John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV
One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
I hope my previous reviews of the George Lucas/Steven Spielberg franchise make abundantly
plain, I am a resolute admirer of the Indiana Jones film series from start to
finish. Raiders of the Lost Ark
is an absolutely perfect movie in my opinion, and Temple of Doom casts a
long shadow as a work of dark genius and perhaps even madness.
like and enjoy the third film, 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,
but harbor some misgivings about the film on a few simple grounds, which I
shall enumerate below.
and foremost, the third Indy film literally removes “shadow” from the world of
Indiana Jones, and the film-noir-type photography of both Raiders and Temple
is wholly missing here. Instead, every
frame looks bright and well-lit, and subsequently some sense of visual layering
or depth is absent from the proceedings.
The film feels Disney-fied, or at least visually sanitized in comparison
with the previous two entries.
speaking, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade also subtracts “shadow” from
its creative equation in other significant ways.
particular, it removes the shadow or blot over Indiana Jones’ very humanity -- his soul itself -- by sweeping under the
carpet his morally questionable nature,
To wit, the movie ret-cons this great hero -- literally -- as a boy scout.
This very square incarnation of Indiana Jones doesn’t jibe with the
hard-drinking, dissolute, shoot-first-ask-questions-later, womanizing man we
met in Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981; the man “fallen from faith” who could have been a mirror image for Rene Belloq.
Jones and the Last Crusade dramatically hedges its bets by attempting
to appeal to nostalgia and sentimentality instead of by pushing the franchise
into new terrain the way that Temple ofDoom so relentlessly pushed
it. The film unnecessarily plays like
old home week. It resurrects beloved supporting
characters from Raiders of the Lost Ark such as Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and
Brody (Denholm Elliott), but then puts them to use that makes them appear
silly, even ridiculous. Specifically, these
characters are shoe-horned into shallow comic-relief roles that, again, make
mincemeat out of series history. Brody
has gone from being a wise elder and mentor to Indy to a living Looney Tunes
character, in particular.
suspect Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’s s strong accent on gimmicky
comedy -- as well as the attempt to
transform Indiana Jones from Fred Dobbs-like dissolution to Boy Scout-styled
righteousness -- is a direct response to the darkness some critics and
audiences apparently perceived (and disliked…) in Temple of Doom.
it is a calculated over-response, and
so something about the film’s sense of balance is wrong. Steven Spielberg once noted that he had “consciously regressed” in order to
create this film and that he did so as an apology for the quality of the second
film. Accordingly, there is a weird diffidence
to aspects of this movie that aren’t apparent in any of the other Indiana Jones
films. It’s as though Spielberg is
unsure of himself here, and constantly lightening the mood with shticky comedy,
thus questioning: is this too dark?
I must stress, however, that I feel Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is
a worthwhile film in spite of these faults. It is absolutely entertaining, and
the action scenes, for the most part, are nail-biters. But the primary value I pinpoint and would
note in this sequel arises from the overall metaphor of the Holy Grail.
search for the Grail is not the search for the divine in all of us, as Brody
might declare, but rather, the search for the “father” figure that so many
people seek in life. The search for Jesus, or God, is thus mirrored in the film
by Indiana’s search to really, truly know his own father, Henry (Sean Connery).
the Nazi characters such as Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) are contextualized in
terms of a relationship with questionable or unavailable father figures, and so
the film boasts a nice artistic cohesion, with an emotional pay-off.
I enjoy and appreciate most about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
is that it suggests Indy’s hunt for “fortune and glory” originates from his
desire to please a father who, in essence, can never be pleased. This helps us to understand the man in a way
that the continuity-heavy but pat Moab Desert scene does not.
movie sees father and son Jones reconcile, and the hero move, at last, past his
life-long quest to fill the emptiness inside through the acquisition of relics. The Last Crusade thus moves the Indy
character forward and helps to explain the more at-peace man he we meet again
of the Crystal Skull.
only wish that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade had told the same meaningful
story without rewriting elements of the character’s history, and without removing
so much of the “shadow” hanging over a great cinematic hero.
“If it is captured by the Nazis the armies of darkness will
march all over the face of the earth.”
1912, boy-scout youngster, Indiana Jones (River Phoenix), attempts to recover
the Cross of Coronado from a group of mercenaries. He fails, but the failure sets the course for
his life, and in 1938, an adult Indy (Harrison Ford) finally recovers the
artifact that so impacted him as a youngster.
Soon, however, Indiana Jones becomes involved with a
wealthy American industrialist, Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) who is hunting
the Holy Grail with the help of the world’s greatest Grail scholar: Henry Jones…Indy’s
remote and emotionally-unavailable father.
Unfortunately, Henry (Sean Connery) disappeared in Venice
while working with Dr. Elsa Schneider (Doody), and now Indy must keep the grail
out of Nazi hands and rescue his own father, a man he has never been able to relate
to, or even talk to…
The quest for the grail takes the Jones family, plus
Marcus Brody (Elliott) and Sallah (Rhys-Davies) to a cave in the canyon of the
Crescent Moon, where an ancient knight guards the treasure, and hides it among
several false grails.
The one who chooses the right grail will become
immortal, at least within the confines of the cave. The one who chooses unwisely…will die a
“You're meddling with powers you
can't possibly comprehend.”
The first sequence in Indiana
Jones and the Last Crusade is quite memorable, mainly because of the
late River Phoenix’s persuasive and confident turn as a young Indiana
Jones. The young actor virtually
channels Harrison Ford in his mannerisms, expressions, and even sense of
body/motion. The performance not only
passes muster, it looks stronger on every re-watch. It’s a tour-de-force, for
The problem with the splendidly
paced and exciting sequence is two-fold, however.
The first is that -- in what is essentially a half-hour of his
life -- Indiana Jones picks up every formative experience that makes him “who
he is.” He finds a style of clothing and
hat to wear; he gets his first (bloody…) experience with a bull-whip, and he
battles enemies for possession of a treasured relic.
One of the great joys of the Indiana
Jones movies, in my opinion, however, is the fact that the films don’t reveal
too much biographical information. The
1930s-1940s serials didn’t, either.
Their business was getting to the cliffhangers and fisticuffs. This sequence -- introducing the leather jacket, the hat, the whip, the scar, and the
obsession with relics/archaeology -- feels a little too pat because we
recognize it as unrealistic. In life, we
don’t pick up all our important influences in one day, let alone in a half-hour.
How many people do you know who
cemented their identity at age 13…and it never changed? This Indy has college, his first love affair,
his first job, his friendship with Abner, and other landmark life experiences
ahead of him, but everything we need to “understand” him comes from this
afternoon in the Moab Desert. It’s just
a bit lacking in nuance and verisimilitude, despite the impressively-mounted
stunts and Phoenix’s praise-worthy efforts.
More significantly, however, this
sequence is book-ended by a specific and troublesome quotation. Young Indy and Adult Indy both utter the
words, vis-à-vis The Cross of Coronado: “it
belongs in a museum!”
This is an intentional and
wrong-headed ret-conning of the character as a kind of square,
fuddy-duddy. The ret-conning is assumed
because Indy’s opinion doesn’t change at
all, apparently, in the intervening years between thirteen and thirty-something.
He has the same opinion through all
those years, thus encompassing, even, his time in Temple of Doom and Raiders.
Again, this is taking a bit too much
of the edge off of Indiana Jones for my taste, and part and parcel of the
over-response to Temple of Doom that impairs much of The Last Crusade.
Let’s be blunt about this. Our own lying eyes tell us Indy doesn’t
collect gold idols and relics because “they
belong in a museum.” He does it, at least partially, for the money. Jones collects the relics, and then sells them to Brody’s museum, or,
presumably, to his clients, like Lao Che. He doesn’t just give over the relics because
they should be on display in museums.
The “it belongs in a museum” dialogue suggests a high-minded altruism
that doesn’t seem a legitimate part of this man’s character; at least this man’s
character as we saw it and knew it in
of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
For example, in the latter film, he
was depicted trading a relic for a diamond -- from a gangster -- in the opening sequence, and he considered
keeping the Sankara Stone for reasons of “fortune
Does this sound like a guy who sees
a relic and knee-jerks “It belongs in a
The whole “it belongs in a museum” ret-con seems not only two-dimensional and
inaccurate given the history of the character as we’ve witnessed it with our own eyes…it seems
developmentally arrested, psychologically-speaking.
In terms of its characters, I also find
Jones and the Last Crusades boasts highs and lows. Sallah was used as comic relief in Raiders,
no doubt, but he was also a serious-minded fellow who felt “real.” We got to know his family, at least a little,
and his sense of commitment to Indy. Here,
Sallah obsessively collects camels for his brother-in law. But okay, it’s nice to see him.
Marcus Brody shifts roles more
dramatically, however, from the first movie’s “old-timer” to over-the-top comic
relief. In Raiders, he was a man who
declared that if he were a few years younger, he would have gone after the Ark
of the Covenant himself. Those are his
own words! Here, here is a ninny who once
“got lost” in his own museum, and sticks out in the field like a sore
Again, much of the sense of nuance
or maturity is drained out of the proceedings for the purpose of easy laughs. Brody has gone from being an interesting,
layered guy to being a convenient joke, and I don’t feel it reflects well on
The film’s villain, however, is one
that I can and do appreciate. Donovan
(Julian Glover) is a perfect example of the “brains heavy”-type of villainous character
featured frequently in serials of the 1930s and 1940s. He doesn’t play a big role in the story, but
shows up at the end, essentially, to reveal his nasty machinations. Of all the main characters in the film,
Donovan is also the only one for whom human connection like family, friendship,
and patriotism mean absolutely nothing. He desires immortality, but is loyal to
no man and no country in his quest to attain it. If the Cup of Christ is about the glory of
God, Donovan is about the enrichment and glory of himself, and that’s not a bad message for the Yuppified, conspicuous
In my opinion, Indiana Jones and the Last
Crusade reaches its zenith, however, when it adheres to the theme about
father and sons. Indiana Jones has felt
alienated from his father his whole life. Indeed, that is the informing issue
of Indy’s existence. He has been forced
to seek out external validation -- “fortune
and glory” in pursuit of relics -- because he has never had the
approbation, or even attention, of Henry Jones.
Indy has attempted to outdo his own father by acquiring those relics but
has never been able to live up to him in his own mind.
This leitmotif is excavated and
illustrated perfectly in the quest for the Holy Grail. The film thus asks: what is immortality? Is it
fortune and glory, as Donovan and Elsa believe, or is it something else? Does real illumination come, finally, from understanding
your connection to those you love? To humbling yourself before someone you love
because that emotional connection is more important than ego?
Certainly, the tests Indy faces are
all about being humbled in the presence of a “father.” Only a penitent man can pass the first
test. The second tests requires
following in the foot-steps of God, as a pious man (like Henry) would. And the last test is the most important of
all. It involves taking a grand leap of
faith, and here one might contextualize that leap as not believing only in God,
but believing in your father’s love…despite his foibles and flaws.
This conceit reaches its apex in the
Grail cavern at the end of the film, when Elsa dies to acquire the Cup of
Christ rather than safeguard her own life.
All she cares about is what she can acquire, and the status she gains from
But delightfully, Spielberg repeats
Elsa’s death scene, virtually shot-for-shot,
this time with Indy playing her role. He
reaches out to grab the Grail, and won’t give it up, just as Elsa refused to
give it up. But then Indy hears the
soothing words and voice of his father, and is literally pulled back from the
And, it is not only his body perched
on that cliff, but his soul too.
As a father (and as a son too…), I
love this leitmotif, but submit that it would have carried even more resonance,
without the “it belongs in a museum”
refrain. If we legitimately believed
Indiana Jones might choose wrongly at the end of the film, Last Crusade would
generate much more tension and suspense.
Instead, this moment -- despite the great staging -- is not all it could
be. It should carry even more emotional
power than it does.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’s
leitmotif of children seeking and finding a father recurs throughout the film…even
in terms of Elsa. Her symbolic father,
it is clear, is Adolf Hitler. Indiana
Jones bumps into this frightening historical figure at one point in the film,
and his visage is terrifying; monstrous even.
Germany of the Nazis was also known, incidentally, as “The Fatherland” and is referred to as
such in the film. So while Indiana Jones
passes his test in the Grail Cavern, Elsa -- lacking a suitable father figure -- fails hers.
There’s a great deal to love about Indiana
Jones and the Last Crusade.
River Phoenix gives the performance of his career, and Sean Connery is
impressive as Henry Jones. If George
Lucas and Steven Spielberg planned Indiana Jones to be a “new” James Bond
figure for the 1980s, then it is appropriate and wonderful to cast the original
action star and 007, Connery, as Indy’s Dad.
The action is as harrowing as ever, too, and it’s also a refreshing
twist that Indy’s romantic interest is not a girl with a heart of gold this
time, but rather a girl with an eye for it.
Yet as I’ve noted above, some
elements of the film simply don’t cohere.
The entire story about Indy’s choice between “fortune and glory” and his
soul would be stronger without the “it
belongs in a museum” preamble, which is blatant revisionism, and paints him
as true blue to the core, not someone whose soul is in question.
And the film could use some of the
shadowy, noir visuals that made the other films such remarkable visual treats.
As it stands, there’s something sanitized
and a little cartoonish about this entry in the franchise, and so while I like
and enjoy Last Crusade just fine, I can’t bring myself to love it as passionately
as I do Raiders, or Temple of Doom. I know others disagree with this assessment,
and I look forward to reading their more affirmative case for the third entry
in the cycle.
Next Tuesday: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of
the Crystal Skull (2008).
As many of you know, I've been working with Arrow Video in the UK, as of late. I have written articles for their (gorgeous...) Blu-Ray booklets for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and for the upcoming Big Trouble in Little China (1986).
To celebrate the latter film's new home release, I posted at their blog, The Video Deck, my selections for the top ten John Carpenter films. Check it out here.
"It’s always a difficult task to weigh a director’s career output in terms of a mere top ten list, but much more so in the case of John Carpenter. The auteur and maverick has directed so many great films --- and in so many genres -- that often times it feels like comparing apples and oranges. For example, how does one choose between two legitimate masterpieces like The Thing (1982) and Halloween (1978)?
Below, I have endeavored to tally the top ten John Carpenter films as I view them right now, and the reasons behind those selections. Those who have read my book The Films of John Carpenter will note that I have re-jiggered the order some since that book was first published. This is because John Carpenter’s films are almost universally ahead of their time, and sometimes a “true” sense of a film’s value only becomes apparent on retrospect."
December's reader top ten is going to be a bit of a change of pace. Instead of looking at movies, we're going to look at toys or collectibles that you grew up with.
So the question to all the readers out there is: what are the ten greatest, most memorable, or just plain favorite toys of your childhood?
If possible, let me know not just about the toys, but your memories of them as well. What made them special? What made them unforgettable? Do you still own the toy, or is it something you hold dear only in your memory? If you can only think of one or two, don't feel compelled to make a list of ten...just describe the greatest toy of your childhood.
Send me your lists at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com and I'll post all your selections through the week.
Here are my top ten favorite toys from childhood.
10. The Strange Change Machine (Mattel; 1967):
toy" from 1967 is actually just a small oven -- or heating chamber of
sorts -- though the box art colorfully describes the mechanism as a "mysterious
strange change machine" that "changes time capsules"
and offers you -- a mad scientist -- the opportunity to create "16
hidden wonders of the lost world" as they "appear and
disappear into capsules over and over again."
this comes down to, essentially, is that with a pair of blue plastic tongs
(included), you would insert small red, yellow and green "capsules"
into the heating chamber, and as they heated up, the cubes would unfold (in
glorious slow-motion...) into the ships of plastic monsters, dinosaurs and bugs.
Then, you could reverse the process, and turn the objects back into cubes.
played with this toy at my granny Tippie’s house in the 1970s. It belonged to my beloved Uncle Larry --a mad
scientist by disposition (and now a chemistry professor…) – and we had great
times creating dinosaurs, mummies, giant insects and other words of “the lost
09. Flash Gordon Rocket (Mattel; 1981)
Straight from "the greatest
adventure of all," this whopping rocket ship ("not for use as a flotation device," in case
you were wondering...) is over 2.5 feet long (and was made in Taiwan). It's a
giant of a toy, with room to hold two action figures from the Flash
Gordon Mattel line. The box notes that the toy is over "2.5 feet [81.6 cm] long from nose cannon to tail fin when chamber is
filled with air."
The rocket's cockpit houses two figures and can "detach" to carry Flash or Zarkov (not included) on adventure.
Yep, it doubles as a "modular space shuttle" that can be rolled out on "a recon
mission." The nose cannon also detaches from the central rocket (and "re-mounts with cloth fastener!"). Also, the box
suggests that kids can find "the eyelets and your own string" to hang the ship up.
I remember collecting the Flash
Gordon action figures as a kid. I had four of 'em to be
precise: Flash, Zarkov, Ming and The Lizard Woman. I bought them at a store
called Newberry's in Verona, New Jersey...where they cost a dollar a piece. But
I also recall seeing this massive inflatable rocket ship in the pages of a Sears catalog and desperately wanting it.I never got it, but one of my best friends
had one, and I always asked him if we could play with it.I finally got my hands on one on E-Bay in the
2000s, and I cherish the inflatable rocket to this day.
08. The Six Million Dollar Man Mission Control Center (Kenner; 1976):
I might as well admit it: I've got some kind of weird fetish for
1970s sci-fi control rooms with their big, bulky reel-to-reel computers. I
don’t know what it is. I mean, basically
action figures just sit in control rooms…yet I often preferred “the bridge” or “Main
Mission” to other type toys (like vehicles).
One of my favorite such control room s came from
the popular Kenner The Six Million Dollar Man toy line. The Bionic "Mission
Control Center" was the very place, according to the box legend,"where all the bionic
This huge, impressive toy included a"giant inflatable dome,
17.5" high and 26" wide." Since the dome was inflatable by
air valve (9 for strength and durability...), the toy even came with a repair
kit. In case, I guess, Big Foot (Ted Cassidy) happened by hoping to puncture it
with a pin or something. And inside (or rather beneath...) that huge dome was the HQ for OSI agents
Colonel Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers. It was protected, according to the dome
specifications, by a"laser
force field." Another exteriorsection of the dome was a computer, a"retrieval
The Six Million Dollar Man Mission Control Center also contains (from the
bulleted points on the box): "radar scanner," "TV
Monitor," "radio headphones" "bionic check-out panels and
cables," "command chair and command console and"mission
control vinyl floor." Andat the
"Bionic Check-Out Panel" you could "plug cables into your
Six Million Dollar Man's modules"and
"pretend you check out his bionics for special missions." Today, my son Joel also loves this playset.
07. Star Wars Death Star Space Station (Kenner; 1978)
This giant play-set representation of the Star Wars (1977) Death Star -- a literal "pie slice" of the space sphere -- remains one of the greatest and most impressive toys of the late 1970s space craze.
Released by Kenner in 1978, The Death Star Playset recreates the central location of Star Wars, the Imperial battle station, with four different levels of intricacy and detail. The promotion material describes the toy in detail:
"Kenner's exciting play environment simulates the Death Star space station with manual elevator to take the Star Wars figures to any of the action play floors."
"TOP FLOOR: Laser cannon that swivels, emitting "clicking" sounds; it explodes from housing when hit by X-wing fighter. Also has ledge for Ben Kenobi."
THIRD FLOOR: Manually operated "light bridge" that opens and closes, and an escape rope swing for Luke and Leia.
SECOND FLOOR: Control room for piloting Death Star and escape hatch to trash compactor.
FIRST FLOOR: Trash compactor complete with removable foam garbage; has turn-screw to close end of compactor, which stops in in time for Star Wars hero to escape."
This description doesn't indicate one of the coolest aspects of this great toy, however: the Death Star comes complete with a figure of the Dia Noga -- or trash-compactor monster -- thus allowing us to see its full body shape for the first time.
I received this impressive toy for Christmas as a nine year old, I believe, and I loved it. I was disappointed that the station was not in the familiar sphere aspect from the movie, but the "pie slice" structure allows for easy access on all sides, and makes playingStar Wars easy.
06. Big Trak (Milton Bradley; 1979)
On the cusp of the futuristic 1980s (!), Milton Bradley's electronic toys seemed truly amazing and forward-looking. The toy company created the Star Bird , and of course, Big Trak, the "fully programmable electronic" vehicle. As you can see from the box photo above, Big Trak is a land rover-type vehicle, one with a nice futuristic sheen. The craft is sleek and it looks bad-ass. On the dorsal side of the tank is a rectangular computer panel, fully programmable. As the box establishes: "BIG TRAK's computerized Control Center -- with its intricate electronic memory -- can accept complex programs of up to 16 separate commands. Big Trak can go out of the room and return to you; it can maneuver around furniture. Detailed instruction booklet (with sample programs) included."
So Big Trak could "respond to your commands" and the box invites kids to"watch Big Trak perform! Goes forward and reverse, turns, spins, and fires." An accessory (sold separately, naturally) was the Big Trak Transport, which could be attached to Big Trak to "haul light loads for long distances." You could also deploy the transport as a kind of dump truck, which was very cool.
05. Interplanetary Star Fortress (Sears; 1979)
In the years following Star Wars (1977), outer space-related toys flooded the American toy market. Many of these toys were what collectors today uncharitably term "knock-offs," meaning that the toys don't originate with a license like Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century...but from an incredible simulation. In other words, these toys didn't belong to a specific set, but could easily co-exist with the other sets in terms of size and general "look" and vibe.
And -- I have to admit it -- I have a sort of crazy love for these knock-offs or so called "generic" play sets. I guess it's because as a kid ,the knock-off toys offered me an opportunity to put my Jedi Knights, Starfleet Officers, or Directorate Agents into "new" adventures; ones that didn't come specifically from any movie or TV episode.
It seems like an alien concept in the era of the Internet, but getting a Sears Catalog near Christmas every year was an incredible experience for kids back then. I remember eagerly getting my hands on the catalog (after my sister was finished looking at Jordache jeans...) and leafing through the toy section, absolutely agog at the new toys being offered up for sale. I remember one year, my Mom purchased for me the Star Wars Cantina, complete with Blue Snaggletooth. The next year (I think...), I got this Interplanetary Star Fortress from the catalog. And I loved it.
04. Star Hawk/S.T.A.R. Team (Ideal; 1977)
Star Hawk is another knock-off toy from the Star Wars era. This is the “Star Team spaceship with
motorized hatch and space-like sounds.”
The large red and gray flying saucer-type craft came “complete with
Zeroid, moveable landing pods, revolving platform, exit ramp and clear dome.”
And “Zeroid’s spaceship, the Star Hawk transports your Zeroid from one
daring adventure to the next. When you activate the special motor, the
hatch slides open, landing pods go into position, exit ramp lowers, and
space-like sounds announce the arrival of Zeroid, to help you save the day.”
for the Zeroid himself, he is a modified version of the popular (and now
incredibly expensive...) 1960s Zeroid line. He’s a “highly detailed
action robot with moveable arms. ZEROID rolls on a twin-tread base. Flip
on his special flishing signal lamp and send messages to his friends.”
grandparents (now both deceased…) bought me the Star Hawk (w/Zeroid) when Star
Wars toys were new and at first I was disappointed with the generous
gift because I would have preferred the Millennium Falcon, Darth Vader, R2-D2
and C3PO. But it wasn’t long before I became intrigued by theseStar
Wars knock-off toys, and came to see that they allowed me to
create my own play universe. In particular, I remember that the Star Team
Knight of Darkness camped out in G.I. Joe’s Adventure Team Headquarters.
I’m really glad I still have these particular toys in my home office.
Even today, Zeroid’s dome lights up, and the Star Hawk hatch still slides open
(with a springy rat-a-tat sound). The decals are coming off now, after
all these years, but these toys remain…ideal for the imagination.
03. U.S.S. Enterprise Bridge, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Mego; 1979)
It must have been 1980
or 1981, I guess; a bitterly cold winter's day as I recall. I was at the
massive (and legendary...) Englishtown flea market in New Jersey with my
family, searching out toy treasures. At that time in my life, that would have
meant Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Space:1999 or Star
Trek figures, to put a fine point on the matter.
Bundled in a warm winter jacket and sipping hot chocolate out of a Styrofoam
cup, my lips shivering, I soon came across a toy that I had never seen before
and have only rarely seen since. And which today, I prize. It's the Star Trek: The Motion
Picture "U.S.S. Enterprise Bridge" from Mego
Corporation, released 1980. I found it mint in its box at the flea market that
day...selling for one dollar. Needless to say, I bought it. And I still had
allowance to spare...
I've kept this toy with me ever since - during all my geographical moves
from New Jersey to Virginia to North Carolina, though the toy box is long, long
gone. A few years back, I bought a new
one (with box...) on E-Bay for significantly more than one
dollar. Why? Well, I had always promised myself that if I saw another of these
rare toys, and it was under a certain price threshold, I would get it, since I
had played mine out and all the decals had basically rubbed off.
To explain further about this toy, it is not the famous "spinning
transporter" Bridge playset from Mego; from the original TV series.No,
this is the movie Enterprise bridge from Star Trek: The Motion
Picture. The box legend says it all, capturing the glory of this toy:
"take command of the helm and recreate all the adventure of the crew of
the starship Enterprise."
How many of us X'ers, as kids, wanted to do just that? I know I did, and since the movies were from
my era growing up, the 1979 -1991 era, this was the bridge I wanted. The bridge
V'Ger's probe attacked. The bridge Kirk returned to after a 2.5 year absence
after the five year mission; the bridge from which he faced "KHAN!"
02. The Star Bird Avenger (Milton Bradley; 1980)
The spaceship you are gazing above at is the Milton Bradley Star Bird, or in this case, the second incarnation of the cruiser, the Star Bird Avenger. Featuring "new exciting electronics," this nicely-designed "space transport" features "exciting engine sounds, firing photon beams, battle sounds, and special target!"
The Star Bird (sans the specification "Avenger") was first released by Milton Bradley in 1978, shortly afterStar Warstook the world by storm, and my next door neighbor and best friend from West Milford, David, was the first kid in Glen Ridge (and particularly on Clinton Road...) to have one.
The ship was truly state-of-the-art for the time, because if you owned two Star Birds they could electronically duel with one other. Or as the box put it: "Fire your photon beams and hit the alien spaceship. Hear distress signals and sputtering engine sounds!"
In other words, the Star Birds were relatively interactive, at least for the disco decade. In the event you didn't have two ships, the Star Bird also was sold with an "alien target." The box noted: "Attack the special target with the flashing photon beams and Avenger signals your victory!"
The other interesting aspect of the Star Bird was that it was actually several starships housed as one. For instance, mounted on the dorsal rear of the ship was an "escape pod" and cannon, in case of battle damage. Per the box: "Rotating gun turret - rear gun turret doubles as an escape pod. Just release the retainer and go whirling through space."
01 Space 1999 Eagle 1 Spaceship (Mattel; 1976)
The Mattel Eagle 1 Spaceship (1976) remains my all-time favorite
toy, hands-down. ,In part, I favor this 1970s Mattel toy because
it comes from my all-time favorite science fiction TV series, Space:
1999 (1975 – 1977). But in part it is also because the toy is downright
colossal: over 2.5 feet long, as the box trumpets.
Beyond these values, the Mattel Eagle also comes apart into a
smaller ship, a combination of the command and engine modules. This
aspect of the toy seems very realistic to the series (or “show accurate,” to
use collecting lingo) and the modular design of the Eagle (from SPFX maestro
Brian Johnson). The separated command module resembles some of the
incarnations we saw of the Eagles in episodes such as “Missing Link” and
I was given this really awesome toy shortly before my sixth
birthday, in 1976, by my Mom and Dad. I remember that I was sort of
depressed because my older sister didn’t want to play with me on a Saturday and
I had nothing to do. My Mom noticed I was down in the dumps. So she
led me into my parents’ bedroom and told me to look underneath the bed. I
did, and there was Eagle 1, ready for action! The surprise gift made my
day…and I’ve never forgotten it, or my Mother’s kindness. She was always
doing things like that for me (and still does, for my son Joel, to this day.)
Then, as my real birthday approached, my Mom and Dad took me aside
and told me that my Uncle Glenn, who recently passed away, had also bought me
an Eagle One toy. They asked me if I wanted a second one, or something
Well, of course I wanted a second one. The only thing better
than having Eagle One was having an Eagle fleet!
Avolcanois a fissure in Earth’s surface which
permits gases, ash, and hotlava to flow from a subterranean magma chamber.
In cult-television history, volcanoes have served
as crucial plot devices in several prominent series. Volcanoes are symbols, sometimes, of God’s wrath,
and at other times simply representations of cruel fate. The volcano might also signify unexplored
territory, or a kind of natural, bubbling rage.
In The Fantastic Journey (1977)
episode, “An Act of Love,” a group of diverse travelers lost in the Bermuda
Triangle came across a society that worships an active volcano. The series’ lead character, Varian (Jared
Martin) is marked for sacrifice to the angry Volcano God, “Vetticus,” which
can only be pacified by such blood rites.
At episode’s end, this inhuman policy is changed, and Roddy McDowall's Dr. Willaway urges the citizens of the village to “leave
The British space opera,Blake’s 7 (1978 – 1981)
also features a volcano in an episode titled, fittingly, “Volcano.” In this third season story, the Liberator’s
on-the-run crew searches for the missing Blake -- and a new base -- on the
volcanic world called Obsidian. Instead, they find a man called Hower (Michael
Gough), a friend of Dayna’s father.
In the remake of Land of the Lost (1991 –
1993), a first season episode called “Kevin vs. the Volcano” finds a sudden volcano
eruption threatening the Porter homestead.
Green lava bursts out of the mountain and moves through the desert,
towards the family tree house…at least until Kevin Porter uncovers a
subterranean cave and Sleestak technology capable of quieting the volcano. When activating, the machinery makes the lava
run backwards, back into the mountain itself.
A volcano was also the location for a tense
second season episode of The X-Files (1993 – 2002) titled
“Firewalker.” The episode finds Scully
and Mulder visiting Oregon’s Mount Avalon, where a newly discovered and
dangerous parasite may dwell. Living in
the volcano, this parasite is, presumably, a silicon-based life form, but its
impact on human flesh is terrifying…
In the David Tennant era of Doctor Who (2005 - ), the
serial “The Fires of Pompeii,” the Tenth Doctor and Donna (Catherine Tate)
visit Pompeii, the Roman City, just before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79
AD. The Doctor and Donna must not only
stop an alien invasion there, but decide if it is right and ethical to save a
Roman family from the coming apocalypse.
Outside the plot-device of the volcano and examination of the Doctor’s
morality, this episode of Doctor Who is significant because it
features Karen Gillan -- future companion Amy Pond -- and Peter Capaldi, a
Volcanoes have also appeared to menace characters
on such animated series as Godzilla (1978) and South