Author: Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger is best known to comics fans as the editor of Who's Who In The DC Universe, Suicide Squad, and Doom Patrol. He's written and edited several Star Trek novels and is the author of The Essential Batman Encyclopedia. He's known for his work as an editor for Comics Scene, Starlog, and Weekly World News, as well as holding executive positions at both Marvel Comics and DC Comics.
REVIEW: Batman: Soul of the Dragon
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REVIEW: Batman: Soul of the Dragon

REVIEW: Batman: Soul of the DragonBatman was enjoying a renaissance as the 1970s dawned. Freed from its ties to the ABC series, editor Julius Schwartz worked with writers Frank Robins and Denny O’Neil on rejuvenating the Darknight Detective, returning him closer to his pulp-roots.

In short order, O’Neil would rise to become the premier Batman scribe of the era to be followed by a notable stretch as his editor from 1986 through the early 2000s. His impact is immeasurable. On the side, though, he aspired to be a prose writer as well and among his works from that period was a collaboration with cartoonist Jim Berry on the 1974 novel Kung Fu Master, Richard Dragon: Dragon’s Fists (1974) under the pseudonym “Jim Dennis.”

As the Martial Arts craze was beginning its descent, DC Comics optioned the novel and had O’Neil write and edit the adaptation as Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter. There, he introduced readers to Dragon, Ben Turner, O-Sensei, and most importantly, Lady Shiva.

All of the above explains why the latest DCAU release, Batman: Soul of the Dragon, is as much a celebration of that bygone era as it is a tribute to O’Neil. In this original story, now available on disc from Warner Home Entertainment, we have a reality where Bruce Wayne (David Giuntoli), training to become a hero, spends time in Nada Parbat. There, under O-Sensei’s (James Hong) guidance, he works alongside Dragon (Mark Dacascos), Turner (Michael Jai White), Shiva (Kelly Hu), Jade (Jamie Chung), and Rip Jagger (Chris Cox).

Each is there for a different reason, and while they train together, they’re not precisely close allies. Jagger betrays them all when he attempts to open the gates O-Sensei has been guarding, killing Jade in the process. The demon Nāga is nearly freed, and four of his servants escape until the O-Sensei sacrifices himself.

In time, each goes their way, with Wayne returning to Gotham City and donning the cape and cowl as Batman. When Dragon, now a spy, turns up in his penthouse, we discover that ancient evils are being stirred up, so it’s time to get the gang back together. Jeffrey Burr (Josh Keaton) is now the leader of the Kobra cult, determined to obtain the Soul Breaker from Shiva and free Nāga.

All the tropes from the martial arts films of the era are brought into play, from the music to the fight sequences, to the threat itself. Dragon here is redesigned from Caucasian to a stand-in for Bruce Lee, the clear master of the era. The film is a joy to watch, the action swift but not without letting the characters have their moments. Screenwriter Jeremy Adams does a superb job with this homage.

In the Batman: Raw Groove featurette, producer Bruce Timm discusses the notes from DC that their early drafts were too much Bruce Wayne and not enough Batman. That complaint still applies to the finished product. As he fights in costume, he stands out as an anomaly. Had Turner donned the Bronze Tiger mask, things might have felt more even-handed. Still, it’s just a quibble.

The 4k Ultra HD 2160p is pristine, capturing the colors and shades perfectly. The Blu-ray companion disc in the Combo Pack is equally good at retaining the palette and details. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is fine, if unexceptional.

There is just one original featurette here, but it packs some great material. Batman: Raw Groove (30:30) uses a pair of historians — Cal Lutheran history professor Dr. Michaela Crawford Reaves—to tee-up the context of the era, the rise of action films, and connecting the Blaxploitation and Martial Arts genres in ways I hadn’t previously considered. There is a good assortment of film clips from the Warner catalog to illustrate the points (although it should be noted, nary a clip of Lee, the father of it all, is present). Additional detail comes from Martial Arts History Museum President Michael Matsuda before filmmakers Timm, Jim Krieg, and others chime in.

Producer Jim Krieg’s Far Out Highlights (18:03) shows him at his 70s cheesiest, giving a far more personal perspective on the era and the resulting tribute film.

Sneak Peek – Justice Society: World War II (8:07) shows Krieg making his Walter Winchell impression as he introduces audiences to the first animated feature to spotlight the first team of heroes, apparently using the Silver Age Flash as the audience’s conduit to these bygone heroes. It looks to be fun.

Rounding out the Blu-ray disc is From the DC Vault (44:41) – Batman: The Animated Series: “Day of the Samurai” and “Night of the Ninja.”

REVIEW: Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas
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REVIEW: Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas

Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas
By Sam Maggs and Kendra Wells
160 pages, Amulet Books, $12.99/$21.99

Sam Maggs has carved out a fine career writing imaginative young adult fiction and graphic novels. Here, she teams with artist Kendra Wells to tackle the two best known female pirates: Anne Bonny and Mary Read. They are sailing the high seas along with Calico Jack and having a grand old time.

There’s a four-page text section discussing the historic facts behind the pirates and its makes far more interesting reading than the simplified tale presented ahead of it.

Being a pirate wasn’t easy and it was harder for women. In both cases, Bonny and Read had to discuss themselves as men to fit in, with all the complications attendant to that. At the time, Bonny had left her husband and married Jack, only to fall for Read, thinking she was a he. After that, speculation remains whether or not there was bisexual hanky-panky going on.

Instead, we get a 16 year Bonny, plucky as all get out, who captains her own ship and goes on adventures with Jack and later meets Read. The British navy are seen as a mere impediment, a distraction from their adventuring.

The plot has many a side trip and we get contemporary social outrage over injustices that were normal life of the day, so you’re constantly taken out of the story.

The characterizations are 21st century, dialogue complete with emojis, and everything sanitized for your reading pleasure. This commits the same sin as Cleopatra in Space does, using the names for identification but none of the actual person.

Wells’ art is also too simplified so it’s hard to tell teens from adults. There’s too much Manga to the faces and none of the grit and texture of life aboard a pirate ship. That said, the color is nice and many of the pages are well designed.

While fanciful and colorful, this is a misfire on many levels and can’t be recommended.

REVIEW: Love and Monsters
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REVIEW: Love and Monsters

2020 felt like a disaster movie made real, as we hunkered down from the pandemic, watched racial strife and political shenanigans raise the stakes, all culminating in a universal desire to either end the year quickly or calla do-over. Set against the claustrophobia of being trapped at home, Paramount Home Entertainment gave us Love and Monsters, featuring the remaining five percent of humanity, living underground because the surface was no longer safe.

Good timing. On the other hand, the film has been in development since 2012 and was scheduled for release right as the world shifted on its existential axis. Paramount decided to push it out in the few theaters open and then make it available for streaming or, as of tomorrow, on disc.

Most apocalyptic films are dour and depressing, aimed at adults, or filled with adolescent wunderkinder rising against adversity, aimed at tweens and teens. This film, though, might be the apocalyptic film for the whole family.

Meet Joel (Dylan O’Brien), one of the survivors, but not good enough to hunt and gather, but is relegated to being the cook, a necessary but unglamorous role. He misses his Aimee (Jessica Henwick), his girlfriend, while everyone else in his group has paired up. Chatting by radio just isn’t working for him. Miserable and in love, he decides to brave the elements and go in search of her.

Now, the world changed after we obliterated an oncoming asteroid, without factoring in how the fallout would alter the ecology. Animals, fish, birds, and insects all grew to mammoth proportions and mankind was no longer atop the food chain. Instead, they fell to the bottom as their ranks were depleted by the hungry hungry wildlife.

So, it’s no fun, but thankfully Joel encounters Clyde (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt), who guide him. Nothing is as it appears from here on out and while predictable in places, it’s also heartwarming and fun. The overall story is fine, not demanding too much of its audiences, which we definitely could use.

The film is available in the usual assortments including the $k Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital HD combo pack. The 1080p transfer is excellent and there is enough of an improvement in the 2160 Dolby Vision edition to appreciate the subtleties that are brought out. The colorful world benefits from the Ultra HD. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack complements it nicely.

There is a perfunctory assortment of extras on the Blu-ray disc including seven deleted scenes (11:50), Bottom of the Food Chain: The Cast of Love and Monsters (7:43), and It’s a Monster’s World: Creating a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape (7:04).

REVIEW: Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 2
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REVIEW: Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 2

The names of the legendary animators of the 30s and 40s have faded with time, except to the connoisseurs and collectors, which is a shame. Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Tex Avery should be as well known as respected as is Walt Disney, though these days, the latter is better known as an entrepreneur than an animator.

This is why we should love and support Warner Archive, for gathering the forgotten but still vital cartoons of the past and making them available in contemporary forms, which brings me to the just-released Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 2. One a single disc we have 21 cartoons to enjoy, most of which hold up extremely well.

Avery, to those who recognize the name, certainly know him for his work on Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny. But, after he moved to MGM, he continued to offer up side-splitting entertainment with characters such as the sexy Little Red Riding Hood and her leering adversary the Southern Wolf (voiced by Daws Butler).

Here, he worked with writers Heck Allen and Rich Hogan and their efforts hold up. Droopy Dog and Spike are also represented here. Standouts include “Cuckoo Clock”, “Magical Maestro”, “One Cab’s Family”, “The Cat That Hated People”, and “The First Bad Man”. Given changing social mores, the disc comes with a disclaimer that the disc is intended for Adult Collectors and may not be suitable for children to which I say, phooey.

The digital transfer is far from perfect and may disappoint those used to pristine high def reproductions of work. Sadly, a fire in the 1960s destroyed many negatives, limiting what could be used to make these discs and future ones. Clearly, the source material was in rougher shape and the best efforts were no doubt taken. That said, the color saturation is fine and screens well on a television screen. As I understand it, the source material was varied to generate the DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio, but they do a nice job so audiophiles may be the only ones troubled.

Nicely, there is a nearly hour-long Tex Avery: King of Cartoons documentary.

List of Shorts:
1. Little Rural Riding Hood
2. The Cuckoo Clock
3. Magical Maestro
4. One Cab’s Family
5. Cat That Hated People
6. Doggone Tired
7. The Flea Circus
8. Field And Scream
9. The First Bad Man
10. Out Foxed
11. Droopy’s Double Trouble
12. Three Little Pups
13. Dragalong Droopy
14. Homesteader Droopy
15. Dixieland Droopy
16. Counterfeit Cat
17. Ventriloquist Cat
18. House Of Tomorrow
19. Car Of Tomorrow
20. Tv Of Tomorrow
21. Farm Of Tomorrow

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REVIEW: Total Recall

The 1980s were littered with small production companies, many of which had one or two notable successes and a lot of schlock. As the audience tastes changed, and the blockbuster became ever more important, these houses – Golan-Globus, Cannon, Avco Embassy, and of course, Carolco. That latter studio had one surprise smash hit, First Blood, with Sylvester Stallone. They were a company on the rise.

During all of this, a screenplay adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale” from Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett had been floating from studio to studio. It proved a tough sell and a tough story to crack but Dino DeLaurentis seemed game until his Dune sunk in the sand.

By then, Arnold Schwarzenegger was aware of the project and wanted to be the star and when Dino let go, he convinced Carolco to buy it. Arnold’s deal was a big paycheck but more importantly, he got to pick producer, screenwriters, and director. It was he who picked Paul Verhoeven to come aboard.

The story features a construction worker, Schwarzenegger, who keeps dreaming of Mars. He visits Rekall, which can implant false memories for thrill-seekers, but things go awry when it triggers his suppressed memories of being a secret agent on Mars. He heads back there and gets caught up in the revolution against the corrupt governor Cohaagen (Ronny Cox). Things blow up, the special effects were pretty impressive, and the cast included Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Marc Alaimo, and, the go to man, Michael Ironside.

What resulted was the box office hit Total Recall, one of the finer science fiction films from the 1990s. It has held up well, withstood bad sequels, and still pops up on cable. Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the film is being released this week in 4K Ultra HD. In fact, it comes from Lionsgate Home Entertainment in a three disc set, including one Blu-ray disc for the film and some special features, and one just filled with special features. And yes, a Digital HD code is included.

This package easily eclipses the 2012 Blu-ray that Verhoeven himself was involved with all-around. The color saturation on both the 2160 and 1080 transfers are superior with terrific resolution. It’s sharp but not perfect with some compressions issues here or there, but nothing that will spoil the home viewing experience.

The discs come with Dolby Atmos soundtracks which complement the video just fine. You certainly will gain new appreciation for the Jerry Goldsmith score here.

As for the special features, the 4K comes with the Audio Commentary from Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven. Several 1080p features on the same disc include the all-new and worth watching Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood (59:22), Open Your Mind – Scoring Total Recall (21:24), and Dreamers Within the Dream: Developing Total Recall (8:26), spotlighting artist Ron Miller.

On the film’s Blu-ray disc, you also get the Audio Commentary, Open Your Mind – Scoring Total Recall, and Dreamers Within the Dream: Developing Total Recall.

The second Blu-ray offers up Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood, Total Recall: The Special Effects (23:15), Making Of (8:03), Imagining Total Recall” Featurette (30:12), and the Trailer (1:30).

REVIEW: The Lost Adventures of James Bond
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REVIEW: The Lost Adventures of James Bond

The Lost Adventures of James Bond
By Mark Edlitz
315 pages, $29.95 (print)/$9.99, (eBook)

It sometimes feels like that for every James Bond film made, there are several others that never get before the cameras. We hear of actors, writers, and directors coming and going, which sometimes explains the long gap between films. And with an unexpected delay for No Time to Die (please open in 2021), we could use a dose of 007.

Mark Edlitz delivers with his latest deep dive into pop culture. His self-published The Lost Adventures of James Bond covers the films, novels, comic books, and other media complete with fresh interviews with many who were actively developing stories we’ll never see.

While I knew comics writer Cary Bates wrote an unsolicited treatment, which he sold, I had no idea John Landis, fresh off Schlock, was invited by Bond impresario Cubby Broccoli to write a screenplay for Roger Moore. (It’s worth reading just for his anecdote about Queen Elizabeth.) Nor was I aware that there was active development of at least three different Bond films for Timothy Dalton, who lasted a mere two outings.

We learn how times change, audience tastes change, and sometimes it was hard for Eon Productions to keep up. Or the things that excited some writers didn’t excite Eon. And yet, elements from many an unused story found their way into other productions throughout the years, so little went to waste.

With his exhaustive research, he has unearthed details on the films, but also does a deep dive into the James Bond Junior television series, covering almost every angle. Even television commercials get their due.

While many interviewed here never got to see their ideas fully realized, they almost all give credit to Richard Maibaum, the screenwriter who set the cinematic template in the 1960s, going on to pen a dozen missions. Apparently, he wrote a series of essays about Bond, a rare book I’d like to find and read.

His appendixes include a comprehensive catalog of everyone to portray the secret agent in all media, far more than you would realize.  There’s also a guide to all the stories in print and on film. Finally, the treatments to the unproduced A Silent Armageddon and “A Deadly Prodigal” are presented in their entirety.

Edlitz supplements his interviews and narrative with fine illustrations from Pat Carbajal along with imagery from international comic books and comic strips through the years.

This is a worthy addition to anyone’s Bond library and certainly alongside Edlitz’s earlier The Many Lives of James Bond.

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REVIEW: Westworld: Season Three: The New World

HBO’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Westworld is an interesting barometer of geekdom’s temperature. The first season arrived and it was a cause celebre, given its rich, sprawling cast, topical questions about the role of AI in our lives, and plenty of violence and nudity.

The second season clearly went off the rails and people questioned what was going on even as those who stuck around were intrigued by the glimpses into the other worlds vacationers could visit.

Through it all, there was Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), the android who went beyond her programming and chose to control her destiny. In the third season, things went back on the right track as you can see for yourself in the just-released Westworld: Season Three: The New World from Warner Home Entertainment.

Delores escaped the park at the end of last season and we see “our” world through her eyes which was an interesting bit of writing. We also meet Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul), a former soldier turned petty criminal whose story takes its time but ultimately dovetails with Delores’. Similarly, the story of Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) and Engerraund Serac (Vincent Cassel) takes its time and shows other aspects of this world and its inhabitants.

Where Delores’ “reawakenings” led to her sentience, Maeve’s takes us in another other direction and explores her in a World War II Italy Warworld reality, which brings her to Serac.

Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and William (Ed Harris) make the odd couple of sorts in the third major arc of the ten-episode season. Here, they struggle with determining reality versus simulation, an interesting notion as more people in the real world plug into various forms of artificial reality (Ready Player One anyone?).

The connector to all of this is Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), who is never less than interesting to watch.

The good ideas and strong performances more than make up for the uneven writing across the season. It’ll be back and there’s more than enough here to entice us to come back for another E-ticket ride.

The box set comes with both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray editions along with a Digital HD code. The 2160p transfer in 1.78:1 is excellent. The Dolby Vision nicely punches up the blacks and darker details from the traditional film.

The 1080p transfer is equally strong which helps tremendously. Both benefit from the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and Dolby Atmos so this makes for an excellent home video experience.

Much of the Special Features, scattered across the Blu-ray discs, are drawn from the existing HBO extras, starting with Escape from Westworld (1:53), which introduces viewers to the setup. Disc one also features Creating Westworld: Parce Domine (6:36); The Winter Line (7:18); The Absence of Field (6:05); and Exploring Warworld (3:56).

Disc Two offers up Creating Westworld‘s Reality:  Genre (3:54) and Decoherence (4:48). Disc Three features We Live in a Technocracy (13:44) spotlights producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy; A Vision for the Future (14:09); RICO: Crime and the Gig Economy (7:07); Westworld on Location (11:20); and Welcome to Westworld: Evan Rachel Wood and Aaron Paul – Analysis (3:46), Evan Rachel Wood and Aaron Paul – Who Said It? (3:43), Thandie Newton and Tessa Thompson – Analysis (3:22), Thandie Newton and Tessa Thompson – Who Said It? (2:57); Creating Westworld‘s Reality: Passed Pawn (4:09) and Crisis Theory (9:03).

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REVIEW: Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy

Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis turned a high concept into a charming, enduring film in Back to the Future. It spawned two uneven sequels (and I am so glad Gale see s no reason for a fourth installment) with time-hopping DeLorean and the character of Doc Brown melding into the pop culture zeitgeist.

The films, certainly the first one, deserve to be seen by all, including the current generation to whom the 1950s and 1980s are equally ancient.

Thankfully, Universal Home Entertainment agrees and we have been treated to DVDs, and Blu-rays ever since. Out this week, in time for everyone’s holiday shopping, comes Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy as the films receive the Ultra HD treatment. In a lovely embossed slipbox, you get six discs with carryover content from the 2010 and 2015 editions.

Doc Brown has invented a time machine and with Marty on hand, they travel back to 1955, inadvertently keeping Marty’s parents from meeting. As time threatens to unravel, he has to befriend them both, avoid his mom’s icky romantic advances, and get them to fall in love while dealing with the social mores of a conservative era that, like time, is slowly starting to come part. It took televisions stars Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox and turned them into movie stars. The rest of the casting was spot on which helped turn the first film into a blockbuster.

So of course, we had a sequel, going forward in time to see further ripples that are more unpleasant than one would hope for. Here. Elisabeth Shue comes along for the rider as Marty’s girlfriend and future wife (a concept which frightens here at first). And then, for the final installment, they head backwards, to a simple, dustier time: The Wild West. This is the less creatively interesting one but saved thanks to the romance between Doc Brown and Mary Steenburgen, who is good in everything.

The new scans are pristine and wonderful with Dolby Vision color correction, making shadows deeper and the 1950s a technicolor delight. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack perfectly captures the sound effects, but more important, the vital, vibrant rock and roll that was gaining popularity during the earlier era of the first film. Thankfully, the work on the sequels is equal or even better than the original.

There’s a bonus seventh disc with fresh new supplemental content along with material from the 30th anniversary edition. Among the new features is the brief The Hollywood Museum Goes Back to the Future (10:17), as Museum President Donelle Dadigan walks us through their BTTF exhibit. There’s also Back to the Future: The Musical Behind the Scenes, a three part feature on the musical version.

A nice addition is An Alternate Future: Lost Audition Tapes (3:45 focusing on those who didn’t win the familiar roles. These include potential Biffs Billy Zane and Peter DeLuise; possible Marty McFlys C. Thomas Howell, Jon Cryer, and Ben Stiller as Marty McFly; with Kyra Sedgwick as Jennifer Parker.

Finally, there’s Could You Survive the Movies? Back to the Future (19:47): A YouTube video which reality tests some of the physical humor from the films.

REVIEW: Batman: Death in the Family

REVIEW: Batman: Death in the Family

900 numbers for polling purposes, charging users for each call placed, was a 1980s fad that seemed perfect to employ in comic books for some sort of stunt. Editor Denny O’Neil and DC’s Marketing team, led by Bruce Bristow, conceived of the stunt and Jim Starlin wrote the four-part “Death in the Family” storyline to accommodate the stunt. Jason Todd, the second Robin, never was accepted by fans, either under his father, writer Gerry Conway or the post-Crisis writers Max Allan Collins and Jim Starlin. Callers got to say he would live or die.

It went on to become a media sensation, and a closer than expected vote. It also brought down the wrath of Warner Bros who was unaware of the event and the press attention because, back then, DC was a pimple on the conglomerate’s butt and no one considered telling them.

Still, the strong storyline and fine art from Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo turned the story, post-event, into a seminal tale that has been collected and referenced ever since. It sadly also gave rise to the nonsensical “Under the Red Hood”, which somehow resurrected Jason Todd, turning him from a mid-to-late teen into a muscular adult. We know the Lazarus Pit can bring back the dead, but the physical changes seemed arbitrary/ Nor was his resurrection necessary. But that’s me.

The twin stories have been compacted into the newly released Batman: Death in the Family, containing a first for the DC Animated Universe: interactivity. Much like the original story, once the Joker beats Robin with a crowbar, viewers get to pick what happens next: Robin dies in a fiery explosion or Batman save Robin. Later, viewers get other branching options, so the 86 minute run time covers all the variations while each iteration runs about 20 minutes each.

Some make more sense than others, and there’s reused footage from the Under the Red Hood animated film, both of which were directed by Brandon Vietti.

As a stunt, it’s fine with fun branches and keeps you engaged. As an adaptation of the Big Event, it leaves a lot to be desired. In truncating the story, we lose Robin’s motivation, which was seeking his birth mother, leading him to accidentally encountering the Joker. Here, he’s a brat, defying Batman’s orders to not go after the Clown Prince of Crime by himself. Meanwhile, very little of the Judd Winick story about Jason’s resurrection and reinvention as the Red Hood survives in this adaptation.

It’s interesting for this to come out just after the animated universe was rebooted in the recently released Superman; Man of Steel disc, since this stands alone.

The disc is available only as Blu-ray and Digital HD code option. Please be aware that the Digital version does not offer the branching options so you get one story called Under the Red Hood: Reloaded.

The 1080p presentation is in keeping with the usual high standards from Warner Home Entertainment and retains the color palette well. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio keeps pace so the overall home experience is a strong one.

The adventure receives audio commentary from DC Daily’s Amy Dallen and Hector Navarro, touching on the source material and the animated adaptation.

The disc comes complete with the recent run of DC Showcase shorts, which have been scattered elsewhere overt the last few years. As with the previous releases, these tend to be more satisfying than the stories they accompany. This time around we have Sgt. Rock (14:55), first appearing on Batman: Hush; Adam Strange (16:05), which can also be found on Justice League Dark: Apokolips War; The Phantom Stranger (15:07) from Superman: Red Son; and Death (19:08), which first appeared on Wonder Woman: Bloodlines.

The shorts also receive new commentary from Dallen and Navarro, adding some additional background and detail.

 

REVIEW: Genesis II/Planet Earth

REVIEW: Genesis II/Planet Earth

Gene Roddenberry left Star Trek’s third season to write a Tarzan film that never got produced, setting a tone for the next decade of his career. He produced the wretched Pretty Maids all in a Row and slunk back to television, first with the animated Trek and then a deal with Warner Bros that would see him produce the underrated Questor and Spectre along with a new science fiction film, seemingly designed to distance himself from the optimistic SF albatross around his neck.

He cut a deal with CBS in 1972 to produce a 90-minute film, Genesis II designed to be a pilot for a potential series. He quickly reunited with many of the behind-the-scenes Trek team and got to work, creating a dystopia that began in 1979. We open in 2133 as Earth is recovering from nuclear war and mankind has been dramatically reduced in number. Apparently, the survivors didn’t learn any lessons as the two sides battle, with dollops of slavery, racism, and gender inequality still on display.

“My name is Dylan Hunt. My story begins the day on which I died.”  A NASA scientist, Hunt (Alex Cord) slept through the worst and is awoken to find a world out of control. Using his perspective, he finds like-minded allies forming a rebellious group determined to repair and ultimately save mankind.

As a concept, it’s not bad. The execution, from Samuel A. Peebles’ script on down, is where the pilot film gets into trouble. Peebles’ writing was stiff, and whatever rewriting Roddenberry did, didn’t help. The characters are types, never fully fleshed out, and Cord’s heroic role is blunted by his cold, aloof performance (making him better suited as Airwolf’s Archangel a few years later).

The most interesting performer here is actually Mariette Hartley, who isn’t wearing much (thank you, William Ware Theiss), allowing us to see her two navels (long story), but she has charisma and presence, unlike just about everyone else surrounding her.

Set against an America that was still arguing over Vietnam, a public just waking up to the corruption in the White House, and where a generation gap made communication nearly impossible, the themes are bluntly handled and where Trek offered people hope, this showed that nothing was going to change. Despite reasonable ratings during two airings, the network dithered over greenlighting the series. Ultimately, they gave the one SF slot on the schedule (talk about your quota systems) to a weekly version of Planet of the Apes.

ABC was waiting in the wings, wanting the show, but like Trek got a second pilot order with the new network insisting on major casting revisions. Gone was Cord, and in came journeyman action actor John Saxon, who had an appeal of his own and was a popular name thanks to Enter the Dragon. Also gone was Hartley in favor of Diana Muldaur, who was game but unconvincing in her part. The sole holdover was Ted Cassidy, but he didn’t have enough to do.

Rather than use the current events of the day as a springboard, Roddenberry stuck to themes that didn’t translate well nor were they well-handled in the rewrite, this time from Roddenberry and relatively new to TV writing Juanita Bartlett (who acquitted herself later on series like The Rockford Files and The Greatest American Hero.)

Joining the reimagined show was producer Robert Justman, fresh off the beleaguered Search, and he wrangled the production into a 90-minute production that never quite gelled. Years later, he admitted it wasn’t a very good pilot, which explains why ABC didn’t go to series.

Warner Archive remastered these two telefilms and they look pretty darn good. They are certainly a cultural curiosity, worth watching if you are a devotee of Roddenberry. They’re not very good as stories or pilots, the lofty ideas never properly translating to the screen. (It should be noted that after Roddenberry left, the studio tried one more time with Strange New World which isn’t here and that’s fine.) There are no extras but having these two on one-disc is a nice keepsake for collectors.