SciTechBlog
May 7, 2010

Geek Out!: I’m Luke Skywalker! (and you can be, too)

Posted: 01:15 PM ET
Larry Skywalker
Larry Skywalker

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of "The Empire Strikes Back", Lucasfilm and JibJab are offering fans a chance to really get into the movie. Really.

Users can upload a photo of themselves and place their face on Luke, Leia, Han or Lando's body and see how they would appear in the movie. The program, "Star Wars Starring You", uses the JibJab style (witty banter, jaw-dropping talking) to show the entire movie in about 2 minutes with you as one of the main characters.

The entire Star Wars mythos has been ripe for parodies, homage and fan films for years. Lucasfilm has embraced all of the fun and, in 2002, sponsored the first annual Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards to recognize those filmmakers.

Mainstream Hollywood also took their loving shots at the Star Wars with "Hardware Wars", a 1977 film that George Lucas has called his favorite parody, and "Spaceballs", a campy takeoff of the first Star Wars movie.

Animated TV shows, such as "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons", have also had their fun with Darth, Yoda and Boba Fett. Recently, a video made the rounds on the Internet showing Darth Vader trying to do recordings for a GPS device.

But it is the fans that have produced many of the quality and highly watched films. One of the more popular creations is a film called "Troops", shot in the style of the police show "Cops", with stormtroopers taking the place of police officers. Even toys get involved as LEGOS are often used to depict scenes (with humorous consequences since they are blocks) in short films.

Lucas, for his part, has encouraged his fans to produce their takes on his vision as long as it doesn't adversely impact the legacy of Star Wars. Fan web sites, such as TheForce.Net, also serve as a gathering place to show off and view fan films and parodies.

What makes the Star Wars universe so ripe for inspiration? Is it the characters? The quotes? And what are your favorite fan films? Tell us in our comments!

Meanwhile iReport and Geek Out! would like to know the story of when you first saw "The Empire Strikes Back." Tell us all about it here.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Movies


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April 23, 2010

Geek Out!: The 'Fett' is back!

Posted: 04:14 PM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

With the 30th anniversary of “The Empire Strikes Back” only weeks away [May 21, mark your calendars!] I was happy to see that “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” [on Cartoon Network, which, like CNN, is a division of TimeWarner] was about to start a three-episode season finale arc this Friday called “Death Trap.”

Why? Because one of the Star Wars universe's biggest fan favorites - Boba Fett! - will make his first appearance.

I, like many Star Wars fans, love “Empire,” and believe it's the best in the original trilogy. And, by far, my favorite character from the movie is "The Fett."

To be completely accurate, Boba Fett was first introduced to us in an animated section of the ill-fated 1978 “Star Wars Holliday Special” [You know ... the one that inspired Lucas to say he would like to "... track down every copy of that show and smash it."] .

Also, Kenner released a Boba Fett action figure before "The Empire Strikes Back" was released.

And if we want to get *really* deep into Star Wars geekdom, I'll point out that his first "public" appearance was at the San Anselmo's County Fair parade on September 24, 1978, in a parade alongside Darth Vader.

But when the largest group of us saw him first was on the bridge of the Star Destroyer being briefed by Darth Vader.

We loved him from the get-go.

He wore that cool Mandalorian armor [not that we knew what it was called when we saw the movie]. He hid what he looked like. He said only 29 words in the entire original trilogy.

His ship, Slave I, was so whacked-out looking. He was just ... cool.

It was even cooler that he was hunting down the heroes of the movie and we were never 100 percent sure of his motives. Was he just in it for the money? Or did he have another reason he wanted to get his hands on Han Solo?

For me, he was the second coolest of all the characters we meet in the Star Wars universe [I'm a Vader guy]. He is also one of the characters that we meet in the Star Wars universe that gets their back-story fully fleshed out later in the movies (Ep II, Ep III, Ep V, Ep VI), video games and comics books.

I can't think of a part of the Star Wars world that does not have at least a mention of him.

Are you a Boba Fett Fan? What went through your mind when you first saw him in the Star Wars universe? Let us know in the comments.

Also, what are your favorite “Empire Strikes Back” memories, especially if you saw the movie when it first came out? Share your story and photos on CNN iReport.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Movies • pop culture • television


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April 2, 2010

Geek Out!: Classic 'Clash of the Titans'

Posted: 09:22 AM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Yes, the new “Clash of the Titans” movie comes out this weekend, and yes, I will go see it (but not in 3-D). But as good as this film could be, it cannot and will not replace the original 1981 version as one of the “classic” movies of my younger days.

The story is an ancient tale of bravery, love, gods and monsters. Growing up, I remember watching the movies of Godzilla and Gamera and being bedazzled by the awesomeness of monsters coming to life on the screen.

I also watched King Kong, Mighty Joe Young and the Sinbad movies just for that reason. I became familiar with the name Ray Harryhausen after watching “Jason and the Argonauts” and the animations of skeletons fighting the sailors.

Even though I knew it wasn’t real, Harryhausen’s stop-motion model animation made it seem real. But it was in “Clash of the Titans” where his most memorable work was waiting for me.

The skeletons returned to harass Perseus and his men as well as giant scorpions, a winged horse, mythical creatures, and, of course, the Kraken. The legend of the Kraken portrayed them as very large octopi or squid. Harryhausen went one step better and gave the monster a head that resembled a cross between a parrot and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Even the funny and smart mechanical owl, Bubo, was made so well that I wanted to find an owl like that for myself.

It wasn’t that these creations were done so masterfully that made the movie memorable. It was that there were so many throughout the entire film. A scene with one animated creature would end and another would begin with a brand new monster. As a teen boy who was reading Tolkien (for the billionth time) and playing “Dungeons and Dragons”, these were my imaginations coming to life.

“Clash” would be Harryhausen’s last feature film to showcase his stop-action work. Computer animation was already being used and movie companies were using it more and more for their productions. While the use of computers made the creatures more life-like, they seemed to sap away my need for my imagination to make them seem real.

While I have only seen trailers for the new version, I can say I am impressed with the new Kraken. I will go see the 2010 film and probably be dutifully entertained. Will I come away with the emotional and nostalgic feelings that I get when I watch the 1981 version?

Probably not. But that doesn’t mean I won’t like it.

What was your favorite part of the 1981 “Clash of the Titans”? What made it a memorable movie for you? Let us know in the comments area below. In the meantime, here's what moviegoers told iReporter Chris Morrow about the new version at an early screening.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Movies • pop culture


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March 26, 2010

Geek Out!: An old friend (or foe) in 'How to Train Your Dragon'

Posted: 03:39 PM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

“Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup!” - slithery twist on a "Lord of the Rings" quotation

Through the years, we’ve come to know dragons as both friend and foe in literature and movies.

From Smaug, the riddle-spouting dragon who terrorized Lake Town in "The Hobbit," to Elliott, the overgrown, grinning dragon in “Pete’s Dragon" - and now Toothless, the lead dragon in "How to Train Your Dragon," the animated, 3-D movie released Friday - we love to geek out over our dragons.

We collect miniatures of them, play games with "dragon" in the name, read books about dragons and even have an entire convention with dragon in the name [Atlanta's DragonCon].

Fearsome, but often misunderstood, dragons always have played an important role in geek culture, working their way into our collective psyche. So, how do the dragons of today stack up to dragons of the past?

Let’s examine a few of the “top dragons.”

Draco in “Dragonheart” only wants to be left alone and not forced to become part of the evil boy-king’s life, literally. It turns out that the smooth-talking, last remaining dragon isn’t so bad after all.

In "Voyage of the Dawn Treader," Eustace Scrubb, a boy-turned-dragon, becomes a good guy [dragon] instead of the bully he was when he was human.

The dragons in the Harry Potter series are probably the fiercest of the modern dragons - the Chinese Firebolt, the Hungarian Horntail and the Norwegian Ridgeback. They are bred for fighting with very few redeeming qualities. [The obvious exception, of course, being Norbert, the dragon that Hagrid hatched from an egg.]

There is Saphira, the main dragon in the Inheritance cycle ["Eragon," "Eldest" and "Brisingr"] a kindly, loyal dragon that will fight to the death to keep her rider safe.

The newest dragon on the scene is Toothless from “How To Train Your Dragon”.

He’s feared by the Vikings until a young boy manages to show them that not only is Toothless a good dragon, but that all the others are as well.

The nice thing about seeing a movie on opening day, early in the morning, is that you get the theater all to yourself. In this case that was a good thing, since I found myself gasping and laughing out loud at the antics of the dragons in “How To Train Your Dragon”. Toothless has definitely become a top dragon on my list.

The dragons of today may be getting slightly cute and cuddly. But I’m still hiding all the bottles of ketchup just to be safe.

What do you think? Who are your favorite dragons of the past and today?

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Movies • pop culture


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March 23, 2010

Geek Out!: 'Human Torch' to play Captain America

Posted: 01:44 PM ET
Captain America?
Captain America?

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

"Fantastic Four" star Chris Evans will play Captain America in not just one, but multiple movies, according toThe Hollywood Reporter. Evans played the Human Torch in the two recent "Four" movies.

As my fellow comic book geeks will know, Cap and Human Torch are two very different characters. Of all of the things wrong with the "Fantastic Four" movies (and oh, there were many), Evans' portrayal of Johnny Storm was aggressively annoying. On the other hand, the Torch is quite literally a self-involved "hot head," so I'm not sure if that performance was necessarily so far off the mark.

Captain America, on the other hand, is the very model of a stoic, noble super-soldier. Supporters of Evans taking the role point to his good work in other films and Cap doesn't appear to be a major acting challenge, per se. Of course, the script will likely be more of a determining factor in whether the movie is any good or not.

Something I would more take issue with is that Evans and some of the others who were rumored to be considered for the role -  like Mike Vogel, John Krasinski, and Channing Tatum (who was all wrong for "G.I. Joe's" Duke, but that's another story) - seem to lack the gravitas needed.

Captain America will next appear in "The Avengers" movie(s) and should be a leader/elder statesman (I mean, he did fight in World War II, frozen in ice or not). The folks behind this online movement to cast Jon Hamm seemed to have the right idea, but it appears that he was never given serious consideration.

What do you think of the decision to cast Evans? Do you think he can do Captain America justice? Share your reaction on video, or in the comments below.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Movies • pop culture


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Geek Out!: Trailer for Weird Al 'biopic' up on Funny or Die

Posted: 11:59 AM ET
 
 
Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.
 
Remember when "Weird Al" Yankovic hooked up with Madonna?

Or the booze-fueled meltdown that nearly ended his career?

Yeah ... neither do we. But that didn't keep all of those titillating moments out of a movie trailer for "Weird:  The Al Yankovic Story."

The spoof video was posted early Tuesday on the comedy site Funny or Die.

Watch the video.

"Finally, my life story is being made into a major motion picture!" Yankovic wrote early Tuesday morning on his Twitter feed - @alyankovic.

The trailer spans Yankovic's fictional life, from being busted as a child for hiding copies of "Accordion Player" magazine under his mattress to the drunken tirade aimed at his bandmates - a staple of any rock star's life story.

"Nobody wants to hear a parody song, when they can hear the real thing for the same price," Yankovic says, playing a smarmy record-company executive.

"Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul plays Al himself in a star-studded cast that includes Academy Award winner Mary Steenburgen, Olivia Wilde and comedian Patton Oswalt as Dr. Demento, the host of the syndicated novelty-song show on which Weird Al got his start.

Founded by actor Will Ferrell and others, Funny or Die has emerged as a platform for famous actors to cut loose - filming one-off projects they probably couldn't get approved anywhere else.

Sadly, there are no plans for an actual movie on the life of the man who brought us classics like "Eat It," "Dare to Be Stupid" and "White & Nerdy."

But if he can spoof the songs of famous pop stars, why not follow them into the biopic world too?

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Internet • Movies • Music • online video • pop culture


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February 22, 2010

Is this AAAS, or Comic-Con?

Posted: 02:11 PM ET

Actor-turned-White House staffer Kalpen Modi, better known by his former name, Kal Penn, spoke two years ago at the San Diego Convention Center during Comic-Con 2008, promoting the "Harold and Kumar" sequel. This past weekend, he appeared in the very same convention center in a suit and tie, reading a statement from the White House.

Since I was in San Diego last year for Comic-Con, attending the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the very same venue this weekend was a little jarring. Instead of thousands of geeks clad in elaborate costumes to celebrate characters from comic books, movies, and TV shows, I was surrounded this time by thousands of scientists. Instead of networks and studios promoting their movies and shows, researchers were here explaining their work.

Seeing Kumar– I mean, Modi, in action as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement drove home the point that this was not a costume party anymore. Director Ron Howard also spoke at AAAS, further blurring the line between science and celebrity.

But Modi wasn't the only crossover between Comic-Con and AAAS. James Kakalios, technical consultant on "Watchmen" and a physicist at the University of Minnesota, delivered a version of the very same speech he gave about the science of comic-book heroes at Comic-Con 2008. And I acquired a lot of brochures at AAAS just like I did at Comic-Con, and even came away with some fun, geeky swag (a magnetic button that flashes brightly colored lights in honor of the 50th anniversary of the laser).

Of course, AAAS does not dominate the convention center like Comic-Con did; there are other events going on in various halls of the complex, including a home improvement and landscape show. The huge registration hall for Comic-Con was eerily empty this weekend. AAAS is believed to draw about 6,000 attendees; Comic-Con 2010 is slated for 126,000 people. It's like comparing a small town to the entire city of Hartford, Connecticut.

I would assume that at Comic-Con 2008 Kal Penn was surrounded by giddy fans who waited in line for hours to see him. On Friday, a much more subdued audience listened to him talk about partnerships between science and the arts.

That meant I had comparatively little competition in approaching Modi afterwards and asking the question we all want to know: Does he have any plans for going back into acting?

"Perhaps at some point," he told me, and then explained that many people have come from the private sector to the current administration. "I would hope to continue to serve for the next few years, and you know, after that, I'm not sure. I don’t have any, sort of, set plans after that."

And since this was not Comic-Con, I professionally waited until he walked away to blush, smile, and sigh like a giddy fan.

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Filed under: Movies • science


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January 13, 2010

Nintendo joins the movie-streaming party

Posted: 06:50 PM ET
Nintendo Wii
Nintendo Wii

The Nintendo Wii becomes the latest gaming console to begin streaming films from Netflix.

Nintendo announced Wednesday that starting this spring, users will be able to stream movies from Netflix and watch them on their Wii. To start, Wii owners will need an instant-streaming disc for their console, which can be reserved now at www.netflix.com/wii. The disc and the service are offered at no additional cost to Netflix subscribers.

Nintendo joins Sony and Microsoft in offering the service for their gaming consoles. Netflix said it has 11.1 million U.S. subscribers and is looking for more ways to let its customers watch movies and TV shows.

Cammie Dunaway, Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Nintendo, said the partnership is a natural because of how Wii owners use their consoles.

“Eighty-six percent of the Wiis are in the living room,” Dunaway said. “The Wii is the only console where friends and family gather to play games and have fun.”

Dunaway said Nintendo sold more than 3 million Wiis in December and have over 26 million registered users. She said a significant number of Wii users were also Netflix subscribers, but didn’t want to say specifically how many.

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Filed under: Movies • Nintendo


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October 28, 2009

Netflix movies come to your PlayStation

Posted: 11:46 AM ET

Netflix and the PlayStation 3 gaming console have joined forces to allow movies and TV episodes from Netflix to be streamed free of charge through Sony’s entertainment system.

While Netflix movies can also be streamed through the Xbox 360, it requires a gold account with Microsoft at a cost of $49.99 per year. This new deal with the PS3 requires no additional charges and is available to all PS3 users.

“Our goal is to rapidly expand the devices that stream to our members,” Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings said. Netflix claims it has 11.1 million U.S. subscribers.

Sony says it has sold close to 9 million units of the PS3 system in the United States. A free Blu-ray disc from Netflix is required to download and watch the movies and is expected to be available next month.

“The PlayStation 3 system has always been about more than just gaming,” said Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America. “Whether you want to watch content on Blu-ray disc and DVD, download it from the PlayStation Network’s video delivery service, or stream videos instantly from Netflix, the PS3 system is the only solution that offers it all.”

Last week, a Microsoft spokesperson said the company has no plans to introduce a Blu-ray drive for the Xbox 360.

- Larry Frum

Filed under: Movies • video games


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September 9, 2009

Pirated copy of District 9 posted online

Posted: 12:41 PM ET

A DVD-quality copy of the sci-fi blockbuster "District 9" was posted to file-trading networks over Labor Day weekend. According to TorrentFreak.com, the movie was downloaded over one million times within the first 24 hours.

Downloads of "District 9" are likely to exceed the leaked workprint of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," which News Corp. President and COO Peter Chernin claimed in May had been downloaded over 4 million times.

Most movies are available on the Internet within a few days of their release, but the quality of these early leaks is typically poor and all but the most prolific pirates avoid them.

The "District 9" release is described as an R5 copy, or a retail DVD sold in Region 5 - Eastern Europe, India, Africa, North Korea and Mongolia. Studios release R5 DVDs early and without any special features or image processing in an effort to compete with bootlegs in areas where piracy is prevalent. The R5 copies are not meant for sale in any other region but that doesn't stop them from being distributed on the Internet.

The popularity of "District 9" among an admittedly geeky online subculture and a high-quality early release have attracted millions of downloaders. Executives at Sony Pictures, which is distributing the film, are probably cringing at these numbers, but any effect on box-office sales has not yet been reported.

Don't shed too many tears for Sony Pictures, though. The film, which reportedly cost less than $30 million to make, has already earned over $100 million at North American theaters.

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • Movies • piracy


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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