Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

James Bond

BOND by RM73
An interesting article by Terence Bowman popped up on Den of the Geek today. It looks at the differences between literary characters and their film counterparts. In this post we'll look at Ian Fleming's 007, James Bond.

As a kid I remember discovering James Bond through my dad. He being a fan of the films guaranteed that I was going to be a fan, too. We even went to A View To A Kill in the theater!

Over the years I eventually saw films and appreciate them for what they are. However, getting into the Fleming novels AND gaining a perspective from film and video school revealed just how bad they really are. I believe that if you want to continue to like the Bond films, you must stay away from the novels.
James Bond author Ian Fleming once described Sean Connery, the first actor to play 007 on the big screen, as "a Glaswegian lorry driver who mangles my character". Many Fleming fans might be inclined to agree with that sentiment, though their issues may not lie solely with Connery.
The 1959 novel Goldfinger, for instance, opens with Bond sitting in a bar in Miami Airport. He’s just flown back from Central America, where he has just carried out an assignment to kill a drug dealer who was working for the Communists. As he sits there, Bond reflects on his deadly deeds in the line of duty. His internal musings on the nature of his dark and often brutal occupation depict a man questioning his own morality and place in the world. Fleming's writing in this part of the book is almost poignant in its existentialism.
Cut to the corresponding opening scene in the movie, Goldfinger. Connery, as Bond, on a similar mission, emerges out of a lake with a plastic duck on his head. He then takes off his wet suit to reveal that he is wearing a perfectly dry tuxedo underneath. Nothing can describe the difference between the Bond novels and the Bond films better than that comparison.
Described by Fleming as a “blunt instrument” rather than a hero, the literary Bond bore only a passing resemblance to his cinematic counterpart. Bond was a cool, detached and efficient killer in the service of his country, hence the term, “Licence to kill”. He rarely uttered a joke or a witty one-liner, least of all in regard to someone that he had just killed.
The actors that followed Connery in the role of Bond strayed to and from Fleming in varying degrees. Roger Moore played a highly camp character that happened to have the same name as Ian Fleming’s Bond. Timothy Dalton took over the role in 1987's The Living Daylights, and is often denigrated by critics as one of the worst Bonds ever. Ironically, Dalton is lauded by fans as one of the best. They see him as the only actor who truly brought the spirit of Fleming’s 007 to the role.
Pierce Brosnan took over the cinematic Bond mantle in GoldenEye in 1995. Brosnan's interpretation was something of a compromise between the lighter Bond of Connery, Lazenby or Moore, and the darker Bond of Fleming and Dalton.
Finally, Casino Royale, the Bond reboot of 2006 starring Daniel Craig as 007, brought back a darker Bond, even though he still wasn’t entirely based on Fleming’s work. Craig and the franchise both used Fleming, and at the same time did their own thing with the character. The result seemed to finally satisfy both fans and mass audiences alike.

This article strikes a cord with me. I prefer the original concept of the character over the various film versions.

As for the films, I really enjoy the music mainly. And the traditions that have stayed with the franchise throughout. I am enjoying the latest two films and hope to see more like them (especially the last one, Quantum of Solace- I think I'm the only person on Earth that liked it better than Casino Royal!).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pole Position

The animated show called Pole Position was named after the Atari video game, but there was nothing in common between the show and the game other than they both featured cars. The show resembled the Americanized Japanese anime Speed Racer more than anything else. Perhaps there was a lot of influence from Knight Rider, too. The show is about three siblings who are agents for an investigative/secret agency that uses auto racing and stunts as a front. Even in the show's intro it lays out how these kid's parents were lost in the line of duty prior to the events of the show and their Uncle Zachery, head of the Pole Position Agency, acts as a surrogate father for the kids, or perhaps is the legal guardian. The agency issues the kids a semi-truck as a mobile base of operations and two cars that each have unique artificial intelligence as well as a wide array of gadgets that Q-Branch would be jealous over.  Dan drives the futuristic concept car named Roadie which sort of resembles a blue DeLorean. Tess drives the red 1965 convertible Ford Mustang named Wheels. Daisy is their younger sister who always gets involved with the case or mystery providing many-a plot point, getting kidnapped and what-not with her cohort, Kuma, who is a lemur or a hybrid monkey cat of some sort. Most animated shows of the '80s had a token animal companion with a highly irritating voice and Kuma was Pole Position's. However, they stayed one step in reality by keeping the creature as an intelligent animal with no ability to verbally speak.
Pole Position - by rsj

In 1984 Pole Position stood out beyond it's peers in several areas. The sci-fi of the show was fantastical, but never went over the top. Sure there were talking cars with artificial intelligence that displayed emotion, but the events and stunts were almost always within a believable boundary. There were hints at some elements of espionage and spies.

The show had a very smooth animated quality to it compared to many other shows of that era and even decades after. Where most other shows of it's type seemed very choppy with fewer frames of animation per second, Pole Position's integrity was etched into my memory as quality.

The musical score throughout each episode features variations of the theme song and fluctuates through many styles of music. There are some recognizable themes, all very nicely done. All of it was composed and arranged by Jef Labes under Saban Productions. He clarified some of the details behind the production of the music here:
Dear Jeffrywith1e,  I was actually the composer/arranger who wrote and produced the entire library of music for the whole Pole Position series, when I was a ghost writer for Saban Productions in L. A.  The actual theme song was composed by my boss, and I did the rest.  The same tactic was used to creat the library of music for Heathcliff, Kissifur, the Getalong Gang, Wolfrock, and several other shows, mostly the animation products of DIC production from Japan.  Saban Prod. specialized in Sat. morning cartoon soundtracks back in the early 80's, and eventually got into the full production of Power Rangers and other shows of that ilk.  I moved up to the Bay Area in 1985, and though I look back fondly on those busy days and nights in their studio in Studio City, I left behind the maelstrom for the quieter life in Marin.  Cheers, Jefwith1f 
Pole Position-Roadie by GI-Joe09
The show aged rather well. The music may be the one thing that really stands out as genuine '80s. In the concept car and the '65 Mustang make the show timeless. The character design also is nicely timeless. The show looks like it could air today. The entire series is available for free at this time on hulu. Check it out right here

I tell you what, my son loves this show. The only reason I even thought of it lately was a toy set he got from his grandparents for his 4th birthday. The Fisher-Price Shake N Go Xtreme Race Set. The two cars that came with it match the car's colors in the show. The designs vaguely do too. The blue car looks more modern and concept like Roadie and the red car has a more classic muscle car look similar to Wheels. I wonder if this was intentional on the part of some geek toy designer, but who knows. The toys are actually very cool. Each car has a tiny differential in their rear axle so there is a pretty sophisticated design going on in there (you can tell by spinning one rear wheel and seeing the opposite wheel spin in the other direction!). I think he thinks the show IS about these cars.

I think this setting could be good for a pulpy action roleplaying game. If I were to tackle it, I'd go with Savage Worlds or Ubiquity System and scrape the chase rules out of Spycraft 2.0. It could easily be done.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gallagher Girls

The Gallagher Girls is a young adult series by Ally Carter which follows the adventures of Cammy "The Chameleon" Morgan who is a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women (which is actually a training facility for young espionage agents!). Four books have been released in the series which is said to be six when it is all finished.

We've talked about the series here before. We see the series as a fantastic and exciting venue for teaching conservative values and positive character development for young women. They are also pretty darn entertaining (no matter what age).

Since our first look at the series, the fifth book has been announced, has a release date and cover art! Out of Sight, Out of Time will be released on March 20th, 2012.

The first two books establish a vivid portrayal of the universe in which the story develops- perhaps overly so. After you finish book one - I'd Tell You That I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You you are left with a solid concept of who these characters are, where they live and what they do. But there really is no foreshadow of what's to come. The span of events and revelations from the end of the first book and the end of the fourth book (the last book at the time of this writing) is unbelievable. It's like the series grew up really fast. The first half of the series suffers from a lot of fluff. No one is really ever in danger. There are important characters introduced, but Carter sure takes her time getting to the real meat of the series. 

On her website, Carter states that she struggled with the 2nd book, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, which was the least of the four in my opinion, too. I speculate that she almost introduced some of the plot elements into book two that we see right out of the gate in book three. It probably was a good decision on her part. What now is maybe too long of a setting up for the series may have suffered stepping into the 3rd act in that second book. It could've made quite a cliffhanger, though. Even so, what we have in the end is good quality.

The last half of the series- Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover and Only the Good Spy Young doesn't just turn up the action and danger, it's like suddenly just on! Full blast! These two books make for a very exciting espionage thriller, even for the young adult audience. I feel the first two books ought to be read for much back story, but it's the second two books that really make the Gallagher Girls books great.

Friday, August 12, 2011


roll of the dice by runielf
I was first a comic geek. Later a game geek.

My first game was the TSR Marvel RPG. The next game I got into was TSR's Top Secret/S.I. and from there Star Wars d6. It wasn't until 3.0 that I ever got into Dungeons & Dragons. The main reason for this was that my parents were not comfortable with the magic, wizards and dragon tropes that go with fantasy gaming. And this was the mid '80s to early '90s where the mainstream view of such things were not that favorable. The settings where this wasn't so blatantly  obvious were permissible, but still not completely comfortable with my mom.

A majority of my gaming has been D&D 3rd Edition. I reserve a strong desire to play almost any system but that, but my usual gaming group are a bunch of old-school curmudgens who are stuck on 3rd- (I was able to nudge them on to Pathfinder, however which is where they still are for the most part).

I have explored many of the more prominent game systems available, sometimes immersing myself into the game for a while. Many of these I have never actually played, just... studied. GURPS is one of these. I admire the system for what it is and seems it accomplishes. I think it'd be too cumbersome for me to actually apply. D6 System and True20 are some others that I got into for some time.

On one of their visits my father expressed that he didn't understand the hobby and my enthusiasm for it. He pretty much dismissed the whole idea. Not a big deal.

A few weeks later my dad called to apologize for how that conversation went. He felt convicted and that he perhaps was too judgmental about the issue and asked for forgiveness. I told him not to worry as I wasn't offended- as gamers I suspect we all are calloused to some of this. Comes with the territory. He was forgiven, but in a moment of inspiration I told him that I'd like to run a game for him (with my mom, my wife and my step-daughter) so that he'd have first hand knowledge of what the game and the hobby is all about. He agreed. I set to work.

I finally settled on using the Top Secret/S.I. rules, but instead of the espionage setting I created a one-shot pulp adventure ambiguously set in no era with vague Nazi-ish bad guys with some relic macguffin. I pre-generated characters for everyone so as to get right into the game (robbing them of the joy of creating characters... perhaps another time). This was all with my dad as the main target audience (as this all started for him). The other element I was sure to add was to introduce my step-daughter to the concept of role-playing. Leesha was around 10 years old and had a vague idea what this gaming thing was all about. She was pretty clear she wanted a character that had a big cat as a pet. I started her off with no animal companion, but did plant a panther as an encounter in the adventure as a very likely animal companion if things played out in that direction.

We played for a few hours, they made their way through the simple dungeon tomb and overcame the bad guy. We all really got into it, but what made it all worth while was my parents asking when we could do it again! I successfully ran a one-shot game for my folks, which they enjoyed and they got it. Sadly, we haven't been able to sit down and do it again. I do plan to return to that game one day. Perhaps with a different system, however.

My latest reads have been all about the Ubiquity System from Exile Game Studio introduced through the Hollow Earth Expedition RPG. I saw this game and it's system as one that could easily be understood and used with my children and family. Then I discovered the Wilderness Kids Adventures which solidified the deal. I intend on using the Ubiquity System as our household game system.

Why RPGs? This is a way for me to not have to grow up. My fondest memories as a child were exploring the amazing and strange worlds my brother and I would create through the lens of our action figures. We never played G.I. Joe or Star Wars properly, we mashed them all together and had intergalactic bands touring in concert or people stuck in a prehistoric world, or taped paper wings to their backs and made them insect hybrid people. Gaming is a way to continue that. To continue creating.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

[ spooks ] MI-5 will end

Looks like season 10 of [ spooks ] or MI-5 will be it's last. Discovered it on A&E late one night during a marathon in 2003 or something have have been a fan ever since. Spooks has always provided high quality espionage story telling and suspense. It's never over the top in a James Bond way, but features realistic and exciting action. This is the kind of show that the protagonists don't always survive. In fact there is only one guy who has been there through out the series. Everyone else has either died or been removed through some dramatic and highly political reason. I'm sorry to see it go. Perhaps it's better that it does before it jumps the shark.
SpooksA tabloid newspaper claims that the BBC is to axe spy drama Spooks after ten years.

The Sun claims that the forthcoming tenth season of Spooks will be its last and that bosses have promises a "high octane thrilling finale" for the highly popular and critically acclaimed series. The MI-5 based drama has run for over 80 episodes since it launched in 2002 and is still hugely popular with audiences. The drama has featured several storylines which, later on, have actually played out for real.

The current cast of Spooks include Peter Firth, Sophia Myles, Max Brown and Nicola Walker while Richard Armitage seemingly bowed out in the season nine finale. Previous cast Max Brownmembers of Spooks include Rupert Penry-Jones, Gemma Jones,  Miranda Raison, Hermione Norris, Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes. In 2008 there was a short-lived BBC Three spin-off Spooks: Code 9 which starred Ruta Gedmintas and Georgia Moffett. The spin-off was set in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion at the 2012 Olympics in London but was poorly received by critics.

Kudos, who make Spooks for the BBC, said that wanted the drama to "go out on a high". Spooks isn't the only long-running drama series to be brought to an end by the BBC. Waking the Deadended its run earlier this year after nine seasons though a spin-off, The Body Farm, has been ordered. The Sunday evening dramaLark Rise to Candleford also ended its run to much dismay from the public and the BBC has confirmed the next series of Hustlewill be its last.


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