Tag Archive: Abrams Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

As the ninth and final film in the Skywalker Saga arrives in a home video release, the fifth volume from Abrams Books chronicling the entirety of the Disney-era Star Wars concept artwork is here.  The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker does not disappoint in showing readers the expansive designs for a film that stepped ahead of its predecessor with more ships, more action, more aliens, more weaponry, and more costume designs.  Our only hope is that Abrams obtains the rights to create a similar volume continuing this series of books, documenting the first season of The Mandalorian.  One thing every fan will notice who has watched all eleven movies in the franchise–more than ever readers can now clearly see elements from each prequel, each original trilogy episode, and each Star Wars Story film incorporated into the sets, ships, and characters in this final installment.

As with the first two books in the trilogy, this look at the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker shows paths taken and, more interestingly, paths not taken by production designer Rick Carter, franchise veteran Kevin Jenkins, and the rest of the art design team.  This includes alternate costumes for Rey, Finn, Poe, Lando, Zorii, and Jannah, new pilots, stormtroopers, droids, and new worlds of creature concepts.  Probably more than the past volumes in the series, this book has close-up detailed views at props, including lightsaber and other weaponry, all in search of that design element that says “Star Wars” to the movie audience.

Phil Szostak lets the artwork take center stage in this fourth book in the series (he also wrote The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story, all reviewed here at borg)–prior books had more textual commentary.  Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (reviewed here and available in all digital formats today), the ninth and final episode in the Skywalker family story in the universe George Lucas created, saw the return of director J.J. Abrams and his strategy of evoking the trilogy to maximum benefit, with many images inspired by original Ralph McQuarrie concepts.  So it may come as no surprise that The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker feels like a book of original trilogy designs.  The artwork from dozens of contributors mirrors the iconography, the color patterns, the lighting, the costuming, and set pieces from The Return of the Jedi especially.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Merging art with science and technology the Victoria and Albert Museum in London put together an exhibition celebrating more than 100 years of the car.  That exhibition has been documented and is now available as a history of the car, combining historical objects from the museum with thirteen essays that show the impact of this cultural achievement (both the good and the bad) on people around the world.  Prepared by the museum’s researchers, the book Cars: Accelerating the Modern World is a history of the automobile and a nostalgic look at the marketing of cars through hundreds of reprinted advertisements and vintage photographs.

The book examines the need for speed looking at early and modern races, including early women in racing.  From the 1890s to the 2010s style has been supreme when it comes to the love of cars–it might seem obvious, but in one graphic readers can see a comparison of cars, planes, trains, phones, and even chairs, clocks, fashion, and swimsuits, all trending toward more streamlined forms across the decades.  Along with favorite cars is the quest for greater safety.  Manufacturing, assembly lines, industry, regulations, and the development of roads and highways, all led toward a key component that makes road travel possible: standardization.

As with everything else, the history of the car is interspersed with politics, profits, corporations, and The growth of an industry of cars for work tracked cars for personal use and even luxury purposes.  And along the journey was a new class of sales, marketing lifestyle and image to the consumer.  It’s also the movement from the stately black early cars to choice for the consumer via new, vibrant colors for interiors and exteriors.  One Saturday Evening Post excerpt champions new color combinations from DuPont in the 1920s.  Fashion plates compare what women should wear in their new cars in the early days of the automobile.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In The Oliver Stone Experience, writer Matt Zoller Seitz provided fans of Oliver Stone with an incredibly immersive deep-dive into the thought process of the acclaimed and sometimes controversial director.  Spending five years with Stone debating and analyzing the auteur’s films and influences was the stuff for the ultimate fan of his films, bordering on containing too much information–mostly insightful, but sometimes trivial and the stuff of information overload.  But can you really have too much information when you’re talking about your favorite creator?  Probably not, and it’s with the same gusto that Seitz digs into Wes Anderson–the man, the mind, the films.  Seitz admittedly is a fan of Anderson and it shows as he chronicles the writer/director’s life and career in his massive work of essays and photographs, The Wes Anderson Collection, a coffee table hardcover and collectible for every Anderson fan.

In a series of interviews about his films Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom, with two supplemental books available covering The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs (more on those below), Anderson becomes more accessible, and his films more understandable–even for those who aren’t fans of his work.  With original illustrations and production images, Seitz also makes a statement with the design of the book, incorporating the film frames, the quirky nostalgia, and the memory box-like set-ups seen in Anderson films, to highlight and explore the journey the filmmaker has taken with each new film.  The distinct tracking shots and color palettes that define Anderson’s films are featured in shots from the films and in behind the camera images of props, sets, and actors that come together to form these distinct stories.

Readers will find some overload of data here, but it’s also fun to watch a fan who has done his research interviewing a filmmaker.  Equally fun are Anderson’s reactions to complex questions the writer-director never himself pondered about his own work.  Yes, expect plenty of “Hmmm” responses, but much more content of the thought-provoking variety.  Every fan should have a book like this to go to for his/her favorite creator–the closest I’ve seen like this is surprisingly James Cameron’s interviews of directors in his Story of Science Fiction (reviewed here), and the James Bond books Bond on Bond (reviewed here), and The Many Lives of Bond (reviewed here), and the above-mentioned book on Oliver Stone.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The “Moviemaking Magic/Cinemagic” series from Abrams Books is my current favorite book format for genre tie-in non-fiction works.  Check out my reviews of the volume on the Marvel Studios Heroes and Villains here, and the first volume on Star Wars, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures and Aliens, here.  The format is interactive, featuring several series of foldout photographs that allow the reader to see the changes in design over time, like ships from concept to realized model.  And these books allow for hundreds of photographs and how-to film production process accounts and interviews, arranged in an easy to reference chronology.  With the latest film in theaters, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams has published the next look behind the scenes at the production process, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships and Battles, the most comprehensive account of the 11-film franchise’s models, sculptures, concept artwork, and their creators since Sculpting a Galaxy was released in 2005 when we only had six films available (you can see my review of that book here).

The book is targeted at a younger audience, but Star Wars fans of any age will appreciate the detail and information they may not have read about before, including notes from George Lucas from the first idea for the film, his treatment for The Star Wars, to Colin Cantwell and Joe Johnston′s concept drawings, all the way through the two “Star Wars story” movies Rogue One and Solo, and all nine Skywalker saga films, including a preview page of concept art from The Rise of Skywalker.  The original trilogy gets the biggest share of the coverage, including the full run of major ships, how they were developed, and what method was used to get them on the big screen, but the 21st century films and the prequels also get significant sections.  Readers will follow the development of filmmaking methods old and new: full-sized sets and vehicles like the landspeeder and X-wing fighter, scale models (both small and large scale), kitbashing, matte painting, and CGI.

Fans of the Millennium Falcon specifically will not want to miss this book.  They can track the development of the many models and designs used across the original trilogy, which had to be resurrected for the final trilogy with a side trip to an early, modified version of the ship for Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Coverage includes concept art, unused designs, and photos of the pocket-sized models through the multiple full-sized, walk-on creations. The various Death Star space stations and Star Destroyers get similar handling in the book.

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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

In art director and designer Roger Christian’s book Cinema Alchemist (reviewed here at borg) readers learn how the Oscar-winning set designer changed the way audiences see the future through intentionally distressed sets and props and the clever incorporation of real-world components.  In books like Dressing a Galaxy, Star Wars Costumes, and Star Trek Costumes, readers can see how costume designers create what we think of as the future.  Now writer Dave Addey takes science fiction fans back to visit how visionary filmmakers of classic science fiction used futuristic and sometimes even classic fonts and type styles to convey what lies ahead and in his book Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies, available now from Abrams Books.

At first focusing on what he believes to be the most pervasive font of the future, Eurostile Bold Extended–used in Back to the Future, Apollo 13, Battlestar Galactica, Independence Day, and hundreds of other films–Dave Addey highlights seven key science fiction films and how they used a wide variety of typeface designs to make us see the future.  2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Wall·E, and Moon (alas, no Star Wars, possibly because it is not technically science fiction per se) each get taken apart and dissected.  With numerous screencaps, and identification of several dozen font designs inside the films and used in marketing via posters and other advertisements, readers will be surprised what set designers came up with over the past 50 years.

Addey finds some of the fonts made famous in film have filtered into our daily lives as real-world corporate logos–Gill Sans Light, City Bold, Univers 59 Ultra Bold Condensed, Manifold, Futura Bold, Kabel Book, Computer, Micr, Data 70, Stop, Handel Gothic, Pump Demi, Swiss 911 Ultra Compressed, Gunship–these will all be familiar to you even if you don’t know them by name.  With his own pop culture knowledge and sense of humor, he has also built his own framework to analyze the success of these fonts, using manipulation via italic slant, curved lettering, straightening others, adding sharp points, adjusting kern or spacing, creating slices through letters, adding texture, adding a bevel or extrusion, and/or a star field background, although he says no title font has yet used them all to become the most futuristic of all.

Here is a look inside the book:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Is there a more likeable superhero in all of the DC Comics and Marvel Comics extended universe than Melissa Benoist’s Kara Danvers on CW’s Supergirl?   New this year from Abrams/Amulet Books is Jo Whittemore’s latest novel in her CW Arrowverse tie-in series, Supergirl: Master of Illusion.  Readers will catch up with Kara as she teams up with J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter, sister Alex, James Olsen, CatCo tech genius Winn Schott, and her boyfriend Mon-El against her next foe, vintage DC Comics supervillain Felix Faust, an illusionist, manipulator, and hypnotist.  He’s out to gather some ancient artifacts to unleash a trio of demons on the world, and he has plenty to distract the protectors of National City.  As Kara assembles her team to help, she meets up with another oldie-but-a-goodie, the multi-talented Princess Tlaca and Justice League Dark favorite Madame Xanadu.

Kara’s self-effacing inner monologue said out loud (“did she really just say that?”) makes her the most accessible protagonist of any of the recent slate of superhero novel adaptations of comics, TV series, and movies.  Nice, kind, and never snarky (and always seeming to be hunting down her next snack), she accomplishes all she needs without acting like an all-powerful, infallible god like Superman and Wonder Woman, or her all-powerful counterpart named Danvers from that other comic book universe, Marvel Comics’s Captain Marvel.  Supergirl doesn’t forget the “girl” in Supergirl–she’s cute but not cutesy, and she’s smart and has her own skills, but a key component of her character is her lack of confidence.  She’s learning, but she makes mistakes along the way, like every young woman (or man) or girl (or boy), and that’s a great way to get readers on her side.

Felix Faust seems like a good guy at first, helping Kara get her way out of a fix as she’s schmoozing the local city elite at a gala event.  But his real agenda soon becomes clear.  How does the mysterious princess from the ancient Aztec civilization fit in?  It’s up to Kara to maintain her alter ego as a journalist, get a story and keep her job, and save National City before it’s too late.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Adding to a year that will see the final installment in the episodic Star Wars saga, a new book provides a chronological, pictorial essay documenting the step-by-step creation of the most recent Star Wars movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story. When original Solo: A Star Wars Story directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller tapped Rob Bredow as a producer and visual effects supervisor, he stepped onto the studio lot realizing he was the only person with a camera and photography access.  He got the approval of the directors and executive Kathleen Kennedy (and later, approval from replacement director Ron Howard) and was soon filming everything and anything related to the production, from location visits to candid shots.  Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making Solo: A Star Wars Story is a collection of selections of the best from his photo album, 25,000 photographs later, taken on his personal camera and camera phone.

Unlike the J.W. Rinzler “making of” books on the original Star Wars trilogy featuring comprehensive stories and analysis from the entire production teams, or other Abrams “The Art” of books featuring The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi, and Solo full of concept art and design, Making Solo: A Star Wars Story is more of a visual assemblage showcasing one Star Wars crew member’s job (which included allowing his family on the film set to film in as extras).  The closest book like this is Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard, a book piecing together photographs and accounts from the making of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, only put together years later.  It has all those bits and pieces assembled into books from the original trilogy that fans would call rare gems today, the difference being this time someone was paying attention, in the moment.

More so than any other book released on the film, Making Solo: A Star Wars Story provides an account of the film’s production process from pre-production, production, and post-production, documenting how this film came to the big screen.  Readers will find never-before-seen close-up images of all the new worlds, aliens, droids, and vehicles, with emphases on making the train heist on Vandor, Phoebe Waller-Bridge′s droid L3-37, filming the Kessel Run, and deconstructing and re-designing an early version of the Millennium Falcon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Following up on its successful look behind the entire Star Wars saga in The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures and Aliens (reviewed earlier here at borg), Abrams Books is bringing home the characters of Avengers: Endgame and the Marvel Studios long journey to get there in its new release The Moviemaking Magic of Marvel Studios: Heroes and Villains Incorporating its trademark interactive Cinemagic features, including booklets, interactive flaps, and accordion fold-out images of the concept art behind every major Marvel Studios superhero, Abrams has nicely timed this book for fans of the franchise who can’t get enough of the latest MCU film.  Full of color photographs and interviews with the producers, directors, art designers, costume and prop makers, and special effects magic makers behind the 21 films leading up to Avengers: Endgame, writer Eleni Roussos (The Art of Black Panther, The Art of Thor: Ragnarok) has pulled together behind the scenes insights that offer something new for even the most diehard fan.

Which characters wore practical, real-life costumes and armor, and which required motion capture and/or CGI effects?  What was the key element included in Marvel’s Avengers that Joss Whedon required to be added before he agreed to direct the film?  What do the contributors agree was the smartest strategic decision made for the Marvel films?  How did each artist convert the character from the comic book page to the finally constructed costume that appeared on the big screen?  What effects were the most challenging for each film?

Altogether The Moviemaking Magic of Marvel Studios: Heroes and Villains spotlights more than 100 individual superheroes, on-screen support crew, and the most colorful and memorable villains from the series, with significant creative and visionary contributions from Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, directors Anthony Russo, Joss Whedon, and Peyton Reed, visual development executive Ryan Meinerding and artist Andy Park, and costume designers Rebecca Gregg, Laura Jean Shannon, Mayes Rubeo, Alexandra Byrne, Anna B. Sheppard, Judianna Makovsky, Sheldon Differ, Louise Frogley, and Ruth Carter.

Take a look at this giant preview of The Moviemaking Magic of Marvel Studios: Heroes and Villains below, courtesy of Abrams Books:

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It’s Arbor Day, so let’s revisit three books we’ve looked at previously at borg that remind us of the fragility and wonder of the magnificent tree.

If the Scots abandoned Scotland to nature, it would be the birch that would be the first tree to seize its chance, and a birch forest would walk the streets of Edinburgh.

Thomas Pakenham was referring to a gigantic pioneer birch tree in Rothiemarchus, Scotland, but he may have well been writing about the Ents, the grand, wise, old leafed characters of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.  In his book Meetings with Remarkable Trees, Pakenham reproduces his real-life journey across continents meeting some of the oldest inhabitants of the planet, even if they never actually “walked” the Earth.  In beautiful photographs and stories, he introduces readers to the most noble of Earth’s elders, a chance to marvel in awe at their enormous height, or breadth, of their obvious beauty or strikingly twisted, meandering, slim, or expansive forms.  Pakenham, the 8th Earl of Longford, an Anglo-Irish writer, historian, and tree enthusiast, selected trees “mostly very large, and mainly very ancient, and all with a strong personality,” highlighting the unique qualities unique to each remarkable individual.  His folksy speech and storytelling is refreshingly regional, providing an herbivorous mirror to fellow Brit James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.

To visit these trees, to step beneath their domes and vaults, is to pay homage at a mysterious shrine.  But tread lightly. Even these giants have delicate roots.  And be warned that this may be your farewell visit.  No one can say if this prodigious trunk will survive the next Atlantic storm–or outlive us all by centuries.

Thomas Pakenham’s photograph of the great Fredville oak, named “Majesty” at least as early as 1820 when it was sketched by artist Jacob Strutt.

And, indeed, even some of the trees pictured in Meetings with Remarkable Trees are no longer around, having succumbed to storm or man-made destruction.  Pakenham’s tome is something profoundly sacred or spiritual.  It’s peppered with historical references, literary allusions to specific trees, and including some very famous trees, whether a thousand years old or more than 200 feet tall.  It seems preposterous humans travel the globe to see manmade creations when we could be on pilgrimages to commune with these ancient living beings.  Sixty trees are grouped by personality: Natives, Travellers, Shrines, Fantasies, and Survivors.  Once you’ve met Pakenham and his craggy acquaintances in this book, you’ll want to move on to accompany the champion of trees on a year in his life in his book, The Company of Trees: A Year in a Lifetime’s Quest.

A different approach to individual trees can be found in photographer Diane Cook and Len Jenshel’s Wise Trees (a preview is below).  Some ancient and many not so ancient, the trees in this book include 50 selected from five continents and identified for their historic or inspirational stories.

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