The Decanonised Clones

Once upon a time, in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas got Genndy Tartakovsky of Dexter’s Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls fame to produce a fun little cartoon series chronicling the events of the Clone Wars that unfolds between those two movies. The series was well-loved, which meant that Lucas had to jump on the bandwagon with a followup/retelling in horrible CGI (including a tie-in movie that everyone’s been glad to forget exists), and naturally whilst the awesome Tartakovsky Clone Wars animated series has been declared not-canon by Disney, the Lucas-helmed CGI’d The Clone Wars TV series has been endorsed as canon. I guess Disney either are contracturally forbidden from declaring certain things not-canon, or simply lack the spine to say “No, Lucas made a mistake, this thing he made is not canon and this thing he didn’t make is canon”.

Still, Disney can’t make our DVDs of the Clone Wars series disappear; so, how do they hold up over a decade later?

Continue reading “The Decanonised Clones”

Disenchanted With Disenchantment

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Bean (Abbi Jacobson) – Princess Tiabeanie to her parents – is the violent, hard-drinking heir to the financially embarrassed fantasy realm of Dreamland. To seal an alliance, her father King Zøg (John DiMaggio) is determined to marry her off to the useless, somewhat Zap Brannigan-like Prince Merkimer (Matt Berry). Elfo (Nat Faxon) is an elf who’s sick to death of living a joy-filled, idyllic existence in a candy forest, and whose blood might be the key to the Elixir of Life. Luci (Eric Andre) is a very diminutive demon who was sent by a sinister duo of sorcerers (voiced by Lucy Montgomery and Berry’s Snuff Box partner Rich Fulcher) in order to act as a sort of anti-conscience for her in order to drag her down the path of evil. Together, they… don’t fight crime. But they do get up to a lot of mischief!

Like fellow Netflix exclusive Bojack Horseman, Matt Groening’s Disenchantment takes a while to hit high gear. The biggest laughs I got in the first seven episodes came from Matt Berry’s character – particularly his delivery of the line “Then let this be a warning to your other allies!” in a particularly ironic context. In general I found it perked up a little after the first couple of episodes, once it becomes clear that the series was going to move past the forced marriage angle rather than stick with it perpetually. (In fact, it’s quite good at shaking up its central premises every few episodes, rather than leaving things in a Simpsons-esque steady state in perpetuity – for instance, in episode 5 Bean gets disowned by the King due to shit she did in episode 4 and she has to go get a job as an apprentice for Noel Fielding’s excellent town executioner.)

Unlike Bojack, however, that high gear isn’t quite good enough to justify sitting through the early material – like I said, it does perk up, but it only perks up a little, and in the process of that perking it makes a number of additional blunders. I confess that I haven’t watched the whole series – I stopped watching after episode 7, and I note from episode guides that the plot develops rapidly from episode 8 to 10. However, I am left with little to no faith that Groening will keep up that pace in season 2, and there’s issues with the foundations of the series which I feel will remain an issue going forwards.

Continue reading “Disenchanted With Disenchantment”

Hurr, More Like DragonLAME

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Once upon a time, TSR, publishers of Dungeons & Dragons, embarked upon an ambitious project – the creation of an series of adventure modules, penned by Margaret Weis and the surprisingly male Tracy Hickman, which would allow Dungeon Masters to guide their players through an epic storyline reminiscent of mid-80s sub-Tolkien fantasy novels in the vein of Terry Brooks or Raymond E. Feist – the sort of high-plot, high-concept, story-focused play which earlier D&D products hadn’t especially catered for but which the audience increasingly wanted. Accompanying the Dragonlance modules were a series of three tie-in novels by Weis and Hickman, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning, and though they were cheap and trashy they were addictive enough reading that they stormed the bestseller lists, and became the first of a veritable wave of tie-in fiction that TSR would produce. (Indeed, it’s been argued that TSR’s over-reliance on tie-in fiction contributed to its eventual collapse.)

Of all the various Dungeons & Dragons settings – and TSR produced a very great number of them – Dragonlance was something special, not because of any particular feature of the setting (which was really rather ordinary and generic), but because of the publishing phenomenon associated with it. Forgotten Realms novels did quite well – R.A. Salvatore’s novels of Drizzt Do’Urden, the renegade dark elf, in particular – but the Realms had by that point also become TSR’s most popular and well-supported setting in terms of gaming material as well, and was also the subject of more computer game adaptations. Dragonlance, by comparison, was a setting in which the novel series was unambiguously the driving force, and the gaming material followed the novels’ lead. In the mid-1990s there were negotiations between TSR and Jim Henson Productions to produce a film series of the saga, but it was not to be. It took until 2008 for the direct-to-DVD release of the first cinematic adaptation of Dragonlance – specifically, the first book of the Dragonlance Chronicles, which were the first trilogy in the series. This film is the cumbersomely-entitled Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight (A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Tale).

Continue reading “Hurr, More Like DragonLAME”

Rotoscoping, Rotoscoping In the Deep

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 attempt to animate the first half of The Lord of the Rings, comprising the entirety of The Fellowship of the Ring and about half of The Two Towers, is a film blighted by ambition. Like James Cameron during the production of Avatar, Bakshi was intent on using the production to spearhead the use of a novel and innovative technique. Unfortunately, in Bakshi’s case, the technique chosen yields visual results that fall far short of the expense and effort involved in deploying it.

Bakshi made the unusual decision to film the entire film using a rotoscoping technique, whereby all the scenes were filmed in live action and then animated, with the animators (including a young Tim Burton) literally tracing the live-action frames, embellishing them, and setting them against lush painted backdrops. (The voice actors, some of whom played their roles in the live reference footage and some of whom did not, then did the voice track). This, as one might imagine, is an insanely time-consuming process; Wikipedia notes that in his later rotoscoped films Bakshi had his animators use the live footage merely as a guide, rather than tracing, since the tracing process took forever.

Continue reading “Rotoscoping, Rotoscoping In the Deep”

In Space No-One Can Stop You Making Spin-Offs

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Something tells me that Electronic Arts really, really want Dead Space to succeed as a franchise. Even when you’re as big a publisher as they are, it’s not usual to accompany a new game release with the sort of multimedia barrage that Dead Space has enjoyed – well beyond anything enjoyed by many highly-anticipated games from established series like Grand Theft Auto. As well as the game itself, released on every major gaming platform aside from the Wii (oh, and there’s also a PC release), there’s a comic book, a one hour animated movie, and apparently a novel is coming out in the near future. The closest analogy I can think of, in fact, is the barrage of diverse distractions that was fired our way in the form of The Matrix Experience. Just as in that case, there’s a sort of fuzzy cloud of tie-ins orbiting a central product – the lacklustre Matrix sequels in the case of the Matrix Experience, and the video game in the case of the Dead Space line; but the tie-ins are not straight adaptations of the source material, but present supplementary stories which are self-contained in themselves, whilst at the same time (in theory) enhancing the enjoyment of the main event.

Continue reading “In Space No-One Can Stop You Making Spin-Offs”