DEN OF GEEK
NEW YORK COMIC CON / OCTOBER 2017 / DENOFGEEK.COM
INSIDE SEASON 11
NEW YORK COMIC CON SPECIAL EDITION / THE FIFTH EDITION
DAVID DUCHOVNY GILLIAN ANDERSON CHRIS CARTER + MORE!
X-FILES AN ENDURING LEGACY THE HISTORY OF
GHOSTS ON FILM
A DAY INSIDE
BEN MCKENZIE INTERVIEW
SET VISIT REPORT
DEN OF GEEK.COM 1
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR I
n 1946, when faced with a resurgent Ku Klux Klan, Superman stepped in. The producers of The Adventures of Superman radio show, alongside Stetson Kennedy, who had gone undercover in the KKK on behalf of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, crafted an adventure designed to expose and demystify the group. At the time, The Adventures of Superman was one of the most popular radio shows in America, drawing an audience of millions–far larger than modern juggernauts like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead– for up to five episodes each week. This wasn’t the first or last time America’s most famous pop culture immigrant had taken up the cause of social justice. “Whenever you meet up with anyone who is trying to cause trouble between people, anyone who tries to tell you that a man can't be a good American because he’s a Catholic, a Jew, a Protestant, or whatever,” Superman intoned in one radio adventure, “you can be sure he’s a rotten American himself and a rotten human being. Don't ever forget that!” By 1948, in his first live-action adventure, Superman’s core values were presented not as “truth, justice, and the American Way” but “truth, tolerance, and justice.” As tumultuous as the world has been over the last year, this is the perfect time to ask ourselves not just what kind of fans we are, but what kind of people we want to be. Whenever I attend a convention, especially the big ones like SDCC or NYCC, there’s always something that manages to genuinely get to me. I’m long past the point of being awed by the scale and ambition of these enormous shows, and it isn’t the big news that publishers and studios are falling over themselves to break, or the sheer technological wonder of the displays and events; it’s the fans themselves. I am consistently amazed by the tremendous outpouring of love I see from fans at these shows, not just for their favorite stuff, but for each other. I’ve seen people making new friends in line for events, taking pictures with complete strangers, swapping cosplay and collecting tips, and generally reveling in the fact that these gatherings exist. We need to bring more of this spirit of friendship, tolerance, and empathy back to both the internet and into the “real” world of our non-fandom lives. “The characters represent a transcendent feeling that we all have inside us, that we could do better,” Jack Kirby said in a 1982 interview with Entertainment Tonight. “We want to do better. We have the time to do better. We can be the people that we lionize.” I don’t just think we can. I know we will.
PRINT EDITION EDITOR
Chris Longo CREATIVE DIRECTOR
Kaitlyn Richert ASSISTANT PRINT EDITORS
David Crow Alec Bojalad Nick Harley John Saavedra DESIGNERS
Olivia Reaney Rachel Keaveny Emilee Kraus Hannah Kneisley COPY EDITOR
DEN OF GEEK.COM CEO
Jennifer Bartner Indeck PUBLISHER
Matthew Sullivan-Pond EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Mike Cecchini DEPUTY EDITOR
Chris Longo FILM EDITOR
David Crow GAMES EDITOR
John Saavedra CONTRIBUTING EDITORS
Kayti Burt Don Kaye Tony Sokol
FOUNDER & UK EDITOR
DENOFGEEK.COM IN OCTOBER
EDITORIAL email@example.com CORPORATE SPONSORSHIPS
31 DAYS OF HORROR
WATCH OUR REACTIONS ON STARDUST
FALL BLOCKBUSTER REVIEWS
It’s almost Halloween! Thirty-one days of your favorite horror movies, TV shows, books, and video games. We’re revisiting classic monster favorites, the greatest horror movies never made, and the scariest video games of all time.
TV season is in full swing, and you can join the conversation with your favorite Den of Geek writers on new social app, Stardust. Download the Stardust app and follow @denofgeekus and you’ll be entered to win a mystery box, with all kinds of cool swag.
This is the most wonderful movie time of the year, and we’ll have reviews of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, Blade Runner 2049 and more coming your way in the next few weeks!
4 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
firstname.lastname@example.org 646.717.9555 MAILING ADDRESS
1410 Broadway, Flr 23, Suite 11 New York, NY 10018
IMAGES: FOX (COVER); PIXAR (RIGHT-HAND PAGE)
NEW YORK COMIC CON 2017
THE DARK WRITE
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA IN THE AGE OF TRUMP
Amazon’s new anthology series is a mixed-media scarefest.
From actor to director to writer, Ben McKenzie is now a television triple threat.
What would Battlestar Galactica look like in today’s political climate? The cast opens up.
COVER STORY: THE X-FILES
The legacy of The X-Files will be put to the test when it returns for its 11th season in 2018.
PARANORMAL PICTURE SHOW
THE WESTERN POWER FANTASY
Karen Gillan and Jake Kasdan talk the sequel’s vastly different game.
The ghosts are ready for their closeup in our story about capturing the dead on film.
The Konami franchise will haunt us all forever.
On Westworld, Red Dead Redemption, and the future of the Western genre.
IMAGES: FOX (COVER); PIXAR (RIGHT-HAND PAGE)
46 A DAY INSIDE
WANT MORE GEEK? FIND US ON SOCIAL! @ DENOFGEEKUS
DENOFGEEKUS.TUMBLR.COM DEN OF GEEK.COM 5
THE ULTIMATE NEW YORK
COMIC CON PLAYLIST BY CHRIS CUMMINS
f there's one thing we've learned from our various convention experiences over the years, it's that one tends to overlook just how much waiting around goes on at these things. But fear not! We have an all-new playlist full of nerdy jams for you to listen to while you’re walking the halls of New York Comic Con.
Some of these songs may be as familiar as your favorite character while others are as mysterious and exciting as the new friends you'll make at the con. One thing is certain, however: these tunes possess a unique charm that will remain with you long after your convention memories have faded.
STAR WARS THEME/CANTINA BAND | Meco Meco Monardo is a genius who made a career out of infusing sci-fi and movie themes with disco. This is his masterpiece, the dancefloor equivalent of the Mona Lisa—minus the ambivalent smile. Unless you have a bad motivator, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear.
CHEWIE THE ROOKIE WOOKIE | The Rebel Force Band
We had never heard this wildly infectious earworm before seeing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and now we can't imagine our lives without it. It's funny how quickly pop music becomes indispensable. 7 I HELPED PATRICK MCGOOHAN ESCAPE | The Times The Prisoner is a show that you either become completely obsessed with or find impenetrable. We are most definitely in the former camp. Perhaps that’s why we dig this Beatles-esque tribute to the series and its mastermind/star so much.
Who doesn't love songs about Wookies? See also, "What Do You Get a Wookiee for Christmas?" from Christmas in the Stars and Supernova's "Chewbacca" from the Clerks soundtrack. 3
ANDROMEDA | Silicon Dream Oddball German synth act Silicon Dream had a penchant for singing about nerd-centric topics and featuring breakdancers in their music videos. Even without the jaw-dropping visuals, their songs are catchy, unforgettable, and pure ‘80s jams.
CZAR WARS | Czarface 7L & Esoteric team up with Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck as Czarface, who pack more deep nerd references per beat than anyone else. “Czar Wars” references Jon Snow, Pixar, and samples the classic Star Trek red alert klaxon, among other things.
SPIDER-MAN | Marty Nelson Our decidedly retro vibe rolls on with this selection from the immortal (and officially sanctioned) 1975 LP, Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Superhero, in which Peter Parker sings about accepting his fate as everybody's favorite webslinger.
6 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
WHAM BAM SHANG-A-LANG | Silver
VONNEGUT BUSY | Sage Francis "If you feel like you're going through hell, keep going," encourages indie rapper Sage Francis. Drawing inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut's tireless work ethic, it’s a reminder to stay true to yourself and your goals in the face of adversity.
9 CANDY GIRL (SUGAR SUGAR) | Josie and the Pussycats The musical highpoint of Riverdale's first season, this electrifying cover of Inner City's reinterpretation of The Archies’ hit single earns itself a place on this playlist due to its sheer meta-ness alone. It’s also a shot of energy that you can cue up whenever you need a jolt of adrenaline. 10 SHE BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE | Thomas Dolby A bit on the nose, yes, but a forever jam nonetheless.
DEFEND AGAINST ORDINARY.
BE EXTRAORDINARY. GO TO FUN.COM/DENOFGEEK TO GET
35% OFF YOUR FUN SUITS ORDER!
© & ™ DC Comics
© 2009 and TM BBC. Licensed by BBC WW Ltd.
THE (GEEKY) HOLIDAY BOOK GUIDE BY KAYTI BURT ‘Tis almost that time of the year again: the holiday gift-giving season. Or, as we like to call it, the perfect excuse to buy more books. Whether you’re looking for a gift for yourself or for someone special in your life, here are our top genre book picks for winter 2017.
THE NAME OF THE WIND (10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION)
ANNALEE NEWITZ | OUT NOW — TOR BOOKS
PATRICK ROTHFUSS | OUT NOW — DAW
io9 founder Annalee Newitz’s debut science fiction novel, Autonomous, is a story about the future of intellectual property law told from the dual perspectives of Jack, an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, and Paladin, an indentured military bot hot on Jack’s trail. While Jack works to create an antidote, the latest corporatemade smart drug, Paladin grows physically and emotionally closer to their human International Property Coalition partner Eliasz. Set on Earth in 2144, Autonomous asks the question: What does freedom look like in a culture where everything, even people, can be owned?
With The Kingkiller Chronicle becoming a movie, TV series, and even a video game, there’s never been a better time to dive into Patrick Rothfuss’ beloved fantasy world. DAW is releasing a 10th anniversary hardcover edition of the first book in the series, The Name of the Wind, which tells the story of Kvothe, a magically-gifted young man who grows up to be one of the most notoriously powerful wizards that the world has ever seen. Complete with illustrations from Dan Dos Santos, a brand new author’s note, and an appendix detailing the world’s calendar system and currencies, the deluxe edition includes 50 pages of extra content. The perfect gift for the fantasy nerd in your life!
LUMINESCENT THREADS: CONNECTIONS TO OCTAVIA BUTLER
ANN LECKIE | OUT NOW — ORBIT
EDITED BY ALEXANDER PIERCE AND MIMI MONDAL | OUT NOW – TWELFTH PLANET PRESS Octavia Butler, the author of The Parable of the Sower and Kindred, is one of the most important science fiction writers of all time; this book aims to celebrate her contribution to the genre. Luminescent Threads is an anthology of letters and original essays written to, for, and about Butler by writers and readers for whom her work has meant something. A follow-up of sorts to the Locus Award-winning Letters to Tiptree, Luminescent Threads is a book for anyone who has ever loved Butler, or for those who want to learn more about her legacy.
Imperial Radch series author Ann Leckie is back with another science fiction story set in the same universe as her Ancillary books. Provenance is a novel about a young woman named Ingray who lives on a planet called Hwae. In an attempt to earn the approval of her foster mother, she unwittingly stumbles into an interplanetary conspiracy. As you do. Exploring themes of power, privilege, and birthright, Leckie’s muchanticipated return to this science fiction world is sure to be one of the most talked-about books of the holiday season.
THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE CYNTHIA HAND | NOVEMBER 7 — HARPERTEEN If you’re looking for a young adult option during the 2017 holiday season, then look no further than The Afterlife of Holly Chase, the contemporary teen retelling of A Christmas Carol that you probably never asked for, but will nonetheless enjoy! The novel tells the story of Holly, a 17-year-old ghost girl who didn’t use the insight provided to her five years ago when she was visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. Now Holly is a Ghost of Christmas Past, helping other misers see the error of their ways and watching her friends and family move on without her. But this year, everything will change…
8 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
ARTEMIS ANDY WEIR | NOVEMBER 14 — RANDOM HOUSE A heist… on the moon. Do we have your attention? The latest novel from The Martian author Andy Weir follows criminal Jazz Bashara, one of the many struggling inhabitants of the moon’s only city, Artemis. Jazz is a contraband smuggler who gets in over her head when she tries to commit the perfect heist but falls into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself. We probably had you at “author of The Martian,” right?
Promotional - Den of Geek in Association with Stardust
A NEW WAY TO REACT Be the first to react to the latest trailers, movies, or last night’s crazy episode.
et's face it, reaction videos have become an undeniable part of the fan experience. Being able to engage with fellow pop culture enthusiasts as you react to can’t-miss TV moments, or share your opinion on the latest blockbuster, has become an artform unto itself. In light of that, Den of Geek is partnering with Stardust
to put you directly in touch with our team to share your reactions to your favorite movies and TV shows! To get things started, you can follow the Den of Geek team on the ground at NYCC to get our reactions in real time to some of the coolest announcements. Keep your eyes open and you might spot us with a celebrity guest or two!
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT STARDUST:
What Is Stardust? Stardust revolutionizes the pop-culture community with content that’s tailored strictly for TV and film fanatics. You can join thousands of other TV and movie geeks and be the first to react to your favorite titles. The best part? Sharing your hilarious (or tearful) reactions and checking out how the community responds to your favorite TV shows and movies, old or new!
How Does It Work? You can upload videos (up to 30 seconds) of your reactions to all your favorite TV shows, movies, trailers, and more. Post clever or funny reactions and become a Stardust celebrity, or follow other users and see what your fellow entertainment enthusiasts are saying!
SIGN UP NOW FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A DEN OF GEEK MYSTERY BOX!
For the duration of New York Comic Con, from Oct. 5 to 8, anyone who downloads the Stardust app, creates a profile, and makes @denofgeek their first follow will be eligible for an exclusive Den of Geek NYCC prize pack! Don’t miss your chance to win an expert-curated box of pop culture swag from the Den of Geek team.
? Who to Follow From Den of Geek Den of Geek @denofgeek
Mike Cecchini, EIC @wayoutstuff
Chris Longo, Deputy Editor @eastcoastbias
Kayti Burt, Associate Editor @kaytiburt
Fans sharing video reactions to movies, TV, and trailers.
Win Win aa Pop Pop Culture Culture Swag Swag Box! Box! Follow @DenofGeek on Stardust to enter. DEN OF GEEK.COM 11
STREAMING NOW AMAZON PRIME
BY ALEC BOJALAD ILLUSTRATION BY HANNAH KNEISLEY
ow that streaming services are churning out their own (mostly superb) content, take a moment to appreciate the old “traditional” TV fossils that populate platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Each streaming service boasts a few little-known, nostalgic, or hidden gems that deserve your time.
NETFLIX The Returned Ignore the bad taste left in your mouth by the American remake, the French original Les Revenants is the real deal. While The Returned isn’t outright horror, its dull colors, muted soundtrack, and sweeping shots of a lonely, fog-filled French countryside make the show as creepy and poignant as television can be. Terriers It’s clear why Terriers failed to find an audience. The name makes no sense and there’s no easy way to categorize or explain its surfy, SoCal, mystery tone. But I promise it’s really fun. There’s only one 13-episode season, so there’s no excuse not to watch Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James solve crimes in a fictional-ish Southern California coastal town. Merlin Smallville set off a chain reaction of TV properties that sought to show the early years of popular fictional icons. Of all the post-Smallville properties, the BBC’s Merlin is undoubtedly among the best. For some fans, Colin Morgan’s depiction of the legendary Merlin is the definitive one.
12 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
Brotherhood Brotherhood is the story of two brothers from Providence, Rhode Island—one’s a gangster ( Jason Isaacs) and one’s a politician ( Jason Clarke). The show never really found an audience and is all the better for it. It exists over three relatively short but undeniably excellent seasons. Medium Crime procedurals can be a real drag. Medium is not, thanks to excellent performances from Patricia Arquette and Jake Weber, some good writing and directing, and a seriously bizarre concept. Arquette portrays the real-life psychic Allison DuBois as she works with her local Arizona police department to solve murders. That may sound corny (and it is), but the show happens to be quite good. Allison and her husband’s home life is lovingly and realistically depicted and the gonzo premise allows the writers to get as creative or weird as they want to be in a genre that could use a lot more weirdness and creativity.
HULU Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain wasn’t always a silver-haired jet-setting maestro. At one point, he was a middling New York chef looking for any way to break through. It came with the publishing of his first memoir, Kitchen Confidential, which was eventually adapted into a show of the same name that ran for just 13 episodes on Fox. It’s a shame, because a show based on a Bourdain-esque bad-boy chef is the kind of thing that would absolutely take off now. It would be hard to get Bradley Cooper for the lead this time, though. Digimon Adventure Digimon was never as successful as Pokemon. That’s probably because the premise is fairly limited. There’s no collecting and no training. Even the evolution system is entirely temporary. All of Digimon’s cultural shortcomings can’t change one immutable fact though: Digimon Adventure runs circles around any season of the Pokemon cartoon. In fact, Digimon Adventure and many of the spinoffs to follow are great. Watch this one if you want to reconnect with your childhood or if you’re just in the mood for a solid anime adventure.
Visit Tor Books at New York Comic Con! Booth #2136 Join us for signings, giveaways*, and surprises with the very best in science fiction and fantasy Meet
and buy his new memoir
HAIL TO THE CHIN! •
“Autonomous is to biotech and AI what Neuromancer was to the Internet.”
“Jam-packed, appealing.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“This tale of robot noir is unlike anything I’ve ever read….” —CHUCK WENDIG on Made to Kill
“Mark and Ed tell the fascinating story of that rare Hollywood product that actually means something to mankind” —SETH MACFARLANE
“Rich, expansive, and grounded in human truth…. Simply exquisite.”
“Addictive and immersive, this series is a must-read.”
—V. E. SCHWAB
—ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY on A Gathering of Shadows
* All giveaways are while supplies last. Badge scan required to claim free book. • Subject to change. This is a ticketed event FOLLOW TOR BOOKS | GET FREE EXCERPTS when you sign up for the free Tor/Forge monthly newsletter TOR-FORGE.COM
“An intricately re-envisioned history of America…. It’s a feat of craftsmanship to be celebrated.” —JACQUELINE CAREY on American Craftsmen
DEN OF GEEK.COM 13
HORROR STREAMING GUIDE We highlight the must-watch horror films on Shudder’s streaming service. BY DANIEL KURLAND
he horror genre, once considered niche, is currently experiencing an explosion in the zeitgeist. Everybody wants a piece of that bloody gold. Yet, while today’s streaming services feature some respectable horror selections, it often feels like there’s something missing for horror fans. Shudder offers plenty of foreign horror, beloved classics, recent hits, relevant television series, and even some exclusive titles. Here are some of the heavy hitters that make the size of their huge library a little less scary.
(1983, ROBERT HILTZIK)
In a lot of ways, Sleepaway Camp is just a basic, messy slasher set at a summer camp. The body count is high, the deaths are often ridiculous, and the film is constantly rubbing its ‘80s-ness in your face. For much of its runtime, it feels like a rip-off of movies like Friday the 13th, but there’s an absolutely insane twist that rockets it up to “must-see” status. Come for the sloppy horror theatrics, stay for the utterly shocking ending.
THE EXORCIST III
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
Anthology films can often be a mixed bag, but Three… Extremes is one of the more satisfying collections out there. The anthology features three segments, “Dumplings,” “Cut,” and “Box,” directed by prominent East Asian directors Fruit Chan, Park Chan-wook, and Takashi Miike. “Dumplings” will likely ruin your ability to eat the titular cuisine for the next decade or so; “Cut” is a visual masterpiece that feels like a collaboration between David Lynch and David Fincher; and“Box” features the thoroughly disturbing material that only the director of Audition could deliver.
It’s a little surprising that The Exorcist III is as effective as it is considering how much William Peter Blatty fought over changing the film’s ending. The movie centers on Lt. Kinderman from the original Exorcist, now with 100 percent more George C. Scott, as he investigates a series of murders that are remarkably similar to the work of the film’s de facto Zodiac Killer surrogate, “The Gemini Killer.” The only problem is, the Gemini Killer has been dead for years. Kinderman’s search for answers makes for an effective, nihilistic look at evil. The film also contains what is widely considered to be one of the most frightening jump scares of all time.
If you like Stranger Things or The OA, then get ready to find your new Holy Grail. Beyond the Black Rainbow is a glorious experiment that genuinely feels like it was made in the 1980s. The film is a marvel to watch, with psychedelic visuals backed up by a synth soundtrack that would make Kubrick or Argento proud. Beyond the Black Rainbow tells the story of the Aboria Institute and how Dr. Barry Nyle has perverted their science and the search for transcendence into a series of grueling tests on a young girl, Elena. It may be too weird for some people, but that’s a good thing.
It’s pretty remarkable that Roman Polanski’s first English-language film is such a home run. The psychological horror subgenre is increasingly popular, but Repulsion is still the example to follow. It simultaneously sets the standard while also breaking the mold. The simple premise explores what happens to a mentally fragile woman— played by an alarmingly powerful Catherine Deneuve—when she is left alone for a short stretch of time. Spoiler: She does not handle it well.
Not to be confused with the animated mega-hit of 2013 (although mixing the two up would be hilarious), Frozen depicts the horrors of a mundane skiing trip that takes a turn for the worse. Frozen is that special kind of horror film that does a lot with a little and keeps things minimalistic for as long as possible. Many of the films on this list are about supernatural threats or classic monsters from the horror genre, but Frozen mines its fear from the idea that “this could happen to you.”
Annabelle and Chucky might be leading the demonic doll pack these days, but Fats is a wooden dummy that could give them a run for their money. Magic tells the heartbreaking story of Corky (Anthony Hopkins) and his ventriloquist dummy, Fats. Magic asks the classic question of whether Fats the dummy is alive or if it’s all just part of Corky’s psychosis. Hopkins delivers a nuanced, pained performance, and his work as Fats is subtly disturbing. Magic is a haunted lullaby that will lodge itself in your imagination.
(2005, FRUIT CHAN, PARK CHAN-WOOK, TAKASHI MIIKE)
(1965, ROMAN POLANSKI)
(1990, WILLIAM PETER BLATTY)
(2010, ADAM GREEN)
(2010, PANOS COSMATOS)
(1978, RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH)
14 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
OTHER NOTABLE TITLES: [REC] – [REC] 3, Maniac, Audition, Dead Ringers, I Saw the Devil, Room 237, Black Christmas, Battle Royale I and II
16 DEN OF GEEK â&#x2013; NEW YORK COMIC CON
LORE The X-Files’ Glen Morgan has a spooky vision for the TV adaptation of podcaster Aaron Mahnke’s dark historical tales. BY CHRIS LONGO
IN A MEDIUM LIKE PODCASTING, WHERE ANYONE WITH A MICROPHONE AND A DREAM BELIEVES THEY CAN SUCCEED, SIMPLE IDEAS AND EXECUTION STAND OUT. Lore, a folklore podcast from supernatural fiction writer Aaron Mahnke, adheres to that concept. With nothing more than his calm, if unpolished, voice, Mahnke acts as a historical tour guide, tackling topics ranging from deeply disturbing stories set in physical spaces— prisons, asylums, the woods—to the real-life origins of cannibals, vampires, and warlocks. With no need for showmanship, he lets the eerie piano soundtrack and spine-chilling truths of his script crawl under the skin of his
listeners. It’s the podcast equivalent of sitting around the campfire with only a flashlight and an all-too-real spooky story to tell. Mahnke’s project spread faster than any of the folklore he covers in each episode. Nearly six million listeners return every two weeks to hear Mahnke hawk dark, historical tales and otherworldly myths. Hence after just six months of producing the podcast, Mahnke was fielding calls from Hollywood. The strong premise and execution caught the attention of one of the busiest and most powerful producers in show business, Gale Anne Hurd. “The scariest things in the world are things that could actually happen,” Hurd says. This is what initially drew her to Lore. Phoning from her Los Angeles office, the CEO of Valhalla Entertainment is taking her time to collect her thoughts. The producer of genre blockbuster royalty like The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Aliens, as well as the more recent peak TV powerhouse,
The Walking Dead, is explaining how Lore crossed her desk when she takes a slight pause and says, “Honestly, it was the phone call you only hope for and dream of.” In less than a year, Mahnke had gone from being a relative unknown to having Hollywood bigwigs waiting by the phone for his calls. The high praise from Hurd, who was a “big fan” of the podcast, snowballed into her production company finding a home for the project on Amazon. The TV series, which has the appropriate release date of Friday, Oct. 13, now has to live up to the growing folklore of the hit podcast, and that’s brought its own set of challenges. “From the very beginning we realized that it's not a scripted show,” Hurd says. “This is not something I had done before, but it was absolutely essential to maintain the grounded nature of the podcast by making sure that we had archival footage. We absolutely did not want this to be talking heads, people talking DEN OF GEEK.COM 17
"THE SCARIEST THINGS IN THE WORLD ARE THINGS THAT COULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN." -GALE ANNE HURD about things that are scary. That's not scary.” To make scary happen, Hurd and Mahnke enlisted a guy with plenty of clout in the business of bringing monsters to life: The X-Files writer, director, and producer Glen Morgan. Their approach to the material is to stay true to the podcast and also incorporate Morgan’s retelling of nonfiction. The show will thus strive for a documentary feel, using a mix of animation and existing footage interspersed with a scripted narrative. “As long as it thematically connects to the story we're telling,” Morgan says, “we can show things that [Mahnke] can’t.” While matching the series with a producer famous for helping bring “Monster-of-theWeek” into the pop culture lexicon seems like a no-brainer, the process was actually more organic than meets the eye. Morgan was a fan before he knew the TV series was in development. He was so intrigued by it that he emailed Mahnke to set up a meeting, because the podcaster listed The X-Files as one of his creative inspirations on his website. After a face-to-face meeting in Los Angeles, in which Morgan says the topic of the television show didn’t even come up, Mahnke, who was unavailable to participate for this story due to a book tour, eventually suggested Morgan as a potential showrunner. It was an easy fit, and soon Morgan signed on. Even with all the rich source material Mahnke gifted him, Morgan wanted to make his vision for Lore clear: He was going to “do the podcast.” ***
Outside of Atlanta, in an office complex turned soundstage, rain drops are thudding down as Morgan graciously offers his office as an interview space. He walks deep into the pitch black chamber and flicks on the lamp on his desk. The mostly empty room is an “I Want To Believe” poster and a few pencils hanging from the ceiling away from being Fox Mulder’s office. Swaying in and out of the dim desk light, Morgan opens up about the freedom he has to play in the space between fact and folklore here, much like his work on The X-Files and the cult hit Millennium. In fact, Morgan was exploring lore long before Lore. “I'm interested in the facts. I'm a historian,” Morgan says, meditating on the origins of his fiction writing for The X-Files. “Back 18 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
in the day, I'd get science newsletters with a five-page magazine that came every Monday. So you took the facts, but in the middle, I make shit up. And inevitably everybody would go, ‘Oh I read about that.’ No, I made that part up. So that to me is what causes folklore, and that's why I'm interested in both projects to have a similar approach.” While much of the episodic framework of Lore will be added in post-production, the setup on this day of shooting is for the scripted narrative portion of the episode. The action is contained inside the wooden framework of a replica doctor’s office from the 1940s where actor Colm Feore wields a long ice pick-like device. As cameras are nearly set to roll, he readies for a monologue about the “transorbital lobotomy,” a medical procedure once believed to reduce manic symptoms in the institutionalized. Feore is playing real-life Dr. Walter Freeman, known as the “Father of the Lobotomy,” who performed more than 2,500 lobotomies in the United States between 1946 and 1967, using a process that involved pushing a long needle through the eye and breaking through the skull to disconnect the frontal lobes and the thalamus. The story comes from episode six of the podcast, “Echoes,” which digs into asylums, or as Mahnke describes it, “The mother of all horror settings with a dark pedigree unlike any other.” The episode recounts the ethical dilemmas of the “hospitals of the mind,” places intended to help the sick but for a long period of time only generated pain and suffering for patients. In the midst of Feore reciting his lines while he stands over a patient with an ice pick in hand, thunder from outside the building rattles through the set and production carries on, as if mother nature stopped by for an unnerving cameo. “It was hard to conceive how horrible it was,” Feore says between takes. “Crying, screaming, miserable, chained up, unhappy, cold, batshit crazy. Being in those circumstances only made some people crazier because they lost all hope.” Freeman’s procedure left many patients either in a vegetative state or struggling to regain basic motor functions. This was at a time when patients had virtually no alternative medical options to treat mental illness and a doctor’s word was taken as gospel. Freeman offered justifications, believing he was doing the right thing, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. There was a rather large ethical and practical gray area to Freeman’s work, which to Feore makes this a timeless topic. “The real horror of it for me is here’s a guy who philosophically believes he’s got to do something and just happens to be wrong about what it is and can’t see that,” Feore says. “Certainty and uncertainty are a wonderful pandora’s box to open with this show. We fool ourselves if we try to pretend we’ve
FROM HEADPHONES TO THE SMALL SCREEN Quite a few podcasts have successfully made the podcast-to-TV transition, so the proving ground has been set. Here’s a look at the wide variety of on-demand audio programs that are being developed for TV. BY MICHAEL AHR
SERIAL Serial began as a podcast spinoff of NPR’s This American Life. Producers Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder took this long-form feature idea and serialized it (thus its title), telling the same story across 12 hour-long installments. Season one was a breakout hit as they retraced the questionable conviction of Adnan Syed in the murder of Hae Min Lee. 20th Century Fox inked a deal with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to develop the series with their Fox 21 Television Studios branch in September 2015, at the height of the podcast’s success. The series is still in development, and season three of Serial is due in 2018.
STARTUP StartUp places listeners inside the world of a burgeoning business as it struggles to attract investors and a customer base. Season one followed Alex Blumberg’s own journey in starting Gimlet Media, a podcast company which has spawned such hits as Reply All and Homecoming. The TV version of StartUp won’t be a documentary; rather, it will air as a single-camera comedy starring Zach Braff. Braff will play a character who gives up his steady job to start a new business at great risk to the financial health of himself, his wife, and his two young children, just as Blumberg did in real life. It airs this fall on ABC.
LIMETOWN Limetown is a blend of paranormal fiction and investigative journalism. The podcast rocketed to the No. 1 spot on iTunes, billed by enthusiasts as Serial meets The X-Files. The six-episode first season tells the fictional story of the mysterious disappearance of over 300 people at a neuroscience research facility in Tennessee, as told through the eyes of investigative journalist Lia Haddock. In April 2016, the series’ writer and director Zack Akers sent an email to subscribers that detailed plans to write a pilot script for a Limetown TV series. Most recently, Simon & Schuster inked a deal for a Limetown prequel novel.
HOMECOMING Homecoming is a political thriller podcast led by Catherine Keener, who voices a caseworker at a clandestine government facility. Keener’s character is working with a soldier eager to return to his civilian life, voiced by Oscar Isaac, and an ambitious supervisor, played by David Schwimmer. Amy Sedaris and David Cross also lend their voices to the podcast, which tells its story through an interesting mix of phone calls, therapy sessions, and overheard conversations. Homecoming was highly sought after by several studios and finally landed at Universal Cable Productions, which brought on Mr. Robot’s acclaimed creator, Sam Esmail, to produce the show. HBO has picked up the development deal from UCP.
Colm Feore plays the controversial Dr. Walter Freeman, known as the “Father of the Lobotomy."
"WE FOOL OURSELVES IF WE TRY TO PRETEND WE’VE MADE A GREAT DEAL OF PROGRESS." IMAGES: AMAZON
-COLM FEORE made a great deal of progress. We don’t know as much as we think we know.” We do know these stories, as chilling tales
or warnings from the past, resonate with listeners. To Morgan, the purity of the podcast medium is what hooked him in the first place. “[Podcasters] are not hindered by conceptions about what would make a hit,” he says. The same can’t be said for television, but what really stood out about the potential of Lore on the small screen was that even folklore that has been twisted and transformed over the years can offer contemporary insight. “These are deceptively yesterday's issues,” Morgan says, “but they are also today's issues.” “We're living in a climate these days that's driven by fear, and I think this is an opportunity
to see how fear of the past and of the unknown drove people to do, in many cases, the wrong thing,” Hurd says. In its own way, the television adaptation will build on the foundation Mahnke put in place, giving viewers a chance to conceptualize the dark past of human nature in a new light. “A podcast is just storytelling,” Feore says as he’s summoned back to the doctor’s office for a final take. “It turns out just storytelling is something we really like and we really need. Stories about other times and other lives are enormously instructive in how we might want to live, evolve, and develop and find a new respect and compassion for each other.” DEN OF GEEK.COM 19
FALL Creators Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, and showrunner Ben Karlin, share what makes Hulu’s Future Man both an homage and a trailblazing sci-fi comedy.
FUTURE MAN HULU
BY MICHAEL AHR
20 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
Sausage Party to theater audiences. Along with fellow producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Karlin, Hunter, and Shaffir would like to push the envelope of what TV comedy, let alone sci-fi comedy, can do, and Hulu has encouraged it. “I don’t think there was a single thing that I can recall where they heard an idea and they said that it was over the line or too much for them,” Shaffir says. “If anything, they pushed us to be as daring as we wanted to be, so Hulu was fantastic.” “In pitching out the season, they were the ones who were gravitating to the more subversive elements that we were like, ‘Oh, we’re not sure they’re going to take kindly to this,’” Hunter says of Hulu’s embrace of their adult sci-fi comedy. “But they really got excited about those irreverent, subversive elements that I think are going to set this show apart.” Make no mistake, Future Man takes its time travel seriously. “It’s pretty complex, I’ll say, and there was some assigned reading with some time travel books,” Karlin insists. “The most important thing by far was to try and treat the time travel with as much integrity as we could because if you don’t care about the rules, then there’s no reason for the audience to care about the rules.” Hunter agrees: “We really did want the time travel, if you stripped away the comedy, to function like a true sci-fi show. We wanted all our rules to be in place and have as few holes as possible.” Shaffir puts the “timey-wimeyness” of Future Man at a complexity level of a six out of 10. Will audiences rate the show that high, and will it appeal to both fans of adult comedy and high-concept science fiction? Time will tell when Future Man premieres its 13-episode season on Nov. 14, 2017.
IMAGES: HULU, ABC, AND CW.
The premise of Future Man sounds unique, yet oddly familiar. Janitor and video game addict Josh Futturman is chosen by time travelers to save humanity from an apocalyptic future based solely on his performance in a first-person shooter. If that sounds like a mash-up of The Last Starfighter and The Terminator, it’s because creators Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir wrote it that way, not only as an homage to sci-fi of the past, but also because Josh needs this knowledge of what came before in order to succeed. “We definitely pay more and more homage as it goes along, too,” Hunter admits. “They came back from the future to find a hero based on the skills they thought he possessed in this video game, but it turns out he doesn’t really possess a lot of those skills.” But the skill set he does possess could prove more useful, even if the soldiers from the future don’t know it at first. “One of Josh’s skills that kind of makes him useful to the two characters that come back from the future is that he’s seen movies like The Terminator and Back to the Future and The Last Starfighter, so he’s able to use his pop culture knowledge to help them navigate through time travel and being in a time that isn’t theirs,” Shaffir says. It’s a fine line that Future Man walks by referencing other science fiction touchstones without becoming derivative. Showrunner and executive producer Ben Karlin says it’s more about adding to the canon than ripping something off. “You just hope that people view it that way, because it was certainly our intention,” he says. “It’s referential, but we feel like we need the show to stand on its own as a really interesting sci-fi comedy.” The comedy part comes naturally to the team that brought the racy
BY MICHAEL AHR AND NICK HARLEY
THE MAYOR ABC WHO IS INVOLVED? Search Party’s Brandon Michael Hall stars as aspiring rapper/mayoral candidate Courtney Rose. Community’s Yvette Nicole Brown plays Rose’s no-nonsense mother while former Glee star Lea Michele co-stars as begrudging chief-of-staff and ex-classmate Valentina. David Spade is also cameoing as the incumbent mayor. The Mayor is produced by Tony-winning Hamilton star Daveed Diggs.
WHY IS IT WORTH A LOOK? ABC has quietly been stacking its schedule with diverse, ensemble comedies that are family-friendly yet genuinely funny. The Mayor has a fun premise that finds a struggling rapper looking for the right PR stunt. When he involves himself in local politics to drum up publicity, Courtney Rose is forced to get down to business after he’s elected as the mayor of his California hometown. WHEN DOES IT AIR? Tuesday, Oct. 3, 9:30 p.m. ET
WHO IS INVOLVED? Valor is a military drama created by Kyle Jarrow. Anna Fricke, co-creator of the U.S./Canadian version of Being Human, is the showrunner. The series follows aging hipster and flyboy Capt. Leland Galo, played by Matt Barr (Hellcats). Fresh off her stint as the femme fatale in Syfy’s Blood Drive, Christina Ochoa will be Galo’s co-pilot, Officer Nora Madani. She's described as “an intense and driven junior Army pilot who is a member of the Night Raiders special ops unit.” WHY IS IT WORTH A LOOK? Crime shows, hospital dramas, and other series centering around public servants abound, but military shows haven’t been at the forefront. This allows Valor to fill a niche that could resonate with viewers who enjoy the many shows with the word “Chicago” in their title, in which the characters put their lives on the line each week. WHEN DOES IT AIR? Monday, Oct. 9, 9 p.m. ET
DEN OF GEEK.COM 21
WHO IS INVOLVED? Executive producers David Fincher and Charlize Theron bring this crime thriller, based on John Douglas and Mark Olshaker’s nonfiction book, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, to Netflix. Jonathan Groff (Hamilton, Glee) plays FBI Behavior Science Unit agent Holden Ford, who is based on real-life FBI agent John Douglas. Holt McCallany (Blue Bloods, Sully) co-stars as FBI Behavior Science Unit agent Bill Tench, who is based on real-life agent Robert K. Ressler, along with Anna Torv (Fringe) as a psychologist named Wendy, who is based on real-life figure Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess. Fincher is directing three episodes. WHY IS IT WORTH A LOOK? David Fincher hasn’t had a misstep since Benjamin Button, but the director has been on a tear of excellent work since 2010’s The Social Network. There’s no reason to think that this ‘70s-era crime drama, focused on the FBI agents who pioneered the psychological study of serial murderers, would end that streak. Echoing what is arguably Fincher’s best film, Zodiac, Mindhunter is dark, disturbing, and yet completely fascinating. It provides an unflinching look at the mind of monsters, begging its audience to flinch instead. WHEN DOES IT AIR? All 10 episodes stream Friday, Oct. 13, 2017.
WHO IS INVOLVED? Created by writer-director Peter Farrelly and Emmy-winning The Colbert Report writer Bobby Mort, Loudermilk stars Ron Livingston (Office Space) as the titular ne’erdo-well. Will Sasso (Shameless), Laura Mennel (Watchmen), and Toby Levins (Fear the Walking Dead) round out the cast. WHY IS IT WORTH A LOOK? Farrelly is one half of the Farrelly Brothers, the duo that brought us modern comedy classics Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin, and There’s Something About Mary, so the guy has earned our attention. Also, Livingston always brings his A-game and deserves the chance to headline his own series. As Loudermilk, he’ll play a substance abuse counselor: a foul-mouth pessimist with a drinking problem that’s the least of his worries. On a network that allows uncensored content to flourish, Loudermilk could be the comedy that puts AUDIENCE on the map. WHEN DOES IT AIR? Tuesday, Oct. 17, 8:30 p.m. ET
LOUDERMILK AT&T’S AUDIENCE NETWORK
S.W.A.T. CBS 22 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
WHY IS IT WORTH A LOOK? If remakes are usually not promising then remakes of remakes are even less promising. Still, S.W.A.T. is worth a look for one very important reason: Shawn Ryan. Ryan is one of the most beloved and important figures in recent TV history. The Shield is rightfully considered a transformative classic and the many other shows that Ryan has had a hand in are almost always interesting. If The Shield represents the best case scenario for S.W.A.T., and the perfectly fine The Chicago Code represents the worst case, it should at least be watchable. WHEN DOES IT AIR? Thursday, Nov. 2, 10 p.m. ET.
IMAGES: NETFLIX, AT&T’S AUDIENCE NETWORK, CBS, HULU, AND NBC.
WHO IS INVOLVED? S.W.A.T. is a remake of the 2003 film of the same name... which in turn was a remake of the 1975 TV series of the same name. That’s right. S.W.A.T. finished the reboot lifecycle. It stars Criminal Minds’ Shemar Moore as Sgt. Daniel “Hondo”Harrelson. Stephanie Sigman, Alex Russell, and Jay Harrington (the eponymous Ted in Better Off Ted) star as well. The series was created by Aaron Thomas, and will be run by Thomas and The Shield creator Shawn Ryan.
MARVEL’S RUNAWAYS HULU WHO IS INVOLVED? Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who cowrote the Runaways pilot for Hulu, will act as co-showrunners for this adaptation of the popular Marvel comic in which six runaway children of varying ages and backgrounds unite against their criminal parents, collectively known as “The Pride.” Allegra Acosta, Virginia Gardner, Gregg Sulkin, Lyrica Okano, Rhenzy Feliz, and Ariela Barer star as the titular runaways, and their parents include such notables as Annie Wersching (24), Kevin Weisman (Alias), and James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Julian McMahon (Charmed, Nip/Tuck) guest stars as Jonah, who helps the runaways along their path to becoming unlikely heroes.
WHY IS IT WORTH A LOOK? Marvel is always looking to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Runaways will be a part of it. Both Runaways and Inhumans are new television entries in that vein, but with questionable advance reviews for the latter, Runaways could grab all the attention. The cast photo that was released early in the show’s development excited fans with how closely it mirrored a recognizable cover from the comic. With a cast of relative newcomers, this show could potentially compete alongside The Defenders, which, like other Netflix shows, is on the periphery of the MCU at best. WHEN DOES IT AIR? Runaways will premiere on Hulu on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017.
A.P. BIO NBC
WHO IS INVOLVED? A powerhouse SNL trio of Lorne Michaels, Seth Meyers, and writer Mike O’Brien combined to create A.P. Bio, which stars It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton as a teacher named Jack and comedian Patton Oswalt as his boss, timid and nervous Principal Durbin. WHY IS IT WORTH A LOOK? Meyers and O’Brien are whip-smart writers who are aiming to bring some wit back to NBC’s comedy lineup. Howerton has been consistently brilliant on the criminally underappreciated, long-running Always Sunny, and this new role looks to feed off of his particular talents. Howerton stars as Jack Griffin, a philosophy scholar who misses out on his dream job as professor at Princeton and is then forced to accept a job teaching Advanced Placement biology to high schoolers. With no intention of teaching biology, Jack decides to use his honor roll students in his mission for revenge. So Howerton will be playing a plotting, scorned man with a superiority complex who is given dominion over innocent teenagers? That sounds perfect, even before you throw in the always great Oswalt as a foil. Sign us up for that class. WHEN DOES IT AIR? Midseason TBD DEN OF GEEK.COM 23
THE DARK WRITE Actor, director, and now writer Ben McKenzie is Gotham’s new triple threat. BY KAYTI BURT 24 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
IMAGES: JEFF NEUMANN/FOX
BEN MCKENZIE IS A TV TRIPLE THREAT.
“AS AN ACTOR, YOU ALWAYS WANT TO WRITE YOUR OWN LINES UNTIL YOU ACTUALLY ARE ABLE TO WRITE YOUR OWN LINES.”
With the fourth episode of Gotham Season 4, McKenzie ( Jim Gordon) will add TV writer to a resumé that already includes TV actor and, after last season’s superb “These Delicate and Dark Obsessions,” TV director. “It’s like being a racecar driver, but you’re also a mechanic,” McKenzie says in a very writerly moment. “You can get into the engine and fix it, if you need to.” Writing a TV script is something McKenzie has long been interested in. He had previously discussed the possibility with Gotham showrunner John Stephens and Gotham creator Bruno Heller before finally getting the opportunity this season. “I’ve been fiddling around with writing for a long time,” McKenzie says, “but I’d never written an episode of television, so it was quite a learning process.” McKenzie went to Los Angeles last spring, during Gotham’s inter-season production hiatus, to take part in the Gotham writers’ room where they collectively broke the story for McKenzie’s episode, as is common practice. Then McKenzie headed back to New York (where Gotham films), writing the episode’s many drafts remotely. McKenzie wrote the script for “The Demon’s Head,” the fourth episode of Gotham’s fourth season and the second part in a three-episode arc which focuses on the eponymous Demon’s Head himself, aka Ra’s al Ghul, amongst other things. The “A” plot in McKenzie’s episode centers around Bruce and his various father figures—in this case, Ra’s al Ghul, the ever-present Alfred, and McKenzie’s Jim Gordon. The “B” plot gives us a better look into the relationship between new character Sofia Falcone, Carmine’s daughter, and Penguin. The “C” plot focuses on the fan-favorite dynamic between
Penguin and Ed Nygma. “I got to really play with some of my favorite characters, which include Penguin and Nygma, Bruce and Alfred, Jim and Harvey… Iconic core characters in interesting settings,” McKenzie says of the experience. Which character did McKenzie find the hardest to write for? That would be his own character: Jim Gordon. “As an actor, you always want to write your own lines until you actually are able to write your own lines and then you don’t know what to write for yourself,” McKenzie jokes. McKenzie found Gordon’s partner Harvey Bullock the easiest to write for. “Harvey can say anything, and it literally doesn’t matter. Donal [Logue] can deliver any line, he can make any line funny, and he can make any line sincere, if that’s the point. And so you have total creative freedom.” McKenzie particularly enjoyed the challenge of writing for the Penguin/Nygma dynamic, calling his episode “yet another evolution in their relationship and in their rivalry.” Following the events of the season three finale, Nygma has become unfrozen from the block of ice Penguin had Mr. Freeze put him in, but has lost some of his mental deftness in the dethawing process. “[Nygma]’s not as smart as he would otherwise be and he is trying to send Penguin riddles to meet up so they can square off,” explains McKenzie, “but the riddles are so terrible that Penguin can’t figure them out. It culminates in a great scene between the two of them and [Robin Lord Taylor and Cory Michael Smith] were just absolutely fantastic.”
DEN OF GEEK.COM 25
McKenzie has been working in the TV business for a while, getting his big break as main character Ryan Atwood on The O.C. in 2003 and working consistently in TV and film ever since. That being said, because writing takes place mostly away from production, McKenzie said he still had much to learn about the writing process. “From being on a set, the directing came fairly naturally,” McKenzie says. “It was challenging, but there were a lot of things that I understood about directing just from observing, just from watching directors work. Writing often takes place behind-the-scenes. Physical production is not privy to how scripts come out… I wasn’t so familiar with that process of breaking a story, of starting with a story document, then an outline, and then a draft; it was informative.” If there was one thing that most surprised McKenzie about the TV scriptwriting process, it was the “story math,” as he called it. “The structure of the six acts in network television is very specific, and you need to be very aware of where each act break is going to fall, how the action is going to rise-fall, rise-fall, so on and so on, in order to have it play the way you’d like it to play,” McKenzie explains. “I don’t think I’d given enough thought to [things like that] because you sort of take it for granted when you see it on the page.” Of course, coming from the world of TV acting—and acting on the show he was writing for, in particular—did give him an edge. “I certainly understood the nature of each character because of working alongside the cast. I knew their voices relatively well,” McKenzie says. “The other great thing about being on the other side, as an actor, is I felt pretty un-precious about all of it. Something that isn’t working for them, I would usually be the first one to say, ‘Yeah, you’re right. That doesn’t work. Let’s change it.’ And throw it away. And I think that facil-
26 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
itates the collaborative process.” Learning first-hand about these other steps in the TV creation process has not only made him a better actor, it has made him a better lead actor specifically. “If you are the central character on a show, you have a responsibility that goes above and beyond just showing up and doing your work as an actor, day in and day out. You are there to be a leader and be a champion of the show, but also a manager of the show, in a way.” For McKenzie, this includes managing the different things that are going on, such as “physical shooting, so that it’s shot and shot well, but it’s shot without killing the crew and killing the cast in the process." He also wanted to make sure everyone felt included and respected. “By being on the other side, as director and now writer, you get as full an understanding of the process from soup to nuts, as you can can get really. You understand it from the true concept stage all the way through to post-production.” McKenzie doesn’t think he’ll have the time to write another episode of Gotham this season (after all, he is a full-time actor on the show). However, he will be stepping behind the camera again to direct the 16th episode of the season. Despite the logistical difficulties of having your lead actor adding fulltime roles like writer or director to his already full plate, McKenzie hopes to continue expanding and improving on his skill set. “I’m hopeful that, [for] as many seasons as Gotham goes,” McKenzie says, “I can write and direct one a year and, each time, get better. That’s the goal.” Going above and beyond the call of duty? How very Jim Gordon of him.
28 DEN OF GEEK â&#x2013; NEW YORK COMIC CON
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA REVISITING
IN THE AGE OF TRUMP
All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again. BY KAYTI BURT
hether you’ve watched Battlestar Galactica or not, you’ve probably heard about the space opera’s political relevance in the post-9/11 era. Battlestar Galactica premiered in December 2003, nine months after America’s invasion of Iraq. With America stuck in a seemingly perpetual state of fight-or-flight, Battlestar felt like the only TV series that was directly asking, and attempting to answer, questions like: How do we respond to a devastating terrorist attack? Should we prioritize safety over healing or freedom? What if we don’t all agree? If we cause the suffering and deaths of others, at what point do we become just as bad as the enemy? Who exactly is the enemy? One of the reasons some people find the Battlestar ending disappointing is because we wanted clear-cut answers to impossibly complex questions. We wanted an admittedly insightful and topical TV show to tell us if we, as a country, were right or wrong, and what we should do next. We wanted Battlestar to be a guide book for how to heal our fractured country. A decade later, in President Donald Trump’s America, we are still desperately seeking answers to those questions. Battlestar Galactica enjoyed reunion celebrations at the ATX TV Festival in June and at San Diego Comic-Con in July. During both events, the subject of how the show is still relevant today came up. “I really did enjoy [exploring topical issues],” Battlestar showrunner Ronald D. Moore tells Den of Geek. “The conversations, the debates among the writers about what to do and how to bring in what was happening in the world.” For Moore, it’s hard to imagine what a show hitting the same politically relevant beats as Battlestar would look like in the Age of Trump. “[The current socio-political climate] is so satirical as it is,” he says. “You’re not even quite sure how to really dramatize it, because it’s so outrageous already. It’s like, I’m not quite sure what to do. Even House of Cards starts to feel tame. You feel like Veep is closer to reality.” Moore isn’t the only Battlestar alum who wonders if today’s socio-political commentary is at its most effective when delivered as a satire. “Can you imagine what [Battlestar Galactica] could do right now?” asks Aaron Douglas– who played Chief Galen Tyrol–at San Diego
Comic-Con. “You know who would be writing the show? It’d be like [Stephen] Colbert, [ Jon] Stewart, John Oliver. The writers room would be ridiculous, but man the show would be good.” One aspect of Battlestar Galactica that would fit right into today’s America is the show’s exploration of what we expect and will endure from our democratically elected leaders. During the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s vitriolic messaging, directed both at Hillary Clinton and at America’s most marginalized groups, brought political discourse to new lows. As we progress further into his presidency, it seems there is nothing he can do or say that will shake his most loyal supporters. In Battlestar, we watch seasoned female politician Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) lose in a presidential election to narcissistic male celebrity Gaius Baltar ( James Callis). Looking back, the campaign and the candidate dynamic share many unfortunate parallels with the 2016 presidential election. Baltar’s main campaign promise is that he will make a new home on a barely inhabitable planet known as New Caprica. For a fleet of people who have been living in rough conditions on spaceships for years, it’s too tempting a proposal. They want an easy answer to their suffering. “I did put out a tweet several months ago about Make Caprica Great Again,” Callis says. “And someone contacted me and said, ‘I think you need to write Make New Caprica Great Again.’” For McDonnell, it was hard not to think about her Roslin role during the 2016 presidential election. When Hillary Clinton ran in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary against Barack Obama, Battlestar was still shooting, so the two have always been tied together in her mind. That being said, McDonnell didn’t start making the comparisons between the Clinton and Trump dynamic and the “Baltar/ Roslin debacle” until fans began to point it out to her. “The parallels were almost chilling. But I think that one of the things that we can learn from Roslin, and we can learn from television—because the television narratives are quite often reflecting what is difficult—is that we’re just beginning to liberate women,” McDonnell said at the ATX TV Festival.
“Now we’re in a global situation having to figure out how to move the feminine needle in the world, the feminine energy, to promote women to positions of leadership, because the smackdown was huge, and we need to be able to get through that.” For many men and women, Laura Roslin has been a helpful example of leadership in a time of crisis. What is it about Roslin that is so inspiring? “She was able to overcome things with a kind of resilience due to the fact that she knew she was dying,” McDonnell says. “She had absolutely no other agenda. There wasn’t ego in her way. I learned so much about the potential of strong decisions by playing a leader who had nothing to lose.” If you see hope in that description of one of Battlestar Galactica’s main characters, you’re not imagining things. Battlestar Galactica may have been one of the darkest shows on TV when it aired, but it wasn’t without hope. “A lot of people think Battlestar is very, very dark,” Callis says. “Ron always said to me that he wrote it out of hope. It’s not about the darkness. It’s about what we can do if we get together.” When the weary survivors of humanity finally find a new home in the finale, their new reality is only slightly less difficult than the one they endured for years aboard the spaceships of the fleet. Battlestar’s final answer to all of those questions is the same as all of the answers that have come before: There are no easy answers. Survival, healing, safety, freedom, forgiveness, compromise, and building something new take work. There are no shortcuts. Battlestar Galactica was always honest about that. That’s why we loved it.
“[THE CURRENT SOCIO-POLITICAL CLIMATE] IS SO SATIRICAL AS IT IS, YOU’RE NOT EVEN QUITE SURE HOW TO DRAMATIZE IT.” DEN OF GEEK.COM 29
THE ENDURING LEGACY OF
THE X FILES BY CHRIS LONGO
The seminal sci-fi series lives on to tell new stories while embracing the fandom who changed how we watch television.
32 DEN OF GEEK â&#x2013; NEW YORK COMIC CON
obody blinks when there’s a monster lurking around the set of The X-Files. Nine seasons, two feature films, and a six-episode revival would condition any actor or crew member to treat the paranormal as just another day at the office. But what happens when a superfan invades the production? In season 10, writer and director Darin Morgan cast lifelong X-Files fan Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley, The Big Sick) to play a guest role as the titular creature in “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” His first night on-set, Nanjiani recalls walking through the Vancouver forest and seeing a white light coming through the trees. “I turned to Darin and said ‘It’s just like The X-Files!’” Nanjiani enthuses. “I was seeing that image that I’ve seen on TV hundreds of times. Darin was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what we’re making.’” Then came his big scenes with Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. A pro like Anderson could smell Nanjiani’s lack of composure from a mile away. “It’s surreal because you have someone standing in front of you who is clearly trying not to geek out,” Anderson says. “He’s trying to compose himself and every once in a while allows himself to go after the shot, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m here with Mulder and Scully!’” Under the chilly cover of moonlight, Anderson, Duchovny, and Nanjiani huddled in a tent between takes, as Anderson and Duchovny launched into an unexpected trip down memory lane, revisiting some of their memorable shooting experiences with Nanjiani listening raptly on the nostalgic ride. They even let Nanjiani record the private conversation for his X-Files Files podcast. “David went out of his way to be super nice to me
because he knew I was nervous,” Nanjiani reflects. At that moment, Anderson says she thought it was pretty cool to be in the presence of somebody who has a better memory of the show than herself or Duchovny. “Our perspective is: ‘Do you remember that night when it was 5 a.m., freezing our fingers off ?’ And he’s going, ‘That’s when you did that amazing scene!’” Anderson says. “It was fun for us to be a part of that conversation because he’s more enthusiastic about our past than we are… And we were there! A new appreciation came out of that.” For Duchovny, those small moments of reflection need to be fleeting when there’s a job to do. “As long as I’m doing [The X-Files], I can only see the show as an actor, or writer, or director,” Duchovny tells me over the phone on a rare day off. “If I start looking from the outside in, we’re going to lose track of what made it great in the first place.” The casting of Nanjiani was the show’s latest display of fan service, which is just one small way that the franchise has fostered a fan base so loyal that, even after a nearly 15 year absence from television, they returned in droves when Fox reopened The X-Files for an event series in 2016. The X-Files will return to Fox again in 2018 for its 11th season, this time with a 10-episode order, and the weight of expectation from diehard fans hoping the series will right its wayward mythology. For the people involved on a daily basis, too much legacy talk is a distraction when there is still an impending alien colonization to thwart. Nostalgia may be at the heart of the television industry’s current obsession with revival, but the series’ stars and writing team are set on telling X-Files stories that are just as relevant today as they were 24 years ago.
DEN OF GEEK.COM
When The X-Files disappeared into a bright light in the season 10 finale, it left a few plot threads hanging in the balance. Far right-wing media blowhard Tad O’Malley ( Joel McHale) was correct about one thing: An alien DNA strand, known as the Spartan Virus, was injected into American citizens with the purpose of breaking down humans’ immune systems. Scully and her younger counterpart, Agent Einstein (Lauren Ambrose), find a cure thanks to the help of Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), who in turn makes a traitorous deal with the Cigarette Smoking Man. (Did you really think they could kill off William B. Davis’ iconic villain that easily?) Reyes and Scully are protected from the outbreak, but when Scully finally finds Mulder, he’s succumbing to the virus and running out of time. The only hope is a stem cell transplant from their long lost son, William. Then, finally, a white light and a UFO thrust fans into yet another X-Files cliffhanger. Fear that Fox would cancel the series without a satisfying conclusion was short-lived. The X-Files revival was a huge ratings success for the network, with more than 20 million viewers watching the premiere within a week of airing. Those were the kind of numbers the series was doing in its prime, and in a far different era of television. Once the shooting schedules aligned, Fox picked up The X-Files Season 11, and the onus was placed squarely on the shoulders of series creator Chris Carter to do what he’s done many times before: return the iconic agents to some state of normalcy. “As is always the case with the show and the mythology episodes, there is a reset,” Carter says. While he is careful not to spoil the first episode, which relies heavily on classic X-Files mythology, Carter is cryptically confident in how the myth arc of the season will unfold. “The audience has traditionally gone with it, which is to go with a kind of tonal shift for the show,” he says. “So we’re anticipating that they’ll go with us as they did for nine years, and in the 10th season in 2016.” Carter’s narrative risk of ending the previous season on a cliffhanger with no firm guarantee that Fox or his stars would agree to another year was calculated. “When I wrote the season finale, I prudently imagined what the answer would be to the questions we set up,” he says. “So coming back, I really just got to do what I had anticipated and wanted to do. But at the same time, when you do these cliffhangers, you suggest that it could also be the end. We’re imagining that these characters have a life lived out in real time. As the show ages, they age too. And they certainly could have a life beyond any particular season.” What we do know is this: Mulder and Scully will live on to investigate a variety of different cases in 2018. Season 11 will be a mix of mythology and Monster-of-the-Week episodes, along with a “dark comedy” episode from fan-favorite writer Darin Morgan. Because the writers are as guarded as the Lone Gunmen, the only episode-specific information we could pry out of them was from Glen Morgan, best known for co-writing with James Wong some of the series’ most iconic episodes (“Home,” “Tooms,” and “Ice” among them). “I looked at it like The X-Files does North by Northwest,” Morgan says, referencing Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller in which a milquetoast Cary Grant is mistaken for a government agent by foreign spies, and is pursued across the country. “It’s not a Monster-of-the-Week, it’s more like a Mulder and Scully on the run type thing.” FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner will have a larger role in the season and actor Mitch Pileggi likens the scripts he’s seen to early seasons of the show. “There’s a lot of science in it,” Pileggi says. “A lot of chemistry and relationship between the two. They’re still able to catch that thing that the fans loved so much about these characters.” When it comes to the mythology arc, Carter confirmed the show will continue to play with Mulder’s self-doubts while Scully will be confronting a “huge matter of scientific urgency.” These are themes 34 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
we’ve seen The X-Files explore before. Why retread familiar narrative ground? In the current political climate where “science is now in question and conspiracies are now taken almost as the truth,” these questions take on new meaning, says Carter. “The world is changing so rapidly that you actually wonder if what you’re writing today will have any bearing on reality when it airs six months later,” Carter admits. “It makes it a challenge for people who want to try and capture the zeitgeist, because the zeitgeist seems to be morphing on a daily basis.” The truth is still out there, but it’s harder to hit than ever before.
No contemporary television show captured the zeitgeist in the way The X-Files did. In the pilot episode, unexplained forces literally stop time, which leads Mulder to posit that “time as we know it stopped and something took control over it.” In a flash, Fox had one of the hottest properties on television. It soon spilled over onto a nascent internet where fans became “X-Philes,” and a television show turned into a phenomenon. The X-Files fandom grew out of early internet adopters looking for a community to dissect every clue to the series’
“THEY’RE STILL ABLE TO CATCH THAT THING THAT THE FANS LOVED SO MUCH ABOUT THESE CHARACTERS.” MITCH PILEGGI
FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) interacts with Special Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) in The X-Files Season 11.
larger mythology, debate which monsters-of-the-week episodes were best, and speculate on the palpable romantic tension between Mulder and Scully. On message boards around the world, at the center of the first real internet-driven fan base, Duchovny and Anderson, and the characters they played, were larger than life. “We were caught up in a whirlwind,” Anderson says. “It was really hard to step outside of that, to have any kind of perspective or objectivity or reflection on the importance of being a part of something iconic. It was quite a long time afterward before it hit me.” Compartmentalizing the accolades and rabid fandom of the series during its original run from 1993 to 2002 was a matter of necessity. Anderson recalls the intense early years when they filmed 24 episodes in nine months. “It’s kind of unfathomable how hard we worked back then,” she says. In the days before social media, Anderson and Duchovny could take off their badges and maintain some semblance of separation from the X-Files-obsessed masses. As X-Files mania reached its fever pitch, it became nearly inescapable. Fans left the message boards to gather at X-Files conventions, an official X-Files magazine began publication
in 1995, and the merchandise, which the actors didn’t get a cut of, was disappearing off the shelves at rates that would make even aliens do a double take. A 1995 headline in the Hartford Courant asked, “Can ‘X-File’ Conventions Reach Trekkian Proportions?” In an infamous 1996 Rolling Stone cover story, in which Anderson and Duchovny share a bed together, Duchovny was asked why he’d yet to appear at any X-Files conventions. “I have my convention virginity intact,” he told the magazine. “It’s nice to do a good show, but I want to be able to move on. Doing conventions is a way of not moving on. I meet people who like the show all the time, and I shake hands. I don’t need to get paid $15,000 to go to some convention. In 20 years I might.” Almost exactly 20 years later, in 2015, Duchovny stepped on the New York Comic Con main stage to premiere the first episode of The X-Files revival. When asked about the uncanny accuracy of his prediction, Duchovny tells me, “I guess I was correct, 20 years. I should get credit for being really good with my prediction.” He continues, “I guess when I was interviewed then, I thought only Star Trek would have conventions, that was my image of it. Now, having been to conventions, you see all of Hollywood comes to these DEN OF GEEK.COM
conventions. It’s been a revolution.” Over the years, it has become easier for both Duchovny and Anderson to engage with the fandom. “It’s always a pleasure,” Duchovny says. “It’s intense. You see a lot of people, and you have to keep your wits about you and realize these are the people that come to express that they enjoy what you’ve done. And it’s your job to accept that.” Anderson is still constantly surprised by “The Scully Effect,” and the stories she hears of young women who are motivated to pursue jobs in law enforcement and medicine because of Dana Scully. “I was on a plane yesterday coming back from LA to Vancouver, and there was a 12-year-old girl that came up to me to tell me how much she loves The X-Files,” Anderson says. She credits the forward-thinking, fiercely independent nature of her character. “Scully is still having an impact on the choices young women are making in terms of where they see themselves in the world, and their potential impact and where they want to put their energy. To see that continue is extraordinary.” The new generation of fans are just as passionate, according to Pileggi, who still frequently attends conventions. He says it’s gratifying to know the show has held up this long. “Doing comic cons and coming into contact with fans is such a cool thing, because I’ve seen new generations of fans,” Pileggi says. “Parents are turning their kids onto the show, and the kids love it. They love the characters and they are excited when they see the actors. Other shows
have great fans, but our fans have stuck with us for a long, long time.” For all the endless chatter about how The X-Files directly influenced this generation of prestige television, it also changed how fans watch and engage with content. X-Philes were at the forefront of internet fandom, and the microscope has only intensified after the show went off the air. Now, fans are only clicks away from getting the attention of their favorite writers and actors on social media. “It used to be people would see [the show], process it, and form their opinion. And that would be the end,” Nanjiani says on the big shift in fandoms over the years. “Now, people try and get their opinions to the creators, and actually try to affect the piece of art or the product that’s being made. People really want it to follow the path they see in their head.” In the early days of the show, there were stories about X-Files writers lurking on message boards to gather ideas and take the pulse of the fan base. Now, feedback flies directly into writers’ inboxes and mentions. “These fans want Mulder and Scully to get together,” Glen Morgan says. “These fans just want a monster show. These fans hate you because you’re so liberal. These fans hate you because you’re so conservative. We try to just do what we believe the show and the characters should do, and hope that we did the right thing.” Both Anderson and Duchovny are noncommittal, but say they
“SCULLY IS STILL HAVING AN IMPACT ON THE CHOICES YOUNG WOMEN ARE MAKING” GILLIAN ANDERSON IMAGES: FOX
36 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
Chris Carter and David Duchovny on the set of The X-Files season 11. (Left) Gillian Anderson as Special Agent Dana Scully in “The Erlenmeyer Flask.”
“assume” this season will be the curtain call for The X-Files. The seminal sci-fi series won’t go quietly into the land of reruns or into the on-demand ether of streaming services. For a show with a legacy as fluid and impactful as The X-Files, Carter brought the “band” back together because he wants to believe that, 25 years after he originally began work on the show, it could still be a “tremendous engine for thoughtful storytelling.” When the show, at its peak, could introduce iconic taglines like “trust no one,” “I want to believe,” and “the truth is out there,” it is inevitable to wonder about its greater political impact on the culture. Carter himself once told a newspaper that he’d be “flattered if I could create a lot of paranoia out there.” Today, however, it seems zealots and conspiracy theorists are more willing than ever to crawl out from the fringe and into the public eye. But this is also a line of thinking that Morgan bashfully asks to leave for greater minds than his. “I think people can still look to the show and go, ‘What do you guys have to say? You were one of the first to start saying it, so what do you have to say now?’” Morgan muses. “I hope that we’re answering that.” Duchovny was more blunt about the freaky abduction of sanity in recent years. “It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where science is considered a theory and not fact,” he says. “I don’t like to think that we’ve contributed to what I see as the decline of rationality and empirical proof in the world. I’d like to think the Fox News outlet has done that, not us.” Whether the show can find something meaningful to say about
the issues of the day is for fans and critics alike to debate endlessly on the social platform of their choice. If the revival has done one thing, however, it’s further solidified the mutual respect between the cast, the crew, and the fans. In some ways, it’s brought them closer together. As Anderson says, “It wasn’t until I started to have a different relationship with my perception of the show that I was able to enjoy a bit more the contact with the fans and the impact that it had on our success and how beloved the characters were, and to embrace that as opposed to feeling like it was more than I could handle.” If it is the end, we might be one step closer to Duchovny giving his official thesis on the legacy of the series. “Every time I go to set, I just want to see the show be entertaining, smart, funny, and scary,” explains Duchovny. “As far as trying to wrap up what the show means, my mind doesn’t go there as an actor in the show.” When pressed one more time for a tidy soundbite to summarize the show’s legacy, Duchovny refuses to budge. His method is in the moment, and that’s not something he’s ready to look past. Duchovny has no neat bow to put on this story, but in typical X-Files fashion, he leaves the door cracked just enough for an answer somewhere down the line. “Like I said in 1996, I hope I’m around to answer that question in 20 years,” Duchovny says. “Let’s put it that way.”
DEN OF GEEK.COM
STAR WARS RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 15 38 DEN OF GEEK â&#x2013; NEW YORK COMIC CON
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE MYSTERIOUS NEXT CHAPTER IN THE STAR WARS SAGA. BY JOHN SAAVEDRA
hen the first teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived, it reintroduced the two sides of the Force—the dark side and the light. Now, two years after the Star Wars saga returned to the big screen, we’re reunited with Luke Skywalker in writerdirector Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. But it’s not the Luke we left behind some 30 years ago. This is a broken Luke, one who’s chosen exile and left the galaxy’s problems behind. Most importantly, he now stands at the middle ground between the light and the dark. The Last Jedi picks up right where The Force Awakens left off—a first for the franchise—as Rey offers Luke his old lightsaber back. But things won’t go as planned for the young hero, who believes that the Jedi Master can save the galaxy from Supreme Leader Snoke, Kylo Ren, and the First Order. Instead she meets a defeated old man whose major failure has forced him into exile, much like his master before him. From what we’ve seen and heard about the new installment, it seems that The Last Jedi will hit many of the same beats as one of the most beloved chapters in the saga, The Empire Strikes Back. Rey is training with Luke on Ahch-To, Finn is on a covert mission for the Resistance, and Poe and Leia try to defend a shattered New Republic from the First Order. The heroes will spend most of the movie separated, and we can only hope this will lead to a big reunion in the third act. Besides the main heroes, Johnson has created three new characters. There’s Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico, a Resistance mechanic who is forced to step up when she joins Finn on his mission to Canto Bight, a lavish city full of casinos and wealth. There’s also Laura Dern’s Admiral Amilyn Holdo, a high-ranking officer of the Resistance, and Benicio Del Toro’s DJ, a hacker who Finn and Rose need to complete their mission. From what we’ve heard about both Dern and Del Toro’s characters, they’ll apparently be a bit more difficult to pin down as good or bad guys. They will also encompass the gray. And we haven’t even touched upon the movie’s villains. A freshly-scarred Kylo Ren returns to exact revenge on Rey and perhaps come face to face with his old master. When asked by Larry King what fans should expect from Kylo in this sequel, Adam Driver simply responded, “Humanity,” which might mean that we’ll see a more vulnerable villain—or perhaps a third act turn to the light? But don’t expect the same from Snoke, who will have a bigger role to play in the movie, and not as a hologram. We’ll see the enigmatic villain in the flesh for the very first time. But it all really comes down to Luke and his controversial new ideas about the Jedi. “I only know one truth,” Luke says at the end of the film’s first trailer. “It’s time for the Jedi to end.” What will replace Luke’s old order once it’s completely gone? Perhaps a morally ambiguous group of Force users. Not the light side or the dark. But a sort of gray, a balance.
DEN OF GEEK.COM 39
FALL MOVIE PREVIEW | 2017
BY DAVID CROW
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN
Winnie-the-Pooh is one of the most beloved creations of children’s literature from the last hundred years. But for all the pastoral peace his very nature suggests, Pooh Bear was the product of a scholar scarred by the First World War and a desire to recapture the lost innocence he glimpsed in his son Christopher Robin. Goodbye Christopher Robin will hopefully capture some of that magic with a story about finding light from darkness while we’re entrenched in our own trials. The film sports an impressive cast that includes Domhnall Gleeson as Pooh’s creator, A.A. Milne and Margot Robbie as his wife Daphne.
ONLY THE BRAVE OCTOBER 20 With temperatures rising every year, and wildfires continuing to spread, the firemen who dare to run toward the smoke only become more vital. One such group was an elite crew out of Prescott, Arizona who battled the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013 in the face of hellish conditions. The blaze claimed 19 members of that team, and Only the Brave appears poised to canonize that sacrifice onscreen. Directed by Tron: Legacy’s Joseph Kosinski, this firefighter drama is stacked with impressive performers, including Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Miles Teller, and Jennifer Connelly.
PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN
This past summer saw Professor William Moulton Marston’s most beloved fictional creation, Wonder Woman, make the jump to the silver screen. Now his own story is following suit, although we imagine Marston might like to question the filmmakers under oath using the lie detector test which he also invented (true story). In this new film, writer-director Angela Robinson offers the dramatic account of Professor Marston (Luke Evans) and his rather progressive (i.e. polyamorous) marriage arrangement with his wife Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), and their shared love, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). Love is a tangled lasso, indeed.
THOR: RAGNAROK NOVEMBER 3 If we’re being honest, the Thor movies have been among the weaker of Marvel Studios’ impressive oeuvre. Yet that appears likely to change with Thor: Ragnarok. The God of Thunder’s third time up to bat seems to have been given a jolt of psychedelic lightning by Kiwi director Taika Waititi, the indie filmmaker behind Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows. With luck, he’ll bring a wry, slightly mad touch to Thor. Oh yeah, the Hulk’s in it too, but with Cate Blanchett threatening to steal all the scenes as Hela, the goddess of death, we could finally have a superhero movie where audiences are compelled to see the appealing side of oblivion.
JUSTICE LEAGUE NOVEMBER 17 There is a Justice League movie coming to theaters. Finally. The DCEU’s pantheon is at last getting together for their first epic teamup, including Ben Affleck’s Batman, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, Ezra Miller’s the Flash, and another hero you might have heard about: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. After leading the best DC movie in ages, Gadot’s Diana Prince is primed to take center stage. With Joss Whedon joining the team behind the camera (stepping in for Zack Snyder requires a heavy hitter), there’s plenty of wonder to go around.
FALL MOVIE PREVIEW | 2017 MOLLY’S GAME
Aaron Sorkin has never sat in the director’s chair for a feature film before. However, he has written iconic screenplays for The Social Network, Steve Jobs, and A Few Good Men, so we’re more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Especially when he mixes high stakes poker with crime drama in Molly’s Game, a gambler’s delight that casts Jessica Chastain as the titular Molly, a former Olympic-class athlete turned empress of an exclusive poker venue where celebrities rubbed shoulders with the Russian mob. What could go wrong? In terms of cinema, it sounds like very little.
DARKEST HOUR NOVEMBER 22 The funny thing about history is that it’s already a shared universe that you may have taken for granted! How appropriate, then, that after Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk rocked audiences, the story “continues” in Joe Wright’s intriguing Darkest Hour. Set both before and after the events of that famed evacuation, Gary Oldman steps with swagger into the shoes of legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as the mighty isle faces its greatest struggle against Nazi Germany and the imminent Blitzkrieg assault. Soon Britain’s most dire moment will become its finest. The film also features Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, and Lily James.
THE DISASTER ARTIST DECEMBER 8 There really just is something about The Room, and we don’t mean the harrowing masterpiece starring Brie Larson. Nay, we speak of the harrowing train wreck starring its writer-director Tommy Wiseau. It’s a movie so mythically awful that the story of how its triumphant mediocrity came into existence must surely also be worthy of cinematic posterity, right? Thus enter The Disaster Artist, a comedic “biopic” of Wiseau, directed by and starring James Franco. It also features Seth Rogen, Dave Franco, Zac Efron, Alison Brie, and Hannibal Buress.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
Guillermo del Toro has long wanted to make a Creature from the Black Lagoon movie. That ship may have always been destined to pass in the night. Luckily, we’re instead getting his wholly original version of an aquatic creature feature. The Shape of Water is one of the most fascinating prospects of the season, finally embracing the auteur’s lingering romance with the cinematic monster. In this period piece, Sally Hawkins’ Elisa is a mute janitor who no one notices, save for Doug Jones’ maritime beastie left to waste away in a tank in a secret government lab. It definitely seems like something worth getting submerged in.
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN
Not so long ago, the idea of doing a live-action musical seemed like a risky proposition. Doubly so if it were scored to an original set of songs. Yet in our post-La La Land world, something like The Greatest Showman has a lot more knowing appeal. With music decidedly more poppy than Damien Chazelle’s throwback, The Greatest Showman blends period piece with anachronistic modernity as it gives a fantasy account of P.T. Barnum, the founder of the most beloved of circuses. And Hugh Jackman, perhaps the actual greatest living showman, is going to be tapping across the proverbial boards as the ringmaster. Shall we dance?
A NEW KIND OF
GAME Karen Gillan and Jake Kasdan talk reimagining Jumanji’s rules for a new generation. BY DAVID CROW
42 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
t took going to a rainforest for the world of Jumanji to live again. At least that is how it appears to Jake Kasdan, director of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Standing in the lush underbrush of Hawaii’s interior, his film suddenly quickened into existence on its first day of shooting, which also happened to be the first scene of the movie featuring its leads. Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black, all playing disparate personalities thrown into the wilderness, were several hours away from where they had previously rehearsed and geared up for the high-concept fantasy. And for their director who had long prepared for that day, it was as if they’d instantly discovered a new land. “You have these incredible locations but you have to earn them a little bit, because it’s hard to get to and it’s hard to get all the stuff there,” Kasdan says. “[But] we get to this sort of spectacular spot of rainforest, and looking at all of them, I thought, ‘This is going to be really cool.’ It was kind of the moment where it becomes real all at once.” Like the title says, welcome to the jungle. This type of far-flung adventuring is par for the course for the upcoming movie, as it looks to offer a unique spiritual sequel to the original Jumanji of 1995. Whereas that first film was about the world of a mystical board game bringing Victorian vistas and pulpy jungle quests to a modern suburban setting, Welcome to the Jungle will elaborate on the concept by having teenagers enter the actual landscape from which Jumanji derives its power—by way of the avatars they choose in a new 1990s-styled Jumanji video game. For Kasdan, this is both appropriate and liberating since he views it as maddening when movies share the same franchise title but don’t feel related. Yet at the same time, it allows his comical, body-swapping yarn to deepen the mythology from the previous Robin Williams-led adventure. This is probably prudent, because despite being adapted from the 1981 children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg, to an entire generation of millennials who grew up on the ’95 flick, Robin Williams is Jumanji. That even applies to Karen Gillan, whose passion for the earlier picture made joining this 2017 reimagining irresistible. “I love the original film so much, it’s still in my top three films of all time,” Gillan says while recalling how often she watched it growing up in Scotland. Many years before she would learn it was based on a book, a young Gillan found herself returning time and again to a VHS copy of Jumanji, as if it too was enchanted. “I was a kid, and I just fell in love with the magical quality. I loved the performances so much.” It’s also the reason she jumped at the opportunity to audition for the property’s revival. Looking back at her literal last day on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, that moment of triumph became an even greater celebration upon hearing the word “Jumanji”—one that almost cost her a laptop. “I remember I had just wrapped, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve done it!’” Gillan says. “So I sat there with a glass of wine, on my own, and then I saw on my emails that I had an audition for the new Jumanji, and I almost dropped the glass of wine. Spilled it, because I was like, ‘What?! That’s one of my favorite stories of all time!’” Describing the process of joining the film as her own
“AS AMAZING AS HAWAII IS,
IT’S ACTUALLY A KIND OF BRUTAL PLACE TO FILM BECAUSE WE WERE IN THE DEEP JUNGLE.”
— KAREN GILLAN DEN OF GEEK.COM 43
Director Jake Kasdan on location in a “spectacular” stretch of the Hawaiian rainforest.
endurance contest, Gillan ultimately landed the role of a shy high school introvert named Martha… as well as her video game-esque alter ego, the no-nonsense Ruby Roundhouse. As Gillan explains it, “[Martha] doesn’t want to be looked at; it isn’t like she’s dying for attention at all. It’s the opposite. So then she gets trapped in this kind of Lara Croft, badass action hero sort of body, and she just does not know how to inhabit it at all.” It’s a concept rife with comedic potential, and one that Kasdan believes Gillan was ideal for. “Karen’s the absolute perfect person to do that, because she really is both things,” Kasdan says. “She can absolutely locate the sort of awkward teenage girl, wallflower character—I think she relates to that—as well as this ass-kicking badass woman that I think she also easily relates to.” Indeed, Gillan finds it all too easy to slip into both sides of the character, particularly since, despite coming up in what she describes as the “Marvel System” of action star training via Guardians and Avengers films, she still feels awkward while
“WE’RE REALLY MAKING FUN
— KAREN GILLAN
44 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
IMAGES: SONY/FRANK MASI
OF THAT TROPE IN ‘90S VIDEO GAMES. I MEAN, LARA CROFT IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF THAT.”
acting as a warrior woman. “[Her anxiety] sort of felt like the way I feel when I am in action movies, and I have to be badass and am pretending,” Gillan says. It is this archetypal aspect that similarly raised a few eyebrows (and more than a few hyperbolic tweets) when the initial press images of the cast dropped. Released before audiences knew that the character was a satire of pulpy clichés, Gillan’s scantily clad Ruby Roundhouse earned the ire of social media groupthink, and the thousand ship armada of think-pieces that come with it. But the actress seems undaunted by that early reaction, particularly as the concept of the movie becomes clearer. Hoping that concerned parties will dig Jumanji when it comes out, Gillan says she was more than game to embrace the meta-commentary of an introverted girl trapped inside a teenage boy’s limited fantasy. “I definitely thought about it, because she is in a far more revealing outfit than the rest of the cast,” Gillan says of first meeting Ruby on the page. “But you know the whole idea behind it is that we’re really making fun of that trope in ‘90s video games. I mean, Lara Croft is a perfect example of that. So I didn’t think we should shy away from that. We should either go for it or we don’t, and I definitely feel like it was the right move to go for it. And as you’ll see in the film, she’s not happy with it. She wrestles with it all the time.” Gillan also suggests the movie might have already made its point given our conversation. “Maybe it’s a good thing that it’s opening a discussion about all of this. I don’t necessarily view that as a negative thing to be talking about these issues, because they are issues. So I hope they think that we handled it carefully enough, and perhaps we have enlightened some people on the fact that these tropes [are] a little gratuitous.” Plus, in the film, Martha/Ruby gets to be easily the bravest and most heroic. Perhaps even more so than Dwayne “The Rock”
Johnson, who is leaving the realm of audience expectations by playing a child. A very, very scared and faintly cowardly child. “He’ll try anything you ask him to and he has great ideas, and he’s just a total pleasure to work with,” Kasdan says of Johnson. After all, this was Kasdan’s first action film, yet Johnson—the perennial king of run-and-gun flicks—was always game to work at and perfect their shared ideas, including playing someone fighting back tears when chased by beasts. “How would the teenage version of myself respond to the situation?” Kasdan chuckles about creating Johnson’s new onscreen persona. “You know, for comedy writers working on a screenplay, it’s easy to locate the emotional core of being terrified by a terrifying situation, and to transpose it onto [ Johnson] was sort of the great vanity of it. And it turned out he was completely responsive to what would be fun about that.” Johnson is thus a potent avatar to explore the concept of a male power fantasy, and then to aggressively subvert it for maximum snickers. This is only more evident when Gillan credits him as being among the funniest actors she’s ever encountered. “He really floored me with his comedic ability,” she says. “We had such a good time acting together, because [our characters] are both introverted weirdos, and they’re just so socially awkward. And when we try to see them interacting with each other, it’s more painful in the best way.” She then playfully enthuses, “And Dwayne’s probably going to run the world one day.” Looking back at her time on Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and in those hard-to-reach forests that both challenged and rewarded Kasdan, Gillan can become a bit wistful, saying she’s already nostalgic about the experience. This is only heightened by nature’s beauty… and also its cheerful torture. “Okay, so as amazing as Hawaii is, it’s actually a kind of brutal place to film because we were in the deep jungle; it was so hot, and there were giant mosquitos who are immune to every mosquito repellent now,” Gillan says. And given how much that horrified the real-life Kevin Hart—never mind his onscreen character—the genuine affection Gillan has for memories of this struggle creeps into her voice like so many giggles. Or bugs. “So Kevin is not good with the creepy-crawlies at all, and he thought there were spiders on him all the time,” Gillan confides with a hint of the conspiratorial. “So everyone, especially Dwayne, started tickling him with little pieces of grass to make him think that they were crawling on him.” Eventually, this situation would reach a fever pitch. “He’d literally be screaming and he’d run off-set!” After pausing for a moment to contain her own roar of delight, she adds, “It was so good.” Hopefully, so will be spending Christmas time with these crazy kids when Jumanji opens in Dec. 20, 2017.
NYCC THE ONLY YOU NEED. GUIDE Don’t miss the latest New York Comic Con updates, tips, and highlights— get social with us now!
GET THE THE POP POP CULTURE CULTURE INSIDE INSIDE SCOOP SCOOP FROM FROM OUR OUR WRITERS WRITERS GET
Mike Cecchini Editor-in-Chief @wayoutstuff
David Crow Movies Editor @DCrowsNest
Chris Longo Print Editor @east_coastbias
Kayti Burt Associate Editor @kaytiburt
John Saavedra Associate Editor @johnsjr9
The entrance to the Steve Jobs Building at Pixar Studios in Emeryville, California. Awards and icons usher visitors into a vast atrium.
46 DEN OF GEEK â&#x2013; NEW YORK COMIC CON
A DAY INSIDE
P XAR We visit Pixar to get an intimate look at Coco and the studio that changed the world.
f all the imaginative splendors glimpsed during two days behind Pixar’s gates, perhaps the most enigmatic is a pair of paper white eyes staring blankly at me. They belong to “Pepita,” a chimera-styled character from this year’s Coco. She has been recreated via 3D printed sculpture and now awaits my decision for coloring while I mull over an assortment of paints Pixar has provided. Unlike normal press events, even a journalist’s down time is treated as a chance to create and build at Pixar Animation Studios. And for a group of often sardonic reporters, it had the same soothing effect of arts and crafts for kindergartners—or a Pixar movie for audiences of any age. The activity was one of many illuminating snapshots into the singular energy and culture that turned a little technology firm into the most transformative force of modern American animation. What was once, in 1986, a spun-off branch of Lucasfilm’s computer division now stands tall atop its Emeryville campus, a Wonka Bar wonder nestled amongst the post-industrial expanse between Oakland and Berkeley, California. While painting my Pepita, Alonso Martinez, a technical director for Coco, is on hand to discuss the creature he helped design, as well as his journey to Pixar. After all, like so many who graduated college under the shadow of economic collapse in 2008, particularly artists, he was told by many to give up his dreams and face a diminished reality. Yet within several months, his dream became the reality, and he got the golden ticket to Pixar which led to work on his first film: Up. Less than a decade later, he is now overseeing with Pepita the visualization of one of his favorite childhood icons. In Coco, this winged beast will be one of many strange things a boy named Miguel meets in the Land of the Dead. For Miguel is spending his Day of
BY DAVID CROW the Dead getting a crash course in his family’s heritage—going to the other side to convince his ancestors he should be allowed to become a musician, even if he must face giants of their culture, including Pepita herself. “Pepita is a type of Mexican folk art called alebrijes,” Martinez says, noting how each painting station includes one of his own actual childhood alebrije toys. Explaining that the concept is rooted in the work of Mexican artisan Pedro Linares, he continues, “When we think of folk art, we think of the 1600s or a really long time ago. [But Linares] came up with them in 1936 when he fell ill; he had a fever dream in which he was in a forest, and all of a sudden these chimera mixtures of animals started showing up and they were all really brightly colored.” They went on to define his work, first as Papier-mâché and then as wood carvings. Now they are synonymous with Mexican craft. They’re also in Coco as spirit guides for the souls of the dead. For Pepita, this means she’s part-tiger and bird, with the wings of an eagle and the horns of a ram. She also helps prove that even by their 19th feature film, Pixar is still finding new pathways to fly.
Built on 16 acres, which used to house a fruit cannery, Pixar’s headquarters is a testament to its dueling influences. Now an official piece of Disney’s media empire after CEO Bob Iger oversaw the acquisition of Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006, the animation jewel still rests apart from Disney and other Hollywood studios some 350 miles south, and is decidedly closer to its San Francisco roots. With a foot as much in the tech world of nearby Silicon Valley as the movie industry, the life philosophies of John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief creative officer and first film director, and
the company’s earliest investor, Steve Jobs, are ingrained in every nook and cranny. From the outdoor amphitheater to the infinity swimming pool and soccer field beyond, the grounds are marked by a 21st century ethos about living in your work, as opposed to only for it. At the center is a deceptively modest (and giant) statue rendering of the animated desk lamp character, Luxo Jr., and his beloved rubber ball. As the protagonist of Pixar’s very first Lasseter-directed animated short from 1986—which in turn earned the first Oscar nomination for a computer-generated film—
PIXAR IS USING THE POWER OF ITS CREATIVE COMMUNE TO SHARE A UNIQUE CULTURE WITH A LARGER GLOBAL ONE.
Luxo harkens back to Pixar’s humble beginnings when Jobs viewed the company as more of a hardware and software provider. Yet Lasseter and Pixar cofounder Ed Catmull slowly turned that vision in a different direction. The fruition of this pivot directly faces the statues across the way: It’s the Steve Jobs Building. Rechristened with that moniker after the Apple CEO’s death, it is a more than fitting rebranding since, as Lasseter has previously stated, the structure “was Steve’s own movie.” Designed by Apple Store architect Peter Bohlin with a focus on Jobs’ desire for maximizing creative encounters between employees, the heart of DEN OF GEEK.COM 47
Young Coco hero Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) goes on a quest in the Land of the Dead alongside the street smart Hector (Gael García Bernal).
Pixar is a living and breathing community center where all roads lead to a warmly lit and sprawling atrium. Encompassing the entire first floor, this democratic commonwealth houses Pixar’s café and lounge, its mailbox area, and tokens of home team victories, such as life-sized Toy Story and The Incredibles sculptures—or the 16 Oscars and various other awards preserved in a sleek glass case. Even Pixar’s main screening room, complete with starry-night ceiling lighting, is designed to spill out from the atrium’s back wall. Conveying his logic for envisioning an inspiration commune, Jobs once told biographer Walter Isaacson, “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.” Perhaps that’s why even the conference rooms overlook, from their eyrie-eyed vantage of open windows, not the vast green outside, but Pixar’s true sweeping vistas of talent on the atrium floor below.
48 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
with Pixar as a movie studio since the beginning. Unkrich worked as an editor on the studio’s legendary first feature, Toy Story, within which Anderson also had the curious film credit of “digital angel.” She’s been a producer at the studio ever since, starting with Pixar’s second feature A Bug’s Life, while Unkrich first stepped into the director’s chair when he joined Lasseter as a last-minute co-director sub on Toy Story 2. He has since served directorial duties on Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and Toy Story 3. Each of these filmmakers are all too aware of the studio’s curious mix of digital alchemy and tender, classical sincerity. “I have loved the intense juxtaposition from the very beginning of this cutting-edge, digital-pioneering effort grounded in the familiar,” Anderson says while considering Pixar’s legacy. “It’s not popular to say ‘an old-fashioned sensibility,’ but I mean that in the best way. [It’s] just grounded in history, heritage, and familiarity.” That sense of a familiar lurch toward the past might be doubly true for Coco. While Unkrich underscores that Pixar has always kept in mind a preference for what he considers basic
film grammar, intentionally evoking cinema from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Coco taps into a dynamic blend of old and new. In fact, the entire first act turns on a scene of Miguel, a young boy in Mexico, mimicking an old VHS tape of his musical idol Dernesto de la Cruz, who plucks his guitar strings with all the ham of Ricardo Montalbán. It’s a scene that co-director Molina calls a “duet across the living and the dead,” and it informs the intense longing of a young artist who wants to create despite what his family says. It’s hardly a foreign concept for creators at Pixar, but the film visualizes that desire, and the potential conflict of aspirations and bloodlines, when Miguel is forbidden from pursuing a musician’s life. Even on Día de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead, Miguel discovers the skeletal remains of his ancestors can prove a tough audience to win over. Molina noted the natural appeal the material has for everyone inside the Steve Jobs Building. “Since we’re all artists at Pixar, it was something that was easy to agree on and something that we all innately felt,” Molina says. “We’re all fueled by our art and this passion to create.”
IMAGES: DISNEY / PIXAR
It is in one of those conference rooms where I interview Coco directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, as well as producer Darla K. Anderson. Unkrich and Anderson have been
“WE’RE ALL FUELED BY OUR ART AND THIS PASSION TO CREATE.”
(From L to R) Producer Darla K. Anderson and directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina examine artwork from Coco.
Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina examine set design and Land of the Dead concept art.
Spirits of the dead or not, it’s a simultaneously unique and universal yearning. Nevertheless, the unusual wrinkle of interacting with very distant family via Día de los Muertos is also what makes the project a departure for a studio whose output has mostly leaned away from the culturally specific. With Coco, the goal is not to tell a story that takes places on Día de los Muertos. Rather, here is a story that can only occur in Mexico on Día de los Muertos. “I pitched three different ideas,” Unkrich recalls of the meeting he had with Lasseter that paved the road for Coco. “One of them was an idea that I had originally been developing before I changed gears and worked on Toy Story 3, and then two other ideas, one of which was a Día de los Muertos themed story, and John went for that one right away.” It was the opportunity to embark on a grand new adventure. Hence, like the curving bridge of marigold flowers upon which Miguel crosses into the
Land of the Dead—and how it uncannily resembles the shape of one of the foot bridges that connects the second floor wings above Pixar’s atrium—the entire studio has become united behind building this latest vision. Coco has been in development for six years at Pixar, and the storyboards and decorations it has borne beautify the second floor of the main building. Stairwells are brightened by Day of the Dead calaveras, just as they have galvanized character art directors and supervising animators who showcase how they’ve turned skulls into a friendly visage of hearth and kin—figuring out subtle ways to suggest lips and facial hair, all while creating hidden “force fields” to replace knees and joints. The production designer and set supervisors likewise showcase their vision for a Victorian Land of the Dead, which is quite unlike any metropolis ever glimpsed by us living folk. With multiple generations of the boney inhabitants enjoying their steep, vertical urban towers, it’s an afterlife of vibrancy and countless colors. Danielle Feinberg, director of photography on lighting, reveals how her team of lighters and animators figured out how to repurpose code so that wide shots of the sprawling land can feature more than 7 million sources of light and color, easily a new record for the studio. “It was very alive and fun and joyous, because we all want to think of our ancestors going to a very fun place instead of a depressing, sad place,” Feinberg says. And she’s not wrong. In spite of dealing with death, Coco appears to be a dizzying cornucopia of vitality. Then again, the same might be said for the studio in which mingling and idea-sharing continues to find new life in the most unexpected of places. “My family’s Mexican and my mom is from Jalisco,” Molina says while reflecting on why he
was so driven to come aboard Coco when it was first slated. While his family did not celebrate Día de los Muertos quite as elaborately as the one in Coco, the film’s tributes to the deceased are very familiar. “Whenever there’s a funeral in the family, the occasion itself would be somber, and you’d be sad about the loss of that person. But afterwards you’d come together and you’d have music, and you’d have food and you’d tell stories, and everyone was there to live in the happy memories of that person.” Be it Día de los Muertos itself, the mariachi guitarist tradition Miguel pursues, or even that eagle-winged alebrije custom which artist Alonso Martinez so passionately passed onto his studio with Pepita, Pixar is using the power of its creative commune to share a unique culture with a larger global one.
Upon finishing the last paint stroke on my own Pepita, it appears decidedly less ambitious in its coloring and patterns than what Martinez and Characters Supervisor Christian Hoffman and Directing Animator Nick Rosario came up with. Blue and green with purple wings, my art probably more resembles Puff the Magic Dragon. But as with all other journalists’ fumbling attempts, Martinez nods approval. When asked if it’s difficult to let go of Coco now that the movie’s Thanksgiving release date is so near, he shrugs. “I’ve already moved on [to the next movie],” he replies. And what exactly is that next film that’s probably another six years away? The artist just smiles. At the moment, it’s a dream only meant for the Village of Pixar. But one day soon, it will be everyone’s. DEN OF GEEK.COM 49
50 DEN OF GEEK â&#x2013; NEW YORK COMIC CON
PARANORMAL P I C T U R E S H OW A history of capturing the dead on film. BY TONY SOKOL | ILLUSTRATION BY HANNAH KNEISLEY
IMAGES : KEYSTONE/GETTY IMAGES
rom the days of Thomas Alva Edison, filmmakers have been trying to capture ghosts on film. But did they? Why would a director waste hours of film stock hoping for a frame’s worth of a glimpse at the other side when it’s just easier to fake it? As audio and visual equipment became more sophisticated, movie directors, some of them mired in the expectations of the horror genre, had access to the best technology the richest industry had to offer. But few tried to
break through the fourth wall into the sixth dimension. While no major studio ever funded true supernatural experiments, French director Rebecca Zlotowski’s new film Planetarium imagines how the scenario might have played out. The film focuses on a producer’s obsession with documenting spectral truths on his new camera. It is as much a love letter to celluloid potential as it is a search for spiritual meaning on the eve of World War II.
American inventor Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931) dictating instructions to an employee on his “telescribe” dictating machine.
TALKING WITH THE DEAD Edison invented the electric light bulb, the alkaline battery, and the phonograph. He was also one of the first filmmakers, and his Black Mariah camera transformed motion pictures. According to Edison family friend John Eggleston, the inventor’s parents were Spiritualists. Edison believed in telepathy. He tested the famous clairvoyant Bert Reese, who reportedly finished sentences Edison began in a building next door. When he was 73, Edison told B.C. Forbes, who would create Forbes Magazine, his patents were entering a new dimension. In American Magazine’s October 1920 story, “Edison Working to Communicate with the Next World,” Edison said he believed energy is indestructible, like matter. He said he developed the cylinder recorder, a radio he claimed was sensitive enough to communicate with the past. He reiterated this claim in an Oct. 30, 1920 interview with The Scientific American. The legendary machine is now kept at the Edison National Historic Site. Mentalist Joseph Dunninger believed Edison was telepathic. When Edison died at 3:24 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18, 1931, his clock supposedly stopped, as did those of Edison’s three top executives. The grandfather clock in Edison’s laboratory stopped three minutes later. British scientist Sir William Crookes, who developed the vacuum tube Edison needed for the light bulb, was president of the Society for Psychical Research. His assistant, chemist David Wilson, developed a Metallic Homunculus that he believed could talk to the dead. Crookes claimed he touched the beating heart of a materialized
52 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
Thomas Alva Edison (1847 - 1931) listening to a phonograph.
spirit through the device. The poet W.B. Yeats, who had a lifetime interest in magic and the occult, tested the machine for the British Society for Psychical Research. His findings were inconclusive and possibly tainted by Wilson’s telepathic interference. The Metallic Homunculus was impounded as an illegal wireless device during WWI and vanished from history.
SPIRIT PHOTOGRAPHY William Mumler discovered “spirit photography” by accident in the early 1860s. He inserted a positive glass plate prepared with the image of a dead person in front of an unused sensitive glass plate when he took photographs to create a double exposure that looked like a ghostly image. His most famous photo allegedly shows the ghost of Abraham Lincoln hovering over his wife, Mary Todd. Even P.T. Barnum couldn’t be suckered and sued Mumler for fraud. Early photographers trying to capture etheric energy during meditative séances used magnesium flash bulbs, not the most relaxing of light sources. Eastman Kodak developed cameras and film which made it easier to catch genuine phenomenon and expose more obvious hoaxes. Medium M.J. Williams took the first photograph of ectoplasm in natural daylight in July 1931 in Oakland, California. In 1937, the Society for Psychical Research concluded spirit photography was too easy to fake by shaking a camera during a six-second exposure. Photographers can create a transparent figure on one frame of film by using a longer shutter speed on a 35mm camera while shooting a subject who changes positions. A figure that appears to be flowing can be created by having a subject move fast during a shot, which produces a transparent blur. Although Ghost Club member Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Sherlock Holmes, defended it in the book The Case for Spirit Photography (1922), the practice was basically a con. Doyle, William
IMAGES : TOPICAL PRESS AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES
In the movie, André Korben, a ranking member of the state film ministry who is played by Emmanuel Salinger, becomes entranced by a pair of traveling psychic sisters portrayed by Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp. Convinced he can capture paranormal activity with his new camera, Korben sets up a lab and hires scientists and cameramen. He drives a director crazy trying to capture the essence of a spirit passing between him and the young medium, as they meditate together, with medical monitors spirit-glued to their bodies, and metal crowns with thorny wires on their heads. It seems natural Zlotowski would be tempted to use her own equipment to capture the supernatural images imagined in the feature. That wasn’t the case. “We used a very experimental camera, the ARRI 65,” Zlotowski tells Den of Geek. “Only parts of The Revenant and Star Wars had been shot with it. The excitement of having this camera was close to the one Korben has with his new camera.” The wondrous camera must have spotted otherworldly on-set activity, right? “Nope,” Zlotowski says. “Disappointing, I admit.” She echoes one of the characters in Planetarium, who says all the photographic evidence of ghostly activity is fake—some are good fakes, admittedly, but still fake. After doing her own research into the subject, the director’s eyes were not clouded by the ectoplasmic residue covering the camera lens. “My rationality admits a certain part of irrational,” Zlotowski says. “To be 100 percent scientific about this, you have to pay attention to the unknown. I have been documenting a lot among scientists for the film. They devote themselves to claiming the paranormal doesn’t exist. I love this contradiction.” Most modern filmmakers, including Zlotowski, aren’t particularly concerned with capturing elusive sparks of life after life. But this wasn’t always the case. “I am amazed by the seriousness of the ancient studies, especially Thomas Edison, who devoted the end of his life to trying to connect with ghosts via the telephone,” she says. While it would still be years before anyone thought about calling the Ghostbusters, scientists would develop tools for communicating with spirits that have become legend. Although they didn’t get a call through to the other side, special effects wizards had their number.
Crookes, and William Stainton Moses claimed spirit photography caught ectoplasm, the liquid residue of ghostly visitors. Photographers claimed that anyone who knew their way around a darkroom could replicate the images table-rappers like David Duguid and Edward Wyllie presented as otherworldly evidence. Nonetheless, today’s paranormal investigators wouldn’t think of heading into a haunted house without their EMF detectors, infrared motion detectors, or spirit boxes.
MULTI-CAMERA MULTI-DIMENSIONAL BREAKTHROUGHS Just before World War I, German physician Baron von Schrenck-Notzing simultaneously pointed nine cameras toward medium Eva Carrière to document visually perceptible phenomena. Before the sessions, Eva C., who was dressed in a special outfit so nothing could be concealed, submitted to a full body search. Schrenck-Notzing caught dramatic images of ectoplasmic materializations but said the medium was doing it through ideoplasty, pushing the images from her mind rather than by invoking spirits. Other critics were less forgiving, claiming the photographs caught cardboard cutouts. The U.S. War Department invited some of the greatest directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age to document World War II. But they didn’t invite them to the table when the CIA held séances for Project MK Ultra experiments. There may be hundreds of hours of amazing footage from the clandestine research on mind control, telepathy, ESP, psychic warfare, and remote viewing, but it was either burned in the 1970s or it’s locked away in some kind of Raiders of the Lost Ark hangar beyond Freedom of Information laws. German researcher Klaus Schreiber believed he picked up signals from the dead using a video camera that looped into a TV called the Vidicomin. Occasionally, the device would catch white noise with faces peering out of them. They claimed to capture Austrian actress Romy Schneider on a television set years after her death. In 1986, physicist Ernst Senkowski claimed to capture a video feed of the spirit of EVP researcher Hanna Buschbeck, who died in 1978.
PARANORMAL TV Paranormal television series have come a long way since One Step Beyond. Leonard Nimoy never found a ghost on In Search of..., and Sightings didn’t see ghosts. MTV’s Fear and Britain’s Most Haunted series were the first to train the cameras on the spooks. Today, shows like Ghost Hunters, Dead Files, and Ghost Asylum parse hours of stationary camera setups for seconds of supernatural substance. British security cameras had better luck showing a ghostly spirit than the BBC had faking it. A 1992 horror mockumentary called “Ghostwatch” hoaxed North London in much the same way Orson Welles’ 1938 Mercury Theatre radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds pranked New Jersey. The show followed the Early family, who were haunted by a ghost they named “Pipes.” Even though the episode was written by Stephen Volk for the anthology Screen One and featured recognizable actors, audiences were terrorized by what they thought was real supernatural activity. The BBC was hit with hundreds of complaints and several lawsuits saying the show caused post-traumatic stress disorder in children, and even one reported suicide. You can find freaky found footage from security cameras, selfie-stick mishaps, and the occasional Facebook live feed all over YouTube. Dead relatives photobomb family portraits, old soldiers line up in formation for new deployment, and orbs block engravings on tombstones. In 2016, CCTV cameras caught a transparent figure browsing a Hopkinson store built in the 1880s in Nottingham, England. Tales of haunted theaters and paranormally overactive movie and TV sets are legendary, going back to William Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s cologne has been known to waft over the commissary on the old Paramount lot. All those cameras pointed at such lively historic subjects must have caught an occasional occult cameo, but they’ve been left on the cutting room floor. Hollywood shot millions of miles of celluloid but never claimed to catch any evidence of otherworldly activity. Even the dead kid in Three Men and a Baby turned out to be the same kind of cardboard cutout spirit photographers used to prove ghosts were ready for their closeups.
IMAGES: VISION FILMS
Natalie Portman plays Laura Barlow, a Spiritualist, in the film Planetarium.
DEN OF GEEK.COM 53
RAGMAN RETURNS Ray Fawkes and Inaki Miranda dive into the supernatural corners of Gotham City. BY JIM DANDY
C’s Rebirth initiative has done wonders for their line of books, but one area that’s remained curiously unexplored is the supernatural. That will change in October when Ray Fawkes (Constantine) and Inaki Miranda (Catwoman) launch Ragman. The series will introduce Rory Regan to current DC continuity. We spoke with Fawkes and Miranda about the tone of the book and how much fun it is to draw a guy covered in semi-sentient rags.
DEN OF GEEK: What drew you guys to Ragman? RAY FAWKES: I’m kind of nuts about a lot of the DC supernatural characters. After Gotham by Midnight ended, and it came time for me to pitch things to DC, Ragman was one of the first characters I put forward. There’s a lot about him that I find really interesting. To me, the core of Ragman is that he’s one of the few heroes that comes from the same humble roots as the people he tends to defend. Emotionally speaking, I like building on that. Ultimately, the people he’s concerned about are the people down on the street. They’re the people he lives with, the people he’s always been around. To me, I find that really appealing and very unusual for a superhero. INAKI MIRANDA: To me, it’s Ray’s premise and script. It’s my first exposure to the character, and I just loved it. What I got is a sense of superheroes, but at the same time [an M. Night] Shyamalan movie [like] The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, moments where you can feel the grip of the character. That, combined with the action scenes, [made it] perfect for me to have fun. And then it’s playing with Gotham, my favorite city of all time. DOG: Tell me about the feel of the book.
54 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
DOG: Ragman’s powers provide a lot of opportunities for inventive visuals. How wild are you getting with how you’re presenting the story? IM: As much as possible. I feel really free with this book. This is an origin story, so we get to see throughout the miniseries an evolution of Ragman’s power. I think it’s issue four where you can see how moldable the rags are. I’m making him behave a little bit like a dark Spider-Man with the rags, jumping throughout the city. There’s no real limit to him. DOG: What’s the craziest thing that we’re going to see from the first arc? What’s your favorite thing so far that you’ve worked on here? IM: The double-page spread when you first see Ragman. RF: Yeah. For me, I really enjoyed the different shapes Ragman takes. I think some of them are going to surprise the readers. Once Rory really hooks his mind into what he can do with the Cloak of Rags, Inaki did a good job of going nuts with what can happen. This is a character unlike anyone else in the DC Universe, and we’re really highlighting that. We’re celebrating it. I’m excited to see readers react to how far we go with it. Ragman #1 will be in comic shops and online on Wednesday, Oct. 11.
IMAGES : DC ENTERTAINMENT
RF: It’s a horror story, because what we want to get into is the vulnerability of people who are in despair. Rory himself is suffering from PTSD from his service in the military, and his attempt to do what he thought was the right thing. We’re seeing it through Rory’s eyes, from the inside, where there’s suffering and there’s pain, and he has been given the power to see the creatures in the DC Universe who take advantage of that suffering. Some of them are supernatural. He’s going to deal with them.
This is not a lighthearted romp, but it is a superhero story, definitely. IM: I approach it the same way. It’s very eclectic visually for me. There’s the superhero [story], but there’s also the horror atmosphere. It really has everything.
DEN OF GEEK.COM 55
GUID L A I ENT
STAR WARS S C I M O C
S T HE E S
BY MEGAN CROUSE
ith Star Wars: The Last Jedi coming to theaters this winter, Star Wars fandom is as alive and well as it has ever been. For comic book readers looking for more of the galaxy far, far away, Marvel provides plenty of chances to get to know characters new and old.
DARTH VADER VOL. 1
WRITER: KIERON GILLEN ARTIST: KEV WALKER Sketchy archaeologist Doctor Aphra has been described by writer Kieron Gillen as the inverse of Indiana Jones: She steals artifacts instead of making sure they end up in museums. She has a personality big enough to make an impact, even when her dark snark is aimed at Darth Vader. Her standalone adventures also reveal her conflicted relationship with her father, as well as the history of her Wookiee companion, Black Krrsantan. This is a fantastic series about Marvel’s standout Star Wars character.
56 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
WRITER: CHARLES SOULE ARTIST: ALEX MALEEV If you’re looking for a miniseries that has a little bit of everything, Lando is a great place to start. With shady business deals, ancient Sith artifacts, sleek spaceships, and strange aliens, it enriches both the smooth businessman’s backstory and the Star Wars galaxy as a whole. And you’ll never look at Lobot the same way again!
WRITER: CHARLES SOULE ARTISTS: PHIL NOTO & ANGEL UNZUETA Fans looking for a connection to The Force Awakens might want to start with Poe Dameron, which fleshes out the charming pilot’s backstory. While Rey’s story is shrouded in mystery (is she or isn’t she a Skywalker?) and Finn’s history remains obscured, along with the origins of the First Order from which he defected, Poe’s story is relatively out in the open. The series shows his time as leader of Black Squadron in the fight against the First Order before Episode VII.
WRITER: GREG RUCKA ARTISTS: MARCO CHECCHETTO, ANGEL UNZUETA, EMILIO LAISO, AND PHIL NOTO While it doesn’t progress the overall Star Wars story much, Shattered Empire carries some weight as it links The Force Awakens to the Original Trilogy. Starting at the Rebels’ celebration after the Battle of Endor, Shara Bey and Kes Dameron join Luke, Han, and Leia in the effort to mop up the remaining Imperials and recover a Force-strong tree. While learning about Poe Dameron’s parents is neat, this comic is also one of the several Star Wars pieces that show off Phil Noto’s warm art style.
WRITER: KIERON GILLEN ARTIST: SALVADOR LARROCA One of Marvel’s flagship Star Wars series is, at its best, an in-depth exploration of Vader’s self-hatred and viciousness. The series introduces some wild new villains–including fan-favorite rogue Doctor Aphra– and explores how Vader feels about transforming from Anakin Skywalker into the Dark Lord of the Sith. The first volume of the series is now complete, so this is a good time to check out the dark side. And if you want more, there’s a second Darth Vader series by Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli that takes place in the early days of Vader’s reign of terror.
Marvel has published several excellent canon stories that add to both the Original Trilogy and flesh out what happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Here are five series that serve as great starting points for fans who can’t get enough Star Wars.
CASTLEVANIA RISES FROM THE GRAVE Whether Konami makes a new game or not, Castlevania will haunt us all forever. BY JOHN SAAVEDRA
60 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
20 years, Konami was a house of innovation and AAA blockbuster hits. Recently, Konami has shifted its business focus from AAA video game development to the gambling and mobile market, using its valuable IP to develop games for a wider audience. In 2015, Konami CEO Hideki Hayakawa told Nikkei, a Japanese news outlet, that mobile was the future of gaming and that it would be the company’s main platform going forward. While Konami still releases at least one console game a year, the popular Pro Evolution Soccer, the publisher has pretty much abandoned AAA game development. This means many of Konami’s other franchises have fallen by the wayside, including Castlevania. Until now. Despite the fact that there hasn’t been a new Castlevania video game since 2014’s mediocre Lords of Shadow 2, there are still a few brave souls keeping this franchise and its Gothic horror aesthetic alive. In 2017, Netflix released Castlevania, an anime adaptation of 1989’s Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse for the NES, to rave reviews. And 2018 will see the debut of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, an indie spiritual successor to the Castlevania games created by legendary developer Koji Igarashi, who directed Symphony of the Night and is often credited as the creator of the Metroidvania style.
Adapting a video game isn’t easy. It’s almost the rule at this point: If your show or movie is
based on a popular video game, it’s probably going to bomb. But then the impossible happened: Netflix’s Castlevania animated series became the first video game adaptation to receive a “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The series comes from the minds of writer Warren Ellis, director Sam Deats, and producer Adi Shankar, who have gone down in history as the first creators to successfully adapt a video game series. What’s their secret? “I don’t think there is one,” Shankar says. “Because that’s like asking what’s the secret to adapting a book well? First and foremost, you’ve got to be a fan of it.” Ellis was first approached to adapt Castlevania in 2007 as an 80-minute straightto-DVD animated movie. While that project fell through, Castlevania was later revived as a TV series by Frederator Studios, Powerhouse Animation Studios, and Netflix. Attached as executive producer was Shankar, a YouTube personality, director, and producer best known for his “Bootleg Universe,” a series of pop culture satire films that have deconstructed beloved franchises such as Power Rangers, James Bond, and Judge Dredd. Shankar has made it his life’s work to take the things he loved as a kid and present them as social commentaries. He approached Castlevania, a series he grew up playing, the same way. “All these monsters have always been allegories for something else,” Shankar says. In the case of Castlevania, the creators used the Belmonts’ struggle against Dracula’s evil forc-
IMAGES: NETFLIX AND 505 GAMES.
hen Konami first published Castlevania in 1986, there was no way the Japanese video game company could have predicted that this homage to the Universal Monster movies of the 1930s and ‘40s would one day change platformers forever. Of course, Castlevania’s influence on platformers and non-linear action-adventure games would evolve over time as the series progressed. Before Castlevania arrived on the scene, platformers were usually straightforward affairs: get from point A to point B without dying. The early Super Mario games, basically. But with Castlevania sequels Vampire Killer, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and especially the seminal Symphony of the Night, along with Nintendo’s Metroid and Super Metroid, platformers began to take a different shape. Together, these two franchises spawned the “Metroidvania” subgenre, which emphasizes exploration, backtracking, and role-playing to progress through the game. And even though this subgenre is most commonly associated with 2D side-scrollers, elements of it have even made it into modern 3D fare such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Dark Souls. The Konami of the ‘80s was a different company from what we know today. By the end of 1987, Konami had released Castlevania, Contra, Metal Gear, Gradius, and the casual gaming sensation Frogger. The ‘90s were just as good, with debuts such as Silent Hill, Policenauts, and Dance Dance Revolution (not to mention some excellent Ninja Turtles games). For more than
Castlevania’s Dracula (Graham McTavish) punishes the land of Wallachia (left); Miriam battles her way through a Gothic castle full of monsters in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (right).
es to explore questions of religion and politics. In fact, the show caught a little flak for what some viewers believe to be an anti-Christian message. What’s so interesting about the four-episode season is that Dracula is barely in it. A religious entity identified only as “The Church” is responsible for much of the misery that befalls the citizens of Wallachia, and has banished protagonist Trevor Belmont, a heavy-drinking monster hunter and the only man who can stop Dracula, voiced by Richard Armitage (The Hobbit). Shankar disagrees with the anti-Christian reading. Instead he says the show’s criticisms are aimed at a more general target. Explains Shankar, “It had more to do with the fact that, throughout history, you do have individuals who are able to consolidate power using organizations to do bad things, right?” While the filmmaker identifies first and foremost as a social satirist, what intrigued him about this project was how Castlevania reinterpreted Bram Stoker’s classic Gothic novel through an Asian lens. “What’s interesting about Castlevania is that it’s a European story featuring a global icon, Dracula, created by a Japanese game company,” Shankar says. “So it’s almost like the Japanese interpretation of this European icon, and this European setting, and that definitely infused the DNA of all of it, so it ended up being this globally accessible [series].” Shankar’s respect for the source material has certainly paid off and may even be the key to convincing Konami to make a new Castlevania game. The show’s success proves that audiences still love this franchise. Dracula might be down at the moment, but there’s more hope than ever that he, and the Castlevania franchise, will rise again.
BLOODSTAINED: RITUAL OF THE NIGHT
Until that day comes, we have the master’s return to Metroidvania, Koji Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Although the Castlevania series was already in decline in 2014 when he left Konami to pursue his own projects, Igarashi knew that there would be a
void left behind by the franchise’s absence. Bloodstained was first announced through a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 that met its $500,000 goal within four hours and raised over $1 million in its first day. “I have been gone for too long, and it’s time for a resurrection!” Igarashi said in the video introducing the Kickstarter. “Publishers of the world told me that gamers no longer care for this style of game, but I know they’re wrong!” By the end of the campaign, Bloodstained had raised over $5.5 million, proving that fans were still hungry for this type of experience. Two years later, Bloodstained is still in development, but is inching closer to a 2018 release. The game tells the story of Miriam, an orphan who has been cursed by an alchemist and is slowly turning into crystal. The young woman must fight her way through a castle full of demons and other creatures of the night to find a cure. The plot and setting are as Gothic as it gets, and the presentation
“WHAT’S INTERESTING ABOUT CASTLEVANIA IS THAT IT’S A EUROPEAN STORY FEATURING A GLOBAL ICON, DRACULA, CREATED BY A JAPANESE GAME COMPANY.” - ADI SHANKAR
and gameplay—the side-scrolling combat, creepy monsters, and role-playing elements—all harken back to the golden age of Metroidvania. Interestingly enough, Igarashi told Game Informer that he wanted to stay away from classic monsters altogether so that Bloodstained wouldn’t feel like a “half-baked copy” of his Castlevania work. Instead he went all the way back to the 17th century to find the monsters that populate Miriam’s world. “This time around, we based most of the monster designs on the book Lesser Key of Solomon,” Igarashi says. The Lesser Key of Solomon is a grimoire (or spell book) on demonology made up of five books based on the work of several occultists. “As for creating each individual demon, we typically decide on the monster’s role and functionality, then use those attributes as inspiration for designing the physical appearance.” Bloodless, one of the demons you’ll encounter in the game, can shoot powerful streams of blood at Miriam, which is why she wears a gruesome red dress during the fight. Vepar is a demon of the sea with six eyes, sharp teeth, and tentacles for weapons. Take it from someone who has fought Bloodless and Vepar during demos at PAX East and E3: Both of these bosses will wreck you in the same way that made Castlevania so difficult, but satisfying. Igarashi had many more ideas for Castlevania games before he left Konami, and working on Bloodstained has allowed him to see his vision through. When Igarashi’s new game finally arrives on consoles and PC, it will carry the weight of his legacy on its shoulders, as well as the future of Metroidvania games. As for Castlevania itself ? At least we have the anime, which impressed Igarashi, who collaborated on it back when it was still a movie. “Yes, I did watch it!” Igarashi says. “If I were more involved, I probably would have added extra scenes, but I felt the people behind the series knew and played the games. I can’t wait for the next season.” DEN OF GEEK.COM 61
HIGH NOON FOR THE
MODERN WESTERN POWER FANTASY Is the future of the Western genre destined to be dictated by the desires of individuals? BY MATTHEW BYRD | ILLUSTRATION BY HANNAH KNEISLEY
e know that the romantic image of the Wild West in pop culture is a lie. If there were ever cowboys in white hats whose guns only spoke when the law’s justice remained silent, they paled in comparison to the number of average men prospecting for just enough money to get by. For every outlaw who died at the hands of Wyatt Earp, there were many more who died at the hands of a doctor unable to amputate a limb or treat an infection. Despite our knowledge of the hardships of the era, we still gravitate toward Western fantasies. In 2010, Rockstar Games released Red Dead Redemption, an open-world Wild West epic that is often regarded as one of the greatest games ever made. It is believed to have sold somewhere between 14 million and 16 million units, according to the Cowen & Company research firm. This makes it one of the top 50 best selling games of all time. And it’s not just video games that are capitalizing on this revitalized infatuation. In 2016, HBO debuted Westworld, a drama about the adventures of rich tourists in an artificial theme park designed to resemble the romantic image of the Old West. Across all platforms, the series drew an average of 12 million
62 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
viewers during its first season, a record-breaker for any HBO freshman effort. These two entries into the long-running history of the Western myth are especially interesting because of the nature of the era in which they made their debut. They’ve achieved great success at a time when the average person is well aware that the Wild West fantasy is a lie. In fact, these works almost glorify the worst parts of that lie by ironically perpetuating racist portrayals of Native Americans. Their success is far from an anomaly, however, and we cannot simply write them off as guilty pleasures. No, the success of Red Dead Redemption and Westworld is based on an often unspoken factor: our desire for control. We live in an age of infinite possibilities hindered by a burgeoning belief among young people that they are more powerless than ever. In 2016, the unemployment rate for millennials in America was 12.8 percent compared to the national average of 4.9 percent. A 2016 AP-NORC poll showed that 55 percent of American voters felt helpless about the upcoming election. One in five millennials admit to battling symptoms of depression. The feeling of being in control cannot be underestimated. An extensive study conducted by Rutgers University Professor
DEN OF GEEK.COM 63
Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden star in Westworld.
Lauren A. Leotti and her colleagues found that those inexperienced with exerting control in their daily lives may cease to believe that they are able to “produce desired results.” This same study suggested that those who lack the perception of control may seek to gain it “in any way possible.” As ominous as that sounds, the key word in that observation is “perception.” Rather than actual control, Leotti argues, “Perception of control is likely adaptive for survival.” In terms of perceiving one’s own self-made control, there are few historical venues more significant than the Old West. The American West was founded by those tired of the lack of opportunities in the industrialized east. Any man could claim 160 acres of land by working on it for five years. Later, the gold rush inspired hundreds of thousands of people to forgo traditional labor in hopes of striking it rich with just one great find. Call them fools, but many of those who went west did so because they realized that in a land comparatively free of aristocratic influence, traditional law, and strict government oversight, they had a better shot at achieving whatever they wished. Let the government worry about manifest destiny; they had control over their own destinies. If the foundation of American romanticism is the so-called “American 64 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
While no story details have been revealed, Red Dead Redemption 2 promises another grand adventure in the Old West.
Dream,” which states that every citizen has an equal opportunity for success through hard work and determination, then it’s not hard to see why so many have fondly looked upon the Wild West as the definitive time period in American history. In Red Dead Redemption, control is more than an idea. Control is quite literally in your hands. You guide protagonist John Marston on
IMAGES: ROCKSTAR GAMES & HBO
a journey to claim his freedom by hunting down the outlaws he used to run with. In reality, however, players often gravitate to places just beyond the game’s narrative boundaries. Red Dead Redemption offers an exceptional story for those who wish to pursue it, but many will find themselves drawn to bar brawls, gunfights, and aimless nights spent wandering the open range. In many ways, the game’s astounding success can be traced back to the fact that it was the first successful piece of entertainment of its kind that allowed you to live out your own Wild West adventure rather than serve as a passenger on someone else’s journey. This same philosophy is in play throughout HBO’s Westworld. Many characters in the show claim that the appeal of the park is that it allows you to feed your baser instincts while fulfilling some vague dream of being a cowboy. If that’s the case, then why spend the money to go to Westworld instead of a brothel or a bar? Because Westworld allows you to truly become someone else, whose fate is entirely in your hands. The great irony is that many of Westworld’s guests are, as Red Dead’s Marston put it, born “rich and dumb enough to enjoy their lives.” They have the resources to be who they say they want to be in both Westworld and their world. Many guests use the park as a simple playground, but others are drawn to the outskirts just like Red Dead’s players. They seek an adventure that feels unique to them. While it’s true that the off-the-beaten-path attractions of Westworld and Red Dead are still the machinations of some unseen creator, neither the gamers who play Red Dead, the fictional guests who venture into Westworld, nor even the audience who simply watches the Westworld series, seem to mind. Why? Because it’s the perception of control that we seek in escapism. We are willing to buy into the fantasy of the Wild West so long as the source material somehow acknowledges that we as the viewer/player have willingly accepted the reality of that illusion. It is that quality of deliberate and accepted illusion which binds Red Dead to Westworld, and identifies them as the start of a new breed of Western fantasy. In a strange way, this recent trend brings the appeal of the Western full circle. Remember that Western films of the 1930s and ‘40s, along with early dime store novels, were often quite absurd. They frequently treated folk tales as fact and starred square-jawed heroes capable of shooting eight evil men with six bullets. Yet audiences fell in love with these movies because they allowed them to escape overwhelmingly real terrors in the world. It wasn’t until the 1960s and ‘70s that a changing social structure inspired more filmmakers to start creating Westerns full of blood, anti-heroes, and moral ambiguity. Anything less was seen as a lie. Now a new breed of Westerns is finding a way to acknowledge the fantasy without hindering our enjoyment of the genre. Red Dead Redemption draws more inspiration from the comparatively carefree Westerns of John Wayne’s earliest Oaters and the absurd Spaghetti epics of the ‘60s than it does from ultra-dramatic works like Unforgiven, a drama which Clint Eastwood felt said all that he needed to say about the Western. It is a dramatic game, but it celebrates the spirit of the Western more than it denounces it. When the game does speak out against the era (its 1911 setting affords us the chance to see how antiquated the Old West had become in comparison to the rapidly approaching future), it is usually through the quick-witted remarks of Marston, whose observations on what is and what will be are almost too on-point. When Marston quips that “there won’t be any freedom” while there are guns and money, he does so with the authority of someone able to look back upon this time period with the clarity that only hindsight grants. It is almost as if he was designed to serve as the ultimate avatar for a modern player whose own knowledge of this era instills an attitude that borders on cynical. We can treat Red Dead as a power fantasy not just because of the opportunities it offers but because its attitude so often echoes our own. Red Dead openly touches upon this subject matter, but Westworld is built on it. Characters in the show often find themselves hopelessly compelled by the park’s attractions even though they all know it is just a grand stage, and that their choices have been predicted to some
degree by a grand overseer. They know it’s all a game, but it’s a game they want to play. It is that quality which enables these characters to speak so loudly to the viewers. Our favorite characters are often the ones who would play the game as we would. This includes those who latch on to the park’s “hosts” because they desire to see them break free of their shackles in this world of possibilities. In the end, it turns out that even those who rooted for a rebellion against the system were part of the larger game at play. As tempting as it is to recommend that we cast aside our cultural fondness for this time period and the horrors it represents, this new breed of Old West power fantasy does instill hope that we as a people are becoming more able—and willing—to separate reality from fiction. That we may take what we need from the illusions of the West for whatever entertainment value they may hold and not lose our knowledge of the reality of this era. If we have evolved as the Western has, it is in our willingness to accept our popular perception of the West for what it is just as we can accept the perception of control in lieu of actual totality. Or perhaps we all just harbor a desire to traverse open plains with our rifles and ponies. The frightening, exciting, and perhaps even inevitable future of the genre may very well involve an opportunity to discover that answer for ourselves, too.
NOW A NEW BREED OF RECENT WESTERNS IS FINDING A WAY TO ACKNOWLEDGE ITSELF AS FANTASY WITHOUT HINDERING OUR ENJOYMENT OF THE GENRE.
the evolution of
After revitalizing and revolutionizing the video game industry back in 1985 with Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Nintendo’s flagship franchise continues to be a driving force in gameplay innovation. With the highly anticipated Oct. 27 release of Super Mario Odyssey, let’s take a look at the evolution of gameplay in the Mario series over the years.
BY BERNARD BOO | INFOGRAPHIC BY OLIVIA REANEY
RUN ‘N JUMP Super Mario Bros.’ left-to-right platforming action was simple in design but became the blueprint for a genre that would dominate the gaming landscape for years to come.
YOSHI Super Mario World introduced Mario’s trusty sidekick, Yoshi, who took the hoppy hero to new heights.
FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT In 1996, Super Mario 64 introduced three dimensions to the platforming genre.
F.L.U.D.D. Super Mario Sunshine’s F.L.U.D.D. (Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device) was the centerpiece of arguably the most conceptually zany game in the franchise.
GRAVITY INSANITY From long-jumping into orbit around Bowser-sized planets to switching seamlessly between 3D and 2D gameplay, Super Mario Galaxy boasted an unprecedented approach to level design.
CAPPY The most significant addition in Super Mario Odyssey is Mario’s new comrade Cappy, which allows the plumber to take control of enemies, weapons, and much more.
66 DEN OF GEEK ■ NEW YORK COMIC CON
BETTER WITH FRIENDS The New Super Mario Bros. line of games focused on 2D platforming that was enhanced by 3D graphics and cooperative play.
Morgan Freeman SU2C Ambassador Executive Producer of the documentary, The C Word
Tonya Peat Cancer Survivor
Be the breakthrough.
Breakthroughs are the patients participating in clinical trials, the scientists and doctors working together to advance the fight against cancer, and the brave survivors like Tonya who never give up. Letâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s be the breakthrough. To learn about appropriate screenings and clinical trials or to help someone with cancer, go to su2c.org/breakthrough. #cancerbreakthrough
Stand Up To Cancer is a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Please talk to your healthcare provider about appropriate screenings for your age, sex, family history and risk factors; and about clinical trials that may be right for you. Photo by Nigel Parry