Thursday, May 28, 2015

Square Enix Transforms the Predator into an Oni Demon

Back in 2011, Sideshow Collectibles released a Samurai Predator figure as part of its Alien vs. Predator line. As the figure's name suggests, the design mixed together the Predator's usual appearance with Samurai armor into something that, as I commented earlier, "look(s) like a monster that came straight from ancient Japanese folklore." Fast-forward to 2015 and Square Enix will be releasing a new Predator figure as part of its Play Arts Kai line that combines the movie monster's appearance with something from another area of ancient Japanese culture: oni.

According to Wikipedia, "Oni are a kind of yokai from Japanese folklore, variously translated as demons, devils, ogres or trolls. They are popular characters in Japanese art, literature and theatre. ... Depictions of oni vary widely but usually portray them as hideous, gigantic ogre-like creatures with sharp claws, wild hair, and two long horns growing from their heads. They are humanoid for the most part, but occasionally, they are shown with unnatural features such as odd numbers of eyes or extra fingers and toes. Their skin may be any number of colors, but red and blue are particularly common. ... They are often depicted wearing tiger-skin loincloths and carrying iron clubs called kanabo. This image leads to the expression 'oni with an iron club', that is, to be invincible or undefeatable."

With that in mind, the Play Arts Variant Predator has all the hallmarks of a classic oni. It is colored predominantly in red, and it includes a horned helmet and a bone-like club. Between the Samurai Predator and this new Variant Predator, I'm hoping that we'll get at least one Predator movie--either live-action or anime--that's set in Japan.

The Play Arts Variant Predator will be released in September and will cost about $122.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Modern Science Fiction Cinema Maturity Challenged?

For those of you who have been away from the geek-o-sphere on the Internets lately, there's been a bit of a-twittering about comments that were recently made by Simon Pegg in an interview with Radio Times magazine about the next Star Trek movie and the current state of science fiction films in general. For the sake of brevity, here's an assembled version of the Pegg quotes that caused the most offense:
"Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection ... gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed ... I don’t know if that is a good thing. Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema but part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously. It is a kind of dumbing down, in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about ... whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot. ... Sometimes (I) feel like I miss grown-up things and I honestly thought the other day that I’m gonna retire from geekdom. I’ve become the poster child for that generation, and it’s not necessarily something I particularly want to be.”
Naturally, some fans were taken aback by long-time geek Pegg's association of science fiction and the term "infantilised". As someone who majored in the field of communications in college, I believe that Pegg has it all wrong, too--the deregulation of media ownership through the Telecommunications Act of 1996 did much, much more to dumb down the media landscape than anything Star Wars or superhero movies ever did. Blame the bombastic blockbuster movies all you want for ruining science fiction, but that kind of entertainment is the sort of thing that fills the tanker-sized coffers of mega-conglomerates like Disney and Time Warner.

Yet when I think about recent science fiction movies, I do think that they are falling behind in terms of staying relevant with modern issues. For example, Christopher Nolan's 2014 film Interstellar spun a familiar tale about how the human race will save itself by leaving Earth and finding another planet to inhabit. Even though this kind of sci-fi story has been around for decades, current environmental problems strongly indicate that leaving the planet is not an option for humanity if it is going to survive; thus, when are we going to be seeing ambitious science fiction films about how humanity can save itself by not treating its home world like an infinite landfill? There was also Children of Men (2006), an apocalyptic story about infertility. Yet with our current global population at around 7 billion and growing, why haven't we seen a thought-provoking sci-fi film about overpopulation and ways to solve this problem?

Also, don't forget that this summer's slate of movies includes both Terminator: Genisys, the fifth entry in a sci-fi franchise about fictional war technology running amok, and Good Kill, a drama centered around actual war technology running amok.

A long time ago, I read an article about how noted sci-fi author Ray Bradbury was greatly dissasified by the proliferation of computer technology and the rise of the Internet. The article's author postulated that this attitude stemmed from Bradbury seeing a future he didn't envision. Based on his literary work, Bradbury was hoping to see a future based in outer space, not cyberspace; as such, his fiction about the future never fit how the future was actually developing. Bradbury was entitled to his views, but it raises an interesting point: Will science fiction cinema keep depicting futures that are more grounded in the wishful thinking of mainstream audiences, or can it still intelligently handle scientific issues that make people uncomfortable? Furthermore, is the latter even an option in our modern media landscape that's dominated by gargantuan conglomerates?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Look Back at a Vintage Movie Monsters Giant Poster Book

As fan memorabilia goes, poster books are odd collectibles. Sure, fans have always sought out magazines and books about their favorite topics and have also purchased posters that feature images of said topics. However, somewhere along the line, publishers got the bright idea to combine print with posters, although I'm still baffled as to why. For example, if a fan chooses not to use the poster book not as a poster but as a book, then the book eventually falls apart because the seams give away quickly from being folded and unfolded so many times.

Here's a post about one poster book that was published in 1979, the Movie Monsters Giant Poster Book. As you can tell by the tape stains, tears and missing corners in the photos that I've taken, this poster book had already been through the ringer by the time I got my hands on it during the mid '80s. Nevertheless, it was such a unique find that I was willing to trade some comics to one of my classmates for it. Read on to see more pictures of this odd piece of movie monster memorabilia from a time when practical special effects were still the standard and most young fans largely got their movie monster fix through syndicated TV.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Nintendo 3DS's StreetPass: It's All About Miis

I've been a Nintendo fan for a long time, but I never paid much attention to the hand-held side of its gaming console selection. The most involved I got with one was when Namco released Pac-Man Vs. back in 2003, a competitive multiplayer game which required both the GameCube and a GameBoy Advance. Since my Mrs. already had a GameBoy Advance, we picked up this title and had a blast playing the game with our friends for hours at a time; otherwise, the allure of hand-held consoles eluded me.

Fast-forward to 2015, and I'm beginning to see why the hand-held Nintendo 3DS system attracts gamers--largely because of its pre-loaded application, StreetPass Mii Plaza. I saw someone playing it on his 3DS when I was on the Metro the other day. The gamer in question was older than me (shocking, right?), but he was completely absorbed in the games he was playing with his Mii avatar and an army of other Miis. The Miis were wearing samurai armor, which is part of the battle simulation game Warrior's Way that 3DS users can purchase and add to their Mii Plaza. Other Mii Plaza games include shooters (Mii Force), simulations (Flower Town, Ultimate Angler), puzzle games (Puzzle Swap) and more, each featuring casts of Miis that are imported from other 3DS units.

Miis have been making regular appearances in Nintendo games since the Wii console. Originally, players used them as representations of themselves in certain game titles such as Wii Party and Wii Sports Resort; the unused Miis in the Wii console's memory would frequently appear in the same games as part of the game play, giving the impression that your friends and family are involved in the game even though they aren't really playing.

A cast of Miis become part of the game in Wii Play.

Since then, the Miis have become a much larger part of Nintendo's plan to appeal to gamers through their use in the Wii U and 3DS consoles. Because I have a Wii U that's connected to the Internet, I get to see and interact with a wide selection of Miis that represent other players from around the world in the console's opening WaraWara Plaza menu, in the Miiverse social network, and in various games such as Nintendo Land. In contrast, 3DS has been using the StreetPass function in a way that allows other gamers' Miis to become characters in 3DS Mii Plaza games.

According to Wikipedia, StreetPass a wireless tagging app that "can detect and exchange data with other nearby systems whilst in sleep mode. ... When new Miis are registered by the system, they will appear at the gate. Up to ten Miis can show up at the gate at any one time, after which the player will need to use them with their minigames before checking for more. Meeting the same Miis multiple times adds extra functionality, such as personalized messages and the ability to rate them. There are also special Miis that appear via SpotPass during special events, such as Nintendo staff members. After meeting another player's Mii, the player can then use that Mii to play a variety of different games, three of them being playable free of charge: Puzzle Swap, StreetPass Quest, and StreetPass Quest II." To put it into the context of my Metro incident, I was watching a 3DS gamer play games that involved Miis he collected from other 3DS users.

From what I've gathered through various articles I've found on the'net, StreetPass has become a phenomenon of its own. To aid in the connection to other 3DS gamers, Wi-Fi "Nintendo Zones" have been set up at various locations (such as Best Buy stores). In addition to the Mii Plaza games, players can incorporate the Miis they've collected into Tomodachi Life, a Sims-esque life simulation game that was released in Japan in 2013 and elsewhere in 2014. There are even hobbyist groups in cities in countries like the U.S. and England that hold in-person events devoted to Nintendo gaming and swapping Miis.

I grew up during the era of video game arcades and the first generation of home gaming consoles, so the idea of using digital representations of other gamers as key elements of a game scenario intrigues me to no end. True, this isn't the immersive virtual reality that writers like William Gibson predicted in the sci-fi subgenre of cyberpunk, but it adds a significant level of interest and involvement that previous forms of video gaming lacked. These aren't the anonymous, pre-programmed sprites that players have to punch, shoot or rescue; these are digital artifacts created by other gamers that can be used to enhance the game play experience. Forget the other games that are available on the 3DS--the StreetPass Mii Plaza games look too fun to pass up.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron and the Evolution of Superhero Movies

This would normally be a post where I write a review of Marvel's latest blockbuster, Avengers: Age of Ultron. While I'll get around to doing that here, this post will be about something that I find equally fascinating--namely, the critical and fandom responses to this new movie. Some have argued that between the new Avengers, the upcoming Ant-Man and Fantastic Four movies, and the pending releases of DC's Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, we have reached (or are reaching) a point of superhero over-saturation at the box office. On the other hand, I think that what we're seeing is pop culture's confusion over what Marvel is trying to accomplish and whether the critics and fans appreciate how this can improve superhero films in the long run. Read on ...

Friday, May 1, 2015

Four Reasons Why Star Wars Still Matters

Way back when it first appeared on the pop culture landscape in 1977, Star Wars became my gateway drug for all things sci-fi. I was obsessed with it then, still obsessed with it now, and my brain is still reeling from the many announcements that were made at the recent Star Wars Celebration event a few weeks ago. The year-end release of Episode 7: The Force Awakens, James Earl Jones returning as the voice of Darth Vader for season two of Rebels, the next Star Wars Battlefront's connection to the next trilogy ... I don't think I've ever seen this franchise firing on all cylinders simultaneously before. Star Wars has never lacked for ambition; but with so many resources being devoted to keeping the saga alive and growing, I think that franchise fans are going to be in for plenty of wonderful surprises and thrills leading up to the release of Episode 7.

Star Wars didn't become a fan favorite overnight; it went through many, many growing pains to become the durable saga that it is today. Here are four reasons I've deduced as to why Star Wars is still standing in a media environment that's dominated by a handful of super-sized media conglomerates. Read on for why the Force has stayed with George Lucas and his pulpy rockets-robots-and-rayguns story for so long. Read on ...