Sunday, April 30, 2017

Geekdom Madness 2017 - The Real Game: Courage of the Heart/Bestial

Sorry for the late start, but we're plumbing all the hidden depths this week

Let's reacquaint ourselves with the combatants:

MATCH 1: Courage of the Heart


Anakin Skywalker was created by George Lucas in an early draft of what would become the Star Wars Saga, the first installment of which would see release in 1977 under the series' title but would become subsequently known as "Episode IV: A New Hope".

Originally, the character of "Anikin Starkiller" was the protagonist of the story, and the Imprerial General "Darth Vader" one minor but elite antagonist. Throughout the various drafts of what would become "New Hope", Starkiller became Luke Skywalker with Anakin as his deceased father, though Darth Vader stayed fairly consistent aside from becoming a former pupil of mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi adding some character relevance. The final design for Vader's suit came from Ralph McQuarrie, who drew a samurai-inspired space helmet on the character in concept art - inspiring Vader's other notable change into a cyborg character.

In the midst of adapting the second part of his original story into what would become 1980's "Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back", Lucas struck upon the idea to make Anakin Skywalker and  Darth Vader the same person. This created one of the most famous narrative twists in filmmaking history,  and Lucas edited his backstory notes to reflect Anakin's tragic fall and set his journey as a parallel to Luke's - showing what Luke could very well become if he isn't careful. This would remain fairly consistent through 1983's "Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi" and was fully explored in Episodes I-III between 1999 and 2005, though very minor details were still being rearranged even through 2005's "Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith".

As Darth Vader, he has become a pop-cultural icon and arguably the most recognizable character in Star Wars, with his helmet being one of the unique visual shorthand representations of the franchise as a whole.

Darth Vader's imposing figure was portrayed by bodybuilder and veteran horror actor David Prowse in "A New Hope". While his physicality was perfect for the character, Lucas felt his cockney accent didn't quite fit and eventually had James Earl Jones lend his now iconic rich voice. Prowse would continue to play suited Vader in Episodes V and VI, with Bob Anderson suiting up for more impressive lightsaber battles and Sebastian Shaw appearing as Anakin unmasked in VI. Jones would also continue to voice the masked character in the subsequent films, including the finale of III.

For 1999's "Episode I: The Phantom Menace", Lucas decided to begin Anakin's story when he was 9 years old, to emphasize his separation from his mother starting the fear of loss that would eventually lead to his downfall. Millions of young actors were auditioned, but in the end it was felt that Jake Lloyd embodied the role best giving the character a natural enthusiasm and earnestness that took many people by surprise. In "Episode II: Attack of the Clones" and "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith", Anakin as a young man was portrayed by Hayden Christensen. Christensen studied Prowse's body language in IV-VI very hard and incorporated as much of it as he possibly could into his more youthful and nimble Anakin - performing all his lightsaber fighting himself, and donning the iconic suit at the end of III. He also tried to show the vocal evolution of the character as he tried to mix Jones' booming monotone with Lloyd's earnestness, Mark Hamil's early impetuousness, and just a hint of James Dean brooding. He was eventually retroactively added as a Force Ghost to the end of VI as Sebastian Shaw looked nothing like Anakin's final and more familiar design (Shaw remains during the emotional unmasking scene). This leaves room for such a form to return in Disney's expanded universe films, though it is not guaranteed given the persisting vocal minority criticism still following his side of the story.

Other expanded universe portrayals of the character include (but are not limited to) Mat Lucas as Anakin in the 2003 Clone Wars micro-series and several video game adaptations, Matt Lanter as Anakin in the 2008 Clone Wars animated series and other media featuring those versions of the characters (including Disney Infinity and Star Wars: Rebels), Spencer Wilding and Daniel Naprous suiting up as Vader in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (with Jones reprising the voice once again), Seth Green as Anakin and Abraham Benrubi as Vader in Robot Chicken's tribute and the unreleased series "Star Wars Detours", and Matt Sloan as Vader's voice in several Lego parody adaptations and officially licensed parody appearances.


Mrs. Brisby, originally Frisby, was created by Robert C. O'Brien for his 1971 children's novel "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH". He was inspired by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) research on mice and rat population dynamics between 1940-1960.

When director Don Bluth adapted the book into his 1982 feature-film debut "The Secret of NIMH", the name was changed to Brisby in order to avoid potential legal trouble from toy company Wham-O (makers of the Frisbee toy disc). He also pushed Mrs. Brisby's character and plight to the forefront of the story, and added mystical and spiritual elements not found in the original book.

As the character in the film is always referred to as "Mrs. Brisby" and sometimes "Mrs. Jonathan Brisby" (putting emphasis on her late husband), many fans wishing to give her more autonomy have given her the name Elizabeth Brisby after her voice actress, Elizabeth Hartman.  Hartman was cast when the producers saw her heartfelt, earnest, and Academy-Award-nominated portrayal in 1965's "A Patch of Blue" (where she played a blind woman in love with an African-American man played by Sydney Poitier in a racially devided America) and thought the character of Mrs. Brisby needed just that. Sadly, Brisby would be her last role - the earnest desperation and fear present in her performance belied a long battle with depression, and she would take her own life just a few years later.

The only other appearance of the character in "official" media was in the 1998 direct-to-video sequel "The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue", which had no input from any of the original production team and is generally regarded as one of the prime examples of direct-to-video sequels' reputation of being mindless cash-grabs (though some do have a soft-spot for one or two sequences just due to the sheer bizarre nature of them). In her brief appearances in this film, Mrs. Brisby is voiced by Debi Mae West.


MATCH 2: Bestial


The Beast was created by Rogers Allers and Linda Woolverton for the 1991 Disney animated film "Beauty and the Beast".

It was based on Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's 1740 fairy tale. However, while the original tale was written to prepare young women for arranged marriages, steps were taken to put both characters on a more equal footing. Where in the original story the Beast was nothing but nice from the start and simply ugly until love was given to him, in this version the Beast must learn to be a decent human being and treat others with basic human decency - giving him pathos and a character arc.

The Beast's design was finalized by supervising animator Glen Keane. While a fantasy, Keane felt that the Beast should look natural and not alien, and inspired by a taxidermied bison head he created a chimeara - Head of a bison, mane of a lion, brow of a gorilla, tusks of a wild boar, upper body of a bear, and lower body of a wolf. The eyes, however, remain human and is his sole recognizable feature upon his transformation back (which the animators always felt would look odd no matter how he was designed as the audience has gotten used to The Beast at this point). While his human name is never given, and an official name was never stated, some production members and many fans seem to refer to him as "Prince Adam".

The film would become the first (and with later categories added, only) animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards (it lost to "Silence of the Lambs"). It is regarded critically as one of, if not the best film of Disney's renaissance period and is thought of as one of the best in Canon. It spawned a popular Broadway adaptation, a recursive live-action film in 2017, and several direct-to video sequels of far lesser quality.

The Beast was voiced by Robby Benson, with sound effects deepening his voice as a Beast and adding animal growl layers. Benson brought a heart and warmth to the character even in his more enraged moments, when other actors auditioned stuck to gravelly growly voices. Benson reprises the role in the direct-to-video sequels and most official media appearances of the character (including the Kingdom Hearts video game series). In the 2017 live-action remake, The Beast is portrayed by Dan Stevens.


Godzilla ("Gojira" in the original Japanese) was created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishirō Honda, and Eiji Tsubaraya for the 1954 film bearing his name. Tanaka was on a plane returning from Indonesia after negotiations to make a film about Japanese occupation there failed due to somewhat understandable anti-Japanese sentiments, when inspiration struck him through both remembering the 1953 film "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" and the recent incident of a Japanese tuna boat being caught in radioactive fallout. He brought the concept back to his company, Toho, and the film developed from there.

As the word "Gojira" is a corruption of the Japanese words for Gorilla and Whale, the original concept was more mammalian, but a Dinosaur-esque design was eventually settled on combining elements of (what was at that time known of) Tyrannosaurs, Iguanadons, and Stegosaurs. Originally envisioned as using stop-motion special effects, the filmmakers realized that it would be a 7 year prodection if they went that route, and to save time and budget opted for the now classic man-in-suit technique.

The film was a smash hit in Japan, still reeling from the aftermath of the atomic bomb drops that ended World War II and seeing the nuclear elements of Godzilla as allegory for the swath of destruction the bomb causes. He has since become a cultural icon that Japan is very protective of, and Godzilla films are still being made to this day.

In the various Japanese films, Godzilla has been played by Haruo Nakajima, Katsumi Tezuka, Yū Sekida, Ryosaku Takasugi, Seiji Onaka, Shinji Takagi, Isao Zushi, Toru Kawai, Kenpachiro Satsuma, Tsutomu Kitagawa, Mizuho Yoshida, and Mansai Nomura. The distinctive roar of the creature was created by composer Akira Ifukube, who produced the sound by rubbing a pine-tar-resin-coated glove along the string of a contrabass and then slowing down the playback.

In the 1998 American adaptation, the creature was redesigned by Patrick Tatopoulis and realized as a mostly computer-generated creature voiced by Frank Welker. In the 2014 rebooted American adaptation, the creature was also computer-generated but played through motion-capture by T.J. Storm.


Final Verdict
A note on the terminology in Anakin's section - regardless of official descriptors, I refer to and think of any Star Wars media outside of the six George Lucas Saga films as "Expanded Universe". It helps me personally appreciate things they've done well while allowing me to dismiss things that don't jive with George's vision. To the topic at hand, Anakin and Godzilla have more pop-culture power behind them, but Beast and Brisby are more integral to most people's childhoods.

As always, make sure you're viewing the WEB version of the site and vote in the polls on the right-hand side of the screen. Polls close Friday at 5:00 p.m., and results posted on Saturday. Feel free to discuss your picks in the comments below.

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