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The Grand Ol’ Space Opry


Astounding 1931 xx

My previous post on Space Pirate Captain Harlock was sparked by the following comment on film historian Bill Warren’s Facebook page (anything to give me an excuse to watch cool sci-fi movies on Netflix):

Yes, I know this[1] is set in the present, STAR TREK in the future and STAR WARS in the past, but this and almost all space-set movies and TV shows are set in pretty much the same consensus future of spaceships that zip all over the galaxy without any relativity-created time problems; almost all aliens, even CGI aliens, look like humans with different colors and a few glued-on facial differences. Plenty of ray guns/blasters/phasers etc., gravity, air and temperature pretty much Earth-normal. This consensus future was developed from about 1935 to 1955 in published science fiction.

But has anyone traced its development, investigated who introduced what? I presume Doc Smith, Edmund Hamilton, John W. Campbell Jr. (as an editor), Heinlein, Murray Leinster and others were major contributors–but who else? And what did the various writers introduce?

I agree with Bill’s central point:
Most space opera is just naval stories set in space, sometimes with submarines, sometimes with aircraft carriers.[2]

Astounding 1939 11

I’d say Edgar Rice Burroughs and other writers of books like Gulliver Of Mars got the ball rolling in the late 19th / early 20th centuries by telling essentially great white hunter / cowboys vs Indians on another world stories.  Most sci-fi of the classic pulp era (which I’ll peg as between 1920-45) was in terms of plot simply a military or pirate or exotic land adventure story with sci-fi trappings.[3]

Malcolm Jameson’s Bullard of the Space Patrol series drew quite heavily on his naval experience (and to good effect; it’s much better than the typical space opera of its era).  Likewise Ed Hamilton’s Captain Future was (essentially) Doc Savage & friends in space.


A certain common language sprang up because most sci-fi devices were analogs of real world devices.[4]  As another post on Bill’s page points out, many of the pulp space opera writers were also grinding out pulp adventure / detective / sea / Western stories for the same publishers.  They quickly developed a set of tropes that casual readers could quickly grasp.

The language and syntax of the genre evolved out of what stuck after it was flung on the walls of the collective consciousness by these pioneering wordsmiths.

But I think attention must be paid to Buck Rogers (which admittedly took a while to get space borne but once it did never looked back)[5] and Flash Gordon, which featured cultures very similar to those on Earth, just ramped up to the nth degree. Those comic strips probably did more to influence what mainstream audiences thought of as “sci-fi” than anything else of the era.

Buck Rogers book cover

Flash Gordon was about a planet that enters our solar system and nearly collides with Earth; once Flash & co reached Mongo pretty much all if their adventures were confined to the surface.[6] The stories became interstellar only much, much later. Buck started on Earth, jumped to Mars and the other solar system planets, then went interstellar after WWII.[7]

The comic strip versions of Buck Rogers and his better drawn / far more badly written imitator Flash Gordon pretty much set the visual look of pulp space opera (albeit Buck often did stories set in space were zero-g was a plot factor).  In this instance I would say it was the failure of ability on Dick Calkins’ part[8] and the failure of imagination on Alex Raymond[9] plus the casual reader’s inability to grasp something they had never seen before that helped shape the consensus universe Bill refers to.

Flash sunday6oct40det

Remember, the pulp publishers were in it for the money only and if it didn’t sell they’d replace it in a heart beat; their writers deserve credit where they succeeded in breaking thru this monetary barrier and introducing genuine imaginative material among all the pulp trope dross.

Special credit needs to be given to editor John W. Campbell of Astounding Stories (later re-titled Analog).  Campbell was a savvy editor who could negotiate the shoals of publishing while protecting and guiding his writers and artists to produce higher and higher quality work.  The shadow Campbell cast on sci-fi of the era was tremendous, and he is one of the single most influential figures in the entire field.

Astounding 1939 07

Astounding, through Campbell and his associated writers, wielded a heavy influence on sci-fi films in the early 1950s.  The Thing From Another World is based on Campbell’s “Who Goes There?”; Destination Moon, while officially based on Robert Heinlein’s Rocket Ship Galileo, was certainly the by-product of Campbell’s editorial crucible; The Day The Earth Stood Still was based on Harry Bate’s “Farewell To The Master” originally published in Astounding; and Forbidden Planet is about the closest thing to a bona fide Astounding Stories movie one could hope for.[10]

Astounding 1939 12

Forbidden Planet looks pretty much like a standard Astounding Stories tale of the era:  Smart writing, super-science, standard space opera gizmos, psionic menace.  Star Trek closes the loop for us.  It certainly picked up on those elements, but not in a way that can easily be traced back directly to Forbidden Planet.[11]

Star Trek is actually not all that far removed from Tom Corbett, Space Patrol, or Rocky Jones insofar as they are all about quasi-military organizations engaged in interstellar exploration and combatting alien menaces; better written and less hokey, to be sure, but I think most early TV space opera plots could be re-written as workable Star Trek episodes.

Astounding 1939 10

And that actually is what ties the consensus space opera universe together, the fact that by the early 1950s the tropes were well established enough for casual TV viewers to easily grasp them, yet at the same time remain serviceable enough to sustain a far more sophisticated series later, finally kicking space opera into the mainstream once and for all.




[1]  Current popular space opera that shall remain nameless here until the studio that produced it does the right thing to the family of Jack Kirby.

[2]  Though I’d say Doc Smith was lightyears beyond Star Trek and Star Wars in the aliens dept.

[3]  H.G. Wells being the major exception, but even then not always.

[4]  Blaster = gun, spaceship = aircraft / battleship / submarine depending on story, space patrol = navy and / or Texas rangers, etc.

[5]  The novels that the comic strip are based on were yellow peril stories with a Rip Van Winkle twist; Buck didn’t leave the planet in the books and not on the funny pages until the strip had been around for several years.  A nice thing about the comic strip was that Buck negotiated a peace with the Han Empire that had conquered North America, returning American sovereignty while at the same time addressing the empire’s concerns — rather progressive for pulp fiction of that era!

[6]  On the plus side, Mongo is pretty much the only sci-fi planet with different climates, environments, and cultures; everything else tends to have a single planet-wide cultural / environmental standard (case in point, the otherwise excellent Dune).

[7]  The now virtually forgotten Brick Bradford began as an adaptation of When Worlds Collide but quickly abandoned the source material.

[8]  I’ll give a nickel to anybody who can show Calkins ever understood what a vanishing point was.

[9]  Raymond was a superb draftsman, excellent at layout and anatomy, but all his alien cultures looked like whatever movie he saw that week with the occasional ray gun or Art Deco rocket tossed in for variety.  He left Flash Gordon around the start of WWII and came back after the war with the truly remarkable Rip Kirby, a savvy post-war private eye series that stands the test of time far better than Flash Gordon ever could even though it failed to garner the same cultural impact.

[10]  And that’s not counting minor films like Project Moonbase (written by Robert Heinlein) or Dune Roller (based on the short story of the same title by Julian May) from the 1960s, blatant ripoffs like The Brain From Planet Arous (taken from Hal Clement’s Needle) or The Brain Eaters (stealing from Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters and getting caught), or obviously the various movie / TV versions of Dune, all of which were shaped to one degree or another by exposure to Campbell’s school of thought.  Hell, we can even throw in Battlefield Earth into the mix while we’re at it…

[11]  Lost In Space, conversely, clearly did lift a lot of visual inspiration from Forbidden Planet.

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Fast gliding along, a gloomy bark
Her sails are full, though the wind is still,
And there blows not a breath her sails to fill
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . – Thomas Moore

CH arcadia of my youth ship

There’s mainstream, and then there’s stuff for the connoisseurs.  No matter how good the mainstream[1] stuff is, there’s always something a little stronger, a little purer, a little rarer, a little more off the beaten path.

Some might argue one can acquire a connoisseur’s taste, but I’d say it’s more that one discovers the connoisseur lurking inside.  Sometimes, briefly, the connoisseur’s and the mainstream’s tastes can travel together, but in the end the connoisseur’s taste leads off in its own direction, and while the mainstream may be forever flavored by the connoisseur’s delight, it never really knows how to appreciate it and in the end satisfies itself with watered down versions of the real thing.

Allow me to introduce you to Leiji Matsumoto’s Space Pirate Captain Harlock.

CH captain_harlock_by_halflingsera_wallpaper-other

There’s a lot of arguing over who did what first and how that affected everything that came afterwards, but the facts are this:  In 1977 space opera was in the air, and in the US a young director named George Lucas was about to redefine the genre for moviegoers while in Japan a young mangaka was doing the same thing for manga readers.

CH pchbanner2

It’s hard at this point to separate who influenced whom.  Both creators drew from different but similar streams, both creators did innovative things that reflected the work of the other but seemingly without any direct link.

Lucas acknowledges the influence of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa[2] on his work, and while Kurosawa was also an influence for Matsumoto, the Japanese artist was also influenced by traditional European sources.[3]

No matter: 
As if to further muddy the waters, the publishing / broadcast / release history of Captain Harlock’s adventures deliberately defies any and all attempts to link them in a single, logical continuity.  Unlike Star Wars or Star Trek or the various American superhero universes that link each and every single issue / story / character into a rigid timeline, Harlock’s appearances are capricious, contradictory, and confusing.[4]

CH orig manga arcadia

original manga version of Harlock’s ship, The Arcadia

It’s almost as if we are not seeing the adventures of one single character, but rather all the multitudes of Harlock that exist in the quantum multiverses.[5]

So don’t think of Harlock & co. as a character; think of him as an icon.  He is the hero of a thousand faces in reverse; a single battle scarred, eye patch covered face with a thousand different heroes hiding behind it.

There’re a lot of variations of Captain Harlock out there,
including but not limited to his appearances in –

In addition to the above, about a half a dozen or so spin-off projects including TV episodes extended into featurettes, series set in the same universe but not featuring a direct appearance by Harlock or other characters, and just purely random cameos for the hell of it in other Matsumoto stories.

CH gun frontier manga sketch

Harlock is a hero of Wagnerian proportions, specifically Captain Hendrick Vanderdecken, the Flying Dutchman.  There is a deep, dark melancholy dwelling in his restless heart, one that pushes him and compels him to action even at great cost to himself and for often Quixotic purposes.  He manages to be both a Romantic and an existentialist hero at the same time, and that precarious contradiction is a big part of what makes him so compelling as a character.

How much of Harlock may be directly derived from European legend, and how much is various aspects of bushido culture interpreted in new form, and how much is second or third hand osmosis is anybody’s guess.  Matsumoto is certainly not unaware of Wagner (Harlock Saga is essentially his retelling of Das Rheingold set in space) but seems to have taken only the tragic / heroic soul of the legend and none of the details.

CH harlock saga

No matter: 
Whatever iteration of Harlock, it’s always thunderously good space opera.

And the “opera” portion of that description is quite apt.  As has been observed elsewhere, good opera doesn’t have to make logical sense, only emotional sense.  And there’s something about the captain and his damned / doomed ship that resonates very, very deeply.

The best of the most recent versions of the story is Space Pirate Captain Harlock, now available for streaming on Netflix.  CGI animation is good to excellent; character design could have been better[6], the subtitles are only adequate[7], but the whiz-bang is very whizzy and very bangy, and visually it is a pure delight.[8]  The big plot reveal can be seen marching down the boulevard from the first reel, but the film makers seem to recognize this and just go all out with the ending and the theme that while the captain may be eternal, the man behind the eye patch isn’t.

CH Space-Pirate-Captain-Harlock-2013-Movie-Poster

Highly recommended, especially to manga / anime fans and classic pulp space opera buffs.  Mainstream audiences will probably enjoy all the pretty eye candy but just not get what it is that Matsumoto et al are trying to achieve.

That’s okay.  As Joel Hodgson once observed: 
“It’s not important that everybody gets the joke,
just that the right people get the joke.”




[1]  By definition, anything with an audience in the tens of millions is mainstream so just deal with it.

[2]  Kurosawa was far from culturally pure in his influences in film making, frequently drawing upon both Russian classics and American pop culture for his sources and inspirations.

[3]  Genius that I am, it only took me 40+ years to realize that quaint middle European backwater cultures is what looks exotic to a Japanese artist.

[4]  He is far from the first or only Japanese manga / anime character to be handled this way.  The producers of the dark, starkly tragic Neongenesis Evangelion series felt so bad about what they put the characters through that they brought them back for a more light hearted teen comedy.  The various Tenchi Muyo series typically reboot from the ground up with every new variant, shifting characters around in different roles in the stories.  The only American equivalent I can find to this are the various versions of Rio Bravo / El Dorado / Rio Lobo with the same basic story and stock characters in each one, but John Wayne playing a different role in every film.

[5]  And doubtlessly some fan somewhere is attempting to do exactly that…

[6]  Though I’ll give the benefit of a doubt to a character that is revealed to be a computer simulation; maybe she was supposed to look that way deliberately.

[7]  The synopsis makes a lot more logical sense.  I get the feeling that the subtitles were done almost on the fly since they often contradict themselves and what we’re seeing on screen.

[8]  If anybody is going to adapt Doc Smith to the screen again, it should be this team.  Yowza!






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Those Who Live By The Copyright…


wonder woman says have a wonderful birthday

Well, this is interesting…

Cory Doctorow reports on a new class action lawsuit aimed at Warner/Chappell music for using their entrenched position as a corporate bully to shakedown creators and demand illegal royalties for “Happy Birthday To You”, a song which has apparently been in the public domain for most of the 20th century.

Y’know, if you or I did something like this,
we would be thrown in jail in a heartbeat for fraud.
So much for corporations being people, eh?

Wonder Woman 
(c) & TM Warner Bros.
‘cuz if you’re gonna rub it in

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I Blather On And On…



Alex, Andrew, Sam, and Steve over at Nerdversity 101 asked me a few questions regarding Thundarr, classic G.I. Joe, and my upcoming Kindle Worlds G.I. Joe project “The Most Dangerous Man In The World” based on the infamous “lost” Joe TV episode.

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A Delight To The Eye, A Treat For The Soul


1:87 is one of the most delightful websites I’ve encountered in ages.  There’s a wealth of charming / witty / delightful photos there, but this one in particular appealed to me:

1-87 site word planters

Check it out:
You can also find
them on Instagram

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SHERLOCK Jumps The Shark



“The Sign Of Three”, episode 2 of season three of BBC’s Sherlock series was in my mind the best Sherlock Holmes story ever told, in any medium, by any writer.

Sorry, Sir Arthur.

It had everything one could hope for in a Sherlock Holmes story and more:
Nifty mystery, ingenious solution, plenty of glimpses into the private lives of Holmes & Dr. John Watson. But more than that, it was a story that involved Holmes & Watson on a personal level, not as puzzle-solvers-for-hire. It unfolded in a seemingly lackadaisical, disjointed fashion, apparently being about one thing before spiraling tightly on another thing which, in the end, proved to be about the first thing after all.[1]

But as delighted as I was by “The Sign Of Three”, the season closer “His Final Vow” seemed to go out of its way to undo all the good things about the previous episode.

The good parts were very good:
The villain was suitably villainous and a better (which is to say, worse) foe for Holmes than Moriarity. The build up to the first Major Plot Twist was primo Sherlock, and even though Holmes was heartlessly manipulative of another person, while dismaying it was still within his character.

Oh, but that Major Plot Twist…

bbc hammerhead

Okay, the series is right on the money when it points out Watson is a danger junkie, that he seeks out people, relationships, and situations that feed that addiction. Doyle alluded to as much (albeit not in those terms) in his original stories.

But what Sherlock the series fails to pick up on is that Watson, not Holmes, is Doyle’s wish fulfillment character. Doyle was much too bourgeois in real life to want to be “a high functioning sociopath” like Holmes; he wanted to be the staid, steadfast upper-middle class Englishman with a wife and a home and a pipe and a prestigious career, but with the ability to go off at his own discretion for daring adventures on the side.

Watson is essentially Doyle’s Mary Sue
in his fan fic about Holmes.[2]

So, yes, Watson would indeed gravitate towards dangerous people, but not all people he gravitates towards would be dangerous nor does he want them to be.

Watson, like Doyle, feels comfortable in a world where everything is exactly what it seems to be — and despite puzzling clues, in the end they all end up meaning one thing and one thing only.[3] He knows Holmes is an insensitive wanker because that is how Holmes always presents himself. He knows clients can be disingenuous or even dishonest because that’s how they present themselves.

But he also knows certain people are trustworthy because no matter what their social circumstances, they will never present themselves falsely. Watson, like Holmes, can trust junkies and thieves and beggars and gang members provided they never fly under false flags.[4]

In a nutshell, at arguably one of the most basic, primal levels of Watson’s emotional life, he has a person who presents themselves under a false flag. He might very well have continued his relationship with this person knowing they had a somewhat tawdry past, but it doesn’t play true to either the BBC series or the entire Holmes / Watson oeuvre if they presented themselves as one thing and then revealed themselves to be another.

As bad as that was, however,
it was only the smallest shark
that Sherlock jumped.

bbc jaws_dts_hires

As noted, the villain was truly good (in a bad way, if you catch my drift), and a better match for Holmes than Moriarity. He was, in fact, the anti-Holmes, more so that Holmes own brother, Mycroft (or Mike, as people kept referring to him in this episode much to his annoyance; nice touch, that). In the end the villain was seemingly victorious, he had out maneuvered Holmes, Holmes was forced to admit to Watson he had no plan on how to deal with him.

Which, of course, is precisely the moment where Holmes does something that reveals he’s been two steps ahead of the bad guy all the time and the seemingly insurmountable fix that he and Watson are in is actually all part of his well laid plan to turn the tables on the villain and hoist him by his own petard.

Only that doesn’t happen.

Instead, Holmes settles (one can’t say “solves”) the matter in a manner more befitting of Mike Hammer, John Shaft, or even Philip Marlowe.

This is not to say that Holmes is incapable of or even unwilling to use direct means, but they are always punctuation marks to carefully laid out lines of thought.

The main plotline ends with Holmes facing banishment (read “suicide mission”) as a penance for his atypical resolution to the case. While not as much of a downer as the season two faux suicide, it’s still a grim ending to the season.

…and apparently the producers felt the same way
because reaching so far into their arses that they
could tickle their uvulas, they yanked out the
biggest shark of all.

bbc Mega-Shark-vs-Giant-Octopus-2009-Movie-Image

Some genres you can get away with they-are-only-dead-if-you-have-a-body-and-even-then-only-maybe; Dracula and Frankenstein are quite literally unkillable and nobody bats an eye when they pop back.

But non-fantasy characters can’t be treated so cavalierly. In the nearest analogy to the Holmes / Moriarity match-up, James Bond never actually killed or presumed he had killed Blofeld until the villain’s final appearance in the books (You Only Live Twice) or films (For Your Eyes Only[5]). Bouncing back from the dead is something to be used very sparingly and since Bond had already done it in his own series, Fleming and later the films’ producers opted not to have any villain come back for seconds after being officially killed off.

Holmes and Moriarity both were killed in the season two closer. If somebody is going to get a call back, it’s going to be Holmes. Sherlock has fun with the ridiculousness of his return in the season three opener, presenting three mutually contradictory explanations while implying none were true. They can get away with that because the tone of the series is light enough for viewers to swallow one such huge implausibility, and because whatever ruse was used to fake Holmes’ death, it clearly involved an army of confederates (“No more than 25,” Holmes explains) to pull it off.

Those confederates would not overlook Moriarity’s corpse — or lack there of — in the aftermath. At the very least Holmes would be aware Moriarity faked his own death and, once Holmes’ own resurrection was revealed, would have no reason not to warn Watson that their old nemesis was still on the loose.

Further, Mycroft and the British government clearly felt Moriarity’s death had been proved to their satisfaction, so their reaction to the bizarre video announcing Moriarity’s apparent return from the dead is puzzling.

The most obvious conclusion is that it is not Moriarity hizzownsef who jacked the nation’s video channels but either a still surviving confederate or an entirely new villain who seeks to capitalize on Moriarity’s notoriety for whatever reason.[6]

One final thought:
Who exactly is this series about? It is not Sherlock Holmes, for despite his name on the title he remains an elusive enigma as a character. We like him (but he is not likeable) yet his character growth is pretty much nonexistent other than begrudgingly realizing he likes Watson and needs people like Molly and Mrs. Hudson in his life.

Rather, everything in the series seems to revolve around Watson. In the first episode we see his problems, and his build up prior to Holmes being sprung on us virtually unannounced (albeit brilliantly so). Watson was grown from a PTSD victim to an active agent in his own life, he has grown emotionally and opened himself up to others.

Where are the creators taking us with this? Are we going to learn in the end that this whole series has been about the distress / recovery / healing of Watson’s mind?

[1] I’m really trying to avoid spoilers here.

[2] A theory long expounded since the very beginning of Holmes’ literary career; people wishing to write their own Sherlock Holmes stories would be well advised to leave Watson out of it and come up with their own Mary Sue to interact with Holmes. It would be truer to the original form than adding a second level of projection onto the tale.

[3] Watson would be driven to distraction if he had to work with Perry Mason.

[4] There’s a lot more to this line of thought, and those interested would be well advised to seek out The Amazing Randi’s thoughts on the subject. Randi’s central thesis is that far from being open to a wide range of possibilities, Holmes is actually confined by a narrow range of stereotypes in which all things can mean only one unique thing, and false conclusions derived from same are the fault of the deducer, not of the things failing to be what they are presumed to be.

[5] Yes, he used Blofeld’s mini-sub as a battering ram in Diamonds Are Forever, but Blofeld was still protected by a thick pressure resistant hull and was never shown dying on screen; further, since his two henchmen came after Bond aboard the cruise ship, one could only assume Blofeld was alive and still paying them as they would have no incentive to tangle with Bond otherwise.

[6] Or it could be Mycroft simply getting his brother out of a jam by creating a bogus new threat that only the great Sherlock Holmes can solve. Which would imply Holmes’ actions at the end of “His Final Vow” were part of a plan sanctioned by the British government. The problem with rabbit holes is that the rabbits keep digging more…


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Ransom To The Gatekeepers



Exactly what do we own when we purchase media?

When I was a lad my father took my brother and me to see Gorgo;
in effect he made us a gift of the movie going experience of watching Gorgo.

Gorgo made quite an impression on me as a young lad, so much so that even with only one showing I was able to vividly remember the plot, characters, key scenes, and even bits of dialog.[1]

A few years later I saw it again on TV and enjoyed it once more.  This time I had to pay for my viewing experience with my time:  Periodically the film would be interrupted as commercials for various products were shown in the hopes I would either purchase them directly or pester my parents to purchase them.[2]

I don’t remember if I saw Gorgo again after that for many long years, certainly not until it started cropping up on the various super-stations during the cable TV boom.  I did think of the film quite often and quite fondly, and whenever stuck in some boring mind-numbing task (waiting in line, f’r instance) I might replay it (or literally hundreds of other movies as well) in my head.

At some point I acquired a VHS machine, and I probably taped Gorgo off of one of the premium channels or Turner Classic Movies so I could “have” it.

But truth be told,
I don’t think I ever
re-watched it.

And I probably have it sitting in my DVD collection somewhere, either part of a multi-set I bought in a bargain basement bin, or a copy I burned directly off the air.

As best I can recollect,
I’ve never watched that DVD.

Why should I?

I can access YouTube, and Gorgo is on it, and if I feel like watching Gorgo it is a lot easier just selecting it off the menu than searching through my DVDs, firing up the player, and loading it in.

What, exactly, do I own in regards to Gorgo?

Well, I own the memory: 
They can’t take that away from me.  And I acknowledge that in terms of remembering films and stories I’m much sharper than the average person; that’s the way I’m geared and that’s one of the key components in my being a writer.

Anything I’ve forgotten about Gorgo wasn’t that good / interesting to begin with.

I don’t own the stories or the characters:
If I tried selling a Gorgo story without the copyright holders’ permission, at the very least I would find myself on the receiving end of a cease & desist letter from their lawyers.

But…if I came up with a story about an old man (as opposed to a young boy as in the original film) who befriends Champ, the legendary lake monster of Vermont (as opposed to Scotland and London per the movie), and tries to free her when she’s captured by people who want to exploit her, only to see her much younger, more vigorous, more vicious brood rise from the lake to rescue her (as opposed to Mama Gorgo stomping London flat to rescue her baby), well, the Gorgo rights holders couldn’t say boo.[3]

Okay, let’s look at the VHS copy I probably made of Gorgo.

Was I pirating the film?
Stealing from the
rights holders?

No.  The Supreme Court in the US and other courts around the world have ruled that if you have paid for access to media in your own home, you may copy it for your own personal enjoyment.

I couldn’t sell a VHS copy of Gorgo, or charge money to others to see it, but I could sure watch it whenever I felt like since I had already paid for it via my cable fee (a fraction of which was sliced off and paid to the Gorgo rights holders).

And I could take that copy of Gorgo with me wherever I traveled, to watch whenever I liked, and I was as free to invite as many non-paying guests as could fit into my home to enjoy it with me as often as we wished.

What about the Gorgo DVD?

As digital media I can easily — and legally! — port it into any machine I own.  If I choose to edit it down to a “good stuff” highlight reel[4], I am free to do so, again with the caveat that I not sell / lease / charge admission for same.

But why bother since I can access Netflix through any wifi and just fast forward through all the boring stuff to the good scenes where Mama Gorgo carves London Towne a brand new bunghole?

What exactly have I purchased in all my acquisitions of Gorgo in various media?

As best I can tell,
all I’ve really purchased is
the right to access Gorgo
through a variety of

A funny thing about consumers: 
If they don’t have to drag out their wallet, if they don’t have to write a check or swipe a credit card, they have a tendency to think of their purchases, particularly their smaller ones, as “free”.

This is not true, of course, but to the person who has set up an automatic monthly payment on their credit card to access Netflix, Netflix seems free because they never have to think consciously about purchasing access to a film or TV show again.

One movie or a hundred,
it’s the same invisible price.

Media piracy has existed since way back when, possibly even to prehistoric times.[5]  A traveler encounters a troubadour with a catchy song, and the traveler carries it in her head to another land, where others hear it and re-interpret it in their own fashion.[6]  Eventually their troubadours put it in their repertoire…

…all without ever compensating the originator of the tune.

Then as now any payment for the media was through the gatekeeper: 
If you wanted a song from the troubadour, you tossed a coin in his hat; if you wanted a copy of a scroll, you either copied it by hand (thus paying for it by your own labor) or hired a scribe to copy it for you.

The printing press (and later photography and audio recordings) upset that little applecart.  It permitted gatekeepers to put a price on access to the content, not just the performance of same or a physical copy of same.

It gave a brief golden age from Guttenberg to the digital era where it was possible for the creator of any given piece of media to share in the gatekeeping fees.  A publisher advances a writer a sum for his book, a sum the publisher recoups through sales.  Should the book prove popular, the publisher theoretically shares any excess profit with the creator in the form of royalties.[7]

But we are entering a new era, one where access to audiences is so transparent, so sieve-like that gatekeepers find themselves impotently ranting and raving against a tsunami that is rolling against them.

A lot of gatekeepers — and here I include many creators — are going out of business because they add no value to the final product by their gatekeeping:  Quite the contrary, by making it more difficult to access media instead of making it frictionless, they steer the public tidal wave away from them and to pirate sites.

The gatekeepers will ask
“Why can’t we set a price for our media?”

You can, go right ahead.

But the consumers
will decide if they want
to pay that price.

Give the audience frictionless access.  Stop gouging them for a ton of money upfront and recognize you’re in it for the long haul.

Yeah, once upon a time it was possible to be a media mogul or a one hit wonder and flood your coffers by restricting access to the content down to a trickle.

But those days are over, and a new business model is in order.[8]

Nowadays the flood belongs to the consumer,
and the trickle to the gatekeepers.

Deal with it.




[1]  I remember how, as they were helping London prepare for the onslaught of Mama Gorgo, the two protagonists paused to resolve a personal issue that had come up between them earlier in the film; this may have been the very first inkling I had of plot points and beats and B-story and counter-theme.

[2]  In essence, the TV station was recruiting me to be a salesman, and my payment was the opportunity to watch Gorgo again.

[3]  This version of the Champ story is duly copyrighted © Buzz Dixon.  It’s mine, Bissette, mine!  But if you’re interested, gimme a call…

[4]  And trust me, most 1960s kaiju movies are essentially 60-70 minutes of melodramatic padding around 20 minutes [max] of city-stompin’.

[5]  Though by definition, how would we know?

[6]  This is how the English ballad “The Unfortunate Rake” ends up as “Streets Of Laredo” in the American West and “St. James’ Infirmary Blues” on the southside of Chicago.

[7]  I say “theoretically” because history has demonstrated that the worst thieves, pirates, and gougers are the very gatekeepers screaming / bitching / moaning the loudest now as consumers do unto them as they have done unto creators.  This is the motive behind the effort to do away with net neutrality and continue to funnel money into the self-appointed gatekeepers’ pockets, not those of the creators.

[8]  Essentially universal access to all media paid for by a slice of internet access fees.  It can be done and has been done regionally, so stop kvetching and move.

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Larry Ivie R.I.P.


I’ve learned thru Jim Engel via Steve Thompson that Larry Ivie apparently passed away in January.


Now most of you are doubtlessly going “Who the heck was Larry Ivie?” but to a lot of us “monster kids” he was a key influencer in our lives, albeit one who never fully graduated into the pro ranks.

Larry is best remembered for his remarkable albeit short lived 1960s monster mag, Monsters & Heroes, and before that his occasional articles for Castle Of Frankenstein.  Back in the 1960s there were no serious professional regularly published magazines dedicated to sci-fi/fantasy/horror films; Forry Ackerman’s Famous Monsters Of Filmland was pretty much it, but while it supplied a wealth of film making details & rarely seen photos, it was written is a tone that can best be described as juvenile and with an editorial out look that said said there was no such thing as a bad movie — at least so long as they were dependent on studio publicists for photos & interviews.


CoF and later Monsters & Heroes changed all that (and, to be fair, so did a couple of other short lived mags).  Larry’s Monsters & Heroes had a unique editorial POV insofar as it actively encouraged DIY culture long before DIY culture was even a thing to encourage.  Larry was a fan who was always on the verge of breaking into either comics or film, and while he offered a great deal of inspiration & encouragement to others, he never seemed to be able to make the final leap himself.


Larry Ivie as The Mask in Don Glut’s amateur
Batman And Robin film made a year before
the Adam West TV series premiered.

I corresponded with him briefly in the 1960s, and from that correspondence I’d say he was a sincere, earnest, enthusiastic, and decent person who genuinely wanted to nurture new talent.  Some of the earliest works by Bernie Wrightson, Jeff Jones, and Mike Kaluta were published in Monsters & Heroes, and he regularly gave aspiring film makers a chance to show their work.

I lost contact with him when I was drafted and never communicated directly with him again.  Occasionally his name would come up in conversation ala “whatever happened to…?” but the answer was always that he was struggling along on some new project or trying to complete an old one.

The brass ring of pro-dom, of being a professional with a recognized body of work always seemed to elude Larry, and from what I’ve read online this may be due to an obsessive perfectionism that kept him from releasing anything until he felt it was absolutely ready.

He lost contact with that generation of monster kids who then grew up to be pros and creators in their own right.  The news of his death is not surprising, but it is sad.

He never made the pro ranks, but he started a thousand others on their way, and to that we say thank you.

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I Luvz Me Some NOAH


Noah_poster946While not a great movie, Noah is certainly a good one, and it is certainly the hands down front runner for the title of weirdest Biblical picture ever made.[1]  You can’t drag the Nephilim into your story and hope to stay within the bounds of normalcy.

Kudos to director Darren Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel for moral complexity, unexpected plot twists, good restrained acting, and top notch production values.  It follows the Biblical story closer than either the 1928 version or the 1966 version but it does add stuff that is not specifically excluded in the Bible story (such as how they kept all the animals quiet on the ark) and ends with a positive statement that we are most like God when we show mercy and love.

The middle portion is much stronger than the beginning and end, Anthony Hopkins steals the show as Methuselah, and the fallen angels vs. human army slugfest has gotta be the wildest scene ever filmed for a Biblical movie.

So why do so many people hate it, sight unseen?

A great many people objecting to it are doing so mostly because it says rapacious greed and treating humans like commodities are evil (there are hints of cannibalism in the film as Tubal-Cain’s army prepares to assault the ark).  As servants of Mammon and not God, these critics are appalled at the mirror-like reflection Noah shows of contemporary culture, and as such they feel duty bound to condemn it.

Noah gets more into the why & wherefore of the flood than previous versions of the story, and in doing so casts it in a light that doesn’t make God seem to be a petty spoiled child who kicks over the sand castle when things don’t go His way but rather a just and loving creator who realizes that humanity is far from perfect but if there is to be any hope of saving us from ourselves it is to save those who desire to serve Him and His creation (including other humans) rather than those willing to consume the planet with their own greed, gluttony, and lust for power.  That is what is driving the prejudice against this film.

God (referred to thru out as The Creator) is depicted as just and righteous, yet loving and merciful.  The destruction of the world is a human process, the flood is a cleansing one from God.

Noah is willing to serve God, but in the process makes an erroneous but not wholly illogical assumption; he does not act on that assumption but shows love and mercy instead.  This leads to his famous post-flood drinking binge because he feels he has failed God.  In the end of the film Noah and his family realize the flood was not to punish the wicked but to save the just from the unjust, and that we are closest to the image of God when we show mercy and love.

So far all the objections I’ve seen have either been from false-flag extremists or nit-pickers who regard any deviation from what they believe to be true and factual as blasphemy.

Does Noah take liberties with details in the Genesis story?
Yes, but without undermining the moral & theological core of that story.

Does the film state there is a Creator God who has the moral right to judge humanity?
Sure does.

Does the film state mercy and love are the most God-like traits humans can hope to aspire to?
Once again, affirmative.

Does the film have the Nephilim in it (referred to as The Watchers in the movie)?
Yes, and I think a lot of people are bugged that somebody dared to depict them other than the way they had personally imagined them.[2]

Has any movie ever followed the true Biblical account?
Movies are works of fiction using actors performing off scripts that are written and edited to form a dramatic whole; that’s why even with historical films we see events and characters dropped or melded together so that the underlying truth of the story can come through even if the actual facts can’t be emulated.

There have been hundreds of films based on various stories in the Bible.  This is one of three big budget Hollywood productions based in whole or in part on the story of Noah.[3]

What this movie does state clearly again and again is:

  • There is a Creator responsible for everything
  • This Creator has the moral right to judge His creation
  • Even those who believe the Creator has abandoned them believe He exists
  • A just God is more interested in saving the just (i.e., those willing to serve Him and His creation including the humans He has created) than in punishing the wicked
  • We are never more God-like than when we shown mercy and love

Sounds like Biblical truth to me…




[1a]  Some would argue Godspell deserves that title and I would not oppose anyone who chose to argue that point.  But ultimately Godspell is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the Gospel of Matthew set in Manhattan with a troupe of circus performers adding song and dance to the otherwise intact text; it’s odd in appearance, not content.  Noah is like the James Tissot of Biblical movies.

[1b]  The question also arises as to just what is a Biblical movie?  Godspell, despite its odd style, is clearly meant to be the actual story found in Matthew; Jesus Of Montreal, despite being one of the finest religious allegories ever made, is not the gospel story per se but a story about the gospel story; a fine distinction but a real one.  And The Sign Of The Cross, the only religious based movie to give Noah a serious run for the title IMO, is technically not a Biblical movie even though it occurs during Paul’s time in Rome.

[2]  That’s one of the things that makes this movie so weird for a Biblical film: It actually shows stuff that no other Biblical movie has shown before.  I think the style of the presentation is what is bothering some folks, not the actual content.

[3]  It’s certainly closer to the text than the 1925 version (which was forgiven its egregious departures because it was presented in a pious manner)or 1966 version (which was just an all around bad movie, no matter how sincere the film makers were).  We shall not speak of the Disney adaptation with Donald Duck as Noah (admittedly a more even keeled Hollywood personality than Russell Crowe).

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The Living Dead vs The Vampire Kingdom



Stan Lee Media is at it again…

art by Caldwell Easley

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