Sunday, October 30, 2011

Whoever Heard Of A Simpsons Halloween Special In October?

If the title of today’s blog is giving you déjà vu, then you’re remembering a parodying of either Kang or Kodos (I can never tell them apart) from a Simpsons Halloween special, particularly the opening sequence of the 14th special. In it, they mocked FOX’s decision to broadcast the Halloween specials on the first Sunday in November instead of continuing the logical trend of airing them on the last Sunday in October. This nonsensical scheduling would go on for 10 out of the last 11 years. Tonight, however, The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror returned just in time for All Hollow’s Eve instead of being up to seven days too late.

My original plan was to do a major retrospective of the 22 specials and write a review for each of the 66 shorts. Unfortunately, I got hammered by a severe case of bronchitis, which instead resulted in no entries for the last seven days. Being able to watch all 21 previous episodes of The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror was still pretty sweet, though. With tonight being the 22nd special, I’m holding out hope that a special box set will come out featuring all of them, since 22 episodes is the usual length for one of the seasons. I thought that was what I was looking at when I saw the cover of the set for the fourteenth season, since it features one of the aliens who typically only appear in the Halloween specials.

The Simpsons Halloween special has been an annual tradition ever since the second season in 1990. They’re also always among the highest-rated episodes of each season. The seventh special ranks in seventh place on creator Matt Groening’s top 10 favourite episodes of all time, with the line “We have reached the limit of what rectal probing can teach us” being his favourite line of the entire TV series to date.

Tonight’s episode will follow the recent trend of parodying movies and TV shows. The first one will parody The Diving-Bell And The Butterfly, only instead of through blinking, a paralyzed Homer will communicate through farts. “Dial D For Diddly” is the name of the second short, which will star a homicidal Ned Flanders in a parody of Dexter. The one I’m most looking forward to is the final sequence, which will have Bart and Milhouse reach the homeworld of Kang and Kodos through means that parody the movie Avatar.

While they all certainly sound interesting, the newest Simpsons Halloween special, like the last 10 or so, seems like it won’t be anywhere near as great as some of the more classic episodes, such as the first five. These first five specials featured a few traditions that were quickly removed due to being too difficult on the writing staff.

The very first special started off with Marge warning the audience about how scary the episode would be and was honestly put in there for that exact reason (this was 1990, after all). Marge’s warning was very off-putting for the writers, so they tried mixing things up a bit by having Homer do it in a parody of Alfred Hitchcock for the third special, and using the wraparound of the fourth special that was written by Conan O’Brien. The fourth special also featured this classic scene:

The fifth special returned to having Marge give the original warning, but mostly as a parodying homage to how the warnings were going the way of the dinosaur starting with that episode. The tradition of the opening sequence showing funny tombstone epitaphs also ended with this one, showing us only a single epitaph this time that read “Amusing Tombstones.” The reason for this was because the epitaphs were always names of shows cancelled in the previous broadcasting season intermixed with names of famous dead people. However, many new Simpsons writers had worked on those cancelled shows, so they decided to stop the trend to avoid accidentally insulting their fellow writers working on other episodes.

The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror may have been the fan-given name and even the name officially used behind the scenes to refer to the specials, but ironically, the wraparound in the first special is the only thing that had anything to do with Bart and Lisa’s treehouse, and the title wasn’t even officially used until the 13th special. For the first 12, it was simply called “The Simpsons Halloween Special.”

The wraparounds that tied all the shorts together were only found in the first four episodes. Conan’s was the final one and it was also the only time a separate writer was brought in exclusively for the wraparound. The previous three were written writers who also wrote one of the shorts for the corresponding episodes.

Another change in writing also occurred right after the fourth and 13th specials. Up until the fourth, each short was written by two different writers, and a single writer for each short up to the 13th. As of the 14th episode, this changed to so that one writer was responsible for all three stories.

The very first special had a different director for each short, as well, but as of the second, they switched to using only one. There were exceptions for the 17th and 20th specials, though, which each had two directors. Tonight’s episode was written by Joel H. Cohen and directed by Bob Anderson.

One tradition that has never changed since the second Simpsons Halloween special was the use of “Scary Names.” That’s because it was inspired by “Horror Tales,” a comic from EC Comics (one of several companies that would later become DC Comics) in the 1940s and 1950s. That publisher, pre-assimilation, was also responsible for Tales From The Crypt and MAD Magazine. Anyway, producer Al Jean noted that issues of Horror Tales used scary names, too, so this lead to the opening and closing credits containing funky font schemes and names like “Bat Groening” and “James Hell Brooks.” And you know how a ton of closing credits use tunes that differ from the main closing theme? The first time this happened was with the very first Halloween episode.

Hopefully, tonight won’t be the last Simpsons Halloween special, but this is certainly a possibility as the show risks not being renewed for a 24th season. Due to lowered ratings, it was announced earlier this month that the producers only want to continue provided certain budget cuts are accepted by the cast and crew. The biggest cut being demanded is that the voice actors all take a 45% pay deduction. After 23 years of working on a show, that might be what makes them finally call it quits. Several episodes have been collected among the season sets, and there has also been this compilation DVD that comprises episodes V, VI, VII and XII.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Living Dead Swarm The Streets At This Year’s Montreal Zombie Walk

In what is thankfully turning into an annual tradition, today saw hundreds of people decked out in gory detail at this year’s Montreal Zombie Walk. The event drew huge crowds of onlookers to the point where the initial route had to be changed in order to avoid blocking off major streets like St-Laurent boulevard.

The Montreal Zombie Walk started at roughly 3:00pm at the Mont-Royal metro where participants and pedestrians alike gathered to see who had the best costumes. Then, at 3:30pm, the parade officially began and the horde of undead masses limped, growled and snarled its way up Mont-Royal Street. Once it became apparent that the Walking Dead were drawing crowds to large for pedestrian safety (the roads were not blocked off to vehicular traffic, after all), the police escorts determined that the safest way to keep them being eaten was to divert the marching corpses to St-Urbain instead of the initial plan of passing via St-Laurent.

From there, the Montreal Zombie Walk proceeded as scheduled, walking to Prince-Arthur, from there to St-Denis, and finally along Ste-Catherine until they reached their destination at Club Soda. As I write this, they are now watching a marathon of classic zombie movies, presumably while chowing down on brains and the flesh of the living. Unfortunately, I could not be among them, because being in-character up until Prince-Arthur meant that imitating a limp started to hurt my back. That, and because this cute little tyke with a wickedly realistic costume kept gnawing on my spine. Just kidding, folks; I actually gnawed on his. MWAHAHA!!!

The highlights of the march when I was still in participation include the several bars along Mont-Royal who left their terraces patron-free so that people with toy guns could try and defend themselves against the zombie horde as it marched by (there were no survivors, of course), and the ingeniousness of some of the costumes. One walker dressed as the recently deceased Steve Jobs, which may seem a little too soon. However, all was ok, because he had an app for that. Zombie Super Mario also stole the stage, as fans of all ages rooted for him when he unfortunately discovered, after defeating Zombie Bowser, that the Princess’ brains were in another castle.

In other zombie news, The Walking Dead Special Edition box set for season one came out earlier this month, while the season two premiere aired on Sunday (the next episode is scheduled for tomorrow night). As for the comic that started it all, The Walking Dead Survivors Guide will be released just after Halloween, while the 15th trade paperback is scheduled to come out right in time for Christmas.

Influential Disney Artist Is Commemorated As Google Doodle Honours Mary Blair

Today’s Google Doodle honours Mary Blair who, on Thursday night, was also commemorated by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Blair was the first woman to hold a major position within Disney Animation, making a place for herself among the founders of the company (who were often referred to as the Nine Old Men). She is best known for her incredibly influential work on Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan and my mother’s all-time favourite, Cinderella. Frighteningly, she is also responsible for designing the It’s A Small World ride.

Alice In Wonderland was re-released in February to commemorate its 60th anniversary and is not part of the Diamond Edition of releases, although Cinderella is scheduled to be the Fall 2012 release. Due to the high demand for IMAX screenings of certain classic movies over the next few years, it is possible this will change to coincide with either a Little Mermaid or Aladdin Diamond Edition.

Last year’s release for the fall was my personal Disney favourite, which is Beauty and the Beast. Who knows when it will return to the Disney Vault, however (seriously, that thing is to classic animated movies as the Arkham Asylum is to Batman’s rogues gallery), as earlier this month saw the release of 2011’s fall movie.

The Lion King Diamond Edition is a 4-disc set containing a 3D Blu-ray, 2D Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy. Dropping on the same day was this trilogy collection - 8-disc set, which contained all the same features as the Diamond Edition release, plus 2D Blu-ray and DVD copies of both the direct-to-home video prequel and sequel movies. Lady And The Tramp is scheduled to be the next release for the line, which is slated to be sometime in the spring of 2012.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Scott Lobdell Defends Starfire Portrayal And Neal Adams Further Convolutes Batman Continuity

Newswarama interviewed Scott Lobdell recently, who is working on Red Hood And The Outlaws, among other projects. Among the many topics covered was the notion that Starfire was overly sexualized in a fashion that promotes gender inequality.

Lobdell told Newsarama that he found fan reaction to be unfair. His comments imply that he believes Starfire’s character is one of a woman who is in complete control of her sexuality. Which, to be fair, kind of is how she is portrayed. The problem rests with how he repeatedly made references to her choosing to be so hyper sexualized, but there’s no implication within the story itself that the way she acts is actually a result of lifestyle choices. The second issue of Red Hood And The Outlaws only changes things from her being a wanton sexpot to actually being Jason Todd’s slutty personal secretary. The issue hit the newsstands yesterday.

DC is also getting flak for both the Catwoman comic and the short that came with the Batman Year One movie released on Tuesday. In my debut post, I defended the comic, saying it explored the sexual metaphors inherently associated with the superhero and costumed vigilante genres. The short, on the other hand, while still a fantastic piece of art, had no such symbolism. It’s roughly 15 minutes and two of them focus on us watching the villain watch a stripper give a very detailed and erotic striptease. Thanks to camera angles, no bare breasts were seen, but one has to wonder at why almost 20% of the short focused on what was blatant fan service if not to provide, well, fan service.

The interview with Lobdell made mention of how the new continuity for the trio will begin to be explored starting with issue three. Memories (flashbacks, perhaps?) of the characters will explore their pasts. This will be important, as fans have raised numerous complaints about the lack of a shared continuity across the many Bat titles. What doesn’t help is how The New 52 is handling Batman: Odyssey by the legendary Neal Adams. It reads like a classic Adams story (complete…with… Shatner-speak….levels of…ellipses…overusing).

However, it’s set a few years in the future, but Dick Grayson is still an inexperienced Robin. If the miniseries is indeed part of the main continuity now, then it may very well be the biggest continuity flub so far. The only way that could work is if Adams was under the impression that the timeframe of the Justice League comic is the present, in which case it could fit between JL and the present titles.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dark Knight Rises Six-Minute Trailer To Premiere With Mission Impossible Sequel

It’s been announced that a Dark Knight Rises six-minute trailer will debut with the IMAX screening of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. This follows the same marketing ploy used with the IMAX screening of I Am Legend, which premiered a six-minute long trailer of The Dark Knight.

The IMAX premiere of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol will be on December 16th, with the film seeing its general release on the 21st. To promote the release, the previous movies will be rereleased as a new box set called the Mission Impossible Extreme Blu-Ray Trilogy on December 6th.

In other DVD news, Batman Year One hit the shelves yesterday and, I’ve got to say, may quite possibly be the best comic book adaptation of all time. It’s so damn good that I’ll be dedicating a proper, full review of the feature later this week. If you pick up a copy for yourselves in the meantime, just be sure to watch the DC Showcase: Catwoman short only after you’ve watched the main attraction.

While on the subject of superheroes and home video releases, the Green Lantern Extended Cut was released on the 14th. Early estimates reveal that it took second place in home rentals and video sales that week, while others are claiming it was in third.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Batman: Year One And Arkham City Released Today

This is a good week for the Batman franchise. Wednesday, as you all know, is New Comic Book Day. This particular Wednesday will see Batman #2, Justice League #2 (in which Batman is one of the primary heroes) and the launch of a seven-issue miniseries titled Batman: Odyssey. Unlike other weeks, though, despite this being big news on account of how those first two are the flagship of The New 52 and the Bat-family line therein, it pales in comparison to what was released today.

Tuesdays are New “Home Disc” Day (unofficially, of course), meaning video games and home video releases. This week, the Dark Knight rises to take top billing in both fields. Today marks the release date of both the DCU direct-to-DVD adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One and the highly anticipated Batman: Arkham City.

I’ve received confirmation from Amazon that my copy of the Batman Year One (Two-Disc Special Edition) has been shipped, so hopefully I’ll be able to review it later this week. Other variants of the product include the less expensive single-disc version and the Blu-ray combo pack. The difference between the two DVDs are a few bonus features, whereas the combo pack also comes with the DVD and a digital download copy. All three are slated to come with the DC Showcase short based on a Catwoman story.

If you think that’s product overkill, wait until you hear about the highly anticipated sequel to the Batman Arkham Asylum Game of the Year. There’s both a Batman Arkham City Amazon Exclusive and a Batman Arkham City Collectors Edition Amazon Exclusive (that’s a mouthful). As I’m currently (and very unfortunately) platform-free these days, the only major difference from my perspective right now is that both are just so. Damn. Pretty. Also, they’re $5 and $50 more expensive than their retailing counterparts.

Cross-promotion is pretty big for this, too. Earlier this month saw the release of an Arkham City Soundtrack and Paul Dini wrote a prequel graphic novel lead-in.

As I won’t get the chance to review the game, I welcome any feedback on it any of my readers (all seven of you!) might have about it. Please feel free leave a comment below once you’ve had the chance to play what’s certain to be yet another video game of the year.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Curse Of Shazam Will Be A Franchise Reboot

 Yesterday I mentioned that Justice League #5 would include a backup story called The Curse Of Shazam which is slated to be by the creative team consisting of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Today, we get a bit more information on the reboot from the mouth of Gary Frank himself. For those scratching their noggins, this particular dynamic duo has paired off a few times before while working on Superman. Their most recent team-up was on another franchise reboot, Superman: Secret Origin, which ironically is no longer canon as it came out just prior to The New 52.

So far, it’s looking like this will be a modernized retelling of Billy Batson’s origins in becoming Captain Marvel. That is, if they decide to keep with the name. For many years, there have been on again, off again legal disputes concerning the name since, you know, half his name is the same as DC’s biggest competitor. In the past, DC chose to work around that coincidence by focusing on the Wizard’s name, instead. Now, ”Shazam” may very well be the name of the Big Red Cheese himself.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting a revamp of the franchise ever since I read the Shazam & the Monster Society of Evil TP by Jeff Smith (and praying over and over for a direct-to-DVD movie be geared for kids that would be an adaptation of this story). The character is rich enough so that he can thrive in pretty much any reincarnation.

To give you an idea as to how loved the franchise was back in its heyday, it’s estimated that over 2,000,000 comics were being sold during the 1940s. That’s still a record. For a modern comic to be considered a success of ridiculous proportions, it only needs to surpass the 200,000 mark. Neither of those figures are a typo. That should give you an idea as to how big the potential is for The Curse Of Shazam.

On a more surprising note, Gary Frank says they’re not designing his costume as differently as every other hero Jim Lee drew up for The New 52. Instead, they’re looking at something more timeless. After DC announced that a Justice Society comic will be arriving in the near future that’s set on Earth 2, one has to wonder if this means the timelessness is actually due to the fact that it will be set elsewhere in the 52-multiverse, such as on Earth 5, which is where the original Captain Marvel universe is located. To read more about Gary Frank’s comments, you can check out this article by Newsarama.