Thursday, January 23, 2020

Buck Rogers: "Journey to Oasis"

In "Journey to Oasis," the Earth is on the verge of war with the secretive Zikarians, a militaristic alien race with a dark secret. Specifically, the Zikarians are double or hybrid entities: they boast human-like heads attached to humanoid bodies, but each exists symbiotically.  In short, Zikarians and can remove their heads and their bodies still function on their own.

No one on the Searcher is aware of this strange fact, as Buck (Gil Gerard) and Wilma (Erin Gray) are assigned to transport the Zikarian Ambassador, Duvoe (Mark Lenard) to a peace conference in the city of Oasis on the planet R4. Unfortunately, all around Oasis is a wasteland, a "depository of failed experiments" and "genetic garbage dump" going back thousands of years.

Buck and Wilma's shuttle, with Duvoe and Dr. Goodfellow (Wilfred Hyde-White) and Hawk (Thom Christopher) aboard, goes down in the wasteland, and the crew must make for Oasis, and the peace conference, on foot.  The Zikarians will declare war, and destroy the Searcher, if Duvoe does not attend the conference on time.

On the planet surface, Buck and Duvoe clash, in part because Wilma knows him from a mission years earlier. She admires him, and is attracted to him, but Duvoe does not wish her to learn his secret.

The survivors of the shuttle crash make for Oasis, but must contend with a little blue imp, ODX (Felix Silla), and an invisible warlord who guards the only path to the city, and peace conference...

Stretched out to almost interminable length at two parts (or two hours), "Journey to Oasis" is a horribly sloppy episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1978-1981), and one that shows off the new format to poor effect. 

Where to begin on this one? 

Throughout the location shooting, it is abundantly plain that Wilfred Hyde-White's role of Dr. Goodfellow is being played by a double, one who doesn't very closely resemble him.  No doubt that this was an expedient because of the actor's advanced age, at this point.  But still...

Similarly, there's a strong disconnect, visually, between the location footage, and the footage shot with the primary actors on a sound-stage. The soundstage looks appropriate to Star Trek, circa its third season, in 1969, with its abundantly fake paper mâché rocks.  But this episode aired in 1981.

ODX's bight blue make-up, meanwhile, has visible edges where the paint  job just...stops. 

And Buck's final battle over the chasm, with the invisible warlord and his glow-in-the-dark sword, is rendered with fast motion photography. The result is that the final confrontation looks ridiculous. It doesn't help that the bridge Buck traverses  doesn't appear to be more than three or four feet off the ground, and it is very short in length. This episode clearly runs smack into budgetary problems that impacted the design and execution of the episode's major sets.

The shuttle in this episode, similarly, is from Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979), and doesn't look like a product of Earth technology.  It's a cheap leftover.  The Searcher shuttlecraft changes designs virtually every week in the second season.  Maybe the exploratory ship carried lots of different shuttle types?

Meanwhile, the script treats Wilma badly. When she sees that cannibals have decapitated their prey and jammed their heads on pikes, she screams at the top of her lungs like a child.  She's a colonel in the military, and has seen things, in many episodes, that are far more terrifying than severed heads.  The episode makes Wilma react in this unprofessional manner so that audiences will believe she would reject Duvoe, since he too has a severed head, or whatever.

I know, it's all ridiculous, and in the service of a thin plot: a trek across the desert to reach a peace conference in time.

On the other hand, one can see that the show was, at this point, at least still trying. There is an impressive miniature for the Zikarian ships on display and I applaud the effort to fill in Wilma's back history, even if it doesn't seem consistent of what we know of recent Earth history, from the series' first season.  

It is also nice that there is the idea, here, no matter how half-unearthed, that Buck may actually be jealous of Wilma's affection for Duvoe. Too often in the first season, the relationship between Buck and Wilma is undefined.  Here, we know that he possesses deep feelings for her.

Casting Mark Lenard as Duvoe is a good call, too, though he has played alien ambassadors before (Sarek), of course, and his role here is ridiculous, and made even more ridiculous by his bad, curly wig.  

Lenard plays an important scene with his "severed" head hoisted up between two hands (perhaps his own, perhaps not), and the effect is just silly beyond measure.  He is an actor of such dignity, and yet there is little dignified about the design of his character in "Journey to Oasis."  At one point, it's clear Lenard's head is jutting out from a large rock, while his actual body is hidden inside it.  He shouts orders at his headless body, which is walking around aimlessly.

Again, the mind boggles that anyone thought this was a good idea, or would have looked anything but silly.

All in all, one can't help but think that "Journey to Oasis" would have been a tighter, more effective story at just one hour in duration. A lot of the sloppy execution might have been featured less prominently or mitigated by breezing past it as fast possible.

Next week, a much better installment: "The Guardians."

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

25 Years Ago: Voyager's Opening Credits

Whether Star Trek: Voyager (1995 - 2001) is your favorite entry in the long-lived space opera franchise or not, it is pretty much undeniable that the series' introductory montage is the most beautiful and gorgeously realized in Trek history.

The original Star Trek (1966 - 1969) remains my overall favorite series in the Roddenberry universe for many reasons, but in this terrain, it simply doesn't compete. If you go back and watch the opening credits for Star Trek, even with high-definition special effects, you can see that it doesn't quite capture the majesty, mystery or wonder of space. 

At least not in the way that Voyager's opening manages. Indeed, I have readers asked me to feature a Star Trek series here on Outre Intro, and I have resisted for a variety of reasons.  

DS9's (1993 - 1999) opening is sedentary and dull, even though the series itself is great. 

I never took to Enterprise's (2001 - 2005) non-traditional theme song. 

And The Next Generation (1987 - 1994) got close...but Voyager perfected the "space art" formula, revealing deep space as a realm you would actually want to explore.

Specifically, Voyager recognizes a fact that Space:1999 (1975 - 1977) learned in the seventies: outer space looks a lot cooler when you're not looking at it simply a black background with pinpricks of light.  A colorful nebula helps break the visual monotony.

Accordingly, in Voyager, space is a living place of fire and ice, of fog and shadows.  In short, it looks like a place you might actually want to spend money to visit.

This is not a small deal. 

By the 1990s, the American space program had become "routine," taken for granted by most citizens. The shuttle program was aging, but one bright spot (after initial problems...) was the Hubble Telescope, which revealed some of the most beautiful cosmic imagery one could imagine. Voyager's introductory montage seems to have been created with this ideal in mind, forsaking the traditional image of outer space as nothing but blackness and snowflake stars.

As the montage commences, cosmic rays are visible, stretching across a section of space. The light and particles are golden, suggestive of heat, but sort of a welcoming heat, in a sense.  In the next frame, we see that these are emissions from a bright star, and a lone starship passes within our view.

We move through the wave of particles, and when they dissipate, disappearing from view, the series title comes up. 

Importantly, the lettering of the word VOYAGER is gold too, exactly like the light we saw from the sun.

Next up, the great starship passes by our eyes. It moves above us, so that we get a good, detailed look at it.  It is familiar, like the U.S.S. Enterprise, in shape, but different too.

Instead of a saucer, we get an arrow head, or spear point. That seems appropriate for a ship blazing new trails, in unexplored space.

Next up, the Voyager cuts through what looks like a glowing fog-bank in space, and we get only intermittent views of her, as we might get similar views of a submarine at sea, moving just beneath the ocean's surface.

Next, an asteroid tumbles through view, and there is, perhaps, a cosmic string in the background, letting off white light.

A planet surface becomes visible, and in the foreground an icy, mountainous moon.  Once more, the array of sights is dazzling and beautiful, and a repudiation of the idea that space is a barren, empty place, devoid of light and life, devoid of beauty.

The message: this is an exciting show worth watching, and space is a realm worthy of exploration.

Another gorgeous sight: we move through the rocks comprising the rings of an alien world.  

I love this next sequence of shots, as it suggests one reason to love film (and television). Both media, at their best, can take us to places we have never been, but perhaps imagined in our dreams.  This shot, moving through the rings of a Saturn-like planet, at least for me, fulfills that idea.

A color inversion is next, as Voyager moves beyond an eclipse of some type.  Again, the montage seems to stress color and a variety of environments.  This shot looks like "negative" space, and like nothing we would expect to encounter.

In the montage's final sequence of shots, Voyager warps into a nebula, into -- importantly -- a zone of light, and varied colors (crimson and blue).  It's destination is not a world of black and white, but wondrous color.   This is what awaits us in the stars if we are brave enough to tackle them.

I absolutely love the visuals of this montage, and how they are coupled with Jerry Goldsmith's remarkable, inspiring and bombastic score.  

25 Years Ago: Voyager (Playmates; 1995)

You hopefully read my critical evaluation and dissection of Star Trek: Voyager (1995 - 2001) on Monday, if you're interested in doing so. But the merits of the TV series aside, Voyager (NCC-74656) herself remains one gorgeous spaceship. 

I fell in love with this Starfleet vessel the first time I watched the program's picturesque, galaxy-spanning opening credits, I suppose.  The ship is absolutely gorgeous in terms of the aesthetics of Star Trek's future.  Even 25 years later, Voyager is gorgeous, in my opinion.

I should add, I liked Voyager's lines a lot better than those of the dull Enterprise E design we saw in First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis. But then again, it's tough to replace the Enterprise D, a beloved ship we all feel we traveled with for seven years.

Playmates released a whole line of Voyager toys in 1995, including this plastic representation of the Intrepid class vessel, "featuring sounds and lights from" the TV show.   

Today, this Voyager mock-up stands as one of the rarer and more sought-out of the Playmates Trek fleet, perhaps in part because many fans had begun to feel ennui with modern Star Trek by 1995 and were no longer buying the toys.  Or maybe fewer Voyagers were made (though mine is # 32,697....). I don't know for sure why, but Voyager seems to have become one of the more collectible Playmates ships in recent years.  On E-Bay the cost of Voyager, even outside the box, is often, well, astronomical.

As you can tell from the box art, Voyager features "automatic pivoting nacelles!" and "Two starship Voyager sounds: photon torpedoes and warp speed."  There's also "authentic Starfleet Detailing" and a "light up navigational deflector."  

In terms of attention to detail, the ship looks terrific, and is very show accurate.  The decals on mine, however, are starting to peel, much to my dismay.  I guess 1995 really was a long time ago...

As you can also see, I couldn't be disciplined and keep my Voyager packaged in the box.  Back in 1995, when Voyager started, I was really quite taken with it, and hopeful about what it could achieve.  So I had to open the toy.  Right?

Today, Voyager is displayed proudly in my home office, right above my First Contact, Borg-centric Trek toys.  She's a beauty!

Buck Rogers: "Journey to Oasis"

In "Journey to Oasis," the Earth is on the verge of war with the secretive Zikarians, a militaristic alien race with a dark...