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Category: Backstage Pass


 

Sixty-six years since readers first met Ian Fleming’s James Bond, there is no sign of the franchise waning.  The next film, No Time to Die, brings back Daniel Craig as the world’s most famous spy, arriving in theaters next April.  But if you want to get caught up on four decades of James Bond movies, there has been no better time to do it than right now.  You could buy digital copies of the 24 films so far, available on streaming platform VUDU for a bundle price of $149.99.  Or if you’re willing to watch commercials, you can view nearly all of them now and for a limited time, free.

That’s everything from Dr. No to Quantum of Solace, all the Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan installments, including both versions of Casino Royale and the off-brand film Never Say Never Again.  The two exclusions from the free-with-commercials offer are the two most recent films, Skyfall and SPECTRE, which are available at the regular VUDU pricing.

While you’re at it, you may want to check out the new Lyons Press release, Mark Edlitz’s 312-page hardcover look at the films, The Many Lives of James Bond, available now here at Amazon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Wizards of the Coast and Abrams ComicArts have come together to give Magic the Gathering trading card game players something they haven’t seen before, a high-end art book visual history of the game.  It all begins with Magic the Gathering: Rise of the Gatewatch–A Visual History, the latest of Abrams’ books highlighting the artwork of the best-known trading card series.  More than 25 years ago Magic the Gathering became the first ever trading card game, and this volume looks back to the Planeswalkers.

The first superhero-esque team of Gatewatchers is all here like you’ve never seen them before: Jace Beleren–the telepath with a mysterious past, Ajani Goldmane–the ferocious leonine, Gideon Jura–the reformed criminal who became a protector of the meek, Kaya–the rogue dualist, Chandra Nalaar–the pyromancer, Nissa Revane–the elf warrior and protector of nature, Liliana Vess–the necromancer, Nicol Bolas–the oldest Planeswalker, and Teferi–the formidable mage.   The book includes character histories and images of the actual cards, but more than that you’ll find concept art, original artwork created for the game, packaging art, and images only available in exclusive releases in the past.  If you loved specific cards and always wanted to see larger looks at the card art, this is your chance.

Each character is represented in dozens of images in roughly 30-page feature sections for the six primary Gatewatch characters, beginning with over-sized images of the character cards, plus a large section of combined Gatewatch imagery.  The highlight for fans of the game will be seeing cards they’ve never had in their hands before, but it will also be seeing the full artwork before it was cropped for the card.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Not every motion picture warrants a behind the scenes look at the production, cast and crew, but it’s easy to see why Gemini Man does.  Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Ang Lee pushed moviemaking to its next level with this year’s film about the impact of cloning and clone technology bundled in a big-budget action film starring down-to-earth film star Will Smith.  Lee shot the film in 120 frames per second instead of the standard 24, and he used both 4K resolution and 3D, utilizing a unique camera rig.  Boasting the first major motion picture to star the same actor in two roles as the same man at different ages, required adapting current technology to get the job done, but the project steeped for several years for the technology to be ready.  Michael Singer′s new book Gemini Man: The Art and Making of the Movie digs into the film process with extensive interviews with Bruckheimer, Lee, and the key cast and crew, revealing the extensive work required to get the film from idea to screen.

Singer takes readers from the film’s inception 20 years ago as a Disney film to the first day of shooting last year when production finally began, to each major scene and set piece.  Fans of the movie will find it all here, from Will Smith’s scenes as an assassin spotting his target aboard a speeding train, to his character’s return home back in Savannah, Georgia, to the motorcycle action sequence in Cartagena, Colombia, to the castle in Budapest, Hungary, and Smith facing off against a younger version of himself, to the Gemini compound and secrets that bring the story all together and illustrate the humanity behind the futurism.

The best sections in the book recount the motion capture/performance capture process and Smith and his double playing opposite each other in key action scenes.  The author doesn’t leave readers to be guided by second-tier production staff, instead having the top filmmakers on the picture themselves discussing in their own words how they changed technology step-by-step to bring Gemini Man to life.  This includes interviews with producer Bruckheimer, co-producer David Ellison, director Lee, actors Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benedict Wong, Ralph Brown, and Douglas Hodge, Smith’s double, Jalil Jay Lynch, plus director of photography Dion Beebe, production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer, technical supervisor Ben Gervais, costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb, stunt coordinator J.J. Perry, and more.

Here is a look inside Gemini Man: The Art and Making of the Movie:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, chemist and author Kathryn Harkup, author of A is for Arsenic, reveals the results of a thorough investigation into the scientific knowledge available to young author Mary Shelley at the turn of the 19th century when Shelley wrote the first science fiction novel (and basis for the first horror movie), Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus The result is a detailed, marvelously interconnected picture of notable minds of the Enlightenment and their theories, a useful history of science and technology, and a worthy supplement to any reading or study of the classic story.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was greatly influenced by noted authors of her era, beginning with her parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft (through her writings), and her long-time companion and eventual husband, the noted author and political thinker Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Mary Shelley lived in a world of scientific improvements, while also at only the barest beginnings of modern chemistry, biology, and medicine.  Author Kathryn Harkup looked back to writings of the late 1700s and earlier, where religion, politics, and culture were undergoing a radical shift, with old concepts like alchemy winding down its influence on the thinking world.  As Harkup writes, “Dark, discredited, ineffectual alchemy was contrasted with enlightened, rational, powerful science.”  She follows Mary Shelley’s travels as documented in letters and diaries Shelley and her contemporaries wrote to locate hundreds of opportunities that could have influenced the author’s story as well as Victor Frankenstein the character inside the world where he would create life from the dead.  In doing so the reader will get a snapshot of the world in 1800-1818 and a class in a major chapter of the history of science and technology–what someone in Shelley’s circumstances as a woman among affluent families living among vocal sharers of ideas including the likes of Erasmus Darwin, Luigi Galvani, Benjamin Franklin, and Lord Byron.

Harkup takes her research a step further in Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, locating the possible influences of not only Shelley but those around Mary Shelley like her father, her husband, and Byron, whose access to cutting edge science and free thought reached across the ocean and nations.  She references the ongoing relationships and likelihood of the sharing of ideas among these men and Mary Shelley, all leading to the famous trip during the rainy summer of 1816, where the world was overtaken by darkness thanks to the earlier eruption of Mount Tambora in far off Indonesia.  Mary Shelley, age 18, with boyfriend Percy visiting Byron and Dr. John Polidori at Lake Geneva, Switzerland, were hunkered down reading ghost stories to each other from the French book Fantasmagoriana, when Byron suggested each should write his/her own ghost story (Polidori’s story would become The Vampyre, the first vampire novel).  Along with the science, Harkup provides a complete background of each step of Shelley’s life before and after completion of her Frankenstein contribution.

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Sometimes you wish you could go back in time, to decades past where life was simpler and you could grab a magazine at the local bookstore or grocery store rack to get a fix from your favorite movies or TV series.  Back in the 1970s and 1980s sometimes that meant Starlog, Starburst, or Space Wars, Fantastic Films Magazine, or even mags aimed at the younger set, like Dynamite.  Then people like Dan Madsen came along with fan clubs that resulted in titles targeted at specific, single fandoms like The Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine for Star Wars, and Star Trek Communicator and other titles under variants of those names.  Titan Magazines inherited management of these legacies decades ago, and is still putting out both Star Wars Insider and Star Trek Magazine, and it’s the articles from those mags that fans can “read again for the first time” as Titan launches three new compilation books, Star Wars: The Best of the Original Trilogy, Star Wars: Rogues, Scoundrels, and Bounty Hunters, and Star Trek Picard: The Classic Chronicles.

The two Star Wars books are tied to the anticipation for the release of the final chapter in the original Star Wars saga as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives in theaters in December and The Mandalorian series begins streaming in November.  And the Star Trek book is primed to get newer fans up to speed in time for the release of the Star Trek Picard television series.  If you collect the magazines, you have already read this content, but if you haven’t or you threw out your magazines over the years, this is your chance to check out Titan’s targeted looks back at these big franchises.

Vintage photographs, tie-in toys and other products, posters, interviews, and articles full of trivia are reason enough to take a look back through these books.  And those photographs include many you’ve probably not seen before–or at least haven’t seen in a long, long time.  Clocking in at 176 pages, each book has something for every fan of these franchises.  Star Wars: Rogues, Scoundrels, and Bounty Hunters is a must for anyone after lots of detail photographs of Chewbacca and your favorite bounty hunters, something from every previous Star Wars film through Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Star Trek Picard: The Classic Chronicles isn’t just about Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but is an overview of the entire series and films featuring the NextGen crew.  Star Wars: The Best of the Original Trilogy is perhaps the most nostalgic, with those marketing photographs and accompanying 1970s magazine style art that could have come straight out of Dynamite magazine.

Below are previews of all three books.  Catch up on the past–order these books at your local bookstore or comic book shop or from Amazon at these links: Star Wars: The Best of the Original Trilogy, Star Wars: Rogues, Scoundrels, and Bounty Hunters, and Star Trek Picard: The Classic Chronicles.

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We have a cover reveal today for borg readers!  Take a look at this great cover by Brett Helquist, artist for A Series of Unfortunate Events and other great covers and picture books.  It’s for Elizabeth C. Bunce′s next book, Premeditated Myrtle, now available for pre-order here at Amazon.

As readers over the past decade at borg know, one of our frequent contributors of book and TV reviews is author Elizabeth C. Bunce, whose first novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, I feature here every October as a recommended Halloween read.  Next up for Elizabeth is Premeditated Myrtle, the first in a new mystery series in the tradition of Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Miss Fisher, Flavia De Luce, and… Quincy, M.E.  I, your humbled editor and Elizabeth’s husband, have been watching Elizabeth build her mystery series from the ground up–the second book has been written and the third and fourth mysteries are underway!  I know you’re going to love the adventures of intrepid twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle and her equally intrepid cat Peony (who also made the cover if you look closely).

Myrtle has a passion for justice and a Highly Unconventional obsession with criminal science.  Armed with her father’s law books and her mum’s microscope, Myrtle studies toxicology, keeps abreast of the latest developments in crime scene analysis, and Observes her neighbors in the quiet village of Swinburne, England, in the year 1893.  When her next-door neighbor, a wealthy spinster and eccentric breeder of rare flowers, dies under Mysterious Circumstances, Myrtle seizes her chance.  With her unflappable governess, Miss Ada Judson, by her side, Myrtle takes it upon herself to prove Miss Wodehouse was murdered and find the killer, even if nobody else believes her — not even her father, the town prosecutor.

“Covers are always a surprise for the author—seeing how someone else will envision your characters,” said Elizabeth.  “My agent leaked the news that Brett Helquist might be working on Premeditated Myrtle, so I had to pretend for months that I didn’t know!  I knew his work, of course, but what really sold me were his illustrations for A Christmas Carol.  There are no ghosts in my Victorian mystery, but Brett did an amazing job capturing Myrtle’s determined energy—and even more importantly, Peony the cat!  We went back and forth on a couple of sketches for hair and clothing, but what never changed was Myrtle’s perfect expression.  The scene he chose to illustrate was one of my favorites to write, so it’s been great fun watching it come to life in full color.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Typically a sci-fi movie’s tech manual is a compilation of spec designs and blueprints used in a film’s production, from designs and drawings, model making and miniature effects, drafting, and set building.  Graham J. Langridge′s new book turns that around.  Alien: The Blueprints is the culmination of more than a decade of side projects by Langridge, an architectural student when he began creating ship drawings for the franchise, and now he’s the artist and designer of an expansive set of blueprints based on the ships and sets from the franchise.  It’s all timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic, the original 1979 film Alien, which sees a return to theaters this month as part of the Fathom Events series (details on that below).

Similar to tech manuals you may have seen from other series and intended to be read in conjunction with the 1995 book Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual, this month’s follow-up work Alien: The Blueprints discusses the creative work behind the ships of Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection, Prometheus, and Alien: Covenant.  But the bulk of its 156 over-sized (10.5-inch by 14.6-inch) pages consists of detailed, newly-created engineering drawings.  These are the key ships and creations anyone who has seen the films will be familiar with:  the Nostromo (with ten pages of detailed drawings), the Narcissus, and refinery from Alien, the Sulaco (with 11 pages of drawings), the alien ship, space jockey, armored personnel carrier, dropship (10 pages of drawings), powerloader, Hadley’s Hope (16 pages of drawings), and tractor from Aliens, the escape vehicle and penal colony facility from Alien 3, the Betty and Auriga from Alien Resurrection, and the Prometheus and Covenant (10 pages of drawings) from the latest films, and a lot more.

Along with an afterword by the author explaining his process, a section on each film discusses the film designers, with contemporary quotes and reference information from Roger Christian, Ron Cobb, Martin Bower, Syd Mead, H. R. Giger, Norman Reynolds, George Gibbs, Nigel Phelps, Sylvain Despretz, Steve Burg, and Chris Seagers.  A few close-up photographs of models of the actual ship props and original concept artwork fill out each chapter.  As a bonus, the Suloco and Covenant ships get full pull-out, double-page spreads for their design drawings.  The entirety is an end-to-end compilation of finely detailed artwork for the diehard Alien fan.  And each page is printed on thick, glossy paper, making them ideal for framing.

Check out this preview of a few of the ship and tech blueprints in Alien: the Blueprints:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A book released this month from Pavilion Books will have kids of all ages creating their own board games about anything they can imagine.  Kevan Davis and Viviane Schwarz’s new oversized hardcover book Board Games to Create and Play has everything anyone from kids to adults can use to learn about the mechanics of what makes board games work.  And it has 58 templates of 19 sample boards, cut-out cards and tokens, and 40 rule sets to get players to draw up new games on their own.

Beginning with pull-out sample games, readers will quickly learn the building blocks to make a great game.  Using the principles of Snakes and Ladders aka Chutes and Ladders as a starting point, readers can grab a pen and start marking up the game, filling in blank spaces with their own themes, goals, challenges, barricades, and rules.  You can incorporate dice or cards, or not, and use any kind of object for tokens or design something for each game.  Whether you prefer Sorry or Clue, Monopoly, Life, Parcheesi or Payday, or combine rules and technical difficulty to make your own role play board, the sky is the limit.

If you think the artwork in the preview below looks a bit basic, that’s the point–you’re not limited by your own artistic skill.  This is about being creative, using your imagination to create that game that has yet to be invented, but using the game prompts–in essence story prompts–to get you started.  And the education on gaming maneuvers, sequences, planning, and strategy is surprisingly insightful.  Even experienced game creators are bound to learn something here.  The writers explain components of rules, like burning fuel, action cards, non-player pawns, using money, hidden treasures, running fights, movement tokens, and out-of-time rules.  It also has a handy theme generator and sample mash-ups of rules to begin with.

Here is a seven-page preview of Board Games to Create and Play, courtesy of Pavilion Books:

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For Harry Potter fans and especially those who want to see every view of the film behind the scenes, your next find is probably going to require clearing off an entire shelf.  Beginning this month is a new series of books about the Harry Potter films, and it’s sporting the “film vault” legend.  We’ve seen “vaults” published for Star Wars, Terminator, Batman, Spider-Man, and all things DC and Marvel, but for Harry Potter the franchise needed 12 volumes to tell its story.  It’s Titan Books and Insight Editions’ Harry Potter: Film Vault and we have an extensive preview for borg readers below.  If you decide to collect the entire series, the spines will line your shelf to reveal the Hogwarts coat-of-arms, reminiscent of the Time-Life encyclopedic book series from the 1970s and 1980s.

With a franchise spanning eight films, you’d expect them to have collected tens of thousands of images of concept artwork and photographs of every scene, set, costume, and prop, and that becomes even clearer inside the pages of this series.  Beginning with Forest, Lake, and Sky Creatures, readers can dive into several areas of the story mythos, on to Diagon Alley, the Hogwarts Express, and the Ministry, to Horcruxes and the Deathly Hallows, and Hogwarts Students.  Later volumes feature Creature Companions, Plants, and Shapeshifters, Hogwarts Castle, Quidditch and the Triwizard Tournament, the Order of the Phoenix and Dark Forces, and more.

 

Each volume has illustrations, design sketches, and behind-the-scenes photography, plus a look at the creative process that brought to the screen Harry and his friends with the help of costumes, makeup, and props.

Take a look at 26 pages from the first four volumes below, and a peak at the first eight covers:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As in any creative industry, as much as Hollywood is rife with successes, far more projects barely make it past the idea stage.  Others make it through preliminary steps only to get left behind, most never heard of again.  Decisions are made, offers are given, and you move forward.  The fact that Tom Selleck rejected the role of Indiana Jones is a famous footnote to movie history.  Most recently Amanda Seyfried recounted rejecting the role of Gamora in the Marvel films.  A Mouse Guard movie made it through pre-production before getting stalled.  For every successful project, how many others are left behind?  If you’re as iconic as filmmaker Ray Harryhausen, you might have even more projects left in the discard pile than others.  Those might-have-been projects, rejected ideas, and even scenes that made it beyond mere idea to concept art come together in John Walsh’s new look at the auteur and father of stop-motion creatures, Harryhausen: The Lost Movies

Ray Harryhausen’s creations were cutting edge for the first century of cinema, their creator a special effects visionary who found his niche in fantasy worlds, via films like One Million Years B.C., Clash of the Titans, and Jason and the Argonauts.  Documentarian John Walsh met with Harryhausen, who died in 2013, to film a documentary about the filmmaker, and along the way he chronicled 70 projects Harryhausen considered but did not go through with, including script and concept art material.  Some of these are projects he was asked to participate in and couldn’t find a fit, or films he passed up for other projects, including films anyone could see translated by Harryhausen, like Conan, Tarzan, King Kong, Moby Dick, John Carter of Mars, and Beowulf.  Then there are those surprises fans could only dream about, like Harryhausen’s take on The Empire Strikes Back, The Princess Bride, Dune, or X-Men.  Harryhausen: The Lost Movies provides fans with a glimpse into Harryhausen’s involvement in these projects, some with photographic clues of how his input might have resulted in very different films.

Pulling together some never-been-seen-before artwork, sketches, photos, and screencaps of test footage from the Harryhausen Foundation archives, Walsh creates a scrapbook of sorts, an artist’s sketchbook.  Harryhausen considered every other major classic fantasy and fairy tale to utilize his brand of special effects storytelling.  He created test footage for H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, but his letter to Orson Welles was not answered.  His alien designs from that footage are in this book.

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