Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review: Making of 'Return of the Jedi'


Continuing with the 30th anniversary of ROTJ-and finding it for a buck at a used book store-here's the second book review this week.

As you can tell by the title, editor John Phillip Peecher's book dives into the making of the film with behind the scene accounts, interviews and other pre-production, production and post-production tales. Among the highlights: Finding a director; getting everyone to England; coming up with the infamous "Blue Harvest" title to throw off curious on lookers and the press; a lot of Ewok tests (yes, Ewok tests) and trying to come up with a film that can equal the previous two Star Wars films. In some respects since it is an "official" making of there isn't much in the way of juicy gossip-no stories about David Lynch passing on it as he's talked about or the fallout of George Lucas leaving the Directors Guild, meaning old pal Steven Spielberg wasn't a choice-but there is some interesting anecdotes and comments along the way. Among the more interesting things I noticed:

--The first scene shot for the film was one that wasn't included, the "Sandstorm" sequence following the escape from Jabba's Sail Barge. It was scrapped to give the audience a breather.

--Director Richard Marquand talking about directing with Lucas standing feet away, comparing it to making King Lear with Shakespeare in the next room.

--Harrison Ford's much repeated tales of trying to get Han Solo killed off is addressed here but blocked by Lucas' "predisposition to happy endings."

--Shooting in the desert of Yuma, Arizona and all the problems that entailed.

--Lucas himself admitting that he didn't want to make a 2001 type sci-fi film but "a space fantasy more in the genre of Edgar Rice Burroughs." So for all of those Back to Barsoomers convinced Lucas played a part in John Carter's box office demise, get over it.

--One of the names that pops up in the book is Ed Catmull, who was brought in to establish a "brave new world of computers" at Lucasfilm and ILM. If the name sounds familiar, Catmull later teamed with a former Disney animator named John Lassiter and formed a little company called Pixar...

--Carrie Fisher admitting in good humor that if nothing else the makeup guy is hiring.

--How the book kept the real big surprises of the film-like Leia's brother being revealed or the unmasking of Darth Vader-out of it.

Filled with some reprints of schedules, set reports and 32 pages of black and white photos, The Making of Return of the Jedi is a fun look back at a time when this was the only way to get behind the scene material on a movie, before DVD documentaries and the Internet. (A side note, a much more elaborate making of is supposedly set to be released this fall written by JW Rinzler, who wrote similar books on the making of the first two films and the Indiana Jones series). All in all a good book for Jedi fans and those interested in the how to of filmmaking. Rating: **** out of 4.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Review: The Outlaw of Torn


To make up for the lack of updates in the last few days I'll be kicking off a few book reviews starting with the second novel of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Set during the reign of England's King Henry III in the 13th Century, The Outlaw of Torn follows the adventures of Norman of Torn, a young sword fighter and outlaw who has been brought up in sword fighting and a hatred of the British by his "father" Du Vac. Unknown to Norman he is actually the kidnapped son of the King and is a pawn in Du Vac's plans to get revenge for being slighted by the king. Along the way Norman leads a group of ragtag fighters in raids against the aristocracy until he begins to question his path, especially when he finds himself falling in love with Bertrade De Montfort, the daughter of the King's rival. With his plans falling apart Du Vac leads Norman to a final duel that may cost him his love and his life.

The Outlaw of Torn has an interesting place in ERB's output as a novel that Burroughs himself claimed was one of his best but that his fans and scholars have been divided on. Written shortly after selling Under the Moons of Mars to All-Story magazine, the idea of a medieval story in the Ivanhoe vein was suggested by All-Story's editor Thomas Metcalf. However Metcalf rejected it and Burroughs spent many months rewriting it. Eventually it would see print two years later when Burroughs was a success with Tarzan of the Apes.

I get the feeling it was all that rewriting that causes Outlaw to be as disjointed as it is. Burroughs is heavily criticized for his episodic plotting and that runs through the novel as Norman and his band run from one fight to another, with only brief stops for heart to heart discussions with a friendly priest and Norman's attempts to reconcile his past with his love for Bertrade. If there is one thing that Burroughs, even at this point, had in spades was forward momentum, even in A Princess of Mars but here the constant start-stop motion begins to wear a little.

That said The Outlaw of Torn does have its moments, as all Burroughs' work does, where the reader gets swept along for the ride. The action set pieces are just as strong as in Princess or Tarzan of the Apes and Burroughs manages to capture Norman's internal struggle quite well. Burroughs also takes the story into darker territory for a "pulp" adventure, from some rather grim deaths and the message that revenge will destroy everyone, most of all those who seek it. Burroughs also manages to make his female lead a strong and forceful woman. While Bertrade doesn't pick up a sword, she manages to overcome an early abduction and even holds her captors at bay while is willing to sacrifice herself to save Norman in the climax. For those who take Burroughs to task for creating weak damsels in distress, this book puts that claim to rest.

Ultimately though The Outlaw of Torn is a mid-level Burroughs book, interesting for its setting and Burroughs attempt to move in the historical novel and away from his pulp origins. For that it gets *** alone for being a good, not great read. But I can see why Norman of Torn didn't become John Carter of Mars and spawn a classic series. So if you're open minded give it try but temper your expectations. (And for those faithful readers future book reviews will include belated reviews of Swords of Waar, that promised Tarzan on Mars review and a continuing look back at Return of the Jedi. I promise.)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Worlds of ERB Availble for Pre-Order


I'll cut to to the chase: Amazon is now taking pre-orders for The Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the anthology book being edited by Mike Resnick and Bob Garcia, as well as revealing the cover art which...well you can see for yourself. To order your copy hit http://www.amazon.com/The-Worlds-Edgar-Rice-Burroughs/dp/145163935X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363987301&sr=8-1&keywords=worlds+of+edgar+rice+burroughs

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Greystoke" Comes to Blu-Ray


OK some high-def news. Warner Bros has announced they are taking pre-orders for Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan for release through their movie on demand program. The disc will be released April 9 and will include commentary with director Hugh Hudson and producer Garth Thomas. For more info hit http://shop.warnerarchive.com/product/greystoke+the+legend+of+tarzan+bd+1000399678.do?ref=GGLHMOD&gclid=CL3KktbfjrYCFYFDMgodRjQAFA.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Comic Review: Star Wars #3


For fans of the Force, this one’s for you!

Again splitting the issue into three stories, we pick up with Darth Vader assuming his new position as overseer of building the new Death Star located near the Sanctuary Moon of Endor. Meanwhile Leia and Luke blow up at each other over a female Rebel pilot named Prithi, who Leia suspects may have more in her background than she’s telling. Things are also blowing-literally-for Han Solo and Chewbacca on Coruscant, the Imperial Capital, when they discover that their contact is actually an Imperial spy, leading to a shoot out with Stormtroopers. Can Han and Chewie escape?

With this third issue, Brian Wood and company has made it clear that they are having a blast playing with George Lucas’ characters and this in infectious fun carries over to the reader. From the opening sequence of Vader to Han’s smart-ass attitude, this is the Star Wars that people fell in love with, all action broken up with brief moments of character beats and fun. The subplot of Leia and Luke coming to blows is also an interesting idea, showing that the Rebellion is a fragile group made up of people who sometimes don’t trust each other. If I have any complaints is that Wood needs to get Vader more into the action and bring back Boba Fett now!

For the artwork, Carlos D’Anda does another bang up job bringing the story to life. From his portrayals of the characters which kicks off with a great close up of Vader’s mask to the shoot out with Han and the Stormtroopers, it is a bright, vibrant look that captures the reader’s eye with color and excitement.

So in short another winner from Dark Horse and Wood and team with this issue. If you haven’t started reading it yet I encourage you to do so. It is your destiny! (Sorry couldn’t resist).

Monday, March 18, 2013

SciFi's "Flash Gordon" Coming To DVD


Based on that cover either it's a remake of Flesh Gordon from the 1970s or a sequel to that Channing Tatum stripper flick. Either way here's some news that will either inspire "yeahs" or "you're joking right" responses. Mill Creek Entertainment will be releasing the short lived 2007-2008 Sci-Fi Channel version of Flash Gordon on DVD April 16. The set promotes "ALL 22 EPISODES" with no word on any bonus material. I can't say this was a great series-after all one of the main characters was Flash's mother-but considering the cheap price that Amazon is selling it for I might have to give it a look. For more info hit http://www.amazon.com/Flash-Gordon-The-Complete-Series/dp/B00BHLTIXQ/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1363639855&sr=8-4&keywords=flash+gordon

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Comic Review: Lord of the Jungle #13


I'll be playing comic book catch up for the next few days, so bear with me. With that out of the way, here's the latest adventure of Tarzan of the Apes...

Having escaped sacrifice, Tarzan is still searching for fabled gold while the Beast Men of Opar swear to find him. Meanwhile Cecil Clayton's attempts to escape has put him face to face in a knife fight with Rockoff, which ends with (SPOILER!) Clayton's demise. But before he dies he reveals to Jane the whole truth about Tarzan, leading Rockoff to go off to put an end to the Greystoke line once and for all. Moving on Tarzan finds the fabled gold vaults of Opar and goes to get the Waziri, only to find them captives of Rockoff. But before Tarzan can be caught, the Beast Men attack, allowing Tarzan and the Waziri to escape, even though they fail in rescuing Jane. With Opar in sight Rockoff leads his troops there and captures La and it appears the city. But Tarzan has vowed to rescue Jane and gets help from the Waziri for a final showdown with Rockoff.

With this issue, Arvid Nelson manages to remain close to the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs but does throw much of the plot of The Return of Tarzan out. Here we get massive fight scenes, Rockoff taking Jane and La prisoner, a deathbed confession and much more, leading up to the conclusion. If anything it provides the action that I felt was lacking in the last third of Burroughs' book, especially in providing Tarzan with an adversary to face off against in the final act and a needed boost of suspense. So while it veers off it remains faithful to the Tarzan most fans know.

As usual, a big thumbs up for Roberto Castro's artwork, added by the coloring by Alex Guimares. With most of the story taking place at night, the colors have a nice muted appearance that also plays well with the story's emotional and physical sides. Also you can debate whose hotter-Jane or La since Castro manages to make both attractive.

With one more issue to go before the big wrap-up, it's another winner for this series, providing the thrills and excitement of the best Tarzan stories. Who can ask for more than that?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Return of the Jedi Cool Fan Trailer


Some video fun for your Thursday. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Return of the Jedi, and while I know it gets a bum rap for me it has a personal meaning: It was the first film that I ever saw in a movie theater. It was an experience that led me to the full Star Wars trilogy, a love of sci-fi and fantasy and eventually to Barsoom and other magical places. So from time to time I'll be taking a look back. For today it's a cool fan trailer created by Youtube user editingsithlord that does a great job selling the film. Plus fans of John Carter might recognize the music used in it and honestly, it fits better here. So enjoy!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mars Rover Finds Evidence of Life?


Well maybe. NASA has confirmed that the Mars Rover Curiosity has found chemicals and compounds that could have sustained a habitable atmosphere, leading to the possibility of Mars once being a livable planet. Whether or not this answers the immortal question posed by David Bowie remains to be seen but it is still cool news for us Jasoomians who dream of life on Mars. For more information check out http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57573899/mars-rover-curiosity-confirms-habitable-environment-in-distant-past/

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Comic Review: Dejah Thoris #23


OK after yesterday's less than positive look back at John Carter, how about a more upbeat review?

Following the fall of the Jeddak of Yorn and the death of her brother, the Jeddak's daughter Tash Lia has taken the throne of Yorn. But after an assassination attempt on her life she finds herself in the care of Dejah and Kantos Kan, who are ordered to bring her to Helium to cede power to Tardors Mors. But with the assassin Boll-Rem on their heels-and in their ship-Dejah and company crash into the desert and have to survive. Finding an abandoned city they think they have found safety until some hungry inhabitants come out...

At this point, considering that Boll-Rem is drawn like a cyborg, the appearance of ulsios ready to feast and a bratty princess, we know we're in the nutty world of Dejah Thoris. And guess what? I'm starting to like it!

Like his previous story arc, writer Robert Napton starts off with a strong story, filled with action, a dash of suspense and the usual perils along the way. Teaming up Dejah with Kantos also helps bring a nice emotional tone to the story, as does dealing Tash Lia, who holds Dejah responsible for her father and brother's deaths. With a Terminator pretty much after them it builds to a nice ending that makes me curious where it goes.

Handling the art duties here is Debora Carita, who did some work on the series a few issues back. Her style is different from usual series artist Carlos Rafael but she manages to capture Dejah and company quite well. I did mention that Boll-Rem looked like a cyborg? Well he's a well drawn cyborg. Carita also manages to make the ulsios creepy and disgusting looking and the whole thing has the bright look of the previous issues. So no complaints there.

While I suspect the next issue will throw the usual curves-the princess turns into a Thark monster or Boll-Rem is actually a clone of John Carter-its the curve balls that has made this series fun and at least an interesting take on Barsoom. Just enjoy the ride.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

John Carter: A Look Back


Let's see how much response this gets.

It's hard to believe that's it has been a whole year since John Carter came out and well flopped. Since then it has divided those who either believe that a) it was an unfortunate victim of studio incompetence or some vast conspiracy to have it fail or b) the 21st Century answer to such notorious bombs like Heaven's Gate and Ishtar, a case of ego-in particular Andrew Stanton's-running rampant. It developed fans who fell in love with the world Stanton built and it has spawned a number of detractors, mostly Edgar Rice Burroughs fans who felt that Stanton's stated dislike for certain elements from the books (especially the characters of Carter and Dejah Thoris) colored his film, resulting in a whiny lead character, needless subplots and pointless additions and changes. Yeah you can tell where I fell by that last comment.

So why has this movie resulted in such feelings? Most bombs of the past few years-from The Last Airbender to Green Lantern to last year's other flops Battleship and Dark Shadows-have all faded from most people's view, replaced by the latest rounds of hits and flops. The fans of the film argue it is the hold the film has, the characters and the sweep of it. OK if you say so.

For me I guess why it keeps haunting me is the feeling of what could have been. That so much of John Carter is a missed chance, a movie made by people who had no respect for the source material or thought much beyond building a franchise. Or maybe it is that I've grown too cynical for its supposed charms to work on me. That for everything I did feel was done right or well (Lynn Collins' performance as Dejah; the design of Woola; the arena sequence) so much was wrong that I just couldn't look past it.

Looking back at my original review I feel at the time I was being generous, trying to love this movie since it was getting bashed so much by the press for the bad marketing and lousy tracking numbers. That I wanted this film to succeed to prove to people that Barsoom is a magical world. Sadly as time went on and those feelings began to fade the film began to look more like what it is, an uneven and ultimately unsatisfying film that was in the wrong hands.

Maybe it is time to let go and admit that. To move on and hope that-from this ERB fan's point of view-that John Carter of Mars (yes OF MARS) gets his moment to shine in the Barsoomain sun. That his tale will get his due. Until then I guess we have just to accept Stanton's film for what it is , a movie that could have been great, could have been the next Star Wars and been the one that brought Burroughs to the big screen in grand fashion and fell short. Oh well, maybe in the future it will become a cult classic and I will have grown to accept it.

Until that time we'll just have to pray to the Goddess that the story isn't over. As the real John Carter of Mars says "I still live!" Take that as solace for this anniversary and until next time...Kaor!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jessica Chastain Up For "Tarzan"


It's been a while since we've had news on this film. To recap: Last November Warner Bros announced that Harry Potter director David Yates had taken the director's chair for their new big budget Tarzan. That was followed by news that Yates had zeroed in on True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard for Tarzan and Samuel L. Jackson for a supporting role. Well now the New York Post is reporting that actress Jessica Chastain (recently Oscar nominated for Zero Dark Thirty) is Yates and the studio's top pick to play Jane Clayton for the film, which according to the report finds Tarzan assimilated into British society but returning to the Congo at the request of Queen Victoria. You can read the Post report at http://www.nypost.com/p/pagesix/me_tarzan_you_jessica_WdBWAwf9vbGoW5eP7 for more info.

Monday, March 4, 2013

John Carter Vinly Figures On Sale!


OK for those who want to save some cash, Disney's online store is now selling the John Carter vinylmation figures for 3.99 each http://www.disneystore.com/vinyl-figures-collectibles-vinylmation-john-carter-3/mp/1316225/1000284/?CMP=KNC-DSSGoogle. So for those who missed them the first time here's your chance to get them cheap!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Comic Review: Warlord of Mars #23


Hey remember this series? It's back! With more sword action, cool monsters and a hot Martian babe on the cover, so what more do you want in your Barsoom fix?

When we last left off, John Carter and his allies Woola and the Jeddak of Ptarth (who is only referred to here as "Ptarth") was in hot pursuit of Matai Shang and his captives when Carter mysteriously lost control of his craft and crashed into the frozen wasteland of Barsoom's North Pole. Picking themselves off-and not minding the cold despite running around only in a loincloth-Carter and company barely escape becoming food for Apts, hungry creatures that haunt the north before discovering the fabled "Carrion Caves." The caves are actually the home of the yellow men of Mars and, after sending off Woola for help, Carter rescues one of them, Marik, from an assassination attempt. Malik, a nobleman of Maretina, agrees to take Carter and Ptarth to his Jeddak, Talu, with the promise that he'll help Carter get into the kingdom of the despotic Saelsnsu Oll, ruler of the Yellow Men. Once in Carter discovers why he crashed, the electromagnetic Guardian of the North. He also finds himself a prisoner and with Helium's fleet approaching and poor Dejah still missing...well it's not looking good for our heroes.

Pretty much speeding through the plot of The Warlord of Mars, this issue sets up the big finale quite efficiently and with little fat. We get Carter in action, some new allies for our hero, the introduction of a new threat and a lot of splashy color courtesy of artist Leoandro Olivero and colorist Thiago Ribeiero. There is some big questions though-like why Carter is running around in freezing temperatures in nothing but a loin cloth but I guess his Earth man body chemistry doesn't feel it. Beyond that it's a fast paced issue so another thumbs up to Arvid Nelson and company for hitting this out of the ball park.

I know this is a short review but except for a lack of hot red women in this issue-even though there is some nice female Okarians-it's a good issue and welcome return after a long wait. Just don't make us wait another three months Dynamite!