Friday, July 03, 2015

"30 Years . . . It's a Nice Round Number"

On July 3, 1985, movie-going audiences were treated to the first-ever showing of Back to the Future. Since then, there have been two sequel films, an animated TV series, many video games, and uncounted jokes, references and allusions in pop culture and beyond - even President Reagan once quoted Doc Brown in his second State of the Union address.

This year, 2015, is of particular interest to fans of the Back to the Future trilogy, as it's finally the year that Doc, Marty, and Jennifer visit in Part II. Obviously The Future didn't turn out much like that film showed (although we still have a few more months), although not. perhaps, for lack of trying. One thing that hasn't changed, however, is that the characters and imagery of Back to the Future is still a part of the cultural language.


But why is it, after all that time, that this movie is still so beloved - even by fans, like me, who weren't even born yet when it premiered?

Part of it, I think, is that it's very well done, technically speaking - the story, despite being science fiction of the best kind, is not particularly effects-heavy, and the effects are there succeed (mostly) at seeming realistic, even compared to today's CGI-heavy films.

Aside from the spectacle, Back to the Future also allows for criticism at a deeper level. One example of this is the continuing motif of paradox, not just in the main conflict of the story - Marty imperiling his own existence - but also in the background, such as the name of the town (Hill Valley*) and that of the movie itself. The movie also uses repetition for both humor and dramatic purposes - this is more clear across the whole trilogy, with each new era getting its own Mister Sandman Sequence, but can also be seen in just the first film - as is pointed out at that TvTropes link, Marty's trip across contemporary Hill Valley can be seen as another such sequence, inviting comparisons to all the rest.

 But most of all, while clever and well-done, the most important aspect of the movie is that it is fun to watch. Comedy and drama are present in equal amounts, and even when it touches on heavier topics it does so with a light touch. There's an element of wish-fulfillment present, in that almost everyone has at least wondered what it would be like to visit another time, while simultaneously we see some of the problems - even just minor things, like Marty trying to order soft drinks that haven't been invented yet - such travel would cause. But finally, in the end, the seemingly insurmountable problems are overcome, and the adventure continues.

Oh, and the music is great, too.


* Supplementary material claims this is because the town was founded by a man named Hill, but I bet even he could see the humor in it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Good Feeling About This

Regular readers of this blog would be forgiven from assuming that I neither read nor watched anything of interest for most of 2014. This is of course untrue, so the next few posts will probably be "catch-ups" of a sort.

But first, I'd like to point out that about a month ago we saw the appearance of a long-awaited Star Wars-related video - no, I'm not talking about the first The Force Awakens trailer, but rather fan-film studio Bat in the Sun's Super Power Beat Down Episode 14, "Batman Vs. Darth Vader". And man, but it was worth the wait:


Once the sheer geeky joy of seeing Batman lightsaber-dueling with Darth Vader had subsided somewhat, I was able to appreciate some of the finer details of the film. While the production values of Bat in the Sun's productions have always been high, this one really raises the bar - yes, in terms of overall special effects and set and costume design (all of which are spot on), but also in the little details, like Batman's nose bleeding after his abortive attempt to breathe in space.

Although the final result of the battle was dictated by popular vote*, I was also impressed by the writing of the piece. While it would have been nice to get some hint of the (allegedly plotted out) events that got Superman trapped on the Death Star - giving Batman the opportunity to use the "That's no moon" line was a nice bonus to picking that setting, by the way -  in the first place, once the Bat-wing** docks things flow fairly logically, given a Batman with some idea of Darth Vader's capabilities. Sneaking a lightsaber (presumably Obi-Wan's, which would imply that this whole fracas takes place during the Yavin 4 briefing scenes from A New Hope) from Vader's armory was an especially good idea, though it might just be because it leads to this reveal:

"I underestimate nothing!"
Anyway, it's plain to see that this is a fan-film, in the best sense of the word - if the creative teams working on The Force Awakens and Batman V. Superman show as much obvious care for the settings and characters as Bat in the Sun has, then in terms of fan response they should have nothing to worry about.

*Not that that will stop BitS from releasing an alternate ending next month. 

**Never before has this alternate term for Batman's aircraft been more apt.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Atomic Robo Goes Full Digital

In some stunning news from Tesladyne Island earlier this week, the writers of the Atomic Robo comic announced that as of 2015, the comic will be transitioning from a traditional by-the-issue publishing model to a three-times-a-week webcomic. This means, among other things, that the entire 54-issue run of the comic thus far will be free to read - eventually, their plan is to release one issue a week until they catch up, starting today - and then continuing with the new stuff. Which, cleverly, they now have over a year to come up with, though as today was the expected release date for the Volume 9 trade it probably would have been about that long anyway.

Anyway, it looks like it's going to be an interesting year, to say the least, for Atomic Robo fans as things roll out. But there are still unanswered questions - such as, how long will the "Free Comics" page remain in its current form? Will the new paradigm work as well as the creators hope it will? Will it include the Real Science Adventures spin-off? Will Dr. Dinosaur ever top his first two appearances?

The answer to that last one is, "No".

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Where's My Flying Car?

Or even a hoverboard?
Except perhaps the jetpack, nothing quite says "retro-futurism" like the flying car. Probably the most famous is, of course, Doc Brown's DeLorean time machine from the end of Back to the Future. In Part II, we see that the source if this technology is the year 2015, when hover-tech is built into practically everything. With 2015 now less than a year away, the odds of this particular vision of the future seems increasingly remote.

In the real world, of course, there are a myriad of reasons for this. Gravity manipulation, if even possible, is still years away, and while more mundane versions of flying cars have been developed, they still run into the problem of being much harder to use than the traditional auto.

In fiction, of course, things can get much more interesting. For example, in Captain America: The First Avenger we see Howard Stark showing off a car retrofitted with "Stark Gravitic Reversion Technology", a feat all the more impressive for being achieved in 1943.


True, it doesn't last very long, but the technology seems well-developed enough to become widespread in fairly short order. That it doesn't can, I think, be explained by this later development:


Clearly, "Gravitic Reversion" is one of the things that S.H.E.I.L.D has been keeping under wraps for all these years - Lola is, I understand, based on a 1962 model Corvette, although of course the hover-conversion could have taken place at any point subsequently. Of particular interest, to me anyway, is that Lola's transition process looks and sounds a lot like the DeLorean's. It's very tempting to conflate the two, and having hover-tech be suppressed by S.H.E.I.L.D for much of the development period explains how it becomes so widespread so soon after it becomes public.

OsCorp, though promising, was
rejected for consideration.
For obvious reasons.
Of course, when they did decide to release it S.H.E.I.L.D probably still wouldn't want to admit they'd been suppressing it, so the release would probably be done through an intermediary. About a month ago there was a flurry of interest surrounding HUVrTech, which purported to be a company that had indeed developed a Back to the Future-esque hoverboard. Of course it turned out to be a prank, though one a lot of people seem to have believed (in retrospect they should have waited until today to announce it . . . then again, they probably wouldn't have had as many people believe it if they had), but their announcement - coming December 2014! - is pretty much how I would expect things to go if a shadowy conspiracy was in charge of technological development.

For now, though, flying cars and anti-gravity skateboards remain the stuff of fiction, looking forward to the day when we really aren't going to need roads.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Welcome News

A month or so ago, it was announced that Win Scott Eckert, author of the Crossover Universe Timeline books I was so enthusiastic about a couple years back, is handing off that project to one Sean Levin, who will be producing a third and fourth volume of that work.

As if that wasn't enough, yesterday the two of them - well, mostly Levin - began a new blog to chronicle the further development of the Crossover Universe. This quite exciting, and I look forward to following the progress of this new project.

Soon to be replaced with four different covers.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Where Someone Has Gone Before

Look, I'm not one of the sorts of  Star Trek fans who felt betrayed or insulted by 2009's Star Trek taking the focus into a new timeline. Nor am I terribly convinced by arguments that boil down to "it has too much action to be a proper Star Trek story". And truthfully, I have very few problems with Star Trek Into Darkness as a whole - but the problems I do have a pretty central to the film.

They're also pretty spoilery, so if you haven't seen it yet you probably want to take care of that before venturing below the cut.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A League Of Its Own

It's rather hard to believe, but today is the tenth anniversary of the release of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film, based on the Alan Moore comic of the same name. I never got a chance to see it in the theater, unfortunately (though I really wanted to), but once I acquired a DVD copy it quickly became one of my favorite movies, right up there with the Back to the Future and Indiana Jones films.

Sadly, the world in general does not appear to share my enthusiasm. I tend to attribute this to rampant Alan Moore fandom - he famously doesn't get on well with adaptations of his work, and LXG admittedly took rather a few more liberties than an adaptation can typically support.

But in this case, however, I think the changes work quite well. Certainly they don't distract from making the movie enjoyable to watch, in itself, and one of the chief delights of cameo- and reference-spotting remain intact.

Indeed, I credit The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen with helping to form my current interest in crossovers and shared universes, most notably the Wold Newton Universe (to which the League is tangentially related).

Anyway. I've always enjoyed the movie, and was quite disappointed a few years later when LXG2: War of the Worlds failed to materialize. Almost unbelievably, it seems that the concept might still have a chance - there are some early reports that Fox is developing the League as a television show. Details at this time are sketchy - not even to determine whether this is a reboot or a continuation of the film continuity - but I'm hopeful that whatever comes from he project will be at least as enjoyable as the movie is to me.