Comic-Con 2013 Highlights

Another Comic-Con at San Diego has come and gone, leaving many fans whetting their appetites over upcoming film releases, TV show premieres, comic books, etc. While the convention is supposed to be about comic books and related matter, the biggest news had to do with pending films and TV shows.

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Godzilla

Stealing the thunder in the early days of the convention was the immersive Godzilla Experience exhibit that gave convention goers a chance to see what the aftermath of a Godzilla rampage is like. Also, fans got a look at the new design of the famous Kaiju for next year’s Godzilla. Film director Gareth Edwards promises to deliver a true Godzilla movie unlike the abomination that came out in 1998. Reports are that the footage shown at Comic-Con allegedly captured the mood of the early Godzilla films.

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Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

This anticipated sequel to Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, 2011’s successful reboot of the Apes franchise, looks mighty interesting. A special teaser was put together for Comic-Con that showed an older and angrier Caesar (mo-capped again by Andy Serkis) in his ape camp meeting with human resistance fighters. Many were excited by the tease, which presented even more realistically rendered CG apes.

The Walking Dead

The people behind the very successful TV show The Walking Dead seem to have outdone themselves. At least, that is what it looks like with the riveting trailer for the show’s fourth season. We find Rick Grimes and his group of survivors dealing with the nitty gritty of life in a post-apocalyptic world. As usual with The Walking Dead, characters apparently die as shown in the trailer and the tension and thrills seem to be in overdrive.

Gravity

Many curious fans got a gripping look at thrilling and captivating clips from Alonso Cuarón’s Gravity movie. Featuring endangered astronauts played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the movie looks incredible. Thanks to the clips, which showcase the director’s masterful long takes, anticipation has greatly grown for Gravity. This film was delayed from last year, but based on the clips, the wait may have been worth the delay.

Almost Human

J.J. Abrams’ Lost and Fringe may no longer be on the air, but his new TV offerings may make up for that. The most promising "Almost Human" Season 1TV show seems to be Almost Human, which had its pilot screened at Comic-Con. It stars Karl Urban as a cop whose partner is an artificial being in the near future. While the premise sounds formulaic, the pilot was very well received by those who viewed it.

Marvel & DC Movies

The biggest news and reactions were generated by the Marvel and DC movie announcements and previews. Arguably, the most intense and joyous reaction was from the announcement that the next Superman movie will team him up with DC’s other iconic superhero, Batman.

mutantsNot to be outdone, Marvel previewed footage, props and concept art from an impressive lineup of films like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy. Along with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, two other Marvel films generated a lot of buzz. One was the sequel to The Avengers with the announcement that the evil android Ultron will be the villain. The other film is the eagerly awaited X-Men: Days Of Future Past. Aside from shown footage and anti-mutant posters plastered all over the place, the spectacle of the entire cast appearing to promote next year’s film was noteworthy.

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Many comic book fans lament about the way that Comic-Con lost its focus on being about comic books. But at least, the films generating the most talk out of the convention are based on comic book properties. This illustrates how the characters in those comics have evolved past their traditional trappings into something larger.

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Pacific Rim Rocks!

pc rim posterDirector Guilermo Del Toro hits it out of the park again with his latest, monumental film Pacific Rim. Many will probably say that this giant monster or Kaiju extravaganza isn’t anything more than a Godzilla/Transformers mash up. Pacific Rim is more than that, which is why it’s so spectacular.

Pacific Rim takes place in the near future after an interdimensional breach on the Pacific Ocean floor unleashes gigantic creatures that destroy coastal regions. Humanity fights back by building gargantuan robots called Jaegers that are operated by two pilots. After a string of victories against the Kaijus, however, the colossal creatures adapt and begin defeating the Jaegers. This was vividly shown during an early battle where a Kaiju is killed at great cost to a Jaeger’s pilots.

PACIFIC RIMWhen the film opens, humanity is on the verge of shutting down the Jaeger program, because they’re seen as unsuccessful. One former pilot, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnman) is approached by his old boss Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to come back to the program. There are only four remaining Jaegers left, and Pentecost has a plan to use them to deliver a nuke into the interdimensional breach and sealing it.

Becket is assigned to pilot the Gipsy Danger, his old Jaeger that was badly damaged in a battle years ago that took the life of his brother and co-pilot. Pentecost’s assistant Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) wants to be Becket’s co-pilot but utilizing a Jaeger isn’t easy. The mammoth robots are so complex that two pilots need to operate them using a neural link that ensures a synchronized operation.  In other words, the pilots have to be compatible. Typically, Becket and Mako butt heads as both are recovering from painful memories. Meanwhile, Pentecost’s team learns that not only are the Kaiju attacks increasing, but there’s a reason behind their appearances, making it imperative that they seal the breach.

PACIFIC RIM

For anyone who loves or used to love those old Japanese Kaiju films that featured Godzilla, Pacific Rim is an ode to those classics. Even if you no longer watch those films, this one will reignite the passion one felt as a kid at seeing giant, misshapen monsters devastating a city. Only this time, big-budget special effects and top-notch direction enhance the experience. Guilermo Del Toro knows what works with the Kaiju films and what doesn’t. Using that knowledge he skillfully crafted this epic monster movie.

???????????It may be difficult, however, for non-Kaiju fans to appreciate the effort. At first glance, Pacific Rim may seem like a giant monster movie with robots that is made for kids. But it’s deeper than that, unlike those old films, you care about the characters. You’re entertained by them when the monsters aren’t on screen. There are also many quirky supporting characters that sometimes provide comic relief or add something important to the plot. The most memorable of them include Ron Perlman as a slick black market dealer and two nerdy and eccentric scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman.

Another notable factor with Pacific Rim, is that we get to see what a world with giant monsters might be like. We are flooded with imagery and background details showing how things will be different. We see the use of thick emergency shelters, the presence of a black market for monster parts, and hints at how the economy has changed for the worse. These elements aren’t dwelled upon, but they are there for repeat viewing.

The highlight, of course, are the amazing battles between monsters and machines. One important difference between this film and the old Kaiju films is the special effects. PACIFIC RIMThey’re practically flawless and the action scenes are well-executed and clear. Pacific Rim doesn’t have the shaking camera movements seen in those dumb Transformers movies that don’t let you know what is going on. Del Toro proves that he is a master of the camera in the way he stages these shots. The result is a thrilling viewing experience.

We’ve been teased by Hollywood of the capability of putting out a big-scale, giant monster movie. That was seen with Cloverfield and to a lesser extent 1998’s Godzilla. Pacific Rim is what the latter film should’ve been and so much more.

José Soto

2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Three

This premise may sound silly, and what doesn’t help are the ludicrous scientific explanations given in many films and shows. It’s probably why it’s not something that comes to mind when dealing with doomsday. But it’s now spring so let’s think about nature.  At one time, particularly during the 1950s and 1970s the concept of humanity’s comeuppance via nature wasn’t considered far-fetched by many. Usually the film would have protagonists encountering freaks of nature that threaten humanity if allowed to run rampant. Sometimes the creatures practically destroyed major cities. Tokyo and New York were preferred targets. Often, the culprits behind the mutations were byproducts of pollution or radiation. Godzilla comes to mind, actually he’s a prime example of…(drum roll please, add in an ominous voice)

Doomsday Scenario No. 10: When Nature Strikes Back

Sounds like the title for a Syfy Saturday night movie, doesn’t it? No surprise since the channel is now infamous for airing schlocky grade z sci-fi/horror films about mutated animals. There isn’t any need to list any of them here, just tune in to the channel say every third or so Saturday night to find one.

The heyday for nature striking back took place in two different eras; the 1950s when everyone lived in fear of nuclear weapons (we still do but for different reasons and it isn’t nature we fear but madmen determined to get WMDs) and the 1970s when pollution was the pc catchphrase for the decade.

Atomic Giants

In the 1950s people worried about the long-lasting effects of nuclear radiation. Many films reflected this fear with stories about nuclear bombs unleashing gigantic monsters that were either prehistoric or animals that were mutated into mammoth proportions. Filmmakers ran the gamut with the kinds of ordinary animals that were deadly when grown larger. Probably the best film dealing with giant animals was Them! It was about ants gigantically mutated by atomic tests that emerge out of New Mexico and wind up in the sewers of Los Angeles. Other films include The Deadly Mantis, Tarantula, and The Giant Behemoth. Quickly these films gained poor reputations as inferior filmmakers churned out low-grade movies to capitalize on the craze. These kinds of films tapered off years later but do pop up from time to time. Only the cause for the gigantism isn’t because of radiation but pollution or other reasons. They usually ranged from the ridiculous Night Of The Lepus  (which was about giant killer rabbits…seriously) and Empire Of The Ants to somber and violent films like Prophecy  (featuring a giant mutated bear) and Mimic (mutated, man-eating hybrid insects) to more tongue-in-check efforts like Eight-Legged Freaks.

As shown with Godzilla, King Of The Monsters, atomic bombs woke up prehistoric behemoths slumbering for millions of years. But Godzilla wasn’t the first such creature unleashed to threaten humankind. The original nuclear dinosaur was the fictional rhedosaurus from The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. But it was Godzilla that jumpstarted the giant monster craze from Japan that brought forth kaiju films that starred popular monsters like Gamera, Mothra, Rhodan and so on. They are still popular even though Toho, the company that produces the Godzilla films, stopped making them. There are plans to make another American version of Godzilla, but let’s hope they get it right the next time.

Things quieted down in the 1960s as fears about atomic mutants gave way to civil strife and cultural angst. Still, there are a couple of films in the time period that addressed the theme of nature fighting back. The best one was Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds. For no explanation ordinary birds start attacking people en masse. Many of the scenes were quite chilling and show how helpless people can be against nature. It’s too bad the film studio didn’t let Hitchcock keep his original ending where flocks of birds have taken over San Francisco and presumably the world.

Another film is the original Planet Of The Apes. It doesn’t have an overt man vs. nature theme but it’s there and runs throughout the other films in the series including the recent Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Simians in the latter film were experimented on and they escaped to wreck vengeance on their human foes. Throughout the series, it’s stated that civilization falls when apes gain the upper hand against humans.

Pollutant Spawns

In the 1970s the big fear was man-made pollution and its effect on the environment. Godzilla even got into the act with Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster where he faced off against a giant mutated slug that oozed deadly pollution. The premise in these nature-run-amok films is that humanity was being punished and the sentence was extinction. Of course, it rarely got that far but many of the offerings were interesting. Take this obscure film The Day Of The Animals. In this one, the ozone layer is depleted and increased ultraviolet radiation somehow brings upon animals, living in an altitude above 5,000 a rabies-like illness that makes them violent. Or how about this nugget of a film, Frogs, where animals sharing an island with a cantankerous landowner have had it with the constant pollution and take out the guests at the landowner’s birthday celebration. It was goofy yet creepy at times. Other films from this era include Squirm (killer worms), Kingdom Of The Spiders (William Shatner vs. you guessed it killer spiders), Ben (about swarming rats and yes Michael Jackson sang the title song), and Phase IV. The latter is about ants that evolve a hive mind and begin a successful dominion of the Earth.

These types of films aren’t as numerous as before probably because it is hard to pick out genuinely good films from so many awful ones that get more attention. Look at 2008’s The Happening which is about killer plants that cause people to kill themselves. It was so bad that the film’s star  Mark Wahlberg later publicly ragged about it. But they’re still being made because while most people realize that radiation and pollution won’t create monsters overnight there is still the fear that we are upsetting nature’s delicate balance and one day we will truly pay the price.