Sunday Funday: Time Bandits Blu-Ray!

I love time travel fiction, Monty Python and British sci-fi… Time Bandits was practically made for me. It was released in 1981. I was nine, and my parents took me to see it. I loved it and it went on to become one of the VHS tapes that I rented the most in my youth, right next to Ghostbusters and Strange Brew. I was an odd child.

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One night last year at the corner pub, Time Bandits was the topic of discussion among some friends and some people we had just met. That night, I made the mistake of lending my DVD copy to a girl that was at that gathering and I never got it back. I don’t usually lend out my coveted DVDs, but when I’m drunk and a nice-looking pub girl wants to come home with me and borrow a copy of “Time Bandits,” I’m not likely to hesitate. That’s not the sort of thing that happens every day. Anyway, about a week ago, I wanted to watch it again and when I went to the shelf for it, I suddenly remembered it was gone. I took the opportunity to upgrade to a Blu-Ray copy and kicked back with it this weekend along with some scrummy Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout.

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Time Bandits can be summed up fairly simply. It’s about a gang of “little people” who work for God and steal a map of all the time holes in the universe in an effort to get rich by robbing their way through history. Oh yeah, and David Warner plays The Devil, who is obsessed with computer technology and he wants to get it from them. That right there is about as epic as a movie concept can get. But beyond that, what I really love about this movie is the way it looks. The time-bending costume designs for Randall and his band, the look of the map itself, that crazy medieval ship that the giant winds up wearing as a hat, even David Warner’s costume, complete with Giger-inspired headgear, is friggin fantastic. There’s also a lot of cool and more surreal imagery at play. I love the void of hanging cages in the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, the way the final battle actually takes place in the lego-strewn floor of Kevin’s bedroom, and those freaky skull-headed, hook-handed minions. Those things freaked me out as a kid… and they still kinda do! This movie is replete with fantastic and imaginative imagery.

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The other awesome thing about Time Bandits, as with all of Terry Gilliam’s films is that there are always tons of unanswered questions, which are really wonderfully conducive to drunken speculation at pubs. You take a lot at face value and you’re challenged to fill in a lot of blanks. In the case of Time Bandits, the ending alone has been the subject of many a night of slurred ranting and arguments among my regular drinking group. I also would have loved to know more about Horseflesh. Who was he and how did he die? Just the fact that his name was tossed out a couple of times gives the movie an intriguing untold backstory.

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The Blu-Ray itself is a rather mixed bag, with bare bones extras that include only a theatrical trailer and an interview with Gilliam. This is a film that demands a rich commentary track and its absence is highly disappointing. Furthermore, the quality of this film’s print hasn’t aged well and really screams for a professional restoration, which obviously didn’t happen here. As a result, the DVD never looked all that better than the VHS, and there are times when the Blu-Ray doesn’t look much better either. There are still episodes of distracting noise on the print from time to time, and the darker scenes don’t benefit much from the HD transfer. On the other hand, the scenes in Sherwood Forest and in Ancient Mycenae do look rather crisp and clean. The Blu-Ray is an improvement, there were times when I said, “Ooooh, that looks nice!” but it isn’t the polished overhaul that I would have liked.

While the quality of the Blu-Ray is disappointing, Time Bandits remains one of my childhood favorites and to this day I never tire of watching it. It’s quirky and fun, it’s flippant and yet incredibly dark, but most of all it’s pure imagination running wild.

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Sunday Funday: Star Trek (2009) Blu-Ray

Today’s going to be a quickie, because I’m off this weekend, it’s a beautiful day here in sunny Florida, and I’d rather be out on the patio, drinking and reading my comics. Truth be told, I went through the entire Star Trek original crew movie series on Blu-Ray this week, but I’m looking at the 2009 movie today only because Sunday Funday is supposed to be about something I did over the weekend and I watched it last night. It’s also the only one that comes with a cool novelty package that I can talk about.

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I won’t go into a lot about the movie. Suffice it to say, I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. That’s not a loaded compliment. I really enjoy this movie, despite the fact that I was nerd-raging against the concept from the start. The casting is great, the sets and ship designs are cool, the effects are amazing, and this disc is definitely in the top three best looking Blu-Ray’s in my collection. Seriously, whenever I want to impress people with my AV setup, I’m always most likely to bust out the Blu-Ray of Star Trek or The Avengers.

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Normally, I am not a fan of novelty Blu-Ray packaging. I am borderline OCD, which probably speaks volumes as to my collecting habits. But I do enjoy my shelves to look neat and orderly with all the cases lined up just right. So when you get something like a special case into the mix, it seriously throws off the feng shui of my media shelves and that’s just not cool. I try to avoid these most of the time. I still can’t look at my shelf of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies without shooting a hateful look at that absurd circular tin containing the old Total Recall Special Edition DVD.

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I do, however, really enjoy the Star Trek package, which is basically a little model of the Enterprise with the discs cleverly held in the saucer section. It’s such an amazingly well-crafted little piece that owning it dissuaded me from spending the money on Playmates version of the 2009 Enterprise. No, it’s not electronic, but it displays just as well on the shelf. It doesn’t look like a Blu-Ray incentive at all. It just looks like a little model of the Enterprise that I would have on my shelf.

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The idea to store the discs in the saucer section is both obvious and genius at the same time. It makes the discs easily accessible, while exploiting the design of the model itself. It’s also worth noting that this Enterprise is remarkably sturdy, made out of great quality plastic, and sits perfectly on its stand, unlike a certain expensive Diamond Select Starship I bought a short while ago.

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And that’ll wrap up Star Trek Week. I had intended to come back to some of my 90’s Playmates Trek figures, since it’s been forever since I looked at any and they are piling up. I’ll have to make an effort to squeeze them back into my weekly routine. Maybe next week.

Sunday Funday: The Last Starfighter Blu-Ray

So, I really didn’t need anything from Wally World, but I convinced myself to drive down there the other morning because I was jonesing for an action figure or a Lego set or something. So much of my stuff has been coming to me by way of the Internets lately. I don’t really miss the hunt, but every once and a while, it is nice to actually buy something and not have to wait a week to have it in hand. Anyway, I didn’t do all that well in the toy aisles, but I did spend some time rummaging through the HUGE drum of $7.88 Blu-Rays that that they have set up in the middle of the aisle. I honestly hate going through these things. Trying to find anything in it is like digging a hole in the sand. It just keeps closing up and you can spend an hour just flipping through copies of Ace Ventura, Face Off, and Happy Feet. Also, I feel like a homeless person picking through a giant garbage can looking for something I can use to decorate my cardboard box shack.

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Well, I was just about to call it quits before I came up with this forgotten gem. When I say forgotten gem, I mean I really did forget this movie existed. Once I set eyes on it, however, it all came rushing back to me. I could remember my parents taking me to see it in the theater. It came out in 1984, which means I was 12. That right there was what made my parents so awesome. They had no hope of enjoying anything this movie had to offer, and yet they flushed their Saturday afternoon down the drain because they knew it would make me happy. Maybe my Dad got a kick out of the effects, but my Mom must have been bored to tears, but she did it because she is a great Mom. (And that’s my shout out to my Mom on Mother’s Day!).  I loved this movie and I can well remember renting it more than a dozen times when it finally became available on VHS. It celebrated almost everything that I loved about life as a 12 year old boy: Aliens, Space Ships, and Video Games.

Now it’s been over a decade since I saw it, and I was excited to pop it in and see whether it could possibly hold up. Now granted, the last time I watched this, I was a 14-year old munching on some Cap’n Crunch, and now I’m a middle aged nerd with a rock glass of Jameson in my hand. So, does it hold up? Well, with just the right amount of nostalgia and whiskey… yes, yes it does.

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Trailer park washout Alex dreams of heading to the big city and making something of himself, but he’s stuck fixing people’s fuse boxes and dropping quarters into the local Starfighter arcade machine. Of course, it’s all a test to find someone capable of joining The Star League and piloting a Gunstar against the forces of the evil dictator-wannabe, Xur. There’s a lot I love about this story, but mostly it’s the stuff that’s non-conventional. Alex is clearly a video game nerd, but he’s not really a loser. He’s got a pretty girlfriend, he’s got friends to hang out with, but most of all, he’s got the support of his little trailer park community who turn out in droves to cheer him on when he’s beating the machine’s top score. Seeing all those people cheer him on is just one of the greatest video-gaming moments of cinema. Some of you young people may not be aware, but it wasn’t always cool to be a nerd like in today’s world of top grossing comic book movies and Xbox. Stuff like this and Tron were a really big deal.

Robert Preston gives it his all as Centauri, who shows up in his flying car to take Alex to the Star League base. Yes, kids, if an old stranger shows up and tells you to get in his cool car, you climb on board! That’s what we learned from The Last Starfighter! Anyway, I still love the “Star Car” as much as I did as a kid and I still remember screaming inward at the screen when Alex asked to be taken home rather than help. “What the hell are you doing??? They’re going to let you fly a f’cking spaceship with a lizard man and shoot lasers!!!!” I had forgotten about this plot-point in the movie, and this time I was yelling at the screen out loud in a Jameson fueled rage.

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The subplot with Beta Unit Alex holds up pretty well for me too, mainly because of the cool special effects scenes. I remember seeing a lot of screen grabs and articles in either Starlog or Fangoria, or a similar magazine, about the makeup and effects. I used to love those kinds of magazines and how they showed everything that went into practical effects, and now I have a hankering to pull my old stack out for a future Sunday Funday. That kind of shit made me want to ask for a bunch of latex and air bellows for Christmas so I could learn how to do it and get a job in an SFX company. Good thing I didn’t, because now it’s all done by computers, and I spend too much time sitting at a computer desk already.

Speaking of computers and effects… Last Starfighter was hyped because it was one of the first movies to showcase CG effects in place of model ships. Watching the movie again, I thought the hardest thing to accept would be the Tron-like CG effects as realistic spacecraft. To my surprise, they actually look quite spectacular on the Blu-Ray cut. Not realistic, mind you. There’s no part of me that is convinced they’re real ships, and I still prefer the good old studio model kit building for my space ship effects, but I can’t deny that this stuff just looks neat. NEAT!!!

Sometimes, I drop $8 on a budget movie, watch it and think, meh… why did I bother? That wasn’t the case here. I enjoyed watching this one again and I can see myself popping it in again sometime down the road. In fact, I’ll probably watch it again this week for the commentary and extras. Oh, and while Sunday Funday is all about taking a break from toys, I’m not opposed to a toy tie-in if I can do it. Check out this amazing little piece on the unproduced Last Starfighter action figure line at the awesome Plaid Stallions blog. Or how about this ridiculously cool Lego Gunstar.