TV Review: Dungeons & Dragons (1983-1985)

Original Run: September 17th, 1983 – December 7th, 1985
Created by: Kevin Paul Coates, Dennis Marks, Takashi, Mark Evanier
Directed by: Bob Richardson, Karl Geurs
Written by: various
Based on: Dungeons & Dragons by TSR
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast: Willie Aames, Don Most, Katie Leigh, Adam Rich, Tonia Gayle Smith, Teddy Field III, Sidney Miller, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Bob Holt

Toei Animation, Marvel Productions, Dungeons & Dragons Entertainment Corporation, TSR, CBS, New World Television, 27 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I used to watch the shit out of this cartoon when I was really young. It was one of my favorite Saturday morning treats. However, I haven’t seen it since at least the early ’90s.

But like most animated series that were productions involving Japan’s Toei studio and Marvel, it was top quality stuff for its time and it has aged really well.

Sure, it’s hokey and goofy like kid’s cartoons are but it has a real charm about it and that charm is still effective.

I love the character designs of the show, especially in regards to the villain Venger and the five headed dragon, Tiamat. Also, Venger was voiced by Peter Cullen, best known as the voice of Optimus Prime while Tiamat was voiced by Frank Welker, best known as Megatron.

The show followed six Earth kids, their little unicorn named Uni and the impish Dungeon Master. The Earth kids were magically transported to the Dungeons & Dragons dimension through a theme park ride. I know, it sounds ridiculous but you didn’t care about stupid details or coherent plot when you were five years-old. Frankly, I don’t care about it now because the show works for what it is: a kid’s magical adventure.

Unfortunately, the show never had a proper ending and the kids never actually made it home within the episodes produced. I guess it can be assumed that they eventually saw their parents again but hopefully that happened before they were in their forties.

Anyway, this is still a really cool show. I even showed a few episodes to my nephew and he dug it with his discriminatory 2019 standards.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s fantasy cartoons like Masters of the Universe, Captain N the Gamemaster, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, Visionaries, ThundercatsSilverhawks, etc.

Film Review: Bumblebee (2018)

Also known as: Transformers 6 (working title), Brighton Falls (fake working title)
Release Date: December 3rd, 2018 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Travis Knight
Written by: Christina Hodson
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro
Music by: Dario Marianelli
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Glynn Turman, Fred Dryer, Angela Bassett (voice), Justin Theroux (voice), Peter Cullen (voice)

Allspark Pictures, Di Bonaventura Pictures, Tencent Pictures, Bay Films, Paramount Pictures, 114 Minutes

Review:

“The darkest nights, produce the brightest stars.” – Memo

The first three minutes and twenty seconds of this movie are pure Transformers perfection. The opening scene hit every single note in the right way and proved to me, right out the gate, that this was not a Michael Bay Transformers movie and that the creative team behind this film, actually cared about the source material.

Then the next scene was spectacular and the opening twelve minutes or so were a hell of a lot of fun, punctuated by John Cena being awesome because he initially felt like a heel in the story.

Now the film starts to taper off from its awesomeness a bit once we meet the main, non-robot characters, and deal with teen angst and crappy summer jobs. But that stuff is far from terrible and the movie does do a good job of fitting within the ’80s. Well, except for how often it has to remind you of what decade it is with a constant barrage of random Top 40 hits of the time. Not that I dislike ’80s music, I love a lot of music from that decade, but the selections didn’t seem cohesive and it felt like some millennial giving their Amazon Echo a very generic statement like, “Play ’80s music!”

This was also the most human and emotional Transformers to date. It develops its characters well, you truly care about Bumblebee and the humans and seeing Bumblebee feeling lost, without his memory, is executed greatly. Sure, it’s a cheesy, feel good movie but what’s wrong with feeling good?

What really wowed me is that most of this film is fan service but it understands what fan service is, delivers it damn well and sort of makes up for all the other atrocious Transformers movies I stopped watching after the second one.

Also, the robots look damn near perfect. Going back to the incredible opening scene, all the Autobots and Decepticons featured there looked exactly as they should if you are using the G1 era as your source. Between Wheeljack, Soundwave, Shockwave and all the others, it felt great to see them in a live action movie the way they were meant to be seen, which is all I ever wanted from the five films before this one. In fact, when Starscream and the Seekers turn into Cybertronian jets, they look just like they did in the pilot of the G1 cartoon, with a sort of sleek pyramid shape.

Megatron is nowhere to be seen but the two main villains were really solid stand-ins. The female robot was voice by Angela Bassett and the male was very much a perfect recreation of Vortex. The two of them were also triple changes. So where the Vortex looking Decepticon looked like the actual Vortex helicopter mode, he was also able to turn into a muscle car.

Hell, Cliffjumper shows up for one scene and he looked perfect. It was great seeing him get an appearance. considering that he’s been completely overshadowed by his brother, Bumblebee, since the original cartoon started. I always liked Cliffjumper better, as a kid.

Hailee Steinfeld put in an energetic and convincing performance and was the best human protagonist in the history of Transformers movies. The kid crushing on her was pretty useless but I didn’t hate him. However, the kid playing her little brother was terrific and I wish we would have seen more of him. Also, Pamela Adlon as her mother was a very strong plus for me.

In the end, Bumblebee was the Transformers movie I never thought I’d get. It’s far from perfect but it is a great step in the right direction. While this was intended to be a prequel to the Michael Bay films, I think they should just use this as a reboot and relaunch the franchise off of the shoulders of this film. And with that being said, I don’t want this to be the last time we see Steinfeld’s character.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the original Transformers cartoon and animated movie but NOT the Michael Bay films, as this is so much better than those.

TV Review: The Transformers – Original Miniseries & Seasons 1 & 2 (1984-1986)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 17th, 1984 – January 9th, 1986
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 65 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Sometimes even the wisest of man or machine can make an error.” – Optimus Prime

*Written in 2015.

The original Transformers television series, simply called The Transformers and now commonly referred to as Transformers G1 (for Generation One) was a sister show to Marvel/SunBow’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

It had the same art style, the same producers and directors and the voice cast of both shows were pretty much identical. It was also obvious to kids at the time but we didn’t care that Starscream and Cobra Commander had the same voice. All we cared about is that this show was just as badass as G.I. Joe.

Also, like G.I. Joe, this animated series was used as a vehicle to sell a tie-in toy line produced by Hasbro. It worked well, as the Transformers characters were some of the best-selling toys of all-time. In fact, after Star Wars, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers lines have to be the hottest selling toys of the ’80s for boys.

In regards to the show, there were great multi-part episodes and many stand alone episodes. This was the typical format of male action cartoons of the era. We were treated to great stories, a rich mythos and interesting characters. The show was well executed and was one of the highlights of 1980s pop culture.

It has gone on to spin-off a bunch of other animated series, as well as live-action films (those are atrocious though), video games, comic books and thousands of toys. The franchise, born from this animated series, is still one of the most lucrative of all-time and continues to try and reinvent itself every few years.

In the end though, there has never been an incarnation of Transformers that has been as iconic and near perfect as the original animated series. And while people consider this era, the original miniseries and the first two seasons, which take place before the animated feature film, as the peak in Transformers entertainment, I am one of the weirdos that actually prefers the show after the film.

The reason why I wanted to single out the two halves with different reviews is that the second half, after the movie, is darker and has a slew of new characters and situations. The movie changed everything and it significantly altered the show’s tone. I will review the second half of this series at a later date.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Debut Miniseries (1983)

Also known as: Action Force (UK), G.I. Joe: The M.A.S.S. Device (alternate VHS title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1983 – September 16th, 1983 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: Dan Thompson
Written by: Ron Friedman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Bob Remus, B.J. Ward, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 21 Minutes (per episode), 97 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

“Nobody’s perfect.” – Breaker, “No. But we do okay.” – Duke

This review isn’t for the G.I. Joe cartoon series as a whole. I wanted to review the early miniseries stories as their own bodies of work, as each was five episodes long but edited into movies for home video release and for two hour long weekend broadcasts on television.

This is the first of those miniseries releases and the story that popularized the reinvented G.I. Joe franchise in the ’80s. Some know this as The M.A.S.S. Device, as it was marketed that way on VHS and to differentiate it from the long-running cartoon that shared the name G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

In this inaugural chapter of the modernized G.I. Joe mythos, we meet everyone for the first time. On the G.I. Joe side there is Duke, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Stalker, Gung Ho, Breaker, Clutch, Cover Girl, Snow Job (I still can’t believe that was his name) and a few others. On the Cobra side we are introduced to four of the big leaders: Cobra Commander, Destro, the Baroness and Major Blood.

We also get introduced to the concept of the show and it’s heavy emphasis on science fiction and Cobra’s love of super weapons.

In the ’80s, probably due to the popularity of the Death Star from Star Wars and all the classic James Bond movies, there was always a need for super weapons. Cobra probably had more than any other fictional organization in history. Here, the super weapon is the M.A.S.S. Device, which require three special elements to operate. When operational, it can beam massive things to other locations or just straight up destroy them with an energy blast. Cobra actually does a weapons test, as a warning to the world, where we see them beam a nation’s entire army into their clutches, where they are captured.

G.I. Joe builds their own version of the device in an effort to combat Cobra. Most of the story is about the race between G.I. Joe and Cobra to collect the three rare elements from incredibly dangerous locations around the world.

For the time, the animation was top notch. Compared to what else was out at the time in the United States, this was well above its competition. Alongside Transformers, also produced by the same studio, G.I. Joe actually moved kids minds away from other toy franchises and locked them in place to Hasbro’s benefit. Today, G.I. Joe and Transformers are still massive franchises even if the live action movies leave a lot to be desired.

This was a really good kickoff to the modernized G.I. Joe franchise and actually, the cartoon universe improved with each new miniseries and eventually peaked with a full show. Things would go downhill in later eras but this was the start of a few years of stupendous G.I. Joe animated material.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: King Kong (1976)

Release Date: December 17th, 1976
Directed by: John Guillermin
Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Based on: King Kong by James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph, René Auberjonois, Ed Lauter, Peter Cullen, Julius Harris, Jack O’Halloran

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Paramount Pictures, 134 Minutes

king_kong_1976Review:

This was the King Kong film I grew up with. When I was a young kid in the early 1980s, this thing was on television almost daily. I also haven’t seen it since I was a young kid. But I have been watching through all the King Kong films in an effort to review them before the newest one, Kong: Skull Island comes out in March.

This was the first of a duo of films, kind of like the two previous King Kong series before it – the original 1930s RKO Radio Pictures films and the 1960s Toho kaiju movies. For the record, the Peter Jackson King Kong film that came out in 2005 was the first not to spawn a sequel.

1976’s King Kong is a better film than its bad reviews and low scores dictate. It stars a young Jeff Bridges, who looks like a twenty-something version of the Dude. He is likable and the highlight of the film, from an acting standpoint.

The film also stars Jessica Lange, who has always been beautiful but this is her at her stunningly best. She wasn’t a great actress here, although she would be in later projects. Lange was still passable, however. Her emotion, towards the end of the movie, once she grew to love Kong, was a much better version of the beauty and the beast tale than the original 1933 film.

Charles Grodin played the slimy stand-in for Denham of the 1933 version. Instead of being a showman and promoter, Grodin’s character was a sort of greedy oil baron. Like Denham, his desires for money, fame and power turn against him, as he is brutally stepped on by a rampaging King Kong when the film reaches its big climax.

King Kong also has René Auberjonois in it. He’s a guy that I have loved from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to Benson to Where the Buffalo Roam to Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach to all his television and voice work.

This film, like the original, spends most of its time on the island. It only goes to New York City at the very end of the picture, to show Kong on display and then breaking free, only to rampage until his death at the hands of man.

The special effects of the movie are a mixed bag.

Kong looks great. The ape suit and the animatronics work really well and they have aged fairly nicely. Also, the miniatures, most notably, the elevated train scene, don’t look half bad for 1976. Some of the other effects aren’t great, however.

The green screen work looks too obvious and is distracting. One scene in particular, you can tell that something is about to happen with a window in the shot because it is highlighted and stands out like a wall about to break in an old cartoon. Also, any scene of a character falling to their death, whether humans or Kong himself, looks really bad.

The finale of the film is brutal. It takes place atop the World Trade Center and Kong meets his most violent death to date. This violence became a pattern over the two De Laurentiis Kong films. He is shot by three helicopters with miniguns. Bloody chunks literally fly off of Kong as he screams in horror. At least he takes out two of the helicopters in the process. Kong then falls off of the World Trade Center in dramatic fashion.

This is a better than decent film for its day. I find it to be more entertaining than the slew of disaster pictures from the 1970s. Also, I really liked the dynamic between Bridges, Lange and Kong. It isn’t as epic as the 1933 original and despite being more modern, feels much smaller and confined. Regardless, I did enjoy the film.