Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Crestwood House . . . of Horrors!

Because of my personality trait of obsessive introspection, I can cite the many things that have contributed to my state of perpetual geekery / arrested maturity / dubious connection to reality over the years. Star Wars was my gateway drug to all things science fiction and fantasy, while Spider-Man (courtesy of The Electric Company TV show and its companion magazine of the same title) got me started on superheroes and all things comic book-ish. On the other hand, my interest in horror is a bit more convoluted in its history and took much longer to blossom. What I can say, though, is that my introduction to classic horror cinema was provided not by the movie theater itself, but instead by a publishing company called Crestwood House.

Some background information: This happened in the early 1980s, when there were no video rental stores and VCRs--let alone DVD players--were not common household appliances. My family didn't have cable and what syndicated TV stations (remember those?) we could get outside of the major networks were rarely of watchable quality. It was against this backdrop that my elementary school started getting these strange, fun "Monster Series" of books from Crestwood House. Once my buddies and I found the first set of these books at the library, we couldn't get enough of them. Between 1980 and 1982, we gobbled up each book we could find and looked forward to each new book as if it were the next set of new Kenner Star Wars action figures. For kids our age, that was a big deal. Read on . . .

Monday, March 22, 2010

Free to be in 3D

I've been a fan of 3D media for as long as I can remember. From the old View Master toys to books and magazines that came with cardboard red and blue glasses so that the anaglyph pictures inside would pop off the page, I always thought that the use of illusory three dimensions to enhance entertainment media was a fascinating, under-utilized idea. I've felt this was for almost three decades, come to think of it. Boy, am I old . . . .

Anyway, with the blockbuster success of Avatar and the impressive sales of Panasonic's S3DHD TVs, the first line of high-definition, flat-screen TVs, it appears that the idea of 3D has caught on--at least in the circles of movie production. Even Warner Bros. has gone so far to recently announce that all of their upcoming tentpole films will be in 3D.

With this sudden growth of the 3D movie market, there has been a fair amount of backlash from both critics and fans alike. For example, I usually enjoy reading Roger Ebert's movie reviews (even if I disagree with his overall evaluation of particular movies) but I've noticed over the last few years that if Ebert was reviewing a film that was released in 3D, it was a safe bet that the review would include at least one anti-3D rant. Likewise, just about every message board I've seen concerning the release of a 3D movie and/or Hollywood's increasing receptivity of 3D technology has resulted in countless posts about how 3D causes headaches, how movie makers are going to become over-reliant on 3D to the point where all of their films will be crap, how the gimmick of 3D movies should have died in the 1950s, etc.

So, being the 3D freak geek (or 3D geek freak?) that I am, I just thought I'd throw in my two cents. Yes, I believe that the era of 3D entertainment is here to stay, and it has been for some time. However, I don't think that it was Avatar or even the usage of higher-quality 3D technology such as RealD that made it happen. I think all of the credit should go to computers. Read on . . .  

Friday, March 19, 2010

Touched by a Dark Angel

Score another one for DVD box sets: I just finished watching the entire Dark Angel series. When it originally aired, I dismissed Dark Angel as nothing more than a Buffy The Vampire Slayer clone; however, at the behest of the Mrs., I started watching the series and quickly learned that my original opinion of the show was very, very wrong.

Dark Angel has all the things that a great sci-fi TV show should have: a solid cast, decent production values, good scripts, and a detailed, consistent back story (or "mythology" for all you Joseph Campbell fans) that ties it all together. The first season was great and the second season upped the ante considerably, making for many tense, compelling story arcs. Indeed, the overarching plot of the second season--the conflict between fugitive genetically-engineered super-soldiers and the members of a secretive, selective breeding cult that's thousands of years old--made for some interesting, freaky viewing. Dark Angel also has the distinction of being the only show that I know of that is regularly referred to as "post-apocalyptic" and yet it has nothing to do with a global nuclear war (or a worldwide plague, or the Book of Revelation, or climate change, or alien invasion, or zombies), a quirk that the show's writers explored in a wide variety of intriguing ways. Unfortunately, all Dark Angel lacked was good ratings, which (like many sci-fi shows both before and after it) led to its cancellation after the second season, long before it could fully explore many of the ideas it presented.

Another thing to note (being the media production trivia geek that I am) is how many of the cast and crew of Dark Angel either came from or went on to other hit TV series; it's a veritable who's-who of hit TV trivia. Sure, Fox frequently dropped the name of James "King of the World" Cameron, Dark Angel's co-creator and co-producer, as a way to promote interest in the show; Cameron also directed the last episode of the series. (Even though Cameron is largely thought of as a filmmaker, particularly of big-budget, special-effects-heavy movies such as Titanic and Avatar, I really think that Dark Angel ranks as one of his best works.) Dark Angel also launched the career of then-unknown Jessica Alba. But take a look at Dark Angel's other alumni: Rene Echevarria, Ira Steven Behr, and Nana Visitor were previously involved in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Michael Weatherly would go on to NCIS, Jensen Ackles would go on to Supernatural, and Alimi Ballard would go on to Numb3rs. Furthermore, if you're paying attention, you'll notice Aaron Douglas, Alessandro Juliani, Kandyse McClure, Rekha Sharma, and Rick Worthy--all future cast members of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series.

So, if you don't mind being frustrated by two seasons of action-packed buildup and no conclusive payoff, with plenty of great stories and hit TV trivia name-checking in between, give Dark Angel a chance--you'll be impressed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Video Game Cheaters (and the Web Sites that Love Them)

I love video games, but I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the best at them. I love No More Heroes to pieces, but the third boss Shinobu kept kicking my butt inside out. I enjoy The Conduit, but the aliens kept gunning me down at the Jefferson Memorial. I've also wanted to play through all of Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, but I kept running out of the necessary ammo during the last boss fight at the end of the Resident Evil 0 section of the game.

The repeated losses at the Umbrella Chronicles game was particularly harsh for me; even though I'm not a big Resident Evil fan, I love rail shooters where I can mow down endless waves of zombies. I have other horror rail shooters for Wii and I've completed all of them--the awesome Dead Space: Extraction, the over-the-top and also awesome House of the Dead: Overkill, and the arcade ports of House of the Dead 2 and 3--so being unable to complete Umbrella Chronicles stood out like a sore thumb. Furthermore, Umbrella Chronicles lets you enjoy three of the Resident Evil games (0, 1, and 3) without having to experience the painfully clunky game play mechanics of each in their original versions--how could anyone not like this game?

I kept trying to find cheat codes which would allow me to complete Umbrella Chronicles, but to no avail. Little did I know that cheat codes are so 90s; it turned out what I really needed was to find a way to get a completed Umbrella Chronicles game save file onto my Wii system. But how?

Enter Wii Save. As far as I can tell, this is the only site of its kind, where avid Wii game players finish games and then post their completed game save files for others to download for free. Some games have more save files than others (for example, The Conduit only has one file and according to the comments posted for it, it's a bit wonky), and the files cover multiple regions. I uploaded a file for Umbrella Chronicles for the US, and I'm well on my way to finishing the game. One of the bonuses you get for completing the entire game is a full range of weapons and unlimited ammo for each; in short, having this completed game save file turned Umbrella Chronicles from an unbeatable game (at least at my skill level) to a virtual Disneyland for impatient, trigger-happy zombie killers like me. Granted, it's neither the head-popping bloodbath that is Overkill nor does it involve the strategic dismemberment of Extraction, but Umbrella Chronicles is still great to play.

So, if you want to cheat at your favorite-but-tough-as-nails Wii game just to get your money's worth out of it, Wii Save is the place for you.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Write of the Living Dead

It's official: I'm now a published author. Centipede Press has published a large book of essays about Night of the Living Dead as part of their "Studies in the Horror Film" series of books and my essay, "Cannibalizing Consumers", is in it. You can read more about the book here.

"Cannibalizing Consumers" was originally part of a series of essays that was included in a 40th anniversary retrospective of Night of the Living Dead on the PopMatters site back in 2008, and it was picked up to be part of the book. If you are so inclined, you can read my original essay here. I'm giddy that my first shot at recognition in an academic publication happens to revolve around the genre-defining film that introduced the world to unstoppable, epidemic, undead cannibalism. Then again, this is isn't just an article publication for me: 1) It's an article published in a series of books about studying horror films, 2) it's an article largely devoted to Night of the Living Dead, and 3) it's an article where I was also able to spend some time discussing Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That's triple nerd score for me!

In case you're interested in reading more of my written works, which are nerd-devotion-thinly-disguised-as-academic-thinking, check out these articles:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Wii Want Tron

Of all of the films that I'm looking forward to this year, I've definitely got high hopes for Tron Legacy. I wasn't a big fan of the first Tron from way back when in the 80s, yet it was fascinating in the sense that it was both so high-tech and yet so primitive at the same time. For as advanced as the film looked, the conceptual foundation of the plot was like something, say, a caveman would tell you if you ever showed him a computer and asked him how it worked. He'd probably tell you that the computer contains a bunch of tiny, glowing people inside and they are the ones who make it work, just like in Tron . . . well, he'd tell you that, providing that he wouldn't try to bash your skull in first in response to you scaring the bejesus out of him with your magical, flickering doohickey.

Nevertheless, Tron Legacy looks to be a blast--the first preview for it was equal parts glossy, high-tech VR cool and dark, mysterious cyberpunk dread. Now with that said, I really want to know: Where is my Tron video game for the Wii?

Come on, Nintendo, you're killing me here. You've proven that you can do some impressive, heavily stylized graphics in titles such as MadWorld, and you've shown that you can do some very accurate disk-throwing, handlebar-using game play with the Wii Motion Plus and the Wii Sports Resort title. Both of these would be ideal for a Wii game involving deadly disc-throwing and high-speed lightcycle racing in the virtual world of Tron. At the very least, Wii should do a Wii Sports Resort: Tron Edition, with a neon blue island filled with various neon Miis doing Tron-a-tized variations of the sports already available in the title. A geek can dream . . . .

Monday, March 1, 2010

Nerd Devotion in Lego

For as long as I can remember, I've had a strong admiration (not to mention something of a mild jealousy) of people who have mastered the hobby of miniature sci-fi/horror model making. My skill level only gets me as far as buying an occasional highly-detailed NECA action figure--or, as I would prefer to call them, "highly-detailed, pre-painted, pre-assembled model kits for people who lack the time, money and talent to paint and assemble highly-detailed model kits".

However, I reserve my deepest geek appreciation for those who go the extra mile to design entire model kits from scratch by themselves. Many do it as customized garage kits, some of which are even made available for purchase (either assembled or unassembled) by others. But my post for today focuses on 15-year-old Sven Junga, who has made some eye-popping models of vehicles from Stargate, Star Trek and Star Wars from nothing but Legos. Yep, Legos. I hang my model-assembly-challenged nerd head in shame. Read on . . .