Monday, September 21, 2009

Galactica 1980 #1

First off, kudos to Dynamite Comics for having the cajones to actually risk putting out a Galactica 1980 comic.

Secondly... it's good. REAL good.

I bought it because I just had to see what they were going to do with it. Would it be farcical? Serious? The promotional blurb said only this:

One of the most controversial series in Sci Fi's history is back! Some fans love it, some fans hate it, but one thing's for certain, writer Marc Guggenheim is going to do Galactica 1980 the right way! Lives will be lost as the re-imagining of 1980 begins here and unlike anything you've seen before in a Galactica comic book! Featuring artist Cezar (Zorro) Razek along with a fully painted cover from Lucio Parillo.

(Now, I have a lot things I want to say about this blurb itself, but I'll save that later.)

The word "re-imagining" had me willing to try it and the "lives will be lost" had me thinking it was probably going to be much grittier. Marc Guggenheim also writes the post-alien-invasion comic Resurrection, which I enjoy, and it can be very dark at times. However Steve & Rich have told me that Guggenheim's great when he writes his own material, but lousy when he writes super heroes. So how would he handle this already established property?

"Well," I told Steve, "It's Galactica 1980. It would be pretty hard to make it worse."

I have to say, based on this first issue, he's handling it great. The cast is the same as the TV series-- there's no Starbuck, Apollo, or Tigh, Adama has his beard, Boomer is the new Colonel, and the main characters are Troy and Dillon. And yes, even Dr. Zee is here. There are plenty of scenes that run parallel the original first episode, but with much more depth to them. Guggenheim has taken this show from an ABC 7 PM Sunday night kids show to a serious, 10 PM adult drama.

I also found this comment by him at Total Sci-Fi Online while I was searching for the cover to post here:

"It's the finest example I can think of how wide the chasm can be between concept and execution," Guggenheim told Comic Book Resources.

"The concept is amazing. The Galactica discovers Earth! What's not cool about that? But the execution… There are a million stories to tell there and you decide to do the one about super-powered kids who play baseball? Wow."

I mean, really, can the Galactica 1980 TV show be summed up any better than that? Luckily, the story Guggenheim has picked for the comic has me itching to see what's going to happen next.

Now, on to those things I wanted to say about the promotional blurb...

One of the most controversial series in Sci Fi's history is back!
Just wondering about the capital letters here... the anal-retentive smart-ass in me wants to ask, do they mean the channel that's become SyFy? 'Cause they did run it too...

Some fans love it, some fans hate it, ...
REALLY? There's a fan out there who loves it?!? PLEASE point them out to me, and I mean this in 100% seriousness! See, I've always had this belief that everything, no matter how terrible the world at large may think it is, is someone's favorite. And I went searching for a fan who loves Galactica 1980 to prove my point.

I couldn't find one. Not one. The best I could find was people who said "Well yeah, it's a terrible show, but it's not the show's fault, it's because of this and that and the other thing that was going on that ruined it." They often point to the last episode ("The Return of Starbuck," universally hailed as the only good episode of Galactica 1980) as a sign that Glen Larson was trying to fix the show and get it back on track. But even they admit they don't like it.

So in all seriousness, if there is ANYONE out there who loves Galactica 1980, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT HERE SAYING SO!!! I still believe in my "everything is someone's favorite" theory and I want to prove it as true.

...but one thing's for certain, writer Marc Guggenheim is going to do Galactica 1980 the right way!
Sorry, but the expression "done the right way!" sends fear through me. I've seen too many "done the right way!" stories backfire. Every fan has their own idea of how a story should be done, so "the right way" is completely subjective.

Look at the Star Wars prequels. Does anyone honestly think George Lucas set out to do them "wrong"? Does anyone really believe that he sat up at night plotting to himself, "I could do this the right way, but I think I'll destroy some fanboys' childhoods instead!" No, of course not. He felt he was telling Darth Vader's backstory the right way. But lots of fans already had in their heads how it should have been, and when it didn't match up they got upset.

(And for the record, I like the prequels. And even if I hadn't, I always said it was impossible for them to "destroy my childhood" because I was no longer a child. Galactica 1980, I always countered, destroyed my childhood, because I really was a child at the time. See? It all comes full circle.)

However, having read the issue... I have to say that yes, for me this is definitely Galactica 1980 done right. I hope it holds up in later issues.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years

I DID IT!! I've finally completed something I've always wanted to do since 1986. I've finally watched all 65 episodes of Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years!

Well okay, I've actually only watched 63 episodes... it turns out I'm missing episodes 50 & 51. But hey, this is as close as I'm ever gonna get, so I feel happy.

Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years was a project by Carl Macek and Harmony Gold, the folks who brought me Robotech, the show that changed my life.

I saw in an issue of Starlog that Harmony Gold had released another anime series, Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years. The show was in limited release but was expected to have a wider push in 1987.

At the 1986 Creation Robotech Convention I got to see Carl Macek, and he explained the show's backstory something like this: After the success of Robotech, a Harmony Gold employee "who as a result of this is no longer with the company" asked him what other anime was cool. Macek shrugged and said, "I like Captain Harlock." So this employee then got on the phone and proceeded to sell 65 episodes of Captain Harlock to TV stations around the country.

HG was now stuck with honoring these sales, so they were forced to aquire the rights to the Japanese show Space Pirate Captain Harlock. The only problem is, that show only ran 42 episodes. To fill it out, they needed another show like they did with Robotech. Macek said at the con that he wanted to use the follow-up series Harlock SSX and the My Youth in Arcadia Harlock movie, but the rights owners were demanding too much money for it. Being between a rock and a hard place, Harmony Gold went with Queen Millenia, an unrelated show that used the same character designer, Leiji Matsumoto.

Macek said he hated the project, and just dreaded going in to work every day to deal with it.

Well, the show's "wider push" never came. (Just like the other HG products I was waiting on at the time: Robotech: The Movie and Robotech II: The Sentinels. I think people really don't appreciate how lucky we are that Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles actually got released.) But a friend of mine got a hold of the first 8 episodes from someone in Texas. I ate them up and eagerly wanted to see more.

I wasn't able to actually get any more episodes until over ten years later. Joy and I were in Chicago running our booth for Joy's Japanimation at AnimeCentral. I had a fansub trade list I carried around with me, and I was lucky enough to run into a fan who said he had all 65 episodes! We quickly arranged the trades, and good to his word, he provided me with the rest of the series.

(Well, except for those two missing episodes that is, but I suspect that the Chicago station skipped them so it wasn't his fault. His last tape repeats the first two episodes, and the voice over on the end credits talks about their new line-up starting on Monday. So I don't think it was his fault.)

I wanted to get back into watching them, but by that point I was too busy working with anime to actually watch any of it. Then I had to leave the store and I was so sour on anime I didn't want to have anything to do with it.

But that was years ago now, and shows like the aforementioned Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, Macross Frontier and Cosmo Warrior Zero have helped me lose my resentment towards anime. So when I started copying all my VHS tapes to DVD and I reached the Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years tapes, I decided I was going to actually sit down and watch them as I copied them.

So, as to the show itself: Is it any good?

For me, the answer is a resounding yes. Oh sure, it's an unfaithful translation. But you know what? I don't care. It's still got some good storytelling to it, especially when compared with what else was airing in 1986. Like Robotech, the show doesn't pull its punches-- a lot of violent death scenes are left in, main characters are killed, there's live childbirth scenes (not once, but twice). And the story can get very complex as they try to weave the two worlds of Harlock and Queen Millennia together.

That weaving is where the show tends to fall apart. A lot of the connections work well (Harlock's enemies the Mazone are working for Millenia, etc.) but other times they're inconsistant. A band of refugees are first called captured humans from Earth, then in the next episode they're now called refugees from Millennia. Things like that-- a lot of inconsistancies that could have been ironed out with closer script editing.

For me, this show was like coming home. Hearing all those old Harmony Gold / Intersound voice actors again, the music (some of which was reused in The Sentinels, and one of Robotech's "dramatic stings" was used a lot in this show), coming back to watch a new episode every day all summer long... this show reminded me of why I fell in love with anime in the first place.

Okay, anime. Welcome back. All is forgiven.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

District 9

Finally saw District 9 with Dave today! I was afraid I was going to miss this one. I'm glad I didn't.

The initial trailer (and websites) gave me the impression this was going to be heavy on social commentary. Then the TV ads were heavy on action, so I started wondering, is this a "thought" movie that they're selling as an action movie?

Well, no. It really is an action movie. But it's a very, very good action movie with some strong social commentary overtones.

And cool spaceship shots. I love spaceship shots.

The movie gives us the basic set-up of how an alien spaceship arrived in the 1980's, and how the aliens were not treated well once they were settled into District 9. But that's about as far as it goes. Personally, I would have loved for the first 5 minutes of the film to be expanded into a good half hour, so we saw more of how the aliens interacted with humans and were trying to be treated with basic civil liberties. But it doesn't really go there; it's more of simply a set-up to have an "us and them," although it does do a good job on asking what it would take for someone who only ever saw the aliens as "them" to learn to see them as one of "us."

Another interesting thing I noticed is that while the aliens never speak English, a lot of their dialogue probably didn't need to be subtitled, yet it all is. There's a lot of human replies that explain what they just said. ("Gllblblbllblllbb?" "Yeah, sure, lunch sounds good." Not an actual line, but that kid of thing. Like when Han would talk to Chewbacca.) I'm wondering if the director originally intended to not subtitle the aliens and changed his mind?

All in all, I enjoyed this movie, even though it wasn't all I thought it could be. Since the trend now is to cut out story for the sake of action and then put the story back in on DVD, I'm hoping the DVD release will give me more of that "humans living with aliens in their backyard" that I was hoping for. IMDB reports that they filmed six different endings, so at the very least I'll be watching the DVD to see some of those!