Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Empire Strikes Gold

Obama’s back in the White House, there’s another Kennedy in Congress (taking over for fan-favorite Barney Frank), and the rancor of the campaign will (hopefully) be swept away with the horrible destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy.  It’s been quite a week and Americans are tired!  Though, daylight savings did offer an hour of well-needed sleep last weekend.  I loved that.
Aside from Hurricane Sandy, perhaps the second most shocking event of the month is the announcement that Disney has purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion—a deal which includes Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound, and video game manufacturer, LucasArts.  Congratulations, Lucas grandchildren!  You are now modern-day pharaohs and may choose the slaves with whom you will be buried under the Lucas pyramids Grandpa George has undoubtedly built on the ranch.  Of course, I have no way of knowing.  My invitation to Skywalker Ranch has somehow been delayed in the mail.
Fans of the blog have known that my love/hate relationship with both Lucas and Disney have been fodder for my maniacal musings (love the alliteration, people!).  I’ve mocked their mutual love of secrecy and their common addiction to control.  I’ve been impressed by Lucas’ obsession with perfection, and Disney’s uncanny ability to predict the future as though Walt’s disembodied frozen head is offering oracle-like predictions from beneath Sleeping Beauty’s castle.  Don’t pretend it hasn’t occurred to you, too...
Lucas putting young Anakin Skywalker into Return of the Jedi as a ghost is a lot like Disney working Captain Jack Sparrow into the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.  Make something new happen as though it was always there...  evil revisionists!
Now, we’re left to wonder what happens when the Dark Empire meets the Happiest Place on Earth.  Do we feel fear or joy?  Or is it just a moment of, “meh.” 
Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” 
While I’m the last guy to argue with Yoda, I think he may have it backwards—that suffering might actually lead to hate.  Case in point:  after suffering through The Phantom Menace, I’d say that was when my Lucas hate kicked in.  Nevertheless, there may be more to enjoy than fear when considering this mega-merger of cosmic forces.
Part of me marvels at the hilarity that Carrie Fisher is now a Disney Princess!  Think about it, people!  Carrie Fisher may be the first Disney princess to publically acknowledge drug and alcohol abuse (though I think a few princesses have tried apples, potions, and spinning wheels against our better judgment).  Fans of Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show might appreciate her strategic use of profanity, unbecoming a mistress of the realm.  I, for one, like a little sass in my princesses, though I’m not sure little girls should be encouraged to don a Halloween “Slave Leia” costume as they would Ariel or Jasmine costumes. 
Nevertheless, as the last princess of Alderaan, Leia really beats out Pocahontas for the most tragic princess, doesn’t she?  Leia’s dad wanted to rule with his son, not his daughter.  Major sexist diss!  Leia should have some serious issues after Episode VI, and who would blame her?  Hey, maybe that could be the plot for Episode VII – Lady Vader’s Revenge.  Whoop!  There it is!
How do I start my Lady Vader’s Revenge Website now?!  Hands off.  I call the idea as my own.  I’m working on the screenplay already, people, and I’m setting aside my other masterpiece – Supermodel Astronaut.  Now that I think about it, there may be a place for Supermodel Astronaut in the new “Disney Wars” Universe.  Hmmmm....  Maybe I could clone her...  The dark side is so seductive!
Who knows?  The Disney connection may have been pondered all along by the evil genius of Lucas himself.  Jar-Jar Binks is slightly reminiscent of Goofy.  Even Luke Skywalker had hints of Eeyore when he complained about living on the planet farthest from any bright center of the universe, or whining about going to the Toshi station to pick up power converters.  Just watch Episode IV.  Luke Skywalker whines like Minnie Mouse.  Man up, son of Vader!  No one likes a Jedi whiner.  A vengeful Leia?  Think about it.  It has legs, people!
I can see new possibilities for mash-up movies, too:  Snow White and the Seven Droids; Winnie the Hut; The Arisitosith; The Emperor’s New Groove (no title change, but a totally new meaning)!
Even Pixar can get some mash-up action – Droid Story or Wall-E Strikes Back…  The juices are flowing, folks!
While the initial thought of these two cultural juggernauts blending to create a megalithic Empire may give some folks pause, the 11 year-old boy in me who saw Star Wars: A New Hope at the Topanga Mall thinks this makes some sort of cosmic sense.
Selling Lucasfilm to Disney may have been the most humane thing Lucas has done with his franchise since the first trilogy (the real one, people, from 1977).  While Disney-fying sci-fi films may create concern for some, I’ve been admittedly happy with what Disney has done for the Marvel franchise movies.  If they can bring the same serious decorum, fun, and special effects restraint and subordinate the glitz of CGI to real STORY in the Star Wars franchise as they’ve done for Marvel, we may have some awesomeness ahead.  They can do this!
Do or do not.  There is no try.
With Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill too old to pick up the story where Return of the Jedi left off (or maybe too old to pick up anything), we’re left to wonder if other actors will play those roles or if new characters will now populate the Star Wars world of the future.  I’m excited at the thought of a new Star Wars ride at the theme parks, too—just, please, no virtual shake-and-baking like the current Star Tours ride.  Star Tours at Disneyland usually leaves me with nausea and a headache (and that’s just from the line and the price of admission!)  Insert drumroll and cymbal crash hereà X.
Disney and Pixar driving the deep, layered world of the Empire may be something brilliant to behold.  Or, it could just mean more Jawas falling off giant lizards, Greedo shooting first, or the wrong Anakin ghost waving goodbye at the end of it all.
Either way, they’ve got my attention and probably a zillion other people’s—and that just may be worth the $4 billion they paid.
© 2012, Herb Williams-Dalgart

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ready or Not... Comikaze!

Once again, I found myself at a comic book convention—this time at Stan Lee’s Comikaze at the LA Convention Center.  You may recall my last pilgrimage to the Mecca of all comic book conventions, San Diego’s Comic-Con.  That convention left me exhausted but excited, yet not all-too-eager to jump into the fray of another human flood of costumed super dudes.  Of course, if I had a cowl, a shield, and a body full of super-soldier serum, I’d be ready for anything, but don’t get me started.

Any reservations I may have had were quickly dispelled; Comikaze did not disappoint.  It had all the usual features I’ve come to expect from comic conventions: 

·        The attendees...  Open-mouth-breathing, wide-eyed hordes of social misfits, MENSA members, rocket scientists, outcasts (or as I like to call them, “my peeps”).  You’ve never seen such a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Shout out to my Jedi fans—Holla!

·        The food...  cardboardy pizza, rubber hot dogs, mystery tacos, surprising and rather wonderful noodles, and junk food the likes of which these folks haven’t  seen since... well, probably yesterday

·        Memorabilia... Shirts, comics, statues, collectibles, clothing, trading cards and just about everything else from every age of super hero-dom, the Potterverse, Who-dom, The Shire, Horror-ville, and whatever other alternate universe conflicts with ours.  No passport required.

·        The aroma... The slight pungent odor of sweat coming from too-often-worn elaborate costumes, headdresses, and masks.  Maybe it was just the sweat coming from the Quidditch pitch or perhaps the hundreds of Magic Card players hunched over tables.  After Halloween, we used to throw away our costumes; not these folks – they just enhance, bedazzle, and re-don (the parent in me would like to recommend they consider “dry clean” as well)

Of course, all this eye candy was accompanied by the occasional conflicting feeling that I was both exactly where I was meant to be and that I was entirely out of my element.  Then again, that just may be one of the many manifestations of my soon to be spectacular mid-life crisis.  Stay tuned.

At Comikaze, the celebrity encounters were a-plenty.  I got to meet with and speak to Stan Lee, my hero.  You may recall I only saw him from afar at the last “con.”  Some of you know I also got to meet him way back in college, too.   And just like it was back in college, the drooling was once again up close and personal (poor Stan!).  I got to shake his hand, hug him, take my picture with him, and have a chat.  Sort of like meeting Santa, without the sitting on the lap and wishing for toys.

My Stan chat went like this (imagine me wide-eyed and Stan graciously smiling):

Herb:  Hey Stan!  My name is Herb!

Stan:  Well, hello, Herb!

Herb:  It’s been 25 years since I last met you.

Stan:  Really?

Herb:  Yeah.  Andromeda Bookstore in Santa Barbara.

Stan:  Of course.  I remember you.

Herb:  You do?

Stan:  Yeah, you were wearing the brown pants. [He grins mischievously and I know I’ve been duped. He is a riot, it should be known.]

Herb:  Very good!  [Here, I’m interrupted by a Stan staffer who positions us for taking our picture.  When we’re done, my family joins]

Herb:  Hey, Stan this is my son, his friend, and my wife!

Stan:  Oh, I see a lot has changed in 25 years.

Herb:  Oh, yeah! 

Stan:  Well, I hope I see you in another 25 years.  [He shakes my hand, more firmly than you’d think for an 89 year-old man]

Herb:  Me too! 

My wife says it’s an honor to meet him and he says, “The pleasure is all mine, my dear.”  Such a classy guy!

In case you’re still wondering, Stan is an awesome dude.  Whether you’re a comic book aficionado, a fan of Marvel hero movies, or simply a citizen breathing air on Earth, there’s no escaping his legacy.  The guy invented Spider-Man for crying out loud!  Wake up, people!

Clearly, this was the highlight of my weekend.  I have a Stan-the-man-crush.

Of course, Stan was not the only celeb at the con.  I did take some perverse pleasure watching some of the other celebrities attempt to approach Stan’s level of fame. 

For instance, I enjoyed watching the ill-advised, post-plastic-surgery Morgan Fairchild, dolled up, sitting in a booth, watching the throngs and hordes of orcs, Iron Men, ninjas, Jedis, Freddy Kruegers, and Doctors Who, Doom, and Strange pass right by her, not even knowing who she was.

Kids, if you don’t know Ms. Fairchild, get on those Internets and Google-ize her.  It may take a little work. 

I must say, Ms. Fairchild looked very disgruntled at being so ignored, and I half-expected her to grab a “batlith” from a passing Klingon, jump the draped folding table, and disembowel some pimply teen or maybe throttle her agent, if just for the attention.  That would’ve been awesome though, given the mock battles that routinely broke out not unlike flash mobs, I suspect very few people would have noticed.

Oddly (and counter-intuitively) Lou Ferrigno was similarly passed over by the nerd minions, though a lot of people squinted in confusion at the life size 1970s picture of him dressed as the Hulk which was propped next to his booth, probably not fully understanding what that was about.  

I was sorta sad for ol’ Lou.  He was alone and clearly forgotten, though seemed like a nice guy, if not just a bit forlorn.  I guess the modern variety CGI Hulks are cooler than the old school big dudes painted green.  Sorry, Lou.  You’re just an analog superhero at a digital con.  Please don’t smash me.  Blame the new Hulk, Mark Garofalo and those guys at Marvel studios.

There was a bit of a Batman reunion with booths hosting Adam West (TV’s Batman), Burt Ward (TV’s Robin), and Julie Newmar (TV’s Catwoman--the sexiest of them all if you ask me, which you didn't).  It was practically a bat cave with all the bat-action goin’ on!

Richard Anderson (TV’s Oscar Goldman from “The Six Million Dollar Man”) was there to sign autographs.  I have nothing but respect for Mr. Anderson, but if someone told me he was 109 years old, I would’ve believed him.  That dude could use some bionics of his own.  What is the shelf life of celebrity?  A sad question.  Maybe we can rebuild him.

Elvira, vampyric TV icon and host of early 80’s TV horror marathons was there.  She had lots of Elvira memorabilia and was quite nice to everyone who came to see her.  Unlike Ms. Fairchild, the mistress of the dark seemed to fit in quite nicely with the nerd minions and was ready for fun.  Didn’t get to chat with her, but wish I did!  She floated my boat back in the day and maybe just a little even now.

Although I refrained from donning my own costume, I did wear my Captain America and Super Soldier shirts that weekend.  I still admired the earnestness of those more bold and brave in how much time and money they spent to dress themselves and then commit to their characters.  And though I recognized most of the superhero costumes, I didn’t have a clue about the pink and blue-haired manga dress-ups, nor the self-designed, self-named monsters like last year’s Shark Commando. 

I heard one guy in a draped, boney/hairy costume explain to someone that he was a Level Three Oranga-Lith (I think that’s what he said).  The person on the receiving end of the explanation nodded and said, “cool,” but I was just confused and admittedly more than a little amused.  But, you gotta give points for creativity, right?

There was, however, a bunch of zombies!  This was cool.  I get zombies.  No explanation necessary.

In fact, the convention had set up an indoor area the size of three football fields surrounded by chain link fencing.  Within the fenced area, they set up ten of those big bounce houses that create slides, climbing walls, fortresses, and such so that the area was one big maze of obstacle course elements simulating a decimated city.  Then, they turned down the lights, filled the place with actors dressed as zombies, set off occasional sirens and let a roving spotlight search the scene.  With the mood set, they sent people through the maze at $30 a pop!  They called it “Zombie Apocalypse” and it was all kinds of awesome.  Genius, in fact. 

“Survivors” got a limited edition “Walking Dead Season 3” poster.  If you don’t know about AMC’s TV show, “The Walking Dead,” I’ll forgive you, only if you promise to get on the ol’ Google, figure out what you’re missing, order the DVDs/Blu-Rays and become hopelessly addicted.  You can thank me after the apocalypse.

Anyhow, back to the con.... my son and his friend went through the apocalypse twice (I love that you can survive two apocalypses... apocalypsii?).  I was excited more that I didn’t have to pay again.  I make it a policy only to pay for one apocalypse a day.

Thinking the fun was over, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the next day that my son and his friend convinced the show runners to let them dress as zombies and torment the other wanna-be survivors.  Unbelievable!  Thirty minutes in hair, costume, and makeup with professional makeup artists transformed these kids into very gruesome zombies.  They were then instructed to chase people for three hours.  To say they had the time of their lives would be an understatement (time of their deaths?).  If I knew being dead made my son happy, I would have killed him years ago!

The weekend offered opportunities for the boys to play Quidditch, traipse around as zombies, play Magic Card games, buy comics and posters and shirts, play video games, and gawk at their favorite purple-haired “Hit Girl” (look it up, people.  This blog is interactive).

Throughout it all, I couldn’t help but wonder how such events reflect human nature and pop culture.  Deep inside, we all like to pretend.  Some lead real lives and come to conventions to pretend and some just pretend in real life and come to conventions to get real.  I say, give in to your inner nerd.  Embrace your hidden geek.  Become the hero/zombie/princess/ Level Three Oranga-Lith within you!  Of course, if there’s a monster in there, I’ll advise you to keep pretending you’re just a regular human, but love your inner monster anyway. 

Of course, once that mid-life crisis hits, you may not be able to control your inner Ferrigno.  Then again, no one may notice.

© 2012, Herb Williams-Dalgart

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Obsessed with Perfection

When I learned that George Lucas was re-releasing the Star Wars saga in 3D, I had a single thought—leave it to Lucas to find yet another way to disappoint me. 
Now he can offend me in the 3rd dimension, too.

The original Star Wars trilogy was awe-inspiring and exciting—kids, these were Episodes 4, 5, and 6, before anyone really considered them episodes.  Come to think of it, we didn’t really know about special effects or understand what “action figures” were back then, either.  These movies set the bar.  They spawned the nerds of a generation.

Of course, in the new generation of flat screens and iPods, the prequels were released (or perhaps, like a plague, are better described as “unleashed”).  Unlike their predecessors, the new films were nausea inspiring.

Poor dialog, racist caricatures (Jar-Jar Binks? the Trade Federation?  Come on!), thin plotlines, and lazy direction were the result of Lucas’ obsessive focus on visual effects and his unwillingness to share the writing, development, and directing responsibilities with brave souls who might speak truth to power.  If you doubt me, watch the extra features on the DVDs that show how Lucas oversees his minions who fear him.  He literally carries an “approved by Lucas” stamp around the spacious Lucasfilm studios and puts a mark on concept art presented to him when he approves it.  Creative modelers and artists tremble when he comes by.  He strikes fear into his team as he inspects their work.  Watch it.  Try not to laugh.  And then cry.

Lucas is no longer the rebel director, doing something new and risky as he did with Star Wars in 1976.  Now, he’s a mega corporation, crushing all who would oppose him.  Lucas has become Vader, hell bent on ruling the universe.

He’d find my lack of faith disturbing.

His obsession with visual effects has harmed his storytelling, not helped it.  Awesome explosions don’t make up for bad stories, bad direction, or silly dialog (look at me, giving advice to one of the most financially successful directors in history.  Dang, I’m a badass... Part of me just worried that Lucas would read this and send stormtroopers to my house to disappear me).  Remember, you read it here first, people.  If I go missing, look for me or my remains at Skywalker Ranch.

I’m neither the first nor only critic of Mr. Lucas—the guy is sorely abused by the public, particularly over “The Phantom Menace” (“The Fandom Meanness?”).  People have dedicated blogs, websites, fan-made video remakes, and full-blown edits of his films as forms of criticism.  Go surf the inter-Webs.  If you Google “Hate George Lucas,” you’ll get about 12,300,000 results.  Go see.  I’ll wait right here...  It’s truly an awe-inspiring body of handmade hatred.

Re-releasing his epic saga in 3D may further fill his already deep pockets and secure the financial futures for generations of Lucas children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to come.  Am I too old to be adopted?  Herb Lucas?  Nah.

But, finances aside, on some level I have to admit, I sorta get his obsession with doing things over and over until he’s happy.  He wants everything to be perfect.  An illness?  Perhaps.  But the little George Lucas inside him just wants it all to be perfect.  My northern European father built that into my DNA.  The force is strong in my family.  What’s Lucas’ deal?

Maybe this is the same thing Joan Rivers struggles with, too.  She felt so unhappy her whole life, she had a face do-over; and over; and over...  I love Joan, but I’m not sure she got the face she wanted.

Or Priscilla Presley.  She, too, had some special effects wizardry on her face.  Is it me, or does she look like Jack Nicholson’s version of Batman’s “The Joker?”  What would Elvis say?   He’d probably kick my ass and sing “Don’t Be Cruel.”

In truth, I shouldn’t throw stones.  I have a little obsession with perfection, too—though clearly, I don’t care about my face.  Sorry, people and mirror.

About a year ago, I got myself a Lego keychain—a miniature model figure of Woody, the cowboy from Pixar’s “A Toy Story” trilogy (a superior trilogy that does not forget to put story above everything, though still offering breakthrough special effects.  Pay attention, Mr. Lucas.  Pixar’s schooled you!).

Two months into my proud ownership of the keychain, my son dropped my keys and one of Woody’s little Lego legs broke off.  Like a scene from the actual “Toy Story” movie, my toy was dismembered.

There was something oddly sweet about my one-legged cowboy.  He reminded me of the Hans Christian Andersen story, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” where a one-legged tin soldier falls in love with a one-legged paper ballerina.  Read it sometime.  Here’s a spoiler—both the soldier and ballerina die horribly in the end.  Hans Christian Anderson was a disturbed dude.  Did you realize Anderson was the author of the original “Little Mermaid?”  Perhaps you didn’t know in his version, the little mermaid dissolved into sea foam at the end?  No pretty Disney wedding there!  And no special effects to make it look like Greedo shot first.  Wait, wrong story...

Anyhow, happy with my one-legged Lego cowboy keychain, I tucked away the disembodied leg in my desk and went on with life, proud to have a battle-scarred Toy Story veteran in my pocket.  Then, the unthinkable happened last month:  the second leg broke off.  This incident and my reaction to it revealed a prejudice I didn’t realize I had.  While I found my one-legged cowboy charming, my no-legged cowboy was a problem.

True confessions—when I originally bought my Woody keychain, I was so excited I bought TWO.  Woody #2 has been residing in my desk drawer, tags still attached, ready to be deployed in case of just such an emergency.  Now that I think of it, he’s probably horrified to be lying in a drawer next to a severed leg identical to his own....

Like another episode from the original “Toy Story” movies, I had a toy horror show with parts and pieces in a drawer (like Toy Story 1), and a doppleganger to my hero (like Buzz Lightyear’s “twin” in “A Toy Story 2?”).  Life imitating art?  Toys imitating life?  Herb imitating a grown man?

Now, let’s pause a moment.  If you’ve seen neither the Star Wars saga nor the Toy Story trilogy, you’re probably annoyed with me for the onslaught of cultural references. If you have no idea who Woody, Buzz, Greedo, or Vader are or what I mean when I say “Lego keychain,” your probably lost.  Then again, if you’ve seen neither Star Wars nor Toy Story, or have never seen Lego, you’re probably a Unabomber living in a tree house or you’re so countercultural that you don’t read blogs anyway.

Let me help you catch up:  Pixar is great; Star Wars was great and now isn’t; and I’m struggling with a broken cowboy-shaped key chain, having endowed the entire broken keychain event with some sort of existential importance.  If you’re still behind, that’s where I’m leaving you.  Moving on.

At first, I tried gluing the legs back on.  They were originally designed to move, but when glued, they would not.  I could live with that (and if my cowboy could talk or think, I figured he’d agree).  Of course, the glue didn’t take.  Then, I taped them.  That lasted a month, and then the legs fell off again.  I barely heard the sound of plastic hitting the pavement and it took a moment for me to realize what had happened, but once again, I’d saved the legs.

Now, the dilemma.  Do I try a third time to affix the legs or, do I deploy “Plan B” Woody—the doppleganger in the drawer?

Like Lucas, I’m plagued by the need for perfection.  Part of me just wants to continue forward with my original, broken, pieced-together, keychain.  Broken is sort of perfect in its own way, isn’t it?  I feel a poem coming on...

Another part of me wants to stop fretting, stop accepting a broken keychain, replace Woody 1 with Woody 2, and move on.  But somehow I know, one choice will make me a rebel and the other will make me an evil overlord.  I refuse to become Vader, but what kind of keychain cowboy has no legs?

Maybe the answer is just to get another keychain altogether.  Not a Woody, but some other Lego guy... The best choice could be to make no choice at all.  Then again, what kind of cowboy, what kind of Jedi, would bow out when the going gets tough?

Let’s leave it to you, my honored readers.  Using the poll on the sidebar, tell me what YOU would do!

Most votes wins!  And you won’t need 3D glasses!

© 2012, Herb Williams-Dalgart