Thursday, August 14, 2008

News - 08/14/08...

DIC Entertainment -- The Last Chapter?

DIC Entertainment has always been energetically non-union.

The Animation Guild won an organizing election at the studio soon after Disney acquired the company as part of the ABC-Cap Cities acquisition. We spent years in litigation, another year in fruitless negotiations. A long-time DIC employee told me:

"You can wrestle with them until the end of time, Steve. Andy Heyward will never do a contract with the Animation Guild."

And Andy never did. He was willing to spend money on National Labor Relations Board appeals and court reviews, and when at last the legal options ran out, his attorneys never came close to agreeing to a contract.

Now it seems TAG will
never get another bite at the apple:

TORONTO -- Canadian cartoon producer Cookie Jar Entertainment is poised to cut jobs at DIC Entertainment soon after it acquired the U.S. global brand management company for $87.6 million.

Cookie Jar CEO Michael Hirsh on Tuesday gave few details on the pending layoffs but did say an "integration plan" will be unveiled by Aug. 26 ...

Most of the job cuts are expected to come from DIC's corporate office in Burbank, where Cookie Jar already has relocated its Los Angeles-based subsidiary ....

In the 1980s, when a wide swath of the Los Angeles animation business was in the doldrums, DIC Entertainment provided a lot of animation artists with a lot of work. I once visited a friend working at the studio on Ventura Boulevard, and the place was a beehive of activity. There was lots of shows being produced, and people were working, even if it was at under-scale wages.

Last month, however, the party apparently came to an end, as Cookie Jar picked up the remnants of once-burgeoning DIC.

Weep not, however, for Mr. Heyward. One of his former supervisors alleged to me: "Andy took a percentage off the top of everything, so he's done a little bit of okay." And we read that Andy still has an employment contract with Cookie Jar, so he's more than okay. Bully for Andy.

But it seems as if the final curtain has fallen on the decades-long story of DIC. As Cookie Jar's top honcho states: "...the company was not viable in its current state."

Happily, we are.

Animation Guild Blog)

Disney ramps up new technologies

At Siggraph, Pixar and Disney Animation prexy Ed Catmull
talked about his differences with some studio topkicks:

He cited an unnamed head of a major studio who told him, "Our central problem is not finding good people, it's finding good ideas."

Pixar's experience, Catmull said, was just the opposite.

"We realized that if you take a good idea to a mediocre team, they'll screw it up. And if you take a mediocre idea and give it to a good team, they'll either fix it or throw it out and do something else. So the important thing was to find good people."

As a result, he said, Pixar's development department doesn't look for ideas for films.

"Their job is to find teams that work well together. In fact, since everything sucks at the beginning, all we can tell is whether they work well together."

I tend to side with Dr. Catmull on this one. Since there are only ... what? ... six basic ideas, the execution of those ideas becomes sort of important.

Animation Guild Blog)

Will Thunder Strike Dark Knight?

After four weekends at the top of the box office, The Dark Knight is likely to be pushed to second place as DreamWorks/Paramount's comedy Tropic Thunder opens at 3,319 theaters on Wednesday and has a good shot at staying in first through the weekend.

Variety says the studio is looking for the Hollywood sendup, which stars Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr.
(Iron Man), to at least match the overall five-day take of last week's Pineapple Express at $41.3 million.

Because its audiences skew older,
Tropic Thunder is very unlikely to match "Pineapple's" record-breaking $12.1 million debut last Wednesday. DreamWorks is looking for an opening day in the mid- to high single digits.

However, the film should far exceed the $23.3 million opening weekend take for
Pineapple Express. Now that Warner Bros.' The Dark Knight is seeing its weekend grosses fall into the teens, "Thunder" will likely be No. 1 for the Friday-to-Sunday frame, with the only potential competition coming from Warner Bros.' Star Wars: The Clone Wars, hitting theaters Friday.

Blackman and McCain Rewriting Conan Script

Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain have been hired to rework the script for Conan for Lionsgate.

The writing team's action-adventure screenplay Amazon, an epic about female warriors to which Scarlett Johansson has been attached, is sailing out of turnaround toward Lionsgate as well, with Neal Moritz and his Original Film coming on to produce once the deal is completed.

The Hollywood Reporter says director searches are under way for both.

CEO and president of Paradox Entertainment Fredrik Malmberg is producing
the Conan feature along with Boaz Davidson, Joe Gatta and Avi Lerner of Millennium Films.

Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer
wrote earlier drafts of the film, a potential resurrection of the classic warrior created by Robert E. Howard. In 1982, Oliver Stone and John Milius wrote an adaptation, which Milius also directed, that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The writers have gone back to Howard's original stories to create a $100 million R-rated origin film, the largest production to date for Lionsgate and Millennium.

"Fans expect (these types of movies) to be more true to the source material," Malmberg said. "There's no reason there couldn't be a Conan movie every two years. He's almost like Batman: He's a dark hero. He's a hard hero. He has to be badass, but we also have to like him."

Oktapodi Online

The French CG student film Oktapodi has been winning all sorts of awards this year including the “Best Animation” prize at the Imagina Awards 2008. It was mentioned on Cartoon Brew a few months back and now the entire short can now be viewed online at the Autodesk website (link to 60mb file) . It’s directed by Julien Bocabeille, FX Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand, Quentin Marmier and Emud Mokhberi.

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

Common People / Star Trek animated mashup

A mashup of the song, Common People (Shatner version) and Star Trek, the animated series.

You’ll hear the classic song with fresh ears.

Talent agent, producer Bernie Brillstein dies, 78

Hollywood power broker, talent agent and producer Bernie Brillstein, whose half-century career led him to make Saturday Night Live comedians famous, died Thursday night at 77.

He died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at a Los Angeles hospital, said his company, Brillstein Entertainment Partners.

Executive producer of the movies Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989), he was an executive consultant for the 1986-87 season of DiC Entertainment's cartoon follow-up The Real Ghostbusters, which aired in syndication.

His Brillstein-Grey Productions co-produced The Jackie Bison Show, a half-hour program which aired on NBC in 1990. Combining animation with live action (and featuring the voice of Stan Freberg), it was a pilot show for a series that never sold.

He helped bring SNL and The Sopranos to TV, and guided the careers of John Belushi and Muppets creator Jim Henson.

His 1970s client included SNL creator Lorne Michaels. Helping pitch the idea to NBC, he credited Michaels with bringing him such clients as Belushi, Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd. He was an executive producer on The Blues Brothers and several other Belushi movies.

With partner Brad Grey, he founded management and production company Brillstein-Grey Entertainment (later named Brillstein Entertainment Partners) in 1991.

Born on April 26, 1931, in New York, Brillstein was the nephew of comic Jack Pearl (who played Baron Munchhausen on radio). Studying marketing and advertising in college, Brillstein began in the mailroom of the William Morris talent agency in 1956. He rose in the agency, then left to join another agency.

Later, he formed his own management company. Eventually, he put together TV and movie deals, often with himself as executive producer and starring talent that he represented.

He brought such ratings successes as long-running variety show Hee Haw and Alf to TV.

"He had a soul that is often missing in the business, which has taken on much more of a corporate tone," said Brillstein Entertainment Partners CEO Jon Liebman.

Early in his career at William Morris, Brillstein recounted in his 1999 memoir Where Did I Go Right? -- You're No One in Hollywood Unless Someone Wants You Dead, he helped negotiate a Broadway musical deal for an actress. Later, she found out that had been dead for four years.

"Now that's classic agenting. We got a dead person a $250-a-week raise. I knew I was in the right business."

Brillstein was extremely upset by Belushi's drug overdose dead in 1982. He was also hurt by Bob Woodward's claim in Wired that Belushi's cronies ignored his drug use as long as he made them money. Belushi refused treatment and was out of control, Brillstein countered.

In 1986, Brillstein became Lorimar Film Entertainment's CEO. That job lasted only two years before the studio was sold to Warner Bros.

"I put about 20 films in development at Lorimar and ended up making six lousy movies, two good movies and one great movie," he said in his autobiography. The "great one," he said, was Dangerous Liaisons, starring John Malkovich and Glenn Close.

Brillstein worked with Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz in the 1980s, but the two had a highly publicized split. In his autobiography, Brillstein called Ovitz a scorpion and a "gangster."

Married several times, Bernie Brillstein is survived by wife Carrie; sons Michael Brillstein, David Koskoff and Nick Koskoff; daughters Kate Brillstein and Leigh Brillstein; and grandson Alden.

United Airlines Debuts Five New Animation TV Spots

Launched on the premiere night of the 2008 Summer Games, United Airlines has unveiled a new group of animated commercials. Enlisting talented artists and directors from across the globe, with skill in stop-motion, paper puppetry, and computer animation, the minds behind United Airlines' new television spots have raised the bar for the brilliant if not farcically artistic. Video inside.

Seven burning questions about Star Wars: The Clone Wars

With its seven burning questions about the upcoming animated feature Star Wars: The Clone Wars, TheDeadBolt analyzes if fans of the Star Wars movies will find enough drama to keep them engaged in the Clone Wars movie. Star Wars: The Clone Wars opens in theatres on August 15.

Mamoru Oshii talks Ponyo

GhibliWorld brings an English summary of a radio interview with Mamoru Oshii, director of Ghost in the Shell wherein Oshii shares his thoughts on Hayao Miyazaki’s latest feature film Ponyo on the Cliff and also talks about his long friendship with Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki.

Sleeping Beauty Blu-Ray updates

UltimateDisney reports that the upcoming Platinum Edition blu-ray release of Sleeping Beauty will now carry 3 discs, two the previously announced Blu-ray presentation and third being a bonus standard DVD of the film. Sleeping Beauty Platinum Edition will be in stores on October 8.

Pokemon Is Japan’s Top Toon Franchise

The Pokemon movies have earned more than $455 million at the Japanese box office to become the highest-grossing animated property produced in the country, reports Daily Variety. To date, Toho has released 11 Pokemon movies. The latest is Giratina and the Sky's Bouquet: Shaymin, which has grossed roughly $32 million since hitting theaters on July 19.

Pokemon was introduced by Nintendo as a video game in 1996. The animated films and television series soon followed and have remained popular around the world. The first feature film took in $85.7 million in the U.S., a feat that has not been topped by any Japanese film since.

Giratina and the Sky's Bouquet: Shaymin has Ash, Brock, Dawn, Shaymin and Team Rocket dragged by Giratina into the Reverse World, a beautiful mirror of the Pokemon world that has become polluted by the battle waged between Dialga and Palkia in the previous film, The Rise of Darkrai. The film includes a sneak peek at the upcoming 12th installment in the movie franchise.

MAXON Introduces Cinema 4D 11

MAXON Computer unveiled Cinema 4D Release 11 (R11), the next generation of its 3D animation software suite, at SIGGRAPH. The release promises advanced capabilities that deliver dramatically improved ease of use and workflow, image quality and integration into any production pipeline. Highlights include a non-linear animation system, a new global illumination render engine and dramatically improved render speed.

Other features of Release 11 include the Projection Man matte painting system developed for Sony Pictures Imageworks, support for the COLLADA file format and CineMan, a RenderMan-compliant tool that connects to Pixar’s industry-leading rendering solution. Improvements have also been made to MAXON’s popular texture painting toolset BodyPaint 3D Release 4.

According to MAXON, rendering speeds on the average are now more than twice as fast as with the previous version. CINEMA 4D R11 also boasts an all-new Cocoa-based architecture supporting 64-bit processinBoldg under Mac OS X Leopard. The release is expected to ship in September. For more information on features, pricing and upgrades, go to

Pixar Marks 20 Years of RenderMan

Pixar Animation Studios is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its Academy Award-winning RenderMan rendering solution at SIGGRAPH, where it has unveiled details of the latest version of its RenderMan Pro Server software. Set to ship this fall, RenderMan Pro Server 14.0 introduces significant performance enhancements including accelerated ray-tracing, faster processing of large polygon datasets, optimized hair performance, faster AOV's and enhanced threading scalability.

New core features that facilitate the development of custom tools include a re-rendering mode for accelerated interactive shading and lighting, a new SDK for easy linking, a Python binding for simplified integration, user-defined structures in the RenderMan shading language (RSL 2.0), an API for reading brick maps, and a new format for point clouds. The update also offers full compatibility with 64-bit Windows Vista desktop and 64-bit Windows HPC Server 2008, expanding the choice of available render-farm pipeline configurations.

“What began as an interesting artistic exercise is now an indispensable tool,” says filmmaker and Lucasfilm founder George Lucas. “It's notable that 20 years after putting its first pixels on the screen, RenderMan remains the benchmark for all rendering technology.”

RenderMan Pro Server 14.0 is compatible with Mac OS X, Linux, Windows XP, Windows Vista 64 bit, and Windows HPC Server 2008. Upgrade pricing from RenderMan Pro Server 13.5 will be available. In addition, Pixar's maintenance program benefits customers with access to ongoing support and upgrades for an annual fee. For more information go to or contact

The next film release from Disney/Pixar is Up, which stars Ed Asner as the voice of an old man who attaches balloons to his house and flies to a remote area of Venezuela. Director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) is readying the pic for a May 29, 2009 release.

NewTeeVee Welcomes Animation

NewTeeVee, a website dedicated to chronicling explosion of online video, is opening its monthly Pier Screening in Los Angeles to animation, puppetry, machinima and other forms of entertainment that don’t involve human actors. Submissions for August’s screening will be accepted until Aug. 21. The live event will be held from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at CatchLight Studios in Los Angeles.

The NewTeeVee Pier Screenings are a series of four summer events designed to bring together content creators and online video aficionados while testing how well online video survives the move from the PC to the big screen. Judges provide entertaining commentary and informative talks by successful online video entrepreneurs. Past themes included episodic content, parody, product placement and user-generated advertising, and citizen news.

A submission form can be found at Prizes for the top three winners will include 320G external harddrives from G-Technology. The first-place winner will also receive a one-terabyte external harddrive and a free laptop engraving provided by Etchstar. The company will provide free onsite etching for iPhones and cell phones at the Screening.

Those interested in delving deeper into the business and technology sides of online video can attend the NewTeeVee Live conference on November 13, 2008 in San Francisco. Learn more at

eyeon’s Fusion 5.3 Available Across Linux Platforms

A major release for eyeon Software, its Unified Platform System of Fusion 5.3 for Linux offers the option to run Fusion on multiple distributions of Linux and on Windows in 64-bit or 32-bit configurations. Solidifying the company’s goal of producing Fusion for multiple operating systems with the same image quality and third party support from a single code source, the release is available under subscription and allows facilities to choose the pipeline set-up that works best for their particular needs.

“With many studios using different Linux distributions, eyeon has developed a platform system that delivers across multiple operating systems and computer hardware seamlessly,” says Isaac Guenard, senior product manager for eyeon Software. “We also take pride in contributing to the Open Source community in Wine development.”

While running Fusion on Linux, pipelines and technical directors can take advantage of new installers that support all Linux versions including Fedora, Redhat, Centos and Suse (a headless render node for render farms), mixed operating system configurations, native Hybrid CPU/GPU hardware setups and universal plug-in support

Fusion 5.3 is a native development for all Intel and AMD x86 CPU's and Nvidia and AMD/ATI GPU computer systems running Linux. The release is now available on build 66, the sixth release of its subscription program, to all artists and facilities with a valid subscription license. For additional information, contact

Advance Script Review: Masters of the Universe

The lifeless script for Masters of the Universe reviewed at CC2K has some real potential, but it threatens to make a flying leap into the dustbin of history – or in this case, the dustbin of bad fantasy movies.


Despite a story that unearths some of the oldest He-Man mythology to good effect, Justin Marks' script for Masters of the Universe (MOTU) borrows from several classic fantasy and science-fiction sources without taking the time or effort to energize those borrowed elements with a fresh perspective. There's nothing wrong with ripping off ideas from old stories, but if you're going to do that, you must assiduously avoid cliché.

Marks' script, officially titled Grayskull: The Masters of the Universe, avoids the main problem that sank the 1987 live-action movie – going to earth. Marks' script is set entirely on Eternia and makes use of most of the familiar elements from the 80s cartoon series – He-Man and his alter-ego, Prince Adam, Skeletor, Teela, Evil-Lyn, and others.

But serious, die-hard, borderline-insane fans of the original line of toys will remember that the mythology for He-Man goes a little deeper than the cartoon series. The original action figures came with mini-comics that laid down the earliest plot points, including the name of the planet, Man-At-Arms' adopted fathership of Teela and the role of two magic swords.

And if you remember the original toys, you'll remember that He-Man and Skeletor both came with one half of a larger, more powerful sword. (I feel like one of the halves even glowed in the dark, but don't quote me on that.) If memory serves, in those original comics, you needed both halves of the sword to gain entrance to Castle Grayskull. Hell, I think the Castle Grayskull toy even had a keyhole next to the drawbridge that you could open using the sword.

The cartoon series never used this idea. He-Man had his magic sword, while Skeletor used a magic staff – deliciously called his "Havoc Staff" – but I always liked the two-sided sword idea. If I had to guess why the He-Man cartoon series never used this idea, I'd blame it on Blackstar. OK, I'm revealing how old I am here, but at the far reaches of my earliest memories, I can remember a toy line and animated series called Blackstar that also had a two-sided sword. Here's the opening sequence:

I'm about to offer you more information than you ever wanted to know about this, but the animation company Filmation – purveyors of such limited-animation garbage as He-Man, The Archies and the Ghostbusters knock-off – produced Blackstar before the MOTU series. (A toy line for Blackstar wouldn't emerge until well after the cartoon's cancellation.)

Marks wisely starts his script with the swords. In an opening that invokes imagery from Lord of the Rings and Conan the Barbarian, we watch an ancient smithy named Eternus forge the two swords, which become the key weapons in a legendary battle between two opposing armies of good and evil. We come to know the two swords as the Sword of Light and the Sword of Darkness. A king named Grayskull leads the forces of good in the legendary battle. After good triumphs, Grayskull entrusts six wise warriors to hide the two swords. These warriors are the original Masters of the Universe.

The plot kicks into gear when Evil-Lyn and a warrior named Keldor discover the Sword of Darkness. Keldor takes hold of the Sword of Darkness, and it endows him with great power while eating away at his flesh – he's now Skeletor. Nice.

Let's pause a moment. Marks' script starts off fine. The origin story for the swords works well, and the magical explanation for Skeletor's appearance is satisfying.

But one detail from the opening sequence bothers me. In the flashback to the legendary battle, Marks' wisely identifies the commander of the forces of good as King Grayskull, but he devotes no time to identifying the commander of the evil army, merely referring to him as "the other leader" during his battle with King Grayskull. At the same time, Marks does take the time to offer a compelling description of the rest of the scene. He equips Grayskull's good army in high-tech battle gear that he says should look like something out of feudal Japan "with a hint of alien texture." Furthermore, he populates the evil army with "monstrous, snarling beasts" that are augmented with nanotechnology.

So don't get me wrong – I know that I'm being nit-picky to give Marks grief for speeding past the establishment of a minor character in an opening flashback, but it's symptomatic of the problems to come in his script.

We then meet a 14-year-old Prince Adam at a party in Eternia's royal palace with King Randor. We meet Man-At-Arms, and then Skeletor storms the castle and kills Randor, who by the way is his brother. During all this, Skeletor says something about how "the bloodline ends tonight," referring to Adam, presumably. Adam, meanwhile, escapes the castle unharmed and goes into exile. Man-At-Arms stays behind to fight Skeletor.

Got that? All of that happens in the first 10 pages of the script. I have nothing wrong with brisk opening action, but in this opening sequence, we see one of Marks' first missteps. In the space of two lines, we meet King Randor and discover that Adam is having a hard time living up to his father's example. Randor then dies.

Casting shadows: Don Corleone and Duke Leto Atreides.

This imagery calls to mind two seminal literary works: Dune and The Godfather. In both cases, we meet enormous father figures who die early on and cast a shadow over the balance of the story. Marks feints in that direction, but he only gives Randor about a minute of screen time before dispatching him. His influence on Adam's life is never really felt.

After going on the run, Adam has his first run-in with the Sorceress of Grayskull, who speaks to him through the wind or something, and then Marks inserts this howler: The Sorceress uses the wind to create speech using the rustling of leaves. These leaves then fall off a tree and swirl together to form the image of Castle Grayskull. I'm not quite sure how to put this, but that is a shitty image. Computer-generated imagery has progressed far, but as we've seen in the recent Mummy movies using nature to paint pictures in this fashion often looks cheesy.

Moving on. Adam meets up with Zodak, who spends the next seven years training him in the ways of warfare and spirit. I have two beefs with the training sequence, one of them geeky, the other more serious.

• Geeky beef. Justin Marks pressed Zodak into duty as the Yoda/Morpheus character, but why Zodak? The original Zodak character, as we can see in his alarmingly comprehensive Wikipedia entry, acted as a neutral cosmic enforcer who would intervene on the behalf of good or evil to maintain balance in the cosmos. I didn't understand why Marks chose this character for this role – though to be fair, Marks reportedly has a trilogy in mind, and maybe he has bigger plans in mind for the future of this character.

• More serious beef. The training sequence is one of the great staples of warrior and hero legends throughout the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. Its alumni include Luke Skywalker, Conan the Barbarian, Neo, Batman, Green Lantern and even dumb old Harry Potter. By deciding to include a training sequence, Marks has the chance to add He-Man to this grand pantheon. He fails.

Or at least in the draft I read, he fails. Some sample dialogue:

I understand you were known for
causing trouble back in the
Capitol City.

So what?

No king inspires his people by
fighting for himself.

OK, I see what Marks is getting at here. As a kid, Adam was known for getting into fights, and Zodak is telling him not to do that, but he slips into fortune-cookie moralizing. Most geeks recognize fortune-cookie moralizing. It happens when writers try to conjure a pithy moral lesson for their hero and fuck up. George Lucas gave us the memorable fortune-cookie head-scratcher "Only Sith speak in absolutes," and Marks keeps 'em coming at a steady clip in his script. To wit:

Think outside of your own anger.
A true leader understands all the
problems of his people. He knows
both the light and the darkness.

In the annals of the great training sequences, Marks needs to realize how high the bar has been set. Consider Zodak's uninspiring dialogue when compared to, say, some of Morpheus' lines from his training battle with Neo in The Matrix:

How did I beat you?

You ... you're too fast.

Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles … in this place? Do you think that's air you're breathing now?

Or Yoda's, from The Empire Strikes Back:

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.

Remember earlier when I gave Marks grief for shrugging off a minor detail? In this case, he shrugged off a major body of details. I think Marks arbitrarily chose a plot point that he knew would appeal to sci-fi and fantasy fans, and he rushed through his execution of it.

On the plus side of the training sequence, Marks does hint at Adam's destiny to wield the two halves of the magic sword, but we never get an idea of what that means – Zodak just says that Adam "isn't ready" for that part of his training. What's the solution? Well, at this point of the script, we've already met other Masters of the Universe – perhaps Zodak, as a cosmic, otherworldly being, could teach Adam about what he'll have to know and be ready for in order to wield such power.

Moving on. We return back to Skeletor, who has been ruling Eternia from the royal palace for the last seven years, but unfortunately, because he's been using the Dark Sword to enforce his rule, the land is dying from the lack of sunlight. Evil-Lyn advises Skeletor that he better find Randor's son, because Adam is the only one who can find the Light Sword and Castle Grayskull and all the rest. This plot point is at once hilarious and fascinating. Let me explain:

Thinking back to The Lord of the Rings, have you ever wondered what exactly Sauron would have done with Middle-earth if he had conquered it? Mordor looked like a ultra-polluted demilitarized zone. Are there any farms there? What do his orc armies eat? Other animals? If so, what do those animals eat? Marks' script touches on the absurdity of an evil force ruling the world in his script. The Sword of Darkness exudes black, evil energy that blocks out the sun and withers the land. Evil-Lyn and Skeletor know this, and that's why they want the Sword of Light – so they can rule the land properly. It's an interesting twist, but even though we get a sense of a rivalry between Skeletor and Randor, we don't get an idea of why Skeletor wants to rule the land.

Also, Marks' portrayal of Skeletor is surprisingly ineffectual. He kills Randor, but for most of the story, he moons about the royal palace waiting for Evil-Lyn to tell him what to do. That's an interesting choice, but I'm not sure how well an emasculated arch-villain will play in what is probably going to be a big summer movie.

Anyway, Skeletor and Evil-Lyn dispatch two of their henchmen to find Adam – Trap-Jaw and Tri-Klops, and here we see another nice detail: The Sword of Darkness gives Skeletor the power to fuel all of his henchmen, weapons and military vehicles with murky, dark energy. If executed well, these characters should look great.

The henchmen bring Adam back to the main city, where Adam rallies some citizens by revealing that he's the lost heir of King Randor. Some shenanigans happen, and Adam hooks up with Man-At-Arms, Teela and the rest of an underground resistance.

OK, let's pause a minute to talk about this take on the He-Man story. I like it. In the cartoon series, He-Man and the good guys were always in total control. Skeletor and his retinue stirred up trouble, but you never really worried that anyone was in danger.

But do you remember Mattel's other action-figure line? She-Ra? Yeah, yeah, yeah – I watched some She-Ra when I was a kid. My sister liked it. Shut up.

One thing I liked about the She-Ra cartoon was that She-Ra and her friends were rebels. The villain on that show, Hordak, was in control of whatever planet she lived on, and even though she was just as strong as He-Man (and I think she could talk to animals or something), they were always underground fighters. That's pretty cool, and I like that Marks builds his script around this idea. He compares the main Eternian city to Mogadishu, and I for one would love to see He-Man lead a guerilla resistance movement.

Unfortunately, this is also where the script really goes off the rails. The next 30 pages or so borrow from standard quest mythology as well as the Indiana Jones/Allan Quatermain tradition as Adam, Man-At-Arms, Teela, et al., flee the main city and head into the wilderness to find Castle Grayskull. There's some nonsense with secret caves and magic amulets, but my feelings about this section of the story echo my feelings about the training sequence: Marks packs his script with familiar plot points and material without really making them fresh. No less than Steven Spielberg fell into the same trap in the latest Indiana Jones movie.

But once again – there's some good stuff in here. Adam and his team run into an army of wild beasts led by good old Beast Man, and I applaud the choice to make Beast Man into a badass instead of Skeletor's flunky. In fact, all of the villains acquit themselves well in this movie, as opposed to the cartoon, where they spoke with ridiculous voices and generally fell on their asses all the time.

Side note: Seriously, what the hell was up with the voice talent on that show? Case in point, here's the original opening to the He-Man cartoon series. Skip to the end to hear some of the voice talent for the villains, especially Mer-Man:

What the hell are they supposed to sound like? Bouncers speaking through tracheotomy mikes? Over at 80s pop-culture emporium X-Entertainment, the chief reviewer pointed out that He-Man's buddy Fisto (like Mer-Man in the clip above) sounds like he's "gargling into the microphone." Oh, yes, that reminds me: Fisto. Marks works this character into his script fairly well. We first meet him as one of the resistance fighters, and his name is merely Logan. When Man-At-Arms decides to follow Adam on his quest to find Castle Grayskull, Logan reluctantly agrees, but as they lose more and more men, Logan openly breaks with Man-At-Arms and joins forces with Skeletor, who equips him with his trademark oversized mechanical fist.

The remainder of the script follows Adam and his posse as they eventually discover Castle Grayskull. They actually have to drain a lake to get to it, which promises to be a pretty cool image, but unfortunately, Marks' script often lacks this level of invention. Let me explain:

As goofy as it is, the MOTU world presents a writer with a host of opportunities to let their imaginations go wild. Marks isn't without a vivid imagination. Memorable new additions to the MOTU world include his use of the Sword of Darkness' dark magic and much of Skeletor's fearsome arsenal. To wit, Marks equips Skeletor's troops with giant, walking fortresses – think AT-AT cities.

But Marks' script lacks … something. A spark. I'm no expert on screenwriting, but I've read some great ones, and they simply have an extra oomph. For example, I once read a J.J. Abrams script for a buddy cop movie, and despite the hackneyed genre territory he was exploring, Abrams poured passion into his story, even stepping out of the narrative voice to include an insane author's note about how the director should shoot his climax.

I'm not saying that all screenwriters should break the fourth wall with their readers, but Marks' script ambles from one familiar plot point to another without the addition of wonder, dread or any real sense of scope. If the movie gets made with this script, I'm afraid we'll have another meatless fantasy movie – something on the order of Legend, not Lord of the Rings.

And that's a damn shame, because the stupid Transformers movie worked. Not all of it, mind you, but a lot of it. For my money, Bay's movie worked when it treated the Transformers story like high myth. There's no reason why He-Man couldn't pull it off, too, as we can see in this surprisingly effective fan movie:

Part of me suspects that Marks is just another hired Hollywood gun, but an interview he gave about He-Man to ISEB belies that notion. Marks sounds legitimately excited about the script, and I suspect that I just got ahold of an early draft.

But in any event, it's still a weak effort. To wit:

• Tired one-liners pepper the story, such as:
• "You're late."
• "It's been an honor serving with you."
• "Don't get all sappy on me now."

• Skeletor introduces himself by saying "Call me … Skeletor." So does Zodak. Can we have a moratorium on this cliché?

• During a battle, arrows collide mid-air. The history of movies where projectiles collide mid-air includes such clunkers as The Shadow and Wanted. This is not a good pedigree.

• When we finally meet the Sorceress of Grayskull, there's a high probability for unintentional laughter when she emerges in all of her feathery hotness and asks Adam, "Are you ready to finish your training?"

• After Adam discovers the Sword of Light, he confronts Skeletor, who is holding the Sword of Darkness to Teela's throat. Adam throws his sword into the air to disract Skeletor, who drops the Sword of Darkness. In case that doesn't ring a bell, the same kind of trick happens at the climax of The DaVinci Code.

There are other problems, but again – this script isn't without merit, and it's not beyond saving. In fact, I may have been too harsh on Marks. If you're interested in reading a different opinion, check out Latino Review's positive review of Marks' script.

But I don't have high hopes for this one. A good Masters of the Universe movie would have the potential to be another Transformers, another Krull or another Willow – all fun, entertaining romps that pump fresh energy into fantasy and science fiction. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that Marks' script has the makings of one of the great Hollywood turkeys.


On a completely unrelated note, I wanted to raise one objection with Marks' script that has nothing to do with his writing or the Masters of the Universe mythology.

At the beginning of his script, Marks shows us the birth of the cosmos, adding that the legendary swordsmith forges the two magic sword at the beginning of time.

But here's the weird part: Marks' script specifically places this time at "four thousand years ago." It's even in bold-face. In fact, it's the only bold-face text in the entire script.

The universe is approximately 13 or 14 billion years old, according to the latest scientific research. A cosmos that's only four thousand years old conforms to the beliefs of the most hardline creationist fundamentalists.

I'm sure I'm jumping at shadows here. But it was in bold.

DreamWorks' "Kung Fu Panda" may lash out again

DreamWorks Animation may make an announcement within two months about a possible sequel to summer box office hit Kung Fu Panda, CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said Wednesday.

"We've started conversations about it, and I think in the next 30 or 60 days, we'll be able to talk completely about that," Katzenberg told Reuters.

Comic actor Jack Black was the voice of the film's title character, a lovable, blundering panda named Po. Set in China, Kung Fu Panda has collected $560 million in ticket sales worldwide. Other famed Hollywood actors who provided voices in the film included Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogan and Lucy Liu.

Meanwhile, Katzenberg told reporters that he sees no changes in DreamWorks Animation's agreement to releasing its films through Paramount Pictures.

"For DreamWorks Animation, we are in great shape, happily ensconced in our distribution relationship with Paramount... so no changes for us," he said.

There had been buzz in the industry that the animation studio might attempt to end its agreement with Paramount. David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, heads of the live-action DreamWorks film studio that is a unit of Paramount, are trying to leave the studio.

Shares in DreamWorks Animation slipped 40 cents (1.3%) to $30.44 in late Wednesday trading.

Mac speaks from beyond in "Madagascar" sequel

Bernie Mac came back to life Wednesday morning, but only for a moment.

His voice, as Zuba the lion, was heard during much of the early footage of the upcoming Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, screened at DreamWorks Animation's headquarters in Glendale, California.

Zuba is a new character in the sequel to 2005's Madagascar. He's the wild father of Alex, the zoo lion voiced by Ben Stiller. In Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, which comes out November 7, Alex joins his old friends, a hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer), a restless zebra (Chris Rock) and a hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), through the Serengeti plains.

Mac died Saturday at 50 from pneumonia-related complications.

"Somebody you spend time with and get to know becomes a part of your family," USA Today quoted DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg as saying. "And to have a sudden loss like this, it has been really, really hard on all of us."

Animators were completing some of Mac's scenes at the time of his death, Katzenberg observed.

"Every day we are animating, and every day we are living with the creative contribution he made. We loved Bernie, and there is a heart and a soulfulness that he brought to the role of Zuba."

Though thrilled to find his long-lost son, Zuba thinks that Alex is a fierce warrior, due to Alex's nickname of "King of New York" -- an advertising tagline courtesy of the zoo. But Alex, a pacifist, sings show tunes as he's sent to fight truly fierce rivals.

Alex mistakes the battle for a dance contest. Another lion roars "Fight!", to which he responds by performing the gang dance from West Side Story.

Until it was surpassed in recent weeks by Kung Fu Panda, the 2005 Madagascar was DreamWorks Animation's most successful non-sequel movie, bringing in $530 million in global ticket sales.

Following this fall's sequel, Katzenberg said, DreamWorks Animation will produce and release at least one more Madagascar movie -- possibly two.

NBC's New Heroes Preview

NBC's preview of "Heroes'" third season, subtitled "Villains," scheduled to air on August 30th during its "NBC Primetime Preview" presentation is already online. Watch it below!

The Incredible Hulk DVD Cover Art

DVD Active has posted the following cover art for the upcoming The Incredible Hulk DVD. No release date or specifications have been announced yet (aside from the "3-Disc Special Edition" noted on the artwork), so stay tuned for those.

Green Lantern Script Details

Robert over at IESB has script details on the new Green Lantern treatment that is currently moving forward over at Warner Brothers:

The story follows the traditional Hal Jordan/Green Lantern story lines to a certain degree including the battle between Legion and Abin Sur, Abin Sur's crash landing on Earth, as well as the choosing of Hal Jordan over Guy Gardner and Clark Kent.

Parts are straight out of the Emerald Dawn series including Jordan's simulator being ripped out of the training center and flown to a dying Abin Sur and Hal Jordan going to Oa to help defeat Legion.

The major difference is in the Sinestro character arch. I don't want to give too much away but the writers were very careful to stay true to the character without blowing their load on the first film.

The other difference is also introducing Hector Hammond into the story line and making him the big threat to Earth or Gaia if you prefer.

Click HERE to read the rest of the article.

Since I never read script stuff (I'm still a fan of movies at heart and I want to be surprised when I see a film) I have no idea what this will be about. I haven't even read the stuff I pasted here, so go to IESB and see what all the fuss is about, son!

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