Saturday, November 11, 2006

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Flash Gordon: "Tournament of Death"

Our multi-ethnic Mongo/Earth crew is now in the clutches of Ming the Merciless and Princess Aura, as Chapter 12, "Tournament of Death," commences on the Filmation series Flash Gordon. There are some lovely views of Mingo City in this installment as Gordon, Zarkov, Dale, Thun, Barin and Vultan are escorted (in shackles...) into the metropolis to participate in "the great games."

As for Prince Barin, he has a plan. If he wins in the arena, he can marry the woman of his choice; and he wants Princess Aura. Unfortunately, she wants to be the bride of Flash Gordon. Awkward...

Before the games commence, Flash engineers an escape into the caves beneath Mingo City, using Zarkov's inviso-ray to take out several of Ming's metal men. The team subsequently escapes, but Aura sends three dragons - the "Royal Groks" - after them. Flash gets the Groks to fight each other instead of the humans, but then there's another obstacle to face. The group encounters "The Cavern of Fire," and the only way to escape is through a tunnel on the far side of the "flame barrier." A cable car can carry them there, but Aura intercepts the fugitives and re-captures Flash, Dale and Zarkov. Vultan, Thun and Barin are free, but again, Barin has a plan...

While Ming threatens to take Dale to his "apartment" (a funny line...), Flash is led to the arena. "Let the Great Games begin," Ming declares, as Flash the gladiator fights many of the creatures we've seen in previous episodes. There are royal Groks, the lobster-like "Talors" (The Fire King...), and the giant blue magic worm from Azura's kingdom, among others. Flash makes short work of the beasts and other gladiators (including a man with a bull-heat - a minotaur?), but then runs into a tough masked warrior who suspiciously resembles Prince Barin. Hmmm.

At the end, only Flash and the Arborian prince stand, and Ming warns that the gladiators must next face the dreaded "cable of green flame." Whatever that is...

To be continued...

More Muir in the Media...

November is already shaping up to be an interesting month here in Muirville.

While I obsessively edit and re-edit episodes of The House Between, I also have an article appearing in this month's Filmfax Plus (available at newstands now!).

It's a very lengthy and detailed interview with legendary writer Dorothy Fontana, and the piece remembers her work from classic Star Trek episodes like "This Side of Paradise" to all her other 1970s genre efforts (which include - amazingly - Fantastic Journey, Logan's Run, Ghost Story/Circle of Fear, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Sixth Sense, and even Star Trek: The Animated Series).

There's also an article about Filmation's 1970s superhero show, Shazam, an interview with Robert Bloch and Dee Wallace, and other terrific stuff. It's really a great issue...

Also, my friend Fred just pointed this out to me, but BCI - the company officially releasing the 1970s Filmation live series Space Academy on DVD - is mentioning me in their promotional material! How cool is that? Readers of the blog will remember I blogged the entire series (all fifteen episodes...) last year, and put up a page on my site, here, devoted to the show.

Last but certainly not least, the cover for my upcoming book, The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia is now up at Amazon...and is very cool! The book will be published May 2007.

Now...back to editing.

Friday, November 10, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 49: U.S.S. Enterprise Bridge (1980)

It must have been 1980 or 1981, I guess; a bitterly cold winter's day as I recall. I was at Englishtown flea market in New Jersey with my family, searching out toy treasures. At that time in my life, that would have meant Planet of the Apes, Star Wars or Star Trek figures, to put a fine point on the matter.

Bundled in a warm winter jacket and sipping hot chocolate out of a Styrofoam cup, my lips shivering, I soon came across a toy that I had never seen before (and have only rarely seen since). And which today, I prize. It's the Star Trek: The Motion Picture "U.S.S. Enterprise Bridge" from Mego Corporation, released 1980. I found it mint in its box at the flea market that day...selling for one dollar. Needless to say, I bought it. (And I still had allowance to spare...)

I've kept this toy with me ever since - during all my geographical moves from New Jersey to Virginia to North Carolina, though the toy box is long, long gone.

And just recently, I bought a new one (with box...) on E-Bay for significantly more than one dollar. Why? I had always promised myself that if I saw another of these rare toys, and it was under a certain price threshold, I would get it, since I had played mine out and all the decals had basically rubbed off.

To explain further about this toy, it is not the famous "spinning transporter" Bridge playset from Mego; from the original TV series. No, this is the movie Enterprise bridge from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The box legend says it all, capturing the glory of this toy: "take command of the helm and recreate all the adventure of the crew of the starship Enterprise."

How many of us X'ers, as kids, wanted to do just that? I know I did, and since the movies were from my era growing up, the 1979 -1991 era, this was the bridge I wanted. The bridge V'Ger's probe attacked. The bridge Kirk returned to after a 2.5 year absence after the five year mission; the bridge from which he faced "KHAN!"

"All scaled for Mego 3 3/4 inch Star Trek crew" figures, this bridge "measures over 24 inches long and 12 inches wide and features" the following: "Working Docking Port," "Helm Control Center," "Navigational Station," "Captain's Chair," "Science Center," Communications Console" and "Authentic Decals."

Trademarked 1980 by Mego Corp, to follow the release of the first Star Trek movie, the box also suggested you can dock this bridge "with the Vulcan shuttle (sold separately)," a toy that to my knowledge was never widely released. So how cool is that? What's really awesome is that the you can see the prototype toy in the picture on the side, if you look closely enough at the side of the box, or at least a part of that Vulcan shuttle. Damn, why didn't they ever release this toy? I want one...

I guess there's a certain kind of kid (a geek?) who would rather sit inside and play with action figures than go outside and throw a ball around, and that was certainly me. But what's even funnier is that the bridge isn't exactly a "hub of action." I mean, it's a place with control panels and chairs where the action figures...sit. When I think of the Star Wars toys from Kenner, I remember the Ewok village, the Death Star (with trash compactor!) the Rebel Hoth base and more...places of action and battle! But then Star Trek was (and is...) for a certain kind of kid too. I mean, I don't want to diss Star Wars because I love it, but the thrill of Star Trek is the notion of a team of people exploring the unknown together. The bridge is the gateway to that unknown, that cosmic mystery. Any kind of alien being or space phenomenon or wormhole could appear on our view screen, and off we go into the realm of the undiscovered, the new, the imaginative.

That's why I guess I'll always prefer Star Trek. Swinging light sabers and blasting stormtroopers is really fun for a while, but Trek is ultimately warp speed ahead into universes unseen and unimagined. A planet of gangsters? A living machine? A Klingon battle fleet? A secret mission into the Romulan neutral zone? Pioneering a new world? From this bridge, (and with the right scale figures...), it all seemed within reach.

Truth be told, this toy is made of flimsy plastic and held together only by tiny adhesive stickers. The controls are just decals, flat and uninteresting. There are no lights, no whirring parts. And compared to Kenner's wonderful (and extremely sturdy...) Star Wars toys, this Enterprise bridge pales in comparison. And yet - again - the child who loves Star Trek knows these things don't really matter. It's what we bring to the human adventure, our imagination, that counts, and this bridge - deficits and all - is still the command center that carries our mental starships into new worlds to meet new life forms and new civilizations...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

TV REVIEW: Jericho: "Rogue River"

This episode of the promising new CBS series Jericho picks up "one month after the bombs..." as siblings Eric and Jake race to Rogue River - a nearby town - to retrieve Cipro; the medicine they require to save their father's life. Dad (the mayor...) has gone septic and his organs are beginning to shut down...

The early scenes of "Rogue River" feature some really terrible process optical work for the road scenes - as we're in the car with Eric and Jake - and I was surprised to see such fakey special effects for something so simple as a driving scene. The bad fx distracted me from the deep Eric/Jake conversation, but I got the swing of things soon enough.

There was a striking and ominous scene not long after, which found the boys driving into Rogue River and interpreting the markings (left on evacuated houses...) spray-painted by FEMA. For instance, we learn that the town of Rogue River was evacuated on 10/25; and that FEMA noted how many people they rescued in each house...and how many they found dead. This segment brought up memories for me of Hurricane Katrina, the occasion many people first learned what those symbols meant, and I credit Jericho for being dark, realistic and accurate in this regard. I can't imagine that CBS is thrilled with a mainstream series dredging up memories of a real life disaster, but I think the metaphor is apt. This is definitely a post-Katrina show...there's no help coming; and the only representative we have of the Federal government, Hawkins, may be more a bad guy than a good one, though the jury is still out.

Soon after pulling into town, Eric and Jake encounter a soldier who has been fighting mercenaries, (a squad led by actor D.B. Sweeney), and attempt to retrieve the medicine they need from Fillmore County Hospital. After a gunfight and a daring escape, however, Eric realizes that he lost his wallet in the hospital. Oopsy. The episode ends on another scary, ominous note as Sweeney's character finds the wallet and reads Eric's address: "Jericho." Okay, this is a problem, and it's clear from the ending of the episode that the mercenaries are headed to town. It looks like there's gonna be a war next week on the show...

Lawlessness and heavily armed roving gangs (an argument for fewer guns or more guns, you think?) are just two problems Jericho raises this week. Here's another: back home, there's no way for April to make the ice which is necessary to reduce the mayor's fever. His wife complains bitterly about this, "This day and can someone die of a fever?" Good question, I think. The answer in Jericho is that the school teacher remembers a science project from the previous year about how to make ice. Good thing. But I wonder, how many of us could accomplish the same task in a pinch? Without sounding mean or derisive or anything, we're all "moderners," aren't we? I mean, if we had to, could we make ice without help? How about electricity? We've become a country where everything is so easy that we don't question how we receive light, television signals, or frozen foods. I'm glad Jericho is looking at this angle of the post-apocalyptic scenario.

You know, when I was a kid, I was a tremendous fan of the Mad Max/Road Warrior movies and the Planet of the Apes saga. In very different ways, these franchises gazed at post-apocalyptic scenarios. In a way, Jericho is the TV equivalent, and a show I've always wanted to see, ever since I was a thirteen-yea- old laying in my bed at night and fearing nuclear war (especially after President Reagan's joke about outlawing Russia and "the bombing" starting in "five minutes.") This is a series that really honors its dark premise; at least so far. The longer it lasts, the more desperate the characters and situations on Jericho should become, and I hope the producers and writers are up to the task and aren't going to start candy-coating the end of the world.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The House Between Saturday Shooting

Well, Kathryn took care of Joel this Saturday afternoon, while I got down to business shooting some new scenes with actress and buddy Alicia Wood, who plays Theresa in The House Between.

I've got to say, it was weird seeing Alicia in full Theresa regalia again after a five months span, and especially in a different environment (my house, instead of the location where we shot the series). It's funny, but Alicia (much like Jim Blanton - who plays Arlo) - goes through a complete physical transformation to play the TV show character. When she becomes Theresa, Alicia takes on a whole different countenance and it's kind of Twilight Zone-ish to see her morph before our eyes.

We had a fun time, and after we shot some green screen material and two new, freshly written scenes (for episode 7, "Departed,") Alicia sat down with me to drink some red wine and do some dialogue looping at my editing station. This was a lot of fun, and I shouldn't be surprised that Alicia proved a natural at it. We would play her dialogue, watch her mouth moving on the screen, turn the sound down, and she would "synch" her dialogue to the screen.

Then, Alicia previewed the second and third episodes of the series, "Settled" and "Positioned." When we finished, I asked her what she thought of the shows and she looked at me, raised her Vulcan-type eyebrows and said
"John, you know I was just watching me the whole time..."

Master Blaster...

My friend (and, according to some - my sidekick!), Lee dubbed the Joel/grown-up combo "Master Blaster" recently, and given this gear, I'm going with that as our nickname.

Notice the radiant light behind us. No, it's not camera flash, it's the glow of ascendent fatherhood and brilliant Joelster! Little Joel's already giving me editing advice...

Monday, November 06, 2006

November Column at Far Sector

My new column at Far Sector this month takes another look at the outstanding Showtime series, Dexter, and asks the question: could sociopath Dexter Morgan be a (*gasp*) superhero?

"...from a certain point of view, Dexter Morgan might be viewed not as a sociopath, but actually—and controversially—as a super hero. In one episode, Dexter talks explicitly of wearing a 'mask,' much like Batman or The Flash. Dexter also boasts a secret identity as an avenger, much like the Caped Crusader; one that he rigorously hides. By day he’s mild-mannered Dexter Morgan, by blackest midnight, he’s a Dark Knight of sorts, cleaning up the city of human refuge. Dexter also incorporates the “outsider” perspective of Superman (existing outside humanity and thus being able to comment on it). Finally, Dexter has dedicated himself to the eradication of evil and the pursuit of justice, the very mission of the super hero archetype.

We’ve all heard the proverb that “justice is blind.” To be blind, we must put aside our emotions right? Justice isn’t about passion…that’s just revenge. Dexter is ideally suited to mete out justice because he doesn’t feel love or hate, amity or enmity. No, he is unclouded by such human concerns…and therefore perfectly placed to police us. He is unbiased.

And yet Dexter’s a murderer and a monster. So is he good or evil? He is an evildoer who does good? It’s hard to say, but these are the questions you’ll ask yourself while watching Dexter...."

Check out the rest of the column here