woensdag 24 juni 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Tanystropheus

Year of release: 1999

-Two pieces of capture gear

Description: this bizarre animal looks like a snake with four small legs, since it has an excessively long neck and a somewhat shorter tail sticking out of a relatively small body. When neck and tail are stretched to their fullest extent the Tanystropheus measures a good 30 centimetres in length. The creature stands in a walking posture, with its left hind leg and front right leg moved forward and the other legs posed in a backward stance. Its mouth is opened, revealing two sets of grizzly fangs and rows of smaller white teeth. The body and legs are made out of hard plastic, while the tail and neck are composed of softer material to accommodate the figure's flexibility for its constricting action.
Tany's top side is mostly green. While its underside (belly, lower part of the neck, lower jaw and tail) is painted black, the rest of this figure sports a murky, swampy green paint job, most notably on the torso and legs. A series of elongated yellow spots or shapes runs from the snout over the neck and back to the end of the tail, twelve spots in total. Around its small yellow eyes (no pupils) its facial area is coloured black, while additional clusters of small black specks are found between each yellow stripe on its neck, back and tail in seemingly random patterns. The claws remain unpainted. A black JP logo is located on its right hind leg.
This Tanystropheus comes with two pieces of capture gear, both coloured shiny bright blue. The smallest of the two is your average “cuff” piece, which can be attached to various body parts, like the neck, tail, or any of the legs. The other piece is substantially bigger and consists of a long piece of “wire” with a cuff at one end and second one in the middle, and a large muzzle on the other end. The muzzle fits over the creature’s head, while the two cuffs can be put around the midsection of the neck and tail respectively, provided the figure is bent in the right position.

Analysis: another old fan favourite figure is seen once more! The unusual Tanystropheus, though not actually a species of dinosaur, makes its third appearance in the first JP: Dinosaurs line, where it fits in easily. Its neck is flexible as ever, its tail a little less so (since the wire inside doesn't go all the way to the tip of the tail) and it features the same capture gear it was released with previously, in the blue Chaos Effect paint style, which does look odd on this figure; the traditional metallic grey paint job would have been preferable, considering it was used for most other JP: Dinosaurs figures too.
Tany's latest paint job is somewhat more intricate than on most other dinosaur of this line. Though it lacks some details, like the inside of the mouth and the claws, it at least has a differently painted underside. The yellow interacts fairly well with the green, while the groups of small black spots are an interesting and original addition, giving the figure a unique touch. The head could have used more work though. The lack of pupils gives this creature an overly sinister look, which it doesn't really need considering it's totally bizarre already. Because the tongue and mouth remain unpainted, the teeth (not counting the fangs) seem rather random, more like a row of white spots floating around the jaws. On close inspection, some of the teeth aren't even painted at all. A bit lazy, but only when you look really close which most people probably won't be doing. Other than that, this paint job differs enough from the ones seen on the previous Tanystropheus figures to make it stand on its own.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the original JPS2 Tanystropheus, including its capture gear repainted in the same colour as the Chaos Effect Tanaconda's gear. The figure would not be repainted again.

Overall rating: 7/10. This is not a bad paint job, but not significantly special either and like most other JP: Dinosaurs figures, it could have used some more work. The figure itself is as good as ever, though the capture gear is still not the easiest to apply. Since this figure is a Wave 2 release, it is definitely harder to find than some other JP: Dinosaurs 1 figures, but it's worth a try, especially if you don't own any of the previous incarnations of this sculpt.

maandag 22 juni 2015

Today's Column: We Know Nothing, Jon Snow

This month's column skips the dreaded sequel for last month's (not much to columnize about me liking Jurassic World, other than summing up lots of hyperboles and superlatives, which makes for a dull read) and instead targets another very predictable topic, that jolly show called Game of Thrones, which had yet again drawn to a season close.

Column: We Know Nothing, Jon Snow

We've arrived at that time in the series we knew would come sooner rather than later. Book readers no longer can say with certainty what's to come for the majority of story lines. The series has caught up with the various narratives in the novels in most cases and has even well progressed beyond them in some. Not to mention many of them have also been changed to such an extent they little resemble their literary counterparts. Only a few of the characters' stories are still behind, and a bunch of them involve people we haven't even met yet, and may not ever meet on the show. So what does that mean for the relationship between those who have read all the novels, and those who solely stick to the series? For one thing, the latter party doesn't need to worry so strongly about dodging spoilers, which also means the former can once more open their mouths in public without fear of someone socking a fist in them. It makes for a better balance between both types of fans, now that they all know who, when and what we're talking about and nobody knows for a certainty what's going to happen next (except for Mr. Martin, I should hope). The interchange of theories will now evolve along more equal lines, since both parties know as much, or more aptly speaking, as little.

Of course, book readers still know about the other possibilities certain characters could have had, as they had them in the book, and may take a hint or two from those, though there are no longer any guarantees. The only spoiler threat left for avid viewers/non readers now involves the new characters, like the already announced Randyll Tarly, Septon Meribald and Euron Greyjoy. However, of these characters the only one whose story line from the novel is left mostly intact is that last name. The other two in the books already appeared much earlier in situations the show can't duplicate anymore, because the narrative of the characters they supported has moved well beyond their original point, requiring novel settings for their appearance, which means there's little tangible left to spoil about them. So even though book readers may know their Randyll Tarly, Septon Meribald and Euron Greyjoy from the book, they won't know the new incarnations of these characters and as such anything they think they can spoil about them needs to be taken with a grain of salt (or in Greyjoy's case, salt wives).

Book readers and viewers no long need to be at odds, nor do they need to avoid one another socially. Instead, they can embrace in the shared knowledge that nobody knows what's coming any more on their beloved show. So let's go out and celebrate that new equality which formerly could be called adversity. Anyone feel like hosting a lavish feast in some great Lord's hall with lots of wine and song? If not, you've certainly learned your lessons from watching this show.

woensdag 17 juni 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Lynx

Year of release: 1999

-Three pieces of capture gear

Description: this muscular carnivorous quadruped stands in a rather active posture, with its right hind leg and front left leg posed forward and its other legs positioned backward, as if walking. The rest of the figure’s body assumes a neutral pose. Lynx comes with biting jaws: pulling the right hind leg back causes the upper jaw, equipped with four ferocious dagger like fangs, to raise upwards as if the creature is opening its maul, ready to close those jaws around an unfortunate victim’s body. An interesting detail: the beast’s tongue sticks out when it opens its mouth. Releasing the leg makes the jaws close with a powerful snap.
The figure sports a paint job much different from its predecessors. It's coloured completely dark grey, with subtle swampy green stripes running over the neck, torso, tail and legs. The facial area is also coloured mostly green. On its neck, back and front half of the tail small black specks are found. The Lynx has big white teeth, also inside its mouth, a red tongue and black eyes. A black JP logo is located on the right hind leg.
The Lynx comes with three pieces of capture gear, all painted blue. There’s the required tag, in this case large enough to fit around the monster’s muscled neck, as well as some leg shackles shaped like a cross to fit the figure's leg positions and to keep it from walking away. Third, there’s a head piece which can go around the creature’s head, in an attempt to keep it from using those strong jaws. It doesn’t necessarily work though, since activating the biting action also makes the figure thrash the head piece off.

Analysis: the good old JPS2 Lycaenops also finds its way into the first JP: Dinosaurs line, despite not actually being a dinosaur (though that doesn't seem to stop a lot of JP figures for which the same thing counts). Once again, it gets a different name: this time it's Lynx. Why this name change is applied is a bit of a mystery, since it doesn't look much like a Lynx, being more of a dog like creature. It might be an abbreviation for Lycaenops, but certainly this name isn't harder to pronounce than Tanystropheus or Ornithosuchus and those figures kept their respective names intact. An odd decision, but there it is.
Lynx has an interesting though simple paint job. At first impression it looks rather dull, since the murky green stripes are only really abundant and appealing on closer inspection or under the right lighting. The paint job might have used some more work on details like the inside of the mouth and the claws, but it works well enough the way it is now. Apart from the green, the paint job is reminiscent of a common seal's colouration, being grey with a variety of black spots and cute big black eyes. And like a seal, Lynx bites when you get to close, hence the huge fangs. The biting action is as good as ever, a powerful chomping motion which hooks its jaws around unfortunate human figures. The extending tongue remains a nice little addition, though it could get in the way when biting bigger prey.
The Lynx features the same capture gear it was released with previously, in the blue Chaos Effect paint style, which does look odd on this figure; the traditional metallic grey paint job would have been preferable, considering it was used for most other JP: Dinosaurs figures too. It still does en effective job restraining the figure and provides for a nice creature-breaks-free-of-restraints option when the jaw movement is used.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the original JPS2 Lycaneops, including its capture gear repainted in the same colour as the Chaos Effect Tyrannonops's gear. The figure would not be repainted again.

Overall rating: 7/10. Still a nice and unusual figure, with a bit of a minimalistic but effective paint job. Since this figure is a Wave 2 release, it is definitely harder to find than some other JP: Dinosaurs 1 figures, but it's worth a try, especially if you don't own any previous incarnations of this sculpt.

zaterdag 13 juni 2015

Today's Review: Jurassic World

Told you another review was up soon. I assume you didn't need to guess for which movie?

Jurassic World - Recensie

A life changing experience after an anxious 14 year wait? That's saying a little too much. A worthy successor to the first trilogy? Sure was. Not on par with the original Jurassic Park film of course, but whoever expected that knew they were deceiving themself. It was obvious from the get-go they would never rival the magic of that game changing film that revolutionized digital effects. In fact, there's plenty of those throughout the movie, but they are never as awe inspiring or jaw dropping as they were 22 years ago. To be honest, I would actually have preferred a more extensive use of animatronics, since a lot of people tend to forget JP proved to master their use to great effect specifically in combination with the digital aspect, both of them completing the other in bringing that dinomite magic about rather than fixing it on their own accord. JW opted for a 95 percent digital FX rate and it was a little too clear at times, but not so much it took you out of the movie. It's still a major Hollywood blockbuster with a huge budget after all.

And it sure felt as one of those. In both a positive and a negative way. It didn't leave much room for narrative surprises, and the third act was largely an exercise in predictable storytelling, but it still handled it in such an epic way you could not help but roll with it despite your hesitations. There's a few instances in which the audience cheered and so did I, as if we were eight year old kids again (the increasingly strict Dutch rating system unfortunately won't allow kids of that age to experience the new Jurassic dawn, as JW has sadly been issued a '12' rating, despite not being more frightful than that first movie). Kids who had seen most of this stuff before in different guises though, but youthful exuberance abounded nonetheless. A contemporary blockbuster needs a star, and Chris Pratt is it for this film. Combining Alan Grant's common sense with Ian Malcolm's wit and wisecracking, the human hero of the piece certainly felt more heroic that any previous main human character in a JP movie. I don't mind for once, but I do hope the studio isn't gonna craft the next installments, unavoidable considering box office records are again being stamped on, around Pratt's persona and status, since few will deny the true stars are still the dinosaurs, as they should be.

Those stars sure got a chance to shine, as JW provided the most amount of dinosaur time of any of the movies yet. The number of species portrayed easily rivals that of its predecessors, even giving the occasional formerly neglected species (like Ankylosaurus) their due. The most attention as always is directed at the carnivores, with JW dividing most of their screen time between a trained foursome of vicious but communicable Velociraptors and a genetic hybrid named Indominus Rex. Both the notion of taming Raptors and of creating mix-up dinosaurs is handled by director Colin Trevorrow with enough narrative and real world sense not to distance the legions of JP fanatics, as it easily could have done. Ample time is cleared to discuss the ramifications of both with more depth than is usual for a blockbuster film, before diving deeply into the dino fighting. That said, there's two prehistoric characters that are not featured as strongly as we would have hoped for, one being the iconic T-Rex which is intentionally kept out of most of the loop before making a most welcome resurgence. The other is the heavily advertized aquatic Mosasaurus, which unfortunately is allotted only a few more seconds of screen time than already seen in the promotional material, and thus ending up an underwhelming animal we would liked to have seen a lot more of, but which we are sadly denied.

Executive producer Spielberg made the right choice hiring a fairly inexperienced director like Trevorrow for the Jurassic job. Trevorrow proves not only respective of the material and the franchise legacy, but he's clearly a JP fan himself. He shows it off in many scenes, both in composition of shots, score and sounds, but also in many references big and small to that most beloved movie from 22 years past. Potentially polarizing plot pitfalls are handled with the utmost care to make them plausible and relatable, thus adding his own signature to the thankfully enduring Jurassic Park legacy. Though there's still a few things to hold against the movie, both in terms of plot (one-dimensional human bad guy, vague corporate shenanigans) as in execution (too little animatronics, too much reliance on digital creations), Jurassic World succeeds in taking us back to when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, and sparing no expense in guaranteeing they will continue to do so for another generation at least.

vrijdag 12 juni 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Pteranodon

Year of release: 1999

-Two Pteranodon hatchlings

Description: this flying reptile is positioned in a neutral and almost symmetrical posture. It measures about 15 centimetres from the tip of one wing to the other. It has a small body with equally small legs and a tiny tail (if you can even call it that). It has a large head with a blunt elongated crest sticking out and a pointy beak with no teeth (which is accurate). Pulling the crest makes the beak open, while releasing it makes it shut with a snap. Like any Pterosaur it has a pair of large wings on the side of its body, basically arms (including fingers, bent inward) ending in one very long finger which holds the skin of the wing together. Each wing consists of two moveable parts. On its back the Pteranodon features a large button: pressing it makes the wings flap. The claws on its legs are posed in a gripping posture.
No blue for Pteranodon this time. This Pterosaur sports a more varied colour scheme. Most of the upper side of its body (back, tail, arms and claws, and the lower part of its wings) are painted dark brown, while the rest of the top part of the wings, the fingers, the neck and the head are all green. The figure's underside (throat, belly and underside of the wings) are all grey. The inside of the mouth (including the tongue) is also dark brown, while the figure has white eyes with big black pupils and a black JP logo on the underside of its right wing.
Along with this figure come two adorable little Pteranodon hatchlings. These animals can stand on their legs and have their wings outstretched, ready to take flight. They sport a very simple paint job, being almost entirely painted in a dark brown paint job, except their chests are coloured beige. They do not have a JP logo, since they're nothing but accessories to this set.

Analysis: yet another golden oldie finally got a makeover for the first JP: Dinosaurs line. And this one is not alone! He got company from two identical hatchlings last seen in the TLWS1 line. This is undoubtedly done to fill in the void left by the absence of capture gear. It's an original move, though the choice of hatchlings seems odd. The TLWS1 Pteranodon babies are made in a different style than the JPS1 Pteranodon and apart from the basic features they're not the best match, especially the head sculpts. The JPS1 Alan Grant's Pteranodon hatchling would have made a more likely choice.
They share similar paint jobs though. And sadly, both are rather dull. The hatchlings are almost entirely monochromatic, except for the chests. They're also exactly the same, which is rather boring though of course cost effective. Applying different paint jobs on them, even with only minor differences, would have given them more character. The adult Pteranodon also isn't much of an improvement over its predecessor. Its underside isn't that different from the original, and the combination of green and brown gives it a kind of swampy look, not reminiscent of an airborne creature. The eyes look wholly fake, and more detail (mouth, claws) would have been welcome. To sum up, this is just an overly simple and ugly paint job, though the hatchlings still got it worse. The adult Pteranodon's action features are left unchanged. The biting action is decent enough, but the flapping wings still look somewhat silly. Overall, not a very successful makeover for this figure.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the original JPS1 Pteranodon, with repainted hatchlings from the TLWS1 Nick van Owen figure (which only came with one hatchling). The figure would not be repainted again, nor would the hatchlings.

Overall rating: 5/10. A classic figure returns, but it wasn't the best then and it isn't now. The hatchlings are a nice addition and a welcome change from capture gear, but the paint jobs in this set leave a lot to be desired. It's certainly one of the lesser sets in the first JP: Dinosaurs line. As a Wave 1 release this figure wasn't hard to find, though also not overly common.

woensdag 10 juni 2015

Today's Special: Top 10 Movie Dinosaurs

I don't write stuff like this very often, but this week I got inspired.

Top 10 Filmdino's

I guess you'll know what fired said inspiration. It's a Jurassic World this week and you're just living in it. Lucky little me got to see the movie in a press showing in advance and he liked it well enough. Nowhere near as magical or mindboggling as the original Jurassic Park, but I doubt anyone would have expected that. It was a fun dinosaur flick with sufficient original angles to make it worth this JP fan's while. Review up soon!

The day before I got to see JW I decided I needed to take a break from playing with JW Lego and write a piece on dinosaur movies. Again. But last time my historical overview (check the Archives here for details) was met with lackluster enthusiasm for not fitting the criteria properly. This time it does and with the dinosaur craze running rampant, it's as appropriate a time as it ever will be. Nevertheless, some overlap with the previous piece proved unavoidable. Consider them companion pieces.

So here's the 10 individual dinosaurs or dinosaur species I consider to have made the most inpact on cinemagoers since cinema's inception. It's a varied bunch, ranging from 1914 to the present, with most conceivable techniques of bringing the beasties to life included, from hand drawn animation to stop motion to guys in suits to expensive CGI. Only the live lizards with fins and horns glued to their bodies are absent (for obvious reasons). Some of these dinosaurs are scary as hell, vicious carnivores eating their way through prehistory. Others are mostly everyday animals driven by nature's instincts. Some of them are loveable, the sorts you'd want as pets. Others you'd never want to meet face to face, though paleontologists would gladly sacrifice a limb to see them in the flesh. The Number 1 pick is pretty obvious, and the why is again made apparent in Jurassic World. My predictions proved correct in terms of its role in that film. It's one of the movies' most memorable effects for a reason, not to mention the most popular dinosaur ever. And as this list illustrates, it and all other dinosaurs will forever captivate people's imaginations, proving that even extinction could be called relative.

The park is open...

zaterdag 6 juni 2015

Today's Review: Dancing Arabs

Finally another review up. Another one to come soon, I promise.

Dancing Arabs - recensie

Not the best way to tackle a topic about identity. The first act of the movie differs in huge ways from the last and despite a light touch of wry humour applied to the scenes between both, you cannot help but wonder how the one (d)evolved into the other so distinctly. Opening on a comedic tone bordering on the absurd, at the end of the film you're watching a heavy emotional drama about a young man's life altered forever. Of course people change over the years, especially under the less than perfect conditions the protagonist lives through, but the viewer has a hard time accepting the unfolding of events in the way told here, and ultimately feels like he/she is watching two separate movies slapped together. It's not wrong to apply some humour to a topic otherwise devoid of that sense, especially if it helps to underscore both parties have more in common than apart. But it must feel like a coherent whole to make it work for audiences. In some ways, the writer says that any sense of optimism  Israeli Arab youths harbour in their country will only be squashed by the rampant discrimination they undergo in their formative years, and thus they will inevitably end up as unhappy, pessimist young adults. Maybe that is exactly what the screenwriter wants us to think, considering it's the conclusion he himself drew eventually, which made him move to the USA for good. At the same time however, the plot tells us there is plenty of positive things that could have avoided the bleak outcome presented here. It's not like the protagonist didn't have any friends or couldn't find love. Eventually, it was his own choices that hindered his career as much, if not more so, as the social exclusion on which the film closes.

It's not the Arabs that are dancing in this film, it's the writing that makes the plot dance around various possible outcomes and makes it pick the bleakest where it need not have, and considering the tone of the opening, should not have. Case in point: the life of the writer himself, who did very well in his career despite very similar conditions. And it's the audience that suffers most, by being offered a rather unsettling and unsatisfying close.