Apparently 8 is the magic number…

So, in just a couple of weeks Branded in the 80s will turn 8 years old.  Though it’s kind of arbitrary, we tend to focus on the “big” anniversaries in the five-year increment territory, but I had a couple of milestones I really wanted to hit when I started this project.  The first was making it to the seven year mark because I have a special fondness for that particular digit.  The second is marking the 8th birthday of the site because again, it has a special meaning to me.  I first dreamed of having my own little spot on the internet back around 1998.  I’d been farting around the interwebs via AOL and Compuserve and I really wanted to stake out a small piece of the digital landscape to do something.  My best friend, who was in the midst of getting his computer science degree at the time, had just recently built a website for a class project and he promised me he’d help me build one of my own.  It never materialized, though a lot of that had to do with my not knowing exactly what it was that I wanted to do with a website.  Regardless, that marks the beginning of what would eventually become Branded, and it took me eight long years of brainstorming and procrastinating before I eventually settled on what I wanted to do.  So in the back of my brain I’ve always hoped that I’d be able to keep this thing going at least as long as it took me to get it off the ground.  Well, mission accomplished I guess.  As for my next milestone, well, I don’t really have one I guess.  I’m kind of curious to see what will happen at the eleven year mark considering that will mean that I would have spent slightly more time talking about the 80s than the decade itself lasted.

Anyway, when I look back at where the site started and where it really took off for me the one aspect that kind of changed everything was when I started investing in a pretty stupidly large collection of 80s stickers to scan and share.  Part of this came out of wanting to acquire a bunch of the stickers I had as a kid, but another was that there was a distinct lack of sticker scans floating around on the internet and I felt like it was an opportunity to contribute a small portion to the digital nostalgic pop culture zeitgeist.  One of the aspects I love about the nostalgia-minded community is the eagerness to share the cool junk that we love.  So it was pretty neat timing that while I was thinking back on all of this I was approached by the cool lady behind the rad RainbowBrite.co.uk website with to help share some fun stuff.

cologo01She obviously runs a pretty neat Rainbow Brite fan site, so she acquired a bunch of info and ephemera to post up there.  But in her research and collecting she’s amassed a bunch of other cool non-RB stuff that she felt needed to get out there.  So she graciously offered to send me some scans of a pretty neat 1985 Mattel Events Guide to share here at Branded.  Tying this in a bit more into my silly milestone is that I just happened to turn eight the year this Event guide was published (seriously, there has to be something to this, numerology-wise…)

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These event guides were sent out to retailers as a way for Mattel to bolster excitement for their product lines and I’m sure to secure a larger market share of the retail market by encouraging stores to increase orders and devote more shelf and peg space to Mattel stuff.  They did this by helping to host local in-store meet and greet events with some of Mattel’s most popular brands and characters.  So if you were lucky enough to shake hands with Skeletor at a Toys R Us back int he day, most likely this was one of the guides that the store had to help them schedule and promote the event…

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It’s really cool to get a glimpse into this aspect of the marketing and promotion of some of our favorite toys from back in the 80s.  Not only is it cool to see some rad artwork that only exists to promote these in-store events (like the neat illustration of the Hot Wheels play area that was shipped to the store), but it’s also awesome to see and read about some of the swag for the event that was either given away (like the Hot Wheels kid’s drivers licenses) or became a “free item with purchase” like the super cool Hot Wheels combination watch/wallet below!

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1985 was also a great year for Mattel toys because they were hip deep in the Marvel Secret Wars toy line…

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What really struck me about this Secret Wars event is that it wasn’t just geared towards boys.  Mattel makes it clear that “boys AND girls” will received a free water color poster.  That kind of inclusion back in the 80s seems pretty rare, but then again, Mattel worked on some pretty progressive toy lines like these two favorites, Princess of Power and Masters of the Universe!  I mean I know most of the boys who were into He-Man were also secretly into She-Ra…

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Man, I feel like I missed out so much on these in-store events.  I never managed to attend one and after reading through this guide I feel like I missed out on some amazing experiences and swag.  So, I wonder if a little boy could have been initiated into the Legion of Good receiving a free golden power ring and poster?  I sure as hell hope so.  Also, holy crap, a 15 foot high replica of the Crystal Castle?!?  How awesome would that have been to see?  I wonder if the stores had to ship them back or of they were ordered to destroy them.  I have to imagine that one of these must have made it into a private collection.  Hell, at that size it would practically be big enough for kids to play in as a fort.  The mid boggles at the possibilities…

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Apparently for ’85 Mattel introduced new full body costumes for He-Man and Skeletor.  I’ve seen photos of buff guys in the He-Man duds before, but never a full body costume like this complete with toy-accurate mask and all.  I like that they even managed to replicate the spiny fin on Skeletor’s wrists (like on the toy…)  Sadly there was no 15 foot Castle Greyskull or Snake Mountain, but there were some pretty rad glow in the dark posters!

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A lot of this stuff has to be pretty rare.  I searched for awhile and couldn’t find and example of the glow in the dark Masters of the Universe poster (not even on He-Man.org!)  So it;s cool at least to get a glimpse into this promotional world to know that this stuff exists.  FYI, there’s a bit more to this Event Guide, specifically the Rainbow Brite section, but if you want to see that head on over to the cool RainbowBrite.co.uk to find out what was in that in-store event.  Thanks again to them for sharing this rad piece of 80s toy ephemera and helping to make the nostalgia community that much richer!

Mattel Events Guide 8

 

Reconsidering Billy Francis Kopeke…

This past week I dove back into my Awesome 80s Bedrooms dissections by taking a look at Josh Baskin’s childhood room in the 1988 Penny Marshall film Big.  After posting that article a reader (The Navigator) pointed out the fact that there is an Extended Edition of the flick on DVD with some extra sequences in Josh’s room, so at the next opportunity I got I ran out to my local used DVD shop and picked up a copy.  After watching through the longer version of the film I was sort of taken aback by a slight shift in the tone.  Though the movie has a nice balance of slapstick, heart and sadness that has elevated it past its 80s zany comedy roots into a true cinema classic, most of the excised footage that was added back into film plays to the more somber notes of the story and in particular adds a whole new depth to the character of Baskin’s BFF (or BFK), Billy Francis Kopeke.  About 10 minutes of these restored deleted scenes feature Jared Rushton’s Billy, and a sizable chunk of these are solo scenes focusing on the character’s home life, his interaction with Josh’s Mom and his mission to track down the errant Zoltar machine that will save his friend from a particularly nasty case of early onset adulthood.  This footage gave me a new appreciation for Billy and it forced me to look at the movie with a whole new perspective.  It alters the light-hearted comedic tone for me, as well as sort of switching the focus of the story from appreciating one’s own childhood to a sobering fight to save a friendship.

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Before I dig into my new appreciation for Billy, I wanted to take a second and note that I love Jared Rushton’s performance in the flick.  Rushton brought a realism to Billy that is lacking in so many of the other kid characters from 80s flicks that I adore.  Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love movies like The Monster Squad, Explorers or the Goonies, a lot of the kids in these flicks were very obviously “acting”, lacking that natural, authenticity that made the characters feel, well, real.  They tend to be caricatures of kids, which is great for what it is and for serving those stories, but it tends to hold these films back from feeling like true “classics”.  A good comparison might be the difference between Stand By Me and say the Goonies.  Both top favorites of mine, but no matter how much I praise and love Mikey, Data, Mouth and Chunk they don’t have that effortless relate-ability.  They’re too “loud”, character-wise.  For me, Rushton brought a much more nuanced take on Billy even for his scripted excitement over the Truck-a-Piller, or his overreacting tears when Hanks as Josh first approaches him in the school gym equipment room.

As for the character of Billy, while watching back through to film to try and spot a bunch of pop culture fun I noticed a couple things about Kopeke I hadn’t really processed before.  For instance there’s the fact that he’s apparently a huge fan of monsters.  He’s constantly sporting monster shirts throughout the flick, from the high contrast Wolfman image he’s wearing in the shot above, to the shirts featuring Frankenstein’s monster, the Creature, and even a Forbidden Planet tee in the shots below…

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This also becomes a little more apparent when I took a closer look at Billy’s bedroom in the couple of scenes at the beginning of the film before Josh gets “Big”.  You can see some Frankenstein and Mummy figures on the floor and in a toy crate…

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Nothing Earth-shattering, but it was kind of a cool thing to notice personally since I’ve become such a monster kid over the last couple of decades.  Anyway, getting back to the more developed version of Billy Kopeke, one of the first re-inserted scenes in the extended edition of Big follows Billy as he and Josh split up after coming home from their stick-ball game and massive session of “need it, got it, need it, need it, got it”.  In the original version the sequences cuts to Josh and Billy in their PJs discussing whether or not Josh has a shot with Cynthia, the blonde from the credits sequence that he has a crush on.  In the extended cut Josh gets a little whiny with his parents for insisting they moving his toddler sister into his room.  What I found fascinating is that this is inter-cut with Billy going home to his family (who we see on screen for the first time, well at least we now know that they’re his family), and having to basically play the dual role of the invisible child/housekeeper.

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The sequence shows him making dinner and setting the table as his rather large family bickers and zones out around the dinner table.  No one thanks him as he pulls a roast from the oven and sets it down, or butters the potatoes and brings them to the table.  There’s just a constant set of shrill complaints from his overbearing mother (uncredited but portrayed by the striking Francis Fisher) who ironically is lambasting her family for not lifting a finger to help her (as Billy does all the work.)  He then proceeds to fix himself a plate and goes up alone to his room to eat and then talk with Josh, reassuring, encouraging and supporting his best friend through his girl-crush crisis.

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Again, it’s not like this scene is so pivotal that it necessarily changes the course of the film perse, but it adds a depth to Billy really setting him up as the rock that so many people depend on and take for granted.  The fact that he never complains, is always quick with an answer or joke, and is generally upbeat says a lot about his inner strength which Rushton exudes with ease.  Since so much of the focus of the film rests on Tom Hanks’ shoulders, it’s easy to relegate Kopeke/Rushton to the friend who is there for the silly string puke fight and the confidant that agrees that Baskin needs to get his check changed into three dimes, a single hundred dollar bill, and eighty seven ones.

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When you combine this sequence with the one at the school on the morning when Josh mystically ages up it gets slightly deeper.  Alone in gym class, Billy is the awkward kid who shows a brave face and tries to participate (even if he thinks it’s dumb), only to be ridiculed and mocked by the rest of the class and blamed for a mess he didn’t create by the coach.  Without Josh by his side Billy is utterly alone, both with no other apparent friends and no one in his family that even pays attention to him unless he’s on the phone (and then only to yell at him to get off.)

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When you consider that Josh is off on an adventure in New York for six or seven weeks and then think about how much it must mean to billy to steal into the city and spend some quality time catching up, going out to a Yankees game or dancing on the back of a delivery truck, it makes the betrayal of Josh brushing off the search for the Zoltar machine sting all that much more.  That brings up an interesting point between the two character’s differences too.  When Josh is first freaking out about his predicament, Billy is there at every step of the way with an solution to the problem.  He snags his father’s “emergency” fund risking who knows what kind of punishment from his folks.  He takes Josh to the city and finds the hotel.  He brings him clothes, suggests he get a job, helps him look, and even comes up with the social security number solution (even if it was three digits off, “oh-one-two.”)  He’s also the only one really working to find the Zoltar.  In some additional deleted sequences the film shows him calling through the list of companies and license holders that are on the list they ordered from the city.

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Billy really is the more capable of the two, and when it comes right down to it he’s the only one who is fighting to keep their friendship alive.  If it were up to Josh, he’d so easily move on.  So at the end of the film, when Billy makes his last stand and storm into Josh’s office and throwing down the gauntlet of their friendship, after all the new material cut into the flick it really does make this scene more emotional.  Again, it sort of changes the overall message of the film for me too.  It’s not so much about Josh’s personal journey anymore, but coming back to his senses and ultimately coming back to his steadfast friend Billy Francis Kopeke (which is then underlined by book-ending the film with the two of them walking down the street after another game of stick-ball.)  We should all have a BFF like Billy, or more accurately, a BFK.

 

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: Big Edition

It’s been a little while since I sat down and dissected an awesome pop culture bedroom so I thought I’d dive back in by taking a closer look at Josh Baskin’s childhood room in the 1988 movie Big.  First off I love this movie to death, and love all the little details and weird merchandising (like the wacky comic book adaptation.)  This movie is literally bursting at the seams with amazing 80s toys, I mean between all of the Masters of the Universe, Bravestarr, and ThunderCats posters up in the cubicles where he works at MacMillan Toys, all of the stuff in the Photon Showdown scene in the toy store (Fireball Island, StarCom, Pound Puppies and giant kid-sized Lamborghini’s), the plethora of stuff in his office (including MOTU, Silverhawks, G.I. Joe and M.A.S.K.), or all the junk in his apartment (Thundercats sheets, Inhumanoilds and giant Gumbys) you can kind of go numb trying to spot all the cool stuff.  Matt over at Dinosaur Dracula did a fantastic job of breaking a bunch of that stuff down.  But I’m gonna concentrate on some of the stuff in Josh’s bedroom in his house at the start of the film…

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The flick opens up with some great shots of Josh’s room and in the mess there is some pretty neat stuff…

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1). Galoob Power Machines Flex

Galoob Power Machines Flex

2). Bravestarr Stratocoach from Mattel

Bravestarr Stratocoach

3). G.I. Joe Devilfish

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4). Garbage Pail Kids school folders

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I had a few of those GPK folders and man I wished I’d hung onto them.  For awhile it was the only way I could get a glimpse at some of the 1st series John Pound artwork since those stickers were near impossible to find when I started collecting back when the 2nd and 3rd series were just coming out.  Also, you gotta love that Galoob Flex motorized truck.  From the same folks that brought us The Animal and Leader 16 (aka Truckapiller!)  But, from a slightly different angle we can see Josh also had some Masters of the Universe stuff…

**UPDATE**

So it was killing me the entire time I wrote this post.  There were a couple of toys that I just could not place for the life of me.  But finally after an exhaustive search I finally found them!

13). Gold Chrome Variant Laser Force Spaceship from Gay Toys 1983

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14). Green Laser Force Tank from Gay Toys 1983

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These were apparently available in many different color schemes with various colored attachments and canopy colors.  There, now I can rest easy tonight… :p

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5). Laster Tag bed sheets and comforter

6). Masters of the Universe Bashasaurus

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Josh was also a fan of Spider-Man as we can see in this next shot…

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7). Power Tronic Secret Wars Spider-Man Walkie Talkie

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8). The Amazing Spider-Man light switch cover

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What I totally forgot was that Josh shared a room with his baby sister, and thanks to my girlfriend Jaime I now know that, that huge toy in the crib with her is a Pillow Person!

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9). Pillow People Sweet Dreams doll

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There are a couple of other things I wanted to mention from Josh’s house, namely his super rad taste in, um, undergarments…

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10). Kellogs Strawberry Squares cereal

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11). M.A.S.K. Funpals/Underoos

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You know, I’ve wanted to do an advertising retrospective on Underoos for years.  I have a bunch that I’ve found in old issues of McCalls and Woman’s Day from the 80s, but do you have any idea how hard it is to write and article about kid’s underwear, no matter how freaking awesome the branding might be, without feeling like a skeezy perv?  It’s next to impossible.  I mean just putting all the imagery from the advertisements together, all the kids prancing around super happy in their underwear, well it’s more than a little weird.  Sigh.  At least this movie gives me a good excuse to finally talk about it a little.  And now that I am, um, how mind-meltingly awesome is it that we live in a world where a two-time Oscar winning actor has been caught on film sporting a pair of Underoos featuring one of my favorite cartoons of all time?!?  And people wonder why I love the 80s…

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12). Silverhawks Underoos

15). Tyco Zero Gravity Cliffhangers Slot Car Set (which you can see under his bed in the first screen shot above…)

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16). Etch a Sketch

**UPDATED**

So, thanks to The Navigator for pointing out that there are more shots of Josh’s bedroom in the recent Extended Edition of Big which features 20 minutes of additional scenes Penny Marshall added back in to her director’s cut of the film!  In a screen shot from the below scene we can see that Josh had more Bravestarr toys than I first realized…

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17). Bravestarr Neutra-Laser

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18). Bravestarr 30-30 action figure

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There’s also some sort of boxed robot toy underneath the bed in the light blue/teal box.  I can’t make out the text completely, but it looks like “… Man” and it appears to be some sort of gold Gundam-esque mecha or robot.  Anyone have any ideas on what this might be?

Also, after watching the Extended Edition for the first time last night I was trying to be hyper aware and for the first time I noticed a rather awesome piece of pop culture ephemera in Josh’s supremely UN-awesome NY hotel room.  I’m labeling this as “negative one” because that room sucks!

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-1) Mr. T Air Freshener

$_57Last but certainly not least, I wanted to leave you all with this other neat item that I think gets overlooked in the movie.  In the famous boardroom pitch scene where we’re introduced to the delightful if rather pointless transforming skyscraper (“I don’t get it…”), there is another interesting and totally pointless prototype transformer in the background…

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The Car-nimal!  Seriously, it’s a car that transforms into a car with legs instead of wheels.  The irony isn’t quite as astounding as a transforming skyscraper, but it’s still pretty silly and dumb.  Love these little details in the film.  You know, now that I’m thinking about it, is the Sky Scraper Bot really all that dumb?  I mean, we did have Fortress Maximus and Metroplex.  Think about it…

Other Awesome Bedrooms I’ve covered…

Sara’s Room from Adventures in Babysitting

Eugene’s Room from The Monster Squad

Mikey’s room from the Goonies

David’s room from Flight of the Navigator

Robbie’s room from Poltergeist

Ben’s room from The Explorers

Pee Wee’s room from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Elliott’s room from E.T. Part 1    Elliott’s room Part 2

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Reclaiming my Childhood: Miscellaneous Edition

So I’ve written numerous times about how much I want to rebuild the toy collection I had as a child and how difficult that is for me because I’m not all that fond of buying loose used toys.  I have a  mental block against buying another kid’s memories if that makes sense.  So my stance has been to patiently wait until I find min on card (or mint in box) versions of the stuff I want.  Again, this comes with its own set of hurdles, mainly monetary in nature.  As much as I want to re-collect these treasures, I find it next to impossible to fork over much money to procure them.  Same story told a million times by other toy collectors and nostalgia buffs.  Lately my tactic has been to ignore the really popular toy lines, the Transformers, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, Star Wars and M.A.S.K. in lieu of searching out the more obscure stuff.  Depending, the prices can be much cheaper and there aren’t quite as many 30-somethings clamoring for them so they’re easier to snag without getting into bidding wars on eBay.

I was pretty excited this past weekend when I stumbled upon one of these slightly more obscure toys at the local vintage toy shop I’ve been frequenting.  Sitting there in a glass display case was a single carded Tonto action figure from The Legend of the Lone Ranger line by Gabriel from 1980…

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Sure, the card was pretty beat up with a huge crease across the top, but this is exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for on my vintage toy hunt.  The intention isn’t to keep the figure hermetically sealed on the card anyway; I want to open it up and hold it again.  So for $10 how could I pass this up?

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I originally had both Tonto and the Lone Ranger from this Gabriel line based on the 1980 film.  I honestly don’t think I ever saw the movie but I did catch the old black and white series on reruns and loved the Filmation cartoon, so at some point I must have begged my parents for these.  I must have been 3 or 4 at the time.  Though I’d love to reacquire both figures, Tonto was always my favorite because he came with both a pistol and a really neat buck knife.  I wrote about this action figure line awhile back as well

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I also vividly remember loving his purple belt/sash.  Even as a kid I appreciated fun color matching in my action figures.  With both of the figures I had, my favorite aspect was that you could actually holster their pistols and sheath Tonto’s buck knife.  This was pretty advanced for action figures this early in the 80s.  I mean aside from some removable helmets and the lightsaber action on the early Star Wars figures most toys weren’t that intricate.  These also had knee-joint articulation as opposed to the Kenner figures, a stepping stone that would lead to the broader range of joints that Hasbro would use with G.I. Joe.

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I love the card art for these toys as well, working in the tone and style of the movie’s poster art, but instead of just cloning the painting they did a new piece just for the toys…

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I also love the Silver Bullet on the back of the card.  I’m not positive, but I wonder if the idea was to treat the bullets like the Kenner Star Wars points (or the later Robot and Flag points that Hasbro offered with Transformers and G.I. Joe) so that kids could save them up and use them to mail away for special promotional figures or sets.  There was actually a mail-away cardboard playset for these Gabriel figures, but weirdly enough the form requested that kids cut out the character names from the cards to act as the proof of purchase?!?  Check out this ad my good friend Paxton posted on his site The Cavalcade of Awesome when he was taking about the similar Kenner Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid toy line from the same year…

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Total missed opportunity to use the Silver Bullet Points!  Just another example that I was born too late to make awesome branding decisions for these companies.  Gotta work on that time machine…

Anyway, over the past couple of months I managed to pick up some more slightly obscure action figures I had when I was a kid.  I thought this would be a fun time to share those as well.  My parents took some chances on odd toy lines and I’m curious whether they thought that I wasn’t interested in them or if they just bought them as a fluke?  I had a bunch of figures in which I only owned one or two of the toys like the ThunderCats (just had Mumm-Ra and Slithe), Silverhawks (just had a Quicksilver), or Tonto and the Lone Ranger.  In this same camp were Warduke (from the LJN Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) and some miscellaneous Blackstar villain figure (which I must have quickly rejected or lost) because I had one of the little included neon green demon PVC figures…

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I’m really loving picking up this miscellaneous figures since they’re basically one and done.  They really feel a lot like a true missing piece to my past being put back in place.  I will say that I broke my normal loose figure buying rules with these.  I saw the Galoob Blackstar Demon at a toy show up in Baltimore and I couldn’t beat the price.  Besides, it’s not like I want to shell out the moolah for a mint Blackstar villain on the card when I’m not even sure which one I had.

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As for Warduke here, well, I recently won a D&D Dwarf figure from this same line from The Garage Sale of Awesome and it felt weird owning that and not my long lost Warduke.  I had some Amazon cash burning a hole in my pocket so I picked one up blindly from a third party seller for a couple bucks.  He’s not in the best shape (mostly some gauntlet paint wear and he’s missing his rad shield and ice sword, but I’ve researched MOC prices for this little guy and man, that is just never going to happen on my budget!

All in all these guys make for one awesomely Awkward Toy Family Photo!

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They also look great in my collection that adorns (read: is taking over) my entertainment center…

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Now, if I can just find a cheap Quicksilver figure from the Silverhawks line…

I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Gamer & Other Strangeness

Recently while organizing one of my bookshelves I found myself reminiscing over a stack of my old RPG game books.  I haven’t gamed in well over a decade and a half, but I’ve clung to the various modules, rulebooks and expansions because I spent so much time pouring over them I can’t imagine not having them around.  I first discovered table-top gaming as a dorky teen.  My father had just recently moved our family across country twice within a year and I felt disconnected from everything save what was going on in the pages of the Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine.  It was the end of 1990, and having just turned thirteen I was also caught up in the whirlwind hype of another group of “teens”, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thanks to becoming slightly obsessed with the first live action film that was released in theaters earlier that year.  I was basically living exclusively through and for the fantasy worlds of cartoons, movies and comics having had to leave my friends and sister in Florida, and then not even getting a chance to connect with any other kids while I was up north for 9 months.  Our family ended up putting down roots just outside of Atlanta and after scouting out a local comic store where I could get my monthly sequential art fix I began to feel at home.  At the time comics were my lifeline for sure…

AmazingSpider-Man328It wasn’t long after that I was enrolled in the local middle school, finally starting my eighth grade year of school about three weeks late.  I spent my bonus summer vacation time in an extended-stay suite while our family was waiting for our new house to be finished being built, and I was suffering from terrible case of cabin fever and feeling utterly disconnected from other kids.  Though normally an extreme introvert, when I first started riding the bus to my new school I was kind of dying to break out of my shell and meet some new kids.  One afternoon I was sitting alone behind two guys that were having an animated conversation about comics.  I wish I could remember exactly what they were talking about (if I had to guess it was probably McFarlane’s art on issue 328 of the Amazing Spider-Man featuring the “Mr. Fixit” grey Hulk), but whatever it was I was so happy to have found some other comic readers that I did something I had never done before.  I butted myself into the conversation telling them all about my comic collection and how one of my favorite comics was issue 8 of Wolverine that also featured a guest appearance by Mr. Fixit.

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I offered to bring in doubles I had for that issue for both of them the next day, and thus started a friendship with a group of local misfits that lasted all through high school and college.  It wasn’t long after this that they introduced me to another friend of theirs and before I knew it we’d sort of formed a tight nit group of four, like the Three Musketeers and d’Artagnan, or more appropriately, the TMNT.  We all watched the Fred Wolf cartoon and had a smattering of action figures, but after a chance encounter with another local teen on the bus that winter we were introduced to the glue that would keep our little cadre together for years to come, the core rulebook for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness…

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There was a couple of older kids that were a grade ahead of us (in high school!) that we kind of knew and traded comics with occasionally and one day they brought the above book on the bus and it kind of blew our 8th grade minds.  I think we’d all heard of Dungeons & Dragons, but none of us was really all that into high fantasy and never contemplated that there might be role playing games that were outside of that genre, let alone based on a comic/cartoon series that we all liked.  Within the week all four of us had manged to secure copies of the main book and we were all on the lookout for sets of non-standard dice so we could start creating characters and figure out how to play this game.  I remember bugging my parents relentlessly to find a place where I could get some role playing dice, and after consulting the phone book I found a store in a ritzy mall 30 miles away called the Sword of the Phoenix that specialized in stocking all sorts of dice and game books.  That weekend we made the trek out and I bought my first two sets of clear gem dice (one purple and one blue.)  I only have a couple of these left in my collection (two four-sided) that you can see below…

donnydice 1

Looking back this entirety of the experience is kind of a blur, but for about three or four years we had a standing Saturday gaming session that rotated between a handful of our houses.  Typically these involved a metric ton of Cheetos, Cool Ranch Doritos, white cheddar Smartfood popcorn, yellow vanilla Zingers, and gallons upon gallons of store-brand soda.  At the time these weekend meetups seemed so epic in scale.  We’d all take turns acting as the gamemaster, writing what we thought were magnum opus stories to test the intelligence and mettle if our group, though in reality only a couple of us were semi-decent at running the campaigns (certainly not me) and the rest of us were more concerned with equipping our characters with stuff and jukeing up their abilities.

The basic concept of TMNT & Other Strangeness is creating mutant animal characters that exist in same world of Eastman & Laird’s creations.  It’s sort of like combining the A-Team and the Turtles, where the game master creates environments for a group of characters to have an adventure in.  I say the A-Team because the game is sort of geared towards creating mercenary-like characters in battle-torn militant environments.  It didn’t help that we all read comics like the X-Men and were well versed in the Star Wars universe, so when we wrote stories they tended up feature a tyrannical villain with hordes of nameless soldiers put in the story specifically for our characters to annihilate.

TMNT Space

It’s actually funny that we ended up playing as long as we did as we all kind of sucked at the core concepts of role playing.  We all tended to try and shoehorn the play into a more hack and slash video game experience, and we very rarely worked together as a team no matter how hard we tried.  When it was all said and done, each of us was way more interested in creating a whole bunch of characters, outfitting them, and doodling pictures of them, rather than actually playing them in a game.  It wouldn’t be until a few years later when we all made the switch from the Palladium gaming system (the publisher of TMNT and other games like Robotech and After the Bomb) to the more story-oriented system published by White Wolf (Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, etc.) that we’d evolve a bit.

After the bomb 2

In fact, it got so bad in our group that we all became game-lawyers, spending hours debating and arguing over rule and character creation minutia.  All of our copies of the core rule book were heavily underlined, with highlighted passages and notes in the margins.  We probably spent more time arguing than we did gaming, yet it still kept us regularly meeting up and “playing” for years.  Over time we also drafted other friends into playing with us, and at one point there was about 10 of us rotating in and out of the group.  The fighting between the group became so fever pitched that it eventually came to a head and it formed a schism between the founding four members and we split the group in two to play separately, complete with spying between the two factions and a whole bucket-load of hurt feelings.

Weird TMNT

I hate to admit it but at the end of the day we all sucked at role playing.  Even so, I wouldn’t have changed a single second of the experiences I had being a part of that group of friends.  When I look aback at these books now I get a visceral sense of what I felt like at the time, a mix of heady nostalgia and fear that I’ll have to try and create a campaign all on my own again!  I also fondly remember what it was like finding a group of friends and what it felt like to be included.  To have our own little clique where it was us against everyone else.  Back when we first started hanging out we all chose one of the Turtles as our mascot.  Over the years my recollection of who picked who was kind of hazy, and I would have sworn that I picked Donatello since he’s my favorite character.  But while flipping through my copy of the book last night I was greeted by some very awesome notes that were scribbled in the book that reminded me that I was totally a Raphael guy…

TMNT Friends

Just four geeky teens against the world.

 

Vintage Electronics Art and a Contest!

Lately I’ve been thinking about some of the cool electronic gadgets from the late 70s and early 80s, stuff like Simon, Speak & Spells, and those neat mini table-top versions of games like Galaga and Pac-Man.  It seems like I keep coming back to them, whether it’s after spotting them in the Awesome Bedrooms I’ve been dissecting lately (like the Speak & Spell in Poltergeist, the Super Simon in E.T. or the table-top Pac-Man in Flight of the Navigator), or after getting my very first Simon as a gift from my girlfriend’s parents this past Christmas.  So I was pretty stoked when I stumbled upon this rad series of screen printed posters from Boiling Point Creative called *Batteries Not Included…

Boiling Point 4

Highlighting such great games like Parker Brother’s Merlin, Texas Instruments’ Little Professor, Mattel’s Electronic Football, Coleco’s Galaga, and Milton Bradley’s Simon, this series of three prints is packed with nostalgic eye candy.  Though I never had most of these as a kid (I had a damaged Speak & Spell that I got in a trade for a bit before it stopped working), I used to drool over and covet the few my friends had.  In particular I remember I was always finding an excuse to being up math questions at my friend Ajay’s house so that he’d let me use his Litter Professor to find the answer.

Boiling Point 1

My favorite in this series is the table-top arcade games though.  I think I’d actually love a single print highlighting just that Galaga game as it’s probably my favorite video game of all time…

Boiling Point 2

This series is also available as a series of hand-printed greeting cards too which would be an awesome way of keeping in touch with your vintage-minded gaming friends…

Boiling Point 5

Contest!

So, I’ve partnered with the nice folks at Boiling Point for a little contest.  They’ve agreed to give a lucky Branded reader one print of their choice from this series!  To enter all you have to do is, like the Branded in the 80s Facebook page and then E-Mail me a picture of yourself with your favorite vintage handheld or table top electric game (it can be a picture from when you were a kid getting them for a birthday or Christmas, or a picture of you with your favorite piece(s) from your vintage collection.)  I’ll do a followup post showcasing all the images sent in and I’ll pick one lucky entry at random on Wednesday the 26th of February.  So get digging though your childhood pictures, break out your phone and take a selfie with your vintage game and good luck!

Geeky Valentines weekend shenanigans

This past weekend my girlfriend Jaime and I took the opportunity of some downtime to check out a couple of cool sites in and around Baltimore.  I’m still seeing a lot of the city for the first time and we lucked into a pair of free tickets to Geppi’s Entertainment Museum right across the street from the Orioles Stadium, so we thought it would be fun to head downtown and check it out.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.  I only heard the words comic museum and toys, but I was intrigued.  When we pulled up to the building on Saturday morning it was a little unassuming, but as soon as you walk inside you’re bombarded by large-scale banners of all sorts of pop culture fun from 50s era tin toys to recreations of famous comic covers done in a more modern style.  Once you get past the front desk you’re greeted by an amazing hallway covered from floor to ceiling with rare film one-sheets, product merchandising ephemera, and some pretty inspiring artwork (including a couple breathtaking conceptual pieces from the ’66 era Batman TV series!

museum

The museum is broken up into a series of seven or eight individual exhibits including a comic book retrospective, a turn of the century comic strip showcase, a local Baltimore pop culture collection, a collectible and art show centered on African American works, and a number of rooms full to the brim of collectibles and antiques divided by decade.  There’s so much amazing stuff on display that you could probably spend an hour in each of the rooms and not see everything in one visit.  The comic retrospective alone is worth the price of admission as there are some truly “amazing” pieces in the collection including copies of Amazing Fantasy #15 and Action Comics #1!

comics

shawn Jaime

In addition to some of the heavy hitter powerhouse comics above, there was a really nice collection of 50s & 60s era EC, Atlas, and Dell comics, as well as a bunch of those really cool mini hardcover digests from the 30s and 40s featuring The Shadow, Buck Rogers, and Tarzan.  There were some nice Esiner Spirit inserts which I’ve also never seen in person before.  I loved getting a chance to see some of the rarer formative books in person for the first time, but it was also rad to see copies of more modern books like issue one of Eastman & Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or the wall of 90s era books featuring all sorts of gimmicks and cover enhancements (that I bought into back in the day hook, line, and sinker!)

In the comic strip exhibit I was a little bummed that there were no copies of Little Nemo in Slumberland, but there was a surprise that totally made up for it.  I was really excited to see a couple of Winsor McCay Gertie the Dinosaur drawings.  I mean talk about animation history!

gertie

All of the comic book stuff was really neat, but the rooms where my eyes really lit up were the rooms dedicated to pop culture collectibles and toys.  From Disney, Popeye, and Little Orphan Annie all the way to the Transformers, Masters of the Universe and (gasp!) Vanilla Ice, there was something for everyone on display.  

girly

Some of my favorite older pieces included a LOA decoder pin (which of course elicited a series of A Christmas Story quotes from both Jaime and I) and a really nice collection of vintage PEZ dispensers (featuring three of my favorite Universal Monsters)…

pez

There was also a display of Monkees memorabilia, teen magazines and and a sweet insulated lunchbox that I would have killed for as a kid.  I grew up watching the series on Nickelodeon and for all intents and purposes they were my first favorite band (with a little competition form the Beach Boys and Weird Al.)

monkees

As far as the more recent stuff, the toys and collectibles that I have some true nostalgia for, Geppi’s did not disappoint.  Though I wouldn’t call the collection exhaustive, it was diverse enough to be really fun and it featured items that don’t tend to get the same spotlight shown on them.  So whereas they had a very nice mint in package Transformers Jetfire, as well as an Optimus Prime and Grimlock, I was honestly more excited to see their collection of Super Friends (Nabisco) and Star Wars cookie and cereal boxes!  I remember collecting the Super Friends boxes for awhile around the time that the first Burton Batman film hit theaters…

cookies

There was also a nice collection of vintage MOC Dukes of Hazzard toys.  Not quite as obscure, but still not as popular as the Transformers.

dukes

I loved seeing these because of it just drives home how cool the impending Funko/Super7 ReAction figures are that are about to start hitting the pegs.   In addition to all this there were also some weirder pieces and arrangements in the collection that showcased the sense of humor of the curators.  Whether it was the BFF placement of the Buger King and Ronald McDonald or the oddly suggestive C3P0 tape dispenser, Geppi’s surely has a lighter side to their exhibits…

best buds

C3P-Wow

If you’re in the Baltimore area and you want a fun place to spend and afternoon I’d highly suggest stopping into Geppi’s Entertainment museum.  There’s a to to see and they also have a pretty decent pop culture gift shop.  I could leave with out a swell ThunderCats Mumm-ra vinyl Funko Pop figure!

On Sunday we braved the icy streets and made our way further south into Washington, DC, specifically the Georgetown area so that we could visit a cinematic landmark I’ve wanted to see for a long time.  For those of you that are horror fans, you’ve probably already figured out what I’m talking about by the mere suggestion of film and georgetown, but for those who might not know, The Exorcist was filmed in and around this area back in 1972.  I’ve wanted to visit this town and walk the staircase where Father Karras took his fatal plunge in the film…

excorcist 2

Let me just say that picking the dead of winter to visit this site was a precarious decision indeed.  The streets leading to the steps were on steep hills and coated in inches of thick slippery ice.  Luckily the steps themselves were pretty much ice-free, so we could still traverse them.  Also, in an odd turn of events, Jaime had secretly cued up the Exorcist theme so she could be set to play it as we walked the staircase, and before she could actually play it it automatically started playing as we approached it!  Maybe there’s a weird hidden glitch where based on your GPS Spotify will surprise you with rad music cues.  Or maybe Pazuzu possessed her phone :p

excorsist 1

All in all is was an amazing Valentines day weekend…

Pop Culture Cartography

I was recently flipping through a few of my issues of ThunderCats magazine (as you do) and decided to finally remove and unfold some of the included posters that each issue contained.  Most of them are pretty bad, awkwardly painted versions of the characters in a sort of collage, but one of them kind of blew my mind.  It was a full on map of 3rd Earth!

Map of Third Earth

It looks like it’s pretty much strict to the season one stories as there’s no mention of the Lunataks, but it’s still pretty damn amazing.  I love knowing that the Ro-Bear Berbil village was right behind Cat’s Lair and that Castle Plun-Darr is out in a little peninsula.  I shared this scan on the Branded facebook page and on Instagram and when I was talking to folks about it, it reminded me that I had a couple other pop culture maps in my collection.  The first one that sprang to mind was another magazine centerfold, though this time it was from issue number four of Muppet Magazine from 1983…

Fraggle Map Muppet Magazine Issue 4 Fall 1983

The lands of Fraggle Rock!  Of course, this is just the immediate vicinity of the day to day Fraggle wanderings and doesn’t account for the vast lands of “Outer Space”, but I have to assume that Uncle Traveling Matt has this covered and is working on more maps…

Of course, my favorite map in my collection is a replica of One Eyed Willie’s treasure map from the Goonies.  I have it handing on my living room wall right next to a nifty portrait of the Fratellis by Matthew Luxich, a replica of the doubloon, and a print by Scott Fuller.

Goonies Art

goonies map

After wracking my brain I also realized that I had a map of Nockmaar from the film Willow that was in an old Sourcebook that I used to have….

Map of Nockmaar Willow

…as well as a pretty rad map of the Smurfs’ village that was an insert in the really cool World of the Smurfs book I reviewed a few years ago!  Though the Smurf book is out of print, it’s is still pretty easy to snag over at Amazon.

Smurf Village Map

Talking about these on Facebook, the super rad Douglas Bodine sent me scans of an amazing map of the world of The Dark Crystal!  The map was included in an old storybook called The Tale of the Dark Crystal

Dark Crystal Map

The last piece of pop culture cartography that I have is the map that was included in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (which I totally forgot about until my girlfriend Jaime pointed it out…)

princess bride

I bet these would look pretty awesome framed and on the wall (well, I know the Goonies map does for sure.)  It also has me wondering what other cool pop culture maps are hanging around out there.  I know that a series of maps for the lands in the Masters of the Universe were just released with the MOTU Classics figures including Eternia and Etheria.  I’d love to get my hands on those.  So, any other cool pieces of cartography that are 80s-centric?

A Super Fun Show…with Learning!

I recently stumbled across a pretty fun web series created by and staring Lexie Kahanovitz called Super Fun Show with Learning!  It’s a weird mix of animation, puppetry, and live action comedy that takes a dystopian, cartoon-addled look at the millennial generation’s experience.  Imagine Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by way of Kidd Video filtered through the lens of David Cronenberg.  After being downsized by a cyberpunk middle manager who only talks in corporate-speak, Sandy Childs, the heroine of the series, has to figure out how to survive with no money, mounting debt, and an addiction to personal electronics.

SFSPromoStill

There series homages Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Videodrome, with a little bit of Who Framed Roger Rabbit thrown in for good measure (specifically the tone of the shoe-melting scene.)  With an NES chiptunes soundtrack and the a color palette straight out of Windows 95 MS Paint, the first episode is a trippy look at modern problems with a playful injection of 80s/90s era nostalgia.  It reminds me a lot of another independent film project I had the opportunity to preview recently, Don Thacker’s Motivational Growth (which I’ll be talking about in more detail over at the Cult Film Club soon.)

The first episode is available for free on youtube, and Lexie and crew are hard at work on the second installment and have a kickstarter going to try and secure some funding.  I know I’m curious to see where the series goes, an she totally secured my dollars when she states in the KS video that the second episode will feature a sequence inside the TV that they need “…to make an amazing Tron suit…” for, so I backed the project.  If you dig what you see maybe you’ll be interested in helping to fund it too.  I will say, though it’s more or less pg-13, it’s more on the Videodrome side of things than say Kidd Video, so be warned ;)  If you decide back the project, leave a comment and tell ‘em Branded sent ya!

Is it worth revisiting 80s films on the big screen?

It may sound weird, but I find myself asking this question a lot.  Over the past decade I’ve noticed that a lot of the films I grew up loving have started seeing revival screenings in movie theaters.  It actually probably started in the late 90s with the 20th anniversary of Star Wars and the special editions that were re-released on the big screen.  Not long after there was a 20-year anniversary screening of Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut of Alien, and eventually there was the 2002 special edition of E.T.  At the time I was in college and hitting the theater multiple times a week as it seemed like I had tons of free time and extra money for catching movies.  These days both time and money seem to be vanishing into a black hole and I barely make the room in my budget or schedule for new movies, let alone flicks I’ve seen dozens, sometimes (gulp – I’ll admit) hundreds, of times.  I tend to throw on 80s flicks while I’m farting around home, doing chores, cooking, or just for background noise while I’m working on the site.  So I feel like I’ve seen so many of these movies to death, and when the opportunity comes for catching one of them on the big screen I always find myself wondering if it’s really worth it.  I found myself skipping out on a lot of opportunities to catch these flicks in the theater until this past fall when I snagged some unbeatable deals.

There’s a small theater chain in my area called Studio Movie Grill that’s been hosting a series of semi-monthly $2 screenings featuring one-night-only engagements of some pretty cool 80s flicks like Ghostbusters and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.  At two bucks I couldn’t pass up on the chance to see both of these on the big screen again (both of which I saw back in the early 80s, E.T. during both it’s initial run and when it was brought back into theaters in 1985.)  I had a lot of fun reliving the theater experience with these, both of which were filled with families that were exposing their kids to them for the first time (as I gleaned from overhearing parents explaining the various plot points during the movie), but would I still go in the future if I wasn’t getting such an awesome deal on admission?

Short answer?  Yes.  Emphatic yes.  If you would have asked me before I went into both of these screenings if I thought I’d learn or experience anything new about these movies that I’ve seen so many times I stopped counting, I would have chuckled and said no.  I mean between the ability to practically get the theatrical experience at home on a 60-inch screen with surround sound, or slim likely hood that I’d notice anything that hasn’t already been documented a million times on the internet, what new could I really get from seeing these in the theater?  Well, I would have been wrong for dismissing the experience because for the first time in a very long time I saw these movies with totally fresh eyes.  I’m sure part of this is the communal theater-going vibe, but I noticed so many little details that I never noticed before.

For instance, in Ghostbusters I never noticed how many times the Stay Puft brand is peppered throughout the film before we get to see the form of the Destroyer that so innocently just pops into Ray Stanz’s mind.  When Dana comes home from shopping she unpacks a bag of Stay Puft marshmallows for one, but there are also mural advertisements on the sides of buildings in some shots!  Also, did you know that none other than Ron “The Hedghog” Jeremy has a cameo appearance in the crowd scene right after Walter Peck has the containment unit shutdown?  Yup, he’s there in the crowd.  I also never noticed the Chinese hat Ray is wearing as a thank you gift in the montage sequence when the Ghostbusters’ business is taking the city by storm (when they apparently helped a restaurant rid themselves of a spook.)

As for E.T., I took extra special care to keep an eye out for details in Elliot’s room since I’d been having so much fun analyzing the bedrooms in 80s kid’s flicks recently.  I already did an examination of his room a while back, but damn if I didn’t find more stuff!  First of all, when I originally dissected the room there was a weird dart board cabinet that I couldn’t identify (number 15 in the below picture…

ET 4

Well, it was as plain as day on the big screen.  #15 is in fact an Artful Dodger dart board cabinet from Oliver Twist!

artful dodger

Now that I’ve identified that it doesn’t do much to explain why the Artful Dodger is on a dart board cabinet, but still, mystery solved.  In addition to this I also noticed some more toys in Elliot’s room, as well as in their living room!

ET 1

1). Chutes and Ladders boardgame

2). Magic 8 Ball

Magic-8-Ball-Fortune-Teller-Alabe-Late-1960s

3). Lego Universal Building Set

4). Empire Strikes Back Twin-Pod Cloud Car

cloud car

5). Super Simon Electronic Game

super simon

Though the Super Simon box is in the screen shot above (in Elliot’s room), the game itself is actually on a shelf in the living room…

ET 2

But for the first time I noticed that there are also some other fun things in the living room like…

6). An Atari 2600

7). Big Trak from Milton Bradley

big trax

There were also a bunch of other small, fun things I noticed throughout the film.  Little details, like how John Williams drops into Yoda’s Theme for a could of beats during the Halloween scene when E.T. sees a kid dressed up in a Don Post Yoda mask…

ET 3

…or the fact that Dee Wallace is wearing a really weird handgun pin on her vest in one sequence…

ET 4

Sure, these things haven’t radically changed my outlook on the film, but any time I have the opportunity to learn something new about a film I thought I knew everything about, well that’s worth a full-priced movie ticket if you ask me.

I’m actually pretty excited as the Studio Movie Grill has announced their 2014 schedule of $2 revival screenings and there are a bunch of flicks I can’t wait to see in the theater (and for some it will be the first time I’ve seen them on the big screen.  There are two categories of events, the Brews & Views and the Family Rewind.  The former features some more recent fare mixed in, but there are a few flicks I’m looking forward to catching…

Bews and Views

Totally looking forward to catching Alien, Temple of Doom, and Jaws.  As for the Family Rewind, there’s way more on that list that I’m going to try and catch…

rewind

I mean, holy crap, I never got a chance to see The Neverending Story, Labyrinth, Goonies, Annie, The Princess Bride, and Gremlins in the big screen as a kid, and I can’t wait to see Back to the Future and Big on the silver screen again.  All in all this looks like it’s going to be a fun year at the movies catching up on all my favorites from the 80s!  So seriously, if you get a chance to catch a revival screening, or you have a Studio Movie Grill near you, it’s totally worth seeing these flicks in the theater again.  You won’t regret it!