Over the years, there have been a number of ‘making-of/art-of’ books that have adorned my shelves. Along with the majority of them that concern animated features, there are several relating to the films of George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. To me, these three men are ‘the holy trinity’ of directors who influenced my childhood, and got me interested in the worlds of film, and visual effects.
Recently, Spielberg has returned to the pop-culture limelight, with his adaptation of Ernie Cline’s bestselling novel, Ready Player One. The story of an economically-bereft world where it’s inhabitants escape into a virtual realm of unlimited possibilities (and pop-culture cameos aplenty!), had me interested in what ‘the bearded one’ could do with Cline’s source material…and once I saw an early screening of the film, I was eager for behind-the-scenes material.
Fortunately, my appetite was (somewhat) satiated, thanks to Insight Editions‘ recent release: The Art of Ready Player One.
While a number of “art of” books are in my collection, I have become a bit of a connoisseur regarding how some are put together. I’ve seen some that miss the chance to provide intriguing commentary on their subject matter (The Art of Inside Out), and some that feel like certain bits of production information were squeezed in at the end as an afterthought (The Art of Big Hero 6).
With The Art of Ready Player One, author Gina McIntyre manages to hit the sweet-spot, with her 156-page tome having a cohesive balance to the material contained within.
The layout of the book gives us some background on the film’s literary beginnings, before delving into it’s characters, and then the world that Spielberg brought to life. The format of the book makes it seem like a companion piece to the film, making me feel reading it should be done after a screening (or two) of the film.
It’s always fun for me to see how certain elements of a film’s story evolved, though in the case of this book, it feel like much of the storyline was already locked-in, with a surprising lack of ‘abandoned concepts’ or ‘alternate story ideas’ mentioned. Even the section regarding character concepts, is rather sparse when it comes to showing the evolution of character designs.
A fun area of conceptual ‘what-if,’ happens in a section devoted to the film’s ‘second challenge.’ This was one of my favorite parts of the film, and seeing several unused concepts and reading commentary by the production designer and effects supervisor, made it a highlight that I think other insightful readers will enjoy.
Of course, some may eagerly pick up the book hoping it’ll spill the beans on all of the pop-culture ‘easter eggs’ in the film. While a few are shown in concept, the book is far from being a ‘cheat sheet’ for the casual viewer.
Even with the book managing to placate my desire for behind-the-scenes information, there were a few things that stuck out for me as “minor nitpicks.”
One of the rather unusual things that the book’s text does, is repeat certain items several times. This struck me after reading the foreword and introduction pieces by Spielberg and Cline, only to find some of their remarks repeated in different interview context a few pages later.
There was also a rather unusual bit of labeling, where when identifying various images, the author almost seems to ‘gush’ about extra details in them. One example is an image of the character of Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), relaxing in his personal chair. One would expect a simple explanation, but the description gives the full name of the haptic chair, along with the style of VR visor he’s wearing. I can only assume that the author of the book was trying to have some fun, and add in some extra touches of Gunter-level knowledge for the images on hand (FYI: ‘Gunters’ are the names of the egg-hunters in the Oasis, who are usually avid fans of Oasis creator James Haliday-oh great, now I’m doing it!).
There are definitely some eye-opening bits of art that helped show the scope of the world of the Oasis, with several pages showing a number of conceptual worlds that never made it off the drawing board (like the image of Gothropolis, which I assume is a DC Universe-only playground).
Like a lot of Art of Books, I couldn’t help but imagine The Art of Ready Player One could have made due with another 25-50 pages. We get some prime examples of the haptic technology used to enter the Oasis, but I could also see a section detailing more about thoughts and concepts, regarding the dystopian future world of 2045. When looking over Spielberg’s filmography, the ‘real world’ in this film is a much more bleak future than the ones we’ve seen in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, or Minority Report. One can only wonder what Ernie Cline and co-screenwriter Zak Penn thought of this world, let alone how production designer Adam Stockhausen and his team came to their conclusions on bringing it to life.
In this day-and-age, material about the production of feature films has become decidedly small-scale, unlike ‘the days of wine-and-roses’ when laserdiscs and the first DVD’s seemed intent on giving us a glimpse behind the curtain that VHS tapes were incapable of doing. Studios today see more profit in selling films in a digital format, than revealing the tricks-of-the-trade that brought these productions to life through multi-disc boxsets.
The Art of Ready Player One serves as another example of Insight Editions‘ attempts to keep pushing quality-based book releases, that give film fans and cinephiles like myself, something to placate our curiosity. Even with my nitpicks about a few areas, I was still satisfied with the final product, though like a Gunter trying to unlock all of James Haliday’s secrets, I still hunger to learn more about Spielberg’s latest feature.
With 19 episodes under season 3’s belt, here we are, at the second-to-last episode, and the first of a two-part story, that seeks to make this season go out with a bang.
At the end of the last episode, Queen Moon was severely injured, and disappeared through a multi-colored portal. With Moon gone, Star has now been made the ‘acting queen’ of Mewni, but finds it frustrating how everyone is looking to her for decisions.
With Meteora still advancing on the kingdom, Marco and Star’s friends try to slow her down, while Star attempts to try and find out what happened to her mom.
At the beginning of the episode, the writers try to balance drama and humor, as Star finds out that much of the Kingdom’s decision-making, was done by her mother…and without Queen Moon, most people are unable to think for themselves (making me wonder what happened with previous ruling parties).
While the stupidity of several of the royal personnel is a bit eye-rolling, it was intriguing to see Star reacting almost identically to her Mom in the earlier Season 3 story, Moon the Undaunted. Just like young Moon, Star is thrust into an awkward position of power, one that she finds herself struggling to work through.
It is also notable how Star is unwilling to take the advice of Eclipsa (who is partially to blame for Moon’s disappearance), or the Magic High Commission (who were found guilty of tampering with Mewni’s past history texts some time ago!). This signals a move that some would probably see as being foolhardy, but it seems that Star doesn’t feel like she can trust ‘the old ways’ of doing things. Much of this season has shown her trying to make changes to a broken ruling system, and this feels like another small step forward.
Most of Star’s time in this episode, is spent outside of the castle in the unnamed, paradise-like place she entered into in the earlier story, called Deep Dive. There is still the danger that Star could be sidetracked in her quest to find her mom, and the writers come up with a neat idea, on trying to keep her mind on her plan.
On the other end of the ‘divide,’ we have Marco staying behind on Mewni, trying to work on slowing down Meteora. This leads to the grouping of a number of characters we’ve seen him interact with over the season, as he attempts to put several plans into action.
While there is plenty that is good about the episode, Divide feels like it focuses a bit too much on gags in some areas, almost like in splitting the final story for the season in two, the writers had to ‘pad it out’ in a number of places.
One highlight is when we see Star and Marco talking over things before everyone splits off into their separate quests. Plus, we get to see how their fighting skills have improved over the last season. It’s probably one of the most productive conversations Star has in the episode.
Final Grade: B
When watching Divide, I couldn’t help but feel that many of it’s events, were largely just to set-up the events of the next episode. However, it does have some memorable moments.
Much like seeing Moon Butterfly in her younger days, we get to see Star trying to deal with being thrust into the spotlight as an ‘active queen.’ Her working through a number of emotions, helped make this story pretty enjoyable, though I was hoping for a little more drama during the second part of the episode for her.
Marco’s attempts to stop Meteora, helped give the episode some action, and prove just how ruthless Eclipsa’s daughter is (using magic-draining powers that may remind some of what Toffee was capable of in season 2).
Overall, if the episode had felt a little more ‘complete,’ I probably would have given it a higher rating. Still, it did prove to be entertaining.
And then…there was one left.
Come back soon, when I review the final episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil’s third season: Conquer.
For filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, the movies he makes have often been about bringing to life something that he feels passionately about. In the case of his 2013 release of Pacific Rim, the result was an emotional mixture of Japanese monster fights, interpersonal connections, and Mexican wrestling.
The film wasn’t a big hit stateside, but racked up three times it’s domestic gross overseas. Five years after it’s release, Steven S DeKnight expands on Del Toro’s world, with Pacific Rim: Uprising.
Over 10 years have passed since the events in the first film. In that time, the Jaeger program has been reborn, and newer, younger recruits are being trained for the possibility of another invasion from beyond our dimension.
One person who finds himself being brought back into the program, is Jake Pentecost (John Boyega). Jake has lived his life outside the shadow of his famous father Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), but is coaxed back into service by his sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi).
The human-manned Jaeger program also finds itself in jeopardy, when a Chinese consortium led by Liwen Shao (Tian Jing), wants to streamline the program, and control the huge machines by way of unmanned drones, thanks to the help of former Shatterdome scientist, Dr Newton Geisler (Charlie Day).
However, things suddenly change when an unknown Jaeger appears, setting off a chain of events concerning Jake, and those around him.
Right from the start, it’s clear to see that Uprising is one of those sequels where most of the first film’s main cast, are either gone (just what happened to Jaeger pilot Raleigh Beckett is unknown), or relegated to supporting roles. Much like Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day sequel, this film wants us to focus on ‘a new generation’ of young characters.
Jake Pentecost quickly becomes our film’s Raleigh Beckett. Jake is played up as the rebellious child of a heroic figure, but fortunately, Boyega manages to do a decent job balancing out his character, as well as giving him several humorous moments.
While Del Toro’s 2013 film seemed intent on dealing with the emotions of his characters, Uprising either speeds through some of these areas, or doesn’t do quite enough. Case-in-point, is where we are introduced to the young Jaeger pilots. I was hoping we’d really get to see them come together through training, but much of this is glossed over in favor of focusing more on the Chinese Jaeger-drones subplot.
Out of all the young pilots on-screen, the one whom the film puts most of it’s emphasis on, is the orphaned Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). Given her attitude towards Jake and her mechanical prowess, I couldn’t help but feel like I was seeing a fleshed out version, of what Michael Bay intended for the character of Izabella in Transformers: The Last Knight to be (at least I could believe that Amara was mechanically-inclined!). However, while Amara can be a bit stand-offish, the film does make her more than just ‘a girl with attitude.’ She wants to make a difference, but fortunately, she isn’t going to just stand in front of a multi-storey Kaiju and tell it to ‘go to hell.’
For those who felt the first film was lacking in giant robot/creature battles, Uprising will definitely be seen as a marked improvement. However, some of the effects work feels like they had to pick-and-choose where the production money went (no elaborate ILM-budgeted night battles in the rain this time!). I’m sure some will feel that the new Jaegers are more in line with Michael Bay’s Transformers, but much like computers getting smaller over time, to me it makes sense that 10 years beyond the first film, the Jaeger designs would look a little leaner and more agile, rather than the bulkier, heavier first-generation models.
It’s fair to say that director Steven DeKnight does his own thing with the material, and while it doesn’t hit as deeply on an emotional level, I was surprised to find that Uprising felt like it could have been adapted from an anime or manga series. There are certainly some small touchstones to the first film, though I couldn’t help but feel like some bits of the story, felt like it was cobbled together from some recent science fiction films I’d seen in the last few years. However, unlike those films such as Independence Day: Resurgence and Transformers: Age of Extinction (that just seemed to plod on with a few punctuated scenes that held my interest for a few minutes), Uprising managed to press my buttons, and actually had me entranced throughout!
Seeing the film in IMAX (though not released in 3D) I thought would be quite entertaining. Unfortunately, it felt like the camerawork at times got a little too close to the action. Though it is impressive to see the images projected so large, it feels like an average-sized screen would be more-than-welcome for viewing purposes (plus, there weren’t any floor-to-ceiling IMAX-style shots to make it that worthwhile).
Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: “Pacific Rim: Uprising” continues on in the world Guillermo Del Toro created, but feels ‘manageable’ for a second film. Writer/Director Steve DeKnight chooses to almost flip the first film on it’s head, choosing to make the giant robot/monster battles our main focus, while jettisoning some important time to allow the audience to really get to know much of the film’s cast.
Last week’s episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil, was one of those one-two punch episodes that I often long to see more of. The stories that give answers to some questions, and bring about some new questions, without going overboard.
This week’s episode was somewhat of a ‘grab bag’ of ideas, when I heard the plot for both stories. So, let’s see what we have to work with.
Upon finding a note left by Buff Frog saying that he is going away, Star and Marco are eager to find out where their monster-friend is. However, Marco steps aside on this trip when Star’s boyfriend Tom, quietly requests Marco excuse himself from the investigation, so Tom and Star can have some time together.
The absence of Marco from the story did have me perplexed once it got going, but then again, we haven’t really had a full-on Star/Tom adventure story (Marco already had one of those with Tom in Season 2’s episode, Friendenemies). There are also a few interesting moments in this story, where Tom may have some issues with Star and Marco’s friendship.
The revelation regarding Buff Frog and his decision to leave, definitely felt like it came out-of-nowhere. After promoting Buff Frog to the role of Royal Monster Expert in Starfari, I was seriously hoping that there would have been an episode showing Star and Buff Frog working to revamp the royal agency, but it seems that was something the show’s writers didn’t feel was worth exploring.
So far, most of the monster-related stuff has fallen on Star’s shoulders, with the events of the episode Monster Bash, seeming to be what pushed Buff Frog to leave.
As we also saw in Monster Bash, Tom has largely been on the sidelines regarding his girlfriend’s efforts to bring mewmans and monsters together. Surprisingly, he does actually seem to take a small interest in trying to get several monsters to believe that things are getting better in this story, but one has to wonder if he really is going to do anything in the future to work towards this goal, or if he was just saying those things to look good for Star.
There is definitely some emotion put into this story, and while I did like the writers giving Tom some more screen-time, there were plenty of places I felt the story could have been stronger in it’s execution.
Final Grade: B-
At the request of his parents, Marco returns to Earth, only to learn that his mom is pregnant, and a baby shower is taking place!
Realizing that he didn’t bring a gift, Marco and Star make a mad dash to Quest Buy, where they enlist the services of a magical painter, to make a portrait of Marco (on a very short timeline!).
Walking into this story, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a title like Marco, Jr. My first thought was that we’d see a return of the character Naysaya, though Mr and Mrs Diaz quickly explain where the title of the story comes from (and why they would name their unborn second child, after their first one).
I was pleasantly surprised when Marco’s Mom became one of the entertaining highlights of the story as well. Over the course of her time on the show, it feels like the writers have enjoyed steering Mrs Diaz to be the more thoughtful of Marco’s parents. Mr Diaz is made out as the more ‘kooky’ of the two, and even gets a few humorous lines here too.
Most surprising, was the story taking a sudden sharp turn, and going off on an unexpected story tangent! This reminded me of Bon Bon the Birthday Clown, where that episode’s title alluded to one thing, and then the subject matter went down a surprising path.
This was also another story where Star is there as a ‘supporting character’ for Marco. This proved to be quite entertaining, both in her proactive nature, and in her knowledge regarding just ‘who’ Marco is these days.
I am always up for a good Marco-centric storyline that proves to be ‘weirdly entertaining,’ and this one hit a number of the notes that made me enjoy it more than I had any right to.
Final Grade: B
I will admit that overall, this episode was pretty good, though definitely not as intriguing as the last one.
Is Another Mystery gave us a Star/Tom team-up that we hadn’t experienced before, but the subject matter felt like it could have used an extra episode of storytelling, to make the emotional moments really hit home.
I have a feeling some people may not enjoy Marco, Jr as much as I did, but I have a soft-spot for Marco-related stories, and the weirdness that was on display here, just worked for me!
Next episode, we see Princess Pony Head return to St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses, in the storyline Skooled! Then, Star and Marco supposedly end up in a strange situation, in Booth Buddies. See you back here in a week for another review!