Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Family Without a Name (1889)

As mentioned in my previous review of The Fur Country, Jules Verne did write a handful of stories set in the wild frontiers of Canada. Captain Hatteras skirted its Arctic borders in search of the North Pole and Robur the Conqueror flew over Niagra Falls, which was the only part of Canada visited by Verne in his lifetime. The Baltimore Gun Club bought up the North Pole in Verne's prescient The Purchase of the Pole and one of his posthumously published novels, The Golden Volcano, was set during the Klondike Gold Rush. The Fur Country featured an intrepid troupe of traders from the Hudson's Bay Company launched upon a polar mystery when a sudden earthquake seems to displace the stars in the heavens.

All these novels possess an element of the fantastic for which Verne was so well known. Yet his remaining Canadian novel, Family Without a Name, is devoid of this. Instead, it is a fairly straightforward historical drama about the 1837 political uprising in Quebec against the British government. This no doubt contributes to its obscure status; it was by sheer dumb luck that I happened across Edward Baxter's 1982 English translation, and according to the fine print, even this translation was supported by a grant from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council.

The lack of fantastic aspects of Scientific Romance does not mean that Family Without a Name lacks for echoes from Verne's oeuvre. The hero of this story is a young patriote, an enigmatic rebel leader going by the alias of "Jean Sans Nom". Literally "Jean No-Name"... Nemo, another of Verne's mysterious Romantic outcasts. The reason for Jean's anonymity is a secret shame borne by him, his priestly brother and their mother, and tied inexorably with the fate of the French nation in Lower Canada, as the province of Quebec was then called.

One of the foundational tensions of Canadian society has been the relationship between English Canada and French Canada. Originally competitors for land and beaver fur, Quebec was ceded to the British Empire after the Seven Year's War, with ebbs and flows of patriotic sentiment ever since. Inspired by the American Revolution of 1776 and provoked by heavy-handed domineering by the corrupt local authorities, would-be revolutionaries in both the English Upper Canada and French Lower Canada launched a would-be revolution in 1837. The rebellions were not especially large, and the Upper Canada Rebellion was essentially quelled in its first skirmish. The Lower Canada Rebellion lasted for a year, ending in military defeat, its leaders hanged or sent to the penal colony of Australia, and a shift in political favour towards more moderate reformers who ultimately brought about many of the desired changes through more peaceful negotiation.

What should make this relatively obscure conflict an object of interest for the illustrious Jules Verne? On the one hand we must remember that he is a Romantic, albeit one that predominately expressed himself through the genre he effectively created, the Scientific Romance. His fondness for the stories of tormented men of intense charisma and strength is de rigeur. The Nemo type is his Heathcliff. And like the great Romantic poets and men of letters, Verne is smitten with the folkways of the picturesque rural lands. Large portions of Family Without a Name are devoted to describing the agrarian utopia of early 19th century French-Canadian family life. One tenant farmer has enough children and grandchildren that the farm on which they live qualifies as a village unto itself. A marriage into the family also brings out the local Huron tribe to celebrate. Amidst all the pastoral bliss it is no wonder that Jean Sans Nom could hide in plain sight as an adopted addition to the farmer's multitude of children.

On the other hand, we must recall the context in which Verne is writing. The Franco-Prussian War drew to a close in 1871, with the fall of the Second Empire and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. Much French self-esteem was lost along with the territories, and hardest hit were those living within them. In response, Verne expressed the trauma through a novel about the plight of French colonists under British rule three decades before. He goes so far as to state the purpose of this inspirational tale directly: "The efforts of the French Canadians to recover their autonomy are an example which the French population of Alsace and Lorraine must never forget."

Some scholars have suggested that Verne was not particularly proud of his heritage, considering the regularity with which Americans and Britons are his protagonists, but this is not an accurate assessment. Verne is French, through and through, though he does not parade it until he needs to. Nor does he parade it with crude allegories of invasion, though that could certainly have added to his library of Scientific Romances. When needing to take the matter quite seriously, he makes his appeal to the serious facts of history.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

For All Time (2000)

Based on the classic Twilight Zone episode A Stop at Willoughby, the made-for-television movie For All Time stars Mark Harmon as a man who is vaguely unsatisfied with his life in the modern age and learns that he might as well be better off living in a small town 100 years ago.

The original 22-minute script penned by Rod Serling was pushed by brevity to drive home the suffering that its protagonist experienced as a man who could not keep pace with the alienation of modern life. Gart Williams did not simply have an unsatisfying job: it was literally killing him with ulcers and anxiety, brought on by the incessant drone of  his boss... "Push push push, push push push, this is a push push push business Williams, push push push..." The only thing trapping him in this job is the Lady Macbeth he married, whose appetites for large houses in good neighbourhoods requires lots of money. She keeps the spigot open by her emasculating cruelty. When Williams' evening commute makes a brief stop at a quaint, Old Timey town called Willoughby, it is a clear escape from the wretchedness of his life.

Bloated to an hour and 26 minutes, For All Time loses a great deal of the effect. Charles Lattimer is a successful, easy-going illustrator at an ad company whose personable partner is also his closest friend. He comes home in mid-afternoon to a nice, well-decorated house with his own comfortable rumpus room in the basement, which houses his model trains and antique collection. His wife has her own successful career, but they still care for each other, have good conversations together over dinner, and do things that married couples do. Even the city he lives in appears nice, clean and spacious... In fact, I can vouch that it is. It was filmed in Calgary, Canada, where I live. I've commuted on the same train he does in the film, only it's been much, much more crowded when I've done it. Nor did it ever drop me off right inside Heritage Park - our local historical village - like his did. That would have been really handy back when I worked there, in the very same newspaper office where they filmed.

Oh, but he wants to do an ad campaign with a Gibson Girl-looking figure and they won't let him, so that kinda' sucks. Luckily he buys an enchanted pocket watch from an antique store across the street from one of my favourite coffee shops that transports him to 100 years in the past. There he meets the spitting image of the very woman he drew for the ad campaign and discovers that he's kind of vaguely more satisfied living in the past than today, even though his wife and friend and co-workers and everyone are getting worried sick by his frequent disappearances. Too bad for them, because this is where he feels he belongs, even though he starts injecting modern ideas into the community as soon as he arrives. Eventually he is forced to make his decision between living in today or (literally) living in the past. And he does, and everyone lives happily ever after in the direct antithesis of Twilight Zone's fashion.

I'm not always so presumptuous as to tell a movie what it should have done. Nevertheless, a few things certainly could have helped it along. I would have made the city more crowded, more noisy, more pushy, more obnoxious, more anxious. His job would have been an equally pushy, intense, competitive environment where his heritage branding ideas aren't in fashion right now and its costing him clients. I also would have made his home life more alienating, like he and his wife occupy the same space but are miles and centuries apart. The Gibson Girl would not merely be a figure he drew once, but a recurring dream that suddenly becomes manifest, raising the question of whether he is only dreaming all of this or whether it is real. Somerville, the town, would have been all sunshine, marching bands and smiles, like Main Street USA. That would be my prescription for at least setting it up in a more appropriate way.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Don't Change the Cover: Artistic Freedom and the New Moralists

This past week, a new controversy occupied geek culture and spread out into the mainstream for a few brief opinion pieces. In the coming months, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Batman’s arch-nemesis The Joker, DC Comics intended to publish each of their titles with an overpriced variant cover featuring the Clown Prince of Crime himself. The planned cover for the current Batgirl series would have featured The Joker with his armed draped around Batgirl, holding a pistol and painting a smile on her terrified face… A clear homage by artist Rafael Abuquerque to Alan Moore’s definitive Joker story The Killing Joke, which is widely considered one of the greatest superhero comics ever published and formed the backbone of the film The Dark Knight.

Unfortunately the decision to offer this stunning, grotesque, extremely effective piece was apparently made over the head of Batgirl’s co-writer Cameron Stewart, who took to Twitter to begin an astroturf campaign called #changethecover, trying to publicly shame his employers into pulling the cover. Between the points when the astroturfing was picked up by so-called social progressives and when the hashtag was completely taken over and locked down by GamerGate, Abuquerque himself made the request to withdraw the cover. Of course, that was not before he and DC Comics were accused of the usual battery of charges: misogyny, rape culture, and other assorted thoughtcrimes against women. Though there has been recent speculation that DC actually groomed this controversy to increase Batgirl's profile among the "Social Justice Warrior" market, apparently unaware that SJWs have been losing every controversy they've been insinuating themselves into while foregoing concern for any real world problems.  

There is much that is silly, contradictory, and nonsensical about the accusations that it is misogynistic for DC to put a strong female character like Batgirl in such an extremely disempowered position, which they would presumably never do to its male heroes. One is the fact that actually, yes, they do. People pushing back against the #changethecover campaign have been posting scans of other covers with the Joker disempowering heroes (like Joker holding Robin hostage at gunpoint, or putting his own surgically-removed face onto a tied up Batman, or engaged in a non-consensual dance with a drugged-looking Wonder Woman) or male heroes being disempowered (like Batman getting sexually assaulted by Harley Quinn, or Superman being dead) that have gone without any comparable controversy. Some people have chosen to attack The Killing Joke itself, calling it a disgusting example of the "woman in the refrigerator" trope, in which Batgirl is shot in the spine, stripped, and had photos taken of her assault as nothing more than an accessory to the larger plot to drive Commissioner Gordon insane (who was himself stripped naked and tortured by the Joker, physically and psychologically, which usually goes unmentioned). Besides the fact that The Killing Joke actually subverts the "woman in the refrigerator" trope, others have been pointing out the time that Talia al Ghul raped Batman and conceived a child without his consent, or when The Joker outright beat Robin to death with a crowbar. There appears to be a double-standard where physical and sexual violence against male characters is not only acceptable, but normative, while the same against female characters is not.

One could certainly get bogged down in discussions of sexual violence, male disposability, whether violence against men is evidence against patriarchy theory or evidence that the patriarchy is as injurious to men as to women, and so on, but that is all besides the issue I want to discuss here. My topic of this article is the disturbing attack on artistic freedom, and even art itself, by the new moralists of the political Left.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Twilight Zone: A Stop at Willoughby

The full episode of A Stop at Willoughby

A recurring thread in The Twilight Zone is the existential angst of the modern male. The canon of episodes is replete with middle-age guys who just can't catch a break, who just can't keep up with the pace of life in the jet age. The most famous is Henry Bemis, played by Burgess Meredith in the classic Time Enough at Last, a henpecked bookworm who just wants to curl up with a good story. A well-timed outbreak of nuclear war does a fine job of taking care of distractions, but as you know, there is always a catch in... The Twilight Zone.

A Stop at Willoughby is another such tale. An ulcerated ad executive can't deal with the "push push push" business he's in, nor his coldly materialistic wife at home. His only reprieve is on the long commute aboard a sleek, modern train. Whenever he falls asleep, though, he catches glimpses of an idyllic village in 1880. This little town is the perfect picture of Gay Nineties nostalgia: horse-drawn carts, boys with fishin' poles, ladies in bustle skirts on promenade with their top-hatted beaus. It's exactly the kind of life he wants, the kind of life where "a man can slow down to a walk and live his life full measure." After finally cracking under the pressure, he decides that next time he's going to get off at Willoughby.

Sometimes Rod Serling's protagonists get a second chance and sometimes they don't. Whether or not they do almost always depends on their ability to reconcile themselves to the modern age and, in doing so, find renewed life and purpose. Those who cannot or will not suffer cruel fates. A film with similar themes to A Stop at Willoughby is Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. The angst-ridden modern male, played by Owen Wilson, dreams of the bygone age of the Twenties in Paris during the Lost Generation. He dreams of escape, and lo, he gets it. Midnight in Paris could very well be an episode of The Twilight Zone, only this time the protagonist survives thanks to the realization he has about his desire to escape.

A Stop at Willoughby aired in 1960, at the height of Gay Nineties nostalgia and was undoubtedly Serling's commentary on that particular mode of escapism. Through the series, his affection for the time period does show (one of his most loving is an episode starring Buster Keaton). However, he seems entirely unsympathetic to this retreat into nostalgia. Do not lose yourself in it, he warns, for indeed you will be lost.

In 2000, the episode was fleshed out for a full-length made-for-TV movie called For All Time, starring Mark Harmon and filmed in my own backyard of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. That's a little weird, considering that the episode feels almost like it's directed personally at me.  

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The Explorigator (1908)

When he began the amazing story of The Explorigator on Sunday, May 3rd, 1908, Harry Grant Dart was already well on his way to becoming an established and respected illustrator. After serving as a sketch artist in Cuba for the New York World paper, he assumed responsibility as its art director. It was for them that he developed the idea of The Explorigator as a response to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland, running in the rival New York Herald.  

Whereas McCay's Little Nemo found himself in all manner of fanciful places through his dreams, Dart's crew had a more pragmatic approach: the titular flying machine. Via this contraption, the crew was prepared to answer untold mysteries that haunted the minds of humanity. According to the blurb introducing the first strip:
Do we know that the Moon is inhabited or that it is made of green cheese? Do we know that Mars is inhabited or whether it is cracked? Do we know anything about Santa Claus Land or where Fourth of Julys are made? No! Decidedly no!
Realizing our terrible ignorance and remembering how long it has been since Alice visited Wonderland, the FUNNY SIDE decided that something must be done. The ablest minds in the country were consulted and exhausted. As a result behold "The Explorigator."
Neither brains nor money were spared in fitting out this wonderful airship. It has hot and cold water, dumbwaiters and a southern exposure. The crew has been carefully selected.
THE EXPLORIGATOR sails from this page to-day. It will go directly to the Moon, where the first series of explorations will be conducted.
That crew is a colourful cross-section of character archetypes (and racial stereotypes) common to this golden age of newspaper comic strips. There is the plucky reporter Teddy Typewriter and Chinese cook Ah Fergetit, the British guard Grenadier Shift and the sleuth Detective Rubbersole, navigator Maurice Mizzentop, Captain Nicholas Nohooks, and Admiral Fudge himself, rocking a fine pre-Nazi swastika charm on his hat.

Their first and only stop was the Moon. Like other stories of the type, the lunar sphere investigated by the Explorigator is a canvas for fanastic architecture and terrible puns, with incidents practically out of Lewis Carroll. After the Grenadier is caught trying to steal a product of the Moonbeam Factory, his hat (who was the real culprit, since the pilfered moonbeam was hiding beneath it) was confiscated and rehatched, whereupon it sprouts wings and a beak. The chase for the hat lands them in the palace of the Lady in the Moon, whose ladies in waiting are captivated by the Chinese cook, which causes the jealous Admiral to fire him. They then end up in a cave of giant cats and are pursued by giant frogs up to the strip's abrupt ending.

It's too bad that The Explorigator never continued. It is a classic newspaper strip from the golden age of newspaper strips, with some nice offbeat humour and a delightful premise. As it stands, the strip can be read in black and white at Barnacle Press, but if you'd like the full colour edition, you might have to shell out the $125 for Forgotten Fantasy: Sunday Comics 1900-1915 from Sunday Press Books. 

Saturday, 28 February 2015

On GamerGate, Toxic Marxism, and the Death of Online Liberalism

It is the six month semiversary of GamerGate and the more things change the more they stay the same. The media has maintained its narrative that a group composed primarily of liberal women is a misogynist hate mob because they stand up to the people who keep poking at them, supported by so-called progressives who engage in an endless variety of gendered and racial slurs. But real progress has been made with games media. Some of the major sites have seen their ad revenue drop by seven figures, other have inaugurated new ethics and disclosure policies, and still others have turned over their staff to provide greater diversity of voices. In the mean time, AAA games developers have been getting more vocal in standing up to the media and pretty much just wanting the whole thing to end

For me, one of the weirder and more cathartic things to come out of it is seeing how much this conflict echoed my experience with the Steampunk scene, which is probably why I've been riveted to it despite not identifying as a gamer. Though written respective to Hacker culture (and subtextually to GamerGate), Meredith Patterson's When Nerds Collide itemizes a lot of what happened when the "nerds" of Maker culture, cosplay culture, post-Goth culture, and SJW's discovered this thing called Steampunk (i.e.: "Many geeks can tell you stories of how they and a few like-minded companions formed a small community that achieved something great, only to have it taken over by popular loudmouths who considered that greatness theirs by right of social station and kicked the geeks out by enforcing weirdo-hostile social norms... [it] is by now a signaling characteristic of weirdohood."). With that act of appropriation came the entitlement and judgmentalism intrinsic to those kinds of cultural in-crowd movements. This anonymous article on NoteHub articulates the similar drive in SJW culture respective to GamerGate. A simple word-substitution of "SJW" for "Maker" suffices to explain much of how Steampunk culture operates (e.g.: "Maker culture operates on a hierarchical hub-and-spoke communications model. In this model, your right to speak is determined by your status. Your status is determined - among other things - by your displayed enthusiastic agreement with cultural precepts established by high-status individuals").    

It's probably not possible to do a better six month-recap than the one delivered by shoe0nhead, or this article by T. James, However, since the media narrative hasn't changed by much, the article I wrote back in November still seems to apply. So here it is, once more...    

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Océadia (2004)

The following short computer animation is a brief tribute to Jules Verne by David Uystpruyst and Sylvain Potel, featuring Harper Goff's famous design of the Nautilus. Enjoy!

The official website can be found here.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon (1965)

Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon was the eighth full-colour feature film by Toei Doga, the studio widely considered to be one of the top contenders for the throne of "Japan's Disney". The other two contestants are the "God of Manga" and creator of Astro-Boy, Osamu Tezuka, and Studio Ghibli. There is a connection between this film and Studio Ghibli, however: Gulliver's Travels shows the very first glimmers of the storytelling talent held by one aspiring young inbetween animator named Hayao Miyazaki.

In the post-war recovery melieu in which Toei was situated, being innovative was the best way to remain competitive. It was the 1960 adaptation of Osamu Tezuka's manga My Son Goku as Saiuki (or Alakazam the Great in English) that whet his appetite for animation, leading to the development of Astro-Boy into a television series in 1963. To counteract such bold moves, Toei was open to fresh ideas from throughout its hierarchy. Hayao Miyazaki began working for Toei on their previous film Watchdog Bow Wow in 1963, after having been inspired to enter the field of animation upon seeing Toei's first feature film Tale of the White Serpent (aka: Panda and the Magic Serpent) in 1958. He achieved some notoriety when he agitated during a studio labour dispute in 1964, but got noticed in a positive way for his contributions to Gullver's Travels.

It is impossible to talk about that contribution without revealing the end of the film, for that is where it lies. In the original draft, a homeless boy in the modern day is chased out of a theatre showing a film adaptation of Gulliver's Travels. Late at night, after making the acquaintance of a dog named Mack and a discarded toy soldier, he falls asleep. Upon waking, the trio trespass in an amusement park for a little fun, being forced to flee on rockets after security finds them. The rockets take them into the forest where they meet an aged Gulliver who dreams of leaving Earth for a planet he calls "The Blue Star of Hope". Along with his avian copilot, Gulliver and our heroes board his sleek, Googie rocket and blast off. They are eventually brought to a planet neighbouring the Blue Star and learn that its inhabitants were kicked off it by their own robot servants. These same robots conduct occasional raids on their former alien overlords, and in their latest kidnap the Princess and Mack. Gulliver, Ted and the rest proceed to launch a rescue.

At this point the original script and Miyazaki's altered one begin to differ. In the original, the robots were defeated, the Princess rescued and everyone lives happily ever after. Miyazaki found this unsatisfying and proposed a different version that would resonate through the remainder of his life. In his version, Ted revives the Princess by shedding the robot suit she herself was wearing. Rather than the overt defeat of an enemy, resolution comes by reconciliation and rebirth: the aliens of the Blue Star are free to reinvent their lives without subjugation to machines.

Unfortunately, while this ending does alter the meaning of the film, it is evident that it was not a planned ending. For anyone who screwed up their eyes at the left-field, final-act revelations in Ghibli films, this is where it began. Practically nothing is presented to the viewer to suggest that the aliens were anything other than aliens, no clues whatsoever that they were to taken as robots themselves. It even begs a question about why, if they already had robot suits, they bothered to make robot servants. Nevertheless, it certainly demonstrates the early fermenting of Miyazaki's standard tropes.

Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon is itself a film of astonishing quality. Those familiar with animation's history might best describe the late-Fifties and Sixties as a time of trimmed budgets and cost-saving measures. The guiltiest, most-defining examples are Hanna-Barbera and Disney's fetish for xerography. Tezuka's Astro-Boy series is often an example of how to do an unanimated series, and for as much as I love it, Rocky and Bullwinkle does frequently earn the reputation of a radio show with pictures. Toei's films stand head and shoulders above the pack. Without a doubt they are without parallel, being owed the highest praise for fluidity of animation and charm of character design. Their formula of predominately Asian fairy tales melding drama, romance, comedy and music can almost be said to out-Disneyed Disney in the same time period.

Sadly, though, dub-missteps and low-budget importers resulted in low acclaim for Toei's films overseas. Hopes ran high that drawing inspiration from a European fairy tale might help them really break through into the American market, but Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon didn't do any better than any previous Toei film, which wasn't much to write home about either. As a consequence, this was the last film that saw Stateside release. Short of torrenting a fansub, getting a copy of this or any other Toei films of the era remains extremely difficult.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Doctor Who: Risk - The Dalek Invasion of Earth

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is rightly regarded as one of the greatest stories of the original Doctor Who. The Daleks burst onto the scene in the Doctor's second story and were almost single-handedly(?... Single-plungeredly?) responsible for saving the fledgling show from cancellation. The following season, the Daleks were sent to Earth in an epic and game-changing adventure. I've made no secret of my love for that story and for how it was updated and referenced in modern Doctor Who, and the new board game from Hasbro/USAopoly is a fantastic addition to it.

Based in modern Doctor Who, this special edition of Risk doesn't exactly follow the story from the original serial. To quote the box:
Earth. Early 20th century. The planet has faced many invasions in the past, but never has mankind faced an assault like this, as multiple Dalek armies descend from the skies, seeking to destroy one another and conquer the world.

Many years ago, an ancient artefact was hidden somewhere on the planet, an artefact that will enable the Daleks to reign supreme across the universe, defeating any who stand in their way. Such an object is so valuable that even the Daleks cannot agree how best to wield it, and have split into renegade armies, each as cunning and determined as the next...

As you fight for supremacy, the Doctor will do his best to stop you, bringing peace to a different territory each turn, and if your army is not victorious by his eleventh regeneration, then the battle is over and all Daleks must retreat as the Oncoming Storm saves the Earth.
The gameplay is comparable to the classic version of Risk, and veteran players will be comfortable with it. There are some alterations to give it the flavor of Doctor Who, the obvious one being Daleks. You control one of five competing Dalek armies, either classic or New Paradigm (the hugely unpopular candy-coated version). The box says you're supposed to get three armies of the former and two of the latter, but when I opened my box it was the other way around. It would have been neat to have Daleks fighting the human resistance (and maybe some Cybermen or something), but it is understandable why they would opt to just mass produce Daleks in different colours. The contrived story about the ancient weapon - a black hole maker called the Heart of Darkness - is irrelevant. The weapon never comes up in play. It is solely the fig leaf of excuse needed to get a bunch of Daleks together, exterminating each other.

Gameplay is augmented with a small number of "power cards" and "mission cards." The mission cards depict an enemy local to a territory on the map. If you have the card for that territory and you conquer it, you can turn that card in for extra Dalek reinforcements. For example, two of the mission cards are for the Aztecs in Central America and Tergana in Mongolia (from the First Doctor stories The Aztecs and Marco Polo respectively). Power cards can upset the balance of power by granting rerolls, adding 1 to each die roll, and things of that sort. The theme for each card draws from elements of Doctor Who history, such as a UNIT counterstrike lead by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart or a photo of the Third Doctor with his catch-phrase "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow." The only problem with these is that there are so few of them and so much rich material from the show to work with.

The real game-changer is the Doctor. At the beginning of each turn, the TARDIS lands at a randomly selected territory, making it impossible to attack, defend or move troops. This has a real effect on the game, as in my first play-through when I was ready to take over Madagascar and the Doctor shows up there, spoiling not only my plan for that turn but changing the course of my whole strategy. The game is also timed according to the Doctor's regenerations. To the side of the board is a "regeneration strip" with photos of the first eleven Doctors and a token of Clara Oswald (recalling when she plunged through the Doctor's time-stream... the season arc of series 7, made obsolete by The Time of the Doctor, because Steven Moffat is not necessarily as clever as he seems to think he might be). As the territory the TARDIS lands in is selected, the Doctor may or may not be forced to regenerate. When he reaches his eleventh incarnation, the game ends.

To give an idea of how this can also affect things, one of my playmates had just swept through North America, taking it over but at the high cost of severely depleting his own troops. Next was my turn, and I was prepared to turn in a bunch of cards and reinforce myself with a nearly insurmountable army of Daleks so I could mop up that continent for myself (just as I had for Europe on my previous turn, because apparently I become Genghis Kahn when playing Risk). Before I could do that, the Doctor regenerated into Matt Smith. This ended the game and my playmate won. Had the game not ended there, it was highly probable that I would have won instead. It's all fun and games, and certainly changes the dynamic of things.

The big advantage of the limited number of turns is that it limits the duration of the game. A regular game of Risk can go for hours. An average game of The Dalek Invasion of Earth goes for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Yes the Doctor may have cost me a victory, but shorted games were the only condition by which my wife allowed me to buy it to begin with! Rather than an endless slog for only the most dedicated of players, The Dalek Invasion of Earth is a nice bit of fun for casual gamers who were drawn in by the Doctor Who license.

And so it begins...
Ashley at the ready with her army of Daleks.
The Doctor interferes!
Me preparing to go Genghis.
An hour after we started.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

20,000 Leagues to Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar

One of the real treats of the latest set of renovations to the Disneyland Hotel at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California is Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar. Intended as the resident hotel bar, it quickly became the go-to regular bar for residents of Orange County. For example, Paul Barrie of the fantastic Window to the Magic podcast holds court there every week.

Two things really make Trader Sam's the enchanted place its moniker promises, after the fact that it's just a cozy little hang-out. The first are the animatronic touches of Disney design that activate whenever certain drinks are ordered. The house special Krakatoa, served in a souvenir tiki mug, will cause the lights to go down and the volcanoes in the windows to start spewing lava (all while the patrons of the bar shout “WE'RE ALL GONNA' DIE” and the bartenders wail on their sirens). A Shipwreck will cause exactly that for the poor ship-in-a-bottle over the bar, while simulated rain appears to pound outside.

The second are the walls filed to the brim with references to Disney films and attractions. A map to the Temple of the Forbidden Eye is mounted in a case, courtesy of Indiana Jones himself. Those who remember Walt Disney World's legendary, and defunct, Adventurer's Club will weep at the sight of photos from the beloved drinking establishment. Tucked away in there is even a photo of Walt himself, taken on his goodwill tour of South America.

"Do... not... look... into... Nah, I can't read it. Whatever, we'll be okay."

Of course, the Mightiest Motion Picture of Them All could not go without tribute! It would take a full afternoon to comb the entire bar, as it is so packed to the gills with ephemera, but I managed to find the three most obvious references and dutifully photographed them for you.

The note says "Sam, This comes with a whale of a tale. Ned."
Harper Goff, designer of the Nautilus, was also the
banjo player for the Firehouse Five Plus Two (a Dixieland Jazz band
formed by Disney animators) and taught the banjo to Kirk Douglas
so he could look like he was playing it properly on film.

Trader Sam's has proven so popular that it is also being imported to the Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World. Trader Sam's Grog Grotto will have many touches peculiar to WDW, including a number of references to the defunct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride. In the concept art below, we see a squid tentacle, a diving helmet behind the bar, and a Nautilus-shaped Tiki mug. This new Trader Sam's is set to open later this year.