Friday, August 19, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

"The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too."

- Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Today brings us to the final installment of the summer-long Cameron Curriculum, this blog’s examination of all James Cameron’s movies from 1984 through 2009. The subject of today’s review is Terminator 2: Judgment Day, an immensely popular 1991 genre film that even twenty years later boasts a very positive reputation.

While never the lean, ruthless thrill machine that its blockbuster 1984 predecessor was, Terminator 2: Judgment Day boasts other delights.   For one thing, it continues  the story of the frequently imperiled Connors with stirring intensity and amazing pyrotechnics and stunts.  And -- perhaps more significantly -- it provides the genre one of its most amazing and influential villains: Robert Patrick as the T-1000, a shape-shifting, CGI-morphing leviathan.

I still vividly recall seeing this film theatrically in 1991 and being blown away not just by Patrick’s steady, focused performance, but also by the elaborate and confident special effects presentation of the character. 

Patrick carries his strength not merely in his narrow, athletic form (a far cry from the bulging, overly-muscular Schwarzenegger) but in his predatory, all-seeing eyes, which showcase enormous power and drive.

If Robert Patrick were not completely convincing in his role, this movie wouldn’t work, plain and simple. But he’s up to the task, and thus creates a classic villain. A true testament to his powerful presence is the fact that throughout the film, Arnold truly seems imperiled and outclassed by his enemy.  Given Arnold's size and weight advantage over Patrick, that's an astounding accomplishment.

In terms of mechanics, the T-1000 was created through the twin techniques of morphing and warping.  Morphing is described as the "seamless transition" between two images or shapes, and generally uses points in common (like the shape of a nose, or a mouth...) as the basis for the transition. 

In the early 1990s, these visual fx techniques became the de rigueur effects in genre films, appearing in such efforts as Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) and Sleepwalkers (1992). Although morphing can apparently be traced all the way back to the 1980s and ILM work in The Golden Child (1986) and Willow (1987), Terminator 2: Judgment Day represents, perhaps, the finest and most meticulous utilization of the pioneering technique, again placing Cameron at the vanguard of technical achievement.

Comparing The Terminator to Terminator 2, one can see that the sequel -- while still a serious film obsessed with fate and man's self-destructive tendencies -- is remarkably less bleak in tone.  As the quotation at the top of this review indicates, a sense of " hope" permeates the sequel. 

Notably, Cameron also mines the Terminator character (Arnold's, I mean) for laughs.  The T-800 (ed's note: thanks Grifter!) is the proverbial fish-out-of-water, unable to understand key aspects of the human equation, including how to smile, or why human beings cry.   This set-up fits in very well with Cameron's career-long obsession with the outsider; the person unfamiliar with a world/class system who steps in and attempts to navigate it, all while simultaneously pointing out its deficits.  The outsider can be social gadfly or observer, and reveal a new perspective about the film's dominant coalition (Ripley as the non-marine/non-Company exec in Aliens; Jack a Dawson lower-class passenger on the Titanic, etc.).

Although much of the  material involving Arnold's new Terminator character is indeed very amusing, particularly the actor's gloriously deadpan delivery of modern colloquialisms ("No Problemo," "Hasta la vista..."), some of this fish-out-of-water material feels very much like left-overs from Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

It's not so evident today, but at the time of Terminator 2's release, I was shocked at just how much the Terminator's journey towards humanity appears to mirror and reflect Lt. Data's (Brent Spiner) odyssey on that TV series, which ran from 1987 - 1994.  It's a very intriguing dynamic: Gene Roddenberry acknowledged that Data's spiritual parents were Questor (from The Questor Tapes) and Bishop in Cameron's Aliens (1986).  Here, turnabout is fair play and Data is certainly a spiritual predecessor to the T-101, only one assuredly less prone to bloody violence. 

Yet, interestingly, Star Trek: The Next Generation never rigorously established a thematic motivation behind Data's obsession with the human race, and becoming "human."  Audiences were left to infer that the character felt this ongoing fascination because his creator was human, or because he served with humans in Starfleet. Data wanted to more like those he was "with,"  in other words, a fact which raises the question: would he feel the same way for Klingons if they had built and/or found him? 

By contrast, in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the T-800's "learning" mechanism (his method of becoming more human) is utilized by Cameron with laser-like precision to transmit a very specific thematic point:  If a Terminator can "learn" the value of human life, than there's hope for us conflicted, self-destructive humans in that regard too. 

And once more, this lesson fits in with the film's real life historical context: 1991 was the year of the first Gulf War, the first televised war which saw the deployment of  precision or "surgical strikes" on enemy targets.  Underneath the impressive Defense Department briefings on the War -- replete with stunning camera imagery of bombs striking targets -- the truth was evident.  Our automated weapons had made a quantum leap forward in accuracy and destructive power since the Vietnam War Era.  The Terminator (and Sky Net too) thus did not seem so far out of reach, given the (automated) tech we saw deployed in Desert Storm.  Today, we are even further down that road with our automated Predator drones and the like.

In terms of theme and vision, Terminator 2 also appears obsessed with the idea of forging a positive future for the planet Earth.  Not necessarily for this generation, perhaps, but certainly for the children of the 1990s.  John Connor (Edward Furlong) is only ten years old in this film (which makes it set in 1994), and he very much becomes the focus of two distinctive parental figures: Sarah Connor, and the T-101.  Accordingly, Cameron frequently showcases images of children in the film, either fighting with toy guns, or seen at a playground that becomes -- terrifyingly -- the setting for a nuclear holocaust.

Ultimately more complex, if less driving and focused than The Terminator, T2 also derives significant energy from audience expectations; playing ably on our preconceived beliefs about the series.  And again, Cameron was on the vanguard of a movement in cinema here.  The 1990s represented the era of the great self-reflexive genre movie, from efforts such as John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness to Wes Craven's New Nightmare and the popular Scream saga.  Part of this Terminator sequel's appeal rests strongly in the creative fashion that it re-shuffles the cards of the Terminator deck to present new outcomes, and new twists and turns.  The film gently mocks the franchise and the cultural obsession with "political correctness," transforming the Terminator into a "kinder, gentler" model who only shoots out kneecaps.

"It's not everyday you find out that you're responsible for 3 billion deaths."

Facing defeat and destruction in the 21st century, SkyNet sends another Terminator into the past to destroy resistance leader John Connor. 

This time, however, the attacking machine is even more advanced than before: a T-1000 (Robert Patrick) made of "poly-mimetic" alloy and a machine that can assume the shape of any human being it physically "samples."

Fortunately, General John Connor manages to send a protector for his younger self through the time displacement equipment too, in this instance a re-programmed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). 

The T-800 is programmed not only to defend Connor from the T-1000, but to obey the ten year old's (Furlong) every command.  This quality comes in handy when the T-1000 attempts to "acquire" Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), now incarcerated at the Pescadero mental hospital, and John orders the T-800 to mount a rescue operation.

After John, Sarah and the T-800 flee the sanitarium, they must make a decision about how they intend to stop "Judgment Day," the occasion in August of 1997 when a self-aware SkyNet precipitates a nuclear war.  Key to Sarah and John's decision-making process is Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), the man working at CyberDyne Systems who develops SkyNet in the first place. 

Sarah attempts to kill Dyson in cold blood to prevent the dark future from coming to fruition, but John and the Terminator stop her and propose a different course.  They will destroy all of Dyson's working, including the prototype chips (left over from the 1984 Terminator).

The mission is successful, but Dyson dies in the attempt.  Finally, the T-1000 re-acquires the Connors, and the T-800 must put his life on the line to stop an opponent of far greater strength and abilities.  At stake is the future of the human race itself.

I know now why you cry. But it's something I can never do.

Although overly-long and somewhat heavy-handed at times, Terminator 2 still works nimbly as a  self-reflexive thriller that dances a veritable ballet on the audience’s knowledge of the first film.

For instance, as in the first film, this sequel opens with two men appearing from the apocalyptic future. One is thin and lean, and very human-looking. The other is the pumped-up juggernaut Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Because of the earlier film, viewers are conditioned to expect Schwarzenegger as villain again, and look for the Michael Biehn-ish Robert Patrick to be a sympathetic hero. Of course, the opposite is true instead.  Our pre-conceived beliefs are used against us.

Secondly, Terminator 2 takes the unlikely but clever step of transforming Linda Hamilton’s character, Sarah Connor, into a Terminator herself. I’m not referring merely to her amped-up physique, either, but rather her very life philosophy.

Here, Sarah sets out to murder a man named Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) before he can complete SkyNet, the system that ultimately destroys mankind and births the terminators. In essence then, Sarah is adopting the approach of the machines she hates so much; killing a person BEFORE that person actually commits a crime. Just as SkyNet sent back a Terminator in 1984 to murder Sarah before she gave birth to John, so does Sarah endeavor to kill Dyson before he gives birth, in a very real sense, to SkyNet. 

The implication of this approach, of course, is that Sarah -- in preparing for the future -- has sacrificed the very thing worth fighting for, her humanity itself.  Terminator 2 very much concerns Sarah's loss of humanity, and her opportunity to re-discover it, in large parts due to her son, John.   As the movie begins, Sarah is lost and overcome with pain about the future that awaits mankind.  But John ultimately teaches Sarah that it is okay to hope again, that the future is "not set," and that there is "no fate but what we make."

This sequel to The Terminator is also fascinating for the manner in which it incorporates the dominant social critique that “these films” (meaning the films of Schwarzenegger and Cameron, I suppose) are “too violent.” In Terminator 2, young John makes Schwarzenneger’s emotionless machine promise not to kill any more humans, and the compromised Terminator spends the remainder of the film shooting up cops’ knee caps. This is quite funny, and it’s deliberately on point with what was happening in the culture of the nineties.  In other words, it's inventive, unconventional and politically-correct all at the same time.  It's not the eighties anymore, and Arnold has, in a sense, been domesticated. At least a little...

Like so many horror films of the 1990s, Terminator 2 also concern the American family and the modern changes in the shape of the American family. Sarah Connor comes to the conclusion that instead of providing her boy, John, a flesh-and-blood, human father figure, the Terminator played by Arnold is the sanest answer in an insane world. The Terminator won’t grow old, won’t leave, and will never hurt John. He will always be there for the boy, she realizes, and in vetting this idea, the movie states something important about men and machines.

When more and more American families were drifting towards divorce in the 1990s or outsourcing child care to nannies and day-cares, it’s not that odd that a woman should wish for the “ultimate nanny” – an unstoppable robot – to protect her son.  This also fits with the crisis in masculinity played out in films of the era, including Brian De Palma's Raising Cain (1992).  Men of the 1990s were supposed to be sensitive and masculine, strong and sympathetic, peaceful and -- in a single instant -- relentless protectors of the family unit.  Arnie's character dispenses with such contradictory input and sticks to his programming.  He has no conflict about what he should be, even if others impose on him their own set of rules.  Still, he manages to get the job done.

Although it spends relatively little time in the post-apocalyptic future compared to The Terminator, T2 is nonetheless haunted by the specter of nuclear war, another familiar Cameron obsession. 

In this case,  no less than five views of a playground are featured in the film.  The playground is seen at peace (before the war, in Sarah's dream), in flames (during the war), and ruined (after the war), behind the prowling, murderous Terminators. 

The pervasive playground imagery reminds viewers again and again what is at stake if humans take the unfortunate and unnecessary step of rendering this planet virtually uninhabitable: the innocent will suffer.  Children do not boast ideologies or political parties, and do not care about issues like nationalism.  They are collateral damage in any such  bloody conflict, and the prominent placement of the playground -- the domain of the child -- throughout the film makes this point abundantly plain.

At one point in the film, the T-800 also gazes upon two children fighting with toy guns and notes that it is in our nature to destroy ourselves.  The idea seems to be that as children grow and develop, these tendencies towards competition and aggression emerge fully, and move off the proverbial playground into matters of politics and international confrontation.  That may be the root of our problem.

It's interesting and also telling that Cameron has the T-800 make this observation about man in relation to children, and then later has Sarah Connor voice the conceit that males only know how to destroy, rather than to create life.  This seems a little like the pot calling the kettle black given Sarah's hardcore actions in the film, and yet one can't really deny the truth of the observation, either.  Women have simply not been afforded the reins of power as frequently as have men, historically-speaking, so guilt must fall upon the male of the species more heavily for our legacy of war and destruction.  It's an unpleasant truth, but a truth nonetheless.

But yet again, that sense of hope sneaks into the movie.  John Connor -- a male child -- proves able to curb the killing instincts of Sarah Connor and the T-800 here, paving the way for what ostensibly should be a positive future.  In almost all genre films, children universally represent the opportunity for a better future or better tomorrow, and T2: Judgment Day adheres to that trend.  It is possible to change, to correct our course, but sometimes it isn't this generation, but the next that sees that potential.

I'll now state the obvious in regards to the film: The action sequences here are truly exceptional. The film’s first major set-piece, involving a truck, a motor-bike and a motorcycle in motion, is a high-point, featuring stunning stunts and seamless cutting.

The finale, in a factory and lead works also proves highly dynamic, with the T-1000’s death scene seeming like an homage to Carpenter’s The Thing

But of course -- as we know from Cameron's other films -- the magic of the director's films occurs not just in the staging of the action, but in Cameron's capacity to make the action stirring.  He makes the action affect us on an immersing, emotional level.  Here, we have characters we truly come to care about (Sarah, John and the T-800) and so we feel heavily invested in the narrative's outcome.  I'm not ashamed to admit it, but when the T-800 sacrifices himself in the lead works, I always get a bit misty-eyed.   For John, he is losing a father and a best friend.  And the T-800 has finally learned what it means to be human, and in doing so come to the conclusion that self-sacrifice is necessary.  It's a great, even inspirational ending, if one sadly marred by the cheesy "thumbs up" gesture that accompanies the beloved character's demise.

And yet, we've seen such sentimental, perhaps even over-the-top moments throughout the Cameron Curriculum, right?  This is a director who clearly works from both the heart and the head, and who, as a direct consequence, has given us some of the most exciting and most emotional moments in modern genre cinema.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see what he comes up with next...

Next Friday: We begin our look at The Matrix films!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

20 Questions for Me

Web directory, search engine and "knowledge exchange" site is currently sponsoring a new series for prominent authors called "20 questions for ...." and -- yay! -- I'm next up in the programming queue.

So, if you have any questions you'd like to ask me about writing reference books,  or specifically about Horror Films of the 1970s, Horror Films of the 1980s and Horror Films of the 1990s, this is the opportunity to pose them! 

I'll actually get to answer all twenty questions on video, which should be extremely cool... assuming I don't make a complete fool of myself in the process.

Anyway, follow this link to Reddit, and ask away! 

I'll be recording the video Friday afternoon, and responding to all your questions then.  I'll let you know when the video page is posted.

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week

"Watching John with the machine, it was suddenly so clear. The terminator would never stop. It would never leave him, and it would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there. And it would die to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine, was the only one who measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice."

- Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) 
(film to be reviewed tomorrow, right here...)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Join me on August 26 for the Desert of the Real...

"Aiming their film squarely at a generation bred on comics and computers, the Wachowskis stylishly envision the ultimate in cyberescapism, creating a movie that captures the duality of life à la laptop. Though the wildest exploits befall this film's sleek hero, most of its reality is so virtual that characters spend long spells of time lying stock still with their eyes closed." (Janet Maslin, The New York Times, March 31, 1999).

"...special kudos to the mysterious Wachowski tag team, who have created a lurid, splashy nightmare for the end of the millennium. As we grit our teeth in preparation for the Y2K computer problem, the most interesting thing about "The Matrix" is the fact that the Wachowskis see technology for exactly what it is – both our curse and our salvation." (Michael O'Sullivan, The Washington Post, April 2, 1999).

"the film is a feast of unexpected fidgets and perspectives, punctuated by trademark overhead shots and teasing detail and detour, such as the squeal of washed windows as Neo is reprimanded by his boss, or the White Rabbit subtext culminating in a glimpse of Night of the Lepus (1972) on a television...Primarily, The Matrix is a wonderland of tricks and stunts, light years from Kansas, combining computerised slow-motion with the extravagant choreography of martial-arts movies to create a broadside of astonishing images." (Philip Strick, Sight & Sound).

Our summer blogging project, the Cameron Curriculum, comes to a denouement this Friday with my review of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).  I'll be very sorry to see this series end. It's been a heck of a lot of fun, and the feedback and discussion have been extraordinary. 

Beginning, August 26 (and then continuing on September 2 and September 9), I'll next be revisiting The Matrix films (1999 - 2003).  So, if you get the opportunity before we begin, please haul out your DVDs (or blu-rays), put on your sun-glasses, and swallow the red pill.

Some aspects of The Matrix series I especially want to gaze at include the revolutionary special effects, the  trilogy's view of technology, the strong Buddhist influence underpinning the narratives and also the politically/culturally subversive material.  I'm especially intrigued by the idea, so powerful in The Matrix, of a person living two "lives" -- a real one of "drudgery"and responsibility and a romantic, heroic one of fantasy and escapism.  I'm also endlessly intrigued by Agent Smith's view of humanity, and his description of mankind as a "virus."

I've long been an ardent admirer of The Matrix (and yes,even  the much-derided sequels too, especially Matrix Reloaded...), and this will be my first time writing about the films in depth.

So I hope you'll join me starting August 26, and together we can see just how far down this rabbit hole goes...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

CULT TV FLASHBACK #139: The New Adventures of Wonder Woman: "The Boy Who Knew Her Secret" (1979)

Although producer David E. Kelley's 2011 Wonder Woman pilot starring Adrianne Palicki didn't make it to regular series status, longtime fans of the Amazonian super-heroine can continue to make do with the classic 1970s series starring Lynda Carter, currently available on DVD. 

As you may recall, this cult-tv program ran for three seasons and 59 episodes on both CBS and ABC, and went first by the name The New, Original Wonder Woman and then The New Adventures of Wonder Woman.

In its first regular series iteration, Wonder Woman was set during the World War II era of the 1940s, as Wonder Woman (Carter) and air force pilot Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner) battled the Axis Powers.  In its second, perhaps more hip iteration, the still-youthful Wonder Woman/Diana Prince returned to America during the disco decade and again allied with a man named Trevor, only this time with Steve's son: Steve Jr. (also played by Waggoner).  Like her comic-book counterpart, the TV version of Wonder Woman possessed an arsenal of fanciful weaponry, including a lasso that could make men tell the truth, and bullet-proof gold bracelets made of "feminum."  On some occasions, the TV series even utilized Wonder Woman's famous invisible plane.

In the 1970s-era stories of the final two seasons, Diana Prince worked for a top-secret government agency called IADC (Inter Agency Defense Command), and often undertook solo missions of great danger, ones involving alien invasions and other diabolical, earth-shattering threats.  She battled the Skrill and the evil Sardaur in "Mind Stealers from Outer Space" and also fought statue-makers, toy-makers and  assassins galore.  In the end, however, potential boyfriend and lover Steve Trevor became a desk bound boss like The Six Million Dollar Man's Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson), far removed from the action.   Instead, Wonder Woman occasionally teamed in the field with resourceful teenagers, or even sassy kids ("The Man Who Could Not Die.")

I watched Wonder Woman regularly as a child, and one particular episode has stayed with me ever since.  It was the May 1979 two-parter entitled "The Boy Who Knew Her Secret", and it arrived very near the end of the series run. 

This episode, written by Anne Collins and directed by Leslie H. Martinson, absolutely terrified me as a nine year old kid, though today one can easily detect how it owes very much indeed to the Body Snatchers franchise initiated by novelist Jack Finney in 1954.

In "The Boy Who Knew Her Secret," Diana Prince heads off to Crystal Lake -- no, not that one -- to investigate a strange meteor shower.  A concerned and inscrutable scientist, Dr. Jaffe warns Diana that these meteors are no mere rocks, but alien objects that have intentionally  "landed" on Earth. 

Investigating, Diana learns that the scientist's bizarre assertion is correct. Ninety-nine pyramid-shaped devices have landed in the vicinity of Crystal Lake.  When a human being comes in contact with one of these silver pyramids, he or she exchanges souls with an alien life-form trapped within the strange container.  The human soul then becomes trapped in the tiny device, unable to escape, and the alien soul gains full possession of the body. 

This exchange procedure is apparently "painless," but it certainly doesn't appear painless.  In fact, this episode is dominated by weird, almost surreal imagery of distorted human faces trapped inside the pyramidal structure.  This is the disturbing visual I recall most from when I was a child: an almost unbearable combination of terror and madness in that caged human expression

In Crystal Lake, a local high-school boy named Skip (Clark Brandon) watches helplessly as his mother and father both become possessed by the Pyramid Pod People.   No one will believe his wild story that his parents "look like" his Mom and Dad, but aren't truly human.   And again, this subplot closely mirrors various incarnations of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Even Diana herself nearly falls prey to the alien danger.  After she escapes from possession, she notes that something in the pyramid "was trying to trade places" with her, and that even she "couldn't stop it." 

Soon, Skip and Diana join forces to learn more about the nature of this threat.  It turns out that the ninety-nine alien pyramids and their masters have come to Earth to stop a more dangerous alien: a criminal responsible for the murder of 800 of them.  This alien is difficult to trace, unfortunately, because he is a shape shifter. Only by assembling all 99 separate pyramids into one huge pyramid can the Pyramid Pod People stop the shape shifter once and for all.

A bit overlong at two-parts, "The Boy Who Knew Her Secret" certainly won't win any awards for subtlety or nuance.  Every time the evil shape-shifter appears on screen, he is accompanied on the soundtrack by what sounds like an exaggerated rattlesnake hiss.   And when the alien criminal finally takes on Wonder Woman, he turns into a rather lame, curly haired cave man (wearing fur, no less), who growls like a lion.  Their final battle takes place in a barn, and guess who wins?

And yet, even today, I can see why "The Boy Who Knew Her Secret" stuck with me for all those years.

It's not just the creepy pyramid/entrapment imagery, although that's a big part.  It's that the episode successfully generates an atmosphere of intense paranoia and even scores a a few nice points about high school life at the same time. 

In particular, all of Skip's friends, and even his girlfriend, Mel, are possessed by the aliens.  Almost immediately, they exclude Skip from their new clique.  "He's not one of us," they declare, and well, that's the point.  Teen kids -- even without alien influence -- select their peers and friends, and exclude others.  It's a fact of life.  But it never feels good to be on the outside, or to be judged according to what feels like an "alien" or unknown system of merit. 

There's even a nod to the bugaboo of peer pressure in this two-part episode of Wonder Woman as unfortunate high school students are urged to "touch" the pyramids and welcome their new alien overlords.  Again, it's not subtle in any meaningful way, but the underlying idea resonates on some kind of gut level, I suppose.  We all fear being left out and being ostracized by others.  In its own way, "The Boy Who Knew Her Secret" plays on the universality of that human fear. I do know this for certain: it worked on me as a kid, and I still felt some traces of that irrational fear when I watched "The Boy Who Knew Her Secret" as an adult last week. 

This kind of thing happens a lot with 1970s TV movies and series, I would submit. Although these older productions lack what we would today term convincing special effects or even much by way of persuasive action, their weird, occasionally creepy 1970s vibe shines through.  The idea and imagery central to this episode -- human souls locked inside silver space pyramids -- is both unsettling and inventive enough to sustain at least the first hour of "The Boy Who Knew Her Secret."
Geared towards the young (and the young-at-heart), this two-part episode of Wonder Woman thrives not only on the sub textual aspects of its Invasion of the Body Snatchers premise, but on Carter's sincere central performance too. 

Obviously, Carter is an incredibly beautiful woman, but -- not unlike Lindsay Wagner on The Bionic Woman -- she manages to imbue Diana Prince with a brand of fetching openness, curiosity, and warmth.  

In other words, the actress creates an admirable, distinctive individual without relying any of the "character" trappings we today commonly associate (unfortunately) with superheroes.  She's not the victim of a tragedy.  Diana's not filled with hate and angst.  She's not on a mission of revenge, either.  Instead, Carter's Diana Prince is centered, balanced and not wholly unaware of the humor in the situations she encounters.   She has a twinkle in her eye.  These qualities somehow makes her easier to relate to and root for.

In "The Boy Who Knew Her Secret," there's clearly  a bit of wish-fulfillment going on too, as socially-awkward Skip teams up with Wonder Woman and learns the truth about her secret identity.  Every adolescent boy would love to draw the attention of a funny, smart, heroic woman like Diana, and find, quite amazingly, that she can really relate to him.  For instance, Skip pretends to be "a dummy" in school so as not to disappoint anyone.  He likens it to his own "secret identity," and Diana identifies with this facet of his character.  She too must keep her super-heroic abilities close to the vest as Diana Prince.

Many episodes of Wonder Woman suffer from a dearth of resources.  The use of stock footage is pervasive in the third season, for isntance.  And yet, certainly, the series' heart was in the right place.  What Wonder Woman seems to have definitively lacked was the presence of  a consistent, guiding intellect behind-the-scenes, a man such as Kenneth Johnson.  He toiled on competing programs such as The Incredible Hulk and The Bionic Woman and truly raised the bar for superhero series of the late 1970s early 1980s.  Lynda Carter still shines on Wonder Woman, but the stories she was sometimes forced to vet fell short of being authentically "wondrous."  "The Boy Who Knew Her Secret" is likely one of the better 1970s-styled adventures, at least, and is filled with creepy imagery that still carries an impact.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Cult-TV Faces of: The Boss

Identified by Hugh: Perry White (John Hamilton): The Adventures of Superman: "Great Caesar's Ghost."

Identified by lonestarr357: Cosmo Spacely (voice of Mel Blanc): The Jetsons

Identified by Meredith: Larry Tate (David White) of Bewitched.

Identified by lonestarr357: The Chief (Edward Platt) in Get Smart.

Identified by João Seixas: Admiral Fitzpatrick (Ed Reimers), Star Trek: "The Trouble with Tribbles"

Identified by jdigriz: General Henderson (Grant Taylor) in UFO: "Mindbender."

Identified by jdigriz: Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) in Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Identified by João Seixas: Commissioner Simmonds (Roy Dotrice): Space:1999 "Breakaway."

Identified by Meredith: Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) of The Six Million Dollar Man.

Identified by Will: Otto Palindrome (Conrad Janis) in Quark.

Identified by Meredith: Steve Trevor (Jr.) (Lyle Waggoner) in Wonder Woman.

Identified by João Seixas: Dr. Huer (Tim O'Connor): Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Identified by Will: Nathan Bates (Lane Smith) in V: The Series.

Identified by lonestarr 357: Montgomery Burns (voice of Harry Shearer): The Simpsons

Identified by João Seixas: Admiral Noyce (Richard Herd) in SeaQuest DSV.

Identified by João Seixas: Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) in The X-Files: "Anasazi."

Identified by J.D.: Frank Bach (JT Walsh) in Dark Skies.

Identified by Will: Quentin Travers (Harris Yulin) in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Helpless."

Identified by João Seixas: David Brent (Ricky Gervais) in The Office.

Identified by João Seixas: Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin) in Alias.

Identified by Hugh: Jonas Bledsoe (Miguel Ferrer): The Bionic Woman (2007)

Identified by Todd: Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman) of Smallville.