60 Years Of The Marvelous Fantastic Four

“A brilliant scientist—his best friend—the woman he loves—and her fiery-tempered kid brother! Together, they braved the unknown terrors of outer space, and were changed by cosmic rays into something more than merely human! MR. FANTASTIC! THE THING! THE INVISIBLE GIRL! THE HUMAN TORCH! Now they are the FANTASTIC FOUR—and the world will never be the same again!” Introduction to the Fantastic Four comic books during the 1970s,

Not much can be said about the Fantastic Four that hasn’t been said before. It’s widely regarded as one of Marvel Comics’ greatest teams and to this day, it deserves the title of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine- as it was advertised proudly on the covers of the comic books. They were called “the First Family of Marvel”, and during the silver and bronze age the creative teams, which began with co-creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, spun tale after tale involving the main four characters with their supporting cast as they figured out how to solve their problems or win the battle against the bad guys.

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary the FF, their story has proven to be as timeless as it is popular. First, we got Dr. Reed Richards, who becomes the stretchable Mr. fantastic, we have Sue storm who marries Reed and she becomes the Invisible Girl (and later rightly renames herself the Invisible Woman), then we have her younger brother Johnny, a hot rod-riding hothead, who loves fast cars and is always dating pretty girls, and then we have the family’s trusted friend Ben Grimm, who becomes the ever lovin’ blue-eyed Thing.

Why these characters work together is because the creation is structured around a family dynamic. A family who is close and loyal, yet bicker and banter, but at the end of the day come together as a team to win the day.

Why the setting works is that this is no ordinary family. Each one has been imbued with super powers based on cosmic ray irradiation when they rocketed to space on a test flight. Reed can stretch his body, Sue becomes invisible, Johnny bursts into flames and fly, and Ben became a rocky layered bulk of a humanoid. In terms of personality, Reed is the level-headed leader, Sue with her invisible powers also has a force projection where she could solidify the air around her making her a telekinetic, and effectively the most powerful member of the team. Johnny usually flies when he is fully engulfed in flames and can project flame blasts from his hands. And the Thing is so strong he could almost beat the Hulk, if not hold his own against the green goliath.

Also, the creators skillfully mixed the situation of the mundane and juxtaposed it with the cosmic. While Johnny and Ben were bickering over a meal, there might be something going on in the universe, a catastrophic threat of some kind or a massive universal event so they had to suspend their meal and arguments until later.

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Exploring Star Trek: Enterprise 20 Years Later

Twenty years ago, the final Rick Berman-era Star Trek show premiered on the former UPN network to a mixed reception, at best. Originally called Enterprise, the fifth Star Trek spinoff held a lot of promise with its premise—a prequel to the original Star Trek universe which detailed humankind’s initial exploration of space and the events, such as First Contact with famous Star Trek alien races, that led to the formation of the United Federation of Planets, and the acclaimed Star Trek universe.

When Enterprise was conceived, the Golden Age of Star Trek was already coming to a close. Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), two highly revered shows, were no longer airing and Star Trek: Voyager (VOY) was ending its seven-year run. By the time the final episode of VOY aired, Enterprise and its premise was known to fans, as was the fact that popular genre actor, Scott Bakula, the star of the beloved sci-fi time travel show Quantum Leap, was cast to play the lead, Captain Jonathan Archer. However, around this time the Star Trek franchise under the helm of Rick Berman was running out of steam, creatively. Many episodes of Star Trek: Voyager were formulaic and many feared for good reason this malaise would carryover into Enterprise since Berman created it and was the main showrunner, along with Brannon Braga.

There were signs that the new show was going through the motions, starting with it premise, another starship crew exploring the unknown sectors of space; the characters seemed bland for the most part and echoed the makeup of the original cast with a few differences.

Still, many held out hope that Enterprise would deliver and rekindle the spark of imagination that the Star Trek franchise was noted for. Many were cautiously optimistic about the show, yet others were not enthused about the show and were ready to move on to other properties.

Enterprise premiered on September 26, 2001, which obviously was the first post-9/11 Star Trek show just a few days after the catastrophic event struck the United States.

The pilot episode “Broken Bow” introduced viewers to the crew of NX-01 Enterprise, Earth’s first starship that was capable of reaching warp 5. The more notable crew members consisted of Captain Jonathan Archer (Bakula), Chief Engineer Travis “Trip” Tucker (Connor Trinneer), and First Officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), a skeptical Vulcan who acted more as a guide to the humans when they ventured into unfamiliar space.

The ship and crew were pressed into service when an alien Klingon crash landed on Earth and the Enterprise crew undertook the mission to return the Klingon to his people. What they soon learned was that a shape-shifting alien race called the Suliban were after the Klingon. This put the humans into conflict with the Suliban, which Archer learned were being manipulated by a great power in the far future.

This was part of a confusing sub plot throughout most of the show’s run about a so-called temporal cold war. Apparently, the time period Enterprise took place in (the 2250s) was pivotal in history and certain unknown factions in the future wanted to change it. According to some reports, co-creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were forced to include this plot line by the network, and the duo even admitted the plot was never fully developed, and it showed. Berman and Braga also revealed that initially they wanted the series to take place on Earth for a large bulk of the first season as the Enterprise was prepared for its maiden voyage. But the network asked that the starship immediately launch into action during the pilot episode.

“Broken Bow” was entertaining but not as inspiring or memorable as previous Star Trek pilots. A bad sign for the show was the opening credits which featured a montage of humankind’s history of exploration. The montage was fine, but it was ruined by a rancid rendition of “Faith of the Heart” that was so treacly and annoying.

Many of the characters introduced felt too familiar or were not memorable. It felt like the showrunners were trying to recreate the famous Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic with Archer, T’Pol and Tucker. Just swap the sex of the token Vulcan and make the emotional member of the trio an engineer instead of a doctor. Some characters were interesting but never got the screen time they deserved, such as Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley), a quirky alien doctor who was the chief medical officer of the ship. Other characters were completely forgettable, such as Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), the ship’s helmsman. What was known about him was that he was one of the first generations of humans to be raised in deep space. Other than that he was relegated to being a glorified extra.

The early episodes themselves were not very exciting or captivating, though there were a handful of standouts, such as “The Andorian Incident”, which established first human contact with the Andorians and introduced Shran (Jeffrey Combs), a volatile Andorian officer who was one of the show’s best characters. But in other episodes basically not much happens and felt routine. The basic premise of the show was that it was supposed to chronicle the first steps humanity took when it began exploring deep space. The tech was supposed to be crude, shuttles and grappling hooks were used by the ship instead of transporters or tractor beams. With that in mind, the transporters were still brand-new technology that was not trusted, yet they soon used all the time instead of shuttles. It’s a shame since the early reliance of shuttles inspired one of the better first season episodes “Shuttlepod One”.

Some of the storylines had interesting premises but the execution was mundane and the end result was by the numbers. Other episodes were outright copies of previous Star Trek episodes. For instance “Vanishing Point” had the same premise as “The Next Phase” from TNG, which did it better. The same went for “Precious Cargo”, an outright rip-off of TNG’s “The Perfect Mate”. It was obvious that Berman, Braga and other crewmembers were burnt out and going through the motions. Many of them, including Berman, had been involved with Star Trek since the mid-1980s. It was time to bring in new blood but the people in charge refused to see this and this is why the show suffered.

By the time the second season of Enterprise came to a close it was clear something had to be done. Ratings were declining, as was interest in the Star Trek franchise. Many fans abandoned it for fresher properties that were making their mark at the time such as Stargate: SG1, Firefly and Farscape.

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A Look Back At Spider-Man (2002)

Spider-Man film mania is reaching new levels of excitement with the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and the revelation that the latest Spider-Man film will introduce the previous cinematic universes of older Marvel films into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This was seen with appearances of the Spider-Man villains from the original Spidey films, which heralds many highly anticipated crossover events for future MCU films. With all this hoopla it is time to take a look at the original Spider-Man film trilogy that was directed by Sam Raimi from 2002 to 2007.

The very first film based on Marvel Comics’ most popular superhero, Spider-Man, helped usher in a new age of superhero films at the turn of the century that eventually changed the cinematic landscape.

For the longest time it seemed as if there never would be a live-action film about Spider-Man. Marvel Comics, then later Marvel Entertainment, had the hardest time properly adapting their properties into respectable films or TV shows. The best they achieved was The Incredible Hulk TV show from the ’70s. Then things turned around with the releases of Blade (1998) and X-Men (2000). With those film successes it was only natural for Marvel to turn to its flagship superhero.

Before Marvel was acquired by Disney, the film rights to their characters were sold to major and minor studios. This created a legal mess when it came to Spider-Man as it prevented a film from being produced. The best known effort was a film to be directed by James Cameron. Rumors had it that Leonardo DeCaprio was slated to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and the film would have deviated wildly from the famous comic book source. One of those changes was that instead of crafting web shooters, Spider-Man had the ability to shoot his own organic webbing. This turned out to be one change that survived in the eventual Spider-Man, released on May 3, 2002 and directed by Sam Raimi, known by fans for his Evil Dead and Darkman films.

Spider-Man is a largely faithful adaptation of the Marvel Comics story about Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), a lonely and nerdy teenager in Queens, New York, who is bitten by a genetically altered spider during a class field trip at a laboratory. This updated the origin in that the spider was not radioactive as in the comics. During the ’60s radiation exposure was the cause du jour for how characters gained super powers. Of course, most people know better today that such exposure would have been fatal to living organisms such as humans!

Naturally, Peter developed spider-based powers because the venom from the spider’s bite changed his DNA. While he is elated with his new powers and physique he is pining for his next-door neighbor, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). She comes from a troubled home but hides her pain by exhibiting an outgoing and friendly demeanor. While the two seem attracted to each other she has a boyfriend with his own car. Being that he doesn’t have a lot of money, Peter decided to enter a wrestling exhibition to win money to buy a car.

He’s dropped off near the exhibition by his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), who tried to counsel Peter about his growing pains, but the teenager disregarded him. For the wrestling match, Peter adopted a flashy costumed identity that covered most of his face and called himself the Human Spider. The announcer (Bruce Campbell in the first of many humorous cameos in these films) renamed him Spider-Man and watched in disbelief, along with the audience, as Peter took out his far larger opponent.

Looking for his reward, Peter is instead ripped off by the wrestling promoter, who refused to pay him over a technicality. After Peter left his office, the promoter is immediately robbed at gunpoint, and the robber was able to escape because Peter refused to stop him. This decision would later haunt him as the same robber killed Uncle Ben in a carjacking. Afterwards, Peter bitterly recalled his uncle’s message about “with great power comes great responsibility” and decided to use his powers for good as Spider-Man.

During Peter’s emotional journey, Spider-Man examined the story of Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), a billionaire industrialist and head of his company Oscorp. Facing competition and deadlines as a military contractor, Osborn subjected himself to an experimental chemical that enhanced his strength, durability and reflexes, but was driven insane. Peter and Osborn’s paths are intertwined as Peter’s friendship with Osborn’s son, Harry (James Franco), develops. Harry is also dating Mary Jane, but is aware of the mutual attraction Peter and Mary Jane have for each other. Meanwhile, Osborn adopted the armored identity of the criminal Green Goblin, and soon came into conflict with Spider-Man.

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A Brief Look Back At Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time

The previous post about Terminator 2: Judgment Day brought to mind the extinct theme park attraction Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time or T2 3D at Universal Studios.

The attraction was a live-stage show combined with a 3D film that embedded audiences into the action-packed world of the Terminator franchise. T2 3D premiered at Universal Studios Florda on April 27 1996 and closed on October 8, 2017. It also ran in Universal Studios Hollywood from May 6, 1999 to December 31, 2012. The only remaining theme park where it still operates is at Universal Studios Japan, where it opened on March 31, 2001, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how much longer the attraction will run there.

Being that the film was directed by James Cameron himself, T2 3D would be the final time that he directed a Terminator film, even though it was a short film that ran about 12 minutes. It was also the final time that the actors from Terminator 2: Judgment Day reunited to reprise their roles: Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, Edward Furlong as John Connor, and Robert Patrick as the T-1000. Needless to say, it was the last time Cameron directed these actors.

Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time amped the scale and quality of live-stage shows and 3D films for its time and was considered very revolutionary in how it seemlessly combined both aspects to create an immersive experience for visitors that began during the pre-show portion of the attraction.

After entering the attraction’s building, visitors where exposed to company propaganda from Cyberdyne Systems in the form of an annoying PR spokeswoman who appeared live and videos that touted the coming cybernetic and robotic products from the company.

The videos get hacked by Sarah and her teenage son, John Connor, who warn the visitors about the dangers of Cyberdyne complete with footage from the Terminator films. Their video hack ends and the PR spokeswomen dismissed their warnings before ushering the visitors into the main theater for a demonstation of the company’s latest product: the T-70 infantry unit aka prototype terminators.

Several T-70s (actually audio-animatronics) were lined up on walls alongside the seats and demonstrated their firepower. After that, live actors representing the Connors arrive and shut down the demonstration. But before long, a 3D metallic image of the T-1000 forms from a displayed logo of Cyberdyne Systems on a screen in front of the audience and it emerged from the screen as a live actor. The T-1000 kills the spokeswomen to the delight of the audience then starts chasing the Connors. However, a vortex formed in the movie screen and from it a live-action T-800 riding a motorcycle came to the rescue. A brief firefight ensued as clever maneuvering by the live actors hid their faces while overhead monitors displayed the film actors. This was very well choreographed considereing that the live actors ran through the aisles in front of the audience.

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The 30th Anniversary Retrospective

Thirty years ago one of the greatest sequels of all time was released, when James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, sometimes called T2, appeared in theaters. Coming off the success of the first Terminator film as well as another classic sequel Aliens, Cameron reintroduced audiences to his nightmarish future world where the planet was taken over by Skynet, a supercomputer gone rogue that was attempting to wipe out the remnants of humanity. As with the first film, the beginning of Terminator 2: Judgement Day shows human resistance forces led by John Connor in a pitched battle featuring colossal hunter killer machines against a ragtag group of human fighters. This is certainly one of the highlights of the film that really hasn’t been matched by later Terminator films. 

The film subsequently moves to the present where the terminator sent back in time (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his career) arrives, this time to protect John Connor as a ten year old. The change of Schwarzenegger from villain in the first film to hero was risky, but it pays off as he and John Connor (Edward Furlong) have a great rapport, with the emotionless killer cyborg learning about what it means to be human from the sarcastic, but strong child. His strength, obviously came from his mother Sarah Connor, played brilliantly by Linda Hamilton.

Her character also has a dramatic change from the first film, where she was an innocent bystander who then transformed into a warrior willing to do anything to protect her child, knowing he is the savior of humanity. Her reunion with her son, and with the machine of her nightmares is a highlight, as is their first encounter in a mental health institution with the iconic T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a liquid metal killer cyborg that ruthlessly hunts down John. The nearly silent and deadly T-1000 is an interesting contrast to Schwarzenegger’s hulking T-800 model. Our heroes’ journey takes them south of the border and finally back to where it all started at Cyberdyne Systems, the place where Skynet itself was created, as they attempt to stop the nuclear war and rise of the machines from ever taking place. The final battle with the T-1000 at a steel mill is another thrilling highlight in a movie filled with show-stopping scenes, as the T-800 makes the ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of all humanity, having learned from John about humans in general.

The theme of what it means to be human permeates this film and raises it past the level of just another cool action movie. From Sarah confronting her nightmares of the future and almost losing her humanity in trying to commit murder to change the future, to John seeing his machine protector as a father figure, to the terminator itself telling John at the end that he knows why humans cry, even if he could never do it. T2 has so much to say about the future of humankind and how our fates are not set in stone. This directly affects events in the film when the T-800, John and Sarah attempt to destroy Skynet with the help of its creator Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), who realizes his future creation will result in a nuclear holocaust and threaten humanity with extinction.

Having said all that, the film also has a well deserved reputation as a fantastic and influential action movie, with incredibly exciting stunts and special effects that revolutionized the genre. The “morphing” effect that brought the shape-shifting T-1000 to life forever changed how we saw what was possible in science fiction and films, in general. This directly led to the stunning dinosaur effects in Jurassic Park two years later, as well as other films that demonstrated that new worlds and creatures could be realized. The film also enshrined Terminator as a franchise, which in retrospect had mixed results. The direct follow up, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines took the story to an interesting place and had a great ending, and the next film Terminator: Salvation finally showcased a future war that was hinted at in earlier films. But the most recent films, Terminator: Genisys and Terminator: Dark Fate were both reboots that were lacking, to put it mildly.

However, the franchise is still intact with a new anime series in development at Netflix, and a recently released video game Terminator: Resistance that is an excellent foray into the future war and leads right up to the opening sequence in T2, which is revealed to be the final battle between Skynet and John Connor’s forces before the terminators are sent back in time. All of these sequels, as well as the great and still-missed TV show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and the Universal Studios theme park attraction T2-3D: Battle Across Time used Terminator 2: Judgement Day as the springboard to new plotlines. That is because T2 did such a great job of showcasing its world of killer cyborgs and brave, yet flawed heroes fighting against a seemingly inevitable fate of death and destruction.

Whatever the future has in store for the Terminator franchise, it can be certain that the influence and impact of Terminator 2: Judgement Day will always be felt, both for its epic scope and excitement, as well for its insights into at what makes us tick. That, along with its equally great predecessor, will keep this film going for another 30 years and beyond and keep it enshrined as not only a brilliant sequel, but a superior film in its own right.

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