Friday, March 30, 2012

The flop that wasn't

John Carter has gone down as one of the biggest flops in movie history. Disney projected that they might lose $200 million on it.

Except it is a huge hit overseas. So far it has taken in $172 million in addition to its $72 million domestic take. That is a total of $264 million on a movie that cost around $250 million to make.

Disney is not out of the woods, yet. It has been reported that they spent another $100 million on marketing so it still has a ways to go before it breaks even. At the same time, it is still in first run and hasn't opening in Japan, yet. Then there are the DVD and Blu Ray sales.

We might see the planned sequels, yet.

Monday, March 26, 2012

John Carter - What Happened?

John Carter is a great adventure movie but it looks like it will be a financial flop for Disney. What happened?

The movie got mixed reviews with many critics complaining about the slow opening. The part that they complain about is also the biggest change from the source material. When adapting the novel, it was decided to flesh his character out more. He was given a wife who was killed during the Civil War making him hostile and apathetic about anyone else. This hurt the movie. In the novel, when presented with a new world to conquer and a princess to win, Carter embraced his opportunities. In the movie, Carter spent the first half trying to return to a miserable existence on Earth. Imagine how poorly Star Wars would have done if Luke kept worrying about getting back to the moisture farm.

The movie was marketed poorly. Disney spent $100 million on marketing alone but never mentioned certain key words like "Edgar Rice Burroughs", "Princess of Mars", or "from the creator of Tarzan". The ads gave no sense of what the movie was about and were nearly indistinguishable from the upcoming sequel to Clash of the Titans.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Monster Man

SyFy followed the second season of its make-up effects contest show with a new series - Monster Man. This is about a firm that does custom make-up efects. After the high bar set by Face-Off, this show is a bit of a disappointment.

The pilot followed the same formula as other shows about fabricators (American Restoration, Sons of Guns). The staff takes on two projects. There is a lot of drama about making deadlines and finally the big reveal. In this case the reveal is to the director who commissioned the work.

This time they did a werewolf and an "ugly" mask to go on a pretty dancer. The werewolf suit was the big project. It apparently took weeks to do. It was fairly basic - a muscle suit, painted and covered with hair and a mask. The mask's jaws could open and close but it could not change its expression. Apparently it was only used for a few shots taking place in some woods at night. There was also a lot of blood and guts.

The first season of Face-Off had its own werewolf as well as a steam punk Red Riding Hood. A small team led by one of the finalists had three days to do both figures and they were a lot better than this one.

I suspect that most of the contestants from Face-Off could have done a better "ugly" mask, too.

Oh well, the next season of Face-Off is already filming.

Nook problems and solutions

A couple of weeks ago we flew to Florida. I took my Nook Touch and my Nook Color. Since I have a dual boot installed on the Color, it is my main tablet. It is great for web browsing, checking email, and Facebook but it is a little heavy for reading and the battery has to be recharged daily. I planned on using the Touch for my reading and I have a number of unread books on both devices.

I dutifully turned both devices off when asked to but the Touch would not come back on. It got as far as a screen saying "Read forever" and hung. Rebooting did not solve this. I even managed to return it to factory defaults but it still hung at the same place. Later I reset it two more times but it never made it past the ironically-named "Read Forever" screen. I suspect that the internal memory went bad.

Not a big deal since I had the Nook Color with me. Otherwise I would have been without my reading material. I also had a netbook, just in case, and I could have downloaded the books to it during a layover. The layover was in Baltimore which charges for WiFi and the netbook is not as good as a dedicated reader but I did have options.

That's the bad part. The good came when I contacted Barnes and Noble. All of the Nooks have a one year warranty. After explaining the problem to their technical support, they shipped me a new one with a mailing label to return the old one. Three days later I had a working Touch again.

So, one bad mark on build quality and one good mark on customer service.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dark Shadows

I started watching Dark Shadows soon after it moved to the 4 pm time slot. Before that it was on while I was in school. At the time the central plot involved a cult called the Leviathans. They had a magic box that brought something Lovecraftian into the world. Normally it appeared like a child but inside a special room it turned into something that drove people mad just seeing it. The thing started as a baby then was replaced by a child and finally a hippy. The cult was opposed by Barnabas and company although Barnabas was an inside agent. He was discovered and turned into a vampire. This was the first time that I had seen Barnabas as a vampire and I was hooked.

Previously vampires were always heartless monsters. Barnabas was different. He didn't want to drink blood. Jonathan Frid played the character as a drug addict who kept relapsing. Except when he relapsed, people died.

The trailer is out for the new Dark Shadows movie. I don't see any of the original Barnabas.

I'm not really surprised. The original story was done three times, first in the serial then as a theatrical movie and finally in the pilot for the 1990s version. I can't imagine Tim Burton doing a story for the fourth time.

Also, our view of vampires has changed. In the 1970s they were still monsters. Like I said, even the remorseful Barbabas regularly killed innocents. Now we have audiences rooting for a high school girl to choose between a vampire and a werewolf. Vampires no longer kill. Instead they sparkle in the sun. An audience that has seen Twilight would be mystified by the original Dark Shadows.

Instead we get a story about an 18th century man adapting to the 1970s. His vampirism is a side note. It also looks like his battle with Angelique is more direct and physical.

Too bad. I was hoping for more from the director of Sleepy Hollow.

Friday, March 09, 2012

A Princess of Mars

It's been a long time since I read A Princess of Mars. It was probably the first book I read by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was in a collection of Burroughs books that my parents gave me for Christmas around 1970. The collection included all of the Mars books, the Venus books, and a few others. Burroughs was very popular in the late 1960s and 1970s so it was easy to find his books.

Of all of Burroughs' creations, Tarzan is the best-known but John Carter of Mars was his first. Tarzan and its sequel are more mature books and (this is important) much easier to film since they took place in Africa. Burroughs' other series take place on other worlds (or inside the Earth) with alien creatures. Until now that meant that they were unfilmable except as animations. There were some attempts to make the Mars books into animated movies. Bob Clampett did some test footage.

A Princess of Mars was written a full century ago in 1912. It was enormously and became the template for a century's worth of hero-on-a-different-world books. There have been numerous imitators, Just in the 1970s, there were a dozen or more series following Burroughs' formula. The most prolific of these was the Antares series featuring Dray Prescot. There was also the R-rated Gor series. I have heard that Avatar is another decedent in this genre.

Burroughs used the same basic plot for the first book in all of his series and many of his stand-alone books. Sometimes he played with the formula. In Tarzan the plot was spread across the first two books but it was all there.

In short - the hero is introduced to a new environment where he quickly acquires a friend/mentor. He meets the heroine early on, often saving her from captivity. They form a relationship but there is a misunderstanding and she leaves or is torn away. He sees her twice more, quickly, before the final conflict when the couple confesses their undying love. In a series, this is followed by the heroine being snatched away.

After the first book, the series go their separate ways. The main similarity from there is a dependence on coincidence.

Burroughs' heroes were all cut from the same cloth. They were all tall, strong, and honest. Most of them were slightly superhuman (because of differences in gravity or having been raised by apes).

While not a great writer, Burroughs is in the tiny group of writers who invented and dominated an entire genre. Hopefully the new movie will inspire a new wave of popularity.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Heroes and their girl friends

A couple of days ago Wired had a column "written" by Lois Lane entitled "Dear DC Comics: Why Do You Keep Fridging Me?" (fridging = killing). That got me thinking about the relationship between superheroes and their girlfriends.

I can't say a lot about the Golden Age. I've only read a fraction of the comics from then. My impression is that girl friends were rare. The big exception was Superman and Lois Lane although she was more of a college than a girl friend at the time.

By the time I started reading comic books, Lois's relationship had changed. She was more of a pest than anything else. She regularly got into trouble and had to be rescued or tried to prove that Superman was Clark Kent. She could be jealous of Lana Lang who had known Superman since he was Superboy.

The old Superman TV show was still in syndication and probably had an influence on the comic book portrayal. In the show, she was sometimes suspicious of Clack being Superman. There was little to no romantic attraction. He treated her about the same as Jimmy Olsen.

In the comics, Superman always claimed that he would marry Lois but that it would put her life in danger. Just knowing his secret identity could be deadly. This never sounded right, even when I was a ten-year-old. After all, Lois's life was already in danger from being a known associate (a group called the Superman Revenge Squad had a bounty on the heads of all of the supporting cast). She didn't have to tell anyone that he had told her his secret identity. They could even get married in secret.

DC did a number of imaginary and dream issues where Superman and Lois got married. Sometimes he found a way of giving her super powers. Sometimes he married her as Clark Kent. She was often miserable when married in secret because she wanted to be able to boast about her husband's accomplishments (this was the 1960s when a wife was supposed to live through her husband).

I suspect that all of this was aimed at the publisher's view of pre-adolesent boys. In the late 1960s, DC redefined the Superman Family. Lois and Jimmy started having adventures revolving around their careers as reporters. Lois started wearing her hair loose and appearing in bikinis, possibly as an acknowledgement that the readers were older.

The came the Superman movies. The first two centered on the relationship between Lois and Superman. They even consummated it although Clark eventually had to choose between being Superman and having a personal life.

When Superman was rebooted in the 1980s, John Byrne's Lois was inspired by the movie version. They eventually married in the 1990s, coinciding with their marriage in the TV show Lois and Clark. That lasted until last year's reboot.

Outside of Lois, most girl friends in the early 1960s were just filler - something to fill up panels until the hero put on his costume. It was a running gag in The Flash that he was always late for his date.

Marvel put its own spin on the girlfriend - the doomed romance. There was always some reason that the hero couldn't get together with the girl. Iron Man had a bad heart. Thor needed his father's permission. Cyclopes worried about hurting people close to him with his hard-to-control eye beams. Daredevil thought that his secretary deserved better than a blind man. Bruce Banner turned into the Hulk.

There were exceptions. The big one was Reed Richards and Sue Storm married around four years after the Fantastic Four started. This has been the main, lasting marriage in comic book history.

Spider-Man actually went through a normal relationship with Betty Brant. They met and started dating. Along the way she also started seeing Ned Leeds, a reporter. Leeds asked Betty to marry him. Peter almost proposed himself but realized that Betty did not want to be married to a superhero and the two broke up. After a brief fling with Mary Jane Watson, Peter settled down dating with Gwen Stacy.

Other Marvel heroes relationships changed. Thor broke up with Jane Foster and started seeing the goddess Sif. Cyclopes and Marvel Girl started dating. Daredevil and Iron Man broke up with their their secretaries.

A new generation of writers entered the field around 1970 and they stirred things up. The Flash finally married his girlfriend then had marital problems.

Henry Pym (Ant Man/Giant Man/Goliath/Yellowjacket/etc.) and the Wasp had a solid relationship from the beginning although they never got around to getting married. This finally happened while he was thought he was someone else. Later he began abusing the Wasp and they divorced. Even later they reconciled prior to the Wasp's death a few years ago.

There was a period during the 1970s and early 1980s when a new writer on a strip meant a new girlfriend. I lost track of Tony Stark's. At one point he was trying to relieve his guilt over manufacturing weapons by chasing after a hippy chick. Later he dated the daughter of a crime lord. Daredevil went through a few girlfriends with Electra being the most memorable one. Spider-Man's girlfriend, Gwen, was killed and he went back to Mary Jane although he had a fling with the Black Cat (Felicia Hardy). Thor alternated between Sif and Jane Foster before marrying the Enchantress in an alternate future. Captain America's long-time girlfriend, Sharron Carter, died and he dated around before Sharron returned. Even the Hulk got a green girlfriend for a while.

I think that this represents two factors. One is that new relationships are easier to write and can add some freshness to a strip. The other is the desire of a new writer to mark the strip as his own.

Comic book marriages have been amazingly unsuccessful. Either they break up, one of them dies, or the whole event is written out of continuity. The Hulk has been married a couple of times and both wives died (although Betty came back). Cyclopes married two different versions of Jean Grey and both died (more or less). The Flash and his wife both died. Spider-Man's and Superman's marriages never happened.

One final point I wanted to touch on - occasionally the girlfriend outshines the original hero. The Silver Age Hawk Man was married to Hawk Woman. In later continuity, he vanished and Hawk Woman continued.

After their breakup, the Wasp continued on with the Avengers and led the team for several years.

Then there is Carol Danvers. She was a supporting character in the Captain Marvel comic. She was not a girlfriend but there were implications that she could be given the right circumstances. That never happened.

Later she returned as a superhero in her own right - Ms Marvel. An alien machine had given her powers similar to Captain Marvel's. She has bounced around a lot since then. She changed powers a couple times and names several times, but she is still prominent and had her own comic for several years in the 2000s. Captain Marvel, on the other hand, died in the 1970s and his name was given to a female character for a long time.

Why are Reed and Sue still together? Probably because they were married during the Lee/Kirby days. That's long enough ago to be part of their DNA. All of the other relationships were much more recent. Reed and Sue were married before most professionals entered the field and before many of them were even born. Breaking them up would be like changing Superman's powers. You know that it would only be a temporary change.