woensdag 30 september 2015

Today's Column: Crossovers and childhood dreams

September's column has arrived:

Column: Crossovers en kinderdromen

Oh boy, did I devour Batman versus Predator as a kid... Even though the subject matter was far more gory and gruesome than your typical Batman story and may not have been wholly suitable for a youngster my age. I think I turned out alright (I don't abide blood sports, for example). Of course, this wasn't your typical Batman story, since it was also a Predator story and those are usually the stuff of R-ratings. If they're not, they fall short of being a Predator story like the fans expect or desire them, which is one of the reasons no doubt the PG-13 rated movie Alien VS Predator was so lamented by the fanbase. But it does present another challenge when adapting crossovers: incompatibility. Batman is one of those characters which can suffer multiple age ratings, though the grittier, harder Dark Knight stories are usually received more fondly by the majority. But Predator, if done right, simply isn't suited for people under 16, or shouldn't be from a social viewpoint (like teenagers under 16 are not going to check out stuff the law says they can't, in the privacy of their own homes). Likewise, King Kong versus the Smurfs seems equally incompatible, though that's more because of the vastly different subject material rather than the age category. I put that in for a joke, but needless to say you can find some fan's home video depicting such a meeting on YouTube easily enough.

Fact is, crossovers are popular, and have always been so. Ancient Greek mythology already got that ball rolling by throwing several notable heroic characters together in the story of the Argonauts, like some Avengers of Classical Antiquity (and again in the Trojan War). Thanks to our contemporary Avengers, crossovers are a hot topic again, which even leads to rival studios teaming up (in itself a bit of a crossover) to bring the fans just the crossovers they want to see (I'm talking about you, new Marvel Spider-Man!). But crossovers are hardly a novel notion in the annals of film. Universal joining its iconic horror creatures together sounds more like they're remaking the likes of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man rather than them mindlessly copying Marvel, though it's likely a bit of both. But this wave of crossover movies will die down soon enough, since crossover stories usually are far from world class material.

Most of them actually are total gimmicks, cashing in on people's own perceptions of chance encounters between notable characters from different walks of popular culture. Not much story is needed really, the idea of two (or more) characters meeting, often fighting, suffices to draw attention. Batman versus Predator got it right at least, but Batman/Aliens proved less stellar material. The original King Kong versus Godzilla was a total dud, a typical Japanese Kaiju movie in which Kong looked nothing like the giant gorilla previously smashing New York. Crossovers are always fascinating, but not many of them are truly good. They're not designed to be, nor do they need to be. The characters meet, the characters part ways again, usually never to meet again. In the meantime, money exchanges hands between audience and producers. That's all there is to it really. Or is Marvel going to change this? After all, the notion of a shared universe that can endure for a few decades is a new thing, at least. And the number of crossovers between that universe's characters keeps growing, but there needs to be more story meat to it to keep the audience from losing interest. Same thing for the upcoming DC Cinematic Universe. But it remains to be seen whether the same will hold true for the Universal Monsters, the iconic Kaiju creatures or other popular franchises thrown in the mix together. You'd kinda need a separate universe for those, to keep these crossovers outside of continuity if needs be. That's how they always did it in the comics, to explain away why superheroes of different companies didn't join forces/clash more often if they inhabited the same realm: they didn't actually, these crossovers took place in other universes, outside of established continuity. A handy loophole, one that Marvel and DC can't seriously utilize anymore at the movies because that might make them lose face. But it works well enough for the likes of Freddy VS Jason (an actual movie), Tarzan VS King Kong (an actual book), or Godzilla VS the Smurfs (pure fiction).

It needs to, to stop fans from contemplating the possibilities to severely. Because if the Fantastic Four once fought Godzilla, Godzilla squabbeled with King Kong, King Kong battled Tarzan, Tarzan fought Predator, Predator warred with Aliens, Aliens plagued Batman and Batman co-operated with Spider-Man, that would mean Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four share the same universe! Now if only I could fit the Smurfs in there somewhere...

zaterdag 26 september 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Electronic Chasmosaurus/Chasmasaurus

Year of release: 1999

Description: this smaller species of Ceratopsian dinosaur sports the typical four legged body with a huge horned and plated head. The animal has a body resembling that of a rhinoceros: a heavy, muscled body and a short tail, walking on all fours. Its very large head ends in a huge neck shield, though unlike his famous cousin Triceratops this dinosaur’s shield doesn’t have a round quality to it, but feels more square, adorned with horned protrusions along the edges of the plate and three rows of knobs running down it on the front side. The creature has a large parrot like beak, with one small horn on the nose and two more above its small eyes. Additionally, a smaller horn is found on each cheek. Its plate ends in a pair of horns on either side. The creature stands in an almost neutral pose, except for the tail which is bent somewhat to the left, and its right front leg being raised slightly upwards as if taking a step.
This sculpt doesn’t sport an elaborate paint job. It’s mostly dark green, including its legs and most of the head. Its throat, belly and lower part of the tail, as well as the inward parts of the legs, are coloured light grey, while its back and upper part of the tail are painted black, with random rounded shapes running out of this colour, most notably on the top flanks. The area around the figure's eyes and the rows of knobs on its shield are also black. The creature has six orange stripes of various sizes on its back. Of all the horns and protrusions on its head and shield, only the three big horns on its face are painted differently, being white. Its small eyes are also white, with black pupils. The claws on its feet are unpainted. A black JP logo can be found on its upper left hind leg.
This animal is electronic and has a dino attack action with accompanying sounds. Pulling the left hind leg back makes the head move upwards, as if striking a blow with it. This also causes mooing sounds to be heard, similar to the sounds of cows, as if the Chasmosaurus is warning its herd of danger.

Analysis: another electronic dinosaur from the TLWS1 line makes a reappearance for the first JP: Dinosaurs line, and it happens to be the Chasmosaurus (not Chasmasaurus, as incorrectly spelled on its box, just like happened to the TLWS1 version). It's good to see this pretty cool sculpt again, making it one of the more “obscure” dinosaurs of this line. The sculpt has not been changed, and both the head butting action and the sound FX are good as before. Like its Spinosaurus counterpart of both this line and the TLWS1 line, it has not been equipped with capture gear: it never had any to begin with, and because it's already a tight squeeze fitting this medium sized figure in a box about half as big as the one used before, it obviously didn't need any.
Unfortunately, the paint job also has hardly changed. Apart from the addition of the orange stripes on its back, it uses largely the same paint scheme as it did before. The black colouration is applied on the exact same places. Instead of beige, the dominant colour is now dark green. This looks pretty good on this figure though, and mixed with the use of orange over black makes it distinct from its predecessor. Details have largely been omitted. Its claws are not painted, and the same goes for all its horns except the three most noticeable ones on its face. It's also a real shame its beak has still not been painted differently, and so little use is made of the great paint opportunities the neck shield offers. Apparently none of the designers felt up to the task. Overall, it's a disappointing paint job, certainly compared with the original, but it's not a total loss and it doesn't completely ruin the sculpt, which is otherwise still a true charm.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the TLWS1 Electronic Chasmosaurus. The figure would not be repainted again.

Overall rating: 7/10. This is still a fine sculpt of a relatively unknown dinosaur species not featured in the JP movies. The paint job unfortunately isn't very original, though apart from the black the used colour scheme is at least a bit different than before. This Wave 2 electronic dinosaur is not the easiest find and can fetch relatively high prices, but loose samples can occasionally be acquired at low cost.

zaterdag 12 september 2015

Today's Review: Vacation

Another review up!

Vacation - recensie

Well, that was positively awful. Of course, the current trend of making a comedy as raunchy as possible by cramming it full of dirty jokes involving excrements and unusual sexual positions has been going for quite a while now, so you can hardly blame this Vacation for that. It's not like the original movie refrained from such shenanigans. But the level of said gags is just abominably low here, making it painfully unfunny for the most part. Too bad, because I know the lead Ed Helms, of Hangover fame, is capable of funnier routines. But even he is hopelessly lost somewhere between the rim jobs and Chris Hemsworth's erection. You got a bad thing going when the holiday car is funnier that the characters driving it. But at least the car doesn't make poop jokes galore. This vehicle of Albanian make is just loaded with silly gadgets and awkward options. Not all of them a guarantee for success, but at least I chuckled over the navigation system's sultry female American voice accidentally being replaced by a seemingly outraged Korean counterpart. If translated however, it would no doubt be revealed to get in line with the rest of the ample obscenities the script contains.

As with most remakes these days, this one wouldn't have been missed if it wasn't produced at all. However, recycling the original film's plot and adding Horrible Bosses or We're the Millers type jokes to it likely saved the studio a few bucks. The story is mostly the same as its predecessor's, while some of the situations are even lifted verbatim from some of the other Vacation movies from the Eighties. It's not like this is that well known a franchise these days, so who would know, right? But if you acknowledge the status of this film as a remake by making jokes about that very fact in the actual film, you sure run the risk of people checking out the previous installments and finding out just how lazy the writing is this time around. Even such references to the original are hardly an inspired move. Remember 21 Jump Street addressing its status as a reboot by literally saying nobody at the top has any better ideas than just regurgitating old notions ad nauseam? It's a funny line, until you understand just how poignantly true it is. We don't need to hear the same argument here to hammer the point home. The movie is unhilarious enough without reminding us a better film with the same name and the same plot was produced thirty years ago. Or that we're likely to see another movie with said name and plot in a few more decades. The kids in this feature definitely appear stupid enough to make the same mistakes all over when they grow up.

Luckily, this Vacation will be swiftly forgotten. It'll prove a lot harder to get that obnoxiously catchy song Holiday Road out of our heads.

donderdag 10 september 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Young T-Rex and Dinosaur Adventurer

Year of release: 1999

-Leg cast
-Two different guns

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 a little 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 shiny metallic grey, as is the leg cast.
Young Rex sports a two way paint job. The lower parts of its body (most of the flanks, belly, arms, most of the legs, throat, lower half of the head, underside of the tail and its snout) are coloured very light brown, almost yellow; on either side of its body it has an additional shape of the same colour near its back. The rest of the body (top part of the head, neck, back and upper parts of the flanks and legs and topside of the tail) is coloured green, with a single green spot on both upper legs. A thin red line literally separates both colours from each other, running from the eye socket all the way to the tip of the tail. The separate brown spots near the back also feature a similar red line on top of them. Baby Rex sports black claws on both hands and feet, white teeth, a red tongue and red eyes with black irises and white pupils. A black JP logo is located on its right upper leg.
The Dinosaur Adventurer stands in a mostly neutral pose with one leg in a slight forward move and the other in the opposite direction. His black eyes (with black eyebrows) stare mindlessly in the distance. He has black hair and is quite muscular, but his head is somewhat disproportionate (i.e. too small) compared to his body. He wears a green cap with the JP T-Rex logo on it. He sports a bit of a military look with camouflage pants (brown with blue spots) and a yellow shirt that has a lightly brown spotted paint job, as well as a dark brown collar and sleeves. His shoes are black. He’s got black utility belts with pockets around his chest. Other details include pockets on his sleeves, a black machete on his left leg and a large pocket on his right leg, as well as a black InGen logo “tattooed” on his left lower arm. His torso can move around to a small extent, courtesy of the original sculpt's dinosaur action, which is lost in this repaint since it does not come with the necessary Compsognathus figure.
Dieter comes with two different light brown (almost orange) guns: these guns do not have any action options like most of the weapons that come with human figures do, but are mere extra gadgets, since in this figure’s case the figure itself was supposed to provide the action. Since I’m not an expert on weaponry I can’t determine what type of guns we’re dealing with here, but aside from their colour they look much more realistic than the regular weapons the human figures carry. The Adventurer can wrap the biggest of the two guns around his shoulder, while the other one fits in his hands only.

Analysis: the junior T-Rex is back with a vengeance for Wave 2 of the first JP: Dinosaurs line! Good thing too, since its predecessor featured a hideous paint job, forcing this successor to do better, which fortunately, it does. This paint job is a whole different thing altogether, and comes with various details too add to it. Granted, light brown and green are not the best of friends from an artistic point of view, but they work well enough on this figure. The Yin/Yang effect achieved by having one spot of the one colour pasted in the other colour's territory is a nice and original touch, as are the red lines separating both colours. The attention to details is certainly there, which is not only proven by the fact that all claws are painted, but also the effect in the eyes which this time have both irises and pupils painted, making them look much more real and almost alive. Also, the way in which these eyes are painted makes it look like the Rex is staring right in front of him, eyes focused on potential prey no doubt. Apart from the successful paint job, this remains a solid dinosaur figure. It looks very close in shape to the little T-Rex seen in the TLW movie, a likeness that 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.). The muzzle and leg cast have been repainted to be a bit more shiny but are otherwise unchanged.
The Dinosaur Adventurer's new paint job is less radical than that of its extinct companion. The paint scheme is the same as before, but the colours used this time look less appealing together, not to mention less sufficient for camouflage use. Also, this is the second time we see this particular head sculpt in this line, meaning this might as well be a twin brother of the Dino Trainer that came with the Pachycephalosaurus of this toy line. A different head sculpt would have been preferred to add some diversity in human figures to this line. This figure still has a moveable torso, which adds a little bit to playability even though it has no real function in this set. The new paint job of the weapons is awful; the original black looked much better and more realistic on them.
All in all, this is a pretty good set with an imaginatively repainted dinosaur figure and a passable human figure. Sadly, both sculpts have no action features to complement each other. The T-Rex logo on the Adventurer's cap is a nice little reference to its pet though, albeit unintended since it was already there to begin with.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the TLWS1 Junior T-Rex, with repainted accessories from that same figure. It was repainted only a short while before for JPD1's first wave of figures. The figure would be repainted a fourth time for JPD2. The Dino Adventurer is a TLWS1 Dieter Stark repaint (with repainted accessories from that same figure), featuring a repainted JPS2 Jaws Jackson's head sculpt.

Overall rating: 7/10. This Young T-Rex sports a much more original, appealing and detailed paint job than its Wave 1 counterpart, and it's still one of the most movie accurate sculpts. The Adventurer is a decent repaint, but nothing too special, and his weaponry looks pretty dull. As part of Wave 2 of this toy line, this is one of the rarer JPD1 releases, and it can prove tough to find, especially in MOC or complete condition.

zaterdag 5 september 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Pachycephalosaurus and Dinosaur Trainer

Year of release: 1999

-Heavy Strike Weapons Pack with detachable missile launcher
-Two missiles

Description: this Pachycephalosaurus stands in a completely neutral pose. Its body is almost symmetrical, except for some small details, like the position of the hands (notice Pachy has no less than five fingers on each hand, more than most bipedal dinosaurs had) and the paint scheme. And of course there is the round button sticking out of the left upper leg. When pressed, this activates the dinosaur’s attack action: the head will move downward, as if it’s giving a head butt. The animal resembles a kangaroo with its large feet and arms: but it has a bizarre head covered with bumps and little spikes, and of course a big bald spot on its forehead. A row of bumps can be found on the neck, while several more of them run over its back and tail.
This figure sports a diverse paint job. Its underside (belly, lower part of the tail, most of the legs and all of the arms) is painted grey. This colour gradually shifts into light green on its tail, upper legs and flanks, while additional green is found on its throat and face. The neck, upper parts of the legs (including action button on the left leg) and most of its back are coloured blue with asymmetrical leaf like shapes running out of this colouration, while blue stripes run over its tail and blue spots cover its eye sections and snout. The top of the head, including the skull dome, is white, and the creature has small red eyes with black pupils. It also has black claws on its feet and a black JP logo on its right upper leg.
The Dinosaur Trainer stands in a largely neutral pose, except for his right leg which is moved slightly forwards. He sports an almost military outfit, namely a green shirt with a black vest and brown straps over it, black gloves, light brown pants with yellowish green stripes and swirls on them in a random pattern suggesting camouflage, and black boots. He also wears a red cap with the typical JP T-Rex logo on it. He has a stone cold facial expression, black hair, eyebrows and eyes . He’s got some detailing on his pants, though it’s hardly noticeable because it’s painted in the same colour as the pants themselves: on his left leg he’s got one pocket, while on his right leg he has a knife as well as some damage to his pants, indicating he’s had a near miss with some ferocious prehistoric vermin.
This man comes with some impressive looking weaponry. First, he owns a small gun (don’t ask me what type of gun it is, I'm a pacifist), coloured grey. It doesn’t do anything, it’s just an additional gadget. Second, he sports a large backpack, labelled a Heavy Strike Weapons Pack (let's abbreviate that to HSWP). It’s basically a large back pack carrying a missile launcher, enabling the user to keep his hands free to carry other stuff. The HSWP, sporting a yellowish brown (almost golden) paint job, looks pretty sophisticated and detailed, but works fairly simple. It can be pinned to the figure's back (he’s got a hole there for this sole purpose). The rocket launcher can move up and down, in about a 100 degree angle: it can also be detached to be used separately from the pack. The launcher comes with two different grey missiles (same colour as the gun), and can hold one of them at a time. The other can be stored in a hole in the pack when it’s not used: the hole also fits both missiles simultaneously. By pressing the button on top of the pack the missile is launched with a decent enough force, over a distance of about half a metre. Interesting little detail, the gun can be pinned on a pin on the right end of the launcher when not in use.

Analysis: poor old Pachycephalosaurus is the only basic dinosaur figure in the first JP Dinosaurs line that didn't get released by itself, but only paired up with a human figure instead. This does bring unnecessary repetition in this line down a little bit, but doesn't stop unimaginative repainting, since the paint scheme of this Pachy is largely identical to that of its TLWS1 predecessor. It's a bit of an old colour choice here, mixing grey with light green and blue, and the result isn't great. A stronger tone of green would have been preferable, since now the gradual change of grey into green looks more like the effect of discolouration. The blue is fine, though maybe a bit too strong a hue compared to the rest of the paint job. The real downer is the ugly white colouring on the head. It looks very artificial and fake and doesn't fit in at all with the rest of the paint job. Some details have been taken care of, like the ocular area (the red eyes look cool) and the claws on its feet, while others have been neglected (like the rest of the claws). The typical head ramming action works as fine as ever. Overall, this is still a great sculpt, but the paint job is a real mixed bag.
Pachy's human companion got lucky though, since his paint job is very good in comparison. Aside from the Jurassic Park cap, he has a rather commando feel to him. His big boots, camouflage pants, big muscles and expressionless face make him look like a real 'hard man'. Contrary to his prehistoric pet he sports a more appealing look than Ajay, his original body. This is one dinosaur drill sergeant few reptilian recruits would feel like messing with. He doesn't take crap from anyone, and if some extinct critter talked back to him he always has his HSWP to back him up and take it down. This too is still an excellent bit of weaponry, though a bit over the top maybe. It hasn't been changed since its last appearance, except for its new lighter paint job. The original black colouring looked more realistic though, light brown just doesn't do this killer equipment justice, it looks too soft. Unfortunately the missiles' impact force is not sufficient to knock the Pachycephalosaurus over, it's more suited for mowing down hatchlings. Pachy's head butt should suffice to slam the Trainer to the ground, so despite his tough guy look and heavy equipment – and the fact it got a better makeover – he would get his ass kicked and the dinosaur would win this fight.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the original JPS2 Pachycephalosaurus, which was previously repainted for TLWS1. For this set he teams up with a TLWS2 Ajay repaint, which has a head sculpt that originally belonged to JPS2 Jaws Jackson. The Dino Trainer comes with all of Ajay's accessories, except for the Parasaurolophus hatchling. Neither the dinosaur nor its keeper would be repainted for later toy lines (though a repaint of Ajay's body would also be seen in the Stegosaurus with Dinosaur Hunter set of Wave 2 of this toy line).

Overall rating: 8/10. A solid set, comprised of an excellently repainted human figure and his butch accessories and an awesome dinosaur figure which unfortunately suffers from a bit of an uninspired and messy paint job. Of all the JPD1 dino/human sets, this one is probably the easiest to find, though still not overly common, especially in MOC or complete condition. It can be found at varying costs.