Pokémon: Is This Real Life?

20 years ago Pokémon was introduced in the United States with the release of Pokémon Red and Blue.

At the time I was 15 years old and probably skewed a little old for the games target audience. (Nintendo was clearly trying to corner the 10 year old asexual Venusian subterranean crabling demographic, of which I was obviously not a part of.)  Regardless I quickly came to love the game and its concepts and have been a huge fan ever since!

The original Gameboy games were genius, entertaining, strange, and fun.

The first cartoon series was goofy, endearing, and hilarious. (Also quite a bit was lost in translation which only seemed to make it better.)

The wave of countless Pokémon merchandise which followed was impressive, of course including some great toys which I also partook of.

The Team Rocket Meowth Balloon vehicle.  Which I personally own.

My personal interest in Pokémon can be traced back to a single specific moment which I distinctly recall.  I was in my bedroom at my childhood home and was reading a magazine or comic book (most likely an X-Men title) and I turned the page to a distinctive full page ad.  On that page I saw a crowd of small impish animals clustered together while a giant cartoon net was falling down over them.  In parenthesis the phrase ‘Got ya!’ was scrawled nearby and in the bottom corner of the ad was the (now synonymous) title and phrase, ‘Pokémon: Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

I instantly found the image very intriguing and I actually remember stopping to examine the ad, which was very odd for me at the time.  As a kid when I was reading comic books the ads would, at most, get a brief aggravated eye roll as I disappointedly realized that my storyline had been interrupted.  But there I was inspecting the cartoonish designs of these unknown creatures.

At the time I had no idea what any of them were.  There was a little barking rat, a squat yellow squirrel, some sort of floating rock creature, a fire breathing dragon, an evilly grinning purple spiky thing, giant insects, a tortoise with guns on its back, and a large stoic faced teddy bear.

I immediately loved the designs and style of these things and whatever Pokémon was, I was already sold.

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Pokemon really made me appreciate the aesthetic of ‘Demented Pet Shop’ 

That image was particularly difficult to find online and I have still been unable to find a clean image of it anywhere.  Everything I can come up with is either a scan, or like the image below, a picture of the ad itself.  (It is still one of my favorite Pokémon images and I’d love to one day get a print of it to hang in my office.)

Looking it over in my youth I saw that Nintendo was listed in the small print at the bottom of the ad I realized it was a video game of some sort which was exciting, however at the time I didn’t have a console, only the handheld Gameboy.  So alas I thought I’d have to wait until a friend picked it up in order to see what it was about.  Thankfully of course, that wasn’t the case.

From there it was a whirlwind of Pokémania!

I picked up Pokémon Blue first.  However once I realized I’d have to trade between the Red version in order to follow the mandate of the game, and indeed catch them all, I wound up buying the Charizard emblazoned Red Version as well.  (And although I eventually had several friends who played the game, initially I wasn’t sure I’d find anyone who was interested.)

Soon the Pokémon cartoon was in full swing as well, which became my first real experience with anime and the various tropes and staples of that animated genre.  I found the show really zany and hilarious, I loved all the characters, and it helped to flesh out the pixelated world of the games.

For years Pokémon was steadily on my radar.

1998 – Pokémon Yellow launched, essentially combining the continuities of the cartoon and the first two games.

August 1998 – Pokémon Stadium hits the Nintendo 64.  Probably my favorite Pokémon spin-off game ever made.  Not only could you upload and battle your Pokémon with friends on glorious 3D rendered battlefields, you could also play the Gameboy games on the big screen.  All that AND there were a ton of GREAT mini games that were fun, challenging, and really quite funny.

December of that year the Pokémon card game made its way into the mix joining the other card games I geeked out with, Star Wars, Babylon 5, Magic, and then Pokémon!

1999 – Super Smash Bros. hit the scene featuring the quintessential Pokémascot Pikachu.  With whom I would regularly use to provide a Smash Bros. smack down.

November 1999 – Pokémon Gold and Silver hit the scene and a new Pokémon adventure was under way, beginning a regular pattern of Poké games which have found success and innovations to varying degrees through the years.

With the most recent Nintendo 3DS games the handheld Pokémon world has been completely rendered in 3D and fully animated.  Pokémon are traded across the globe on international servers.  And friends can talk smack directly through their 3DS, in real-time, from across the country when battling online!

It really is impressive to see how the Pokémon franchise has . . . . EVOLVED! (Get it?)

Well now we have Pokémon Go, the franchise’s first foray into the mobile gaming market.

At first glance Pokémon Go appears to be a bit of a downgrade in terms of gameplay, essentially a simplified cell phone version of the Pokémon Card Game.  However upon closer examination it is much more than that.

From my experience with Pokémon Go so far, it appears to be a real world expression of the long established Pokémon universe and the best kind of fan service.  I mean this property is now 20 years old and there are very few people, children and adults alike, who don’t at least know who Pikachu is and Pokémon Go lets you bring that world out into the real world.

Part of the enduring appeal of the Pokémon games is the universe in which the game and show take place.  Across the various islands of the setting Pokémon and Pokémon training is a prevalent way of life and a common bond which the citizens of that world actively embrace.  The Pokémon are fantastical companions, champions, and partners in that world.  In the games there are people around every corner eager to show off their favorite Pokémon and put them to the test in battle.

Throughout the adventures of the games there are clumps of NPCs waiting to square off against you and your Pokémon team.  There are ill-prepared school kids with weak little Rattatas and Caterpies that they’ve caught in the school yard.  There are construction workers in hardhats working around cities with steely Magnemite companions.  Groups of swarthy leather clad punks may try to jump you with their poison types.  Cyclists and swimmers will challenge you along the way.  Criminals, old folks, librarians, shop keepers, EVERYONE has Pokémon in the Pokéworld, and because everyone has them everyone has something in common.

It’s just one of those quaint, fun, fictional universes where any individuals who try hard and do good will win, and eventually defeat the evil shadowy organizations like Team Rocket and others who secretly work against the ideals of that world by exploiting Pokémon for their own greedy ends.

I’ve had several conversations with friends over the years that involved, in some form or another, the phrases “Wouldn’t it be great if Pokémon were real.” OR “If I could live in a video game universe, it’d be the Pokémon universe.” OR “If I could just have one actual Pokémon it would be X, Y, Z.”  And watching the show those feelings are reinforced as you see the young idealistic trainers go off and adventure across the globe.

Now let me tell you a little story about Pokémon Go.

The other night at around 10pm I was letting my dogs out (my real life Pokémon, apparently I’m a terrible trainer though because they never battle for me.) and as the puggles were sniffing around I flipped out my cell phone and switched on Pokémon Go just to see if I might catch a Weedle or Bellsprout while I stood there in the backyard watching them pee.

Looking through the game I noticed a Pokémon silhouette nearby (for those who aren’t in the know that means there was a type of Pokémon lingering around which I had not yet captured.)  Being the Pokémaster I am I immediately knew that shadowed figure was the shape of an Electabuzz, a fairly rare find and something I hadn’t even seen yet in the game.

After the dogs had completed their business I ushered them back inside and set off to find this fabled electric type Pokémon.  Although navigating the in-game radar of Pokémon Go can be a bit tricky I was able to determine that the Electabuzz seemed to be on the next street over.

So I briskly began walking down the street and around the corner.

I could see the Electabuzz footprints diminishing, meaning I was moving in the right direction and getting closer.

As I approached the darkened corner I saw two other guys on bicycles come racing toward me up the street.  They were maybe in their mid to late twenties from what I could tell and their sudden appearance put me slightly on edge.  Although there wasn’t anything necessarily threatening about them, it was 10 at night, dark, the middle of the week, and I was now outnumbered.

However before I could let my fears get the best of me one of the guys held up his cell phone and circled around the end of the street on his bike.

“You playing Pokémon?”  He called out to me cheerfully.

“I am actually!”  I said relieved.

“Are you looking for the Electabuzz too?”  He followed up.

“I am!”  I quickly replied.

Both of the cyclists chuckled and again held up their phones.  “It’s about three houses down this street!”  They informed me.

I thanked them and they rode on their merry way while I marched down the street, ran into that Electabuzz precisely where they said it would be, and captured that sumbitch right then and there!

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My Electabuzz cries himself to sleep every night because he knows he’ll never capture a gym

As I was smugly walking back to my house checking out the stats on my most recent catch I had a thought.

“That was a very Pokémon-esque interaction.”  I thought to myself.  “Just walking down the street hunting rare Pokémon, when suddenly I run into a pair of other trainers on bicycles, we have a brief encounter that sets me up for the big catch at the end.”

It was like something straight out of Pokémon Red/Blue like riding down Cycling Road or climbing the Pokétower.

“Maybe Pokémon finally is real?”  I concluded.

Well done Niantic.  Well done Nintendo.  Keep it fun fellow players.

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Why Rogue One Might Be Better Than the Force Awakens

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Star Wars fans should always be quick to remember that the Star Wars movies were not created in a vacuum (regardless of their various deep space settings).  George Lucas himself has stated that the Star Wars movies were essentially an amalgam of some of his favorite movies and genres assembled within a new and different science fiction setting.

For instance the Dune novels by Frank Herbert are directly referenced more than once in the Star Wars films and it doesn’t take much additional digging to find their influence throughout.

The samurai film epics of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa were another major influence on George Lucas and many elements from the movie The Hidden Fortress are woven into the narrative of the original Star Wars movie.

The film noir genre itself and movies like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca were ones Lucas grew up enjoying and many of the seedier elements of the Star Wars universe find their origins with them.  The Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba the Hutt are a direct result of Lucas’ love of the gritty gangster ridden noir films.

There are of course other influences and aspects of the creation of the Star Wars movies which can be traced to many different sources; various science fiction, other films, fantasy literature, mythology, and even real world politics all of which are too numerous to mention here.  All of this is to say that originally Star Wars was never about the things for which it has now become famous, like reinventing the movie industry or altering the perception of science fiction on the big screen.  Instead I would argue that Star Wars was Lucas’ attempt to reintroduce many of the elements of “classic” Hollywood back into the harsh and often dreary cinemascape of the 1970’s.

At this point I must immediately interject here that I in no way believe Star Wars to be a rip-off or even unoriginal, in fact quite the opposite.  Although the Star Wars movies are heavy on familiar themes, pulp fiction references, and film making of a bygone era (even the scene transitions are antiquated wipes, pans, and dissolves) it was all pieced together in a wholly unique blend of space opera epic which introduced the world to the lightsaber, X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Wookiees, droids, and a whole slew of iconic planets, characters, aliens, and starships.

My point is this: As a long time Star Wars fan I have cultivated the opinion that, as a general rule, Star Wars (in all it’s varied forms and formats) is at its best when it emulates other things and frames them within the Star Wars universe; and doesn’t try too hard to be “Star Wars”.  Star Wars is not purely sci-fi, it isn’t purely fantasy, and it isn’t meant to be dramatic high art.  When any of these elements over shadows the others or when the elements of Star Wars itself begin to dominate the storyline the result is failure.

From my experience this balancing game falls apart in the expanded universe books, games, and other forums.  Though there is an argument for such an imbalance within the prequel movies as well and the reason why that trilogy has become so universally panned (though all of that is a topic for another time).

With the Star Wars novels in particular, especially the now defunct old EU, the authors attempt to capture the feeling of Star Wars too much by directly referencing the Star Wars universe in an awkward forced way.  Or they focus far too much on the sci-fi elements of the setting, presenting high tech jargon while casually rattling off obscure alien species and bits of Star Wars trivia in order to seem authentic.  All the while lauding a story lines which might seem clever in other sci-fi but seem out of place in the context of Star Wars.

There are however some great Star Wars novels, some of my favorites are the Death Troopers books by Joe Schreiber which are essentially horror/zombie novels set in the Star Wars universe.  Additionally Cloak of Deception and Darth Plagueis by James Luceno take up the staples of political thrillers set during the time of the prequel era and include all the Sith intrigue and Jedi apolitical maneuvering you’d expect, along with plenty of action and starships.

Similarly many of the best episodes of the Clone Wars series were when Dave Filoni and company played with various concepts and framed genre and  various trope story lines which had not been seen in the Star Wars universe beforehand.  The Clone Wars cartoon included murder mysteries, heist episodes, and giant kaiju-like monster attacks; all under the interpretations of the Star Wars universe.

Even the Star Wars video games have been at their best when they simply borrow from other popular video games and lend their unique and exciting Star Wars spin to the premise and gameplay.  Star Wars Battlefront was essentially Battlefield 1942 in space.  Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds was very much the Star Wars version of StarcraftStar Wars Racer, the Phantom Menace podracing game, was the Star Wars answer to any number of popular racing games of the day.  Those video games were GREAT!  Sure there were other impressive Star Wars games through the ages but many of those put a tight focus on specific characters or directly put the players in control of reenacting scenes from the movies.

Other Star Wars games did not stand up as well.

One of my least favorite games were the Force Unleashed series.  I believe they suffered from trying far too hard to feel Star Wars.  There certainly was some enjoyment in the array of Force powers available to Starkiller, the main character of the games, and the sandbox of destruction possible as a result.  However that game was a ridiculous mosaic of random elements from the Star Wars saga combined with fanboy wish fulfillment, wrapped in an incomprehensible story arc which was absolutely contradictory to the canon of the movies themselves.  I know a lot of people enjoyed that pair of games but not me and I’m sorry, it’s how I feel.

The only real example of a Star Wars property making a success from overtly trying to be “Star Warsy” was The Force Awakens, which does it’s best to redesign the original movie nearly beat for beat while adding several new and exciting characters and twists throughout.  In fact my biggest complaint regarding Episode VII is the plots general unoriginality.  However the characters and overall execution were so great that the redundancies in the narrative could be overlooked.

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This December will see the release of the first Star Wars spinoff movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (ugh.  Just call them Anthology Movies).  Rogue One is being touted as a war film, a pilot ace flick, and a heist movie all taking place within the setting of the Star Wars universe.  It is because of what we know regarding the plot that I believe Rogue One will be a great Star Wars movie and possibly better than The Force Awakens, for the reasons stated above.

The Star Wars universe is precisely that, an expansive diverse universe of possibilities and has the possibility to be so much more than a story of the Skywalker family and the Jedi.  Star Wars is also not simply a pattern of film making which if done right can be repeated ad nauseam into infinity.  And the Star Wars universe certainly is not just another sci-fi franchise that any tired sci-fi story can pasted onto, sprinkled with a few lightsabers, and titled Star Wars.  It is the exoticness of the well-worn settings and pervasive mandate for adventure which the Star Wars universe was built upon and which is able to take old stories and reform them in new ways.

Hopefully this is the case with Rogue One.

I really hope Rogue One takes off (pun intended) and is a big hit for Disney and Lucasfilm and I would love to see this first spin off movie blow The Force Awakens out of the water.  I’ve said this before, and although I have absolutely no ill will towards the Force Awakens, but I really hope that in the long run Episode VII really isn’t anyone’s favorite Star Wars flick.  With so much new Star Wars on the horizon hopefully as new movies keep opening up in theaters they will continue to outdo the previous ones in new and different ways.

Babylon 5 NOT Returning According To JMS

Whomp, whomp.

Yeah so after the cryptic messages from Straczynski at comic con, followed by the loose lips of Walter Koenig at the Las Vegas Star Trek Convetion, there were high hopes for some kind of return to the Babylon 5 universe.  I personally have been following this story with great interest if you saw my post a few weeks back here.  That, however, is not the case according to show creator J. Michael Straczynski, as he has firmly shot down such talk in recent news.

Claiming that Koenig misspoke and that there are no plans for more B5 in the future.  There has been some amusing outrage across the net directed at the actor for falsely getting B5 fan’s hopes up.  A John Sheridan fan page on Facebook had the status of “Bester, you motherfucker.”  And there have been other sites jokingly comparing the mix up of information to a deep rooted conspiracy similar to something orchestrated by the psi-corps.

I can’t really blame Koenig however, he’s always been a major supporter of the show and was clearly just eager to see another B5 project as well.  I was actually hesitant to post this newest development in hopes that there might be some clarification or reconciliation between JMS’ rebuff of Walter Koenig and his own comments at San Diego.  Alas there has been no further word.  It seems odd though, there apparently was something going on, can we just assume that negotiations went south with Warner Bros. execs?  Or was there perhaps simply some miscommunication and there were in fact never any plans for more adventures in the B5 universe?


One additional bit of information I find interesting is that very recently all of Babylon 5 was taken down from Netflix streaming, which a friend of mine pointed out could indicate that they are planning for some type of new release.  This could mean that the show might be seeing a blu-ray re-release soon.  Perhaps ol’ Walter Koenig was being tapped for a few recording sessions to do some commentary for some of his crucial episodes?

Who the hell knows?  I still hold out some hope however, despite Joe Straczynski’s recent denials, because there’s just too much potential story telling there to simply leave Babylon 5 on the shelf somewhere.

That is all!

UPDATED! Possible New Series For Babylon 5?

I was checking my email yesterday and was sorting through some of my Google Alerts that I’ve let back up for too long.  One of my regular alerts is for Babylon 5, so I can try and stay on top of any new developments or commentary about the show.  Well the first B5 alert I checked contained a link that had both bits of information for me.  The link lead me over to this IGN story from Comic-Con.  There isn’t really much there to go on, but the coverage talks about a panel at the con featuring Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski discussing his previous work on the show, and an enigmatic mention of a new Babylon 5 series that may be in the works.  Warner Bros. apparently seemed to be looking to launch a new network (?) and were thinking about having a Babylon 5 spin-off as part of its lineup.  That scenario has changed however but from what it sounds like ol’ Joe Straczynski seems to think that there is still hope for this new Babylon 5 show seeing the light of day via some other channel through Warners.  One of the most interesting things mentioned in the article is that the deal Straczynski made would have given the show a much bigger budget than its previous incarnations and would have granted the creator full creative control over this new series.

Babylon 5 creator and writer J. Michael Straczynski

If even half of this Babylon 5 discussion turns out to be true I will be extremely excited.

If you are reading this and are a fan of the original B5 series you should help garner some interest for this new project by making your opinion known.  If you haven’t already, go over to the official Babylon 5 Facebook Page and hit them with a “like.”  Make sure to comment on their posts and bring up your enjoyment of the show and a desire for a new series!  It might not be a grand gesture but if there is enough activity on the page and if there is an influx of fans making comments, someone is bound to take notice.  Also get over to whatever geek and sci-fi message boards or forums you happen to post on regularly and bring up this idea of a new Babylon 5 series.  Rejuvenate the interest of the old fans and maybe pique the curiosity of some new ones.  It’s all part of my continuing mission to bring Babylon 5 back to the sci-fi forefront.

The early days of Babylon 5

UPDATE: 9/18/2011

So here’s some new information that has come to my attention recently.  At the recent Las Vegas Star Trek convention, Trek and Babylon 5 regular Walter Koenig revealed that he has had some recent talks with good ol’ JMS about this new Babylon 5 project that is in the works and that although he can’t reveal any solid details about the project at this time, there was apparently discussion that it might be a feature length film.  Whatever it is if Koenig is involved that pretty much blows my previous speculations out of the water (see below).  Clearly this project will be continuing the storyline left off from the original series and might be something along the lines of the story seen in the book Final Reckoning: The Fate of Bester and bring some kind final resolution to the mysterious fate of the regular B5 foil Alfred Bester who Walter Koenig portrayed during the five year story arc of the show.  With this new information there is still the possibility that there could be a new series in the works but now it feels more like another direct to DVD release similar to the last few B5 spin-offs.  Either way I’m excited.  I would of course love to see a new show, but I would also be glad to see any new story from the Babylon 5 universe even if it is just a single B5 movie.  We shall see though, I’m glad that the momentum for this project is still building and that this new development has people talking, eager to see more from J. Michael Straczynzki and the ol’ Babylon 5 gang.  Here is a LINK to the original story as reported by TrekMovie.com.

Now as far as my (now defunct) speculation goes as to what this new series could be about, I personally would love to see a prequel of sorts, perhaps focusing on the Earth/Dilgar war.  That would be a timeline that is just enough removed from the original that you could easily allow for a whole new cast while keeping the overall look of the series familiar to long time fans.  I would of course also love to see a show that picks up where the old shows left off, but sadly many of the best cast members of the series are now gone to us.  I personally wouldn’t want to return to the original timeline without the likes of G’Kar, Dr. Franklin, Zack Allen, or even Zathras.  In order to take the show in a new and interesting direction and to honor the memory of those wonderful actors who made the series what it is, my vote is for a prequel show.  A show that tells the story that leads up to the Babylon 5 station with some new faces and new stories to tell.  But let’s not forget that Babylon 5, like any sci-fi show worth it’s salt, has some time traveling elements.  So even if the new show takes place during the past, there’s still a slight chance we might be able to see some familiar faces one way or another.

Warleader Jha'dur fought against the Earth Alliance during the Earth/Dilgar war and was the last survivor of the Dilgar race.

That is all!

The Greatest Thing I’ve Seen This Week

Have you ever said to yourself “Man I wish there was a band consisting of Will Robinson from Lost in Space, the One Armed Man from the Fugitive, the hot mom from Freaks and Geeks, and Rousseau from LOST!” ?  You have?! Well than today is your lucky day, because I come bearing good news.  There is such a band and they are called The Be Five.  Something they all have in common is that they were also cast members of one of the best sci-fi shows of all time, Babylon 5.

Amazing.

Earlier this week a friend of mine, who is also a Babylon 5 fan, sent me a link directing me to the information about this album and my mind was blown.  Apparently back in 1998 Bill Mumy, Mira Furlan, Claudia Christian, Andreas Katsulas, and Peter Jurasik at the height of Babylon 5’s popularity came together to make an album, calling their group The Be Five.  I’ve known that Bill Mumy was a musician but I had no idea he ever got together with his other B5 comrades to make music.  Apparently Mumy wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album which are mainly blues/rock and the other cast members take the lead vocals on two tracks each.  As if that wasn’t awesome enough Patricia Tallman, everyones favorite Vorlon enhanced telepath, has several cameos on the album as well, as a backup vocalist.

Unfortunately the album was basically only available at various cons where one of the stars were making an appearance.  Later it was more widely distributed but not in great numbers and apparently it is still rather hard to find a physical copy of the CD.  Thankfully however this one and only album of The Be Five “Trying to Forget” is available for digital download on Amazon!  I would suggest checking it out and at least listening to some of the samples from the tracks.  Hearing Peter Jurasik who played Londo Mollari sing blues is simply golden and I was quite surprised by the dark sultry qualities of Mira Furlan’s singing voice.

I had no idea this thing existed, but now that I do I can’t get it out of my head.  This made my week, and you’d better believe it is now at the top of my list of things to buy!

Here are a few links:

About The Be Five

The Be Five on Amazon

That is all!

Michael Giacchino: Musical Chameleon

This week has turned out to be busier than anticipated, plus my wife has an increased need of the computer for work so I have not been able to post many blogs recently.  I did however have the opportunity to see a couple of movies this week though and that’s what I want to talk about today!

Earlier this week the wife and I went to see Super 8 (while there we got a voucher for a free ticket so later that night I went to X-Men: First Class, but that has nothing to do with this).  I’ve been very excited to see this movie and with good reason.  J.J. Abrams has not disappointed me thus far, though he has had some projects that I don’t believe live up to the level of hype that surround them (Cloverfield and Star Trek), but I was extremely interested to see his take on a Spielberg-esque adventure flick.  As far as I’m concerned this self proclaimed love letter to Steven Spielberg from J.J. Abrams really did a great job of highlighting both directors best qualities.  The look, the feel, the sound, and even the way the movie was shot were very reminiscent of several of Spielberg’s early movies.  As an aside I think other filmmakers out there should take note that even though we have CGI and other super advanced special effects techniques it still makes for a better movie to keep monsters/aliens/whatever hidden from the audience as long as possible in order to really ramp up anticipation and suspense.  Too many movies these days love to have their CGI creatures out on parade throughout the entire length of the movie and after awhile you just lose interest as the movies devolve into a series of chase scenes or an unnatural and unrealistic volley of CGI fight scenes.

Anyway, enough about that.  Going into the theater I knew a few things about the production of Super 8, but I hadn’t researched everything.  Basically I read some interviews with Abrams and Spielberg about the movie and read a few details here and there on Ain’t It Cool News and Comic Book Movie.com.  Just enough to keep my interest up, but not really studying the production in depth.  I like to have a few surprises waiting for me when I finally sit down to watch a movie.  Well knowing what I did about the movie I half expected to hear some John Williams scoring set behind the action on screen.  I hadn’t read about Williams being involved, but then again I hadn’t really researched it that in-depth.  Either way as the movie started I was excited to hear what the soundtrack would be like.  A few minutes into it I realized it wasn’t John Williams, I’ve listened to enough of his work to be able to identify him a few bars in, but I wasn’t disappointed by the music that was there.  For the most part I was enthralled by the movie and didn’t really notice much of the score that was mingled among it, as it should be.  Then towards the end there were a few moments where I distinctly heard some unmistakable homages to Williams.  As the intensity was ratcheting up near the finale of the film there are a few sections of music that are classic Williams, several distinctive chords that have been used most memorably in Jaws (not the main “Dun, dun” theme that everyone knows but some of the more menacing reactive music that really builds up tensions) and was also used well in his Jurassic Park score, and a few others.  Also, given the nature of the plot of Super 8 it wasn’t unexpected to hear a few sections of music that sounded very similar to the theme from another certain Extra Terrestrial movie.

Giacchino at the premier of Ratatouille

By the end of the movie I was very interested to know where the music came from, as much as I enjoyed Super 8, I was now very curious as to who had written the score.  As the credits rolled it was one of the first names shown, and I could have kicked myself for not realizing who it was sooner, I really should have guessed.  Michael Giacchino.  For the past six years or so any time I come across a film score that intrigues me, but is unfamiliar to me, it turns out to be Michael Giacchino!  His music contains such a mercurial quality and he possesses a style not his own.  John Williams and Danny Elfman I can pick out within seconds of hearing them, but Giacchino is a chameleon when it comes to his arrangements, his music never has the same type of sound and his scores are always so well adapted to the production that it becomes nearly impossible to separate him, from the rest of the movie.

The downside to that is that Giacchino doesn’t really have many memorable moments musically.  John Williams has countless memorable themes and melodies attributed to his work from Star Wars to Schindler’s List.  Danny Elfman has given us an unshakeable Batman theme even after it has long been abandoned by modern film revamping.  The great Howard Shore ramped up the heroic nature of the Lord of the Rings with his epic score and the iconic themes that are now just as familiar to Lord of the Rings fans as Bilbo Baggins is.

From my memory though Giacchino doesn’t really have such dramatic qualities about him, but that’s not to say that he is any less of a composer.  His music can be memorable even without a lasting tune running through your head.  In particular I recall his score for the Pixar flick the Incredibles which harkened back to jazzier film scores of the 1960’s, and I first really noticed his work during the Speed Racer movie.  Though some might bad mouth that movie, I really liked it and Michael Giacchino’s score was fantastic.  I was especially pleased that he didn’t overuse the classic Speed Racer theme, but instead teased it along through the majority of the movie until the very end.  Overall Giacchino does what any good composer should do, he makes his music a part of the movie, he helps the director flesh out the emotions and action that are portrayed on the screen.  Michael Giacchino, perhaps more than any other film composer today, seamlessly melds his music into the movies he works on in the same way the set designers have worked a building into a shot, or the costume designers have chosen the look for the actors.  Giacchino’s scores seem to adapt to every movie he works on, and though occasionally that sound can get lost within the greater scope of things, he certainly does his part to make those movies more than they would have been without him.  The best way I can describe his style would be to simply call it adaptive.

There are three things that tell me Micheal Giacchino is becoming a major property in Hollywood.  1) The dude’s already won an Oscar for his work on Up.  2) He seems to now be the exclusive go-to-guy for new Pixar properties, working on all the new titles since the Incredibles.  3) Like any good film composer he’s found himself a directorial partner.  Lucas and Spielberg work exclusively with John Williams, Tim Burton relies heavily on Danny Elfman, and it appears that J.J. Abrams’ music man is now Michael Giacchino who has provided the score for all of his movies thus far.

Michael Giacchino accepting his Oscar for Up

Here’s a quick list of some of my favorite movies Giacchino has written music for:

The Incredibles

Sky High

Mission Impossible III

Several of the Pixar shorts

Ratatouille

The television shows LOST and Fringe

Speed Racer

Star Trek (the new rebooty one)

Up

Let Me In

Super 8

And also here’s one of my favorite sections from the Speed Racer soundtrack, have a listen.

That is all!

Friday Funny Pages: Go Smurfing Smurf Yourself In The Smurf

I originally had something else planned for today’s Friday Funny Pages, but I was flipping through my comics from Free Comic Book Day and came across an issue that contained some Smurfs pages and decided to use some of the panels found there instead.  As a kid I really enjoyed the Smurfs.  As far as old cartoons go the Smurfs was pretty adventurous, while at the same time sticking to a lot of the cartoon conventions of the day.  The Smurfs made use of several typical cartoon elements such as making use of the ever determined recurring villain who is hell-bent on ruining the day for the main characters; as well as character names that were not only short but were also descriptive, giving you all the insight you needed into the character’s back story.  These elements were found in countless cartoons of this time from the Care Bears to G.I. Joe.  The Smurfs however put their spin on this mix by including bits and pieces from folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy expanding the Smurf world well beyond the several small mushrooms of Smurf Village.  Witches, wizards, trolls, knights, and elemental beings such as Father Time and Mother Nature were regulars in the Smurf’s cartoon.  The Smurfs was a fantasy epic for children which was a solid influence for me as a kid and which I am proud to say was part of my cartoon repertoire growing up.

With that in mind, let me say that I am not looking forward to that CGI Smurf’s movie that is coming out.  At first it sounded interesting but from the previews I’ve seen it seems to be complete garbage.  The Smurf’s took place long ago, in medieval times.  The Smurf’s didn’t travel to New York City and have whirlwind adventures atop taxi cabs through the streets of the big city.  But alas, I digress.  I never really read much of the Smurfs comic strip source material by Peyo (Pierre Culliford) but from my experience with the cartoon I don’t recall the Smurfs using the word “Smurf” to replace any word in a sentence, as we see in the panels above.  From what I recall the Smurfs would generally drop the word Smurf into a sentence as an adjective, as in “Have a smurfy day!” or “Don’t you look smurfy!”  Perhaps occasionally they would use it as a verb, “Quit smurfing around!”  Also on occasion there would be familiar words that would be rebuilt around the word Smurf, for example “Smurftastic!

Regardless in any case when they spoke in the show there would usually only be one “smurf” per sentence, not every other word!  How the hell are you supposed to know what they are talking about?  And what’s worse is when you leave so many words as a mystery the natural inclination is to replace all the “smurfs” in the sentence with expletives during the translation process.  But perhaps that’s just me, it makes it more entertaining at any rate.  I mean honestly though “I’ll help you smurf another smurf that smurfs under the water” how am I supposed to restrain myself from interpreting that inappropriately?  In the second panel Papa Smurf tells that other smurf “I don’t want you smurfing the village anymore!” after he crashes through one of the village buildings.  You don’t want him fucking the village anymore, is that what you’re saying Papa?  Just come out and say it!

Anyway let’s just put it this way, I don’t remember the Smurfs cartoon being a riddle of language codes that needed to be unjumbled every week and that maybe these new comics are going a little overboard with the excessive dropping of the Smurf bomb.  Whatever the case may be have fun decoding these panels any way you wish and perhaps subtly try to work Smurf into your daily conversations and see if anyone notices.  I leave you with one final panel referring to one of my favorite Golden Age super heroes who has somehow been Smurfified.  (Not really)

They aren't really talking about a Smurf Namor, but that would be awesome . . . .

That is all!