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Tag Archive: Dune


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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Shannara series

MTV clearly has ambitions to become the next CW Network, and its choice for the latest young adult focused series is sure to bring in viewers of shows like The Vampire Diaries, Stitchers, Smallville, and The Flash.  It’s The Shannara Chronicles, a classic fantasy world series based on the Terry Brooks series of novels and specifically The Elfstones of Shannara.  The two-hour premiere aired Tuesday night and revealed an incredibly rich set of film locations and environments to create a world ruled by Elves in a future Earth in the area of what was once the Pacific Northwest (the show opening reveals an ancient ruin that was once the Seattle Space Needle).  Humans, dwarves, gnomes, and trolls–all the fantasy races you’d expect in a good fantasy series can be found here.

A single tree guarded by the Elves is said to keep the Demons from re-entering the world.  Some say this is just a myth.  But the tree has now become sick, and a young Elf woman, her grandfather the Elfking, a Druid, and his apprentice must convince everyone the story is not just a myth as they attempt to save the tree, or allow the unspeakable evil to be unleashed.  It’s Terry Brooks, not George R.R. Martin, so expect quick-paced action (the story races forward so you’ve no time to get bored), less melodrama and long dialogue, and a more youthful cast.

John Rhys-Davies Shannara

With a production led in part by popular executive producer Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Elf), the cast is also quite impressive.  Bringing gravitas and legitimacy to the series is John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark) as the Elfking, Manu Bennett (The Hobbit, Arrow) as a Druid human, and James Remar (The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, The Legend of Korra, Django Unchained) as head of the Rovers

The young members of the cast show some promise, too, beginning with Pan’s Labyrinth star Ivana Baquero as the second female lead Eretria, Austin Butler (Arrow) as Wil, the naïve padawan of the Druid who possesses three rare Elfstones, and Poppy Drayton (Downton Abbey, Father Brown) as the show’s burgeoning warrior, a “Chosen” heroine named Amberle.

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Jupiter Ascending poster

The 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune was a hit and miss film.  Mixing science fiction and fantasy, and more of a space fantasy than science fiction, it only managed to grab a small legion of fans that would later make it a cult favorite.  But unless your name is Star Wars, it’s difficult to get that sub-genre just right.  Sibling writer/directors Andy and Lana Wachowski are rolling out their own version of space fantasy next weekend with the teenager-aimed movie Jupiter Ascending.

The Wachowskis are known for their Matrix series, their screenplay for V for Vendetta, as well as writing, directing, and producing Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas.  What these films all have in common is a certain mash-up of sci-fi tech with often surreal, fantasy elements.  Like the The Matrix’s cloaked reality, the written-directly-for-film Jupiter Ascending has its own cloaked world, hidden in plain sight.  It also has a plot that could have been written by Frank Herbert.  Yet instead of going for older viewers, the casting of Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum as romantic interest is looking to pick up the gap between the Twilight crowd and the next Divergent or whatever is coming next.

Jupiter Ascending cyborg

Three full trailers have been produced, revealing a Han Solo-esque Sean Bean and a Loki-esque Eddie Redmayne.  The Wachowskis’ visual style seems to be a lighter twist on Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy world stylings.  Extra special effects sequences supposedly are what caused the studio to bump the release date from last summer to February 6, 2015.  The effects and outer space sequences might be enough to get die-hard sci-fi fans into the theater, especially since the film will have a version offered in IMAX3D.

After the break, check out the trailers for Jupiter Ascending, and see if this is one for the theater for you, one to wait for video, or one to pass on.

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Wind Whales of Ishmael cover

Written in 1971 by notable sci-fi author Philip José Farmer, The Wind Whales of Ishmael is intended as a sequel to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  As to genre, it fits into modern steampunk, with its exploration of Earth’s future without reference to the scientific realities of the latter 20th century, and its sailing ships in the sky.  Wind Whales continues the story of Ishmael, the only survivor of Ahab’s failed whale hunt in Moby Dick, a story many literature students have struggled to get through because of its dauntingly long passages of a solitary life at sea.  Ishmael is rescued but by clinging to Quequeg’s canoe coffin he is plunged through some type of vortex, much like the Bermuda Triangle, into Earth’s distant future.  This future world is unrecognizable, and has a few similarities to the distant planet from Avatar.  Along with other of Farmer’s works, Wind Whales is being re-issued by Titan Books in a new library aimed at steampunk readers.  The new printing of The Wind Whales of Ishmael hits bookstores tomorrow, March 12, 2013, with a foreward by editor Michael Croteau and an afterward by Farmer’s nephew, author Danny Adams.

The oddity in Wind Whales is that it has very little in relation to theme, writing style, and characterization to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  So it could have been a standalone story, or a sequel to any number of classic works.  There is of course a future world of whaling and fighting “air sharks” which ties Ishmael to his past life where he threw away all else to enter a life at sea.  Yet the future world of far distant Earth is so different that Wind Whales may have more in relation to Frank Herbert’s Dune series with its giant worms.

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Syfy New logo

Last night the Syfy Channel premiered a new show documenting its 20 years of bringing science fiction and related programming to cable TV.  The Syfy Channel 20th Anniversary Special chronicles the key landmarks of the channel going back to its inception in 1992 as a network of mostly reruns of classic sci-fi series like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and the original Star Trek, as well as collecting and expanding upon series that didn’t make it on other networks, like Sliders and Andromeda.  The 2-hour show is a great way to reminisce about all the good–and bad–TV that has sucked you in, featuring commentary by series creators and cast, and narrated by Lois and Clark star Dean Cain.

Actors Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge and Michael Shanks discuss the first big hit for the network originally called the Sci Fi Channel: the Stargate franchise, including Stargate SG-1, and spinoffs Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, as well as the made-for-TV movies.

Then there were early series that didn’t last long, like USA Network series that moved to Sci Fi, like Good vs. Evil, The Invisible Man, Welcome to Paradox, and Mission Genesis.

Ben Browder and Claudia Black chat about the four seasons of the Australian production, Farscape, the next big series for the Sci Fi Channel.  The renaissance of science fiction fans fighting for a series to return occurred with Farscape, resulting in Brian Henson bring a 4-hour mini-series event to round out and tie up the loose ends of the series.

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