Book Review: Supernatural: War of the Sons by Rebecca Dessertine & David Reed

Hi again!

Supernatural is regular viewing at my house. My two daughters can probably tell you more about Sam and Dean Winchester than I can. And we’ve enjoyed watching the storyline develop since the series began in 2005. I have to admit that Season 5 got a little dark for my tastes as the battle between Heaven and Hell waged on Earth, but Season 6 has found the spark again. (The episode “Clap Your Hands If You Believe…” about the faerie invasion had some great moments!)

If you’re not familiar with the series, Supernatural focuses on the lives of the Winchester brothers – Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) – and their quest to save good people from bad things. Though it started with the monster of the week format, over the last few seasons it developed its own world where Angels, Demons, and various things that go bump in the dark try to find their own niche in the world by taking out a few mortals along the way. But it’s really the relationship between the brothers – the dialog dripping with sarcasm and sharp wit – that keeps us tuning in season after season.

That said, I tend to avoid books associated with movies and television for the most part. Yes, occasionally I’ll pick up an art book or a behind the scenes book here and there, but not regularly. And fiction associated with such properties I usually ignore. That started for me back in the 1980s when I read the novelizations of a few movies like Star Wars and found them lacking the magic of the original form.

So how did I end up reading Supernatural: War of the Sons? I honestly don’t know. But my daughters probably had something to do with it.

The book takes place before the end of Season 5 when Sam and Dean are frantically trying to find a way to put Lucifer back in his cage. Desperate to avoid becoming “meat suits” for the Archangel Michael (Dean’s “destiny”) and Lucifer (Sam’s “destiny”), the pair hunt all over trying to find something – anything to help them out. This quest leads them to a small town in South Dakota where they meat Don, an angel with a possible solution to get out of the mess they’re in. Though angels usually try to screw them over, Sam gives in to his desperation and the boys find themselves on a mission through time…

Yes, you read that right. Time travel. It’s not the first time it’s come up in Supernatural. Dean’s made a few trips back in time to when his parents were just starting out. But this trip is more than a few years – Don sends them back to 1954 on a quest to find the last few pages of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Scrolls may offer a battle plan to defeat the Devil. All they had to do was get them and return back to 2010.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Of course it’s not. Along the way they run into some friends – Walter and Julie – who alternate between wanting to kill them or help them. They also run into the demon who wanted to be the wife of Lucifer instead of Lilith – Eisheth. She’s a real treat with a few secrets of her own concerning Don, the angel who put everything into motion.

Really this was a fun tale in true Supernatural fashion. Not only do you get the usual sarcasm, wit, and hunting with the Winchesters, but you learn a bit about the Dead Sea Scrolls and take a deeper dive into the world of angels and demons.

Included in the fiction were a few comments on life today from the boys’ perspective in 1954. When Sam is forced to visit a library instead of surfing the net for his research, he notes: “Rows of shelves lined every inch of the room; thousands upon thousands of books, and not an Internet connection in sight. Sam didn’t mind doing the research, but Google had become his crutch, and he felt handicapped without it.” I wonder how many of us would want to give up some of today’s nicer benefits in favor of heading to a technologically-simpler time in America?

Maybe I’ve been wrong to skip TV-and-movie tie-in fiction this long, because Supernatural: War of the Sons was a fun read. If you want to learn a bit more about the world of Supernatural and take a tour of the 1950s with the Winchesters, I highly recommend you give it a whirl!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out these Supernatural books!

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Book Review: Supernatural: The Official Companion, Season 4 by Nicholas Knight

Hi there…

Now entering its sixth season, Supernatural was a favorite at our house from the beginning. There was something about Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester and their quest to save good people from bad things… The monster of the week format, plus the quest to find the “Yellow Eyed Demon”, and the continuing battle against demons big and small all was part of the appeal. But it’s really the relationship between the brothers – the dialog dripping with sarcasm and sharp wit – that keeps us tuning in season after season.

When Dean died at the end of season 3, we thought that would be it for the show. Instead, the writers managed to pull a new rabbit out of their hats and introduce a new story line. This one involved the angels! And Castiel (Misha Collins) pulls Dean out of Hell to get things started with a bang…

If you missed anything, the Supernatural: The Official Companion, Season 4 book by Nicholas Knight provides detailed synopses of each episode, plus some great additional material on the characters, monsters, and production. Though I’d seen this type of “series companion” in the past, I’d never actually looked at one before and I have to say that I was impressed. Knight provides an amazing amount of depth.

The book starts with a foreward from producer Ben Edlund that takes us into the dark world of Supernatural with humor. As he says, “the angels are coming” and we shouldn’t look at them… “They’ll melt your eyes into blind, salty s’mores!” This of course refers to the scene in “Lazarus Rising” where Bobby’s (Jim Beaver) psychic friend Pamela (Traci Dinwiddie) gets her eyes burned out by peering into angel business. Definitely one of the more memorable scenes from the season.

From there, we go right into how the angels came into things. Creator Eric Kripke had an epiphany – “angels are the other side of the demon coin.” And they were going more for the Christopher Walken in The Prophecy kind of angels, not the Touched by an Angel variety. When you met one of the Supernatural angels, you understood these beings to be God’s soldiers. Scary, less than kind folk who mostly think we’re about at the same levels of cockroaches.

This concept of “angels as dicks” as Kripke put it made this really work. When the big demons such as Alastair (Mark Rolston) or Lilith (Katherine Boecher) are involved in a story, you know things are going to go poorly for the Winchesters. And as the season progresses, you know that when Castiel, Zachariah (Kurt Fuller), or Anna (Julie McNiven) appear, the boys are in just as much trouble. This give and take between God’s army and Satan’s minions provides many great chances for Sam and Dean to get into and out of trouble.

But what really kicked the show into high gear for me was when Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict) makes an appearance in “The Monster at the End of this Book.” Shurley has been writing books about Sam & Dean’s adventures that the boys never even heard of. And they’re popular. VERY popular. It turns out that Chuck is a prophet and every time the boys go on an adventure, he starts writing. This has to be one of my favorite Supernatural episodes ever, because it reminded me of the scene in Spaceballs where they’re fastforwarding through the tape of the movie during the movie…

In addition to providing details on every episode and major character for the season, Knight also includes several “A Closer Look” sections that describe different monsters or concepts from the show and where the ideas came from. These are one or two pages covering “Angels” or “Samhain” or “Magic Wishes.” With Halloween coming up next month, it was interesting to hear how the practice originated as a Celtic harvest festival at the end of summer. As Knight puts it, this is the halfway point between the light and dark parts of the year. “At this junction between light and dark, it was believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest…” So we wear masks and light candles in hallowed out gourds to make these spirits feel more at home. Somehow I doubt the spirits feel at home in the Disney character-dominated world of a modern Halloween.

Long story short, Supernatural: The Official Companion, Season 4 is a great addition to the bookshelf of any Supernatural fan who wants a good reference for prior seasons and a bit of the background behind the spooky stories told week after week!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Supernatural books and DVDs below!

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DVD Review: Legion (2010)

Hi again!

When Legion hit theaters in January 2010, I understood from the trailers what the movie was about. The angel Michael (Paul Bettany) has come to Earth to countermand an order from God to kill all of humankind, including the child that might bring about its salvation. Still in the womb, the child’s mother – a girl named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) – is working as a waitress at a diner in Paradise Falls, a speck in the middle of nowhere. Michael must save the kid from an army of angels and God’s wrath, or mankind is doomed.

Ah yes, our extermination. We, like the cockroaches we abhor, have spread across the Earth devouring resources and abusing our gift of free will. As Michael says in one scene, “The first time God lost faith in Man he sent a flood. The second time… he sent what you see outside.” Like our world is a giant Etch-a-Sketch and God wants to shake things up to erase us from the planet.

And, like cockroaches, we’re not such an easy race to erase off the map.

Though largely panned by reviewers far and wide, I liked Legion. It doesn’t have the philosophy of The Prophecy from back in the mid-90’s. But it takes a simple premise (The Apocalypse), a chance of redemption (an unwanted child), an interesting battleground (a diner in the middle of nowhere), and shows us angels like we haven’t quite seen them before.

Plus, if you add in the interesting cast of characters – Michael (Bettany, Iron Man 2, The Da Vinci Code), simple mechanic/protector Jeep Hanson (Lucas Black, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), inner-city tough guy Kyle (Tyrese Gibson, Death Race, 2 Fast 2 Furious), unlikely mother-to-be Charlie (Palicki, TV’s Supernatural), Dad simply trying to get to Christmas Howard Anderson (Jon Tenney, TV’s Brothers & Sisters and The Closer), bitchy wife Sandra (Kate Walsh, TV’s Private Practice), bratty wild child Audrey (Willa Holland, TV’s Gossip Girl and The O.C.), ex-military fry cook Percy (Charles S. Dutton, TV’s Roc, Alien 3), diner owner Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid, Pandorum, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra)… and one ticked off angel Gabriel (Kevin Durand, Robin Hood (2010), X-Men Origins: Wolverine)…

Honestly there were so many different demographics represented by the population of the diner and its visitors that it was the perfect place to stage a heavenly battle. Anybody who thinks America isn’t diverse hasn’t been watching our movies I guess!

Now I know there are those people who didn’t like this film. I get it. It’s certainly not perfect. And it does get a little preachy and take itself too seriously from time to time. But this is an extremely visual film co-written and directed by a visual effects guy – Scott Stewart. Stewart has been involved at The Orphanage and ILM doing visual effects since the mid-1990s on such movies as Mars Attacks!, Sin City, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Superman Returns, and others. So it came as no surprise to me that this would be an effects-heavy film.

What did surprise me was how old school many of the effects were. Yes, we had scenes where peoples’ faces were vibrating as they were possessed by angels and where characters like the Ice Cream Man (played beautifully and far too short by Doug Jones – Hellboy, Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Pan’s Labyrinth and many others) transformed into grotesque beings attacking the diner. But then you had more subtle scenes with lightning and fog where you’d catch brief glimpses of the hordes of possessed beings in the dark and simple explosions as gunfire, gasoline, and vehicles met briefly to light the night.

Is this a film for you to think deeply about your own mortality? No. Definitely not. Is it a film to enjoy as you learn bits and pieces about the battle and watch as cool effects grace the screen? Yes. Definitely. If you’re looking for deeper spiritual or philosophical discussions, I recommend you check out The Prophecy and its sequels.

Included with the DVD are three short extras – “Creating the Apocalypse,” “Humanity’s Last Line of Defense,” and “From Pixels to Picture.”

“Creating the Apocalypse” provided a great segment about how they made Jones into the Ice Cream Man. What a process… With four prostheses, Jones ran from the ice cream truck towards the diner and jumped into the air. How he was able to pull that off is beyond me. Hearing Jones talk about the preparation alone was worth watching. The cast and crew seemed to appreciate his efforts even though he was just in that one scene. I have to admit to being more freaked out by the mechanical baby that was built for the film than the Ice Cream Man. At a bit more than 23 minutes, this is a very detailed look behind the scenes at how they did some of the movie magic.

Where the last feature dealt with the effects, “Humanity’s Last Line of Defense” focuses on the ensemble of actors. It’s quite obvious that the director and crew wanted to have the best group of actors they could get for these roles. It’s kind of fun to think that Bettany really wanted to be in an action film and fire machine guns. The mutual respect and admiration between the cast and crew was obvious as you hear Quaid, Bettany, Gibson, and others talk on set.

And in “From Pixels to Picture” you get a better understanding of the amazing efforts that went into the visual effects not only in post-production, but during the production on set. These visual engineers had some serious challenges integrating live action stunts with computer generated effects to create a number of seamless scenes. Between Gladys, the crazy possessed old lady on the ceiling, and the swarm of flies as they try to drive a character to the hospital, they did a great job in merging old school matte paintings, light, and shadow, with CG for the film.

Legion is definitely not for everybody. It’s rated R for bloody violence and language. But I found it to be an entertaining mix of religion, horror, and story. Be sure to check it out on DVD and VOD today!

This article first appeared on BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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