What’s This? Celebrating 25 Years of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas #1: Jack Skellington

You see this odd little fellow pop up around this time of year. He has the tendency to linger well until January, as though his spidery long legs find a way to straddle across the calendar. Moreover, in the 25 years since he first debuted, he’s gone on to become part of the holiday tradition and debate has raged since his debut as to whether  he fits in more with Halloween or Christmas. Further, despite the Walt Disney Companies initial reluctance to embrace this odd fellow who looks like he’d be more at home fighting Jason and the Argonauts in Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion classic, the skeletal hero has gone on to become as much of a merchandising sensation for the Walt Disney Company as Mickey Mouse, Iron Man, Captain Jack Sparrow, Lightning McQueen, Yoda, Kermit the Frog, and just about every single member of the Disney Princess canon*. Further, he subverts some of the themes of a traditional “Disney hero” in his journey of self-discovery and surprisingly fits in well with a traditional European Victorian Christmas Ghost Story.

Perhaps it’s easy to see why Disney would not want to embrace this character. At first glance Jack Skellington does not seem like the most kid friendly character on the market. As far back as the Middle Ages , skeletons have been a common image associated with death. Thus there is something even more unsettling about a walking, talking, singing skeleton. We see this creature smile and his lack of eyes is unsettling.

Owen Gleibmerman even noted in his review of the movie for Entertainment Weekly,

Jack Skellington

“The Latest of Burton’s sad-sack, eternal adolescent outcasts, Jack lives in Halloweentown, a fabulously gnarled, horror movie under world that suggests a Dr Seuss dreamscape as redesigned by Hieronymous Bosch…Is Jack, the all-talking, all singing goth boy , too grotesque a hero for children? Not really kids have always loved macabre fantasy and gross-out humor. The real question is whether he’s a charming enough apparition for kids or adults. As we stare at Jack’s empty eyes…there’s nothing to hook into–no personality, no spark. He’s a technical achievement in search of a soul.

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Coming Soon to this Blog…

Dinosaurs. Wookies. Vulcans. Hobbits. Fauns. Superheroes. A kind little alien far from home. Even a beagle with a big imagination. These are just some of the wondrous creatures Jonathon D. Svendsen has already examined. Now, what’s this? He has another fun little trip to a wildly imaginative world planned?

What could it be?

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The Award of Great Price

I didn’t win very many awards in elementary school. I grew up in halcyon days before everyone got a trophy, and while I certainly did get an “Outstanding Participation” ribbon for Track and Field Day, each event still had first, second, and third place winners. Thus, my mementos for big achievements were few and far between . Among the few accolades I received is a teddy bear that I won in first grade for reading the most books in class, a 1st place Blue Ribbon I won in the all school Science Fair in fifth grade for my project on the eruption of Mount St. Helens, and last, but certainly not least ,a trophy I won in fourth grade for an all school story contest.

To most these awards seem silly. After all it’s not a trophy for an athletic event. It’s not like the blue ribbon got me a place at an all state championship. And as for reading books, well does anybody really read anymore? However, despite appearances, to gain these awards took the same amount of time, dedication, focus, imagination, creativity, passion, faith, and encouragement that it takes to get any award. Continue reading

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“Why So Serious?” Celebrating 10 Years of The Dark Knight

It is very rare that a sequel can be better than the first film. For a vast majority of movie goers are The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Star Trek: First Contact, and Toy Story 2 were among the few to be considered superior to their respective predecessors. Sequels are tricky business. On the one hand, you have to stay true to the world you have established, stray too far from the formula that made the first film so good and you alienate our fans. On the other hand, unless you are going to build on the world, and challenge your heroes, there’s no point in doing it. No one wants a rehash of the same movie.

Enter The Dark Knight. In 2005, director Christopher Nolan had already reignited the

The Dark Knight

Batman franchise by reexamining Batman’s origin story in Batman Begins. That film was an instant hit with me, and as a life-long fan of the character, I loved seeing lesser known rogues like the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul get their time in the sun. Both villains reflect a darker image of the Batman (Scarecrow like Batman uses fear as a weapon while Ra’s shares Batman’s passion for eradicating crime) and make for the best foes to launch the series.

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“Earn This…..” A Saving Private Ryan 20th Anniversary Retrospect

They have been called the “Greatest Generation” and for good reason. Few, especially those in my day, would probably be willing to do what they did on that infamous day back in June of 1944. For decades their valor was glamorized and their exploits praised. They, and those who came before them in World War I, were of a generation that did not talk about what they faced. There was glory to be had in battle and dying for ones country. However, those who served knew differently, and it took the talent of the son of one World War II veteran to bring it to life.

Saving Private Ryan

Back in 1998, the ink had already settled on crowning Titanic as a box office smash, and it was only a matter of time before the next juggernaut. To the surprise of many, one of the most anticipated films was not Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, or Lost in Space. Steven Spielberg had a new movie coming out that was generating buzz critically and commercially, and this was despite its R Rating. The film, Saving Private Ryan was a World War II drama about a battalion that goes in search of a young private that went missing in action after one of his last brothers was killed on D-Day.

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“Don’t Make Me Angry” An Incredible Hulk 10th Anniversary Retrospect

As far as the core members Avengers go, I’ve always been a fan of the big green monster known as the Hulk. I first became a fan of the character when I was about three  years old through reruns of the old Bill Bixby/ Lou Ferrigno TV series. I think the young son of a dear friend of mine said it best as to just why the character appealed to me so much when I was little, “he’s big and strong, and I’m not.”

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk

Thus, between the first Iron Man movie, and the 2008 Incredible Hulk movie, if you were ask me which film I was looking forward to more in 2008, I would have gone with Hulk. However, with a work schedule and The Dark Knight coming out a few weeks later, like Old Shell Head, Hulk had to wait until it reached my dollar theater. Then a two weeks after I got to see Iron Man, I walked down to that theater once again, plopped down a few bucks and sat back to watch the Not So Jolly Green Giant’s latest exploits.

There had been another Hulk movie back in 2003 that told his origin story, and for the most part it failed to appeal to many fans. I was not one of them. While the mutant poodles were a bit overdone, I have to applaud Ang Lee for tapping into some of Hulk’s tragic back story even before the gamma burst gave him powers. However, most people don’t want a Hulk movie that focuses mainly on psychological analysis, or existential angst, they want “Hulk Smash,” and in that regard 2008’s Hulk delivered.

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Life Finds A Way: Celebrating the Jurassic Park Franchise #8: The Dinosaurs

For film remembered for winning the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, the dinosaurs in the original Jurassic Park film only show up on screen for a minimum of 15 minutes in the 2 hour runtime. For any one growing up with the movie, it felt like there was more, but much of that is due to Spielberg’s natural talent. Much like how Jaws is so much scarier because of what the viewer doesn’t see, allowing their imaginations to conjure up whatever frightening images they can dream up, in Jurassic Park as soon as viewers know there are dinosaurs on the island, their minds start running in thousands of different directions.

Further a total of seven dinosaurs are actually seen in the film. This includes four of the most popular dinosaurs: the Brachiosaurus, the Triceratops, the Parasaurolophus ( duck-billed dinosaur) and the T-Rex, two of the more obscure dinosaurs the Galimimus and Diloposaurs, and the films breakout stars the Velociraptor. A quick scan of the embryos in cryostorage on the park fills the gaps as it lists other dinosaurs they don’t see. Despite how imaginative it may be, the dinosaurs still “look” like how we always imagine them to be, as if they stepped out of our collective consciousness and into the silver screen, grounding it in a certain “hyper-realism”. As Spielberg noted in an interview about the making of Jurassic Park with Empire Magazine in 1993.

“This movie is not Alien, where they can take whatever form your imagination suggests. These are dinosaurs that every kid in the world knows.”

The Dinosaurs




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