen showed in Logan she can create one of the greatest superheroine performances of all time even at her young age, and for fans of the original film and the novels the trailer may just get them to finally check out an HBO subscription.  Last week novelist Philip Pullman commented on Twitter: “Today I wore a jacket I hadn’t worn for two years.  In the pocket I found my green leather pen case containing the pen that wrote His Dark Materials… I knew it would come back to me.”  Coincidence?  We doubt it.

Complete with a new alethiometer, check out this great trailer for the BBC-produced HBO series, His Dark Materials:

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The first full day of San Diego Comic-Con 2019 began today with a big trailer, Paramount Pictures′ sequel to the 1986 classic Top Gun.  Tom Cruise was on-hand to preview Top Gun: Maverick.  The sequel carries forward with Tom Cruise as Captain Pete Mitchell, call sign Maverick, still flying, and still with the same attitude, confronting Ed Harris (The Right Stuff, Apollo 13), in the first trailer.  Despite Cruise’s efforts to do his own stunts, Cruise didn’t get permission to fly the military’s jets in the new film, but the filmmakers appear to have done nice work splicing Cruise flying something else into the footage.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion), the film co-stars Jon Hamm (Baby Driver) and Jennifer Connelly (Alita: Battle Angel).  The plot finds Maverick still training at fly school Top Gun, watching over his old pal Goose’s kid.  From this first trailer, it’s clear the sequel has pulled out all the beats from the first film, looking to tap into moviegoer’s nostalgia vs. taking Maverick into new territory.

Paramount also released the first poster for the movie:

Check out the first trailer for Top Gun: Maverick:

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Feel like you’re late to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing?  In addition to online and televised events we discussed yesterday here at borg, you have several other ways to look back at Apollo 11 this week as we approach the anniversary of the Moonshot this Saturday.

Last year’s Todd Miller documentary Apollo 11 is back in theaters for a limited engagement.  Check local listings or the film website here for participating theaters.  Also in select theaters is the new documentary Armstrong, narrated by Harrison Ford.  Both Apollo 11 and Armstrong are also available now on Vudu.  Based on James R. Hansen’s book, the movie First Man, although neither an uplifting, exciting, or celebratory film about Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong, it does illustrate the personal toll, the lives lost, and the downside of life as an astronaut (probably save this one to view without the kids).  On Netflix, you’ll find a different but fascinating angle in Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo.  National Geographic’s Apollo: Missions to the Moon, Apollo’s Moonshot, and Al Reinert’s For All Mankind can be rented or purchased on Vudu.  And The Lunar Rover: Apollo’s Final Challenge is available for viewing free right now on Vudu.  Most of these can also be viewed with Amazon Prime.

You can get any book these days overnighted to you from Amazon.  Just beware there are a lot of substandard books out there and many self-published without any actual insight into Apollo 11.  Many others are highly recommended.  Just after the Moonshot Apollo 11 command pilot Michael Collins wrote an autobiographical account, Carrying the Fire, available in a new edition.  Collins also recommends Jim Donovan’s Shoot for the MoonNo Dream is Too High provides lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin’s personal life lessons from Apollo 11 and his life.  The historical account American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley has been praised by critics and historians including Doris Kearns Goodwin.  BBC science correspondent and ex-NASA astronomer David Whitehouse wrote Apollo 11: The Inside Story.  Jay Barbree has written the most definitive account of mission commander Neil Armstrong in his Neil Armstrong: A Life in Flight.  And the most recent work on Apollo 11 is this year’s well-reviewed One Giant Leap by Charles Fishman.

Get the new stamps and pre-order your own first day covers from the U.S. Post Office here (the yellow dot indicates Tranquility Base, landing site of the Eagle).  And don’t forget the U.S. Mint still is selling its 50th anniversary commemorative coins.  See our discussion of them earlier this year here at borg.  Stay away from the original memorabilia unless you’re an expert–fakes are for sale all over the Internet this year, especially items like space-flown patches and astronaut autographs.

Looking for more?

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It seems like something big is going to happen Saturday, right?  With CBS providing stream re-broadcasting in real-time the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969–heading 234,000 miles to the Moon, until Neil Armstrong’s foot first hit the dust of the Moon’s surface four days later on July 20, 1969–a viewer glued to their computer or streaming TV could convince himself/herself that it’s all happening right now.

Most Earthlings today, and certainly Americans of the past few generations now only know of Walter Cronkite from his inclusion as himself with historical CBS footage spliced by Ron Howard into his film Apollo 13.  Cronkite, long thought one of the best broadcast journalists of all time, was a staple in homes for decades, and as anyone new to the Apollo 11 project will find, was the key hand-holder of the public as they first witnessed humanity’s greatest adventure.  Spliced between news coverage for new viewers and fans of all things retro may appreciate the vintage TV commercials all just as they originally aired.  Astronaut Wally Schirra accompanied Cronkite for the broadcast.  U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew spoke after the launch, which was also attended by then-former President Lyndon Johnson.

Check here and your local news for events nationwide this week celebrating the 50th anniversary event–every city and science center has some kind of commemoration.  Twenty-five years ago I worked at the Smithsonian Institution at the Milestones of Flight display at site of the Apollo 11 capsule for the countdown to the Moonshot, which was accompanied by speeches from Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, the Vice President Dan Quayle and other dignitaries, and I was able to see the Armstrong spacesuit as a worker behind the scenes firsthand.  Twenty-five years later the capsule, the Command Module Columbia, is still on display across from the Wright Brothers Flyer and the Spirit of St. Louis at the National Air and Space Museum.  Armstrong’s spacesuit has been restored this year and was unveiled in a new display yesterday at the museum, unveiled by Vice President Mike Pence and members of Armstrong’s family.  The suit remains one of the most important objects in the history of humans.

You can find the complete official NASA-sponsored events at the NASA website here, with many opportunities in Washington, DC, and via the Internet for those at home.  Today’s #1 astronaut, the recently retired Peggy Whitson, holder of several Earth records for her space travels, can be found as part of the television coverage of the week.  Cronkite’s account of the moon landing and moonwalk will stream again on July 20 at 3:17 p.m. and 9:56 p.m. Central.  Re-live, again, or view for the first time, the lift-off coverage by CBS here:

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Following on the heels of 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and 2017’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle comes a prequel film, The King’s Man, and the first movie trailer has just arrived from the new 20th Century Fox.  Stepping into an early Kingsman of the type perfected by Colin Firth is the actor who should have played a Bond (but ended up as another M), the BAFTA-winning, twice Academy Award-nominated actor Ralph Fiennes.  The young recruit that looks to mimic that series hero Eggsy played by Taron Egerton in the first two films this time goes to Harris Dickinson, soon to be voicing a character in Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

As with the prior films The King’s Man appears stylish, but with a historical England twist.  Expect again wall-to-wall, part dark comedy, and that over-the-top, operatic violence.  Series director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass 2, X-Men: First Class, Layer Cake) continues to make his mark on the action genre, with his own British spy genre tale mixing the vibe of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers of the 1960s, based on the 2012 The Secret Service: Kingsman comic book series from award-winning creators Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Old Man Logan) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen).

Every great British spy story needs a Bond girl, and whether she’s a “King’s Man” or foil, this time the choice is actual former Bond girl Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) to take over where Sofia Boutella left off in the first movie.  You’ll also find a familiar face with Captain Marvel and Shazam!’s Djimon Hounsou The King’s Man reflects a cast list that includes superhero go-to guy Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Avengers: Age of Ultron), Stanley Tucci (Captain America: The First Avenger), Rhys Ifans (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Daniel Bruhl (Captain America: Civil War, Falcon and Winter Soldier), Charles Dance (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Gosford Park), Watchmen and Downton Abbey’s Matthew Goode, and Pirates of the Caribbean and Bohemian Rhapsody’s Tom Hollander as King George V.

Take a look at the first trailer for The King’s Man:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This month, a new book examining what makes a great character also takes an in-depth look at Hollywood and film from the silent picture era to today.  It’s Turner Classic Movies/TCM′s latest book on film, Dynamic Dames: 50 Leading Ladies Who Made History I previously reviewed film historian Sloan De Forest′s Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World here at borg, a fun read and a fun list that is more a celebration of pop culture than film school companion.  De Forest seems to have far more passion for her next subject, selecting a masterful list of 50 women worth reading about–and worth seeing their films.  She also connects the dots between actors, their characters, and their personal lives in a way you’ve probably not seen before.  In one word, Dynamic Dames is brilliant.

Everyone reading anyone else’s list of 50 people of any pursuit will have quibbles along the way, but De Forest shows an impressive knowledge of film and delivers.  Not only a selection of 50 worthy actors–she doesn’t select the roles most movie critics flock to and rave about–she also finds those finer, more nuanced performances where these Dynamic Dames probably should have scored their Oscars.  She also divides the book into eight sections and finds perfect examples that exemplify each section, from Pre-Code Bad Girls, to Big Bad Mamas, Women of Mystery, and Strong Survivors.  A category not possible until more recently, Superheroines, rounds out the list, and although the performances have not had much of a chance to steep from a historical standpoint, De Forest provides solid rationale for them all.

Authors of a book like this typically will reserve a small percentage of the list for modern readers to have something to be attracted to, but that’s not the case here.  De Forest actually embraces recent films, pulling in more than 20 percent of her list from characters appearing in 21st century films.  Most of her rationale for each of these more recent actors and corresponding characters justifies their inclusion, comparable in performance, significance, and influence, to the film greats any movie buff would expect to find on this list.  She also ties in some of cinema’s–and literature’s–best women writers; it should be no surprise that many of these outstanding characters in film over the course of 92 years resulted from great women writers of the 19th and 20th century, including Charlotte Brontë, Agatha Christie, and J.K Rowling.

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