Category: Fantasy Realms


We’ve seen Disney go back to the well as the norm lately, with a host of live-action remakes of animated movies from the “vaults.”  Ticking off the list so far have been Aladdin, Cinderella, The Jungle Book (twice), and Pete’s Dragon, with Beauty and the Beast, Lady and the Tramp, the second take on The Jungle Book, and The Lion King remakes really more CGI than live-action, with a few centered on classic villains, including two Maleficents and one Cruella.  What other animated Disney films will audiences see adapted to the real world in the future?  So far news of pre-production has been mentioned for The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lilo & Stitch, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, The Sword and the Stone, yet another take on The Jungle Book, and spin-offs including Tink, Rose Red, and Prince Charming.  With more than a dozen live-action remakes of animated Disney movies in production, it’s a surprise to see a preview for one that looks like it could have been a standalone live-action film from the get-go.  Utilizing the production designer of The Lord of the Rings movies, Disney has upped the ante for Mulan.

Based on the 1998 animated Oscar-nominated film, which was based on a Chinese folk legend of a young heroine who posed as a boy to fight for her people (The Ballad of Mulan), with a lot of influence from Jin Yong’s heroine Huang Rong in Legends of the Condor Heroes, next year’s Mulan replaces roles voiced in the animated film that included Eddie Murphy, Harvey Fierstein, Donny Osmond, and Miguel Ferrer, instead showcasing a legion of Chinese and Chinese-American actors and a film steeped more in traditional Chinese folklore.  In the title role is Yifei Liu (also known as Crystal Liu) an actress who has grown up with roles in wuxia stories, starring in Return of the Condor Heroes, and appearing with Jackie Chan and Jet Li in John Fusco’s Forbidden Kingdom.  In the first trailer for Mulan (below) we meet her father, played by Wu Assassins and The Man in the High Castle’s Tzi Ma.  Other key cast members include Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) as Bori Khan, Gong Li as the Cyclone Mei-inspired witch Xian Lang, Rogue One’s Donnie Yen as Commander Tung, M*A*S*H and Star Trek’s Rosalind Chao as Hua Li, and Chinese mega-action star Jet Li as The Emperor.

Mulan is directed by Niki Caro, who you may know as the director of the fantastic and inspiring McFarland USA, among other award-winning films.  Clearly this is not going to be a shot-for-shot remake as we’ve seen with past Disney efforts.  Costumes were designed by Bina Daigeler (Volver, Grimm), and the music was created by the prolific film composer Harry Gregson-Williams.  The rich production look is courtesy of Grant Major (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Meg, X-Men: Apocalypse, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny).

Take a look at this fantastic, exciting new trailer for Mulan:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Sometimes you can align the right fan with a project and come up with something great.  Add Mark Edlitz to that list and his fascinating, broad look at the James Bond franchise in The Many Lives of James Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy As audiences get ready for 2020’s No Time to Die, the franchise continues to be as popular as ever, through new fiction and non-fiction books, comics, music, posters, and more.   But how do you translate the master British spy from Ian Fleming’s original stories into new stories, or adapt the character to the big screen, to audio books and radio plays, and to spin-off comic books and novels?  Mark Edlitz is a long-time fan who took his tape recorder along to Bond conventions over the years and interviewed everyone he could find in front of and behind the camera, then expanded that into people behind the books and everything else he could find.  The result is the largest collection of Bond oral histories anywhere.  The result is The Many Lives of James Bond, now available for the first time, from Lyons Press.

Supplemented with sketch art (from artist Pat Carbajal) and peppered with black and white photographs of the interview subjects, Edlitz makes up for some of the big creators he was unable to interview by interviewing people close to them.  Interviewing people is not easy: Sometimes the subjects aren’t good at being interviewed, and oftentimes subjects are evasive for whatever reason.  But most subjects in the book said they felt a certain family connection to the honor of working on a Bond project, and were open with their thoughts.  It’s full of all kinds of surprises, and more insights than you can imagination about being Bond, from interviews with Roger Moore and George Lazenby, a stunt double, Hoagy Carmichael and David Niven’s sons (Fleming’s initial visions for Bond), and Glen A. Schofield, who provides his account of working with Sean Connery as voice over actor in a video game 20 years after his last Bond performance.  The Many Lives of James Bond also looks back to some early, pre-Bond film era performers.

  

Edlitz covers casting the role and directing Bond (from movie directors Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale), Roger Spotiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies), and editor and unit director John Glen (who worked on eight films with four Bond actors)), writing words and working with the famed producers who own the Bond legacy (from interviews with more than a dozen writers, including three-time Bond screenwriter Bruce Feirstein), creating music for Bond (from songwriters Leslie Bricusse (Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice) and Don Black (who wrote songs for five films)), creating clothes for Bond (from Jany Temime (Skyfall, SPECTRE)), and even marketing Bond (in movie posters created by Robert McGinnis (Diamonds are Forever, Live and Let Die), Rudy Obrero (Never Say Never Again), and Dan Goozee (Moonraker, Octopussy, A View to a Kill)), all while trying to be faithful to Fleming’s vision while adapting when necessary to changing times.

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This month Wizards of the Coast is celebrating 45 years of fans and gaming and 5 years of the Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons with a one-time opportunity.  The D&D Sapphire Anniversary Dice Set: Collector’s Limited Edition will be available to commemorate the occasion, a set of eleven aluminum dice with a special sapphire set in the d20 die.  Wizards of the Coast hopes this to be the jewel of any gamer’s dice sets.  You’ll want to mark your calendar for December 12, 2019, at 9 a.m. Pacific/11 a.m. Central, the go-live date for sales of the set.  And you’ll need to act fast, as the number of sets will be limited to 1,974, reflecting the first year of D&D.

“When the D&D team realized the sapphire is the traditional anniversary stone for both five years and forty-five years, and that adding a laboratory-created sapphire to a twenty-sided die wouldn’t jeopardize the integrity of a roll, we couldn’t pass up the chance to make something really cool to celebrate the milestones,” said Nathan Stewart, vice president of the D&D for Wizards of the Coast.  “The team put together a fun product for our fans that includes art and newly updated stats for sapphire dragons, making these classic dragons ready for play in your next D&D session.”

Here are the stats for the set from Wizards of the Coast:

  • A complete set of eleven precision anodized luxury aluminum dice, including two d20s, one d12, two d10s, one d8, four d6s, and one d4, all created exclusively for Wizards of the Coast by Level Up Dice.
  • The centerpiece of the set is a dice masterpiece, a d20 that contains an inlaid lab-grown sapphire in the place of the twenty.
  • All other dice sport a fully engraved and anodized official D&D ampersand on the highest value of each die.
  • A custom dice box and dice tray combo only available with this set, perfect for protecting and showcasing the set everywhere you play.
  • A premiere foldout card featuring official D&D fifth edition game statistics for adult sapphire dragons, along with vibrant, full-color art.
  • An exclusive sticker sheet with the D&D ampersand.
  • A sequentially numbered collector’s card confirming the set’s authenticity.

Take a look at this trailer with close-up images of the dice, which also doubles as a bit of a “moment of Zen”–

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the Victorian holiday tradition of spending Christmas sharing tales of ghosts and other haunts, comes James Lovegrove′s latest novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon Another excellent addition in Lovegrove’s long list of new tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero and his earnest confidante and co-conspirator in sleuthing, Dr. John Watson, here readers encounter the master detective in a tale of murder and high crimes in the yuletide season.  Like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, expect an ample serving of curiosity and cleverness, and perhaps a side of the supernatural.

It’s 1890 and Holmes and Watson are called to Fellscar Keep in Yorkshire by one Eve Allerthorpe, the heir-apparent to a family fortune.  She believes she is haunted by a Krampus-like being, the legendary Christmas demonic spirit known as the “Black Thurrick.”  Holmes and Watson believe she’s being duped–the family fortune will belong to her when she turns 21 this Christmas Eve unless she is found to not be of sound mind.  So who is trying to prove that she is insane?  As the family and extended guests arrive for the holidays, Holmes and Watson ruffle feathers, encounter strange happenings, and investigate the wing of the house where the family matriarch died, as Watson finds himself the next target for the demon.

Lovegrove knows how to take Holmes and Watson for an unusual spin, having wrapped his Holmes trilogy The Cthulhu Casebooks this year with the final chapter, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils (reviewed here at borg and just out in paperback).  As with Lovegrove’s previous Sherlock Holmes novels and his Firefly novels Big Damn Hero and The Magnificent Nine, the story is rich and funny, and the action clips along to a surprise, satisfying ending.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Writer Ramin Zahed is back with his next dive behind the scenes of the latest animated films (including Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Missing Link, The Little Prince, and Klaus), this time exploring this year’s CGI version of The Addams Family in The Addams Family: The Art of the Animated Movie.  You might have thought you’d seen it all when it comes to the creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky (and ooky) family that became a classic to two generations, first as a 1960s television series and later as a 1990s movie series.  What you might not have known was the Addams Family dates back to a New Yorker cartoon from the 1930s.

For the 2019 movie The Addams Family, co-directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan didn’t want to make another version of the TV or film versions in animated form.  So they went back to the source, creator Charles Addams.  In interviews with executives and animators, Zahed explores the source material and concept artwork that inspired the new film.  It turns out Charles Addams created character descriptions for each of the famous characters, Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Grandma, Thing, and It–it was these descriptions that the character designers used to guide the personality of the new animated version of the characters.

The Addams Family: The Art of the Animated Movie walks readers through each of the above characters, supporting character art designs, a portrait gallery from the mansion, props, vehicles, and setting locations, providing images of the designs artists went through before deciding on the final, with concept art, storyboards, and production art, and inspiration from Charles Addams’ original cartoons.  Contributors from the film include producers Gail Berman, Alison O’Brien, Alex Schwartz, and Danielle Sterling, character designer Craig Kellman, production designer Patricia Atchison, story lead Todd Demong, animation director Mike Linton, and animation creators Rav Grewal, Casey Kirkpatrick, Marie-Eve Kirkpatrick, Laura Brusseau, and Yiqun Chen.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Jawas, Ugnaughts, and Bounty Hunters… oh, my.

With three episodes in and a new episode dropping today on the new Disney+ streaming service, it’s time to dig into the latest entry in the Star Wars universe.  Great music, callbacks to prior Star Wars elements, and the best alien creations of any sci-fi or fantasy that have come along in years provide fans a lot to talk about.  With a complete story arc, and what is essentially a new, full-fledged Star Wars movie in the A Star Wars Story vein, The Mandalorian might be the greatest innovation in the Star Wars saga since the original movie that started it off back in 1977.

If there are faults in The Mandalorian, it is in its faithfulness to George Lucas’s world building.  Sometimes that includes clunky, simple dialogue.  Sometimes that includes characters with names that lack creativity (such as a mercenary named Greef, since a General Grievous wasn’t enough).  Sometimes that includes lack of rich character development and layered storytelling.  That said, there is so little fan service in the major creative franchises, so that when–at last–someone is listening to fandom, and the people pulling the strings grew up with the original trilogy like they did (I’m talking about you, Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau), and they artfully deliver in such a satisfying way, well, the perceived faults just don’t seem to matter.  The Mandalorian is the dream of every kid who lived through Star Wars in multiple viewings in the theater in 1977.  Every kid who played with a Jawa in a plastic Kenner Sandcrawler.  Every kid who had action figures of Boba Fett, IG-88, and Bossk, battling each other, and mashed up his/her Ugnaught action figure from The Empire Strikes Back with a patrol dewback toy from the first movie.  And every kid who still thinks Boba Fett can’t be surpassed as the word “cool” is defined, despite lots of variants on the character in the prequels and animated shows.  All that plus so, so many Easter eggs to find.

But The Mandalorian probably couldn’t have happened before now.  It relies on the effectiveness of Roger Christian’s lived-in distressed look of buildings and objects replicated so well in Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One in 2016.  It relies on the confidence that the Western is not dead, as tried on for size in Ron Howard’s Solo in 2018.  And it even skips over The Empire Strikes Back to find what may be a simple Western story framework as seen in Lucas’s original Star Wars, itself an interpretation of Akira Kurosawa and Jin Yong’s legendary heroic adventures.  In good writer style, it has all those beats needed so that the first three episodes could have been released with only little tweaks in theaters, and shown on the big screen, as a standalone.  Say, The Mandalorian: A Star Wars Story, as a major motion picture.  You need a good story and good writing, regardless of genre, to grab viewers.  This first tale may not be complex, but compare it to the first three episodes of any other sci-fi or fantasy series or any movie, and it’s The Mandalorian that rises above the rest.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You may not know it, but you probably first met them in their record-breaking music video that they pulled together in only two weeks for Peter Gabriel’s song, Sledgehammer.  It’s a story of two teenagers borrowing mom’s old kitchen table to use to film their Plasticine creations.  Flash forward a few years and their multiple Oscar-winning company is negotiating for big-budget real estate for their movie studio.  The company is Aardman Animations, named for the star character of their earliest film.  And the founders are Peter Lord and David Sproxton, who have documented their journey in this year’s latest chronicle of the history of animation, A Grand Success! The Aardman Journey, One Frame at a Time, now available from Abrams Press.

It’s not just a biography of the two boys who would see their company bring home four Oscars and even more nominations and BAFTAs.  A Grand Success! (the title a play on their first Oscar-nominated adventure, A Grand Day Out) is a time capsule of those key intersections of effort, skill, perseverance, and happenstance, that can make any endeavor a success.  The efforts of the small British upstart found their footing in both the worlds of fantasy film and advertising.  One put the food on the table until, like many creators, they could focus on their passions.  And although they didn’t sever their ties with commercial work, they created what are now among the most recognized characters in England and the world outside the United States (and their U.S. following isn’t too bad, either).  Before long their ideas had them sealing big deals with the likes of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, and having actors from Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Grant, Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams, and Tom Hiddleston–the cream of Britain’s acting talent– providing the voices of their characters.

A crowning achievement in animation in The Wrong Trousers, from the studio lauded by Ray Harryhausen, Terry Gilliam, and Matt Groening.

Lord and Sproxton pull in two other key players in their look at Aardman’s history, animators Nick Park and Richard “Golly” Goleszowski.  Park grew up as a fan of Aardman’s films as a kid, and by 1989, when he was only 31, he was attending Oscar parties as the face of the studio.  All four would create iconic characters from Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, and the anthropomorphic “very British” animals of Creature Comforts.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The next level of books on film animation is here.  But Klaus: The Art of the Movie, a behind the scenes look at the new Christmas movie from Netflix, doesn’t dig into the next advances of CG-animation.  Instead you’ll find a story about a group of creators wanting to advance the style of animation before the advent of CGI.  And that’s what they did, finding new ways to take hand-drawn animation forward in a way that will appear just as exciting and new to movie audiences.

Written by Ramin Zahed, Klaus: The Art of the Movie is a peek inside the mind of long-time animator Sergio Pablos, who has worked on his share of popular animated movies that have taken a more typical approach to the modern animated movie, as co-creator of Despicable Me, in addition to serving as animator on Disney movies like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Tarzan, and Treasure Planet, plus more modern films like Rio and Smallfoot.  This book is the next step for students of animation techniques, following in a long line of movies whose behind-the-scenes accounts have been reviewed previously here at borg, like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse–The Art of the Movie, The Art of Ferdinand, Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie, Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films, Jonny Quest Speaks, Harryhausen: The Lost Movies, and Special Effects: The History and Technique.

Although you may be distracted from the background details by the stunning, innovative use of light and shadow in Klaus, this book features dozens of double-page artworks that allow you to take your time, marveling over the techniques used to create everything from snowy peaks to old, dusty floorboards.  It’s then that you see the influence of the styles of Christmas classics from Rankin & Bass and early Walt Disney Studios on the artists that worked on the film.  With decisions like having animal characters act like real animals instead of the typical talking comedy foil, stark contrasts in the direction of the story’s various environments, and vivid color choices, all the key production creators are able to point to what specifically sets their movie apart.

Here is a look inside Klaus: The Art of the Movie:

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Ok, I confess: I’ve never been a big fan of the movie Clue.  It took the smart, suspenseful, iconic game of my childhood and turned it into a silly farce, disregarding the beautiful conventions of the color-coded characters, and making the measured, thoughtful play a frantic slapstick comedy.  Clue (originally called Cluedo in Britain) is about mystery and deduction and the Golden Age of British country house mysteries.  Well, Diana Peterfreund has restored my faith in the franchise, and channeled a bit of classic Christopher Pike in the mix!  Her new release In the Hall with the Knife: A Clue Mystery, the first novel from the Clue franchise (Hasbro and IDW introduced comic book versions in 2017 and 2019), reimagines the characters and game play in a contemporary New England boarding school.  Six students are stranded in a spooky Victorian mansion-turned-dorm when their remote, coastal village is besieged by a freak winter ice storm.  The campus is flooded, power, phones, and internet are down—and somebody has it in for Headmaster Boddy, the school’s beloved principal.

Is it blue-haired Beth “Peacock” Picach, the school’s perpetually angry tennis star?  Or maybe brooding townie Vaughn Green?  What about the school’s “power couple,” ambitious geniuses Scarlett Mistry and Phineas Plum?  New kid Mustard, just transferred in from a military academy?  Even sweet, bookish Orchid McKee has her secrets… and Peterfreund slowly doles them out, keeping the pacing taut and the plot clipping along until the Big Reveal.

Like the classic gameplay, each character takes a turn, in alternating, third person point-of-view chapters.  Like the game, they all suspect each other, pointing their fingers as the story goes on.  Rooms are explored, secret passages revealed, familiar weapons appear in characters’ hands… and the ultimate culprit is finally exposed.  Peterfreund gives the reader enough clues to play along and solve the mystery with (or slightly before) the characters.  And just like the game itself, the worldbuilding, scene setting, and backstory leave you wishing for more of this world and its secrets.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For years it seemed like new Christmas classics were few and far between.  It usually takes some time for a movie to gain “classic” status, and that itself is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.  Early on audiences stamped the label on Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas.  You have your A Charlie Brown Christmas, your How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and a bevy of Rankin & Bass stop-motion animated shows like Frosty the Snowman.  Then more modern fare came along, like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Elf.  Oh, and we can’t forget Die Hard.  All stamped with an anvil as “classics.”  If you want to see more movies from cinema history, check out the Turner Movie Classics book Christmas in the Movies, reviewed last year here at borg.

Putting aside the modern made for TV movies, if you’re younger, you may count as a classic something like The Polar Express, with Tom Hanks.  It’s that kind of recent film category where you can add in Netflix’s new movie–its first animated feature, Klaus Both of these movies are animated in interesting ways that will keep you entertained simply from a visual perspective, Klaus from its unique lighting and color choices and a strong Spanish comic art style (as seen in Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy).  They also share a certain traditional storybook look, and their tales also look back to nostalgia for their ideas.  Klaus is another origin story take on Santa Claus.  Audiences have seen this many times, including in the not to be missed films Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (featuring the voices of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, and Keenan Wynn) and in books like L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and more recently, the brilliant Santa: My Life and Times, with artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz (we reviewed it here).

Spain’s Sergio Pablos directed Klaus intentionally stepping away from modern Disney-style CGI animation to traditional hand-drawn art, so it looks more like Disney’s top technical achievement, the Oscar-winning Beauty and the Beast from 1991, and less like The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  The story is cute, and contrasting with the traditional visual style, is the inclusion of humorous dialogue told by voice talents famously known for being snarky.  We follow a postman named Jesper, who couldn’t look or sound more like David Spade, actually voiced by Jason Schwartzman.  Jesper is a non-achiever, and his father sends him to a distant Scandinavian town to learn to be successful at his job.  The town ends up like a lawless town out of the Old West.  His job is to get people to use the mail service again.  Along the way he runs into a Hatfield-McCoy conflict, with one part voiced by Joan Cusack, and an old man with a house full of toys named Klaus, voiced by J.K. Simmons.

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