Remember The Rocketeer!

The Rocketeer is the crowning achievement of comic book cinema, a bold statement considering it was released in 1991.  There hasn’t been a more faithful translation from comic to screen since Richard Donner’s original Superman — and The Rocketeer has the added benefit of not having Marlon Brando sans pants crazying up the cast.  Hyperbole aside, every comic book movie that’s followed The Rocketeer is treading the same well-worn footprints, only they have to walk where The Rocketeer soars.

Actually, that was more hyperbole.  But it’s true, nonetheless.
If you look at the comic book history of The Rocketeer, it seems like a strange property for Disney to adapt to the screen.  The character is obscure at best, having been created in 1981 by Dave Stevens as an homage to Doc Savage.  The comic was by no means a bestseller, and while the idea of a man strapping a rocket to his back to fight Nazi’s is a pulp lover’s dream come true, it’s hardly the recipe for box office success.

At the time of release, the only successful comic book movies were Batman, Superman, and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, three of the most popular comic book properties of our time.  With that in mind, you’ve got to admire the bulbous balls it must’ve taken for Disney executives to pluck The Rocketeer from obscurity and give him a shot at prime time.  If you released The Rocketeer today, even with the popularity of Iron Man and The Avengers, it would still be a hard sell for audiences.

Whether it was a lack of comic book properties to adapt or a serious gambling disorder, Disney executives took a chance and The Rocketeer was released.  As with most films ahead of their time, the gamble didn’t pay off and The Rocketeer failed to ignite with audiences.  A damn shame because it’s a freaking classic.
If Steven Spielberg ever directed a superhero movie, it would look and feel exactly like The Rocketeer.  It has Nazi secret agents, gangsters, tommy guns, bigger-than-life henchmen, damsels in distress, bi-planes, and whimsy to spare.  The Rocketeer has the look and feel of an early Spielberg movie, possibly because director Joe Johnston drew the storyboards and production art for Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And for fans of Star Wars, particularly The Empire Strikes Back, Johnston was the person responsible for the creation and design of Boba Fett.  Which makes him a God in human form.

Like the Doc Savage stories that served as inspiration, The Rocketeer is a rollicking pulp adventure that doesn’t exist anymore.  The story is from a less complicated time when the good guys were good and the bad guys were bad.  There is no gray area.  The Rocketeer doesn’t break rules and question his heroic morality.  He punches Nazis in the face and looks cool doing it.  Simple.  Effective.
The script is pitch perfect and captures the goodie-goodie nature of the character without coming across as cheesy or overly sentimental.  Marvel’s recent Captain America: The First Avenger is a cinematic soul mate, in that it takes a hokey premise and turns it into a fun throwback to classic adventure serials.  And would you believe that both were directed by Joe Johnston?  Can’t be a coincidence.

Johnston remembers that reading a comic book is supposed to be fun!  Watching a comic book movie should provide the same experience.  What child wants to watch scenes of prolonged angst and self-loathing in a superhero movie?  Kids want to see Spider-man swinging from rooftops, not tossing his costume in the trash.

After watching years of gritty and realistic comic book movies, it’s refreshing to find nothing resembling grit or realism in The Rocketeer.  The movie plays better now than when it was originally released, precisely because of how simple and pure the plot is: an adventurous test pilot discovers a rocket prototype sought by Nazi spies.  That description is more fun than anything from Christopher Nolan’s Batman films — which are great but don’t hold a candle to the animated series.

Fans herald Christopher Nolan as the savior of comic book movies but the truth is Joe Johnston already filled that position twenty years ago.  The Rocketeer is a comic book movie that needs and deserves to be rediscovered.  And after three dour Batman films and an equally serious Spider-man reboot, would it kill you to have some fun?

Fun Fact: Johnny Depp was nearly cast as The Rocketeer but lost out to Billy Campbell.  Thank God.

Recollecting Classic Comics: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Long before they were the pizza eating stars of their own kid-friendly Saturday morning cartoon, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the indie darlings of an edgy black and white comic that was definitely not for children.  For those of you only familiar with the turtle power of the cartoon, you don’t know the real Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Like most great ideas, the Ninja Turtles happened by accident.  Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were struggling artists sharing an apartment in New Hampshire.  One night, Peter was watching television and Kevin decided to annoy him by drawing a picture of a turtle wearing a mask and brandishing nunchucks.  He called it a Ninja Turtle and they both had a laugh.  Several hours — and beers — later, the boys had a complete drawing of all four turtles kicking serious ass.  And, of course, they had a killer title: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The first issue was self-published in 1984 on cheap newsprint devoid of any color, unless you count black and white.  3,000 issues were printed and promptly sold out.  The limited quantities of the comic meant that it was rare and thus extremely valuable, so much so that the original printings were sold for more than 50 times their original price.  Eastman and Laird now faced a problem they never thought they’d have: they were successful.  Fans were clamoring for a second issue, something Eastman and Laird had never anticipated.  Where do they go from here?
The correct answer is: wherever they want.  The great thing about having a comic with a concept as outlandish as mutated turtles that are teenagers and also happen to be trained ninjas, is that you can do whatever you feel like.  No idea is off limits.  Nobody can question believability because the very notion of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is absurd to begin with.  Want to send the turtles to another dimension?  Sure, let’s do it.  How about pitting the turtles against an army of machine gun toting triceratops?  Absolutely, do it twice!  Eastman and Laird have a license to create whatever they want and it’s refreshing to read a comic without boundaries or limitations.

While all of this may sound similar to the cartoon, it’s the tone and execution that’s markedly different.  The Ninja Turtles of the comic all retain their distinct personalities: Leonardo is the stoic leader, Raphael is the hothead, Donatello is the brains, and Michelangelo is the comedy relief.  But that’s where the similarities end.

Instead of spouting off cheesy surfer lingo — “Cowabunga!” — the turtles sound like superheroes ripped from the pages of Frank Miller.  When Raphael pummels a thug on page 22 of the first issue, the way it’s written is so positively dripping with Miller’s hard-boiled vernacular that Eastman and Laird probably used his fecal matter to ink it:

“We connect in mid air.  When we land I’m standing… He isn’t.”

You won’t hear dialogue like that in the cartoon, and you also won’t see the violent content that surrounds it.  The turtles of the comic are definitely of the ninja variety and their weapons are used for far more than just telling the characters apart — they stab, skewer, and dismember foot soldiers every five pages.  And it’s beautiful.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that not one slice of pizza is consumed within the panels of the comic.  Sacrilege?  Maybe.  But give the comic a look and you’ll never realize how bad you had it.  The animated series is a perfect gateway drug for children to experience the charms of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  It’s cheap pot, they’ll get a sh*tty high and want to try something harder.  And when they do, give ’em a hit of the original black and white comic.  Satisfaction guaranteed.

5 Movie Detectives That Deserve Another Movie

Joe Hallenbeck from The Last Boy Scout

Few things in life are as enjoyable as Shane Black’s criminally underrated The Last Boy Scout.  The birth of your first child.  Maybe a good steak.  But that’s it.  Nothing else beats The Last Boy Scout.  It’s a Molotov cocktail of hilarious dialogue, Halle Berry stripping, a killer stuffed animal named Furry Tom, and Bruce Willis f*cking a squirrel to death.  So yeah, it’s pretty much the greatest movie ever made.

If we lived in a perfect world, The Last Boy Scout would’ve garnered universal acclaim and generated a lasting franchise.  As it stands, the movie is a forgotten gem that doesn’t even have its own Blu-ray — you have to purchase it in a two-pack with Last Man Standing.  For shame, Warner Brothers.

As much as John McClane is Bruce’s signature character, it’s Detective Joe Hallenbeck that deserves his own franchise.  Hallenbeck is a natural fit for Willis: sarcastic, down-on-his-luck, hard to kill, and full of witty one-liners.  He also dances a mean jig.  Actually, he’s pretty much cut from the same cloth as McClane, but with the benefit of Shane Black’s superior tailoring.  How can you not want to see another movie with a detective that says, “You even look at my daughter and I’m going to stick an umbrella up your ass and open it.”  Everyone should talk like that.

Ford Fairlane from The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

Say what you will about Andrew Dice Clay, but there was a brief moment in time where the man was a comedy God.  At the height of his popularity, legendary producer Joel Silver thought it would be a good idea to make an action movie starring Andrew Dice Clay.  God bless him for the audacity and stupidity.

There’s nothing about The Adventures of Ford Fairlane that’s particularly well made.  Or subtle.  It’s a movie that coasts on the fumes generated by the sleazy charm of Andrew Dice Clay.  His Ford Fairlane is a vulgar, misogynistic dickhead that makes no apologies for being a complete prick to every man, woman, and child that crosses his path.  There’s little to no difference between Ford Fairlane and Andrew Dice Clay, which is fine because they’re both equally hilarious.

Similar to Detective Joe Hallenbeck in The Last Boy Scout, Ford Fairlane is a character that exists to spout off great one-liners.  “Hey, great pipes, huh?  I’ve heard cats f*ck with more harmony.”  Or even better, “What are your names, Neil and Bob, or is that just what you do?”  Unfortunately, audiences were unwilling to take the case and doomed The Adventures of Ford Fairlane to obscurity.
Mitch Henessey from The Long Kiss Goodnight

“The last time I got blown candy bars cost a nickel.”  That’s one of the many colorful pearls of wisdom tossed out by Samuel L. Jackson’s perpetually put-upon private detective Mitch Henessey.  He’s a chain-smoking, shot-drinking, womanizing son-of-a-bitch and Jackson absolutely kills it.  Other than his star-making role in Pulp Fiction, this is Jackson’s finest hour.  Unless you count Coach Carter.  In which case, you’re a moron.

What’s so great about Henessey is that he’s not good at his job.  He’s a below average detective, fresh out of prison, recently divorced, and barely scraping by.  The guy can’t even afford to give his son a proper Christmas present, which is precisely what makes him so endearing.  He’s a complete f*ckup.  So many times we see the private detective presented as a smooth operator, deftly maneuvering around the bad guys.  Not Henessey.  He was born to lose.

Henessey may not be the most qualified detective for the job, but he’ll give it his best shot, and may even die trying.  Actually, scratch that.  Henessey is indestructible and can’t die.  For real.  During the course of The Long Kiss Goodnight he’s tortured, shot, blown-up, and then some.  And by the end, he’s miraculously still ticking.  Let’s see Phillip Marlowe top that.
Harry Lockhart and Gay Perry from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Next to The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the most under-appreciated detective movie since…The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight.  So much for variety.  Random coincidence: all three of those movies were written by Shane Black.  What is it with Black and poorly received detective movies?  At least Lethal Weapon was successful.

For those of you that don’t know, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was the movie that relaunched the career of Robert Downey Jr.  If it wasn’t for this little detective movie, there wouldn’t be an Iron Man.  Or at least it wouldn’t have starred Robert Downey Jr.  Not only is the guy a phenomenal actor, but he’s an inspiration to drug addicts everywhere — even if you snort a line of coke off a public urinal there’s still a place for you in Hollywood.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Val Kilmer.  Apparently, if you’re fat there’s no place for you in the entertainment industry.  Maybe Kilmer should snort coke.

Like the cheap detective novels that Shane Black draws his inspiration from, the plot of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is convoluted and difficult to sum up without being confusing.  And frankly, who really gives a sh*t about the story.  It’s all about Downey and Kilmer bouncing off one another.  Figuratively, not literally.  Cliff notes version: Robert Downey Jr. plays Harry Lockhart, an idiot thief turned private detective-in-training under the cruel tutelage of the brilliantly named Gay Perry, Val Kilmer.  And yes, Gay Perry is actually gay.

The stroke of genius, however, is that Gay Perry is the action hero and Robert Downey Jr. is an ineffectual schmuck.  The chemistry between the two partners — and that’s partners in the non-homosexual sense — is electric.  You can’t watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and not cry out for a sequel.  It’s the crowning achievement of Shane Black’s long and storied career, and when you’re the screenwriter of Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and even f*king Monster Squad, that’s saying something.

Underrated Sequels That Deserve More Love

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

For children of the 80’s that grew up during the glory days of HBO and Cinemax, this is the best and only Indiana Jones sequel.  You can keep your saccharine sweet Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and your fridge nuking Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  They’re inferior sequels and you have chosen poorly.  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a f*cking classic.  Like the drunken relative at your family reunion — it’s dark, funny, and entertaining as hell.  And who doesn’t love a fun drunk?

Why It’s Hated:

The Darkness.  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the reason we have a PG-13 rating.  Apparently child slavery and ripping the hearts out of bodies as a sacrifice to a Pagan God is crossing the line.  Who knew?

Short Round.  Audiences were unwilling to accept Indy having a child as a sidekick.  They were wrong.  Short Round has never been topped.  He is a likeable and funny character,  and most importantly, he’s capable.  So many movies make the mistake of having the child be nothing more than a plot device — someone for the hero to rescue — but not Short Round.  He kicks almost as much ass as Indy!

Kate Capshaw.  Or as she’s better known: Mrs. Spielberg.  She is the one element that’s hard to defend.  It’s not that Capshaw is bad, it’s just that the character is written as the stereotypical, hapless female — something that Karen Allen in Raiders was definitely not.

Let’s face it, any sequel that followed Raiders of the Lost Ark was going to pale in comparison.

Why You Should Love It:

The Mine cart chase.  Almost thirty years later and the sequence is still as gripping and fantastic as it was when it first premiered.  In fact, the entire third act of Temple of Doom is better than the finale of Raiders.  Blasphemy?  Maybe.  But at least Temple of Doom has the good sense to deliver a rousing finale in which the main character is actively kicking ass and taking names instead of being tied to a post with his eyes closed.

The iconic shot of Indy punching the sh*t out of the hapless Thugee cult member and emerging out of the shadows to reveal that he has broken free of the black sleep of Kali and is ready to kick ass once again.  Goosebumps.

Mola Ram.  The best villain of the franchise.  Search your feelings, you know it to be true.  Sure, Nazis are the most evil bad guys on the planet, but there’s nothing scarier than a voodoo priest that can rip your heart out and make it catch fire.  Oh, and by the way, you’re still alive while that happens.  “Kali-ma…Kali-ma…Kali-ma, shakthi deh!”

Crank 2

Not exactly a highbrow choice but damn if this isn’t a fun little bit of insanity.  Such a better movie than the first.  Crank 2 is an attention deficit love letter to excess, bad taste, and low budget creativity.  In fact, the only disappointing aspect of Crank 2 is that it did so poorly at the box office we’ll probably never see another sequel.

Why It’s Hated:

Good question.  More than likely people felt cheated at the very idea of a sequel considering Jason Statham plummeted thousands of feet to his death at the end of the original.  What these people fail to understand is that this is precisely why Crank 2 is awesome — it literally gives sense and logic the middle finger.  Seriously, that’s basically the final shot of the movie.

Why You Should Love It:

Within the first five minutes Jason Statham has shoved a shotgun completely up someone’s ass.  So it has that going for it.

Self-indulgent creativity.  Not since the original black and white Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic by Eastman and Laird has an artistic work been so rife with the fetishes of its creators.  8-bit video game references?  Check.  Cheesy, Man-in-suit Godzilla antics?  Yep, you got it.  Nothing is off limits for the writing and directing duo of Neveldine & Taylor, and it’s invigorating to watch a movie where anything, no matter how stupid or disturbing, can happen.

On a side note: why is it that when Tarantino makes a film that’s obviously made by himself for himself that it’s perfectly acceptable, but when Neveldine And Taylor make something like Crank 2 it’s considered self-indulgent crap?

Die Hard With A Vengeance

Yes, the one with Samuel L. Jackson.  Keep in mind this was before Jackson became a shouting parody of himself.  He’s actually quite good in the film and his chemistry with Bruce Willis is one of the many things that makes this a superior sequel.

Why It’s Hated:

A lot of fans dislike Die Hard With A Vengeance because it eschews the series’ penchant for enclosed spaces, opting instead for New York City as McClane’s playground.  The addition of Samuel L. Jackson as McClane’s reluctant partner is frequently, and incorrectly, cited as a negative.

Why You Should Love It:

Because it drops the Die Hard formula for something far more interesting and visceral than a simple retread in a new confined location.  We’ve already seen Willis trapped in a building and an airport, not to mention all the Die Hard knockoffs like Speed and Under Siege, let’s shake it up a little.  Allowing Willis to rampage through New York, running over mimes and destroying central park, is precisely why this is the only good sequel.  It’s not a carbon copy.  While Die Hard 2 is a moderately entertaining sequel, it’s an exact replica of the first and follows the original beat for beat — was it really necessary to bring back William Atherton as the dickhead reporter?!?

Die Hard With A Vengeance wastes absolutely no time getting McClane good and f*cked up.  Within the first ten minutes Willis is bleeding, hungover, and knee deep in yet another really bad day.  The addition of Samuel L. Jackson and the subtraction of McClane’s wife and other familiar sequel trappings elevate Die Hard With A Vengeance to stand almost toe to toe with the original.  If only the ending wasn’t so anti-climatic…

The French Connection II

Most people don’t even know that a sequel exists.  And you know what?  It’s actually pretty damn good.  Gene Hackman reprises his Academy Award winning role of Detective Popeye Doyle and delivers a performance that’s even more impressive and demanding than his last.  The story posits Doyle in France trying to track down the drug dealing Frenchman that got away at the end of the first French Connection.  While that may sound like a routine sequel, The French Connection II takes Doyle and audiences to places that you wouldn’t think a major studio release would go: like giving the main character an addiction to heroin.

Why It’s Hated:

The aforementioned drug addiction was probably a factor.  Almost the entire second act of the film is consumed by Doyle’s forced addiction and subsequent detoxification of heroin.  It’s not fun to watch, and it’s not supposed to be.  Popeye Doyle has become the very thing he hates.  And Gene Hackman knocks it out of the park.  He’s even more deserving of an Academy Award for his work here than he was in the original French Connection.

Why You Should Love It:

This is ballsy, take-no-prisoners filmmaking.  Fans of Joe Carnahan or early Michael Mann will absolutely love this.  You don’t get sequels this outside of the box.  It’s a risky move to have your main character addicted to heroin for the latter half of your movie, but it makes it all the more rewarding when Popeye Doyle finally snaps out of his heroin haze and gets revenge on the dastardly Frenchman he’s been chasing for two films.  And what a chase!  The original French Connection is arguably most famous for its vehicular carnage, and the sequel doesn’t disappoint.  However, this time the chase is on foot.  And it’s bad ass.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let the Kraken know.

Dumb Ideas In Great Movies: The Fugitive And The One Armed Man

The Fugitive is a bravura work of cat-and-mouse tension.  Director Andrew Davis stages the action sequences with a practiced eye and a sure hand, no doubt honed in his early days directing Steven Seagal movies.  Both Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones turn in career best work, with Jones in particular snatching an Academy Award for playing the taciturn authority figure he’s played for his entire career.  Love the guy, but you’ve got to admit he has the acting range of a household appliance.

The writing is above average for this type of venture, with three heavy hitting screenwriters contributing to the script: Jeb Stuart, David Twohy, and Walter Hill.  No question, these guys aren’t slouches in the story department.  Which makes it all the more perplexing when you realize they made the villain a one armed man.  Granted, The Fugitive is based upon a television series in which the bad guy was also a one armed man, but just because the film is faithful to what’s come before doesn’t make it any less stupid.

You’d expect that writers of their caliber would revise the story and make the one armed man aspect more believable.  These are smart guys.  They get paid millions.  Surely, they had a script meeting where someone suggested that a fight scene between Harrison Ford and a man with a rubber hand was going to look exactly how it sounds: ridiculous.  And yet there it is in the final film — a fight scene between Harrison Ford and a man with a rubber hand.  And it does, indeed, look exactly how it sounds: ridiculous.

What they should’ve done, besides ditching the one armed man completely, is give the guy a f*cking hook.  A rubber hand is not intimidating.  Yes, it makes you half as likely to leave finger prints at the scene of a crime, but the hook would serve the same purpose.  What’s the point of having a rubber hand?  To blend in?  Look at that f*cking thing:
Was it made by Mattel?  It looks like it was manufactured from leftover Barbee dolls or that pink stuff they put inside portable vaginas.  That hand ain’t fooling anyone.  It doesn’t even match his skin color!  He might as well have gone to an adult XXX store and ripped the arm off an ebony sex doll.  At least then he could do something useful with it like masturbate.  Or wave.

If you were in the shoes of Andrew Davis and had to remake The Fugitive, would you have kept the one armed man?  The idea of a guy with a rubber hand posing a credible threat is ridiculous, but it is unique.  There are few movies, if any, that feature a villain with a rubber hand.  Perhaps the filmmakers were right to include the one armed man.  What do you think?

Cartoon Carnage: Remembering Captain Planet and the Planeteers

“Captain Planet, he’s our hero, gonna take pollution down to zero.”

Every kid from the 90’s remembers that awful theme song, and every kid from the 90’s promptly wants it forgotten.  Whisper just one lyric and anyone that’s ever seen Captain Planet will be humming it for the rest of the day.  It’s like the Manchurian Candidate of children’s cartoons — every time it plays a brainwashed fan is activated and years of repressed homicidal rage is unleashed.

Created by Ted Turner and Hanna-Barbera in 1990, Captain Planet ran for two years on TBS as a form of “edutainment” for children — that’s environmentalist propaganda to you and me.  The series is notable for featuring a stellar cast of voice actors including: Jeff Goldblum, James Coburn, Whoopie Goldburg, Dean Stockwell, and Ed Asner.  Also notable, the logo of the production company that would close out every episode:
A giant dick emblazoned upon every television screen in America.  And just to make sure you didn’t miss it, the logo was accompanied by a high-pitched voice that says, “Dick.”  Subtle.  DiCheads.

For those of you that don’t remember, Captain Planet follows the adventures of five multicultural youths, each entrusted with a magic ring that activates an elemental power: wind, water, earth, fire, and heart.  Heart?  Lame.  How stupid do you think the dude with the heart ring feels?  Imagine, your four friends get bad ass powers that can conjure fire and earthquakes, and you get heart.  Is trading rings an option?  They make a point in almost every episode that heart is the most important power because it provides warmth and compassion to the world.  It’s like even the writers feel like they have to shoehorn the existence of a sh*t power.
When the powers of pollution prove to be too much, which is every episode, the five rings combine to summon Captain Planet.  However, unlike most superheroes, Captain Planet doesn’t have any clearly defined powers, other than what’s required to defeat the villain of the week.  Does the bad guy have a swarm of killer cats?  No problem, Captain Planet can shoot balls of yarn out of his ass to distract them.  He’s not a hero.  He’s a plot device.  A dues ex machina.  And a lazy one at that.

After he eliminates the bad guy with a ridiculous name — Looten Plunder! — he flies away, but not before smugly reminding everyone, “the power is yours.”  Dude doesn’t even stick around to help clean the pollution!  He’s too busy sneaking a thinly veiled political agenda into a children’s cartoon.  Superman wouldn’t do that.  He’d spin the earth backwards and reverse time to save the day.  You know, real hero stuff.
And what exactly is he a Captain of?  Industry?  Propaganda?  And why stop at Captain?  If you’re giving yourself a fake title, go big.  Make yourself an Admiral or a freaking General.  Anybody can be a Captain.

Lieutenant Captain Planet also lacks any identifiable race.  He has a green mullet and crystal skin.  Is he an alien?  A Twilight fan?  Who knows.  No doubt this was a move by producers to make Captain Planet appeal to all races.  The problem: nobody identifies with an alien.  But Superman is an alien!  Yes, but he looks Caucasian.  Kids want to emulate a hero they can become.  Superman has endured for over fifty years.  Captain Planet lasted three seasons.  Case closed.

If this all sounds a little harsh it’s because hindsight has proven Captain Planet is a horrible show.  Lazy writing, ridiculous characters, and an obvious political agenda keep it from being remotely enjoyable.  Yes, it’s a children’s cartoon, but that’s no excuse.  GI Joe: A Real American Hero is a perfect example of how to entertain, educate, and sell toys at the same time.  So if you’re thinking of taking a trip down memory lane, reprogram your GPS and skip Captain Planet.

Remember, “the power is yours.”

Little Known Fact: film producer Don Murphy obtained the rights to make a live-action Captain Planet movie in early 2011.  The project is currently stuck in development hell along with the Stretch Armstrong movie.

Retro Gaming: Has Anyone Ever Beaten Oregon Trail?

You have died of dysentery.

You have died of typhoid.

You have died of snakebite.

If any of those phrases have a particular resonance, you either have insurmountable health problems or you played a lot of Oregon Trail.  Hopefully, it’s the latter.
Developed in 1974 by MECC, the original Oregon Trail was created to teach students about the harsh realities of frontier life.  That’s the textbook definition.  That’s what the developers want you to think.  But anyone that’s ever played Oregon Trail knows the truth: it’s an impossible video game with a simple message — life is hard, you’ll never win, and you’re going to die a horrible death if you do anything involving a Conestoga wagon.
The premise of the game is simple: your family of five travels across America in a covered wagon.  Along the way you encounter bad weather, floods, broken wagon wheels, dead oxen, etc.  You can hunt for food to improve your odds of survival, but nobody survives Oregon Trail.  It’s the Kobayashi Maru of video games.   The unwinnable scenario.

What’s devious is that the game gives you the illusion of choice.  Should you float down the river or take the toll road?  Doesn’t matter.  Either way, you’re screwed.  Even if you survive floating the river, ten seconds down the trail a wagon wheel will fall off and you’ll die of a broken leg.  And who dies of a broken leg?!?  This is the wild west.  Saw it off, replace it with a peg, and move the f*ck on.

And at that point, who even wants to finish the game?  By the time you reach the end of the trail you’ve lost half of your possessions, Jenny has contracted smallpox, Timmy lost his foot, and your wife was mauled by a bear.  The only thing left to do is pray to God that your shotgun still works before you blow your brains out.  What kind of a message is that to send kids?

But let’s be honest: any kid that played Oregon Trail wasn’t playing to win, they were playing for death.  Because every child in America was itching to see the tombstone.  See, when you die in Oregon Trail, a funeral is held for your character, and you’re able to type whatever you want on their headstone.  The possibilities are endless — and usually profane:
While your character may not survive, the legacy of Oregon Trail lives on.  A new generation of gamers has discovered the horror of life on the frontier by playing an updated version of Oregon Trail on mobile gaming devices.  Which means you can finally get rid of that Apple II collecting dust in your attic.  Goodbye, green screen!  Say hello to Steve Jobs for me!  Too soon?

You can even buy “you have died of dysentery” t-shirts.  How awesome is that?
So what say you: did any of you actually survive until the end?  Probably not.  A more appropriate question would be: how did you die?  Or better yet, what little bit of nastiness did you write on your tombstone?