Friday, November 11, 2016

A Retrospective Look at the Nintendo Wii U, Part Two: Double Your Screens, Double Your Fun

The other day, I posted part one of a retrospective about Nintendo's Wii U, the home console that is scheduled to be replaced by the Switch console in March 2017. In the first part, I examined where the Wii U fits in the long history of video game entertain, specifically in the genre of games that provide unique controllers and control schemes to engage players in new ways. In this part, I'll be looking at what I enjoy the most about the Wii U's signature GamePad controller and what it has contributed to the home console gaming experience, as well as what I hope the Switch will continue from the Wii and the Wii U. Read on ...

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Retrospective Look at the Nintendo Wii U, Part One: Video Gaming in (Wii)Motion

Last month, Nintendo finally released details about its next gaming console, the Switch. Previously referred to by the press as the NX, the Nintendo Switch will replace the Wii U as Nintendo's flagship home console when it becomes available for purchase in March.

By now, I've lost track of how many times magazines, newspapers, blogs and fan posts have declared the Wii U to be a failure as a console, both in terms of total sales and entertainment value. Yet as a long-time video game geek, I'm happy to say that the Wii U is the best console that I've ever had in terms of providing satisfying and memorable video game experiences. Sure, Nintendo dropped the ball in terms of marketing the Wii U and it should have provided more games that effectively utilized its main feature--the GamePad controller--but overall I can't complain about it one bit (no pun intended).

As a sequel system to the Wii, Wii U took everything that worked about its immediate predecessor and added to it in order to create a unique console that does things that others can't. Click below to the first part of this retrospective, which traces the strengths of the Wii U back to the era of arcade coin-ops. Part two will look at the best of what the Wii U had to offer with its unique GamePad controller and what will hopefully be transitioned from Wii U to Switch.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Great Moments in Halloween Mask History: The Syngenor

Being a lifetime horror and sci-fi geek, I've lost count of how many times I've seen tie-in merchandise items that are made in the image of characters from popular comic books, movies, TV shows and video games. Yet every now and then, a piece of licensed merchandise becomes more recognizable and enduring than the media property from which it originated. Case in point: the Syngenor mask, a monster mask that has made regular appearances in Halloween costume catalogs since the 1980s and can still be found in some costume shops.

When I was younger, I had seen this mask appear a number of times in catalogs and in geek-centric magazines such as Fangoria and Starlog, so I assumed for years that it was just one of the generic monster masks that mask companies produce that had no connection to anything other than Halloween and other costuming events. Little did I know that the Syngenor was in fact a movie monster ... just not a very popular one. Read on for details about this pop culture oddity, a licensed mask that took on a commercial life of its own outside of its point of cinematic origin.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

A Look at the Batman '66 Comic Book Series

With the upcoming animated film Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders scheduled for release later this month, I thought that I would prepare myself by reading Batman '66, the most recent incarnation of the Adam West and Burt Ward TV series that ran from 1966 to 1968. For those of you who don't know, Batman '66 told all new stories that were set in the Batman universe as it was depicted in the '60s live action Batman TV show, and its publication as a regular comic book series ran from 2013 to 2015. I borrowed a few trade paperbacks from a buddy of mine to see how well this comic book captures the campy humor and outlandish plots from the original TV show, and I'm happy to say that the talent behind the comic book do justice to the source material. Read on ...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Transformers and Micronauts, Together Again

In the current era of shared universes that was popularized by Marvel's blockbuster movies and their spin-off TV shows, it seems that every major media company is finding ways to shove multiple franchises into a single narrative setting to increase their collective profitability. Multiple shared universe movies are currently in development, and a few titles in the toys-to-life genre of video games used shared universes as a way to mix and match characters, vehicles and settings from different franchises. Even comic books are getting into the act, which brings me to the topic of this post: IDW publishing is launching a set of comic book series under the umbrella title of Revolution, a title that brings together several toy lines that are owned by Hasbro into a single shared universe. Stories in the Revolution title will consist of characters from G.I. Joe, Transformers, Action Man, M.A.S.K., Rom, Micronauts, and possibly others.

On the surface, IDW's Revolution title is just another attempt to hop on the shared universe bandwagon (see also the Future Quest comic book series by DC). But for Japanese toy robot enthusiasts like me, Revolution marks the semi-reunion of a toy line that was imported from Japan and repackaged into two separate lines in the U.S. during the '70s and '80s: Micronauts and Transformers. Mego imported the original Microman toy line from Japan and sold it under the name Micronauts between 1976 and 1980. The New Microman toy line ran in Japan from 1981 to 1984, and Hasbro imported some of the Microman "Micro Change" robot figures for use in the Transformers toy line, which also consisted of imported toys from Japan's Diaclone line. As the name "micro" suggests, the Microman toys that appeared in the original Transformers line were those that transformed into smaller objects (e.g., hand guns, tape recorders, cassette tapes, cameras, microscopes, etc.) while the Diaclone toys were those that transformed into larger objects (e.g. cars, trucks, airplanes, etc.).

Above and below: The Micro Change robots as they were originally advertised as part of the Microman toy line.

Since the Revolution title has been launched with the obvious intent to promote Hasbro toys, I doubt that its stories will do anything to reference and utilize the shared origin of Micronauts and Transformers. Nevertheless, if I were in charge, I'd mash together Microman, Diaclone and Transformers with a few other similarly-themed Japanese robot toys lines (such as Machine Robo and Zoids) to produce a series of video games, manga and anime titles along the lines of Super Robot Wars, a Japanese shared universe franchise that began in 1991 and still runs to this day. A nerd can dream ....

A cutaway diagram of one of Mircoman's pre-Transformers Micro Change Robots.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Killer Kids Double Feature Review: Cooties (2014) and Sinister 2 (2015)

The killer kids trope has long served as the go-to narrative device for whenever horror story tellers really want to disturb audiences. (Sure, monsters, ghost and maniacs can be scary, but precious little children? That's inconceivable!) Yet like any other trope, there are ways that it can be used for maximum effect and ways that devoid it of shock. The films I'll be looking at in this review, Cooties and Sinister 2, fall into the latter category but for very different reasons: one could not come up with enough material to support the trope, while the other laid out the trope so explicitly in its dialog that it lost any capacity to surprise or scare. Read on for my complete reviews (with spoilers ahead for those who have not seen the first Sinister movie).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Photograph the Angry Spirits of Rougetsu Island in Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse

I finally did it--I made it to the end of Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the game that was released exclusively in Japan in 2008 for the Nintendo Wii. Just getting my hands on this game alone was a chore (you can read about that effort here), so finally finishing it feels like quite an accomplishment in my video game geek-ified mind. Personal obsessions aside, Fatal Frame 4 (or FF4) is an impressive game in its own right and a great addition to the Fatal Frame series. Read on for my complete review.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Evolution of a Cult Classic: Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead

As a horror film buff, I've seen plenty of things over the years. I've watched plenty of timeless classics, competently made yet forgettable films, and godawful turkeys. I've heard other fans talk about various horror film titles from all sorts of critical perspectives. Yet of these many experiences, one that fascinates me more than others is to watch a film grow from being an obscurity into a cult classic. Such is the case of the film I'll be talking about in this post: Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead, which was initially released in Italy in 1980 and arrived in the United States in 1983.

Even though I just picked up a region-free copy of Arrow Video's deluxe Blu-ray release of COTLD, I first learned about this movie back in 1985 under one of its alternate titles, The Gates of Hell. While the film itself has mostly remained the same since it first appeared, perspectives about it have undergone significant changes between the '80s and now. Read on for my retrospective of this Fulci fright flick, as well as some thoughts as to how such low-budget films like this one keep popping up in the horror film fan community when so many popular mainstream films fall into obscurity in the years after their theatrical release.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Rewriting the Past to Rewrite the Future, Anime Style: A Review of Erased

I don't consider myself to be a die-hard anime fan, but I understand anime enough to know--and appreciate--that it can be the go-to medium for stories that won't be found in U.S. movies and television. Case in point: Erased, a 12 episode sci-fi/mystery anime series that was released earlier this year and can currently be watched on Crunchyroll.

Erased begins in 2006 and it centers on the character of Satoru Fujinuma. A former manga artist in his late 20s, Satoru has a unique ability that he calls "Revival": an ability that allows him to relive small moments in time (a few minutes at most) to prevent fatal incidents from happening. After he finds his mother stabbed to death in his apartment and the police identify him as the prime suspect, Satoru experiences a Revival that sends him all the way back to 1988, when he was still in elementary school. During that year, three of his classmates were kidnapped and murdered, so Satoru becomes convinced that if can keep his classmates alive in 1988 he can prevent his mother's murder in 2006. But how does one prevent a series of murders if the identity of the killer is still unknown?

Even though it uses the outlandish sci-fi concept of time travel as the foundation for its plot, Erased is a very poignant and personal story. The kind of changes that Satoru seeks to make in time are not momentous and will go unnoticed by most of the people around him, yet he remains resolute in his determination to save the lives of people that he lost in his original timeline. As such, Erased is not so much a sci-fi thriller as it is a slice of life drama that takes place in small town Japan during the late '80s (albeit through the eyes of a child who has the knowledge and experience of an adult from the future). The topic of child abuse plays a dominant role, and it provides many heartbreaking moments as the story progresses. Furthermore, changing the past to change the future is never easy for Satoru, since the changes he sets in motion provide new outcomes that Satoru doesn't anticipate. Even in Erased, no good deed goes unpunished.

The once and future Revivalist: Satoru as a child (left) and as an adult (right).

Some sci-fi fans might be bothered by the series' time travel logic, while some mystery fans might be disappointed in how this particular mystery is solved (and not solved, so to speak). But what makes Erased worthwhile is that is uses plot conventions from sci-fi and murder mysteries to tell a moving parable about the values of compassion and devotion when pushing back against cruelty. Many heroes in the sci-fi genre have traveled through time to save the world, but Erased emphasizes that the most heroic deed of all is to simply be there for others who have no one else.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Party Like it's 1966: Classic Camp Batman and Robin are Coming to Home Video in Return of the Caped Crusaders

Adam West and Burt Ward fans, rejoice: West and Ward--along with Julie Newmar--will be reprising their respective roles as Batman, Robin and Catwoman in the upcoming animated movie, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders animated movie. This movie will be released digitally on October 11 and on Blu-ray and DVD on November 1.

Many of DC's theatrical and home video releases from this year, which include Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, and an animated adaptation of Batman: The Killing Joke, have tilted toward darker, more violent fare. In contrast, Return of the Caped Crusaders goes back to the lighter, campier mood of the live-action Batman series from 1966, which is a breath of fresh air for superhero fans who appreciate the more absurd and outlandish aspects of the fantasy worlds that these characters occupy.

Not much is known about the plot of this movie, other than that it features the voice talents of three original '66 Batman cast members and will involve Batman and Robin combating a nefarious criminal campaign by Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman. I'm glad to see that this series is still getting plenty of love from the fan community. With the show's recent arrival on digital home video, '66 Batman has also been popping up in comic books, video games and high-quality merchandise. In fact, the Japanese toy company Revoltech is currently taking pre-orders for a detailed, scale-accurate replica of the '66 Batmobile that comes with two sets of Batman and Robin figures (one set standing, one set sitting).

Revoltech's '66 Batmobile replica.

Based on the previews I’ve seen so far, the only thing that doesn’t impress me is the movie's animation. While the character designs are obviously based on the actors and their costumes as they appeared in the original show, the overall quality feels underwhelming and lacks the brilliant color schemes that defined the show's comic book style. If I had the resources of Warner Bros. at my disposal, I'd ensure that this movie's animation matches the look and feel of the animation used in the '66 Batman opening credits (or, at the very least, that it matches the look and feel of the animation style of Batman: The Brave and The Bold). Furthermore, while I'm looking forward to hearing Newmar provide the voice of Catwoman again, it'd be cool to see members of Batman's rogues’ gallery that were specific to the '66 show appear in the movie. If it were up to me, there'd at least be one '66 Batman story involving a campified version of Professor Pyg teaming up with the villain Egghead in a pun-filled fight with the Dynamic Duo. Holy ham omelet, Batman!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Takara Tomy has Rebooted the Diaclone Robot Toy Line

I can't speak for what kids are collecting these days, but adult collectors of Japanese robot toys must be having the time of their lives. The higher-end Transformers collectibles of recent years have not only spawned successful lines of third party items but they also inspired revivals of other Japanese robot toy lines from the '80s, lines such as Machine Robo and Voltron. The latest reboot is Takara Tomy's Diaclone toy line, the line that produced many of the toys that Hasbro would later re-brand as Transformers toys in the United States. Click below for more information and pictures of the cool new releases from this long-dormant line of robot toys.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Netflix's Stranger Things Celebrates the Stranger Things from the '80s

It may be 2016, but the '80s are still alive and well over at Netflix.

Netflix's latest popular series, Stranger Things, is an eight episode sci-fi thriller that is set in the mid-80s and pays tribute to many of the sci-fi thrillers of the '80s. Fans will immediately recognize similarities in the series' aesthetics, plot devices and themes to the popular works of John Carpenter, Stephen King and Steven Spielberg from that era, although Stranger Things manages to put its own compelling spin on them so that it becomes more than just a derivative knock off of superior movies and TV shows from another decade.

One aspect of Stranger Things that will stand out to people like me who grew up during the '80s is a set of geeky, Dungeons and Dragons-playing preteen characters spend the series looking for their best friend, who has been abducted by a strange, plant-like creature. I've noticed that critics and viewers specifically mention '80s movies such as E.T. and Goonies whenever they discuss this particular subplot and how it ties to the rest of the series as a whole. While this might not seem like a big deal in this day and age, with Hollywood cranking out big-budget movies based on popular young adult novels and entire cable channels devoted to pre-teen level programming, but Spielberg and his contemporaries such as Jim Henson and George Lucas inspired a trend of kid-friendly fantasy and sci-fi movies during the '80s. 

What set these films apart from other kid films from eras before or after is that they incorporated what was then considered to be cutting-edge special effects to provide a certain level of amazement and visual grandeur. In my experience, the only titles that successfully recapture the kid-level wonder of '80s cinema are Stranger Things and the 2006 3D CGI movie Monster House. (J.J. Abrams tried to recapture this mood as well in Super 8, but his approach felt like it prioritized imitation over inspiration.)

To give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, click below to see a selection of movie posters that I've assembled of films from the '80s (and one or two from the '90s) that intended to draw kids to the box office by providing visual spectacles that were made just for them. Some of these films are still remembered, while others have gone on to become cult classics or to be largely forgotten; regardless, these films represent a time when kids were a primary audience for special effect-fueled flights of fancy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Blast Away Hordes of Neon-Lit Robot Invaders in Vektor Wars

Even though video game graphics inch closer and closer to flawless photorealism, game developers still produce titles that faithfully follow the look and feel of 8-bit and 16-bit games from this medium's early years (e.g., Retro City Rampage, the Bit.Trip series, etc.). While I'm glad to see that the industry and its fans still appreciate older forms of video gaming, I've noticed one particular style is usually missing from most retro-themed game titles: early vector graphics, the kind that were seen in classic games from the early '80s such as Battlezone and Tempest and on the short-lived home console Vectrex. These were the first attempts by video game programmers to expand into polygon graphics, with items such as vehicles, buildings and other shapes depicted in bright, neon-colored lines against a black backdrop.

Polygon-based graphics became much more detailed in the years since, but the original minimalist vector style had a particular charm to it that other kinds of video games lack. Thankfully, the game developers at Super Icon haven't forgotten about early vector graphics and they made it the basis for Vektor Wars, a deceptively simple first-person shooter (FPS) that's available for download on Steam and as an eShop title for Wii U. Read on for my complete review.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Kenner Xenomorphs Invade NECA's Alien Action Figure Line

Never underestimate the power of nostalgia, especially among horror toy collectors.

For the 10th wave in its 7-inch Alien figure line, NECA is releasing three figures based on designs that originally appeared in Kenner's Aliens toy line during the '90s. The three designs are the Queen Facehugger, the Gorilla Alien, and the Mantis Alien. Click below to read more about these designs and how NECA has once again taken something old and (for the most part) make it feel brand new.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Blair Witch Project is Getting a Second Sequel--Will it Work This Time?

Of the many, many news items that came out of this year's San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), the one that really got my attention was the preview for Blair Witch, the upcoming sequel to the 1999 "found footage" hit The Blair Witch Project. This sequel, which was directed by Adam Wingard, is slated for release in September; up until now, this sequel has flown under the horror fan radar by going under an alternate title, The Woods.

Even though it will be the third film in the franchise, Blair Witch will be a direct sequel to the first movie because of the main character's connection to a major character in the first film. The characters and events of the second film, Book of Shadows (2000), won't be involved in Blair Witch at all. Yet based on what I've seen and read about this sequel so far, it seems like it will follow the same plot beats as the first film: people go into the woods, people become trapped in the woods, people vanish in the woods. Wingard may do a great job in directing this movie, but is this the kind of story that will succeed in moving forward from what the first film started?

This post takes a look at the original Blair Witch Project, what sets it apart from other horror films even to this day, and why making a sequel to it is much harder than making a sequel for other horror films. Read on ...

Monday, July 25, 2016

Attention 3D Film Buffs: September Storm Movie Restoration Kickstarter Campaign

As a 3D film fan, I greatly admire the work of the 3D Film Archive. While the major movie studios push out both theatrical releases and Blu-rays of films that are shot on 2D and then converted into 3D during post-production, the 3D Film Archive has been involved in restorations of vintage films that were shot in 3D (both classic and obscure) in order to preserve their place in American film history. Previous Blu-ray titles that the 3D Film Archive assisted in releasing include Dragonfly Squadron (1954), Gog (1954), Kiss Me Kate (1953), Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) and 3D Rarities, a compilation of 3D film shorts that span from 1922 to 1962.

3D Film Archive's latest restoration effort utilizes a Kickstarter campaign to restore September Storm (1960). Not only was Storm the only American feature-length 3D movie made between Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Bubble (1966) but it was also one of the few that was produced in Stereo-Vision, a short-lived process which combined the widescreen presentation format with 3D.

According to the Kickstarter page, "SEPTEMBER STORM hasn't been seen in its intended 3-D and widescreen format since its initial theatrical release in 1960, and the surviving film elements are deteriorating. If a digital restoration of the stereoscopic anamorphic version isn't done soon, it is at risk of being lost forever. ... The 3D Film Archive has already obtained, for a limited time, the rights to restore and distribute SEPTEMBER STORM, but the hard work is still ahead of us. Both the left eye and right eye film elements will need to be digitally scanned, frame by frame. We will need to assess the level of damage to these existing elements, and determine how to best fix the images. This will require a stereoscopic re-alignment pass, left and right color restoration and matching, and clean-up of scratches and other damages to the film surface. ... (T)he 3D Film Archive already has a great track record from its previous restoration projects, and by teaming up with 3D SPACE and maintaining this work "in house" costs will be kept at a manageable level. We are confident that we will be able to produce both a 3D blu-ray master and a digital cinema package (DCP) that will look fantastic."

Click here for more details and to make a donation to preserve another piece of 3D history from an era where many 3D films have already been lost. This Kickstarter campaign is scheduled to end on August 17th, so make your donation today!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Look at Hallmark's Alien Queen Christmas Ornament

Ovipositor, eggs, and cocooned victims not included.

With this year marking the 30th anniversary of Aliens, it only makes sense for Hallmark to release an ornament based on that movie's main monster: the Alien Queen. Read on for my review and more photos of this Aliens collectible.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Greetings from Roswell, New Mexico!

I have no idea what the state of UFO tourism is right now--especially since The X-Files stopped being the cultural phenomenon that it used to be back in the '90s--but Roswell, NM is still open for business. A friend of mine recently made a trip to this flying saucer mecca, and he's letting me post some of the pictures he took (as well as the postcard) of the UFO Museum in Roswell. Click below to see some pictures of this Atomic Age landmark, as well as photos from another UFO display in Erie, PA.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Coming Soon: Distinctive Dummies' Incredible Melting Man Retro Mego Style Figure

In today's world of monster toy collectibles, it seems like nothing is too obscure for the action figure treatment.

Distinctive Dummies (DD for short) has been releasing 8-inch Mego-style action figures for years now, focusing on characters from horror films between the silent era and the 1980s. I've never bought any of DD's products but from what I've seen, they do a limited run of a set of figures before moving on to do another limited run of a new set of figures, and so on. The latest film freak DD has added to its collectibles roster is the titular character from The Incredible Melting Man, a z-grade creature feature from 1977. This figure is part of DD's new "Science Gone Wrong!" set, which will also include figures based on characters from The Manster (1959), Monster on the Campus (1958) and The Wasp Woman (1959).

The only thing that anyone can honestly recommend about the Melting Man movie are the makeup effects that were done be Rick Baker, and I suspect that his impressive work is what keeps the film going in home video circulation to this day. Even the stuff Baker was forced to do on the cheap still holds up, and it obviously paved the way for the parade of splatter-happy gore fests that would follow during the 1980s (e.g., Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead, Society, etc.). However, licensed Melting Man merchandise has been in short supply over the years. Outside of DD's latest figure, that only other Melting Man collectibles I've seen are a resin portrait bust and a garage model kit. It's a shame that a major toy company hasn't pick up the Melting Man license yet: I could imagine one making a figure that comes with packs of red slime to put in the figure's torso, so kids could press a button to watch the "melting" effect happen before their eyes over and over again.

DD's Melting Man figure has a Mego-style body type and cloth suit. The head and hand sculpts look fairly accurate, although the blood and other bodily discharge on the suit looks like it has been painted on with a brush. Then again, the Mego figure template was never known to capture precise details (heck, even Mego's Thing figure from the Fantastic Four used a cloth suit for his rocky orange body), so monster toy collectors who have a preference for Mego probably won't be disappointed.

I'm not sure where collectors can pre-order their Melting Man figure, since the only place I know of that sells them, Monsters in Motion, has already sold out its supply. On the other hand, if you want something more screen accurate, you can also buy Melting Man candles--or "Melting Mandles"--by Stexe on Etsy. Not only are these replicas cheaper than DD's figure, but they actually melt.

The Incredible Melting Man + Sixteen Candles = Melting Mandles.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Kenner Strikes Again: Super 7's Giant Aliens Figure

To paraphrase an old adage, some toys never die ... they just get re-released with new coloring, sculpts and packaging.

Case in point: Kenner's classic 18-inch Alien figure from 1979. Even though it didn't sell well when it was originally released as part of Kenner's poorly planned Alien toy line, it has gone on to have an impressive after-shelf-life. It became a prized item among toy collectors, and some companies in recent years have re-released the original sculpt with various degrees of changes (larger sizes, all silver coloring, all gold coloring, etc.). Now, Super 7 plans to re-release this figure yet again, but this time with sculpt changes to match the Xenomorph's appearance from the first sequel Aliens.

From what I've been able to gather from the prototype pics that I found around the 'net, Super 7's new Xenmorph figure will be ready for this month's San Diego Comic Con (SDCC). The figure will come with exclusive SDCC prototype packaging, so I'm assuming that this figure will be available after SDCC but with a different color scheme and in a different kind of packaging. In keeping with the Xenomorph changes in Aliens, this version of the figure will not feature a removable dome or a skull-like face but it will retain the original design's points of articulation and spring-loaded jaw. Unfortunately, this collectible doesn’t come cheap: it will sell at SDCC for almost $200.

It looks like Super 7 has had a pretty good run with resurrecting Kenner's '70s era Alien merchandise, and this new Xenomorph figure marks the second item in this series to feature the Aliens name. The first item was a three-piece action figure set that included a 3 and 3/4th-inch Ripley figure, an Alien Queen, and a scale-accurate Power Loader. Whether Super 7 will release more Kenner-style figures based on Aliens (or any other Alien sequel or prequel) remains to be seen.

Super 7's three-piece Aliens figure set.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Amity 6 to Base: A Jaws Ride History Book Review

In this third and last post of my unofficial "Jaws in June" series, I'll be reviewing Amity 6 to Base: A Jaws Ride History (a.k.a. The Sharks are Not Working) by Mick Jones. This is the only book to date that's completely devoted to the theme park side of the Jaws franchise--namely, the Jaws Ride in the Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Florida that recently closed in 2012. Read on for my complete review.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Jaws 3--and Jaws 3D--Finally Arrive on Blu-Ray

It took 33 years, but it finally has happened. Thanks to high-definition video technology, Jaws 3 can at last be seen in the way it was originally meant to be seen, courtesy of Universal's recent release of the sequel on Blu-ray. Click below to read my full review.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Available Now: Shark City Ozark's Jaws: The Revenge Maquette

This week marks Universal's release of the three Jaws sequels (Jaws 2, Jaws 3D and Jaws: The Revenge) on Blu-ray, meaning that die-hard sharksploitation fans can finally have a complete set of mechanical shark flicks--not CGI shark flicks--in high definition. Yet with most things Jaws-related, Universal is still late to its own party because Shark City Ozark started accepting pre-orders last March for latest and last entry in its "Ultimate Bruce" series: a 25-inch long maquette of the mechanical shark used in Revenge.

As with the previous releases in this series, SCO's replica of the Revenge shark captures just about every detail of the fake fish used for the fourth and last Jaws movie. For those of you who know the history of this particular movie prop, the SCO maquette also includes details of when it wound up on display at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida, complete with an unstitched belly and rusting blue steel display stand. Best of all, if you order the complete Ultimate Bruce set, SCO will throw in the "Baby Bruce" shark from Jaws 3D at no additional cost. Click here to place your order today!

The mechanical shark from Jaws: The Revenge on display in Florida (above)
and its replica by Shark City Ozark (below). Note the blue display stand for both.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Adventures in Portable 3D Entertainment, Continued: Finding the Right 3D Blu-ray Ripper Software

Last month, I posted an article about how I was able to convert my Kindle Fire into a portable viewer of 3D video content. At that point, I could watch side-by-side (SBS) 3D content from YouTube but I had yet to figure out how I could convert my collection of 3D Blu-rays into SBS 3D files that I could play back on the Fire. What I found out was that while such a goal is possible, it was trickier to accomplish than I thought it would be. Read on ...

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Get Your 8-Bit Kaiju on in Smashy City

You know the old saying: If at first you do succeed, shamelessly exploit it until it stops making money.

I previously reviewed a video game called Smashy Road, a fun experience in 8-bit car racing chaos for smart phones and tablets. Now, just a few weeks later, I found another game that's extremely similar to the look and feel of Smashy Road: Smashy City by Ace Viral. Read on for my complete review.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

For (Belated) Star Wars Day: The Emperor's Throne Room (in Lego Form) from Kenner's Star Wars Micro Collection Line (UPDATED)

It's no secret that Lego bricks have become the go-to medium for many geeks who want to build detailed replicas of characters, vehicles and environments from their favorite fantasy and sci-fi franchises. However, few geeks use Lego to build replicas of franchise toys that were planned by toy companies but never made it past the prototype stage.

On the other hand, there's BaronSat (a.k.a. Eric Duron), who designs Lego kits for franchises that are both licensed and not licensed by Lego. For Star Wars, he has already provided instructions for Lego-scale replicas of toys that were made by Kenner during the original trilogy, toys such as the Imperial Troop Transporter, the Imperial Attack Base, and the Death Star World sets from Kenner's short-lived Micro Collection line. His latest kit is based on the unreleased part of the Death Star World: the Emperor's Throne Room from Return of the Jedi.

The story behind this toy is that after Kenner released its initial wave of Micro Collection sets and vehicles in 1982, it had several prototypes ready for the next wave. Some of those prototypes were expansions of the sets from the first wave, while others were based on new characters and locations from the upcoming Return of the Jedi sequel. The Emperor's Throne Room was bit of both: It was based on a specific location from Jedi, but it was designed to connect to the rest of the Death Star set, which was based on locations and characters from A New Hope. Unfortunately, because the Micro Collection line didn't sell very well, it was discontinued before any of the new sets and vehicles were released.

A photo of Kenner's prototype of the Emperor's Throne Room.

Thankfully, BaronSat is making the Emperor's Throne Room available for Kenner Star Wars toy completists, even though Kenner itself couldn't. It's an impressive looking set by itself and if you are willing to spend the money needed for the instructions and necessary parts, you can finally have the complete three-part Death Star World set that Kenner originally planned to release.

Click here to order a copy of building instructions for the Emperor's Throne Room. Click below to see a photo gallery of this amazing replica of a Star Wars Micro Collection set that never was.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Coming in October 2016: The Art Of Atari by Robert V. Conte and Tim Lapetino

As I've said before on this blog, I consider myself to be very fortunate to have lived through the early years of video games. I remember a time when the distribution cycle of a video game title would begin in coin-op arcades and continue through ports to PCs and home consoles. Now, the Internet, PCs, home consoles and portable media devices rule most of the video game world, while the few surviving coin-op arcades feature titles that will (probably) never appear in any other medium. The same is true about how the video games appear: Most current games are so beautifully designed that they largely sell themselves through clips of game play footage. Yet when video games had nothing but blocky graphics and clunky sounds to offer, they needed a little extra help to convince people to play them.

In honor of the artwork produced during early years of video game advertising, Dynamite Entertainment is publishing The Art of Atari by Robert V. Conte and Tim Lapetino. According to the book's official site, “The Art of Atari is the first official collection of such artwork. Sourced from private collections worldwide, this book spans over 40 years of the company’s unique illustrations used in packaging, advertisements, catalogs, and more. ... (The book) includes a comprehensive retrospective, collecting game production and concept artwork, photos, and marketing art, with insight from key people involved in Atari’s rich history, and behind-the-scenes details on how dozens of games featured within were conceived, illustrated, approved (or rejected), and brought to life!”

In terms of both form and function, the cover art of early home console video games bears many similarities to the cover art of low-budget VHS releases during the early years of home video rentals. Many of the box covers for the videos distributed by companies such as Wizard Video and Paragon Video Productions were much more interesting than the films themselves, in order to entice the curiosity of potential viewers; likewise, the cover art of Atari 2600 games stirred the imaginations of players in ways that the primitive graphics and game play couldn't manage on their own. For example, an astronaut never appeared during the game in Super Breakout, armored knights never arrived in Warlords, and the dragon in Adventure looked more like a duck than the serpentine creature that appears on the cover. Yet that was OK--all the art had to do was put gamers in the right frame to project details into the games that the technology at that time couldn't provide.

The cover art for the Adventure and Warlords games* for the Atari 2600 home console.
(*Note: The cover art may not accurately depict the actual game content.)

The Art of Atari is scheduled for release this October. Judging from the preview pages that have already been released, this book will be a treat for classic video game aficionados of all ages.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Is a Reboot of The Fly Actually Happening?

It's amazing what you can find when you're just buzzing around the Internet.

I'm currently working on a review of Curse of the Fly for a book called Unsung Horrors, which is being assembled by the same people who published 70s Monster Memories. I've been assembling my thoughts about the movie and looking around the web (no pun intended) to see if I can find any little-known factoids about the second sequel to the original The Fly. During my searches, I found a graphic arts company called Stormbrush, which is owned and operated by illustrator Calvin Chua, which has a design page titled "Project Fly Reboot".

Based on the information and pictures provided on the page, I'm guessing that this artwork is for a proposed remake/reboot of David Cronenberg's The Fly, which itself was a remake. The page includes some interesting designs, such as what the new telepod and teleportation process would be like, but the best part is the artwork for the new man-fly monster. As you can see below, plenty of thought has gone into the seven-stage mutation process:

According to the page, the new monster will "use the basic structure and poses of an insect, but with distorted and infected flesh, cross(ed) over with insect patterns, hairs and leg parts. The middle legs (are) only revealed at the end of the transformation, which affects the pose and walk cycle, making it completely non-human." I think Stormbrush's man-fly monster design is delightfully repulsive and vastly more impressive than the monsters seen in IDW's misguided The Fly: Outbreak comic book miniseries.

The reboot images are almost a year old and the site doesn't confirm if this project really has wings (pun fully intended). However, if Stormbrush's designs are any indication, this revisit to the world of grotesque human-insect hybrids could be worth the wait.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Machine Robo Returns with Revenge of Cronos Action Figures

If you're a transforming robot toy fan who thinks that the Machine Robo line gets overlooked way too often, you're in luck. Action Toys is taking pre-orders for the first two action figures it is producing for its new Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos line.

As the toy line's name suggests, the new designs bring these figures closer to how they appeared in the Revenge of Cronos anime series. The first two figures are re-designs of MR-01 Bike Robo (a.k.a. "Cy-Kill", as it was renamed for Tonka's Gobots line) and MR-17 Drill Robo (a.k.a. "Screw Head"). The second two figures will be re-designs of MR-02 Battle Robo (a.k.a. "Tank") and MR-25 Eagle Robo (a.k.a. "Leader-1").

Like the original Machine Robo MR-600 series line in the '80s, each figure features die-cast metal parts. However, even though the new figures are slightly larger than their original counterparts--measuring between 4.5" to 5" in height--the price is significantly higher at $45.99 per figure. Still, with the amount of detail and points of articulation provided for each figure, I can see why they cost as much as they do. Click below to see more pictures of these impressive new Machine Robo figures.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Play with the DC Universe in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

None of the recent hype for Batman vs. Superman made me want to go to the movie theater, but it did convince me to finally pick up a copy of TT Games' Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham video game for the Wii U. What can I say? I was in the mood for some superhero fun, and Lego Batman 3 is vastly more fun than the irritable, bloated and grumpy BvS.

As the number in the title suggests, Lego Batman 3 follows two previous games in the series. The first game was strictly a stand-alone Lego Batman game, and the second game introduced Lego Superman during the game and the rest of the Lego Justice League in its conclusion. This third entry begins with Batman and the Justice League, and the game expands from there to all sorts of characters and locations within the DC universe. So how does the third entry fare as a video game? In a nutshell, Lego Batman 3 has both too much--and not enough--Batman. Read on for my complete review.

Monday, April 18, 2016

FOUND: The (Fake) Loch Ness Monster

The search for the Loch Ness Monster continues ... and they really found something this time!

A Norwegian company named Kongsberg Maritime recently deployed a marine drone on a two-week mission to examine and map the bottom of Scotland's Loch Ness. The drone hasn't found anything to prove the existence of the legendary Loch Ness Monster, but it did find a 30-foot version of the monster that was built for The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes movie in 1970. The fake monster sank into Loch Ness during shooting and no one knew where it finally rested until now.

The monster prop from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, before it sank under the waters of Loch Ness.

While this news may disappoint some cryptozoology buffs, I think this is hilarious. It's like launching an intensive expedition to search for the Holy Grail but only finding the Holy Grail prop that was used in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. How meta can you get?

In a perfect world, someone would salvage the fake Nessie, refurbish it, and either put in on display in a museum somewhere of find a way to work it into Busch Gardens' Loch Ness Monster roller coaster in Williamsburg, VA. Such treatment would befit the only monster that was ever found in Loch Ness.

You fools! That's not Nessie--you found her stunt double!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Coming in June: The Jaws Sequels on Blu-ray

At last, Universal does something right with the Jaws franchise (sort of).

This June, the three Jaws sequels--Jaws 2, Jaws 3 and Jaws: The Revenge--will be released on Blu-ray. These sequels arrive four years after the first film received a deluxe Blu-ray treatment in 2012. I've heard from friends over the years that the Jaws sequels have been available as high-definition digital rentals, so this will mark the first time that the HD versions of the sequels will be available as hard copies.

Unfortunately, even though these sequels will look great on HD televisions, the Blu-rays will be slim on extras. As far as I can tell, the only new extra we'll be getting out of these sequels is a 3D Blu-ray version of Jaws 3--which is great news for 3D aficionados like me but not so great for Jaws fans who could care less about 3D. The Jaws 2 Blu-ray will have the same extras as the 2001 DVD release, and Jaws: The Revenge won't have anything extra but the theatrical trailer. I don't even know which ending will be included on the Revenge Blu-ray: the original mechanical-shark-impaled-on-a-boat-bow ending or the alternative toy-shark-in-bathtub-suddenly-exploding ending.

So, for Jaws completists who are hoping for new outtakes, deleted scenes, stills, production features and/or commentary tracks for the sequels, forget about it. (Fun trivia fact: Both Jaws 3 and Revenge had half-hour specials that aired on primetime TV to promote them, but neither of them will be included on the Blu-ray releases.) Jaws 2 fans can always pick up Jaws 2: The Making of the Hollywood Sequel book by Louis R. Pisano and Michael A. Smith to go with their Blu-ray. As for me, I plan on picking up Jaws 3 and Bait so I can finally have a double feature night with 3D monster sharks.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

How to Watch 3D Videos on a Kindle Fire

Ever since I learned of its existence, I've done everything that I can afford to do to partake in 3D entertainment. I've picked up anaglyph 3D books, comics and DVDs; I purchased the Virtual FX 3D converter for my cathode ray tube (CRT) TV set so I could watch field sequential 3D DVDs; and I bought two 3D-capable flat screen TVs (one with active glasses, the other passive) so I could watch 3D Blu-rays and access 3D rentals from on demand services such as 3DGO. With such an obsessive pattern of behavior in place, it was only a matter of time before I found a way to watch 3D content on my Kindle Fire. After weeks of searching, that's exactly what I did through the OWL Stereoscopic Viewer, a lightweight and affordable tool that turned my Kindle Fire into a portable 3D video player. Read on ...