Saturday, May 12, 2012
Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Flies (September 11, 1976)
aired on Saturday mornings beginning September 11, 1976 and ran for fifteen 22-minute episodes. Like many science fiction TV efforts of the time, it was rather determinedly a “” program; meaning that each week, the diverse protagonists traveled (usually by a ground vehicle; sometimes on foot…) to a new and strange civilization.
Basically, it was all over again, only without the U.S.S. Enterprise and outer space as useful backdrops. With some variation, the format was seen in The Starlost (1973), Planet of the Apes (1974), and in the 1980s program to name a few examples. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry himself had attempted to take the civilization of the week formula to new heights with and , two made-for-tv movie/backdoor series pilots from the early 1970s.
Although airing during America’s optimistic bicentennial year, was set in the new Dark Ages of 25th century, and focused on a large, impressive, high-tech tank-like vehicle, the Ark II, which traversed the wasteland in order to aid the survivors of an environmental disaster. In a hold-over from the popular youth movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ark II’s crew is described in each week’s opening narration as a “highly trained crew of young people.”
The first episode of is entitled “The Flies.” Written by Martin Roth and directed by Ted Post, it finds Captain Jonah recording his log entry numbered 1444. The Ark is patrolling Sector 83, Area 12, investigating a gang called “ that is responsible for “ .” The assignment: bring “ ” and “ ” into their lives. The name “The Flies” conjures images of William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies (1954), which also concerned a society of children.
Unfortunately for Jonah, the Flies – an interracial gang of youngsters – are entirely loyal to their leader, a rapscallion named Fagan and a scoundrel played by the one-and-only Jonathan Harris, Lost in Space’s Dr. Smith. Fagan is named after Charles Dickens’ famous Oliver Twist character Fagin, a “receiver of stolen goods” and man who encourages a life of crime in children, turning them into thieves. In Ark II’s “The Flies,” Fagin and his group of thieves discover ancient poison gas canisters, ones that are still functional.
After capturing Jonah, Fagan takes the poison gas cylinders (and a gas mask to protect himself), and heads to the HQ of a local warlord Brack (Malachi Throne), who lives in the “ TV series and films. Fagan believes he has found “ ,” and attempts to wrest control of the warlords from Brack. Brack beats Fagan at his own game, however, and captures the Flies, forcing Fagan to forfeit his leadership,” actually the Ape City set from the live-action
Ruth, Samuel and Adam save Jonah and free Fagon and the Flies from warlord subjugation. They also retrieve and dismantle all the dangerous gas canisters without ever resorting to violence. Instead, they neutralize the gas and change it into nitrous oxide (laughing gas).
Although the series I nearly forty years old the look and production design of The main cast, for instance, wears skin-tight and attractive space-age uniforms with computerized belts and cuffs (replete with wrist communicators). One can see how this design influenced later outings, including The Motion Picture (1979). Also the exterior, post-apocalyptic set design is kind of interesting: a mix of the Old West, Vikings, and the aforementioned . Interestingly, Ark II presages the barbarity and chaos of (1981) on a TV budget and within TV restrictions.
The Ark II itself, built by the Brubaker Group, remains a remarkable piece of hardware, a life-size, operational vehicle. It looks thoroughly convincing….especially in motion. In the series, this high tech truck is equipped with a protective force field. The Ark II also billets a smaller exploratory vehicle, the fast-moving roamer.
I find it fascinating that Ted Post directed this premiere episode of Ark II. A veteran director of The Twilight Zone and Boris Karloff’s Thriller, his movie career had taken off in the early 1970s with Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and the Dirty Harry sequel, Magnum Force (1973). Given this impressive CV, it’s odd that, by 1976, Post was helming Saturday morning television. He does a good job handling the actors and action in “The Flies,” and of introducing all of the various tech, from the Ark itself, to the roamer, to Jonah’s rocket pack (which looks identical to one used on Lost in Space years earlier.)
Next week on Ark II: “The Slaves.”