Monday, March 30, 2015

The 3D Film Archive--Keeping 3D Movie History Alive

For 3D film fans like me, the last few years have provided a mixture of good news and bad news. The good news is that 3D technology has become so commonplace that watching high-quality, on-demand 3D content on TV is possible. The bad news is that most of the 3D movies that were made prior to the recent 3D boom--namely, 3D films that were made between the 1950s and '80s--are not available on Blu-ray. Thankfully, a group known as the 3D Film Archive is working to change that by restoring and releasing 3D films from yesteryear for your home viewing pleasure.

The 3D Film Archive itself has been around for quite some time, but it has only recently entered the Blu-ray business. It was founded back in 1990 by 3D film fanatic Bob Furmanek, who has spent decades tracking down studio files, laboratory records and film prints of both popular and obscure 3D films. To date, the 3D Film Archive played a vital role in ensuring the release of older 3D films on Blu-ray, films such as Dragonfly Squadron (1954), The Bubble (1966), and Kiss Me Kate (1953). Upcoming releases include Gog (1954), The Mask (1961) and 3D Rarities, an extensive compilation of obscure 3D film shorts that date back as far as 1922.

Of course, not all of the older 3D films are classics. I recently watched The Bubble and while its 3D effects are amazing, the film itself is very weak. It appeared that the film's limited budget went almost exclusively to its 3D photography; as such, it felt jarring to watch such astonishing 3D effects in such a hokey movie, especially after watching so many newer 3D films that had blockbuster production budgets. Regardless, I'm thankful that the 3D Film Archive is doing what it can to show film buffs the evolution of 3D cinema--warts and all--during the 20th century.

Click here to check out the 3D Film Archive and its detailed articles about the golden age of 3D entertainment.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sony Eyes Robotech as Live-Action Film Franchise

Oh, Robotech ... why can't I quit you?

Ever since this beloved anime franchise stopped publishing new novels and comic books in the '90s, it has largely been in a state of limbo. Aside from a few projects here and there--such as two video games and collector-grade toy releases--the franchise has been inert for over 15 years. The Shadow Chronicles in 2006 promised to launch a new chapter in the series--along with a retconned timeline--but that didn't make it past a pilot movie; last year, the Robotech Academy Kickstarter project, which would have delivered a new anime series had it reached its funding goal, crashed and burned within months of its announcement. Even Dynamite Entertainment's new run of Robotech comics began and ended with a non-canonical, five-issue crossover with Voltron.

One rumor that I've heard is that all animated Robotech projects have been put on hold because of the possibility of a live-action movie, a possibility that's been around since actor Toby Maguire bought the rights to do so in 2007. Nothing has been heard about the development of that project since then until this week, when Sony announced that it will make a live-action Robotech movie with the intent of using it to launch a franchise.

With Marvel churning out interconnected blockbuster superhero movies and a new Star Wars trilogy beginning later this year, it makes sense that the bigger movie studios are scrambling to launch their own blockbuster franchises. Yet what I want to know is how Sony is going to deal with the copyright issues surrounding Robotech's most popular source material, Super Dimension Fortress Macross?

Macross was one of the anime series that was used to create Robotech, which was also patched together by using re-dubbed and re-edited episodes from Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada. Of the three series used, Southern Cross and Mospeada were not very popular in Japan, so Robotech's parent company Harmony Gold encountered few legal issues when using them; however, Macross has grown to become a popular franchise in its own right since the '80s, which has led to many copyright problems whenever Harmony Gold wanted to use characters and mecha that originated from Marcoss. Such complications halted the production of first sequel series Robotech II: The Sentinels back in 1987, and matters haven't gotten any better since then.

So what will Sony do for its Robotech movie? Has it worked out a deal with Macross' parent company Tatsunoko to avoid legal problems, or will it find a way to adapt the Robotech story that will stay true to the general narrative but won't directly involve anything that could be proven in court to come from Macross? Also, if the live-action movie is a hit, will we be seeing another Robotech cartoon and if so, will it be a continuation of the original series or something that ties into the movie? Stay tuned ....

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Transgenic Sins of the Flesh: A Review of The Fly: Outbreak #1

Many franchises have found an active life--or after-life--in the medium of comic books. Some use it as a way to build and explore an "expanded universe" (e.g., Star Trek, Star Wars) while others use it to continue a story that ended in a different medium (e.g., Millennium, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Given my interest in all things "Big Bug" related, a recent franchise tie-in comic book intrigued me so much that I couldn't wait for the trade paperback: The Fly: Outbreak by IDW Publishing, written by Brandon Seifert and drawn by menton3.

Outbreak picks up some time after the events of The Fly II. Martin, son of the late Seth "Brundlefly" Brundle, has returned to Bartok Industries to continue his research into his father's telepods in order to find a cure for his condition. He appears to be a normal human being, but he still experiences occasional problems that stem from his inherited insect genes. During the course of the first issue, Martin learns that his work to permanently fix his own DNA has inadvertently created a pathogen that can warp the genetic code of those who are infected.

If David Cronenberg's The Fly was a remake of the original 1958 Fly movie, then Chris Walas' The Fly II is a semi-remake of the original film's two sequels, Return of the Fly (1959) and Curse of the Fly (1965). I say this because Walas assembled the story for his film by using plot threads and themes from both Return (the original doomed scientist's son, skullduggery to own the telepod's secrets) and Curse (accelerated aging due to fly genes, additional ways to mutate organisms in telepods other than fusing them to other organisms). Thus, with the original Fly trilogy covered by the remake and its sequel, Outbreak has the opportunity to expand upon ideas and themes from the previous films in new, exciting and grotesque.

On the other hand, Outbreak is a retcon of sorts. According to Walas, early drafts of The Fly II focused on Martin's moral dilemma of using someone else's DNA to repair his own, but the studio demanded that he quash that plot in favor of a more formulaic creature feature. With its focus on Martin's devotion to fixing the problems caused by both himself and his dead father, Outbreak could show fans glimpses of the sequel we might have seen if Walas were permitted to follow his initial concept.

At its best, the first issue of Outbreak revisits some of the creepier aspects of the previous two movies. In the sequel, Anton Bartok places himself as Martin's adoptive father so he can emotionally manipulate the kid genuis into unlocking the secrets of Seth's telepods; this sets up the "just deserts" nature of the film's conclusion, where Martin uses Bartok's DNA to cure his own condition while at the same time changing Bartok into the very thing his biological father was--a horribly disfigured insect-human hybrid. This abusive adoptive father/son role comes back into play in Outbreak, and it sets in motion the main plot of this five-issue miniseries.

What I don't like about the first issue is its mechanical, abbreviated pacing. The first issue is designed to bridge the gap between the end of The Fly II and the new story, but each page feels more like bullet points in a plot outline than a naturally progressing story (e.g., introduce returning characters on page 1, introduce new characters on page 2, introduce the new problem on page 3, etc.). This issue could have used an extra five or six pages to let the story breathe and come into its own. Also, while menton3's artwork has a surreal, nightmarish quality to it, his design for the insect-human hybrid that appears in the first issue should have been better. It looks more like a C-list Spider-Man villain than something you'd expect from a Cronenbergian body horror film.

In spite of the first issue's shortcomings, its conclusion sets Fly fans up for four issues of gene-splicing, stomach-turning insectoid horror for four more issues. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Five Favorite Classic Sega Arcade Games

I recently picked up a copy of Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed as something to satisfy my kart racing itch until the next DLC pack for Mario Kart 8 becomes available in May. Even though it's as plain as day that this game uses the Mario Kart series as a point of inspiration, it provides enough unique challenges and charms to make it fun in its own right. Furthermore, it's Sega we're talking about here--the company that's known for innovative racing games such as Turbo and Out Run--so it just wouldn't be right if Sega didn't contribute something to the current selection of game mascot-themed kart racing titles.

I've been playing video games for decades, so I was amused to see how Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed incorporates so many of Sega's past hits (e.g., After Burner, Golden Axe, Shinobi, etc.) into a single game. With Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony dominating the home consoles, I sometimes have to remind myself that Sega was once a major player in both the arcade and console markets and not just a producer of third party titles. With that in mind, here's a list of my five favorite titles from Sega's yesteryear that provided many hours of entertainment for me during my formative gamer years. Read on for my complete list, in chronological order.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Memories of the Loch Ness Monster

Have you seen me lately?

It's a strange experience to be fascinated by monsters. If you are, an attraction to the monsters of myths and movies is inevitable ... but an attraction of so-called "real" monsters will eventually happen, too.

I honestly don't think that anything monstrous is swimming around in a certain lake in Scotland, but boy howdy did the Loch Ness Monster make regular appearances during my childhood in the late '70s and early '80s--and I was completely enraptured with it at the time. I even presented a report in one of my early elementary school English classes about how I wanted to grow up to become a cryptozoologist so that I could investigate Loch Ness. I tore through books that were aimed at my age group and alternated between blurry photos of something in the water and artistic depictions of how these blurs might really appear. Then again, if you were already reading about movie monsters in other books aimed at kids (as I was at the time), then the jump over to books with this kind of subject matter was the next step.

This post is dedicated to the kind of art that populated the Loch Ness Monster books, art that did everything it could to plant the idea in fragile young minds that there are lake-dwelling dinosaurs living in Scotland and elsewhere. Sure, the art was an exercise in shameless manipulation, but it was the visual equivalent of catnip for my monster-hungry mind. Read on ....

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Acceptable Losses: Horror, Death, and Alien 5

Ever since 20th Century Fox has confirmed that Neill Blomkamp will be helming the next Alien movie, fan speculation has run rampant over whether Blomkamp's sequel will either retcon the later half of series--Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection--out of franchise canon or just ignore them. In the pro-retcon corner of the fandom, many have been repeating their biggest complaint with Alien 3 ever since that sequel arrived on the big screen back in 1992: the unexpected deaths of Aliens characters Hicks (Micheal Biehn) and Newt (Carrie Henn), the respective love interest and surrogate daughter of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver).

As a horror fan, I never had a problem with the sudden deaths of these two characters; after all, the Alien franchise started as a horror film and each film in the series has a sizable body count. Thus, I think that the roots of this 23-year-old complaint do not lie so much with the narrative of Alien 3 as they do with the fan expectations that were set up in the previous film Aliens and its adherence to the plot conventions of the action-adventure genre--not the horror genre. Sure, monsters appear frequently in both horror and action-adventure movies, but their impact on the protagonists change drastically between genres. Read on for my analysis of why the Alien series' detour into action-adventure back in 1986 will probably leave the franchise's fan community--and the franchise itself--divided for a long time to come.