Category Archives: echelon mall

Dragon’s Lair and the Arcade with No Name

When I started writing this entry, I was struck by a bout of senility as I could not think of the name of the arcade where I first encountered Dragon’s Lair. It was upstairs at the Gimbel’s end of the Echelon Mall, directly above Listening Booth, and had an odd shaped entrance, like a large Chevrolet symbol. When I was in high school and college, it was the place to hang out, even though it had been predated by Funway Freeway on the opposite side of the Mall by at least a decade. Most importantly it was the place where in June of 1982 I first met my future wife.

I struggled with this mind fart, I Googled, I contacted old friends I hung out with at the time, and finally, on a whim, looking at old foreign coins, as I suspected, I came across tokens (for the uninitiated, arcade games didn’t run on quarters, you bought tokens with quarters and put the tokens in the machines) from the place. Video Village. Such a simple name, yet so evasive over the years. When I saw it on Google as a store in the Mall listings I assumed it was a video retail store, but no, it was the arcade.

In the early 1980s arcades were everywhere. There was Space Port in the Deptford Mall, the Cherry Hill Mall had had several over the years, heck there was one in every mall. I’ve already talked about Malibu, there was also Bally’s across from the Cherry Hill Mall, and the Galaxy (not the rock club) down the road from it on Route 70. There was even one in my hometown right on Atco Avenue, the Sweet Shop. Like I said, they were everywhere, and also like I said, Video Village (now that I finally remembered the name) was special.

New games or games with buzz were given a special position in arcades so everyone could see them. At Video Village, this was just inside the entrance, facing into the Mall, this way, even if you were on the other side of the stairs, you could see the new game. This is how I first saw Dragon’s Lair, logo standing out above a throng of heads of perhaps two or three dozen people mesmerized by it or waiting their turn on this amazing new game. And it was amazing, at least for its time.

There were no pixels or imagination involved in Dragon’s Lair, as it was fully animated by Don Bluth, just late of Disney, and designed almost as a choose-your-own-adventure with the magic of laserdisc technology. It was all about a light touch and perfect reflexes to get heroic knight Dirk the Daring past various traps in the castle dungeons, the evil wizard Mordoc, and the dragon Singe, to rescue the Princess Daphne. Oh, you couldn’t wait to try it yourself, but it was also a blast to watch – not just a game, it was an entertaining cartoon as well.

This was a far cry from Atari’s Adventure, said to be its inspiration. Dragon’s Lair was also a notable step into the future for one other reason as well. It was the first game I am aware of that took two tokens, fifty cents, to play as opposed to one token/quarter. I am unsure if this was forward thinking or just plain greed, but at the time in my easily amused late teens, it seemed a fair exchange.

So why all the nostalgia for events that happened over three decades ago? Well, I just recently downloaded the Dragon’s Lair LLC app for my iPhone. It has the same great animation and gameplay, only using the touchscreen instead of a joystick. So Dirk the Daring lives, or at least he does when I make the right moves…

John Carter Is Awesome

John Carter ~ In the year of The Avengers , there are only a few movies that I have been anticipating with the same tension and excitement as that of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. There is Battleship, which is more a curiosity than anything else, as in how can a flick based on a kids game have such an awesome trailer? There’s also The Dark Knight Rises, which falls more into the morbid curiosity category. Regular readers know how much I absolutely hated The Dark Knight, so I am curious to see how much of a train wreck this one will be. And then there’s John Carter. In some ways, I have been more excited about this one than The Avengers.

First things first, all you critics and naysayers and underage idiots who think it rips off Star Wars can all just go to hell. John Carter is awesome. The books, by Edgar Rice Burroughs about John Carter of Mars are now over a hundred years old. A century, idiots, so if anything, George Lucas was mining Burroughs, not the other way around. And that goes for everything else under a hundred years old the uneducated are saying John Carter rips off. This is the original, literally the great granddaddy of pulp adventure science fiction. Everything from Flash Gordon to Superman to Adam Strange to Avatar owes a huge debt to this property.

And the other thing, yeah, that thing, I don’t want to hear any crap about box office. Yes, it was an expensive movie, and yes, it did not do well at the box office. The box office folks are talking about is domestic, John Carter did quite well overseas, where also apparently folks knew who the character was, despite the “of Mars” being removed from the title, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The fact is not that the movie did do well financially, it just did not do the numbers it was expected to do, that’s all. Let’s look at the facts – John Carter has made more money than The Artist and Hugo combined. Does that sound like a bomb to you?

There were other problems. The project got orphaned at Disney/Pixar, as nearly everyone involved in marketing was no longer with the company when it came out. So Disney only gave it the minimum promotion a motion picture of its size, budget and content should have gotten. Disney had written the film off before it even came out, and in recent weeks has even admitted it. Feeling saturated by the PR blitz of The Avengers and Brave? Well, enjoy, that’s John Carter‘s marketing money at work.

And then there’s the title. Disney had a real bomb last year called Mars Needs Moms, and decided that the word “Mars” was bad publicity, and so removed it. These are also the geniuses who wouldn’t call it A Princess of Mars (the book on which this movie is mostly based) because it would confuse the little girls (and probably the parents as well) in the audience. Not only is that just plain stupid reasoning, it’s also ripping the heart out of the character. John Carter is John Carter of Mars, period. It’s like calling a movie about Superman just “Man.” And also if they had kept the “Mars” in the title, at least some of the folks who weren’t aware of the character wouldn’t have at least known it was scifi of some sort.

Despite all that that, despite all of this crap that has been piled on top of the movie – I loved it. I’ve seen it three times. John Carter is the best movie I’ve seen this year. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a great movie, and there’s nothing original you haven’t already seen somewhere else (it has had a hundred years to be ripped off, mind you), but it is a fun movie, and I really enjoyed the two hours plus I spent in the theater each time. There hasn’t been an adventure like this is some time.

Based on the first novel A Princess of Mars, yet borrowing from later novels as well, John Carter stars newcomer Taylor Kitsch (“Friday Night Lights”) in the title role, genre actress Lynn Collins as the Princess, and Willem Dafoe brilliantly voice acting Carter’s Thark friend Tars Tarkas. Rounding out the cast are two veteran actors from one of my favorite HBO series “Rome,” Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, as well as Dominic West and Bryan Cranston who rule the screen while they’re on it.

I loved this pulp adventure of a Civil War vet transported to the otherworldly Mars to fight for and against its various peoples. I read these books as a ten year old at the Camden County Library when it was part of the long gone Echelon Mall, thanks to my reading enabling big sister. They were great then, and great now, as I read the first book again before seeing the movie. A friend of mine called it adventure porn for ten year old boys. I don’t find that all that offensive, I think it’s right on target actually.

John Carter is a fun adventure flick – don’t believe anything the naysayers tell you, go see it, go see it now.

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French Fry Diary 333: York Steak House

Lost Hits of the New Wave #9

“Don’t Change” by INXS

I was a big INXS fan, before they made it really big, and once they did, I kinda got sick of them. Honestly if I ever hear “The Devil Inside” again, I’ll hit someone. A lot of their stuff in hindsight is a bit dated, but I still like the early stuff. And Michael Hutchence is still missed. To this day, “Mediate” and especially “Mystify” remain among my favorite all time tunes.

I have to sheepishly admit how stupid I was when I first discovered them. I went to Listening Booth at the Echelon Mall to get their album Shabooh Shoobah. I actually worked at rival Sam Goody, but everyone knew LB had all the imports, and the ‘good’ stuff first. If you wanted Michael Jackson, you went to Goody’s, if you wanted something with an edge, it was the Booth all the way.

Anyway, I saw an album with that title, but didn’t think it was INXS, because I was looking for a band I had heard pronounced as ‘In Excess.’ Yeah, I was an idiot. Finally bought it, and I loved it.

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French Fry Diary 314: Doghouse Burgers & Fries

Random Tater Pic of the Day #26

French Fry Diary 225: Chick-Fil-A