This intimate yet sprawling epic shows what can be created in the balance of true dramatic filmmaking in Hong Kong cinema where modern sensibility and structure of character does not pander into categories of “melodrama”, “period” or “action” in that it is global and yet local.
The initial flow of the “Superfriends” started all the way back in 1973, over 35 years ago. The aspect of mixing and matching superheroes was only the stuff of comics book then. However for Saturday morning, they kept the stories fairly streamlined and basic probably not realizing that a couple decades later Saturday morning cartoons of lore would be all but gone. Watching the evolution from the beginning with Season One Volume One is always interesting.
Disc 1 “Power Pirate” follows an alien who comes to earth to grab energy to save his world. The problem is that he doesn’t ask and, as a result, the different elements of a breaking dam, a hurtling locomotive and a lost ship become a series of connecting the dots. The message is clear though its prescience is overwrought. “The Baffles Puzzle” has the Superfriends being led on a wild goose chase after the junior crimefighters are kidnapped from a ship. Dr. Baffles has created a serum that makes objects disappear but it has fallen into the wrong hands with criminals who want it for their own personal use. Batman, Aquaman and Superman seem to fall into very simple traps. The storytelling aspect of these episodes reflects the simplicity of the animation since the narrative had to reflect what the cartoons could physically provide. The next episode, “Professor Goodfellows GEEC”, follows an inventor who creates engineering so machines can operate themselves thereby making all human work redundant. Granted this is a storyline that became the basis of many a novel as well as elements of “Terminator” and “The Matrix” but this cartoon was made back in 1971. Granted it doesn’t take the full impact of sociology into account but it does show an interesting idea. “The Weather Maker” tells the story of an evil scientist who begins changing earth’s weather patterns through the Gulf Stream in order to heat his country near the North Pole. The actual logic is a little bit off but again the ideals are very good for today in terms of education which is a major point for the impact of the show. Granted they let the villain get off easy but this is a more “kind and fuzzy” Superfriends. The “Superfriends Challenge” quiz shows how much better the games elements of these DVDs are becoming. Using multiple choice it is much more interactive but the questions here are very “fanboy” heavy. You really have to know the lore. The “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown” trailer is a slightly odd addition but the pre-DVD previews including a new Production IG digital trailer are pretty astounding.
Disc 2 “Dr. Pelagian’s War” takes a Captain Nemo approach to the war on pollution. As usual the essence of this incarnation of the Superfriends is one of issue education. Granted there is an essence of gender motivation as well as you see from Wonder Woman’s interaction with Madame Conaway. The ideas are done sometimes too straight forward although the humor of turning a tidal wave into an ice cube is not lost. “The Shamon U” follows the Superfriends tracking down a scientist who is undertaking space mining in order to create an aspect of moneymaking. In doing so he creates a gas cloud which causes animals and minerals grow both bigger and smaller. The aspect of Wonderdog being a large presence is just a pertinence for humor. Eventually this is what causes the scientists to surrender although their adherence to becoming good guys seems to come without much consequence. “Too Hot To Handle” approaches something that wasn’t as apparent in 1971 that is very timely today in terms of the Greenhouse Effect. The story here follows an alien race who is shifting the orbit of Earth to make it more habitable to aliens from another world who have destroyed their planet with pollution. Granted the Superfriends including guest star The Flash end up cleaning up the other planet, the message related at the end remains clear. If everyone does a little something, it makes a bit difference. The last episode of this volume “The Androids” takes into account another thought that was ahead of its time and still is today which is the aspect more of foreign policy versus domestic policy. At that time it was spending more money on reaching towards Mars than it was dealing with suffering on Earth. Now the inference of commercial space travel will begin to change that aspect. In this episode, a brilliant doctor makes clones to head in and subterfuge the space programs elements. If he had just used his abilities to create androids to help with this exploration there would probably be a whole other can of worms to deal with. Life is such. The trailer on this disc promoting the Saturday Morning Cartoons volumes show a new aim in the marketing of nostalgia to a growing market
The thing about this initial progression of the Superfriends is key to see how it started out and how infinitely complicated and intersecting the stories became up to the current “Justice League”. However the original humor and music cannot be denied. Watching Batman fall for the aspect of buying chicken soup from the villain disguised as a vendor on the street is classic. But you have to remember the time frame in which the cartoons were made. Sure the story structure is a little bonkers but that is what nostalgia is for. Out of 5, I give it a 2 1/2.
The essence of “Spartacus” lies in the tome of pride versus death and the intent to overcome. Now the essence of how much the series “Blood & Sand” owes to the original intent or “Gladiator” or vice versa remains to be seen. There are, of course, inherent similarities but many stories of this time were. Over the arc of four episodes, the motivations of Spartacus himself remain unchanged but his life is requisitely humbled. The idea of who the Gladiators themselves are is defined in rather uncertain terms which undeniably gives them room to grow.
The choice of John Hanna (of “The Mummy”) and Lucy Lawless (recently of “Battlestar Galactica” as well as “Xena”) as central characters gives a portal into the life of a politically ascending but hopelessly middle managed couple. The way they deal with life is meant to show the norm of the day. The hardest aspect to do (especially with some of the dialogue [which is not bad but at times overstated]) is to make the angle of the series seem grounded, despite the overarching intention of blood which is splayed in a mix with John Woo and the undeniable “300”. What the Lawless and Hanna bring to the production seems to accomplish this. The violence they peddle is simply an extension of the lifestyle.
While these battles at times are interesting to behold, their initial blast seemed a little bit low rent. However upon the viewing of the subsequent episodes, the FX found a nice balance. The sexuality and nudity which at times so far has been villified in the press is very present part of the show but, in every way, seems to enhance it, not because of its egregiousness but because of its way of life presentation that was indicative of the Roman Empire. That society worked in a different way and with a different set of rules than the more conservative 21st century. The only way to capture it is on pay television where the gloves can be taken off. It is all a means to the end and speaks to the dichotomy. In fact it is all these relationships which surround the basic story of Spartacus fighting for his sanity that give the series balance. Now this is no “Rome” to be fair but it is angling for a much different audience and to that point it is adequately succeeds. Out of 5, I give “Spartacus: Blood & Sand” a 3.