Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thark Thursday: Deviant Artists

There's quite a bit of fan art out there for just about every property under the sun, and Barsoom has it's own fans--student, pro, and everyone in between. Here's a few of my recent favorites:

I dig the ridged skelatal structure beneath the skin of this Thark character sketch by student Brennan "tehnoochness' Wagner.

Professional illustrator Adam Moore, a.k.a. Laemeur's, "Earth Astride Mars" depicts a pivotal scene in A Princess of Mars, when John Carter has frankly had enough of Tharkian boorishness.

I REALLY dig this sketch of Tars Tarkas by aquilianranger (first name Scott?). I love when people go all insectoid with their Tharks. This guy is dying to be in an RPG or an awesome illio for somebody's Thri-kreen character.

Also, for some reason he sorta reminds me of another badass bugman...

Finally, we have a great shot of the three heroes from A Princess of Mars., Tars looks particularly dashing with blades at the ready and soulless, ebony shark eyes. This one's by Ryan Valle, also known as Praxiteles:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thark Thursday: I've Got Barsoom Fever

I just came back from my second viewing of John Carter and I still think it's great fun. Yeah, it's not a perfect movie, but I've grown to really appreciate the efforts of Andrew Stanton and his cast and design team. I also can think of no better inspiration in recent history for games. It's pure pulp adventure and there's just lots of neat ideas to explore. That [SPOILER] sparkly blue nanite-based "magic" stuff? A great little MacGuffin for any RPG. Thark tribal initiations and homemade weaponry? Sharpshooting skills with radium rifles? Stat me a Warhoon sidekick!

So this afternoon I stopped by Barnes & Noble and picked up a copy of SciFiNow, a movie magazine from the U.K. which did a great cover story on the film. Two things dawned at me at the magazine rack:
  1. Movie magazines are a dying breed, what with the interwebs and all. I was an avid reader of Premiere, Starlog, and a half-dozen others during their respective heydays and inevitable declines. The ones that are left, like Entertainment Weekly, don't have the marketing pull they once had to suck people in and get them juiced about the next big film. The reign of the magazine cover is really over.
  2. This was the only issue of any magazine that featured John Carter on it. The rest were all about the Hunger Games, The Avengers, and even that godawful Battleship movie. John Carter was passed over for other "sure thing" blockbusters from the get-go. Less face-time for Tim Riggins is just another kick in the teeth.
So seeing this import warmed my heart.

In addition, I've been rapaciously reading all that I can of the Barsoomian mythos that are interpretations other than the Edgar Rice Burroughs books. In the picture above we have a sampling of my Martian diet for the last few months.

One notable item: that big fella in the upper right? Got it for a more than half-off at Amazon. It's the Holy Grail of Marvel sword and planet comics--the entire run of their John Carter Warlord of Mars series from the 70s. It's now one of my most very favorite things. When I'm not reading it, I'll just stare at the amazing illustrations. Longingly. When it and I are not in the same room, I think about it and what it's doing when I'm not with it. Does it think about me or remember me at all? Does it even like me? I MUST KNOW.

Oh, but I only mention it because I'll have a more full post about it this weekend, in part to make up for my lack of a more substantive post today.

Finally, with my latest viewing of the film, I've added some minor, but still significant tweaks to my earlier review of John Carter, in case you missed/are interested.

I really do love that movie. I only wish it would see a sequel one day. We truly need more quarter-of-a-billion-dollar, interplanetary barbarian flicks.

Just as a matter of principle.

The media, from top left:

It should be obvious that the books, comics, etc., above are great inspiration for gaming as well. Yeah, that was my original point. But you can pardon the drooling and panting while it took me to get there, yes?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Help Find the First Exomoon!

This is EXACTLY the kind of crowdfunding project I love. FIND AN ALIEN MOON! It's not a comic, or a video game on Kickstarter--this is FOR REAL.

To date, there are more than 700 confirmed exoplanets (as of this writing)--but none of them yet have an identifiable moon. Researchers at the University of Cambridge are hoping to use the Kepler Telescope to find the first. The astronomers heading this search are using (think Kickstarter for science) to crowdfund their project.
In order to study exomoons, we will need to use Kepler telescope data. The Kepler looks at stars and takes photos every hour, searching for changes in the brightness of each star. The dimming of a star correlates with the passing of a planet or moon in front of it. Further, because planets and moons orbit around each other, the gravitational tug of the moon causes the planets to wobble. We can detect that wobbling motion and use those clues to know that a moon is there.

To analyze all of the Kepler data, we need a small supercomputer working 24 hours a day to sift through the data. This supercomputer, like most technology, comes at a high cost, so we would be unable to make strides in this research arena without the private support of $10,000.
They're two-thirds the way there already, but they need help to reach their goal. In case you're wondering, I backed it myself--I only blog about projects I personally back.

With all the creative projects out there, it's great to see something that could really change our world and the way we view the universe. Petridish has plenty of other great projects to back as well.


Now, who wants to start the first crowdfunder to build one of these?

"Not a map--an invitation." (Prometheus Trailer 2)


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thark Thursday: Thoats, Martian Steeds!

Thoats are the staple mount found on Barsoom, employed mainly by the Tharks (and by extension, John Carter). The eight-legged creatures first appeared in A Princess of Mars, are not hooved, but instead have "pads" on their feet. From the novel:
And his mount! How can earthly words describe it! It towered ten feet at the shoulder; had four legs on either side; a broad flat tail, larger at the tip than at the root, and which it held straight out behind while running; a gaping mouth which split its head from its snout to its long, massive neck.
Like its master, it was entirely devoid of hair, but was of a dark slate color and exceeding smooth and glossy. Its belly was white, and its legs shaded from the slate of its shoulders and hips to a vivid yellow at the feet. The feet themselves were heavily padded and nailless, which fact had also contributed to the noiselessness of their approach, and, in common with a multiplicity of legs, is a characteristic feature of the fauna of Mars. The highest type of man and one other animal, the only mammal existing on Mars, alone have well-formed nails, and there are absolutely no hoofed animals in existence there.
Thoats have generally been portrayed as horse-like, sometimes even lizard-horses. It was refreshing to see an original approach used in the design for thoats that appeared in John Carter--but still keep some of Burroughs more signature touches like the paddle-shaped tail.
Though they served as the mainstay beasts of burden and battle for the Tharks, they also were often the target of their masters' abuse who assumed the only way to get through control the creatures was with corporal enforcement.

(Above) Great concept art by Thomas Denmark!

The direhorse, a six-legged mount from the film Avatar, is thought to be inspired by Burroughs' thoats, supposedly about the size of an Earth elephant.

Carter relies on his natural talent with animals to win their obedience without resorting to gratuitous abuse--and ensures his place in the tribe as a sort of "thoat whisperer".
My experience with Woola determined me to attempt the experiment of kindness in my treatment of my thoats. First I taught them that they could not unseat me, and even rapped them sharply between the ears to impress upon them my authority and mastery. Then, by degrees, I won their confidence in much the same manner as I had adopted countless times with my many mundane mounts. I was ever a good hand with animals, and by inclination, as well as because it brought more lasting and satisfactory results, I was always kind and humane in my dealings with the lower orders. I could take a human life, if necessary, with far less compunction than that of a poor, unreasoning, irresponsible brute.

In the course of a few days my thoats were the wonder of the entire community. They would follow me like dogs, rubbing their great snouts against my body in awkward evidence of affection, and respond to my every command with an alacrity and docility which caused the Martian warriors to ascribe to me the possession of some earthly power unknown on Mars.
LOVE this painting by Frank Espinosa! 
In other news:

John Carter Rakes in $100 Million Worldwide
If I were Andrew Stanton right now, I'd be taking some relief in the fact that John Carter did $70 million over the weekend in foriegn markets--adding to the only $30 million it pulled in here in the US. Apparently overseas press aren't as stingy, latching on to poor marketing and creating a "bad narrative" about the film in their coverage. Here's hoping that it at least breaks even in the long run and gets a decent release on blu-ray.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jean Girard "Moebius" 1938 - 2012

Wow, not even a week after losing Ralph McQuarrie and another sci-fi artist is goneJean Henri Gaston Giraud "Moebius" was an icon in the comics industry. By all accounts, he was likely one of--if not the most celebrated comic illustrator(s) in a commercial sense as well as artistic influence. 

If you've seen (and loved) Blade Runner, Tron, Alien, The Fifth Element, not to mention the animated films of Rene Laloux (Les MaƮtres du temps and Gandahar), then you've been witness to the collaborations with filmmakers. Perhaps the partnership for which he'll always be associated is the one with filmmaker, comic book writer Alejandro Jodoworsky. Their most famous comic book collaboration was The Incal, oft-cited as a science fiction masterpiece, it's set in a massively overpopulated future and touches on themes of high-technology, religion, and commentary (satire mostly).

Last fall on a trip to Madison, WI, my wife and I stopped in a tiny comic shop on Monroe Street and I picked up a hardbound collected edition--their last copy of a sold out print run. I splurged and it quickly became one of my most prized tomes. (Feel free to mention your favorite Moebius work in the comments.)

The other project, which has become somewhat of a legendary "what if it had been made?" status is Jodoworsky's Dune film. Moebius, along with other great artists like H.R Giger, rendered some of the most unique and breathtaking concept illustrations. Had it been realized on film in the scale and scope Jodoworsky intended the film might have changed the course of modern science fiction, as it was to release before Star Wars. When the film fell apart, Moebius went on to do concept work for handful of other films (The Empire Stikes Back and Alien included). 

Though his vision was in a state of irreversible decline the last few years, he was still working. I'm still trying to figure out a way to process it, because--and I say this without irony or hyperbole--there are two periods in the world arena of comics: with Moebius, and without

And sadly, we're now living in the Post-Moebius Era

More remembrances:

My Trip to Barsoom (John Carter mini review)

Okay, just got back from seeing John Carter and....I loved it. Seriously, it's been a while since I've had that "great movie" afterglow leaving the theater. The visuals are so striking and the ending was masterfully rendered to a satisfying conclusion--even though it's set up to obviously continue.

I'd like to answer a few questions about some elements that have been on the minds of geeks who are both die-hard Burroughs' fans and/or indifferent and think it's Prince of Persia 2.

Hopefully, there's a message here, too, for anyone who's "meh" or "no way" about seeing it. GO. Give it a chance. It's better than any of the commercials give it credit for and it's well worth $10.50--more so than most other action films I've seen recently. It's a popcorn chomping, brawl of movie--with some brilliant character and story touches.

If this is enough for you and you don't need any further build up to go see it, then by all means, stop reading right now.

If you're still skeptical and don't care to have a little bit spoiled (and don't mind a bit of cheerleading!) then continue. Now, on to the questions....

Was it faithful to the book, A Princess of Mars or the other John Carter books?
When it needed to be yes. As a film, the story was great, and all the changes that Andrew Stanton and Michael Chabon made were improvements. I can say that, without reservation. Some of the relationships between some key Thark tribe members are different from the book but the alterations serve the characters quite well indeed. Personally, I'm not someone who believes films should be on-screen translations of their source material. I think they should live and breathe on their own.

So if you wanted a literal translation from the book...well...just shut-up and give it a shot anyway. If you love the book, the filmmakers give you plenty of "nods" in the dialogue to ease any agony.

UPDATE: After a second viewing, I don't think Stanton had too many arbitrary changes--that is nothing was modified purely at the filmmaker's whim. I won't say it's completely unencumbered or that artistic license (especially in production design of Zodanga) isn't taken. But at least all the source material for the story itself comes from Burroughs and it's a satisfying amalgam of the Carter mythology through Stanton's particular lens.

How were John Carter and Dejah Thoris?
Tim Riggins--er, Taylor Kitsch was good. He was (I surmise) hired for his brooding looks and barbarian-like physique. He was serviceable in the role. The one missive was a lack of cool Southern gentility that's woven into his literary counterpart. Other than that, he slices and dices bad guys quite well.

Dejah was another matter entirely. I REALLY like what they did with her character. She had a better reason for being in the story than the MacGuffin mentioned in the book's title. Dejah's a role model for young girls as far as intellect, athleticism, and heart. This is due in large part to the talent of Lynn Collins, who in many ways, lifts the entire film. Often times, a poorly cast heroine can seem shrill and disengaging. Collins is the opposite, and enhances every interaction in which her character appears. Dejah could have easily been the film's kryptonite, but Collins (and Stanton, by design) have made her the film's heart.

UPDATE: Collins shines as Dejah Thoris and Kitsch is still pretty good.

How about the Tharks? Believable?
Tars Tarkas, Sola, Tal Hajus, Sarkoja, et. al. were each wonderfully realized in both on-screen presence and in their respective story lines. There's no Jar Jar moment in any of their articulation on screen. Sarkoja and Tal play their parts as plot devices, a sacrifice well worth the added mileage we get out of Tars' and Sola's stories--again to the benefit of the film. The biggest disappointment is that Disney decided not to market any freakin' action figures for what's possibly the most expensive film they've made yet. So I'm denied the joy of having an army of Tharks on my desk at work to intimidate my coworkers. THIS IS A TRAVESTY. Moving on...

How was the art direction/environment, etc.? I remember the first trailer looked too much like Utah!
This is without a doubt Barsoom. It's an alien world all right--with a hint of similarity to Earth to make it believable that it's our neighbor and not a planet from Star Wars. In each setting, be it wilderness, ruins, airships, or urban--there's a distinct, exotic and believable sensation. Any fears about it not being so, are completely unfounded.

UPDATE: Many of the "natural" locations that a few reviewers have mentioned "still look like Utah" are actually not natural at all--they're ruined parts of ancient Barsoom that have been weathered by time and war. Many of the ruins have begun to take on a more geologic appearance after so much abuse and neglect.

UPDATE: Should I see it in 3D?
I've seen the movie twice now: first in plain 'ol 2D and in then a week later in RealD 3D. I'm not a 3D fanatic, but I did enjoy experiencing Avatar when it was released since it was shot with an innovative 3D camera system developed by James Cameron. This film does not use that technology--it's just digitally projected 3D which doesn't do anything to enhance the film. So if you're seeing it on a weekend or matinee, go for it. Otherwise, save some cash and see it the way Mother Nature intended.

What about the film's faults? You're just a big ol' Pollyanna!
Fair enough. The film does have flaws--it's not a bat-out-of-the-park hit. But I'll be seeing it again and getting the DVD. There's really nothing else on this scale that looks as good. I'll concede that there are some weak spots, but the best parts shine bright enough to dispel any shade.

High points include: Carter's arrival on Mars, meeting Woola, a completely all-out barbaric battle featuring Carter in the middle of the film, and the last 10 minutes of the film. These were more than enough to win over my very reluctant wife, who admitted she was thinking of bailing before we ventured out to the show. In the end, what really got her on board was the same thing that gets all naysayers.

It's the thing no grouch can resist--that steal every show and stills the eye-rolls of many a jaded film-goer. It was....

...the dog. :)

Notable cameo to watch for:
Brian Cranston of Breaking Bad fame appears as Powell (literary Carter's mining partner) but in the film he's more of a foil.

Again, if you were thinking of skipping it, or waiting, I encourage you to go see it in theaters. See it as a matinee or a weekday. If enough people go, we might even have a shot at seeing where Stanton and company take the story next! As Disney fare goes it's far above what they usually deliver, and frankly far better than what they deserve, considering how they botched the marketing. Here's the fan-cut trailer that does a much better job of laying out the plot:

If you're looking for a rollicking, interplanetary adventure then gas up the thoat and just go see it already!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thark Thursday: Tars Tarkas

Hey friends, it's John Carter Eve! If there's such a thing...which there is, I just made it official. It's still technically Thursday, so I wanted to a few pics of Tars up (click to embiggen). I've got another special art post planned as well, but it will have to wait until I can get the scanner working again (soon though). Until then, I give you the big guy himself...

And of course....