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Tag Archive: Stranger Things


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re not a player of Dungeons & Dragons, a new journey through the hills and valleys of the roleplay game that started it all will get you up to speed quickly.  Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is a comprehensive, authoritative, and licensed look back at nearly 50 years of gaming, storytelling, and artwork.  If you grew up with the game you are certain to find both nostalgia and page-after-page of new information in its more than 700 color images from the past, images of heroes and villains, monsters and other creatures, that brought in some 40 million players over the years.  Boasting some 10-15 million active players today, D&D now features the results of writers/D&D celebrity fans Michael Witwer (D&D historian), Kyle Newman (director of the movie Fanboys), Jon Peterson (game historian) and Sam Witwer (actor, Being Human, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica) pulling together published images and source art from each edition of D&D’s core books, supplements, and modules, magazines, advertisements, tie-in products, sketches, and draft rules.  Their sources include the archives at Wizards of the Coast, private collectors, and more than 40 designers and artists from every era of the game’s history.  Released in two editions, fans old and new can choose from the standard 448-page hardcover alone or a special edition Hydro74-designed boxed set with some intriguing extras.  You’ll find a 14-page preview below courtesy of publisher Ten Speed Press.

This… treatise… this behemoth of a book is smartly designed so readers can approach it for a quick burst of throwback fun or a detailed dive behind the creation and many changes of the game and the companies behind it.  You can find a side-by-side evolution and comparison of monsters and other characters, soak in old maps and character sheets, and compare the covers and key art across all editions.  Possibly the best contribution is comparative images showing specific pop culture sources for many of the designs that made it into the early books and supplements, everything from Frank Frazetta Conan the Barbarian paintings to panels of comic book art from Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales.

From Guidon GamesChainmail to TSR to Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro and the latest 5th Edition rule books, the D&D story is one of corporate takeovers, failures, successes and strategies, all to survive and ultimately consolidate with games including Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, World of Warcraft, and the entire Milton Bradley tabletop game catalog, all under one umbrella.  It all started with creators Gary Gygax and David Arneson, and their efforts to build on miniature figure battle games from centuries past, and modern rules for gaming that had a historic source:  sci-fi/fantasy author H.G. Wells first penned a gaming rulebook for miniatures titled Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books, an influential book inspiring gaming to this day.  The founders would pull in amateur artists and eventually professional artists, sprouting from a small headquarters in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, ultimately the source of Gen Con, the gaming convention that has been tied to D&D since the beginning.

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This week the creators of Stranger Things are releasing the first comprehensive look behind the scenes of the popular Netflix series’ first two seasons in Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down–The Official Behind-the-Scenes Companion Along with a sneak peek at next year’s third season, the book is full of nostalgia from the series, a sci-fi/fantasy adventure all about nostalgia for the 1980s.  That comes through in the unique design on the cover, which intentionally resembles a battered, old book fresh off the revolving used book rack at the local supermarket.  Check out a preview below courtesy of Random House.

Look for full color photographs, concept art, and even some pull-out material.  Many of the photographs have not been published before.  Details include:

• original commentary and a foreword from creators Matt and Ross Duffer
• exclusive interviews with the stars of the show, including Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, and David Harbour
• the show’s earliest drafts, pitches to Netflix, and casting calls
• insights into the Duffers’ creative process from the entire crew—from costume and set designers to composers and visual-effects specialists
• deep dives into the cultural artifacts and references that inspired the look and feel of the show
• a map of everyday Hawkins—with clues charting the network of the Upside Down
• the Morse code disk Eleven uses, so you can decipher secret messages embedded throughout the text
• a look into the future of the series—including a sneak preview of Season 3

It also includes classic retro character sheets from Dungeons & Dragons, filled in for each key cast member.

You can pre-order Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down now at more than $5 off the cover price here at Amazon.  Check out this preview:

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Among the best of the free swag at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was scoring a copy of the ashcan* issue that previewed this month’s new Stranger Things comic book series from Dark Horse Comics.  The series will be published in four issues, all beginning this month.  This year’s go-to comic book writer Jody Houser is writer on the series, with artwork by Stefano Martino, Keith Champagne, and Lauren Affe.

Not only is this new story retro in every way like the series, Houser takes us back inside the events of Season One, following Will and his journey through the Upside Down.  Don’t worry–the rest of the kids are part of the story, too.

Look for four covers for the first issue, created by Aleksi Briclot, Kyle Lambert, and Rafael Albuquerque, with a variant series for all four issues with nifty retro-Scholastic book order-style, tattered back-pocket paperback-inspired covers, created by Patrick Satterfield.

  

Now you can download the entire 16-page preview issue from the publisher–free!  Then check out our first look at all the cover artwork for Issues #1, #2, and #3, including covers from artists Greg Ruth, Steve Morris, Matthew Taylor, Grzergorz Domaradzki, and more (including a brilliant M.C. Escher-inspired creation), courtesy of Dark Horse.

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Thanks to some fine writing and acting in Season 2 of Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things, actor Joe Keery’s character Steve Harrington did a 180 degree switch from Season One and became one of two heroes of the second season (that other hero of course was Sean Astin’s Bob Newby).  But as seen in a teaser released this week for Season 3, poor Steve gets to go through every teenagers’ worst hazing ritual, working the part-time fast-food job.  Worse yet, he somehow got pulled into co-starring in a local commercial in the Stranger Things town of good ol’ Hawkins, Indiana.

It looks smartly spot-on for a vintage local mall commercial.  Starcourt Mall is sure to be the location for some supernatural activity next year when the series returns.  You only wish they’d found a way to get the rights to Happy Joe’s Pizza, but, heck, this new shop will pass for Bresler’s 33 Flavors or Baskin-Robbins.  And isn’t that what everyone’s reaction is?  Asking: What does this mall have that “my mall” had?  So this commercial shows us Claire’s, The Gap, Orange Julius, Regis Hair Salon, Radio Shack, JC Penney, Waldenbooks, Zales, The Original Cookie Co., Wicks ‘n’ Sticks, Burger King, and Sam Goody (our Midwest city malls didn’t have these last three).

The actress is Maya Hawke playing new character Robin, in the teaser released on the series’ Twitter feed.

Before we show the teaser, a quick heads-up: Stranger Things fans who visit San Diego Comic-Con this week should check out Dark Horse Comics’ booth #2615, where they can get a free copy of a new Stranger Things comic book.  That’s a panel from the comic above.

Here’s the teaser commercial for Season 3 of Stranger Things:

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Our borg.com Best of 2017 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2017 here and the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2017 yesterday here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg TV Series, Best TV BorgHumans (AMC). From the awakenings in the first episode of season 2, AMC’s Humans kicked in full throttle as the borg show to watch this year.  Continuing to explore what it means to be real and addressing the desire and need to overcome oppression, the show took ideas from Frankenstein and THX-1138 and everything in between to show us realities of life as a borg as it took the world from robotic cyborgs to sentience.  And this year’s best borg goes to all the Synths on the series, as each showed a different side to what a world full of cyborgs might be like.

Best Sci-fi TV Series, Best Soundtrack for TVThe Orville (Fox).   The Orville expanded on elements from across all sci-fi, like space battle sequences and planet flyovers using Star Wars-inspired camera angles (including real model ships, not just CGI), completely new and unique aliens (the only thing close to these can be found in Doctor Who), and a fantastic, triumphant musical score from Bruce Broughton.  A visually gorgeous show that took itself seriously more than trying to mock anything that came before it.  The science fiction series we’ve been waiting for since Star Trek Voyager ended.

Best Fantasy TV SeriesWynonna Earp (Syfy).  Wynonna Earp’s second season proved the first wasn’t a fluke.  The sharp-tongued, swaggering, tough-as-nails gunfighter, her sister, the sheriff, and the ghost of Doc Holliday added some new team members and some great supernatural villains, providing a series we couldn’t wait to get back to each week.  Wynonna’s handling of the Revenants and a transport back in time was even more fun while she managed her pregnancy.

Best Retro TV SeriesStranger Things (Netflix).  The only question after binge-watching the second season of Stranger Things was struggling to decide whether it was better than the first.   It had the same look and feel of its first season, but somehow the characterization was really amped up, the action more exciting, and the tension pretty much perfect.  Stranger Things really had it all–stars of our favorite 1980s movies, throwback references to video games, music, fashions, and the obscure like no other show–and with a second season that eclipsed the first, it proved it is the real deal.

After the cut, come back for more of our Best in Television 2017, including our pick for Best TV Series:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

First of all, let’s be clear:  For goodness sake don’t read anything anywhere about this new season of Stranger Things if you haven’t seen it yet.  Pin this and come back when you have.

There are many problems with shows that drop at once as with the Netflix original series (other channels have done this as well).  For simple discussion purposes, whether you’re on social media, whether you’re a critic or commentator, or whatever, you don’t quite know when it’s time to delve into a discussion of a show.  The other thing is that from a cultural standpoint, how many times have you defined a period of your life with reference to a season of a television series?  I grew up as a kid with the networks and a black and white television, followed by the introduction of cable channels and color TV sets.  Much of my memory can be tied to the Magnum, p.i. and Simon & Simon years, the Buffy years, the Voyager years, the Chuck years, etc.  With one-drop seasons that you gobble up in one bite versus savoring over a few months, that kind of life reference may drift away.  Is it important?  Not really, but it’s mildly interesting that we may be in some kind of transitional phase, from a pop culture standpoint.

<finger tap, finger tap>

Still here?  Let’s chat about Stranger Things, Season Two.

As a lover of all things retro, and an uber fan of John Carpenter movies, I thought the first season of Stranger Things was a great first season.  But I wasn’t convinced it was the real deal–that the Duffer Brothers were going to be able to pull it off again in a second season.  After the anticipation and wait, I couldn’t have been happier with the result–except for one factor, but more on that later.  In fact I think Season Two was better than Season One.  Probably not lots better, but enough that I had more fun with the show this round.

So what did I love about Season Two?

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Don’t those pumpkins look like they have seen better days?  This weekend Netflix released the final poster (above) for the second season of Stranger Things, on its way to Netflix this Friday.  Last year’s blend of 1980s sci-fi and horror returns one year later, and as the poster suggests, a focus of season two will be young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), who was absent for most of the first season, sucked away into the “Upside Down.”  And Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown) looks… angry.

Netflix also added two new features on the Web to help fans of the show get ready for the season premiere.

A retro-style free Stranger Things video game is available now for download.  You can find it on both Google Play here and via iTunes here.  Here’s the description from game creator BonusXP:  It’s 1984 all over again. Stranger Things: The Game is an action adventure game true to the games our heroes would have played back in the day.  Explore Hawkins and its surroundings. See your favorite locations like Mirkwood Forest and Hawkins Lab.  Uncover exciting areas you’ve never seen before!  Solve puzzles with the unique abilities of each character.  Lucas can nail anything with his Wrist Rocket.  Nancy has a whole set of bats to swing this time.  Collect all the Eggos and Gnomes you can lay your hands on.  You never know what they might unlock.

You can look forward to some new, driving beats, along with some haunting sounds from the Stranger Things season 2 soundtrack by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.  As with last year’s soundtrack, the duo provides funky techno arrangements in the style of John Carpenter.

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How often does a young actor get a week where he is featured in two studio trailers?  Last week that was Charlie Heaton, the 21-year-old actor known for his role as Jonathan Byers, the awkward teenage brother of missing kid Will and son of Winona Ryder’s Joyce Byers on last year’s hit retro series Stranger Things.  He’s back in the final preview for Season 2, premiering on Netflix next week.  One of the questions that fans of Stranger Things will be watching for this season is whether Jonathan and Nancy finally get together this year.

Last week 20th Century Fox released a trailer for the next Marvel Studios X-Men spinoff, The New Mutants.  Based on a three-issue story arc from the comic book series in 1984, this very different X-Men story is being marketed as Stephen King meets John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  A horror film blending with the superhero genre but without supersuits or supervillains, it focuses on five mutant kids including Sam Guthrie aka Cannonball, played by Heaton.  Doctor Who and Game of Thrones viewers will also notice Maisie Williams co-starring in the film–she will play the character known as Wolfsbane.

Even the feel of The New Mutants has a retro vibe, which is probably why Stranger Things’ co-star Heaton was cast in the film.  Check out these two new trailers featuring Charlie Heaton, the final Stranger Things season two trailer and the first trailer for The New Mutants:

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The season two premiere of Stranger Things is only six weeks away.  Since August Netflix has released several posters to get viewers back in prime throwback 1980s-mode.  Netflix’s marketing team was careful to suggest their source material without being exact duplicates of past posters, but some are closer than others.  It’s all about getting viewers prepped for another trip to the Upside Down, and a darker sophomore season.  We’ve already seen the kids sporting Ghostbusters costumes in previews.  And earlier posters carried images inspired by the work of motion picture poster artists that defined late 20th century film advertising, like John Alvin, Drew Struzan, and Bob Peak.  It all started with the season two general homage to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and twelve character posters (all shown below).  If you’ve ever collected movie posters, you know how close the creators got these to the fading prints after all these years, plus posters in the 1980s were often shipped folded to theaters just like many of their creations for the series this summer.

The new round of posters focuses even more on the horror pop culture with a nod to the B-movie genre.  If these posters are any indication, adding to the Stephen King, John Carpenter, and Steven Spielberg callbacks throughout season one, expect even more horror in season two a la Sam Raimi, Wes Craven, and even Paul Michael Glaser (that’s right Starsky from Starsky and Hutch directed Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man).  We’re not sure how The Running Man fits in other than a unique poster to emulate, but maybe the action will be kicked into higher gear this year.

   

So check out these posters (below and above) and their inspirations from Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, Ridley Scott’s Alien, Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, Glaser’s The Running Man, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Stephen King’s Firestarter, and the Stand By Me adaptation of King’s original story, The BodyThe Elm Street match-up may be the best because of the common show’s Nancy reference.  But the picture they all form is pretty clear.  Michael Jackson’s Thriller backed the summer’s best preview from San Diego Comic-Con 2017 seen here.  Darkness and nostalgia are coming.

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The 3D movie is here to stay and it’s as big as it’s ever been.  Not only new movies continue to hit the big screen and impress us with newer ways to turn a movie visit into an amusement park ride, whether in 3D or IMAX 3D.  Old films continue to get the 3D treatment, too.  An entire branch of films and home video releases are devoted to this category, with films that weren’t originally filmed in 3D like Titanic, Jurassic Park, Top Gun, I, Robot, and Beauty and the Beast among the films getting the upgrade–the best results coming from the incredible 3D work done to The Wizard of Oz (reviewed here) and Predator (reviewed here).  But a music video getting a 3D upgrade?  That’s new.

This year the 1980s are coming back in a big way.  Michael Jackson’s Thriller knocked our socks off as part of the latest trailer for Stranger Things season 2 last month.  The powerhouse music video (which even made the National Film Registry) has been given a complete 3D and sound upgrade for a premiere at the Venice Film Festival this summer followed by a return to the theaters for the first time since a limited run in Los Angeles when it debuted back in 1983.  Thriller is truly a one-of-a-kind film, directed by John Landis (The Twilight Zone, The Blue Brothers, Animal House, Trading Places) and co-written by Landis and Michael Jackson, the film was a dream project for Jackson, who was a fan of Landis’s fang-filled An American Werewolf in London.  Jackson spared no expense, pulling in monster maker Rick Baker for prosthetics and Michael Peters for choreography input.  It’s a little bit meta–Vincent Price’s Thriller was the (fake) monster movie Michael and his girlfriend watched in the theater in the video, with a great shot of the marquee as they emerge from the theater.  Fans of a new generation will be able to see Thriller in real life on their local theater marquee.

A fan of 3D, Michael Jackson pioneered the re-launch of 3D films in 1986, starring in his sci-fi film Captain EO, a 3D musical with executive producer George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, scored by James Horner and co-starring Dick Shawn (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Producers, The Year Without a Santa Claus) and Anjelica Huston (Prizzi’s Honor, The Addams Family, The Grifters, The Watcher in the Woods) as an incredibly designed borg villain (an inspiration for Star Trek First Contact’s Borg Queen).  John Napier (Broadway’s Cats) created the costumes, Rick Baker returned for makeup and monster creations, and Tom Burman (Planet of the Apes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Goonies, Dead Again) created Huston’s makeup.  A Disney theme park exclusive, Captain EO was shown up until 2015 in the parks’ 3D theaters, but has not been released in a home version.  The Captain EO 3D comic book is regularly still available here at Amazon.

Michael Jackson’s first (and then, presumably only) 3D film featured Anjelica Huston as this spectacular borg creation, the Supreme Leader.

Michael Landis returned to lead the 3D, music, and sound effects upgrades for the new 3D release of Jackson’s film/video Thriller, saying, “I am so happy to have had the chance not only to restore but enhance Michael Jackson’s Thriller!  We took full advantage of the remarkable advances in technology to add new dimensions to both the visual and the audio bringing it to a whole new level.  Even though Thriller was shot traditionally, I was able to use the 3D creatively.  Let me just warn you, there is a rather shocking surprise in there!”

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