The Film Frontier’s Top Six Stories of 2006

The Film Frontier is nothing if not one big cliché of a site, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to present one of those “year in review” pieces you’ve skipped on other sites over the past week.

So, here they are, The Film Frontier’s Top Six Stories of 2006.

#6: Original Star Trek back on TV

With the end of the SciFi Channel’s exclusive rights to airings of the show, the original Star Trek celebrated its 40th anniversary year in a big way by becoming more accessible than ever on television.

In April, the G4 cable network began airing the original Trek in two forms. The first was the “interactive” Star Trek 2.0, which surrounds the episode image with a live chat, a “Spock market,” and episode trivia. Though more annoying than useful, the Star Trek 2.0 concept can be forgiven since G4 also airs non-interactive, uncut versions of each episode. (Related link: The Official G4 Star Trek site)

CBS/Paramount returned Star Trek to syndication, where it truly belongs, in September with the surprise release of Star Trek: Remastered, which will convert each episode to High Definition format and update many of the special effects.

Initial fan reaction to Star Trek: Remastered was mixed, since the series did not actually air in HD and the computer generated version of the Enterprise initially looked like an outtake from Star Trek: The Animated Series.

The producers of Star Trek: Remastered acknowledged the issues with the Enterprise, began using a new and much improved CGI model, and thus addressed one of the major concerns of fans. (Related link: The Official Star Trek: Remastered Site)

Finally, TV Land also added Star Trek to its regular lineup, beginning with a 40th anniversary mini-marathon that re-broadcast the first Star Trek to air, “The Man Trap,” on the same date as its original broadcast back in 1966.

Recently, TV Land and Star Trek fans seemed to have soured on each other, though, as the network bumped the series from its 9 PM timeslot to 11 PM and then midnight. (Related link: The Official TV Land Star Trek site).

#5 Star Wars: Unaltered on DVD

The 29-year anniversary month of the release of the original Star Wars movie included a surprise announcement from Lucasfilm, which made international headlines in the mainstream media.

To coincide with the release of their LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy video game, Lucasfilm would release the original theatrical versions of all three of the original Star Wars movies on DVD for the first time. The unaltered versions would be packaged as special bonus features as part of an individual re-release of the 2004 enhanced versions of the films.

The initial jubilation by fans, which likely had an overnight, detrimental impact on demand for archaic Laserdisc players, the Laserdisc versions of the films, and bootleg DVDs of the Laserdiscs, was soon squashed.

When Lucasfilm confirmed that the Star Wars: Unaltered bonus films would be taken directly from the 1993 Laserdisc masters and not be further restored or formatted anamorphically to accommodate modern, 16×9 widescreen televisions, some sadly used this as an excuse to further bash George Lucas and call for a ban of the release. Amazon and similar sites were flooded with negative reviews long before the DVDs were released.

For its part, Lucasfilm did a poor job of defending their release. Instead, they allowed their release to be defined by its critics. What could have become one of Star Wars‘ greatest moments, and the perfect lead-in to the 30th anniversary year, instead fizzled out and didn’t even warrant a mention on the official Star Wars site’s “Star Wars: The Best of 2006″ top-ten list.

#4: Berman out, Abrams in, Star Trek XI moves forward

As Star Trek‘s 40th anniversary year began, Star Trek as a franchise appeared to be in the last throes of a long death. With two financial flops in a row, Star Trek‘s film frontier in particular seemed at an end. At least for the near future.

In April, rumors began circulating that Lost producer and Mission: Impossible 3 helmer J.J. Abrams would be taking over the reins of the Star Trek film franchise from Rick Berman. Paramount soon confirmed the news, Star Trek XI was a go, Abrams was in, and Berman was out.

Except for releasing an advance poster heralding Star Trek XI for 2008, Paramount has otherwise remained mostly silent on what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest Trek stories for the next couple of years. (Related link: The official Star Trek XI site)

#3 RiffTrax: The return of Mike Nelson

It was a long seven years for MST3k fans, but Mike Nelson is finally back. The former writer and host of Mystery Science Theater 3000 unveiled his RiffTrax web site this year, which features full-length, audio-only, riff-filled commentaries that can be downloaded for a very reasonable fee.

Unlike the MST3k days, this means that rights to the movies no longer need to be secured in order to riff them–opening up huge new opportunities for riffs. One of the first to be riffed was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Star Wars fans later got their turn with Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace. Other rifftrax available include X-Men, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Fellow MST3k alumni Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett also appear on some of the tracks. If Trace Beaulieu had also been involved, RiffTrax may very well have taken the top spot.

Here’s to hoping for at least one Mike/Trace/Kevin commentary track in 2007. (Related link: Mike Nelson’s RiffTrax–Official Site.)

#2 Richard Donner resumes his Superman career, 28 years later

Warner Brothers hailed 2006 as The Year of Superman. With their onslaught of quality Superman releases, I can hardly disagree. However, in the Superman world, 2006 has also been The Year of Donner.

Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns film, which was released on June 28, turned out to be very much a tribute to Richard Donner’s vision of Superman. Superman Returns obviously owed more to Donner’s film than any other incarnation of the hero.

After Donner’s firing from Superman II, most never believed that an official version of his cut of the film would ever see the light of day. The power of the Internet and Superman’s fans helped bring about Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which made its debut in November.

Fan reaction was predictably mixed, as is often the case with long-anticipated events. If nothing else, the release can at least be credited for sparking off years of fanboy debates on which ending was better, Donner’s or Lester’s.

With Donner’s blessing, Michael Thau produced the 2006 Richard Donner Cut. Donner’s initial involvement was light but according to Thau, his involvement steadily increased until it was quite heavy by the end. For Donner, the project was obviously a labor of love and a chance to exorcise ghosts of his past.

Along those same lines, Donner returned creatively to the Superman character in an even bigger way by teaming up with Geoff Johns to write Superman stories for DC’s Action Comics. Their first collaboration, the multi-part “Last Son,” is currently in progress. In October, the first issue sold out, causing DC to issue another printing.

As someone who grew up on Donner’s version of Superman, I can’t say enough about how glad I am to finally see Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, not to mention the added bonus of his expanding the audience of the comic book series to those who know Superman primarily from the films. I subscribe to Action now, and that’s due to Donner.

#1 The return of the Superman movie franchise

Donner Returns versus Superman Returns was a tough choice for me as story of the year. Ultimately, though, I have to give 2006 to Bryan Singer’s revival of the Superman movie franchise.

Singer pulled off the impossible, by not only successfully recasting Superman but making cynical audiences believe in the character again after a nearly twenty-year absence from the cinema.

In a summer box office ruled by pirates, Superman Returns managed over $200 million in domestic ticket sales, and nearly twice that much if including international sales. Though this apparently failed to meet unrealistic studio expectations, it was enough to warrant Singer being signed for a Superman Returns sequel, expected to hit theaters in 2009.

Superman is a legend that has been told many times, and in many formats. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Singer’s version of the tale, which has already re-energized the franchise in ways not seen in a generation.

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2006 was a huge year. Thanks to Bryan Singer, Richard Donner, and Warner Brothers, I won’t soon forget The Year of Superman.