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We’ve been speculating about a new animated Star Trek for years (like back here at borg), and it’s sort of like the folks at CBS and Paramount listened to us.  Ideas of an animated Star Trek have finally taken hold of late, first with Ira Steven Behr’s Deep Space Nine documentary, and even more recently with announcements of three shows in development for 2020 or 2021: two animated shorts, an animated comedy series by Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan about the lower decks crew of a Starfleet ship, and a Nickelodeon series aimed at kids.  Is there an interest in animated Treks?  We loved that replica costume company Anovos was offering pre-orders for a cool, purple–and screen-accurate–cartoon-style Klingon uniform. Unfortunately Anovos reported production was canceled for insufficient interest.  But Behr’s documentary amped up the buzz for the potential of the medium, especially as a way to bring back actors who may not want to appear in front of the camera anymore, via voice work.  Audio genius company Big Finish has made a big business of resurrecting most of its 50 year history of Doctor Who actors (and their companions) via new audio stories, even without the animated visuals.  Want more William Shatner as Captain Kirk?  This is the way to do it.

Just two months ago we reviewed here at borg television historian and researcher Marc Cushman’s latest brilliant deep dive into vintage television in his book These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, Volume 1 (1970-75) It is a highly recommended, monumental 764-page treatise on Roddenberry, his development of the animated series, and a guide to each episode with exhaustive behind the scenes crew information.  If the future of Star Trek is, indeed, animated, it makes sense another book is coming your way, this time a full color pictorial look at the classic animated series called Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series, and you can check out some preview pages below.

The animated voyages often represented the lighter side of Star Trek that was picked up on by Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer in their story for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, incorporating more bits of humor that would become an integral part of what makes Star Trek… Star Trek from then on.  One of the biggest curiosities of post-Animated Trek is not including the unique alien bridge officers Arex and M’Ress as characters in the movies and series since.  Both have only had appearances in DC Comics’ Star Trek monthly and various novels.  Years ago Gene Roddenberry acknowledged the costs–of requirements like heavy prosthetic and makeup–required of bringing these characters to live-action versions were too burdensome for television production, yet similarly styled characters have cropped up in Star Trek IV and V and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  With the kind of makeup work done by Oscar-nominated creator Joel Harlow in Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Beyond and Emmy-winner James MacKinnon for Doug Jones in Star Trek Discovery, a live-action Arex and M’Ress could happen.

Take a look at this preview for Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series, available for pre-order now here at Amazon:

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The first season of FX’s fringe superhero series Legion was an unexpected hit, but the sophomore season didn’t quite have the same mix of edgy, weird, and dark humor.  The series, based on the comic book by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz, returns a little more than a week away for its third and final season, and FX has revealed the first look at what lies ahead.  FX has also released a summary to catch up anyone who missed last season:

Legion follows lead character David Haller (Dan Stevens), a man who believed himself to be schizophrenic, only to discover that he is the most powerful mutant the world has ever seen.  From childhood, David shuffled from one psychiatric institution to the next until, in his early 30s, he met and fell in love with a beautiful and troubled fellow patient named Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller).  After Syd and David shared a startling encounter, he was forced to confront the shocking reality that the voices he hears and the visions he sees are actually real. 

With the help of Syd and a team of specialists who also possess unique and extraordinary gifts – Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder) and Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin) – David unlocked a deeply suppressed truth: he had been haunted his entire life by a malicious parasite of unimaginable power.  Known as The Shadow King, this malevolent creature appeared in the form of David’s friend Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), but was actually an ancient being named Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban).  During an epic showdown, David managed to push Farouk out of his body and gain control of his mind.  With Farouk on the loose, the team formed an unlikely alliance with their former enemy, Clark DeBussy (Hamish Linklater), and his well-funded government organization, Division 3.  Unfortunately, the hunt for Farouk reawakened the dark voices in David’s head, and with them, a lust for power.  At odds with everyone he once considered a friend, David enlists the help of a young mutant named Switch (Lauren Tsai) whose secret ability is key to his plans to repair the damage he caused.

That’s the story so far.

We were supposed to see even more X-Men this year.  Fox’s last hoorah, The New Mutants movie based on Chris Claremont’s comic book series was slated for release in theaters later this year, but it’s been pushed again, this time to April 3, 2020.  Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg is a producer on this series.

Take a look at this preview for Season 3–the final season–of Legion:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s difficult to imagine even Superman could leap over the tall buildings that have pierced the skyline in recent years.  The current tallest building is a staggering 2,717 feet (828 m) tall, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  If its 57 elevators and 124-floor elevator aren’t high enough for you, just wait for the next skyscraper to eclipse it in 2021, the 3,281-foot high Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, which when finished will in part mimic the look of the fictional Stark Tower/Avengers building in the New York City of the Marvel movies.  From the 2,800 hundred-year-old Great Pyramids of Egypt to today’s contest to be Manhattan’s tallest structure, Edward Denison and Nick Beech′s How to Read Skyscrapers is a handy pocket-sized field guide to accompany you on your travels or serve as a reference to understand the history of humanity’s desire to build ever taller structures.

Not only does How to Read Skyscrapers provide a chronological overview of the construction processes and features behind the history of tall building design, it is a quick course in the progress of architectural science and technology.  Along the way readers will encounter flying buttresses and domes, arches, facades, and columns, lobbies and pedestals, iron framing, prefabricated modular design, elevators, sprinkler systems, boiler and ventilation systems, electricity, zoning barriers, decorative features, building material improvements, innovative lighting, air travel docking systems, marketing and competitive (ego) building and symbolism, all toward the concept of creating the building as city unto itself–and the innovation annotations are all tied to the buildings these new features were first introduced.

For much of the book two cities championed dramatic heights, first Chicago followed later by New York City, making this guide a useful tool for sight-seeing in these cities.  One section highlights American growth and early building history, another section details the global proliferation of tall buildings, followed by a survey of the tallest U.S. buildings, and a tour of the most striking, strangely designed giant structures around the world.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Using a meticulously designed new robot from Weta Workshop, the Australian science fiction movie I Am Mother has all the components of a good story steeped in the classic sci-fi of the 1950s.  It takes place on Earth after an apocalypse that could easily be interwoven into the Cyberdyne/Genisys destruction from the Terminator series, and has that futurism straight out of a Philip K. Dick short story.  What’s left are robots running everything, some on the surface, but one in particular inhabits what looks like a space station buried beneath the planet’s surface.  This robot is called Mother, voiced seamlessly by X-Men series co-star and Australian actor Rose Byrne.  She has preserved several of the last bits of humanity–embryos–in order to repopulate the species via rapid-growth technology.  The production, the design, the light-up props, and the pacing all create the right framework for a significant sci-fi film.  Unfortunately the story is single-threaded, building opportunities for subplots that get left ignored, much like January’s direct-to-Netflix sci-fi release Io.

The build-up is nicely rendered by first-time movie director and script writer Grant Sputore.  The common theme of this genre, as much sci-fi horror as merely sci-fi, is “things aren’t what they seem.”  Or maybe they are.  The audience sees Mother raise a single child from the bank of embryos stowed on the facility, a girl known simply as Daughter, played first by young Tahlia Sturzaker, then for the bulk of the movie by Clara Rugaard, both giving fine performances.  We believe the humans are long gone outside, until a woman arrives, played by two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner Hilary Swank.  She’s been shot, and whether she was shot by humans or robots becomes a mystery for Daughter to solve.  Both Swank and Rugaard look so much alike, their likeness simply must be a plot point:  Are they related, and if so, how?  Sisters?  Clones?  Same hair color and length, eyes, bone structure.  Was Swank’s lost human a former captive in the underground bunker?  How many times has Mother created Daughters or Sons?  How many years from Armageddon is this story really happening?  It’s the answers–or lack thereof–to these questions, and the ultimate payoff Sputore delivers that doesn’t match the rest of the film.

Part of the legitimacy of the film as something more than mainstream popular sci-fi is the amazing body movement work of Luke Hawker acting inside the robot suit he helped design and build with the Weta team.  How rare is it that the designer of the tech is also the actor, who is featured in 90% of the scenes of the film?  The added surprise is this was not a CGI motion capture process, but a practical effect that had to be created with real-world materials.  There is some actual chemistry between Daughter and Mother, and Mother is a pretty great mother to see in action.  It’s like watching young Will Robinson interact with his Robot in Lost in Space.  Add to the believable robot the cold and lonely tenor of the film and you have something like New Zealand’s low budget 1985 sci-fi marvel The Quiet Earth.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Let’s take a trip back 33 years ago to a galaxy not all that far away.  It was my very first issue of the only comic book I ever subscribed to.  It was the end of the school year in 1986 and at last I took the plunge to send in a check to start getting a comic in the mail.  My first issue?  Star Wars #107, which contained a note from Marvel Comics stating that this was to be the final issue and I was going to be sent something instead going forward from a new universe of comics Marvel was starting called… New Universe.  In the days before the Internet or anyone to call to say “what?” I was then sent eleven monthly issues of Star Brand.  Not quite Star Wars, each issue reminded me of what I was not getting.  I was a fan of the Star Wars comic book (issued as Star Wars Weekly in the UK) since receiving my first ever comic as a giveaway when my mom took me to my local library’s Star Wars Day right before Christmas 1977.  The series would introduce me to a roster of creators (many I’d later meet in person) including Roy Thomas, Howard Chaykin, Steve Leialoha, Rick Hoberg, Archie Goodwin, Donald F. Glut, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, John Byrne, Michael Golden, Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe, Al Williamson, Tom Palmer, David Michelinie, Klaus Janson, Ann Nocenti, Jan Duursema, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Walt Simonson.  I read every issue up to Issue #107.

The big surprise?  That original Star Wars series became everyone’s first encounter with the word BORG.  It’s probably the first ever use of those four letters to describe a cybernetic organism, and it was spoken by none other than Luke Skywalker in reference to Valance, The Hunter way back in 1978.  We would learn Valance was a borg who killed borgs, and he became an inaugural inductee here at borg in our borg Hall of Fame, and part of my opening dialogue with borg readers eight years ago here.  This year, through the miracle of an idea worthy of a light bulb floating over your head, Marvel Comics introduced for its ongoing 80th anniversary celebration something I’ve never seen done before: a single, new, numbered issue continuing a series canceled as far back as 33 years ago.  The issue is Star Wars, Issue #108–it’s fantastic and available at local comic shops everywhere now.

 

Providing a chapter by chapter sequel not to Issue #107 of the vintage series, but to the Issue #50 story “Crimson Forever,” Matthew Rosenberg is the writer on the new Issue #108 titled “Forever Crimson,” and along with Valance we again meet some of our favorite characters of the entire Star Wars universe who we haven’t seen in decades:  the villainous Domina Tagge (remember Baron Tagge?), the stylin’ Amaiza Foxtrain, the memorable telepathic hoojib and the red Zeltrons, and best of all, Jaxxon the bounty hunter rabbit, who we last saw on a special variant edition copy of Marvel’s reboot Star Wars, Issue #1.  Plus all the stars of the series we all know and love.  As for the artists, Jan Duursema returns to the series for this one-shot issue, along with Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Andrea Broccardo, Kerry Gammill, Ze Carlos, Stefano Landini, Luke Ross, and Leonard Kirk, with colors by Chris Sotomayor, and lettering by Clayton Cowles.  The result is everything you could want in a Star Wars comic.  It’s the kind of purely fun story that would make a great monthly even today.  If only they continued this story in an ongoing series!

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the benefits of behind-the-scenes and making of/art books for major studio movies is that anyone diving into the production process for the first time can usually learn plenty about the stages of filmmaking from pre-production to final product.  Just pick a film you like and jump right in.  Abbie Bernstein′s The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is no exception, but it will be particularly fun for anyone who is a fan of concept art and mega-monsters.  It’s also weighted toward pre-production and the pre-visualization process.  Readers wouldn’t expect a film with giant creatures to be filmed with practical sets, but with a modern studio Godzilla movie filmed in the U.S., you automatically expect a predominantly CGI movie.  The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is filled with trial pieces from artists showcasing the process of turning the classic Japanese kaiju characters into something new and different.

Fans of Scott Chambliss will want to read what guided him to make the choices and decisions for the look of the film.  Chambliss has his own style, and when watching the film my reaction was how many sets, and specifically the color and lighting choices, felt like Star Trek 2009, a film in which Chambliss also served as production designer.  Chambliss discusses the visual tricks he used to make Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorra appear to have immense scale, but also appear real.  Several effects companies worked on components of this film, each trying to make their creations the best of the pack without competing against each other–the goal being to create the best final product they could.  Some artists worked on familiar software programs, combining photographs and 3D imaging of locations like San Francisco’s Union Square to combine with actors in Atlanta.   Others made sculptures of each creature–in a variety of materials–and then those sculptures were scanned and manipulated into what the audience sees on screen by others, after even more creators contributed their colors, texture, lighting, and other touches.

The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a great companion book to Mark Cotta Vaz’s Godzilla: The Art of Destruction, the behind the scenes look at Gareth Edward’s 2014 Godzilla film that was the starting point for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Simon Ward’s The Art of Kong: Skull IslandAll of these massive monsters will come together soon in Godzilla vs. King, so it’s a good time to be a fan of kaiju.  For fans of the new Legendary Pictures movie, it’s a good opportunity to understand the characters better from those who created them, and learn more from actors about their experiences on set, including Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Elizabeth Ludlow, Thomas Middleditch, Anthony Ramos, and Bradley Whitford.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After a few packed years of superhero movies, Dark Phoenix is going to be a target for comparison.  No single Marvel movie this year–including Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame–really merits entry on a “best of the best” list, yet all had good, even great, moments, and easily belong in a top 25 superhero movie list.  Dark Phoenix now joins that group.  Instead of a galaxy-changing upheaval, first-time director and award-winning writer-producer Simon Kinberg marked the end of the X-Men movie saga with a personal story.  It’s a story of struggle and tragedy more attuned to the X-Men characters and the cinematic stories 20th Century Fox has told since we first met Patrick Stewart’s professor and Ian McKellen’s metal-manipulating frenemy way back in the year 2000.  Although it’s not as compelling and cinematic as James Mangold’s gold standard Logan or the incredible team-up in X-Men: Days of Future Past, actress Sophie Turner leads an emotional journey for her all-powerful Jean Grey that first began in X-Men: Apocalypse, really backing up that tagline from the movie posters: Every hero has a dark side.  They really meant it.

Kinberg wrote the original script for the Dark Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand, but he gets a lot closer to the spirit of the source material this time.  The key conflict mimics Marvel’s Jim Shooter and Chris Claremont’s reported struggle when they developed the character of Dark Phoenix, asking whether Jean Grey is irretrievably bad or bad only because she is possessed by a dark force.  At the same time most of the cosmic oddities are stripped from the comics story, but not all, pulling the necessary elements from the original tale in a more accessible way for audiences.  Jessica Chastain′s new villain and her compatriots from afar are very much the same as found in the comics, all but in name.  The opening act in particular is perfectly executed, beginning with a nicely cinematic launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and a return to the stealth fighter that Nicholas Hoult′s Beast had been building in X-Men: Apocalypse.  If you’ve seen the trailers or know the story then the subject of the scene is no surprise–a rescue of the astronauts aboard from a giant solar flare, directed by James McAvoy′s Professor X from Earth, but led in space by Jennifer Lawrence′s Mystique, who grew to be the front-line commander of the team in the last film.  The most entertaining superhero of all the X-Men movies is back, Evan Peters′ Quicksilver, this time using his speed and time-stopping powers to assemble the astronauts for rescue in the character’s third and final awesome show-stopper.  He’s accompanied by the teleport-wielding Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler, providing actor Kodi Smit-McPhee the first of several key scenes that showcase his unique superhero, and round out a building arc for the typically background superhero.

The big takeaway from Dark Phoenix may be that it’s clear the material is capable of being recycled and resurrected many times, by different writers, directors, and actors.  Famke Janssen’s performance of Jean Grey was excellent in the original X-Men trilogy.  Sophie Turner’s performance is equally good.  In a few years we’ll see it all over again, which is pretty much what the Phoenix is all about.  Dark Phoenix will likely be accused of copying the empowered women theme of Captain Marvel.  In actuality Dark Phoenix was completed earlier, in October 2017, and if Dark Phoenix hadn’t been delayed by the Fox-Disney merger, the positions would no doubt be flipped to some extent.  The timing and similarities reportedly prompted Fox to go back and make some revisions.  But who says audiences can’t embrace two movies released within 90 days about the two most powerful superheroines in the Marvel pantheon?  Captain Marvel was able to generate far more buzz, and it’s a more upbeat story, so Dark Phoenix is unlikely to make a dent by comparison to that billion dollar box office hit.  But the acting and script for Dark Phoenix is probably a few degrees better, and the wrap-up of so many beloved characters makes Dark Phoenix a more important chapter for its franchise.

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In the world of the dark superhero universe you start with Alan Moore’s Watchmen and The Killing Joke, and you might pick up Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan, Garth Ennis’s Crossed, and if you go back a bit further you might pick up Jim Starlin’s Batman: A Death in the Family.  And you take another look at Tim Burton making Batman movies.  You also might stumble over Garth Ennis’s The Boys and Brian Michael Bendis’s Jessica Jones.  These last two comics are making their way to your television this summer, first with the return of Marvel’s Jessica Jones for its third season on Netflix as the swan song for all its Marvel series, and then Amazon Prime is stepping in with an adaptation of Ennis’s The Boys, dark in every other way that Jessica Jones isn’t.  Those are in addition to Brightburn, a movie written by the live-action superhero guru Gunn brothers about a kid with Superman powers who doesn’t use them for good.  Meaning lots of bloody gore and violence.  It’s still in theaters.

Our first trailer is for the final season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones Should it be a surprise that everything seems exactly as it was in the last season?  Is it enough that Krysten Ritter′s anti-hero conquers her demons one at a time?  Viewers want to cheer her on, to do anything to get happy in a dark and dreary real-life New York, but without development of her character beyond returning to the bottle and self-inflicted pain, we’re left to turn to other characters.  Thankfully that left her adopted sister Trish, played by Rachael Taylor, as last season’s real hero to root for.  But does Jeremy Bobb (Russian Doll) have a chance at filling in as next villain as Foolkiller after David Tennant’s performance as Kilgrave?  And why another new guy for Jones, bringing in Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) instead of Luke Cage or The Punisher?

The Boys is a different kind of dark, but in many ways it’s just another effort to do what Alan Moore did with Watchmen–deconstruct superheroes until they are only recognizable because of the capes and costumes.  So think of the depraved nature of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass, but add a multiplier.  Or if Watchmen was a normal school day, The Boys is Watchmen where the teenage kids take over.  The kids in this case include Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg as producers, so expect plenty of “adult language” aka expletives, and their typical brand of raunch and bodily fluids.   Is there a chance of some subtlety or nuance with these guys behind the series, or can we hope for something closer to Superbad?  The more promising elements in the trailer are found in the costumes (by Iron Man costume designer Laura Jean Shannon, Titans’ designer Joyce Schure, and Doom Patrol’s designer Carrie Grace) and the cast, including pop culture icon Karl Urban (Thor: Ragnarok, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Judge Dredd, Xena: Warrior Princess) and Erin Moriarty, who also starred on season one of Jessica Jones, Elizabeth Shue (The Karate Kid, Leaving Las Vegas), and Jennifer Esposito (Spin City, NCIS).

Take a look at these trailers for some of the darker edge of superheroes in genredom:

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Seven years ago the writers at borg came up with our top ten favorite fantasy movies (take a look at my list here).  I’m happy to see that my list hasn’t changed much.  Two of my top ten fantasy movies are returning to theaters nationwide for limited showings.  First, Field of Dreams (my #6 favorite), is back next week, followed in July by The Muppet Movie (my #3 favorite).  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Field of Dreams will be in theaters for Fathers’ Day, an opportunity to share the ultimate story of believing in yourself and trusting your instincts with a new generation.  It’s scheduled to appear at more than 600 theaters.  Then celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Muppet Movie, Fathom Events is partnering with The Jim Henson Company and Universal Pictures to show the classic big-screen debut of the Muppets on more than 700 screens nationwide.

Fathom Events joins Universal Pictures and Turner Classic Movies to bring Field of Dreams to theaters Sunday, June 16, for showings at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. local time, and Tuesday, June 18, at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time.  Director Phil Alden Robinson′s re-write of W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe (reviewed here at borg), features three of cinema’s most fantastic characters coming together: reclusive author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), baseball player Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster and Frank Whaley) and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson (Ray Liotta).  It was nominated for six–and made three–of the American Film Institute’s lists of the top American films of all time, including being named the all-time #6 top fantasy film.

For two days only this July, The Muppet Movie returns with screenings on Thursday, July 25, and Tuesday, July 30.  The Muppet Movie will play at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (local time) each day.  Following the international success of the television show The Muppet Show, which at its peak aired in more than 100 countries, Muppets creator Jim Henson took a creative risk to have the characters star in their first motion picture.  The result, directed by James Frawley, became a box-office hit, starring Kermit (performed by Henson), Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear (performed by Frank Oz), Gonzo (performed by Dave Goelz) and his chicken Camilla (performed by Jerry Nelson), Scooter (performed by Richard Hunt), and dozens of other favorite characters.

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