Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hobbit Your Way

Harry Potter
With part two of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy on its way into theaters next month, I got to thinking about my first exposure to J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastical world of magic and mystery via the small screen way back in 1977. The works of TV moguls Rankin and Bass had already been familiar to me as a child and each holiday season I eagerly looked forward to their stop motion and cartoon productions of Rudolph, Frosty and, you know, that one with the Heat Miser. But it was one of their animated tales, that seemed for the first time to not be based upon anything I had already heard about in story or song, that really made an impression on me. So instead of the usual stories about what might happen if Christmas never came or how elves all really wanted to be orthopedic surgeons, that particular Sunday in November of '77 I sat and watched a mezmerizing tale of wizards and halflings, dwarves and goblins and of course, dungeons and dragons (or perhaps more accurately, tunnels and trolls) and it was pure awesome. The artwork, while a bit clunky by today's standards, had a warm and funky 70s watercolor style I hadn't ever witnessed before in the works of Mr. Disney or Messieurs Hanna and Barbera. The music and sound production, too, were on the quirky side of odd and the whole thing seemed to reek of a production company being forced to work under a tighter budget than was probably required (although in actuality they spent about $3,000,000 but I'm guessing most of that went to the voice talent and licensing the story). Due at least in part to the fact that there were only three channels available on television at the time, the show became an instant hit, not only with kids but it also gained some critical acclaim when it nearly beat out Star Wars for a Hugo sci-fi/fantasy award (the fact that it lost to Lucas' highly derivative saga is ironic in too many ways to count!) So while I enjoyed Peter Jackson's adaptation of the first part of The Hobbit (Martin Freeman blows Elijah Wood out of the water, whilst Sean Astin just blows Elijah - sorry, had to go there) I think the Rankin/Bass production still holds up well, especially within the context of being a children's film, and deserves to be celebrated along with all of the various incarnations of Tolkien's tales of Middle-Earth. So if you haven't seen it before, and especially if you plan on going to see The Desolation of Smaug in December, grab your cloak and pipe and check out the video below for a look at the original 1977 Rankin/Bass production of The Hobbit. Enjoy. Sorry about the French subtitles - unless of course you only speak French, in which case Je vous en prie.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Old Robots

White, white robots, for white, white families.

One of the great promises of my generation and, in fact, of all generations since the advent of mechanical labor, was the promise of futuristic robot armies that would cater to our every desire and unleash electric death upon our enemies while we slowly turned into those people from WALL-E. And while that promise has yet to to be fulfilled, we've come a long toward that goal, although most of mankind's recent attempts at building mechanical cohorts for ourselves have been skewed towards producing Asian sex robots. Call me a xenophobe, but I like my artificial lifeforms to look, well, artificial. Let's face it, would we all have gone gaga over R2-D2 back in '77 if he'd looked like Tia Carrere? Well, maybe that's a bad example. Regardless, when I'm talking about robots I mean beep beep boop bop robots covered in knobs, buttons, lights and other little fiddly bits, you know? And the folks at agree with me. From goofy little squirts that barely function to great big articulated automatons, this site has them all. Check out the videos below for a couple of choice cuts from their collection.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

8-Bit Violin

Sounds like two 8-bit weasels having sex.

For all of you classical geeks out there, check out this working 8-bit-styled violin made by Flickr user, Ranjit. It doesn't play chip tune music or have a MIDI port, it's an honest to goodness, completely functional violin. And by completely functional I mean it technically works as it should, however the ear-piercing, mind-numbing noise it produces needs some fine tuning. Check out the video.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Tiny Games

Pew! Pew! But tiny.

Don't have the cash or space to add a full-sized arcade machine to your retro-gaming collection? Sure, we all do! These pint-sized and portable video games from BasicFun, makers of the ViewMaster and Bop-It, not only fit in your pocket, but fit your budget as well. You can pick one of these up for as low as $7.99 so they make great little stocking stuffers. Choose from Tetris, Space Invaders, Centipede or Breakout. They used to make a Frogger edition as well, but you'll have to check eBay or your local Target's bargain bin if you want that one, sorry.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Groovy Magic

It's Thursday and that means it's time for a Doug Henning video. Yes Doug Henning, the greatest Canadian magician that ever lived in the 1970s. You can forget about Criss Angel and that masked dude with all their modern "dark and brooding" Batman shit shtuff they got going on. I'm talking roller-skates, rainbows and cheesy mustaches, man. I'm talking the 70s! Dig it and be groovy!!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Video games of the late 70's: an 8-minute retro visitation

Retro-gaming pundits frequently refer to the "Great Video Game Crash of '83." But rarely do they mention the "Great Video Game Frenzy of '79" - the furious wind-up that propelled us deliriously through the heyday of '80-'83, and made the prospect of a "crash" a possibility in the first place.

In 1979, the shorthand word arcade changed its meaning from "pinball arcade" to "video arcade" as operators swapped their assortment of coin-eaters from majority pin to majority video. The affordable microprocessor began to change coin-op gaming dramatically.

Take a quick look at the field of game releases in the late 70's. As flocks of new developers and players entered the arena for a piece of the action, many uninspired copies emerged as new developers got their footing. But some innovative standouts foretold the sensation to come. Amidst the generic gunslinger games and near identical driving clones you'll see a few inspired standouts that led to the defining classics of the early 80's: Berzerk, PacMan, Galaga, etc.

While baby-boomers raised their young children, teenagers with names like Cynthia, Dennis, Debbie, and Roger went cruising and played games that looked like this.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Starcade on the Web

"And the question is "what is Pong?" Alex"
Hey, remember the 80s? No? Well let me tell you all about them. There was Reaganomics, John Hughes, a little kid trapped in a well, Def Leppard and of course, video games. Notice I didn't say internet? And that sad fact right there is what made us 80s kids get up off of our lazy butts, stand up on our own two feet with pride and conviction, and walk over to the TV to turn it on and leave it on. And what did we watch on our Zeniths and Sanyos? Shows about video games, of course! And the best video game show of all (that was tragically cut short by a dramatic drop-off in interest fueled in no small part by the Video Game Crash of 1983) was a game show called Starcade. On Starcade, contestants we're challenged with topical video game trivia questions and got to play the hottest, newest video arcade machines of the time in order to win thousands of dollars in fabulous prizes! Aside from the Price is Right and maybe Family Feud, it was the only game show I cared about. And now, you can too. So quit trying to catch up on Breaking Bad and click/tap/lick the link below to head on over to where you can feast upon over 60 classic episodes of this 80s retro sweetness!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Play Classic Nintendo Games on Your iOS Device for Free

You got an iPhone or iPad? You want to play Nintendo games on it but you don't want to jailbreak your phone to do it? Well it's easier and quicker than you might think. Pull this post up on your iThing of choice and follow these simple instructions:

1. Open SETTINGS app and go to GENERAL
2. Tap on DATE & TIME
4. Change the date to anything in 2012 (your Messages and data services will be disabled for a minute)
5. Tap HERE to go to the page to download the free GBA4IOS app
6. On the page tap the drop down and choose GBA4IOS and then tap INSTALL
7. Important: BEFORE you change back your dat & time setting, OPEN the GBA4IOS app and leave it up and running
8. Go back to SETTINGS app and toggle on SET AUTOMATICALLY to restore the date & time - your data services will be restored

That's it, the app has now been installed on your non-jailbroken device without going though the App Store! Crazy! Now, you'll need to download some game roms for your GameBoy emulator app but it's way easy too:

1. Your GBA4IOS app should still be open from before so go to it
2. Tap on the magnifying glass button at the top right of the app's screen
3. Tapping the button opens Safari and pulls up a web search with game rom sites, tap the first link
4. You'll be taken to a mobile site where you can download all the game roms you want - woo!
5. Pick a game and tap DOWNLOAD NOW which pops open a box asking you which app you want to open the download with, choose OPEN IN and then choose GBA4IOS
6. Wait a few seconds and you'll be taken back to the GBA4IOS app and your download should appear in the rom list

That's it, just tap on your rom and start playing!

I know it looks like a lot of steps, but honestly it took be about 2 minutes to complete, and it's worth it!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Whatever Happened to Mikey?

Future consumer being molded

Hey, whatever happened to that kid Mikey? You know the one from those Life cereal commercials back in the 70s? Didn't he mix Pop Rocks and Coke and then die from internal hemorrhaging? Or was it that he got drafted and sent to Vietnam where he was blown apart while loading mortars? I like to think it was the latter. Somehow imagining little Mikey out there dressed in his combat fatigues and taking on the Viet Cong in defense of freedom and democracy with single-serving boxes of Life cereal hanging from his pack makes me proud. Man does it get more American than that? I don't think so. But as for Mikey, his eventual fate was not nearly as exciting as the crazy adventures the public had dreamed up for him. Turns out he was just this guy:

A businessman
His name is John Gilchrist and after having acted in over 250 commercials over the years, and spending some time at ESPN, he now works as an advertising director for MSG networks. Yawn. He never exploded or fought in a war, but his infamous commercial ran for over 12 years, the longest for any TV commercial campaign, and thus the image of this goofy little kid with his freckles and chubby cheeks was burned into the brains Generation X'ers for life. No pun intended. Here's the original commercial:

John poses for a group of urban legend enthusiasts next to an autographed box

And just to demonstrate the lasting legacy of this 70s nugget of awesome, here's a parody of the commercial from the Jacksons 1976 variety show (nearly four years after the original first aired) starring a kid that did eat too much of something and died, although in his case it was propofol and benzodiazepine, both of which are safe to consume in tandem with soft drinks. Still too soon? Sorry.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Retro Cosplay Day

Hey everybody, can you name one thing better than than cute cosplay girls? That's right! Cute RETRO cosplay girls! Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When Pac-Man Ruled the World

There was a time long ago when video game characters didn't have much character at all. For example in 1972's Pong, your "player" was simply a vertical white line on the edge of the screen while Atari's 1979 home console RPG hit, Adventure, boasted a nameless square as its protagonist. Designers who attempted to push beyond the limits of those early 2K programs did manage to create somewhat more recognizable objects such as blocky race cars or simple aliens, but nothing you would really call a "character." Well that all changed with the release of Namco's Pac-Man in 1980. For the first time, players could identify with a personality on their video game screen, including 4 unique ghosts/monsters that each had their own agenda and personal eccentricities. People everywhere immediately embraced Pac-Man, not just for its easy-to-learn/difficult-to-master gameplay but because they were endeared by the game's cast of characters. Other game designers quickly caught onto this new cartoony angle and steered it into a trend, introducing games with higher resolution graphics and more recognizable characters such as Q*Bert, Donkey Kong and of course, our beloved little Frogger. This jump from the abstract to the well-defined is also what helped launch Pac-Man into the world of mass-merchandising. Before his introduction, few kids would have been interested in a breakfast cereal based on Breakout but slap a picture of that little yellow dude and his colorful ghosty friends on a box and watch them fly off of the shelves. Soon enough, Pac-Man merchandise was everywhere: t-shirts, pajamas, watches, board games, drinking glasses, coin banks, stickers, hit songs, multi-vitamins, scratch-and-win games, TV get the idea. The world had literally changed overnight with the advent of Pac-Man at which point video games began their slow journey toward mainstream acceptance, which would eventually lead to iconic game characters like Mario, Chun-Li and even Master Chief making their particular marks on gaming history. Still not convinced? Then check out the videos to get some idea of just how Pac-Man-crazy the world was back in the stone-age. Save me a cherry.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Doctor Whoa That's Awesome!

Timey-Wimey Stuff.
There was a time when Doctor Who was considered really, really geeky, and there was even a time when it was considered really, really retro. However with the rebirth of the series in 2005 and its subsequent re-tailoring for the mainstream market, this has all sort of been thrown out the window as Doctor Who is now, in fact, one of the hipper shows you can watch on television today. As you may or may not know, Doctor's main mode of travel throughout the series is a time-travelling British police call-box called the TARDIS, that, because of some crazy sci fi reason, is actually larger on the inside than it is on the outside. Physically impossible you say? Check out this video from super fan, Greg Kumparak, who proves that nothing, not even a good grounded sense of reality, is a match for computer magic. Ok, well not really magic but augmented reality which when I was a kid, meant you wore glasses. Dig the awesomeness of the larger-than-life, yet smaller than a bread box, TARDIS. If you want to skip the intro, jump to 1:11 of the video.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Highlander Remake on the Way

Can't possibly fail.
Yup, it's happening. With last year's stinker remake of Paul Verhoeven's classic, Total Recall, still fresh in the nostrils of indifferent scifi fans everywhere, Hollywood has decided to reach back to the 80s once more to completely and utterly destroy anything good that came out of that decade. That is to say, they're remaking the Highlander...

...I pause for a long, long sigh as a look of saddened defeat takes over my face. I'm not even going to go into all the different ways that the mere thought of a Highlander remake offends every facet of my being, so I'm going to adopt a more positive, gee-whiz attitude about it. Let's start over ok?


Hold on to your hats cats and kitties cuz the baddest-assed, sword-swingingest, head-choppingist scifi-fantasy flick of 1986 is coming back with a vengeance! It's real and it's happening! Apparently, Summit Entertainment (you've heard of them right?) has snagged director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan to helm the flick that director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) dropped out of back in 2012. And word has it that Ryan Reynolds, who never, ever sucks worse than putting a red-hot, ant-covered knitting needle into your eyeball, has been tapped for the lead. This is going to be huge! And while the classically awesome rock-band Queen probably won't be on hand to provide the soundtrack again, due to the death of singer Freddie Mercury, I'm sure the producers will find someone to take the musical helm who is WAY better and more up to the task. Probably Seether. Anyway, stay tuned for more awesome news about a movie that totally deserves to exist! Until this sure-to-be-fantastic remake is thrust upon us, take a peek at the trailer for Russell Mulcahy's original epic adventure starring Christopher Lambert: a Frenchman doing a Scottish accent. Enjoy! (but not too much, cuz the new movie's gonna be SO much better! How could it NOT be??!!)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Retro Halloween Dance Party

The candy procurement ritual is postponed in my area due to inclement weather, so I've plenty of time to jam retro.

Ministry | Everyday is Halloween

First up: Ministry - a trendy poseur band that all the kewl kids dug, singing about how they dress goth every day of the year. Whoop-dee-doo. But scary good à propos video, which seems to be repurposed footage from the Nightmare Before Xmas.

Oingo Boingo | Dead Man's Party

Classic Oingo Boingo from an era when Carrot Top sang lead.

Fun random fact: In 1985, by decree of the big 3 record labels, all snare drums in the Top 40 were replaced with this monotonous, patented, profit-maximizing snare sample. The Genero-snare 3500™ was installed in radio stations across the country, automatically replacing snares on the fly for bands who refused to comply.

Dead Kennedy's | Halloween (live)

Jello Biafra indicts conformity using Halloween—the one day of the year it's acceptable to express oneself freely without fear of ridicule.

Lyric sample:
"Remember what I did?
Remember what I was?
Back on Halloween!

But what's in between?
Where are you ideas?
You sit around and dream...
For next Halloween!

Whodini | Haunted House of Rock

The first Whodini song I ever heard, played on a mix-tape by cool older kid, Freshman James Carr. His comment: "This kicks Thriller's ass."

Do they know it's Halloween?

Not strictly retro, but this one's a clear homage to to Band Aid's 1984 "Do they know it's Christmas" - a song that urged listeners to "Thank god it's them instead of you."

Flashback Fun! Fundraising singles featuring gangs of pop superstars became a hot trend in the mid-80's. By all accounts, these projects fulfilled many needs, including alleviating trace feelings of guilt in over-privileged, excessively-rich rock stars. Count up the benefits:

  • Rock's biggest superstars get a much-needed ego boost
  • Child laborers in Angola get a care package in the middle of their 16-hour shift and
  • you get an unforgettable rock experience.

Everyone wins!

For a deeper exploration into the 1980's charity rock phenomenon, see: We are the World, Band Aid, Farm Aid, Live Aid, Sun City, and Canada's failed attempt to find native superstars, "Tears are not Enough."

For similarly-pukeworthy arrogance, see Sting's: I hope the Russians love their children too. It's gross. It really happened.

Alkaline Trio | Over at the Frankenstein Place

Because covering anything from RHPS is cool.