Yeah, yeah, I know – it’s not actually Friday. I’m still getting adjusted to writing with my new job and new schedule, so I’m a little behind this week. I hope I didn’t ruin your yesterday by not posting.
This week’s Friday Flashbacks is all about sci-fi. You can thank my little brother for that. I woke up this morning to a picture message of a comic book cover. It was my brother’s first comic book that he actually read for enjoyment, and the first title he followed on a monthly basis. Consequently, it’s going to be this week’s comic book flashbacks choice. I thought I’d tie it in with a piece I’m doing for a group called The League of Extraordinary Bloggers, a group I just joined. It’s a collection of like-minded bloggers who, once a week, take a shared theme and write their own take on it. This week’s theme: Kurt Russell.
On to the picks!
THE COMIC BOOK
New X-Men (Marvel Comics)
Okay, I know I dissed Grant Morrison in my Batman post, and I stand behind my statements. For the most part, I generally don’t enjoy his mainstream comic work. There are, however, two exceptions, and one of them is his run on New X-Men.
This was Marvel’s definitive “science fiction” take on the X-Men. Morrison transformed the team from a clandestine group of costumed heroes to a leather-clad group of adventurers. He turned the Xavier Institute back into a school, introducing several new and enduring characters. He outed the team as mutants and changed the status quo of mutants in the Marvel universe. There was a murder mystery, vicious villains, secrets, betrayals, and death.
It was, in fact, one of the greatest runs of any comic book. Ever. It remains controversial to this day, and retcons made to the series still divide fans. If you’re a fan of the X-books, odds are you’ve already read this. If you haven’t, or aren’t a fan, hunt down a volume or two this weekend. When you have the whole story in front of you, the complexity of the story and the little mysteries and details can have you reading, and rereading, for hours.
John Carpenter’s The Thing
This is my all-time favorite Kurt Russell film, and one of my top three favorite John Carpenter films. A remake of Howard Hawke’s 1951 film The Thing From Another World, Carpenter’s version is a true exercise in horror and paranoia. The movie is one of the backbones of the horror/sci-fi merging popularized in the 70s and 80s by films such as Alien.
The story is simple: an isolated Arctic research team encounters a…well, a thing from another world. What makes the movie special is is Carpenter’s capable handling. Under another director, The Thing might just become another creature feature, a run-of-the-mill monster movie in a decade filled with monster movies. Carpenter isn’t just any director, though. He understands pacing better than almost any other living director, and he has no equal when it comes to creating a mounting sense of terror in his films. The slow build of horror he creates here is what drives the movie. He perfectly captures the feelings of isolation and paranoia of the researchers, and this is what elevates his film beyond the simple horror or science fiction categories.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Kurt Russell. One of Carpenter’s frequent collaborators, the two worked together on Escape From New York, Escape From L.A., Big Trouble in Little China, and the television biopic Elvis. While I like all of those films, The Thing stands out as my favorite example of Kurt Russell’s talent.
In most of Russell’s genre films, he plays his characters as larger than life. He can be too brash (Big Trouble), too “tough” (Escape), too silly (Captain Ron), or too boring (Soldier). As the de facto leader in the Thing, though, Russell seems more human than in any of his other roles. He’s tough, sure, but he’s also terrified. He can’t control his team, he can’t keep them from fighting with each other, he can’t fight the thing they’re facing, and it shows. With each scene, his bravery cracks just a bit more until, by the end, he’s every bit as paranoid and distrusting as everyone else around him. It’s a fantastic performance for the genre, right alongside the likes of Sigourney Weaver’s in Alien.
If you can find it, check out the 1997 DVD release. It’s got an in-depth making-of documentary that highlights the late Stan Winston’s amazing creature effects.
With two installments out and a third on the way, the Dead Space franchise can provide hours of sci-fi terror on virtually every gaming platform, from PS3 to iOS. It’s been a hugely successful series over the last few years, and can only be described with one word: nightmarish.
I’m sure there are people out there who shrug at this series and say, “Eh. It’s not that scary.” Those people are very wrong. Played in a dark room with surround sound (or, better yet, high-end headphones), Dead Space is guaranteed to have you looking over your shoulder every few minutes. The game starts off slowly, building atmosphere with the dim lighting, ambient noises, and the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in space. You’ll find yourself wishing you could see around corners, hoping for a glimpse of what might be waiting for you…
And then the monsters show up.
If you haven’t tried any of this week’s picks, I strongly encourage you to run out and find them. Right now. I truly envy you your first time watching, reading, or playing this week’s picks. I hope you have as much fun with them as I did.
As always, feel free to leave a comment. Don’t forget to subscribe to the RSS feed, and do me a tabor and check out some of the other contributors to this week’s “League” topic. I linked to them below!
Check out TJ’s top 5 list at Geek Till it Hurts.
Witness the eternal struggle against Val Killer unfold over at Adamotomy.
Did you know Kurt Russell was a child star? I didn’t. Movie Hodgepodge did.