Thursday, April 27, 2006

Happy 23rd Anniversary to Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction

Here's a happy shout out to Dr. Howard Margolin, the remarkable host of (and talent behind) the sublime genre radio talk-show Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction. Howard crosses an amazing and important threshold tomorrow night -- his fine radio program celebrates twenty-three years on the air (make that twenty-three years of EXCELLENCE on the air). Yep, that means Destinies began waaaay back in April of 1983.

Howard is going to be celebrating right -- by having a coterie of strippers visit him in the studio. No, I'm just kidding!!! No strippers!! No strippers!!

Instead, Destinies will air tomorrow night at 11:30 pm with a special anniversary show. Howard plans to feature interview snippets from the likes of Marv Wolfman, Richard Hatch, Kevin J. Anderson, and many more of today's best sci-fi talents. So check it out! You can find Destinies (WUSB 90.1 FM on your dial) by clicking
here.

Congratulations to Howard on this landmark installment. Can't wait to tune in...

Not So Fast On Those Trek Rumors...

Well, maybe the universe isn't being so nice to me after all...

My buddy Chris just alerted me about this new development regarding Star Trek XI. It looks like the story affirming a Kirk/Spock Starfleet Academy plot line was pre-mature (and downright incorrect). Damn...

The IMDB has J.J. Abrams saying the following:

"The whole thing was reported entirely without our cooperation. People learned that I was producing a Star Trek film, that I had an option to direct it, they hear rumors of what the thing was going to be and ran with a story that is not entirely accurate."

The article goes on to say:

"Last week, Hollywood trade paper Variety, reported Abrams was on board and that the film would center on the early days of Captain James T. Kirk and Spock and that Philip Seymour Hoffman was in talks to play the ship's doctor. Abrams won't reveal the true storyline, but hints that it won't feature characters Captain James T. Kirk or Mr. Spock at all, but doesn't rule out bringing some of the original characters back for the new film, adding, "Those characters are so spectacular. I just think that..you know, they could live again."

To mix my metaphors (and outer space franchises...). Frak!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Star Blazers to Return Too?

Is the universe suddenly smiling upon me? News of Star Trek XI (With Kirk and Spock!) last Friday (with J.J. Abrams at the helm, no less), and now this! Hopefully you've heard, but it looks like the popular 1970s animated space adventure series, Star Blazers is also being prepped for production.

Here's the story, (entitled "Film Based on Classic Japanese cartoon will blast onto theater screens"), by Colin Mahan over at TV.com

Fighting with the Gamilons, they won't stop until they've won. Or at least until they hit multiplexes. The seminal 1970s Japanese animated series Star Blazers is set to blast onto the big screen.

Benderspink, the production company behind American Pie, The Ring, and A History of Violence, among others, is readying a big-screen adaptation of the animated space opera. The company is teaming on the film with the current rights holder of Star Blazers, Josh C. Kline. So far, no writer, director, or actors have been attached to the project.

So what do you think? A good idea, or is this another example of a childhood favorite biting the dust? Personally, I'm curious how they're going to handle the whole Yamato thing. Is the spaceship still going to be retrofitted, old-fashioned battleship, or will designs change? I'll post more about it as news trickles out of Hollywood...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

CULT MOVIE ESSAY: Scream (1996) - Ten Years Later

Here's a popular horror movie that premiered a decade ago. Which means that, among other things, in just another ten years, we'll have a remake...

All kidding aside, it's difficult to believe that a decade has passed since Wes Craven's Scream passionately re-kindled the "slasher" film format of the 1980s, imbuing the sub-genre with a new (and wicked) self-reflexive quality. The film was an unexpected box office sleeper (and one that spawned two sequels, in 1997 and 1999, respectively). More to the point, the film is highly-representative of its context: America in the middle of the Clinton decade. Back in the day, this contextual background was harder to discern and pinpoint, but gazing at the film now, in retrospect, Scream serves almost as a time capsule of an era that I believe will come to be known as either the "Roaring Nineties" or the "Inconsequential Nineties," depending, in part, on how the remainder of this turbulent 21st century, post-9/11 decade irons out.

In addition to being a rip-roaring horror film filled with suspense and terror, director Wes Craven's Scream (from a screenplay by Kevin Williamson) serves as the ultimate tale of America's VCR generation. The imperiled (and sometimes murderous) teenagers portrayed in the film, with their Pentium computers, pagers, cell phones, and extreme cynicism are an ideal reflection of the mid-to-late 1990s. Like many young adults of that day, these fictional (and very smart) teens are acutely conscious that their new technological toys are not really helping anyone, making things better, or saving the world. Despite e-mail, MRIs, and the Hubble, the world is still fraught with dangers. AIDS is still out of control (a dozen years after its discovery...), the national deficit is tremendous and growing by the minute, and Generation X'ers and Y'ers are not leaving universities for $50,000-a-year careers. Companies are downsizing, and Congress is locked in partisan games.

So, on the contrary, the teens of the 1990s have discovered - first-hand - by the time of Scream that the artificial prosperity of the Reagan era - the era of their youth - is over indeed, and that they will be paying for the 1980s for the remainder of their adult lives. The result of this insight is that the high-schoolers profiled in Scream often seem cynical or callous.

For instance, consider Tatum's (Rose McGowan's) retort to Sidney (Neve Campbell) after Sidney notes that murdered classmate Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) sits next to her in English class. "Not anymore," Tatum comments straight-faced, more interested in a pithy one-liner than a fallen comrade, another human being.

Later, two students at Sidney's school thoughtlessly dress up as the psycho killer terrorizing the town, not even considering the results of their actions. All they seem to care about is their own entertainment, not the feelings of others. When principal Himbry (Henry Winkler) is murdered, it is an amusing incident to these same teenagers. They do not think of the administrator as a human being, only a nemesis who keeps them from having their way at school. His children, his wife, his friends, don't matter to them. All they want is a good time. As Alice Cooper's song tells us on the soundtrack, "School's Out."

The moment of greatest cynicism in Scream occurs during a short scene in the girl's high school rest room. A cheerleader suggests to her friend that Sidney herself is the notorious Woodsboro murderer. She knowledgeably rattles off a complicated psychological argument for this revelation, and then reveals that her source for it is The Ricki Lake Show. Does anyone recall how, a decade ago, slimy talk shows like this (and The Jerry Springer Show) were all the rage? Some examples of the format may still be around today, but they're not the cultural cause celebres they were in the 1990s.

In scenes like these, Craven (and indeed, Scream) suggests that because of intense exposure to TV, movies, and other mass media, some 1990s teens are not only callous and cynical, but unbelievably knowledgeable. It is a defense mechanism, perhaps. They have to be smart to understand the Internet and other tools of modern life. But by the same token, exposure to sanitized movie violence has left some teens with no concept of real human pain or empathy. Perhaps the best moment in the film occurs when villains Stu (Matthew Lillard) and Billy (Skeet Ulrich) stab each other to make it appear that they were victims of the maniac. They seem shocked when they realize that it actually hurts to be stabbed! For the first time (and only briefly), Stu and Billy are able to sympathize with their victims. Movies and TV have not prepared them for the fact that it hurts to bleed, to be stabbed. After all, they grew up with the A-Team, wherein cars would flip, machine guns would blare and nobody would get hurt.

Scream is perfect not only in its dramatization of mid-1990s high school set, but also in its self-aware, hip attitude attitude. The film is undeniably clever, much like the cadre of kids it highlights. The teens endlessly wonder about who will play them in the inevitable movie version of the killing spree ("With my luck, they'll cast Tori Spelling...") or comment that their lives are just like movies ("This is like Silence of the Lambs when Jodie Foster kept having dreams of her dead father...") To think, citizens once referenced literature, national leaders, philosophers and the like! All this generation can muster in this time period, it seems, comes from pop culture cornerstones. That may be because the leaders of the day (like Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton) really didn't have much memorable or significant to offer, did they? They didn't call for energy independence from the Middle East, a new environmentalism, or anything truly important. Today, we can see how changes ten years ago would have drastically improved our state today.

Interestingly, all of the pop culture references serve a purpose within the text of the film: they form a portrait of children who have not been raised by their parents (who seem perpetually absent; gone away on "business"). Instead, they were raised by the local video store, cable TV, and the ubiquitous VCR. Craven's subtext in Scream might just be that parental absenteeism has left a generation of disaffected children at the mercy of pop culture and television. As a result, this generation thinks in terms of sitcom one-liners, movie references, and TV-style ethics rather than what one might consider traditional American values vetted by public institutions of education, family and faith.

Craven expresses the prominence of the television in contemporary teenage life by cleverly positioning TV sets in many of his compositions throughout Scream. When Casey Becker is tormented by the killer, she seeks refuge between a wall and a TV. Questioned about Halloween and Friday the 13th, she is literally trapped between the TV and a hard place.

When Randy (Jamie Kennedy) enlightens his friends about the "rules" of horror movies, he too is positioned next to a giant-screen TV, which features a freeze frame image from Halloween. As Randy lectures, the knife of "The Shape," Michael Myers, (on the TV) points dangerously in his direction, not so subtly suggesting that he too will be a victim of the TV-conscious killer.

And, of course, in the ultimate use of a TV set, Sidney drops one onto Stu's head during their life-and-death confrontation. Parents like to warn that getting too close to the TV could hurt you, and in Stu's case that is absolutely true! (And, in a nod to another genre film, this death reflects a murder in the 1980 slasher film, Mother's Day).

In addition, all the action of the final party sequence of Scream is also shown on news woman Gale Weathers' video monitors. So while the partygoers watch TV, there is a camera watching them watching TV. A step further beyond that, the audience is also watching characters watching other characters, and so on. Thus Craven's world is one of an endless circle of television watching and media stardom.

It is interesting for example, that every character in Scream is in some manner connected to television. Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is a celebrity, a TV news reporter. Sidney is forced to watch incidents from her life unfold on TV (particularly the investigation surrounding the death of her mother). Tatum and Sidney both make the Nightly News after surviving an attack, and so on. Thus Craven documents something new and interesting in American culture in this film: the TV generation has come of age only to discover (especially in Stu, Billy and Kenny's case) that TV is really harmful to one's health.

Scream is a great horror film of the 1990s not simply because it reflects it context and the young generation of its time, but because it boasts a genuinely brilliant structure. The film's makers apparently share the audience's boredom with formulaic horror pictures and sequels. Thus Scream trots out all the same tropes that kids have seen in everything from Child's Play to A Nightmare on Elm Street to Hellraiser and other popular franchises of the 1980s. Then, it spins these film conventions in daring and bold ways.

In Scream, Randy is a movie buff, and he dutifully recounts all the rules of horror movies (including no drugs, no sex, and no promise that you'll be 'right back.') Scream declares these paradigms "operative", then, in short order, subverts them. Sidney gives up her virginity (a death sentence in the genre...) but lives to fight another day. The killer appears supernatural (like Michael, Jason or Freddy) but is no boogeyman, just two movie-whacked kids. Likewise, Sidney rails against stupid girls in horror movies who run up stairs instead of evacuating the house, but at the first sign of danger, runs up the stairs. These twists on convention make Scream an endlessly entertaining film, and perhaps (along with 1999's The Blair Witch Project) the horror film which most beautifully represents the era of its creation.

It is funny, however, how Scream seems much more campy today than it did a decade ago. Ten years ago, the film was genuinely scary. Today it feels predominantly caustic, slick. But that might just be what the definition of "is" is in 1990s horror.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me? One Year of "Reflections" on the Blogosphere!

Well, four hundred and thirty-one posts later, I've completed my first year on the blogosphere!

I blogged my first post on Saturday, April 23, 2005. So I'm devoting today to patting myself on the back. Nice, huh?

Let's flashback for a minute and recall how it all began back in the spring of '05. These were my first words on the blog:

Hello everybody, welcome to my blog. And to start us off, I quote the illustrious Admiral James Stockdale: "Who am I? Why am I here?"

Good questions...

My name is John Muir. and I'm a published author who writes under the name John Kenneth Muir, not because I'm pretentious or anything (though I am...) but because - for some reason - there are a lot of writers out there named John Muir.

Specifically, there's the great American naturalist from the last century, and also a fellow who writes about fixing Volkswagens. Others too, I think. In the age of the Internet, I realized I had to distinguish myself a little for Google, Yahoo, Lycos, Ask Jeeves and other search engines, so for the record, I'm the John Muir (the John Kenneth Muir...) who writes about film and television for a living.

And I know nothing about Volkswagens, so don't ask...

To let you know a little bit about my work, I'm the author of fifteen published books and several articles and short stories. I live in Monroe, North Carolina and work out of my home office penning books on film and television.

You may (or may not...) know some of my titles. From Applause Theatre and Cinema Books I've written: An Askew View: The Films of Kevin Smith (2002), The Unseen Force: The Films of Sam Raimi (2004), and Best in Show: the Films of Christopher Guest and Company (2004).

McFarland, a publisher here in North Carolina, has published eleven of my books, including award winners Terror Television (A Booklist Editor's Choice, 2001), Horror Films of the 1970s (A Booklist Editor's Choice, 2002 and ALA "Best of the Best" Reference Book '03), and 2004's The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television.

I've written about prominent horror directors (Wes Craven: The Art of Horror [1998], The Films of John Carpenter [2000], Eaten Alive at a Chainsaw Massacre: The Films of Tobe Hooper [2003]) and several TV series studies, including Exploring Space:1999 (1997), An Analytical Guide to TV's Battlestar Galactica (1998), A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television (1999), A History an Analysis of Blake's 7 (2000), and An Analytical Guide to TV's One Step Beyond (2001).

I've also written an original (licensed novel) based on the TV series Space:1999 called The Forsaken, from Powys Media, and freelanced for magazines including Cinescape, Filmfax, Rerun, Collectors News, and The Official Farscape Magazine. On the web, my home page is here, and I'm the regular media columnist for the web-zine Far Sector, which features original fiction and great editorials and opinion columns...

That answers the first question, who am I? The second question, why am I here? involves pop culture, film and TV. I hope I can utilize this space to discuss, debate and ponder trends in movies and TV programs. I'm open to all subjects - fantasy, horror, science fiction, Bollywood, musicals, you name it. Basically, I just hope to create an ongoing journal about contemporary and classic entertainment
.

Since that post, this blog has included the following:

20 cult tv flashbacks
37 "retro" toy flashbacks
42 essays/reviews about movies
05 comic-book flashbacks
07 interviews with actors/directors/writers

I've also blogged partial seasons of Invasion, Lost, Surface, Medium, Masters of Horror, Night Stalker and Threshold, plus episodes of Supernatural, Ghost Whisperer, Extras, etc.

I've done "cult TV" blogging, completing three series in the process: Space Academy (1977), Push, Nevada (2002) and Logan's Run: The Series (1977). I've also posted several "Guess the Movie" posts, and more than a few Sci-Fi "Quotes of the Week."

"Reflections on Film and Television" has also covered monthly McFarland publications, and created a "fantasy" spaceship crew. There's been Saturday morning blogging for Land of the Lost, profiles of many of my books, several "links of the week" and I even started (but never completed...) Star Wars blogging. Why'd I stop doing the latter? Well, I began to see Revenge of the Sith in almost purely contemporary political context, and I knew I would really offend people if I started calling out today's political figures as "The Emperor" or "Anakin," and I lost my nerve. Some day, I'll get it back...

My most controversial post came a week ago Friday when I suggested Battlestar Galactica (the re-imagination) should have a different title. I didn't intend to be controversial, but once things get out on the Web, they take on a life of their own. That's for sure.

My snarkiest post was probably the first review I did of Ghost Whisperer. My best post? Who
knows? (perhaps The Phantom Menace post...).

The good news is that the readership for the blog has steadily grown over the year. The first few months it was a desert, but by late summer '05, it was hopping. I lost some momentum in March '06 when I had to sign off for a little over a week to tend to a family medical crisis, but the numbers are climbin' again now that I'm bloggin' again. It looks like this might be the biggest week yet as far as hits.

What's next? That would be telling! Actually, I'm going to blab about it here, and very soon. I'll be beginning a new creative enterprise in the next two months, and it's very exciting.
The best is yet to come...

But for today, I just want to say thanks for spending this time with me. Without y'all, this would be a lonely place...