Star Trek Turns 55

Yes, the classic sci-fi TV show that started the unbelievable Star Trek phenomenon turned double nickels this year. At 55, Star Trek continues to captivate untold numbers of fans. As any Trekker knows, the show has spun off into nearly a dozen TV shows (which includes Short Treks and the original animated TV show from the ’70s) and thirteen films.

There are many reasons for the enduring appeal and success of the Star Trek franchise. They include the captivating story lines and characters that serve as allegories for our current situation or are at least imaginative. The stories also offer a beacon of hope for humankind, that we will overcome our strife and spread out into the stars. Whatever the reason, Star Trek, despite its ups and downs, will continue to entrance fans and be a part of our culture for a long time.

To help celebrate the 55th anniversary of Star Trek, the streaming app Paramount+ presented a live celebration of the show and its spinoffs on September 8. This day is now known as Star Trek Day because the original TV show debuted on September 8, 1966. The Star Trek Day celebration featured many cast members and showrunners from previous, current and upcoming productions dedicated to Star Trek. The panel presentations featured actors from previous Star Trek shows who reminded the audience of the significance contributions their shows made to the franchise. These were followed up by beautifully performed live scores of each Star Trek show by Jeff Russo and his orchestra.

Probably the most anticipated highlight of the Star Trek Day event were the presentations of upcoming Star Trek TV shows such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Prodigy, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (which revealed its full crew lineup that includes Nyota Uhura, Christine Chapel and new characters), Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Picard. The trailer for Star Trek: Picard unveiled that the second season will be time travel romp that partially takes place in modern times and was a delightful callback to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as the characters struggled to blend in with our times, Good luck with that, many of us are also struggling! It was announced that Star Trek: Picard has been renewed for a third season and premiere dates were given for a few of the shows.

But the most insightful panel was a celebration of the 100th birthday of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The panel, hosted by Wil Wheaton, featured Rod Roddenberry, George Takei, LeVar Burton and Gates McFadden. They all shared their personal stories of meeting Gene Roddenberry and how they worked with him. It was an excellent and heartfelt commemoration of Gene Roddenberry and his impact on Star Trek and our culture.

Even though the current Star Trek shows have their issues, their best aspects were highlighted and it was clear that the people involved with the shows were passionate about their work. It was heartening to see during the Star Trek Day event that the show that started 55 years ago continues to shine which is remarkable considering that most TV shows from that long-gone era have been forgotten. This includes TV shows that garnered more ratings than the original Star Trek.

The celebration was a welcome reminder that Star Trek will continue to live long and prosper.

José Soto

Who Will Be The Sixth Member Of The Sinister Six In Spider-Man: No Way Home?

Long before the first trailer finally dropped for Spider-Man: No Way Home and people glimpsed the many villains featured in the trailer, there has been lots of speculation about the villains. Specifically, the Sinister Six, the villain group comprised of Spider-Man’s most famous enemies. The trailer showed at least one member of that group and the trailer showed evidence of other members, which came to five. So, who is the sixth member of the Sinister Six in the film?

First off, let’s clear the air, it is doubtful we will get a faithful version of that group first seen in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1. That line-up consited of Doctor Octopus, Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio, the Vulture, Sandman and Electro and they formally combined their forces to take on their mutual enemy, though they did so rather stupidly. Instead of teaming up together and taking out Spidey at once they decided to confront him one by one during separate occasions, which gave him a chance to defeat them individually. From looking at the trailer it appears as if the Sinister Six is not a formal group, but a collection of foes that plague Spidey.

Getting back to the main question, let’s go over who will appear. According to reports, aside from Doctor Octopus who made an appearance and Green Goblin, as evidenced by a pumpkin bomb, the other three villains were Electro, the Lizard and Sandman. The latter three were only hinted at and noticed by careful examiners of the trailer. These villains were featured in previous Spider-Man films and that could provide an answer to the sixth member. The other Spider-Man films featured Venom, Rhino, Shocker, Vulture, two versions of the Green Goblin based on Harry Osborn and Mysterio.

While Spider-Man has an impressive rogues gallery with foes who have not appeared in live action yet, it’s doubtful we will see them in Spider-Man: No Way Home. To include one of them at this point would not make sense because they haven’t had the exposure to have an impact when they appear. That, unfortunately, leaves out classic foes like Kraven or Chameleon or the Scorpion. These three would have made a great impact in a more grounded Spider-Man film that followed up the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home and fully explored the ramifications of Spider-Man’s identity being exposed. Instead, the new film will explore the Multiverse concept of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and other cinematic universes based on Marvel characters. On the other hand, the Scorpion’s alter ego, Max Gargan, was introduced in the first MCU Spider-Man film which hinted at his returning to menace Spidey. Spider-Man: No Way Home could be used to further develop Gargan after he is turned into the Scorpion.

If this doesn’t happen in Spider-Man: No Way Home then the two other logical choices for the sixth member are either the Vulture or Mysterio. This version of the Sinister Six so far includes Spider-Man enemies not seen in the MCU and needs someone from the MCU to tie the MCU version of Spider-Man more closely to the group.

It’s possible both villains could appear in Spider-Man: No Way Home but it will most likely be just one, but who? Vulture has more personal ties to Spider-Man and his alter ego. Plus, he appeared in the trailer for the Sony/Marvel film Morbius so this film could further establish ties to Morbius. Mysterio returning would make sense, even though he was killed in Spider-Man: Far From Home. However, given his dubious nature and talent for misdirection, it is likely he faked his own death and give the MCU Spider-Man the chance to deal with him once and for all.

Then again the film could throw us off completely and give us Venom or someone completely unexpected like Morlun or the Hobgoblin. We’ll find out in just a few short months. Let the speculation continue until then!

Raiders of the Lost Ark Turns 40

It’s hard to believe 40 years has gone by for this priceless treasure of a movie. Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was great then, as it is now. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark was conceived by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas while the two were on vacation at the time Star Wars was released in theaters in May 1977. The two filmmakers wanted to collaborate on a project. Spielberg wanted to do a James Bond film, but that did not pan out. Instead, he and Lucas decided to create their own hero and over time, Phil Kaufman helped flesh out Lucas’ story, and later Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplay.

When Raiders of the Lost Ark debuted June 12, 1981, it made us realize that Hollywood did not make movies like this anymore. Directed by Steven Spielberg and executive produced by George Lucas, the film was a tribute to the old black and white adventure serials (often done by Republic Pictures) that appeared in cinemas back in the early days of film.  

It was an adventure movie set in the 1930s with a touch of the religious and otherworldly—namely the mystical artifact, the Ark of the Covenant, which was sought after throughout the world by the archeologist Indiana “Indy” Jones (Harrison Ford, who was never more dashing) and Nazis led by Indy’s dastardly rival archeologist Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman). The film boasted a handsome and rugged hero, a beautiful, but tough, female lead (Karen Allen), smarts, spunk and pulse-pounding action. It’s why many moviegoers still consider Raiders of the Lost Ark to be the all-time greatest action movie.

What helped Raiders stand out from other action films were Spielberg’s directing which injected so much passion and energy into each scene and the hint of the supernatural when the Ark was finally opened. Basically the film was a Republic serial on a steroid budget as it boasted topnotch production values and effects, which consisted of blue screens and miniatures. One chilling effect that was unique at that time was that of one of the villain’s face melting off when the Ark was opened. The effects crew constructed a mold using a stone skull and gelatin that was melted between two propane heaters. It took about ten minutes for the face to melt, which of course, was sped up in the film to a gruesome effect.

Another star of the film was the film’s composer, John Williams. Already famous for his memorable scores for Jaws, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Williams was picked for Raiders thanks to his association with both filmmakers. Originally, Williams had two distinct themes for the film, and Spielberg suggested he combine the two and viola, that is how we got the famous Raiders March that evokes a feeling of grand adventure and thrills.

The film was wildly beloved when it burst into the scene that summer. Later in 1982, it won five Oscars and was even nominated for best director and best movie of the year, though as usual the Academy Awards voters chose to bestow those honors to less deserving winners (Warren Beatty for his overstuffed Reds, and Chariots of Fire, a real yawn fest of a film that is largely forgotten). As noted before, Raiders of the Lost Ark was based on cheaply made serials, yet it was made on a budget of less than $20 million. However, the film grossed almost $400 million (very high for its time), which proved that audiences still liked good old-fashioned adventures.

American actor Harrison Ford on the set of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Raiders of the Lost Ark and the followup Indiana Jones films dispelled any doubt that Harrison Ford could only be a box office draw for the Star Wars movies. Ford stood out so clearly with his iconic wardrobe, bullwhip and tough-as-nails demeanor, except when it came to snakes! After his role in Indy, Ford went on to become one of the top earning action stars of the ’80s.

At the same time, Raiders helped disprove that George Lucas was a one-trick pony, since he is best known for his Star Wars films, while it cemented Steven Spielberg’s deserved status as one of our greatest film directors.

The sequels were well received for the most part with exceptions. The first sequel, or rather prequel (since it takes place before Raiders), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was criticized for being too violent and helped inspire the PG-13 movie rating. The third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was considered by some as the best of the Indy films, though most still think that forty years later, the first one is the best. Unfortunately, the last one, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which came out in 2008, is considered to be the weakest film, thanks to the obvious use of CG, clumsy antics and Shia LeBeouf, who played Indy’s son, but it still has some terrific moments.

Thankfully, that film will not be the last we have seen of Professor Jones as a new adventure is being filmed for release next year. But given Harrison Ford’s advanced age (he is 78), it is hard to see how the film will convince us he is still a man of action. It’s too bad, there were not more Indiana Jones movies made when Ford was in his prime, otherwise we would not have this dilemma. But keep in mind that the actor wanted to branch out and do other films, plus Spielberg and Lucas were also busy with other projects, which meant that all three getting together to do more Indy films was a logistical nightmare and it still is, as seen by the fact that Steven Spielberg is not directing the fifth film; James Mangold has taken over for the directing duties.

With three sequels released and a fourth sequel currently filming we should take a moment to consider the appeal and influence of Indiana Jones.

The concept of Indy being an outdoor adventurer looking for things of importance no doubt influenced Tomb RaiderUncharted, the Temple Run video game franchise, the Jumanji films, Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy, and even Dora the Explorer. Lesser known properties inspired by Indy’s film adventures include the cult classic The Rocketeer, the fairly recent Journey to the Center of the Earth movies with Brendan Fraser and The Rock, and TV shows like Tales of the Golden Monkey. There was even an Indy- themed episode of Magnum P.I. starring Spielberg and Lucas’ first choice to play Indiana Jones—Tom Selleck. The actor almost got the part, but had to bow out due to contractual obligations with his TV show.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is so influential that any imagery in media showing a person or people exploring the jungle, with table cards flashing a bold logo is no doubt influenced by Indiana Jones. It even re-popularized the fedora hat that Indy often wore along with his leather jacket. These are just some of the reasons why we celebrate Raiders of the Lost Ark forty years after its release. Simply put, it still holds up as an exciting, innovative and lavish adventure yarn that is timeless.  To paraphrase Belloc, who mentioned in the film that if he buried a cheap watch in a thousand years it would become priceless, well in a thousand years we sense that this movie will still be priceless!

Walter L. Stevenson

The MCU Drought

 

Disney and Marvel Studios threw in the towel a few days ago when it came to releasing any films in 2020: Black Widow was bumped out of its slated November release date into next year. This created a domino effect in that all other scheduled MCU films were pushed back, in some cases to 2022. For the first time since 2009, a year will pass without any offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Face it folks, we are in an MCU drought.

This is quite a downer and is completely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and how irresponsible many people have been (wear the damn mask already!). Of course, this is simply a First World complaint and pales to other more serious plights going on, but the lack of an MCU film for fans to enjoy is just more proof that the pandemic has uprooted our lives.

At this rate, who knows when things will go back to “normal” or if it is even possible. If this keeps up will any high profile film be released in theaters next year? It is understandable that film studios are hesitant to release films in theaters under current circumstances, even though some theaters are now open. The problem is that even if every theater re-opened, many people would be hesitant to go attend them, not with COVID-19 lurking around. Sure, some would not have a problem but any released film will not earn its full potential at the box office. Take Tenet as an example. At one point, it was one of the most eagerly anticipated films and thought to be the one film to herald a return to the movies after the pandemic ended. Only the pandemic did not end and the film was shuffled around almost as much as The New Mutants. In the end, Tenet turned out to be a box office disappointment. Even though it has earned over $200 million that pales to what was once expected of Tenet.

As for The New Mutants, the fact that it was eventually released is a small miracle and oddly enough wound up being the sole film released in 2020 that was based on a Marvel Comics property, though it clearly was not set in the MCU. Also worth mentioning is that fans already had a property released this year that was set in the MCU…sort of. That was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Whether or not that TV show was considered part of the MCU is open for debate but on paper it was. Another Marvel property coming to the small screens in a few weeks is the Helstrom TV show which will debut on Hulu, though it is not marketed as a Marvel property.  With all that said, keep in mind fans of the MCU will have at least something for 2020 to get through the MCU drought and that is the upcoming WandaVision TV show on Disney+ later in 2020.

WandaVision may be a consolation prize, but judging from its trippy trailer it promises to be a wildly imaginative treat for MCU fans with its bizarre imagery of a 1950s Middle American TV landscape that morphs into more modern sitcoms. Hopefully, WandaVision will be as mind bending and thought provoking as Legion, but with an added bonus that it’s set in the MCU and is a vital cog that lines up with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

But even though WandaVision is supposed to come out in 2020, Disney+ still has not said when it will stream. It is believed to be in December but certainly after the second season of The Mandalorian has finished its run. It’s just too bad that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was not completed enough for it to have streamed this year on Disney+ as originally planned. But at least we know that WandaVision is still on track to come out later in the year.

Yes, the MCU is in a drought but this will not last forever. The pandemic will pass. Theaters will re-open fully and be safe to attend. There will be plenty of MCU fare coming our way. Next year promises four MCU films (Black Widow, Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and a new Spider-Man film) along with two Sony films, Morbius and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which are now rumored to be part of the MCU. Plus, Marvel Studios and Disney+ promised there will be more MCU shows streaming in 2021, starting with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and then Loki and What If…

So, before long, we will have so many plum offerings to make up for our current MCU drought. Hang in there, be patient and wear your mask!

 

 

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films Of 2020

As we settle into the new year it’s that time to look ahead for what films await us in 2020. A quick look will show that the superheroes will be taking a breather on the big screen along with some of the more notable franchises. Still, there are plenty of promising offerings for this year. As before keep in mind that not all of the films will actually be released in 2020 or on the dates listed below, and some of them will turn out to be disappointments, while something that may not even make it into the other mention list will turn out to be tomorrow’s classic.

10. Black Widow (May 1):

Finally! Black Widow gets her own overdue solo film, but is it too late? The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MC) Phase Four offers the MCU take on spy thrillers that is obviously a flashback/prequel film (no spoilers for anyone who has not seen Avengers: Endgame).

Tomorrow war

9. The Tomorrow War (December 25):

Chris Pratt stars as a soldier in a future war against aliens. The catch is that humanity is forced to recruit soldiers from the past to win the war. If this is anything like the classic Edge of Tomorrow then genre fans are in for treat.

8. Antebellum (April 24):

Very little is known about this horror thriller from the producers of Get Out and Us. It has something to do with a writer trapped in between our reality and one during the period before the Civil War. But their credentials and the disturbing and mysterious imagery shown in the trailer make this film a must see.

7. Free Guy (July 3):

Think of this film as a live-action Wreck-It Ralph, sort of. Ryan Reynolds stars as a Non-Playable Character (NPC) in a Fortnite-like video game who evolves beyond his programming. Now aware of his limited existence, the NPC decides to take a more proactive role in his virtual world and become the hero.

6. Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5):

Gal Gadot returns as the titular Amazonian warrior in this sequel that takes place in the 1980s. The more modern setting juxtaposed with Wonder Woman’s heroics are refreshingly different from Wonder Woman’s grim World War I backdrop. Another plus is that the previous film’s humor and kinetic superheroic action will continue in this sequel.

5. BIOS (October 2):

Tom Hanks stars as a dying scientist and the last person on Earth who builds a robot companion for his dog and the trio embark on a journey where the robot has to learn to be more “human”. Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik helms this sci-fi film which combines the retrospective nature of Hanks’ classic Cast Away with high adventure.

4. Godzilla vs. Kong (November 20):

The epic showdown between two of the biggest and most famous kaijus takes place in the fourth Monsterverse film. Many have complained about the previous film’s (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) poorly defined characters and plot, but many others cheered the jaw-dropping visual treats of giant monsters battling to the death. Hopefully, the latest Monsterverse film will deliver more of this to fans.

3. A Quiet Place, Part II (March 20):

The first film about a family surviving in a world overrun by lethal aliens was a chilling and tense surprise thanks to John Krasinski’s (who also starred) masterful direction. A Quiet Place, Part II continues the journey of the family from the first film as they venture beyond their home to the outside world and learn they don’t only have the aliens to worry about.

2. Dune (December 18):

Acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve, having won accolades for his work on Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, gives us his take on the most revered sci-fi novel of all time. This version of Dune promises to be more faithful to the source novel than the David Lynch film from the 1980s. Already boasting an impressive cast, expect Dune to be lavishly presented with exceptional production values and effects. Also note that this version of Dune will only cover the first half of the novel, which is about a young messianic figure’s trials on a desert world in the far future, whose actions will reshape the universe.

1. Tenet (July 17):

Director Christopher Nolan’s newest film is clouded in secrecy but appears to be a high-octane spy thriller about preventing World War III. Tenet stands out from say another James Bond or Jason Bourne thriller by being laced with disorienting and not-so-subtle twists in the vein of Inception.

In fact, some are already speculating Tenet could be a sequel or spinoff to Inception only this time the emphasis is on time. Even without the off-key imagery of time flowing backwards in several spots, Tenet looks like another provocative, mind-bending action-packed fest from the auteur.

Other Upcoming Films:

 Bill and Ted Face the Music (August 21): The Wild Stallyns are back in another goofy time travel adventure; Bloodshot (March 13): Vin Diesel stars in the first live-action Valiant superhero film about a mercenary with nanite blood; Eternals (November 6): The other MCU film coming out this year will showcase the history of the MCU spanning millennium and characters; Ghostbusters: Afterlife (July 10): A new take on Ghostbusters which hopes to recapture the nostalgia for the original films; The Invisible Man (February 28): Elizabeth Moss portrays a woman haunted by her supposedly dead abusive lover who is actually alive and invisible;

Malignant (August 14): Writer and director James Wan adapts his graphic novel about a man with an alien tumor that gives him superpowers;  Morbius (July 31): Sony brings to life another Spider-Man villain turned anti-hero; The New Mutants (April 3): Just when we thought the final Fox X-Men film was dead and buried, we find out it will actually be released; Onward (March 6): The first Pixar film of the decade features two elves who are brothers that set out on a trip to revive their dead father; Raya and the Last Dragon (November 25): In this Disney animated film, a warrior searches for the last dragon; Samaritan (December 11): Sylvester Stallone stars as a long-lost superhero;  Sonic the Hedgehog (February 14); Internet rage changed the look of the popular video game character, now it’s up in the air if the film will actually be good;  Soul (June 19): The second Pixar animated release features a new soul who discovers the afterlife; Venom 2 (October 2): Tom Hardy returns in the sequel to the surprise superhero hit about the anti-heroic alien symbiote; Underwater (January 10): Scientists are trapped on the ocean floor and are preyed upon by mysterious creatures; The Witches (October 9): Robert Zemeckis directs this adaptation of the Roald Dahl fantasy book; After Yang (TBD); A father and his daughter try to save her robotic nanny; Stowaway (TBD): This variation of “The Cold Equations” takes place on a journey to Mars;  Voyagers (TBD): Reportedly this film is marketed as Lord of the Flies in space.