Tag Archives: pirate

Knock-Off Darth Vader Action Figures!

space robot figure 2

See, now that the Christmas shopping season is upon us, people are out trying to grab the best gifts at the lowest prices, often in as violent a way as possible. ‘Tis the season for bloody carnage? But, while everyone was out participating in that annual bit of madness on Black Friday, little did they realize that I and I alone held the secret to seasonal success. All it took was a trip to Marc’s for me to discover that the must-have, feel-good hit of the holiday season was hiding in plain sight, and at the low, low price of $1.99 to boot.

So, looking for a Christmas gift? Got someone on your shopping list that’s rabidly anticipating the new Star Wars movie? Well, while y’all was out stomping on faces just to get the official tie-in toys that are beginning to litter the shelves, I knew, knew, where the real cool winnins were to be found. Ja-Ru, maker of novelty toys far and wide, have released the best Star Wars toy out there, and it’s not even officially Star Wars! Behold: it’s the incredible “Space Robot,” who really, really wants to be Darth Vader, but just isn’t.

Yeah, yeah, I know, action figures really don’t fit with the usual theme of this blog. That is, I don’t usually look at toys here. And truth be told, I’m really not that big of a toy guy; sure, I flipped over the Adam West Batman action figure line, and if I come across a cool old toy cheap at a thrift store or something, I’ll pick it up, but those are exceptions to the rule.

All that said, with the Christmas shopping season now in full-swing and excitement for the new Star Wars movie reaching a veritable fever pitch, when I happened upon these figures, a post just seemed so…right. I may not be a full-fledged, genuine toy guy, but I’m also the first to admit that I’m a total sucker for cheapo knock-off toys, bootleg toys, and things of that nature. No kidding, my eyes practically glaze over at the sight of the new, official Star Wars figures and whatnot, and yet, I couldn’t resist this incredible Space Robot in all his almost-but-not-quite Darth Vader glory.

To put it succinctly, I just found the thing really, really cool. Why? Knock-off.

space robot figure 3

To be clear, this isn’t a pirate figure (“we know it’s not a pirate, it says ‘robot’ right on it HAW HAW HAW!”), and though a case could be made, I wouldn’t say it’s quite a bootleg figure, either; to me, it resides safely in the knock-off family. That is, it’s clearly aping a real, popular character/property/whatever, but it’s just ‘off’ enough to avoid lawsuits whilst maintaining an open presence on store shelves, albeit the cheapie toy sections. Though, I guess that description kinda applies to some full-fledged bootlegs too, huh? Still, this ain’t exactly Robert Cop, which is why I’m sticking with “knock-off.”

Things like this pop up every time a super big time movie not unlike Star Wars is coming down the pipeline. Everybody, everybody tries to get in on the gravy train, and when it comes to space, robots and the like, that stuff never really goes out of vogue. I have little doubt the recent appearance of these figures is completely because of the imminent Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll immediately disappear once the fervor cools down, either.

Still, you’d be well-advised to go and pick yourself up one of these right quick.

To be fair, Ja-Ru isn’t the first company to release these figures; they’ve been floating around the budget toy-circuit for some time now, having been (as near as I can tell) released by a variety of companies under a variety of names. Ja-Ru’s offering is merely the latest (?) in that proud (??) tradition. Where and when this thing first appeared in the world I couldn’t say, but this is certainly the first in-person, local sighting I’ve come across, so hey, they’re new to me.

And look at that package! Even if this wasn’t fake Darth Vader, that’s an eye-catching card. I’m not sure I’d plunk down $2 for it if it wasn’t Darth Vader’s illegitimate brother, but I’d certainly consider it. For a few seconds, anyway.

space robot figure 4

Mild surprise: there’s actually graphics on the back of the card. Plain backs are a common thing with budget toys such as this, so yeah, mild surprise.

If somehow someone didn’t notice this figure was supposed to be Darth Vader, the back of the card will solve that. The image of fake Darth Vader holding a fake lightsaber totally drives the point home.

The directions are both helpful and insulting. Pull the tab on the back? Helpful. Pay attention to the sights and sounds the thing makes? Insulting. Wait a minute, you mean I’m not supposed to push the button on his chest and then run and hide so I neither see nor hear what the thing is doing? Why, I’ve been doing this wrong the whole time!

The tiny disclaimer under the directions is absolutely needed though, if only as a legal precaution: the lights, specifically the light that emits from the lightsaber sword slot is really bright!

Space Robot Darth Vader guy comes in both black and white iterations. The black one is obviously the chaser since it’s just that much closer to the real Darth, but I couldn’t resist getting both varieties. At only $2 a pop, I just may buy enough to re-upholster my bathroom!

Wait, re-upholster my bathroom? Hey buddy, that make no sense!

space robot figure 7

There’s the fella himself. No doubt about it, Darth Vader was the template. Okay, the body, it’s only vaguely Darth Vader-ish; sure there’s an electronic panel of some sort on his chest, though it doesn’t really resemble the real Darth Vader’s all that closely. Without the fake lightsaber in hand and looking only at his body, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is indeed a common, garden-variety Space Robot as promised on the package before going on your merry way.

It’s all about his helmet, man. Whoever originally manufactured this took the time to model Darth’s helmet and mouthpiece (???) on the figure, albeit loose approximations of such; knock-off and all. Space Robot’s head leaves little doubt as to who this is really supposed to be, and when the fake lightsaber is factored in (you’ll see that in action in just a bit), the connection just becomes all the stronger.

space robot figure 13

Made in China? Gee, you don’t say!

space robot figure 11

The build of these guys is, well, you get what you pay for, okay? I’d like to say the joints are loose after only a little bit of demonstration, but even that wouldn’t be true; these things are, literally, loose right out of the package. Not all of the joints, mostly just the legs, but the result is that black Darth Vader Space Robot can barely stand under his own weight no matter how much re-positioning and/or pouting you perform.

Plus, they’re made of hollow plastic that feels fairly brittle. I’m relatively certain these things will last approximately 37 seconds in the hands of a destructive child. At only $1.99 a pop, you can’t really expect the most durable figures in existence, but even so, these feel exponentially fragile.

Make no mistake, that’s actually all part of the charm with these figures though; you’d never see a real Star Wars toy this cheaply made. Call it morbid fascination or something, if you will.

space robot figure 6

They is brudders.

Side by side, there is obviously no difference between the two figs beyond the color variation. Like I said before, because he’s even more Darth Vader-ish, the black version is the one to go after. The white one, I don’t know, he’s got that whole good, “white knight” vibe about him, but in the end he just doesn’t seem as cool. Variety is the spice of life and all that jazz, but methinks if they were going to go beyond the black version, they should have a wider range of colors to choose from. A red Space Darth Robot Vader figure sounds pretty rad, maybe even a pastel blue one, too.

space robot figure 9

Ah, but you can’t forget about the action features! If by this point you still aren’t convinced these are some mysterious manufacturer’s take on Darth Vader, once you press the chest button (after removing the tab on the back; thanks, directions!), you’re exposed to a veritable cacophony of sights and sounds.

In addition to flashing eyes and light up swords, you’re treated to a feast of, ostensibly, ‘spacey’ sounds: vaguely robot-like noises, gunfire, laser-fire, missiles, basically everything you’ve heard from every battery-powered dollar store toy ever is played, and it’s played as close to all at once as possible. And did I mention it’s all LOUD? No joke, these things are really loud!

And what’s more, the lights and eyes flash in accordance with the sounds. That is, when the sounds slow down (relatively speaking), the blinking lights do as well. When the sounds speed up, so do the lights. What technical wizardry is this?!

The removable swords don’t light up by themselves, of course. They’re made of see-through plastic, and the light instead comes from inside the figures’ hands. When the sword is placed in the appropriate slot, it illuminates accordingly. However, should you leave the sword out of the hand when pushing the action button, you’re treated to a beam that would put most flashlights to shame. It is BRIGHT. No wonder the card had to add that disclaimer! Should Space Robot ever give up his preoccupation with kinda sorta being Darth Vader, he’d make a good Rockford-esque private eye (cause it’s a flashlight, y’see).

Also, if the white Space Robot has one distinct advantage over his black counterpart, it’s that his entire head illuminates instead of only his eyes when the chest button is pressed. The benefits of this feature in battle are negligible, but it sure looks neat.

space robot figure 8

For scale-purposes, the figures are comparable to an old-school He-Man figure, though a little taller, and a lot more streamlined. They’re also taller than a Last Action Hero Arnold figure that has been inexplicably shaved bald. So now you know.

space robot figure 14

If you want to really keep the whole “Star Wars but not really” thing going, Space Robot is great for fighting whatever random old monster/alien toys you still have floating around your basement. In the above scene, white Darth bot fights my childhood Dissect-An-Alien, from the old Mad Scientist toy line (remember that?). Check it out: the light is so bright, it not only illuminates the Space Robot’s hand and the sword itself, but it also partially illuminates the insides of the Dissect-An-Alien. I dig it!

space robot figure 15

No kidding, I like these things a lot. They’re just Star Wars-y enough to satisfy the megafans, but not Star Wars-y enough to give George Lucas or Disney or whoever now technically owns all this grounds for a legal battle. Had I come across a figure like this in my younger years (especially when Star Wars toys were scarce in the early-1990s), I’d have flipped over ’em. The cheap , knock-off quality of the figures, coupled with an intense nostalgia for the toys of my youth (particularly the occasionally-cool toys that could be found at dollar stores) has me way more stoked for these Space Robots than I normally would be. $3.98 (plus tax) well spent!

You know, while I’m on the subject of new Star Wars capitalizin’:

space robot figure 16

I’m really fighting the urge to go back to Dollar General to get this Space Battle Cosmic Knight playset I spotted the other night. Hey, it’s not Star Wars, it’s Space Battle, and they’re not Jedi Knights, they’re “Cosmic Knights.” I’m not sure I want to plunk ten bucks down on a cut-rate lightsaber and a mask that appears to be mimicking one of those Tie Fighter guys, but it sure is tempting.

Maybe, should I muster the courage to go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the theater, I could wear the mask while holding the lightsaber in one hand and a Space Robot in the other?

Advertisements

Batclips DVD Review

The $1 DVDs you sometimes find in the checkout aisle of grocery stores or in forlorn sections of major retail joints are often hit-and-miss. After all, there’s only so many public domain movies, TV shows and cartoons that can be released over and over again. Often, the companies presenting the umpteenth release of a given film to the public have to rely on creative cover art to trick unsuspecting passerby into thinking a particular DVD they’ve got collecting dust on the shelf is in actuality the feel-good, must-have hit of the holiday season. My favorite examples? Releases of John Wayne’s public domain 1930’s B-movies that feature cover art made to look like it’s for ‘real’ John Wayne movies. Why, certain people could very well be tricked into thinking Randy Rides Alone is of the same cinematic quality as The Searchers!

That’s not to say I don’t love the $1 DVD section at stores, though. In all honesty, I will happily rummage through the budget titles before I even think about glancing towards the ‘real’ big-time DVD releases. I know what I’ll find there, but the $1 section can be like a neverending grab-bag of surprises. You can find some truly awesome titles if you’re willing to dig past a lot of junk discs. An example of budget DVD greatness? Batclips.

batclips7

This one seemingly came out of nowhere when it showed up in $1 racks a few years ago, but don’t let the cheap price fool you. This is an awesome DVD and absolutely worth the dollar (it’s hard to beat a buck anyway, but given some of the material presented, I can easily see them charging a bit more and not being called out on it). The cartoonish artwork and rather odd tagline on the front cover may lead some to think this is a cut-rate documentary on the origins of the Batman character, but it’s actually about 30 minutes worth of material pertaining to the 1966-1968 Batman TV series starring Adam West (as well as the 1966 film based on said series and starring said badass). Let me clarify that this is often listed as Bat Clips, with a space between the two words, but the spine and description on my copy both call it Batclips, no space, so that’s what I’m calling it, too (I only mention this because while doing my research on this DVD, the spacing issue did indeed mess with my search results).

batclips1 batclips4

Due to legal problems, the actual 1966-1968 TV series has, thus far, not been officially released in any format (though the 1966 movie has). But believe it or not, for those craving some 60’s Batman, this DVD actually holds some genuinely interesting tidbits. According to the back of the packaging, this was put out by Treasure Box Collection, which is one of those companies that has released a ton of movies, TV shows, etc. out as dollar DVDs. Or were they one of those companies? I heard they went out of business, and the single website link I found was dead, so…? Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any DVDs put out by them lately. Is it just my area, or have they closed up shop?

Either way, their products usually (always?) featured the “Platinum Collection” band across the top of the artwork, ostensibly meant to give the package a more “collectible” aura. And I’ll tell you right now that unless “Digitally Remastered” is just a fancy term for “transferred to a digital format,” well, lets just say this isn’t exactly Criterion Collection quality here. In fact, it appears the entire contents of the disc come transferred straight from a VHS source, complete with the video imperfections that are inherent to the format. That said, everything here is entirely watchable, and “Digitally Remastered” is a term thrown around so often regarding budget DVDs that it really doesn’t mean anything anymore. Just don’t go in thinking this to be comparable to something Kino had a hand in, okay? As you’ll see in a bit, the picture could be sharper, sure, but why nitpick the picture quality of a $1 DVD? There’s some really terrific, really unexpected stuff here, and damn dude, it was a dollar.

Also, my copy is in a regular plastic snap DVD keep case, but apparently Batclips was later reissued in a thin cardboard sleeve, albeit with the same artwork (that version apparently has a running time of “Approximately 60 Minutes” listed, though no mention of a running time is anywhere on my copy, and besides, the DVD is only about half that length). I haven’t seen that “edition” in person, however, and indeed, I haven’t seen Batclips available locally since, well, since around the time this copy was in stores. Does that mean the sealed Batclips I have stored away will one day be worth $1000?! Or MORE?!?!

batclips3

“An inside look at a superhero phenomenon?” is, to me, a bit of an odd tagline. At first, I thought the question mark at the end was a typo (typos being fairly common with $1 DVDs), but considering it’s found on the front and back of the case and on the disc face itself, it seems they were trying to give the impression this DVD would dig down and deep into what makes Batguy tick. Alternately, it also makes it sound like the DVD is going to be some kind of dirty laundry tell-all documentary, though of course it’s not.

The description on the back cover actually isn’t too far off. Aside from the mention of “posters” (which I don’t understand since there’s no picture gallery or anything on the disc, unless they’re talking about the covert art, which is found on the case, disc, and menu screen) and the phrase “…more Batmania than has ever been assembled in on [sic] DVD before” which I’m guessing is a bit of an exaggeration (unless we’re talking budget DVDs only, in which case they’re probably right), the description is really pretty accurate. Honestly, I was expecting much of it to be BS, but the DVD does indeed live up to the promises made on the back, more or less.

batclips5 batclips6

There’s the front and back of the DVD itself. Thankfully, it’s a factory pressed silver disc, as opposed to a DVD-R or something, thus ensuring years of Batclips lovin’.

batclips9 batclips10

The real jewel of Batclips is found right at the beginning of the DVD: the 7 minute, unaired Batgirl promo used to sell ABC on a third season of Batman. Not only is this completely unexpected, but it’s also a step closer to the actual episodes of the series that have so far been barred from official release. The pilot is set up like a mini-episode of the series, complete with narration and “Pow!” exclamations during fight scenes. The story goes that the ratings for Batman had fallen so much during the second season that ABC was questioning whether they wanted to bring it back for a third. So, the producers made this short pilot introducing Yvonne Craig as Batgirl. ABC was impressed enough with the pilot to give season three a go, and Batgirl became a regular castmember and fellow crimefighter to Batman and Robin.

batclips11 batclips12

For a seven minute “episode” that was never intended to be seen outside of wherever this was shown to ABC execs in 1967, it’s pretty entertaining. Then again, 60’s Batman can do little wrong in my eyes. The gist of the pilot is that bad guy The Killer Moth and his henchmen are hanging out at the library, where Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara (BATGIRL) works. Batman and Robin show up to kick some Moth ass, and quickly wind up in a predicament. Batgirl lends a hand. One funny scene, during a brawl with The Killer Moth’s henchmen, has Batman chatting with Batgirl, occasionally turning to punch out a bad guy, and then casually turning back to the conversation.

This pilot is the sort of thing you wouldn’t be surprised finding at a fan convention or something, but it showing up on a commercial DVD is definitely eyebrow raising. Where did it come from? How did Treasure Box Collection get it? How were they allowed to release it? Has Batgirl lapsed into the public domain, or is it a grey area legally? Batclips wasn’t exactly sold under the counter, and while it’s not really seen on shelves nowadays (not around here, at least), it was pretty widely available at the time (dollar DVDs tend to get around, y’know?). The only copyright found on the package is one credited to “Dan Dalton Productions.” So, I take it Mr. Dalton is one of the chosen few in the position to release this stuff? I mean, God bless him for making this DVD happen either way, but I’d hate for anyone to get into any trouble. Maybe that’s why Batclips is seemingly so scarce on DVD nowadays, or worse yet, why Treasure Box Collection appears to be incommunicado? Did Warner Bros. or DC Comics or whoever the hell owns all this stuff put their foot down?!?! Tune in next week, same Bat time, same…oh, never mind.

batclips13 batclips14

From there the DVD swings into a 1972 public service announcement by the U.S. Department Of Labor Wage & Hour Division. The subject? Batgirl hasn’t been getting equal pay because she’s a girl, and thus isn’t sure if she wants to save Batman and Robin from being all blowed up. The PSA features Batman series stars Burt Ward as Robin and Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, as well as NOT Adam West as Batman (Bats is instead portrayed by Dick Gautier, though he adequately looks and sounds enough like West to keep the mega-fans at bay). Batgirl claims she’s been working for Batman “a long time,” but is paid less than Robin for the same job. I never really thought Batgirl worked for Batman, but was rather a separate but kindred crimefighter, right? Then again, they needed something to set the PSA in motion, in which case I’m all for some inaccuracies if it means getting Bats into it. Batman’s response when Batgirl states men and women are to be paid equally for the same job by the same employer? “No time for jokes, Batgirl!” Damn!

batclips15 batclips16

Next, we’re presented with not one but several trailers for the 1966 Batman feature film. One of them is even partially in Spanish. They vary in length, and while they’re certainly neat to see, the “samey” nature of them quickly wears a bit thin. Featuring Adam West and Burt Ward in their respective characters announcing the upcoming film and the benefits to humanity it features, the stable of villains in it, as well as the required action shots, it’s all very cool, but some would say a little would have went a long way here. I guess Treasure Box Collection or whoever initially put this thing together was determined to use everything they had?

batclips17 batclips18

There had been some movie serials in the 1940’s, but 1966’s Batman was the first full-length, color Batman film. It retained a lot of the campy fun of the series, albeit with a higher budget, allowing for some additonal Batgadgets and whatnot (which were then used in the series). An all-star assembly of villains (The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin and The Riddler) also made this, in theory, the Batman movie to end all Batman movies. Frankly, I love it, but as previously stated, 60’s Batman, in TV or movie form, can do little wrong in my eyes. Obviously, this film is a quantum leap away from the 1989 Tim Burton film and it’s 1992 sequel, not to mention the Christopher Nolan films of recent years. If you’re not a fan of the 1966-1968 Adam West series, the feature film version probably isn’t going to do much to change your mind.

batclips19 batclips20

After finishing up with the movie trailers, a 30-second promo for the series is seen. There’s no station I.D., date, timeslot or voiceover, so I can’t tell if this was meant for the original airings of the TV series or for later syndicated broadcasts. It features Commissioner Gordon calling Bruce Wayne on the Bat Phone, and then Batman and Robin swinging into action. There’s plenty of room for a local voiceover, station I.D. or timeslot to be inserted, so, I don’t know. I’m guessing this was for local airings after the series ended, but I could very well be wrong. I do know that in the early/mid-2000’s, before your NEO Video Hunter had wholly begun to collect his own material (something I now do absolutely exclusively), this promo was making the rounds on the internet, and if I recall correctly, it was listed as a 60’s spot. Which brings up an interesting point: I have a feeling that all or at least most of the material on Batclips was probably circulating (perhaps together, perhaps individually) in one form or another before Batclips collected it all into one convenient package. Maybe it was all the turf of fan-made comps available exclusively at conventions and the like, or maybe there was an official (or semi-official) VHS release at some point in the past. I don’t know, I have no proof, I’m only speculating.

batclips21 batclips22

And that brings us to the most oddball section of Batclips: the personal appearances portion. First up: Adam West, in character as Batman, making a personal appearance at what seems to be a car show or the like somewhere. From the looks of the fashions seen in the crowd, this was maybe the late-80’s or early-90’s, and there seems to be a date on the banner hanging behind West that might say 1992, but the video quality is so soft that it’s really hard to tell. This was very clearly filmed with a home camcorder, a fact made all the more obvious by the picture and sound quality.

batclips23 batclips24

It would be easy to make jokes about this, but the fact of the matter is that Adam West, Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig were all severely typecast by their roles in Batman, and whenever film or TV work was scarce, making personal appearances at conventions, car shows, store openings, etc. was a good way to pay the bills. Furthermore, West is never anything less than completely engaging and personable. He stays in character as Batman, makes jokes, speaks freely with audience members, and perhaps what impresses me most, clearly states that he’s not going to leave until every member of the audience that wants an autograph gets one. See that book he’s holding above? He tries to get the lady who brought it to read a scene with him, which she declines. I actually own a copy of that same book (a collection of older comic stories put together in the 1960’s to capitalize on the then-hot TV series), and I think if I’m ever fortunate enough to meet Adam West in person, I’d like to bring my copy to be autographed. Or, I could always bring, you know, Batclips.

batclips25 batclips26

Next up, more camcorder action from the sidelines of some talk show that was apparently hosting a Batman cast reunion, complete with a recreation of the set. As evidenced by the crewmembers often obstructing the view, this was probably not an official outtake of whatever show this was.

batclips27 batclips28

This part of Batclips works as a curiosity piece, but unlike the Adam West appearance prior, much of the sound is unintelligible, the camera is often moving, crewmembers are sometimes in the way, and there’s just no real rhyme or reason to any of it. I can safely say this is the least watchable part of the entire DVD. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting to have, if for no other reason than to have the cast all together on one stage, but it’s not something most people will want to watch over and over.

batclips29 batclips30

The DVD ends with a 17-second kinda-animated sequence intended for…well, I don’t know what the hell this was intended for,

batclips31 batclips32

The sequence starts off with the stick of dynamite (or is it just a firecracker?) blowing up, and then several Batman-esque action cards being shown before cutting to that probably-not-professional-drawing of Batman, who for whatever reason is thinking of his own logo (or possibly just a regular ol’ bat). it’s a real non-sequiter of a sequence, and I have no idea what it was meant to be a part of. The clip has some age to it, that’s for sure, so maybe it was meant for the movie theater and/or drive-in circuit, perhaps from some point in the 1970’s? I have absolutely no basis for that guess, just a gut-feeling, and just like that promo I was talking about earlier, I could very well be wrong.

batclips34

So there you have it, Treasure Box Collection’s DVD release of Batclips. It may look like an unassuming budget DVD, but man, it’s waaay cooler than you’d expect it to be, especially for only a buck. When this was purchased, multiple copies of Batclips were easily found at the same grocery store this copy came from, but since then, the DVD has apparently become scarce. At the time of the writing, there are only three used copies on Ebay, and one used copy on Amazon, and, get this, they’re all priced around $30! Granted, sellers can ask any price they want, but the point is that if this were still in some kind of wide-release (relatively speaking, I mean), both sites would in all likelihood be littered with both new and used copies at a much wider-range of prices. So, I wonder if legal actions were quietly taken when word of this release reached the respective copyright owners? Or, maybe because the film elements aren’t as widely available as other public domain movies on dollar DVDs, when Treasure Box Collection went under (*if* they went under), releasing a similar collection just isn’t as easy for other companies, especially since Dan Dalton Productions is supposedly in charge of the content. Of course, I have zero evidence that any of this is true, once again I’m just speculating, but it’s sure interesting to think about.

No matter, because I can say that as someone with some experience in budget DVDs (dubious honor that may be), I’ve never seen anything like Batclips, before or since. You can find some neat releases in the $1 DVD section, but from my viewpoint, Batclips is honestly the best disc I’ve ever found at that area. It just goes to show you, don’t pass up those cheap DVDs, because you never know what you’ll find!