Monday, August 30, 2010

Retro View: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe


It's been a while since one I wrote one of these and with its 70th anniversary this year let's take a look back at the final entry in the original space hero trilogy.

As usual the Earth is facing a new threat-a "purple death" that leaves a purple mark on its victim and is causing mass hysteria. While trying to find the cause of this outbreak, Flash Gordon (Larry "Buster" Crabbe) and Dr. Zarkov discover a ship from the planet Mongo nearby discharging particles into the atmosphere. A quick trip to Mongo and sure enough they discover its their old arch nemesis Ming (Charles Middleton) is behind the new threat. And for the next 12 chapters Flash and company attempt to stop the "purple death" with an antidote found in the frozen wasteland of Frigia, stop Ming's fiery projectiles, rescue Dale Arden (Carol Hughes) from marriage to Ming, navigate the "land of the dead" filled with Rock Men and big lizards and save the universe. In short the same as always.

I admit I like these old serials. The best ones are fun throwbacks to an era of movie making no longer in existence where you had good guys and bad guys, not a bunch of heroes with emo problems (yes you Spider-Man and Batman.) That being said Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is probably the weakest of the three serials. Part of it is probably because distributor Universal didn't plan on making a third one but instead a sequel to the previous year's Buck Rogers, which also starred Crabbe but when that one failed to perform up to the first two Flash Gordon epics, the studio slapped this one together. And it shows as it basically repeats elements from the first two-an unknown threat from space, Ming's sudden lust for Dale, the Rock Men in place of the Clay People from Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, even some of the same footage of rockets landing and taking off and the poor lizards with false scales glued on. Granted this one does expand and show some of the locations from Alex Raymond's original strips-notably the frozen Frigia and the kingdom of Aboria and there are the standard fist fights and cliffhangers but it's been done before and better. Crabbe does his best but even he later admitted it was his least favorite while the best performance comes from Middleton whose Ming still commands attention-even though nothing compares to his turn in the later chapters of Trip to Mars where he really gets unleashed.

And yes this one does have the intros that go up the screen that George Lucas borrowed for Star Wars. So while the first two are full four-star serials, this one gets **1/2. (I'll offer up my thoughts on the other two soon.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

James Purefoy on John Carter (Plus More Updated Reviews)


Following my rant about Solomon Kane, we know have some news from the man himself. Attending Empire's Movie Con III to hype the upcoming Ironclad James Purefoy talked briefly about John Carter of Mars to the crowd and a the video clip has popped up online and at http://www.barsoomia.org/ . He admits that he can't say much, since most of his work was green screen but does confirm that it is the opening of a hoped for trilogy and then (CYNICISM ALERT!) gushes more than a BP pipeline over "genius" Andrew Stanton. You can watch the gushing and some good natured humor with Purefoy and Ironclad costar Jason Flemyng at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaM8au_NgeM.

Finally some more updated Barsoom reviews, this time Thuvia, Maid of Mars http://jcomreader.blogspot.com/2009/06/thuvia-maid-of-mars-okay-so-im-starting.html and The Chessmen of Mars http://jcomreader.blogspot.com/2009/07/chessmen-of-mars-book-5.html

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Warlord and Gulliver of Mars Comic News


Again I can't come up with an opening, so here's the news bits.

First up the website Comicvine has an interview with writer Arvid Nelson about the upcoming Warlord of Mars series from Dynamite http://www.comicvine.com/news/interview-arvid-nelson-talks-about-warlord-of-mars/141948/. He talks about his approach to the series and promises it will be faithful to the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and that the series will appeal to superhero fans as well. The site also has the cover for issue 2 by Joe Jusko that is shown above.

Next up and I don't know how I missed this but it looks like Lt. Gulliver Jones is also getting the comic book treatment. An upcoming series called Gulliver of Mars: Beyond the War of the Worlds written by Mark Ellis with art by Preston Asevedo is previewed here http://www.comicrelated.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=5234. The series will combine Edwin Arnold's character with the setting of HG Wells' Martian classic. No word on when the series will be hitting comic stores but you can see some of the artwork for it at the site above.

Finally in a non-comic related piece, the site Den of Geek has a piece looking at Flash Gordon in both the serials and the campy 1980 movie. Most of it is a review of the 30th anniversary Blu-Ray disc of the movie but it is an interesting read for Flash fans at http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/572089/looking_back_at_mike_hodges_flash_gordon.html

Monday, August 23, 2010

Where is Solomon Kane? (Rant Time!)


It's been a while since I ranted and raved, so if you don't want to subject your nerves to such a strain...well I warned you.

For a good year the one film I've been waiting for has been Solomon Kane, director Michael J. Bassett's take on Robert E. Howard's Puritan swordsman that stars James Purefoy as Kane. The film has been teased with clips, trailers and posters. It also has an 83 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/solomon_kane/ from critics who have seen it. Mostly British critics. Yep here's the ranting part.

The film has already been released in Europe back in the spring and early summer and is even available on DVD and Blu-Ray in several countries (some have even been hawking copies on Amazon which is fine, if you have a region free player) and was just released south of the border in Mexico on August 13 with more release dates in South America (for those interested director Bassett has the dates here on his own blog http://michaeljbassett.wordpress.com/.) Yet for us in North America the only way it seems to see the film is either have one of those region free players and hope that the disc works or downloading it off some torrent site and hoping it isn't going to land you in court.

My question is why? Why is this film stuck in some sort of release limbo here in the States, yet utter junk like Vampires Suck, the latest Jennifer Aniston fluff or The Last Airbender get major releases. In some ways I can understand why-Solomon Kane isn't a well known character among most moviegoers, the lack of a big name star-no offense to Mr. Purefoy and his fans, he's a good actor but not a big sell like Leonardo DiCaprio or Will Smith in Hollywood's eyes-and the type of movie it is-an R rated sword and sorcery film. That type was big in the 1980s following Conan the Barbarian but today fantasy is confined to Harry Potter and the kids and studios can't seem to look beyond that. But at the same time Hollywood pours tons of money into utter dreck while a film that attempts to be different is stuck in limbo. Yet R-rated action flicks can find audiences-look at The Expendables, a throwback to the 1980s action flick that has been number one for two weeks in a row. Also you have to wonder-no studio will take a chance on an unknown character like Kane but will take a chance on Scott Pilgrim. Considering its poor box-office you have to wonder why was that one a property worth taking a risk with while Kane languishes. I hope Solomon Kane shows up at some point, maybe after the Conan reboot next year or before that. It's just a shame that a film like this gets the short end of the stick. Think about that next time you see Jennifer Aniston or Michael Cera on a marquee.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Empire/ERB/Weird Worlds News


Not much to say, but that's okay. So I'll jump in.

First up, for those collectors out there Hasbro is helping celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back by releasing the Vintage Collection, a new batch of action figures using the original packaging that Kenner used. From a nostalgic point of view it brings back many memories of those figures and how cool the packaging was. And for another nostalgic piece, here's a TV commercial promoting the Darth Vader carrying case http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX9TFQlc7UQ. How many of you didn't have this?

Next up and again thanks to Mike for the info, the website io9 has posted a piece on the influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs at http://io9.com/5616081/how-edgar-rice-burroughs-became-one-of-the-twentieth-centurys-biggest-scifi-authors. It's an interesting read and they also announce they will be reviewing the complete 11 books Barsoom series. I will link to those when they come up as well as be revamping my own previous reviews in the upcoming weeks so new reviews might be slim. UPDATE Aug. 21: Well here's the first three updated reviews for A Princess of Mars http://jcomreader.blogspot.com/2009/08/princess-of-mars-or-john-carter-of-mars.html; The Gods of Mars http://jcomreader.blogspot.com/2009/08/gods-of-mars-john-carter-of-mars-book-2.html; and The Warlord of Mars http://jcomreader.blogspot.com/2009/08/warlord-of-mars-john-carter-of-mars.html. I'll follow up the remaining books in a few days.

Finally Dark Horse has posted up their own page for the upcoming John Carter of Mars: Weird Worlds book http://www.darkhorse.com/Books/17-652/John-Carter-of-Mars-Weird-Worlds where you can also pre-order it. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More John Carter Comics Coming


Looks like fans of Barsoom will be spending more time at the comic book store. Dark Horse has announced John Carter of Mars: Weird Worlds, a new book collecting John Carter's adventures from DC Comics' Weird Worlds and Tarzan series, set for publication January 12, 2011. Unlike the Jesse Marsh book, this one looks to be a paperback book with a price of 14.99. You can see more info at http://www.firstcomicsnews.com/?p=12825

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Art from Star Wars to John Carter


As some can tell, the deleted scene from Return of the Jedi has been removed, so I went ahead and deleted that post. Sorry for those who missed it. But here's some related Star Wars news, along with a glimpse of what could have been on Barsoom.

First up artist Drew Struzan has a new book coming out. If you're unfamiliar with Struzan, you're probably familiar with his work though as he's drawn numerous posters and artwork for such film series like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Harry Potter and Hellboy. A new book, The Art of Drew Struzan is set for release Sept. 14 and will feature early versions of some of that work, including the early concept poster seen above for Revenge of the Sith. You can see more about it at http://www.amazon.com/Art-Drew-Struzan/dp/1848566190/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1282073255&sr=8-1. Also coming soon is Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, a new documentary on Struzan and his work. You can see the trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sI_ckeUjonE.

Next up and still Force-related, MTV posted a gallery of artwork done by legendary concept artist Ralph McQuarrie that was shown at the Star Wars Celebration this past weekend http://moviesblog.mtv.com/2010/08/17/star-wars-ralph-mcquarrie-art-celebration-v/ Some of it is offbeat-Chewbacca skiing!-but fans might like to see it.

Finally artist Rafael Kayanan has posted some pre-viz art that was designed for director Kerry Conran for the earlier unmade John Carter of Mars film http://rafaelkayanan.blogspot.com/2010/08/barsoom-creatures.html showing off what I think is is a Zitidar. I hope with the movie finally coming someone gathers up all of this art for the unmade attempts and presents them in a book. It might be fascinating to see what might have been.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review: At The Earth's Core


I had posted a review earlier but was unhappy with it and deleted it. Just FYI for those who might have read it. Now then off to Pellucidar.

As the book opens, an unnamed narrator out on safari in the Sahara desert runs into a man who tells him a wild story. And it is wild! David Innes has decided to use his inhertiance from his father's mine to help fund a project by his older friend Abner Perry-a huge drilling device nicknamed the "iron mole." On their first run of the device both men discover it cannot be turned and end up drilling to what the fear is their death. Instead they discover an "inner world" called Pellucidar inhabited by creatures that resemble long gone dinosaurs, humans in tribes and a ruling race called the Mahars-a race of pterodactyl like creatures with telepathic abilities. Once there David and Perry must find their way out and try to return back to the surface world. And there is a damsel in distress-Dian the Beautiful; some treacherous adventures and a fellow named Hooja the Sly One whose ultimate act might just cause David to lose what he has risked his life for.

I have to admit-it's been a long time since I read At the Earth's Core. Part of it may be that I felt it was disappointing initially. After devouring the John Carter of Mars and Carson of Venus series, I felt the idea of an inner world populated by dinos and cavemen just didn't grab me as much. I also feel-and still do-that Burroughs also didn't build up enough of a love story between David and Dian to justify David's mission to rescue her. Part of that is the fact she disappears in chapter 4 and doesn't reappear until the last two chapters, leaving a lot of space for David to attempt to flee the Mahars and wander around, fighting off other creatures and finding friends.

But now I actually liked it better. The main reason being David Innes himself. A stark contrast to the greatest swordsman of two worlds or the bumbling Carson Napier, David is a normal person trying to get back home-an old story that anyone can relate to and I found his adventure this time more interesting, maybe because I've gotten older and can relate to that. Of course being older I can also see some of the flaws in this book-the lack of a real narrative drive-it isn't until late in the game David decides to lead a revolt against the Mahars and their minions the Sagoths that might have given the book more speed. But Burroughs probably was considering a follow-up adventure and decided-like A Princess of Mars and Pirates of Venus-that establishing the characters and location was necessary first, so I'm willing to overlook it. Even though I still think the ending is the silliest of any of his books. All I'm going to say is next time look under the blanket.

My rating: *** out of 4. As for the four major series that Burroughs wrote, the best for me is well obviously the Barsoom series, followed by the Venus series and Pellucidar coming in third.

Monday, August 9, 2010

John Carter of Mars Goes 3D on June 8, 2012


Two updates for the day but I figured this one might be of interest. Disney has confirmed that John Carter of Mars will be hitting theaters on June 8, 2012 in their patented Disney Digital 3D according to Heatvision http://heatvision.hollywoodreporter.com/2010/08/frankenweenie-john-carter-of-mars-release-dates.html The 3D confirmation though is something of a surprise since director Andrew Stanton had been quoted as saying he didn't want the film released this way but feared Disney would force it on the film. My question is was it filmed in 3D or are we going to get one of those bad post jobs like The Last Airbender? I guess we'll find out.

Tarzan Gets Animated...Again


Start practicing your bull ape yells. Variety is reporting that the German film company Constantin Films (which based on what info I could find produced the Resident Evil movie franchise and co-produced the Fantastic Four films) has announced plans to mount a new animated Tarzan film, this time in 3D. Plans for a live action Tarzan have been going on for years, with both directors Guillermo Del Toro and Stephen Sommers attached at various points. Oh well on the plus side at least there will be no Phil Collins songs. You can read the full article here http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118022729.html?categoryid=1237&cs=1

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Space Babes and Alien News


Yep two things that go great together.
First up for fans of 1970s sci-fi schlock, your prayers have been answered. The company Shout Factory has announced they will be releasing the 1978 Italian made cult epic Starcrash with bombshell Caroline Munro on DVD and Blu-Ray as part of their Roger Corman's Cult Classics series on September 14. You can read more about the upcoming release here http://www.dvddrive-in.com/features/starcrashpromo10.htm and see the film's trailer-complete with a lightsaber wielding David Hasslehoff-at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzfuNSpP0RA.

Next up on a less campy note, the unofficial John Carter of Mars movie site has a brief interview with creature builder John Cox, who was hired to built a full 15 foot Thark for the previous version of the film. Some nifty photos of the full model is also shown at http://www.johncartermovie.com/cgi-bin/archive.pl?COMMAND=showarticle&num=64428

Finally some news from Planet Pandora. Cinematical has compiled two interviews with James Cameron where he talks about Avatar and his upcoming projects. The highlights: he is working on an upcoming novel that was announced months back himself and plans to shoot the two sequels back to back. He also talks about the upcoming Avatar re-release on August 27 with additional footage and producing Guillermo Del Toro's upcoming film version of HP Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. You can see both interviews at http://www.cinematical.com/2010/08/08/james-cameron-talks-avatar-sequels-novel-and-more/

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Shadow Knows! (Plus John Carter Speaks Briefly)


I'm probably a day late and dollar short but here's some news for fans of two pulp heroes...

First up the site Pajiba is reporting that Quentin Tarantino is possibly going to write and direct a new film version of The Shadow, the classic pulp superhero who inspired numerous others (including the Caped Crusader himself.) Tarantino is the third director attached to a new version-previously it was rumored that Sam Raimi was going to direct, followed by another story that he was going to produce with David Slade (of 30 Days of Night and Twilight 3) directing. The site does say take this info with a grain of salt until confirmed but you can decide for yourself here http://www.pajiba.com/trade_news/exclusive-quentin-tarantino-a-possibility-to-direct-the-shadow.php

The other news brief comes from the Wall Street Journal who talked to actor Taylor Kitsch about his exit from the TV series Friday Night Lights and his upcoming film work-including John Carter of Mars and Battleship. Not much new info on John Carter, except that the script was "super secretive." You can read the brief news and his comments on leaving FNL at http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/08/06/friday-night-lights-finale-taylor-kitsch-looks-to-life-beyond-the-show/

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Warlord, Pulps and Captain Jack!


Here's some news for those taking a lunch break. Hope it doesn't cause heartburn.

First up Dynamite Comics are taking pre-orders for the first issue of Warlord of Mars, set for release this October http://www.dynamiteentertainment.com/htmlfiles/viewProduct.html?PRO=C725130152794 which is handy for those without a comic book store nearby. Also according to the site the cover shown above by Lucio Parillo will be a limited special, so you hardcore collectors will know what to look for.

Next up reader Mike has alerted me to this cool site http://pulpsunday.blogspot.com/2010/03/john-carter-of-mars.html by artist Francesco Francavilla that shows off some cool pulp inspired artwork and in this case John Carter of Mars. The site also has some cool art inspired by such pulp characters like The Shadow and Zorro and is definitely worth checking out.

Finally in a non-Barsoom related note, for those who want to see that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides teaser from Comic-Con well Heatvision has it online now http://heatvision.hollywoodreporter.com/2010/07/pirates-of-the-caribbean-comic-con-clip.html I wonder after seeing how quickly the Thor preview was removed how long that one will be up?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Book Review: A Guide To Barsoom


Again can't think of an opening so I'll just jump in.

In the 1960s and 70s the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs was being rediscovered by a new generation, thanks to the explosion of sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks. It was around this time that several books, fan clubs and newsletters began to emerge celebrating and providing the first in-depth look at Burroughs. Many of the books tended to be either straight biographies (Richard Lupoff's excellent Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure being the most notable) or centered on Tarzan. In 1976 Burroughs fan and scholar John Flint Roy added his own entry to the growing line-up, a book devoted to the adventures of John Carter and the inhabitants of Barsoom.

As you can tell by the title, A Guide To Barsoom is pretty much that-a guide to the people, places and flora and fauna of Barsoom. Broken into 11 chapters and covering almost all of the books (Roy doesn't include John Carter and the Giant of Mars due to its "questionable authorship" as he puts and I doubt many will disagree) it starts with a brief history of Barsoom pre-Carter and goes from there with in depth listings of the locations, characters (no matter how briefly they appear), plants and animal life, the customs and religions of Barsoom, the debate of whether or not Barsoom is really Mars and a "bio" of Burroughs himself-who lived to the ripe old age of 114 when last seen. It also deals with some of the contradictions that pop up-errors in distance or how many days are in a Barsoomian year-and attempts to correct these mistakes.

A guide like this might seem dull to non-fans but Roy's target audience I'm sure was the devout fan, even though newcomers to the series might enjoy it for breaking down the series. Given how many guides like this has been written for other series (I've seen them for everything from The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's Middle-Earth to even separate guides to the characters and vehicles of Star Wars) it's nice to have Barsoom presented in this fashion and a nice addition to the Barsoom series. The only downside (again) is that it is currently out of print. Maybe with the movie coming up someone will republish this work or come out with an updated one. Rating: **** out of 4.