Star Trek: The Motion Comic

05-Sep-09 1:00 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

Three years ago, I reported that a new Star Trek animated series was in the works. No news on the project has since crossed my radar, leading me to assume that JJ Abrams' reboot of the series led to a reprioritization of studio projects. Novelist Dayton Ward recently confirmed the cartoon's status and provided links not only to more details, but also to a sample script and an author's commentary podcast.

Though I wasn't eager to have the series leapfrog 150 years, I'm not sure I like the path the known Star Trek universe is taking, either. What I was looking forward to was a new animated series. I think the successes of Pixar and DreamWorks have done much to diminish the perception of animation as an immature medium, and I'd like to see how the changes in technology and culture in the thirty years since Trek's last animated outing would affect the series.

Once again, Dayton Ward to the rescue. A few years ago, I hired artist Tom Vilot to turn a photograph into a painting; I was very pleased with the results. Another artist has now taken the similar approach of starting with a live-action still and drawing over it to produce this fan creation — Star Trek: The Motion Comic:

Converting a popular franchise from live action to still life was also the unique approach that gave us Bored of the Rings, and crossovers such as implied by the above video's end are also nothing new: Predator, Batman, Robocop, and others have all crossed paths at one time or another. But sometimes, it's the original application of an existing idea that leads to success. Star Trek: The Motion Comic is a dramatic (if occasionally stilted) work that reminds me a bit of digital comic books that were available for PCs, back when the shiny CD-ROM was still new andswa attracting publishers with its multimedia potential. I'm almost hesitant to see the promised continuation to this crossover coalesce, as horror doesn't seem like a good fit for this crew or genre. Still, I hope the inspired artist does create more episodes — though given the four months he says it took him to create this eight-minute clip, I wouldn't blame him if he doesn't.

In what other crossovers or media would you like to see Star Trek appear?

Clash of the Titans

30-Oct-07 6:59 AM by
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Most comic book movies have been adaptations of concept rather than of story. What we've seen have not been translations plot-for-plot from one medium to another, but instead familiar characters and situations being used to invent new adventures for a new audience. Such is the case with the recent direct-to-DVD release Superman: Doomsday.

Despite being animated, this movie is not wholly based on the previous cartoon series, either. The voice cast is all-new, including Adam Baldwin, James Marsters, and Anne Heche. The animation style is slightly different — a bit darker and more detailed (the lines on Superman's face suggest an older, more pessimistic character; whereas Luthor looks leaner and younger). And the story's tone is markedly different from anything that's come before.

The movie's first half-hour is based on the 1993 landmark event: the death of Superman at the hands of the alien Doomsday. And the team responsible for this adaptation has done a fantastic job portraying that titular villain, for Doomsday as a mindless organic killing machine has been captured in all his animalistic and fearsome glory. In all his frenetic action sequences, I never once got the impression that he was angry or vengeful or in any other way emotional, but just a mindless automaton. The closest we get to expression is when Superman is the first to not fall to a single punch: Doomsday cocks his head, intrigued or confused as a dog might be — before quickly resuming the fight. Probably the most humanity exhibited in this entire sequence was by the audience at the fight's climax; Superman (particularly Christopher Reeve) is one of my heroes, and to see his death in any medium is distressing.

And that's an accurate word for this cartoon, which is far more violent than its predecessors. Though the film is judicious in exactly what gets shown, the aggression is nonetheless apparent. In one scene, the camera focuses on a soldier's head disappearing into Doomsday's gigantic fist; the screen pans up to Doomsday's face before we see the muscles of his arm twisting and a sickening crunch sounding. We may not have witnessed the murder, but it certainly leaves little to the imagination. Doomsday isn't the only heartless killer; we also see Luthor economically dispose of one of his hirelings. This is all in vast contrast to the Saturday morning cartoon. As far as I know, there was only one death in Superman: The Animated Series's entire five-year span, and that was the bloodless vaporization of Dan Turpin.

For a story about the death of Superman, this escalation was both necessary and appropriate — and it's still probably less violent than the graphic novels. Yet I was still shocked, being unaccustomed to seeing such slaughter in any Superman vehicle. Shock is a good thing, though; when a character or story becomes predictable is when it loses me as a viewer.

It was this captivating and extended opening sequence that kept me through the rest, though I found the follow-up a bit disappointing. It's not just that the parallels to the comic book inspiration disappear after Superman's death; fitting the entire "Death of Superman" / "Funeral For a Friend" / "Reign of the Superman" story, which originally took more than a year of weekly comics to tell, into a 75-minute movie would be a herculean task. But the original story they've crafted to follow the Doomsday blitzkrieg doesn't strike any chords of emotion or intrigue. It's instead a rather mundane plot with no surprise heroes, villains, appearances, or twists — something I'd expect to find in another episode of a Saturday morning cartoon, if I haven't already, and not in a once-in-a-lifetime comic book epic.

Even if the circumstances of Superman's death and return are not wholly true to the source material, they needn't be; this is a different story, in a different medium. The parts that are done well are done extremely well and make the entire package worth viewing, if not owning.

Son of Dorkman

01-Oct-07 11:18 PM by
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After stumbling across the excellently-choreographed Ryan vs. Dorkman Star Wars fan films, I started watching for more from the dynamic duo of Ryan Wieber and Michael Scott. Hearing their interview on Geekza was cool, but I wanted to see more.

I found it when I subscribed to Scott's YouTube channel, as shortly thereafter, he posted this teaser trailer:

It's a live action adaptation of the Dark Horse comic book The Descendants, which doesn't seem to be a widely-distributed publication; the best source of information I've found about it is its MySpace page. We can gather more from watching the trailer, though.

First and most important, it features Ray Park, who deserves any role he wants after his enjoyable performances as the short-lived Darth Maul and the evil mutant Toad. Second, the trailer exhibits some great special effects, but something about their nature that I can't put my finger on suggests homebrew — like that of a high-quality fan film instead of a professional studio. Backing up that intuition is the fact that many other sites are reporting this venture is intended to be a Web series. But from co-director Scott himself comes the admission that its ultimate format is to be determined:

We're trying to get funding for the full project, but we don't know yet what form it will take. At this point in the negotiations with certain groups, it could become anything from a theatrical feature to a TV miniseries to a collection of webisodes posted right here on YouTube. It's up in the air at the moment.

So there remain many questions about this project, but based on the directors' portfolio and what I've seen of this latest collaboration, I hope the answers are positive. IMDb suggests we won't be seeing the fruits of their labor until 2009, which should be enough time to get The Descendants the green light it deserves.

How Ironic

30-Jul-07 9:30 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 2 comments.

Courtesy Ctrl+Alt+Del comes this trailer of the film adaptation of the Marvel comic book, Iron Man:



For those (like me) who are far less comics-savvy than Showbits reader Gene D.: no, that isn't War Machine in the trailer. "Iron Man's original suit in the comic books was gray," writes Gene; "Later, it became the familiar red and gold." So the early appearance of ironclad Robert Downey Jr. should not be confused for his similarly-equipped, monochomatic sidekick.Until this film releases on May 2nd, you can sate yourself with the direct-to-DVD animated origin story, released this past January.

By Your Powers Combined…

27-Jun-07 3:49 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 2 comments.

My belated report on Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is that it's a better film than I expected — yet ironically, that may be because I wasn't expecting much.

I've previously written how disappointed I was in the first film, which I saw only a few scant months after watching the canned 1994 flick of the same name. Even now, I'm challenged to keep the two straight — not that it matters, as they were comparable in quality. I was disappointed by the goofy antics of the Fantastic Four, especially after the roller-coaster rides of action and drama that were the first Spider-Man and X-Men films. Since I've specialized in in DC comics, not Marvel, I didn't know any better. Maybe the dynamic duo times two have always been this silly.

This sequel is much the same, with gratuitous acts of wanton stretchiness and laughably bad dialogue. But this time around, I knew what I was getting myself into, so I accepted such comical romps as this film's definition of "fun". Contributing to its entertainment value were that Julian McMahon did a better job as Victor Von Doom than he did in the previous film, though he did seem to be trying too hard to channel Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. Laurence Fishburne was wonderfully, stereotypically mysterious and melancholy as the voice of the Silver Surfer. And Stan Lee's cameos, unlike Hitchcock's and King's in their horror films, are getting just too obvious.

Regardless of my perception, Rise of the Silver Surfer actually was superior to its predecessor — the action, characterization, and conflicts were all a bit more complex than before. But this time, it was okay that those elements were not on par with their more successful comic book kin. Let this comic book be comical; for anything more, I have the first two Spider-Man and X-Men.

A Great Big Bang-Up

10-May-07 3:53 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 11 comments.

Spider-Man 3 was to fans like honey to flies. Having contributed to that success, I now offer this perspective on a film that I very much enjoyed, but nowhere near as much as I did its predecessors.

I skimped on the previews for this third adaptation of the Marvel superhero: trailers are unnecessary selling points for a movie that had me at "hello". I'm glad I abstained, as the trailers contained multiple spoilers, including the presence of a major character whom I did not expect to see in this movie (despite all the clues being there). It was fun to watch all these icons come to life and duke it out, even if the first fight was my favorite and the rest seemed too frenetic and CGI-ish to follow.

But ultimately, that character's appearance contributed to the film's greatest flaw. I didn't have to see Batman & Robin to know that it was a victim to (among other things) its own ambition: introducing Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Bane, and Batgirl was too much for one film to handle. Spider-Man 3 suffers similarly (if perhaps not as severely). Who will Spider-Man fight next: Sandman? The son of the Green Goblin? Or the black suit? Is he preoccupied by reliving the night his uncle was killed, not giving Maryjane the attention she deserves? Is she the love interest, or is Gwen Stacy?

(more…)

The Not-So-Marvelous

07-Feb-07 10:26 PM by
Filed under Films; 5 comments.

A week from today marks the four-year anniversary of the release of Daredevil:

It was a Valentine's Day I remember well, having spent it in the theater among fellow lonely geeks. Marvel plans to commemorate this milestone by putting yet another well-known actor into an incongruous superhero role: Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider.

Frankly, I'm not impressed. Neither Daredevil nor Ghost Rider are the stuff legends are made of, and Marvel's attempts to bring these lesser-known heroes to life have been less than successful. The Punisher? Forgettable. Blade? Eventually despicable. Even better-known heroes, such as The Incredible Hulk and The Fantastic Four, have had their share of theatrical bombs. And if you look at Marvel's intentions for the next three years, you'll see that the opportunity for future failures is staggering: Captain America, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, Thor… and, of course, sequels to previous critical failures but box office successes.

So what makes for a good translation from pulp comics to silver screen? One would think that putting the characters in the hands of directors who know and love them would ensure they are treated faithfully and with respect — but Bryan Singer defenestrated that notion with his masterful interpretations of both Superman and the X-Men, despite having never read a comic book prior to accepting the assignments.

Is it the original character? Certainly a strong foundation and good writing are essential; both have contributed to Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man becoming cross-culture icons, even before their cinematic adaptations. It's no coincidence that those films (or at least the ones lacking George Clooney and Richard Pryor) have also been well-received by geeks and non-geeks alike.

Does this mean we are to limit ourselves to storied superheroes who have been around for forty to seventy years, dismissing any young, fresh characters? Such a severe restriction would discourage innovation in Hollywood and ultimately hurt all parties involved — especially the audience.

What, then, are useful metrics for predicting a superhero's success? What are fair and accurate expectations when indulging in such films? Can — should — they be held to the same standards as any other cinematic enterprise?

End of line.

11-Jan-07 8:27 AM by
Filed under Celebrities, Films; 3 comments.

TRON comic book cover

A TRON comic book! It's an original story set six months after the events of the TRON 2.0 computer game. I almost missed this book, and chances are I'm not the only one. Be sure to visit your local comic book shop to pick up the third issue, hitting stands on January 17th.

The original TRON is a must-have in any geek's library, such that I included it in the curriculum of the film class I taught, to ensure its legacy is not lost upon the next generation of geeks. I shan't waste time preaching to the choir, waxing its clearly evident values — but I will share my two favorite tangential memories it inspired.

I once got to see this classic film presented on the silver screen, "enhanced" by a pre-scripted, MST3K-style commentary written and performed by the crew of The Truly Dangerous Company, makers of fine Star Wars spoofs. I've asked many times if the script is available for public presentation, but no dice thus far.

Better still was when I attended the (now-defunct) Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2003. I knew Bruce Boxleitner would be on hand to promote TRON 2.0, so I brought my 20th anniversary TRON DVD set for him, Cindy Morgan, and Steve Lisberger to autograph. (As I waited in line, even at this nerd Mecca would passersby would ask me what TRON was. Isn't that grounds for expulsion?) Though I never watch television, my hotel suitemate had the news on as we got ready for the show that morning, and the marquee at the bottom of the screen displayed among that day's top headlines: "Bruce Boxleitner's birthday!" Why the continued existence of a relatively obscure actor was deemed noteworthy, I'll never know. But after Mr. Boxleitner signed my DVD, I shook his hand and sincerely wished him, "Happy Birthday!"

Upon hearing this, Ms. Morgan, sitting next to him, stopped signing my disc, turned to her former castmate, and punched him in the arm: "It's your birthday?! You didn't tell me that!" To Mr. Lisberger: "Hey, it's Bruce's birthday!"

I embarrassed an icon. How cool is that?