woensdag 29 juli 2015

Today's Column: Franchises fighting their past

Another month, another column of mine:

Column: Franchises in gevecht met hun eigen verleden

Nostalgia is key in the current Hollywood strategy. Of course the studios are eager to get the new generations acquainted with classic fare it might not have bothered to check out on their own accord - if their parents think it's awesome, it can't really be, right? - but at the same time, the existing fan base and its substantial financial potential are not to be ignored. So today's new istallments in major franchises like Terminator, Jurassic Park and Star Wars are drenched in the stuff that generates that good ol' feeling for the older fans. Old actors return, old oneliners are uttered throughout and old locations are revisited. Not to mention old plot lines are blatantly rehashed, as with the disappointing Terminator Genisys. However, the nostalgia of these new films only brings to mind the truly classic installments, ignoring those sequels that didn't either turn a profit or please the fans. Do we want to be remembered of less than stellar fare when we can set our minds on the glory of the true undying classics that preceded them? Maybe not, but it sure as heck doesn't help the consistency in these franchises. They're not remakes, or even reboots. They acknowledge what happened before happened in the same universe, but they refuse to acknowledge all of it, leaving us with major questions. What has become of Isla Sorna? Did Ripley not die, but was it a hypersleep dream? Terminator Genisys uses the Trek way out and states the current story takes place in an alternate time line, which is supposed to be a smooth way to ignore Rise of the Machines and Salvation, but makes for an overly convoluted whole in the Terminator franchise. So that wasn't the smartest move, or the most respectful since there are still plenty of fans - myself included - who actually didn't think so little of Rise of the Machines and Salvation.

Basically Hollywood is suggesting to us which films we should remember fondly and which had best be forgotten. But why should the studios dictate what is canon and what isn't? Isn't that up to the fans who embrace these franchises and the stories they tell, taking the good with the bad? The case of the recent 'recanonizing' of the Star Wars universe, to make it work more in Disney's favour, is a poignant example of how a studio is appropriating a franchise for its own gain rather than the fans'. Thirty years of Expanded Universe, mostly written by fans who turned their love for the space saga into a profession, is brisquely declared 'non canon', even though many stories are actually more intelligently crafted and more emotionally compelling than some of the canon entries. Such rewriting of history won't stop the fans from appreciating the good stuff and detesting the bad in the future. They'll make up their own mind on what things they will lovingly look back at.

Judging from the lackluster box office results and the poor audience reception, Terminator Genisys might not be one of those things...

woensdag 22 juli 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Young T-Rex

Year of release: 1999

-Leg cast

Description: this juvenile Tyrannosaurus has long slender legs, tiny teeth and a small head compared to adult Rexes. It does have the odd little two fingered arms seen on larger Rexes though. This figure stands in a neutral pose except for its tail, which is bent to the left somewhat. Its lower right leg hangs loose (though still attached) and can be twisted around, as if it’s broken or damaged in some way. The leg cast can be applied on the leg by sticking the pin on its inside in the little hole in the figure’s upper right leg. That way the twisted leg will “switch” back and the animal’s leg is healed; at least, that's the general idea. The Rex’s mouth can also be opened and closed. This animal comes with one piece of capture gear which can cover its head, like a muzzle. It’s coloured metallic dark brown, as is the leg cast.
The Rex itself sports a light beige or pink colour, which can be found on the tail, flanks, head and limbs of the figure, and is brightest on the upper part of the legs and the front section of the tail (it's almost white there). On the underside of the creature (belly, underside of the tail, throat, lower jaw, lower parts of the arms and legs) the colour changes from a fairly bright hue of pink to a darker tone in a gradual way. The back of the figure is painted in a brown colouring, running all the way from the snout to the tip of the tail. Stripes and spots in the same dark colour can be found on the flanks, tail, legs and head. The Rexling has small white claws on its fingers, white teeth, a red tongue and cat like white eyes with black pupils. On its upper right leg (above the dino damage feature) it has a black JP logo.

Analysis: since there are no really big T-Rex figures in this first JP: Dinosaurs line, this almost screen accurate baby T-Rex got repainted twice for it to fill the obligatory Tyrannosaurus vacancy. Unfortunately, one of these two Rexlings got a lousy paint job, and it happens to be this one. To be harsh but fair, it's just plain boring. It has little appeal, and the use of colour combinations (brown combined with a sort of reddish pink) is pretty ugly. What's worse, the paint scheme is almost identical to the one on the previous junior T-Rex figure, spots and stripes all in the same place (but on that figure, a more appealing paint job was applied), so it doesn't score in the originality department either. As has happened to a lot of JPD1 dinosaur figures, some details were left out, most notably the claws on its feet. Oddly enough, the claws on the fingers did get a different colour, simple white, but this looks just as silly as the big soulless white eyes this repaint got.
It's a damn shame the paint job is so poorly done, since this is otherwise still a pretty decent figure. It looks very close in shape to the little T-Rex seen in the TLW movie, and such a likeness hasn't been seen all too often in JP dinosaur action figures. The leg action is a fun option, and also nigh on movie accurate, though it has its downsides (leg cast covers only half the leg and looks silly, leg often swivels back on its own accord, leg is somewhat fragile, etc.). Basically this is a good figure ruined by an ugly paint job. Fortunately the second Junior T-Rex repaint of this line fared better.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the TLWS1 Junior T-Rex, with repainted accessories from that same figure. The figure would be repainted again for JPD2, and would also be featured a second time in this first JP: Dinosaurs line in a dinosaur/human 2-pack.

Overall rating: 5/10. It's still a good, largely movie accurate sculpt, but the colouring is very dull and uninspired, and the paint scheme is so similar to its predecessor that it also fails as an original paint job, since it just isn't. This is one of the more common JPD1 figures and it can still be found more easily than most of the other figures from the same line, not surprisingly often for lower prices.

zondag 19 juli 2015

Today's Review: Inside Out

Look at little me turning Pixar's Inside Out inside out! Or as much as you can in a general review of under a thousands words in length.

Inside Out - recensie

This may be a turning point for Pixar. The naysayers who wrote off the studio ever since Disney took over often seemed right in their sweeping generalizations that Pixar's truly creative days of imaginary wonder where done. Sequels, that's what was in store for the audience ad nauseam. It worked well on Toy Story 3, few will deny. Not so much on Cars 2 though, or even Monsters University. So a new original project was definitely desperately needed to show Pixar has lost none of its dreaming potency, and this is it. Inside Out is as emotional and beautiful, not to mention innovative and soulful an animated movie as they come, and especially as they used to come in this company's own case.

It's not as perfect as the likes of Wall-E or Toy Story 3, I'll have you know, since it has some little flaws. Like Monsters, Inc. and Up, that makes it a classic Peter Docter movie. Those films, too, featured the occasional emotional highs that went coupled with some whimsical additions that had a bit of a trouble fitting in the whole. It was especially vexing in the case of Up, where the movie just never got as powerful as it proved to be in its first act. Inside Out equally knows a few moments where the magic diminishes, most notably when it concerns the elaborate logistics of the brain (though personally I found the forgotten imaginary friend rather an obnoxious sort as well, though I appreciated the notion). Docter has learned something from Up's experience though, saving the emotional climax for the end of the film. And it packs quite a punch, as Docter delivers his message that it's okay to be sad. Quite a rebellious act, since the movie still flies the banner of the Mouse House which usually tells us the exact opposite. While still an undeniably happy end, it's unlikely anybody will restrain their tears. As Docter says they shouldn't.

So is this a definite comeback for Pixar? The list of upcoming projects still consists mostly of sequels, with the only original tale for the foreseeable future presented by The Good Dinosaur. I'm more than a bit skeptical about that one, judging from the first teaser and its overly retro dinosaurs parading through near photo-real landscapes. I doubt an Inside Out 2 is out of the question, considering the film is doing fine at the boxoffice. Still, I like to think the naysayers remain in the wrong, and there's still a few tears of joy to be spilled over Pixar's films in the next few years.

And otherwise we'll still have the shorts preceding the main events. Hopefully they'll be as delightful as Inside Out's Lava, which also gets those eyes wet and thus perfectly warms us up for the main course to follow.

dinsdag 14 juli 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Velociraptor

Year of release: 1999

-One piece of capture gear

Description: this dinosaur stands in a very active pose, with its legs in a walking mode, left arm outstretched and right arm held back, its head raised upwards and its mouth opened, and the end of its tail bent to the left. The animal takes an attack posture and looks ready to jump on unsuspecting prey with an agitated look. It has seemingly every right to be in that state of mind since its body shows numerous signs of near misses with larger carnivores: it has scratches and scars all over its body, some small and hardly noticeable, others large and plain in sight. The largest scars look like claw marks and can be found on its back, its tail and its upper legs. Another noteworthy sign of abuse is the end of the tail, which isn’t just bent, but looks more like the bone has been broken and caused a deformity. Additionally, this figure has rather large feet to keep it from falling over (though it often does so regardless). Its sickle like claws are a bit small and the toe they’re on is stuck too much towards the back of the foot.
This Velociraptor has a very simple attack action. When the tail is moved from side to side, the head swings along (as well as the other way around) as if the animal is making thrashing movements. The figure comes with a single long piece of capture gear, coloured silvery metallic grey, which can be attached to the right leg on one side and applied around the jaws on the other. Swinging the tail back and forth should cause the creature trashing off its capture gear, though it’s harder to accomplish than one might think at first.
This particular Raptor repaint sports a rather simple paint job. It's largely grey, except for the top parts of the figure (upper parts of the head and tail, neck and back), which are coloured dark green instead, with triangular shapes extending from this colouration. The side edges of the upper legs are also painted green in a circular fashion with the same shapes on it, extending inwards. The creature has beige eyes with cat like black pupils, a red tongue and white teeth, as well as a black JP logo on its right upper leg.

Analysis: this Raptor repaint is cursed with one lousy paint job. It wasn't the greatest Raptor sculpt to begin with, considering its overly active pose which diminishes playability, its rather boring (though original) attack option and an ineffective creature-breaks-free-of-restraints feature. All of these downsides remain, and this time the boring paint job only makes it worse. Green and grey just don't mix well and this figure proves it. Also, there's little originality in it, just one colour on top of the other and not bothering with any details. Plus the fact this paint scheme is largely copying that of the previous Cyclops Raptor sculpt, except that one had less awful colouring and more attention on details. Considering the awful scarring on this sculpt, you'd think some toy designer would do something with that, but apparently it wasn't until JPD2 someone finally noticed the paint scheme opportunity this “dino damage” offered. The lack of detail here is also shocking. A creature that has its mouth opened so wide should at least have the inside of its mouth painted with greater care. Also, the claws are totally ignored, which makes the huge feet feel even more wrong than they already are. To sum up, this figure is just a big failure and a missed opportunity on Hasbro's part to actually improve an existing sculpt by elaborating on its skin features by applying the right paint job.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the TLWS1 Cyclops Velociraptor, with the same capture gear as that figure had. The figure would be repainted again for JPD2 and for the JP III Exclusive Dinosaur Tracking Set.

Overall rating: 3/10. It never was the best Raptor sculpt around and its new paint job is very dull, severely lacking detail and originality and easily the worst of this toy line. This is one of the more common JPD1 figures and it can still be found more easily than most of the other figures from the same line, usually for fairly low prices, which shouldn't come as a total surprise.

zondag 12 juli 2015

Today's Review: Terminator Genisys

Told you I'd be back with another review?

Terminator Genisys - recensie

And Arnold's back, too. Again. Wish he wouldn't be, considering the disappointing result. Once again a franchise is mucked up by messing with its time line. The producers obviously tok a hint from the financial success (brief as it was) from the recent Star Trek reboot. I hated it, because it created a new time line that hardly acknowledges the old which was running for nigh 45 years, basically saying 'anything goes' from here on out. I would have preferred it if they had shown more loyalty to the existing time line and its fanbase. Surprisingly, that is the route taken for Terminator Genisys, with equally lackluster results. In this movie's case, the new time line does nothing but acknowledge the old, resulting in a total nostalgia fest that rehashes characters, events and particularly oneliners from the previous installments. It offers nothing new, and only shows you the limits of the Terminator franchise if there is a mandate in place to incorporate the ingredients of its past successes, which was put in place because the previous installment, Terminator Salvation, offered too much novelty for many. I appreciated that movie for it. There's no innovation or novelty in Genisys, whereas in Trek's case by comparison, there was a little too much for my taste, so much so that it just didn't feel like Trek anymore. This movie undeniably feels like a Terminator movie, but still leaves a lot to be desired.

Maybe it's a sign that starting new time lines to retcon existing franchises just is a bad idea in general. How about creating new franchises instead, rather than desperately clinging to nostalgia? That's probably too revolutionary an idea for Hollywood's taste...

woensdag 1 juli 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Triceratops

Year of release: 1999

-Two pieces of capture gear

Description: this four legged dinosaur sports a predominantly lime green paint job. Most of the animal (flanks, head including neck crest, limbs, parts of the tail) is covered in this type of green. On its back and top of the tail the figure features greenish brown shapes, with small additional spots of this colour on its flanks and the tip of the tail. The underside of its tail, throat and belly are coloured beige. On its face, the parrot like beak and spikes are coloured white, as are the eyes (with black pupils). The claws on its feet are not coloured. On its right hind leg a black JP logo is found.
This figure stands in a relatively neutral pose, though one might also say it stands in a defensive posture with its head lowered and legs braced for attack. The end of its tail is bent slightly to the left. The animal has a single attack action: when its right hind leg is moved back, its head raises considerably upwards, as if the animal is giving a head butt with its spiky head. The figure comes with two shiny grey pieces of capture gear which can be clicked together forming one head piece that can go around the Trike’s head yet stands on the ground, as if holding the animal’s head down.

Analysis: as was the case for the TLW Junior T-Rex and Cyclops Raptor sculpts, JP: Dinosaurs 1 also marks the first (but not the last) repaint of the small TLWS1 Triceratops figure. It too got a paint job that is not much of an improvement over its predecessor, but fortunately not as bad as on both other repainted TLW figures. It doesn't score high on originality, considering it uses the same paint scheme as before for the most part. At least it has a painted underside unlike most other JPD1 figures. The lime green and light brown colours go fairly well together, but the use of bright white on its head is a let-down; it just looks way too artificial, and it also makes the eyes look rather dead. Also, the figure severely lacks paint details. The unpainted claws can be forgiven, but the neglect of any different kind of colouring on its crest, or even the other bony head features apart from the three horns and beak is a damn shame. The original figure, though also a far cry from perfect, did a better job in these regards.
Aside from the paint job being a mixed bag, this figure is otherwise still pretty solid. It carries the same range of poseable body parts as before and retains its funky head butt option, which is always a predictable but fun-to-use action feature. The capture gear has not been changed in any way and does what it did before: not restrain the Trike in any way (it's just a loose piece around its head when applied) but make for a neat little creature-breaks-free-from-restraints option. All in all, this remains a fine figure with a not completely messed up new paint job.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the TLWS1 Triceratops figure, with the same capture gear as that figure came with. The figure would be repainted again for JPD2 and for the JP III Exclusive Dinosaur Tracking Set.

Overall rating: 6/10. Not its finest paint job, but certainly not as bad as some of the other paint jobs of this line. And still a decent figure. This Wave 1 release is easier to find than most of the other figures of this line, usually for quite affordable prices.