Come with Me if You Want to Live: The 35 Year Legacy of The Terminator

It’s not very often that a film comes along that will launch the career of one of the most financially successful directors of the modern age of cinema. It’s even rarer that it will also make the star of the film a household name, especially with a name that was so difficult to pronounce, he had been told that he would never be a star because of it. But that is exactly what The Terminator did to James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The original idea came from a fever dream James Cameron had in March 1982. Cameron had collapsed onto his bed with a temperature of 102 degrees, and in his sleep he conjured up an image of a chrome skeleton emerging from fire, torn in half and dragging itself across the floor with a kitchen knife. Cameron sketched the image down and one of the first things he thought was how he hadn’t seen anything like that in a movie before. That image then inspired him to start writing a treatment, which was initially just called Terminator. Cameron wanted to appeal to the kids who go to the cinema to see a cool action film, but also the older academics who would think there was some sort of socio-political significance hidden behind all the action: An intelligent Sci-Fi Action film with a stylish slasher-movie edge to it.

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Airwolf: 35 years on

A BRIEF RETROSPECTIVE OF A UNIQUE TELEVISION SERIES THAT BROKE THE MOLD OF THE ACTION-ADVENTURE GENRE.

The whirring of the engines, the whooshing of the rotors, and that iconic theme song. Airwolf was a TV series that broke the mould of the action-adventure genre of 1980s television. Looking back, the pilot episode doesn’t feel like a TV program at all; it feels more like a feature. From the opening shots of the desert and the close-ups of Airwolf to the intense aerial photography, the TV pilot has some serious production value behind it. The storyline of the pilot also includes some rather dark themes. The series would last for three seasons totalling 55 episodes before being cancelled in 1986.

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Are These They? Or: Why I love The Venture Bros

A LOOK AT WHAT MAKES THIS CARTOON SO COMPELLING FOR SO MANY PEOPLE.

Growing up as a 90’s kid retro cartoons were readily available thanks in large part to the Saturday morning ritual of too much sugary cereal (looking at you Fruity Pebbles and Trix!) being offered up to the God’s Hannah and Barbera. The old 60’s adventure cartoons always stuck with me so when Adult Swim first aired a show that spoofed Johnny Quest, the Hurculoids, and even the old Fantastic Four Cartoon (the one with H.E.R.B.I.E. and not the Human Torch because the executives were worried kids would pour gas on themselves and then light themselves on fire because kids are stupid,)  I was all for it.

The Venture Bros. combines that same self-indulgent 60’s campiness with something far more original. It takes the superhero and adventurer genre and turns it on its ear. Filled with pop culture references that never seem dated and science fiction tropes that never fail to entertain, Doc Hammer and Jackson Public, two men who I have spoken to personally, have created a timeless program filled with twists and turns that rival some of the best shows on prime time.

I don’t exactly remember when I got into the Venture Bros. It was just one of those things. It was streaming on Netflix and I was bored and through that boredom, I fell in love with some of the best characters created for television.

What appeals to me the most about this show is its fanbase. Maybe it’s just me but there doesn’t seem to be the same toxicity other fanbases suffer from. There are no rabid Venture Bros. fans lining up at McDonald’s to get their hands on special sauces and gatekeeping newer fans from joining in on the fun. I believe my wife said it best when she said that Doc would shut that shut it right down and never make another episode if he found out there was any sort of shenanigans like that going on.

No place is this welcoming fanbase better represented than at Dragon Con in Atlanta. Last year I cosplayed as the Blue Morpho and met up with some fellow VB Cosplayers at the fan booth in the Hilton. We all just sort of hung out together, laughing and having a great time getting our pictures taken. There is a great picture of me with a half-naked Traester wrapped in an American flag with a post-it note saying “Fix It!” I mingled with St. Cloud, a half dozen Henchmen, A Killinger and so many Monarchs and Dr. Mrs. The Monarchs.

The funny thing is, it’s such a low key and welcoming fanbase because Doc and Jackson created characters who are pretty welcoming when you think about it. Rusty is a damaged character and surrounds himself with equally damaged people who have, in a lot of ways, become a tight-knit family. His relationships with his sons, though strained, often lead to emotional gut punch moments like when Rusty asks “Brock, am I a bad person?” It so often comes out of nowhere that you are left slack-jawed because this show shouldn’t be that serious and heavy but it is and we’re grateful for it.

Remake Fever

WE AS A CULTURE ARE FASCINATED WITH REMAKES, BUT MAYBE WE SHOULDN’T BE.

It seems that a lot of cinema today is either a sequel, part of a wide cinematic franchise, or a remake/reboot/re-imagining of an existing property. The term “reboot” has become the go-to phrase for when studios want to remake an older film. In my opinion, the only thing that gets “rebooted” is a crashed computer, but that’s just me.

Remake fever is kicking into high gear again, with Disney remaking their old animated films as live action ones and remakes of male-driven films with female leads, and it has been announced that Ben Affleck won’t be returning as Batman in the next Batman film, which is sure to lead to a reboot of the character, again. But it’s not just films: TV series are going through this as well, with the recent remakes of Magnum PI, MacGyver and many others, as well as talk of a reboot of Lost, which has been off the air for fewer than ten years. It got me thinking about this fascination with remakes.

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Captain Marvel: Review

To fully review a movie like Captain Marvel you need to spoil some things.  It’s inevitable and necessary. For those of you who wish to go in as blind as I did, I’ll keep this first part spoiler free.  My version of spoiler free, which means ZERO plot and character details.

Anyone who has ever listened to my podcast or read any of my work knows I’m very critical of Marvel.  I feel that too many people grant them a pass on all their problems and grade on a curve. When movies like “Ant-Man and the Wasp” are getting 7s and 8s out of 10, I feel like I missed a round of kool-aid.  Not saying that it was a bad film at all; it was a blast. Was it Captain Marvel? Absolutely not. Captain Marvel is exactly the movie I wanted and avoids nearly all the pitfalls I was afraid of. I haven’t been this impressed with a Marvel outing since the first Avengers.

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Our Last Best Hope for Peace: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Babylon 5

Television as a medium has become the place to tell long-running stories and translate novels into a visual medium, but it wasn’t always that way. For the majority of its life, television was the place for simple, self-contained episodes that were easy to jump into at any point without knowing what happened before. There were several shows that broke new ground in the way television works, but none so game-changing as Babylon 5, a creation from the mind of J. Michael Straczynski that would change in how audiences watched TV.

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Composers and the Movies that Don’t Deserve Them

THERE ARE SOME GREAT MOVIE SCORES OUT THERE ATTACHED TO SOME REAL DUDS.

I am a huge fan of Film, TV and Video Game scores; easily 90% of my music is made up of them. I have several composers that I will listen to no matter what they do, and I have even watched films based on the music they composed for them. What I have come to notice throughout all of this is that some films do not deserve the music composed for them.

When it comes to music in films it is usually the last thing that is done. The film is almost out of money and people are brought in to create incredible compositions to compliment the visual feast of what is on screen. That’s not always the case, however. Sometimes the music doesn’t compliment the visuals, but rather supersedes them because the visuals just aren’t that good to begin with. The music in a film can create emotional responses as well as physical. I remember sitting in the cinema watching Avengers: Infinity War and the moment where Thor arrived in Wakanda brought a huge smile to my face. A huge part of that excitement came from that bombastic orchestral score. I have listened to it numerous times but I will repeatedly listen to a track called “The Forge” which contains the moment that Thor arrived in Wakanda. When that music kicks in I feel like I can do anything. Music has a way of instilling these raw emotional responses and film music is charged with doing that whilst also complimenting the visuals.

Because of my love of film scores I take note of particular composers and seek out their work without ever having watched the film they are written for. Sometimes when I finally get around to watching the film it’s…well, to put it politely…not good. I’m left with a sense of disappointment, not because the film is bad, but because the music I listened to was far too good to be associated with the terrible film I just watched. And that, my friends, is disappointing.

A perfect example of this phenomenon was the 2012 feature remake of The Sweeney. Lorne Balfe composed the score and at the time I had only heard his Assassin’s Creed III score, which was spectacular. When I listened to the music from The Sweeney I was blown away by how good it was. The experience was intense, ratcheting up the tension before opening up and becoming a bombastic action score that to me rivaled some of the biggest names in Film Composition. It was so good that I thought the film would be worth watching. So, I did just that, for about 40 minutes. What an awful mess with terrible dialogue and acting. The only saving grace was the music but I didn’t have to watch the terrible film to listen to the incredible music. I went back to listening to the music and tried to forget about the terrible film it was associated with, and in my mind made up a much better one.

This was the first time I had thought about the quality of the music vs the quality of the film. In recent years, big budget blockbuster films have had incredible scores composed for them while the films themselves have been by the numbers summer VFX films. Hans Zimmer has a name as a big blockbuster composer and it’s interesting listening to the music he composes for big budget blockbusters compared to the stuff he composes for the more story-driven films. Films like Interstellar and more recently Blade Runner 2049 feel like they have more thought put into the music, whereas his action scores are, whilst exciting, very much by the numbers, much like the films they are written for.

Rawr.

The most recent example of a bad movie having a great film score was the 2017 reboot of The Mummy. Brian Tyler composed a unique and interesting score that mixed Middle Eastern instruments with traditional orchestra, all of which lead to a very original sound. Mixing the two cultures expertly in the music created something that was much better than the film it was supposed to accompany. What was also extraordinary about Tyler’s score was that for the most part it was a live orchestra which is becoming more of a rarity with the advances in music synthesizers and the need to cut costs wherever possible.

Terrible films aren’t going away any time soon, but at the very least their scores will be top notch. These composers who are putting in the work will go on to bigger and “hopefully” better things, almost like some kind of composer rite of passage. If they can compose amazing music for these terrible films, then imagine what they could do with something of a higher caliber. Without terrible films needing talented but unknown composers, people like Brian Tyler, Lorne Balfe and Ramin Djawadi may not have been able to build a portfolio of work that got them their well deserved A-List assignments.

Mystery Men (1999)

A LOOK BACK AT A DUMB, IRREVERENT SUPER HERO FILM THAT REMAINS MY FAVORITE.

Man, 1999 was such a vibrant year for film. You had movies like Being John Malkovich, The Matrix, 10 Things I Hate About You, Office Space, American Pie Fight Club, The Mummy, and even Kubrick’s last film Eyes Wide Shut. A veritable cinematic feast, if you will. I can’t think of another time period that such an impact on my taste, humor, and sensibilities.

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Cracking the Code of Video Game Adaptations

A LOOK AT FILM ADAPTATIONS OF VIDEO GAMES OVER THE YEARS TO SEE IF THERE’S ANY HOPE OF GETTING IT RIGHT.

Video games are all about audience participation; you have to take part in order for the game to progress. Part of why the medium is so successful is that the player is in control. Hollywood has tried to cash in on this phenomenon for years, with each movie or television show never quite capturing the magic of moving those animated pixels and polygons with the controller. With the release of content like Black Mirror Bandersnatch, and Minecraft Story Mode for the kids, the technology has allowed the viewer a greater degree of control, but is it enough? Has Hollywood cracked the code?

If you look at the history of video game adaptations none of them have been particularly successful, with quality ranging from mediocre to downright repulsive. The first of these adaptations was an animated TV show based on Pac-Man. The series lasted for 44 episodes over 2 seasons before being cancelled. The cartoon had little to do with the video game, which makes sense because it didn’t have much of a story to begin with. As time went on more and more animated adaptions of video games came out including a Super Mario cartoon, a Zelda cartoon, and even two Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons.

Hey, it’s Mario Mario and Luigi Mario!

The first feature film adaptation of a video game was Super Mario Bros, which released on the May 28th, 1993 and was both a critical and financial bomb. Despite some interesting visuals the film was a mess, with a ridiculous story, wooden acting, and CGI that was bad even for 1993. To make matters worse, it didn’t even look or feel like the video game it is supposedly based on. It’s like they took Demolition Man, Total Recall, Back to the Future Part II and Jurassic Park, put them all in a cheap blender and slapped whatever mush came out onto the screen. In the years that followed more video game adaptions would be released and each time they would do poorly from both critics and the box office. Some would turn a small profit whilst others would take huge losses. This was the case until 2001 with the release of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

Tomb Raider revolutionized the video games industry. The first game was not only one of the earliest action adventure games to be produced using 3D graphics but it also had a plot and cinematic cutscenes. The protagonist was a smart, strong, and independent woman. This was a huge step not just for video games but for entertainment in general, so a movie adaptation was never too far off. They cast Angelina Jolie in the titular role, a move that turned her into the action star we know and love. Critics praised her performance but were less-than-impressed with the dull plot and the much too stylized action set pieces. Despite the poor critical response, the first Tomb Raider film made enough of a profit to produce a sequel; however, it wasn’t anywhere near as successful as the first film. It under-performed at the box office and even though the studio was interested in a third film in the series, Angelina Jolie was not. The next adaptation of Tomb Raider would not come out for another 15 years.

The problem with the Tomb Raider films was that they weren’t enough like the video games to please the die hard fans of the series and didn’t have enough action to satisfy an action-hungry audience. That would change with the release of the first Resident Evil movie in 2002, which would go on to become one of the most successful video game adaptations, spanning six films in total. Part of its charm was that it tried to weave in references to the games in creative ways. This was the first video game adaptation to try and capture a similar cinematography to the games they were based on. However, even with the little nods and attempts to replicate the look of the video games the film still didn’t quite capture the essence of the games. In the end it just felt like a flashy B-Movie. While that could have worked to the film’s advantage, the clunky dialogue and the lack of character development didn’t really help it.

Around this time, House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark emerged to ride the wave of Resident Evil’s success. Both of these films were directed by Uwe Boll, a man who would become synonymous with bad video game adaptations. Over five years he would direct seven video game adaptions, all of which would be negatively received by critics and audiences alike. Between 2003 and 2008 he directed 50% of all video game adaptions, none of which would make it past 10% on Rotten Tomatoes. They would all be financial failures. How he continued to get funding for these films was through a loophole in German tax laws, which has since been closed. He commented that at the time if you invested in a movie in Germany you got 50% back from the German Government. The films he pumped out had very little to do with the video games they were based on. He mainly used the games’ titles to generate interest, then did his own thing with the material.

Other films released during this five-year period included Hitman, Silent Hill, Doom, and Max Payne. None of the films did particularly well, nor were they well received by the fans of the video games they were based on. Whereas Hitman the game was all about stealth and precision kills, the film was produced as a flashy action romp. Combined with some miscast roles, a dull storyline, and blatant pandering, the film was practically stealth-killed on arrival. The 2005 Doom film was a particularly bad offender, having the film switch to a first-person perspective in the last act. The filmmakers had attempted to capture the feeling of the video game, but the problem was that watching a first-person shooter wasn’t nearly as exciting as playing one.

In the following years more and more video game adaptions would be released, most of them either sequels or remakes of existing films, and with the exception of the Resident Evil films each would perform worse than the originals financially. New adaptations failed to find an audience, one of the most egregious being the adaptation of the popular Tekken fighting game. It didn’t even make $1 million at the box office, and was one of the few films to achieve the 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Surprisingly, the adaptation of Prince of Persia did well at the box office. It was praised for its action, humor, and solid performances, although the casting of a Caucasian Jake Gyllenhaal as a Persian gained a fair degree of backlash.

The number of video game adaptions started to drop off; however, there were still further attempts find the next big hit. Each time the producers would state that their video game adaptation was “going to be different” and that it would succeed where the others failed. These promises started to attract A-list talent including Michael Fassbender, Dominic Cooper, Duncan Jones, Dwayne Johnson and Marion Cotillard. Despite talent interest, no one could prevail against this video game adaption curse.

There’s been talk of adapting Mass Effect, The Last of Us and Metal Gear Solid to film, but the truth is that not a single one of these adaptations would work. Mass Effect’s biggest appeal is that the experience is customized to your personal tastes. Who do you get smoochy with on the Normandy? Choice is yours! Are you better buds with Ashley or Kaiden? Again, you get to choose.

The problem with adapting a video game to film is that in doing so you immediately remove the most fun aspect of the medium: the ability to control the actions of the main character. The audience is no longer an active participant but a passive bystander to the action. The stories also get severely compressed in the adaptation to film, which means much of the character and world-building that players enjoy takes a back seat or gets dropped entirely, and it’s those elements that are foundational to the experience. The Last of Us in particular plays out like an 18-hour movie. I doubt you could cut it down to 10 hours let alone 2 hours without sacrificing much of what makes it pack the punch that it does.

Given the current rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. maybe these video game adaptations should bypass the big screen altogether and let their stories breathe in a much more flexible and customizable format.

Having said that I still think that video games will never truly make a successful leap from the console (or PC) to live action because there is no interactivity in the experience of watching a film or TV series. While they recently attempted this with Black Mirror Bandersnatch, it was still limited in the amount of interactivity available. For me video games will always be a separate entity to film due to how much more interaction they have as an entertainment medium, and because of this I cannot foresee any video game adaptation ever making for a good film. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong, but based on the last 26 years I won’t hold my breath.

A dimension of sound, sight and mind: The legacy of The Twilight Zone

A DEEP DIVE INTO THE SERIES THAT WOULD PUSH THE BOUNDARIES OF TELEVISION AND INSPIRE COUNTLESS PEOPLE

You unlock this article with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sixty years of a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just started reading an article about The Twilight Zone.

OK, so I’m not Rod Serling, but this is an article all about The Twilight Zone. A television series that would not only push the boundaries of television, but would go on to inspire writers, directors, actors and many more for decades to come. It would also be parodied, remade, referenced and lauded for just as long and will continue to do so for many more years to come. Each episode was played out as a self-contained story, which allowed the writers a huge amount of freedom to tell whatever story they wanted to tell. Every week, viewers tuned in, not knowing if the show was going to be about aliens, monsters, witches, devils, ghosts or any number of supernatural and extra-terrestrial beings.

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