Saturday, January 26, 2013
Land of the Lost, Season Three, continues its transition -- some might call it descent -- from science fiction to out-and-out fantasy in this outing, “Abominable Snowman.” Here, a yeti-like creature comes down from the mountains in pursuit of its prey, a unicorn that Holly (Kathy Coleman) adopts as a pet and names Corny.
When the Abominable Snowman takes Corny back to its snow den, Holly and Chaka pursue, hoping to rescue the innocent animal from the carnivorous yeti. They meet the yeti face-to-face in its cave and are able to escape in time for a quick rendezvous with Jack (Ron Harper) and Will (Wesley Eure).
All throughout The Land of the Lost’s television run, the snow-capped mountains in the distance of Altrusia, on the horizon, have been visible, so I don’t have a problem believing that a creature like the Yeti (or Thapa, as Enik calls it) inhabits them. Although it is strange that he hasn’t come down from the mountains until now, I can nonetheless accept him as a new denizen. My only wish would be for a better or more convincing, more frightening costume.
Also, the Abominable Snowman as seen here seems gentle, dimwitted and not very fast-moving, so the Sleestak’s fear of it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There seems to be a pattern in these Season Three shows that goes like this: The Sleestak send a messenger -- always Enik (Walker Edmiston) -- to the Marshalls to demand that the humans solve some problem in Altrusia. Enik complies, and so do the Marshalls, and then the threat is mitigated. This is how things have gone with Malak (“Survival Kit”), Torchy (“Cornered”) and now the Abominable Snowman.
Between the bad costume for the yeti and a blooper moment in which a boom mike dips perilously into camera frame, “Abominable Snowman” isn’t the most visually-accomplished or exciting Land of the Lost episode.
That fact established, I am glad to see that Holly is again showing her independence and courage. Too often recently she has been shown simply sweeping up the temple, essentially sidelined as a “house wife” while Jack and Will do the adventuring. But here Holy takes a big risk to save her pet, and again reveals composure and grace in the presence of a monster.
I’ve written here before how, from a certain perspective, Holly is really the main character of Land of the Lost, in some way, and indeed would have been featured in the 1990s series (along with Chaka) had things gone just a little differently. Early on in the original series, we learned of her destiny to be separated from her family, and the tests Holly faces in Altrusia all seem to concern establishing her maturity and competency…in preparation for the day she joins the futuristic (human) community we learn about from her grown self in Dorothy Fontana’s brilliant “Elsewhen.”
Next week: an episode of imaginative highs and frustrating lows: “Timestop.”
Friday, January 25, 2013
Powys Media has just re-published my 2003 Space: 1999 novel, The Forsaken, which has been out of print for the better part-of-the-decade, and fetching ridiculous prices on second-hand markets. The book features a great foreword written by Prentis Hancock (Paul Morrow) and is a novel that bridges Year One and Year Two of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson spectacular.
If you visit the publisher's web page, there is now a working order link to get yourself a copy.
Also, a new novel, Children of the Gods, based on a story by Johnny Byrne and written by William Latham, has been published.
My Year Two opus, The Whispering Sea is also nearing publication, and should hopefully be released in March.
This book bridges "The Metamorph" and "The Exiles," and recounts Maya's (Catherine Schell's) first steps on Moonbase Alpha. The story also develops the ideas I laid out in my post on the blog, The Horror Mythology of Space:1999.
Please support my work in print, especially if you love Space:1999, and visit Powys Media today.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
“Squeeze” is The X-Files (1993 – 2002) first “monster-of-the-week” installment. As such, it represents a template for future entries such as “2Shy,” “Teliko,” “Hungry,” and “Alone.”
Most of these monster-of-the-week-styled outings deal with a murderous genetic mutation of one type or another, but one who -- out of some biological deficiency -- kills human beings in order to survive. This mutant pinpoints in the human physiology, then, the key to controlling its own existence and satisfying that aforementioned deficiency.
Watching the “genetic mutants” of The X-Files, it’s easy to imagine that we are gazing at the blind alleys or dead ends of human evolution. With just a little variation, we could become them, and that factor lends a certain degree of empathy to some of these tales, and to some of these monsters.
But not to Eugene Victor Tooms, importantly, who remains an opaque and monstrous presence, and one that the episode contextualizes in grand, even historic terms.
Written by James Wong and Glen Morgan, “Squeeze” apparently suffered some pretty serious behind-the-scenes tumult when it was shot, meaning that though director Harry Longstreet is credited on-screen, director Michael Katleman also conducted re-shoots of some critical sequences.
Despite the apparently-troubled production history, this early episode works splendidly, and is abundantly creepy and disturbing. In fact, “Squeeze” is likely one of the best remembered first season entries. “Squeeze’s” success as a drama and as horror piece might be measured by the fact that a sequel was produced and broadcast later in the first season (titled “Tooms,”) and that the episode essentially became the benchmark by which later monster-of-the-week episodes would be judged.
Doug Hutchison’s unsettling, focused (and largely internal) performance as the anti-social, monstrous Tooms brings genuine menace to the hour, and the final sequence set in Scully’s bathroom features some subtle but effective visual effects which ably depict the serial killer’s unique, mutant capacities.
But ultimately “Squeeze” is an important tale for The X-Files not merely because of its early placement and impact in terms of later storytelling, but because of several unique thematic conceits.
The first of these involves a kind of thesis about the nature of evil, and how a certain brand of “evil” sees the world. This thesis is forwarded mainly through the eyewitness testimony of a retired police detective, Briggs.
The second conceit involves the way that everyday bureaucracy and record-keeping rituals can actually cloud the truth, rather than excavate it. We see this idea most clearly in the details of Mulder’s investigation into Tooms’ long history. Over and over again, a man named Tooms seems to live at the same address at Exeter Street but never, before Mulder, have these records been exhumed, weighed, and connected.
The third conceit is perhaps the most crucial in terms of Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), and their rapidly blossoming relationship. On this front, one might view “Squeeze” as the story of “Scully’s Choice,” wherein she must choose between the Bureau (and old friends), and a crusade at Mulder’s side.
One selection could bring her promotion, success, and notoriety, while the other promises only epistemological honesty. She chooses the latter, and I think that says a lot about Scully as a partner and as a human being.
In “Squeeze,” Scully’s old friend and fellow agent Tom Colton (Donal Logue) asks her to consult on a difficult murder case in Baltimore. An unknown assailant has managed to break into a locked office and kill a businessman…removing his liver in the process. Scully agrees to consult on the investigation, but “spooky” Mulder’s involvement worries Colton, who is bucking for a fast promotion.
Mulder begins to suspect that the murderer is a most unusual killer: the sullen, Eugene Victor Tooms (Doug Hutchison)…a man who has resided in Baltimore, apparently, since before 1930, but who doesn’t look a day over thirty.
Mulder consults with Detective Frank Briggs (Henry Beckman), a detective who worked on an identical case decades earlier and also considered Tooms the primary suspect. Briggs likens Tooms’ brand of “evil” to that of the Holocaust, or the Bosnian ethnic cleansing.
Although it is almost impossible for Scully to accept Mulder’s theory of a nearly immortal mutant killer who kills five victims and consumes their livers every thirty years to stay alive (and young), she casts her lot with her partner, rather than with Colton, who is more interested in racking up successful collars than solving the case and honoring the victims.
Finally, Tooms -- whose strange physicality allows him to “stretches” into impossible positions -- decides to make Scully his latest victim…
|A very human brand of evil...|
Across two decades, “Squeeze” has drawn heavy criticism from those who cast the episode’s comparison of the Tooms’ murders to the Holocaust and the Bosnian conflict as either pretentious or somehow inappropriate in what is essentially a mainstream entertainment.
However, the comparison succeeds in The X-Files for a few significant reasons.
First, the comparison is explicitly made as one of Det. Briggs’ personal observations. If, as a character in the play, he makes that connection himself, based on his particular experience, who are we to judge whether he is right or wrong? The comparison is a representation of his viewpoint, based on his experience.
In their official capacity, Scully and Mulder never explicitly compare the Tooms killings to real life atrocities, though they do note that the killer’s environs create a kind of aura of death and decay.
Instead, the comparison is simply the opinion of a retired -- and very shaken -- old man…one who has lost faith in the human capacity for goodness, at least until the coda, which serves explicitly as his catharsis.
Secondly, if one chooses to compare Tooms, the Holocaust, and the horror of ethnic cleansing, there is clearly a data point in common. All the murderers -- all the perpetrators in such events -- share a common point of view: they don’t see their victims as fully human.
Instead, the victims are deemed not entitled to human dignities and freedoms because they are somehow inferior, and thus can be used/misused/abused as the “monster” in question sees fit.
It’s always much easier to hurt someone if you decide they aren’t fully human or equal. In our history this viewpoint has accounted for genocide, ethnic cleansing, slavery, prejudice, and other horrors. So I submit that this is the specific horror at the core of the Holocaust, Bosnia, and, yes, Baltimore.
What’s so intriguing about the comparison of Tooms’ bloody handiwork to these real-life atrocities is that the two historical events are very closely linked with the worst human behavior imaginable. The idea here is that Tooms may be physically different from us but he shares in common with us this human capacity for evil. Tooms is not the “monster outside” then. Instead, he is the monster with a very human nature.
One of the qualities of “Squeeze” that I very much admire is its critical look at record-keeping and bureaucracy. When I managed a metropolitan hospital’s laboratory billing department way back in the mid-1990s, I spearheaded an initiative in accurate record-keeping that insisted “registration is as important as results.”
The goal was to significantly improve record-keeping so that John Kenneth Muir wouldn’t get confused with a patient named Kenneth Muir, and that a six year old wouldn’t be mistaken for a 90-year old with the same name. The point I was attempting to make back then, in 1995, was very similar to what we see in “Squeeze.”
Tooms has left a considerable paper trail across the decades, but the elements of this trail don’t connect, and therefore can’t clarify anyone’s thinking about the investigation, save for Mulder’s. The investigation of Tooms is held hostage to the fact that paper-work is filled out, dutifully recorded on micro-film, but then never looked at again by human eyes.
Only Mulder can connect the dots (while humorously going blind at micro-film machine…), filling in the invisible connections between official documents. The global point seems to be that humans want to record and categorize everything, but that once the initial categorization is done, there is no looking back, no more thinking to be done. We see the same issue in Mulder’s manipulation of Toom’s fingerprints. The fingerprints are already on file…if only someone had the wherewithal to look…and speculate.
Is the maintenance and furtherance of databases, micro-films, and paper documents just busy-work to keep the gears of bureaucracy spinning and grinding endlessly? Does important, life-saving information disappear into archives, never again to be looked at, measured, or considered?
The information age is one of value only if data-points connect, and someone looks at the information with an engaged intellect. We see in “Squeeze” that this is one of Mulder’s gifts. The show is called the X-Files, accent on files, after all.
Last week I wrote about the epistolary quality of The X-Files; how the story is told in terms of Scully and Mulder's case reports on their PCs. Continuing this epistolary quality, "Squeeze" is able to convey its story both through newspaper headlines (see above photo) and county census records and the like (see photo below).
|Is anyone checking the records?|
In terms of the characters themselves, “Squeeze” puts Scully in the position of having to choose where she ultimately wishes to cast her lot.
Should she cast it with Colton, who is slick, successful, snarky, and wholly unimaginative?
Or should Scully cast her lot with Mulder, who is unconcerned about his reputation, but unfailingly honest from an intellectual standpoint?
|Scully has a choice to make.|
|Or this one.|
If you gaze at the images above, you can see the outlines of Scully’s choice in starkly visual terms. Colton is a man of lunch dates, meetings, and buttoned-down suits and ties. He’s a man of surfaces and superficial qualities.
By contrast, Mulder is the kind of guy who takes off that suit jacket, rolls up his sleeves, and does the hard work himself because he knows that in the vetting of hard work, answers come to the surface. Mulder may possess ideas and theories that some people consider ludicrous or insane, but he pursues his answers through rigorous investigation. He doesn’t close off any possibility (usually) and thus is intellectually honest and open-minded. Colton by contrast, does no investigating whatsoever. Instead, he just brings in Scully to write the behavioral profile he isn’t imaginative or skilled enough to craft himself.
In “Squeeze,” Scully realizes she would rather work with a guy who cares about digging for the truth, even if the truth is unpalatable, rather than a fellow who just wants check a career box and move up the F.B.I ladder.
It was important that Scully make this decision early on. The decision does two things, primarily. First, Scully’s decision isolates her. Like Spooky Mulder, she soon must live with the jokes about little green men and the like. She must also contend with the disrespect of her peers.
But her decision to commit to Mulder and his quest also locks Scully into an on-going intellectual or cerebral debate. Scully will now be present alongside Mulder to make certain that every crazy theory, every strange hypothesis, boasts a solid basis in fact, and empirical science.
All of this character development starts to cohere in “Squeeze”...and it’s only The X-Files third episode.
|The hunter sees his prey.|
In terms of horror visuals, “Squeeze” is unimpeachable. We see the impossible made convincingly manifest in Tooms physicality. We see his jaundiced, predator eyes gazing out from the darkness, and we get a great point-of-view from his (twisted) perspective. The world appears black-and-white, and his victims move in slow motion, unaware of his sinister presence.
The black-and-white photography reminds us that Tooms doesn’t see us as fully human, but as prey. And the slow-motion photography indicates that this hunter is one step ahead of his quarry, a fact we can attribute to his unique physical abilities. We move slowly, unaware we are hunted. But he moves with lightning-fast rapidity, and that’s very, very scary.
next week, The X-Files offers a brilliant genre pastiche in “Ice.”
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
2-XL is a “robot with a personality” manufactured and released by Mego Corp. in 1978. This small robot is an “electronic toy” and “comes complete with 8-track cartridge, instruction, and game booklet.”
On the box, 2-XL is described as:
THE TALKING ROBOT THAT WILL
Ask you True-False Questions
Ask you multiple-choice questions.
Tell you if you are right or wrong.
Give you the correct answer.
Give you more information on different subjects.
Play games with you and your friends.
A whole range of “additional 2-XL tapes” were also available at local toy stores of the day including.
Sports: “For the sports fan in the family, 2-XL sports tape is programmed for exciting questions, jokes, riddles on all sports, football, basketball, baseball, hockey, water sports, etc. Test your knowledge against the coach, ‘Uncle Brainy.’”
Games and Puzzles: “A tape of funny and challenging games and puzzles for the entire family complete with game book. Various levels of difficulty. Great for parties or those rainy days.”
Guinness Book of World Records: “What was the longest frankfurter ever made? Who was the shortest woman who ever lived? What was the world’s hopscotch record? Hundreds of challenging questions from the Guinness Book of World Record for hours of fun.
Science Fiction: “For science fiction, Superhero lovers. Includes jokes, facts on fictional characters, superheroes, and famous science fiction characters.”
Metric System/Education: “2-XL introduces your family to the Metric System. In his own special way, 2-XL ‘educates’ and amuses as he translates the metric system into ‘English.’ A must tape for all members of the family before those speedometers change to kilometers. And square yards into square meters.”
Interviews with Great People from History: “Did you ever chat with Alexander the Great, or Daniel Boone? Let 2-XL introduce you to the great personalities of history in the most fascinating Talk Show ever.”
Monsters, Myths and Legends: On the trail of Bigfoot, Dracula and Frankenstein, 2-XL encounters the scariest monsters of all time. It’s spine-tingling adventures ahead in our ghostly gallery of myths and legends.”
50’s and 60’s Nostalgia: 2-XL turns back the clock to the fabulous fifties and sixties as he tests your knowledge of intriguing trivia – Elvis, the Beatles, the Brooklyn Dodgers and Gunsmoke to name a few.”
Other cassettes included Astronomy/2-XL in Space, Believe This or Not, Adult Games and Puzzles, Animal World, Storyland: 2-XL and the Time Machine, U.S. Presidents and American History and The Basics of ABC’s.
The wondrous and boxy 2-XL, who came equipped with a voice that sounds like Lou Costello’s, was re-modeled in the 1980s to be less boxy, and somehow less fun.
Below you’ll find TV commercials for 2-XL in both of his incarnations.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Monday, January 21, 2013
A reader, Skeptical Gnostic, writes:
“Hi Mr. Muir, I wanted to know your thoughts on a Prometheus theory I have.”
“Now, the evolution of the xenomorph still hasn’t been explicitly explained (yet), but really, to retain a sense of mystery that was robbed in sequels, all we needed to know was that it evolved from simple beginnings at one point in time; the crew in Prometheus merely set off a chain of events that the engineers already experimented with thousands perhaps millions of years prior and the parasite evolved over time to be the perfect weapon. All we saw were some missing links in the early beginnings of the xenomorph so there was more than enough to suggest that this is how they began and obviously they evolved.
Now, It’s quite clear to me and many others I've spoken to that the xenomorph evolved from worms; worms are hermaphroditic, they shed skin, they lay eggs, they have no eyes, they sense light and will move away from light...Newborn xenos are worm-like in morphology indicating their worm/hammerpede ancestry (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny), they have no eyes, they shed skin, they appear hermaphroditic and xenos are well known to be afraid of fire. Notice how the hammerpede had acid for blood? Notice how it strengthened its constriction around Milburn’s arms when it was touched? Quite obvious clues there. Over time the hammerpedes mate and lay eggs (remember there were a few swimming around in the ampule chamber) and every generation evolves; growing fingers and more efficient ways of depositing embryos inside hosts.”
“So now we know what came first; The Queen or the Egg? Neither; it was the black-goo, worms and hammerpedes. The worms and the hammerpedes are an example of the Chekhov’s Gun trope and I think the uber-facehugger (Trilobite) and the deacon are red herrings. It’s all implied right there in the film, and we see an indirect route of the process with the black goo used on human intermediaries that resulted in an uber-facehugger and a deacon xenomorph. What we see there is just common descent; in evolution may organisms share common descent if they have a common ancestor, which in the film is revealed to be the black goo. And since there are several temples on LV-223 this implies several versions of the xenomorph bioweapon.”
“Also, notice how the deacon infant wasn’t worm-like? It had no tail...Another clue was a deleted scene showing Milburn finding the shed skin of the hammerpede...Scott and co probably thought it was too obvious a clue! Worms as the ancestors of the xenomorph corresponds directly with H.R. Giger's life-cycle.”
“What do you think?”
Hi, Skeptical Gnostic. Very intriguing stuff. I noted the presence of worms in the film with avid interest, and wondered about them, so your theory definitely dovetails nicely with the details of the text.
Truly, you have struck on the thing about Prometheus I love so very much: it is open-ended enough to inspire speculation on the part of the audience. Where I have read some people complain about the fact that the film doesn’t tie up every loose end, or spoon-feed us ALL the information, I feel that many folks -- yourself included -- are absolutely inspired by the film to think about all it has to say…and all it is trying to tell us. Who are the Engineers? Is that Earth in the first scene? How does the xenomorph develop in terms of a life cycle? These are questions the film raises, but doesn’t definitively answer.
In my opinion, Prometheus is a great work of art precisely because it doesn’t fill in all the gaps, and thus leaves us the possibility (and glory) for multiple interpretations. I certainly see no reason, right off, why your theory doesn’t fit with what we see on screen, or learn from the filmmakers.
I last watched the film about two months ago, for the fifth time. But rest assured, when I watch it again next (and I will…) I’ll have your thesis close at hand, and be actively considering it!
Thanks for giving me something to think about, and obsess upon, regarding one of my favorite films.
Don’t forget to ask me your questions at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com
|A court room of the 23rd Century.|
Specifically, just about every cult TV series in history has, at one time or another, put its heroic lead character on trial.
Through almost universally wrongly accused some of these unfortunate souls have even negotiated -- perhaps in honor of Kafka -- alien and draconian brands of justice and punishment.
Seeing so many episodes featuring sci-fi heroes standing trial, decade-after-decade, franchise after franchise, you might wonder about the "why." Is it just the fact that court-room drama is intertwined with mystery...and who doesn't love a good mystery?
Or has the sci-fi court room drama become a staple of the genre because we all wonder about the shape of justice in our future, a future of new breakthroughs, no doubt. Since sci-fi deals with technology and shifting senses of morality, the sci-fi "crime and punishment" episodes from various programs really get to the heart of human nature and the human quest for justice.
In the first season of the original Star Trek (1966 - 1969), in an episode titled "Court Martial" Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is tried by Starfleet Command. The charge is criminal negligence in the death of a crewman named Ben Finney (Richard Webb). The ensuing trial is prosecuted by Kirk's old girlfriend, Areel Shaw (Joan Marshall), though certainly she should have recused herself, given the nature of the relationship with the defendant.