Human beings are certainly an imaginative species, aren’t they? If you need proof, just take a look at the astounding variety of extraterrestrial life we’ve never even met. Books, video games, movies… Our alien friends are almost as numerous as Earthlings themselves.
Although the question of whether any form of intelligent life exists beyond our world likely dates back hundreds of years or more, the question probably gained momentum shortly before the 20th century, when people started reading The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells (1898). Here, we find jolly old England under attack from an invasion force of bloodthirsty (literally) Martians. Question: why can’t they ever go pick on Venus?? Anyway, it would appear that man has yet to devise a weapon powerful enough to even put a dent the awesome machines of war that have been manufactured on the red planet. When all hope seems lost, the attackers begin falling prey to the bacteria we humans have so taken for granted. Unable to cope with it, the Martians all end up dying, and Earth is saved (no thanks to the Earthlings).
In 1938, this story was recreated in a radio broadcast that had a lot of people thinking their world really was being invaded (as if humans weren’t doing enough damage on their own). I’ve seen three different movies based on this novel, and only one of them was actually true to its source material. The other two took a lot of creative liberties (like dropping a completely ineffective atomic bomb on the Martians). But the results in all three movies are the same: the little green men catch a cold and die.
Video games are another great source of alien encounters. There are hundreds of alien games, but my favorite has to be the classic Space Invaders, where you’re charged with blasting row upon row of the onscreen invaders before they shoot you down (bonus points if you can blow up the horizontal-moving ship at the top of the screen before it gets away!). This game is old school, but it brings back great memories from my childhood. I also like Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon. After a hard day at work, there ain’t nothing better than blowing stuff up — especially gigantic alien insects and city buildings. The weapons in this game are awesome with a capital “A.”
Just as there are hundreds of alien invasion video games, there are just as many movies. One movie with a different slant on the whole “aliens come to earth” theme worth mentioning is 1982′s E.T. Instead of the bloodthirsty type of alien we’re accustomed to seeing in the likes of Predator and other alien flicks, E.T. is a peaceful little guy who gets left behind on our world. This is actually Steven Spielberg’s second “we come in peace” alien movie (Close Encounters being the first). Where E.T. originally comes from, we’ll never know. This movie actually switches everything around: The alien has NOT come to wreak devastation, rather it’s the Earthlings in general who pose a threat to him. Like in The War of the Worlds, E.T. finds life on the third planet hazardous to his health, and begins dying. Well, in the end, the spaceship returns, and he’s brought off world in time. Yes, they actually made a movie portraying extraterrestrial life without resorting to apocalyptic warfare, and the movie was a hit. I’m just glad they never made a sequel, because sequels have a knack for tarnishing the reputation of the original.
Peaceful alien movies are all right, but I have a penchant for aliens with a bit of swagger. One of the creepiest alien movies I’ve seen is Signs. We’re not told whether the unwelcome visitors in this production are from Mars, but they do have a particular weak spot, similar to the Martians from The War of the Worlds. Instead of bacteria, these aliens can’t stand to be touched by water. This time, Earth is saved, thanks to the Earthlings. Not only is the alien in Signs doused with water and does the Wicked Witch “I’m melting” thing, but the alien is beat to a pulp with a baseball bat. Cool! That will teach ‘em not to mess with our planet!
We all love good action and adventure movies. Whether we’re in the movie theater or at home watching Netflix, exciting movies capture our imaginations. Who doesn’t love eating junk food while watching actors and stunt doubles portray fictitious characters capable of superhuman feats? There are several common themes that accompany good action movies throughout the generations: good triumphs over evil, love conquers all, the heroes live happily ever after……and the Wilhelm scream will be uttered at least once.
Anyone who enjoys movies with at least a trace of violence will instantly recognize the Wilhelm scream. It’s that unmistakable shriek you hear when someone gets killed, knocked off a ledge, or rocked by an explosion. The Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect that has appeared in over 200 different films, dating back to the 1950s. The sound effect was originally recorded for a 1951 film called Distant Drums, but was later named after “Private Wilhelm” — a character in a 1953 western that takes an arrow to the leg. There’s a cool website at http://wilhelmscream.net/ that allows you to hear the famous scream whenever you have the urge (arrow to the leg not a prerequisite).
The first time I remember hearing the Wilhelm scream was in the black-and-white creature feature Them (the 1950′s horror flick featuring giant ants and running people — scary stuff when you’re six years old). The Wilhelm scream became the stuff of legend though when Ben Burtt, the sound designer for the first Star Wars movie, incorporated the sound effect into the scene where Princess Leia manages to pick off an Imperial Stormtrooper with a blaster, sending him plummeting to his death. Burtt went on to use the sound effect in several Lucas and Spielberg movies to the point that it became an inside joke. Other sound effects engineers started using the Wilhelm scream as well, and the rest is history.
Since 1997, a fiery debate has rocked the world of pop culture unlike any other. This debate has had critics and fans alike foaming at the mouth. More than which came first between the chicken and the egg, more than how many licks it really takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop (it sure ain’t three), people want to know one thing: Who pulled the trigger first? Han Solo or Greedo?
For twenty years, we were led to believe that Solo fired the first (and only) shot in his legendary confrontation with the biggest flop in bounty hunter history. But then the Star Wars Special Edition hit the theatres. The original trilogy was back, with brand new special effects, and even some footage that had originally wound up on the cutting room floor. That was all well and good, but……..Han Solo getting beat to the draw?…….A bounty hunter missing a target at point blank range? If you look reeeeeeeaaaaaal close, it appears that Solo gives his head a subtle jerk to the side as one or two laser bolts annihilate the wall next to him, but Greedo would’ve missed anyway. There are rumors that upon seeing the outcome of this brief encounter, Darth Vader screamed, “NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!”
Well, this is what’s got so many loyal fans ticked off. Greedo was (let’s face it) the least competent bounty hunter the galaxy has ever known, and therefore got what he deserved, so how is it he managed to pull the trigger first?
In the novel Han Solo and the Lost Legacy, our hero sustains an injury when he loses a showdown against Gallandro, a gun slinging ex-soldier. But in a book, we don’t actually see it happening, so this particular scene is widely accepted by the legions of Star Wars fans. If, however, the book were, say, updated twenty years later, and had Solo running away in terror, we’d probably get mad.
In Dark Horse’s Star Wars Tales, Issue #14, we read the story of The Emperor’s Court (a spoof of The People’s Court), in which the late Greedo’s mother accuses Han Solo of murdering her son. Han maintains that Greedo fired first, and he acted purely in self-defense. Emperor Palpatine ultimately finds Solo guilty of murder (commenting on Greedo’s aim being akin to that of a Stormtroopers, if indeed he had shot first), and sentences the smuggler to be carbon-frozen. I think they should probably reopen that particular case, what with recent advances in technology (some DVD collections of the movies allow you to view the original theatrical releases).
In 2015, Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) will be re-re-released in theatres, this time in 3-D (don’t forget your glasses) Already, you can place your bets as to what new details regarding that famous shootout will surface. My money’s on Han dodging the laser blast, then blocking an attempted pistol whip before sending his opponent into the Force.
It’s just too bad someone didn’t capture the battle at the O.K. Corral on video. We could keep tabs on which gunfight underwent more overhauls throughout the years.
Aren’t comic books wonderful little inventions? Through a combination of words and pictures, readers can relive hit movies and bestselling novels, or delve into previously uncharted territory. Advances in technology lend new dimensions to the artwork, but prices have gone up a bit, as well (people used to be able to get a whole book for a dime, but that was way before my time).
The focus of today’s discussion will be the comic book rendition of Raiders of the Lost Ark, released by Marvel. I was sorting through an old box of comics and I stumbled upon this little three-issue gem from 1981. I suppose the title is now somewhat inaccurate, since the movie was renamed Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (can’t George Lucas ever just leave things alone?). The movie is divided into three separate issues. Issue #1 ends just when Nazi henchman Toht is about to interrogate Indy’s part-time girlfriend, Marion Ravenwood, with a red hot poker tip. Issue #2 ends just as Marion is thrown into the Well of Souls by Toht, where she falls thirty feet (you can see a theme developing here). Issue #3 ends where the movie ends (thankfully, Marion is no longer in danger by Toht — if you remember from the movie, Toht does an ice cream sandwich melting on a hot sidewalk impression as the Ark fries him. Toht’s comic book death is less spectacular, as will be explained below).
For the most part, the comic books remain quite true to the actual movie plot, but there are a few slight discrepancies. Here are a few that caught my attention:
- At the beginning of Indy’s adventure, when he loses the Chachapoyan golden idol to his arch rival Renè Belloq, he then (as in the movie) makes a run for it from a tribe of angry natives, but the comic book leaves out the scene where Indy has to swim to the seaplane piloted by his friend Jock Lindsey, as well as the brief, but terrifying encounter with Reggie (Jock’s pet snake).
- No turbaned swordsman during the Cairo fight scene (how does the comic book leave THIS out — one of the best scenes in moviedom ever. Kenner even made an action figure of the swordsman for crying out loud, and Spielberg parodied the scene in the Temple of Doom sequel).
- Much later in the adventure, we find Indy and Marion trying to sabotage the Nazi plans to load the Ark aboard a Flying Wing. Here is another point at where the book and movie differ. In the movie, we see Indy get beat half to death by a muscle-bound plane mechanic, but in the book, the mechanic gets clubbed over the head from behind by Marion, with a wrench. (she actually knocks out the pilot of the Flying Wing in the movie). Just before blacking out (in the comic book), the mechanic fires a gun at Indy, which manages to clip the gas tank of the Flying Wing, and BOOM!! In the movie, it’s a gasoline leak from a separate vehicle that accounts of the Flying Wing’s doom.
- In the scene where Indy fights off a whole infantry of soldiers to take command of a supply truck (with the Ark onboard), we see in both the movie and comic book, a transport car with German soldiers aboard go over the edge of a cliff. In the comic book, Toht, the guy who keeps almost killing Marion, was one of the car’s unlucky passengers, but in the movie, he’s one of the even unluckier guys who looks inside the Ark, only to have the flesh melt from his bones by supernatural forces (my very favorite movie death scene).
It’s not uncommon to see creative liberties taken by folks who are charged with recreating an original story, but, for the most part, the comic book rendition of Raiders of the Lost Ark is quite true to its source material. Even though some key movie elements are MIA, this comic book adaptation is still a classic, and gets two nerdly thumbs up.
Scotland has Nessie, the Himalayas have the Abominable Snowman (Yeti), Australia has the Yowie, and America has the Bigfoot (Sasquatch)…but that’s not all! There is yet another mysterious life form stalking within the borders of the U.S. And that would be…..(insert drum roll)…the Jackalope! This undocumented species is, in fact, a jack rabbit, but with antlers protruding from its head resembling those of an antelope (only proportionately smaller to accommodate the head of a rabbit). Most sightings of this oddball member of the family of terrestrial life comes from the western half of the U.S., and to date, none of these sightings have actually been verified. This little critter is every bit as skilled as any of the above mentioned creatures at evading the prying eyes of curious humans (many of which are brandishing firearms).
But just how does a Jackalope come into existence? Thanks to the miracle of breeding, there are many new variations of the same animals that have walked the earth since before anyone can remember. There are even hybrids. But a cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope?? Such questions call to mind thoughts of Centaurs, Mermaids and Minotaurs, but unlike these which are all partly human, the Jackalope is not capable of violent acts. Think about it—when was the last time anyone’s ever reported having been attacked by one? And given man’s tendency to wreak absolute destruction on anything he doesn’t understand, the Jackalope’s staunch refusal to come out into the open suggests an intelligence level far exceeding that of your typical garden variety rabbit.
Some people have been known to mount the head of a Jackalope on their den wall, but any simpleton can see that they merely attached the antlers of a white-tailed deer to the scalp of their deceased pet rabbit (after visiting a taxidermist). Even supposedly authentic photographs of Jackalopes in their natural habitat (forested areas west of Kansas) are proven to be hoaxes. If you want to find a real honest-to-goodness Jackalope, you’re going to have to go trudging out into the deep woods out west with absolutely no intention of seeing one. The only encounters between man and Jackalope are those that are unintentional.
One might ask why Jackalope sightings only date back to the early to mid 20th century. Surely white settlers migrating west would have heard stories told by the natives of an elusive creature that’s 90% jack rabbit and 10% antelope. Ask yourself this: If a colony of foreigners were moving into your neighborhood, would you tell them such a story (at least with a straight face)? And if you did share it with them in a jovial, happy-go-lucky fashion, would they bother passing it on to their descendants?
Maybe the Jackalope is a near-extinct species that dates back to the dawn of man himself. But more likely it’s a legend borne of that not-so-rare combination of alcohol and boredom. You decide for yourself…