Saturday, May 25, 2013

30th Anniversary of Return of the Jedi

Original Poster
On Wednesday, May 25th, 1983, the third and final chapter of the Star Wars TrilogyStar Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, was released in theatres (exactly six years to the day of the release of the original Star Wars)! Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of that epic conclusion and to celebrate, CHERNOBOG'S BLOG would like to take this opportunity to share some of it's thoughts and even some trivia on one of my favorite movies of all time!
After Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from Jabba the Hutt, the Rebel Alliance plans to destroy the second Death Star, currently under construction and overseen by The Emperor himself! With the death of Jedi Master Yoda, Luke must complete his training and confront his father, Darth Vader, thus becoming a true Jedi Knight!
After the phenomenal success of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, creator/producer George Lucas had to face some hard decisions with completing his saga. Since relinquishing his directorial duties to Irvin Kershner for Episode V and choosing not to bow down to Hollywood/20th Century Fox politics such as choosing to leave the Directors' Guild and Writers' Guild after having to pay fines for his independent, creative choices. Not to mention the fact that Lucas had put up the money for the production himself yet again. For the third installment of the Star Wars saga, Lucas originally wanted his friend and co-creator of Indiana Jones Steven Spielerg to direct, but eventually settled for relatively unknown Welsh director Richard Marquand.
By the end of Episode V, the popular character of Han Solo  had been frozen in 'carbonite' and taken away to Jabba the Hutt by Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch). Harrison Ford, who had become equally popular as the character of Indiana Jones, did not originally want to return, but Lucas insisted.
While the third movie was originally titled Revenge of the Jedi, Lucas made a last minute decision to change it to Return of the Jedi just weeks before it's release. During the production of the film, it was given the alternate title of "Blue Harvest" to prevent any story leaks. Return of the Jedi was a major breakthrough in both film production and special effects. The movie introduced some new major characters that would become vital to the saga including Jabba the Hutt (also a technological difficulty and triumph, before re-introducing him in the Special Edition of Episode IV) and the first full appearance of The Emperor (a.k.a. Palpatine, Ian McDiarmid) who had previously appeared as a hologram in Episode V originally played by Clive Revill, pre-Special Edition). One of the most popular new characters introduced in Episode VI was Wicket, the Ewok (Warwick Davis), who was the most prominently featured Ewok in the film. Other new elements included in Episode VI were Luke's new green lightsaber and Leia's slave outfit (which has become one of the most popular cosplay choices for girl Star Wars fans at conventions). While Episode VI was the most technologically sophisticated and had the highest budget of any of the Star Wars Trilogy, there has always been a huge schism with fans whether Episode V and VI is the best.
"Revenge of the Jedi" Poster
I consider myself a second generation Star Wars fan, as I was not born in time to see the original Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (a.k.a. Star Wars, 1977) film, but I was however, able to see Return of the Jedi in theatres and it has since always been and always will be, my favorite Star Wars movie! Although I was a considerably young Star Wars fan at the time, I had the privilege of seeing the other Star Wars movies on VHS, which at that time the home video craze was still a growing market. I also already owned many of the toys and action figures, which remain highly collectible today. Even today, I am still the proud owner of many of them, although having sold a considerable amount of my collection in recent years. Seeing Return of the Jedi is one of my clearest and fondest early memories, although I can distinctly remember not seeing it until later in the year. At that time, movies were kept in theaters longer and when I and my family did eventually see the movie, it was already in the Fall and we saw it at one of the few remaining Drive-In theatres near Ft. Worth, Texas. I can remember it being very cold and the speaker near the car window was not the best quality but the screen was huge (or so it seemed at the time) and I enjoyed every minute of it! While Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) has always been my favorite character, most likely due to my very young age I was very fond of the Ewoks, particularly Wicket, both actors I have had the pleasure to meet and get autographs. I still find that Luke's black costume and green lightsaber has always been my favorite image of him. I remained a lifelong Star Wars fan and can remember dressing up several times as Star Wars characters for Halloween over the years, especially with my Mom-made Jedi cape and partially store-bought Ewok costume when I was a child.
1997 Special Edition Poster
1997 was a big year in my life, mostly because that was the year I graduated high school, but also because that Summer was the release of the Star Wars "Special Editions"! Other than Episode VI, this was the first time I was able to see Episode IV and V in the theater. Despite all the changes, this was one of the happiest times in a theater I can remember since the Summer of 1989 (Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II). As for the release of the "Special Edition" version of Return of the Jedi, I feel it had some of the best and worst changes of those "revisions". While many of the changes made in Episode IV, like "Greedo shooting first!" and "Jenny Craig-Jabba" are preposterous, some of the more updated technological additions were acceptable (1995 THX remasters). As for those changes made in Return of the Jedi, there are a few which I feel, while they only alter some of the less important scenes in the movie, the changes to the ending particularly are the most controversial. The changing of Jabba's band is so over-the-top ridiculous that I will barely mention it, however giving the Sarlacc Pitt a beak in place of his open-toothy, maw is even more idiotic. With the added scenes at the end, I found the addition of showing the celebrations seen all over the galaxy at the "Fall of the Empire" was impressive however in removing the Ghost of Anakin Skywalker, originally played by Sebastian Shaw and replacing him with Hayden Christensen (who played Anakin in Episode II and III) was an outrage!
No matter if you think Episode VI is better than V, or if you think the original is the best, Return of the Jedi still remains my personal favorite since I was a kid for several reasons. Ultimately, it was the final chapter in the trilogy, successfully ending the saga and completing the epic hero's journey of Luke Skywalker. Even though this year marks the 30th Anniversary of Return of the Jedi, the Star Wars Saga is far from over. As many of you know last year, the Walt Disney Corporation acquired Lucasfilm and it was announced that J.J. Abrams is to direct Episode VII set to be released in 2015.
Even after 36 years, the Star Wars Saga is still alive and well today! I hope you are just as excited as I am and can't wait to see what's going to happen next. "May the Force be with you!"

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dallas Comic Con 2013

This weekend I went to Dallas Comic Con 2013 at the Irving Convention Center in Irving, Texas. This is the second Comic Con event I've been to in the last year including Dallas Comic Con: Fan Days back in October. Dallas Comic Con is considered to be one of the largest "Mega-Cons" in the state along with smaller sister event the Sci-Fi Expo under the management of OfficialPix produced by C2 Ventures, Inc. This years' Comic Con was the biggest by far with 25,000 attendees! This years' Dallas Comic Con ran from May 17 to 19. Among the many special media guests included were: William Shatner, Richard Dean Anderson, John Noble, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Kevin Conroy, Ernie Hudson, Brandon Routh along with many others! Also in attendance were some great comic book creators, writers and artists such as Jim Steranko, John Romita, Jr., Arthur Suydam, J. David Spurlock and many more! The two biggest disappointments this year was the cancellation of special guest Nathan Fillion and the Art of Akira exhibit. Although the con was incredibly crowded with incredibly long lines, a broken escalator and over priced food, I managed to meet and get autographs from all the guests I planned to this year including: John Noble (Denethor, Lord of the Rings Trilogy), plus Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation), and also Kevin Conroy (voice of Batman, Batman Animated Series, Arkham Asylum)! The biggest thrill came from when me and my family met LeVar and Brent as we were dressed in our Star Trek uniform shirts, LeVar was overjoyed and took a picture of us on his own phone! I also had the pleasure of meeting comic book artists Jim Steranko and John Romita, Jr.! I was also able to attend several panels including the Kevin Conroy Q&A on Friday, the John Romita, Jr. Q&A on Saturday, and the Star Trek Q&A on Sunday. I love comic cons, the special guests, the vendors, the costumes/cosplay, but unfortunately, there is always the crowd. While I feel the crowd was somewhat manageable, the lines in the morning just to get in seemed so unorganized as we were lined up inside the convention center parking garage for hours! As for things that the con organizers had no control over, they were unavoidable such as the escalator breaking down Saturday afternoon and the convention center cafĂ© running out of food on Sunday. But thankfully that did little to diminish the whole experience. I hope to return to Comic Con next year and may possibly attend the next Fan Days in October, there is also the Sci-Fi Expo in February.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

Let the Summer Movie Blockbusters Begin!!! The release of Iron Man 3 marks the beginning of what Marvel Studios is calling "Marvel: Phase 2". After the release of The Avengers in 2012, which brought all of Marvel's superheroes (those NOT owned by other studios) together in one epic, blockbuster; the Marvel movies can now continue in what is already a billion-dollar franchise phenomenon! With "Phase 2" underway, Marvel studios will set in motion a string of more movies to be released over the next few years which will include: Thor: The Dark World (2013), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Ant-Man (2015), Guardians of the Galaxy (2015), and then of course Avengers 2 (2015)!
Iron Man 3 takes place after the events in The Avengers when Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) sacrificed himself by taking a nuclear missile intended to destroy the Chitauri army in New York City but instead, took the missile through a dimensional rift and destroyed the mother-ship, thus ending the invasion! Since the battle of New York, Tony Stark finds himself plagued by panic attacks and nightmares. Unable to sleep, he loses himself in his work, making yet another upgrade to his Iron Man armor with 'Mark 42'. Meanwhile, his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), now the head of Stark Industries, is having troubles. While on top of that, his best friend, Col. James 'Rhodey' Rhodes (Don Cheadle) has been using the 'War Machine' armor, now known as 'Iron Patriot', to wage a one-man war on terrorism and a new threat known as "The Mandarin" (Ben Kingsley), a mysterious enemy with a flair for the dramatic, who is making threats on the U.S. with random bombings. While Pepper is being wooed by fellow industrialist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce), head of A.I.M., Tony's former bodyguard 'Happy' Hogan (John Favreau), now head of security at Stark Industries, is injured in a bizarre explosion in Hollywood. At his wits end, Tony issues a public statement to The Mandarin in an attempt to draw him out, but The Mandarin's forces calls him on it and completely destroys his home and lab. Now stranded in the Midwestern U.S. and without power, Tony must find out the plot behind The Mandarin's attacks and regain his technology and his sanity!

The Mandarin
Directed by Shane Black, action-movie screenwriter (Lethal Weapon (1987), Last Action Hero (1993)) turned director (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Iron Man 3 is THE biggest budgeted and also the longest Iron Man movie to-date! While nothing can obviously top the sheer epic-magnitude of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 certainly tries to come close with it's over-the-top displays of firepower, featuring dozens of Iron Man suits for the climactic final battle! With this movie, like many superhero sequels, we are introduced to two villains, however one (without giving away any spoilers) is not what he seems. The main adversary, which is a formidable match to Stark both in technology and firepower, comes from Killian (whose character appeared in the recent Iron Man comic story-arc "Extremis"). Once spurned by Tony Stark's arrogance, Killian intends to develop his "Extremis" project, which not only allows damaged/missing limbs to re-grow, but also has explosive side-effects! The biggest apparent threat comes from The Mandarin and his terrorist forces referenced in the original Iron Man (2008) movie, as the supposed leader of "The Ten Rings". Fans were excited to finally see Iron Man's arch-enemy appear in the movie series, but his role in the movie does come with some disappointments. Dating back to his first appearance in 1964, The Mandarin had a magical edge to him with his 10 power rings. Much like Flash Gordon's nemesis Ming the Merciless, the character played on the publics' xenophobic fears of the Chinese-Communist, Cold War-era villain. It is interesting to note how Ben Kingsley often plays somewhat type-casted "Asian" roles (i.e. Gandhi (1982), Prince of Persia (2010) throughout his career, although born in England, his father was of Gujrati/Pakistani descent.

Iron Patriot?
While Iron Man 3 focuses mainly on Tony Stark dealing with complete loss of everything (as if him dying in the second one wasn't enough!) along with his mental instability, much of the comic relief comes from his interactions with a young boy named Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins) in the middle of the film. Seeking a  kinship with the boy, Tony is both impressed and annoyed with the boy and often engages him in childish banter most of the time. Aside from the special-effects driven action of the film there is somewhat of a buddy-cop element to his relationship with Rhodey (Cheadle) mostly in the final scene of the movie, whereas through most of the movie they hardly interact/fight at all as they did in Iron Man 2 (2010). Pepper's (Paltrow) character has a much stronger role in the movie until she becomes the proverbial "damsel in distress", but then is literally "transformed" into a much more powerful person in the end. The unexpected twists involving both The Mandarin and Pepper Potts make the ending of this movie such a confusing downward spiral that by the end credits you are so overwhelmed with everything that's happened, that you can hardly believe there will be any room for another sequel. As far as I'm concerned, the Iron Man trilogy ended with disappointment much like all the other Marvel movies in the past (i.e. X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3) even though audiences were promised a much stronger and satisfying franchise with the new Marvel Studios involvement. With The Avengers, Iron Man has become such a pivotal character in the franchise that anything else just seems wasted and unnecessary. This may be due to the fact that like X:Men 3, the loss of the director of the first two movies (Bryan Singer, Jon Favreau) leaves the ending of the series wanting and inconsistent. Especially considering the rumored falling out between Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau after Iron Man 2, but Jon agreed to return as Happy Hogan in 3. Although the end credits assure us that "Tony Stark will return!" most likely in Avengers 2, but after seeing Iron Man 3, I guarantee we will see much less of, and a much different Tony Stark in the future than we expect. As of now, Iron Man 3 has already earned $174 million, coming very close to the success of The Avengers and recently Robert Downey, Jr. announced on Jimmy Kimmel his $200 million Kickstarter campaign for Iron Man 4 which may just be a joke? If you go in expecting a full-on special effects overload with Michael Bay-levels of explosions, you get what you pay for. If you go in expecting a satisfactory close to the Iron Man Trilogy, you may be in for a disappointment.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

R.I.P. Jeff Hanneman of Slayer

On the morning of Thursday, May 2nd 2013, Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman died from liver failure near his home in Southern California. He was 49 years old. The incredibly fast and heavy guitar player for THE heaviest thrash metal band in the world today will be dearly missed by his fellow, founding bandmates: Tom Araya (bass/vocals), Kerry King (guitar) and Dave Lombardo (drums). Back in early 2011, Jeff had contracted necrotizing fasciitis. which originated from a spider bite, which may have led to his untimely death. Since then, Gary Holt of Exodus has been filling in for Jeff. Slayer was founded in 1981 in Huntington Park, California. Noted for their ultra-heavy, aggressive style and "break-neck" speed, including fast tremolo picking and double bass drumming, Slayer became one of the most successful thrash metal bands int he world earning their place in the "Big 4" of thrash metal alongside Anthrax, Megadeth, and Metallica. Hanneman was a key member in Slayer and was one of the main contributors to their musical arrangement and lyrics. Slayer has been regarded as one of the most influential metal bands, giving rise to some of the heavier/hardcore metal bands of the 1990's. Among the band's two Grammy awards and three nominations, Hanneman and King were ranked number 10 in Guitar World's "100 greatest metal guitarists of all time" in 2004, and were also voted "Best Guitarist/Guitar Team" in Revolver's reader's poll. With the death of their friend, brother and bandmate, it is uncertain what the future will hold for Slayer, but to quit now would only dishonor the memory of him who would want the band to continue to bring their music to the world.
Earlier today, Slayer issued a statement on their Facebook page of their tragic loss:
"Slayer is devastated to inform that their bandmate and brother, Jeff Hanneman, passed away at about 11AM this morning near his Southern California home. Hanneman was in an area hospital when he suffered liver failure. He is survived by his wife Kathy, his sister Kathy and his brothers Michael and Larry, and will be sorely missed.
Our Brother Jeff Hanneman, May He Rest In Peace (1964 - 2013)"
Update: On May 10th, it was confirmed that Jeff hanneman died of liver failure caused by alcohol.