DVD Review: Batman (1943)

Batman 1943 Serial (DVD)Batman (1943)

Starring Lewis Wilson, Douglas Croft, Shirley Patterson, J. Carrol Naish, William Austin, Gus Glassmire, Knox Manning, John Maxwell, Ted Oliver, Dick Curtis and Emperor Ming.

Directed by Lambert Hillyer.

Batman was a mere four years old when he first made the leap to the silver screen in 1943. At the height of World War II and Batman (Lewis Wilson) and Robin (Douglas Croft) secretly work for the United States government. The dynamic duo receives their assignments via coded letters and telegrams notifying them that criminal elements intend to steal shipments of radium.Gotham City apparently received shipments of radium about as frequently McDonalds receives shipments of McNuggets.

The criminal element in question: an underworld gang run by Doctor Daka (J. Carrol Naish), an agent of Emperor Hirohito who has designed a disintegrator gun that requires radium to function. In Daka’s diabolic hands, the disintegrator gun would undoubtedly be used to destroy the infrastructure of the United States and prepare the country for its ultimate dominance by Japan.

Yes, Batman is without question a product of its time. For example, here is how the narrator describes an all-but abandoned area of Gotham City known as Little Tokyo:

This was part of a foreign land, transplanted bodily to America and known as Little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs, it has become virtually a ghost street…

Later, when Bruce Wayne’s fianceé, Linda Page (Shirley Patterson) meets Doctor Daka, she shrinks back and exclaims, “A Jap!”

“Please to say, ‘Nipponese’,” Daka admonishes.

Detainment camps and racial slurs that might make current-day audiences chuckle nervously aside, the 15-part serial is pretty standard stuff: lots car chases and awkward fistfights, each episode culminating with the apparent death of the Batman in an explosion, fire, or crushed beneath whatever the crooks see fit to drop on his cowled head.

The serial did have a definite impact on Batman in the comic books, as it introduced both the batcave (called “The Bat’s Cave” in the movie) and the current version of Alfred. Prior to the movie serial, the comic book version of Alfred was rotund and clean-shaven, but Bruce Wayne’s on-screen butler (portrayed by William Austin) was tall, thin and mustachioed. He was also rather high-strung, a personality trait not generally seen in current incarnations of Alfred.

Perhaps the best thing about the Batman 2-disc DVD set is its presentation. The DVD cover art and disc menus bear a strong resemblence (especially in terms of color scheme) to Warner Brothers’, dark, edgy Batman Begins marketing material and DVD packaging. It’s a deliberate mimicking, as evidenced by the tagline on the back cover: See how Batman really began.

Apart from being a (very pretty) blatant rip-off, the packaging also fails to represent the movie versions of the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder. In fact, there isn’t a single screen shot from the serial anywhere on the DVD cover, front or back.

Here’s the front cover/disc one menu artwork:This seems to be a classic Batman pose: the Dark Knight swooping in with his arms spread wide, cape flaring out behind him, one knee drawn up and the other leg fully extended. The wrapping paper Miscellaneous G™ used features the 1980’s-era Batman in a nearly identical pose.

Batman Disc 1 Menu
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Here is the back cover/disc two menu art:

Batman Disc 2 Menu
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Finally, here are Batman and Robin in all their glory:

Robin and Batman
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That’s a far cry from the Nomex survival suit and graphite cowl worn by Christian Bale, and Lewis Wilson isn’t wearing a utility belt so much as a utility girdle, but that’s definitely a bat on his chest and a cape on his back. For better or for worse, he’s the first of the movie Batmen.

Music: Lordi Brings the Arockalypse to Eurovision

The day of rockoning has arrived: Finnish monster-rock group Lordi won the 51st annual Eurovision Song Contest yesterday (20 May 2006), beating out contestants from thirty-six other European countries and striking down the prophets of false.

If you’ve been living in North America (or under a rock in Europe) for the past fifty years, you may not be familiar with the Eurovision Song Contest. If you are tempted to ask whether it is at all similar to American Idol, you should probably stop watching American Idol. In fact, do that anyway.

Eurovision Song ContestAmerican version coming soon to NBC. is more like the pop music Olympics — in fact, the 2006 finals were held at the Olympic Arena in Athens, Greece — except that there’s only one event, only one entrant (group or individual) from each country, and you don’t have to wait four years for the contest to come around again.

Unlike the Olympics (and, unfortunately, like American Idol), Eurovision winners are ultimately decided by the audience. Viewers in thirty-eight countries (the entrant from Serbia/Montenegro dropped out of the contest but the country was still allowed to vote) had only a ten-minute window to submit their votes via telephone or SMS (cellular text-messaging). When the votes were tallied, Lordi had a total of 292 points, 44 more than first runner-up Dima, who hailed from Russia.

Whether you’ve heard of the contest or not, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with some of Eurovision’s past contestants:

  • Julio Iglesias represented Spain in 1970. He finished 8th with his song, “Gwendolyne.”
  • ABBA won the contest in 1974 with their song, “Waterloo.” That same year, Olivia Newton-John took 4th place with her song, “Long Live Love.”
  • Despite being born in Canada, Céline Dion represented Switzerland in 1988 and won Eurovision singing “Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi”.
  • American expatriates Katrina Leskanich and Vince de la Cruz form half of 1997 Eurovision-winning group Katrina & the Waves.

Finland’s first entry in Eurovision Song Contest was Laila Kinnunen in 1961. Her song, “Valoa Ikkunassa” placed 10th that year but until yesterday, Finland had yet to take home the grand prize.

Lordi - Monsterican Dream (CD)

Apart from being the first Finnish group to win Eurovision, Lordi holds the distinction of being a distinctly “non-Eurovision” winner.I was informed of this by no less than an actual European. The contest has historically been more of a pop music venue, but Lordi, with their melodic monster-rock and fright-mask makeup, definitely breaks the Eurovision mold. The winning song, “Hard Rock Hallelujah” is definitely not representative of recent winners, but has nonetheless been described as “the most rocking Eurovision entry since ABBA’s ‘Waterloo'”.The CD pictured is Lordi’s Monstermerican Dream. Unfortunately, it does not feature “Hard Rock Hallelujah”, which has yet to be released on disc.

Lordi will not rest long on their laurels, however. The group resumes their Bringing the Balls Back to Finland tour on 17 June. Alas, the tour doesn’t stop anywhere near Willoughby, Ohio.

Podcast: The Round Table Episode 2.7

Mick Bradley edited The Round Table in record time and actually had the show posted less than twenty-four hours after we recorded. Mur Lafferty (Geek Fu Action Grip, I Should Be Writing) and Caroline (Gamer the Podcasting) brought their XX chromosomes to the table for a discussion centering around the role women play in the Hero’s Journey, the difference between the feminine and masculine heroic journeys, how the fairer sex is portrayed in popular fiction, how to create believable female characters when writing or creating RPGs, and how women and men differ in their approach to roleplaying games.

Fly, my minions! Download the show from The House of the Harping Monkey or subscribe to the feed with your favorite podcatcher!

A.I. Assault (2005)

SciFi Channel LogoA.I. Assault (2005)

Starring Joe Lando, Joshua Cox, Alexandra Paul, Bill Mumy, George Takei, Michael Dorn, Robert Picardo, Hudson Leick, Lisa Lo Cicero, and Jack Deth.

Directed by Jay Andrews.

Jay Andrews (whose real name is apparently Jim Wynorski, and who directs under a host of pseudonyms including Thaddeus Wickwire, Bob E. Brown and H.R. Blueberry ((No, seriously.))) has an interesting filmography, one glance at which should be enough to set proper expectations for A.I. Assault; and by “proper” I mean “low.”

To his credit, Andrews/Wynorski directed The Return of Swamp Thing, which is a campy, fun super-hero movie. He also directed The Bare Wench Project, ((I’ve not seen The Bare Wench Project or any of the four sequels Wynorski also directed, and I don’t know that I could bring myself to write a review if I had.)) Alabama Jones and the Busty Crusade, Busty Cops, Raptor, Gargoyle: Wings of Darkness and The Curse of the Komodo. Sometimes referred to as a modern day Ed Wood, Wynorski seems to have made a career bouncing between sci-fi/horror schlock and T&A.

Good work, if you can get it.

A.I. Assault features some fairly well-known names from science-fiction and fantasy, all of whom were apparently unfamiliar with the director’s previous works. George Takei was Sulu in the original Star Trek series, Michael Dorn played Lt. Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Robert Picardo was the holographic doctor in Star Trek: Voyager, Hudson Leick was in Xena: Warrior Princess and Bill Mumy played young Will Robinson (“Danger! Danger!”) on Lost in Space. Tim Thomerson played the title role in Dollman and its sequel, Dollman vs. The Demonic Toys, not to mention five movies in the Trancers franchise. ((I met Tim Thomerson a couple of years ago at Cleveland-Hopkins International airport, and we had a very nice chat on our way to baggage claim. I had recognized him when I boarded the plane in Phoenix, but the seating arrangements did not allow for conversation during the flight; he was in first class and I was in steerage.))

The cast is divided into five groups: those who are killed in the first five minutes, a separate group killed in the second five minutes, a group of thieves who take their sweet time dying throughout the remainder of the movie, a group of military-types who do the same, and a second group of more important military-types who stay the hell away from whatever is killing everyone else.

Most of the killing is handled by the titular artificial intelligence; multi-limbed, heavily-armored combat platforms created by the military. The military has lost control of their new toys, which proceed to do what every other uncontrollable artificial intelligence in the history of uncontrollable artificial intelligence has done: kill everyone.

The movie begins with one of the rampaging Assaulticons ((The official military code name was something just as silly, but I can’t recall it at the moment.)) chasing folks through the desert. After the chrome-plated critter tracks down and kills everything with a pulse, the credits roll and the movie continues on a government charter plane bound for Australia. The Assaulticon has apparently been subdued, but not for long. Mother Nature intervenes, the plane crashes, and the Assaulticons (now numbering four) are let loose on an island in the South Pacific.

A group of survivors takes a radio and heads to high ground, hoping to call for help. They intercept a looping message in French, which Shannon is able to translate. Doing some calculations based on and automated counter in the message, Sayid is able to determine that it has been looping for–

Whoops, wrong island in the South Pacific.

After robbing a cruise ship, a group of thieves boards a helicopter piloted by Jack (Joshua Cox, AKA Josh Coxx) and flies into the same nasty storm that downed the plane. As (bad) luck would have it, Jack is able to land the helicopter on the very same South Pacific island on which the Assaulticons have recently taken up residence.

The military, eager to have their expensive killing machines back, sends an elite squad of commandoes to the island on a search-and-destroy-or-maybe-retrieve (but probably just destroy) mission. The commandoes are briefed by Susan Foster (Lisa Lo Cicero), the daughter of one of the scientists who designed the Assaulticons. Ms. Foster accompanies the commandoes to the island, because it wouldn’t make much of a luau without a few hula-honies.

During the briefing, Susan Foster informs the commandoes that the Assaulticons’ armor is made of a new titanium alloy matrix, rendering the metal monstrosities impervious to anything short of a 5,000 pound bomb. Despite this, the commandoes fire away with everything from pistols to machine guns and rocket launchers every time they come into contact with the Assaulticons. This is most likely because Ms. Foster failed to yell, “Listen up, maggots!” before she began the briefing. Those protocols are in place for a reason, lady.

The commandoes have one weapon that could destroy the Assaulticons, an experimental LASER rifle. Unfortunately, they give it to a guy who can’t shoot straight. With a LASER. Thanks to Joe Shaky, the Assaulticons are able to steal the weapon and whisk it away to Jack’s helicopter, which they’ve stolen and are in the process of repairing. Seems the Assaulticons don’t like it on the island, and they want to spread their robot loving far and wide across the globe.

The commandoes are in a race against time. The military plans to nuke the island if the Assaulticons aren’t neutralized by 0700, but the rogue robots may well be long gone by then if they can repair Jack’s whirlybird; their LASER in the hole is gone, they have no way to communicate with their superiors, and half of the squad has been chopped up zapped or crushed by the Assaulticons.

The thieves are pretty much hosed, too. They’ve been sliced and diced, tossed around like ragdolls and generally mistreated by their robot overlords. ((Did I say overlords? I meant protectors.)) Joining up with the commandoes hasn’t helped much, either.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say that—mercifully—A.I. Assault has one. It’s not especially satisfying, and there’s a little more denouement than is necessary. So much so, that I expected one of the Assaulticons to come back to life, climb out of the backseat or otherwise to something to make those last few, awkward minutes before the end credits rolled at least mildly entertaining. No such luck.

A.I. Assault is mediocre, even by “SciFi original” standards. The first fifteen minutes are terribly disjointed, the special effects — while not utterly wretched — are very clearly special effects, and most of the actors of note are either killed after three minutes of screen time or relegated to standing on the sidelines well away from the action. This is probably the worst thing about the movie, especially given that SciFi Channel used their names to promote the movie.

Next week (20 May 2006): The SciFi original movie, Abominable. Let’s hope the heroes remember that bumbles bounce.

Podcast: Misfit Brew Episode 11

Misfit Brew episode 11 has been posted, and you should listen to it. First, thriving misfit and Unquiet Desperado Chris Miller continues his examination of the archetypes with The High Priestess, about whom no one in their right mind makes “your momma” jokes. Then, fledgling misfit Rae Lamond continues her exploration into the culture by taking geeks where they rarely go: outside. Finally, there’s an essay by yours truly. Master misfit Mick Bradley asked me to submit an essay, so I reworked “The Lobot Thing” for audio. Mick either liked it or was just desperate enough to use it. Either way, it’s in there.

Go to the site and download the episode, or add the feed to your podcatcher. Don’t have a podcatcher? Try one of these:

Want more information about podcatchers? Head over to PodcatcherMatrix for a more extensive list as well as comparisons of the various clients.

Music: The Illusionary Movements of Geraldine and Nazu

The Illusionary Movements of Geraldine and Nazu

The Illusionary Movements of Geraldine and Nazu (2005)

J. Ralph

The iTunes music store has a nifty feature called “iMix.” Users can assemble musical collages of songs available through iTunes and save the resultant samplers in the music store. That way, when I’m interested in hearing tunes made popular in television commercials, I can do a search for “commercials” and the iMixes created by industrious advertisement music afficionados. This is precisely how I came across the J. Ralph tune “One Million Miles Away”, which was used in a Volkswagen commercial.It is also how I wound up spending ninety-nine of my hard-earned pennies to purchase the song “Da Da Da” — also used in a Volkswagen commercial — by German group Trio and ninety-nine more of those pennies to purchase “The Child Inside” (used in a SeaWorld commercial) by Qkumba Zoo. Not all iMixes are quite so useful, but there are certainly some diamonds in the rough.

In the case of “One Million Miles Away,” I opted not to download the song from iTunes. I decided that I wanted the actual CD, The Illusionary Movements of Geraldine and Nazu. I didn’t have much hope of finding the disc at Barnes & Noble this evening, especially given that I couldn’t recall the artist’s name it took me 10 minutes of browsing the store’s Red dot Net terminal before I remembered that the title was not “The Imaginary…” something-or-other. Thankfully, J. Ralph has another CD out right now, the soundtrack to Lucky Number Slevin, and it just so happened that they were featuring The Illusionary Movements of Geraldine and Nazu right alongside the soundtrack at the sales counter.

The disc I bought tonight is actually a re-release of The Illusionary Movements of Geraldine and Nazu, which was originally released in 2003. The re-release features a ninth track that was not on the original. This track, “When She Dances”, was used in a Honda Civic Hybrid commerical. J. Ralph has a talent, it would seem, for making car commercial music.

There’s a good reason for this, I think. J. Ralph creates music that burrows deep into your brain and sticks there. They’re not the type of tunes that you hum, but rather the ones that play over and over in your head as you’re slogging your way across a snow-covered grocery store parking lot at ten-thirty on a Thursday night with a bag containing cough drops and a two-liter bottle of Sprite in one hand and your car keys in the other. You’re not sure where you heard the strange little classical guitar riff or the haunting, simplistic piano melody, and you may not associate it with German engineering or superior gas mileage, but there it is, running on a seemingly endless loop through your inner ear.

The Illusionary Movements of Geraldine and Nazu is eight tracks of orchestral, operatic music followed by a bonus track that is neither of those things, but fits in with the rest because it makes itself at home in your subconscious, choosing the most unexpected moments to remind you that it lives there.

Podcast: The Round Table Episode 2.6

Season 2, Episode 6 of The Round Table is available for consumption at The House of the Harping Monkey. We recorded this on 03 May with The Mad Three from Gamer the Podcasting; the topic of discussion was LARPing with a little bit of the monomyth thrown in for good measure. If your eyes didn’t just glaze over, go download the episode, or add the feed to your podcatcher, already!

DVD Review: Los Cuatro Fantásticos (2005)

Fantastic Four Ultimate Collector's Edition DVDFantastic Four Ultimate Collector’s Edition DVD (2005)

Starring Horatio Hornblower, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Hamish Linklater, Kerry Washington, Laurie Holden and Maria Menounos.

Directed by Tim Story.

The Fantastic Four Ultimate Collector’s Edition DVD comes with a miniature reprint of Ultimate Fantastic Four #12, a $5-off coupon (expired on 31 March 2006) for the 44 Years of Fantastic Four DVD-ROM, and a round “collector’s tin” containing the DVD, eight round “collector’s cards” and CD-ROM containing the first twenty-three issues of the Ultimate Fantastic Four comic book series in PDF. In lieu of a regular DVD clamshell case, the collector’s edition also includes a cardboard stand for the collector’s tin.

As gimmicks go, this one isn’t so hot. That’s going to look really nice sitting on the center channel speaker above my television until I inadvertently knock it off while fishing for a DVD or Laura gets tired of looking at it. Either way, the lack of a clamshell DVD case is going to make it a pain in the ass to store. Two points for initial impact, minus several dozen points for impracticality.

The round “collector’s cards” just what you might expect: images from the movie or marketing material with appropriate blurbs on the back. One for each of the main characters and a couple for the movie in general. Nothing too exciting there. Of course, the only place to conveniently store the cards is in the round collector’s tin.

The mini-comic looks like something Pizza Hut might have given away back in the early 1990’s. I can only guess that issue number twelve of Ultimate Fantastic Four was chosen because it is the culmination of the ultimate quartet’s first encounter with the ultimate version of Doctor Doom. It’s not bad, but a direct movie tie-in—say an issue of the comic book adaptation of the movie—would have been a better choice.

On the other hand, I’m very pleased with the other “ultimate” material, despite the fact that it doesn’t reflect the movie version of the Fantastic Four. The first twenty-three issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four (plus the first annual) more than makes up for the impracticality of the collector’s tin and the disposability of the collector’s cards and mini-comic, provided you’re at least interested in Marvel’s “Ultimate” line of comics, which I am. I’ll save comparison of the Ultimate Fantastic Four and the Lee/Kirby classics for another day.

Finally, there is the DVD itself, which has a full-length feature commentary by members of the cast and several “making of” featurettes. There’s also a video diary of the pre-release cast appearances, but to be honest, I can only take so much of Jessica Alba when she’s not portraying someone other than Jessica Alba, so I only watched a couple of minutes before exploring the rest of the disc. There’s only one DVD disc, so the ultimate collector’s edition isn’t exactly brimming with special features. There are a couple of music videos as well as the film’s teasers and trailers.

So which feature did I most enjoy? The Spanish language audio track, of course. I’m disappointed whenever I see that the only languages available on a DVD are English and French. Why? Well, mostly because I have no desire to learn French as a second language, whereas I would very much like to learn to speak Spanish. Also, Laura speaks a little Spanish, so she can relate the occasional amusing translation tidbit. For example, after Johnny Storm performs a stunt on a dirt bike in front of an arena of screaming fans, the announcer calls the stunt “old school” in the English dialog. In Spanish, he says, “We’ve seen that before, Johnny.”

Well, it amused us.

I’ve discussed the merits of Fantastic Four in a previous post, but I will say that the movie works very well on the small screen. The final battle, which seemed rather anti-climactic in the theater, played much better in my living room. Oh, and I like the Spanish version of the Thing’s voice better than I do Michael Chiklis’. Sorry, Commish.