Friday, September 16, 2011

Tim Burton’s Nightmare: The Starlog Project, Starlog #197, December 1993

According to Wikipedia, director Tim Burton’s mother ran a “cat-themed gift shop.” We can all resist the temptation to declare that the feline connection explains Burton’s weirdness; for that matter, I write many of these Starlog Project reports with my cat Charlie camped out next to my computer. So you will have to look elsewhere to explain Burton’s unique style and outlook.

And whether you like his work or not, I think it is difficult to argue that he didn't make a number of standout films in his career, starting with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, his breakout Beetlejuice, his Batman reboot, and many others. When one heard that Burton was preparing another film, one almost started playing guessing games: What would be the angle? What would be weird about it (I mean, it’s Batman, right? Cape, tights, crazy villains – how could you possibly do that differently than past productions? Oh...)? Again, whether or not you liked his final film, it did have his vision stamped on it, and he managed to break out of a lot of the writing and styling straightjackets of so much big-budgeted Hollywood output of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Well, he did it again with The Nightmare Before Christmas, which Starlog gives the cover feature treatment this issue. Actually, Burton created and produced this film, which was directed by Henry Selick. This stop-motion holiday film not only revived a dormant puppetry art form but twisted the usual holiday expectations around and around until you didn’t know what to expect and you just reveled in being shown something new and innovative.

Oh, and we should note that the mayor’s car in Nightmare has a cat-shaped ornament that wails when its tale is pulled. Or so says Wikipedia.

Starlog #197
92 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

This issue, Starlog announces its newest spinoff publication, the odd-duck Starlog Platinum Edition. It was a neat basic idea: Devote each entire issue to one topic; the first issue is devoted to writers, including a tales-from-the-front article by Starlog’s new assistant editor, Marc Bernadin (who would eventually become the magazine’s managing editor, and is today a comics writer). Anyway, the Platinum concept either wasn’t a success or the editors grew bored with it; after all, the first issue is devoted to writers, the second to actors, and third to “makers of science fiction,” and there aren’t that many more single-issue topics you can use when your topics are that broad. So the single-topic idea was soon dropped, and with issue #6, Starlog Platinum Edition was relaunched and renamed Starlog Science Fiction Explorer. This new incarnation was nicely done, in my opinion, with some very nice designs and interesting articles. But as editor David McDonnell wrote a decade later, Explorer was really just “more Starlog” and wasn’t different enough from its mother magazine to make it on its own. It died with issue #11.

But enough of Platinums and Explorers. What about Starlog #197?

The rundown: On the cover is Jack Skellington as the Santa who’d really frighten the kids at the mall; a different fantasy image – a painting by Michael Whelan – is featured on the contents page. In his Medialog column, David McDonnell tells us that The Invaders is returning to the TV screen with a new series, allegedly as a Fox show. Michael McAvennie’s Gamelog column reviews Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Dragon Strike, and other games. The Communications section includes Mike Fisher’s Wolf Man Creature Profile, plus some interesting letters about sex roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation. David Hutchison’s Videolog column notes the release of a bunch of additional Next Generation cassettes, plus a nonfiction turn by Patrick Stewart as narrator of The Planets. And Booklog reviews A Night in the Lonesome October, Chanur’s Legacy, Berserker Kill, Crossover, Empire Builders, Empire of the Eagle, The Sharp End, The Dream Machines, Winds of Fury, White Queen, Healer, The Hammer and the Cross, and Sam Gunn, Unlimited.

Over the years, Creature from the Black Lagoon got a lot of love from Starlog, often in the form of interviews by Tom Weaver of its stars. This issue the mag goes back to the well once again, only this time writer Pat Jankiewicz steps up and provides an interview with Harry Essex, Creature’s screenwriter. Essex also talks about some of his other projects, including It Came From Outer Space and even I Dream of Jeannie. Marc Shapiro examines a less-exhalted piece of science-fiction cinema in an interview with actor Wesley Snipes, who talkes about his role in Demolition Man. Veteran fantasy artist Michael Whelan is profiled by managing editor Maureen McTigue. And actor Robert Burke chats with Kim Howard Johnson about Burke’s role as “This Year’s RoboCop.”

Dan Yakir writes the cover story, “‘Twas the Night Before Halloween,” about the Nightmare Before Christmas. Director Henry Selick notes that “I’m personally very influenced by both Dr. Seuss and a lot of Eastern European animation. When I was a kid, I used to see the films of German animator Lotte Reininger, who actually did the world’s first animated feature, The Adventures of Prince Ahmed: It was all black cutout figures, silhouettes. This is the same kind of background Tim Burton came from.” That, and cats.

Meanwhile, Joe Nazzaro talks to actor Peter Davison about his place in Doctor Who history. Bill Warren interviews teen actor Jonathan Brandis, who probably didn’t make Wil Wheaton happy when he said, “Wesley Crusher?! Oh, no, no, no, no. I rarely ever save the seaQuest.” Of course, he later notes that “I’m a big fan of Wil Wheaton’s stuff – he’s a good actor.” Peter Bloch-Hansen chats with actor Famke Janssen about her role in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Perfect Mate.” Marc Shapiro talks to actor Bruce Campbell about his move from films to his new Fox TV series The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and notes, “I’m used to getting away with murder. It’s interesting now to be in a world where I have to abide by certain restrictions.”

The Fan Network pages include the usual SF clubs and publications directory, the convention calendar, and a gaggle of comics. Kerry O’Quinn’s From the Bridge column looks at efforts to find planets outside our solar system – something that would become much more common a decade and a half later. Pat Jankiewicz visits the set of Monolith. And editor David McDonnell uses his Liner Notes column to present one of his look-at-all-the-new-mags-we’re-selling-today previews. The amazing thing is that most of them were edited by McDonnell, who was simultaneously running Starlog, Starlog Platinum Edition/Explorer, Star Trek: The Next Generation licensed magazine, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine licensed magazine, and Comics Scene. And I’m probably leaving some off that list. It’s pretty impressive when you consider just how much of the magazine rack in the TV/movie section of the time were products of that overworked editor.
“Of course, everybody [pities the Creature.] I do many of my movies that way. In another movie I did, He Walked By Night, Dick Basehart is roaming the streets, gets stopped by a policeman, so he kills the cop. I made everybody love the cop killer by doing strange things. It was kind of a game, ‘I can make you love this man!’ ‘No, you can’t, he’s a killer!’ I made him a loner, he has an animal – a cat – and he’s stealing milk for this cat. Then, he does a surgical thing where he tries to take a bullet out of himself. He spends five minutes trying to dig out that bullet. The audience beings to feel that pain and wants him to get away!”–Harry Essex, screenwriter, interviewed by Pat Jankiewicz: “Bard of the Black Lagoon”
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