Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sci-Fi Cityscapes #6: New Chicago, circa 2491 AD (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century;1979 - 1981)




Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Land of the Lost: "Abominable Snowman" (November 6, 1976)



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

The Forsaken Returns!



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

X-Files 20th Anniversary Blogging: "Squeeze" (September 24, 1993)



“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.

This guy.

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.”

The X-Files Trailer: "Squeeze"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pop Art: Dapol Doctor Who Edition
















Collectible of the Week: 2-XL (Mego Corp; 1978)


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

Tell Jokes
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.
Play standard 8-track cartridges as well as 2-XL Cartridges.





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

Late Night Blogging: Demonic Possession Movies
























Cult-Movie Review: The Possession (2012)



The Possession (2012), from producer Sam Raimi and Nightwatch director Ole Bornedal utilizes a “true story” scenario as the basis for its horrifying tale of demonic possession.  In particular, the story of a diabolical “dibbuk” (demon) box came to light some years ago when the owner of the box attempted to sell it on E-Bay, apparently fearing for his safety and life. 

The dibbuk box (or wine cabinet, actually…) has since been the subject of TV specials and a book, and the tale certainly makes for some good copy in relation to The Possession.  As I’ve written before, the old horror gimmick of intimating that a story is true increases considerably a production’s sense of immediacy and urgency.

What interests me most about this “true” story is the manner in which we allow items such as the “cursed” dibbuk box gain traction or power over our imaginations.  While I was writing this review, for instance, the computer cord to my wife’s computer, half-way across the office, fell suddenly from her desk and hit the wood floor.  And when I looked back at my computer keyboard, five ants were crawling on it...something that has never happened to me in my life.  Then just now, as I proofread this review, my laptop’s screen went black for a moment for no apparent reason.

Did these strange events occur because I was daring to write a review of The Possession?  Or did they occur because my cat Lila, unseen by me but present in the room, knocked down the wire?  Because I had finished eating my lunch a few minutes earlier and left some crumbs near the keyboard?  Because I’m writing on Microsoft software and hell, it’s always glitchy?

My only point here is that once you become convinced that something sinister boasts an influence over you and the events around you, it’s really easy to gaze at all succeeding facts as evidence of that theory.  Is the dibbuk box actually cursed with some kind of ancient malevolent power?  Or do we create the negative vibe from our own fearful imaginations and blame the box?

I only wish The Possession would have tread more deeply into this idea instead of going for a kind of boiler-plate demonic possession narrative and structure.  The movie would have been a lot scarier, actually, had it attempted some level of ambiguity about what was really to blame for the dark events in the lives of the central characters.

But because The Possession is so straight-forward, horror lovers may be disappointed with the film.  It is relatively tame in terms of action and violence, so much so that is rated PG-13, not R.  And if one is familiar at all with the general outline of demon possession films, The Possession follows that pattern with relatively little variation, surprise, or ingenuity.

That structure goes something like this. A nice family is shocked and horrified when a child begins acting strangely. The behavior worsens, and science can’t help, so religious authority is brought in to exorcise the demon inside.  The exorcism succeeds one way or another (by vanquishing the demon and/or directing the demon to another body), and then the young person is restored, and the family healed too.

Certainly, that’s the pattern of The Exorcist, and just because The Possession involves Hebrew spirits and religious material, that doesn’t differentiate the material to a substantial or meaningful degree.  Therefore, The Possession is relatively safe in terms of the scares it presents, and since the horror genre is about pushing decorum and boundaries, that’s a problem. 


The Possession stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Clyde, a man who has recently divorced, but who doesn’t want to be divorced.  His wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgewick) has left him in favor of a smarmy dentist, Brett, played as if a closet sociopath by Grant Show.  Clyde moves into his lonely new house, and sees his two daughters, Emily (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport) only on the weekends.

One weekend, Clyde and the girls visit a yard sale, and Emily buys the aforementioned dibbuk box.  After the strange box is opened and strange relics -- including a human tooth, a ring and a moth -- are found inside, Emily begins to act strangely.  She reports at one point that she doesn’t even feel like herself anymore. 
At first, Clyde and Stephanie blame their divorce for Emily’s increasingly anti-social behavior.  But before long, Clyde is certain that the strange Hebrew box has released a demon, one that is possessing his youngest daughter.  Clyde enlists the help of a Jewish rabbi’s son, Tzadok (Matisyahu) to expel the demon.

When he can’t do so immediately, Clyde invites the demon to take him and release Emily…



The Possession strikes upon a workable metaphor or sub-text involving the family and demonic possession, and in some sense, that’s the most intriguing aspect of this horror film.  In particular, The Possession really concerns divorce, and the impact of divorce upon young children. 

Emily is deeply depressed by her parents’ separation, and though her violent, anti-social behavior is ultimately attributed to the exorcism, it could clearly be attributed to her unsettled family life as well.  At one point, her high-school principal comments on how Emily no longer finds joy in learning, and has grown distant from her friends.  That doesn’t sound like demonic possession so much as it does depression.  

Viewed in this light, The Possession is about a splintered family that learns to act as a unit again, and save one of their own from darkness.

The problem, of course, is that this metaphor clearly has no merit in terms of the film’s presentation.  The audience has no doubts about Emily’s problem, given the ridiculous prologue, which features the dibbux box pounding and abusing an old woman. 

The relative predictability of the character responses, especially the obligatory disbelief of the mother, who would rather believe that her husband is beating her daughter than countenance the prospect of something supernatural, also poses a problem in terms of predictability.  Even the film’s final sting in the tail/tale -- which allows room for the dibbuk box to return and haunt another family in the inevitable sequel -- seems familiar to horror movies from here to eternity. It’s all just a bit pro-forma, or pre-packaged.

The scariest scene in The Possession is not the exorcism itself, which fails to improve on the gold standard, dramatized in Friedkin’s 1973 film, but rather an apparently routine visit to the hospital.  While Emily undergoes an MRI scan, Stephanie and Hannah see visual evidence of the demon lodged inside her, living in her chest.  There’s actually a demonic creature hiding in there, and it looks absolutely terrifying. 

The scene is so effective because we all, perhaps secretly, long for science to provide us concrete proof of things that go bump in the night.  Here, even science backs up the tale of demonic possession.  Of course, there’s no narrative follow-up.  The MRI pictures aren’t presented to the world to prove the existence of demons.



For every mildly effective moment like the MRI scan sequence, The Possession features several that don’t work.  For instance, at one point Brett is struck with the dibbuk box curse.  His mouth begins to bleed and his teeth suddenly fall out.  He staggers to his car and drives away, conveniently never to be seen again. 

What happened to him? Where did he go?  What does he believe now? The film doesn’t even feature a throwaway line indicating that “Brett is gone, and not coming back.”   In other words, he’s a convenient foil for Clyde early in the story, when the patriarch is separated from his family and forced to endure Brett’s presence at the head of his dinner table.  But once the family is back together, Brett is just a superfluous loose end, not to be seen or heard from again.

Also, Tzadok reveals in the third act the method by which to make the dibbuk leave Emily and return to the box.  Its name must be spoken aloud.  Yet during the actual exorcism, Tzadok fails to speak that name for a terribly long time, thus allowing the possessed Em to escape custody, and setting up a jump-scare scene of Clyde wandering in the dark, in search of her (in a morgue, of all places).

Given the real-life particulars of the dibbuk box, the story in The Possession just isn’t terribly interesting, stimulating, or surprising.  The film is well-made, well-acted and well-scored, but also almost completely lacking in scares and invention.   In the final analysis, The Possession just can’t exorcise the searing memory of Friedkin and Blatty’s The Exorcist, which even forty years later remains a landmark film in the genre.

Movie Trailer: The Possession (2012)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Late Night Blogging: Horror Films set in the Court Room










Ask JKM a Question #62: The Xenomorphs in Prometheus?



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

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Trial/Court Room


A court room of the 23rd Century.
It's strange to consider, but Perry Mason (1957-1966) -- a golden age TV series involving a 20th century defense attorney played by Raymond Burr -- has proven one of the biggest and long-lasting influences on science fiction TV series.

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. 

During the course of the trial, Shaw presents incontrovertible computer evidence against the good captain.  Kirk choked at a crucial moment, according to the computer testimony, and ejected Finney's pod before a true emergency existed...thus killing Finney. The cost of this error: Kirk's command.

But the beleaguered Captain Kirk retains a delightful, book-loving defense attorney named Cogley (Elisha Cook) -- think of a "cog" in a wheel -- who dynamically makes the case about Kirk's primary accuser, an inhuman, unfeeling computer.  He puts a stop to the steam-roller of injustice by throwing himself into the proceedingsL

"The Bible, The Code of Hammurabi, and of Justinian, Magna Carta, The Constitution of the United States, Fundamental Declarations of the Martian Colonies, The Statutes of Alpha III. Gentlemen, these documents all speak of rights," Cogley asserts in a dramatic presentation.  "Rights of the accused to a trial by his peers, to be represented by counsel, the right of cross-examination. But most importantly, the right to be confronted by the witnesses against him; a right to which my client has been denied.

Furthermore, Cogley states: "I speak of rights! A machine has none. A man must. My client has the right to face his accuser, and if you do not grant him that right, you have brought us down to the level of the machine! Indeed, you have elevated that machine above us! I ask that my motion be granted. And more than that, gentlemen. In the name of Humanity, fading in the shadow of the machine, I demand it. I demand it!"

"Humanity fading in the shadow of the machine," that's what this futuristic tale of the legal system is really all about; the notion that our technology -- even in the happy Starfleet of the 23d century -- is on the verge of diminishing us; diminishing the human race. 

Though later Star Treks have by and large abandoned this conceit in favor of "Technology Unchained", the Original Series of the 1960s frequently involved planetary cultures "controlled" by computers, and the resulting enslavement of the human populations at those locales ("Return of the Archons," "The Apple," "For The World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky.") 

On occasions such as "Court Martial," and later "The Ultimate Computer," Kirk's position as starship captain is explicitly threatened by technology, by "the machine."  The specific question of "Court Martial" is one that it is not hard to imagine in our near-future.  Who programs the computers that might be used to give testimony against us?   What are their agendas, and do the computers reflect those agendas?  Computers can be manipulated -- if there's a will, there's a way -- so who is to say they can bear impartial witness?  Just because a machine lacks emotions and subjective, "human" attachments, that does not mean it can detect the truth; or prove itself objective.  Does it?

Star Trek returned to the milieu of the legal trial for the two-parter "The Menagerie," which saw Mr. Spock threatened with the last death penalty still on Starfleet books.  There was another trial too, in "Turnabout Intruder," during which Spock was tried for mutiny when a usurper, Janet Lester, appropriated Kirk's body.  Even Scotty (James Doohan) himself was accused of murder, and required defense, in the second season episode of the series, "Wolf in the Fold."

In these cases, the court-room milieu was largely utilized as a means to leading viewers through a dramatic mystery.  Why would an advanced society still have the death penalty on the books?  Encoded in the answer we learn what Starfleet and the Federation deeply fears, and where it expects to experience that fear, Talos IV. 

In the case of "Wolf in the Fold," Mr. Scott is held in custody and Kirk must prove his innocence, but again, it's a mean to an end, a "whodunit."  In this case, the culprit is actually Jack the Ripper and -- surprise -- he gets inside the Enterprise's main computer...where he can really do damage. Once more, technology proves the focal point for conflict; whether threatening Kirk's command or housing the Eternal Spirit of Evil.

Solon (Brock Peters) vs. Boomer (Herb Jefferson, Jr.)
Glen Larson's Battlestar Galactica (1978 - 1979) postulated alien "brothers of Man" from a distant galaxy.  These humans hailed from a system of Twelve Colonies, and considered Earth to be the lost Thirteenth Colony.  In other words, as expressed by the series, the Colonials and the Terrans share a common, root culture. 

This conceit or leitmotif is played throughout the series with names of people, places and technology that suggest a shared mythology or history.  Characters are named Adama ("First Man"), Apollo (after the Greek God), etc.  Villains are named Lucifer, Iblis, and Baltar (after Baal).

In "Murder on the Rising Star," which first aired on ABC on February 18, 1979, the Colonial legal system is displayed for the first and only time on the space opera series.  In particular, Lt. Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) is accused of murdering Wing Sergeant Ortega (Frank Ashmore) after a game of triad, and prosecuted by the most experienced "Opposer" in the fleet, Solon (Brock Peters).  Apollo (Richard Hatch) and Boomer (Herb Jefferson Jr.) act as Starbuck's defense team ("Defenders") while Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) acts as the judge in the case.

What's most interesting in this "mystery" about who really killed Ortega is, again, how that conceit of connecting Earth mythology to our "Brothers" in space is applied.  For instance, Solon is a famous name from Greek history.  The archon Solon, who lived cira 600 BC was known as one of the Seven Wise Men of Ancient Greece, remembered for ending enslavement as a means of paying debt, and for splitting the Athenian population into four classes based on wealth.   Importantly, Solon was also a lawmaker presiding over Athens in a time of perceived moral bankruptcy or decline.

In "Murder on the Rising Star," this Solon has taken on the task of punishing the guilty, those who have transgressed against the moral code of the Colonies.  Unfortunately, he targets the wrong man. The idea here is of Solon as perhaps too zealous a crusader against moral bankruptcy.

Also, as I pointed out in my book, An Analytical Guide to Battlestar Galactica, the solution to the mystery in "Murder of the Rising Star" involves landing Starback between two criminals: Baltar and a man named Charybdis, another name from Greek myth.  In myth, Charybdis was a treacherous whirlpool which devoured any and all unsuspecting sea vessels that happened by.  In this case, Charybdis is just as destructive a personal force: a man who hatches a scheme for murder and nearly takes down the innocent Starbuck with him.

Finally, this episode of Battlestar Galactica today plays as cliched.  For instance, Commander Adama. sitting as a judge, even gets to say that Starbuck's defense (as managed by Apollo) is "highly irregular" that wonderfully cliched line of all TV and movie judges, through the last hundred years of cinema and television.


Buck Rogers' memories are used against him in a court of the future.
An episode of the second season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) reveals that due process, and specifically the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution don't survive beyond the Holocaust in the year 1987. 

The Fifth Amendment declares, in part, that  no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself," and that's the portion I shall refer to here.

In "Testimony of a Traitor," a twentieth century videotape found in the ruins of Anarchia incriminates Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard), suggesting that he was actually part of a cabal of nuclear hawks in the 1980s and therefore played a critical and specific role in starting World War III. 

Aboard the Searcher, no one believes that Buck could be responsible for genocide, but the videotape seems convincing.  To clear his name, Buck uses Dr. Goodfellow's (Wilfrid Hyde-White)  "memory probes" to determine what happened to him, and his own memories are used as evidence against him on trial -- actually played on the screen as if a live video feed  This is a clear violation of the principle of the Fifth Amendment, but I guess Buck didn't have many options open to him.

In the end, Buck's memories reveal that he was actually a double-agent, infiltrating the cabal at the behest of the U.S. president, and all charges against Buck were subsequently dropped.  But still, he bears witness against himself, appearing guilty, until the trial "reaches" the memories that prove exculpatory.


Even in the 24th century, truth is a matter of perspective.

One of best the most influential Japanese films of the twentieth century is Rashomon (1950), directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa.

The film tells the tale of two terrible, criminal acts: the rape and murder of a woman, and the ensuing death of her samurai husband.  During the course of the film, the events of the rape and possible murder are recounted four times, from  four different perspectives.

The first time the story is depicted, we see it as the bandit (Toshiro Mifune) -- the accused -- remembers the events. 

The next time,  the rape victim, the samurai's wife, recounts the story as she remembers it. 

Then, oddly, the story is recounted a third time by a supernatural medium who claims to be channeling the Samurai's spirit.  Finally, a kindly woodcutter -- a legitimate eyewitness -- tells the story, in the least biased presentation of the bunch.

One of the great and enduring qualities of Rashomon is that it artfully suggests that there is no such thing as objective truth.  Eyewitnesses may be more or less impartial, but in the final analysis, everyone is a prisoner to his or her own sense of perspective.  We all view the world through our own eyes, and we cannot escape that limited viewpoint, no matter how hard we try.  The stories depicted in the film are personal accounts that may be lies, but may also, simply, be how the percipients remembered them.  Those memories may be self-serving, but aren't all memories, at least to some degree, self serving?

In its third season, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 - 1994)  unexpectedly adapted Rashomon to its format as an epiosde titled "A Matter of Perspective."  Here, jovial Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is accused of murder after a visit to Botanica Four, a research space station over Tanuga Four.  The victim is Dr. Apgar, who dies in an explosion right after Riker departs the facility.

Captain Picard takes up Riker's defense, and the story of Riker's visit to the station -- and his alleged entanglement with Apgar's wife, Manua -- is recreated several times using that wonder of Star Trek technology, the holodeck

In this case, we get the testimony of Cmdr. Riker, Dr. Apgar, and his female assistant.  But disappointingly, and rather determinedly unlike the cinematic source material, the mystery on TNG is resolved without real questions of viewpoint or world view. We learn that one man. the victim (Apgar), was duplicitous and corrupt,  and that he brought on his unfortunate death himself. 

Accordingly, the "lesson" of Rashomon is lost here and easy, spoon-fed answers substituted for human truth.  But at the very least, "A Matter of Perspective" suggests an interesting new technology to be used in court rooms: virtual reality re-creations, like those seen on the Enterprise holodeck.  In this manner -- with the right data input (though it could be suspect, as "Court Martial" suggests) -- a crime scene and indeed a crime itself could be re-created for juries and judges.


Other series over the years have also seen heroes entangled in difficult, alien-seeming court-room systems.  In the mid-1980s, Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor was tried by the Gallifreyans -- his own Time Lord people -- in the season-long Dr. Who serial "The Trial of a Time Lord."  There, he was prosecuted by a twisted future incarnation of himself, "The Valeyard" (Michael Jayston).  It turns out, the Doctor is actually being framed for a crime committed by his people, and his old enemy the Master, proves to have some knowledge of that in a later episode.  Interestingly, and in keeping with his Time Lord nature, the Doctor presents as exculpatory evidence an adventure from the future; one that has not yet occurred ("Terror of the Vervoids.")

Green Lantern, John Stewart, was similarly famed for a crime he did not commit -- the destruction of a planet -- in the November 19, 2001 Justice League episode "In Blackest Night."  As is often the case in these court-room stories, one of the accused's most staunch allies plays the critical role of attorney/defender.  We have seen Captain Apollo, Captain Picard and other heroes take this particular assignment, and in this superhero episode, it is The Flash who serves as John's attorney and tries save his friend from a frame-up and conspiracy.

In 1994, Star Trek Deep Space Nine also featured an episode about a court-room trial, "Tribunal."  There, Chief O'Brien (Colm Meaney) ran afoul of the Cardassian legal system, a Kafka-esque labyrinth in which the edict "guilty until proven innocent" thrives. 

Again, a heroic Starfleet officer, Commander Sisko (Avery Brooks) stepped in to prevent a miscarriage of justice and defend his friend.  And -- as in the case of Starbuck and Green Lantern -- it was learned that O'Brien had been framed. 

Just once, wouldn't it be cool to find out that a Starfleet Officer or other white knight really was guilty of the crime he had been accused of?

Perhaps one of the best uses of the trial, court-room format came in the year 2002 as Chris Carter triumphantly ended his long-running series, The X-Files.  There, in the final episode, "The Truth," Carter used the milieu of the court room (and Fox Mulder's trial) to link together almost ten years of clues, events, and characters from the program's intricate conspiracy.