The Case of Light

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Hey Cassettes and welcome back to another episode of the BCD!

This week, we’re doing something a little different. Marci and Robin are stepping out of their comfort zone, and allowing Adam to teach them about something completely new (to them)! 

In the time before time, the Great Spirit descended from the heavens carrying Alastair Swinnerton, Bob Thompson, Martin Andersen, and Christian Faber. Together they illuminated us with the three virtues; Unity, Duty and Destiny, and in 2001, Bionicle hit store shelves. It was a smash hit, connecting with kids around the world and taking LEGO out of the red by 2004. A place the company hasn’t returned to since, despite more recent struggles. 

Set in a universe filled with biomechanical beings, the world of Bionicle was unique, intriguing, and mysterious. Harnessing the power of the elements on their island home, the six Toa heroes are destined to save the world from the evil Makuta. LEGO dove deep into this world which spawned hundreds of toys that sold by the millions. Coupled with dozens of characters and a complex lore that would take a whole year of college classes to fully understand. But it worked. It was such a success that talks of a feature length movie started in the same year.

So, gathered friends, listen again to our legend, of Bionicle: Mask of Light.

HISTORY OF BIONICLE

IN NEED OF AN IDEA

  • Before the LEGO company became the largest toy company in the world, they were on a downward spiral that was nearly their end. The 90’s saw absolutely horrid sales and in 1997 the company posted a loss for the first time since their beginning in 1932. Not even securing the Star Wars brand was enough to save them from the brink.
    • Star Wars at the time was a franchise based solely on the movies. The interest in Star Wars toys would dip drastically if there wasn’t a new movie that year. LEGO knew that this was not sustainable.
  • LEGO needed something original that they could produce and sell year-round. Something to appeal to a new generation of builders. They realized that kids in this quickly growing modern world wanted something to play with that would encompass more than simple building blocks. Kids wanted a story behind those blocks, and to go with it, new pieces they could use to create their own characters and fantasies.
  • LEGO hired various staff from the broadcasting world to come up with story-based ideas, to counter the all-conquering franchise Pokemon. At the time, Pokemon was largely credited with Lego suffering their first loss. Many ideas were brainstormed and pitched to Erik Kramer, then Technical Director at LEGO, including one called ‘Bone Heads of Voodoo Island’, or Voodoo Heads for short. Secrecy was so tight around Bionicle that this original title was known only to the insiders for many years.

CREATORS

  • The key Lego creators of ‘Voodoo Heads’ were Bob Thompson, who had become Head of Story, and Martin Andersen, then a ‘mere’ toy designer. The third of the four ‘official’ co-creators was Christian Faber, Creative Director of the Danish advertising agency Advance, who created the amazing graphic look of the whole project.
  • It was not until Alastair Swinnerton got a hold of the project shortly after, that Bionicle began to take its final form. 
    • According to an recount written by Swinnerton on his personal website, “Voodoo Heads,” along with other brief concepts were sent to outside writers at a company called Skryptonite. 
    • He said, “Something about ‘Voodoo Heads’ caught my eye, so I decided to work on that one. It had a kind of Easter Island vibe to it I felt, and I’d always been fascinated with that subject. The basic story was there – a bunch of characters on an island, not knowing why. But that was about it. So I pretty much started again with the concept.”
    • The rewrite of the concept was sent back to Bob Thompson, and he liked it. He liked it so much, in fact, that come February 2000, Swinnerton was on a plane to Lego HQ in Denmark.

MOVIE SUMMARY

  • The movie picks up in the second story arc after the Toa have already been around for a while. So in order to get the best comprehension out of the story, you should at least know this: It takes place on the mysterious island of Mata Nui. The spirit protecting the island, also called Mata Nui, has been put into a deep sleep. Six Toa heroes fall from the sky and discover that it is their duty to find the masks of power, defeat Makuta and reawaken the great spirit. 
  • Everything seems fine and dandy on the island and the matoran are safe and happy. They are in the midst of peace and prosperity! The different tribes are getting along and they even built a new stadium to play the sport of Kohlii. It is not until one curious matoran, Takua, makes a very important discovery: that Makuta again rears his ugly head. 
  • The mask of light has been found! The Turaga tell that it is a sign of the coming of a seventh Toa! Now the reluctant hero Takua and his friend Jalla, are sent on a quest across the island in search of their destiny. 
  • Meanwhile, Makuta must not let this happen. So he sends his evil sons, the Rahkshi, to find Takua and take the mask of light.

Making of the movie

  • From the beginning the creators envisioned that there would be a Bionicle movie. Thanks to the toy’s unprecedented success, Miramax and Lego made a partnership in 2002 to develop and distribute three direct to DVD movies with budgets estimated at around $5 million each. 
  • While most projects of its type took 18 to 24 months to complete, the development team completed the film in 13 months. This was due to a convenient arrangement with the Taiwanese animation studio CGCG that created most of the animation. As the US based team was done with work, the team in Taiwan was just getting started. So work was being done on the film almost 24/7.
    • CGCG Inc. has also done animation work for Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and even the more recent Jurassic World: Camp Cretaious! (This fact has made Adam very happy haha!)
  • The film was co-directed by Terry Shakespeare and David Molina.
    • Shakespeare and Molina both started as animators working with Don Bluth and would later go on to work at Disney. (Reverse exodus?) They worked on films such as An American Tail, Secret of NIMH, Beauty and the Beast, and more. 
    • They both began their paths to directing as animation directors for video games. Their first project was a game called Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse (1994.) They both did many video games for years until they were both given a shot at a film in 2002, with Bionicle: Mask of Light! They would both also go on to direct the two soon-after sequels. 
  • You could say that Mask of Light had many writers, because the story came from many places and went through many hands. We mentioned the big influence Alastair Swinnerton had on the Bionicle story, and he had a part in writing for this movie as well. But the biggest credit for the film itself goes to Henry Gilroy for the screenplay. 
    • Gilroy has many TV writing credits we’re sure you’ve heard of. For example, the 90’s Batman animated series, the Timon & Pumbaa tv series, Star War: The Clone Wars, and Avengers Assemble. 
  • Unlike previous Lego themes, Bionicle was accompanied by an original story told across a wide array of media. From comics, games, and commercials, to books, and web animations. This meant that many fans had their favorite version of the story so far, and it was important to keep that in mind. 
    • According to the behind the scenes extras of the DVD, one of the biggest considerations was being honest with the loyal fan base and being true to the source material. Bob Thompson said in an interview, “People often talk about, when they make a film from a book, everyone that has read the book has a slightly different take on it. Well this is even more extreme because everyone that’s played with the toy has a belief about what Bionicle is.” 
      • When choosing a style, directors Shakespeare and Molina noted that there were several already existing interpretations of the Bionicle look. They would go through it all during the early design phase, including flash webcomics, comic books, and CGI commercials; they eventually decided upon the more commercial look. (Perhaps we could have gotten a great 2D animated movie in another life!)
      • The characters were changed as little as possible, while still adding enough new detail in order for the characters to act and move as we would expect. Including the addition of hands and masks that can move as they talk.
      • The look is loved by many fans and disliked by others and is now referred to as the Miramax style. The same look would continue for the next two movies. 
    • While writing, Henry Gilroy made sure to stick with what had come before. This was the first Bionicle movie, but it was picking up on what was then, the second major story arc. So he had to be mindful of how characters think and behave. 
      • The team developed new expressions that would fit in the world. For example, Takua says, “hold your rahi” instead of the “hold your horses” and Jalla says “You could have been lava bones” in place of “You could have been killed.”
    • There were many discussions about this with the casting director Kris Zimmerman. Henry said also on the DVD, “I think everybody has a certain expectation for the voice they want to hear coming out of their favorite Toa. Every Bionicle fan has their favorite Toa, so we really wanted to be true to them, to somehow instil in them a voice that would be believable to the hardcore fans. So they didn’t sound like they lived in the United States or in Europe, but that they came from their own world.”

STARRING

  • Jason Michas as our main character Takua. 
    • He has had other voice roles such as Ernest Goes to School, and the show Dragon Tales.
  • Andrew Francis as Jalla, the Captain of Ta-Koro’s Guard
    • He has made his way more recently in tv shows and doing english dubs for anime, such as the localization of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
    • According to Kris Zimmerman, the two leads came in to audition for the opposite roles they would eventually get. Andrew came in very well dressed and professional, while Jason dressed in a hawian shirt and cracked jokes the whole time. Kris eventually had them try and switch their lines, and the characters just clicked. 
  • Scott McNeil would voice both Tahu, Toa of Fire and Onua, Toa of Earth
    • He is know for doing many english dubs for anime such as the extremely popular Dragon Ball Z and Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.
  • Dale Wilson as Lewa, Toa of Air
    • He has made an appearance in Psych and has provided voices for things like, Transformers, Stargate, and X-Man: Evolution. 
  • Kathleen Barr as Gali, Toa of Water
    • She has over 300 voice credits on IMDB including My Little Pony, Ninjago (another LEGO property), Ed Edd n Eddy, and Veggietales.
  • Michael Dobson as Kopaka, the Toa of Ice
    • He has done many voices as well, including The Hulk, Sausage Party, and Norm of the North.
  • Trevor Devall as Pohatu, Toa of Stone
    • He has many cartoon and gaming voice roles such as Halo 5, Regular Show and the new ThunderCats Roar.
  • Lee Tockar as the Makuta, the main antagonist.
    • He is also in many cartoon roles such as in Bob the Builder, Johnny Test, and even the Ratchet and Clank movie!

RECEPTION/AWARDS

  • Obviously this movie is a freaking masterpiece of the highest quality! Just kidding! Or am !?
    • Among fans of Bionicle, it is a well loved movie and the majority favorite of all four films. With an existing knowledge of characters and the world, the film really shines for what it is. 
    • The main criticism from many is that it relies heavily on knowledge of earlier Bionicle storylines. It could be said  that it was almost “too respectful” in this aspect. 
  • Entertainment Weekly gave the film a “B+”, calling it a “well-constructed CGI adventure” and saying that even those who did not understand the story would at least enjoy the effects and action sequences. 
  • And Don Houston of DVDTalk, also was generally positive about the film. He called the direction and visuals “exceptionally crisp and clear” when compared to other films of its type, and gave high praise to the voice acting and noting darker themes within the film. 
  • The movie has actually won two awards! 
    • In 2003, Mask of Light won a Golden Reel Award for Best Visual Effects in a DVD Premiere Movie, also it won the Best DVD release award at the 2004 Saturn Awards.

Bionicle: Mask of Light’s success prompted later Lego themes to utilize similar story-telling methods. Ninjago, Hero Factory, and Legends of Chima to name a few. But Bionicle was special. It was a deep and fascinating franchise loved by many. Bringing in the fans of fantasy, and sci-fi, as well as Lego builders all together. From the beginning, it had an element of mystery—what are these robots doing on an island? Wait, are they even robots? Where did the Toa come from? How powerful is Makuta? But somehow you knew that there was even more beneath the surface. Movies like Mask of Light brought a new light, pun intended, to that mystery. 

After a long ten year run, the story is kept alive today by the undying love of its fans. More and more new builds, games, art, and stories are shared everyday. And there is even more still creeping just past the horizon. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Bionicle! So, happy anniversary! We look forward to the next time, when we will all listen again to the legend of the Bionicle. 


SOURCES:

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