Saturday, March 11, 2006

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

On the third episode of Land of the Lost, written by Margaret Armen (Star Trek: "The Paradise Syndrome," and "The Gamesters of Triskelion"), Holly and Will tug an elaborately-built wagon (one made of logs and twine and with wheels made of tree trunks..) through the jungle, transporting a gaggle of oversized strawberries back to the cave at High Bluff, where Rick Marshall waits.

However, what occurs next in "Dopey" serves as the introduction of one the series' recurring dinosaur characters (and we've already met Spike, Grumpy, Spot and Big Alice.) Holly and Will spot a cracked-open brontosaurus egg and then meet a newly hatched brontosaur baby, which Holly promptly names Dopey. The kindly dinosaur (which mewls like a kitten) follows the duo home and Holly predictably asks Dad, "Can we keep him?" Marshall's smart response is that "a 5,000 lb. dinosaur stays where ever he wants." Now that's practical parenting!

Holly teaches Grumpy to fetch a stick, kind of. The dinosaur retrieves the stick, and then eat its. Then Holly rides Dopey like a horse and trains him to pull the cart. However, when Grumpy attacks High Bluff and nearly gets his sharp teeth on Dopey (who hides...), Holly realizes that her desire to own a pet could endanger Dopey's life. "We'll have to find a good home for him...a place where he'd be safe," Marshall recommends - and with great difficulty, Holly returns Dopey to the swamp, where he can be with his own kind, including the adult Brontosaurus, Emily. The episode ends with the brontosaurs nuzzling.

Back a few years ago, when I interviewed some of the cast and crew of Land of the Lost, I learned that the series had an interesting template: the stories were separated into three categories. There would be Cha-Ka stories, Sleestak stories and dinosaur stories, and these three types would rotate over the weeks so that each consisted of one third of the series. Naturally, "Dopey" is a dinosaur episode, and one that requires more special effects than some (cue the chroma key!). Dopey is depicted both in miniature stop-motion form, and with an on-set mechanical head that doesn't look quite so convincing, though he does have nice, affectionate moon-eyes.

Thematically, like the other stories featured thus far, Land of the Lost's "Dopey" features a lesson for the kiddies about responsibility and taking care of pets. It's about doing what's right for the animal, not for the master's comfort.

So essentially, this is the "be nice to stray animals" episode, and it's a message I wholeheartedly approve of, since there are about six outdoor cats in my neighborhood that I like to feed and care for. I try to keep them close to my house so they won't cross the street. We live on a busy road, and I live in mortal fear that one of the cats is going to get struck by a car, so I attempt to keep them on my side. One of my neighbors, a sweet person, has had several of them spayed, to keep the population of wild kitties from growing. Anyway, "Dopey" struck a chord with me somewhere. I know that if someone offered one of these neighborhood cats a better, safer home, it would be a very good thing - even though I'd miss them terribly. Unfortunately, I don't live near any brontosaur swamps...

The Gilligan's Island principle of this Land of the Lost episode (meaning the incredible instruments, devices and tools built with primitive measures...) reveals the Marshalls eating dinner out of giant carved bowls. They look to have been made from giant shells of some type. And then there's that wagon, which must have taken weeks to construct. But then again, what else is there to do in the Land of the Lost?

Another nice scene in the episode finds Will and Holly reminiscing about home, and a backyard strawberry patch. This is the first explicit mention of what it was like where they used to live, and they discuss making homemade ice cream. When the Marshall children started asking each other if they'd ever escape the Land of the Lost, I realized that I hoped they wouldn't, because I enjoy the series so much. Sorry, kids...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Guess The Movie # 7: Muir Strikes Back!


All right, all you highly literate movie smarty-pants out there! I'm roaring back with a vengeance on my guess the movie stumpers!

Tony aced the one from Wednesday (within a frickin' hour!), guessing correctly that the still came from that Alien predecessor IT! The Terror From Beyond Space. It's my second favorite Alien predecessor after Bava's Planet of the Vampires...

Anyway, this one here, number # 7 is a tougher one, methinks. Let's see who can...guess the movie!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 33: Movie Novelizations

"Once, under the wise rule of the Senate and the protection of the Jedi Knights, the Republic throve and grew. But as often happens when wealth and power pass beyond the admirable and attain the awesome, then appear those evil ones who have greed to match.

So it was the Republic at its height. Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside.

Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic."

-From the novelization of Star Wars, a "novel by George Lucas." First printing, December 1976; 15th printing August 1977.

I realize it is probably impolitic to say it today, especially because there are certain people (let's call 'em snobs), who will disagree vociferously, but I've always really enjoyed movie novelizations. Some of them aren't merely good, but actually achieve greatness on their own. I would certainly put the Star Wars novel (ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster, allegedly...) in that category.

I remember reading this novelization back in the third grade -- and my mind opening up to a whole new universe. Yes, it was a movie universe, but it helped me fall in love with books and reading, and so also served as a gateway to great literary science fiction.

After reading the novelization of Star Wars, I was onto The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in sixth grade; Dune in seventh grade; The Martian Chronicles in eighth. And on and on. So I know some people (bitter writers, I think, who didn't get the assignment themselves...) complain that "novelizations" are an example of a semi-literate bankrupt culture, but I totally and completely disagree. If you look across the history of novelizations, many are written with great care by first rate authors.

Another novelization I loved arrived in 1982. Vonda N. McIntyre's glorious interpretation of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Again - in an era before DVD bonus features - the novelization offered fans one of the few opportunities to learn about deleted scenes and background character and story details. This book is a prime example of that. For instance, McIntyre goes into detail about Peter Preston, Scotty's nephew (a fact actually omitted from the film's theatrical cut...) and especially about Lt. Saavik's half-Vulcan/half-Romulan heritage.

Although I believe that McIntyre's approach eventually failed with The Voyage Home...a lackluster read that bore only a passing resemblance to the movie and was loaded with irrelevant subplots, her adaptations of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock were the stuff of magic.

Over the years, I've continued to read novelizations with enthusiasm. The summer before I attended college, I had a great day at the beach devouring Paul Monette's novelization of Predator...a riveting read that included a "new" scene set aboard the Predator's spaceship, which Dutch found in the jungle.

I enjoy other horror movie novelizations too. Dennis Etchison did some amazing work in the early 1980s with the Halloween license, as well as with the John Carpenter movie, The Fog. Again, these books stand on their own as good, satisfying reads even without an accompanying film; ditto for Nicholas Grabowsky's difficult-to-find but eminently worthwhile Halloween IV adaptation. I also read a novelization of the movie Moonraker by Christopher Wood that inspired me to read all the original Ian Fleming novels, and now I'm a huge fan of Fleming's work.

Over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of movie novelizations as well as other published works, and I treasure them for a number of reasons. One, they bring back memories of movies I love; and two - they stoked my love of science fiction and horror, which continues to this day. If you ask me, the best novelizations can compete any day with original fiction.

Any novelizaton fans out there? What's your favorite?


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Guess the Movie # 6


All righty then. Last week, readers here really nailed the "guess the movie" post quickly - on one guess!!! (Good job, Tony, for naming the movie first!) For those of you who weren't sure, It was the 1970s Nazi Zombie movie, SHOCK WAVES starring Peter Cushing. It's a good horror movie, and I recommend you rent it.

Anyway, I'll try to stump you with this photo for the time being. It's from a personal favorite of mine. Thus far, it seems like the most difficult "guess the movies" entries have been for Parasite (1983) and The Children (1980) and Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). Which is odd, because I guess that most readers here grew up in the eighties. Yes, no?

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week: Aliens (1986)

"I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage!"

-Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Aliens (1986)

We're Canceled Here.

Some bad career news, today.

Emmis, the company publishing the Behind The Screen series, which includes The Princess Bride, The Big Lebowski, Breakfast at Tiffanys and my own Spinal Tap effort, has closed its book division effective immediately, which means that all the upcoming books are canceled. Contracts with writers are terminated.

News first surfaced of this development on the Net Friday, but I was notified personally this week and wanted to wait to be sure it was true before writing about it here.

I wanted to thank everybody who pre-ordered the Spinal Tap book through Amazon, and commented about it on the blog. This would have been my eighteenth book (I have contracts with other companies through my 21st...), so I've been in the business long enough to know that publishing can often be a tricky and disappointing game. I remember when Cinescape changed hands several years ago, and I was left with over a thousand dollars of unpaid fees for articles I had written, or my disappointment at Farscape's cancellation just as I was becoming a regular contributor to the official magazine. Sometimes, those are the breaks!
C'est la vie!

But don't cry for me (Argentina...), I've also learned that what appears to be a reverse, a setback or a failure can often times be translated into a success or a happy ending. When I finish my deadlines on Horror Films of the 1980s and my other projects (in mid-April), I'll have more time to closely ponder the future of my Spinal Tap book (which is all finished...and features behind-the-scenes info about the film that's never been revealed.)

Until then, I just wanted to express my sincere gratitude to those of you who expressed interest in the project, and apologize to anyone who ordered the book and will now be disappointed. I'll keep everybody updated on how things go from here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

TV REVIEW: Medium: "Allison Wonderland"

Last night's episode of Medium, written by Bernadette McNamara and directed by Ronald L. Schwary, was a welcome improvement over the last segment, and as a result an enjoyable hour. Of course, I was still reeling from the conclusion of 24 on Fox, which was highly disturbing and saw the release of nerve gas in CTU and the death of a beloved character. But eventually I got over it, my heart rate settled, and I focused on the show before me. Probably took me a good fifteen minutes...

"Allison Wonderland" is an interesting installment of this Patricia Arquette series on NBC, one involving a delusional mathematician who is killed when tossed off the roof of a hotel in Los Angeles. Well - of course - everybody's favorite psychic, Allison DuBois is on the case, but as is typical for Medium, the show comes at this murder mystery totally sideways; from an unexpected angle. To wit, the mathematician is a bit of crackpot, on meds for paranoia, and he envisions himself as a man of movie-star looks. Hence, in her psychic phantasms, Allison envisions the man as he sees himself: as David Carradine. Yep, David Carradine is the guest star in "Allison Wonderland." That alone elevates this installment above the norm.

Cracking this mystery involves learning more about Carradine's work on a "pass code" device and his belief that he is defending the nation from terrorists by cracking a difficult algorithm. Turns out, that's not quite the case. Instead, he's a patsy for a thief who knows just how to manipulate his madness.

Meanwhile, on the home front, little Bridget is obsessed with a book series about a character named Danielle, who "stars" in three books. She wants more Danielle adventures, but the author died a year ago and there are no more books to enjoy. Strangely, Danielle begins typing away on Daddy's computer, writing a totally new Danielle adventure, replete with grown-up vocabulary (like the word 'wan.') So, is she receiving communications from the dead writer, or just experiencing the spark of creativity? That's the conflict for Joe this week...

My big thought about this week's episode is that Medium - when you take out all the psychic bells and whistles - is really a program about a very simple, relatable idea. To wit, it's a show about concerned parents accepting the fact that their child isn't perfect; that he or she may have some heritage (some genetic baggage...) that troubles them. In real life, this "baggage" might be a a physical handicap, even a precocious intelligence, but Medium uses the rubric of psychic powers to discuss this side of family life. I think that's incredibly cool, because the best genre TV programming is always that show which is artistically constructed; that features an overarching metaphor that is applied and grants it a deeper meaning.

For Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was the adolescence + high school = horror & monsters equation. For The X-Files, it was that notion of seeing the world through the competing lenses of skepticism and belief. On Millennium, the symbol of the yellow house as sanctuary - then paradise lost - informed many episodes. So it's terrific that Medium is also attempting to work on this higher level too. Because it isn't easy by any means. The trick in navigating this path is that the show in question must create two tracks. First, it must also be what it appears to be about (a psychic woman and her job as a detective) and at the same time it can be interpreted in more general, didactic terms (a show about family). From what I've seen, Medium really succeeds at this balancing act.

CATNAP #34: Irresistible...



For some inexplicable reason, our family room is abut ten degrees cooler than every other room in our home. We rebuilt the room last May and insulated it and everything. Still, it doesn't matter what the temperature is outside - hot or cold - the family room is always chilly. Recently, we brought down a sleeping bag for one sofa to help keep us warm while we screen movies, and the sleeping bas has proven positively irresistible to the cats. Now they jockey for position to see who can sleep on it; sometimes they even sleep together on it (though I wasn't quick enough to snap a picture of Lily on it beside Ezri...). In fact, at night we have to fold it up so the kitties will come to bed. Top picture: Lila. Bottom photo: Ezri.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Link of the Week: Captphil Online

It's still being constructed (as I write...) but I wanted to feature a shout-out this week to a new site that I've already been enjoying: Captphil Online.

This site is administered by one of my good friends and colleagues in the genre community. I first met "Captain Phil" about seven years ago - hard to believe - at the Space:1999 Breakaway Convention in Los Angeles on September 13, 1999. He's a good friend and he's helped me out on career-y things more times than I can count. He's been a steadfast supporter to Kathryn and me, an idea-man and - most importantly - he's an all-around good guy (and he has a lovely wife and a very sweet family).

Anyway, Captain Phil is a regular genre conventioneer, and is devoting his site to preserving that experience for future generations. Here's his mission statement:

"On this site I will document my 25 years of attending Science Fiction conventions with the goal of making some of the recordings I have of those events available to those interested in researching Science Fiction and to keep the names of those authors, artists and fans I've met alive for the next generation of fans and pros. I'll be commenting on the conventions I currently attend and what I think about those events, from the organization to the topics discussed. All of this and more will be on The Classic Adventures section of this site. Enjoy!"


What will you find on the site? Well, he's already got a
page devoted to host Howard Margolin's legendary institution , Destinies: the Voice of Science Fiction. This is great, because the site has archived several episodes of the classy genre radio-talk show for your perusal, including the December 23, 2005 annual Christmas special, the January 6th "Film Review Team" special selecting the five best genre films of last year, and much more.

On his "Classic Adventures" page, you'll find a chronicle of Captain Phil's convention sojourns over the years (and he's a well-traveled fellow.):

"From here I'll be linking photos from the conventions I've attended and linking to my MP3/Podcast reviews of those events. I'll even try to do a couple of interviews with some of the guests. Also look for some audio content of these conventions, either panel discussions or speeches. These are presented for Science Fiction Historians, enthusiasts and the curious..."

So check out Captphil Online if you're into this stuff (as I am...) it's a site still developing, but there's already a tremendous range of material to choose from.

March Muir Column up at Far Sector

My March '06 column is "live" over at the new issue of Far Sector and it's a review of the PG-13 horror movie from 2005 that filmed at my alma mater, the University of Richmond. That movie is Cry_Wolf, and here's a clip from Cry_Wolf and Let Slip the Dogs of War:


We all end up with the horror movies we deserve, to misquote somebody famous. Although rarely a fan of PG-13 horror films, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of a 2005 effort I just screened last night on DVD. It’s called Cry_Wolf and it was directed by newcomer Jeff Wadlow.

In a glitzy, streamlined fashion, this unassuming teen horror flick accurately reflects the state of our country right now. It taps into the prevailing Zeitgeist, and how this production reflects some of our current national crises makes for an interesting, if not overly deep, contribution to the genre.

To read more about my surprising conclusion that I actually liked this modern product of corporate, soulless Hollywood horror, go
here.

March McFarland Film/TV Releases

What's new at McFarland this month? The North Carolina publisher boasts another roster of interesting film and television book releases worthy of your attention. Here's the slate:

Stop-motion animation has long been perceived as a technical practice rather than a creative, demanding art. Though stop-motion requires considerable technical knowledge, it also involves aesthetics and artistry that go beyond the technician’s realm. Just as important as puppet mechanics are lighting, filters, lenses, camera angle and placement, and dramatic pose and movement.This manual is a complete guide to the aesthetics of stop-motion animation. Information is organized in an intuitive, easy-to-use structure, following the order an animator uses in setting up and then executing a scene. The first half concentrates on the aesthetics of lighting and cameras, a primary concern in any shot, with details of camera placement, various lenses and myriad lighting techniques. The second half deals with the process of performance art, an oft-overlooked aspect of stop-motion animation. Included is a commentary on body language, facial expression, gesture, movement and emotion—key concepts that are exemplified through the acting process. The work also offers an introduction to narrative form and a glossary of related terms.


Psycho Thrillers-
By William Indick

Mind control, madness and altered states of reality can make for exciting nights at the movies—which explains the enduring popularity of a film genre that might be called the psycho thriller. Psychiatry and film came of age simultaneously, and characters such as the evil psychiatrist and the pathological killer were often developed in direct reference to the psychological themes that inspired them. For example, the penchants of Hitchcock’s famously creepy Norman Bates represented real psychological disorders, and his actions were explained through psychoanalysis. The psycho thriller presents a world where psychology represents a dimension of supernatural and metaphysical wonders.The introduction analyzes what makes a psycho thriller, and subsequent chapters are devoted to each of the archetypal psycho thriller characters (the mad scientist, the psycho killer, the individual with psychic powers, and the psychiatrist) and themes (mind control, dreams, memory, and existential issues). The concluding chapter lists the top twenty psycho thrillers. Stills from classic films in the genre illustrate the text, which also includes filmography, bibliography, and index.

Following The Fugitive-
By Bill Deane

The Fugitive made its debut on ABC on September 17, 1963. Over the next four seasons, the show enjoyed enormous commercial and critical success. Millions of fans followed the heroic exploits of Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen) as he eluded police lieutenant Philip Gerard (Barry Morse) and doggedly pursued the killer of his wife, the notorious one-armed man. The show has experienced recent renewed interest since the 1993 movie of the same name became such a box-office smash and video favorite. The coverage is episode-by-episode, giving title, cast lists, director, writer, original airdate, and a comprehensive plot synopsis.
By Bryan Senn

From the grindhouse oddities to major studio releases, this work details 46 horror films released during the genre’s golden era. Each entry includes cast and credits, a plot synopsis, in-depth critical analysis, contemporary reviews, time of release, brief biographies of the principal cast and crew, and a production history. Apart from the 46 main entries, 71 additional “borderline horrors” are examined and critiqued in an appendix.