Five Things – 6.29.15 – Thrill To The Awe And Mystery Of The Hidden World

1.  Secret Video Game Tricks, Codes, & Strategies, Volume 1 – Whew! That’s a mouthful! This video is one of dozens of “How to Beat Videogames” tutorials from the 1980s, most of which focus on exploiting glitches and bugs to gain advantages in difficult parts of games.

VIdeo Game Tips TItleThis one’s no different, except that it features exclusive tips from the US Video Game Team (a real thing!)

Video Game TeamThe video takes you through glitches and scoring tips for some of the big names like Gradius, Contra, Adventure Island and Castlevania II as well as some of the more obscure ones like Ring King and Iron Tank. While usually you just get a bunch of gameplay video in these things, this title sets itself apart with wacky 80’s graphic transitions and what appears to be a studio setting in which the team members execute these amazing tricks using NES Advantages.

VG Transition AdvantageThat second picture looks like something from the  Spaceship of the Mind in Cosmos.

Here’s the whole thing.  Let me know if these Metal Gear passwords work.

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Five Things – 06.22.15 – You Mean Am I Young Enough?

1. Disney’s Captain EO Grand Opening Special – Disney had a habit of producing huge, celebrity-laden prime time television specials around events happening at their theme parks.  Any park’s opening got a special, and big name rides like Splash Mountain got them, too.  They’re all amazing, every last one.  They’re the perfect balance of cringe and glitz, trying to appeal to everybody in the living room and in doing so failing to really be anything.  There’s no better example of this than their 1986 special around the mega-blockbuster 3D movie created just to play at Disney parks, Captain EO.

Captain EO TitleProduced by George Lucas, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Michael Jackson, and featuring a movie theater tailor-made for that movie specifically, the event was definitely special-worthy.  The thing is, they didn’t really have anything to say about it that I didn’t just say just now. But they had an hour to fill, and fill it they did.  The special is hosted by Justine Bateman and Patrick Duffy, and I don’t know if two hosts have ever had less chemistry.

Justine and PatrickJustine and Patrick 2When they’re not dogging each other’s ages, they’re blandly introducing the celebrities as they arrive to the red carpet in old timey cars.  Disney spared no expense in securing the A-list for their big premiere.  They also invited John Stamos. Hey-oh!

StamosO.J. Simpsons also came.  There’s a joke here about O.J., Michael Jackson, and gloves, but I’m not making it.

OJ“In Russia we also have three D’s, it’s Depression, Detention, and my favorite, Defection.” Seriously, Yakov? I can’t believe Disney let him do that.

YakovThe special also featured (read: soaked up most of the runtime) performances by Belinda Carlisle, the Moody Blues, Robert Palmer, and Starship.

Starship

While a cultural trainwreck, the special is still a great showcase of what Disney did so well in the ’80s and still does today – they blend their Hollywood power with their real-world theme-parks in a way that makes you feel like you’re really missing out if you weren’t there.  I can bag on this in 2015 but the 1986 me would have eaten this up and asked for more.  Watch it for yourself!

Unrelated, but relevant: This poster. Amazing.

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DrakPack

Five Things – 06.15.15 – I’m Doing Business And I Am In The Dough

1.  The Drak Pack – What if Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster had kids? I can buy Dracula and maybe Wolfman, but I have a hard time seeing how that was possible with Frankenstein’s Monster.  What if the descendants of those monsters inherited their powers? Medium believable. What if those kids were ashamed of the menace their ancestors had caused and set out to become good guys? Now you’re talking… even though you can’t really blame Frankenstein’s Monster for any menace that might have taken place in his case.  Well, Hanna-Barbera answered those what-ifs in 1980 with Drak Pack.

Drak Pack

The Drak Pack featured Drak, Frankie, and Howler, the predictably named offspring of their notorious fathers.  They were normal kids but could turn into their monster selves by way of a three-way-high-five called the “Drak Whack”.  This allowed them to use their superpowers; Drak could teleport, fly, and change shape, Frankie had super strength and could shoot electricity (?), and Howler has an ultrasonic howl.

Drak Pack Human FormCan you guess which is which?

The trio engaged in normal save-the-day stuff, usually caused by their nemesis Dr. Dred who looks like Vincent Price but is voiced by someone who is not Vincent Price.  Guess he was busy with Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo!

dr dred

They also kept in touch with their mentor, the original Dracula, referred to in the series as “Big D”.  I’m guessing this is Drak’s dad? I’m not sure why Dracula would sponsor a group of kids determined to make up for his atrocities, but whatever. They used a super hi-tech room to contact him, for some reason.

big d

Dr. Dred had a cabal of monstery bad guys consisting of a sycophantic toad, a vampiress who could turn into a snake, a human fly and a mummy.  Not sure how the battle lines got drawn this way across the monsters, but whatever.  It’s a fun watch and a unique take on the then-pretty-stale HB formula of the time.  Here’s an episode:



Drak Pack – Color Me Dredful by mangaphile

Drak Pack aired from 1980 to 1982 which may seem like a long run, but actually only sixteen episodes were produced.

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Five Things – 06.08.15 – Why Dontcha Come Along and Mosey

1. The NBC Saturday Morning Preview Revue – In the ’70s and ’80s it became the norm for the big three networks to trot their Fall Saturday morning lineups in a prime time special on the Friday night before.  Wrapped with some original content, the specials were largely clips and “trailers” of the new Saturday morning shows.  A lot of times the Networks took the opportunity to integrate their other prime time properties into the special as hosts of a sort, but in 1974 NBC went full kid and had Sid and Marty Krofft produce their preview special.  And the result was really something.

peacock

The whole special is filled with intricate marionette movements, costumed characters, and ’70s television glitz and glamour.  Jimmy Osmond hosts the show, and the Kroffts really put him through the ringer as far as his routine goes.

Jimmy Osmond

Shows were previewed through Mr. TV, a television with human legs. And that’s not horrifying.

run joe run

Several members of the Krofft family were in attendance, even though their shows ran on competing networks!

audience

The special centers around Osmond and Petey the Peacock’s interactions, with Osmond playing the straight man and Petey goofing things up.  The featured shows premiering that Fall were Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, Run Joe Run, and Land of the Lost.  Then there’s a rush at the end to work five or six more properties in, and then long standing shows like the Jetsons get a name-check after that.  In between all of that, there are some really awkward musical numbers.

music number

There was probably a better way to perform “Lazy River” than this.

The Electric Mushroom

Electric Mushroom. Subtle.

The finale centers around a circus sideshow, which maybe isn’t the parallel you want to attach to your programming.  The show kind of falls off of the rails at this point – Jimmy’s pretty tired and the verses to the songs aren’t really as tight as they were just twenty minutes before. Also, they cheese out on the artwork for each show, like this poster for the Star Trek cartoon:

star trek

Then they pick it back up for the big finish, which involves clowns…

clown

And a genuinely impressive musical number with said clowns, marionettes, balloons, and more.

finish

I sound like I’m bagging on the special, and I sort of am, but this is a huge level of effort on a thing that most networks usually just sort of took the easy way out with. It’s a really fun watch, even the bad stuff.  They definitely don’t do it like this anymore. Here’s the whole special, complete with some cool commercials for Mr. Bubble, McDonalds, and Kool-Aid.

 

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Five Things – 06.01.15 – Time is Only a Place

1.  Science Fiction Theatre – This anthology series ran from 1955-1957 in syndication, a prelude to The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.  Science Fiction Theatre took a more realistic approach than those two series, but the concepts explored were just as far-reaching.

Science Fiction Theatre

Hosted by actor and war correspondent Truman Bradley, owner of one of the best names ever, Science Fiction Theatre is probably best known as the show that George McFly was a fan of in Back to the Future.  The producers of the show had an ambitious view of the future of color television and produced the first season of the show in color.  Few could view it that way, though – the technology wasn’t quite there yet. The second season was produced in black and white to save money. The show’s a great snapshot of the fifties, both in its vision of the promise of the atomic age as well as the uses of the television studios of the time.  In the first episode, Bradley fires a live round into a television to make the point that you can’t see a bullet in flight. That’s pretty bold!

Truman Bradley   The show’s got a slick look in its design and its set dressing.  The typesetting for each episode’s title is fantastic:

Beyond

Here are a couple of episodes, one with a more down-to-earth premise (“Beyond”), and one with a further-reaching idea (“Time is Just a Place”). These are so good.

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Liberty

Five Things – 05.25.15 – Knit Your Bit

1.  Propaganda Posters – In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I’d share some of my favorite propaganda and recruitment posters from the wars of the Twentieth Century.  For various reasons these posters have caught my eye over the years and stuck in my memory. Usually it’s a design thing, a unique artistic approach, but some times it’s just the message itself that catches me off guard. And sometimes it’s both!

Cavalry

Aside from being gorgeous, this is an interesting ‘soft’ sell – the horse’s friendship as a reason to join is a unique angle. And a tempting one, I can imagine.

Car ClubThe posters about what you can do to aid war efforts at home have always interested me – they’re frequently things that would be good everyday practices, like joining a car club.  Then there are ones that encourage you to eat as much corn as you can, like this:

Corn

Little American

“Knit Your Bit” is a fantastic slogan:

Sox

This one’s got some remarkable detail to it.  The text reads “Germany Is The War”.

Germany is the War

Finally these ads for those on the supply lines are surprisingly powerful and prideful:

On the JobOn The Job 2

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Five Things – 05.18.15 – Polished Floors Are Man Traps

1. The California Raisins: The Grape Escape – Here’s a puzzler: it’s the ’90s and the California Raisins can do no wrong as a franchise. Neither can Capcom, the developer of such hit original franchises as Mega Man and licensed home-runs like the Duck Tales games.  So why was it that a NES game based on the California Raisins and structured similarly to Duck Tales was basically completed and never released commercially?

California Raisins: Grape Escape

Here’s the plot: some jealous haters have kidnapped the Raisins and their musical notes (?), and you as the sole un-kidnapped Raisin have to go through five levels to retrieve them.  It looks like a pretty cool platformer, and the fact that your characters can (explicably) moonwalk and (inexplicably) shoot unlimited grape jellybeans gives a little uniqueness to the game.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.  It’s hard to imagine how the ax could have fallen this close to the finish line – the game was reviewed in published magazines and you can see the completed box art above with a Mega Man coupon offer.

Game Player's Cover

Maybe the Raisins had fallen off of the pop-culture shelf by then? Or maybe those haters who stole the musical notes got the last laugh after all.

Thanks to the existence of review copies and the internet, emulation of this game exists. Here’s a playthrough. Rest in peace, The California Raisins: The Grape Escape, you were too beautiful for this world.

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Five Things – 05.11.15 – Hey Birds! Here Are Cookies!

1.  Benji, Zax, and the Alien Prince – Really not sure how this idea came to be.  In 1983, the Benji franchise was in the sweet spot of its popularity – that movie star dog could do no wrong.  He’s like Lassie, but interesting! Sort of.  Hanna-Barbera took on the task of pulling Benji from the big screen and putting him on television in weekly installments.  The best way to do that, they must have thought, was to put him in a sci-fi storyline with robots and aliens.
Benji Title

So yeah, Benji, the little dog who could help normal people solve normal problems, was suddenly tasked with helping an heir to an alien regime displaced by a coup restore honor to his planet.  Benji, Zax & the Alien Prince aired as part of CBS’s 1983 Saturday Morning lineup. The idea was that this deposed prince was sent to earth to hide, and he and his guardian robot Zax came across Benji.

Benji, Zax, & The Alien Prince

Zax, being a robot in the ’80s, was obviously a wisecracking know-it-all.  He and Benji had a friendly antagonistic relationship, and Zax was able to decipher Benji’s short barks into the long sentences that they apparently actually were.  Convenient! Zax also provided a good prop for Benji to do his tricks against.

benji trick

 

The series was mostly about bad guys from outer space coming to capture/kill the prince, and Benji’s successful thwarting of such attempts after Zax displays an inability to do so.

The series lasted only one season; it appears that that Benji love that consumed American youth in the 1970s and 80s only goes so far. I’m still scratching my head over who thought it’d be a good idea to take the Benji franchise into this territory – it’s a pretty square peg going into a round hole. It makes for some fun point-and-laugh nostalgia, but I can’t imagine anyone pitching this with any seriousness.

Here’s an episode. Woof.

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Five Things – 05.04.15- I Got A Creepy Crawly Halloween Thing

1. Hardees Mascots – It made sense that Hardees would want to get into some cartoon mascots to dial up their kids’ business; after all, McDonalds was practically printing money with their Mcdonaldland characters and their Happy Meals.  These characters came out in the early 1970s, and it feels like they maybe could have spent a little more time in the kitchen before they did.  Get it? Kitchen.  It’s a restaurant.  Forget it.

Speedy McGreedy

Speedy McGreedy was the bad guy of the bunch, dressed in nefarious purple.  His schemes were usually thwarted by Gilbert Giddyup, an old-timey sheriff, and the thwarting usually involved a hamburger.

Gilbert and Speedy

Neither character is particularly iconic, definitely nothing approaching the Ronald McDoald level.  There were several other characters, most of whom were variations on the idea of a large grotesque walking mouth.

Super Mouth

Mouthketeers

Motorcycle Mouth Frankenstein Mouth

My first thought was that the Mouths were like the Gremlins in Gremlins 2, but really they’re more like the Whammys from Press Your Luck – they don’t, as a species, gravitate toward good or bad; there are good ones and bad ones.

Then there’s the Fun Machine.  This thing is the real deal.

Fun Machine

The Fun Machine actually existed in Hardees lobbies.  When you got a burger and fries you received a token for one prize out of the Fun Machine.  This thing looks amazing:

Fun Machine

So maybe the characters aren’t icons and maybe some of them are a little bit creepy and maybe  (Fun Machine excluded) the whole thing is a little half baked all around. It’s still fun.  They’re not around anymore, and that’s a little sad.  The Fun Machine isn’t either, and that just stinks.

Here’s some of the commercials featuring the ‘gang’.

I wonder who shot Gilbert in his hat?

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Five Things – 04.27.15 – Computers Are Not Especially Good At Acting Like Real Creatures

1.  Children of the Dog Star – Tommyknockers for kids? Sign me up.

Children of the Dog Star

OK, not really Tommyknockers, but darn close.  Children of the Dog Star was a 1984 children’s series set in New Zealand, about a group of kids who discover a bunch of alien relics.

RelicAcross the first few episodes they uncover more relics and figure out how to assemble them. Conveniently, a brass weathervane at Gretchen’s uncle’s farm turns out to be the catalyst for the machine, and they activate an old probe that is linked to Sirius, the Dog Star.

Activation

The probe turns out to be a teaching probe named Kolob, sent ages ago to teach science to humans. It also knows the kids’ names by scanning them. It then seems to go haywire and ‘pauses’ the entire town so that nobody but the three kids can move.

Names

The kids are somehow able to establish a communication link with the aliens who sent Kolob in the first place, and are chastised for having re-assembled Kolob.  There’s a nice moment of First Contact, and then both species team up to destroy Kolob and hide the weathervane to prevent any future assembly.

Aliens

Contact

If we’re being honest, this probably could have been a three episode series.  It holds up a lot better than a lot of stuff from the ’80s, though. The alien design is pretty inspired and you can tell they were really trying to do as much with the effects as they could on their budget.

Here’s the first episode.  That intro!

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