To many of us, there is a name. A name that can cause a person to respond in a number of ways. From a smile, all the way to an eyeball-rolling groan.
That name, is George Lucas.
Following his 2013 biography on Jim Henson, author Brian Jay Jones has tapped into another name many of us recall from our childhoods, but (probably) never fully comprehended.
George Lucas: A Life seeks to educate the masses, giving us a tome that hits a number of Lucas’ life highlights, from his near-death accident as a teenager, to meeting director Francis Ford Coppola, and much more…but sadly, not as much as I had expected.
Without appendices and the bibliography at the end, Jones’ biography on Lucas clocks in around the same page-count as his Henson bio did. However, upon reading through his latest tome, it feels like Jones was forced to shore up a number of items regarding Lucas’ history.
Unlike his previous book, the doors were not thrown open to Jones, regarding in-depth research on his subject. A few of Lucas’ past acquaintances (such as Randall Kleiser and Gary Kurtz) contribute a few words to the book, but most of their inclusions feel like a small footnote, as the vast majority of information, is culled from other sources.
One habit Jones had in his Henson biography, was a certain ‘geeky giddiness’ when he’d mention Henson working on things in his early days, that he’d accomplish later on in life. Jones manages to tone down some of that geekiness here, but it manifests itself in other ways.
Most notable is in the book’s focus. Overall, it feels like analyzing the Star Wars films is his first priority, and the building of the Lucasfilm ’empire,’ is the second priority.
To many out there, Star Wars is George Lucas’ ‘calling card.’ Most talk about the film series, as if Lucas had known this was what he wanted to do since he was a boy. Of course, those of us who have ‘studied’ Lucas’ career (myself included), know that there’s more to the man than just X-Wing fighters and laser-sword fights.
When it comes to films Lucas worked on that weren’t related to Star Wars, the book’s information in these areas feels so tight, one swears large swaths may have been cut editorially, to fit George’s film career into a neat little package. I was hoping more light would have been shed on some of Lucas’ lesser-known projects like Willow, or 1994’s Radioland Murders (a film he’d been helping develop for over two decades!). Unfortunately, minimal information is provided, as we are whisked on to talk about the effects Star Wars has on Lucas’ life, let alone the constant inquiries in the 80’s, regarding when the public would see more Star Wars.
One of the highlights of the book, is how Jones attempts to allow some visibility to one of the lesser-mentioned persons in Lucas’ early life: his first wife, Marcia.
While Lucas could be soft-spoken and quiet, Marcia was said to balance out that trait, often being rather ‘direct’ with him. Both bonded over their editorial experience (women doing editorial work, was extremely rare in the 60’s and 70’s), and it is surprising to find quotes of Marcia, discussing George and the films she worked on with him.
The book tells how she could be rather blunt about some of his decisions (she tells George how THX-1138 feels like a ‘cold’ film), and also how much she contributed to his work (she was the main editor on the climactic charge on the Death Star in the 1977 Star Wars).
Most biographies have the author attempt to find a through line to define their subject’s life, and in the case of Lucas, Jones seems to zero in on one word: independence.
Lucas is painted as a person who seemed most at ease when doing things (mostly) on his own. It often feels like he would have been comfortable just sitting in the editing room, except for his compulsion to have more control over some projects. Jones mentions such a thing happening on some producing projects, here Lucas seemed to take over the story development of some features.
It is also notable how he often balked at rules or guidelines others would set.
For example: his not including cast/director credits in the opening of Star Wars, was in violation of the Director’s Guild of America. This led to him being fined, and eventually resigning from the DCA.
He also seemed to have little time for unions or trade groups, let alone the Hollywood studio system. Many may be surprised that as much as his name is bandied around Tinseltown, George actually makes his home in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In some ways, Lucas seems very much like Walt Disney: a man who was burned by the studio system that sought to control him, prompting him to decide that he would do things his way, and answer only to one person: himself.
However, while Walt Disney’s Kingdom would be easily accessible to many, Lucas’s ‘Empire’ would be largely his own domain to look over. He would choose the film projects, decide where his money went (he didn’t rely on outside investors, or taking out huge loans like the studio system), and keep public access to a minimum (notable is that unlike The Walt Disney Company or Pixar, Lucasfilm never became a publicly-traded corporate entity).
Similarities could also be made regarding their love of pushing technology. Whereas Walt would revolutionize the world of animation, George would do the same in the world of post-production. While many can easily look at his visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic, most discount his push to improve picture and sound quality in theaters, let alone find a way to streamline the film-editing process.
Today’s theater system shows the fruits of that push: many theaters now house digital projectors, and often boast the latest sound systems to show first-run feature films. Plus, the majority of all editing these days, is done digitally.
The biography also shows how George could fall in and out with a number of people. Old friends like Gary Kurtz and his ex-wife Marcia, were completely excised from his mind, while his friend and mentor, Francis Ford Coppola, would be a decades-long on-again/off-again friendship.
Out of all his friendships, it seems that the one Lucas still holds in high regard, is with director, Steven Spielberg.
There is a brotherly give-and-take mentioned in the chapters telling about the Indiana Jones film productions. Even if Steven and George would not agree on something, they would usually come to a compromise, sooner or later.
Much like Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve jobs, and Jones’ previous biography on Jim Henson, George Lucas: A Life strives to inform people about someone they think they know…but maybe, don’t.
There’s plenty of information for the uninformed, to find out more about one of the most familiar names in popular culture. However, for those of us who were expecting some further revelations about ‘the maker,’ it feels like Jones shuts the door to some minor revelations, that noone ever thinks to consider about Mr Lucas.
In conclusion, George Lucas: A Life is a good read, but probably not as entertaining or informative, as some of my other favorite biographies, such as Steve Jobs, or Jim Henson: The Biography.
Final Grade: B
Well, that was…pretty quick.
After the delayed release of issue #2 of Star vs the Forces of Evil‘s comic mini-series, I thought we’d be well into 2017 before we saw the next issue.
Instead, we got it as an early Christmas present! Pity I didn’t find it while on Christmas Vacation in California (even strutted to the comic store listening to Brian H Kim’s song, Marco’s Good Time Theme!).
But, my local comic shop that got the first two issues has kept up being the area’s go-to distributor on this series, and I picked the latest issue up a few days ago!
And now, it’s time for some of my thoughts and opinions on the third issue’s storyline, Glossy Knows Best.
After their recent jaunt to the past, Star Butterfly and Marco Diaz return to Marco’s house, with Star still intent on trying to find a way to clear Flying Princess Ponyhead’s name in The Waterfolk Domain.
Summoning her wand instruction book’s mentor Glossaryck of Terms, she asks for his help, and soon, Star and Marco find themselves transported into a somewhat familiar (but slightly-more-unsettling) suburban household.
With Glossy Knows Best, we come to that oh-so-special style of storytelling that we’ve seen in certain segments of the television show: the kind where we’re thrust into a world where most of the time, we are swept up in a tidal wave of weirdness, trying to understand just what is going on.
The title of the story is a parody of the old TV sitcom, Father Knows Best. However, most will probably see parallels to several films idealizing those past family sitcoms (such as Pleasantville, or The Truman Show).
Of our main ‘dynamic duo,’ it is Star who gets the most ‘screen-time,’ trying to keep it together, in the face of all the Glossaryck-induced weirdness.
Sadly, much like issue #2, Marco doesn’t really get much to do here. While his role is a tad larger than the last issue, it seems he gets in a small number of funny moments, while the rest of the time, he just seems super-annoyed by what is happening.
By the way, if you thought Glossaryck was a bit off-putting as a hairy-legged little blue man, the world he pulls Star and Marco into, may make you recoil in terror regarding the additional characters he creates.
Going over the story, I found that I surprisingly enjoyed it’s pacing. However, I did expect a tad more attention-to-detail, when it came to the word balloons of some characters. Several times, I found myself mentally re-writing a lot of the dialogue, to sound like something that Eden Sher or Adam McArthur would say.
And of course, like in the TV series, there are a few little dabs of ‘questionable humor’ that may make some readers squirm in their seat.
Not to say there aren’t some fun visuals in several places. There’s also some tie-ins to what we’ve seen or experienced on the show (such as Glossaryck calling Marco “Margo” at one time, like he did in the segment, Star on Wheels). Plus, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it caricature of a certain actor whose done some voice-work for the show.
Throughout the story, one gag the artist reuses, is an ‘angry close-up.’ I guess it’s meant to be humorous, but it only worked a few times for me. We’ve seen the ‘angry close-up’ used well in several places (like in the TV show segments School Spirit, and Hungry Larry), but the less-is-more approach to them on television, just seems more satisfying.
There also seems to be a severe lack of comic sound effects in some moments. A few scenes had me expecting a ‘slam’ or a ‘vhip’ regarding some movements, but such things are largely just depicted by a tiny amount of speed lines. It almost feels like the kind of motion scenes I would expect to see in a storyboard session, where you’d have the storyboard artists draw the scene, and then verbally explain what’s happening, along with the sounds that would be made.
Glossy Knows Best isn’t without it’s faults, but strange as it may sound, it feels a tad more solid in it’s overall story structure, than last issue’s Ol’ Moon River storyline. Yes, I hate to say that about a storyline involving some background on Star Butterfly’s parents, but this story just seems to have a better flow to it, even though like most Glossaryck-based appearances, it’s an awful lot of ‘nothing’ to get to the ‘something’ at the end.
Of course, given how deep we dive into the world of Glossaryck, it’s going to largely be up to the reader if they are willing to ride the ride, or just scream to be let off.
Me? I’m weird enough to ride the ride.
Final Rating for Issue #3: B
Well, I think we’ve had our fill of Glossaryck for now. So that means, 3 issues down, and 5 more to go!
Coming up in issue #4’s story, word is that Star and Marco will be visiting the dimension of cats with human faces (which was touched upon briefly in the segment Freeze Day, in Season 1). Plus, we’ll get the return of two familiar faces we haven’t seen yet in Season 2 of the show: Marco’s friends Ferguson, and Alfonso!
Will they be there to lend a hand, or somehow cause more chaos to reign? See you back here (hopefully soon), when we review the next issue!
Back in December of 2002, I recall going on the messageboards for Animationnation (where a number of industry people hung out), and hearing about a special that had just premiered on The WB television network.
The posts told of a show that had many aghast. Bad animation, horrible dialogue, and this was being touted as a Holiday Classic by the network!
Of course, by the time I heard about it, it had already come and gone, with the network covering up all traces of it’s existence.
A few people like myself wrote about the short, using the scant amount of knowledge we could find. Sources included the poorly-made webpage telling how the Rapsittie Kids were going to become just as endearing as Charles Schulz’s Peanuts gang, and a short clip that ended up on Youtube, looking like a middle-school project on learning how motion graphics work.
Then, in September 2015, I was informed that a copy of the special (all 45 minutes of it!), had been obtained by The Lost Media Wiki. And with that information, I soon found myself sitting down to watch Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa, made by the creative geniuses at Wolf Tracer Studios (makers of that other hit animated short, Dinosaur Island!).
Rick E (Walter Jones) has a crush on one of the most popular girls in his class, named Nicole (Paige O’Hara). However, Rick E doesn’t have enough money to give her a Christmas gift.
He then decides to give her his teddy bear, which was given to him by his mother. However, Nicole is not impressed by Rick E’s gift ‘from the heart,’ and throws it away.
It is only afterwards does she realize the significance of the teddy bear, and with a few of her friends, attempts to get it back.
So, after watching this Holiday Special, is it truly as bad as those messageboard posts I read back in 2002 made it out to be?
Yes…yes, it is!
The images in this review are no joke: they are actual screen-captures from the ‘finished product!’
Since it’s release, noone from the production has ever stepped forward to give their side of the story, on why the special looks the way it does. Word was that the show was completed in 4 months. And frankly, I can believe it.
Most of the backgrounds look like they were rendered on-the-cheap, and we see a number of clipart images rubber-stamped over-and-over in certain places.
Plus, just look at the fine craftsmanship on the sign outside of Rick E’s school (see right).
Characters also move around like they’ve been pasted onto background plates. Some shots linger too long on nothing, and the faces…their horrible, horrible faces!
Most of the characters look like their eyes are in serious danger of popping out of their sockets, and the computer-generated characters, almost make me wish the creators would have attempted something closer to the flat, 2-D look of South Park. At least if they went in that direction, I assume the characters wouldn’t look quite as grotesque.
Rick E is meant to be our main lead, giving off hip-hop vibes with every other line he says. Once we get to his school, we meet a number of other characters and their subplots…most of which can barely hold our interest.
It also doesn’t help that most of the other kids, are little more than one-dimensional bullies. Even Nicole is quite condescending, putting down her friend Lenee’s talk about Santa Claus, leading to a minuscule subplot of Lenee questioning her beliefs.
Even the adults are largely useless. The kid’s teacher comes across as constantly annoyed, and does nothing to keep order in her class. We see her letting kids throw things at other kids, and even dismissing sexual harassment by students (“that means he likes you,” the teacher tells one girl, who is annoyed at one boy touching her!).
And then, there’s Rick E’s Great Grandma.
It’s crazy enough that we see her wandering around outside without a coat in one scene, but when she starts talking…well…it sounds like Rick E is just trying to ignore that his caretaker might need some medical attention.
Maybe this was some strange way of trying to make Great Grandma reminiscent of the unseen adults talking in the Peanuts specials, but if so, why is it that she is the only adult who sounds like her audio is getting eaten by the tape player?
Speaking of voices, what may make some people do a double-take, are the list of known voice-actors they got for this. Some of the big ones include Mark Hamill, Jodi Benson, Paige O’Hara, and Nancy Cartwright. My guess is someone just offered them a quick pay-day, they read through their lines in a few hours, and then never had a second thought about what they had done voice-work for.
Paige O’Hara and Jodie Benson each get a chance to sing, but their songs are hindered by bad lyrics and stilted animation. It doesn’t help when most of the songs are largely based on repeating a number of the same words over and over again.
Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa, shows that there are plenty of badly-made Holiday specials, that most have never heard of. The story contained here, makes the animated Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer actually look like a Holiday Classic! Heck, the $60 million atrocity known as Food Fight, even looks competent next to this thing!
The production values look like one of my college’s Team Animation groups, trying to stretch out their 3-minute project to feature-length, but without the necessary talent or tools to do so.
The story of Rick E’s bear is a decent jumping off point for a story, but the special’s ‘good intentions’ are quickly buried in a landslide of bad animation, one-dimensional characters, and a production that was mainly interested in making their final product ‘faster,’ and ‘cheaper.’
At the end of Believe in Santa, a cutesy voice tells how the Rapsittie Street Kids would be back, in A Bunny’s Tale. As it stands now, we’re still left wondering just what horrors would have awaited the Easter Bunny, from Wolf Tracer Studios.
Final Grade: D
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Those were some of the first words, that introduced millions of people to George Lucas’ Star Wars universe. While they offered a small backstory as to this ongoing war raging across the galaxy, there were some over the years who wondered, if they could be expanded upon.
That’s what The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm Ltd have done with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Set between the events of Episodes III & IV, we follow that small group of “rebel spies,” and find out how they got those secret plans, into the hands of Princess Leia Organa.
The team consists of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), and Bohdi Rook (Riz Ahmed).
Jyn and Cassian are our main leads in this story, with both having had their fair share of troubles, thanks to the machinations of the Empire. However, it largely feels like we’re supposed to care about them, because they’re the main characters. Most of the time, it feels like they’re simply the driving force in the story, to propel us from one location, to another.
When it comes to director Gareth Edwards, I will admit that I am not a huge fan of his work. Having seen his films Monsters and Godzilla (2014), I can’t help but feel he likes to focus more on the atmosphere and supporting characters, that revolve around his main ones.
Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang’s tag-team of Chirrut and Baze, was a bit of yin-yang characterization that held my attention when they were on-screen. While Chirrut seems to be strongly willing to believe in the power of the Force, Baze relies on his wits and weaponry.
Two other characters that I think will also stick in most people’s minds, are pilot Bodhi Rook, and K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid.
Bodhi is almost like our ‘Finn’ of the piece, and it seemed whenever he was on-screen, I was very much enamored with what he was doing. It feels like out of all the supporting characters, he gets the most development.
Much like BB-8, K-2SO proves to be another entertaining droid for people to smile about. The filmmakers manage to find the sweet-spot between making him both informative and humorous, and it was one of the droid’s first lines, that made many in the audience give some of their first applause of the evening.
Also on hand as a new face in the Empire’s cadre of suited figures, is Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). This (previously unseen) mastermind behind the Death Star’s construction, almost seems written in, to give us a taste of how credit and bureaucracy, often don’t see eye-to-eye.
The Force Awakens last year, definitely touched off plenty of similarities to the films we remembered from our past. Rogue One does some of the same, but moreso feels like a less-pandering extension of those worlds we were first introduced to. We get plenty of new set-pieces, and some familiar ones, expanding on our past knowledge. Plus, for those of you that are die-hard fans of George Lucas, it appears that there’s a subtle reference to another of his early works.
Of course, the time-frame of the film, also gives us a chance for a few cameos. These can often bounce around from good, to bad (though I will admit there were a couple that made my face light up like a Christmas tree!).
Composer Michael Giacchino fills our ears with a score that sounds like a ‘distant cousin’ to the works of John Williams. While a few familiar musical strains are heard, he is able to walk into the universe, and add his own inspired touch to a number of scenes.
Some of the battle sequences, also feel like they are a bit ‘scattershot’ in the way they are put together. While I like a good action sequence in a Star Wars film as much as the next person, it felt like they carry on too long in certain places. This almost made me pine for the tighter editing of battle scenes in some past films. Say what you will about the prequels, but it felt like even the act of juggling multiple scenes at the end of The Phantom Menace was handled better.
That isn’t to say Rogue One is a bad film. I walked into it just like I did Episode VII last year, asking only that it entertain me, and it did just that.
Like any film that attempts to rewrite something we’re already familiar with, there are certain elements that are embellished and expanded upon. Given the way the series’ fandom functions, it will be entertaining to see if some of the ret-conned items, end up becoming as ‘scandalous’ as some of the items that Lucas wrote about in the prequels.
The film proves that Star Wars can build an expanded universe on film, and should probably give plenty out there hope, for additional Star Wars Stories in the coming years.
Final Grade: B+ (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” is the first attempt to expand the film universe of the world’s most famous space saga beyond it’s typical ‘episodes,’ and succeeds in being an entertaining prequel to the events of “A New Hope.” While our main cast of characters doesn’t prove as overall satisfying as the ragtag band of rogues in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” there’s still enough here that should please “Star Wars” fans, both old and new.)
The year: 1996.
One day, a strange-looking species of extra-terrestrials, descended from the heavens, and quickly laid waste to our planet. Humanity attempted to fight back, but even their strongest weapons proved to be of no use. And then, in a moment of sheer absurdity, a secret weapon was found. The most unexpected thing of all, managed to take down the alien scum, and save the human race.
No, its not Independence Day. It’s Mars Attacks!
After a Summer dominated by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s Patriotic alien invasion film, Winter found director Tim Burton, attempting to do his own thing with aliens. Burton had provided Warner Brothers with hits such as Beetlejuice and Batman, and to them, it probably seemed a no-brainer, to allow Tim to
Nothing “Topps” Nostalgia
Tim Burton has often looked to the past for some of his artistic inspiration, and that was just whaat he did with Mars Attacks.
While some of it’s sensibilities would link it to the ‘invaders from space’ films like Earth vs The Flying Saucers, the bulk of it’s inspiration, would come from…bubble-gum cards?
The Topps Company released the Mars Attacks card series in 1962, depicting a number of skull-faced, big-brained invaders from Mars, destroying cities, vaporizing animals, and plenty more un-pc machinations.
Keep in mind of course, that these images were on bubble-gum cards, geared towards kids!
The subject matter caused an outcry, and the cards were quickly discontinued…however, the memory of their imagery lingered, and many of the materials based on them (due to their limited run), became collector’s items in later years.
As those children became adults, Topps reprinted some of the cards, and quickly found adult collectors eager for more.
The 1996 film that Burton made, brought about a larger resurgence in the Mars Attacks property. Along with film-based material, a newer interpretation of the aliens were created by Topps, and new cards and comic books were produced, along with figures, and crossovers with other comics series (such as Judge Dredd, and…Transformers!?).
A (Monster) Mash-up of Genres
Of course, one can’t just spend 1 1/2 hours showing aliens blowing up stuff on the big screen. Mars Attacks needed a story to tie together the carnage. But where was one to turn for story inspiration?
How about, the films of Irwin Allen?
In the 1970’s, Allen gained notable fame for bringing together large casts of name-actors, and thrusting them into the center of major disasters. Out of this filmmaking came hits like The Poiseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and many more.
That seems to be what was put together for Mars Attacks, though word was, the film was going to be bigger than what it eventually became. Originally, the martian attack would have taken place around the globe, and involved a lead cast, of over 5 dozen characters! The original script would even be tagged with a budget of $260 million (which was enormous by 90’s standards!).
Story and Screenwriter Jonathan Gems, credited Burton (who was not given a writing credit) for honing in the story, focusing it solely in the United States, and paring down the characters, to a ‘measly’ 23 leads.
There are even a few jabs at that greatest of all war-time comedies, Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This is evident in one of the alien’s translated words meaning ‘bodily fluids,’ and President Dale having an elaborate War Room. Plus, much like how actor Peter Sellers played several roles in Strangelove, Jack Nicholson does the same in Attacks, playing straight-laced President James Dale, and sleazy Vegas developer, Art Land.
The production design also plays around with the time-period. Though it is meant to be modern-day America, many of the settings we see are decidedly retro. The scenes in Kansas definitely feel like Richie Norris (Lukas Haas) and his family, are stuck in a time-warp, and whenever we see Police officers or Military personnel, their uniforms and vehicles are decidedly retro.
Burton has dabbled in combining generational stylings in other films, such as Edward Scissorhands, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. With Mars Attacks, it feels like he really opened the door wide, with several decades worth of inspirational imagery.
Just like those Irwin Allen films, Mars Attacks’ advertising boasted a veritable who’s-who of casting. Such big names included Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, and…Tom Jones!?
The film also has some fun with its character types, with Paul Winfield playing the low-key General Casey, who would act as counterpoint to the more bombastic General Decker, played with over-the-top zeal by Rod Steiger.
Along with the more seasoned actors, the film also brought on some young blood, with Natalie Portman portraying Presidential Daughter Taffy Dale. There was also Lukas Haas as Richie Norris, the young man stuck in the middle-of-nowhere America (aka Kansas), with his trailer park family (played by Joe Don Baker, O-Lan Jones, and Jack Black).
One actor who I remember being surprised to see again, was Sylvia Sidney. First introduced to me as the Maitland’s caseworker Juno in Beetlejuice, Sidney plays the senile Grandma Norris, who ends up finding the secret weapon to saving the human race. She also gets one of the best lines in the film.
The film would be Sidney’s last film appearance, as she would pass away in 1999.
Pushing into the Digital Frontier
Tim Burton has often had a strong affinity for the effects and animation work of the past.
When it came to pulling off the craziness of faces contorting in a grotesque fashion, or bringing his twisted Christmas fables to life, he often opted for stop-motion puppetry.
Burton was all set to do the same with Mars Attacks, but that plan quickly fell by the wayside, as Warner Brothers wrestled with keeping the film’s budget under control.
The solution, was to have the full-motion martians realized in the same way as Steven Spielberg Jurassic Park dinosaurs: with an assist from Lucasfilm’s visual effects company, industrial Light and Magic.
Though it may be seen as a travesty to some, I still like what ILM brought to the table. Making the martians digital creatures, can be seen as another stepping-stone in their development of the technology (they had already started doing ‘character animation with the films Casper, and Dragonheart).
Creating the martians in the computer, allowed them to be rendered with reflections and lighting, to make them actually seem a part of the real-life scenery. Of course, the animators also added some ‘staccato’ movements, giving the characters a hint of their stop-motion ‘heritage.’
Of course, ILM can’t take all the effects credit for the film. Warner Brothers also added an assist, with their in-company group, Warner Digital Studios. WDS became responsible for the brunt of the global destruction in the film, as well as the myriad shots of the flying saucers, and death ray blasts.
It is fun to also see the filmmaking toe the line between advanced effects, and some that are meant to reference older films. Some shots are simple ones, where the camera doesn’t move, much like how a number of effects were achieved in older days. Plus, some animation cycles of the martians, are re-used multiple times.
Of course, sometimes the real stuff is always good for a film. The filmmakers even used a real-life disaster, as destruction footage in the film. In 1995, The Landmark Hotel and Casino was destroyed by controlled demolition in Las Vegas. Footage of the event was captured and repurposed for the film, when the Martians destroy Art Land’s casino.
Sadly, in 1996, there was only room in America’s hearts for one alien invasion film…and that honor of most-beloved, civilization-destroying feel-good film, fell upon Independence Day.
Mars Attacks didn’t come close to making ID4′s box-office take, failing to fully recoup its budget and marketing costs.
Both films did share a multi-part story about an alien invasion, but whereas Emmerich’s film used coincidence and numerous references to Star Wars, Burton’s vision was a bit of a downer. Some claimed the film was WB’s attempts to ride ID4’s coattails, but in truth, the film had been in development before Emmerich ever pitched his film idea to Twentieth Century Fox.
It’s dark comedy tone may also have turned away a number of people. There wasn’t anyone quite as charismatic as Will Smith in the film, and a large portion of the all-star cast, would find themselves turned into colored skeletons (or disintegrated) by the martian weaponry.
Even the Martians’ end-game was never discussed. At the most, it seemed like they were little more than bored teenagers, and just decided to invade the Earth for kicks and giggles.
The film could also be considered ‘cruel’ by today’s standards, as just like in one of the Topps cards, Burton decimates a few animals (the First Lady even lobs the skull of the deceased family dog, at a martian intruder!).
I will admit that I don’t hold Mars Attacks up as a true Burton masterpiece, but it is a film that shows his sensibilities, and love for both the Topps cards the film is based off of, and a film that attempts to revel in the irreverence of the 1950’s B-movies, and the disaster films of the 1970’s.
Plus, one of the more fun moments, is Jack Nicholson’s speech, given to the Martian Leader. It isn’t as well-remembered as Bill Pullman’s from ID4, but the timbre and the accompanying music, make it quite entertaining to hear.
My (personal) fondness for the film, also ties into my high school days of marching band. It was my band director who helped ‘introduce’ me to Danny Elfman’s music, and opened my eyes further to who/what Tim Burton was (putting to rest a lot of the strangeness that seemed frightening to my suburban-raised mind).
I recall picking up the soundtrack to Mars Attacks in the winter of 1996, and loaning it to my director to listen to (at first, he didn’t even think Elfman had done the music for the film!). Less than a year later, we were playing the film’s theme as part of our Marching Band’s Danny Elfman-themed show (Music for a Darkened Theater, Vol 3). Our director even went all-out, costuming one of our band members as the Martian Leader, who ‘vaporized’ several members of the band as the song played (my sister ended up being tagged as one of the ‘victims,’ collapsing to the ground in a vaporizing puff of ‘flour’).
It almost feels like the 1990’s were the perfect ‘breeding ground’ for such a picture. If the film had been made in the early 2000’s, it probably would have seen it’s subject matter depicted in a ‘heavier’ way, much like how Steven Spielberg re-imagined H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, in a post 9/11 world. If anything, a post 9/11 Mars Attacks, would probably have been less faithful to the Topps cards, and treated more as a realistic war film.
As it stands now, it is one of a number of those 90’s films, that definitely feels like a product of it’s time.
*With the rise of DVD’s in the late 1990’s, one feature many promised with the addition of Special Features, were audio commentaries. These would often contain dialogue from the film’s crew, or even film historians. In this category, I’ll discuss some of the audio commentary tracks that I feel are rather compelling, and end up being entertaining, in regards to the information provided, and what is being said.*
When the Walt Disney Studios began to put their films onto the DVD format starting in the late 1990’s, they realized that they had a big chance to show more, AND talk more, about the filmmaking process. The Digital Video Disc format, was a more compact, and less-expensive item for film aficionados, in place of the more costly laserdisc format.
Starting in 2001, the studio announced their Platinum Collection, which would take a number of the studio’s most popular titles, and give these releases the super-deluxe treatment.
Beauty and the Beast was the second Platinum release, and in October of 2002, I eagerly purchased it, and dove into the numerous features it had to offer.
Most notable to me, was the audio commentary track that was included. Sitting down to talk about the film, were co-directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, producer Don Hahn, and composer Alan Menken.
There’s plenty of material that is discussed, and I thought I’d share a few highlights, given the film came out 25 years ago this winter.
Uncertainty over a Song
Throughout the audio commentary, much praise is given to lyricist Howard Ashman, and composer Alan Menken, whose musical work feels like the connective tissue, binding this animated fairy tale together.
Alan was brought in as a ‘special guest’ on the audio commentary, and gives plenty of insight regarding the different songs.
To many of us, the opening to the film seems picture-perfect with the song titled Belle, in which we are introduced to our heroine, and the provincial town she and her father call home. However, there were some trepidations in the beginning:
Alan Menken: When Howard (Ashman) and I began working on Beauty and the Beast, the first song we wrote, Belle-was the first one. And he (Howard) said, “Oh my God, they’re gonna just laugh at it and throw it back at us. I don’t even want to send it out.” I said, “I think it’s great! Let’s send it out!” So we sent it out, and what we got back were “hurrahs” and “yays,” and this was exactly where they wanted to go.
The musical-style opening, had never really been done in this way with a Disney animated feature, and the film moreso played out like a stage musical brought to animated life.
Most interesting, is that for a song that had Ashman worried, it was remembered when awards season arrived in the Winter of 1991. The song Belle was one of three nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. The songs Be Our Guest and Beauty and the Beast were also nominated, with the film’s title song taking home the statuette that evening.
Time is of the Essence
Audio commentaries, are often a great source of information, that is usually not as widely known to the public. Notable in the commentary for the film, is co-director Kirk Wise, discussing the time-frame for making the film:
Kirk Wise: This movie was made in a very short period of time, believe it or not. The actual production of the version of “Beauty and the Beast” that you see before you, was done in two years, as opposed to the typical three or four.
Until I first heard the film’s audio commentary, I had little idea of the first iteration of the film. Beauty was originally meant to be a non-musical feature, and would have been a bit more serious in tone. However, early reviews of that material found few executives willing to go along with it, and the film was then re-imagined into what we know it as today.
Of course, 2 years isn’t the craziest production time for an animated feature. Toy Story 2 was rewritten and animated, 9 months before its November 1999 release (all in a manic attempt to make a film worthy of the PIXAR name).
Finding a New Design for The Beast
When it comes to the story of Beauty and the Beast, the Beast himself has often been a character, who has been re-imagined many times over, in different story illustrations.
For his appearance within the Disney world of characters, his design took a little time to come up with, and becomes an interesting little round-table between the producer and directors of the film:
Don Hahn: The Beast was, a little bit of everything, wasn’t he?
Kirk Wise: Yeah, it was a challenging character design, and Gary (Trousdale) and I looked at some of the early design work that was done on the Beast, and we didn’t care for it, because they all just seemed to be variations of a man, with an animal head. You know, this enchantment didn’t seem to affect the rest of his body, at all. It was either a man with a baboon head, or a man with a monkey head, or whatever.
Don Hahn: It didn’t play into the strength of what animation can do-
Kirk Wise: Right.
Don Hahn: -which is, anything.
Gary Trousdale: We gave the project to Chris Sanders and said, “Could you mess around, you know, and come up with some designs?” And he came up with the weirdest things!
Kirk Wise: Yeah, the avian insectoid-
Gary Trousdale: We had like, stag-beetle and mantis Beasts. We had fish head Beasts, I mean there were everything. And finally, he hit upon one, that is pretty close to what you see on-screen right now. And we saw that and went, “Yes! That’s it!”
Kirk Wise: It was this kind-of, combination of a bull, and a gorilla-
Don Hahn: Bison kind of size.
Kirk Wise: A bison.
Gary Trousdale: And he’s got the hind legs of a wolf, and the forelegs of a bear.
Kirk Wise: It just suggested a lot more interesting animation possibilities.
To me, the Beast has always been a fascinating character, given how the designers and animators, could bring together all these different parts of different animals, and yet make the Beast seem like a real creature.
Notable in the commentary here, is the mention of Chris Sanders. Sanders made a name for himself at Disney, doing not just concept and character art, but also storyboarding a number of major sequences in numerous films in the 1990’s.
Though his biggest claim-to-fame at the studio, was being co-director and creator, of their 2002 animated feature, Lilo & Stitch (not to mention also providing the voice for Stitch).
In the film, Maurice created an automatic wood-chopping device, which had been conceived of by the writers, as a way to get him and Belle out of the basement later on in the film. But after creating this machine, it seemed there was noone around to work it when the proper time came!
One of the best things a really involving story can do, is keep us so invested, that we sometimes let holes in the film’s logic, just fly by. Co-director Gary Trousdale quickly pointed out one of these, that I hadn’t considered until hearing him discuss it:
Gary Trousdale: “Oh, we’ve got that thing, it’s sitting around in the yard, isn’t it? Well who can start it up?” They’re both in the basement. We thought, Well, maybe Chip can, but he doesn’t have any hands!
Don Hahn: He can stow away.
Gary Trousdale: It’s a cartoon! He can talk, can’t he?
Kirk Wise: We cut around the parts where Chip-
Gary Trousdale: Where he’s shoveling coal and lighting the tinder and flint and-
Kirk Wise: He’s a smart little cup.
Those little observations make the commentary quite eye-opening. The filmmakers also bring our attention to some strange goings-on with Gaston’s chair, and a bearskin rug during the reprise of the song, Gaston. I won’t go into detail, as it’s funnier listening to them tell it, than it is for me to recap it.
What’s in a name?
Another revealing thing that I never questioned, comes near the end of the film, when Belle reunites with the Beast.
Gary Trousdale: Yeah this scene here was a little bit of a, we didn’t realize until we actually got to it, but when Belle comes out and calls to the Beast, we said, “He doesn’t have a name. We just call him ‘Beast.'” It’s like, “I don’t know what his name is!”
Don Hahn: Tyrone, or-
Gary Trousdale: Bob!
Don Hahn: Steve!
It wasn’t until I found myself among some West Coast Disney fans almost 5 years ago, that I became aware of what I consider a Disney urban legend, regarding the Beast. When I joked about the commentary’s mentioning about how he didn’t have a name, several told me that the Beast actually DID, and that it was Adam.
This was due to a CD-ROM game licensed by Disney, called The D Show,which gave the Beast this name in a trivia category. However, a number of staff (including the Beast’s supervising animator, Glen Keane), have denied the Beast was ever given a name during production.
Maybe a sign that some legends never die, was seeing that someone had included the title of Prince Adam on the IMDB credit for the Beast in the upcoming live-action film from Disney, but it’s hard to tell if this is official naming, or some fan-submission that may get amended later on.
Even after 25 years, Beauty and the Beast is still one of the best films the studio made during the 1990’s. I can put it in all these years later, and still be entertained by the story, and remember many of the scenes that slowly made me think that animation might be a career path I’d like to pursue.
It also blazed a new trail for animation at the time, when it won for Best Comedy/Musical at the Golden Globes, and was one of the Oscars’ 5 Best Picture nominees, a feat that had never before been achieved!
Next year will see the animated feature, adapted into the realms of live-action. While many are excited for this new adaptation (with Emma Watson as Belle), it stands to be seen if the filmmakers can make the live-action film as memorable, as the animated film that was released 25 years ago.
It’s finally here. That most special of special treats bestowed upon the fandom of Star vs the Forces of Evil: a full, 22-minute episode!
Of course, the title Bon Bon the Birthday Clown doesn’t sound quite as exciting as Season 1’s 22-minute episodes, but if we’ve learned anything from Season 2 so far, it’s to not judge an episode or segment by it’s title.
So, let’s see what this episode has in store for us!
Star is eager to attend a seance with Janna, to resurrect Bon Bon the Birthday Clown, on his 100th ‘death day.’ However, she panics when she realizes the seance is the same night as the school dance, which she was planning to attend with Marco.
Things seem to work out, when Jackie Lynn Thomas asks Marco out to the dance, and he eagerly accepts! While Marco goes to the dance with Jackie, Star and Janna head to the cemetery, but as the night goes on, Star begins to have second thoughts about not going to the dance…
From the start of the episode, it becomes pretty apparent that Bon Bon is doing things a bit differently from what we’ve seen before. The introduction to the episode, almost feels like how The Simpsons usually start off their episodes: Sending you down a side path, and then eventually directing you onto the main one.
Director Giancarlo Volpe has directed some of my favorite segments this season (such as Mr Candle Cares, and Naysaya), and like those favorites, he definitely cranks up the emotions in this episode.
Front-and-center, is Star becoming a little more quiet than usual, upon seeing Marco and Jackie together. It’s definitely a different reaction for Star, who since Season 1, has kept championing Marco to hook up with his crush.
Star’s inner turmoil can be seen throughout of the episode as well. She tries to keep herself preoccupied with the seance, but in little moments here-and-there, we see her mind drifting. To watch the scenes is both intriguing and emotional, especially when it seems Star might be developing a small streak of…jealousy?
Speaking of Marco and Jackie, seeing them together brought a big smile to my face. I have to commend the writers for not just sweeping their story arc under the rug after the last episode. Season 2 feels like it’s been a major champion of character development, and we get plenty of that here.
The writers get down so many of the nervous nuances about going to dances, as well as the awkwardness of first dates (Marco trying to make small-talk with Jackie? Yup, been there, done that). Plus, Jackie proves to be full of surprises in this episode.
On the lower end of the character-development spectrum in this episode, is Janna. Given the way we see her act around Marco, I can’t help but wonder if her obsession with invading his personal (and private!) space, is somehow tied to a previous crush she may have had on him when they were younger. Maybe something happened, and she turned that disappointment into just being weird and anarchic most of the time?
This is one of those episodes that will probably leave some of the show’s fans feeling confused, and a little frustrated. There’s some pretty heavy stuff that happens in Bon Bon, but we don’t get any solid resolutions. It’s like the episode has set in motion several new pieces of machinery, but what they’ll produce, is still up in the air.
There are definitely a few things in the narrative that have left me pondering as well. One of them, is a sub-theme about rats, that weaves its way throughout. It feels like there’s meant to be some inter-linking connection about them, but after viewing the episode several times, I still haven’t been able to figure it out.
Ending the review on a positive note, it almost feels like the writers try to balance out the changes we experience, with some references and callbacks to previous episodes. Some past segments have just given us one or two, but Bon Bon really goes to town! We get everything from visual references, to reused lines, and even a return of several spells Star used in the first season (I never thought I’d hear “syrup tsunami shockwave” again).
Final Grade: A-
In the end, I struggled with trying to come up with my final grade for this episode. When comparing it to longer episodes like St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses, and Storm the Castle, I found that Bon Bon the Birthday Clown blew past them, with a more solid structure, and the way it dabbled a bit more in emotions, than action.
I’m always up for episodes that give us an emotional resonance, and this may be one of the first that really pushes hard in that area. Plus, the final moments, leave us even more eager to know what the final end-game will be for this season.
(And, just as we jump back into Season 2, we’re pulled away! Word is this episode is considered a “winter finale,” which means we’ve most likely had our last taste of new “Star vs the Forces of Evil” episodes for the year 2016.
At this time, rumor is that maybe we’ll get our next episode in February of 2017, but until then, I plan to try and do some little “Animated Dissections” in regards to the series. I’m already working on one exploring Marco and Jackie’s relationship, and how it may be “a necessary evil” in the course of developing the show’s storyline.
Plus, the “Star vs the Forces of Evil” comic series is still being produced, and I intend to continue reviewing upcoming issues too. So, stick around. I don’t plan to have the winter hinder my thinking and analyzing this weird-and-wild series.)