Retroist Xanadu Podcast

Retroist Podcast – Episode 201 – Retroist Xanadu Podcast

It took me a while, but I am finally releasing the Retroist Xanadu Podcast. In this episode I start off talking about how I liked to enjoy this film as a kid. Which leads to an encounter with one of my sister’s boyfriends that did not go well (for him). Then I move onto the film and talk about its inspirations, the people in front of and behind the camera, the soundtrack and much more.

This is probably the finest roller disco themed film about Greek mythology that has ever been made. I hope this episode encourages you to check it out.

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ET the Extra-Terrestrial Teaser Trailer

ET the Extra-Terrestrial Teaser Trailer

In 1982, Steven Spielberg was already at the top of his career. He had made three films that many people already considered classics and could seemingly do no wrong. So when anything associated with his name showed up, the public greedily lapped it up. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, released in the summer of 1982, would be a huge event. But before that memorable release, Universal went all out on promotion. They released multiple trailer for the film. My favorite was the ET the Extra-Terrestrial Teaser Trailer from earlier that year.

This trailer, instead of selling us on the film we would be seeing, sold us on the promise of what it could be. It uses Spielberg’s name and footage from his old films, before finally using just two shots of actual footage from the film. Nowadays film trailers are almost the entire film in condensed form. So it is novel to see how something this vague can be so compelling.

Watch the ET the Extra-Terrestrial Teaser Trailer

Now you are probably looking at the image above and thinking, “Wow, that looks different.” I agree, that title treatment is very different from what we would eventually get. Looking at it, I am not sure which is better. The one that was released with the film is great. But something about using the large E.T letters the way they do in this title treatment just feels so wonderfully clever. Oh, and who about the addition of “in his adventure on earth” to the end of the title? Not sure when they decided to drop that. Fun fact though, those words would be added to the title of the William Kotzwinkle novelization.

This ET the Extra-Terrestrial Teaser Trailer is a rare gem of the 1980s. This style of trailer was already in decline at the time and with rare exceptions died as the decade progressed. So take a moment to enjoy this piece of our film past. If you are like me, this will most likely set you to thinking about how trailers could possible be improved if we went back to this style.

Powers of Ten

Charles and Ray Eames’ “Powers of Ten”

Charles and Ray Eames, renowned for their groundbreaking contributions to architecture, furniture design and industrial design are ranked among the finest American designers of the 20th Century. They were also renowned filmmakers. Between 1950 and 1982, they made over 125 short films. Some were as short as 1 minute in length and others were as long as 30 minutes. One of my favorites was an exercise in illustrating magnitude, Powers of Ten.

About the Powers of Ten

If you have not seen it, you might be surprised to hear that Powers of Ten is one of the Eameses’ best-known films. Produced in 1977, it has been seen by millions of people around the world. Based on the 1957 book by Kees Boeke, Cosmic View: The Universe in Forty Jumps, the Eameses decided to use its concepts as the basis of a film that investigates the relative size of things and the significance of adding a zero to any number. The concept for the film is simple, but as you will see when watching it, the concept they are trying to illustrate gets pretty large. Like no other work, it uses exponential powers to visualize the importance of scale. Illustrating the scale of cosmic immensity and smallness in just under 10 minutes.

Starting with a closeup of a man sleeping near a lake, it makes its way quickly to the edge of the known universe. Then, just as quickly, it reverses course and descends down to the level of a carbon atom.

Watch the Powers of Ten

Everyone should see this film

Seeing this film in elementary school. I was instantly able to wrestle with the heady concepts it helped illustrate. Over the years, I would see this film many more times. Each time I would find myself hypnotized by it. The idea of largeness and smallness quickly becoming clear to me. No wonder in 1998, Powers of Ten was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. It very much fits the criteria of being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Morning Funnies Cereal

Do you remember Morning Funnies Cereal?

In the late 1980s, Ralston came up with a brilliant idea. People love to read the funnies while eating their morning breakfast, so why not combine the two? To that end, they created the short-lived cereal, Morning Funnies Cereal. Now you could skip dragging in your morning newspaper and instead read your cereal box, which they covered in comic strips.

Why it was great

Morning Funnies Cereal, with its brightly colored box and familiar comic characters was instantly recognizable. You could spot this box from 20 feet away and you had to have it. At the time it was one of the more novel ideas in the cereal aisle and I couldn’t help but grab a box. You will hear a lot of people, when talking about Morning Funnies Cereal, complaining about the sweetness. Complaining that something is too sweet is something adults do. I refuse to evaluate this cereal as an adult. So I am putting that attribute squarely in the “plus” column.

Maybe the greatest things about the cereal? It was comic themed and included some of the most enduring characters from that milieu. Including, Dennis the Menace, Beetle Bailey, Hägar the Horrible, Hi and Lois, The Family Circus, Tiger, Luann, Marvin, Funky Winkerbean, and What a Guy! It was an amazing selection and many of them appearance in this television commercial.

So what went wrong

Morning Funnies Cereal was great, but the reviews for it were poor. As I stated above, adults did not appreciate the high levels of sugar. Although reading reviews from the time, I am surprised at how surprised people were back then. Did you really think a Fruit-flavored cereal with cartoon-shaped marshmallows was not going to be sugary? Perhaps this presented an issue for parents, which contributed to the poor sales of the cereal, but to me the problem was not the cereal itself, but the packaging.

They just couldn’t produce enough boxes to keep people entertained on a daily basis while they ate their morning cereal. Just how many times can you read the same Beetle Bailey? Unfortunately about once. Sure it was convenient to have them right on the box, but at the same table the was a copy of the daily paper with a brand new comic strip just itchin’ to be read. So in the end, the real undoing of Morning Funnies Cereal was the one element that made it truly unique. Ralston, and their mad cereal scientists, were just too ambitious and in the end, ’twas the packaging that killed the product.


Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game

Once I started playing Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, I voraciously consumed anything related to the game. One of my “holy grail” items was a copy of Mattel’s Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game and one Christmas there it was under the tree. I was ecstatic and spent the entire winter break playing it. There is even some vague recollection of me playing it alone at the kitchen table while my family was celebrating new years even in the living room.

Why was I obsessed with this game? Well, besides the print ads for the game, there was this magnificent commercial. They stopped running it before I got my copy, but how could you forget an ad like this?

In the game, a player moves on an electronic board trying to find the treasure and bring it back to a room. Along the way you will encounter walls, other players (in 2 player mode) and of course the dragon. The game was pretty easy to jump into, but I remember it took me a while to really master it. My big issue was the dragon. You just could never tell where it was going to be and in 3 hits, it could slay you. Yes, they did include an incredible dragon figure, but that was only to approximate where it was and more than not, I was way off.

While the game board and figures were beautiful, it was really the sounds that made up this game. As you moved around the board, the pressure you place on the square you landed on would trigger a sound. In a quiet room, you could actually sense the building tension from these simple sounds as you grew closer and closer to the dragon. This tension is something I rarely get in modern video games, outside of jump scares in horror games, and it is a very memorable use of simple technology.

My copy of the game died in the late 80’s. As the time, I wasn’t playing it much, so it moved to the back of the closet and eventually into the basement. At some point my sister threw it in the trash. Not a huge loss, even if now it makes me sad. One bright spot, she only through the game board out. So my figures survived and that amazing dragon is still in my possession and has been used in several pen and paper gaming sessions over the years. The Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game is the game that just keeps on giving.

Dungeons & Dragons


Listen to the background music from Star Trek: The Animated Series

The music from cartoons, especially the stuff made in the 60’s and 70’s is criminally underrated. Many big time talents made beautiful tunes that set the mood for low quality animation, often carrying the story forward when budgets were tight.

A few weeks ago, I talked about the talented Ray Ellis and on persons amazing work trying to reclaim his music from the Spider-Man Animated Series. Ellis also worked on other great shows. One of my favorites is Star Trek: The Animated Series. It has deep stories, new characters and music that we just didn’t get in the original Star Trek. Sadly, they never did a full release of the soundtrack to the show.

That is where the internet comes into play. Intrepid YouTuber Grimbot2 took a stab at editing together the available music and put together a great 15 minutes of audio that is full of great songs and musical cues. Here is a rough breakdown of what you will hear courtesy of another YouTuber, MetaRed Coding and Gaming.

0:00 Theme Song
1:00 Intro to episode #1
1:15 Intro to episode #2
1:27 Mystery #1 Music / Part of Intro to episode #2
2:20 Mystery #1 Sound
2:28 Mystery #2 / Romance Music
6:10 Action #1 Sound
6:15 Action #1 Music
6:43 Action #2 / Surprised Sound #1
6:58 Surprised Sound #2
7:14 Action #2 Music
8:41 Mystery #3 Music
9:20 Mystery #4 Music
10:14 Action #3 Sound
10:19 Action #3 Music
11:10 Action #4 Sound
11:13 Action #4 Music
11:57 Intro to episode #3 / Action Music #5
12:30 Mystery #5 / Part of Action #5
13:02 Mystery #6 Music
13:43 Mystery #7 Music
14:41 Action #6
14:54 Closing theme

While not as long as the Spider-Man music, this is great stuff and if you are a fan of Star Trek, it will really trigger some great memories.

Thanks to Geekfilter, the Co-host of Saturday Morning Trek, for sharing this with me.

1-900 number for crying

Was there really a 1-900 number for crying?

When I first stumbled upon this commercial for a 1-900 number for crying, I thought, “This is amazing!” Mostly because I am not sure what to make of it. When you called this 1-900 number do you hear people crying? Is it supposed to make you cry? Would a caller be happy paying 2 bucks for the first minute and 45 cents each additional minute or would they cry again once their telephone bill arrived?

When these pay-to-call numbers started proliferating in the nineties, I was always surprised at the number of services you could find advertised on TV during late night. Sure the world has an appetite for the more “adult” offerings that these services provided, but I didn’t know they had an appetite anywhere near of what was being supplied. When the offering was less mature, and not related to Santa Claus or a celebrity, I found it even extra confusing.

Before watching the commercial, you should familiarized yourself with the full cast of criers. Each one is brilliant and deserves your respect. You have:

The woman over the sink…

1-900 number for crying

Weepy business guy..

1-900 number for crying

The red bathrobe sobber…

1-900 number for crying

Mullet guy with single fake tear…

1-900 number for crying

Now here is the commercial in its brilliant entirety.

I have now watched it over twenty times today. Yet, I am still not clear exactly what calling it would have provided. Did anyone out there call it? Was it something to make you cry? Perhaps someone on the other end laughing at you because you were foolish enough to call a number that was supposed to make you cry? My lack of answers makes me want to call a 1-900 number for crying.