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John's Action Figure Column 7/18/96


     No, that's not a typo of TRU.  It's part of this being an
intro.  Y'see, when I was a lad, I can remember being ushered off
to bed in a hurried fashion while my parents rushed back to the
just-purchased (think late Pleistocene Era) color television so
that they could watch that season's new hit show, something
called "Laugh-In."  I wasn't really sure what this show was
about, except that I could always hear a panoply of giggles and
guffaws from the other end of the house as I was vainly trying to
fall asleep.  Well, it sure beat the usual strained whispers and
violent rages.
     Every morning-after-Laugh-In, at breakfast, my dad would
make the same comment:  "If you sneeze, you miss all the jokes." 
Sometimes he'd vary the repertoire, substituting "blink" for
sneeze, but that was the gist of it, week after week.  Well, I
wouldn't find out what Laugh-In was all about until several
months later when I got the chicken pox (and the severity of my
illness earned me the rare privilege of staying up extra-late to
watch tv with the folks), but dad's comment really stuck with me. 
Whatever this Laugh-In thing was, it must go by pretty fast.
     Which leads us to a little experiment.  Next time you're at
a decently-stocked toy store (most TRUs would do just fine), find
the area where the new Independence Day toys are set out for your
viewing and purchasing pleasure.  Plant yourself squarely before
the center of the display, and close your eyes.  Count to three,
then open them.  Stare fixedly at the toys, preferably those of
the alien creatures themselves.  Count once again to three, then
run screaming in the opposite direction, avoiding other
customers, clerks, toys and racks if possible.
     Congratulations:  you have just seen more of the ID4 aliens
than anyone who's actually seen the movie.
     Now, don't get me wrong -- and I want to make sure I'm
making myself perfectly clear.  After all, this is a *very*
popular film.  So let me be as straightforward as I can, making
my considered opinion manifestly known:  "Independence Day" is a
*terrible* film.
     Oh, there isn't even much room for argument.  The thing is
full of holes, inconsistent, overdone, cliche-ridden and
incredibly simplistic.  Puh-lease.
     However, it also gave me the most fun I'd had at a cinema in
*years*.  For all-out thrills and chills and some of the most
sumptuous special effects Follywood has to offer, ID4 won't steer
you wrong.  As one fan I know said it, "the only problem was that
my chair didn't have a control panel and joystick."  If volume
explosions make a movie work for you, then this movie should nail
Best Picture tentacles-down.

     How-ever...if you waited on line to buy your tickets
thinking about aliens, then waited on another line to get in
still thinking about them, then entered the theatre expecting to
see some truly awesome extraterrestrial baddies, sigh, well, you
were doomed to disappointment.  I won't give away any plot
details, but I believe *actual* battle-clad aliens are on-screen
for all of about 1.8 seconds.  Maybe two.
     Now, I wasn't expecting "Starship Troopers," you know, two
full hours of hand-to-claw combat in outer space, but I did think
we'd get to see at least a *little* bit of the bad guys up-close-
and-impersonal.  And I thought the original "Alien" had set the
standard for hide-the-ball (or alien, as the case may be)
moviemaking where the monster is in one sense "present"
throughout the picture, but really only appears before the camera
for scant, high-speed seconds.  But in this regard "Independence
Day" makes "Alien" look like a Barbara Walters' Special focusing
exclusively on the H.R. Giger creature (and yes, she'd probably
manage to get it to cry, too -- though there'd be a marvelous
satisfaction in watching her flesh dissolve beneath the molecular
acid of its tears).
     You know, I think it's the toys' fault.  There they were,
months before the film was released, glaring malevolently out
from the racks and pegs, making what I thought was a (mostly
silent) promise of interstellar interspecies confrontation that
would rock the planet to its very foundations.

     But no.  Instead, we get two lousy seconds of the aliens'
armored glory, filmed at a pace that would make NYPD Blue look
like a slow-mo science film.  "Wham!  Bam!  Annihilate you,
ma'am."  (And don't talk to me about long looks at dead aliens; I
don't care about no steenkin' dead aliens).  Hell, from what
little I was able to see of these unearthly beasts, one of *them*
could have been "Deep Throat" in "All the President's Men."  Long
as it kept its extra hands in its trenchcoat pockets, anyway....
     Sigh.  Maybe there's just no pleasing some people -- some
people like me, that is.  But dammit, I wanted some clear, long,
moving, satisfying shots of those slimy monsters!  Hell, they
came a ba-zillion parsecs just to "make our day," and we pay them
back with obscurity.  If I hadn't seen the toys, I don't think I
would have been able to identify one of these jokers in a *line-
up*, fer chrissakes.  ("Was this the guy who flattened your City,
ma'am?"  "Well, I'm not sure, it was pretty dark, after all, and
all those space creatures look alike to me....")
     I don't blame Trendmasters.  Hell, they did a terrific job
with the toys.  I guess the irony is, they did *too* good a job
with them.
     Although the more I think about it, it wouldn't have made
any difference if I _hadn't_ seen the toys before I saw the
movie.  I'd *still* have been disappointed in the individual
aliens' near-total absence from the screen.
     So Trendmasters has my forgiveness.  And even my sympathies,
set up as they were by this aliens-aren't-us film.  But
Trendmasters, if you're reading this, promise me one thing:
     No Judd Hirsch figure, please.  *That* would be just too
terrifying for humanity to survive.

     Does the user id "[email protected]" ring any bells?  Well, it
should.  For several months now, Michael Devany has been
soliciting rtm-ers for used, assembled, disassembled, painted,
unpainted, half-painted, folded, spindled, mutilated, condition-
as-you-name-it movie and science-fiction models of all types.  It
might seem like a strange series of requests (it did to me, at
first), but back in March I saw Michael's post and remembered
that deep in the recesses of my sub-basement, I had an old
Millennium Falcon which I'd assembled with a friend one fun
weekend several years ago, begun painting alone, and then
abandoned, relegating it to the untraveled darkness of the root
cellar abyss.
     Well, I figured this old thing was just gathering dust.  It
certainly seemed like I was never going to actually dredge it up
and finish painting it, and even if I did, I couldn't really
imagine displaying it anywhere in our relatively cramped
apartment.  And with our adventurous felines (one of whom seems
to labor under the delusion that he is in fact Rocky the Flying
Squirrel, leaping through the upper reaches of our apartment with
the greatest of ease without warning whenever the aberrant mood
happens to strike him) a ceiling suspension approach seemed a
very bad idea -- I had awful visions of poor Mr. B half-flayed
and hung from the ceiling with care, meowing vague epithets to
the Force and all its minions, and me actually joining him soon
after Tracey discovered his sliced-'n-diced plight upon the
hanging Falcon's wires.
     So anyway, passing this old polyethylene dream-become-solid
on to someone off-beat enough to actually *want* the darned thing
seemed like a good idea.  If I remember correctly, I arranged to
sell it for five or six dollars, though after a postage
undercalculation on my part it ended up garnering me something on
the order of two (the sucker was HUGE, if hollow, and required a
ridiculous amount of popcorn, foam, wadded paper, cardboard and
tape to keep it safe in transit).  In any event, when "EVLKIRK"
got the package, saw how much it had cost in the post, and asked
me if he could make good on my loss, I told him to forget it --
provided he came across with a little information on just why he
wanted the darned thing anyway.

     Well, Michael was more than happy to comply.  And explained
that in addition to making and reconditioning old models for
himself and for competitions (he's apparently won several on the
local level in recent years), he likes to jazz them up and use
them as props in...
     ...are you ready...
     ...I mean *really* ready...
     ...'cause here it comes... kidding, I hope you're sitting down...
     ...he uses the models as props in his Tarantula habitat. 
     Yep.  I kid you not.  We're talking GIANT SPIDERS.  Not from
Mars, granted (sorry, Ziggy), but if you've never been a hairy
leg's breadth away from a living, scurrying Tarantula, trust me 
-- it's quite an experience.  And love 'em or hate 'em (or
retreat screaming from 'em), they're awfully compelling
     And I though that about them _before_ Michael bade me
imagine not one, not two, but *three* such creatures positioned
in a large tank amidst things like a -- you know what?  I'll let
Michael describe it, just as he did to me.

     "Well I found some old Star wars toys in disrepair at a
     garage sale.  Paid a dirt cheap price, and came up with a
     recyclable section from Yoda's den.  With some airbrushing
     and some spanish moss it has added a cavernous mood to one
     section of the tank.  Then I added a Shuttlecraft from Star
     Trek (the original series).  This was a junk model, poorly
     done, which I sanded, fixed up and then purposely made to
     look damaged and crashed in another section of the cage."

     When I read this in Michael's email, my astonished "wow"
started low and built slowly, but by the time I'd milked that
single syllable for all it was worth, I'd bellowed an awe-struck
appreciation that could be heard three miles away at the nearest
TRU ("I wondered what that was," the virginia told me a few days
later).  This was one of the coolest things I'd ever heard!  I
mean, imagine it:  my little old Millennium Falcon, painted to
full glory, then weathered and even crashed a bit, so that one
day it might serve as a derelict display rack for three of the
biggest, hairiest, scariest looking arachnids Momma Nature has to
offer (and she's had *aeons* to get it right).  It sent chills
down my spine just thinking about it -- good chills, the kind you
get at your first glimpse of the Independence Day aliens.  Uh,
make that "only" glimpse.  But back to the arachnids.
     Michael's email elaborated, explaining that he usually puts
several ships in the tank with the hairy frighteners (which, by
the way, can have bodies three inches long and leg spans up to
TEN inches).  This engendered visions of the best of Ray
Harryhausen's animations dancing eight-step jigs over various
crashed spaceships in my mesmerized head.  Just too cool.
     And I thought it couldn't get better from there -- until I
read on and he explained that he was avidly seeking models of the
submarines from "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and "20,000
Leagues Under the Sea" (as well as the Proteus blood-sub from
"Fantastic Voyage"), not for the spider-habitat, but for a two-
pump aquarium!  Apparently, his snail (as well as some other
aquatic creatures) had enjoyed frolicking about with a painted
miniature lead "20,000 Leagues" Nautilus submarine, and now
Michael was trying to make watertight a Red October model!
     Yep, spiders aren't the only beneficiaries of his wonderful
madness, and the wet tank was getting a new occupant, one with
experimental stealth engines and a complement of nuclear
missiles.  (Another reason to give thanks for the fact that
snails lack fingers).  To his additional credit, Michael was
waiting until he could get confirmation from the manufacturers
that there was nothing toxic in their model paints before he
moved forward to submerged implementation.
     There's just something about the image of a bunch of
Tarantulas and gastropods crawling over and around the artfully
arranged hulks of bygone science-fiction dreams that brings a
tear to my mind's eye (and if you've never applied an hanky to
your brain, believe me, it's no mean feat).  I'm still waiting
for Michael to get some photographs of his handiwork (and
zookeeping) together, but in the interim, I thought I'd share the
information-wealth and at the same time urge anyone who might be
holding on to old models they no longer need, or want, to drop
Michael a line.  Who knows -- what's detritus to you and me could
end up as the coolest Spider den north of the Amazon.
     Talk about *action* figures....

WHAT'S OPERA, DOC?  (With apologies to Chuck Jones)
     I came across an interesting tidbit in the local paper last
week.  Apparently, the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts/Berkeley
Opera out here is presenting...DIE FLEDERMAUS!  Yes, finally, the
longhairs of the uppercrust are discovering the wonders, the
joys, the rampant absurdities of The Tick.  I'm not sure who this
Johann Strauss fella is; probably some overzealous fan (wait
until Ben Edlund's lawyers catch hold of him) and superhero
wannabe, but the point is, The Tick has hit the big time!
     Let's face it:  in this day and age, you can't get much
trendier than grand opera.  Oh, sure, there's movies, and
television, and even that bastard child the Internet, but for
real popular appeal (not to mention the big bucks), opera's the
ticket.  I'm not sure why the first Tick-based opera isn't just
called "The Tick," but I do understand that "Die Fledermaus" has
a certain distinctive ring to it.  (And no one has to convince me
that "The Sewer Urchin" was *not* the way to go, at least not
right out of the starting gate).
     Sigh.  I must admit that thus far in my life the grand
allure of opera has eluded me, but I suspect that all this is
about to change.  I mean, if "Die Fledermaus" hits (and who could
argue that it won't), I see a vast ongoing series of smash operas
based on The Tick.  "The Barber of The City!"  "Arthur and
Juliet!"  "The Ring of the Civic-Minded Five!"  This explains why
they've scaled back production on the animated cartoon -- they're
switching their energies to opera, people, opera!
     Ahhh, glorious.
     You know, I might even have to take the ol' vocal cords out
of mothballs, practice a bit, and run down there and *audition*. 
It could be a whole new career for me!
     "Feeee-garo, Feeee-garo...Feeeegaro Feeegaro Feeegaro...."
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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