Video Short: Batman Vs. The Terminator

batman vs. terminatorIt’s the kind of question philosophers have pondered over for millennia. Who would win in a fight: Batman in  a powered exosuit, or Skynet with it’s army of Terminators? This is the question that is explored in this new animated short by Mitchell Hammond. Set in the year 2029, we see Bruce Wayne, who has survived Judgement Day of ’97, fighting alongside the resistance against Skynet and its machine army.

Given Christian Bale’s involvement in both franchises, a crossover of this nature was inevitable. But I can honestly say that this five minute short was way better than watching Terminator: Salvation! Nothing cooler than Batman with all his high-tech gear kicking Terminator ass! Not to mention taking the fight directly to Skynet. Sorry, John Conner, ol’ Batsy beat you to it!

Check it out and enjoy the show. And be sure to comment and join me in demanding a sequel!

Superman vs. Batman Anyone?

superman-vs-batmanWord around the comic book community of late is that the sequel to The Man of Steel will involve a bit of a crossover. Apparently, an aged Batman will be making an appearance in this movie, and the story may very well focus on a rivalry between the two. The news came earlier this month at Comic Con when director Zack Snyder announced that he had something of this nature in mind, taking many by surprise.

One such person was Frank Miller, the man who brought us The Dark Knight Returns, the classic graphic novel where Batman and Superman have a climactic showdown. with uber-freaking awesome results! For fans who were thinking this means that Snyder is looking to create a live-action version of TDKR, this is certainly good news indeed.

Sure, the animated version was certainly good, and the graphic novel itself is a wonderful standalone piece that really needs no adaptation. But I’m thinking few fans of either franchise would pass up an opportunity to see the big showdown between the two superheroes in Crime Alley on the big screen!

tdkr_batman_superman1And as if wanting to throw some gasoline on those flames ahead of time, Snyder even had actor Harry Lennix, who played General Swanwick in The Man of Steel, read a passage from TDKR. The line comes from the very climax of the fight scene between the two, where a victorious Batman is standing over a weakened Superman and is ready to deliver the coup de grace:

I want you to remember, Clark, in all the years to come… In your most private moments, I want you to remember my hand at your throat. I want you to remember the one man who beat you.

After the reading, Superman’s big S appeared on the screen behind the interview panel while the Batman symbol quietly superimposed itself. Fans were naturally excited and expressed themselves accordingly!

superman-vs-batman1Well, according to the latest industry gossip, a live-action version of TDKR is not quite had Snyder and the studio had in mind. David S Goyer, who co-wrote The Dark Knight trilogy with Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, recently revealed the Superman and Batman film may use a ‘versus’ in the title. But he was explicit about the fact that the film will not be adapted from Miller’s work.

At the same time, however, sources close to Miller confirmed that Snyder asked for a sit down to discuss what this crossover movie would involve. The source made a statement of this impending meeting, claiming that:

Frank had no idea the announcement in San Diego was going to happen so it did come as a surprise. He’s going to be meeting up with Zach in the next few days to go over the plans for the Superman film so things should be clearer after that.

batman_baleSet to be released in 2015, the Superman vs. Batman movie is likely to be a loose adaptation, from the sounds of things. And the very latest in industry gossip says that Christian Bale may be coming back to reprise the role of Batman, to the tune of $60 million! No indication has been given if he has chomped at the bit yet, but Bale did indicate that he might not be finished with the role.

As Bale said in a recent interview, when referring to the price tag, “Let’s not get greedy”. But at the same time, he didn’t rule out the possibility, claiming that “it all comes down to Chris [Nolan].”

Personally, I think this “loose adaptation” talk should be ditched in favor of a full-on TDKR adaptation. There’s plenty of potential to update the story, which was written in the late 80’s and featured a very Reagan-era Cold War-esque story, but with a few tweeks, it could easily be adapted to fit in the current era.

the-dark-knight-returnsAnd it might even tie the two franchises together nicely, with a supposedly dead Batman coming out of retirement, and a Superman who has been enlisted to serve the government finding themselves at odds. And since the storyline involves the Joker, it could be a fitting tribute to Heath to have him brought back for one final dance with the Batman.

It’s a tall order, I know, and like I said, it was already done. But if you’re gonna go big, Snyder, go REALLY BIG. Or just go the hell the home! You’re making some tall promises, and fans are expecting better from you after that bit of a letdown known as The Man of Steel. You got Batman and Superman in your hands now. Don’t screw it up!

Sources: indepedent.co.uk, badassdigest.com

The Dark Knight Rises!

Well, I’m back. Some three weeks after it made its big debut, my wife and I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight Returns. And how to describe the experience? I feel I must come at this chronologically because otherwise, I might blow this review. So please bear with me and be warned that some spoilers follow…

The First Few Scenes:
As the movie began, we got some low-key expository scenes where they recapped all that happened with the last movie. Harvey Dent is dead, his memory is being honored years later, and the big lie that saved Gothamites from the Joker’s madness has been carefully maintained. And despite Commissioner Gordon’s success at nearly eradicating organized crime in Gotham – under the Dent Act – the mayor is quietly entertaining plans to get rid of him.

Meanwhile, we learn that Bruce Wayne has effectively drooped out of the public eye and become a bit of a recluse, a la Howard Hughes. However, this changes when a cat burglar is nearly caught stealing his mother’s pearl necklace while trying to obtain his prints. In addition, her kidnapping of a Senator leads to a manhunt which takes police into the sewers and face to face with a mercenary terrorist by the name of Bane.

This man recently kidnapped a nuclear physicist overseas and made his way to Gotham, apparently at the behest of someone who’s paid for his services. After a brief but nearly fatal encounter between him and Jim Gordon, Wayne is approached by one of his detectives, a young man named John Blake, tells him Batman needs to come back. He resists these demands, but finds he cannot when the nefarious Bane unleashes his plan and the true scope and nature of it become clear.

Suffice it to say, all these things occur within the first 30 minutes and I felt that every scene suffered from the same basic problem. They felt rushed, expository, and kind of like they were just getting the obligatory stuff out of the way. However, as soon as those passed and the plot began to truly unfold, things improved immeasurably. In a way, the action of the movie told its own story and had a degree of depth that these earlier scenes lacked, and they carried on through to the end of movie.

Plot Development:
As I mentioned last time, this movie was connected to the first in terms of plot. I shan’t go into too much detail since many people still need to see it. But suffice it to say, Bane’s motivations go well beyond being a mere mercenary. While his skills in that regard are legendary, his purpose in returning to Gotham go to the very heart of the first movie’s plot, resurrecting the League of Shadows and the aims of Ra’s al Ghul.

But of course there are twists and subplots along the way. For instance, the man who brought Bane to Gotham turns out to be one of Wayne Enterprises own, a man who thinks a little controlled chaos will destabilize the company and ensure his nefarious rise to power. Against that, there is a project to fund the development of clean energy which Wayne invested half his fortune in but then abandoned, mainly because some scientist found a way to weaponize it. Recall the bit about how Bane kidnapped a nuclear scientist? Uh-oh!

On top of all that, the movie makes some pretty strong points about revolutionary justice and the fact that people can so easily be misguided by self-styled “liberators” into becoming their own worst enemies. At many points throughout the movie, allegorical similarities are made to revolutions in France, Russia, and elsewhere where the mob is incited by the bad guys and themselves become a force of malevolence and revolutionary justice that transforms their world into a place of terror and oppression.

And here, quite brilliantly, connections are made to the second movie and the many lies that were told in order to protect the people of Gotham from the terrible truth. Here too we see another fitting theme, which was the flip-side to what was argued in movie two, about how sometimes the truth isn’t enough. Even if a lie may be more convenient, sooner or later, it comes back to haunt you, and those who lied to protect you end up having to answer for a lot. And the worst thing of that is, those who may have been trying to protect you lose your trust at a crucial moment.

The Third Act:
Unlike the The Dark Knight, this movie didn’t suffer from third act problems. This was something I was on the lookout for after last time and I really wanted to see them succeed, which they did in spades! Yes, things were a little slow to get started, but by the time the climax was happening, things blended together quite seamlessly. Like TDK, there were three strands happening at once, but this time around, they worked with each other, not against. It pains me that I can’t give any details to say why they worked so well together. But trust me, this time around, the climax was done right!

And yes, this is definitely the biggest of the three movies in terms of plot and consequences. In movie one, the League of Shadows hoped to tear Gotham apart by driving it mad. In movie two, the Joker hopes to turn it against itself by inducing mass anarchy. But in this one, Bane and his followers want to do annihilate it, body and soul. For them, there are no compromises, no quarter asked and none given.

It pains me even more that I can’t mention the twists that come at the very end. There are two, to be sure, and I really would like to know what others thought of them. once again, can’t mention them by name. But for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, I will say there are some treats which you have to wait til the end to see. For those who have seen it, then you already know what I’m talking about! What did you think of them and do you think they were alluding to another possible sequel?

Inspirations:

“When Gotham is in ashes, then you have my permission to die.”

Overall, this movie boasts a plot that was clearly inspired (at least in part) by The Dark Knight Returns. A number of fans anticipated this and it was good to see that they went with it after all. Not only were the same themes there – Batman coming out of retirement, forced to deal with age and deteriorating health, and going up against a foe in his prime – there was even some subtle shout outs to the comic itself.

The one which really stands out is the scene where two police officers are chasing after some perps, and Batman zooms in on his bike. The older cop says to the rookie, “You’re in for a show!” and spends the next few minutes trying to tell him just stay out of his way. Right out of the comic! And of course, the fact that Batman actually loses in his first confrontation with Bane and has to recoup and recover, forcing himself to overcome his own demons and complacency to defeat him, that too was something from the The Dark Knight Returns.

But as I said last time, the character of Bane originally comes from the animated series. Though he was little more than a massive, steroid-juiced freak in that version, here they gave him a much more nuanced and believable persona. While he is a gigantic, muscle bound villain, Bane’s real power comes from the sort of imposing, badass, evil nature that Tom Hardy is famous for.

As Alfred was sure to point out, Bane is a man who was forged in the worst conditions imaginable. Being born into misery and darkness, he has no fear of it, and is prepared to deal it in spades to anyone who gets in his way or incurs his displeasure. Whenever that occurs, everything you need to see comes through in the eyes and the baleful glares he gives, which is what makes the fact that they kept his face hidden all the more poignant.

In this respect, he and Batman are highly similar. Having both grown up with their fair share of pain and anguish, they both enlisted with the League of Shadows hoping to find their way. But whereas Bruce eventually betrayed the League for reasons of conscience, Bane was excommunicated for having none whatsoever. Much like Batman and the Joker, we see a sort of “two sides of the same coin” thing happening.

The Villians:
And while I would never want to get into direct comparisons, Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane was fantastic and truly badass! Granted, he didn’t have the same low voice that he did in the commercials, more of a Connery-esque accent minus the slurred S’s. But this only added to his imposing nature. He speaks like a oddly upbeat British person, but his imposing size, scary eyes, and sheer badassery round that out quite nicely. When he speaks, you know to be afraid, even if he’s not using an evil voice.

Overall, I’d say he was no better than Heath, but certainly comparable. Whereas the Joker was a sheer force of crazy malevolence, Bane is an unstoppable juggernaut, forged from suffering to become an instrument of terror. How do you compare two titanic forces like that? It’s like comparing apples to oranges. So no real conclusions there, just equally awesome portrayals!

And of course Catwoman was very well played by Anne Hathaway. True to form, she begins as a villain who is working with the forces of evil, but with her own agenda in mind. In time, she comes to see the bad guys for what they are and realizes that she is better served fighting alongside Batman rather than against him. And she did it all believably, faithfully, and managed to pull off some fight choreography that was pretty impressive. In fact, hers was even more impressive than Bales, though he did have to convey an aging Batman and couldn’t exactly steal the show!

Summary:
Alas, the big question… was this movie better than The Dark Knight? Hard to say. On the one hand, it managed to avoid the same problems the last movie had, which was the feeling that things had climaxed before the ending, leading to pacing problems towards the end where there seemed to be a mad rush to wrap things up and the audience was left breathless and kind of confused.

At the same time, they had an awkward opening which the second movie didn’t have. There, Nolan and the writers did a good job weaving action and exposition together to let us know what had happened since the last movie. This time around, they seemed to be rushing through all the introductions in order to get to the action. It’s hard to say which is more important, introduction or conclusion, since both are crucial to how the overall plot is going to be perceived. And ultimately, both movies manage to succeed in spite of these problems.

Second, the villains were well paired. Bane and the Joker were both masterfully portrayed and captured my imagination and literally got me on the edge of my seat. They were the kind of bad guys you didn’t exactly root for, but which made you think being bad could be cool! As for the lesser villains, Dark Knight and Rises differed considerably. Harvey Dent, being a third act introductee, was pretty rushed and never really got to be more than a crazed shadow of his hero self. Catwoman, on the other hand, got a pretty good development through it all, going from being a cynical, “look out for number one” kind of girl to actually caring what happens to Gotham.

So really… I can’t say at this point. Given time, I might be able to say one was better than the other conclusively, but right now, it feels like a neck in neck race. So I think I’ll just call it as dead even. Movies two and three were equally good, and whatever your individual preference, you’re cant go wrong!

The Dark Knight Rises gets test-screening, recieves standing ovation

Wow, third trailer today! But I just forward them to you fine folks, I got nothing to do with their production… unfortunately. And the big news is not the movie trailer itself, we’ve seen enough of those to know what’s going to happen by now. What is news is that The Dark Knight Rises recently got a test-screening by Warner Bros. executives in order to gauge audiences reaction to movie and its extended cut.

The full-length version ran for a whopping 4 hours, rivaling Kenneth Branagh’s massive movie production of Hamlet. And anyone who’s seen that one can attest to the fact that no movie, no matter how awesome, can ever expect to hold audiences for that long. Especially in this day and age! As such, it has since been cut down to 2 hours and 45 minutes. A good run time, but nothing the Dark Knight can’t handle.

And the audience reaction was nothing short of stellar. Apparently, the first group to see the final chapter of the Batman saga gave the film a standing ovation. The rest of us can therefore rest assured in the knowledge that it’s going to be a spectacular film and that we absolutely must see it! It has been confirmed that director Christopher Nolan will not be giving the film a press release screening, so the only way to get an advanced view of the movie is to attend the midnight screening of it on July 20.

That is the official release date, when the movie will be released all across North America, and the rest of the world shortly thereafter. Once again, I can’t wait! Only a week to go… Here’s one final trailer to tide us over!

The Dark Knight Rises: New Trailer!

Like most Batman fans, I have been eagerly awaiting the release of The Dark Knight Rises ever since The Dark Knight came out. And like most fans, I tend to react to the arrival of new trailers with more excitement than the average man dedicates to the arrival new porn. But then again, we’ve all seen porn! We haven’t seen the The Dark Knight Rises… yet.

I mean, let’s face it. We all want to know what’s going to happen and we all wanted to know how the franchise would proceed after the untimely death of Heath Ledger. And every time they put out a trailer… well, it’s like giving drops of water to a thirsty man, which is precisely the point! And I feel pretty fortunate to have discovered it this morning, as I can only assume that this is relatively hot news and I’m one of the first in this little corner of the blogosphere to talk about it. Naturally, I pass this good fortune onto you, my subscribers, with humility and… smugness!

As the third and final trailer, this preview is naturally more detailed than the previous two, which is in keeping with the formula. In the first DKR trailer, there was not much more than old footage, some very brief action shots, and a voice over to explain what was happening. The second one gave us much more, introducing the main characters (Bain, Catwoman and an aging Batman) and previewing the chaos that would characterize the final installment in the franchise. But now, after watching this, we’re meant to be on the edge of our seats with anticipation, or just convinced that it would be worth seeing this movie once it hits theaters.

Nuff talk, go watch it! I’ll still be here when you get back 😉

Cool Guns!

I’m getting hooked on writing conceptual posts, mainly because it gives me the chance to explore a lot different franchises of sci-fi without being too constrained. Not only that, I really like digging into subject matter of finding the common elements; in this case, the stuff that makes cool stuff cool! So far, I’ve covered the concepts of Galactic Empires, Planetkillers and Ancient Aliens. But today, I thought I’d tackle something a little simpler that’s been known to make sci-fi geeks experience collective nerdgasms! Today the topic is: COOL GUNS!

BFG 9000:
Starting off this review right is the BFG (Big F***ing Gun) that comes to us from the Doom universe. Fans of that old franchise know this one by heart, and I’m sure they remember with some nostalgia what it was like firing this thing. Given that Doom was like most first-person shooters, this weapon would turn up late in the game as a way of dealing with the more tenacious evil critters. And it worked! One shot released a big cloud of green plasma which killed everything in the vicinity. Unless it was a boss, in which case, it might take two or three… Apparently, Quake II and Quake III Arena pay homage by including their own version, known as the BFG10K.

“Blow Dryer”:
Also known as a “burner” or plasma caster, this weapon was the mainstay of the Predator aliens and is featured in the many movies, comics, video games, and novels of the franchise. Mounted on the shoulder, this weapon would discharge a ball of red-hot plasma into objects, causing damage akin to an explosive device, but with none of the messy shrapnel. Though the standard model is shoulder mounted and aimed using a heads-up-display and laser sight, the Predators in later movies were also known to carry wrist-mounted versions of this weapon as well. Like their claws and wrist bombs, they were embedded in the cuffs and served as a backup. One of these makes an appearance in Predator 2 during the meat locker shoot-out.

BR55 Battle Rifle:
This baby is a Halo universe invention, and is the mainstay of the UNSC infantry. Aesthetically, this rifle is based on several bull-pup assault rifles designs from the modern era, a design which is clearly growing in popularity. Some potential sources for inspiration include the Austrian-made Steyr AUG, the French FAMAS, the British L85, the Belgian F2000, and the experimental PAPOP design. Like all bull-pup rifles, this gun loads from the rear and can cut through Covenant opposition with ease! Even when I’m playing as the Covenant, this was my second favorite weapon to be carrying (the first was either two submachine guns or two pistols, or a combinati0n thereof!)

Blade Runner Gun:
In the classic move Blade Runner, Detective Rick Deckard was responsible for locating and “retiring” replicants. And the weapon he used to do just that is featured here. This is the model of a Blade Runner service revolver, for which little information exists, but whose appearance and performance pretty much speaks for itself. Based on a standard service revolver with several extra bits added on for effect, this gun pretty much screams cyberpunk.

In addition, there are several scenes in the movie where Deckard’s gun turned flesh (artificial though it was) into mush! Recall the scene where Deckard uses this gun to punch several holes in Zhora? Or how about the scene immediately thereafter where Leon is beating the crap out of him, and Rachael manages to save him by using his own weapon? Yeah, whenever this gun was brought out of his holster, some big holes resulted!

Blasters:
When asked about his idea for a “Galactic Empire”, George Lucas said that he wanted to create something that was as aesthetically similar to Nazi Germany as possible. This was reflected in the weapons as well. Numerous guns that were modified and used as props in the movie were based on WWII vintage weapons. The first and most recognizable is Han’s blaster, aka. the DL-44. Based on the German C96 Mauser pistol, this weapon was apparently a popular item amongst smugglers and traders, being very powerful and compact. It was also quick on the draw, which comes in handy when in a bar and looking down the barrel of a bounty hunter’s gun (Han shot first!)

The next was the standard issue blaster used by both the Stormtroopers and the heroes, especially in the first movie during their daring breakout from the Death Star. This blaster, known as the E-11, was based on the Sterling submachine gun of WWII. Simple, consisting of little more than a barel, a handle, and a side-mounted magazine, the gun was easily altered with a few pieces of molded plastic and a scope that made it look suitably futuristic.

The heavier T-21 Blaster Rifle was yet another WWII adaptation. Built around a Lewis machine gun, it was featured in the first movie during the Mos Eisley scene where Stormtroopers were seen walking through the streets searching for Luke and Obi Wan.

Last, there was the DLT-19 Heavy Blaster, the heaviest infantry weapon in the Star Wars franchise. In keeping with his love of WWII kit, Lucas’ set designers used a German MG42 to fashion this one. This blaster appeared aboard the Death Star in the hand of the search party that went over the Millenium Falcon, and again when Chewy commandeered one to take out the remote blasters and cameras in the cell block.

GE M134 Minigun Handheld:
How could I have forgotten this one? I mean really, is there a better visual representation of sheer badassery than the handheld minigun from Predator? Sure, the mere idea of a man carrying a minigun around by hand is so unbelievable its makes me want to laugh out loud. Considering the weight of the weapon, even before you factor in all the ammo, coupled with the killer recoil that no human could withstand – all of this makes the physics totally implausible! But what the heck? It was fun to watch! I can’t imagine anyone not feeling the hair on the back of their neck stand on end as those barrels started whirling and the bullets streamed out, so fast it sounded like a turbine! And I know from talking to actual pilots who’ve seen this baby in action that if you add tracers to the mix, its like watching a laser show. WHURRRRRRRRRRRR! Total carnage!

Grammaton Cleric Pistol:
Though it was not my favorite movie, there were undeniably cool aspects to the movie Equilibrium. One of which was all the cool Gun Kata moves pulled by Christain Bale, Angus Macfadyen, and the other Grammaton Clerics with their special pistols. These guns were clearly souped-up versions of the Beretta 92FS. They clearly fire in both semi-automatic and automatic bursts, and were retrofitted in one scene with impact hammers on the handles.

In addition, some rather curious reloading tricks were devised. One involved arm-rails that would deliver fresh magazines from inside the cleric’s sleeve. Another included magazines that could be balanced upright, which gave the cleric the ability to simply slam his gun down on the fresh magazine once the empty ones had been ejected and go right on shooting. It’s all about rate of fire in this movie, making sure the bullets (and dust) keep flying!

The Lawgiver II:
Also known as the Judge Dredd gun, this pistol is also a modified version of the Beretta 92FS, with molded plastic and LED lights giving it a future-city look. In addition to a rapid-fire setting, the gun also boasts a grenade launcher, signal flare launcher, and a special dual round known as the “double-whammy”. It also has a taser device built into the handle so that only a Judge can operate it, and a DNA tagging system that ensures that every slug fired can be traced back to the person operating it.

M41A Pulse Rifle:

The franchise Alien gave so much to the world of sci-fi geeks, not the least of which came in the form of cool guns. And the Pulse Rifle was arguably the mainstay of that contribution. In fact, it was this gun that inspired entire generations of futuristic weapons, and the name itself has been used many times over to refer to energy and slug-thrower weapons in sci-fi franchises.

This is an important disctintion seeing as how “pulse”, to most sci-fi acolytes, refers to weapons that fire out pulsing beams of energy (most likely plasma). But in this case, it referred to pulses of caseless ammo, big bursts of projectiles that would tear through acid-spewing aliens by the dozen. And let’s no forget the grenade launcher that was attached to the underside, how cool was that? The signature, click-click, BOOM! combination was as pleasing to the ears as it was to the eyes.

But in addition to being just so freaking cool to look at, the amount of creative energy and ingenuity that went into making it was quite impressive. For example, the people in charge of set design wanted a prop that would actually fire, so they built their rifle concept around the M1A1 Thompson submachine gun, a WWII vintage weapon that was small and sturdy enough to get the job done. To simulate the grenade launcher, they attached a cutdown Remington 870 shotgun beneath it and mounted the foregrip of the SPAS 12 shotgun on top of that. Then, they applied pieces of molded plastic and a little LED display to the side to make it look especially badass! Remember that scene where Ripley used it to level that room full of egg’s with the Alien queen inside? Iconic!

M56 Smart Gun:
I know, I’m shoving two examples from a single franchise into one post. But I think it’s worth it. And for fans of Aliens and sci-fi junk, you just can’t make a list of cool guns and not include the Smart Gun! Much like the Pulse Rifle, this weapon was the perfect marriage of aesthetics and ingenuity.

To fashion it, the set designers for Aliens used another vintage WWII weapon (like Lucas, they used the German MG42 machinegun) some motorcycle handles, and the arms from a Steadicam mount. The result, once again, was pure badassery! And the name, according to the expanded Aliens universe, comes from the fact that these weapons could aim themselves. Marines would simply employ their eyepieces and helm cameras, and the guns would pick up movement and target it. Oh, and that scene where Vasquez opens fire in the Alien lair… classic! “Let’s roooooock!”

PPG’s:
The PPG, or Phased Plasma Gun, is the standard weapon of security officers and soldiers in the Babylon 5 universe. According to franchise sources, the PPG fires a small charge of superheated helium which retains its shape and small volume via a residual magnetic field. Upon impact with an object, the magnetic field is dissipated and the heat discharged. PPG bolts also cause visible distortion as they travel through air, hence the blurred effects when people in the show fire off their weapons.

The PPG comes in several standard models. First, there’s the service pistol which every security officer and member of station personnel. The heavier rifles are busted out during riots and times of war, along with the vests and riot helmets. In two episodes (S01E20 Babylon Squared and S05E19 Wheel of Fire ) Garibaldi has scenes where he busts out the BFG version.

Reason:
This weapon is both deadly and cheekily-named, and is taken from Neal Stephenson’s smash-hit novel Snow Crash. This picture doesn’t quite do it justice, but its a close approximation. In the novel, Reason was a gatling gun that was the property of Uncle Enzo’s Mafia, an organization that ran a series of franchulates along the west coast of the former US. But unlike your conventional gatler, it fired caseless depleted-uranium slugs, bullets that are incredibly dense and very heavy. Hence, the weapon packed a massive punch and a mad recoil.

During one of the later chapters, Enzo’s men use the gun to take out a pirate yacht while firing from a life raft. A single burst demolished the pirate ship, but the recoil sent their boat about fifty meters in the opposite direction! This scene also had a hilarious set up when the mafiosos first broke it out, saying that if they ran afoul of any privateers, they were sure they’d “listen to Reason.”

Phaser Rifle:
Over the years, Star Trek has been a source of many weapons designs. However, some were arguably more cool than others, at least in my opinion. These came largely from the later spinoffs and movies, in particular DS9 and Voyager. Prior to this, phaser designs were either too boxy, too bulbous, or just too… Buck Rogers-y! When you’re repelling boarders, or on an away mission, one thing you want is a kick-ass weapon to bolster your confidence and inspire fear in your enemies.

These requirements were met by a new model of weapon, known as the type 3 Phaser Rifle. This weapon went through many variations throughout the course of the show. The first design was very boxy-looking, whereas later models tended to be more sleek and menacing (as shown above). Then came a whole new design, known as the Compression Rifle (seen below), which was apparently an even more powerful model. These weapons were specifically created for use on starships where heavy combat was expected, or in times of war.

Final Thoughts:
Man, that was a long list! But that’s the thing with cool ideas, they tend to get around. And as usual, I noticed some key patterns in the mix which I think should be pointed out. In all of these cases, there were apparently two classes  that each weapon fell into.

  1. Directed-Energy Weapons: Arguably the more science-fictiony of the two. These weapons first made their appearance in Saturday morning serials like Buck Rogers from the 1950’s. They come in many forms – ray guns, death rays, beam guns, blasters, laser guns, and phasers – but the core concept is the same. Phased or directed energy, usually in the form of plasma, that is focused into a tight beam and then emitted. The ironic thing is, since the 1950’s, sci-fi franchises have moved away from these seemingly farfetched devices and come to rely on ballistic weapons designs more and more. Meanwhile, Directed Energy Weapons have become more and more feasible, with several prototypes being explored by military contractors today.
  2. Ballistic Weapons: In the context of sci-fi, these often take the form of weapons that use caseless ammunition, electromagnetically-propelled ammunition, or just standard bullets. But in each case, the weapons that use them are adapted to look more futuristic. Interestingly enough, the future seems to be coming sooner than we thought. In just about every developed nation, firearm technologies are being explored under the banner of the “Future Soldier” program. Having studied many of these, I can tell you that they put much of what was shown in Aliens to shame, especially where Heads-Up-Displays and portable computers are concerned! Again, the future seems to be coming sooner than we thought!

Conan (Cont’d)

Conan (Cont’d)

And we’re back! Last time, I got into Conan (ca. 1982), the Milnius/Stone/Laurentiis version that effectively made Arnie’s career. Now, it’s time for the remake, the one directed by Marcus Nispel and starring Jason Momoa. Having just sat through it, I can tell you that the impressions it left are fresh in my mind, as is the bad taste it left in my mouth. I suppose that’s the inevitable result of seeing something that comes with high hopes, only to find out that it really isn’t that good. But I’m getting ahead of myself again, here’s Conan, the remake!

Conan The Barbarian (2011):

For some time now, producers have been trying to do a remake/re-imaging of Conan. Perhaps its the nostalgic appeal of the original or maybe its just a retro thing: sooner or later, fans grow up and pay good money to see something that reminds them of their youth. Just look at American Graffiti. But these attempts can always be messed up when studios spend forever fighting over rights and trying to come up with a plan, and then slap together a product hastily. That’s apparently  what happened here.

After spending  seven years in development with Warner Bros, the rights to shoot this film were shifted to Nu Image/Millennium Films in 2007, with a clause wishing for immediate start on production. It then took another two years before they found a director, eventually settling on Marcus Nispel, a man who’s made his career shooting remakes for guys like Michael Bay, and the critically-panned movie Pathfinder. A big-ass writing team was then assembled to come up with a passable script, and Jason Momoa (hot off playing the role of Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones) was cast as the hero.

Not a very encouraging start, but there were signs of promise. Momoa seemed like a good fit, having already done the badass barbarian thing as Drogo. Stephen Lang also seemed like a good choice to play the villain, having performed the role of the dubious military man in Avatar. And Ron Perlman, hell, he’s always good as a dirty, hairy, hut-dwelling man! One look at Quest for Fire and you can see how he seemed like a sure thing to play Conan’s father. All that was left was the story.

Plot Synopsis:

The story opens with narration by Morgan Freeman. Okay, bit of miscasting right there, but whatever. He explains how its the Hyborian Age, and gives us the bare bones of what’s been going on in this vague, adventurous period of historical fiction. And unlike the first movie, the back story here is kind of extensive. This story, we soon learn, has to do with a magic mask that gave evil witches and wizards the power of Gods. They are known as the Acheronian necromancers, and as the name suggests, they could resurrect the dead and… do other scary things I guess. Okay, seems a little Dungeons and Dragonsesque, but the movie’s just starting…

We also learn that this mask was broken when the evil people were cast down and divided amongst the Cimmerian tribes. And now, predictably, some evil dude is going around and collecting them, hoping to put the mask back together so he can have godlike power. All he needs is one final piece, and guess who’s got it… Conan’s people, naturally! We also get to see how Conan was born, on the battlefield of all places when his pregnant mother was stabbed and his dad had to perform a battlefield C section. Thus, in keeping with his legend, we get a boy who was “borne in battle”. Again, kind of over the top, but things are just getting started.

What follows are many scenes showing Conan as a young boy. After eviscerating a war party of rival tribesmen, we see him helping his father forge a sword, being told all about the Riddle of Steel. And wouldn’t you know it, they even tell us what it is! “What’s more important, Conan, the fire or the ice? Both! It’s the two that make steel hard. That’s the Riddle of Steel.” Really? That’s the riddle, fire and ice make it hard? Gee, I thought it would be something more complicated, not a user’s guide to smithing. If knowing this is all it takes to get into Valhalla then the damn place must be overflowing!

And then, Conan’s people are attacked by some big, bad warlord named Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang). Hmm, Khalar, Khal? Do I detect a slight similarity (aka. ripoff!) there? Anyhoo, he beseiges the village, Conan’s people die, and he tells Corin that he can bend the knee and give up the last remaining fragment, or he’ll burn him alive and take it anyway. He also lets him know its okay to submit to him, since he’ll soon be a living God. But of course, Corin says no, and tells him that God or no, he’ll still fall! Conan of course comes to his aid, but it captured and tied up with him. Zym takes the last fragment, completes the mask (which looks like some kind of dried octopus, all tentacly-like), puts it on and has his evil moment. “Bwoohaahahahaha” and all that.

Conan and his father are left chained to a pot of molten iron which is suspended above them. In short, all they can do is stand there, or risk dumping it on one of their heads. Conan does his best to release his father, but Corin eventually sacrifices himself and causes the pot to dump on his head. Hmm, getting another deja vu moment here. Golden Crown anyone? Conan then goes out into the killing fields that were his home, grabs a sword and does the avenging hero thing. He raises it high and yells!

At this point, we’re about half an hour into the movie and the differences are becoming glaring. For one, in the original movie, Conan was the focus of things. Sure, its about his quest for revenge, but its also a big-time bildungsroman, the telling of how he came to be a powerful warlord who would go on to become a king. There was no magic MacGuffin to incite the plot and keep things going. Second, a great deal of time, far more than was necessary, is dedicated to Conan’s childhood in this movie. Whereas in the original, we get a brief glimpse of a rough, honest and in some ways idyllic existence that was interrupted by tragedy, here we get a full-on preamble that kind of overdeveloped things.

I mean, was it really necessary to show how Conan was a badass even as a child? Wasn’t it supposed to be his hard life that made him so rough and ruthless? Here we see him cutting off the heads of multiple warriors before he’s even hit puberty! And not at the neck, which would have been more civilized; no, he hews their heads off at the jaw! With blunt instruments! Forget Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Psychopath would have been much more appropriate! Don’t get me wrong, I was pulling for him, but it still seemed over-the-top.

What’s more, in spite of that fact Conan brutalized some of his men (he cuts off one of their noses), Zym decides to basically leave Conan alive. Sure, he chained them up to a pot of molten metal, but doesn’t that seem a little super-villainy? Instead of killing the father and selling the child into slavery, I’m going to put them in a situation that at least one of them can escape and pray they never find me. Doom at least had the foresight to sell the boy into slavery, and he seemed relatively helpless by comparison. But with this little psycho, seems to me the sane thing would have been to make sure he died in that village. He chops heads in half at ten, how bad do you think he’s going to be in twenty years?

And of course, the movie then cuts to Conan as a man. He’s part of a group of Aquilonian Mercenaries led by a big burly dude named Artus (Nonso Anozie). He and Conan are close friends and are dedicated to piracy and making trouble, but in truth their ultimate goal is to free slaves and find the man that killed Conan’s people. We get a scene where they are doing just this, killing slavers and setting the captives free because, as Conan says “No man shall live in chains.” After taking the slaves to party in Messantia, Conan is chanced upon by a man named Ela-Shan (Saïd Taghmaoui), a thief who is being pursued by one of Zym’s men: Lucius, the man who lost his nose to Conan as a boy.

Conan recognizes the man and decides to let himself be captured. Once in his prison, he breaks free and begins torturing him for answers. He reveals Zym’s identity to Conan and tells him of his plans. Basically, they involve him capturing a “pure one”, aka. a descendent of the Acheron necromancers, so he can unleash the mask’s power. Taking this information, Conan makes Lucius swallow the prison’s master key and hands the slaves a knife, telling them their freedom lies in Lucius’ belly. I suppose this is meant to be a kind of comic relief, “You swore you’d let me live!” “I swore that I wouldn’t kill you!” Mainly, it just seems cruel. However, Conan is told by Ela-Shan (who is a clear remake of Subotai) that if he ever needs a favor, to come looking for him in the City of Thieves. And of course, he will…

We then cut to Zym and his daughter, the dark sorceress Marique (Rose McGowan), as they cross the land looking for the “pure one”. This journey brings them to a monastery where we see a woman named Tamara (Rachel Nichols), who is being told her future by the head priest. He tells her that she will meet a warrior, a man who will change the course of history. However, the lesson is cut short when Zym’s men attack and seize the place.  A totally overdone scene follows where Marique, after they’ve rounded up all the monasteries ladies, tastes their blood with her claws and then kills them, one after another, once she’s determined that they are not pure.

We also learn that Zym’s ultimate goal is to resurrect his wife, a witch herself who was burned alive by monks, and that he’s quite bitter about it. And of course, there’s also the obligatory scene where Zym smashes the head of the head priest on the stone steps after he tells him his wife was evil and got what she deserved.  Okay, we get it, these guys are really, really bad! Moving on… On the plus side, Tamara got away, and it just so happens that Conan sees her fleeing and recognizes the men that are chasing her. After saving her, Conan pretends that he is going to ransom her to Zym for gold, but his real goal is to lure Zym into a trap.

Conan manages to catch up with Zym as his land-ship (a sea vessel which, for some reason, he’s having pulled across land!) where Zym and his daughter are talking about their plans. Marique tells Zym, in a speech heavily laced with incest, that she could be her mother and he wouldn’t need to bring her back. But naturally, in a response laced with abusiveness, he shoves her away and tells her she will never be her mother. Okay, if the goal here was to make these two seem more evil, then mission accomplished! Otherwise, all I can say is ew! In any case, that’s when Conan delivers his message via a catapult (yep, you read that right!): he hurls Zym’s man at his ship with a note attached. “Meet me at this abandoned trading post at midday”, it says. “Come alone!”

But of course, he doesn’t. He comes to the post with Marique, and Conan confronts them and demands Zym’s head! This is the first fight scene between these two, and naturally it goes against Conan. Using her dark magic, Marique sends a whole bunch of sand people at Conan while he father and him exchange blows with their swords. Conan is forced to flee, taking Tamara with them, by jumping off the edge of the cliff into the water, where Conan’s buddies happen to be waiting. They get on board, sail off, fight off some of Zym’s men, and Tamara and Conan get better acquainted. She learns that he’s incredibly noble, in spite of his rough and tumble exterior. And Conan tells Artus that he’s found the man who murdered father, his family, his people, and of course Artus pledges to help him get his revenge. They’re buddies, remember?

So Conan is dropped up farther along the coast, where he will make his way to Zym’s fortress. However, Tamara decides to tag along for a bit and the two have rough sex in a cave nearby. Yes, the timing of this seems stupid, the dialogue is quite awful, and there’s absolutely no chemistry between them. But what’s even more odd is on the following morning, Tamara wanders out of the cave before Conan awakes (guess she wasn’t too impressed!) somehow finds herself wandering deeper in the wilderness, and is captured by Zym’s daughter. Wait, weren’t they doing it in a cave near the shore? How did she wander into the forest here? Was she totally turned around, or was the sex just that good? In any case, Marique tastes her blood (as usual) and determines she’s the one! Shortly thereafter, Conan wakes up, follows Tamara’s trail to the same wood, and finds one of Marique’s claws which she carelessly left behind. It’s on now!

He then, as previewed, travels to the City of Thieves (guard your pocket book man!), finds Ela-Shan and tells him he needs his help breaking in to Zym’s stronghold. They arrive just Zym is preparing the sacrifice, which consists of making Tamara wear some tight, revealing outfit, cuffing her wrists and ankles, strapping her to a big wheel and… I’m sorry, I got lost there for a second. Were they going for some serious visual innuendo here? Somehow, it seemed like they took a wrong turn on “damsel in distress” road and got lost in S&M junction. But predictably, Conan and El-Shan battle their way in, fight some bad dudes and a big tentacled monster, and Conan is set for his big finale with Zym.

And I can say without reservation that the final fight was totally anti-climactic! For one, they seem to be fighting in front of a poorly animated green screen for all it. It looks like a scene from Mordor, but only if the people from Xena had designed it! And invariably, Tamara must be saved repeatedly (which is annoying), the fight scenes get both ludicrous (they fight on the wheel as its suspended on two rocks over a chasm!) and there’s really no tension to speak of. But alas, Tamara needs to be saved again, as she falls through a plank on a walkway and Zym’s spell is taking effect. Slowly, she’s being invaded by the evil spirit of Zym’s wife. She tells Conan to drop her, but he can’t! Not even with Zym standing before him ready to deliver a death blow.

He and Zym then delivers their final words to each other, which is really just a rehashing of the words he and Conan’s father shared years before. Zym tells Conan that there’s no shame in kneeling to him since he’s a living god. Conan replies, “You forgot what my father told you. God or not, you will FALL! He then knocks the planks out from under Zym’s feet, he falls to his death, and Tamara is saved from being taken over by the spirit of his dead wife. They make it out, he drops her off at a new monastery, then carries on the remains of his old village site. There, he finds the remains of his father’s forge, raises his old sword, and yells!

Strengths/Weaknesses/Impressions:

Okay, I’m going to start with what I didn’t like about this movie, because its a far more important list. Strengths, I got few to mention, and as for impressions, practically none! So here goes… First of all, having Morgan Freeman do the narration was a serious case of miscasting. Yeah, I love Morgan as much as the next person, and he is like THE guy when it comes to voice-over work, but not for this movie. This is a fantasy and historical fiction epic, it requires someone who sounds bad-ass and foreboding. Someone like Mako, Keith David (Spawn), or Tony Todd (The Crow), not the man who narrated Shawshank Redemption, played God in Bruce Almighty, was Driving Miss Daisy, and played Neslon Mandella. It’s just not a good fit!

Second, as mentioned, Conan’s backstory. The original did the best job of this, in my opinion. When it comes right down to it, Conan is characterized by a few simple things: his strength, his cunning, and his feral wits. He’s tough in a way that speaks to hard living and smart in a way that speaks to a life of survival and living on the edge. By taking that away, the remake made his less believable, presenting him as a guy who was just badass from the day he was born. This might have seemed cool to some, but in my opinion it made him way less believable.

Also, in this remake, the character of Conan seemed poorly executed and somewhat confused. With his many overdone antics, we’re made to believe he’s a real bad dude. But then they kind of go out of their way to make him appear good, loyal and loving. And when I say out of their way, I mean they just come out and say it. “I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.” “No man shall live in chains”. “He has the loyalty of a dog”, etc, etc. In the original, Arnie needed barely any words at all to convey this, he just played the part. People could tell from his mere presence he was bad, and by his friendship with Subotai and his romance with Valeria that he was loyal and loving, and by his determination to find Doom and avenge his parents on his own that he was brave. Nobody needed to say anything out loud.

The same is true for the villain, Khalar Zym. I was surprised, to be sure. Ordinarily, Stephen Lang is an effective actor who lends a certain dignity and strength to his characters. This was true even in Avatar, where in spite of a weak plot a cliched characters, he still managed to give strong performance. But here, he is both overdone as the bad guy and really not scary at all! Mainly, he just seems like a creepy old dude who’s looking to get smashed! I’m not sure where all those muscles he built up for Avatar went, but in this movie, he looked pretty damn scrawny and emaciated. Might have been the costume, but gone was the picture of the brusque and burly old dude who can still kick your ass! And that tuft of grey hair on his chin? Didn’t help! Neither did his cheesy lines: “Behold… and despair… your new master!”

In addition, the supporting cast is pretty weak. Ron Perlman did a good job of portraying Conan’s father, but the role really didn’t seem like a challenge for him. Mainly, he just looked the part and phoned the rest in. Then there was Rachel Nichols, who people might recognize from GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra or as the new blonde lady on Criminal Minds. To call her acting wooden would be too kind! Seriously, I haven’t seen blank stares and cardboard acting like this since… well, GI Joe! The romance between her and Conan was also totally unbelievable. At one point I asked myself, isn’t this woman supposed to be a nun or something? Why then is she shagging the barbarian? And the way he just drops her off at a monastery at the end. Has she not broken her vows at this point? Wouldn’t there be some kind of moral conflict in them having an affair?

Rose McGowan (from Charmed and clealrly one of Tarantino and Rodriguez’s favorite people to work with)  filled the role of the evil daughter quite well, but the character itself was quite weak. Mainly, she’s just creepy and dark for the sake of being creepy and dark, and the incest thing was clearly just thrown in for added vileness. And Ela-Shan, a clear homage to Sobutai’s character, felt like he was just penciled in out of duty. He shows up near the beginning to advance the plot, disappears, reappears as needed, then disappears again. In short, he’s the friend you call when you need a ride but have no intention of hanging out with. That’s mean!

Jason Momoa, who I admire the hell out of for his performance of Khal Drogo in the HBO Game of Thrones miniseries, also had some issues adapting the role of Conan. Sure, he looks the part. A tall, dark, ripped dude with long dark hair? Hell, he IS the part! But he’s a long way from Khal Drogo in this one. Much of the time, he can’t seem to decide if he’s going to go with the deep, raspy voice (a la Christian Bale in Batman), or just use his natural, deep voice. The latter was far better, but he kept doing the raspy thing, sometimes switching in mid-sentence. And when he does the evil stare and threatening words, he just sounded kind of silly! Momoa said he wanted to steer away from Arnie’s version of Conan, which was totally respectable. But at the same time, I think he should have taken a lesson from Arnie’s performance: less is more, especially when you’ve got the kind the commanding presence these two share.

Okay, what was actually good about this movie was the set design. Here was something that also reminded me of Game of Thrones, and it was the picturesque castles and landscapes the movie’s animators came up with. Most of the time, they are pretty cool, and don’t look particularly phoney or out of place. This cannot be said for the final scene where Conan and Zym fight it out in the “Cracks of Doom”, but otherwise the setting looked pretty good. And they did manage to make a lot of the settings look and feel like something out of the original story, giving things a dirty look and feel that calls to mind Biblical allusions, or scenes out of Orientalist art. This was something the original movie did quite well in spite of a limited budget, and this movie did it quite well too.

Reception/Recommendation:

Other than that, sorry to say, but this movie did not live up to the original or the graphic novel which inspired it all. It was a good attempt, but clearly a combination of things were working against it. For one, you can’t take something like an original cult-classic and just redo it! Something like that takes dedication, vision, time, and energy. Throwing writers, a director, some actors (albeit good ones) together and saying “get on it” just isn’t enough. And in the end, the results spoke for themselves. In addition to being almost universally panned by critics, this movie made only 20 million dollars, and that was with a budget over 70! Given time and with DVD sales, I’m sure the studio will recoup its dough, but for the moment, this re-release has done little aside from riding off the coat tails of Game of Thrones.

Speaking of which, it was recently announced that Nonso Anozie will be in season 2 of GOT, playing the role of Xaro Xhoan Daxos. It’s also been said that Momoa’s been talking to the writers about bringing the character of Khal Drogo back. The ties between these two projects continues to astound me! In any case, if you’re looking for some cheesy entertainment, pick this one up and help the studio make its money back! If you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of the original though, something with sword, epic fantasy and a touch of realism, I strongly recommend you rewatch the original, maybe even with the commentary. Or you could just check out Game of Thrones! Whatever floats your boat…

Conan The Barbarian (2011):

Entertainment Value: 7/10

Plot: 4/10

Direction: 6/10

Overall: 5.5/10