Thursday, August 28, 2008

Superman's story: Did a fatal robbery forge the Man of Steel?

On the night of June 2, 1932, the world's first superhero was born — not on the mythical planet of Krypton but from a little-known tragedy on the streets of Cleveland.

It was Thursday night, about 8:10 p.m., and Mitchell Siegel, a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, was in his secondhand clothing store on the near East Side. According to a police report, three men entered. One asked to see a suit of clothes and walked out without paying for it. In the commotion of the robbery, Siegel, 60, fell to the ground and died.

The police report mentions a gunshot being heard. But the coroner, the police and Siegel's wife said Siegel died of a heart attack. No one was ever arrested.

What happened next has exploded some of the longest-held beliefs about the origins of Superman and the two teenage boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who invented America's best-known comic-book hero.

Past accounts suggest Siegel and Shuster, both 17, awkward and unpopular in high school, invented the meek Clark Kent and his powerful alter-ego, Superman, to attract girls and rise above their humble Cleveland beginnings.

But now it appears that the origin might have been more profound — that it was the death of Jerry Siegel's father that pushed the devastated teen to come up with the idea of a "Superman" to right all wrongs.

"In 50 years of interviews, Jerry Siegel never once mentioned that his father died in a robbery," says Brad Meltzer, a best-selling author whose novel, The Book of Lies, due Sept. 2, links the Siegel murder to a biblical conspiracy plot.

"But think about it," Meltzer says. "Your father dies in a robbery, and you invent a bulletproof man who becomes the world's greatest hero. I'm sorry, but there's a story there."

The first 'Superman'

The evidence for such a psychological underpinning is strong.

It was just a year after Mitchell Siegel's death, 1933, that writer Siegel and artist Shuster came up with "The Superman," a grim, flying avenger they tried to sell to newspaper syndicates and publishers for five years. In the oldest surviving artwork, this early Superman, whom they call "the most astounding fiction character of all time," flies to the rescue of a man who is being held up by a masked robber.

Was it Jerry's alter-ego flying to rescue his helpless father?

"America did not get Superman from our greatest legends, but because a boy lost his father," Meltzer says. "Superman came not out of our strength but out of our vulnerability."

The more Meltzer looked, the more intriguing things became. A letter published in The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer on June 3, 1932, the day after the robbery, denounces the need for vigilantes in the harsh days of the Depression. The letter is signed by an A.L. Luther.

"Is that where (Superman foe) Lex Luthor came from?" Meltzer says. "I almost had a heart attack right there. I thought, 'You have to be kidding me!' "

In search of answers

Meltzer was not the only one looking. Comic-book historian Gerard Jones first disclosed the fact of the robbery in 2004 for his book, Men of Tomorrow, after interviews with Siegel's cousins.

"It had to have an effect," Jones says. "Superman's invulnerability to bullets, loss of family, destruction of his homeland — all seem to overlap with Jerry's personal experience. There's a connection there: the loss of a dad as a source for Superman."

Although they never went public, the father's side of the family was told for decades that the elder Siegel had been shot in the robbery. That's the dramatic angle Meltzer takes in his conspiracy novel. Siegel was shot twice in the chest at his store, he writes, and "a puddle of blood seeped toward the door."

In an afterword to his work of fiction, Meltzer concedes that the facts remain murky. In an interview, Meltzer said that some in the family were told "since they were little kids" that Siegel died by gunfire. Others were told he had a heart attack. "It was probably a heart attack," Meltzer said.

And yet Meltzer is not ready to embrace either answer as final.

More definitive is Marc Tyler Nobleman, author with artist Ross MacDonald of this year's illustrated book Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, who concludes that Mitchell Siegel died of a heart attack during the robbery. The coroner, he notes, reported "no wounds" on Siegel's body, and the gunshot might not have been related to the robbery.

"I spent a long time going after this," Nobleman says. "I believe I have the first accurate account. Jerry's father wasn't shot and robbed. He had a heart attack during a robbery."

A fortune sold for $130

The rest of the saga of Siegel and Shuster is better known, but no less tragic. It wasn't until 1938 that the familiar red-and-blue-garbed Superman appeared on the cover of Action Comics No. 1. The creators got a check for $130. In return, DC Comics acquired rights to the character "forever."

Siegel and Shuster bristled as Superman grew in popularity — on radio, in wartime cartoons and serials in the 1940s. They went to court several times, winning settlements but never rights to the character. By the 1970s, Siegel had been working as a mail clerk for $7,000 a year, and Shuster was almost blind.

"A shameful legacy," says Blake Bell, author of The World of Steve Ditko, a biography of the co-creator of Spider-Man. Comic-book creators "had no pensions, no contracts, no health benefits, and companies didn't even pay for the artists' supplies. When these artists tried to negotiate greater rights for themselves, they were either collectively cast out or made false promises."

After hearing that Warner Bros. had paid $3 million for the rights to make Superman the Movie in 1975, Siegel and Shuster tried again to reap some benefits. This time, though, they had help from the artistic community and from fans who knew their work.

In a landmark settlement, DC Comics agreed to pay the two men $20,000 a year for life. More important, friends say, DC agreed to add "Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster" on all printed and filmed material in the future.

"Having their names listed as Superman's creators was the biggest victory of all," says Steve Younis, editor of "It's worth more than any kind of monetary reimbursement."

The man who helped negotiate the Siegel and Shuster deal was artist Jerry Robinson, who co-created The Joker in 1939 but who received little recognition for decades. (He's now a creative consultant for DC Comics in the wake of The Dark Knight film.)

Robinson says he threw a party in his Manhattan apartment when the Siegel and Shuster settlement was announced.

"Kurt Vonnegut, Jules Pfeiffer, Will Eisner, Eli Wallach and his wife were there," Robinson, 86, says. "Walter Cronkite came on, and they showed Superman flying, and he described what had happened. At the end, he said, 'Another triumph for truth, justice and the American way.'

"We opened Champagne. Jerry and Joe were there, and it was a very emotional moment. There wasn't a dry eye in the place."

The struggle goes on

Michael Uslan, executive producer of the six Batman movies since 1989, including The Dark Knight, says there has been a "sea change" in how corporations view comic books and their creators. "Here you have people in their 80s and 90s seeing their comic-book work being taken seriously," Uslan says. "They are deriving economic benefits now either directly or through consultancies."

Shuster died in 1992 and Siegel in 1996, but their legal battles have been never-ending. In March, a court ruled that Siegel's heirs (wife Joanne and daughter Laura) were entitled to parts of the billion-dollar Superman copyright. Because of the ongoing litigation, neither the families nor DC Comics would comment, not even about Mitchell Siegel's death 76 years ago or its implications.

But in an e-mailed response, the Siegel family did say, "It is gratifying to know people want to know about Jerry Siegel, and that he is getting recognition for his creativity."

Original here

Muppet Show to return to TV after 27 years

By Chris Irvine

Muppet Show to return to TV after 27 years
The Muppet Show, which ran from 1976 to 1981, won an Emmy in 1978 for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series Photo: REUTERS

The Jim Henson-created characters may be on their way back thanks to a new Disney Film.

In the movie, written by Forgetting Sarah Marshall star and writer Jason Segel, the Muppets reunite to save their studio with one last variety show.

Should the film go well, it opens up the possibility of a television programme, also written by 28-year-old Segel.

A source said: "Jason is a massive Muppets fan and is seen as the man to finally bring The Muppet Show back to TV.

"It will obviously have all its old fans but Jason's comedy is hugely popular with youngsters so it will open it up to a whole new audience."

The source added: "If the movie script is popular Jason will write the TV series too. He is already coming up with ideas for it."

Although there have been a number of spin-offs, including Muppets Tonight in 1996, The Muppet Show originally ran from 1976 to 1981, and made famous characters such as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Gonzo - the show won an Emmy in 1978 for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series.

In the original series, Kermit, arguably the world's most famous frog, was the show's stage manager, attempting to keep order amidst the chaos, while being pursued by Miss Piggy.

The Muppet characters went on to star in a number of movies including The Muppets Take Manhatten, The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppets from Space.

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RIAA, MPAA Converging on Political Conventions

By David Kravets

Mpaaa When the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America aren't suing individuals and websites for copyright infringement, they're lobbying.

The two groups are making the rounds in Denver at the Democratic National Convention, where they're likely pushing proposed legislation that would create a cabinet-level copyright czar. Officials from the RIAA and MPAA plan on hitting the Republican convention next week in Minnesota, where they would likely be pushing proposed legislation that would create a copyright czar.

In the age of political correctness, the groups prefer not to use the derogatory term -- "lobbying."

Cara Duckworth, a spokeswoman for the RIAA, said RIAA president Cary Sherman and others from the recording industry are in Denver "to be relevant to the political process. We'll be in Minnesota next week."

Riaapic_2 Angela Martinez, a spokeswoman for the MPAA, was equally cryptic. Dan Glickman, the association's chairman and former congressman, is there "reconnecting with old friends," she said.

"Obviously," Martinez added, "he's there as a representative of the motion picture industry."

The RIAA, MPAA and others are hosting a fundraiser party at the convention on Wednesday for the One Campaign to fight world poverty.

Here's a news tip: As part of the love fest where change is being promised, the Democrats will nominate Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as the party's presidential candidate. You read it here first.

Original here

Led Zeppelin back in the studio

By Sarah Knapton

Robert Plant performing in front of an estimated 8,000 people audience in Bucharest
Robert Plant performing in front of an estimated 8,000 people audience in Bucharest Photo: EPA

Drummer Bonham told a radio station in Detroit that the new material may be recorded but added there was "lots of politics" to sort out first.

The three band members have been meeting to work on new ideas since Led Zeppelin's one-off reunion show last December.

But lead singer Robert Plant has not been involved in any of the sessions, Bonham told the radio station.

He said: "At the moment, all I know is I have the great pleasure to go and jam with the two guys and start work on some material.

"When I get there [in the studio] I never ask any questions. If I get a phone call to go and play, I enjoy every moment of it.

"Whatever it ends up as, to ever get a chance to jam with two people like that, it is a phenomenal thing for me. It's my life. It's what I've dreamed about doing."

He added: "Lots of politics [would need to] get ironed out [before an album could be made]."

Led Zeppelin played their first concert in 19 years, in front of nearly 20,000 fans, at London's 02 arena in December.

Their two-hour set opened with Good Times Bad Times - the first track of their debut album.

Original band members Page, Plant and Jones were joined on stage by Jason Bonham - the son of their late drummer John.

Page recently performed Whole Lotta Love at the London Olympic handover ceremony in Beijing. The song was sung by X Factor winner Leona Lewis.

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John Noble Opts Out Of ‘The Hobbit’

Published by Jennifer Vineyard

John Noble in 'The Lord of the Rings'Sure, Guillermo del Toro might want a lot of the original “Lord of the Rings” cast back for “The Hobbit” — but it doesn’t mean he’ll get them all. At least one Steward of Gondor says he hasn’t been asked.

“They haven’t consulted me,” said John Noble, who played Denethor. “I know Ian McKellan is coming back, and Andy Serkis will be — he’s very much associated with it, and he’s a terrific artist. Ian [Holm] is not a young man, so I don’t know what they’ll do with that. But I don’t think they’ll have Denethor back.”

The Denethor character — Faramir and Boromir’s father — doesn’t appear in the book version of “The Hobbit”, but del Toro plans to make a second, connective film that would take place between “The Hobbit” and “Fellowship of the Ring.” And if the character of Arargorn returns for that — Viggo, we’re looking at you — then there’s room for what happened to Gondor.

After all, before Denethor was the ruling Steward, his father Echelion had the throne (again, a possible place for Noble). Despite being the heir to the throne, Aragorn served under him, although in disguise. One of Aragorn’s battles for Echelion included routing the Corsairs of Umbar and burning their fleet. (You see what’s left of them whom he finally finishes them off in “Return of the King” when he has the help of the army of the dead.)

But if we’re going to see any of those battles of Gondor that gave Aragorn the experience he needed for the War of the Ring — one of the “treasure trove of possibilities” del Toro hints at? — it won’t be with Noble’s involvement. Not just because he hasn’t been asked, but also because he’s no longer available.

“If they said, ‘Would you come and play Denethor again,’” Noble said, “I would have to say, ‘No, I’m doing [new J.J. Abrams television series] ‘Fringe’! And I certainly couldn’t play a younger Denethor or even Echelion now that I’m an older John. Not even with makeup.”

“I do wish them the best of luck, however,” he added. “There’s tremendous fan interest in ‘The Hobbit.’ But ‘Lord of the Rings’ was so special, you could tell even when you were working on it, that it was just so good, and sometimes, you just want to leave that in a special place somehow.”

Would you want to see Aragorn get some battle scars in the second “Hobbit”? What sort of connective tissue do you think needs to be in that film?

Original here

Spielberg Still Taking First Tintin Shift

The Tintin tag-teaming has begun.

Steven Spielberg is still slated to direct the first of three planned films about the mystery-solving Belgian reporter and his trusty fox terrier Snowy, despite recent word from the Brussels studio that owns the rights to the characters that Peter Jackson would be doing the honors for Tintin's first outing.

Reps for both filmmakers say that Jackson—who will serve as a producer on the Spielberg-directed installment—is still onboard to helm the next film in the would-be franchise, based on the classic European comic strip by George Remi, who published his creations under the pen name Hergé.

A rep for Hergé Studios had said earlier Tuesday that Jackson would be the first to step behind the camera and Spielberg would be indirectly involved in the filming, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Either way, the first movie will be adapted from two books in the Adventures of Tintin series—The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, written between 1942 and 1944. Dr. Who scribe Stephen Moffat penned the script.

And now Tintin's signature carrot top will reach new heights: The originally 2-D traveler is being brought to the big screen with Polar Express-style motion-capture animation technology.

British teen Thomas Sangster (Liam Neeson's lovestruck son in Love Actually) will wield Tintin's heavily stamped passport and motion-capture veteran Andy Serkis, of Gollum fame, is stepping into the role of his crusty sailor pal, Captain Haddock.

Before it's Jackson's turn to fashion a Tintin adventure, he will finish postproduction on The Lovely Bones and cowrite The Hobbit with Guillermo del Toro, who was tapped to direct the Lord of the Rings prequel after Jackson dropped out.

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Anatomy of a Hit: 'The Dark Knight'

By Alex Ben Block

Sue Kroll had been in her job as Warner Bros. president of worldwide marketing for less than a week when her office phone rang. A friend implored her to look at the news online immediately.

"At first I thought it was a rumor," recalls Kroll of that tragic afternoon in January. "I didn't believe it was true."

Heath Ledger, co-star of the studio's highly anticipated summer tentpole "The Dark Knight" and the centerpiece of Warners' meticulously planned marketing campaign, had been found dead in his New York apartment.

On the Burbank lot that day, many more phones were about to start buzzing.

"It was just this incredibly quick sequence of calls," Kroll remembers. She talked to producers Chuck Roven and Emma Thomas, production president Jeff Robinov and president/COO Alan Horn.

Horn's first priority, he says, was to reach out to Ledger's mother and father in Australia and offer his condolences. All the movie's marketing materials would be run past the family, he promised them.

"We were already out with the 'Why so serious?' campaign," he notes. "We said (to Ledger's family), 'Look, is this an issue? Would you like us to pull this?' And here's what they said: 'Heath loved the movie, was very proud of it. This was just an accident.' They were fine with it -- more than fine, they were completely supportive."

Nearly six months later, Ledger's performance as the Joker helped power "The Dark Knight" to a best-ever $18.5 million opening-night take. It was the first in a cavalcade of domestic boxoffice records shattered by a film that has survived a host of challenges to become the highest-grossing Warners release of all time ($489.4 million and counting).

"No one could have anticipated this kind of success," Horn reflects. "It surprised us. And, once in a while, it is kind of fun to be surprised on the upside."

The upside -- and the start of "Dark Knight's" adventure -- commenced in June 2005, when director Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" grossed $72.9 million in its first five days.

It went on to take in $372 million worldwide -- healthy, but nowhere near as strong as some had hoped.

Contrary to reports that the movie had lost money for the studio and co-financier Legendary Pictures, it did well enough for them to immediately set the wheels in motion for a sequel.

"If you look at the performance of ('Begins') in theaters, on DVD, and just how much the fan base really loved the movie, there was never any question for us," says Legendary CEO Thomas Tull. "We just loved what Chris did from day one and were very excited about going back on the journey with him."

Nolan could have leaped to another large-scale movie, but instead he signed on to direct again after developing the story with David S. Goyer. Subsequently, he recruited his brother, Jonathan "Jonah" Nolan, to co-write the script, and his wife, Emma Thomas, returned to produce along with Roven.

Luckily for Warners, the key cast -- including Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman -- had signed on to reprise their roles, although Katie Holmes declined to return and was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Aaron Eckhart was added as Harvey Dent/Two-Face.

But it was a casting that initially drew criticism in certain fanboy quarters that was the most intriguing: that of Ledger as the Joker. After his Oscar-nominated turn as a repressed gay cowboy in 2005's "Brokeback Mountain," he seemed an odd choice to some.

"Ledger has always struck me as a bit of a stiff," wrote Josh Tyler on the Cinema Blend Web site in July 2006, when rumors of the casting first surfaced. "Ledger seems spectacularly unsuited to the weirdness of the Joker."

Once production began in April 2007, the filmmakers faced another major challenge. As with "Begins," Nolan eschewed heavy CGI in favor of real stunts.

A sequence in which Batman jumps from a Hong Kong skyscraper and hitches a ride on a passing C-130 cargo plane was shot 88 stories above the city. After weeks of preproduction, a stuntman hung off a helicopter while a second copter with a camera captured it all.

In September 2007, a member of the crew from New Zealand, Conway Wickliffe, was killed in England during a test run for a stunt when the four-wheel-drive vehicle in which he was riding hit a tree.

Nolan and crew also took risks with their chosen format: The $185 million production budget included funds to shoot some of the big action sequences with Imax cameras, much heavier than the usual 35mm cameras. The decision proved lucrative, as the movie has become Imax's biggest hit, raking in $50 million so far with a remarkable $400,000 per-screen average in U.S. theaters.

The studio also gambled a bit with its licensing and merchandising plans. "Batman Begins" had played down its tie-ins, but for "Knight," Warner Bros. Consumer Products and DC Comics ramped up their efforts more than a year in advance of the picture's release, selling the master license to toymaker Mattel, with additional toys from Lego and Halsall and everything from Batman-branded underwear to a deal for Kmart to serve as the "Official Batman Headquarters."

Ledger's Joker played a key role in that campaign, which kicked off in summer 2007 with a well-received teaser trailer featuring the Batman symbol cracking open and a card with a joker on it, as Ledger laughs maniacally.

It was Nolan who came up with the idea of using the film's nearly six-minute opening sequence, a bank robbery, as a second teaser attached to the Imax release of "I Am Legend" in December.

"He wanted to make the movie into even more of an event," Roven explains.

And then Ledger died, casting the whole campaign in doubt. Word had already spread that Ledger's role would be a pivotal element of the marketing push. What would the studio do now?

Kroll says Ledger's death came during a natural break in the campaign.

"We didn't have to change anything," she says. "It became very clear when the family and others started to see some of Heath's bravado performance, and what a centerpiece it was to the movie, that there was no thought of marketing the film without him, as some suggested in the press around that time."

By June, buzz on the film was strong, ticket presales were setting records, and marketing analysts were debating whether Ledger's death might have actually served to stoke interest, rather than detract from the film. The movie looked set to hit the stratosphere. And then another obstacle arose.

Just before the film's London premiere, Bale was arrested in a case involving an alleged assault on his mother and sister. How Warners chose to handle it was instructive.

"We just ignored it because it was his personal business," Horn says. "If he had asked us to involve ourselves, we would have been willing to discuss that, but he didn't mention it, and we didn't mention it."

Bale attended the premiere in London and another the next day in Spain, keeping up his entire PR schedule.

Authorities chose not to press charges. Meanwhile, the movie was on its path to dominate the summer boxoffice.

Now it is moving on to a new challenge, as Ledger is being pushed by the studio for year-end awards. He is almost certain to win a Golden Globe nomination -- and might well be up for an Oscar.

A DVD release of the film is said to be planned for the holidays (the studio won't confirm a date). And Warners and Legendary are both interested in doing a third in the series, but all involved say it will be up to Nolan to come to them with a story and a plan.

"There are a lot of us who emotionally would love to do it," Roven says. "But it's really Chris' call. Chris is the kind of filmmaker who just doesn't think about the next movie before he has completely finished the movie he is working on."

For now, Nolan is taking a well-earned vacation.

Says Roven, "When he comes back, we will see how he feels."

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Ten Truly Underrated Sci-Fi Movies

What is it about sci-fi movies that always make us give them the benefit of the doubt? Case in point - this week's pathetic-looking Vin Diesel vehicle, Babylon A.D., which (surprise, surprise) isn't screening for critics. (Never a good sign.) Diesel plays Toorop, a futuristic mercenary charged with protecting a young woman who might be the host for an organism... yawn... oh sorry, nodded off from boredom for a minute. But, meanness aside, even though Babylon A.D. is a Vin Diesel movie, directed by the auteur who brought us Gothika (who, BTW, is already publicly decrying the film), there's still this strange something about the trailer that makes us think, "I'd totally spent a Saturday afternoon watching that on HBO." Why is that?

Are we so shallow that it only takes a few laser pistols, flying cars, and matching jumpsuits to get our creative juices flowing? Are we so in love with the ideas behind the futuristic concepts of sci-fi movies that we're willing to overlook massive flaws in storytelling? (That's the crutch that most Trekkies have been leaning on for years.) Or are sci-fi movies just vastly, vastly underrated by critics and audiences who can't get past the androids and nanobots? To be frank, while there's been a ton of bad sci-fi product coming out of Hollywood over the years (looking at you, Wing Commander), there's been just as much that hasn't nearly received the credit it deserves. Sure, there are the hallowed sci-fi classics - Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001, Terminator 2, Forbidden Planet - but there's a whole subset of underappreciated sci-fi gems that have gone sadly unheralded without any geeky conventions to call their own. As a public service to the new generation of sci-fi geeks who've only grown up with Star Wars prequels and Scott Bakula as their Starfleet captain, here are MovieRetriever's picks for ten sci-fi movies that don't nearly get the credit they deserve:

1. Primer (2004)

This is the cheapest movie on our list (it was filmed for just $7,000), but here's some big budget praise - Primer is, without a doubt, the best time-travel movie since Back to the Future. (Sorry Bill & Ted.) This Sundance favorite revels in presenting a very smart, very complex view of time travel to its audience and never, ever resorts to short-cuts or dumbing itself down. Sure, it can be dark, obtuse, and confusing, but it's one of the most intellectually stimulating movies of the past decade and the only movie in a long, long time that makes it seem like time travel might actually happen one day. We can't believe that writer/director/star Shane Carruth hasn't been handed his own SciFi Channel series yet (or at least $14,000 to make another movie) because this is one of the smartest works of speculative fiction that Hollywood (well, Park City, Utah) has produced in a LONG time.


2. Aeon Flux (2005)

We knew, going into this, that this was going to be the most controversial pick on our list (Hell, that's why we left off the strangely watchable Chronicles of Riddick), but let's get this out of the way - Charlize Theron's Aeon Flux is a really halfway good sci-fi movie. Now stop screaming at your screens and breaking your Dalek models in disgust and listen to us for a minute. Yes, the movie isn't nearly as good as Peter Chung's visionary original cartoon that first appeared on MTV's Liquid Television, but really, what could be? Chung's Aeon Flux is a bat-s*** crazy, Red Bull-infused threeway of sci-fi, sex, and violence, a style that could never, ever work in a completely straight 2-hour movie version. (It would burn itself out in the first five minutes.) Theron's Aeon Flux takes the cartoon as inspiration and creates a surprisingly strong sci-fi narrative with moments of gorgeously-inspired design work. (Sophie Okonedo's feet-hands stand - pun intended - as the most underrated sci-fi design element of the new millennium.) Yes, it's not as cool as the cartoon and it's not a perfect movie (not by a longshot), but it's strangely smart, very watchable, and wrongly maligned. Give it a chance.


3. Body Snatchers (1993)

No, we're not talking about the Kevin McCarthy-starring, uber-classic, original Invasion of the Body Snatchers nor the amazing, widely lauded Donald Sutherland 1978 remake. And we're DEFINITELY not talking about the craptastic Nicole Kidman vehicle The Invasion, which is forever going to be a dark mark on producer Joel Silver's permanent record. (And he produced The Adventures of Ford Fairlane!) What we're talking about is the best, creepiest pod-people movie that you've never seen - director Abel Ferrara's 1993 Body Snatchers. This low-budget Body Snatchers riff is low on FX and high on psychological terror, using the familiar body-snatching premise to offer some nicely cutting commentary on modern militarism, conformity, and ecological peril. Plus the whole affair is directed by Ferrara - one of the craziest directors out there, who helmed Bad Lieutenant and one of the few halfway worthwhile William Gibson adaptations, New Rose Hotel - and was scripted by the guys who wrote Re-Animator. It's hard to get more cult sci-fi street cred than that. Perhaps people were tired of the pod-people concept or put off by the lack of star power (biggest name in the movie is Gabrielle Anwar), but this under-seen version of Body Snatchers is definitely worth a second (or first) look.


4. Tron (1982)

This is where we get into the politics of calling a movie "underrated." Tron, Disney's 1982 foray into sci-fi and one of the godfathers of computer-generated imagery, has a fairly robust cult fan base and has inspired a slew of viral videos, fan sites, and lightcycle video games. So can we really call it underrated? We think we can, and here's why - a movie like Joss Whedon's Serenity (which we love), while it underperformed at the box office, like Tron, also developed a HUGE cult following after its release. However, while Serenity has already found its way onto countless "best sci-fi movies of all time" lists even though it's barely 3 years old, Tron is still fighting for respectability even 26 years later. That's why we don't consider Serenity to be technically "underrated" - "under-funded" more like it - and that's why we feel Tron definitely is. Serenity has never been mocked on The Simpsons or had to contend with that fat guy on YouTube in the form-fitting Tron suit. However, at the end of the day, Tron, for all its faults (most of which revolve around its occasionally plodding narrative), is one of the most visually visionary films of the past 30 years and a darn fun adventure to boot, and it never gets enough credit for that. The long-awaited sequel, Tron 2.0, was announced at the San Diego Comic-Con this year, and we can't wait.


5. Sleeper (1973)

This might piss off some Dr. Zoidberg fans, but the producers of Futurama should send Woody Allen a fruit basket every week to thank him for coming up with their concept 26 years before the show premiered. Sleeper is not only one of Woody Allen's most underrated movies, but it's also one of the greatest sci-fi comedies ever filmed. The concept revolves around Miles Monroe (Allen) who goes into the hospital for a peptic ulcer and, thanks to complications and a quick cryonic freeze, wakes up 200 years later in 2173. The resulting future-shock chaos skewers both the strange excesses of the 1970s and almost every sci-fi cliché in history. (The subplot about Allen getting caught up in a conspiracy to assassinate Big Brother's nose is hysterical.) This is a movie that should be playing annually at every sci-fi convention across the globe with legions of devoted fans dressing up like Luna Schlosser and robot butlers, and yet Allen's good-natured spoof of the future goes unheralded by fanboys, while sci-fi "laughers" like Men in Black 2 make billions of dollars and get theme-park rides. It ain't right.


6. eXistenZ (1999)

As you can see, some movies made this list because we think they're unheralded gems (Primer, Sleeper), and others have made the list simply because they're brimming with too many inventive ideas and too much imagination to ignore (Tron, Aeon Flux). Guess which category David Cronenberg's eXistenZ falls into? Just the mention of the name "David Cronenberg" should let you know that eXistenZ is probably one of those love-it-or-hate-it movies, but, regardless of your opinions on Cronenberg, it's hard to deny that eXistenZ acts as a really interesting counterpoint to the other big "trapped in a virtual world" movie released in 1999, i.e. The Matrix. (We're choosing to ignore the existence of the terrible Craig Bierko vehicle The Thirteenth Floor.) While everything about The Matrix is cold, clinical, and mechanical, eXistenZ is the exact opposite, constructing a world where virtual reality is created by pulsing organic bio-pods and assassins attack their targets with guns made of flesh shooting bullets made of human teeth. Yes, eXistenZ is a million times weirder than The Matrix and we couldn't give you an accurate plot summary if we tried, but this is a movie where you just have to see it, sit back, and (even if it doesn't work for you) applaud the filmmaker's ambition.


7. A Boy and His Dog (1974)

Out of any of the movies on this list, we're willing to bet our lunch money that THIS is the one you haven't seen and that's a shame. Based on a short story by sci-fi godfather Harlan Ellison, A Boy and His Dog is one of the most originally oddball post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies ever set to film. Almost every aspect of the movie, described individually, sounds completely ridiculous, but when put together, it's strangely riveting, coming across like a hybrid between A Clockwork Orange and Mad Max. Set in a post-nuclear wasteland, A Boy and His Dog follows Vic (a teenaged Don Johnson) as he travels the ruins of America with his dog Blood, who, oddly enough, speaks to the boy telepathically. Blood helps Vic track down the most precious commodity in the post-war world - sex. That's right, we said "sex." In this vision of the future, men travel the wastelands searching for sexual release and women pursue men to be breeding stock. It's strange how weird it is to see a sci-fi movie deal with sex so blatantly, and there have been endless debates over whether or not the entire premise is inherently misogynistic. (It's difficult to counter most of those arguments.) The movie, overall, is original, well-made, and thought-provoking, but prepare yourself for an experience not unlike watching Kubrick's Clockwork Orange where you'll constantly find yourself debating whether the film glorifies or vilifies the behavior of its characters. This might be the strangest movie on this list - which is saying something following eXistenZ - but, at the very least, it's a much better talking-dog movie than Look Who's Talking Now.


8. Enemy Mine (1985)

Enemy Mine hasn't received much love from modern sci-fi fans, and we think we can understand why. It's hard to argue that Wolfgang Petersen's film isn't overly sentimental, a little simplistic, and as morally black-and-white as an ABC After-School Special, all of which is particularly galling since the movie has such a potentially great premise - two fighter pilots in an intergalactic war, a human (Dennis Quaid) and an alien (Louis Gosset Jr.) with decades of nationalistic and racist hate between them, crash-land on an unforgiving planet and are forced to work together to survive. And while, yes, the human and alien become friends way too fast and Petersen isn't afraid to pull on your heartstrings, the movie deserves credit where credit is due. It's a gorgeous sci-fi epic, with inspired design work and amazing performances from its leads, particularly the unrecognizable Gosset Jr. Fine, the movie is unapologetically heartwarming, but why is that always such a bad thing? Not every sci-fi flick needs to be dystopian, ironic, and bleak. Enemy Mine is a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve, and there's enough good, hard sci-fi wrapped around its warm gooey center to make it definitely worth watching.


9. Gattaca (1997)

Andrew Niccol's Gattaca got a lot of things right, but perhaps its biggest accomplishment was proving to Hollywood and sci-fi fanboys alike that you could make a serious, intelligent science fiction film that dealt with really relevant issues in speculative science WITHOUT resorting to the clichéd trappings of modern sci-fi which have overwhelmed the genre for years. OK, we love robots, laser guns, and flying cars as much as the next guy, but sci-fi filmmakers have spent way, WAY too much time lately focusing on their designs for the jet-packs of tomorrow and not nearly enough time on the moral and social themes at the heart of their works. Gattaca, to its great credit, doesn't have that problem at all. In a world where genetic engineering has become commonplace, children born without genetic codes pre-programmed for success are called "invalids" and are treated like second-class citizens. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is an invalid who refuses to accept his place in society, going to extreme lengths to pose as a valid to fulfill his life-long dream of being an astronaut. The film is sublime on a design level, creating a future world out of art-deco noir without a flying car in sight, and the performances are strong across the board. However, Niccol's film doesn't get nearly enough credit for resisting the urge to indulge in unnecessary CGI and "futuristic" set pieces and instead choosing to place all of its emphasis on the characters and themes driving its story. As a result, Gattaca is one of the most relevant sci-fi movies in recent memory, a film that actually uses modern science to create a compelling work of fiction and not another crappy action-movie about bio-mercenaries and nanobots.


10. Silent Running (1972)

Ten bucks says that Silent Running is Al Gore's favorite sci-fi film. But just because Douglas Trumbull's spaceship epic has some pretty overt environmentalist themes - the producers of WALL-E definitely must cite this film as a big influence - that isn't the only reason why Silent Running is required viewing for any hardcore sci-fi fan. First of all, as we mentioned, the film was directed by Douglas Trumbull, who designed many of the breathtaking special effects Stanley Kubrick employed in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Second, Bruce Dern's robot-drone sidekicks in Silent Running are unquestionably the stylistic ancestors of C-3PO and R2D2. And, third, the movie uses the big, wide-scale storytelling of sci-fi space travel to highlight the moral questions surrounding environmental conservation, which is what good sci-fi is supposed to do - use the exaggerated canvas of futurism to comment on the world of today. In the future of Silent Running, all plant life on Earth has been destroyed, and massive space-freighters with giant greenhouse domes, housing the last of the planet's foliage, circle the solar system, preserving the plants for future generations. When orders come to destroy the domes and return the freighters to Earth, one of the caretakers of the planet's last forests (Bruce Dern) has to question how far he'll go to protect his beloved ecological preserve. The film is undeniably dated, but, even if you can't acknowledge the charms of the robots Huey, Dewey, and Louie, you HAVE to respect Silent Running as a movie that helped inspired some of the best sci-fi films of the twentieth century.

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More Than Enough: The First 11 Minutes of Uwe Boll’s Postal

Posted by Neil Miller (

I have heard from multiple sources — including three deities — that Uwe Boll’s latest film Postal isn’t worth the time it takes to break through the Fort Knox DVD packaging that it comes in — in you know the one, with the two little clippy things. But needless to say, I am constantly drawn to all things Boll — the man fascinates me to no end. Why? Because he continues to make movies the way he wants to make them, and people like Dave Foley (pictured above) continue to take their pants off in them. And whether or not the movies turn out to be a pile of excrement or not, that is an accomplishment that is lost on many of Hollywood’s director-types.

That said, I was obviously drawn to the following video embed, which shows off the first 11 minutes of Postal. And though it doesn’t show any of the scenes with Osama Bin Laden and George Bush skipping through a grassy meadow together, it does give us more than enough of the Boll experience for one day. Have a look for yourself below.

The only other reason that I am still planning on borrowing this from someone dumb enough to buy it is that I hear there is a scene where Verne Troyer gets raped by a monkey — and that I have to see.

Postal is on DVD shelves today. Thanks to FilmDrunk for the Hat tip.

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