Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bionics in Miniature (Part 4: Biosonic Steve and Astronaut Steve)

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5    Part 6


Looks like we're back to bionics for a minute or two. (woo!)

Let's see.... We were gonna look at Kenner's Biosonic Steve and Bif Bang Pow's Astronaut Steve, this time 'round.

So let's get to it.

Steve Austin with Biosonic Arm (Kenner 1978)

This was the third Steve doll Kenner made, and there were some major changes to be had.

By this time, SMDM TV ratings (and doll sales) were on the downslide, and Biosonic Steve was part of Kenner's last hurrah, as far as the bionic toy line was concerned. I guess they were hoping to shake things up; keep people interested and such.

So, let's get ol' Biosonic Steve down from the shelf and see what changes were made.

Biosonic Steve and his engine block steel girder ...karate paraphernalia?

Well, looking at him, the most obvious change would be those new threads. Steve's promo in Kenner's 1978 toy catalog called it his "new action-styled adventure suit," which apparently is very similar to blue jeans and a 70s leisure shirt. He's got the same socks and tennies that previous Steves came with, but it's nice to finally see him out of that track suit.

He looks to still be sporting the wide-angle bionic eye lens, and (even though it's covered by the karate doohickey above) he's still got his giant monkey hand bionic grip as well. At this point, Steve's duds and accessories are his only apparent changes.

Let's turn him around and take a look from the back.

Stylin' Steve with his entirely intact shirt.

Hello! Something's missing, here. Where's Steve's red back lever? Everyone knows he needs that lever to lift engine blocks and stuff. He doesn't even have a little cutout in the back of his shirt where the lever should be. Now things are getting curiouser. Let's remove that shirt, so we can take a look at what's going on underneath.

Does the sheen on those arms match up a little too well...?

Definitely no back lever. Not even a stealthy-under-the-shirt one. That's probably a good thing, right? Kenner Steve has been plagued with weird, inhuman-looking features from day one. It's about time he got to look a little more regular-joe-ish. Nothing to distinguish him from everyman now, except the giant eye lens and that hole in the back of his skull.

Hang on, something else is missing from le Steve's accoutrements: This bionic man has no bionic rollup skin. (eek!)

Cool rollup skin is gone......bland yellow button is not.

Wow. This had to have been a major blow to all 70s kids, right? Steve's bionic rollup skin was his very coolest feature, except maybe for the bionic-eye-vision. Now, we not only miss out on getting to roll back skin to expose hidden bionic modules, but that annoying Bionic Grip button is right out there in plain sight, to boot! Boo. Double boo, even. Biosonic Steve doesn't even get the forearm sticker his predecessor had.

Well, the single remaining bionic module is still removable. That's something.

Biosonic Steve triumphantly grips his last remaining Bionic Module.

I gotta say, I'm less than impressed with the way things have gone with Steve's bionic arm, overall. Truth be told, I liked his first one best, with its rollup skin, two bionic modules and no bionic grip. Okay, okay. Time to move on.

I think it's time to see if we can answer the question that burned in the hearts of 70s kids everywhere: What the hell was a biosonic arm, anyway? We can start with the aforementioned toy catalog promo:
New BIOSONIC ARM! Now Colonel Steve Austin has a new weapon as he faces enemy danger... an amazing right arm that delivers smashing karate chops. His new right arm moves four times faster than before, and Colonel Austin's new left arm is so powerful that it can even lift BIONIC BIGFOOT off the ground. 

FULLY ARTICULATED 13" action figure still has ultra-strong BIONIC grip in his right hand, BIONIC modules and BIONIC eye. Figure comes dressed in new action-styled adventure suit and sneakers. Included also are six "concrete" blocks and breakaway plywood boards for use with karate chop. Child also gets free his own BIOSONIC arm wrist band for added play adventures.
So, reading this, I'm guessing Kenner (in addition to passing that yellow button off as a second bionic module--don't think I didn't catch that) was actually trying to address a couple of different problems, with this doll.

First off, Steve's previous bionic arms, with their red back-levers, lifted things r-e-a-l-l-y slowly. I'm talking about pressing that lever 50 times to lift something all the way above Steve's head. No lie. And, while it's fun to watch bionics in slow motion, it's less fun to play bionics in slow motion. So a "four times faster" arm is probably a good thing.

Second, even though Bionic Bigfoot didn't appear in Kenner's Catalog until 1978, he was actually released halfway through 1977, when Bionic Grip Steve was still man of the hour. One of Kenner's marketing gimmicks for Bigfoot was having a little handhold in his chest and advertising Bionic Grip Steve as lifting Bigfoot over his head with his Bionic Power Arm.

Trouble was, Steve couldn't actually do that. The red-lever-activated arm wasn't up to the task and would fail about halfway through. (I know this is true; I just tried getting my Bionic Grip Steve to lift the old boy. Twice. It was no-go both times.)

So my bet is Kenner's redesign of this doll was as much (or more) about speeding up the arm and getting Steve to be able to lift Bigfoot, as it was about having a cool new feature. If I had to guess (which I totally am), I'd say this new arm being good at karate was just something somebody noticed after the redesign was close to done, and they worked it into the marketing plan. But like I say, I'm guessing.

To be sure, Biosonic Steve can definitely lift Bigfoot over his head. (I made sure.) But that brings up something else. Kenner's promo says "Colonel Austin's new left arm is so powerful that it can even lift Bionic Bigfoot off the ground." And every 70s kid knew Steve's right arm was bionic and his left one was not. So what gives? I'm thinking this was Kenner throwing out the character's history in favor of having an extra gadget to market. Once again, I have to say boo and double boo.

So anyway, they got rid of the red back lever this way: The arms are attached at the shoulders inside the doll's body, and moving one arm makes the other arm move as well. The right arm moves quickly and the left arm more slowly, and that's why Steve's left arm has suddenly become his lifting arm. So, moving his left arm downward makes the right arm come crashing down really quickly (i.e. the karate chop). Moving his right arm upward makes the left arm move upward more slowly (so he can lift things). If this all sounds very confusing, that's 'cause it is.

To get around Steve's super quick right arm getting in the way while his left arm was lifting something, he now had a modification to his right shoulder joint, so you could pull it out to the side while still rotating it at the shoulder. (Even more confusing, I know.) How did 70s kids ever figure this out?

No only does Steve inexplicably have two bionic arms...... he's also back in the side-hug business.

It wasn't by reading the instructions, that's for sure. I have them, and all they say about the arms is this:
Bionic arms snap off and on... pull straight out at shoulder. [and, later] Place Biosonic Arm above board. Rotate left Power Arm counterclockwise. Biosonic Arm crashes through board.
Notice they refer to "bionic arms" (plural), with the right being Steve's "Biosonic Arm" and the left being his "Power Arm." Two bionic arms? I think Steve's either had an upgrade the OSI never heard about, or Kenner has mistaken him for Barney Hiller.

The back of the box does add a little illustrative help regarding arm operation...

...but I think the best way to figure all this this out is to see those arms in action:

Ah. Now it all makes sense. More than it did a minute ago, anyway.

And... I guess that's about all I have to say about Biosonic Steve. Sigh. I obviously have mixed feelings about this doll. On the one hand, they got rid of that obnoxious back lever, and sped up/strengthened Steve's lifting arm. The mechanics of the thing are really pretty ingenious.

But they also took away so much play value. Earlier Steves had arms that could be positioned into all sorts of cool poses. And, as long as you didn't turn his head all the way to the right, they were independent and free-moving. This doll has two arms forever joined at the hip (well, at the shoulder): You can't move one without the other moving as well, and trying to actually play with Biosonic Steve the way a kid would is a frustrating experience. I'm betting the engineer who did this redesign, didn't have kids to test his theories out on.

Anyway, add in the fact they lost the rollup skin and threw bionic canon out the window by giving the man two bionic arms, well... 'nuff said.

Astronaut Steve Austin (Bif Bang Pow! 2014)

This was also BBPs third and final Steve doll, and they did their best to go out with a bang as well. Ah. No pun intended, there. Anyway, with the BBP dolls there wasn't a lot of money to throw around on features, so the focus was on how cool can we make the outfits and how can we change up the arm and legs? They'd already been doing a nice job with the outfits, and this one's no exception, but they really went to town on Astronaut Steve's bionic limbs.

So let's get Astronaut Steve off the shelf and see what's what.

That's one small step for a doll, one giant leap for dollkind.

That's a nice looking space suit, don't you think? It's from TV Steve's first actual 60 minute episode (after his three telefilms), Population: Zero, which may sound familiar since it's also the episode TV Steve first wore his Khaki/Belt Buckle combination we talked (at length) about last time. Steve didn't actually go into space during this episode, but I know there were at least a couple episodes where he did. I'm not sure if this particular suit was used in those or not, though.

Anyway, BBP Steve's suit matches up pretty well with what TV Steve wore in that episode, except for the helmet:

Will the real Astronaut Steve......please stand up?

Would've been cool if BBP Steve came with his own yellow portable air supply, huh? As it is, he has a difficult-but-possible-to-remove space helmet, whose visor opens and closes so you can still enjoy Steve's ultra-serious facial expression. Wouldn't want to miss out on the BBP Steve stoicism.

Space travel is serious business!

But, like I said, the bionic limbs are where BBP went the distance with Astronaut Steve. Let's take a quick look back at Track Suit Steve's and Khaki Steve's limbs, for comparison purposes:

Track Suit Steve had gone with clear lower limbs with bionic circuitry printed on them. Khaki Steve had the same circuitry, but went with flesh colored limbs. Now neither of these were true-to-character, since the whole point of TV Steve's limbs was to be indistinguishable from their human counterparts, but it's still cool BBP did something to differentiate dolls and give each their own flavor. And, as long as I throw out the true-to-character thing, I like them. I particularly like Track Suit Steve's limbs, but having just the lower parts of each be clear makes it look like Steve is only bionic from the elbow and knees down.

And now that we're done with the setup, let's get that spacesuit off and take a look at Astronaut Steve in his space skivvies!

Space undies!

Wow. I wasn't realizing how much that helmet minimized BBP Steve's big head. Not all the BBP dolls have the big head problem. At least, a couple don't. But the point here is not Steve's head, it's his full-on-shoulder-to-wrist-hip-to-ankle clear bionic limbs, right? Which, come to think of it, should probably include a hand and feet in the same clear style. Maybe not. I guess Astronaut Steve is wearing gloves, but shouldn't his bare feet be all clear-bionic-circuit-y too? Anyway, I digress.

Here's a closer look at the limbs. I gotta admit, they're cool looking. And this is a brand new circuit design, not the one they used on the first two dolls. It's a pretty cool effect; the circuits are only printed on the front, but you can kind of see 'em through the leg if you look from the back. Anyway, it's a much better effect with the entire limb being transparent.

And I think that about covers Astronaut Steve. Not much to him other than his spacesuit and transparent bionics. Okay. Next time I'll take a look at... let me check. Ooh! Kenner's Maskatron and BBPs Mr. X (both really portraying the same character) from SMDMs "Day of the Robot." Never heard of it? Don't worry, it's only one of the coolest SMDM episodes ever!

We'll cover it along with the dolls, next time.

Until then.


So, a fellow left a comment asking about possible differences between Astronaut Steve's head and the previous dolls. I wanted to include an image in my reply, but didn't see an easy way to do that in the comments themselves (without adding code, anyway). So I'm adding an addendum here, with images.

I took a look at all four BBP Steves' heads, and they all look to be the same mold--same size, features, etc (apart from Alternate Khaki Steve's mustache). BUT! While Astronaut Steve does have the same head mold, he has a slightly different paint job: darker skin tone and a little more painted-in detail. It makes for a slightly nicer looking doll, but the effect is subtle enough I hadn't noticed any differences until the comment encouraged me to take a closer look.

So there we are.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Lady Battle Cop [Onna batoru koppu] (1990)

I'll tell you right up front what you probably already know: Lady Battle Cop is a low budget Japanese takeoff on Paul Verhoeven's Robocop. It was direct-to-video in 1990, about three years after Robocop's theatrical release, and it's... well, it's a mixed bag, really. Which doesn't mean it isn't fun to watch


Now this goes way beyond what anyone might tell you at film school, this is more like Universal Law, and what it says is this:

Pretty much anything you watch (or read, or whatever, really) falls into one of four categories.
  • Enjoyably Good
  • Enjoyably Bad
  • Unenjoyably Good
  • Unenjoyably Bad

So if we're going with universal law, and Robocop is solidly ensconced in Enjoyably Good, this film wanders more around the fence-line of Enjoyably Bad. But that's not a put-down: it just means we're not looking at an example-of-cinematic-greatness, or even anything very close to that. And my guess is everyone involved in the film knew that at the time. It is a B-Movie after all.

So. the movie obviously had a modest budget, and its plot is not hole-free. There are even a few overcooked performances, and my guess is its director was going for that same over-the-top-crazy that Clarence Boddicker's gang was doing in Robocop, but it doesn't really work as well here. Anyway, in spite of all these things, I genuinely enjoyed the movie. Not freak-out-scream-from-the-rooftops-level enjoyment, but enjoyment nonetheless.

I guess I should admit part of that enjoyment is due to my particular weakness for movie robots and cyborgs in general. But going beyond that, this film has heart--and it grabbed hold of the place in mine I devote to the B side of things. So let's take a look and see what it's all about.

First off, I like the film's title card, so here that is:

Lean, clean, title-machine.

Nice, huh? I bet they spent more money on that title than they did on the rest of the movie's special effects combined. (Hah. Joking. Mostly joking.)

Anyway, after opening credits, we get a couple of scenes showing us how near-future Neo Tokyo has been overrun by a crime organization known as the Cartel, and the police are powerless to stop them. Hmm. Near future city, crime organization, powerless police force. Reminds me of something, but what exactly?

Okay. I guess we all know there's going to be a lot of Robocop riffing going on in this movie, right?

So next we meet main character Kaoru, as she busts her moves out on the tennis court (being a tennis pro and all). And while watching her, we get to listen to one of the movie's two theme songs. Now, the movie was never released in the U.S. as far as I'm aware, and the print I have is fansubbed. So I'm guessing (hoping, really) the peculiarity of the song's lyrics are due to their being translated by some earnest-but-not-professionally-trained soul:

When I lost what was precious to me
I felt I wanted to become stronger
My days of being treated gently were over
I cast off my past life
Even if a thousand eyes are aimed at me

No, no, no, no give up
I won't extinguish the fire of love and hatred
No, no, no, no give up
Women were made for tennis
Now, stand up!

Even if someone hurts me or robs me
That time is always a new beginning for me
The silver suit that I exchanged my dress for
I burn myself in order to fight
If I feel like crying
All I have to do is look up at the stars

No, no, no, no give up
As long as I have tomorrow
My dream will not be over
No, no, no, no give up
Women were made for tennis
Now, stand up!

Awkward lyrics aside, the tune is catchy. I've (most) recently been driving the missus nuts by spontaneously bursting out in the song's chorus: "No, no, no, noooooo giiiive up! Women were made for teeee-eeeeen-nis!" multiple times per day. She secretly loves it. Although she hides it. Really well.

Anyway, after her workout, Kaoru meets up with the movie's two other heroes where, unaccountably, all three break the fourth wall to mug for the camera. Which seemed weird to me at the time, but it also set me up with this nice screenshot to help introduce them, so I'm appreciative overall:

Kaoru twirls her gun into its holster gives the thumbs up sign.

We've got Kaoru, local tennis champion, in the middle. Naoya, with his lovin' arm around Kaoru, is her fiance. (He also happens to be a renowned cyberneticist, which I'm pretty sure will come in handy at a later point in the plot.) Finally, there's Saijo. He's a cop, and Naoya's best friend. He's also Kaoru's... brother? Close friend? Ex-love? Unrequited love? As far as I could tell, we never find out what their relationship actually is/was. Or maybe that particular point just doesn't make it across in the film's subtitles.

Regardless, we know he and Kaoru are close, and we know he's very protective of her, since he tells Naoya in the very next scene "You know I won't forgive you if you break her heart." Naoya responds to this by going on about how all three of them lost their parents to Cartel violence, but he's not going to let anything like that ever happen again. (Seems to me he either misheard or he's skirting the issue, 'cause that's not even what Saijo was talking about, right? But anyway.)

So. Life is good for our heroes, as evidenced by a couple of exposition-for-the-audience type scenes, telling us Kaoru has just taken second place in the Neo Tokyo Tennis Open, Naoya is almost finished with his secret cybernetics project (he just needs a... gulp... donor), and Saijo, well, he's just excited at the thought of bringing down the Cartel and being a do-gooder in general. But then everything goes to hell. (Natch.)

See, the Cartel has this hit-squad called Team Phantom.

These guys are ruthless. You'd need some kind of... Lady Battle Cop to take them down!

It seems the Cartel has gotten wind of Naoya's cyborg project, and they're sending Phantom in to shut it down. "Permanently!" (Say that with a New York Mafioso accent. It's fun.) Anyway, as luck would have it, Naoya and Kaoru both happen to be at the project when Phantom arrives, and tragic things ensue.

First, Kaoru gets raped (off-screen) by one of Team Phantom. I guess that's supposed to provide additional motivation for her crusade of vengeance later on, but I'm not a fan of rape scenes and I personally thought she had plenty to avenge without the movie going there. But it did.

Anyway, by the time Team Phantom leaves, Kaoru has been stabbed, shot, blown up and subjected to a psychic attack. (I know. We'll get there.) Naoya isn't in any better shape. And, just to make sure the project is finished for good, Team Phantom blows the whole building sky high on their way out the door.

Fast forward six months later, and Saijo is the lone wolf still trying to bring the Cartel down. He's still pretty upset over the deaths of his best friends, and ends up mouthing off to the wrong guy, which lands him on the Cartel's hit list. So far in the movie, this Cartel seems to be on the smallish side of GCOs (Global Criminal Organizations): we've seen a Big Boss, two bodyguards, the four members of Team Phantom, and Amadeus the Psychic Assassin.

This is Amadeus. When he does a psychic attack......his face does this. We don't know why.

Ah. Could this be one of the overcooked performances I mentioned earlier? Amadeus is... well, this is what Saijo's chief has to say about him:
"He's known as Amadeus. Paranormal. He's an esper. He can stop the target's heartbeat or destroy his brain from a distance with his psychokinesis. He's literally a lethal weapon. The military research center for NASA was studying him as the ultimate weapon, after nuclear missiles. And the cartel corrupted him."
Okay. So basically, he's this musclebound guy who never talks but growls a lot, never hits anyone but flexes a lot, and uses psychokinesis to throw things around. Oh, and his face gets all bubbly when he's fighting. Not sure what that's about. But he did show up at the project, along with Phantom six months prior, and is the reason Kaoru and Naoya got to add "psychic attack" to their list of injuries.

So. Saijo has been moved to the top of the Cartel's hit list and, unsurprisingly, it's not long before he walks down a dark alley and Team Phantom shows up to do away with him. He gets a knife to the shoulder and a bullet to the leg, but just before the death blow is delivered, guess who shows up?

That's right, it's Lady Battle Cop!

Do not mess with the metal!

LBC stalks menacingly (and slowly) toward Team Phantom, and they fire of a few rounds at her, then just kind of stand around as she makes her way forward. After getting suitably close, she stops and poses, so Team Phantom (and the audience) have a chance to take in her metallic-and-bicycle-reflector-splendor. And there is definitely some splendor going on, check this out:

Posing is finished, now it's time to kick some Phantom-ass. But, before said ass-kicking commences, LBC reminds us we're watching a Robocop clone by inexplicably giving Team Phantom the thumbs up sign. (This is LBC's version of the gunspinning that put Officer Lewis onto the idea of Robocop being her old partner Murphy, in that film.) As you may remember, Kaoru gave us that thumbs up when she broke fourth wall at the beginning of the movie. Saijo, hiding behind a nearby crate, remembers her doing that too, so he's now tipped-off that LBC is really Kaoru.

So LBC lays into Team Phantom, and takes one of 'em out for good. But before she has a chance to mop the floor with the rest of 'em, Amadeus shows up and hurls her into a derelict car with his psychic-hurling-hand-ray, then psychically throws a bunch of steel girders (lots of those laying around in this movie) at/on/in the car, trapping LBC inside it.

Psychic-hurling-hand-ray in action....

Things aren't looking too good for LBC, but she fires off a wrist rocket and buries Amadeus in a pile of rubble long enough to make her escape. She also leaves Saijo, bleeding all over the sidewalk, but he's a tough old dog and can take care of himself. We hope. Anyway, she heads back to home base which, we then find out via flashback, used to be Naoya's dentist office SECRET LAB.

Seriously, that's all dental equipment, right?

Apparently, six months earlier, Kaoru and Naoya--after being shot, stabbed, blown up and psychically pummeled--were just able to make it to his private lab before the main building blew up. They were both dying, and since Kaoru knew they were goners, she begged him to use her as his donor, so she could avenge them both. Which he obviously agreed to do.

So, at the hideout we get this big reveal, as LBC stands in some kind of misty-ultraviolet-shower-thing, and we see that she looks human. What? The silver armor, which we (having seen Robocop before we saw this movie) thought was her new cyborg body, is sitting in a pile off to one side. Now, this begs the question: What exactly is she? Is she still human, never died, and is just using high tech battle armor? Has her human brain been transplanted into an android body? Or is she completely robotic, with Kaoru's memories having been downloaded into some kind of positronic brain? We dunno.

There is one clue. In the shower, we see ...something... on the side of her rib cage. Some kind of interface, maybe? We don't know what it is, and it's never explained.

Vague cyborg-y thing.

But there's also another clue, from earlier in the movie. Just before Team Phantom showed up at the project and blew everyone to smithereens, there was a really quick scene showing scientists engaged in daily-cyborg-project-bustle, and we saw this android arm:

The only obvious robotics effect in the film.

So apparently the project had some kind of pass-for-human android stuff they were working on. Hmmm.... Based on that I'm gonna say LBC has Kaoru's brain and a few other organic bits, integrated with a full-on android body. And she uses the battle armor for additional protection. There. Mystery solved to my satisfaction. Back to the story.

So Team Phantom has gotten ahold of this "neutron radiation cannon" they plan to kill LBC with. They lure her to an abandoned warehouse, riddle her with armor piercing rounds to soften her up (another Robocop pilfer, or homage, depending on your point of view), and move in for the kill. But she escapes before they can finish her off. (Whew!)

Team Phantom tests out their new BKK--Battle Kop Killer.LBC wonders how Robocop got out of this mess in his movie.

From here on out, we follow along as Saijo and LBC try to bring down Team Phantom and the Cartel. This mostly involves him getting beat up and/or shot by the Cartel, and her rescuing him. Eventually she offs all the members of Team Phantom, and figures it's time to go after the Big Boss. Who actually does have more henchmen than were originally apparent. (A good fifteen or twenty more.) But LBC makes quick work of 'em. One tries to sneak up on her with another neutron cannon, but she hears him (just in time!) and shoots him dead.

Now it's time for the final throw down with Amadeus, the psychic assassin who doesn't know when to quit. Last time they met, she had stuck a HUGE wrench completely through his abdomen...

'Tis but a scratch! It's just a flesh wound!

...before blowing him up with a wrist grenade.

Psychic or not, this guy should be dead. But here he is again, not much worse for wear even with that thing sticking out of his belly. So the battle continues, with LBC mostly getting her butt kicked. When Saijo sees she's going down for the count and tries to help her, Amadeus tosses him into a wall and kills him.

Oh, man. Amadeus really shouldn't have done that. Now LBC's pissed. She empties her clip at him, but he deflects the bullets with his psychic power. Huh? He totally should have used that trick when she stuck him with the wrench. I guess it isn't slowing him down much anyway, so maybe he doesn't care.

So now Amadeus is throwing LBC around with his psychic-hurling-hands (no rays this time), but when he lets her get too close, she grabs that wrench and yanks it right out of him. Ouch! There's blood everywhere, but he's still coming at her. She eventually ends up on the ground, all battered, bruised, and desperately looking for something to use as a weapon. And what does she see? That neutron cannon the henchman was sneaking up with earlier! Quick as a whip she grabs it, levels it at Amadeus, and fires.

Apparently psychic assassins are not immune to neutron radiation cannons.

Where's your bubbly-faced-muscle-flexing now, asshole?!

And that's basically the end of the movie. LBC goes looking for the Big Boss and finds he's been executed by some Even Bigger Boss, apparently because he'd failed at stopping her. Just desserts, I suppose. And that's it. Nothing left to do but play the second theme song. Which was translated by the same fellow who did the opening song, I'm guessing.

There is someone who would throw away
Anything for love
I know someone who would shut out everything
After her dream is over

Believe in my life
I am me
I live in the present
I can keep living alone even after I was hurt
I was born as a woman but I can't live as one
Dawn will come soon
Or, at least, that's what I believe
If it is for the sake of love
Some people will throw everything away
When their dreams lay in ruins
I know some people who closed their eyes

Believe in my life
I am me
I can live on alone, even if I've been hurt
I was born a woman
But I can't be a woman
I live for the present
I believe that the dawn will come soon

Okay, this is probably a two brain movie, all told. But because of that heart I mentioned up top, I'm giving it...


Oh, and if you want to read up on LBCs cyborg powers and abilities specifically (as opposed to the story-centric post you just finished), you can check out this followup post that I was unable to stop myself from making....

Friday, November 6, 2015

Jaws Covered

Not to long ago, the missus and I embarked on that sublime adventure known as a Jaws movie marathon: a lazy weekend day and evening completely devoted to Jaws, Jaws 2, Jaws 3-D, Jaws: The Revenge and, as a bonus, Deep Blue Sea.

I know. And living with someone who enjoys doing things like this is just one aspect of the charmed life in which I live.

Of course, the pendulum swings both ways. Our most recent marathon involved Ladyhawke, Pride and Prejudice, and The Bridges of Madison County. So she does get her turn at the wheel. (We actually started with just Ladyhawke and Pride and Prejudice, but once the word "marathon" began being bandied about, we were forced to add one more, so as to meet our personal three-film minimum for the term. Two movies is just not a marathon.)

Anyway, other than realizing Jaws: The Revenge may not actually be worse than Jaws 3-D, what I took away from this marathon was a desire to compare the mechanical sharks used in each film in a blog post. But that's not what this post is going to be. Why?

Because, as usual, my mind took a simple idea for a quick post and went down a dark and winding rabbit hole with it, ending up in a dirt cavern where lived way to many ideas for way-too-complicated Jaws-themed posts, scores of downloaded images, bookmarked links, and so on. And I don't want to spend the next year doing nothing but Jaws posts.

So, while I figure out how to tone the whole project down to manageable proportions, I thought I'd start off with a collection of covers from the various editions of the Jaws novels (because, during the madness, I somehow ended up with about forty of 'em). So. Without further ado, and without a ton of commentary, here they are.

Oh. To set things up, there were three novels associated with the four films. Peter Benchley's novel, Jaws, came first and inspired Spielberg's amazing film. The other two novels, Jaws 2 and Jaws: The Revenge, were based on screenplays from their associated films, which came before the books. Jaws 3-D never had a novelization done of it. Too bad. Probably would have been better than the movie. I tried to find large images you can click through to see more detail, and was (mostly) successful. So click away.

Here we go. No wait. I have a site to mention. I trolled all over the web for images, but a fair number of what I'm using came from Since the fellow there went through the trouble of finding all these treasures in the first place, I thought I'd give him a shout-out.

Edit: I got tired of looking up information on all those overseas books. That's why publishing houses and dates kind of peter out towards the end. And, as far as getting the right publisher, date, or even language and country: I did the best I could. Most are pretty dependable, some are educated guesses, and a few were just me putting words from a cover into Google Translate and letting it tell me what I was looking at.

Besides, we're here to look at cool covers, right? If you want to be really certain on origins, do your own search and see what you come up with.

Now, here we go.

Jaws - U.S. Hardcover Initial Jacket - 1974
I know I said "without a ton of commentary," and I'm starting out with a bunch of commentary. But the stuff I uncovered around these intial covers was just too good to pass up.

So this was Doubleday's initial jacket design for the book. I like it, and I think it reflects the contents of the novel pretty well. The story actually focuses as much (or more) on Amity and it's people as it does the shark, and this cover tells me that. But. This cover was rejected shortly before the book went to press. Why? You will *never* guess.

The New York Times Magazine had this to say about it:
The sales managers loved the book and the title, but there was considerable resistance to the jacket. It made them think of Freud's classic dream of castration, the vagina dentata.
Really? Was vagina dentata maybe more a part of cultural consciousness back in the 70s than it is now? Because that is not a term that springs to mind for me at all, let alone when looking at this cover. But, okay.

Jaws - U.S. Hardcover Final Jacket - 1974
Here is the jacket Doubleday ultimately went with.

And it's a great cover. Hits you right in the gut, gives you both a claustrophobic and dangerously-wide-open-and-exposed feeling at the same time. Shivery. But as visceral as it is, I still think the original cover captures the feel of what's actually between the covers more than this one does. Just sayin'.

Doubleday's thoughts on this one? That same Times Magazine article quotes editor Thomas Gongdon:
"We realized that the new version looked like a penis with teeth, but was that bad? I placated [design director Alex Gotfryd] by buying him a $17 necktie at Paul Stuart."
Huh. I guess the fellas at Doubleday held to a double standard: penis dentata is okay; vagina dentata is not. Does that scream 1970s Male to anyone but me?

Jaws - U.S. Paperback - 1975
And here's the cover people always think of when you mention Jaws. Universal Studios eventually used it for the movie poster, which is why people always think of it, but it was actually created by illustrator Roger Kastel for the novel's paperback release.

And it's definitely another great cover. A very different feel than the Doubleday jacket, but just as powerful. As paperback covers are wont to do, it's going for lurid sense of (quickly) impending doom, versus the hardcover's more restrained approach. Looks damn cool though. And I definitely remember straining my eight year-old eyes at that nude swimmer, willing them to take in more detail than actually existed on paper.

Jaws - U.S. Paperback - 1991
Okay. Commentary is mostly over. There have been a lot of reprints of Jaws over the years, most of them very slight variations on Kastel's admittedly iconic cover. But I'll try to focus, as we go, on those that tried to do their own thing.

Like this one, from Fawcett Crest. Ferocious looking beast, even if it doesn't scream Jaws to me like the Doubleday and Bantam covers. Well, I guess it does scream Jaws, what with the word right there in big red letters and all. But you know what I mean.

Jaws - Australian Paperback - 1976
Now we'll get into some non-U.S. covers, which are often quite unique and pretty cool. Like this Australian paperback from Pan Books.

Jaws - French Canadian Paperback
Couldn't track down a publication date for this one, which'll probably be the case for a lot of these overseas editions.

But this is interesting if you're me: The site I found this cover on lists it as a French book. But when I googled "Les Éditions internationales Alain Stanké," I found out it was a publishing house created by Alain Stanké. He was born in Lithuania but migrated to Montreal, where he started several publishing companies among other things. So I'm assuming the book is actually French-Canadian. Anyway, he's an interesting fellow, a bit of a renaissance man. (Have to use Google Translate with that link, if you don't read French.)

Anyway, the cover looks (to my unpracticed eye) like maybe an original painting, but obviously following the Bantam cover pretty closely. Or maybe it's just pre-digital cut and paste. Kudos for doing something to differentiate from the U.S. version.

Jaws - French Hardcover - 1975
Here's an actual French (as in the country of France) hardcover, published by Hachette. The cover's a little weird. It puts the shark in a secondary role, visually, which is fine. But the girl looks really young. Is she supposed to be the swimmer from the book's first attack? Be curious to know the why's behind this one.

Jaws - French Paperback -1974
Another French cover with a non-swimming woman up front and the shark in the background. Also published by Hachette.

Jaws - French Paperback - 1976
And yet another French cover, from Le Livre de Poche, which was also an imprint of Hachette. No short shrifting the shark here, but all they've really done is flip the Bantam image around. I guess, points for doing something.

Jaws - French Paperback - 1976
Another French cover by Hachette. This was an edited version of the novel marketed to teens. Wonder what bits they left out?

Jaws - Italian Hardcover - 1974
Hmm. A hardcover from Italy, published by Mondadori.

Seems to me that overseas folks were less afraid of going fanciful with a cover than folks in the U.S. Which is good, otherwise this post would be forty book covers, all with Roger Kastel's artwork on them. And that would be dull.

Jaws - Portuguese Hardcover - 2015
Yikes! Now that's an attention grabbing cover. It's from Portuguese publisher, Darkside. And new. Just out last August.

Jaws - Portuguese Paperback
Interesting. Another Portuguese edition. This one is much older--but obviously not older than 1978, because it's using Jaws 2 cover art. ( ! ) I think it was put out by a publisher called Editora Nova Cultural.

Jaws - Soviet/Russian
Found this, and the one below, on a sociologist's Twitter page. Since it's Twitter, there wasn't much information, but I've heroically passed on what I know. This one is... kind of cool in it's peculiarity.

Jaws - Soviet/Russian
This one is also peculiar, but also kind of amazing. I like it's tongue-in-cheekiness. Reminds me of Land Shark. ("Plumber, ma'am.")

Jaws - Russian
Here's a scarier Russian cover that's really just a closeup of... Roger Kastel's shark. But they did cool things with it, like making the shark be above water vs. under the surface. I like the duo-tone, too.

Jaws - Spanish Comic Book - 1975
Okay. Technically this isn't the cover of a novel, but it was so awesome I had to include it. And it's awesomeness requires no explanation other than itself, so here are it's opening pages:

Brutal. So, the cover says it's an erotic comic. But these pages didn't seem particularly sexualized to me. After all, the novel's swimmer was nude as well. So I did a little searching to see if the word "erotic" was just a gag to boost sales, or what. And...

I didn't find anything more on this particular comic, but I did find out it was part of a series, with each comic doing it's take on a popular movie of the time. As to whether or not the series was actually meant to be erotic, that question was answered when I came across it's version of King Kong.

Way more than I wanted to see of Fay Wray. (Only partially true.)
Oh my. And if you really want to see two women undress, kiss each other, then be grabbed and eaten by a giant gorilla, click here.

Jaws - Spanish Hardcover - 1974
Another Spanish cover, from El Círculo de Lectores. I like it. Simple, understated, gets the point across.

Jaws - Argentinian Hardcover - 1976
But I like this one even more, because it adds the town, up top. Let's you know it's not just a shark we're dealing with here, it's a shark mixed up with a town. And towns have people. Crunch!

Jaws - Swedish Hardcover - 1975
Ooh, I really like this one. Being under water with the shark and looking up from his perspective is cool. Great color scheme, too.

Jaws - Swedish Hardcover
Same language, and looks like the same artist, even. But I don't like this one quite as much. Still has that cool color palette, though.

Jaws - Turkish paperback - 1975
Here's a Turkish paperback. What I found on this one said it was published in 1975, but it's a dead ringer for the design on that 1991 U.S. paperback, way up at the top:

Could be coincidence. Or maybe the U.S. version just got its inspiration from the much older Turkish edition. We will never know. Probably.

Jaws - UK Hardcover
Oh, now this is cool. A UK cover that features Quint's death in the novel--very different than his film death. Weird way-to-big-headed-shark, but big points for originality, here. (Welcome to "Dead Man's Brain," the blog where everything's made up and the points don't matter.")

Jaws - UK Hardcover
Okay. Many kudos to the UK folk. This is another extremely cool cover. And a wraparound to boot!

Jaws - UK Paperback
A UK paperback. Maybe that almost identical Australian one was a UK import of this one....

Jaws - UK Paperback
I like this, too. Somebody's doing their own take on the original U.S. covers, kind of combining the hardcover and paperback designs.

Jaws - UK Youth Paperback
And, our last actual Jaws cover. The rest are from Jaws 2 and Jaws: The Revenge. This was another edited version, aimed at teens or tweens.

Jaws 2 - U.S. Hardcover - 1978
So. Jaws 2, the novel, was written by Hank Searls, from a very early screenplay that changed quite a bit before shooting on the film actually started. So it's almost like reading a novel that isn't taken from a film. Which is a good thing, because often film novelizations suck. This book didn't, and I think I may actually like it better than the movie.

It came out a few months before the film opened, in hardcover and paperback, and you could get the paperback with or without the water skier on it.  I don't know why they decided to do that, but thank god for Berserker Books and their exquisitely thorough and entertaining look at Lou Feck, the fellow who painted this cover, for giving me an explanation for the variant. I was going nuts trying to find any information on it at all, and their post saved me from nut-ness.
Bantam published Hank Searls' novelization of Jaws 2 in the Spring of 1978, just a few months shy of the film's debut in theaters. Readers had a choice between two variant Feck covers, one with a skier and one without. You can see where the art department's removal of the skier left behind a blurry, less detailed water splash in her stead. For subsequent printings though, Bantam wised up and used only the unexpurgated cover. Sex always wins out in the end, as we all know.

If Feck made any impression outside of publishing it's because of his association with Jaws 2. The cover art he created for the novelization was in turn used for the film poster (a rare double commission, if you will). Feck's painting, which is a direct salute to the original Roger Kastel paperback cover of Peter Benchley's novel Jaws, is now part of our nation's entertainment legacy.
Not a ton of variation out there for Jaws 2 or Jaws: The Revenge covers, but I pulled together a few of the more interesting ones. Other than the hardcover above...

Jaws 2 - U.S. Paperback - 1978
Here's the paperback cover, as Feck originally painted it....

Jaws 2 - U.S. Paperback - 1978
And here's the cover, sans skier. I prefer the one with the skier, but my guess from what Berserker Books said is the non-skier cover is a bit harder to find, only being included with the first release and all.

Jaws 2 - French Paperback - 1978
Here's a French paperback, with skier...

Jaws 2 - French Paperback - 1978
...and another without the skier.

Jaws 2 - Spanish Paperback - 1978
Here's a Spanish paperback, for Jaws 2, that's using the shark from the the U.S. paperback edition of Jaws.

Jaws 2 - Italian Paperback - 1978
Aha! Here's something a little different. This Italian cover is taken from an alternate movie poster design. That water.. it's so red! Is it just the reflection of the setting sun, or... is it... an ocean running red with blood?!

Jaws 2 - Thai Paperback - 1978
And this one is cool just because it's Thai.

Jaws: The Revenge - U.S. Hardcover - 1987
Jaws: The Revenge was also written by Hank Searls, which is nice for continuity. It also came out a bit before the movie itself, and was based on an early, arguably better, screenplay than the one that ultimately made it to the screen. At least it explained more as to why the hell a shark would target a specific family and chase them around the world. That counts for something, right there.

Not much in the way of variety with this one. Everything I found had the shark from Kastel's cover, but breaking the surface instead of being underwater. We had this hardcover...

Jaws: The Revenge - U.S. Paperback - 1987
...and this paperback.

Jaws: The Revenge -  Spanish Paperback - 1987
A Spanish one, mixing things up a tiny bit.

Jaws: The Revenge -  Spanish Paperback - 1987
And more of the same, in brighter colors.

Jaws: The Revenge -  UK Paperback - 1987
And, finally, the UK paperback, which just swapped red lettering for gold and called it good.

And that's it, really.

And, in case you were wondering, I've read Jaws and Jaws 2 in the (distant) past, but recently re-read 'em so as to bone up for all these shark-related posts rattling around in my head (which may or may not ever see the light of day).

I also, more recently, bought Jaws: The Revenge. I haven't read it yet, but if the Jaws 2 experience holds true, my guess is I'm gonna like it better than the movie it's taken from. We'll see, and then I'll be back for more Jaws posts in general.

Until then.