Saturday, February 25, 2006


Our journey into Land of the Lost begins with the "Cha-Ka," the first episode of the three-season series (an an installment which aired in September of 1974). "Cha-Ka" was written by Tribbles creator David Gerrold and directed by Danny Steinmetz.

The opening montage (and theme song) set up the premise of the series, for us, and this episode begins at least one day after the Marshalls (Rick, Holly and Will) have arrived in this seemingly-prehistoric world. The viewer first meets the Marshall family as it is peering over a swamp, and Holly has just named a small dinosaur "Spot." Will protests that a better name is required, but the debate is ended when a Tyrannosaurus, Grumpy, enters the scene with a roar. While Rick goes into the woods to gather supplies, Will and Holly happen upon a strange, construct in the forest, a pyramidal device "made by intelligent beings." This is a pylon. It's cold to the touch, Holly tells us, and Will says it feels like it's not even there.

The examination of the pylon is interrupted when Grumpy attacks three Pakuni - small ape-men creatures - nearby. The youngest of the Paku, Cha-Ka, falls and is injured in the escape, and Holly and Will rescue him. When Rick returns, they determine to bring Cha-Ka back to their cave at high bluff, and set his fractured ankle with a splint. Unfortunately, Grumpy is still around, and he's hungry...

"Cha-Ka" introduces the TV viewer to the world of Land of the Lost, including all the main characters. Holly, Will, Marshall, Cha-Ka and even Grumpy each get their moment in the sun. With the help of stop-motion photography and chroma-key composites (the overlaying of live-actors on highly-detailed miniature landscapes), this unique kid-vid series comes to life with a bang. One thing I noticed this time, watching the series, is Land of the Lost's unique sound-design. It literally sounds otherworldly, and between the music and dinosaur roars, you've never heard anything like this on any other television series. It's a distinctive, individual sound model, and that makes the show truly seem individual. Often, sound is ignored in favor of visuals, so I wanted to make note of this here. Turn on Land of the Lost anywhere in a house, and without looking at the TV, you'll know exactly what program is on the tube.

While blogging Land of the Lost, I'm going to try to keep track of the Marshalls' equipment, because they seem all kitted up for having been on a raft ride! I noticed in 'Cha-Ka" they have at least one canteen, a lighter, a grill (!), three sleeping bags, a pot, a plastic water jug, a yellow drinking mug, and at least seven back-packs (ostensibly half-emptied, since these supplies must have come from somewhere). At this point, they don't appear to have a change of clothes...

Because Land of the Lost was produced for little kids to enjoy on Saturday mornings, it's filled with valuable moral messages about the way people should treat others. After Holly makes fun of Grumpy the dinosaur, Rick admonishes her: "Don't call Grumpy names. It's not his fault he's stupid." Later, when Holly asks if she can keep Cha-Ka, this is the stern reply: "People don't own other people. Cha-Ka will stay with us just as long as he wants to."

Finally, the episode "Cha-Ka" introduces us to the Marshall's first (and only...) line of defense at High-Bluff, the "fly-swatter." This is a thick spear, carved to be more pointy (but not actually sharp...) at one end. When Grumpy tries to stick his toothy snout into the cave (and it's right at mouth level, unfortunately,..), the Marshalls get a running start and jam the fly swatter into his mouth. By the end of the episode, Grumpy has gotten smart to this trick. "He can learn things!," Holly notes. Yes, but he'll be back in future episodes...

You'll also note that there's a brief sojourn to the pylon in this episode, setting up future storylines. And Cha-Ka has now been well-established as an ally, since the Marshalls have set his injured leg. At episode's end, he returns the favor by bringing them fruit and vegetables from the forest.

Next week - "The Sleestak God!"


Guess which Saturday morning series I'm blogging next?

Truth be told, Land of the Lost is my all-time favorite Saturday morning series, even though I love space adventures like Space Academy and Jason of Star Command. I'm also a real fan of a forgotten series called Run, Joe, Run, about a dog/fugitive on the lam from the law, accused of a crime he didn't commit. It was also a live-action series, it starred a german shepherd, and it ran for two seasons, concurrent with Land of the Lost, if I'm not mistaken.

Anyway, I don't know if I'm committing yet to blog all three seasons of Land of the Lost, because that's forty-three episodes, and - well - I like to keep my options open. But I'll start with the first season, and then see how I'm feeling. The animated series Return to the Planet of the Apes is due out on DVD in a few short weeks, and I would also like to post about that for Saturday morning cult TV blogging too. I haven't seen that series since 1975!

I've written about Land of the Lost at length before. Here's a "retro-file" that I penned a few years ago, and it's replete with interviews from many of the people involved in the show, including Spencer Milligan (Rick Marshall), Walker Edmiston (Enik), co-creator Allan Foshko, Marty Krofft (producer), executive producer Albert Tenzer and more. Below is a snippet:

The year was 1974 B.C [Before Cable]...

Decades before Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton ushered moviegoers through the gates of Jurassic Park, American children of the disco decade knew exactly where to get their fill of prehistoric action. For three seasons, from 1974 to 1976, every Saturday morning was reserved for NBC and the fantastic world of Sid and Marty Krofft's live action dinosaur romp, Land of the Lost.

A generation later, a big budget feature film is in the planning process and Rhino Entertainment has released a handful of original series episodes on DVD and VHS. Linda Laurie's series theme music has become part and parcel of the American pop culture landscape and it acquaints viewers with the story of Land of the Lost better than any synopsis.

To paraphrase, Marshall (Spencer Milligan), Will (Wesley Eure) and Holly (Kathy Coleman), on a routine expedition, experience the "greatest earthquake ever known." They plunge down a waterfall in the Grand Canyon and find themselves lost in a closed, prehistoric, pocket universe known to its bizarre denizens as - you guessed it - The Land of the Lost. In this brave new world, the Marshalls encounter friends such as Cha-Ka, a brave little Pakuni ape-boy, and a baby brontosaur, Dopey. However, even as they attempt to return to their twentieth century home using the Land of the Lost's strange crystal technology (housed in pyramidal stations termed pylons), the family grapples with a T-Rex named Grumpy, his distaff opponent, the allosaur Big Alice, and the nefarious Sleestak.

Hissing lizard people, the Sleestak are the devolved remnants of the once-advanced Altrusian culture and the inhabitants of a mysterious lost city hewn out of stone. On more than one occasion, the Sleestak seek to feed the Marshalls to their (off-screen) God, a bellowing monstrosity inhabiting a smoky pit.

Though all three Jurassic Park movies have deposited adults and kids in the path of rampaging dinosaurs, this was a revolutionary approach back in 1973 when the TV series was formulated; "We were trying to find a habitat that could feature dinosaurs and a family...and those two entities together worked out to be a really good combination," Marty Krofft remembers fondly.

He is also quick to credit his creative team for its input.
"Great things happen when you have imaginative people aboard, and we had Allan Foshko, who had worked with us on other things, and it was a very collaborative effort. You have a few nightmares and you come up with these wild characters and places."

According to Foshko, series co-creator and then-vice-president in charge of new programming for the Kroffts, all of the dino-mite excitement commenced with Sid Krofft's long-standing affection for dinosaurs and dinosaur movies.

After that, however, it was up to Foshko to set the scene. "You can't go back in time as easily as you can create something new, so I thought about the possibility of how we could transport a team back into the prehistoric era," Foshko muses.

"After some research, I discovered the Grand Canyon had been underwater at some time in history, and it is the most awesome of our natural monuments. There are so many things about the Grand Canyon we don't know, and one of which was that there could have been another land underneath it, because a stream had eaten its way down through all those layers of sediment for millions of years. And so it seemed to me a perfect setting."

From that provocative notion, Foshko and the Kroffts shot a live-action, 30-minute pilot featuring a combination of then-revolutionary special effects, including matte paintings and blue screens. Featuring voice-over narration and clips of actors interacting with what Foshko calls "gargantuan beasts and dinosaurs," the pilot was test-marketed by NBC and the response was overwhelming."

"The pilot had the feel of Alice in Wonderland or Journey to the Center of the Earth, with these people falling into another world," Foshko remembers with enthusiasm. "The story just flowed, and with these hand-painted storyboards and collages, it was an unusual approach to doing this presentation. We had music and special effects and all kinds of magic. For TV, it was revolutionary..."

And now, on with the show (and the first episode...)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Loving Bad Movies? What's Your Guilty Pleasure?

Sometimes, as viewers (and fan boys/girls), we appreciate movies that can't really be defended on objective terms. I mean, let's face it here, just this week on the blog I copped to my enormous affection for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Now, I'm not going to sit here at my computer and say that I think it's a good movie, but I do believe it is a very enjoyable one. And I get a kick out of it. I could watch it any time, and laugh and feel good.

So here's the postulate: Can a movie's parts be enjoyable and interesting, even if the sum of those parts is less than quality? I wonder, why do we sometimes really get stuck on movies that are - in the final analysis - not very good? Why do we enjoy them, and perhaps more to the point, why do we go back to them again and again? This is something I'm always watching for and contemplating about, because I'm basically a professional critic. I ponder, what if that crazy gene is going to kick in and I'm going to shout to the world my objective, critical love of The Day After Tomorrow? Wouldn't that be embarrassing?

For me, one of those indefensible - but nonetheless compelling - films is surely 1980's big budget bomb Flash Gordon. My parents took me to see it in theaters in December 1980 for my 11th birthday, along with a gaggle of friends. I loved the film then, but I don't think that nostalgia accounts for the primary reason why.

On the surface, not only does Flash Gordon feature extraordinary production values and set design, but it's got that unbelievable score by Queen and a theme song for the ages. Flash! Savior of the Universe!

It doesn't hurt, either, I guess that the film features luscious Melody Anderson as Dale Ardor, er Arden, and the incomparable Ornella Muti as Princess Aura. Max Von Sydow makes an outrageous and memorable villain as Ming the Merciless and the movie boasts neat gadgets like rocket scooters. There's also a ludicrous (and amusing) "football" action set-piece in Ming's court. Why there's even gore! When Klytus falls on a platform of spikes, his eyes pop out. It's positively charming.

As a kid, I remember being terrified of that insect/monster-thing on Arborea too. You remember that don't you? Flash engages in a contest of wills with Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton!) and each man has to stick his bare arm into this gnarled tree trunk where that slimy creature lives. If the scorpion-y thing catches you, it snaps you with its stinger. This poisons you and you die a horrible death in minutes. No matter how bad the rest of the movie is, this scene still works on me. It's tense...

Watching the film today, I can plainly see the bad special effects (the wire-work involving the Hawkmen is particularly bad). It's not hard to detect Sam Jones' inexperience acting, either. And yet - AND YET - there's something magnificently opulent about this gold and silver fantasy world where planets look like giants tree stumps, moons are Mongo kingdoms and sexy women wear shoulder-pads and skin-tight bodysuits. I know Flash Gordon is meant to be camp, and I guess that's why many true believers hate this Dino De Laurentiis version, but I can pop the movie in the laserdisc player (yes, you read that right...) and watch it any time with a great deal of enjoyment.

So what's your indefensible movie pick? What's that one movie that you absolutely love with all your heart, but which your brain just tells you is bad, bad, bad? What's your guilty pleasure? Come on, ante up. I know you have one.

Some of my other choices in this category would likely include The Black Hole (1979), Godzilla 1985 and...gosh - I don't know if I should admit this, even in passing...

...The Postman (1997). Because he gives out hope like it's candy to a child...

Ride Postman! Ride!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Behind the Screen: This is Spinal Tap ...Now Available for Pre-Order!

Hey folks, this is just a heads up that my 18th book (and my first with this publisher, Emmis) is now up and available for pre-order over at It's Behind the Screen: This is Spinal Tap, and here's the promotional copy on it:

On its theatrical release in 1984, Rob Reiner’s hilarious satire about the self-indulgent excesses of a washed-up heavy metal band met with rave reviews but only lukewarm reaction from audiences, many of whom didn’t quite grasp that the film was, in fact, a spoof. Now, nearly a quarter century after its original release, This is Spinal Tap is recognized as a classic, the standard by which other mockumentaries are judged, and continues to entertain fans and attract critical acclaim.

Here, John Kenneth Muir, an expert on cult films and TV series, discusses how the film was made and marketed; its initial audience reception; why it later gained popularity; its influence on the genre; and the film’s impact on pop culture. Comprehensive and fun to read, the book includes great anecdotes about the film’s making; interviews with cast members; critical reviews; and much more - all the way up to 11!

Street date on the book is August 28, 2006, and the price is 9.95! Which makes it more affordable than some of my older tomes! Check it out! I'll be blogging more about the book as we get closer to August. And don't forget, I've got Mercy in Her Eyes: The Films of Mira Nair (with Applause Cinema and Theatre Books) due May 15 (at $12.21 at Amazon).

Look Who Beamed Down!

Just another brief post, here. This is the home office display that's currently driving my cats crazy. I don't know what's up with them (especially Lily), but they keep attacking Geordi LaForge and knocking him over...

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 31: Star Trek: The Motion Picture Toys

December 7th, 1979 is a day that I will never forget. This was the day that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released to theaters nationwide. I was in fourth grade and I guess I had just turned ten on the 3rd of December. On that opening weekend - Saturday - my parents took my sister and me to see the Star Trek movie at Essex Green Cinemas, and I fell in love with it. I brought along my Mego Captain Kirk figure (from the TV series...) I remember flying him around Marshalls...

When the lights went down in the theater, the movie opened with a sequence that - back in the day - was a special effects show stopper. Three Klingon warships attacked the V'Ger cloud in deep space and were promptly obliterated. Even as a kid, I noted the incredible, bravura shot in which the camera seemed to swoop around the turtle-head command port of the Klingon ship. And the Klingons - now Bumpy headed instead of vaguely Asianl - were neat.

This was the beginning period of "my" Star Trek. I say that because the original series (which I live and breathe and adore) was made before I was born, and the Next Generation and all its spin offs came after I was a teenager. But the movies came right at the time when my young, pliable brain could use them the most; as a kid developing a love of science fiction. I remember reading all the negative reviews of the film. But I loved it anyway. Still do. And, if you get me in an argumentative mood, I will make my case why I still feel it's the most cinematic of all Star Trek films.

Anyway, there was a merchandising blitz back in 1979 to celebrate the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As you can guess from reading all of these retro flashbacks, I was lucky to have indulgent parents, and they were more than generous about buying me toys.

The items I was most interested to play with were the fascinating spaceships featured in the film. The new Enterprise was jaw-droppingly beautiful, and AMT released a fantastic, highly-detailed kit (replete with rainbow "warp drive" stickers for the nacelles). The only problem was that it cost $20.00

To me, that was a lot of money, but my parents bought it without commenting on the exorbitant price, and my Dad built it beautifully. The ship was gorgeous. Even more generously, I was allowed to pick a second Star Trek model to go with it: either the Klingon battlecruiser or the Vulcan shuttle. At the time, I picked the Vulcan shuttle, because I was fascinated by the way the cruiser separated into two parts (passenger section and warp sled). I had to wait only for Christmas a few weeks later before I also had the Klingon cruiser. These kits were later re-issued, save, I think, for the Vulcan shuttle.

Mego, of course, owned the license to produce Star Trek figures. I collected these little guys eagerly (Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Decker and Ilia), but was disappointed that none came with phasers, wrist communicators or tricorders. How lame was that!? Mego also released a line of larger figures that were - also - sans equipment. I never did get my hands on the rarer-than-rare Klingons and other aliens.

Talk about a weird collectible, Knickerbocker Toys released two Star Trek "plush figures." This means they were essentially like little teddy bears, but these "soft poseable figures" were molded to resemble Kirk (in his two-tone Admiral's uniform) and Spock. I guess a lot of folks over the years have wanted to cuddle into bed with Kirk and Spock, but I wasn't necessarily one of 'em. They do look nice displayed on a shelf, however.

The blitz continued with a wide array of other Star Trek items. There was a silver metal Star Trek portable dinner tray! I found this at a flea market in North Carolina sometime in the mid-1990s. It's rusted in spots, but it was too good to pass up.

Also, Marvel released in at least three editions (a three-part comic series, a super-special and a hardbound book...) its adaptation of The Motion Picture. The adaptation featured the deleted V'Ger crystal attack during a spacewalk by Kirk and Spock. Other collectibles I've featured here before: calendars, phasers, record albums and the like.

One of my favorite collectibles is a probably-unofficial button promoting the release of Star Trek: the Motion Picture in New York City. The button features the Enterprise (the TV version...) over Manhattan and provides a date, as you can see.

I also have a Star Trek belt-buckle, and then this Coleco Electronic U.S.S. Enterprise. This toy whoops and holler - like most toy spaceships - with sounds of phasers, engines and the like, but the cool thing about this toy (pictured at top of post) is that you can unhook the nacelles and re-hook them all over the ship (hull and saucer section) to make different class Starfleet vessels. Since I imagined myself the captain of my own ship, with my own crew, it was fun to have an "alternate" ship too.

The later original cast Star Trek movies never seemed to generate as much merchandise as The Motion Picture, and that always disappointed me. But Motion Picture merchandise is also one of a kind because the crew appears so different here than in their other big screen excursions. The crew only wore these wrist communicators once. They only adorned these costumes (which I liked!) once. They were only this skinny once...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Laws of Bad Sequels

Yesterday, I blogged about some terrible movie sub-titles. Warlock's The Armageddon and Star Trek's Nemesis were on that list, for instance.

But for some reason I've been stuck on this thought of weak follow-up franchise films, and today wanted to meditate on which sequels are really bad, and why. There are any number of reasons why a sequel might fail, I guess, so I'm going to enumerate some of the common "laws" of bad sequels and name a few egregious examples.

The Poltergeist III Law of Cast Changes. I understand why, on occasion, sequels have to be produced without returning cast-members. Perhaps actors are not available, unwilling to return, or - God Forbid - have passed away between installments. Often, a movie can indeed get around a cast change with a little ingenuity and intelligence (The Matrix Revolutions; "The Oracle"). But other times...yikes! For instance, the entire Poltergeist film franchise concerns a family, the Freelings, coping with a supernatural attack. That supernatural assault, depicted in Poltergeist (1982) and The Other Side (1986) brings the family closer together. The Freelings lose their house, but they gain togetherness. I mean, Mom Freeling (JoBeth Williams) actually crosses into the nether realm to bring back her daughter, Carol Anne. The family is tight-knit...clearly. And though a cast member, sadly, was killed (Dominique Dunne) before it was produced, the first sequel, The Other Side at least had a reason for her absence: the character was away at college. Okay, that's believable as far is it goes.

However, for Poltergeist III, we are supposed to believe that Mommy & Daddy Freeling have sent their little ten-year-old girl to Chicago to stay with an aunt and uncle and attend school. Now, this is the girl who is the fulcrum of the continuing poltergeist manifestations. The one who has been abducted to the other side, and twice pursued. Worse, the movie establishes that psychic Tangina has time to board a plane and get to Chicago to protect Carol Ann because she senses danger. What, she couldn't spring for a telephone call to Steve and Diane Freeling on the way? You don't think they would have shown up in a heartbeat to help their daughter out? And they didn't even warn their relatives that, ahem, Carol Anne has an unusual history?

Of course, the actors (Craig T. Nelson and Williams) didn't want to return for Poltergeist III, but - for me, anyway - it's just never really believable that this very close family, having survived all these terrors, would just send their daughter off to a different state. Especially knowing that "the Other Side" has taken her before and will most likely try again. I prefer the Predator 2 approach to cast changes. Arnold wasn't going to be involved, so a new character, played by Danny Glover was created. The Predator, his tools, his nature, remained the same, however.

The Star Trek V: The Final Frontier Law (Or Let's Make it Cheap & Funny) : Mea culpa, here. There are parts of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier I absolutely adore. I can watch it anytime and get a kick out of it. Anytime I see the original cast in action...I melt. But, come on...this entry is not exactly a "quality" Star Trek film. And I think that's for two reasons.

One, the producers cheaped out on special effects so that the visuals became laughable.

And two, and more importantly (and this isn't Shatner's fault...), the studio demanded that the script be "funny" like the successful previous entry, The Voyage Home. Shatner and his cohorts wrote a serious treatment about religious zealotry, with epic battles, divided loyalties and the like. And that all got cut out. Between the new accent on silly humor (Scotty bonking his head in Engineering) and the low-tech effects, the result is a deeply messed-up sequel that comes off as campy. So, note to future sequel makers: don't cut the corners so much that special effects stink, and don't force moviemakers to compromise their vision for the sake of adding humor.

The Jaws: The Revenge Rule (Or Keep it Simple). "This time, it's personal." Why? This sequel is so god-awful, and it actually combines a number of "bad sequel" laws. Again, the good, name cast of Jaws has been replaced. No Richard Dreyfuss. No Roy Scheider. Even the kids who survived Jaws II don't make a return. Who's our lead? Lorraine Gary, playing Mrs. Brody. That's excitement for you. More action movies need to star my Granny.

But the real reason Jaws: The Revenge is so unrelentingly bad is the concept erosion, and the effort to pile on ridiculous details to what should be a simple thriller. Horror movies work best when they have a pretty cut & dry premise that exploits a universal fear. A great white shark is one scary mother%(#*$. So why - in God's name - do you take this already fearsome force of nature on a ridiculous "quest" to kill off the Brodys. Like this is a clan battle between the McCoys and Hatfields or something. Why do you grant the shark the supernatural ability to swim across the world in less than a day? Why is the shark seemingly able to target Brodys amongst scores of other swimmers in the water (and yet still miss the little Brody girl on a banana boat, and strike the kid next to her?) Missed her by...that much! This is a classic example of overthinking a sequel, and destroying the original film's brilliant, elegant and simple concept. Jaws should be a really simple movie series to do. Men + shark = terror. Just add water.

The House & House 2: The Second Story Rule (Or, if you liked the first, you won't recognize the second!) Or, what I call, the rule of "in name only." When a film ends with the death of a hero, or even the death of a villain, sometimes it is hard to make a sequel that is consistent with the original installment. So what is a producer to do? Why, you make a totally new movie with different characters, different concerns, a different director, and slap a franchise name on it. You see, each one is about a different haunted house? Right! (And weirdly, both House movies star cast members from the TV series Cheers.) But the people who enjoyed the horror spectacle of William Katt fighting an evil Vietnam Vet ghost and rescuing his son from the nether realm aren't necessarily going to enjoy a comedy sequel, starring Arye Gross and a stupid-looking baby pterodactyl. Get it?

The H20 Rule (Or, Just Kidding! The Last Three Movies Took Place in an Alternate Universe Law): I liked H20 well enough, and I enjoyed seeing Jamie Lee Curtis back in action against Michael Myers. But okay, you know what? I also loved Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris in Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988). Halloween H20 negates that film's very existence. It takes the saga back to Halloween II. Of course, considering that you can get rid of Halloween V and VI too, maybe it's not such a bad deal. Still, this idea seems like really bad business. With the DVD market making all these movies available, you may keep your wallet in your pocket and safely skip movies IV - VI, and just watch parts I, II, and H20. That should be good for sales...

Finally, PART 3 in 3-D Law: Friday the 13th Part III in 3-D, Amityville 3-D and Jaws 3-D. Nuff said. Franchises which were previously scary (or at least creepy) are suddenly reduced to pointing sharp objects at the camera.

What are your laws of bad sequels? And what is the worst sequel of all time?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week: Poltergeist

"Some people believe that when you die, your soul goes to Heaven...

Some people believe that when people die, there's a wonderful light as bright as the sun, but it doesn't hurt to look into it. All the answers to all the questions you ever want to know are inside that light. And when you walk to it, you become a part of it forever....

And then some people die, but don't know that they've gone. Maybe they didn't want to die. Maybe they weren't ready. Maybe they hadn't lived fully, or they'd live a long, long time and they still wanted more life. They resist going into that light, however hard the light wants them.

They just hang around. Watch TV. Watch their friends grow up, feeling unhappy and jealous. Those feelings are bad. They hurt.

And some people just get lost on the way to the light and they need someone to guide them to it..."

-Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), explains the afterlife to Robbie Freeling (Oliver Robbins) in Poltergeist (1982)

CATNAP 32: Caught in the Act!

Here's what our little Lily is up to when she thinks nobody's watching. She learned this act (drinking from the sink spigot...) from her big sister, Lila.

You may have seen the bottom picture on the blog before, but since they all involved her sink trick, I figured I'd post it anyway...

Monday, February 20, 2006

Once More Unto The Breach: Our Fantasy Nemesis?

On the blog in the last weeks, we've selected our ship-of-the-line (Enterprise, NCC -1701 A), our sidekick droids, our irritating, troublemaking kids, - our space babes too - and even our dedicated CMO. Now comes an especially difficult choice. We're on a routine mission (perhaps cataloguing gaseous anomalies or some such thing). You're in command, and suddenly receive orders from our HQ. The ship has been ordered into battle at once.

So, your communications officer gives you the message, providing the coordinates. Who do you think - we're fighting? Who's the ultimate bad guy?

Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek is really the Great Bird of the Galaxy when it comes to memorable villains. An obvious choice would be the Romulan Star Empire (shall we race across the neutral zone)? Or perhaps even those ridge-headed Klingons. Watch out for de-cloaking birds of prey! If we're captured, we'll have to face the "mind-sifter."

But we musn't forget that over the years Star Trek has also provided audiences with so many other great antagonistic races. One of my favorites, and one of the most underutilized is the Gorn Empire. Remember the Gorn? From Cestus III and that first season episode "Arena?" The Metrons kept the Federation and Gorn Empire from fighting, but didn't you always have the desire to see the Gorn return for head-to-head combat with Captain Kirk? I know I did. I bet they had really cool battleships.

While we're at it, what if the orders we just received involve a breach of universes. What if we're suddenly facing a "mirror" Empire versions of ourselves? The Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror" in the second season proved that a Captain Spock with goatee could be a powerful adversary. Would we take on the I.S.S. Enterprise? Could we convince him of the illogic of fighting for an Empire he knows can't last?

If we're talking about a charismatic, individual villain, rather than a race of 'em, our choice might be Khan Noonian Singh (Ricardo Montalban). He's out for vengeance, and if he has a Genesis device in his arsenal, we're really in trouble. "Universal Armageddon," here we comes. The bad news is that once we start fighting Khan, he'll chase us round the moons of Nibia, the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition's flames before he gives us up. And I, for one, don't want a Ceti Eel poking around my brain if we get captured and defeated. The key to defeating Khan? He's a two-dimensional thinker...

If we're looking at the Next Generation, the end-all-be-all nemesis is no doubt The Borg Collective. I'll never forget the first episode featuring the Borg "Q-Who." I taped the episode because I was out on a date with a girl I really liked (this was on a trip home from U of R), and I finally watched the episode at about midnight. It was so good, I had to watch it a second time. I'll always remember how scary the Borg were in that original incarnation, back then, before they became mainstreamed, before "Hugh." At that point, the Borg were not seeking a Locutus-style spokesman. Instead, they were "the ultimate users," merely looking for technology to consume. That description still gives me chills. To the Borg, we're nothing but spare parts and biological fodder.

Outside of Star Trek, the genre has provided a number of fascinating villains over the years. Perhaps the Number One science fiction villain of all time - TV or film - is Darth Vader, a Dark Lord of the Sith. The ultimate Star Wars villain, (and tragic hero?) he commands that super-star destroyer, not to mention the Dark Side of the Force. He also flies one mean TIE fighter. And please, if you choose him, don't remind him that he killed Padme...

Robotic menaces always seem popular on TV too. We could face off against the Cylon Empire from the original Battlestar Galactica. They boast lousy aim, but are known for Kamikaze strikes against Battlestars. A real technological menace, these "Red Eyes" have impressive ships, including the Cylon Raiders and those massive Basestars. And let's just hope they don't get us in range of that pulsar cannon on Ice Planet Zero.

Another metallic menace of a sort comes from the universe of Doctor Who. The cry of EXTERMINATE!!! comes from the race of conquerors known as The Daleks. True, they have difficulty with staircases (or they used too...) and their arms look like toilet bowl plungers. But they're still pretty scary. Personally, I always sort of liked the Cybermen better.

Sci-Fi TV has also created a number of gorgeous, though thoroughly evil, women antagonists. Back in 1978, on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, producer Glen Larson introduced us to Princess Ardala of the Draconian Realm, played by luscious Pamela Hensley. I've provided a near-full body shot of her for this post, because, could I not? Ardala is absolutely gorgeous, she looks great in horns (!) and she commands the flagship of the Draconian Empire, the Draconia. It's a warship teeming with Draconian Marauders, or "hatchet" fighters. She wants to control the Earth at all costs. And she's kinda nasty. Her second-in-command is Kane, and she delegates a lot of the day-to-day operations to him. But she dreams of unseating her father, the Emperor Draco, and will do anything to achieve that aim...including marrying the genetically perfect man (who is, of course, me...)

Another power-hungry woman is the President of the Federation in the universe of Blake's 7: Servalan. She's treacherous, ambitious and absolutely evil. She commands an Empire (including the vampiric Mutoids), and wants to squelch all civil unrest with pacification drugs or sheer military force. She would make quite an opponent.

Then, of course, there's Jane Badler's Diana, from V, and V: The Series. Diana also commands a fleet of motherships. If we're fighting her, we can assume that she and her Visitor brethren want our resources (our water) and our very bodies (for food!) Diana is a scientist and military commander, and can't be trusted for a second. She also likes to eat large rodents. If we decide to play battleship brinkmanship with Diana, let's remember to beam over some "Red dust" to her command center.

Other options? Well, we could always fight Dragos, Jason's sworn enemy on Jason of Star Command, the follow-up to Space Academy. He's played by one of the Devil's Rejects, Sid Haig.

So who's it going to be? When you raise shields and arm photon torpedoes, who are you engaging in battle? The Dominion? The new Cylons from the "re-imagined" Battlestar? The Reavers on Firefly? Farscape's Peacekeepers? Or what about those body/organ-stealing aliens from Gerry Anderson's UFO?

Personally, I wouldn't choose the Borg, because they scare me too much, though they are perhaps the ultimate sci-fi villain.

Instead, I'm leaning strongly towards Ardala. After a couple of volleys of phasers, I could beam over to her flagship for some one-on-one diplomacy, if you get my drift. And unlike Diana, I wouldn't end up served on a platter to a bunch of lizards...