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Category: Backstage Pass


Review by C.J. Bunce

For a generation of film fans, the words “Hammer Horror” are synonymous with the first color horror movies and studio stars Peter Cushing and David Prowse, who would go on to find real fame in Star Wars, and Christopher Lee, who would be the go-to guy in the 21st century for dark, imposing characters in Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien movies, James Bond, the Star Wars prequels, and much more.  Before these blockbusters, these British thespians made movies for a London film company called Hammer Film Productions, and they were instantly recognized as Baron Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster, and Count Dracula.  These aren’t the famous monsters of Universal Studios fame, but thanks to Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures’ distribution, their take on these classic horror characters gained their own international fan following.  In time for Halloween, Telos Publishing has released a new information-filled guide for fans of Hammer’s horror legacy, writer Alistair Hughes’s Infogothic: An Unauthorised Graphic Guide to Hammer Horror.

As for the “graphic” in the title, it’s a bit of a play on words–think infographics, charts, diagrams, illustrations, and maps connecting the often intertwined fantasy world inside the Hammer films.  The titles to the studio’s Dracula and Frankenstein sequels provide an idea of the absurdity film goers were in for, with a list that makes the Planet of the Apes pile of sequels seem pretty short: The Brides of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Kali–Devil Bride of Dracula, Dracula AD 1972, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Dracula Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Horror of Frankenstein, The Evil of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Frankenstein Created Woman, and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.  Hammer also made monster movies set much earlier than the 19th century.  The most famous starred Raquel Welch in Ray Harryhausen’s One Million Years BC and Ursula Andress in She.  Steven Spielberg would later provide a nod to Hammer films at the end of Jurassic Park.  The words on the banner falling in the final sequence with the T-Rex was an homage to the Hammer film When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. 

One diagram in Infogothic recounts the 30 most famous actors to portray Dracula.  In others Hughes pieces together family trees based on information from the films for the Van Helsings and the Frankensteins.  A chart shows the number of adaptations of Frankenstein movies by decade (the 1970s wins with nine, and there has been 51 in all so far as we bask in the character’s 200th year).  Need to locate the story locations for each of the Hammer monster movies?  Hughes provides maps for that, too.  And Frankenstein’s monster and the Count aren’t the only monsters Hammer featured–the book includes interconnections of the several mummy movies and other creature features Hammer produced (The Gorgon, The Reptile, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Plague of the Zombies, The Abominable Snowman).  Hughes also includes details of lesser known and unproduced films throughout his book.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Not since the original Predator, Alien, and Aliens has Hollywood been able to match these sci-fi classics, despite attempts with eight sequels in these franchises.  But the ninth attempt–this summer’s release of The Predator–has come the closest to matching that classic blend of sci-fi, horror, future military, and action thriller.  In the new behind-the-scenes book The Predator: The Art and Making of the Film, writer James Nolan explains why director Shane Black’s return to the franchise after 30 years was the right stuff needed to bring the excitement and fun back for fans of the original genre-defining alien hunter.

The colorful hardcover includes Black’s own multi-page mission statement provided to the cast and crew, where he provides a truly unique look into the mind of a Hollywood director and storyteller.  He unveils the risks, the challenges, and his choices to resurrect the spirit of 1980s blockbuster action movies, while providing an update that is both loyal to the original movie and its ground-breaking creators like Stan Winston, while carrying forward a future vision for the film series.  Hired to serve as writer on the original 1987 film, Black chose to take on an acting role instead, and the rest was sci-fi history–until he was entrusted last year to helm this sequel.  To provide a first-hand account of production, Nolan interviewed Black, his writing partner Fred Dekker, key cast members Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Jake Busey, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, and Augusto Aguilera, Predator actor Brian Prince, stunt performer Trevor Addie, production designer Martin Whist, director of photography Larry Fong, special effects supervisor Jonathan Rothbart, set decorator Hamish Purdy, costume designer Tish Monaghan, prop master David Dowling, producer Bill Bannerman, special effects icons Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis, and many more.

The biggest attraction in the book is the detailed photography of the interiors of the two alien spaceships and the armor and props.  Readers get to see concept artwork, computer mock-ups, designs, in-process photographs, and close-up stills.  In many films props are just set decoration that help to create the environment, but in The Predator the prop gauntlet, the helmet, and especially the “kudjad” spaceship key factor directly into the mystery.  Who could ever get enough of the aliens–the dreadlocks, those teeth, the shoulder cannon?  And then there’s the giant hunter, whose size and ship also factor into not just the finale, but the future of the films.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You can approach a new chronicle of an artist and her design and creation of a 2,500 square foot mural encompassing all the known bird families in many ways.  For one, science illustrator and museum artist Jane Kim thoroughly researched each of the 243 families of birds before adding a drop of paint to a hallway over the visitor center at the highly regarded Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, and so her new book The Wall of Birds is an educational tool for anyone who has the bug to learn more about the diversity of these remarkable creatures.  Kim, tapped to design and complete a mural of all the families of the world’s birds in full 1:1 scale, decided to include an evolutionary thread through her design, and so five extinct bird families appear to haunt her wall in ghostly muted tones, along with a stairway that recounts the evolutionary steps toward modern birds over 375 million years, complete with a surprise crocodile (crocs share a common ancestor with birds 240 million years ago).  If you’ve visited any natural history museum you’ve probably encountered beautiful painted murals to support the displays that stand as centerpieces, but with Kim’s Wall of Birds a common space was transformed with maximum effect into a centerpiece itself.

Completed in January 2016 after 12 months of research and 17 months of on site painting, Kim now takes her art a step further by presenting her process, development of ideas, and execution of the final work in a full-color 232-page volume.  Co-written with Kim’s husband Thayer Walker, The Wall of Birds: One Planet, 240 Families, 375 Million Years, available in hardcover for pre-order now here at Amazon and available next week, is the kind of view into the mind of an artist that readers, fans, and enthusiasts of any subject long for.  How often have you wondered why a costume designer used these colors and fabrics to represent an alien being?  How often have you wondered why you can recognize your favorite comic book artist in an instant through some stylistic choice?  Kim details her process from idea to layout, stencils, color layering, detail work, scientific review by ornithologists, revision, and final presentation.  She even created her own “aviary Pantone” color palette with 51 created latex interior house paints finished with 13 acrylic paint colors.

Kim recounts the most difficult birds she worked on for several days to simpler projects, like the “little brown jobs” that dot our bird-covered planet, which were completed in less than a day.  Since all the birds were life-sized and her mural included each bird featured adjacent to one of its geographical habitats, she used a movable lift to be able to paint high and low on her giant wall canvas.  Some of the difficult projects were the larger birds, but not always, as the smallest birds had to incorporate their colors, plumage, wings, beaks, and legs in a much smaller space to work with.  The artist also recounts the planning required to make the work not only scientifically accurate, but also reflect a work of fine art and be aesthetically pleasing.  Some larger birds, like the Great Gray Owl, required Kim to paint feather-by-feather the bird’s enormous wings, often working overnight in the lab alone.  Take a look at some preview pages from the book courtesy of publisher Harper Design:

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Big weekend news from New York Comic Con 2018 for fans of Star Trek:  A new art book takes a look at a major creator across the Star Trek series and movies, and we get a new glimpse at the some familiar characters but new faces as CBS rolls out another trailer for Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery.

Over the past few decades, few creators have had as great an impact on the look of Star Trek than production designer, illustrator, and model maker John Eaves.  From Star Trek V through the new reboot movies, and from Star Trek: The Next Generation through the new Discovery series, Eaves has designed hundreds of props and ships.  From the look of Captain Picard’s last ship, the Enterprise NCC-1701-E, to today’s U.S.S. Discovery NCC-1031, the Federation wouldn’t look the same without his contributions.  You can pre-order here at Amazon a new, comprehensive look at Eaves’ work for Star Trek in Star Trek: The Art of John EavesTake your first look inside the pages of this new book in preview pages released this week in advance of NYCC, below.

At the Discovery panel at NYCC 2018 this weekend, the show revealed the next preview for Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery.  Keep an eye out for the new Number One played by X-Men’s original film Mystique and The Librarians star Rebecca Romijn, and a glimpse at Ethan Peck as the next Spock, looking like he’s fresh out of some long-term cryo-sleep:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As part of the release of the new single-player action-adventure game Shadow of the Tomb Raider, two new companion books are coming your way, Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Path of the Apocalypse and Shadow of the Tomb Raider: The Official Art Book The game, available for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, continues the adventures of Lara Croft following the conclusion of the story launched in the 2015 game Rise of the Tomb Raider Players accompany Lara on her harrowing journey to become the survivor we know as the Tomb Raider.  The Official Art Book features exclusive concept art and developer interviews detailing the conclusion of Lara Croft’s origin story.

Path of the Apocalypse is the official tie-in novel to the game, written by S.D. Perry.  As we catch up with Lara, she has taken the Key of Chak Chel, setting off an apocalyptic flood–the Cleansing–foreshadowed by the ancient Maya (but she only did it because the agents of the secretive organization called Trinity were going to get to it first!).  She uncovers several clues that may help her prevent the next three foretold apocalyptic events from happening, but it seems like she may be the character in the ancient stories herself, acting to fulfill their prophecy.  Her first adventure is escaping the remnants of a flooded village.  Next, she and her companion Jonah must hire a plane that can sneak them under Trinity’s wide net of operatives, to re-trace the very steps of Trinity inside a system of deep caves, a path to the hidden Peruvian city where the silver Box of Ix Chel is hidden.  Halfway through her survival story inside these caves, readers might wish they had started to draw out their own map of the caves, lay out some kind of bread crumbs to find their way to the surface.  Lara continues deeper into the cave as Trinity operatives kidnap her friend and a pilot.  Do they wait for her to emerge from the cave’s entrance or take their weapons into the cave and pursue her?  And what are these toothy animals appearing in the dark corners of the cave?  With the fate of the world at stake, Lara is in no position to just give up.

Beginning with artwork from the 2013 Tomb Raider game and including great images from Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Official Art Book chronicles the video game production process, from concept to final design.  Art director Martin Dubeau, character artist Michael Verhaaf, and concept artists Maxim Verehin and Yun Ling, and hundreds of others served as digital costume designers, prop creators, and environment location scouts–just as if they were making a full-scale, live-action motion picture–incorporating their historical research on ancient Latin American cultures.  The game goes deeper into the history than the novel, introducing ancient peoples and the artifacts of their world.  These were all designed by Dubeau’s team and are incorporated in full-color layouts in The Official Art Book.

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That Miller and Lord cut of Solo you were hoping for?  You already saw it.

I was always sold on his father, Lawrence Kasdan for writing The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and writing and directing Silverado (and his superb work on non-blockbuster films like Continental Divide and Mumford), but Jonathan Kasdan (who co-wrote the screenplay to Solo: A Star Wars Story with his father) has filled in the remaining gap in what is probably the year’s best home video special features package.  That would be the extra features that accompany the home release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, available now.  The included features have key deleted scenes, most of which would have served the movie well were they included in the theatrical release (like Han’s fall from the Imperial Navy), and the least of which is plain fun that every Star Wars fan should love (like a snowball fight between Han and Chewbacca)–eight deleted scenes in all.  The home release also contains insightful featurettes that demonstrate the love for the saga and the vision, skill, and craftmanship that came together to create the film.  But it’s missing an audio commentary.  More on that in a minute.

Director Ron Howard, production designer Neil Lamont, special creature effects designer Neal Scanlan, director of photography Bradford Young, and the Kasdans, along with other members of the crew, provide fantastic insight into the influences and experience of creating the movie.  The best features include Team Chewie, with interviews and footage of Joonas Suotamo in and out of costume, and Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso, where we see the historical art influence on the Sabacc card game scene, and Solo: The Director and Cast Roundtable, a a refreshing and eye-opening look at how Howard and the key actors came together.  Also included are short featurettes Kasdan on Kasdan, Remaking the Millennium Falcon, Escape From Corellia, The Train Heist, Becoming a Droid: L3-37, and Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel RunAcross all these, keep an eye out for Tim Nielsen, supervising sound editor and sound designer for Skywalker Sound, whose creativity is the kind of effort that caused Ben Burtt to get the Oscar for his work on the original Star Wars.  Watch these features and see why Nielsen and his team should be in the running for Oscar for his work on Solo: A Star Wars Story this year.

Director Ron Howard on the Millennium Falcon set of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Director Ron Howard, who replaced Christopher Miller and Phil Lord late in production of the film, bent over backwards to treat the departure of the two prior directors with grace and respect, which means he hasn’t discussed much detail about his work on the film.  We never thought we’d learn “who contributed what” to the film, but that is where Kasdan’s notes come into play.  Released in advance of the home video release this past week, they shed some light on what went on behind the scenes, what could easily be Kasdan’s personal, unrecorded, audio commentary notes–had Lucasfilm included one in the features.  From a certain point of view, the inclusion of so many scenes developed by the initial director duo reflect the theme of the saga: Miller and Lord–seemingly two rebels against Lucasfilm/Disney who had a vision for Star Wars and for whatever reason were sidelined–were able to have much of their vision survive in the final cut of the film.  Howard’s role seems to have been both Fixer and Closer, in addition to giving his personal touch to certain scenes, something addressed well in the features.  Kasdan’s notes (not included with the home release but reproduced below) are the ultimate backstage pass into all the creative minds behind what must have been a difficult film to make (Star Wars plus Star Wars fandom sometimes reflects the Dark Side of the movies all too well).

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Coming in at about the same price as the actor’s screen-used prop blaster from Return of the Jedi this summer (discussed here at borg), Harrison Ford proved again he is #1 among pop culture and entertainment memorabilia collectors.  At Prop Store‘s entertainment memorabilia live auction in London yesterday, called Treasures from Film and Television (which we previewed from San Diego Comic-Con here in July), one of the fedoras worn by ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark brought record bids for a prop from the franchise, taking in an estimate of between $522,500 and $558,000, including fees and taxes.  Ford’s Han Solo blaster sold in June for $550,000 (before tax).  The hammer price for the hat was £320,000 when the winning bid was placed and the hammer struck, or about $424,755.  Provenance for this hat was not provided by Prop Store in its catalog, but the company said it could be screen-matched through identifying marks to several key scenes in the movie.  An Indy bullwhip from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom sold for $74,460, including buyer’s premium, at the auction.

One of the other auction lots worn by Ford was supposed to be the crown jewel of the auction, a simple stylized blue jacket worn in The Empire Strikes Back said to have been screen-matched to the film’s Cloud City scenes.  Although it was expected to garner $660,000 to $1.3 million, bidders were just not willing to push bids past the $600,000 mark and the seller’s minimum reserve price.  The jacket was one of the only hero costume pieces from the original trilogy to be offered at public auction.

This week’s big star prop of the Prop Store auction was crowded among other Hollywood props on display at San Diego Comic-Con this past July.

Several other key props from the four corners of genredom sold in excess of six figures (including buyer’s premium and net of taxes) in yesterday’s auction.  A light-up T-800 endoskeleton from Terminator II: Judgment Day (1991) fetched a massive price of $326,500.  A Christopher Reeve costume from Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) sold for $212,200.  A Hayden Christensen Anakin Skywalker lightsaber from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005) sold for $180,000 and an Ian McDiarmid Emperor lightsaber from the film sold for $114,000.  A background First Order Stormtrooper helmet from Star Wars: The Last Jedi surprised everyone, selling for a whopping $180,000.  A Johnny Depp costume from Edward Scissorhands (1990) sold for $106,100.  Of several original comic book art pages that sold, the star was Page 15 from The Amazing Spider-Man (1966), Issue #32, by artist Steve Ditko, which fetched $155,000.

More than two dozen other memorable props and costumes from sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, and horror classics fared well (prices quoted include pre-tax conversion from British pound, including buyer’s premium):
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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of pulp novel cover art and the classic 1940s and 1950s steamy and smoky night scenes and dark places spotlighted on book covers probably already know about artist Reginald Heade.  His fans even refer to him as the best British artist–ever.  Heade created hundreds of striking and memorable images to sell the aura of a niche of fiction that reflected the times, and this master of “that by which readers are not supposed to judge the book” was previously featured in a 168-page work, The Art of Reginald Heade by researcher Stephen James Walker.  Telos Publishing and Walker have extensively revisited the material and historical archives to nearly double the volume of the book with newly found artwork and commentary to form a new expanded, giant 320-page edition, The Art of Reginald Heade: Special Edition.

In the word of the day, these novels featured covers spotlighting the “dames” of their story, femme fatales, sultry, sexy, sometimes in charge, and a lot of times beaten down by the gangsters and thugs of the story, often objectified, and in misogynistic situations.  Some of these could be called repellant by current–and contemporary–mores, created in the world approaching the pinnacle of criticism of blatant depictions of slavery, bondage, crime, and violence, a backlash that would gain a firmer footing in the 1950s of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent.  Heade didn’t dodge the criticism, and in some countries Heade’s work was censored and the subject of scorn.  Some of his final artwork was pre-emptively censored by the publisher and ultimately not used in his lifetime, and the original art can be found in this book.  Sometimes referred to by the oddly incongruous “good girl art,” Heade’s art reflected an expert in drawing the feminine form.  A true working artist, he seemed to crank out new, unique, and fresh designs for his subjects as much as any great genre creator has ever done.  Seventy and eighty years after their publication, many of the books featuring Heade’s artwork have become grails for book collectors and mid-century pin-up art fans, with a few more obscure books practically lost and gone forever.

With beautiful color and black and white illustrations, The Art of Reginald Heade: Special Edition is the most comprehensive overview ever published of Heade’s life and work.  Walker includes his trademark paintings from the great Perry Mason writer Erle Stanley Gardner’s crime books, Stephen D. Frances’ Hank Janson books, covers for books by Paul Rénin, Roland Vane, Michael Storme, Spike Morelli, Gene Ross, David Hume, Carol Gaye, Margaret Pedler, Helena Grose, William Elliott and Zane Grey, plus hundreds more pulp fiction covers, as well as other works, like Major Charles Gilson’s well-known Robin of Sherwood, Nella Braddy’s biography of Rudyard Kipling, Son of Empire, and editions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe–including interior illustrations, and Heade’s comic art.  Yes, the artist known for his images of vixens in distress created equally impressive paintings for the covers of children’s books, plus mainstream novels and magazine covers (some under the nom de plume Cy Webb).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As you’re planning to attend the upcoming return of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park to theaters, a new book released this week is going to take readers of all ages on a tour of the history of real dinosaurs and the history of the study of dinosaurs itself.  A fresh look at the science of paleontology and the resulting knowledge about the life, environment, and structure of the major species of dinosaurs is the subject of Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom.  Authors Christine Argot and Luc Vivès, researchers at The French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, use the museum’s own paleontology gallery as the starting point to tell how scientists developed the study and reconstruction of dinosaurs since the gallery first opened in 1898.  Everyone has a favorite dinosaur, and whether yours is a stegosaurus, triceratops, diplodocus, allosaurus, iguanodon, brontosaurus, megalosaurus, or tyrannosaurus, you’ll marvel at the spectacular images of their skeletons on display as scientists have updated them consistent with improved knowledge and techniques across the years.

Interlacing the work of paleontologists, geologists, museum curators, and other scientists around the world, and changing views of remarkable fossil discoveries (like placement, stance, and presence of feathers) over nearly 150 years, the authors combine photographs of their collection with images resulting from digs, artists’ interpretations, magazine articles, and museum archives.  From tales of dragons and mythical beasts to speculative works from John Milton’s Paradise Lost to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot, and Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, ideas of fantasy have informed science and vice versa.  Movements and individuals have changed our outlook into history, via wealthy benefactors, scholars, educators, and artisans.  From lost displays in the Crystal Palace to the artistry of Charles R. Knight, the history of dinosaurs is also the evolution of the thinking of mankind.  The result will fascinate both young and old readers, whether Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom will be your kid’s first book of dinosaurs or a companion book for a high school or college museum studies course, or simply a resource for you to enjoy.

One story recounts the misidentification of an iguanodon finger bone as a nose bone.  Another story describes the excavation of a pit in Belgium in the 1870s that netted 130 tons of bones.  Preservation and conservation methods are discussed throughout, plus improvements in museum display, like the use of 3D printing to allow an original tyrannosaurus rex from the States to be replicated and put on display at the Paris museum this summer.

Here is a preview of Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom courtesy of the publisher:

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Warner Brothers and Twentieth Century Fox are taking us into Labor Day Weekend with new looks at two major coming attractions.

Twentieth Century Fox saved the best for last in the latest–and final trailer–for this month’s return of everyone’s favorite alien headhunter in Shane Black’s The Predator.  Now that we’ve seen three different looks at the movie, viewers will have no doubt what kind of movie is coming their way.  Blood and guts? Sure.  Sci-fi alien battle?  Yep.  1980s-style action flick?  That, too.  And alien dogs?  Oh, yeah.  They had us at the first trailer, so now we’re really, really in.  It’s okay if we cheer for the alien dogs to win, right?

We’re thinking this one looks more like Zuul or Vinz Clortho than Kruge’s targ.

Next, take a trip back to Hogwarts.  Everyone’s favorite school is the subject of a new behind the scenes featurette from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the next entry in the Harry Potter wizarding universe.  This movie isn’t arriving until November, but no doubt the giant international fan base will be excited to see just a little more of what’s in store from J.K. Rowling.

So take a look at this final trailer for The Predator and a look behind the scenes at The Crimes of Grindelwald:

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