Category Archives: Branded in the 80s

Dead or Alive, You’re Reading with Me…

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After moving into my first house that I actually own, I’ve finally begun the long process of unpacking and organizing my large pile of junk…er….my collections.  Most of my stuff has been tucked away in boxes for the past three years and it’s been fun opening them all up and reminding myself just how much of a packrat I’ve become over the years.  Part of the unpacking process has been setting up a new home office where my fiancée and I have been pulling out all the stops in terms of making the space everything we’ve always wanted in a functional yet fun work area.  For me that means a place to display my modest collection of vintage toys, Monster Squad stuff and my collection of movie novelizations.  Since I co-host the Cult Film Club podcast with Paxton Holley and my fiancée Jaime, one of the things I love doing is tracking down novelizations for the flicks we cover so that I can dip into them for fun differences and details on our show.  So I wanted this collection of paperbacks prominent and handy for when we record, which we’ve been doing in the new office.  Well, I also happened to be chatting the other night with my bud Chris about novelizations and our collections.  I hadn’t set up the new bookshelf yet, but I couldn’t help myself and I went spelunking through the mountain of boxed up books in our spare room so that I could pull the collection back together.  We decided to share top seven novelizations on social media, and while piecing mine together I chose a book that I’d actually never read at that point, Ed Naha’s adaptation of Robocop.

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I debated about putting Robocop in the top seven for a second since I’d never cracked the cover on it, but in the end decided to include it because that novelization holds a special place in my heart.  On one hand it’s one of the books that proven to be the hardest to track down for my collection as I made a pact with myself along the way that I wouldn’t succumb to picking these up on eBay or Amazon if I could avoid it and instead do my best to find them out in the wild at Goodwills, used book stores or rummage sales.  To date I’ve only even seen one copies of Robocop on store shelves, and I bought it so fast it would have made your head spin.  On the other hand, as far as novelizations go, Robocop pretty much sums up why I love these adaptations on a purely conceptual level.  For me novelizations exist in a very odd realm in the world of literature.  They’re completely disposable, have a ridiculous origin in savvy marketing, and are an ironic representation of a thing that I cherish.  Love a movie?  Then buy the book.  The idea of revisiting a bombastic, heavily stylized, multimedia action extravaganza in novel form is so ludicrous that I truly adore it.

This is what was running through my mind when I chose it, but afterwards it got me insanely curious to see just how similar the book is to the film.  When it comes to novelizations, my favorites are always the books that feel a bit meatier when it comes to page count.  So many of the thinner books are strict adaptations of movie scripts with little to no new material.  In fact, they usually have less scenes than the actual film.  Robocop has always made me wonder because it clocks in at a very tight 189 pages.  But this past week, as I finally sequestered myself on breaks and lunches at work to tear through the book, there were quite a few surprises…

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First and foremost, even though it clearly states on the cover that Ed Naha adapted the novel from the Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner script, some of the text belies the fact that Naha must have seen a cut of the film based on descriptions of the characters that are dead-on for the actors that portrayed them.  Clarence Boddicker’s appearance matches Kurtwood Smith’s way too close, and I’ve even scanned through the Neumeier/Miner script which doesn’t describe the character as accurately.  Maybe casting had already begun and the assignment came with actor headshots.

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Playing devil’s advocate though, maybe this is just my brain filling in all the little details of the final film as I read.  This is one of the bits of strange phenomena I struggle with a bit while reading novelizations because the films are so ingrained in my mind that I see it playing out as I read.  This is why, when I’m taking notes I can’t help but refer to new material as “deleted scenes”.  Even though I have no actual memory of ever seeing these bit and pieces that were excised from the film, I can so vividly picture them in my head.  Speaking of which, there are a fair number of deleted scenes in this book (and in the script) that flesh out the characters and situations in the story a bit more.

First of all, the book opens on a quiet moment at home with Murphy and his family.  This is the morning/day before he starts his new shift in Old Detroit and it gets into a little bit more about his past and his family.  In the flick we only ever see Murphy’s wife (Jan) and son (Jimmy) in flashbacks or hallucinations, but in the book we get a couple of scenes with them before and after Murphy is murdered by the Boddicker gang.  In the early scene Murphy is thinking about his new assignment and it reminds him about the death of his father, how he was shot by a stray bullet while standing at the picture window of their home.  There’s not a lot to this short bit, but it underlines a tone in the film when it comes to death and violence.  As his father is dying Alex notes that he seems almost amused, and just manages to say “Sumabitch…” before dying.  This is echoed in the sequence where Murphy is slaughtered by the gang later on, where he finally seems to understand what his dad’s final thoughts were probably like.

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In the second deleted sequence with Murphy’s family we visit Jan & Jimmy as they’re packing up the house in preparation for leaving on a shuttle to a colony on the moon.  There’s just a beat here of somber emotion that is great for filling in the gaps with Alex’s family life, but would have totally thrown off the wacky ultra crazed tone of the film for sure.  In both of these sequences you also get a metric ton more references to the story within a story character of TJ Lazer.  Lazer makes it into the film in a couple bits where Murphy practices twirling his gun before he holsters it so that his kid will think he’s cool just like TJ Lazer.  Well, the book mentions TJL about fifteen additional times going so far as to describe the show so that it sounds like a futuristic version of T.J. Hooker, complete with an overweight, past his prime actor like William Shatner.  When Murphy finally becomes Robocop, we get a short scene with his son Jimmy watching him on TV and then falling in love with him as his new hero (replacing good ‘ol TJ Lazer.)

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There’s also a new sequence early on in the book involving a handful of Old Detroit cops on a night when everything goes wrong.  Two patrol cars are lured into an empty parking lot and then ambushed by Boddicker’s gang.  The book gets pretty descriptive with the murders which are more over the top than Murphy’s murder in the film if you can believe it. This sequences plays to a subplot in the film that I think gets kind of lost in the shuffle.  The whole idea that Old Detroit is as rough and violent as it is, is not just because of the dystopian future, it was made that way by Dick Jones.  Jones, who needs his ED 209 project to have legs enough (pun intended) to go to full production so that they can land some seriously lucrative military contacts, basically calls an open season on Old Detroit and hires Boddicker and his gang to make the place a war zone.  In the film this sub plot is there for sure, but because of the amped up, uber-violent, uber-sarcastic tone to the flick it tends to get lost in my opinion.  This opening scene of the police massacre plays to this subplot though.  Boddicker’s men are sending a message, so much so that they literally paint the deathcount of each murdered cop on the body in spray paint.

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The book further underlines this later during the chase sequence where Murphy and Lewis pursue Boddicker’s gang to their hideout.  During the gunfight in the van Boddicker has some moments where he’s thinking about how much he hates situations like this where he has to kill because he wasn’t specifically paid to do it.  Again, it gets to this idea that every evil event that Boddicker and company perpetrate on Old Detroit is specifically ordered by Dick Jones.  Again, it’s not that this doesn’t make it into the film, it’s just way clearer when you read the story as opposed to experience the stylized version in the film.

There are also a lot of interesting small differences between the book and the film, a lot of which revolve around Murphy after he’s murdered and reconstructed into Robocop.  Most of these are welcome peeks into Murphy/Robocop’s inner monologue, stuff that’s hard to do on film without clunky voiceover.  For instance, there’s a who section where we witness Murphy’s slaughter by the Boddicker gang from his perspective which is vastly different than how we experience it in the film.  In the movie we’re forced to act as a bystander/witness that has to watch the brutality from the point of view of the killers mostly.  In the book, we’re inside Murphy’s head as he slips past shock and unbearable pain into a more detached, transcendental state of consciousness.  The reader is almost treated as if we’re his essence starting an out of body experience as he finds the whole situation almost comical.  It’s during these moments, and in the time when he’s lying waiting for the medical evacuation team when Naha uses a framing device to showcase Murphy’s consciousness flickering in and out.  Murphy checks himself on things, like his ability to remember what a helicopter is as it touches down near his body, or what it feels like to be strapped down to a gurney.  These checks are revisited after he wakes as Robocop, but as the machine he explains his observations with a self awareness that he has been programmed to know these things.  Slowly, as Murphy’s soul and brain overtake the machine these metal checks revert back to how he felt as he was dying.  I’m probably not explaining this as well as it comes across while reading the novelization.

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Some of the other little touches that I really loved include the fact that Robocop has the ability to test a person’s blood alcohol level just by his proximity to their breathing.  So during the new year’s eve party when he is about to be introduced to the police force and the one drunk female scientist comes over to Murphy and kisses his visor he’s able to make a notation about just how inebriated she is based on her breath!

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I also thought it was cool that in the book Robocop isn’t as immune to damage as he appears to be in the film.  Though it’s cool to see Murphy kicking ass and walking through hails of bullets and fire, it was always a little weird to me that he seemed nigh invulnerable up until he tried to arrest Dick Jones, thus initiating directive 4 in his programming.  I never really understood what exactly it was about directive 4 that basically revokes Robocop’s ability to deflect bullets.  He’s shot up a bunch of times early in the film only to have all the bullets bounce off, but after attempting to arrest Jones all bullets seem to penetrate his armor.  In the book this is different.  For one, he’s only really bulletproof to small arms fire, so later when the police are brought in to take him down they’re using armor piercing rounds.  But Robocop’s vulnerability is also addressed in the gas station scene where he’s apprehending Emil.  When the gas station explodes it ends up charring Robocop’s armor, so much so that it remains this way throughout the rest of the book.  In fact, the in sequence right after that incident, when Murphy/Robocop storms into the police records archive he’s still smoldering in that room.

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Naha also has some fun with the product placement in the gas station scene.  He mentions that during the explosion the “S” in the Shell station sign goes flying off the building leaving only a flashing neon “HELL” over the situation.

Robocop is also a lot more expressive in the book than in the film.  He has a more developed sense of humor, makes jokes at times, and has very human mannerisms like shrugging his shoulders at criminals that don’t comply or giving a two finger salute to bystanders after he’s arrested someone.  Though it’s fun to imagine a lighter-hearted Robocop, and I totally understand why Naha inserted this sort of humanizing body language in the book, it feels very out of place with the character and dulls the switch-over from OCP products back to a sentient Murphy.  For all the work he put into the inner awareness framing device, it’s sort of undermined by a more human Robocop.  Similarly, in this vein, Naha also has Robocop make some weird observations as he’s accessing situations.  In the scene where he goes into City Hall to rescue the Mayor from the deranged city councilman, there’s a bit where he’s analyzing the walls of the rooms to try and find a way into the situation without using his gun.  While scanning the wall of the room where the hostages are he notates that the structure was rebuilt in the 80s using subpar building materials that were way overpriced.  This gave me a bit of a pause, because how would Robocop know that the materials were overpriced? Maybe he has access to all of the city’s records up to and including invoices for contract construction work done over the past century?

One of the last bit of differences I want to bring up is the sequence where Boddicker is sent in to kill Morton by Dick Jones.  First off, Naha changes one of the most classic Boddicker lines in the film.  In the film and in the script when he first comes into Morton’s condo he utters the two words that set the tone for this scene, “Bitches Leave.”

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In the book, when Boddicker comes in Naha has him say, “Okay sluts. Take a hike.”  Not nearly as efficiently evil, and no where near as iconic.  I’m not sure why he decided to change this either because it’s plain as day in the script snippet above.  Not only does he change this, but Naha also weirdly adds a softer side to Clarence in this scene with the addition of Morton’s cat.  The cat comes walking into the room while Morton is begging for his life and Boddicker reaches down and pets it.  This pisses off Morton who considers the cat a traitor, and then as Boddicker is leaving, while Morton is fumbling for the grenade, Clarence picks up the cat and takes it with him.  On the one hand, this is kind of weirdly cold to have a killer acting nice to an animal in the middle of murdering someone, but it’s also conflicting a bit with his character that typically comes off as if he has no compassion what so ever.  A sense of humor, yes, but compassion, no.

Lastly, Naha adds some fun little pop culture references in the book that I wanted to point out.  Early on he has Murphy quote from the 1941 Wolfman film with this foreboding line, “Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night…”.  It foreshadows Murphy’s transformation nicely.  Of course there’s also the William Shatner/T.J. Hooker bits I mentioned above, but there’s another actor reference that really got a chuckle out of me while reading.  After Robocop becomes a fugitive and Dick Jones is settling back into his warzone of an office he flips on the television to a news story about the death of Sylvester Stallone.  Stallone was having his brain transplanted into a clone body and died during the operation.

All in all, I’m glad that I finally sat down and read this novelization, and I can’t wait to dig into another.  But what do I read next?

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The All New Branded Podcast, Episode 2…

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In this week’s episode of the Branded in the 80s podcast I take a minute to talk about finding new  perspectives on the pop culture that we know and love so much that it’s started to lose some of its luster.

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To this effect I reconsider the character of Billy Francis Kopeke from the 1988 Penny Marshall film Big.  After viewing the alternate director’s cut of the film Kopeke becomes a much more nuanced character that not only has an expanded story, but it’s one that changes the tone and overall theme of the film. I talk about his homelife, why his relationship to Josh is so important to him, and how, for all intents and purposes, he’s probably the most capable character in the entire film.

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In this week’s shout out, I point to my bud Will’s newly rebranded site the Casserole of Disaster.  In the shout out I mention that you should check out his older site Veggie Macabre, in particular this piece he wrote that I absolutely love called The Christmas of ’87: Part 1.

You can subscribe to the podcast here!

Return of the Living Podcast!

So, one of the small projects I’ve been working on this past month is the resurrection of the Branded in the 80s Podcast.  It’s been over five years since I last recorded an episode of the show and even though I find solo-podcasting terribly frustrating, I’ve always missed it a little.  I started this site with the podcast and for the 10th anniversary I felt it would be a fun challenge to see if I could dust off the show, clean it up a bit and put a new coat of wax on it.  I’m not sure how long this new incarnation might last, but I intend to try and keep it going throughout the rest of the summer at the very least…

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For the first new episode of the show I decided to sit down and record some thoughts on the return of Hi-C Ecto Cooler and why it might be a good experiment to try and find the positive aspects of the pop culture we love and love to gripe about.  I’m still playing around with the format a bit, so excuse me while I make a fool of myself.

There are a few ways you can snag new episodes of the show.  I’ve submitted it to iTunes and Stitcher, so those avenues should go live soon, but until then you can subscribe to the RSS feed or right click and download the first episode here.  You can also stream it via the player below or on the Branded Facebook page.

So for all two of you who have been asking for it, yes, the Branded in the 80s podcast is back.  For now…

Doing our best to help make your jean jacket look way cooler…

I’ve been working on a handful of secret projects behind the scenes at Branded in the 80s and the Cult Film Club that I’m super stoked about.  Every couple of years I try and light a fire under my backside in order to make myself try and do things I’ve always dreamed of doing.  Over the last 10 years I’ve been able to check off a lot “to-do” items on my bucket list including writing and designing a zine, tabling at a large comic convention, and designing my own stickers.  Well, I recently had the opportunity to knock another item off my list, an item that I was really happy to finally be able to tackle and one which I was lucky to be able to collaborate on with a very cool bud.  Thanks to Tommy Day of Top Hat Sasquatch and Buy the Rights, I’ve finally been able to use a couple of my illustrations to create a couple of pretty damn neat enamel pins!

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Tommy just launched a new project called Laser Pins, a small boutique online store for selling enamel pins and patches.  I’ve been a pin fan for years with a pretty sizeable collection of pin-back buttons and enamel pins that I wear all the time.  I’ve always wanted to design some pins that feature my illustrations, but I had no idea how to even get started on making any.  That’s where Tommy stepped in and was a huge help in acting as a go between with a company he’s been working with, and after just a few short weeks I was able to finally hold the above two pins in my hand (and then immediate pin them to my hoodie.)

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For my first two pins I decided to go with illustrations I did for the podcast I co-host with my fiancée Jaime and good bud Paxton Holley, the Cult Film Club.  I settled on the design I created for our show logo, the skull projector that for me really sums up cult and horror films in one fun image, as well as an illustration I did of Steve Buscemi that was done in the style of Daniel Clowes which is sort of an homage to Buscemi’s turn in the movie Ghost World.  The pins are available now and limited to a 100 pieces each.  The Buscemi “Mr. Pink” pin is $8 plus shipping, and the Cult Film Club Skull Projector is $9 plus shipping.  All proceeds from these pin sales go directly into covering the hosting fees we have for both the Cult Film Club and Branded in the 80s, so if you are a fan of either, picking up one or both of these pins goes a long way to keeping these site up and running.

Aside from the two pins that I have up at Laserpins.com, Tommy and some of our really cool artist friends have been designing a bunch of really awesome pins.  Here’s a selection of the kind of stuff you can snag there…

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Above we have Alf (who is back, in POG form!), a seriously awesome Shredder from the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flick (complete with rad glitter suit), and Cole Robert’s take on a favorite of mine, My Pet Monster!  I personally have the Shredder and MPM pins and I absolutely love them.

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Some more of my favorites include the Ernest P. Worell pin, a glow in the dark TGRI mutagen canister from pin Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the kind of obscure but awesome Tiger Electronic Handheld game pin.  You be the judge, but I think Tommy has a great crop of really cool and unique pins, and I’ve certainly put my money where my mouth is…

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Again, so if you want to help support the projects I work on and get some really cool pins in the process, head on over to LaserPins.com and buy yourself some flair for your jean jacket, messenger bag, or whatever you put pins on!  Thanks in advance for your support and being rad…

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It was finally time to up my watch game…

It feels really good to be able to finally start catching up with writing articles here at Branded.  Over the past few years there’s been a lot of changes in my life behind the scenes, and in particular a lot of stuff has been going on over the last six months including helping my girlfriend sell her townhome, securing a new job, and the one that has been the most frightening and fulfilling, buying my first house.  But the dust has begun to settle, I’m in the middle up setting up a new and improved Branded HQ, and I can get back to what I’ve missed the most, writing about all kinds of fun 80s junk.  In fact I’m currently having a blast revisiting some of the cool stuff I’ve acquired that I’ve been meaning to write about.  For instance, a very cool new (well, vintage) watch that I’ve been wanting to reconnect with for the last 25 years…

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Back around 1985 or ’86, I was pretty obsessed with getting my hands on the amazing transforming robot watch depicted in the Bonkers candy ad above.  I first saw these in the little red candy and trinket vending machines at my local Pizza Hut as the “main” prize, the one thing you could get out of the machine for a quarter where you’d actually be getting more than your money’s worth.  I can’t count how many quarters I sunk into these machines only to get endless amounts of plastic army men, colorful puffballs with glued on felt feet and googlie eyes, or generic pencil topper erasers.  I was never a lucky kid when it came to winning stuff like this.  And here’s the thing, from my estimation at the time, you had to either win one of these robot watches or convince your parents that it was safe for them to send a check or cash to Nabisco to score one.  Lets just say that I could never get my parents to believe that these comic ads were not a scam.

At the end of the day I did eventually end up getting one of these watches by trading some Garbage Pail Kids to a friend, though it didn’t have the watch band and it looked like he had chewed on the little blue and red buttons on the front.  None the less I cherished that red robot watch and kept it in my pocket for years.  It didn’t matter that the one I had was used, or that it wasn’t an official Kronoform watch (a fact I wouldn’t even be aware of until 20 years later when I really started getting nostalgic for my youth.)  I’m not sure what happened to my specific watch, but for the last 10 years or so I’ve been yearning to get a new one.  The thing is, they’re kind of rare and when they do pop up on eBay they’re kind of outrageously priced.  So I’ve been biding my time, waiting for the right opportunity.  That opportunity happened a couple of months ago after I posted the Bonkers advertisement above on my instagram account.  I mentioned how I wanted to get my hands on one of these and a very kind gentleman from Canada that goes by the handle No_Thriller had just scoped one at his local toy/comic store.  After working out the details No_Thriller picked up the watch for me and then shipped it down to the states where I was eagerly awaiting its arrival!  And yes, that is also an awesome Steve Nazar signed print of the T&C characters in the background that my good bud HooveR sent and that also arrived that day…

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Not only did this one still have the watch band fully intact, it was a beautiful almost brand new official Takara Transformers Kronoform release!  Also, it still worked (the super kind No_Thriller was nice enough to replace the old battery before shipping it.)  Even though this one isn’t red, I still love it to pieces…

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This also reminds me of that piece I wrote about having a crush on Helen Hunt’s character Lynne Stone form Girls Just Want to Have Fun if for no other reason that she also wore a sweet red robot watch in that flick.

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Now maybe if I can ever build that time-traveling-DeLorean I can go back in time and ask her out to the prom.  I mean we have the same taste in Transformers watches, that’s all that matters right?

Hi-C Ecto Cooler is back and it’s….

…Glorious!

image1ssdBut before I get to that, let me back up a second.

One of the most bittersweet nostalgic experiences is the yearning for food and drink products that are long gone from this Earth.  I mean, so many other things can easily be revisited.  The prints and master tapes of long lost television shows and movies are typically stored in studio vaults and can be re-released at will (well, as long as it’s profitable.)  Old books and magazines are all floating around in dusty second hand and comic shops (or in the middle of a precariously stacked section of trash in a horder’s bedroom.)  Any pretty much every toy, video game or or plush doll is available on eBay, Etsy, or digitized as a rom for your downloading pleasure.  But defunct food and drink products become extinct by design.  Sure, there are actually plenty of old, full boxes of cereal, cans of pasta and cases of soda readily available for purchase, but it is all beyond safely consuming (not that some amazingly brave souls aren’t trying.)

So where does that leave a generation of kids who grew up loving certain tastes and textures?  It leaves us mostly unfulfilled.  Hey, no one ever promised us we’d have Keebler Pizzarias, Quackers, Fruit Corner branded fruit snacks, Bonkers candy, or yes, Hi-C Ecto Cooler forever.  And on the scale of things that one needs to survive in this world, re-experieincing the flavor sensations of old junk food is pretty low.  That being said, when left to our own devices we will try pretty damn hard to recreate those products.  Whether it’s finding the closest possible substitutions (did you know that El Sabroso brand Salsitas chips make a pretty damn good stand in for Keebler Pizzarias?)…

pizzaria substitution…or trying our best to recreate the recipe.  About five or six years ago an Ecto Cooler recipe started floating around the internet.  I’m not sure who originated it, but I scoped it at my bud’s site, Strange Kids Club, and tried it myself for a special Halloween treat.  It consisted of 1.5 cups of sugar, 1 packet of orange Kool-Aid mix, 1/2 packet of Lemonade Kool-Aid mix, 3/4 cup orange juice (with no pulp), 3/4 cup of tangerine juice, 14 cups of water, and 4-5 drops green food coloring.  The concoction tasted pretty close, but it was way off in consistency and because it used orange and tangerine juices as a base it was way too opaque.

homemade ecto coolerAnd backing up again for a second, why is Ecto Cooler so beloved anyway?  Where did this drink originate? Well, it might be a bit of a surprise to some but Ecto Cooler as we know and love it is actually a rebranded version of one of Hi-C’s earliest flavor varieties from 1965, Citrus Cooler Drink (which was the same green, tangerine-flavored 10% juice drink…)

Image courtesy of Dan Goodsell

Image courtesy of Dan Goodsell

That’s right, kids and families have been chugging that sweet green tangerine drink since the 60s.  In 1986-87, as part of a deal to work a Real Ghostbusters cartoon promotion into the Hi-C drink line the Citrus Cooler was rebranded to Ecto Cooler and featured everyone’s favorite ugly spud Slimer on the packaging.  Though the actual drink was not new, it was one of the coolest and longest lived of all the Ghostbusters merchandising tie-ins that not only outlasted the cartoon series it was shilling, it far exceeded the company’s expectations fandom-wise.  Even if it was just a rebranded Citrus Cooler, a who generation of kids thought it was new and amazing.  It was like drinking citrus-flavored ectoplasm, or as I used to think of it, the essence of Slimer. It’s such a simple tie in that fit so perfectly that it became a part of the fabric of so many kid’s lives for a full decade (from 1987 to 1997.)

old ecto 1 Old Ecto 2In 1997 the Slimer and Ghostbusters promotional aspect of the drink was dropped and it was again rebranded to Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen for the next few years.  In fact, back before I started Branded in the 80s, around 2001 or 2002 I was doing some research online to try and find out if Ecto Cooler was still being manufactured when I stumbled on a site called X-Entertainment (run by Matt from Dinosaur Dracula.)  Pretty sure it was there that I learned that the drink was now called Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen, and after reading his article I just had to have a taste of Ecto Cooler again.  Unfortunately no stores in my area at the time stocked it, so in what seemed like a very desperate and insane choice at the time I ended up contacting a store in upstate New York and had them ship me a case down to Georgia.  I think I paid something crazy like $40 in shipping for $9 worth of the drink, but for a couple months or so I had my Ecto Cooler nostalgic drink fix.

Since it was so expensive to procure, I didn’t try and order any more, so I was unaware until recently that the drink had one final rebranding back in 2006.  The Coca Cola Company brought the drink almost full circle by renaming it Crazy Citrus Cooler before finally retiring it for good a year later in 2007.  I think it was pretty safe to say that up until the announcement of the new Paul Fieg Ghostbusters movie starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters and nostalgic food fans had given up any hope that we’d ever have a taste of that electric green tangerine flavored beverage.  Thus, the fan concocted recipes began bouncing around the internet and a hundred online petitions to Coke were created.  Every time there was a whisper of a potential Ghostbusters 3 movie in the works all of us fans would speculate as to whether it would be a big enough deal to raise Ecto Cooler like a spectral form from the junkfood graveyard.

Then a few months ago something amazing happened.  With all the hubbub surrounding the new Ghostbusters flick taking the internet by storm, a lone empty can of Ecto Cooler popped up on eBay that very possibly signaled the return of our beloved juice drink…

the canIt looked official, was obviously not vintage (because of the calorie count shield and the 2016 Coke copyright), and was hotly bid over.  In fact, it topped out at about $200.  Now this is noting new for empty Ecto Cooler packaging.  There are routinely empty cases, juice boxes, and even full 32 ounce cans popping up on the auction site for up to $300.  But at the time no one was quite sure if this was an elaborate ruse or the real deal.  And if it was the real deal, wouldn’t it be less impulsive to wait until the movie came out to get cans at retain for way cheaper?  But this is the life of Ecto Cooler fans, and really all nostalgia fans.  We pay crazy amounts of money for tangible evidence of our pop culture obsessions.

Well, it turns out that that can was in fact the real deal, and we can fast forward back to the present and this past Thursday when a handful of bloggers and websites received care packages from Hi-C containing a very special advance shipment of one of the most desired soft drinks of the past 30 years, Ecto Freaking Cooler!

box 1I have to hand it to the marketing department on the production of this advance giftbox.  Having it designed to look like a cross between a ghost trap and a containment until was pretty rad.  The two doors on top flip open to reveal the contents inside, a single can and juice box of the newly released Ecto Cooler…

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Rounding out this set is a small barrel of toy slime which as you can see in the first picture above made for some great photo opportunities…

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So how about the taste?  How closely was the Coca Cola Company able to reformulate the original taste of Hi-C Ecto Cooler?  Perfectly.  To me it tastes the same as it did back in 2002 when I last had it, and as close as I can remember to those hazy days in the 80s when I was drinking a 32 ounce can every week.  In fact, I had pretty much no doubt in my mind that it would taste the same as it’s a specific product variety that they’d manufactured for over 40 years before they retired it in 2007.  I mean, it’s only been 9 years since it was last on store shelves, though it feels more like 20 since it wasn’t called Ecto Cooler since the late nineties.

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It was hard getting accurate pictures of just how green this amazing drink is, but rest assured, it looks exactly as you remember it too.  As an added bonus, the Hi-C logo on the can changes colors when the drink inside is chilled.  Pretty nifty little design element.

The cans and juice boxes should be hitting retail chains on May 30th.  I’m going to go ahead and say that your best bet will probably be checking out your local Target or Wal-Mart, which typically carry specialty movie tie-in merchandise like this.  My hope is that much like the original launch of Ecto Cooler, this one outlasts the movie that it’s tied to and that it hangs around for the next decade.  But just in case, stock up because it’s advertised as being a limited run only…

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So, are you excited for the return of Ecto Cooler?  Any plans to do anything crazy with it, like making popsicles, mixed drinks, or baking?  Will you be checking your local stores on May 30th?

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Peel Here #120: What do Smurfs smell like anyway?

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Looking back at the past 10 years of running this site, it’s occurred to me that a lot has changed since those early days.  One of the things that really stands out to me is that I found it incredibly important to rigorously categorize the pieces I was writing into columns for the first few years.  At first this really helped me focus on topics and to keep a regular posting schedule.  But as time went on I really started to feel like I was boxing myself in a bit and that a lot of what I was writing became formulaic.  I don’t remember if it was a conscious decision on my part, but I know that I broke free of that and started letting my current passions and collections steer the content that I write about.  Though at the end of the day I much happier with where Branded is today, I do kind of miss some of the columns that I started way back when.  So I figured it would be fun to resurrect a few of them from time to time.

So today I’m dipping back into my Peel Here column by sharing some more of my favorite scratch and sniff stickers.  This time it’s a first series of Ganz Brothers Smurfs scratch and sniff stickers from 1983.  Though I know that these were released in both the US and Canada, when I was seeking these out for my collection I could only find packaging that was originally released in Canada…

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There were 12 different sets of stickers in the first series, each with a unique scent and three different designs related designs.  Each pack as contained 12 stickers, 4 of each design…

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I always loved these kind of branded and themed stickers as a kid.  I think a lot of it had to do with the idea that the characters on the stickers were also experiencing the same scent sensation, but it was also fun to see how the artists would work in the different smells into the artwork.  So of course Grumpy’s strawberry scented ice cream fell off his cone…

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On the other hand, I never would have guess that the Smurfs turned mint leaves into skateboards, but it’s pretty rad.

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It’s also interesting that Papa Smurf ends up very prominently it all the stickers that had red colored scents (strawberry, peppermint, cherry and rose.)  Granted, he’s also in a couple of the other sets, but I think it’s neat that the designers were probably thinking about the red ink and Papa Smurfs outfit.  If you’re going to keep these stickers three-color, you might as well capitalize on that…

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Similarly, in all the sets that feature Smurfette other designs would sometimes work in yellow since her hair color was already included.  There are exceptions of course like this peanut butter sticker set below.  Speaking of which, is that Grumpy or Handy about to massacre that peanut?!

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As an adult it’s kind of fun to find the missed opportunities, like in this chocolate scented set below.  Why not have Chef Smurf carrying that cake?

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Or the fact that this cherry set below could have been branded Smurf Berry scented!

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And come on.  How can you not work Jokey into this banana set?!

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I think one of my favorite designs from this first series of stickers is the Grumpy Smurf with the popped bubblegum bubble (heck, anything that points to my online handle, Smurfwreck…)

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Lastly, I think it’s surprising that Brainy only ends up on a single sticker design in the first series.  Just this below root beer sticker…

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I love the suggestions on the back of the packaging as to where to stick your new Smurfy stickers.  Stick ‘em on your books (nope, nope, nope)!  Stick ‘em on your pirate puffy shirts (wha?!)

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I’m not positive how many series of these were made, but I know that I’ve seen a handful of other scents over the years including pizza, lemon, and fruit punch.  So I’d have to guess that there are at least two series.  Anyone know of any other scratch and sniff Smuff sticker scents?

My tiny weird Star Wars collection…

Nostalgia is such a weird beast that pulls me in some very strange directions. When it comes to collecting and impulse buys I find that I am consistently picking up some very unconventional items like being drawn to collecting 80s stickers and sticker-collecting ephemera including hobby magazines and old photo albums that had been used to house vintage collections.  Then a few years later I was building a rather large collection of old “mom magazines” (stuff like Working Woman, Woman’s Day and McCalls) because I felt a strong urge to find pictures of old household products in advertisements and stuff.  And let me just say that I have found some pretty amazing advertisements in those magazines like this badass Return of the Jedi jungle gym play set!

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Lately my attention has been focused on old school supplies (vintage Pentel mechanical pencils, Trapper Keepers, and old school folders.)   At the end of the day what I’m really seeking is that gut-punch feeling I get when I see something that very strongly reminds me of my childhood.  Sure, vintage toys and releases of old cartoons and sitcoms on DVD are cool, but the smell of a specific kind of Trend scratch and sniff sticker or the sound the Velcro makes on a Trapper Keeper flap is so vivid and clear that it’s like stepping back in time.

So when I stumbled across a gentleman that was selling mint, in-package vintage Star Wars Return of the Jedi Oral-B toothbrushes and perfectly stored empty boxes of Star Wars Pepperidge Farms cookies I didn’t hesitate and immediately plunked down $30 to reclaim a few tiny pieces of my childhood that really should not exist anymore.  Before I forget, everyone hunting for vintage toys should totally check out @FarToys_Vintage for some great stuff!

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I’m pretty sure I’ve brought this up in the past, but it still dumbfounds and amazes me that some of this stuff is still bouncing around in people’s pop culture and ephemera collections.  I mean these two Star Wars Return of the Jedi cookie boxes are the definition of trash.  I mean thousands if not hundreds of thousands of these boxes were purchased by parents around the country (even world maybe?), the cookies were eaten, and then the boxes were unceremoniously thrown in the garbage.  Who in the hell had the presence of mind to think, “Hey, I should hold onto these because 30 years from now there will be a dude who will give me $20 for these two cookie boxes.”

Granted, I know that there is/was a craze for collecting anything Star Wars related and that makes the fact that these were carefully flattened and shelved for three decades a little easier to understand.  I mean, hell, I was so into the Tim Burton Batman flick that I distinctly remember filling a short comic book box with every scrap of Batman-related anything that I could get my hands on, up to and including a full sealed box of Batman cereal (the one shrink-wrapped with the creepy Batman coin bank.)  But even though I was a rabid collector that box only stayed in my collection for a few years before it eventually ended up in the trash.

batman-cerealSimilarly, who was buying up Oral-B Star Wars toothbrushes back in 1983 and storing them in their original packaging for posterity?  Now I don’t want to come across as mocking, because as this article points out I not only bought these 30 years later, but and very, very happy that they still exist.  I just can’t help wondering how I can even be in a position to buy these things.

Anyway, on to these miracle treasures that I’ve recently been able to reconnect with.  The first item that I stumbled across was the Oral-B toothbrush.  I can so distinctly remember the day my mom bought me one of these back in 1983.  I’d already seen the movie a couple of times in the theater and I was still practically begging her to take me back to see it again.  It was a rainy overcast day in central FL and I remember driving down a back road to a local Drug Emporium in my mom’s copper-colored Mazda 626.  Though I have no proof of this I would swear that I was wearing my awesome blue Empire Strikes Back Darth Vader iron-on T-shirt as I pretty much had Star Wars on the brain 24/7 that year.

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I remember walking into the store with my mom, feeling how weirdly slick the low-pile carpeting felt underneath my Buster Browns, and then making a b-line to an aisle that had a bunch of candy and toys.  As my mom went in the back to fill a prescription I was making my way up and down the aisles scanning the shelves for anything of interest when I stopped dead in my tracks in the toothpaste section. There on a set of pegs were a bunch of colorful slim boxes with a very family logo and bunch of characters that I practically thought were my real life friends (and enemies.)  Holy crap, there were Star Wars toothbrushes and I had to have one.  I hated brushing my teeth (what kid doesn’t?) and had recently gotten into the practice of counting to counting to 60 out loud in mushy toothpaste mouth to know exactly when I could stop scrubbing.  Immediately my mind started compiling all the reasons why a Luke Skywalker toothbrush would solve all of my (and my parent’s) frustration with at bedtime as I would now love brushing my teeth.

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I’m not sure exactly how eloquent I made the argument, but that day I went home with an awesome shiny red brush with my hero, Luke Skywalker, painted on the handle.  As a very predictable postscript to this story the toothbrush did absolutely nothing to enliven my brushing experience and I’m sure I was just as cranky every night at 9:00pm as I ever was.  Either way, that day in the Drug Emporium was burnt into my brain and when I saw a mint in box toothbrush pop up in my instagram feed I absolutely had to have it.  Now, the only question that remains, and it’s a question that’s subconsciously plagued me since that fateful day, why did the designer of this series choose red as the color of the packaging and brush?  Why wasn’t it green like his lightsaber in that third movie?  There was also a Darth Vader brush in the set.  Why wasn’t that one red?

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The whole ad campaign for these was pretty awesome considering they were just cheap toothbrushes.  There were posters produced, as well as activity books and even an official plaque-fighting club that you could join!

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Moving on to the second nostalgia gut punch.  About a week after I picked up the toothbrush from Faraway Toys on instagram, he blew me away again by offering up a set of two Pepperidge Farms Star Wars Return of the Jedi cookie boxes.  Holy hell did I ever eat my weight in these as a kid.  If memory serves they weren’t even that good, but anything edible and shaped like Chewbacca, Admiral Ackbar, and Luke Skywalker was a favorite.  These came in three varieties, Peanut Butter, Vanilla, and Chocolate (the latter being offered exclusively in the “dark side” villain character shapes.)  Though I remember the dry, crumbly cookies coming in a foil bag inside these boxes, I don’t really have any specific memories of eating them.  I just know that I did because I can recall almost every aspect of these boxes that I undoubtedly poured over while munching on the cookies.  I was always a food container reader, something that I continue to this day.

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No matter how these things ended up surviving, I can’t thank @FarToys_Vintage enough for allowing me to reconnect with some very obscure treasures from my past.

What’s your favorite weird tiny nostalgic collection?

But Does it Hold Up?

It’s weird when you come to the realization that you’re getting older, especially when you’re a kid at heart. Sure, we all tick off each year with a birthday and we watch the holidays and seasons fly by, but as we run through our twenties and thirties, it’s hard not to continuously feel like a teenager.  I make plenty of jokes about being the grump out on the stoop shaking a toy lightsaber at the “youngins” barking at them to get off my lawn, but it wasn’t until the past few years when I really started to feel older.  It started with generally losing track of the music scene and who the comedians were on the cast of Saturday Night Live, but the next thing I knew I was walking out of the movie theater bitching about all the teens texting and how loud and ridiculously disorienting the film was.  Then at work I found myself explaining to my younger co-workers what 8-Trac and cassette tapes are, as well as describing what playing the original Nintendo Entertainment System was so much fun.  They couldn’t get past the fact that most games didn’t have save points or that you couldn’t respawn where your character bit the dust and that you’d have to play the whole level over again from scratch.  Long story short, I really began to start feeling old, like I was officially part of a generation removed that is no longer driving pop culture at all.

cassette1_3033301bI can totally accept that, but there are aspects to this shift in generation that bug me, and it’s not just feeling like I have to defend my pop culture to a younger generation, what really bothers me is having to defend it to my own. I get why the younger generation mocks the TV shows and cartoons that I grew up on, I mean I did the same thing to a certain extent with my parent’s pop culture.  It’s just a symptom of the changing of the guard.  But what really kills me is when folks my age look back to our shared pop culture experiences and they sneer and inevitably say the four words that really burrow under my skin in the worst way, “It Doesn’t Hold Up.”  This typically comes after I’ve been chatting with someone and I mention that I collect 80s era ephemera and cartoons on DVD.  I’ll bring up a series like the Silverhawks or Jem and they’re get really excited as they remember something that’s long been buried in their psyche.  “Oh, I used to love that show!” is what they say, followed by a promise to look it up on Netflix or Hulu.  Then, about a week or so later I’ll run into them again and there will be a weird hostility in their voice as they inform me that they watched a few episodes of that long forgotten cartoon and they were “sooooo disappointed…” because “It Didn’t Hold Up.”

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This always makes me wonder what exactly folks are expecting out of revisiting the pop culture of their youth. Are they expecting the shows to feel like they were written today, with current day ethics and attention spans taken into consideration?  Are they expecting there to be a layer of adult innuendo that they missed as a kid?  Or are they simply hoping that what made them excited, laugh or smile as a kid would still be the thing that hit them in the same place as an adult?  Honestly, it’s probably all three, and after realizing that the first two expectations didn’t pan out they’re disappointed (sometimes angrily so.)  This typically also leads to the ranking game, the “what were the best (fill in the blank) back in the day”, that also usually raises my hackles a little.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have no problem with folks ranking their favorite shows or movies, but it inevitably becomes a competition (well a perceived one at least) where I’m asked to make my list for comparison.  I hate being put in that position as it makes me feel defensive and weird if the other person has already decided something on my list “doesn’t hold up.”  Nostalgia is a celebration and an acknowledgement of the shared pop culture experience, it’s not a competition or a dick measuring contest.

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I think this also brings me back to an ideal that I try very hard to adhere to when writing for Branded, the idea that every cartoon, comic book, toy, live action show, sitcom, band, song and movie is someone’s favorite thing in the world.  Even the Mon Chi Chi’s Rubix the Amazing Cube, or the seasons of Diff’rent Strokes with Danny Cooksey.

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I always try my best to invoke this perspective when I approach a subject, to put myself in the shoes of a superfan so that I can get to the heart of why something works or is cool.  In this online era of negativity with all the snark, butt-hurt expectations and angry backlash from fandom at the mere mention of re-launching a dormant brand for a new generation, I truly believe that I have to take the optimistic perspective and earn the right to bag on something.  I know it’s not popular to continuously play the optimist, but I’d rather sacrifice pageviews, comments, likes and followers for a more fun and upbeat nostalgia experience.  It’s not simply just a matter of “If you don’t have nothing nice to say…”, because I think there is a very important place for dissent, criticism, and anger.  But I do think that that perspective has to be earned or else it rings hollow, argumentative or baiting.

I guess this all leads me to a few questions.  Am I weird for not caring if a show or movie from my childhood “holds up” or not?  Does anyone think that today’s pop culture will hold up twenty years from now?  Have you ever been in a situation where you felt weird for loving a TV show or movie that everyone around you thought was stupid because it didn’t hold up for them?  If there is a show that doesn’t hold up for you, have you still been able to find any enjoyment revisiting it, or does it sort of become something that you divorce yourself from?

Lets Talk About that Epic HBO Feature Presentation Intro from the 80s

I always felt very lucky to have had access to cable television as a kid growing up in the 80s.  Whether it was the fact that I had access to WGN so that I could be exposed to the Bozo Show (and more importantly the Grand Prize Game segments), Nickelodeon and the plethora of awesome programming on the network, or the handful of years when my folks popped for the extra $20 a month to subscribe to HBO.  Home Box Office was chock full of really cool stuff back in the day, shows like Fraggle Rock, Encyclopedia, and the Buy Me That specials hosted by Jim Fyfe.

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But hands down the single coolest thing on HBO was the minute and a half intro that played before all of the first run movies in the evenings.  If you had HBO in the 80s and 90s you know the one…

This awesome Feature Presentation introduction with is bombastic score and its extremely 80s era effects work is one of those pieces of media that is burned into the memory of anyone who was subscribed during the decade.  In fact there are some movies that I’ve watched a hundred times off of a VHS that taped from an HBO broadcast where this intro feels like it’s part of the film.  Much in the same way that the 20th Century Fox intro feels like a part of the original Star Wars trilogy or the Tri Star Pegasus intro feels like a part of the Monster Squad, this HBO intro has become associated with a ton of films for me.

I can’t count how many times my co-hosts Paxton and Jaime have brought it up when we’re recording the Cult Film Club podcast, sharing memories of the films it played before and breaking down some of the little details (like how neat it is that the HBO logo is basically a space station beaming down movies to the earth below.)  Yet, in all our conversations in never occurred to me just how detailed this short introduction really is.  In fact, up until this past weekend I was under the impression that a portion of the intro, the HBO shaped space station/satellite, was a (literal) shining example of some early CGI animation.  Turns out, not so much!

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After falling down the rabbit hole that is youtube for a few hours I stumbled upon a pretty amazing bit of vintage HBO, a behind the scenes special on the making of the HBO Feature Presentation intro!

You know that HBO knew they had something special on their hands when they took the time to produce a Making-Of alongside the actual intro.  First of all, I love that this short video exists because now I have some insight into who actually worked on the intro.  Folks like that are usually the unsung heroes of pop culture because they’re working in a marketing capacity.  I mean, show of hands, how many people can name at least 10 different Transformers characters from the 80s toyline?  Most of you right?  Now, how many of you can name at least one of the artists who painted box art for those toys? I’m guessing not nearly as many.  This isn’t to say the we’re not interested in these artists, it’s just that there is almost no visibility into who these folks are.  So after almost 30 years of loving this HBO intro, I finally get to learn who some of the folks are who worked on it, folks who’s art and talent have burned its way into my permanent memory.

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The video (embedded above) is about 10 minutes long and it details the work done on some of the 60 plus visual elements that went into making the intro.  The intro was written, designed and shot by Liberty Studios out of NYC headed up by company president Anthony Lover (wow, what a name!)

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Their idea was to create a look and feel to the HBO brand that really set it apart from anything that had previously been on TV or cable by metaphorically bridging the gap between the cable company and its audience.  That’s why the intro begins with a shot looking through the window of a family’s home where they are sitting down to watch TV.  The piece starts with us, and then it pans out to a building, then a city street, then a city, the country, the horizon, and eventually into space and the HBO signal space station.  By pushing forward even more, entering the giant spinning HBO logo we’re brought full circle into the Feature Presentation animation which is what would be playing on the TV in that first home.

One of the things that really struck me was just how much of this intro was practically shot with actual props, up to and including that brilliant shiny metal HBO logo in space (with a fun practical backlit starburst effect created by David Bruce!)

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I never would have guessed that they manufactured that piece out of brass, and now I’m insanely curious to know where that piece is now?  I assume it’s in the office of some HBO bigwig, but it’s just as likely in a landfill (I mean, look at where the Deathstar shooting model would have ended up had it not been for my friend Todd over at Neato Coolville, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3!)

I also think it’s rad that the 6-person model team and the Special Effects Model director (James Kowalski) built and shot a huge cityscape in about 1:64 scale (Hot Wheel car size.)

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They built all the building facades, trees, lamp posts, and even working traffic lights, as well as putting in a ton of details like potted plants sitting on the fire escapes, the painted lines in the streets and even tiny signs.  They went so far to put in working lights in every room in every building and house in the model.  Even the headlights on all the cars and buses work.  The artists even peppered the city with bums and hookers, so if you have a keen eye and a fast finger for the pause button you can scope some crazy details.  Overall the model is about 10 feet wide and 30 feet long.  That’s 300 square feet of awesome that took three months to build!

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I love that there ended up being so much detail, so many tiny flourishes that caught the eye that they realized in order to make it look real and not fake in a hyper-reality sort of way, they had to pump in smoke to blur the horizon and give the perception of a more natural three dimensional environment.  As you travel through the model the foreground becomes crisp and clear while the background stays slightly fuzzy.  The effect is pretty damn amazing and points to why practical effects will always trump CGI for realism.

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The music for the HBO intro is just as important as the effects that go into the visuals too.  The piece was composed by Ferdinand J. Smith and performed by a 65 piece orchestra, illustrating that HBO spared no expense for this short one and a half minute introduction. Also, before I forget and neglect to mention it, the music in this making of video is amazingly reminiscent of the 70s/early 80s Sesame Street music which makes the whole thing that much more fun.

So, if you’re like me and you grew up with your eyes glued to HBO, it’s totally worth checking out this 10 minute making of video.  Now, if I could only get similar behind the scenes pieces on the Tri-Star, 20th Century Fox, and 80s era Nickelodeon intros!

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