Tag Archive: John Mollo


Review by C.J. Bunce

For every new movie you watch, you need to go back and see a classic, right?  If The Hunt for Red October is Star Trek in the ocean, then Outland is The Sand Pebbles in outer space.  A predecessor to science fiction staples like Total Recall, Blade Runner, and Firefly, Outland is still one of the best depictions of what life actually may be like working aboard a space vessel, once modern technology figures out how to get past that zero gravity issue.  Isolation rarely has been portrayed as believably as directed here by Peter Hyams (Timecop, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, The Star Chamber, Amazing Stories).  The 1981 Academy Award-nominated classic, Outland is now streaming on Starz, Hulu, Amazon, and Vudu.

Audiences never saw Sean Connery so average as he was playing Marshal William T. O’Niel.  In a very low-key role more frequently seen played by someone like Steve McQueen, Connery is a federal cop in space, assigned to the titanium ore mining outpost Con-Am 27.  He was selected because he was likely to phone in his job, and not ruffle feathers.  But he finds himself when he learns the outpost is a haven for drug smuggling and worse, using drugs to work crews to their deaths, all part of a cover-up.  The film’s own predecessors were any number of cop shows, and it has themes from Westerns, too, especially High Noon, another lone lawman trying to take out a local band of ruffians–and another man with marital problems.  Critics accused the film of being thin, but it’s exactly why the film works so well and holds up well still today.  In many ways the film is better, and even scarier, than Alien and Total Recall, proving you don’t need monsters to be truly alone and unprotected from life-threatening elements in space.

O’Niel’s only help is from Frances Sternhagen (Doc Hollywood, Cheers, The Closer) as Dr. Marian Lazarus, a no-nonsense crewman who is sympathetic to O’Niel as the newbie having to dodge the unfamiliar “way things are done.”  Dr. Lazarus is one of sci-fi’s least known but toughest sci-fi heroines, and her chemistry with Connery as comrade-at-arms is superb.  Another crew member is played by sci-fi and Western veteran James Sikking (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Hill Street Blues, Doogie Howser, MD), who would continue for decades to play similar roles.  And the baddie of the bunch is played by your favorite film Frankenstein, Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein, Johnny Dangerously, The X-Files, Everybody Loves Raymond).

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

At long last Star Wars fans have a single volume of behind-the-scenes gold that includes more than the original trilogy and the prequels.  Writer Mark Salisbury returns with his next pop culture book, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens.  This is the first book to include coverage of all ten Star Wars films, and it’s the first book that digs into the creature makers and makeup artistry of all the Star Wars movies–a creature effects companion to those comprehensive books reviewed previously here at borg.com chronicling the costume and prop sides of Star Wars productions: Dressing a Galaxy, Sculpting a Galaxy, and Star Wars Costumes.

How many movie franchises can claim visual effects over four decades incorporating all levels of monster making: animatronics, puppetry, practical effects, costuming, CGI, sculpts, animal actors, prosthetics and makeups, stop-motion animation, and motion capture creations–sometimes all in a single film?  The book spans it all: Jawas, Tauntauns, Jabba the Hutt, Yoda, Chewbacca, the Rancor, Ewoks, Watto, Jar Jar, Darth Maul, Rathtars, Maz Kanata, Porgs, Crystal Foxes, Proxima, Rio Durrant, and so many background aliens from the Tatooine cantina, Jabba’s palace, Maz’s castle, the Pod Race, Kamino, Geonosia, and Scarif.  More complex characters from the franchise get the most coverage, with less coverage from Revenge of the Sith and Solo.

Readers will learn about and meet a variety of artists and creators of these creatures and aliens, with interviews and examples of the work of Stuart Freeborn, Rick Baker, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Jon Berg, Ben Burtt, Fred Pearl, Frank Oz, Kathryn Mullen, Lorne Peterson, Nick Dudman, Rob Coleman, John Coppinger, Tom St. Amand, Richard Edlund, Ken Ralston, Kit West, Nilo Rodis-Jamero, Doug Chiang, Dave Elsey, Neal Scanlan, Luke Fisher, Ben Morris, Darek Arnold, some of the actors who performed costumes characters, and visionaries George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, and Gareth Edwards.  Select concept art is included from Ralph McQuarrie, John Mollo, Iain McCaig, Terryl Whitlatch, Jake Lunt Davies, and others, and readers will learn Doug Chiang’s five rules of concept design.

Keeping with the fun new trend of incorporating three-dimensional, interactive elements into non-fiction books, Abrams has included foldout flaps, accordion pages, and color tipped-in booklets of sketches, photographs, and stages of the creative process.  The book comes from Abrams’ Young Readers imprint, however, the in-depth information and rare or never-before-published photographs and sketches will appeal to all ages of Star Wars fans.

Take a look inside some preview pages of The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens:

Continue reading

Star Wars Costumes The Original Trilogy cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Sci-fi movie trivia question:  Which Star Wars actor played Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and was a main character in Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness?  More on that later.

We have taken a close look at some of the best behind the scenes books on costumes and props from major movie franchises here at borg.com.  The best have included the latest in Weta’s tour inside the making of Middle-earth in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers, reviewed here, and the dense examination of the Star Wars prequel costumes documented in the landmark work Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars, reviewed here.  After nearly 40 years we finally have a behind the scenes look at the making of the costumes from the original three Star Wars films with Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy, just released from Chronicle Books.  This is also the first time many of these costumes have been displayed and photographed since the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum featured dozens of costumes in its Star Wars: The Magic of Myth exhibit in 1997.

Boba Fett helmets

Author Brandon Alinger, my friend and fellow costume and prop aficionado, is chief operating officer of The Prop Store (formerly The Prop Store of London) and an expert who has handled original Star Wars pieces over the years.  Alinger interviewed costume designers and production staff from the original series to pull together this first ever analysis of the stories and people who earned Star Wars an Academy Award for Best Costuming, the only science fiction film to receive such an honor.  Original costumes from the Skywalker Ranch Archives were displayed on mannequins and photographed for the book by Joseph MacDonald of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco–many for the first time since production.

The most striking revelation in the book is the rarity of each costume and the fact that some of these film artifacts may not survive many more years.  “Some of the costumes or costume components in the Archives are quite fragile and for this reason they could not be dressed onto mannequins to shoot,” Alinger recently said in an online discussion.  “The costumes are treated as artifacts and conservation concerns are top priority for the Archives team.”  Admiral Ackbar’s mask from Return of the Jedi is just one of these items.

Contributing to the book with Alinger are Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back costume designer John Mollo and Return of the Jedi costume designers Aggie Rodgers and Nilo Rodis-Jamero.  The book also includes invaluable detail from past interviews with Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston, and Stuart Freeborn, along with contributions from dozens of other costume and art department staff from the films.

Chewbacca costume

Movie production staff and movie costume collectors are well aware that the typical movie shoot requires multiple copies of each cast member’s costume.  For example, it was common for the Star Trek and Lord of the Rings productions to create seven or more of each main cast member’s uniform, allowing for problems on set and dry cleaning.  The point is you never want to stop a multi-million dollar shoot so someone can re-stitch the only costume you have created for your film.  Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy reveals that was not the case for many of the Star Wars costumes.  This means the Skywalker Ranch Archives possesses the one and only costume made for the trilogy for many items.  This also explains why the private collecting community has only seen a handful of authentic original trilogy costumes hit the market over the years, like the odd distressed Stormtrooper helmet, Ewok fur, C-3PO hand and foot, and damaged cantina alien mask.

Continue reading