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“Caprica” finally takes off

In my first impressions of the two-hour pilot for “Caprica,” I wrote the following:

While I’m certainly excited about Ronald D. Moore’s next project, I can’t help but be a little leery of a prequel. “Caprica” has the same challenge that the “Star Wars” prequels had: Everyone knows how it turns out. The question is whether or not the history is compelling enough to outweigh the certainty of the story’s outcome.

Were there any “Battlestar Galactica” fans clamoring for a prequel? I’m sure there were a few, but I hadn’t even considered the prospect until I heard that “Caprica” was already in development. How interested are we in seeing how Cylons were developed?

On the whole, I enjoyed the two-hour pilot, though I didn’t find it as compelling as “BG.” And the next two episodes consisted of a lot of mourning, religion and setup — in other words, it was a little slow. It wasn’t until the most recent episode — “There Is Another Sky” — that the series really took off.

And it would seem that most viewers out there agree. The series was getting consistent scores in the 8.2-8.8 range at TV.com, but the latest episode garnered a 9.2, the highest of the series. On the whole, “Caprica” is getting an 8.7 compared to a 9.2 for “Battlestar Galactica.” Some might argue that “BG” fans are being too hard on “Caprica,” but there is also probably some element of support for the show that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Those two factors may very well offset each other.

There are spoilers ahead, so if you recently gave up on “Caprica,” you might want to track down this episode and give it a go. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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TCA Tour: Caprica

Although Syfy’s “Caprica” is a prequel to “Battlestar Galactica,” the fact that the series are separated by 58 years and an apocalypse (give or take) doesn’t mean that the two don’t share similar elements. Indeed, writer / executive producer Jane Espenson immediately offered up two words that link the shows: moral complexity.

“There’s no stark bad guys and good guys,” she explained. “This is a world that is perceived by some of its residents as sort of sliding over the edge, there’s a whole bunch of people who think they’ve got the answer, and it’s not at all clear that any of them have the answer. The guy who believes in technology thinks that’s the answer. The person who believes in religion thinks that’s the answer. And if everybody has moral shadings, we can tell very complex stories as a result.

Espenson’s fellow writer / executive producer, David Eick, clarified another similarity: the two shows take their genre very seriously. “We really do try to involve depth of character, realism, grounded-terrestrial naturalism to a science fiction world,” he said. “That sort of came from what we always admired about the greats and the classics, from Asimov to Heinlein to Philip K. Dick, this idea that science fiction was not just fun and games. We wanted to go sort of the opposite direction of George Lucas, if you will. We wanted to make it less about escapism and more about moral complexity, as Jane was saying, and great characters.”

For those who have seen the pilot to the series, which will air again tonight on SyFy, you may be wondering if its tone and content will remain consistent when the series officially kicks off next week. Apparently, so were stars Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales. According to Eick, both actors wanted some reassurance that the pilot was not going to be a one-off, with the series going in a different direction altogether.

“I think, if anything, we go towards that even more rather than shying away from it,” said Stoltz, “because that’s what interests all of us as actors: playing these ambiguous, conflicted people living not in a black-and-white world and trying to find their way in it. We wanted to be exactly like that, so we’re all striving to make it as good as possible.”

“Also,” added Morales, “the naturalism in what I see from my fellow actors and their acting, it’s very unlike anything I’ve seen on television. The atmosphere of the show as well. The planet feels like it has a presence, a consciousness, in a sense, that I think is taken from the pilot, and it moves. It’s rooted in the pilot, but I think the show will evolve from what you saw in the pilot.”

Rest assured, however, that you don’t have to have to know “Battlestar Galactica” to appreciate “Caprica.” In fact, as Eick is quick to point out, the network’s marketing strategy for the series involves a notable lack of the words “Battlestar” or “Galactica” in the title of the show. Still, it’s not as though there’s a single article that’s been written about the show that doesn’t mention the connection, so why should newbies join in the fun?

“The same reason they come to any well-marketed and, hopefully, well-executed television show,” replied Eick. “That it’s compelling in its own right, that it has ideas embedded in it and a visual style that looks inviting and exciting. On that front, I’m not terribly concerned. From the standpoint of the execution within the show once you’re in, new viewers will find that there’s virtually no tether to ‘Battlestar Galactica’ from a storytelling standpoint whatsoever. There are the occasional Easter eggs and nods and acknowledgments for the faithful to enjoy or maybe deepen some of their appreciation for it, but I think legitimately the show stands on its own. Other than the fact that, if you happen to know ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ you know that that show had its roots in some of the stories we’re telling now, there really is no relationship between the two shows whatsoever.”

“Imagine you were watching a show that you knew nothing about and they were developing sentient robots,” added Espenson. “You might very well get a glimmer that these sentient robots are going to be trouble down the road. You don’t need ‘Battlestar Galactica’ to tell you that. In a storytelling sense, (‘Caprica’) tells you that.”

“I have a lot of friends who have never seen “Battlestar Galactica,” don’t like sci-fi, and they watch it because of me,” admitted Magda Apanowicz. “But when they actually end up watching it, they love it. Like, they’re shocked, and they’re, like, ‘There’s so much that you can take away from it. There’s so many different storylines that you can relate to.’”

“We just have fun, guys,” said Morales. “We hope you do, too.”

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2009: A Year’s Worth of Interviews – The Top 100 Quotes

Some people think that the life of a work-at-home entertainment writer is one of the most lax jobs out there, since the perception is generally is that all you do is sit around and watch DVDs, occasionally venture out of the house to see movies or concerts, and then sit in front of the computer and write about them. Okay, it’s a fair cop. But when you throw interviews into the mix, there’s a bit more work involved. First, you’ve got to get the interview (they aren’t always handed to you on a silver platter), then you’ve got to do the research to make sure that you can ask some halfway knowledgeable questions, and after you conduct the interview, let’s not forget that you’ve got to transcribe it, too. In other words, yes, there really is work involved…and when I went back and discovered that I’d done well over 130 interviews during the course of 2009, I suddenly realized why I’m so tired all the time.

For your reading enjoyment, I’ve pulled together a list of 100 of my favorite quotes from the various interviews I conducted for Premium Hollywood, Bullz-Eye, Popdose, and The Virginian-Pilot this year, along with the links to the original pieces where available. As you can see, I had some extremely interesting conversations in 2009. Let us all keep our fingers crossed that I’m able to chat with just as many fascinating individuals in 2010…

1. Pamela Adlon: “In the first season (of ‘Californication’), when we had the threesome with the nipple clamps, I was, like, ‘I don’t get this, I don’t know how you’re gonna do it.’ And then, all of a sudden, there’s a crane with a camera hanging over our heads, and you’re, like, ‘Okayyyyyyy. But how are you gonna sell this? How are you gonna make it work?’ And they ended up shooting it brilliantly, cutting it together, and it just all ended up working without me having to compromise my own personal morals.”

2. Jonathan Ames: “After my first novel, my mother said to me, ‘Why don’t you make your writing more funny? You’re so funny in person.’ Because my first novel was rather dark. And I don’t know, but something about what she said was true. ‘Yes, why don’t I?’ Maybe I was afraid to be funny in the writing. But since then, seven books later, almost everything I’ve done has a comedic edge to it.”

3. Ed Asner: “I loved journalism until the day my journalism teacher, a man I revered, came by my desk and said, ‘Are you planning on going into journalism?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I wouldn’t.’ I said, ‘Well, why not?’ He said, ‘You can’t make a living.’”

4. Sean Astin: “When somebody brings up a movie (of mine) that I haven’t heard about in a long time, I feel like a 70-year-old pitcher at a bar somewhere, and somebody walks in and says, ‘Oh, my God, I was in St. Louis and I saw you. You pitched a shutout.’ It’s real. I really did do that, because someone today remembers it.”

5. Darryl Bell: “The legend of ‘Homeboys in Outer Space’ has become much more incendiary than the actual show. It’s funny how I usually challenge most people who talk about how much they disliked ‘Homeboys’ to name me five episodes. Most of them can’t, because they just bought into the ‘oh, it’s awful, just the title. Oh, it’s terrible.’ What’s interesting is that I had a great conversation with Chi McBride, who was doing ‘The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,’ which, if you want to talk about in terms of the imagery of what was wrong, that show was much more infamous than ‘Homeboys.’ Yet it’s not remembered in the same way because the title didn’t grab you in the same way. I remember Chi pulled me aside and he was, like, ‘Look, everyone who is criticizing what you’re doing would take your job from you in two seconds. All of them. So all I can tell you is that this is one blip on both of our careers, and we are moving on.’”

6. Adam Campbell: “For some reason, people always pick on the British sensibility, and we always come across as stupid, but remember: we used to run this country!”

7. Nestor Carbonell: “Let me make this perfectly clear: I do not wear make-up, and I do not wear eye-liner. This is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. I remember I was in college in Boston, I had a commercial agent, and they sent me out for some print commercial stuff. And they called me into the office and said, ‘Look, we called you in to talk to you because we just want you to know that…well, we don’t think you need to wear eyeliner.’ And I’m, like, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah, it’s okay, you don’t have to wear it for print ads.’ ‘No, I’m not wearing eyeliner!’ And I kept dabbing my eyes and saying, ‘Look! No eyeliner! I’m not wearing any!’”

8. Elaine Cassidy: “The last two days of shooting (‘Harper’s Island’) was probably the most hardcore, the coldest anyone has ever been. It was like your head was freezing, and my motivation for most scenes was, ‘The minute this scene is over, I’m heading straight over to that heater to get warm.’”

9. Chris Cornell: “I started as a drummer, so I sort of took on singing duties by default. I had sung backgrounds and some lead vocals from behind the drums in different bands that I’d been in, and I’d gotten great responses for the songs I would sing. I really started pursuing the possibility of being a lead singer based on the fact that I was working a full-time restaurant job and then playing gigs at night, hauling drums around. One day, it just dawned on me that, ‘Hey, I could be in a band and be the singer, and it would be a lot easier!’”

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TV in the 2000s: The Shows that Defined the Decade

A recent issue of Time magazine has the phrase “The Decade from Hell” emblazoned across its front cover. It’s referring to everything America has gone through in the past ten years, and it’s difficult to argue such an assertion: it’s been a shitty decade on a national level. During such times of stress, people inevitably turn to entertainment as a form of release, and although the methods in which we’ve distracted ourselves over the last ten years have unquestionably diversified, television remains the most easily accessible outlet for most Americans.

Within the format itself, the whole concept of reality TV must surely have been the biggest revolution of the decade. It’s really easy to bag on reality TV – mostly because the bulk of it is so damned unreal – but anybody who spends any time in front of the tube has surely had at least a couple of reality series they consider appointment TV. The two concepts that paved the way for everything else are undoubtedly “Survivor” and “American Idol.” The former, of course, opened the floodgates for the genre, and while it’s seen a considerable dip in the ratings department over the years, 12 million viewers isn’t a viewing figure to sneeze at. The latter, despite all the bitching and moaning and cries of “it’s not as good as it used to be” that accompany each new season, remains one of the most watched shows on the tube, likely due to the fact that it’s strictly a talent competition.

On “American Idol,” the only backstabbers are the judges, and since they aren’t part of the competition, their amusing duplicity is championed. The contestants, on the other hand, are innocents, and once the competition is underway, we’re given no peek into any possible backstage drama, which is a good thing, because by the time the audition rounds are over, we’ve had enough drama to last the whole season. Everything that comes after is all about who can best transfix us for three minutes a week via one pop ditty. It actually says something positive about the U.S. that “American Idol” remains our #1 form of reality entertainment, even if the actual reality is that the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about buying the winner’s album six months after they’re crowned.

You might think reality TV is a bunch of crap, and in most cases you’d be right, but the whole idea of it, to my mind, led to an important revolution, and that is serialized nighttime television (the classic “soap” formula notwithstanding). Reality shows taught viewers how to become invested in characters, how to be concerned for their eventual fate, and, most importantly, how to pay attention to an ongoing storyline, and the need to tune in every week. It didn’t take long for the networks to figure out that there was an audience for shows that didn’t continually hit the reset button. “24” must have been the first successful show of the decade to embrace the serial formula, and it embraced it whole hog. It required you to tune in for every episode, because each installment was another hour of a single day in the life of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. That “24” premiered less than two months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was pure happenstance. That it became enormously popular with viewers? Probably not so much. America needed some fictitious reassurance that there were folks on the job who could get shit done, and “24” filled the prescription.

Strangely, “24” didn’t open the network floodgates for more such programming right away. It took a few years, and then “Lost” made its mark. The number of “Lost” episodes I’ve seen could be counted on two hands, but that’s not because I didn’t like it, but because real life got in the way of it being appointment TV. Yet I viewed the pilot for “Lost” several months before its 2004 premiere, and when it ended I was convinced that I’d seen the second best TV pilot ever made. (“Twin Peaks” stills sits at #1.) The fact that a show as intricate as “Lost” still has a hardcore, central audience is perhaps a testament to that pilot. “24” started a new story with each new season; “Lost” required that you tune in for every episode of every season.

Another sci-fi series that did just that was “Battlestar Galactica,” a show that, due it being on a niche network (Syfy), never amassed a huge audience yet snagged boatloads of publicity and awareness nonetheless. It was no small feat to take an utterly laughable short-lived series from the late ‘70s and re-envision it for modern audiences, but Ron Moore and company did just that…and they did it far more successfully that anyone ever guessed possible. Most amazingly, the show taught us a lot about ourselves, by thoroughly defining what it means to be human, and as the damaged ‘00s dragged on, there may not have been a more important lesson to be learned.

On the same day I saw the “Lost” pilot, I saw another pilot for a completely different kind of series. While I didn’t rank it as one of the greats, there was one thing I was sure of: it would be a massive hit…and it was. “Desperate Housewives” was precisely the sort of vapid, soapy fare that had been absent for far too long on American TV. It clued into the seemingly bland suburban construct which surrounds so many Americans, via the Lynchian notion that “all is not what it seems.” Most anyone who lives a suburban life can no doubt relate to that idea, because wherever there are groups of people, there are bound to be some of them that are fucked up. “Housewives” is littered with fucked up suburbanites of all shapes, sizes and types, but they’re kooky and funny and there’s always some twinkly music playing in the background that in the end makes everything OK. It is not great television, but over the years it has, for the most part, been immensely watchable in the most disposable sort of way.

Around the same time period as “Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” made some major waves. It’s a series I have never watched and never plan to, but I’d be foolish to omit it from discussion since it brought two annoyingly obnoxious terms to the TV table: McDreamy and McSteamy. I haven’t heard either in a few years, but there was a time when they seemed to define everything that was wrong with television. I assume “Grey’s” fans have grown out of it…or maybe the show killed one of those guys off? I’ve no idea and can’t be motivated to investigate. Presently, there’s a brand new version of it going around, through cinema, via Camp Edward and Camp Nimrod. People can be so easily distracted it makes you wonder why some shows actually try harder.

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A Chat with Dean Stockwell (“Battlestar Galactica: The Plan”)

Dean Stockwell is one of those generational actors, the kind who’s known for a different project for every decade that he’s been in the business…and since he was playing against the likes of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly by the time he was ten years old, that’s a lot of projects. Maybe you know him from “The Boy with the Green Hair” or “Gentleman’s Agreement,” or perhaps from his work as Al on “Quantum Leap,” or as Ben in David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.” In short, the guy gets around. As of late, he’s been picking up raves for his portrayal of the Cavil model of Cylon in “Battlestar Galactica,” a role which he has reprised for the new film, “Battlestar Galactica: The Plan.” We chatted with him about just how evil Cavil is, of course, but we also learned about his connection to Neil Young, his longtime friendship with Dennis Hopper, and that, once upon a time, there was actually a chance that a film entitled “Werewolf of Washington” could’ve been a classic.

Join us now for…

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This Tuesday in TV-DVD – Oct. 27, 2009

You’re familiar with Jason’s “Blu Tuesday” column? Well, given how many TV-DVD sets continue to hit the market on a weekly basis, it occurred to me that it might not be such a bad idea to do a regular round-up of the highlights of what the TV geeks out there…and, obviously, I count myself among their number…can look forward to finding on store shelves on a given week. And, thus, I bring you…

This Tuesday in TV-DVD!

Yeah, I know: it’s not a great title. But at least you can’t claim there’s any false advertising.

Let’s get started, shall we?

* Battlestar Galactica: The Plan: I was able to talk with Dean Stockwell on Friday about this new flick, but at the time, I hadn’t seen it yet…and, y’know, you can’t bluff when you’re talking to Cavil, so it was a little embarrassing when I had to admit my ignorance. Fortunately for you, John Paulsen has since reviewed it for us, giving it four stars and providing this warning: “Newbies who are considering jumping into the series should not — I repeat SHOULD NOT — start with ‘The Plan,’ for three major reasons: 1) this was meant as an epilogue, not a prologue, 2) it could be extremely confusing, and 3) there are way too many secrets that would be revealed in one fell swoop. Don’t do it.” Listen to the man, I beg you.

* Monty Python: Almost the Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut: If saw my posting about my trip to NYC to attend the Python reunion on behalf of this film, then you already know I’m partial to this set. As such, you don’t really need to see my proper review of the full-length documentary on Bullz-Eye, but if it helps, I’ll just offer up the last line, in which I state, “If you’re looking for the no-holds-barred story of the group (but not their subsequent solo projects, which – aside from what they’re doing currently – are ignored), then this is definitely the place to go.” It’s also worth noting that there are a couple of other Python DVDs which have in no way coincidentally emerged this week, but while I’m sure “Monty Python: The Other British Invasion” and “The Best of Monty Python” have their merits (and, indeed, I believe the former will soon be reviewed by our own David Medsker), there’s no question that “Almost the Truth” is the absolute must-own of the bunch.

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Battlestar Galactica: The Plan

“Battlestar Galactica” is the gift that keeps on giving. First, we learned that its prequel/spinoff, “Caprica,” will debut on Syfy in 2010, and this Tuesday “Battlestar Galactica: The Plan” hits the shelves. It’s a 110-minute look at the planning, execution and aftermath of the Cylon attack on the colonies, completely from the Cylon point of view.

The film’s timeline spans from about two weeks before the attacks all the way through the initiation of the human-Cylon truce. It revolves around two copies of Number One that develop two very different perspectives. The original plan was to annihilate the human race completely, but when that plan fails, “Brother Cavil” orchestrates a Plan B as part of the fleet, interacting with and directing Leoben, Doral, Boomer, a couple of Sixes and a Four. The film re-visits a few key moments of the series, including the initial attacks, Boomer’s failed assassination attempt and subsequent murder, as well as Kara’s visit, incarceration, escape and return to Caprica.

The story jumps ahead and around, and it takes a good understanding of the “Battlestar Galactica” mythology to keep up. Newbies who are considering jumping into the series should not — I repeat SHOULD NOT — start with “The Plan,” for three major reasons: 1) this was meant as an epilogue, not a prologue, 2) it could be extremely confusing, and 3) there are way too many secrets that would be revealed in one fell swoop. Don’t do it.

Since the Number Ones really came up with the plan, Dean Stockwell sees a ton of screen time and carries it beautifully. It’s interesting to watch the embedded Cylons, sleeper agents and Final Five interact when only the embedded Cylons really know what’s going on. They try to manipulate the humans and Final Five, with varying degrees of success. The straight-to-DVD version is uncensored so there is some gratuitous nudity and a sex scene. It’s so gratuitous that it feels completely out of place.

Qualms aside, “The Plan” is a compelling look at a big part of the series run and is a must-watch for those fans who want to see some of their old friends once again.

In addition to filmmaker commentary, special features include a featurette that follows director Edward James-Olmos around for a day, a series of interviews with the actors who play the key Cylons, a behind-the-scenes look at the planning and execution of the special effects behind the Cylon attack on the colonies, and a featurette that explores some of the visual effects added during post-production of “The Plan.”

Click here to buy “Battlestar Galactica: The Plan” on DVD
Click here to buy “Battlestar Galactica: The Plan” on Blu-ray

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Hell’s Kitchen: Ramsay likes throwing the curveball

With drama flying around like crazy last night on “Hell’s Kitchen” on FOX, it would be fitting that Gordon Ramsay threw a curve at the end of the episode and eliminated someone we may not have expected.

The show began with a recap of last week when Ramsay eliminated Tek, but not before giving Amanda an earful about why she looks like she’s done. So then he pulled her aside and told her that she needs to get her head back in the game, saying “I’m counting on you.” Well, I’m not so sure any of us are counting on her to go much further, but he wouldn’t pull Amanda aside if he didn’t see something in her.

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A few things I missed

* You’ve probably heard it elsewhere by now, but Bryan Singer has been signed to do a “Battlestar Galactica” movie, though of course it’s still very preliminary. I hope it stays that way.

The show will apparently not be related to the recently wrapped, broadly acclaimed TV series, but will be a complete redo of some sort or another and original producer Glen Larson is involved.  That Universal would want to do another reboot on such a recently and brilliantly rebooted property makes absolutely no sense to me at all and shows a real failure of imagination. Moreover, if the idea is to return to something more like the original, I have only one question: Why? One of the things that makes the new series so remarkable is how worthless its original was.

A few years back, I took a fresh look at the first few episodes after dismissing it in my younger geek years and, sorry, the show was three times as bad as I remembered. It was nothing more than a listless knock-off of “Star Wars” with an addition of some surprisingly blatant rightwing agitprop and all the poor characterization and infantile plotting that made seventies television that vast wasteland that it really was back then, with a few exceptions. There is nothing to be nostalgic for here and most modern viewers only know the new show in any case. Bryan Singer’s a smart guy and I just don’t get this.

* Speaking of Singer, his sometime writing partner Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) has been signed to do the next Wolverine flick.

* In other superhero related news, we are back at the start of it all with some new litigation which returns some of the control of Superman to the estates of his creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. It may dramatically speed up, or slow down, production of upcoming Superman projects since the ruling goes into effect in 2013 and Warners might want to keep more money for itself by starting sooner rather than later. Regardless, as someone who remembers the “creators’ rights” movement in the comic book world of the late eighties and nineties, I have to think the good guys won here.

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Blu Tuesday: Battlestar Galactica, Fast & Furious and Green Lantern

After last week’s fantastic selection of Blu-ray titles, you’d think that we’d have to wait another month or two before getting anything even remotely as good, but for fans of sci-fi, you really can’t do much better than today’s offering. There are no less than six geek-worthy Blu-rays this week, as well as a few other major titles definitely worthy of a spot in your collection.

“Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series” (Universal)

Okay, so I may have never actually watched “Battlestar Galactica” (save for the pilot/miniseries), but it’s one of those shows that I’ve been meaning to check out for quite awhile. And with the release of the complete series box set, what better time than now? This is the first time the show has been available on Blu-ray, and thanks to the fact that it’s actually shot in HD (though not broadcast that way, curiously enough) old and new fans alike can finally enjoy the show as it was meant to be seen. The included extras are mostly a retread of previously released bonus material, but Blu-ray owners do get a few exclusives, like picture-in-picture video and a pop-up encyclopedia. The series is housed in a sweet metallic cube that expands to reveal all four seasons and includes your very own frakkin’ toaster figurine. Even if you’re not a fan of the series, that’s pretty hard to resist.

“Fast & Furious” (Universal)

I don’t care how you may feel about the fourth installment of the popular car porn franchise, or even the series as a whole, because Universal has delivered yet another fine Blu-ray packed with just about everything you could hope for. Personally, I thought the movie was good mindless fund, but I know that a lot of people found it silly and contrived. Fair enough, but for those of you who did enjoy it, the double-disc effort includes a director commentary, stunt featurettes and even a cool Vin Diesel-directed short film that acts as a prequel to the movie. Of course, the real highlight is the Take Control feature, which offers an in-depth look at the film hosted by Justin Lin and Paul Walker. Though it’s only activated for the bigger sequences, it enables the filmmakers to go into further detail than the typical commentary track. Lin pauses, rewinds and fast-forwards his way through key moments, highlighting things with the help of storyboards and behind-the-scenes footage. Zack Snyder may have technically beaten everyone to the punch with a similar feature on the “Watchmen” Blu-ray, but it’s just good to see that Warner Bros. isn’t the only studio looking ahead. This is the future of the HD format.

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