Wednesday, June 19, 2013

SPACE: 1999—AFTERSHOCK & AWE Review

Entertainment
 SPACE: 1999 — AFTERSHOCK AND AWE
Writer: Andrew E.C. Gaska
Artists: Gray Morrow, Miki, & David Hueso
Publisher:
Archaia Black Label
So, in our neverending quest to take even the most obscure forgotten nostalgic television franchises and milk them for the modern day, Archaia brings to your local comic shops a massive graphic novel: SPACE: 1999—AFTERSHOCK AND AWE.

 Now, I realize that I am literally the only person reading this who even remembers SPACE: 1999, and a lot of my interest in the show was my budding puberty and the presence of the sexy Barbara Bain (of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) fame in the cast. However, that being said, the early-to-mid-70s was not particularly notable for high-end sci-fi TV shows. Sure, we had the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN/BIONIC WOMAN shows going. We had a quickly cancelled, and pretty lame, PLANET OF THE APES TV show. There was the also the quickly cancelled GEMINI MAN (about a secret agent who could turn invisible). In general, sci fi was not the popular thing it is today. It’s amazing what the appearance of STAR WARS could do in terms of completely shifting the entire paradigm of what the masses crave in popular entertainment. I cannot emphasize enough how difficult it was for the few closet geeks like me out there who were stuck watching chopped-up reruns of STAR TREK and LOST IN SPACE every day to find a fix of something space-related that was actually new!

SPACE: 1999 was from the same guys who brought us a show I used to watch as a wee child called UFO. In fact, it’s almost a kinda sorta sequel to that show. In 1970, they set UFO in 1980. And in the mindset of those days where we had just recently walked on the moon for the first time, I am sure the expectation was that surely we would be regularly jetting in and out of space and battling space aliens right and left by 1980. By 1999, surely we would have moonbases established with humans living and working on the moon as easily as, say, living in Arkansas or something.

 And that was the premise of SPACE: 1999. In 1975, it was set 24 years in the future in the year 1999 and Moonbase Alpha is where our intrepid team of scientists, headed by Doctor Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) and Command John Koenig (Martin Landau), live and perform futuristic experiments. When an unexpected thermonuclear explosion propels the moon out of Earth’s orbit, Moonbase Alpha is hurled along with the runaway moon into deep space. While hurtling through space, they encountered all kinds of bizarre 70’s-style aliens and monstrous threats. They had cool vehicles like the moon buggy and the Eagle space shuttle. For the times, pre-STAR WARS, they were pretty well done. I actually remember drawing the Eagle once, copying it from the SPACE: 1999 comic put out by Charlton Comics at the time.

 Which brings us to this 172-page graphic novel from Archaia. This is a very well done book, and it
is unique. One of the things about SPACE: 1999, the TV series, was that we never really had a peek at Earth. It all took place on Moonbase Alpha. And since, in the pilot episode, the moon was tossed out of orbit there really was no reasonable way for them to explore Earth in terms of stories because for all intents and purposes the relationship between Moonbase Alpha and Earth was forever severed, sSo, we never really got to see how that futuristic society had evolved or what the politics of the time were. We had some hints given, and the show itself did much of what STAR TREK had done in the prior decade and presented morality tales that touched on issues current at the time of the series. And what writer Andrew Gaska does in SPACE: 1999—AFTERSHOCK AND AWE is a three-fold stroke of brilliance. First of all, he tweaks the premise slightly to explain how we can have the events of SPACE: 1999 happen when we still have a moon and no moonbase in 2013. Gaska posits that the world of the series was set in an alternate reality where JFK was never assassinated and the space program progressed much faster and farther than it did in our reality. Secondly, he takes the original Charlton Comics adaptation of the pilot episode, in a story titled “Awe” with remastered art by the late, great Gray Morrow, and reprints that story. And thirdly, he then picks up after that with a story called “Aftershock” that picks up the story on Earth so that the reader can see the aftermath. What happens to the Earth and the people in the days, months, and even years after the moon is torn from its orbit and hurled into deep space?

 So is it any good?

 Well, yeah. I think so. I honestly think the adaptation by Gray Morrow is the superior story, but I’m biased since I’m an old-school comics guy with a nostalgic bent. That being said, the new stuff illustrated by Miki and Hueso is also pretty solid storytelling in a more current style. The two styles are not particularly compatible, but they work within this context because of how it is presented. That visual jump in styles from a classic old-school 70’s style of comic art to the more modern digitally enhanced stylings of 2013 comics art adds to my enjoyment.

 I like how the “Aftermath” story breaks it up into focusing on separate characters for each chapter so that the reader gets different perspectives as to the impact of such a cataclysmic effect. This book is solid sci-fi entertainment with a nice tinge of nostalgia. It took me awhile to read, mainly because of the density of the writing in the reprinted adaptation of the TV-series pilot. It’s good, strong sci-fi with enough to satisfy the old-school readers and younger readers if they can get past the 1999 in the title. Give it a try. I think you’ll like it.

Friday, June 14, 2013

MAN OF STEEL REVIEW ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★

Entertainment

MAN OF STEEL

Release Date: June 15, 2013
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne
Website: http://manofsteel.warnerbros.com/

Official Synopsis: A young boy learns that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this Earth. As a young man, he journeys to discover where he came from and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become the symbol of hope for all mankind.
_______________________________

I need to get this sentence out of the way at the start because I'm going to start analyzing some aspects of this film that may come off as negative but they aren't really intended like that so...here goes:

MAN OF STEEL is a successful reboot and reenergizing of the very dead SUPERMAN film franchise.

I was hooked from the start of the film right through the end primarily because of 2 factors: (1) it is a fantastically imaginative science-fiction action film and (2) Henry Cavill completely captures the essence of the introspective messiah archetype that they remake Superman into for this film and for the modern era.

I mentioned it to some friends online immediately after viewing the film that this really is not a super-hero movie.  This is a science-fiction movie first and foremost.  It is also a character study of Clark Kent more than Superman — yes, for purposes of my discussion here I will separate the two.  To appreciate this film you really need to check all your preconceptions at the door and stop trying to impose your idea of who and what Superman is.  This is not the social-activist arrogant brute that appeared in 1938 with no real respect for life.  Neither is this the all-powerful demigod of impossible perfection he evolved into.  This is not the smiling get-lost-cats-out-of-trees and wink at the camera Christopher Reeve version.  This is not the Clark from SMALLVILLE running around in a world surrounded by secret super-heroes and monsters.   Those are super-heroes grounded in the commonly expected tropes of super-hero stories.  This movie is more about Earth and humanity's first known encounter with extraterrestrial aliens and Clark Kent/Kal-El is the set of eyes through which this story unfolds.


Russell Crowe as Jor-El on Krypton
The movie opens on the planet Krypton, but it is not the sterile ice planet of the original SUPERMAN film.  This Krypton is full of life and energy.  There are exotic animals in a truly alien world full of strange politics, conflicts, and a science way beyond our understanding.  This Krypton is something like one might imagine Flash Gordon's planet Mongo to be envisioned through modern cgi artists.  The entire sequence clearly set the tone for the movie.  This is not THE AVENGERS or IRON MAN with a predictable balance of action and humor and pathos.  This movie is going to be serious and downright grim at times.  And it stays true to its promise.

This is not a bad thing as far as I'm concerned.

Henry Cavill as Clark Kent
Since this movie is not about how to get a guy into a gaudy skin-tight suit so that he can fight criminals, it can rightly focus on what it really is about.  This movie is about Clark's quest to discover who he is and why he is.  The messianic metaphor is even played out explicitly at one point when faced with the same decision Jesus had to make to allow himself to be arrested.  Clark contemplates his choices inside a church with a stained glass image of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemene — yes, the same moment where Jesus prayed for God to take this "cup away" from him but ultimately made the choice to see the plan through and submitted to his purpose as the willing sin sacrifice for the world.

Henry Cavill as Superman
Clark is faced with a similar choice to make and this is what the film is all about.  His purpose is not thrust upon him or outside of his control.  The running theme of the film is that our purpose in life is determined by our choices.  We determine our purpose.  And Clark realizes his innate moral character is what will drive his life and create his purpose—and this moral character is not part of his genetic code.  His moral character is what was instilled in him by his Earthly father.  His genetic code gives him the power to fulfill his purpose.  There are plenty of flashbacks to his years growing up as the adopted child of Jonathan and Martha Kent.  Kevin Costner plays Jonathan and he is relentlessly gloomy.  I honestly did not like him and felt he had a martyr complex himself that was actually more damaging to Clark and probably contributed to his decade-plus wandering aimlessly around the world in search of himself.  I believe in this interpretation, Jonathan's position in Clark's moral development was more of imposing a sense of guilt upon him than anything else.  It was Diane Lane's Martha that brought the love and balance that strengthens Clark and gives him the character to discover and embrace his purpose once he identifies it.
Henry Cavill as Superman

The heart and soul of the film itself is the deep-seated integrity and inherent goodness in Clark and Henry Cavill really pours himself into the part.  Not only does he look perfect for the part, but his deep, deep thoughtful expressions and tender smile really make Superman into someone who feels real and unthreatening.  And let me tell you, when you have an alien on your doorstep with the power to lay waste to your entire planet with his bare hands....you want to feel that he is completely trustworthy and safe.  Cavill accomplishes this while maintaining an aura of strength and masculine virility I don't believe I've really seen in a super-hero movie.  Fantastic casting.  His onscreen chemistry with Amy Adams as Lois Lane is very strong as well.  Lois in this film is played very smart, feisty, and an integral part of Clark's transition into mankind's modern-day savior.

For me, this is what the movie is all about.  However, I know others want to know about things like General Zod (Michael Shannon) and the action sequences and other aspects.  So, I'm going to touch on those.  Let me start with the minor things and then build to the more important and then I'll address some of the criticisms I might have with some aspects.


Laurence Fishburne as Perry White and Amy Adams as Lois Lane
In a modern reboot like this they clearly did not want to feel beholden to what's gone before but still retain the familiar check-off boxes that need to be in a Superman story.  In this case, there's the Daily Planet newspaper where Lois Lane works.  The editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet is Perry White and they cast Laurence Fishburne in the role.  Once again, like everything else in this movie he does not go for laughs or anything over the top. He plays it straight and serious, and as a result, he's kind of flat and boring.  But Fishburne is a charismatic actor with a great voice and a sense of gravitas so placing him in that position works.  I don't think it's a big deal but when he was cast there was a bit of publicity over the fact that they race-changed Perry from an old white guy to an old black guy.  Personally, I don't just think it isn't a big deal I actually think it is completely irrelevant.  They also changed Jimmy Olsen into Jenny Olsen.  I'm okay with that.  I mean seriously, of what value is Jimmy Olsen to a Superman film franchise anyway.  More power to them to amp up the estrogen level of his supporting cast.  My favorite surprise in casting was Michael Kelly as sportswriter Steve Lombard.  Most people do not know this but in the Superman comic books back during the 1970s and on into the 1980s, Clark Kent graduated up from being a newspaper reporter to being a television news anchor (yes, ignore the absurdity of Superman having to be available for broadcast every day at 6:00 pm for a half-hour). During this period of time they added Steve Lombard to the supporting cast as a dunder-headed ex-jock sports anchor who spent his time picking on Clark like a high school bully and Clark secretly using his super-powers to regularly make a fool out of Steve.  It's not a high-point for the comics, but I actually harbor a bit of fondness for that period of time because that was my childhood and so that was the Superman I grew up reading about.  Seeing a "Steve Lombard" on the big screen made me smile.



Russell Crowe as Jor-El
Antje Traue as Faora
The primary external conflict in this film is between General Zod (Michael Shannon) and Superman.  There is a serious attempt to make Zod into a much more personal enemy than has ever happened before.  The physical battles between the two characters are very impressive and well worth the price of 3D if you're into that sort of stuff.  I was more drawn to the very personal conflict established on Krypton between Zod and Superman's birth-father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) that carries over into an intense and brutal hatred of Superman as Jor-El's son and only hope of ever restoring the glory of the Kryptonian race.  Zod's right-hand man is actually a female Kryptonian criminal named Faora.  She is an old character from the comics making her film debut like Steve Lombard.  She is scary dangerous.  Zod would be more dangerous if he didn't sound like his upper denture plate was poorly fitted.  But I guess with Krypton exploding and everything, he didn't have a chance to get back with his dentist to get it adjusted.

Michael Shannon as Zod

I think the film was structured very well for telling this story.  It really did bring a new perspective and approach to the character that will hopefully clear out everyone's preconceptions a bit and open the door for a successful new franchise.  There's a bit of a lull in the 2 1/2 hours between Clark's appearance on Earth and the appearance of Zod where the pacing gets a bit stilted.  And Kevin Costner is so freaking depressing I couldn't wait for him to die.  But other than that, I thought the movie was very good.  It wasn't great.  Picking up the pace a bit and adding a sense of humor to the proceedings would've pushed it to great.  The Marvel Studios movies all have a strong sense of fun and humor to them and have just embraced the trappings of a world full of super-heroes.  This film takes the subject seriously and recognizes that this is more than a super-hero movie.  MAN OF STEEL is about crafting a myth for the modern day and it succeeds at established the first of the demigods pushed to his limits.  Oh yeah, that reminds me of another aspect of this interpretation of Superman that I really enjoyed.  He has to work at it.  His strength and even his flying is a product of his will and determination — a reflection of the strength of character and goodness within him.

Yeah.  I really enjoyed MAN OF STEEL, wish it had included more humor and fun, but I will be back to see it again probably this weekend or next week.

I give it ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★

(I know it's shallow but I would've given it ★★★★ but I'm punishing the filmmakers in my own immature way for not buying Michael Shannon better dentures so he could make his "s" sounds without making a distracting "sh" sound.)