Monday, August 01, 2016

Man from Atlantis III: Killer Spores (May 17, 1977)

The U.S. Space Agency dispatches the Cetacean to recover a space probe that has landed in the ocean. 

Mark Harris (Patrick Duffy) brings the device back from the bottom of the sea, but mysteriously hears it “scream” upon doing so.

Once inside the ship, Mark, Elizabeth (Belinda J. Montgomery) and Simon (Kenneth Tigar) learn that the probe’s skin is infected with strange alien cells or spores.  These spores hail from space and were ripped from their home in the void.

The spores are visible only in darkness, except to Mark, who can see them at all times. The spores infect Mark, and Elizabeth likens the experience to demonic possession, since Mark is “forced to do things against his nature, against his will.

The spores grow angry after leaving Mark’s body, and begin to possess humans across California. 

The government wants to destroy them, but Mark communicates with the spores and they demand he send them home, at once.

Mark has just three hours to get them aboard a rocket bound for space…

Killer Spores is the story, in some ways that The Deadly Scouts should have been. It’s another story of aliens in human bodies, and Mark’s interface with them. But here, there is no sappy love story tacked on, and the aliens are not ‘evil’ beings, merely ones who wish to return home.

If one looks at the science fiction TV of the 1960s (represented, for example, by Star Trek [1966-1969]) and compares it with the science fiction TV of the 1970s (Space: 1999 or Man from Atlantis), one can see that they have a different starting point.  

Star Trek begins from the assumption that communication between different worlds, different beings is possible; nay inevitable. 

Space: 1999 and Man from Atlantis are not quite as optimistic. They proceed from the (perhaps realist... assumption that communication will fail; that differences will be too difficult to navigate at man’s current stage of development.

Killer Spores demonstrate this style of thinking in spades. The aliens have no use for humanity and believe that mankind will destroy Earth. Their interest is not conquest, trade, or partnership. Their mission is merely to escape (as quickly as possible) what they see as a doomed planet.  They seek no further knowledge of us. Unlike Mark, they are neither intrigued, curious, nor impressed by mankind’s nature.

They just want to leave.

There’s some nice symmetry or book-end imagery in this installment too, but again, it follows up on the paradigm I outline above.  

When the probe lands at the start of the story, Mark detects the spores screaming.  

When they leave, oppositely, he hears them laughing. 

This is the laughter of relief, he specifies, the laughter associated with a return to safe place.  In other words, these aliens shriek in terror upon being present on our Earth.  They are joyous and safe upon their return to space.  

To them, Earth is hell. 

Mark notes this, in the coda, in his typically non-emotional way but there is a note of social commentary here for certain.  Communication between people of different natures and ideologies may simply be impossible. 

Mark Harris may be the exception not the rule.

That’s a nice heady philosophy for Killer Scouts, and it makes for an intriguing segment.

There’s also one other scene with mentioning here.  

At one point, Mark nearly dies in the desert (possessed by the spores). He needs water to survive.  

Elizabeth runs through the desert carrying a cooler, and just a few meters shy of Mark's position, trips and accidentally dumps all the water in the cooler into the sand.  She cries, realizing her clumsiness may have killed Harris.

This is a very, very human moment, and one of Elizabeth’s best as a franchise character.  She cares deeply for Mark, and she is brilliant.  But sometimes, something awful and unexpected happens to humans -- like losing one’s footing -- and disaster could result.  The sight of Elizabeth laying in the desert, weeping at her own mistake, is quite powerful.  It reminds us, as Mark Harris might conclude, how fragile human beings really are.

There’s still a bit of filler in this Man from Atlantis telefilm. There are too many (silly) scenes of possessed humans going crazy and wreaking havoc in different settings. My favorite is the zombie traffic cop.  

But we get too many moments involving these zombies, even if the concept behind those moments (alien possession = demonic possession) is quite good.

Next up, the last of the telefilms: The Disappearances.

No comments:

Post a Comment