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...