The Dark Tower Film Adaptation Aims With Its Hand

After decades, we’ve finally gotten a live-action adaptation of Stephen King’s epic novels of The Dark Tower. Unfortunately, as many of us feared The Dark Tower is a pale and hollow adaptation. Actually it is not even a faithful adaptation (never mind the casting of Idris Elba as Roland the last Gunslinger, he was superb as the Gunslinger) but a mish mosh of the seven novels in the series. As you can expect, it is impossible to do the sprawling storyline any justice with a paltry 90 minute screen time.

For those who don’t know the background, The Dark Tower novels are about a lone, Jedi-like Gunslinger from another dimension who is pursuing his arch foe, the Man in Black. This bad guy  wants to destroy the mythical construct called the Dark Tower, a nexus point of sorts that connects and separates all the universes. Destroying the Tower will unleash chaos across dimensions and obliterate reality. Part Western, part fantasy, part sci-fi and part horror, the novels were some of King’s best works and actually revealed that all of the Stephen King works are interconnected. The wild and wonky storyline was complemented by memorable characters. Not just Roland but the small band of Earthlings from different time periods who join his quest. Too bad only one of them makes it into this film, young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor).

Roland and Jake

Of course, it is unrealistic to expect this one movie to cover the entirety of the novels, but as an introduction to this rich mythos, The Dark Tower cannot adequately do it. There is a popular line in the books “I do not aim with my eye, he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.” This film commits the sin of aiming with its hand not its eye or heart. On the whole, the entire film is a barebones adaptation that lacks the nuance and for the most part, the epic scope of the novels. It does a just an average job of enticing viewers to want to learn more about Roland and his quest. We never feel the animosity Roland has with the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), who is not well developed. The film just moves along so quickly we don’t have time to absorb any of the information given to us. And with the rushed editing and running time, there isn’t enough in the film to win over non-fans or satisfy die-hard fans of the novels. In fact, many of them will be enraged with the missed opportunities and the thin surface details.

Idris Elba as Roland

This does not mean that the film is a disaster, but a rather frustrating watch because there are nuggets of wonder that struggle to get through the film’s banal tone. For one, the actors in the film are quite good and it has several fine moments. We get glimpses of why Roland is to be revered as he wields his guns with near-supernatural precision. For Stephen King fans, there are more than a few Easter eggs of his other works and overall, the film is not dull. It’s just that so little time is spent on these highlights because the film is so intent on getting from point A to point B and in the end, we cannot enjoy the ride. The bottom line is that fans know that the source material is rich and enticing and most of that is missing in the film. This is beyond annoying for fans who have waited so long after so many false starts for a film adaptation. These novels have such sprawling stories with off-the-wall imagery that they deserved a film or a film series that would adequately adapt them. Unfortunately, this film does not accomplish this goal and instead of being a monumental film experience it is just your standard summer film.

The sad thing about The Dark Tower is that it will wind up being forgotten and unlikely to be a hit film. Meaning, that it is doubtful that future films will follow that will better explore Roland’s world and his epic quest. There are plans for a TV show that will tie-in to this film but who knows if that will ever come and the film’s reception will probably mean that it will be a long time before fans get a proper adaptation.

C.S. Link and Lewis T. Grove

The Better Adaptation: A Dune Movie or A Mini-Series

paul-atreides With the news that Legendary Entertainment has acquired the rights to make a new movie based on Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune, there has been much speculation as to how this new adaption will be done. Dune has been adapted twice before. Once as a feature film by David Lynch in 1984, and later in 2000 as a TV mini series on the Sci-Fi Channel. Both projects had positive and negative aspects that fans continue to debate. Lynch’s film had the grand and epic feel of the novel, but also added new features to the story that were not in the original(ex: the weirding modules). The Sci-Fi mini series was more faithful to the book since it had more time to adapt the story, but suffered from a limited TV budget, and the look and feel of the set pieces and costumes were not at the same level as the movie.
dune-mini-seriesThis brings to mind the question of what new adaption should be done by Legendary Entertainment. In terms of adapting just the first Dune novel, a big budget, multi-part movie series similar to The Lord Of The Rings is something I think would be great. The story itself is very complex and needs many hours to tell. Trying to squeeze it into a single tow-or three-hour movie will inevitably lead to significant reductions in the many layers Herbert’s story has to offer. This is exactly what plagued Lynch’s version. He got the basics right, but was still unable to touch on many plot points and had to condense everything. The book itself is divided into 3three parts which would fit nicely into a trilogy of films that can do the whole thing justice. All of the plots and schemes of the various feuding houses and galactic intrigue can be explored, as well as the hero Paul Atriedes’ journey from merely a ducal heir to a full blown messiah. Having all of this with a big budget would seem to merge the positive aspects of the previous movie and the miniseries, plenty of time to tell the story and the resources to create Frank Herbert’s rich and diverse universe.

god-emperor-of-dune-coverHaving said that, if Legendary was feeling bold, they could attempt to adapt the entire original Dune Chronicles, which includes six books. If this was the case, then the only way to do this would be a Game of Thrones-style show hopefully on a cable network like HBO or Showtime. Books two and three (Dune Messiah and Children of Dune) were adapted by the Sci-Fi Channel in 2003 and was well done. Unfortunately, the other books were not adapted and the story came to an abrupt end just as it was getting good. The fourth novel God Emperor of Dune takes place 3,500 years after the original book and features Paul Atriedes’ son Leto II still alive due to his body merging with the desert planet’s massive worms. Subsequent novels take place thousands of years after this book and feature warring factions of matriarchal institutions and more galactic politics and intrigue. All of this would be very difficult to adapt in any meaningful way in theatrical films. Only the long commitment of an ongoing TV series could hope to truly bring all of these fantastic tales to life.

sandworm

Legendary Entertainment has a rich portfolio of films under its belt (Godzilla, Pacific Rim) and the fact that they are now in charge of the Dune franchise is definitely a positive development. The fact that talented director Denis Villeneuve wants to take on the task of making a Dune film is also a very good sign. He directed the well received sci-fi film Arrival and was entrusted with directing this year’s Blade Runner 2049. This shows me he has the skill to develop high-quality genre films. Hopefully, whatever they decide to do, it will be something that will do justice to Frank Herbert’s epic tale.
C.S. Link

Star Trek Reference Books & Manuals

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What stands out among Star Trek merchandising are the informative and fascinating reference books that the long-running franchise has spawned. Full of nifty, intricate and intimate details about the Star Trek universe, these Star Trek reference books and manuals are true literary treasures.

While it’s true that many sci-fi TV shows and ds9 tech manual 2films have inspired fiction and making-of books and comics about them, these Star Trek reference books  and manuals were among the earliest tie-ins of their kind to come out, and were unique at the time. Now the book market is flooded with all sorts of tie-in reference books like Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary and so forth. These books were possible due to the imagination sparked by Star Trek that led many to ponder and speculate on the minutiae of the Star Trek universe. How fast did the Enterprise travel? Where was Captain Picard born? What is Romulan ale? The answers to these questions helped fill in the gaps for fans hungering for more knowledge about the fictional Star Trek universe.

scotts guide samplePerhaps the best early examples of such books were Star Trek: Star Fleet Technical Manual and Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise. Much of the information would be decanonized and wound up contradicting what appeared on screen. For example, in The Worlds of the Federation the Klingon home planet was called Kling instead of Qo’noS as later established onscreen. That didn’t matter to hardcore fans who reveled in explaining away contradictions as the books helped give the impression that the wondrous Star Trek technology and universe actually existed.

More recent forays into these fictional reference books have branched off into atlases, dictionaries, travel guides and even a Klingon version of Hamlet. The best of these books include encyclopedia pagesStar Trek: Star Charts: The Complete Atlas of Star Trek, Star Trek  Chronology: The History of the Future and The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future. These three books warrant repeat reading and are bursting with the tiniest details and information about Star Trek, not to mention beautiful artwork and charts. For instance in Star Charts, it traces the course of the U.S.S. Voyager on its journey back to the Alpha Quadrant. In the Star Trek Chronology we can trace the timeline of James T. Kirk from his birth (in Iowa, not some starship!) to the moment of his death. While The Star Trek Encyclopedia lists all the ships in their classes, detailed descriptions of three-dimensional chess, episode listings and provides detailed bios on many Star Trek characters.

romulan map

Of course, these books came out some time ago and much of it is outdated. However, they have enough material to keep anyone busy and seriously, Pocket Books should look into producing revised hardcopy chronologyversions of these books. This was actually done for both the Chronology and the Encyclopedia back in the late ’90s, so the precedent exists.

Thankfully being that this year is the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek more books are coming our way. One of the most interesting of the lot is Hidden Universe Travel Guides: Star Trek: Vulcan by Dayton Ward. As long as Star Trek continues to inspire the imaginations of both writers and fans, there will always be more captivating reference books that can be poured over for hours at a time.

The following are the ten best Star Trek reference books and manuals released to date:

10. Star Trek: The Starfleet Survival Guide by David Mack

9. The Worlds of the Federation by Shane Johnson

8. Star Trek: Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph

7.  Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise by Shane Johnson

6. TIE: Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual by Rick Sternbach/Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual by Herman Zimmerman

5. U.S.S. Enterprise Owner’s Workshop Manual by Ben Robinson and Marcus Riley

4. Star Trek: The Visual Dictionary by Paul Ruditis

3. Star Trek: Star Charts: The Complete Atlas of Star Trek by Geoffrey Mandel

2. The Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda

1. The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda

Lewis T. Grove

Frankenstein Still Resonates Today

 

frankenstein boris

Frankenstein’s monster is an iconic horror figure that has terrified and fascinated audiences for generations and has done so in several different formats.  The reasons for this are varied and include the ideas that were present in the original novel written by Mary Shelley in 1818 titled Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.  It tells the story of a scientist named Victor Frankenstein who creates a human being from the body parts of corpses. His reason for doing this is to bring life to a dead body, thus transcending death itself.

henry frankensteinThis brings to mind the idea of zombies that are so popular right now in society as well as the idea of playing God. All of the fears that come with modern technology that can potentially cause chaos (such as the fears of cloning, or bio-engineered diseases) are all present in this story. Frankenstein’s creation is a hideous creature that wipes out his creator’s family, but is also portrayed as a somewhat sympathetic character. Someone who was brought into this world recklessly and thrown away by his father. The monster’s attempts to integrate himself into human society fail miserably and his subsequent rampage further increases the terror and misery caused by irresponsible scientific actions.

This is reminiscent of the ideas presented in the Jurassic Park movies where bringing extinct creatures to life cause death and destruction. Even if the motives were possibly noble to begin with, who doesn’t dream of seeing majestic dinosaurs live again, the end results are always catastrophic.

The many different movies in subsequent decades about Frankenstein’s monster show the lasting power of this story. The most famous is obviously the classic 1931 film Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff.  His great performance as the menacing creature is still remembered today and is the benchmark for any Frankenstein movie.  The look and sound of the monster is what everyone thinks of now whenever the name Frankenstein is said. Halloween costumes, and TV shows like The Munsters all show how iconic that original design is.

curse of frankenstein

The story of Frankenstein’s doomed creature has been retold many times since the ’30s. The Hammer film studio in Great Britain produced an excellent version in 1957 starring Christopher Lee as the monster and Peter Cushing as the mad scientist titled The Curse of Frankenstein.  More recently in 1994, Kenneth Branagh deniro frankensteindirected and starred in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Robert De Niro as the monster. While it received mixed reviews I think this is a great version of the story and is very faithful to the original novel. De Niro’s performance is both frightening and tragic and the film touches on all of the important ideas that Mary Shelley presented almost two hundred years ago. The idea of the all-too human desire to cheat death at almost any cost still resonates with us. Another theme it explored was that science is seen at first as the way to salvation and a better life, but the characters realize that these visions of ours don’t always come true and sometimes make things much worse.

mary shelleyThe fact that Shelley was only 18 years old when she wrote this classic novel is impressive and the fact that almost two centuries have passed since its publication show that great ideas that touch on fundamental themes always stand the test of time, and still have relevance regardless of the genre and the times. In addition, while the novel and movies are seen as firmly in the horror camp for obvious reasons, it can also be said that they are in the realm of science fiction as well with its previously mentioned emphasis on science and research into both biology and questioning what it means to be human. Frankenstein is definitely a story that asks these questions and will continue to both scare and thrill audiences, this Halloween and for years to come.

 

C.S. Link

Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley Opens At Universal Studios Orlando

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The big news regarding theme parks of course was the July 8 opening of Diagon Alley, the new expansion of The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Orlando. Based on the popular Harry Potter book and film series Diagon Alley is an immediate hit with parkgoers and Harry Potter fans. The newest land added to Universal Studios Orlando consists of the hidden wizarding alley found in London, England. Adorned with cobblestone streets and maze-like alleyways and streets, Diagon Alley boasts several shops and as the centerpieces Harry Potter And The Escape From Gringotts ride and the Hogswarts Express train that connects Universal Studios Orlando with Islands of Adventure.

After the runaway success of Islands of Adventure’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, an expansion was fastracked by Universal Resorts. But instead of just encroaching the faithfully recreated Hogsmeade village into other areas of Islands of Adventure, the innovative idea of putting the expansion into Universal Studios Orlando was utilized instead.

Expressway To Both Parks

100_2309The expansion can be found next to Disaster! at the area where the old Jaws ride was located. Visitors coming to the area will first see a replica of a section of modern-day London complete with a train station that leads to the Hogwarts Express and the magical Knight Bus featured in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. To gain entry to the train ride, you need a two-park ticket otherwise you are forced to remain in Diagon Alley and vice versa. The train itself is a perfect rendition of the one seen in the Harry Potter films and can accommodate large amounts of passengers.

Once assigned to a roomy cabin, the first thing that strikes the eyes is the passenger-side window that is actually an HD screen showing a brick wall with steam rolling about. On the aisle-side of the cabin, the windows are frosted. After the train leaves, passengers can look out the window and see the London cityscape and surrounding suburbs, but with signs of the malicious Dementors afoot. Meanwhile on the aisle-side of the cabin, silhouettes of Harry Potter and other characters are seen walking back and forth. At one point the Dementors invade the train who are seen as silhouettes, but are quickly dispelled.

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After a few minutes the train reaches Hogsmeade (and shortly before, Hagrid himself appears outside the window striding a flying motorcycle) allowing passengers to disembark onto Islands of Adventure. If you want to go back to London and Diagon Alley, you have to leave the station (which is next to the twin rollercoaster ride Dragon Challenge) and get back on line with your two-park ticket handy. On the way back to London, passengers will witness magical creatures like the hippogriff and centaurs trouncing around the forest surrounding Hogsmeade. Either route provides a nice, comfortable ride between the parks. The character silhouettes and the passenger windows certainly add an interesting touch to the experience. Even though it isn’t an E-ticket ride, Hogswart Express is a novel way to transit the parks. Continue reading