Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cult-TV Gallery: Star Trek: The Animated Series - Starfleet Tech

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973 - 1974): "The Jihad" (January 12, 1974)

STARDATE: 5683.1

The U.S.S. Enterprise diverts to a small planetoid to meet with a feline alien race called the Vedala, who are believed to be the oldest space-farers in the galaxy. 

The Vedalan representative reports that an important religious artifact -- “The Soul of Alar” -- has been stolen from a warrior race known as the Skorr.  In recent generations, the Skorr have grown more docile and peaceful, but the theft of this holy relic could plunge the entire galaxy into a holy war of unparalleled dimensions.

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) are selected along with several other aliens -- including a huntress, a warrior, and a lock-pick, to recover the Soul of Alar on a geologically-unstable planet suffering “gravitic shifts” and volcanic tumults.  Already, three teams have failed to recover the relic, and this may be the final opportunity to save the galaxy.

As the search for the Soul of Alar progresses in chaotic terrain, Captain Kirk becomes convinced that there is a saboteur in his group…and he thinks he knows who it is…

“The Jihad” by Stephen Kandel is another legitimately great episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series in part because-- like “The Slaver Weapon” -- it dispenses with the typical Trek format and heads off in a new and exciting direction.  

Specifically, this episode finds Kirk and Spock leading a diverse alien task force on a distant world without the resources of the Federation to back them up, and also introduces many memorable races, most notably the inscrutable Vedala and the proud Skorr.

The final episode of Season One, “The Jihad” also takes a surprisingly adult tack in terms of its characters.  Lara, the huntress, for instance, several times expresses a physical/sexual attraction towards Kirk, and even suggests that they spend a little time alone (ostensibly to sleep together).  This isn’t exactly typical Saturday morning fare, but it is delightful.  There's even a joke made at Kirk's expense involving his previous (green-skinned) lovers.

Also, the relic thief is ultimately revealed to be T’char, a member of the Skorr race who fears that his people have, in peace, forsaken their heritage and tradition.  “We will no longer live like worms crawling on the ground…we will conquer!” He declares, wishing his people to be more than “slaves to the illusion of peace.”

T’char’s campaign to maintain his people’s cherished heritage is actually very closely echoed in Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country (1991), a film which finds Klingons conspiring with Starfleet officers to break the peace, in order to preserve the tradition of Klingon/human antagonism.  It thus seems that for every moment of progress in history, there is always someone who is arguing the opposite course: a return to convention and tradition, even if that tradition means death, destruction and war.

“The Jihad” also treads into some social commentary about religion.  

The Soul of Alar is considered so prized a relic that its loss could cause a civilized people to forsake all their progress, and all their civilization, and plunge the quadrant into thoughtless war.  And yet that relic is just a thing.   

In today’s world, alas, there are clearly religious people who feel the same way.  All across the globe, certain sites and certain land are considered holy, so much so that people are willing to kill and die to own it.  But again, what we're talking about here is soil and grass, stone and water.  Is it worth ending life over?

Thus, in the tradition of many great Star Trek installments, "The Jihad" suggests the essential irrationality and even immorality of religious thinking; that it is okay to take life in the name of God.  That possessing a piece of land is a superior value to "loving your neighbor."

Next week, season two of Star Trek: The Animated Series commences with “The Pirates of Orion.”

Friday, August 16, 2013

Cult-Movie Review: Wing Commander (1999)

Chris Robert’s revolutionary space battle simulation video game Wing Commander took the world by storm more than twenty years ago, in 1990.  

At the time of its release, the game earned Computer Game World’s “Overall Game of the Year” award and numerous other hosannas. 

In short, the Wing Commander game landed the intrepid player in the pilot’s seat of a space fighter for a “World War II in outer space” scenario. Your mission: to help the Terran Confederation defeat the villainous aliens, called Kilrathi.  Your base of operations: The space carrier, Tiger’s Claw.

The 1999 movie  -- directed by game designer Roberts himself -- adapted the world of the popular video game to the silver screen, but didn’t fare nearly as well as the acclaimed game had.  In fact, critics were downright savage.

Meanwhile, Athima Chansanchai at Village Voice concluded that Wing Commander falls far short of its legacy and gets sucked into a gravitational cesspool of sci-fi clichés.”

In broad terms, this 1999 space battle film was criticized on every point from lighting to acting to special effects and dialogue.  The result was a soon-to-be notorious box office bomb. Wing Commander ultimately grossed only eleven million dollars or so against its budget of thirty million.

I’ve been reviewing 1990s space adventure films here on the blog of late (Generations [1994], Stargate [1994], Lost in Space [1998]) so I was hoping to return to Wing Commander and find an unexpected diamond-in-the rough, an under appreciated genre film that, in some fashion, might be rehabilitated upon closer inspection. 

Unfortunately, a second viewing reinforced my negative memories about the film. Despite some interesting and unique visuals, Wing Commander feels insular and confused, and some of the performances are authentically terrible, made exponentially worse by the legitimately risible dialogue The New York Times complained about.  That established, some of the visuals (set in space) are skillfully vetted.

If you want to play at being a fighter pilot I suggest you find a virtual fun zone.”

In the distant future, man is locked in a deadly space war with a race of feline space predators called The Kilrathi.  A Kilrathi fleet attacks a Terran Confederation outpost in space and steals the installation’s precious Pegasus Navcom A.I. computer.  With this tool, the Kilrathi can determine jump coordinates for the Sol System and Earth itself. With one attack, they can bring the space war to a terrible end.

Realizing the entire human race is jeopardized, Admiral Towlyn (Warner) decides to get a message to the nearest ship  in range of the damaged installation, Tiger Claw, via a courier: the half-human/half Pilgrim pilot Christopher Blair (Prinze Jr.).  Blair is currently serving aboard the Diligent, a ship under command of the enigmatic Captain “Paladin” Taggart (Tcheky Karyo).

Blair and his co-pilot, “Maniac” Lt. Marshall (Lillard) arrive on the Tiger Claw but Blair meets with prejudice from his fellow pilots because of his Pilgrim heritage. Meanwhile, both men catch the eye of their hard-as-nails new wing commander, Devereaux (Saffron Burrows).  She wants to rein them in, but that's easier said than done.

While the Kilrathi near their jump point for Earth, Devereaux’s squadron may be humanity’s last line of defense, and Chris must summon his repressed Pilgrim attributes to deliver jump coordinates to Towlyn’s waiting fleet, navigating a quasar in the process…

“Emotions are what separate us from the Pilgrims and the Kilrathi.”

For being so widely reviled, Wing Commander certainly strikes the right note as it begins.  The film commences with audio of an uplifting speech by President Kennedy, discussing the goal of mastering space.   

This opening is inspiring, certainly, and it’s refreshing to hear a speech from an epoch when our politics weren’t so small.  Back in Camelot, we believed we could work together to accomplish great things, even land on the moon.  Didn't matter if you were Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, the sky was the limit.

The same idea is expressed in the film's World War II-like aesthetic.  Everyone is galvanized by the existential threat of the Kilrathi, working together to stop a grave threat to humanity.  I appreciate how Wing Commander envisions a future where people of different ethnic backgrounds serve together for a cause.  And yet, of course, if you scratch the surface, there's prejudice toward some less-favored people under the surface. That also seems true to the World War II era of the 1940s.

From starting out on the right note, however, this 1999 film quickly becomes a superficial Top Gun (1986) in space, with hotshot young pilots (replete with colorful “handles” like “Maniac”) competing for attention in their high-tech cockpits.  The movie also throws in an unnecessary dash of Star Wars (1977)-styled mysticism with the inclusion of the “Pilgrims,” a race who -- like Dune’s Guild Navigators -- can travel space without benefit of instrumentation, or in the lingo of the film, without “nav-coms.”

The whole Pilgrim sub-plot here-- not present in the original video game, to my understanding -- is a bit under cooked.  The Pilgrims are actually humans who spent so much time in space that they thus developed a kind of “second sight” in navigating its ebb and flow.  But Pilgrims in the film appear fully human, and have a dark history with the human race, from which they broke off.  This history is all spelled out in the film, but unfortunately Blair’s Pilgrim nature never proves particularly dramatic in practice.  

Instead, to summon his buried heritage he must merely concentrate and – whammo -- he can suddenly navigate “jumps” without a computer.  Yet, importantly, Blair’s Pilgrim ability rests on an internal process -- calculations or “instincts” he feels in his head -- so it all comes across on screen as a weak echo of Star Wars’ famous “feel the Force” moments.

Feel your inner Pilgrim, Chris!

Looking at a mid-20th century thematic overlay, it’s possible indeed that the Pilgrim subplot is designed to reflect the (segregated) treatment of African-American soldiers in wartime, before President Truman’s order to integrate the Armed Forces.  

But even that real life metaphor doesn’t entirely fit, since African-Americans, though discriminated against by society-at-large, were never classified as an enemy of the United States.  Not so, the Pilgrims.  They actively fought against the Terran Confederation, and were conquered, apparently.

The whole subplot transmits as trite, and contrived.  The Earth fleet wins the day because one pilot happens to boast a quasi-magical power.   Good thing the Kilrathi don't have any exceptional pilots like that, I suppose.  And as is so often the case in the science fiction genre, the Pilgrim “blood line” seems vaguely fascist.  Only people who possess the right blood type (either Midi-chlorians in Star Wars or Pilgrims here…) can achieve super feats and tap the mystical essence of the universe.   Paladin even puts a fine point on it.  “It isn’t faith.  It’s genetics.”  No wonder humans hate these smug bastards, right?

So much for striving to be all you can be.  The Pilgrims are just born better than the rest of us.

After the umpteenth repetition in sci-fi movies, this kind of people-of-superior-blood-line thinking is tiring.  The original appeal of the Force in Star Wars, by my estimation, was its universality. We could all tap into The Force if only we tried...if only we mastered ourselves.  Once you add a genetic, biological component to such a concept -- as is also the case with the Pilgrims in Wing Commander -- the universality of the concept is diminished. 

In terms of Wing Commander, one must also wonder about the line of dialogue featured at the head of this sub-section. At a critical juncture in the story, Blair states that possessing emotions is what separates humans from Pilgrims or Kilrathi.  Really?  Isn’t that a kind of prejudicial or racist remark?  He’s part Pilgrim, after all, and Blair certainly possesses feelings.  Paladin is a pilgrim, and he shows emotion on more than one occasion.  And we don’t see enough of the Kilrathi to assess whether they are emotional or not, I would wager.  But the very argument suggests a kind or real-life racist thinking that a national (or interplanetary) enemy is somehow sub-human.  That’s not the kind of thinking a hero – one who is fighting discrimination, himself – should demonstrate, in my opinion..

The film’s biggest problems likely occur in the casting department.  Freddie Prinze Jr.  -- here channeling his inner Keanu Reeves -- and Matthew Lillard are generally  fine in the slasher films of the 1990s or other movies set in the present, but their trademark brand of snarky, California emotionalism seems somehow jarring in the far-flung world of 2654.  Judging by his work in this film, Prinze’s idea of a dramatic line reading is to shout…each…word…really…slowly.  “You…are…not…going…out…there!” and so forth.  He also spends an inordinate amount of time with his mouth drooping open...a stance which somehow diminishes the character's intelligence.

Some of the specific, practical details in the narrative seem off too.  Late in the film, while aboard Towlyn’s ship, Blair learns that Devereaux has been rescued from her cockpit by Paladin, and has been returned to the Tiger Claw.  He hops in his fighter, flies back to his carrier, lands, disembarks, meets up with Devereux and then orders a medic to the landing bay.  Shouldn’t someone – anyone, really – have ordered the medic a wee bit earlier than that?  I mean, everyone knew an injured officer was in-bound with Paladin because it was announced over communications channels, a speaker to be precise.  Why wasn’t a medic already standing by, especially since Blair himself had time for ship-to-ship transit?

Looking back today, many of Wing Commander’s visuals are indeed quite compelling, and the special effects remain colorful and dynamic.  In other words, the Rapier fighters and their opposite Kilrathi numbers look distinctive and unusual, move convincingly through asteroid fields and other space hazards, and some of the stellar vistas are downright gorgeous. 

With the pilots housed in their cramped fighter cockpits and trading barbs and zingers, this movie looks like a dry-run for the Battlestar Galactica TV remake of 2004.   In fact, the re-designed Cylon fighter of that Ron Moore re-imagination looks an awful lot like a Kilrathi fighter here.  Frankly, I suspect that if critics were too hard on any one aspect of Wing Commander in 1999, it was the visuals.  I found the look of the film, overall, at least…interesting.

Finally, even though Wing Commander relies excessively on all-too familiar World War II clichés and bromides for its narrative thrust, there’s something simultaneously baffling and off-putting about it too.  Watching David Warner (as Admiral Tomblyn) bark high-tech orders on the command deck of his space carrier while officers explain Pegasus nav-com A.I.and the like I suddenly realized what it must be like to watch a Star Trek film without having seen a single episode of the series.  If I had played the Wing Commander game, would I have felt this way?  I don't know...

Regardless, Wing Commander plays to me like the jargon-heavy sequel to a series never made.  This approach creates great distance between film and general audiences, and makes watching Wing Commander a passive rather than active viewing experience. The movie doesn't quite draw you in on an emotional level.

While watching the film, I did keep noting moments of invention and ingenuity in terms of visualization, and kept thinking that if this were actually a pilot for a TV series, I would have tuned in the following week to see if the performances normalized, if the details grew clearer, and if the narrative grew more interesting.  In other words, I would have given it a second chance and hoped against hope the series would improve, because I love space combat movies and programs.

But standing alone, Wing Commander feels like it was translated from the original Kilrathi.

I don’t know why good old-fashioned space adventure was so tough to vet during the 1990s, but Wing Commander does not represent the genre’s finest hour.

Movie Trailer: Wing Commander (1999)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Late Night Blogging: Kenner Star Wars Toys Commercials

Lunch Box of the Week: Star Wars (1977)

Collectible of the Week: Star Wars Death Star Playset (Kenner; 1978)

This giant play-set representation of the Star Wars (1977) Death Star -- a literal "pie slice" of the space sphere -- remains one of the greatest and most impressive toys of the late 1970s space craze.

Released by Kenner in 1978, The Death Star Playset recreates the central location of Star Wars, the Imperial battle station, with four different levels of intricacy and detail.

The promotion material describes the toy in detail:

"Kenner's exciting play environment simulates the Death Star space station with manual elevator to take the Star Wars figures to any of the action play floors."

"TOP FLOOR: Laser cannon that swivels, emitting "clicking" sounds; it explodes from housing when hit by X-wing fighter.  Also has ledge for Ben Kenobi."

THIRD FLOOR: Manually operated "light bridge" that opens and closes, and an escape rope swing for Luke and Leia.

SECOND FLOOR: Control room for piloting Death Star and escape hatch to trash compactor.

FIRST FLOOR: Trash compactor complete with removable foam garbage; has turn-screw to close end of compactor, which stops in in time for Star Wars hero to escape."

This description doesn't indicate one of the coolest aspects of this great toy, however: the Death Star comes complete with a figure of the Dia Noga -- or trash-compactor monster -- thus allowing us to see its full body shape for the first time.

I received this impressive toy for Christmas as a nine year old, I believe, and I loved it.  I was disappointed that the station was not in the familiar sphere aspect from the movie, but the "pie slice" structure allows for easy access on all sides, and makes playing Star Wars easy.

I kept my Star Wars Death Star for years and years, but eventually all the pieces either got lost or destroyed.  I now have another I bought on E-Bay, and it's just as fun to play with as I remember.

Finally, you can see a toy commercial for the Death Star below.

Model Kits of the Week: Authentic Star Wars characters (MPC; 1977)

Board Game of the Week: Star Wars: Escape from the Death Star (1977; Kenner)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cult-Movie Review: Leonard Part 6 (1987)

The only good thing about Bill Cosby's "Leonard Part 6" is that we didn't have to see Parts 1 through 5.” – Rita Kempley, The Washington Post, December 19, 1987.

''Leonard'' proves that even Bill Cosby makes mistakes.” – Caryn James, The New York Times, December 18, 1987.

“This weird little film of meager comic conceits doesn’t actually resemble any picture in memory…” -Variety, December 16, 1987

Widely-considered one of the worst films of the 1980s (and beyond…) and the winner of Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Actor, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Picture, Leonard Part 6 (1987) isn’t actually all that difficult to sit through. 

In fact, the Variety review excerpted above gets the matter right to a significant extent.  The film is bad, yes, but it is bad, impressively, in a pretty original fashion.

Some moments in the picture-- if not exactly funny -- are imaginative in a goofy kind of way.  In particular, I enjoyed watching agents of Mother Nature -- trout, lobster and frogs -- wage war against mankind in ridiculous special effects sequences.  And as a former vegetarian myself, I also got a kick from the film’s subversive jibes against those who don’t eat meat.

By far, Leonard Part VI’s largest stumbling block is its star, the aforementioned Cosby, who mugs shamelessly for the camera throughout and is too old and out-of-shape to star as a fine-tuned, physically adroit secret agent…even a retired one. 

Cosby’s idea of character humor here is a weird one too.  The film’s big running gag involves his estranged wife exuberantly dumping food all over him while he grimaces and rolls his eyes in delighted close-up…as if the experience is really some weird sexual fetish.   Doing all those Jell-O Pudding Pop commercials must have finally caught up with the star….

Additionally, Leonard Part 6 pulls far too many comedic punches, especially in its family-oriented subplot about Leonard’s adult daughter planning to marry a man too old for her by half.  This subplot appears piped-in directly from Cosby’s mega-popular sitcom of the 1980s, The Cosby Show (1984 – 1992) and is both a pander to the performer’s fans and a grievous comic miscalculation.   

The decision to fuse “family values” with a nasty James Bond parody is actually the very one that sinks the movie.  Leonard Part 6 should have been a bad taste, raunchy genre picture all the way. 

But of course, a movie like that might have harmed the Cosby Product Line TM.

In short, the moments that authentically don’t work In Leonard Part 6 are those that feel like a self-indulgent ego trip on Cosby’s part, and allude unnecessarily to his television work and popular image as the supreme family man. 

The moments that do work -- and yes, these are relatively few and far between --  are those that feature zany flights of fancy in which homicidal animals (like frogs hopping a car into a harbor…) launch comic attacks on mankind, or those in which the James Bond spy genre is successfully mocked with bizarre gadgets, such as Leonard’s under-arm missile launchers.

So Leonard Part 6 is two schizophrenic movies: one an over-the-top James Bond/revenge of nature parody, and the other a schmaltzy, unfunny family “story.”  The first plot-line amuses while the second falls woefully flat.

“The couple that spies together…dies together.”

The five previous international adventures of spy Leonard Parker (Bill Cosby) have been held top-secret because of classified information, but his sixth adventure is recounted here in full detail.

In particular, Leonard -- estranged from his beloved wife, Allison (Pat Colbert) over an apparent dalliance some years earlier -- is called out of retirement by the CIA to battle a militant vegetarian, Medusa Johnson (Gloria Foster) who has headquartered at International Tuna and developed a tool which permits her to control the actions and thoughts of normally harmless animals such as frogs and lobsters.

While Leonard grapples with the fact that his adult daughter, an actress (Victoria Rowell), is planning to marry a senior citizen director, he also prepares for battle with Medusa. 

To this end Leonard is aided by his dedicated butler, Frayn (Tom Courtenay) and his good luck charm, a gypsy prognosticator, Nurse Carvhalo (Anna Levine).  Leonard also arms himself with the highest “tech” now available including under-arm, heat-seeking missiles, wafer-thin grenades, and a Porsche up-fitted with a tank turret.

“Clever…but dumb.”

The words excerpted above -- “clever but dumb” -- might adequately serve as the epitaph for Leonard Part 6.  The movie vacillates wildly between poles of cleverness and stupidity, and the result is a case of audience whiplash.

Some moments actually do work, to at least a modest degree.  For instance, Medusa boasts a James Bond-ian side-kick who is confined to a wheelchair, and speaks only the words “Kill him” or “Kill them” throughout the entire film.  No matter the situation, or the participants, this is his response.  He is a cranky old man, a Bond villain, and a joke on the whole spy movie format. He serves no purpose other than to be a false threat and a sounding-board for Medusa’s ridiculous plans, but the character, indeed, seems an apt parody of two-dimensional villains in Hollywood blockbusters.

Similarly, there’s a moment here after a deadly battle in which Leonard -- the ultimate Renaissance Man -- must heroically perform surgery on himself and remove a bullet.  An almost identical scene was played seriously in Ronin (1998) some ten years after Leonard Part 6 premiered, but with Robert De Niro doing the surgical honors instead.  So in some sense, this film -- as legendarily bad as it is -- understands the conventions of the action/espionage genre, and attempts to knowingly mock them.

And I can’t lie about one fact. I was amused by the film’s mean-spirited but spot-on jibes at  (some) hard-core vegetarians.  In the film’s conclusion, Leonard confronts the minions of Medusa. These minions are all perfect physical specimens who have never touched meat, and especially meat with preservatives.  Leonard defeats them by exposing their flesh to raw meat and hot dogs, and he acts as though he is brandishing a crucifix against a vampire.  

One villain gets a hot dog in the mouth…and his head explodes on screen, in full view.  This moment reveals how wicked and over-the-top Leonard Part 6 might have been had the producers been willing to take a few more risks with Cosby’s image as a nice guy.

But for every moment of imagination and modest inspiration like the exploding vegetarian minions, Leonard Part 6 features five minutes of relentless product placement (mostly for Coke), or focuses not on the action against Medusa, but on the tiresome subplot about Leonard winning back his estranged wife.  This interminable diversion away from the movie’s silly material (about mind-controlled lobsters and the like…) makes the movie feel like a pilot for a TV show that was never made, and a bad one at that.

Some time back, a reader specifically asked me to review this film, and I was happy to oblige.  I first saw this movie in the theaters with my best friend Bob back in 1987, and I remember we both laughed at elements of Leonard Part 6.   

I can see why -- as sixteen year-olds -- we found those aspects of the film amusing.

Somewhere in Leonard Part 6 -- between the evil theater dancers who look like rejects from Cats and the  minions whose skin is scalded on contact with beef patties -- wicked comic inspiration lurks.  

But it’s too bad that the shadow of The Cosby Show, and the protection of Cosby’s image prevents Leonard Part 6 from being the unfettered, balls-to-the-wall, nutty movie it could have been and should have been.  The movie should have just gone for broke.  It might still have failed, but at least it would have seemed more coherent, and in the end, might have met with more respect (if not appreciation). 

Movie Trailer/Commercial: Leonard Part VI

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ask JKM a Question: The Curmudgeonly Old Man Syndrome?

A reader named Darren writes:

“In your review of Man of Steel (2013) last month an anonymous reader noted that his/her nephews loved the film and that naysayers had lost the capacity to connect with fanciful material in an innocent and positive way.   How would you rate that argument?”

Darren, that’s a great question, and I actually did respond to that commenter briefly. But in broad terms, I think the argument tends to be a pretty fallacious one.

Although, as adult we have seen more films that hardly means that as grown-ups we lose the capacity to emotionally connect or engage with material.  Sometimes the opposite is true.  Sometimes, because of our past experiences, we are able to connect more meaningfully with a new experience than a child can, for instance.

In the past, I have kept an eye out for The Curmudgeonly Old Man Syndrome -- the idea that everything produced in the past is somehow better than everything that is being made right now.

But writing this blog regularly for the last eight years has helped prove to me that I don’t suffer from this ailment in any meaningful way.  

While it’s true that I hated, hated, hated Man of Steel, I have, since about the age of thirty, I guess, discovered and fallen in love with many new films that -- while I am not “nostalgic” them for in the same sense that I am for the movies of my youth -- I nonetheless love and admire.

These movies boast titles like The Matrix (1999), The Blair Witch Project (1999), Ghosts of Mars (2001), Children of Men (2005), District 9 (2009), Wall-E (2008), Avatar (2009), Apollo 18 (2011) John Carter (2012), Prometheus (2012), Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013), and The Great Gatsby (2013), to name a mere handful of titles, right off the top of my head.

I would worry more, indeed, about Curmudgeonly Old Man Syndrome if I felt that -- year in and year out -- I was hating every single movie, and emerging from screenings bitter and angry.  But that isn’t at all how I often feel. 

On the contrary, I usually feel energized and stimulated.  Man of Steel was simply, in my judgment a movie about despair, cynicism, and ugliness, and that uninspiring approach was all the worse given the general outline of the traditional Superman character.

Thus “My kids loved it” isn’t necessarily a criticism with automatic merit.  I have noted, from time to time, my son’s love of the Star Wars prequels, it’s true.  So I’m not free of guilt on this front, myself.   But the great thing about being an adult is that developmentally we are capable of both enjoying fresh input, like a brand new movie, and reflecting on our experiences when the new input doesn’t work for us.  As adults, we can ask ourselves why a movie doesn’t work, or contextualize it in terms of history and technique.

Therefore,  I tend to think that the “but kids love it!” argument is not a very strong one. 

In the future, I’ll certainly try not to use it.  And in regards to Man of Steel, I would just ask one question: is it a good movie because your kid loves it?  What lesson did they learn from it?  That when push comes to shove, it’s okay to snap your enemy’s neck?  Or that watching a hundred skyscrapers fall is somehow entertaining?   Or that it’s better to hide who you are rather than risk facing public disapproval?

So I stand by my reasons for disliking Man of Steel.  But I also know that every time I sit down in a movie theater, I’m wide open for a new experience, and excited about the possibilities of what comes next.

Don't forget to ask me your questions at

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Blast Off!

There may be no moment more thrilling for long-time science fiction TV fans than that of a spaceship blast-off. Beloved characters race to their ships, strap into their seats, activate rockets...and adventure begins. 

The image of a space-ship leaving Terra Firma behind for parts unknown is an important part of the genre's equation, an indicator that new horizons are about to be breached.  Sometimes a blast-off is about starting an exploration, and sometimes it is about escaping disaster.

Of all the science fiction TV programs in history, those created and produced Gerry Anderson are among the most potent in terms of this visceral "blast off" imagery.  From Fireball X-L5 right up through Space Precinct, vehicular launches into "the black" have been lovingly and memorably rendered.

UFO (1970) may be the champion in this regard, since it features both Skydiver -- a rocket-powered jet that launches from the nose of a submarine (and underwater) -- and Moonbase Interceptors, which blast-off from a dusty crater.  The series has more blast-offs and landings than you can shake a stick at.

Although some critics have called these images of Space:1999 (1975 - 1977) tiresome, one of its great  and persistent appeals, in my opinion, involves the realism and detail of Eagle blast-offs.  

Throughout the forty-eight episodes of the series, audiences witnesses Eagles leaving every kind of planetary and cosmic environment imaginable.  Eagles blast-off from planetary surfaces ("All that Glisters"), from asteroids ("Collision Course," "Seed of Destruction"), from mind-blowing alien landscapes ("Guardian of Piri") and even from weird proto-planets ("The Seance Spectre).  All such moments are rendered in spectacularly believable fashion.

Following Star Wars (1977), both Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979) and Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century (1979 - 1981) focused on the hardware details of space fighter launches.  In both series, we see pilots (in their cockpits) take the control stick, and accelerate through a lit, colored tube which then spits the fighter either into the air, or into deep space.  The focus in these blast-offs is clearly velocity.  The re-imagined Galactica retained this aspect of "launch" or blast-off from the original series.

Two very popular outer space series, Star Trek and Doctor Who tend not to feature blast-offs on a regular basis.  In effect, both series attempted to avoid the expenses associated with dramatizing space vessels launching or landing, and resorted to ideas such as teleportation (the transporter) or materialization (the TARDIS).  

The Cult-TV Faces of: Blast Off!

Identified by SGB: Fireball XL-5

Identified by SGB: Thunderbirds.

Identified by SGB: Lost in Space.
Identified by SGB: UFO (Interceptors)

Identified by SGB: UFO (Skydiver)

Identified by SGB: Space:1999

Identified by Pierre: Star Maidens

Identified by Pierre: Blake's 7

Identified by SGB: Battlestar Galactica

Identified by SGB: Star Blazers

Identified by SGB: Jason of Star Command

Identified by Donald G: Doctor Who: "The Invisible Enemy"

Identified by SGB: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Identified by SGB: V.

Identified by SGB: DS9