Tagged: Paramount

Is fandom “entitled”? A history of fan-made material

Is fandom “entitled”? A history of fan-made material

Star Wars Meets Star TrekFor those who came in late, a bunch of fans crowdsourced the funds to make a Star Trek fan film, Axanar. The funding campaign was outrageously successful, earning over 1.1 million dollars. That large an amount of money set off Paramount’s sensor array, and they quickly filed suit against said fans for unauthorized use of trademarked items. The folks behind Axanar counter-sued, claiming Paramount didn’t have hold of all the items they claimed.  It was going to get testy (and potentially untenable for Paramount if any of the points made in the counter-suit were deemed valid) until J.J. Abrams stepped in and convinced Paramount to calm down.

In response to said events, this week Paramount released a series of guidelines that fan films must follow in order to stay on the right side of the law, or at least on the right side of Paramount’s battery of white-lipped attorneys. Some of those rules are quite reasonable – the producers of the films can’t make merchandise of their property, and Paramount wrote up a paragraph of verbiage the producers must include in the film’s credits.  Some of the rules are a bit more stringent – the films can’t be more than 15 minutes long, and nobody in the production can have any “professional credits”.  That second one is drawing a number of eyes – some are arguing that it could mean you’re not allowed to use union workers for the production crew, something the unions will likely have something to say about.

Now, the real problem here is that for years there was an unspoken “line” to determine what was considered acceptable by fans’ creations. The exact details were never set in stone, but centered around basic ideas like “don’t make too much money, don’t do anything particularly untoward with the property,” and so on.  While the exact location and cartography of the line may not be known, it’s pretty obvious that Axanar crossed it miles back.  This was no simple pack of fan on cardboard sets and an eight-millimeter camera – the film (and its short prequel) had professional actors, some who had not only appeared on Trek before, but ones like Gary Graham who were actually portraying characters they had played on the actual shows.  The producers of Axanar had stated that in addition to making this film, they were effectively setting up a movie studio, dedicated to making more features in the same vein. So basically, they broke the “don’t make too much money” rule before they even stepped on the set.

These new “guidelines” are far stricter than what was allowed before, and are clearly in response (Retaliation? Perhaps…) to the liberties taken by the Axanar team.  To make an example, an apartment house has a tacit agreement that nobody can play their stereos above six, and even though people were playing them at seven or eight, nobody was complaining. But one guy threw a party and turned his stereo to ten, and the landlord had to step in and put his foot down, so now everyone has to keep their stereo at four.

There have been many conversations about the new rules online – many saw it as a potential death-blow to the staggeringly popular Star Trek Continues series, an acclaimed web series which was likewise inspired by another fan production, Starship Farragut. Another fan production, Renegades, simply announced they planned to excise all Trek references in its new production and become a completely new franchise.

But it was a conversation with an online friend that I found the most interesting.  He described fans who wanted to make amateur films as “entitled”.  That they somehow thought they had the right to make their own versions of other people’s IP and share them with the world. To say that I disagreed with him is an understatement.

First off, let’s look at the history of fandom… starting with the Epic of Gilgamesh.

You heard me.

The classic epic poems could arguably be described as the first fan fiction.  The stories were created by persons (largely) unknown, re-told and embellished by countless other creators.  The versions we know were assembled from various bits and bobs by people who usually ended up getting credit for “writing” them, though you could make a case that “editor” was a better description.

Jumping ahead centuries, Sherlock Holmes had its share of fan fiction. When Arthur Conan Doyle decided to stop writing about Holmes (because apparently he got tired of money) the fans rose to the cause. Doctor Who fans kept the flame alive during The Dark Years with fan productions like PROBE and the audio plays of BBV, which eventually became the official audio plays by Big Finish.  Indeed, many of the people who worked on those fan productions went on to create for the new series.

Entitled?  Hardly.  Dedicated, committed, even? Absolutely.

The big change between the fan films of past decades and those of today is technology.  Thirty years ago, such films were only seen at conventions, often in people’s hotel rooms.  Save for a copy of a copy of a VHS tape, there was no way to obtain one for yourself.  So too for fanzines – stories and art got a hundred or so copies made, which were hawked at conventions, eventually selling through their single print run, never to be heard of again.  Now, literally anyone can film an adventure in 4K quality, with cinema-quality effects, and make it available globally with the click of a button. This makes these fans no more “entitled” than the fans of yore, it just makes them a lot easier to get recognition. Indeed, many times these fan productions catch the eyes of the official producers in a positive way. A fan-made opening for Doctor Who was considered such a good idea, they got a hold of him and used the idea for the series’ new opening titles.

But at the core is that Line. It was virtually impossible to make money on fan material back in the day – it’s almost difficult NOT to now.  But still, for the most part, the desire of the fan is not to make money, but to share their love for the property, and show off their own ideas and jokes.  We’ve seen entire video games created by fans based on their favorite shows and movies.  The sheer breadth of creativity by the fans of the world’s various popular properties likely outstrips the original works by an order of magnitude.

But I don’t know of many fans who think they have a “right” to do so.

When a company steps up and points out a fan project that crosses the line, there is usually a hue and/or cry to some degree.  People will claim the company has “gotten greedy”, and there will be some muted mumblings of boycotts, but in almost all cases, the item in question has simply stepped past that Line, and pretty much deserved to get hit with the ban-hammer.  And in the cases where they weren’t, so far, cooler heads have prevailed.  I’ve talked in the past about the Harry Potter Website scare.  When the HP books (and especially the films) became popular, fan websites proliferated, with various names that used terms and phrases from the series.  And someone in the Warner Brothers legal department thought these sites would cause the downfall of the franchise, and the Cease and Desist orders went out like the exact opposite of Hogwarts acceptance letters. And the news articles began to appear about ten-year-olds getting threatening legal letters, and there was much clicking of tongues, and Warner Brothers quietly waved their hand and the complaints were cancelled.

It’s always been a dance between creator and fandom.  The creators know they owe their fans for the money they’ve paid into the property, and respect their desire to want to play in their garden. The challenge has been in making sure nobody goes too far with their work, and have it potentially become a challenge to the original.  In the age of the electric-type internet, that’s becoming more possible.

We’re starting to see amazing new ways that fans and originators can co-operate.  Cartoon Network just announced a program where they’d work with fan artists to turn their creations into limited run officially licensed items. The fans get both major recognition for their work, and a few dollars to boot, and the creators get to wet their beak, and maintain control of the property.

In a very real way, these rules set forth by Paramount are a GOOD thing.  Strict tho they may be, they set up an actual set of rules that fan creations can follow. The Line is now LITERALLY drawn, which means there’s less chance of stepping over it in error.

REVIEW: World War Z

World War ZEveryone seems to love zombies these days. When I student taught, my eighth graders all wanted to write zombie apocalypse stories, fueled by AMC’s Walking Dead, countless video games, and numerous movies. Of course, to me, a zombie is far more supernatural, far rarer and the stuff of myth and legend. As a result, I’ve never really cottoned to these undead that owe more to George A. Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead than voodoo tradition. That said, every now and then one of these tales rises to the top and screams for your attention.

Max Brooks’ clever account World War Z was one of those stories, a survival journal that was nicely written. As a result, it was optioned and after its troubled production, arrived this summer to beat expectations and prove to be an engaging bit of popcorn entertainment. Leave beside the dramatic issues plaguing it during production, what matters is the final product, out now on home video from Paramount Home Video.

The script ‘s challenge was turning the book into a coherent story for film and Matthew Michael Carnahan largely solved that by focusing on Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former United Nations investigator. Retired, he was enjoying the good life in Philadelphia with his Karin (Mireille Enos) and his daughters Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins). One day the zombies arrived and he had to protect his family while at the same time, use his experience to help figure out what has happened and how to contain the uncontrollable. How do you stop someone who twelve seconds earlier was a normal person but was now out for your blood? And how did it all begin, was there a cure?

Deputized by Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena), Gerry goes back on active duty and the roller coaster ride of a movie begins. There’s globetrotting, near-death experiences, explosions, screaming, and plenty of zombies. In a nice political touch, there’s a hint from Captain Speke (James Badge Dale), that Israel knew about this before the disease was unleashed.

Wisely, director Marc Forster keeps things moving so you never stop to realty-check some of the thinner plot points or even remember to eat your popcorn. He makes us feel this really could be the final zombie apocalypse story, the one that can’t be topped. Ever. Everything you want in such a film is here and then some.

Pitt’s everyman guy gives us someone to root for and he grounds much of the action through sheer force of personality. When the story stopped working, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof stepped in to revise the script, including its troubled third act and the two brought their genre cred with them and it helped strengthen what could otherwise have been a train wreck.

Overall, the film transfer is good but not great, more than sufficient to enjoy at home, coupled with stronger sound.

The combo pack offers the film on Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy while the high def disc comes with a 10 minute longer unrated cut that’s more of the same and you have trouble figuring out what was added. It also comes with a bunch of extras including Origins (8:21), a look back at the book and its impact; Looking to Science (7:28) for clues as to how such changes could really happen;  WWZ: Production: Outbreak (8:31), The Journey Begins (8:39), Behind the Wall (9:41), and, Camouflage (9:25), a nicely detailed look at the making of this feature. If you want even more, Paramount once more offers store exclusives: Wal-Mart has an hour of exclusive streaming content via Vudu; Target has an exclusive slipbox with an art book; and Best Buy has a different exclusive slipcover and alternative streaming content. Man, I hope this trick fails and they stop it before the next wave of releases.

REVIEW: Star Trek Into Darkness

STID_ComboFor years, I have railed against how often Paramount Pictures demonstrates their lack of understanding their Star Trek fans. One misguided decision after another dating back to the 1970s builds a fairly convincing case. The latest misfire is the release pattern to Star Trek Into Darkness, out on disc this week. In case you missed it, the combo pack includes the Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy we have all come to expect. You do get Bonus Materail on the Blu-ray disc, but it’s a mere 42 minutes of fairly perfunctory material, discussed a little later. On the other hand, there’s roughly another 60 minutes of features plus an audio commentary that exists but you have to be willing to buy retailer exclusive editions to get them or download the film from iTunes. Hopefully the outcry from consumers and failure to ignite massive sales to fans who must have everything will make this a one-time doomed experiment.

In a summer filled with disappointment, the release of the film is a reminder of what a squandered opportunity J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot had to sustain their reboot of the storied franchise. After making us wait four years, we get a fairly inept story with logic gaps the size of Qo’noS, raising themes but refusing to explore them in the Gene Roddenberry style, favoring action sequences that are prolonged and largely pointless. There are some very strong ideas presented here and given a surface presentation, not allowing the characters to chew over what it means to violate the laws and their oath or to interfere with a civilization’s destiny.

I09 has a brilliant deconstruction of the film’s major plot holes and I commend your attention over there.Khan escorted

Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof appear to have taken the most obvious traits the mass audience knows about James T. Kirk and ignored the rest. This means Chris Pine gets to play a hotheaded jerk who is all instinct and no intellect. Let’s compare: the TOS Kirk knew his ship inside and out, and kept current with the tech, otherwise he never would have known what to do to the deflector dish in Star Trek Generations. Pine’s Kirk kicked the hardware into place. Gary Mitchell chided Kirk for studying too hard, striving too hard to be perfect and still, Kirk had enough outside-the-box thinking to outthink the Kobyashi Maru test. Pine’s Kirk is smug and seems to skate through without effort. The television Kirk loved books and was pensive, quoting the Constitution of the United Sates and John Masefield. Pine’s Kirk gives us no clue he has such depth and dimension.

StarshipsThe biggest issue is how the Kirk approached the Prime Directive. On television, every time Kirk skirted or violated the law, it was for the good of the people (see Vaal, Landru) or to undo the contamination from other Starfleet personnel (see John Gill, Ron Tracy). In this film, the story starts with Kirk breaking the laws to save Spock’s life, a selfish, thoughtless act that led to his omitting vital information from Starfleet.

It’s as if the production crew at Bad Robot loved Star Trek without understanding it. The sloppiness in the plotting, what I termed a Swiss cheese script, is a deep shame given they took four years to write this disappointment and then tell us they waited for the right story to present itself.

By remaking Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, they demonstrated a complete misreading of why that film worked. We had invested sixteen years with these actors and characters so the themes of age and renewal, sacrifice and friendship worked. Here, we had to wait four years for a second installment and we’re still coming to terms with new actors in familiar roles so killing Kirk and making a big deal out of it fell flat.

Star Trek Into DarknessI’m also really tried of military-minded rogue Starfleet officers, too easy a plot device. (I didn’t quite get how the detonation of Vulcan meant it was time to start a war with the Klingons.) Peter Weller is wasted as the bad guy and the movie’s closing scenes totally ignore the questions his crimes raised. Let’s see: how did the conspiracy work? Were there others involved and have they been arrested? Where’s the dreadnought’s construction crew? With Starfleet command compromised, who is vetting the new command structure? Are we that much closer to war with the Klingons after Weller’s unsanctioned visit to Qo’noS (the proper spelling damn it).

Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant and mesmerizing to watch. But his Khan is cold and apparently an enigma to the historians since no one troubled to look him up in the databanks. Instead, Spock-2 calls Spock-1 for the most pointless cameo yet. While the film is chockfull of winks and nods to the TV series it is distancing itself from, it doesn’t mention the Eugenics Wars or properly explain Khan’s amazing intellect and physique (he appears as invulnerable as Superman and has genesis blood so no one will ever die again).

star-trek-into-darkness-image-300x175After he craftily lures Starfleet’s brain trust into one room, he casually flies to HQ and opens fire. Here’s where I lost it. It’s a heightened security situation so they sit in a room full of windows and the airspace around Starfleet Command apparently isn’t patrolled. Similarly, two Federation ships cross the Klingon border and are undetected, then orbit the homeworld and remain undetected for a while. Really? The warrior race just lets anyone come visit?

The script had some terrific ideas buried under pacing that called for a loud, messy, lens-flare filled action sequence to interrupt every few minutes. It began to feel like a script written with an egg timer. The new characters are introduced and left to be underdeveloped so Admiral Marcus and his daughter, the curvaceous Carol, are pretty much cyphers while the supporting cast gets a few token moments of screen time. (Chekov being a transporter genius sort of makes sense since it’s an extension of navigation but being an engineering whiz stretches the point.)

08-05_star_trek_3_jpg_300x300_upscale_q90Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score and Cumberbatch salvage the film from being a complete misfire. We should be thankful that director J.J. Abrams will be a galaxy far, far away when the third film is prepped for the series’ golden anniversary in 2016. Maybe they can actually hire a script editor to smooth over the rough spots.

That said, the film transfer is stunning in its beauty. The 1080p, 2.40:1-framed image is rich with color and detail. Similarly, the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack means business is just about flawless.

As for the paltry features, they’re all short and focus on elements of the production with cast and crew discussing how things were created or determined. While interesting, it all leaves you wanting more detail and information, especially Abrams’ conclusion that Khan was the most compelling opponent from the original 79 epsidoes, echoing Harve Bennett’s conclusion thirty years ago. He never addresses why they didn’t just create someone new.

Anyway, you get: Creating the Red Planet (8:28), Attack on Starfleet (5:25); The Klingon Home World (7:30); The Enemy of My Enemy (7:03); Ship to Ship (6:03); Brawl by the Bay (5:44); Continuing the Mission (1:57): A look at Star Trek‘s work with returning veterans and public service projects; and, The Mission Continues (1:29).

Robert Greenberger is the author of Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History.

Star Trek Into Darkness Unveils Extras Clips

Star Trek Into Darkness Unveils Extras Clips

Star Trek Into Darkness‘ digital release came out yesterday.  The disc edition will be out in a few weeks but here’s something to whet your appetite, a clip from the iTunes Extras.

Additionally, Paramount Pictures launched their Defeat Khan website today, three months after Kirk did it on screen. The site uses some of the most advanced 3D technology to allow you to instantly create your  own personalized Star Trek avatar with just an upload of your photo.  You are then tasked to join the Starfleet Academy to train with a variety of simulations testing your IQ, Vision, Focus, Memory, and Speed as you move up the ranks to help defeat Khan.  By connecting to Facebook, you can also compete with your friends to see who has the more superior genetics.

There are multiple exclusive concept art images debuting today from Xbox SmartGlass.  The images have a code that users can enter on the Defeat Khan website for a chance to win a trip to see Star Trek Into Darkness live orchestrated in London by Michael Giacchino. Users can find out where these images are from the website.

Paramount & MGM Begin Production on Hercules

Hercules RadicalFounded in 2007, Radical Studios  is a multimedia company that incubated comic books for exploitation in other forms. Among their earliest releases was Hercules, boasting a Steranko cover, and it came with high production values and a bit of a buzz., The character returned for a second miniseries in and this interpretation captured Hollywood’s fancy. After years in development, production on the movie adaptation began today. Thew film enters a crowded summer 2014, especially for super-hero films, coming after Captain America: The Winter Solider and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and just before X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy (raising the question whether or not four Marvel Universe films in five months will reach the saturation point).

Here’s the formal release:

HOLLYWOOD, CA (June 10, 2013) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, a division of MGM Holdings, Inc., and Paramount Pictures, a division of Viacom, Inc., announced principal photography began today on “HERCULES,” starring Dwayne Johnson (“G.I. JOE: RETALIATION,” “FAST AND FURIOUS” franchise) and directed and produced by Brett Ratner (“RUSH HOUR” franchise, “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”). Filming takes place in Budapest, Hungary.

“HERCULESwill be distributed worldwide by Paramount Pictures on July 25, 2014 with select international territories as well as all television distribution being handled by MGM.

“HERCULES” also stars Golden Globe-winner Ian McShane (“Deadwood,” “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES”), Rufus Sewell (“LEGEND OF ZORRO”), Joseph Fiennes (“SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE,” “American Horror Story”), Peter Mullan (“War Horse,” “Top of the Lake”) and Academy Award®-nominee John Hurt (“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS”). Rounding out the main cast is Rebecca Ferguson (The BBC’s “The White Queen”), Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (“HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS”), Aksel Hennie (“HEADHUNTERS”) and Reece Ritchie (“PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME”).

“HERCULES” is produced by Beau Flynn (“JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND,” “HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS”), Barry Levine (“OBLIVION”) and Ratner. Executive producers are Peter Berg (“BATTLESHIP”), Sarah Aubrey (“BATTLESHIP”), Ross Fanger (“IRON MAN”) and Jesse Berger (“OBLIVION”).

Based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars, the ensemble-action film is a revisionist take on the classic myth set in a grounded world where the supernatural does not exist. The screenplay is by Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos.

Everyone knows the legend of Hercules and his twelve labors. Our story begins after the labors, and after the legend…

Haunted by a sin from his past, Hercules has become a mercenary.  Along with five faithful companions, he travels ancient Greece selling his services for gold and using his legendary reputation to intimidate enemies.  But when the benevolent ruler of Thrace and his daughter seek Hercules’ help to defeat a savage and terrifying warlord, Hercules finds that in order for good to triumph and justice to prevail… he must again become the hero he once was… he must embrace his own myth… he must be Hercules.

The behind-the-scenes creative team led by Ratner includes: Academy Award®-nominee director of photography Dante Spinotti (“THE INSIDER,” “LA CONFIDENTIAL”), editor Mark Helfrich  (“X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”), production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos (“10,000 B.C.”),  costume designer Jany Temime (“SKYFALL”), 2nd Unit director Alexander Witt (“SKYFALL”), VFX supervisor John Bruno (“AVATAR”), SFX Supervisor Neil Corbould (“BLACK HAWK DOWN”) and stunt coordinator Greg Powell (“FAST & FURIOUS 6,” “HARRY POTTER” franchise).

MGM and Paramount most recently partnered on the release of the blockbuster “G.I. JOE: RETALIATION,” also starring Dwayne Johnson, as well as the global box office hit “HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS.”

Mindy Newell: Filling The Captain’s Chair

Newell Art 130529I loved Star Trek: Into Darkness.

I was riveted from the moment I planted my butt in the seat. All the major actors have made their iconic characters their own – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin all turn in stand-out performances – and the script is full of the quips, banter, arguments, and heart-to-hearts that have made the interactions and relationships between the Enterprise crew a cultural treasure.

But Star Trek: Into Darkness also disappointed me.

Huh?

I suppose that from Paramount’s view – after all, Paramount had to green-light the storyline – it was smart to pick a villain out of the Star Trek archives who would be familiar to both the “Trekker” and a wider audience; but all in all, I think that this particular villain was just too easy to choose.

Yep, that’s right. The rumors were true. The villain of Star Trek: Into Darkness is…

RED ALERT!!!! SHIELDS UP!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Khan Noonian Singh.

*sigh* I so wanted it to be Gary Mitchell.

But it’s Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

Or… is it?

If you’ve already seen the movie and walked out thinking “we wuz robbed!” because there was no need to retell what was one of the most brilliant Trek stories ever, no need to reboot the movie that was really responsible for reenergizing Star Trek, you’ve missed the real villain of Into Darkness, for Abrams pulled a magnificent MacGuffin on all of us by twisting The Wrath Of Khan into something else, a trek into an “undiscovered country” – the ego of James Tiberius Kirk.

The opening scenario is not just a teaser; it’s the hinge on which the whole plot rests. You’ve seen it in ads and websites – Jim and Bones running for their lives through a red-leafed forest and jumping off a cliff into the ocean, and Spock somewhere where there’s lots of molten lava.

Returning to Earth, instead of being ballyhooed and decorated, we discover that Jim has botched a benign observation mission of an alien primitive society, totally disregarding Starfleet’s Prime Directive (“As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Star Fleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation”) by (1) allowing Spock to stop a mega-volcano from erupting; and (2) revealing the Enterprise, in the course of saving Spock’s life, to the natives, who then start to worship Enterprise as some kind of “Chariot of the Gods.”

Admiral Christopher Pike tells Jim “You don’t respect the chair because you’re not ready for it, and that Starfleet had decided that Jim is to be removed from the captain’s seat and sent back to the academy.

Jim is drowning his sorrow and shame in a bar (where else?) when Pike shows up. Pike has been returned command of the Enterprise and talked Starfleet into allowing him to have Jim as his First Officer because Pike still believes in him. Jim accepts.

After a Section 31 installation is blown to bits in London (Section 31 is the Star Trek equivalent of the CIA – and it’s a cool callout to Deep Space Nine, in which Section 31 was established), Pike and Jim, along with other available starship captains and first officers, are called to a meeting at Starfleet Command, where it is revealed that the perpetrator is a former Starfleet operative named John Harrison. A gunship (which looks like a 23rd century version of a Black Hawk helicopter), strafes the meeting, killing most of the Starfleet officers, including Christopher Pike (I didn’t want him to die).  Jim not only survives the attack, but also brings down the gunship – flown by Harrison, who escapes.

Jim wants to avenge Pike’s death, and challenges Admiral Alexander Marcus (yeah, he’s Carol’s father, no duh) to reinstate him as the captain of the Enterprise, with the rest of his senior officers joining him. Marcus agrees, and orders the Enterprise to hunt down and kill Harrison, who has fled to Kronos, home to the Klingon civilization. To do this Marcus supplies the Enterprise with 72 (pay attention to that number, boys and girls) prototype photon torpedoes, which can pinpoint Harrison’s exact location on the Klingon home world, though firing on Kronos could, and probably will, start a war between the Federation and Starfleet.

Jim, hungry for payback for the death of his quasi-father (Pike) could give a shit about starting a war. All he wants is Harrison’s proverbial head on the proverbial platter. His bridge officers object to the mission; in fact, Scotty is so strongly against it he resigns from Starfleet, saying, “This is clearly a military operation. Is that what we are now? ‘Cause I thought we were explorers.” Jim promotes Chekhov to replace Scotty; though the young Ensign is not ready for the position, Jim in his bloodlust cannot see this.

And that’s the magnificent twist that Abrams pulls in rebooting TWOK. The journey Star Trek: Into Darkness isn’t really about Khan, or terrorism, or the militarization of Starfleet. It’s really the journey of James Tiberius Kirk into manhood and the right to sit in the captain’s chair.

Because, you see, Jim Kirk really is still the cocky young kid who stole and drove his uncle’s antique C2 Corvette over a cliff, even if he did defeat Nero and save Earth from that red stuff. Jim Kirk has gotten where he is, as Pike told him after he’s “crashed” the observation mission (just as he crashed his father’s car) by his “audacity, by his being in the right place at the right time, by just “plain old dumb luck and having me behind you.”

Jim’s mission, you see, is to see beyond himself, to grow up. We’ve all been on that particular mission, and let’s face it, there are times when it isn’t a very pleasant trip; it can be a journey Into Darkness, when you have to come to terms not being the king of your universe; that you are, in fact, quite expendable.

When Jim tells Spock “you are way, way better at commanding a starship,” you know he has made a giant leap forward into maturity. He has gone through the darkness, and he has accepted that, of all his command staff, he is the one who has gotten there because, well, he’s just been the guy who has been in the right place at the right time.

I won’t spoil the climax for you. Let me just say that when Jim sits in the captain’s chair in the final moments, and orders the ship to embark on Starfleet’s first five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before, Jim Kirk has become, truly, Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, NCC-1701.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

 

REVIEW: Popeye the Sailor the 1960s Classics Vol. 1

Popeye the Sailor 1960s vol 1January 1929 was a very good month for comic strip readers. On the 7th they got to see the arrival of Tarzan and Buck Rogers while ten days later, fans of Thimble Theater met a brand new character named Popeye. The sailor was never intended to take over the strip but his popularity with readers encouraged E.C. Segar to keep him around until he finally shoved the Oyl family from the spotlight.

Burnishing his reputation were the brilliantly execute black and white theatrical shorts produced by Max and Dave Fleischer. After they shuttered operations, others took over the cartoon production, keeping Popeye a mainstay for generations of fans. Many of my generation were treated to the somewhat inferior Associated Artists Productions cartoons which completed their run in 1957. Not to be undone, King Features Syndicate hired Al Brodax to oversee a new round of cartoons aimed for the burgeoning television syndication market. He spread the order around to five different animation houses: Jack Kinney Productions, Rembrandt Films, Larry Harmon Productions, Halas and Batchelor, Paramount Cartoon Studios (formerly the Fleischers and Famous Studios), and Southern Star Entertainment. A whopping 220 cartoons were produced over a two year period, flooding the airwaves. Given the retention of the memorable theme song and vocal cast (Jack Mercer as Popeye, Mae Questel as Olive Oyl, and Jackson Beck as Brutus), young viewers were kept happy.

Brtus and OliveBluto was renamed Brutus when KFS’ lawyers thought Paramount had copyright to the Bluto moniker because no one did their homework. Bluto first appeared in the strip, making him a KFS property.

Of these cartoons, with their simplified animation design and short running times, the ones from Paramount stood out as the most memorable so it’s nice to see 72 of them collected for the first time in Warner Archives’ just-released Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s Classics Volume One. Classics may be stretching the point, compared with their 1930s rivals, but the kid in me remembers many of these stories. I suspect these work because so many were taken from the comic strip, which was an imaginative serial. Sweetpea, Eugene the Jeep, the Sea Hag, King Blozo, Toar, and, Rough House, all turn up more than once.

We are treated to the standardized Popeye, the none-too-bright, kind-hearted sailor in his white uniform, the dim and fickle Olive in her red turtleneck and long black skirt. Bluto’s muscle mass became flabby fat and he ditched his sailor uniform for dark clothes.

The stories go from adventurous to silly, such as the time Popeye goes to elementary school but is ridiculed for his lack of knowledge (sorry, but a sailor has to be plenty smart to wear that uniform). Where the Fleischers added a dose of an animated verve to the action, the limited animation meant far more static storytelling. Each episode ends with a new set of lyrics to the theme music and Popeye in the same pose, a cost saving measure that only now grows tedious as one works through the six dozen toons.

Are all 220 worth collecting? Probably not, but this is a nice time capsule reminder of the simpler pleasures children’s television once offered. We were entertained, with little in the way of moralizing beyond good triumphs over evil and you need to eat your spinach.

REVIEW: The Best of Both Worlds

STTNG Best of Both Worlds“The Best of Both Worlds” is a strong piece of television drama and was a defining moment for Star Trek: The Next Generation. The spinoff of Star Trek had been a ratings bonanza for Paramount Pictures, which syndicated the show and reaped huge profits. The fans, though, were slow to warm to the show and its characters, thanks to incredible infighting that sapped the inaugural season of coherence and left it to season two to show the series’ real potential. Season three, which is also out this week on Blu-ray, came to life thanks to a solidified writing staff under Michael Piller’s tutelage and the actors finally getting comfortable with their roles.

After eschewing two-parters, producer Rick Berman allowed Piller to end the season with a cliffhanger and as has been chronicled repeatedly, Piller wrote the first part thinking he was leaving the show. The resolution would be someone else’s headache. The plan was upended when Gene Roddenberry convinced him to stay on staff and he had to figure out the second half on his own.

Riker & ShelbyAs a result, the first half is far stronger with most of the action left for the second part, draining it of the emotional drama we had come to expect. The Borg had been teased in a second season episode so their arrival was not unexpected, just earlier than hoped for. Lt. Commander Elizabeth Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy) is brought to the Enterprise to help the flagship investigate a world devastated by, they believe, the Borg. She has been coordinating Starfleet’s plans to deal with the approaching threat but admitted their weapons planning needed eighteen to twenty-four more months. Along the way, she is all enthusiasm and arrogance, seeing First Officer William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) as being in her way towards a command spot of her own. Riker, for the third time, had been offered his own captaincy and was near-Shakespearean in his indecision.

Riker, Shelby, HansenRiker was speaking for Piller, who was also conflicted about staying or going while Shelby reminded Riker what he was like as an eager First Officer, out to prove himself. Most of the cast is given something meaty to think about and discuss, including Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg). As a result, it felt like change was coming to the crew but first, they had to deal with the arrival of the first Borg cube in Federation space. Things are ratcheted up when the Borg ask for Picard (Patrick Stewart) by name and then abduct him. When he next is seen as the Borg named Locutus, you know this is not a dream, hoax or imaginary story. Left with little choice, Riker ends the season with the command to “fire!”

Fans spent the summer waiting to see what would happen. The fall of 1990 brought about the eagerly anticipated finale and Picard was of course rescued, Riker chose to remain in place, and the threat neutralized – at least for the moment. But the stakes have been raised for all concerned and nothing will be the same. As a standalone episode, the episode is totally devoid of the sort of the character-based drama that made the first half so rich and entertaining. No one is given a real moment to reflect on what is happening or at the end what has happened to them and their friends.

BestofBothWorlds2This beautiful transfer and upgrade is edited into a single 85-minute episode, making this disc unique. Yeah, it’s a bit of a money grab from Paramount but they at least sweeten the deal with some nice extras not found elsewhere.

Regeneration: Engaging the Borg (29:40) features Dennehy, Frakes and others from the cast along with makeup supervisor Michael Westmore and director Cliff Bole talking about the making of the episodes. They tell good stories and Dennehy in particular is honest in her 28 year old naiveté when she auditioned. Frakes, who had performed with her father Brian Dennehy, reveals that the actor had his qualms about her being on an SF show.

You also get additional insights in the all-new commentary from technical consultants Mike and Denise Okuda, Dennehy and Bole. There is an episode specific gag reel (5:28) as well.

It holds up thanks to the strong hand of Bole, a cast up for the challenge, and a real threat. The high definition upgrade makes it both an audio and visual treat.

REVIEW: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three

Star-Trek-The-Next-Generation-S3-br-usI find myself writing about Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three more than any single season of any season from any franchise. And that’s fine by me given the quantum leap in quality improvement from the previous two seasons. I am happy to do it one more time as the Blu-ray set from Paramount Home Entertainment is due to arrive on Tuesday.

The behind-the-scenes turmoil that led to the first two seasons feeling incredibly inconsistent began to fade with the arrival of a new set of writers and producers. As Gene Roddenberry grew frailer and ceded more day-to-day control to producer Rick Berman, the show also bid farewell to the exhausted head writer Maurice Hurley. He was briefly replaced by Michael Wagner but illness forced him to leave after just four episodes, but his recommended replacement, Michael Piller, proved to be the turning point in the show’s fortunes. As Berman focused on the physical aspects, Piller took control of the writing staff, incorporating input from the actors, especially Patrick Stewart who not only wanted to see Picard off the Bridge more often, but running, shooting, fighting, and kissing babes.

The cast had also been complaining about the physical discomfort caused by the spandex uniforms. They were retooled by newly arrived costumer Bob Blackman, made looser with the addition of the high collar, but complaints continued so during the season, the regulars received near wool gabardine outfits with the men welcoming the jackets while the women continued to wear one-piece outfits.

Picard & VashThe most significant alteration to the writing staff was most likely the arrival of Ronald D. Moore, who submitted “The Bonding” as a spec script and was promptly hired on staff. His familiarity with the original series helped him tremendously and he also quickly grew to be the writer to focus most on the Klingon culture, which resulted in significant developments for Worf and the Federation’s allies.

The show’s evolution went beyond stronger scripts as the series truly lightened up with the elevation of Marvin V. Rush to cinematographer. The change meant the show went for brighter and bolder colors, establishing a look for the remainder of the series.

Another significant addition was actually the return of Gates McFadden as Beverly Crusher. Other character alterations saw Crusher’s son Wesley receive a field promotion to ensign while Geordi La Forge was promoted from lieutenant to lt. commander and Worf advanced from lieutenant J.G. to full lieutenant – none of which required walking the plank.

Sins of the FatherAll told, the changes on camera and behind it meant the show was maturing and fast. We got a greater sense of the cosmic politics through shows like “The Defector” and “Sins of the Father”. More character-centric shows allowed different members of the ensemble to shine, notably Brent Spiner in “The Offspring” and Dorn in “Sins” and “The Bonding”. It should be noted that the dictate against continuing story threads from episode to episode began to erode during this season, freeing the writers to more deeply explore the characters the repercussions of their actions.

Jonathan Frakes began his directing career this season with the moving Data tale “The Offspring”, making an impact away from Riker, a character that may have experienced the least challenge this season.

SarekThe ensemble was augmented with many returning guest stars led by the delightful John DeLancie and Majel Barrett We also welcomed back old friends in the moving “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and Mark Lenard’s turn as “Sarek”. New additions to the canon included Reg Barclay (Dwight Schultz), who became a favorite and was brought back in subsequent seasons. Whoopi Goldberg made scant appearances as Guinan and Colm Meany continued to man the transporters as O’Brien (who didn’t get a first name yet).

The third season’s most significant impact, perhaps, is the final episode, the series’ first cliffhanger and a ratcheting up of the threat level. The Borg, introduced a season earlier with a warning from Q, finally arrived and wanted to add mankind to their diversity.  Seeing Picard assimilated as Locutus followed by Riker’s order to fire phasers meant fans had a very long summer of anticipation ahead of them. It was the first time a threat was introduced with lasting repercussions unlike the thread introduced at the end of season one.

One of the greatest challenges with these releases is convincing audiences that already own them on VHS or DVD that the high definition restoration is worth the bucks. In the case of ST:TNG, it is definitely worth it as the special effects are sharper and the overall look of the series is brighter, clearer, and crisper. Then there are the bonus features. All the previous extras are back as standard definition “archival” pieces but the new ones also make a compelling argument for purchase.

Yesterday's EnterpriseFor 1:15, you can be enthralled with Inside The Writer’s Room, hosted Seth MacFarlane as he chats with Ronald Moore, Brannon Braga, Naren Shankar and Rene Echevarria. It’s late in the program before you get a sense of the mechanics of the Writer’s Room but before then you watch the four reminisce and remind one another of inspiration from desperation and cringe-worthy episodes that haunt them still. It’s a little too loose as they talk over one another and don’t always answer their host’s questions, but MacFarlane demonstrates an impressive memory for episode titles.

For 90 minutes or so, there is the three-part Resistance is Futile – Assimilating Star Trek: The Next Generation, which carefully explores the show from both before and behind the camera. Wagner’s role is totally missing but Ira Steven Behr steals the documentary with his anecdotes and casual approach to the history compared with some of the reverential views. It’s interesting to hear the crew talk about them noticing the improvement in the stories and the effect Piller had on one and all.

There is a very moving Tribute to Michael Piller where his widow and coworkers all discussed what made him a special person and just what the series needed at right that moment. On more than one occasion it is noted that Piller thought he was leaving the series after one season and was leaving the cliffhanger resolution to “Best of Both Worlds” to his successors, until Roddenberry himself asked Piller to stay on for one more season. It may well be the last great act the producer did on behalf of his creation.

Jack Reacher Coming to DVD in 2 Weeks

JackReacher_Combo_BRD_3D_xtraSkewWhile Tom Cruise flogs the so-so reviewed Oblivion, his last feature effort, Jack Reacher, is coming to home video on May 7. According to the PR:

One of the most compelling heroes ever to step from novel to screen makes his highly-anticipated home entertainment debut when JACK REACHER blasts his way onto Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on May 7, 2013 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.  The film will be available for Digital Download on April 23rd.  Tom Cruise tackles the title role with the brute force his character is known for and his “tightly controlled performance holds our attention all the way through to the tense finale” (Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News).  Based on best-selling author Lee Child’s wildly popular series of novels, JACK REACHER was adapted for the screen and directed by Academy Award-winner Christopher McQuarrie (Best Original Screenplay, The Usual Suspects, 1995).  Filled with heart-pounding action, thrills and a “killer chase scene” (Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News), JACK REACHER is “hard-boiled detective story entertainment” (Richard Corliss, Time) that “will have you gasping in surprise at the velocity and ferocity of the action” (Marshall Fine, Huffington Post).  The film also boasts “a top flight ensemble cast” (Claudia Puig, USA Today) including Robert Duvall (Apocalypse Now), Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day), Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn), David Oyelowo (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods) and Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard).

In anticipation of the home entertainment release, journalists from around the globe gathered on the Paramount lot in Hollywood, California to step into the shoes of world-renowned author Lee Child’s legendary anti-hero, Jack Reacher.
 From the brutal, no-holds-barred street fight to the heart-pounding and high-octane car chase, experts demonstrated how they helped bring these unforgettable scenes to life in the action-packed film Jack Reacher.

Veteran fight coordinator Robert Alonzo provided expert training in the Keysi Fighting Method to prepare participants for their own choreographed fight.
Stunt coordinator and 2nd unit director Paul Jennings gave an inside look at how the killer car chase was filmed.

Blake MycoskieStunt driver Joey Box showed off the actual Chevelle from the movie.

The JACK REACHER Blu-ray/DVD combo pack with UltraViolet™ is bursting with compelling bonus features including an in-depth look at Reacher’s journey to the screen, the filmmakers’ devotion to remaining true to the essence of the character and their drive to create an action-thriller that harkens back to the landmark films of the ‘70s.  The combo pack also includes a look at the training and stunt choreography behind the gritty and intense fight sequences, an exploration of the Reacher phenomenon around the world with Lee Child, as well as commentaries by Tom Cruise, director Christopher McQuarrie and composer Joe Kraemer.  The film will also be available as a single-disc DVD.

The Blu-ray release available for purchase will be enabled with UltraViolet, a new way to collect, access and enjoy movies.  With UltraViolet, consumers can add movies to their digital collection in the cloud, and then stream or download them – reliably and securely – to a variety of devices.