According to court testimony
, the character "Superman" made his first appearance in comic books on April 18, 1938. It happened to be in the first issue of a title called Action Comics
, a new anthology book containing several short stories about action heroes with Superman featured on the cover and in the opening story.
Also debuting in that issue were the characters of "Clark Kent", Superman's alter ego, and "Lois Lane", both reporters working for a big-city newspaper called the Daily Star
. The Daily Planet
, editor-in-chief Perry White, photographer Jimmy Olson, arch villain Lex Luthor, even the name of the planet "Krypton" would not appear until later, added to the Superman mythos as his popularly grew, expanding into his own featured title Superman
a year later and then beyond the printed page into other entertainment media: the Fleisher Brothers' animated shorts
, a radio series
, the Kirk Alyn
movie serials and the George Reeves television series
So, today officially marks Superman and Lois Lane's 75th birthdays.Happy Birthday, you two!
Click this infographic to see the rest of it at Newsarama
Perhaps not coincidentally, this week also marked the debut of the third and final official trailer of Superman's latest appearance on the big screen. This new trailer for "Man of Steel" runs three minutes long and features several new scenes including the debut of cinema's newest take on the world of Krypton and the major villain of the film, General Zod as played by Michael Shannon.
And like the trailers before it
, it continues to reveal a more grounded, intimate tone to Superman's character. While we certainly get the point that there will be lots of action in the film, we find that the the man who would become Superman has been growing up as a man who fears what mankind will think of him, a boy who is told he isn't even from this planet and at first doesn't realize how he fits in to this world.
All he wants is to be his father's son.
As a result of that scene revealed in the new trailer, featuring Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, much discussion among comic book geeks around the Internet this week has been about the film's screenwriter David Goyer
(Blade, the Dark Knight trilogy) and a scene from a comic book story first published in 2009. Superman: Secret Origin
was written by Geoff Johns
, a superstar writer who's success crafting stories with heart and action for characters such as Green Lantern, Flash and Superman among others has garnered him a huge fan following, and drawn by Gary Frank, whose model for illustrating Superman in this story was obviously inspired by an actor
who inspired generations not only for his portrayal of the hero fighting for truth, justice and the American Way but for his courage in his personal life.
The next year, the six issues of Superman: Secret Origin
were collected and released as a trade paperback, and Goyer wrote the foreward for it. What fans of the new movie trailer are keying in on
are these words from that foreward.
There is a heart breaking moment halfway through the first chapter in which young Clark is told the truth about his heritage. He races out into the night, sobbing, stumbling through the cornfields. Eventually, his foster father, Jonathan, finds him.
“I don’t want to be someone else,” says Clark. “I don’t want to be different. I want to be Clark Kent.”
[And here's the kicker...]
“I want to be your son”
Right there in that moment, Geoff contextualized Superman in a way that I’m not sure has ever really been done before. I had an ‘aha’ experience when I read that. For the first time I was able to grasp how lonely Clark must have been when he was growing up. And what a sacrifice Clark must continually make by being Superman.
He goes on to say:
As I write this, I am midway through my first draft of a new Superman screenplay. It’s a task that has stymied many talented fimmakers in the years since Donner’s film. And for all I know, it will end up stymying me as well.
But I’ve got one advantage that the screenwriters who came before me didn’t have– and that’s access to all the wonderful Superman stories written by Geoff Johns– first and foremost being the SECRET ORIGIN issues reprinted in the very volume you are now holding.
And the following pages from the first issue of Secret Origin are also being circulated with acknowledgments to Goyer's quote.
I love sharing this because it's given me an ideal opportunity to share with folks who may not read them or who even regard comic books with little significance of the quality, artistry and heart that this medium, occasionally loftily referred to as "sequential art
", is capable of.
I think it's awesome and among the reasons why I continue to read comic books enthusiastically every week that new issues come out. It's not everyone's cup of joe, but it is mine.
And, just like he successfully did writing the screenplays for the Dark Knight trilogy
, it looks like with "Man of Steel"
, which opens June 16, Goyer found inspiration from some of the best comic books out there to read.
George Lazenby (in plaid)
Remember my last blog about hiking to the Hollywood Sign? No, well go read it!
For the rest of you, I headed back to the same area yesterday. I had a ticket to watch On Her Majesty's Secret Service
, the third film in the Alex Theatre'
s five-week event series "James Bond 007 50th Anniversary" which featured an appearance by that film's Bond, George Lazenby
. The trail leading to The Batcave is on the way to the Alex Theatre in Glendale. And since my New Year's Eve mission this month was to "Visit the Batcave", I did just that!
The Batcave I'm talking about is the actual shooting location used in the 1960's Batman TV series starting Adam West and Burt Ward. It's located in an area just east of Hollywood called Bronson Canyon. I discovered this area last month while researching ways to get to visit the Hollywood Sign, my March NYE mission.
Where I went
Now I've been a Batman fan for practically all my life, through both comic books and the 60's TV series. Watching it as a little boy, the infamous camp humor of the show was nowhere to be found. Instead, all I found were the brightest colors of the Dynamic Duo fighting against the forces of evil. Caped Crusaders to the rescue!!
So when I discovered where the actual Batcave was, where they shot the scenes of the George Barris-designed Batmobile
roaring out of a secluded cave that was supposedly outside Wayne Manor, I was more than thrilled to check the place out for myself.
So nearly a month after I was here, I was back again! Back to the Camp Hollywoodland sign in Bronson Canyon to trek up the other pathway leading away from the Hollywood Sign and onto the bygone lair of Batman's secret underground headquarters.
Viewing the trail on Google maps, it was certainly a much shorter hike than the hike up to the Hollywood Sign. But I was surprised by how much shorter. It's about a ten minute walk from where I parked. Just up a curvy hill and you're there.
Me and The Batcave
I'll be honest. The entire moment was a little anti-climactic, not the least of which was due in part to the fact that there were a lot of cars parked in the area! Apparently, I showed up on a day when a music video was gonna be shot here. Also, it looked different than how I remembered it. I'd been told by a friend who'd been there that it'd be different, but it's a lot more striking to actually be there and see the difference.
I asked a nearby security guard if it was okay to roam through the area, and he said it was fine since they hadn't started shooting yet. I walked to the cave, walked through the cave, found more set ups for filming, and was pleasantly surprised to find a beautifully framed view of the Hollywood Sign from the other side of the cave. There's a road that circles around that leads you back to the front of the cave and that was the end of my tour.
I brought with me a small die-cast model of the 60's Batmobile and a DVD movie titled "Return to the Batcave"
. I had hoped to showcase them in the foreground of a shot of the Batcave somehow. But there were no rocks or low hills in front of the cave that I could use as a stand to put them on, the ground here being very level and plain. Plus there was production people walking around and the winds today were really gusty, so the notion went away fairly quickly.
But I was glad I got here in the afternoon, with the sun was behind me and flooding The Batcave area with a lot of natural light. I'm sure I got better shots at this time than if I'd decided to avoid freeway traffic and get here in the morning.
So that's my short visit to The Batcave. All told, I was there for probably just over a half hour. Nothing like my hours-long trek to the Sign. It was a productive little trip. And with some Adam West Batman action figures coming out this summer
that might inspire better ideas for some pictures, methinks I'll be back...TO THE BATCAVE!
This past New Year's Eve, my sister and brother-in-law threw a small party to ring in the new year. It was a PJ party, and while I didn't think it would turn out this way for myself, I ended up crashing the night on their couch. The party officially ended when the pizzas arrived for lunch the next day.
It was a fun evening, with plenty of food, drinks and playing board games. Then, at some point, my sister gave everyone a jar with our names on them and 12 slips of paper inside each one. Then, she told us to think of 12 things to accomplish during 2013 and write them down on the slips of paper. Then each month during the year, we would have to pull one out to do.
Three months later, I've actually done good and accomplished three of my "resolutions". In January, I went to a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, my first time ever. The next month, I visited the Ronald Reagan Library, a place I'd never been to before, where they were hosting an exhibit I wanted to see, Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives
This month, the card I pulled read "Visit the Hollywood Sign". March has been a busy month for me, performing every weekend as one of the "12 Angry Men" for the Torrance Theatre Company
and also fortunately getting some steady freelance work during the weekdays. But this last week of the month, I finally got a free day - and some sunny weather to boot - yesterday to check off my third resolution of the year.
Now again, here was another something-I-never-did-before thing, so the night before I hit the internet to look for some tips. Hollywood Sign Trip
was the first site I looked through, and I was grateful for the photo-by-photo guide
of the trail they recommended you take to reach the sign.
I looked for other sites and found an article on LAist
which offered three hiking trails up to the sign, rating them by physical challenge from easiest to more difficult. As soon as I saw two words in the second suggestion, I knew immediately that had to be the one I'd take.
Route 2: Rated PG
A more challenging - “PG” rated, if you will - route is from the Brush Canyon Trail. If you decide to take this path, you can also visit nearby Bronson Caves, known for its history as the Batcave and as the location of a famous Jim Morrison photo shoot. To get there, take Franklin to Highway 101, as described above, but continue farther (half a mile east of the freeway) to Canyon Drive. Turn left and follow Canyon Drive into the park (about a mile.)
This brings you to the Brush Canyon Trail, which climbs steeply, gaining 600 feet in just over a mile before it reaches the Mulholland Trail. Turn left and head toward Mt. Lee (stay straight as the Hollyridge Trail joins from the south) and turn right on paved Mt. Lee Drive, which takes you to the sign.
I hit the freeway a little after 10am for the Brush Canyon Trail. It took me less than an hour to get there. I drove up Canyon Drive through a quiet neighborhood and at the end of the street, it reached a park. I drove through the park as far down as I could and parked in the last parking lot, near this sign.
After taking advantage of the Gump (Renaissance Faire-speak for porta potty) there were one of two trails to take. I took the one at the end of the road that headed in the direction of the Hollywood Sign that I'd seen on Google Maps rather than the one that seemed to head down to where the Batcave would be.
In the map above, I've traced out the path I took on what ended up becoming a 3 1/2 hour hike, and I never even bothered to find out how long the trail was. And as I write this, I still haven't. Going in, I just had an idea of the hike. But now that I've traveled it, I recognize pretty well the routes I took.
And when I say "hike", OMG it was a hike! I don't hike regularly, and while on the trail, I discovered that reading the words "hike" and "trail" didn't really sink in until I was actually hiking on this trail.
I left the park around 11:15a and the start of the trail has a steady uphill grade that lasted for about half the distance of the journey, weaving and snaking around the sides of the canyon. All the way up as I maintained an internal dialogue of whining and moping, I kept wondering if I'd make it or if maybe someone would come around a hill and see my body lying prone on the trail, unable to take one more step under the noontime sun! But I persisted, thinking "slow and steady" and took my time and resting occasionally. And with my ONE SINGLE BOTTLE OF GATORADE as my only nutrient on this excursion, I also thought I was a complete idiot!
But this idiot had a mission, and after reaching the halfway point, the trail got noticeably easier for me. A sense of accomplishment renewed my spirit and I got to enjoy the hike a lot more. Horse packs shared the trail with me and the many other hikers this day. And can you believe some of the families were also pushing strollers on the trail!?
As I mentioned the trail wrapped around the rolling hills of the canyon, and often as I rounded a hill I could see the Hollywood Sign looking just a little bit larger than the last time I saw it. Finally, I reached paved road. It would be a sign that I'd reached the last part of the trail on my journey to reach...
The trail dead ends at the edge of a neighborhood. To be honest, I was hoping the trail led closer to the sign. But by this point, I was glad to say "mission accomplished".
Until, on my way back, I looked up at the sign again and was able to make out tiny people on the hilltop above and behind the sign. They were taking pictures from there. From my research, I knew folks were able to reach that backside of the sign too, and thinking about the trail I took up here, I remembered a split in the trail, where a second trail headed up the mountain, probably up and around the back side of the hill that the sign sits on.
By this time, I had hiked about two hours. It was close to 1pm, I had half a bottle of Gatorade with me standing under a hazy sunny sky. I was a tired idiot. But this idiot knew his mission wasn't fully accomplished. So as I backtracked on the trail and reached that fork, I chose the trail not previously traveled and continue on up...
The other side of the hill offers this striking panoramic view of Burbank and Glendale.
...until finally reaching the top and viewing not only the back of the Hollywood Sign but also an amazing view of Los Angeles county. If it weren't so hazy, I know I'd've see the Pacific Ocean as well.
With just days left in the month to accomplish this latest resolution and too many things already scheduled on a number of those days, today's adventure was pretty much an impulse decision. It started out exciting, became torturous when the hike began, but ultimately I accomplished a lot today and felt good about the whole thing. I also realized this put a pretty strong dent into catching up on a lot of exercising these past three months that I haven't done, so there's that too.
On my way back down the the mountain, I found the first half easy. But there was a patch of uphill grade I ran into just before the midway point that threatened to strangle the back of my left thigh into a tight, painful cramp. So I sat down and rested a bit before moving on. Then, and I can't believe this, I found myself hiking further and further up hill. I soon realized I'd missed another split in the trail and was on a hiking path heading for the Griffith Observatory, way further than where my car was parked!
I quickly double backed and found the right trail to be on. And the rest of the trail was literally down hill. But I found it still wasn't as easy an effort heading back to my car as I'd hoped. The grade was still noticeably steep, so I had to put some effort into my legs walking down the steep grade. And because of that, you know that feeling you get that the trip going home is always quicker than the trip heading to your destination? Didn't happen for me here. It was long trek back.
But I made it safe and sound back to the park and to my car. My legs, feet and body were pretty spent, and with it now approaching 3pm, I figured it was time to finally get some food and then hit the freeway earlier than later and avoid getting stuck in LA traffic.
But I will be back to this park. There's still a need to visit the Batcave!
To see more pictures from my hike, they're posted on Flickr
Thanks for reading!
My theme song collection on 45 rpm
Sometime in the 80's when I was going to college in San Diego, I somehow became enamored with television theme songs. It was also around the time a series of records - yeah, those vinyl ones - had just debuted in commercials, simply and succinctly entitled "Television's Greatest Hits". I can't remember if buying the first volume (there would eventually be seven) fueled my collector's mentality or if it was my many visits to the local Tower Records with its well-stocked 45 rpm shelves that did it. But it was certainly around that time that my interest in searching for and collecting theme song recordings was born.
Some treasured LPs of mine
Now I was bred on sixties and seventies sitcoms, so I remember with fondness the shows of those decades. And in my humble opinion, those shows contained The Best
theme songs ever written! There was such a variety of them too, ranging from pop to jazz and novelty to epic orchestral, that without knowing it, they also were teaching us kids about the varied styles of music that existed. So, when I eventually started getting into researching and collecting theme songs I, in my own geeky way, began to appreciate them even more. And I coined, to myself anyway, the term "20th century folk songs" to describe them, to elevate them, from just fun, nostalgic jingles to what I felt they really were.
TV Theme Songs are a unique invention of the 20th century, used to tell, share and identify stories about our culture. And when they are shared down from generation to generation, it's the same practice as was done with traditional folk songs
like . Granted, some may argue these stories are nonsense, that they aren't meaningful. But I say you're just an ol' fuddy duddy if you do. Remember the time when someone mentioned an old TV show you grew up watching and thinking about its theme song made you smile? Or the time you pointed out to someone that there were different lyrics at the end of the Gilligan's Island theme? Or when you started singing a few lines or hummed a melody from a theme song like Peter Gunn
or Hawaii Five-O
because friends around you would recognize it or it was just plain fun to do? And when you did that, didn't you just share a moment with others that uniquely sprang from our modern culture, our youth, from the days were grew up? Didn't you just share a folk song?
"Leave It to Beaver" lyrics...and my warning
Alright, maybe I did or maybe I didn't convince you that they're our folk songs. But that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
But that fact that I thought of them as folk tales comes from the moment when I discovered another magical quality about TV theme songs, that some of the ones I'd only known of as wordless yet signature musical compositions actually HAD LYRICS!
In 1984, I discovered a timely little book called "The TV Theme Song Sing-Along Song Book" by John Javna. I still have it, along with the second volume he released a year later (both are shown in the photo above). And in it was a revelation. That classic instrumental theme songs for the shows Bewitched, The Andy Griffith Show, Bonanza and more actually had lyrics written for them. And they were included in these books with sheet music to boot. A companion LP followed, The TV Theme Song Sing-Along Album, and that's about when my head exploded. For the first time, I heard these lyric-filled recordings of the "I Love Lucy Theme" and "The Andy Griffith Show Theme", songs that for decades were only instrumental tunes in my memory, now fortified with vocals, vocals sung by Ricky Ricardo and Sheriff Andy Taylor themselves. (Now, I wasn't that big an I Love Lucy fan at the time, but now I know the song had actually been sung on one of the episodes. So to Desi and Lucy fans, it wasn't a revelation. But it was to me.) The album also included extended versions of some of my favorite theme songs like Mission: Impossible and Bonanza which until then I'd only heard in their minute-long broadcast version at the top of their shows.
The TV Themes section of my CD library
So for the past twenty-odd years I've been the proud collector and owner of hundreds, maybe thousands even, of these 20th century folk songs across 45 rpms, 33 1/2 LPs, CDs and even a cassette tape or two. Why? Because "fan" comes from the word "fanatic", and I'm wear that title fairly often as it is being a Star Trek fan, comic book fan and Disney fan. Just par for the course.
And I'm certainly not alone! I've wanted to do this blog for some time now. And when I planned to include recordings of some of my favorite TV theme songs, some with those unknown lyrics, I knew there were bound to be other fanatics like me who not only owned them too but would post them as videos on YouTube. So for your enjoyment, I present some of my favorite 20th century folk songs below, presented in ways you likely haven't heard them presented ever before.
And if you liked this blog, "Y'all come back now, y'hear?"
Retro Warning: If you were born in the last, say twenty years, and don't watch much TV Land or retro TV type stations, these tunes may not mean a darn thing to you.
"I Love Lucy" (with lyrics)
Lyrics by Harold Adamson
Music by Eliot Daniel
Vocals by Desi Arnaz
"The Fishin' Hole"
Theme from The Andy Griffith Show
Lyrics by Everett Sloane
Music by Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer
Vocals by Andy Griffith
"Hogan's Heroes March"
Words and music by Jerry Fielding
Vocals by Robert Clary, Richard Dawson, Ivan Dixon and Larry Hovis*
* These are the cast members from the show.
Composed by Neal Hefti
Arrangement by David Slonaker
Performed by Joel McNeely conducting The Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus
Arrangement inspired by "The Batman Theme" by Danny Elfman composed in 1989
"Medley of Television Themes"
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
- Dr. Kildare
- Room 222
- Star Trek: Voyager
- The Waltons
- Barnaby Jones
All composed by Jerry Goldsmith
Arrangement for concert performance by Morton Stevens and Jerry GoldsmithJerry Goldsmith
started composing for television before going on to create memorable films scores for films such as Patton
, The Omen
, Planet of the Apes
, Total Recall
, The Mummy
and Star Trek: The Motion Picture
. (wikipedia link
This holiday season, I had plans to enjoy three versions of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale. For some, three might be enough. But this year, my interest in "A Christmas Carol" was piqued (not "peaked"), and I found myself wanting to explore more than these three versions, others that I either hadn't checked out before or wanted to revisit again. Here's how my journey through two, three, four and more "Christmas Carol"s turned out.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The first one I saw this year was this one. I've seen this only a few times before, but I've played my CD of the soundtrack over and over for years! This happens to be the first time I've owned a copy this movie. And it's on VHS!! I know, crazy, huh?
We had it at a yard sale my friends and I held to raise money for our Relay for Life team
, and it was among the items that didn't sell. Originally, I had planned to buy the new Blu-ray version of it, but with it missing the "When Love Is Gone" scene
, I dragged my feet on getting it. Ultimately, this VHS - which includes the scene
(albeit in pan and scan format) - ended up with me. I know I speak for many fans of the film when I say how impressed I am by how much it uses the dialogue of the original story and retains much of its same tone while being told by The Muppets.
Disney's A Christmas Carol
I passed on watching this when it was in theatres three years ago because I got tired of Jim Carrey mugging and bugging his eyes out so damn much in his films. It was fine when he started out, but it got to be his schtick, altho' friends tell me I need to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so there's that. But the reviews claimed he reined in his usual-ness in this film, so when it came out on Blu-ray, I took a chance. And I was overwhelmingly impressed! I now have to watch this every year with my family at Christmastime who enjoy it too.
A Christmas Carol
performed by Patrick Stewart
I'm a Star Trek fan. I got started watching the reruns of classic Trek, then got hooked on TNG after it debuted. That was around the time when I happened to start taking acting classes. And watching the show, even then I recognized how much Patrick Stewart forced the rest of the cast to bring their level of acting up to his level. Midway through his run on TNG, Stewart produced and performed his one-man show of "A Christmas Carol". A CD of it quickly became part of my CD library and I have loved playing it every year ever since. I finally got to see his show at the Doolittle Theatre in 1996, and I remember how cool it was that he'd changed the personality of Scrooge from the one I'd heard all the years before on CD to a low-key, sharp businessman, like one of those single-minded sharks you'd imagine swimming on Wall Street! It was a refreshing surprise and I often wished he'd record a follow-up CD performing that personality of Scrooge on it.
To listen to an excerpt from the CD, a lengthy clip is posted by Simon & Schuster on SoundCloud
Dickens' words...my brushwork, on the TTC set
Now, you'd think I'd gotten my fill of Dickens and Scrooge by now. But I also started reading the original short story
too, something I hadn't done before. If you haven't either, I suggest you do. I knew it would be so, but it's still amazing to realize how much of Dickens' words are familiar to you as every adaptation has pulled their dialogue verbatim from his story. As I write this, I still haven't finished it yet. Unless the words are broken up with a lot of illustrated, colored panel art in between, I'm a very slow reader.
And speaking of panel art, I did finish "Batman: Noel"
, a graphic novel I'd gotten for Christmas last year. It's a book I wanted because of the beautiful, detailed artwork by Leo Bermejo
. And "Surprise!" it's another adaptation of Charles Dickens' book, and a good one too that has the messages delivered by the three spirits in the original book represented by three familiar characters Batman runs into while patrolling Gotham City on Christmas Eve.
So two movies, on audio retelling and one and a half books later, you'd think that might be enough. But I still had that itch to look up other versions of the story. I went online and was delighted to find two full-length versions available to watch. And I also remembered I own another one that I've never seen. I only watched about twenty or thirty minutes of each the two online movies, but it only took that long to see the entirety of the other one that I owned.
A Christmas Carol
I tried to watch Patrick Stewart's TNT movie adaptation
once before and couldn't get through it. This year, I still can't. To begin with, it's so dull to me right from the start. His performance on the CDs are so enthusiastic, I guess I miss that in the film. I recognize he's working with a script that includes many wonderful ideas that bring more insight into the situations and main characters, but those ideas just didn't play out well for me when acted out. He's also too much Patrick Stewart in the role if that makes sense; he's ultimately too darn charming.
It was a nice surprise to find the first sound version of "A Christmas Carol" on film available on YouTube. Taking into account the time it was filmed, I found the performances rather genuine and refreshingly less formulaic than what we've all grown up seeing of the main characters in more popular adaptations. Seeing only half an hour of it, I look forward to making time to watch the rest of it. And from what I've learned about the film, we should all be grateful that it's the full-length version that's available on YouTube (embedded below) and not the abridged 60-minute US version that's out on recent DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases.
Mickey's Christmas Carol
I own several titles of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD series
. They were those 30 different titles that arrived every fall between 2001 and 2009 in distinctive silver or black tin cases holding a two-disc DVD set inside. I've watched some of them like Disneyland USA
, On the Front Lines
, and Tomorrowland
, but others like Silly Symphonies
, Disney Rarities
, and Mickey Mouse in Black and White
I bought mainly to hang onto for future reference, especially for my design work. Then I remembered one of my Mickey Mouse in Living Color
sets includes "Mickey's Christmas Carol"! I pulled it out to watch, all 25 minutes of it. It's cute and very entertaining!
So that's all the ones I've seen this year. It was fun to discover the adaptations that were new to me. And there are still a few more that came to mind that I wanted to see. One was Albert Finney's "Scrooge" which I saw when I was a kid, but all I can remember about it is the catchy tune "Thank You Very Much". Another was George C. Scott's "Scrooge". And finally there's that Alastair Sim one of "A Christmas Carol" which I can't remember if I've ever really seen. So these'll be high on my list to try and catch next Christmas season.
That is, if that itch doesn't come back and I decide to watch 'em before then!
To all my clients, friends and family, thanks for a great 2012.
Representing many of the movies I went out to see this year are - going clockwise from the lower left - an Engineer from "Prometheus", Merida from "Brave", the Amazing Spider-Man, James Bond from "Skyfall", Tinker Bell from "Secret of the Wings", Captain America from "The Avengers", Kitniss from "The Hunger Games", Batman and Catwoman from "The Dark Knight Rises", Barnabas Collins from "Dark Shadows" and Ted. Thanks too to Normal Rockwell.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
is an interesting film for me to offer a review on.. It is a follow-up to a grand trilogy that I didn’t expect to wow me on the level it did, so there’s a wee bit of expectation I could bring in to seeing this new film. And of the three available theatrical formats my friends and I chose to watch this film in, we chose the newest, labeled “HFR”.
HFR stands for High Film Rate and the HFR version is projected at twice the film rate than normal projection rate
. The point of HFR is supposed to be that you’re getting a clearer, sharper image to watch because there’s twice as much footage and thus visual information you’re seeing in the same amount of time. Director Peter Jackson filmed The Hobbit films in this HFR so you’re seeing the film in the same higher quality that he shot it in.
So not only was there some expectation by me about how I felt the film should be, I was also going to be distracted by analyzing the picture quality of the film.
And it was a 3D screening. So there’s the added notion of whether 3D will hinder or heighten my enjoyment of The Hobbit.
After two hours and fifty minutes of sitting in a theatre watching a HFR 3D film, I will say I was very entertained.
I’ve never read the book. But the story in this first cinematic chapter of The Hobbit was very fairy tale-like. I did go in having seen headlines of reviews saying it was a slow-moving movie, and I’m glad I knew that going in. There are some big action set pieces, but most of the film is more character-building than character battles. And for the most part, I kept pretty much interested in seeing all that character arc stuff. I don’t know that I need to pay to go see it in a theatre again for all that, but if someone forced to go I wouldn’t be disappointed re-watching it all either.
But mostly here I want to let loose about what I thought about the HFR and subsequently the 3D too.
Going in, I had heard that some movie-goers who’s seen early screenings got sick and nauseous. This concerned me. I got a little motion sickness watching Cloverfield and also during my first trip on Star Tours: The Adventure Continues at Disneyland.
Then, I had a friend tell me that a friend of his who saw an early screening thought it had a “video quality” and that that made it look to more 3D than usual.
Those notions were on my mind going in to see it for myself and during the film. Here’s my take.
Watching the images of The Hobbit in HFR 3D is a lot like looking at pictures through a View-Master.
Images, especially those in bright daylight, are saturated, sharp, and breath-takingly full of color. And while I noticed more 3D at the beginning, it’s likely my eyes got adjusted to the 3D the longer I watched. I lost all sense of 3D-y heighted depth of field about 30 minutes into the movie. But to be sure, don’t take my View-Master analogy as a negative. It’s just the best way I can describe the HFR look. At the same time, because the imagery was so crisp and sharp and rich in color, there was a bit of a surreal quality to viewing the film too. Not “so real it’s 3D” type of feeling, but just so sharp in image quality that my brain couldn’t understand why it was damn sharp.
The only time I didn’t like the HFR look was at the very beginning of the movie. It’s a prologue scene and it wasn’t until after the scene ended that I knew the scene was filtered to give it a uniquely different look, because the next scenes was gorgeous!
So I enjoyed this HFR presentation. You can imagine the kinds of outdoor vistas Jackson would shoot or create of Middle Earth, and seeing them in HFR was Ah-mazing.
So for those of you who even knew about there being HFR screenings and were curious, these were my thoughts about it. I saw the opening weekend Sunday matinee show at the ArcLight Beach Cities in El Segundo
for $17, and I wasn’t disappointed (and my company of friends were definitely a plus as we got into our usual geeky breakdown analysis of what we’d just seen). I don’t know that I need to see every film in HFR either. But I don't doubt the studios offering HFR more, just we have more IMAX and 3D choices today than we did five years ago, if The Hobbit continues to do as well
as it’s expected to over the holidays.
Then, I wondered about those new movies they mentioned. As of this time, all we know for sure is:
• It takes place after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.
• The story treatments were written by George Lucas, and assumedly not beholden to an adaptation of the popular Heir to the Empire trilogy of books written by Timothy Zahn
, the first stories licensed by Lucasfilm relating events taking place after Jedi
• Michael Arndi is currently writing the screenplay
based on his "40 to 50 page treatment" of George’s ideas.
• Episode VII
will be released in 2015.
That’s it. No casting has yet been done – only rumors and fan dreams circulating. No director has been hired, but George and Kathleen are looking as the world makes bets on who will take the chair
. But I will say there’s a better than 50/50 chance that the new movie will open on Memorial Day, same as the last six episodes. It’s a tradition of George’s. But even that is not a sure bet.
Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition poster art triptych by Drew Struzan
Also, I will be sad that Drew Struzan
will not be providing his signature art style to Episode VII
’s movie poster. Despite being enticed to produce some new work for a series of limited edition prints, he’s retired now.
I’m also a little antsy about a guy named Williams. When a rough cut of the Episode VII
is ready for a composer to screen it (assuming Disney is able to stick to their schedule) and begin work on the soundtrack, John Williams will be 82. And we don't yet know who will be the film's director who will hire a composer to score the film. But obviously, a Star Wars film has never been complete without music composed by John Williams. So I hope Williams will continue to produce the music for that galaxy far, far away.
When the very first Star Wars movie debuted, I was thirteen. I was a Trekkie by then, and that love for Trek was greater than for this new Star Wars movie. But as its two sequels came out over the six years that followed, I couldn't escape the magic of Star Wars. And I became as rabid about the Skywalker saga as I was with the stalwart crew of the starship Enterprise
Fast forward twenty years, and the digitally remastered "Special Editions" arrived. The adventures of Luke Skywalker, now freshly scrubbed, polished and newly detailed, returned to a world of digitally projected theatre screens. They would arrive in theatres in early 1997, but it was several months before that that I actually found myself diving back into the world of the Jedi and the Sith. That was the time I was a product designer working in the Strategic Alliance division of a company called Applause
, and Taco Bell called them up to see if we were interested in pitching a line of kid's meal toys to tie-in with the Star Wars re-release.
Like in every toy company, there were some hardcore Star Wars fans among us toy designers, and it became our mission to make sure we beat out the competition and win this promotion! Designers brainstormed ideas and over the course of a few weeks, passionately debated with each other to defend our toy concepts, recalling scenes from the first trilogy as reasons why they should stay in the mix. Then, money came into the picture to kill ideas outright due to cost. Finally, concepts were narrowed down and presentation boards were rendered up - which was done by hand back then, using pen and ink, colored pencils and Prismacolor markers - for the sales people to make our pitch.
The pitch took place in June of 1996. Taco Bell chose some of our concepts as well as some from our main competitor Strottman
for focus testing with kids. By July, the results were in and Taco Bell had decided. It would be Applause that would be making Star Wars kid's meal toys!
After high-fiving each other and patting ourselves on our backs, we still had a lot of pressure on us. The toys needed to start shipping from our overseas factories by November to give Taco Bell time to receive and distribute the toys to all of their restaurants nationwide. We had four months, not the typical six or seven, to not only get the regular designing and sculpting of toy housings done for production, but we also had to allow time for Lucasfilm's licensing department to review and approve things at every step of the way. Four months for all this to happen was tight.
It was decided that as much of the sculpting as possible should to done in Hong Kong where the factories can have immediate input into design the pieces for quicker manufacturing. And because this was such a high-profile license, it was felt that someone from our office should fly over there to oversee the fast-tracked sculpting to make sure they were as on-model (i.e., closely matched character or vehicle likeness) as possible in the hopes that they could get approved by Lucas Licensing that much quicker and production can begin that much sooner. They needed someone very familiar with the ships and characters of Star Wars. A Star Wars fan.
Normally, my boss would’ve gone. But his wife was due to have their first child at that very time, so he didn't want to travel half a world away from his family. Plus, he wasn’t as big a Star Wars fan as me!
So from July through the end of that year, I handled the Creative Manager duties on Star Wars for Taco Bell. I traveled to Hong Kong that week after we were granted the promotion. After our first pass at sculpts were done, I had
to travel some more. This time to a place up in Northern California called Skywalker Ranch
. There is where Lucas Licensing's offices were located. I visited there several times, usually with another manager and a sculptor or two, to have them review and approve our sculpts, including making revisions right on those sculpts on the spot to get them approved before we left. Then, then more trips to Skywalker Ranch followed to get approvals on our tooling patterns produced in China, then again on new drawings needed for revised bases and characters poses requested by Lucas Licensing, and then more on new sculpts and tooling patterns, before finally getting okays on our paint masters and first production shots, allowing us to finally get to pull the trigger on full production of millions of Star Wars toys.
All I remember of that time is that I was living, eating and sleeping Star Wars everyday, all to make sure we got everything reviewed, approved, produced on budget and shipped on time so kids and fans across the country would be happy to see our toys at Taco Bell, with the promotion set to kick off on January 26, 1997. And we did it! And it was awesome and exciting and the folks at Lucasfilm and Taco Bell were thrilled with them and it was one of the proudest geek moments the designers at Applause ever had!
So while we wait to see what’s in store for Disney's Star Wars: Episode VII, I thought it'd be a good time to share my personal Star Wars adventure with you. Looking back and going through my stuff and researching online proved to be fun for me, and I hope you enjoyed what I've shared here too.
Below are some of the sketches and drawings I did while working on this project, the only project I and my fellow Applause designers ever had the good fortune of having twenty years time to research a project so thoroughly. Glad it paid off. In fact, it led to the chance to work up more Star Wars toy designs for a film announced after this promotion to come just two years later: Star Wars: Episode I. But like that film, the experience meeting expectations were entirely different from what had happened working on the first trilogy. And perhaps it's a tale I'll share with you another time.
Until then, may the Force be with you.
The Muppet Christmas Carol theatrical trailer
The Muppet Christmas Carol debuts on high definition home video this coming Tuesday, and it's by far one of my favorite holiday movies and movie versions of Dickens' classic novel. There are two Blu-ray Disc editions coming out this week, the standard version and an exclusive Amazon edition that adds a DVD of the film with your purchase.
Now while doing my normal due diligence researching stuff about this new Blu-ray, I learned something new about the movie itself. I found discussion going on at the boards on Blu-ray.com that was ablaze many angry and upset posts from fans who wanted --- in fact, demanded! --- that Disney add back a scene to the movie that was cut from the film.
There was a scene cut from the film?! Apparently, there was, and it was news to me.
The scene in question involves the song "When Love Is Gone"
. It was included when director Brian Henson submitted his final cut of the film to Disney. But when Disney screened it, they apparently felt the scene, featuring young Ebenezer's fiancee singing a ballad as she ends their engagement, slowed the pacing of the story down quite a bit and worried that the youngest kids in the audience wouldn't enjoy it. So, Disney elected to cut it. And with the scene removed, that's how the film was shown when it first debuted in theatres at Christmas time in 1992.
However, when the movie was first released on home video a year later - on VHS and on Laserdisc - the "When Love Is Gone" scene was added back in!
Years later when it debuted on DVD, "When Love Is Gone" continued to appear in the newest release. The only difference was that while the Laserdisc presented the film in its full widescreen glory, the VHS and DVD versions presented it in (that really awful, icky, waste of space) Pan & Scan (or Fullscreen) format
. So for years, fans of the film grew up enjoying The Muppet Christmas Carol
with "When Love Is Gone" in the movie, just as the director intended, without realizing they were watching essentially the extended Director's Cut of the film, not the actual, original theatrical cut.
But apparently, the same will not be the case when it debuts on Blu-ray this week.The official discussion thread for The Muppet Christmas Carol on Blu-ray.com's forum board
is filled with posts from fans who are livid
that the upcoming Blu-ray release will feature just the original theatrical cut, with no inclusion whatsoever of the "When Love Is Gone" scene on the Blu-ray, not even as a deleted scene. And many of those upset fans have gone so far as to post email addresses and snail mail addresses of those to contact at Disney and let know their disappointment about the omission of the scene, even tho' Disney is technically accurate when it claims to be releasing the original theatrical cut
Now, Disney and Muppet fan that I am, I don't actually own a copy on DVD. I passed on getting any of the DVD releases because I saw that "Fullscreen" notice on the back of both titles, and I am just not a fan of the Pan & Scan format. But I have seen the film several times over the years and even own a rare original CD copy of the soundtrack
. And I was looking forward to finally owning it on Blu-ray. But I'll be honest, with all the brimstone and fire being spewed at Disney from rabid, admittedly uber-geeky, diehard fans online, I've pushed the pause button on buying it right away. I wondered, "Would I prefer the extended cut on Blu-ray or would I be fine with the theatrical cut on it (for now)?"
And of course, I couldn't think it through without watching the "missing" scene in question. So here it is.
So if everything I've read so far is true, this scene will be missing when you buy the Blu-ray Disc this Tuesday. Instead, those watching the original theatrical cut will apparently reach a jarring transition as that scene is edited out, perhaps someplace after the dialogue scene between young Ebenezer and Belle outdoors at the park. But again, it is the version that Disney first released when it went out to theatres.
Like I said, I have the soundtrack, so I'm very familiar with that song, having played it more times than I've actually watched the movie. And being the collector-type guy that I am, it probably goes without saying that I'd prefer to have the scene included, as a deleted scene at the very least. At this point, I haven't yet found a review of the new release online to offer anymore insight. But rest assured I'll be looking forward to reading those reviews. And maybe you will too.
Or not! :)
P.S. - While doing research for this blog, I came across a great video explaining the difference between Widescreen and Pan & Scan or Fullscreen format. I linked to it up above, but I felt it was too good a video not to force feed to you. Even as we adopt the widescreen format flatscreen TVs, I still read about folks annoyed by the black bars on the top and bottom or sides of movies they watch on DVD or Blu-ray. Here's why that happens, and why I absolutely love widescreen and understand and accept the black bars thing. Learn and enjoy!
This week's retailer exclusives gives me a great opportunity to talk about SteelBooks
(SB) and my own SteelBook collection and the little bit of drama (for Bond Blu-ray enthusiasts anyway) that surrounded the original debut of Secret Agent 007 onto high definition.Quantum of BluI've mentioned before
that I'm not an enthusiastic SB fan. But just for the sake of having some examples of them in my Blu-ray collection (which ultimately came in handy during some product design assignments I got to work on), I ended up finding a fun motivation to pick a few up. The motivation: The name is Bond. James Bond.
The year was 2008, but unlike the release that took place earlier this month when the Bond 50
box set debuted, the films were released in two waves of smaller groups three or four films at a time over a period of several months.
But some retail chains were allowed to offer exclusive SB packaging for selected titles. I love me some James Bond every now and then, so I figured this would be a fine way to get some SBs in my library. And since this is a film series, I realized having all my James Bond films sharing the same SB packaging would look nice on my shelf.
So that's how I started my SB and James Bond collection.SteelBook Royale
The first wave was released on October 21, 2008. And Best Buy was the first retailer to offer them exclusively in SBs. I picked up Dr. No
, From Russia with Love
and For Your Eyes Only
The second wave of Bond Blu-rays debuted on March 24, 2009 and this time, Amazon offered them in SBs exclusively. I picked up two more, Goldfinger
and The World Is Not Enough
By this time, 11 out of the 20 total pre-Daniel Craig James Bond films were out on Blu-ray. The titles that were out that I didn't add to my collection were Live and Let Die
, The Man with the Golden Gun
, Licence To Kill
and Die Another Day
. Casino Royale
(2006) and Quantum of Solace
(2008) both debuted on Blu on October 21, 2008 and March 24, 2009 respectively, but were not offered on SB in the US. I figured that Craig's Bond films defined an entirely new era of 007 movies, so I was content to own those two in the standard plastic Blu-ray cases.
But of the original Bond classics, there were nine left still to come out. Did they release them? No. Why not? For the same reason it took four years for there to be a Bond film made between Quantum of Solace and the upcoming Skyfall. MGM was broke.
Licence to Blu - Uh...NOT!
Even as Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were being produced, MGM, a co-distributor with Columbia Pictures of the James Bond films, was mired by over $3 billion in debt. This prevented any more home videos releases until their financial state was resolved.
After spending several months soliciting bids from studios and other investors to buy itself, MGM finally filed for bankruptcy on November 3, 2010. It came out of bankruptcy the following month and was able to finaiize distribution deals that not only allowed production of Skyfall to proceed but eventually lead to the January 2012 announcement of a new 22-movie Bond 50 box set and further releases of each of the movies separately.
For Your Blu Eyes Only...
The new Bond 50 box set went on sale October 2, 2012 in both Blu-ray Disc and DVD formats. It includes 22 James Bond films produced by EON Productions plus a bonus disc exclusive to the box set. Two other well-known James Bond films, Never Say Never Again
and the 1966 spoof Casino Royale
, were not produced by EON, so they are not included in this set. But they each have been released on Blu-ray already.
The remaining nine classic Bond films that we were waiting for when the other eleven were released finally got their individual releases on Blu-ray. However, for a short period of time, you'll need to do some hunting to find them as they are all retailer exclusives, each available only either at Best Buy, Target or Walmart.
Target Retailer Exclusives - Available Now
Walmart Retailer Exclusives - Available Now
Best Buy Retailer Exclusives - Available October 23, 2012
This exclusivity is a limited time thing. I expect in about three or four months, the titles will be available to buy from other retailers. And of course, the previous eleven titles that debuted back in 2008 and 2009 have also been re-issued individually with updated packaging art....but not on SteelBook
However, none of the nine new individual releases will arrive in SteelBook packaging in the US. There will be one title released on SB this December, GoldenEye
, from an online UK retailer Play.com
. But it's a Region B disc
, and like we talked about last week
, this UK release will only play on Region B Blu-ray players.
So for GoldenEye
, On Her Majesty's Secret Service
, Tomorrow Never Dies
and maybe The LIving Daylights
(just to have a token Dalton Bond even tho' I really didn't enjoy his Bond), I will have to be patient and wait maybe until next year to see if somebody finally offers these on SB in the US. I mean, I just can't have my classic Bond collection not be all SteelBooks now, right?