Friday, November 7, 2008

News - 11/07/08...

Missing Lynx Found in Santa Monica

Actor and producer Antonio Banderas and Spanish director Raul Garcia introduced their new CG-animated feature The Missing Lynx (El Lince Perdido) at a premiere screening held the American Film Market in Santa Monica, Calif. on Thursday. Co-directed by Garcia and Manuel Sicilia, Lynx is the first movie from Kandor Moon, a new label created by Banderas' Malaga, Spain-based production house, Green Moon, and Granada's Kandor Graphics. Kandor Moon plans to make five animated features in the next 10 years.

“My experience in animation began with DreamWorks and the
Shrek movies,” said Banderas. “When I met with Raul, he showed me the amazing work his company was able to do, and we decided to form this company together that would produce animated films in Spain.”

The Missing Lynx
centers on a group of animals (Felix the Lynx, Gus the Chameleon, Astarte the Hawke, Rupert the Mole and Beety the Goat) who have to escape an evil hunter’s scheme to capture them and deliver them to a mad millionaire’s Noah’s Ark. The film’s director, Raul Garcia, is an animation veteran, who has worked on features such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, Hercules and Tarzan. His 2005 short The Tell-Tale Heart also received much acclaim at many festivals around the world. Garcia told the Lynx audience that his team had only finished the film five days before the AFM screening. Co-produced by YaYa! Films and Perro Verdo, the film will be released in Spain in late December and has already sold to 36 countries.

Banderas and his company have already begun work on their second animated project. Directed by Manuel Sicilia,
Goleor is a 3-D medieval action-adventure fantasy about a shy young boy who dreams of becoming a brave knight. "I don't rule out voicing a character, even directing," Banderas told Daily Variety last month. He will continue to voice Shrek’s feline pal in DreamWorks’ upcoming features Shrek Goes Fourth and Puss-in-Boots

You can find out more about this entertaining Spanish feature at

Boorman to Helm Animated Oz

Digital wizards are bringing L. Frank Baum’s Oz back to the screen with a major director set to make his animation debut. Daily Variety reports that John Boorman (The Tailor of Panama, Excalibur, Deliverance) is attached to direct a $25 million, CG-animated movie titled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Boorman also wrote the script with Ron Mita and Jim McClain (Robots). The movie is currently in production and is slated to debut in the summer of 2010.

This trip to Oz is said to be a fairly faithful adaptation of the literary classic but will not be a musical like its classic, live-action predecessor. The pic is being produced by Laurent Rodon and Claude Gorvsky of France's Films Actions, along with longtime Boorman collaborator Kieran Corrigan.

Oz is being shopped at AFM this week by SND, which is also pushing the $10 million CG kid flick The Magic Roundabout: The Beginning
. The producers of Oz are hoping their film doesn't suffer the same fate as the $35 million French animated feature A Monster in Paris, which ran out of money and has been temporarily shut down. The EuropaCorp production is being directed by Bibo Bergeron, whose credits include the DreamWorks Animation features Shark Tale and The Road to El Dorado

Toon Talent Travels with Gulliver for Fox

Shark Tale director Rob Letterman is attached to direct a new version of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels from a script by Shrek writer Joe Stillman. The Hollywood Reporter notes that Shark Tale star Jack Black has signed on to play the title role in 20th Century Fox’s live-action re-imagining of the classic political satire masquerading as an adventure tale.

In the movie, Black will play Lemuel Gulliver, a travel writer on assignment in Bermuda when he discovers a hidden island inhabited by tiny people. Scribe Nicholas Stoller (
Fun With Dick and Jane) is doing rewrites o Stillman’s script for John Davis and Black’s Electric Dynamite, a shingle he launched with Ben Cooley. Steve Asbell is overseeing production for Fox. Principal photography is scheduled to begin in March.

Letterman’s most recent DreamWorks directing effort is
Monsters vs. Aliens, the studio’s first movie designed for stereoscopic 3-D presentation. Set to open nationwide on March 27, the sci-fi comedy’s trailer was recently leaked onto the internet but was promptly yanked by Paramount. Stillman wrote Ilion Animation’s CG-animated sci-fi adventure Planet 51
, which Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group is bringing to theaters in the U.S. on Nov 20, 2009.

Gods, Titans Clash Heats Up

Ancient mythology returns to the big screen in two major motion pictures set to battle for moviegoer moolah. Relativity’s War of the Gods and Warner Bros.’ remake of the Ray Harryhausen favorite Clash of the Titans are close to nailing down their male leads. According to The Hollywood Reporter Henry Cavill (Stardust) is likely to topline Gods, while rising star Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation) circles the role of Perseus in Clash.

Getting to theaters first is paramount for
War of the Gods, a title which doesn’t have the name recognition to lean on. The pic scheduled to go before the camera as early as February, while Clash is slated for an April start. Co-produced by Thunder Road and Legendary Pictures, Clash has the advantage of familiarity, at least among fanboys and other fans of the original pic, which employed Harryhausen’s signature style of stop-motion animation to bring mythical creatures to life. His vision of Medusa is particularly entrenched in pop culture.

CG will replace puppet animation in the remake, and will also play a big role in
War of the Gods. Both movies are likely to use green-screen technology to keep the budgets under $100 million. The strategy worked for director Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel 300, whose producers are also behind War. Tarsem Singh (The Fall, The Cell) is directing. Clash is being helmed by French director Louis Leterrier, who most recently helmed Marvel Studios’ The Incredible Hulk

ER, Penguin Tell Tinga Tinga Tales

Entertainment Rights (ER) has signed a global publishing deal with the Penguin Group for its new pre-school brand, Tinga Tinga Tales. Puffin Books will act as the publisher in the U.K. and will control all foreign publishing rights, while Grosset & Dunlap serves as the publishing partner in North America. Both entities are children’s divisions of the Penguin Group.

Tinga Tinga Tales is a new animated series (52x11) being produced in Kenya by Tiger Aspect Prods. and, in partnership with children’s broadcasters CBeebies in the U.K. and Playhouse Disney in the U.S. Aimed kids 4-6, the series features animal stories that have been passed down from generation to generation throughout Africa. Tiger Aspect and Homeboyz in Nairobi have set up a fully equipped Animation studio in Kenya and employed local designers, writers, musicians and animators to work on the show and future projects. The art direction is based on the Tinga Tinga art of Tanzania. All images in the series are hand painted by local African artists and then computer animated.

The Penguin Group’s plans for the brand include the production of storybooks, novelty books, electronic books, audio books and manuals. ER will begin to assemble other key global and pan-regional consumer product partners for the property. The animated show will be ready for deliver in the fall of 2009. ER is managing worldwide distribution rights across all forms of media, including consumer products.

Magic and Merchandise

There’s an art show going on at the Laguna College of Art and Design, Magic and Merchandise: The Art of Collectibles, the theme of which being merchandising artwork… either people who do it for companies like Disney or for those who do their own thing. The opening reception is tonight, but the show will be going on for a few weeks, through December 8th. Those who live in the LA/OC area might want to check it out just for inspiration. Artists Kevin Kidney, Jody Daily, Cynthia Petrovic, Liz Granger and Jason Bahret will be there! Dave Kuhn (he used to work at Disney, Warners, etc now works at the college) arranged it all. Very cool stuff!

It’s at the Ettinger Gallery, 2222 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA - Info at (949) 376-6000

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

Vintage Popeye frame by frame

Your moment of Zen: Fleischer historian Leslie Cabarga put this Shockwave Flash (SWF) file together awhile ago from ALL the drawings in this scene from Sock-A-Bye Baby (most of which have been sold). Click Here!

(Thanks cartoonbrew)

Disney XD aims to be where the boys are

Jim Hill talks about the rebranded version of Toon Disney which will be debuting in February of 2009. Which seeks to be the cable channel of choice for boys 6 to 14

Last week, The Walt Disney Company couldn't stop crowing about how well "Tinker Bell" was doing. How this new Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment title was selling well ahead of projections, moving over a million units during its first 48 hours on store shelves. But this week, the Mouse is setting its sights on the Lost Boys.

No, not the "Peter Pan" characters. But -- rather -- young male viewers ages 6 to 14 who aren't all that interested in watching "Hannah Montana" & "High School Musical." Which is why they've been ditching the Disney Channel in droves and are now watching Nickelodeon & Cartoon Network instead.

Given that this is a sizable audience segment with lots of disposable income ($50 billion worldwide), Disney's determined to do whatever it has to recapture these lost viewers. Which is why -- in early 2009 -- they're turning Toon Disney into Disney XD, a brand-new cable channel that's been deliberately designed to appeal to young male viewers.

Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

"And how exactly is the Mouse going to do that?," you ask. Well, for over a year now, Mickey has been developing an an entire slate of programming for Disney XD. This hyper-targeted cable channel will feature new live action shows, animated series, original movies as well as sports-related programming. With all of this content designed to (I'm quoting from the Disney XD mission statement now) ...

"... reflect the fundamental values of boys 6-14, their strong desire to accomplish great things, meet new experiences head-on in a way that makes them feel empowered."

"So what kinds of TV shows can accomplish something like that?," you query. Well, as part of this testostrerone-based Extreme Makeover of Toon Disney, the Mouse will be rolling out "Aaron Stone," an action-adventure series built around this video game virtuoso who leads a secret double life as a crime fighter. This new cable network will also be home to "Zeke & Luther," a single camera sitcom about two best friends who dream of becoming the world's best skateboarders. Disney XD will also feature several brand-new sports-based shows from ESPN-branded sports shows that are aimed at males 6-14.

Brooke Palmer plays 16-year old Charlie Landers in "Aaron Stone," a new action-adventure series that debuts on Disney XD in February of 2009.
Photo by Kelly Blatz. Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

In short, Toon Disney is about to become a Disney Princess-free zone. While some of this cable channel's shows are expected to survive the coming transition -- chief among these being "Batman: The Animated Series," "Jackie Chan Adventures" and "Power Rangers" -- many other popular programs will be going off the air starting in February of 2009.

Mind you, the Mouse knows that this retooling / rebranding of Toon Disney is a huge gamble. But given the enormous amount of money that Disney Consumer Products regularly makes off of young males (EX: The "Cars" franchise generated over $2 billion worth of worldwide retail sales for the Company during 2007), Mickey feels that there's even more dough to be had in creating a cable channel that caters to 6 to 14 year-old boys.

"And how might they do that?," you continue. Take -- for example -- that "Phineas & Ferb" video game that the Disney Interactive Media Group currently has in the works. By promoting this new game on Disney XD -- which, starting in February of 2009, will regularly showcase this Emmy-nominated series -- the Mouse's marketing department is almost sure to catch the eye of the target audience for this new video game.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

You should expect that every other division of the Walt Disney Company will also try & make advantage of Disney XD. Use this new cable channel as a way to reach a very desirable demographic. I'm told that even Jerry Bruckheimer plans on getting in on the act, using Disney XD to help make males 6 to 14 aware of his July 2009 release for Walt Disney, "G-Force." Which is why we should probably expect to see Bucky the Hamster & Blaster the Guinea Pig turn up in bumpers for this cable channel starting next Spring.

Indeed, Mickey's marketing staff plans on using Disney XD to help make boys aware of many of the studio's upcoming release. Among the productions that are already slated to receive heavy duty promotion on this new cable channel are "Prince of Persia," "Tr2n," "Pirates of the Caribbean 4" and Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland."

Which -- I know -- makes it sound like we're in a tail-that-wags-the-dog situation. That Walt Disney Company is only creating Disney XD so that it will then be able to sell products and/or promote its films to young males 6 to 14 years of age. And -- yes -- having a piece of straight pipe that leads directly to this very desirable demographic is a key part of the appeal of this new cable channel.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

But at the same time, one of the main reasons that Mickey has his A-Team working on the Disney XD project is that ... Well, the suits want to see if lightning can strike twice. If their TV development team can actually take the highly successful Disney Channel formula (Which -- thanks to programs like "Wizards of Waverly Place" and TV movies like "Camp Rock" -- now has a complete lock on female tween viewers) and then translate that for boys. Better yet, take all of this new content that's being created for Disney XD and then leverage that across multiple platforms like online, mobile and video-on-demand.

Of course, the big question here is ... Will the Mouse actually be able to lure young male viewers away from such longtime Nickelodeon favorites as "SpongeBob Squarepants" and "The Fairly Oddparents" ? Will the shows that Disney XD already has production have strong enough appeal to go head-to-head with Cartoon Network's latest hit, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" ? A series which -- FYI -- Mickey really hoped to land for Disney XD, lobbying George Lucas long & hard before ultimately losing Clone Wars to Turner Broadcasting.

So what do you folks think? Does Disney XD actually sound that it will do what the Company wants? Which is help build brand allegiance with boys?

At Nickelodeon

Between voting and business lunches, I spent a major part of the day at Nickelodeon ...

I'm told by Those Who Claim to Know that Nick's CG department has pretty much staffed most of the way up, and will have a lot of work to do moving forward. There's Madagascar Penguins (tied into the theatrical Madagascar franchise) and the upcoming Kung Fu Panda teevee version. There's Fanboy and who knows what else coming down the pike. A CG person spoke:

"I think the deal is, there's plenty of work for us over the next few years. The in-house crew here will be feeding overseas studios, and the overseas studios will get some of our overflow. But when the overflow goes down, we'll still be working here in Burbank ..."

We'll see how that works out.

Nick has some empty cubes, but it's developing a couple more pre-school shows that may or may not go into production ... and The Mighty Bee squad is gradually returning.

But I've noticed belt tightening. Schedules aren't getting longer, and some administrative positions are being streamlined. As a manager said to me: "We're losing some people. We're kind of broke."

Hyperbole, but I understand what he means. Everybody knows what's going on with the economy.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Erin Esurance Body Slams High Prices

If you’ve been obsessively watching TV these past few days, transfixed on this election coverage, you may have seen the new Erin Esurance TV spot - Auto Insurance Face-Off. Erin, who is voiced by Mo Mellady, squares off against some rowdy wrestlers in the new ad for the auto insurer. Phil Robinson at W!ldbrain directed, while Ghostbot handled the Flash animation.

Jetix Schedules New "Batman: The Animated Series" Marathon This Weekend

The Jetix programming block on Toon Disney has scheduled a three-hour Batman: The Animated Series marathon.

The three-hour Batman: The Animated Series marathon is scheduled for 10pm (ET) on Saturday, November 8th, 2008 during the Jetix programming block on Toon Disney. The marathon breaks down as follows, as seen below. The times listed below are in eastern time.

Saturday, November 8th, 2008
10:00pm Batman: The Animated Series - "Two-Face, Part 1"
Batman: The Animated Series - "Two-Face, Part 2"
11:00pm Batman: The Animated Series - "The Cat and The Claw, Part 1"
11:30pm Batman: The Animated Series - "The Cat and The Claw, Part 2"
12:00am Batman: The Animated Series - "Feat of Clay, Part 1"
12:30am Batman: The Animated Series - "Feat of Clay, Part 2"

Despite the popularity of the series, Batman: The Animated Series currently does not have a regular timeslot on the programming block.

Astro Boy Poster

Here's a bigger version of the previously-release art for Astro Boy, coming to theaters on October 23, 2009. The CG-animated film is voiced by Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane, Bill Nighy, Eugene Levy, Matt Lucas and Freddie Highmore.

James Cameron's Avatar to Be Released in IMAX 3D!

IMAX Corporation and Twentieth Century Fox today announced that they have reached agreement on material terms to release the highly anticipated 3D motion picture Avatar in IMAX(R)3D simultaneously with the motion picture's premiere in conventional 3D theatres on December 18, 2009. Avatar is directed and written by Academy Award Winner James Cameron and stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver. Cameron will also produce with his Lightstorm Entertainment partner, Jon Landau. Avatar will be digitally re-mastered into the unparalleled image and sound quality of The IMAX Experience(R).

"Our goal with Avatar is to revolutionize live-action 3D moviemaking, and I have no doubt that it will look and sound incredible in IMAX 3D," said director James Cameron. "The larger field of view and powerful surround sound of an IMAX(R) theatre will completely immerse the audience in a way that cannot be experienced anywhere else."

"We are delighted to be releasing Avatar in all available theatrical formats, and by including the premium IMAX 3D format, we can give consumers the entire spectrum of choice at the box office," said Bruce Snyder, President, Domestic Distribution, Twentieth Century Fox. "The IMAX theatre network is increasingly becoming an important part of our distribution strategy, as it continues to expand with its new digital projection system."

"Avatar is one of the most anticipated movies of 2009 and it is a powerful addition to our film slate," said IMAX Co-CEO's Richard L. Gelfond and Bradley J. Wechsler. "We are particularly pleased with Twentieth Century Fox's increasing interest in the IMAX theatre network, which is largely fueled by the rollout of our digital projection systems and IMAX's track record of strong box office performance."

"James Cameron is a genius filmmaker. His vision and 3D expertise make Avatar a natural fit for IMAX and we believe it will resonate with our audiences as well as the millions of James Cameron fans across the globe," added Greg Foster, Chairman and President of IMAX Filmed Entertainment. "Every aspect of this film was meticulously designed for 3D, so when audiences experience this revolutionary film in an IMAX 3D theatre, they will feel as if they are actually IN the movie."

Avatar is the story of an ex-Marine who finds himself thrust into hostilities on an alien planet filled with exotic life forms. As an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body, he finds himself torn between two worlds, in a desperate fight for his own survival and that of the indigenous people. More than ten years in the making, Avatar marks Cameron's return to feature directing since helming 1997's Titanic, the highest grossing film of all time and winner of eleven Oscars(R) including Best Picture. WETA Digital, renowned for its work in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and King Kong, will incorporate new intuitive CGI technologies to transform the environments and characters into photorealistic 3D imagery that will transport the audience into the alien world rich with imaginative vistas, creatures and characters.

EXCLUSIVE: Robert Downey Jr. On Terrence Howard/Don Cheadle ‘Iron Man 2’ Swap

By now, all of fandom knows about Marvel Studios’ controversial Terrence-Howard-for-Don-Cheadle swap regarding the role of Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes in “Iron Man 2.” And despite weekly rounds of internet speculation about the move that even took the actors involved by surprise, very little has been said on record from anyone close to the production — until now.

Speaking exclusively with MTV News, “Iron Man” star Robert Downey Jr. has broken his silence on the topic that has had the blogosphere buzzing over the past month. And despite the fact that the actor had very little to add to the discussion, he made it perfectly clear that his and director Jon Favreau’s first priority is making the best film possible and being respectful to the fans of the emerging franchise.

“I think the important thing with the ‘Iron Man’ franchise is to not do too much too soon and to make sure we don’t piss off the public that put us in the position we’re in,” said Downey. “We’ve just got to keep rolling up our sleeves higher and further up the elbow. If we show up and we’re in the right head space and our heart’s in the right spot and we really think about the audience at every turn and we don’t try to stamp our hipness onto anything. It’s very interactive.

When asked if he had anything to do with the Howard/Cheadle switch, Downey immediately responded, “I had nothing to do with that decision. I love Terrence very very much. That’s all I’ll say because I haven’t talked to him yet.”

Furthermore, the “Iron Man” star makes it clear that he will not play favorites between the two equally talented actors, so if you’re looking for a juicy “good riddance” quote from Downey (who’s definitely not shy when it comes to speaking his mind), you won’t find it here.

“I’ve always admired Don [Cheadle],” said Downey. “It’s one of those situations where I still don’t quite know what happened or why. Here’s what happens too: things happen and you wind up commenting on them before you’ve actually talked to the people and it’s in poor taste.”

Michael Crichton's Best Hits And Worst Misses

Prolific author, producer and director Michael Crichton died unexpectedly this week at the age of 66 after battling cancer, but not before transforming science fiction by single-handedly elevating the techno-thriller genre to mainstream culture.
Even fans who haven't read his books know his work: Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Westworld.

The formula was simple: take one part bleeding-edge science or technology (chaos theory, nanobots, gene splicing), mix in one hot cultural topic (global warming, the rise of the multinational corporation, the explosion of the entertainment industry) and spice liberally with slam-bang and often gruesome action.

The books weren't Shakespeare, but they were the very definition of cinematic: Short, extremely visual chapters, lots of action and sex and intrigue, broadly drawn characters and great urgency. (Crichton also courted controversy, as in his 2004
State of Fear, in which he questions the existence of global warming.)

It's not surprising that they were practically all made into movies, starting with 1971's
The Andromeda Strain
(which was adapted this year into a TV miniseries), to 1993's Jurassic Park and its sequels, all the way to 2003's Timeline. Crichton also wrote original screenplays, notably 1973's Westworld, which he also directed.

Many of the movies stunk, notably 1995's
Congo and 1998's Sphere
. But some approached greatness. Below, the best and the worst.

The Best

The Andromeda Strain. This book and movie virtually created the ticking-clock hermetically sealed lab subgenre. A team of top scientists is taken to a top-secret underground lab where they race against time to decode the mystery of a lethal alien virus that threatens to destroy mankind. The movie unfolds at a pace that seems leisurely by today's standards, but at the time it was the height of suspense. Crichton himself had a brief cameo in the film. The 2008 miniseries remake borrowed only Crichton's premise to spin a completely wacked-out original story that featured time travel, government conspiracies and a drug-addicted TV reporter.

Jurassic Park. Crichton's book applied the ideas of the then-new chaos theory to a natural system, in this case, a Disney-like animal theme park built around gene-manipulated, resurrected dinosaurs. (The book was used as a teaching tool for the Disney designers of the Animal Kingdom theme park in Florida as an example of how complex systems can fail catastrophically.) The Steven Spielberg movie, which Crichton co-wrote with David Koepp, soft-pedaled the book's graphic violence and lightened the tone. The movie also innovated the use of completely computer-generated creatures. The result was one of the biggest hits of the time, spawning two sequels; a fourth is in development.

Eaters of the Dead/The 13th Warrior. The book, Eaters, combines the real-life journal of a 10th-century Muslim who traveled with Vikings together with the premise that the creature in Beowulf could actually have been a remnant of the Neanderthal species. As in many of Crichton's books, the historical details and scientific theories mix plausibly in a story filled with bloody violence. The movie, 13th Warrior, lost a lot of Crichton's subtleties but works primarily because of the presence of charismatic stars like Antonio Banderas.

Westworld. This film, based on Crichton's original screenplay, was the precursor to Jurassic Park. It posited a pre-virtual reality fantasy theme park in which robots played the principal characters in a variety of historical settings. Naturally, things go horribly wrong. The movie is quaint by today's standards, but still features one of the most kick-ass villains of all time: Yul Brynner's robot-faced gunslinger. The hit movie spawned an inferior sequel, Futureworld, and a TV series, Beyond Westworld.

The Worst:

Congo. The book was a Lost World genre mashup of talking-ape research (a la Koko), King Solomon's Mines and H.P. Lovecraftian weirdness that failed utterly on the page. But that doesn't begin to approach the breathtaking awfulness of the movie, despite its grade-A pedigree: director Frank Marshall; stars Laura Linney, Dylan Walsh and Tim Curry; writer John Patrick Shanley. Particularly memorable: The utter fakeness of Amy, the movie's central gorilla; the mix of stagey accents (Ernie Hudson's veddy British accent and Curry's Bela Lugosi speech patterns are laughable); the utter fakeness of the sets, costumes, visual effects; the anticlimactic monsters (they're just more gorillas), etc.

Sphere. The book was a rehash of The Andromeda Strain's premise, with a twist: It's underwater, and there's some kind of weird alien (or is it?) spacecraft on the bottom of the ocean. The movie--apparently made because it used basically one set and one location--starts out promisingly, playing on the paranoia and tensions among the principal characters. But it devolves into a series of flaccid action sequences. Between these set pieces, the characters seem to sit around in their underlit, high-tech ant farm beneath the sea and argue about past conflicts and petty jealousies. Oh, and the movie makes no sense at all. And Sharon Stone as a biochemist??

Timeline. For anyone with an interest in time travel or medieval history, the book--about a team of archaeology students who travel back in time to rescue their professor--worked well enough. It plausibly brought to life the reality of the Middle Ages as contrasted with fictional and cinematic depictions of knights, castles and round tables. Characters behaved as they might have, they speak medieval languages, they smell bad, they hate the French. The book also posited a new idea about time travel: That it involves jumping to parallel universes, not going back and forth along a linear timeline. All of which was lost in the film translation. Richard Donner's ham-handed film preserves most of the plot but none of the subtleties and plays out as a tired knights-in-armor exercise. And Paul Walker as an archaeologist??

Looker. This 1981 movie, based on another original Crichton screenplay, stars Albert Finney (Albert Finney??) as a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon investigating the mysterious deaths of models. You heard me. And this one's a techno-thriller involving computer-generated ... oh, forget it.

New Dollhouse Trailer Is Here!

Fox has released a new trailer for Joss Whedon's upcoming SF series Dollhouse, starring Eliza Dushku.

The series--which has undergone an overhaul, including the scrapping of its original pilot--
comes from the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.

Dushku (Buffy's Faith) plays Echo, an "Active," or member of a highly illegal and underground group of individuals who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas. Hired by the wealthy, powerful and connected, the Actives don't just perform their hired roles, they wholly become them--with mind, personality and physiology--to do whatever a client wants or needs. Whether imprinted to be a lover, an assassin, a corporate negotiator or a best friend, the Actives know no other life than the specific engagements they are in at that time.

Confined between missions to a secret facility known as the "Dollhouse," Echo and the other Actives--including Sierra (Dichen Lachman) and Victor (Enver Gjokaj)--are assigned engagements by Adelle (Olivia Williams), one of the Dollhouse leaders. After each scenario, Echo, always under the watchful eye of her handler Boyd (Harry Lennix), returns to the mysterious Dollhouse where her thoughts, feelings, experiences and knowledge are erased by Topher (Fran Kranz), the Dollhouse's genius programmer. But is Echo acquiring a memory of her own? Dollhouse is slated to air in January.

Battlestar Props, Costumes Auctioned

Props and costumes from SCI FI's Battlestar Galactica will be auctioned off on Jan. 16-18, 2009, in Pasadena, Calif., with proceeds in part going to benefit the United Way.

The first Live Battlestar Galactica Auction will take place at the Pasadena Convention Center.

Friday will be Preview Day, and all the items in the auction will be on display, including full-size spaceships like the Viper, the Blackbird and even a Cylon Raider. Saturday and Sunday, 800 lots will be auctioned off in a live auction that will be Webcast online.

On Monday, a 200-item online auction will take place, with less expensive items up for bid.

Sleeping Beauty: Blu-Ray Doesn’t Mean Better

The Blu-Ray release of Sleeping Beauty has generated a lot of attention, not only from the media, but also from animation fans who have noticed this version’s oversaturated colors, poor color timing and DVNR. The changes in color have also been noticed by industry professionals like Lou Romano, art director of The Incredibles, who writes on his blog that he prefers the 2003 DVD release and also posts a bunch of frame grab comparisons. I agree with Lou and everybody else; to my eyes, the colors in this new version look way too hot. It’s a shame that they can’t get the colors right on a film in which color plays such an integral role.

Warner Bros. Realizes Graysons Was A Stupid Idea!!

Warner Bros. Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov, who apparently now controls the motion picture and television rights to all DC funnybook characters, has put the kibosh on The CW’s proposed “Graysons” series, which would have followed the life of Robin, The Boy Wonder, when he was a slightly younger boy.

According to Friday morning’s Variety:

"Warner Bros. TV never had 100% clearance," said one exec familiar with the project.

Now maybe The CW will now have to find another pre-superhero DC superhero to replace “Smallville” if it goes away after this season. I'm hoping for "Young Rita Farr," a look at The Doom Patrol's Elastigirl before the tragic accident that gave her stretching powers.

Find all of Variety's story on the matter here.

At Disney TVA

The Frank Wells branch.

Up on the third floor the new season for Phineas and Ferb continues apace, and the crew for Inspector Oso is pretty much gone. Before departing an Osoite reported ...

"They were going to launch Inspector Oso the end of January. But then they moved it back to Spring. April, I think. But now they've moved it back again and they don't have a new date.

It's a cute show, we've done a bunch of episodes, but I don't know when it's going to be on. Or when we come back ..."

Sooner or later, they'll give IO an air date. I know they will. If it makes decent ratings, they might have people come back to work on new episodes.

I know they will.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

The Ageism Thing

Last week I had breakfast with a storyboard artist of 20-plus years standing; he told me this:

"I 'finished my assignment' on a project a couple of months ago. My exit interview was quick and kind of strained. They thanked me, said they were moving in a different direction, going with 'new blood' with 'fresh ideas and enthusiasm."

"A lot of the new blood I trained. And now they're working for the people I'm not working for, for less money. Which is fine. It was time to move on, and I want to work on my own projects anyway ..."

This gent is talented, and in my biased opinion he won't have a problem going on to new work someplace else. And he shouldn't take it too personally, since being let go in favor of fresher plasma is a grand old Hollywood tradition, and seldom pretty.

For years, actors have feared and loathed it.

[Sharon Stone] admits she was looking forward to becoming a 40 something back in 1998, but ageist attitudes to Hollywood stars left her floored.

"I thought... 'I'm fantastic and sexy and amazing!' (But) it was like, 'You have leprosy.' I couldn't get a dress or a job." ...

Older writers sue over graylisting. Directors of photography die their hair and get facelifts and hope their networks of contacts doesn't dry up.

And how is it for older animation artists? For some, they float from one job after another, year after year. A golden few spend long, lucrative careers at one or two studios, working on high profile hits. But for many, the job market gets tougher and tougher as you acquire more wrinkles and body fat ... particularly in an economic downturn.

Ageism isn't something on which you can always place your index finger. In most studios I stroll through, I can usually find older artists sprinkled here and there. But often in our down-sized industry, the race goes to the young, energetic and less expensive. As an older ex-Pixar artist explained to me a while ago:

"I went up there to the bay area when Pixar was new and wanted experienced board artists who'd worked on features in L.A. But when they'd made a bunch of hits and had kids out of art school banging on their door happy to work for way less money, they told me: "Hey, it's been great, but see ya bye.'"

Hollywood ageism has been with us for decades. While I don't think discrimination against seasoned animation artists is as virulant or as conscious as it is in live action, I do think it's out there. Trying to prove it legally, however, is something else again.

There is no magic-bullet remedy for age discrimination. The best defenses I know for avoiding underemployment as you get older is working hard, staying at the top of your game, and being better than the competition ... even when there is silver in your hair.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Exclusive: A look at the live action AKIRA remake - AKIRA PART 1!

According to the trades, Warner Bros. will turn anime artist Katsuhiro Otomo's six-volume graphic novel "Akira" into two live-action feature films, the first of which is being fast tracked for release in summer 2009. Each feature will be based on three of the books in Otomo's series. The story takes place in New Manhattan, a metropolis that was rebuilt after being destroyed 31 years earlier.

Dr. Strangefist is a huge fan of the 1988 anime and recently took a look at the script by Gary Whitta. He chimes in with his thoughts below.

In the meantime, you can follow El Mayimbe from Latino Review's updates on TWITTER.

I am not anti-remake. They do not incense me like they do some people. In fact, I kind of like the idea when they’re done well, even if that’s not all that often, and when they are bad I generally subscribe to the notion that the original is still out there for you to watch and the remake can only increase awareness of it amongst the general movie-going population. So no harm no foul. Still, I can’t help but be a little skeptical, or at the very least nervous, when I hear that a film I love is being remade, or a book I love being adapted, and so on. Even if a remake isn’t ultimately going to take away from its source material I want it to do it justice and maybe even turn out to be something good in its own right. So as I’m sure you can imagine I was pretty damn skeptical approaching Gary Whitta’s screenplay for a live action American version of Akira, a personal favorite and easily one of the best and most influential anime films of all time. Many of you will probably be surprised to hear that the verdict is overall positive, or at least not altogether negative. In fact it’s pretty firmly somewhere in the middle.

The story takes place in a burgeoning new metropolis of the future, several years after a cataclysmic event destroyed the old city that once stood in its place. Unbeknownst to most of the populace, the real cause of the event was a small boy with incredible psychic powers, part of a top secret government program attempting to harness such so called “Espers” as weapons. The project is deemed too dangerous, and the young boy – AKIRA – is put in cryogenic stasis in a secret underground facility to prevent such a disaster from ever occurring again. In probably the most significant change and the only one that really bugged me, the events of this version are shifted from Tokyo to New York – but after the city is destroyed and the United States’ economy collapses, burgeoning superpower Japan buys the devastated island to construct a new city to house their ever expanding population. So the film will still technically be set in New Tokyo, but on the island of Manhattan, and with about half the characters being American and the rest remaining Japanese. It’s a somewhat odd way of appealing to American audiences and fans alike, and feels somewhat awkward, but does allow for some up to date political commentary.

In the ruins of the surrounding boroughs live KANEDA and TRAVIS, two young men who became good friends after being orphaned by the disaster and have since looked out for each other. They are now part of a biker gang called the Red Devils, which tries to maintain the peace in the lawless, neglected, impoverished outskirts they call home. KANEDA is the cocky leader, like a big brother to restless TRAVIS. Following a run-in with a rival gang and a chance encounter with some people smuggling a strange young boy out of the city, TRAVIS inadvertently unlocks dormant psychic abilities and KANEDA gets involved in a resistance movement attempting to stop the resurrected Espers research program, headed by the military and Vanguard, a Blackwater-esque private military contractor. SHACKLETON, an army colonel who was part of the original experiments, mainly wants to contain these powerful psychics and protect the city, while NELLIS, defense secretary in the pocket of Vanguard, wants to restart the weapons development side of the program.

With the help of his new allies RAY, former Vanguard employee and leader of the resistance, and KAY, one of their former test subjects, Kaneda attempts to rescue Travis, who has been taken into custody by Shackleton and his team. Travis’ new powers are so powerful that they awaken the mind of the sleeping Akira, and Shackleton fears a repeat of the cataclysmic event that destroyed the city so many years before. Travis finds himself inexplicably drawn to Akira, and, his ego and powers spiraling out of control, he escapes from captivity and goes on a rampage of destruction trying to reach the secret facility where Akira is kept. The story becomes a race to stop him – Kaneda, Kay, and Travis’ girlfriend KAORI wanting to bring him back alive and sane, and Shackleton intent on destroying him to prevent another apocalyptic event. True to the epic scope of the original, this is only part one of two planned movies, so the script ends with a huge but intriguing cliffhanger.

The people out there who demand faithfulness in adaptations and remakes should be pleasantly surprised, even if not outright delighted by this script; sure, a few elements are slightly watered-down, Hollywood-ized, Americanized – but there is no outright wrecking, ruining, or childhood raping going on here. All things considered it is shockingly faithful to the source material, at times reading like a flat-out transcript/description of the animated movie, and even incorporating aspects of the original manga that were left out of the anime version. It is faithful not only in plot and character details, but in tone. It retains the darkness, the violence, the epic qualities and even some of the themes, though they’ve been tweaked, Americanized, and updated to apply to current events. They are also maybe a bit less complex, but still this is admirable. This adaptation actually retains a lot of the style and, more surprisingly, substance of the original. If you are already a fan, you will probably like this adaptation, because a lot of the same things are good about it.

The other side of that coin, though, is that it’s not bringing many fresh ideas or perspectives on the material to the table. What I love about good remakes or adaptations, what in fact makes some of them good, is that they are opportunities for artists with distinct voices and visions to take already existing works and re-interpret them, pay respect to them but use them to say new things and make them their own. There is very little of that happening here. Don’t get me wrong, as much as I’m talking about how faithful it is, a lot of that reaction is due to my surprise that it’s not a complete bastardization. We’re not exactly talking Gus Van Sant’s Psycho levels of slavishness here. But it’s not a particularly fresh take either. Neither infuriatingly dumbed-down nor invigoratingly creative and exciting, it just kind of exists - at least as a script.

The big, looming unknown that remains now is if the quality of the filmmaking can not only do justice to the words on the page, but ultimately to help justify the whole thing’s existence. The original is known as much if not more so for being a stunning visual feast as it is for its story and themes, so if this project fails in that regard it will probably be a disappointment regardless of how true the script is to the source. And at the same time, I think what I’ve said above applies to currently slated director Ruiri Robinson just as much as it does to the writer; if he just apes the visual style and shots of the original it’ll get points for being faithful but won’t be very exciting or interesting. It’s going to need to look just as good, but at the same time different to really stand apart from the other version, at least in the eyes of this fan.

Having said all of this, I’ll add that I’d still rather have a finished product that hews very close to prior incarnations and maybe doesn’t have a lot to say on its own than one that hopelessly dumbs down or simply discards everything that made the original a classic – and of course, that all depends on how things pan out in part two. If this script is an indication of the direction in which this project is headed, and if it indeed stays on this path, than I think it will yield something that fans will find satisfying overall and which also potentially has a lot of appeal to newcomers. I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of someone who hasn’t seen or maybe even heard of Akira before and I’m thinking that this would strike me as pretty awesome stuff. As a remake it may not be necessary, but then again what really is when we’re talking about entertainment?

Grade: B

6 Baddest-Ass Sci Fi Sidearms Ever

Hellboy II: The Golden Army--which hits DVD and Blu-ray on Nov. 11--introduces a bunch of new creatures, magical robots, fantastical settings, yadda yadda, but what's really important is a big-ass new gun: The Big Baby.

Guys, let's be frank. We here at SCIFI Wire love science fiction for all the usual reasons, but we especially LOVE us the massive handguns.

The Hellboy franchise has been good to us for that reason. In the first movie--based on Mike Mignola's comic series--we got the Good Samaritan, a demon-sized revolver that only a B.P.R.D. agent could love.

But it was a noisy cricket compared with Hellboy II's Big Baby, a multiple-barreled cannon equal to the task of taking out a building-sized plant monster.

The Big Baby is only the latest in a long line of science fiction mega-pistolas. How does Hellboy's firepower stack up against the biggest guns in SF&F? Here's a rundown on five classic weapons: Which one could take on Big Red's sidearms?

Han Solo's BlasTech DL-44 Blaster. (Star Wars) Constructed from a modified M1932 "Broom Handle" Mauser pistol, Han's trusty blaster might not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid. This smuggler's weapon of choice has served the resourceful Solo well against both bounty hunters and the Empire. After all, it's not how big your gun is, but how you use it. Like, say, firing first when Greedo shows up.

RoboCop's Auto 9 pistol. (RoboCop) Made from a modified Beretta m93R, RoboCop's fully automatic handgun can spray 60 rounds a minute. But it's not the size that matters: With his Kevlar-laminated titanium armor, RoboCop is bombproof, bulletproof and impact resistant, so he doesn't feel the need to overcompensate with a gigantic gun. The Auto 9 fits neatly inside Robo's leg for quick draws.

Rick Deckard's Plager Katsumate Series-D Blaster. (Blade Runner) Cobbled together from a Steyr Mannlicher .222 Model SL rifle and a Charter Arms Bulldog .44 revolver, this futuristic handgun is the weapon of choice for the retirement of rogue replicants. Aside from the blinking red lights, this iconic pistol--nicknamed the M2019 by fans--doesn't seem terribly different from the handguns of today (or 1982). Deckard prefers a low profile: When gunning down a half-naked stripper in a clear-plastic raincoat, you want a modest gun.

Judge Dredd's Lawgiver Mark II. (Judge Dredd) There's no doubt that the artillery--a modified Beretta 92--in this oft-maligned 1995 SF flop is more interesting than Stallone's stilted performance. If he didn't have this bad-ass gun in his hand every time he uttered "I am the law!" the bad guys would be too busy laughing at his French-inspired outfit to be arrested.

The Lawgiver--a variation of the sidearm in the Dredd comics--has a vast array of bells and whistles, including the ability to fire single shots, machine-gun style rapid fire, grenades and even the famed "double whammy," which sends simultaneously fired rounds off in different directions. The weapon is DNA coded to its owner and delivers a jolt to unauthorized users comparable to sticking fork in a light socket.

Dredd gives the law.

Blade's Benelli M3 Super 90. (Blade) The Daywalker does a lot of his fighting at close range, so swords and knives are often his weapons of choice. But when the battle shifts to long-range combat--or he's just in a rush--the cutlery just won't do. When it comes to home protection or killing vampires, there's simply no more accurate and forceful weapon than the classic shotgun. Blade uses the Benelli M3 Super 90, with an additional modification to fire silver stakes. When he needs to travel light, the Bladester tucks a heavily modified MAC-10 into his trenchcoat. A standard MAC-10 can fire 1,000 rounds per minute, but it's a fair bet that Whistler's modifications have boosted those numbers a tad.

Blade II

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