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December 05, 2014

Top DVD and Blu-ray Gift Sets for the Holidays 2014

What makes for a great gift set? Is it an old TV favorites making its way to home video for the first time, or a hit movie packaged with an awesome collectible? Is it as simple as simple as finding new ways to bundle popular franchises? Perhaps remastering the content for high-definition can offer a fresh perspective of a classic on Blu-ray.

In any case, it’s the content that matters, and studios are finding bigger and more creative ways to bring that content to the fans who love it. To get you started on your holiday shopping, we count down our top 10 boxed sets for the holiday season.

1. Batman: The Complete Television Series
Warner/Fox; $199.70 DVD, $269.97 Blu-ray

Holy boxed sets! The campy 1960s “Batman” TV series was one of the most-anticipated home video releases of all time, and now it’s finally here. The limited-edition Blu-ray is an essential addition to any Batman collection, including not only all 120 episodes beautifully remastered for high-definition on 13 discs, but also retrospective bonus features, a Batmobile replica, trading cards and a photo book from Batman himself, Adam West. Warner will be reissuing the Blu-ray set as a slimmed-down version without any of the collectibles.

2. The Wonder Years: The Complete Series
StarVista; $249.95 DVD; Available via TimeLife.com

The only other TV show possibly as coveted on home video as “Batman” was probably “The Wonder Years,” and fans got that one too in 2014. The direct-mail Time Life collector’s edition includes all 115 episodes on 26 discs, packaged in yearbook replicas stored in a miniature school locker with decorative magnets. Plus, the cast of the 1988-93 series has reunited for 23 hours of bonus features. Hardcore fans can get “The Experience” for $299.95, a bundle of the boxed set with a Kennedy Jr. High gym bag, Wildcats gear and a newly produced CD.

3. Transformers: Age of Extinction Gift Set (Amazon exclusive)
Paramount; $119.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo

This is a must-have for “Transformers” fans. The film itself might leave a lot to be desired, but the chief selling point here is the exquisitely sculpted statue depicting the scene of Autobot leader Optimus Prime riding into battle atop the Dinobot Grimlock. The only downside is the included Blu-ray combo pack is not the 3D version.

4. Planet of the Apes: Caesar’s Warrior Collection
Fox; $129.99 Blu-ray

The two reboot films of the classic “Planet of the Apes” franchise have been an undeniable success, and collectors can pick them both up in this deluxe set packaged in a replica of ape leader Caesar’s head. The set includes 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, its sequel, the recently released Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a 32-page booklet and four character cards. Pair it with the Legacy Collection boxed set of the original five films, or, better yet, with the Ultimate DVD Collection ape head that included all the original movies as well as TV shows based on them.

5. The Twilight Zone: The 5th Dimension
RLJ/Image; $349.98 DVD

This 41-DVD end-all-be-all release of the famed anthology franchise includes not only all 156 episodes from Rod Serling’s legendary 1959-64 series, but also the 110 installments from the 1985-89 revival version, packaged in a tidy numbered cube, paneled with lenticular photos and limited to a run of 7,500 copies. Exclusive extras include new documentaries, interviews with the original cast and crew, a collectible comic book and more.

6. The Sopranos: The Complete Series Blu-ray
HBO; $279.98 Blu-ray

HBO has released complete collections of “The Sopranos” several times before on DVD, but this is the first time the whole show is available on disc in high-definition (previously only the sixth season had been released on Blu-ray). The 86 episodes of the critically acclaimed gangster drama have never looked better.

7. Halloween: The Complete Collection
Anchor Bay/Shout! Factory; $169.99 Blu-ray

Prepare to spend a weekend with Michael Myers. Horror fans can rejoice that all 10 films of the “Halloween” franchise are finally available in a single 15-disc set. This includes the eight films of the original franchise, the two Rob Zombie remakes and the previously unreleased producer’s cut of Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, but also tons of bonus materials, including new interviews with cast members and filmmakers, commentaries and behind-the-scenes documentaries.

8. Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Series
Shout! Factory; $149.99 Blu-ray

Pull up a Chairry and get ready to bask in the zany, colorful world of a quintessential 1980s kids show, remastered for an amazing high-definition picture. All 45 episodes, including the Christmas special, have been carefully reconstructed in HD from the original film elements. Paul Reubens leads the cast as the iconic Pee-wee Herman, with guest stars including Laurence Fishburne, S. Epatha Merkerson and the late Phil Hartman, among others. The eight-disc set also includes more than four hours of new interviews and featurettes about the show.

9. ESPN 30 for 30 Fifth Anniversary Collection
ESPN; $249.95 DVD, $199.95 Blu-ray

Sports fans have plenty to be thankful for in ESPN’s “30 for 30” series of unique, eye-opening sports documentaries, and now every program is available in one handsome collector’s set. The 100-title set includes not only the “30 for 30” episodes, but also all films in the “30 for 30 Soccer Stories” and “Nine for IX” series (a tribute to women’s sports spurred by Title IX), as well as selections from “30 for 30 Shorts” and additional films The Fab Five, Catching Hell and The Announcement. A 32-DVD set exclusive to Groupon comes in a metal sports locker with a shirt, hat, limited-edition book and poster. The Blu-ray set comes in a custom ticket box.

10. Sherlock: The Complete Seasons 1-3 Limited-Edition Gift Set
BBC; $197.50 Blu-ray/DVD combo

This modern twist on “Sherlock Holmes” has generated a huge fan following and made international stars of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. This 14-disc collector’s set includes all nine TV movies in the series, plus new commentaries, never-before-seen outtakes, art cards and busts of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Picking this one up is elementary.

Honorable mentions:

Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection (Warner, $199.99 Blu-ray)
Spartacus: The Complete Series Limited Edition (Anchor Bay, $199.99 Blu-ray)
The Walking Dead: Season 4 Limited Edition (Anchor Bay, $129.99 Blu-ray)
How I Met Your Mother: The Complete Series (Fox, $179.98 DVD)
WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, $139.99 DVD)
Mork & Mindy: The Complete Series (Paramount/CBS, $129.99 DVD)

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June 25, 2014

A Brief History of Time Travel

When word got out that X-Men: Days of Future Past would feature a time travel component, many fans became excited at the prospect. Sure, time travel is sometimes a crutch that franchises fall back on when they run out of stories to tell, but it’s also one of the unique conventions of science-fiction and fantasy that can instantly refocus a series in interesting ways.

In an age of remakes and reboots, it also gives filmmakers a chance to reshape franchises for new audiences while maintaining a connection to what came before. For “X-Men,” that meant not only uniting the casts of the original “X-Men” trilogy and its prequel, X-Men: First Class, but it gave director Bryan Singer a chance to address a problem common to long-running series: a growing list of contradictions that began popping up between films. Among the fanboy crowd, complaints about such things can be deafening.

So, for X-Men: Days of Future Past, the seventh film in the “X-Men” film franchise, time travel presented not only the catalyst for a story that “X-Men” fans would relish, but it also let the writers hit the reset button in a way that lets them carry on with the First Class continuity without worrying too much about inconsistencies with the previous films (a fact demonstrated in a final scene that tells the audience it’s OK to expect things can change).

Interestingly, the “X-Men” use of a standard sci-fi trope to reboot itself is extremely similar to another prominent sci-fi franchise, “Star Trek,” which in 2009 also used a time travel plot as the framing device for a reboot. Both films involved a traveler from the future changing history, and in the process resetting the franchise from what had come before without fully divorcing itself from the earlier stories.

This is a new approach to reboots, which typically wipe the slate clean, advancing a storyline with new actors as if the earlier works hadn’t existed, even though everyone knows they did (Casino Royale, The Amazing Spider-Man and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit are just a few prominent examples of this).

Journey Into History

It’s only natural that time travel would emerge as a way to shape a reboot, since as a storytelling gimmick time travel solves any number of issues, the first being a lack of creativity. The prospect of characters meeting younger or older versions of themselves or interacting with historical or future events just opens up a bevvy of potential plot ideas. Men in Black 3 went this route after the franchise went dark for 10 years.

Time travel in movies and TV shows has had a long and varied history as a plot device, but certainly a popular one. While various authors had toyed with the concept as a literary device, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine at the end of the 19th century were among the first major works to spark public interest in the idea of time travel.

Twain’s version was less interested in the mechanism of time travel, using a simple blow to the head to send a man back in time to Camelot. Wells’ story zeroed in on the mechanics of how someone could travel through time, and indeed, the 1960 film version of The Time Machine was one of the first major films to really outline time travel as in a scientific way, presenting history as immutable despite the potential presence of someone from the future (a concept completely botched by the film’s 2002 remake).

Since then, the use of time travel in film has enjoyed a complicated history, as writers determined new ways to use the plot device to create interesting situations. Along the way, the desired dramatic outcomes led to vastly different sets of rules for how time travel actually worked within a story — usually some variation of whether history could change or not.

Most Hollywood screenwriters will write time travel stories in which history is changeable, usually some variation of the protagonist having to correct a wrong of some sort. The TV show “Quantum Leap” made this its weekly premise. The underlying story arc wasn’t much different from a typical cop tries to stop a criminal act type of story, but the wrinkle of time travel gave it some extra oomph, raising the stakes or adding new motivations that otherwise couldn’t exist. Changing history could provide for a satisfying conclusion (albeit in ways that would ultimately make no sense if you actually think about them for more than a minute).

For example, the recent Looper is an effective thriller based on the idea a young hitman having to track down his older self, who is on a mission to prevent a disastrous future. Not only can the timeline be changed, but, as is the case with many time travel stories, the entire plot rests on the existence of two mutually exclusive potential futures both happening, which is logically impossible.

Of course, this is why the phrase “alternate reality” is a popular one in time travel fiction, and even something of a sub-genre in itself. It’s always fun to look at alternate versions of familiar things in fiction, especially when given a chance to explore the darker side of a franchise. This is the It’s a Wonderful Life Scenario, seen in some of the classic episodes of “Star Trek,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and others.

That’s not to say that stories with internally consistent timelines can’t work. The 1995 film 12 Monkeys is probably the best example of one of those. There’s also 1980’s The Final Countdown, built around the intriguing premise of modern jets vs WWII planes, although it’s mostly just talking about theory with little actually happening aside from a few events to make sure history unfolds as its supposed to, as a giant vortex sucks things back and forth through time when needed.

Funny as it may be to consider, the “Bill & Ted” films also presented time travel as an internally consistent loop, though this achievement is dampened a bit by the supernatural nature of the second film.

And if it’s too confusing to keep track of, there’s always “Doctor Who,” which just goes with the flow and saddles its time traveling main character with whatever rules are needed to tell a good story that week (although, in general, the show falls back on “some things can’t be changed, some things can, but if The Doctor knows the outcome of an event he can’t change it).

You know, Between The Doctor’s beloved TARDIS and Bill & Ted, there seems to be an abundance of time-travelling phone booths in science-fiction.

Tools and Talent

With storytelling as the writer’s primary motivation, and with most writers not being actual scientists, the method of time travel soon became secondary to the intended impact of the story. Anything from black holes to intense concentration could be enough to induce temporal displacement. Actually stopping for a moment to dwell on the physics of the thing was a rarity.

In “Back to the Future,” for example, the time machine, made from a DeLorean car, was practically a character in the film and one of its most popular elements. And the film’s humorous attempts to provide a logical context for the time travel didn’t detract from the film’s real goal, which was to tell the story a boy getting to hang out with his father when they were the same age. Back to the Future Part II, on the other hand, went out of its way to present a zany time travel adventure, filled with multiple versions of the same character, alternate timelines and potential paradoxes. The third film would return more to a character based approach, offering a love story between two people of vastly different eras brought together by a mutual affinity for knowledge.

Aside from “Back to the Future,” the most famous time travel-based franchise is probably “The Terminator,” a richly textured fictional world of a future overrun by cyborgs and their attempt to wipe out the resistance leader who defeats them by killing his mother, Sarah Connor, before he’s even born. In the process, their efforts to erase John Connor’s existence are directly responsible for his birth.

Days of Future Past is pretty much a reverse-Terminator. Both films showcase a future world overrun by artificial intelligence and machines of war. Where the plot of The Terminator is motivated by the machines using time travel to wipe out humanity, Days of Future Past is motivated by humanity (or the mutant strain of it) using time travel to erase the machines.

The "Terminator” films managed to exhibit both types of rules as the franchise went on, with the creation of the terminators as a result of the time travel from the first film suggesting a predestination paradox (when time travel is required to make the future possible, also known as a causality loop).

By the way, the hypothetical existence of causality loops even in an internally consistent time travel loop is for me the biggest logical problem with the existence of time travel in real life, since it opens up the door, so to speak, for ideas and objects to be created out of nothing. Take Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, for example, Scotty trades the formula for transparent aluminum for some plexiglas so he can build a tank to transport whales into the future, where they are extinct. He does this on the assumption the guy he gives the formula to is the inventor of it anyway. But the guy never invented anything, he only got it from Scotty who had it because he was from the future. Thus, the time travel loop has to take the credit for inventing transparent aluminum (a similar loop occurs in the 2009 Star Trek film).

In the 1980 film Somwhere in Time, a young man receives a watch from an old woman, and when he finds out why he figures out how to travel back in time to meet her younger self, to whom he gives the watch he brought from the future. This is then the watch she gives him as an old woman. So, not only was the watch never actually created (but by the time loop itself), its precise age is paradoxically infinite, since it is simultaneously its current age plus the duration of the time loop.

Anyway, Terminator 2: Judgment Day tries to weasel out of its causality loop by suggesting that history can be changed, prompting Sarah to kill the guy who invents the terminators to prevent the evil future from happening. The film’s alternate ending even shows a happier future, but the theatrical cut leaves this an open question.

And then Terminator 3 dumps all over this, replacing the “there is no fate but what you make” message with “fate will always win.” This is emblematic of a relatively new variant in the time travel rules that straddles the line between both types by saying that history isn’t as important as destiny, and that specific events can change but the universe will work to maintain a bigger picture (e.g., Judgment Day can be averted for a time, but is inevitable) which is a nicely literary romantic notion if ultimately lacking in any logical foundation. The 2009 Star Trek hinted at this as well by putting all the younger versions of the TOS characters together even though history had been drastically altered.

Now there’s a “Terminator” reboot in the works, and it will be interesting to see how they handle that from a storytelling standpoint, since Arnold Schwarzenegger is again playing a terminator and the franchise has time travel in its DNA. It already took an alternate reality approach when the “Sarah Connor Chronicles” TV show followed up T2 by ignoring the third movie.

Of course, just because time travel is a staple of a franchise doesn’t mean it’s the best way to reboot it. The third film in the original “Planet of the Apes” series used time travel to bring the future apes back to the Earth of the present (in that case the 1970s), where their offspring ended up being responsible for the evolution of apes seen in the first film. “Apes,” of course, went with the more traditional reboot, first with Tim Burton’s derided 2001 remake, and then the superior 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which took more of a prequel homage direction (to be followed in July by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).

Retcons and Reactions

The prospect of a reboot can be a touchy subject among fans, who are often wary of investing interest in a continuing storyline if it suddenly stops continuing because the writers ran out of ideas. While time travel attempts to placate this concern, reactions to its use as a reboot agent have had mixed results. The reaction of “Star Trek” fans to the use of the plot device was polarized to say the least, while fans of the “X-Men” films have been mostly in support of its use there.

This varied reaction undoubtedly stems in part from the vast differences in the nature of the two franchises.

“Star Trek,” being primarily a TV franchise, had amassed more than 700 episodes from five live-action series, many of them also dealing with time travel plots. The 2009 film created a divergent timeline from before the era of the original 1960s “Star Trek” series. While the film’s writers insisted it was only an alternate reality, many fans interpreted the story as erasing not only the events of the original series, but also sequel series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” (not that there’d be much uproar over losing “Voyager”). That meant that the panned prequel series “Enterprise” was the only lasting bit of “Star Trek” continuity, which didn’t sit well with fans. Also confusing was the fact that the technology seemed vastly different than what it should have been had this new continuity really been connected to the old one.

In 2013, Star Trek Into Darkness further attempted to exploit the connection between the old and new continuities by reintroducing fan-favorite elements with alternate storylines, which just raised more questions. Why bother with the reboot if only to keep playing in the old continuity, and not as satisfyingly as it was portrayed to begin with?

In contrast, it’s widely acknowledged that the “X-Men” use of time travel as a reboot agent erased mostly aspects of the franchise that fans didn’t like, which says a lot, since lit basically says all the movies except First Class didn’t happen either, even the good ones).

Another key difference is the fact that Days of Future Past is a follow-up to X-Men: First Class, which is basically a pure prequel to all the other “X-Men” films and kind of a more traditional reboot in its own right. It didn’t involve time travel, but was simply set in the 1960s. Days of Future Past in many ways was an attempt to reconcile discrepancies between First Class and what was established about mutant history in the “X-Men” trilogy, but it also gave Singer an excuse to gloss over his own controversial history with the franchise and embrace his own second chance with it.

The key sticking point among “X-Men” fans is, of course, that Singer abandoned the third film, 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, to make the horrible Superman Returns, and in the process damaged two superhero franchises. The warm regard fans held for the first two “X-Men” films was not extended to the third, a situation exacerbated when the 2009 prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine was considered even a worse step down. Singer’s return as a writer and producer of 2011’s First Class helped reverse the sinking fortunes of the franchise.

But even a wide net can’t catch all the fish. Days of Future Past doesn’t quite explain all the story inconsistencies between the films, even if it gives the audience an excuse to ignore them. For its own part, Days of Future Past seems to completely ignore anything that happens in Origins, since much of it is set during a 1970s timeframe also used during some of Origins, when characters are shown doing very different things.

Now, ask a “Star Trek” fan to ignore the original series, “TNG” or “DS9” and they might have a problem with that. But “X-Men” fans have no problem pretending Origins doesn’t exist.

What’s interesting to consider about the idea of creating an alternate reality as a reboot is that essentially Back to the Future did this to itself WITHIN A SINGLE MOVIE and no one has a problem with it, probably because it was planned from the start as the concluding gag of the film, and not conceived as a way to restart a franchise. It’s kind of like the gag from that “Simpsons” “Treehouse of Horror” episode where a time-travelling Homer has to keep going back and forth trying to restore his own timeline, until he finally gets to one he seems to recognize, except that everyone has a lizard tongue. Tired of his journeys, he utters the famous refrain, “close enough.”

But think about it. Logan in Days of Future Past undergoes essentially the same journey as Marty in Back to the Future. After returning from the past, his present has been replaced by one that’s similar, but different, and much happier (both for him, and, in this case, the fans).

This actually illustrates another constant to the idea of the time travel reboot is the presence of a character who remembers the way things were supposed to be, which gives the writer a frame of reference within the fictional universe to compare the two timelines for the benefit of the other characters.

Ironically, the traditional role of this character in time travel fiction would be to fix damages to the timeline. “Star Trek” is loaded with examples of this, and in the 2009 Star Trek, this role is filled by the older Spock, an artifact of the “prime” reality. When, at the end, he chooses to find a life for himself in the new reality (an alternate version of his own past, by the way), it marked the first time a main character from any “Trek” franchise was aware of a change in the timeline and didn’t bother to try to fix it.

On the flip side, some sci-fi franchises, such as “Battlestar Galactica” and “Star Wars” pride themselves in not having fallen back on using time travel as a plot device (though it did feature in some non-canon comics for both, and "Galactica 1980," but it's best not to think about that). Time will tell how long that keeps up, especially now that J.J. Abrams, architect of the 2009 Star Trek, and Rian Johnson, writer-director of Looper, have taken the reins of “Star Wars.”

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December 09, 2013

The Secret Truth of Mary Poppins

After spending a day viewing the “Doctor Who” 50th anniversary special and the Mary Poppins 50th anniversary Blu-ray, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that Mary Poppins is a Time Lord.

A simple Google search shows that I am not alone in this assessment. The evidence is rather overwhelming, considering all the traits she seems to have in common with our good pal The Doctor.

She seems to live forever.

Her carpet bag is bigger on the inside, a trademark of Time Lord science and their dimensional-warping capabilities.

Her umbrella is imbued with astonishing abilities, like a sonic screwdriver.

She loves taking her companions on wild adventures.

The “Doctor Who” special added another wrinkle to the argument, reminding us that Time Lord art is bigger on the inside, allowing people to actually jump inside it and move around. You know, a lot like those sidewalk drawings Mary jumped into with Bert and the children.

Speaking of Bert, he has all the hallmarks of a Time Lord companion, and it’s clear he and Mary must have shared some adventures before. It’s probably where he learned the techniques of Time Lord art to create those trans-dimensional sidewalk drawings of his (or, perhaps he’s using special Time Lord drawing sticks, which the rest of use perceive is simple chalk).

Not being a Time Lord, of course, Bert lacked the means to actually enter the artwork. But Mary was able to complete the transference, probably because her umbrella is equipped with the necessary spatial technology needed to embed people in the art.

Where’s Mary’s TARDIS, you ask? Well, maybe she keeps it hidden in the clouds, much like The Doctor did in “The Snowmen” Christmas special.

And since Time Lords are expert time travelers, Mary may be responsible for transporting the penguin waiters back to Los Angeles in 1947, where they show up in Who Framed Roger Rabbit 17 years before Walt Disney would have created them.

See. Really it makes perfect sense if you think about it.

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September 14, 2011

Why a Boycott of ‘Star Wars’ Won’t Work

The latest uproar among ‘Star Wars’ fans over changes to the films has led some to call for a boycott of the new Blu-ray edition of the saga that hits Sept. 16. The thinking is that poor sales of these edited versions will somehow convince George Lucas to release the unaltered original versions on Blu-ray.

It’s a fine sentiment that I think is just a bit misguided since it doesn’t take into account the bigger picture. There are several reasons I believe such a boycott will never have the desired effect:

1) “Star Wars” as a brand has grown beyond the original trilogy. I think at this point Lucas could stick all versions of the original trilogy in a drawer somewhere and never release them again and still rake in millions from “Star Wars.” Beyond the merchandising, the “Clone Wars”-era movies and shows have become a hugely popular aspect of the franchise with the younger generation, who actually consider the original trilogy to be weak, too slow and devoid of enough action to satisfy them. This highlights the generational gap that is driving calls for a boycott, and as the documentary The People vs. George Lucas points out, a lot of these older fans have simply not been able to “grow up” since first seeing Star Wars, and thus their protest is a way of demonstrating their love for the franchise beyond the newer crop of fans.

2) Lucas doesn’t believe the original versions represent his vision of the films. This point really comes down to the dichotomy of Lucas the businessman versus Lucas the artist. As an artist, Lucas has previously stated, during the debate over colorizing old films, that he doesn’t believe works of art should be altered. But his later actions indicate it’s OK if the changes are done by the artists themselves. Obviously, the fans think this is hogwash and make the claim, as “South Park” did, that once released, films and other works of art belong to the culture. Lucas is toeing a tricky line here because he has spent the better part of 30 years redefining what “Star Wars” means, and then acting as if the redefinition was the way it has always been. He says a film is never finished, simply abandoned, and that he always wanted to go back and correct things he wasn’t able to do before. So whatever the latest version of “Star Wars” is represents his true vision of the films. This means, ironically, that the original versions cheapen his current version in a way, and dilute his true vision, which may be why he’s so opposed to really putting them out there despite the fact there is high demand for them and they would probably make money. He is, in essence, taking a stand as an artist against corporate greed, which may be his own personal protest against the notion that his vast media empire has become the very kind of big business he used to complain about as a naïve young filmmaker. This is probably also the main reason he refuses to officially release The Star Wars Holiday Special. Whether or not his own artistic sensibilities have diluted over the years is a matter of debate. Further complicating the issue is that he has held onto the rights to distribute the films, something a lot of other creators don’t really have. So it’s not like the original versions don’t still exist. Those just aren’t the versions Lucas wants the public to see.

3) The original versions were already released. Lucasfilm put the original versions on the 2006 individual versions of the original trilogy, with one disc as the special edition and the other the theatrical version as a bonus feature. Now, this re-release reportedly didn’t sell according to expectations, so if one were to interpret this from a capitalist perspective, one could make the claim that if the versions with the theatrical cut didn’t sell that would be an argument AGAINST releasing these in the future. This of course ignores the fatigue fans must have been feeling about seeing a new VHS/DVD “Star Wars” release every two years, and the fact that the versions of the DVD were non-anamorphic transfers used for the 1993 laserdisc. But that doesn’t negate the fact that they’re out there. Fans want to harp about their omission from the Blu-ray, but they don’t complain that nearly all the previous bonus material ever released is also absent from the Blu-ray, meaning to keep it all they’d have to hold onto their old copies anyway. As an aside, I find it a bit amusing that a lot of fans in badmouthing the Blu-ray version have expressed their contentment with simply holding onto those old laserdiscs, even though that DVD version has got to be a lot more convenient.

4) Lucas is about more than “Star Wars.” While Lucas will always and forever be linked to the franchise he created, it is not the only thing driving him creatively. It’s always seemed to me that Lucas has had a love-hate relationship with “Star Wars.” I think he loves his creation and is happy it has been so successful, but I think he regrets how that success in some ways prevented him from making the smaller, more personal films he always dreamed of making. So even if no one bought any more “Star Wars” products ever again starting now, I think Lucas would see that as the franchise running its course, and he’d count that as a blessing that it’s time to move on. He still has “Indiana Jones” to milk, and though he never wanted the corporate power he now has, he has managed to extend his hands into a lot of ancillary businesses. Lucasfilm even licenses the term “Droid” to Motorola. Are the boycotters going to suggest people stop buying cell phones? Even if Lucas is deprived of incoming cash from a massive "Star Wars" boycott and needs funds for other projects, he shouldn't have any trouble teaming with any number of studios or sponsors. After all, he's George Lucas.

5) Why should Lucas care? I’ve always gotten a sense that Lucas is a bit passive-aggressive about “Star Wars.” He’s happy to reap in the millions of dollars it brings him, but he wouldn’t mind if it went away and he could focus on other things. Or he could just retire completely and sit on the piles of money he already has. So maybe the belligerence over the original versions is fueled by this apathy. We know he has a sense of humor about it, since he’s worn “Han Shot First” shirts in public. He knows the fans hate some of the changes. Maybe he’s thinking if he pushes these fans enough, they’ll go away. Which isn’t to say Lucas hates the fans, since he has always been supportive of the fan community (which a cynical person would say is just a way to keep them buying stuff). But he’s made it this far re-releasing the films without considering the fans, so why stop now? He’s been altering these films since they first came out in 1977. He probably sees the more vocal haters as a small fringe and doesn’t care what they think. And if just the fans of the original trilogy go away, he still has “The Clone Wars.” So he’s really, kind of brilliantly, hedged his bets here. There’s nothing more dangerous than a man who doesn’t really care.

My point is not that fans shouldn’t complain or take action. If that gives them a sense of purpose (however illusory it may be), then more power to them. Just don’t be surprised if the result is not what was intended.

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August 31, 2011

Ah, George … What Are Ya Doin’?

So, I thought the whole point of the “Star Wars” special editions was so George Lucas could update the films so they’d be as he intended them if he had the technology when he made them. So how exactly does making Darth Vader say “NOOOO!” as he throws the Emperor down a shaft in Return of the Jedi fit that model? It’s not like you need technology to make a guy say “No.”

But that’s one of several changes made in the latest re-release of the “Star Wars” films, this time for Blu-ray Sept. 16.

I can kind of see how Lucas got the idea. See, So I guess Lucas decided that having Vader say it again as Luke is being attacked by the Emperor makes it clearer his motive for turning against his master — that Luke is the last connection to his wife. So by strengthening that connection, Lucas thinks he’s tightening the saga as a whole. Except, well, he didn’t need to. Anyone with half a brain who is a fan of the franchise made that connection before they walked out of the theater after seeing Episode III six years ago. But I’d love to see some footage of how the guys at Lucasfilm are sitting around thinking up new ways to change the films, as they seem to do with each new home video release nowadays.

The latest rumored changes also include some rather innocuous alterations, such as CGI blinking on Ewoks and a digital Yoda that should actually improve Episode I a bit.

I for one think that if Lucas were at least to restore the “Han Shooting First” scene in Episode IV, fans would be a lot more tolerant of his other changes. But it seems that Greedo still gets a shot off in the Blu-ray … so much for that wish.

Anyway, Lionsgate is looking to capitalize on all the hoopla with its Oct. 25 release of The People vs. George Lucas on DVD ($27.98). The documentary explores the fans’ love affair with “Star Wars” since the beginning and why the alterations have been so negatively perceived (one of the extras is a music video called “GL Raped Our Childhood”). It hits on-demand Sept. 27.

As for the "Star Wars" Blu-ray? Yeah, I still can’t wait to see it.

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July 18, 2011

Is Comic-Con Losing Its Edge in Hollywood?

The question of whether San Diego Comic-Con has grown too big for its own good seems to have been supplanted this year by the notion that Hollywood’s fascination with the annual event finally is waning.

As fans and studios prepare to trek to the San Diego Convention Center for the annual confab July 21 to 24 (plus a Wednesday preview night), many observers can’t help but notice the schedule lacks many of the types of titles that made the show such a hot spot in recent years.

For example, Marvel Studios has nothing planned for The Avengers after previewing the film last year with a huge panel.

“I think the studios are pulling back from the Con this year,” said Bill Hunt, founder of . “But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Hollywood has kind of taken over Comic-Con, and the studio hype machine has really dominated the event during the past few years. That’s great in one sense, but it’s also made the event more crowded and harder to attend as a fan.”

The problem for some studios, according to analysts, is how a lot of movies promoted at Comic-Con tend not to live up to expectations when they are finally released. One need only glance at feature stories in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Variety, Deadline Hollywood and others to get the point.

In many ways, Hollywood’s love affair with Comic-Con has become emblematic of a studio approach to attempt to buy success for their films through publicity rather than focusing on the quality of the product.

“While the Hollywood studios have really figured out how to get a buzz going in the fan community about some of these big summer blockbusters and genre films, they’re far less good at actually delivering great films that are worthy of the hype,” Hunt said. And I think fans have been disappointed year after year now by these big titles, previewed with grand panels in Hall H, that ended up being pretty lousy.”

Disney promoted Tron: Legacy for three straight Comic-Cons only to have the film underwhelm at the box office (as much as $172 million domestic and $400 million worldwide can be considered "underwhelming"). This year, the Mouse’s presence at Comic-Con is conspicuously light, with little more than panels for DreamWorks’ Fright Night remake, which Disney is distributing theatrically, a few Disney-produced TV shows, and a booth demonstrating the new “Phineas and Ferb” video game.

Many industry watchers speculate that Disney is eschewing Comic-Con in favor of its own D23 Expo, Aug. 19 to 21 in Anaheim, Calif.

But the poster child for the gap between Comic-Con hype and reality has to be Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which turned its ubiquitous Comic-Con presence last year into a meager $31.5 million domestic gross, barely half its $60 million budget.

It’s not as if a Comic-Con appearance is a pre-requisite for success, even for shows and movies that seem like a natural fit for the convention. Warner by-and-large bypassed Comic-Con for promotion of Christopher Nolan’s Batman flick The Dark Knight, which went on to gross more than $1 billion worldwide, and its sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, isn’t on the Con agenda either.

If Hollywood is easing up it is doing so just as the show organizers have started to make major adjustments to accommodate the Tinseltown presence. For example, the “Twilight” panel to tout Breaking Dawn — Part 1 is slated for 11:15 a.m. Thursday, making it the first presentation in the cavernous Hall H that houses most of the biggest panels for the weekend. A Comic-Con worker remarked that the move should facilitate clearing out a lot of the “Twilight” fans before the rest of the confab can kick into gear, since their interests don’t always mesh with the rest of the Comic-Con crowd. (An infamous story from the 2009 show involved “Twilight” being mercilessly booed by the Hall H crowd who were mostly waiting to see footage from Avatar.)

Some exhibitors, feeling Comic-Con has been over-saturated by Hollywood, have set up an alternative show called TR!CKSTER across the street from the Convention Center July 19-24. The event was spawned by two Pixar story artists who are also independent cartoonists, Scott Morse and Ted Mathot, and celebrates the Con’s comic book roots and the spirit of creator-owned work, with workshops, free events, parties, signings and live music.

Hunt joins the chorus of those who see Hollywood’s retreat as a good thing.

“I’m happy Hollywood is stepping back a little bit,” Hunt said. “It’ll give fans a chance to attend more of the smaller panels and maybe let the Con get back to its true comic book roots a bit.”

While Hollywood may be pulling back on the theatrical side, the studios are still well represented at the Con through their TV and home entertainment properties.

While quite a few marketing reps have expressed a personal eagerness to avoid Comic-Con in recent years, there are many home entertainment veterans who still see enormous value in using Comic-Con as not only a promotional tool for smaller studios and independents pushing fanboy-driven properties, but to put product directly in the hands of consumers.

“Most elaborate, multidisc boxed sets aren’t in brick-and-mortar stores,” noted one publicist. “Because of the shelf space required and hefty price tag, Walmart or Target is not likely to carry a lot of the $80 or $120 sets that come out. So San Diego Comic-Con has become something of an alternative platform for direct-to-consumer business when comes to these collectibles.”

And there is still plenty of exciting content relating to home entertainment showcased at this year’s convention. Among the most notable events specifically about home entertainment is “2011-2012: The Golden Age of Blu-ray?” panel presented by TheDigitalBits.com Thursday at 5 p.m. in Room 5AB. While the Digital Bits panel usually lets DVD producers preview their upcoming discs, Hunt said they decided to do something a bit differently this year after realizing that several major films and franchises were making their way to Blu-ray over the next couple years, including “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings,” Ben-Hur, “Jurassic Park,” “Jaws,” Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, Titanic and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“We’ve been doing a special edition producer panel for over a decade now down at the Con — I think our first was in 2001 — so it just felt like it was time to change things up a bit,” Hunt said. “It really seems that the floodgates for catalog titles on Blu-ray have finally opened up wide in the last 12 months. This is roughly year four or five for Blu-ray and, when you look back, it was at about that same time in the life of the DVD format that the same thing happened. And that’s the period that a lot of fans now think of as the ‘golden age’ of DVD. So I found myself wondering: When we look back several years from now, will 2011 and 2012 be thought of as the ‘golden age’ for the Blu-ray format? What does that mean for the future of Blu-ray, and the future of the home video industry in general? It just seemed like the right time to examine those issues in our panel … yet still do what we do every year at the Con, which is to preview for the fans many of the great titles and special editions to come in the months ahead.”

Hunt will be joined by his Digital Bits cohorts Adam Jahnke and Tood Doogan, as well as producers Charles de Lauzirika (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Amazing Spider-Man, Prometheus, Crave) and Cliff Stephenson (Rambo, The Expendables, Crank 2, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance), Warner Home Video SVP of theatrical catalog marketing George Feltenstein and others for a Q&A and special giveaways.

Other home entertainment-related highlights from this year’s Comic-Con include:

  • Booth #3528 will present the “Star Wars Blu-ray Experience,” offering a preview of bonus material for the upcoming Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray (in stores Sept. 16) and let fans experience one of the saga’s most iconic moments from an in-universe vantage point.
  • Warner presents a world premiere screening of the new DC Universe animated movie Batman: Year One at 8 p.m. Friday in Ballroom 20, followed by a panel discussion with castmembers Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku and Katee Sackhoff, directors Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu, and voice director Andrea Romano. An encore screening will take place at 10:15 p.m. The movie, based on the Frank Miller comic book miniseries, hits DVD, Blu-ray and digital release Oct. 18.
  • Comic-Con fave “The Big Bang Theory” returns with a panel, screening and Q&A at 12:30 p.m. Friday in Ballroom 20, featuring producers Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady and Steve Molaro with stars Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik. Warner releases the fourth season of the show on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 13.
  • Join Nathan Fillion and the cast of “Castle” for a lively panel at 11:45 a.m. Sunday in room 6BCF. Disney releases the third season of the show on DVD Sept. 20.
  • Animation historian Jerry Beck and Warner Archives' George Feltenstein lead a panel of animation and restoration experts in presenting and discussing selected vintage cartoons from Warner Home Video's fall 2011 Blu-ray release of the newly remastered Tom and Jerry Golden Collection and Looney Tunes Platinum Collections, Thursday at 3 p.m. in room 32AB.
  • A preview of the fourth season of Cartoon Network’s “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” takes place at 4:45 p.m. Thursday in room 6BCF. A panel at 3 p.m. Friday in room 7AB takes fans behind the scenes of the show’s animation process. Warner releases the third season on DVD and Blu-ray Oct. 18.
  • Get a preview of “Spartacus: Vengeance,” the upcoming second season of the Starz series, at 5:45 p.m. Friday in room 6BCF. The panel also includes a discussion of exclusive content included with Anchor Bay’s Sept. 13 Blu-ray of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.
  • Showtime will present its shows “Dexter,” “Shameless” and “Homeland” with a panel at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Ballroom 20, with actors such as Michael C. Hall, Emmy Rossum, William H. Macy and Morena Baccarin in attendance. Paramount releases Dexter: The Fifth Season on DVD and Blu-ray Aug. 16.
  • The Shout! Factory booth (#4248) will showcase a variety of upcoming and current home entertainment product lines and offers exclusive items with the purchase of several DVDs, such as a Damnation Alley lithograph, iron-ons for “M.A.S.K.” and Battle Beyond the Stars, and a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” stressball. Joe Dante and Elizabeth Stanley will be on hand for a signing in support of Trailers From Hell Vol. 2 at 3 p.m. Thursday. Sybil Danning and John Saxon celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Battle Beyond the Stars” at 2:30 p.m. Friday. And the booth will feature a daily prize drawing, with prizes such as a collection of “MST3K” boxed sets and DVDs from Shout!’s “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line.
  • Mill Creek Entertainment will sell advance copies of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: The Complete Second Season, for $25 exclusively at the Funimation booth (#4135). The DVD will be widely available Sept. 13.
  • A panel for the TV movie Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe will be held Thursday at 10 a.m. in Ballroom 20, with star Bruce Campbell and “Burn Notice” creator Matt Nix. Campbell and Nix will sign autographs at booth 4313 following the panel, and fans who don’t want to wait for the July 26 release of the Fall of Sam Axe Blu-ray and DVD can buy copies at the booth as well.
  • Fans can pose with Frank the Bunny as he hands out four limited-edition exclusive buttons on the streets of San Diego to promote Fox’s Donnie Darko: 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, available everywhere July 26. Fans can buy copies of the Blu-ray at booth #4313.
  • The “Wrong Turn” character Three Finger will be stationed at roadblocks throughout the city to take pictures with fans to promote Fox’s Oct. 18 DVD and Blu-ray release of Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings.
  • In addition to Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe and Donnie Darko: 10th Anniversary Edition, fans can visit the Fox booth (#4313) to buy the DVD or Blu-ray of Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (which releases wide July 26), and preorder the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray, Wrong Turn 4, Archer: Season Two and Futurama Vol. 6.
  • Image Entertainment will preview its horror anthology Chillerama at 7 p.m. Friday at the Gaslamp 15 Cinemas (701 5th Ave., San Diego). ’s Steve “Uncle Creepy” Barton will moderate the presentation that features directors Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin and Tim Sullivan.
  • ChromeSkull returns to Comic-Con Thursday and Friday at the Fangoria Magazine booth (#4108) with a ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2 poster signing with the filmmakers and stars. The world premiere of the film, which was recently acquired by Image Entertainment, takes place at 10 p.m. Friday at the Gaslamp 15 Cinemas, followed by a Q&A moderated by Barton.
  • HBO’s “True Blood” panel is 5:30 p.m. Friday in Ballroom 20. The first three seasons are available on DVD and Blu-ray.
  • A “Vampire Diaries” screening and Q&A panel takes place at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Ballroom 20. Warner releases the second season on DVD and Blu-ray Aug. 30.
  • A panel for AMC’s zombie series “The Walking Dead” will be at 11:15 a.m. Friday in Ballroom 20. The first season was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Anchor Bay. A “Walking Dead” autograph session will follow from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in booth #3721.
  • Fans can explore the “History of the Modern Zombie” with a panel Thursday at 7 p.m. in room 7AB, as Zombie Survival Guide author Max Brooks leads a discussion about the history and evolution of the modern zombie in film, TV and literature from Night of the Living Dead to “The Walking Dead” and beyond.
  • The “Fringe” panel takes place at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in Ballroom 20. Warner releases the third season on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 6.
  • A screening and Q&A for “Supernatural” takes place at 11:15 a.m. Sunday in Hall H, featuring a preview of Supernatural: The Anime Series, coming to DVD and Blu-ray July 26 from Warner, which also releases the sixth season of “Supernatural” on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 13.
  • “Voltron Resurgent,” he first-ever “Voltron”-themed panel, is slated for 6 p.m. Thursday in the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Indigo Ballroom, and will preview the upcoming Nicktoons “Voltron Force” animated series and other Voltron products. Classic Media releases Voltron: The Legend Begins, featuring early episodes from the 1980s animated show, on DVD Aug. 16.
  • Check out room 8 Friday at 5:30 p.m. for the “Evolution of Transformers” panel, taking a look back at the adventures of the transforming robot toys on TV and DVD. Panelists examine character development, weaponry, and weaknesses in the original animated series, “Beast Wars” and the Japanese “Headmasters,” “Super-God Masterforce” and “Victory” series, all available on DVD from Shout! Factory.
  • A panel called “Conversations with Sid and Marty Krofft: A Look at the Past, Present and Future,” featuring a discussion with legendary puppeteers Sid and Marty Krofft, takes place at 10 a.m. Friday in room 23ABC. Vivendi Entertainment releases the Krofft’s Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: Season 1 Sept. 6.
  • Get a preview of the fifth season of Web series “The Guild” at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Indigo Ballroom with creator/star Felicia Day, producer Kim Evey, director Sean Becker and other members of the cast.
  • A panel for the Warner Premiere Web series “H+” and “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” takes place at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Indigo Ballroom. The Warner booth (#4545) will offer talent from “Kombat” for a signing from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Thursday.
  • The cast and creators of Crackle.com’s “Issues” discuss the Web series during a panel at 9:30 p.m. Friday in room 7AB.
  • “The Guild” creator Felicia Day, actor Doug Jones, “Dragon Age: Redemption” director Peter Einther and executive producer Mark Darrah will discuss the secrets to making a successful Web series during a panel at 11 a.m. in room 7AB.
  • Voice actors from “Dragon Ball Z” and “Yu Yu Hakusho” discuss the anime series in a panel at 10 a.m. Friday in room 24ABC, to promote their release on Blu-ray Disc by Funimation.
  • A sing-along screening of Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (on DVD and Blu-ray from New Video) takes place at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in room 6BCF.
  • Epix Pictures presents a special panel at 10:15 a.m. Friday called “The Captains,” featuring “Star Trek” skippers William Shatner and Avery Brooks (“Deep Space Nine”), to preview Shatner’s new documentary about the actors who have played captains on “Star Trek.” Kevin Smith will moderate the discussion and Q&A in room 6BCF. The panel also will be available online at www.EpixHD.com/event-theatre, and Shatner will be tweeting from the event and interacting with fans at EpixHD.com. This kicks off “Shatnerpalooza,” which includes a 48-hour marathon of Shatner’s work on Epix starting July 21, and leads into free screenings of The Captains at Hollywood Forever Memorial Park in Los Angeles July 25 and at the Intrepid in New York City July 30.
  • The “Torchwood: Miracle” day panel is 10 a.m. Friday in Ballroom 20, with stars John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Mekhi Phifer, Bill Pullman, Alexa Havins and Lauren Ambrose, plus writer Jane Espenson. BBC Video releases Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series on DVD and Blu-ray July 19.
  • Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken” arrives with a panel Friday at 3:30 p.m. in the Indigo Ballroom, featuring creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich, and writer Tom Root. Warner recently released Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III on DVD and Blu-ray and will release Robot Chicken: Season 5, featuring nine never-before-seen episodes, on DVD and Blu-ray Oct. 25.
  • Adult Swim’s “The Venture Bros.” panel, with creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, will be 11:45 a.m. Friday in the Indigo Ballroom. Warner has released the four seasons of the show on DVD, with the fourth also on Blu-ray.
  • Adult Swim’s “Childrens Hospital” panel is 1:30 p.m. Friday in the Indigo Ballroom, featuring a never-before-screened episode and discussion with the show's creative team led by Rob Corddry and Jon Stern, plus castmembers Malin Akerman, Lake Bell, Erinn Hayes, Rob Huebel and Megan Mullally. A DVD boxed set of the first and second seasons was recently released by Warner.
  • The Adult Swim booth (#3949) will host signings for “Robot Chicken” from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Thursday; “Childrens Hospital” from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m. Friday; “Black Dynamite” from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday; and “The Venture Bros.” from 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday. Adult Swim also presents a “Venture Bros.” costume contest and performance by Flying Lotus starting at 9:30 p.m. Friday.
  • Dark Horse Comics presents Joss Whedon’s annual panel at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Indigo Ballroom, previewing the upcoming comic book series “Buffy: Season 9” and “Angel & Faith,” plus news about new “Buffy” digital comics. The first 19 issues of “Buffy: Season 8” were released as a motion comic on DVD and Blu-ray by Fox earlier this year.
  • Kevin Smith’s annual Q&A panel wraps up Hall H festivities Saturday at 5:45 p.m.
  • Hall H is the site for this year’s “Entertainment Weekly: The Visionaries” panel Thursday at 6 p.m., featuring a discussion on the future of pop culture with directors Guillermo del Toro and Jon Favreau.
  • “Bones” returns with a panel at 1:45 p.m. Friday in Ballroom 20, featuring creator Hart Hanson, executive producer Stephen Nathan, and stars David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel. The sixth season of the series is due on DVD this fall from Fox.
  • The “Psych” panel takes place at 12:30 p.m. Thursday in Ballroom 20 with series stars Dulé Hill, James Roday, Kurt Fuller, Maggie Lawson, Tim Omundson, Kirsten Nelson and Corbin Bernsen, plus creator Steve Franks and executive producers Kelly Kulchak and Chris Henze. Universal has released the first five seasons of the show on DVD.
  • USA Network’s “Covert Affairs” panel will be held Thursday at 11:15 a.m. in Ballroom 20 with star Piper Perabo and other members of the cast and crew. The first season is available on DVD from Universal.
  • “Battlestar Galactica” star Richard Hatch will host his annual panel celebrating the BSG franchise at 11:45 a.m. Thursday in room 6BCF. The panel includes a discussion of the politics and philosophy of the “Galactica” universe.
  • Fans of “NCIS: LA” (on DVD and Blu-ray from Paramount) can explore the technologies on the series with creator Shane Brennan, actor LL Cool J and others during a panel at 7 p.m. Friday in room 6BCF.
  • The Indigo Ballroom hosts this year’s “Archer” panel at 4 p.m. Thursday. The first season of the FX animated comedy about a spy agency is on DVD from Fox.
  • Syfy’s “Eureka” gets a panel at 3 p.m. Friday in Ballroom 20. Universal recently released Eureka: Season 4.0 on DVD.
  • Syfy’s “Warehouse 13” gets a panel at 4:15 p.m. Friday in Ballroom 20. The first two seasons of the show are on DVD from Universal.
  • Comedy Central’s “Ugly Americans” panel is 4 p.m. Friday in room 23ABC. Ugly Americans Vol. One is available on DVD from Paramount.
  • Disney Channel previews its upcoming movie Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension, premiering Aug. 5, during a panel at 4:45 p.m. in room 6A.
  • Fan-favorite “Chuck” has a screening and Q&A panel at 10 a.m. Saturday in Ballroom 20. Warner releases the fourth season on DVD and Blu-ray Oct. 11.
  • Fans of “Sanctuary” can check out a panel at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Indigo Ballroom with stars Amanda Tapping and Robin Dunne and moderator Josh Gates. Entertainment One releases the third season on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 13.
  • “Futurama” is back with a panel Saturday at 12:15 in Ballroom 20, with executive producers Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, and castmembers Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal and Maurice LaMarche. The panel will feature never-before-seen footage of the show reincarnated as Japanese anime.
  • “The Simpsons” panel follows at 1 p.m. Saturday in Ballroom 20, as Matt Groening and the producers provide insights about the show.
  • Adam West highlights a Seth MacFarlane-less “Family Guy” panel at 2 p.m. Saturday in Ballroom 20.
  • The “American Dad” panel arrives at 2:35 p.m. Saturday in Ballroom 20.
  • Fox celebrates recent Emmy nominee “The Cleveland Show” with its panel at 1:45 p.m. Sunday in Hall H, with a look at the show’s parody of Die Hard. The second season hits DVD Sept. 27.
  • The cast of “Community” will be on hand for a panel at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Indigo Ballroom. Sony Pictures releases the second season on DVD Sept. 13.
  • The “MythBusters” return for a panel at 7:45 p.m. Saturday in room 6BCF with Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman, Tory Belleci, Grant Imahara, and Kari Byron.
  • Catch a screening and Q&A for animated series “Young Justice” at 10 a.m. Sunday in room 7AB. Warner releases Young Justice: Season One Vol. One on DVD July 19.
  • “Glee” creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk join the show’s stars for a sneak peek at Glee: The 3D Concert Movie at 10 a.m. Sunday in Hall H. Fox releases the complete second season on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 13.
  • Matt Smith and Karen Gillan headline the “Doctor Who” panel at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in Hall H to preview the back half of the sixth season on BBC America. BBC Video releases Doctor Who: Season Six, Part One on DVD and Blu-ray July 19.
  • Check out the “Merlin” panel at 1 p.m. Sunday in room 6BCF with Anthony Head and the rest of the cast. The first two seasons are available on DVD from BBC Video.
  • “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” has its Q&A panel at 2:45 p.m. Sunday in Hall H, with stars Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, and Danny DeVito. Fox releases the sixth season on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 13.
  • Get an inside look at FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Hall H with creator Kurt Sutter and stars Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal and Ron Perlman. Fox releases the third season on DVD and Blu-ray Aug. 30.
  • The “State of the Geek Report: From Avatar to Zardoz” panel takes place at 3 p.m. Thursday in room 5AB, featuring the world's foremost geeksperts discussing the state of contemporary sci-fi, fantasy, and horror cinema and television, ranging from the superhero smackdown of the summer of 2011 to the future of 3D films.
  • Anime distributor VIZ Media celebrates its 25th anniversary at 2 p.m. Friday in room 9 with a special panel offering prizes for fans, updates on new acquisitions and previews of upcoming products.
  • A panel Thursday at 11 a.m. in room 23ABC will explore the nature of fan obsession and how TV shows and movies can grow into a pop culture phenomenon.
  • Animation is the focus of the “ASIFA/Hollywood's State of the Animation Industry” panel at noon Friday in room 32AB, with animation veterans discussing the future of 2D vs. 3D animation.
  • Comic-Con closes with the traditional “Buffy the Musical” sing-along screening of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episode “Once More With Feeling,” playing at 4 p.m. Sunday in Hall H.
  • Fans missing their favorite TV shows to be at the Con can catch up with special screenings. The latest episode of “Torchwood: Miracle” day shows at 9:30 p.m. Thursday in room 6DE, while new episodes of “Eureka,” “Haven” and “Mercury Men” will be shown from 9 to 11 p.m. Friday in room 6A.
  • Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Comic-Con will replay video from that day’s Hall H and Ballroom 20 panels from 8 to 11 p.m. in room 25ABC, with those in attendance voting on what they want to see.

 The complete schedule is available at .


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May 04, 2011

‘Star Wars’ Blu-ray Extras May Not Satisfy All Fans

Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment May 4 announced the extras for the “Star Wars” saga on Blu-ray Disc, which was confirmed for a Sept. 16 street date in North America.

The announcement came as part of a punny promotion (“May the 4th Be With You!”) that includes a viral campaign and preview video at .

Fans can buy three-disc sets for the original or prequel trilogies, or a nine-disc set containing all six films. The only extras with the individual trilogy editions include two commentaries per film. One of the commentaries appears to be from the DVD versions, the other assembled from archival interviews.

The saga set comes with a bonus disc for each trilogy that includes deleted, extended and alternate scenes; prop, maquette and costume turnarounds; matte paintings and concept art; cast and crew interviews; and a flythrough of the Lucasfilm Archives.

The fact that the deleted scenes are available only with the six-film set is bound to tick off a few “Original Trilogy” purists, especially since we don’t yet know exactly which deleted scenes are going to be included. It’s a good bet, though, that if the set doesn’t include the original footage of Luke on Tatooine with Biggs and his friends, there may be riots.

The ninth disc is called “Star Wars Documentaries” and includes:

• 2007’s Star Warriors, an 84-minute profile of the 501st Legion, a fan group of Star Wars costume enthusiasts
• The 2010 retrospective “A Conversation With the Masters: The Empire Strikes Back 30 Years Later”
• A 91-minute collection of “Star Wars” spoofs from the likes of “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons” and Weird Al Yankovic
• The 1977 vintage featurette “The Making of Star Wars
• The 1980 vintage featurette “The Empire Strikes Back: SPFX”
• The 1983 vintage featurette “Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi
• The 1997 “Special Edition” featurette “Anatomy of a Dewback”
• The 2007 documentary “Star Wars Tech,” a look at the technical aspects of the saga’s sci-fi vehicles, weapons and gadgetry

Longtime fans might be more interested in what’s not included on that list, such as the excellent 1983 From Star Wars to Jedi TV special that had been previously released on VHS, and Kevin Burns’ excellent 2004 documentary Empire of Dreams: The Story of the ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy, which was included with the 2004 trilogy DVD set.

Also of note is that these sets include George Lucas’ special editions of the original trilogy. The unaltered theatrical editions were released on DVD in 2006 but have never been remastered, so it was unlikely they’d make it to Blu-ray anyway. If you want them, though, they’re out there.

Not as clear is whether Lucas has decided to make any additional alterations to the films for Blu-ray (as he did with their earlier DVD releases). We know he’s been tinkering with a CG Yoda for The Phantom Menace to replace the ugly puppet they used, but maybe he’ll finally restore the “Han Shot First” scene as well.

Anyway, here's the box art and the original press release:


The Complete Saga Debuts on High-Definition Blu-ray This September

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (May 4th, 2011) – Bring home the adventure and share Star Wars™ with your whole family – when STAR WARS: THE COMPLETE SAGA comes to Blu-ray Disc from Lucasfilm Ltd. and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment! To be released beginning on September 12 internationally and on September 16 in North America, the nine-disc collection brings the wonder of the entire Saga direct to your living room, where you can revisit all of your favorite Star Wars moments – in gorgeous high definition and with pristine, 6.1 DTS Surround Sound. Dive deeper into the universe with an unprecedented 40+ hours of special features, highlighted by never-before-seen content sourced from the Lucasfilm archives.

The comprehensive collection also features numerous deleted, extended and alternate scenes, new documentaries and a cross-section of the countless Star Wars spoofs that have appeared in pop culture over the past three decades. Marking the first time ever that the full Saga is available in one complete collection, STAR WARS: THE COMPLETE SAGA ON BLU-RAY also features a coveted peek into the making of the Saga with vintage documentaries, audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes moments, interviews, prop and costume turnarounds, retrospectives and more.

Episodes I-III and IV-VI will also be available as distinct Blu-ray Trilogy collections.

Fans will get an exclusive first look at some of the collection’s extensive special features at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International – which marks Lucasfilm’s 35th anniversary as a Comic-Con presence. In 1976, the fledgling film company was looking for innovative, grass-roots ways to promote its underdog release, a film no one expected to succeed – a space opera known (at the time) only as Star Wars. One of the first film companies to reach out directly to core audiences by way of fan conventions, Lucasfilm will return to the venue to showcase the full evolution of the epic story with a special first look at STAR WARS: THE COMPLETE SAGA ON BLU-RAY.

Special Features:
STAR WARS: THE COMPLETE SAGA ON BLU-RAY is presented in widescreen with 6.1 DTS Surround Sound. Special features include:

o Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires

o Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew


o Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, Pablo Helman, John Knoll and Ben Snow

o Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew


o Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Rob Coleman, John Knoll and Roger Guyett

o Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew


o Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt and Dennis Muren

o Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew


o Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt and Dennis Muren

o Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew


o Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt and Dennis Muren

o Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew


o Including: deleted, extended and alternate scenes; prop, maquette and costume turnarounds; matte paintings and concept art; supplementary interviews with cast and crew; a flythrough of the Lucasfilm Archives and more


o Including: deleted, extended and alternate scenes; prop, maquette and costume turnarounds; matte paintings and concept art; supplementary interviews with cast and crew; and more


o NEW! Star Warriors (2007, Color, Apx. 84 Minutes) – Some Star Wars fans want to collect action figures...these fans want to be action figures! A tribute to the 501st Legion, a global organization of Star Wars costume enthusiasts, this insightful documentary shows how the super-fan club promotes interest in the films through charity and volunteer work at fundraisers and high-profile special events around the world.

o NEW! A Conversation with the Masters: The Empire Strikes Back 30 Years Later (2010, Color, Apx. 25 Minutes) – George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Lawrence Kasdan and John Williams look back on the making of The Empire Strikes Back in this in-depth retrospective from Lucasfilm created to help commemorate the 30th anniversary of the movie. The masters discuss and reminisce about one of the most beloved films of all time.

o NEW! Star Wars Spoofs (2011, Color, Apx. 91 Minutes) – The farce is strong with this one! Enjoy a hilarious collection of Star Wars spoofs and parodies that have been created over the years, including outrageous clips from Family Guy, The Simpsons, How I Met Your Mother and more — and don’t miss “Weird Al” Yankovic’s one-of-a-kind music video tribute to The Phantom Menace!

o The Making of Star Wars (1977, Color, Apx. 49 Minutes) – Learn the incredible behind-the-scenes story of how the original Star Wars movie was brought to the big screen in this fascinating documentary hosted by C-3PO and R2-D2. Includes interviews with George Lucas and appearances by Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.

o The Empire Strikes Back: SPFX (1980, Color, Apx. 48 Minutes) – Learn the secrets of making movies in a galaxy far, far away. Hosted by Mark Hamill, this revealing documentary offers behind-the-scenes glimpses into the amazing special effects that transformed George Lucas’ vision for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back into reality!

o Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi (1983, Color, Apx. 48 Minutes) – Go behind the scenes — and into the costumes — as production footage from Return of the Jedi is interspersed with vintage monster movie clips in this in-depth exploration of the painstaking techniques utilized by George Lucas to create the classic creatures and characters seen in the film. Hosted and narrated by Carrie Fisher and Billie Dee Williams.

o Anatomy of a Dewback (1997, Color, Apx. 26 Minutes) – See how some of the special effects in Star Wars became even more special two decades later! George Lucas explains and demonstrates how his team transformed the original dewback creatures from immovable rubber puppets (in the original 1977 release) to seemingly living, breathing creatures for the Star Wars 1997 Special Edition update.

o Star Wars Tech (2007, Color, Apx. 46 Minutes) – Exploring the technical aspects of Star Wars vehicles, weapons and gadgetry, Star Wars Tech consults leading scientists in the fields of physics, prosthetics, lasers, engineering and astronomy to examine the plausibility of Star Wars technology based on science as we know it today.


The May 25, 1977 theatrical debut of Star Wars - on a scant 32 screens across America - was destined to change the face of cinema forever. An instant classic and an unparalleled box office success, the rousing "space opera" was equal parts fairy tale, western, 1930s serial and special effects extravaganza, with roots in mythologies from cultures around the world. From the mind of visionary writer/director George Lucas, the epic space fantasy introduced the mystical Force into the cultural vocabulary, as well as iconic characters such as evil Darth Vader, idealistic Luke Skywalker, feisty Princess Leia, lovable scoundrel Han Solo and wise Obi-Wan Kenobi. Since its 1977 debut, Star Wars has continued to grow, its lush narrative expanding from modest beginnings into an epic, six-film Saga chronicling the fall and redemption of The Chosen One, Anakin Skywalker.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, LLC (TCFHE) is a recognized global industry leader and a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, a News Corporation company. Representing 75 years of innovative and award-winning filmmaking from Twentieth Century Fox, TCFHE is the worldwide marketing, sales and distribution company for all Fox film and television programming, acquisitions and original productions on DVD, Blu-ray Disc Digital Copy, Video On Demand and Digital Download. The company also releases all products globally for MGM Home Entertainment. Each year TCFHE introduces hundreds of new and newly enhanced products, which it services to retail outlets from mass merchants and warehouse clubs to specialty stores and e-commerce throughout the world.

Lucasfilm, STAR WARS™ and related properties are trademarks and/or copyrights, in the United States and other countries, of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. TM & © Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved. All other trademarks and trade names are properties of their respective owners.

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July 26, 2010

Two Half Seasons Make a Whole

Stargate Universe: Season 1.5, in stores July 27, includes a little surprise for fans who get annoyed at DVD and Blu-ray releases that split up the season. The three-disc DVD and Blu-ray sets come in a single case that includes a pouch gummed to the back. In the pouch is a fold-out box for the Complete First Season. The slip case offers enough room for the SGU 1.0 and 1.5 sets.

It's interesting to note that Fox and MGM haven't yet offered a true complete first season of "SGU" for sale (as they did in England), so fans will need to buy the two halves separately for the time being. The "SGU" sets contain $10 coupons for "SG-1" and "Stargate Atlantis" boxed sets, but the offer doesn't extend to "SGU" sets.

But at least it's some acknowledgement that the need to do things to generate revenue can sometimes put a crimp in the style of the collector.

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July 23, 2010

A 'Tron' User's Manual

Greetings programs! The annals of film lore have recorded 1982 as a landmark year for science-fiction. Blade Runner, Star Trek II and E.T. are among the beloved films to debut that year. Also on that list is the video game fantasy Tron (on DVD and soon to be Blu-ray from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment). An oft overlooked benchmark in visual effects wizardry, the film is a dizzying fairy tale for the digital age. In preparation for a highly anticipated sequel making its way to theaters later this year, here are just a few reasons Tron endures as sci-fi classic.

The Story

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) hacks into the Encom mainframe in search of proof he created a popular video game that was stolen from him, but comes across the powerful Master Control Program, which uses an experimental laser to send Flynn into the computer world, where the MCP sends enemy programs to die on the game grid (i.e. in video games). Flynn must team with a security program named Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) to stop the MCP and find the missing data.

The Technology

Just as Flynn is a user who becomes a program, the MCP is a program that would be a user. The MCP grows in power by assimilating other computer systems and taking over their functions. Without invoking the term Internet, MCP’s methods are evocative of its function. Ultimately, the film presents a message that the real world isn’t that different from the computer realm.

The Effects

To achieve the look of the computer world, director Steven Lisberger (pictured) and his team used groundbreaking new computer generated effects, which got them disqualified from the Oscars for “cheating.” Be on the lookout for hidden jokes, such as a cameo by Pac-Man or a Mickey Mouse head in a digital landscape.

The Parable

Religious themes abound. In the computer world, the users are considered gods. Flynn is a user who becomes a program and sacrifices himself to become a messiah, which evokes Jesus. Tron’s user gives him the code that will free his people, which parallels Moses’ experience with the Burning Bush and the 10 Commandments. Plus there’s the Tron vs. Giant Sark battle at the end, a la David and Goliath.

The Influence

Many of the film’s iconic images, such as the light cycles, have been referenced on shows such as “Family Guy.” “The Simpsons” made a memorable reference in the 1995 “Treehouse of Horror VI” segment “Homer3.” “South Park” has made numerous Tron jokes, most recently in “You Have 0 Friends,” in which Stan is sucked into the game grid by his Facebook profile, which has grown too large to allow itself to be deleted (“South Park” also likes to use the MCP as its representation of “Super Best Friends” member Moses). And let’s not forget Jay Maynard, otherwise known as Tron Guy, a computer programmer who parlayed his homemade Tron costume from Internet fame to appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

The Legacy

Jeff Bridges returns as Flynn in Tron Legacy, which Disney releases to theaters Dec. 17. Garrett Hedlund plays Flynn’s son, Sam, who enters the computer world in search of his father. The effects get a 21st century upgrade (for Imax 3D), but all the key elements are still there. Cyberspace will never be the same.




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May 27, 2010

'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' Season 2 on Disc Oct. 26

It looks like “Star Wars” just won't go away. Even 33 years after the debut of George Lucas' blockbuster space epic, the franchise continues to grow. The Empire Strikes Back recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, “Star Wars” merchandise is still a top seller, and Cartoon Network's CG-animated “Clone Wars” series continues to perform well in the ratings.

Warner Home Video will release the second season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” Oct. 26 (order date Sept. 14) as a four-disc set on DVD ($44.98) and Blu-ray Disc ($59.99). The discs will include all 22 episodes from the recently concluded season, plus audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes and a 64-page production journal. Exclusive to the Blu-ray edition will be “The Jedi Temple Archives,” an extensive database of special effects footage, concept art, 3D renderings and more.

The show takes place in the time frame between Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, with the action-packed second season dubbed “Rise of the Bounty Hunters.” One of the highlights was the return of Boba Fett, the badass bounty hunter from the original trilogy, who is still learning the ropes here, as he is still a child seeking revenge for his father's death in Episode II. Longtime franchise fans should appreciate many of the subtle nods to the expanded universe established in novels and comic books.

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