Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cult-TV Blogging: Star Blazers (1979) Episode #4

In this episode of Star Blazers (1979), the great ship Argo tests its wave motion engine for the first time. 

In the Central Strategy Room, Captain Avatar and his top crew strategize for space warp, described aptly in the dialogue as a “giant step across space.”  The problem, as everyone realizes is that if calculations are wrong by even a degree, the Argo could become lost forever in the corridors of the “fourth dimension.”

The region selected for the Argo’s first jump is “Area 14,” a span of territory between the Moon and Mars.  Alas, a Gamilon carrier approaches the Argo as it nears those coordinates, and Derek Wildstar launches a squadron of Argo’s small fighters to intercept it.  One ship -- Conroy’s – nearly doesn’t make it back in time to join the Argo.

The Argo succeeds on the jump, and reaches Mars in a matter of seconds.  Unfortunately, the ship is badly damaged in the jump, and the crew must undertake repairs before the Gamilons can locate the battleship and resume their bombardment.

Only 362 days remain until Earth will be destroyed…

Between this episode and the next, The Argo is getting a shakedown of sorts.  The engine is tested here at space warp capacity, and the follow-up episode involves the first deployment of the wave motion gun.  

Much of this episode consists of building tension in terms of the first space warp jump.  Mark Venture is understandably concerned and anxious, since he is Argo’s navigator, plotting the vessel’s trajectory through space/ time.  More suspense arises when Conroy is almost left behind as the countdown to space warp ticks down.  My friend SGB has written before in the comments about the “emotional component” of Star Blazers, and this scene certainly fits the bill.  Once again, as viewers we are asked to contemplate the notions of duty and sacrifice in the service of a greater good.  Captain Avatar is prepared to leave a man behind because the consequences of mission failure are, literally, global.

All these moments work well, and the moment of space warp doesn’t disappoint, either.  The episode cuts to a trippy montage of the ship crossing planes of existence, it seems.  Images of the ship in flight double and triple, and the Argo even seems to travel through the corridors of time…where it briefly meets itself.  It’s a pseudo-2001 visual “trip,” and as such, awesomely psychedelic. 

Less satisfactory, however, are the exact details of the space warp.  It is reported in the dialogue that “thousands of light years” are traversed in a matter of moments, but the Argo bafflingly emerges near (a snowy) planet Mars.  On average – because both it and the Earth move -- Mars is some 225 million kilometers distant from our world.  A light year is approximately 9.4605284 x 1012 kilometers in distance, so the Argo hardly jumped at all. 

In fact, it didn’t even jump one light year, let alone thousands, if Mars was its destination.

Now, I am not at all a person who believes that science fiction programs must be entirely scientifically accurate to be enjoyable.  In some sense, a focus on scientific accuracy over drama can take the fun and imagination out of certain narratives.  But, there should be some surface attention paid to scientific accuracy.  In other words -- just on a general level – I know that Mars is not a light year distant, let alone thousands of light years distant.

I wonder if the original Japanese series made this error in science, or if it was an error in translation to English. In other words, I wonder if in the Japanese original, the planet the Argo jumps to is not actually Mars, but rather one much more distant and far outside the solar system.

Regardless, this is a jarring mistake that raises many distracting questions.  And that, generally speaking, is my threshold of tolerance.  I’m willing to let pass a lot in the name of entertainment and imagination -- I’m a die-hard Space: 1999 fan, after all -- but what does appear on screen generally shouldn’t be so amiss that it actually distracts from the narrative.

What makes the mistake worse is that in the follow-up episode, Argo travels from Mars to Jupiter in a matter of minutes without using the wave motion star drive.  The distance from Mars to Jupiter is approximately 3.18 AU or 419 million kilometers, which is greater than the distance between Earth and Mars. 

So basically the Argo space warps to travel a shorter distance (Earth to Mars) and conventional engines to traverse a longer one (Mars to Jupiter). Again, I ain’t a science expert, but I know enough about space to be distracted by all this.

Despite the goof, I still have “faith” in what Star Blazers is “doing,” to borrow a line from Derek Wildstar.  In particular, I’m enjoying the series as momentum builds, and the Argo passes one crucial test after the next as it begins its long journey.  


  1. Donald G12:44 PM

    John: It's good to see you continuing with this project. On the "thousands of light-years" goof - I suspect that it was more than just an error in translation, but that the offending line was invented out of whole cloth by the good folks at Griffin-Bacall, the advertising agency responsible for localizing the first two series of SB Yamato as Star Blazers.

    While I was unable to find a fansub of episode 4, I do have the officially released subtitled version of the movie compilation of the Quest for Iscandar. The offending line isn't there, but since the movie is heavily edited, that conclusion can't be definitive.

    The "tell" however that leads me to believe the line was never there in the original version is that we only see the back of Venture and Wildstar's heads looking out at Mars through the window when the line is delivered. There is no dialogue over the similar shot in the movie compilation.

    There's a lot of quiet sequences in the Japanese version where the creators rely upon the visuals to get the message across that are covered by dialogue in the American version. I strongly suspect that this is one of those instances.

  2. Anonymous2:25 PM

    John good points regarding the technology use in your episode 4 review and thank you for the acknowledgement of my prior comments.