Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dino's Descendents

Just occurred to me: what do the dinosaur in Danny and the Dinosaur, The Shy Stegosaurus Of Cricket Creek, and a parrot have in common?

They're all talking dinosaurs.

Not an earth-shattering revelation, I admit, but amusing nonetheless ...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Even A Man Who's Pure Of Heart ..."

Say it with me, now:
And says his prayers at night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.
That’s the quote as originally voiced by Maleva, the old gypsy woman in Universal’s original version of The Wolfman (1941), starring Lon Chaney Jr and Claude Rains. (The last line was changed in the 1943 sequel Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman to "And the moon is full and bright", thus ensuring that the hapless Larry Talbot would be a man cursed for all seasons.)

I take a back seat to no one in geek love when it comes to Universal Horror.

I grew up watching them all being rerun on Channel 9’s Million Dollar Movie and Channel 11’s Creature Features. As much as anything else, they made me the writer I am today. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy -- I loved them all, and watched them over and over. Even the second tier films the studio cranked out in the Forties -- Man-Made Monster, The Creeper, The Mad Ghoul (as opposed to all those sane ghouls) ... every time the paper listed one as scheduled to be shown (yes, children, back then you couldn’t just throw a DVD on the old home theater; you had to be there), I was glued to the old black & white 16-inch RCA cabinet model in our living room. (Which had a crack in the screen's lower left corner, due to my throwing a spark plug at it; the reason why escapes me at the moment.)

In 1992, Universal released the first of an eventual trio of big-screen, big-budget remakes of the classic monster films: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Gary Oldman as the titular Count and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It wasn’t bad, though a bit too much of the “Look Ma, I’m directing!” school. Coppola is not wont to disappear behind the camera under the best of circumstances, and obviously viewed this as an excuse to get crazy with period filmmaking techniques. I went to see it, wanted to like it, but there was simply too much artifice in it for me.

In 1994, Kenneth “Whatever Happened to ...?” Branagh helmed the second remake, and, not to be outdone, named it Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Again, too much style and not enough substance, although I thought DeNiro was a good choice for the Monster.

1999 saw Stephen Sommers’s vision of The Mummy, with Brendan Frasier, about which the less said the better.

And now, in 2009 will come the remake of The Wolfman (a pity they’re not continuing the auctorial tradition by calling it Curt Siodmak’s Wolfman, but fame is fickle). It stars Benicio Del Toro (good), has make-up effects by Rick Baker (also good), and will be directed by .... Joe “Honey, I shrank the Kids” Johnston.

Well, he can’t be any worse than Sommers. And I kinda liked The Rocketeer.

We’ll see ...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Nothing To Say

I have nothing to blog about.

Can this be true? Is my life so empty, so devoid of content, that I haven't felt the urge to set down my thoughts in over a week? So lacking in satisfaction and purpose that I can't even find anything to brag about? So wanting in belief, passion and certitude that I find myself unable even to get angry about things?


Part of it is, I freely admit, pure ennui distilled from the disease. It pulls at me, hampers me; it's like someone removed the power steering. I can still maneuver, but it takes considerable more effort. Of course, part of that is natural slowing down due to age; I'm 58, after all. Strangely, though, it feels as if my body knows how much is due to ageing, and how much more I have to deal with from the disease's patina.

But there's also a sense of reluctance to get too worked up over things, even given the recession we've been in for over a year. It seems to come, paradoxically, from hope. From an almost certainly spurious sense of things being set right again, finally, after eight years of darkness. From a sense of relief at having someone in the White House who can complete a sentence. The tendency is to sit back, breathe a sigh of relief, and leave the driving of the country to someone big enough (intellectually) to see over the wheel.

And that's a bad idea. And we all know why.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Unplanned Obsolescence

Or: How We’re All Technology’s Bitches.

Remember that scene near the beginning in Back To the Future II, when Marty and Doc Brown park in the alley? Remember all those shrink-wrapped laserdiscs waiting to be hauled away with the rest of the garbage? Well ...

For those of you who are of too tender years to even know what the word "laserdisc" means, let me first curse you enthusiastically for being so young, and then tell you that laserdiscs are to DVDs what LP record albums were to CDs -- big, ungainly discs, each one containing a movie. (And if you don’t know what LPs are -- or even, in this brave new world of iTunes, what CDs are, I give up. Ask your mother. Or your grandmother.) Being of the old-fashioned analogue, as opposed to digital, technology, they could only squeeze about an hour’s worth of movie on a side, so, unless you owned a laserdisc player fancy enough that the laser would automatically circumnavigate the disc to play Side 2, you had to get up halfway through your movie and manually flip the disc over. Positively antediluvian, I know, but hey, at least we got some exercise.

Why have them? Well, because they provided a better picture by far than did VHS, which was the only other option Back Then. Unless you were willing to spend the GDP of a small emirate on line doublers and suchlike, VHS looked like animated mud on the big-screen TVs of the time. Laserdiscs provided a better picture, and they offered another option not to be found on the plebian tapes: Widescreen. Plus some of them featured something totally new: a separate audio track on which film critics and auteurs commented on the movies while you watched them. Clearly, laserdiscs were the only medium of choice for the serious cineáste.

And then DVDs came along and blew ‘em out of the water.

I had a lot of laserdiscs. Not sure exactly how many, but it was over 400 for sure. All of which I have been, over the past four years, laboriously dubbing onto recordable DVDs. The project got stalled last year when my player finally gave up the ghost, but recently I found a refurbished Pioneer DVL-909 on eBay for a price too good to pass up. (Note to self: Stay off eBay!) I figure that I only have to dub fifteen or so movies to make it pay for itself.

Except, of course, for the ones that I have to buy again because of all the new bells and whistles.

Sigh. I’m resigned to being a running dog lackey of the Technolords. I just wish they weren’t quite so smugly certain that eventually I’ll succumb to Blu-Ray and it'll start all over again ...