Saturday, December 05, 2009

Post #1,500!

Whoo-hoo! This is my 1500th post since the blog commenced in April of 2005!

I look back at 05 when I started these reflections, and I was writing about (then current...) stuff like Revenge of the Sith and the TV series Surface.

Wow. Seems like a million years since then...

The Death of the Movie Critic is Greatly Exaggerated

A recent, widely-distributed Internet article by Tom Roston asks the not irrelevant question: "Do Movie Critics Still Matter?"

The piece reads, in part:

"It becomes more apparent with each passing year: When it comes to the box office returns for Hollywood movies, critics just don't matter much. Look at the top ten highest-grossing movies so far year [sic]. Did negative reviews deflate 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,' or 'The Proposal' or 'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian'? Nope. On the other hand, did mostly positive reviews give a big boost to 'Up' or 'Star Trek'? Probably not.

It's often been said that mass audiences go to movies for a good time, and the finer points (i.e., quality) that matter to critics are just not that big a deal. But now film critics are not just being ignored; they're getting upstaged. In the age when reality television means that anyone can be a star, it's also true that the Internet and Twitter mean anyone can be a critic."

My response to this? We're all critics of food, TV, fashion, and movies on a daily basis, aren't we? Part of our human nature is, after all, to judge. So it probably is true...anyone can be a critic.

But not just anyone can be a good critic. Exhibit A: Ben Lyons.

Yet the Internet is a wonderful invention because many wonderful, highly-talented and formerly unknown writers have indeed stepped up and provided some damn superior movie criticism. I follow over a dozen blogs that I feel feature outstanding and thoughtful -- even funny -- reviews. But is every "critic" on the Inter Tubes a good writer? Are those short Twitter reviews...good? Heck, are all newspaper critics good?

No, not really. In regards to Twitter, the reviews are so short that they provide nothing beyond a pithy snapshot of a personal opinion. And there's no space for nuance. If you really, really trust MOVIE-LUVR9's opinion on what movie to go out and see, you may find a Twitter review helpful, I suppose. On the other hand, Twitter can quickly link you to excellent reviews in long-form, so it's undeniably useful in that regard. I like and enjoy Twitter, I just don't see it as the perfect vehicle for in-depth movie reviews.

But overall, I reject the premise stated in this article, that it "becomes more apparent with each passing year" that critics don't matter because of technological advances like Twitter.

As I see it, things in film criticism are pretty much the same as they were thirty years go, even with Twitter. (I mean, are we to assume that people didn't discuss opinions of movies on that quaint invention called the telephone in the 1970s? Was that antiquated thing called E-mail not used to discuss movies in the mid-1990s, either?)

In fact, if you go all the way back to 1973, you'll find that critics hated a little film called The Exorcist. And as we all know, absolutely nobody went to see that film because of the tidal wave of bad reviews, right? The Exorcist just disappeared into oblivion and was never heard from again because the vast majority of influential critics in the old days warned audiences to stay away.

Not!

Critics hated The Exorcist in 1973 and audiences still went....in droves. Just like critics hated Transformers in 2009 and people still went to see it...in droves. And honestly, I believe the overwhelmingly positive reviews for the new Star Trek did likely boost the box office totals, at least a little. It was as close to a critical consensus as I've seen in 30 years and overwhelming critical support probably did sway at least modest percentage of non-Trek fans.

And that brings to mind another example. Virtually every mainstream critic hated Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979...and yet it was the highest grossing Star Trek film until this year, 2009. So really, it's not so apparent after all that there's a greater divide in 2009 between critics and general audiences than there ever has been. It's....the same.

Here's how I see the matter: audiences already know very well whether they want to see a particular movie, probably before the first review is published. I knew I wanted to see Star Trek. I knew I wanted to see Casino Royale. I knew I wanted to see REC, Paranormal Activity, Drag Me To Hell and even Zombie's Halloween 2. Nobody is going to stop me from seeing those films...except, maybe, my wife. Some of these movies might suck, but I still want to see them and will see them.

What this article doesn't account for is the following data: how many movie-goers went to see Transformers 2 and felt exactly the same way as the critics did about it? Probably a pretty significant majority, based on the comments I've read. So audiences and critics were actually simpatico, but the critical opinion didn't affect profits.

But again, there's never been a one-for-one relationship between film criticism and the size of the profits a film generates. Criticism is merely one factor among many. Another factor may be nostalgia (especially as regards to Transformers or Star Trek). And people read film criticism for many reasons beyond deciding what movie to see. They may want to see a personal opinion either confirmed or disputed. People read film criticism to find a new insight or viewpoint about a film they appreciate. (Educated) people read film criticism to better understand the context (historical, cinematic) of a production they enjoyed, or that sparked their curiosity. Sometimes I read a review when I'm on the fence about a film, and a well-written review helps me better understand why I felt conflicted. Or it clears the air entirely.

That's why film criticism thrives and proliferates today. Because many smart writers have worthwhile things to say about the art form of film. Audiences aren't sheep who blindly follow critical guidance, and they never have been. It's not apparent to me that the divide between critics and audiences is getting wider, and -- on the contrary -- the Internet has done the great service of helping audiences connect with the critics that suit them.

And lastly, Hollywood certainly thinks critics matter: why else shield some films from critical screenings? What's to be afraid of in releasing a dog if the anticipated critical backlash doesn't matter a lick?

I'm not surprised that audiences don't follow my lead about which film they should go see. I'm not trying to influence your decision-making process in that regard. Audience members may have different interests than I do. What I hope a movie-goer will discover in my writing is a thoughtful opinion about why the film did or did not succeed on artistic terms; and what the film means, in terms of film grammar. I look at the history of film, the context around films, and the visualizations of film narratives.

But I don't expect my readers to be lemmings (or ditto-heads?) and say, "I refuse to see a movie because JKM didn't like it". I'd rather you see the film I reviewed, and then engage me on the subject; either disagree or agree with my reasons for disliking it. And I have to say, the commenters on this blog are pretty darn fantastic on that front. No lemmings here, thank you very much.

Do movie critics still matter? The good ones do.

Friday, December 04, 2009

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Tron (1982)

Steven Lisberger's Tron arrived in American theaters during the magical, unmatched summer of 1982. This was the golden season that gifted to cineplexes Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, John Carpenter's The Thing, Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist, Steven Spielberg's E.T., Nick Meyer's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Clint Eastwood's Firefox.

And much like Blade Runner and The Thing, Walt Disney's Tron received largely negative reviews from film critics. They judged that the film -- while a technological wonder -- failed utterly to connect on some basic human level. This was an easy conclusion to draw since Tron involved, predominantly, computers and computer programs.

Writing for The New York Times, critic Janet Maslin opined that Tron's "technological wizardry isn't accompanied by any of the old-fashioned virtues - plot, drama, clarity and emotion - for which other Disney movies, or other films of any kind, are best remembered. It is beautiful - spectacularly so, at times - but dumb. Computer fans may very well love it, because ''Tron'' is a nonstop parade of stunning computer graphics, accompanied by a barrage of scientific-sounding jargon. Though it's certainly very impressive, it may not be the film for you if you haven't played Atari today."

Well, Maslin was half-right...

The visuals of Tron are indeed utterly spectacular...and trail-blazing. But there also exists encoded here a powerful human dimension. Specifically, Lisberger's narrative carries an undeniable subtext concerning the devouring nature of 1980s corporate America. It was a corporate America, in fact, unleashed (and virtually unregulated...) by the laissez-faire policies of the new American President, Ronald Reagan.

Impressively, Tron even seems to position itself as a critique of the "new" Walt Disney Company...post-Walt Disney. It thus bites the hand that made it, so-to-speak. For Disney is a company, the film indicates, where the computers and the bean-counters have seized control.

Contrarily, one might also cogently argue an opposite point with some validity; that Tron is actually a jingoistic Cold War statement against Communism; one depicting a battle for personal freedom against a "Red"-hued assimilating enemy, the Master Computer Program.

Beyond these intriguing and debatable sub-texts, Tron continues to fascinate new generations of viewers on the basis of the intricate, visually-complex fantasy computer world it creates with such aplomb. This is a dazzling alternate universe where all the main characters of the human world -- in the spirit of The Wizard of Oz -- boast an identity "double," -- a computer program doppelganger. Given the contemporary popularity of World of Warcraft and Second Life, Tron's notion of electronic counterparts or computer avatars acting as our alternate identities in a man-made photoelectric landscape is very timely a quarter-century after the film's release.

Greetings, Programs!

Tron
depicts the story of a rogue computer programmer named Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who was fired from his job at the mighty corporation ENCOM when a fellow programmer and now executive-senior-vice president, Dillinger (David Warner) stole his design for several blockbuster video games, including the popular Space Paranoids.

Dillinger has also all-but-ousted the company's original president, the gentle and elderly Walt (Barnard Hughes) -- who created ENCOM in his garage.

Dillinger has turned Walt's creation into a devouring machine bent on the acquisition of smaller corporations and companies so as to seize a bigger market share. Assisting him in this dedicated raiding effort to control all commerce (international and domestic) is the monstrous MCP -- Master Control Program.

Flynn is zapped by a matter-transformer controlled by the MCP and "digitized." He thus enters the world of the MCP and other computer programs. There, he attempts to re-claim his cstolen reations and destroy Dillinger's machine servant. Flynn is assisted in this matter by a regulatory program, Tron, created by another information-seeking ENCOM programmer, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). The MCP attempts to destroy Flynn -- a man the other programs revere as a god-being called a "User" -- using his right-hand man, the villainous Sark (also David Warner), to do it.

I Programmed You To Want Too Much: Big Business Unfettered in Tron


An excavation of the context underlining Tron is important to any understanding of this unique fantasy film.

The first significant trend to discuss here is technological advance: the evolution of arcade video games into home based game systems (like the Atari 2600) in the late 1970s; and then the lightning-fast, subsequent replacement of those game systems with home computing devices like the Commodore VIC-20 in the early 1980s.

Forget a chicken in every pot, by the mid-1980s there was a PC in every American house. Accordingly, terms such as BASIC, DOS, RAM, "user friendly" "disk drive," "program" and "memory" (not to mention "crash...") entered our lexicon as we accommodated a new and useful device into our daily lives.

Tron expresses, in fascinating terms, the sense of uneasiness many Americans felt with the rapid growth of this new technology. On one hand, humans were still at the top of the food chain in Tron: "Users" sending "programs" to do their bidding in an invisible (to our eyes...) electronic universe.

However, on the other hand, the electronic world of our helpful programs had been (secretly) co-opted by a hungry, assimilating devourer that put the food-pellet-gobbling Pac Man to shame: the MCP. This fear of insidious technology in our homes finds voice in much of Tron's dialogue. "The computers will start thinking and people will stop," warns Walt Dumont (Hughes) in one critical scene.

At other points, however, Tron expresses the desire for a "free system" in which Man and Program ally in beneficial unison. And the film's brilliant climax is not entirely unlike that depictedin Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) a sort of religious communion/fusion between Man and machine. As in that cinematic case, man here is the deity, shepherding his sense of traditional human values to the "cold," "intellectual" machine. In Tron, Flynn dives into the MCP (in a Godly beam of blinding light...) and briefly joins with it. His decency -- his humanity -- transforms the outward shade of evil (a crimson, coruscating red) into the film's shade of rebellion and liberty; blue.

The second important element of Tron's context involves the Walt Disney Company and the policies of Ronald Reagan (though in fairness to Mr. Reagan, his predecessor in the office, Jimmy Carter, had begun the process of deregulation well before he took office...).

However, Reagan was important because it was he who oversaw the de-regulation of the financial industry on his watch. He not only made regulation far less less stringent (which eventually led to a housing bubble...), but also expanded the powers of Savings and Loans to diversify -- with a keen eye directed towards profits. This move essentially eliminated the distinctions between commercial and saving banks. As a result, interest rates rose, and so did rampant real estate speculation.

In the fall of 2008, we all finally understood where this dead end of deregulation led. The permissiveness of the Reagan Administraton had exposed our economy to new dangers. Merging companies in the 1980s became titans...monopolies. And they soon grew...too big to fail (thus requiring financial bail-out from tax-payers).

Now consider the troubled history of the Walt Disney Company during this same time period; the time period leading up to Tron.

Walt Disney had passed away in 1966, and the company floundered through the 1970s. Walt's nephew, Ray Disney, left the company in 1977 after vocally disagreeing with the company's creative direction. In 1979, Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, and John Pomeroy -- the creative brain trust of the Disney animation family -- also walked away. The general feeling at the time was that Disney had lost its way creatively. The answer, according to some business-minded voices, was assimilation.

Now consider that in the years since Tron, Disney has assimilated independent characters such as the Muppets and Winnie the Pooh. In MCP-like fashion, it has also "acquired" TV networks such ABC, Fox Family, Capital Cities, and production companies including Saban Entertainment and Pixar.

Tron arrives in the very early days of this new and aggressive corporate policy. Corporate raider Dillinger has "acquired" (illegally...) a variety of video games from Flynn, while his alter ego in the computer world, The MCP acquires (legally, but through force), every computer program he comes in contact with...making him a more formidable opponent.

Daringly, the film even provides us a Walt Disney surrogate in the person of the amusingly named "Walt Dumont," a flannel-shirted, avuncular-type with a heart of gold. Uncle Walt was with ENCOM when the company's motives were not purely commercial; when it tended first to people, to customers -- to "user requests."

By explicit contrast, Dillinger -- a surrogate for the Reagan-Era, laissez-faire CEO -- states that "doing business is what computers are for," and tells Walt that "the company you started in your garage doesn't exist anymore." In other words, Walt Disney was rolling in his grave and the company he created just didn't care...

In focusing on the bottom-line of profits (and the pirate-like acquisition of more businesses/programs), however, Dillinger makes a mistake. He neglects the human spirit. Thus the computer world as run by the MCP is cold and harsh...and a rebellion and a religion are born there.

The old school contingent, led by Walt Dumont and his avatar, the Guardian, believe that "our spirit remains in every program we design for this computer." But the MCP isn't interested in personality or individuality, and in the film's climax, we register him attempting to absorb all the "individual" rogue programs he has captured; in the film's lingo, "snapping them up."

Merging, acquiring and re-purposing the landscape for raw material and (thus wealth), the MCP is thus the Reagonomics financial model set loose in the computer world.

Tron's coda even suggests further particulars of the Walt Disney Company. After Dillinger's (Card Walker's?) ouster, the family-friendly, old-school Flynn becomes CEO -- flown in a helicopter to his corporate office. In real life, this sort of restoration happened in 1982 (Tron's release year). Walt Disney's son-in-law, Ron W. Miller became CEO, at least before big business won out again and Michael Eisner took over.

So, in telling fashion, Tron comments directly on the corporate raiders of the early 1980s and warns about what might come next if these 1980s laissez-faire economic policies were to continue unabated. It even predicted a move by big corporations "beyond operations" into...world domination. The film's video-game titles highlighted in Flynn's arcade -- and brightly lit in neon, -- seem to warn of an impending disaster, with names such as "ZERO HOUR," "THE END" and "INTRUDER."

And if you look today at Blackwater or Halliburton, you can see that the MCP has reached finally achieved his dream of conquest: reaching "inside" the Pentagon...and deciding national policy.

Red, White and Blue: Communism vs. Capitalism in Tron

For all the visual bells and whistles, Tron is a fairly deep, farily substantial genre film. In fact, I believe you can interpret Tron in an entirely different fashion than I've enumerated above. Specifically, in a Pro-Reagan way.

The MCP -- quashing religious freedom, assimilating businesses, and lording it over innocent rograms -- may be an allegory not for big business amok; but for the Soviet Union.

The MCP's color of choice/identification is scarlet red (think red scare...). And as far back as Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the 1950s, communists have been associated with non-human evil; either alien or machine. The MCP -- the emotionless computer -- fits perfectly the bill of Cold War Era jingoism. Especially under the President who joked that he had "outlawed Russia" and planned to "begin bombing in five minutes..."

If you study the arguments of the aggrieved programs in Tron, that "the high and mighty master control" has: restricted movement of programs on "the micro-circuits," (think interstate travel between Eastern Bloc countries...), conscripted a vast army, and assimilated control of all individual programs (essentially nationalizing them), then the Cold War metaphor holds as strongly, perhaps, as does the film's anti-corporate streak. The desire for a "free system" is the American desire for the CCCP to adopt freedom and liberty overy tyranny. And the key to the MCP's destruction is getting in behind his forcefield, a protective, impenetrable wall. Tron "tears down that wall," and brings down the MCP in the process.

On the Other Side of the Screen, It All Looks So Easy

Tron illuminates late 20th century issues of technology, humanity, contemporary politics, perhaps even foreign affairs, in the setting of an amazing, richly-visualized fantasy world. The film's major set pieces are gorgeous, and remain amazing to behold. It is for this reason, indeed, that the film entertains so mightily.

There's the Game Grid, where Flynn is forced to engage in a life-and-death game of electronic jai lai. There's the light-cycle race and break-out, an adrenalin-inducing action sequence and visual trademark for the film itself. There's a recognizer tank out-of control...disassembling itself a layer at a time as it crashes into the staggered technological landscape. And, perhaps most impressively, there's the digital beam transport -- a butterfly-like light ship, crossing "unprogrammed space," a kind of computer world wilderness.wasteland. The MCP itself is a great villain: a computerized Devil, part Wizard of Oz and part Darth Vader. Both heir to Forbin's Colossus and antecedent to War Games' WOPR.

I hasten to add that all these amazing and imaginative visuals and characters serve an important purpose in Tron. Because the computer world is a twisted reflection of ours; the landscapes tell us something about ourselves, and about our world. How we shunt aside the old and obsolete seemingly without thinking (Walt/Guardian). How we seek purpose through a belief in the divine. And how we all create God in our own image (the "Users" of the programs are...us.).

And finally, the gorgeous, artistic last shot of Tron punctuates the film's carefully-crafted connection between the computer world and the world of the human Users (the builders of that computer world). It's a simple, long-view shot of a contemporary American city; of a skyline.

But as day slides irrevocably into night, something unusual happens. The substance of this brick and mortar metropolis changes. All the roads, the buildings, and the moving cars seem to transform into the very raw, blinking "data" we have come to associate with Tron's glowing computer world. Beacons in the dark; searching for meaning...leading us into the technological future and limitless possibility.

It is an image that connects man's natural world and his technological one, and reminds us, visually, that we inhabit both. To our detriment or to our glorification.

End of Line.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Lordy, Lordy I'm...Well, You Know The Rest...

Today, I am no longer thirty-something.

I'm officially forty fricking years old. Hard to believe it. I still feel about 25.

But you know something? I've actually been making my peace with encroaching middle-age in the last few weeks and come to realize...it's really okay. Sure, I need to watch what I eat more than I used to (no more midnight trips to Taco Bell...); and exercising is a must; more than ever.

But when I look at that face in the mirror, I don't see age and my own mortality. I see a lucky man. I have a beautiful wife and soulmate with whom to share my life; and a wonderful little boy who is a joy and a blessing every day. Plus a job I love. So I don't have to feel old, right?

Nope. Not me. I'm in my prime, baby...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week: Aging Edition


"Time is the fire in which we burn..."
- Dr. Soran

"...Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived..."
-Captain Picard, Star Trek Generations (1994)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 89: The Super Powers Collection (Kenner; 1984 - 1986)





In keeping with my Super Friends theme from yesterday, today I'm looking back at a famous DC Comics Super Friends toy line from the decade of Regan. The Kenner Super Powers Collection was sold in toy stores from 1984 - 1986 and featured a full range of vehicles, action figures and even a play set.

In terms of action figures, the Super Powers Collection consisted of the 3 3/4 inch size popularized by Kenner's Star Wars line, and included three waves.

The first wave of figures included twelve iconic figures: Superman, Flash, Batman, Robin, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Hawkman and villains such as Brainiac, Luthor, Penguin and Joker. Joker came with a green, overzied Joker mallet, and Penguin was armed -- of course -- with an umbrella. So he could battle Superman, Luthor wore a "power suit."

Second and third wave figures in this Kenner line included Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, Red Tornado, Dr. Fate, Darkseid, Kalibak, Plastic Man, Shazam, Samurai, Mr. Freeze and more. There was even a mail-away Clark Kent action figure that today is highly prized amongst collectors.

In terms of vehicles, the Super Powers Collection offered several. There was a blue batcopter and blue Batmobile (two-seater) and a rocket-like "Supermobile" (though why Superman would need a vehicle is a question I need answered immediately...). Other vehicles were a bit more unfamiliar.

For instance, Lex Luthor had his very own plane/car combination, the Lex-Soar 7. This purple rocket was described as his "assault ship" and came complete with a Kryptonite Crystal, laser cannons and action figure "gripper claws" so Luthor could "use Kryptonite to weaken Superman!"

Another villain's conveyance was the Kalibak Boulder Bomber Vehicle, the "Cruel Crusher's Massive Machine." It came pimped out with spring-launched maces, grinding teeth (!) and removable spearheads. The box advertised that "No one gets in the way of Kalibak as the teeth of this vicious vehicle grind into action!"

Perhaps the coolest to associated with the Kenner Super Powers Collection was the very large, cast-in-yellow Hall of Justice Play set. Once opened, this huge toy revealed several internal computer rooms, two jail cells for villains, a trap door mechanismon an upper level, and a storage center for Super Friend equipment. Opened up, this great toy featured three over-sized rooms, one in blue.

As you might have guessed from yesterday's posting, I've got a Hall of Jusice, Lex-Soar 7 and Kalibak Cruiser (plus Superman, Green Lantern, Batman, Lex Luthor and Penguin...) waiting for Joel come his Christmas morning. Can't wait to see his face when he opens up the boxes...

Now if only Kenner had produced a Legion of Doom HQ in this series...

Monday, November 30, 2009

CULT TV FLASHBACK # 95: The All-New Super Friends Hour (1977-78)

This morning, my three-year old son, Joel, asked me what I write about on the computer all the time, and I told him that I write about TV shows and movies.

Without missing a beat, Joel then asked me if I've written about his favorite show yet: The All New Super Friends Hour (1977-1978), which he saw for the first time about three weeks ago. I realized I hadn't written about the classic cartoon series yet, and Joel asked me if I would do so.

So today's post is for Joel...

The All-New Super Friends Hour aired from 1977 to 1978 on ABC television, and featured the adventures of the denizens of the Hall of Justice.

These DC Comics superheroes include Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Wonder Twins (Zan and Jayna...) and their "space monkey" Gleek.

And week after week, these "Super Friends" battle the likes of outer mind-controlling space ants ("Coming of the Arthropods") and corporate conspiracies ("The Secret Four." They travel back and forward through time ("Planet of the Neanderthals") and destroy deadly weapons (like "meson energizers,") put out forest fires, expose impostors ("The Marsh Monsters") and lecture villains about the use of force.

Back in the days of The Super Friends, there was no cable television...and no secondary market for DVDs either, which meant that, essentially, come Saturday morning, children ages 3 to 13 had only three channels to choose from. Thus the programming had to be suitable for those ages...and homogenized. For superhero programming like The All-New Super Friends Hour, this meant very little "real" violence (punching, kicking, etc.) but lots of morally valuable conflicts and discussions about what it means to be a good person.

Each episode of The All-New Super Friends Hour is split into several short segments. The initial story usually highlights two of the Super Friends working in tandem to solve a problem. Often, there is a special guest star Super Friend in the mix too. For instance, Wonder Woman and Apache Chief worked together in "The Antidote," and Aquaman and Black Vulcan helped save a runaway ship in "The Whirlpool." Among the other guest heroes: Atom, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Black Vulcan, Rima the Jungle Girl and Joel's current obsession, Toshi Eto...Samurai.

A second segment is termed "Safety" and features an adult Super Friend offering children guidance about the perils of every day life. For instance, in one segment, Wonder Woman warns little kids about the danger of chewing on pen caps and Styrofoam cups. D'oh! Another entry sees the Paradise Island native praise a boy for carefully crossing the street. "I saw you from my invisible jet and had to stop by..."

Another short segment is called "Decoder" and features different superheroes offering clues about puzzle words such as "caveman," "insect," and "bedrock." The third short segment is truly bizarre: A Super Friend Magic Trick showcase, again demonstrated by your favorite heroes. Examples included Superman's "Scissor Sorcery!" and Aquaman's "Disappearing Coin Illusion!"

Every episode of the All-New Super Friends Hour also features a morally valuable adventure of the Wonder Twins. Each tale commences with Zan and Jayna happily involved in some activity like volleyball or miniature golf when they receive a "teen trouble alert" via special wristwatches. Then, they leap to the rescue of misbehaving teens. Said rescue always entails the Wonder Twins using their shape shifting abilities. Jayna often morphs into a polar bear, an eagle or a camel, while Zan transforms into water, a lake, a ski-slope(!) and an ice sled. After the danger is resolved and the guilty, crest-fallen teens learn their lessons, these segments universally end with Gleek's comic shtick.

Among the Wonder Twin stories are titles such as "Hitchhiking," "Vandals," "Runaways," "Joy Ride," "Initiation," "Shark," "Tiger on the Loose" and even "Prejudice!" One story warns against the danger of "jumping to conclusions," which -- truth be told -- is a refresher we can all use. Joel in particular has fallen in love with the Wonder Twins, but he gets very upset by the misbehaving teens in the stories like "Hitchhikers," "Runaways" and "Vandals." He has also begun instructing me and his mother: "Don't Smoke!" (Neither of us smokes...).

Another segment on The All New Super Friends Hour pits the entire Hall of Justice team against some alien or earthbound evil. "Super Friends vs. Super Friends" lands our heroes in the undersea kingdom of Oceania, where they are forced to battle one another in a kind of underwater Roman Colosseum. "City in a Bottle" takes the Super Friends to a frozen planet to rescue the Wonder Twins and a miniaturized Mid City. "Invasion of the Earthors" pits the Hall of Justice Regulars against mole men at the center of the Earth.

These All New Super Friends episodes are truly relics of a different age...though wholly enjoyable on their own terms. For instance, Batman is not dark or angsty in the slightest in this incarnation. And Superman does not feel the pressure/isolation of his "otherness." The Flash is not a smart-alecky quipper either. The Aquaman you see here is old school too -- not the angry-looking, long-haired, hook-equipped revenger of recent vintage. Instead, all the Super Friends seem virtually interchangeable, save for their specific powers, costumes and devices. On that note, some of the Bat devices featured here are truly absurd. Kathryn and I got a good chuckle out of the "Bat-Lube," a utility belt item that is always handy to keep around, in a pinch, I guess...

Yet, I can't complain. The series is perfect for me as nostalgia, and perfect for Joel as straight-up superhero action-adventure. There's no real violence to attempt to explain away to an inquisitive toddler, and in just a few short weeks Joel has begun accurately using words such as "telepathy," "monolith," "invisible," origin," "toboggan" and "activate." He dressed up as Black Vulcan last week; and this morning has been a Wonder Twin with Kathryn, yelling "Wonder Twin Powers...Activate!" Just a few moments ago, Joel/Zan transformed into a drill and broke through one of his Daddy's bear hug squeezes...

If you didn't grow up with The Super Friends, or don't have a child, I can't imagine that this will be the version of the DC Legends you choose to enjoy, especially with the terrific JLA of this decade also available on DVD. But if you remember the disco decade, and if you have an enthusiastic child to share them with, the All New Super Friends Hour is really terrific fun. It's a perfect superhero/comic-book primer for Joel and a great memory for his Dad.

Now please excuse me while I say...Inyuk-chuk!