Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nerd Rant: Summer 2011 Wrap Up and the Demise of "New" Fantasy, Horror and Sci-Fi

With August coming to a close, now is a good time to look back at the last three months of movie releases aimed at the fantasy, horror and sci-fi audiences. The way I see it, the summer of 2011 was largely divided into two halves: the first half consisted of superhero movies and the second half of remakes/reboots, with the release of the final Harry Potter movie, the adaptation of the seventh book in a best-selling novel series, unintentionally marking the halfway point between these two halves. Most of the other films that don't fit into these categories--namely, Cowboys and Aliens, the third Transformers movie, and Final Destination 5--are also based on some pre-existing material (Cowboys on a comic book, Transformers on a toy line and its tie-in cartoons, and Final Destination 5 on four previous films in a series). For as much as I have enjoyed many of these movies, they left me asking this question: Where did all the new stuff go?

When I say "new stuff" here, I'm talking about movies that tell stories that haven't been seen before in any other medium (novels, comic books, TV, video games, etc.). Take Super 8, for example: It may have been a tribute to Steven Spielberg's work from the '80s, but it wasn't a direct adaptation of a story that originated from another source. There were other films like this, such as Another Earth and Attack the Block, but neither of these titles were widely promoted and distributed.

To be sure, new horror titles will be arriving in movie theaters soon--Apollo 18, Creature and Shark Night 3D--but those are fall releases, not summer releases. (I'm somewhat baffled by the fall release of Shark Night 3D, because its over-the-top plot and presentation format are ideally suited for the summer season.) There were also the sci-fi/fantasy titles of Source Code and The Adjustment Bureau, but they were released well before the summer movie season started. This leads me to another question: Have the big studios completely abandoned the release of franchise-less, no-brand-name fantasy, horror and sci-fi movies during the summer? It would appear that way, and that this is the new status quo with no change in sight.

Read on for more thoughts about this change in movie releases during the summer and what it could mean for present and future fantasy, horror and sci-fi movie fans.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Thing Prequel and The Curse of The Prebootaquelmake

This October, Universal will release The Thing, the long-awaited prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing (yes, you read that correctly). Judging from the teaser poster and trailer, the prequel aims to recapture the claustrophobic look and feel of Carpenter's movie. Recently released stills from the prequel and of the prequel's creature maquettes further confirm the prequel's fealty to the previous Thing film. With the prequel's dedication to capture all of the creative traits of Carpenter's movie, it leaves one to wonder if we'll be getting more of a remake of The Thing (which is a remake itself) than a prequel.

Carpenter's The Thing performed poorly at the box office in 1982, which was largely due to its release during the blockbuster run of another alien movie, E.T. Since then, there have been a handful of Thing comic books published by Dark Horse and an intense Thing video game released back in 2002, but none of these unofficial sequels to Carpenter's movie were popular outside of the Thing fan community. Regardless, somebody at Universal still thinks that there is money left in The Thing as a franchise, yet Universal decided to invest in a prequel and not a remake--even if the prequel might end up feeling like a remake to Thing fans anyway.

Read on for more thoughts about The Thing and how it might fare against Hollywood's new breed of shape shifter, the prebootaquelmake.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Incredible Change-Bots Graphic Novel Review: More Than Just Machines!

For as much as I love robot toys, I think that many of the narratives that have been built around them are frequently hokey and forgettable. Take the Transformers, for example: The toys themselves are creative, colorful and well-designed playthings, but the stories behind them are paper-thin pretenses to sell the toys. While there are still plenty of die-hard Transformers fans out there, I could never seriously accept the blatantly absurd premise of an ongoing war between anthropomorphic, shape-changing robots from outer space.

Thankfully, there's a graphic novel out there for both Transformers fans and naysayers alike: Incredible Change-Bots by Jeffrey Brown. Change-Bots tells the story of two warring groups of transforming robots, the good (yet dysfunctional) Awesomebots and the bad (yet incompetent) Fantasticons, and how they bring their unending and aimless conflict to Earth. Read on for my complete review.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Zombie Attack Engagement Photos: Till Undead Apocalypse Do We Part

Here's something you don't see every day: A series of engagement portrait photos that depict the happy soon-to-be-wed couple fighting off a member of the voraciously hungry undead. According to the Gothamist site, California photographer Amanda Rynda took the zombie attack photos at the request of the couple, who also provided their own zombie. Click here to see the complete set of engagement/zombie attack pics.

Zombie-themed marital activities are nothing new, although this is the first time that I've heard of a couple using a zombie attack as part of their engagement commemoration efforts. I suppose that couples who slay zombies together stay together, but I have yet to see anyone top last year's zombie wedding in Seattle where Bruce Campbell himself officiated the ceremony. For more examples of rotting, cannibalistic wedded bliss, check out the Zombie Wedding blog.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Attack of the Brain-Eating Amoebas

Here's a ghastly thing that has been making headlines lately: Naegleria fowleri, a.k.a. brain-eating amoebas. So far this summer, this microscopic mind-muncher has claimed the lives of three people in three different states: Virginia, Florida and Louisiana. According to MSNBC:

"Naegleria fowleri moves into the body through the nose and destroys brain tissue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bug causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a nearly always fatal disease of the central nervous system, the CDC reported. ... Naegleria fowleri is usually found warm, stagnant water in freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers. It can also be found in wells."

The good news is that brain-eating amoeba infections are very rare, and there's no sign of any sort of outbreak at this time. Nevertheless, the Naegleria fowleri is one of nature's many ghoulish, nightmarish creepy-crawlies, ranking alongside flesh-eating bacteria, which destroys skin and muscle tissue by releasing toxins, and the human bot fly, and insect that implants its larvae into human skin. Parasite rex, indeed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nerd Rant: Seven Spectacular Sci-Fi Toys That Got Away

If you’ve been a horror/sci-fi nerd for as long as I have, then you’ll know this story well. You’re at a shopping mall or a toy store or a comic book shop, and you see a toy you’ve never seen before that captures something special about one of your favorite franchises. Maybe it’s a replica of something that hasn’t been made available any other way, or maybe it’s just plain cool in its concept. Regardless, you don’t have the money to buy it at the time, so you think that you’ll just pick it up later ... but you can’t, because you never see it again anywhere. Another variation of this story is that someone else tells you about a toy that’s everything you could ever ask for from a franchise replica, but you never get the chance to purchase it because none of the stores at your location carry it.

This post is devoted to seven such toys that I wanted to have in my personal collection but for whatever reason, it just never happened. Many of these toys are available on eBay right now but at prices that go far beyond my meager living expenses, so I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. (Sob, sniff.) Read on to learn more about seven of my very own white whales, so to speak, which are numbered according to my personal preference and overall rarity.

Friday, August 12, 2011

In Defense of Jaws 2

Before the summer movie season closes, I've decided to use a post to reminisce about one of my favorite summer monster movie sequels, Jaws 2.

There are some Jaws fans who consider ALL of the sequels--yes, even Jaws 2--to be unforgivable acts of cinematic sacrilege. (On the other hand, I only reserve that frustrated fan fury for Jaws: The Revenge.) Whatever its shortcomings are, Jaws 2 is actually a good ferocious fish tale. Sure, it was solely made to cash in on the popularity of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and it doesn't really do much to advance the story of Amity Island or any of its residents. Nevertheless, I will make this case in its favor: Jaws 2 captured the paranoid fears of the water that were instigated by the first Jaws movie. In other words, if Jaws made you paranoid that an enormous, toothy fish was waiting to devour you no matter what kind of body of water in which you were swimming, then Jaws 2 shamelessly exploited those fears by presenting several worst case scenarios of monster shark attacks. Read on ...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Radiant: Cell Phone Gaming Gone Retro

Oh, cell phones...what can't they do? In addition to their telephone and text messaging duties, they also serve as a portable media player, a portable Internet browser, and a portable gaming system. I've used my cell phone for all of the other functions I just listed, but I never really caught on to the idea of using a cell phone to play video games. Of the handful that I've played, none of them were able to overcome the problem of having poor controllers. Cell phones weren't built primarily to play games, so naturally there aren't many buttons available to control whatever game you are playing.

Yet there is one game that I found that effectively utilizes my cell phone's limitations and provides a trip down nostalgia lane for those of us who remember when video game arcades were in every shopping mall and Atari ruled the world of home gaming consoles. The game is called Radiant, and it was produced by Hexage. Read on for my complete review.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The AvP Predalien Motorcycle: A Parasitic Space Monster for the Harley-Davidson Crowd

It looks like Bangkok-based artist Roongrojna Sangwongprisarn just did something that Ducati hasn't gotten around to yet. Using discarded parts from cars, motorcycles and bicycles, Roongrojna built a motorcycle in the form of the Predalien hybrid from Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (hospital maternity ward/alien hive not included). Check it out:

You can read more about Roongrojna's biomechanical bike at the Oddity Central site. This is a pretty sweet ride, and I think it's also very cool that it bears some similarites to the early conceptual art of the Moto-Terminator robot (see below) that was in Terminator Salvation.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Vizio 3D TV Update: The Return of The Anaglyph

Last April, I published a post about the wonders of the Vizio 47-inch TruLED LCD 3D HDTV that my wife and I picked up for our viewing pleasure. In the months since then, we bought two pairs of 3D glasses to go with our Vizio HDTV and Blu-ray player combo. On the basis of what we've watched since getting the 3D glasses, I've come to three conclusions:

1. Between the availability of HDTVs, high definition Blu-ray discs, and CGI special effects and animation, I think that the era of home 3D entertainment has finally arrived.

2. Sadly, even though home 3D entertainment is here, not all of it is created equal. We've watched high-definition 3D videos on our Vizio HDTV from two different sources: on demand 3D videos from our cable provider and 3D Blu-rays. Between the two, the Blu-rays have provided an overall better quality of 3D entertainment, but even that level of quality is not always guaranteed. For example, the 3D Blu-ray of Tron Legacy is almost flawless, while the 3D Blu-ray of Polar Express features quite a bit of ghosting. Further complicating this problem is that I have yet to find a 3D Blu-ray rental service, because I don't intend to own all of the 3D Blu-rays I would like to see.

3. Perhaps the most unexpected discovery of my adventures in 3D through my Vizio HDTV is just how good anaglyph 3D (i.e., red and blue 3D) looks when it's played back on my Blu-ray player and HDTV. It's not as good as the full color, high definition 3D videos that are available now, but it's light years ahead of previous attempts to make anaglyph 3D available through VHS tapes and cathode ray tube (CRT) television sets. I played on my HDTV a DVD that was a copy of a Japanese laserdisc of the 1953 version of House of Wax and it looked incredible, enough to keep me watching the entire film. Of course, you need to have a high quality pair of anaglyph 3D glasses (instead of cardboard glasses with red and blue colored gels) to get the best results. I also saw an anaglyph 3D copy of Creature From the Black Lagoon and while it was somewhat below House of Wax in terms of 3D quality, it was still fun to watch. So, until some company takes the initiative to transfer older anaglyph 3D classics on to 3D Blu-rays, this is as good as it is going to get for aficionados of films such as It Came From Outer Space and Dial M for Murder.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Astonishing Art of Sym-Bionic Titan

A few weeks ago, I published a post about Cartoon Network's cancellation of Sym-Bionic Titan, Genndy Tartakovsky's most recent animated TV series. Through Titan, Tartakovsky breathed new life into the standard big 'bot cartoon formula through the successful combination of sly, self-aware humor, complex characters, and a diverse world that grew in scope and complexity with each successive episode. After the show's cancellation was announced, devoted Titan fans launched their own campaigns to get the show renewed. Last week, a Facebook community named "Help Sym-Bionic Titan Get Another Season" published some pictures of the background art that was used during the production of Titan's episodes.

I am re-posting these pictures here (click on the link below to see the full gallery), because they prove two things: 1) that Titan really needs to be renewed because no other animated show has ever looked this good, and 2) that Tartakovsky is an artist in the truest sense. Between his creative vision and established knowledge of both the strengths and limitations that are inherent in the production of a half-hour cartoon series, Tartakovsky can take a kid-friendly story about a giant robot from outer space that fights monsters and elevate it into sublime animated art.

The Titan art I'm re-posting here consists of backgrounds for both still and panning shots. These backgrounds were designed and painted by Titan production crew members Kevin Dart, Joseph Holt, Kristen Lester, Caesar Martinez and Scott Wills. Go to the Help Sym-Bionic Titan Get Another Season page for more information about this art and what you can do to help with the Titan renewal/continuation effort. TV shows that are this beautiful just shouldn't be cancelled.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Marvel Flashback: Syndicated Spider-Man Cartoon, 1981-1982

If you grew up in the 1980s like I did, it's safe to assume that you heard about Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, a cartoon that aired on NBC on Saturday mornings from 1981 to 1983. However, it's not safe to assume that the same people have heard of the syndicated Spider-Man cartoon that ran on weekdays from 1981 to 1982. I know I sure didn't.

I normally wouldn't do a post about a little-known superhero cartoon, except to say that I regard it as a personal discovery. That's one of the joys of being a horror/sci-fi geek: finding the little oddities and obscurities in the genres that you love so much, even when you think that you know all that there is to know about your sources of obsessive geekery. It's kind of like finding out that Larry Hagman himself directed Beware! The Blob (a.k.a. Son of the Blob), the one and only sequel to The Blob, or that Kenner goofed up some of the action figures in its Star Wars toy line. Read on to learn more about this little-known slice of animated web-slinging history.