Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cartoon Kaiju Clashes: Firebreather and Inhumanoids



Last week, Cartoon Network premiered its first original CGI animated movie, Firebreather. This CGI flick is based on a short-lived comic book series of the same name, created by Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn and published by Image Comics, and it was directed by none other than Peter Chung, the creator of the fantastically bizarre Aeon Flux cartoon. (Click here to read an interview with Chung about his work on Firebreather).

I saw Firebreather the other day and it's mostly a blend of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, X-Men and Godzilla--but that's not a necessarily bad thing. What Firebreather lacks in originality it more than makes up for in impressive animation, well choreographed action scenes, solid voice casting, and impressive monster designs. For me, the most interesting detail of the Firebreather story is that it takes place in a world where giant monsters are a common threat and that these monsters are explicitly referred to as "kaiju". Even though Japanese kaiju movies and their associated merchandise have been arriving in the U.S. since the 1950s, this is the first time that I've ever seen an American cartoon directly refer to giant monsters as kaiju. Heck, Godzilla--the king of the kaiju himself--had two different animated series here in the U.S., and neither of them used the word "kaiju" at all.

Watching such open fan appreciation of the kaiju subgenre of monster movies in the Firebreather cartoon made me think back to another American cartoon back in the 1980s that could also have used the word kaiju to great effect but didn't: Inhumanoids. Read on for more about this missed kaiju opportunity and why it deserves to be awakened from its deep pop culture slumber for modern monster fans.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Must-See Animation: Sym-Bionic Titan


Oh Genndy Tartakovksy, is there anything that you can't make ultra-cool?


Tartakovksy, who previously brought us such top-notch animation as Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack and the early episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is currently rocking the Friday night schedule of Cartoon Network with his latest creation, Sym-Bionic Titan. Titan is clearly influenced by other big 'bot cartoons from Japan such as Ultraman, Gigantor and Voltron, but Tartakovksy adds enough of his own visual and satirical sensibilities to the series to make it something genuinely new and unique to this sub-genre of animation. Like Samurai Jack before it, it's also one of the most cinematic and picturesque weekly animated series you'll ever see.

Click here to read Wired magazine's recent interview with Tartakovksy about Sym-Bionic Titan. Click here to visit Cartoon Network's official Sym-Bionic Titan site.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Star Wars Flashback: Empire Strikes Back Teaser Poster



Here's another interesting artifact from my personal geek archives: an Empire Strikes Back teaser poster from 1980 that also doubles as a collectible magazine. In the many years that I've been following sci-fi, horror and fantasy films, I've seen many one-shot collectors magazines devoted to a movie, and sometimes the magazines include posters from the movie to hang on your wall. This is the only example that I have of an item that tries to be both a magazine and a poster. Click below to see the "articles" from this poster, which are nothing more than summaries of locations from and events that happen in Empire with stills from the movie and conceptual artiwork by Ralph McQuarrie. (The poster itself was too large to scan, but it's just a larger version of the movie still featured on the cover above.) I have no idea whether this poster series continued after this first issue and if so, whether it lived up to its content promises as outlined in the Editorial bar. Read on....

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Zoids, Robo Strux and Starriors--Oh My!



When it comes to toys in the U.S., the 1980s was the decade of the robot. Sure, we had robot toys such as Shogun Warriors and Micronauts in the 1970s and the 1977 release of the first Star Wars movie certainly helped to promote the popularity of robots during that decade, but toy lines that were completely devoted to robots really didn't come into their own here until the 1980s. I'm not sure what caused it. Maybe once the first Star Wars trilogy came to an end, toy companies felt that robot merchandise could fill the void that the discontinued Star Wars toy line left behind. Maybe it was the steadily increasing import of anime, toys and model kits from Japan, where robots have always been popular. Maybe it was both.

Regardless, the 1980s saw the arrival and popularity of the Transformers, Voltron, and Robotech, along with several other less-popular toy lines and TV shows. This post is devoted to one of the more obscure toylines, Zoids, along with two of its spin-offs, Robo Strux and Starriors. There actually is a Zoids anime series from Japan that was aired here a few years ago, and there are avid Zoids collectors all over the world even to this day. However, the Zoids and its sister toy lines arrived on toy shelves in the 1980s without any TV series to support them, thus leaving them vulnerable to the other robot toys that had the power syndicated TV shows to help boost their popularity. What made these robot toys distinct from the others is that they were robots that you could build yourself as if they were model kits, and then you could play with them like toys and watch them move via wind-up or battery-powered motors. Read on for a more detailed look at these fun, creative robot toy lines from Tomy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mechanical Shark Sighting in Ocean City, MD



The huge critter seen above has been around for quite a while. Yet if you happen to be an avid fan of massive mechanical sharks (I'm looking at you, Jaws fans) and have never heard of this big fake beast, then this is my public service for you. This mechanical shark is located on the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum on the boardwalk of Ocean City, MD. Of course, the museum has plenty of fun and freaky exhibits of its own, but the shark that's mounted on the front and side of the museum is an attraction by itself for monsters buffs of all ages.

Unlike the full-body Bruce sharks from the Jaws movies, this shark isn't fully mechanical. The mouth doesn't open or close, and only the head and tail wiggle from side to side every few minutes. Also, while the shark measures 40 feet in length--making it bigger than the largest Bruce shark, which was the one used in Jaws 3-D that measured at 35 feet--it's not a complete shark. It's just a head and a tail mounted to the museum's exterior in such a way to suggest that the rest of the shark's body is inside of the museum, as if the shark was ramming its way through the building and got stuck. In spite of such shortcomings, this shark is still a noteworthy piece of public horror art. It's gigantic, it moves, it's mean-looking, it's got rows of sharp teeth, and it's next to a beach and an ocean. What more could a mechanical monster shark lover ask for (except for, say, a Fonzie look-alike to ski jump over it)?

Click below to see more pictures of this monster shark, half of which were provided by a good friend of mine who was in Ocean City a few weeks ago. These pictures also include a behind-the-scenes photo of the shark when it was still in production at Creative Environs, Inc. International in Jacksonville, FL.