Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Summer of ’82: Tron

Fante’s Inferno revisits the films of the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Tron

Release Date: July 9, 1982

Written and Directed by Steven Lisberger

Starring: Jeff Bridges, David Warner, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan

See the trailer here.

During the summer of 1982 I  spent more than a few days at the local movie theater and comic shop, but my favorite hangout in my hometown was the local video arcade.  Prior to the video game boom, the game room at Cook’s restaurant was filled with the sounds of pinball machines, skee ball and air hockey, but by 1982 it was in full swing with video games ranging from the classic Pac Man, Space Invaders and Missile Command to Battle Zone, Punch Out and my game of choice: Galaga.  They were great games and still are.  I don’t even want to attempt to estimate how many quarters I plunked into those machines from 1979 to 1986.  On a recent trip to Cape Cod I was in a restaurant that had Galaga and I couldn’t resist playing a game or two, although nowadays when I see a pinball machine or video game with 50 cents or $1 per play my first reaction is “That is an outrage!”

Back in the Summer of ’82 I remember most of my friends going on and on about how cool Tron was.  The special effects made it look like the type of video game we were hoping to see in our arcade sooner rather than later.  You would think that a film like Tron would have had me camping out for the first screening, but looking back I don’t think I saw it in the theater.  I don’t think I saw it more than once on cable TV either.  How the heck did that happen?

I was starting to think I had missed out on a rite of passage and had to make up for lost time.  My 42″ TV is pretty big for my apartment, but watching the first scenes that took place within the mainframe made me wish I had experienced watching Tron on the big screen at my local cinema back in 1982.  The production design is simple even by 1982’s standards, but it reminds me of the vector graphics of several video games I played back in the day, particularly Battle Zone  and the Star Wars arcade gameTron’s beauty is in this simplicity, and it’s accented perfectly by the colors and lighting effects of the costumes designed by none other than the great Jean Giraud (aka Moebius).

Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Iron Man) is always a pleasure to watch on film and David Warner (Time After Time, Time Bandits, Masada) is perfectly cast in Tron as his nemesis Sark.  Warner’s performance, along with his performances as Jack the Ripper in Time After Time, Evil in Time Bandits, and Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Countrymake him in my opinion the consummate movie villain.

I love the concept of Jeff Bridges’ character Kevin Flynn experiencing the world within the mainframe system, but when I watched Tron again this week my one caveat was that even my ten year old self would have felt the circumstances leading to Flynn’s transportation into the inner world of the mainframe might have been a bit too simplistic.  And like a few other films from the Summer of ’82 the pace was a little too slow for me.

Steven Lisberger created an amazing hybrid of fantasy and tech that was said to have been influenced by his first exposure to Pong in the mid-70’s.  It’s funny how Pong, the simplest video game that is now used as a punch line when discussing technological advances, led to one of the boldest cinematic visions of the 80’s.  The video games of the 80’s may not have had the graphics of Tron, but Tron gave video games something to aspire to.  While it was a modest critical and box office success (it only grossed $33 million against its $17 million dollar budget), Lisberger should be praised for pushing the envelope to achieve a look that moviegoers still vividly remember 30 years later.

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My Amazing (Fantasy #15) Visit to the Library of Congress

In honor the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962, I wanted to write a post about my trip to see the Holy Grail of the Silver Age of comic books.

In November 2010 I took a weekend trip to Washington D.C. with my girlfriend.  It was my first time in D.C. and the long weekend was packed with seeing the sights along the mall.  I enjoyed every monument, memorial and museum we visited, but by Sunday I was slightly preoccupied with the thought of our plans for Monday morning’s visit to the Library of Congress.  I wasn’t there to admire the architecture or take a tour, I had some research to do.  About a month earlier I had contacted curator Sara Duke of the Prints and Photographs Division in order to schedule our appointment, and from that moment I was counting the days.

If there’s one thing I’m passionate about it’s comic book art, as both an admirer and collector.  Each published page of original art is a piece of history, with a select few pages fitting into the category of monumental.  When I think of the most culturally significant comic book stories, the first few that come to mind are the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27, Fantastic Four #1 ushering in the Marvel Age of comic books, and of course the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15.

In 2008 an anonymous donor had donated all of the original pages of art from Amazing Fantasy #15 to the Library of Congress.  How this anonymous donor had originally acquired these pages has not been made public.  Considering how much artwork from the Golden and Silver Ages has been destroyed, lost, or stolen, it’s a miracle that every page from this issue was saved.  My mission, with my trusty (and extremely patient) sidekick, was to schedule time to see the complete Spider-Man origin story in its original drawn form.

I woke up at 7:00 AM that Monday morning.  Anyone who knows me knows that I never get up at 7:00 AM.  Ever.  But that morning was different.  We had a short window of time that began at 9:30 AM sharp and we had to make the most of it.  After all, this is the first appearance of Spider-Man and there’s probably a list of folks lined up after us to see it, so I was going to make the most of every minute.

We arrived a little early, checked our backpacks with the security desk and signed up for our research cards.  By the time we made it up to the research room, my spider-sense was tingling.  Sara met us when we arrived and wheeled out a cart with several large folders.  Not only did she pull the original Spider-Man pages from Amazing Fantasy #15 for us to view, she was also kind enough to pull the original comic art to the other three stories that comprised the issue, twenty six pages in all.

I opened the first folder, and there was the opening splash page of Peter Parker standing in the background, ostracized by Flash Thompson and the cool kids.  One thing that struck me right away was how much detail there was in Steve Ditko’s inks.  Every reprint I had seen growing up was a copy of a copy and lost a lot of the detail in Ditko’s brush work.  Seeing the original art allowed me to actually feel the disappointment and angst in the expression on Peter Parker’s face.

At the top of the page is a paste up of the Spider-Man logo that covers Ditko’s original hand drawn logo.  I wish I could have been in the room in 1962 to hear the reason for changing it.  And if you look in the margins, Stan Lee’s original hand written notes “direct” some of the scenes in Ditko’s panels.

I took a lot of pictures, but unfortunately rights restrictions keep me from posting them.  Thumbnails are available here at the Library’s website and you can order scans, but if you’re a fan of comic art I highly recommend seeing them in person.

We had a good hour to see all twenty six pages and were never rushed.  Sarah sat with us the entire time and pointed out details that I never would have noticed.  I thanked Sarah for her time, and mentioned that I would love to come back to see the pages again one day.  I chuckled when I realized my tax dollars made me a part owner of them.  By my calculations, which I won’t bore you with, I estimate that my personal portion of these 26 pages of original art is .000035 square inches of a page.  Hey, I’ll take it!

This was a Bucket List moment for me, ranked up there with seeing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and statue of David (next up is Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper).  Prior to reading that article in 2008 about the LOC’s acquisition of the Amazing Fantasy #15 pages, I didn’t think they even existed.  And now I saw them.

God Bless America.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Prior to our bus ride back to New York, my faithful (and patient) sidekick surprised me with a copy of Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1, complete with scans of the original Spider-Man pages we had just seen that morning.  She never ceases to amaze me.

These original pages to Amazing Fantasy #15 were featured on the History Channel back in 2009.  That clip can be found here.

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The Captain America Project #11: Khoi Pham

The Captain America Project: 20 artists, 20 drawings of Captain America on one page.

#11: Khoi Pham (Mighty Avengers, X-Factor)

The 2010 Big Apple Con was also a mother-lode of Captain America sketches for my jam page.  Next up on my list was Khoi Pham.  I love the line work on this panel.  And even though only half of Cap’s face is visible, Pham brings out the intensity in Cap’s expression.

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The Summer of ’82: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Fante’s Inferno revisits the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Release Date: August 13, 1982

Directed by Amy Heckerling; Screenplay by Cameron Crowe

Starring: Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Judge Reinhold, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston

How could I have forgotten that Fast Times At Ridgemont High was released thirty years ago this summer?

Since I started this retrospective on the Summer of ’82, I’ve concentrated entirely on fantasy and sci-fi films and completely (and inadvertently) ignored one of the most memorable films of the 80’s.  I’m sure none of you will fault me for including a film that doesn’t fit into the fantasy or sci-fi genre because it’s as enjoyable as any other film during the Summer of ’82.  I was obviously too young to see Fast Times in the theater when it was released, although I’m sure there was a failed attempt or two to sneak in.  However, what I missed in the theater in 1982 I gladly watched many times over on cable TV.  Going into my freshman year of high school in 1986, I had seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High at least ten times.

This is a great film and it was a launching pad for many talented people.  Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli was the poster child for stoner-dom.  Judge Reinhold reminds us of our first job, our first heartbreak, and the car that got us there.  Ray Walston was that one teacher that we couldn’t stand.  Phoebe Cates gave us one of the most iconic shots of 80’s cinema.

Director Amy Heckerling took Cameron Crowe’s script, a young, but very talented cast, and a cool soundtrack and wove Fast Times at Ridgemont High into THE definitive high school film for those of us who grew up in the 80s.  Contemporary high school films don’t have the depth of Fast Times, and they sure as hell don’t have the caliber of actors.  Consider the number of awards earned by nine members of the cast and screenwriter Cameron Crowe over the subsequent course of their careers:

13 Academy Award nominations; 7 wins
18 Golden Globe nominations; 4 wins
13 Emmy Award Nominations; 4 wins
1 Grammy Award

Of all of the films I’ve re-watched from the Summer of ’82, this one made me the most nostalgic.  It came out a few years before I started high school, but it reminded me of the days of hanging out at the video arcade (yes, we actually left the house to play video games), driving around in a friend’s beat up car, and enduring four years that most of us probably wouldn’t want to repeat.  There were quite a few teachers from high school that I wouldn’t want to cross paths with again.  But one thing that surprised me the most when I watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High again this week is the fact that I started to empathize with  Mr. Hand (played perfectly by Ray Walston).  Wow, I must be getting old.

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The Summer of ’82: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

Fante’s Inferno revisits the films of the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Release Date: June 4, 1982

See the trailer here.

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig

Directed by: Nicholas Meyer; Screenplay by Jack B. Sower and Nicholas Meyer (uncredited)

Where do I begin with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan?

When I started this retrospective on the Summer of ’82, I found myself revisiting a number of films I haven’t seen in 20 to 30 years.  The Wrath of Khan is one that I own on DVD and have watched many times.  Despite thirty years of technological advances in filmmaking and special effects, some films are just timeless.  The Wrath of Khan falls into that category.  If the films of the Summer of ’82 were the lineup for a baseball team, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would be batting cleanup.

I remember when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979 I couldn’t get enough of that film (trailer here).  The marketing campaign included a promotion with McDonalds that placed Star Trek: TMP related toys in Happy Meals, highlighted by a commercial with a Klingon speaking Klingon-ese (I probably ate three or four Happy Meals a week en route to collecting the entire set).  When I watched the film recently, I realized why some folks have nicknamed it Star Trek: The Motionless Picture.  But for someone who had never seen an episode of Star Trek prior to taking on the film, director Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) hit this one out of the park and gave Star Trek fans (and sci-fi fans in general) a film that revitalized the franchise.

Watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982 was a real treat (and still is today!).  The battle scenes were heightened by Khan’s lust for vengeance and Kirk’s propensity for trickery.  Kirk’s feelings of guilt and loss resulting from his failed relationship with Carol Marcus (played by Bibi Besch) brought out elements of Kirk’s personality that I was able to appreciate more as an adult.  Watching it again this week, I was impressed with how little dialogue was needed to convey their situation.  One thing that was lost on me at the time was the connection Khan (played by the great Ricardo Montalban) had to the original series.  I must have missed that episode when it aired in reruns, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.  I do remember that WPIX re-ran the episode Space Seed around the time of Wrath of Khan’s release, and ran a crawl to announce it at the bottom of the TV screen during other shows leading up to that airing in order to drum up viewership.

SPOILER ALERT

I remember walking out of The Wrath of Khan feeling an incredible amount of sadness when Spock died.  When I was a kid and my brother and I played Star Trek with the neighborhood kids, I was always Spock.  I even had a Spock style bowl-cut at the time (that was coincidental).  When Spock sacrificed his life to save the crew, as much as I appreciated the scene I couldn’t fathom at the time why they would kill off such an important character.  I wish I could remember the fan response to this at the time.  When you consider how quickly a fan uproar can spread online when even an unsubstantiated rumor of a plot detail deviating one iota from the original canon in a film based on a beloved property, I wondered if Spock’s death had the same impact among fans in 1982.  Apparently his death was to take place earlier in the film, but the negative response led to the change.  Even so, Nimoy and Meyer thought Spock’s death would be permanent.

The scene with Spock’s final monologue still chokes me up to this day.  When I watched it again this week I felt the weight of Kirk’s loss of his true friend more than I had in previous screenings, a feeling that hit close to home having lost a close friend of mine several years back.  Spock’s final words to Kirk about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few always resonated with me, and even seems to pop up in conversations in my day to day life.  There was a moment on the New York City subway a few years back when a rider kept the subway doors open for a bunch of folks to get on the #2 train at the Times Square Station stop.  Despite his noble intentions, he held up the train and started to piss off the rest of us, including the engineer.  The subway engineer opened the door to his compartment, stared the guy down and calmly said “How many people are you going to keep the doors open for?  You’re holding these riders up.  The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

I highly recommend Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer’s autobiography A View From the Bridge for a fantastic account of his work on the Star Trek films as well as on The Seven Percent Solution, Time After Time, and The Day After.  And if you want to see Ricardo Montalban in another great film, watch the classic World War II film Battleground (starring Van Johnson).

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The Captain America Project #10: Steve Epting

The Captain America Project: 20 artists, 20 drawings of Captain America on one page.

This week: Steve Epting (Captain America, Avengers, Fantastic Four)

We’re officially at the halfway point of the Captain America Project!  To call this a passion project is an understatement.  It’s been almost two years since I commissioned the first Captain America sketch for this jam page, and I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way.  I’ve had more than a few folks I’ve met at the comic cons say “Are you still lugging that thing around?”  Yep, until it’s finished!  I won’t give away how many panels I have to go, but it’s almost complete.  In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy the updates!

Steve Epting was the second artist I approached at the 2010 New York Comic Con at the Javitz Center.  As a fan of his run on Captain America, he was one of the artists I needed to get a sketch from for this page.   His commission list was full by the time I made it to his table but since the panel was smaller than a baseball card, he said he would try to fit it in later in the show.  Needless to say, it was worth the wait!

Captain America sketch by Steve Epting

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