Robyn Lively (“Teen Witch” — TOP THAT, other podcasts!) joins Cole and Vanessa to chat about Batman casting, twerking fails, Miley Cyrus, Longmire, Woody Harrelson, Twin Peaks, The Coreys, Not Quite Human, the Top That rap, little Kate Hudson, John Hughes films, John Travolta, LL Cool J, background acting, Ralph Macchio’s accent, and Robyn’s emotional scene with Ben Affleck.
Leave your answer to the firsts question (the first rap song you tried to memorize) on our website for a chance to win a Teen Witch DVD signed by Robyn!
Spider-Man has, by far, had more televised animated incarnations than any superhero, and that’s including Batman, who comes a close second. Hot on the heels of the 1992 X-Men cartoon, Fox launched its updated version of Spider-Man which had arc storytelling in high quantities and villains upon villains for the ol’ Web Head to fend off. But, what if Fox hadn’t picked up this idea for use in a cartoon series? What if they went ahead with a live action film, a full decade before Sam Raimi did his? Let’s say it was Spider-Man vs The Sinister Six. Who would play the various baddies, and who’d be our friendly neighborhood you-know-who?
Spider-Man a/k/a Peter Parker played by Wil Wheaton
This is the biggest no-brainer in the whole wide world. 1) Nerd cred, 2) Age appropriate, 3) Snark factor, 4) how Goddamned cool would it have been if Wil Wheaton was Spider-Man? I’m now really upset this didn’t happen. Get Doc Brown or that guy Rufus on the horn; I want to go back in time and change history.
The Sinister Six
Doctor Octopus played by John Lithgow
This one proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought, but in the end, I feel like Lithgow’s energy and intensity, plus the fact that he can do comic book-level insanity (see Buckaroo Banzai, Raising Cain, and Cliffhanger) make him a decent choice for the leader of the Sinister Six. Also, he clearly doesn’t have a problem with weird hair.
Shocker played by Bruce Campbell
Why? Why the hell not?! The Shocker (oh, heavens, what a silly name) is one of Spider-Man’s quippier villains, and can also be formidable and dangerous, so let’s let Bruce Campbell show his villain chops. At this point, he’d have just made Army of Darkness, which in this reality made him a huge star. Granted, Shocker wears a mask through most of his marauding, but Bruce’s voice is quite distinct, so that totally makes up for it.
Mysterio played by Sean Bean
Okay, hear me out. In 1992, Sean Bean was the bad guy in Patriot Games and proved himself quite a sinister figure indeed. Up to that point, he’d mostly been a British TV actor, but a good turn in an American movie would put his name on a list (and it did), and so he’d make a lot of sense as a stunt man/special effects guy turned master of illusion. He’d be mysterious to American audiences. Get what I’m throwing down? He’s a good villain, clearly, and this might be one of the few times he’d play a bad guy and not die. Or a person and not die.
Rhino played by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Regardless of whether he had on the grey suit with the horn, if you saw Roddy Piper charging at you, you’d pee your pants and run, or pee your pants and get crushed. Either way, pants-peeing is happening. He’s a really big guy who can play mean (years in the WWF saw to that) and he could even be employed as the fight choreographer after his stellar turn with that epic fight in They Live.
Scorpion played by Denis Leary
Scorpion was once schlubby private investigator Mac Gargan before J. Jonah Jameson and Dr. Farley Stillwell experimented on him as a means of destroying Spider-Man. The mutagen turned him into one of the loudest, angriest, shoutiest villains in the whole of the Marvel Universe. Do I really need to tell you why Denis Leary would be right for the role after this? If you still need convincing, listen to No Cure for Cancer. Then we’ll talk.
Chameleon played by Ron Perlman
Strictly speaking, no actor is as good in heavy face makeup than Rob Perlman. He would have just more or less gotten finished playing Vincent in the TV show Beauty and the Beast so a bit of white and some sculpting to make his face more skeletal would be a breeze. Chameleon is Red Skull’s foster son and Kraven’s half-brother, so he’s got evil in his court-appointed or partially-genetic bones.
Mary Jane Watson played by Robyn Lively
Another huge no-brainer (once it took me 2 hours to think of). She’s got the look, she’s got the attitude, she was in a million things prior to this; That’s a win. Plus, this casting will bring in the inexplicably huge Teen Witch audience as well as the Twin Peaks fans who thought she was foxy.
Aunt May played by Betty White
Betty White may be America’s favorite 91 year old now, but in 1992 she was America’s favorite 70 year old, enjoying success in The Golden Girls and being generally awesome. She’s with it, and could easily put Wheaton’s Peter Parker in his place if the situation called for it (and likely it would).
J. Jonah Jameson played by Dabney Coleman
I actually had to search IMDb to see whether or not Dabney Coleman actually HAD played the Daily Bugle chief. It just makes too much sense for him not to – he can play angry, he’s got the mustache, he looks great in a three-piece suit, he probably enjoys smoking cigars. It’s perfect. It might be worth this whole thing being real just for a scene where Coleman chews out Wheaton.
If you can think of better people to play these characters (and I’m positive you can), let me know in the comments below. I’ll be back with more of these vintage fan casts later in this Marvellest of Weeks.
Been wondering when your rapture date with the nicotine loving Elizabeth will happen? Well wonder no more, as the first episode of Bioshock Infinite‘s new DLC, Burial At Sea, is officially set to launch next month on November 12. Just in time to beat the next-gen consoles, the add-on content will be available on Ps3, Xbox 360, and PC for $14.99 or as part of the game’s season pass.
Burial At Sea is a two part adventure that places Infinite heroes Booker and Elizabeth into a lively, pre-Bioshock Rapture where you can observe Big Daddies without having to worry about a hole being drilled into your chest. This means we should definitely be graced with more antics from fan-favorite game baddie, Andrew Ryan. This DLC is sure to be Bioshock diehards’ dream, so would you kindly save the date on your calendar so we can discuss it here next month?
Short Review: In Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut, the actor shows he can feature stylized action and deliver a delightfully over-the-top performance as the film’s villain. The simplistic dialogue and ’80s action movie story take a back seat to the dynamic fight scenes and brilliant physical performance of Tiger Hu Chen. If you long for a sleek martial arts movie that aims to carry the torch of classics like Enter the Dragon and Kickboxer, then Man of Tai Chi is a solid, well choreographed blast of fist and foot.
Man of Tai Chi marks a return of classic Hong Kong cinema with its stylized and clean look. The film’s simple story allows for deeper character exploration, and using martial arts as the device to tell that story makes for a fun and lively movie. Keanu’s vision as a director is perfectly in line with the visuals and tropes of the great Kung-Fu films of the ’70s. It wouldn’t be untrue to say that the first-time director has completed the film that Bruce Lee had envisioned when constructing Game of Death, his demonstration of what his Jeet Kune Do could do. Of course instead of Jeet Kune Do getting the attention in this outing, the traditionally mellow art of Tai Chi is turned on its head to present its “hard” style, and how malleable it is as a form.
The story of the movie is straightforward and serviceable. Tiger enters a secret fighting tournament in an effort to raise funds to save his temple. He quickly turns his attention to less-than-honorable pursuits as he begins to let out his frustration through his fists. Keanu plays Donaka Mark, a master manipulator with more than one memorable scene burning into our retinas. “Sad Keanu” is a thing of the past, because there will be plenty of new memes generated around Mr. Reeves’ calm and eerily intense villain, a great throwback to the larger-than-life grand crime lords of classic martial arts cinema.
The crown jewel of this fun film is, of course, the well-choreographed fight scenes. Mixing wire-fu, practical martial arts techniques, and unique environments for backdrops, the fights all have creative and original action that keeps you upright in your seat waiting for the next one. When Keanu and Tiger finally face off against one another, it’s a battle that is both well-earned and not overhyped. The film’s climax is satisfying, and you leave the theater wishing you could pull off the feats you’ve just seen performed.
The underlying crime story that should be the driving force of Keanu’s motivation is weak, but it does allow for a splendid performance from Karen Mok as the captain of a Hong Kong police unit. SPOILER ALERT: The film’s story, involving police corruption, displays a more relaxed policy of how law enforcement in China is portrayed on screen. The idea of the Chinese government allowing a storyline about police corruption in a government-funded film is both surprising and hopeful.
Man of Tai Chi is a solid action movie with stunning fights in a classic setting. Keanu Reeves gives a fun performance, but also works magic behind the camera by creating a sleek and inventive kung fu movie for a new audience.
Man of Tai Chi is available on VOD Friday (September 27th) and in theaters November 1st. For more on Fantastic Fest and Man of Tai Chi, check out our coverage of the Fantastic Debates. And stay tuned to Nerdist.com for more from the director and star.
When you hear the word “Mondo“, the first thing that jumps to your mind is most likely “limited edition posters” or “the evil restaurant from Good Burger.” You wouldn’t be wrong to make the first connection – in the past few years Mondo has made a name for themselves as the preeminent destination for pop culture/geek-related postery (Pretty sure that’s a word).
So, you’re well aware of the work they put out (and maybe have even visited the Mondo Gallery in Austin, Texas), but did you know that your friends at Mondo are getting into the movie business as well? Well, the movie-related art business at least. The folks at Drafthouse Films (Four Lions, The FP, Miami Connection) are bringing you I Declare War, a new film about the most extreme game of capture the flag ever played, and Mondo is bringing you some super sweet limited edition art to accompany it. Seriously. Check out the movie’s website if you don’t believe me, and read our preview coverage of the movie’s trailer too.
Here’s the official synopsis for the film:
Armed with nothing more than twigs, their imaginations and a simple set of rules, a group of 12-year-olds engaged in a lively game of Capture the Flag in the neighborhood woods start dangerously blurring the lines between make-believe and reality. Rocks = Grenades. Trees = Control towers. Sticks = Submachine guns. The youthful innocence of the game gradually takes on a different tone as the quest for victory pushes the boundaries of friendship. The would-be warriors get a searing glimpse of humanity’s dark side as their combat scenario takes them beyond the rules of the game and into an adventure where fantasy combat clashes with the real world.
Pretty awesome, no? To celebrate the film’s release (I Declare War is now available via VOD and iTunes and for digital download, and will be opening in theaters on Friday, August 30), Mondo has solicited the aid of poster artist Jay Shaw to dream up a limited edition poster, and boy, has he ever.
The poster comes from an edition of 100 pieces, measures 18 X 24, and will run you a very reasonable $35.
As always, Mondo will release the poster via its @MondoNews Twitter account on Thursday, 8/29. Follow @MondoNews for the exact on-sale time.
The short review: While overlong, James Mangold’s The Wolverine is a high octane cocktail of ninjas, noir and adamantium-laden action that will leave you feeling refreshed and thirsty for more.
The long review:
Let’s get this out of the way so we can free ourselves from the adamantium shackles of history: X-Men Origins: Wolverine was an unmitigated trainwreck of a film. If I had to choose between watching X-Men Origins again and sending my only child to die in the Hunger Games, I’d throw up the Mockingjay salute and bid my spawn adieu. That being said, The Wolverine was such a successful film for me that I’d all but forgotten my initial trepidation about subjecting myself to another two-hour Wolverine solo outing. It’s such a relief to feel this way, because Hugh Jackman is the best at what he does and what he does is play our favorite musclebound Canadian ass-kicker with heart, panache and a reverence for what makes Logan tick. Much like Robert Downey Jr. has done with Iron Man, Jackman has lashed himself to the mast of Wolverine’s character in such a way as to render them inseparable.
When James Mangold was first announced as the film’s director, seismologists noticed a marked uptick in the number of eyebrows being raised across the country. He’d proven himself as a capable writer-director on films like Walk the Line, Girl Interrupted, and Cop Land, but tackling a monolithic figure like Wolverine is a mutant horse of a different color. Rather than a straight up superhero story, Mangold wisely taps into elements of noir and hard-boiled espionage that keep the action interesting, the mood tense, and the plot packed with enough intrigue to keep us interested. Well, interested for the first hour and change, at least. The film’s greatest crime is that it outstays its welcome, and, unlike a comic book, you can’t just put it down and pick it up again later when you regain interest. That being said, it’s a misdemeanor compared to the cinematic felonies of previous outings with the Ol’ Canucklehead.
Mangold’s smartest decision is in how he manages to make the story feel simultaneously sprawling and self-contained. Based on Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s seminal Wolverine mini-series, which finds Logan heading to Japan to carve a bloody path through ninjas, Yakuza, and other big baddies to save the love of his life, Mariko, The Wolverine is a savvy introduction to a seminal part of the character’s mythos. Much like how Iron Man 3 plumbed the depths of the man behind the suit, The Wolverine explores the man behind the claws, tapping into his rich history and examining some of the formative events that made him into the gruff killing machine with a heart of gold he is today.
After saving a Japanese soldier’s life in Nagasaki during World War II, Logan is summoned to Japan years later in order to pay his final respects to his old friend. His chaperone is Yukio (the excellent Rila Fukushima), a petite Japanese girl who has the mutant ability to see when people die and the preternatural ability to kick asses and take names. The slender spitfire makes an excellent sidekick for Logan; They play off each other nicely and have a natural rapport that manages to dole out exposition and action in equal measure. What happens next is a Matroyshka doll of betrayal, revenge, Yazuka, and ninja fighting and memories of past transgressions, all of which Logan is forced to deal with without the aid of his trusty healing factor. At times, though, it seems that Mangold’s ultimate message is that a healing factor can’t fix emotional scars; They merely scab over, leaving them to be picked at and fester no matter how hardened of a killer one is.
The rest of the supporting cast proves formidable, especially the instantly untrustworthy and deliciously dislikable Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a villain who mixes the cool cunning of Emma Frost with the bombast of Enchantress and all the venom and nanotech that Hydra has to offer. Much like Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I, her greatest fault is that we don’t get to see enough of her in action. Less successful is Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who, much like her counterpart in the comics, isn’t nearly as lively or engaging as the rest of the characters. This isn’t to say she gives a bad performance; rather, it’s like a sprig of rosemary on your plate – it’s just kind of there.
For my money, The Wolverine is one of the best superhero films of the summer and one of the best X-Men films to date. It manages a stripped down story without sacrificing the action, and hits many of the marks one would expect from a summer tentpole without coming across as too bombastic. Even the stakes of the film are refreshing – Wolverine isn’t out to save the world, he’s trying to save the woman he loves and himself. That may make it a mutant among the big budget blockbusters that have dominated the cinematic landscape this summer, but ultimately it is to Mangold and Jackman’s credit and allows it to cut through the competition. Though the film suffers from an overlong script and a penchant from transitioning scenes by simply knocking Wolverine out (is this the new star wipe?), The Wolverine is still some of the most fun you can have this summer season, and looks like it’s the healing factor that this franchise sorely needed.
Oh, and make sure you stick around for the post-credits sequence, bub. ‘Nuff said.
James Mangold’s The Wolverine is in theaters and Danger Rooms everywhere. Did you see the film? Let us know what you thought in the comments below!
Right now, you can’t turn a corner and not see something Star Trek-related hit you in the face, with the theatrical release this past week of JJ Abrams’ long awaited sequelStar Trek Into Darkness. For nearly fifty years now, the Star Trek franchise has been a part of American popular culture in some form, and many out there see it as something perennial, something that is always there and will always be around. But the truth is, Star Trek has nearly gone away for good several times, only to be brought back from the jaws of death just when it looked like it was all over.
These are the stories of the people who saved Star Trek from possibly disappearing for good. Much like Captain Kirk, this classic franchise has been cheating death on a regular basis.
The Fans Save Star Trek (1968)
There is something of a popular notion that the classic Star Trek series was a dismal ratings failure in its original network run, only to become a popular and beloved series when entering daily syndication in the early ’70s. The truth is, while Star Trek was never a major television series, in its first season, the show was actually a modest success ratings wise. Debuting on September 8th, 1966, “The Man Trap” actually drew in 19 million viewers, a staggering amount by today’s standards. Star Trek was the only new series of the 1966-67 television season on any of the three major networks to even crack the top fifty shows. So NBC was more or less pleased that first year, at least enough to greenlight a second season in early 1967.
But the ratings had really begun to slip in the second year, and the feeling amongst fandom was that Star Trek would not get a third season. Now, this wasn’t like today, when any time a cult favorite show is threatened with cancellation, an online petition shows up on Facebook or in your inbox, and everyone clicks a box and is done with it, feeling they’ve done their part. Back in 1968, NBC was said to have received over a million actual letters from fans, begging for Star Trek to be renewed for a third year. Super fans Bjo and John Trimble helped with a lot of the organizing of the letter writing campaigns, but an equal number of fans simply wrote letters to the network all on their own. NBC was so deluged with fan mail, in fact, that the network actually took a moment of airtime to tell viewers that Star Trek had indeed been renewed for a third season. In other words, “stop sending so many damn letters.”
Of course, the network found other ways of screwing with the show, even while agreeing to bring it back. The executives at NBC were said to have never been fans of the show, and were more than happy to see it die and replaced with something cheaper to produce. They moved the series to Friday nights at 10:00 pm and slashed the budget, forcing an angry Gene Roddenberry to leave the show in everything but name. The season opener, an episode called “Spock’s Brain“, is widely considered one of the worst episodes of the series ever, and it set the precedent for how season three was going to be (although in fairness, there are some excellent episodes in that season as well). Nevertheless, with a third season ordered, that gave Star Trek 79 episodes total, enough to enter syndication after it was ultimately cancelled. Had the fans not rallied to ensure that third season, though, syndication may not have been possible, and without it, it is very likely that no one would remember Star Trek at all today.
Saturday Morning Saves Star Trek (1973)
After Star Trek had become such a hit in syndication in the early ’70s, fans instantly started to try and find ways to bring it back for real. NBC, at this point probably regretting their decision to kill what was obviously a potential cash cow, decided to revive the show… as a Saturday morning cartoon. But despite Filmation’s desire to make the show more kid friendly (a young child was originally going to be assigned to each crew member, including a little Vulcan one for Spock. Star Trek Babies, anyone?) Roddenberry put his foot down and said no. If Star Trek was coming back in animated form, it wouldn’t be bastardized.
What resulted were 22 episodes that were pretty much pure Star Trek. Almost the entire original voice cast from the original series returned (except for Walter Koenig as Chekov, for budgetary reasons) and many episodes were direct sequels to classic episodes. Sure, the animation was limited (and that’s being nice about it), but it was nice to see aliens that were actually aliens and not just little people with weird face paint or odd facial hair. Despite winning an Emmy, the show only lasted two seasons, but it proved that a revival of Trek could happen, and if it could happen in one form, it might still happen in another.
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg Save Star Trek (Sort Of) -1978
Whether they were aware of it or not, Lucas and Spielberg helped bring Trek to the big screen.
Throughout much of the 1970′s, an honest to goodness Star Trek revival was always in the cards in some form. In 1975, Trek creator Gene Roddenberry began work in earnest on a big screen version called “The God Thing.” (an avowed atheist, Roddenberry loved stories that poked holes in the notions of any kind of deity.) This wouldn’t be the first time a movie version of Trek was proposed; in 1968, before the show was ever even cancelled, Roddenberry told fans that a big screen version was coming, one which would tell the origin story of the Enterprise crew and how they all came together.
For the next two years, the script went through various permutations, and writers from Harlan Ellison to Ray Bradbury were brought in to pitch ideas as well. Paramount executives didn’t take to any of them, though. Another script called Planet of the Titans was commissioned, but Paramount executives didn’t much like that one any more than the others. After two and a half years of this back and forth, it was decided that Star Trek would come back to television after all, as part of Paramount’s proposed television network, the Paramount Television Service, set to be launched in 1978. Star Trek: Phase II would be the anchor series for the new network. Sets were built, a new Enterprise model was constructed, and all of the original cast (with the exception of Leonard Nimoy) would return.
And then, in 1977, a little movie called Star Wars happened. At first, Paramount thought the enormous success of Star Wars was a fluke, and work continued on Phase II. Then, for various reasons, the notion of a Paramount-owned network ended just as quickly as it had started. Two weeks before production was to commence, Phase II was shuttered. That might have been it for Star Trek once again, but the enormous success of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the end of 1977 proved that Star Wars was no fluke; science fiction was Hollywood’s new darling genre. It was time for Paramount to strike while the iron was hot — and the pilot script for Phase II called “In Thy Image” was reworked for the big screen. A-List director Robert Wise, the man who gave us The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Sound of Music, and West Side Story, was brought in to direct. Paramount gave the movie an enormous budget by 1970s standards, and finally, after ten years, Star Trek was really back. If not for the double whammy success that year of Star Wars and Close Encounters, made by two guys who grew up watching the original series named George and Steven, Star Trek might have never come back at all.
Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer Save Star Trek (1982)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in December of 1979. Hardcore fans who had waited ten years to see the Enterprise soar again lined up over and over to see the movie. But the truth is, even though no one wanted to admit it at the time, just about no one actually liked the movie. The movie was bloated, pretentious, and worst of all, incredibly boring. The colorful characters of the original series were muted down to dull Earth tones and what should have been a joyous reunion became a slog to sit through, as most of the movie resulted in the characters looking at pretty colors on the view screen. In an effort to be taken seriously, or be another 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Motion Picture forgot that although the original series was thoughtful and often philosophical, it was also lively and colorful and fun.
Nevertheless, the movie sold tickets, and despite having cost an enormous amount of money, managed to turn a profit for the studio. Paramount wanted a sequel, but they wanted one made for a hell of a lot less money and which would actually evoke the fun character drama and action of the original series. The first thing Paramount did was essentially fire Gene Roddenberry. They gave him the title “executive consultant,” where he was paid handsomely to just stay out of it all. For various reasons, Roddenberry was seen as the source of all of the previous film’s creative problems. Whether or not that was accurate, that seemed to be the perception at the studio.
Instead, Paramount went to a television producer named Harve Bennett to bring the movie in on budget and to make it actually entertaining. Bennett, who had twenty years of experience with Paramount’s television department, had never made a feature film for the studio. He was called in to the office of Charles Bluhdorn, the then owner of the studio, who, according to Terry Lee Rioux’s From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, asked him point blank, “could you make a better movie?” Bennett answered “Well, you know… yeah, I could make it less boring. Yes I could.” Bluhdorn then retorted “could you make it for less than forty-five fucking million dollars?,” to which Bennett replied, “oh boy, where I come from… I could make five movies for that.” And with that, and a “paltry” $12 million dollar budget, Star Trek II was off to the races.
Bennett screened every episode of the series in an effort to make the new movie more like the actual show and less like a bloated knock off of Stanley Kubrick. After the creative debacle of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, no known name director in Hollywood wanted to touch Star Trek with a ten foot pole. Everyone thought Trek screwed up their chance for a true revival with the last movie. So Bennett hired relatively unknown director Nicholas Meyer, a non-Trek fan who had one movie credit to his name, the time travel flick Time After Time. Meyer took various drafts of the screenplay, all of which contained various different elements (some dealt with Kirk having an adult son, others the planet creating Genesis project, the return of series villain Khan, etc.) and fused them into one satisfying screenplay. And he did it all in twelve days.
Bennett and Meyer lured Leonard Nimoy back into the franchise with the promise of getting to play an awesome death scene. Lowered budget or not, for the returning cast, it really felt like Star Trek for the first time since the series was cancelled. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was released to both critical acclaim and fan support in June of 1982. The duo of Harve Bennett and Nick Meyer had brought back Star Trek into the cultural zeitgeist once again, just when all seemed lost. The success of Wrath of Khan with both critics and fans gave the series a major kick in the ass, and suddenly Trek was back in a big bad way.
Nicholas Meyer and Leonard Nimoy on the set of Wrath of Khan.
Harve Bennett stayed to produce the next four installments, and all except the last one (The Final Frontier) were hits, especially part IV, The Voyage Home. Bennett left the franchise after the studio refused his pitch for a “Starfleet Academy Years” prequel as a concept for Star Trek VI, focusing on the budding friendship of a young Kirk and Spock with all new actors. (Fans hated the idea, although twenty years later many of these same fans would embrace it.) It was in large part due to the success of the movie franchise, thanks largely to Bennett, that Paramount decided to return Trek to television again, this time with an all new cast on the bridge of the Enterprise.
Michael Piller Saves Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989)
Due to the new found success of the movie series, Paramount revived the idea of a new Star Trek television show, this time for first run syndication. This of course ended up being Star Trek: The Next Generation, which debuted in 1987. Despite being a ratings hit from day one, audiences just were not warming up to the new crew of the Enterprise-D. No matter how talented folks like Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner were, replacing cultural icons like Shatner and Nimoy was no easy task, especially with the original crew still doing great on the big screen. In the third season of the series, co-producer Rick Berman brought in Michael Piller as the series’ new show runner and head writer, in hopes of saving the show creatively. Piller was put in charge of the writing staff in season three, and the first thing he did was make two massive changes to the way the show was run that changed the series’ standing in the eyes of the fans for all time.
First off, he made a declaration that from now on, the series would shift away from “alien of the week” concept to focus on character above all else. The new more character-centric approach worked liked gangbusters. In season three, Next Generation finally crept out of the original series’ shadow and became a pop culture phenomenon all its own, especially when the cybernetic villains known as the Borg returned to transform Captain Jean-Luc Picard into one of their own in “The Best of Both Worlds,” the franchises’ first ever cliffhanger. The second thing Piller did was create an open door policy for scripts on the show, meaning fans could submit scripts to the series in hopes of actually getting them made. Many great episodes came to the series due to this policy. Writer Ronald D. Moore (later the creator of the new Battlestar Galactica) was brought into the Next Generation writing staff through the open door policy as well.
Star Trek: The Next Generation exploded in the ratings, which led to more spin-off series like Deep Space Nine and Voyager, both of which Piller co-created. During the ‘90s, Star Trek was prospering with multiple series on the air, and the movie franchise continued with the Next Generation cast. Too much Trek all at once eventually led to over-saturation and apathy towards the franchise, but it was Michael Piller’s involvement that saved the franchise from never getting out of the shadow of Kirk and Spock in the first place. Piller sadly died of cancer in 2005, but his legacy is a collection of some of the best television episodes ever produced.
JJ Abrams Saves Star Trek, After The Untimely Death of Enterprise (2008)
Under the Rick Berman regime, from 1987-2005, there were a staggering 625 episodes of Star Trek content produced. Although they were considered to be hits, neither Deep Space Nine nor Voyager garnered the same kind of ratings anywhere near what Next Generation was doing in its heyday. By the time Voyager ended its seven season run in 2001, the popular thinking was that maybe the Trek franchise needed a nice, long rest. But Paramount wasn’t letting go of its golden goose just yet. The studio commissioned a new series to take Voyager’s slot on UPN as soon as Voyager went off the air. (Star Trek: Voyager had done what the aborted Star Trek: Phase II series was set to do back in the ‘70s: be the anchor for a Paramount-run network.)
Paramount knew that fandom for Star Trek was eroding; by this point in time, there were other genre shows like Buffy, X-Files and Farscape over which geeks could obsess. Trek was no longer the only game in town. So, Paramount and Berman decided they were going to make a non-Star Trek version of Star Trek. Enterprise would be a prequel series, set a mere 150 years from now, with humans who looked and sounded more contemporary, more “like us.” The show would be “sexier” (in other words, lots of gratuitous shots of a hot Vulcan woman in her underwear getting radiation decontamination), and the theme song would be a terrible Rod Stewart pop track. Heck, the name Star Trek wouldn’t even be part of the title, it would simply be called Enterprise. Paramount was hoping that non Trek fans would watch and old Trek fans would forgive how embarrassed-to-be-Star Trek the show really was. Neither happened. Enterprise struggled in the ratings for four seasons.
The final season of the show saw an actual Trekker take the helm, as producer Manny Coto stepped in to make the show an actual prequel series to Star Trek in more than name only, with tons of nods to the original series and even the animated show, in a hope to make a last ditch effort to get the old Trek fans back. It was a noble effort, but it wasn’t enough. Enterprise ended its run after 98 episodes in 2005, the first Star Trek series to be cancelled since the original show. Many believed that was the quiet, sad death of one of the greatest science fiction franchises of all time. Considering how many times Star Trek has returned from the brink of death, they should have really known better.
This time, the higher ups at Paramount were smart. They let Trek lie dead for a few years, then in 2007 announced an all new movie titled, simply enough, Star Trek. The movie would have a budget not seen since The Motion Picture. JJ Abrams was brought in to produce and ultimately direct. This new Star Trek would end up fulfilling the old promise made by Gene Roddenberry way back in 1968 about a Star Trek movie being a prequel about how the original crew got together, and in part be a version of Harve Bennett’s “Academy Years” script that was scrapped way back in 1990, with younger leads cast in the original iconic roles. Star Trek reinvigorated the franchise in a way that no one thought possible, and was the highest grossing Trek film ever, even with adjustment for inflation factored in. In many ways, this new Abrams version is more Star Wars than Star Trek, but there is no denying that the movie’s success saved the franchise from the jaws of oblivion once again. With the franchise quickly approaching its 50th Anniversary, probably more popular than ever, it is hard to imagine that Star Trek will ever need a miracle worker (or workers) to save it again. But if it does… it’s good to know those fans are out there with enough love for the series to bring it back to life again.
Eric Diaz is a lifelong nerd who created the lifestyle column Gayscape for Geekscape.net and whose pop culture lists can be found regularly at Topless Robot.
Since the inception of DC’s New 52 Universe, we have slowly, but surely been building towards one massive, catastrophic event: Trinity War. Since its reveal on last year’s Free Comic Book Day, readers have speculated what exactly could prompt some of the DCU’s biggest heroes to take up arms against one another. Revolving around the Trinity of Sin – Pandora, The Question and the Phantom Stranger – Trinity War will pit the Justice League, Justice League of America, and Justice League Dark against one another in an action-murder-mystery that will shake the DCU to its core. Although we have to wait until July for the six issue series to kick off, I was able to catch up with the event’s architects, Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire, who gave us the inside scoop on what to expect, unexpected team-ups and battles, and who their favorite character to write was. So, brace yourselves because if the above artwork by Ivan Reis is any indication, Trinity War is going to be a bumpy ride.
Nerdist: Trinity War – we’re very excited for it. Is this basically the biggest PSA against inter-office relationships? What can we expect from this massive event?
Geoff Johns: Well, that’s pretty close. [laughs] I don’t know if you’ve seen the image out there, the covers for the first three parts that Ivan [Reis] did of all the heroes at war. Ivan and Joe [Prado] really did a great job on it. It sells an idea of obvious conflict between the three Justice Leagues, but when Geoff and I first tackled this story, we really wanted to make it, on first glance, hero vs. hero – and that’s definitely in there – but it’s also very philosophical. The story is so action-driven, but there’s a mystery there too. There’s kind of a controversial death that happens in issue one; it’s the death and the circumstances around it that kicks off the mystery, pitting the teams against each other and eventually the team members themselves. You know, kind of choosing different sides for a specific reason. When Geoff and I got together, we really wanted to focus on the mystery element, because I think we have a lot of great reveals we’ve planted in the books for some time now. In particular, Jeff’s issues really feed into that. I wish we could talk about it more. In the first issue, something happens that really defines what the story’s going to be about, but without spoiling it, it’s a little hard to get specific.
N: So this death is the primary catalyst that sends the DCU into all-out war?
GJ: Yeah, it’s definitely a catalyst for what that battle is. I think Trinity War as a title is a little misleading too because it isn’t just about these three Justice Leagues; there’s the Trinity of Sin, these three mysterious characters, and the answer to what the Trinity actually is and what the Trinity actually means will come out as well.
N: Let’s talk about the Trinity of Sin – Pandora, The Phantom and The Question. From their names alone, they ooze mystery. What’s the appeal of these characters such a major part of the story?
GJ: Well, Jeff, I think you can talk about The Question…
Jeff Lemire: The Question embodies mystery – it’s who he is. Like Jeff said, the story really is a big murder mystery, so he exemplifies that aspect of the story. The idea of the three Leagues, the Trinity, it’s sort of this underlying thing we’ve structured the whole story around. Each of those characters in the Trinity of Sin represents one aspect of the story that will unfold. You know, Phantom Stranger and Pandora have been seen quite a bit now, but The Question, he’s still a mystery – who he is, what he is, what his motivations are – so this is kind of his coming out party. He plays a pretty major role.
GJ: We’re taking kind of a cue from the animated series where he’s really bound in conspiracies and stuff, but this is a bigger one. The questions in his mind that kind of haunt him are things that he has to answer. He’ll be front and center at the mystery of it all.
N: Without spoiling anything, can you give us a hint of some of the superpowered slugfests we can look forward to?
GJ: I don’t know if you’ve read Justice League of America, but the team has been designed specifically to take on the Justice League, so some of those battles will come into play. Like Hawkman vs. Aquaman, Katana vs. Wonder Woman, and you’ll see Shazam take on Superman, which I always think is a lot of fun. Especially this Billy Batson/Shazam that’s more willing to throw the hardest punch he can to see what happens. You’ll see lots of confrontations; I mean, on the cover, you can see Wonder Woman with her lasso around Constantine’s neck, which has got to be the worst thing to ever happen to him. [laughs] So, there’ll be a lot of confrontations that you’ll see, and a lot of team-ups too. There are lots of characters doing a big Justice League event that’s specific to the teams. You’ll see these characters confront one another, team up, and figure out why they need to team up. Some of these groups don’t necessarily stay together; in fact, they don’t come out the same way they came in.
JL: As much as it is about heroes fighting one another, it’s also about seeing unexpected friendships develop, which is cool.
N: Speaking of unexpected friendships, who has been your favorite character to thrust into the spotlight that you didn’t anticipate going in?
GJ: For me, I’ve got to say – and I didn’t expect this at all – but I think Madame Xanadu. She’s actually the first character; I open up with her, and I wound up really, really liking her. She’s kind of an obscure character, but I really enjoyed writing her, and then, on the Justice League side, I find Superman and Batman are always a blast. Superman, in particular, especially with what happens throughout the issues of this storyline – he’s been the most fun to write.
JL: I’m surprised at how big of a role Madame Xanadu wound up taking in the actual story. That wasn’t something that we’d initially planned on. It came about in the scripting stage, which is cool. For me, I’m writing Green Arrow now, his solo book, and I was kind of surprised how fun it was to write that same character in a group setting, y’know, these group scenes.
N: Writing for one Justice League must be challenging enough, but what sort of challenges are involved in constructing and managing a massive event like this with three of the biggest teams in the DCU?
GJ: There’s a lot of challenges. I don’t think Jeff and I can give enough credit to the artists we’re working with on this – Ivan, Doug [Mahnke], and Mikel [Janin]. You can see that cover that Ivan did. We’re trying to tell the biggest story we can with all these characters, but without them, this story wouldn’t work. I think the challenges are that you have thirty characters here, and that’s a lot of characters. You want to keep the scope big, you want to see these characters team up. It’s really fun to see, but at the same time, there’s got to be an emotional core to the story. And that’s really the focus: who’s story is it? What is it all about? When Jeff and I sat down to hash it out, we said the laser is going to come in on these characters and this is the emotional through-line, this is what it’s all about. There’s a lot of characters and plot to juggle.
JL: The sheer choreography of all the characters throughout the issues itself can be a challenge. As a writer, you want to keep it lively, but also keep it personal and character-driven.
N: From more of a logistical standpoint, this will be a six issue series, but will it be its own separate Trinity War book or spread across the Justice League books?
GJ: It will just be in Justice League, Justice League of America and Justice League Dark, so six issues in July and August in the Justice League titles. We wanted to focus on the teams, define the teams and redefine them. Something is going to happen at the end that’s going to blow up a lot of stuff and change the layout. I think we’re going to be talking about it soon, but specifically in these three Justice League titles.
N: I’m sure it will have a pretty big impact on the DCU as a whole, but will there be tie-in books too in other titles?
GJ: There’s a couple books that have tie-ins. You don’t have to read them to get the whole story. There’s Constantine #5 in July that’s a Constantine/Shazam team-up that sort of spins out of what’s going on in Trinity War. It’s a really great story by Ray Fawkes. You’ve got Billy Batson who’s street smart and John Constantine who’s also… street smart – seeing how those two guys work together… I don’t know if you’ve read the Shazam stuff, but he’s different than past iterations.
N: He seems a little bit more contentious than the Billy Batsons we’ve seen in the past.
GJ: Yeah, he’s a good-hearted kid, but he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t trust adults, so Constantine is probably the most distrusting person there is. It’s always fun to see them together. I think Ray did a great job. Then there’s Phantom Stranger #11 from [J.M.] DeMatteis and Pandora, also by Ray, which are going to have tie-ins as well. We’ll also finally answer what the hell is in that box and what that box is all about!
N: Thank god – the suspense was killing me. It’s like Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase.
GJ: [laughs] Yeah.
So, there you have it, friends. It looks like Trinity War is going to leave a trail of bodies and questions in its wake. What are you hoping to see happen once it drops in July? Let us know in the comments below.
Episode 126 is sort of another RPG focus, although there are definitely some non-RPG games out there that have non-level town areas in them (The Lone Ranger, Castlevania II, etc.). Anyway, the music in this episode is really, really good. Pound for pound, it’s one of the most musically solid episodes in a while. Towns are generally a safe place in a game, so you can also listen for that, and decide whether or not the music sounds like “safe” music. Rob is crying in the photo. Full track listing below.
Game – Composer – Song – Company – Console – Year (North American release unless otherwise indicated)
Light Crusader – Aki Hata – Town – Treasure – Genesis – 1995
Shining Force II – Motoaki Takenouchi – Lively Town – Camelot Software Planning – Genesis – 1994
Super Mario RPG – Yoko Shimomura – Going Shopping in Seaside Town – Square – SNES – 1996
Crusader of Centy – Motokazu Shinoda – Town – Nextech/Atlus – Genesis – 1994
Phantasy Star IV – Izuho “Ippo” Takeuchi – Motavia Town – Sega – Genesis – 1995
Tenshi no Uta: Shiroki Tsubasa no Inori – Motoi Sakuraba, Shinji Tamura, Ryota Furuya, Hiroya Hatsushiba – Town 3 – Telenet Japan – Super Famicom – 1994
Rent A Hero – Hiroshi Kawaguchi – Town Music 2 – Sega – Mega Drive – 1991
Nerdist is a place where we nerds come together and share the nerdery that we find. It's also my home to various elements of the Nerdist Empire. You might recognize me from TV. You don't realize that's where you know me from, but it is. You think you went to college with me or I look like your cousin's friend, but that is not the case. At one time or another you stumbled upon me on your moving picture box in such cerebral gems as MTV's "Singled Out" and Noam Chomsky's "Shipmates." and so much more...