Sunday, July 28, 2019

80s Sci Fi Cult Classics

Most people are aware of the big hits of any given era of film. But much like the contrast between big hit songs on a given album, versus the "deep cuts", the remaining tracks that did not become radio hits, there are far more films that come and go in a given year, let alone a given decade, that sadly for often a combination of reasons (not all said reasons being sensible or fair) do not become big hit films. Some of these do, however, find life later on, and a fanbase, as they eventually come to be appreciated and even loved. These kinds of films are often referred to as "Cult Classics", as to their fans they attain a manner of "Cult" status.

 I wrote an article last year, describing in detail why I feel that one could make a VERY strong argument in favor of the notion that the 1980s were, overall, the single most prolific and successful decade for modern movies. Many other decades produced tons of incredible, even classic films, including the following 1990s. But "pound for pound", the 80s produced more great films, including major hits, in just about any genre you could mention, than any other decade. And along with that, the 80s also produced more than its fair share of "Cult Classics".

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ET.jpg
One of the greatest films ever made.

One of the most popular and prolific genres of the 1980s, was far and away science fiction. You had Star Wars, Star Trek, Back to the Future, Short Circuit, arguably Ghostbusters, and many more. Not the least of which, of course, was Steven Spielberg's masterpiece, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, which is the first movie I ever saw in theater as a small child.

Those are the movies most people know. Those are the big hits and the ones that made the big bucks, the movies that many consider "defined the decade". Which is a very fair assessment. But there are also the films that are lesser known, that didn't get the big success, yet in many ways are no less classic, and embody their era just as much. It is some of these movies, these "Cult Classics", that we are going to take a look at today.

This movie was my childhood.

Film: The Last Starfighter
Year: 1984
Director: Nick Castle

The Last Starfighter is one of the signature movies from my childhood, meaning that I grew up seeing it on TV, and later recorded on VHS. It appealed to me on many levels, from being a Star Wars esque "space opera" of sorts, to having a lot of quirky, comedic elements. But most importantly, to a kid who gradually fell in love with video games throughout the 1980s, it was a game about a kid who played a video game, and wound up being a real-life hero who saves the galaxy! I seriously doubt there were many 80s kids for whom a story like that would not hold at least SOME appeal.

This seminal 80s flick (as far as I'm concerned), was directed by Nick Castle, a cohort of John Carpenter, who in fact had been the principle actor to portray "The Shape" (Michael Myers) in the original horror hit Halloween. He would go on to have a major hit in the early 90s, with Dennis the Menace, but this was his first directorial taste of success, though it was a modest one at the time. While notable for its plot that centers around a video game, The Last Starfighter was also notable at the time for being one of the early movies, along with Disney's Tron, to make extensive use of computer graphics. In my opinion, the effects would be a lot better looking, and would have aged a lot better, if they had used traditional models effects work, ala Star Wars. But considering the time, the CGI was top quality. 

Teacher and Student.

The story centers around small-town boy, Alex Rogan (played by Lance Guest), a teenager who dreams of going to college in the city, and leaving his dusty trailer park home behind. Unfortunately for him, his girlfriend, Maggie (played by Catherine Mary Stewart), seems afraid of change, and isn't ready to leave their home and her grandmother behind. Frustrated with his boring young life, Alex's one real outlet, is the mysterious arcade game that resides at the park's shop, called "Starfighter". An incredibly (see: unrealistically) advanced game for the mid-80s, it's a first person space shooter, which Alex excels at, one night even beating the game and getting the high score.

What Alex didn't know, is that the game is actually a test, planted there by alien Centauri (played brilliantly by veteran actor Robert Preston. Finding himself approached, and essentially shanghaied, by Centauri, Alex is thrust far across the galaxy, to the headquarters of the Star League, the heroic outfit that he had played as in the arcade game! Centauri invented "Starfighter" to find new recruits for the Star League, making a tidy profit along the way, and Alex just so happens to be his newest find. The only issue is, confronted with the reality of being a REAL Starfighter, and fighting a REAL space war, he balks, and just wants to go back home.

Reach for the stars...

Centauri begrudgingly agrees to take him home, where an android "Beta" has taken his place so no one will know he's gone, but they don't realize that as soon as they left, the evil Kodan Armada launched an attack on the Star League, decimating it. And finding that one of the "Starfighters" has survived, they send an assassin agent to Earth to finish the job. As a kid, the scenes where the drooling monster Zando-Zan try to kill Alex (and his Beta), were truly frightening to me. But suficed to say, Alex realizes how much is at stake, and with his alien trainer Grig (played by Dan O'Herlihy) and one prototype Starfighter ship intact, he now resolves to train and attempt the impossible: taking on the Kodan Armada, as a lone Starfighter, just he and Grig alone. Just like in the arcade game.

It was a modest hit for its time, but as far as I'm concerned, The Last Starfighter is one of the best movies of the entire decade, and one of the best science fiction stories ever put to film.

One of the darkest moviea starring a kid, ever?

Film: Space Raiders
Year: 1983
Director: Howard R. Cohen

This movie is pure Roger Corman, in many key ways. Corman, as a director or producer, had a history of making use of the limited budgets and resources studios would throw his way. He also had a habit of making unplanned films out of extra filming time, old sets, free actors etc., from other movies he'd been working on. A fine example is this, 1983's Space Raiders. Written and directed by Howard R. Cohen, who also made the cult horror spoof Saturday the 14th, this film reused special effects and re-arranged scores from Corman's previous New World Films effort, 1980's Battle Beyond the Stars. If you've seen both movies, you can tell right away that a lot of the "space battle" and starship effects are shared between the two. Taken on that level, yes, this movie was fairly cheaply made. But that is not reason to dismiss it, however, as I'll explain.

Battle Beyond the Stars was a space-opera re-imagining of Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece Seven Samurai, which itself had been remade by Hollywood previously in the 1960 western, The Magnificent Seven. Space Raiders, on the other hand, as the title implies, is a story about a group of space pirates, who wind up accidentally taking on an unwanted child stowaway during one of their raids. Whereas Battle played it fairly straight, you could look at Raiders as something a bit more akin to a dark comedy. Though they share much of the same effects and many music cues, and are both technically "space operas", that is about where the similarities end. And for my money, while Battle is certainly a solid film, Space Raiders is a rare case where the movie made with footage from another, winds up being the better end product.

Just hangin' with the Boys.

The story centers around a group of pirates led by the Space Service colonel turned rogue, Captain C.F. "Hawk" Hawkens. His group make a raid on a storage depot, to steal a space freighter owned by a massive interstellar corporation referred to only as "The Company" (similar to 1979's Alien). When the firefight breaks out, no one notices a 10 year old boy named Peter, who had been playing in the depot, as he tries to escape danger by hiding in the very freighter the pirates are trying to steal. After the stolen freighter rendezvous with the pirate's own ship, the boy is discovered after he emerges from hiding, asking if they would please take him home.

At first, Hawk and company consider ransoming the child, as he's the son of one of The Company's corporate office types. But Hawk later has a change of heart, and promises that he will indeed make sure the kid gets back home safely. The rest of the story plays out both as a dark comedy, and progressively, more and more as a tragedy as well. While none of the crew initially seems to like the kid, and they certainly don't want him around, honoring Hawk's wishes, they go out of their way to protect him regardless, and it ultimately starts costing them their lives.

As far as I'm concerned, if you were unaware that Space Raiders reused effects and music from another movie, you really wouldn't be able to tell. And even so, it doesn't affect the film's story, which I feel is its strength. The core of the movie, is a tale of greedy, ruthless pirates, who wind up caving in to their "human side", trying to protect a child they didn't mean to kidnap. It is both a  heartwarming, as well as in the end, rather sad story. But I love this movie in spite of its warts, and I'd highly recommend it if you want a fun, relatively unknown 80s space movie.

Joe Dante's unheralded gem.

Film: Explorers
Year: 1985
Director: Joe Dante

Fresh off of his surprise 1984 mega-hit, Gremlins, Joe Dante was on top of the world. Or so one would think. Typically, in modern Hollywood, when a director has a massive hit like that, and Gremlins was more than just a hit, much like Ghostbusters it was something of a cultural phenomenon in the 80s, they are given a fair bit of leeway in their next project(s). Because as far as most money-minded Hollywood execs are concerned, if a director has a huge hit, that means they could potentially make MORE huge hits, which equals more money.

In this man's opinion, Explorers could have easily been that next smash hit, but unfortunately, even with his major Gremlins success under his belt, Paramount Pictures still rushed this film into production, and then didn't even allow Dante to completely finish it the way he wanted. Even the final editing was rushed, and then the studio didn't do enough to promote it, putting it out at the worst time, going head to head against the blockbuster Back to the Future. All of that taken into consideration, however, Explorers is still a really great film, and one of many that I somehow missed out on as a kid, but wished I had seen it, because I would have adored it.

The three young Explorers.

The film stars Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, and Jason Presson as a trio of pre-teen boys, attempting the impossible. Ben (Hawke), is the dreamer, an avid reader and watcher of anything science fiction, who daydreams of visiting the stars and having great adventures. As the story starts out, he is having a bizarre dream, centered around him flying over what looks like an enormous technological city, but what actually turns out to be a diagram for a highly advanced microchip. Upon waking, Ben tries his best to make a sketch of the diagram, and briefly wakes his friend Wolfgang (Phoenix), telling him about it. He later gives the diagram to Wolfgang, the son of scientists, who manages to make a real microchip, based on the diagram, which he connects to his father's computer. Along with their new friend, Darren (Presson), they start experimenting with their new discovery, which turns out to be a generator for a very powerful force field, which could conceivably carry them anywhere with zero gravity or inertia, even into space!

With the help of Darren, who happens to be very handy with tolls and building, they use an old abandoned Tilt-a-Whirl car, to craft their own make-shift spaceship. Running their first test drive with the force field, they fly around town, causing more commotion and havoc than they intended to, which brings unwanted government and police attention to their sleepy town, looking for UFOs. They are determined to try again, wiser for the wear, this time taking it to their ultimate destination: space. One of many "kids having crazy adventures on their own" films from the 80s, Explorers is an incredibly entertaining and heartfelt movie, serving as both a perfect slice of the 80s decade, but also as an obvious love letter by Dante himself, to classic science fiction.To me, much like Gremlins, the film has a ton of heart, and this intangible warmth and life to it that the best Joe Dante movies possess. And I would personally rank it as one of his Top 3 films, along with Gremlins and The 'Burbs.

Probably one of the most underrated films of all time.

Film: Enemy Mine
Year: 1985
Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Another movie I remember seeing as a kid. And to a child, not only did I miss out on many of the nuances of the plot, but I also found it to be rather scary, even though I liked it. Enemy Mine is a strange beast, in that it started production with a different director, Richard Loncraine, but he was removed early on, and replaced with German director Wolfgang Petersen, who was fresh off the success of the classic 80s fantasy film, The Neverending Story.

This film would go on to be a box office failure in the United States, but but not only was it one of the movies that proved that films could have a successful second life on the burgeoning home video market, it was also apparently THE first western science fiction film to be shown in Soviet Union theaters. It would up being a big hit over there, as a consequence, which in a way is ironic, considering that you could easily take the plot to be a parallel, in many ways, to the "Cold War" between the US and USSR.

From bitter enemies, to best friends?

While the special effects, sets and soundtrack are all really well done, and the acting is superb, it is the plot that makes Enemy Mine truly stand out in the slew of major sci fi films that came in the wake of Star Wars. As stated, there is a (Hot and) "Cold War" going on in the late 21st century, when humans have managed to make it out into deep space, and are colonizing other worlds. Unfortunately, another, more reptilian alien race, the Dracs, also has claim to some of those worlds, as the human "Bilateral Terran Alliance" (BTA for short) keeps pushing into their territories. And as these things tend to happen, instead of peaceful talks, war breaks out instead.

One particular BTA fighter pilot, Willis "Will" Davidge, winds up in a skirmish with some Drac ships, and crazed for vengeance after they shoot down some of his own, Will and his co-pilot Joey, chase a hit Drac ship down into the atmosphere of an unknown world. Their ship becomes damaged by the flying wreckage of the Drac ship, and both ships wind up crash landing on the surface. Joey sadly dies from injuries, and Davidge is left alone on a strange planet, with one hostile co-habitant. Finding the Drac ship remains, he learns that the Drac is still alive, and he initially tries to kill it, before later trying to steal some of its food, as he has none of his own. He gets caught, easily, and becomes the Dracs' prisoner, though they are quickly forced by a meteor shower and other circumstances brought on by this inhospitable planet, to work together for mutual survival.

Jerry and Davige's "son".

And that of course is where the story really shines. Forced to live together, alone, on this mostly barren rock, Davidge and Jeriba Shigan, who come to call each other "Da-Witch" and "Jerry" respectively, their relationship evolves over time. They go from being bitter enemies turned reluctant allies, to later coming to learn each other's language, and in Davidge's case, he even starts learning to read the Drac holy book. Jerry eventually becomes pregnant, as Dracs are asexual beings, and he eventually winds up dying in childbirth, leaving Jerry alone to raise a baby Drac, whom he names Zammis according to Jerry's wishes, all on his own.

I already feel like I gave away too much of the plot, if you've never seen it, but it really is a great, bittersweet story. The message that even bitter enemies can become friends, and that our "enemies" are not always as evil as we imagine them to be, and that there is always another way, are really heartfelt, and come across organically (not forced) in the course of the story. Plus they still ring true to this day. If you've never seen Enemy Mine, do yourself a favor and see it, as I think it's one of the most well done, and unique, sci fi films ever made.

Probably my favorite 80s sci fi film.

Film: Flight of the Navigator
Year: 1986
Director: Randal Kleiser

Outside of E.T. and Return of the Jedi, and of course The Last Starfighter, this was probably my top favorite sci fi film as a kid. And it's not hard to see why. Co-produced by Disney and Producers Sales Organization (snappy name, eh?), this is another film that is both VERY 80s, but also very unique. I don't think I've ever seen another movie or story quite like it, which to me is a good thing! It was directed by Randal Kleiser, who had previous success with Grease and The Blue Lagoon, and would go on to have future hits like White Fang and Honey I Blew Up the Kid.

The movie centers around a 12 year old boy, David Freeman, and his inexplicable disappearance, and reappearance. Traveling through the woods on a 4th of July night, in 1978, he and his dog are supposed to meet his bratty little brother, Jeff, to bring him home. Jeff jumps out from behind a tree, scaring David, and runs off, but before David can give chase, his dog runs off too, having found something. There seems to be something at the bottom of a creepy ravine, and trying to get a better look, David winds up falling in, becoming knocked out. He later wakes up, not knowing how long he's been out, and climbs back out, making his way home. But upon reaching his family's house, he finds that it is occupied instead by an elderly couple he doesn't recognize.

David and Max.

As he soon discovers from the police, it is now 1986, and he's been missing (and even believed dead), for 8 years. The police track down where his family now lives, and he is forced to come to grips with the fact that his parents are older, and his bratty little brother is now a mature 16 year old. The whole world has grown up around him, while he remains 12, and has missed out on 8 years of big changes. He agrees to be observed by NASA for what is supposed to only be 48 hours, and during their tests, they discover that for some reason, his brain waves carry unknown star charts, and various other information. He learns that they want to keep him longer, to learn more about this enigma, but just in the nick of time, he is also contacted by a telepathic voice in his head, who sends a robotic NASA courier to smuggle him to a remote hanger.

In the hanger, of course, is a strange UFO, with smooth, seamless features, that open up a door for David to enter. Inside, he meets "Max", a nickname he gives the sentient "Trimaxian Drone Ship", who it turns out, is the cause of his current predicament. As it turns out, Max had taken David as a specimen on his travels from the planet Phaelon. While studying David, they discovered that humans (allegedly) only use so much of their own brain capacity, so as an experiment, they filled his mind with information, including star charts, to see what would happen. Max brought David back home, but because of "Time Dilation", the round trip took 8 Earth years. And after dropping David back off, while looking at some flowers (yes, really), Max crashed into a power lines, and was captured by NASA.

"Max" from the outside, sleek as hell.

Because Max's memory was damaged in the crash, to be able to return his other specimens and get home, he needs the star charts that reside in David's mind. But first, they need to escape NASA together, and for that, Max needs David's help. They wind up going on wild adventures together, with much hilarity ensuing, but ultimately, David realizes that he is in the wrong time, and doesn't belong here. Plus he knows NASA will probably never leave him alone. So instead, though it is dangerous, he asks Max to take him back to 1978, when he was first picked up.

As a kid, I adored this film, and still do. It's a lot of fun, in no small part because of Paul Reubens voice acting as Max. Fresh off of his formal introduction to the world as Pee Wee Herman, in Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Reubens brings some of that same manic energy (and even a bit of the same voice), due to Max's circuits being scrambled. Young child actor Joey Cramer also does a great job as David, and has a great chemistry with Max, who keep in mind is mainly represented by a robotic eye-stalk. But it also didn't help that ship is filled with several small alien creatures, which being a "Monster Kid", appealed to me greatly.

As I've said with pretty much all of these, if you've never seen Flight of the Navigator, do yourself a favor and watch it. It's a hell of a fun ride, it's funny, and it's an entertaining sci fi story to boot.


Before I go, here are some honorable mentions for lesser known 80s sci fi flicks:

The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai
Flash Gordon
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
The Ice Pirates
Invaders From Mars (remake)
They Live

Well that's it for now, though I may return in the future to do some other 80s genre "Cult Classics". Make sure to watch these movies if you haven't, and I'll see you next time!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Classic Songs: The Unforgiven

Almost literally six years ago today, I wrote what accidentally wound up a one-off piece in my collection of article "sub-series" here on Retro Revelations. I typically write about movies, cartoons/animation, or video games the most often. Once in awhile I'll throw out a bit on comics or toys or something like that. But this time, pressed for time and wanting something I could just talk about fairly quickly, I decided to write an article about music. For the record, I had fully intended this to also be an ongoing sub-series, but for whatever reasons over these many years since, I've just never gotten back to it, till today. And ironically enough, it's largely for the same basic reason: I'm pressed for time to get a June article out, and wanted something I could write a "simpler" piece about.

The original "Classic Songs" article, was about what is basically my favorite song of all time, "Dust in the Wind" by the progressive rock band Kansas. That song is a timeless masterpiece, and in my mind one of the very best songs written, in any era, period. The song I'm here today to talk about, I would also personally include in that company, as I also feel that it is one of the best written, most emotionally powerful songs ever made. It just so happens that the band who made it, Metallica, is my favorite band of all time. But it also just so happens, that while I love and adore "Dust in the Wind", the song "The Unforgiven", for me, carries a lot more personal weight and meaning.

A band that would come to mean a whole lot to me in my teens.

For a bit of personal background, as I've mentioned in past articles, my childhood was not an easy one. In point of fact, it was fairly dark and lonely in a lot of ways. When my grandmother passed away when I was nearly 14 years old, in the fall of 1995, I felt at the time, like I was finally "free", meaning that I no longer had to live under her far too often very controlling, and sometimes downright scary proverbial thumb. I was not explicitly glad that she died, by any means. But I was glad that, in my mind, I was finally free to, within the limits of a young teen boy, live how I wanted, without having to walk on eggshells and constantly live up to the demands or expectations of someone else. In that, I was partially right. I certainly was more free from age 14 onward than I had ever been beforehand. And I never quite had to live under anyone's direct, overbearing control again. But that did not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that my teen years wound up being as fun and fancy free as I naively thought they would be at the time.

Unfortunately for yours truly, while free from my grandmother, and allowed far more autonomy and agency in my young life as a result, my teen years would bring with them brand new flavors of struggle and suffering. As a child, and especially as a pre-teen, I had to deal with abuse, and fear, and psychological warfare, and loneliness, and frustration, and anger, etc. But during those young years, most of that came from one source. As I drifted further into my teens, and more specifically once I started high school in the fall of 1996, as many teens discover, no matter how good and stable their home life may be, the world began to shift for me quite a bit. I spent most of my childhood, and even junior high school, being home-schooled. I voluntarily chose to go to public high school, because I earnestly wanted to give it a try, but also because I wanted to go to the same school as my friend Brandon. I had sugarplum visions dancing in my 14 year old mind, of us super-best-pals having a bunch of classes together, and how totally sweet that was going to be. Not only did that not happen (we had exactly zero classes together), but as I would gradually come to learn the hardest way possible, I honestly should have kept my ass back in home-school.

Such a classic, ominous album cover.

My freshman year was somewhat rough, but manageable. I was merely a somewhat "nerdy" (though I didn't really look the part) social outcast, who didn't have much in the way of in-school friends. Though I did have a couple I had made, in addition to actual friends who didn't go to my school, like Harold. But for one thing, my pal Brandon, who at the time I was very close with, had to move out of state half-way through the year, around Christmas in fact, due to his dad's work. And during the spring semester, while nothing major happened socially at school, my home life started getting worse, and I had my first real drama with a girl I liked. Sufficed to say, the pain and anger that already existed in me from my childhood and pre-teen years, those fires began getting stoked towards the end of my Freshman year of high school. If I had been smarter, I would have chosen to go back to home school after that. But instead, for no especially good reason at all, I decided to stick it out, which I would come to regret immensely.

But one positive that did stick out during that latter part of my Freshman year, was that a school friend let me borrow Metallica's self-titled album "Metallica", otherwise known by fans and music aficionados as "The Black Album" (a play on the 1968 Beatles self-titled "White Album"). I had heard Metallica before, at least their biggest hit "Enter Sandman", and likely a couple of songs from their 1996 album "Load", such as "Until It Sleeps" and "Hero of the Day", on the radio. But I had yet to get super into them, or heavy metal in general. That all rapidly changed when I started listening to "The Black Album", as it instantly became, at the time, my favorite album ever.

To be fair, it's an epic work, with so many truly great songs. But on a more personal level, I felt like in my teen years it became something of a "Bible" to me, especially at age 15/16. So many of the songs really spoke to me, and resonated with me, about my life, about my own feelings and growing darkness within. I found that the fury and anger that a lot of heavy metal music possesses, I could not only relate to, but it also served to (at least temporarily) sooth the fury and anger I felt in myself. Songs like "Sad But True", "Holier Than Thou", "Wherever I May Roam", and even the beautiful ballad "Nothing Else Matters", really affected teenage me. But no song resonated with me more, for all the right AND wrong reasons, for all the most awesome, and most sad reasons, than "The Unforgiven".

"So I Dub Thee Unforgiven"

As for the song itself, while it bears no lyrical connection, both the title and the opening (reversed) horn in the song, are from the 1960 film The Unforgiven, a western which starred Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn. The song also starts out with a haunting, melancholy acoustic riff, that does carry a bit of "western" flavor. But then just when that opening has set the mood, the chorus storms in with a heaviness that absolutely belies the anger, frustration and bitterness that the song's character feels. Lyrically, the song tells the story of an unnamed boy, who is someone constantly being manipulated and controlled and oppressed/suppressed as he grows up. A child who doesn't get to be the person he wants or do the things or live the life he wants to, as he grows into a man.

Even if you 're unfamiliar with the song, knowing what little details I've shared about my own childhood, I'd imagine you can easily see how this song "spoke" to me. In a lot of mostly sad ways, it really felt like the song was telling the story of my own life. A feeling that I'm sure many who have heard it and cherished it over the years have shared. The song's verses are fairly heavy and angry, while the chorus is an alternately light and mournful refrain. James Hetfield, the frontman/singer and main lyricist of Metallica, did this deliberately, as he wanted to make a "ballad" that was against type (many rock/metal ballads, especially Metallica's, had soft verses and a heavy chorus). And on an emotional level, it is super effective, as the shift in tones from the angry verses to the lamenting chorus, really do help tell the song's story.

The story of a man who has struggled his entire life to be who he wants to be, while outside forces constantly try to subdue him and "keep him in line". Ultimately, he grows up to become what sadly far too many children in modern society do: hollow shells of their childhood selves, bitter and burnt out from being told to "grow up" and cast aside their dreams and passions. As an old man, the song's protagonist is too tired to struggle anymore, and he quietly, pitifully gives up and dies. Certainly not happy subject matter, but it wasn't meant to be. And given the progressive nature of the song's story, going from childhood to young adulthood, to middle age and finally old age and death, it is something that people of any age can relate to and identify with, even if for sad, shitty life reasons.

From left to right: Jason Newsted, Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich, and James Hetfield.

As a complete entity, "The Unforgiven", to me, is a fairly perfect song. It "fires on all cylinders," so to speak, and it really does hit all the right notes. both literally and figuratively. It has a perfect mix of heaviness and softness. It has an emotional resonance in the smooth marriage of instrumentals and lyrics, that both feels genuine, and is so easy to resonate with. It has a very strong storytelling quality, it's a song with a definitive story to tell, not just a bunch of slapped together lyrics that happen to rhyme. That is, as an aside, something I feel James Hetfield got better and better at as he got older, was being a storyteller with his lyrics. Instrumentally speaking, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, with the prompting of producer Bob Rock, was pushed to record arguably his best solo for this song. Most of Hammett's solos, and to be perfectly fair, most of ALL rock/metal solos, are more or less just the musician showing off, shredding and noodling their way through something that more often than not, doesn't actually fit the context or story of the song much. But Kirk's solo on "The Unforgiven" is near flawless, in both its execution, but also it fully fits the story and tone of the song, and feels like it actually adds to the song, instead of just being part of it.

Metallica would actually go on to make two "sequel" songs to this. The first, coming two albums later, on 1997's "ReLoad", was "Unforgiven II". Musically it was purposefully this song's opposite, starting with a heavier intro, and then sliding into softer verses, then picking up the heaviness again for the chorus. Lyrically, it was more of a love song, speaking more about the struggles within a relationship, though ultimately being a bit more hopeful than the original song's rather dire story. It even borrowed a few similar lyrical refrains, which I felt was a nice touch. Then many years later, on 2008's "Death Magnetic", they did "Unforgiven III". This song has a similar heavy verse, softer chorus vibe to the original, but it starts out with a very nice symphonic bit, led by melancholy piano. Lyrically, "Unforgiven III" tells more of a metaphorical story, of a man "lost at sea", lost in his own life, always out searching for that elusive "gold", while ignoring the perils and details of his real life. I like both songs a lot, though I like U3 better. In fact it's my favorite song off of "Death Magnetic". But I'll always love the original the most.

Metallica live.

Ultimately, as I foreshadowed, my choice to remain in public high school for my Sophomore year, was a massive and even tragic mistake on my part. My personal home life, and strained relationship with a mother who hadn't raised me, continued to get progressively worse, especially as 1997 turned into 1998. And at school, in some kind of teenage way to reflect my shitty life, and how it made me feel inside, I started wearing mostly all black, and eventually even got a (pretty sweet) London Fog trench coat, and black boots, and started painting my nails black sometimes, etc. In other words, while I was more of a "metal kid", for whatever that's worth, I still made the social mistake of gravitating towards the resident "Goth kids" at school, who I naively thought might be "my people" and would understand me, etc. Not only did that turn out to not really be true, but looking even mildly (and trust me it was mild by comparison) "Goth", wound up earning me a completely undeserved shit-ton of harassment and straight up bullying, on what would become a near-daily basis. I found no peace at school, no peace at home, and often enough even just being out walking in public, or somewhere like downtown or the mall, I would even find myself the victim of harassment purely over my vaguely "Goth" looks. Once someone even threw a full "Big Gulp" cup from 7-11 at me while I was walking somewhere.

It was a really brutal, painful, and difficult time in my young life, being only 16 by then, and even after I made the wise decision to (finally) go back to home school for my Junior year, the rest of my teens were still no picnic. I dealt with a lot of anger and bitterness and loneliness and depression. I was often suicidal, or at least thought quite a lot about dying. And one of the only things that helped me on any meaningful level, not friends, certainly not "family", was music. And more than any other band or artist, Metallica's music helped me quite a lot. It helped me deal with all the bullshit and pain, it gave me some small kind of outlet. It helped me to get by, to survive. And perhaps no song helped me, or certainly spoke to me more, than "The Unforgiven". Not to be too much of a bummer, but I'm sorry to report that even in my now basically late 30s, the song's story still resonates with me far too much. But I am still bound and determined, as I was as a headstrong teenager, to not let the song's final verse and ending, be mine. One of these days, hopefully sooner than later (it's been too long coming), I am hopeful that my life will finally fully diverge from the song's path. But I guess until that day finally comes, as far as "songs that tell my life story", I could do a hell of a lot worse.


Whether you've heard the song before or haven't, I'll leave you with the lyrics, and a link to the song itself.

New blood joins this Earth,
And quickly he's subdued.
Through constant pained disgrace,

The young boy learns their rules.

With time the child draws in,
This whipping boy done wrong.
Deprived of all his thoughts, 

The young man struggles on and on, he's known.
A vow unto his own, that never from this day,

His will they'll take away.

They dedicate their lives,
To running all of his.
He tries to please them all,
This bitter man he is.

Throughout his life the same,
He's battled constantly.
This fight he cannot win,
A tired man they see no longer cares.
The old man then prepares,

To die regretfully.
That old man there is me.

What I've felt, what I've known,
Never shine through in what I've shown.

Never be, never see,
Won't see what might have been.

What I've felt, what I've known,
Never shine through in what I've shown.
Never free, never me,
So I dub thee Unforgiven.

You label me, so I'll label you,
And I dub thee Unforgiven.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Godzilla Chronicles: Son of Godzilla

It's time once again, for another installment of the Godzilla Chronicles! Last time around, I talked about what was very possibly the first Godzilla film I ever saw, and one of my top personal favorites: Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, also known as Ebirah, Horror of the Deep! That film was directed by one Jun Fukuda, and he would go on to direct the following installment in the series, and the subject of today's article, Son of Godzilla. He would later have a second stretch as the main Godzilla director in the 70s, for three future movies.

This mid-60s period represented a slight change in the "Godzilla Team" at Toho Studios. The creator of Godzilla and "Suitmation" in general, and Toho's top special effects man, Eiji Tsuburaya, had started his own company, Tsuburaya Productions, who made "Tokusatsu" or special effects shows for television, aimed at younger audiences. Their first creations were a trilogy of shows with the "Ultra" heading, starting with Ultra Q in 1965, and being followed by the more famous Ultraman and Ultra 7 in 1966 and 1967. The basis of these shows, was largely similar to the sci-fi and monster fare that he had worked on for Toho for years, dealing with strange occurrences and giant monster battles. Ultraman would of course go on to become a long-running franchise of its own, long after Tsuburaya's death. Meanwhile, while he still supervised the special effects for Sea Monster and Son, Tsuburaya was stepping away from being THE special effects guy at Toho, leaving it to younger men who he had trained.

Godzilla looks much more bad ass in this art than he does in the film.

For his part, frequent Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube didn't do the scores for Sea Monster or Son either. He did, however, continue working with Godzilla godfather, director Ishiro Honda, on the 1966 and '67 films War of the Gargantuas, and King Kong Escapes. Ishiro Honda himself during these years was taking a break from the series, though clearly he didn't stop making monster movies. Gargantuas was a follow-up to the bizarre but great Frankenstein Conquers the World (aka Frankenstein vs. Baragon), from 1965. And Escapes of course, saw Toho once again making use of the American King Kong license, this time in his own independent film, which itself was a loose spin-off of the Rankin-Bass produced cartoon The King Kong Show. Escapes featured on similarity with Son specifically, that I'll get into a bit later. Honda and Ifukube would both return to the series in 1968, in what at the time was somewhat intended to be the final bow for the Godzilla franchise, Destroy All Monsters.

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla share many similarities, which I doubt are fully coincidence. For one thing, they both feature smaller scale stories, which take place on islands, moving away from the more epic, world-saving nature of Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of the Astro Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero). The tone and style of the films was also distinctly different from Honda's films, having a somewhat lighter, more "fun" atmosphere to them. Part of this was due to lighter, more contemporary "60s" sounding scores, by composer Masaru Sato. It was also partly the subject matter of the stories, moving away from monsters invading Japan or alien attempts at conquest. Sea Monster was clearly inspired by James Bond in tone, dealing with a secret terrorist organization. Meanwhile, Son of Godzilla dealt with something as simple as a scientific weather experiment, which I'll elaborate on momentarily.

Derp Sr.

Derp Jr.

But first, the proverbial elephant in the room, needs to be addressed. In my opinion, Son of Godzilla features the worst Godzilla suit in original Showa series, and arguably the entire franchise, by far. Mainly on account of how absolutely silly and, to be non-Politically Correct for a moment, "half-retarded", they made poor Godzilla's face look in this. Tsuburaya Productions had co-opted the previous Godzilla suit, my personal favorite, used in Monster Zero and Sea Monster, and repurposed it as a new monster for Ultraman. And whoever designed the face of this new suit, thankfully only used for this one film, should have been slapped. Subsequently, the design, especially the face, for King Kong in his own '67 film Escapes, looked equally "Derpy", with goofy eyes and a dumb-as-fuck, snaggle-toothed mouth. Something was going on in 1967 at Toho Studios, and I'm not sure I want to know what.

The titular "Son" of Godzilla, who would later be referred to both as Minya and Minilla (depending on versions of the movies), also happens to look extraordinarily goofy, and also "half-retarded". But that is a bit more acceptable, considering he's supposed to be a "cute", goofy, clumsy child-monster, who is also the film's comedy relief. In general, in the mid-60s, Toho was moving the Godzilla series away from its scary "monster smashes everything" roots, and more towards a "monster smashes some things, but means well" tone. Godzilla was making the transition from force of nature sent to remind arrogant humans who's boss, to more of a "heroic" character who defended the Earth from threats other than mankind. But for the love of God, why did they design his face in this to look SO stupid? Mind you, I don't HATE it. But it still doesn't look good, at all. And I WOULD have told you it was possibly the worst look for Godzilla ever, that is, before 2016's "Shin Godzilla" came out. THAT thing, which I refuse to call "Godzilla", is the worst/dumbest looking thing Toho has ever created. So "Musuko-Goji"? You're off the hook, bro.

You can't make an omelet...

So back to the actual film itself. Son of Godzilla, previously stated, features a fairly small-scale plot, centering around a team of scientists who are carrying out top-secret, but hardly sinister experiments on a remote island. The island, called Solgell Island, is the chosen location of the Japanese government, to carry out weather-manipulating experiments, in the hopes of improving agriculture for a growing world population. These experiments were going alright, until the day that a stereotypically nosy ass and "do anything for a story" reporter comes to the island. If you ask me, getting that big "scoop" is certainly not worth having yourself transported all the way to some remote island, just to snoop around a team of scientists. But that reporter would learn a thing or two, as not long after his arrival, the creatures that you see pictured above, gigantic praying mantises called "Kamacuras" show up, and start wreaking havoc with the camp.

Not only that, but they also manage to unearth a giant egg (though not quite Mothra giant), which they immediately start attacking, trying to make themselves the world's largest omelet. And thus enter Godzilla, who I suppose has some kind of mystical Sixth Sense about his kid being in trouble, because he hauls ass out of nowhere, swimming to the island just in time to save the "so ugly he's cute" Baby G from certain doom. Now, Godzilla fighting giant bugs, especially ones that are significantly smaller than him, isn't exactly threatening, nor does it make for terribly long fight scenes. That is something else that Sea Monster and Son have in common, aside from tone and taking place on islands: the fact that Godzilla faces, shall we say, a lesser caliber of opponent. But at least with Sea Monster, the titular creature, Ebirah the giant lobster is huge, about as big as the Big G himself, and in those fights, Ebirah arguably had the advantage of being a natural sea creature. Seeing Godzilla trash big mantises with little trouble is funny, but also sad. But as the audience will soon learn, this film isn't really about Godzilla and him fighting things.

Teaching the boy how to breath thermonuclear radiation.

A dad's work is never really done.

The actual meat and potatoes, so to speak, of Son of Godzilla, as I myself would learn when first watching it as a teenage rental, is all in the title of the film. It's centered around the alleged "son" of Godzilla, and the relationship between him and pops. Godzilla, at least at first, is full of what is generally referred to as "tough love", and even smacks the kid around a little, trying to teach him the hard way how to be a proper rompin', stompin', rampaging giant monster. The little guy has trouble from the outset, living up to Big G's legend. For one thing, he can't breath radioactive flaming breath worth a single shit, instead puffing out embarrassing "smoke rings". It turns out that little Minilla can't roar worth a damn as well, instead emitting what can best be described as goofy ass "donkey noises". He also, all in all, just isn't that tough, as it turns out even infant Godzillas are kinda weak. Godzilla eventually manages to get the kid, who also doesn't like fighting, to pops' dismay, to confront the bully mantises that were gonna fry him for dinner, and he does manage to turn the tables on them. With some help from dad, of course.

One thing of note to mention, is the very nature of Minilla himself. Where did he come from? Is he truly a baby Godzilla? Is he actually related to Godzilla, much less his actual son? None of this is ever really addressed, here or elsewhere. But it is generally accepted by most fans that yes, Baby G is in fact Big G's kid. Which of course lends itself to more questions, such as where is Mama G then? One possible answer I came up with for this, years ago, is the idea that most of these super-gigantic monsters, are so big and so terrible, that perhaps they simply don't reproduce much. And I thought, what if many of them, even Godzilla, similar to Mothra, are technically "Asexual" in the sense that they simple lay an egg when it's time, by themselves. In that way, Godzilla "gives birth" to the next Godzilla, eventually. An extention of this private theory of mine, led to the idea that the Godzilla we see in the rest of the Showa films, past the first where the original Godzilla dies, must be the "Son" of that Godzilla. And thus maybe Minilla is the "Son" of THAT Godzilla. Which led to the more disconnected private fancy, that maybe the Godzilla featured in the Hesei era films, is actually Minilla grown up (with a radically different disposition no less). And thus maybe "Godzilla Jr." that shows up in the Hesei series, grows up to be the Godzilla featured in the totally-disconnected 2000s "Millennium" movies.  The idea doesn't quite work, of course, but it's still a neat idea.

Cue hawt island jungle girl.

Much like Sea Monster, Son also features a cute but tough island girl, though this time around the "island girl" is actually a Japanese girl named Saeko, whose scientist father had died on Solgell Island years before the research team showed up. At first hiding from the team, and nosy reporter Goro, she eventually reveals herself to them after trying to steal their clothes, and later still, she helps them by letting them stay in her cave after Godzilla careless steps all over their camp. Ultimately, she even winds up saving their lives, as the entire science team conveniently falls victim to a tropical illness, one which she knows the cure for. Unfortunately for everyone involved, even the Godzillas, in procuring said cure, she and Goro also accidentally wake up the island's true secret terror.

Spiders are scary, even to giant monsters!

While the Kamacuras are certainly a minor threat, at least to Godzilla Jr., they are not the true villain of the movie. As it turns out in the final act, the TRUE threat of Solgell Island, is ginormous, scary ass spider called Kumonga. It seems ol' Kumi had been sleeping, hidden under dirt and rock, for who knows how long. When the human kids woke his ass up, he was both grumpy, and hungry, so he wanted some human snacks. The girl, Saeko, who had formed a bond with Little G, feeding him fruit and such, managed to call to him when they were in trouble, and so he and his dad came stomping in. It was then that Kumonga realized he had a much bigger dinner available, and went to work.

Unlike the mantises, a giant spider actually proved to be a problem for Godzilla. It spews webbing, very similar to larva Mothra's cocoon silk, which has the same basic effect on Godzilla (and son). Being very stick, it somewhat immobilizes him, giving Kumonga the advantage. But of course, SPOILERS, in the end, with a bit of his son's help no less, the Big G manages to trash the spider, and all is well. Or is it?

Baby it's cold outside.

Major SPOILERS here, but in the end, the science team's experiments are too much of a success, creating an extreme winter on the island, which the team themselves must escape from. As for Godzilla and Son, they just kinda huddle up, and prepare to go into hibernation, I guess, turning into a lovely winter yard ornament. If I had been able to see this movie as a kid, this ending would have been, to me, extremely sad, and would have left me unsatisfied with the movie as a whole. Because as a kid, I took everything in movies at face value. Hell, 9 year old me took a film like Plan 9 From Outer Space dead serious.

Speaking of which, as I mentioned earlier in the article,  I didn't get to see this movie until my teens. I'm pretty sure that it was one of a handful of Showa Era G-films that didn't play on TNT's MonsterVision, or wasn't available on VHS at the local Wal-Mart, that I later rented in my teens. Others of this nature would include Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster. As for Son of Godzilla, I'm sure when I first saw it, given my disposition in my teens especially, while I didn't HATE it, I probably wasn't terribly impressed. To be honest, this is one of the weaker Showa films. Godzilla's look is uncharacteristically goofball, the plot is arguably thin (by kaiju film standards), and the enemy monsters, while cool looking, aren't very threatening.This is a movie, while I wouldn't have loved the ending, that I wish I had seen as a kid instead.

In fact I wish I had been able to see ALL of the Showa Era Toho monster movies as a kid (probably not Matango), because not only was that 9-13 year old era my most fanatical when it came to Godzilla. But in general, kids are just more open and experience everything fuller, bigger, more raw if you will. I know that was certainly the case for me. There are a shit-ton of older movies, even 80s and early 90s movies I missed out on as a kid, that I wish I had been able to see when I was more innocent, less beaten by the world and jaded, etc. Son of Godzilla is one of those, because I know I would have overall gotten more out of it, and enjoyed it more as a child. As it is, as an adult, I have come to have a greater appreciation for the film, and do enjoy it now, for what it is.

While it's hardly my favorite classic Godzilla movie, and it wouldn't be on my Top 5, or perhaps even Top 10 recommendations of Showa Kaiju films to watch, I'd still recommend it. It's easily one of the "cheesiest" of the bunch, a term I don't really like to use when referring to old movies with older special effects (and typically low budgets). But it's a fun, oddly heartwarming movie in it's own weird way. So if you're ever in the mood for some "corny" fun one evening, give it a spin!


Seeing how this is now the ninth entry in my Godzilla Chronicles sub-series, and seeing as how the new American production "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" just released in theaters, I thought I'd take the time to lay out the previous articles in chronological order thus far, for your reading enjoyment:

1. The Beginning

2. Gojira (aka Godzilla: King of the Monsters)

3. Godzilla Raids Again

4. King Kong vs. Godzilla

5. Mothra vs. Godzilla

6. Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster

7. Invasion of the Astro Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero)

8. Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Forgotten Gems: Flying Warriors

As a poor kid in the early 90s, having not even gotten my NES until fall 1990, while I did get games from time to time from somewhere like, say, Walmart (for example the incredible Monster in My Pocket game), a lot of games I managed to get, I got because of major sales. Specifically, and sadly, "Going Out of Business" type sales. In the town I lived in, there was an old Woolworth's store, which was one of the older department store chains in the US. At some point in the early 90s, after I had gotten my NES, the one in our town finally went out of business, and thanks to their own "Going Out of Business" sale, I was able to get several NES games that I otherwise likely wouldn't have gotten. Later on, I'm going to say a year or two later, the local K-Mart store also went out of business, and again I was able to get several games (and from that sale also a pile of old Nintendo Power magazines).

One of my sales "gems".

Among the games gleaned from these two sales, at least so far as I can remember, I was able to pick up such NES gems (and not so gems) as: Tiny Toon Adventures, Final Fantasy, Wall Street Kid, Solar Jetman, Orb 3D, Flying Dragon and Flying Warriors. As I recall, I do believe I got Flying Warriors, which actually was a later follow-up, first, from the Woolworth's sale. Then later, I got its spiritual predecessor, Flying Dragon, from the K-Mart sale. Seen above is the US box art for this game (though I've seen alternate art), the cover I got as a kid.

Now, it needs to be said, that at this early 90s time, I was directly in the throes of my obsession with the then new (released in 1991) arcade mega-hit, which basically gave birth to the modern one-on-one fighting game genre (it certainly refined it), Street Fighter II. SFII was essentially my introduction into martial arts stuff, for the most part, as I had not been really allowed to watch things like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And it was specifically because of SFII, that I became not only obsessed with that game itself (though I rarely ever got to play it, which only fueled my obsession, making it like my Holy Grail), but with fighting games and the idea of martial arts in general. So when I was able to get games for my little NES that actually featured martial arts and tournament type fighting (a miracle in itself that my grandmother actually bought me these games in the first place), regardless of quality, I was enthralled!

What you see is what I got.

So, if my memory is correct, it is fairly easy to see how I could have been more than a bit disappointed when I got Flying Dragon from K-Mart, after having already owned and played the vastly superior "sequel" Flying Warriors. Released in the US in 1989, Flying Dragon was technically the second in the Hiyru no Ken (basically "Fist of the Flying Dragon") series. The first was known as Shanghai Kid, an arcade game which originated the fighting system the later games would use, and as such an early (and clunky) example of the one-on-one fighting genre that Street Fighter would later perfect. As you can see above, compared to its 1985 arcade cousin, Flying Dragon is actually pretty ambitious, not only adapting the in-ring tournament fighter aspect of Shanghai Kid, but fleshing the experience out by adding a side-scrolling element as well.

Unfortunately, while it's not a BAD game by any means, Flying Dragon is still fairly limited, and very rough around the edges. While a neat inclusion, and certainly lengthening the playability of the game, the side scrolling stages actually consist of looping levels. Meaning that you go through an area, fighting the same enemies and mini-bosses over and over, until you get all of the items that allow you to unlock a gate, beating the stage. Once you beat one of these stages, you got to a tournament fight, and have to battle one of your opponents in the "World Tournament of Contact Sports". The character, Ryuhi, has entered this tournament to avenge his master Juan's murder by the hands of mysterious Tusk Soldiers, and to retrieve the Secret Scrolls they stole.

The Tournament fights.

Keeping with what many games did around this mid-to-late 80s era, you cannot get the true ending of the game by beating it just once. Much like Ghosts n Goblins, or my own beloved Arkista's Ring, you have to beat it multiple times. In this specific case, the first time around, you have to collect all six of the Secret Scrolls the first time through to get the ending. The SECOND time through, you have to get not only the six scrolls, but also four mystic crystal balls. And if you DON'T get all of these items on the second (harder) playthrough, you won't get to see the game's true ending. I don't mind the idea of having a second, harder game to give players more to do after they've beaten a game. Hell, Mario and Zelda did that. But I DO mind the idea of not being able to actually see a game's ending until you beat it more than once. That's really kinda bullshit.

Overall, as I said, Flying Dragon is not a BAD game. It's just primitive and unrefined. Much as I did with most games I owned or rented as a kid, I still played it a lot, and tried my best to beat it (which I do believe I eventually did). But I simply did not find the story, nor far more repetitive gameplay (and having to beat it twice didn't help), as interesting, or fun, as I did the game that I'm REALLY here to talk about...

Cue Heroic Fanfare!

Released in 1991 in the US, the game known as Flying Warriors is an interesting case. It is actually made up of two Japan-only Famicom releases, the "sequels" to Flying Dragon, Hiryu no Ken 2 and 3. Apparently the game borrows elements from both games, while adding in some content of its own, which is a fairly unusual case when it comes to game localization. For whatever reasons, the developer, Culture Brain, decided when making this game for a western audience, to transform it into more of a "Saturday Morning Super Hero" type of deal. It still retained the mystic and martial arts elements (it would be pretty hard to remove those), but instead of transforming into armored mystic warriors, the heroes in this game transform into costumed super heroes. Culture Brain even went so far as to pay for multi-page, multi-part comic book style advertisements in North America, really selling the game as a comic book type of affair. Naturally, being big-time into the X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman cartoons of the early 90s, this made the game a huge draw for me.

Pretty bad ass.

I actually remember seeing these ads in classic gaming magazines like Game Pro, and these mini-comics really were pretty awesome. As for the game itself, aesthetically, even from the moment you power up the game, you are hit with a swell of super heroic-ness. The opening title theme is, in all seriousness, a pretty great piece of music, which you can listen to here. It definitely has a John Williams Superman type of vibe, and it does a good job helping to get you in the kind of mood for at least the tone the developers were trying for.

Takes a bit of learning.

As for the tone the game actually has? Well, it likely would have taken a lot of work to truly change what the game at its core was/is all about, which is the foundation of the Hiryu no Ken series: the martial arts theme and their fighting engine. The game starts you off as Rick Stalker (SUPER American name), who is in the mountains training with Kung Fu master who raised him, Gen Lao-Tsu. In fairly short order, after a quick tutorial session and a deadly walk through the hills, you learn that more is afoot than you would first suspect. Long ago some demon dude named Demonyx, of the Dark Dimension, tried to invade and rule the Light Dimension (where we live). He was repelled by a righteous warrior of Light called the Dragonlord. and sealed away with the pieces of the Mandara Talisman. But Demonyx warned that he would return when an Evil Red Star filled the sky. And now, naturally, it's up to Rick to FIND the pieces of this Talisman, and get ready to fight that SOB, to defend the Light Dimension again!

Just your average, quiet, demon-filled jog.

As you can see above, the game is more complex, graphically and otherwise, than its predecessor. The gameplay is still divided into side-scrolling levels, full of, quite frankly, a bit too much platforming for their own good (more on that later), and the one-on-one style fights. At first, these fights are with monks, to test your skill. But eventually, much like in Flying Dragon, you set off to take part in full blown martial art tournaments.

It was no Street Fighter, but it was what I had.

Now, hearkening back to my mention of Street Fighter II, as I stated before, I didn't get to play the game in arcades much, because my grandmother thought it was a waste of money. I DID get to play arcades sometimes, but far too rarely for my taste, and SFII itself super rarely. So in that sense it really was my "Holy Grail" at the time. I studied up on it, I read everything I could about the game and strategies for playing in magazines, I watched other kids play it every chance I got, etc. I would literally sit and think about what I would do in fights if I was able to play. And of course in practice, the rare times I DID get to play the game, I usually didn't last very long, only beating maybe one or two people before losing, because I obviously didn't have much practice.

So to me, only owning an NES, I took what little I could get when it came to a SFII-like experience, even if it was actually nothing close. With Flying Warriors, I had a game centered around martial arts, that even had a separate "Tournament Mode", which focused solely on this aspect. I played that mode by itself plenty, trying my best to pretend that it actually was some epic Street Fighter style affair. But really, poor-man's fighting game aside, at that age, Flying Warriors seemed like the perfect package for me. It had fighting, it had super heroes, mysticism, cool magic powers, etc. But there WAS one major flaw that held the whole thing back from being truly great...

Not all gameplay elements are created equal.

Not all too dissimilar from the Double Dragon or even Battletoads games, Flying Warriors is a game with its core in the fighting action. So much so, that this engine still shapes the gameplay on side-scrolling stages. Even though they try to throw in what can often be a copious amount of platforming, the way the mechanics in the game work, the jumping is stiff and often not precise enough for what they want you to do. It's not AS bad as the jumping in Double Dragon, but it's still a case of a non-platforming game trying to make you do platforming. I can recall one especially frustrating part a ways into the games, as you're making your way to the first tournament, and the game wants to you jump across this huge, gaping pit, Mario style. With moving platforms, and asshole enemies flying at you, and everything. Except UNLIKE Mario, your jumping controls and physics aren't built for that kind of action. So what happens? You can very easily wind up falling down the pit, a lot. And that kind of speed-bump in an otherwise decent game, can really sour the experience.

It's Morphin' Time!

Crappy jumping aside, the rest of the game's parts work well enough. As for the story, as you can see, Rick eventually picks up some allies as his journey moves along. Rick is joined by Mary Lynn, Hayato Go, Greg Cummings, and late in the game, Jimmy Culter Jr. (don't ask me where they picked those names), and together, as you might have guessed, they form the titular Flying Warriors. As the story progresses, you learn that forces from the Dark Dimension are at work, including a group of dark warriors who are your shadowy reflection, known as the Moonlight Warriors. If this all sounds like it should have been an anime or American cartoon series, well it's because it SHOULD have.

Ultimately, after fighting the Moonlight Warriors more than once, you finally encounter the big bad himself, Demonyx, and it all comes down to a final, epic battle. Which also brings up the last gameplay style this game presents you with. For BIG boss fights, but mainly for Demonyx himself, the fighting switches to a turn-based RPG style, with command menus and everything!

You might even call it, your Final Fantasy!

In fact, throughout the game you have a sort of "RPG Lite" system going on, as you gradually gain levels, and health, and the damage you can deal out goes up, etc. You not only need to "level grind" a bit if you want to get anywhere against Demonyx, but naturally, you also need all the pieces of the Talisman so you can seal his ass back up! Now the one area where I failed a bit as a kid when playing this, is that the upon beating the game normally, you are told that to get the TRUE ending (or somesuch), you have to beat the game on hard. And even as a kid, after working to beat an ALREADY fairly difficult game, I was like "Nah I'm good". I mean, I wanted to see the full ending, but I also didn't really feel like going through all of that again, but even harder. So I have, to date, never gotten the "True Ending" myself. I know, the shame.

All in all, Flying Warriors is a unique game, and an oddball mish-mash of parts. It isn't perfect, by any means, as the frustrating platforming can attest to. But it IS still a pretty solid game, and one worth checking out. I don't have the kind of patience and dedication to beat even crappy or hard-as-nails games that I had when I was young, but I'd still like to beat this game again someday. Though probably not on hard. I'm too old for that shit.