Thursday, April 27, 2006

Happy 23rd Anniversary to Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction

Here's a happy shout out to Dr. Howard Margolin, the remarkable host of (and talent behind) the sublime genre radio talk-show Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction. Howard crosses an amazing and important threshold tomorrow night -- his fine radio program celebrates twenty-three years on the air (make that twenty-three years of EXCELLENCE on the air). Yep, that means Destinies began waaaay back in April of 1983.

Howard is going to be celebrating right -- by having a coterie of strippers visit him in the studio. No, I'm just kidding!!! No strippers!! No strippers!!

Instead, Destinies will air tomorrow night at 11:30 pm with a special anniversary show. Howard plans to feature interview snippets from the likes of Marv Wolfman, Richard Hatch, Kevin J. Anderson, and many more of today's best sci-fi talents. So check it out! You can find Destinies (WUSB 90.1 FM on your dial) by clicking
here.

Congratulations to Howard on this landmark installment. Can't wait to tune in...

Not So Fast On Those Trek Rumors...

Well, maybe the universe isn't being so nice to me after all...

My buddy Chris just alerted me about this new development regarding Star Trek XI. It looks like the story affirming a Kirk/Spock Starfleet Academy plot line was pre-mature (and downright incorrect). Damn...

The IMDB has J.J. Abrams saying the following:

"The whole thing was reported entirely without our cooperation. People learned that I was producing a Star Trek film, that I had an option to direct it, they hear rumors of what the thing was going to be and ran with a story that is not entirely accurate."

The article goes on to say:

"Last week, Hollywood trade paper Variety, reported Abrams was on board and that the film would center on the early days of Captain James T. Kirk and Spock and that Philip Seymour Hoffman was in talks to play the ship's doctor. Abrams won't reveal the true storyline, but hints that it won't feature characters Captain James T. Kirk or Mr. Spock at all, but doesn't rule out bringing some of the original characters back for the new film, adding, "Those characters are so spectacular. I just think that..you know, they could live again."

To mix my metaphors (and outer space franchises...). Frak!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Star Blazers to Return Too?

Is the universe suddenly smiling upon me? News of Star Trek XI (With Kirk and Spock!) last Friday (with J.J. Abrams at the helm, no less), and now this! Hopefully you've heard, but it looks like the popular 1970s animated space adventure series, Star Blazers is also being prepped for production.

Here's the story, (entitled "Film Based on Classic Japanese cartoon will blast onto theater screens"), by Colin Mahan over at TV.com

Fighting with the Gamilons, they won't stop until they've won. Or at least until they hit multiplexes. The seminal 1970s Japanese animated series Star Blazers is set to blast onto the big screen.

Benderspink, the production company behind American Pie, The Ring, and A History of Violence, among others, is readying a big-screen adaptation of the animated space opera. The company is teaming on the film with the current rights holder of Star Blazers, Josh C. Kline. So far, no writer, director, or actors have been attached to the project.

So what do you think? A good idea, or is this another example of a childhood favorite biting the dust? Personally, I'm curious how they're going to handle the whole Yamato thing. Is the spaceship still going to be retrofitted, old-fashioned battleship, or will designs change? I'll post more about it as news trickles out of Hollywood...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

CULT MOVIE ESSAY: Scream (1996) - Ten Years Later

Here's a popular horror movie that premiered a decade ago. Which means that, among other things, in just another ten years, we'll have a remake...

All kidding aside, it's difficult to believe that a decade has passed since Wes Craven's Scream passionately re-kindled the "slasher" film format of the 1980s, imbuing the sub-genre with a new (and wicked) self-reflexive quality. The film was an unexpected box office sleeper (and one that spawned two sequels, in 1997 and 1999, respectively). More to the point, the film is highly-representative of its context: America in the middle of the Clinton decade. Back in the day, this contextual background was harder to discern and pinpoint, but gazing at the film now, in retrospect, Scream serves almost as a time capsule of an era that I believe will come to be known as either the "Roaring Nineties" or the "Inconsequential Nineties," depending, in part, on how the remainder of this turbulent 21st century, post-9/11 decade irons out.

In addition to being a rip-roaring horror film filled with suspense and terror, director Wes Craven's Scream (from a screenplay by Kevin Williamson) serves as the ultimate tale of America's VCR generation. The imperiled (and sometimes murderous) teenagers portrayed in the film, with their Pentium computers, pagers, cell phones, and extreme cynicism are an ideal reflection of the mid-to-late 1990s. Like many young adults of that day, these fictional (and very smart) teens are acutely conscious that their new technological toys are not really helping anyone, making things better, or saving the world. Despite e-mail, MRIs, and the Hubble, the world is still fraught with dangers. AIDS is still out of control (a dozen years after its discovery...), the national deficit is tremendous and growing by the minute, and Generation X'ers and Y'ers are not leaving universities for $50,000-a-year careers. Companies are downsizing, and Congress is locked in partisan games.

So, on the contrary, the teens of the 1990s have discovered - first-hand - by the time of Scream that the artificial prosperity of the Reagan era - the era of their youth - is over indeed, and that they will be paying for the 1980s for the remainder of their adult lives. The result of this insight is that the high-schoolers profiled in Scream often seem cynical or callous.

For instance, consider Tatum's (Rose McGowan's) retort to Sidney (Neve Campbell) after Sidney notes that murdered classmate Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) sits next to her in English class. "Not anymore," Tatum comments straight-faced, more interested in a pithy one-liner than a fallen comrade, another human being.

Later, two students at Sidney's school thoughtlessly dress up as the psycho killer terrorizing the town, not even considering the results of their actions. All they seem to care about is their own entertainment, not the feelings of others. When principal Himbry (Henry Winkler) is murdered, it is an amusing incident to these same teenagers. They do not think of the administrator as a human being, only a nemesis who keeps them from having their way at school. His children, his wife, his friends, don't matter to them. All they want is a good time. As Alice Cooper's song tells us on the soundtrack, "School's Out."

The moment of greatest cynicism in Scream occurs during a short scene in the girl's high school rest room. A cheerleader suggests to her friend that Sidney herself is the notorious Woodsboro murderer. She knowledgeably rattles off a complicated psychological argument for this revelation, and then reveals that her source for it is The Ricki Lake Show. Does anyone recall how, a decade ago, slimy talk shows like this (and The Jerry Springer Show) were all the rage? Some examples of the format may still be around today, but they're not the cultural cause celebres they were in the 1990s.

In scenes like these, Craven (and indeed, Scream) suggests that because of intense exposure to TV, movies, and other mass media, some 1990s teens are not only callous and cynical, but unbelievably knowledgeable. It is a defense mechanism, perhaps. They have to be smart to understand the Internet and other tools of modern life. But by the same token, exposure to sanitized movie violence has left some teens with no concept of real human pain or empathy. Perhaps the best moment in the film occurs when villains Stu (Matthew Lillard) and Billy (Skeet Ulrich) stab each other to make it appear that they were victims of the maniac. They seem shocked when they realize that it actually hurts to be stabbed! For the first time (and only briefly), Stu and Billy are able to sympathize with their victims. Movies and TV have not prepared them for the fact that it hurts to bleed, to be stabbed. After all, they grew up with the A-Team, wherein cars would flip, machine guns would blare and nobody would get hurt.

Scream is perfect not only in its dramatization of mid-1990s high school set, but also in its self-aware, hip attitude attitude. The film is undeniably clever, much like the cadre of kids it highlights. The teens endlessly wonder about who will play them in the inevitable movie version of the killing spree ("With my luck, they'll cast Tori Spelling...") or comment that their lives are just like movies ("This is like Silence of the Lambs when Jodie Foster kept having dreams of her dead father...") To think, citizens once referenced literature, national leaders, philosophers and the like! All this generation can muster in this time period, it seems, comes from pop culture cornerstones. That may be because the leaders of the day (like Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton) really didn't have much memorable or significant to offer, did they? They didn't call for energy independence from the Middle East, a new environmentalism, or anything truly important. Today, we can see how changes ten years ago would have drastically improved our state today.

Interestingly, all of the pop culture references serve a purpose within the text of the film: they form a portrait of children who have not been raised by their parents (who seem perpetually absent; gone away on "business"). Instead, they were raised by the local video store, cable TV, and the ubiquitous VCR. Craven's subtext in Scream might just be that parental absenteeism has left a generation of disaffected children at the mercy of pop culture and television. As a result, this generation thinks in terms of sitcom one-liners, movie references, and TV-style ethics rather than what one might consider traditional American values vetted by public institutions of education, family and faith.

Craven expresses the prominence of the television in contemporary teenage life by cleverly positioning TV sets in many of his compositions throughout Scream. When Casey Becker is tormented by the killer, she seeks refuge between a wall and a TV. Questioned about Halloween and Friday the 13th, she is literally trapped between the TV and a hard place.

When Randy (Jamie Kennedy) enlightens his friends about the "rules" of horror movies, he too is positioned next to a giant-screen TV, which features a freeze frame image from Halloween. As Randy lectures, the knife of "The Shape," Michael Myers, (on the TV) points dangerously in his direction, not so subtly suggesting that he too will be a victim of the TV-conscious killer.

And, of course, in the ultimate use of a TV set, Sidney drops one onto Stu's head during their life-and-death confrontation. Parents like to warn that getting too close to the TV could hurt you, and in Stu's case that is absolutely true! (And, in a nod to another genre film, this death reflects a murder in the 1980 slasher film, Mother's Day).

In addition, all the action of the final party sequence of Scream is also shown on news woman Gale Weathers' video monitors. So while the partygoers watch TV, there is a camera watching them watching TV. A step further beyond that, the audience is also watching characters watching other characters, and so on. Thus Craven's world is one of an endless circle of television watching and media stardom.

It is interesting for example, that every character in Scream is in some manner connected to television. Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is a celebrity, a TV news reporter. Sidney is forced to watch incidents from her life unfold on TV (particularly the investigation surrounding the death of her mother). Tatum and Sidney both make the Nightly News after surviving an attack, and so on. Thus Craven documents something new and interesting in American culture in this film: the TV generation has come of age only to discover (especially in Stu, Billy and Kenny's case) that TV is really harmful to one's health.

Scream is a great horror film of the 1990s not simply because it reflects it context and the young generation of its time, but because it boasts a genuinely brilliant structure. The film's makers apparently share the audience's boredom with formulaic horror pictures and sequels. Thus Scream trots out all the same tropes that kids have seen in everything from Child's Play to A Nightmare on Elm Street to Hellraiser and other popular franchises of the 1980s. Then, it spins these film conventions in daring and bold ways.

In Scream, Randy is a movie buff, and he dutifully recounts all the rules of horror movies (including no drugs, no sex, and no promise that you'll be 'right back.') Scream declares these paradigms "operative", then, in short order, subverts them. Sidney gives up her virginity (a death sentence in the genre...) but lives to fight another day. The killer appears supernatural (like Michael, Jason or Freddy) but is no boogeyman, just two movie-whacked kids. Likewise, Sidney rails against stupid girls in horror movies who run up stairs instead of evacuating the house, but at the first sign of danger, runs up the stairs. These twists on convention make Scream an endlessly entertaining film, and perhaps (along with 1999's The Blair Witch Project) the horror film which most beautifully represents the era of its creation.

It is funny, however, how Scream seems much more campy today than it did a decade ago. Ten years ago, the film was genuinely scary. Today it feels predominantly caustic, slick. But that might just be what the definition of "is" is in 1990s horror.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me? One Year of "Reflections" on the Blogosphere!

Well, four hundred and thirty-one posts later, I've completed my first year on the blogosphere!

I blogged my first post on Saturday, April 23, 2005. So I'm devoting today to patting myself on the back. Nice, huh?

Let's flashback for a minute and recall how it all began back in the spring of '05. These were my first words on the blog:

Hello everybody, welcome to my blog. And to start us off, I quote the illustrious Admiral James Stockdale: "Who am I? Why am I here?"

Good questions...

My name is John Muir. and I'm a published author who writes under the name John Kenneth Muir, not because I'm pretentious or anything (though I am...) but because - for some reason - there are a lot of writers out there named John Muir.

Specifically, there's the great American naturalist from the last century, and also a fellow who writes about fixing Volkswagens. Others too, I think. In the age of the Internet, I realized I had to distinguish myself a little for Google, Yahoo, Lycos, Ask Jeeves and other search engines, so for the record, I'm the John Muir (the John Kenneth Muir...) who writes about film and television for a living.

And I know nothing about Volkswagens, so don't ask...

To let you know a little bit about my work, I'm the author of fifteen published books and several articles and short stories. I live in Monroe, North Carolina and work out of my home office penning books on film and television.

You may (or may not...) know some of my titles. From Applause Theatre and Cinema Books I've written: An Askew View: The Films of Kevin Smith (2002), The Unseen Force: The Films of Sam Raimi (2004), and Best in Show: the Films of Christopher Guest and Company (2004).

McFarland, a publisher here in North Carolina, has published eleven of my books, including award winners Terror Television (A Booklist Editor's Choice, 2001), Horror Films of the 1970s (A Booklist Editor's Choice, 2002 and ALA "Best of the Best" Reference Book '03), and 2004's The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television.

I've written about prominent horror directors (Wes Craven: The Art of Horror [1998], The Films of John Carpenter [2000], Eaten Alive at a Chainsaw Massacre: The Films of Tobe Hooper [2003]) and several TV series studies, including Exploring Space:1999 (1997), An Analytical Guide to TV's Battlestar Galactica (1998), A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television (1999), A History an Analysis of Blake's 7 (2000), and An Analytical Guide to TV's One Step Beyond (2001).

I've also written an original (licensed novel) based on the TV series Space:1999 called The Forsaken, from Powys Media, and freelanced for magazines including Cinescape, Filmfax, Rerun, Collectors News, and The Official Farscape Magazine. On the web, my home page is here, and I'm the regular media columnist for the web-zine Far Sector, which features original fiction and great editorials and opinion columns...

That answers the first question, who am I? The second question, why am I here? involves pop culture, film and TV. I hope I can utilize this space to discuss, debate and ponder trends in movies and TV programs. I'm open to all subjects - fantasy, horror, science fiction, Bollywood, musicals, you name it. Basically, I just hope to create an ongoing journal about contemporary and classic entertainment
.

Since that post, this blog has included the following:

20 cult tv flashbacks
37 "retro" toy flashbacks
42 essays/reviews about movies
05 comic-book flashbacks
07 interviews with actors/directors/writers

I've also blogged partial seasons of Invasion, Lost, Surface, Medium, Masters of Horror, Night Stalker and Threshold, plus episodes of Supernatural, Ghost Whisperer, Extras, etc.

I've done "cult TV" blogging, completing three series in the process: Space Academy (1977), Push, Nevada (2002) and Logan's Run: The Series (1977). I've also posted several "Guess the Movie" posts, and more than a few Sci-Fi "Quotes of the Week."

"Reflections on Film and Television" has also covered monthly McFarland publications, and created a "fantasy" spaceship crew. There's been Saturday morning blogging for Land of the Lost, profiles of many of my books, several "links of the week" and I even started (but never completed...) Star Wars blogging. Why'd I stop doing the latter? Well, I began to see Revenge of the Sith in almost purely contemporary political context, and I knew I would really offend people if I started calling out today's political figures as "The Emperor" or "Anakin," and I lost my nerve. Some day, I'll get it back...

My most controversial post came a week ago Friday when I suggested Battlestar Galactica (the re-imagination) should have a different title. I didn't intend to be controversial, but once things get out on the Web, they take on a life of their own. That's for sure.

My snarkiest post was probably the first review I did of Ghost Whisperer. My best post? Who
knows? (perhaps The Phantom Menace post...).

The good news is that the readership for the blog has steadily grown over the year. The first few months it was a desert, but by late summer '05, it was hopping. I lost some momentum in March '06 when I had to sign off for a little over a week to tend to a family medical crisis, but the numbers are climbin' again now that I'm bloggin' again. It looks like this might be the biggest week yet as far as hits.

What's next? That would be telling! Actually, I'm going to blab about it here, and very soon. I'll be beginning a new creative enterprise in the next two months, and it's very exciting.
The best is yet to come...

But for today, I just want to say thanks for spending this time with me. Without y'all, this would be a lonely place...

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Star Trek Returns!

Okay. Have y'all seen this news from Daily Variety and writer Dave McNary?

Paramount is breathing life into its "Star Trek" franchise by setting "Mission: Impossible III" helmer J.J. Abrams to produce and direct the 11th "Trek" feature, aiming for a 2008 release.

Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk, Abrams' producing team from "Lost," also will produce the yet-to-be-titled feature.

Project, to be penned by Abrams and "MI3" scribes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, will center on the early days of seminal "Trek" characters James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, including their first meeting at Starfleet Academy and first outer space mission.

I know there are reasons to fear, but I'm extremely bullish on this idea. I believe that of all the Star Trek generations, this first is still the best. The characters of Kirk, Spock, Scotty, McCoy, Uhura and Sulu are still, in my opinion, the finest. What would absolutely seal the deal for me right now is if I heard news that Shatner and Nimoy were cast to provide book-end appearances for the film, thus bringing it into established continuity and not making this another BSG-style re-imagination (Spock's a lady! Uhura's a white alcoholic! Sulu's gay..erh, oops...)

What do you think? Honestly, I'd rather see the return of characters that I enjoy so much, rather than be introduced to a fifth starship crew. Enterprise proved, I think, that the "other crew" well was running pretty dry. At least for a while. It's just a shame Paramount couldn't get its act together sooner and be providing this movie in September, Star Trek's fortieth anniversary...

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Land of the Lost: "Album"

"Album" (directed by Bob Lally and written by Dick Morgan) is the seventh episode of Land of the Lost's first season (which aired thirty-two years ago, in 1974). This story finds a strange, hypnotic wind passing through the land, mysteriously drawing Holly and Will to a grotto in the lost city of the Sleestak.

There, in what appears to be a misty time door (beyond a matrix table), Holly and Will spy their dead Mother, as she beckons them. "Come home..." the beautiful, long-haired woman says. "Come tomorrow, don't tell..."

Will and Holly do return - almost against their will - but the whole enterprise is a lure by the Sleestak to capture the Marshalls. Rick finally figures it out, right before the kids can be sacrificed to the God of the Pit...

Several years back, I had the honor of interviewing director Bob Lally, and we discussed "Album" a little, particularly the importance of featuring Holly and Will's mother...a character who had passed away long before the family was thrown into this pocket universe.

Here's what Mr. Lally recalled about shooting this episode and the emotional scene:

We were doing a show ("Album") that involved Will and Holly walking into a grotto and seeing their dead mother. They were supposed to have gone to this strange world and they miss her mother, and since they're children, they're supposed to be very emotional. We shot it once and it wasn't working. So we decided to play a little game with them. We worked really fast in those days, and I didn't have time to do a lot of fancy internalizing and so forth, but I took the two of them aside, behind the set, and we talked for quite a while.


What I said to Kathy, who was really having trouble with it, was 'You have to think of something in your past that was a very sad thing. Ever have a dog or a cat?' She said she did, so I asked her to visualize the animal being struck by a car.

As you can imagine, Kathy was quite upset, but I assured her the pet was fine. Then I said I wanted her to understand how she felt when I told her about her cat dying. Then I told her that when she walked into that room, that was the emotion I wanted to see on her face. Well, we went back inside, everyone was quiet, and I called action. The take was absolutely brilliant, on both of their parts. When we finished shooting, we went behind the set and hugged each other..."

I rather enjoyed this episode of Land of the Lost, though I didn't quite buy the Sleestak plan. After all, why not just take each Marshall one-at-a-time, rather than trying to get them all together? Still, the story works better as a mood piece. It's eerie, strange and has a melancholy, almost depressing aura. There's a very ominous atmosphere here, and I don't know how many kid shows, frankly, would feature an episode dealing with a dead parent. "It can't be real. Mom's dead," Holly notes at one point. "She wasn't always," Will reminds her, and this a rather blunt conversation for a Saturday morning series. But I guess that's why Land of the Lost holds up despite the aged special effects and occasionally childish acting: there were things for adults to latch onto.

Finally, I enjoyed how this episode skillfully tackled the idea of contrasting "traps." At home in the cave, Holly attempts to trap an unwanted pest who's been getting into the Marshalls' food by night; Of course, Holly and Will are walking into a Sleestak trap too. That's a nice little dramatic trick, and handled with enough subtlety to admire.

Link of the Week: Space:1999.org


I wanted to draw your attention this week to Space:1999.org, especially if you're a fan of the 1970s series, Space:1999. This is a site chock full of interviews, news and images from the classic Gerry & Sylvia Anderson series. There's even an interview with me there, from 2003, regarding my original novel, The Forsaken!

I've had this site as a link on the blog for a while, but I wanted to point it out this week because there was a major announcement from the site runner, my friend Michael. To wit, the site has launched a new series of Space:1999 fan-fiction books. Here are the details:

Welcome to Space1999.org's non-commercial eBook publishing imprint!

Launched April 18, 2006, the Space1999.org imprint offers quality electronic books (eBooks) for free download!

...You may download as many eBooks titles as you like! Space1999.org offers free eBooks via our own imprint and imprint partnerships, such as the "Space1999Fiction.com & Space1999.org imprint," among others.

Authors may also submit their works
for consideration as future eBook releases from our imprints!

We strongly encourage all fans of Space: 1999 to support the efforts of Powys Media, the officially licensed publisher of new Space: 1999 books.

I applaud Space:1999.org for launching this fascinating fan fiction venue, and I think it makes the perfect book-end fto Powys' literary efforts. So head on over there if you can, and read a book or two! Congratulations, Michael!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle (1980)

The Sex Pistols movie that "incriminates its audience" is punk rock's flip-you-the-bird answer to the naive Beatles film milieu, a rash, stylish overturning of elements from A Hard Day's Night and even Yellow Submarine. Starring The Sex Pistols (though not Johnny Rotten, who is seen only in existing footage...), The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle kicks off the 1980s in cynical, angry fashion and consists of a series of loosely connected vignettes (offered as a kind of rock industry Ten Commandments). Some are animated, some are shot on 8mm, others include archival documentary footage and some "skits" were shot specifically for the film with cooperating (and surviving...) Sex Pistols.

In all cases, the helter-skelter presentation hangs together through its "ten lessons" about how to pull off the swindle of the title. The ostensible plot involves a detective played by Steve Jones attempting to track down the shady manager of the band, Malcolm McLaren, who provides raspy voice-over throughout and hides under a creepy black mask.

The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle's anarchic form reflects its sense of chaotic content, and there's no sense of formal movie decorum here. What might be a harmless pie-in-the-face joke in A Hard Day' Night transforms, with the ultra violent Sid Vicious on hand, into a virtual assault with a cake. A harmless animated high-seas adventure Yellow Submarine-style becomes shark-infested waters with record companies (like Virgin..) serving as the man-eaters, over the film's end credits. Some footage shot for the film is so grainy that clarity disintegrates and reality is de-constructed. When a random zoom does catch a relevant action, it's just as likely to be a shot of the drummer picking his nose as it is a shot of a band member accomplishing a particularly skilled riff. (Which, let's face it, doesn't happen...Ever.)

There are ten lessons in the film, a production which reports that The Sex Pistols made more than a million dollars off gullible record companies. Some of these covenants include "How to Manufacture Your Group," which establishes the Sex Pistols as a historical force at the 1780 Gordon Riots while a London mob hangs the group in Effigy...then burns the band.

The second lesson advises prospective rockers to "establish the name," and "prevent competition" by playing at unconventional venues such as strip clubs and prisons. (Hey, it worked for Johnny Cash!) "Forget about music," the narrator suggests "and concentrate" on creating "generation gaps." In other words: appeal to the youthful sense of rebellion and anti-authority hatred.

In fact, one such lesson suggests "Cultivate Hatred; It is your greatest asset." In this regard, The Sex Pistols not only created a cult following, but a coterie of critics tailor-made to hate them in very public forums (thus generating publicity). "Most of these groups would be improved by sudden death," one stodgy commentator states in the film. The band is also referred to as "nauseating," "disgusting" and "a walking abortion." Based on my blog this week, I'm clearly working on this lesson, myself...

The Great Rock'N'Roll Swindle has been attacked as representing McLaren (the group's manager) and his perspective more than the band itself, and many have seen Temple's 2000 documentary The Filth and the Fury as an antidote. Yet, whether intentionally or not, this film perfectly captures the self-obsessed, nihilist world of late 1970s punk rock. A band that can't play well and can't be bothered to learn to play well, goes on a mad spree through the world, noses bloodied (on stage...), but never beaten. They spit on their fans (literally), and in Sid Vicious's iconic, marble-mouthed rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" (also featured in Sid & Nancy [1986]), he actually blows away audience members in a bloody massacre. It's rock as protest; rock as rebellion, and rock, indeed, as swindle. But it speaks as cogently (and stylishly) to its time as the Beatles did to theirs. The only difference is that these times, clearly, are much darker, more pessimistic. The film features Nazi imagery, some graphic nudity, a bit of blood, and anything else the makers can imagine to offend mainstream audiences, but the self-reflexive production (which incorporates criticism of the band right into its genetic make-up) indeed convinces one that the Sex Pistols, at least for a time, had the last laugh: earning devoted fans who rave about their "deep" lyrics and songs, when, in fact, the band's main struggle has been not to play at all, but rather have gigs cancelled.

The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle ends, appropriately on a downer; with a gaggle of headlines about Sid Vicious's death. Maybe the swindle, the joke, was carried just a little too far in this case. "His way," his philosophy of life, didn't seem to bring Vicious much joy or happiness in the end, and I guess the swindle had to end some time. One thing that Gary Oldman was not able to transmit in his otherwise brilliant portrayal of Vicious in Sid & Nancy - but which comes across here in spades - is Vicious's total and utter youth. This guy, folks, was a friggin' kid; a skinny kid. I won't say his death is tragic, given his life-hating proclivities, but certainly his life was.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 37: the GAF View-Master


In 2006, it's sort of funny to remember the lengths that kids in the 1970s had to go to in order to enjoy some of their favorite film and TV entertainments. Since the VHS wasn't yet around (or more accurately, not yet affordable...) and since DVD was a long way off, we kids of the disco decade had to combine a patchwork of toys, model-kits, books and comic-books to re-live King Kong (1976), Star Wars (1977), Star Trek (1966-1968) or the Six Million Dollar Man (1973-1978).

I've written here about colorforms, photonovels, storybooks and some of the other ancillary products that made it possible to return to big-screen and small screen adventures alike in those far off days of my childhood, but today I wanted to focus on another: the G.A.F. View Master. In particular, I'm going to focus on the model I still own: The Lighted Stereo Viewer. Here's what the instructions packet had to say about it:

"There's a new viewing thrill in store for you and your family with this handsome VIEW-MASTER Lighted Stereo Viewer. Modern advancements in design have been built into this fine instrument to provide easier and more convenient stereo viewing. Your VIEW-MASTER pictures have more brilliance, more beauty more "come-to-life" realism. "

This toy is equipped with a "convenient light lever," a "handy scene change lever" "more brilliance," "larger picture" and "superb styling." For those who don't remember how to use the handy ole View-Master, you just insert your View-Master reel into the "slot on the top of the viewer" and proceed from still-to-still, just like you're watching a movie...kind of.

For a price of just 2.99 each, you could watch the "Talking" packets and for $1.75 each, you could get the standard three-reel packets. And what a selection GAF provided. In terms of movies you could see James Bond in Live and Let Die, The Poseidon Adventure, and King Kong, to name three. In terms of TV shows, you could enjoy Adam 12, Batman, Bonanza, The Brady Bunch, Emergency, Flipper, Gunsmoke, Kung Fu, Star Trek, Space:1999, Happy Days, Land of the Lost, Island at the Top of the World (anyone remember that one?), The Six Million Dollar Man, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Run, Joe, Run and Planet of the Apes. Why, there was even a packet for The Waltons. Good night, John-Boy.

If cartoons were more your speed, GAF offered reel packets of Peanuts, Popeye, Scooby Doo, The Flintstone, Bugs Bunny and Mighty Mouse. There were literally hundreds of reels to choose from. many of an educational bent. As the promotion material declared: "there are VIEW-MASTER subjects to delight anyone, any age, any interest." No porn, though...

As for me, I remember for some holiday or another getting the gift of a "Theater in the Round," a big cylindrical container with a projector inside as well as several reels of entertainment. I recall, in particular, watching the pack from the Dino De Laurentiis King Kong. Of course, we're used to DVD today, but I'll never forget how cool it was to project images of Kong on my basement wall and study the scenes in detail. If I'm not mistaken, the GAF View-Master is still around today, but I wonder if kids still enjoy 'em so much. My guess is that it would be hard to explain to a five-year old why he or she should watch a series of stills when they can just whip out a portable DVD player and actually watch a movie instead...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

DOCTOR WHO BLOGGING: "Rose" & "Dalek"

I had intended and hoped to blog about the new Doctor Who series from the very beginning. But don't you know, the day the series first premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel was also the day a loved one underwent life-threatening surgery? It's been that kind of year for me, but that's beside the point. I missed the first several episodes of Doctor Who and am only now catching up on the series. Overall, I like what I see.

My first thought is about the look and design of the program. It's absolutely state-of-the-art...for 1995. The CGI effects are quite terrible in the two episodes I watched, "Rose" and "Dalek," and the series appears to have been shot on not-very-high-definition video. Also, the acting is almost universally hysterical. By that I don't mean funny...I mean literally hysterical. Characters run around screaming insanely in a constant state of crisis and angst, snapping silly lines at one another in staccato, machine gun fashion.

But - let's be blunt - Doctor Who was never really about special effects or about acting, either (anyone remember Colin Baker? Peter Davison? Sylvester McCoy?) Although this new series is set after a mysterious "Time War" it actually plays as a full-throated continuation of the low-budget BBC show that lasted for twenty-six years and was cancelled in 1989 (when Sylvester McCoy played the Time Lord). The TARDIS exterior is the same, as are the dematerialization effects, and the Daleks also look very similar to their BBC ancestors.

Some changes have been made for the better, of course. The new TARDIS control room doesn't look as though it's constructed of cardboard and Styrofoam, and furthermore boasts a genuinely alien feel. And the menacing Daleks can now hover up and down staircases, though they still screech "EX-TER-MI-NAAAAAATE!" in annoying electronic voice. Also, the Dalek toilet-plunger arms are now capable of literally "sucking face" and the metal suits open to reveal the yucky little beasties inside. And that's all fun. Also, I can't deny that shivers of pure joy and nostalgia careened through me as I first heard the modified (but faithful) series theme music.

Until I heard that theme music, I hadn't realized how much I'd missed Doctor Who. It was always one of my favorite shows (at least the Hartnell, Troughton, Tom Baker eras...) and I soon realized watching "Rose" and "Dalek" that the producers and writers have taken special care to give us the same Doctor Who...only cheekier and giddier than before. These episodes seem to run on pure adrenaline and momentum, and have a low-budget energy and zeal that I find appealing in the buttoned-down age of CG and green screen. The humor is tongue-in-cheek, and even if the stories I saw were pretty damn weak (another Earth invasion story...jeez!), this new incarnation has already provided the franchise with a classic character: Billie Piper's: Rose. Quite simply, how can you not fall in love with her? She's adorable and sweet and very, human.

I admired how "Rose" began, with several views of modern human life (in London) moving at fast-motion, as Rose endures her hectic but repetitive life (signified by the close-up shots of the alarm clock clicking over to 7:30 pm). Then, once Rose is on the job, time seems to slow down and can't move fast enough. I think this is how many of us feel about our existence: that we're always rushing to and fro, but once we get where we're going, life feels as slow as molasses. We're especially susceptible to this feeling, I'd say, in our late teens and early twenties, and that's precisely where Rose is as this episode commences.

Since Doctor Who plays with the concept of time, it's only appropriate that the series begin thusly, by gazing at time as relative: sometimes slow, sometimes fast. No wonder that the Doctor calls us "blundering apes." Unlike humans, he can stand still - and, in "Rose's" best scene - feel the gravity of the Earth spinning around the sun. He's not so susceptible to vicissitudes and deceptions of time and space, I guess, and this was a bold and interesting interpretation of the long-lived character.

In the two episodes I saw, I found Christopher Eccleston's Doctor to be a little busy, a little silly, but again that's par for the course, I guess. People could have said the same thing of Tom Baker thirty years ago. There are scenes in each episode that could go either way, into horror or comedy. For instance, the scene in "Rose" in which the Doctor was forced to wrestle with an Auton's severed arm played like comedic homage to Evil Dead 2. But was it supposed to be comedy, or anxiety-provoking, or both? Later, a scene with Rose's boyfriend and an ambulatory garbage bin played only as comedy...and pretty stupid comedy at that.

The new Doctor Who views its titular character as an immortal legend whose "constant companion" is "death" and it establishes Eccleston's incarnation at the Kennedy Assassination, near the Titanic in dock, and at Krakatoa before the massive volcanic eruption. I liked all this historical material, especially because Rose tracked it down by using the Internet...an instrument that wasn't really around back in 1989. But, I would have enjoyed seeing references to the Doctor in his other previous incarnations. But maybe that would have been too much for "new" fans to absorb.

After two episodes, I began to get into the helter-skelter vibe and over-the-top rhythm of this shamelessly exuberant Doctor Who and found the experience was pleasant. Although the material has been updated and rendered more humorous, I don't feel that every change in the format was designed as a poke in the eye (see: Battlestar Galactica) to established fandom. On the contrary, this show - down to its tacky special effects - feels like a love letter to all the Whovians who miss their favorite time travel. Watching the new show, one senses not that creator Russell T. Davies dislikes and is embarrassed by the original material (like Ron Moore?) but rather that he is amused by it for all the same reasons we are.

I look forward to future episodes.

Re-casting versus Re-Imagination

Well, my brief comments regarding the new Battlestar Galactica apparently roiled some readers around the blogosphere yesterday, particularly over at Lee Goldberg's terrific blog and at the popular TV Squad, both of which picked up snippets of my post (which was meant to be congratulatory to the new series...).

I didn't mean to stir the pot, but I do believe that my primary point was overlooked in some places and in some reader comments. I wasn't advocating that Battlestar Galactica (or James Bond, for that matter) shouldn't be re-cast. Unfortunately, we're all mortal and no actor lives forever (Lorne Greene and John Colicos R.I.P.). Re-casting is a necessity if we want our pop-culture legends to survive. Frankly, I would rather see a re-cast Star Trek with a new Kirk and Spock than meet another 22nd or 24th century starship crew. But that's a debate for another day...

However, in terms of Battlestar Galactica, the changes are much more dramatic in the new series than simple re-casting. Characters, races and themes have been altered, and that's why I recommended Battlestar Galactica should have been named something different. (Maybe something like Space: Above and Beyond...)

Here are just a few of the changes:

On the original Battlestar Galactica, Starbuck was a happy-go-lucky womanizer and scoundrel, but one heck of a pilot. In the new show, the piloting skills have been retained, but Starbuck is now a female, and one with anger-management issues. Again, I'm not saying which character is "better," just that they are very different. Re-casting isn't the issue; the two characters really share only their job description and name. Oh, and they gamble.

On the original Battlestar Galactica, Apollo was the adopted father of Boxey and loyal son of Adama. These characteristics are important, because the original Battlestar Galactica was actually a series about how families cope and stick together in a time of crisis. Apollo's sister, Athena, also played an important role. Family was so important on the original series that many critics compared it to Greene's Bonanza. On the new series, Apollo is not a father himself; does not have a sister on the bridge; and is perennially at odds with his father, Adama. Once more: I'm not saying that one idea or concept is superior than the other, only that the character concept has changed dramatically.

Colonel Tigh on the original Battlestar Galactica was a highly-competent officer, a loyal friend of Adama, and a man suspicious of "politics" (in the person of the Quorum of The Twelve). He had an acerbic sense of humor and a bit of fatalism in his personality. On the new series, he is a bald white man and an alcoholic who has a personal grudge against Starbuck.

On and on it goes. Boomer is now an Asian woman instead of a Black man; Baltar is a sex-addict instead of a two-dimensional Judas. The Cylons are now humanoid "sleepers" for the most part (and ones with religion) rather than centurions built by a dead race. The point is that casting doesn't really matter a lick, but the core character concepts have changed so that the "people" of the Galactica are not recognizable in terms of the original series. Sure, I accept Roger Moore as James Bond, in part because there was an attempt at continuity (anyone remember him visiting his wife's grave at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only? Or clamming up over XXX's comment about his one-time marriage in The Spy Who Loved Me?) Also, his character remained pretty much the same in each film: 007 was a guy dedicated to saving the world, and who loved the ladies and a good bon mot. Imagine, instead, if the producers of the James Bond series had given the character a long-term wife and four kids at a home in the suburbs, made him American, and then also changed Bond into a hippie pacifist. See, that's the difference between re-casting and re-imagining...


Also, to state that the new Battlestar Galactica is better than the old one is just fine. That's a matter of opinion and critical judgment and many, many folks will agree with the assessment. However, to state that the new show is actually more popular than the original is not borne out by the numbers. When the original Battlestar Galactica premiered in 1978, it drew a whopping sixty-five million viewers. When the original series aired throughout the year and 1979, it remained in the top twenty-five slots of the Nielsen ratings. It was cancelled by ABC because it was expensive, not because of ratings. I hasten to add that the original Battlestar Galactica was so successful that a re-edited version of the three-hour opener was cut to two hours and released as a movie in territories such as Canada and Japan...places where it outgrossed such motion picture hits of the day as Grease (1978) and Jaws II (1978).

By contrast, the new Battlestar Galactica draws between two and three million viewers to the tube every week. Today, of course, viewership is fragmented in a way it wasn't in 1978, and the series is considered "a hit" on cable. Great for Galactica. Great for the Sci-Fi Channel. But it is clearly a niche hit. If it aired even on the WB, it would have been axed already.

Why would one "pine" for the old Battlestar Galactica? Well, why would one pine for the original Star Trek? The 1968 Planet of the Apes? The 1980 version of The Fog? The 1977 Hills Have Eyes? The 1933 King Kong? The Toho Godzilla? The Lugosi Dracula? Perhaps because each of those productions spoke to their original historical context and the cultural Zeitgeist in an interesting, unique manner and captured a generation of young admirers. I n its day (and I was nine when I first saw it...), the original Battlestar Galactica had the best special effects money could buy, a very likeable cast, a fascinating "Chariots of the Gods" sub-text and some wacky (but fun...) Biblical and Greek Mythology underpinnings. It also helped pass the time between Star Wars films. Sure it was goofy and imperfect, and now it's dated, but that doesn't mean it was or is worthless. Why else appropriate the franchise name in 2003?

And frankly, there's one way that the original Battlestar Galactica is genuinely superior to its usurper. The original show attempted through production design (like the Viper helmets and uniforms) and through language, particularly the Colonial Lexicon, to suggest that the people of the Colonies are brothers of Earth men...far out in the stars. These Colonials measured time differently ("microns," "centons" "yahrens") had different names for dogs (daggits), etc. On the new show, few such distinctions exist. The Galactica has phones with cords, people wear contemporary business suits, ties and eyeglasses, decorate their rooms with props from Pier 1 and refer to Earth movies like Top Gun ("I feel the need, the need for speed," Starbuck stated in one episode).

In other words, there is no attempt in the new series to suggest that these characters actually come from another time and place. They are simply and purely post-September 11th Americans in space. And - come on - aren't these guys supposed to be aliens? How do they know to quote Patton or Top Gun? Why do they refer to cigars as stogies? Why do they mention lemonade? Imagine if the aliens on Star Trek, the Vulcans for instance, began to quote Top Gun? Or said, out of the blue, that they like to drink "iced tea" (Vulcan is hot, after all...) What would the fans say about that? Or if the Jedi started quoting The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo or The Seven Samurai in Star Wars movies? My point is that the new Galactica lacks a critical verisimilitude in terms of production design and universe believability, but that its fans overlook that because they choose to. Just like fans of the old show choose to overlook its flaws: the western pastiches, the flaky science, etc. We're all the victims of our own biases, folks.

So while there is much to love in Battlestar Galactica the re-imagination and I encourage everybody to enjoy it, it's clear that there was a whole lot more changed in the franchise than simply "re-casting." The characters are totally different, though they bear the same names. The Cylons are different too (and I'm not saying they aren't better...), and the focus has shifted from the family unit to a blatantly reminiscent political context. Again -- good for the show for making a statement about the times we live in. But if you change the theme, the universe, the look and the characters of a production, why name it after that production? Isn't the comparison a hindrance? Thus my original thesis: this show shouldn't have been called Battlestar Galactica. The vehicle is the same, but the tires have been changed, the engine has been replaced, and the interior design is totally different.

I'm delighted that the new Battlestar Galactica is well-written, atmospheric and nail-biting week-in and week-out. I'm glad it's a good show. But I wonder - can those who love it so deeply today imagine how they will feel in 20 years when this incarnation of Battlestar Galactica is totally "re-imagined" and everything they like about it is altered? When the shoe's on the other foot. When critics of that future day say things like the new one is better in every way shape and form and more popular than the one that you grew up with? Watch out, cuz karma can be a bitch...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Credit Where Credit is Due: Congrats to Battlestar

All right sci-fi fans, I just wanted to make note here on the blog that the re-imagined Ron Moore version of Battlestar Galactica (airing on the Sci-Fi Channel) recently won a prestigious Peabody Award. Longtime readers here know that the series isn't my favorite production by any stretch, but it's only fair to make notice of such an accomplishment. Science fiction is often left behind when it comes to awards, and it's great for the genre that Galactica has been honored. Again, this program isn't my cup of tea, but it would be foolish to ignore the fact that the show has achieved such an honor.

Here's what Horace Newcomb, Director of the Peabody Awards had to say about Galactica (reported at
TV Fodder):

"It treats contemporary issues from an angle that really make you think about those issues…issues of race, gender, all those things are dealt with in that context. In a way it's almost a counterpart to 'South Park' (which also won an award) which just throws everything up there, while 'Battlestar' considers them in a dramatic narrative."


To reiterate my stance on Galactica: It's well-written and I can enjoy an episode any time in much the same way I enjoy the tense 24. However, my problem begins and ends with the fact that it's called Battlestar Galactica. The original series has been used as a "brand name" by Ron Moore to do something totally new, something unfaithful, something he wanted to do. That's fine, and some people obviously like what he's done very much. But it shouldn't be called Battlestar Galactica.

Still, congratulations to Moore and everybody on the show for the Peabody.

Just - please - don't touch Space:1999. Victor Bergman will be a lesbian female, Koenig will be an alcoholic, the Eagles will have warp drive, and the stun guns will fire bullets instead of lasers. That, I can live without...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK #36: Eagle Transporter



If you ask me what the most beautiful starship in TV or movie history is, I'm always going to go with NCC-1701-A, the Starship Enterprise of the Star Trek motion picture era. It's just a glorious vessel. I love the scenes of her in drydock, her external running lights illuminating the black void. I see why Kirk loves her so.

However, if you ask me what design most fascinates me, and which one I consider the most believable given near-future rather than far-future technology, I have to go with a different answer: Space:1999's Eagle Transporter, designed by Brian Johnson. These crafts are the workhorses of Moonbase Alpha, able to fly in both Earth-type atmospheres and in deep space.

The Eagle spacecrafts run on nuclear engines, and feature a two-seater cockpit and a more comfortable mid-section for passengers. In different episodes of Space:1999, the Eagle got robot arm attachments for ship-to-ship refueling ("Space Warp"), we saw the nosecone detach in an emergency ("Dragon's Domain"), and additional boosters granted the craft greater speed in "The Metamorph."

There were also Rescue Eagles featured on the show, and of course, ones equipped with offensive lasers. Having grown up in the era after the Apollo Program, I just always considered this utilitarian craft very realistic, especially with its retro rockets and lattice-like dorsal spine. I still believe that, one day, there may really be ships like Eagles exploring the asteroid belt, or Jupiter's moons.

Over the years, I've collected every variation of this Space:1999 space craft, from model kit, to metal miniature, to oversized Mattel toy. The latter toy I even featured on this blog not too long ago. Anyway, you'll find here just a few of the Eagles I've collected over the decades. The most recent, and most amazing acquisition is a Product Enterprise laboratory Eagle, seen in Space:1999's Year Two (and episodes such as "All That Glisters.") When this thing finally came in the mail, my jaw hit the floor because the detailing is so accurate. It puts the Dinky Eagle (an old collectible and friend...) to shame with its accuracy and authenticity.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Two Made-for-TV Reasons I Love the 1970s

Once upon a time, horror TV movies starred the likes of Scott Glenn and Yvette Mimieux. And that simple fact makes me uncommonly and indescribably happy. The disco decade no doubt represents the golden age of made-for-television movies, and today I want to shine a spotlight on two of my favorite TV productions (since I already wrote about one of the best, John Newland's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark).

The first classic is titled Gargoyles and stars Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt and Scott Glenn. Directed by B.W.L. Norton and written by Stephen and Elinor Karpf, this "terrifying tale" finds anthropologist Dr. Mercer Boley (Wilde) and comely daughter Diana (Salt) heading out to the desert to interview an old nut named Willie who claims to own physical evidence of demons on Earth. Turns out he ain't kidding: he's discovered a 500-year old Gargoyle skeleton. Worse, the Gargoyles "hatch" every five hundred years and it turns out they're waking up right now (ergh, in 1973!).

The Gargoyles, led by Bernie Casey, capture Diana from her motel room one night and now plan to take over the world, unless the local police, Boley and a dirt-biker (Scott Glenn) can save the day.

Gargoyles boasts terrific 1970s era monster suits and make-up from Stan Winston and Ellis Burman Jr., and many of the scenes are horrific in a cheesy, 1970s way. For instance, all of the gargoyle scenes are lensed in slow-motion photography, which makes the demons seem much more menacing, and it looks to me like the James Cameron movie Aliens cribbed Gargoyles' final scene, set in an egg hatchery.

What remains most impressive about the TV film, however, is the initial half-hour wherein Boley and Diana drive their station wagon through the desert and director Norton stages a number of impressive high-angle shots from a mountaintop that reveal their isolation, as well as the idea that the duo is being watched. The initial Gargoyle attack on Willie's barn, and a follow-up assault set in a small, authentically-seedy motel room, simultaneously impresses and scares. Gargoyles even has some dramatic punch in the thematic zone, with the Gargoyles representing a kind of disenfranchised, despised minority living in the Southwest. Talk about your immigration problems!

The second TV movie I want to highlight today is the glorious Snowbeast, from 1977. In this absolutely fantastic 1970s TV-movie starring Bo Svenson, Yvette Mimieux and Clint Walker, a murderous big-foot type creature wanders into the vicinity of the Rill Ski Lodge, and begins killing skiers as though it thinks it might be the equivalent of the shark from Jaws. Meanwhile, Yvette Mimieux and Bo are having sexual problems (he's lost his confidence after winning an Olympic Gold Medal...)...

This amusing film is brimming with menacing first person subjective shots, otherwise known as P.O.V. shots, and at each commercial break, the film fades to blood red for macabre effect. Every now and then, a furry arm and gnarled paw breaks into the frame to enliven the proceedings and - like Gargoyles - there's another great monster attack set in a barn. I especially like that this TV-movie repeatedly makes the point that most Big Foot creatures are reputedly peaceful, yet this one is entirely malevolent. It decapitates victims on a whim and stores the corpses in a barn for the long cold winter. When good Yetis go bad...
Directed by Herb Wallerstein and written by Joe Stefano and Roger Patterson, Snowbeast plays like a cheapjack version of Jaws, but never fails to entertain, and truth be told, remains a bit frightening, or at the very least - unnerving. There's some great skiing footage on snow slopes, and I love how the film adopts the overutilized P.O.V. again during the climax, only this time with the beast (cameraman...) impaled on a ski stick. That's just great stuff. Both of these films are made without tact; without decorum, and are totally blunt.

For some reason, Hollywood has stopped making great made-for-TV horror movies like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Gargoyles and Snowbeast. I also enjoyed some eighties examples of the genre (like Wes Craven's Chiller and Invitation to Hell...starring Susan Lucci) but I can't remember the last really good genre made-for-TV movie in this century. Can you?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

COLLECTIBLE OF THE WEEK #3 Tom Corbett, Space Cadet Thermos!


A few months ago, I came across a genuine antique and collectible. It's the Aladdin Thermos from the TV series Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, which ran from 1950-1955. That means that minimum, this item is fifty years old, which I think is amazing.

Tom Corbett, Space Cadet was reportedly inspired by the writings of Robert Heinlen, and during its five years on the air earned the distinction of broadcasting on all four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and DuMont). It was known as the most "realistic" (don't laugh!) of the space programs from that era, the others being Rocky Jones, Space Patrol and Captain Video. The series followed the space adventures of Tom Corbett (Frankie Thomas), an astronaut in the 22nd century studying to become a Solar Guard and manning a spaceship called the Polaris.

So anyway, I was visiting in-laws in rural Virginia when I happened upon this find at a flea market booth. Some of the paint has rubbed off, as you can see from the photos, but the manufacturing information at bottom reads Rockhill Radio 1952, Aladdin Industries Incorporated. This means it's actually fifty four years old. Cool! What's actually most amazing about this piece is that the thing is metal, not plastic, and actually quite heavy.

Don't know why this piece of nostalgia struck my fancy so deeply, but I had to have it (and the price was right: $4.25). It now sits proudly on my desk and I enjoy looking at it. Perhaps I just appreciate knowing that there was a generation before me who loved this kind of thing too, and was inspired by voyages to the stars. Even before Star Trek.

Some day, I guess, the next generation will look at a Space:1999 thermos and think the same thing. "You mean people liked space adventures before Stargate SG-1 or Battlestar Galactica 2005? Who knew!"

Anyway, this comes from the age when our entertainment projected man flying to the stars on "rockets" with fins, talking about the complex procedure of "blast off" and believing that the sky was no longer the limit. I don't know about you, but I miss that kind of optimism today. I listen to our leaders seriously discussing tactical nukes and bunker busters and I wonder why we don't turn all that energy towards something entirely more productive, like conquering the stars and ushering in a new golden age for mankind. I know we can do it, but who's gonna stand up and take us there? Where are the Tom Corbetts?

I'm afraid the people in Washington today are space cadets all right, but not the kind that would have made Tom Corbett proud...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Land of the Lost: "Tag Team"

Nothing too Earth-shattering occurs this week on Land of the Lost. "Tag Team" (by Norman Spinrad and directed by Dennis Steinmetz) simply finds the Marshalls in a vegetable patch contending with Dopey, the Pakuni, and - inevitably - Grumpy the Tyrannosaurus.

While Marshall, Will and Holly spend time collecting oversized carrots and turnips from the patch, the Paku steal their loot. There's a stand-off until Grumpy shows up and chases everyone in their separate directions. Will, Holly and Cha-Ka get stuck on a ledge at the crevice, and Grumpy and Big Alice (the series' allosaur) shout at each other over opposite sides of the precipice. The stranded kids have three choices: go up and play tag with Grumpy; jump down into the river far below; or stay where they are until Rick can manage a rescue.

"Well, I'll be a dinosaur's uncle," not much else happens here in terms of narrative, except that neighbors (Pakuni and human) learn to trust one another. I've always thought it's neat how the human population balances the Paku population, and felt it was some kind of comment on how everything on Earth is balanced so that every population has a chance of survival. Here, the populations must share the bounty of the Earth (or rather the Land of the Lost), rather than fight over it. The kindly Marshalls thus give the Paku a "lesson in harvesting vegetables." Even Dopey gets into the act, munching on an oversized carrot.

The only ones who don't get food this week? The Sleestak. But I have a feeling they'll be back...

Friday, April 07, 2006

McFarland's April Book Release Schedule

Every month, I check in with McFarland to see what new film and TV titles this great publisher has on tap, and this month is a doozy. There's a lot to choose from here (including a soft-back re-release of my Blake's 7 book...). Also, I have to say that Eric Greene's book on Planet of the Apes is one of the finest scholarly film books I've ever read. It's amazing, so check it out below. I own the hard cover from years back, and it's a prized possession.

Literature into Film-
For most people, film adaptation of literature can be summed up in one sentence: “The movie wasn’t as good as the book.” This volume undertakes to show the reader that not only is this evaluation not always true but sometimes it is intrinsically unfair. Movies based on literary works, while often billed as adaptations, are more correctly termed translations. A director and his actors translate the story from the written page into a visual presentation. Depending on the form of the original text and the chosen method of translation, certain inherent difficulties and pitfalls are associated with this change of medium. So often our reception of a book-based movie has more to do with our expectations and reading of the literature than with the job that the movie production did or did not do. Avoiding these biases and fairly evaluating any particular literary-based film takes an awareness of certain factors.Written with a formalistic rather than historical approach, this work presents a comprehensive guide to literature-based films, establishing a contextual and theoretical basis to help the reader understand the relationships between such movies and the original texts as well as the reader’s own individual responses to these productions. To this end, it focuses on recognizing and appreciating the inherent difficulties encountered when basing a film on a literary work, be it a novel, novella, play or short story. Individual chapters deal with the specific issues and difficulties raised by each of these genres, providing an overview backed up by case studies of specific film translations. Films and literary works receiving this treatment include The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Lady Windemere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare’s Henry V. Interspersed throughout the text are suggestions for activities the film student or buff can use to enhance his or her appreciation and understanding of the films. This volume also discusses the attributes of effective film translation, considers the rights and responsibilities—if any—owed to the parent text and explores the theoretical aspects of critical analysis, written or verbal, of such works. Appendices provide an aesthetic rubric; a sample decoupage and storyboard; and a list of Shakespeare’s plays translated to film. A glossary aids in understanding film and literary terms. Photographs and an index are also included.

Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington-
Before the unprecedented televised presidential debates of 1960, most Americans were able to relate to their leaders in little more than an historical context. In the era of televised elections, however, the media have allowed Americans to witness the paternal, moral and intellectual qualities of their president up close. Television has been so critical to this process of political socialization that, for many Americans, the televised image of the president is the president.As the acclaimed television drama The West Wing demonstrates, fictional representations of the presidency can also be significant civic forces. This book examines how film and television drama contribute to shaping the presidency and the way most Americans understand it, and particularly the processes of political education. The text discusses The West Wing’s didactic potential, its representation of White House politics, and its depiction of race and gender, with commentary on how fictional representations of the presidency become important elements of American political consciousness.

The Art of Laurel and Hardy-
From the early days of film came Laurel and Hardy, a comedy team that created slapstick hilarity from life’s simplest situations. Some seventy years after their heyday, Arthur Stanley Jefferson and Oliver Norvell “Babe” Hardy are still remembered for the comic chaos they created in film shorts. They gave us something to laugh at by reminding us of our own foibles, in a way that was genuine and unpretentious. The lanky Stan Laurel (1890–1965) and portly Ollie Hardy (1892–1957) had but one objective: to create as many laughs as would fit in one short film. And that, they did.The book begins by exploring their comedy in the early days of film. A chapter is dedicated to each of “the boys”—Laurel from Ulverston, England, and Hardy from the state of Georgia—as a person and performer. Further chapters explore the slapstick and gags of Laurel and Hardy and how the pair survived the transition to sound that left behind many actors of the day. It was only when they began to work for large studios, churning out cookie-cutter scripts, that their art began to lose its way. The book takes the reader through the ups and downs of their careers and to a final comeback. A filmography lists works from 1917 to 1951 with information on availability.
British filmmaker Peter Greenaway says life offers only two subjects: “One is sex and the other is death.” Greenaway uses both and romanticizes neither; indeed, his goal is the antithesis of the sanitary and sentimental portrayal of humanity. Although his films have met with outrage from some viewers, cult audiences praise them for insightful messages: that people are detached from violence because they fail to see others’ bodies as identical to their own; that predatory capitalism has caused humans to lose sight of our shared physicality and mortality; and that taboos are simply a system allowing people to exercise power over others.This book examines nine of Greenaway’s feature films, dedicating a chapter to each: The Draughtsman’s Contract; A Zed and Two Noughts; The Belly of an Architect; Drowning by Numbers; The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; Prospero’s Books; The Baby of Mâcon; The Pillow Book; and 8 ½ Women. The author examines the characters and plot, studies the structure and elements of the story, explores Greenaway’s motives and reactions, and reveals audience reactions, including comments from viewers. A filmography lists films written and directed by Peter Greenaway from 1962 to 2004.

Planet of the Apes as American Myth-
Eric Greene

How do political conflicts shape popular culture? This book explores that question by analyzing how the Planet of the Apes films functioned both as entertaining adventures and as apocalyptic political commentary. Informative and thought provoking, the book demonstrates how this enormously popular series of secular myths used images of racial and ecological crisis to respond to events like the Cold War, the race riots of the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, and the Vietnam War. The work utilizes interviews with key filmmakers and close readings of the five Apes television shows to trace the development of the series’ theme of racial conflict in the context of the shifting ideologies of race during the sixties and seventies. The book also observes that today, amid growing concerns over race relations, the resurgent popularity of Apes and Twentieth Century—Fox’s upcoming film may again make Planet of the Apes a pop culture phenomenon that asks who we are and where we are going.


The Reel Middle Ages-
Kevin J. Harty

Those tales of old—King Arthur, Robin Hood, The Crusades, Marco Polo, Joan of Arc—have been told and retold, and the tradition of their telling has been gloriously upheld by filmmaking from its very inception. From the earliest of Georges Méliès’s films in 1897, to a 1996 animated Hunchback of Notre Dame, film has offered not just fantasy but exploration of these roles so vital to the modern psyche. St. Joan has undergone the transition from peasant girl to self-assured saint, and Camelot has transcended the soundstage to evoke the Kennedys in the White House.Here is the first comprehensive survey of over 900 cinematic depictions of the European Middle Ages—date of production, country of origin, director, production company, cast, and a synopsis and commentary. A bibliography, index, and over 100 stills complete this remarkable work.


A History and Critical Analysis of Blake’s 7, the 1978–1981 British Television Space Adventure-
John Kenneth Muir

Blake’s 7, Terry Nation’s science fiction tale of cosmic freedom fighters, became a hit series in Great Britain when it premiered in 1978. Eight years later, the show quickly became a cult program in America. A dramatization of futuristic outlaw heroes who defend the innocent from both alien and human conquering forces, the series might better be said to be equal parts Robin Hood and The Magnificent Seven. The series defied traditional genre elements of science fiction television, and developed the concept of the continual “story arc” years before such shows as Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine.This book provides a critical history and episode guide for Blake’s 7, including commentaries for all 52 episodes. Also included are analytical essays on the show, dealing with such topics as themes, imagery and story arc; a consideration of the series as a futuristic Robin Hood myth; cinematography and visual effects; and an overview of Blake’s 7 in books, comics and videos. A detailed appendix lists the genre conventions found in the series. The author also includes information about Blake’s 7 fan clubs and Internet sites.

The Films of the Eighties-
Robert A. Nowlan and Gwendolyn Wright Nowlan
The 1980s had more than its share of both emerging stars and final tributes paid to luminaries, as well as smash hits and bombs, memorable and boring performances, and new trends and tried-and-true formula offerings.The Film of the Eighties includes numerous examples of all of these. Each entry has the year of release, production company, country of origin (U.S., U.K., Australian, Canadian), leading performers and the characters they portrayed, and comprehensive credits. A brief description, review, and evaluation of the film’s cinematic values (if any) are also provided. Replacement volumes can be obtained individually under ISBN 0-7864-2738-8 (for Volume 1) and ISBN 0-7864-2739-6 (for Volume 2).

Children of the Night-
Randy Rasmussen
There are six of them: heroines, heroes, wise elders, mad scientists, servants and monsters. One of the most fascinating and also endearing aspects of horror films is how they use these six clearly defined character types to portray good and evil. This was particularly true of the classics of the genre, where actors often appeared in the same type of role in many different films. The development of the archetypal characters reflected the way the genre reacted to social changes of the time. As the Great Depression yielded to the uncertainty of World War II, flawed but noble mad scientists such as Henry Frankenstein gave way to Dr. Nieman (The Ghost of Frankenstein) with his dreams of revenge and world conquest. This work details the development of the six archetypes in horror films and how they were portrayed in the many classics of the 1930s and 1940s.


Lugosi-
Gary Don Rhodes

Foreword by F. Richard Sheffield

He was born Béla Ferenc Dezso Blasko on October 20, 1882, in Hungary. He joined Budapest’s National Theater in 1913 and later appeared in several Hungarian films under the pseudonym Arisztid Olt. After World War I, he helped the Communist regime nationalize Hungary’s film industry, but barely escaped arrest when the government was deposed, fleeing to the United States in 1920.As he became a star in American horror films in the 1930s and 1940s, publicists and fan magazines crafted outlandish stories to create a new history for Lugosi. The cinema’s Dracula was transformed into one of Hollywood’s most mysterious actors. This exhaustive account of Lugosi’s work in film, radio, theater, vaudeville and television provides an extensive biographical look at the actor. The enormous merchandising industry built around him is also examined.


White Zombie-
Gary D. Rhodes
Foreword by George E. Turner

The 1932 horror film White Zombie starring Bela Lugosi has received controversial attention from film reviewers and scholars—but it is unarguably a cult classic worthy of study. This book analyzes the film text from nearly every possible viewpoint, using both academic and popular film theories. Also supplied is an extensive intellectual history of the predecessor works to White Zombie, as well as information on the significance it carried for subsequent books and films, its theatrical release around the country, its modern cultural influence, and the attempts to restore the film to its original state. Other noteworthy features of this work include an in-depth biography of White Zombie director Victor Halperin, the first complete study of his life and career, and 244 images and photographs.


Gary A. [Allen] Smith
Foreword by James Bernard

There has been a tremendous amount of renewed interest in the output of Britain’s Hammer Films. But there remain a great number of worthwhile British horror films, made at the same time by other companies, that have received little attention. The author provides a comprehensive listing of British horror films—including science fiction, fantasy, and suspense films containing horror-genre elements—that were released between 1956 and 1976, the “Golden Age” of British horror. Entries are listed alphabetically by original British title, from Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) to Zeta One (1969). Entries also include American title, release information, a critique of the film, and the film’s video availability.The book is filled with photographs and contains interviews with four key figures: Max J. Rosenberg, cofounder of Amicus Productions, one of the period’s major studios; Louis M. Heyward, former writer, film executive and producer; Aida Young, film and television producer; and Gordon Hessler, director of such films as The Oblong Box and Murders in the Rue Morgue
.

Cult-TV Blogging: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: "Return of the Fighting 69th" (October 25, 1979)

In “Return of the Fighting 69 th ,” Colonel Wilma Deering ( Erin Gray) finds that her past has caught up with her in two ways. Fi...