Tagged: History

“Altered States of the Union” anthology shows what America could be


Have you ever wondered what could have been? What if Key West seceded from the mainland? If the state of Wyoming ended up in the middle of Pennsylvania? If freed slaves were given the state of Mississippi after the Civil War? Perhaps you would like a Brief Explanation as to how Budapest became the Taco Capital of the World? Or, if you prefer, there is one story that is a fight to the death between the governor of North Alaska, Sarah Palin, and the billionaire orange haired governor of South Alaska…

You can wonder all of these no longer with ‘Altered States of the Union: What America Could Be’; An American alternate history anthology (say that five times fast) that features a varied and fantastic line up of first time authors, New York Times best selling authors, and Hugo and Nebula award winning authors, coming all together with their own stories of alternate American history and describing what could have been if circumstances were just a little different. (And a little more crazy.)
It will be making its debut on July 15th/2016 at the Shore Leave Convention – aptly, the weekend before the Republican convention. For anyone that grabs it on Indiegogo, copies of the book will be mailed out shortly thereafter, if you’re not at the show to pick it up and get autographs in person.


This anthology wants to show you how we could have gone other ways, how we could have been very different than what we are– yet still be America. For anyone wondering how the Indiegogo will be spread out, they’re taking pre-orders to finance printing costs and generally passing along more money to the contributors— all proceeds after production and distribution costs go to the people whose work drew you to the book in the first place— which, after all, is how it should be.

The array of authors that are in this collection of historic proportions are:


Russ Colchamiro, Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald, Brendan DuBois, Malon Edwards, G.D. Falksen, Michael Jan Friedman, David Gerrold, Robert Greenberger, Alisa Kwitney, Gordon Linzner, Sarah McGill, Meredith Peruzzi, Mackenzie Reide, Aaron Rosenberg, David Silverman & Hildy Silverman, Ian Randal Strock, Ramón Terrell, Anne Toole, and ComicMix’s own Glenn Hauman as editor.

A mixture of NY Times best sellers, Hugo and Nebula winners, WGA award winners, president of American Atheists, and an editor of the Sandman comics is a sure win. Any anthology that includes the writer of “The Trouble With Tribbles”, a writer of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”, and the president of American Atheists is an interesting mix that shouldn’t be missed out on.


REVIEW: Cleopatra in Space

Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice
By Mike Maihack
169 pages, Scholastic Graphix, $12.99

cleo01_frontcoverThe allure of Cleopatra VII has endured over the millennia and continues to be a source of fascination for people young and old. As a result, she is an easy subject to inject into novels, plays, and unfortunately, this graphic novel. What could have been a fun, interesting, character-driven fish out of water story became a by-the-numbers young adult graphic novel that bears no resemblance to the source.

Mike Maihack is a talent and clever storyteller and the art and color make the book a fun, if irritating, read. He has an open style that is expressive and a restrained color palette so you’re not overwhelmed. He’s been producing this as a webcomic since 2010 and the first cycle of stories is being collected by Scholastic’s Graphix imprint in April. A second volume is already promised for 2015 so they’re expecting great things.

Fifteen year old Cleopatra (or Cleo to her friends) is snatched from Egypt by a piece of technology that sends her far into the future where she has to attend an intergalactic school in order to fulfill her destiny of saving the universe. Her teacher Khensu, a talking cat, tries to mentor her, tempering her youthful exuberance and adolescent ways with exasperating results.

The future world is made up of species and races from around the galaxy, all of whom are looking to Cleo to save them from the Xerx War that threatens life as they know it. Additionally, they have no way of sending her home so she can fulfill her first destiny, to be the last great pharaoh of Egypt’s classic period.

History shows Cleopatra was fourteen when she was named co-regent with her father, Ptolemy XII, until his death when she was eighteen. So right here, the book makes little sense. Secondly, she arrives in the far future and at no point does she appear confused by the languages, the knowledge there is life beyond Earth, the technology, etc. Sher arrives, is assigned classes, and settles into dorm life where she is a slacker student but a deadly shot.

This is not the Cleopatra of history, the wily, tough leader who charmed two Roman leaders and oversaw her people after prolonged battle.  None of what we know of her personality is here, instead we’re given a modern day plucky teenager and we’ve seen that. We’ve seen the “savior” storyline, we’ve seen ti all before so plopping Cleopatra into this does nothing but trade on her name.

There is little explanation about why the organization that recruited her is acronymed .P.Y.R.A.M.I.D. or why there are Egyptian touches, such as her sphinx sky cycle, so far into the future on another world. Similarly, the Xerx is reminiscent of Xerxes, the Persian, conqueror of Greece as immortalized in 300 while their leader is Xarius Octavian (the surname being that of Caesar’s son who wound up with Egypt after Cleo killed herself).  The supporting cast is visually interesting but woefully under-utilized. What could have and should have been something different is a cookie-cutter approach to a young adult graphic novel, so it’s all the more disappointing that her 8-12 year old readers will know nothing of what the true Queen of the Nile was like.

REVIEW: Vikings: The Complete First Season

vikings-on-blu-610x465Mining history for fictional fodder has been a staple of television program dating back to HBO’s Rome and now series set across the years can be found on prime time and basic cable channels with more on the way. Whereas some like the CW’s new Reign is laughably inaccurate, others do their homework and mine the reality for nuggets to hang characters and stories on. Most audiences are blissfully undereducated about world history so they will swallow events on The Tudors, Borgias, and others without realizing how many liberties have been taken in the name of dramatic license and television realities.

No surprise then that the venerable History Channel would want to get in on the fun and they wisely picked one of the least known and richest cultures to mine for dramatic fare. Last spring they unleashed the nine part Vikings, a Canadian-Irish coproduction developed and written by Michael Hirsrt who proved to have a flair for the past with Showtime’s The Tudors. The Vikings, living in northern Europe, were fearsome warriors and plied the seas, exploring the world long before Western Europe got around to it. Their largely oral history didn’t get recorded until generations later but thanks to modern day archeology, we have grown to develop a much better understanding of their ways.

450vikingsOne of the best Vertigo titles of the last decade was Northlanders, also about Viking culture, so I was primed for this series and was not disappointed. Thanks to MGM and 20th Century Home Entertainment, a handsome box set has been released this week. Set in 793, during the earliest days of their recorded raids, Hirst chose to use the real life Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel), who, like John Rhys Myers’ Henry VIII is depicted at a much earlier point in his famous life. Here he is a young warrior, raising a family with his wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick).

He desires to ply the seas further west and works with Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård), to develop faster, sturdier longships and then petitions his chieftain, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) for petition to make the trip. Despite Haraldson’s refusal, Ragnar, with his brother Rollo (Clive Standen), makes the first trip to Northern England, successfully plundering the land and bringing home the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) as part of his booty. King Aelle (Ivan Kaye) is none too pleased and skirmishes between the two cultures begin.

There’s the usual dash of soap opera elements such as Rollo lusting after Lagertha, who is an able Viking shieldmaiden, but it’s also a more somber, brutal series than Hirst has previously produced. The writing and performances are strong and compelling, making this satisfying viewing.

Vikings Season OneThe nine episodes are spread over three Blu-ray discs and you have the option of watching them as they aired on History or in the extended (now with more blood and nudity!) versions that aired in Europe. Visually, both versions are sharp, with excellent color transfer.

The lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 track means you can hear the wind rush over the waves or the swords cutting into flesh. Trevor Morris’ superb score is never better and enhances the viewing.

The extras contain the needed Season Mode, allowing you to seamlessly zip through the nine episodes and bookmark wherever you stopped watching. There are also commentaries on the first and last episodes, from Hirst and Jessalyn Gilsig, who plays Haraldson’s wife Siggy, on the first, and Winnick and Standen on the second. There are Deleted Scenes that are extended versions of ones that aired in Episodes One and Eight, which means they were likely trimmed for running time reasons Far more interesting is A Warrior Society: Viking Culture and Law (20:48) where Hirst takes us through what is known about the Viking culture, with input from Dr. Anthony Perron, Professor of History, Loyola Marymount University; Dr. Jochen Burgtorf, Professor of History, University of California, Fullerton; and Justin Pollard. Hirst and his cast appear on Birth of the Vikings (17:09), discussing their characters. Forging the Viking Army: Warfare and Tactics (12:11) tracks how the armies were trained for the vicious battles as sword master Richard Ryan and stunt coordinator Mark Henson discuss their work.

Mindy Newell: Multiverse University

Quantum Leap Special Edition #1As I was saying…

One of the most imaginative uses of time travel as a story platform was Don Bellasario’s Quantum Leap, which starred Scott Bakula as quantum physicist (among other things) Dr. Sam Beckett and Dean Stockwell as Rear Admiral Al Calavicci:

“Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished…

“He woke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own, and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.”

Sam was changing history.

Or was he creating alternate histories?

Alternate histories that led to whole new universes.

Parallel universes.

Multiverses within the meta-universe.

The multiverse  (a term coined by American philosopher and psychologist William James in 1895—I wonder what he was smoking?) is a hypothesis that states that there are infinite numbers of universes existing parallel to our own, but at different “levels” within the meta-universe.  The meta-universe is the hypothetical set of infinite—or maybe finite—possible universes (including our own) that together comprises everything that exists, i.e., you, me, the iMac computer I’m typing this on, the New York City skyline outside my window, President Obama, Vladimir Putin, Syria, the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars, space, time, matter, and energy, and the physical laws and mathematical constants that define them.  (In other words, 1 + 1 = 2 no matter where you are in the meta-universe.)

Confused?  See if this helps.  Think of the meta-universe as a sort of giant department store.  The store is stocked with merchandise, but each floor is a separate department, and a little different; they are contained within the same number of square feet, but the first floor sells cosmetics and leather goods and men’s wear, the second is dedicated to children, the third to women, and so on.  But each floor, while having its own standards and imperatives, must obey the rules set by the larger store within which it exists.

So, if Sam Beckett was creating alternate histories as he “quantum leaped” through time, did he eradicate himself from any or all histories?  In the last episode, Sam rights what he believes is his greatest wrong—not telling Beth (Al’s first wife and true love, whom he met in a previous jump) that Al isn’t dead, that he is a POW in Vietnam:

Sam:  I’m going to tell you a story. A
 story with a happy ending, but
only if you believe me.

Beth:  And if I don’t?

Sam:  You will. I swear you will. Instead of ‘Once upon a time,’ let’s start with the happy ending.
 Al’s alive and coming home.

The screen goes black.  A caption tells us that Al and Beth will be celebrating their 49th anniversary this year.

And another caption tells us, “Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.”

But what does that mean?

The Grandfather Paradox:  Some fans believe that by changing the course of Beth and Al’s life, Sam wiped himself out of existence because Al Calavicci and Sam never met, therefore Al never became a key element in the development of the Quantum Leap project and so it never got off the ground.  But if Sam never existed, then how could he leap to Beth and tell her to wait, for Al was coming home?

The Novikov Self-Consistency Principle:  Other fans say that, so what if Al is happily married to Beth?  Sam still developed his quantum leap theory, and Al still became his liaison with the government and Sam is still out there, fighting “to put right what once went wrong.”  History rights itself.  History is consistent.

The Multiverse Theory:  Quantum mechanics—Sam is a quantum physicist—describes existence as probabilities, not definite outcomes.  And the mathematics of quantum theory suggests that all the possible outcomes of a situation do actually occur.  Robert Frost described it this way in The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

By taking the “one less traveled by,” the narrator has led a life with a certain outcome.  However, in quantum mechanics, the narrator also took the other road, the one “more” traveled by, and so a “bubble” or “daughter” universe was created, one in which the events and outcome of the narrators life were just as true, but just as different.

American theoretical physicist and string theorist Brian Green, now a professor at Columbia University, put it this way in his 2011 book The Hidden Reality:  Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.

“And in each universe, there’s a copy of you witnessing one or the other outcome, thinking — incorrectly — that your reality is the only reality.”

So in this universe I have a daughter named Alix who is married to Jeff and they’re about to have a baby any minute, and I work as a nurse in the operating room and write for ComicMix.

In another universe I stayed married to Alix’s father, only in that universe Alixandra is Alexander and I never became a comics writer so I’m not writing this column for ComixMix because I never met Mike Gold who talked me into this thing in the first place.

In another universe, everything happened just like it has happened, only I never got better from my clinical depression and when I’m not in the hospital I’m on Welfare and Medicaid and my daughter doesn’t talk to me.

And in another universe, my father doesn’t have Complex Partial Seizure syndrome and he is going strong at 90 and my mother doesn’t need a walker and doesn’t have emotional, crazy outbursts and she’s as healthy as a horse and my Aunt Augie never had cancer and died and she and my mother talk every day on the phone….

In another universe I don’t have black hair (yeah, I dye it) but let myself go gray and I never married at all but Alixandra is still my daughter and Jeff is still her husband and they live on the East Coast and I’m a film editor who lives in Laurel Canyon with a couple of Oscars and SAG Awards under my belt.

What dreams may be in the multiverse….

To be continued next week!

New Original Novel Featuring Classic Argosy Character Debuts!


From Borgo Press and Author Christopher Yates comes a new tale of adventure featuring the classic character from Argosy Magazine, THE NIGHT WIND!
Borgo Press previously reprinted four Night Wind novels, edited by Yates.  The fifth book, entitled Behold ‘The Night Wind’ is a newly written tale of adventure by Yates as the next book in the series.  The book also features exquisite cover and interior artwork by noted artist Mark Maddox!
In the latest adventure of this classic character, Bingham and Katherine Harvard are polite, New York society.  He is an Ivy League graduate, heir to his foster father’s fortune, and successor to the presidency of New York’s Centropolis Bank.  She is the daughter of a United States Senator, scion of the Maxwilton family, the political dynasty of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  Husband and wife reside at the sprawling Long Island estate, Myquest. 
The Harvards’ elevated status in the social register is not high enough to avoid the clutch of crime.  Years ago Bing earned an alias, The Night Wind, in a bare-fisted brawl with the law in an all-sweeping revenge against false witnesses.  With five times the strength of an average man, Bingham prevailed.  Lady Kate was a prisoner in her own home, but sprang self-made man-traps in a successful bid at freedom.  Using sleuthing skills attained as a New York City police detective was no small advantage during her plight.  Together they have resolved to take the battle to the villain instead of awaiting fate to drop yet another scoundrel on their doorstep.
Aided by the United States Secret Service, and their valet, Julius, the Harvards race headlong into Westerville, Ohio.  A town dubbed the Dry Capital of the World and home of the Anti-Saloon League, the principal proponent of the successful drive for national prohibition.  But a half dozen speakeasies go up in flames in nearby Columbus, drawing in organized crime from New York to protect their business…until they too go up in flames.
Amidst this turmoil, United States Senator Warren G. Harding is conducting his campaign for President of the United States from the front porch of his home in Marion, Ohio.  His challenger for the Oval Office is the Governor of the State of Ohio. 
History is being made in central Ohio this fall of 1920.  Will it be historically tragic or triumphant?
The ingredients for anarchy are in the bowl waiting to be stirred.
Be prepared to be blown away.  Behold, “The Night Wind!”
Available at Amazon!

A Doctor a Day – “The Long Game”

Using the new Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set, your noble author will make his way through as much of the modern series as he can before the Christmas episode, The Snowmen.

Making the same move for new Companion Adam he did for Rose, The Doctor takes the trio to the year 200,000 – the middle of the fourth great empire, mankind at its height.  So when everyone seems to be not a lot further up the social advancement scale than the 20th century, he suspects something’s wrong.  Someone is trying to change things, very slowly, playing…

by Russell T Davies
Directed by Brian Grant

“Time travel’s like visiting Paris; you can’t just read the guidebook, you gotta throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs! Get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers! Or is that just me?”

jagrafess-300x198-4119236The Doctor and co arrive on Satellite Five, news center for the empire, streaming information from everywhere, to everywhere. Journalists and techs are all angling for promotion to Floor 500, where it’s said the walls are made of gold. They’re off by one letter – it’s deathly cold, to ensure the health of the mysterious “Editor-in Chief”, the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe. The Jagrafess has been stunting the advancement of the human race, keeping them from achieving its potential.  His assistant, played with style by Simon Pegg, works for a consortium of banks who are manipulating the news, and as a result, the people, to make things better for their investments.

(Eerily prophetic, isn’t it?)

And meanwhile, new companion Adam has decided to take advantage of the opportunities that access to 198,000 years of future history can provide, and attempt to download enough info to make his former employer look like the owner of a lemonade stand.

A simple done-in-one episode with a strong message and a solid monster, It’s a great example of how much Russell could get into his stories.  The set is both well designed and very efficient, budget wise – a bit of redressing and it takes the role of several separate floors.  And it’ll return later in the season as the plot threads of the season start to get tied up.

Russell T Davies made a running gag of the alien and planet names getting progressively more complex, all culminating in next season’s “cheap episode”, Love and Monsters, where the baddie is from the planet Clom.

Simon Pegg is the first big name to appear in the series, the first of a still-growing list who are all too happy to become a part of the show’s history.  Simon also narrated the first season of Doctor Who Confidential.  While she’s not as well known in the US, Tamsin Greig is a popular comedic actress in the UK. She recently played Sacharissa Cripslock in the two part mini-series Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal.

Interestingly enough, in an earlier draft, Adam has quite a different reason for doing the old Back to the Future Sports Almanac trick.  Originally, it was written that Adam’s father has a disease of some type, and he tries to access medical information in the hopes of saving him. It’s an interesting idea, but for The Doctor to take the information away and chuck him out of the TARDIS in punishment would make him the jerk.  It’d be warranted for breaking the laws of time and space and all, but it would still come off as a dick move.  The idea that he simply wants to profit works much better, and it shows that once again, this new Doctor is not infallible.

Doctor Who Christmas Preview Special Airs Friday

The countdown to the Doctor Who Christmas special has begun. As has become traditional, the BBC has produced a special Doctor Who short to air during the annual Children in Need appeal. A prequel to the upcoming Christmas special, the short will feature the first footage of current Doctor Matt Smith and his new companion, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, in the same room.

Jenna-Louise appeared in the first episode of the season, Asylum of the Daleks, in a surprise appearance as the mysterious and tragic Oswin Oswald.  Fannish speculation has run rampant ever since as to any connection between Ms. Oswald and the Doctor’s new companion, about whom little is know save her rumored name, Clara.

Terry Wogan

Founded by British radio and chat show icon Terry Wogan, Children in Need helps disadvantaged children in Great Britain in many ways. Doctor Who and the charity have had a long history. The 30th anniversary adventure Dimensions in Time was broadcast during the telethon back in 1993. In the modern era of the series, David Tennant’s first scene as the Doctor was shown during the event, previous to his first episode, the first of the new Christmas specials.  Time Crash, the crossover between Tennant and Peter Davison ran two years later.

Like most charities, this annual event is its biggest fundraising opportunity. If every American Doctor Who fan who watches this prequel donates as little as a pound on the appeal’s website, it’d add a staggering amount to the total, and the work the cause can do.

Randy Cunningham, Ninth Grade Ninja – he’s so Bruce!


To take a term from the show’s own lexicon, Randy Cunningham, Ninth Grade Ninja is the straight-up cheese.

That’s a compliment.

The latest animated series from Disney XD, part of a new edgy very non-Disney stack of shows that includes [[[Phineas and Ferb]]] and [[[Gravity Falls]]] (about which I should rightly wax rhapsodic another time) Randy Cunningham is a freshman at Norrisville High School, a school and a town who have been protected by a mysterious ninja for eight hundred years. What is not known by the populace is that The Ninja is a high school student; a new Ninja is selected from the freshman class, and they serve until they graduate, when a new frosh is chosen.  And this time around, young Randy Cunningham is chosen. In his bedroom, a mysterious box appears, containing the Ninja’s mask and the tome of secrets, the Ninjanomicon. It’s now his job to protect the town and school from villains like Hannibal Mc Fist, underappreciated evil genius Willem Viceroy III, and the Big Bad of the series, The Sorcerer, voiced by the can-do-no-wrong Tim Curry. (OK, we’ll ignore The Worst Witch – he was but a lad at the time.)


At its core it’s a buddy comedy – Randy and his friend Howard Wienerman fight  the hordes of chaos, while still trying to become popular and get to class on time. Howard is the archetypal “Fat Friend”, seen most recently in the form of Nick Frost when paired with Simon Pegg. Ninjas are deadly and silent So Hot Right Now, and the show does a good job of balancing the classic semi-mystical powers of the shadow warrior with the modern take of a teenager in the suit.  The Ninjanomicon is quite reminiscent of The Phantom’s archives – the book is covered with notes in the margins from past ninjas as advice and explanation to the new guy.

The character designs seem very similar to the people from [[[Invader Zim]]], and with good reason – Bleeding Cool reported that Zim-creator (and conspirator) Jhonen Vasquez did character designs for the show.  He’s been sharing much of his work on his Tumblr page.

Lots of story to be explored, too, mostly about the history of the suit.  Will we meet any past wearers of the suit?  Have any ninjas not made it through all four years?  The show’s only a couple of episodes in, so there’s lots of time to explore all that. Till then, sit back and enjoy a solid adventure series with a lot of laughs.

Dennis O’Neil: Krypton and the End Times

From the totally unauthorized history of the late, great planet Krypton.

dedicated to Sandy

Fer-El waited until the building stopped shaking, stepped around a slab of plaster that had fallen from the ceiling, and entered the senator’s office. He crossed to the desk and, without waiting for an invitation, slouched into a chair.

Senator Ban-El brushed plaster dust from his shoulder and asked, “Did you feel it?”

“Didn’t feel a thing,” Fer-El answered. “Building didn’t shake, not a bit, and even if it did, that’s happened before. Plenty of times. But enough of that. I bring good news. I just topped off our coffers. Put another four billion in your campaign fund. No problem with the election now.”

The windows rattled and a picture fell from the wall.

“Did you feel that?” the senator asked.

“Nope. Feel what? Say, you haven’t been listening to that Jor-El buzzard, have you?”

“He spoke to the combined chambers this morning. Said there’s still time. We can fabricate a substitute for –”

“And you bothered to stay awake? Banny, I’m gonna tell you once more plenty of what you already know. That Jor-El…not just him, all those so-called scientists with their ‘facts’ and ‘data’ – all wishy washy sissies. Not a real Kryptonian man in the lot! What is it they say again?”

“We’ve exhausted the planet’s supply of dragonbreath and without it there’s nothing anchoring us to the space-time continuum.”

“All lies. There’s plenty more dragonbreath where that came from.”

“All the dragons died out five million years ago.”

“Piddykrunch! I believe I saw a dragon on my way down here. And anyway, our beloved Krypton’s only about four hundred years old. That’s in The Scrolls and you know what else’s in The Scrolls? Nothing bad’s ever gonna happen long as we obey the Rules handed down by our beloved senators –”

I’m a senator,” the senator protested.

“See? My point exactly. Proves that nothing bad can happen or you couldn’t do it. See how simple it is? And anyway, it’s all happened before and nothing bad came of it then.”

“A continent crumbled and forty million people died.”

“You believe that?”

“My mother was one of the forty million.”

“See! Your mother was and Jor-El’s mother wasn’t. That’s in The Scrolls , too, if you know how to look for it. I’m a little disappointed. I shouldn’t have to tell you this stuff. Maybe I can find another home for my four billion.”

Senator Ban-El half rose from his chair and said, “No no no. I didn’t mean anything.”

The senator sank down and sat on the floor. His chair had vanished. Then the floor suddenly wasn’t there and as the senator fell, he heard Fer-El screaming, “It’s happened before.”

RECOMMENDED VIEWING/LISTENING: Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind, presented by The Teaching Company and taught by Professor Eric S. Rabkin. Note: These Teaching Company courses are generally offered in two formats, audio and video.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


REVIEW: The Princess Bride – 25th Anniversary Edition

Hard to believe it’s been a quarter of a century since The Princess Bride was released to theaters. By then, I had adored William Goldman’s novel which was its basis and over time, as it hit cable then home video, it was watched repeatedly in my house. As a result, the kids grew up with it a part of their lives and they came to adore it with equal ardor. Sadly, when I tried to interest my eighth graders in seeing it recently, they stared blankly.

The conceit in the novel is that Goldman was giving us the “good parts” version of S. Morgenstern’s fantasy tale and that is adapted to the film as a grandfather (Peter Falk) reads the book to his sick grandson (Fred Savage). The rest of the fable involves the romance between beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright) and dashing Westley (Cary Elwes) and the trials and tribulations that kept them apart – until the end when they finally kissed, one of the five greatest kisses ever recorded in history (or so we’re told). Between meeting and kissing, there are swordfights aplenty, death, resurrection, magic, cowardice, giants, tricksters, weird locales, and much more. Girls can love the romance, the boys can adore the action and both can laugh at the comical performances and clever dialogue.

Rob Reiner’s casting was pitch perfect as was his deft direction so all the elements came together to make an instant, enduring classic. With Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Andre the Giant, what could possibly go wrong? Nothing as it turns out and it’s a joy to see it one more time, in the 125th anniversary Blu-ray release from Warner Home Video. Reiner could have gone overboard with the humor but he reaches the edge of slapstick and pulls back time after time.

Given how often this has been previously released on DVD and Blu-ray, it’s comforting to see most of the extra features carried over here including both audio commentaries (Reiner and Goldman), The Art of Fencing (7:00), Cary Elwes’ Video Diary (4:00), a look at the Dread Pirate Roberts (12:00), twin pieces on the fantasy roots (26:00), a Makeup (11:00) piece; and “Untold Tales” (9:00). New to this edition is a 25th Anniversary Chat with Cary Elwes, Robin Wright and Rob Reiner (15:00) and Entering the Zeitgeist (15:00), examining the film’s role in today’s pop culture.

If you own one of the earlier versions, you may not need this but if you don’t have this on the shelf, this is well worth you (and your children’s) attention.