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.
“The Three Spacekateers,” two alien beings arrive on the planet surface where
Barney (Chuck McCann), Junior (Bob Denver) and Honk (Patty Mahoney) are
repairing their lunar lander. After meticulously cleaning a faulty Electric
Guidance System, Junior manages to get dust in it and damage all Barney's work.
Barney calls Junior “useless” and Junior runs away, feeling sorry for himself.
The next morning, he sees the landing of the alien saucer. These aliens (called
Sporians) mistake him from their mission leader, “Junio.”
is supposed to help them capture their female ruler from evil aliens call the
Troyax. Now, they are stuck with Junior,
who arranges to invade the Troyax fortress, and distract the evil aliens with a
magic show. Barney and Honk help out.
the real Junio has also arrived on the planet…
a case of comedic mistaken identity this week on Sid and Marty Krofft’s Far
Out Space Nuts (1975), as the bumbling Junior is mistaken for an elite trainer
of soldiers, the gold-skinned alien Junio.
of the humor in the episode arises from the fact that Junior keeps getting
things right, though always completely by accident. For instance, he
accidentally leads the aliens to the mountain that houses the enemy fortress.
Then, when he arrives there, here accidentally discovers the “ant-gravity”
rocks that can carry the team to the summit of the same mountain. He’s a
bumbling idiot, but this week, a lucky
evil Troyax this week look like the Gill Man from the classic movie, The
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), though with some of the
fish-elements lessened a bit. They may have been commercial masks from the
time, only modified for use here.
terms of special effects, this episode features many shots of the alien flying
saucer flying over the land-scape, and some chroma-key shots to integrate the
two Klingon-like aliens into the shot with them. At one point, the footage
doesn’t quite match up, as the two humanoids seem to grow inordinately in size.
the mistaken identity concept breathes new life into an episode with a familiar
plot line: Junior and Barney restoring a (female) royal to her throne. One
wonders why so many female leaders are being dethroned in this universe, and
why only the galaxy’s two worst bumblers can help them get their power back.
“Revenge of Gorilla City,” an episode of Challenge of the Super Friends
(1977), Grod convinces his allies in the Legion of Doom that they must take
over peace-loving Gorilla City. Long ago, he was banished
from the peaceful metropolis.
Brainiac has developed a mind amplification device that allows the Legion of
Doom to enslave the city-dwellers. Only
the city’s King, Solivar, escapes this brain-washing, and manages to warn the
Super Friends of the danger. Unfortunately, Superman is far away, in Galaxy 13, pulverizing asteroids.
the city of intelligent simians is more difficult than it might seem, too,
because Toy Man has created a Kryptonite toy airplane that can immobilize the
Man of Steel.
Gorilla Warfare!” Robin exclaims in “Revenge of Gorilla City,” a story that
blends a Planet of the Apes (1968)-style civilization with a superhero
story. Grod -- the only criminal in the history of Gorilla City -- takes out
his revenge on his people, and the episode’s big set-piece is a “royal hunt” of
the Super Friends by the mesmerized apes and the Legion of Doom. So, think
Taylor, Landon and Dodge under attack, but throw in the DC characters for good
learn much background about Grod and his civilization in this episode. Gorilla City is
hidden under a dome of invisibility, near Bogota, and rests on huge deposits of
gold. The Super Friends and the Legion of Doom know about its existence, and
apparently Grod has been frothing at the mouth to return there and wreak his
vengeance. King Solivar is a noble leader.
everybody drives to the city in moon buggy-type vehicles, and the Legion of the
Doom invention of the week is the brain wave amplifier by which Brainiac can establish
mental control over the city's denizens.
week, Wonder Woman is the hero who wears a helmet in space, but no space suit
(last week it was Batman), and it’s confusing why she even bothers. Clearly, the writers of the episode understood that some protection is required
in space, but didn’t want to give her a space suit, apparently.
the Super Friends state a variation on the line that is repeated every week on
Challenge of the Super Friends: “Not if we can help it!”
recently watched the (intriguing) documentary The People vs. George Lucas,
and the news camera footage of folks standing in line for The Phantom Menace (1999)
and other Star Wars prequels at first seemed quite odd to me.
mean, at that point in our national history, there was no need really to stand
in line – or camp out in line as the case
might be – to see any particular film. The distribution paradigm of carpet-bomb wide release makes the very
idea of standing-in-line something of an anachronism, it seems.
in my heart, I suppose I do understand why some fans chose to stand in
line awaiting a new release in the popular old franchise. Standing-in-line is a communal experience first, one allowing
fans to connect to other Star Wars fans and to plug-in to the
community’s sense of enthusiasm and excitement And
secondly, standing-in-line now likely qualifies as a nostalgic experience for older
fans, at least for ones of my (advanced) age.
let me tell you, back in the day, if you wanted to see Star Wars (1977) or The
Empire Strikes Back(1980) or E.T. (1982), for that matter,
standing in long lines was absolutely an unavoidable part of the experience.
will always remember the summer of 1977 and the coming of Star
Wars. I was in second grade at
the time, and a friend who lived up the block from me in Glen Ridge came to school with
Wars movie booklet; one that featured imagery of Dewbacks, Banthas,
Tusken Raiders, Jawas, C3PO, Chewbacca, Darth Vader and other characters of
seemingly impossible and unbelievable imagination.
had never seen so many strange creatures assembled between two covers, and I so
listened in awe as Stephen, my friend, described the film to me in some detail. I still didn't quite understand why robots were co-existing with monsters and other creatures. It seemed...weird.
this point, I should add, I was still high on King Kong (1976), and could not quite believe that any movie might possibly surpass that particular
viewing experience. So sue me. I was seven.
Soon after my introduction via Stephen to Star Wars, my parents took me and my sister to see the film at a movie theater in
Paramus N.J., and I couldn’t wait to see what I would make of the movie.
Only -- in actuality -- I could wait.
close to three hours.
line at the theater stretched around the large rectangular building -- around three corners -- and then led out
into the huge parking lot. And the line moved at a snail’s pace.
of course, we got into the auditorium, and it was absolutely packed. Everyone
in my family had to squeeze past other patrons to find four seats together.
then the movie started and my life changed. That night before I
went to bed, my mother asked me if I liked the movie. My mind was still reeling, and I said that I
did. But I suppose I was a little
then absolved me of my guilt: “It’s okay, John
if you liked it better than King Kong,”
she said, apparently sensing my loyalty and allegiance to the big ape. My façade cracked quickly at that point and I
was glad and relieved to admit the truth.
had liked Star Wars a whole lot better than King Kong. It was…amazing, like nothing I had ever
the time The Empire Strikes Back arrived in theaters in 1980, I knew to
expect a long line. And so did my
parents. Before queuing up for the sequel, they bought
Wars and Shogun Warrior comic books to read for the wait. I also had my Star Wars novelization in
hand, and a few action figures in my pockets.
The time in line still seemed eternal, but again, the wait was worth it. I left the theater wondering how on Earth I
was supposed to wait for three years to discover Han Solo’s fate.
the time of Return of the Jedi, there was no need to stand in line, at
least in Montclair, N.J., where I saw the film at the Clairidge Theater. I came out of the film deflated, thinking “that’s
it?” And now I must wonder if my disappointment came about at least a little bit because I missed waiting in line. There was no build-up to the experience, and no plugging-in to
the enthusiasm of other Star Wars fans and even general
audiences. More likely, the movie was just disappointing, and the experience played almost no role. Right?
Of course, I’m
glad that, by and large, we don’t have to wait in line to see movies anymore…unless
we choose to.
I do wonder what the lengthy standing-in-line experience meant in terms of a
movie meeting or not meeting audience expectations. By waiting for hours in line for a film, were
we just relieved to be inside -- in the air conditioning -- and therefore more
receptive to a film’s spell?
did the waiting-in-line actually build up our anticipation to such a degree that nothing
could meet those expectations? I wonder.
do know this for certain: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders
of the Lost Ark and E.T. certainly surpassed my wildest
expectations, and those are the films I remember most vividly standing in line for.
recently read your book Science Fiction and
Fantasy Films of the 1970s and would like some clarification on a particular
realize I might be reading between the lines, but do you believe that Star
Wars had a negative impact on science fiction cinema?
Beth, that’s a terrific question.
my book said -- and the idea I stand by -- is that Star Wars dramatically changed
the nature of the science fiction cinema (and science fiction TV, for that matter).
feel I can make that case without arguing pro or con regarding the value of Star
Wars influence. But since you
asked, I will argue my side too.
the case that Star Wars changed the sf cinema:
Wars, the science fiction cinema of the 1970s was concerned primarily with
two ideas: apocalypse and dystopia.
we had films such as No Blade of Grass (1970) the Planet
of the Apes sequels (1970-1974), The Omega Man (1971), Z.P.G.
(1972), Zardoz (1973), Soylent Green (1973) and Logan’s
Run (1976) to name just a few of the titles.
Lucas himself began his sci-fi career with a film in this dystopian mode: THX-1138
the blockbuster trajectory of Star Wars, a strong fantasy and
swashbuckling component came into the genre.
became the key defining factor of sf cinema.
had films such as Star Crash (1977), Message from Space (1978), and so
on. Notice that some of these titles seem to have a grounding not in science fiction,
necessarily, but in Western movie tropes translated to the final frontier.
James Bond went to space in Moonraker (1979).
of pondering the end of the world, or the future shape of mankind, many post-Star
Wars films featured adventure, mysticism and multi-colored laser
battles instead. Politely put, this shift could be described as a dumbing-down; a movement away from big, controversial ideas and towards special effects showcases.
Yet it is undeniable that Star
Wars proved that science fiction could succeed at the box office in a
big way, and therefore I judge its influence as quite positive.
The film itself is brilliantly-achieved, a blast of raw energy and hope in a (largely) cynical and down-beat decade. The film is a lot of fun, but let's not forget that it is something beyond entertainment. It presented us, in meticulous detail, the brilliant idea of a "lived in" universe. It re-purposed and re-imagined old serial tropes in a way that made them feel fresh
Without the arrival of Star Wars, additionally, it is doubtful
Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) would have been made.
Wars, we might not have gotten Alien (1979), a truly magnificent
film in terms of production design, and its revolutionary view of space travel
(blue collar space truckers, for lack of a better term).
some films from the immediate post-Star Wars era that have been widely dismissed as Star Wars knock-offs had
something of value, philosophically, to offer. The trippy and dark ending of The Black Hole (1979), elevates that
movie above its juvenile shoot-em-up qualities.
Glen Larson’s theatrical version of Battlestar Galactica (1978) was
really a fascinating Cold War allegory worrying that we would sell out our
nuclear store for the possibility of a fake peace with the Soviet Union. It was Peace Through Strength…In Space...with chrome robots.
a careful reviewer with an eye towards history could say that Star
Wars changed science fiction cinema -- moving it into deep space and
other galaxies, and elevating the escapist aspect of the genre -- but that it
didn’t gut the science fiction cinema of its guiding principle: to comment on
mankind, his nature, and his future.
Wars was so successful that Hollywood producers fell all over
themselves getting silly, empty-headed “space” fantasy movies into theaters.
But other, cleverer producers, saw that Star Wars gave them an opening to
work in a genre that was suddenly incredibly popular. By the 1980s, the success of Star Wars had laid the groundwork for big-screen, big-budget adaptations of the works of Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clarke, for example.
no I don't judge Star Wars' existence of influence as negative.
On intellectual and critical grounds, I would not want to see Star
Wars subtracted from film history.
Not merely because I feel it is a great and worthwhile film, but because I
feel it opened the doorway for a lot of great movies, even if its success altered
the nature of science fiction for a few years.
personal grounds, I would also not want to take Star Wars out of film history.
As a second grader, the film was revelation to me. It changed the direction of
my life in so many ways.
I feel this way today, I might add, as a qualifier.
We’ll be getting
a new Star Wars movie every year for now until eternity. Disney is
strip-mining the property, and this will make Star Wars seem less like
a special event, and more routine. We know there have been difficulties, behind the scenes, on Solo (the Han Solo movie), due out next year.
make a date to revisit this discussion. Ask me again in five years if Star
Wars has had a positive influence on the cinema of ideas.
forget to ask me your questions at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com