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Tag Archive: James Cameron


Review by C.J. Bunce

A behind the scenes book for a 2019 movie, which consists of a third or more of its images from 2005?  As fascinating as the special effects developed for the film, the history of the movie merits its own book, and it gets it in Abbie Bernstein‘s Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie, now out from Titan Books.  It turns out executive producer James Cameron and artists were working on the pre-production of Alita: Battle Angel during the development of his film Avatar.  According to interviews with Cameron and Alita director Robert Rodriguez, in the early 2000s the technology was not yet advanced to deliver what they wanted for their adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga novel.  But now that it’s arrived, fans of the film can trace its development over the past 15 years.

Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie is filled with concept art, split between 2005 digital ideas in advance of knowing what actors might be cast and final characters developed, and a renewed look at the project as it began to get fully underway only a few years ago.  Key interviews with Rodriguez, Cameron, producer Jon Landau, production designers Caylah Eddleblute and Steve Joyner, art director Todd Holland, visual effects supervisors Richard Hollander and Eric Saindon, costume designer Nina Proctor, Weta Digital’s Joe Letteri, and others tell the story–a marriage of practical effects and CGI.  In fact the commenters almost seem to have a battle between those responsible between the practical effects and CGI–all with an eye toward realism.  The most interesting aspects of the discussion are the incorporation of Alita star Rosa Salazar’s motion capture (or per Rodriguez, “performance capture” since motion doesn’t include the “emotion” element required to make a story come together) with Proctor’s real-world costumes, and the CGI layering that ends up as the final image that made it to the screen.

No doubt a highlight of the film and of the book are detailed images of Alita’s cyborg body shell, as created by the character of Dr. Ido in the film.  In real life it looks incredibly porcelain, but the artists discuss how the body and all the components of the film were actually fabricated.  The commenters don’t reference their inspirations for the look of the Iron City in the film or its cyborg inhabitants, but fans of the genre will no doubt see the influences–from the borg designs to story elements–from films including Chappie, Elysium, District 9, Ex Machina, Ghost in the Shell, Mad Max: Fury Road, Cameron’s The Terminator, and even the light cycles of Tron.  Readers will learn more about the science behind the cyborgs in the film–how Cameron and others estimated weights of body parts, including Alita’s removable metal heart, as an example–all needed for 3D and CGI work and viewer believability.

Take a look inside Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie courtesy of the publisher:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We have a review of the first of three tie-in books to the new Robert Rodriguez film Alita: Battle Angel coming your way.  Alita: Battle Angel should appeal to any fan of cyborgs–the story as envisioned by James Cameron was a pet project of the director for several years, one he’d picked up from Guillermo del Toro.  When Cameron decided to pursue management of his several Avatar sequels directly and finally handed over the project to Rodriguez he did so with more than 600 pages of notes he’d prepared.  The film is an adaptation of the manga Battle Angel: Alita by Yukito Kishiro, a story about self-discovery and empowerment via a centuries-old human brain that finds its way into the cybernetic body of a young girl.  A part-time doctor, part-time bounty hunter, Doctor Ido, played in the film by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, takes center stage in Alita: Battle Angel–Doctor Ido’s Journal, the new release by writer Nick Aires for Titan Books.

After losing his human daughter’s struggle to live, the Dr. Frankenstein-inspired Dr. Ido finds the “core” of a cyborg in a scrapyard with a surviving, living human brain.  He uses the prosthetics and futuristic body parts he’d designed for his daughter to rebuild a new girl, quasi-Pinocchio style, naming her Alita after his daughter.  The sci-fi story follows Alita as she tries to learn about her past and survive in a dystopian world that mixes inspirations from John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, Neill Blomkamp, and George Miller.  The visions of each of these directors’ best futuristic films comes through in Doctor Ido’s Journal, an in-universe document which reprints concept art, sketches, and photographs from the film, combining them with a diary entry narrative written by Aires in the place of Dr. Ido.  Doctor Ido’s Journal will be familiar to fans of Aires’ past in-universe books, including Oliver Queen’s Dossier, S.T.A.R. Labs: Cisco Ramon’s Journal, and Arrow: Heroes and Villains and works by others reviewed here, including Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report, The Book of Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual, and the Batman v Superman Tech ManualFans will first find a cleverly designed flex-cover that mimics metal (a great design effect that would make for an attractive blank journal), followed by pages of dense notebook entries that track the action of the film, all from Dr. Ido’s perspective.

The artwork is exceptional, vivid engineering-level drawings like those found in Mark Salisbury’s Elysium: The Art of the Film, reviewed here at borg, and the combination of horror and beauty found in production artists Dan Hallett and Matt Hatton’s elaborate designs in Alien: Covenant: David’s Drawings, reviewed here (it’s worth noting the Weta Digital created much of the designs for both Alita: Battle Angel and Elysium, and the similarly realized scrap-metal worlds of Blomkamp’s District 9 and CHAPPIE).  At times the gear-heavy animatronics inside the cyborgs echo the real-world 19th century automaton past of these creations, making these modern borgs into something that feels almost steampunk.

Here are some preview pages from Alita: Battle Angel–Doctor Ido’s Journal courtesy of the publisher:

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borg Hall of Fame 2018

It’s been another long year of great entertainment.  Before we wrap our coverage of 2018, it’s time for the sixth annual round of new honorees for the borg Hall of Fame.  We have plenty of honorees from 2018 films and television, plus many from past years, and a peek at some from the future – 40 in all.  You can always check out the updated borg Hall of Fame on our home page under “Know your borg.”

Some reminders about criteria.  Borgs have technology integrated with biology.  Wearing a technology-powered suit alone doesn’t qualify a new member.  Tony Stark aka Iron Man was an inaugural honoree because the Arc Reactor kept him alive.  The new Spider-Man suit worn by Tom Holland is similar to Tony’s, but as far as we can tell it’s not integrated with Peter Parker’s biology.  Similarly Peni Parker, seen outside her high-tech SP//dr suit in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Black Manta from Aquaman (and decades of comics before), seem to be merely wearing tech suits.  We’d love a reason for a Mandalorian to make the cut, like Boba Fett, or Jango Fett, since nobody has more intriguing armor.  Maybe Jon Favreau’s new television series will give us something new to ponder next year.

Also, if the creators tell us the characters are merely robots, automatons, or androids, we take their word for it.  Westworld continues to define its own characters as androids (like Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Lt. Commander Data throughout the TV series), and not cyborgs (going back to Michael Crichton’s original story), so we continue this year to hold off on their admittance unless something changes, like the incorporation of living biological (blood, cells, etc.) materials.  Are we closing in on admitting individuals solely based on a breathing apparatus that may allow them to breathe to in non-native atmospheres?  Only if integrated (surgically).  Darth Vader has more borg parts than his breathing filter.  We assume new honoree Saw Gerrera does as well.  With more biological enhancements we’d allow Tusken Raiders, Moloch, and Two Tubes from the Star Wars universe, and Mordock the Benzite from Star Trek, but wouldn’t that also mean anyone in a deep sea suit or space suit is a cyborg?  Again, integration is key.  Ready Player One has humans interacting with a cyber-world with virtual reality goggles and other equipment, but like the Programs (as opposed to the Users) in the movie Tron, this doesn’t qualify as borg either, but we’re making an exception this year for the in-world Aech, who is a cyborg orc character, and two Tron universe characters.

Already admitted in 2017 were advance honorees that didn’t actually make it to the screen until 2018.  This included Josh Brolin’s new take on Cable in Deadpool 2 and Simone Missick’s Misty Knight after her acquisition of a borg arm in Marvel’s Luke Cage.  New versions of Robotman and Cyborg are coming in 2019 in the Doom Patrol series, but they are already members of the revered Hall of Fame.  Above are the new looks for these two earlier honorees.

So who’s in for 2018?

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One of the under-the-radar previews at this weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con was for the new James Cameron/Robert Rodriguez/Jon Landau sci-fi film, Alita: Battle Angel.  If you compare the trailer previewed Friday night at Horton Plaza’s Regal Theater to the earlier teaser from last December (see both below) you will see a stark difference, with clear improvements made in the interim in post-production, especially with the CGI face and movements for Alita the lead borg character in the film, with motion capture performance by Rosa Salazar.  Director Robert Rodriguez and producer and Oscar-winner Jon Landau headlined the panel Friday with Salazar and Keean Johnson, who plays Hugo.

WETA featured an Alita display at their booth. Hundreds of WETA Digital creators worked on the film.

Based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga comic Battle Angel Alita, the adaptation follows a doctor, played by Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, whose character is the latest Geppetto, creating Alita, a cybernetic girl.  The screenplay, written by James Cameron, takes the common borg origin sub-genre of science fiction (Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Edward Scissorhands, Ghost in the Shell, etc.), to make the next sci-fi warrior heroine.  The film co-stars Michelle Rodriguez, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, and Jeff Fahey.

Check out the trailer for Alita: Battle Angel:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

James Cameron has plenty to say about science fiction and he pulls in some sci-fi directors and dozens of sci-fi actors and creators to lay it all out in his new AMC series James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction.  Many series have wrestled with the subject of defining science fiction, most recently Ridley Scott’s Prophets of Science Fiction, where the Alien and Blade Runner director honored George Lucas, Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley. Not known for his interviewing, Cameron opted to record more informal chats with a small circle of his contemporaries, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (plus an interview by friend/science fiction writer Randall Frakes of Cameron himself), attempting to guide them down his framework of analysis, sometimes gaining agreement and other times sparking interesting tangent questions.  The interviews are divided up and sprinkled across six episodes of the AMC television series, and the blanks are filled in with sound bites from creators, professors, writers, and popular names from modern science fiction.  But the companion book, also titled James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, is far more insightful, showing the broader unedited interview text for each of Cameron’s six key contributors, plus great color artwork to illustrate his history of the genre.  Ultimately the book is a more useful, informative, and interesting overview of science fiction than what the series provides, and recommended for fans wanting to dig deeper into the history of the genre.

For those that haven’t encountered a review of the genre, Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, available now from Insight Editions, will provide the appropriate highlights.  The combined narrative is at its best when attempting to find the reasons for the importance of science fiction as literature and art, as influence to society, and as a reflection on mankind’s discovery of self, but it’s also fun for any diehard genre fan to follow along, agree or disagree, and ponder the myriad alternatives to the examples given to illustrate the topics covered.  The book is better than the TV series at analyzing and presenting the coverage, tying each key contributor to a sub-genre or major sci-fi concept: alien life, outer space, time travel, monsters, dark futures, and intelligent machines.  Cameron has done his homework and claims to have read nearly anything and everything since he was a kid on the subject.  His own significant science fiction contributions, namely Terminator, Terminator 2, and Aliens, and developing the two biggest women film roles of the genre–Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 and Ellen Ripley in Aliens–are only slightly overshadowed by more than required attention to his film Avatar  as frequent centerpiece topic. He also spends more time on modern science fiction films, sometimes leaving behind classic films that had done it all before.  So surprisingly great influences like Star Trek, Rod Serling, and John Carpenter get far less attention proportionately than you’d find in another science fiction overview, and the vast body of science fiction television series is barely tapped at all.

The most insight comes from George Lucas and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Lucas provides rare reactions to fan criticism of Jar Jar Binks, his Star Wars prequels generally, and his concept of midichlorians manipulating the Force, which he states would have been key to the third trilogy had he kept control of the franchise.  Immersed in an interview about science fiction his responses seem to reflect regret in selling Star Wars to Disney, as if he had far more Star Wars stories to tell.  The rest of the book’s seriousness is counterbalanced nicely by Schwarzenegger, who Cameron repeatedly attempts to get introspective about playing science fiction’s greatest villain and hero cyborg as the Terminator.  Not a method actor, Schwarzenegger reveals himself as fanboy and entertainer when it comes to science fiction, drawn more to the spectacle and excitement of science fiction roles and how the characters appear on the screen more than any life-changing meaning from the stories that Cameron is searching for.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the high points from a scientific standpoint this year was the discovery in August of the USS Indianapolis on the floor of the Pacific Ocean by undersea adventurer and billionaire Paul Allen, more than 70 years after it was sunk during World War II, and thirty-two years after undersea explorer Robert Ballard first discovered the location of the wreckage of the most well-known maritime disaster, the sinking of the RMS Titanic.  In 1995, 2001, and 2005, director James Cameron, well-known already for Aliens, the first two Terminator movies, and True Lies, would take knowledge he learned filming The Abyss to pursue a lifelong dream of undersea explorer in Ballard’s and Jacques Cousteau’s footsteps.  Ultimately Cameron would make thirty dives on the site of the wrecked RMS Titanic, more than anyone, first for footage that would be used for his film Titanic (which would win 11 Academy Awards), and later for pure scientific knowledge and exploration.  Cameron documented his expeditions in his book Exploring the Deep: The Titanic Expeditions, now available in a paperback edition from Insight Editions.

One of the low points of the year was the death of beloved actor Bill Paxton.  What many people may not know is the role Paxton (known for dozens of films including Edge of Tomorrow, True Lies, Aliens, and Tombstone) played in the exploration of the real Titanic after starring in Cameron’s film Titanic.   He accompanied Cameron on four deep-sea dives, documenting his experiences and serving as narrator on one of Cameron’s documentaries, the 2003 film Ghosts of the Abyss.  In his foreword to Exploring the Deep: The Titanic Expeditions, Paxton notes his reservations of traveling to the ocean floor.  “At the time, because I had young children at home, I felt it was more risk than I should be taking,” he said.  He spoke highly of Cameron, “He is someone who values his friendships and has a deep appreciation of just how brief our time on earth is–and he’s determined to make the most of it.”  The feeling was mutual.  Of Paxton, Cameron wrote, “Bill has become the pitch-perfect explorer.  He acquired the clipped tone of a test pilot when he played Fred Haise in Apollo 13, and of course he played  treasure hunter Brock Lovett in the Titanic movie, but if he’s playing a part now, it’s merged so perfectly with reality that there is no difference.  He’s now a real explorer, and this is a real mission, two and a half miles down.”  Indeed, half the fun of Exploring the Deep is following Paxton via his words and photographs in his adventure, adding his own insights and bits of humor along the way.

James Cameron and Bill Paxton exploring the remains of the Titanic two and a half miles down on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean in Exploring the Deep: The Titanic Expeditions.

But it’s the knowledge learned by Cameron one hundred years after the Titanic sank that makes the book compelling and thrilling and even chilling at times.  Cameron, along with the other leading experts in Titanic history–Dan Lynch, Ken Marschall, and Parks Stephenson–lay out each expedition step by step, including development of the technological tools created by Cameron to be able to film the ship and eventually more easily maneuver the rooms inside the ship’s remains, something no one else had yet done.  The book includes a detailed log written by Cameron for the fifth dive in September 2001, including recollections of his historical research as he observed actual locations on the ship tied to known events and passengers, some famous, some members of the crew.  He uses photographs of the Titanic’s sister ship, the RMS Olympic, to highlight identical artifacts inside the ship.  Many artifacts surprisingly are still intact, like mirrors, windows, glassware, and dishes–and equipment in the Marconi Wireless Telegraph rooms, which were instrumental in saving the 706 survivors.  Where possible he includes rare photographs taken the day of or just before the Titanic went to sea on its maiden and only voyage, and otherwise he incorporates for reference Ken Marschall’s detailed paintings, Parks Stephenson’s computer-generated simulations, and his own recreations used in his film Titanic–all with an eye toward conveying to readers what Titanic looked like in 1912.

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weyland-yutani-report-cover

One of the best in-universe, sci-fi, tie-in books that we have come across is part of this year’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s Aliens.  Insight Editions’ Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report is not only a great idea–a book that could have been a movie prop used by the likes of Paul Reiser’s junior executive Carter Burke–its execution is superb.  Remove the title wrap and you have a mock leather-bound, heavy duty field guide that you might see passed around by the corporate types in the next Alien movie.

Written by Aliens, Star Trek, and Resident Evil tie-in novelist S.D. Perry with lavish artwork and designs by Markus Pansegrau and John R. Mullaney, The Weyland-Yutani Report pulls out all the stops to deliver a comprehensive Board of Directors summary guide to the findings and technology uncovered with the Alien movies beginning with Ridley Scott’s prequel Prometheus in 2012 to 1979’s Alien, to Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1986), and through to Alien: Resurrection (1997).  (The Predator crossovers are not covered in The Report). 

yutani-spread-a

The most eye-opening data ties together–in a manner more clearly than portrayed in the films–Weyland-Yutani corporation and its founder Sir Peter Weyland, from details available in the films and information that was only character background that didn’t make it into the films.  The goals of the corporation that were the fabric that connected all the films is investigated with some top secret findings (and some redacted), including the hierarchy and gross (as in chestburster) anatomy of the Xenomorphs, groundbreaking (future) scientific achievements of “The Company,” as well as weapons, ships, tools, and theories of alien beings and their connections to early Earthlings.  (Learn even more about “The Company” at the corporate website here).

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ripley-and-newt

Review by C.J. Bunce

Aliens is a film like no other, a rare sequel that is arguably as good or better than the original.  It’s horror, but even more so than the original Alien, it is a science fiction classic in its own right.  Aliens was ahead of its time, a successful blockbuster from James Cameron, who quickly put together a story treatment and sold the studio on his vision of the follow-on to Ridley Scott’s unique and acclaimed original.  Last month here at borg.com we reviewed Aliens–The Set Photography, a new book chronicling the creative work behind Aliens released for the film’s 30th anniversary.  Action-packed with top-notch acting from Sigourney Weaver and a great supporting cast, plus some of Stan Winston’s best creature work, Aliens rightfully is getting the 30th anniversary treatment this month in Blu-ray.

Aliens is one of about a dozen science fiction or horror films to earn Academy Awards.  It won two, for visual effects and sound editing.  It was also nominated for art direction, sound, film editing and original score.  Better yet, Sigourney Weaver earned her much deserved first nomination for best actress.  Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is among science fiction’s best performances, and Weaver the core of what made the franchise and this film successful.  The anniversary release includes two previously released versions, the 1986 original theatrical version and the 1991 extended edition.  If you missed the extended edition, it’s well worth your time.  Ripley gets more screen-time, and more character development, including the dichotomy between the death of Ripley’s daughter mirroring the Alien queen’s protection of her offspring–it’s great fun to see a character you think you know in scenes not included in the original version you saw in the theater.

aliens-30th-anniversary-edition-release

The extended edition commentary track is as good as you’ll find on any disc.  Where most releases these days include the director or producer and one or two cast members, the commentary accompanying the extended edition includes far more–a treasure trove of content and insights into the film.  You’ll hear details on movie making from director James Cameron, producer Gale Anne Hurd, the late, great, alien effects creator Stan Winston, visual effects supervisors Robert Skotak and Dennis Skotak, miniature effects supervisor Pat McClung, and actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn, and Christopher Henn.

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Aliens Set Photography book Titan

Review by C.J. Bunce

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s sci-fi film classic Aliens, writer Simon Ward has assembled a photograph-dense book full of never before released images from the movie stage.  Aliens: The Set Photography fills each of 144 pages with views of cast members, camera crews, and special effects artists as they created the follow-on to Ridley Scott’s horror classic, 1979’s Alien.  Less of a space drama and more of an action-packed rollercoaster ride than the original, Aliens won two special effects Oscars and earned Weaver a nomination for Best Actress as well as nods for set and art decoration, sound, film editing, and James Horner’s musical score.

Simon Ward also authored the behind the scenes look at the Independence Day films reviewed here at borg.com last month.  We discussed the creation of this book at Kansas City Comic Con this weekend with film co-star Carrie Henn, who played Newt, the only survivor discovered by Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the marines.

Paxton Aliens

Henn told us that this book had been in the works for a few years.  She provided the foreword and much of the commentary for what amounts to a photo scrapbook of behind-the-scenes stills.  She also provides some surprisingly thorough recollections of stage direction from director Cameron and mentoring from Sigourney Weaver, who appeared as a larger-than-life heroine to the nine-year-old actress.  Her comments are also full of humorous anecdotes and reflect the care taken by the filmmakers to make certain the little girl wasn’t terrified by Stan Winston’s alien creations.

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cover_template_text    STII vinyl

The great composer James Horner died last year in a plane crash, leaving behind a legacy of some of the biggest and most memorable soundtracks that defined nearly 40 years of film history.  One of the most memorable for sci-fi fans is his score to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  To celebrate Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, Mondo–the guys known for their redux poster interpretations–are releasing an extended LP edition of Wrath of Khan with music never before available on vinyl.  And the release includes Mondo’s killer level of artwork interpreting Khan and Kirk on Ceti Alpha V and the Genesis Planet.

But Mondo didn’t stop there.  The vinyl albums reflect the look and colors of the Mutara Nebula, where the Enterprise and the Reliant faced off.

10WoK-Discs2--FINAL2_1024x1024    STII LP reverse

Horner’s work on Wrath of Khan is impressive and established Horner as a major film composer.  His score adapts themes from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky and Romeo and Juliet, and Horner would work cues from classical masters in many of his film scores over the course of his career.  Order your copy of Horner’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan 2-LP set today here at the Mondo shop.

Never heard of James Horner?  You certainly have heard his work.  His last score will be featured in the remake of The Magnificent Seven due in theaters September 23, 2016, but the variety of films he wrote for is unprecedented.  He wrote themes that made many an actor look good–many in multiple films, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sigourney Weaver, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Matthew Broderick, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, and Brad Pitt, and collaborated on movies with the likes of big filmmakers, including Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Phil Alden Robinson, Wolfgang Petersen, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Michael Apted, Joe Johnston, and Edward Zwick.

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